How to find cheap home improvement supplies

So you’ve decided to take on a home improvement project.  Your kitchen cabinets are from the ’70s and need an upgrade.  Your dishwasher stopped working.  Your carpeting is maroon and covered with paint.  Whatever the reason, I’m sure you’ll appreciate some tips and ways you can fund your home improvement project without spending a fortune. 

1. Scour garage sales and Craigslist.  Some people post items they are getting rid of for free on Craigslist.  Sometimes they’ll have appliances that just need a tweak or two to get back running or they bought a new one and no longer need the old one.  You can find great deals on secondhand products.  You can find items under household, appliances, or materials.  With a quick glance this morning, I found wooden fence, bricks, and a hot tub for free!  They just usually request that you’re able to pick up and haul the items yourself.

2. Search for a Habitat for Humanity Restore. This one is in Gurnee, IL.  Individuals and contractors can donate used or new building materials which you can purchase at a great discount.  They generally carry appliances, doors and windows, flooring, plumbing materials, cabinets, and more.  This location sells new and used toilets starting at $25 each and 6-panel interior bifold doors for $10/pair!  You can find the closest store near you here.

3. If you’re ordering carpet and flooring, check the clearance area for their discontinued products.  You might also find carpet that someone ordered and was dyed the wrong color and the buyer no longer wants it.  As long as there’s enough on the floor for the space you need, you can get it at a deep discount.  The store generally wants to get rid of what they have to make room for new products.

4. If you’re shopping at a home improvement store, head to the back near the loading docks.  Stores usually have a section for building supplies that were slightly damaged during transport or custom orders that ended up being cancelled.  It’s worth looking through because you’ll be able to purchase these at a discount, too.  And if you see something that’s going to be discontinued, be sure to ask a sales associate if they’re willing to negotiate on the price.  Since stores want these products gone to make room for new ones, there’s a chance you’ll save some cash here, too.

Do you have other tips on how to find discounts on these supplies?  I’d love to hear them.  Please leave a comment or visit me online.

Green is key at this year’s builders’ show

The 2010 International Builders Show took place at the end of January in Las Vegas.  Four energy-efficient homes were on display that focused on using less energy, less water, and having cleaner indoor air.  I love this quote by Kevin Morrow, The National Association of Home Builder’s senior program manager of green building standards:

If these trends continue, “Keeping up with the Joneses” could take on a different spin as neighbors compete for the lowest power bill on the block!”

So what’s going to be new and more green?  Here’s some featured items:

Panasonic’s ventilation fan, the WhisperGreen FV-13VKM2.  It features dual motors, an energy-efficient motor to improve air quality. 

Rainwater Collection Solutions Inc. has the Original Rainwater Pillow.  This is designed to collect rainwater and is stored horizontally, such as under a deck or porch.

Hoping to reduce energy costs, BaySystemsTM is combining an HVAC system with spray foam insulation installed by an energywise Preferred Contractor to keep your utility bills lower.

EcoStar® has a premium line of synthetic slate and shake roofing tiles manufactured with 80% post-industrial recycled materials.

Sommer USA happily showcases their garage door opener, the quietest in the world.  It’s stronger than a chain but quieter than a belt drive.

I’ve talked about low VOC paint before, great for people with allergies.  Sherwin-Williams was on hand to promote their zero-VOC, low-odor paint. 

Here is a list of even more products that were featured this year: CLICK HERE.

More information on the show can be found here and here.  I’d love to know what new energy-efficient products you’d like to see in the future.  Please visit me online or leave me a comment below.

Energy conscious homeowners get rewarded

You may all remember the famous Cash for Clunkers program offered by the government last year.  Well, Obama wants to do for homeowners what he did for car owners and that is offer a similar program called Cash for Caulkers.  He’s proposing a bill where homeowners can earn tax credits and receive money back for purchasing energy-efficient appliances.  Up to $12,000 per home!

Congress is currently working on drafting a bill that would be twofold.  First, homeowners would receive reimbursement for energy-efficient equipment and insulation.  Second, the government would reward small businesses and companies.

Included would be appliances such as refrigerators, washing machines, dryers, and even air conditioning, heaters, windows, and insulation.  They’re currently looking at reimbursing homeowners 50% of the purchase price PLUS installation.  So without an income cap, you could spend up to $24,000 to get $12,000 back.  Congress is still working out the kinks as to how the money would get returned.  It’s possible that it would come in the form of a tax credit (there is a current tax credit for energy-efficient appliances already, but not this much) or they might set it up where you can fill out information for a rebate and receive a check.  The government is looking at a cost of about $10 billion to fund this.

They’re trying to model it similar to New York State’s energy efficiency program.  How that program works is homeowner’s contact a contractor who is licensed to perform an energy audit from the State’s Web site of a toll free number.  The contractor arrives to determine how much energy is wasted in that specific home.  It costs the homeowner several hundred dollars.  When the contractor generates a list of what could be replaced, the cost, and how much energy could be saved, the homeowner chooses what he wants done and negotiates a price.  The contractor gets paid directly, submits paperwork to the state, and the homeowner receives about 10% back in the form of a check.

So do you think it is another program that could invite fraud?  Will homeowners take advantage of it?  Is the government wasting $10 billion that could be spent elsewhere?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Please leave me a comment or visit me online.

More information on the program can be found here, here, and here.

Up and coming design trends

Happy New Year, everyone!!  Can’t believe the first decade of the 21st Century is already behind us.  How time flies.  Since I wrote last week on some 2010 predictions for the year in real estate, I thought it would be interesting to write about some new trends in home design.  What do experts expect to see going forward?

For those of you who bought your home insisting on stainless steel appliances, you might be shocked to find out that big name appliances companies like Amana and Viking are introducing color.  And no, this is not your avocado green oven anymore, folks.  They’re looking at bold, bright colors like royal blue, deep purple, even orange.  Expect to see a lot of bright colors in kitchens moving forward.  Think about what a statement these would make with white walls, dark granite counters and wood floors.  Can we expect to see patterns next?  Can you imagine zebra print or leopard print refrigerators??  Experts also say that more comfortable seating in the kitchen like benches and sofas could be the next trend for sitting around a table.

Home builders will definitely be building more “green.”  What’s interesting is that now in our local MLS, there are options to include what design features, fixtures, and appliances are considered “green.”  Appliance companies will start to phase out those that used up a ton of electricity and water.  Imagine shower heads with less water flow.  Maybe we’ll see appliances that auto shut off when not in use to conserve energy.  And think of the tax savings!

Also this year, the stats show that 1 in 4 homeowners will be aged 55 and older.  Easy-to-use products will be more readily available to make life easier.  Designers have created touchless faucets, pullout drawers, and even non-slip bathroom floors.  And those ugly grab bars will get a makeover, too, to match the rest of the decor. 

What new design features would you like to see?  I’d love to hear your comments.  For other expert opinions, read this article.  Please be sure to visit my Web site.

Tips on staying cool and saving money

I couldn’t have picked a better day in Chicago to write about tips for staying cool this summer.  We seem to have completely skipped over spring, and headed right into a summer heat wave.  With highs in the upper 90s today, I think most of you would love to get some tips on staying cool in your homes this summer and saving money to boot. 

fan1. Make sure your vents are open and have clear access.  Make sure your air conditioner’s filter is also clear.  The air will be working extra hard to get out if you have items blocking the air flow or a clogged filter preventing it from getting out.  You’ll be paying a lot of money to try to cool your house while the air will be stuck.  If there’s a room you aren’t in, feel free to close that vent so the air is directed elsewhere. 

2. Upgrade your thermostat to a programmable one.  If you’re gone all day, you don’t need the air conditioning running on high.  Set it so it starts to cool down the house a half hour before you arrive home.  watch-thermostat-tip-2-lg

3. Get planting!  Planting some large, shady trees around your home is a great natural resource toward blocking out the sun.  You’re doing a good thing for the environment and saving money all at the same time.  Make sure you keep shades closed to also block out the sun.

4. Try to not use your oven.  If you have a toaster oven that is large enough for what you’re cooking, that will help keep the house from getting too warm.  You also could use a microwave, barbecue grill, George Forman grill, or a stove cooker.

5. Use those ceiling fans!  You won’t have to turn the thermostat down so much if you have the ceiling fan circulating cooler air around the room. 

6. Take shorter showers.  Even a short shower (around 5 minutes or less) will save you money than running a bath.  A bath would require a lot more hot water to fill the tub than what you’d use in the shower.

7. To keep humidity down, do your “wet” chores first thing in the morning or last thing at night when it’s a lot cooler.  These include chores like washing clothes, dishes, cleaning floors, watering plants, washing windows, etc.

More great tips can be found here and here. You can also download a free PDF with over 100 ways to save here. Visit me online for more information!

Choosing the right ceiling fan

As the weather starts to warm up in the Midwest, most homeowners are in between turning on their heat and turning on their air conditioner.  While opening windows is a great energy saver, those rainy, muggy days can be extremely uncomfortable.  A great solution for almost any room is a ceiling fan.  They allow air to circulate in bedrooms, family rooms, kitchens, etc.  Some studies have even shown that installing a ceiling fan in a baby’s nursery helps to reduce the risk of SIDS.  Having ceiling fans in the home are also an affordable way to make your home more appealable to buyers. Here are some tips when determining how to choose the right ceiling fan.

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1. Choose where in the room you want the fan installed.  The center is the most common choice.  If you are putting one in a bedroom, do not put it directly over the bed in case of an accident.  You’ll also want a fan that’s lower to the ground for smaller rooms and higher up for larger ones.  For the best air circulation, you’ll want fan blades that are often 8 to 9 feet off the floor.  For safety reasons, you’ll want the blades to be at least 7 feet off the floor so that they don’t hit anyone.  And some cities may require a certain height for building codes, so it’s best to check with them first.

2. Consider the electricity in the room.  You want to make sure the electrical circuit for the room is not overloaded.  The fan will most likely use the same amount of electricity as the ceiling fixture would.  So if the fan you want has both the fan and a light, make sure that the circuit can handle both prior to installation.  If you did not have a center fixture in the room prior to your fan, you’ll want to consult with an electrician to help with installation.

3. Choose a fan of good quality.  A cheaper fan may make a humming noise as the fan is run, which definitely won’t help you fall asleep.  Talk to the sales person at your local hardware store to get the best recommendation.  Consumer Reports ran tests on Hampton Bay, Harbor Breeze, and Hunter fans.  They determined that the blade shape can matter in air flow and that most fans have warranties on the motor for life.

Other tips on choosing the right fan include:
– Choose a fan that’s meant for a damp environment if you’re looking to install one in your bathroom or kitchen.
– A fan with the Energy Star label helps to move air 20% more efficiently than those without.
– If you want a fan for a high ceiling, select one that comes with a remote or wall control so you won’t need a ladder every time you want to turn it on or off.
– Make sure your fan is running counterclockwise to cool off a room in the summer and clockwise to circulate warmer air in the winter.

More tips can be found in this article. You’ll also find links on how to install the fan, clean the fan, and replace bulbs. Visit me online for any more questions!

Save energy with these gadgets

Well, I wanted to finish off Earth Week with some more “green” tips.  I hope that you’re getting good information from what I’ve posted earlier this week.  Today I am going to focus on some gadgets and appliances that will help to save you energy and keep your utility bills lower.

shower-head-lg1. Check out this great low-flow shower head at Greater Goods. And it’s only $8!  Using it allows water to flow at 1.75 gallons per minute.  On average, a regular shower head flows at 6 gallons per minute. 

2. Purchase a laptop instead of a desktop.  Who knew that it uses 5x less energy?  Plus, it’s portable so you can take it anywhere.

3. Keep burglars at bay with a motion sensor light.  It will save you money in electric bills by only going off when it senses motion rather than staying on all night. 

4.  High efficiency appliances.  You can purchase refrigerators, dishwashers, washers and dryers this way.  Washers that are high efficiency use a concentrated detergent to give you more bang for your buck.  Purchasing a front-load washer will help you save even more money.  You’re also apt to save money in taxes too!  Make sure you look for the Energy Star label before purchasing, or ask the salesman at the store.  This will help you save up to 30% more energy a month.

5. It may be hard to think about warming up for the winter (especially for those of us in the Chicago area), but it may be worth it next winter to invest in a space heater.  If you’re cold in one room, I first suggest putting on a sweater, but use a space heater to heat the room rather than turning on the heat for the whole house. 

6. One of the best investments you can make is purchasing a programmable thermostat.  You can program it to turn on right before you come home from work and to take the temperature down while you’re sleeping saving energy.  You can purchase these for as low as $25!

7. “If every household replaced just one incandescent bulb with a fluorescent bulb, the U.S. would conserve enough energy to light seven million homes,” says Ronnie Kweller of the Alliance to Save Energy.  Imagine how much you’ll save by replacing all your bulbs with fluorescents.  As a great bonus, they last longer than regular light bulbs so you have to replace them a lot less often.

I hope that my blogs this week inspired you to change at least one thing to help save the environment as well as your utility bills.  Please visit me online with any questions.