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Thomas Skiffington,  CRS, GRI, CRB, ABR, ePro, CLHMS, SRES, RECS, CDPE, ECOBROKER
Thomas Skiffington, CRS, GRI, CRB, ABR, ePro, CLHMS, SRES, RECS, CDPE, ECOBROKER
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Tom's Blog

Ninja Decorator: Master the Art of Toss Pillows with Nine Simple Do's and Don'ts

June 7, 2012 6:00 pm

Much more than an accent color, decorative pillows have come into their own as one of the least expensive and most cost-effective ways to personalize furniture and change a home's décor. With more open floor plans today—and fewer walls to hang art on—they can also be conversation starters.

"The perfect scarf or bracelet can turn an ordinary outfit into an extraordinary one," says Kris Woodcock, VP of Merchandising for Ashley Furniture. "In the same way, the perfect combination of toss pillows can turn an ordinary room into a showstopper."

Many exciting new pillow trends are making their debut, from couture, nubby and boldly-patterned choices, to a bolder mix of pillow styles together. But how do you mix and match decorative toss pillows to create a look that's right for you?

Below are some rules to follow:

1. DON'T use cheap-looking pillows! Nothing ruins a good-looking sofa more than dated or poor quality pillows, while nothing transforms an inexpensive sofa more than high-quality, fashion-forward toss pillows.

2. DO match the mood of your pillows to the mood of your sofa. Choose toss pillows the same way you chose your sofa—based on your lifestyle and tastes. Use dressy pillows with a dressy sofa; casual pillows with a casual sofa.

3. DON'T use pillows that are duller, or a lot lighter than the sofa. There's an exception to every rule, but decorators agree that decorative pillows look best when they're darker, brighter or bolder than the sofa.

4. DO use pillows in a similar style. For an elegant look, stick with satiny or faux-fur fabrics. For a global look, stick with earthy or exotic fabrics. For a modern look, stick with bright or geometric fabrics.

5. DON'T use pillows too big (or too small) for the sofa. Large throw pillows on a small sofa will make it look even smaller. Small pillows (or too few of them) on a large sofa will look dwarfed.

6. DO use toss pillows with related colors. Forget about fancy color theories. Simply choose pillow colors with something in common, such as hues all inspired by a country landscape or a summer fruit salad.

7. DON'T feel compelled to use the pillows that came with your sofa. Factory pillow choices are intended to appeal to as many people as possible rather than to personal tastes. Be different!

8. DO mix patterns and textures. Choose pillows that look like they came from the same place or era, then mix nubby with smooth. To mix patterns, simply repeat the colors in each decorative pillow, while differentiating the pattern's motif or scale.

9. DON'T play it too safe! Be bold with memorable colors or textures.

Source: AshleyFurnitureHomeStore.com.
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Spring Showers Bring Beautiful, Lush Lawns

June 7, 2012 6:00 pm

Season after season and year after year, you do everything you can to get your lawn looking lush and vibrant. You know, just like your neighbor's lawn. You've done it all - from dedicating weekends to covering your lawn in fertilizer to inspecting every inch of your lawn on all fours. But despite your greatest efforts, you still have somehow managed not to achieve the awe worthy lawn you want. If getting that picture perfect lawn feels like a feat that will never come to fruition then perhaps there are still some steps you've missed in your lawn care routine.

Lawn aeration and over-seeding are not only essential steps to your lawn care routine, but can also be the answer you've been looking for. Over the previous summer, your lawn will have been subjected to a lot of traffic that can cause soil compaction, which if not alleviated can lead to a variety of problems. Lawn aeration doesn't just loosen the soil, it increases oxygen flow, water and nutrients absorption, and helps eliminates thatch. Following up with over-seeding promotes new growth, ensuring your lawn stays thick and dense making it much harder for weeds to come along and call your lawn home.

When it comes to lawn care, timing is everything, and could be the difference between achieving that picture perfect lawn and not. That's why kick starting your lawn care routine in early spring is the best thing you can do. Since that is when your lawn is awakening from the winter thaw and actively growing, allowing it to recover from the lawn aeration quickly and grow more lushly from the over-seeding.

Source: GreenLawn.
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The Do's & Don'ts of Exterior Wood Stains

June 7, 2012 6:00 pm

Now that the warm weather is here, you'll probably want to spend more time enjoying your backyard and your deck - but if your deck is looking past its best, you may want to consider applying exterior wood stains to freshen it up.

Nature presents exterior wood with a host of challenges. The moisture in rain and snow can cause swelling, mold, mildew and even rotting, while the heat of summer can make wood shrink, crack, fade and warp.

Wood stains can provide protection from the elements by repulsing water and reflecting harmful UV rays. They are also versatile and easy to apply - from door and window stains to deck stains, fence stains and siding stains - but care should be taken to ensure effective results. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when applying exterior wood stains to your deck, siding or doors and windows.

Application Do's
• Apply when surface and air temperature is between 10ºC and 35ºC (50ºF and 95ºF)
• Stir wood stains well before using
• Saturate all end grains, nail holes, cavities and cracks in the wood
• Maintain a wet edge to prevent lap marks
• Apply in the direction of the wood grain
Application Don'ts
• Do not apply in direct sunlight
• Do not apply when the surface is hot to the touch
• Do not apply when dew, rain or frost is present or expected within five hours
• Do not apply when moisture content of the wood is greater than 18%
• Do not thin
Before applying wood stains, please carefully read instructions specific to each product.
Other factors may require attention prior to any application of wood stains. The shiny surfaces (mill glaze) found on some woods, for example, can prevent coatings from penetrating, and should be sanded beforehand. Color tests are also useful: to confirm the color you can expect to achieve, use a sample of the wood you intend to treat and apply the appropriate number of coats.

So prepare for summer by enhancing your home's natural beauty with exterior wood stains.

Source: Sikkens
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Q: What Are the Specific Responsibilities of the Contractor vs. the Architect?

June 6, 2012 5:54 pm

A: Beyond having the architect create the design and the contractor implement it, both professionals have additional responsibilities. The contractor is responsible for pricing the project and ensuring that it is completed in a timely fashion. The architect is responsible for getting the construction drawing completed with proper specifications and architectural detail. Since many jurisdictions require architectural drawings to be reviewed to ensure the plans sufficiently meet local codes, the architect may also be responsible for applying for and securing the permits. Make sure that everyone, you included, understand who is responsible for what before work begins in your home.
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Word of the Day

June 6, 2012 5:54 pm

Housing codes. Local regulations that set minimum conditions under which dwellings are considered fit for human habitation. It guards against unsanitary or unsafe conditions and overcrowding.
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Big Design Ideas for Small Kitchen Spaces

June 6, 2012 5:54 pm

(ARA) - Bigger isn't always better in the real estate world, and what's more, it's not always possible. With more baby boomers downsizing from McMansions to smaller, more manageable houses, and a growing number of people opting to rent rather than buy, many families are looking for new ways to decorate, design and work with smaller spaces.

Kitchens sell homes, but this most-used room in the house hasn't escaped the "less is more" trend, either. Interior designers, decorators and home product makers are responding to the growing demand for practical, beautiful options that make sense in smaller kitchens.

If you're looking to make a big impact in a small kitchen, here are a few ideas to get you started:

Work the walls - You may love your cozy kitchen, but that doesn't mean you want to make it look or feel any smaller than it already is. Lighter wall colors can help a little kitchen feel more open and airy. One winning decorating technique for small kitchens is to paint the majority of the wall space in a light neutral tone, like a pale cream or taupe and then add a pop of brighter or darker color to one accent wall or area. You can edge up the excitement of this technique by using a mural for kitchens on the accent wall, rather than just a different paint color. Have an oddly shaped niche in your kitchen? You can turn that problematic space into a design statement with custom, repositionable wallpaper that can be custom-sized and custom-colored to fit your specifications. This unique product can be adhered and re-adhered hundreds of times so you can take it with you to your next house if you choose.

Smart-size your appliances - Sure that 30-cubic-foot stainless steel refrigerator is beautiful in the showroom, but how much will you love it when you can't fully open the door in your small kitchen? Refrigerators come in several sizes, so you should be able to find one that will fit your space. The same is true for stoves, microwaves and dishwashers. Choosing appliances that make size-sense for the space you have not only improves the livability of your petite kitchen, it can improve your efficiency as well.

Get creative with storage - One of the biggest challenges of a small kitchen is finding space for everything from pots and pans to flatware, dishes and foodstuffs. Small spaces call for storage creativity. Whether you hang some pots and pans overhead, replace traditional cabinet shelves with pullout drawers or use special racks to store plates vertically, you can find plenty of creative small-kitchen storage solutions.

Liven things up with light - Often, a small kitchen will have just one window - or no window at all. Yet light is an important way to make a tight space feel more expansive and inviting. Task lighting is essential for work areas in small spaces. Pendant lights can create ambiance and provide practical illumination without sacrificing any wall space. And if you crave natural light for your windowless kitchen, consider installing a skylight. Tubular skylights can bring sunlight into your ground-floor kitchen even if there's a second floor above it.

Small kitchens are here to stay, whether as part of the trend toward smaller, more efficient homes or the reality of rental unit life. With some decorating creativity and practical design tactics, you can ensure your small kitchen yields large benefits - both in terms of enjoyment and resale value.
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Going Green: Laminate Flooring Is the Homeowner's Eco-Friendly Choice

June 6, 2012 5:54 pm

Among homeowners in the know, laminate flooring has long been known as an affordable solution. Now, with the green movement catching on with homeowners, laminate has earned a reputation as an inherently green one as well.

Laminate flooring is composed of a hybrid of materials fused together through a unique lamination process. Thanks to the layer of high-definition photography used to give laminate flooring its beauty, laminate creates the realistic look of a natural resource – such as wood, marble or stone – without actually using it, so fewer raw materials are used in the manufacturing process.

"The manufacture of laminate flooring doesn't involve the harvesting of old-growth hardwoods like those found in tropical rainforests," says Bill Dearing, president of the North American Laminate Flooring Association (NALFA). "Laminate provides the desired look, no matter how scarce, without depleting natural resources."

Moreover, textures that replicate saw marks, worm holes and other decorative details give laminate flooring a remarkably realistic look, but not at the expense of Mother Nature. For example, laminate's fiberboard core is typically comprised of at least 74 percent pre-consumer recycled waste, such as sawdust from mills and wood chips from log processing.

NALFA conducts independent, third-party performance tests on laminate flooring, and products that earn the NALFA Certification Seal are deemed sustainable.

"Laminate flooring has a wealth of green advantages, and products certified to NALFA's sustainability standard are being used in growing numbers because of them," Dearing says. "Consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of the importance of environmentally friendly products."

Dearing says the NALFA Certification Seal is confirmation that a laminate floor is manufactured with these earth-friendly qualities:
• It's made with recycled natural resources producing a heavy-duty, high-density core board.
• It's recyclable.
• It's free of air-damaging chemicals. Because laminate is installed without glues and adhesives, and because laminate floors can be cleaned without the use of harsh chemicals, laminate helps to prevent harmful emissions of volatile organic compounds.
• It complies with formaldehyde emissions regulations for laminate flooring core board set forth by the California Air Resources Board.
• It is comprised of recycled content that may contribute points to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards for homes and businesses.
Finally, at the end of a laminate floor's lifetime, it can be reused or recycled. Or, when dismantled, the boards can be put back into the production process, ground for agriculture use, or burned as waste-to-energy. That keeps old flooring from landing in the landfill.

Source: www.nalfa.com
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Summer Checklist: Tips to Make Sure Students End Year on a Strong Note

June 6, 2012 5:54 pm

With the end of the school year approaching, now is the ideal time for parents to start planning for summer and preparing for next year. Parents play an important role in helping their children continue to learn, says Deme Clainos, CEO or online reading program StudyDog.

“Knowing your child’s learning needs will give you something to focus on during the months ahead and will also be a great asset when school starts again in the fall,” Clainos says.

The following checklist includes a few things parents can do to help their children finish the school year and make plans for the summer months.

1. Meet with the child’s teacher

Meet with teachers before the school year ends. Ask them if the student is on grade level in the subjects they have been studying and for recommendations on how the student might catch up if they have fallen behind. Ask the teacher what they think the child’s strengths and weaknesses are and if they have any suggestions for assignments or things they should work on during the summer.

2. Talk to your child
Discuss with the child what they liked most and what they liked least about the school year. Praise them for their hard work at school and review their report card. Talk to them about their interests and let summer be an opportunity to focus on areas they want to learn more about. Summer is the perfect time to let children explore new interests.

3. Review curriculum for next year
Take time to review general curriculum plans for the next school year to get a better idea of what the child will be studying. This is helpful for identifying learning areas the child should focus on during the summer.

4. Take care of special requests or questions
If there are requests for the next school year, take care of those as soon as possible. Teachers and administrators will most likely start their own break within a few days of school ending. Special requests may include asking for a specific teacher or requesting that a student be put in separate classes from someone they didn’t get along with. This is also the best time to ask teachers about a report card while it’s fresh on their minds.

5. Stay in touch with friends
Have the child collect their friends’ phone numbers and other contact information before school ends, so they can keep in touch through the summer break. Help them make plans to get together with friends, giving them something to look forward to when school ends.

6. Plan educational activities
Make goals for learning during the summer months. Spend time studying areas that were a challenge during the school year. Set aside time each day for reading or for using an interactive program to practice reading skills. Look for educational programs students can participate in like camp or swimming lessons. Spending a few hours learning each week will help keep the child’s mind sharp and ready for school next fall.

7. Plan for down time
Summer break should be relaxing. Be sure to plan for plenty of down time between sports and other activities. The key to summer learning is to keep it from seeming like school, giving your child something to look forward to when they return next fall.
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Remodeling Your Home? Start from the Outside In

June 5, 2012 5:50 pm

The kitchen and bathroom are at the top of most home remodeling project lists. But homeowners intent on remodeling should also consider investing in the exterior of their homes - maybe even start there.
That’s the advice of Sarah Susanka, one of the nation’s leading voices for redefining the American home, and author of the Not So Big House series, a collection of nine books focusing on home design, architecture and remodeling. 

The reason for investing in the exterior is simple. The exterior should set the tone for your home’s interior look and feel. Also, first impressions really do count to the long-term value of a house, especially when it comes time to sell it. 

“I firmly believe that the experience we have in living in our homes can have a profound impact on the way we look at life,” Susanka says. “That experience begins the moment we walk, bike or drive up to it, and extends through the transitions we make as we move between the landscape, the exterior and the interior of the home.” 

The feeling of satisfaction that comes from making your house look good on the outside is experienced at many levels – from the colors and textures of your home to the quality of the materials used to build or remodel it, to the benefits of those materials in the long term, such as the character they lend, or the ease of maintenance they offer. The good news is that if you haven’t remodeled your house in a long time, there are a number of new, sustainable products that are helping homeowners create exteriors that are both beautiful and green, such as APEX siding and Integrity windows, both made with pultruded fiberglass, a tough, low-maintenance, sustainable material offering a rich selection of colors. 

“A Not So Big House is not only built better rather than bigger,” adds Susanka. “It is also designed to be a good custodian of the planet’s resources. It’s built to last. Finding green products that also make it easy for homeowners to maintain the home is a big step toward true sustainability. If a house isn’t both beautiful and practical, no matter how green the materials used, it won’t live up to its sustainability goals. People only look after what they love, and beauty is a big part of that picture.” 

If you’re thinking about remodeling in the near future, here are several more ideas to make the most of your remodeling budget: 

Create a master plan. Many homeowners cannot afford to do a complete remodeling. Most do it in stages. Before you lift a hammer, hire an architect to create a master plan for your home, which will guide your remodeling efforts for years to come. 

Connecting inside with outside. The interior and exterior of your home need to work together. They need to be integrated and harmonize with one another as you move from the surrounding landscape to the interior, or as you look out from inside your home to the garden beyond. To enhance this connection, think about the first impression you want to give a visitor. Do you want it to communicate comfort? Connectedness to the outdoors? Creativity? Or tradition? All these can be accomplished with thoughtful detailing of the home’s exterior, as well as landscaping. 

Small changes; huge impact. Small changes to the exterior, such as adding another color to the exterior palette, adding texture such as stone, brick or lap siding, or framing the windows with wider trim boards, can have a huge impact on the look of your home, and make it feel both more expressive and more inviting. 

Choose sustainable products. It’s important not only to the environment, but to the overall maintenance and longevity of your home. Consider remodeling your house with some of the new, high quality sustainable products that are entering the remodeling marketplace. 

Reduce maintenance and future repairs. Another key to remodeling is to use materials and building methods that are resistant to wear, tear and the elements (rain, sunlight), which reduce the likelihood of needing to make expensive repairs in the future, as well as reducing the amount of time spent on maintenance. Knowing that your home is well protected from the elements is an important part of the overall satisfaction with your home. 

Mix it up. Many people are afraid to use more than one color on the exterior of their home. That’s why so many houses appear dull and lifeless. Consider using two colors of siding and a third color for your trim boards to add personality and vitality to the exterior.

Invest in quality over quantity. Even with a limited budget, try to invest in high-quality products that will look good for the long haul, and will stand the tests of time, rather than buying lower-quality products that may offer the short term benefit of getting a greater share of your remodeling projects done, but which end up looking dilapidated and unattractive in short order. You’ll feel better about the integrity of your home by focusing a significant part of your budget on the bones and outer clothing of your home – the roof, siding, windows, electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems.

Source: www.apexsiding.com.
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Keep It Clean: Purify Your Water with a Filter

June 5, 2012 5:50 pm

We like to keep our homes clean, our cars clean and our desks clean. But how often do we think about our water? Across the country, contaminated tap water lurks in many faucets. Tap water that has an unpleasant taste or odor because it contains rust, chlorine, sulfur or organic material can be purified by installing a water filter with a replaceable charcoal or carbon core.

"Of course, many communities now have a water company that supplies their residential and commercial properties, but even their water supply can become smelly or nasty tasting, occasionally," says Bob Beall, president of Mr. Rooter Pittsburgh and the surrounding areas. 

"A filter is easily inserted in a water supply line--either in the main line near where it enters the house, or in a pipe attached to a major fixture, such as the cold-water faucet in the kitchen that supplies water for cooking and drinking," says Beall. 

According to several manufacturers for different name brand household purification filter systems, where you put it affects the way it is installed. For installation on a horizontal water line you can buy a kit with prefabricated parts; for the other installations (vertical line or bypass), you will have to assemble your own filter mount from standard pipes and fittings. 

According to Beall, "Whichever arrangement you use, the filter must be installed in an upright position with one or more valves isolating it from the system; the valves are needed so that the water flowing through can be shut off while the filter core is being replaced." 

The filter core lasts from six months to a year, depending on the quality of the water and the water flow--one in the main line must be replaced more frequently, notes Beall. When the core does have to be replaced, shut the water off, place a bucket under the unit, unscrew the filter body from the cap, pull out the old filter core and put in a new one. Then threat the filter body back onto the cap. 

The following tips can help:
Tip 1:
To install a filter on a horizontal water line, first shut off the water at the main valve; then cut a length out of the pipe where the filter is to go, using a template that is provided in the valve kit. Thread a valve onto each side of the filter cap and tighten them until each is in an upright position. Slide a nut and compression ring over each pipe end, fit the filter and valves over the pipe ends, and tighten the nut and compression ring onto each valve as you would for a standard compression fitting. When replacing a used filter core, shut off both valves. 

Tip 2: In a vertical pipe, shut off the water and cut a 4-inch section. Install a loop and insert the filter in its lower leg, placing valves on the inlet and outlet sides. 

Tip 3: For a bypass installation, insert a loop; then opening the top valve and closing the side valves permits the filter to be replaced without shutting off the water supply. 

Source: http://www.mrrootermedia.com
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