Skip to main content
home check map image

Search such categories as , , ,

searchPage

, ,

searchPage

, , , ,

searchPage
Featured Articles

Reduce Your Heating Bills This Winter

Tips for reducing your bill.

Article Thumbnail Small

Imagine leaving a window open all winter long -- the heat loss, cold drafts and wasted energy! If your home has a folding attic stair, fireplace or clothes dryer, that may be just what is occurring in your home every day. These often overlooked sources of heat loss and air leakage can cause heat to pour out and the cold outside air to rush in -- costing you higher heating bills. Air leaks are the largest source of heating and cooling loss in the home. Air leaks occur through the small cracks around doors, windows, pipes, etc. Most homeowners are well aware of the benefits caulk and weatherstripping provide to minimize heat loss and cold drafts. But what can you do about the four largest “holes” in your home -- the folding attic stair, the whole house fan, the fireplace and the clothes dryer? Here are some tips and techniques that can easily, quickly and inexpensively seal and insulate these holes. Attic Stairs When attic stairs are installed, a large hole (approximately 10 square feet) is created in your ceiling. The ceiling and insulation that were there have to be removed, leaving only a thin, unsealed, sheet of plywood. Your attic space is ventilated directly to the outdoors. In the winter, the attic space can be very cold, and in the summer it can be very hot. And what is separating your conditioned house from your unconditioned attic? That thin sheet of plywood. Often a gap can be observed around the perimeter of the door. Try this yourself: at night, turn on the attic light and shut the attic stairway door -- do you see any light coming through? These are gaps add up to a large opening where your heated/cooled air leaks out 24 hours a day. This is like leaving a window open all year round. An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add an attic stair cover. An attic stair cover provides an air seal, reducing the air leaks. Add the desired amount of insulation over the cover to restore the insulation removed from the ceiling. Whole House Fans Much like attic stairs above, when whole house fans are installed, a large hole (up to 16 square feet or larger) is created in your ceiling. The ceiling and insulation that were there have to be removed, leaving only leaky ceiling shutter between the house and the outdoors. An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add a whole house fan cover. Installed from the attic side, the whole house fan cover is invisible. Cover the fan to reduce heating and air-conditioning loss, remove it when use of the fan is desired. If attic access is inconvenient, a ceiling shutter cover is another option for reducing heat loss through the ceiling shutter. Made from R-8, textured, thin, white flexible insulation, and installed from the house side over the ceiling shutter with Velcro, a whole house fan shutter cover is easily installed and removed. Fireplaces Sixty-five percent, or approximately 100 million homes in North America are constructed with wood or gas burning fireplaces. Unfortunately there are negative side effects that the fireplace brings to a home especially during the winter home-heating season. Fireplaces are energy losers. Researchers have studied this to determine the amount of heat loss through an unlit fireplace, and the results are amazing. One recent research study showed that an open damper on an unlit fireplace in a well-insulated house can raise overall heating-energy consumption by 30 percent. This is truly a remarkable statistic! A recent study showed that for many consumers, their heating bills may be more than $500 higher per winter due to the air leakage and wasted energy caused by fireplaces. Why does a home with a fireplace have higher heating bills? It is simple - hot air rises. Your heated air leaks out any exit it can find, and when your heated air is drawn out of your home, cold outside air is drawn in to make up for it. The fireplace is like a giant straw sucking the heated air from your house! An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to install a fireplace draftstopper. Available from Battic Door, a company known for their energy conservation products, a fireplace draftstopper is an inflatable pillow that is installed into the fireplace below the damper. As the pillow is inflated, it seals the damper, eliminating any air leaks and heat loss. Other benefits include the reduction of downdrafts, toxins, odors, pollutants, and noise. The pillow is removed whenever the fireplace is used, then reinserted after. Completely reusable and available in two sizes to fit any masonry or zero-clearance fireplace, the draftstopper can pay for itself in less than a month! Clothes Dryer Exhaust Ducts In many homes, the room with the clothes dryer is the coldest room in the house. Your clothes dryer is connected to an exhaust duct that is open to the outdoors. In the winter, cold air leaks in through the duct, through your dryer and into your house. Dryer vents use a sheet-metal flapper to try to reduce this air leakage. This is very primitive technology that does not provide a positive seal to stop the air leakage. Compounding the problem is that over time, lint clogs the flapper valve causing it to stay open, or a cold breeze can blow the flapper open, allowing frigid air right to come right into the house. An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add a dryer vent seal. This low-cost, easily installed vent is mounted on the outside of your house, and reduces unwanted air infiltration, and keeps out pests, bees and rodents as well. The vent will remain closed unless the dryer is in use. When the dryer is in use, a floating shuttle rises to allow warm air, lint and moisture to escape. If your home has a folding attic stair, a whole house fan, a fireplace, and/or a clothes dryer, you can easily, quickly and inexpensively seal and insulate these holes. At Battic Door Energy Conservation Products, we have developed solutions to these and other energy-conservation related issues. For more information please visit our website www.batticdoor.com or send a self-addressed, stamped, envelope to P.O. Box 15, Mansfield, MA 02048.

Flood!

How to prepare for, respond to and recover from a flood.

Article Thumbnail Small

Experience is sometimes an unforgiving instructor. At Homecheck we learned devastation caused by flood waters first hand when Cedar Rapids, IA was hit by a massive flood this past June (6/13/2008). Homecheck is parented by the company enlighten technologies™ which includes many other businesses in our family such as Lawchek®, LawyersListings, and HouseList, to name a few. Our headquarters on 1st Avenue in downtown Cedar Rapids was inundated with water after the Cedar River crested at 31.1 feet (19.1 feet over flood stage) to overtake 1,300 blocks of the city.* The first floor was completely lost and the second as well when water reached 4 feet on the upper level. A slow road to recovery, we have learned first hand the destructive power of flood waters. Reflecting on this experience and the items we have learned, we determined to write an article this month about what to do if a flood hits your home or business. We hope many of our readers never have to use the practical advice in this article.

*Specifics taken from articles: http://www.usatoday.com/weather/floods/2008-06-15-cedar-rapids-cleanup_N.htm; http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/13/us/13flood.html?fta=y; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2005_levee_failures_in_Greater_New_Orleans **Weather data: http://ia.water.usgs.gov/flood/flood.html

Before the Flood
It is not always possible to know when a flood will happen. It may be caused by an inundation of rain fall. Cities in Iowa were affected in this way when the Cedar and Iowa Rivers swelled with over 10 inches of rain in only one week.** This can then be compounded when man-made structures give way. This was seen in New Orleans when 50 levees broke during Hurricane Katrina.* So what can you do to protect your business or home before a flood happens?

• Find out about the land your structure is on. Does it sit on a flood plain? What is the threat level? Geologists or your county planning department will list these areas by the probability of a flood. For instance, Cedar Rapids has areas designated as 100 or 500 year flood plains. The flood in June was a 500 year flood. FEMA Offers flood maps detailing current flood risk. Simply type in your address and you can look at it online. You also have the option to buy a map, but as long as you are looking online, the service is free. http://msc.fema.gov/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/FemaWelcomeView?storeId=10001&catalogId=10001&langId=-1

• Now that you know where your home or business stands, what kind of insurance is available? Talk to your insurance agent first. If you want to now more about insurance options, especially in higher risk areas, also check out the National Flood Insurance Program at www.floodsmart.gov/floodsmart/.

• Whether a household or a business, you should have an evacuation plan in place. Let family members and employees know what evacuation route to take if water is rising swiftly and an evacuation is ordered. For households you should include a place for everyone to meet whether it is a local shelter or a relative’s/friend’s house. Also, families should have an out of state contact that everyone may call to locate each other in case they are separated.

• Create an emergency kit to be ready at any time. Depending on the needs (home or business) some items to consider are:

  • Clean water (enough for at least 3 days for every person and animal – generally 5 gallons per person)
  • Nonperishable food for 3 days (don’t forget a can opener!)
  • Suitcase with an extra pair of clothes and extra blankets or sleeping bags
  • Baby Kit - Baby food, diapers and other supplies
  • Pet food, leashes, vaccination info for your pet – you may have to leave your pet at a local pet shelter if you are evacuated as emergency shelters do not allow pets 
  • First Aid Kit – try to include some extra prescription medications (not expired!) or details about any prescriptions so you can refill them if lost in the flood
  • Personal Hygiene Kit – sanitary wipes or gel, soap, toothpaste, feminine supplies, deodorant, etc.
  • Flashlights, radio or small TV, and batteries – you may also consider crank flashlights and radios
  • Some items to have on hand particular to a flood threat: insect repellent, rubber boots and gloves, and thick shoes

• Back up your documents! If you are evacuated due to a flood there are certain documents you will need for claims and getting back on your feet. Keep a copy of these documents with your emergency kit, at a safe location other than your home or both. At the very least these documents should include: insurance information, social security number, and medical records including any active prescriptions. It would also be a good idea to make a list of emergency contact information including family and friends as well as local and state numbers you may need.

• Prepare your business or home to resist flood damage. Suggestions include: install sump pumps with a back-up source of power, install backflow valves or plugs to prevent sewage entering the home, and make sure any fuel or propane tanks are securely and properly installed.

During the Flood

• Once a flood watch or warning is given call local authorities and let them know of anyone who may have special needs and cannot leave the flood area easily. It is extremely helpful for authorities to know who needs help evacuating if an evacuation becomes necessary. Ideally, have a friend or family member who will try to get this person out first if it is still safe to do so. This way there is less chance of separation.

• Get your emergency kit and keep it at hand in case of an evacuation. If you have some prep time before, fill up the gas tank to make sure you can go at a moments notice. If an evacuation is ordered there may be heavy traffic and you may need to go some distance to a shelter.

• Secure any items outside that might become hazards in water such as garbage cans, lawn furniture, grills, etc.

• If an evacuation is imminent: turn off the power and gas. If an evacuation is ordered, evacuate immediately. Use the route the authorities have given and make certain not to drive through flooded roads.

• If you are not ordered to evacuate, stay home and listen to any future announcements. Unless helping a family member or friend for a specific purpose, stay off the roads and out of the way of emergency crews. Going to watch is not helpful and can be potentially very dangerous.

After the Flood

• First you will want to contact your insurance company. Even if you are not covered for a flood, you will need to contact your agent. This is why it is important to keep documentation with your emergency kit. You need to know your company, agent (if applicable) and your policy number. In the case of evacuation, make certain to specify the address and phone of where you can be reached now. This may also be a friend or relative who can act as a point of contact if you are not immediately near a dedicated phone. They will set up an appointment to meet with you and discuss your losses.If they do not get back in a few days be persistent and call again, just keep in mind they may be overwhelmed with claims.

• Work with authorities about your return. Although this part can be extremely frustrating, in the case of major floods they will want to assess the safety of your return before you may enter any neighborhood or structure. Choose representatives, as in the case of Cedar Rapids the first look at the property was restricted to 1-3 people depending on location. The authorities may have also set up a grade system for the status of your structure. In Cedar Rapids there were green, yellow and red signs letting owners know whether a structure was safe to enter, enter only with caution or too dangerous and deemed a total loss.

• Once it has been deemed safe by the authorities for you to return, start the process of sorting your property. Do not throw out all items as you will need your insurance agent to see these. However, if the items are considered too toxic to keep around, get pictures and samples of the items before disposing of them. Make sure to take all precautions necessary before entering a flood damaged building! Click here for more details.

• Take many pictures of the inside and outside of your structure before cleanup. Photograph any standing water, items that have to be disposed of immediately and general survey pictures of each room. Also, take pictures of the items that will have to torn out such as the walls, floors, etc.

• Make a list of all damaged and lost items. This will help when you work with your insurance agent to process your claim. With your agent you will make a Proof of Loss. This statement is your testimony to the damages suffered. It should be filed within 60 days unless circumstances have allotted more time. Once this is filed with your insurance company your claim will be processed, however, it may take some time if the area was hit especially hard.

After the Flood: Home and Family Recovery – Working with FEMA

• FEMA stands for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. As they state on their website they define their type of disaster assistance as “money or direct assistance to individuals, families and businesses in an area whose property has been damaged or destroyed and whose losses are not covered by insurance. It is meant to help you with critical expenses that cannot be covered in other ways. This assistance is not intended to restore your damaged property to its condition before the disaster.” In essence they are there to help those who could not or did not get flood insurance.

• Items FEMA will cover are: temporary housing in the instance of evacuation or unlivable conditions, repair for what the insurance company will not cover (this is just until the home is safe, not necessarily with the same materials as before), and permanent housing construction. This last is only available to those who cannot get flood insurance at all due to location.

• FEMA can help with recovery costs that are not directly related to the home. These additional expenses can only be claimed if you live in a disaster area as designated by the President, you have already filed with your insurance company and find you are not covered, and you have serious needs directly related to the disaster. Some of these costs listed on the FEMA website include:

  • Disaster-related medical and dental costs.
  • Disaster-related funeral and burial cost.
  • Clothing; household items (room furnishings, appliances); tools (specialized or protective clothing and equipment) required for your job; necessary educational materials (computers, school books, supplies).
  • Fuels for primary heat source (heating oil, gas).
  • Clean-up items (wet/dry vacuum, dehumidifier).
  • Disaster damaged vehicle.
  • Moving and storage expenses related to the disaster (moving and storing property to avoid additional disaster damage while disaster-related repairs are being made to the home).
  • Other necessary expenses or serious needs as determined by FEMA.
  • Other expenses that are authorized by law. http://www.fema.gov/assistance/process/assistance.shtm

• You can reach FEMA by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or TTY 1-800-462-7585

• When making any claim, you should have the following at hand: your social security number, current and damaged address, current phone contact, insurance information, household annual income, routing number to your bank to receive funds, and a detailed description of the losses.

• You may be referred by FEMA to SBA which offers low-interest disaster loans. “Homeowners may borrow up to $200,000 for disaster related home repairs. Homeowners and renters may borrow up to $40,000 to replace disaster-damaged personal property including vehicles.” However, you can not receive duplicated aid already received from FEMA.

• To find currently approved disaster areas you can go online: http://www.fema.gov/news/disasters.fema

After the Flood: Business Recovery – Working with SBA

• SBA stands for the Small Business Administration which has a specific branch for disasters the Office of Disaster Assistance (ODA) that offers federal low-interest, long term loans for “homeowners, renters and non-farm businesses.” An Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) is available to small businesses specifically geared towards helping with day to day expenses so a business may continue to operate.

• SBA can release disaster loans if one or more of the following conditions are met: Presidential Disaster Declaration, • • Agency Physical Disaster Declaration (based on a minimum amount lost), Governor Certification Declaration, Secretary of Agriculture Declaration, Secretary of Commerce Declaration, or Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loan (for businesses that lose key personnel who are called to active duty).

• For Physical Disaster Loans which help replace an uninsured or under-insured property, an inspection team from SBA’s ODA will review the site and claims.

• Applicants do have to show some reasonable ability to pay back the loans. However, since they are low-interest and can be as long as 30 years, they are easier to qualify for than standard loans.

• Especially with real estate, the SBA’s ODA will continue contact with the borrower to make certain construction is on schedule and funds are being used appropriately.

• You can reach SBA by calling 1-800-659-2955 8am-9pm EDT. Or email them at disastercustomerservice@sba.gov.

More Information

FEMA and the American Red Cross have made a pamphlet entitled Repairing Your Flooded Home which is available as a PDF. A great resource, page 55 has a very useful emergency contact list as well.

  • Click here for Repairing Your Flooded Home by FEMA and the American Red Cross (PDF)

Additional pointers from Homecheck:

  • Cleaning Up after a Flood (HTML)
  • Battling Mold after a Flood (HTML)

Some Ways to Help Our Neighbors

Downtown Cedar Rapids, Iowa on Sunday, June 15, 2008 after the waters have started to recede.

Aidmatrix Network - Iowa
The Safeguard Iowa Partnership and the Iowa Disaster Human Resource Council have partnered to provide the Aidmatrix Network, an easy way to make monetary and product donations to the nonprofit organizations that are assisting in the response and recovery efforts following recent disaster events in Iowa.

Cedar Rapids Czech & Slovak Museum
www.ncsml.org
The National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library staff and board continue to work through the challenges of flood recovery. Our five museum buildings are cleaned out and secure. Visitors from across the country have been calling to plan summer visits. Some have already made their way here and are shocked and dismayed to find a sight they never expected - boarded up buildings, sandbars in the garden, and piles of debris. We are assuring them we will survive and be back in business, but it will take time. To us it's surprising there's still a world out there that doesn't know about the flood!

Cedar Rapids Public Library
Our public library lost all of the first floor which included books and magazines for adults.The children's book section was mostly recovered. They are currently looking for temporary space: "07 July 2008 - Librarians are compiling a list of books and other materials that the CRPL’s book distributor will hold until the library has a place to put them. The books will arrive pre-processed, which means that staff will be able to shelve them immediately, saving an enormous amount of time. Once the list is compiled, individuals will have an opportunity to select a book from the list to donate. “Many of our patrons and supporters have been asking what they can do. This will be a way to help rebuild our library,” says Glise. “By fall, we hope to have a wish list available.”

Corridor Recovery
Corridor Recovery is a not-for-profit partnership between government, civic, business and faith-based organizations, created to respond to the Flood of 2008. As the flood waters peaked, Corridor Recovery quickly became the primary resource for materials and information for Linn County and Cedar Rapids. We provide resources for local governments and agencies to distribute flood-recovery information to the public in a critical time of need, and to coordinate volunteer efforts in the clean-up and recovery process.

Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation
www.gcrcf.org
The Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation opened the Flood 2008 Fund on June 15. The Flood 2008 Fund is for flood relief and recovery donations. One-hundred percent of financial donations to the fund will support response, recovery and rebuilding efforts throughout the Cedar Rapids-metro and surrounding communities. The first priority will be to work with local nonprofit organizations to support individuals and families affected by the floods. The GCRCF is committed to helping individuals, families and the nonprofit community recover and rebuild from the catastrophic flood.

Embrace Iowa 2008 Disaster Fund
Embrace Iowa is a program of statewide outreach by the Des Moines Register. Since it already has an established logo, identity, and donation tracking mechanism, the Iowa Disaster Collaborative is using the Embrace Iowa website as one way for donors to make a donation and learn more about the 2008 Iowa Disaster Fund.

Iowa Commission on Volunteer Service
If you are interested in helping in a particular area of the state, please use this section of our Web site to get in touch with local officials, who are collecting a list of where and when volunteers are most needed.

University of Iowa Foundation
For those wishing to support the University as it struggles to recover from flood-related damage not covered by insurance or other resources, we encourage contributions to the UI Flood Relief Fund.

Sources for this article which include even more detailed information:

Center for Disease Control
CDC.gov (www.cdc.gov) is your online source for credible health information and is the official Web site of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). CDC is committed to achieving true improvements in people’s health. CDC applies research and findings to improve people’s daily lives and responds to health emergencies—something that distinguishes CDC from its peer agencies. Working with states and other partners, CDC provides a system of health surveillance to monitor and prevent disease outbreaks (including bioterrorism), implement disease prevention strategies, and maintain national health statistics. CDC also guards against international disease transmission, with personnel stationed in more than 25 foreign countries

FEMA – Federal Emergency Management Agency
http://www.fema.gov/
FEMA has more than 2,600 full time employees. They work at FEMA headquarters in Washington D.C., at regional and area offices across the country, the Mount Weather Emergency Operations Center, and the National Emergency Training Center in Emmitsburg, Maryland. FEMA also has nearly 4,000 standby disaster assistance employees who are available for deployment after disasters. Often FEMA works in partnership with other organizations that are part of the nation's emergency management system. These partners include state and local emergency management agencies, 27 federal agencies and the American Red Cross.

National Flood Insurance Program
http://www.floodsmart.gov/
Congress established the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to address both the need for flood insurance and the need to lessen the devastating consequences of flooding. The goals of the program are twofold: to protect communities from potential flood damage through floodplain management, and to provide people with flood insurance.

SBA – Small Business Administration 
http://www.sba.gov/
The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) was created in 1953 as an independent agency of the federal government to aid, counsel, assist and protect the interests of small business concerns, to preserve free competitive enterprise and to maintain and strengthen the overall economy of our nation. We recognize that small business is critical to our economic recovery and strength, to building America's future, and to helping the United States compete in today's global marketplace.

Bathroom Remodeling Homecheck

Your bathroom is where you prep to start your day and where you wind down at the end of the day.

Article Thumbnail Small

Your bathroom is where you prep to start your day and where you wind down at the end of the day. From a nice hot shower to an at home spa, the bathroom is an important room in every home and to our daily lives. However, it can be the room most overlooked when it comes to decoration and/or remodeling. It shouldn't be. According to Contractors.com, remodeling your bathroom can yield an 80-90% return in the value of your home. Adding a new bathroom can also easily give you a 90% return in the value of your home. Improving this room can, therefore, be a savvy investment in your property. But it can be more than just a wise investment. Updating your bathroom can make this at home retreat more inviting and invigorating. Take the time to make a bright, friendly room to jump start your busy work day, and a calm, peaceful room to help you wind down in your own do-it-yourself spa retreat. Below, we provide some hints and tips for your bathroom makeover. Whether just changing a few decorations or completing a major remodel, we hope you will find something beneficial for your bathroom remodeling project.

Part I: Decoration Makeover & Small Remodel - This decoration makeover includes simple, do-it-yourself solutions for a quick update. Many of these changes could be done in one to two days. Some of these remodel items may take longer.

Make a Plan - The fist step to any decoration makeover or remodel is to set out a plan for the project.

  • Determine your budget and time. Both will help determine what you can do. You may need to consider doing the project in stages or altering your original ideas. Planning ahead will help make certain you do not end up with an unusable bathroom for weeks or even months!
  • Consider what the bathroom is lacking such as do you have enough functional space, storage space, lighting, etc.
  • Does the room have any items that need updating? This can anything from the toilet to the outdated wallpaper on the walls.
  • What do you envision for the space? Do you want a Zen retreat or a homey B&B feel to the room. Consider what you want the completed room to look like. Do you have anything in there that fits this idea now? Or will it be better to start from scratch?
  • How much experience do you have with remodeling. Are you limited to painting the walls and changing hardware? If some of your ideas seem over your head, you may want to consider hiring a contractor, plumber or electrician. For more information about a major remodel projects, see below.
  • Finally, if you want a change but are drawing a blank with ideas, consider hiring an interior designer. Some people are hesitant about hiring an interior designer because they think they have to use them all the way through. But indeed you can work with them to make a project plan and project manage the remodel yourself. Or you can also hire them to follow the entire project from start to finish.

Cabinets and Storage - You may want to replace or add to your existing bathroom cabinets.

  • Changing a mirror to a medicine cabinet can help add space above your sink.
  • Adding cabinets can help you store essentials for the bathroom from towels to extra soaps and supplies. There are many styles of cabinets available.
  • You can get stand alone cabinets or wall cabinets that fit above a sink or toilet that provide quite a bit of extra space. You can also consider changing your sink cabinet. A new design can offer an updated look and add more storage space to your bathroom. **You may wan to consider hiring a contractor for this type of work!

Walls - Is the paint or old wallpaper making the room too dark, out of date, or showing damage or spots from mildew?

  • Determine your new color scheme or theme for the room before painting or wallpaper goes up.
  • Give a fresh coat of paint on the walls! Wash the walls down first and check for mildew. Any light mildew will need sanding and bleaching. Then clean the entire surface to be painted with TSP solution. Although a bit shiner, you may want to consider a satin or even semi-gloss paint as these will make your walls easier to clean and more resistant to constant cleaning. Just keep in mind, the more glossy paint will show imperfections in the wall itself.
  • If you decide to wallpaper a bathroom, keep in mind the moisture content of the room. Also consider how often you may be cleaning certain walls near a sink or bathtub.
  • Consider combining a new coat of paint with a wallpapered trim!

Lighting - Again, how bright is the space? Is it too dark or too bright and harsh?

  • Replacing the light fixtures can help you add more soft light in your bathroom. Try to avoid glaring harsh lights as these can be very unappealing.
  • Consider two light switch options for the room: one to soft light for general use and the other to brighter light for applying makeup, etc.
  • Consider adding a solar tube or skylight for more natural lighting in the room. **You may want to consider hiring a contractor for this type of work!

Windows - If your bathroom has a window, consider if there are any updates needed to the window when coming up with your redesign plan.

  • If an older window, you might consider replacing the window with a newer one. Or you may want to add additional windows or change the style to bring in more natural light. **You may want to consider hiring a contractor for this type of work!
  • Does the window give enough privacy? You may want to consider updating blinds, curtains or frosting the window to provide more privacy to your bathroom.

Fan - If you have any problems with mildew or don't already have a fan, you may want to consider adding one to the room.

  • Many fans now include overhead lights and can add a more welcoming feature to the room than the loud eye-sores of past models.

Shower Curtain or Door - You can brighten your bathroom by changing your shower curtain or door.

  • Replacing an older shower curtain is a cheap way to help update the decor of your bathroom.
  • Installing a bath/shower door can help lighten the space of the room. This can also help make cleaning easier and cut down on mildew or damp spots if this has been a problem. Many times shower curtains will let condensed water sit or runoff the corners of your tub or shower. A well sealed bath/shower door can help.

Hardware - Changing out your old hardware can be one of the easiest updates to the bathroom.

  • Add a new towel rack or completely change the set to start a new color scheme with a brushed nickel, bronze etc.
  • You can add a spa feel to your bathroom by adding little upgrades like heated towel racks!

Faucet - Updating your sink faucets can help give the bathroom a facelift.

  • Sink faucets can be relatively easy to change out. If uncertain, take a class at a hardware store or hire a professional.
  • Changing the faucets in your bathtub can be a littler trickier. However, again a class or professional can help with this change.
  • If you have a showerhead, this can also be changed out to complete your new look and perhaps add a more spa like feel to the room.

Sink & Countertop - You may want to replace or refinish your sink.

  • If you are already replacing your sink cabinet you may replace the sink at the same time if you get an all-inclusive unit.
  • Consider adding another sink if you have the space. Many new vanities include a two sink option.
  • You may also consider changing the countertop if the sink itself is fine. There are many styles of laminate to choose from or you may change the template completely with a new cabinet.

Mirrors - A mirror is an essential item to every bathroom.

  • Consider updating your mirror if crackled or out of style.
  • How do you use your mirror? You may want to consider mirrors that hinge out to provide angles or depth when needed or one that offers different strengths of magnification.
  • Mirrors can also be decorative items! Mirrored sconces or tiles on the wall can help to give a dark corner light or a narrow space depth.

Refinishing & Liners - Refinishing or lining your tub can be a great way to make it look new once again.

  • You can refinish your own tub, but you will need a respirator, spray gun, sander, chemical cleaners and will need to also purchase an acrylic top coat. The actual refinishing product can be purchased as a kit. Keep in mind that there will be a 30-60 minute wait between about three coats of acrylic and a 24 hour set time. Needless to say, this will be a time consuming project that will take patience, clear ventilation, patience, time, and patience. **You may want to consider hiring a contractor for this type of work!
  • Another option is inserting a bathtub or shower liner. This is a task you can do by yourself with some careful planning and a few extra helping hands. There are also many dealers offering liners and installation for reasonable rates. **You may want to consider hiring a contractor for this type of work!

Tiling - Does your tiling need replacing? If you have the time and skill, this can be a great update to any bathroom.

  • Again, consider your timeline, budget and skill before taking on a task of this magnitude. Consider a deep clean. Giving your tile a good clean can help breathe new life into them. Some also find it beneficial to selectively replace specific tiles and re-grout lines rather than replacing the whole wall.
  • Consider this option if you are on a tight budget.
  • Make arrangements to be without your bathtub for a while if you plan to retile this area. Although the tiles and grout may set at specific times, you may need longer to work it out if taking it on as a do-it-yourself project.
  • If tiling/retiling a floor, consider how you are going to move the toilet and sink/sink cabinet or if you are going to tile around them.
  • Be patient with any tiling project, take it slow as this is something that should last a long time.

Vinyl Flooring - If tile flooring is not for you, you may want to consider replacing your existing vinyl flooring with an updated vinyl.

  • As with tile flooring, consider your timeline, budget and skill before taking on this task.
  • Consider how you are going to move the toilet, and sink/sink cabinet or if you are going to tile around them.
  • Again, consider taking a class at a local hardware store or hiring a professional if uncomfortable with this kind of work.

Part II: Major Remodel - This makeover includes major structural changes and updates. You may be more likely to need professional help. Also, this type of remodel may include obtaining specific building permits from your city or county.

Make a Plan - The fist step to any major remodel is to create a plan for the project.

  • Determine your budget and time. Planning ahead will prevent unforeseen expenses and help you obtain better estimates from professionals you may need to hire for the project.
  • You may need to get a building permit for some of your changes, especially if you are making major structural changes to the room.
  • Consider what the bathroom is lacking such as do you have enough functional space, storage space, lighting, etc.
  • Does the room have any items that need updating? This can anything from the plumbing to the sink fixtures. What do you envision for the space? Do you want a Zen retreat or a homey B&B feel to the room. Consider what you want the completed room to look like. Do you have anything in there that fits this idea now? Or will it be better to start from scratch?
  • How much experience do you have with remodeling. Are there some aspects of this remodel that you are confident you can complete on your own? Perhaps you don't want to install the sink but have no problem putting in the tile backsplash. Mixing contracted work with do-it-yourself work can be a great way to save money if you have the time.
  • You may want to consult with an interior designer for a major remodel project. They could bring up considerations for the space you may not have thought about.
  • What kind of professional help will you need? Will you need a general contractor, electrician or plumber? Often times even a general contractor may hire out certain tasks (i.e. electrical work) under their supervision. If you know what tasks will need to be done then you will have a better idea of who will need to be hired on to help.

Hire a Contractor - With a major remodel you will very likely need professional help.

  • Interview several contractors and get estimates from each. Ask questions and be bold enough to ask why estimate are different - i.e. if they are using different materials, this is good to know in advance!
  • Many contractors will help obtain the necessary permits for your project. Check and see if any you are interviewing will help with this process. Avoid any contractors who say this or that permit, "isn't really needed."
  • Check to see if the contractor will be sub-contracting certain aspects of your project such as plumbing, electrical, tiling, etc.
  • Find out what they expect from you in getting sub-contractors access to work site, etc. For even more information, please see our article How to Hire a Contractor: Working as a Team on Your Next Home Project.

Permits - Many overhaul projects that effect the structure of your home will need permits from the city or county.

  • If you are removing or adding any walls this may be affected by local or state building codes.
  • You may not be aware of all the aspects in your project that may need a permit. Check with your contractor or if you are doing it alone, check with your local government for guidance.

Cabinets and Storage - You may want to replace or add to your existing bathroom cabinets.

  • Adding cabinets can help you store essentials for the bathroom from towels to extra soaps and supplies. With a major remodel you may have the opportunity to include built-in wall cabinets/closets in your new bathroom. Otherwise, there are many styles of cabinets available. You can get stand alone cabinets or wall cabinets that fit above a sink or toilet that provide quite a bit of extra space.
  • You can also consider changing your sink cabinet. A new design can offer a updated look and add more storage space to your bathroom.

Walls - Do you have room to expand your space?

  • Taking down a wall to add space can do wonders for a small bathroom.
  • Think outside the box. Replace a dividing wall with glass blocks to allow more light throughout the bathroom. Insert small alcoves within the walls to add little retreats for mirrors, candles and other decorative items to make the space more inviting. Some redesigns are using tiles on the walls as a protective "wainscoting" design. Other designs include half walls to offer definition of space without enclosing it. The possibilities can be endless.

Lighting - How bright is the space? Is it too dark or too harsh?

  • Replacing the light fixtures can help you add more soft light in your bathroom. Try to avoid glaring harsh lights as these can be very unappealing.
  • Consider getting an electrician to add light switches. Add one for soft, every day light and another for brighter, utilitarian light for applying makeup, etc.
  • With the help of an electrician you can add recessed lighting, track lighting, or other design lighting updates.

Windows - If your bathroom has a window, consider if there are any updates needed to the window when planning your redesign.

  • If an older window, you might consider replacing the window with a newer one. You can add a special feature like stained or frosted glass. Or consider built in blinds for a combo of extra privacy and easy cleaning. You may also consider making the window larger or adding an additional window to the room.
  • Consider adding a solar tube or skylight for more natural lighting in the room.

Fan - If you have any problems with mildew or don't already have a fan, you may want to consider adding one in the room.

  • Many fans now include overhead lights and can add a more welcoming feature to the room than the loud eye-sores of past models.
  • Consider working with an electrician to get a more powerful fan with more options and better ability to clear moisture from the room.

Shower Door - You can brighten your bathroom by changing to a shower door.

  • Installing a bath/shower door can help lighten the space of the room. This can also help make cleaning easier and cut down on mildew or damp spots if this has been a problem. Many times shower curtains will let condensed water sit or runoff the corners of your tub or shower. A well sealed bath/shower door can help.
  • Another alternative to a shower door is using glass blocks or a tiled wall to separate the shower from the larger room. This adds a decorative feature and more light for the room overall.

Faucet - Updating your faucets can help give the bathroom a facelift.

  • Sink faucets can be relatively easy to change out.
  • Changing the faucets in your bathtub and the showerhead can help complete a new look for you bathroom.
  • If remodeling an older home, a major remodel may be a good time to consider reviewing the pipes and improving water pressure and usage. There are many water saving devices available now that can still offer a good amount of water pressure.

Sink & Countertop - You may want to replace or refinish your sink.

  • If you are already replacing your sink cabinet you may replace the sink at the same time if you get an all-inclusive unit.
  • Consider adding another sink if you have the space. Many new vanities include a two sink option.
  • You may also consider changing the countertop if the sink itself is fine. There are many styles of laminate to choose from or you may change the template completely with a new cabinet.

Refinishing & Liners - Refinishing or lining your tub can be a great way to make it look new once again.

  • Refinishing your tub is an alternative to replacing or lining it. This process will need at least a 24 hour set time. This should be considered if working with more than one professional as work will have to be suspended as the acrylic is applied and sets.
  • Another option is inserting a bathtub or shower liner. Many companies offer the liner and installation for a reasonable cost.

Tiling - Finish your spa retreat with professional tiling.

A major remodel is a great time to get the bathtub, shower, floor and even walls all done at once.

If you want to keep the old tiling, consider this a time to get damaged tiles replaced and grout redone.

New Big Items - A major remodel may also include getting a new bathtub, toilet, sink or custom made shower.

  • If you are doing a different style design you may want to consider changing some or all of your big items.
  • If you are updating an older home, this would be a great time to get a more efficient toilet or better fixtures to aid with water pressure.
  • This is your own spa, maybe it is time to replace that old bathtub with a jetted one!
  • A custom built shower can offer a neat new design and multiple shower spray option for a more spa-like experience.

Final Thoughts

Whether you are considering a small or large remodel, the short list above makes it obvious the possibilities are endless. In both cases, make certain to plan ahead and really consider how you want your new bathroom to function and feel. Have fun, get carried away, and then look at what you can turn into a reality. Get help from the professionals whether it be an interior designer or a general contractor. Or get in your hours at your local home improvement store's classes and put your patience and creativity to the test. Either way, the best part of a bathroom remodel is that once it is done, you can reap your rewards by enjoying your mini spa retreat everyday!

Pet Friendly Home

Making your Home and Yard Perfect for your Pet!

Article Thumbnail Small

For many, bringing a pet home is the same as bringing home new family. Pets easily find their way in our hearts with their playful antics and friendly companionship. When you first bring a new pet into your home it is imperative that you are willing to make some adjustments to your living space. This article is aimed at giving hints for all who have pets or will have pets in their home. Preparing your home and yard for your new pet is important to their well being and your ease of mind. The focus will be discussing animals that are out most of the time, like cats and dogs, that are more likely to get into some mischievous fun. However, many of these tips and hints will work for most of the four legged friends we bring into our home. Most of the tips will seem like common sense, however, when the new pet is roaming around it may slip our mind to check for common place hazards. Many times we take for granted that things are safe or wouldn't interest animals. However the puppy running down the hall with a roll of toilet paper would beg to differ!

So let's get your home and yard ready so it is safe for your pets (and also not a free going playground waiting for destruction and mayhem)!

Part I: Preparing Your Home

When bringing a new pet to the home the last thing anyone wants to think about is cleaning and proofing their home. However, taking a little time to do so will prevent headaches and possible heartaches. It will keep your pet, prized possessions and your sanity intact. This is true whether you are bringing home a new pet or adjusting an older one to a new home. Or, perhaps, you find your self in the unfortunate situation of losing possessions to a pet who has never had boundaries set up in your home. Whatever your reason, these tips will help proof your home for the new, old and mischievous pets in your life.

Think Below the Knees 
Get down on all fours and look around at the same level as your pet. There is a whole other world down at their viewpoint!

  • Think low! Remove objects on low shelves, coffee tables, and anywhere else that is easy access. Anything destructible, such as paper, books, anything made of cloth (i.e. laundry). It is much easier to 'chew train' a pet if they do not learn a bad habit of "where to look" for destructible goodies when you aren't looking.
  • Also think about food and snacks. Don't leave pop cans, candy wrappers, crumbs or anything else on a low counter. Leaving out these delicious tidbits can easily lead to "counter surfing".
  • Since kittens and ferrets may actually have the ability to walk on your counters, make certain to keep an eye on them when cooking. You may have food on the counter and the stove burners on - both can be dangerous. If you are a messy chef you may have a very happy kitty, but it could be dangerous if you don't keep an eye on them!
  • Speaking of food and snacks, make sure if you have smaller pets, like mice, that they are out of reach to your new puppy or kitten. Don't forget your fish - sometimes the idea that the aquarium is invincible can be tested.
  • Smokers - do not leave cigarette butts where pets may reach them. If eaten it can lead to nicotine poisoning and the filters aren't good on the digestive system.
  • Children's toys can be great fun for pets too! Make sure your kids realize they may loose their toy if it is left out and unattended. Also many toys may have small parts or can be easily broken into small parts by your pet which can be dangerous.
  • Overall keep you place picked up of daily messes. For example: Newspaper whether read or not is still fun to shred and eat. (Same goes for the mail!) Just got home from shopping? Put away the bags! Plastic bags can be either chewed and swallowed (pups) or can suffocate some pets accidentally (kittens & ferrets).
  • Sometimes pets will eat something that will require surgery to remove. Small objects to watch out for include rubber bands, balloons, beads, buttons, Q-tips, sewing needles, thread, staples, string, pantyhose and coins - to name a few!
  • Medication should never be left around the house. Make sure it is secure - just like with children!
  • Keep heating vents covered. Many pets love to snuggle up to these and you don't want your pet falling in.
  • Smaller pets like ferrets should be blocked off from holes and other hideaways - you don't want them to find a comfy spot and not come out! Also be certain to check under recliners before moving them as your pet may find it a nice place to hide out.
  • Plants should be moved to higher ground or blocked. Watch out for vine plants that your pet might grab and bring the whole thing down. * Some household plants are poisonous to pets. Here are a few: aloe vera, amaryllis, caladium, holly berries, lilies, mistletoe, mums, and poinsettias. For a complete listing check out the Poisonous Plants resource links.

Playtime!
Unless they are sleeping, or eating, they are playing!! Some tips to make this non-stop action fun and safe for both of you!

  • Keep an eye on your pet at play with certain toys. Some toys don't hold up to your pets hunting prowess and become shredded in no time. Toys with squeakers are fun but many pets will work hard to remove them if your not watching. Just keep in mind if you are in the other room, you may never see them devour their cut up prey! A solution would be have toys for when you can see them and more durable toys for when they are in the yard, other room, or you are not at home.
  • Also watch older toys. If they don't fall apart they may actually be warn into sharp edges, don't let your pet play with damaged toys, they can cut themselves easily. Look before you step when playing with all our small pets. Try this pattern "Turn, Look, Step"
  • Some small animals such as rabbits are chewers and it normal to give them various chew toys such as: Cardboard boxes, empty oatmeal containers, bird toys, cardboard paper towel rolls, things to shred. Try to keep them away from your wooden furniture - they love wood! Instead wood sticks are available at pet stores.

Road Blocks
If they can't reach it, they can't eat it, scratch it, or all out destroy it!

  • Don't forget the garbage! Take the garbage outside or make sure you can close it away in a closet/room where pets cannot reach it. Not only will they make a mess rifling through all the goodies they can also hurt themselves if there are any rough objects they rifle through.
  • Keep some rooms closed. It is perfectly reasonable for there to be certain rooms that pets may not visit unless supervised. One obvious choice would be the bathroom (remember that puppy running down the hall with toilet paper - cute - but after the 20th time said pup turns from cutie to lil'-demon). If you don't have a door to a particular area look into getting a child gate or blocking it off with other materials. If you have a mixture of pets you may not want them to be able to access certain areas of each others space. A prime example is keeping kitty litter from dogs, some seem to find the "deposits" tasty snacks. In this instance you can set up a roadblock for the dog that the cat can still easily climb over.
  • If your pet is especially good with its nose or paws you may want to get childproof latches. They will work well to keep them out of lower cabinets in your home.
  • Keep the lid down on the toilet, especially if you use strong cleaners. Small, curious pets may fall in and pets taking a drink can be poisoned by cleaners - some of them even contain anti-freeze!
  • Speaking of cleaners, here are some examples of cleaners that are really dangerous to your pets (to name a few!): ammonia, bleach, disinfectants, drain cleaner, oven cleaner, paint, rat/bug poison.
  • Keep electric cords out of reach or secure them to baseboards. When first home keep an eye on where your pet is at all times. Some may try chewing on the cords. You can deter this with a taste deterrent like "Bitter Apple", a mix of vinegar and water, or hot sauce. Or even better, block access to them altogether.
  • Speaking of cords, watch those drapery cords as well. Tie them up so all your window treatments aren't pulled to the ground.
  • Many animals are attracted to fire. The light of a candle or the heat of a fireplace will peak their interest. Make sure candles are never left unattended. For the fireplace make sure Fluffy knows just how close they are allowed to get for a good snooze - warm is good, singed is bad.
  • Keep the upstairs windows and any cellar doors shut. Young pets are just like children with their curiosity but can easily misstep and fall.
  • Be careful when working in the garage. It is best to keep them out and make sure you clean up thoroughly! Such toxins like anti-freeze are very lethal to pets - a drop the size of a dime can be lethal! (You hear a lot about anti-freeze, not only is a small amount incredibly lethal, anti-freeze is also sweet smelling and tasting to pets - they will seek it out!!)
  • Watch our for open dresser drawers, closets and other nice dark places, kittens are especially curious and many are drawn to these make-shift dens. Have you heard about the kitten jumping in the dryer? Its not a urban legend, be alert and check before you shut the door.
  • Another warm place kittens like to snuggle is on a car engine. If your kitten has access to your car (or the neighborhood cat for that matter) it may help pound on the hood of your car and honk you horn. If you don't want to do this every day try to limit access to your car.
  • One of my favorite words of advice when watching out for the sleeping kitten: "Locate your kitten before you sit down on the sofa or use the recliner." (Of course, depending on your house rules, that may go for your other pets too!)

Table Manners
Don't feed table scraps to your pets. Many times people don't realize that some foods okay for us can be toxic or hard on the system for animals.

Some foods to be aware of: Alcohol, Chicken & Turkey Bones, Nutmeg, Apples (stems & seeds), Chocolate, Onion Apricots (seeds), Coffee (grinds & beans), Peaches (seeds),  Avocados, Dairy Products (large amounts), Pears, Baking Powder, Fatty Foods, Plums,  Baking Soda, Garlic, Potatoes (peelings & green,) Broccoli (large amounts, )Grapes, Raisins, Cherries (stems & seeds), Macadamia Nuts, Yeast, **Tobacco, although not a food, ingestion can be poisonous

Holiday Playground
The holidays are fun for everyone - including your pets!

  • Decorations should be up high or in rooms that pets have limited access.
  • Any holiday lights should be treated the same as other electrical cords. Get it out of the way or secured so your pets don't accidentally trip over them. Also keep a lookout and make sure they do not chew on them; again a taste deterrent like "Bitter Apple" will work.
  • Other holiday items to keep from you pets include: metal ornament hooks, popcorn strands, tinsel, angel hair (it is spun glass), and decorative artificial snow or tree flocking - to name a few.
  • Don't forget that holiday plants like holly berries, mistletoe, and poinsettias are poisonous!
  • Fourth of July fireworks are fun for us but many pets find all the racket frightening. One suggestion is to have treats nearby and give them treats whenever there is "Boom!" so they associate the noise with happier things (mostly used for dogs). Another thing to keep in mind if you are leaving for the festivities, don't leave pets alone out in the backyard. They may panic and do things they normally wouldn't do like digging their way out!
  • Many holidays include house guests that are not familiar with your pet or household rules. After introducing your guest to your pet, make certain you let your guests know not to leave doors open, feed table scraps or any other important household rules. If there are a lot of guests you may want to arrange a quiet place for your pet to retreat.

Home Alone
What do they do when you leave the home? Preferably it doesn't involve eating the couch!

  • Before you leave for a long day at work it is important your pet is calm. For dogs a good walk in the morning may be necessary. For cats a little play time will help with bonus energy. Teach your pet tricks and have them perform for you before you head out. Our pets sleep more then we do and getting rid of morning energy will help them settle for a nap while your out earning money to spend on them.
  • If you have a really active breed you may want to look into a dog daycare or walking service for a couple days out of the week. Taking your dog to a pet daycare is like taking them to camp. They get to romp with other dogs and usually come home tired and ready for a good night sleep. Many find that a few days out of the week is enough to hold them over on the days in-between.
  • Crates can be lifesaver when you are gone. If you have pet that is still undergoing training and is not sure of all the rules, a crate or restricted room is a must.

Cautionary tale on the restricted room - we placed one of our pups in a room in our house as we went out to get a bite to eat. There was no furniture in the room except for her crate with her toys. When we came back she had climbed the crate and chewed the metal blinds on the window and also proceeded to dig up part of the carpet!

Part II: Preparing

Your yard is fun place for you and your pet to enjoy the outdoors. Maintaining your yard for your pet is relatively easy. There are some hazards that you will want to watch for and prevent. Not all of your pets may enjoy your yard to its fullest, some may stay in pens or restricted kennel/runs. The tips below address pets that have more freedom. These pets roam a fenced backyard or around the perimeter of your house (i.e. Dogs & Cats). In addition to proofing tips we offer some ideas about making your yard more enjoyable. Sometimes you may have a small space or areas you really don't want Fido to excavate. Read on for a checklist of ways to make your yard safe and entertaining for your pets.

Yard Maintenance
When maintaining your yard you want to keep your pets in mind.

  • When working on the yard keep pets indoors. Our dogs like to chase the lawnmower - bad idea - so they now watch from inside. Some pets may be just the opposite and try either to attack the mower or try to escape in a panic - equally bad idea. Besides the lawnmowers, trimmers, leaf blowers, chainsaws, and other loud tools should not be used when pets are around.
  • Be careful with other tools such as shovels, rakes, spades, etc. Some pets may try to "help" you do the yard work and can inadvertently be struck by these items.
  • Review the chemicals you use on your yard. Weed killers, bug killers/bait and other chemicals can be poisonous to your pets as well. Some you may still be able to use, however, you may need to let the yard sit for x amount of hours before letting your pets back out. Symptoms of poisoning usually include: vomiting, diarrhea and sometimes convulsions or unconsciousness.
  • Keep your yard clean of waste. Especially with puppies, they can get in the habit of eating their waste. Besides, you will both enjoy your yard much better if it is not covered in poo mines! For cats you should have an outdoor litter box. This will be easier to clean and prevent the cat from laying waste to your (or your neighbor's) flowerbeds.
  • Remove any ladders, tools or stacked piles (i.e. wood), etc. that young pets may try to climb or knock over. If you do keep the stacks in your yard, check that they are secure and cannot roll onto your pet. Consider carefully what you plant in your yard. Plants that can cause complications include: Rhododendron, Japanese Yew, Lilly of the Valley, Peach and Cherry Trees (pits) to name a few. See our links to Poisonous Plants for more details.
  • You may want to try to keep your yard clear of the bee family by getting rid of nests on your property. Your dog cannot escape bees flying through the yard, but cutting down their numbers may help. All dogs are naturally allergic to bee stings. Depending on the location of the sting they may have to visit the vet for medication. If it is on the mouth/head it can lead to swelling and difficulty breathing.

The Kingdom 
Your pets will make your yard into their own domain. Make sure their kingdom is safe and enjoyable. 

  • Check the fence of the yard for holes or gaps that may be an easy escape. Make sure your gates are locked and secured and guests and children know to do so as well.
  • It is best not to have any young pets around water unattended. If you have a pool or pond make sure to watch them around this area carefully. Some trainers even suggest teaching pets how to get out of the pool or pond early on, sort of a "Swimming 101" for the pet in case they get into trouble when your back is turned. If your pet does get into a pool, make sure they get a bath so none of the harsh chemicals can effect their skin and coat.
  • Most pets are sun lovers. If your pet likes to "sunbathe" keep an eye that they don't get too hot. Signs of heat exhaustion include: restlessness, panting excessively and drooling. The worst case scenario is the pet collapsing and eventually falling into a coma. To counter it, wrap them in a damp cool (not cold) towel and go to your vet or animal hospital. In hot weather keep plenty of water. Refresh and refill it often. If you keep food outside as well make sure it does not sit too long. The heat may cause it to spoil and flies may contaminate it.
  • Make sure you have shade in your yard. You may even want to add a structure such as a doghouse for your pup to rest
  • Ask your vet to recommend a flea & tick prevention plan right for your pet. Depending on how much your pet is outside, where it goes, etc. you may need more preventive tools. It is imperative you ask your vet as many medicinal solutions are measured by your pets size, weight, age, etc.
  • Your pet may like to make or find a burrow to rest in. Block off crawl spaces under sheds or decks. You don't want them to get trapped or hurt by any debris you cannot see underneath.

Ideas for your Pet Friendly
Yard Below are just a few ideas of things you may do to improve your yard for your pet.

  • Placing markers around your yard for your dog to potty on or for your cat to scratch on can help save some of your other trees. Start by blocking the trees you want to save and place toys or treats by the markers you want them to use. Eventually you can train you pet to have a habitual like for that particular log(s)!
  • Prepare digging spots for your pets. For your dog it can be a small area of dirt and sand where you keep toys to encourage him to be there. For cats you can have one container/pot with catnip or another enticement. By keeping them interested in their designated digging spot they will learn to have fun there and leave the rest of your yard alone (most of the time!).
  • If you don't want your dog in your flower bed try a wooden or stone fence. Some dogs will learn to stay out of the area due to the road block, however you may need to supplement the roadblocks with additional training.
  • Dogs are going to do their rounds around "their" territory. This will leave worn paths in the grass. You may want to lay a nice stone path on their route to beautify it.
  • Continuing with a dogs tendency to make paths, for smaller yards you can make a maze path for them. Using placing flowerbeds and other structures you can create a winding route for them for their territorial routine.

Conclusion

Pets are a wonderful addition to the family and home. Taking time to proof your house and yard will make both of your lives a lot easier. It may seem daunting at first that there are so many things to do for or keep away from your pets. However, after a while your pets will learn the house rules. You may even be able to reclaim certain areas of the house as your pet matures and understands not to destroy your things. For example, our dogs don't touch the laundry anymore and we can leave books on low shelves without them getting even a sniff of interest. You will find many of the hazards you watch for you will begin to do so naturally. Eventually you won't even realize your new habits. It is simply part of the lifestyle change that happens as it is always an adjustment to bring animals into our home. Just know that you can be pro-active, you'll have far fewer headaches in the long run and in the end you will have great company and lots of fun!

Feng Shui

Another Look at Interior Design

Article Thumbnail Small

Feng Shui (pronounced Fung Shway) has been used in China for centuries and has made a strong entrance into western culture. Best described as "the art of placement" Feng Shui was originally used to determine the placement of temples, official buildings, graveyards and homes in their natural environment. In China, there became many different schools of Feng Shui such as the Land Form School in the southern region and Compass (Fukien) School in the northern region, to name a few. When the western world first came into contact with Feng Shui it was labeled as a form of geomancy which is considered "divination by means of figures or lines or geographic features." Although this may be a misrepresentation of the initial use of Feng Shui, this art is constantly in flux and today there are many different schools, some of which do concentrate on the use of this art as a way to impact ones fate in a favorable direction. With this variation, Feng Shui has found a niche in the New Age market of the western world. This has added some aspects to the art that are not for everyone. However, this art of placement does have some wonderful interior design techniques that everyone could adapt and find beneficial. This article will discuss many of these interior design solutions for cluttered and cramped spaces in the home and office. It is difficult to write about Feng Shui without looking at some of the ideas of balance that have become part of this art form. First we will look at some of the ideas behind the creation of balance and then we will look at some of the practical solutions this art form has for our living and working spaces. For those who are more interested in the practical interior design aspects of Feng Shui, take a look at the third paragraph.

Feng Shui, as the art of placement, is aimed at creating the best balance of elements and flow of chi throughout any space. Chi is considered an energy that surrounds all living things. Feng Shui strives to give chi the smoothest possible flow so it does not become trapped or flow through too quickly causing an imbalance in the energy/vibe of a space. If chi does not flow correctly it is believed to have adverse effects on those living around these imbalanced areas. The elemental balance of a space is reached by balancing five elements of nature: earth, water, wood, fire and metal. These elements are mapped out using a bagua. A bagua is a chart used for IChing that is also used to plot the areas of a home/space. Each direction has an effect on certain areas of life (click on the image to the right for a larger look). The main directions of North, South, East, West and center correspond the five elements of nature. In short, the areas on the bagua effect and are represented by the following:

  • South - Fame - Red, Fire, Birds, Summer
  • SW - Relationships & Marriage - Yellow & Pink
  • West - Children & Creativity - White, Metal, Tiger, Autumn
  • NW - Helpful People & Travel - Gray
  • North - Career - Black, Water, Tortoise, Winter
  • NE - Knowledge & Spirituality - Turquoise
  • East - Family & Ancestors - Green, Wood, Dragon, Spring
  • SE - Wealth - Purple

Keep in mind some of the colors and other symbols may change depending on the school of Feng Shui you choose to use. It is also interesting to note that in some schools the bagua is superimposed over a space (i.e. in a drawing of a room) strictly based on compass direction - the chart's North points the same direction as compass North. In other schools, especially those popular in western adaptation, the bagua is situated according to the main entry to the space. With this method, the South end is always on the same wall as the main entrance so your doorway will always fall into the SE, S or SW section. Once the bagua is superimposed over the drawing of a space you may then see how the various areas of a room or areas of the house are affecting your life whether it be your career or your children. On examining the space you may then pinpoint if something in that space is disrupting the chi of the area and the balance of that part of life. Major problem areas can be fixed with various cures from mirrors to crystals. Changing the placement of objects and adding more lighting can also improve areas (leading into the interior design aspect of Feng Shui). Or if the space is fine but you want to enhance that portion of your life you can add elements and symbols to the space to increase their effectiveness. For example, hanging black and white (gray) travel photos in the NW section may help to encourage travel opportunities. Finally, Feng Shui looks to balance spaces based a symmetry, square and rectangle shapes are ideal. Odd shapes and areas jutting out often can cause imbalance in the chi. For example, if a bedroom falls outside the square or rectangle shape of the house that person will feel detached from the rest of the family and it may lead to arguments or withdrawal. Obviously this is only the tip of all the aspects of Feng Shui and its variances. It takes books to explain these concepts in detail. Let us move on to the more tangible interior design aspects of this art form.

Feng Shui as a interior design tool is truly an art of placement. All placement has an effect on chi and placement should be a conscience act. Many of these placement ideas have very practical reasons and aesthetic appeal to those who may not be interested in the chi aspect of the placement. The following list includes some of the more common aspects of Feng Shui interior design.

Keep places clear of clutter!
One of the basics of Feng Shui is that everything should be kept in its place. Keep areas clear of clutter. Cluttered spaces will trap and slow down chi but will also give you a subconscious weighted down feeling. It sounds simple enough and it is! Clear off your desk, file those papers, go through that stack of books, etc. It will feel like a weight was lifted off your shoulders and you will find that you can think more clearly as there is less subconscious worries about needing to "get to that someday" - get to it today so you can move on!

Doorways 
-All doorways should be in good shape, if they need any repairs, repainting or replacement this needs to be done. Doors should also open into the room rather then out. This will encourage energy to flow in rather then out. -Main Entrance to the Home: Considered the most important entry, the main entrance to your home should be welcoming and positive. Keep the area well lit and free of clutter. Company should come in the doorway feeling welcome.
-Common problems with the main entrance: 1) If your home is a split level you may see stairs going both up and down as soon as you enter. This will cause chi to disperse too quickly and may lead to conflict and bickering in the home as you don't see things the same way. The two stairways also cause a split view which can lead to anxiety. Cures for these entrances include mirrors or a multidimensional picture that illustrates depth. 2) Seeing the back door directly from the front door. This will cause chi to flow too quickly through the home causing missed opportunities. Also, when guests can see the "exit" upon entry it will make them feel unwelcome or impatient to leave. Fixes for this include a screen, curtains or plant to block the direct view; this can also add a rich fullness to the home and encourages people to enjoy what is around them rather then peering through to your backyard right away. More traditional cures use crystals or wind chimes hung between the doors. 3) Some entrances are small and box-like with blank walls. To fix this hang a painting, perhaps one of the outdoors that makes the visitor think of spacious areas.You may add a mirror, but some Feng Shui experts advise against this as startling your visitors (and yourself) with your reflection as one walks in the door can be unnerving and rude. Make sure the area is well lit and bright. You do not want cramped, blank entrance ways to be dark and shadowed. -Other Doorways: Keep the path of doorways clear of clutter. Doorways provide the main pathway for chi and should not be disrupted or blocked - you shouldn't have to tip-toe around a bookshelf, etc when you first enter a room!

Windows
-Like doors, windows in disrepair are not good for the home. Cracked and damaged windows disrupt the chi and should be replaced.

Bedroom
-The bedroom is one of the most important rooms of your house and the placement of your bed is the most important placement in this room. The bed should be a place to rest so you do not want to be disturbed or startled easily. Many consider it ideal to place the bed diagonally facing the door. However, if that is not possible, the following bad alignments should be avoided: 1) Do not have the foot of the bed directly in line with the doorway. 2) Do not have the head of your bed directly in line with the doorway. 3) Place the bed against a solid wall instead of a window or open space. 4) If you have a slanted ceiling the bed should not be under the lowest point.
-Some schools of Feng Shui are against any mirrors in the bedroom. If you do insist on having a mirror in the room make sure it is not directly opposite or viewed from the bed, this set up can cause unease as you will startle yourself when waking.
-Also, electronics such as TVs and stereos should not be kept in the bedroom. These items are usually not conducive for rest and sleep and should therefore be placed in the more awake rooms of the house such as the living room.

Study/Home Office
-The desk is the most important piece in this room. It should be in a command position where you can see the door. Ideal is diagonally so you can see as much of the room around you as possible. Never have your back to the door when seated at your desk. Also, if you sit too close to the door or have a poor view of the room you less control of your surroundings.
-Keep this room clear of clutter. Clutter will work on your subconscious and you will contently be split among several tasks and never be able to concentrate on just one.
-Lighting is important in this room. It should be bright but not glaring. Natural light from a window is good but should not be directly in front of you, instead it should be to your side.

Kitchen
-Another major area of the home the placement of the stove is considered key to this space. The stove should never be placed where you have your back to the main entrance and therefore prone to being startled while cooking! -It is extremely important that this room stays clean
- should be the cleanest in the house! Living Room -Furniture in this room should provide for easy movement. Chairs should be faced towards one another and share a coffee table or stand between them. Empty space between people may cause tension and more conflict, whereas having a table as common ground between them makes them feel more secure and comfortable in discourse. -Many living rooms lead into other spaces such as dining rooms, etc without any real doorway. This may cause an odd or L-shaped room. Again, it is bad Feng Shui to have tangents hanging off the main shape (rectangle/square) of the room. To counter this you may add a screen, open shelves, plants, etc. that gives more structure to the two spaces and keeps them separate. -If your living room or similar room is a sunken room make sure to get floor lamps to brighten the room up. Light will help bring the room up on equal level to the rest of the house and counter the detachment this feature may cause.

Dining Room
-This room should not be overcrowded but more spacious and inviting to groups. Comfortable table and chairs should encourage diners to take their time and enjoy the meal. -Mirrors are great for this room - double the size of your rooms and family!

Obviously this is just a quick sampling of the types of rules Feng Shui has for the placement and design of the home.

Feng Shui, although an ancient art has many practical uses for the modern age. Practical ideas such as having a command position in a room to tackle tasks more effectively can be very beneficial. There is no doubt that the various number of schools and approaches and the New Age aspects and fluctuations of this art form can be a bit confusing and frustrating at times. However, this art, whether you delve into it deeply and adopt its sometimes mystical aspects or if you only want to pull a couple ideas about placement, can still be beneficial and fun to anyone who wants to give it a try.

Fast Fun Feng Shui


- Some schools of Feng Shui believe that each person can be mapped by the bagua as well. Using birth date, the bagua calculators can tell you which directions are more auspicious than others and what areas should be avoided or countered. For an example calculator click here: www.fengshuitimes.com/resources/GuaCalculator/ There is even alterations to the bagua chart based on the astrological year (for year of the dog click here: www.bhargo.com/articles/firedogyear.asp


- Not home much? Feng Shui suggests that homes should always have flowing chi. If you are gone often or for long periods of time make sure to bring life into your home. On vacation - set the radio or TV to create sound while you are gone. Long days at the office or weekend trips - get fish or plants in your home so their energy will keep your space alive.

- Feng Shui isn't just about objects anymore! Have messy neighbors that are cluttering your space and chi? Many modern schools of Feng Shui suggest talking with neighbors and volunteering to help them with clean up projects. Not only will your chi and space feel better, you will also work on you outside partnerships and bring positive energy into your life and home.

- Not all antiques are good antiques. Antiques may have a carry over of bad energy or chi from the previous owner. Make sure to take time to calmly consider and feel the vibe from an antique before purchasing it.

- Cures for your bad Feng Shui: some schools rely heavily on cures. These include chimes, crystals, bagua mirrors, bells, golden arrows and bamboo flutes (to name some of the most common). However, some schools are dissatisfied with the commercialism of these cures. Instead they rely more on rearranging objects already in the homeowners decor or adding ascetic elements such as plants, water fountains and statues.

- My student is an A+ student! Many Feng Shui practitioners believe that you can aid your children's or your own scholarly pursuits through good placement. This could mean having your child's bedroom in the NE sector of the home. Or it may mean placing their desk in the NE sector of the room. Also adding colors of the blue and green/turquoise that represent your child's scholarly interest in the NE sector of the room. For example, blue and green planets on a mobile or pictures of marine life, dinosaurs, etc. where these colors dominate.

- Problems with office politics at the workplace? Work stations should not be directly face to face as this will cause conflict. Sharp angles and corners should not be pointed towards anyone's back other wise they will become the target of office politics and back stabbing. The boss should always have the office furthest from the front door so they are not distracted by everyday events and the distance gives them time to contemplate decisions. If a subordinate is further back then the boss they may feel like they see more and know more.

- Selling your home? Feng Shui can be considered to help aid you sell as well. One example is to make sure you don't have heavy furniture at the base or southern point of your home as this will keep you grounded. Or have a water fountain to help de-stress potential buyers. It is a growing trend and there are programs that offer real estate agents contact hours in Feng Shui training!

Further Reading Online

American Feng Shui Institute
www.amfengshui.com
To correct mistakes committed in various Feng Shui books on the market and to prevent people from being victimized. To help people discern real professional Feng Shui practitioners from impostors, and to set Feng Shui apart from superstition, mysticism, and religion. To apply the fundamentals of Feng Shui to initiate interest and research in the ancient natural science. To utilize Feng Shui correctly such that it benefits all mankind.

Fast Feng Shui
www.fastfengshui.com/articles.htm
We are pleased to offer the following articles on contemporary western feng shui.

Feng Shui Chinese
www.fengshuichinese.com
The Site is made in Hong Kong and China by Feng Shui Experts and is in both English and Chinese Languages. We appreciate your feedback.

Feng Shui Gate
http://www.fengshuigate.com/
Essays on the origin of Fengshui

Feng Shui Society
http://www.fengshuisociety.org.uk/ 
The Feng Shui Society, based in the United Kingdom with links throughout the world, is an independent, non-profit organization established in 1993, run on a voluntary basis by an executive committee elected from the membership. It administers minimum standards for education in feng shui to professional practice level and maintains a register of accredited consultants. 

Feng Shui Times
www.fengshuitimes.com
Ancient Wisdom for Modern Times

World of Feng Shui
www.wofs.com
First Magazine of Feng Shui in the World

Selling Your Home in a Buyers' Market

How to step out from the crowd!

Article Thumbnail Small

The phrase "buyer's market" is used a lot in the news today. Frankly, it is one. The interest rates are encouraging, although not the lowest for 30 year loans, they are still low and make it a good time to buy. Also, there is quite a choice for buyers to choose from on the market. This only increases as we get into spring and summer. So how do you get your home for sale to stand out from the crowd? Set a realistic sale price. First, know the appraisal value of your home. If you don't, hire an appraiser. You need to know what the bank thinks your home is worth. Setting your price too high can break a sale at closing. Next, take a good look at the market around you. Compare yourself with like homes; homes that are the same age, similar square footage, comparable yards, and in similar neighborhoods. Then see which of these homes have been selling and which have been sitting. Consider how long you want to be on the market. Depending on your location, even a well priced home may take 60-90 days or longer in a buyer's market. Make sure to concentrate on here and now, do not get stuck looking at what your home might have sold for last summer or fall. Facing the reality of how much your home is worth on the current market will help you avoid reducing your price or offering incentives you would rather avoid. Know your competition. As stated above, make sure to compare yourself to like homes. Also, check to see what, if any, incentives comparable homes are offering. Tour some of the homes. Get an idea of what updates have been done. Take a look at how comparable homes are being staged or what they are lacking in their staging. Sometimes using a critical eye on homes you are not attached to can help you discover what potential buyers may be seeing in your home. Get an experienced realtor. Find a realtor who has been selling homes for a while. Especially with the recent fall in home sales for most of the nation, you want to make sure you get a realtor who will avoid knee jerk reactions to a market they haven't experienced before. A realtor who is familiar with your neighborhood and knows what buyers are looking for can help you prepare the house for sale. Stage your home for showing. Set your home up as a model home. Go to an open house at a new development or home and garden show in your area. Notice how there are tasteful decorations that offer the aesthetics without the personality? Take down family pictures, collectables, anything that tells about your personality. You are moving anyway, so get these items boxed up now. You want buyers to walk through your home seeing the home as one they can picture themselves in. You don't want the buyers to walk away thinking, "Wow, they really like Elvis!" Ramp up the curb appeal. Make sure to keep the yard and front walkway pristine. This is the first impression before a potential buyer walks in or even picks up that flyer. Your backyard should be cleaned up as well. Sometimes people forget that the outside of the home can say a lot about the owner. If you have a neglected yard, buyers may wonder if you are neglecting other problems inside your home as well. Fix or update problem areas now. The last thing you want is to get an offer and then have something come up in a home inspection that can break the deal! If you aren't sure, it is not uncommon for buyers to have their home inspected before placing it on the market. Unless you are pricing your home below value as a fixer-upper, then you need to get any repairs done before going to market. Be realistic, although a new kitchen may add to your home, most likely the cost of remodeling will not be recuperated in your selling price. Instead concentrate on items that either have to be done or you can do easily and at little cost to yourself. Offer incentives for buyers. Incentives can vary in scope. Perhaps the carpets are old but you don't want to get them replaced; you can offer a carpeting/flooring allowance. Perhaps you want to drive the buyers to close by offering to pay closing costs. You can pay for other buyer costs such as homeowners insurance, home appraisal or home inspection. In the case of a condo, you can offer to pay the first 6 or x months of homeowner dues. Another incentive that might help is being flexible on your move in date. Respond to offers and questions quickly. Don't let potential buyers sit wondering what happened to their offer. Get back to any offers or questions about the home as quickly as you can. This will include the help of your realtor as buyers will contact them first. Make sure your realtor is a good communicator and will respond quickly!