Make Your Backyard Party an Event to Remember

Having a party in your own backyard is a great way to get together with family and friends and enjoy the warm weather. Here are a few simple things you can do to help ensure your party will go smoothly and be remembered.

Consider a Theme Party Choosing a theme for your party is a great way to make your event stand out from other summer soirées. These party themes are easy to pull off and won’t break the bank:

• Tropical Luau Give your place an island feel. Decorate the deck and tables with bright flowers, tropical fruits and tiki torches. Ask your guests to wear Hawaiian shirts or flowing skirts and sandals and hand out leis when they arrive. Play island music. To keep the party lively, you can play limbo or pass out hula-hoops to shake things up.

• South of the Border Bash It’s hard to beat a south of the border fiesta. Set the mood with brightly colored tableware and decorate with red, orange and yellow peppers, maracas, sombreros and piñatas. Put out a big bowl of guacamole with chips and salsa to get started. Serve Tex-Mex food or tacos and Mexican-style roasted corn on the cob with butter, chili pepper, grated cheese and lime. Play mariachi music.

Whether you go with a theme or not, here are a few basic things that can make any summer party more enjoyable for you and your guests.

Set Up Buffet Tables For summer parties, it’s a good idea to keep things casual and put the food and fixings out buffet style. You can set a nice summer table by adding colorful plants or fresh flowers from the garden and simple tea lights. Use decorative paper plates and napkins along with disposable cups and utensils to avoid breakage and make for an easy clean up.

Set the Mood with Lighting By adding the right lighting outside, you can create a more magical and party-like atmosphere for your guests. Try stringing up lanterns and sparking white lights on the deck, on fences and in the trees and shrubs to create some ambience. Also consider putting out votive candles in cupcake foils or glass jars on the tables and in the sitting areas to add a little touch of elegance and romance.

Don’t Let the Bugs Bite Mosquitoes can put a damper on any summer soirée, so don’t give them a reason to stick around. Before your party, empty any flowerpot trays, birdbaths or gutters that contain standing water where mosquitoes like to breed. Surround the yard with citronella candles or incense to help drive the pests away. You should also keep a bug repellant handy, but be sure to follow all directions and use it sparingly.

Remember, no matter what kind of party you have, the most important thing to do is have a good time!

– Adapted from AHS Home Matters Inside & Out June 2014 Newsletter

 

Energy Efficient Tip of the Month: Window Coverings

Looking for an affordable way to help keep your home more comfortable and reduce energy use all year long? Consider insulated window coverings.

Installing new energy-efficient windows throughout your house is expensive. Insulated window coverings offer a lower-cost alternative that can help reduce energy use. They are available in a variety of different styles including curtains and shades, and you can find them in designs and colors to match almost any décor.

In the summer, insulated window coverings help your air conditioning work more efficiently by blocking the sun. In the winter, they help your home retain heat so your furnace doesn’t cycle on as frequently.

They’re easier to install than new windows, help reduce drafts from leaky windows and can help lower your energy bill every month.

American Home Shield is providing the information for general guidance only. Due to the general nature of the property maintenance and improvement advice in this material, neither American Home Shield Corporation, nor its licensed subsidiaries assumes any responsibility for any loss or damage which may be suffered by the use of this information.

-from AHS August Newsletter Inside & Out

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6 Ways to be a Good Neighbor

Developing relationships with your neighbors can make your life easier and your community safer—and may result in lasting friendships. The good news is that it’s easy to extend acts of courtesy to those who live close by.

Welcome new people to the neighborhood. Stop by and introduce yourself. Baking cookies is a traditional way to extend a warm welcome, but you can also bring them recommendations for local services, such as babysitters or landscapers; a children’s activity kit filled with coloring books, crayons, and games; or a list of local phone numbers.

Little gestures can go a long way. Offer to collect your neighbor’s mail, water their plants or feed their pet while they’re on vacation. If that’s too much of a commitment, you might offer to keep an eye out on their house while they’re away.

Keep up your house and yard. This will help maintain property values while keeping the neighborhood as a whole looking its best. Mow your grass regularly, trim your shrubs as needed, and make façade repairs in a timely manner.

Walls have ears. If you live in a condo or townhouse, think twice before plugging in noisy appliances near your neighbor’s walls. A television, a hair dryer or even the beep of a microwave may be a little white noise for you but an annoyance for your neighbors.

Know the news. Whether or not you’re head of your community watch program, there are always chances to help out. Keep your neighbors informed of relevant news, such as upcoming construction or recent crime. Extra eyes and ears are always welcome.

Return kind gestures. If a neighbor lends you something, whether it’s their tools or their time, return the gesture quickly. It’s easy to move along with your project and forget they’ve done you a favor, so be sure to show your appreciation in a timely manner—your gratitude won’t be overlooked.

American Home Shield is providing the information for general guidance only. Due to the general nature of the property maintenance and improvement advice in this material, neither American Home Shield Corporation, nor its licensed subsidiaries assumes any responsibility for any loss or damage which may be suffered by the use of this information.

-from AHS July Newsletter Inside & Out

 

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Score A Touchdown With These Home Tailgating Tips

If you love to watch football, but would rather view the big game from the comfort of your home, you’re not alone. Here are some tips to transform your home into your own football stadium— no tickets required.

Simple Sides.Simple foods like chips, fruit, baked beans or deviled eggs can make for delicious and easy additions to meat that’s fresh off the grill. Grab a few bags of chips for an out-of-the-bag snack or chop up some carrots and celery for a healthy alternative. Use a cupcake pan to house condiments, dips or small candies.

Decorations. Make your home your team’s home base with fun decorations that amplify the spirit of the game. Get the rivalry going by wearing your team’s shirt and serving food on paper plates stamped with team logos.

Games. Simple games like horseshoes or beanbag toss are great for taking a break from watching the game, and they’re also fun for kids! Create a beanbag toss by cutting holes in plywood, and a horseshoes game by placing stakes in the yard.

Clean up. Don’t wait until after the game is over to clean up! Ensure that dirty plates find their way into the trash by hanging multiple trash bags around your home and handing out napkins when necessary. Providing easy ways for your guests to clean up after themselves will allow you to avoid a pile-up of garbage when the game is over.

Use these simple tips to get the home field advantage when it comes to tailgating. Enjoy the game and its festivities, without ever leaving your home!

from American Home Shield September Newsletter Inside & Out

American Home Shield is providing the information for general guidance only. Due to the general nature of the property maintenance and improvement advice in this material, neither American Home Shield Corporation, nor its licensed subsidiaries assumes any responsibility for any loss or damage which may be suffered by the use of this information.

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Tips for a Stress-Free School Year

Field trips, packed lunches and permission slips—school means much more than just homework. With these extra activities come all sorts of organizational challenges.

  • Stock up on supplies. Anticipate last-minute school project needs by stockpiling supplies. Buy in bulk or wait for back-to-school sales. Get markers, index cards, poster board and other items that will come in handy throughout the school year.
  • Choose outfits ahead of time. Deciding what the kids will wear shouldn’t be left to the morning rush. On Sunday night, pick out clothes for each day of the week and set them aside.
  • Simplify lunch packing. Use clear containers in the fridge and pantry for lunchbox supplies. When it’s time to pack lunches (see below), you won’t have to search for them.
  • Consolidate meal making. Prepare lunches for the following day while you’re making dinner. You’ll be able to cross off one more item from the morning checklist and have one cleanup instead of two.
  • Touch papers once. Take a time management tip from the business world – if a task will take you a few minutes or less, tackle it immediately. So when your child brings home a permission slip, read it, sign it, add the event to your calendar (see below) and put it in his or her backpack.
  • Use a whiteboard. A functional calendar that everyone can update is essential to manage multiple schedules. Buy a large whiteboard calendar, hang it in a conspicuous spot (e.g., the kitchen) and use it to track practices, games, recitals and appointments.
  • File school papers. Use a cabinet drawer or file box to store and organize your children’s school materials. Each subject should have its own tab and folder; kids can unload weekly papers to save for later.
  • Color-code your bags. Use colored tote bags, one for each activity, to store equipment and supplies. Stow them in the same place every day, ideally near the door. That way, you can easily grab the right bag on your way out without having to empty and refill a single bag.

from American Home Shield July Inside & Out Newsletter

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Consider Animals During Cold Weather

When winter is approaching, animal lovers should start to think of home  improvements that affect their pets and other animals, such as birds who visit  their yards.

For the most part, cats and dogs don’t like to be stuck outside in rain,  wind, snow, sleet or ice. However, they do enjoy being outside when the sun’s  shining and it’s a moderate day. Anyone with animals knows that we make  accommodations for our pets to make their lives happier. Let’s explore some  ideas.

Lots of housecats are outdoor/indoor cats. They like to go in and out  frequently, more frequently than owners prefer to let them. In the colder months  of the year, this becomes more of an issue because heat escapes the house every  time the door is opened for the pet. The same situation occurs with dogs. If you  have a fenced in yard and your dog has free range, they also have the  opportunity to go in and out as often as their owner allows them.

Installing a Pet Door

Installing a pet door can solve this problem leaving you with less hassle and  more heat, and as a result, your pet will be happy with their new freedom. This  also is a huge benefit when you are not home. If you are someone who works long  hours or travels a lot on business, installing a pet door could be a perfect  solution.

Pet doors can be installed in most doors and there is a variety from which to  choose. Panel pet doors can be installed in sliding glass patio doors. Custom  pet doors can be made for French doors. They also come in all sizes for a cat up  to a giant dog. You can get electronic doors that will only let your pet in. And  if your pet wears out your existing door, replacement parts can be ordered.

Build a Doghouse

If your dog likes to be outside all day while your family is busy at work and  school, build them a doghouse before the weather gets too nasty. How terrible to  be at work and know that your dog is sitting in snow, sleet or rain. The crafty  ones among us could build a custom doghouse to be a perfect fit. Put a piece of  carpet or small rug inside to give the dog something soft on which to lie.

Birdhouses

Think of all the birds that visit your yard. Before it gets cold out, place  several bird feeders and/or birdhouses around your yard. Not only will this  provide you with peaceful, fulfilling rewards as you watch the birds gratefully  feed from them but it also provides the birds with food when everything is ice  or snow covered. Be sure to remove or turn birdbaths upside down now before it  gets cold. If the water in it freezes, your birdbath will most likely crack.

These small changes will bring you and your animals much happiness. Act now  before it gets too cold and your motivation level drops with the temperature.

from Homesense by Servicemagic

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Keep “Cool” this summer – Service Air Conditioner Now

Perform annual maintenance on your air conditioning units now, before the real heat hits and A/C contractors become busy!

There are a few things that most homeowners can do themselves to help maintain their air conditioner:

  • Ensure the filter is clean or replaced regularly. Disposable filters are inexpensive and should be replaced once per month during high use periods.
  • Trim back plants so there is at least one foot of clearance from the A/C unit – this allows proper air flow, reducing motor strain.
  • Sand and other debris can get sucked into the condenser coils. To clean the coils, first disconnect the power to the A/C and then use a garden hose to spray the coils clean.

The best advice is to have an annual maintenance service performed by a professional air conditioning technician. Always ensure the following items are included in the maintenance service:

  • Condenser – check pressure, oil motor bearings, and current electrical draw; tighten all hardware and visually inspect wiring and condenser coils.
  • Air Handler/Evaporator – Visually inspect wiring and oil motor bearings; clean or replace filter, tighten all hardware, inspect condensation drain, pan, pump, and auxiliary pan; clean drain system, and check that evaporator coils are clean and free of damage.

With proper maintenance, the air conditioner should run smoothly for years. However, should the unit break down due to normal wear and use, your client’s home warranty company will repair or replace the covered parts and components – saving their hard-earned money and keeping their home cool during the heat of summer!

Adapted from Old Republic Home Protection Newsletter

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10 Easy Upgrades to Add Style & Value to Your Home

Sometimes, it’s the little things that make the biggest difference in the value and appeal of your home. Whether you’re trying to sell your home of just spruce up the place, here are 10 easy ways to get started.

  1. Update hardware on cabinets and drawers
  2. Replace towels and rugs in the bathroom(s)
  3. Add overhead lighting or wall sconces to brighten rooms
  4. Declutter small spaces and closets with DIY storage kits
  5. Wash or power wash the exterior of your home (especially windows)
  6. Add area rugs to throw in a hint of color
  7. Hang a mirror in small rooms to give the illusion of more space
  8. A fresh coat of paint on walls and trim brighten any room
  9. Try a fresh new color on your front door for character
  10. Mow and mulch your lawn even in the cooler months

Make a plan. Set a budget. Get started!

from AHS “Inside & Out” Newsletter

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Kitchen Remodeling on a Budget: Tips & Ideas

The kitchen is one of the most popular rooms in a home, so why not make yours really stand out? Whether you’re selling or simply want to upgrade, here are some simple tips and ideas to get you started without breaking the bank:

  1. Plan ahead and find patterns, colors and textures that you like from magazines, home improvement stores and the Internet.
  2. Set a budget! Know what upgrades will give you the most value for your money and do your best to stick with your budget.
  3. Make a plan and do one thing at a time, especially if you’re going to do it yourself.

So where should you start?

Cabinets
Repaint or stain your cabinet doors and add new hardware. This is one of the easiest and least expensive upgrades you can do that makes a big difference. If you need advice on what works best with the cabinets you have, take a door into your local home improvement store and ask for professional advice.

Kitchen Counter Tops
Counter tops can be expensive if you’re going for granite, but that’s not your only option. You can opt for concrete or granite overlay. Do your research to find what suits your budget and style best.

Kitchen Floors
Your choices are endless when it comes to updating your kitchen floors. From peel-and-stick tile to laminate wood flooring and travertine, the sky is the limit— but be mindful of your budget! Bring home samples of the flooring based on your style and budget before you make a final decision. Many real estate professionals agree that a kitchen remodel splurge should be saved for the countertops and not the floors, so keep this in mind when deciding. You want to make sure you get great value from any upgrades you do.

Saving Money on Kitchen Appliances
If your appliances are in good working order and match in color and style, save your budget for more beneficial upgrades. If your appliances look really dated or don’t match the new look of your kitchen, you may want to consider finding some great scratch and dent deals.

Did you know that appliances can be painted? A professional paint job can turn your white appliances into fresh, new-looking ones. You can also buy appliance-safe paint at your home improvement store and do it yourself.

Kitchen Lightening
Installing modern lighting is amazingly simple if your kitchen is already wired for overhead lighting. A new chandelier can make a big difference, and you can find options for less than $150! To make an even bigger impact, be sure to install a dimmer switch. You’ll be surprised what a difference a little “mood switch” can make.

The options are endless for remodeling your kitchen on a budget. The hardest part is deciding which upgrades will make the biggest difference on the smallest budget. Just be sure to do your research and to set realistic goals. And last, but not least, enjoy the project by making it your own.

from AHS “Inside and Out”

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Add Style & Value to Your Home with these 10 Easy & Quick Upgrades

Whether you are trying to sell your home or spruce it up, little things can make a big difference!

  1. Update hardware on cabinets and drawers
  2. Replace towels and rugs in the bathroom(s)
  3. Add overhead lighting or wall sconces to brighten rooms
  4. Declutter small spaces and closets with DIY storage kits
  5. Wash or power wash the exterior of your home (especially windows)
  6. Add area rugs to throw in a hint of color
  7. Hang a mirror in small rooms to give the illusion of more space
  8. A fresh coat of paint on walls and trim brighten any room
  9. Try a fresh new color on your front door for character
  10. Mow and mulch your lawn even in the cooler months

Make a plan – set a budget – get started!

Adapted from American Home Shield “Inside and Out” January 2011 issue

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