Is it Time to Ditch the Tub?

A recent AIA survey (PDF) shows that certain bathroom renovation trends favoring showers over bathtubs are growing in popularity. Curbless walk-in showers, doorless showers, and stall-only showers top the list of the most often requested renovations.

It makes sense to consider replacing a tub with a shower for a number of reasons. Showers use far less water than bathtubs, and save on associated energy and water costs for that reason. They’re also usually quicker to use, and can be fitted with luxury features such as non-slip tiles and benches.

Also, showers are more “user-friendly” for an aging population. Tubs can be difficult for older adults and people with injuries or disabilities to get in and out of, whereas easy-entry shower stalls are much more accessible.  As millions of Baby Boomers reach retirement age, these trends should only continue to rise in popularity.

Walk-in shower with single glass panel, wall-hung toilet and bidet. Floating vanity and mirror.

Walk-in shower with single glass panel, wall-hung toilet and bidet. Floating vanity and mirror.

Deciding Whether to Go Tub-less

Before you take the plunge and rip out that tub, give this decision some careful consideration.

First, consider use. How much use does your tub really get? If you have small children, tubs are much easier than stalls, of course. If you only have one bathroom available and your kids are under the age of 8, you might want to hold off on the project until they’re older.

Most homeowners are also concerned about resale value before making substantial changes to bathrooms and kitchens, and that’s wise. After all, your home is also an investment, and it’s only prudent to avoid making changes that can lessen its value.

Tubs are just “expected” by some home buyers, and there’s no getting around that. But the lack of a tub might not be a detriment to a later sale. It depends on your market and what buyers are willing to accept. In an area with a high demand for housing and a limited supply, a home that lacks a bathtub will still sell, all other things being equal.

One way to preserve your options in resale value is to keep one tub somewhere in the house. A shower-only house can be a tougher sale down the line. But if you have two or more bathrooms available, by all means exchange one of those tubs for a bigger and more luxurious shower stall.

Finally, look carefully at the cost. The least expensive options -- shower stall kits -- start at $200 but can rise in price dramatically, and that’s before you hire a contractor, adjust your water lines, remove the tub, or modify surrounding flooring.

If you have the budget, we’d strongly encourage you to hire a licensed, experienced contractor, especially if you’re planning to put in a curbless shower (as we discuss below). If you tackle this one on your own, expect to spend at least a full weekend at it.

How Big a Job Is It to Exchange a Tub for a Shower?

Simple one-to-one conversions -- that is, taking out a tub and installing a shower stall in the same space -- are fairly simple if you’re working with a tub in a recessed alcove. Taking out a tub will leave a working space of approximately five feet in length and anywhere from 30 to 34 inches on average deep. That’s more than adequate for a roomy shower stall. The water lines shouldn’t need much adjustment, so the total project won’t be terribly complex.

But if you’ve got a freestanding tub, or one located beneath a window (which isn’t uncommon) you’ll have a slightly tougher -- and more expensive -- job ahead of you. You may need to relocate water supply and main lines, and that could add several hundred dollars to the budget.

Space needs should be reviewed carefully. Modern building codes require a shower floor space, or shower pan, of at least 30 inches square, which should make the removed-tub space sufficient. But some industry standards suggest a minimum of at least 36 inches square, in which case you’ll have some overage if you’re working with a standard tub footprint.

You’ll also need a height clearance of at least 80 inches, and at least 15” (preferably 18”) of space should remain between the side of the toilet and the side of the shower wall. And, of course, if there’s a swinging door entrance into the shower stall, you’ll need to make sure it completely clears any possible obstructions such as cabinetry or fixtures.

What Kind of Shower? 

One of those popular choices among homeowners who are ditching the tub and moving to shower-only baths is the walk-in shower. These designs offer both ease of use -- especially for an aging homeowner -- and a more modern, streamlined aesthetic that conveys a sense of luxury.

Another consideration in choosing to replace a tub with a shower is whether to select a stall with or without a curb.

Many stalls feature a curb -- a “lip” usually constructed out of tile that protects the rest of the room’s flooring by acting as a little dam for the water before it drains through the floor. A curbless shower stall uses a shower pan that’s flush with the rest of the floor of the bathroom, without that lip.

While curbless stalls do look more modern and are definitely trending in popularity these days, they’re also more difficult to install correctly, often requiring adjustments to the existing floor height and adding to the project cost.

So if you think you’d like the curbless option, review your options with your licensed contractor carefully, and seek their input and recommendations.

 

Create Intrigue and Drama With an Accent Wall

Accent walls are great ways to break up the monotony of a large room, or call visual attention to a special design or architectural feature in the room. They don’t have to cost a lot of money or require substantial investment in materials or decor, either.

In fact you can probably create a stunning accent wall using items you already own or collect.

Based on your furniture layout and the room’s function, choose the wall you’d like to accent. You’ll only want to accent one wall, keeping the other three similarly painted and relatively simple, in order to create more contrast and excitement around the accent wall.

Wood panel wall.

Wood panel wall.

One simple, cheap way to create an accent wall is to paint it a bold color that complements the paint color of the other three walls, ceiling, and trim. Strong colors that might overpower a room if painted on every wall can be dramatic and exciting on a single accent wall.

Another paint-based approach is to create contrast between light and dark. In a room with three pale green walls, make the fourth a deep hunter green. Or if your walls are light yellow, paint your fourth accent wall a deep saffron.

Wallpaper in a complementary color scheme can create a lovely accent wall. If you’re not keen on the thought of papering, though, you can mimic the look with a tonal accent paint and simple, repeatable geometrically patterned stencil.

Wallpaper in a complementary color scheme can create a lovely accent wall

Wallpaper in a complementary color scheme can create a lovely accent wall

In a bedroom, make the wall behind your bed’s headboard the accent wall by combining strong paint choices with oversized, three-dimensional, or sculptural art above the headboard.

Or kill two birds with one stone, so to speak, by turning the headboard into the accent piece itself, perhaps by using unusual materials -- old whitewashed fencing, oversized upholstered doors or table tops, or bookshelves can all make creative headboards.

In a small or odd-sized room, you can enlarge the space and make it feel less cave-like by displaying a collection of framed mirrors on the wall in an artful cluster. Mirrors reflect the light and create an illusion of enhanced space. 

In the same vein, any collected artwork or decorative items can form the basis of a unique accent wall. Choose items that you love and that can be grouped according to a unifying theme or motif for the greatest dramatic impact.

Accent walls can also be made by installing a contrasting materials on top of the usual drywall. Brick, wooden pallets, and corkboard all add textural interest as well as visual allure, and won’t necessarily cost an arm and a leg to add.

Or consider adding a frontage of paving stones in a complementary neutral color that works well with the rest of the room’s color scheme. Stone can be sophisticated and modern, or earthy and “arts and crafts,” depending on the type and texture.

Don’t overlook fabric choices, either. A lovely textural print, for example, or a large swath of fabric with printed handwriting can add whimsy and tons of personality to the right room. Fabric can also be swapped out seasonally much more easily than other materials, making it a flexible choice.

If you’re working with a room with a built-in point of focus, such as a fireplace or uniquely sized or shaped windows, go with the flow and choose that wall as your accent wall. With built-in features like that, however, you’ll want to keep the approach simple, relying on contrasting paint or stencils to add the interest you’re looking for.

Brick wall accent over a fireplace.

Brick wall accent over a fireplace.

Something as simple as a full-wall bookshelf might be all you need for some rooms. Stack up books but don’t cram them into every available inch. Rather, leave room for another set of similarly-themed collectibles -- small, favorite photographs in silver frames, for example.

Bookshelves make a great wall decor.

Bookshelves make a great wall decor.

Above all, keep in mind the room’s purpose and function. Consider how you’d like your family and guests to feel in the room. Think outside the box with some visual inspiration, and don’t be afraid to make a bold choice. It’s just one wall!

 

Dark, Daring & Dramatic Walls

Paint is one of the easiest and least expensive ways to radically change the look of your home. It’s also one of the most forgiving home decoration projects for DIY-types, since it’s usually a fairly simple matter to correct an error or paint over an unfortunate choice.

For that reason, a lot of homeowners tend to play it safe with light, traditional neutral paint colors for home interiors.

That might suit your style just fine. But for a dramatic statement that completely changes the entire look and feel of a room, you can’t beat dark colors.

And while the thought of painting your walls deep burgundy, navy blue, or stormy grey might make you anxious, it might just be the best thing you ever did for your home.

If you’d like to explore the natural drama and intensity of a dark-color paint choice, read on for our thoughts on this timeless trend.

Choose the Right Room for Dark Paint

Not every room is built to carry off the dark-walls look. The ideal choice is a room that’s neither terribly small nor designed around social, large-group activities.

Beautiful bright rug to contrast with the dark gray walls.

Beautiful bright rug to contrast with the dark gray walls.

Why? Dark paint colors such as navy, dark brown, and deep grey do two things reliably well: (1) make a room feel smaller and more intimate, and (2) produce a more mellow, introverted vibe.

That’s great for bedrooms, but maybe not so great for a kitchen or dining room, or any room where you anticipate entertaining groups of people.

Pick the Right Dark Color

There’s no doubt that dark colors bring the drama and glamour faster than their paler neighbors on the color chart.

However, they can also bring regrets, too. That deep, bold, so-purple-it’s-almost-black may look thrilling on a swatch. But when it’s on all four walls of your home office, you might find yourself feeling unsettled and even jittery.

So how do you avoid painter’s regret? Start by evaluating the colors that you naturally gravitate towards in personal clothing, accessories, and any items you collect (art, knick knacks, etc.). If you’re drawn to earthy tones, look at deep and bold variations of the same tones -- dark chocolate or dark slate grey, for instance.

Choose colors you enjoy everyday.

Choose colors you enjoy everyday.

Consider, too, the furniture you’ll be placing in the room. It’s much easier to find a paint color to match your upholstered sofa and curtains than the other way around!

The white walls and mustard rug balance the blue wall nicely.

The white walls and mustard rug balance the blue wall nicely.

Go for Contrast

The best rooms are balanced -- neither too dark-and-heavy nor too light-and-airy. When you’re experimenting with dark colors on your walls, you’ll want to provide lighter elements to create visual contrast. This helps keep your room from feeling overwhelmingly dark, cave-like or even oppressive.

For instance, if you choose a darker Wedgwood-blue for walls, keep large furniture pieces and the floor covering (rugs, carpet, or wood) lighter in tone. Or if you’re painting a bedroom in a deep espresso brown, keep your bed linens and window treatments crisp white or pale blue.

Light doesn’t have to mean white, though. Go beyond the usual boring cream, eggshell, and taupe to provide the necessary interplay between light and dark. Light, bright colors that complement the darker paint tones can work like a single perfect piece of jewelry, accessorizing your room for a polished presentation.

Another way to add some necessary contrast and keep a dark room from becoming overly moody is to add in textural elements through fabrics and lighting. A light-toned sisal rug, for example, can brighten a room with dark grey walls. Sparkling crystal in light fixtures and sconces can help brighten walls of midnight blue.

And throw pillows and blankets of plush faux fur, thick nubby knits, and raw silk are great ways to keep a dark-toned room from becoming overbearing.

Practical Tips for Beautifully Painted Dark Walls

For the best results with dark, bold paint jobs, follow these tips below:

●      Prepare your walls as scrupulously as possible. Scrape, sand, and spackle to smooth out every imperfection, since many dark colors will only make those imperfections more noticeable.

●      Don’t skip the primer. While it might be tempting to save time andeffort by heading straight for the new, bolder color, primer is essential. Get it tinted before applying it for the best results.

●      Invest in the best tools you can find. Paint grids make for a better, less messy experience than paint trays, and adjustable extenders on rollers will help you get the job done with less frustration.

●      Consider skipping the do-it-yourself approach just this once. Deep, dark paint colors can be unforgiving on walls and intimidating to first-time users. A professional painting contractor can knock out the job in less time, with fewer errors and much less anxiety.

Easy Feng Shui Tips for Your Kitchen

Want to improve the harmony of your home and increase the prosperity in your life at the same time? Try applying some feng shui basics to your kitchen!

Feng Shui Basics for Your Home

In an earlier post, we discussed the basics of feng shui for your entrance area and front door. Let’s briefly summarize that information here before we turn to specific tips for your kitchen:

●      Feng shui is a Chinese system or philosophy of design centered around creating balance and harmony between five basic elements: water, fire, wood, metal and earth.

●      Practitioners place furnishings, art, and other items in a specific room or area of a home using a compass or bagua, based on those five elements.

●      The feng shui elements can be seen in both constructive and destructive modes. Water puts out fire (destructive) but helps wood grow (constructive).

●      The overarching principle or goal in feng shui is balance and the clear flow of energy throughout your home. So a lot of feng shui work is about removing obstacles to the natural flow of your home’s “chi,” or life energy.

As Inês Martins, a highly-respected Miami-based designer, puts it: “We always start from the client’s own essence … to know them thoroughly, to ensure that every detail, every element, every space, finds a perfect harmony with what they really are or [where] they really want to find themselves.”

That’s also the essence of feng shui.

Why the Kitchen Is Important in Feng Shui

Every room in your home governs a certain area of your life, according to feng shui. For the kitchen, that area is prosperity and wealth.

The kitchen is associated primarily with the energy, sustenance, and abundance we take from food. In feng shui, that literal energy (food into calories consumed to fuel our bodies) also symbolizes the more esoteric energy of financial wealth and abundance.

So the key to good feng shui in your kitchen is protecting the unobstructed flow of that energy of abundance.

In fact, the kitchen is so important in feng shui that it’s considered part of the “feng shui trinity” -- the bathroom, the bedroom, and the kitchen. Together, these three rooms form a crucial framework for the health and harmony of the home.

Feng Shui Tips for Your Kitchen

You can ensure a free flow of prosperity through your home by ensuring a more open floor plan for your kitchen and immediately adjacent areas, such as breakfast nooks and dining rooms. Generally speaking, if a person can move easily from one area into another, so can the energy.

Also, if at all possible, avoid having your kitchen open directly into a main point of egress (i.e., front or back door), if you want to keep that energy from flowing out of your home altogether.

Install the best lighting possible. Dark, shadowy corners and harsh, glaring fluorescent lighting are equally damaging to good feng shui and balanced energy flow. Aim for building layers and levels of lighting, depending on the appliances and functions of specific parts of your kitchen.

Although the kitchen is often a place that collects “stuff” -- gadgets, electronics, utensils, and lots of cookware -- it’s always better from a feng shui perspective to drastically reduce clutter.

There’s no need to go minimalist in your kitchen style, though. Instead, adopt a rigorous approach to organization and storage in this all-important room.

Use smaller containers to organize small items in drawers and cupboards. Invest in beautiful, well-made containers for items that will be visible (i.e., on counter tops, etc.). And avoid the trap of the “clutter drawer”!

Colors should be carefully chosen. Yellow is considered an auspicious choice for kitchens in feng shui, whether that’s the pale, soft shades of butter or a stronger, more vivacious butternut squash.

To more fully invoke the feng shui “abundance and prosperity” energy in your kitchen, add lovely fresh cut flowers in sparkling glass or crystal vases; a vibrant, healthy potted plant on a table or passthrough surface; or a bowl piled high with succulent, fresh fruit on your dining table.

And finally, no matter how large or small it may be, one of the most effective ways to enhance the feng shui of your kitchen is to keep it clean and tidy. Neglected spaces tend to accumulate dead, stagnant energy, whereas well-tended spaces keep that energy flowing smoothly.

How to Feng Shui Your Front Door

When it comes to renovating or redecorating the home, odds are the front door doesn’t get nearly enough attention, considering how important it really is to the overall aesthetics and warmth of the house as a whole.

One way to go about making sure your front door helps your house to feel more like a home -- and maybe even bring a little more positive energy and luck inside -- is to follow some basic feng shui principles.

What is Feng Shui?

Ying - Yang Symbol

Ying - Yang Symbol

Feng shui is an ancient Chinese philosophy or doctrine that focuses on balancing dualities such as light and dark. Adherents believe good feng shui leads to a more harmonious, pleasant home and that it can also lead to a more personal success and well-being.

One of the principles of feng shui is the concept of yin and yang. In Chinese philosophy, yin represents the feminine, intuitive energy and yang represents a masculine, logical energy.

A Few Basic Principles of Feng Shui

Feng shui practitioners use a compass or bagua to help design an interior space or element, such as a front door. The bagua helps with the proper placement of items relating to the five various “elements” of feng shui: water, fire, wood, metal, and earth.

Each of these elements can be represented in a constructive or destructive mode. For example, in its destructive form, water extinguishes fire but in its constructive mode, it helps wood (plants) grow. Neither mode is good or bad, according to feng shui principles. They’re both required for a balanced world, home, and life.

Your front door is literally the entrance into your living space and the first impression visitors get of your home. In a sense, it sets your home’s “intention” and gives you an opportunity to express what your home life is all about. It’s also the source of your home’s “chi,” or life energy.

That makes the front door an important focal point in feng shui, and worth a little attention.

Simple Feng Shui Tips for Your Front Door

"A place for everything and everything in its place." - Feng Shui guideline

"A place for everything and everything in its place." - Feng Shui guideline

Start by taking a stranger’s view of your home’s entrance. Stand outside and walk up to your front door, then through it while maintaining as objective a perspective as possible. What feeling does this walk-through leave you with?

Next, clear the clutter. “A place for everything and everything in its place” could very well be a feng shui guideline! If there are any elements there that don’t bring you joy or add to the beauty of your entranceway, either remove them altogether or consider replacing them with more attractive and functional options. Decluttering the area of dead plants, empty containers, and anything unnecessary will help open up the flow of positive energy into your home.

Consider giving your front door a fresh coat of paint, preferably a bright, cheerful color. You might even want to explore the associations specific colors have with feng shui concepts, such as love, money, luck, and more.

By the same token, make any small repairs or cleanup jobs necessary to spruce the door up. Cracked glass, dulled hardware in need of a polish, accumulated dirt and grime can all dam up the flow of good energy, according to feng shui.

Add a tall, healthy plant to your entrance area. Healthy growing plants in general are seen as luck-enhancing in feng shui. Just make sure the plant doesn’t block the entranceway or the path through the door, as anything that hampers energy flow isn’t a good choice!

Finally, add some charm and color to your front door and entrance area with a cheerful new welcome mat and a small statue of a meaningful figure -- a guardian angel, perhaps, or a laughing Buddha. Figures such as these bring protection to your home, feng shui experts believe.

Help the good energy continue flowing into your home by cleaning and sprucing up the items and furnishings in your entryway, according to feng shui principles. For example, you can add a small water fountain to the right side of your door if you want to bring in good luck every time the door is opened.

7 Creative Ideas for Gardening with Containers

Container gardening is a great choice for many homeowners, especially those with small available spaces for planting.

The right containers can help you maximize use of tightly configured spaces, and depending on the container you choose, might even make a more portable choice than the traditional flower bed approach.

Tips for Great Container Gardens

What you grow in your new container garden will be determined by other factors, such as available soil, shaded versus light, moisture levels, and of course your own personal preferences.

Start by evaluating the need for additional drainage in your container. You might need to enlarge existing holes or add new ones. For larger containers, consider simply adding a layer of rocks and placing small containers on top, which you can hide with artful arrangement, some potting soil, and the right plants.

You’ll also want to evaluate your available sunlight and choose plants that will thrive in that amount of light. Then plan to group plants with similar light, nutrient, and moisture needs together in the same container.

Finally add the right nutrients to your potting soil mix. Don’t forget the fertilizer!

You can always buy expensive pots and containers from your local garden or home store, but you can also exercise a little creativity and choose found items to express your individuality and personal taste.

And as for those containers, allow yourself to get inspired by these creative suggestions …

Galvanized Steel Wash Tubs

There’s something simultaneously sophisticated and rustic about using galvanized steel wash tubs as plant containers.

You can find tubs and buckets of galvanized steel in lots of places, including hardware stores and home repair stores.

File Cabinets/Chests with Drawers

Another creative container choice: old file cabinets or chests with two to three drawers.

Whether you go with a slightly rusted-out version, or take some spray paint to a newer model, you can find a drawer-based option that appeals to your aesthetic. You can see other variations here at The Micro Gardener.

 

Bird Cages

Bird cages make great containers, whether for trailing vines or succulents, such as in this example from Empress of Dirt.

 

Kid’s Wagons

Fix your kid’s old little red wagon, either as the container itself or a container for other pots. In fact, any kid’s wagon will work.

Why Bathroom Renovation is a Great Home Investment

If you’re looking at a bathroom remodel, one of the first questions you should ask is whether it’s a good investment for your home. In other words, will you be able to recoup a significant portion of your investment?

Even if you’re planning to limit your expenses by getting the job done on a budget, you should look at your possible return on investment (or ROI). When it comes to home renovation, the bathroom is a great place to start. Not only is it an easier room to make over, it’s also a great investment.

Remodeling Online looked at home resale data for 2017 and determined that, as in years past, bathroom remodel jobs continue to be among the best investments you can make in your home. In fact, you can recoup about seventy cents for every dollar you spend.

And HGTV says that bathrooms are one of the main areas new buyers will look at first, although of course more fundamental maintenance issues should always be taken care of first -- e.g., repairing a leaky roof or updating worn-out siding.

The exact amount you’ll earn back on your bathroom renovation investment depends on a number of factors, of course. Those factors include things like the value of your home, the average value of similar homes in your area, how well the job is done, and the extent of the work.

For example, Home Advisor reports that the average cost of a bathroom remodeling job can range anywhere from $2,600 to $20,000. If your budget is tight, you can stretch those dollars by focusing on renovating the essentials in a small or mid-sized bathroom. Assuming the work is high quality, you’ll enjoy a dramatic upgrade for the investment.

You don’t have to go crazy with a complete overhaul. Instead, extend the impact of your budget by installing updated fixtures and re-grouting your shower. Adding crown molding to any bathroom is another great way to make a big splash with a shoestring budget.

To maximize your investment, go for high-impact, low-cost changes. Exchange a boxy sink and vanity for a slimmer pedestal style to open up the space and streamline the look. In a master bath, you could replace a single sink with a double one, as many buyers will be looking for that feature. In smaller rooms, though, do the reverse - change out a double one for a single to expand the space.

As for the eternal paint or wallpaper debate, your safest bet for a maximized ROI is to skip the paper, which can look dated very quickly and runs the risk of turning off homebuyers who really aren’t into scraping it off. Instead, go for a clean, fresh coat of paint in a neutral color scheme.

Individual components are available at a huge range of price points. Toilets are generally the least expensive items, about $200 on the low end up to $800.

But for just about every other item up for consideration in a bathroom remodel, the average price range is far greater. Sinks, for example, can cost as little as $200 or as much as $6,500 or more.

You can use Home Advisor’s estimate tool to get an idea of how much your own bathroom job will cost.

How do you get started? One way is to allow yourself to dream big. Create a mood board using online images and Pinterest or a similar app to collect and organize the elements of your dream bathroom. Then you can look for more economical ways to achieve the same look and feel.

7 Ways to Get Your Home Ready for a Hot Florida Summer

Sure, it’s still winter. But now’s the ideal time to get your home ready for another hot and muggy summer. Here are the top money-saving, energy-conserving tricks to use this year to keep your home comfortable all season long.

1. Evaluate and Repair Your A/C System

Start with the biggest energy user in your home: Your air conditioning system. An optimally-functioning, modern energy-efficient HVAC system generally pays for itself in lower energy bills.

You can hire a professional to thoroughly test your system, or start with a DIY inspection, then hire a pro if you find any problem spots. Make sure your ductwork is examined carefully for leaks.

Plan to make necessary repairs or upgrades now. HVAC professionals tend to get busy in summer, and you may find yourself waiting for service, or paying a premium for it.

One thing you can and definitely should do yourself: check your air filter monthly. Filters wear out more quickly during hot weather. Replace your filters as necessary. And consider switching out your old thermostat for a modern programmable one to save up to $100 a year.

2. Summer-Proof Your Attic

As we learned in grade school, hot air rises. And in your home, that hot air rises straight up into the roof, which also gets baked by the sun all day long. Result: your attic can be a real heat-trapping cap on your home.

Make sure your home is properly protected with at least six inches of insulation. Attic insulation can compact over time, so you may need to add some more.

Next, consider installing a whole-house fan in your attic. These fans utilize the cooler evening air to lower temperatures throughout the house, while also pulling the hot air out of the attic and out of the house entirely.

The end result is a much cooler home, for a lower cost.

3. Upgrade Your Lightbulbs

Did you know electric lighting represents about a quarter of the average home’s electricity budget?

If you’re using old-fashioned bulbs, consider upgrading them to compact fluorescent light bulbs -- especially for any bulbs that get heavy use and thus get replaced often.

CFLs generally last 10 times longer than ordinary ones. That can wind up saving you $50 per bulb. CFLs also emit less heat, reducing your cooling needs somewhat.

4. Sun-Proof Your Windows

Follow a three-pronged approach with windows:

First, inspect your window frames for gaps. If you find any, caulk them. Also make sure each window can be raised and lowered smoothly.

Second, reduce the amount of heat that transfers into your home through the windows. Install thick insulated blinds, especially on windows that face south or west, and consider adding exterior coverings or awnings if you don’t have any natural shade outside.

Finally, add some smart landscaping. Leafy trees and bushes can provide lots of shade and lower cooling costs in hot months.

5. Waterproof Your Home

Another area that can use some attention before hurricane season is your home’s waterproofing.

Check the ground near your house. Pooled water is a sign that your drainage needs some attention. Don’t let mulching touch your home. Instead, keep about six inches of space between any part of your home and the start of mulch or other material that soaks up water.

And don’t forget to clear out the gutters. Failing to take this step can lead to water intrusion and expensive damage.

6. Install -- and Properly Use -- Ceiling Fans

If your home doesn’t have ceiling fans, install them now in bedrooms and high-traffic living spaces. Ceiling fans help keep your home cool by pulling the hotter air up to the ceiling, then moving it down the walls, to a nice cool-breeze effect.

If you already have ceiling fans, make sure that they’re operating with a counter-clockwise spin.

7. Check the Fridge

Last but definitely not least, clean your refrigerator, inside and out. Clean dust and debris off the refrigerator’s coils for more efficient cooling and to reduce electricity usage.

5 Kitchen Styles for Your Remodel

Ready to remodel your kitchen, but overwhelmed with design options? Start by choosing a style to guide you, then explore your options for colors and materials within the broad strokes of that style. Let’s look at five great styles that work beautifully for kitchens.

1. Cottage

Cottage style is all about cozying up to natural elements and tones. White is a classic choice, but really any hues can work if you keep the overall aesthetic on the muted, neutral side -- for example, pale greys and taupes.

Another key feature is eclecticism, which you can achieve simply by pairing up unexpected styles -- say, a table from one style paired with chairs from another -- or mismatched chairs, for that matter, perhaps tied together with fabric or paint.

If cabinetry is overwhelming, it can throw off a cottage kitchen design. Instead, consider glass-fronted or open shelving to lighten up the look. Wooden floors and pendant lighting will help complete the cozy cottage look.

2. Modern

The key to modern design: simplified, dramatic color schemes and a sleek aesthetic. Black, white, and stainless are popular, but modern doesn’t mean “clinical and cold.” Warm up the basics with accent colors that pop. Think citrus -- lime green, bright orange -- and incorporate it with rugs, kitchen towels, artwork, bowls, or appliances.

Flooring should be kept understated and clean. Concrete is a solid choice, but geometric tiles can also work. If you’re not a fan of the black, white, and steel motif, try blond wood for your cabinetry and accessorize with a cool accent color.

As for materials, you can go natural and earthy (wood and steel) or molded plastic (think sleek eggshell-toned high-backed bar stools or chairs).

3. Contemporary

Contemporary is about what’s current today. So, while tones of taupe, brown, cream, and white work just fine in both modern and contemporary aesthetics, you want a fresher approach with contemporary style. Consider changing one wall or panel to a bright accent color.

As for materials, use wood strategically. Either keep the wood light-toned and minimally grained, such as birch or maple, or go with darker woods (walnut, cherry) but pair with predominantly white or cream tones.

Glass is another popular choice. You can create an easy bit of texture and visual interest by selecting a frosted glass for table tops or cabinet fronts. Brushed nickel, chrome, and stainless steel are dependable contemporary touches.

4. Country

“Country style” can encompass a huge variety of looks, colors, and materials, but the overriding aesthetic is warm, comfortable, and rustic. Color schemes can range from cheerful and busy to sedate and earth-toned. A wide range of patterns from florals to checks and plaids can also work nicely here.

For materials, think exposed brick and wood, whether stained, painted, or au naturel. Depending on the size of the room and whether it’s an open floor plan, you may find that too much medium to dark toned wood overpowers the room. Lighten things up elsewhere, perhaps with white or neutral walls. Antiqued brass and pewter fixtures can also work nicely.  

5. Classic

Classic style never goes out of style - that’s why we call it “classic”! Elements for this timeless style include marble-topped counters and island surfaces together with classic raised-panel cabinetry in darker woods (think walnut, cherry). Pair cabinetry with brushed nickel or brass hardware to lighten things up a bit.

While color schemes tend towards neutral, there’s nothing that says you can’t embrace bolder colors for wall paint, such as a deep red or hunter green, although those colors may be overpowering in a smaller kitchen. You can also go all-white, and even extend it as far as the cabinetry itself, but pair it with darker-toned appliances -- steel or black, for example -- to add some depth.