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Creating a cozy hearth for the family

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7/2/2015

Window treatments always seem so simple, but they can be the hardest feature to get right in your bedroom. That’s because you’re usually dealing with a whole lot of fabric, which can easily overwhelm (or underwhelm) whatever room they’re in. To help kickstart your bedroom makeover, here are six refreshing window treatment ideas that can help create the perfect look.

bedroom windows

1. Dramatic Sheers

“Dramatic” and “sheers” are two words that are rarely in the same sentence when talking about window treatments. After all, sheers are usually the option people go for when they want to add lightness, right? Well, you can have the best of both worlds when you go for sheers in an eye-popping color, like deep red. This is a particularly striking effect if your bedroom walls are a very pale color. You get all the drama that an accent color provides, but you still don’t have that heavy visual weight of more traditional drapes.

2. Go Big

If you have a large bedroom, graphic drapes can be a great way to frame your windows. The visual weight can really help fill your space, especially if you have a long expanse of wall that is looking a little bare. Thick stripes are always a sophisticated look, especially in black and white, or white and navy. If you want something a bit more unexpected, chevron stripes (in an ombre gradient, perhaps) are a great twist on a classic stripe. Or, try neural-colored panels with a bold accent stripe on the top or bottom quarter of the drapes.

3. Half-And-Half

Forget window treatments that run across or on either side of a window. Instead, it’s okay to do things halfway. Shades or fabric panels that start 3/4 of the way up a window, leaving the upper quarter bare, are a truly unique way to get plenty of light and privacy. This can be a great option for a small bedroom, as these fabric panels tend to be smaller than traditional drapes and won’t add too much visual weight. Plus, the light that filters in from the upper portion of the window will help make the room appear larger which is always a good thing.

4. Valance Balance

Okay, the word “valance” might make you think of your grandma’s house, but this is one window treatment that has come far over the years. For starters, skip the floral fabrics. In fact, you might want to consider not using a fabric with a graphic pattern at all. Instead, your valance should be sleek and straight, and covered in textured fabric in a neutral shade. The bold weave of the fabric will create all of the visual interest you need, while still keeping things modern and fresh instead of old and dowdy.

5. Hey Shady

Not a fan of curtains? Shades are a great alternative, and there are lots of options available that are so beautiful on their own that adding curtains on top of them would be a distraction. While many people particularly love the gentle, golden glow of honeycomb blinds, roman shades have really been capturing our attention lately. While this style can look bulky in heavier fabrics, roman shades in lightweight, textured materials can filter light beautifully while giving a room the  unique look you’ve been looking for.

6. Go Bare

Want a really unique window treatment? How about…none at all! Okay, this one might only be an option if your bedroom is on the upper floor, but the simple beauty of a well-crafted window with a beautifully-grained wooden frame is truly one of our favorite looks. I, particularly, love it when the window is coated in a simple stain instead of thick paint, so the natural look and feel of the wood can shine through. Rustic elegance at its finest.

I hope this window treatment primer has given you a few good ideas for how to update the look of your bedroom. Remember, this should be an accent to your room, so try to keep things relatively simple. Simplicity will also help your window treatments stand the test of time, keeping your bedroom looking fresh and up-to-date for years to come.


Paul Kazlov is a “green” home remodeling enthusiast and an industry pioneer for innovation in home renovation. Paul writes for the Marvin Windows NJ blog and strives to educate people about “green” products such as metal roofing and solar. Follow him on Twitter @PaulKazlov.



6/30/2015

The lower Midwest is known for its hot humid summers and frigid cold winters. New homes need both a heating and cooling strategy in this climate. In the summer, it’s common to have one or two areas in a house be uncomfortably warm, requiring the air conditioning system to be boosted to promote comfort. In leaky older homes, air infiltrates through cracks in the building envelope, making it difficult to control the purity of indoor air and the humidity levels in the home.

The new 3,700 square foot prairie-style Proud Green Home in Wildwood, Missouri, contains numerous advanced building science techniques and is designed for a family with three children around comfort, energy efficiency and high indoor air quality. A tight building envelope in the house allows less air to infiltrate through cracks and gaps and can help maintain comfort and reduce energy bills.

Proud Green Home
Photo courtesy Proud Green Home

Energy Efficiency Features

As homes get tighter, air quality and humidity issues can become an issue, requiring an effective ventilation strategy. To boost comfort and energy efficiency, Proud Green Home Saint Louis uses a Zehnder energy recovery ventilator. A stream of fresh-filtered air constantly enters the living areas of home, while stale air is removed from the bathrooms, kitchen and utility rooms.

This allows the builder to determine where the intake air originates, avoiding contaminants that would otherwise enter through crawl spaces, basements or attached garages in a leaky home. In a tight home without an effective ventilation strategy, stale air remains in the home and toxins are not sufficiently diluted.

The air from the energy recovery ventilator in the Proud Green Home is pre-cooled in the summer and pre-heated in the winter from the system's exhaust air, thus the supply air is nearly room temperature. This energy transfer feature keeps energy bills and fossil fuel use down, while maintaining comfort.

The intake air is filtered, removing dust, particles and pollen. Because the home is tight and the ventilation system supplies air to the home, the family has a lot of control over the quality of the indoor air. This was an important feature to the homeowners, as one of their children suffers from severe allergies and asthma.

"[The energy recovery ventilation system] works in conjunction with the HVAC system," says Matt Belcher, principal of Verdatek. "The V in HVAC stands for ventilation. This takes ventilation to the next level."

Because humidity levels impact comfort and indoor air quality, energy recovery ventilators lower humidity levels when needed, typically in the summer. This reduces the need for air conditioning, saving electricity.

"The temperature is only part of what leads to comfort," Belcher adds. "The ventilation is really what makes it comfortable in here."

Proud Green Home Interior
Photo courtesy Proud Green Home

The house is expected to meet several green standards. A DOE Zero Net Ready Home achieves such a high level of energy efficiency that a renewable energy system can offset most or all of the annual energy use. Energy Star for Homes indicates that the home achieves a very high level of overall energy efficiency. The National Green Building Standard from the National Association of Homebuilders has a green scoring tool that encompasses numerous areas of eco-friendly design, including site development, indoor environmental quality and resource efficiency.


Sarah Lozanova is an environmental journalist and communications professional with an MBA in sustainable management. She recently relocated to BelfastCohousing & Ecovillage in Midcoast Maine with her husband and two children.



6/16/2015

How many times have you been mindlessly flipping through TV channels, only to find yourself simultaneously appalled and intrigued by programs like "Hoarders?" You can’t understand how anyone could possibly live like that—surrounded by piles of stuff, much of which is trash and potentially hazardous.

Yet when you go to open the hall closet, there’s a good chance that you’ll be knocked on the head by something falling out. You haven’t been able to park your car in the garage for two years thanks to all of the items filling the space, and the junk drawer contains enough junk to start your own pawnshop. While you might not yet be a candidate for a reality show, you’re still surrounded by clutter—and it’s probably affecting your health.

garage clutter

The Physical and Emotional Toll of Clutter

When your home is filled with stuff, the danger of a head injury from something falling off a shelf isn’t the only health risk. Studies have shown that clutter has some surprising effects on overall health, both physically and emotionally.

Weight loss counselors point out that one common denominator among individuals seeking help with losing weight is an excess of stuff in their homes. Many people who are overweight feel weighed down, in a sense, by their belongings. Often, the excess clutter in their homes creates an obstacle to exercising. In many cases, they feel they are either too busy cleaning and organizing (which is never really done) to find time to exercise, or they have physical obstacles keeping them from working out because the clutter takes up so much space or makes it too hard to find the equipment they need. As a result, they gain weight—especially since clutter-related stress can trigger overeating.

A cluttered home can also irritate asthma, allergies and other respiratory conditions. Doctors note that dust mites gravitate toward the soft, warm and moist environments created by clothing, stuffed animals, pillows and other similar items. These mites and their droppings can trigger symptoms of allergies and asthma. Getting rid of old or unworn clothing, as well as unnecessary items, can help reduce the number of mites in the room, thus making it easier to breathe.

Physical symptoms are just one part of the issues associated with excess clutter. Studies show that having too much clutter increases stress and anxiety. Researchers attribute the stress to the fact that having clutter can create embarrassment—many people are reluctant to have friends over due to the condition of their homes—as well as cause arguments among family members about whose responsibility it is to clean up.

Clutter can also create feelings of being overwhelmed. Every room serves as a reminder of what needs to be done and hasn’t been addressed yet, which reduces the enjoyment of downtime. It’s almost impossible to relax during an at-home yoga session or while working on a hobby if you’re focused on the chores that need to be done.

messy kitchen

Clear the Clutter, Improve Your Health

Clearly, getting rid of the clutter in your home is important to your overall well-being. But where do you begin? Again, when your home is bursting at the seams with clutter, it’s hard to know where to start, which might make you not want to do it at all.

The first step to clearing out the clutter is to make a plan and keep it manageable. It took years to collect all of your clutter, so it’s unreasonable to think you can clean everything out in a few days. Start with the easy stuff; for example, donating the old boat that’s taking up space in the yard can clear a lot of space and inspire you to keep going.

Clearing the clutter can get tedious, though, so try a few of these techniques to stay on track:

Set a timer. Work steadily in 20-30 minute spurts. You can accomplish a lot when you are focused even for a short time.

Set goals. Plan to clean out one closet or tackle a single room, at a time.

Get help. Ask a friend or family member to help you; choose someone who can be objective and help you stay focused—and not get sentimental about the items you’re getting rid of.

Reward yourself. Hold a yard sale to sell some of your unwanted items, and use the proceeds for a treat—just don’t buy more objects to clutter your home!

Getting rid of the unnecessary and unwanted items in your home will not only help you keep it neat and tidy, but it can improve your health as well. If you are feeling stressed, overwhelmed or anxious, try unloading some of your unused belongings—you’ll probably feel much lighter.

Want even more decluttering tips? Visit our collection of organizing tips to get advice for how to make every room in your home clutter-free.


Jasmine Howard is a freelance writer who touches on various topics and niches that relate to her everyday life. In addition to writing in her free time she also enjoys traveling and getting to know the world around her, while continuing her education. Over the years she has built up many strong relationships within the blogging community and loves sharing her useful tips with others.



6/11/2015

air conditioner
Image courtesy shutterstock.

From the dishwasher that keeps your coffee cups clean to your HVAC system that heats and cools your home, you spend a pretty penny each month on these appliances. To lower your energy use, as well as your monthly bill, it’s important to identify which devices are guzzling the most juice. Once you know where most of your power goes, you can start taking steps to reduce it and your carbon footprint. Consider the following:

Refrigerators: Cool but Power-Hungry

Your fridge is the biggest energy-sucker in the kitchen, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Because some refrigerators are decades old, the energy usage varies from about 30 to 200 kilowatt-hour (kWh) per month. Regardless of how old your refrigerator is, you can take steps to reduce the power it uses.

First, check your unit to see if it has a power-saver switch; if you find one, turn it off. Second, see what temperature the thermostat is set to; a fridge doesn’t have to be any cooler than 36 to 38 degrees to keep your food and drinks cold. If you notice that some of your food is frozen in spots, it’s time to raise the thermostat. If your unit has a lot of frost on it, defrost it; more than a quarter-inch of buildup will make it use even more power. Be sure to keep your food and drinks organized so you can get in and out fast without letting too much cool air escape.

Air Conditioning: Energy-Guzzler Extraordinaire

Yes, air conditioning is a blessing in the summer, but you pay a price for this comfort in the form of mega-high energy bills. A window A/C unit will uses 200 to 650 kWh per month while a heat pump uses 600 to 1,800 kWh, the DOE reports.

To make sure your A/C is running as efficiently as possible, schedule an annual checkup by a professional. Also, change your filters monthly; mark the date on your calendar and keep a stack of them on hand. Closing up the vents in rooms that you rarely use will also help use less energy, as will installing thermostats with timers. If you have an attic, be sure it is thoroughly insulated. Most pros recommend at least 16 inches of insulation to keep your home cool.

Swimming Pool: Myriad of Energy Users

If you have an in-ground pool, it can guzzle up energy from a variety of sources. Start by setting the pool’s heater a few degrees cooler; this can save you hundreds of dollars a year. In addition, be sure the pool pump is properly and regularly maintained — if it is leaking, you could be wasting dozens of gallons of water. If your pump is older, consider replacing it with an energy-efficient model, which can save you up to 90 percent on your electric bill by running at lower speeds.

Switching from a regular pool light to an LED model will reduce the light’s energy use by 75 to 80 percent. To take advantage of any or all of these suggestions, find a retailer who carries these items, along with additional energy-saving products like a pool timer that will automatically run the pump when energy companies charge less for power, and/or pool covers that help maintain the temperature and reduce the need for a heater.


Alison Stanton has been a freelance writer for the past 15 years. She enjoys writing about a wide variety of topics, and always looks for opportunities to learn about new subjects.



5/28/2015

The other day I took a critical look around my living room. To be honest, I’m not much of a decorator. My mother was, my daughter is, but somewhere that gene simply skipped right over me! I realized as I looked around the room that it was a pretty sad sight. Very little in the way of knick-knacks left the room less cozy than it could be, the pillows on the couch were saggy, and the curtains looked limp. As I stood in the middle of the room, I tried to decide what could be done—in a hurry—to bring some life back to this room.

I look at my pillows and thought, "I can punch those up and make them fluffy.” I even added a few more pillows without dragging my sewing machine from its hiding place. How, you ask? That's not even possible. Oh, but it is my friends—and this is how it's done!

refreshing pillows

The first thing I did was take the two old couch pillows and used a seam ripper to open a small hole at the bottom of each. Then, I pulled out two sweaters I had felted, trying to do another project (it was for felted dryer balls, but that's a story for another blog!). These sweaters had been laying around waiting for the perfect opportunity to be used because they had felted up just perfect, and I hated to throw them away. I took the sweaters and started cutting them into pieces. I took the pieces and stuffed them into the droopy couch pillows. Next thing you know two fluffy, like-new pillows. All I had to do was hand sew the small holes shut.

homemade stuffing

My second idea involved some placemats I had bought because they matched my décor and I was trying to spruce things up. However, I only used them once because I soon realized that I would be picking them up off the floor when hungry people sat down in a hurry at the table. I looked carefully at the mats and realized they were actually two pieces of fabric sewn together. At the bottom of the mat I ripped a small hole with my trusty seam ripper. I then took two old sheets and started ripping them to shreds. Talk about fun—boy oh boy, I never thought hearing that rrriiiipp of a sheet could cause quite so much laughter (or so many strange looks from dogs and children!). Once the fun was over and the sheet was in shreds on the floor, I started balling them up and stuffing the pillow. My old sheets were put to good use, and those unused placemats were magically turned into new, inexpensive pillows to add to my couch.

finished diy pillow

Now, I have two rejuvenated pillows and two new pillows. Both of which have brightened up the living room considerably, all because I dared to think outside the box when I didn't have any proper stuffing material. I saved money, reused something that might have ended up in a landfill, and taught myself a new trick for the future.

In my next blog, I will tell you the second surprising way I made my living room less dreary! But until then, I want to hear from you—when was a time you thought outside the box and did something totally unexpected that turned out great? Let me know in the comments below.


Amy GreeneAmy Greene is a wife, mother of four children and three dogs, and homesteader from North Carolina. She loves to learn about homesteading and self-sufficiency. Her family plants a large garden, preserves as much as possible, and has high hopes of someday fulfilling their wildest homesteading dreams!





5/19/2015

Spring is a time of promise and rebirth. The flowers are starting to emerge from their winter’s sleep and everything looks blissful. That is, until you take a look at the chaos that’s threatening to invade every corner of your home. The way to conquer this is to introduce some order into your life. Start getting organized with these simple goals.

home organization 

1. Out with the Old
In order to get your organizational mission on the right track, it’s a good idea to eliminate some of the rubbish that has come to occupy your home. Get the family together and create three piles: one for junk to be thrown away, one for items that you want to keep, and a third pile for possessions that you would like to keep but don’t have the space. Rather than keeping all your belongings in the home, seek out facilities, such as Alligator Storage,  where you can store your goods until you need them.

2. Don’t Add to the Junk
If your house is festooned with stickers, leaflets and other paper paraphernalia, ask yourself if you really need these items. Unless the design of the leaflet is really stunning and deserves to be kept, why not use your smartphone or tablet to record important dates and add a website link, if applicable. Once you’ve started this practice you’ll be amazed at how little paper you end up hoarding.

3. Start a Filing System
Despite the fact that the advent of the computer was supposed to herald a paperless society, we seem to hoard more paper than ever before. If you want to be truly organized, implement a filing system. Every time a bank statement or bill lands in your mailbox, you can place it in order by date to your file and easily keep an eye on the family budget. Any bill that’s over a couple of years old should be consigned to the shredder and then the trash bin.

4. Shop Smart
Shopping can be dangerous. It’s so easy to be persuaded that you must buy an item that’s on sale. But then you can end up with drawers full of unwanted, unused goods. A recent article in The Hull Daily Mail suggested that the pre-Christmas Black Friday sales are simply an excuse for the “I want culture” to proliferate and encourage consumers to indulge in spending just to obtain more stuff. Treat yourself, of course, but don’t buy things you don’t need or simply because others are doing so. 

5. Clean Regularly
If you are able to clean your house a little on a regular basis, you’ll soon notice that the dust won’t pile up, cobwebs will be swept away and you may even find that missing shoe you were looking for. Don’t leave cleaning the home for one mammoth annual occasion.

6. Don’t Forget to Socialize
Regardless of how tired you are after work, try to arrange at least one night a week when you can go out with your friends. Mark this in your planner and stick to it. Friends are vital, and you’ll soon find yourself organizing your life so that you can enjoy these relationships.




5/7/2015

The threat of global warming has forced many people to reconsider their lifestyle habits. The government has also made it easier to upgrade your home and create a more eco-friendly environment. It’s surprisingly easy to make your home a greener place and it feels like the right thing to do, morally. While a lot of green tips focus on the kitchen or the actual structure of the home, there are a few design ideas out there too. Below you’ll discover five great eco bedroom ideas you can easily take advantage of.

eco-bedroom 

1. Renovate Existing Furniture
If you’re looking to upgrade the bedroom, making the most of what you already have is one of the best green tips you can follow. Not only does it help the environment, but it also helps save you money. Giving cabinets a fresh coat of paint or a simple sanding and refinish often provides a fantastic transformation. You can even use existing items in a new way. For example, window frames that are no longer in use can be recycled to create shelving to provide great storage space.

2. Switch to Energy-Saving Lighting
It’s such a small step, but changing the lighting in a room can make a massive difference to the environment. Energy saving lightbulbs are an obvious example. Again, they can also help you to save money as they use less electric, helping to lower your energy bills.

3. Invest in Sustainable Bedding
The bed is one of the biggest investments you make for your bedroom, but many aren’t created from sustainable materials. Make sure your next bed is eco-friendly by choosing one made from certified timber, from reliable companies such as the Divan Beds Centre. You can also ensure the bedding you choose is eco-friendly by opting for polyester material made from recycled bottles which also helps to keep dust mites at bay.

4. Choose Thick, High-Quality Curtains
As mentioned on the UKTV website, high-quality curtains can help to control indoor temperature. Particularly in the winter months, heavy curtains can help keep your bedroom warmer. They prevent heat escaping through the windows, meaning you don’t need to use as much heating to keep the home warm.

5. Opt for Eco-Friendly Paint
Painting is one of the most common ways to enhance the bedroom, yet not all paint is eco-friendly. An eco-friendly paint won’t release toxins into the air. The color is also surprisingly important. Light paint colors will reflect light onto the wall, creating a brighter living space which means you won’t need to use your lighting as much.

These are only a few eco-friendly ideas for the bedroom. Investing in greener materials and following the steps above will really help you do your part for the environment, and also save you a lot of money in the process. As you can see, greener living is great for those on a budget and doesn’t cost very much to incorporate into the home, no matter what room you are focusing on.



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