9 Must-Haves for Low-Maintenance Kitchen Cabinets

9 Must-Haves for Low-Maintenance Kitchen Cabinets

Save valuable elbow grease and time with these ideas for easy-to-maintain cabinets.

The heart of the home may also be the toughest room to keep clean. Every surface in your kitchen is susceptible to crumbs, dirt, stains and splatters. This is especially true of cabinets. Fortunately, there are practical ways to keep your cabinet maintenance on the lighter side. With ideas like choosing fewer decorative details and picking the right color, these nine tips will make your cabinets easier to maintain.

1. Choose a door style with minimal detail. Raised-panel door styles have nooks and crannies that are magnets for dust and dirt. Shaker-style and slab door fronts don’t, so you won’t have to spend time scrubbing every recess of your door fronts.

If you’re designing a traditional kitchen and want a more decorative door style, select a stain or paint that has a glaze. The glaze will fill the doors’ cracks and corners and better hide the dust and dirt that your cabinet doors will collect.

2. Opt for flush cabinet ends. You normally have two options for finishing the ends of your cabinets: flush ends or matching ends. Flush ends (above) are plywood ends that match the color of your cabinets. They are smooth and sleek, which means you can run a cloth over it with a few swipes. They can certainly speed up cleaning.

Matching ends feature a panel with the same style as the door fronts, and while they can bring elegance and character to your kitchen, you face the same maintenance issues with matching ends as you do with raised-panel doors. There’s simply more to scrub.

3. Cut the trimmings. Designer details like crown molding, corbels, decorative legs and light rail molding add more to love but also more to clean, especially ornate styles.

There are other designer touches you can use that require less maintenance. Try a colorful cabinet paint, eccentric lighting or colored bar stools, like in this modern kitchen.

4. Pick a stain instead of a paint. Stains and paints have pros and cons. They can both show crumbs and fingerprints, and paint definitely shows food stains and splatters.

That said, a stain is easier to touch up than paint. You can give a scratched cabinet stain a quick spruce-up with a matching permanent marker. It’s often harder with paint for two reasons. First, it’s hard to find a marker that closely matches a specific paint. Often a touch-up kit from the cabinet manufacturer is needed. Second, paint doesn’t take touch-ups the same way that stains do. You’re more likely to notice a touch-up on paint.

5. Go for a grain with a dark stain. If you’re set on a dark cabinet stain, select a wood species that features the grain, such as oak or hickory. Grains don’t show scratches, stains and crumbs as much as a clean wood species like maple does. It’s also harder to tell that a cabinet stain has been touched up when the surface has grains.

6. Invest in hardware. If you want fewer fingerprints and less wear and tear on your door fronts, purchase door pulls and knobs for all of your cabinets. They help preserve the integrity of your cabinets’ surfaces.

Steer clear of stainless steel and chrome hardware. They show fingerprints and water spots and are harder to clean. Oil-rubbed bronze, satin bronze, polished nickel, brushed nickel and white hardware are the cream of the crop as far as easy maintenance goes. Choose the look that best suits the style of your kitchen.

7. Avoid glass door fronts. They may be windows to your kitchen’s soul, but they’re also extra surfaces to clean. They manage to attract their fair share of dust, dirt and smudges. Dirt can build up easily on glass door fronts that feature mullions. You also have to keep whatever is behind those glass doors tidy.

One benefit to glass door fronts is how inviting they can make your kitchen space feel. Luckily, there’s more than one way to design a warm and welcoming kitchen. If you want a low-maintenance alternative to glass door fronts, stick with lighter cabinet stains like golden browns. They can make your guests feel just as cozy as glass door fronts do.

8. Reduce open shelving. Open shelving is a great canvas for displaying your favorite decor and cookware, whether it’s on a wall, on an island or at the end of cabinets. But it takes more time and effort to ensure that these spaces are dusted and organized. The upkeep can become overwhelming along with your daily tasks.

To shorten your to-do list, place your decor on necessary surfaces like dining tables and countertops instead of unnecessary cabinet shelves. You can also use pillows, chairs, bar stools and lighting as decorative touches.

9. Protect your sink cabinet from moisture. This is more of a preventative measure — it will help you avoid issues down the road. There are a couple of ways to help protect your sink cabinet from moisture. You can order the cabinet with an all-plywood construction (most semicustom and prefabricated cabinets are constructed of a mixture of pressed wood and plywood). An all-plywood construction makes the cabinet less penetrable. You can also purchase a cabinet mat, which looks like a tray and is placed at the base of the sink cabinet. It will serve as a moisture barrier and catch any liquid leaks or spills.

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How to Organize and Beautify Your Entry Hall in 7 Days

How to Organize and Beautify Your Entry Hall in 7 Days

Take your entry from scuffed up to spiffed up, restoring total cleanliness and order in just a week.

Houzz Contributor, Laura Gaskill

A neat, chic entryway gives visitors a positive first impression and makes coming home a pleasure. But between the daily influx of mail and a household’s worth of coats, shoes and bags, this space is often one of the most challenging to keep clean and clutter free. Give your entryway a fresh start with this weeklong plan to clean and declutter from top to bottom — and learn to maintain a serene space long-term.

Day 1: Address the outside.

Cleaning tasks: The entrance to your home really begins outside your front door, so let’s start here. Sweep your porch or stoop, including the siding, and wash the exterior windows at the front of your home. Using a soft cloth, wipe down your mailbox, doorbell, porch lights and front door.

Decluttering tasks: Remove everything that doesn’t belong on the porch and find another home for it. Toss dead plants and store empty pots elsewhere.

Day 2: Clear the decks.

Decluttering tasks: Think of your entryway as a busy but temporary holding area — like a train station, not a permanent storage area. Scoop up all of the mail, shoes, coats, scarves, cell phone chargers, tote bags and so on, and move them away where you can deal with them more easily.

Find a permanent home for the items you remove from the entry — you should be able to do this for nearly everything, except perhaps your keys. Even if you think you can’t find another place to store that jacket or bag, challenge yourself to find a place … anywhere but the entry!

Cleaning tasks: Once all of the stuff has been removed, cleaning will be much easier. Vacuum and mop the floors, vacuum cobwebs from the corners, clean mirrors and wipe scuff marks off the walls.

Day 3: Bring back the essentials.

Decluttering tasks: Rather than keep all your shoes and coats by the door, try keeping only the one or two you use most often. Store the rest elsewhere.

The same goes for bags, sunglasses and other accessories — if you find this difficult, try taking a picture of your entryway looking fresh and clean with only the absolute minimum amount of stuff in it, and use it as a reminder of why it’s worth the effort.

If your entry has room, your essentials may include a rug, a boot tray or bin to corral shoes, a surface for mail and keys, hooks for coats and bags, a place to sit while putting on and taking off shoes, and adequate lighting.

Day 4: Tackle a problem zone.

Decluttering tasks: If you have a large household, consider adding extra closed storage — piles of coats out in the open look messy, even when the coats are neatly hung on hooks. If you have children, make sure the storage is easily accessible and clearly marked.

Cleaning tasks: The biggest cleaning challenge in the entry is dirt tracked in from outdoors. Rugs are your first line of defense against street dirt, so make sure yours are in good shape. If your area rugs are dirty, launder them; if they are getting worn out, consider buying new ones. Instead of choosing a typical doormat-size rug by default, consider if a larger rug or runner would better suit your space — a larger rug has more dirt-trapping power.

Day 5: Improve the flow.

Decluttering tasks: Step outside your home for a moment and come back in through the front door, taking the time to really notice how you naturally move into the space. Is your furniture arranged in a way that is convenient, or do you nearly bump into something on the way in?

Would it be easier to toss your keys on a floating shelf by the door instead of taking four steps to a bigger table down the hall? Today is the day to try something new.

Day 6: Beautify.

Cleaning tasks: Wipe down surfaces; polish wood furniture.

Decluttering tasks: Pay attention to what is kept out in the open in your entryway and what is behind closed doors. You can choose to keep your cutest rain boots and cheery umbrellas on display, and hide the less attractive gear. Add something fresh and pretty, like a bouquet of flowers, to bring your space to life.

If you don’t have a closet or cupboard for hiding utilitarian items, use baskets. But beware of going overboard and providing too much storage — it will only get filled up and then overfilled.

Sometimes a minimalist setup actually helps reduce clutter, because it forces you to put things away where they actually go instead of plunking them down in the entry. Strike a balance that feels right to you.

Day 7: Master a daily routine.

Cleaning tasks: A quick daily sweep will help keep dirt from accumulating in the entry. Storing a broom and dustpan or a small stick vacuum in the closet nearest the door will make things easier.

Decluttering tasks: Get in the habit of opening your mail as soon as you walk in the door, while standing over the recycling bin. At the end of each day, put away anything sitting around in the entry that doesn’t belong.

5 Ways to Boost Your Curb Appeal for the Fall Selling Season

5 Ways to Boost Your Curb Appeal for the Fall Selling Season

Sellers looking to get the best price know that curb appeal plays a huge role in making the sale, even in the fall when the leaves begin to fade. Here are five simple ways to make the most of what fall has to offer and boost your curb appeal.

Sellers looking to get the best price know that curb appeal plays a huge role in getting buyers through the door. Once the flowers fade and the temperature drops, however, it can be easy to overlook your outdoor space altogether. Here are five simple ways to make the most of what fall has to offer and give your home the edge it needs for a quick sale.

1. Improve Your Entry

With every potential buyer passing through your front door, your entryway is critical to a good first impression. Cleaning the door, sweeping the stoop, and ridding the area of dirt and cobwebs can be enough to improve the overall look of your home, but for maximum impact, lay a new doormat and replace or paint any rusted or corroded hardware, mailboxes, or light fixtures. If you’re feeling adventurous, painting your front door a different shade can be a great selling feature that can be done in an afternoon.

Traditional brick colonial dressed up for fall with colorful mums and harvest gourds

2. Let the Light Shine

While the outdoors is the natural habitat for all manner of insects, they don’t need to reside in your outdoor light fixtures. Dirty lights and windows will not only reduce your nighttime curb appeal but can also affect how much natural light makes it through to the inside of your home. A thorough cleaning of light fixtures and windows will boost the overall impression buyers have of your home and can affect their impression of the rest of the home. For added impact, place inexpensive solar lights along the border of any gardens or walkways to illuminate your yard at night.

3. Love Your Landscape

Given that landscaping can amount for up to 15 percent of a home’s value, keeping your yard in tip-top shape is more important in the fall than ever. Fall colors and cascading leaves may provide a romantic vision, but may leave a potential buyer focusing on how much raking they will have to do. When seasonal plants fade away, be sure to cut back the dead growth and ensure your yard is regularly raked. Even if your yard doesn’t require frequent mowing, be sure to edge walkways with a straight-edge for a clean-cut look, and add some quick color by placing pots of seasonal plants in gardens and on porches.

Raking fall leaves with rake

4. Whisk the Water Away

The fall tends to bring increased precipitation, which can be a deal-breaker for buyers if they feel water penetration will be a problem. To prevent pooling water, be sure the grading around the foundation slopes away from the house and use downspout extenders, if necessary, to move water out into the yard. Clean the gutters regularly, and take a good walk around your home after a heavy rain to identify any problem areas that may allow water into the house, like door and window caulking.

5. Don’t Overdo the Decor

Finally, while the bounty of fall can be used to enhance the beauty of your home, be wary of overdoing the decor. Too many Halloween decorations, for example, can easily detract from the beauty of your home. Try instead for colorful mums, gourds, and pumpkins in a variety of colors and sizes that can provide earthy variety without overdoing it.

Regardless of the weather, the fall is still a hot time to sell a home, and can be an incredible opportunity to make a lucrative sale. Keep in mind that most buyers will either view your home online or drive by before making a decision to visit, so a sharp curb appeal can help keep your home above the competition.

5 Things That Might Make Your Home Insurance Null and Void

5 Things That Might Make Your Home Insurance Null and Void

Home insurance is essential, regardless of your house’s size or location. However, even if you have homeowners coverage in place, there are many reasons why your home insurance policy may become null and void. Here are a few to watch out for.

Guest post by Ryan Hanley

Home insurance is essential, regardless of your house’s size or location. However, even if you have homeowners coverage in place, there are many reasons why your home insurance policy may become null and void. Here are a few to watch out for.

1. Keep Receipts of Your Belongings

 What good is home insurance if you can’t get the coverage you need for all of your possessions? Ultimately, you’ll need receipts to verify property ownership—along with when you purchased property and how much you paid for it—to your home insurance provider. If you file a home insurance claim for a lost, stolen or damaged item and cannot verify property ownership, your policy could be voided.

Typically, a home insurance policy offers coverage for a wide range of property. But it is important to note that coverage limitations may be in place. This means you probably won’t get the full value for an original Van Gogh painting, 5-carat round cut ring or other expensive or rare property stored in your house based on the coverage limitations in a “standard” homeowners policy.

If you keep artwork, jewelry or other high-priced items in your house, you should get these belongings appraised. By doing so, you’ll have receipts that verify that you own these items and can get full compensation for them if they are stolen, damaged or destroyed.

It often pays to keep an inventory of your belongings, too. This inventory can be updated periodically based on property that you buy or sell.

Furthermore, if you’re ever uncertain about whether to add or subtract items from your home insurance policy, you can reach out to an independent insurance agent for assistance. This home insurance expert can provide insights into what it takes to fully insure all of your belongings, at all times.

2. Avoid Submitting an Excess Number of Claims

Most homeowners are unlikely to submit a home insurance claim in a given year, which is reflected in recent data from the Insurance Information Institute (III). In fact, about 5 percent of all homeowners submitted a home insurance claim in 2014, according to the III. Among these claims, property damage accounted for 97 percent.

On the other hand, a hurricane, tornado or other natural disasters can strike without notice. If one of these natural disasters occurs, a homeowner probably will need to submit a home insurance claim as quickly as possible.

When it comes to home insurance, you should only submit a claim when it is absolutely necessary to do so. A home insurance company reserves the right to void a homeowner’s coverage if a policyholder submits an excess number of claims over the life of his or her policy. If you submit an unusually high number of claims within a given time frame, your home insurance provider may view you as a “risky” homeowner and void your coverage.

 

3. Report Major Home Renovations

Do you want to add a new bedroom to your house? Or maybe you plan to install a swimming pool in your backyard? If you complete home renovations and fail to notify your home insurance provider, you may put your homeowners coverage in danger.

Property changes may impact the home insurance coverage that you need, as well as your home insurance premiums. Also, in some situations, property changes may cause your insurer to void your policy.

There are many “major” home renovations that you should tell your insurer about, and these include:

  • Alarm System: An alarm system may require an upfront investment. But over time, this system may help you lower your home insurance premiums as well as increase your home security.
  • Roof: A home insurance company is unlikely to cover the costs of upgrading your current roof or installing a new one. On the other hand, an improved roof helps lower the risk of weather-related and structural damage to your house, thereby reducing the risk of a potential home insurance claim down the line.
  • Swimming Pool: Swimming pools create liability risks, and in some cases, an insurance company may require you to purchase additional coverage for your swimming pool; alternatively, your insurance company may drop your policy.

When in doubt about whether a home renovation project is a “major” endeavor, it always is better to err on the side of caution. If you plan to embark on a major home renovation project, you should reach out to your insurance company in advance. That way, you can guarantee your home and personal belongings are fully covered before, during and after the renovation project is completed.

4. Be Proactive When Traveling

Leaving a home vacant for more than a few days can be risky. For example, consider what might happen if you embark on a two-week winter vacation. You may leave your home empty for the duration of your vacation. Meanwhile, if a pipe freezes and bursts while you’re away, the associated property damage could be significant.

In the aforementioned scenario, you probably won’t know about the property damage associated with the burst pipe until you return home. As a result, your home insurance company may view you as a “negligent” homeowner and is unlikely to cover the full costs of your property damage.

If you plan to take an extended vacation, you should contact your home insurance provider ahead of time. A home insurance policy usually has limits about how long you can leave your residence unoccupied and still be protected by homeowners coverage. Additionally, most insurance companies have policies in place about the steps that you need to follow if your house is going to be vacant for 30 days or more.

Lastly, don’t forget to contact a friend or family member to keep an eye on your house during your trip. With extra help from a friend or family member, you can further reduce the risk of burglaries and other potential home issues while your house is vacant.

5. Avoid Deliberate Property Damage

Let’s face it – no one wants to pay the steep costs associated with home improvement or maintenance projects. In some instances, homeowners might consider causing property damage in the hopes that their home insurer will cover their property replacement or repair costs. Yet deliberate property damage is not covered under a homeowners policy.

Deliberate property damage is a form of insurance fraud—a serious problem for home insurance providers and homeowners alike. Consider the following statistics from the Insurance Information Institute (III):

  • Most insurance companies use antifraud technology, and 76 percent of insurers said detecting claims fraud is the primary use of their antifraud technology.
  • 90 percent of insurance companies that leverage antifraud technology use automated red flags or business rules to detect fraud, and more than half employ predictive modeling.

New antifraud technology makes it increasingly likely that a homeowner who tries to beat the system will get caught. Plus, the penalties associated with deliberate property damage and other forms of home insurance fraud are substantial. Many states classify home insurance fraud as a felony, and those who are convicted of fraud may face financial and legal consequences as well.

 

Home insurance is a tricky subject, particularly for those who are uncertain about what types of coverage they need. Fortunately, independent insurance agents are available to teach you about home insurance.

An independent insurance agent possesses comprehensive home insurance expertise and is happy to explain different home insurance coverage. And if you ever have home insurance questions, an independent insurance agent is ready to respond to your queries at any time.

Connect with an independent insurance agent today, and you can purchase and maintain the right homeowners coverage.

 

Ryan Hanley is the Vice President of Marketing at TrustedChoice.com and the Managing Editor of Agency Nation. He is also a speaker, podcaster and author of the Amazon best-seller, Content Warfare. Ryan has over 10 years of insurance expertise and blogs frequently to help consumers understand complicated insurance topics.

What You Need to Know About Solar Panels

What You Need to Know About Solar Panels

Once you have decided to install solar panels, it’s important to research which solar panels are best for you, your home and your budget.

Guest post by Lauren White 

The solar panel industry has developed exponentially, in the past decade. Much of that is owed to increased demand. According to the Department of Energy, Americans use 23 times more solar energy now than we did around ten years ago.

Homeowners have more solar energy options than ever before. In order to meet demand and outshine the competition, companies are putting their resources toward research and development. They are constantly working toward creating more efficient and innovative solar energy technology.

Once you have decided to install solar panels, it’s important to research which solar panels are best for you, your home and your budget. There are generally three solar panel choices for residential homes: Thin-Film, Polycrystalline and Monocrystalline. These three panels are part of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, which means they convert the sun’s photons into electricity.

Thin-Film

Perfect for: The homeowner with a small budget, a low-to-average rate of energy consumption, and lots of area for installation.

The cells of thin-film panels are constructed by layering photovoltaic material on glass, metal or plastic. These layers can be measured in nanometers, significantly thinner than in traditional panels. Their thin construction makes them lightweight and flexible, and they have a low cost of production. As such, they come at a lower cost to consumers.

One drawback of this technology is its rate of degradation. These solar panels have an average life expectancy of 10-15 years, depending on the photovoltaic material used. Comparatively, monocrystalline solar panels have a life expectancy of 25-35 years.

Another drawback is their low efficiency rating of 7-15%. This rate doesn’t work well for homes consuming more than the national average of 11,000 kWh per year. Also, these panels must be installed over a significant amount of space, which can be a deterrent for homeowners with limited area for installation.

In recent years, technology has improved and certain thin-film technologies are pushing past 20% efficiency. With a higher efficiency rating, this technology can meet higher energy demands and become a greater competitor in the market.

Polycrystalline

Perfect for: The eco-conscious homeowner with wiggle room in their budget, an average rate of energy consumption, and perhaps a penchant for the color blue.

Polycrystalline panels are constructed by melting silicon into molds to create perfect square “wafers.’ These wafers of silicon are then installed on a grid to form the panel. The cost of making these panels is relatively low and the process produces minimal waste. This makes polycrystalline a more affordable option than the original solar panel, monocrystalline.

The efficiency rating for polycrystalline panels is typically 13-16%. They would perform best in homes with typical rates of consumption. You will still need a significant amount of installation space, for these panels, in order to achieve optimal benefits. You must also take into consideration whether or not your taste will agree with their blue tint.

Monocrystalline

Perfect for: The homeowner with less roof space for installation and/or a higher rate of energy consumption, who wants a longer-lasting product and can make a sizeable investment.

Monocrystalline panels were the first solar panels to be made available. Currently, they are some of the most expensive. Each panel is created using high-purity silicon cut into “wafers.” These silicon wafers are extremely efficient at converting photons into energy, with monocrystalline panels hovering around a 22% efficiency rating.

Since these panels can convert more energy per square foot, you won’t need as much space for installation. Greater energy conversion also means you’ll be able to power more appliances, like hot tubs, heated pools and electric cars.

Get What You Pay for—and Then Some

In most cases, homeowners surveyed by HomeAdvisor say the cost of installing solar panels is much less than their projected energy savings over a twenty year period. In fact, it’s been estimated that, in 2017, homeowners in Massachusetts and California will save double their investment in solar energy.

Calculate Your Estimated Savings

If you’re not sure of your ROI, Google has a convenient tool called Project Sunroof, which will calculate your estimated savings based on your specific home address. As for your installation cost, you can request local estimates through HomeAdvisor to get a realistic figure for budgeting.

While you’re doing your research, or when you are speaking with a professional, see what’s new and on the horizon in the industry. These technologies are developing so rapidly, there are breakthroughs on a yearly basis. In July of 2017, for example, scientists developed a solar cell with 44.5% efficiency. There is hope that this technology, and others like it, can be streamlined and integrated into the residential and commercial solar market.

5 Home Insurance Tips for Moving to Unfamiliar Weather

5 Home Insurance Tips for Moving to Unfamiliar Weather

Ready to relocate to a new region of the country? Consider the local weather, particularly when you evaluate your home insurance options.

Home insurance is a must-have, regardless of where your house is located. With the right coverage in place, you can safeguard your house and personal belongings against many natural disasters. But not all home insurance policies are created equal. As such, coverage that works for a homeowner in a hot, humid climate is unlikely to meet the needs of a homeowner who deals with excess snow, ice and other inclement winter weather.

To better understand the link between home insurance and weather, let’s consider a few examples.

Southern California experiences roughly 10,000 earthquakes annually, so a Southern California homeowner should have sufficient coverage to protect his or her house and personal belongings against damage or destruction that takes place due to an earthquake. However, Atlantic Coast homes may be susceptible to hurricane storm surge flooding that is not covered by a standard homeowners insurance policy.

If you’re moving to a new area of the country, it may seem simple to transfer your existing home insurance coverage to your new residence. Yet doing so could leave you without coverage against natural disasters that may be more likely to affect you as a homeowner in a new region.

Here are five tips that you can use to purchase the right home insurance if you’re moving to an area with unfamiliar weather:

  1. Understand What’s Covered by a Standard Home Insurance Policy
    A standard homeowners policy offers the following coverage:
  • Dwelling: Ensures you can repair or rebuild your home if it is damaged by a covered cause of loss. For homeowners, it is paramount to have dwelling protection to cover the full cost of home repairs or a complete home rebuild.
  • Other Structures: Offers coverage against damage or destruction of garages, sheds and other detached structures on your property.
  • Personal Property: Provides reimbursement for clothing, electronics and other personal items in your home that have been damaged or destroyed by a covered cause of loss.
  • Loss of Use: Covers the costs associated with housing and assorted living expenses if you’re forced to move out of your residence while it is being rebuilt or repaired.
  • Liability: Helps safeguard your assets and covers various legal defense expenses if you face a lawsuit because you or a family member caused damage or injuries to other people on or off your property.

Dedicate the necessary time and resources to learn about your current homeowners coverage – you’ll be glad you did. As an informed homeowner, you can review numerous coverage options and choose the right coverage based on your home’s location. Don’t forget to discuss your home insurance needs with an independent agent. With an insurance professional at your side, you can explore a wide range of coverage options and select a home insurance policy that will match or surpass your expectations.

  1. Find Out What’s Not Covered by a Home Insurance Policy

A standard homeowners policy is not always a surefire solution to all of your coverage needs. In fact, some of the weather-related problems that are not covered by a traditional homeowners policy include:

  • Earthquakes: If an individual requires earthquake coverage, he or she may need to purchase a supplemental insurance policy.
  • Floods: Flood insurance can be purchased from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which offers both home and personal property coverage if your home is damaged or destroyed due to flooding.
  • Hurricanes: In some instances, you may need to purchase additional flood and windstorm insurance to guarantee that you’re fully protected against hurricanes.
  • Mechanical Breakdown: If your car breaks down while you’re traveling to a new home in unfamiliar weather, mechanical breakdown insurance (MBI) is available to cover bad brakes, transmission issues and other major vehicle system malfunctions.
  • Tornadoes: Many tornadoes are accompanied by powerful winds that can damage fences and other structures on your property, but it is important to note that a standard homeowners policy only provides limited coverage for this type of property damage.
  • Water Damage: Hail and ice damage commonly are covered by home insurance, but water damage limits may vary.

When in doubt, it is always better to err on the side of caution. If you’re unsure if a weather-related issue is covered by your homeowners policy, don’t hesitate to reach out to an agent for extra assistance.

  1. Contact Your State Insurance Commissioner

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) helps state regulators protect the interests of insurance consumers, including those who are relocating to a new region of the country. This association also provides many valuable resources to help you discover the right home insurance policy based on your home’s location.

For instance, the NAIC offers a guide to shopping for homeowners insurance. This guide helps homeowners understand various declarations and basic insurance terms to ensure an individual can choose the ideal coverage.

You can always reach out to your state’s insurance commissioner to provide honest, unbiased recommendations about homeowners coverage, and can help you make sense of home insurance information that is not clear.

  1. Know the Cost of Home Insurance

What you’re paying for home insurance today may increase if you need to upgrade your homeowners coverage based on an upcoming move to a location with unfamiliar weather. Those who plan ahead for the increased cost of home insurance will ensure they can afford the coverage they need at a new location.

The Federal Reserve Board estimates the average homeowner spends between $300 and $1,300 per year on home insurance at an average coverage rate of $3.50 per $1,000, according to Zacks. At the same time, it is essential to note the cost of home insurance may increase based on a number of risks that extend beyond natural disasters. These include:

  • Attractive Nuisances: Swimming pools, trampolines and other “attractive nuisances” may force you to pay more than other homeowners for home insurance.
  • Proximity to a Fire Station: Those who live close to a fire station may be eligible for lower home insurance premiums than others.
  • Your Dog: Some insurance providers won’t offer full homeowners coverage if you own certain dog breeds.
  1. Shop Around for the Right Coverage

 If you’re moving to a location with unfamiliar weather and need to buy home insurance, why should you be forced to settle for subpar coverage? Instead, shop around for home insurance, and you can purchase the ideal coverage at the best possible price.

The right insurance company should boast plenty of industry experience, a proven reputation and best-in-class customer support. Plus, this insurance provider will employ friendly, knowledgeable professionals who are happy to respond to any home insurance queries.

No one should be forced to overspend to insure their home and personal belongings. But with the right insurance company at your disposal, you can minimize your risks without having to worry about breaking your budget.

Lastly, an independent insurance agent can help you obtain the optimal coverage based on your location. This insurance professional can teach you about assorted home insurance options and help you make informed coverage decisions.

Take the guesswork out of getting the homeowners coverage you need at a new location. By using these tips, you can move one step closer to acquiring the right coverage any time you choose.


Ryan Hanley is the Vice President of Marketing at TrustedChoice.com and the Managing Editor of Agency Nation. He is also a speaker, podcaster and author of the Amazon best-seller, Content Warfare. Ryan has over 10 years of insurance expertise and blogs frequently to help consumers understand complicated insurance topics.

Who is the Only Real Estate Brand with Smart Home Specialists?

Who is the Only Real Estate Brand with Smart Home Specialists?

Hint: It’s also the real estate brand that helped define a smart home.

Smart homes aren’t the future of real estate. They’re the present. So why aren’t more real estate brands, companies, offices and agents doing more about understanding how smart homes are shaping today’s buyers, homes for sale and even home prices?

Simple answer? They aren’t Coldwell Banker.

We’re not new to the smart home game. We’ve actually helped determine the rules. Coldwell Banker has worked with technology site, CNET, to define what a smart home is so that everyone with a programmable thermostat doesn’t promote their house as a smart home. We’ve helped shape the smart home marketplace at the Consumer Electronics Show to make sure our agents and their customers know about smart home trends and how they can potentially impact the price of their homes for sale. We’ve done research. We’ve created a smart home staging kit. We’re also the only real estate brand to have smart home certified agents and listings.

When it comes to smart home, you could say that Coldwell Banker is pretty smart. To find a smart home near you or contact one of our smart home certified agents, visit coldwellbanker.com/smarthome.

How to Pet Proof Your Home and Yard

How to Pet Proof Your Home and Yard

Pet Proofing 101

As you may have guessed from our latest ad “Somebody to Love” we truly believe that a pet makes a house a home. Because our pets are so important to us ensuring they are safe is crucial. We reached out to our friends at HomeAdvisor to see if they had any tips to do so and as usual they came through with paw-sitively awesome advice.

When pet-proofing one’s home and yard, it is important to look at items from a pet’s standpoint and consider what things they are likely to play with, chew, or otherwise get into. If these items can hurt or even kill, then they should be removed or relocated into an area that the animal cannot access. Pet-proofing a home can take time and even some research so that it is done properly. Pet owners should also take into consideration the damage that a pet can cause to their personal belongings and take steps to prevent that as well. Ideally, pet-proofing should occur before bringing a new pet home; however, it can be done during a home improvement project or at any given time.

Bathrooms and Laundry Rooms

Toilet bowls are filled with water and often tempt pets to drink from them. This can cause a pet to drown, or it may poison them if toilet bowl cleaners are inside. The bathrooms and laundry room of a home are filled with a number of other items that are toxic to pets. Medications, both prescription and otherwise, are often kept in a bathroom, as are things such as bathroom cleaners, chemical drain openers, and deodorizers. Sharp items such as razors are also kept in bathrooms and can cut and seriously injure a pet that plays with or swallows them.

Laundry rooms are also a place where chemicals such as bleach and detergent are stored and regularly used. Fabric softener sheets may seem harmless; however, they are often impregnated with chemicals. Open dryers are tempting to pets that may climb inside to sleep, stay warm, or hide. This can be dangerous if the door is accidentally shut and the machine turned on.

  • Place any medications into a medicine cabinet and keep it closed.
  • Close the doors to the washing machine and dryer when not in use.
  • Check inside the washing machine and dryer before starting, particularly if it was left open and unattended.
  • Store laundry and bathroom cleaners and other chemicals inside of a cabinet. If a pet can nudge open a cabinet, use child locks or higher cabinets.
  • Close the lid to the toilet when not in use.

Living Rooms

In the living room, there are numerous items that are a threat to one’s pet. Unstable or top-heavy furniture can fall if jumped on or if bumped hard by a playful animal. Many types of potted house plants are known to be toxic if chewed or swallowed. The cords to drapery and window blinds are a choking hazard if they accidental loop around a pet’s neck, while electrical cords, if chewed on, can shock or electrocute one’s pet or start a fire.

paying the pet insurance

Certain items need to be protected so that pets do not damage or knock them over. Candles, for example, can either catch a pet’s tail on fire or may be knocked over and start a fire. Furniture and toys must also be protected, as they risk damage from chewing and scratching or they may cause a pet to choke. Certain items that contain batteries can be swallowed and will poison a pet or cause internal burns.

  • Move or cover cords and electrical wires so that they are not easily reached or cannot be chewed on.
  • Never leave candles unattended.
  • Place a fire screen in front of fireplaces that are in use.
  • Keep a toy chest for children’s toys and put them away when they are not being played with.
  • Properly dispose of old batteries and keep all others in a closed drawer or cabinet.
  • Check what plants are and are not poisonous to the type of pet in the home. Only purchase plants that are not toxic.

Kitchens

Kitchens are an overall dangerous place for pets to be. Jumping pets have access to countertops and tables, while all animals can easily get to anything that’s within their reach, such as kitchen trash cans or food on the table. When it comes to threats, food is the most obvious culprit, as certain items, such as chocolate and raisins, are toxic while others represent a choking hazard.

Kitchen cleaners such as liquid soap and bleach are also poisonous. Curious animals may crawl into a small space under and around the refrigerator or oven, while others may actual climb into an opened dishwasher and could be trapped within if someone closes it without checking it.

  • Only use garbage cans with secure lids, and ensure that they are closed at all times.
  • Keep cleansers locked away in a cabinet with childproof locks.
  • Block access to small spaces that lead behind the refrigerator or other appliances.
  • Put food in covered containers instead of leaving it exposed on a counter or table.
  • Keep utensils in a closed drawer, and push breakable china back on counters where it cannot easily be knocked down and broken.
  • Consider installing a safety gate to keep pets out of the kitchen while cooking.

Bedrooms

Although the bedroom may seem like an overall safe place for pets, it is the unexpected, little things that can prove problematic for pets. Electrical cords are dangerous to pets that are chewers, and small items such as earrings and hair pins may also be chewed or swallowed. Discarded shopping bags are a suffocation risk if a pet sticks its head inside and is unable to shake it off. Moth balls in closets or drawers are toxic, as are certain house plants that may be kept in the room.

Dog

  • Keep windows closed, particularly on the upper floors, to prevent pets from falling out.
  • Check that all windows have screens that are secure and in good condition.
  • Place mothballs in a location where they cannot be reached. If there are cats, keep the mothballs in a container.
  • Use containers or jewelry boxes to store jewelry or hair pins.
  • Cover cords or keep them out of reach.
  • Check closets and drawers before closing them to ensure that kittens or other small pets are not hiding inside.

Garages and Basements

Garages and basements are two areas where a pet will likely spend the least time. Unfortunately, they are both areas that are highly dangerous no matter how much time a pet spends there. Because these are areas outside of the main house and protected from the elements outdoors, they are places where deadly chemicals and other potentially lethal items are stored.

Toxic items that are commonly stored in garages and even basements include antifreeze, which is sweet-tasting but can cause a cat or a dog’s kidneys to fail if consumed. Motor oil, gas, battery acid, and car wax are just a few other dangerous car-related items. Additionally, pesticides, rat poison, paint, and paint thinners are examples of items kept in either location that can be lethal to a pet. Sharp and small items can cause injuries if stepped on or if swallowed, and even machinery, including one’s car, can be lethal.

  • Store screws and nuts in jars with lids.
  • Install cabinets to store chemicals, and keep them closed when not in use.
  • Verify the safety of any plants kept in the room.
  • Regularly check the floor of the garage for spilled or leaked antifreeze. Clean thoroughly as soon as possible.
  • Always check for cats or kittens in the car engine by banging on the hood prior to starting the car.
  • Unplug electrical tools and store them where they can’t fall.

Yard

Often, pets such as dogs and even cats like to go outdoors for a little playtime or to bask in the sun. Nature, however, represents numerous threats to pets as they spend time in the yard. Gardens, weeds, and other naturally occurring plants and flowers can all seem appealing to a cat, dog, or other outdoor-venturing pet.

Certain items that are used on the lawn, flowers, and plants, such as fertilizers, pesticides, mulch, and compost, may contain chemicals or elements that a pet should not eat, drink, or lick. Cocoa mulch, for example, is toxic, yet the smell is tempting to animals, and compost may contain food items that pets can choke on or that is toxic to them. Care must be taken to also protect pets in yards with fire pits or outdoor fireplaces, pools, and ponds.

  • Install a fence around the yard to keep stray animals out and pets in.
  • Remove poisonous plants from the yard, and check with a knowledgeable nursery before planting anything new.
  • Put a barrier around gardens to keep pets out.
  • Never leave pets alone when a fire pit is in use.
  • Add fencing around pools to keep unaccompanied pets away.
  • Use an enclosed shed to store chemicals, or keep them in a cabinet in the garage.
  • Consider creating a fenced-off area specifically for a dog to play in when outdoors.

This content originally appeared on HomeAdvisor

Your Home’s Honey Do List for May

Before you fire up that grill, here is your home’s honey do list for May which will make summer even more enjoyable.

The tulips are blooming and the yard work is piling up, but all you can dream about is Memorial Day barbecues. Before you fire up that grill, here is your home’s honey do list for May which will make summer even more enjoyable.

1. Curb Appeal – Because April showers bring May flowers, it’s time to think about your home’s curb appeal. Does your front door need a refresh? Could your outdoor lighting use an update? Does your mailbox need a makeover? Check out these 7 Major League Upgrades to Increase Your Home’s Curb Appeal.

2. Give Mom some Love – Because Home is Where Mom is, consider showing Mom your appreciation this Mother’s Day (May 14th) by giving her one of these unique homemade Mother’s Day gifts. Another welcome gift for every Mom is a helping hand around the house (see #5 on this list)!

3. May is for Mold? – Did those April showers cause water problems in your home? Use this brief guide to mold and moisture to clean up and prevent mold growth in your home.

4. Spring Into Action – Take advantage of the spring weather and get out of the house! See how many items on this list of Free Things to Do Outside the House you can tackle before June.

5. Glass Houses – People who live in glass houses…have a lot of windows to clean! Tackle outdoor windows and doors with a glass cleaner to let plenty of that spring sunlight inside.

6. Inspect for Termites – Termites are more active in the spring and summer months when the air is warm and moist. Check your home for termite damage, paying special attention to anywhere wood meets the ground. Watch this video to learn how you can inspect your home this May.

7. Prep Your Home for Sale – If you’re getting your home ready for sale this spring, there are several items that many home sellers overlook. Do you have a copy of your survey on hand, or have you compiled a list of service providers for a buyer? These 9 often overlooked items when prepping your home for sale can help seal the deal with today’s savvy buyers.

8. Grilling Time – Now you’re ready for that Memorial Day backyard bash. To make sure you never unexpectedly run out of gas in your grill, consider checking out this handy product.

The Ultimate Guide to Water Heaters at Home

The Ultimate Guide to Water Heaters at Home

Everything you need to know about water heaters from our friends at Home Depot

Water heaters are one of those appliances that usually sit forgotten in a basement or utility room until something goes wrong. When it does, it can put a serious crimp in your lifestyle.

If you’re faced with a broken unit, the goal is to get a new heater in place as quickly as possible. Because water heaters are big-ticket items, it’s smart to think about the kind of water heater you want before it’s time for a replacement.

Water heaters, on average, use 17 percent of a household energy budget. That’s more than any other home appliance, so it’s important to know how they operate. This guide will show how the most common types of water heaters work and what to consider when it comes time to replace the unit.

Homeowners are increasingly shopping around for water heaters with energy saving and “smart” features.

Water Heater Basics

Water heaters come in three broad categories: conventional tank, tankless and hybrids.

Storage Tank Water Heaters. These are the most conventional water heaters. An insulated tank keeps water at a preset temperature—usually around 120 degrees—until you open a hot water tap. As you use the water, cold water flows into the tank to be heated. Tank water heaters vary in capacity from 20 to 80 gallons. They are powered by electricity, propane gas, natural gas or oil. In electric units, heating elements located inside the tank heat the water. Gas and oil water heaters contain a combustion chamber located under the holding tank. A flue goes up through the center of the tank so that combustion gases can be vented to the outside.

Most gas water heaters rely on the natural draft of a chimney to vent the unit, but some models have a direct vent system where a fan expels the combustion gases. These types do not need a chimney and can be vented through a pipe that runs horizontally through a sidewall.

A conventional gas storage tank water heater

Tankless Water Heaters. Unlike tank models that keep hot water on hand, tankless heaters heat up the water when you call for it, eliminating the wasted energy it takes to keep water at a set temperature. The Department of Energy estimates that for a family that uses about 40 gallons of water a day, a tankless heater is 24 to 34 percent more efficient than a conventional tank model. But the efficiency does drop off considerably if you use a lot of hot water.

“These heaters are perfect for some lifestyles, but not all,” -Merle Henkenius, a licensed master plumber.

Compared with a full-size tank, tankless heaters are small. They can be hung on a wall, freeing up floor space. They are powered by electricity or gas. Tankless heaters are available in both indoor and outdoor models.

A whole-house tankless water heater.

Hybrid Water Heaters. This is a catch-all term that includes heat pump water heaters, condensing units and indirect water heaters. Most hybrid technologies were developed to make water heating more energy efficient.

*Heat Pump Water Heaters. These use electricity to extract heat from the surrounding air to help heat the water in the tank. A heat pump works like an air-conditioner in reverse. An air conditioner pulls warm room air into the unit, removes the heat from the air, and then dumps heat that it extracted from the room air outside. Rather than dump the heat, a heat pump water heater uses the extracted heat to warm the water. When the heat pump cannot handle the demand, backup electric elements take over. These units are extremely energy efficient.

*Condensing Water Heaters. These are available in both tank and tankless models and are powered by gas. These units use some of the hot gases created during the combustion process to heat the water, rather than venting all of the gas to the outside.

*Indirect Water Heaters. In these systems, the water heater storage tank is connected to a boiler or furnace. The unit heats fluid that is circulated to the storage tank, where a heat exchanger warms the water.

*Solar Water Heaters. These circulate fluid through rooftop solar collectors. The fluid heats the water in the storage tank.

Smart Water Heaters. A few manufacturers have developed water heaters with WiFi capability, meaning you can control them through a smartphone or tablet. These products are more sophisticated than standard water heaters. They have electronic controls and thermostats, making them more precise and easier to use. They can also run diagnostics on themselves to spot potential problems.

Home appliances, including water heaters, are increasingly outfitted with WiFi capability to enable money and energy-saving control from your devices.

Factors to Consider When Buying a Water Heater

When it is time for a new water heater, a good place to start is to consider what you have now. If the old unit provided plenty of hot water and you were satisfied with it, consider simply replacing the unit. Even if you install a standard tank water heater, the new model will probably be more energy efficient than the old one, thanks to updated energy standards that went into effect in 2015. However, there are many more energy saving options available to choose from. If you are unsatisfied with your water heater’s performance, you may want to consider one of the alternatives mentioned above.

The following are other important considerations for this major purchase:

Warranties

Water heaters come with warranties. In general, the longer the warranty, the more the unit will cost. Expect to see warranties from 6 to 12 years, but lifetime warranties are available. Choose a model with a warranty you are comfortable with.

Sizing for Tank Water Heaters

Residential tank water heaters, including heat pump water heaters, vary in capacity from 20 to 80 gallons. Of course, meeting the local building code is one aspect of sizing a unit. Another rule of thumb is to base the size on the number of people who regularly use hot water in the house.

Here’s a guide:

NUMBER OF PEOPLE IDEAL GALLON CAPACITY
1-2 23-36
2-4 36-46
3-5 46-56
5 or more 56 or higher

How many people live in the house (or could live there in the future) is a factor in determining the size water heater that you need.

In addition to tank capacity, you should consider the First Hour Rating of the unit. This tells you how much hot water the unit will provide during a set period. Think of your household first thing in the morning. The water in the heater is at its set temperature. Then people start using the hot water. As they do, cold water rushes into the tank, mixing with the remaining hot water. The water heater senses a drop in water temperature and clicks on. All at once, hot water leaves, cold water enters and the unit works to keep up with the changes.

The First Hour Rating takes into account the size of the tank, the efficiency of the heater and even the temperature of the cold water entering the tank. It can help determine the size of the heater you need based on peak demand periods. You will find it listed on the yellow energy label attached to the water heater and in the manufacturer’s literature.

Sizing for Tankless Water Heaters

Because there is no storage tank, tankless models are sized by the gallons per minute (GPM) of water they can deliver. Find the right size for you by estimating your peak water demand. You may have to consult with a plumber to estimate your demand, but here are some averages for various plumbing fixtures.

Shower and Bathtub 2.5 GPM
Clothes Washer 3.3 GPM
Kitchen and Bathroom Sinks 2.2 GPM
Dishwasher 1.3 GPM

Source: Energy Star  http://www.energystar.gov/products/water_heaters/water_heater_whole_home_gas_tankless

Homes in colder climates may require more powerful hot water heaters.

You will also need to consider the temperature of the incoming water to determine how much the heater needs to raise the temperature of the water. Cold water temperatures range from an average of 35–40 degrees in the extreme North to 65–70 degrees in the South. The difference between the incoming cold water and the hot water leaving the unit is called the temperature rise. The maximum GPM for a unit may be 8 or 9 GPM, but if the unit must raise the temperature 70 degrees, the effective GPM could be cut in half. The manufacturer’s literature will provide GPM at different incoming water temperatures.

Energy Efficiency

There are two ways to pick a water heater based on energy efficiency. One is the EnergyGuide Label that comes with each unit. It displays the estimated cost for running the unit when compared with similar models. If the label shows the Energy Star logo, it means the appliance exceeds basic requirements and meets more stringent criteria for energy efficiency.

The other is to consider the water heater’s energy factor (EF), which you can find in the manufacturer’s literature. This number reflects the efficiency of the heater in converting fuel—natural gas, propane and the like—into hot water. The EF is expressed as a decimal. An EF of 1 means that 100 percent of the energy is converted to hot water. For example, an efficient gas storage water heater might have an EF of .75. Some tankless water heaters can have an EF of .90-plus. A heat pump water heater might have an EF of 2.5 or higher, which means the heat pump produces more energy than it consumes.

Here’s how products that meet minimum energy standards that went into effect in April of 2015 compare with products that meet minimum Energy Star requirements.

Type of Water Heater New Minimum EF Requirements Energy Star EF Requirements
50-Gallon Gas Water Heater 0.60 > 0.67
50- Gallon Electric Water Heater 0.95 > 2.0
Tankless Water Heater 0.82

0.90

Sources: DOE National Appliance Energy Conservation Act; Energy Star Product Criteria: http://www.energystar.gov/products/water_heaters/residential_water_heaters_key_product_criteria

In general, highly efficient water heaters cost more than conventional models. A heat-pump water heater can cost three times that of a conventional heater of the same size. But energy efficient products are designed to reduce energy use and save money in the long run.

Tax Credits

Federal tax credits for energy efficient appliances, including non-solar water heaters, apply to items purchased in 2015 and 2016, but the credit is scheduled to expire at the end of 2016. You can claim 10 percent of the cost of the unit up to $300.

The items that qualify include heat-pump water heaters with an energy factor that is equal to or greater than 2, and gas and oil water heaters with an energy factor that is greater than or equal to .82, or a thermal efficiency of at least 90 percent.

Those who install solar water heaters can earn a 30 percent credit. The solar credit expires at the end of 2021.

If you install energy efficient equipment in your home, check the local utility for other rebate programs.

Installations

While water heaters are not particularly complicated devices (especially conventional models with a storage tank), they should still be installed by a licensed plumber. A plumber will be familiar with the local building code requirements, and he will be able to handle any problems that may crop up.

One thing to keep in mind if you plan on swapping out an old unit with a new one of the same size: If the water heater was manufactured after the new energy requirements went into effect in April 2015, it may be an inch or two larger in height and circumference. Manufacturers beefed up the insulation on units to help meet the new requirements. It is something to keep in mind if space is tight around an old water heater, and another reason to hire a pro to install the unit.

To protect your home and family, hire a professional when installing a new water heater or conducting significant repairs.

Here are some items that may be required with your new water heater.

  • Building Permit. If you or your contractor applies for a permit, the finished installation will be inspected by a building inspector. This is one way to help ensure you have a safe installation.
  • Dedicated Shutoff Valve. If there isn’t a valve attached to the cold water line just before it enters the water heater, the plumber will install one. The valve lets you shut off water to the water heater for maintenance and repairs without disturbing the rest of the home’s water system.
  • Expansion Tank. When water inside the tank is heated, it expands, creating more volume. That extra volume has to go somewhere. In a “closed” plumbing system, the expanded volume that would normally backflow into the main water supply is blocked by a valve. The pressure builds up within your home’s plumbing system, and that’s where the expansion tank comes in. It contains a bladder with pressurized air on one side. It gives the extra volume of water someplace to go. When you turn on a hot water tap or the water in the tank cools, the pressure is relieved.
  • Earthquake Straps. Some building codes, particularly in the West, require that water heaters be anchored to wall studs or approved blocking with metal straps.
  • Drip Pans. Even if they are not required by code, drip pans are a good idea, especially if a leaky tank will cause damage. Most contain a drain fitting so that you can attach a hose to the pan. You can also get a battery operated leak detector that can be placed near the water heater or in the pan for under $20. This will alert you if there are problems.

The life expectancy of a typical unit is 10 to 20 years, depending on the type and model. Ensure you get the best performance possible: Carry out simple maintenance tasks, and know when to call a plumber. Read the manual carefully and perform any routine upkeep required to make the most of your unit’s lifespan.

How to Reduce Water Heating Costs

Here are tips for reducing water heating bills.

  • Replace old equipment with energy efficient models.
  • Install low-flow shower and faucet heads.
  • Reduce the water temperature in your water heater by adjusting the unit’s thermostat.
  • Wash your clothes in cold water.
  • Choose water saver cycles when using the dishwasher.
  • Fix dripping hot water faucets.