Four hot, new-home trends that can work for your remodel

(BPT) – Builders are back in business, and new-home construction is up in areas across the country. So is remodeling, as plenty of Americans choose to stay put and upgrade their current homes rather than tackle the challenge of buying and moving into something new.

If you’re planning to renovate your home, you can tap some of the hottest trends showing up in new-home designs. Here are four new-home trends that offer strong returns on your time and money:

1. Creating a view – Americans continue to embrace all things green and that trend is showing up in new home construction in a number of ways, including an emphasis on energy-efficient windows that bring the outdoors inside with a great view.

If your home has older windows, they’re likely not as energy efficient as newer options, so replacing them can improve your heating and cooling efficiency. Window replacements typically provide a high return on investment at the time or resale, too – more than 73 percent for wood windows and 71 percent-plus for vinyl, according to Remodeling Magazine’s Cost vs. Value Report.

While you’re replacing your windows, you also have the opportunity to open up your home more to outdoor views. Work with your architect or designer and contractor to determine where the best views are, and how much additional glass you can incorporate into your renovation to capitalize on those views.

2. Adding a bathroom – When it comes to renovations that improve resale value and enhance a home’s usability, adding a bathroom is at the top of the list for many homeowners. While today’s new smaller homes often have less square footage, demand for multiple bathrooms has not changed.

In existing homes, adding a bathroom can sometimes pose plumbing challenges. Up-flush plumbing can solve a lot of them. Up-flush systems pump waste and water from a toilet, sink or bathtub up and out, instead of into a below-floor sewage pit.

Up-flush toilets enable homeowners to easily and cost-effectively install a bathroom virtually anywhere without breaking through the floors – a special advantage when those floors are made of concrete. That means adding a basement bathroom doesn’t require cutting into a home’s concrete foundation, and you can easily add an attic bathroom without tearing up the first-floor ceiling. According to Saniflo, makers of up-flush plumbing products, adding a bathroom using this type of plumbing can cost about $5,000 less than one that uses conventional plumbing.

3. Defining the kitchen – Kitchens are another popular renovation that pays off in a number of ways. Architects are fine-tuning the popular wide-open floor plan concept, and the change is showing up in the kitchen. Favored designs now open the kitchen on one side to an adjoining room, such as the family room, but enclose the other three walls to create a more defined space, as well as more storage and cabinet options.

This trend works particularly well in older homes where you frequently find a completely separate kitchen. Now, rather than ripping out three walls to create an entirely open flow, you can tap the latest kitchen design trend by opening up just a single wall in the kitchen. This leaves the space well-defined, but also adds the open, social feeling that is so appealing in many new home designs.

4. Maximizing every inch of space – With smaller floor plans gaining popularity, making the most of every inch of space is vital. New-home design employs entertaining nooks, breakfast alcoves, built-ins, pocket doors and other tricks to use every inch of space wisely.

It’s a trend that also works well in older homes that may have smaller rooms and less square footage than the McMansions popular a few years ago. For example, it’s easier to add a built-in desk to a spare corner and create an office alcove than it is to add an entire office to your floor plan.

If you crave a fresh environment and the latest home design trends, you don’t have to give up your old home and tackle the hassles of moving into something new. With some planning and creativity, it’s possible to translate some of the hottest new-home design trends into your renovation project.

Courtesy of BPT

How to stay naturally cool this summer


How%20to%20stay%20naturally%20cool%20this%20summer
It’s easy to overexert yourself during the inevitable summertime heat wave. Any common outdoor activity – such as gardening, sports, entertaining or vacationing – can quickly turn you into a sweaty mess when temperatures soar. Keeping cool isn’t simply a matter of comfort, either; it’s also a matter of safety.

Simple precautions can help you deal with heat and humidity. The key is to not interfere with the body’s natural ability to keep cool:

 

* Wear white or light-colored fabrics to reflect radiant heat.

 
* Choose open-weave, loose-fitting cotton or linen clothing to allow airflow and evaporation.

 
* Shade your head, neck and face with a comfortable, wide-brimmed hat.

 
* Take breaks to rest, and avoid prolonged exertion.

 
* Regularly drink plenty of cool, non-alcoholic, caffeine-free beverages, plus the occasional sports drink to maintain electrolyte balance.

 
If you do become over-heated and are feeling the ill effects of high temperatures, take quick action to cool the body and rehydrate:

 
* Cease strenuous activity and get out of the sun.

 
* Drink fluids.

 
* Sit in front of a fan or in an air-conditioned room.

 
* Apply a cooling mist to exposed skin.

 
* Immerse yourself in a cool bath, or stand in a cool shower.

 
* Apply a cool compress to your head, face and neck.

 
Tom Havran, product specialist with Aura Cacia (www.auracacia.com), offers some recipes using essential oils to naturally enhance your efforts to keep cool in hot weather: 

 
Cool and Fresh Eucalyptus Body Mist

 
Ingredients:
4 ounces water
1 teaspoon plain vinegar or herb-infused vinegar (lavender, rose, peppermint, etc.)
12 drops eucalyptus essential oil
9 drops lavender essential oil
3 drops peppermint essential oil

 
Directions:
Combine all the ingredients in a spray mister bottle. Shake vigorously and mist the skin. 
Always shake well before use. Avoid eyes and sensitive areas. Store the bottle in the fridge or ice chest to heighten the cooling sensation.

 
Refreshing Peppermint Bath

 
Ingredients:1 tablespoon sea salt
1 tablespoon Epsom salt
1 tablespoon baking soda
5 drops peppermint essential oil
4 drops lavender essential oil

 
Directions:
Combine salts and baking soda in a small bowl. Sprinkle oils on salt mixture, and stir well. Dissolve into lukewarm bath. 

 
If you don’t have time for a full bath, use this mix for a cool foot soak.
Cooling Lavender Compress
Ingredients:
Basin of cool water (approximately 4 cups)
12 drops lavender essential oil
9 drops peppermint essential oil
3 drops grapefruit essential oil
Soft facial cloth

 
Directions: 
Combine water and oils in a basin or bowl. Swish with cloth, wring out excess, and alternate placement on neck and forehead. Refresh the cloth often, and add a few ice cubes to the water to boost the cooling effect. Avoid getting in your eyes.
Visit www.auracacia.com for more essential oil solutions you can make yourself. Remember, essential oils are highly concentrated and should be kept out of reach of children and used only according to directions.

Courtesy of BPT

Expanding outdoor living space adds value to your home


The outdoor living trend remains popular as homeowners seek to add lasting value and functional living space under the sky and stars. Whether it’s a do-it-yourself patio or a professionally installed outdoor kitchen, the beauty, usefulness, value and ease of maintenance in outdoor living space is limitless.

Extending living space outdoors is as old as time itself. “Creating an outdoor room is a natural extension of your indoor living space,” says landscape architect John Johnson of Burnsville, Minn. “By creating a space in the open air and adding elements like fireplaces, pergolas, water features and greenery, you get a very different feel. People want and need that connection to the outdoors.”

Adding value

Without erecting the traditional four walls and roof, outdoor living space can be easily added to large, small, twin or town homes. Enhancing an outdoor space with hardscapes adds value and can be adapted for multiple uses.

“Homeowners continue to embrace the trend of maximizing outdoor living space, whether it’s an outdoor kitchen or patio living room with a fire pit,” says Lonny Sekeres, a landscape designer with Villa Landscapes in Oakdale, Minn. “Real estate experts say that for every dollar you invest in landscaping projects, you could see up to a $2 return when you sell your home.”

Do-it-yourselfers will find easy-to-install, maintenance-free pavers and segmental retaining wall systems are budget-friendly for patios, walkways, courtyards, raised gardens, fire features and wall projects. New construction should include plans for exterior hardscapes, and remodels can benefit from the advice of design-build professionals or experts from a landscape supplies retailer, says Sekeres.

“There are so many solutions to fit any budget and need,” says Sekeres. “Products like Willow Creek permeable pavers allow rainwater drainage if needed, and retaining walls come in colors that complement any environment.”


Al fresco living

As a natural extension of the home’s ground floor, a patio expands a family’s living and entertaining space significantly. It provides a perfect gathering spot for guests and family who will be drawn from indoor dining areas to this enticing space.

A popular trend is to expand kitchen space with outdoor grilling areas, stone fireplaces for cooking wood-fired pizza, or stone counters around a grill for food preparation. “Because the kitchen is typically the customary gathering place in the home, it’s a natural extension for family and entertaining guests,” Sekeres says.

Warming accents

A fire feature such as a fireplace, pit, table, pot or ring creates an inviting outdoor focal point as well as a functional spot for entertaining, says Sekeres. A half-circle seat wall or outdoor furniture around a fire pit or table creates a cozy nook, and adding a grill, pub set, chaise or settee can transform a patio into a lounge for gatherings well into the evening and late in the season.

A newer trend is the green or living wall, says Sekeres. Products like the VERSA-Green Plantable Retaining Wall System from VERSA-LOK lets do-it-yourselfers and professional installers alike easily add drama and beauty to retaining walls. “A living wall planted with herbs near an outdoor grill or a landscaped wall of flowers is an eye-catching, eco-friendly and unique use of retaining walls,” says Sekeres.

Adding ambiance

Pathways created with pavers, stepping stones and permeable pavers can join both back and front outdoor living spaces. “New homes and older homes make good use of the longstanding porch design,” says Sekeres. “It’s easy to create a paver walkway linking the front and back or an outdoor kitchen to a lounge area.”

Lighting installed within steps and along paths can also add a unified ambiance to a home’s hardscape. Adding decor such as pergolas, trellises and arbors covered with natural materials like bamboo or fiber screens is great solutions for privacy, shade or continuity of design.

“There’s no limit to the hundreds of ideas to enhance your yard,” says Sekeres. “Many products are easy for the do-it-yourselfer with manufacturer instructions, seminars and other resources. Talk to a landscape professional, visit a home and garden show and landscape supply stores, or search the Internet for inspiration. Take advantage of the outside to easily expand your living space.”

For more information on VERSA-LOK products, visit its website or call (800) 770-4525.

Courtesy of BPT

Professional grilling tips for the perfect backyard barbecue

grilling%20tips%20for%20the%20perfect%20backyard%20barbecueGrilling season has arrived. The unique flavors of sizzling meat on a hot grill are loved by  young and old. Whether you’re an enthusiastic foodie or a simple family chef, it’s time to get outside and perfect the art of the barbecue.

If you’re new to grilling, it’s easy to make some wrong turns. No one wants to end up with dried out chicken, burnt steak or flavorless ribs. When you’re cooking, keep in mind a few tips from the pros from the WETSU BBQ Crew, a competitive barbecue team sponsored by Tree Top.

* Get to know your butcher. He can help you pick out the best cuts of meat for your intended use. For example, fat marbling is one of the most important things to look for when selecting a steak, but too much or too little can ruin the cut. Chicken and pork are leaner meat options. Be ready to answer questions about preparation and cooking, because this information will guide his or her suggestions.

* Think about spices. Once you have your meat, it’s time to visit your spice rack. A harmonious blend of spices will bring out the natural flavor as it cooks on the grill. Some traditional grilling spices include paprika, salt, pepper and garlic, but more exotic spices like cayenne pepper and Cajun seasoning can be used too if you’re feeling adventurous.

* Enhance your flavors. Barbecue pros around the country have a secret that takes their spice mixtures to the next level: fruit juice like Tree Top Apple Juice, made from 100 percent U.S.A. apples. Using juice, you can enhance the flavors of the spices and meat during the grilling process. Apple is a great juice option because the flavor pairs well with sweet, savory or hot spices. Tree Top Apple Juice can also be injected into the meat to keep it juicy and tender.

* Learn how to cook on a grill. When your meat is fully prepped, warm up the grill and get ready to cook. But before you start, keep in mind cooking on a grill is different than cooking on your stove or in your oven. Thin-cut meats cook better with direct heat like a charcoal or gas fire. Chicken, thinly-cut steak and pork chops will cook quickly and evenly. On a gas grill, use all the burners to ensure the heat is even throughout the grill, and grill with the hood down as much as possible. When turning meat, use a spatula or tongs. Don’t poke it, because this allows juices to escape and can result in a tough, dry main dish.

These tips should help you get the perfect grilled foods; but remember: if at first you don’t get it right, try again. With so many different steps and factors to consider, it takes practice to get the perfect succulent barbecue. Why not try this recipe for a tasty start to your grilling season? Your family and friends won’t mind being the taste-testers, and with so many wonderful scents floating through the summer air, your neighbors might be knocking on your door, as well.

Doc’s Beef or Brisket Rub

Ingredients
2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon celery salt
¼ cup kosher salt or sea salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon oriental mustard (dry)
2 tablespoons onion powder
2 tablespoons course ground black pepper

Directions
Mix all dry ingredients well. Rub thoroughly on brisket or heavy beef. Use fresh spray bottle with Tree Top Apple Juice to spray down all dry ingredients on meat. Rub in thoroughly again because the apple juice activates the dry spices. Allow to marinate 4 to 6 hours or overnight if possible. Keep refrigerated.

Cook on smoker or any indirect heat for 6 to 8 hours or until internal temperature reaches 192 F.  Smoker or grill temperature 225 F to 240 F.

Courtesy of BPT

Go-big upgrades that can help a lingering home sell at last



(BPT) – Everyone knows spring and summer are the best months in which to sell a home. If your house has lingered on the market, you may be eager to find ways to freshen its appeal for potential buyers. Perhaps you’re even ready to go big and invest in upgrades that will improve the home’s value, curb appeal and interior allure so much that potential buyers just won’t be able to walk away from it.

If you’re at that point, first figure out how much you can reasonably invest. Will the improvement increase your home value enough to allow you to recoup its cost? Maybe not, but if your priority is a faster sale, return on investment might have a different meaning for you.

Next, look at areas of your home where improvements will have the biggest impact – spots that are the least appealing or those that have the most appeal. Upgrading a less-than-great room can bring it up to snuff, but upgrading a good room could make it absolutely smashing. For example, painting a small bathroom in a bright color could make that cramped space feel bigger. Adding a skylight to your kitchen, bath, or other area in your home however, will really make a splash with abundant natural light and fresh air.

Here’s a room-by-room game plan for high-impact upgrades that could make buyers fall in love with your home:

Anywhere

Buyers are, universally, looking for beauty and value. Any improvement that gives both can directly impact your ability to sell your home. Adding a skylight is a great way to enhance a home’s visual appeal, livability and energy efficiency while improving indoor air quality by introducing much needed fresh air into the home.

Natural light can make a small room look bigger and brighter, and create a more healthful environment. Adding a traditional or tubular skylight to any room in the house brings more natural light into your home. Plus, Energy Star-qualified, solar-powered fresh-air skylights, like those made by Velux America, can provide fresh air through cost-efficient passive ventilation to reduce humidity and stale air, and heating, cooling and lighting costs. Add remote-controlled, solar powered blinds, and you can boost a skylight’s energy efficiency by 39 percent, Velux states.

Finally, this is one high impact investment that can actually put cash back in your pocket. Installation of energy-efficient no leak solar powered fresh air skylights and blinds can qualify you for up to a 30 percent federal tax credit on the -products and installation costs. Visit www.veluxusa.com to learn more and calculate your tax credit for new or replacement skylights.

Kitchen and bathroom

Any Realtor will tell you great kitchens and bathrooms can sell a house. If yours are only so-so, they could be what’s standing in the way of getting an offer. If you’ve already done the basics – cleaning and decluttering, repainting and replacing dated cabinet hardware – it may be time to pull out the big guns.

New appliances and fixtures will cost you a few thousand, but can go a long way toward wooing buyers. New appliances look great, are more energy-efficient, and provide buyers the peace of mind knowing they won’t face repair or replacement costs any time soon. New fixtures such as rainfall shower heads and touch-free faucets add an element of luxury to the most common bathroom.

Adding a tile backsplash or new wood-look laminate flooring in the kitchen, and new tile floor in the bath can also create a big impact – and for less money if you do the work yourself. Replacing lower-quality or older countertops is also an eye-catching upgrade. The trick is to find the improvement that will have the biggest visual impact in your space.

Living room/family

When buyers enter your home, chances are the living room or family room will be one of the first rooms they see. Their impression of that room can set the tone for how they perceive the rest of the house. Again, assuming you’ve done the basics – painting, window treatments and accessories – a major upgrade in this room can have a winning impact.

If your home already has a fireplace, take a close look at it. What can you do to make it more appealing? Does it need a new facade? Larger gas logs or a better blower? Can you upgrade the mantel? If your home lacks a fireplace, adding one can be a great selling point. It’s possible to add a gas fireplace for less than $5,000 in most homes. Adding a gas insert to a wood-burning fireplace is even cheaper.

Courtesy of BPT

Easier mortgage processes, positive attitudes inspire renters to buy

(BPT) – Owning a home has been an integral element of the American Dream for generations. But is ownership right for you? And if it is, how do you know if it’s the right time in your life to purchase a home?

Thirty-two percent of American households are renters, according to the National Multi Housing Council. Generally, more people younger than 30 occupy rentals, while the percentage of people who own their home increases with age, NMHC statistics indicate. People decide to buy a home for many reasons, but the recent real estate market downturn caused many Americans to rethink their assumptions about renting and owning.

Even with many real estate experts predicting the market will continue to improve, it pays to carefully evaluate how home ownership does – or doesn’t – figure into your long-term financial goals. If you’ve been renting and wondering if it’s time to apply for a mortgage and buy your own home, consider these points:

1. Renting isn’t always the cheaper option, and comparing your monthly rent payment directly to a mortgage payment won’t give you a clear picture of the financial impact of either option. Online calculators, like Guaranteed Rate’s rent vs. buy online calculator, can give you a better understanding of the comparison. With mortgage rates consistently low and rental markets competitive across the country, real estate experts agree that in most major metropolitan areas it will still be cheaper in the long run to buy than continue to rent.

2. While the days of zero-money-down mortgages are essentially over, it’s a misconception that you need a huge amount of money to buy a house. Yes, you’ll almost certainly need a down payment, but different lenders will require different percentages. Research your mortgage options before you begin house hunting so you’ll know how much you’ll need to save in order to secure a mortgage – and the home of your dreams.

3. Although the mortgage application process is detailed, it doesn’t have to be drawn out and tedious. Many lenders now allow you to initiate the process online, and Guaranteed Rate has recently overhauled its website to allow borrowers to apply for a loan, track the approval process and receive their home loans all online. The eighth-largest retail mortgage company in the U.S. allows customers to choose and customize their loans, submit an application and receive an official approval letter all at www.guaranteedrate.com. Automating the application process compresses the traditional time frame from days – sometimes, even weeks – into minutes. As part of the process, applicants also receive the credit reports from all three major credit bureaus.

4. Buying a home affords you the opportunity to really grow your roots, but the flipside is that in order to get the most out of your investment, you need to stay put for a while. If you anticipate being in your current job and living in your current town for at least five years, the long-term investment of buying a house will make more sense for you. If you anticipate a job change or a move within a few years, you may want to hold off on buying a house. The good news is, doing so gives you more time to save toward a down payment so you’ll look even more appealing to lenders when you are ready to buy.

While only you can decide if homeownership is right for you and your family – and if now is the right time to buy – keep in mind a few statistics from Trulia.com: 42 percent of renters say they regret not having bought a home, and 31 percent say they want to buy a home in the next two years.

Courtesy of BPT