How Much Will It Cost to Finish an Attic?

Decide whether converting your attic is a smart financial move and practical for you.

Pink attic bedroom with pendant lights, two day beds, desk
Image: Fig London Interior Design
  • An attic bedroom (or home office or other functional space) reclaims an area previously devoted to high school yearbooks and nesting sparrows. Optimizing every bit of livable space is especially important now, with some homeowners delaying a move for financial reasons. Another plus: Repurposing the space under your roof also avoids many zoning and easement concerns — common chores when adding onto a house. Here’s some guidance about the cost to finish attic space.

Attic Renovation Cost: $100,000

Converting an attic to a living area yields a healthy return on your investment. According to the “Remodeling Impact Report” from the National Association of REALTORS®, an attic living space conversion costs an average $100,000 and returns 75% of its value if you decide to sell your house.

Homeowners who were surveyed for the report and undertook an attic conversion have no regrets. The project gets a joy score of 10 out of 10, a rating based on consumers’ opinion that they were happy or satisfied with the project.

But just because adding livable space under your rafters is a smart money move, it may not be practical or even doable. To determine if it’s right for you, consider:

  • Building codes
  • Support structures
  • Electrical, HVAC, and plumbing systems
  • Access

Popular Reads

4 Cost Considerations When Converting Your Attic to Living Space

Review Building Codes Before You Convert Your Attic

Although homeowners often view building codes as obstacles, the real missions of codes are safety and durability. Because local codes vary, your building inspector can provide a list of applicable codes and required inspections for your new room.

  • Ceiling codes: Generally 7 feet 6 inches high over a minimum floor area of 70 square feet. If your attic is shorter than required by code, you won’t be able to remodel it into living space.
  • Joist codes: Ask an architect or structural engineer if your attic floor joists meet local codes and can support the additional weight of a remodeled space. Also ask if the rafters can support drywall, lighting, electrical, plumbing, and HVAC system components. Consultation costs an average $350 to $800.
  • Egress codes: If you’re converting to a bedroom, regular bedroom egress codes typically require at least two exits — a doorway and usually a window. An attic bedroom requires both a window and a staircase to the level beneath. Having an escape ladder in clear view is always a good idea.

Structural Changes to Your Attic Will Drive Cost

The structural framing beneath your roof — rafters or trusses — will determine if you can add livable space and what it might look like.

Rafters, internal beams extending from the peak of the roof to its eaves, provide a center open space that you can readily remodel.

Trusses, W-shaped framing that supports the roof, make things harder. To achieve the attic room you want, you might have to cut through, shore up, and otherwise alter the very structures that keep your roof over your head. It may not be practical. Consult a structural engineer and/or a licensed architect to determine if modifying trusses is a good idea.

Finished Attics Require Wiring, Plumbing, and HVAC

  • Electrical: Consult a licensed electrician to determine if your electric panel has room for additional breakers and can handle the increased load of an attic room. If your system can handle the additional demands, running wires to the attic is relatively simple.
  • Plumbing: If you’re adding a small bathroom to your new room, cut costs by locating the bathroom close to the main stack — large pipes that carry wastewater to your sewer or septic tank. This reduces the length of pipe you’ll run between sink-shower-toilet drains and the stack.
  • HVAC: An HVAC specialist will tell you if your forced air blower can move enough air to both heat and cool your new attic room. If it doesn’t, electric baseboard heating and a window air conditioner may suffice. Be sure your electrician knows your heating and cooling plans to determine the total electrical requirements of your new room.

Building Access Points to Your Attic

If your converted room will be a bedroom, it will require a standard staircase to meet code; a ladder is insufficient. Adding a staircase will take up space in a room below the attic, so consider converting a closet. You may be able to regain that storage space by using space under the new staircase.

Staircases with straight runs are easiest to construct but take up the most area, just over 40 square feet. Depending on materials and finishing touches, such as newel posts and hardware, costs can range from $2,000 to $5,000.

Spiral staircases take up the least space but are typically more expensive. Prices for a wood or metal-wood staircase kit ranges from $1,500 to $4,900; installation ranges from $600 to $1,200.

If you’re short on inside space, exterior access — a staircase outside the house — may be a solution. Check with your zoning department, which may interpret an outside staircase as a sign of a multiunit dwelling and not meet neighborhood zoning requirements.

How Much Does Finishing Your Attic Provide in Resale Value?

Converting an attic to a living area provides $75,000 in cost recovery, which is 75% of the $100,000 average expense.

How to Find Contractors to Convert Your Attic

If you need help to find an experienced contractor who has worked on attics, consult a REALTOR®.

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Tree Falls On Property Line: Who Pays? Who Picks Up the Pieces?

fallen tree responsibility
Image: NOAA

Who pays depends on numerous factors.

  • When a neighbor’s tree falls over your property line, yell TIMBER, then call your insurance company. Home owners policies cover tree damage caused by perils like wind and winter storms.

Most policies cover hauling away tree debris if the mess is associated with house damage; some will cover cleanup even if no structures were harmed.

When a Tree Falls

Your neighbor is responsible when a tree falls over your shared property line only if you can prove he was aware that his tree was a hazard and refused to remedy the problem. Regardless, your insurance company restores your property first, and later decides whether or not to pursue reimbursement from the neighbor or his insurer if the neighbor was negligent in maintaining the tree.

When a Tree Falls

Your neighbor is responsible when a tree falls over your shared property line only if you can prove he was aware that his tree was a hazard and refused to remedy the problem. Regardless, your insurance company restores your property first, and later decides whether or not to pursue reimbursement from the neighbor or his insurer if the neighbor was negligent in maintaining the tree.Popular Reads

Before a Tree Falls

Write a letter to your neighbor before his dead, diseased or listing tree falls through your roof or over your property line.

The letter should include:

  • Description of the problem
  • Photographs
  • Request for action
  • Attorney letterhead–not necessary but indicates you mean business.

Trim Their Trees

If the limbs of a tree hang over your property line, you may trim the branches up to the property line, but not cut down the entire tree. If a tree dies after your little pruning, the neighbor can pursue a claim against you in civil or small claims court. Depending on the laws of your state, your neighbor may have to prove the damage was deliberate or caused by negligence, but may also be able to recover up to three times the value of the tree. 

Before you cut, tell your neighbors what you intend to do to protect your property. They may offer to trim the whole tree instead of risking your half-oaked job.

Your Tree Falls

It’s always a good idea to take care of your big and beautiful trees, and keep receipts for trimmings and other care. 

But if your tree falls over a neighbor’s property line, do nothing until their insurance company contacts you. You may not be liable unless you knew or should have known the tree was in a dangerous condition.  If you pruned a tree or shored up trunks to prevent problems, gather your receipts to prove your diligence.

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

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5 Tips That Will Protect You from This (Expensive) DIY Mistake

DIY home remodeling is great — until it isn’t. Here’s how to keep it great.

Grouting bathroom tile
Image: Karah Bunde of “The Space Between” blog
  • It was their first plumbing project. “It was just a small crack in a pipe,” says Karah Bunde. She and her husband, Joel, had just purchased a fixer-upper they planned to renovate and rent.

They bought a new piece of PVC pipe to replace the cracked one. “We installed it, glued it, gave it 24 hours to cure. The next day we turned on the water and it busted at the seams. We had extra pipe and did it again, this time allowing it to cure for two days. Same story,” says Bunde, an avid DIYer who writes “The Space Between” blog.

The couple returned to the store and started asking questions.

Turns out they had made one of the most common DIY mistakes: choosing the wrong material for the job. “Our downfall was not doing enough research. Turns out we picked PVC pipe for drains and not one that would hold the pressure of water lines,” Bunde says.

Whether you’re choosing tile, flooring, lighting, or cabinets, making the right choice can make or break your success. Get the right materials by doing these five things:

1. Set a Budget for Every Item

Make a budget for every single item you’re purchasing, says architect Todd Miller, owner of QMA Architects & Planners in Linwood, N.J. Otherwise, you may blow it all on a sexy plumbing fixture, but then choose the wrong flooring, for instance, just because it’s cheap and you want to keep on track.

“There are always tradeoffs, but having a budget will help you manage the choices,” Miller says.

2. Shop Where the Pros Shop

Not to dis big-box stores; they’re great for many things. But you have to know what you’re getting into, says Gary Rochman, owner of Rochman Design Build in Ann Arbor, Mich. “Heeding the siren call from the big-box store can oftentimes go wrong. You’re not getting the service and the professional advice you’d need, especially if you’re a DIYer.”

For example, he says, “You might purchase treated lumber for an outdoor deck, but no one tells you the nails you bought aren’t for outdoor purposes. At a lumberyard, they’ll let you know those two items don’t go together.”

Additionally, Miller says some manufacturers will make two versions of the same product: a more cheaply made one for major retailers and another for supply stores that sell to contractors. “I purchased one product at a retail store that had PVC supply lines, and the exact same product from my supplier that had solid copper fittings,” he says. Homeowners can have access to suppliers through their contractor, but many stores also sell directly to consumers.

3. Try It Out Before Committing to It

Robin Flanigan, a homeowner in Rochester, N.Y., thought she was doing all the right things when she chose backsplash tile. She went to a local tile store. She schlepped along her cabinet sample, and they knew her floor — a wood-look farmhouse tile — which she’d purchased from them. “The owner took his time with me every time I went to the store — and there were a lot of times I went to the store,” she says. It took her two months to decided on a clear tile. “I thought clear tile would be less noticeable, not clash with the concrete.”

She hired an installer who put up the tile on two walls before Flanigan saw it. “I wound up in tears all night and asked them to take it down,” she says. The installer did beautiful work, but “what looked great in a small sample turned out to look way too futuristic once the walls were covered. It didn’t fit the rest of the industrial loft vibe at all.”

Flanigan says the mistake was a “huge budget buster” and posted the torn-down tile on Craigslist. She had a thin concrete backsplash installed instead. “If there’s a next time, I would order a box to see if I liked the look first,” she says.

4. Invest in the Right Tools

Here’s a good place to practice balancing durability and cost: Get the right tools for the job.

“You can buy a brush for 98 cents, but you won’t get good results,” says Les Lieser, who recently retired as owner of a painting company and now runs Front Range Coating Consultants in Greeley, Colo. “Good brushes cost more for a reason.”

Lieser says cheap brushes are like straw, flaring out and not holding their shape. A good quality nylon or bristle brush, on the other hand, will allow for nice, straight lines. For a few dollars more, you’ll save a lot of hassle and get a more professional-looking result.

“The same goes for roller covers and paint,” Lieser says. “Spend a little more money on a brand name or something of good quality.”

What if you need a costly tool? “We’ve rented a bunch of tools; it’s a great option,” Bunde says. In addition, many cities have tool lending libraries or a MakerSpace where you can borrow bigger items. “When you buy your materials, always ask what tools are going to aid in your success,” Bunde says.

5. Be Cautious About What You Buy Online

Buying things online might be less expensive and convenient, but when you’ve purchased a 700-pound cast iron tub from Craigslist only to discover it’s scratched or too heavy for your second-floor bath, you’re going to have a hard time sending it back. “It’s important to see and touch the products,” Miller says. “And you’ll have an easier time with returns at a retail shop or professional wholesaler.”

Although it’s enticing to think you’ll save money by purchasing the cheapest materials and save time by doing it yourself, you’ve got to weigh the value of your time against the inevitability of things not fitting, arriving broken, or not lasting. Otherwise, you’ll be spending your free time wandering the fluorescent aisles of the hardware store rather than kicking back and sipping lattes in your newly renovated space.

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

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Indoor Air Quality Solutions for Your Home

You may not know it, but your home could have indoor air pollution. Here’s how to clear the air.

Image of an air purifier in a simple room with the window open purifying air coming in.
Image: Aleutie/getty
  • You probably clean your home regularly, but your indoor air quality could benefit from a thorough cleaning, too.

Recent studies point to why: The air you breathe inside your home can contain two to five times more pollutants than outside air, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency research. Consider that Americans spend about 90% of their time indoors, too.

What’s Causing Indoor Air Pollution

Other factors also contribute to the problem. Wildfires, like the ones in Canada that spread to the U.S., can compromise outdoor air quality. That outdoor air can enter homes, making it unhealthy to breathe the indoor air, the EPA says. Other causes of indoor air pollution range from household cleaners and chemicals — those emitted from paints and furnishings — to cooking appliances, fireplaces, tobacco, pet dander, mold, dust, pressed wood products, coal heating, and even candles.

Compounding the issue, today’s super-sealed, energy-efficient homes can lead to a buildup of pollutants. This can create health problems including respiratory illnesses and allergy flare-ups, migraines, and even heart disease, according to the World Health Organization.

“A lack of ventilation is the most common culprit behind air quality issues,” says Lane Dixon, vice president of operations at Aire Serv, a Tennessee-based heating and air conditioning company. “When the air can’t circulate properly, allergens, dust, and debris build up within the home.”

12 Ways to Improve Indoor Air Quality at Home

Experts offer these 12 tips that can help you keep your indoor air quality as clean as the rest of your home.

#1 Maintain Good Indoor Hygiene

Cleaning your home regularly can help reduce indoor pollutants like dust, pet dander, and mold. Wipe down hard surfaces with a damp cloth and vacuum carpets weekly with a HEPA-rated filter (capable of capturing 99.97% of particles larger than 0.3 microns), suggests Martin Seeley, CEO and founder of Mattress Next Day in the U.K. The American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology recommends washing bedding weekly in hot water (130 degrees Fahrenheit) to kill dust mites — allergy-triggering, microscopic creatures that thrive in bedding, upholstered furniture, and carpets. 

#2 Change HVAC Filters Regularly

More than a quarter of Americans admit they never change their home’s air filter, according to a consumer survey from The Zebra, an insurance comparison site. Air filters can remove allergens and pollutants and help improve overall air quality, Seeley says. Replace them per manufacturer’s guidelines; experts usually recommend at least every three months. During heavy-use months in the winter or summer if you have pets, check filters monthly.

Tip: Choose air filters with high MERV (minimum efficiency reporting value), ratings on a scale of 1 to 16. In general, the higher the rating, the better the filter can capture certain particles.

#3 Open the Windows

Natural ventilation is key to improving air quality, according to the EPA. Even during cooler months, opening a window just a crack for at least 10 minutes a day can prevent stale, stuffy air and the accumulation of indoor contaminants. But keep windows closed when outdoor pollution is a problem.

Create “stack ventilation” by opening windows at the same time on higher and lower levels  to create a breeze throughout the house, suggests Christine Marvin, chief marketing and experience officer at Marvin, a windows manufacturer. Or, consider adding a heat recovery ventilator or energy recovery ventilator to your HVAC system to circulate fresh air from the outside. Turn these devices off, though, when outdoor air pollution is a problem.

#4 Watch Humidity Levels

Humidity can be an air quality nemesis, leading to mold, mildew, and bacteria. To keep humidity in check, use dehumidifiers to remove moisture from the air. Also, always use an exhaust fan in the bathroom during showers and for at least 15 minutes afterward. To gauge humidity levels, consider buying a hygrometer, which is like a thermometer for humidity. Keep indoor humidity levels from 30% to 50% relative humidity, the EPA advises. If a home’s too dry, humidifiers add moisture to the air. For example, ultrasonic humidifiers emit cool mist to increase humidity. Follow the manufacturer’s directions on cleaning and use.

#5 Invest in an Air Purifier

Curious ginger cat on air cleaner. Fluffy pet looks curiously on air purifier, which is removing dust from home. Household equipment.
Image: Konstantin Aksenov/getty
  • These portable devices can capture and neutralize indoor irritants like germs and allergens. The main types of air purifiers are HEPA purifiers (capture at least 99.97% of particles larger than 0.3 microns), activated carbon technology (filters that use high-absorbency carbon), ultraviolet technology (uses shortwave ultraviolet light to kill airborne pathogens), and ionic purifiers (send negatively charged ions and clean the air using electrically charged filters).

Tips: Check for an AHAM Verifide mark, which shows the air cleaner’s clean air delivery rate and suggested room size, and signifies that the manufacturer’s claims about performance have been verified independently, says a spokesperson at the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers. Place air purifiers in the center of a room, away from anything that may block them, and clean any filters regularly, he says.

#6 Flip on a Fan

Floor fans, exhaust fans, and ceiling fans can all be used to increase a home’s ventilation. During the pandemic, studies showed that ceiling fans could help move the air inside a space and reduce the indoor transmission of airborne pathogens.

#7 Clean Your Pet

Yes, even your beloved pet can lower indoor air quality by leaving behind dander, microscopic skin flakes that linger in the air and can trigger allergies and respiratory issues. Clean pet bedding regularly. Create pet-free zones in the house. Try a paw wiper, such as silicone washer cups lined with bristles, to clean paws before pets enter your home to avoid tracked-in outdoor contaminants.

#8 Vent While Cooking

About 30% of indoor contaminants come from cooking alone, according to the “International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.” Lower your risk by venting cooking aerosols while cooking. Gas stovetop ranges have come under fire because of the nitrogen dioxide and carbon dioxide emitted during use. A range hood fan, which should be vented to the outside, creates a vacuum in the house to help remove dangerous gasses when cooking.

#9 Use Air-Cleaning Plants

NASA-backed research has shown plants can help remove toxins from the air. Often, the larger and leafier the plant is, the greater the air-purifying impact. Among nature’s best air purifiers: English ivy, bamboo palm, parlor palm, snake plant, red-edged dracaena, peace lilies, and Boston ferns.

#10 Limit Indoor Chemicals

Cleaning products can produce volatile organic components, which can irritate eyes, nose, and throat and even cause organ damage after heavy exposure. These components can be found in products like paints, cleaning liquids, air fresheners, and hairspray. Aire Serv’s Dixon suggests avoiding chemical-laden household products containing ammonia, chlorine, and triclosan — contributors to poor indoor air quality. When using cleaning products, increase ventilation by turning on fans or opening windows. Store your cleaning products — as well as paints and pesticides — away from the house, in the garage or a shed. Or, opt for cleaning products with natural ingredients, like baking soda or vinegar. Chemicals may lurk in other areas of the home too, such as formaldehyde in pressed wood furniture, flooring, and even carpet fabrics. Look for products with low or no formaldehyde.

#11 Swap out Candles

Certain types of candles may add scent but worsen indoor air quality. Candles made from synthetic fragrance oils and paraffin wax can release airborne soot — consisting of phthalates, lead, and benzene — that can trigger respiratory and allergy symptoms, according to the EPA. Experts suggest using candles made of beeswax, palm oil, soy, or other plant-based waxes, which can burn cleaner and longer. Also, the Children’s Environmental Health Network suggests choosing candles with a single wick, increasing ventilation when burning, and burning candles for only one or two hours at a time.

#12 Monitor and Test the Air

You can buy devices to use at home that detect, monitor, and report on air pollutants like particulate matter, radon, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, formaldehyde, volatile organic compounds, and environmental factors. The devices, which the EPA calls low-cost air pollution monitors, use a number, color, or graphic to display the level of pollutants the device’s sensors detect. But there are no widely accepted air concentration limits for most pollutants indoors, so each manufacturer determines the levels that trigger an alert, the agency says. It also notes that the cost usually relates more to device features than performance. The EPA doesn’t produce the monitors, but it does evaluate certain air sensor technologies, generally in outdoor conditions. You can find scientific information about using air sensor monitoring systems from the EPA’s Air Sensor Toolbox.

Of course, there are limits on what you can control in your home environment. But making some changes can help you and your family breathe a lot easier. 

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

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5 Things That REALLY Will Put a Serious Dent in Your Energy Bills

Stop sending so much money to your utility company with these simple strategies.

Finger flipping off a light switch illustration
Image: Diego Schtutman/Shutterstock
  • Your Mexican beach vacation was great, but, man, those margaritas sure can put on the pounds. It’s been two months, and you’re still carrying around an extra tenner — despite a new running routine and a lot of #&*&@$ kale. So why isn’t your weight dropping?

It can be like that with energy bills, too. Almost half (47%) of the respondents surveyed by the Shelton Group, a marketing agency specializing in energy efficiency, claimed they made between one and three energy efficiency improvements to their home. But 89% of them said their energy bills didn’t go down.  

So, what’s up? We’re rationalizing, says Suzanne Shelton, CEO of the Shelton Group. “We think, ‘I bought these [LEDs], so now I can leave the lights on and not pay more. I ate the salad, so I can have the chocolate cake.’” Denial much?

It looks like we’re giving in to higher utility bills. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

You just need to know what improvements will make the biggest difference in lowering your bills. There are five, and the good news is they’re seriously cheap. You can go straight to them here, but there’s another thing you can do that doesn’t cost a dime — and will drop your costs:

Be Mindful About Your Relationship With Energy

Think about it. Energy is the only product we buy on a daily basis without knowing how much it costs until a month later, says Cliff Majersik, executive director of the Institute for Market Transformation, a research and policy-making nonprofit focused on improving buildings’ energy efficiency. 

With other services you get a choice of whether to buy based on price. With energy you don’t get that choice — unless you intentionally decide not to buy. You can take control by making yourself aware that you’re spending money on something you don’t need each time you leave home with the AC on high, lights and ceiling fans on, and your computer wide awake.

Related: Did You Know You Should Never Leave a Ceiling Fan on When You Leave a Room? 

That mindfulness is important, because your relationship with energy is intensifying. You (and practically every other person on the planet) are plugging in more and more. Used to be that heating and cooling were the biggest energy hogs, but now appliances, electronics, water heating, and lighting together have that dubious honor, according to Lawrence Berkeley National Labs, based on data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the research arm of the Department of Energy.

Energy is the only product we buy on a daily basis without knowing how much it costs until a month later.

— Cliff Majersik, executive director of the Institute for Market Transformation

Being mindful means it’s also time to banish four assumptions that are sabotaging your energy-efficiency efforts:

1. Newer homes (less than 30 years old) are already energy efficient because they were built to code. Don’t bank on it. Building codes change pretty regularly, so even newer homes benefit from improvements, says Susannah Enkema, vice president of research and insights with the Shelton Group.

2. Utilities are out to get us: They’ll jack up prices no matter what we do. It might feel cathartic to blame them. (Shelton’s research shows consumers blame utilities above oil companies and the government.) But to get any rate changes, utilities must make a formal case to public utility commissions.

3. An energy-efficient home is a healthier home, and people will pay more for that. Sixty percent of consumers surveyed by the Shelton Group said that telling someone that an energy-efficient home is a healthier home is an effective way to get people to spend $1,500 on efficient home features. Energy efficient features are associated with health benefits, but expecting a specific return is unrealistic.

4. Expensive improvements will have the biggest impact. That’s why homeowners often choose pricey projects like replacing windows, which should probably be fifth or sixth on the list of energy-efficient improvements, Shelton says.

There’s nothing wrong with investing in new windows. They feel sturdier; look pretty, can increase the value of your home, feel safer than old, crooked windows, and, yes, offer energy savings you can feel (no more draft).

But new windows are the wrong choice if your only reason for the project was reducing energy costs. You could replace double-pane windows with new efficient ones for about $9,000 to $12,000 and save $27 to $111 a year on your energy bill, according to EnergyStar. (The savings are higher if you replace single-pane windows.)  Or you could spend around $1,000 for new insulation, caulking, and sealing, and save 11% on your energy bill, or $227.

The 5 Things That Really Work to Cut Energy Costs

1. Caulk and seal air leaks. Buy a few cans of Great Stuff and knock yourself out over a weekend to seal around:

  • Plumbing lines
  • Electric wires
  • Recessed lighting
  • Windows
  • Crawlspaces
  • Attics

Savings: Up to $227 a year — even more if you add or upgrade your insulation.

Related: Lots of Homes Also Have This HUGE Air Leak 

2. Hire a pro to seal ductwork and give your HVAC a tune-up. Leaky ducts are a common energy-waster. 

Savings: Up to $412 a year.

3. Program your thermostat. Shelton says 40% of consumers in her survey admit they don’t program their thermostat for energy savings. She thinks it’s even higher.

Savings: Up to $180 a year.

4. Replace all your light bulbs with LEDs. They’re coming down in price, making them even more cost effective. 

Savings: $75 a year or more by replacing your five most frequently used bulbs with Energy Star-rated models.

Related: LED Bulbs Are Confusing, But Here’s a Guide to Help

5. Reduce the temperature on your water heater. Set your tank heater to 120 degrees — not the 140 degrees most are set to out of the box. Also wrap an older water heater and the hot water pipes in insulating material to save on heat loss.

Savings: $12 to $30 a year for each 10-degree reduction in temp.

NOTE: Resist the urge to total these five numbers for annual savings. The estimated savings for each product or activity can’t be summed because of “interactive effects,” says the DOE. If you first replace your central AC with a more efficient one, saving, say, 15% on energy consumption, and then seal ducts, you wouldn’t save as much total energy on duct sealing as you would have if you had first sealed them. There’s just less energy to save at that point.

Bonus Tip for More Savings

Your utility may have funds available to help pay for energy improvement. Contact them directly, or visit DSIRE, a database of federal, state, local, and utility rebates searchable by state. Energy Star has a discount and rebate finder, too.

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

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Sharp Homeowners Know June Is the Best Time to Do These 5 Things

Like cleaning your siding — just be sure to start from the bottom and go up.

cell phone reminder of home maintenance tasks to complete now in june with a background of pink and yellow tulips
Image: Maggie Stuart for HouseLogic
  • Could it really be summer?!

Tackle these five summer maintenance tasks during June’s longer days and better weather — and save yourself time and money this winter.

#1 Update Outdoor Lighting

Outdoor stone steps lit with pathway lighting
Image: Rosann M. Kelley, photo/ Outdoor Artisan, Inc., design
  • In June, winter nights are probably the last thing on your mind. But early summer is the perfect time to plan for those “OMG, it’s only 4:30, and it’s already dark ” moments by adding or updating landscape lighting.

The most energy-efficient, easy-to-install option is solar lighting, but it won’t perform as well on dark or snowy days. For light no matter the weather, install electric.

#2 Clean Your House’s Siding

Home with bright green painted siding
Image: Kristin Diehl
  • With a bit of preventive maintenance, your home’s siding will stay clean and trouble-free for up to 50 years. Fifty years! Clean it this month with a soft cloth or a long-handled, soft-bristle brush to guarantee that longevity.

Start at the bottom of the house and work up, rinsing completely before it dries. That’s how you avoid streaks.

Related: How to Clean the Siding on Your House

#3 Focus on Your Foundation

Brick exterior wall with damage
Image: Martb/Getty
  • There’s no better time for inspecting your foundation than warm, dry June. Eyeball it for crumbling mortar, cracks in the stucco, or persistently damp spots (especially under faucets). Then call a pro to fix any outstanding issues now, before they become an emergency later.

#4 Seal Your Driveway Asphalt

Sealed asphalt driveway at pink house
Image: Cveltri/Getty
  • Your driveway takes a daily beating. Weather, sunlight, cars, bikes, and foot traffic — all of these damage the asphalt. Help it last by sealing it. Tip: The temperature must be 50 degrees or higher for the sealer to stick, making June a good month for this easy, cost-effective job.

#5 Buy Tools

Lawn tools hanging in a garage
Image: Jo Facer, The Edible Flower
  • Thanks to Father’s Day, June is the month everyone can get a deal on tools, tool bags, and that multitool you’ve had your eye on. If it’s time to replace a bunch of tools or you’re starting from scratch, look for package deals that offer several at once. These can pack a savings wallop, offering 30% off or more over buying the tools individually.

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

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8 Ways Your Old Stuff Can Become Creative Storage

Vintage spice cans to be recycled for storage
Image: Chris Tincher

Wait until you see what you can do with old tin cans.

  • Don’t let your old stuff freeload! Put it to work. Use that old suitcase, file cabinet, magazine rack — even items you might ordinarily pitch — to help organize your home. You’ll save money, and your family will benefit from unique storage solutions that fit your lifestyle.

Here are some ideas to help unpack some creativity.

#1 Tin Cans Become Winter Gear Storage

Upcycled tin cans into mudroom storage
Image: Clare Fauke, Projectophile.net
  • Hats and gloves and boots, oh my. With three young children and a small entryway, Clare Fauke gets desperate to see her floor each winter. “I needed a way to contain things in a spot everyone could reach,” she says. While cooking chili one day, she had an aha moment. “Those 28-ounce cans of diced tomatoes were the perfect size to [use for stowing] a couple of baby gloves,” says Fauke who lives with her family in Chicago.
  • She washed out the cans and made sure there was no torn metal around the edges. Then she screwed the cans to a piece of scrap wood and attached the whole thing to the wall by the door. “It really helps discourage the kids from throwing their things everywhere,” Fauke says. And the cost is minimal if you wait until those tomatoes are on sale.
  • Related: Storing Winter Gear Is a Pain. These 8 Ideas Will Make It EasierMost Popular in Storage Ideas & Hacks

#2 Old Strawberry Containers Become Organizers

Berry-lover Mickey Mansfield of suburban Charlotte, N.C., found himself knee-deep in plastic strawberry boxes. He decided to use an empty one as a first aid kit in the garage. Like berry vines, the idea grew.

Strawberry containers reused to hold supplies
Image: Mickey Mansfield
  • Now, he uses them to store crayons, markers, and craft supplies. “They’re ‘free’ (just the cost of the strawberries), easily replaceable, and see-through,” Mansfield says. “The kids can see exactly what they’re grabbing.” He finds they can hold up for years. They’re stackable and strong enough to store store batteries and Matchbox cars, he says.
  • “I even leave the cars in the container, which has holes, and dunk the whole thing in a bucket filled with a solution of water and bleach to disinfect them,” he says. “Then I just tip them over to drain and dry.”

#3 Old Suitcase Becomes a Charging Station

Suitcase repurposed as a charger station
Image: Brenda McDevitt
  • Even chargers deserve a nice home. With four kids ages 7 to 17, Brenda McDevitt was finding chargers, tablets, cords, and cell phones all over her suburban Pittsburgh home. She wanted a centrally located storage center and looked no further than the perfect-size container that happened to already be in her home: a vintage suitcase she was using in a decorative display.
  • “I’ve always loved the look of them,” says McDevitt, who admits to collecting old suitcases from mostly roadsides. “I’ve never paid for one, and I always have a couple of suitcases laying around for things like magazine storage. Or I’ll put them under a bench or on top of a cabinet.”
  • McDevitt relined this vintage case with a cheery fabric to make the inside of the charging station as chic as the outside. She then drilled some holes in the back for the cords to exit and left a power cord inside so everyone can plug in their devices out of sight.Popular Reads

#4 Plastic Magazine Racks Become Freezer Organizers

Anyone who has ever had something fall out of the freezer onto their toes knows the dangers of rifling through bags of frozen vegetables, packages of meat, breads, and leftovers. The fix is so simple — plastic magazine racks. (If you don’t have some lying around, you can find them at an office supply store for $6 or less.) Slide them in your fridge and fill them up. Your toes will thank you.

Related: How to Organize Your Fridge

#5 Window Frame Becomes … Hanging Bathroom Storage

Who says a window can’t be a door? Erica Hebel wanted to create a rustic-looking storage cupboard for her “itty bitty powder room that is ridiculously shaped and hard to get into” in suburban Chicago. She began with a $3 wood window purchased at a barn sale. “A bit worn, but that adds to its character,” she says.

DIY storage cabinet in bathroom made from window frame
Image: Erica Hebel of OnBlissStreet.com
  • Hebel cleaned the wood and the glass panes. Then she built a cabinet box with three pine boards for shelves, plywood for the back, and a few small hinges using a brad nailer, a stud detector, and a Kreg jig.
  • Related: Under-Sink Bathroom Storage Ideas

#6 Stool Becomes a Gift Wrap Organizer

Gift wrap organizer created from a wooden stool
Image: Sadie Seasongoods
  • When the cardboard box housing Sarah Ramberg’s wrapping paper finally gave out, she remembered a photo she had seen of an upside-down stool used to corral fabric bolts. That led her to an idea.
  • The Greenville, S.C., “biologist by day” spray-painted an old stool, slathered on a coat of sealant, and put four casters on the seat so she can “wrap and roll from room to room.” Ramberg cut a “crazy print” thrift store pillow case in half to create catch-all pouches to attach to the side. “It’s a ‘low sew’ project,” she says. And low-cost, too: The stool was from a Habitat for Humanity ReStore, and four swivel casters cost as little as $6.

#7 Filing Cabinet Becomes a Garage Workbench

Garage workbench made from a filing cabinet
Image: C Renee at thegardenfrog.me
  • Yay! Renee Fuller of Midlothian, Va., got a chain saw for Mother’s Day. Where to put it? When she saw how expensive a new tool storage solution would be to buy, she thought of an old lateral filing cabinet stuffed with junk sitting in her garage.
  • Fuller spray-painted the cabinet with grey Rust-Oleum and made two rectangles in chalkboard spray paint for drawer labels. Then, she put inexpensive wheels on the bottom. The top is a laminated countertop a neighbor had thrown away. Fuller attached it with SPAX multi-material screws. Total cost of the project: $35.

#8 Kitchen Cabinets Become Dining Room Storage

Who knew unwanted oak kitchen cabinets plus old fence wood could equal a built-in dining room buffet? Pulled from a kitchen Connie Harper’s husband was helping a friend remodel, the cabinets fit perfectly along the wall in the Harpers’ Tyler, Texas, dining room.

The cabinets were in good condition, so the Harpers lightly sanded the doors, painted the interior and exterior with white satin paint, and bought new, bronze-finished metal hardware and hinges. The top is old pine fence board from a fence they’d taken down. They laid the pieces side by side, sanded them lightly, and sealed the top with a coat of polyurethane.

“It gives me satisfaction to see something that’s headed to the dumpster, bring it home, and give it new life,” Harper says. The project took about two days and cost $25 for the hardware.

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

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4 Drawbacks of Home Equity Loans

Taking out a home equity loan against the value of your property can backfire if you fail to avoid these common pitfalls in the borrowing process.

Red brick wall with four bricks missing | Home Equity Loans
Image: Anke Wittkowski/EyeEm/Getty
  • When you need a quick source of funds, a home equity loan or home equity line of credit (known as a HELOC) can be tempting. Done wisely, you can use the lower-interest debt secured by your house to pay off debts with high interest rates, like credit cards, to save in the long run.

Even better, use it for value-adding home improvements, like remodeling your kitchen. If you use the loan that way, you may be able to deduct it on your federal taxes. (You’ll have to itemize to get the deduction, though).

Consider carefully before you cash in home equity to spend on consumer goods like clothing, furniture, or vacations. Home equity loans aren’t always the best choice for accessing cash. 

That’s because you’re staking your home against your ability to pay off the debt — and that’s just the beginning of the potential pitfalls of home equity loans.

Drawback #1: Money Doesn’t Come Cheap

A home equity loan is a second mortgage on your house. Interest rates are usually much lower for a home equity loan than for unsecured debt like personal loans and credit cards. But transaction and closing costs, similar to those for primary mortgages, make home equity loans a pricey — and imprudent — way to finance something you may want but don’t absolutely need, like a fur coat, exotic vacation, or Ferrari.

The average closing costs on a $200,000 mortgage are $4,070. To compare offers on competing home equity loans, use a calculator that compares fees, interest rates, and how long you’ll take to pay back the loan. Ask your current mortgage lender if it offers any discounts if you get a second mortgage from the same company.Popular Reads

Drawback #2: Early Payoff Can Be Costly

Home equity loans almost always have fixed interest rates, so you know your monthly payment won’t rise. Do check to see if there’s a pre-payment penalty — a fee the lender will charge if you pay back the loan early because you sell your house, or you just want to get rid of the monthly payment.

Such early-termination fees are typically a percentage of the outstanding balance, such as 2%, or a certain number of months’ worth of interest, such as six months. They’re triggered if you pay off part or all of a loan within a certain time frame, typically three years. Despite the penalty, it may be worthwhile to refinance if you can lower interest rates sufficiently.

If you want to be able to borrow money periodically, it may make sense to go for a home equity line of credit instead of a lump-sum second mortgage. Although more lenders are charging stiff prepayment penalties for HELOCs too, these are triggered when the line is closed within a certain period, such as three years, not when the balance is paid off. Bear in mind that interest rates on most HELOCs are variable.

The big advantage to a credit line is that you can borrow whatever amount you need as you need money. The big drawback is that the lender can shut off the line of credit if the value of your home falls, your credit goes south, or just because it no longer wants to offer you credit.

Drawback #3: Beware Predatory Lenders

Some lenders don’t act in your best interest. Theoretically, lenders are supposed to follow underwriting guidelines on appropriate debt and income levels to keep you from spending more than you can afford on a loan. But in practice, some unscrupulous lenders bend or ignore these rules.

Always shop around.Most Popular in Homebuying

Drawback #4: Your House Is at Stake

A home equity loan is a lien on your house that usually takes second place to the primary mortgage. As such, home equity lenders can be left with nothing if a house sells for less than what’s owed on the first mortgage. To recoup losses, second-mortgage lenders will sometimes refuse to sign off on short sales unless they’re paid all or part of what they’re owed.

Moreover, even though the lender loses its secured interest in the house should it go to foreclosure, in some states, it can send debt collectors after you for the balance, and report the loss to credit agencies. This black mark on your credit score can hurt your ability to borrow for years to come.

There are benefits to home equity loans. Often you can write off the interest you pay on the loan. Consult a tax adviser to see if that’s the case for you. And the rates can be lower than what you’d pay for an unsecured, personal loan or if you used a credit card to make your purchase.

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

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Who Represents You in a Real Estate Transaction?

Knowing which type of relationship you have with your agent, and his broker, will help you negotiate the best possible deal, whether you’re a buyer or a seller.

A for sale sign in front of a house
Image: Liz Foreman for HouseLogic
  • When you hire a real estate agent, it’s important to understand whose side she’s on as you select a home to buy (or list your current home for sale) and head towards closing, where the actual transfer of ownership happens. There are a lot of ways agents may represent clients. Yours might represent:

By knowing where your agent’s loyalties lie, you’ll know what you can tell her and what you can’t. (If, for example, you’re dealing with an agent who doesn’t represent you but is representing the sellers of a home you want to buy, you won’t want to tell her how high you’re willing to go on the price.) In some states, your agent has to explain the type of representation (also called agency) she’s offering you and ask you to sign a contract identifying who the agent and her broker represent. If an agent doesn’t bring up the subject or ask you to sign a contract, ask about it so you know whom she’s representing.

No matter what form of representation you agree to, watch out for your own interests and understand the six ways brokers and agents represent clients below.

1. Buyer’s Agency

Want the agent to represent you and only you when you buy a home so that all the information you share with her is confidential? Opt for an exclusive buyer’s agent.

Who pays the buyer’s agent? Surprisingly, even if you hire a buyer’s agent, you can still ask the sellers to pay his fee. You can pay your buyer’s agent yourself, or ask the seller (or the seller’s agent) to pay your agent a share of their sales commission.Popular Reads

2. Seller’s or Listing Agency

An exclusive seller’s agent represents only the sellers, not the buyers. If your exclusive seller’s agent finds a buyer for your home, he may have another agent — maybe even a co-worker from the same brokerage — represent the buyer in your transaction. In some cases the buyer may have no agent at all. Your exclusive seller’s agent is loyal only to you, so it’s OK to discuss strategy with him.

Who pays the seller’s agent? The seller pays a commission to the seller’s agent from the proceeds of the sale. The seller’s agent may, and often does, share the commission with the homebuyer’s agent.

3. Subagency or Cooperating Agency

Let’s say you find a home online. You call the real estate brokerage that’s offering the home and an agent who answers the phone offers to show you the home right now. You think, “Great, she’s showing me the home, she must work for me.” But unless you’ve hired her as your buyer’s agent, she’s working for the sellers.

The same thing can happen if you go to see a home with an agent whose brokerage doesn’t hold the listing. That agent is assisting you, but she’s not your agent; she’s cooperating with the sellers to get you to buy their home.

In some states, that agent may also be a subagent (think subcontractor) of the seller’s agent. Some states allow subagents, some don’t.

Bottom line: Always ask any agent showing you a home whom she represents. Never tell a subagent anything you don’t want the sellers to know.

Who pays the subagent? The seller’s agent shares her commission with the subagent.

4. Dual Agency

In many states, agents can represent both the buyer and seller. These dual agents seek to bring both sides together. They can’t do something that’s only good for you and not for the other side.

A dual agent situation often arises when one agent represents the buyers and the sellers of the same home. The agent must disclose the relationship and, in many states, you must agree in writing to such dual representation because of the potential for conflicts of interest. While dual agents have an obligation not to share any confidential information of a client without their permission, be sure to inform the agent that the information is confidential and know that any non-confidential information may be shared with the people on the other side of the transaction.

Who pays the dual agent? Usually the seller pays the commission.

5. Designated or Appointed Agency

What happens when the buyer’s agent and the seller’s agent both work for the same broker?

To make sure both sides of the home sale are treated fairly in this situation, some brokers designate an agent in their company to represent only the buyers and another to represent only the sellers. A designated agent or appointed agent will be loyal to you and only you. The strategy helps avoid a dual agency situation.

Who pays the designated agents? The sellers pay the commission and the designated agents share it.

6. Nonagency or Transaction Brokerage

In some states, you can work with an agent who acts as a facilitator. By doing so, you set up a nonagency, transactional, or facilitator relationship with the “agent” even though that person is technically not your agent under the law. Typically, nonagents owe you fewer obligations and duties than those who are actually agents. For instance, they would still be required to treat you fairly, but wouldn’t necessarily owe you confidentiality.

Nonagent responsibilities vary from state to state. To find out what those services entail in your state, ask the broker and agent.

Who pays the nonagent? You, as the seller, might agree to pay a flat fee or a commission, which would be stipulated in the listing agreement.

A REALTOR® can help you sell faster, get a better price, and guide you through what can be a complex process. So you’ll want to find an agent who suits your needs. Knowing which type of relationship you have with your agent, and his broker, will help you negotiate the best possible deal, whether you’re a buyer or a seller.

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

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