Cause for Celebration

Summer is here, and there’s no better way to celebrate than with a cool drink at an outside party with your friends and family. If throwing your own celebration is part of your summer plan, these tips from RealSimple.com will help make your party seem effortless.

Get help: While you may want to give the impression that you pulled off the perfect party all by yourself, if you really want to ensure everyone has a great time – including yourself – ask one of your friends to help you with simple day-of tasks, such as making sure the garbage isn’t full or restarting the music when the playlist ends.

Eat right: Pick smart choices for your party. This means if it’s outdoors, try and find things that are easy to eat without making a mess. Finger foods like bruschetta or small sandwiches are always a big hit. If you’re making a salad, try using hardier greens like cabbage that won’t wither in the heat as easily; lightly dressed coleslaw is great for this.

Banish bugs: Citronella candles at the edge of your party will help drive away annoying insects. You can also leave bowls of just (cherry is the one that works well) farther way to attract insects so they don’t bother your guests.

Information received from CRS, The Council of Residential Specialists

Celebrate America: Made in the U.S.A

 

July marks our nation’s birthday, and as millions gather to celebrate Independence Day, feelings and ideas of what make the United States great will undoubtedly flood the minds of those attending local barbecues, neighborhood block parties, or fireworks displays. The United States is ripe with diversity, and there’s no better way of celebrating this great nation than focusing on promoting American made manufacturers and craftsmen.

While a majority of products found in homes are now produced elsewhere, there are still American companies producing quality products for every facet of life. When celebrating the Fourth of July this year, wave a flag made by Annin & Co, the oldest and largest flag manufacturer in the United States, a company started in 1847. Celebrate American independence by supporting local workers and craftsmen!

Products made in the U.S. not only offer superior workmanship, but they also help promote the U.S. economy. In recent decades, many American companies have moved production overseas, attracted by cheaper labor and production costs in less developed countries. Manufacturing is a crucial part of any economy and has been woven into the structure of the American economy since World War 2; only since the early 2000s has American manufacturing seen a steady decline, and the numbers continue to fall into 2014, but a small group of Americans have made a point of counteracting the outsourcing movement in the United States.

In recent years, more and more companies have tried to shift the focus back to American made products, and even home builders have shown an interest in promoting ‘Made in America.’ The Building A Better America Council (buildingforamerica.org), a nonprofit organization, was created to promote the manufacturing and purchasing of American made products in the construction industry. Portland, OR’s 2013 Street of Dreams featured a home by Westlake Development Group appropriately named “The American Dream,” where 97 percent of products used to construct the house were made in America — from nuts, bolts and lighting fixtures to rescued barn wood featured in the home’s rec room.

In January 2013, 84 Lumber (the largest privately held building materials and services supplier in the United States) launched its “We Build American” initiative at the National Association of Homebuilder’s International Builders Show in Las Vegas, where it encouraged builders, remodelers and home buyers to purchase and use American made materials in the construction and remodeling of their homes. Partnered with Marnie Custom Homes in Bethany Beach, DE, “We Build American” promotes awareness of the benefits of building American. Marnie Oursler, founder of Marnie Custom Homes, has found the cost of using American made materials is within one-half of one percent of the cost of using foreign-made materials.

The U.S. offers innovation and a high level of talented labor, and products made in the U.S. help keep the American economy growing. Jeff Nobers, Vice President, Marketing & Public Relations at 84 Lumber, said: “If every American builder used just 5-10% more American products in the homes that they build, it would add an enormous number of American jobs in communities across the country. From sawmills in Georgia and Mississippi, to nail manufacturers in Illinois, Americans would be put to work making American products for American homes” (prnewswire.com). It’s not just builders who have voiced an interest in American made products, ABC News launched its “Made in America” news section, which provides articles, blogs, news segments and other information spotlighting American made products and services.

Another aspect of American manufacturing that shouldn’t be overlooked is the fact that buying products that are made in the U.S. promotes greener and environmentally conscious production standards while preventing worker exploitation. Many items made overseas are done so by people working in appalling factory conditions, paid little-to-nothing for their time and effort. Buying American made products helps U.S. workers make a living wage and sends large corporations a message that taking advantage of cheap labor isn’t what Americans stand for.

While it seems as though the options for American made products might be limited, it’s just the opposite. Websites such as madeinusa.org, consumerreports.org and madeintheusa.com highlight companies whose items are still made within the United States, helping home owners and consumers alike locate products and companies that are immediately local, within their state, or in the United States. Another hugely popular site is Etsy, “a marketplace where people around the world connect to buy and sell unique goods” (etsy.com). Etsy allows consumers to search specific states and cities for anything from home, living, and clothing items to wedding and craft supplies, of which many items are locally sourced and hand crafted.

Made in America products are not limited to small boutiques, online stores and home construction products — many large American companies feature American products, some of which are staples in U.S. households. All-Clad, located in Canonsburg, PA, is the only bonded cookware manufacturer to use American craftsmen and American made metals in the production of its superior, high-performance bonded cookware. The renowned Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer is still made in Greenville, OH, and Pyrex kitchen containers and bake ware, principal items in almost 80 percent of American households, are still made in Charleroi, PA, where they’ve been made since the 1940s. The Oreck XL vacuum is still manufactured in its Cookeville, TN plant, and most Weber grills, some of the most popular grills of all time, are still manufactured in Palantine, IL.

Personal preference always takes priority when choosing items for the home or for life in general, but when celebrating Independence Day this year, take a moment to recognize what our nation has to offer in every area of life. American workers and craftsmen help keep our country running — when shopping for home items, clothing, and anything else for everyday living, don’t forget about Made in the U.S.A!

 

Power Balance

It may be tempting to shut your doors and blast your air conditioning once summer kicks into full gear, but if you can avoid the impulse, you can actually save money as well as help the environment. Find out what you can do to save money this summer with the following advice from the U.S. Department of Energy.

One easy way to take advantage of natural cooling is to turn off your air conditioning at night and open your windows instead. This will let cool air into your house that you can trap by closing the windows when you wake up in the morning. Making sure your windows have a tight seal will also prevent cold air from escaping, and it will help you save energy in the winter.

Turning off appliances that emit heat is another simple way to save on energy and keep your house cool. Using items such as your oven, lamps and dishwasher will cause your house to heat up, requiring your air conditioner to do more heavy lifting. You can avoid building up excessive heat in the house by cooking outside or doing the dishes at night when it is easier to keep the house cool.

Learning how to program your thermostat will also play dividends. If your house is unoccupied for periods of throughout the day, set your thermostat so the air conditioning isn’t operating during those times.

Information received from CRS, The Council of Residential Specialists

Home Away from Home

Renting a vacation house offers a lot that hotels or other accommodations often don’t provide: keeping your large group together, cooking out and eating family style, and unique amenities such as a private pool or hot tub. Find the right rental for your group isn’t always easy, however. Here are some tips for The New York Times and Frommers.com to help you make a decision on a rental this summer.

Do your research: These days, there is no shortage of information about available rentals. Sites like VRBO.com, FlipKey (which is run by TripAdvisor), and HomeAway.com list thousands of rental homes in North America and across the world. Once you’ve located a few rentals you like, make sure what you see is accurate. Check the owner’s website, online reviews and comments from past users on sites like Yelp or Facebook.

Identity what you want: Determine your priorities before you start looking. A beachfront place may be more expensive, but if your family loves the water, it may be worth it. If you know your group is more likely to be out and about and just use the house as a place to sleep, you probably want to go for a less expensive option.

Decide early…or don’t: Good rental properties are tough to find, and that is doubly true if you’re heading somewhere during popular vacation times such as Christmas or spring break. So if you locate a place you’re particularly fond of, book it as soon as you finalize your plans. However, if you’re the spontaneous type, you can sometimes find big discounts by waiting until the last minute because discounted renters are better than no renters at all for property owners.

Information received from CRS, The Council of Residential Specialists

The Art of the Approach: Curb Appeal, and More

When considering the mysteries of what attracts the ultimate buyer, few will deny that curb-appeal is a sort of magic bullet. The term is a buzz word for the enticing image of your home as seen from the street, and is similar to the adage of judging a book by its cover. Buyers who rely upon this might overlook a treasure in the rough, but savvy sellers know curb appeal is a key tool to finding a buyer more quickly.

Curb appeal is key when buyers are looking through multiple listings, getting a feel for neighborhoods from the comfort of their cars — just driving by. Often, buyers will look at advertisements and listings online or in print, and if they are local will take a peek on their way home from work. Because of the power of this curb view, often the primary photographs used in advertisements and listings are from this angle. Money spent in improving this viewing angle is among the smartest investment. Simply put, painting and pruning trees and shrubbery can transform a home, helping to shed light on its features.

Other aspects of the approach to a home can be equally enticing and help to pave the way for a successful interior viewing. After all, when care is taken to the outside of a home, people feel that the interior will also have what they are looking for. Driveways and walkways that are well maintained and artfully presented greet potential buyers as soon as they step out of their vehicles.

Trees and shrubs that lose their leaves can create slick areas on driveways and walkways and be unattractive if allowed to affect landscaping and lawns. Ensure that you consider this when selecting trees to plant near driveways, and keep leaves in check during fall viewings. During the winter, when snow and ice might prove to be a problem, it is essential to maintain driveways and walkways carefully. This is not only for safety, but it illustrates the type of person who has owned and maintained the house itself.

One helpful exercise is to take time to view a home with curb-appeal in mind. At each juncture where a potential buyer might approach and view your home or property, stop and look around. Notice details. Take photographs. Look straight ahead, to the right and left, and even at the ground. If there are appealing features, play those up. If there are issues that block the enjoyment of the home, you can choose to address them. In each instance, seek to frame the view of the home or property in an appealing light, tending to the ground under foot, the areas close to the viewer, and that which they see.

The Results of curb-appeal come when assessing views from inside the home and at various places on the property. All views are important because they are attention-getting elements of the property you are selling. Views are memorable, and a bad one can deter potential buyers. Whenever possible, seek to create eye-catching points around the home. If certain views are less than desirable, seek to minimize, distract, or even block those views. If you can remove the offensive elements, do so, but whenever possible, contain them, screen them or otherwise affect a change.

Additionally, certain areas in homes have an element of approach to them. You control all the views inside the home, so assess each one carefully. The foyer or entryway has its own view into the home and serves as a curb of its own, or a launching pad, so to speak. As a viewer enters the home, moves to the living room, kitchen, master bedroom, or backyard, each transition creates an impression and should be considered a view. Try walking through the home and noting the approaches so that you can begin to create views within the home that offer the best feelings and highlight the home’s strengths. Make sure lighting, furniture, and clutter are all under control so that impressions are good every step of the way.

Follow these tricks for creating the best impression:

    • Ensure that the yard and landscaping is neat, tidy, and well-maintained. Seek to flatter the home first, then to show off your gardening skills. Freshly pruned vegetation illustrates careful stewardship.
    • If flowering plants are past their prime, trim them back and add in some seasonal plants for color. Re-edge and add mulch to existing beds. Plants in containers may be easily changed out or positioned where they are most needed, and if you invest in nice pots, you can take them with you.
    • Control growth of large trees to optimize light and safety of the home and surrounding buildings and property. Remove debris under trees daily, if needed.
    • Pay close attention to the front door and garage doors, including paint or stain condition and color, hardware and details these doors command a lot of attention. Consider adding seasonal decorations like a wreath or potted plants near the door, but keep these tasteful and few don’t distract from the house itself.
    • Clean steps, ensuring that they are free of scratches, chips, moss or signs of wear. Repair or upgrade handrails when appropriate.
    • A new Welcome Mat at the door will not only make a statement, it is also an invitation for viewers to wipe their feet as they enter the home.
    • Investing in new and unique numbers for your home not only makes it easy to identify, but can set it apart with flare.
    • Pressure wash the exterior of your home and ensure the gutters and roof are clean.
    • Assess and improve the driveway and any walkways to and around the home.
    • Upgrade lighting by doors and pathways. Providing safe and stylish lighting will make your home stand out in viewings throughout the day and evening.
    • Upgrade your mailbox. Creating a secure and attractive mail receptacle is akin to having a plush welcome mat at the end of your driveway or by your door.
    • Ensure that windows and screens are clean and well-maintained. Viewers from both the inside and outside of the home rely on being able to see through them. Shutters and screens should be in top shape. Easy-to-install PVC trim neatens and dresses up older windows and doors. Drapes and shades should be clean and in good working order.
    • Familiarize yourself with views from decks and various rooms, and improve those views when possible.
    • Decks can be used year-round in many places. Spruce up your deck, porch or patio and show what an inviting space it can be to potential buyers.

Sneeze The Day

Spring is prime time for itchy, watery eyes and never-ending sniffles. Do you or someone in your house have allergies? Get relief — in every room — with tips from the Mayo Clinic on how to allergy-proof your house

Bedroom: Choose bedding that is made of synthetic materials, and wash sheets, pillowcases and blankets in warm water at least once a week. Comforters should be cleaned, too. While your laundry is in the wash, vacuum with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter.

Keep the windows closed during pollen season, and turn on the air conditioning. Clean mold and condensation from the frames and sills. Washable curtains made of cotton or synthetic fabric are best.

Bathroom: Watch out for moisture and mold. Avoid carpet and wallpaper, and dry the tub after use.

Kitchen: Make sure there’s a vented exhaust fan above the stovetop hood to take out cooking fumes and reduce moisture. Keep up on dishes and clear the fridge of spoiled food regularly. Cleaning cabinets and counters will also go a long way toward keeping your allergies in check.

Information received from CRS, The Council of Residential Specialists