Decking the Halls? 10 Safety Tips

Decorating your holiday tree is a time for festive family fun. However, according to the National Fire Protection Association, holiday trees, lights and candles increase the risk of home fires during the holidays, and Christmas, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day being the top three days for home candle fires. To help, the American Red Cross offers the following 10 tips.

– Check all holiday light cords to make sure they aren’t frayed or broken. Don’t string too many strands of lights together—no more than three per extension cord.

If you are buying an artificial tree, look for the fire-resistant label. When putting it up, keep it away from fireplaces, radiators and other sources of heat.

– If getting a live tree, make sure it’s fresh and water it to keep it fresh. Bend the needles up and down to make sure no needles fall off.

– If using older decorations, check their labels. Some older tinsel is lead-based. If using angel hair, wear gloves to avoid irritation. Avoid breathing in artificial snow.

– When decorating outside, make sure decorations are for outdoor use and fasten lights securely to your home or trees. If using hooks or nails outside, make sure they are insulated to avoid an electrocution or fire hazard.

– If using a ladder, be extra careful. Make sure to have good, stable placement and wear shoes that allow for good traction.

– Don’t use electric lights on metallic trees.

– Don’t forget to turn off all holiday lights when going to bed or leaving the house.

– Keep children, pets and decorations away from candles.

– If hanging stockings on the fireplace mantel, don’t light the fireplace.

Source: The American Red Cross

Four Tips for Making Your Home Company-Ready This Holiday Season

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By Haley Kieser

Having company over during the holiday season is a time-honored tradition among friends and family. Whether this will be the first time a guest steps into your home or the hundredth time you welcome them through your doors, it’s important to always strive to leave a good impression on your visitors.

Making your home ready to host company for one night or for many nights doesn’t have to be a complicated and drawn-out task. By simply cleaning up a little, organizing your rooms, and making a few accommodations for guests, you’ll have a home dressed to impress and a comfortable space to spend a few hours with your friends and family.

1.     Clean and then clean again

It might seem obvious, but you should make sure your home is as clean as possible. Clean the areas that your guests will spend most of their time in and then walk slowly back through the house looking at your space through the eyes of a guest.

Consider how you react when you are a guest at someone’s home and they haven’t cleaned properly. Putting your best foot forward and leaving a good impression means breaking out the deep cleaning supplies and dedicating a few hours to making the place spotless. The great thing about cleaning is that it can be done well in advance to the party.

2.     Organize the home

A simple reorganization of the furniture in your rooms can help accommodate guests and make the space feel more welcoming. Start by assessing where you think guests will be spending the most time – usually the living room, kitchen, dining room, and bathrooms. Think about how many guests you will be having over for the holiday season celebrations and if your space will comfortably seat them for at least a few hours.

For example, if your dining room has a small table with four chairs and you are expecting much more, consider having food and drinks outside in the garden or pull up some extra chairs from around the house. If people will be bringing food and drinks to the party, make sure you reorganize the kitchen and fridge to hold them. As for the living room, rearrange the TV and entertainment setup so all guests can enjoy watching movies and listening to music equally.

3.     Consider special accommodations

Be sure to make your home as accommodating for guests as you can. Coat racks are essential in the winter time for people’s heavy clothing. That being said, consider moving your own belongings from your coat rack or closet so guests have as much space to store their coats and jackets as possible.

If your guests are from out of town, they may need a ride to the gathering. Or a ride home for some! If you’ve offered to pick up your guests from the airport, make sure you clean out your vehicle beforehand. You don’t need a fancy vehicle to impress your guests, instead make a statement by making room for their luggage and a water to enjoy on the ride home. For those needing a cab afterwards, Uber or Lyft are both great options. Otherwise, drive them yourself to squeeze out a couple extra minutes together.

4. Prepare food ahead of time

It’s often recommended to freshen up your home by lighting candles, incense, or infuse fragrance into the air some other way. Instead of making the house smell artificially comforting, why not have the food do the job for you? A holiday roast, a tray of stuffing, or a slow-cooked broth will thicken the air with their delectable juices and water your guests’ mouths before they’re able to take their coat off. Regardless, you should begin preparing your food long before anybody arrives.

The purpose of a gathering is to have a good time with those in your life that you love most, so clean your vehicle, organize your kitchen, and serve up a delectable meal to ensure a warm and inviting holiday season!

Your Fall Home-Care Checklist

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By John Voket

While a good ‘spring clean’ is important, the coming of autumn also harkens in the need to do some important chores around the home and yard. Below are three seasonal suggestions from a wealth of experts.

Sweep Your Chimney. Robby Martin at southernliving.com says it’s the time of year to start shopping for a chimney cleaner, ahead of the winter rush. Martin says unless you are well versed in chimney construction, contact a reputable chimney sweep service.

Items such as bird or animal nests built during the summer, as well as excessive soot deposits from the previous winter, can easily obstruct flues and dampers, increasing the chances of chimney fires. Regular maintenance can save you from possible misfortune for a relatively small price.

Clean and Purge. Kit Arbuckle – a source at care.com suggests that before you start your fall and holiday entertaining, deep clean your fridge, freezer, and pantry. Arbuckle says it’s a perfect opportunity to throw out expired items and scrub everything.

And if you have soon-to-expire items or food you bought for a specific recipe and never used, pack up a box and drop it at your local food pantry. Arbuckle says while you’re at it, rent or break out the carpet cleaner and run it on all your rugs; wherever possible, start by cleaning the floor under your rugs.

Tend Your Landscape. Colonel Landscaping (colonellandscaping.com) along the shoreline in Connecticut tells clients fall is the most opportune time to tend their landscapes so they thrive the following year.

Colonel explains that a late season application of lawn fertilizer, particularly in areas where cold weather grasses dominate, can nourish the root system and prepare it for the spring growing season; a soil test will help ensure proper amounts of nutrients are being applied.

Fall is also a great time to reseed lawn that is exhibiting signs of distress. Homeowners from southern New England to the central Atlantic coastal states will want to sow before the end of September for optimal results — applying a quarter inch of topsoil will help ensure germination.

Quartz vs. Granite: Consumer Reports Rates Kitchen Countertops

Is there a kitchen renovation in your future? If so, one of the most crucial and difficult decisions ahead of you is what kind of countertop to choose. Consumer Reports takes a look at two of the most popular options—quartz and granite—to determine which one is the better option.

First and foremost, it’s important to note that Consumer Reports (CR) describes both quartz and granite as “superior materials” that perform equally well in many tests, such as surviving a steak-knife slicing machine, withstanding a 400-degree Fahrenheit saucepan full of heated shortening, and several rounds of scrubbing with 100-grit sandpaper.

However, while both materials earn ratings of “excellent” for cutting, abrasion and heat resistance, neither is indestructible. When it comes to impact testing, both can chip.

So, what’s the differentiator among the two? Stain resistance and appearance.

For stain resistance testing, CR used half-inch splotches of several common substances, such as coffee, chocolate syrup, vegetable oil and grape juice, and recorded the effects after 20 hours. Quartz scored better with certain substances, like beet juice and food coloring, earning a rating that was 2.3 points higher than granite.

Quartz also comes out ahead in the appearance category, due to its ability to achieve the seamless, clean lines most people prefer. Since each slab of granite is unique—whereas quartz is manufactured—it’s more difficult for installers to cut and line up multiple slabs precisely. Quartz also offers more color choices and options for popular marble veining.

While quartz and granite cost about the same, quartz is the current material of choice. According to a National Kitchen & Bath Association survey, the vast majority of folks installing counters these days choose quartz, while granite is a distant second.

Ultimately, as with any renovation decision, the choice is a personal one, so go with what suits your taste and lifestyle.

5 Reasons Aurora, IL is a Great Place to Move

By Haley Kieser

 

Whatever your reason for moving–a growing family, a need for a change in scenery–Aurora, Illinois has something everyone will love. As the second the largest city in Illinois and a stone throw away from Chicago, here lives a rich history, beautiful architecture, and a thriving job market.

Fun fact: this city is also known as the “City of Lights” because it was the first place to illuminate its streets with electric lights in the U.S.

 

You’ll find this, plus many more charming reasons are what makes this city the perfect place to call home. Here are just five to note.

1. Exploding with culture

Located just 40 miles west of the greater Chicago metropolitan area, Aurora is overflowing with cultural significance and fun things to do. The city is known for notable architectural landmarks and historical sites, such as The Keystone Building, Healy Chapel, and the Old Second National Bank, all designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The Paramount Theater, located in downtown Aurora, was even recently added to the National Register of Historic Places. In addition to great architecture and history, there are plenty of family-friendly places to enjoy like the Phillips Park and Zoo and the Aurora Regional Fire Museum. Downtown Aurora is bustling with delicious restaurants and bars, as well as an annual festival called Downtown Alive, which features live music and food booths. Blues on the Fox and the AuroraArtWalk are other festivals that happen throughout the year, providing a place for local musicians and artists alike to showcase their work, and for the residents to enjoy.

2. Above average household income

The cost of living in Aurora is considered on par with the rest of Illinois and the rest of the country’s average. Housing is the biggest factor in the cost of living difference, as the median income for a household is $63,967, according to Data USA, which is more than the median annual income in the U.S. This being said, majority of Aurora’s residents are considered middle class with only 14% falling below the poverty line.

3. Great neighborhoods

The city of Aurora is divided into three main sections–the West Side, the East Side, and Fox Valley, also known as the Far East Side. The Fox River naturally divides these areas, and despite its name, Fox Valley is actually located the farthest from the river. The West Side is considered more upper-class, while the East Side is more blue-collar. Fox Valley is considered more undeveloped compared to the other two areas, so you’ll want to keep this in mind when picking out a new home.

4. Plenty of employment opportunities

Aurora has a long manufacturing history, home to companies such as the Aurora Brewing Company, Caterpillar Inc., National Metalwares, the Chicago Corset Company, plus many more. The Hollywood Casino also drives much of the job market, providing tourism for the city and features memorabilia from several famous movies. The most common employment sectors include administration, support, and waste management services, manufacturing, and wholesale trade. Over the last year, the job market has increased by 1.5% and is expected to grow to be 37.4% over the next ten years. Meaning, there are jobs to be taken by newcomers moving in!

5. Residents are highly educated

Aurora is home to great schools at all levels. And even better, the education level of the city’s residents are substantially higher than a typical U.S. community–over 30% of adults in Aurora have at least a bachelor’s degree. At the highest level of education, there is the Aurora University, and the Regency Beauty Institute-Aurora. The DuPage County and Kane County school systems serve as the school district and contain a total of 46 public schools. These counties are split by the Fox River, so your child’s education depends on if you live in the East or West. Both sides are solid options, however, the city also has 22 private schools. For students wishing to specialize in math and science, there is the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy for students in grades 10 through 12.

Before you move, know the rules

It’s important to note that Aurora is very strict about enforcing various rules and regulations in regard to all moving services. It’s required that all moving companies present a certificate of liability insurance to the building management before they start unloading. This is to ensure that if any property damage occurs, the building manager can be sure the moving company will cover it. This certificate is free and easy to obtain from the moving company you use. Also, if you plan to move into an apartment, be sure to book the elevator well in advance. Moving into the downtown area will also involve parking permits so your truck won’t get a ticket.

Still looking for a house?

If you haven’t found a place to call home just yet and need some guidance, we’d love to partake in your home search. Relocating from out of state? Let us work together to identify where you best fit in Aurora – we can’t wait to welcome you!

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4 Ways to Transform Your Kitchen Without Remodeling

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By Haley Kieser

The kitchen is one of the most used spaces in your home. It’s where you cook, eat, and hang out with your friends and family. Because of all the time that’s spent in this room, it’s only natural that one would want to make sure that it looks amazing and well-put together. This means having the right colors, the best kind of design elements from the type of counters you have to the type of curtains you use for the windows and having the right kind of layout that’s most beneficial for your home. Many homeowners who go looking for a brand-new kitchen typically turn to remodeling to get their dream kitchen, and it’s understandable why they would go to remodel first: you get exactly what you want and your kitchen comes out looking brand spanking new.
However, remodeling is an option that can turn out to be incredibly expensive and time consuming and, if you live a very busy life and you’re on a budget, that option might not be possible. Or perhaps you love your kitchen’s foundation and you just need some final touches in order to find your dream kitchen. Either way, there are quite a few ways to transform your kitchen without having to dump thousands of dollars into a massive kitchen remodeling project.

1.  Painting your cabinets

A fresh coat of paint never hurt anybody. Rather than go through the trouble of completely replacing your kitchen cabinets and cupboards, why not paint them? If your cabinets are still in good condition, why not try revitalizing it with some paint? The process to painting the cabinets is fairly straightforward: select your paint system (primers, colors, topcoats, etc.), prep your surface by thoroughly cleaning it and even sanding it down so that you can have a smooth application, and come in with your coating system. If you don’t have time for a do-it-yourself job, no worries! There are plenty of professional services that are available if you have room in your budget. If you’re planning on selling your home, go for gray, white, or another neutral color: neutrals typically have the best resale value.

2.  Switch up your color palette

 

Never underestimate the power of a color palette. It’s widely known that color can affect a person’s psychological state, and this can be used to your advantage when remodeling your kitchen. The best way to go about this is by keeping your kitchen primarily neutral and adding pops of color, whether the color shows up in our dishes, curtains, or your tea towels. You can also use fruit bowls or even a stack of colorful cookbooks to help add color to your kitchen. It helps to make sure these accent pieces are small because that makes replacing them when they get stagnant a little more manageable.

3. Update your lighting system

Often times, having older lighting in your kitchen contributes to making it look old and dated. Simply changing your lighting will have it looking brand new. It’s also worth noting that lighting possibilities don’t stop at switching out the one single large fixture in your kitchen. Try adding more light sources; if you have a bar/island area, try installing hanging light fixtures. Adding working lights in your cabinets also add a more modern vibe to your kitchen. If you want to explore your options furthermore, try looking at lights that change colors. That way, you’ll be able to create any kind of environment simply by changing the color of your lights. With excellent lighting, anything is possible.

4. Try adding stick-on tiles

Just because you aren’t committing to a full remodeling job doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t have a gorgeous backsplash. These types of additions are small and are easy to apply. Stick-on tiles for your backsplash are great alternatives because you’re given the freedom to remove them and switch it up if you want something new. Furthermore, they’re a great way to help you visualize a certain look in the event that you save up money and decide to actually get a more permanent installation done. One of the biggest benefits from this is that the value if your house increases because of these small, but effective, additions.

A Guide to Getting Rid of Pet Odors in the Home

By Haley Kieser

Getting rid of pet odors is more than an arduous task – it flat out stinks. Bad pet smells can linger for months, embed themselves into the walls and carpets of the home, and can severely affect the value of the property to potential buyers.

Preventing pet smells is of course the optional course of action, but if you are looking to sell or buy a home that has lingering odors from furry friends, here are 5 best ways to get rid of the bad smells in your home, and what to do with items that are too odorous to stay in the home.

Vacuum, Vacuum, Vacuum

It might seem obvious, but vacuuming the home is the first thing you should do when tackling pet odors. Pet hair, mud from outside, traces of feces and urine, and other things pets leave behind naturally cause the majority of pet smells in the home and are mostly picked up by a vacuum cleaner.

Vacuuming should be a regular part of your cleaning routine when you own pets. Hair and dander can build up over time if not properly dealt with every day.

Use a Blacklight to Find the Sources

After vacuuming, use a blacklight on the carpet, walls, corners, furniture, and everywhere your pet regularly spends their time. Urine, feces, saliva, and other body fluids show up extremely obviously when this is shined on them, showing you the exact areas in the home that you need to focus on when continuing with cleaning.

Be sure to shine it in areas you wouldn’t normally look, like in corners, behind furniture, and other hidden areas.

Deep Clean Carpets

After finding the sources of pet odors, you can begin to tackle them one by one. For carpets, you have a few options, some natural and some chemical.

The easiest route is to rent or buy a specialty carpet washer and, as you would with a vacuum, use it over all the carpeted floors of your home. This can be a long process of washing and drying and so on, but it is a nearly guaranteed way to clean your carpets.

If you would prefer not to rent a deep cleaner and use solution and use a natural method instead, mix vinegar and water in equal portions in a spray bottle, and soak the areas you located with the blacklight in this solution. After scrubbing the area, pour baking soda onto the wet spot and leave it until it dries completely; you can then vacuum it up.

Wipe Walls and Floors With Solution

Similarly to washing your carpets, you can use store-bought products or natural home solutions to clean your walls and floors. There are plenty of products to choose from in stores and online, and pretty much all of them will get the job done.

If you want to try to make a solution at home to use instead, use a similar method to cleaning carpets naturally and make a mix of vinegar and water in a spray bottle. Wipe surfaces down with a sponge and dry. Use a higher vinegar concentration for particularly stubborn smells and stains.

Wash Pillows, Pet Beds, and Furniture

If your pets are allowed on furniture, on your bed and couch for example, you will want to wash them thoroughly. If your pet has its own bed, pillows it lays on, or other soft items such as toys that they use constantly, you will need to wash these as well. Washing pillows, pet beds, and toys is no hassle, as you can simply throw these into your washer and dryer.

Large furniture, like sofas, should be vacuumed first, then have baking soda sprinkled over it. Let it sit for a few minutes, or longer for strong odors, then vacuum again. For leather sofas, use a damp rag and soap to wash the surface. This generally gets rid of odors, but use a specialty cleaner if smells linger.

What to Do With Waste

If after going through this list you still have some items that cannot be cleaned to a satisfactory level, make sure you dispose of them in the correct ways. In many states, leaving large items of trash by the dump or on the sidewalk with no scheduled pick-up is illegal and classifies as illegal dumping.

Sort through your waste, figure out what can be recycled, and bring that to your nearest recycling center. Large furniture should always be picked up by either the city garbage service or a local junk removal company. You don’t want to get fined for something as simple as an old couch.

Good luck!

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