Kitchen remodeling 101: Brush up on the basics

(BPT) – In this economy, taking on a kitchen remodel can be a scary proposition. You’re probably asking yourself plenty of questions. How drastically should you change the room? Do you need to hire a professional? Can you still recoup money spent on remodeling if you sell the house?

Have no fear – these six tips from Summer Baltzer, interior designer and former host of HGTV’s Design on a Dime will get you remodeling like a pro without losing your mind or breaking the bank.

Tip one: Breathe in. Breathe out. Break it down.

Before starting, take a deep breath and know that your project is going to turn out great. The key is to break your remodel down into manageable steps that you can wrap your head around: cabinets, counters, floors, paint and accessories. Although it can seem like a daunting process, there is no need to freak out.

Tip two: Identify the function of the room.

Take a second to think about how you use your kitchen. The best outcome is a kitchen that’s both beautiful and functional, so make sure you’re not getting caught up in just color swatches, paint samples and tile styles. Ask yourself a few simple questions: Who primarily uses the kitchen? How much foot traffic will there be? What are the main tasks occurring in the space? Pausing to think about how the space will be used helps you create a kitchen that works for your life.

Tip three: Make the space work for you.

If you are considering a new layout, first think about how you move around the kitchen. There’s nothing more frustrating than furiously trying to get dinner on the table for a group of friends when you can’t find anything or move around your kitchen with ease. Determine the types of stations you always use and what you need in each station. Add drawers or containers for utensils or herbs … anything you might need to quickly grab while standing in that place. If you can’t recreate your floor plan, sometimes it’s simply a matter of reorganizing. Don’t assume you’re stuck with what you’ve got.

Tip four: Understand the scope of your work.

Is this kitchen makeover going to involve a partial or complete demolition, or are you going to be implementing simple fixes that you can pull off in a weekend? The work you’re looking to do will determine whether or not you need to hire a contractor and apply for permits or, if it’s just you, bribe your friends and buy that bucket of paint. It’s often smartest to look to a trained professional to handle the trickier parts of a kitchen makeover. Hire contractors who carry insurance to deal with your electrical and plumbing issues, use a professional installer to replace that new countertop and keep in mind that you may void the warranty on items if you install them incorrectly.

Tip five: Make a budget.

Though not as much fun as picking colors and fixtures, having a clear idea of what you can afford is important. Determine your budget and consider funds for unanticipated issues such as mold or plumbing pitfalls. If you have enough in the budget to deal with problems as they arise, you’ll be less stressed and can complete the project without a hitch. Finally, consider eco-friendly and durable materials that can be more affordable, including reclaimed wood, low-VOC paints, and countertops made from recycled fibers such as Wilsonart HD High Definition Laminate that can give the look of granite at a fraction of the cost. They’ll keep more of the green in your kitchen and in your wallet. Learn more at www.wilsonart.com.

Tip six: Keep track of your paperwork.

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of remodeling a kitchen, but the business end of a makeover is just as important. Keep track of contracts, warranties, manuals and receipts. Numbers used to identify paint colors and finishes are important too. Having everything accessible in a “kitchen makeover file” will make it easy to call for repairs or even simple touch-up if need be.

Armed with the basics, you’ll be well-prepared to create a kitchen you love.

Courtesy of BPT

Sunday fun-day: How to throw the ultimate football party this season

(BPT) – Football season is here and whether you’re a diehard fan or just a fan of all the Sunday parties, chances are you’re going to attend or host a get together centered around the country’s favorite sport sometime soon.

Lifestyle expert Kris Schoels of Young Married Chic has some simple suggestions for making the most of football parties.

Decorations

The aesthetics of a party are half the fun, so give guests something fun to look at when they aren’t engrossed in the game. Pick up plates, cups, napkins and flags with a football theme from a party store. Schoels also recommends making your own football-themed decorations by taking a football-shaped stamp, inking it with your favorite team’s colors and stamping white napkins and plates.

“To really get in the game-day theme, trade out a tablecloth for green turf and paint your own goal lines for a table topper,” Schoels says. “Fill football helmets with chips for a more creative touch and swap out serving trays for chalkboards to label foods and chalk out ‘plays.’”

Drinks

Drinks are a great opportunity to use some color to express team pride, advises Schoels.

“Use a glass drink dispenser to show off a bright red punch for the Kansas City Chiefs; add some blueberry juice to seltzer with a squeeze of lime for flavor to make a blue fizz for the New York Giants, or add a few drops of green food coloring to lemonade to show love for the Green Bay Packers,” she suggests.

If you are planning on having a kid’s table/viewing area, provide mini bottles of sports drink so the kids can get into the game as well.

Put a new twist on stadium foods at home

When it comes to game day food, there are some classic favorites, both at home and at the stadium like nachos, chicken fingers, hot dogs and soft pretzels. For your next party, Schoels recommends putting a new twist on them with an ingredient that everyone loves – melted cheese.

“A ready-to-eat fondue like the ones from Emmi of Switzerland are perfect for dipping soft pretzels, pigs in a blanket, french fries and chicken fingers, and even using as the cheese for nachos – it’s a perfect way to enjoy stadium foods at home,” says Schoels. “Emmi even sells a football helmet-shaped fondue pot at Emmi.com that is sure to get your guests in the zone on Sunday while they enjoy some warm, melted cheese.”

Dessert

Whether satisfying a gridiron sweet tooth or keeping it light, there are creative ways to serve football-inspired desserts.

“Use a tube of white icing to create laces on football-shaped treats, like brownies cut into the pigskin shape, cupcakes with chocolate frosting or chocolate-covered strawberries,” says Schoels. “If opting for a healthier dessert option, try cutting out a watermelon in the shape of a helmet and filling it with fresh-cut fruit.”

Games and activities

Plan some activities for the pre and postgame to make your gathering more than just a viewing party. If the weather is still nice outside, ask your guests to come early for a quick round of touch football. Once the game is underway create areas where kids and/or non-football fans can talk without bothering the viewers. For non-athlete guests, Schoels recommends a tamer game that everyone can enjoy.

“You can make a ‘pin the football in the goal’ game,” she says. “Just tape up a paper goal post cutout to wall; blindfold players and having them try to tack paper football inside the goal area.” Buy small prizes for winners like koozies, gift cards and team memorabilia to make the games more competitive and enjoyable for guests.

Courtesy of BPT

What does my credit score mean?


Are you thinking about applying for a loan, or wondering why your interest rate is what it is? Chances are good that your credit score is going to play a big role in both. What is your credit score? Your credit score is your ability to pay your debts and how big of a risk to a lender you would be. The higher the score, the higher your chances of getting a good loan with a lower interest rate.

How is my Credit Score Calculated?

There are many factors that go into this. Roughly a third of your score is determined by your credit history and whether you pay your bills on time. Other factors that go into your credit score are how many lines of credit your have and how much of your credit you have used up. The more cards you have the better and the less credit your have used up the better.

What are Some Ways I can Check my Credit Score?

The first step to checking your credit score is to get your credit report. How do I get my credit report? You can go to one of the three credit bureaus and request a credit score. You can also go to your bank or credit union and request a copy. Each borrower gets one free copy of their credit report a year.

One thing that can affect your score is the accuracy of your credit report. There could be mistakes on my credit report that could affect my credit score, you might be asking? Yes, not all creditors report accurately on your credit report, so make sure that it is accurate by requesting a copy at least once a year to check for errors that can be holding your score down.

How Else can you Improve Your Credit Score?

Pay your bills on time and make sure that you don’t get in over your head with debt. Repossessions and bankruptcies can damage your score and make it less likely to get a loan in the future.

Your credit score is going to be the way that a lender determines whether or not to give you a loan. If you have a high score you are going to have a better shot at getting a loan for a car or a house. Make sure you are keeping up with your credit report and paying your bills on time.

By: William Hauselberg

http://www.articlecity.com/articles/business_and_finance/article_16035.shtml

A guide to outdoor christmas lights


Any kind of fairy light or colored light can be used at Christmas time to provide a Christmas feel. There are not really any lights, except maybe ones within a Christmas tree casing that can only be used at Christmas time. Outdoor lights can be used throughout the year to light up the outside space and create a party atmosphere. If you are having a Christmas party then a nice idea would be buying some patio heaters, using lights to create the right atmosphere and then serving mulled wine. Nothing is more festive or joyful than this at mid-winter.

There is no real need to take the lights down however. Having fairy lights dotted around your garden, lighting up features and providing a nice atmosphere is suitable for any time of the year. This can provide a lovely backdrop for a summer party even. You can have a lot of fun with the outdoor lights in your house too. There are rope lights available that can light up walkways or be wrapped around the tree trunks. Flares can be used at entrance ways too. How about using a battery operated set of fairy lights to create a starry canopy underneath a tree? This makes a lovely seating area for you and guests to enjoy a long summers evening or a chilly Christmas party!

If the lighting is for entertaining purposes then you may wish to buy some novelty lights. You can buy Christmas novelty lights or lights for many other types of fancy dress night. Chilies for a Mexican party perhaps – the options are only as limited as your imagination! For a party outside, make sure you have good lighting where the main conversation areas are. People don’t like to talk to one another in the dark. Another place you will need good lighting is at a cooking area or BBQ area. Here you will need a good light or two so the chefs (whoever that might be at the party!) can whip up a storm with ease.

You should also ensure all walkways and paths to and from the house are well lit as people who are not familiar with your house may trip or stumble. When you have had a successful outdoor party, you won’t want to take your lights down! The great news is you don’t have to. All fairy lights and outdoor lights can add that Christmas feel and bring the spirit of Christmas into your home. Both outdoors and indoors, Christmas lights can really get you into the mood for this particular time of year. If you have children they will especially love the decoration of the home with lights. You can use lights in the trees outside or draped all over the house. Even the bedrooms can be adorned with fairy lights that twinkle all night long.

For places without plugs you don’t need to worry, you can use battery operated fairy lights. In order to keep the electricity bill to a minimum too you can use LED lights which are much more energy efficient than traditional light bulbs. The advice is, put your fairy lights up around the outside of your home and enjoy them throughout the year. From summer parties to Christmas get-togethers, putting lights up outside can help create the perfect atmosphere.

Outdoor Christmas lights can be used throughout the year in your garden, and it’s well worth it too. From battery lights to pink fairy lights and every novelty light in between you should shop online. Here you will find the best prices and the greatest choice available. With delivery to your door you also save yourself time and energy spent hunting for the perfect lights on your local high street.

by: Kathryn Dawson

http://www.articlecity.com/articles/home_improvement/article_6622.shtml 

Replace or repair? That’s the home improvement question


 Maintenance and improvement are both essential realities of home ownership. From windows and skylights to gas ranges and front doors, everything in your home will eventually need some work. But how do you know when something simply needs repair, or merits being replaced?

Of course, each situation will be as unique as the home in which it occurs – and as individual as the homeowners themselves. A few good rules of thumb, however, do apply in most cases. When you’re considering repair or replacement, ask yourself these questions:

* How old is the malfunctioning item?

* How extensive/pervasive is the problem?

* Will the cost of repair approach the cost of replacement?

* Which course – repair or replace – will yield the maximum energy efficiency?

* How does the cost of repair measure up to the value it will provide? How does replacement stack up using the same measure?

To help you get an idea of how these rules apply, here’s what some experts have to say about home elements that frequently raise the repair/replace question:

Skylights

While many modern skylights are energy-efficient, qualify to use the Energy Star mark and are leak-free, if you have an older, plastic model it’s probably a good idea to replace it. Not only are these older plastic bubble-type skylights often faded and unsightly, reducing visibility, they are not UV resistant, are not energy efficient, and are much more likely to leak.

“There are millions of those unattractive, cracked and yellowed plastic skylights still out there,” says Ross Vandermark, national product manager of VELUX America, which markets the warranted “No-Leak Skylight.” “Replacing them with new energy-efficient, double-pane (insulating) glass models is quick and easy. They don’t leak, they look better, they reduce UV rays and provide substantial energy savings.”

In fact, based on an estimate of 15 cents per kwh/hr, replacing an old plastic skylight with an Energy Star-qualified VELUX skylight can save a 2,000-square-foot home about $194 a year on cooling costs, a company study shows. Add skylight blinds – which are available in a variety of styles that can be remote-controlled, including blackout to block light, light filtering to diffuse light, or Venetian to adjust light – and the energy savings can be enhanced even more. And blinds in colors and patterns can add a fresh look to your room decor.  What’s more, depending on the age and condition of even older glass skylights, it’s not a bad idea to consider a modern, more energy efficient model. To learn more about replacement skylights, visit www.veluxusa.com.

Windows

Recent research shows that skylights and vertical windows can work well together to effectively daylight a home while contributing to heating and cooling energy savings.

Like skylights, windows have vastly improved in energy efficiency over the past few decades. Leaky, inefficient windows can be a major source of heat loss in a home, boosting energy bills and decreasing the comfort level indoors. Window manufacturer Pella points to these signs that old windows need to be replaced:

* They’re difficult to open or close.

* You can feel air leaking in or out around them.

* Condensation or fogging occurs on or between glass panes.

* You can see chipping, deterioration or water stains on the window or the wall around it.

* Cleaning is a major chore and you avoid it because of the difficulty.

* It’s difficult or impossible to find replacement parts for the old windows.

The Efficient Windows Collaborative (www.efficientwindows.org) site also provides extensive information on selecting both windows and skylights, including fact sheets and computer simulations for typical houses using a variety of windows in a number of U.S. cities.

Heating, ventilation and air cooling

Furnaces and air conditioning units are among the most important parts of your home’s infrastructure; they’re directly responsible for the comfort level and air quality inside your home. They’re also among the more costly items to repair or replace.

So how do you know when it’s time to replace part of your heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system? EnergyStar.gov  offers these guidelines:

* If your heat pump or air conditioner is older than 10 years.

* Your furnace or boiler is more than 15 years old.

* Your energy bills are spiking.

* Equipment needs frequent repair.

* Some rooms are too hot while others are too cold.

* The HVAC system is very noisy.

* Your home is very dusty.

Replacing older HVAC systems with newer, Energy Star-qualified ones can significantly impact your heating and cooling costs, according to EnergyStar.gov. An Energy Star-qualified heat pump or AC unit can save up to 20 percent on heating and cooling costs, the website says. You can learn more at www.energystar.gov.

Courtesy of BPT

Tips on how to finance a college education

(BPT) – For many college-bound students, savings, family contributions, scholarships, grants and a part-time job won’t be enough to pay for college. For these students, borrowing may be the only way to make up the difference between available funds and college expenses.

Borrowing to pay for college is commonplace today as the Chronicle of Higher Education reports that more than 60 percent of America’s 20 million college students rely on student loans to finance their education. A college student today graduates with an average of $24,301 in student loan debt, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which also projects that there are approximately 37 million Americans who have outstanding loan accounts.

While many students believe that loans are worth the investment in their future, a growing number of borrowers are defaulting on their student loan debt. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York estimates that about 5.4 million student loan borrowers have at least one past-due student loan account.-

Economists and policymakers alike worry about the long-term impact on recent graduates burdened with loan debt – many of whom may face challenges down the road in securing financing to buy a house or start a business.

To help parents and students learn more about college financing, FindLaw.com, the nation’s leading website for free legal information, offers a free, downloadable mini-guide on student loan debt. Here are some additional tips:

Start early. Really early – From the moment your child is born, start putting away a little bit each month toward his or her education. Use a state-run 529 plan or an IRA Coverdell account to save for college education tax-free. Regardless of when you start saving for college, it’s never too late to put money aside to pay for college expenses.

Apply to colleges you can afford – Carefully weigh the costs and benefits of an expensive school to a less costly institution. Students who graduate with little or no debt may have more freedom to take career risks, such as moving to a new city or taking a low-paying internship that offers valuable work experience.

Explore financial aid options – Research and apply for all financial aid opportunities, even if you think you may not qualify. You can apply for federal student loans by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

Compare financial aid packages – As you receive acceptance packages from colleges and universities, pay close attention to the financial aid programs offered by each school to determine which offers the best option to finance your college education.

Research scholarships – Continuously apply for scholarships throughout your college years to defray expenses. Keep your eyes open for opportunities. Professors, for example, are often aware of scholarship opportunities and are an excellent source for references when applying for certain scholarships or aid packages.-

Consider the job prospects for your major – Before declaring a major, research post-college career prospects. What types of jobs are people getting with the major you’re interested in? How much are they making in your part of the country? For example, if you need to take out $50,000 in student loans to obtain a degree that results in a job that typically pays about $35,000 per year, you may want to rethink your major.

Understand your loans – Not all student loans are the same. Some have higher interest rates. Some offer different terms to defer payment while a student is pursuing another degree. Some allow you to start paying the interest immediately, while you’re still in college, to lower the loan’s overall cost. Before considering student loans from a private lender, seek information and apply for federal student loans such as Stafford, Perkins and PLUS loans. Also talk to your college to see if it offers an institutional student loan program. Private loans can come with higher interest rates and more fees, so it’s best to explore your options.

Think twice, parents – Parents who co-sign for a child’s loan are responsible for that debt in the event that their son or daughter can’t pay it. While you may want to help your child achieve his or her dreams, don’t put your retirement years in jeopardy by cosigning on expensive private loans with high interest rates. Instead, help your child start building a positive credit history in his or her teenage years, and teach kids to take financial responsibility for the debt they incur.

To learn more about student loans and student loan debt, visit FindLaw.com.

Courtesy of BPT