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5 Easy DIY Weekend Projects Under $300

Posted on: July 27, 2016

By: John Riha @ Houselogic.com

Just another weekend? Not if you take advantage with one or more of these 5 great projects you can easily pull off for under $300.

Most of the cost of these DIY weekend projects is in the materials. The labor — that’s you — is free. All you need now are the hours. But, hey, you’ve got two full days — plenty of time to be a superhero weekend warrior and grab some R&R.

Project #1: Add a Garden Arbor Entry

The setup: Install an eye-catching portal to your garden with a freestanding arbor. It’ll look great at the end of a garden path or framing a grassy area between planting beds.

Specs and cost: Garden arbors can be priced up to thousands of dollars, but you can find nice-looking kits in redwood, cedar, and vinyl at your local home improvement or garden center for $200 to $300. Typical sizes are about 7 feet high and 3 to 4 feet wide. You’ll have to assemble the kit yourself.

Screwdriver; cordless drill/driver; hammer; tape measure. Kits come pre-cut and pre-drilled for easy assembly, and usually include screws. If fasteners aren’t included, check the materials list before you leave the store.

Time: 3 to 5 hours

Project #2: Install a Window Awning

The setup: Summer is super, but too much sunlight from south- and west-facing windows can heat up your interiors and make your AC work overtime. Beat that heat and save energyby using an awning to stop harsh sunlight before it enters your house.

Specs and cost: Residential awnings come in many sizes and colors. Some are plastic or aluminum, but most are made with weatherproof fabrics. They’re engineered for wind resistance, and some are retractable. A 4-foot-wide awning with a 2.5-foot projection is $150 to $250.

Tools: Cordless drill/driver; adjustable wrench; tape measure; level. You can install an awning on any siding surface, but you’ll need a hammer drill to drill holes in brick. To prevent leaks, fill any drilled holes with silicone sealant before you install screws and bolts.

: 3 to 4 hours

Project #3: Screen Off Your Air Conditioner from View

The setup: Air conditioning is great, but air conditioner condensers are ugly. Up your curb appeal quotient by hiding your AC condenser or heat pump unit with a simple screen.

Specs and costs: An AC screen is typically three-sided, about 40 inches high, and freestanding — you’ll want to be able to move it easily when it comes time to service your HVAC. For about $100, you can make a screen yourself using weather-resistant cedar or pressure-treated wood to build three frames, and filling each frame with plastic or pressure-treated lattice.

Or, buy pre-made fencing panels. A 38-inch-by-38-inch plastic fencing panel is about $50.

Tools: Hammer; saw; cordless drill/driver; measuring tape; galvanized wood screws.

Time: Build it yourself in four to six hours. Install pre-made fencing in one to two hours.

Project #4: Add Garage Storage

The setup: Shopping for garage storage solutions is definitely a kid-in-the-candy-store experience. There are so many cool shelves, hooks, and hangers available that you’ll need to prioritize your needs. Take stock of long-handled landscape tools, bikes, paint supplies, ladders, and odd ducks, such as that kayak. Measure your available space so you’ll have a rough idea of where everything goes.

Specs and cost: Set your under-$300 budget, grab a cart, and get shopping. Many storage systems are made to be hung on drywall, but hooks and heavy items should be fastened directly to studs. Use a stud finder ($20) to locate solid framing.

If your garage is unfinished, add strips of wood horizontally across studs so you’ll have something to fasten your storage goodies to. An 8-foot-long 2-by-4 is about $2.50.

Tools: Cordless drill/driver; hammer; level; measuring tape; screws and nails.

Time: This is a simple project, but not a fast one. Figure six to 10 hours to get everything where you want it, plus shopping. But, oh the fun in putting everything in its place!

If you want to do something really inexpensive, DIY a simple overhead bin system. All you need is plywood, plastic bins, some tools, and a weekend. See how it’s done:

Project #5: Edging Your Garden

The setup: Edging is a great way to define your planting beds, corral garden mulch, and to separate your lawn from your garden or patio.

Specs and cost: Wood and metal edging looks like tiny fencing; they’re 4 to 6 inches high. Some include spikes that hold the edging in position; other types must be partially buried. Cost is $1 to $5 per foot.

Plastic edging can be molded and colored to mimic brick, wood, and stone. About $20 for 10 feet.

Concrete edging blocks are smooth, or textured to resemble stone. $15 to $25 for 10 feet.

Real stone edging is installed flush with the surrounding grade in a shallow trench on a bed of sand, so digging is required. Stone is sold by the ton and prices vary by region. You’ll need about one-third of a ton of flagstone to make an 8-inch-wide edging 50 feet long, costing $150 to $200.

Tools: Shovel; wheelbarrow; tin snips (for cutting plastic edging); work gloves.

Time: Pre-made edging will take two to three hours for 50 feet; stone will take six to 10 hours.

7 Smart Strategies for Bathroom Remodeling

Posted on: July 18, 2016


By: John Riha @ Houselogic.com

Here’s how  to get the bathroom of your dreams without making your budget a nightmare.

You dream about a bathroom that’s high on comfort and personal style, but you also want materials, fixtures, and amenities with lasting value. Wake up! You can have both.

A midrange bathroom remodel is a solid investment, according to the “2015 Remodeling Impact Report” from the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. A bath remodel with a national median cost of $26,000 will recover about 58% of those costs when it’s time to sell your home.

Regardless of payback potential, you’ll probably be glad you went ahead and updated your bathroom. Homeowners polled for the “Report” gave their bathroom renovation a Joy Score of 9.3 — a rating based on those who said they were happy or satisfied with their project, with 10 being the highest rating and 1 the lowest.

1. Stick to a Plan

A bathroom remodel is no place for improvisation. Before ripping out the first tile, think hard about how you will use the space, what materials and fixtures you want, and how much you’re willing to spend.

The National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) recommends spending up to six months evaluating and planning before beginning work. That way, you have a roadmap that will guide decisions, even the ones made under remodeling stress. Once work has begun — a process that averages two to three months — resist changing your mind. Work stoppages and alterations add costs. Some contractors include clauses in their contracts that specify premium prices for changing original plans.

If planning isn’t your strong suit, hire a designer. In addition to adding style and efficiency, a professional designer makes sure contractors and installers are scheduled in an orderly fashion. A pro charges $100 to $200 per hour, and spends 10 to 30 hours on a bathroom project.

2. Keep the Same Footprint

You can afford that Italian tile you love if you can live with the total square footage you already have.

Keeping the same footprint, and locating new plumbing fixtures near existing plumbing pipes, saves demolition and reconstruction dollars. You’ll also cut down on the dust and debris that make remodeling so hard to live with.

Make the most of the space you have. Glass doors on showers and tubs open up the area. A pedestal sink takes up less room than a vanity. If you miss the storage, replace a mirror with a deep medicine cabinet.

3. Make Lighting a Priority

Multiple shower heads and radiant heat floors are fabulous adds to a bathroom remodel. But few items make a bathroom more satisfying than lighting designed for everyday grooming. You can install lighting for a fraction of the cost of pricier amenities.

Well-designed bathroom task lighting surrounds vanity mirrors and eliminates shadows on faces: You look better already. The scheme includes two ceiling- or soffit-mounted fixtures, and side fixtures or sconces distributed vertically across 24 inches (to account for people of various heights). Four-bulb lighting fixtures work well for side lighting.

Today, shopping for bulbs means paying attention to lumens, the amount of light you get from a bulb — i.e., brightness. For these bathroom task areas, the Lighting Research Center recommends:

  • Toilet: 45 lumens
  • Sink: 450 lumens
  • Vanity: 1,680 lumens

4. Clear the Air

Bathroom ventilation systems may be out of sight, but they shouldn’t be out of mind during a bathroom remodel.

Bathroom ventilation is essential for removing excess humidity that fogs mirrors, makes bathroom floors slippery, and contributes to the growth of mildew and mold. Controlling mold and humidity is especially important for maintaining healthy indoor air quality and protecting the value of your home — mold remediationis expensive, and excess humidity can damage cabinets and painted finishes.

A bathroom vent and water closet fan should exhaust air to the outside — not simply to the space between ceiling joists. Better models have whisper-quiet exhaust fans and humidity-controlled switches that activate when a sensor detects excess moisture in the air.


5. Think Storage

Bathroom storage is a challenge: By the time you’ve installed the toilet, shower, and sink, there’s often little space left to store towels, toilet paper, and hair and body products. Here are some ways to find storage in hidden places.

  • Think vertically: Upper wall space in a bathroom is often underused. Freestanding, multi-tiered shelf units designed to fit over toilet tanks turn unused wall area into found storage. Spaces between wall studs create attractive and useful niches for holding soaps and toiletries. Install shelves over towel bars to use blank wall space.
  • Think moveable: Inexpensive woven baskets set on the floor are stylish towel holders. A floor-stand coat rack holds wet towels, bath robes, and clothes.
  • Think utility: Adding a slide-out tray to vanity cabinet compartments provides full access to stored items and prevents lesser-used items from being lost or forgotten.

6. Contribute Sweat Equity

Shave labor costs by doing some work yourself. Tell your contractor which projects you’ll handle, so there are no misunderstandings later.

Some easy DIY projects:

  • Install window and baseboard trim; save $250.
  • Paint walls and trim, 200 square feet; save $200.
  • Install toilet; save $150.
  • Install towel bars and shelves; save $20 each.

7. Choose Low-Cost Design for High Visual Impact

A “soft scheme” adds visual zest to your bathroom, but doesn’t create a one-of-a-kind look that might scare away future buyers.

Soft schemes employ neutral colors for permanent fixtures and surfaces, then add pizzazz with items that are easily changed, such as shower curtains, window treatments, towels, throw rugs, and wall colors. These relatively low-cost decorative touches provide tons of personality but are easy to redo whenever you want.

DIY Wish List: Function Trumps Form

Posted on: June 30, 2016


By: Lisa Kaplan Gordon @ Houselogic.com

Published: August 1, 2013

A new study examines which outdoor projects DIYers would love to do . . . but probably won’t.

When it comes to picking outdoor DIY projects, we found it interesting that homeowners opt for functionality over form — and even finances, according to a new survey of U.S. homeowners. That’s music to our pragmatic ears.

By a wide margin, homeowners say they prefer functional projects (57%) over those that just look good (28.3%) or have financial value (14.7%).

But just because DIYers desire a project, that doesn’t mean they’re going to strap on a tool belt and actually do it. The survey also reveals the most-wanted projects a DIYer is least likely to do: High-skill/high-effort projects, like building a deck or privacy fence, probably will never make it off the DIYer’s wish list.

The most-desirable projects promise to make outdoor time more fun; but the ones homeowners probably will do are the easiest, like planting a garden or spreading around some landscaping pebbles.

Take a look at these numbers crunched by the Home Projects Council, a group of home improvement experts that sponsored the online survey of 1,278 homeowners planning outdoor home improvement projects in 2013.

Top-5 Desirable Outdoor Projects

1. Plant a garden (49.1%): Anyone with a shovel and some seeds can try this project, though it’ll take some experience to grow temperamental veggies, like tomatoes.

2. Landscaping with pebbles, stones, or rocks (28.3%): Attractive landscaping adds value to your home by boosting curb appeal. And it doesn’t take much effort to spread pea gravel in garden paths to add color and texture. 

Tip: Edge your path to keep the gravel from spreading.

3. Build a deck (22.8%): A deck is a great way to create outdoor living space, especially when your yard is sloped. Deck maintenance is easy, too: A coat of sealer will keep it looking good.

4. Create a fire or BBQ pit (20.5%): This retro project evokes 1950s dads flipping burgers over a handmade brick pit. Today, you’re more likely to install a gas grill in the pit, which makes the stainless steel seem less industrial and more homey.

5. Build a patio or walkway with pavers or bricks (19.2%): These stone hardscapes are elegant, functional, and long-lasting.

Top 5 Projects DIYers Wouldn’t Do on a Bet

Hey, a guy can dream, and then hire a pro to:

  • Build an outdoor kitchen.
  • Pour concrete slabs for patios, steps, or sidewalks.
  • Install a garden pond.
  • Resurface a concrete driveway, sidewalk, or patio.
  • Build a deck.


How to Keep Your House Cool Without AC

Posted on: June 24, 2016


By: Lisa Kaplan Gordon

Want summer comfort but hate the AC? Follow these tips on how to keep your house cool without frosty air conditioning.

You don’t have to switch on the air conditioner to get a big chill this summer. These tips will help you keep your house cool without AC, which will save energy (and avoid AC wars with your family).

Block that Sun!

When sunlight enters your house, it turns into heat. You’ll keep your house cooler if you reduce solar heat gain by keeping sunlight out.

  • Close the drapes: Line them with light-colored fabric that reflects the sun, and close them during the hottest part of the day. Let them pillow onto the floor to block air movement.
  • Add awnings: Install them on south- and west-facing windows to reduce solar heat gain by up to 77%, says the U.S. Department of Energy. Make your own by tacking up sheets outside your windows and draping the ends over a railing or lawn chair.
  • Install shutters: Interior and exterior shutters not only reduce heat gain and loss, but they also add security and protect against bad weather. Interior shutters with adjustable slats let you control how much sun you let in.
  • Apply high-reflectivity window film: Install energy-saving window films on east- and west-facing windows, which will keep you cool in summer, but let in warming sun in the winter. Mirror-like films are more effective than colored transparent films.

Here’s more information about energy-efficient window coverings.

Open Those Windows

Be sure to open windows when the outside temperature is lower than the inside. Cool air helps lower the temps of everything — walls, floors, furniture — that will absorb heat as temps rise, helping inside air say cooler longer.

To create cross-ventilation, open windows on opposite sides of the house. Good ventilation helps reduce VOCs and prevents mold.

Fire Up Fans

  • Portable fans: At night, place fans in open windows to move cool air. In the day, put fans where you feel their cooling breezes (moving air evaporates perspiration and lowers your body temperature). To get extra cool, place glasses or bowls of ice water in front of fans, which will chill the moving air.
  • Ceiling fans: For maximum cooling effect, make sure ceiling fans spin in the direction that pushes air down, rather than sucks it up. Be sure to turn off fans when you’re not in the room, because fan motors give off heat, too.
  • Whole house fans: A whole-house fan ($1,000 to $1,600, including install) exhausts hot inside air out through roof vents. Make sure your windows are open when you run a whole-house fan.

Power Down Appliances

You’ll save money and reduce heat output by turning off appliances you’re not using, particularly your computer and television. Powering down multiple appliances is easier if you connect them to the same power strip.

Don’t use heat- and steam-generating appliances — ranges, ovens, washers, dryers — during the hottest part of the day. In fact, take advantage of the heat by drying clothes outside on a line.

Plant Trees and Vines

These green house-coolers shade your home’s exterior and keep sunlight out of windows. Plant them by west-facing walls, where the sun is strongest.

Deciduous trees, which leaf out in spring and drop leaves in fall, are best because they provide shade in summer, then let in sun when temperatures drop in autumn. Select trees that are native to your area, which have a better chance of surviving. When planting, determine the height, canopy width, and root spread of the mature tree and plant accordingly.

Climbing vines, such as ivy and Virginia creeper, also are good outside insulators. To prevent vine rootlets or tendrils from compromising your siding, grow them on trellises or wires about 6 inches away from the house.

Speaking of shade, here are smart, inexpensive ideas for shading your patio.

Want more tips for staying cool this summer? Substitute CFL and LED bulbs for hotter incandescent lights.

Also, try insulating your garage door to prevent heat buildup.

Elfant Wissahickon names new president, partner

Posted on: June 15, 2016

Elfant Wissahickon founder Bob Elfant (left) with new president, Paul Walsh.

Elfant Wissahickon c0-founder Bob Elfant (left) with new president, Paul Walsh.

Elfant Wissahickon Realtors named its newest president, managing partner Paul Walsh, to replace firm co-founder president Bob Elfant. Asher Kahn, sales manager of the Rittenhouse Square office, has also been named partner.

Walsh, a Germantown native, joined Elfant Wissahickon EWR 20 years ago, became a partner in 2004 and was made managing partner of the organization in 2007. Walsh was instrumental in the growth of EWR from about 45 agents to nearly 100 agents.

“He has provided unparalleled leadership, is universally respected by his peers, and beloved by our agents and staff. There was no question in the owner’s minds that he represent our company as president,” Elfant said.

Although Elfant will remain a founding partner, he stepped down from the presidency in order to spend more time with his family.

EWR moved its headquarters to Chestnut Hill in 2010. Through Walsh’s efforts, the company has become part of the fabric of the Avenue.

Walsh most recently served as president of the Chestnut Hill Business Association and is currently vice president of the Chestnut Hill Business Improvement District.

“I have large shoes to fill in following Bob,” Walsh said. “I am confident that our company, with our amazing agents and staff, will continue to grow as one of the top real estate firms in the country.

Asher Kahn, formerly the sales manager of the Rittenhouse Square office, has been credited with growing the firm’s presence in center city and is currently working to expand their services into New Jersey. He joins Louise D’Alessandro, Larry DiFranco, Bob Elfant and Paul Walsh as an EWR partner.

“Asher brings 15 years of varied real estate experience and has had a significant impact on penetration of the center city marketplace,” Elfant said. “He provides wonderful support and training to our agents, companywide. I am thrilled to have Asher on board.

“It is very special to love what you do and also love the people you are surrounded with, and I am truly grateful to have that at Elfant Wissahickon,” Kahn said.

How to Grow Your Best Tomatoes Ever

Posted on: June 7, 2016


By: Lisa Kaplan Gordon from Houselogic.com

This popular garden veggie can be a challenge to grow. We’ll fix that.

Tomatoes are like Goldilocks — they want everything to be just right. Mess up soil, sun, and water conditions just a little, and your tomatoes succumb to rot, spots, and wilt.

Soil Prep is a Must

Tomatoes thrive in well-drained soil, so fix your soil before planting. Both sandy soil (drains too quickly) and clay soil (drains too slowly) can become tomato-friendly soil by adding decayed organic matter — dried leaves, grass clippings, compost from your pile — and by turning cover crops, such as annual ryegrass — into the soil 2-3 weeks before planting.

Tomatoes thrive in slightly acidic soil — pH 6.0 to 6.8. Test your soil and if it’s too acidic, add pulverized lime; if it’s too alkaline, add a sulfur acidifier (follow application directions on the package). These additives will burn young plants, so fix the chemical composition of your soil 6-12 months before planting.

If you haven’t done that, and your soil needs to be more acidic, fertilize with a nitrogen-rich fertilizer, animal manure, or fresh, diluted human urine (10 parts water: 1 part urine). Then remember to fix your soil next fall.

Here’s why you should use an expert to test your soil.

Here’s how to fix your soil.

Location, Location, Location

Tomatoes are sun worshipers and require full sunlight, at least 6 hours per day; more is better. The south side of your property is a likely candidate for maximum sunshine.

Plants also like protection from strong wind and plenty of space to grow. A tomato plant easily can reach 6 ft. high and 4 ft. wide, so make sure you have a large, open space in your garden to devote to tomatoes. Depending on the variety, space seeds or seedlings between 1 ft. (dwarf varieties) and 4 ft. (big boys) apart.

Planting Pointers

Plant tomato seedlings as soon as your garden soil reaches 65-70 degrees F. (check with a soil thermometer, $10-$25). If you have a long growing season, stagger your planting over 4-6 weeks, which will reduce bug and blight issues and will allow you to harvest fruit throughout the summer.

Dig a hole deep enough to cover roots and stems up to the lowest leaves. Add to the hole 1 cup of kelp meal and 1 cup of bone meal, which act as slow-release fertilizers that aid blossom and fruit growth.

Staking Well Done

There’s no one correct way to stake a tomato plant. Some folks love to tie drooping branches to wood or bamboo stakes (green alternative). Other options: steel tomato towers ($25 for a steel tower 53 inches high); or DIY tomato cages from low-cost fence wire or concrete reinforcing wire.

Remember the goal is to keep branches and fruit from dragging on the ground, where they are vulnerable to disease and infestation. If you use ties, tie them loosely around branches, which will prevent cutting tender stems.

Water Wisely

Like most garden plants, tomatoes need about 1 inch of water per week to grow strong and tall. But these are not feast-or-famine growers; if you make the rookie mistake of letting the soil dry out and then flooding it with water, fruit will likely split.

Instead, tomatoes want soil to be dependably moist. They love drip hoses and ollas that supply steady water to roots; they don’t like pulsating sprays that smack tender stalks and wet foliage, making it more prone to fungus.

Here are three DIY watering systems you can make yourself.

Tried and True Tomato Tips

  • Cut old pantyhose into strips to use as stake ties. They won’t cut into tender stalks, are easy to tie, and will last more than one season.
  • To prevent blossom rot — ugly brown patches on the bottom of fruit that result from a calcium deficiency — mix ground eggshells into the soil, or place an antacid tablet in your planting hole.
  • Rotate the location of your tomato crop each year, which will cut down on pest and disease problems and allow soil to replenish nutrients.
  • Even if you buy tomato seedlings from an outdoor nursery, take about a week to harden off (acclimate) the plants before putting them in the ground. Increase daylight exposure by 2 hours per day, gradually moving the plants from shade to full sun.
  • Transplant seedlings on cloudy days, when they are less likely to dehydrate.

Plant These Fun Veggies Your Kids Will Love to Eat

Posted on: May 19, 2016


By: Lisa Kaplan Gordon at Houselogic.com

These nifty plants will entice your kids to eat more vegetables and will make gardening fun for the whole family.

Win the eternal battle between kids and veggies by letting your little ones plant these child-friendly varieties in your garden. The more invested they are in the growing process, the more they’ll want to eat the fruits (and veggies!) of their labor.

Heirlooms: Heirloom (non-hybrid) veggies can grow in surprising colors and wacky shapes. Try:

  • Chocolate peppers
  • Watermelon radishes
  • Italian rose beans

As an added bonus: Heirloom plants and seeds can trace their ancestry back hundreds of years, so you can slip in some history while you’re planting with your kids.

Popcorn: Your kids can grow their own popcorn — specialty kernels with tough hulls and starchy centers that produce the pop! when heated. Japanese White hull-less and Robust Yellow hybrid are popular varieties.

Grow in full sun and keep well-watered.

Leafy greens: Greens provide almost instant gratification for kids. Little hands can scatter lettuce seeds anywhere and see tiny sprouts in about a week. In a month, help them cut the tops for a salad. In hot weather, the plants will bolt (kids will love how they suddenly shoot up), flower, and go to seed, which kids can harvest for planting next year.

Pick mild, sweet varieties, such as iceberg, which are more likely to appeal to youngsters.

For some extra fun, plant leafy greens in an old wheelbarrow or unused wading pool that’s reserved as a garden space just for kids.

Climbing peas: Kids will enjoy watching these vines climb up trellises. Some popular pea seeds:

  • Super Sugar Snap
  • China Snow
  • Mammoth Melting Sugar

Plant in full sun as soon as the soil has thawed.

Cherry tomatoes: Kids will gladly pop these sweet mini-tomatoes into their mouths straight from the vine.

  • Sweet 100 and Matt’s Wild Cherry are particularly yummy and sweet.
  • Sungold produces a golden-orange fruit.
  • Snow White is a pale yellow, almost white.
  • Jolly Elf is oblong with sweet, red fruits.

Be prepared to stake or cage the plants, because they can grow 8 feet tall. And throw on some mulch so they don’t dry out.

Growing tomatoes can be tricky, so check out this helpful article, How to Grow Your Best Tomatoes Ever.

Pumpkins: What kid doesn’t love a pumpkin? Large seeds are easy for kids to plant in little hills surrounded by plenty of open growing space: a single vine can stretch 30 feet.

  • Connecticut Field is the traditional jack-o’-lantern pumpkin.
  • Rouge Vif d’Etampes is the Cinderella coach pumpkin.
  • Musquee de Provence is a flavorful, deep-brown pumpkin with orange flesh.
  • Cucurbita maxima is the giant pumpkin that can top 500 pounds.

Even if you can’t get your kids to eat roasted pumpkin, they’ll love the toasted and salted pumpkin seeds. Warning: never throw pumpkin pulp down the drain; it can wreck your disposal.

Potatoes: If your kids like treasure hunts, they’ll love to grow potatoes they can search for in late fall. As foliage grows, continue to add soil around the stems. Then, when the green parts die, let the kids get down and dirty digging up the spuds.

Pizza fixings: Kids can grow oregano, basil, and thyme to spice up their pizzas.

  • Basil likes hot weather and well-drained soil.
  • Oregano self-seeds, so thin plants annually.
  • Thyme seeds are hard to germinate, so avoid frustration and plant seedlings.

Want more veggie gardening tips?

You can find free seeds for your veggie garden right in your own kitchen.

Veggie gardening newbies will want to avoid making these rookie gardening mistakes.