13 Ways To Spend Your Tax Refund On Home Improvements

Enjoy that hard-earned tax return money on summer evenings by adding a privacy fence or outdoor kitchen.

Your tax refund feels like found money, doesn’t it? Here’s how to use it to spruce up your living space.

April brings many lovely things: warmer temperatures, flowers beginning to bloom, and hopefully a check from Uncle Sam once you’ve filed your taxes. It’s enough to make you giddy with possibilities — no matter the size of your refund. “While it’s typically not sufficient to fund major home improvement projects such as a new addition or a kitchen renovation, it can often provide enough cash to accomplish a wide range of home up-fits and improvements,” says Leigh McAlpin, principal of Dwelling Interiors & Design in Charleston, SC. Here’s how to use your refund to refurbish or enhance your home.

$500 refund: It’s all in the details

Hire a professional organizer. “Since tax refunds often come during the springtime, you can tie this to spring cleaning,” says Sarah Roussos-Karakaian, co-owner of Nestrs, a construction, design, and organizing company in New York, NY. Most organizers charge a day rate, and if you work efficiently, a day or two might be all you need to banish clutter. Before you hire one, be sure to ask if they’re certified by the National Association of Professional Organizers, says Roussos-Karakaian. “It’s a good way to gauge how serious they are about their career.”

Recaulk and repaint your baseboards. “The top of the baseboard where the molding meets the wall gets really dirty over time,” says Roussos-Karakaian. “Caulking and giving it a fresh coat of paint can bring your walls back to life.” Contractors and painters typically charge anywhere from $2.50 to $6 per linear foot depending on the size of your baseboards, so if you don’t DIY it, this project may cost closer to $1,000.

Buy a new rug. The right rug finishes a room, and purchasing one is an excellent way to spend a smaller return. “A general rule for area rugs is that the outer edges of the rug should be between 6 and 18 inches off each wall, closer to 6 inches from the walls in smaller rooms, and up to 18 inches from the walls in larger areas,” says McAlpin. While it may be tempting to buy a small rug to save a few dollars, doing so will make your entire room look out of scale, she advises. “If it’s an open-concept floor plan, use area rugs to frame seating and dining areas, which will help to define the different uses of the space.”

Add curb appeal. Adding or updating some of the essentials, like a new mailbox, some flower boxes, new house numbers, outdoor lighting, and shrubs, can give your home a face-lift. Take your exterior upgrades to the next level by painting your front door. Want an even bigger payoff? Repaint the trim around windows and other features while you’re at it.

$1,000 refund: Think upgrades

Upgrade your water heater. It’s not a fun or sexy purchase, but swapping a standard water heater for a tankless model will save energy — and money — because it heats the water only as needed, says J.B. Sassano, president of Mr. Handyman, a network of home improvement professionals.

Give your ceiling a lift. Ceilings are easy to overlook, but revamping yours is an inexpensive way to add interest to a room, says Sassano. “If you still have popcorn ceilings, hire a professional to scrape them smooth,” he says. “Then look for DIY projects like installing crown molding or box beams for a fresh look.” A simple coat of fresh paint can do wonders too.

$2,000 refund: Add style

Upgrade your home’s lighting. If your entryway or dining room has flush-mount fixtures, swap them out for chandeliers, suggests Roussos-Karakaian. “It brings the light down, which makes it more purposeful, and aesthetically dresses up the room,” she says. But in any room, like with this semi-flush mount bedroom fixture at 629 Ames Way, Dover, ID 83825, swapping in new lights for those builder-grade finishes will give your home a customized look. And while you’re at it, swap out your incandescent bulbs for LEDs. “LEDs are really affordable right now. They come in warm and cool colors and all sorts of wattages,” says Roussos-Karakaian. Bonus: You’ll save energy too.

Treat yourself to wood flooring. You can expect to pay anywhere from $7 to $12 per square foot for quality hardwood flooring — potentially more if you choose professional installation. But this favorite home upgrade can return 1.5 to two times its cost when you sell, so it’s a worthy investment.

Build a deck or enhance the one you have. Of course, the cost of your deck will vary based on size and details, but a small deck typically costs about $2,000. And it’s a favorite feature for homebuyers — by far the most common amenity mentioned in Trulia listings across the U.S., with 22 states claiming it. It’s not a huge surprise that decks are so popular, though, considering they bring in an 80% to 120% return on your investment.

$3,000 refund: Add features with ROI in mind

Add a backsplash to your kitchen.Kitchen upgrades often have some of the highest returns on investment when it comes to home improvements. If you have neutral cabinets and floors, opt for tiles with big, bold prints, like the backsplash of the kitchen at 5769 Adair Lane, Plano, TX 75024, says Roussos-Karakaian. Or go super-DIY and buy peel-and-stick backsplash tiles, which are inexpensive and removable, but look luxe.

Splurge on French doors. “Consider turning two [adjacent] windows into an opening for beautiful French or sliding glass doors,” says Sassano. “Full-view glass doors can brighten up any space and help bring the outside in. And modern doors are energy-efficient, which cuts down on heating and cooling costs.”

$5,000 refund: Go big with projects you’ll enjoy

Put up a privacy fence or replace an old one. While cost will vary depending on the size of your yard and what materials you use, a sure way to keep costs down is to avoid common mistakes. If you have an in-ground sprinkler system, make sure you get the pipes marked beforehand to avoid damaging them. It’s also a good idea to have your property surveyed before you begin. Some fence installers won’t put in your fence without one! The reason? Installing your fence on what turns out to be your neighbor’s land can be an expensive error to fix. The privacy fence pictured above, at 12021 36th Avenue NE, Seattle, WA 98125, connects with the privacy fence of the home next door — another way to save costs.

 Create a simple outdoor kitchen. With warmer weather on the horizon for most of the nation, now’s the time to enhance your barbecue area. Keeping the essentials in one place, an outdoor kitchen gives you party access while you cook — no running back and forth from kitchen to grill. To create one, purchase a premade grill island or structure that has countertops and storage space (you can even get one with a built-in grill). Add a mini refrigerator and some outdoor furniture, and let the party begin.

 

Posted by Michelle Hainer on Trulia

Home Improvements for Less

Ever find spare change lying around you houses, either in drawers or behind cushions? When all these coins and loose change add up, think about how you can use it for some last minute and affordable (really affordable) home improvements. Maybe your home improvement projects are a bit more than your spare change, so try using your spare change for cleaning tips or landscaping projects.

Posted on HomeZada

Tips for Watering Lawn in Summer

Watering the lawn efficiently and appropriately involves more than simply watering every day.

When the weather is hot, how can you tell if your lawn and garden are getting enough water?

First, it’s not necessary to water lawns and plants every day. As a general rule, more plants are killed through over-watering than under-watering.

Second, understand the properties of the soil in your area. Water penetrates and behaves differently in differing types of soil — e.g., sandy or loose soil vs. clay. Check with your local nursery for watering tips for your local area. Set up a system that allows effective watering with penetration of 6″ to 8″ below the ground surface.

The basic fact is that you’ll need to find out how deeply the water is penetrating into the soil. To do that, all that’s needed is a shovel. Pick an inconspicuous spot where you’ve been irrigating. About 30 minutes after watering, dig a small hole and use your hand to check how deeply the water has penetrated. In most lawn and garden situations, it’s best if water is penetrating 6″ to 8″ beneath the surface of the soil.

Check several locations to see if irrigation is even throughout the yard. If there are dry spots, you may need to modify your irrigation techniques.

Watering systems are not always uniform in how they disperse water. Even if you water regularly, you may find that there are wet spots and dry spots around your yard. To check whether your watering system is working evenly across your yard, here’s a trick you can use to test it. Take some plastic cups and place them around your yard before you water. You can place a few coins in the bottoms of the cups to prevent them from blowing over.

Once the cups are placed, turn on your sprinkler system. Water will collect in the cups as you water.

After watering for about 30 minutes, compare the level of water in each of the cups. You may discover that there is more water in some of the cups than in others. Frequently, areas within close proximity to the sprinkler receive less water than areas several yards away. You may need to check the directions that come with your sprinkler to make it apply water more uniformly.

For watering shrubs and beds, there are techniques and tools that are more effective than ordinary lawn sprinklers. Dripper systems use a hose attached to a faucet and timer. Small holes are placed at appropriate locations along the length of a polyethylene hose. Tiny adapters are inserted into the holes to allow small 1/4-inch hose branches to be installed along the length of the hose. Water emitters of various types are attached at the ends of the smaller branches.

Water emitters — such as small spray-heads — can be placed strategically beneath individual plants to deliver water exactly where it’s most needed.

2008, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Another useful tool is the soaker-hose system. Like the dripper system, the soaker system uses a timer and a main hose to which smaller branches are attached. In this case, the smaller hoses are manufactured with “weeping pores” that allow water to soak out all along their length. Once the porous branches are attached to the main hose, and placed strategically at the bases and root systems of plants, the water is turned on. The soaker hose allows moisture to soak gently into the soil.

Find this and more landscaping tips on www.diynetwork.com

9 Tips for Preparing a Fabulous Flower Bed

Dust off your vases, pitchers, and extra coffee mugs. Your home will be overflowing with fresh-cut blooms in no time.

Have you ever ended up with a bed of dead flowers, mountains of mulch and a whopping garden center receipt? Let’s do something about that, shall we?

Get your gardening groove back with these nine tips.

1. Start with a clean slate

There are two kinds of flowerbeds: Those that have been well-prepared, and those that are covered in weeds.

Give your unplanted bed the once-over. Does it receive enough sunlight? Does water tend to collect there? Have you removed all weeds, roots, and rocks so that your plants will thrive? It’s a lot easier to fix these problems now than it is once you’ve planted the flowers and laid the mulch.

Shutterstock ID 395535262; PO: Cat Overman

Shutterstock ID 395535262; PO: Cat Overman

2. Start seeds

Start a flowerbed from seed to save money, raise unusual varieties and enjoy the satisfaction of having grown a whole garden from a handful of tiny seeds.

Since some seeds transplant poorly, check the packet and make sure you don’t have to sow directly in the ground. Start seeds in trays, pots or in coir pots, using a seedling mixture, place them in a sunny spot, and transplant as soon as they have developed sturdy stems.

3. Prepare nursery plants

Nursery-grown bedding plants give you instant gratification, but the short time between purchase and planting is crucial to their survival.

Pack them closely in your car to avoid damage, and take them home immediately so that they don’t fry in your car during other errands.

Water nursery plants as soon as you get home, as often as necessary after that, and a few hours before planting to help their fragile roots survive the trauma of transplanting.

4. Get the winning edge

Even the most carefully planned border can look sloppy without a clearly defined edge. Avoid those inexpensive and quickly deteriorating edges made of plastic, and choose a more natural and long-lasting alternative.

The cheapest solution is to make a shallow trench around the bed with your spade and maintain it throughout the season. For something more refined and permanent, set an edge of brick, concrete or stone in leveling sand. The initial cost may be higher, but they will save you a lot of work and make mowing easier.

5. Plan for the seasons

Choose annuals if you plan on replacing them in a season or two, and plant perennials if you’d like them to last longer. Plant evergreen shrubs or ornamental grasses to provide structure and year-round interest.

Also consider the plant’s eventual height: Plant low-growing flowers (usually annuals) at the front of the bed where they can be easily viewed and then replaced at the end of their season.

Shutterstock ID 395790778; PO: Cat Overman;

Shutterstock ID 395790778; PO: Cat Overman;

6. Give them space

Follow the guidelines on the seed packet or plant tag as closely as possible. One that is often overlooked is the amount of space to leave around each plant so they have room to grow. To cover a lot of ground quickly, choose spreading varieties like ‘Superbells’ and climbing nasturtiums.

7. Dig the perfect hole

Dig each plant’s hole to be twice as wide as the original pot, so the roots will have plenty of room to grow. To give them an even better head-start, make a little trench around the inside of the hole so the roots will spread down and out.

This step isn’t necessary for annuals, since they won’t be around long enough to enjoy their strong root systems, but it is helpful if you have clay soil.

8. Plant it right

When planting transplants and nursery plants, always place them so that their crowns (where the plant meets the soil) are level with the soil in the bed. If the crown is above the soil level, the plant may dry out when soil washes away from the roots. If planted too low, soil will settle around the crown and rot the plant.

Push the soil around the transplant and firmly tamp it in place with a trowel so no gaps are left between the roots.

9. Mulch better

Mulch is essential for conserving moisture and preventing weeds, but one inch is all you need. Established garden beds don’t even need mulch because the plants themselves are then capable of protecting the soil.

Avoid landscaping fabric, since it actually keeps moisture from percolating into the soil. Instead, lay down sheets of newspaper before mulching.

Mulches vary by region, but whichever kind you use, follow this one rule: Don’t ever pile it up against the plants. They’ll rot in no time, and you’ll soon have nothing more than an ugly bed of mulch in their place.

Posted by Steve Asbell on Zillow

3 Tips for Enhancing Curb Appeal

Here are three quick, easy ways to improve your home’s exterior (and you can do them all in a weekend).

Whether you’re polishing your home’s appearance to put it on the market or just making some cosmetic changes for your own satisfaction, exterior improvements can have a big impact. As you gather inspiration for revving up your home’s curb appeal, keep in mind that low-cost updates and a little extra landscaping  can go a long way. Pretty soon you’ll have the best-looking house on the block.

Looking for more curb appeal ideas? Check out Digs Guides.

Posted by Zillow Group

Curb Appeal: What It Really Is, and Why It Matters

A great-looking yard and exterior help attract potential buyers, but today’s sellers need to take it a step further.

Courtesy of Zillow Digs.

Let’s face it, first impressions matter. We care about how we dress for a job interview, and we spend extra time in front of the mirror before that first date. When it comes to selling a home, first impressions matter, too.

The term “curb appeal” derives from real estate sales and home design. For years, buyers have formed their first impressions of homes while standing in the street or sitting inside the car, just beyond the curb. Before the advent of text messaging and smartphones, a buyer would get a phone call or fax from their agent about a new listing. The initial drive-by would determine whether or not they would go for an actual showing.

To get that buyer in the door, the seller spent hours, even days, seeding new grass and planting flowers, painting their front door, mulching, weeding and cleaning up the yard. If the home didn’t appeal from the curb, buyers moved on to the next house. Curb appeal was always the single most important piece of the home sale puzzle.

Expanded appeal

Today, curb appeal still matters — but it matters differently. Almost every buyer forms their first impression from a home’s online photos.

Instead of driving to your home, buyers will scroll through pictures of both the outside and the inside, before ever stepping foot inside. What’s more, they may never come to see it if they don’t like what they see online.

While the exterior of your home should be high on your priority list, it is most valuable only when the buyer walks up or drives by. But they may not ever get that far.

The interior also needs to show your home in its best possible light, because Web appeal has become the new curb appeal. And if your home doesn’t photograph well — either because you didn’t have it professionally shot, didn’t post high-resolution photos, or you haven’t taken the time to prep it — then curb appeal won’t even make a difference.

What sellers should do

Sellers need to spend ample time preparing the inside of their home and getting great photos, so buyers will form the best possible impression.

The downside for sellers is that they have to work so much harder than they did just 15 years ago. In our ever-more-visual society, buyers make immediate judgments about a home within moments of clicking on the new listing on their smartphone.

Sellers only have one chance to make a good impression. The home still needs to look good from the curb — but to get the buyers there in person, it needs to look great on the Web.

Posted by Brendan Desimone on Zillow

6 Fall Gardening Tips You Need to Read

If you thought spring was the only time to plant and indulge in some gardening, you’ve come to the right place! There’s no need to worry about your garden turning dull and lifeless as fall approaches as there’s a lot you can grow depending on where you stay.

Even if you don’t want to grow plants in the cold months, preparing your garden for next spring will be helpful in more ways than one.

Here are some great fall gardening tips you’ll find helpful.

Clean up the Place

Start with clearing the ground of fallen leaves and twigs. Remember to save the leaves to make compost. Pick up fallen flowers and fruits, and dispose diseased or infested plantsappropriately after uprooting.

Check the ground carefully for weeds and get rid of them. Some perennial weeds can be killed more easily with fall weedicides than with summer applications.

Don’t Uproot it All

While you may want to uproot annuals that flower in summer, leave a few of them untouched. Certain annuals and perennials like ornamental grasses, tall sedums, and Russian sage will add interest to your fall and winter garden.

Store Bulbs and Seeds

If you had planted some great annuals in the summer, you can store the bulbs and seeds for next spring. For bulbs, let root structures dry out for a few days after you dig them up. Shake off excess soil and store in a cool, dark place in sawdust or peat moss. Seeds of open-pollinated plants can be stored in paper envelopes placed inside glass jars indoors.

Freshen up the Soil

Freshening up the soil will help your fall plants grow to their full potential. Further, by growing plants that can replete the soil with nutrients, you’ll be doing your future spring plants a favor.

Move the existing layer of mulch to one side. Compacted soil can hinder root growth so use a garden fork and fluff up the ground. You may want to test the pH of the soil at this stage and make amendments as needed.

Once you’re done, see if the old mulch can be reused; you might have to add in fresh organic matter if the mulch has decomposed considerably.

Shred the dead leaves you picked up while clearing your garden and spread them over the ground. Shredding leaves is important as whole leaves will form a mat and prevent water from flowing through the soil. Wet the shredded leaves down or cover with a light dusting of compost to stop them from blowing away.

If you’re planning to grow fall vegetables in your garden, use straw as mulch. This will help as you can easily scatter and move straw about. Moreover, it will provide an excellent home for spiders who will help keep pests away.

Take Care of Green Cover

Grass will turn green again after the blistering-hot summer and will grow vigorously next spring if you fertilize it while it’s still green. Refrain from mowing it too short, and continue to aerate and water it until it turns brown. If snow cover is scant where you live, you can water your lawn once a month throughout the winter.

Synthetic grass won’t require as much care and maintenance. However, continue caring for your synthetic turf as you normally do to keep it looking lush and natural.

Choose Fall Plants Wisely

Before you start planting fall varieties, identify your fall gardening goals. Do you want to grow plants of a particular color or texture, or do you want to fill in blank spots created by dead warm-weather plants?

Decide on a fall garden plan and remember to stick to established gardening guidelines to ensure your garden looks as pretty as it does in the warmer months.

When it comes to selecting plants, note that depending on where you live, you can grow several plants and vegetables in your garden in fall and winter. Try growing vegetables like lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, kale, and chard, and you’ll fall in love with the taste of home-grown produce! Do plant some quick growers like radishes and spinach- these can go from seed to table in a month or so.

To add color, you can grow ornamental grasses or succulents. Trees that show fall colors will also be a great addition to your garden.

Conclusion

Gardening in fall allows you to appreciate the beauty of nature season after season. With fewer pests to deal with, your fall plants are sure to grow better. And when you plant perennials in fall and winter, you can relax knowing that they’ll grow bigger by spring and be better adapted to brave the hot summer!

Now that you’ve read these tips, you know that fall gardening isn’t tough at all. With just a little care, you’ll have a beautiful garden to look at even in the cold months.

Happy gardening!

Posted by Francesca Holmes on HomeZada