DIY projects are a great way to keep yourself busy during social distancing while also giving you a chance to hone certain skills or take care of a few things around the house. With some DIY projects you’ll already have everything you need at home, making it a simple matter of getting everything together and actually doing it. With other projects, though, you’ll have to venture out to pick up a few things. This can be stressful during a period of social distancing.


You need to be conscious of both exposing yourself or others to the virus, so it’s important that you follow CDC guidelines and guidance from your local government for your community. You’re also going to want to make sure you’re ready with a list of everything you need before you head out the door.

The goal here is to make sure that you can get everything you need in as few trips as possible. After all, the fewer times you have to go out, the less chance there is for you to accidentally expose yourself or others to sickness. To that end, here are a few suggestions that can help you make your DIY shopping list and get everything you need in a single trip.

Build Your Project List
The first thing that you’ll need to do is figure out exactly what it is that you’re hoping to get accomplished. Think about more than just the project that you’re currently working on and look at your overall DIY slate. Not only can taking all of your projects into account help you cut back on trips for supplies, but it can also make it easier to see where supplies can be used for more than one project. You don’t have to list every single project that you might conceivably do, but at least create a list of the next few projects that you hope to tackle.

What Do You Have on Hand?
Figure out everything that you’ll need for the projects on your list, then start looking at what you already have available. Maybe you already have some lumber, wires or fasteners on hand; do you have enough to get through all of your projects? If you don’t have the exact materials that you’d planned on using for a project, do you have anything similar that could be substituted? Be sure and take things like paint, sealer and similar materials into account as well. Knowing what you already have will help you narrow down exactly what you do need, which will keep your costs down and make your shopping trip go faster as well.

What Do You Still Need?
Take into account everything that you’ll need to finish your projects, including any additional tools you’ll need to pick up and anything you’ll need for maintenance or decoration. Organize your list as best you can by items that should be located in the same area, reducing your back-and-forth time and keeping your contact with others in the store at a minimum. Be sure to check this list twice, as anything you miss will mean another trip to the store at some point.

Planning for Multiple Stops
One other thing to consider is that you may not be able to get everything that you need in a single stop. If this is the case, organize your list so that you group everything at each stop together. This means that if you need to hit the hardware store, all of your hardware purchases are in that part of the list. Any big-box specific purchases would be in another part of the list. Once you have these divisions in place, you can use the same tactic from above in regard to sub-grouping items that are in the same part of each store. You should also use this time to plan other necessities for your trip as well. Make sure that you have a mask or other protection gear, hand sanitizer and anything else you might need and that you’ve made preparations for each stop.


It’s also a good idea to come up with a timetable for your trip, figuring out what time everything opens so you can go as early as your schedule allows to avoid crowds. It’s important to be conscious of how social contact can potentially expose you to illness, as well as how you might inadvertently spread it to others; proper social distancing, protective gear and other preparations are as much a part of your preparations to shop as your list is.

Making Your Shopping List
One last thing to consider: While you may be used to keeping shopping lists on your phone or through a digital assistant, if you’re in an area where you really want to minimize potential contact with germs or other contagions then individual paper lists could be a better option. This reduces the possibility of your phone getting contaminated while you look at it or touch it, and the lists themselves can be disposed of once you’re done with them. It can also help with your organization since you’ll just have a single list to work from with each stop that you make.

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Buying or selling a home can be stressful even under ordinary circumstances. Unfortunately, the current state of the world is far from ordinary. The housing market is feeling the crunch, as fewer buyers want to get out and shop for a home, and fewer sellers want to take a risk with selling. This isn’t to say that nobody’s buying and selling, of course; the market is just going through some changes.

One of the biggest changes revolves around how buyers and sellers are handling social isolation and social distancing. If you’re thinking of selling, or are in the market to buy, here are a few new “rules” to keep in mind when entering the real estate fray in the era of self-isolation.

Increasing Online Presence
One of the big changes to the real estate process is an increased dependence on online resources instead of in-person shopping. This includes lots of pictures and videos of properties being posted online, but many sellers are taking things even further than this. Recorded virtual tours, online conferences to allow buyers to ask questions about the property, and even livestream walkthroughs with a seller or agent showing the property are all increasingly popular options to supplement or even replace in-person showings and conferences.

Fewer Open Houses
Open houses are a popular way to show off a property to many potential buyers, but in the current crisis these events are a big no-no. In many locales, open houses aren’t even allowed under state and federal guidance. In states where they haven’t been specifically banned, many sellers are still hesitant to hold an event that would bring multiple people into close contact with each other. Online “virtual open house” conferences are popping up as one option to adapt to this, letting multiple potential buyers come together on Zoom or a similar video conference service at the same time to get a better feel for the property that’s being sold.

More One-on-One Time
As convenient as online access and virtual tours are during the current isolation period, few if any buyers would sign on the dotted line without getting a chance to see a property in person. To accommodate this, many sellers and agents are meeting with potential buyers by appointment only. This lets a potential buyer get a good look at the property in question while also restricting the size of the meeting as much as possible. Many of these appointments are made with the understanding that if any participant feels the least bit under the weather on the day of the meet-up, then it will need to be rescheduled for another time.

Respecting Social Distancing
Even when buyers and sellers do meet up, the process is usually a little different than it used to be. Social distancing rules are usually respected, meaning that everyone involved should stay at least six feet apart at all times to prevent potential infection. Discussions about the property and general Q&As are more likely to occur outdoors in the open air, and any greetings or introductions skip out on traditional handshakes. Masks, gloves, shoe covers and hand sanitizer are commonly available on site, and many sellers go through and open all of the doors and windows to both maximize airflow and to allow interested buyers access to the entire house without having to touch doorknobs or other surfaces in order to see inside.

Closing Remotely
Remote closing negotiations are becoming much more common, taking advantage of video conferencing to bring everyone together without actually having to be in the same room. There may be some instances where people have to meet up to actually sign paperwork, but digital signing is more common because it removes that point of contact. Even when people do come together for closing and signing, it’s much more likely that everyone will utilize social distancing and that both parties will use their own pens instead of sharing.
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The world we live in is significantly different than the world we knew just a year ago. Around the world, people face self-isolation and quarantine as we attempt to stop the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. This can be scary, especially for those who live alone or who have distant loved ones that they’re worried about. Fortunately, we also live in a world where technology can bring us closer together even as we must stay apart.

There are a number of ways that modern technology can help us stay connected. While some of these depend on you having the right pieces of hardware, others are software solutions that almost anyone can use. If you’re feeling lonely, here are a few tech solutions that might help bring you closer to friends and loved ones.

VoIP Solutions
VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) and VoIP-like phone services are seeing increasingly widespread use around the world. These services allow you to make voice and even video calls over the internet, letting you stay connected without the need for a landline phone or cellular service. Many of these services allow for text chat as well, and most are available both on a computer and as a smartphone app.

Video Conferencing
Software When you need something a bit more robust or sophisticated than what a VoIP solution offers, video-conferencing options like Zoom and GoToMeeting can help. Video conferencing software lets you connect people from multiple locations into a single chat. Most of these solutions allow for video, voice and even text chat, ensuring that people won’t be left out if they lack a webcam or have slow internet service. Some of these options even allow the use of virtual backgrounds, so you can set a favorite photo or other image as a backdrop for your video call as an added bit of fun.

Virtual Vacations
To help people around the world have something to do, many zoos, museums and other public spaces have taken to streaming video or offering up other virtual options while they are closed. A family trip that might have been out of the question otherwise can now be simulated by starting up a conference call between multiple households and embarking on the same virtual tour together so that everyone can experience it at the same time.

Community Groups
A lot of people already use social media to keep in touch with friends and family who are far away. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, people are turning to sites like Facebook and Twitter to stay connected even to close friends. By setting up private groups or interacting on specific posts, isolated friends can still share stories and humor, post pictures and share status updates, and generally stay up to date on everyone’s well-being.

The Rise of eSports
One thing that got a lot of people to pay attention and start taking COVID-19 seriously was when various sports organizations started cancelling their usual events and seasons. In the time since, people have started paying more attention to online gaming competitions and eSports. There a wide range of games that people can watch online and then talk about with friends and family, and some professional athletes have started playing and streaming their games as well. Some race car drivers have even taken to having online races using various video games.

Senior-Friendly Options
There are an increasing number of options available to help families stay in touch with seniors. In addition to VoIP software and similar solutions, there are also dedicated hardware devices such as tablets that are designed with senior ease-of-use in mind. These devices coordinate with apps placed on the phones or other devices of family members, giving seniors one-touch access to their families so everyone can stay connected. This also helps families check in with their senior friends and relatives to calm fears that they might be under the weather.

In It Together
As you can see, there are several options available to keep in touch even while we have to stay physically distant. This isn’t an exclusive list; you may have additional options available that aren’t covered here. Just remember that no matter what you use, check in with friends and loved ones periodically both to get that much-needed social contact and to ensure that everyone is okay.
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Social isolation can be difficult, especially if you’re not used to it. It sounds easy on the surface: Just stay home! If you’re cut off from the social contact and day-to-day routines that you’re used to, though, this can have a significant negative impact on your mental (and sometimes physical) health. If you’ve been struggling with isolation, here are a few things to keep in mind as you develop a routine for your “new normal.”

Assessing Your Needs
As with most things, the very first thing that you need to do is stop and look at what you actually need in your day. Make a list, check it twice and see exactly what you need to include in your day-to-day activities while you’re in isolation. Be sure to include not just those tasks you do every day but also things that need to be done less frequently, such as refilling pill planners or getting the laundry done. Once you have a list, plan out your schedule a week at a time on a calendar for easy reference.

Avoiding Distractions
If you’re having to work from home for the first time, you might be surprised at just how unproductive you are when working from home. Some people flourish in the work-at-home environment, while others discover that the problem with working from home is that home is where you keep all your favorite distractions. Establish office hours for yourself, both to keep others from bothering you and to keep yourself from wandering off in the middle of the work day. For ease of reference, place your office hours on your calendar too.

Add Some Activity
Just because you can’t get to the gym doesn’t mean that you’ve got to give up your exercise routine. Lift weights at home, go for walks or jogs (while maintaining social distancing), check your streaming services for workout content, or buy dancing or exercise-related video games for your favorite console. While you probably won’t be able to replicate the same experience that you get at the gym, even a little bit of activity every day will still do you a ton of good. For that matter, even if you just set an alarm every hour to remind yourself to walk around the house you’ll still be doing yourself some good.

Get Out of the House
Just because you can’t go anywhere doesn’t mean you have to sit inside all day. The weather’s getting nicer, so you should definitely spend some time outside if you can. This could be a great time to prep a garden, get your yard in shape or order the supplies you need to put up some bird feeders. Some sunlight and fresh air every day will do wonders for your well-being, both mentally and physically.

You’re Not Hungry, You’re Bored
Don’t fall victim to the “Quarantine 15.” It’s easy right now to sit around the house and eat more snacks than you normally would because you don’t have much else to do. Take a stand against overeating by finding better things to do with your time. You can also add healthy snacks and other better-for-you alternatives to your next shopping trip, replacing processed chips and candy with fruit and vegetable options.

Mind Your Mental Health
Isolation is very stressful, especially if you live in an area that’s experiencing a large outbreak of COVID-19. All that stress, prolonged over weeks or even months, can have a substantial negative impact on your mental health. Add in the loneliness and depression that can occur as a result of social isolation and you could be looking at some very rough times mentally. Find friends or relatives to call or video chat with to talk about your issues, and don’t be afraid to seek out tele-health options for mental health as well.

Maintaining Your Routine
Don’t assume that things will be the same from week to week. Take some time every weekend to go over your routine from the previous week, figure out what worked well and what didn’t, and adjust your routine for the upcoming week accordingly. This is new to all of us, so it’s ok if you need to change things up every week during your isolation. Just take things a week at a time and remember that even if you have a bad week now, you’ll always have an opportunity to try again next week.
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Air filtration is an important part of your home’s ventilation system. Without an air filter in place, dust and other airborne particles would be distributed throughout your ductwork. This could aggravate allergies, build up on your vents to reduce airflow and possibly even create bigger problems over time.

This doesn’t mean that you can just grab any air filter and slap it in place, of course. Choosing the right air filter for your home is important if you want to get the most life out of your heating and cooling system. Stop for a moment and think about your HVAC system; do you really know what sort of air filter you need to keep things running in top condition? If you don’t, here’s what you need to know.


Where Is My Air Filter?


The first thing that you need to know about your air filter is exactly where in your house it’s located. This may seem kind of obvious, but some air filters are difficult to find. While the most common air filter location is behind a grate on one of the walls, some of these grates are in odd locations or are designed to somewhat blend in with the look of the surrounding wall. Filters may also be placed in the air handler unit (AHU) or rooftop unit (RTU). Buildings with split ventilation systems may even have multiple intakes that each have their own air filter. Depending on how your system is designed, it may take a bit of hunting to locate your filter.


Choosing an Air Filter


Once you’ve located your filter, it’s important that you choose the right one for your needs. Part of this involves finding the right size filter; different HVAC units are designed for different filters, and if you get one that doesn’t fit then you’re going to have trouble getting it (or keeping it) in place. Measure the dimensions of the area where the filter is mounted or look at the old filter and find the dimensions listed on it. Choosing an air filter is about more than just finding the right size, however; one other big consideration is the MERV rating (which stands for Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value.)
 

The MERV is a number that tells how good of a filter you’re buying. A low MERV of around 6 provides you with 35 to 50 percent efficiency at capturing large particles like dust, mold and pet dander. A MERV of 8 increases this to over 70 percent efficiency, capturing those particles as well as slightly smaller particles like pollen and dust mites. A MERV of 11 captures large particles with a greater than 85 percent efficiency, as well as medium particles like those found in auto exhaust with 65 to 80 percent efficiency. You can even go higher than that, with a MERV of 13 capturing large and medium particles with over 90 percent efficiency and small particles like smoke, bacteria and even odors with up to 75 percent efficiency.
 

There are other options available as well, such as HEPA filters (which you might hear referred to as high-efficiency particulate arrestance filters or high-efficiency particular air filters) that have an even higher standard of particle removal. HEPA filters must remove either 99.95 percent (in Europe) or 99.97 percent (in the United States) of all particles of size “small” or larger. Depending on the filter, this translates to a MERV value of around 17 to 20.


Air Filter Maintenance


There’s more to keeping your system running well than just installing a filter, of course. Most air filters should be changed monthly, though some may have different recommended use periods that should be listed on the packaging. Periodic cleaning of grates and vents may also be required to keep the filters clean and the system running efficiently. Failing to change your filters can reduce airflow and system efficiency, and over time, it can even reduce the life of your unit.

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Spring is a time of beginnings. You get a chance to start over, to try something new and to get your air conditioner ready for the hot summer to come. It might not be as romantic as the budding of trees and blooming of flowers, but having your air conditioner in tip-top shape is arguably far more useful.

When you start your spring clean, don’t forget your air conditioner. In just a few minutes, you can improve its efficiency while helping it continue to run well for years to come.


First, A Basic Explanation of Air Conditioning Technology


Your air conditioner isn’t magic, but it’s pretty close. These devices were actually invented in the early 1900s as a way to reduce indoor humidity in paper plants. It just so happened they have a side effect that we rely on even today.
 

Air conditioning systems depend on the expansion and contraction of gasses to pull moisture out of the air by cooling it down. This is basic physics at work — warm air holds more water, cool air holds less.

When air is pulled into your air handler (for many, this is a furnace) through your warm air return, it’s forced over a tent-shaped coil that uses refrigerant to cool the air as it passes. A blower then blows that cooled air back into the house.


So What Does the Outside Condenser Do?


The air conditioning condenser that most people consider to be “the air conditioner” is actually a giant heatsink. See, when the air is cooled inside your air handler, the refrigerant is what’s absorbing most of the heat. It then gets pumped to the condenser, where the heat collected inside your house is released to the environment.

It’s really a pretty simple idea that has made a huge change to how we live, play and work.


Your Air Conditioner Spring Cleaning Checklist


There’s no time like spring to do a little air conditioner tune-up. A lot of the heavy lifting will have to be performed by HVAC professionals, but there are things you can do to keep your system running longer as a homeowner. Generally, these items should be done at least once in the spring before you start using the A/C and again in the fall when you’re ready to put it away for the year.

  • Change your furnace filter. Whether it’s on the ceiling, on the floor or inside your furnace or air handler, a clean filter is a filter that can let the most air through for cooling. And the easier it is for the system to pull air in and cool it, the more comfortable you’ll be with the least amount of cost. Investing in an electrostatic filter that you can wash and reuse is a smart move for the long term.
  • Flush your condensation line. There’s a pipe or tube that comes out of your furnace or air handler and runs to a drain somewhere. This is the condensation line. All the moisture your system is pulling out of that warm air has to go somewhere, you know? That somewhere is a pan that empties via this tube. Just open it up from the top (which tube it is should be obvious, but if you can’t find it, ask your HVAC professional), slowly pour in about a cup of vinegar or bleach. If the liquid moves, you’re gold. If not, you may need to spend some time investigating the issue. More often than not, it’s algae growth in the tube or mineral deposits, both things you can flush out, but require some patience to remove.
  • Clean your a-coil. That tent shaped coil mentioned above is called the “evaporator coil” or the “a-coil.” It can get dirty, which makes it a lot less efficient at removing moisture and cooling the air. If you feel brave, and you’re careful, you can wipe the coils clean or use a shop vac. They’re very similar to the coils on the back of your refrigerator, treat them the exact same way.
  • Comb the fins on the condenser. If you look closely at your outside condenser, you’ll notice that the part that’s inside the cage is made up of a whole bunch of teeny fins. These little guys can get damaged by accident, causing them to be less efficient because they’re not really in an optimal configuration anymore. All you need to fix this is a fin comb. This simple device lets you straighten bent fins, restoring your unit to its former glory.
  • Spray the condenser down. Last, but far from least, you’ll want to spray your air conditioner’s condenser down with a hose. Start by wetting all the fins with a garden sprayer, then go back around and spend some time slowly flushing out the dirt, one section at a time, working top to bottom.
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It’s finally spring! Time to break out the grill and the patio set and spend your evenings cooking out under the stars. Except, you don’t have a patio, you have a backyard that’s currently a soppy, muddy mess from spring rainstorms. You’d love to get outside, but it’s just so mucky and sticky out there.

This year, you’re resolved to install a patio once and for all. There’s a lot to consider when planning your shiny new patio, but don’t worry, we’re here to help make it simple.


Patio Planning: The Basics


If this is your first major home improvement project, you’ve picked one that should give you a real sense of satisfaction when it’s done. But you’ve also chosen to tackle a multi-part effort that’s not very cut and dry. Before you go out and rent a Skid Steer and hire three guys to pour cement, make sure you’ve checked these items off your pre-patio checklist

  •     Location, location, location. Although many patios are constructed as a transition from the house to the rest of the yard, there’s not a rule saying this has to be the case. Choose your favorite flat spot on your lot and try to imagine what it would be like having dinner there.
        
  •     Materials. Many patios are poured concrete slabs, but there are also some fantastic stones and pavers out there that would make excellent patio surfaces. And don’t forget the brick. Patios are great because they can really stand the test of time when the right materials are chosen. Consider the weather in your area when you’re shopping.
        
  •     Size and shape. Like there’s no required spot for your patio, there’s also not a standard size or a standard shape for them. You want a 10×16 rectangle? Poof! Done. What about a 15 foot long kidney shaped patio? No problem. Design the patio of your dreams, not the patio that other people think should be your dream.

    

Bringing It All Together


Now that you’ve got a basic understanding of what your patio will be made from and where you’re going to put it, it’s time to take the next step and put that pencil to paper. It can help to draw your entire lot on grid paper, adding buildings, plants and other noteworthy features in their correct spots (you’ll need to measure all of this for best results) will ensure that your patio plan doesn’t run into pesky problems from real life colliding with your perfect patio.

That handy drawing of your patio can become a map to something a little bit more impressive than a simple slab in your backyard. Consider drawing in (and including!) these user-friendly elements so you can make it do even more:
 

  •     Pergolas. There’s nothing like a pergola to create a semi-shaded spot in your yard. If your patio is attached to the house, adding a pergola is just a natural step. If not, you can still anchor one in cement so it can be freestanding and won’t blow away. Pro tip: grow your favorite vines on that pergola and they’ll help shade you all summer long.
        
  •     Built-in seating. Sure, you have a patio set, but sometimes it’s nice to have some extra benches in case you’re wanting to sit, but not at a table. Like deck builders put benches around the outside of decks, or use them to separate areas on a very large deck, you can do the same with benches made from the same materials as your patio.
        
  •     Water features. Look, no one said you need a fountain or pond near your patio, but wouldn’t it be pretty cool? Small fountains add interest and ponds not only give you a place to keep impressively large koi, birds and other wildlife can use them for water.
        
  •     Outdoor kitchen. This is the ultimate patio upgrade. Adding an outdoor kitchen, even if that’s just a built-in grill and a small sink, can make your home easier to sell down the line and possibly even increase your home’s value.
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If you’re a gardener, or at least want to be one, there’s no time as amazing as early spring. This is when your plants are starting to wake from their long winter’s sleep. The white snow and frost flowers are giving way to green grass and emerging vegetation that seems to multiply like magic day after day.


Although a lot of people sit back and wait for their plants to do whatever it is that they do in early spring, others, like you, are eager to help them be all they can be this year.
 

The Results of Minimum Plant Care


Many homeowners just let their plants come and go as they please. Usually, they’ve inherited the vegetation from the former owner and have little interest in gardening. It’s ok, it’s not for everyone. But, due to this minimal care for the plants, many varieties will start to die off from neglect. A slow death is still a death.


Obviously, you’re looking to do a bit more to help your plants get off to a good start. Because of this, your landscape will be healthier, live longer and produce more ornamental flowers than those of the neighbor who would have preferred a lot of grass and no plants to tend.


 

First Thing’s First, Reduce Your Plant’s Risk of Early Season Fungus


There are varieties of herbaceous perennials like bananas, cannas and elephant ear that can survive the winter in many climates if they’re tucked in under a layer of organic mulch that’s two to four inches deep. While mulch protects them from drying out or freezing to death when it’s cold, once these types of plants start to grow in the spring, that life-saving mulch can become a real enemy.


It’s vital that you pull back the mulch from your plants every few days to check for green growth above ground. Once you see it, hollow a moat out between the plant and the mulch. Make sure no mulch is touching the new growth and that the moat you’ve scooped is about two inches wide to allow for further safe development.


Several opportunistic fungi will take advantage of young, green growth that’s constantly touching something moist, like that mulch. There’s a fine line here, tread carefully.


 

Soil Testing and Amendment


If you have a garden plot and failed to fertilize it in the fall, now is the time to get to it. As soon as you can work the soil, take several samples and either use a home test kit to determine the condition of the soil or have them analyzed by your local university extension’s lab. The extension tests are generally around $10, but the cost varies by location.


Either way, you’ll have some kind of indication about the condition of your soil, as well as what you can do to fix any problems. For example, you may find that your soil is low in nitrogen, a vital nutrient for plants that grow a lot of leaves very quickly, like your lawn. In this case, you’ll follow the instructions for feeding the type of plant you intend to place in the tested area, using a precise amount of fertilizer, so as not to encourage long, spindly growth in those eager plants.


The same applies to other types of fertilizer, including balanced fertilizers like 10-10-10 and 15-15-15. Most established perennials are fine with fertilizer that’s mixed into the top two to five inches of soil, but always check before you get too wild with it. A few species may have unusual reactions, including but not limited to developing an overall burned or wilted look due to root destruction. Never apply more fertilizer than necessary due to the risk of runoff and pollution of waterways.


 

Turn the Sprinklers On!


Once the nighttime temperatures are consistently above freezing, you’re ready to turn the water back on. Your plants will appreciate the long, deep drink and you’ll be happy to not have to water each one by hand. Remember, when turning irrigation systems back on after being drained, do so slowly. Opening the valve too quickly can result in a high-pressure water surge that can rupture sprinkler heads or burst fittings.


Be prepared to turn the system back off if a surprise freeze creeps on, but waiting as long as possible to get the irrigation started again is also a fairly safe bet.


 

Check for Signs of Insect Infestation


As your plants start to bud, you’ll be able to tell if they’ve developed any problems during the winter. Generally, these are caused by insect infestations, but in ornamental and fruit trees, a whole range of fungal invasion is also likely.


Small holes in the trunks of trees and shrubs are likely caused by boring insects like clearwing moths, which spend most of their life cycles inside the plant. This makes them very hard to get rid of and often results in the hollowing of the interior of limbs and branches. Those hollow branches pose a major risk to anyone walking below, as they can reach a point where they are no longer structurally sound and suddenly break away from the tree.


 

Don’t Forget to Call Your Landscaper


You don’t have a landscaper? Well, it’s never too late to meet one, especially when you’re part of the HomeKeepr community! Your real estate agent can recommend their favorite plant experts with just a few clicks and you’ll have access to their complete contact information without ever having to pay for any sort of membership.


Recommendations from people you trust, that’s the power of HomeKeepr.

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Owning a home means having a place that’s safe and secure to come back to after a long day at work, every day, forever, until you decide it’s time to buy a different home. In exchange for all this homeiness, all you have to do is keep all the broken bits together, maintain the grass and track home-related expenses.

Oh yes. If you don’t do a little bookkeeping, the tax man gets his and more. Might as well keep that cash as not, right?


Why You Should Track Home-Related Expenses


Your primary residence isn’t an investment, this has been said time and again (especially since the market crashed entirely), but that doesn’t mean that when you go to sell you have to take a loss. Far from it.

In fact, as of the writing of this article, you’ll likely qualify for a tax exclusion (meaning you won’t pay taxes on this amount of profit from your home sale) of $250,000 if you file on your own or $500,000 if you and your spouse file your taxes together. But, if you sold and there was more than the applicable amount in gains, you’ll have to pay taxes only on the profit above the mark. When you have all your ducks in a row, it gets a lot easier to see what side of that line you stand on.


Reducing Your Tax Burden is the Goal


When your gain from your home sale exceeds your tax exclusion, there are two ways to help improve the situation with all those receipts you’ve been saving (you have been saving them, haven’t you?). First, you can deduct expenses related to selling your home, provided these are not expenses that affect the house physically. Think closing fees, brokerage commissions, and some seller-paid closing costs.

The other way to reduce your capital gains burden is to produce records that account for your extensive remodeling. These are the kinds of projects you definitely need a hand with. They include, but are not limited to:

  •     Adding an additional room    

  •     Upgrading your kitchen    

  •     Replacing flooring    

  •     Having new landscaping installed    

  •     Putting on a new roof    


The best part? These don’t have to be from the same tax year as when you sold. If you added that bedroom three years ago, pony up the receipts and reduce your tax burden. Unfortunately, regular home maintenance isn’t included on this list of ways to save a few dollars. Make sure you keep those receipts separate.


Get a Little Help From Your Friends


Keeping track of your personal finances, let alone the expenses related to your home, can be a daunting task. There are so many ways to pay these days and so many different kinds of things to pay for. This is the very reason, though, that you must be even more careful when tracking home-related spending.

Everybody has their own system, to be sure, but some are clearly superior to others. For example, if your plan is just to toss a bunch of receipts in a bucket until you get around to sorting them and manually recording each one, you may want to look into something a bit more efficient.

Even an Excel workbook is out-modeled these days, but there are several different types of apps you can use to help track your expenses, including:
 

  •     Complete personal finance apps. Popular apps like Mint and Wally are essentially full personal finance packages that happen to store receipts. While you can give these apps permission to grab you bank information from a variety of banks all at once, you may end up with enough data that it’s a trick to find those old receipts down the road.
        
  •     Dedicated receipt storage. Shoeboxed, Receipts by Wave and Expensify are far more focused on the receipt part of your financial picture. All allow you to photograph and upload the receipts in question, can export the data you collect as a variety of reports and have a cloud-storage option, so you don’t have to worry that you’ll lose your receipts if you change phones or need to reload your operating system. PS. BTW, Shoeboxed will actually take that bucket of receipts and process them for you if you mail them in.
        
  •     Receipt storage designed for homeowners. Not to toot our own horns, but toot toot. HomeKeepr allows you to scan your receipts in and helps you track home-related expenses automatically. All you need to do is snap a picture of your receipt and the software does the rest. You can then sort your receipts by the service type or business so you can see at a glance how much you’re spending on your project. Unlike other receipt trackers, HomeKeepr can track and maintain records for related items like appliance manuals and maintenance tasks that are due for your home.


Are You Ready to Invest in Your Home This Year?


All this talk of bookkeeping and receipt scanning surely has you thinking about how much you’ve been wanting to redo the deck or hang new gutters. Well, today’s the day. Not only can you store those receipts in the HomeKeepr platform, your real estate agent can hook you up with some of the best contractors in your area. Just pop into your HomeKeepr community and check out who has been recommended for you. Your agent put their reputation on the line by providing these referrals, so you know they have to be good!

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It seems that everything is getting smarter these days. You’ve got your basic smartphone, your smart security system, your smart speakers and even smart refrigerators. It should come as no surprise that someone managed to make window blinds that are pretty smart, too.
 

On first glance, these things look like one of the least useful smart products out there. When you dig a bit deeper, though, it’s clear that smart blinds, much like smart thermostats, are actually a great way to save energy and make your home safer, all while you lounge on the couch conversing with Alexa and Siri.


What are Smart Blinds?


Smart blinds, like most things that are considered “smart,” are literally window blinds that can be controlled remotely through a smartphone app, and, in this case, by the voice assistant of your choice. You can use the app to open the blinds, close the blinds or set them somewhere in between.

While this doesn’t sound like much, if you think about the regularity at which you perform these mundane tasks, having smart blinds take care of themselves is a huge time saver in the long run. But, that’s not really what’s so cool about them. Here are a few things that are, though:
 

  •     They help people with disabilities. People with a variety of disabilities are benefiting from smart homes in lots of ways. When it comes to blinds, it means making it easier for everyone to let the sun shine in or to shut the blinds at night for a little privacy.
        
  •     They increase safety. Whether you’re going on vacation or you’re just working late, having blinds that are able to shut on their own makes it look like someone is home, even when you’re not. It helps to deter crime, which is a good thing, for sure.
        
  •     They can save energy. By cleverly orchestrating the times that your blinds are open or closed, you can help reduce the use of your HVAC system all year long. More on this later.

     

There are few drawbacks to having smart blinds, if you can get beyond the price point. Many manufacturers are still treating these devices as luxury buys, pushing the cost of a single blind into the hundreds of dollars.

Ikea recently announced it would be releasing its own line of basic smart blinds in the US on April 1, 2019. They’re still not in everybody’s price range, but are far more accessible with units starting around $135.


How Do Smart Blinds Save Energy?


Before you rush out to buy smart blinds because your electricity bill is out of control, keep two things in mind: first, not all blinds will perform the same or have the same features, so make sure to read the packaging or ask a knowledgeable person about those energy saving functions. Secondly, smart blinds are only as good as the person telling them what to do. So, if you don’t tweak your programs a little bit to dial in your settings, you’re not going to get great results.
 

Like any blind, smart blinds can be used to help reduce the strain on your HVAC system. This is done largely by blocking the sun’s rays that warm up your home. Other types of smart window treatments can act as insulators against the cold. Neither is perfect, but they do work pretty well.
 

When it comes to saving energy, you will have to tell the blind what you want it to do. If you want the smart blinds on the west side of your home to close entirely around 1 pm and stay closed until 4 pm, set it in the app. Some blinds, like those from MySmartBlinds, can automatically determine when to open or close, but you’ll need to enable this feature if you want your blinds to close in response to solar radiation.
 

Smart blinds are a great investment if you plan to stay in your house for a while. Not only are they neat and gadgety for anyone interested in the Internet of Things, they can really reduce your utility bills. It could take a while for them to pay for themselves, though — shop carefully!
 

Making Homes Smarter Every Day


Upgrading your home to a smarter version of itself can be tricky, but you don’t have to do it by yourself. Check out your HomeKeepr community, someone knows a smart home pro that can help you choose the right smart blinds and install them for you, too! There’s a reason that pro was recommended by so many other home pros and real estate agents — they’re just that good.

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