12 Delightful Ways to Make Your House Brighter in Winter

Meet you under the skylight, on the white sofa, with a cream cheese brownie.

Fall and winter start cozy — who hasn’t used the colder temperatures as an excuse to binge-watch Netflix while swaddled in a couch blanket?

But come January, staying indoors can feel less like a treat and more like you’re living in a cave.

Here’s how to make your house lighter, brighter, and cheerier.

#1 Take the Screens Off Your Windows

take screens off windows

You’ll get 30% more sunlight shining indoors without screens on your windows.

Here’s the best part: Sunlight warms your room and saves you money on your heating bill. It’s solar power — for you!

Be sure to store your screens in your garage or basement where they won’t get damaged. In the spring you’ll want to put them back on so you can keep that 30% of the sun out and run your cooling system less.

Modern kitchen with wood floors
Spend Oh-So-Wisely on a Kitchen Remodel
6 Materials Savvy Remodelers Never Use in Their Kitchens
How to Shop for a Retro Kitchen — and Not Get Stuck with Junk
Replace or Reface Your Kitchen Cabinets: The Options and Costs

#2 Hang Outdoor String Lights Indoors

They don’t give off a lot of light, but they’re cheerful as heck.

Drape them around a window or a mantel, or hang a string of LED glimmer lights in a tall potted plant. They’ll add a layer of soft light to your room and remind you of fireflies, flip-flops, and patio parties.

#3 Steal a Little Swedish Chic

Scandinavians excel at making a home light and airy because they’ve got places where the sun doesn’t rise at all from November to January.

And you thought you had it bad.

To adapt to weeks and weeks of polar night, Swedes keep interiors pale to reflect and amplify light.

Think white walls, light woods for furniture and floors, and light upholstery. To get the look without getting rid of your dark furniture and floors, put white or light gray slipcovers on your sofa and chairs, and put down light-colored rugs.

The fastest way to bring a little Sweden into your room is to paint it. Try creamy white, pale blue, or dove gray.

#4 Change Your Bulbs

change light bulbs to brighten room

Replace those incandescent bulbs and their yellowy light with LEDs, which produce a brighter, whiter light.

But get your bright right:

The higher the K rating on the bulb, the cooler and whiter its light.
For cool, white light, opt for a bulb rated 3,500K to 4,100K.
For blue-white light that’s closest to natural daylight, use a bulb between 5,000K and 6,500K.
Unless you live in Sweden (see above) you may want to leave the uber-high K bulbs for grow rooms and seasonal affective disorder therapy clinics — because they’re as bright as real sunlight on a hot summer day at noon. You’ll need sunglasses to read.

#5 Hang Mirrors

Make the most of that weak winter light by bouncing it around the room with mirrors.

If you don’t want the distraction of seeing your reflection all the time, use a large, convex one — also known as a fish-eye mirror. It will amplify light better than a flat one. Another option: Hang a gallery wall of small mirrors.

#6 Replace Heavy Curtains With Blinds or Roman Shades

Fabric curtains, while quite insulating, block light and make a room feel smaller and more cramped, especially if they’re a dark color or have a large print.

Try Roman shades or a simple valance paired with blinds to let in the maximum amount of natural light.

#7 Trim Branches and Bushes That Block Light

trim plants around windows that are blocking the sun

If you look out your windows and see the tops of your bushes, grab your pruning shears and get whacking.

You don’t want anything blocking that precious natural light. Same for tree limbs that may be arching down and blocking windows. Cut them off.

#8 Clean Your Windows

Dirty windows block a lot of natural light.

Admit it, yours are kind of cruddy because who remembers to block out an afternoon to clean the windows?

So get it on your list. Clean the glass inside at least once a month and the glass outside once a year. Your serotonin level will thank you.

#9 Swap Your Solid Front Door for One With Glass Inserts

A solid front door can make your house look and feel as dark as a dungeon.

Get rid of it and install a half-light or full-light door that lets the natural light stream in. For even more natural light, add glass sidelights and a glass transom.

The median cost of a new door is $2,000 for steel and $2,500 for fiberglass, before any extras, but a new door will add curb appeal.

Curb appeal equals higher resale value. And coming home in the evening to the warm glow of light radiating out the glass panels in your front door is an instant mood lifter.

Related: How to Avoid Choosing the Wrong Front Door

#10 Add a Skylight

It’s the ultimate way to bring more natural light into your house. A window only catches sun for a couple of hours a day, but a skylight lets in the sun all day.

An indoor view of the sky makes deepest January more tolerable. And feeling the warmth of the sun on your skin, light streaming from above, is liberating. A skylight, installed, can cost as much as $3,000. A cheaper alternative is a tubular skylight, which costs around $1,000.

If you’re really good with tools, you can install a tubular skylight yourself. Don’t even think about installing a full-blown skylight yourself.

#11 Add Plants

Putting pots of plants around your room will remind you that spring and green will return.

Match plants to the amount of light you have, because dead and dying plants are depressing. Tropicals that thrive in indirect light are usually the best choice. If you have a sunny window you’ve got more plant options.

Bonus points for adding a plant that blooms in the winter, like a kaffir lily or anthurium.

#12 Celebrate National Cream Cheese Brownie Day

February 10 is National Cream Cheese Brownie Day. Really. Since February is when winter is feeling longer than a seminar on insurance underwriting, this is exactly when you need to make cream cheese brownies.

Chocolate won’t make the sun shine longer or your house brighter, but it will make you feel better because … endorphins. Besides, you spent a ton of money on that marble-topped kitchen island and those double ovens, so get baking.

Source: Lenne Potts for houselogic.com

How to Be a Great Host

10 Simple Comforts Every Houseguest Will Adore You For

Never underestimate the power of an extra iPhone charger.

‘Tis the season for holiday house guests! You want them to feel welcome and here are some ideas to do just that.

Houselogic asked Airbnb hosts with tons of great reviews on their cozy bungalows and light-filled island condos for some quick, easy (and cheap!) ideas to turn your guest quarters into a vacation haven. Lucy’s sprinkled in her South Bay ideas in too. Be careful, though – your guests may not want to leave!


#1 Stock Up on Extra Chargers and Cords

A dead phone equals getaway misery. Airbnb host Valarie D’Elia sets out a bowl with power strips and cords, outlet converters, and even an iHome speaker. Nothing sets the stage for feeling at home IRL like feeling at home digitally.

And that includes posting your Wi-Fi name and password in the guest room so they don’t have to ask you for it.

#2 Offer Sample-Size Toiletries in Your Bathroom

Put your stockpile of beauty samples and hotel toiletries to good use. Don’t travel much? Bed-bath discount stores have travel size sundries. Tiny shampoos and lotions arranged in a basket or vintage apothecary jar are as welcoming as they are practical. Guests will be relieved if they forgot their own (even if only in the next room). But even if they didn’t, they’ll love the luxury of washing their hair on the house.

travel-size toiletries

#3 Raise Your Cleanliness Standards

When you miss a dust bunny at home, it’s just your own skin flakes and dried up sneezes in your own corner. To guests, it’s disgusting at best and insulting at worst.
So clean it all. Airbnb even tells hosts to scrub the entire bathroom, not once but twice, including the toilet, sink, bath, and floors after every guest.

“I want it to be clean enough that I’d feel comfortable staying,” says Jami, who rents out her beach-style cottage in Santa Monica, CA.

#4 Give It Your Personal Touch

People choose Airbnbs over sterile hotel rooms because, in part, they want an authentic, personal experience. So give it to them!

Cheryl Trotta of R.I. intentionally markets her rental as a family cottage and scatters pictures and family treasures throughout the cottage. Frame a couple of your childhood photos and hang them up alongside some mementos from your own travels.

How else would your guests discover that you were drum major of your high school marching band?

#5 Put a Radio in the Bathroom

Your guests may like to sing along in the shower, but the real reason for putting some tunes in the bath is to provide them with plenty of, well, privacy. Add an essential oil diffuser — or poo-pourri drops — and you’re in business

#6 Set Up a DIY Café

If your guests are early birds — or will just want some occasional alone time — put a coffeemaker in their room along with a well-stocked basket of coffee and tea. Maybe even blow their minds with a mini fridge full of snacks.

To pull this off right, ask how they take their coffee in advance, and stock up appropriately.

#7 Designate Drawer and Closet Space Just for Guests

If your guest room closet could be featured on Storage Wars, it’s time to rethink your stuff strategy.

Consider some serious Marie Kondo-izing — maybe donate your to-be-regifted pile and sell those designer jeans you’ll never fit into again — to make room in the closet and dresser for guest to have plenty of space (and the key word is plenty).

Label a few guest drawers and crack the closet so they can see there’s space to hang their clothes.

#8 Fancy Yourself a South Bay Tour Guide

Give guests a local’s-eye view by filling a basket with menus from South Bay restaurants and attractions, brochures from local businesses that cater to tourists, and a current issue of the Daily Breeze. Provide them a list of your favorites. Be sure to include the types of activities they’re interested in. They’d most likely be asking your suggestions any way. Why not give it some thought ahead of time. It’s a great way for your guests to feel like a local and customize their time in your town.

provide a list of your local favorite restaurants and attractions

#9 Hang a Robe – or Two – in the Closet

Bonding with their host over morning coffee is one of the best parts of staying with friends. But they can miss it completely when they realize they only packed a ratty grandma nightgown or — even worse — NSFW lingerie.

Help your guests feel right at home by hanging a couple of cozy (and freshly laundered), one-size-fits-all robes in the guest-room closet.

Not only can they wear their pajamas to breakfast without feeling self-conscious, but they’re also super-comfy and great to wrap up in after a shower.

#10 Expect the Unexpected with Extra Personal Supplies

And let your guests know where they are so they won’t feel guilty for bothering you (or worse, go without!). Here’s a list of things that rock-star Airbnb hosts always keep in stock:
• Disposable razors
• Toothbrushes and toothpaste
• First-aid kit
• Towels, pillows, and extra blankets
• Umbrella
• Flashlight
• Replacement light bulbs

Being the perfect host is perfectly achievable. With a little forethought, you’ll start racking up your own stellar reviews from your friends and family. Get ready to be the house everyone vies to visit.

Source: Houselogic – Lisa Rogak is a “New York Times” best-selling author who has written about real estate for publications including BankRate.com, BobVila.com, and HGTV.com.

What Not to Do as a New Homeowner

New Homeowner Projects

You’ve finally settled into your new home.

You’re hanging pictures and pinning ideas for your favorite bath.

But in all your excitement, are you missing something? Now that you’re a bonafide homeowner are there things you should know that you don’t?

Probably so. Here are six mistakes new homeowners often make, and why they’re critically important to avoid.

#1 Not Knowing Where the Main Water Shutoff Valve Is

Water from a burst or broken plumbing pipe can spew dozens of gallons into your home’s interior in a matter of minutes, soaking everything in sight — including drywall, flooring, and valuables. In fact, water damage is one of the most common of all household insurance claims.

Quick-twitch reaction is needed to stave off a major bummer. Before disaster hits, find your water shutoff valve, which will be located where a water main enters your house. Make sure everyone knows where it’s located and how to close the valve. A little penetrating oil on the valve stem makes sure it’ll work when you need it to.

#2 Not Calling 811 Before Digging a Hole

Ah, spring! You’re so ready to dig into your new yard and plant bushes and build that fence. But don’t — not until you’ve dialed 811, the national dig-safely hotline. The hotline will contact all your local utilities who will then come to your property — often within a day — to mark the location of underground pipes, cables, and wires.

This free service keeps you safe and helps avoid costly repairs. In many states, calling 811 is the law, so you’ll also avoid fines.

#3 Not Checking the Slope of Foundation Soil

The ground around your foundation should slope away from your house at least 6 inches over 10 feet. Why? To make sure that water from rain and melting snow doesn’t soak the soil around your foundation walls, building up pressure that can cause leaks and crack your foundation, leading to mega-expensive repairs.

This kind of water damage doesn’t happen overnight — it’s accumulative — so the sooner you get after it, the better (and smarter) you’ll be. While you’re at it, make sure downspouts extend at least 5 feet away from your house.

#4 Not Knowing the Depth of Attic Insulation

This goes hand-in-hand with not knowing where your attic access is located, so let’s start there. Find the ceiling hatch, typically a square area framed with molding in a hallway or closet ceiling. Push the hatch cover straight up. Get a ladder and check out the depth of the insulation. If you can see the tops of joists, you definitely don’t have enough.

The recommended insulation for most attics is about R-38 or 10 to 14 inches deep, depending on the type of insulation you choose. BTW, is your hatch insulated, too? Use 4-inch-thick foam board glued to the top.

#5 Carelessly Drilling into Walls

Hanging shelves, closet systems, and artwork means drilling into your walls — but do you know what’s back there? Hidden inside your walls are plumbing pipes, ductwork, wires, and cables.

You can check for some stuff with a stud sensor — a $25 battery-operated tool that detects changes in density to sniff out studs, cables, and ducts.

But stud sensors aren’t foolproof. Protect yourself by drilling only 1¼ inches deep max — enough to clear drywall and plaster but not deep enough to reach most wires and pipes.

Household wiring runs horizontally from outlet to outlet about 8 inches to 2 feet from the floor, so that’s a no-drill zone. Stay clear of vertical locations above and below wall switches — wiring runs along studs to reach switches.

#6 Cutting Down a Tree

The risk isn’t worth it. Even small trees can fall awkwardly, damaging your house, property, or your neighbor’s property. In some locales, you have to obtain a permit first. Cutting down a tree is an art that’s best left to a professional tree service.

Plus, trees help preserve property values and provide shade that cuts energy bills. So think twice before going all Paul Bunyan.

Source: John Riha for  HouseLogic

Sell Your House this Summer: Do’s and Don’ts of Homebuyer Incentives

Homebuyer incentives can be smart marketing or a waste of money. Find out when and how to use them.

Be sure you’re sending the right message to buyers when you throw in a homebuyer incentive to encourage them to purchase your home.

When you’re selling your home, the idea of adding a sweetener to the transaction — whether it’s a decorating allowance, a home warranty, or a big-screen TV — can be a smart use of marketing funds. To ensure it’s not a big waste, follow these do’s and don’ts:

Do use homebuyer incentives to set your home apart from close competition. If all the sale properties in your neighborhood have the same patio, furnishing yours with a luxury patio set and stainless steel BBQ that stay with the buyers will make your home stand out.

Do compensate for flaws with a homebuyer incentive. If your kitchen sports outdated floral wallpaper, a $3,000 decorating allowance may help buyers cope. If your furnace is aging, a home warranty may remove the buyers’ concern that they’ll have to pay thousands of dollars to replace it right after the closing.

Don’t assume homebuyer incentives are legal. Your state may ban homebuyer incentives, or its laws may be maddeningly confusing about when the practice is legal and not. Check with your real estate agent and attorney before you offer a homebuyer incentive.

Don’t think buyers won’t see the motivation behind a homebuyer incentive. Offering a homebuyer incentive may make you seem desperate. That may lead suspicious buyers to wonder what hidden flaws exist in your home that would force you to throw a freebie at them to get it sold. It could also lead buyers to factor in your apparent anxiety and make a lowball offer.

Don’t use a homebuyer incentive to mask a too-high price. A buyer may think your expensive homebuyer incentive — like a high-end TV or a luxury car — is a gimmick to avoid lowering your sale price. Many top real estate agents will tell you to list your home at a more competitive price instead of offering a homebuyer incentive. A property that’s priced a hair below its true value will attract not only buyers but also buyers’ agents, who’ll be giddy to show their clients a home that’s a good value and will sell quickly.

If you’re convinced a homebuyer incentive will do the trick, choose one that adds value or neutralizes a flaw in your home. Addressing buyers’ concerns about your home will always be more effective than offering buyers an expensive toy.

By G.M. Filisko for Houselogic

5 Things That REALLY Will Put a Serious Dent in Your Energy Bills

Stop sending so much money to your utility company with these simple strategies.

Your Mexican beach vacation was great, but, man, those margaritas sure can put on the pounds. It’s been two months, and you’re still carrying around an extra tenner — despite a new running routine and a lot of #&*&@$ kale. So why isn’t your weight dropping?

It’s like that with energy bills, too. Eighty-nine percent of us believe we’re doing the right things to lower energy costs, and almost half of us think our homes already are energy efficient. Yet, 59% of us say our bills are going up, not down, despite our efforts to economize.

Suzanne Shelton, CEO of the Shelton Group, a marketing agency that specializes in energy efficiency and that did this research, says we’re rationalizing: “I bought these [LEDs] so now I can leave the lights on and not pay more. I ate the salad, so I can have the chocolate cake.” Denial much?

Her research also shows consumers, on average, made fewer than three energy-efficient improvements in 2012 compared with almost five in 2010. It looks like we’re giving in to higher utility bills. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

You just need to know what improvements really will make the biggest difference to lower your bills. There are five, and the good news is that they’re really (seriously) cheap. You can go straight to them here, but there’s also another thing you can do that doesn’t cost a dime — and will drop your costs:

Be Mindful About Your Relationship With Energy

Think about it. Energy is the only product we buy on a daily basis without knowing how much it costs until a month later, says Cliff Majersik, executive director of the Institute for Market Transformation, a research and policy-making nonprofit focused on improving buildings’ energy efficiency.

With other services you get a choice of whether to buy based on price. With energy you don’t get that choice — unless you intentionally decide not to buy. You can take control by making yourself aware that you’re spending money on something you don’t need each time you leave home with the AC on high, lights and ceiling fans on, and your computer wide awake.

That mindfulness is important because your relationship with energy is getting more intense. You (and practically every other person on the planet) are plugging in more and more. Used to be that heating and cooling were the biggest energy hogs, but now appliances, electronics, water heating, and lighting together have that dubious honor, according to Lawrence Berkeley National Labs, based on data from U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the research arm of the Department of Energy (DOE).

Being mindful means it’s also time to banish four assumptions that are sabotaging your energy-efficiency efforts:

  1. Newer homes (less than 30 years old) are already energy efficient because they were built to code. Don’t bank on it. Building codes change pretty regularly, so even newer homes benefit from improvements, says Lee Ann Head, vice president of research and insights with the Shelton Group.
  2. Utilities are out to get us: They’ll jack up prices no matter what we do. It might feel cathartic to blame them (Shelton’s research shows consumers blame utilities above oil companies and the government), but to get any rate changes, utilities must make a formal case to public utility commissions.
  3. Energy improvements should pay for themselves. Nice wish, but it doesn’t work that way. When the Shelton Group asked consumers what they would expect to recoup if they invested $4,000 in energy-efficient home improvements, they said about 75% to 80%.Unless you invest in some kind of renewable energy source like geothermal and solar, you won’t see that kind of savings. (Sorry.) Even if you do all the right things, the most you should expect is a 20% to 30% reduction annually, says Head, which is still significant over the long term.What does 30% translate into? $618 in savings per year or $52 per month, based on the average household energy spend of $2,060 per year, according to Lawrence Berkeley and EIA.
  4. Expensive improvements will have the biggest impact. That’s why homeowners often choose pricey projects like replacing windows, which should probably be fifth or sixth on the list of energy-efficient improvements, Shelton says.There’s nothing wrong with investing in new windows. They feel sturdier; look pretty; can increase the value of your home; feel safer than old, crooked windows; and, yes, offer energy savings you can feel (no more draft).But new windows are the wrong choice if your only reason for the project was reducing energy costs. You could replace double-pane windows with new efficient ones for about $9,000 to $12,000 and save $27 to $111 a year on your energy bill, according to EnergyStar. (The savings are higher if you replace single-pane windows.) Or you could spend around $1,000 for new insulation, caulking, and sealing, and save 11% on your energy bill, or $227.

The 5 Things That Really Work to Cut Energy Costs

  1. Caulk and seal air leaks. Buy a few cans of Great Stuff and knock yourself out over a weekend to seal around:
    • Plumbing lines
    • Electric wires
    • Recessed lighting
    • Windows
    • Crawlspaces
    • Attics

    Savings: Up to $227 a year — even more if you add or upgrade your insulation.

  2.  

    Hire a pro to seal ductwork and give your HVAC a tune-up. Leaky ducts are a common energy-waster.Savings: Up to $412 a year.

  3. Program your thermostat. Shelton says 40% of consumers in her survey admit they don’t program their thermostat for energy savings. She thinks it’s even higher.
    Savings: Up to $180 a year.
  4. Replace all your light bulbs with LEDs. They’re coming down in price, making them even more cost effective.
    Savings: $75 a year or more by replacing your five most frequently used bulbs with Energy Star-rated models.
  5. Reduce the temperature on your water heater. Set your tank heater to 120 degrees — not the 140 degrees most are set to out of the box. Also wrap an older water heater and the hot water pipes in insulating material to save on heat loss.
    Savings: $12 to $30 a year for each 10-degree reduction in temp.

NOTE: Resist the urge to total these five numbers for annual savings. The estimated savings for each product or activity can’t be summed because of “interactive effects,” says DOE. If you first replace your central AC with a more efficient one, saving, say, 15% on energy consumption, and then seal ducts, you wouldn’t save as much total energy on duct sealing as you would have if you had first sealed them. There’s just less energy to save at that point.

Bonus Tip for More Savings

Your utility may have funds available to help pay for energy improvement. Contact them directly, or visit DSIRE, a database of federal, state, local, and utility rebates searchable by the state of California. Energy Star has a discount and rebate finder, too.

 

By: Christina Hoffmann for Houselogic