Choose Home Improvements that Promote Health, Wealth & Happiness
Every January, we promise ourselves to start following good habits, but those intentions often fizzle just a few weeks into the new year. But what if there was a link between self-improvement and home improvement? Making upgrades to your money pit can actually help you meet your goals for health, wealth and happiness this year! Click through for tips on how to get your home in tune with your New Year’s resolutions. We'll cover 4 common resolutions, with 4 great ideas for accomplishing each one.
First Resolution: Save Money and Make Sound Financial Decisions
Saving money is a common New Year’s resolution that is often accompanied by vows to cut back on the daily lattes and make dinner-and-a-movie nights the rarest of occasions. You might not realize that making a few simple changes around your home can help you hold on to more dollars and cents – no sacrifices necessary. Keep reading to find out how.
1. See High Returns with Smart Investments
If you’re thinking about making some home improvements this year but are worried about the expense, you might want to give top priority to those that can make you money when it comes time to sell your house. For example, one source reports that even though the average deck addition costs $6,300, you’ll see a return on that investment of 104%. Plus, fixing up a tired bathroom can deliver an 89% return if the house is sold within one year from the time the work is completed.
2. Lower Energy Usage
The best way to keep your house from costing more than necessary this year to is lower your energy usage. Even if your home is only three years old, it may not be up to new standards when it comes to energy efficiency. Small fix-ups like improving insulation, caulking around windows or sealing the gaps around outlets and light switches on exterior walls can dramatically reduce the cost of heating and cooling your home.
3. Prevent Costly Repairs with Maintenance
Lack of maintenance is the #1 cause of deterioration in homes today. Even if you have little time for home care, small maintenance jobs done now can save thousands of dollars later. Make a list of important maintenance jobs that need to be done each season. For example, in January it's too cold to work outside, so take this time to look over your plumbing system for leaks. More "inside jobs" for this time of year could include cleaning the dryer exhaust duct to prevent fires, or replacing the grease filter in your kitchen exhaust fan.
4. Reduce Utility Expenses
Even if your home improvement budget isn’t up for these big projects, smaller ones can also pay big dividends. Replacing kitchen appliances with ones that meet the new Department of Environmental Protection’s Energy Star rating can reduce utility expenses and help protect the environment. Even something as small as replacing the incandescent light bulbs in your home with compact fluorescents can reduce costs. CFLs last up to 10,000 hours and can save as much as $9 a year. That really adds up when you consider how many bulbs are in your house.
Second Resolution: Organize or Perish!
If you spent way too much time last year hunting around for important documents, your other shoe, or that gosh darn pair of scissors, getting organized is probably high on your list of New Year’s resolutions. Putting practical storage systems in place throughout your home pays off by saving you time and energy that could be put to so much better use than endlessly rifling through the dreaded “everything drawer.” Here’s how to get a handle on the mess.
1. Declutter to Boost Productivity
To clear clutter, it's best to start with closets or other storage areas first. Get rid of anything that’s outdated, run-down, broken, or unwanted. Once you've freed up space in those areas, you can then clear rooms, corners and other open spaces and put leftover items in your now spacious closets. Set up easy-to-use home organization centers at key points in the home, such as entryways, mud rooms, and laundry areas. If you don't have a home office, carve out a small but functional space somewhere — having a dedicated place to work will help you focus on the tasks at hand.
2. Track Down Important Documents
Soon it will be time to start organizing for last year’s tax returns. Before that, take some time to organize the records for your home. Start by gathering last year’s home improvement and maintenance expenses. Some of these expenses may be deductible, especially if you own rental property, or can reduce your tax burden when it comes time to sell. If you made appliance purchases this year, find the receipts and staple them to the inside back cover of your owner’s manual. This way you’ll know where they are in the event a warranty claim becomes necessary.
3. Sort Out a Messy Laundry Room
Turned a cramped laundry room into a bright, functional workspace you and your family actually enjoy using. First, make sure the room is adequately lit, adding fluorescents and track lighting systems as needed. Make laundry-folding a breeze by installing a waist-level surface in an attractive, easy-to-clean material such as granite or solid surfacing. If you’re in the market for new appliances, stackable washers and dryers free up valuable real estate. Front-loading machines with doors that open in opposite directions make transferring laundry quicker and easier. If you need to work with what you’ve already got, some manufacturers provide a frame for stacking certain floor models, or machine pedestals with built-in storage drawers. Add a fold-away ironing board, collapsible drying racks, and a small bowl or basket for stray change and other pocket finds.
4. An Organized Bedroom Closet is Always in Style
A great bedroom closet system makes facing the day that much easier and can also be a positive selling point when it comes time to move. Quality components can be found at many home improvement and design stores. Also check out the products and online planning tools offered by specialists such as Schulte, EasyClosets, and ClosetMaid. If you don’t have the budget for a specialized closet system, there are plenty of inexpensive ways to improve closet organization. Many clothes closets can accommodate another hanging rod installed below the first fixture to double the hanger space. Make room for wardrobe additions by swapping your current hangers for slim, nonslip versions that take up less space. Install wire-rack or solid shelves for storing folded sweaters, and add baskets or bins made of canvas, rattan or plastic to hold handbags and other accessories. Hinged closet doors allow for hooks and knobs for robes, ties or scarves, as well as all kinds of over-the-door organizers, such as those with pockets for shoes. Alternately, a shoe rack keeps the closet floor from becoming a seemingly bottomless pit of mismatched footwear.
Third Resolution: Make Better Food Choices
Losing weight is a perennial New Year’s resolution, spurring countless gym memberships and diets that are neglected by the end of January. But one way to increase your chances of sticking to a new regimen of healthier eating is to give your kitchen a makeover that will make it a welcoming, pleasant place better suited to chopping up veggies for a stir-fry than zombie-walking to the fridge in the middle of the night to nosh on cold, leftover pizza slices.
1. Set the Scene for Healthy Eating
Since many Americans spend more waking hours in the kitchen than almost anywhere else in the house, why not transform your kitchen into a beautiful space that truly inspires you to prepare healthy meals? “But,” you might be thinking, “Most kitchen improvements are expensive, right?” Wrong! Cheap kitchen makeovers are possible and many are easy do-it-yourself projects. For starters, give your walls a facelift with new paint and a wallpaper border. Before putting the paintbrush away, freshen up your dark cabinets with a bright complementary color and add new hardware. Replacing countertops or flooring, as well as upgrading your faucet, can also provide a quick and inexpensive revamp.
2. Make Cooking at Home More Appealing with a Better Range Hood
If your goal is to prepare more healthy homemade meals this year, now’s the perfect time for a range hood replacement or upgrade. The right range hood doesn’t just make cooking at home more pleasant, it also improves the air quality of your entire home. In addition to removing cooking odors, a range hood whisks away grease, moisture and such pollutants as carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide. And instead of filtering and recirculating air in the kitchen, it should duct to the outside in order to carry exhaust and odors completely out of your home for a healthier environment inside. Choose one with dishwasher-safe filters for easy maintenance, and low sound levels that won’t drown out kitchen socializing.
3. Toss Toxic Cookware and Storage Containers
Even the healthiest food can be compromised if it’s cooked and stored in kitchen gear containing harmful materials. For example, nonstick coatings on cookware release carcinogens at very high temperatures and tend to wear away within a few years of use, peppering your food with dangerous chemical bits. Aluminum cookware can also be a danger as the metal is absorbed by food, and plastic food containers can make unwanted chemical contributions to your food when used for reheating, or after they’re run through the dishwasher. Instead, gear up your kitchen with cookware made of cast iron, ceramics, stainless steel, enameled or porcelain steel, tin-lined copper or thick glass. Glass is also great for safe food storage and reheating, and you can find glass containers in as many handy sizes and shapes as the plastic ones you have now.
4. Keep Your Fridge Clean and Cold
If you’re making the effort to purchase and prepare healthy food, it’s only right to ensure your fridge is clean and up to the task of preserving your edibles properly. Start by setting the right level of cold. Keep your refrigerator’s interior temperature at 37 to 40 degrees. Next, check for an airtight door seal by inserting a dollar bill into the door. If it slips out easily when the door is closed, replace the gasket. Proper food storage is also important. Uncovered foods and liquids release moisture, making a refrigerator’s compressor work much harder, so always cover food or store it in containers. Also, adhering to a schedule of maintenance chores will keep your fridge clean, inside and out. Every six months or so, pull the fridge away from the wall and vacuum the coils on the back to remove dust and debris. If you have an older model with a drain pan underneath, clean it monthly to prevent mold growth. And if your fridge has an ice-and-water dispenser, make sure the filter is changed regularly.
Fourth Resolution: Bust Stress, Sleep Better and Breathe Easier
Living in our modern world – with a 24-hour news cycle, personal devices clamoring for our attention, and the pressure to live picture-perfect lives to show off on Facebook – is nothing if not stressful. If you’re looking for less tension and more relaxation this year, choosing projects that will help make your home a haven of serenity is a great place to start.
1. Lift Your Mood with the Right Paint Color
Studies show that certain interior paint colors can actually reduce stress and put us in a better mood. Brighter tones invigorate, while those that are muted tend to be more relaxing. If your life is very stressful, you might want to repaint the rooms where you rest and relax – the family room and bedroom, for example – in a pale blue or soft green. If you want to create an environment that is soothing but still warm and cozy, use a color like taupe or brown. If, on the other hand, you want to inject some energy into your surroundings, consider using yellow paint. Like splashes of sunshine, yellow walls can lift your spirits. Apricot, cinnamon, and tangerine are also energizing colors.
2. Choose Low- or No-VOC Paint
If painting is on your to-do list, make sure the project is healthy for you by using low- or no-VOC paint. VOC stands for volatile organic compound, and in paint can prevent mold growth, help with color, and contribute to spreadability. However, VOCs also add to indoor air pollution and ground-level ozone. We can all contribute to the health of our environment by making the choice to use low- or no- VOC paint. Latex, alkyd-based paint is commonly made with no or low VOCs, and even oil paints have a lot less these days than they used to. Read the paint's label to determine how much VOC has been added. A low-VOC latex paint would have about 250 grams of VOCs, and a low oil-based paint would have about 350 grams or so.
3. Ditch Your Chemical-Laden Mattress
A top-quality mattress is critical to a great night’s sleep, but if it’s loaded with harmful synthetics, you could be slumbering on a cloud of chemicals. Many mattresses contain polyurethane, formaldehyde, toxic dyes, stain resistance treatments, and fire retardants such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). Instead, ensure a healthy sleeping routine with a mattress made of materials such as organic cotton, synthetic-free latex fills, and naturally flame-retardant wool casings. Look for products certified for low chemical emissions by the GREENGUARD Environmental Institute (GEI).
4. Improve Your Home’s Air Quality
As homes have been tightened for improved energy efficiency, indoor air quality has suffered. Today, the air inside a home can actually be more polluted than the air outside. To make sure your whole family breathes easier this year, consider upgrading your home’s air-filtration setup. Most HVAC systems have fiberglass filters – also known as “rock-stoppers,” because that’s about how big something would have to be for them to filter it out. If you want equipment that will be much more effective at improving the air quality in your home, a whole-house air cleaner that’s permanently installed into the return duct will filter out dust, mold and virus-size particles. Portable air filtration devices can also help to manage air quality room by room. Whether you choose a mechanical, electronic or hybrid model, remember that the best and most effective single-room air filters carry both the UL seal and FDA Class II medical device approval.