Gas Fireplaces: Cozy, Warm, and Energy-Efficient

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Nothing warms up a room like a crackling fire in the fireplace—both in heat and ambiance, Gas has replaced the wood-burning fireplace mode in new homes, and for good reason. A gas fireplace is easy to maintain. You turn the fire off and on with a switch, instead of messing with kindling and babysitting the flames. Plus, you have no wood to buy and stack. With gas, you also avoid messy ashes to clean up, glowing embers to worry about when you leave, and the cost of a chimney sweep.

In addition to the convenience, a gas fireplace is more energy-efficient than the wood-burning alternative. Only 15% of wood’s energy is converted into useful heat when logs burn in a fireplace; the rest goes up the chimney. Compare that figure to today’s gas fireplaces, which generate up to 85% heating efficiency. One gas fireplace can efficiently and effectively heat up to 1,000 square feet of space.

When shopping for a gas fireplace, consider the efficiency rating. A 70 rating means that 70 percent of the gas consumed is converted into heat and the remaining 30 percent is used for combustion and ventilation. The higher the rating, the better the heating efficiency.

What are your options for harnessing the value and comfort of a gas fireplace in your home?

If you already have a fireplace, consider a gas fireplace insert. The insert fits into your existing firebox. It can be connected to your home’s gas lines or, if you don’t currently use propane, to a propane tank located outside.

Gas log sets are also placed inside an existing fireplace. These ceramic logs are available in vented and unvented. The vented log set ventilates through the chimney, but doesn’t produce significant heat. The unvented gas log set provides more efficiency but poses a risk of combustion leftovers (water vapor, particulates, carbon monoxide) when run for a long period of time. Gas log sets are more for appearance than warmth.

A built-in gas fireplace is ideal when you’re building a new home. Installation is easily handled during construction, allowing you to create the hearth style you prefer—from traditional stone to sleeker contemporary design. A ventless fireplace doesn’t need a chimney, making it an easier installation. The system uses sensors to monitor the oxygen levels in your home. A direct-vented unit uses a chimney or a venting pipe that goes through your home’s roof. This roof-venting option allows you to install a gas fireplace in any room. The most efficient of the gas fireplaces, the direct-vented unit offers up to an 85% efficiency rating!

With any type of gas fireplace unit, you have the option of choosing from a variety of styles and options, like a circulation fan to distribute the heat better. A remote control is a convenient option for controlling the fireplace operation. Plan now to cozy up to the fire this winter, and start shopping for the gas fireplace that fits your home and your lifestyle.

Smart Thermostats – Boost Your Home's Energy Efficiency

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With the winter chill just around the corner, it’s time to get your home heating system in order. A great way to start is to install a smart thermostat. Boost your home’s energy IQ with a digital thermostat that can be pre-programmed to control the times your heat is turned up and down. A smart thermostat can store six or more daily settings, automatically adjusting the thermostat without you being there to monitor it.

By reducing the temperature on your thermostat by 10° to 15° for 8 hours a day (like overnight or when you’re at work), you can save 5% to 15% per year on your energy bill, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Here’s what you need to look for when shopping for a programmable thermostat:

  • Temperature control. Choose a unit that includes control of programmable fans, like the air conditioner’s fan, so that it can better manage the temperature.
  • Keypad lock. Protect your settings so that unauthorized people in your home (kids, in-laws) can’t mess with your energy controls.
  • Wi-Fi enabled. The software that drives the smart thermostat should allow you to program it from your smartphone or tablet. Make sure the mobile app is supported by your technology.
  • 7-day scheduling and away controls. A smart thermostat should include programming for at least seven days, as well as the ability to pre-program the temperature control when you’re away from home for days at a time.
  • User-friendliness. Simplicity is the key to effectiveness. If your thermostat is too hard to program, you’ll probably lose energy savings.
  • Some smart thermostats will let you know when you have an equipment malfunction or just need routine maintenance.
  • Before you buy, be sure the unit will work with your HVAC system.
  • Easy installation. Installation shouldn’t require a Ph.D. in rocket science. A good programmable thermostat can be set up without a pro, using online tutorials. Of course, hiring an installer is always an option!

Here are three models that fit this criteria:

The Nest Learning Thermostat is one of the most popular smart thermostats. Now available in version 3.0, the Nest’s intelligent programming learns your habits, and the “Heads Up” feature lets you track your furnace’s automatic shutoffs. You can also check your home’s energy usage via your smartphone.

The ecobee3 Wi-Fi Thermostat is consistently rated with The Nest. The ecobee3 measures temperature and room occupancy, adjusting the heat where it’s needed. You can add more remote sensors to cover a larger home.

The Homewerks Radio Thermostat CT-80 can set seven different temperature points during one day, features a large display, works with most HVAC systems, includes a built-in battery backup, and monitors both your humidity and temperature. Admittedly, the Homewerks model doesn’t have the sleekness of the Nest or ecobee3.

Depending on the model you choose and your current energy bill, the cost of the smart thermostat might deliver return on your investment in one year or less.

Mortgage rates are still low…but not forever

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Not long ago, homebuyers reigned in the housing market. Home prices dropped dramatically after the 2008 financial crisis, and mortgage rates fell to an all-time low. People who were ready and able to purchase a new home reaped the rewards of under-valued home prices and historically low mortgage rates.

In 2012, home prices were below the fair value of the properties, lower than they had been since 1998. Since March 2012, those prices have been creeping up. Bank of America Merrill Lynch Global Research predicts that prices will continue to climb slowly for the next few years.

While the real estate market has rebounded, we’re still seeing people who are waiting and watching. But why wait?

Mortgage rates are still extraordinarily low. A 30-year fixed rate is currently as low as 3.75%, not far from the record low of 3.31% in late November 2012. Like the housing price, these interest rates have come back, but not by much. In fact, Freddie Mac reported that current rates have risen half a point since February 2015.

That’s good news for homebuyers. You can still get a great value on a new home while leveraging the low interest rates. However, you need to act. Mortgage rates are expected to continue to rise over the next two years. Forecasts are predicting a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage to go as high as 4.61%, almost a point higher than the current mortgage interest rate.

You might also qualify for a loan with a low or zero downpayment. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) offer mortgage products that offer great rates with little or nothing down.

Remember, predictions are just that. We can only guess what is going to happen to the housing market in the near future. But with the current home values and low mortgage interest rates, now is the time to make the move.

Fall Lawn and Garden Cleanup Checklist

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As much as you may hate to admit it, summer will come to an end. Autumn slips in, with that recognizable chill in the air and the fluttering leaves falling from trees to the ground, where you’ll have to rake them.

Nature has its way of putting the summer plants to rest before the cold weather arrives. But you still can make it easier to wake it from the winter hibernation by following this fall lawn and garden clean-up checklist.

Lawn and garden clean-up

  • Rake your garden beds, getting rid of the dead annuals, weeds, and other debris that can attract bugs.
  • Fertilize your lawn between September and mid-October to feed it essential nutrients before the winter.
  • Resist the temptation to prune your trees and bushes. This action encourages new growth, which will die during the winter. The best time to prune is in the early spring, at the start of the growth season.
  • Gently till the garden soil, which both aerates it and exposes insects that will survive the winter underground.
  • If you plan to plant a new garden bed in the spring, cover the area with plastic or mulch to prevent further growth.
  • For the final mowing of the fall, set your mower to cut the grass shorter.
  • Prepare garden beds now for spring planting by testing and amending the soil with compost, and adding a layer of mulch to prevent weeds in the spring.
  • Remove and discard any diseased plants; don’t mulch or compost them.

Perennial care

  • Remove any delicate bulbs or tubers that won’t survive the winter, like dahlias and gladioli. Dig them up and store the bulbs in brown paper bags or newspaper in a dry area. For further protection, pack the wrapped plants in Styrofoam peanuts.
  • Once the ground has hardened, cut back the stems of hardy perennials to no more than three inches in height. Blanket them with mulch or straw for protection.
  • If you have some crowding in your perennials, dig up the bulbs, divide the root ball, and transplant portions.
  • Plant the spring-blooming bulbs before the ground hardens.

Tool time

  • Drain the fuel from your lawn mower, trimmer, and any other garden power tools.
  • Clean the blades and handles of your garden tools.
  • Drain your hoses before rolling up and storing them.
  • Clean the birdfeeders.

A little extra effort now will save you more time in the spring!

Choosing the Right Size Home For You

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When you’re house-hunting, do you ever feel like Goldilocks? This one is too big. This one is too small. How do you know which home is the perfect fit?

Right-sizing your home and your life is important to today’s homebuyers. When you factor in the maintenance, utilities, taxes, and comfort, you realize that the choice of your next home should be based on more than love at first sight.

Here are some questions to ask yourself as you’re looking for a new home.

  1. What can I afford now and in the future? Look at your financial situation. Will the cost of purchasing and maintaining this new home prevent you from meeting your savings goals? Remember, that just because you are pre-approved for a particular mortgage amount doesn’t mean that you should spend that much. Be clear on your expenses and goals before committing to your new home.
  2. How much time do you have for home maintenance? Whether it’s more rooms to clean, a yard (and maybe a pool) to keep up, and possibly some aging systems or spaces that need updates, some homes need more tender loving care than others. A big yard is beautiful, but can you keep it looking nice? If not, can you afford to pay someone to handle the task (see question #1)? Do you like to travel? If you’re on the road, is your home easy enough to lock up and go, without worrying about its care and feeding?
  3. Is there room to grow—and do you need it? Calculate the number of rooms and square footage you need to be comfortable—and be realistic. Will your family be growing? Will you need a home office in the future? Is it possible an aging relative might live with you? Does the new home have enough storage space or will you have to de-clutter—and CAN you?
  4. Where do you feel comfortable? Do you like big spaces or is cozy a better feel for you? Do you need a getaway in your home? Will a spacious spa-like bath be a valuable retreat? Do you need space to accommodate hobbies, like a workshop, fitness room, or craft studio? Don’t compromise on the true comforts that make your house a home.

When you’re in the process of house-hunting, look at a wide variety of sizes and styles. Take note of the layouts you like, the room sizes that feel right, and the outside space that seems like a good fit for your comfort zone. Take the time to make a list of your new home priorities, and keep that with you as a checklist when looking at properties, so you aren’t swayed by appearance. Remember, size only matters when it’s the right size!

2015 Home Interior Paint Color Trends

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One of the quickest, easiest, and most affordable makeovers in your home is a can of paint. One gallon can make a big difference in the look and feel of any room. Go from dull to daring, or tone down a prior adventure into boldness.

The popularity of paint colors changes from year to year, as evidenced in the home fashions you see in the stores and online. Fashion runways aren’t the only place where color trends emerge. Home decorating is influenced by designers and manufacturers, the driving force behind the paint colors you choose.

What’s trending right now? Here are some of the home interior paint color trends for 2015.

50 Shades of Gray—and we don’t mean the book. Gray is the most popular color for interior walls this year. Gray is neutral enough to complement any room, but the range of gray shades are so diverse that the choice can still make an impact—from a soft dove gray to a warmer hue that leans toward brown and all the way to gunmetal and charcoal.

Gray can go from warm to cool, and the tones can seem to shift according to pairings with home furnishings and décor. According to the Paint Quality Institute, “Grays that contain traces of warm hues like red, yellow, or brown seem cozier, and partner best with warm companion colors. On the other hand, grays that have hints of blue or green seem color and more austere, so they are inherently compatible with colors on the cooler side of the spectrum.

Fruitful Choices—Orange and olive are two home interior paint colors plucked for perfection by today’s leading decorators. “I saw a palette of 60s colors on the 2015 runways that was exciting—shades like olive and orange are being given new life,” said Alexandra Kaehler.

Orange can go from sunny and golden to deep rust, giving the homeowner a wide range of choices that can suit any décor. Olive adds a rich, warm backdrop to any room, and pairs beautifully with a diverse array of accent colors.

Feeling the Blues—Blue never ceases to lose its popularity. This year, we’re seeing a definite trend with brighter Aegean blue paired with bright white, creating a vibrant yet still calming effect, like relaxing somewhere in the Greek Isles. Shades of softer blue-green, with a coastal feel, still have a strong following. French blue is a consistently popular paint color among shabby chic fans.

Not Quite White—Creamy white, off-white, ivory, or any white with a hint of warmth is popular. Paint manufacturers never tire of producing a spectrum of not-quite-white hues, using prefixes like “Dune, “Linen”, “Bisque”, and “China”. When you’re looking for a color that’s as neutral as possibly but adds a bit of warmth to your room, you can never go wrong with “white with attitude”.

A Woman's Guide to the Man Cave

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The man cave is a space—in the basement, garage, or somewhere that the “She” of the house allows—where a guy can be a guy. He doesn’t need coasters under his drink. He has total control over the remote. And he can eat what he wants without being reminded of his diet. He can yell at the television screen all he wants, play video games uninterrupted (theoretically), and escape the daily grind.

Women don’t understand some of the things that men want to display. They might not share the passion for sports and martial arts movies. And they probably find watching hunting and fishing shows and poker tournaments about as exciting as, well, listening about them.

But here’s the thing, ladies. Everyone needs a place to call their own, a room where they can be undisturbed. A woman might enjoy less isolation, as long as she has quiet time—reading a book by a sunny window, creating in a craft space, or relaxing with a cup of coffee on the patio. As long as she can be willfully ignored by the rest of the family, the woman of the house doesn’t need doors.

A man does.

A woman multi-tasks. A man doesn’t. So, give the guy a break—and a man cave. Here are some things you can add to his new haven, so that you enhance it without making it frilly.

Don’t say “décor”. While a man wants his man cave to look a certain way, he associates “décor” with women’s stuff. As soon as you use this word, you invade his sense of man space.

Don’t waste your energy on curtains. They don’t care what’s on the windows. Keep it simple—a fabric panel with his favorite team’s logo, window decal, or just a simple curtain with grommets that’s easy to open and close.

Let him decide where things go. As much as you might want to organize everything for him, don’t. He’s going to move things around anyway.

Toss pillows will live up to their name. While you might like pretty toss pillows, anything in the man cave will likely end up on the floor, under someone’s feet, or in some other place that will get them dirty.

Use man scents. If you want to add fragrance to the room, choose something manly. Plug-in air fresheners are best, because a man probably won’t light candles—and he definitely won’t remember to blow them out when he leaves the man cave.

Be the stocker, not a stalker. If you want to help, sneak in there and leave a bowl of snacks, preferably individually wrapped so they don’t go stale as quickly.

Bite your tongue. This is a man cave, not a family room. The primary user gets to decide how it looks, how it will be used, and when it can be entered. Ladies, keep the door and your mouth closed. On the plus side, you don’t need to clean it!

If you have a man cave, what are the rules? And what is your favorite man cave feature?

Mudroom Design Ideas: Clean Up Your Messiest Space

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The very name “mudroom” conjures up unpleasant images: piles of discarded coats, shoes, boots, socks, and scarves; a trail of dirt; backpacks that certainly hold something that should be seen, read, signed, or discussed. Your mudroom is the threshold to your family’s living space, that back door entrance that brings the outdoors in, but not all the way.

If you’re ready to take off those blinders and make sense of this area, let’s talk about cleaning up in the mudroom. To get you started, here are some design ideas for your messiest space.

First, take into consideration that the purpose of the mudroom is to provide a place where people can leave or grab things, like keys, coats, and backpacks—items that should be left near a doorway so they’re easy to find as needed. What you need is organization for that clutter, and to create a system that others can stick with.

Then, break it down into storage spaces, according to items. Hooks are great for coats, scarves, backpacks, and leashes. Place them at the appropriate height for each person and label with the name, to make it even faster to grab and go.

Cubbies are the ideal solution for a mudroom. You can choose an open cubby cabinet, and if you don’t like to see what’s shoved into each space, place a box or basket in there. Label each one with the items that should go there, like “Gloves, Hats & Mittens” and “Schoolwork”.

Doors are great on cabinets in your mudroom. You can paint them (inside or out) with chalkboard, magnetic, or whiteboard paint to create message boards. Adhere corkboard to post papers, notes, coupons, schedules, and other items you need to keep handy.

A locker room design may work well in your mudroom. Even if you don’t use a metal locker for each person, you can have a long cubby, with a small one above it. The long cabinet can store sports equipment, umbrellas, and other large items.

Place a hamper for wet, muddy, and soiled clothes, so that they aren’t shoved in a corner, dropped on the floor, or (sigh) left in a backpack.

Make a place in your mudroom to stash your keys—just don’t make it obvious, where anyone might be able to grab them. Attach hooks inside a cabinet door or place a basket out of reach of small hands.

Finally, don’t forget that your mudroom is still part of your home. Add color and décor that reflects your style. Wall sconces are a great way to add style as well as task lighting to a mudroom.

The best part about redecorating a small space is that it’s a fairly quick fix, but the results of your mudroom makeover can really brighten your home!

Demand Report: Millennials prefer single-family homes

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While Baby Boomers showed a preference in their early years for apartment living, their grown children are leaning toward the single-family home as their housing preference—whether renting or owning. A Fannie Mae report released July 1, 2015 showed that a rising number of people between the ages of 25 and 34 are occupying single-family homes.

In 2000, 50.9 percent of renters and 84.5 percent of homeowners in this age group lived in a single-family home. In 2013, those numbers increased to 52.4 and 88.9 percent, respectively. Not a huge leap, but the trend continues, according to the report, “Rent or Own, Young Adults Still Prefer Single-Family Homes”.

Patrick Simmons, director of strategic planning for Fannie Mae’s Economic & Strategic Group, said the upward climb is important for builders and developers. “Given the massive size of the Millennial generation, this life-cycle progression should support continued recovery in housing construction, and bodes well for a stronger rebound in the single-family sector in the second half of the decade.”

Previously, Millennials had posted smaller homeownership numbers than their preceding generations, Generation X, Baby Boomers, and the Silent Generation (Traditionalists). But the shift toward the desire for living in a single-family home—as opposed to apartment, condominium, townhome, or multi-family residence—is expected to grow as the Millennials reach their 30s, “prime years for first-time homeownership”, according to Simmons. The improved job market, low interest rates on mortgages, and lower down payment requirements are providing significant incentives to convert Millennials into homeowners.

A National Association of Homebuilders survey of the 25- to 35-year-olds showed that 75 percent want a single-family home, and almost 25 percent are looking to live in a rural area, away from the city. They also like their extras, and are willing to pay for options, like energy-efficiency, larger garages, pantries, linen closets, and walk-out basements. They’ll also find the money in their budget to pay for granite or quartz countertops and premium light fixtures.

Millennials are poised to make a major impact on the housing market. How are you preparing to meet the challenge?

Creative entertaining ideas for a July 4th party

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It’s just around the corner. The 4th of July is a banner holiday for Americans. We celebrate our freedom and the people who have dedicated their lives to preserving it for us. While it is traditional to have a July 4th cookout, why not try a different twist on this year’s Independence Day celebration?

Family Friendly FunFest

If you’re going to have kids (of all ages) at your gathering, release your inner child. Plan some outdoor games, like cornhole with one set of striped bags and one set of starry bags. And there’s game as American as baseball, so get a whiffle ball and bat, and set out the bases before your guests arrive for a Red versus Blue battle. Check out Surfnetkidsfor more 4th of July games.

The family friendly menu can be just as fun. Add some healthy flavor to your red, white, and blue theme by making skewers of strawberries, blueberries, and marshmallows. Or hollow out a watermelon and use a star-shaped cookie cutter to make your melon pieces more festive.

Set up a lemonade stand with a variety of flavored lemonades, like strawberry, raspberry, and peach. Can’t find them already mixed? Just puree the fruit in a blender and stir it in.

Place coloring stations with poster board and crayons, where the children can draw pictures of what freedom means to them.

Hang a red, white, and blue piñata and have a red or blue bandanna ready to blindfold the players.

And what’s more kid-friendly than bubbles? Set out trays of the liquid (away from the food) with wands that have stars-and-stripes ribbons attached.

Stars & Stripes

There’s nothing more festive than the red, white, and blue of our stars and stripes. Encourage guests to dress in the theme, and offer a prize for the best costume.

For decorations, string white lights around the party area and hang red and blue stars from them. Decorate your great outdoors with streamers, ribbons, star covered balloons, and flags.

Lay out the food in striped patterns. Set out bottled drinks in the shape of star. Layer a parfait with strawberries, blueberries, and marshmallows at the center of your buffet—or just used colored glass pebbles. Use small flag food picks to label everything on your serving table.

Patriotic and Simply Chic

If your tastes trend a bit more upscale, you can take a simply chic approach to your July 4th party. Put star-shaped white lights in large, clear glass vases. Wrap red and blue balloons in white tulle and tie with shimmery white star garlands.

Set your table with a red and white floral arrangement, accented with sheer blue ribbon, sparklers, or a softly draping flag. For your bar, blue glassware and red linens. Accent with empty wine bottles filled with white lights. Use all white place settings for a classic style. For an eclectic chic look, blend mismatched white dishes (spend a little time treasure hunting at thrift shops first).

If your party is outdoors, place oversized pinwheels around the area, with solar lights to brighten them up as the sun goes down. Set up a croquet set for some garden party activity. Plan a patriotic trivia game with questions about American history, U.S. Presidents, and the fifty states.


No matter what theme you choose, be sure you plan ahead and create a music playlist. Here are some song suggestions:

“4th of July” (Shooter Jennings)

“All American Girl” (Carrie Underwood)

“America” (Neil Diamond)

“America” (Simon and Garfunkel)

“America the Beautiful” (Ray Charles and Alicia Keyes)

“American Girl” (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers)

“American Pie” (Don McLean)

“American Soldier” (Toby Keith)

“Born in the USA” (Bruce Springsteen)

“Coming to America” (Neil Diamond)

“Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue” (Toby Keith)

“God Bless America”

“God Bless the USA” (Lee Greenwood)

“Independence Day” (Bruce Springsteen)

“I’ve Been Everywhere” (Johnny Cash)

“Living in America” (James Brown)

“Living in the USA” (Linda Ronstadt)

“My Country ‘Tis of Thee” (Aretha Franklin)

“Philadelphia Freedom” (Elton John)

“Proud to Be an American” (Lee Greenwood)

“R.O.C.K. in the USA” (John Mellencamp)

“Star Spangled Banner” (Whitney Houston does a wonderful version)

“Surfin’ USA” (The Beach Boys)

“This Land is Your Land” (Woody Guthrie)

“Yankee Doodle Dandy”

Unique container garden ideas

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A container garden provides a wonderful way to add color and plants in any space, no matter how small. You can use planters, of course, but if you’re a gardener who likes to think outside the flower box, here are some unique container garden ideas.

Cut a hole in the seat an old chair (wood or metal), or remove it all together. Insert a pot that fits tightly in that space or staple chicken wire to the opening to provide drainage. Make sure you shape the chicken wire to form a bowl under the seat, rather than straight across. Paint the chair in colors that accent the plants in this container garden, add a hook for a watering can, and use the back of the chair to drape your vines.

Other pieces of furniture, like a dresser or just the drawers can be upcycled into a stunning container garden. Refinish the exterior, punch holes in the drawers, and line them with plastic trash bags before adding soil and plants.

Search flea markets and yard sales to find reusable and vintage pieces that spark your creativity, like metal basketsbath tubs, sinks, and washtubs. Kitchen items like teapots, colanders, soup tureens, and stock pots can be repurposed into planters for container gardens. Succulents (e.g., cacti) do well in shallow containers, so look for pretty serving bowls and birdbaths.

An old bicycle can get more mileage with a makeover. Paint the bike (including the tires), attach baskets to the handlebars and saddle (or wherever you please). While we’re talking wheels here, think about upcycling an old wheelbarrow or a child’s wagonCar tires also make great container garden planters. Paint them in vibrant colors and stack them for an eye-catching container garden.

The key to finding unique container garden ideas is keeping your mind and eyes open to anything that could hold soil and provide drainage. It could be plastic, wood, metal, ceramic, stone, or any combination of these materials. A plastic mop bucket, wicker laundry basket, or a wooden toy chest can do the trick. Check your basement, attic, garage, and yard. Visit flea markets and garage sales. Browse the clearance areas of department stores. Most importantly – have fun with it!

10 Mistakes to Avoid When Planning A Home Theater

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You’re ready to make your movie viewing experience better than the large-screen television in your living room. Forget the man cave, the playroom, the craft room, the room that your mother-in-law might be eyeing as her second home.

It’s time to create a home theater.

Before you jump into buying all the expensive equipment and drilling holes for light fixtures and wires, let me share some common home theater design mistakes, with hopes you will avoid them.

Picking the wrong room. The home theater sound system isn’t a one-room-fits-all component. You need to choose a space that will provide the best sound quality. That means a square or rectangular room with no windows— ideally not even if they’re covered with heavy drapes or blinds. Not only will it let in some light, but the outside noise will filter through.

Cutting corners on the speakers. If you don’t have a great picture and sound quality, your home theater will be a flop. A good set of speakers is the best investment because they will deliver the quality and durability you expect. And be sure that the ohms and wattage for the speakers match your amplifier so you don’t blow them out.

Wrong screen placement. Long ago and far away, people stared up at movie screens in theaters. Then came the reality of ergonomics. Looking up causes neck strain. So, sit down in your new home theater furniture. Look straight ahead. The top of the monitor should be just a few inches above your eye level gaze.

Wrong seating placement. No matter how good the movie, if you’re not sitting comfortably, you won’t enjoy the experience. Choose comfy seating and place it so that your moviegoers don’t have to contort themselves to get a view of the screen. Tiered seating is ideal, if you don’t mind building a simple platform to elevate the seats behind the front row. And set up the room so that anyone entering or exiting is not going to block the screen.

Seating is too close or too far from the screen. The ideal distance for the best visual acuity will depend on the size of the television screen and your vision. If you have 20/20 vision and a 50-inch screen, 10 feet is a good distance. Here’s a Home Theater Calculator to help you figure out the best viewing distance for your screen.

Too complicated for the average non-techie. For some people, using a universal remote seems like rocket science. If you’re sharing with other household members, don’t make the home theater system so complicated that you need to be called in every time someone wants to use the system. Install a control system that operates the various components (television, DVD player, receiver, game console) and perhaps a movie server, like Kaleidescape, that allows users to access the movie collection.

Hiding the speakers. “No one puts Baby in the corner.” Your speakers have a job to do. When you hide them in a cabinet or behind a fake plant, you reduce the sound quality.

Poorly connected system. If you want maximum quality, utilize the right wiring and settings. Use HDMI cables, but you don’t need the gold-plated ones. If you’re not sure, invest in having someone come in to set it up right the first time.

Forgetting the surge protector. Your home theater is an electronic system. Don’t risk avoidable damage from a power surge.

Omitting the concession stand. A movie theater style popcorn machine and a small refrigerator for cold drinks add the finishing touches to your room, and maybe a basket with other movie snacks.

A home theater can be a big hit in your home. Follow these tips to avoid the most common mistakes.

Add Feng Shui to Your Home Without Moving Walls

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Feng shui is an ancient Chinese practice, dating back more than 3,000 years. The phrase translates to “wind water”, which the Chinese believe to represent good health, fortune, and prosperity. Good feng shui brings “chi” or energy to your home, leading to harmony and balance.

Often we think of door, stair and wall placements as being part of Feng Shui, but there are much easier ways to tap into this ancient practice. To get started on creating a better environment, here are some simple tips to bring energy and health to your home with feng shui.

  • De-clutter. You can’t experience true harmony when your home is filled with “stuff”. Start your feng shui makeover by clearing out the excess and simplifying your surroundings. Once you’ve “lightened” the load, you’ll already begin to feel the positive energy. Creating a clear path to the front door, for example, promotes chi.


  • Freshen the air. Cleansing the air is a key step in creating a healthy and healthful environment. Open the windows. Bring in air purifying plants, which remove pollutants such as benzene, formaldehyde, acetone, and trichloroethylene from your indoor air. Add a rubber plant, English ivy, Boston fern, and peace lily. Certain palms, like a lady, date, areca, and bamboo palm, are also ideal air purifying plants.


  • Improve the light. The quality and amount of light in your home will impact the positive energy. Use natural light wherever possible, removing drapes that block the sunlight. Eliminate fluorescents, which have been proven to promote stress, anxiety, hyperactivity, and problems with focus. Integrate full-spectrum lighting, which most closely simulates sunlight.


  • Map out the energy. The “bagua” is the energy map of a space. You use it to determine which areas relate to specific elements of your life, including creativity, love and marriage, fame, money, health, spiritual growth, career, and helpful people.


  • Incorporate the five feng shui elements. Feng shui combines five elements and relates them to specific colors to create harmony. You should include all five elements in your home’s décor.

Wood = Green, Brown

Fire = Red, Strong Yellow, Orange, Purple, Pink

Earth = Light Yellow, Light Brown

Metal = White, Gray

Water = Blue, Black

  • Use your birth element in the décor. Although you need to incorporate the five elements, you must also be mindful of your birth element. Achieving chi is dependent on ensuring you surround yourself with shapes and colors that reflect and complement your personal energy. Start by identifying your birth element using this chart.

Stay tuned for decorating tips to promote harmony and balance in your home!

Six Tips for Choosing the Right School For Your Child

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Finding the right home in the right neighborhood is always a challenge for a home buyer. Parents with school-age children have even more to consider when it comes to picking “Location! Location! Location!”

When you’re moving within your own region, you already have knowledge of the school district’s reputation. If you’re moving farther, you need to take the time to consider various factors when choosing a school. Here are some questions to ask yourself and the schools.

  1. What type of learning environment is best for my child? No one knows your child better than you. Determine whether she will thrive in a small or large classroom, needs a particular type of curriculum (structured versus non-structured, liberal arts, faith-based), or would benefit from a school that offers bilingual education.

  2. Does the town support the school? The town’s annual report will show how much of the tax dollars are spent on education. Look at the spending per pupil to determine how deeply the town is committed to education. A properly funded school will have up-to-date computers and technology, a library of diverse resources, proper sporting equipment, and a well-maintained campus.

  3. What services are offered? A school that employs a full complement of staffing—including on-site nurse, resource officer, librarian, and guidance counselors—is better equipped to provide a safe, healthy, and nurturing environment.

  4. What extra-curricular programs are available? The classroom is just one part of the overall education experience. Extra-curricular programs, like clubs and sports teams, provide valuable learning for young people. If your child is an avid lacrosse player, for example, and the school you’re considering doesn’t have a team, then you might want to look elsewhere for the right school.

  5. Does the district offer school choice? Having the ability to choose from more than one school for your child is a benefit. Some districts have a lottery where a certain number of students can attend a different school that better suits their needs. If you have a child who is musically inclined, the possibility of enrolling him in a magnet school for the performing arts may be just what you want.

  6. How does this school’s rating compare locally, regionally, and nationally? Visit to view a detailed report on the schools in the area you’re considering, including parent reviews. Keep in mind that all schools – whether they are rated highly or not – often have special tracks for either highly skilled students or those with special needs that are excellent. Don’t let a single score scare you from making the best choice for your child.

Once you have done all of this advance research, you can take the extra step to schedule a tour of each school to see and sense the environment for yourself.

Oh, Baby! Design Trends For Your Nursery

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You’re preparing for a new arrival, but what will your infant’s haven look like? A baby’s room has changed over the years. To help you get started with the planning and decorating, here are some design trends for your nursery.

Popular paint colors for nurseries

The color choice is the first step in planning your nursery décor. Today’s nurseries are no longer dictated by pastels. Go bold. Go neutral. Earthy tones and navy blue have become popular paint colors for nurseries. And these color choices provide more longevity, beyond infancy. You can easily find bedding and decorative accents to complement any of these color palettes in your nursery.

Trending crib styles

Your infant will be spending most of his or her time in the crib, so your choice is critical. Parents-to-be are now looking to get more long-term value from the investment, so they’re showing a strong preference for convertible cribs that convert from a crib to a toddler bed, and possibly even into a twin bed.

Eco-friendly cribs reflect the commitment to preserving the environment by using sustainable materials, like bamboo and teak. Manufacturers recognize the design trends and are offering a wide range of crib styles, from country cottage and vintage to contemporary and novelty—everything from Cinderella’s pumpkin carriage to an airplane.

Creature comforts

In recent years, we’ve seen a lot of birds taking flight in nurseries. The wise owl has been a popular decorative accent, but the current critter of choice is trending toward the fox. It might be the result of the song, “What Does the Fox Say?” or the fact that the cleverness of the fox is trumping the wisdom of the ubiquitous owl or the free-flying birds soaring across the walls and ceilings of recent nursery décor.

Getting in line with geometrics

Distinct lines—chevrons, stripes, arrows—are popping up on the walls, ceilings, flooring, and decorative accents in nurseries. You can soften the lines with colors, like a warm gray with yellow or turquoise, or go bold with any vibrant color coupled with white. You won’t have any difficulty finding nursery décor if you choose geometric patterns in your baby’s nursery.

The writing’s on the walls

Do you want more inspiration in your baby’s room? Consider adding a rub-on wall decal with a quote you like. They’re easy to apply, and you can get your wall decal customized, including your baby’s name and birthdate. And they’re easy to remove.

You can also frame quotes or children’s book covers to accent your theme. Decoupage a large letter (like your infant’s initial) or use three-dimensional letters to make your message stand out.

Like your baby, the nursery will change. You’ll add new items to make this space fit your growing baby. Keep your mind open and don’t be afraid to try something new!

Announcing our New Team Members

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We are pleased to announce that with the rapid growth of the new home buying and building industries, we have again adding to our team. We would like to introduce you to a few of the new faces in our office.

Sophia Castro – Online New Home Sales Consultant

We are so pleased to welcome Sophia Castro as our new Online New Home Sales Consultant. Sophia brings to the Lamar Smith Signature team a wealth of customer service skills and immeasurable professionalism. She comes to us with an A.A. in Health Care Business Administration and is currently attending Armstrong State University. Sophia loves talking to people and answering questions about our new homes and communities. We like to tell people that no matter what questions they may have about buying or building their new home, Sophia is just a call away!

Sophia hails from her hometown of Port St. Lucie, Florida. She and her husband reside in Midway, Georgia with their small terrier named Teddy. You will find Sophia spending her free time either traveling to new places or relaxing at the beach.

Terry Walker – CAD Technician


Terry Walker is the CAD Technician at Lamar Smith Signature Homes. Before joining the Lamar Smith Signature team, Terry put his exceptional talents to use at a structural engineering firm. Professionalism and superior work are what make Terry an integral part of our team.

Coming from his hometown of Augusta, Georgia, Terry brings with him is talented wife Shandrea and his beautiful daughter Alana. When not in the office you will find him traveling with his family or enjoying a good game of golf or football.

Spring cleaning tips for your new home

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Winter is finally slipping away and we’re starting to feel refreshed, and ready for the change that spring brings. One of the most popular rites of spring is doing an overhaul of your home’s interior—cleaning, purging, reorganizing, and perhaps redecorating. But before you launch into a full-scale attack, here are some helpful spring cleaning tips for your home.

Make a plan. If you just dive into spring cleaning without a plan, you’ll waste time and probably miss certain areas that you’ll regret later—after your energy has been depleted. Decide where you need to purge—closets, attics, and basements are a great start. Determine how you’re going to approach each task. Set aside boxes or bags for “Keep”, “Donate”, and “Toss” in the area you’re purging so you don’t have to carry out piles.

Include the tiny places that seem to get ignored during normal housecleaning, like sliding door tracks, baseboards, door frames, behind the kitchen appliances, and cabinet doors.

Next, prioritize the spaces that need your attention. If you have a dreaded area, put it at the top of the list. Don’t procrastinate. Tackle it first. You’ll feel better about getting it out of the way.

Organize your supplies. Now that you have your spring cleaning plan all ready, gather up the supplies, like rags, paper towels, various solvents, sponges, brushes, squeegies, gloves, drawer liners, and replacement batteries and light bulbs. Sort them into categories. Make a bucket for window washing, use another container for dusting supplies, and so on. Then you can just grab the right bucket and head off to tackle the cleaning.

Make a checklist. Keep a clipboard with you and make notes of things you need to get, replace, clean, or fix as you move from room to room. Don’t stop during your cleaning frenzy to run to the home store because you’ve decided you need to change your cabinet hardware or bathroom accessories. The distraction will slow down your progress. Instead, at the end of the day, review your clipboard and make a shopping and errand list to tackle all at once.

Start at the top. In every area of your house, start your spring cleaning from the top. Sweep away cobwebs and dust the light fixtures. Then move to the windows and walls. All the dirt, dust, and debris will fall to the floor, to be cleaned away last.

Hand out the assignments. Spring cleaning should be a shared challenge for everyone in the household. Once you have your plan, share it with your “helpers” and decide who will do what and when (yes, make sure there are deadlines).

Plan to be tired. At the end of your spring cleaning day, reward your hard work by putting your feet up, letting someone else make or deliver dinner, and kicking back to enjoy your fully refreshed surroundings!

Spray Foam Insulation: The Hero of Cool Summers and Low Electric Bills

Is there a better feeling than opening your front door on a swampy Southern summer day and stepping into a cool foyer? What about spending a toasty winter evening curled up on the couch, no fire needed, watching a movie as the winter winds whip away outside? Well, meet the unsung hero of your new home’s cozy winter evenings and cool summer days: spray foam insulation.

As part of the Lamar Smith Signature Home BEST House standard of excellence, all of our new homes include the latest and greatest in energy saving: spray foam insulation (along with Low-E windows and an ENERGY STAR certification). Spray foam insulation is a modern alternative to traditional building insulation such as fiberglass. A two-component mixture melds at the tip of a gun, and forms expanding foam that can be sprayed onto roof tiles, slabs, into wall spaces, or through holes drilled into a finished wall. We admit, there’s nothing flashy or fancy about it. After all, it’s insulation. Yet many people don’t realize the incredible benefits that spray foam insulation guarantees for their home and their families.

The Benefits of Spray Foam Insulation in your New Home

The spray foam stops the heated or cooled air from escaping your home. It works like a warm windbreaker, keeping the undesirable hot or cold air out and keeping the inside of your home the perfect temperature. In contrast, the traditional fiberglass and cellulose insulation operate a lot like a wool sweater. While thoroughly knit and quite bulky, it lets both cold and warm air pass in and out through the openings, causing the lose-lose situation of both higher heating and cooling bills.

Traditional insulation can never be perfectly installed; there will always be spaces and gaps. A one-foot gap in your insulation can lead to enough air leakage everyday to fill up an air blimp. Spray foam insulation expands up to 100 times its original size, ensuring that every nook and cranny of your home’s outer shell is completely optimized for thermal insulation and air sealing.

At one point or another we’ve all seen the end result of 10-year-old traditional insulation: pink or white pillows of insulation strewn across attic floorboards or falling out of the wall in a crawl space. Spray foam insulation stays snugly in place and will never settle, sag or change positions over time, ensuring the incredible insulation you become accustomed to will last for the life of your home.

While traditional fiberglass and cellulose insulation often absorb water particles and overtime become an attractive environment for ants, rats and other pests (many even use traditional insulation for nesting purposes), spray foam insulation’s material offers no appeal for pests, rodents or termites.

And finally, the be-all-end-all reason spray foam insulation is your home’s unsung superhero: air-quality protection! In the Southeast especially, we all are concerned with allergens, pollens, and dust that floats naturally in the air. Spray foam’s air sealant qualities drastically reduces the amount of airborne pollutants your family is exposed to, helping protect them for a lifetime of better health. Traditional insulation can actually trap dirt and allergens as well as serve as a hot spot for contamination and mold growth.

Community Highlight: Savannah Highlands

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Since the earliest days of Southern history, well-to-do residents of towns like Savannah and Augusta have left their downtown homes in the summer months to retreat to the cooler, less crowded highlands or hills. They would escape the sticky, humid cloud and flock to the trendy, higher ground.

In the past few years, the city of Pooler has become the new go-to place people are flocking to. What once was a little town serving as a convenient junction of major interstates and home to some of the region’s largest businesses has completely reinvented itself as the new “it” place to relocate to.

The aptly named Savannah Highlands community in Pooler offers the same attractive aspects that the earliest of Southern city residents looked for as they left their bustling little towns – a refuge that knows the importance of relaxation and living well. The Savannah Highlands community in booming Pooler, GA offers all the luxuries one would expect in one of what has been named America’s most up-and-coming town’s most up-and-coming community. A gorgeous swimming pool complete with waterslide flanks the expansive clubhouse, available to all residents for use. Savannah Highlands residents know the value of health, and you will find neighbors exercising at the state of the art fitness center, playing a pickup match on the tennis courts, or walking along the sidewalks that give the feel of an earlier time. There is also a playground perfect for after school playtime.

Pooler has not only been said to be one of the fastest-growing cities in America, it has also been called one of the friendliest. Stop by Savannah Highlands and see what you’ve been missing.

Meet Cole!

Cole Saturday is our on-site New Home Sales Consultant for The Savannah Highlands in Pooler.

Cole has served and helped grow Savannah for over 16 years in fields such as Home Security, Home Furnishing and Home Mortgage Origination. Cole focuses on helping each customer as they search for their dream home. He understands how overwhelming the process can be and he works to assist each homebuyer, making the home-buying process a little easier.
Cole is a third generation Savannahian and proud to call Savannah his home. He and his wife, Vanessa, have two sons, two dogs and one cat from time to time.

Tips For Moving Fido Into Your New Home

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Moving to a new home is exciting, but it can also be stressful for the whole family. You’re aware of the changes happening, but your dog isn’t. Leaving the comfort of familiar spaces—inside and out—and landing in a strange one can be upsetting for the canine member of your family. Plan ahead and make it a little easier when moving your dog into a new home.

Start slowly. Tame some of the pent-up energy from the trip to your new place. When you arrive, take your dog for a walk around the neighborhood, letting her sniff out the surroundings (and for him to leave his mark on the territory). Then calmly walk up to your home. Avoid using an excited tone, saying something like, “Who has a new home? You do. You do!” Your pet doesn’t understand the words, but your voice will rev up the energy you’re trying to tame.

Make it familiar. Dog behavior is guided by a strong sense of smell. Have your new home ready with some familiar favorites. Avoid the temptation to stock it with new toys, blanket, bed, crate, and dishes. Put the old things in the same places as in your previous home, like the bed in the living room and the dishes near the refrigerator.

Be patient and attentive. Your dog will probably experience some anxiety at the sudden change—which could show itself with barking, pacing, and potty accidents. He might be more clingy than usual, so be patient and soothing. Plan to spend time playing together. Try to avoid scolding your pup too harshly during the transition. These dog behaviors are the result of fear and confusion. It doesn’t mean your good dog has become a naughty one.

Find friends. Check out the local dog parks where your precious pup can meet other dogs and dog lovers. Look for a good dog sitter who can come to your home and get to know your buddy. Walk around the neighborhood and you’ll quickly meet the pet lovers, who can give you advice on a good veterinarian, groomer, and pet sitter.

There’s nothing like getting a warm welcome from your dog. When you move into a new home, it’s your turn to do it for him!