Wasted Energy

PhotoAs the cost of energy inches ever higher, homeowners look for ways to lower the bills. With that in mind, let's discuss some of the more common ways energy is wasted around the house.


  • A leaky envelope.

Inadequate insulation; drafty windows and doors; air leaks where wires, pipes, and ducts pass through your house; and exterior cracks and gaps – a leaky envelope is the biggest culprit behind energy loss, so tighten things up: add extra insulation, caulk, weatherstrip, and seal.


  • An inefficient HVAC system.

Heating and cooling costs constitute the majority of your energy bill. Old equipment or equipment that hasn't been well maintained has to work harder, costing you more money, so be sure to change air filters regularly, seal and clean ducts, and replace dated equipment.


  • Old appliances.

Today's models are much more efficient: fridges have more insulation; front-load washers wring out more water so dryers needn't work as hard; and dishwashers have more energy-efficient motors, for example. If you want to waste even less energy, don't just buy new appliances, buy ENERGY STAR appliances. 


  • Phantom power.

Many home appliances and electronics draw power even when turned off – these energy vampires often have lights indicating they're in standby mode. Unplug such devices when not in use, or, more convenient, plug them into "smart" power strips, which completely cut power to devices not in use.


  • Incandescent light bulbs.

Lighting may not account for a major portion of your energy bill, but replacing incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs is one of the easiest ways to reduce energy waste. CFLs use 75 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs and last about 10 times longer.



Happier Home Decor


Have a happy New Year! No, really – make 2014, and the years to follow, more happy and less stressful for you (and other members of your household) by resolving to make some changes for the better where your home's interior is concerned.


    • Get a better night's sleep. Do you have a TV or computer in your bedroom? If so, it needs to go – screens and sleep don't mix. What about exercise equipment? The bedroom is no place for that either. The only things that should be in your bedroom are those that contribute to an atmosphere of serenity. Outfit your bedroom windows with light-blocking drapes; ditch the synthetic sheets (which are chemically treated) in favor of a set that's made with natural fibers; and introduce a good air purifier into your bedroom. 
    • Lighten up. Blackout curtains are great for sleeping, but darkness during the day often makes us feel lethargic and depressed. Natural light is the cure for a gloomy mood, so open your window treatments during the day to let in the light and the sun. The yellow dullness of regular incandescent and fluorescents light bulbs makes for a dreary interior and can contribute to low-grade stress; adding even one full-spectrum light bulb to a room can really brighten it up. Used in the treatment of seasonal affective disorder, full-spectrum bulbs mimic natural light
    • Clear away the clutter. In addition to posing some practical problems, such as making it more difficult to quickly find what you're looking for and (in extreme cases) to navigate through your home, clutter has been associated with a host of negative psychological effects. Stress is the most obvious, but living in a cluttered environment can also engender feelings of lethargy, shame, hopelessness, and loss of control over one's life (effects that can be felt by anyone in the home). As well, it can have a negative impact on one's social life.
    • Create an in-home retreat. How about a spa-inspired bathroom in which you can rejuvenate? Think raindrop showerheads; accessories that can turn your regular bathtub into a whirlpool; towel warmers; heated flooring; super-soft, high-quality towels; plants; aromatherapy candles; and music. Or perhaps you'd like a sumptuous bedroom sanctuary where you can relax? Comfort is king (-size): upgrade your bed and pillows (most people are sleeping on ones that are well past their prime); introduce bedroom furniture for lounging; and incorporate luxurious, textured fabrics and mood lighting

    • Harness the power of paint. Neutral walls are ideal for when you've decided to sell your home, but while you're still living in it, why not use color to help shape your mood? Active hues – reds, oranges, and yellows – are energizing and cheering, making them ideal for social spaces such as kitchens and living and dining rooms, as well as for exercise rooms and home offices. Passive hues – blues, greens, and purples – have a calming, relaxing effect (particularly when soft shades are used), making them perfectly suited for bedrooms and bathrooms.

Paper Trail

PhotoEven in this digital age, paper clutter can be a problem, causing us mental stress and even costing us time and money. Below are a few tips to help you get – and stay – on top of your paper pile-up.


    • Curb the flow of paper into your home. For example, decide which magazines you like to read and keep, and which ones you would be satisfied glancing at in their digital version; register to receive bank statements and bills online (this may actually save you some money, too, as many companies now charge for paper statements); and opt out of getting catalogues and coupons from your favorite stores by mail – you can get those online too.
    • Have one dedicated spot in your home for collecting incoming paper, be it in your kitchen, family room, or home office. Having one "inbox" will keep you from accumulating different piles of paper throughout your home, reducing clutter, and make it easier and quicker for you to locate papers when you need them.
    • Set aside some time on a regular basis – once every week or two, for example – to go through your "inbox" and deal with, organize, and put away your papers. Mark that time on your calendar or set an alarm on your smartphone – whatever you need to do to make sure you consistently keep that commitment.
    • As you go through your "inbox", ask yourself if any of the papers you need to keep could be kept electronically. For instance, instead of holding onto that user guide that came with your fancy new camera, could you just download it in PDF form from the manufacturer's website? Rather than holding onto that receipt, could you take a picture of it and store it on your smartphone or computer? Just be sure to clearly label your files so you can find them later.
    • Now it's time to sort your remaining paperwork into groups such as keep/file, mail (e.g. rebates, bills), use (e.g. coupons), and recycle for anything you don't need (be sure to shred or otherwise carefully dispose of sensitive information). Your keep/file group should then be further sorted into subcategories of like items such as Medical, Taxes, Bills and Receipts, for example.
    • Next, find some sort of containment system for the papers you're keeping. That may mean large envelopes, paper trays, three-ring binders with see-through sleeves, an accordion folder, or file folders – whatever system makes most sense for the type of papers you need to store, and that you will actually use on a consistent basis, helping you stay organized.
  • With the growing popularity of home offices, filing cabinets have come a long way from grey metal boxes fit for offices to stylish varieties that can blend seamlessly into home interiors; decorative storage boxes are easier to find too. Invest in some attractive housing for your file folders, or big envelopes and your papers can hide in plain sight as part of your décor, rather than contributing to unsightly clutter.



Fire Escape

PhotoA little regular maintenance around the house can go a long way toward decreasing the odds of a fire, and, should a fire break out, increasing the odds of you and your family escaping harm. Take a few minutes to review these household hints.


    • Grease fires ignite and spread very fast. Prevent grease build-up in your kitchen by cleaning regularly and thoroughly, for example removing and washing your stove's burner grates, drip pans, etc. on a regular basis.
    • Dryer lint is highly flammable – prevent its build-up (which inhibits airflow) by cleaning the filter screen after each load, regularly vacuuming the motor area, and cleaning the vents leading outside twice a year.
    • If you have a fireplace, have its chimney regularly cleaned to rid the inside walls of creosote. A natural byproduct of burning wood, creosote is highly combustible.
    • Routinely inspect your electrical system and appliances. Check for damaged cords; flickering lights; outlets or switches that are discolored, feel hot, or make crackling or buzzing noises; overloaded outlets, electrical panels, or extension cords; frayed or exposed wires.
    • Test your smoke alarms monthly, replacing batteries as needed (even in hard-wired smoke alarms). Dirt such as dust and cobwebs can hinder their sensors, so clean your smoke alarms regularly, and replace them every few years as a precaution. 
  • Have a working fire extinguisher in the kitchen. Check it monthly to ensure pressure is at recommended levels, it's not past its expiry date, and that all parts are free of damage or obstructions and clean of corrosive chemicals.



Structural Integrity

PhotoFew things can lower the value of a house like foundation problems. Whether you're a homeowner or a homebuyer, learn how to spot current or potential problems by looking out for the following signs.

Inside the house:

    • Floors slope or have depressions, humps, or soft, spongy spots; tiles are raised or cracked; hardwood is warped.



    • Wallpaper is torn, wrinkled, or curling.



    • Cabinetry won't stay shut and/or has separated from walls or ceilings.



    • Doors or windows don't open and close properly, and/or have gaps between them and the framing; frames are askew.



    • Cracks in sheetrock, walls (particularly at joints), ceilings, the basement, moldings; in and around fireplaces; and at the corners of window and door frames.



    • A lot of nails popping out of sheetrock or corner frames.



  • Bowed basement walls.


Outside the house:

    • There are cracks in the brick veneer or mortar, most commonly found in a zigzag or "step" pattern that follows mortar.



    • The brick veneer is pulling away from window or door frames, leaving a gap.



    • Fascia boards are separating; this is especially common at the corners of the house.



    • The roofline is uneven.



    • The chimney is cracked and/or tilted.



    • Visible cracks in the foundation. Hairline cracks are normal and unlikely to be problematic; larger cracks, which can let water in, are cause for concern.



  • Gaps between garage doors and the ground.


If you see any such signs around your current house, don't hesitate to contact a professional – left unaddressed, small problems can become big ones. If you're considering buying a home that exhibits any of these signs, be sure to have it inspected so you have a clear understanding of its condition.


Far-Out Flooring

PhotoIs the ground beneath your feet looking a little (or a lot) worse for wear? Is it so outdated that stepping across the threshold feels like stepping back in time? Below are five unconventional flooring options you may not have considered for your home – but perhaps it's time you did!

Bamboo has recently been gaining traction as a viable flooring option. If you're unconvinced, or just unaware, consider this: bamboo floors offer the warm look of hardwood, are comparably priced, and equally low maintenance. Where bamboo differs from hardwood is durability. Harder than oak, a properly maintained bamboo floor can last a lifetime. As bamboo stands up well to traffic, and is stain, impact, and moisture resistant, it's a great choice for any room. What's more, bamboo floors are environmentally friendly as they're made from a highly renewable resource.

Carpet Tiles
Who hasn't wished they could just replace that one part of the carpet with the stain? Carpet tiles let you do exactly that, making them ideal for homes with children or pets. Highly versatile, you can also rotate them for more even wear, and customize your floors by using tiles of different colors and patterns to create borders and other designs. A great solution for small or irregularly shaped rooms where sizing traditional carpet is more difficult, carpet tiles are easy to install and easy on the budget.

Harvested from bark and made from materials leftover from the manufacturing of wine corks, cork floors are another green alternative. Easily cleaned and highly durable due to their elastic and moisture-resistant nature, cork floors perform well in high-traffic areas. With a honeycomb-like structure full of air, cork feels softer underfoot, is naturally insulating, and provides excellent shock and noise absorption, making it particularly well suited for condos, basements, and homes with children. Choose from a variety of colors and patterns, including those that look like marble or hardwood.

Recycled Glass Tile
Glass tile is just as tough as ceramic, and can be installed anywhere ceramic tile would be. It's less porous, however, meaning greater moisture and stain resistance, which is why it's most commonly used in kitchens and bathrooms. Offering a unique translucent look other tiles can't offer, recycled glass tiles are made from post-industrial and post-consumer glass that's been crushed and melted down; the result is tile that's even clearer than brand new glass, making for more bright, brilliant flooring, available in a variety of dazzling colors and finishes.

Like cork, rubber is forgiving, feeling softer underfoot and absorbing impact; plus, it's anti-slip, making it a safer choice for children and older adults. Sound-dampening and designed for heavy wear, it's ideal for high-traffic areas; its non-porous surface is stain and moisture resistant, making it suitable for kitchens and bathrooms, too. Think it only comes in black and has treads? Think again! Rubber flooring comes in a wide selection of colors, textures, and patterns, including marble. Floors made from natural or recycled rubber provide an eco-friendly alternative to synthetic rubber.

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