7 Ways to Make the Most of the Coming Fall Weekend

As you plan for Halloween and winter travels, remember to savor today’s pleasures before they flit by

By Laura Gaskill | Courtesy of Houzz.com 

We’re thick into fall now — it’s a good weekend to rake leaves, and then curl up with an engrossing book and a mug of something warm to drink. Here are seven weekend could-dos, including watching monarch butterflies and getting ready for trick-or-treaters.

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1. Put fall leaves to good use. Spy some beautiful fall foliage outside your door? Before you rake and bag it, consider other uses for the leaves. They would make good mulch for your lawn or garden. Or, if the leaves are still more on the trees than on the ground, cut a bundle and bring it inside for a long-lasting display.

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2. Plan a winter trip. Let the chill in the air be a reminder to book that winter getaway you’ve been thinking of. Lodging in popular destinations fills up early for holiday travel, so it pays to book early. 

Not planning any big trips? Make a date with your calendar and a mug of hot cider to plan some fun weekend jaunts instead.

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3. Get inspired with a new design book. Peruse the shelves of your local bookstore and bring home a new tome for your coffee table. Looking for a recommendation? Just released on Oct. 10, The New Bohemians Handbook: Come Home to Good Vibes, by designer and blogger Justina Blakeney (Blakeney’s bathroom is shown here), sounds like just the thing to curl up with on a chilly fall afternoon.

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4. Add warm, cozy layers and flickering light. Bring autumnal warmth and coziness to your living room with candlelight, extra-soft blankets and cushy pillows galore. Layer beds with thicker quilts, turn on the twinkle lights, and set out bowls of apples and nuts in the shell. It doesn’t take much effort, and your home will instantly feel more fall-like

Photo by Luis Rivera for The American Red Cross

Photo by Luis Rivera for The American Red Cross

5. Help storm victims in the Caribbean. Hearing news reports of natural disasters can leave those not in harm’s way feeling powerless to help. But the truth is, even small amounts of aid are very much needed and appreciated. If you decide to donate money, just be sure you are giving to a legitimate relief organization — sites like Charity Navigator and the Better Business Bureau’s Give.org can help.

6. Say hello to migrating monarchs. Every fall, monarch butterflies make their way back to the same overwintering grounds — monarchs from the eastern coast of the United States migrate to Mexico, and butterflies from west of the Rocky Mountains return to coastal California. This month, those along the migratory paths may be able to spot monarchs on their way to warmer climates. 

And if you’re lucky enough to live within driving distance of Santa Cruz, California, you can visit the monarchs at Natural Bridges State Beach. Guided tours of the habitat are available on weekends starting in mid-October.

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7. Prep for Halloween. Candy corn? Fake spiderwebs? Check and check. If you plan to pass out candy or host a party on Halloween night, this weekend is a good time to stock up on supplies.

10 Fun Ideas for Decorating With Pumpkins, No Carving Required

No need to get too messy to bring these fall-themed decorating ideas to life

By Lauren Dunec Hoang | Courtesy of Houzz.com

There are plenty of reasons to get creative with pumpkins without pulling out the carving knives. For starters, you won’t have to deal with messy pumpkin pulp, and you can enjoy a pumpkin — or any other hard-skin squash — that’s kept intact for much longer. Check out these 10 ideas for decorating with whole pumpkins for displays that can be enjoyed from now until past Thanksgiving.

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1. Arrange a neutral centerpiece. Trade the traditional orange pumpkins for a collection of heirloom varieties in soft peach, gray-blue and white — or paint the orange ones you have — for an elegant fall-themed centerpiece. Layer the pumpkins on a linen table runner, or arrange them on a metal tray, with candles and cut sprays of seeded eucalyptus or fall leaves.
 

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2. Drizzle with black. Highlight the natural ridges of pumpkins by dripping black paint down the sides for a creepy, cool design almost like spider’s legs or dripping blood. Starting with white pumpkins, rather than orange ones, draws attention to the pumpkin’s form and looks more contemporary than the classic black-and-orange combo for Halloween.

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3. Gild in gold. Elevate simple orange pumpkins to sophisticated fall decor with a brush of gold, silver or bronze paint. If you’re using spray paint, lay down newspaper, group the pumpkins and put a few fall leaves between them. While you’re spraying, the leaves will catch overspray for a subtle gold or bronze dusting. The leaves can then be used in other decorations.

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4. Add a spooky splatter. If you love the updated style of black- and white-painted pumpkins, try going a step further and adding an artistic splatter. Start by covering the pumpkin stems with masking tape, before painting them either black or white. Once the paint dries, flick a brush dipped in the opposite paint color to give a splatter to each one.

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5. Put together a pumpkin basket. Consider this cheerful harvest basket for an entryway decoration from now until Thanksgiving. Start with a large basket you may already have. Then, instead of shelling out for enough pumpkins and gourds to fill the whole thing, line the majority of the basket with balled-up newspaper, reserving pumpkins and gourds for the top. Nestle them in, and cover any newspaper between them with decorative moss.

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6. Make a family portrait. If you have a bit of chalkboard paint left over from another project, or you decide to make your own, paint ovals on the front of pumpkins. You can draw faces of your family, roommates or favorite animals with chalk, or use the ovals to spell out “Boo!” or any other message. Tired of your chalk creation? Use a damp cloth to wipe it off and start fresh. A bonus: Only painting part of a pumpkin, rather than covering the whole thing, helps it last even longer.

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7. Go monochromatic. White pumpkins, whether painted or natural, have been popular in decorations for the past few years. They can be particularly useful for interior styling when classic bright orange pumpkins don’t jibe with your home’s color palette. 

Use only white pumpkins or opt for a mix of those painted white, light blue and pale, buttery yellow to decorate mantels or the kitchen table. The soft hues will work well combined with accessories you may already have, such as pewter pitchers, gold candlesticks, old glass bottles or acorns, leaves and lichen from the backyard.

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8. Nail the placement. Simple arrangements of pumpkins can really shine if you get them in the perfect spot. Here are two tricks for getting the placement just right. First, look for nook-like places like corners formed by garden walls, porch stairs or a curve in a walkway, where a pumpkin or two will look nestled.

Second, choose the pumpkin color (white, pale yellow, orange or deep orange-red) based on the backdrop. For example, the cool blue-gray gate above works as a perfect complement for pumpkins in a medium orange, making them stand out from the street. Other pairings to try: white or pale yellow pumpkins against a dark backdrop, or deep red-orange against wood.

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9. Stack them up. Fairy tale-style pumpkins, with short, squat shapes, work well in pumpkin towers. Stack them in order of size or squeeze an extra-wide pumpkin in the center for a playful, off-balanced look. Place pumpkin stacks on both sides of the front door or at the start of a path for a welcoming entryway.

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10. Make a pumpkin snowman or two. Guaranteed to bring a smile, these pumpkin snowmen are an unexpected twist on stacked pumpkins. To re-create the look, select pumpkins in stair-stepping sizes (two or three pumpkins per snowman), and give them a coat of white paint if they’re not naturally a pale color. 

For taller stacks, you can attach adhesive Velcro between the pumpkins to help them stay balanced. Paint on the eyes, nose and any other details of your choosing, like buttons down the “chest” or a pumpkin grin.

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It's Time to Clean Your Gutters — Here's How

As the rainy season takes hold in many parts of the country, follow these steps to care for your gutters so they can protect your house

By Bonnie McCarthy | Courtesy of Houzz.com

As autumn’s last leaves fall, cleaning rain gutters should rise to the top of the to-do list. Skip the chore, and you’re asking for problems that include falling gutters, flooding and a cracked foundation. Here’s how to clean your gutters before those issues appear.

The Risks of Not Cleaning

Rain gutters and downspouts are designed to channel rainwater away from the home and its foundation. If they’re blocked with leaves, dirt and other debris, they can lead to: 
 

  • Falling gutters. When gutters are overloaded with debris, water or subsequent ice, they can pull away from the house and fall.
  • Flooding. Water that’s prevented from flowing properly down the spout may spill over the sides, drain toward a basement or foundation and increase the risk of basement flooding.
  • Cracked foundation. Cracks may form if water spills over the sides of clogged rain gutters, seeps into the foundation and freezes.
  • Wood rot. Ice dams occur when water freezes inside clogged gutters. The ice can push against the roof and walls, and increase the threat of mildew or rot.
  • Staining. Water that spills over the sides of clogged gutters can discolor exterior siding.

When to Clean

“Rain gutters are essentially the last thing people think about — until they have a problem,” says Michael Marceaux, owner of Mr. Gutter in Orange, California. When it comes to scheduling gutter maintenance, Marceaux says it depends on the house. “It would be a very good idea to clean the gutters once a year,” he says. Homes sitting beneath a lot of trees that continually drop leaves, pine needles, pine cones and other debris, for example, may need more frequent attention.

Marceaux recommends taking action early, before rains start in earnest and professionals get too busy to tackle your project quickly. If you’re doing the task yourself, check the weather forecast, says Ben Stillwell, a home improvement specialist for Lowe’s. It’s easier to clean gutters if the debris is dry.

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Tools for the Task

As with any household chore, a little preparation goes a long way. Gather the tools you’ll need before you begin:
 

  • Sturdy ladder (extension ladder for second story)
  • Tarp
  • Buckets with S-hooks or handled plastic bags
  • Safety goggles or glasses
  • Work gloves (optional latex gloves for layering under work gloves)
  • Trowel or handled scoop
  • Garden hose with spray nozzle (optional telescoping garden hose attachment with gutter-cleaning nozzle)
  • Screwdriver to remove and reattach downspout if it runs underground
  • Optional plumber’s snake for stubborn downspout clogs
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Safety First

Although the task of cleaning rooftop gutters is simple, the chore can quickly turn dangerous if you don’t take the necessary precautions. If you’re unsure about anything, it’s best to hire a professional. Here’s what Lowe’s recommends: 
 

  • A sturdy ladder planted firmly on level ground is step one. “Use a stepladder whenever possible on solid, level ground and don’t climb above the second-to-last step,” Stillwell says. “For two-story homes, you might have to use an extension ladder.”
  • When climbing the ladder, avoid carrying tools like trowels or anything sharp inside pockets. In the worst-case scenario — a fall — you don’t want to land on the wrong end of a screwdriver. Instead, put the tools in a bucket or handled plastic bag, carry it up the ladder and hook it to the top with an S-hook or something similar.
  • Wear sturdy shoes.
  • Use safety goggles or glasses to protect your eyes from loose dirt and debris. Don’t get caught standing on a high ladder without being able to see.
  • Avoid working near power lines that may hang near your rooftop so there’s no possibility of electric shock from coming into contact with live wires. If your roof is near power lines, consider hiring a professional.
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How to Clean Gutters

Although there are several variations on the process, Stillwell breaks the task into the following steps: 

1. Position the ladder near a downspout and spread a tarp under the section of gutter to be cleaned. 

2. Hook a bucket of tools and an empty bucket to the top of the ladder. With gloved hands and a trowel, remove large debris (leaves, twigs, etc.) and dump it into the empty bucket. Work your way toward toward the opposite end, away from the downspout.

3. To clean out the remaining dirt and small debris, climb the ladder with a hose equipped with a spray nozzle. Once you’re positioned at the end of the gutter opposite the downspout, open the nozzle and flush out the gutter. The water and small debris should drain down the spout at the other end.

4. If the water doesn’t drain easily, check the downspout strainer, located at the top of the spout, for clogs and rinse off if necessary.

5. If a clogged downspout is the problem, however, you’ll work from the bottom of the spout at ground level. “If the downspout runs underground, remove it from the pipe as needed,” Stillwell says. 

6. Once you’re able to access the spout, insert the hose, with the spray nozzle set to full pressure, up into the spout. After the hose is in place, turn on the water. The stream should dislodge the blockage. If it doesn’t, Stillwell suggests inserting a plumber’s snake tool into the spout (again from the bottom) to dislodge the blockage. 

7. Reattach or tighten any pieces that were removed or loosened while working on the downspout.

8. Using the hose and nozzle attachment again, flush out the gutters a final time, working from the opposite end away from the downspout.

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Cleaning Variations

Although the basic premise of cleaning rain gutters remains the same, there are a couple of variations on the theme:

Instead of dumping the debris into a bucket, use handled plastic bags. Fill them and let them fall to the tarp for gathering up later.

And rather than climb a ladder with a hose to flush out the gutters, consider investing in a telescoping hose attachment designed specifically for gutter cleaning. This attachment has a hooked nozzle on top that directs the water into the gutter and flushes out the trough while allowing the user to remain on the ground. It’s a great tool for DIY types.

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How to Choose an Expert

If working on ladders or climbing up several stories doesn’t sound like a task for you, it’s time to call in the pros. To find a good company, Marceaux advises looking for an experienced business that is fully licensed, bonded and insured. “When a company says that they are licensed, don’t just take their word for it,” he says. Instead, look up the company on your state’s licensing board for contractors. Make sure the provider’s license is current.

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Last but Not Least …

Once the work has been done, Marceaux says don’t forget to grab your umbrella on the next rainy day and inspect your gutters and spouts. “Go out and look at your downspouts,” he says. “You should be able to see the water coming out [the bottom] or hear it going through the downspout into the ground drain below. It’s going to be pretty obvious if the downspout isn’t working. … The water will be running over the top of the gutter. Gutters are like anything. You’ve got to maintain them and keep them clean.”

Start the Season Right With Some Fall Cleaning To-Dos

Take these steps to freshen up rooms and get rid of summer’s dust and grime

By Laura Gaskill | Courtesy of Houzz.com 

A once-a-year massive spring clean may not be everyone’s cup of tea. If you’d rather break up the work, here are some ideas for sprucing up your space this fall. From updating your book collection to cleaning up outdoors, pick and choose from these eight to-dos to create a fall cleaning plan that works for you.

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Launder slipcovers and curtains. Check the care instructions carefully, especially if you’ve never laundered these items before. Shrunken slipcovers and short curtains are a major bummer! If you’re not sure, check with the manufacturer, or just send them to the dry cleaners.

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Deep-clean kids’ rooms. Get the kids in on the project by assigning jobs that seem sort of fun — like dusting the floor with dusting mitts on their feet, or spritzing surfaces with a gentle cleaning spray. Move or clean under furniture where the biggest dust bunnies hide, and tidy up toys and clothes.

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Edit your book collection. The fall and winter months are prime time for curling up with a good book. Make some room on your shelves for new titles by weeding out books you didn’t love or know you won’t pick up again. While you’re at it, use a duster to swipe the shelves and spines.

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Wipe down kitchen cupboards, walls and appliances. Grease from cooking can build up on kitchen surfaces over time. Using a warm, wrung-out microfiber cloth, wipe down everything top to bottom. To avoid damaging finishes, start with just water on the cloth and add gentle cleanser if needed.

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Refresh cleaning tools. When was the last time you checked out the state of all of those scrub brushes and cleaning tools? Replace any with bedraggled bristles, and fill in any gaps in your cleaning arsenal. Having the right tools really does make the work easier and more pleasant.

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Sort papers. Mail and other incoming paperwork can easily pile up. Make yourself a big cup of coffee or tea and sit down to go through it all. Shred documents with personal information on them before recycling and file important records. To manage paper piles in the future, consider keeping a small file box near the front door so you can quickly and easily file things away.

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Clean carpets and floors. Have carpeting and area rugs professionally cleaned if needed, or spot-clean on your own. Assess the condition of wood floors, and have them recoated or refinished if it’s time.

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Tidy up outdoors. A full summer of gardening and outdoor activities can leave the porch and yard littered with half-filled bags of potting soil and scattered sand toys. Use a day on a crisp fall weekend to get it all tidied up. Clean beach toys and gear before storing them for the winter, and find a sheltered area to stow gardening tools and supplies.

Get Pumpkins! And More Ways to Make the Most of This Weekend

Take care of your trees (or plant one), linger over breakfast, refresh your planters, get ready for wet weather and more

By Laura Gaskill | Courtesy of Houzz.com 

The leaves are turning, the pumpkins are ripening on the vine, and the apple cider is fresh and cold — it must really be fall! Make the most of your weekend with a mix of good-to-dos (care for your trees) and pure fall bliss (take a leaf peeping drive). Peruse these seven weekend ideas, and then share what you’re up to in the Comments.

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1. Put tree care on the schedule. If you have mature trees on your property, take a moment this weekend to make an appointment with an arborist to inspect them — it’s important to have any dead or damaged limbs removed before storm season. Depending on your region, fall may be a good time to plant new trees too. Check with knowledgeable nursery staff to find out whether fall or spring is better where you live.
 

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2. Linger over breakfast. A leisurely morning around the breakfast table (pajamas welcome) is a wonderful way to make the weekend feel notably different from the usual weekday morning rush. Pull out all the stops and make your family’s favorites, whether that’s soft boiled eggs and toast soldiers or waffles and bacon.

Photo by David Dashiell  

Photo by David Dashiell
 

3. Tour a great home or take a leaf-peeping drive. Why not go on a little adventure this weekend in search of fall color? Tour a famous home or garden (like The Mount, writer Edith Wharton’s estate in the Berkshires, shown here), or just hop in the car and head for somewhere woodsy.

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4. Give your porch planters a fall update. Mums in rich fall hues are a classic choice for porch flowerpots, but if you’re looking for something a bit different, consider ornamental grassesinstead. These feathery fronds give planters a lush look and bring fall color to your porch all season long.

5. Warm up your kitchen floor with a rug. Swapping out a tired old kitchen rug for a new plush one in a warm hue is a quick and easy way to update your kitchen for fall. Plus, it will keep your toes toasty on chilly mornings while you wait for your coffee to brew.

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6. Get the entry ready for wet weather. Outfit your main entryway with sturdy, nonslip flooring or mats, a place to stow mucky boots and a stash of towels for mopping up tracked-in rainwater (or wet dogs). When the first rain comes, you’ll be prepared!

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7. Visit the pumpkin patch.Whether you head to a pumpkin patch in town or trek to a pick-your-own pumpkin farm in the country, this weekend is a good time to hunt for that perfect jack-o’-lantern. And if fresh-pressed cider or apple cider doughnuts are involved, so much the better.

To-Dos: Your October Home Checklist

Clean up fallen leaves and branches, and get your home ready for more time spent indoors

By Laura Gaskill | Courtesy of Houzz.com

The leaves are falling, the farmers markets are bustling, and the cozy comforts of home beckon — it must be October. Make the most of this month’s bountiful harvest, get some exercise raking leaves in the brisk air, and button down your house in preparation for winter. Then sit back, relax and warm your hands around a mug of hot apple cider. Fall is here.

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Things to Check Off Your List in an Hour or Less

1. Neaten up the mudroom. The back-to-school (and work) flurry can leave the mudroom looking a little worse for the wear. Take some time to regain sanity — sort through papers and put away stray summer items. Clean the floors and invest in a new doormat if needed. Keep a recycling basket near the entrance to make sorting mail and school papers easier, and dedicate a tote or bin for items that need to be returned (like library books).

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2. Keep seasonal decorating low-key with natural finds. Pumpkins, gourds, fresh heirloom apples, quinces, pomegranates, figs and fall foliage make wonderfully simple decor. Bring in cut branches from your yard, stop by a pick-your-own farm, or scoop up fall’s bounty at a farm stand.

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3. Vacuum radiators, baseboard heaters and heating grates. Prepare for heating season by vacuuming up dust from radiators, baseboard heaters and heating grates. If you have radiators with covers, remove the covers and vacuum beneath them before replacing.

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4. Check safety devices. Test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in the house, replacing batteries as needed. Check the expiration date on the kitchen fire extinguisher and replace it if needed.

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5. Start a gift list. It may seem as though the holidays are a long way off, but that’s why it pays to start getting organized now. Start a list of everyone you plan to give gifts to this year, and as ideas strike, jot them down on your list. You can also use your list to keep track of a holiday gifting budget. And if you want to make any gifts by hand, October is a great time to get started — handmade gifts always seem to take longer to make than expected.

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6. Rake leaves. To make quicker work of collecting leaves from a large lawn, rake the fallen foliage onto a large plastic tarp. Then bag it or add it to your compost pile.
 

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7. Decorate for Halloween. If you’re planning to participate in Halloween festivities — whether you’re working on an elaborate haunted house or simple door decor — it helps to get an early start on shopping (or crafting).

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8. Cover or store outdoor furniture and grills. If you plan to leave your patio furniture or grill outside through the fall and winter, cover them well and stow them beneath an overhang that will protect them from rain and snow. Even if you live in a mild climate, covering your grill between uses is a good idea to preserve the finish.

9. Shut off exterior faucets and store hoses for winter. Disconnect, drain and roll hoses before storing them for the winter. Shut off the water supply to exterior faucets to prevent frozen pipes.

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Maintenance and Extras to Budget for This Month

10. Trim dead tree limbs. Dead limbs are more likely to fall during winter storms, making them a potential safety hazard. Have an arborist inspect and trim large trees.

11. Clean gutters and downspouts. Wait until most of the leaves have fallen to schedule a rain gutter cleaning. Inspect gutters and downspouts for cracks and loose parts, and make repairs as needed.

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12. Maintain your wood stove or fireplace. If you have a fireplace or wood stove, it’s essential for safety that you have it serviced before lighting the first fire of the season. If you haven’t done so already, schedule an appointment to have your chimney inspected and, if necessary, cleaned.

13. Clean carpeting and area rugs. Have area rugs and carpeting professionally cleaned if needed, or spot-clean on your own. Rotate area rugs before putting them back in place — this will help prevent one side from becoming more worn or faded than the other.
 

Easy Ways to Save Money on Energy Bills This Winter

Simple changes can cut down your electric and gas bills as the days get colder

By Becky Harris | Courtesy of houzz.com 

While I’m looking forward to chilly nights and winter’s wonder, I dread the increased energy bills that come with them. So I spoke with expert Jordan Goldman, an engineering principal at ZeroEnergy Design, a firm that specializes in high-performance homes and buildings. He helped me compile this list of easy moves you can make right away to improve your home’s energy efficiency, as well as larger investments you can make to take it to the next level now or in the future.

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Volunteer for an Audit

Do it now: “It’s likely your local utility company offers energy audits. Get one,” Goldman says. Start by asking your gas and electric utility companies. Another good resource is the Residential Energy Services Network. The U.S. Department of Energy provides a helpful guide for how to get the most out of your energy audit. 

Good investment: Implement all the audit recommendations that you can.

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Snuggle Up

Do it now: Wear warmer pajamas, add an extra blanket to your bed, and switch your duvet from cotton to something warmer like down, so you can turn your thermostat down a few extra degrees at night. 

Good investment: “Install a programmable thermostat that will lower the temperature for you,” Goldman says.

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Do it now: Remove window air-conditioning units for the winter. 

Good investment: “Consider replacing window units with high-efficiency mini-split systems with heating and cooling instead,” Goldman says.

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Make a Call

Do it now: If you use natural gas to heat your home, call your utility company to find out the best rate per therm you can lock in. This is usually something you lock in for 12 months. Do this before it gets any colder and the demand increases.

Good investment (of time): Shop around before committing. The public service commission in your state likely offers price charts from all the natural gas companies online. And pay attention to mailers. I save every offer I get in the mail from other gas companies. They usually offer tempting introductory locked-in rates that your existing company will be motivated to match. Have them handy when you call your natural gas company so that you can negotiate. Be sure to read and ask about the fine-print monthly fees associated with locking in your rate.

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Improve Your Equipment’s Performance

Do it now: Now is the time to clean and replace your furnace filter. And for safety, make sure the area around your furnace is clear. To take this a step further, have your HVAC service provider perform a checkup on your system before the cold weather arrives. He or she will make sure your furnace is in good shape and running smoothly, as well as check on your ducts. 

Good investment: “Upgrade your furnace to a new high-efficiency model,” Goldman says.

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Do it now: Wrap your existing electric water heater with a manufacturer-approved insulation jacket. 

Good investment: Consider replacing your existing water heater with a heat pump water heater, Goldman advises.

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Share: This list is just the tip of the icicle. Please add your ideas for saving on your energy bills to this list by sharing them in the Comments. And if you have invested in energy-efficient elements for your home, please share how it’s going as well.
 

Your Fall Home Maintenance Checklist

Prep your house and yard for cold weather with this list of things to do in an hour or over a weekend

By Laura Gaskill | Courtesy of Houzz.com 

Fall is a good time to take care of big home repair projects before shorter days (and in many areas, ice and snow) make outdoor work too difficult. And if you do live in an area with cold winters, take some time this fall to boost energy efficiency throughout your home and prevent damage from winter storms with proper tree care. (We spoke with an expert to find out what you need to do.) Tick these items off your list this season, and you can rest easy knowing that your home and yard are buttoned up and ready for winter.

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Tasks to Check Off Your List in an Hour or Less

Stock up on winter supplies. If you live in a region with cold, snowy winters, fall is the time to prepare. 

  • Check the condition of snow shovels and ice scrapers; replace as needed.
  • Pick up a bag of pet- and plant-safe ice melt, if needed.
  • Restock emergency kits for car and home.
  • If you use a snow blower, have it serviced and purchase fuel.

Shut off exterior faucets and store hoses. Protect your pipes from freezing temperatures by shutting off water to exterior faucets before the weather dips below freezing. Drain hoses and store them indoors. Drain and winterize irrigation system, if using.

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Check walkways, railings, stairs and the driveway for winter safety. When the landscape is covered in ice and snow, just walking from the driveway to the front door can be a challenge. 

Make navigating around your home safer by checking that all stairs are in good shape and have sturdy railings, and that the driveway is in good repair to make for easier shoveling.

Test outdoor lights and replace bulbs as needed. As the days get shorter we rely more on exterior lighting, both for safety and ambiance. Test lights on the front and back porch, on the garage and in the landscape, and replace bulbs as needed.

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Check safety devices. 

  • Test smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors; replace batteries as needed.
  • Check the expiration date on your fire extinguisher and replace if needed.
  • If you haven’t checked your home for radon, fall is a good time to do so — as the weather gets cooler and windows stay shut more often, radon is more likely to become trapped in your home.
  • Radon at high enough levels is extremely harmful, so if you find that your home has radon (a radon level of 4 or above is considered unacceptable by the Environmental Protection Agency), hire a contractor qualified to fix radon issues.
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Vacuum radiators, baseboard heaters and grates. Get ready for heating season by clearing away dust and grime from radiators, baseboard heaters and heating grates. If your radiators have removable covers, take them off and vacuum beneath the cover before replacing.

Remove window A/C units. If you use window air conditioning units in the summer, remove them before the weather turns cold. If you must leave in window A/C units, cover the exterior of the unit with an insulating wrap to keep cold air out.

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Tackle These To-Dos Over a Weekend

Rake leaves. Leaves look beautiful blanketing the ground, but leaving too many leaves on a lawn over winter in a snowy area can inhibit spring growth. To make the job easier, choose a lightweight rake, wear gloves to protect your hands and use handheld “leaf scoops” to bag leaves quickly.

Seal gaps where critters could enter. Mice need only a tiny gap to be able to sneak into your house and raid your pantry. And with colder weather coming, all of the little critters out there will be looking for warm places to make a home. Fill small holes and cover any larger gaps securely with heavy-duty hardware cloth to keep the wildlife outdoors.

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Care for trees and shrubs. If you have trees on your property, consider hiring an arborist to care for them. These pros can spot signs of poor health early on to prevent tree loss. And they know how to prune properly to avoid falling limbs in winter storms. 

“The most important maintenance for a homeowner to do in the fall would be trimming [the] dead out of trees,” says Bryan Gilles, owner and arborist at Arbor Doctor in Calabasas, California. “Trees are going dormant at this time, and are less likely to get a disease.” Because trees are slowing growth in the fall, it’s not an ideal time to plant a new tree, as the roots may have trouble getting established. For treatments, Gilles recommends fungicide injections in the fall to prevent diseases such as diplodia, which can affect pine trees.

It’s also a good idea to observe your trees throughout the fall, keeping an eye out for signs that signal a need for intervention. “Early change in leaf color, pines looking thin and/or needles turning brown, and dead branches are all signs of diseases,” Gilles says. “Ash trees spotting yellow sporadically around this time of the year is a bad sign of a disease called ash yellows, since ash trees are one of the latest to turn.”

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Deep-clean the kitchen. Take a day to tackle some of the more labor-intensive cleaning tasks, and keep your kitchen working efficiently and looking great:

  • Degrease the range hood and filter.
  • Clean the oven.
  • Vacuum the refrigerator coils.
  • Scrub tile grout.
  • Clean light fixtures.
  • Wash the walls and backsplash.
  • Wash the garbage can and recycling bins.
  • Clean small appliances.

Add weatherstripping. Weatherstripping applied around the frames of windows and doors helps boost winter warmth and cut energy costs. Add door sweeps to the base of drafty doors to keep heat in and cold air out. If you’re feeling crafty, you can even make your own cozy draft stopper from an old flannel shirt, wool sweater or fleece blanket:

1. Cut a length of material about 3 inches longer than the width of your door (to allow for seams) and 6 to 8 inches wide.

2. Fold the material lengthwise, with right sides together.

3. Stitch a seam (by hand or on a sewing machine) down the long side, creating a tube of fabric. Stitch one end closed.

4. Turn the draft stopper right side out so the seams are hidden on the inside (use a yardstick or wooden spoon to get it completely turned right side out).

5. Fill with dry rice or beans.

6. Fold the open ends under and sew shut.

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Clean dryer vents. Lint buildup in dryer vents can make your dryer work less efficiently and even cause a fire — cool, dry fall weather increases static electricity, which can ignite lint that has built up, so now is a key time to get that lint out. You can hire a duct cleaning specialist to clean the vents for you, or clean the vent yourself. If you decide to do it yourself:

1. Unplug your dryer.

2. Shut off the gas if you have a gas dryer.

3. Pull the dryer slightly away from the wall.

4. Loosen the clamp holding the hose.

5. Use a vacuum attachment or lint brush made for dryer hoses to clean out the hose and behind the dryer.

6. Replace the hose, gently move the dryer to the wall (without crushing the hose) and plug it in.

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Maintenance and Extras to Budget for This Month

Make exterior repairs. Take a walk around your property, looking for signs of damage to the roof, siding and foundation. If you spot anything that needs repair, schedule it before winter weather hits.

Clean gutters and downspouts. Once most of the leaves have fallen, clean out gutters and downspouts (hire a helper if you are not comfortable on a ladder). Clogged gutters during rainstorms can cause water to pool and damage your roof or siding.

Conduct an energy audit. A trained auditor can assess your home’s current energy efficiency and give you a list of recommended improvements you can make, which may include upgrading to Energy Star appliances, adding insulation to the attic or beefing up weatherstripping. You can also find instructions for a do-it-yourself energy audit at Energy.gov.

Schedule a chimney cleaning and heating system maintenance. Making sure your chimney and furnace or boiler are cleaned, maintained and in working order before you need to turn on the heat is an important safety measure. And be sure to add a chimney cap if you don’t already have one — it will stop critters from crawling down your chimney!
 

Empty Nesters: 8 Ways a Spare Bedroom Can Enhance Your Lifestyle

Your kids are grown, their belongings (ideally) out of the house. Here are some uses for the space they no longer need

By Jeanne Taylor | Courtesy of Houzz.com

Excess space is a luxury that most of us do not enjoy while our kids are living at home. But many of my clients find that once their grown children have moved out of the house and established their own households, they suddenly have extra unused spaces. At some point, those childhood bedrooms get cleaned out and stand waiting for a fresh coat of paint and a new purpose. 

If you’re lucky enough to have extra square footage in your nest, here are eight ideas for turning that space into something fit for your current lifestyle.

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1. A walk-in closet and dressing room. I love the idea of transforming an extra bedroom into a beautiful walk-in closet and dressing room. Several of my clients have done this, gaining both functionality and luxury. One client was even able to connect her new dressing room to her master bath — a nice perk if your floor plan allows. Many companies specialize in custom cabinetry and closets and can help you add this extra bit of comfort to your home.
 

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2. A home office. Some people telecommute, others finish work projects or emails after hours at home, while still others simply enjoy having a dedicated home office for paying bills and taking care of other personal business. An extra bedroom is a perfect option for a home office because the door can be closed for solitude and focus or to hide clutter. You might line closets in the room with custom shelving and cabinets. Or, if this level of construction is not in your budget, you might purchase some beautiful storage solutions at furniture stores that can help you create a good-looking and organized home office.

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3. A guest bedroom. Perhaps your adult children live out of town and stay for several nights when they visit. Or maybe other friends or family members often bunk in your home. A dedicated guest room might be just what you need. To make this a relatively inexpensive project, you might repurpose some furniture from a child’s former bedroom. A fresh coat of paint, new bedding, and updated accessories may be all you need to complete its new look.

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4. A craft room. If you are someone who enjoys scrapbooking, jewelry making, sewing or similar hobbies, a dedicated craft room may be exactly what you crave. Frequently, craft projects span days or even weeks, and putting supplies away in the middle of a project can be cumbersome. Even if your funds do not allow for built-ins, a large table and wall shelving can work wonders for storing and organizing craft materials.

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5. A reading nook. Maybe you have been longing for a quiet, comfortable place to relax with a good book — a small spare bedroom easily could be outfitted for this purpose. You may be able to relocate a comfortable chair from elsewhere in your home. Add a good reading lamp and a small book shelf and, if you want to go further, paint the walls a new color and add accessories, artwork and throw pillows. A cozy blanket in a bright color is another inexpensive way to add style to your reading spot.

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6. An exercise gym. Outfit a small extra bedroom with exercise equipment and a wall-mounted television. Watching your favorite show while working out can make the time much more pleasant — I’m speaking from experience here. Also, large wall mirrors not only make a small bedroom appear larger but can help you ensure correct form and prevent injuries. 

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7. A yoga or pilates studio. With an available bedroom, a quiet dedicated space for yoga or pilates may be an attainable luxury. If your space and budget allow, enhancing a new studio by adding sliding doors out to a private garden is a wonderful way to create a special place with plenty of light and fresh air. A bubbling fountain augments the mood. Painting the walls a cool, calming color such as blue or gray can also boost the tranquility.

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8. A multifunctional space. If you have only one spare bedroom but a variety of needs, a Murphy bed or wall bed may be the solution for you. Multiple companies specialize in beds that fold effortlessly into an attractive wall cabinet when not needed. That way, you can use your spare room as a home office, craft space or exercise studio without a bed taking up floor space — at least not until just before your visiting children arrive.

To-Dos: Your September Home Checklist

Prep your home for cooler weather with these tasks to do in an hour, over a weekend and during the month

By Laura Gaskill | Courtesy of Houzz.com

From the first days, which probably still feel like summer, to the last, when you may notice that first chill in the air, September is a time of transition. Get your home ready for the season ahead by ticking off these to-dos, from adding cozy layers to scheduling necessary maintenance — and then curl up in your favorite chair and savor the comforts of home.

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1. Cozy up with warm layers. Have you felt that first nip in the air yet? When you do, think about swapping out lighter-weight bedding for flannel sheets and fluffy duvets. Bring added warmth to the other rooms in your house with throws and pillows in rich fabrics like wool, velvet or faux fur. Thicker area rugs and curtains not only feel cozier, but they also can actually help your home feel warmer — and cut down on your energy bills.

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2. Order firewood. Whether you use a wood stove for actual warmth or just for coziness, now is a good time to order a delivery of firewood. If you can help it, don’t store large quantities of wood directly against the house, which can encourage pests, but do keep it protected from rain and snow beneath a shelter.

3. Check safety devices. Test smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors; replace batteries as needed. Check the expiration date on your fire extinguisher and replace if needed.

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4. Set up a homework or project area. Encourage kids to get their work done with an area that is comfortable, attractive and well-organized. Ideally, make available a large surface for spreading out big or messy projects. The dining table can work, but if you have the room, consider adding a dedicated project table and keep all the necessary supplies at hand.

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5. Clean leather furniture. It’s important to know whether your leather furniture has a finish before treating it with any products, so check labels or look up the item on the retailer’s or manufacturer’s website before you begin. 

  • For unprotected leather (also called aniline), less is more when it comes to cleaning: Wipe with a clean, dry cloth or one slightly dampened with distilled water.
  • For protected leather (also called semianiline or pigmented), you can make your own cleaning solution by adding a few drops of mild nondetergent soap to distilled water, or use a commercial leather cleaning product. Apply with a microfiber cloth.

6. Remove window AC units. If you use window air-conditioning units, now is the time to either remove them or cover them outside with protective insulation. Removing the units is the better option because this will allow you to close the windows, minimizing winter heat loss. If you choose to leave them in over the winter, be sure to pick up insulating covers made for this purpose and securely attach them outside.

7. Add weatherstripping. Newer double-pane windows may not need weatherstripping, but it will help most older windows retain heat and stop drafts. Check areas with previously applied weatherstripping and remove or replace as needed.

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8. Freshen up your fall wardrobe. If you’ve bought new clothes recently, take this opportunity to sort through the rest of your wardrobe and remove pieces you no longer wear. Collect clothes that need repair and move summer clothes to an out-of-the-way spot so that your fall wardrobe can be front and center. Polish shoes, remove pilling from coats and sweaters, and clean out handbags and totes.

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9. Inspect the roof and gutters. It’s generally fine to wait until most of the leaves have fallen in autumn to clean out the gutters and downspouts, but giving these areas a quick visual inspection now is a good idea. Pull out any sticks or other debris blocking the gutters, and make note of any worn-out seals around vent pipes and chimneys. If you do not feel comfortable on a ladder, or have a home of two or more stories, hire someone to do a quick inspection for you. Schedule any needed repairs now so that your home will be buttoned up for winter.

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10. Schedule chimney and furnace maintenance. Make sure your fireplace and heating system are clean, safe and ready to go by having a pro look at them now. Having your chimney cleaned will also ensure that you don’t try to start a fire when an animal family (or an old nest) is inside. And if you don’t have a chimney cap yet, speak with your chimney sweep about adding a one. The metal cap with screened sides can prevent critters from getting in and helps protect your roof from burning embers.

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11. Maintain the washer and dryer. Cleaning out the dryer vents can be a DIY job, but if you don’t feel comfortable doing so (or if you’ve been putting it off), you may want to hire a pro to do washer and dryer maintenance for you. Washing-machine hoses need to be replaced from time to time, and a cracked hose can cause a leak — which can mean costly damage to your home. Clean dryer vents and hoses will help your machine work more efficiently and reduce the risk of fire.

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12. Consider beefing up insulation. Looking for a way to save on your energy bills this winter? You may want to think about adding insulation to your attic space or inside walls. This can make a big difference in how well your home retains heat in winter and stays cool in summer.