Making Sense of Your First Smart Home: How to “Level Up” with Home Automation

On the surface, a smart home sounds great: automating annoying, repetitive tasks around the home? Saving money, electricity and improving efficiency? Sign us up!

In reality, though, building your first smart home can be a pretty overwhelming challenge—especially if you don’t eat, sleep and breath technology. If you’re hoping purchase more than one device, you’ll need to make sure they’ll all play nice with each other and with your current smartphone, TV and other networked appliances. You’ll also want to make sure that the items you purchase are easy to use and actually fulfill all the functions you need them to. Today we’re here to take the guesswork out of the whole process and give you some ideas for how to get project smart home off the ground.

woman controlling smart TV with phone

Team Google Assistant or Team Alexa?

Before you can turn off lights with your voice, you’ll need to pick your poison, specifically whether or not you fall into Camp Google or Camp Amazon. There are other voice assistants out there, most notably Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana, but at this point in time, Google and Amazon are well ahead of them in terms of device integrations. So if you’re really loyal to Siri or Cortana, you may want to wait and see how the whole smart home thing shakes out.

Amazon definitely leads the pack, both in the number of compatible accessories and their share of the market. But Google’s assistant has come a long way in the past two years, and has been steadily narrowing the gap between the two.

In general, Amazon makes the best choice for a non-techie—if you just want to get your system up and running fast. It might also be your first pick if you find yourself turning to Prime for everything. Amazon recently integrating Prime purchases into their Echo and Echo Dot devices (the speakers that power Alexa) and even features special sales for Alexa users.

Google, on the other hand, has one of the highest success rates for correct responses, so it’s a better choice if you want to make commands seamless and frustration-free. It also works with your existing Google applications, so if you use Google Mail or Google Calendar, you’ll be able to check your email and manage your schedule directly through your Google Home device. However, users report that the app access isn’t as useful as you’d probably like it to be: for instance, while you can check your calendar through the device, you won’t be able to add new events unless you jump on your phone or your laptop. So point, Amazon.

The Accessories: What You Can Do With Your Devices

Next it’s a matter of researching devices and seeing which ones fit your needs and are compatible with your assistant. Here are a couple of items around the home you can automate with smart products.

  • Heating and Cooling

    Smart thermostats allow you to program your heat and AC, a proven energy-saving technique that can have a significant impact on your utility bills. Many have built-in machine learning features that track your habits and automatically generate a schedule that makes sense for your household needs—while keeping your units efficient. The most popular devices include the Nest, the Ecobee and the Honeywell Lyric.

  • Lighting

    There are several ways to manipulate lighting controls, but one of the more popular routes is simply to install WiFi-enabled light bulbs, since it doesn’t require any additional electrical work or wiring. For these, the Philips Hue is overwhelmingly the top choice. However, another option is to install smart light switches. Philips makes one of these too, complete with a dimmer feature, as does Lutron and Belkin. For lamps, try a wall outlet switch, like the Belkin WeMo Insight Switch. Once you install the switch or bulb, you’ll have to ask Alexa or Google to look for new devices, then name them as “lights” or “living room lights.” Then you’ll be able to turn your lights on and off with voice command.

  • Controlling Appliances

    Outlet switches are also useful if you want to turn important devices off an on, like your existing oven or TV. However, you won’t be able to manage more advanced functionality, this way, so no “Alexa, turn oven to preheat” for instance.

  • Security

    This is one of the most powerful features for your smart home. Smart locks, alarms, security cameras, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and sensors can help you keep your home protected, even when you’re miles away. Security systems come in two flavors: DIY and professionally managed. DIY security can automatically lock doors—and alert you if an alarm is triggered—but can’t get you on the line with a security professional in the event of an emergency. Of course, generally, these services are much more expensive, with a monthly or yearly payment commitment in exchange for installation, support and emergency services.

Of course, there are lots of other devices too, meant for more niche tastes and interests. And with new smart products released every day, you’ll find plenty of ways to get your new, connected home started. Now, don’t you look smart?

5 Tips to Buff Up a Builder-Grade Kitchen

Plain kitchen cabinets. Blank, boring islands. Basic, unadorned walls. While it’s great to have a home with a brand-new kitchen, builder-grade models don’t exactly shine with their own unique personality. They’re sort of the Starbucks of home decor: reliable and dependable, but not exactly what you want when you’re looking for something special.

But don’t let make that think your only two options are tear it down or settle for blah home decor. Some small renovations will do a lot to imbue your kitchen when your own personal taste—without a hefty loan or nerve-wracking remodel to deal with. Here are a couple of (easy) ways you can upgrade yours with a one-of-a-kind aesthetic that’s as unique as you are!

unique kitchen

Dress Up the Cabinets

A little cabinet reno will go a long way to reflect your own individual charm. And the absolute easiest way to do so is to install new hardware. Even something simple like stainless steel pulls or uber-stylish polished nickel drop handles will add a lot of polish and verve to bare-bones kitchen decor.

Looking for a more radical change? Paint is your best friend then! Cabinets redone in stylish hues, like warm, creamy gray or dramatic blacks, dark grays and navy blues add a personalized pop to kitchens large and small. Dark colors work especially well in kitchens with limited natural light; the deep, dramatic tones add an unexpected aura of mystery to well-trod kitchen decor.

Add an Easy-to-Install Backsplash

Everyone knows a backsplash is a great way to put a little pep in your kitchen walls. What you may not know, however, is how easily you can get one—with no expensive tile or messy caulk to deal with.

Peel-and-stick ceramics, stone veneers or even just some good old fashioned paint and a stencil offers a fast and affordable solution that you can have done in a weekend. Some homeowners even add functional flair by using chalkboard paint for their backsplashes. It’s as gorgeous as it is useful!

Give Lighting a Quick Upgrade

We know what you’re thinking. Repainting is one thing. But electrical work? A whole different can of worms. But swapping out a light fixture for something more custom can make a huge impact in your home—and it’s easy to do, once you know how.

Take a moment to review your wiring before you buy a new fixture. If your home was built before 1985, it’s possible the wiring won’t be able to handle the heat generated by newer fixtures. These fixtures will carry this warning: “use wire rated for at least 90 degrees C.” So if your wiring is older, it may limit your choices for new lights. You’ll also want to make sure you shut off your home’s power before performing any wiring work. Next, you’ll remove the old fixture and follow the steps provided by Lowe’s to install the new one in its place. Voila! Instant upgrade!

Paint the Walls in a Dramatic Hue

High-drama walls have made a real splash in the kitchen, a room usually reserved for warm, homey colors and hues. If you’re looking for something eye-catching, novel and refined, you may want to think about having a look at those walls.

Dark, striking hues like charcoal, cobalt or slate allow you to put your own unique stamp on kitchen surfaces—and make the perfect canvas for unexpected accent colors, like lime green, saffron or crimson. One look at your new kitchen and you’ll be in love!

Personalize Your Counters

An ugly countertop can really dampen your desire to be in your kitchen. And sadly, so many builder-grade counters fall into that category: boring neutrals, unflashy granite—or worst of all, laminate—are all commonly found gracing builder home counters. And none of them really says, “welcome home!”

However, there are ways to hide bland counters without a complete redux. Again, the easiest route is with a paint job. Rust-oleum offers a kit that allows you to add a textured coating (and new color) to the surface, or you can just go with regular latex paint covered with a topcoat. The final result will be your own unique take on countertop couture—and if you don’t like it, you can just cover it up and start again. Remember, the best decor choices are reversible!

Brilliant Tips to Unstick a Stuck Window

Now that the weather is finally starting to get nice again, it’s time to throw open the windows and…wait…one more try…put your back into it…okay, there it is.

Sound familiar? Don’t worry, you’re not the only homeowner who’s had to put in a workout just to throw open their windows. But stuck windows are more than a nuisance. They can also become a safety hazard if there’s a fire or other emergency event. Plus sometimes you just need to air out your home, and windows are the best way to do that.

Windows get stuck for a variety of reasons, so you may have to investigate the source before you can decide on an approach. Additionally, a window that won’t budge or that is often difficult to open can be an indicator that your windows were improperly installed (if they’re new) or that it may be time for new ones (if they’re very old). So it could be time to call a contractor, too. Of course, first, you’ll want to try one of the solutions below so you can at least get a breath of fresh air!

pretty window in home

If the Windows Are Painted Shut

Sometimes windows—especially older ones—may be painted shut, rendering them virtually unusable. However, with a little elbow grease, you can pry one of these loose yourself. Grab a putty knife or a utility knife and run the blade all around the edges of the window until you are able to lift the sash. You can also hammer the utility knife under the edge of the frame if you’re having a hard time prying it loose.

If That Doesn’t Work, Try Removing the Frame Yourself

Of course, if your windows are particularly ancient, you might have to do something a little more drastic. Older wooden windows can also swell with humidity, rendering them virtual inoperable. You can try using a hairdryer on the frame to dry them out, but this may not work if you’re windows are really stuck.

In that case, your best bet is to unscrew the frames and totally remove them. First, use a screwdriver to unscrew the fasteners in the top interior of the frame. You’ll then need to pull the stop molding free and remove the parting strips. After that, you should be able to remove both sashes fairly easily. If that sounded like Greek to you, however, you can use this helpful video from Preservation Virginia to smooth out any gaps in your understanding.

Stop Sticking Next Time

It’s not enough to simply remove the window, of course. You also need to take steps to keep it from snagging the next time around. If the culprit was a bad paint job, lightly sand the edges. Or completely sand the windows and repaint them, if you’re looking for something a little bit more extreme.

If humidity’s at fault, though, you may need to engage a professional. If rain or condensation has been damaging your windows, it could mean that they’re not properly flashed. In that case, your window repairman may have to remove some of your siding fix it—not something most homeowners want to be doing themselves. You can also call someone in if you just don’t feel like dealing with a stuck window yourself. After all, that’s what they’re there for!

Which of These Time-Saving Home Services Offers the Best Bang for Your Buck?

Let’s face it: running a household gets tiring sometimes. Between cleaning, cooking, shopping for groceries and staying on top of the basic supplies, it can feel like your second shift begins the minute you get home from work. Luckily, the magic of the internet allows you to take some of that household grunt work off your hands. Services like meal kit delivery, HVAC maintenance packages and air filter subscriptions—or even a home decor box—are all ready to make fast work of painful household chores. Today we’ll give you a rundown of your home subscription and service options to help you decide which ones are right for your household.

shopping for home delivery services

House Cleaning Services

Some people really enjoy cleaning house. For the rest of us, it’s a dreaded task that we delay and delay until the bathroom gets too disgusting to stand. But hire a housekeeper? It seems like a lot of money to spend on something you could do yourself, right?

Not necessarily. Studies suggest that services that relieve you of dreaded household work—freeing up time for fun things—actually make us a lot happier than material goods. Okay, now that we’ve relieved you of that guilt, it’s time to start narrowing down your options.

The first step is determining exactly what you think you need cleaned and how often. Basic cleaning services typically include dusting, vacuuming, sweeping, mopping, cleaning the kitchen and bathroom and making the beds. However, some will offer stain removal, pantry cleaning and laundry, as well, but there may be an extra fee added for those services. Cleaners are usually available weekly, biweekly or monthly—and for one-time visits for special events.

Survey says: If you hate to clean, this is definitely worth the money.

Meal and Meal Kit Delivery

In the past few years, a range of meal delivery services and kits have popped up, all promising to save you the hassle of putting together a delicious, healthy meal. Services like Blue Apron and Hellofresh deliver a recipe, together with just the right amount of ingredients, and let you do the rest of the work. The benefit is that you get a pre-vetted recipe, prepped and measured ingredients, and no running back to the grocery because you forgot the brussels sprouts.

The value of these really is going to depend on how much you loathe grocery shopping and trying new recipes. If you’re worried about wasting your money, however, The Kitchn actually compared the dollar-for-dollar value of these services and found that they actually work out pretty close to the cost for store-bought ingredients—but without the effort of actually elbowing your way through the line at the checkout.

Survey says: A must-subscribe if you’re tired of going to the grocery store three times a week, hate looking for new recipes, or can’t tell the difference between a teaspoon and a tablespoon.

Grocery Delivery

On the other hand, if you do like to throw together your own meals, grocery delivery service offers a happy medium—and means you don’t have to go out for snacks, necessities and pantry staples either. Services like Instacart or Shipt allow you to pick your favorite grocery store (if it’s on their list!), order items, and get same-day delivery, all without stepping away from your desk.

Those who’ve tried these services usually fall into one of two camps: those who love it for the time and hassle it saves them, and those who think the price markups are way too high. If you’re interested in one of these services, it’s definitely worth checking out The New Food Economy’s coverage of the topic first. It breaks down how—and why—services like these add markups and how you can avoid some of the worst ones.

Survey says: You’ll need to weigh how much you hate to shop versus how much you hate paying $2.99 for a can of chick peas

HVAC Maintenance Packages

Your home’s AC and heating are just like any machine: they perform a lot better with a regular tune up. That’s the logic behind HVAC Service Maintenance Packages, anyway. One to two times a year, your HVAC provider sends a technician out to service your home’s heating and cooling systems and make adjustments.

Experts don’t really agree on whether or not they’re necessary, though. Yes, a regular tune up will ensure that your unit stays balanced and that there are no loose connections, and therefore it’s generally a good idea. However, some of these packages run upwards of $500 a year, which seems like a lot, considering you can get a brand new unit for $2,000 to $3,000. So if you decide you want to go for one, it really pays to shop around for a good deal.

Survey says: It depends on the cost of your package and the what’s included for that fee.

Home Decor Subscription Boxes

Yep, you read that right: home decor subscription boxes! Sites like Art in a Box and GlobeIn will send you hand-crafted art and artisan goods you can use to decorate your home. Both sites use your subscription fee to support artists and artisans, so this is one home decor purchase you can feel good about. And you’ll probably get some stuff you never even thought about buying!

Survey says: This is definitely a vanity buy, but since it supports local artists, why not?

Looking for other ways to make your home life easier? Our partner, FilterEasy, offers a convenient way to get the right size air filters delivered right to your door—look in your HomeBit app for the offer! Hey, with as hard as you work, you deserve it!

9 Germ-Conquering, Clutter-Defeating Ways to Deep Clean Your Kitchen

As much as we wish it weren’t true, sometimes the kitchen needs a good purge. Baked-on grease, dusty pantries and cluttered counters aren’t just unsightly—they’re unsanitary, too! And since no one has yet perfected the self-cleaning kitchen, it’s up to you—with the help of a little elbow grease—to get the job done. Here are some smart ways to tackle the worst jobs—without sacrificing your sanity in the process.

water flowing from kitchen sink

Tackle Your Oven the Smart Way

Next to the refrigerator, the oven has got to be the worst thing to clean in the kitchen. And unfortunately, there’s no great way to get it sparkling besides a good old-fashioned scrubbing. But you can make it easier on yourself. Loosen baked-on grit by heating it: set the oven for 225 degrees, and pop a pan of water in for 15 minutes. The rising steam from the water breaks up the caked-on stuff. Hit harder-to-clean spots with a paste made from baking soda and water. Then spritz with white vinegar for some all-natural foaming action. Last, pull out the racks and let them soak in a hot bath for up to an hour. Not a miracle cure by any means, but it beats scrubbing all day.

Stand Up to Your Stovetop

Of course you can’t really call the oven clean until you’ve given the stovetop some much-needed attention. Stoves are tricky, though; depending on the type you have, you may have a little more work in front of you. Generally speaking, for a flat cooktop, it’s up to our old friends vinegar and baking soda. Make another paste and spread it on the surface. Let it sit for a few hours, then wipe it away, loosening any lingering remnants with a nylon scraper. For a stove with electric coils, follow the same steps, but remove the burners first to wipe out any food scraps that may have collected below. For a gas stove, gently lift the burners and then follow the steps outlined here to get both the stovetop and burners spiffy clean.

Get Your Pantry in Order

You could write a whole book on pantry organization (and indeed, someone has—it’s called DIY Pantry Cleaning Hacks, and you can buy it on Amazon). But the main things to do are a) pitch out expired foods and b) wipe up the crumbs and sticky stuff. Only then should you contemplate a serious reorganization. Generally, homeowners follow a system resembling this one: frequently-used items, like cereal and snacks, go on the eye-level shelves. Place lighter items up top—your spices, baking ingredients and extra paper towels, for instance. Then put heavy items on the lowest shelves, things like large jars of oil and vinegar. This is where extras can go too, for instance, any “just-in-case” items, like canned food and emergency supplies.

Take on the Refrigerator

When it comes to loathsome kitchen cleaning tasks, this one ranks right up there. You probably already know the basics of fridge cleaning (if not, Apartment Therapy has some great insights), but there are a couple of things you can do to make the process a bit smoother. First place the trash can next to you to hold anything you’re not going to keep. Next, wipe down anything you plan to put back—it will save time cleaning next time. Soak the trays and shelves in a large tub to lift grimy food residue fast. And don’t forget to vacuum the refrigerator coils! It will save you money on your electricity bills and improve the efficiency of your fridge.

Confront Microwave Grease

A greasy, nasty microwave is no place for your popcorn. But it’s not exactly fun to clean out either. Fortunately, Good Housekeeping has a tip that should take some of the pain out of microwave cleanup. Essentially, you fill a microwave-safe bowl with a cup of water and a few tablespoons of vinegar and set it on cook for a few minutes. The boiling, steaming solution will loosen baked-on grit—but be sure to let it cool a little first before you try removing it! Then attack the walls and door with vinegar, water and a sponge for super clean snacking.

Attack the Coffeemaker

Want a really tasty cup of morning joe? You’re going to have to clean that coffee maker then! Luckily, this one is pretty cut-and-dry. Fill the water reservoir with water and vinegar, then set the pot to brew (or use the clean cycle, if your brewer has one). Run through a few more cycles using water, which will eliminate that vinegar taste. Once that’s done, scrub outside and underneath the coffee maker to get rid of any crumbs, beans or grinds. If you have a reusable filter, pull it out and let it soak overnight in vinegar and water to wash away buildup and improve the taste of your coffee.

Sort Out Counter Clutter

To listen to decluttering acolytes and Marie Kondo devotees, you’d think a cluttered kitchen represented some sort of spiritual decline. While we’re not sure we’d go that far, a counter full of junk does make your kitchen seem a lot messier than it is. To combat clutter, hang mounted baskets under the cabinets and store excess stuff there. And maybe consider installing a small appliance garage too—it’s a great place to stuff infrequently-used products, like the blender and crock pot.

Put Cabinet Junk in Its Place

Of course, if your counter is cluttered, chances are pretty high that your cabinets are, too. If you’re currently suffering from cabinet overflow, use stacked shelves and drawer pulls to make a place for everything. And don’t overlook your doors—throw a few command hooks on the back and you can use them to hold everything from pots to spoons to measuring cups. Meanwhile, don’t neglect the top of the upper cabinets either—if they’re anything like most peoples’, they could probably use a good dusting!

Once you do all that, you’ll totally deserve a lazy Sunday binge session, so here are a few ideas what to watch. Trust us—binging feels amazing after you’ve just cleaned house!

5 Signs Your Hot Water Heater Is On Its Last Legs

Nothing is worse than running out of hot water mid-shower. If you have a household full of teens, you know where that water went. If not? The culprit may lie in your hot water heater itself. Heaters only last into their teenage years themselves, so if you haven’t bought a new one since your kids were in diapers, it may be time you started looking around for a new one.

Of course, age isn’t the only indicator. A handful of tell-tale signs will reveal if your hot water is approaching the end of its life, like if there’s less hot water, or if you notice banging noises and a funny taste in the water. Want to know more? Here’s the skinny on hot water heater failures—and how to tell if your unit is toast.

woman showering

It’s Getting Up There in Years

The lifespan on a hot water heater is typically only about 10 to 15 years, tops. So if yours qualifies as a senior citizen in water heater years, it’s probably time to replace. Not sure of its age? Look at the serial number. The first three digits actually contain a coded date. The month is expressed as a letter of the alphabet at the beginning of the serial number (A for January, B for February and so forth), and the year is indicated next by the two digits that follows (15 equals 2015, for instance). That way, you can identify exactly when your unit came off the line.

Your Hot Water Has a Rusty, Metallic Taste, Color or Odor

A lot of different issues can cause rusty water. But if it only happens when you turn on the hot water tap, it’s usually an indicator that your water heater is going. Why? It means that the inside of the tank is corroded—and that leaks are imminent. But you don’t need to panic quite yet. First, give it a few days. Occasionally, incidents with the public water supply can cause temporary discolorations that go away on their own. Next, try flushing the water heater (something you should do about once a year anyway). Family Handyman has a helpful video with instructions how to do just that. After that, if you’re still having issues, it may be time to start shopping around for a new unit.

It Keeps Making Weird Noises

Either you have a monster in your basement or your hot water heater is going. Either way, some sort of intervention is inevitable. Strange rumbling, banging, cracks and pops coming from inside the heater usually comes from build up around the bottom of the tank. Your water contains traces of mineral sediment that collect over there time. The heating and reheating of this sediment eventually hardens it into a thick, unyielding coat of gunk, meaning your heater has to work harder to do its job—and of course, leaks and other issues are only a short way away.

It Just Doesn’t Work Like It Used To

Sediment buildup doesn’t just effect your water heater’s acoustics, of course. It also impacts its performance. You might notice temperature fluctuations, or maybe it seems like the water doesn’t stay hot as long as it used to. Or in some cases, the hot water might go out altogether—although you should check the pilot light and the circuit breaker first. Of course, all of that rigamarole adds up to higher energy bills,. So if yours have recently skyrocketed, that might be another sign as well.

It’s Leaking

If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a hot water heater failure before it progresses into a leak. But unfortunately, for many homeowners, the first tip off occurs when it starts to spill water all over the basement floor. Fortunately, most leaks start small, with a manageable pool of water around the heater itself. In this case, there’s often a small fracture in the water heater tank. When the water becomes heated, the metal expands—and the crack along with it—causing water to drip through the fracture. Once the water cools, the crack shrinks again and often, the water stops leaking. Of course, the water could be coming from loose connections, too, so check those first before you decide it’s time to buy a new tank.

Want your new unit to last just a little bit longer? Make sure to perform some regular maintenance, then, such as regularly flushing the tank, checking the connections and pilot light, and testing the pressure valve. Other things you can do to extend its lifespan? Change the anode rod every five years and install a water softener to reduce wear and tear. Do that, and your next tank should last you for ages—or at least until the kids are out of college!

5 Home Maintenance Nightmares—And How to Prevent Them

What do you do when you can’t sleep? Count sheep? Watch TV? Use a relaxation technique? Or do you anxiously run through everything that could go wrong with your home? If you’re like most homeowners, it’s hard not to let your imagination run away with you. That drip in the sink? Could easily become a gushing torrent of water one day. The crack in the wall? Might as well count yourself homeless right now.

The truth is, most household issues don’t end in complete disaster. But that might not stop your mind at 3:00 am. Still, you’ll sleep a lot better knowing you’ve done your due diligence to prevent these homeowner nightmares from springing to life. Just a little bit of regular home maintenance here and there will ward off some of the worst home boogie men—and save you from those late-night infomercials!

ants on a board

Dodge Plumbing Disasters with a Little Pipe Upkeep

Imagine coming home to find that a small river had suddenly sprung up in your kitchen. It happens more frequently than we’d like to think. In fact, even the most diminutive plumbing leaks can cause Amazon-sized destruction, leading to swelled flooring, wrecked carpets—and mold growth, besides. But luckily, you’re not helpless to prevent them. In fact, one of the most impactful things you can do is lower your water pressure. High pressure is exactly that—pressure—and it can stress your pipes and reduce their life expectancy. Use a hose bib gauge to test your home’s psi; ideally, you’ll get a reading somewhere between 40 and 85. Don’t forget about what’s going on inside the pipes, either. Hard water can eventually corrode them and cause leaks, so install and maintain a water softener in your home, especially if you have high mineral content.

Avoid Roof Leaks with Regular Inspections

Like a burst pipe, a leaky roof can cause all kinds of havoc—and leave you on the line for thousands of dollars. And while you’ll probably notice the former, roof leaks can be trickier to catch on time, especially if they originate in the attic or between the walls. To combat potential roofing problems, have your roof inspected regularly—ideally once a year. Roofing pros not only look at your shingles and gutters, they also inspect the flashing around your chimney and vents as well. And they’ll be able to detect signs of a leak in your attic, too. A little prevention now could just save you from catastrophe later.

Sidestep Mold by Keeping Surfaces Happy and Dry

A mold infestation is a truly scary thought. Left to its own devices, mold can cost you up to $6,000 to remove and remediate. Meanwhile, it’s a health disaster, that can exacerbate existing conditions like asthma or cause life-threatening infections. And mold is sneaky. It often springs up undetected in unfrequented spaces, like in basements, crawl spaces and attics. To beat it, make sure to check for condensation and moisture near your air conditioning duct work and around your walls, basement floor and windows. You’ll also be doing yourself a favor if you regularly clean your gutters—it keeps moisture away from your walls and foundation and prevents mold in less obvious spots.

Ward Off Pest Infestations with Frequent Maintenance

You probably don’t need anyone to tell you how disgusting and uncomfortable a rodent or insect infestation can make you feel. Your home is supposed to be a retreat from the outside world, not a makeshift roach motel! But not if you leave your pest prevention up to chance. Neglected maintenance tasks, like untrimmed tree branches, untended cracks in walls and unaddressed pipe leaks may lure pests into your home. And of course, they’re drawn like literal moths to the flame when there’s open food and garbage around. A regular cleaning and maintenance schedule will help take care of those pesky critters, as will decking your home out with pest-repelling plants, like citronella, neem, marigolds and mint. Nothing like a little all-natural pest prevention!

Protect Yourself from a Sticky Sewage Situation

Sewage leaks give pest infestations a run for their money in the “disgusting household emergencies” department (although we can’t say why someone created that department in the first place!). A sewer line failure is a truly disturbing event—and if it happens in your yard, it’s your problem, not the city’s. But a little foresight here can go a long way to preventing a really icky situation. If you have clay pipes on your sewer line, have them snaked annually to limit tree root intrusion. You’ll also want to hire a professional plumber to clean the sewer lines once a year, regardless of the type. And keep your eyes peeled for signs of impending trouble: toilets that gurgle after flushing or standing water in your basement floor drain. We can’t promise it will cure your insomnia, but this way, you can at least cross off one item on your list of anxieties!

A Bountiful Harvest of Fall Decor Ideas

Hello fall, and hello fresh new decor! The signs of autumn are all around us—leaves beginning to turn, pumpkin everything at the store—which means it’s high time you gave your home some autumn spice of its own. Accents like chic throws, quick candle crafts, and porchside creations offer a quick way to get a hit of autumn gold in your home, without completely rearranging your living room. Because the best decor changes aren’t permanent, here are several ways to capture the flavor of the season at home—at least until it’s time for holiday decor!

couple enjoying a cozy fall day

Toss a Cozy, Fallish Throw over Your Living Room Couch (and Put one in Out on the Porch, Too!)

Crisp autumn nights recall evenings snuggling under the coziest blankets, so a patterned throw captures the spirit of fall both in looks and in function, too. Plaid is the gold standard here; this pattern has country comfort written all over it. But for a more stylish option, try a rustic weave in fall colors, or an luxurious knit chenille for the ultimate autumn retreat. And make sure to put on out of the porch or back patio for some fall stargazing!

Create Some Fall Ambiance with These Homey DIY Scents

Candles definitely set the mood for fall, good for everything from some cold-weather cuddles to dinners with the family. In particular, we love these DIY scents from Chasing Foxes. Can’t wait to try the coffee-beans-and-french-vanilla-candle hack at home this fall!

Or Craft a Mason Jar Luminary for the Front Porch

Speaking of DIY candles, this homemade luminary has got that candlelight glow on lockdown. And it’s easy to make with this simple tutorial from Create, Craft, Love. One of these would look great in gold or burnt orange too, and would be the perfect way to light up the porch come jack-o-lantern season!

Learn How to Preserve Leaves and Open Up a Plethora of New Craft Projects

At its core, autumn is all about the leaf action (they do call it “fall,” after all). But leaves are so fragile! One minute they’re a lovely bouquet of fall color, the next, they’re dusty husks crumbling on your kitchen table. These leaf-preserving techniques will allow you to appreciate the honored guests of the season all year long. And then you can make something like this stylish leaf hanging! Score!

Decorate Your Porch in Haute Fall Style and Make Your Neighbors Jealous

Fall is prime porch season—the agreeable weather makes it a great time sit outside and drink in the scenery. But a truly beautiful porchscape requires a little more creativity than just scattering a few gourds and pumpkins here and there. In particular, we love fall porches decked with antique accents, like rocking chairs and rustic carts and wagon wheels or burlap touches like a DIY wreath on the door. Throw a couple of mums in a galvanized tub, and you’ll have a jaw-dropping design that will make you wish it was fall all year long!

Create a Classy, Chic Fall Centerpiece

Most of us love a good fall craft, but would be happier if said project didn’t wind up looking as though a glitter bomb had accidentally gone off on it. This chic fall centerpiece idea gets major bonus points for its Williams and Sonoma-influenced style. And it’s all made with things you can easily pick up at the crafting store. Now there’s something to toast to—preferable with a mug of something steaming and spiked with nutmeg!

Do You Really Need to Change Your Fridge Water Filter?

Ah, the fridge water filter. One of those pesky little nuisances that every homeowner—or at least every homeowner with a modern fridge—just has to deal with. Every four to six months, there it is, burning like a red, painful reminder of what you had planned for that $40 you now have to spend on filters. But you’re a good homeowner, so you change it.

A couple of months go by—the blink of an eye really—and the indicator light of doom goes on again. Great, another $40 down the drain. But do you really, really need to change it? What happens if you just. stop. doing. it?

We all know what the manufacturers have to say about the matter. Samsung tells its customers that the filter needs to be changed when the indicator light turns red, which happens every six months. Whirlpool is a little more lenient, allowing a generous six to nine months before your fridge becomes a clogged wasteland.

But check out the number of results that pop up when you Google “do i really need to change the water filter in my refrigerator.” Judging by the sheer amount of queries out there, it’s clear that people have some questions. And that’s where this post comes in. Today, we’ll answer the big filter question once and for all, so you can rest easy, knowing your hard-earned money isn’t going to waste.

lemon water in the window sill

To Change or Not to Change, That Is the Question

When it comes to changing your water filter, the lines are pretty fiercely drawn between those who’d do nearly anything to feel like their water was purer and cleaner, and those that think manufacturers are just trying to lure you into spending your hard-earned money on yet another contraption you don’t really need.

Those who fall into the latter camp often claim to have been instructed by a pro who told them filters are really a scam. Or they’re people who’ve noticed that if they open and shut the filter door, the light shuts off, leading them to wonder if those little indicators even really mean anything. And then there are folks who think, “okay but my local water treatment plant already filters the water. Do I really need to filter it twice?”

Appliance dealers and repair specialists mostly advise that you stick with the manufacturer’s’ recommendations here and replace the filters every six months or so. The reason has less to do with the quality of the water or how “clean” it is—although that’s a part of it. It’s because eventually, the filter will collect sediment, first clogging it and then jamming up the ice maker and water dispenser. And that can mean an expensive fridge repair. In fact, if you have really hard water, you may want to change it a little more often, just to keep yourself in the clear.

Buy Filters in Bulk to Save Money

Okay, so you’re pretty much going to have to buy filters if you want to keep your fridge happy. But you don’t have to spend a fortune on them. Refrigerator water filters can be purchased online in bulk packages, which will save you tons of dough in the long run.

For instance, this three-pack of Samsung filters will run you about $120 on Amazon, where as a single filter costs $44.99. Sure, it’s not exactly a steal, but it’s better than paying full price!

Or Bypass the Water Filter Line Altogether

But maybe you don’t care about highly-filtered water at all. Maybe you’re just fine drinking straight from the tap, but you prefer the ice-cold temperature of nicely chilled water. You’ll probably be thrilled to learn that you don’t have to use the filter function in your fridge. In fact, you can install a filter bypass that will keep your water from ever touching the filter.

As you might have guessed from the name, essentially what this does is connect the water dispenser to the water line, thus bypassing the filter. Of course, you’ll have to find a model that will work with your fridge—and drink the unfiltered water afterwards. But you’ll save yourself $80 to $120 a year, which isn’t a bad haul.

So, to recap what we’ve learned: yes, you need to change the fridge filter unless you plan on doing a little work to get around it. But you can also score cheaper filters by doing a little browsing online. And while you’re at it, check out the Offers section in your HomeBit app to see if you can score some more sweet bargains to go along with it. Now there’s some refreshing news!

7 Things You Might Not Know About Fall Lawn Care

Fall is definitely well under way, but that’s no excuse to abandon your lawn. Your turf needs your attention at all times of the year, but especially now, when late season seeding, watering, and fertilization can mean the difference between a vigorous, healthy lawn and one that’s sick and spindly come spring.

In particular, now is the time to get your grass prepped for the long winter ahead by feeding it plenty of nutrients—and ensuring that it can absorb them all. Of course, knowing how to do just that—and when to do it—can make or break your turf game. Here are a few pointers you may not have heard yet, and some things you can do to get your grass all set for the colder weather ahead.

grassy lawn

Continue Watering Well into Fall

Most people think they can turn off the sprinklers the minute the weather gets just the slightest bit cooler—after all, nature will take it from here, right? Not so. Lawns should be watered up to the first frost in order to keep them well-hydrated during the fall. That way, they’ll be healthy enough to survive any hot and dry spells that occur throughout this period. In fact, if you live in the north, your grass is busy establishing roots right now, which means it’s important it stays watered so as not to impinge on this growth. So keep those sprinklers going!

Your Fall Lawn Care Regimen Depends on the Type of Grass You Have

You probably see articles recommending you do this or that to your lawn, but actually it’s hard to give an exact prescription for the perfect lawn care regimen. That’s because the steps depend on the type of grass you have in your lawn. Cool season grasses like fescue, ryegrass or Kentucky bluegrass need plenty of fertilizer in the fall to sustain their root systems over the winter. Warm season grasses, however, like Bermuda, zoysia and St. Augustine go dormant much earlier in the season, and so may not need as much primping and tending to.

Falling Leaves Can Harm Your Turf

Ever left something out on your lawn for a couple of days, only to discover a patch of sickly, pale grass underneath it afterwards? A similar thing occurs when the trees drop their leaves. While a leaf or two here and there won’t really hurt anything, a heavy coat of fallen foliage can imperil your turf, robbing it of vital sun and moisture. To prevent that from happening, it’s best to rake leaves regularly and thoroughly.

Now’s the Perfect Time to Aerate Your Soil

Turf-covered soil can become compacted over time, especially if you have a lot of clay or silt in your soil composition. When compaction happens, it’s more difficult for the roots to take in nutrients, which means a less lush, healthy lawn in the spring. You may not need to aerate your soil every year, but you should at least address it ocassionally with a core aerator to keep growth steady and dependable.

Always Overseed Your Lawn

Seeding your lawn is one of those few times where “too much of a good thing” doesn’t apply. Overseeding for a thicker, fuller lawn is a pretty good battle plan against weeds, since your best defense against dandelions and other invaders is a healthy, vibrant lawn. So go ahead, spread that seed with a liberal hand. It will also help to fill in any bald patches that resulted from summer dry spells. Win-win!

Wait for Colder Weather to Fertilize

In life, timing is everything. The same adage holds true for your lawn. If you fertilize cool season grasses too early, the turf will get confused and start sending up new growth: tender, young blades that will die off the next time there’s a frost—and use up your grass’s winter food supply in the process. Always wait until late fall to apply fertilizer, and use a slow-release granular product that will tide your grass over until spring.

Kill Weeds Naturally with Vinegar

Fall’s a great time to attack common weeds like dandelions and plantains. The reason? Just like your grass, weeds are about to go into conservation mode for the winter, meaning they’re more likely to be in a weakened state right now, and thus, easier to remove. Instead of spreading a bunch of pesticides, however, try hitting them with a mixture of 5 parts vinegar, 2 parts water and 1 part everyday dish soap. The solution, when applied with a spray bottle, stops dandelions in their tracks—without harming beneficial micro-organisms in your soil. A healthier, all-natural lawn? Where do I sign up?