Cleaning House: Secrets of a Truly Deep Clean

Deep clean your house and you’ll brighten rooms and help maintain your home’s value.

Image: phillipb81/Getty

Here are frequently overlooked areas that a little spit and polish wouldn’t hurt.

Debug the Light Fixtures

See that bug burial ground within your overhead fixtures? Turn off the lights and carefully remove fixture covers, dump out flies, and wash with hot soapy water. While you’re up there, dust bulbs. Dry everything thoroughly before replacing the cover.

Related: Did You Know that Dirty Bulbs Waste Energy?

Infographic tips deep clean debug light fixtures remove grungy switchplates replace stove drip pan
Image: MXM for HouseLogic
  • Vacuum Heat Vents and Registers

Dirt and dust build up in heat vents and along register blades. Vents also are great receptacles for coins and missing buttons. Unscrew vent covers from walls or pluck them from floors, remove foreign objects, and vacuum inside the vent. Clean grates with a damp cloth and screw back tightly.

Polish Hardware

To deep clean brass door hinges, handles, and cabinet knobs, thoroughly wipe with a damp microfiber cloth, then polish with Wright’s Brass Cream ($20). Dish soap shines up glass or stainless steel knobs. Use a Q-tip to detail the ornamental filigree on knobs and handles.

Replace Grungy Switch Plates

Any amateur can wipe a few fingerprints off cover plates that hide light switches, electric outlets, phone jacks, and cable outlets. But only deep cleaners happily remove plates to vacuum and swipe the gunk behind. (OK, we’re a little OCD when it comes to dirt!) Make sure cover plates are straight when you replace them. And pitch plates that are beyond the help of even deep cleaning. New ones cost about $4 to $10 each.

Neaten Weather Stripping

Peeling, drooping weather stripping on doors and windows makes rooms look old. If the strip still has some life, nail or glue it back. If it’s hopeless, cut out and replace sections, or just pull the whole thing off and start new. A 10-foot roll of foam weather stripping costs $10 to $15; 18 feet of vinyl costs about $16.

Replace Stove Drip Pans

Some drip pans are beyond the scrub brush. Replacing them costs about $22 for a four pack and instantly freshens your stove.

“Visit for more articles like this.  Reprinted from with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

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8 Home Remodeling Projects With Top-Dollar Returns

Not all home improvements are created equal. These will reward you the most when it comes time to sell.

Homeowners entertaining on their porch
Image: Nigel Riches/Offset
  • Your home is in the perfect location, came at the perfect price, with the perfect lot. (Yay southern exposure!)

But the home itself? Perfect isn’t the adjective you’d use. But you knew that moving in, and now you’re ready to start making it just right.

Where to begin, though? How about with data? Data is that friend who tells you like it really is.

Because while any home improvement that brings you joy is priceless, not all add as much home equity as you might expect.

The “Remodeling Impact Report” from the National Association of REALTORS® has tons of data on how much improvements cost — and how much of those costs you can recoup.

Here are eight of the report’s best home remodeling projects with equity-building might:

#1 New Roof

Two men work on a gray shingled roof with houses in distance
Image: Eddy Garcia
  • If you find yourself sprinting for the buckets when it starts to sprinkle, getting a new roof should be your No. 1 to do. Measuring rainfall from the indoors isn’t cool. 

The cost: $12,000

The return: 100% at $12,000

Considering it’s what’s between you and the elements, it’s a no-brainer. 

Not sure if you need a new roof? Signs you might include:

  • Shingles are missing, curling up, or covered in moss.
  • Gritty bits from the asphalt shingles are coming out the downspout. 
  • The sun’s shining through your attic. 
  • You notice stains on ceilings and walls.
  • Your energy bill is sky high.

Popular Reads

#2 and #3 Refinished or New Hardwood Floors

Herringbone wood floor in white kitchen with steel appliance
Image: SL Interiors
  • You flip on the TV to see that your fave home reno-ing duo is it at again, flipping a ranch that’s stuck in the ’80s. 

They make it to the living room, pull back the dingy carpet to reveal hardwood floors in great condition. They’re psyched — and for good reason. 

Hardwood floors are a timeless classic. Refinishing is a no-brainer. Neither will you regret adding new hardwood floors if you have none.

The cost to refinish: $3,400

The return: 147% at $5,000

The cost to buy new: $5,500

The return: 118% at $6,500 

Related: Should You Refinish Hardwood Floors Yourself?

#4 New Garage Door

White glass garage door on gray, ranch-style home
Image: Sunwest Garage Door
  • No surprise that a garage door replacement project made it onto this #winning list — a new garage door provides a big boost for your home’s curb appeal at a relatively modest cost. 

The cost: $2,000

The return: 100% at $2,000

There are options galore, too. A host of factory-finish colors, wood-look embossed steel, and glass window insets are just some of the possibilities that’ll give your doors bankable personality. 

#5 Better Insulation

Insulation is tucked out of sight, so it’s often out of mind — that is, until you’re forced to wear your parka indoors because it’s sooo darn cold. 

The cost: $2,500

The return: 100% at $2,500 (plus the added savings on heating and cooling costs!)

#6 New Siding

Home with blue siding and white trim | New Siding for ROI
Image: Larkaun Homes
  • In any color! And never paint again. 

Those are two of the three benefits of vinyl siding. The third, of course, is your home’s value. 

But if long-time homeowners look at you funny when you mention vinyl siding, just tell them that today’s vinyl is way better than what they remember because of fade-resistant finishes and transferable lifetime warranties. 

The cost: $18,300

The return: 82% at $15,000

#7 Fiber-Cement Siding

Want fiber-cement siding instead? It also shows a strong payback of 86%. Although it’s the pricier option — you’ll spend about $18,600 with a payback of about $16,000 — it has one thing vinyl still lacks — the perception of quality.

The cost: $18,600

The return: 86% at $16,000

#8 Basement Conversion to Living Area

With more homeowners working from home and spending time at home because of inflation and high prices, adding living space is a priority. Basement conversions to living areas were a popular interior renovation.

The cost: $57,500

The return: 86% at $49,150

In addition to the financial return, remodeling provides emotional benefits. Eighty-four percent of homeowners have a greater desire to be in their home after finishing a project. And 69% enjoy their homes more. Fifty-seven percent feel happy, and 39% feel satisfied when they see their completed project. With results like those, remodeling is an investment you can feel confident about.

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8 Spring Lawn Care Tasks You Need to Do Now

How to prepare your yard for spring so you can enjoy it more and work on it less.

Close up of grass blades covered in dew | Spring Lawn Care
Image: Art of Kendal
  • Temps might still be a long way from shorts and T-shirts, but if your soil is warming up, it’s time to tackle your spring lawn care tasks. Especially if you want a gorgeous yard with the least amount of hassle.

#1 Seed Your Lawn

Before soil temps reach 65 degrees, spread grass seed over any bare or thin spots. The sooner the grass roots, the faster it can box out weeds. Or better yet, put down sod — it fights crabgrass and weeds better.

Related: Preparing Your Lawn for Spring: 5 Simple Steps

#2 Clean Out Debris

Gray, wooden fence with red heart in front of lawn debris
Image: Aimee Dolich of Artsyville
  • Your yard is waking up from a monthslong slumber, and it’s lookin’ a little groggy, with branches, leftover leaves, and clumps of yard debris scattered about. Clean that unsightly detritus from your lawn and gardens after the overnight air temps consistently rise above freezing. (Before that, it actually helps protect your grass, like a toasty blanket.)

#3 Apply Fertilizer With Pre-Emergent Herbicide

Yellow forsythia against a wooden fence and blue sky
Image: Danielle Blue
  • It sounds like an old gardeners’ tale, but even master gardeners follow it: If the bright yellow forsythia bushes are beginning to bloom, it’s time to apply a slow-release fertilizer with pre-emergent herbicide to fight crabgrass. Apply before the grass germinates — when the soil warms to about 55 degrees, which is when forsythia hits peak bloom.

#4 Plant Bare-Root Plants

Yellow, pink, and red snapdragons obscuring red barn
Image: Natalie Van Valkenberg
  • Once the soil in your garden is thawed and dry enough to crumble, rather than clump, in your hand, you can get your green thumb back into action outdoors. Cool-season growers like pansies, snapdragons, and bare-root trees and shrubs all get a boost from the cool, wet conditions.

#5 Wash Away Salt

Snow-lined sidewalk covered in salt | Spring Lawn Care Tasks
Image: @megrus
  • Most plants don’t grow well if they’re feeling salty (unless they’re saline-tolerant, like daylilies). So once roadside soil has thawed, give your exposed plants a good watering to dilute any salt that sprayed up from slushy winter traffic.

#6 Prune and Fertilize

Overhead view of wheelbarrow and ladder beneath trees
Image: Artist Andy Drew 2
  • As long as your soil crumbles instead of clumping (revealing it’s sufficiently dry), it’s time to prune fruit trees, shade trees, and summer-blooming shrubs, and remove old growth from perennials that you didn’t prune in the fall. You’ll also want to fertilize trees and shrubs before they begin their spring growth.

#7 Preorder Perennials

Assortment of pink and yellow perennials overflow in garden
Image: Rare Roots, LLC
  • Even if you can’t plant them just yet, take advantage of the 10%-to-20%-off deals offered by many nurseries in early spring. Bonus: Being an early bird means you’ll also get the best selection.

#8 Get Your Mower Ready

Close up of red lawn mower on lush green lawn
Image: Carolyn Scott Photography
  • Once grass reaches 2.5 to 3.5 inches tall, it’s time for your mower’s annual maiden voyage. So prep now for a season of success, rather than stalling, wheezing, and cursing. Get an oil change, new spark plugs, and a clean air filter, and sharpen the blades to ensure a clean first cut.

“Visit for more articles like this.  Reprinted from with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

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10 Home Design Features for Pets

With these amenities, your fur babies will make themselves (more) at home.

home design for pets tabby cat with green eyes sitting inside a vintage dollhouse
Image: Cyndi Monaghan/Getty
  • For most of us, our pets are family. We let them sleep in our beds, ladle nutritional supplements on their organic kibble, and throw birthday parties for them. In fact, we love our animal companions so much that we even choose a home and a home design for pets.

These numbers tell the story. Forty-three percent of pet owners say they’d move to accommodate their pet, according to a 2021 study from the National Association of REALTORS®. What’s more, 68% of pet owners surveyed by® say they’d pass on an otherwise perfect home that didn’t meet their pet’s needs. According to the same survey, nearly 95% of pet-owning respondents say their furry companion plays a role in selecting a home.

Real estate agents are seeing the numbers play out IRL. “Our pets are pampered and adored. That’s really translating into how people are buying real estate and what amenities they are looking for,” says Nicole Prince, an agent with the Figueroa Team in Orlando. “I get clients who bring me a list of features they want in a home or neighborhood that are for their pets — from dog parks nearby to no carpet in the house.”

Here are some pet-friendly features that will make a home more welcoming for animals. Whether you’re shopping for a new home or upgrading your space to suit your fur baby’s needs, they’ll make the place a pet paradise.

#1 Pet Bathing Station

home pet bathing station a golden retriever being sprayed with a showerhead in a stainless tub
Image: ArtistGNDphotography/Getty
  • Washing a dog in a normal bathtub can be miserable. Even if your pup is groomed regularly, you still need to clean them up after they romp at the dog park or roll in mud in the yard. One solution is to build a grooming station in your home for quick cleanups.

“I’ve shown homes lately that have grooming stations built in,” Prince says. “It’s super cool — a utility sink that doubles as a place for you to wash your dog.” For larger dogs, you can install a commercial grooming tub with a hand sprayer or a walk-in shower that will accommodate your pet. The location is flexible: A grooming station can go in a laundry room, mudroom, or garage.

#2 Chicken Coops

designer chicken coop hidden in a residential backyard
Image: Cavan Images/Getty
  • Backyard chickens are chic. Driven by the pandemic, ownership of backyard chickens increased from 8% in 2018 to 13% in 2020, according to the American Pet Product Association. Why? Fresh eggs, says Amanda Terbrock of Manna Pro Products, quoted in Pet Business. More chickens means more fancy chicken coops, because we would never put our beloved backyard hens in shabby digs. You can build your own or buy a chicken coop that looks like a luxe she-shed or child’s playhouse. A nice coop can set you back thousands, but hey, it’s for our darling animals. Also, fresh eggs!

#3 Pet-Proof Flooring

durable tile flooring covered in dirt with two dogs
Image: dageldog/Getty
  • Accidents happen, even with the best-behaved pets. That’s why floors with a hard, impermeable surface make your life easier. Think tile, hardwood, terrazzo, cement, or laminate, Prince says. Stay away from wall-to-wall carpet. “Carpets soak up pet stains, so they’re a bad idea,” Prince explains. Adding wood floors to your home increases monetary value, too. The National Association of REALTORS® “2022 Remodeling Impact Report” says new wood floors bring a 118% return when it’s time to sell the house.

#4 Build-in Pet Beds

home design for pets indoor cat bed built in on the wall and living room furniture
Image: © copyright 2011 Sharleen Chao/Getty
  • Pet beds tossed about your house are unattractive and consume valuable floor space. The alternative is building pet beds into cabinets, shelves, and other pieces of furniture. You can build a pet bed into the bottom shelves of a bookcase or into a kitchen or mudroom cabinet. Or tuck it under the stairs. If hiring a cabinetmaker or carpenter to build a seamless pet bed isn’t in your budget, you can also buy pet beds that look like furniture. You’ll be happier with the way your pet bed looks, and your pet will have a permanent space.

#5 Built-in Pet Gates

built in dog gate matching interior design in a home
Image: Maggie Stuart for HouseLogic
  • You don’t want your pets to go into certain places in your home, and most of us keep them out with baby gates. Plastic baby gates are flimsy and unattractive. A better option is a built-in gate. You can hire a cabinetmaker to build a custom pet gate for a door that’s mounted to a door jamb on hinges. Or you could make a pocket door-style pet gate that slides into the walls. Can’t afford custom work? Consider premade upscale pet gates that you can mount to a door jamb or staircase.

#6 Outdoor Ramp

custom design outdoor wood deck ramp for pets with a bulldog climbing up
Image: marcoventuriniautieri/Getty
  • Just like humans, dogs and cats can get too old to easily navigate stairs. If stairs are separating your pet from the outdoors, build a ramp from the door to the yard to make your house accessible as they age. You can hire a carpenter to construct the outdoor ramp for dogs. Be sure you design it at an angle they can navigate. Small or short-legged dogs — like basset hounds and corgis — may need a ramp to navigate stairs even when they’re young.

#7 Enclosed Cat Patio

home pet patio tabby cat looking out from a balcony catio
Image: Simona Weber/Getty
  • Also called a catio (cat + patio,) these outdoor enclosures provide a safe place for your cat to play outside. The structure, with a roof and four walls, keeps your cat safe and unable to harm wildlife. Catios can range from window-box sized ones to lanai-sized ones large enough to enclose a patio with human seating.

#8 Built-in Pet Doors

home design built in pet door blue tabby cat passing through glass door flap
Image: Nils Jacobi/Getty
  • Those pet doors with the rubber flaps and plastic frames that you hack into a door can be flimsy and straight-up ugly. Fortunately, sturdier and more aesthetically pleasing alternatives are available. You can get exterior doors with built-in pet doors. Or, consider glass inserts with built-in pet doors that replace sidelights on an exterior door. If you want to spend more, you can get heavy duty pet door inserts that fit into your home’s exterior wall. Integrating a pet door into your home’s design is better for you and your pup because it’s more permanent, secure, and lovely.

#9 Built-in Pet Feeding Station

home design built in pet feeding station with food and water bowl under a stairway
Image: ArchiViz/Getty
  • Food and water bowls are messy, so upgrade your setup with a built-in pet feeding station. You can build a dedicated space for pet bowls into the cabinets in your kitchen or laundry room. That means no more tripping over bowls. A built-in station organizes the space, turning pet bowls from clutter to part of the furniture. Consider installing a faucet near the feeding station so you can easily refill or rinse bowls.

#10 Fenced-in Yard

fenced yard for pets with two shetland sheepdogs playing with a stick
Image: Deb Perry/Getty
  • A meadow-like grassy yard enclosed by a secure fence is the holy grail for pet owners. An outdoor area for their beloved animals to play safely is why pet owners leave lofts in the city for single-family homes in the suburbs. “A fenced-in yard is near the top of my clients’ list when they’re looking for dog-friendly features,” Prince says. “There’s no substitute for a safe place for your animals to spend time outdoors.”

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The Most Common Spring Cleaning Mistake (Plus 8 Others)

Don’t open the windows. That spring breeze is no help at all.

Image: ablokhin/Getty
  • Once there’s even a glimmer of spring, you’re ready to throw open your windows and let the breeze blow away the winter funk. Well, you might want to rethink that spring cleaning ritual this year.

If you’re an allergy sufferer (and who isn’t?), that’s the last thing you want to do, says Dr. Neeta Ogden, a spokesperson for the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. “It will allow pollen to settle in your home.”

If you really can’t skip that spring breeze, avoid opening windows in the morning, when pollen counts are highest. They decrease late in the day and at night.

That’s not the only common spring-cleaning mistake homeowners make. Here are eight more to avoid:

#1 Not Looking Up

You’ve worked up a sweat and everything’s starting to sparkle, but then you realize your ceiling fan is coated in dust. Uh-oh. Once you start wiping the fan, dust will scatter on what you’ve already cleaned. That’s why you should always look up to see what needs dusting before you start cleaning at eye level. Tackle hard-to-reach places like the tops of bookshelves, crown molding, and window ledges.

#2 Starting to Clean Without a Plan

You wake up motivated. Today you’re going to get all your spring cleaning done! But by noon, your house is in disarray, and not one single room is finished. Ugh. That’s why Briana Norde, owner of Caliber Cleaning, says it pays to break up the biggest cleaning project of the year into smaller, more manageable tasks.

She recommends starting with your hardest job, like the kitchen, which she calls the “most time-consuming room.” With that first accomplishment under your belt, you’ll have the momentum to take on the remaining tasks. The key is to give yourself plenty of breaks. And there’s nothing wrong with spreading it out over several days.

#3 Ignoring That Weird-Looking Vacuum Attachment

Don’t let your carpet hog the vacuum. The crevice tool, Norde says, “is not used nearly enough.” Use it between your wall and refrigerator to get out the accumulated dust that’s otherwise unreachable, and run it around the edge of your baseboards to clean where standard upright vacuums can’t reach.

#4 Skipping the Mattress

Think of how much time you spend in your bed. Yet, you probably clean the top of your fridge more often than your mattress. Your mattress harbors millions of dust mites, which cause various respiratory conditions including sneezing, a runny nose, itchy eyes, and skin rashes (not to mention just being plain gross).

“[Dust mites’] food is human skin scales, so the bed is just heaven for them,” says Ogden.

She recommends using a vapor steam cleaner to root out the itchy devils, then wrapping it in an anti-allergen mattress protector.

At the very least, sprinkle your mattress with baking soda and let it sit for awhile. Then (using the attachment mentioned above) vacuum it up.

#5 Relying on Harsh Cleaners

There’s a reason many commercial cleaners have the words “danger,” “hazard,” or “caution,” on their labels. Something in the ingredients is toxic in one form or another, and most all could aggravate allergies and asthma. So, “don’t go crazy with cleaners you don’t need,” says Ogden. Moldy bathrooms may scream for bleach, but most surfaces do not. Ogden recommends making your own solution of water and vinegar (use a fifty-fifty ratio), which will keep most surfaces clean and germ-free.

#6 Using Chemical Air Fresheners

You want your home to smell fresh, so it’s tempting to reach for that mountain-rain-spring-fresh-scent in a can. But aerosol air fresheners contain high levels of toxic pollutants like phthalates, which can affect hormone levels, cause reproductive abnormalities, and increase allergies and asthma. Yikes. Try homemade (and less-expensive) alternatives, such as potpourri, or essential oils and water in a spray bottle.

Related: Fragant Plants That Will Keep Your Home Smelling Good

#7 Leaving the Clutter

All of the spring cleaning tips and advice are useless if you don’t declutter first.

“We tend to not clean well around clutter,” says Ogden. “You’re not going to reach the dust there.”

Make sure toys are put away, books are back on the bookshelf, and paperwork is filed before you begin the cleaning process. Otherwise, you’re leaving room for dust and pollen to hide — making spring cleaning all for naught.

#8 Treating It Like a Chore

If you dread spring cleaning, this should make you feel better: a Harvard study found those who treated cleaning as beneficial exercise saw a decrease in weight, body mass index, blood pressure, and more. That’s what we call a trifecta: living in a clean home, breathing allergy-free air, and feeling great!

“Visit for more articles like this.  Reprinted from with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

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3 Ways to Organize Your Closet So You Use Every Square Inch

An organized closet doesn’t have to be just in your dreams.

Closet system featuring shirts and four white baskets
Image: Help You Dwell
  • Three bloggers explain how they transformed their closets.

Scroll on to get ideas for utility, walk-in, and mud room closets.

#1 A Well-Organized Utility

Many of us stash brooms, batteries, and tools separately. Not Missy of Lookie What I Did. She converted a coat closet that was a catchall for useless stuff into a central location for home maintenance items.

Before and after tool closet redo
Image: Missy Allaire of LookieWhatIDid
  • Optimizing Space

She went vertical by adding a rolling drawer unit, a pegboard, and storage baskets. She also kept sweepers and mops off the floor using adhesive wall hooks.

To make it a cinch to find stuff, every item in the closet has its place:

  • Heavily used items hang on the pegboard.
  • Cleaning products live together in a basket.
  • Hardware, adhesives, and batteries are stowed and labeled in the rolling drawer unit.
  • Bulky, less-frequently needed items are kept in labeled baskets on the shelf.

Tip: When deciding what to store in your closets, ask yourself what has more value, a particular item or the space you will gain.Popular Reads

#2 A Masterful Walk-In

This closet will appeal to your inner Carrie Bradshaw. Sandra, aka Sawdust Girl, ripped out her old master closet and created her dream closet over four months.

Optimizing Space

This closet is huge, but it’s the special features that make it efficient:

  • Convenience: Connects to the bedroom, bathroom, and laundry room.
  • Quality: Oversized, self-closing drawers quietly glide shut.
  • Lighting: Colors render beautifully with daylight CFL bulbs.
  • Power: Extra outlets, extra flexibility.
  • Add-ons: A built-in ironing board, rolling ladder, and nine-by-six-foot shoe cabinet came later.

#3 An Un-Muddled Mud Closet

Jaime the DIY mama behind the blog That’s My Letter came up with a cheery entryway mud room-style cubbie and bench system for a friend.

Closet turned in to mudroom cubbies
Image: Jaime Costiglio
  • Optimizing Space

Originally, the closet had piles of stuff on the shelf and floor. To eliminate clutter, she evaluated what to keep and came up with a plan to make those items more accessible:

  • 12 solid-wood shoe cubbies wrangle Dad’s shoes, which had been spilling out of a hanging organizer.
  • The bench performs triple duty: It provides a place to sit, room for handbags and knapsacks, and a spot for more shoes.
  • Baskets on top of the cubbies stow gloves, hats, and scarves.

Tip: When it comes to keeping closet clutter at bay, out of sight means out of mind. So opt for a closet system that allows you to see everything that’s stored.

“Visit for more articles like this.  Reprinted from with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

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Natural Kitchens: Always in Style

Lighten up with a kitchen remodel that adds wood, stone, and plenty of daylight and greenery.

Image: Andrea Rugg/Getty
  • As the kitchen has become more of hub, that fact may have sparked daydreams about a redo. What if the space could draw family and friends with a warm, inviting, and natural look? And what if that natural kitchen was easier to maintain? Many homeowners who acted on that daydream are super happy they did, according to the National Association of REALTORS® “Remodeling Impact Report.” Homeowners who were surveyed reported a joy score of 9.8 out of 10. 

They’ll likely snag a financial bonus too. The report found the average cost of a kitchen upgrade is $45,000, and the average return is 67%.

Here are six ideas to inspire a natural look for your kitchen. 

#1 Wood Cabinets Mix Warmth, Low Maintenance, and Durability

Image: 2Mmedia/Getty
  • White is still the tried-and-true, top choice for cabinets in remodeled kitchens. But its popularity has slipped a bit, according to the 2021 U.S. Houzz Kitchen Trends Study. Wood tones were the second-favorite choice of homeowners surveyed, with a 2% increase from 2020.

Homeowners may be gravitating toward wood, including bare wood, cabinets, because they’re easy to clean and durable, and add warmth. Wood can also be sustainable.

“Many are turning to wood veneer choices — anigre or exotic woods or lighter [wood] colors,” says Joe Fava, CEO of Fava Design Group in Miami. “The younger generation is more interested in sustainability and cares about the type of wood used. Clients in their upper 50s and older are more interested in the look they want and richness of the material.”

Wood is also versatile, mixing well with other materials and colors — white or black, for instance — for a two-toned look. And if you like to change things up regularly, lighter color woods are easier to restain.

Beyond beauty and low maintenance, homeowners want durability. Durable cabinets have a longer lifespan, so they’re usually a better investment. Look for drawers constructed with solid wood dovetailed joinery that improves durability. 

Some homeowners found upper cabinets were making the kitchen look heavier and more enclosed. So, they’ve replaced them with open shelves that display collectibles. If you follow suit, make sure you have enough concealed storage to keep your counters clear. You’ll have an easier time cooking and entertaining.  

#2 Light Woods Keep Flooring Looking Clean

Wood used to get a bad rap for kitchen flooring, but no more. Improved finishes (water-based or natural oils with low volatile organic compounds) help boards resist water and scratches.

Lighter colors like white oak are popular not only because they have a cleaner look than dark floors, but also because they hide dust and dirt. When you think about the beating and dirt buildup kitchen floors take — yikes! The investment is so worth it. Overall, a new wood floor provides a whopping 118% ROI and a perfect joy score of 10 out of 10, according to the NAR remodeling survey.

Things that will never go out of style are natural light, beautiful natural woods and stones, and a desire to have nature seep into homes.

Carly Jones, partner with real estate firm Engels & Volkers

Light wood flooring also offers a fresh look, says Carly Jones, partner with real estate firm Engels & Volkers. “We want our kitchens and other rooms to feel light, fresh, and part of the outdoors even when we’re inside. Things that will never go out of style are natural light, beautiful natural woods and stones, and a desire to have nature seep into homes.”

Whether you go with solid hardwood or engineered wood, each has pros and cons. Hardwood is easy to refinish and repair, but prone to contraction and expansion. That can cause instability, cracks, and bowing over time. Engineered wood consists of a wood veneer atop plywood layers, which makes boards more stable, says Brett Miller, vice president of technical standards at the National Wood Flooring Association. The drawback is the top layer may make sanding or refinishing tougher, he adds. 

#3 Natural Stone Countertops Combine Easy Care and Strength

Image: Westend61/Getty
  • For countertops, natural stones are gaining fans. They offer a more tranquil look, especially when a big slab is used. (Tranquility is a huge plus after some tough times.) Plus, they, too, are versatile. Most stones come in an array of colors and patterns that juxtapose nicely with a kitchen’s wood elements.

Which stone to choose? Quartz makes for a strong, durable countertop that’s easier to maintain than granite because it’s made of stone or quartz material with resin added. Granite countertops, on the other hand, need more care and should be sealed every year. (Who knew?) If that sealing isn’t done correctly — or at all — the surface can absorb liquids and stains. And granite surfaces can have small cracks that turn into breaks if someone places a  hot pan directly on them.

After years of not being widely used, butcher block has roared back. Of course, it can be used as a cutting surface. Because it’s softer than stone, dropped dishes are also less likely to shatter on it. But the drawback is maintenance: Butcher block requires bi-annual sanding and oiling to protect the wood, and sealed counters shouldn’t be used for cutting.

These days butcher block surfaces are often being installed in small areas. They may be part of an island or near a sink but not directly adjacent, to avoid water damage, says Jimmy Crisp, principal architect at Crisp Architects in Millbrook, N.Y. Besides adding some aesthetic warmth, this approach can visually break up long stretches of your primary countertop surface, he says.

#4 Natural Lighting Is Good for Your Mood — and You

Being indoors for long stretches may have caused you to crave more natural light in your kitchen. This craving is one to indulge — it’s good for you. Natural light, especially sunlight, reduces stress and anxiety, boosts your immune system, and is a source of vitamin D.

Door and window manufacturers are meeting higher demand with bigger frames that provide access and better views, says Christine Marvin, vice president of design strategy at door and window manufacturer Marvin. This is especially desirable when you can’t go outdoors. Good natural light also permits those with a green thumb to garden indoors year-round (see #6).

#5 Handmade Touches, Repurposed Heirlooms Add Coziness

Image: ermess/Getty
  • The return of natural materials and interest in personalizing kitchens has attracted homeowners to texture and handmade-looking touches. Jennifer Burt, who blogs at, suggests adding pieces with a handmade aesthetic, such as fireclay crafted sinks from Native Trails, a company that combines artisan tradition with sustainable materials. 

Another option is tiles that appear more handcrafted than tried-and-true subway rectangles. Many are also larger and may have both a glossy and matte finish and contoured edges. 

Your kitchen can also be a great place to add some of your family heirlooms and secondhand store finds. “An older china cabinet can become storage [space]; a marble slab installed on top of a chest creates a cold baking surface to roll dough; or you can shop for some reclaimed cabinets at your local Habitat for Humanity ReStore for a sustainable option,” Burt says. 

Homeowners can also add a handmade or heirloom look to lighting — for instance, by gluing seashells found on a favorite beach to a lampshade. Flea markets are also great places to search for and repurpose lanterns from an old ship or a historic building.

#6 Greenery Brings the Outdoors In

Image: Geshas/Getty
  • One way to go natural is by bringing nature inside with plants and herbs. Choices for smart interior plants include pandemic-pup-friendly suggestions, as well as plants that thrive in different light levels and temperature conditions. Online guides are available from companies like Wild Interiors, part of Green Circle Growers.

Research shows that greenery can help our emotional and physical health — one more reason to bring in plants, herbs for cooking, and fresh flowers year-round. They’re more likely to thrive now that kitchens are being outfitted with bigger windows, walls of glass, and doors with more panes. An added  benefit: The greenery will pop against wood cabinets.

If you’re prone to forget to water, go with low-care choices — some say they thrive on neglect — like ZZ and snake plants. Also, you might want to add greenery in stages, so your kitchen doesn’t turn into a dense jungle or attract bugs, Burt says. “Keep it to functional plants like herbs — maybe a potager, which is a small French country garden of vegetables, fruits, flowers, and herbs — in rustic pots. If there’s floor space, anchor the room with one large potted plant.”  

“Visit for more articles like this.  Reprinted from with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

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5 Secrets Your Contractor Doesn’t Want You to Know

How to protect your bottom line.

home remodel construction view of front porch with contractor work items boards beams electrical
Image: Jennifer Vinson for HouseLogic
  • You’ve asked friends to recommend great contractors, picked your favorite, checked references — and maybe even conducted an online background check on their business. So you know you’ve found a top-notch pro for your home improvement project.

But remember that their bottom line is getting you to sign a contract, and they’re not going to mention anything that might get in the way. Before you make a commitment, here are five things you need to know to protect your bottom line.

#1 They’re Not the Only Contractor in Town

Even if you believe you found the best contractor in the area, don’t hire them unless you’re sure they’re right for your project.

You should solicit at least three bids from three contractors before awarding a home improvement project. This way you can make an educated hiring decision by comparing costs, methods, and materials.

What you should do: Make sure you have a basis for comparison when asking for bids. Provide each contractor with the same project details. This may include materials you wish to use and floor plans. Although cost should be one of your deciding factors, other points to consider include scheduling and communication style.

Tip: Once you’ve picked the best contractor for the job, keep your project on track with an ironclad contract.

#2 They’ll Farm Out the Work to Subcontractors

General contractors often don’t do the physical work themselves. They might have been carpenters or plumbers, but now that they run their own businesses, they’ve retired their toolbelts.

Instead, their role is to sign clients, manage budgets, and schedule a cast of subcontractors. When they’re trying to win your business, contractors can be vague about how involved they’ll be — and who will be running the job day-to-day.

What you should do: Inquire who will be in charge of the job site. Ask to meet the job foreman, preferably while they’re at work on a current job site, says Stockbridge, Mass., contractor Jay Rhind Builders. “You want to make sure you feel comfortable with them.”

Tip: Don’t underestimate the importance of being nice. It can help keep your contractor and crew on track while improving the quality of their work.

#3 A Big Deposit is Unnecessary — and Possibly Illegal

When you sign a contract, you’re usually expected to pay a deposit. But that’s not for covering the contractor’s initial materials or setup costs.

If their business is financially sound and in good standing with their suppliers, they shouldn’t need to pay for anything up front. In fact, many states limit a contractor’s advance. California maxes out deposits at 10% of the job cost, or $1,000, whichever is smaller. To find out the law in your area, check with your local or state consumer agency.

What you should do: A small deposit is reasonable to kick off a project. But your payment plan should be based on a defined amount of work being completed. This way, if the work isn’t proceeding according to schedule, the payments will be delayed.

Tip: When possible, charge it. Angi suggests using a credit card for home improvement work so that if disputes crop up during the process, your credit card company can help you navigate.

Related: What a Remodeling Contract Should Say

#4 Contractors Mark up Labor and Materials

Contractors don’t want to talk about it, but they’re going to mark up everything they pay out to make your job happen. That’s fair; it’s how they pay their own overhead and salary. The typical markup on materials will be 7.5% to 10%, but some contractors will mark up materials as much as 20%, according to Angi. Keep in mind that other costs are also factored into their markup, including labor and overhead.

What you should do: If you can handle buying items such as plumbing fixtures, cabinetscountertops, and flooring, ask your contractor to take them out of their bid price. Be sure to agree on specific numbers and amounts of what you’ll be buying, and that you’ll have the items to the job site when they’re needed. You could save on the overall cost of the project.

Tip: Salvage materials are one way to save on building costs. Just make sure you use upcycled stuff wisely so you don’t harm your home’s value.

#5 Contractors Aren’t Designers

Sure, some contractors have strong design abilities. Chances are, however, they’re spending a lot more time running their businesses than honing their design chops.

What you should do: Depending on the complexity of your project, you may need a number of skilled pros to get the job done. So don’t count on a contractor to design your space and add clever details unless they clearly demonstrate their abilities and have a portfolio of their own work.

Ask a contractor’s references about their design skills. Keep in mind, you might sometimes be better off hiring an architect for overall planning, and a kitchen and bath designer for the details.

“Visit for more articles like this.  Reprinted from with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

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How Long to Keep Tax Records and More: A Checklist

For most tax deductions, you need to keep receipts and documents for at least 3 years.

Open garage filled with boxes and old stuff
Image: Gerd Zahn/Getty
  • Unless you live in a Hollywood Hills mansion, you probably don’t have space to store years of tax and insurance paperwork, warranties, and repair receipts related to your home.

But you need that paperwork if you need to prove you deserve the tax deductions you took, to file an insurance claim, or to figure out if your busted oven is still under warranty.

To help you organize your piles of papers, we’ve created a handy checklist of how long to keep tax records.

First, a little background on IRS rules, which informed some of our charts:

  • The IRS says you should keep tax returns and the paperwork supporting them for at least three years after you file the return — the amount of time the IRS has to audit you. So that’s how long we advise.
  • Check with your state about state income tax records. Most states make you keep them as long as the federal government does — three years. But Montana wants you to keep them for five years. And Ohio recommends you hang on to them 10 years. Yes, an entire decade.
  • The IRS can also ask for records up to six years after a filing if they suspect someone failed to report 25% or more of their gross income. And the agency never closes the door on an audit if it suspects fraud. Just sayin’.

Home Sale Records

DocumentHow Long to Keep It
Home sale closing documents, including closing statementAs long as you own the property + 3 years
Deed to the houseAs long as you own the property
Builder’s warranty or service contract for new home Until the warranty period ends
Community/condo association covenants, codes, restrictions (CC&Rs)As long as you own the property
Receipts for capital improvementsAs long as you own the property + 3 years
Mortgage payoff statements (certificate of satisfaction or lien release)Forever, just in case a lender says, “Hey, you still owe us money.”

Why you need these docs: You use home sale closing documents and receipts for capital improvements records to calculate and document your profit (gain) when you sell your home.

Your deed and mortgage payoff statements prove you own your home and have paid off your mortgage, respectively.

Your builder’s warranty or contract is important if you file a claim. And sooner or later you’ll need to check the CC&R rules in your condo or community association.

Annual Tax Deductions

DocumentHow Long to Keep It
Property tax payment (tax bill + canceled check or bank statement showing check was cashed)3 years after the due date of the return showing the deduction
Year-end mortgage statements3 years after the due date of the return showing the deduction
Tax returns3 years from the date you file your return or 2 years from the date you paid the tax, whichever is later

Why you need these docs: To document you’re eligible for a deduction or tax credit in case you’re audited by the IRS.

*These deductions are relevant if you itemize. The standard deduction has been increased, which means fewer people will itemize than have in the past. 

Insurance and Warranties

DocumentHow Long to Keep It
Home repair receiptsUntil warranty expires
Inventory of household possessionsForever (Remember to make updates.)
Homeowners insurance policiesUntil you receive the next year’s policy
Service contracts and warrantiesAs long as you have the item being warrantied

Why you need these docs: To file a claim or see what your policy or warranty covers.

Investment Real Estate Deductions

DocumentHow Long to Keep It
Appraisal or valuation used to calculate depreciationAs long as you own the property + 3 years
Receipts for capital expenses, such as an addition or improvementsAs long as you own the property + 3 years
Receipts for repairs and other expenses3 years after the due date of the return showing the deduction
Landlord’s insurance payment receipt (canceled check or bank statement showing check was cashed)3 years after the due date showing the deduction
Landlord’s insurance policyUntil you receive the next year’s policy
Partnership or LLC agreements for real estate investmentsAs long as the partnership or LLC exists
Section 1031 (like-kind exchange) sale records for both your old and new properties, including HUD-1 settlement sheetAs long as you own the new property + 3 years

Why you need these docs: For the most part, to prove your eligibility to deduct the expense. You’ll also need receipts for capital expenditures to calculate your profit (gain) or loss when you sell the property. Landlord’s insurance and partnership agreements are important references.

Miscellaneous Records

DocumentHow Long to Keep It
Wills and property trustsUntil updated
Date-of-death home value record for inherited home, and any rules for heirs’ use of homeAs long as you or spouse owns the home + 3 years
Original owners’ purchase documents (sales contract, deed) for home given to you as a giftAs long as you or spouse owns the home + 3 years
Divorce decree with home sale clauseAs long as you or spouse owns the home + 3 years
Employment records for live-in help (W-2s, W-4s, pay and benefits statements)4 years after you make (or owe) payroll tax payments

Why you need these docs: Most are needed to calculate capital gains when you sell. Employment records help prove deductions.

Organizing Your Home Records

Because paper, such as receipts, fades with time and takes up space, consider scanning and storing your documents on a flash drive, an external hard drive, or a cloud-based remote server. Even better, save your documents to at least two of these places.

Or, you can consider an app such as Smart Receipts, which is available via Google Play and Mac App Store. Smart Receipts lets you track your finances, including receipts, for yourself or your employer. You can choose from default data types including dates, price, tax, receipt categories, comments, and payment methods.

Digital copies are OK with the IRS as long as they’re identical to the originals and contain all the accurate information that was in the original receipts. You must be able to produce a hard copy if the IRS asks for one.

Tip: Tax season and year’s end are good times to purge files and toss what you no longer need; that’s often when the spirit of organization moves us.

When you do finally toss out your home-related paperwork, use a shredder. Throwing away intact documents with personal financial information could put you at risk for identity theft.

This article provides general information about tax laws and consequences but isn’t intended to be relied upon as tax or legal advice applicable to particular transactions or circumstances. Consult a tax professional for such advice.

“Visit for more articles like this.  Reprinted from with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

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