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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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
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.
One of the biggest misconceptions of homebuying? The 20% down payment. Here’s how to buy a home with a lot less down.
Buying your first home conjures up all kinds of warm and fuzzy emotions: pride, joy, contentment. But before you get to the good stuff, you’ve got to cobble together a down payment, a daunting sum if you follow the textbook advice to squirrel away 20% of a home’s cost.
Here are five creative ways to build your down payment nest egg faster than you may have ever imagined.
1. Crowdsource Your Dream Home
You may have heard of people using sites like Kickstarter to fund creative projects like short films and concert tours. Well, who says you can’t crowdsource your first home? Forget the traditional registry, the fine china, and the 16-speed blender. Use sites like Feather the Nestand Hatch My House to raise your down payment. Hatch My House says it’s helped Americans raise more than $2 million for down payments.
2. Ask the Seller to Help (Really!)
When sellers want to a get a deal done quickly, they might be willing to assist buyers with the closing costs. Fewer closing costs = more money you can apply toward your deposit.
“They’re called seller concessions,” says Ray Rodriguez, regional mortgage sales manager for the New York metro area at TD Bank. Talk with your real estate agent. She might help you negotiate for something like 2% of the overall sales price in concessions to help with the closing costs.
There are limits on concessions depending on the type of mortgage you get. For FHA mortgages, the cap is 6% of the sale price. For Fannie Mae-guaranteed loans, the caps vary between 3% and 9%, depending on the ratio between how much you put down and the amount you finance. Individual banks have varying caps on concessions.
No matter where they net out, concessions must be part of the purchase contract.
3. Look into Government Options
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, offers a number of homeownership programs, including assistance with down payment and closing costs. These are typically available for people who meet particular income or location requirements. HUD has a list of links by state that direct you to the appropriate page for information about your state.
HUD offers help based on profession as well. If you’re a law enforcement officer, firefighter, teacher, or EMT, you may be eligible under its Good Neighbor Next Door Sales Program for a 50% discount on a house’s HUD-appraised value in “revitalization areas.” Those areas are designated by Congress for homeownership opportunities. And if you qualify for an FHA-insured mortgage under this program, the down payment is only $100; you can even finance the closing costs.
For veterans, the VA will guarantee part of a home loan through commercial lenders. Often, there’s no down payment or private mortgage insurance required, and the program helps borrowers secure a competitive interest rate.
Some cities also offer homeownership help. “The city of Hartford has the HouseHartford Program that gives down payment assistance and closing cost assistance,” says Matthew Carbray, a certified financial planner with Ridgeline Financial Partners and Carbray Staunton Financial Planners in Avon, Conn. The program partners with lenders, real estate attorneys, and homebuyer counseling agencies and has helped 1,200 low-income families.
4. Check with Your Employer
Employer Assisted Housing (EAH) programs help connect low- to moderate-income workers with down payment assistance through their employer. In Pennsylvania, if you work for a participating EAH employer, you can apply for a loan of up to $8,000 for down payment and closing cost assistance. The loan is interest-free and borrowers have 10 years to pay it back. Washington University in St. Louis offers forgivable loans to qualified employees who want to purchase housing in specific city neighborhoods. University employees receive the lesser of 5% of the purchase price or $6,000 toward down payment or closing costs.
Ask the human resources or benefits personnel at your employer if the company is part of an EAH program.
5. Take Advantage of Special Lender Programs
Finally, many lenders offer programs to help people buy a home with a small down payment. “I would say that the biggest misconception [of homebuying] is that you need 20% for the down payment of a house,” says Rodriguez. “There are a lot of programs out there that need a total of 3% or 3.5% down.”
FHA mortgages, for example, can require as little as 3.5%. But bear in mind that there are both upfront and monthly mortgage insurance payments. “The mortgage insurance could add another $300 to your monthly mortgage payment,” Rodriguez says.
Some lender programs go even further. TD Bank, for example, offers a 3% down payment with no mortgage insurance program, and other banks may have similar offerings. “Check with your regional bank,” Rodriguez says. “Maybe they have their own first-time buyer program.”
Not so daunting after all, is it? There’s actually a lot of help available to many first-time buyers who want to achieve their homeownership dreams. All you need to do is a little research — and start peeking at those home listings!
Pricing your home based on data, not emotion, can mean a swift sale.
You don’t need to be Bob Barker to know when the price just isn’t right. Just ask Candace Talmadge. She originally listed her Lancaster, Texas, home for $129,000, but “eventually had to accept the market reality” and chop $4,000 off the price.
The home’s location proved challenging: Buyers were either turned off by the area — a lower-income neighborhood south of Dallas — or unable to afford the home.
“Sellers have to keep in mind the location,” says Talmadge. “Who are going to be the likely buyers?”
Home pricing is more of a science than an art, but many homeowners price with their heartstrings instead of cold, hard data. Here’s why crunching the numbers is always the better route to an accurate home price — as well as what can happen when home sellers overlook those all important data points.
The Pitfalls of Overpricing
Homeowners often think that it’s OK to overprice at first, because — who knows? — maybe you’ll just get what you’re asking for. Although you can certainly lower an inflated price later, you’ll sacrifice a lot in the process. The most obvious damage: A house that remains on the market for months can prevent you from moving into your dream home. Already purchased that next home? You might saddle yourself with two mortgages.
“You lose a lot of time and money if you don’t price it right,” says Norma Newgent, an agent with Area Pro Realty in Tampa, Fla.
And worse: Continually lowering the price could turn off potential buyers who might start wondering just what is wrong with your home.
“Buyers are smart and educated,” says Lisa Hjorten of Marketplace Sotheby’s International Realty in Redmond, Wash. “You’re probably going to lose them.”
The Pricing Traps
It’s easy for homeowners to stumble into two common traps:
1. Conflating actual value with sentimental value — how much they assume their home’s worth because they lived there and loved the time they spent there.
2. Assuming renovations should result in a dollar-for-dollar increase in the selling price — or more.
“Many homeowners think, ‘Of course my home is worth a bazillion dollars,'” says Newgent. If they put in a few thousand dollars worth of new flooring, for example, they might overestimate the upgrade’s impact on the home’s value into the tens of thousands.
Talmadge’s Texas home came with a built-in renovation trap: It was already the nicest home in the area, making it harder to sell. Major additions had inflated the square footage — and the price, according to one appraiser — without accounting for the surrounding neighborhood. That created a disconnect for buyers: Wealthier ones who might be interested in the upgraded home disliked the neighborhood, and less affluent buyers couldn’t afford the asking price.
“Don’t buy the nicest home on the block” is common real estate advice for this reason.
That’s not to say that renovations aren’t worth it. You want to enjoy your home while you’re in it, right? Smart renovations make your home more comfortable and functional but should typically reflect the neighborhood. A REALTOR® can help you understand what certain upgrades can recoup when you sell and which appeal to buyers.
Another culprit for many a mispriced home is online tools, like Zillow’s “Zestimate,” that prescribe an estimated market value based on local data.
The estimate is often wildly inaccurate. A Virginia-area real estate company, McEnearney & Associates, has compared actual sold prices with predicted online estimates for several hundred homes in the area for the past few years and concluded the predictions failed half of the time.
The Right Stats for the Right Price
The best pricing strategy? Consult a real estate agent, who will use something called comps (also known as “comparable sales”) to determine the appropriate listing price. They’re not just looking at your neighbors; they’re seeking out near-identical homes with similar floor plans, square footage, and amenities that sold in the last few months.
Once they’ve assembled a list of similar homes (and the real prices buyers paid), they can make an accurate estimate of what you can expect to receive for your home. If a three-bedroom bungalow with granite countertops and a walk-out basement down the block sold for $359,000, expecting more from your own three-bedroom bungalow with granite countertops and a walk-out basement is a pipe dream.
After crunching the data, they’ll work with you to determine a fair price that’ll entice buyers. The number might be less than you hope and expect, but listing your home correctly — not idealistically — is a sure way to avoid the aches and pains of a long, drawn-out listing that just won’t sell.
Knowing When the Price is Too High
Once your home is on the market, you’ll start accumulating another set of data that will serve as the ultimate price test: how buyers react.
Agent Hjorten says there’s an easy way to tell if you’ve priced too high: “If we have no showings, it’s way too high. Lots of showings and no offer means you’ve marketed well — but it’s overpriced once people get inside.”
Talmadge didn’t struggle with showings. She says a number of people were interested in the home, but not enough at the price. In the end, Talmadge sold her home for $125,000, with a $5,000 seller’s assist, a discount on the cost of the home applied directly to closing costs.
“It all boils down to location, location, location. In [another] neighborhood, our house might well have sold for well over $130,000,” Talmadge says.
When it comes to finding a buyer, pricing your home according to data — and the right data, at that — is crucial to making the sale.
Living through a renovation with kids at home can be done. Here’s how — from families that have survived it.
Your 3-year-old hasn’t slept through the night in two weeks. And you’ve just gotten a second note from your daughter’s first-grade teacher about disruptive behavior and missed homework.
You’re so frazzled you forgot to brush your teeth this morning. That’s when you ask yourself, “Is this remodel worth it?”
Given the alternative (waiting a decade or two when the kids are grown), parents with children at home can hardly be blamed for biting the psychological bullet and diving into a project that can take weeks — even months. The good news is that you really can have that amazing new kitchen without losing your mind (or custody of your kids). It just requires a fair amount of finesse — and these expert tips:
1. Don’t Skip Self-Care
Keeping your kids sane through a remodel starts with keeping yourself sane. Children pick up on your emotions. If you’re stressed, exhausted, and anxious, they’ll reflect those feelings right back at you.
“When you’re in an airplane, they say put the oxygen mask on yourself first, then you can help the person next to you,” says Dr. Eugene Beresin, executive director of The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital, and a father of four who survived his own renovation with newborn twins in tow.
“You can’t take care of your kids, set routines, or think about how the kids are reacting to change if you’re stressed,” Beresin says.
“Check in with yourself and make sure you, as the parent and caregiver, have a self-care plan in place for your own construction sanity,” says Lisa Bahar, a California-based marriage and family therapist. That plan could be as simple as regular date nights with your spouse or sticking to your workouts.
2. Disrupt the House, Not Your Routines
Your home might be in shambles (literally!), but you’ll still need to maintain a sense of normalcy.
“Children rely on familiarity, routine, and structure,” says Beresin. “Knowing your children and how they react to change, you can actually prevent stress by using preventative measures as opposed to just reacting to their reaction.”
An example might include eating breakfast at the same time every day — even if it happens in the living room.
Keep in mind your children’s developmental levels, strengths, and weaknesses. For school-aged kids, knowing where they can sit down and do homework every evening goes a long way. Teenagers need a private space to relax, no adults or siblings allowed. And toddlers, who don’t understand why their home is in disarray, might need more cuddling and play.
3. Put the Kids In Charge (of Something Small)
No, you don’t have to hand over the decorating reins to your teenager (unless you were already planning on turning your foyer into a One Direction shrine, in which case, shine on). But allowing them to pick small things, like their bedroom paint color and duvet, or their own stool for the new kitchen island, helps them feel more connected to the renovation.
“If they’re invested, they’ll feel more a part of the whole process,” Beresin says. “The last thing you want is for your kids to feel like hostages.”
4. Model Good Behavior
“It’s inevitable arguments will occur, so you and your spouse or significant other should learn ways to take the discussion away from the children,” says Bahar.
This might mean taking a few deep breaths and escaping to the garage for a meltdown after the contractor tells you he needs two more weeks, or that there’s a structural problem that’s going to cost extra to fix.
5. Explain the Unexpected
For young kids, explaining precisely what a renovation entails can be a struggle. After all, six months feels like an eternity to them.
“Young children work out difficulties through play,” says Beresin. He recommends using Lego sets or building blocks to walk through the renovation process with your kids. Try building a house and knock part of it down, making something new or different with the fallen pieces. “It may not seem like a direct correlation, but it is for a first-grader.”
When Beresin renovated his historic home in Acton, Mass., he was juggling a teenager, toddler, and infant twins.
“One event scared the hell out of my 3-year-old,” he said. “We were in the kitchen and a guy literally fell through the ceiling. We hear this crash and see two legs sticking out.”
That’s some scary stuff for a kid. Beresin recommends reassuring your children that “these events aren’t going to be the way the world is.” Something scary happened, but you still have some control over your home. They’re still safe inside.
After explaining exactly what had happened and that no one was seriously hurt, his 3-year-old still harbored some residual fear whenever she entered the kitchen, but it didn’t take long before the event became a running joke.
“There will always be unforeseen events, whether you have twins or a guy falls through the ceiling,” says Beresin. “It takes a fair amount of resilience to cope with the unpredictable, but your kids need preparation and discussion, and need to know it’s only temporary.”