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Things to consider when building an in-law suite

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In-law suites are becoming more popular as a greater number of older adults are moving in with their adult children. Such suites can bring families closer together and prove beneficial for all parties involved. Such living situations have led to a growth in in-law suites. In fact, in 2010 the National Association of Home Builders found that 62 percent of builders surveyed were working on home modifications related to aging. In-law suites are often created by converting a room in the house, such as the basement or even a garage, into a livable suite. Such suites can benefit elderly relatives who might have been dealt an unforeseen financial blow. But in-law suites can also benefit younger homeowners who want to see their parents more. In addition, when older men and women move in with their adult children, they can provide some necessary relief from the escalating cost of daycare. But before building an in-law suite in their home, homeowners might want to heed the following tips.

  • Be certain it is legal. Making changes to your home may require a permit, particularly if your in-law suite will be an entirely new addition to your property and not just a strict room remodel. Contact your local zoning board to ensure the project is within your rights as a homeowner.
  • Consider the health of your in-laws when making plans. Many in-law suites are occupied by aging relatives who might not be able to get up and down stairs as easily as they used to. That makes accessibility of the suite a top priority. Typically, it's best to locate in-law suites on the first floor, so relatives won't find it difficult to get in and out of the suite.
  • Don't overlook privacy. Just because your parents or in-laws will be moving in doesn't mean they don't still value their privacy. Chances are your relatives will initially feel as though they are invading your space and your privacy, so be sure the suite affords adequate privacy to all members of the household. It might be best to build the suite so it has its own separate entrance from the rest of the home. The suite should also have its own full bathroom and, if possible, its own kitchen area so your in-laws can cook for themselves and entertain their own guests without feeling like a burden. A second kitchen is also something to discuss with a zoning board, as some locales prohibit having two complete kitchens in a single residence.
  • Tailor certain amenities to the elderly. If your in-laws are older, install certain amenities, such as grab bars in the shower and bathroom, during the initial construction so you won't have to make changes down the road. Install easy-open drawers and make sure the suite has ample lighting.
  • Remember to install safety features. Safety features like fire, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are a necessity. Make sure the alarms on each of these detectors are loud enough so elderly men and women who have hearing loss can hear them without issue. Make sure all walkways leading to the in-law suite have motion detecting lamps at night to reduce risk of falling. Also, if the suite will be a separate building from your house, such as a converted pool house or detached garage, install an intercom system that connects with the main house so your relatives can easily reach you in case of emergency.

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How to improve your home's curb appeal

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Curb appeal is similar to getting ready for a big date, only you're not dressing yourself up to make a strong first impression. Instead, improving curb appeal involves dressing your home up in the hopes it makes a strong first impression on prospective buyers, many of whom will have a strong opinion about the property before they even get out of their cars to have a look around. A home with strong curb appeal can entice buyers who are likely to believe that a home with a well-maintained exterior is likely to have an equally impressive interior. Homeowners who want the process of selling their home to go smoothly can improve the property's curb appeal in a number of ways, many of which don't necessitate a substantial home improvement budget. * Clean up. Many homeowners are savvy enough to remove toys and other items from the yard before showing a home, but cleaning up goes beyond removing clutter from the property. Make sure all hedges are trimmed and remove weeds, sticks and other debris from any flower beds. Lay mulch in the flower beds and garden resulting in more attractive gardens to catch a buyer's eye.

  • Edging is another easy and effective way to improve curb appeal. Edge driveways, sidewalks and other walkways around the property, removing or trimming anything that is hanging over the boundry. If the boundary between your driveway and lawn is not distinct, consider installing edging materials such as stone or bricks.
  • Take to the trees. Many homeowners grow accustomed to overgrown trees around their property and may not notice that low-hanging, unsightly branches are hiding the home from view. Buyers want to see the house, so take to the trees and trim any branches that hang too low or obscure your home.
  • Clean the gutters. Leaves and sticks hanging from the gutters are a red flag to buyers, who tend to associate clogged gutters with roof damage. Clean the gutters thoroughly before putting your home up for sale and keep them clean throughout the selling process. If your property includes lots of trees, install guards to keep twigs and leaves out of the gutters.
  • Make the home accessible through the front door. Many homeowners enter their home through a side door or through their garage. If you fall into this category, keep in mind that prospective buyers will be entering through the front door, so make this area accessible and welcoming. Clear any clutter, such as overgrown hedges, away from the front door, and consider upgrading the door handle to a more modern feature. You want buyers and their real estate agents to get in and out of the home as smoothly as possible.
  • Make sure all plants, including flowers, are living. Dehydrated or dead plants and flowers are eyesores, and they will give buyers the impression that you didn't pay much attention to your property. Make sure all plants are alive and thriving and replace those that aren't. You can replant new flowers or plants or just use potted plants instead.

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Vinyl siding still a consumer favorite

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Vinyl siding is trusted by homeowners looking to add aesthetic appeal to their home's exterior. Though vinyl siding may seem to be a cut-and-dry type of product, the vast array of vinyl siding colors and styles has created certain trends among consumers. Vinyl siding comes in several different types. Here are the key variations.

Seamless vinyl siding: In the past, siding was created in specific lengths, requiring siding panels to overlap at points, often creating an unpleasant pattern. These points provided spots for insects, wind and moisture to infiltrate, leading to a weaker product. Today there are vinyl siding products that have removed the seams, creating a more visually appealing and durable product.

Solid core vinyl siding: Even the best-made vinyl siding can have flaws: it is not rigid and generally doesn't lie flat against the surface of a home. Solid core vinyl siding alleviates that problem by having a solid backing on which the vinyl panels are attached. The core is then attached to the home. These products also boast a higher-than-average insulation rating because the foam core interlocks during insulation. This makes a solid barrier around the home. Energy conservation is also on the minds of consumers, and some areas of the country have modified building codes to require continuous insulation of home exteriors to prevent heat and cooling losses more effectively. As a result, more customers may opt for solid core vinyl siding to meet demands for home insulation.

Vinyl shake siding: Vinyl shake siding has been designed and colored to look just like real cedar shakes, but without the maintenance, such as powerwashing or staining, associated with a wood product. Vinyl shake siding offers the same benefits of other types of vinyl siding, but tends to look like it is an expensive cladding material.

Vinyl log siding: Log cabins may seem like an adventure. However, being surrounded by wood can have its disadvantages, most notably maintenance issues surrounding wood. Vinyl siding manufacturers have created vinyl log products molded directly from real lumber, providing a look that mimics real wood, like that used for a log cabin.

As vinyl siding continues to be a favorite among homeowners, certain trends emerge each year. While rich-colored siding was a popular trend just last year, homeowners engaging in siding renovation products are now turning more to warm, earthy colors. Expect to see more gold, clay, and warm red shades with trim colors only one or two shades off, for a monochromatic effect.

For homeowners who prefer a one-of-a-kind look to their homes, mix-and-match siding trends have developed. Mixing and matching siding styles can create instant curb appeal and an interesting backdrop for outdoor gardens and patios. Stone entryways mixed with vinyl siding as well as a mixing of traditional horizontal siding with vinyl shake or board-and-batten are also considerations.

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Seven inexpensive ways to refresh your home now

Refresh your home
What many homeowners may not realize is that there are many ways to make updates and changes to a home that do not require a major overhaul or a large price tag. The following are seven projects that won't break the bank.

1. Move around furniture. Try changing the placement of chairs and sofas. Simply moving a curio cabinet from one corner to another may also make a difference.

2. Add lighting. Lighting at different levels in the room can create a vibrant impact. Properly illuminating a room means varying the lighting to create different moods at different times.

3. Add new pillows or drapes. Changing a few aspects of a room can give it an entirely new look. If you want to add a splash of color but don't know what to do, think about incorporating some new throw pillows or change the curtains.

4. Change knobs or small accents. Give a room a new look by focusing on the small details. Switch out cabinet knobs for something updated and modern. Take inventory of wall outlets and light switches and think about selecting new ones that coordinate with your home decor or need refreshing.

5. Use plants. Plants are inexpensive ways to add instant color and visual appeal to a room. Plus, having live plants can help improve indoor air by filtering out contaminants. A home with plants also feels more cozy.

6. Hang new wall art. Finding new prints to hang could instantly change a room's ambience. And you needn't spend a lot of money on professional photography, either.

7. Try a new coat of paint. Painting is one of the least expensive yet most dramatic methods of changing a home's interior. With dozens of hues to choose from, and new apps that enable you to take snapshots of things in nature or in your life and match them up to a paint color, you will have scores of opportunities to explore fresh new colors for your home.

When you get inspired to make improvements to the home but fear how much it may take out of your wallet, consider inexpensive tricks that can induce a big "wow" factor.

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Green options for your home

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Thousands of dollars are spent every year on home heating, cooling and electricity needs, but there are many different ways to conserve energy. This includes using alternative energy sources that may be better for the planet and more cost-effective for the average homeowner.

When considering green energy, many homeowners think of solar panels. While the initial cost of solar panel installation can be considerable, the panels generally pay for themselves in energy savings within a few years of installation. Also, some solar power companies now allow homeowners to rent the photovoltaic panels, which can cut down on the cost of installation.

Homeowners interested in making any other changes for energy savings can sign up to have an energy audit. Energy audits assess many things in the home. Insulation, windows and doors are examined and an inspector will test the home for drafts and the homes appliances. A report is generated, and homeowners are provided recommendations as to how they can improve their home's energy efficiency. Making such changes may make homeowners eligible for tax breaks or even rebate incentives while reducing the cost of their monthly utility bills.

Homeowners hoping to embrace green energy have many options at their disposal. It's just a matter of researching those options and taking the initiative to make changes.

Improvement Zone is highly qualified to conduct energy audit and assessments:
Adhere to the U.S. Department of Energy standards.
A certified BPI Building Analyst and Envelope Specialist
A Home Performance with Energy Star Participating Contractor with BGE, Potomac Electric Power Company (Pepco) and with Delmarva Power & Light Company.

Please call us at 443-221-4661 or email us at to schedule your Energy Audit and find out how your home can be more energy-efficient and comfortable.

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Simple ways to update your bathroom

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For many homeowners, that costly price tag of a upscale bathroom remodel is simply too much money to commit, especially in an economy where money is still hard to come by. Fortunately, there are several simple ways homeowners can give their bathrooms a new look and feel without breaking the bank.

• Install a new shower. One of the best ways to give a bathroom a new look is to replace the traditional tub and showerhead with a bigger, more airy shower. Instead of the tub and slide glass, choose a hinged door with heavier glass, replacing the bathtub entirely.

• Add windows and a skylight. Many bathrooms, particularly those in older homes, sorely lack adequate lighting. Adding some extra windows and a skylight can give a bathroom an entirely new look.

• Replace old tiles. Old tiles give many bathrooms a dated look that few of today's homeowners find appealing. Glass tiles are growing in popularity, but those old linoleum or glazed tiles can be swapped out with porcelain or stone tiles to give the room an entirely new look without spending excessively.

• Replace the toilet. Another easy way to give a bathroom a new look is to replace the toilet. Older toilets may be eyesores and many are not very eco-friendly, either. A new toilet can give the bathroom a sleek, modern look, and since many of today's luxury models are low-flow, you'll also save money on your monthly water bill while doing something good for the environment.

Renovating a bathroom is a top priority for many homeowners. But if a full-scale remodel is not within your budget, there are still plenty of inexpensive ways to give your bathroom a new look and feel.

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