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Tom's Blog

Expert Strategies for Defining Flow and Function in Your Yard

October 7, 2013 5:09 pm

(BPT)—Many strategies can enhance the flow and function of a home's interior and how a family lives and uses the space. But what about a home's exterior? When it comes to a yard, the same thoughtfulness can help homeowners create functional spaces outdoors that not only look great, but also deliver maximum enjoyment.

Here are a few ideas experts use that will instantly improve the function and flow of your yard, helping create a space that is not only beautiful, but value-enhancing, too.

Recreation - No matter what size your yard, it's important to incorporate some type of open space. It's visually appealing and offsets other landscape features, plus it's a must for pets and family. Designate at least one segment of your yard for open space, and plant grass or another plant that's friendly to foot traffic.

Property line - Define your property with attractive trees, shrubbery and fencing. Keep in mind today's homeowners aren't stuck with bland chain-link fencing. Try mixing sizes of beautiful vinyl fence in different areas.

Relaxation - A deck or patio serves as an area of relaxation typically located close to the home for easy access. Define the space with multifunctional furniture, decorative accents and outdoor dining necessities. Thoughtful placement of furniture helps create boundaries that enclose the outdoor room and encourage socializing and relaxation. Just be sure not to block doors or stairways.

Amenities - Value-enhancing amenities should be highlighted in your yard. Do you have a pool? An intimate spa? How about a meditation garden? Add definition to these amenities while also protecting privacy with attractive professional-grade fencing. Amarroso's Pro Series line of fencing has no external hardware, making installation easy while yielding sturdy results.

Functional - Each year, interest in gardening at home grows. The good news is that even a basic vegetable garden can be an attractive yard enhancement. Gardens typically need a sunny location, but make sure the placement doesn't disrupt the flow of the yard. The last thing you want is the kids mistakenly tromping your prize tomato plants. Define the space and protect plants by adding modified vinyl fencing around the perimeter.

Concealment - No matter how organized your yard is, there are bound to be items you'd rather not see. Yard waste, garbage cans and compost piles can detract from the beauty of your outdoor space. There's a simple solution: Amarroso fencing can conceal these things so they don't disrupt the organic beauty of a yard. You can even partition AC units and storage sheds while keeping them easily accessible by incorporating Amarroso's gate kits.

Designers and builders know that flow and function are as important outside as they are inside. Homeowners who want to take a fresh look at their existing outdoor space can apply these concepts to help define different areas to improve the appearance and functional potential of their yard for all-year enjoyment.



Word of the Day

October 7, 2013 5:09 pm

Real estate salesperson. Person who has passed a state examination for that position, and must work under the supervision of a broker.



Q: Can I Refinance a Home Loan More Than Once?

October 7, 2013 5:09 pm

A: You most certainly can. During the most recent refinancing boom, for example, many homeowners refinanced their home loans two or three times within relatively short periods of time because interest rates kept treading downward, making it extremely attractive to trade in one loan for another.

Just remember that refinancing is basically like applying for a mortgage all over again. Each time you refinance, you will still have to go through the application process, get a home appraisal, and likely incur closing costs. Also, if you have a pre-payment penalty clause in your present mortgage, you will have to pay that penalty if you refinance. So be certain that it is actually worth it for you to refinance.



Fall Project File: Creating an Indoor Playroom

October 4, 2013 6:54 pm

A recent national survey about home improvement projects indicates that more people will be renovating or establishing home working spaces and play rooms this fall and winter. So I will pick up on the trend by tapping a couple of experts about creating a fun and welcoming playroom.

Dan Fritschen at says homeowners should not be afraid to consult with interior designers, architects and design showrooms, which he says are a great resource for both finding playroom ideas as well as getting assistance with the design.

Fritschen  says the best way to get help from experts is to set an appointment. Bring photos of the room you want to remodel, along with dimensions for your room ideas about design themes and your budget.

Don’t forget to ask for samples that you can borrow because seeing that tile or light fixture in your home makes a big difference in making smart decision decisions for your garage playroom remodel.

John Powell ( at Powell Custom Homes and Renovations of Des Moines, Washington provides these tips:

Choose a theme - Plan the entire room around a single thematic element based on a child's favorite subject, game or character. Or use the theme to create variety, such as a “story time” theme with your child’s favorite storybook characters incorporated into the décor. A themed, “special” room will give your child more incentive to spend time there, and will even help him or her to keep it clean.

Go crazy with colors - Neon paint colors are just fine here; don’t worry about matching or clashing.  Think about the fantasy worlds your children are seeing on television - the more outlandish, the more tempting the space will be for them.

Think small - Kids love spaces that are sized for them. Plan the space for smaller people, but think ahead so your kids don’t outgrow the space within the year.

Kids play rough - No matter how bombproof you make the space, someone is bound to knock his head against the side of any piece of furniture or anything built into the space. Try to find things with rounded edges. If you buy a piece of furniture with hard corners, ask your contractor to sand it down.


Home Renovation for Baby Boomers: Preparing for the Next Stage in Life

October 4, 2013 6:54 pm

(BPT) - Lived in your home for years? Love your neighborhood? The thought of moving away from your home's comfort, warmth and memories can be unsettling. Instead of moving out, consider updating and remodeling your home to accommodate your future needs.

Eight-nine percent of Americans 55 and older have embraced this aging-in-place trend, and hope to remain in their own homes for the long-term, according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).

"As Americans strive to maintain their independence and stay in their own homes longer, many take on home improvements projects to reduce maintenance while improving accessibility and energy efficiency," says Pella Windows & Doors spokesperson Kathy Krafka Harkema. "As they stretch budgets and prepare for retirement, today's savvy homeowners plan home renovation projects with comfort, convenience and ease of maintenance in mind."

Consider remodeling projects to help enjoy your home longer, more safely and efficiently as you age.

Home improvement for the long-term

Most homeowners realize the importance of upkeep and maintenance. A leaky window or drafty door wastes energy and can drive up utility costs.

To help save energy and money year-round, conduct a home improvement checkup by looking for signs that it's time for potential repairs.

  • Check major systems that help protect the outside of your home - the roof, gutters, siding and exterior finish.
  • Inspect interior components like heating, cooling, chimney and electrical systems.
  • Make sure enough attic insulation is in place to help prevent ice dams.
  • Look for signs of deterioration, damage or potential problems. Replace or repair worn or broken items before they can lead to more extensive or expensive repairs.
  • Check your home's windows and doors. Are there drafts, chips or breaks in the finish, condensation or fogging between panes of glass, or are they hard to open? Any of these signs can mean it's time for replacement.
  • Position storage areas, like shelves, for easy access.
  • Raise appliances, like washers, dryers, dishwashers and stoves, to minimize bending and lifting.
  • Replace old appliances and fixtures with more energy-efficient options, like ENERGY STAR-qualified Pella 350 Series vinyl windows and patio doors, to help save on future utility bills.
  • Determine whether your home will be ready for your next stage in life by reviewing the AARP home livability checklist.

Window replacement adds light, convenience

As we become older, our eyes require more light to see. Choose ENERGY STAR-qualified lighting for energy-efficient options. Adding additional windows, or increasing the size of existing window openings can also increase the amount of natural light in a home.

Replacing heavy curtains and drapes with more sheer options will also allow privacy, without sacrificing natural light.

Cut the dust

Pella Designer Series windows and doors offer convenient, custom made, between-the-glass options like blinds and shades. Between-the-glass window fashions don't collect dust like traditional room side window treatments, making them a low-maintenance, easy-to-care-for option. Plus, since they're between glass, they're a perfect fit and a safer option for homes with children or pets, since there are no room-side cords.

Replacing old, hard-to-open windows with new windows and screens makes it easier to open windows to enjoy fresh air.




3 Tips for Choosing the Best College

October 4, 2013 6:54 pm

"Choosing a college can be overwhelming and stressful — we know that after 18 years of talking to students," says David Mammano, CEO/Founder of Next Step Education Group. "To get started, go online. Narrow down some choices based on where you hope to be at the end of your journey. You should also ask your school counselor for materials and resources that could be helpful."

Here are 3 tips we recommend for any student looking to choose a college:

  • Take the rankings with a grain of salt. Use them as a guide for what the college offers, but in the end, it's what is best for you that will rank a school No. 1 on your list.
  • Visit the college with and without a guide. After you've done the formal college visit, go back unannounced and just enjoy the campus. It's the informal atmosphere that will let you know if you will be happy on campus.
  • Email professors in the program you plan to attend and ask a few questions. You can find their contact information on the college's website. Don't pester them, but making a quick connection might put you at ease about the quality of the program.

"When I planned the resources and content on, I tried to envision just how many options there could be for any one student," says Laura Sestito, Editorial/Production Coordinator for NextStepU. "Today's student can go anywhere! They shouldn't have to settle — they should dare to find that perfect match for who they are."




Word of the Day

October 4, 2013 6:54 pm

Principal. The amount of money borrowed; the amount of money still owed.


Q: Why Do Lenders Require a Down Payment?

October 4, 2013 6:54 pm

A: It protects them should you default on the loan, especially if you fail to make payments in the early years of the loan when more is owed on it.  Foreclosure, property fix-up, and resale costs could result in a loss on the mortgage loan.

That is a bad situation the lender wants to avoid.  So they have historically required cash down payments of 20 percent of a home’s purchase price.

However, if you purchase private mortgage insurance, the down payment requirement can drop to 5 or 10 percent of the purchase price.

Few lenders will lend the full value of a home unless they have special guarantees, such as that offered by the Veterans Administration (VA) under its mortgage assistance program.


Word of the Day

October 4, 2013 6:54 pm

Prepayment penalty. Fee charged by the lender when a borrower repays the loan early.


Fall Project File: Remodeling Your Home Working Space

October 4, 2013 6:54 pm

A recent national survey about home improvement projects indicates that more people will be renovating or establishing home working spaces and play rooms this fall and winter. So I tapped a couple of experts on the subject, who will convey some important tips and ideas in the next two columns.

The team at Lars Remodeling & Design ( in La Mesa, CA suggest homeowners begin their home work space installation or renovation by deciding on the main purpose of the space and who will be using it.

If there’s more than one person involved, the space can be divided by wall or enclosures. There should be plenty of room for a desk, seating for meetings and perhaps a lounge area.

Then decide what special items are important for a comfortable and functional workspace. You might need items such as a drafting table, separate computer workstations, countertop and table space, special machinery or a large screen for videoconferencing or webinars - and don’t forget space for storage and files.

According to the folks at Lars, one of the drawbacks of having a home office is the ever-present sound of home and family, which can sometimes overwhelm the background of a telephone conversation.

So soundproofing the office walls and doors can prevent screaming children and a loud TV from filtering into your businesses day while keeping your confidential discussions and financial conversations confidential.

When choosing your floor and ceiling materials, select those that absorb sound rather than make it echo.

Builder Scott Stonebreaker ( says homeowners should begin their project with a floor plan.  Get some graph paper and draw the setup you want.  

On paper, Stonebreaker  says you can move elements around a number of times until you find the fit that is right for you.  Remember to include the locations of electrical outlets, phone jacks and other hookups in this planning stage.  

There are also computer software programs available if you prefer a mouse to a pencil.

In our next segment, we'll tackle repurposing space for a children's play space.



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