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

Follow the trend and give your kitchen and bath a mend


give%20your%20kitchen%20and%20bath%20a%20mend
Does your home feel tired, worn or outdated? Do you walk into rooms and wish they looked more like the pictures in magazines? You’re not alone. Many homeowners who have put off home improvement projects for some time have decided to turn their dreaming into reality – especially in the kitchen and bathroom. 

 
Bathroom bliss
Bathroom remodels have moved into the top spot as the most common remodeling project, according to Remodeling Magazine’s Cost vs. Value Report.  What are most homeowners looking to accomplish first? According to a National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) survey, adding a linen closet, marble or granite double vanity and a shower with multiple showerheads top the list.
“It makes sense,” adds Jack Suvak, senior director of market research and insights at Moen. “The bathroom is often the only room for ‘you time,’ so homeowners want to create a luxurious and relaxing retreat." 

 
To add a bit of beauty and bliss in the bath, start with the countertop. Updating the current material with a solid-surface option will make an instant visual update. Next, choose a stylish new faucet, such as the Moen Boardwalk faucet, to accentuate the area. The elegant collection, available at Lowe’s, features a blend of vintage design and classic lines. The suite is available in some of today’s most popular finishes, Chrome and Spot Resist Brushed Nickel which is a unique finish from Moen which does exactly what it says – resists fingerprints and water spots.

 
Next, think storage. While a linen closet tops the "wanted” list, bath accessories are an easier and more affordable way to add additional storage and organization. The Boardwalk collection features towel bars, towel rings, robe hooks and paper holders in coordinating designs to complete the look of your new bath.  
Finally, update your shower to create a relaxing and spa-like environment.  Depending on your budget, you can create the ultimate retreat with a vertical spa, or simply upgrade your current showerhead.  Moen offers a variety of showering choices, so whether you prefer a rainshower, handheld shower, wall-mount showerhead – or even a combination – there’s an option in any price range.

 

give%20your%20kitchen%20and%20bath%20a%20mend
Form and function in the kitchen 
Once you’ve updated your bath; the kitchen, not far behind in appeal, is a rewarding home upgrade.   Similar to the bath, upgrading countertops – which consume a large area of the kitchen – is an ideal place to start. While laminate is the most cost-effective choice, options such as solid-surface, marble or granite, offer an upscale look, added durability and functionality. In addition, these upgrades allow you to enhance your sink with an under-mount version, such as the Moen Caldwell double bowl sink, for a seamless look.  

 
Finish off the counter area with a high-end kitchen faucet. High-arc pulldown styles are the fastest growing kitchen faucet category – and the new Harlon faucet is one of the first at Lowe’s to feature Moen’s Reflex pulldown system, which offers high-quality performance with secure retraction, exceptional range of motion and generous reach.  Plus, it’s available in the exclusive Moen Spot Resist Stainless finish.

 
“Reflex is the result of a two-year, in-home research study,” explains Suvak. “The new system allows homeowners to experience a truly intuitive kitchen faucet that responds to their movements and helps them to accomplish everyday tasks, while maintaining its beautiful form.”

 
Finally, flooring, as one of the largest surface areas in the kitchen, is an ideal upgrade that can set the tone of the room from the bottom up. And, today’s flooring manufacturers offer resilient flooring in a variety of materials, colors and patterns to meet your functionality, style and price needs. 

 
So, no matter what your vision, follow the trend like other homeowners, and soon you can turn your dreams of a new kitchen or bath into a reality. For more information visit www.moen.com.

Courtesy of BPT

Summer entertaining made easy



(BPT) – The weather is warming up and summer is right around the corner. From holiday celebrations to road trips, family vacations to block parties, it’s the time of year for cookouts. Make all of your summer cuisine extraordinary no matter what the occasion with these five simple tips:

* Kick seasoning up a notch – Spice up your main dish and sides by adding bold flavors through marinades and dips. Pair grilled shrimp with a homemade barbecue sauce or create a delicious horseradish sour cream for seasoned waffle fries.

* Create cutting-edge comfort food – When menu planning for summer get-togethers, add a twist to a classic recipe. It doesn’t have to be a large departure from a family favorite; try swapping out a regular hamburger bun with artisanal bread or include sweet potato fries as a side dish rather than traditional french fries.

* Add some color to your meal – Never underestimate the importance of an aesthetically pleasing meal. For an easy summertime side, try Alexia Sauté Reds – a delicious combination of roasted red potatoes, baby portabella mushrooms, whole green beans and onions bathed in thyme-infused 100 percent olive oil. This tasty side is made on the stovetop in less than 12 minutes.

* Incorporate the flavors of the season into your cocktails – Use seasonally fresh fruits and vegetables as more than a garnish to create memorable cocktails. Start with your spirit of choice and try the following refreshing flavor combinations: basil and grapefruit, apple and sage or rosemary and lime.

* Fill the grill – Simplify cooking – and clean-up – by doing as much cooking as possible in your outdoor kitchen. Sides such as Alexia Waffle Fries or Panko Breaded Onion Rings make summer entertaining a breeze when prepared on the grill and are delectable complements to a variety of grill-friendly fare, from steaks and sweet corn to barbecue chicken and asparagus (and beyond). To prepare, simply create a foil grilling tray using two pieces of aluminum foil by crumpling the top piece, creating an edge around the bottom smooth piece to make a tray, and grilling on medium for about 20 minutes.

Sophisticated summer menus are easy to create with help from Alexia Foods, a line of premium, all-natural frozen potatoes, breads and side dishes. For delicious seasonal recipes, visit www.alexiafoods.com.

Grilled Shrimp with Homemade Barbecue Sauce

Cook Time: 40 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Grilled Shrimp Ingredients:

16 large jumbo shrimp

½ cup olive oil

Kosher salt

Fresh ground pepper

Homemade Barbecue Sauce Ingredients:

1 slice bacon

1 bunch fresh thyme

Extra-virgin olive oil

2 garlic cloves, chopped

2 cups ketchup

¼ cup brown sugar

¼ cup molasses

2 tablespoons red or white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon dry mustard

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon paprika (or smoked paprika if available)

Shrimp Directions:

Use a pair of scissors or paring knife to slit the backs of the shrimp and remove the vein. Combine the shrimp and olive oil in a bowl and toss evenly to coat. Cover and keep refrigerated until ready to grill. Prepare homemade barbecue sauce (directions below).

Prior to heating, spray grates of a large outdoor grill using PAM® Grilling, specially formulated for no-stick performance at higher temperatures. Next, heat the grill to medium-hot. Season shrimp with salt and pepper and place on the grill. Baste with the homemade barbecue sauce and grill for 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Brush with more sauce just before serving.

Homemade Barbecue Sauce Directions:

Wrap the bacon slice around the bunch of thyme and tie with kitchen twine so you have a nice bundle. Heat about 2 tablespoons of oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the bacon-wrapped thyme and cook slowly for 3 to 4 minutes to render the bacon fat and give the sauce a nice smoky taste. Add the remaining ingredients, give the sauce a stir and turn the heat down to low. Cook for 20 minutes to meld the flavors. Once the sauce is done cooking, remove the thyme bundle and discard. Take about 1 ½ cups of the sauce and reserve for serving alongside the shrimp. Pair with Alexia Sweet Potato Puffs or try grilling Alexia Waffle Cut Sweet Potato Seasoned Fries.

Grilling Directions for Alexia Waffle Fries:

Preheat gas grill to medium (400-450 F.). Next, create a foil grilling tray using two sheets of heavy duty aluminum foil – crumple one sheet of foil and place it top of the second piece of smooth foil, folding up the edges of the bottom smooth piece to create a tray. Arrange waffle fries in a single layer on the grilling tray, place on grill and close the lid. Cook to desired color and texture, turning once or twice during the cook time, approximately 20 to 25 minutes.

Courtesy of BPT

Tips to navigate the real estate landscape and find the perfect home


(BPT) – For most Americans your home is the biggest ticket item you will ever purchase. It’s no wonder that people can take months, and sometimes even years, to find the perfect home. When you walk into a house that’s on the market, many times the homeowner or real estate agent has “staged” it to ensure that you focus on the home’s greatest assets and overlook its flaws. Your job is to look past all that to see if this house is right for you.

Annette Lawrence, academic director of design programs, at The Art Institute of Ohio – Cincinnati, and Marissa Alexander, interior design program coordinator at The Art Institutes International Minnesota, offer these tips to navigate the real estate landscape.

Before you ever step out of your current home, make a list says Alexander. Your list should include one column for “must haves” and another for “wants.” “The wants you can compromise on,” advises Alexander. If you know what you are looking for and what you can’t live without, it’s a lot easier to find it.

Many people get caught up on the basic aesthetics of a home. “The paint is not a big deal,” says Lawrence. “Countertops are not a reason to choose a home or cross it off your list.” The shag carpeting can be ripped out and replaced. These are all easy fixes.

You should beware of the fixes that can break the bank. Will the roof need to be replaced? What about other big-ticket items like the heating and cooling system? Does the perimeter of the house slope toward it? That could mean flooding during a heavy rain. And what about the structural integrity of the foundation? A good inspector will spot the red flags and could keep you from making a costly mistake. That inspector will also check the chimney, the insulation in the attic and the gutters and spouts.

And there are things you can check on before you call in an inspector. “If you want to know whether a floor is warping, just take a ball and roll it across the room,” says Alexander. If it doesn’t roll straight across, it could signal issues with the foundation.

Figure out what kind of layout you want for your house. “Ask yourself what kind of floor plan you like,” says Lawrence. “Those are the kinds of things that are costly to change.” If the floor plan is right for you, the cosmetics will be a fairly easy and inexpensive fix.

While you may think that this home purchase will be one of many, you should consider the possibility that this could be your home for decades to come. That’s why Lawrence is a big proponent of finding a home that allows you to “age in place.” She suggests you find a home with a first floor master bedroom and laundry room. Also consider how many steps there are from the driveway into the home. Are the hallways and doorways wide enough for a wheelchair or a walker?

Even if you do not think you’ll need these accommodations, consider your home’s “visitability.” If you have elderly relatives or friends with disabilities, are they going to be able to come to your new home? “My grandmother was one of my most frequent guests,” explains Lawrence. “I had low lighting and had painted the walls dark colors. Consequently, she couldn’t see too well when visiting.”

Courtesy of BPT

How to turn must-do home improvements into things of beauty

When it comes to home improvement, you can spend money in two basic ways: on things that make your home look better and things that make it function better. Under the first category, you’ll find all the things you want to do, like replacing narrow casement windows with a lovely bay window. Under the second, falls all the things you must do, like replacing those drafty windows with something more energy-efficient.

When “want to” and “have to” meet, they create the opportunity to make a smart buying decision – and choose an upgrade that will look good and improve the livability of your home. The key to making smart home improvement decisions is to recognize these opportunities and take full advantage of them.

Here are a few “have to” improvements that have the potential to turn into a good-looking, energy-efficient, enjoyment-enhancing “want to.”

Replacing the hot water heater.

You probably don’t care what a new hot water heater looks like sitting in your garage or basement – or wherever it resides in your home. But the right replacement water heater can help your house achieve a lovely shade of green. High energy-efficiency water heaters can help reduce energy usage, thereby trimming your energy bills and your home’s environmental impact. Solar water heating systems take the beauty a step further by using the power of the sun, collected through low-profile solar panels on the roof, to heat water – at a monthly savings that’s about 80 percent less than the cost of traditional heaters.

Getting some light in here.

Do you really need a bunch of scientific studies to tell you that a home filled with natural light just feels better? Probably not. Illuminating your home with natural light is a smart buying decision on multiple levels. First, you don’t pay to power the sun. Second, natural light delivers a host of mood-enhancing benefits. If you have the wall space, by all means add some windows.

But for rooms where a window is impossible (like a powder room) or where you don’t want to sacrifice privacy (like a master bathroom) a tubular skylight is a good alternative. Some are easy enough to install that a seasoned do-it-yourselfer could accomplish the task. They cost less than traditional skylights and bring natural light to hard-to-light areas like closets, hallways and other small spaces.

Getting some air in here.

Just as natural sun is good for your mood, ventilation can be good for your health. An Energy Star qualified venting skylight is a great way to passively vent stale, moist air from inside your home, especially from baths and kitchens. While some skylights are “fixed,” those that do open can be controlled by a remote to open when you want fresh air and close when you want to retain warmth. They can also close automatically in case of rain. In addition, they introduce free light into your home. Adding blinds – also remote-controlled – can help you better control the amount of sun a skylight admits into your home. And blinds are not just functional – you can get them in colors and patterns to complement your decor while increasing energy efficiency. Compared to other venting solutions, a skylight is a relatively low-cost, great-looking way to address ventilation issues while adding drama to a space. Log on to www.veluxusa.com to learn more about skylights.

When one door opens …

Beat up, weathered garage and front doors not only look bad, they can be a source of air leaks that make your heating, ventilation and cooling system work harder. Exterior doors aren’t something you buy every day, but they can have a big impact on how your home looks and on its energy efficiency. They can definitely be a smart buying decision if you opt for doors that not only look good, but are also highly rated for energy efficiency. If you’re not sure how to choose, look online, where you’ll find guides for buying garage doors and front doors.

Courtesy of BPT

Dining outdoors? Tips for keeping food safe and delicious

(BPT) – Al fresco dining is one of the great pleasures of warm weather. Whether you’re hosting a neighborhood barbecue or an intimate dinner party on your deck, outdoor dining is a great way to savor good food, company and the great outdoors. To ensure your meals are safe and enjoyable, it’s important to know how to prepare, transport and store food for outdoor eating.

The Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) offers some advice for safely handling food when you’re dining outdoors this summer:

Purchasing

Warm weather brings a bounty of fresh produce, and a trip to the local farmers market can make a nice addition to your outdoor meal. Food safety starts in the field. It’s important to get to know the growers selling produce at your local farm stand, and ask about their farming practices. How do they keep their products free from bacterial pathogens and other contaminants? Farmers may also have great tips for storing produce, testing for ripeness and even ways to prepare the fruits and veggies they sell.

IFT spokesperson and food safety expert, Don Schaffner, PhD, says that when you’re purchasing produce, make sure it’s free of mold, bruises or blemishes where bacterial pathogens can grow. Many grocery stores offer freshly cut, packaged produce for customers seeking nutritious convenience foods. Freshly cut vegetables and fruit need proper temperature control to prevent the growth of bacteria that cause foodborne illness.

Prepping

Before preparing food, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. Make sure all prep utensils such as cutting boards, dishes and countertops are clean before preparing each food item.

Dirt, dust and pathogenic microbes can linger on produce. It’s important to wash fresh produce before consuming it. The only exception is are pre-bagged salads and leafy greens, as experts advise that additional washing of ready-to-eat green salads is not likely to enhance safety. Thoroughly washing in cold water will suffice for most fruits and vegetables, but some types of produce require special handling. Wash spinach or salad greens in a bowl of water and rinse them gently to remove dirt and other contaminants. –

Give extra attention to fruits with stems, such as apples, pears and peaches. You may be tempted to forego washing fruit with a rind, since you won’t be eating the rind. But, it’s still important to wash oranges, avocados, melons, cantaloupe, etc. – pathogens can linger in unwashed crevices and transfer to your hands or the knife you use to cut the fruit. In addition, wash items you’ll peel – such as carrots and cucumbers – for the same reason.

Grilling

If you’ll be grilling at home, remember to always marinate meat in the refrigerator, never on the kitchen counter or outdoors. Discard any extra marinade that’s touched raw meat.

Grill food thoroughly, using a thermometer to ensure the proper internal temperature: 145 F for steaks and fish, 160 F for pork, hot dogs and hamburgers, and 165 F for poultry. Keep finished meats hot until you serve by moving them to the side of the grill rack, away from the coals or highest flame on your gas grill. Avoid cross contamination by using separate serving plates and utensils for different meats and vegetables.

If you’ll be grilling away from home – in a park, tailgating at a sporting event or on a camping trip – consider purchasing pre-formed patties for burgers and pre-cut poultry. This minimizes the amount of handling meat requires and can help minimize the risk of bacteria and cross contamination.

Transporting

A picnic in the park can be great fun for everyone, but it’s important to assure your food arrives safely along with your family and guests. Follow smart food packing guidelines. Keep meats, including lunch meats and raw meats, cheeses and condiments cold in insulated, soft-sided bags or coolers with freezer gel packs.

Food needs to be stored at 40 F or colder to reduce the risk of pathogen growth, so limit the number of times you open the cooler. Never allow food to sit for more than two hours at temperatures below 90 F, and no more than an hour when temperatures exceed 90 F. Throw away food that’s been sitting out too long.

Securely package raw meat, seafood and poultry to ensure the juices don’t contaminate other foods. Pack only the amount of perishable food that you think will be eaten. Beverages and perishable foods should travel in separate containers and coolers, especially if you’ll be transporting raw meat.

When it’s time to go home, don’t reuse packaging material that has touched raw meats or meat juices. Make sure perishable leftovers stay cold on the trip home. Avoid taking home uncooked leftovers.

Courtesy of BPT