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.

[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

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…”

 

How Much Does it Cost to Replace a Refrigerator?

With good maintenance and care, your refrigerator can have an average lifespan of 14-17 years. That’s not too shabby! But, all good things must come to an end —even our trusty refrigerators.

When it comes time to replace your refrigerator, there are a number of things to consider and some important must-have features to look for. Remember, it’s going to be with you for a while, so it only makes sense to do your research, choose wisely and take great care to prolong its life.

With that said, here’s how much it costs to replace a refrigerator and some of those must-have features you should watch out for. Plus, we’ve included a little advice on knowing when to replace your fridge so you’re not left hanging with a bunch of melted ice cream on a hot summer day.

Is Your Refrigerator Dying?

Knowing that your fridge can last between 14 and 17 years is a great way to start planning ahead and budgeting for a new one, but you also need to be proactive and watch for the signs so you’re not stuck with a fridge full of spoiled food.

Some of the symptoms of a dying fridge include:

  • Excessive condensation — If you notice that your fridge is “sweating” more than usual, this could be a sign of inaccurate temperature control.
  • A hot motor — It’s normal to feel a bit of heat coming from behind your fridge, but if it’s getting really hot it might mean the coils are going bad.
  • You can hear it running — If you’re hearing your fridge running during the day, it’s likely that it’s having to work too hard to keep cool.
  • Frost buildup — If you notice a lot of frost buildup in the freezer, this can also be a sign that the coils are going bad. Defrost the fridge and wait to see if it happens again.

If your refrigerator exhibits any of these signs, it might be time to have a technician come out to do an inspection. Sometimes things like coils can be replaced for a fraction of the cost of replacing the entire refrigerator. On average, the cost to repair a refrigerator ranges from $292 to $413  —depending on model, repair and supplies.

Things to Look for When Replacing a Refrigerator

The best refrigerator for your home is the one that suits your family’s needs, offers enough space, and works with your current kitchen setup. In addition, consider these following tips when replacing your refrigerator:

Style #1: Top Freezer (Priced from $500+)

This is the traditional style of refrigerator that we all grew up with. The freezer compartment is at the top, with the refrigerated section below.

Why you’ll love it:

  • This no-frills refrigerator often offers more usable space than those with features like in-door water/ice, which takes up space.
  • If you have a slim space, these are often the best bet. Typical widths are 30-33 inches.
  • They use 10% to 25% less energy than bottom-freezer and side-by-side door models.
  • They’re usually the least expensive.

Style #2: Bottom Freezer (Priced from $700+)

Flipping the traditional style, refrigerators with the freezer on the bottom are popular for their convenience —putting the refrigerated compartment at eye-level where things are easy to see and reach. They can also accommodate wider trays of food.

Why you’ll love it:

  • Everything is easily reachable with little bending to get things in and out.
  • Those with double doors (french) are more energy efficient, as only one door is being opened and it minimizes the amount of cold air that escapes.
  • French door models don’t require as much room for the doors to swing open as other models.

Style #3: Side-by-Side (Priced from $900+)

Side-by-side models offer an equal balance between freezer and refrigerator space, which is popular with families who eat a great mix of frozen and fresh foods.

Why you’ll love it:

  • These allow for easy access and viewing of food in both compartments.
  • Perfect for family members with disabilities who need to access food without bending or a stepstool.
  • Typical widths are 32 to 26 inches, but keep in mind the divider between fridge and freezer means there’s some unusable space.

Style #4: Cabinet- and Counter-Depth (Priced from $2000+)

These models provide a custom look if overlayed with cabinet faces and are offered in shorter depths so they don’t stick out past cabinets and counters.

Why you’ll love it:

  • These models create a clean, custom look that can be the finishing touch in a luxury kitchen.
  • They often come in various sizes and configurations, such as under-the-counter beverage refrigerators or under-the-counter produce drawers.
  • Various depths and widths are available to create a truly custom kitchen.

Other Costs and Features to Consider

There have been a lot of advances in refrigerator technology over the past decade. If you haven’t purchased a fridge in the last few years, some of these options and features might surprise you. Keep these in mind as you shop:

Smudge-Free Stainless — Stainless appliances are all the rage, but the fingerprints left behind aren’t! Some manufacturers have developed smudge-free stainless options. Just remember that finishes vary from brand to brand and might not be a perfect match to your other appliances.

Smart Refrigerators — Believe it or not, your refrigerator can tell you what groceries you’re running low on. For $5,000, you can buy (Spring ‘17) the Samsung Family Hub refrigerator, which you’ll be able to digitally access from your phone while in the grocery store to see what you’re missing.

Water and Ice — In-door water and ice has been a must-have feature for a number of years, particularly with families that use water/ice often. Just keep in mind that this option takes up a lot of interior space, is susceptible to problems and can be messy. It also increases the cost of the fridge.

Installation and Removal — As with any new appliance, also factor in the cost of installation and the removal of your old refrigerator. Installation and removal charges vary by vendor and location, so always ask ahead of time. If your fridge is still in good working order, you should consider donating it to a local charity, which might pick it up for free.  

More on Replacing Appliances …

If you’re looking for more information regarding how much it costs to replace other household appliances, please don’t hesitate to consult our blog. Our team offers an ongoing series on this topic, so you have all the tools you need to maintain your home.

5 Must-Know Tips for Buying Home Appliances

While they may not do much for the charm or ambiance in your home, major appliances have a critical effect on your comfort and convenience. A new refrigerator is not nearly as exciting as a new car, but it is arguably more important in terms of making your daily life more convenient and healthy.

Maintaining and replacing appliances is a part of home ownership, so educating yourself on those topics is a smart move that will save you money in the long run.  For most homeowners, it’s good practice to learn some basics about kitchen, laundry, and HVAC equipment before the day comes when they must be replaced.

#1. Budget

You can always get a better deal if you have little time to look around. Give yourself that luxury by checking out appliance deals before you need them. Check the owner’s manual for your equipment to be aware of the expected lifespan for each appliance, and then plan to replace most of them at or before that time.

Keep in mind that there is usually some wiggle-room in appliance pricing, so don’t hesitate to haggle a bit. Base your bargaining on an understanding of the average price ranges, and you could save yourself $100 or so.

#2. Timing

Finding the best deal on the appliance you want can be a matter of timing.

The best time to buy most major appliances is during the months of September and October. During these two months, manufacturers unveil their latest models, so the previous models are discounted.

Refrigerators are the exception. Those new models are rolled out in May, so spring is the best time to shop for a refrigerator.  Another special consideration is air conditioning systems, which can be found at a discount in the winter months.

When inventory lingers into January, discounts can be even deeper, although you won’t have as many models to choose from.

Holiday weekends and the end of the month can also be good times to check appliance prices. Black Friday can be a great day to pick up a new appliance, and many merchants have sales on holidays like Memorial Day and Labor Day.

#3. Options to Consider

The number of features and options available in appliances keeps growing, and sorting them out can be a little overwhelming. Count on perennial experts, like  HGTV, Bob Vila, or CNET for unbiased reviews and important details. Consumer Reports is also a fantastic resource, with lots of free information online. A subscription will get you access to a wealth of additional informative reports on topics like appliance brands most prone to need repairs.

Refrigerator

The fridge often seems like the center of the home, and there are a wide range of styles and options from which to select. Styles include top freezer, bottom freezer, French door, side-by-side, built-in, and mini.  Other important factors to consider are capacity and energy efficiency. 

Some desirable features to consider:

  • In-door ice and water
  • Door-in-door storage
  • Air purifiers/evaporators
  • Zoned temperature controls
  • Flexible shelf and drawer design

Range

A major consideration here is whether you’ll buy gas or electric. If you’re replacing your old range, you’ll save money by sticking with your existing power source. Freestanding units also tend to be more cost-effective than built-ins.

Features:

  • Control lock-out
  • Double ovens
  • Expandable stovetop elements
  • Convection option
  • Time/Delayed start

Dishwasher

Using a dishwasher can actually be more energy efficient and use less water than washing by hand. According to Energy Star, newer models use less than half the energy of hand washing, and can save up to 5000 gallons of water per year.

Dishwashers with an Energy Star designation are, on average, 12 percent more energy efficient and 30 percent more water efficient than standard models, so they can potentially save you hundreds of dollars over the life of the appliance.

Features:

  • Adjustable or extra racks
  • Soil sensors
  • Rinse and hold
  • Self-cleaning filter
  • Stainless steel tub
  • Hidden touchpad controls
  • Quiet operation

Washer       

Clothes washers are available as top or front-loading. Click the link to read what Consumer Reports says about the advantages of the different types.

Features:

  • Automatic detergent dispenser
  • Automatic temperature control
  • Extra rinse cycle
  • Stainless steel tub

Dryer

Here again, you face the choice between gas or electric models.

Features:

  • Moisture sensor
  • Auto-dry cycles
  • Extended tumble
  • End of cycle signal

Furnace

For home heating, gas is generally the most economical power source, while electric systems can be lower in initial cost.

Home heating units have seen tremendous improvement in recent years, both in terms of efficiency and effectiveness. According to Consumer Reports: “… today’s more-efficient gas furnaces can save you up to $40 for every $100 you spend on fuel compared with older models. They are also, on average, less likely to need repairs, according to our survey of subscribers, who told us about 21,132 furnaces they bought between 2008 and early 2014.”

Features:

  • Zoned heating
  • Dual air exchangers
  • Variable speed blower
  • Air filtration

Air Conditioning Units

90 percent of new homes in the U.S. are equipped with central air conditioning. Whether you’re looking at a new installation or replacing an aging unit, similar factors should be considered.

Maintenance is critical for keeping your AC running efficiently, and many installation companies offer the option to include some regular maintenance in the installation cost.

#4. Installation costs

For the average homeowner, installing major appliances is best left up to a pro, so the cost of installation, to include removing and disposing of the old unit, must be factored into cost.

A good way to save on installation costs is to use existing utility connections and locations. Stick with the current power source (usually electric or gas) to avoid expensive reconfiguration.

#5. Measure your space

When you’re replacing an existing appliance, double-check the space to ensure that the new model will fit your existing site. Remember that they have to fit in the door. Here are the most common sizes for home appliances:

  • Refrigerator –This measurement can vary depending on capacity, but the most common width is 36 inches. Be sure to allow room for the refrigerator’s doors to swing open, and for a one-inch clearance around sides and back for adequate airflow.
  • Range – Most electric and gas ranges are 30 inches wide, while some pro-style units measure 36 inches.
  • Dishwasher -Most conventional dishwashers are intended for a cavity measuring 24 by 24 inches.
  • Washer/Dryer– Most laundry appliances measure 27 inches wide, but some models with bigger capacities measure two or three inches wider.

what-does-home-maintenance-cost1

Does It Cost More to Maintain Your Home or Your Car?

While you’ve most likely spent considerably more to buy your home than your car, you may be surprised at how much less expensive –proportionally- it is to maintain your home.

This is great news, considering that your home is likely your biggest investment, and one that you could very well be looking to sell at some point in the future. A key difference to remember when we’re looking at cost of ownership is the fact that cars depreciate over time, while home values appreciate. Let’s compare.

Cars

The Kelley Blue Book tells us that the average price of a car in the U.S. is now $33,000. The Wall Street Journal tells us that Americans bought a record-breaking 17.5 million cars and light trucks last year. Cars are considered essential, and worth the cost of ownership.

But beyond the cost of financing and fuel, how expensive is it to maintain a car? There are several contributing factors, as you well know:

  • Tires
  • Maintenance and repairs
  • Taxes, license and registration fees
  • Insurance premiums
  • Depreciation

The American Automobile Association (AAA) published a study last year that laid out the costs associated with each of these. They note that costs do vary depending upon the type of vehicle, with SUVs costing more than 50 percent more to maintain than small sedans.

Our purpose here is to compare the cost of caring for your car to that of maintaining a house. To get an idea of what maintenance will cost for a car, we can look at the average costs related to these areas:

  • Taxes and Fees $665
  • Maintenance and Repairs $767
  • Tires $147

These considerations will cost an average of $1579 annually. This cost does not take into account the average annual cost for fuel ($1682), and is in addition to any loan or insurance payments you may or may not have. It doesn’t factor in depreciation, with its messy calculations (although AAA estimates around $2500 annually!).  It’s the cost of taking care of your car.

Home Appreciation

Your home, on the other hand is all but certain to increase in value over time. That’s what makes real estate such a great investment. Bay Area home prices have come back strong from the crisis of 2008, at a rate far ahead of national numbers.

According to the Federal Housing Finance Agency home price indexes for the Pacific region have increased by more than 54 points over the last 5 years, well ahead of the national average of just over 29 points for the same time period.

Specifically in San Francisco, home prices rose by over 11 percent in the year between October 2014 and October 2015. In dollars and cents, that means that a home valued at $200,000 at 2014 would have gained over $22,000 in value in just one year.

The cost of maintaining your home varies, naturally. It depends on these variables, according to The Balance:

  •      Age – the maintenance costs tend to rise as the home ages
  •      Weather – extreme climates boost maintenance costs
  •      Condition – a home that’s been neglected will cost more to maintain
  •      Location – this can make a home more vulnerable to water damage and other factors
  •      Single-Family vs. Attached – the single-family home will cost more to maintain

Do the Math…

So let’s see: if the average car costs $33,000, and we can expect to spend just over $1500 to care for the car, that means we will be putting right at 4.5 percent of the car’s value back into it each year for maintenance. This line of thinking ignores the fact that the value of your car actually drops over time.

For your home, which as we’ve seen, gains value over time, experts generally recommend that you budget about 1 – 3% percent of your home’s purchase price for maintenance and repairs. So for a home priced at $700,000: budget $7000 annually for maintenance and repairs.

These numbers make one thing very clear: home maintenance is a bargain compared with caring for a car. We all expect to pay a price for using our car all year, but there’s a tendency to avoid spending money on home maintenance until something goes wrong.

That’s a key phrase, because good preventative maintenance can greatly reduce your overall costs by keeping the need for repair and replacement to a minimum. Keeping your systems in top working order increases their lifespan and helps you avoid costly breakdowns.

Want some help with that? Glasshouse Service Providers will oversee the care of your home at an annual premium of just $396.

How Much Does it Cost to Replace a Washer?

If you’re reading this article your washer is probably operating for now, but you’re wondering if it might be time to replace it. This can be a tough call, especially if your existing appliance is clicking along okay or may be in need of a minor repair.  The question comes into play: Would I be better off to just replace the machine now?

Experts recommend this rule of thumb: If fixing the appliance costs 50 percent or more of the original purchase price then you should replace it. This is a helpful starting point, but there are other things to consider.

Warranty?

In weighing your decision, consider whether the machine is out of warranty. If you’re not sure about this, examine manuals, receipts and other documents that came with the washer; look through them to find warranty terms. If you can’t find the paperwork, go to manufacturer’s site or contact them directly.

If an appliance is still relatively new yet no longer covered under warranty and has broken down a lot, you may be better off getting rid of it.

Keep in mind that some credit cards offer an extended warranty on purchases. If you used your card to buy the washer, it might be worth looking into that possibility.

Age?

A new washer’s average life expectancy is 11 years. Consumer Reports recommends replacing any appliance that’s more than eight years old. This is because newer models are more efficient, so these washers save water and energy and clean your clothes better. The savings you’ll see from increased efficiency will help cover the cost of the new machine.

When repair makes sense

Of course there are times when you should repair a good machine rather than buy a new one. Many of the parts for washers –things like the, seals, pump, and the belts and pulleys can be fairly inexpensive to replace. You could potentially install those parts yourself. The trouble has to be diagnosed first, of course, and for most of us that means calling a repair service.

Another point to consider when there’s a breakdown is whether your washer has been involved in a manufacturer recall. Write down the model and serial number of your appliance, then check at www.recalls.gov for information on current recalls that might help determine what the problem is.

If you’ve decided it’s necessary to replace your washer, expect to spend around $1000, depending on the features you choose. Here are some things to keep in mind when you’re choosing the one that suits you best.

Energy savings

Some models of washer are designed to use less water and energy. Energy Star certified washers will use 10 to 50 percent less; this can represent considerable savings over time.

Top- or Front-Loading?

There are top-loading machines with or without an agitator. Agitator models cost less and are faster than top-loading washing machines without an agitator, known as high-efficiency (HE) washing machines. Most HE washers are better at cleaning, gentler on fabrics, use less water, and have larger capacities.

While they cost more, the best front-loaders clean better and are gentler than the best HE top-loading washing machines, and they also use less water. Front-loaders take longer to complete a cycle than HE top-loaders, but they spin faster, extracting more water and trimming dryer time.

Space

Before you choose a new washer, measure your available space. The typical washer is 27 inches wide, but some with bigger capacities can be two or three inches. Measure the space you have to work with and allow at least 6 inches behind the washing machine for water hookups, and about an inch between the washer and dryer. And, if you have overhanging cabinets, be sure to measure the space between the cabinet and the washer.

It’s a good idea to measure the doors to your home to make sure a new washing machine can fit through them, too.

Capacity

The size of the load that your washer will need to handle depends on your household size. It’s a personal decision. The largest home washers have a capacity of 6.2 cubic feet, and will hold 28 full-size bath towels. The smallest are  3.3 cubic feet and will hold 14 to 17 bath towels.

Popular Features

  • Stainless steel tubs – these can handle faster spin cycles, which pull out more water and cut drying time.
  • Automatic dispensers – These are designed to dispense detergent, bleach, and fabric softener at the right time in the wash cycle. Some washing machines can even hold up to several months’ worth of detergent.
  • Extra rinse cycle – a handy feature for finishing heavy loads and clearing everything from pet hair to detergent residue.
  • End of cycle signal – a tone or beep alerts you when clothes are ready to move on to the dryer or clothesline.
  • Automatic temperature control – adjusts the water to the optimal temperature for the setting selected, rather than just mixing hot and cold water together.

Learn more about “How much it costs” to replace various items around your house on our blog. Some of our most popular articles are linked below for you convenience.

How Much Does it Cost to Replace a Dryer?

How Much Does it Cost to Replace a Dishwasher?

How Much Does it Cost to Replace a Water Heater?

[INFOGRAPHIC] How Much Do Utilities Really Cost?

Your monthly utility bills make up a significant portion of your housing costs. In fact, they can represent nearly half of a household’s monthly bills, according to a recent study by Trulia and partners Utility Score. They call utilities “the hidden cost of housing,” and they point out that costs can vary pretty widely depending on where in the country your home is located.

So a location with bargain home prices may not turn out to be such a bargain in the long term. Here are some of the significant findings:

  • Nationally, people in single-family homes spend $2,715 annually on utilities. ($1.68 per square foot, or 1.4% of the median single-family home value).
  • Of the largest 100 metro areas, Atlanta has the most expensive median annual utilities by dollar amount at $4,353.
  • The least expensive utilities are found in El Paso, Texas, where you can expect to pay $1,818 annually on average.

Based on the Atlanta figures, it’s tempting to conclude that a warm climate equals high utility costs, but the low costs in El Paso blow that theory out of the water. Apparently, climate is not a good predictor for how much median utilities are, at the zip-code or metro level, and nor is the value of local homes.

Markets like Detroit and Pittsburgh, which have relatively low home values, can be paying just as much for utilities on average as they do for their mortgage or rent payments. For residents in the most expensive metros like San Francisco or Honolulu on the other hand, utilities are just as high in dollar amounts, but look trivial after getting past monthly housing costs.

A good example of a city where home prices are high but utilities are fairly reasonable is Oakland. There, energy costs are a bit higher than the national average, but depending on the neighborhood, can stay under $300 per month.  Pittsburgh, on the other hand, has much more affordable home prices, but similar utility costs to Oakland’s, so energy consumption takes a bigger bite out of the budget.

78bf13fb-138d-4957-9adb-04b61dea34f4

3 Ways to Lower Your Utility Bills

No matter where your home’s located, there are plenty of ways that you can minimize your cost for utilities. Some major changes might be adding solar panels –this carries some upfront expense, but will produce major savings down the road, or replacing old windows with a more energy-efficient product.  There are also small changes that you can make to have a big impact.

#1. Select efficient appliances

If your appliances are starting to show their age, you can likely save a good deal of energy by replacing them. The government awards an Energy Star to appliances that meet high standards for efficiency, so it’s a great idea to shop with that in mind.

#2. Add insulation

One relatively easy and inexpensive way to lower energy bills is to add insulation to your home. Keeping warm air inside in winter and outside in summer lets your HVAC system take it easy, resulting in lower monthly costs.

There are other benefits to increased insulation as well, like reduced noise from outside, better humidity control, and less pollen and dust from outdoors getting in. So you save as much as 10% on energy costs and have a more comfortable home. Win win.

#3. Practice preventative maintenance

A sure way to make sure your systems are running at top efficiency is to keep up with regular maintenance. This is an inexpensive way to buy some peace of mind, and it also keeps your utility bills under control.

Here are some important maintenance tasks to keep on top of:

Maintaining Your HVAC

  • Heating and cooling systems account for more than half of the energy costs in a typical U.S. home, so keeping yours properly maintained can yield big savings. Here are some general tips for HVAC care:
  • Check the system twice a year, as the seasons are changing. Replace the air filters at least that often.
  • The outdoor unit should be checked for adequate refrigerant levels, and any wear or damage. Accumulated leaves, dirt, and debris should be removed, and the drains checked for any obstructions.
  • Inside, the unit should be carefully inspected for gas leaks, loose connections, and clogged drain lines. The blower, burner assembly, and evaporator coils should be checked and cleaned.

For a more extensive look at how to maintain your HVAC, check out our recent blog.

Maintaining Your Laundry

Your laundry contributes greatly to a smooth-running household, so take some time to make sure that it’s running efficiently. This can be a simple matter of adjusting your habits.

  • Dryer: remove lint after each load; regularly inspect the vent. This will also prevent your dryer from suffering an early death. Here’s how much it costs to replace a dryer.
  • Washer: ensure that the machine is level; inspect the hose for loose fittings, bulges or cracks, don’t leave wet clothes inside to develop mold.

Maintaining Your Weatherproofing  

Another way to save on heating and cooling is to ensure that your home is as weatherproof as possible. As we noted above, insulation —particularly in the attic—  is a critical piece of this, but there are other things to keep in mind as well.

At least annually, check windows and doors to ensure that weather stripping s in place and in good condition. Inspect caulk around doors and windows. Depending on the severity of your climate, it might be wise to consider applying plastic over some windows as well.

Making it Easier: Home Maintenance with Glasshouse

This maintenance list can seem a bit overwhelming, and it’s true that most of us need professional help for many of these tasks. At Glasshouse, we specialize in carefully scheduled maintenance by proven, reliable professionals. Our clients save on their energy costs and gain peace of mind, knowing that we’ve got them covered.

It’s modern home care for today’s busy homeowners. Learn more about Glasshouse here.

The Smart Home Gift Guide 2016

As home improvement experts, our house managers spend a lot of time updating our clients’ homes with the latest and greatest gadgets, and we’ve learned a thing two in the process. So we pulled together a list of our favorite smart home products to help you find a present that is both unique and useful. These powerful gifts will help make your loved one’s home run more efficiently, improve security, and more.

nest

#1. The Nest Family of Products: Thermostat ($249), Nest Protect Smoke + CO Alarm ($99), Indoor Nest Cam ($199), and Outdoor Nest Cam ($199)

We can’t say enough about Nest products, so we decided to recommend all of them. We even use the thermostat in our office. It learns your heating and cooling preferences to optimize the temperature in your home (or office) based on your behavior and location.

Second in line, the Nest Protect alarm actually tells you when and where there is smoke or CO in your home through an in-unit speaker and phone alerts. Rounding out the suite of products, the Nest Indoor and Outdoor Cams provide 24/7 video security with some added perks.

You can use the Nest Cams to have a two-way conversation with people at your home through the Nest app. You can also go back and pull video or still photos from parties when you were too busy having fun to grab your phone to capture the action. Using the Indoor Nest Cam can be especially helpful in capturing special moments with young children or checking in to make sure older kids made it home safely from school, when you aren’t there to greet them.

Plus, all of these devices communicate with the IoT (Internet of Things). For starters, they connect to your mobile phone so you can manage them remotely and receive timely updates. But they can also connect with a long list of other devices, some of which are included in our Smart Home Gift Guide such as: Alexa, Rachio, and WeMo.

 

rachio

#2. Rachio Smart Sprinkler Controller ($199.99)

Say goodbye to hard-to-program watering systems and over/under-watering your plants. The Rachio Smart Sprinkler is here to help you control your sprinklers and your water bill from your smart phone. Rachio makes your home smarter and saves you money on your water bill by reading local weather forecasts, sunlight levels, soil and plant types to create a custom watering schedule for your home. It will even send you alerts, when the schedule changes due to rain or freezing temps. Don’t forget to sync it with your Nest and Alexa for even greater control of your home’s systems.

 

amazon-echo

#3. Amazon Echo with Alexa Voice Service ($179.99)

We’ve brought up Alexa twice in this post and we aren’t stopping here. Once again, this product can be found at Glasshouse headquarters, and we love it. The Amazon Echo with Alexa Voice Service helps you play music, answer questions, read books, check traffic and weather reports, access sports scores, and control smart home devices like Nest, Rachio, WeMo and more through voice commands. You’ll be amazed at how much you can accomplish just by asking.

 

ring-video-doorbell

#4. Ring Video Doorbell ($199)

Worried about stolen packages or unwelcome guests? Ring will help you step up your security system with HD video. Similar to the Outdoor Nest Cam, the Ring Video Doorbell enables you to see and speak to visitors at your door, regardless of your physical location. The footage can be stored in their cloud service for a monthly fee or reviewed instantly on your phone or computer.

 

wemo-switch-smart-plug

#5. WeMo Switch Smart Plug ($39.66)

The WeMo Switch Smart Plug doubles as both added security and an energy saver. It plugs into lights and appliances, so you can control them remotely from – you guessed it – your smart phone. No need to walk into a dark house or worry if you left the toaster oven on. You can use the WeMo Switch to set on and off times or sync your lights to the sunrise and sunset, improving energy efficiency. Pairing with Alexa and Nest, gives you added voice control and informs your lights and appliances when you’re not home, so it can activate “Away Mode”.

The “Away Mode” will make you toss out all of your mechanical timers the next time you travel. It randomly turns your lights on and off – making it look like someone is home to confuse intruders. Talk about a smart device.

 

samsung-family-hub-refrigerator

#6. Samsung Family Hub Refrigerator ($3,799.99)

While this gift is a definite splurge item, for those who can afford one, the Samsung Family Hub Refrigerator is a game changer. First of all you can order groceries from the touch screen on the refrigerator door. Or if you want to pick out your own veggies at the store, it will help you make a grocery list without opening the door using built-in cameras. Then, you can access these cameras on the go in case you forgot to make a list in the first place.

Once the food has arrived, you can use the touch-screen to pull up recipes and stream music while you cook. You can mirror your Smart TV and share photos on the touch-screen as well. As an added bonus, there is a “Flex Zone” in the bottom-right door that functions as a fridge or freezer depending on your needs.

 

red-grilbot-on-grill

#7. Grillbot Grill Cleaning Robot ($129.95)

You may have heard about the Grillbot Grill Cleaning Robot after CES this year. It got a ton of buzz for being the Roomba for grills. Simply place it on your grill, set the timer, close the lid, and walk away. The brushes go in the in the dishwasher when you’re done. No more scrubbing in the dark after dinner. The Grillbot handles the dirty work for you.

 

instacart

#8. BONUS: Instacart Express ($149/year)

While Instacart Express isn’t a smart device, we wanted to include it on our list because it’s a smart service for anyone short on time (i.e. all of us). The express membership gives you unlimited free grocery deliveries from local stores. Included on their list of recommended stores is Costco. So your recipient can ditch their Costco membership while stocking up on bulk goods.

For those who have it all, we’ve got one more suggestion. Give the gift of a healthier and safer home. Glasshouse subscription home maintenance plans and technology offer a unique way to help family, friends, and neighbors take better care of their homes. Learn more at glasshouse.com.

Lesser Known Home Maintenance Tasks with Big Price Tags

Home maintenance is something that’s always with us. It’s important to plan for the associated costs and to understand how they will morph over time.

Experts recommend that you set aside 1 percent of your home’s purchase price annually for maintenance and repairs, but that’s an average cost. There will thankfully be years when you don’t spend nearly that much on maintenance. Unfortunately, there will also be years in which you spend much more.

What you pay for home maintenance and repairs is influenced by several factors. The age of your home is probably the most significant. New homes need very little maintenance (but they do need it!), while a home that’s over 20 years old will likely be ready for some major updates. That is the time when the roof or major appliances may need replacing. Older homes also need to have weatherproofing restored, in many cases, to hold down energy costs.

Weather itself can have a big impact on the cost of maintaining a home. Climate extremes are hard on houses and their systems. Whether the issue is frigid winters, with their heavy demands on heating systems, frozen pipes, and snow-covered roofs or hot, humid summers, bringing moisture problems and struggles with insect damage, homes are vulnerable to extreme weather.

An informative piece on The Balance blog recommends adding 10 percent to your maintenance budget for each of these factors that fit your house, along with whether it’s located in a floodplain or is a single-family home (condos and duplexes cost less to maintain).

Being aware of this consideration can help considerably in budgeting for home maintenance. Another thing to know about is some of the potential big-ticket repairs that you may encounter on your journey.

Replacing rotting flooring and joists

This job can run into the tens of thousands, and is also a major disruption in the home. Undetected leaks are often left to do their worst for years, and it’s only a matter of time until major repairs are needed.

Avoiding this expense entirely is surprisingly easy. One important, but often overlooked practice is regular inspection of the caulk in the kitchen and bath. The caulking in kitchens and bathrooms keeps water from seeping into the crevices and crannies around sinks and tubs. Once the water gets in, mold proliferates (especially in damp areas around showers and tubs). Worse, infiltrating water could lead to wood rot in the structural framing beneath. Recaulking old or mildewed caulking is a basic home repair, requiring only a few tools and inexpensive materials.

Another way to avoid water damage is to promptly repair plumbing leaks. Fixing leaky faucets and other common household plumbing leaks can save the average homeowner about 10 percent on water bills, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Repairing or replacing damaged decking

Particularly if you’re living in one of the extreme climates mentioned above, a neglected deck might need to be extensively repaired or even replaced. A few gallons of sealant will cost $50 or less and applying it can be the work of one afternoon.

Repairing termite damage

It costs $3000 on average to repair termite damage to the home, according to Termite.com, and fumigating the house would cost even more. This cost can be avoided with regular inspections, which are very inexpensive: usually under $100. When trouble is identified, the problem can be eliminated with an inexpensive spot treatment.

Roof repairs and replacement

Okay, this probably doesn’t qualify as a lesser-known maintenance expense, but did you know that a lot of roof problems are caused by clogged or damaged gutters?

It’s true. Getting water off and away from the house as quickly as possible is the best way to keep it from doing any damage. When gutters backup and overflow, water seeps under the shingles and begins its insidious work on vulnerable materials. Keeping your gutters clear can save you some serious change.

Repairing foundation cracks, bulges, and settling

The foundation’s integrity affects all the parts of your home, so when problems develop you may be forced to pay thousands for repairs. The Foundation Repair Network reports that major foundation repairs can cost $10,000 to $14,000, while repairing a single crack may cost $800 to $1500.

These costs can often be completely avoided through regular inspection. Preventative steps can include ensuring that downspouts empty at least 2 feet from the foundation, and that the ground slopes away from the house to keep water from pooling at the foundation.

Download a free copy of our whitepaper: What does Home Maintenance Really Cost?