4 Neglected Parts of Your Home That Could Use Some TLC This Weekend

Owning a home is a bit of a mystery, when you think about it. You have all these hidden systems working to keep you clean, safe, and comfortable—half of which you don’t really think about until they go out.

It’s those hidden heroes we’re here to talk about today. Your sump pump, quietly lying in wait until your basement floods. Your range filter, sucking up soot, grease and grime every time you cook—and never asking for anything back in return except a dip in a bucket of soapy water every now and again.

Learning about these unsung home systems will help you lower your electrical bills, keep a cleaning and happier home, and improve the longevity of your equipment and appliances—without more than a few hours of effort on your part. Here are four frequently-ignored parts of your home that deserve a little recognition today.

a cup sitting in an old window

Your Windows

You probably look out of the windows in your home all the time. But when was the last time you looked at the windows themselves? First, take a moment to examine the caulk around your windows. If it looks dry, cracked, or missing altogether, it’s time for some TLC! These caulking gaps can cause energy losses, driving up your bills and causing drafts.

Start by scraping out all the old caulk. Use a razor so that you can really get into the nooks and crannies. Clean out any dust with a cloth, then apply new silicone caulk in a straight bead and smooth it down to create a good seal. Instant energy improvement.

Then give your windows a treat by washing the glass. Use a strip applicator and squeegee for an extra sparkly sheen. As a bonus, it makes the whole job a lot easier.

Your Kitchen Range Filter

Smoke, oil, food particles, dust—the buildup on range filters is a particularly toxic brew. It’s easy to ignore your hood range, but a greasy, dirty filter will make itself known eventually. Contaminated filters attract pests and can cause your smoke detector to go off more frequently. Plus, eventually they start getting a pretty nasty smell.

Clean the filter by dunking it in a bucket filled with soapy water and a ½ cup of baking soda. Allow the filter to sit for at least 10 minutes, then remove it and scrub it gently with a non-abrasive scrub brush. Give it a rinse and dry it with a towel. Enjoy your grease-free cooking!

Your Chimney

Anything that handles smoke and soot for a living is going to need some attention eventually. In addition to that, neglected chimneys can cause air infiltration, which you and I know by its common name: drafts. Meanwhile, soot and wood-burning byproducts contribute to creosote buildup, a highly combustible chemical compound that could lead to a house fire if you’re not careful.

A chimney sweep can take care of cleaning the chimney, as well as the smoke ducts, flue pipes and fireplaces. Many chimney experts offer inspection services too, which means verifying that the liners, smoke chamber, chimney exterior and firebox are all crack-free and working as expected. Chimney sweeps can point out masonry leaks that should be addressed, increasing the lifespan of your heating equipment—and making those winter days by the hearth a whole lot cheerier. If you use your chimney regularly, have it swept out about once a year to keep your fireplace working at peak operation.

a light shining on a basement pipe

Your Sump Pump

A sump pump is one of those things you never really think about until you need it—and by that time, you’re usually ankle-deep in water. That’s exactly why you want to test your sump pump regularly—in fact, if you live in a very wet area, you may want to take a look as often as every month or so.

To test it, find the two cords and unplug both. Then plug in just the pump cord. The pump should turn on right away. If it doesn’t, now’s a good time to start looking for a good plumber, because you’re going to need a new pump. To double check, plug both cords back into place, lift the lid and pour some water into the crock below, just enough to raise the float. The pump should kick on right away. If not, call the plumber—you don’t want to wait until the next time it rains to get this problem fixed!

Cleaning, repairing and testing these frequently-overlooked parts of your home may mean getting a little dirty this weekend. But it will be worth it to avoid a nasty little surprise in your home-owning future.

The Ultimate Smart Kitchen Showdown: Which Devices Are Worth It?

Anything that makes kitchens more convenient is a welcome addition—which is what makes smart devices so enticing. These automated gadgets cut back on the time you spend slaving over the stove. They make complicated cookery a piece of cake, automatically producing sous vide entrees and the perfect cup of coffee without much interaction on your part.

That all sounds good on paper. But sometimes smart kitchen devices seem a lot neater in theory than they are in practice—just ask anyone involved in the Juicero debacle. If you don’t have $700 to spend on an overpriced juice box, don’t worry. We’ve got your back. Today, we’ve picked out the ultimate list of WiFi-connected kitchen products—the kinds of devices that will have you marveling at technological progress, not regretting the money you just wasted on a useless new toy. Here’s the full 411.

pot boiling on stove

Best Smart Sous Vide

In case you haven’t heard the news, the latest trend to hit home cooking is sous vide. Smart precision cookers aren’t just for gearheads. These souped-up kitchen machines precisely measure water temperatures for chef quality cooking that really is as simple as “set it and forget it.” The WiFi and Bluetooth enabled Anova lets you adjust settings remotely, meaning you can check on your meal right from the couch. The Anova website even comes with tons of recipes to give you some inspiration—everything from sous vide scrambled eggs to chocolate flourless cake. You literally have hours of convenient cooking ahead of you.

Best Coffee Paraphernalia

Smart brewers are essentially the perfect marriage of elite coffee preparation and technology. Cutting-edge brewing equipment offers seamless control over your morning cup of joe. The Behmor Brewer Connected Coffee Maker gets top marks for taste, design and performance. This WiFi enabled maker is built with a companion app that allows you to brew a fresh cup straight from your bed—a feature that makes it worth any price, in our book. And the price tag matches conventional high end coffee makers, so if you’re looking to up your coffee making routine, there’s no reason not to go digital.

Best Gadget You Didn’t Know You Needed

No one wants to be stuck without toilet paper at home. Trouble is, you can never remember when it’s time to stock up. GeniCan can solve that unfortunate dilemma for you. This attractive garbage bin takes digital grocery lists to the next level. It scans and recognizes every item you throw in the trash to create a fully automated shopping list. All you have to do is pull up the app the next time you’re shopping and those memories of pitching the last toilet paper roll will come flooding back. Now there’s a piece of tech we could all use!

Best “Make My Life Easier” Device

Some days, the grocery store just seems like way too much work. Especially when you can avoid it altogether. Amazon’s dash buttons will allow you to do just that. You just select buttons for your favorite products, like toilet paper, dishwasher detergent, or one of the other hundreds of other branded household goods and toiletries available. Once you have the button, you can pair it with the Amazon.com app on your phone to program your product preferences (whether you need 6 rolls of toilet paper, say, or 36). Then all you have to do is press the button and you’re in business. Your product arrives on your doorstep within two days. Meanwhile, you never have to set foot in the grocery store!

Best Healthy Eating Tool

This is one product we’ve been waiting a long time for. Calorie counting is undoubtedly an effective way to monitor your eating. But manually weighing, tracking and logging every single condiment, side and meal component gets annoying after a while. SmartPlate, a smart nutrient tracker featured on Shark Tank, helps take some of the pain out of healthy eating. A special plate analyzes your food and gives you a breakdown of the calories and nutrients, then logs all the information on an app on your phone. It even creates personalized recommendations for better eating, so it’s basically like having a nutritionist sitting on your kitchen counter—but without, you know, having a human captive in your home.

What kitchen conundrums will smart devices take on next? Only time can tell for sure, but if they’re anything like these cool inventions, we have an exciting future to look forward to!

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!

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!

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!