4 Fun and Useful Energy-Saving Projects

A super-cool laundry-drying rack and 3 more projects take your energy-saving efforts to the next level.

And, unlike those drafty windows you fixed, these projects are fun to brag about.

DIY Laundry Drying Racks

Drying rack | Saving Energy Ideas
Image: Debbie at Me and My DIY
  • Here’s an interesting tidbit: Laundry dryers account for 6% of the electricity used in the U.S. each year, according to a group that studies dryer efficiencies. That’s roughly the same amount of electricity consumed annually by the state of Massachusetts.  

That’s why we like this flat and compact DIY drying system by Debbie, from Me and My DIY. Although she made the rack inside a built-in wall unit, you can customize the design for a cabinet or even a closet. She simply used PVC piping and drawer slides. 

Tip: If you’re so inclined, you can calculate how much it costs to run your electric dryer annually.

  • Look up your dryer’s heating element rating in the manual.
  • Multiply the kilowatt rating by your hourly kilowatt cost.
  • Your total is the price you pay per load, per hour. For example: (Dryer’s kw rating) x (price per kwh) = price per load, per hour
  • Now multiple that amount by the number of loads you dry each month. If you pay 70 cents to dry a single load of laundry in one hour, and you dry 20 loads each month, that’s $168 per year, or (20 x .70) x 12 = 168.

Popular Reads

DIY Frosted Windows

Tricia, from the blog Making It Feel Like Home, used cool frosted contact paper on the small windows by her front door. Although the paper she selected adds privacy, you’ll score a two-fer by using insulating window film instead. 

Tip: Some films reduce radiant heat transfer through glass by as much as 50%.

Depending upon the type of film you select and the amount of area covered, you can:

  • Help keep a room cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
  • Cut UV exposure, so furniture fabrics won’t fade.
  • Strengthen windows for added security. 

Window film starts at around $1.50 per square foot.

See how Tricia created this project and where to download the stencil she used here.

DIY Rain Barrel

Rain barrel energy efficiency
Image: Rebekah Greiman of Potholes and Pantyhose.com
  • When Rebekah Greiman of Potholes and Pantyhose.com discovered that an inch of rainfall on a 1,000-sq.-ft. roof produces 600 gallons of water, she decided to make two rain barrels. Now she waters her yard and garden for free.

You can see how Rebekah transformed a recycled pepper barrel into her own private water reservoir here.

Tip: A rain barrel will help most homeowners save about 1,300 gallons of water during peak summer months, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. 

Related: Save Money and Water with a Rain Barrel

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

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Love Your Bathroom Remodel Forever: 9 Perfect Ideas

For style, sanctuary, and ROI, you can’t go wrong with these bathroom design ideas.

Yellow bathroom with walk-in shower
Image: Allen-Guerra Architecture / Bob Winsett Photography
  • All those pretty photos on all those pretty home design websites are fun to click through — and maddening when it comes time to make bathroom remodeling decisions. Too many choices.
  • We’ve got your back: We distilled all the visual noise down to the essence of what makes a bathroom remodel truly great.

With the “Remodeling Impact Report” from the National Assocation of REALTORS® pegging the national median cost of a bathroom remodel at $30,000, you’ll want to make sure you get maximum comfort, convenience, enjoyment — and resale juice when the time comes to sell.

Here’s the definitive list of practical (and hedonistic) features.

#1 Heated Ceramic Tile Flooring

Vintage style tile flooring
Image: Backseat Boone
  • Enduring, waterproof, and good-looking, ceramic tile bathroom flooring is the classic, never-out-of-style surface material for any bathroom. Plus, consumers (read: future buyers) love it: In a survey from the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA), 83% of respondents said ceramic tile was their No. 1 choice for bathroom flooring. 
  • With prices ranging from a mere $1 per square foot to $20 and more, you’ll find a huge array of choices, styles, and colors that’ll work with any budget.
  • But ceramic tile can chill your tootsies. Pair your ceramic with thin electric radiant mats that go under the tile without raising the floor level — ideal for retrofit installations. 
  • A typical system uses about the same amount of electricity as three 100-watt incandescent light bulbs. Plus, radiant heat is often more efficient than forced-air heating because it eliminates heat loss through the ducts, says the U.S. Department of Energy. It also distributes heat uniformly across the floor, taking less time to warm a room than other types of heat. 
  • At $5 to $15 per square foot to install, radiant mats are as easy on the budget as they are on the sole. 
  • Nice-to-have ceramic tile accompaniments:
  • No-slip ceramic tile. With its finely textured surface, it’s great for traction, making it an exceptionally safe bathroom flooring for young kids or folks with limited mobility.
  • Look for one of two ratings on the packaging. 
  1. A COF (coefficient of friction) standard of .60 or greater means the tile is rated as non-slip when wet by the Ceramic Tile Institute. 
  2. The DCOF (dynamic coefficient of friction) AcuTest measurement, the new gold standard now coming on the market, requires a value of .42 or above for non-slip tile.

Tip: No-slip tile’s texture can trap dirt, and that requires extra elbow grease to clean.

Epoxy grout. New formulas resist staining and discoloration over time better than traditional ones. They’re also more flexible than regular grout and less prone to cracking, making them ideal for flooring installations.

The key to grouting success is the installer. Make sure your contractor is familiar with epoxy grouts, which require finesse to shape and handle. You’ll pay an extra $50 to $100 to cover a 6-foot-by-12-foot bathroom floor with epoxy, according to the Tile Council of North America.

Programmable radiant heat thermostat. Want to treat yourself extra nice? Greet the day with a sigh of relief when you add a wall-mounted programmable thermostat (about $60 to $200) that’ll start warming up your floors whenever you want. How about a half an hour before your alarm goes off?Popular Reads

#2 Curbless Walk-in Shower

Curbless walk-in shower in home bathroom
Image: Molly McGinness
  • More than 60% of respondents to a recent survey by the American Institute of Architects said walk-in, curbless showers are increasing in popularity. For good reason: They’re stylish, safe for folks of all ages, and oh so easy to clean.
  • They dovetail nicely with ceramic tile floors, too. You can have one continuous surface that moves seamlessly from shower to the main bath area.
  • Plus, they’re all about marketability. As the population ages, a contemporary walk-in is a selling point.
  • Be sure to hire a remodeling contractor with experience. Making a curbless shower takes know-how — the shower floor has to slope to the drain hole, which means the new drain will be located below the surface of the existing floor. 
  • To make that work, you’ll have to remove old flooring and subflooring and alter the framing underneath the floor. It’s a good idea to consult with your local building authorities beforehand so that the work will be up to code and pass inspection.
  • Related: Dump Your Tub for a Dreamy Shower

#3 Quartz Countertop

Bathroom vanity with quartz counter
Image: Joe Coulson courtesy of Atlanta Kitchen
  • We love natural stone, but in this battleground of soaps, lotions, pastes, and poultices, we prefer the impervious beauty of synthetic, low-VOC quartz.
  • “Consumer Reports” testing gives the edge to quartz over granite, citing quartz’s ability to resist stains and abrasions. It’ll look good year after year. Plus, the surface is so impervious bacteria can’t lodge in it. 
  • Quartz countertop material is a synthetic composite made up of about 90% quartz particles held together with binders. It’s virtually maintenance-free —  it never needs to be sealed — and comes in dozens of styles and colors. If you’re stuck on the idea of stone, many quartz versions mimic the real thing.
  • Quartz runs $40 to $100 per square foot, installed (about the same as granite, although some varieties of granite get very pricey).

#4 One Big Sink Instead of Two Small Ones

Togetherness is a beautiful thing, but in the master bath, you’re church and your partner’s state. Establish your individuality without losing your bond with a large (38-inch or more) sink ($350 to $1,200). One big sink saves more counter space than two, and still lets you both wash up simultaneously.

Spec an undermount sink to go with your quartz countertop — undermounts have no protruding lip and help make cleanup a snap. The perfect companion to quartz countertops, undermount lavatory sinks are the preferred choice of 87% of respondents to a 2013 survey from the NKBA, and have been for several years.

Tip: Extra-large undermount sinks may need extra support. Check the sink specs and confer with your installer before you buy.

#5 Single-Hole, Motion-Activated Faucet

Ah, the savings. “Motion-activated, touchless faucets shut off automatically so you’re not running the water continually, like when you’re brushing your teeth, which saves a significant amount of water,”  says NKBA president John Petrie.

Besides that, we love the fact that sleek, single-hole touchless faucets are right in step with the calm, simple lines of transitional style. Transitional is a universally appealing, trend-defying design that’s cozy, elegant, and ensures a great return on your investment.

Finally, have you ever tried to clean around a two-handle vanity faucet with a narrow (4-inch) spread? Did you require therapy afterward? We heartily endorse the single-hole, lever-type faucet for your bathroom sink — and your sanity.

These tres-cool faucets run $200 to $650 and up. Some have temperature controls so you (or your kids) can’t get scalded.

For extra utility savings, look for faucets with the WaterSense label that use only 1.5 gallons per minute (gpm) compared with the standard 2.2 gpm flow of regular faucets.

#6 Humidity-Controlled Exhaust Fan

What’s homebuyers’ No. 1-requested bathroom feature? An exhaust fan, says a report from the National Association of Home Builders. Wow — bath fans beat out linen closets and separate tubs and showers.

A fan or an operable window in a bathroom is required by building code. But who wants to open a window in winter to get rid of excess humidity? Get a fan with a humidity-sensing on/off switch. It’ll turn on when moisture levels are high and automatically shut off when things return to normal. That keeps mold at bay, ensures you’re not sucking out air-conditioned or heated indoor air, and prevents the fan from using power long after it needs to.

Tip: Make sure your contractor vents the fan to the outside, not the attic, or you might develop mold problems aloft.

Other fan options include multiple speeds, nightlights, and manual timers; you’ll pay up to $600 for a fan with all the goodies.

#7 High-Efficiency, Dual-Flush Toilet

Saving water is our future; a high-efficiency, dual-flush toilet reduces water usage and appeals to any buyer looking for a cost-effective home.

All 25 toilets recently tested by “Consumer Reports” “removed liquid waste superbly,” including the dual-flush models. This is a change, says CR, from previous tests, when many dual-flush models performed well with solid wastes but underperformed with liquid wastes.

Tip: Bidets are standard features in Asia and Europe, but they’ve been slow to catch on in the U.S. (and there aren’t any WaterSense-labeled models). Nevertheless, some manufacturers are creating hybrid toilets and toilet seats ($650) that have bidet features, and we’re going on record as recommending them. They save lots of TP, and they appeal to our melting-pot homebuyer mix of races and cultures, a benefit when it comes time to sell.

#8 Pocket or Sliding Barn Door

Sliding barn door for home bathroom
Image: Porter Barn Wood
  • The floor area of a bathroom is precious. Why waste any with a swinging door that eats up some 14 square feet of space? A pocket door or barn door slides out of the way without requiring any clearance, leaving more room for storage and design flexibility.
  • Google Trends shows that interest in sliding barn doors hovered at a lukewarm rating of about 40 from 2004 through 2011, when interest upticked to 70 before reaching an all-time high of 100 just last year — the highest possible rating on the Google interest scale.
  • The sliding door phenomenon partners neatly with sustainability: old, salvaged doors of all kinds make showpiece barn doors for your bathroom.
  • So pocket or barn doors? Either can work well, depending on your budget.

Our editors had a lively debate about recommending pocket doors, which disappear into the wall. Some said the typical recessed door pull for pocket doors is awkward and can pinch fingers.

Modern tech to the rescue: You can find edge-mounted pocket door hardware with a handle that pops out at the touch of a button ($121). Or, add a door stop inside the wall framing to prevent the door from sliding all the way inside the wall. That way, you can safely use a recessed pull or add a traditional handle or knob to open and shut the door.

Tearing out drywall and reframing for a pocket door is $1,000 to $3,500, depending on the complexity of the job. 

You can install a barn-style door, which hangs from a track above the doorway and slides in front of a wall., for less. It’s a good DIY project. Barn door kits cost $400 to $900, but if you’re handy, buy the hardware for $100 to $500 and make your own door, or find a used door at a salvage building supply store.

#9 Calm Colors

It’s always cool to be up on trends, but we say make your bathroom an exception. It’s your sanctuary — it should be soothing and filled with light.

That doesn’t mean it has to be boring. In fact, it’s a good idea to include a painted wall surface so you can dash color about on a whim and change it just as easily. Non-permanent items, such as artwork and antique mirrors, add beaucoup personality.

But permanent surfaces — ceramic tile and fixtures — need quiet, calm neutrals. White, beige, and gray are favorites. In fact, the NKBA says gray is the trendiest color for baths these days, so you win on two fronts, for now.

“A neutral color palette really is safe, especially in terms of resale value,” says NKBA’s Petrie. “You can always be expressive with colorful towels or curtains, things that are less expensive and easier to change than more permanent features.”

Plus, lighter colors help bounce light around, helping you see what a fantastic bathroom you’ve put together.

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

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Attic Cleaning: What You Can’t See Can Hurt You

Cleaning your attic removes allergens and respiratory irritants that can make your family sick.

Boy wearing gas mask in cloud of multi-color smoke
Image: Jens Magnusson/Offset
  • Attic cleaning probably isn’t your idea of a good time. But the dust, dander, and mold in that often-neglected room could be irritating your family’s lungs and kicking up allergies. Plus, a clean attic will enable you to put your great attic ideas into action.

“No one thinks about their attic, but it’s a problem area,” says Mike Tringale of the Consumer Healthcare Products Association.

Attic allergens and irritants constantly seep into your living area through ceiling hatches, doors, recessed lights, and heating and cooling systems (especially if they’re located in your attic).

Attic Cleaning Basics

  • Dust walls, window frames, and rafters with an electrostatically charged cloth (think Swiffer) or duster, which grabs twice as much dust as cotton cloths. Don’t forget to dust exposed roof trusses, attic fan blades, light bulbs, fixtures, hatches, and door frames.
  • Vacuum with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter vacuum cleaner, which channels all vacuumed air through a filter designed to remove even microscopic particles. A less expensive choice: Install a top-quality, high-efficiency filter bag in your vacuum.
  • Line shop vacuums with a plastic bag, which traps irritants and makes debris disposal easy.
  • Wear a National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health mask, which filters a high percentage of airborne particles.
  • If you suffer from allergies — 50 million people in the U.S. do, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology — hire a professional to remove the debris. Prices for pro attic cleaning vary depending on region and nature of the cleanup. Get an estimate before hiring a cleaning contractor.

Keeping Irritants Out of Your Attic

Preventing mold growth and sealing out insects and vermin help reduce irritants in your attic.

Mold: Small roof leaks and old, cracked caulking can let in moisture, which may lead to mold damage. Once a year, and after each big storm, walk around your home to inspect your roof from all angles. Repair any loose, missing, or broken shingles. Check windows for missing caulking or cracked panes.

Don’t bother buying a home mold test kit, which may register mold spores that are constantly in the air anyway. If you suspect mold or can see a mold-covered area that’s larger than about 10 square feet, call a certified indoor air quality professional to evaluate your situation.

Dust: Many of those tiny dust mites you see floating around are really dust mite particles, roach parts, and vermin dander made of dried saliva, urine, and feces.

These dust proteins can trigger allergic reactions, so search for tiny cracks and openings in your roof, walls, and windows where vermin and insects can enter. Seal attic air leaks with caulk and polyurethane foam, and repair any holes in attic ventilation screens that are under the eaves and in gable ends.

“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 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.

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

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35 Money-Saving Household Habits

Adopt a few of these home tips to find a bit more cash each month.

Clean lights to help homeowner save money with ceiling rose
Image: Anderson The Fish
  • Your house gives you so much: security, pride, shelter. With all that on the line, it’s easy to assume the costs of keeping it up just are what they are. But wait. There are plenty of expenses that are simply a waste.

Here’s how to save money each month without putting a dime of home value at risk.

#1 Clean Your Lightbulbs

What? Who does that? Well, smart people (those who know shrewd, easy ways to save money). A dirty bulb emits 30% less light than a clean one. Dust off both the bulb and fixture, and you might be able to cut back on the number or brightness of lights in each room without noticing any difference.

#2 Keep Your Fridge Full

Solid items snuggled together retain the cold better than air and help keep one another cold — requiring less energy overall. Leaving town for awhile and fridge is empty? Fill voids in the fridge or freezer with water bottles.

#3 Switch Your Bulbs to LEDs

The average light-emitting diode, LED, light bulb used five hours a day can save $10 to $20 in energy costs vs. an incandescent bulb. If you replace just five of your most-used incandescent bulbs, your savings will add up.

And LEDs last 15 to 20 times longer than incandescents, so you won’t have to replace them nearly as often.

#4 Use Power Strips

Here’s how to save money — a lot of it — on bills. Appliances like coffee makers, TVs, and computers continue to suck power even when they’re off, which can add 10% to your monthly utility bill and increase the average household’s annual electric bill by $100 to $200. And did you know the AC adapter for your laptop keeps drawing power even if the laptop isn’t plugged in? Stop this slow money burn by connecting them to an easy-to-switch-off power strip.

#5 Use a Toaster Oven When Possible

Toaster ovens use 50% to 70% less energy than a full-size oven.

#6 Set Your Water Heater to 120 Degrees

Hot water heaters often come with a factory setting that’s higher than you need. You’ll cool your water heating costs by 3% to 5% every time you lower the temperature setting by 10 degrees.

#7 Insulate Your Water Heater

For about $30, an insulating jacket or blanket can shave 7% to 16% off your water heating costs for the year. Just make sure to follow the manufacturer’s directions to avoid creating a fire hazard.

#8 Wash Clothes in Cold Water

Image: Anna Rodé Designs
  • Just switching from hot to warm water will cut every load’s energy use in half, and you’ll reap even more savings taking the temp down to cold. And don’t worry: Your clothes will get just as clean from cold water, thanks to the efficiency of today’s detergents (except in the case of sickness, when you’ll want hot water and bleach).

#9 Use the Right Dryer Cycle

If you’re using a high heat setting for each load, you could be using more energy than you need. Almost all fabrics can be dried with a lower heat setting, such as the permanent press setting. It uses less energy and has the bonus of extending the life of your fabrics. Save the higher heat for items such as sheets and towels.

#10 Use Homemade Cleaners

Many commercial products rely on baking soda or vinegar for their cleaning power, so why not make your own? Odds are, you likely have a lot of the ingredients sitting in your cabinets or pantry right now.

#11 Cut Back on Laundry Detergent

Never mind the barely visible measurement lines in the cap: You typically need only a tablespoon of detergent. And, clothes actually get cleaner when you use less, because there’s no soap residue left behind.

#12 Ditch Disposable Sweeper and Mop Head

Stop throwing money away every time you clean! Refill your Swiffer Sweeper with microfiber cloths. Just cut to size and use them dry for dusting or with a little water and floor cleaner for mopping. Or switch to a microfiber mop with a washable head.

#13 Stop Buying Dryer Sheets

Another easy swap? Give up your dryer-sheet habit (about $7 for 240 loads) in favor of wool dryer balls (about $6.50 for four, which can last for up to 1,000 loads each). Of course, depending on your laundry preferences, you can always just go without either.

#14 Cut Scouring Pads in Half

Most clean-ups don’t require a full one.

#15 Don’t Rinse Dishes

Dishwasher full of dishes
Image: Cavan Images/Offset
  • Two minutes of rinsing with the faucet on full-power will consume 5 gallons of water — the same amount efficient dishwashers use during an entire cycle. Shocking, right? And it’s an unnecessary step, since most newer models are equipped to remove even stubborn food debris. Just be sure to clean the dishwasher trap regularly to keep your dishwasher running efficiently.

#16 Keep a Pitcher of Water in the Fridge

You won’t have to waste time and money running the faucet, waiting for it to get cold enough for a refreshing sip.

#17 Set a Timer for the Shower

The average American takes an eight-minute shower and uses about 17 gallons of water. It’s easy to linger, so set a timer for five minutes. Or try this more entertaining idea: Time your shower to a song or podcast segment.

#18 Install Low-Flow Fixtures

By installing a just one low-flow showerhead, the average US household can save about 2,900 gallons of water every year and decrease home water consumption by 40% or more.

#19 Replace Your Old Water-Hogging Toilet

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says that by replacing old, inefficient toilets with WaterSense-labeled models, the average family can reduce water used for toilets by 20% to 60% — nearly 13,000 gallons of water savings per year. (WaterSense-labeled toilets are independently certified to meet criteria for both performance and efficiency, according to the EPA.) They could also save more than $140 per year in water costs.

#20 Close Closet Doors

Each closet and pantry may hold a paltry amount of square footage, but you’re still heating and cooling it. Add up all the storage space, and you’ve got the equivalent of a small room. Shut the doors to keep the conditioned air out.

#21 Program the Thermostat

You can save as much as 10% a year on heating and cooling by simply turning your thermostat back 7 degrees to 10 degrees Fahrenheit from its normal setting for eight hours a day. You can easily save energy in the winter by setting the thermostat to around 68 degrees while you’re awake and setting it lower while you’re asleep.

#22 Don’t Crank the Thermostat Up or Down Too Far

A common misconception is that a furnace works harder than normal to warm a space back to a comfortable temperature after the thermostat has been set back, resulting in little or no savings, says Energy.gov. In fact, as soon as your house drops below its normal temperature, it will lose energy to the surrounding environment more slowly Avoid setting your thermostat at a colder setting than normal when you turn on your air conditioner. It won’t cool your home any faster and could result in excessive cooling and unnecessary expense.

#23 Use Fans Year-Round

Image: Iaobzjls/Getty
  • Ceiling fans can reduce your summer cooling costs and even reduce winter heating bills — but only if used correctly. Flip the switch on the base to make the blades rotate counterclockwise for a cooling effect or clockwise to help distribute heat in the winter. And in the warmer months, an attic or whole-house fan can suck hot air out and help distribute cooler air so you can give the AC a little break.

#24 Caulk or Weatherstrip Around Doors and Windows

Caulk may not have the charisma of something like solar panels, but using it to seal air leaks around doors and windows will deliver immediate savings rather than a 14-year payback. You’ll spend $3 to $30 and save 10% to 20% on energy bills.

For gaps between moving parts that can’t be caulked, add weatherstripping.

#25 Add Insulation

By sealing air leaks and installing the right insulation in places like attics, crawl spaces, and basements, homeowners can save an average of 15% on heating and cooling — 11% on total energy costs, according to the EPA’s ENERGY STAR program. For the typical homeowner, this translates to about $200 pocketed year after year.

#26 Plant Shade Trees

Shade tree behind home with bench
Image: Liz Foreman for HouseLogic
  • Block the summer sun to lower cooling costs. Planting one shade tree on the west side and one on the east side of your home can shield your home from the sun during the summer months (but avoid south-side trees, which block winter sun). Carefully positioned trees can save up to 25% of the energy a typical household uses, according to Energy.gov. Plus, healthy, mature trees add an average 10% to a property’s value, says the Arbor Day Foundation.

#27 Use Curtains as Insulation

Another way to practice energy-saving passive heating and cooling? Open curtains on sunny windows in the winter and close them up in the summer.

#28 Cool with a Cross Breeze

On a breezy day, open a window on the side of your house that’s receiving the breeze, then open another on the opposite side of the house. Make sure the window on the receiving side is open a little less than the exhaust side to accelerate the breeze. You can also use a fan if there’s no breeze outside.

#29 Check Your Mortgage PMI

You’ll generally pay between $40 and $80 per month for every $100,000 borrowed, according to Freddie Mac. Keep in mind this amount can vary based on your credit score and your loan-to-value ratio — the amount you borrowed on your mortgage compared to the home’s value.

Once your loan-to-value ratio falls below 80% of the home’s original appraised value, you can request that PMI be canceled. If the value of your home appreciates before then, you might be able to cancel sooner.

#30 Check Your Home Insurance for Savings

Your homeowners insurance should change as your life changes. Installing home security devices — including smoke detectors, burglar and fire alarm systems or dead-bolt locks — could reduce your premiums, says the Insurance Information Institute.

Bundling your home and auto coverage could also save money on both policies. To be sure you’re getting the best price, check that any combined price from one insurer is lower than buying the coverage separately from different companies, according to the III.

Surveys have found you could be paying more than what another insurer would charge for the same coverage. So you could save by going with a new company or by using their quote to bargain with your current provider.

#31 Borrow Tools Instead of Buying

How often are you going to use that $600 demolition hammer once you remove your bathroom tile? Not so much? Rent it from a home-improvement store for a fraction of the cost. Be sure to do the math for each tool and project, though; sometimes the rental price is high enough to justify buying it.

Or join a tool lending library or cooperative to borrow tools for free or much less than retail stores.

#32 Cut Back on Paper Towels

Two rolls of paper towels a week add up to about $182 every year! Instead, try machine-washable cotton shop towels. They clean up messes just as fast and cost less than $2 for five. Save paper towels for messes that need to go straight into the trash, like oil and grease.

#33 Stop Buying Plants for Curb Appeal Every Year

Front yard garden bed filled with perennial flowers
Image: Marna McGlinn of Marna McGlinn Ceramics
  • A pop of color in your landscaping perks up your curb appeal. But instead of wasting household funds on short-lived annuals, invest in perennials that will keep giving for years to come.

#34 Water Grass in the Morning to Save on Your Water Bill

Turning the sprinkler on at midday is kinda like watering the air — especially when the mercury soars. Lose less to evaporation by watering during cooler hours (but avoid overnight watering, when too-slow evaporation can invite fungus growth).

#35 Make Your Yard Drought-Tolerant

Swapping out 100 square feet of lawn with low water plants can save a homeowner 1,000 gallons of water the first year. After three years, savings can increase because plants have established root systems and need even less water.

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

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7 Painting Hacks to Get the Look of a Pro — Without the Pro Price

Like this easy hack: coat paint brushes in fabric softener to keep bristles soft.

Vector illustration of paint roller streaking coral paint
Image: Bortonia/Getty
  • A DIY painting job doesn’t have to equal crooked lines, besmirched floors, and ceramic sinks speckled with robin’s egg blue.

Use these easy painting hacks, to make the process faster and less messy — and ensure a fresh, modern look for your home.

#1 Soak Brushes in Fabric Softener to Keep Brushes Soft

Every DIY painter has been privy to the horrors of a day-old brush with stiff bristles that makes round two nearly impossible. Try this painting hack instead:

To keep paint brushes soft:

  1. Rinse thoroughly (no soap).
  2. Mix half a cup of fabric softener with a gallon of warm water
  3. Swish brushes in the mixture for 10 seconds or so.
  4. Lay them flat or hang them on a peg for overnight storage.

“That way, the bristles won’t develop a bend and will retain their usefulness for your next painting adventure,” says Artem Filikov, vice president of marketing and product development for home improvement website HomeYou.

Also, there’s no need to rinse before using. The softener actually helps distribute paint more smoothly.Sweet!Popular Reads

#2 Use Plastic Wrap to Prevent Mishaps

When painting around a large, awkward item you want to keep clean, like a toilet or a standalone sink, use this painting trick from the pros: surround it with plastic wrap to keep drips from destroying its finish.

For an extra tight wrap, choose a wrap with an adhesive backing — your hardware store will even carry special painter’s plastic wrap, if you really want to go all out — which will help it stick to the surface and prevent the odd drop from inching its way in. Once you’ve finished the job, just unwrap for a paint-free finish.

#3 Use Vanilla and Lemon Extracts to Reduce Paint Odor

Paint’s intense odor can get really old really fast. Overpower it with a little bit of vanilla.

Although there are vanilla-scented products specifically designed to use with paint, you can get the same effect with what’s in your kitchen cabinet.

For darker paints, add a couple drops of vanilla extract (artificial is fine) per gallon to reduce the nasty smell and keep your room smelling sweet for weeks to come.

Because you don’t want the tint of vanilla to ruin the color of your paint, swap it with lemon extract for light-colored paints.

#4 Repurpose Old T-Shirts as Rags to Reduce Waste

Painting’s a messy job, but using roll after roll of paper towels is neither efficient nor environmentally-friendly.

And while you could pick up a mega-pack of plain cotton towels to keep paint from splattering, why not use something you can find stuffed at the back of a drawer?

Run petroleum jelly along the seals of your doors and windows to prevent them from sticking.

Geoff Sharp
Professional painter

Geoff Sharp, the owner of Sharper Impressions Painting Co., recommends cutting up old T-shirts to use as rags, saving money and resources (not to mention a trip to Goodwill).

“If paint runs down your roller or brush, it gets really messy, really quick,” he says. “Always have a rag in your pocket so you and your brush or roller stay clean.”

#5 Keep Q-tips Handy for Mistakes

Oh no! A drop of Naples Sunset just splashed on your white window frame. You’ve only got a few minutes to clean up the mess before your mistake is sealed for eternity.

That’s where Q-tips come in handy. Just stash some in your pocket for these types of emergencies.

Here’s another use for that pile of cotton swabs tucked in your jeans pocket: Use them to touch up imperfections on newly-painted walls without dirtying an entire paintbrush.

#6 Put Petroleum Jelly on Small Spots You Don’t Want Painted

A little bit of Vaseline can go a long way toward keeping your paint job clean.

Using a Q-tip (another reason to keep them handy), go over all the bits and pieces you don’t want painted, like screws or hinges. With the petroleum jelly applied, even an accidental slip won’t leave you heartbroken.

Here’s another tip for a hassle-free paint job: “Run petroleum jelly along the seals of your doors and windows to prevent them from sticking,” Sharp says.

#7 Use a Hair Dryer on Painter’s Tape for Easy Removal

Painter’s tape is supposed to make your paint job easier and stress-free.

But when strips of perfect paint peel off along with the adhesive — or you just can’t get the darn tape to come off at all — you might feel like you wasted your effort.

To help stubborn painter’s tape get a move on, turn a hair dryer (low heat only) toward your handiwork.

Holding it about three inches from the wall will help soften the adhesive and ensure an even line, making removal a stress-free affair — and ensuring you keep that dreamy, crisp paint line.

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

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When to Repair or Replace Your Appliance

Consider age, repair cost, pricing, energy efficiency, and whether to modify your kitchen to accommodate a new unit.

when is it time to repair or replace appliances image of a vintage red metal toolbox on the grass in front of a broken air conditioner with a blurry background
Image: skaman306/Getty
  • When an appliance is old and isn’t working efficiently, it may seem natural to decide to replace it rather than repair it — may it rest in peace.

But appliances often break before their time, making the repair-or-replace decision harder. Also, the replacement cost may give you second thoughts.

If money is tight, you may have to repair the appliance and hope for the best. But if you’ve got some coin, replacing with a new, energy-efficient model may be the better way to go.

Those are a lot of ifs, and the repair-or-replace dilemma is often hard to resolve. Here are some guidelines to help you decide.

Is It Really Broken?

When appliances stop working, we get so rattled that the obvious escapes us. Before you panic, make sure:

  • The appliance is plugged in.
  • Circuit breakers haven’t tripped. (I once replaced a blender only to discover that the circuit needed resetting.)
  • Flooring hasn’t become uneven, which can stop some appliances from turning on.
  • Vents and filters aren’t clogged with lint and dust.

Related: How to Help Your Appliances Last Longer

Is It Still Under Warranty?

Check your owner’s manual or records to see if the sick appliance is still under warranty. Most appliances come with a manufacturer warranty that will cover the cost of repairs anywhere from one to three years after the initial date of purchase. If it’s still covered, schedule a service call.

Related: Is an Extended Warranty Right for You?

Is It Truly at the End of Its Useful Life?

Appliances have an average useful life — the typical lifespan after which the machine is running on borrowed time. The closer your appliance is to its hypothetical past-due date, the wiser it is to replace rather than repair.

Here are the typical lifespans of major appliances.

ApplianceAverage Lifespan (Years)
Exhaust Fan10
Range, electric13-15
Range, gas15-17
Range/oven hood14

How to Follow the 50% Rule

In 2021, the cost to repair an appliance ranged from $100 to $300. Should you pay it?

If an appliance is more than 50% through its lifespan and if the cost of one repair is more than 50% of the cost of buying new, you should replace rather than repair.

To do the math, you’ll have to know the typical lifespan (see above) and get a repair estimate. Most service companies charge a “trip charge” to diagnose the problem. These charges vary widely, so be sure to ask when you arrange the appointment. If the company repairs the appliance, it usually waives the trip charge.

DIY Whenever Possible

If you know your way around a socket wrench, you may be able to make simple appliance repairs yourself and save labor fees. YouTube has lots of DIY repair videos, and user manuals can help you troubleshoot.

Can’t find your manual? Search online for “manual” along with your appliance brand and model number. Most manufacturers provide free downloadable PDFs of appliance manuals, and several websites specialize in nothing but manuals.

However, there is a downside to repairing appliances yourself.

  • Many electrical replacement parts are nonrefundable, so if you misdiagnose the problem, you’ve wasted money.
  • Large appliances are heavy and bulky. You risk injury if you don’t know how to move, open, and lift the machine properly.
  • Some appliance warranties are voided when you mess with the machine yourself.
  • If you forget to unplug the machine before making repairs, you can electrocute yourself (making savings a moot point).

How to Calculate Whether Energy Efficiency Is Cost Effective

New water-saving and energy-efficient appliances can be cost effective: An old refrigerator uses about 33% more energy than a new model with ENERGY STAR certification, according to Energy Star.

But replacing energy clunkers that still have miles left on them may not be a money-wise move. You might spend thousands on an appliance in order to save hundreds (if you’re lucky) on your energy bill.

The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers says if you’re planning to stay in your home for 10 to 15 years, upgrading appliances is a good idea. However, if you’re planning on moving soon, you’ll save money by keeping your older appliances and letting the new owners upgrade to energy-efficient models.

What Are the Hidden Costs When Replacing Old Appliances?

The cost of replacing an appliance may include more than just the price of the machine. In fact, the price tag could be the least of the money you’ll spend to upgrade an appliance.

  • A new refrigerator may not fit in the old spot. You could have to modify cabinetry to fit the new appliance. Be sure to measure accurately.
  • Gas ovens and ranges will save money only if your home already has gas connections. If not, you could spend thousands bringing a gas line into your home or hundreds rerouting the lines you already have.
  • Upgrading from a simple gas range to one with all the bells and whistles may require upgrading or adding electrical wiring and circuits.
  • “Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this.  Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”
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What to Know About Your Credit Before Buying a Home

It’s not just whether you pay your bills on time that matters.

Credit ratings for new homeowners
Image: Cavan Images/Tanya St/StudioBarcelona/Getty

This article was contributed by financial expert and blogger Mary Beth Storjohann, CFP, author, speaker, and founder of Workable Wealth. She provides financial coaching for individuals and couples in their 20s to 40s across the country, helping them make smart, educated choices with their money.

Like it or not, your credit score is one of the most important numbers in your life, ranking up there with your Social Security number, date of birth, and wedding anniversary. This three-digit number is your financial report card, except there’s no getting rid of it after college.

Your credit score shows lenders just how trustworthy you are when it comes to managing your finances, and it can either save or cost you thousands of dollars throughout your life. 

If you’re in the dark about just how significantly this number can impact you and the details behind your personal score, here’s an overview of what you need to know before hitting the mortgage application process.

How Your Score is Calculated

Your FICO credit score is comprised of five elements, according to the Fair, Isaac Corp.

  1. 35% of your score is attributed to how you pay your bills. Points are added for paying on time and deducted for late or missing payments. Note: This is a big portion of your score, so if you’re not paying bills on time, it’s best to get that under control pronto.
  2. 30% of your score is based on your credit utilization ratio. Translation: How much money do you owe as a portion of the amount of credit available to you? The lower this ratio, the better.
  3. 15% is based on the length of your credit history. When did you open your first account (and is it still open)?
  4. 10% of your score goes to the type of credit you have. Think revolving credit (such as credit cards) and installment credit (such as car loans and mortgages).
  5. The last 10% is impacted by new credit applications. How often and for what types of credit are you applying?

Most Popular in Homebuying

Where to Find Your Score and Report

To access your credit report, use a website such as annualcreditreport.com, which will give you one free report a year, or creditkarma.com, which will provide you with free access to your score upon signing up for an account. 

Once you have copies of your report and score, immediately look for fraudulent or erroneous information. If you find anything, immediately contact both the credit reporting agency and the company that is portraying inaccurate information to determine next steps.

How Your Score Can Cost You

Your score can range from about 300 to 850. You’ll find a variety of breakdowns on what’s considered “good” compared to “excellent” versus “poor,” but in general you’ll want to aim for a score of 740 and higher, which is the “very good” range.

The higher your credit score, the more creditworthy you appear to lenders (meaning they can rely on you to pay your debts and pay them on time), which translates into lower interest rates and more money saved when taking out a loan.

Not sure how this can play out financially? Consider this:

Meet Claire: She’s 35, pays her credit card off in full each month, has all her bills on auto-draft, and never misses a payment. She’s had a positive credit history for 10 years and wants to buy a home. Claire was approved for a $200,000, 30-year fixed-rate loan at 3.75%.

Meet Steve: He’s 32, obtained his first credit card at age 18, ran up some debt in college that he’s still working on paying down, and has no system for keeping track of bills. He has consistent late and bounced check fees. Steve wants to buy a home and was approved for a $200,000, 30-year fixed-rate loan at 5.5%.

What’s all the fuss about if they were both approved? Over the life of her loan, Claire will pay $133,443.23 in interest. Over the life of his loan, Steve will pay $208,808.08 in interest. A small interest rate difference of 1.75% translates into $75,364.85 more paid by Steve! $75,000 is a pretty significant sum of money that could be used toward other goals.

Having a solid credit score is one of the most financially savvy tools for you to have on hand when it comes to buying a home. When managed wisely, your credit score will bring you confidence, peace of mind, and more money saved via low interest rates. 

When mismanaged or not cared for at all, your credit score can delay your success in meeting financial goals and result in additional funds and resources spent correcting past mistakes. 

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

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How to Pick Paint Colors to Fix Any Room’s Quirks

Paint colors can do a ton to fix a room’s flaws for not much money

Image: A W / EyeEm/Getty
  • Every home suffers a few negatives, but not every solution requires pricey structural changes. Paint is a frugal remodeler’s go-to solution to perk up a problem room.

Here’s how to pick paint colors to give any room a facelift:

Choosing Paint for a Room That’s Too Small

Painting walls white, cream, pastels, or cool colors (tinged with blue or green) creates the illusion of more space by reflecting light. 

White or light colors on walls lifts the ceiling, bringing your eyes up, which makes you feel like you’re in a larger room.

How to use paint color to make a room seem bigger:

  • Paint trim similar to walls to ensure a seamless appearance that visually expands space. 
  • Use a monochromatic scheme to amplify the dimensions of a room. Select furnishings in the same color. Lack of contrast makes a room seem more spacious.
  • Extend wall color onto the ceiling an additional six to 12 inches. This will make the room seem taller.
  • Paint vertical or horizontal stripes. Vertical stripes enhance room height by drawing the eye up; horizontal stripes guide your gaze around the perimeter, making walls seem farther away. Use similar light colors for low-contrast stripes, and your room will look even larger.
  • Get a bit of a similar effect if you really want a darker shade by selecting a high-gloss paint sheen, which reflects light and enhances space. 

For a Room That’s Too Large

When a space feels cavernous, draw walls inward and make it cozy with warm colors (red-tinged), because darker hues absorb light.

Similarly, a dark or warm color overhead (in a flat finish) helps make rooms with high or vaulted ceilings seem less voluminous.

For a Room That Needs a Soothing Vibe

The right paint choice can lend tranquility to a bathroomprimary suite, or other quiet, personal space. A palette of soft, understated color or muted tones help you instill a calming atmosphere.

Some good choices include pale lavenders, light grays or greens, and wispy blues.

For a Room With Special Features That No One Notices

Call out notable features in a room with paint. Dress crown moldings and other trims in white to make them pop against walls with color.

Make a fireplace or other feature a focal point by painting it a color that contrasts with walls.

“Using a higher sheen of paint on woodwork, such as baseboards and door or window casings, creates a crisp edge and clear transition from the wall to the trim,” says Petra Schwartze, a Minneapolis architect with TEA2 Architects.

For a Room With Something Ugly to Hide

Not everything should stand out in a space. Using a low-contrast palette is a good way to hide unappealing elements or flaws.

Conduit, radiators, and other components painted the same color as the wall will seem to disappear.
Selecting low-sheen or flat paint colors also helps hide flaws. Unless walls are smooth, avoid using high-gloss paint because it reflects light and calls attention to an uneven surface.

How to Pick Paint Colors for Any Room

  • Sample paint colors on a few walls.
  • Use large swaths of paint so you can get a real feel for the color.
  • Add samples to opposite sides of a room to judge the paint color from different angles.
  • Check the space with the samples in place and watch how the paint color changes at different times of the day.
  • Check the color on cloudy days, sunny days, and at night when you’ve got artificial lights on.
  • “Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this.  Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”
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