Surround Yourself With Love

family photos

I’ve always admired friends whose homes were professionally decorated, right down to the custom drapes; however, a home should not be just a showroom. A comfortable home should express who you are and where you’ve come from — and I’m going to show you how to do it inexpensively with things you already own and love!

Photos One way to achieve a connection to your past is to display family photos, both old and new. Don’t be afraid to hang black and white photos alongside color photos. In fact, doing so creates more interest. Unsure of how to display your photos? Pick a theme. One of my favorite creations is the “baby wall” in the entryway of our home. I started with a large portrait of our firstborn son in the middle, then worked outwards from all sides. The baby wall is multi-generational, going back to my grandparents as babies. I feel such a sense of belonging when I walk through the front door now. Sometimes I catch my son Michael staring at the faces on the wall, and I wonder if he sees his likeness in their faces.

Meaningful Objects In my china cabinet sits a blue glass salt shaker that belonged to my grandmother, still full of salt. My husband tried to clean it out, but the silver cap was practically cemented shut with the 25-year old salt. I was disappointed that we weren’t able to clean it, but then I thought about the fact that in it was the actual salt my grandmother had used. It is a beautiful piece on its own, but its history is what pulls at my heartstrings. Don’t keep these special objects squirreled away. You’ll be surprised how much attention they garner from guests.

Collections Collections also make for interesting displays and come with a built-in story. You have the story of where, when, and who you were with when you found a piece. If you don’t have a collection, it’s easy to start one. Books are a terrific place to start. Look at what’s on your bookshelf. Does a theme emerge? I have a book collection on Maine history that began with one title: St. Croix: The Sentinel River by Guy Murchie (Duell, Sloan, and Pearce, 1947), a book that originally belonged to my grandmother.

Mother Nature Seashells, stones, seeds/pods, and feathers make for inexpensive, yet beautiful, collections. Other items you may have around the house include ribbons, pencils, tins, tiles, beads, maps, and other ephemera.

Artwork Artwork, by definition, is a form of expression. My husband picked up a signed print of a watercolor by Tony Diodati called “From the Udder Side” for $5 at a yard sale. It’s an odd piece, done from the perspective of looking under a cow’s legs. It hangs on a wall in our kitchen. As it turns out, Diodati is a Canadian artist and this particular print sells for $100. Great story, great painting.

Again, I love to mix the old with the new. A small terracotta flower pot decorated with my youngest son’s fingerprints sits alongside my great-grandmother’s silver teapot in my china cabinet. Our family story continues with each generation, so displaying these items together makes perfect sense to me.

No matter where you live or what your budget is, you can create a home that is both distinctive and full of warmth. Look around your home with new eyes and identify the objects that hold special meaning for you and your family. Use them to sprinkle your home with a personal touch that reflects your life and loves for all to see and enjoy.

Tips on Debris Removal

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Disposal of debris can be a major concern. No matter what state you live in, the type of debris you will encounter will be much the same: damaged buildings, downed trees, building materials, and household and other types of hazardous waste. What varies is the way in which each state disposes of the debris. Some states have particular issues about where debris can be stored.

Consumers should check with their state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) or equivalent or FEMA for information on where debris may be stored. Remember, your main goal is to regain your sense of normalcy while doing so within the guidelines set by each state or federal agency.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) offers the following tips and information for debris removal:
Debris is hazardous. It often has sharp or rough edges; it may cause falls; it may contain hazardous material such as asbestos, lead or fiberglass; and it may have been contaminated with chemicals or germs by the flood or storm.

When cleaning up debris, one of the first steps is to assess the types of waste you are dealing with, and what the disposal procedures should be. They fall into four main categories and can be disposed of in the following ways:

• Branches, trees and vegetative wastes can be separated from the other debris and later can be sent to the community burn pile. These wastes can also be sent to a permitted disposal site.

• Construction debris – the structural materials from houses and buildings, such as concrete, boards, shingles, windows, siding, pipes, etc. – can be taken to the closest construction and demolition (C&D) landfill or a permitted municipal solid waste landfill.

• Other household wastes, such as trash and furniture, should be sent to a permitted municipal landfill.

• Hazardous wastes – If you believe the waste contains regulated hazardous materials, more care and caution is needed. These wastes should be containerized, labeled, and ultimately sent to a facility that is permitted to store, treat or dispose of hazardous wastes. In these instances, it is important to contact the department to discuss proper disposal procedures.
Items Requiring Special Disposal:
• Pool chemicals
• Tires
• Automobile batteries
• Bicycles
• PVC pipe
• Explosives (ammunition, re-loading equipment, black powder, military ordinance, fireworks)
• Fuel containers, metal or plastic
• Pressurized gas cylinders/tanks (propane tanks, acetylene tanks, refrigerant containers)
• Containers of petroleum based liquids, solvents, chemicals, etc.
• Large household appliances (refrigerators, freezers, stoves, washers, dryers, etc.)
• Off-road, gas-powered equipment (lawn mowers, tractors, edgers, leaf blowers and other lawn equipment, chainsaws, 4-wheelers, etc.
• Lawn and garden supplies (fertilizers, pesticides, etc.)
• Radioactive waste
• Industrial/commercial hazardous waste
• Medical waste
• Automobiles
• Electrical transformers

Any appliances that could potentially contain Freon or other chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) cannot be disposed of until they have been certified as being free of Freon or CFCs.

Disaster victims should never feel forced to make a hasty decision or to choose an unknown contractor. Start With Trust. For reliable information, lists of BBB Accredited Businesses by industry and BBB Business Reviews you can trust on local businesses, visit www.bbb.org

 

What To Do If Your House is Damaged By a Storm

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If your home was damaged during the recent storms to hit Georgia, BBB offers the following tips to ensure you choose a reputable contractor and not be scammed:

• Contact your insurance adjuster immediately. Not only does this get the ball rolling on the claims process, but you might be eligible for loss-of-use benefits which means you could be reimbursed for hotel costs, food, and other living expenses while your house is unlivable. Be sure to document all conversations with your insurance company or their adjuster and get any promises for reimbursements in writing. Be sure to maintain all receipts.

• Start seeking out current replacement costs for items you’ll be including in your claim rather than depending solely on historical costs.

• Document the damage to your property and possessions thoroughly; take pictures or video, if possible. Go from room to room or document all debris piles and create a detailed account of your belongings and losses.

• Make any minor repairs that you can do safely to minimize further damage to your home. You could be found liable for damage that occurs after a storm has passed, so make temporary repairs such as boarding up broken windows, removing wet drywall and carpet to prevent mold and putting up a tarp over a leaky roof. Beware of fly-by-night contractors who may try to offer these services for exorbitant fees. Be sure to get quotes in writing in advance or seek out volunteer groups in your area that may be offering assistance for free.

• If your home is unlivable, contact your utility company to turn off your water and gas or electric services.

• Do not make any permanent repairs until you get approval from your insurance company. Make sure you understand how your homeowner’s insurance company will reimburse your repair costs. Before spending money, call your insurance company first to make sure all necessary procedures are followed according to your policy.

• Beware of contractors who claim to be insurance claim specialists and may ask you to sign an agreement to allow them to contact your insurance company and seek approval of repairs for you. Many unscrupulous businesses have tricked consumers into signing a work estimate without reading the fine print, which commits you to automatically contract with their business if your insurance claim is approved.

• Check to make sure any contractors you are considering hiring are properly licensed and have up-to-date workers compensation and liability insurance. In addition, check them out with your Better Business Bureau and make sure they are approved by your insurance company before entering an agreement. Ask to see proof of their licensing and current certificate of insurance.

Be aware that if you hire an uninsured and unlicensed contractor and a serious injury were to occur to the contractor, you, as the person that hired them, could potentially be liable for paying the workers compensation benefits. This could turn a simple $1,000 repair into a bill for tens of thousands more.  In addition, a neighboring property, a passerby or other property that is negligently damaged by an unlicensed contractor can become a liability to the person that hired the contractor.

• Do not hand over an insurance check to a contractor for repairs prior to work being started. A good rule of thumb is to never give more than 1/3 of the job price up front and make sure that your insurance company has approved all repairs before your final payment is given to the

Start With Trust. For reliable information, lists of BBB Accredited Businesses by industry and BBB Business Reviews you can trust on local businesses, visit www.bbb.org

 

 

Keeping Hardwood Floors Looking Beautiful

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(ARA) – No matter what the setting, the good looks and durability of hardwood floors can be maintained with minimal effort. It’s simply a matter of proper care and maintenance.

The American Hardwood Information Center, www.HardwoodInfo.com, in conjunction with the National Wood Flooring Association suggest the following care and maintenance guidelines to keep hardwood floors looking beautiful today, and for years to come. Here’s how to begin.

General maintenance guidelines

All hardwood floors should be cleaned regularly to remove dirt and grit from between the floor boards. Avoid using a wet mop which can dull the finish. Instead, sweep with either a dust mop or broom that features exploded tips, or vacuum the floors using a vacuum with special hardwood floor attachments or one with the beater bar turned off.

Wipe up any spills immediately, using a soft, dry or slightly damp cloth, starting at the edges of the spill and working toward the center. Allowing spills to remain on hardwood floors could damage the finish, as well as the wood.

Avoid walking on hardwood floors with sports cleats or high heel shoes in disrepair. These can scratch the finish, or even dent the floor. Placing felt pads on the bottom of furniture legs will also minimize scratches.

Further minimize scratches by placing scatter rugs at all entrances to help keep small stones and debris out. But choose wisely. Scatter rugs with rubber backs can discolor wood floors. Special rug mats can be purchased from a wood flooring retailer to protect the floors from discoloration.

You’re not “finished” just yet

Knowing which type of finish applied to protect the hardwood floor is important. Different flooring finishes require different kinds of care, so if or when in doubt, contact the flooring manufacturer or a wood flooring professional in your area.

There are three major types of wood flooring finishes available – surface finishes, wax and acrylic impregnated – and the experts at the National Wood Flooring Association, www.woodfloors.org, stress that using the right maintenance products will protect and prolong the life of the floor.

Surface finishes, also referred to as urethanes or polyurethanes, are practical and very popular. They remain on the surface of the wood and form a protective coating that is water-resistant, durable and requires minimal maintenance.

For cleaning purposes, use products recommended by the flooring manufacturer. If the floors were finished or refinished on site, contact the installer. If neither is known, use a generic hardwood floor cleaner which can be purchased at a retail flooring store. Never use wax-based or petroleum-based products on a surface finish floor, as they will damage the finish.

Wax finishes soak into the wood, harden to form a protective penetrating seal, and when needed, are maintained with additional thin applications of wax. Only solvent-based waxes, buffing pastes or cleaning liquids made specifically for wax-finished wood floors should be used.

Use cleaning products, available at retail flooring stores, made specifically for wax finishes. Follow the directions carefully to determine how long the cleaner should remain on the floor. Once the floor is clean, apply a new coat of wax to restore luster.

Acrylic impregnated finishes are injected into the wood to create a super-hard, extremely durable floor. These finishes most often are used in high traffic areas of malls, restaurants and other commercial settings.

Cleaning an acrylic impregnated floor depends on the finish. If the floor has a urethane-based finish, follow the same procedures suggested for surface finished floors. If the floor has a nonurethane-based finish, use a spray and buff system, as recommended by the manufacturer.

Don’t hesitate to investigate

It pays to be knowledgeable. Proper care and maintenance will protect and prolong the performance of hardwood flooring for a lifetime, and even longer. To learn more about how to sustain the natural beauty and durability of your hardwood flooring, visit the American Hardwood Information Center at www.HardwoodInfo.com.

Clean Safely! No Pain, No Sprain

cleaning

Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation offers tips to get the job done without injury

It’s that time of year when many people feel compelled to clean their closets, houses or garages and get rid of the piles of “stuff” that accumulated over the winter months. What most people don’t realize is that these chores can be extremely hard on their muscles and bones and can lead to aches, pains and injury. In fact, of the millions of home-related injuries that occur each year, many result from household cleaning.

“People try to do too much, too quickly,” explained Jennifer Maximos, an occupational therapist at Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation (http://www.kessler-rehab.com). “Cleaning chores involve stretching, lifting, pushing, pulling, climbing, twisting and turning, and most people tend to overdo it. In addition, most of us don’t take the necessary precautions. Many common injuries, including strains, sprains, tendonitis, or even fractures, may be prevented by using proper techniques, such as bending from the knees when lifting, and using proper safety strategies, like securing and stabilizing a ladder before climbing.”

To help get the job done and avoid injury, Kessler, a national leader in the field of physical medicine and rehabilitation, recommends the following “Six Steps to Spring Cleaning”:

1. Set realistic goals. Rome wasn’t built in a day and a thorough annual cleaning won’t get done in that timeframe either. Plan to tackle the project over several days or a few weekends so you give your body a rest in between.

2. Check equipment. Ladders, stools and scaffolding may be needed to reach ceilings and high places, so be sure to inspect these items before using. In fact, now is the time to check all cleaning tools and equipment and make any necessary repairs in order to avoid potential injuries.

3. Be safe. Keep all areas, especially halls and stairways well-lit and free of clutter. Make sure floors are dry before walking on them. Work in well-ventilated areas when using cleaning solutions and keep them away from children and pets.

4. Enlist help. Ask family members or friends to pitch in and help. Assign tasks so everyone shares in the work and has the necessary equipment.

5. Use proper techniques. Using the right body mechanics can help to minimize the risk of serious injury. Here are some guidelines:

  • Lifting and carrying: Always have someone assist you when moving furniture or heavy boxes. When lifting, bend your knees and lift through your legs instead of your back. Also, keep boxes or other items close to your body rather than having your arms outstretched.
  • Vacuuming: Twisting and turning when vacuuming puts increased compression on the spine and neck. To avoid problems, keep the machine or hose close to the front center part of your body and at waist height. Place both hands on the handle and push the vacuum in front of you while walking in a long line, then pull back using the same motion. Never push and pull in short strokes.
  • Windows: Keep your feet on the ground or on a secure ladder/step stool (never climb on furniture or windowsills!) and be level with the area you are cleaning to avoid stretching. Also keep your back straight and avoid tilting your head up or back or upward, especially for a long period of time.
  • Mopping: Mop your floors whenever possible, rather than getting on your knees to scrub. Start with small areas, pushing forward and then backward without leaning forward. If scrubbing is needed, place a pad or towels under your knees and avoid reaching too far in any direction.
  • Bathtubs and showers: Kneeling, bending and stretching are not recommended. Instead, stand outside the tub with your back straight and use a mop to clean tile walls and the tub.
  • Painting: Keep paintbrushes and rollers in front of you and waist-high so that your spine is straight. Looking up at high walls or ceilings for extended periods of time can put extra pressure on nerves and cause pinching and numbness. Paint in short intervals and take frequent breaks.

6. Benefit from the exercise. Spring cleaning can actually be good exercise. You can burn hundreds of calories while dusting, vacuuming, washing and wiping. Take frequent breaks to rest and re-hydrate.

“Spring cleaning can actually help to lift your spirits and boost your energy,” said Maximos. “And while it’s difficult to avoid all of the minor aches and pains that come with these chores and our natural tendency to overdo tasks, following these simple guidelines can help to prevent more serious injury.”

Easy Tips to Add Curb Appeal

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Spring is in the air and it’s time to refresh your outside space. Whether you are trying to sell your house or just want to make your front landscape more attractive, try some of these easy tips guaranteed to increase the curb appeal of your home.

Focus on the entrance

Think beyond neutral and paint your front door an eye-catching color that complements the house. Hang a wreath that coordinates with the paint color and reflects your personal style. Give the entrance a sense of importance by placing two large pots of plants on either side of the door. If you have a front porch or a set of stairs leading to the front entrance, mass several pots of plants together, but stick with a scheme of just two or three colors.

Clean or replace any outdated hardware such as the door knob, door knocker, house numbers, mailbox and exterior lighting. Coordinate the look based on the style of your house. For a more contemporary look, choose brushed nickel hardware and for a more traditional look, choose black or bronze. If new exterior lighting is not in your budget, consider inexpensive solar lights to illuminate the path to your front door. Purchase a fresh welcome mat and power wash mildew stains from the driveway and sidewalk leading up to your entrance.

Prune your foundation plants

If you have lived in your home for awhile, the evergreen shrubs around your home’s foundation may be overgrown or unsightly. A quick fix for added curb appeal is to cut back and shape shrubs so they do not hide your windows and your front entrance. Thin out shrubs that are growing too close together and remove those that are diseased or are too large for the space. Limb up large trees to create a nice canopy and allow additional sunlight to your lawn area.

Give some attention to your lawn

Most front yards have a big lawn, so give this area some special care. Take a soil sample to your local extension office to find out what nutrients your turf needs and then add these important amendments as instructed in the report. This might include spreading dolomitic limestone and adding fertilizer. Use a pre-emergent weed preventer to cut down on unsightly weeds and keep your turf trimmed and edged for a neat and attractive appearance.

 

Update your garden beds

Focus most of your attention on enhancing the flower beds closest to your entrance and where people gather by planting colorful annuals and flowering and fragrant perennials. You can add other appealing focal points like a garden bench or water feature. Even one area of color adds enormous curb appeal.

Next, consider updating your other front garden beds if they are filled with tired plants that aren’t performing well. Don’t have the budget to get a professional design plan? Do a little research on plants that thrive in our Southern gardens. Check out the Georgia Gold Medal winners at http://www.georgiagoldmedalplants.org/.

Select just a few different plants for your design based on the sunlight requirements (sun or shade). Mass plant several of the same plants together for a bigger impact. Place plants that will grow large in the back of the bed, medium size plants in the middle and small plants near the front. For added appeal, choose plants that bloom in different seasons so you enjoy color all year long. If your mailbox is at the street, why not make it a focal point by adding a bed around it with a mixture of evergreen and blooming plants and a flowering vine to trail over the top of the mailbox. Mulch all your planting beds for a neat and finished look.

Take some time today to walk around your front yard and assess what tips will work for you, then write up a priority list and get started! Soon you will be rewarded with curb appeal that will be the envy of your neighbors.

 

Are Your Windows Energy Efficient?

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The warm weather is here and many consumers are looking to make home improvements while sticking to a budget. BBB advises consumers to balance cost effectiveness with energy efficiency, as more efficient windows, doors and skylights can make a big difference in energy consumption over time.

Start by looking for products that carry the Energy Performance Ratings label from the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC). The label can help determine how well a product will perform its key functions – helping to keep your home cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter, keeping out wind, and resisting condensation. By using the information contained on the label, builders and consumers can reliably compare one product with another, and make informed decisions.

As with any home improvement project, it’s important to make sure you are dealing with a reputable contractor and reputable materials. BBB encourages consumers to consult with their home contractor to see that all energy performance materials carry this label.

If you are looking for a well insulated room, check the window’s U-Factor. During the cold winter months, you’ll want to make sure your windows are trapping heat. U-Factor ratings generally fall between 0.20 and 1.20. The lower the U-value, the greater a window’s resistance to heat flow and the better its insulating value.

Is your room sunny and bright? The Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC) rates how much solar radiation is admitted through the window. SHGC is expressed as a number between 0 and 1. The lower a window’s solar heat gain coefficient, the less solar heat it transmits in the house.

Are you looking for a well lit room or one that’s on the dimmer side? Visible Transmittance is an optical property that indicates the amount of visible light transmitted through the window. VT is expressed as a number between 0 and 1. The higher the VT, the more light is transmitted.

Make sure your window doesn’t give off any unwanted breeziness. Heat loss and gain occur by Air Leakage through cracks in the window assembly. The lower the AL, the less air will pass through cracks in the window assembly.

Check to see that your window will be free from any water leakage. The higher the Condensation Resistance (CR) rating, the better that product is at resisting condensation formation. While this rating cannot predict condensation, it can provide a credible method of comparing the potential of various products for condensation formation. CR is expressed as a number between 1 and 100.

For more home improvement tips you can trust, visit www.bbb.org and for more information on the Energy Performance Ratings label, visit www.nfrc.org.

Simple projects for a Springtime Spruce-up

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As the days get longer and things get a little brighter inside your house, it becomes easier to notice the places that could use a little extra TLC. It’s also the perfect time to work on simple home improvement projects as you wait for warm weather to come.

Here’s a checklist you can work on now so your home will be vibrant and welcoming once long summer days roll around.

Floors
Once the light begins to reflect off your floors, you really start to notice some imperfections. If you’ve been waiting to screen and recoat your hardwood floor to give it a new shine, now’s the perfect time to do it. If you’re replacing tile, vinyl or linoleum flooring, a heat gun is a great tool to help soften the adhesive for easy removal.

Painting
One of the easiest ways fill your rooms with warmth is to give them a fresh coat of paint. Increased sunlight will help you choose the color that works best with your room, and you can finish painting before the weather gets really nice and you want to spend more time outside.

Windows
Spring is a great time to take a look at your window treatments and see if they could use a little love. Cleaning your blinds and washing your curtains can give your indoor space a little extra life. If you’re repainting, you may also want to consider repainting or restaining your window frames. You can also use a heat gun to help you remove old paint or varnish from your frames.

Deck
As the weather warms up and you’re again ready to use your deck, you’ll probably notice plenty of debris that’s collected over the winter. Start by giving it a good spray with the hose to clear away everything. If you plan on staining or repainting your deck, mild temperatures are ideal. If you get it done in the spring, you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy it throughout the year.

Bathrooms
Since you’re freshening up the rest of your house, don’t forget the bathrooms. Besides simply scrubbing your tub, cleaning bathroom tile and regrouting is an easy way to get your bathroom looking clean and bright. This project can be done over a weekend and is simple enough for most homeowners to handle.

By taking some time to tackle these projects now, you’ll give yourself a whole summer of relaxing in the warmth of your newly refreshed home. For more project ideas, how-to videos and information on tolls for painting, staining and other home improvement tasks, visit www.wagnerspraytech.com.

 

Material courtesy of ARA Content / Wagner Spray Tech

Super Bowl Party Cleanup Tips

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Super Bowl is great for fan and non-fan alike, the commercials are always a talker,  but the mess from the party…. it’s just a mess that needs cleaning up.  Most of it can be trashed or recycled, but if the furniture is messed up, that can call for an expensive game plan.

So here are the top four ways Super Bowl parties trash your furniture and suggestions for cleaning it up.

1)      INK : Your buddy uses a marker to write down all the wagers in the scoring pool. Except the number “12” gets written on the leather couch.

  • DON’T use dish soap or hair spray to remove the marks.  The degreasing agents in dish soap can permanently de-gloss and damage the top coating on the leather surface. Hair spray has alcohol in it and will ruin the surface coating on your leather.
  • DO use a soft sponge and specialized leather cleaner. Buy it at most leather furniture retailers – but for serious problems your local Fibrenew franchise can help.

2)      FOOD OR WINE STAIN: Your brother-in-law eats an entire pizza and drops a greasy cheese and his fifth glass of wine on your leather loveseat.

  • DON’T use window/mirror cleaner because it contains alcohol which will dissolve and destroy the surface coating on your leather.
  • DO use a damp towel to wipe up the mess and a dry one to finish the job.  Fully-finished leather is pretty much water proof, so a little spill isn’t going to hurt as long as you clean up quickly before it soaks through.

3)      ANIMAL SCRATCHES AND PICKS: The dog gets scared when the crowd cheers for a big play and jumps onto the couch. The nails dig in and provide extra leverage.

  • DON’T touch up the spots with shoe polish because it makes an ugly, sticky mess.
  • DO try to reduce the visibility of the problem by snipping off the cotton interior strands that often get pulled out when leather gets picked. DO use a hair dryer and massage minor scratches with leather cleaner to try to rub it out.  Call a professional to fix larger scratches and holes – this is not a DIY kind of job.

4)      BURNS AND DISCOLORATION: The victory cigars are great, except for the ashes falling on the couch.

  • DON’T try to rub it out and blend it with the surrounding area, you’ll only make the problem bigger.
  • DO bring in some help. When leather or faux leather gets damaged by heat, the only solution is to call in a professional. Regardless of size, a professional repair can make that burn look brand new and can be done on the spot in your own home.

There are several types of leather, and the following tips apply to all fully-finished leather, which makes up 85 percent of the leather market.

On behalf of Fibrenew, www.fibrenew.com

Top Ten Tips for Smarter Home Improvement

Courtesy of ARA

Courtesy of ARA

For many homeowners, the return of warm weather signals that time of year to launch the long-awaited home remodeling or backyard patio project.

With the typical major kitchen remodel topping $58,000 and the cost of a new roof topping $21,000, according to the National Association of Realtors 2009 Cost vs. Value Report, taking on even a minor remodel calls for careful attention to detail.

It’s even more important if you’re not a do-it-yourselfer and want to hire a contractor to perform some or all of the work, says FindLaw.com, the world’s leading online legal resource. Doing your homework upfront and being crystal clear in your dealings with a home remodeling or landscaping contractor will reduce miscommunication, frustration and expensive errors.

If you’re ready to take the plunge, here are some time-tested tips from FindLaw.com for a better remodeling or landscaping project:

1. Ask yourself: Does it make sense? Before you move too quickly, it’s critical to determine if it makes sense to remodel. The first place to look is your neighborhood. Are other neighbors improving their homes and enhancing the exteriors of their homes, as well as their yards? Is your city or town properly maintaining streets and public areas? Are you committed to staying in your home at least five years? Remodeling and landscaping can be expensive and, in many cases, you will not fully recoup your investment. While it’s important to do it for yourself, be careful not to over invest either.

2. Do your homework. Before you call a contractor, do your homework to get a good idea of what you want from your remodeling or landscaping project. Visit showrooms, talk to friends and neighbors who have recently remodeled, read home and landscaping magazines, and visit open houses and showcase homes to see what’s hot in home remodeling and landscaping projects. Start a notebook to collect your ideas, product information and product samples.

3. Build a budget. As you do your homework, start piecing together a budget of what various products and materials may cost. Keep in mind, especially when remodeling an older home, there may be unexpected surprises (such as plumbing or electrical) that could drive up the costs of your remodeling project. To be on the safe side, always add 20 percent to the generally recommended costs of a remodeling project.

4. Listen to word-of-mouth. If you hire a contractor, make sure that any contractor that you consider is licensed, bonded and insured. Word-of-mouth is the most reliable method to finding a contractor. Ask your friends, neighbors or family members for the names of contractors or landscapers with whom they’ve worked.

5. Get multiple bids. Always get at least three proposals when selecting a contractor to handle your remodeling or landscaping project. Always meet the contractor in person and never agree to hire a contractor after your first meeting. Obtain all estimates in writing and carefully compare the details that each contractor has spelled out in his or her proposal.

6. Check your permits. Be wary of the contractor who says you don’t need to pull a permit from city hall for your remodeling or landscaping project. A permit typically represents the minimum construction standard set by a local community. In other words, a permit actually protects you as the homeowner from shoddy construction or landscaping practices. If you live in a historic neighborhood, there may be more restrictive guidelines that you must follow that have been set by a neighborhood council.

7. Get references. Before you say “yes” to a contractor’s proposal, get at least three to five references from a contractor. Call the contractor’s references and ask about the experience of working with him or her – did the contractor complete the project on time and on budget? Was the contractor responsive to making changes throughout the project and the completion of the punch list (all of the final details to wrap up a project)? Contact your local Better Business Bureau to see if any complaints have been filed about the contractor. And, contact building suppliers and subcontractors (electricians, plumbers, etc.) to see if your contractor pays his or her bills on time.

8. Get it in writing. Never, ever agree to hire a contractor, even if it’s your brother-in-law, on a handshake. Always insist on a contract, says FindLaw.com. Be precise about exactly what services will be performed and by when. Specify exactly what products and materials will be used. Spell out when payments will be made to the contractor and clarify what recourse you have if the work is not completed to your satisfaction. If need be, contact an attorney specializing in contracts to review the document before signing.

9. Do a gut check. You need to feel good about having someone come into your home every day for weeks or possibly several months. Working with a contractor should be fun, but more importantly, you need a contractor who listens and responds to you. Check your gut reaction. If in any way you feel uncomfortable with a contractor, don’t sign the contract. And if you have to, move quickly to cancel it. Many states allow a consumer to cancel a contract within three business days after signing it.

10. Be completely satisfied. Never pay for the entire remodeling project or landscaping project up front, before construction begins. In most cases, you’ll put down 25 percent of the total project amount to get the work started. After that, you’ll pay portions at certain milestones up until the completion of the project. Don’t make the final payment until you are completely satisfied with the work. It’s one of your last defenses to ensuring that work is completed to your satisfaction.

10 expert tips for home staging

It's the first thing they see, so spend time (not necessarily money) to present your home well.

There are more than 3.8 million homes currently for sale in the United States. How can you make your home stand out from the rest and increase the chance of selling?

Leading Slipcover and Home Solution Company Sure Fit (www.surefit.com) has quite a bit of experience when it comes to transforming a space quickly on a tight budget, and has put together their top 10 home staging tips to make your home look bigger, brighter and ready to buy.

1.       Consider curb appeal

You may not have the funds for a professional landscaper, but homeowners should make sure lawns are freshly mowed, leaves raked, and paths cleared. Scrub the front door, porch, railings and steps, pick up a new mailbox and welcome mat, and add a fresh coat of paint where needed. Add seasonal potted plants and a bench to the entryway to welcome visitors into a clean, fresh and relaxing space.

2.       Forgo Family Photos

You may consider it the crown jewel of the living room, but future buyers will see outdated family photos as years of wear and tear. Clear the room of family portraits and other items that say “you don’t live here” to buyers.

3.       What Once Was Old, Should Be Newly Slip-covered

No need to splurge on new furniture and home assets when your budget is already tightened up, especially in the midst of a move. Cover up outdated, worn and loud furniture with neutral colors. SureFit.com offers a wide variety of products, with over 130 styles of fitted and tailored slipcovers, as well as throw rugs and even coordinating curtains and dining room sets to make your home décor look like new.

4.     Rearrange Refresh

Arrange the room in a conversational way. You may have preferred for every piece of furniture to face the television, but potential buyers will appreciate more of an open room vignette.

5.       Kitchen Clean Up

Kitchens play a big part in home resale value, so make sure buyers are impressed. Spend extra time scrubbing, cleaning and de-cluttering, and make sure counters are clear of appliances. Re-stain shabby cabinets, replace any mismatched hardware, add fresh cut flowers, turn on lights and open curtains for a clean, bright and attractive gathering space.

6. Let In Some Air

Keep stuffiness and odors at bay by opening windows for at least 10 minutes prior to showing. Go easy on the air freshener, but bring in fresh cut flowers for a natural look and smell.

7.       What’s Behind Door #3?

While shoving everything into a closet has been your go-to cleanup plan since your teen years, potential buyers will undoubtedly look behind every door in your home. Keep bedroom, linen closets and storage spaces neat and tidy to avoid any embarrassing surprises.

8. Scrub Until it Sparkles

Clean bathrooms until they look like the model sets at Home Depot. Signs of use, like soap scum and toothpaste stuck to the sink, will turn buyers off. Replace any outdated fixtures with sleek and modern ones, and add fresh cut flowers to help with aroma and appearance.

9. Sleep Tight

Keep bedrooms neutral, comfortable and spacious. Buyers want to picture themselves relaxing here, so use soft colors, light scents and earth tones to “set the mood.” Make bedrooms appear larger by limiting items in the room to a bed, dresser and small seating area for the Master Bedroom. Update any outdated bedding and use a lavender oil diffuser to keep relaxation a priority here.

10.  Better Backyard

Outdoor living spaces have become exponentially more important to potential buyers. Treat your back deck or patio like any other room in your home. Scrub down patios, touch up worn fences and banisters, and make sure your yard is free of clutter. A few decorating touches can make your space much more than just a “backyard.” Cover a worn picnic table with a bright tablecloth and replace worn chair cushions with new ones.

Tips to Be a Better Gardener in 2010

Start a Garden Journal in the New Year

Whether you have a “brown thumb” or are an experienced gardener, you can become a better gardener in 2010.  Gardening is a great hobby that provides numerous personal benefits. Need to lose weight and get moving? Gardening gets you outside in the fresh air where you will get lots of exercise doing something productive. Need a creative outlet? You can enjoy the fruits of your own labor by creating beautiful flower beds or harvesting home-grown vegetables and herbs. Planning to sell your house in the next few years? You can add curb appeal and great value to your home by cultivating a pleasing landscape.

Here are a few tips for becoming a better gardener in 2010:

Start a garden library.  Begin researching good gardening resources, including books, seed and plant catalogs, magazines and internet sites. In the January edition of Fayette Woman Magazine, I list the top books and other resources recommended by experienced local gardeners. These materials will help you make good decisions and cut down on gardening mistakes.

Start a Garden Journal in the New Year

Start a Garden Journal in the New Year

Begin a garden journal. January is the perfect time to start a garden journal which is a helpful tool to organize what you have done, need to do and plan to do in your garden. Purchase an inexpensive notebook or calendar and start keeping notes. Topics to cover in your journal can include: plant inventory and profile, seasonal calendar of gardening tasks, design drawings, “before and after” photographs, gardening resources and a wish list for future projects.

Take a class.  On January 19 at 7:30 pm, Dr. Allan Armitage, the world-renowned horticulture professor at the University of Georgia is speaking at a free seminar on “Armitage’s Choice: the 20 Outstanding Plants for Georgia” at the Atlanta History Center. For more information, call: 770 458 3224. Fayette Master Gardeners offer a Homeowner Series of gardening classes each spring for the beginning gardener. To get a schedule of upcoming classes, call 770-305-5412 X 7.

Peachtree City Garden Club Swaps Information and Plants with Members

Peachtree City Garden Club Members Swap Info and Plants at Meeting

Join a Club. You can find a gardening organization on just about any gardening topic you are interested in. If you want to concentrate on a specific plant, like roses, check out the South Metro Rose Society where members will help you learn to grow the best roses for our area. If you want to learn general gardening information, join a local garden club. The Peachtree City Garden Club has over 65 members with varying degrees of experience who meet monthly to learn about different gardening topics. For more information go to: www.peachtreecitygardenclub.com.

Get Inspired. The popular Southeastern Flower Show will be held at the Cobb Galleria on February 4-6. You will get so many good ideas to increase the “wow” factor in your garden by viewing the spectacular garden vignettes staged at the show. For more information, go to www.sehort.org/flower_show.

Start a garden project. Nothing gets you more excited about gardening than starting a project. Why not start the year by designing a new flower bed or planting herbs that you can enjoy in your cooking the rest of the year? In my February article in Fayette Woman magazine, local herb expert, Paula Johnson, will show you how to start a simple herb garden using a whiskey barrel or a raised bed.

Plant an Herb Garden this Spring@

Plant an Herb Garden this Spring

You can be a better gardener in 2010!