Tis the Season for Fire Safety Tips

Coffee mug sitting atop stack of books sitting on table with lit fireplace in the background.

Winter calls for snuggling up in a blanket next to the fire. But, wait. Winter is also a common time for house fires. Photo via RentersInsurance.com.

By Dan Chapman

With the cold weather moving in, it’s time for to break out the winter jacket, dust off the copy of A Christmas Story (“You’ll shoot you’re eye out kid!”) and hang some Christmas lights outside.

Winter is the season when most stay indoors and enjoy their new home by bundling up or turning on the heat. There are some important safety precautions to keep in mind to ensure your new home is protected from the winter chill (and the heat that comes with it).

House fires are more common in winter than in any other season, according to the U.S. Fire Administration and, although your new home sports high-end amenities and state-of-the-art HVAC systems, there are still some practical ways you can further ensure the safety of your home. Check out these helpful fire safety tips to protect both your family and your home this winter:

Space Heater Do’s and Don’ts

Although space heaters are a handy and affordable option for warming up a small space, they must be handled with caution. Space heaters cause about one-third of all heating equipment fires in the United States annually, according to the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA).

To help prevent fires caused by space heaters, be sure to keep your space heater three feet from anything that is flammable, such as fabrics, wood and walls. Placing flammable items close to a heater is the leading cause of fatalities in home heating-related fires, according to the NFPA.

You should place space heaters in the center of the room, advises the NFPA. It’s also advised to plug the heater directly into an outlet, but if that’s not possible, use a heavy duty extension cord (the shorter the better).

Time For a Chimney Sweep

If you’re a homeowner with a fireplace, first of all, pat your self on the back for picking an awesome option for your home. Fireplace maintenance will go a long way in keeping your family and home protected from fires. Have your chimney cleaned and swept before you use it each season. This will help prevent creosote and soot build-up, which can block your chimney, sending smoke and gases into your home, or worse, it can cause a house fire.

Before Firing Up the Furnace

Depending on where you live, your new home might have come with a modern-style furnace. Since your new home and new HVAC is probably in amazing condition, chances are you won’t have any major issues come winter.

But Will Hawkins, an HVAC specialist in San Antonio, Texas, still suggests “regularly (cleaning) the duct registers to clean out any dust from the system to reduce fumes and odors that can come into the home.”

Moreover, the NFPA suggests getting your furnace inspected and serviced every 12 months.

Take Care of Your Alarms

Finally, make sure your smoke alarms work properly. If they’ve been low on battery power in recent days, you’ve probably noticed the unsettling shrill of an alarm crying out for attention. Put in a fresh set of batteries.

Don’t forget a carbon monoxide detector too. Carbon monoxide is toxic, flammable and odorless, so it’s important to make sure you have a working detector handy.

House fires throughout the winter are very common. By following the directions on each heating product your bring into your home, maintaining heating units and fireplaces and ensuring fire alarms are ready for any emergency, you’ll greatly decrease the risk of a house fire this winter.

Dan Chapman is a content intern for NewHomeSource. You can find him on Google+.

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Last-Minute Halloween Party Planning

Halloween bar with spooky white cloth, two fake hands, spiders spilling from green glass cup and drinks labeled "truth serum" and "red blood"

Not much time left to go all out for a last-minute Halloween party? Give specialty drinks a spooky name. Photo via DIY Network.

By Ashley Steel

As much as I wish my house was party city, procrastination city is a much more apt descriptor. With Halloween just around the corner and a last-minute party on my hands, I’m finding myself in a bit of a jam. Constrained by time, budget and picking through the last of the Halloween goods at the store, I turned to some expert party planners to help me scrape together for this shindig.

Eat, Drink and Be Scary

The crux of any party — food and drink — are the first items to consider and, when under a time crunch, it’s necessary to flex your creative muscles. Take traditional food items you can buy at the store or throw together quickly and give them Halloween-themed names, says Bill Parkinson, owner of event planning company William Parkinson Events in Stratford, Conn. “For example, you can name a specialty drink ‘Poison Punch’ or ‘Vampire’s Essence.’ Scallops wrapped in bacon can be ‘Enticing Eyeballs,’ salad can be ‘Gruesome Greens,’ etc. Let your imagination run wild.”

For beverages, an easy trick is to serve drinks that are already the right color for a fall party, says Denise Blasevick, CEO of ad agency S3 Agency in Boontown, N.J. Apple cider, cola and Bloody Marys are rich in fall colors that help capture the spooky essence of this holiday.

Another great option for adult parties, “infusing bourbon is a fun way to make a signature home cocktail without spending the evening playing bartender,” says Alicia Rutherford, founder of event consulting firm Untangled Events. “At least four days before the party, combine 750 ml of bourbon, 2 packets of dried cherries and five strips of orange peel. Shake occasionally and then strain through cheesecloth and enjoy.”

When it comes to desserts, Blasevick says, “save yourself the time and trouble of baking by buying good-quality cookies at the store and decorating them with icing. Make fun, easy to draw pictures like spiders, ghosts and pumpkins.”

And don’t underestimate the power of food coloring on ordinary, traditional foods, says Sunny Ravanbach, event planner with White Lilac Inc. Take a traditional fall treat like caramel apples and color the caramel black to create “poison” apples. “It’s a creepy take on the classic, sweet treat,” he says.

Spooktacular Décor

Moving on to the décor, think minimal shopping for maximum impact, says Rutherford. For example, you can use acrylic paint to douse pumpkins in a bold and colorful hue that matches your existing décor.

Since food and drink are a central part of your party, you’ll want to emphasize any eating and serving tables. “Run to your local fabric store and browse the Halloween-themed fabric options for a new tablecloth or runner,” says Parkinson. “There are also a plethora of sheer fabric options available that can easily be trimmed and thrown over your everyday tablecloth to create a festive overlay for a fraction of the cost of a new tablecloth.” Best of all, there’s no sewing required for this quick and easy DIY fix.

To outfit your table, try placing candles in glass containers and anchoring them with candy corn for a spirited look, says Andrea Correale, celebrity caterer and founder of Elegant Affairs. “Another idea is to cut the top off of a pumpkin, empty the seeds, and fill it with ice and bottled drinks. And if you don’t have time to cut open a pumpkin, try tying old stockings around the pumpkin or wrapping the pumpkin with gauze and adding googly eyes to create a unique display.” In your haste and excitement, don’t forget the individual place settings — plastic vampire teeth make great napkin rings!

As for the rest of the house, Parkinson suggests hitting up your local party supply store. “Drape cheesecloth from chandeliers, mirrors and tall furniture,” to contribute to a spooky, cobwebbed look. To adorn tables and surprise guests, sprinkle plastic skulls, bones and spiders around. Old books, unpolished vases, dusty bottles and apothecary jars also make a nice touch, says Parkinson.

And last but not least, don’t forget the materials you can find in your back yard. Twigs, leaves and acorns all contribute to festive fall décor and can be used to create items like a witches broom, wand or mask.

Party prep doesn’t require months of careful planning. You can throw together this polished party look on a dime — and in a snap.

Ashley Steel is staff writer/editor for NewHomeSource, where you can search for and get information on new homes and new construction communities. You can find her on Google+.

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Gadget of the Month: The Andrea Plant-based Air Purifier

aloe plant inside Andrea plant-based air filter

The Andrea Air Purifier uses plants to filter toxins from the air.

By Dan Chapman

Do you deal with severe allergies and know the pain of bad indoor air quality?

If you’re like the approximately 50 million people in the United States who the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology says suffer from nasal allergies, you’ve probably invested in an air purifier or two at some point.

Generally, these do a good enough job of filtering out harmful air pollutants in a room while keeping your allergies at bay. You don’t need to have allergies, however, to want a cleaner atmosphere in your home, as toxins emitted from household objects can be harmful to everyone’s health.

Or perhaps you’ve gone the natural route by using a houseplant such as aloe or English Ivy, which are natural air purifiers and can absorb chemical pollutants emitted from household items. Sure, both man-made and organic air purifiers do their part in keeping your space pollutant free, but what if there was a more effective gadget that combined both?

Enter the Andrea Air Purification System, which blends the power of an indoor plant and the efficiency of an air purification system for an ingenious process that filters cleaner air into your home. You could call it the Superman of air purifiers. Mathieu Lehannuer and Harvard professor David Edwards spent two years developing the product, which they claim filters air 1,000 percent better than a normal houseplant and outperforms many other air purifiers.

The process of how the Andrea works is really cool. Inside is a fan that circulates air into the apparatus that contains the houseplant of your choosing. The air is channeled through the plant’s leaves, down toward the soil and roots and finally out of the apparatus through an opening where a tray of water absorbs toxins. The fan essentially pushes the unclean air through the plant’s filtration system at a much faster rate than a normal houseplant, which is what makes the system more effective than a houseplant alone.

It’s important to note that there’s dozens of plants that you could use with the Andrea, but a few are ideal: gerbera, philodendron, spathiphyllum, pathos and chlorophytum are the most effective (prices range from $5-$50). Don’t skimp on this part of the process, as you want to maximize the filtration power of the system as best you can.

If you’re looking for a powerful air purifier with less upkeep, the Andrea is the perfect gadget for you. Unlike most others air purifying systems, the Andrea doesn’t need replacement filters — just turn it on and watch it go! Head on over to Bed Bath & Beyond ($99.99) or Amazon and give it a try for a fresher home and a healthier you.

Suggest Our Next Gadget of the Month

Do you have a favorite household gizmo? Tell us why you love it in the comment section below and we may feature it as our October Gadget of the Month!

Dan Chapman is a content intern for NewHomeSource. You can find him on Google+.

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Stylish Halloween Décor Ideas

Black wingback chair and red orchid sit in front of teal wallpaper with white Day of the Dead skulls.

Halloween decor need not be tacky nor have an expiration date. This Day of the Dead wallpaper from Street Anatomy is festive enough for Halloween, yet stylish enough for use all year round. Photo via Curbly and Street Anatomy.

By Patricia L. Garcia

There’s no better time of year for me than Halloween. What’s not to like? There are spooky times, family gatherings and candy!

To celebrate, I enjoy decorating my home with Halloween décor. I’ve built up quite a collection of Halloween décor and noticed that my design style has become a little more sophisticated over the years. If, like me, you’d rather not put the “gore” in gorgeous this Halloween, here are some stylish Halloween décor ideas to make your home delightfully frightful.

Black Walls

Black WallsThough it may not sound elegant, blacks walls done right can make for an elegantly spooky atmosphere. This room takes advantage of contrasting colors with black walls and white accessories.

Add a few fake spider webs or distressed white cloths for a Victorian gothic look that’s spooky without being tacky. The best part is the versatility of this design, since you can rock these walls all year round. Photo via Panda’s House.

 

Poison, Anyone?

Apothecary JarsApothecary jars are a stylish way to serve up innocent scares. What’s creepier than a set of jars labeled “poison,” “eye of newt” or “witches’ brew”? Should you take a drink or bite or what’s inside?

It’s fun to serve a Halloween candy buffet in these kind of jars or simply place water that’s been tinted with food coloring for a “mad scientist” look. Photo via CrowsFeetChic.

 

Day of the Dead

white pillow with black Day of the Dead skullWith sugar skulls and bright colors, this Mexican holiday is not as grim as it sounds. A celebration of loved ones who have passed away, the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) includes altars with loved ones’ favorite items.

If an altar is too much for you, try incorporating elements of the holiday, liked sugar skull wallpaper that, much like the aforementioned black walls, can be used all year long for a stylish look. For something more subtle, try a black and white sugar skull pillow. Photo via The Paper Source.

 

Nevermore!

fake ravens sitting in branches on desk with lit candlesWhether it’s that they are extremely intelligent creatures or that they scream “nevermore,” ravens are a classy way to spook up a place. (Hey, they don’t call a group of ravens an unkindness for nothing!)

Add one to your apothecary setup and that’ll up its boo factor, but five or more crows will be something out of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” giving even bird enthusiasts the heebie jeebies. Photo via Wanda Hoffs.

 

It’s easy to get a spooky look that’s elegant and fun. Take inspiration from décor that’s functional and stylish the rest of the year. Happy haunting!

Patricia L. Garcia is content manager for NewHomeSource, where you can search for and get information on new homes and new construction communities. You can find her on Google+.

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Your First Home: What Every New Homeowner Needs in Their Master Bedroom

A tranquil sitting area completes this elegant owner’s suite. The Devonshire plan built by WGB Homes at Brookmeadow Village. South Grafton, Mass.

A tranquil sitting area completes this elegant owner’s suite. The Devonshire plan built by WGB Homes at Brookmeadow Village. South Grafton, Mass.

By Ashley Steel

For first-time homeowners, the master bedroom is often one of the most exciting rooms of their new home. Aside from wanting to plop onto their bed after all that moving, it’s one of those rooms that offers respite from everyday life.

However, while you may be finding the perfect comforter for your bed or figuring out the layout of your furniture, it’s easy to overlook the basic privacy, comfort and convenience essentials that every master bedroom needs.

But don’t worry — at NewHomeSource, we’re seeking to educate first-time home buyers on how to stock a starter home. This month, we’re walking through the master bedroom. Here’s what you’ll need:

“Since this room is tucked away from company, many homeowners put it on the backburner, but this is you space to relax and unwind at the end of the day,” says Robin Bond, owner of interior design firm, Robin Bond Interiors. So, make it the kind of space that generates tranquility and relaxation.

When it comes to filling up your master bedroom, “buy the large items first and then the small ones,” says celebrity interior designer Cathy Hobbs. “Large items will anchor the room and serve as the signature pieces” that will define the rest of the room’s décor.

The Bed

Most likely, the biggest item in any bedroom is going to be the bed. And considering that you spend one-third of your life sleeping, you’re going to want to make sure you have the most comfortable mattress that you can afford, says John Loecke, co-founder of design firm Madcap Cottage.

For tips on choosing the right bed, check out our post, Everything You Need to Know When Shopping for a New Bed.

Bedding

With any bed comes bedding, which Loecke suggests using to set the scene. “As the biggest piece of real estate in the room, (your bed) should be the focal point. Take a layered approach when selecting your bedding, so that you can not only adjust your comfort level by adding or removing layers with the changing season, but also the look,” he says.

In addition to aiding comfort, layers also provide the opportunity to change a room’s appearance quickly and easily. Another way to do this is to look for reversible pieces that can change a room’s look on a budget. Similarly, sheets sets that can be easily mixed will give you a variety of bedding options, says Loecke.

Another thing to consider when it comes to bedding is how you use your bed. Many people enjoy reading or watching TV from the comfort of their bed. In this situation, Bond says, “I like to recommend upholstered headboards — not only are they versatile and easy to clean, but they are comfortable to lean against if reading in bed. For added comfort, invest in great pillows and make sure your reading light is adequate, so you aren’t straining your eyes.”

Wall Color

Moving beyond the room’s focal point, let’s take a look at the walls. A lesson in basic color psychology suggest that with wallpaper or paint, “darker colors usually have a more calming effect, while brighter colors have a more stimulating effect,” says Patrick Cullen, founder and owner of Panda Bear Linens, a small business that produces allergy-free bamboo linens. So think about how you use your bedroom; is it your office during the day or is it exclusively for sleeping at night?

But beyond the basic necessities there are many bedroom components that are readily overlooked:

Ambient Lighting

“The bedroom is a place to retire to at the end of a long day, so create a relaxing atmosphere in the master with soft lighting.” Dimmers are an ideal option for the bedroom and can help transition a space from day to night and even set the mood when the time is right.

Privacy

As one of your most intimate settings, you don’t want to overlook privacy in the bedroom. “Select shades with at least 3-percent opacity. The lower the number, the tighter the weave and the less light that will shine through,” says Hobbs.

Art

Don’t forget unique art pieces, says Cullen. “They really add a lot of overall context and, best of all, they don’t have to be expensive.” When selecting art to fit into a specific room scheme, he suggests mosaics and abstract pieces, as they are the easiest to work with.

Storage

Another thing that can prove frustrating if not addressed are storage needs. “Not only do you need closet space for each person using the room,” says Loecke, “but you’ll also need bedside tables and a chest or desk for keeping other personal items.”

Flooring

“Always pay attention to the hard versus soft relationship. If you have hardwood floors, remember to have something soft under foot,” like a shag or sheepskin rug, which Hobbs says are ultra-comfy.

Seating

Ask your building about the possibility of creating a seating area in your master suite, as this can bring another level of relaxation to your retreat.

“I like to incorporate a small seating area in master bedroom designs with a side table for reading, small projects or just drinking a glass of wine or tea with your partner,” says Bond. It can also serve as a great place to slip on shoes in the morning.

By properly outfitting your new master bedroom, you’ll create a room that’s more than the place that you sleep — it can be a restful retreat that you enjoy spending time in all day long.

Ashley Steel is staff writer/editor for NewHomeSource, where you can search for and get information on new homes and new construction communities. You can find her on Google+.

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App of the Month: Nextdoor

Screenshot of Nextdoor app with yard sale message and notice of strange vehicle in neighborhood

Get to know your neighbors and keep up-to-date about what’s happening in your neighborhood with the Nextdoor app.

By Judy Marchman

A recent WhitePages survey found that 93 percent of Americans still believe it’s important for neighbors to look out for each other and that 67 percent of homeowners feel safer when they know some of their neighbors.

But the realities of today’s busy, on-the-go world don’t leave us with a lot of extra time to get to know those around us as well as perhaps we should. That’s where Nextdoor, our App of the Month, comes in.

Nextdoor allows residents in a particular neighborhood to create their own private social network to connect with one another and stay in touch more easily about concerns involving their community. Neighborhoods across the country are using the app in a variety of ways, from posting classified ads and yard sale notices to organizing block parties and neighborhood watches.

How does it work?

To join Nextdoor, you have to be invited by the creator or another member of your neighborhood’s group and then verify your address. You also must use your own name, not a separate username, to promote transparency among group members.

Nextdoor can help you and your neighbors go from meeting virtually to getting together in person. Via the app, residents can organize children’s play dates, walking groups, yard sales or block parties. They can look for or advertise services, such as lawn care or pet sitting, or post furniture or other items for sale or giveaway. If your neighborhood has a homeowners association (HOA), your HOA board can post important news or updates.

Because crime and safety are two of the most important concerns to a neighborhood, Nextdoor allows public agencies to post emergency notices, such as severe weather or crime alerts affecting the area. Residents can also use the app to coordinate special events, such as National Night Out, to bring neighbors together with local law enforcement and other community services.

The app includes a membership directory and a map of your neighborhood, indicating which households are group members, which have been invited, and which ones still need to be invited to join. You can also adjust the app’s settings to receive as much or as little contact as you want, from notifications for pretty much everything to a daily digest of posts.

Nextdoor is available for free via the Web at nextdoor.com or as an app for iPhone, iPad and Android mobile devices.

Judy Marchman is a freelance contributor to NewHomeSource with 20 years of magazine and book publishing experience. You can find her on Google+.

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Saving For a First Home

girl with two thumbs up standing in front of whiteboard with lots of colorful exclamation points

Homeownership can be in the cards for you if you start saving for a first home now — and it’s not as difficult as you may think.

By Ashley Steel

For many people, buying a home is a someday dream. Many first-time homebuyers aren’t ready yet; often, the funds aren’t there. But if buying a home is your someday dream, it’s time you start saving for a first home now.

Where Do I Start?

The first step is to outline your dream in concrete terms. When will you buy a home and how much will you need to save? Since the average price of a starter home varies, a general suggestion provided by lending giant Freddie Mac is that a person can afford roughly 2.5 times their annual income.

For the sake of this article, let’s pretend that you’re buying a home in five years at a salary of $50,000. This would make your target home price $125,000 (salary X 2.5), requiring roughly a 10-percent down payment of $12,500. From there, you work backward, says John Bustrum, CEO and founder of My 403b Coach, a financial coaching institution. If you need $12,500 over the course of 60 months, that brings your monthly savings goal to $209. “Stay the course,” says Bustrum, “and the goals will be yours.”

Tip: Keep in mind that a starter home is not the time to play guessing games with your salary. Do not assume a raise in five years and plan for a modest total budget so that you’re not living on the edge every month, says Bustrum.

How to Save

There are a variety of ways to save money for a home purchase. Not all options will be compatible with your lifestyle needs, but it’s important to start considering those that do. Here are some ways to save for your first home:

Tax Refunds

Tax refunds can be an exciting source of extra funds. In years past, perhaps you put this money toward a shopping spree or an expensive dinner, but when saving for a new home, Bustrum recommends applying a refund toward your house fund. “Every dollar counts toward your goal,” he says.

Money Markets

While a savings account is a great and safe place to store money, they yield very little in the way of interest. Putting your money in a high-yield savings account like a CD or money market can produce greater funds in the short term. But Bustrum warns avoiding higher-yield market exposure, where you risk losing a substantial amount of your savings right before you need them.

Inflation

“The good news,” says Bustrum “is when you have a steady income, most likely your income will rise with inflation every year, enabling you to save more.” Should you get a raise, Bustrum recommends putting away the extra into your home savings account where you won’t miss it and you have the chance to shorten the savings term.

401K Contributions

Maxing out your 401K contributions is another great way to save for a home, says Hillary Legrain, vice president of First Savings Mortgage Corporation. “You can withdraw from your retirement account with no penalty for a home purchase and, if your company provides matching contributions, then that will give you even more funds to work with.” This strategy can also reduce your gross taxable income.

Roommates

An easy, time-tested method, you can also seek financial aid via a roommate, says Kyle Gonnell, marketing manager of iGrad, a financial literacy program for students. Relatives and friends can bring down the cost of rent, groceries and even gas. Other basic options include downgrading to a smaller apartment, moving closer to work or taking advantage of public transportation.

The task of saving for a new home may be daunting, but developing a strategy to span the years until your someday can make saving for a down payment manageable. The dream of homeownership can be yours, so start saving today!

For more helpful info on saving for your first home, check out our New Home Guide article: How to Start Saving For Your First Home.

Ashley Steel is staff writer/editor for NewHomeSource, where you can search for and get information on new homes and new construction communities. You can find her on Google+.

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