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Most of us tend to think of air pollution as something that occurs outdoors where car exhaust and factory fumes proliferate, but there’s such a thing as indoor air pollution, too. Since the 1950s, the number of synthetic chemicals used in home products have increased drastically, while homes have become much tighter and better insulated. As a result, the EPA estimates that Americans, on average, spend approximately 90 percent of their time indoors, where the concentrations of some pollutants are often two to five times higher than typical outdoor concentrations.
Luckily, there are many ways to reduce indoor air pollution. We all know that buying organic and natural home materials and cleaning supplies can improve the air quality in our homes, but there are several other measures you can take as well.
How pollutants get into our homes
Potentially toxic ingredients are found in many materials throughout the home, and they leach out into the air as Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOCs. If you open a can of paint, you can probably smell those VOCs. Mold is a VOC that can build up in the dampest parts of your home like the laundry room or crawl spaces. Another example is the “new car smell” that seems to dissipate after a while, but VOCs can “off-gas” for a long time, even after a noticeable smell is gone.
Many materials used to build a home contain chemicals like formaldehyde, toluene, xylene, ethanol, and acetone, and even lead. VOCs can also be in the form of pet dander or dust. Fortunately, VOCs from building materials dissipate over time. For that reason, the highest levels of VOCs are usually found in new homes or remodels. If you are concerned about VOCs, there are several products you can buy that are either low- or no-VOC. You can also have your home professionally tested.
How to reduce VOCs in your home
Choose your building materials wisely
- – Use tile or solid wood for flooring—hardwood, bamboo, or cork
- – Choose solid wood or outdoor-quality plywood that uses a less toxic form of formaldehyde.
- – Choose low-VOC or VOC-free paints and finishes
Purify the air
- – Make sure your rooms have adequate ventilation, air out newly renovated areas for at least a week
- – Clean ductwork and furnace filters regularly
- – Install air cleaners if needed
- – Use only environmentally responsible cleaning chemicals
- – Plants are a natural solution to help clean the air
- – Air out freshly dry-cleaned clothes or choose a “green” cleaner
Pick the right carpet
- – Choose “Green Label” carpeting or a natural fiber such as wool or sisal
- – Use nails instead of glue to secure carpet
- – Install carpet LAST after completing painting projects or wall coverings
- – Air out newly carpeted areas before using
- – Use a HEPA vacuum or a central vac system that vents outdoors
- – Clean up water leaks fast
- – Keep humidity below 60 percent, using dehumidifiers if necessary
- – Refrain from carpeting rooms that stay damp
- – Insulate pipes, crawl spaces, and windows to eliminate condensation
- – Use one-half cup of bleach per gallon of water to kill mold in its early stages
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Sleek, sustainable design, open concept floor plans, minimalism, and eco-conscious thinking are defining characteristics of modern architecture. Recently, modern design concepts in home building have become more popular, and the resurgence of interest in modern real estate has followed suit.
These characteristics are what define Contemporary Architecture:
Clean geometric lines: At the heart of modernist values lies the simplification of form. Modernist homes have a very ‘linear’ feel with straight lines and exposed building materials. Furnishings and adornment reflect this value, incorporating vibrant, geometric and abstract designs.
Smaller, multifunctional spaces: With the Tiny House subculture consistently on the rise, and the new generation of homeowners expressing a desire to move away from the sprawling dwellings of the past, multifunctional living spaces are a must for modern homes. Built-in storage is commonly used to reflect this multi-purpose; space-saving feel.
Eco-conscious: Modern homes are well–suited for technological and green upgrades, as well as eco-friendly building materials and energy efficient practices, and flat roofs to accommodate solar power. A new trend is to bring nature into each room for a calming, soothing effect. Large windows are abundant in modern architecture, allowing light to fill and expand the interior space, bringing the natural world indoors.
Post-and-beam structure: Exposed wood posts and ceiling beams are classic elements in modern architecture. This style of building has been around for thousands of years; however, modern homes significantly emphasize the structure, rather than hiding the bones behind drywall. In new modern homes the post-and-beam structure can be made of concrete, iron or other materials. The visible horizontal and vertical beams reinforce the clean geometric lines of the space.
Open concept: Modern design strives to “open” the space by eliminating enclosed rooms. A common tactic is to open the kitchen and dining room into an open living space, allowing the spaces to flow into one another.
Minimalism: With open and connected modernist spaces, careful curation of furniture, adornments, and household objects is paramount to incorporating the modernist aesthetic. Generally, modernist homes have art and furniture that reflects the clean geometric lines and the natural materials of the architecture, leaving less space for clutter. Minimalist philosophies encourage few household items that serve both form and function, which work well within this design and architectural style.
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When dissatisfaction with your current home strikes, it can be exciting to launch into a plan for a new addition. A new living room, bedroom, or more can add value to your home while improving your quality of life.
On the other hand, even a modest addition can turn into a major construction project, with architects and contractors to manage, construction workers traipsing through your home, hammers pounding, and sawdust everywhere. And although new additions can be a very good investment, the cost-per-square-foot is typically more than building a new home, and much more than buying a larger existing home.
Define your needs
To determine if an addition makes sense for your situation, start by defining exactly what it is you want and need. By focusing on core needs, you won’t get carried away with a wish list that can push the project out of reach financially.
If it’s a matter of needing more space, be specific. For example, instead of just jotting down “more kitchen space,” figure out just how much more space is going to make the difference, e.g., “150 square feet of floor space and six additional feet of counter space.”
If the addition will be for aging parents, consult with their doctors or an age-in-place expert to define exactly what they’ll require for living conditions, both now and over the next five to ten years.
Types of additions
“Bumping out” one or more walls to make a first-floor room slightly larger is something most homeowners think about at one time or another. However, when you consider the work required, and the limited amount of space created, it often figures to be one of your most expensive approaches.
Adding a whole new room (or rooms) to the first floor of your home is one of the most common ways to add a family room, apartment or sunroom. But this approach can also take away yard space.
For homes with steep rooflines, adding an upper floor dormer may be all that’s needed to transform an awkward space with limited headroom. The cost is affordable and, when done well, a dormer can also improve the curb appeal of your house.
For homes without an upper floor, adding a second story can double the size of the house without reducing surrounding yard space.
Building above the garage is ideal for a space that requires more privacy, such as a rentable apartment, a teen’s bedroom, guest bedroom, guest quarters, or a family bonus room.
You’ll need a building permit to construct an addition, which will require professional blueprints. Your local building department will not only want to make sure that the addition adheres to the latest building codes, but also ensure it isn’t too tall for the neighborhood or positioned too close to the property line. Some building departments will also want to ask your neighbors for their input before giving you the go-ahead.
Requirements for a legal apartment
While the idea of having a renter that provides an additional stream of revenue may be enticing, the realities of building and renting a legal add-on apartment can be sobering. Among the things you’ll need to consider:
Some communities have regulations against “mother-in-law” units so they have zone-approval requirements.
In many cities, you can’t charge a tenant for heat, electricity, and water unless utilities are separated from the rest of the house (and separately controlled by the tenant).
When building an “accessory dwelling unit” (the formal name for a second dwelling located on a property where a primary residence already exists), building codes often contain special requirements regarding emergency exits, windows, ceiling height, off-street parking spaces, the location of main entrances, the number of bedrooms, and more.
In addition, renters have special rights while landlords have added responsibilities. You’ll need to learn those rights and responsibilities and be prepared to adhere to them.
The cost to construct an addition depends on a wide variety of factors, such as the quality of materials used, the laborers doing the work, the type of addition and its size, the age of your house and its current condition. For ballpark purposes, however, you can figure on spending about $200 per square foot if your home is in a more expensive real estate area or about $100 per foot in a lower-priced market.
You might be wondering how much of that money your efforts might return if you were to sell the home a couple of years later? The answer to that question depends on a number of variables, but the average “recoup” rate for a family room addition is typically more than 80 percent.
The bottom line
While you should certainly research the existing-home marketplace before hiring an architect to map out the plans, building an addition onto your current home can be a great way to expand your living quarters, customize your home, and remain in the same neighborhood.
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Choosing less space often has to do with a desire to live a life that’s simpler. Whether you’re retiring, want an eco-friendly, low-maintenance lifestyle or your children have moved away, downsizing might be the best option for you.
Here are the advantages and disadvantages to consider before making the move and questions to begin asking yourself now.
- Increased cash flow.
- Spend less on your mortgage payment and you are likely to have more money leftover for other needs or desires.
- More time.
- Cut down on time spent on household chores such as cleaning and vacuuming which will leave you with more hours in the day to do something more enjoyable.
- Lower utility bills.
- Costs less to heat and air condition a small home.
- Less square footage decreases the amount of energy expended.
- Reducing energy is better for the environment and it helps keep your home green.
- Reduced consumption.
- You would likely buy less since you won’t necessarily have the room for it.
- Minimized stress.
- Homeowners who have successfully downsized often feel happier because they are no longer overwhelmed by the demands of a larger home.
- Less responsibility, less housework to do, increased cash flow and flexibility equals reduced stress.
- Fewer belongings.
- Moving into a smaller space would mean you would need to give away or donate furniture, books, kitchen supplies, etc.
- No room for guests.
- Hosting holiday dinners might be out of the question for a smaller home.
- Space restrictions.
- Less space means you could feel cramped.
- Lifestyle changes.
- For long-term homeowners, downsizing means changing a lifestyle.
What to consider before downsizing
These questions are important to ask yourself because for some people, downsizing may not be the best option for them.
- Does size matter to me?
- Think about how much your identity is wrapped in your house.
- Is it important for you to have a guest room or a second bathroom?
- Will I miss some important things about a more spacious home?
- Will moving into a smaller home feel like a step backward?
- How will other life events affect my living in a smaller home?
- Consider possible scenarios you may not expect such as adult children moving back home or if you plan to add a child.
The Cost to You
- How much will it cost to replace the furniture?
- When you move into a smaller home this means you might have to downsize your furniture to make room.
- How much will it cost to get rid of the stuff I don’t need or won’t fit?
- It’s important to have a plan for how you’re going to sell or give away the things you don’t need.
- Consider things like family heirlooms. What are you going to do with all your antiques or treasures that your smaller home may not be able to accommodate?
- How much will I get when I sell my current home, and will it help cover the cost of buying my new home?
If you know downsizing is the right option for you, you’re probably asking yourself, “Should I sell first and then buy or buy first and then sell?”.
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With some creative thinking and a few do-it-yourself projects, you too can transform an everyday bathroom into a spa-like experience:
High-end shower head
There are a plethora of shower head options available today that can make even a simple shower space feel like a luxuriating experience.
Heated towel rack
Once out of the tub/shower, heated towels help you comfortably maintain your body temperature while the pampering continues.
Adjust the bathroom lights to match your moods and activities: brighter for primping, and dimmed to create a calming effect.
Not everything that’s meant for the bathroom needs to be stored in the bathroom. Look for things that can be moved elsewhere to make the space feel a bit bigger and more organized.
Essential oils, luxury soaps, and scented candles are an easy way to create an aromatic atmosphere of luxuriousness.
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What’s the best remodeling project for your home? The answer, in part, depends on where you live. Every year, Remodeling Magazine evaluates which projects bring the most return at resale in different markets around the country in their “Cost vs. Value” report. For the purposes of this blog, we are focusing on the Pacific states (WA, OR, CA, AL) and the Mountain states (MT, ID, UT, CO, NV).
According to Remodeling Magazine, these are the six top projects in those two regions that currently have the best return on your investment when it comes time to sell.
Garage Door Replacement
The project with the most return from Washington State to Nevada? A new garage door.
In the Pacific States, replacing your garage door will cost an average $3,785, but will increase your resale value by $4,686, recouping 123.8 percent of what you paid for it. Homes in the Mountain States will also benefit from a garage door replacement, recouping 98.6 percent of their costs.
Due to its size, a garage door can have a big impact on a home’s curb appeal. But adding to your home’s aesthetic is only one advantage; the warranty that comes with the new garage door is also a selling point for potential buyers who can trust that they likely won’t have to deal with any maintenance issues in the near term.
Manufactured Stone Veneer
As long as the new stone veneer is consistent with your neighborhood’s overall look, this siding is the second-best project across the Pacific and Mountain states.
Stone veneer can replace your home’s existing siding, adding a fresh, modern look that conjures a cozy vibe all the way from the street, before buyers ever step foot inside. Along the West Coast, it can recoup 110.4 percent of the cost when you sell, and Mountain states will recoup 96.5 percent of the cost.
Wood Deck Addition
While building a deck might seem like a big undertaking, it’s actually a pretty cost-effective way to positively impact your home’s resale value. Pacific states can expect to pay around $15,000 and Mountain states just above $13,000, but they’ll see 87.8 percent and 74.3 percent recouped respectively when they sell.
Adding a deck extends the living space of your home and provides even more area for entertaining, relaxing, and enjoying the outdoors. Whether you choose a natural wood deck or a low-maintenance composite deck, you can pick from a variety of styles based on the lay of your land and the areas of your backyard you wish to highlight.
Minor Kitchen Remodel
No need to move walls or appliances around, a minor kitchen remodel will do the trick to recoup 87.1 percent of the cost in the Pacific states, and 80.3 percent in the Mountain states.
An outdated kitchen can go from drab to fab and become a focal point with a fresh palette. Replace the cabinet doors with new shaker-style wood panels and metal or metal-looking hardware. Switch out the old counter tops with laminate that matches the new look. Think about adding a resilient flooring option, then finish the project with a fresh coat of paint to the walls, trim, and ceiling.
Looking to improve your curb appeal and create an entrance that guests and homebuyers won’t soon forget? Add a fiberglass grand entrance. This project involves replacing a standard-sized front door with a larger opening with dual sidelights (glass panels). Typically costing around $8,000, Pacific states will see 85.1 percent of that recouped in the sale, and Mountain states will see 71 percent.
Depending on the size of your home, replacing the siding can be an expensive undertaking. However, it’s a project that comes with high returns. For Mountain states, sellers can expect 75.4 percent of the costs recouped, and Pacific sellers will see 84.3 percent.
Not only is siding one of the first things a buyer sees, but it also serves as an indicator of the overall health of the home. Broken or damaged siding could mean that there are other problems with the home, such as pests and rot. Replacing old siding is a cost-effective way to boost your home’s curb appeal and ensure buyers are going to walk through your front door.