Size Matters: Finding the Perfect Size Home for You

How do you find the ideal home size for you and your family?

If you’re house shopping, there’s probably one question that’s been on your mind often: “What size home should I buy?” At a glance, the answer seems obvious: as big as you can afford! But that’s only a small piece of the puzzle. Home size matters on many levels from personal preference to resale value, future plans, your budget, and more.

How do you find the ideal home size for you and your family? Here are three things you need to consider:

The Truth About Square Footage

A foot is a foot, right? When it comes to the square footage of your future home that may not be the case. Measuring the size of a house isn’t incredibly precise. More often than not, the size will change depending on which appraiser is measuring and what mechanism they’re using to determine the square footage: measuring tape, laser measure, or eyeball. The reality is that there are no universal standards when it comes to measuring your home size.

What does this mean for you? You need to choose your home size not by the numbers but by the feel. Don’t put too much stock in the listing size on paper, but instead find out in person if each room, bathroom, and living area is large enough for your needs. It’s not about how other individuals answer the question, “What is a good sized house?” It’s about you, your family, and how big a place feels in person.

Your Budget

While your budget isn’t the only thing you should consider, it needs to be one of the critical factors in determining your ideal home size. And that may be little more complicated than you think. What matters when it comes to your budget?

  • Loan Size: The larger the house, the more expensive—most of the time. Make sure the average house size of your real estate listings fits with your pre-approved loan budget.
  • Monthly Budget: Large houses are expensive to keep up. As you increase your square footage expect to pay more in electricity, water, gas, cleaning, and more. If you have a tight allocation for monthly expenses, don’t go overboard on a large house without factoring in these other costs.
  • Your Future: Are you planning to have more kids? Do you need a new car? Are you counting on getting a raise at work? If you’re expecting your financial situation to change, make sure your home budget fits the modifications.

Your Preferences and Needs

Your particular wants and needs should have the most significant impact on the home you choose. Make sure you’re truthful and honest with yourself about your expectations and needs. For example, if you eat out regularly and hate cooking, there’s no need to spend on a gourmet kitchen! You’d be better served looking for a home with a smaller kitchen and a bigger living room.

To help you determine your preferences, here are ten questions you should ask yourself:

  1. Do you like small and cozy or do you need room to spread out?
  2. How many people are in your family and how much space does each person need?
  3. Do you have any hobbies or jobs that require extra space? (If you work from home, you’ll need an office. If cars are a passion, you’ll want a more substantial garage)
  4. How often do you have visitors over? (If you have parties every few weeks and relatives visit a few times a year, you might want more space for guests)
  5. Are you planning to have more kids or have an elderly relative move in with you?
  6. What size of house have you been excited about in the past?
  7. How much storage do you need? (Closet space and built-ins can be a big space saver)
  8. How large is your furniture, and how much do you have? (If you have a king-sized bed, you want a big master bedroom)
  9. What’s your five-year plan? (Upgrading your home to a larger size can be difficult; make sure the home you choose can last for years)
  10. How much outdoor space do I want?

For additional help, check out, “What size home should I buy?

The key to purchasing the right-sized home for you is being realistic. Make sure you really sit down with your family to discuss what you need, want, and can afford. Then, ask your local Coldwell Banker real estate agent to help you search for the perfect sized house for you.

All the Ways Your Front Entrance Can Sell Your Home

When getting your home ready to sell, what areas should you focus your time and budget on?

If only selling your home was as simple as snapping your fingers. We’d love that, and we’re sure you would too.

Unfortunately, reality is rarely that kind. Instead, there are a thousand little details that go into selling your home from hiring a real estate agent to home staging and curb appeal enhancements. It’s every piece together that brings in the buyer.

But if you’ve focused mostly on finding the right realtor and too little on curb appeal, you could be putting yourself at a disadvantage. Never underestimate the power of a great first impression, which starts with the outside of your home.

Staging a House to Sell

When getting your home ready to sell, the first area you want to focus on is the exterior. This is what a buyer will see first before they ever step a foot inside, so it needs to look polished and attractive. The question then is, “What should I concentrate my budget and time on?”

  1. Create a Gorgeous Front Entrance

Homeowners who update their entry door can recoup a significant amount of the cost of installation. In particular, you should consider installing a steel entry door.

In addition, you want to clean your entire entrance. Remove any clutter around your entrance including furniture, pots, and entry mats and thoroughly clean everything, making sure to repaint or touch up as needed. You’ll also want to polish any metal knobs or fixtures. A great entrance can ensure that every other part of your home is more inviting as well.

  1. Repaint the Exterior

Repainting the outside of your home is a big job, but it’s worth the results. A new coat of paint can seriously improve your home’s curb appeal. Just make sure you do your research before you choose your exterior house colors. Not only do you want to choose colors that appeal to you, but colors that fit your neighborhood.

We recommend choosing bright and welcoming colors for your home, especially when it comes to your front door. A bright red or blue door really pops. As for the overall color, we recommend choosing a light gray/blue color. A great color can help you sell your home faster and for more money.

  1. Update Your Landscaping

Poor landscaping can distract from an otherwise beautiful house that has exceptional home staging. That’s because no matter how great your furniture and walls look inside, if they can’t get past the lack of imagination and poor curb appeal outside, it won’t matter.

Make sure your shrubs are trimmed and not blocking windows and opportunities for natural light. Add color with freshly potted flowers and plants. Manicure your lawn and ensure there are no weed gardens and all mulch is in place.

A stunning landscape can make a buyer automatically assume and be ready for an equally stunning house.

  1. Ditch the Clutter

When prepping the interior of your home, you don’t leave junk everywhere. The same should be said for the outside. Streamline your exterior by removing evidence of a busy family life such as garden tools, bikes, toys, and trash cans. You’ll also want to remove any extraneous furniture. Keep everything parsed down to the minimum.

  1. Make it Livable

Finally, you’ll want to make a great outdoor living space, if you can. Outdoor rooms are attractive to potential homebuyers. Consider adding a seating area to your deck or creating a barbeque area with a fire pit. A few small items can expand your home’s living space outside, adding to its attraction for buyers.

The reality is that buyers have very little imagination. If your home looks too much like you, then they won’t be able to see themselves in your home. The goal is to make your home a blank slate that they can see fitting into seamlessly.

By focusing on improving your curb appeal, you focus on making a great first impression that will last throughout the buying process. After all, getting buyers in the door is the hardest step. Once they’re inside, your real estate agent and you can take care of the rest.

5 Plants That Naturally Repel Mosquitoes

Check out these plants that naturally repel mosquitoes.

Guest post by Rachael Baihn

Many homeowners want to enjoy their outdoor living space but don’t want to get eaten by mosquitoes while doing so. Bug repellents and bug zappers are effective but don’t keep those nasty bugs away from your outdoor living area. Check out these plants that naturally repel mosquitoes and other annoying bugs that keep you from using your outdoor space more often:

1. Lavender

This beautiful purple colored plant is a natural mosquito repellent with a wonderful fragrance. Lavender is a great addition to an outdoor space as it adds color as well as keeps bugs at bay. Its unique scent will keep insects and rabbits away and is very hardy. Lavender tends to spread out and can get quite large so make sure that you have enough space when planting this beauty. Lavender does well in warmer climates but can withstand a wide variety of environments as well.

2. Citronella Grass

This plant is a no brainer when it comes to its ability to keep mosquitoes at bay. Citronella is a commonly used ingredient in many natural mosquito repellents and this grass does well in doing just that. The lemon scent of Citronella Grass is incredibly good at repelling bugs and does well in planters. Place a few pots around an outdoor living space for ultimate protection against biting insects.

3. Catnip

As a variation of the mint family, catnip is very good at deterring insects. It is low maintenance and does well in planters as it has a tendency to creep into other areas of the garden. A recent study showed that catnip was actually much more effective than DEET and the natural repelling aspects are impressive. If you do decide to choose this mosquito repelling plant have a plan of action for neighborhood cats who may be attracted to your outdoor space as well!

4. Marigolds

This annual flower produces a scent that repels mosquitoes as well as other bugs such as whiteflies, aphids, and hornworms. Marigolds are an easy addition to an outdoor space as they do well in pots that can be spread out around a patio area or even placed directly on your outdoor table. They do well in borders or edging as well and should grow well all summer long.

5. Rosemary

As an easy to grow herb, Rosemary extracts a woody scented oil that repels both moths and mosquitoes. It does well in containers but can also thrive along borders or in garden beds as well. Rosemary has the ability to grow quite large so regular trimming is recommended. It does best in dry and arid environments but can withstand colder areas when placed in pots. Enjoy the mosquito repelling qualities of this plant as well as snip off a few sprigs to use in summer cooking.

Take charge of your outdoor space and plant different varieties that will repel pesky mosquitoes the natural way. Choose a few favorites and see which plant does best in your outdoor space. Consider placing them close to the outdoor seating area for greatest impact on keeping the biting insects away from your outdoor space this summer.

How to Build a Reasonably Priced Shed for Your Backyard

By following these five tips, you can kick the clutter and keep your wallet fat.

By Chelsea McGrath

Is your garage overflowing with gear and gadgets? Whether your clutter is for business or pleasure, a backyard shed is the perfect storage solution.

But, extra space comes with a price tag. Prefab sheds can put you back thousands of dollars, and a bad DIY can cost you your weekends and your pride.

What if you could build a quality shed without breaking the bank? By following these five tips, you can kick the clutter and keep your wallet fat.

#1 Cut the Frill = Cut the Costs

The average custom-made shed costs anywhere from $2,109 to $3,545 depending on the materials you use and whether you do it yourself or call in a local pro.

So, how can you keep your shed budget under a grand? Cut out all the frills. Sheds become expensive when homeowners choose costly features, like

  • Electricity
  • Shelves and built-in storage
  • Decorative trim
  • Loft
  • Ramp
  • Workbench
  • Large square footage

Skilled laborers, like electricians and carpenters, can charge up to $100/hour to add these custom features, not including the cost of added material.

Cheap sheds are basic sheds—four walls, a roof, and a foundation. Consider which features you need and which you can live without.

#2 Choose Cost-Effective Materials

You want your materials to be sturdy yet practical. Luckily, sheds can be built with a variety of materials, which we ranked from most to least expensive.

Expensive: Vinyl

Vinyl is a favorite among homeowners due to its strength and durability. Vinyl sheds are known to resist rot, harsh weather, insects, and dents.

It’s a great, maintenance-free option – especially for homeowners that live in areas that experience heavy snowfall and bad storms.

Of course, that durability comes at a price. At the cheapest, vinyl will run around $800 in material cost, and up to $5,000 at its most expensive.

 Can be Costly: Wood

Wood is beautiful and popular and very customizable. But, it can also be expensive. A lot of labor and resources are put into making those beautiful wood slabs, driving up the cost.

Expect to spend anywhere from $600 to $3,000 on materials for a wood shed.

Cheapest: Metal

Metal is a cost-cutting favorite – it is low maintenance, resists rot, insects, and decay, and can last upwards of 25 years. Depending on the size of your shed, metal material can cost as little as $300.

Your metal shed won’t be as resistant to heavy snow and high wind, but it’s the ultimate budget saver in a temperate climate.

#3 Shop Around

You know what they say about one man’s trash being another man’s treasure? There’s always someone out there with too much of something who wants to reclaim their space. Which means you can snag up materials for ultra-cheap – sometimes even free!

Lumber mills are overflowing with waste. Politely ask the yard manager if they have any scrap wood you can take off their hands.

Or, search online. A quick search for free or discount lumber revealed dozens of results for wood people wanted to get rid of.

Of course, this means you have to drive (sometimes long distances) and deal with strangers. But, with some courtesy and research, you might be able to snag all or most of the materials for your shed at an ultra-cheap price!

#4 Rent Power Tools Instead of Buying Them

Unless you are a professional handyman, you probably don’t have a huge supply of power tools in your garage.

Contractors estimate you’ll need the following tools to build a shed, though you may need others depending on your materials and construction plans:

  • Safety glasses / hearing protection
  • Hammer
  • Power drill (Cordless) & drill bits
  • Tape measure
  • Nail gun
  • Circular saw
  • Speed square
  • Stepladder
  • Sawhorses

While building a shed is a fun excuse to go tool shopping, it doesn’t make sense to drop a huge amount of dough for a tool you’ll only use twice a year. Buying all these tools could costs hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Not to mention, finding a place to store rarely used tools may be why you’re building a shed in the first place.

Thankfully, many local hardware stores allow you to rent tools for a fraction of the cost.

Of course, if you hire a contractor, they’ll already have all the tools, so you save costs.

#5 Check Permits to Avoid Hidden Costs

Check local building codes before building a shed in your backyard. Even though you’re building on your property, the city can fine you or force you to dismantle your shed if you don’t have the right permit.

Make sure you do your research to avoid unexpected fines and the cost of having to rebuild an improperly placed shed.

#6 When in Doubt, Go With a Pro

DIY projects often seem like the most cost-effective practice. But, consider the cost of materials, the amount of time you’ll have to commit, and your skill level.

Some parts of your project may be out of your skill range aHomd require hiring a carpenter, contractor, or electrician.

Better to hire a professional than spend money and time fixing mistakes and making repairs.

Whether you want to relax by the pool or you have a list of DIY projects, an organized space makes it easier to take full advantage of your summer.

How to Personalize Your Outdoor Space

Transform your patio, deck or outdoor room into a personal oasis that reflects your special sense of style.

Guest post by Sara Marie Hall

As the temperatures rise and the days get longer, it’s time to create an outdoor space that’s a welcoming extension of your home. The inside of your home is a reflection of your style, and your outdoor space should be no different. Struggling with how to bring your design taste outdoors in a way that’s unique to you? With a few special touches, you can transform any patio, deck or outdoor room into a personal oasis that reflects your special sense of style.

Choose Furniture Based on Size and Lifestyle

To get started, consider the size and function of your space to select the right furniture. Whether you have a huge backyard complete with a large patio for alfresco dining or a small balcony in a city apartment, make your outdoor space completely your own by focusing on how you can enjoy it most within the space limitations. For example, your balcony space may not support a dining area, but it might comfortably fit two lounge chairs and a bistro table, perfect for outdoor dining.

If you’re looking to create a cozy, personal getaway to curl up with a book, choose a few chairs, a side table and a chaise lounge. If you love to host outdoor parties during the spring and summer months, consider adding a full outdoor dining set, multiple lounge chairs and even an outdoor bar cart. If you want a place for a large family to gather under the stars, choose a sectional. Everyone’s outdoor style is different, so think about how you envision using the space. Start with what you need, and know that you can always add pieces as your needs change.

Select Accents that Speak to Your Decorating Style

Once you’ve chosen outdoor furniture and decided how you’ll use your space, you get to have some fun decorating! This is where you can truly let your personality come through and give your outdoor space the fun touches that will make it shine. Here are the elements to consider:

Colors. Start by choosing your favorite color scheme. If you like bright colors, go for a bold combination of yellows, blues or reds. Navy is a great option for a poolside retreat. For a contemporary look, blues, whites and greys all blend well. Love a minimalist style? You can’t go wrong with classic black and white.

Textures. With your color palette in mind, search for outdoor rugs and textiles that create a cohesive look. Then, add finishing touches such as copper lanterns, twinkling string lights, stylish planters or metal wall art. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s something you really love and that feels personal.

Add One-of-a-Kind Elements

Of course, no space is complete without a few special touches. You probably don’t want to subject family photos or treasured souvenirs to the elements, but you can still personalize your outdoor space with decor pieces that hold special meaning. Choose touches like a hand-painted birdhouse or homemade musical wind chime. If you have a green thumb, plant your favorite flowers in planters for a sweet reminder every time you see them. However you choose to decorate, you’ll know yours is a one-of-a-kind outdoor space.

 

Sara Marie Hall creates original online content about outdoor furniture for Crate and Barrel, where you can find options for spaces of any size.  She enjoys spending time outdoors and loves adding new personal touches to her outdoor space each summer.

How to Keep Your Pets Stress-Free During a Move

Keep your pets stress-free during your move.

Guest post by Laura McHolm

If you are moving this summer you probably already feel the stresses of moving, but have you thought about what your four-legged family member may be feeling? Dogs and pets do feel the stresses of a move and often even more stress than their human companions are feeling.
Imagine: you can’t read, understand all of the chatter around you and all you see is the chaos of boxes. Your home is in an upheaval plus there are stressed out humans everywhere. Sounds even more stressful, right? That’s why it is vital to take special care of your furry friends during the moving process.

Moving doesn’t have to be a dog-gone cat-astrophy. The good news is that with a paw-ful of wise tips you can ease the trauma on your pets. Here are ten vet approved tricks that have been to keep Fido and Fluffy cared for during the moving process:

1. Before Moving Day

Become familiar with pet rules and regulations. Landlords and homeowners’ associations may have specific pet rules. Become familiar with your new area’s leash laws, pet ordinances and/or pet licensing requirements. Your pet may need additional vaccinations, medications or certain certificates depending on where you are moving. A call to the local animal control facility should answer your questions.

2. Talk to Your Current Vet

Your veterinarian is a great resource. If you have an animal that dislikes traveling, your vet can suggest behavior modification techniques or medication that can make traveling less stressful for your pet. When talking to your vet, also discuss getting Fluffy or Fido micro-chipped, a vital step in reuniting pets with their owners. Make sure the pet’s microchips information is tied to a cell phone number that will move with you.

3. Find a New Vet

Find a new vet in your new area before moving day. Your current vet may be able to make recommendations for colleagues he or she knows in your new area. When finding a new vet, it is recommended to set up an appointment as soon as you move in order to get established. It always important to make sure you are comfortable with their practice before they are needed in an emergency.

4. Get Medical Records

Before you leave your old home, make sure you get a copy of all of your pet’s medical records to give to your new vet and be sure to find the closest emergency animal hospital and keep that phone number handy.

5. Update Your Address

Don’t forget to have new identification tags with your new address and phone number made for your pet’s collar, and if your pet has an identification microchip, remember to update your contact information in the database.

6. Keep Things Normal

Instead of pulling an all-nighter to pack, try to pack over a long period of time so that your pet thinks everything is normal. This will keep their stress level down. If you are moving with cats, it can help to bring out their carriers out a few a weeks before the move. Put their favorite treats and toys inside their carriers so they can get used to it before the big moving day. Don’t pack the food away! Keep your pet’s food, water, bowls, medication and any other important supplies (like that favorite squeaky toy) off the moving truck and with you.

7. Moving Day

During the actual moving day, where boxes and furniture are being moved, pets should be removed. Find a friend who wouldn’t mind pet sitting or find a place away from all the noise of moving such as a doggy day care or cat care center. If you can visit them during a spare moment, it can help reassure the pets that nothing is going on. Keeping pets locked away in a room during moving day can make them anxious from all the noise and new people that might be in your home. If you must keep them locked away, find a quiet room, water bowl and put a HUGE sign on the door.

8. Travel with Your Pet

Unless your move is long distance or international, your pet will likely be traveling by car with you nearby. By driving them yourself you can care for them and give them a sense of familiarity as they move. To prepare your pet for this trip, drive for short distances with your pet to prepare them before the final move. Also, remember to plan ahead for any special carriers your pets may need for transportation. There are even special seat belts for large dogs.

9. Air Travel

If you are moving your pet by air or internationally, check all rules and regulations far ahead of the day you plan to leave and remember to keep your pet’s special documentation at hand.

10. After Moving Day

Don’t let pets roam around the neighborhood until they are acclimated. Take them out on a leash to explore their new territory and show them how to get home. If you let them out in a new place right away, they might get lost or run away due to stress. Make sure your pet’s new identification tags are secured to their collar.

Now snuggle up with your furry friend and enjoy the new home!

Laura McHolm is an organizational, moving & storage expert and co-founder of NorthStar Moving Company. NorthStar Moving Company is an award winning, “A+” rated company, which specializes in providing eco-luxury moving and storage services. www.northstarmoving.com

Modest Home Updates to “Wow” Buyers & Boost Value

When selling a home in today’s market, it’s important to consider all the options to help make it stand out and appear move-in ready to selective buyers.

Guest post by Patti Stern

When selling a home in today’s market, it’s important to consider all the options to help make it stand out and appear move-in ready to selective buyers. Which improvements require the least time, effort and expense but will significantly boost your home’s perceived value? To help prioritize, we put together the following list of modest staging solutions/upgrades that will get your property noticed and cost less than the first price reduction that buyers would expect for dated kitchens and baths.

Dining room staged by PJ & Company Staging and Interior Decorating

Freshen Walls With Neutral Color

Our go-to instant fix to brighten and hide dated and damaged walls is neutral paint. It’s amazing to see how a dark red or purple room can be completely transformed with a coat of soft “greige” (a combination of taupe and grey) paint that increases the perceived size of the space, doesn’t distract from the room’s features and acts as the perfect backdrop to modern furnishings and décor.

Kitchen staged by PJ & Company Staging and Interior Decorating

Re-paint Kitchen and Bath Cabinets

To instantly boost a tired kitchen or bath without a costly investment, start by repainting dated and dark cabinets and vanities with bright white paint. Complete the look by pairing with modern hardware – handles, drawer pulls or knobs for added style.

Bathroom staged by PJ & Company Staging and Interior Decorating

Replace Kitchen & Bath Lighting and Countertops

Lighting is an important design element that can affect the mood of a room more than any other accessory. Adding updated lighting in modern designs and on-trend mixed finishes such as brushed nickel, chrome or soft gold tones will add warmth and sophisticated style. It can also be used to draw attention to certain features in the room such as a beautiful new marble or quartz countertop (as shown in photo above), appliances or high ceilings.

Highlight Key Features

For large windows with attractive molding, remove heavier window treatments or simply frame with floor to ceiling neutral drapes. Remove worn carpeting and expose and polish hardwood flooring. Re-stain stairway steps and railings by painting risers or updating spindles. Enhance a beautiful stone fireplace with molding, mantle or screen.

Living room staged by PJ & Company Staging and Interior Decorating

Finishing Touches

Once you’ve invested in cosmetic fixes, be sure to remove dated furniture and accents and replace with more modern style that complement the room (as pictured in living room above). Minimal wall art, vignettes and throw pillows with subtle pops of color and pattern will add depth and warmth so that buyers can emotionally connect and envision living in the home.

Exterior & Curb Appeal

It’s just as important to update the outside of your home to welcome buyers inside. Remodeling magazine’s “Cost vs. Value” report continues to list replacing entry and garage doors, siding and windows as upgrades that provide the greatest return on investment. However, sprucing up the landscaping, making necessary basic repairs, a fresh coat of paint for the front door and some seasonal potted flowers will go a long way to make a great first impression.

For more examples of interior decorating and home staging, visit www.pjstagingdecorating.com.

 

Patti Stern, principal, interior decorator and professional stager of PJ & Company Staging and Interior Decorating, has been decorating and staging homes since 2005. She and her team provide turnkey, full service home staging and interior decorating to clients across Connecticut, New York and Massachusetts. She also developed an award-winning staging program for luxury homebuilder, Toll Brothers. Her company is a 4-time Houzz Award winner,  2015- 2018.

Patti has been featured in Connecticut Magazine, the Hartford Courant, Danbury News-Times and on NBC Connecticut and FOX TV.  She is a regular contributor to the National Association of Realtor’s Blog, “Style, Staged and Sold.”

 For more information, contact Patti Stern at 203-640-3762 or patti@pjstagingdecorating

The 5 Best Self-Learning Smart Home Devices

Self-learning home devices learn your habits and adjust themselves accordingly for an unprecedented level of convenience.

Guest post by Jon Snyder

Picture this: You’ve had an exhausting week — all you want to do is go home and relax. It’s hot outside, but you arrive to a perfectly cooled home. As dusk rolls in, your blinds follow suit, as if they’re chasing the sunset. You make your way to your bedroom and practically crumble into bed. The lights dim as the temperature dips and you drift off into a peaceful sleep.

This might sound like a futuristic dream, but actually, it’s a reality. In today’s world, millions of smart gadgets are available to make your home more intelligent. But these “smart” devices are limited to homeowner’s programming capabilities, which is usually turning on and off at certain times. Genius? Not so much. Self-learning home devices are different. They learn your habits and adjust themselves accordingly for an unprecedented level of convenience.  Here, we’ll take a look at some of the best connected devices and the ways they can observe patterns, interpret data, or use artificial intelligence to help make your life easier.

  1. Self-Learning Thermostats

Keeping your house at an ideal temperate can be pricey. About 50 percent of your energy bill can be attributed to running the heat or air conditioning. A manual thermostat can be programmed to adjust temps at certain times but if you leave for vacation and forget to turn it off, you’re out of luck.

Smart thermostats are a game-changer. They can learn your favorite temp and make sure you’re never too hot or too cold. If you’ve cranked the AC a few days in a row, your thermostat will pick up on this pattern and adjust the temperature settings accordingly. And when you leave for work or a week-long vacation, sensors and GPS will alert your thermostat to automatically save energy (and money).

2.    Self-Learning Blinds

There’s nothing worse than being woken up at the crack of dawn on a weekend to sun beams hitting you square in the face. Or the opposite — you can’t seem to roll out of bed because the room is so dark that it must still be nighttime, right?

Smart blinds can help address both of these issues. The latest intelligent shades connect to your compatible smart-home systems and adjust themselves automatically. Simply program your shades to move your window treatments to your preference. And to take it one step further, some smart blinds can follow the sun to maintain the same level of light as the season’s change, which saves energy and money (without any effort on your part).

3.    Self-Learning Beds

Even your bed can have brainpower. Tech-savvy mattresses covers sync up with your thermostat and bedroom lighting for a full sensory experience. As you begin to snooze, the temperature and lights of your room and bed adjust to your preference. When you doze off completely, they adjust again or turn off completely. These self-learning mattress protectors can also track your sleep patterns and help you achieve your best night’s rest.

4.    Self-Learning Surveillance

Being able to keep an eye on your home while you are away is the ultimate peace of mind, as one in 36 homes are burglarized each year. Smart surveillance systems employ innovative learning technology like facial recognition to keep your home safe from unfamiliar faces. Some cameras also have self-learning video analytics, which automatically adjust their settings based on the scene conditions to give you the clearest view possible. Plus, they connect to Wi-Fi for 24/7 footage, pinged right to your smartphone from anywhere with internet.

5.    Self-Learning Spectrometer  

This might not seem like an everyday item, but smart food spectrometers are making waves in the kitchen. This tool interprets algorithms to understand food freshness, sweetness and quality. In real-time, it can determine if your meat has gone bad, if your whiskey is the real deal or if that farmer’s market fruit is fresh.

Bonus: Self-Learning Home Controller

As seen at the 2018 Consumer Electronic Show, a self-learning home controller takes your smart home gadgets and make them smarter. It uses artificial intelligence to understand your home patterns, picking up data from your smart appliances, lighting and electricity. It automates mundane tasks without scheduling or hassle to better manage your home and save money. Although it’s not available for purchase yet, this home controller could help smart gadgets reach their full potential.

 

As smart home gadgets continue to get smarter and learn on their own, it’ll be fascinating to see how they will predict our behavior to save energy, slash bills, and most importantly, make our lives better.

Perhaps one day, there will be no snoozing through alarms (your phone will know to wake you up), no burnt banana bread (your oven will know it’s fully baked), and no parties after midnight (your lights know bedtime is at 10PM). But hopefully these self-learning devices will learn that sometimes humans like to break the rules.

 

Jon Snyder is a Product Manager at Esurance, where he oversees countrywide design of property insurance products. Jon has over 25 years of experience in the insurance industry and he writes about a variety of topics, including smart home technology, homeowners insurance and the intersection of the two. You can learn more about Esurance’s homeowners insurance options by visiting their website

How to Create a Beautiful Drink Station for Your Backyard Party

Cool ideas for your next backyard party from our friends at The Home Depot.

By Lea Schneider

With an indoor party, you know that everyone is going to mingle in the kitchen no matter how hard you try to get them to spread out. Outdoors, you can be sure that everyone will huddle around the beverages. With that in mind, it’s time to deliberately make your outdoor drink station the focal point of the party.

From family reunions and holiday bbqs to outdoor weddings and graduation parties, the summer is ripe with celebration. A beautiful self-serve drink station means no one needs to stand around and pour drinks. Everyone gets to mingle and guests will have fun creating personalized concoctions.

You can go with just one theme and create a soda, lemonade or iced tea bar. Or, you can offer a little bit of everything. Adding some labels to dispensers or setting sings by the pitchers will allow guests to help themselves without seeking you out to ask which drink is which.

I love to help friends and family with life’s little celebrations. It’s easy to create a wow-factor beverage table. The really nice part is that you can get much of it ready ahead of time and simply carry it out into place on the day of the party. Creating a simple plan is key. I’ve put together the steps as well as some great ideas for your next summer event.

Be a Show Off

Since you are making the drink table front and center as a focal point, this is the time to show off. Start by deciding what you will use to hold everything. Folding tables or saw horses with tablecloths or even quilts are a good starting point. You can really glam things up by carrying out a decorative dresser or sideboard for the day.

The old adage that we eat with our eyes applies to beverages too. The fruit punch or lemonade might taste the same no matter what you put it in, but it will look amazing in a glass beverage dispenser, pitcher or punch bowl so the colors shine and the fruit is seen.

For visual appeal, choose glass bottles over canned beverages if you are offering individual drinks. Nestling the bottles in the ice makes everyone crave a cold drink. You can really have some fun with this idea by using interesting containers instead of hiding the drinks in a cooler. Dunk them in a galvanized bucket. Fill up a wheelbarrow, washtub or red wagon with ice and tuck in the bottles. For a baby shower, you could even use a baby bathtub. As long as the container is sturdy enough to hold the ice and drinks, you can let your imagination run wild.

Remember to set out a pitcher of water, as well as some sugar-free drinks like unsweetened iced tea, for guests who can’t consume sugar or just want an alternative option.

Keep Your Cool

Of course the key to an outdoor cold drink station is ice—and plenty of it! You’ll want to make sure to stock up on ice and have some on back up. A great tip for handling ice for a group is to get a freestanding ice maker. These countertop appliances are small and handy, yet they make pounds of ice. They can easily be left out for the party and then tucked in the cabinet until needed again.

Make It Fun

Continue the fun and grab colorful drink containers. For an outdoor event, you can get creative and use anything from glasses to mason jars to bright plastic tumblers. Even if you go the disposable cup route, you can still glam them up with tiny paper umbrellas or cute nametags.

Sugared rims are easy to do, but might not be something your guests want to attempt. You can easily pre-sugar the rims for a gorgeous presentation. Place a small account of water, lemon or lime juice in a saucer. Dip the rim of the glass in the liquid, then dip the wet rim into a saucer of sugar. Use tinted sugar for a pretty effect.

Garnishing the glasses is where your guests get a chance to have fun and really personalize their drink. Set out bowls of cleaned and sliced garnishes. It’s easy to mix and match a variety of garnishes with ice tea, lemonade, punch and sodas for unique beverages— and the garnishes makes them look so pretty.

Some of my favorites include bowls of fresh blueberries and raspberries, sliced strawberries, skinny circles of cucumber, wedges of lemon and lime and thin pieces of melon. Sprigs of fresh mint and rosemary are best kept in a tiny bit of water so they stay fresh. Colorful straws, skewers and drink stirs give more mix and match options.

It’s really simple to pull all these components together so your drink station is not just a pretty focal point, but is also entertaining and delicious.

Lea Schneider is an organizational expert who knows that good planning often translates into good times. Lea writes her advice on backyard parties and other outdoor activities for The Home Depot. To review a wide selection of ice chests and freezers that may fit the bill for your next warm weather get-together, you can visit the Home Depot website.

 

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