10 Ways to Improve Your Backyard

One of the most important parts of the home is the backyard. The backyard is a place for your family to come together, have fun, and commune. It shouldn’t be a part of your home that you avoid because it has nothing to offer. The backyard should be the perfect place to enjoy nature and decompress. If your backyard is nothing more than an empty patch of grass, you’re not using it to its full potential, and that is why Tru-Link Fence put together a slideshow that lists 10 backyard ideas that can bring life back to your property. You can view the slideshow here.

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10 Ways To Improve Your Backyard created by Tru-Link Fence

About the Author

Dean White is Owner and Operator of Tru-Link Fence, one of the largest fence companies in northern Illinois. He has more than 30 years of experience in the fence industry.

7 Upgrades to Avoid When Remodeling Your Home

When thinking about upgrading your home, you should also be thinking about whether or not those upgrades will add or detract from the resale value of that home. Most people don’t stay in one home for their entire life. In fact, most people buy several homes in their lifetime as their family and lifestyle changes. Even if you buy a house with the expectation you will live there forever, generally, various life events will create a need to move at some point. Therefore, it’s best to think about how your chosen upgrades will affect your home’s resale value before you begin.

Here are seven upgrades to avoid when remodeling your home.

1. Pools and Hot Tubs

There is only a small segment of the population who view a pool or hot tub as a must have when it comes to buying a home. In fact, most people see a pool or hot tub as an added burden due to the labor involved and the expense of maintaining it year round.

2. Room Conversions

While more and more people are working from home, converting one of the bedrooms to a home office is not a good idea. When looking for a home, people have certain requirements before deciding which home to buy. For example, a home with a minimum of three bedrooms and two bathrooms. Therefore, if you eliminate one of the bedrooms you will be hurting the resale value of your home. The same goes for taking down a wall to enlarge another room. Either way, you are eliminating a bedroom; therefore, it’s not a good idea.

3. Garage Conversions

Converting the garage into a room is another no-no when it comes to home renovations. The majority of homebuyers want that space to use as it was intended versus having additional living space. If they wanted additional living space they would just look for a home with that already has that much space and a garage. Most people need a garage to park their vehicles, for storage, and other miscellaneous uses.

4. Customized Features and Designs

Any feature or design that is very specific to your needs and desires should be avoided. For example, adding a built-in aquarium might be something you’re passionate about and it might look great as well. But not everyone will feel the same. Not to mention the expense and upkeep an aquarium would require.

5. Built-In Electronics

Another upgrade that might seem like it should add value to your home is built-in electronics. However, built-in electronics are a bad idea because everyone has different wants and needs. For example, how big of a TV they have, or if they need a space for a gaming system or other lifestyle specific electronics. Not to mention how quickly new technology changes. Who knows what might be needed, or not, within the next few years. Therefore, customizing a space based on your technology needs should be avoided.

6. Extreme Outdoor Renovations

Outdoor living spaces are great and will add some value to your home. However, expansive outdoor renovations might not add as much value you as you would like. For example, building out your backyard with an outdoor kitchen with plumbing, a built-in grilling station, and an entertainment system is an attractive feature for most buyers; however, generally, you won’t recoup the money you’ve spent to have it installed. Not to mention that in most parts of the country, an outdoor living space can only be used during certain times of the year.

7. Over-Improving

Over-improving your home versus what the other homes in your neighborhood have or over-improving any given room in your home isn’t good. For example, if you add improvements to your home that aren’t in line with what the other homes in your neighborhood generally have, you usually won’t get back your investment when it comes time to sell. Because most people aren’t going to pay more for your home than the market will allow. So just because yours is the only house on the block that has a sunroom and it cost you $20,000 (just a sample figure) to have it built, doesn’t mean a buyer will pay more for it. The same goes for over-improving any of the rooms in your home. Because you will almost never get back anywhere near what you put into having it done.

The Bottom Line

Before choosing any upgrades or renovations for your home, spend some time learning which upgrades will add value to your home, and which ones won’t. Otherwise, it could end up costing you in the long run.

5 DIY Ideas for Renovating Your Living Room

Do you want to renovate your living room, but have held off because of budget? While full-scale remodels can be costly—according to Pro Referral, the average price to remodel is $1,649, and that price goes up exponentially with expensive renovations like lighting and flooring installation—the great news is you can make significant changes to your living room without spending thousands of dollars. Even better: you don’t need to hire a contractor.

Take renovations into your own hands with these simple DIY tips and ideas. You’ll quickly find that small changes go a long way.

Repaint or Redecorate Your Walls

Adding a little color or redoing your current color scheme can bring new life to the living room. A can of paint costs about $30, making this a budget-friendly way to give this gathering space the facelift you’re looking for. Do it right with a paint roller, taping off the walls and protecting the floor with a paint cover or tarp. To make give your paint job a little flair, layer colors for a more textured look or use distressing techniques to give that trendy, vintage vibe.

You can also change the look and feel of your living room by adding artwork to your walls. Check local thrift stores and consignment shops for less-expensive pieces or add some mirrors for extra light and shimmer. Bonus: well-placed mirrors make the room look bigger, according to Get The Most From Your Square Footage.

Install Glass Doors on Your Fireplace

As the centerpiece of your room, the fireplace is one of the best ways to update the look and feel without putting in a lot of time and money. Start by replacing your old, dirty screen or ceramic fireplace doors with prefabricated glass doors. These add elegance and style to your living room, giving the space a chic, modern look.

Glass doors are easy to install if you follow the correct procedure. Experts at BrickAnew explain the DIY process:

  • Step 1: Remove your old fireplace doors so you can see the amount of space you have for your new doors.
  • Step 2: Measure your fireplace so you know the exact dimensions.
  • Step 3: Determine the make and model of your fireplace, so you can find the right doors for your particular unit.
  • Step 4: Order new doors and install following manufacturer instructions. In most cases, all you need is a screwdriver.

New glass doors typically start around $200. If that’s not within your budget, you can also repaint the brick or refresh decorations on the mantle. Replace old items with new candles, Pinterest-worthy decorative pieces, fresh flowers, etc.

Upgrade Your Floor

There are a number of ways to update your living room floor. If you want an entirely new look, install wood floors and try a new layout like a parquet or herringbone design. Replacing wood floors costs $4,430, on average, according to Home Advisor and is best done by a professional.

The next best option is to re-stain it to add a bright, newly finished look, which is much less expensive.

If you prefer carpet in your living room, change the color or style. Better yet, use inexpensive accent rugs that are both budget friendly and versatile.

Change Your Furniture

While buying a whole new furniture set can be expensive, you can find nice pieces at thrift shops or estate sales. Remember: you don’t need to replace every piece of furniture in the living room. Adding one new piece can bring new life to a stale space. Think: new coffee table, interesting bookshelf or set of unique lamps. If you want to make the most out of a small space, try using furniture pieces that do double duty, like a trunk. This gives you more storage space and a new coffee table.

You can also rearrange your current furniture; a new furniture layout can change the entire look and feel of your living room. Check out these living room arrangement ideas from Better Homes and Gardens for inspiration.

Get Crafty

Use your own creativity to add new items to your living room. Paint a picture for your wall (or ask a friend), mold a bowl for the coffee table, do your own real or fake flower arrangements, or sew a blanket or pillow for the couch. Do you collect anything like vintage plates or antique spoons? Find an inexpensive cabinet to put these items on display.

Save your money and renovate your living room yourself. Try one or a few of these ideas to give your living room a whole new look without spending more than you can afford.

About the Author

Jessica Thiefels has been writing and editing for more than 10 years and is now a professional freelancer and consultant. She’s worked with a variety of real estate clients, and has written for Forbes, Inman, House Hunt Network, Homes.com and more. Follow her on Twitter @Jlsander07.

DIY Home Energy Audit

Small problems can add up to a lot — just consider the idea that Americans spend more than $300 billion a year on energy that’s wasted because of drafty doors and windows. If you’re a homeowner concerned about your share of that hefty energy bill, you’re probably checking your house for any cracks or gaps around your door and window frames.

However, there are numerous other glitches around your home that can contribute to a higher energy bill that can be fixed easily. The difficulty with solving these little problems, however, is knowing what they are and where to find them. Although hiring a professional to conduct an energy audit can be a great idea for catching all of the biggest and smallest inefficiencies in a home, a regular DIY home energy audit may be one way homeowners can stay on top of any potential issues and fix them before they become larger complications.

The following checklist covers the most common areas around the home where small problems can have a negative impact on its energy efficiency. With it, you’ll be able to conduct a simple DIY energy audit and keep those little problems around your home from adding up on your energy bills.


Infographic brought to you by Mendel Plumbing and Heating

How to Upgrade Your Home Into a Smart House

A significant aspect of modern homes today include home automation and a variety of “smart” technologies. However, not everyone can afford these types of homes. Although you may not currently live in a modern home, there are a number of ways you can upgrade your house and make it “smart.”

Smart Lights

Traditional lighting and light bulbs only offer you the simple action of turning a switch on and off while smart light systems come with a variety of options that you can customize to fit your habits and needs. Most smart lights are controlled through a smartphone app, where you can control the brightness, color and even time it to match your schedule. A great example and perhaps one of the most popular options on the market is the Philips Hue, which also lets you sync up to your music, television and video games in order to immerse you in the media.

Smart Thermostats

Perhaps the smart gadget best known to pay for themselves is the smart thermostat. By learning your habits and adjusting accordingly, smart thermostats can save a significant amount on your utility bills. If you’re on vacation and don’t need your home to be warmed or cooled, it can be turned off completely and if you forget to adjust the temperature when you leave for work, you can simply open up the smartphone app and complete this task remotely.

Smart Hubs

A smart hub acts as a gateway for your other smart home devices. It can be controlled from your smartphone and you can use it to control every other supported smart device in your home. They can make things incredibly convenient and there are a vast array of different platforms, apps, and hardware vendors for you to choose from to suit your needs. One of the newest hubs include the Amazon Echo, which offers you convenience and efficiency even from a different room. With the voice-controlled AI, Alexa, you can order a pizza, add items to your grocery list and start playing music without ever having to pick up your phone.

Smart Cameras

Having smart cameras in and/or around your house not only offer convenience but can be a vital part of your home security system. With smart cameras synced up to your phone, you can keep an eye on your house while you’re away, check back on clips from any timestamp and get alerts on your smartphone app if your cameras catch anything suspicious.

Smart Doorbells

Synced up with a camera, smart doorbells allow you to see who is at your door when someone rings your doorbell. Models like the Skybell Video Doorbell allow you to snap a picture when your doorbell is rung and activate when it detects any motion. Like smart cameras, you can look back at clips on the mobile app on-demand. Additionally, many versions offer two-way audio, night vision and can sync up to your smart hub.

Smart Locks

If you’ve ever ran out the door in a hurry and forgotten whether or not you locked the door, a smart lock may ease your worries. With a smart lock, you can lock or unlock your door from anywhere in the world and not have to fumble through your bag or pockets for your keys. Some even keep track of who enters and leaves your home, allows you to grant and refuse access to anyone you choose.

Smart TVs

Many smart TVs come bundled with streaming content services, such as Netflix and Hulu and have native apps that allow you to surf the web, connect to social media and listen to music. Smart TVs connect to your internet so you can stream virtually anything and run a variety of entertainment apps and casual games. Some television sets come with a camera or have an optional add on camera accessory and can allow you to access to video-calling services, like Skype.
Upgrading your home and making it “smart” doesn’t have to be complicated or even require a huge upheaval. Many of the gadgets and systems mentioned previously can easily be installed and allow you the immediate benefits of home automation. Create a smart home system that works best with you and your home by choosing any combination of smart home technologies.

About the Author

Maricel Tabalba is a freelance writer who is interested in writing about smart gadgets, emerging tech trends and environmentally friendly advice. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in English with a minor in Communication from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

How to Maintain Energy Efficiency

If you are a new convert to energy efficient living, you should start with an energy audit. This way you know exactly where your energy is being wasted and how you can make it more efficient. Then you have to maintain energy efficiency.

If you don’t change air filters, leave lights on because they are LEDs, or haven’t upgraded your thermostat to a programmable one, you are not really saving much. Fortunately there are some very basic ways that you can boost your home’s energy efficiency.

Open Up Your Windows – Harness Sunlight (or Block It)

Your windows are a huge source of energy savings and waste. You can use the sun to your advantage in the summers by opening up your blinds and using natural light to brighten up your interiors while the sun is out.

By the same token, direct sunlight through windows that are not well insulated could be making your air conditioning work overtime. Use curtains and drapes to temper direct sunlight if you don’t have insulated windows; same thing in the winter to keep cold drafts out to save on heating bills.

Of course, in concert with natural light, you should have already switched from incandescent and halogen bulbs to LEDs. If you haven’t, you should do so now. LEDs last 10 times longer than traditional bulbs and can save you close to a hundred dollars a year by just replacing your most used light bulbs.

Turn Down the HVAC

For every degree you turn your HVAC down, you knock 1% of off your annual heating and cooling bill. Your HVAC system is by far the biggest energy draw in your home. If you take time to adjust your thermostat down when you are away and when you go to sleep, it can take around 10% off of your heating and cooling costs in a year.

One way to do that is to invest in a programmable thermostat. That way you can set it to turn on and off or go up and down on a timer. This one simple change can add up to close to $200 in savings per year.

You can double your savings by taking advantage of mild and balmy days by turning your HVAC off completely, opening windows, and letting your ceiling fans do the work. They use a lot less energy than your A/C unit and can be extremely effective at slashing your energy bills in spring and fall.

Plug Holes and Cracks

A lot of energy efficiency is lost through cracks and holes throughout your house. There could be a crack in your window sill, holes around your hanging lights, and drafts coming from your attic.

Go to any hardware store for a caulk gun and some caulk. Then seal any leaks, holes, and cracks that you find inside and outside of your house to maintain energy efficiency. It can save you over $200 per year for this change alone.

Have Your HVAC Unit Inspected

Having your HVAC inspected and tuned up at least once a year can add up to more than $400 in savings over the year. Don’t attempt to do this yourself. Professionals are trained to fine tune your system motors, your gas connections, and voltage among other things to find leaks and energy waste.

Change Your Filters

Just like direct sunlight beaming into your living room can tax your air conditioning, clogged and dirty air filters will block cool and heated air, also making your HVAC systems work overtime. By simply changing your filters every three months and cleaning them at least once a month, you will not only reduce your utility bills, but your indoor air will be much cleaner.

Remember to Conserve

Finally a note of caution; a recent study shows that most people use more energy because they have converted to energy efficient bulbs. One survey put the number at nearly 60% of people who are getting higher energy bills despite having gone EE. The problem is that too many are forgetting to conserve energy.

Instead, because LEDs last longer and use less energy, many people are using them more, which of course, is resulting in bigger bills. Remember when maintaining energy efficiency that you also have to remember to conserve energy as well.

[INFOGRAPHIC] What You Need To Know When You’re Buying A Fence

Whether you’re looking to add curb appeal or privacy to your backyard, you have a lot of options available when you’re in the market for a new fence. In fact, there are so many options, it would be easy to get overwhelmed — this is why you need to know what to look for, and why.

When you’re armed with information, you’ll have an easier time narrowing the options for fencing and fencing providers. To help you make the best choice for a fence at your property, here are some things to keep in mind.

Preliminary Research
What’s your goal in adding a fence? Do you want to protect your pets, or are you most concerned about adding privacy from nosy neighbors? When you know why you want a fence, you’ll be better prepared to pick the right one to suit your needs.

Likewise, research your fencing company. Ask lots of questions. Learn about a fence’s manufacturer and origin. Ask how long the contractor has been in business, and find out if it’s a member of the Better Business Bureau. By doing your due diligence, you should feel more confidence in your choice.

Fence Shopping
After determining your goals and locating reputable providers, it’s time to examine the fencing options. Do you go with a certain type of wood or a galvanized chain-link option? The best selection will depend on your preferences and needs. Once you’ve made a decision, be sure to get a written, detailed contract from the fencing installer — and ask for references beforehand.

To learn more about tips for buying a fence for your home or business, check out the infographic below.

Infographic brought to you by Peerless Fence

3 Home Upgrades Worth Saving For

Upgrading your home is expensive. According to Home Advisor, costs can range from $40K to build an addition to $1,800 to install a new closet. Some upgrades, however, are worth saving for thanks to a great return on investment and the overall value that they add to you and your home.

If you want to spruce up your home this year, consider these upgrade ideas.

New Garage Door

A brand new garage door gives the entire outside of your home a fresh feel. Despite the high cost, this is one of the best ways to add value to your home and re-coup the costs: “The cost, which starts around $2,000, can be nearly all recovered. On average, 91 percent of the cost will be reflected in an increase of resale value,” according to 7 Ways Homeowners Can Add Real Value to Their Homes.

When picking your new garage door, consider the following details:

Door style (technical): The most popular garage door is the overhead garage door. “The reason that so many people love them is because they are often affordable, easy to install, convenient to use and make the best use of space compared to garage doors that swing out or roll to the side,” according to experts at CSS Garage Doors.

Door style (aesthetic): There are more style options for your new garage door than you can count. Fresh Home suggests considering what materials will work best with your climate, the style of your home (and finding a garage door that matches that), overall curb appeal of the door.

Low-budget add-on: Rent a power washer (average rates, around $60 per hour) to give the outside of your home a good cleaning. With the dirt and grime removed, the siding will look like new.

Granite Countertops

A full-kitchen remodel cost $21,636 on average, not to mention the time and resources it will take you to complete. Instead of saving for the whole remodel, focus on one area: countertops.

Granite countertops are expensive, ranging from $45 to $200 per square foot (including installation), but as a focal point of your kitchen, it will be just the facelift this area of your home needs.

If that’s still too expensive, consider your options: “There are assorted grades of granite (rated 1-5 or on various scales depending on the manufacturer). Rather than going for a grade 5, consider a grade 2, where you’ll get a better return-on-investment,” according to Kitchen Remodeling: Where to Splurge, Where to Save.

Regular maintenance and care is critical to keeping your countertops looking new and making this investment last. When washing, use warm water and a soft cloth, never abrasive soap or harsh chemical cleaners. Keep acidic liquids off the countertop, which can cause etching and remember that some metals can cause the countertop to gray. Ask about this when purchasing.

Low-budget add-on: Replace all the hardware in your kitchen, which is inexpensive and easy to do yourself. You’ll be amazed at how much this upgrade combo refreshes your kitchen.

A Full Home Security System

A home security system is expensive, but the peace of mind it provides is priceless because it works: a shocking 60 percent of convicted burglars said seeing a security system would cause them to find an alternative target, according to a University of North Carolina study.

Luckily, you don’t have to pinch pennies for months to splurge on an expensive, hard-wired system. Instead, save your cash for something more affordable, like a wireless home system.

Providing the same security as a professional alarm setup for a fraction of the price, a wireless alarm system can be added to as you see fit,” according to security experts at The Home Security Super Store. They continue, “Motion detectors, glass-shatter alarms, and gate sensors are all compatible with these DIY kits and you’ll never have to worry about paying for equipment you don’t need.”

For example, many basic wireless home systems come with a main panel, one motion sensor, 2 window and door sensors, and a remote control for $100-$200. This is a great safety foundation. See the add-on section for ways to boost this base system.

Low-budget add-on: With that set, you can purchase the various components that are important for the security of your property, like wireless security cameras for front and back yard and outdoor sensor lighting. In most cases, all of these components connect to your base system. This allows you to control security with ease, setting zones and timers that work with each piece of the system.

Not all home upgrades are worth saving for. When it comes to return on investment, overall value to your home, and peace of mind, however, these three should be high on your home renovation list.

About the Author

Jessica Thiefels has been writing and editing for more than 10 years and is now a professional freelancer and consultant. She’s worked with a variety of real estate clients, and has written for Forbes, Inman, House Hunt Network, Homes.com and more. Follow her on Twitter @Jlsander07.

How Much Does it Cost to Replace My Home’s Siding?

Thinking about replacing your home’s siding? Whether it’s just time for a little maintenance or you need a complete replacement, it’s always best to understand the general costs upfront.

On average, you are looking to pay over $7,500 to replace 1500 square feet of vinyl siding. If you are attempting to upgrade to a really nice stone veneer, you could end up paying close to $100K for the same amount of siding. Is it time to replace your home’s siding, and if so, with what?

Types of Siding

The number one piece of advice when putting up siding is to avoid putting it on top of your old siding. It’s a way to cut corners and save money but you’ll pay for it in the long run. If you don’t pay to have your old siding removed, your new siding will not adhere properly. Even if it sticks now, inclement weather will easily strip it away.

Many homeowners make the mistake of doing this with vinyl because it is most affordable. The cost to strip it can add a couple hundred dollars to the total costs of replacing your home’s siding, if not more.

There are a lot of different kinds of siding from the popular vinyl siding to fancy stone veneers. Keep in mind that you can cut costs and still have high grade stone veneers if you mix and match materials.

Standard and Liquid Vinyl Siding

Vinyl is the standard in home siding. For one reason, it doesn’t flake or peel. Bugs do not burrow in it and you won’t experience rot like you can with wood. It comes in many varieties to resemble expensive grades of siding and it can be maintained with a simple power washing.

On the downside, hurricane and tornado strength winds can rip vinyl siding right off of the walls. If you live through a drought and heatwave, those high temps can warp vinyl siding. And if you don’t wash it regularly, it can get moldy.

Standard vinyl siding costs anywhere from between $2 and $7 per square foot. You could opt for liquid vinyl to cover your existing siding for $3 to $6 per square foot which should hold up for a few years. Best of all, you can coat your house in different colors that won’t fade. However, liquid vinyl cannot be used on wood or else it could cause mold and mildew to grow.

Natural and Engineered Wood Siding

Wood is an old school siding choice that is making a comeback for its eco-friendly properties. For one, wood siding is cheaper to install and can be painted, unlike most vinyl. Moreover, wood siding can be designed and engineered aesthetically and for sustainability.

Wood siding costs anywhere from $3 per square foot up to $10. The problem with wood siding is that insects do like to burrow in it. You could get termites, mold, and other wood rot and fungi using wood siding.

People opting for engineered wood go for plywood because it is only $1 per square foot. Other types of engineered wood can cost over $5 per square foot.

Aluminum and Steel Siding

When it comes to metal siding, aluminum is by far the most popular because it is most affordable and it is durable; able to withstand extreme weather and is repellant to insects. Aluminum siding ranges in price from $4.75 up to $7.15 per unit when you factor in the cost for installation sheathing to protect against water damage.

Steel is another metal option but with it, your siding is vulnerable to rusting over time and cannot be painted, just like aluminum. Steel costs anywhere from $4 per square foot up to around $8.

Brick and Cement Siding

Finally, there are a variety of brick, stone, and cement siding options. The biggest drawback to using brick, stone, or cement is that you have to pay extra to have it professionally installed. If you buy by the weight (which is standard), because these materials are so heavy, you are looking to pay a lot more.

Cement for example is mixed with wood fibers and sand to create sturdier siding that can withstand wind and rain. What’s nice about cement siding is that it is fire resistant, can be easily maintained, and it can last for decades.

Similarly, brick is highly durable, fire resistant, and an added bonus; brick and stone siding beautify a house. For that reason veneers can run you anywhere from $11 up to $30 per square foot and brick can cost up to $12 per unit.

General Cost of Installation

In addition to the cost of materials, be sure to factor in installation and removal of the old siding. If you plan on mounting siding on top of old siding, it is wise to spend the $70 bucks or so to have it cleaned first. Also, installing vinyl, metal, and wood siding often requires insulation which can add to the overall cost of the job.

If you are currently evaluating the costs for other home upgrades, check out more articles from our ongoing series “How much does it cost to…”


[INFOGRAPHIC] What Is Sustainable Building?

Green construction involves the design, construction and/or operation of buildings in ways that reduce any harmful impact on the environment and/or on human health. Some of these include:

  • Reducing the carbon footprint of manufacture.
  • Reducing the carbon footprint of materials transportation.
  • Reducing habitat loss.
  • Preserving and/or improving air and water quality.
  • Reducing materials waste.
  • Minimizing toxic emissions.
  • Increasing energy efficiency in building operations.

Sustainable building also can be economically beneficial. Using green materials and practices often benefits local economies, and the focus on energy efficiency frequently results in significant savings for property owners. The following infographic highlights 10 green building materials to consider for your next green building project.


This infographic is courtesy of Accurate Perforating Company.