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Making your older home more energy efficient

For some, owning an older home replete with character and charm is the only way to go.

There certainly is something special about pocket doors, original stained glass windows, archways and basket-weave tile floors, features you rarely find in newer builds. But owning an older home does have a downside, namely energy conservation – or lack thereof.

If you’ve recently purchased an older home, there are many upgrades you can make to help save money on your energy bills. Start small and work your way up to major projects, such as replacing windows or installing alternative energy sources like solar panels.
It might sound REALLY small, but a great place to start when it comes to saving on your electrical bill is with your light bulbs. Don’t wait for the government ban on 40 and 60-watt bulbs to come into effect at the end of the year. Ditch the incandescent bulbs in your older home and replace them with eco-friendly CFL’s or LED lights. They are slightly more expensive than incandescent bulbs, but the savings over the long run will be substantial.

For busy families on the go, a great option for energy conservation is a programmable thermostat.

New models are so sophisticated that they can be programmed for weekday versus weekend temperatures and even run a vacation setting where the heat or air conditioning is turned as low as possible. Set the temperature to adjust about half an hour before you get up in the morning or come home in the evening for optimal savings and comfort.

How old are the appliances in your ‘new’ old home? Upgrading the appliances to Energy Star rated models can save you up to 30 percent annually on your electric bill. Look at the labels on your refrigerator, oven, dishwasher, washer and dryer to determine if they are Energy Star rated.

Another option for optimum energy conservation in an older home is adding insulation. You can insulate your roof and walls with blown-in cellulose. You’ll be amazed at what a difference it will make to the comfort of your home.

When your budget allows, consider updating the windows, heating and air systems and replacing the roof to maximize your energy conservation.

Winter Maintenance

New Year’s resolutions…for your home!

The start of a new year is a great time for resolutions. For this year’s resolution, why not make some promises to yourself about your home? Make a list of your top home priorities and enjoy that feeling of satisfaction when they’re done. These five tips to help get you started!

1. It’s an excellent time to get a handle on your home insurance, review your policy and make sure it still fits your home’s needs. Contacting your insurance company may also reveal some savings too! Bundling home and auto insurance, for example, can often save money.

2. January is also a great time to review home safety. Replace the batteries and test your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Having one smoke detector per floor and at least one carbon monoxide detector is a requirement of most home insurance policies.

3. Another great goal is paying off your mortgage more quickly! Are you getting the best rate possible? Can you add an extra payment or increase your monthly payment to really make a dent in that principal? Contact your mortgage holder and have a conversation about how you can best meet your specific mortgage goals.

4. How about improving your home’s energy efficiency this year? Maybe it’s time to replace those old inefficient incandescent with some superefficient CFLs or LEDs. Most hardware stores carry an excellent selection. Also, add a power strip to electronics to defeat phantom load – the energy still being used even when devices are turned off.

5. And perhaps most satisfying is decluttering! Consider choosing one room a week, or even just one closet, to organize and declutter. Donate anything you haven’t used in a year (or never liked anyway!). You’ll be amazed at how much more space you have.

How to make sure your home is winter ready

How to make sure your home is winter ready

The cooler nights and shorter days are a sign that it’s time to make sure your home is winter ready. We may not be able to predict what the winter will bring but we can definitely prep our home for whatever comes our way.

Seal the windows

Sealing the windows is a very important task and for good reason. With the cold months quickly approaching you’ll want to keep the elements where they belong…outside! To prevent icy cold drafts from coming through the windows you’ll want to get a good quality silicon sealant. By sealing the windows you’ll save money on energy bills as your heater won’t have to work as hard to keep the house warm.

Service the furnace

After resting for the warm months it’s almost time to put the furnace back to work but before you do you’ll want to make sure to service it first. Tune-ups help to make sure everything is in good working order to ensure the most comfort for you and your family throughout the winter. By staying on top of furnace maintenance you will increase its life span, catch any potential problems and in the long run save time and money.

Protect the pipes

Don’t forget to turn off all outdoor pipes and store away the hose. With below freezing temperatures, outdoor pipes can crack or even burst if left on during the winter. You’ll also want to make sure to store your hose properly too. All you have to do is drain it, coil it, and store it in a warmer area such as the garage or basement. If you forget to put away the hose, accumulated ice can create pressure in your pipes and cause some serious damage. To erase a major headache in the spring, be sure to include these simple tasks in your winter preparations.

Run fans in reverse

A great winter tip is to change the direction of your ceiling fan. By changing your ceiling fan to move in a clockwise motion (when you’re looking up at it) you will be creating an updraft. This helps the warm air that has risen to the ceiling to be pushed back down to those using the room. Don’t turn the fan up too high, a gentle and slow speed is all you need to do the trick.

By following these simple tips, you’ll enjoy a warmer and stress-free winter.

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DIY or Hire a Pro?

There’s no doubt that a finished basement is a huge selling feature in a home, especially when it’s done right. Almost all prospective buyers like the idea of additional living space down under, whether they envision it as a media room, kids play area, home office, an exercise room or storage area.

If you would like to increase the value of your home, finishing the basement is one home improvement project that will likely see you get a return on your investment. Because you are dealing, quite literally, with the foundation of your entire home, it’s a good idea to have a professional contractor involved in the process, someone who knows what he’s doing.

However, if you’re the handy type and are confident that you can tackle this project on your own, you’ll save a ton of cash. There are pro’s and con’s to each option:

HIRING A CONTRACTOR

Pro’s:

• Home contractors are well equipped to handle every stage of the building process, including permit applications, ordering materials, organizing a construction schedule and acquiring sub-trade workers if needed.
• They are able to dedicate full days to the project and finish in a reasonable time frame.
• An experienced contractor is able to offer expert advice, resulting in efficient well built work and a functional space, completed to industry standards.

Con’s:

• It’s expensive. Expect labour costs to triple your material costs.
• Despite your best efforts at finding a reputable contractor, there is still the chance you will end up with a nightmare reno story. Ask for numerous referrals and follow-up with them.
• Work done by others does not always mirror expectations. Communication is key to producing the outcome you envision.

DO-IT-YOURSELF

Pro’s:

• You are sure to learn new skill sets and can experiment with your own creativity. Framing and installing drywall, hanging doors and trim as well as drop ceiling construction are attainable do-it-yourself projects.
• Completing the labour yourself will save you large sums of money.
• You can take pride in completing the job yourself.

Con’s:

• Plumbing, flooring and electrical work are difficult tasks. It is crucial that they are completed safely and correctly.

Selling your home this fall

Selling Your Home This Fall

Deciding to list your home during the cool fall season can create a few hidden benefits to your sale and can also help ensure you get top dollar for your property. Here are some advantages to listing your home in the fall.

While spring will always be a hot market for real estate deals, sellers are at one particular disadvantage over fall sellers. Curb appeal! Your foremost opportunity to make a great first impression, curb appeal during the fall season is almost effortless with well-maintained lawns and flourishing gardens looking fantastic after the growing season. As the season cools, some homeowners may invest less time in yard work. Discerning sellers can use this to their advantage, making their impeccably maintained properties stand out from neighbouring homes. In addition, cool fall weather is the perfect time to finish do-it-yourself projects, repaint window coverings and garages, stain the decks and repave driveways. Appeal to the season and plant bold fall colours. Selling a home is much like selling an image.

Selling your home can be a lengthy process; attracting buyers, arranging meetings and drawing up offers to complete the sale takes time. Fall schedules usually see people home from vacation and back into scheduled routines. This applies to both sellers and buyers. It can also apply to professional inspectors, appraisers and notaries you may need to hire to complete your sale. Back to their scheduled routines means they are able to complete work more quickly.

With kids back in school and out of the house all day, it’s also easier to keep your home spotless and ready for showings!

One final advantage of listing your home during the fall season is the presence of serious buyers. Often first-time buyers, retirees and people moving for career changes, fall buyers are well researched, eager and ready to commit to the sale. As winter gets closer, most buyers want to ensure they are comfortably moved into their new home before the holidays and the stormy weather begins.

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Simple bathroom upgrades that make a world of difference

It’s no secret that many young buyers today are looking for move-in ready homes that don’t need much updating. Purchasing your first home is expensive enough and when you’re just starting out, there’s little room in the budget for a major overhaul of the bathrooms. That’s why it’s so important for you as a seller to make these areas as appealing as possible before your house hits the market.

Rest assured, there are a number of easy upgrades that you can make to your bathrooms without spending a fortune. These simple projects can make all the difference in the world when it comes to revitalizing an outdated bathroom.

Paint – A fresh coat of paint brings new life to any room in the home, bathroom included. While it’s generally recommended to stick with neutral colours when selling, the bathroom is one space where you can go against the grain – choose a pretty aqua colour and add a few beach-themed accessories or try adding a cool accent wall with old barn boards or an eye-catching geometric wallpaper.

Revitalize the vanity – If you think a new vanity isn’t in the budget, think again. You can purchase a brand new vanity for as little as $100 and it will make a major difference in your bathroom. If your vanity is still in good condition but a little outdated, simply replace the hardware with new drawer pulls and knobs.

Update the decor – Just as you would stage any other room in your home, adding a few accessories to your bathroom can really liven things up and make the space more appealing to prospective buyers. Invest in a new soap dish and toothbrush holder, add a pretty new shelf or towel bar and hang a couple of art pieces.

Light it up – It’s understandable that you don’t want to spend a fortune on a new light fixture only to sell your home. But if your bathroom is still sporting its original 1993 fixture, it might be a smart investment. To get a great deal, search the scratch-and-dent areas or look for discontinued models at your local hardware stores.

Add some flair – Jazz things up with a new shower curtain and treat yourself to a new liner as well.

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Keep cool this summer

Now that the hot and humid days of summer have arrived, keeping cool at home has once again become a priority. If you’re looking for ways to reduce the temperature in your home without blasting the central air, take a look at these tips:

Since the sun’s powerful rays are very effective at heating up a structure, the first step is to consider how you can effectively block some of those rays and deflect some heat away from your home. A strategically placed awning, pergola or a few trees will block the sun from hitting your windows and doors 12 hours a day.

One of the easiest ways to keep the heat out is by closing blinds, drapes and shutters during the hottest part of the day. For those looking for a more permanent solution, exterior rolling shutters might be a good option. They are effective at helping to maintain a comfortable interior temperature, will reduce noise levels and also add an extra layer of your security to your home. The only downfall is price & quality rolling shutters are expensive. Solar screens, which look like standard window screens, will cut glare in addition to heat. “Double glazing” your windows can cut the intake of summer heat inside your home by as much as 30 per cent.

Another simple and inexpensive option for keeping cool is oscillating fans. Lightweight and portable, fans have come so far in the past 20 years, style-wise, and are still an extremely effective way of keeping a room cool. Place fans in a few rooms throughout the main level of your home to keep air circulating. During the summer, ceiling fans should rotate counterclockwise to push cool air down. This evaporates perspiration, creates a cooling wind chill effect, and makes a room feel up to eight degrees cooler without changing the temperature in the room!

Still feeling the heat at home? Before you switch on the A/C, get rid of all the incandescent light bulbs in your home, barbecue as often as possible instead of turning on the oven, always use the bathroom fan to remove hot steam after showering and open the windows after the sun goes down to let in the cool evening breeze!

How to avoid moving day hassles

How to Avoid Moving Day Hassles

If you’re lucky enough to convince half a dozen strong, able-bodied friends to dedicate their Saturday helping you with your move, kudos to you! If not, and you’ve decided to hire a moving company, there are a few things you can do in advance to ensure that things go smoothly on the big day.

You’ve done a lot of work to get to this point, between preparing your home for sale, sealing the deal and packing up all of your worldly belongings. The last thing you need is unnecessary stress on your closing date/moving day.

First, ask around for a moving company recommendation. Check with friends, colleagues, neighbours and family for referrals. If you’re not able to get a good referral from a trusted source, check online websites like Kijiji, but proceed with caution! Ask the company to provide at least three recent references and follow-up with them. Request a meeting ahead of time to get a feel for the individual. Are they professional, prepared and courteous? Did they show up on time?
Once you’ve chosen a mover, get everything in writing. It’s the law. According to Ontario’s Consumer Protection Act (CPA), all moving contracts worth more than $50 must be in writing.

Under the CPA, your contract must include:

1. The mover’s name, address and contact information
2. A description of the service(s) and their prices
3. The total cost that you will have to pay, additional charges that may apply and taxes
4. Start and end dates for the service
5. The terms of payment (cash or cheque)

Other items that should be included in the contract are size and value of items, who is responsible for loss or damage, the number of staff and vehicles that will be provided and the name of the person who holds their insurance policy.
Hopefully with a little research ahead of time, you can help ensure a stress-free moving day!

For buyers and sellers - Five tips for a successful deal

For buyers and sellers: Five tips for a successful deal

Make your move a stress-free one! The smart first step for both parties is finding a real estate professional you are comfortable working with. They will be the guiding light during the entire process.

For buyers, here are five tips for ensuring a successful real estate transaction:

1. Avoid overspending at all costs. Establish a budget and stick to it, no matter what. Being “house poor” will definitely overshadow the initial joy you feel from purchasing a home.
2. Don’t get emotionally involved. It’s easier said than done, but if a deal doesn’t go through – whether it’s an issue with price, conditions or a bidding war – be prepared to walk away knowing that your perfect house IS still out there!
3. Try to see the big picture. Don’t get hung up on paint colours, a messy yard or ugly light fixtures. These are all easy fixes. Instead use big-ticket items, like the condition of the furnace, windows and roof to help aid in your decision.
4. Location, location, location. It’s the one thing you can never change about the house you buy.
5. Start an emergency fund. Unforeseen (and expensive) issues can arise at any time for homeowners. Having funds set aside specifically for this purpose will bring peace of mind.

Tips for sellers:

1. Spend money to make money. To maximize your home’s selling potential, make any necessary minor repairs, give tired walls a fresh coat of paint or hire a stager.
2. Don’t over price. It’s a waste of everyone’s time, including yours.
3. Never underestimate the power of a clean house. Your home should be spotless for showings and open houses. No exceptions!
4. Start packing as soon as the deal has been finalized. Just pack a few boxes every day. Procrastinating on this time-consuming chore will leave you stressed out as the days get closer to moving day.
5. Research your movers. Nothing messes up a moving day more than unreliable movers, so be sure to ask friends and family for recommendations, do some research and get everything in writing.

Spring home interior maintenance checklist

Deep Cleaning This Spring

When you’re in spring cleaning mode it’s the perfect time to set aside some extra time for deep cleaning your home. These are the tasks that we avoid until the point that it becomes necessary to give them attention. They are chores you don’t get to on a regular basis, including cleaning the dishwasher, washing machine, the windows, the oven, the refrigerator and mattresses. Here are three examples with some tips for cleaning them:

The Dishwasher

This appliance does some heavy duty cleaning, and actually needs to be cleaned itself! This will help keep it working at its best. You can run a cycle with a homemade cleaner made from baking soda and vinegar or purchase a specialty dishwasher cleaner from the store. This will remove build up and soap scum.

The Windows

You might wipe down the inside of your windows often, but take this opportunity to clean the outside of the windows as well. Also vacuum windowsills and window tracks. Remove and wash the window screens as well removing any cobwebs and bugs.

The Washing Machine

Washing machines can get smelly over time and this odour can even eventually come off on clean clothing. You can give it a good deep cleaning with natural ingredients such as vinegar and baking soda. This will disinfect, kill mold and mildew, dissolve soap residue and can also be helpful in dissolving lime deposits in the pipes. Set your washer to run with hot water and do not add clothes or detergent. While the hot water, vinegar, and baking soda are inside, wipe down the outside of the washer and any bleach or fabric softener dispensers.