This Checklist Is the Key to Taking Care of Your Home (Without the Stress)

Keep your home clean and organized all year by tackling bite-sized tasks.

Here’s an easy way to get on top of your home maintenance checklist: Take it one small chunk at a time!

Little steps add up to big results. And if you dedicate some time to home maintenance — two hours a week, an afternoon per month and a couple of days a year — your home will remain in tiptop shape throughout the year.

Here’s our easy-to-follow checklist:

Weekly home maintenance

Your weekly home maintenance ritual will be largely determined by the features of your home, but it may include some of the following tasks:

  • Floors: Give all your carpets a thorough vacuuming. Or, if you have hardwood floors, give them a good once-over with a large dust-mop.
  • Yard: Plan to spend 30 minutes performing one small maintenance task in your yard, such as pruning a tree or shrub, painting a mailbox, or blowing leaves and debris from a garden path or sidewalk.
  • Bathroom:
    • Clean a slow shower or sink drain with a Zip-It tool.
    • Spend some time renewing or repairing dingy or damaged tile grout.
    • Clean the mineral sediment out of a shower head.
  • Kitchen:
    • Freshen up your garbage disposal. Run a tray of ice cubes through it, along with some baking soda or lemon rinds, and voila! It’ll be clean and fresh again.
    • Clean the outside of all appliances and the inside of one appliance per week. For instance, if you clean out the refrigerator this week, run a cleaning tablet through your dishwasher next week, and wipe out your dryer the following week.

Monthly home maintenance

These are the projects we all know we should do regularly but often don’t get to. Just pick an afternoon, and go for it!

  • Clean the range hood and filter. This is one of those areas that we often forget about, but if you don’t take care of it on a regular basis, it will develop a nasty layer of grease and dirt over time.
  • Clean the furnace filter, and replace it if needed. This will help your furnace run efficiently, keeping utility bills down.
  • Polish wood furniture, dust light fixtures and wipe down baseboards.
  • Check your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to make sure they’re functioning and don’t need new batteries. If you have a fire extinguisher, make sure it’s fully charged.
  • Visually inspect the outside of your home for problems or issues, such as loose shingles, damaged siding, insect nests, or overgrown trees or shrubbery. Make a note to correct the problems!

Yearly home maintenance

Schedule these tasks in a way that makes sense to you. You can do them on a seasonal basis or just schedule one or two days per year to knock everything out.

Here are some bigger tasks to take on once a year:

  • Clean and organize your garage, basement or attic. This is a maintenance task that everyone dreads doing, but it feels so good once it’s done! Plus, you’ll most likely discover some forgotten treasures to either donate to charity or sell online.
  • Wash windows and window screens, and let the sunshine in! While this task is often done in the spring, you can do it any time of the year.
  • Take on one major outdoor improvement project per year, and schedule a day or two to complete it. For example, you might want to install a fence, refinish a large deck, patch up an asphalt or concrete driveway, or install raised garden beds.
  • Clean out gutters, check under the eaves, remove trees or shrubbery that are encroaching on your home, and install wire grates in any holes to keep pests out.
  • Freshen up one room in your home. Pick any room, and give it a mini makeover. For instance, you can repaint it, switch curtains, move the furniture, and add plants and knickknacks to give it a whole new look. If you do this with one room per year, in a few years, your whole home will look terrific!

By following this checklist, you can have a wonderfully maintained home with a minimal investment of time and energy.


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Simple Tricks for Getting Organized

A thoughtful approach to garage storage makes the most of this valuable space and keeps every necessity at your fingertips.

If your house is bursting at the seams, or simply short on storage options, the solution may be as close as your garage. To make the best use of this space, however, you first need to corral its current chaos.

This is, fortunately, a relatively simple task if you incorporate a few good storage ideas. With careful planning and a little effort, you can transform your garage from a messy catchall to an efficient, well-organized household annex.

Divide and conquer

First things first: Get rid of anything you no longer use. After you’ve winnowed down the contents of your garage, sort everything into groups. Keep garden tools with garden tools, and sports equipment with sports equipment. Items used together ought to be stored together.

Where possible, place like items into clear plastic containers with lids. It’s fine to use opaque bins, just be sure to label each one. Stackable containers are especially handy. They keep your belongings clean, protect against insects and rodents, increase the amount of usable floor space, and cut down on visual clutter.

What goes where?

The efficient use of space partly depends on positioning stored items in a thoughtful, strategic way. Are there certain items you’re likely to need on a regular basis, such as cleaning supplies? If so, store them near the door so you can access them quickly and easily. Stash rarely used or seasonal items, like sleds and skis, in harder-to-reach spots.

Off the wall

The key to garage storage and organization is getting things off the floor. Capitalizing on wall space enables you to fit the most into your garage, while keeping it all visible and easy to access. The type of wall storage you choose depends on your storage needs, project budget and personal preferences. Many homeowners opt for one or a combination of the following storage standbys:

  • Pegboard. A favorite for generations, pegboard is inexpensive and easy to install. Because it can be outfitted with an array of compatible hooks, clamps, bins and shelves, pegboard can be used to store and organize just about anything, as long as the item to be stored isn’t especially heavy.
  • Open shelving. Whether a wall-mounted track system or a set of stand-alone units, open shelves are affordable, versatile and user-friendly, and they keep everything in plain sight. Plus, depending on their construction, 12- or 16-inch-deep shelves are typically capable of holding heavier items.
  • Closed cabinetry. If you plan to park your car in the garage, cabinets with doors may be the most desirable option, because closed storage means not having to come face-to-face with paint cans and garbage bags every time you leave or arrive home. Cabinets are available in countless materials and styles, but generally speaking, they are more expensive than other solutions. And because they are unable to accommodate very large items, cabinets are most effective when used in conjunction with another storage system.
  • Panelized systems. Here, entire walls are covered with specially designed panels that hold any number of companion add-ons, such as hooks and shelves. Unlike pegboard, panelized systems can handle heavier items. But that strength and utility comes at a cost, especially since some proprietary products must be installed by licensed professionals.

Look up

For certain infrequently used belongings, the ceiling provides ideal, out-of-the-way storage space. Ladders and seasonal gear can be kept here, hung by clips or straps fastened to the ceiling joists. Or you can take advantage of hoist pulley systems, which cleverly operate like the cords on window blinds. Bear in mind, however, that ceiling storage must be oriented so that it doesn’t interfere with the operation of the garage door.

Safety steps

As you’re organizing your garage, it’s important to keep safety in mind. It’s unsafe to store gasoline and propane in the garage; a single spark could lead to tragedy.

Likewise, if you have children or pets, you should store hazardous materials like fertilizer and pesticides far out of reach. Locked cabinets are a good solution for these toxic materials, and they’re also a smart place to store power tools and sharp implements.


Originally published January 2015.

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Should You Add A Stall Shower To Your Home?

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An extra shower in the house can sound (and feel) like a luxury—especially when you’re hosting overnight guests or have a growing family.

But all showers are not created equal. While corner, stall, and walk-in showers save space, they may require that you make some sacrifices.

Whether you’re considering installing one in an entirely new bathroom, or just thinking about adding one to an existing half bathroom, consider some of the compromises you may have to make to get clean in tight quarters.

Space is at a premium

Even the trimmest bathers can feel as if the glass walls are closing in on them in a corner shower. A general rule of thumb for walk-in showers is that they should offer at least 36×36 inches of space. Anything less and you may feel a bit claustrophobic.

Standard prefab shower kits are popular because they’re affordable and don’t require a ton of space. They typically range in size from 31×31 inches up to 36×48 inches.

Before you commit, find a showroom with models that you can step inside, and see if there’s enough area for you to feel comfortable while you shower. But don’t just step in, pretend you’re showering…
Will you be able to reach…everything?

Consider if you can bend and stretch comfortably.

  • Will you be able to shampoo your hair without your elbows banging into the sides?
  • Can you lather up all of your body parts the way you’re used to?
  • Who doesn’t drop the soap from time to time? If you bobble a bar in your bathtub, it’s an easy retrieval. In a tight stall? Not so much.
  • Will you be able to shave your legs or your face if that’s part of your daily ritual?

If not, you may want to reevaluate.

What about resale value?

It seems like having an extra shower would boost your resale value, right? Maybe so…maybe not.

Many homeowners feel like adding an extra shower will certainly add value. But it depends upon whether buyers will see it as useful. If you add a shower that isn’t going to be used by anyone, then the cost of adding one isn’t a sure bet for adding value.

So, for instance, if you are adding a totally new stall shower to a master bedroom that had no master bath at all, and the competing homes in the price range do not have one, then there is a good chance you’ll be adding value.

However, if you add a stall shower to a powder room off of the kitchen, or in the basement, it may not be something buyers envision themselves using all that much, and they may not see the value of having it.

As with any home improvement, do give thought to whether or not the amount you are spending will produce a return on your investment, and seek the advice of a trusted real estate agent for his or her insight.

But it doesn’t always boil down to making money on a home improvement. Sometimes the improvement is simply for your enjoyment of the home. So, if a stall shower is something that will improve your life, then go right ahead! Install and enjoy…after you’ve considered if it’s the right fit (literally and figuratively) for you and your home!

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How to Plan an Outdoor Movie Night

See the stars in your own backyard … on your DIY big screen, that is.

In the height of summer, your backyard or porch is headquarters for family time and date night alike. Combine both, and cue up a movie on your DIY movie screen for a staycation highlight.

A bedsheet or table cloth affixed to a fence or wall plays projection screen, and your at-home projector makes movie magic.

Setting up a snack station with seasoned popcorn and traditional concession stand candies will win over guests of all ages.

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Creating a homemade touch is a nice way to personalize the experience. Gather a few common household materials — canvas dropcloth, painters’ tape, fabric-safe paint and a roller — and you can craft a custom blanket that feels expensive but only costs a few dollars. The stripes lend a nautical look that let this throw pull double duty as a beach blanket or picnic spread.

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Whether you choose action, comedy or thriller, your backyard movie night is sure to be a hit.

Want more tips from Douglas? Watch more home entertaining and design videos. 


Originally published September 2016.

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Home Improvements You Can Tackle When You’re Stuck At Home

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If you find yourself at home with a little extra free time, put it to good use by giving your place a facelift. There’s never been a better time to transform your home into a sanctuary. Who doesn’t want to dwell inside a cozy oasis where you’re safe from the stressors of the outside world?

Many of these home improvement projects may already be on your to-do list. Thanks to online retailers, the tools you need can be ordered easily and delivered right to your door.

Ready to get started? The following tasks will take your spaces from blah to beautiful and make your time indoors a lot more pleasant.


Whether you paint an entire room, moldings and trim, or even just the doors, a fresh coat of color brings new energy to your space.

Or, head outside for some fresh air and give your front door a coat or two of a new hue. Switching up the shade of your front door can boost your curb appeal and change your home’s appearance.

And, if you’re thinking of selling your home in the near future, fresh paint can go a long way in helping you get your house sold for the best price. But before you pick up that paint brush, you may want to take a look at Zillow’s guide to paint colors that’ll boost (or hurt) your sale price.


Not ready to make a long-term commitment? Afraid you won’t be able to put wallpaper up on your own? Consider removable, peel and stick wallpaper (all available online) to add a little fun and flair to your space.

Deep clean

When you’re trapped indoors for a while, you may begin to notice some areas aren’t looking as fresh as they could. We’re not talking about just a surface clean. When you’re cooped up it’s the time to go deeper and focus on those important but often-overlooked spots.

Pull out your fridge and clean those coils, which will make your appliance function more efficiently. Give the inside shelves a good scrubbing with soapy water.

You may also want to take a look at your dryer vent and do a deep cleaning, which can reduce the risk of fire.

Don’t forget everyone’s least favorite—windows. Though they’re a notorious pain to clean, there’s no substitute for sparkling, smudge-free glass.


It’s hard to imagine a home that couldn’t benefit from a little decluttering. Even if you’re well-organized, you may have a pile of junk mail. Go through it, and if you find yourself buried in catalogs, stop them before they have a chance to flood your mailbox by visiting Catalog, which allows you to unsubscribe from catalogs and other unwanted mail.

As you’re making space in your drawers and closets, you’re bound to find some items you no longer need or want. Consider donating them. You don’t even need to leave the house to do so, thanks to websites like and Few things feel as cathartic as giving your items to a good cause. But if you could use an influx of cash, consider selling items through an online marketplace.

Update your hardware

Give your doors and kitchen and bathroom cabinets a makeover simply by switching out the hardware. Don’t underestimate the way door knobs, drawer pulls, and hinges contribute to the overall look and feel of a space. This is a simple project that elevates a room without breaking the bank or requiring too much effort.

Install a new thermostat

Keeping your home at a comfortable temperature as the seasons change isn’t cheap. To cut down on your energy costs and save on your utility bills, consider installing a
programmable thermostat. Or, better yet, a smart thermostat learns your preferences and adjusts accordingly, ensuring you’re cozy without wasting energy.


Sick of being inside? Head outside and get some fresh air while working those muscles and sprucing up your property. Depending on the season, you can cut back any dead limbs, weed, rake leaves, or plant a garden. If you don’t have much outdoor space, you can always start with an indoor herb garden. A pop of green enhances your environment whether you’re inside or out.

So, whenever you find yourself with some extra time at home, you have plenty of little improvement projects you can tackle. Just prioritize your tasks and get going. Then, sit back and enjoy your newly-improved space.

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The Best Home Improvements to Make for Resale in Atlanta

The best Atlanta home improvements for resale, from new garage doors to a light kitchen or bath refresh

atlanta renovate for resale(Above) Renovation in Roswell, Georgia by Sweeten contractor Justin

The Atlanta housing market is humming. The value of homes increased by over seven percent in 2019, according to data from Redfin. It’s one of those American city’s that is revitalizing with the fourth-fastest growth rate in the nation. As a result, Atlanta homeowners are increasingly planning for home improvements. 

If you’re thinking of prepping your house for sale, Sweeten outlines the top home improvements for the Atlanta market to get the best price and sell quickly. Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and financial protection—at no cost to the homeowner.

Sometimes renovations aren’t always about what you want but what the homeowner who comes after you might want. A good idea is to take a look at the style of spec homes. “They try to use elements that have a large appeal,” said Sweeten contractor Lonny, who is based in Atlanta. When looking at the styles around Atlanta for your home improvements, sticking with what’s popular is best for resale rather than involving your unique preferences. “There might be hundreds of choices for faucets, but 95 percent of people might go with three styles,” said Lonny. 

Renovation projects to consider: 

1. Change out the front door

First impressions endure when selling your home. “It is crucial that your entranceway is well kept,” said Lonny. Sprucing up the front of your home could be as simple as adding a new front door. For one client, Lonny swapped out a plain door for a craftsman-style door along with matching shutters. “It really set the house apart,” he said. 

2. A fresh coat of paint 

Atlanta-based Sweeten contractor Justin advises homeowners to think like makeup artists when accessing the front of their home ahead of a sale. “You’re not going to attract buyers if the windows are fogged up and the paint is chipping,” he said. Ensuring your house is clean and your paint fresh will go a long way in getting the best price, Justin said. 

3. Replace the garage door

Along with your actual front door, replacing your garage door is a quick and easy fix to improve your home’s value. A garage door replacement costs $3,663 on average for the Atlanta area, according to Remodeling‘s Cost Vs Value report. Your home’s value is increased by more than 76 percent of that cost. 

4. Invest in siding

Lonny often gets calls about siding replacement from homeowners who are planning to sell their home. New siding is a great investment, according to the 2020 Cost Vs Value report for Atlanta. A project that installs fiber-cement siding costs an average of $17,000. Over $13,000 or 78 percent of the project’s cost is returned to you in the value that it adds to the home. That’s one of the highest returns on investment of any renovation project, according to the report. 

5. Basement as living space

The basement is the first thing Justin looks at if a client is planning to resell their home. An unfinished basement has the potential to significantly increase the square footage of your home. “Finishing your basement is going to yield the largest return on your investment,” said Justin. 

Other alterations, such as a kitchen or bathroom remodel, are helpful, but they don’t add to the size of your home like a basement can. The square footage of your home and its price per square foot will feature prominently in your home’s sale listing. Depending on how many floors you have, a finished basement could almost double that square foot measurement.

A full basement renovation that includes budget-friendly floors, paint, lighting, and a half bath can start at $20,000. “On the conservative side for finishes, a turn-key basement will cost around $50-65 per square foot to finish out,” said Justin. “This includes a small kitchen area and basement bathroom if all the rough-in plumbing is already installed.”

According to the Cost Vs Value report, the average cost of a basement remodel in Atlanta was $70,000. This increases a home’s value by $46,000 or more than 65 percent of the renovation’s cost, the report found.

6. The bathroom adds value

Giving your bathroom a makeover is an easy route to a higher house price. Recently, a real estate agent contacted Lonny with a house about to go on the market. To increase its value ahead of the sale, Lonny completed a modified gut renovation in the bathroom. “This was something that was needed because it was dated from the 1980s,” said Lonny. The customer had everything replaced except the cabinetry. The budget was about $20,000. A bathroom remodel in this budget range adds almost $13,000 —65 percent of the budget— to your home’s value, according to the Cost Vs Value report for Atlanta. 

If you don’t have the time for a major remodel, then simple superficial changes might be a better option. This could mean swapping outdated fixtures like faucets for something more modern, said Lonny. A new countertop on your vanity could also spruce up your bathroom with minimum effort.  

7. A streamlined kitchen refresh

Kitchens are the gathering place, a focal point for any home. A kitchen could also make or break your home’s value, according to Justin. Rather than doing a full renovation that involves the costly exercise of changing a layout, stick to a scaled-back renovation. “A new countertop, backsplash, and faucet can go along way,” said Lonny. “If there’s the budget for it then I also suggest lighting and flooring.”

Cabinets, especially if they are custom-built, can take up a huge chunk of a budget. For a renovation that is geared towards increasing value, Lonny advised keeping cabinets as is. That way the budget and timeline can be streamlined. 

A minor kitchen remodel with a budget of $23,000 has a high return on investment of 73 percent, according to the Cost Vs Value report. A minor kitchen remodel in this instance involves replacing only the front of your cabinets, sink, faucet and countertops while adding an energy-efficient cooktop, oven, and refrigerator.

Give your home a fresh and neutral slate. Curb appeal gets the potential buyer to enter the door. A conservative palette inside allows them to more easily see how they can make the home their own. Take these home improvement ideas into consideration and be one step closer to closing the deal.

Here’s the renovation cost guide for Atlanta for purchasing a new home or updating an existing one.

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation with Sweeten.

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Dreaming About A Pool? Dive Into These For Inspiration!

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If swimming pools appear in your dreams, it means you’re alert to what’s going on in your subconscious mind, and that you probably have good physical and mental health.

If swimming pools appear in your DAYDREAMS, on the other hand, it probably means it’s hot outside and you want to go swimming!

With the trend in natural pools on the rise, here are 10 pools for you to ooh and ahh over. Each one takes their surrounding environment into account – and they’re all 100% daydream-worthy.

With DIY natural swimming pool designs, you can dream up whatever you like. Add a dock? Why not. Surround it with little garden areas? You bet! It’s truly up to you.

This beats the pool at the Y a thousand times over, doesn’t it?

You don’t have to have a huge yard for one of these natural pools, either. If you just want a pretty place to take a dip, look into smaller designs like this.

You can’t cannonball here, but who would even want to?

Using natural materials like these multicolored slate tiles and LOTS of greenery seems to be the key to a hideaway of your own like this one…

Who needs Bali when your backyard looks like this?!

It DOESN’T have to be a jungle out there, either. Look at this modern natural pool – it’s elegant and energizing while still looking right at home in nature.

You don’t have to be Tarzan to like these surroundings!

If you’re not into a tropical forest vibe, that’s ok, too. You’ll never go wrong with a beach theme and this zero entry pool has that sandy sanctuary thing nailed.

Sorry, cabana boy not included.

There are so many different styles to work with. This pond-and-waterfall inspired pool will look appropriate just about anywhere in the country.

Admit it. You can totally see yourself chilling here.

Another cool thing about creating your own natural pool? You can trick it out however you like. Add slides, or even swings to turn your pool into a playground!

This is every kid’s dream.

That’s not to say these pools are just for the kiddies. Sophisticated design elements make them just as pleasing for the grown ups to enjoy, too.

Add in some deck chairs and daiquiris and voila – instant staycation.

This fully natural pool doesn’t need a pool pump or a steady flow of chemicals to keep it clean. Instead, the water is purified by plants and organic matter. Beautiful AND easy to care for? Sign me up!

You could live like a mermaid here.

Whichever style you choose, how sweet would it be to have a full-blown oasis in your backyard?!

Don’t you just want to dive right in?!

Not able to build a natural swimming pool in your yard? Look for natural springs in your area – you’ll get a lot of the experience at a much lower price tag.

Here’s Jacob’s Well in Wimberly, TX – it doesn’t get any more natural than this! Chances are good you can find a natural spring area like this not too far from you.

Jump on in – the water’s chilly!

There you have it – 10 dreamy natural pool designs (and one extra option in case you don’t have the space for a pool of your own).

Which one is your favorite? Pin it for later – or go get your shovel and start digging right away!

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How to Plan the Perfect Patio

Starting to daydream about dining under the stars? Make that dream a beautiful patio reality.

For many homeowners, the patio borders on magical: a place to relax, entertain, cook out and take a break from the day-to-day. It’s surrounded by vibrant hues, and a meal prepared in an outdoor kitchen somehow tastes better than anything that comes from its indoor counterpart.

Creating that perfect outdoor space for you and your family all starts with the literal foundation of this alfresco living room: the patio materials. Your selection can have a huge effect on the appearance, durability and functionality of your favorite home addition.

Getting started

Before you commit to a type of patio, first envision the finished space. You probably have a good idea of the location and approximate size, so go grab a chair, take it outside, and position it in the intended spot. Then sit, and picture each material in your mind’s eye.

Your patio should not only complement your home and landscape, it should also enhance your lifestyle. If you have a large space to work with, consider incorporating a combination of paving materials; some of the best patio designs include two or more. Using multiple materials lets you integrate inlaid borders that can visually separate an area for lounging from the outdoor kitchen.

When you’ve dreamed up your ideal design, consider which materials would best bring it to life, in terms of both aesthetics and practical issues, such as maintenance requirements and cost.


Poured concrete is the patio material of choice for many homeowners because it’s structurally sound, inexpensive, and can even be stamped or dyed to mimic higher-end paving materials. It’s best suited for moderate to warm climates where frost heave is not a concern.

Planning tip: A standard concrete patio is four inches thick, but if you intend to construct something very heavy, such as a built-in fireplace, ask the contractor to reinforce that particular area before you pour.


Available in a variety of colors, bricks create a warm and attractive patio. This classic patio style typically costs more than one constructed from concrete, not just for the materials themselves, but also for labor — a significant consideration when every brick must be set by hand, leveled and grouted.

Should you decide to invest, you can design the space with any number of patterns, from a traditional running bond to something with added textural appeal like a boxed basket-weave or herringbone.

Planning tip: For patios, solid 1- or 2-inch-thick paving bricks are the best choice, either dry-laid or mortared in place. Be wary about extending your brick patio into deep shade, or else you’ll need to watch out for a slick surface after every rainfall.


Often manufactured from cement, cinder or stone, pavers top the DIY patio wish list for their low price and super simple installation — they’ll have you out there grilling in record time.

If you’re planning to lay your own patio, you’ll need a suitable substrate consisting of at least three inches of sand, and a permanent border, such as a poured concrete curb, to keep the pavers from shifting.

Planning tip: Pavers may be dry-laid by butting them tightly, or installed with uniform mortar joints. If the patio lies over utility lines, know that dry-laid pavers will be simpler to remove and replace if (or when) you need to access the utilities below.


The highly desirable look of stone comes with a steeper price tag — particularly if your pick isn’t locally sourced — but you can’t beat it for natural appeal. Flat, irregularly shaped stones offer a calm and meandering effect, while uniform-cut slabs of granite, travertine, slate, or bluestone can produce a formal patio that’s fitting for any backyard.

Planning tip: Natural stone is extremely durable for any patio, but if you happen to be planning one poolside, opt for a nonslip variety, such as coral stone.


Available in ceramic, glass, porcelain, terra cotta and natural stone, tile creates beautiful mosaic patio designs that are refreshingly cool underfoot in hot climates. Because tile is thin, it requires the installation of a concrete slab.

Planning tip: Even if you plan to lay the tile yourself, it’s a good idea to have a professional pour an even slab. Also note that not all tile is suitable for patio construction. To withstand weather, all your materials — tile, thinset, grout and sealer — must be labeled for exterior use.

Crushed stone, pea gravel and sand

If you’re not a fan of rock-solid patios, crushed stone, pea gravel or sand could be more your style. Both crushed stone and gravel offer a variety of colors and textures at low prices, and even sandy Zen gardens can double as patio areas.

You will, however, need to install a solid perimeter to keep the loose material from spreading outside its intended border.

Planning tip: It can be difficult to remove snow and fallen leaves when the seasons change, so consider your climate and environment carefully. To maintain a manicured look, count on refreshing the surface every few years.


Originally published April 2016.

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How to Create Your Ultimate Outdoor Kitchen

Create a beautiful outdoor cooking space for relaxing and entertaining all summer long.

As summer approaches and temperatures start to rise, no one wants to spend time inside sweating over a hot stove. With an outdoor kitchen, you can make the most of the beautiful warm nights by spending them with your friends and family.

Whether you have thousands to spend or a just few hundred to splurge, create your own outdoor kitchen and enjoy all it has to offer.

Upgrade your grill

A rusty, dusty grill doesn’t inspire lingering outdoor evenings. Upgrade your outdoor grill and take care of it all year round for a stand-out outdoor kitchen. A standard grill will cost you $150 to $300, and top-of-the-line outdoor ranges may be upwards of $1,500.

Before buying the biggest and best grill, consider how you will use one. Will you be feeding the whole soccer team? Or perhaps grilling some steaks for a romantic dinner for two? Look for a grill with features you will actually use and not just the latest trends.

Enhance your seating

If your basics are up to date, then you’ll want to upgrade your patio furniture and seating options too. If you plan on dining outside often, invest in an actual dining table and appropriate chairs. Eating a gourmet dinner off your lap downgrades an otherwise luxurious experience.

If you’re looking for more versatile pieces, sleek contemporary options coordinate nicely with most outdoor kitchen setups. Expect to spend a good chunk of change on quality furniture, but remember: With the proper care and maintenance, it can last as long as high-end interior pieces. Make sure you have a plan for the off-season, whether that’s moving outdoor furniture to indoor storage or securely covering it to protect it from the elements.

Add the extras

Want a prep sink? Wine fridge? Ice machine? Built-in smoker? You got it. The sky’s the limit when it comes to custom additions — or rather, your budget is the limit. Think carefully about your space before making a wish list.

Perhaps a full chef’s kitchen won’t quite fit in your backyard, but a beautiful wine fridge and some extra counter space are just what you need to take your outdoor kitchen to the next level.

Some features require installing or extending utilities (think: water or electricity), so don’t forget about portable additions such as a bar cart — which adds class without hassle.

Make it comfortable

Think about how you will provide amenities to make being outdoors comfortable, such as shade, heat (if using your space year-round), and perhaps even a few extras like a TV or audio equipment.

Tucking the seating close to the house may help you take advantage of a porch or awning. Otherwise, structures such as a light-strung pergola add shade during the day, light at night and atmosphere all the time.

If you have the room, the addition of a fireplace allows for a longer entertaining season. Outdoor kitchens don’t have to be just for summer, after all.

If you like to have some indoor comforts while enjoying your beautiful outside oasis, television and music can be connected outside — although it can be expensive. Bluetooth or portable speakers, a projector and a large sheet, or even an old-fashioned radio are more budget-sensitive options for those looking to add a little fun to their outdoor space.

Apply your own style

Create an outdoor kitchen that suits your style and taste. If you’re working with an existing space, be sure to embrace the style and play up the features, such as dark wood, stone and classic columns.

If you’re starting from scratch, take a look at your indoor design and see what features you like. Then consider incorporating those color schemes, design styles or even furniture shapes into your outdoor kitchen.

While you can’t go wrong designing your outdoor space, consider designs and colors that are versatile so you’re not limited if you want to mix things up in the future.

Make it yours

Your outdoor kitchen should be a comfortable, relaxing space for entertaining or unwinding after a long day of work. Make yours an escape that works for you.

When planning your outdoor kitchen, think about adding one or two small luxuries that will make you excited to enjoy your space. These can be as small as pretty tea lights scattered around or as large as a wood-burning pizza oven.


Originally published June 2016.

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Add Heat Under Your Feet With a Radiant Flooring System

Installing an electric floor heating system can be a do-it-yourself project if you’re armed with the right skills and information.

It’s bad enough that you have to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, but that tile — it’s so cold!

The notion of warming floors for comfort is hardly new. Archeological digs reveal that, as early as 5,000 B.C., cave dwellers were drafting smoke through stone trenches in an effort to warm their subterranean floors.

These days, the two most common types of radiant floor heating systems are electric and hydronic, both of which are installed under your flooring.

Hydronic systems: A whole-home heating solution

Hydronic systems heat floors by using loops of plastic tubing to run hot water from a boiler or water heater under flooring. They have lower operating costs than electric systems but, because they generally require a boiler, pump and gas lines, they’re also far more complex. Hydronic heat might be a good option if you’re looking to add heat to your entire home or, at least, a large portion of it. Even if you have plumbing and electrical expertise, you’ll likely want to consult with a heating pro to ensure your system is well designed.

Electric systems: Good for small spaces

Electric systems come in a few options. The most popular of these systems relies on a continuous, pre-spaced heating element that’s woven into a plastic mesh mat and installed beneath your flooring. Electric radiant floor heating systems are easier and more affordable to install than hydronic systems, but they’re more expensive to operate, making them best suited for use in small spaces, such as kitchens or bathrooms. A DIYer with basic skills can install electric radiant heat, even if you need to hire an electrician to do the final hard-wire connection.

If installing an electric floor heating system is on your to-do list, here are some tips to keep in mind:

1. In addition to mesh mat, electric heat can be applied using a loose cable which you must position in a serpentine pattern, fasten with hot glue or staples and then “embed” with thinset or a self-leveling compound. Solid mats are the third and most expensive type of electric heat system. The cable is completely enclosed in synthetic fabric, plastic sheeting or foil. The real advantage to solid mats is that you don’t need to embed them. Do your research before deciding which type of electric in-floor heat is right for you.

2. When installing heat over a wood-framed floor, fiberglass insulation between the joists can make the system more efficient by driving heat upward. If you’re installing an electric system over a concrete floor, double-check the manufacturer’s recommendations; you may need to place a layer of foam insulation over the concrete before the heat cable is installed.

3. When calculating the square footage of a room, figure in only the areas where you can walk. There’s no need to spend money on heat that runs under the refrigerator or behind the toilet.

4. Because most electric heating must be installed under your tile, hardwood, stone, laminate or concrete floor, this is a project you’ll want to hold off on until you’re building or are ready to change the floors in an existing room. If you’re intent on adding heat without replacing your floor, you may be able to use solid mats that are sized to fit between joists, allowing you to heat the floor from below.

5. Many electric heating systems can be used under carpet but they’re often not as effective. If the carpet pad is thick, it will act as an insulator and won’t allow much heat through.

6. When you purchase your electric radiant system, pay special attention to the thermostat. Most models are programmable, allowing you to run the heat only during the hours when you’re home and awake. Others come with “smart” features that learn your routine and automatically adjust the temperature.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, radiant heat is more efficient than baseboard or forced air systems. Rather than just blowing hot air around the room, radiant systems slowly and steadily charge the floor with heat, keeping it where you want it, longer. Additionally, the California Energy Commission reports the lack of moving air can be advantageous to those with severe allergies.

Originally published February 2014.

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