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A lush, green lawn has long been considered the beauty standard for traditional Canadian yards. However, keeping that lawn just the right shade of green and cut to just the right length takes many resources. Weekly mowing is required, as is feeding, weeding and watering. If this sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is!

Maintaining the perfect lawn takes up a lot of time, money and water, but neglecting to maintain it can be even worse. Brown patches or dead lawns not only look unappealing but can also jeopardize the curb appeal and value of your house.

Fortunately, there is a solution that benefits both homeowners and the environment, while keeping a well-groomed aesthetic as a top priority. For homeowners looking for a viable alternative to a grass lawn, naturescaping is the perfect solution. Beautiful yards can come in many different styles and besides being a unique way to achieve a great looking green space, naturescaping also adds value to your property. Perhaps best of all, it does all this in an eco-friendly manner.

What is naturescaping?

Naturescaping — a term that is a portmanteau of “natural” and “landscaping” — means using plants that are native to your area instead of the non-native grasses, shrubbery, trees, or flowers that have more traditionally been used. It’s a virtually foolproof way to make certain that the plants in your yard will be ideally suited for the climate where you live, and will also simplify your gardening and landscaping routines:

  • You won’t need to pay for a lawnmower or gas to run it, eliminating a time-consuming weekly chore and the associated pollution caused by lawn mowers;
  • Native plants are generally more resistant to pest insects, in part because they help to create an appealing habitat and source of food for beneficial animals and insects, eliminating the need for pesticides or other aggressive bug-control efforts;
  • By default, native plants are ideally adapted to their local climate and soil conditions, preventing the need for fertilizer or soil amendments;
  • Native plants are also already accustomed to local rainfall and precipitation levels, significantly reducing the need for extra watering or irrigation. To fully realize this benefit, you may also want to consider xeriscaping (see below).

Naturescaping is emerging as a popular way to make properties more eco-friendly because it eliminates many of the traditional techniques and approaches that contribute to pollutants and waste in the environment. In other words, by choosing plants that can essentially take care of themselves, naturescaping allows you to enjoy doing more for the environment, and less work to maintain your yard.

What is xeriscaping?

If you love the idea of naturescaping and want to take the idea to the next level in terms of efficiency and cost-effectiveness, then you should definitely consider xeriscaping.

Xeriscaping vs Zero-scaping

Xeriscaping is the practice of using native and adapted plants that require little-to-no supplementary watering. This practice is especially important in regions that tend to be vulnerable to drought, and where homeowners must actively look for ways to conserve household water use, but it can be employed nearly anywhere with great success. Xeriscaping is often mistakenly called “zero-scaping,” perhaps based on the fact that xeric plants require very little water. In fact, the term “xeriscaping” derives from the Greek prefix “xero,” meaning dry—rather than the number zero. Even if you mistakenly use the term zeroscaping, however, most nurseries and landscapers will understand what you mean.

Benefits of xeriscaping

The immediate benefit of xeriscaping is water conservation. In times of drought, homeowners must become increasingly aware of how much water they use, and for what purposes. While watering plants would normally seem like a perfectly suitable use for water, using drinkable water to do so in times of drought can come with serious consequences. The ability to conserve water during a drought can make a dramatic difference and can be a significant financial benefit as well. Xeric plants should be able to survive and thrive with only normal levels of precipitation, only requiring additional water during extreme heat or a prolonged dry spell.

Of course, even in the absence of drought conditions, water conservation still offers benefits, both for the environment and for your wallet—and it’s been proven that xeriscaping can cut down significantly on your water bill.

How to naturescape or xeriscape

In order to naturescape or xeriscape, you will first need to modify your current perception of landscaping. If you glance through a magazine devoted to homes and gardens, you’ll likely notice many similarities, with popular landscaping design trends often being copied across different areas of the country, the continent and even the world. By incorporating eco-friendly design elements representative of your local environment, naturescaping makes it easy to create landscaping designs and features that are as unique and interesting as the homes they enhance. Naturally, there is no standard design formula for naturescaping. The types of plants you seed, how many you decide to use and the design you choose will vary according to your regional climate, the native species available and, of course, your personal taste. However, there are a number of general guidelines to keep in mind when planning out your naturescape:

  1. Learn about the existing conditions of the area you have in mind.
  2. Evaluate the possibilities, including potential alternatives to the traditional lawn.
  3. Sketch out a general diagram to represent the naturescape features you’d like to see in your yard.
  4. Strategize a detailed plan that takes into account the expected scope of effort, time and expense.
  5. Divide your plan into smaller manageable stages that can be put in place over the next several weeks, months or years, depending on your time and budget

While these are the five basic steps to follow when creating a naturescape, there are a few other factors you should keep in mind. For instance, you’ll need to consider what purpose you want your yard to serve. Will it be primarily a garden escape? Will you plant edible plants or species that are strictly for decoration?  Do you want this outdoor space to function as an extension of your indoor living space, or more of a separate, peaceful retreat? Will it be used for sports and recreational activities? Are you planning to do lots of entertaining, which could mean incorporating an outdoor dining area, or even a screen and projector to watch movies?

The key is to really nail down the intended purpose of the green space before doing any actual work on the yard. If you doubt your green thumb abilities, or simply don’t have the time and energy to do it all yourself, many of today’s top professional landscapers are equipped to design and install eco-friendly naturescapes. If you find full-service landscape professionals are too expensive, ask if they offer consultations, which would allow you to access their knowledge and expertise as needed on an ongoing basis.

Finding native plants and flowers

Sourcing native plants and flowers for your naturescape will be a slightly different process than you’ve likely encountered with traditional landscaping flowers. Instead of heading to a gardening chain store, you’ll probably want to head to a local nursery to buy your plants instead. In many cases, the plants you find at chain stores are not grown in local greenhouses, but rather shipped up from southern nurseries on a seasonal basis. In addition to being easier and more cost-effective, generic suppliers do it this way because native plants don’t tend to be the most sought-after (and profitable) products for them to sell. Local nurseries, by contrast, often maintain their own greenhouses, or work with local growers to offer local or locally-adapted cultivars. Before you plan a trip to buy, it pays to call ahead and talk to different suppliers and nurseries to see which of them carry native plants, just to be sure.

When searching for plants that are native to your region, you can look up plants in the Native Plant Encyclopedia published by the Canadian Wildlife Federation. This is a useful tool for helping you plan your naturescaping design, as it takes the guesswork out of choosing the types of plants that will best be suited to your region and particular yard conditions. You’ll want to consider shade and sun exposure, as well as the mature size of each plant.

Once you have a wishlist or database of plants native to your area, you can start selecting plants based on the specific conditions and layout of your yard. This will help you better account for mature plant sizes and the shade they will cast when fully grown, ensuring that all of your native plant choices will be ideally positioned for the conditions they need to thrive.

Choose large plants first, such as trees, then go on to shrubs and bushes, and select your flowers and small plants last. At the same time, you’ll want to factor in bloom times for plants of all sizes. Many trees and shrubs flower beautifully and make for a stunning backdrop to smaller flowering species and plants native to your area. These are all valuable considerations to keep in mind as you review plant lists for your area.

Hardiness

“Hardiness” is a term used to help gardeners understand which plants are capable of growing in certain regions. You can take a look at a map of Canada’s Plant Hardiness Zones, which provides details for a variety of climate conditions on one convenient map. This is a great resource for identifying the hardiness level of your region so that you can choose plants that are most adaptable to it. Alternatively, you can talk to someone at your local nursery for advice regarding the hardiness of the region you live in and the types of plants that will likely do well in your yard.

Wildlife-friendly landscaping

As you research which native plant species to plant, it’s important to remember that your choices will also make your backyard more (or less) appealing for the wildlife in your area. Since many of the most popular or traditional plants originated in Europe, they may not be as attractive to wildlife for shelter or as a food source as native plants will be. By choosing carefully, you can be sure your naturescaping efforts will result in a welcoming haven for native bee species, butterflies, birds and even rodents and other mammals.

If you are interested in supporting pollinators or other particular animal species in your area, it’s a good idea to consult with local nurseries for tips on the plant preferences of various insects and creatures. The Canadian Wildlife Federation has a whole series of articles that will help you understand how to incorporate native plants to provide the ideal food source and habitat for all sorts of different species. You can even have your garden officially certified by the CWF as a wildlife habitat that helps to protect native species.

Combat invasive species

Another major benefit of naturescaping is that, by growing native plants, you are helping to combat invasive species. According to the Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health, an invasive plant is “any species, including its seeds, eggs, spores, or other biological material capable of propagating that species, that is not native to that ecosystem; and whose introduction does or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.” By favouring native plants, you can help to reduce the number of invasive plants in your area that are potentially causing harm to the local ecosystem.

The degree of harm that invasive species can wreak upon their adopted homes can be extreme. In June of 2018, The Washington Post reported on the invasive hogweed plant and the considerable danger it represents to humans. Not only is giant hogweed an intimidating species physically, but contact with its toxic sap can also cause serious burns and even blindness. Though not all invasive species can cause such serious harm, they can still disturb and disrupt the balance of native wildlife and plants in the area.

Watering plants in a xeriscaped yard

The importance of irrigation in xeriscaping should not be overlooked. Irrigation systems can help to make sure your plants have access to a sufficient supply of water, where and when they need it the most. According to the Landscaping Network, instead of watering plants from above the ground, directing the flow of water close to their roots not only helps them survive and look healthy, but it also trains their roots to dig down and absorb the moisture naturally located deep within the earth.

While cacti may immediately come to mind as highly suitable plants for xeriscaping, there are plenty of other options that can also thrive with minimal water and are excellent candidates for xeriscaping. Another valuable source to look to for inspiration is your nearest botanical garden, which is likely to prominently feature native, local and water-wise plants appropriate to the local climate and conditions.

Like all plants, Xeric plants will thrive best when just the right conditions are met. This means using soil that is aerated, drains quickly and absorbs water, as well as a top layer of mulch to keep water from evaporating.

Prepare to enjoy your new, eco-friendly yard

Here in the Western world, we have grown accustomed to our yards adorned with grass and tulips as the norm, but it really doesn’t make a lot of sense to invest so much time, money and effort into maintaining a grass lawn — especially given the current precarious state of the environment. By naturescaping or xeriscaping, not only are you beautifying the exterior of your house, but you are also protecting the planet by making your property more eco-friendly. Find xeriscaping inspiration and share ideas by joining online groups, touring local nurseries and botanical gardens, and even by visiting open houses to see what other homeowners have done with their yards.

The post Naturescape Guide: Xeriscaping and Eco-Friendly Landscaping Tips appeared first on Zolo.

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Is there anything more relaxing than the soothing sound of water? From the crashing of ocean waves to the gentle babbling of a brook, the chorus of moving water satisfies something primal in humans. Of course, it isn’t possible for every homeowner to live near the beach or next to a creek. That is why, year after year, water features of all shapes and sizes are becoming increasingly popular.

You may be concerned that installing a pool, or even a more modest pond, is too complex of a project to undertake yourself, or too costly to justify. However, you may find yourself surprised on both counts: many water feature projects are both manageable and affordable. What’s more, they can give your home’s curb appeal a unique and attractive upgrade.

Before you get started, it is important to know which kind of water feature might hold the most value to you. Although you may not think of them as such, pools and hot tubs are both considered types of water features. Others are less common, such as koi ponds and fountains. To help you decide which type of water feature might be right for your property, you first need to learn about the pros and cons of the various options — for your budget, your home’s value, and the environment.

Can water features be eco-friendly?

Despite their growing popularity, many people regard water features as a luxury or an extravagance. Surely, they reason, the energy and resources required to keep a fountain running or a pool full (and free of moss) are both expensive and damaging to the environment? It may not be intuitive, but water features can absolutely be sustainable and environmentally friendly.  In fact, although they may not seem like “green” initiatives at first, ponds, fountains and even pools can actually cut down on water consumption compared to many flora and fauna, especially the eternally thirsty grass in most lawns. It all comes down to careful planning, proper setup/installation and routine maintenance.

For instance, you can now purchase solar powered pumps and filters as a zero-emission source of energy to keep water moving and clear. By choosing the right plants to surround your water feature, you can also provide shade cover to cut down on water lost through evaporation, as well as to offset the initial loss of green space. Similarly, aquatic plants that grow within or on the surface of the water in ponds (and even some fountains) can go a long way toward limiting evaporation and keeping your water healthy and clear.

Although a swimming pool doesn’t present the same opportunity for reintegrating plant life as other water features, it still doesn’t have to be a source of waste or pollution. Keeping a pool covered when not in use ensures minimal water loss through evaporation, and drains installed around the perimeter can protect the rest of your yard and groundwater from contamination by chlorine and other water treatment chemicals.

Ultimately, water features can be just as beneficial to the environment as a host of other landscaping choices; it is just a matter of doing your research beforehand to learn about the installation and maintenance techniques that will best help to achieve a sustainable balance in your geographical area.

Do water features increase home value?

A water feature can be the ideal home improvement for increasing curb appeal in either the front or backyard of your home. But regardless of size or placement, responsible homeowners are often wary of the lifespan, operating costs and maintenance issues involved in water features. Is a fountain purely an aesthetic improvement, or does it really add appreciable value to a home?

There are really two answers to this question: yes and no.

Water features and curb appeal

When it comes to selling a home, aesthetics definitely matter. No matter what “must-have” features a buyer might be focused on at the start of their search, they are just as likely to end up falling in love with a home that doesn’t include them on first sight. Just as in life, first impressions are paramount in real estate, and curb appeal plays an outsized role in creating positive first impressions of your home.

A water feature doesn’t even need to be in the front of your home — thanks to online listings and digital photos, buyers today can “see” and fall in love with your yard before ever visiting it in person. In fact, some 63% of buyers today do just that: check out homes online to narrow down those that are likely worth a closer look. A well-kept fountain or a shimmering pool can make your home stand out dramatically from the rest, especially after a buyer has toured countless other homes with various features that are all starting to blur together.

Water features don’t always raise home prices

Getting buyers to fall in love with the look of your home can make or break a sale, but simply adding a water features does not always lead to a higher selling price. In fact, in the strict sense of adding monetary value, water features generally don’t have much of an impact. Outside of arid, desert climates like the American southwest, pools and other water features are generally not regarded by most homeowners as a must-have.

While many buyers may be happy to see a pool or pond on a property they are viewing, water features seldom rank highly among the top features of importance to buyers. Today’s home buyers care most about location (a feature of perennial importance) and interior features more than landscaping or yard features. However, many buyers today do care deeply about energy efficiency and technology, so a modern, efficient water feature, properly marketed, can potentially check that box for conscientious shoppers.

It seems like a contradiction that buyers shopping for a new place to live care most about interior features, yet the sale of a home can still hinge on the power of curb appeal to win over buyers in the first place. Ultimately, installing a water feature in your yard is a personal choice that, when done well, can help your house stand out from the rest of the market and enhance your lifestyle (or that of future owners), without necessarily resulting in more equity when it comes time to sell.

If you still dream of falling asleep listening to the sound of trickling water or waking up in summer to take a few laps in your own pool, rest assured that making it work for your home and your wallet can be a reality. Read on to learn more about what you’ll need to consider and which water feature might be right for you.

Swimming pool or hot tub

A swimming pool or hot tub may seem like the most attractive water features to include, but in reality, they may not be worth your investment.

Pools can be a polarizing feature for homeowners and potential buyers. The lifestyle benefits can appeal to buyers of all ages, as homeowners envision hosting pool parties, having an alternative to the gym, or simply as an excuse to spend more time relaxing outdoors and soaking up the sun outdoors.

At the same time, some buyers view it mainly as a maintenance chore and safety hazard, especially compared to other, more modest water features.

For those who appreciate private pools, though, it pays to know how to maximize your investment and, to do this, you need to factor in the environmental impact of a pool as well as the upfront and ongoing costs.

Environmental impact

Believe it or not, a swimming pool or hot tub is more eco-friendly than watering your lawn on a regular basis. However, pools and hot tubs require harmful chemicals to keep them clean, as well as energy to heat and pump the water, that can increase your overall energy consumption. You can make your pool more sustainable by installing a solar water heater and energy efficient pumps. And salt can be used as a natural way to clean your swimming pool, reducing or even eliminating dependence on harmful substances like chlorine.

Cost

Installing a pool: The costs of a new swimming pool can vary widely. Swimming pools come in all different shapes and sizes, are made out of different materials such as concrete or fibreglass and can be above or below ground. These factors, along with any of the eco-friendly upgrades above, will affect the cost of your swimming pool.

An above ground pool can cost over $1,000 CDN and is likely your best option for saving money with a DIY approach. For in-ground pools, prices vary greatly according to the amount of concrete that needs to be poured, excavation costs, filtration and water pumps and the labour involved based on the scale of the project and the number of pool professionals serving your area.

Maintaining a pool: Just like any other fixture or appliance in your home, a pool will also require regular maintenance and repairs to keep it structurally safe and environmentally clean. Daily upkeep will include checking the pH balance, regulating the water temperature, adding chemicals to keep the water clear and safe to swim in, keeping your filters and pumps clean and skimming your pool to remove debris. Seasonal maintenance will require winterizing both above and underground pools, with the size of the pool dictating winter water level, chemicals to be used and preparation to prevent pipes from freezing and bursting — potentially causing serious damage.

Expect the same amount of maintenance for an above ground pool. Chemicals may cost up to $80 a month, with a further $400 or so needed for pumps, filters, ladders and other permanent accessories. The cost of a cover will depend on the size of the pool and whether you want a basic soft cover to control evaporation (as little as $50), or a rigid safety cover that is strong enough for people to walk on (starting closer to $500). An automatically retractable cover will cost more but will make the process of covering or uncovering your pool for use much faster and easier.

Building your own

While an above ground pool will just require assembly, the possibility of building your own inground swimming pool will depend on your comfort level and skills as a general contractor, heavy machine operator, plumber, electrician and possibly engineer. An inground pool will require heavy machinery for excavation (depending on the geological conditions under your property, you may have some serious rocks to haul off or breakthrough) and to pour concrete, and will likely entail permitting and inspection by local authorities to ensure compliance with safety, zoning or environmental codes. Almost always, you will also need professional help to prevent any digging mishaps with underground utilities to avoid creating dangerous hazards while constructing your pool.

  • Eco-friendly: Moderate
  • Cost: Varies
  • DIY: Challenging
Koi ponds

A koi pond can be a satisfying addition to your yard on several levels. It is tough to beat a well-designed koi pond for aesthetic value; you may find yourself spending hours watching the koi meander through the water, watching the surface ripple in the breeze, or catching sight of birds or other wildlife stopping by to enjoy your pond. A koi pond might be appreciated by prospective buyers who are keen to spend some reflection or meditation time in a beautiful and tranquil setting. But to make a koi pond work for you, you need to plan the project carefully.

Environmental Impact

Koi ponds, and ponds in general, don’t require nearly as much pumping, cleaning, harmful chemicals, or other expensive upkeep as a pool. A koi pond uses less water and energy than a pool as well, making it an eco-friendly, low maintenance addition to your home. Koi go into a dormant, hibernation state during the winter and can withstand the cold weather, so even a heater is not needed. However, a de-icer will be needed so you can feed the fish, and to keep the ice from trapping toxic air into the water. Year-round care for your koi pond will be minimal; however, it will be necessary.

Since koi ponds can be large enough for a human to fall into, you’ll need to make sure you understand the potential for, and how to protect yourself from, the risk of injury to others. Of course, you will also have to make sure that your fish have a clean and healthy environment in which to live. That includes making sure your pond is deep enough for your koi to escape predatory animals looking for food.

Cost

Installing a koi pond: Similar to building a pool, the cost of a koi pond will depend on its size. Your koi fish will need a big enough space to live — an area that can hold at least 1,000 gallons of water. Once you have factored in the costs of materials, the filtration system and the fish themselves (which can range from $15 to more than $200 each), a koi pond can cost in the ballpark of $2,000 and up.

Maintaining a koi pond: Although a koi pond will require considerably less effort to maintain than a pool, it will definitely need some attention. Most notably, you will need to feed your koi fish. To ensure the water in your pond stays fresh, it is recommended that you drain 10% daily and replace it with fresh water. Your pond should also have some shade, not only for the sake of the fish but also to help regulate the water temperature. The growth of algae is best controlled through the use of a small filtration system, as well as by cleaning rocks and any other accessories you may have in the pond. All of these steps are necessary in order to create a healthy environment for your koi fish to flourish.

Finally, fish that are flourishing are also likely to be reproducing, in which case you will eventually need to re-home some of them or build a bigger pond where they can all live happily.

Building your own

Building a Koi pond requires much less time and effort than building a swimming pool, but it still demands lots of research, time and planning. You can dig out the shape of the pond, pour your own concrete or other containment material, add plants and vegetation and a filtration system all by yourself, but it’s even easier with the help of a friend or family member.

  • Eco-friendly: Yes
  • Cost: Low
  • DIY: Yes
Fountains

An outdoor water fountain is another feature that is sure to add charm to your landscape. Additionally, if you live in a noisy area, a running fountain can help to drown out some of that background buzz. Potential buyers are likely to appreciate both the beauty and the reduced noise that the fountain brings to your yard.

Environmental impact

Indoor and outdoor water fountains can be configured with a small pump to recirculate the water, meaning that you’ll only need to replenish water as needed due to evaporation over time. This is an eco-friendly way to conserve the amount of water use for your home. Solar fountains are also available that rely on green energy for their power. Any cleaning materials used to prevent algae should be non-toxic, especially if (as is likely) your fountain is a drinking source for critters and birds.

Cost

Installing a fountain: There are many styles of fountains you can choose to accent your front or back yard, from small and basic to large and intricately designed, so prices..

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For most of us, there will come a day when downsizing from a large, high-value family home makes sense. Perhaps the decision is prompted to simplify your life, or maybe you want to cut costs or increase your retirement nest egg? Or maybe you’d like to move closer to kids and grandkids or be in close proximity to medical and social facilities. Whatever the reason, the prospect and act of downsizing can be stressful — but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming.  

Here are 7 tips to make you’re downsizing decision easier:

#1: Take stock of your priorities

This is key. No one should make a decision to downsize based on the size of their home. Instead, consider what’s important to you. Do you need to free up money to help fund your retirement? Then selling a large presumably more expensive property and move to a presumably cheaper, smaller home. Or perhaps the downsize decision is prompted by a desire to move closer to family or friends or to a better-serviced community (perhaps with an active community centre or medical facilities).

#2: Start the process early

Inevitably the process of downsizing always takes longer. To reduce stress, remember to start the process early and to pace yourself. It will take you weeks maybe months to go through and sort out a lifetime in your house. Give yourself this time, remember this is a marathon, not a sprint.

#3: Use a process

Decluttering and reducing your stuff is a major part of downsizing — and it can often cause the most distress. To make it easier and smoother, consider adopting a process. Having a process means you don’t have to stress over how to perform and complete the process of downsizing your stuff — and allows you to concentrate on the more emotionally taxing decisions on what to keep.
Whether it’s working with a professional organizer, perhaps one who utilizes the KonMari approach, or following one of the many websites dedicated to decluttering, or starting in a room that won’t be in your new home (say a den or fourth bedroom) the process will guide you through this emotionally charged part of downsizing.

#4: Gift those special items, now 

Over the years we often collect antiques or heirlooms that we plan to leave to family members. Rather than waiting and cluttering up your new place with these items, consider gifting those special items now. There are two benefits to this: you’ll get the items out of our way and you can feel good knowing that people you love can enjoy that special piece now.

#5: Allow some time to reminisce 

There will be days when you will want to stop emptying the kids’ bedrooms and just look through their kindergarten drawings, soccer trophies, and once-prized stuffed animals. Allow yourself the time to reminisce. Pausing and experiencing this nostalgia — even having a bit of a cry — is part of this process and should be honoured, not rushed.

#6: Use the downsizing process as a chance to bond

Want to spend time, but get things done? Invite the kids and grandkids over for the weekend for a little family-downsizing time. Ask them to help you go through each item. As the memories come up, share them. Talk to the young ones about where you bought your favourite trinkets. Tell them about your family’s heirlooms. Let them ask questions, pack up items, even ask them to help them post items you no longer need for sale. This not only helps you get to your end-goal — a decluttered, downsized life — but allows you to spend time your family talking about meaningful and important things.

#7: Test out your new place 

If you get a chance, during the downsizing process, see if you can test out your new downsized life. Find a short-term rental and take a “vacation” near the new, downsized home. If you’re moving into a senior living community ask if you can spend a few nights on site to get an idea of what it would be like to live there. Doing a test run helps build excitement for the new and helps diminish the fear and anxiety associated with something new. Just remember to focus on the positives and appreciate how much simpler life will be once you downsize. with fewer surfaces to dust, rooms to vacuum, or towels to wash.

Throughout this process, keep in mind that change is hard for anyone — but the older we get, the more accustomed we are to our surroundings and our stuff. While downsizing can be a tough process, just remember that your family is the reason you cherish those memories not the stuff around you.

The post 7 tips for downsizing appeared first on Zolo.

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Charlie Walker* decided it was finally time to buy his dream home. With one young child and another on the way, the 34-year-old and his wife felt they had outgrown their current home in AjaxOntario, a sought-after commuter suburb just east of Toronto.  (*Identifying information of those involved have been changed to protect their privacy.)

After a year of searching, the Walkers ended up buying a large, four-bedroom, two-car garage house. The new home was perfect: It was closer to the in-laws, it was a little under 20-years old and it was priced competitively due to the outdated decor.

In order to fit Charlie’s vision, this new home would need considerable renovation. While the scope of work was large — new bathrooms, a new kitchen and new floors, among other jobs — Charlie was comfortable. The reno job was pretty standard in a city where home renos were dime a dozen.

To help expedite the work, Charlie made a list: remove a load-bearing wall, update fixtures, install new hardwood flooring, add a bathroom, update the two existing bathrooms, scrape away the outdated popcorn ceiling, add new fixtures and swap out the dated kitchen appliances.

Quite quickly, however, the Walkers’ dream home reno became a nightmare and was wrought with renovation mistakes.

Rather than waiting eight weeks for completion of the job, the Walkers would end up waiting more than nine months — eventually having to hire another contractor to finish the job. Even worse was the fact that the Walkers ended up paying two mortgages on two homes for more than half a year, plus they paid more than 30% more than the original reno budget just to get the job done. Then there were the expenses and ongoing legal fees.

To avoid these costly and painful home renovation mistakes, consider paying attention to the seven lessons the Walkers learned from their descent into reno hell.

Lesson #1: Experience counts

Realizing the scope of work, Charlie began searching for a general contractor — the person tasked with overseeing the day-to-day aspects of a renovation job. It was at this time that Charlie started chatting with a friend, who we’ll call Tim. While not a close friend, Charlie felt a sense of ease and comfort with Tim, having known him for more than a decade. Turns out Tim had started his own home renovation company after spending several years working for someone else.

Charlie recalls that during one conversation, Tim “essentially begged for work.” Still, despite the sentimentality, Charlie insisted on due diligence. As Charlie recalls, he asked Tim, along with a few other general contractors, to provide a bid for the job. After all the bids were in, Charlie was surprised to see that Tim’s bid was the lowest. Even better, Tim’s bid came with a shorter, tighter timeline, meaning the Walkers would be able to move out of their old house and into their new house — and stop paying two mortgages—sooner. Within days, Charlie called Tim to let him know he had the job.

What Charlie didn’t realize was Tim’s lack of experience as a general contractor may have prompted his lowball price for the job.

It can be difficult to figure out the “perfect” price for a home renovation, says Robert Koci, publisher of Canadian Contractor, a magazine geared towards Canadian home renovation contractors.

To help reign costs in and get an apple-to-apples comparison among contractors, Koci suggests establishing a firm budget from the outset.

“Customers are afraid to give a contractor a budget because they’re afraid a contractor will bid to the budget and not the price — and they will,” said Koci. But having a set target budget makes it possible to move past cost and focus on other priorities. Some bidders may offer an extended warranty, others may offer to do the job faster, and the very experienced contractors will also point out areas where reno requests are too expensive, meaning you may have to go over budget.

As Koci reminds us: If building a house was like playing football, a general contractor would be the quarterback. They manage the budget, acquire materials, and hire subcontractors. A good general contractor can explain the reason for the placement of every nail, even though he’s not the one that hammered it in. 

Thankfully, it’s easy these days to get an idea of how much a particular reno job should cost. It does mean doing a bit of homework before calling in the pros, but this upfront legwork can certainly help you weed out contractors who may not have the experience in the work you want done. Remember, if one contractor offers to get the job done faster or cheaper than all the other contractors you get a quote from, chances are this person either doesn’t appreciate the amount of work required — and this can mean big problems for you down the road — or is low-balling to get the job before adding on the costs.

Lesson #2: Never trust a handshake

Excited to start, Charlie remembers asking Tim to meet to discuss details of the job. According to Charlie, the men agreed that the entire reno would cost about $135,000, and the entire job from start to finish would take eight weeks to complete. Charlie says that it was at this time he asked if he could have a written contract, but, as Charlie says, he was convinced it wasn’t necessary. Charlie admits he had a nagging doubt, at that time, but ignored it, after all, he’d known the man for more than a decade. What could go wrong?

Avoiding a written contract is a huge mistake, but not for the reasons you may think, says Koci.

“You don’t want a contract just as a legal backstop,” he explains. “That’s not the reason.” In a nightmare scenario, a contract doesn’t serve to guarantee you’ll get your money back without resorting to litigation. So stop considering the contract as your primary legal recourse.

“The primary reason for a contract,” explains Koci, “is to prove that the guy you are trusting to be your quarterback is organized, understands what he’s about to do and is comfortable around project management.”

A good contract from an experienced contractor should set out the scope of work and the overall budget, as well as the pay schedules, expected milestones and work materials required for the job(s). If the contractor you’re about to hire doesn’t offer you this type of contract, you have to seriously question whether the contractor really knows what they’re doing.

“A poorly written contract is a major red flag,” says Koci.

Lesson #3: Know before you pay

Sealed by a handshake, it was time to get to work, so Tim asked Charlie for a cash deposit of just over $20,000. Over the next few weeks, Charlie would make additional lump sum payments, confident that his friend would stick to the budget outlined in their informal agreement.

But the lack of a formal contract set the tone. According to Charlie, he was never provided with a payment schedule — known in reno-speak as draws — nor did he get a schedule of milestones — estimated dates of when specific job components are to be completed. Instead, Charlie recalls simply signing digital documents on Tim’s phone to formalize the transfer of funds.

Expect to pay a deposit

So what should homeowners take away? Koci is clear: “It’s normal to ask for a deposit.” The deposit allows the contractor to buy the initial materials and supplies to start the job — materials and supplies for which you, the homeowner, are responsible for paying. But after the initial deposit, you shouldn’t have to fork out any additional funds until the first milestone is reached (unless major, unforeseen problems arise).

Expect to pay a management fee

After paying a lump sum, Charlie popped into his would-be dream home, only to find it empty. No workers, few materials and already a week into the job. That’s when he started to get concerned. So, he went back to the invoices and started to read everything. He was shocked to learn he was being charged a 20% management fee on top of his fixed contract price.

Typically, in a fixed contract, all aspects of a job are included in the price — materials, sub-trade costs, as well as administration costs, overhead and profit — often known as a management fee (because a general contractor’s job is to manage your project and they have to earn a living, too).

Other types of contracts will also include this fee. For instance, some renovation contractors will use a “time and materials” type of contract. Often used for smaller, piecemeal jobs or larger jobs involving a great degree of uncertainty, time and materials contracts require a homeowner to pay for the materials used in the project and the time spent completing the job. On top of this, a general contractor will tack on a management fee, which can be anywhere from 5% to 20% of the total project cost.

However, for many fixed contracts, the management fee is baked into the total price. For that reason, homeowners should ask for a project cost breakdown. Review this contract to make sure you’re not being double-charged — paying a profit mark-up in addition to a management fee. If a contract uses both fees, it’s the construction equivalent of having your cake and eating it, too.

Lesson #4: Keeping tabs involves more than just showing up

A little over a month into the job, Charlie was surprised when his in-laws, who lived around the corner from the new house, told him no one was working on the house.

This was troubling. The total reno job was only supposed to last for eight weeks, and Charlie knew any delay would seriously jeopardize the tight completion deadline. Worse, he’d decided to delay selling his old house while his new one was being renovated. It’s a strategy known as a “bridge,” and it meant Charlie was making mortgage payments on two houses in addition to footing the cost of the renos. Any delay would mean paying more out of pocket — an unwelcome added stress at a time when his family was growing.

Concerned, Charlie recalls asking Tim about the delays. Charlie’s recalls being told, “not to worry.” 

Still concerned, Charlie remembers paying a surprise visit to the job site a few days later — he was greeted by two police cruisers parked in the driveway of his new home. Apparently, Tim had been loudly arguing with some subcontractors and the police were called.

While Charlie’s behaviour seems reasonable, Koci explains how it’s a waste of time to drop-in randomly on your home reno job. Work does stop and start, it’s part of the workflow as sub-trades squeeze new and existing jobs into tight schedules. Rather than fret about whether or not the work is being done, Koci suggests focusing on solidifying that initial contract, which should include a construction schedule and milestones. This type of schedule, along with monitoring major milestones and the timing of additional draws provided to the contractor, is “a good way to monitor the progress of the job,” says Koci.

Lesson #5: Materials matter in a renovation

One aspect of the reno job that Charlie was looking forward to was being able to see the fruits of his research applied to the custom reno of his new home. He rightfully expected that he and his family would end up with a beautiful home, updated to suit their needs and tastes, and he was sure the reno would add value to the property. This updated home would have brand-new hardwood floors, custom granite countertops in the kitchen, premium bathroom fixtures, and— fulfilling Charlie’s ultimate dream—a home theatre in the basement.

At least, that’s what he thought he’d agreed during his initial discussions with each contractor prior to starting the reno job.

But after the run-in with the police, Charlie began paying closer attention to details of the work. What he found was a job full of cut corners. A low-quality laminate was used instead of higher quality flooring in the basement. Engineered hardwood was substituted for hardwood, and $700 toilets were replaced with toilets bought from Costco at a fraction of the price.

According to Charlie, that’s when he confronted Tim. Charlie recalls that’s when Tim asked him to sign a “scope of work” agreement, in an attempt to settle the disagreements. But, according to Charlie, this new document was nothing like their original agreement. So, Charlie refused to sign — and Tim walked off the job.

Charlie realized that, in order to finish the job at the new house, he’d have to find another general contractor. It sounded like a simple solution, but the problems were only just beginning.

Lesson #6: Don’t cut corners with unlicensed tradespeople

Charlie’s dream house was turning out to be his worst nightmare. Besides skimping on supplies, he alleges that the handiwork of the subcontractors Tim had hired was atrocious and one of the major home renovation mistakes throughout this process. Taped and sanded drywall was so rough that professional painters refused to even start, let alone finish a full paint job. The flooring guys butchered their portion of the job, shooting nails through the engineered wood that Charlie hadn’t even wanted in the first place. New appliances were simply dropped in place without being connected to the home’s utility lines. But all this paled in comparison to the problems Charlie encountered with the plumbing and electrical components in the house.

Charlie alleges that he was pressured into not hiring a licensed electrician based on the belief that the house was previously wired by a licensed electrician. He recalls terms like “piggy-back” and “coupling” being used to explain how electrical and plumbing would be added during the home renovation. 

“If you’re a contractor, you probably do have guys who can do a little of everything,” says Koci, who said that contractors often have people who can do small electrical jobs, like pulling wire. But these jack-of-all-trades workers shouldn’t replace licensed professionals when it comes to larger or more complex jobs. For instance, explains Koci, wiring an addition, rewiring an entire home or upgrading an electrical panel isn’t a job for the generalist.

There’s also the matter of accountability. Licensed electricians provide warranties on the work they do — if a wire short circuits, they’ll have to come back and fix it or face legal repercussions.

As a general rule of thumb, if you need to pull permits, you should hire a licensed tradesperson to complete the job.

Because a licensed electrician and plumber was apparently never used..

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If you’re planning to remodel your kitchen, you’ve probably discovered a multitude of beautiful images of renovated kitchens to look to for inspiration. But with so many options, how do you pick the best colour combinations for your own project? Whether you envision a trendy monochrome or a fun, playful colour scheme, being confident in your own design decisions can often be a challenge.

That said, you don’t need to commit yourself to hours of strenuous research to create something beautiful. As long as you follow some simple strategies for colour combination and coordination, your kitchen remodel can look just as professional as any you’ve seen before. Just set aside some time to review these five pointers.

1. Learn “no-fail” colour combinations

Certain colour combinations just work; it’s as simple as that. You don’t need to stress over your palette — wondering whether one colour matches with another — if you conform to a few basic patterns that are known to produce beautiful results.

For example, here are three combos you might consider for your kitchen:

  1. Blue and brown complement woodwork perfectly and can create a warm, homey feel.
  2. To revive the look and feel of a neutral palette, use rich, royal colours, like grey and purple.
  3. White cabinets are a classic feature that can enhance almost any accent colour or shade you use.

Of course, these are only a few ideas. There are many tried-and-true combinations that fit any homeowner’s desired look. They’re suitable for most homes and, regardless of your general aesthetic, chances are you’ll also find something here that will work within your living space.

2. Embrace neutral colours

Neutral colours are a designer staple because they are the perfect building block for any project. Neutrals are soft and versatile, and they function as a canvas that you can effectively “paint” with rugs, vases, dinnerware and accessories, and also that is easy to update as your personal taste continues to change.

Neutrals serve as a base for a diverse range of related or contrasting colours, from saturated to muted hues. They’ll never go out of style, meaning you’ll have a kitchen remodel that looks fresh throughout any season. This doesn’t necessarily mean an all-white kitchen, however — you can always add some colour with a bright accent or two.

3. Match fixtures with existing colours

Unless you’re completely renovating the space, you probably already have flooring and wall colours in place. These can be just as critical to your kitchen’s design as any other element. As you search for fixtures for your kitchen remodel, keep pre-existing colours and textures like these in mind, and choose products that will appear natural in the space. After all, it’s far easier to match the fixtures with the floor than the floor with the fixtures.

As you purchase fixtures to match the rest of your home’s design, take a holistic approach. Think of each addition as another piece in a larger product. For example, neutral cabinets will be most effective if you’ve painted your kitchen with a pop of colour. And you may not want to choose a dark kitchen colour scheme if your existing tile or granite countertop is already a deep shade.

4. Test your colours with an online visualizer

The image of the perfect kitchen you’ve created in your head might differ from the remodelling specifics you’ve planned. Before you purchase your paint and begin your kitchen remodel project, set aside some time to run your choices through a colour visualizer. It can show you what your final product will look like in advance so that you won’t end up regretting your palette.

Many of these visualizers allow you to upload a photo of the room you intend to renovate and select from a catalogue of colours. Use the opportunity to step outside of your comfort zone and experiment with shades you might not have considered. Perhaps you might even find something that appeals to you more than your first colour scheme!

5. Take advantage of the colour wheel

One of the simplest pieces of advice for colour coordination involves the colour wheel. Take full advantage of it to check and double-check your colour choices against each other. Of all the ways to go about choosing a colour scheme, this one is among the most reliable for ensuring a final product that lives up to your expectations.

If you want to add a fun pop of colour to your kitchen, the colour wheel can help you confirm that the colours you like are complementary. Whether you intend to inject colour with a small appliance or by painting an accent wall, it’s a great way to have some fun experimenting — without having to worry about regretting your choices in a year or two.

Colour combinations for your kitchen

As you move through the initial stages of your kitchen remodel, you’ll find that choosing a colour palette can be a surprisingly straightforward exercise. With a few helpful guidelines, you can have an attractive kitchen design, and even more importantly, one that perfectly reflects your personal preferences.

The post How to pick colour combinations for your kitchen remodel appeared first on Zolo.

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Regular upgrade projects are a normal part of homeownership and with the popularity of home improvement shows, such as those found on HGTV, it’s easy to understand how people get inspired to take on their own projects.

In a report from U.S.-based Homeadvisor, approximately 80% of homeowners indicated they planned to stay in their current home and about half planned to remodel. While there are loads of blogs and sites dedicated to how much value a particular upgrade or reno will add to a home, many of these homeowners struggle to find information on specific material choices.

While some projects offer a better return on your investment there are also some materials that offer more value — either they last long or they retain their value over time — and this can impact whether or not a homeowner will see a  return on their home renovation plans.

Figuring out where and what materials are the best use of your hard-earned dollars isn’t easy, so here are five housing materials that save money but provide value.

1. What are cost-effective alternatives to wood flooring?

Hardwood floors are not only on trend but also are something that never goes out of style. However, real hardwood flooring is quite expensive, running $5 or more per square foot plus the cost of installation. (Yes, you can get cheaper but the price reflects the quality of the material.) Fortunately, there are a few options that cost less, are durable and make your home look beautiful.

  • Laminate: Laminate has a similar look to hardwood but is much less expensive than real wood floors (plus laminate is a suitable floor for below grade floors, whereas most hardwood is not).  However, be careful about the quality of the laminate you buy. Take samples home with you and abuse them — soak them in water, hit them with a hammer and try to peel up the edges. Even though you’re on a budget, you want the materials you use to last.
  • Wood-look tile: Think durability of tile but the look of wood. Introduced (and VERY popular) a few years ago, these wood-like tiles are typically less expensive per square foot than hardwood. However, costs can really creep up if you have to pay for installation. If you opt for wood-look tile, consider a contractor that works on time + materials, or check out your local home improvement store. Quite often, local hardware stores will offer classes on how to install your own tile so you can save a bundle.
  • Hybrid wood floors: Consider engineered hardwood, which has a layer of hardwood on top rather than throughout, and is usually more cost-effective than solid hardwood flooring.
  • Wood-look vinyl: There are a couple of options for getting real wood without spending so much money, such as the Smartcore hybrid floors. These vinyl floor sheets look like hardwood but are highly durable and waterproof. If you want to check out this product go to any big box hardware store, or spend a day at the mall. Many retail outlets that install “hardwood” actually use this vinyl tile that looks like hardwood because of its durability.

Remember: Look for bulk pricing and discounts on the material you finally choose.

2. What are cost-effective alternatives to granite countertops?

Over the years a few materials for countertops have become highly popular but the winner, for most homeowners, is the granite countertop. (It’s found in just about every chef’s kitchen and now even in condos and middle-class homes!) Still, cost out a slab of granite and you’ll soon notice how quickly costs rise. Three great granite alternatives that can accommodate the budgets and preferences of most homeowners include: Butcher block, engineered stone and laminate

Keep in mind even a minor kitchen remodel can offer a solid return on investment. While granite countertops are beautiful and timeless, they are also quite expensive. Fortunately, these three options can still upgrade the look and feel of your kitchen but save you money.

  • Butcher block: Wood countertops are much less expensive than granite, and when sealed correctly, are very durable. Another option is to pay more for granite for some spots and mesh with butcher block in larger spaces, such as your island.
  • Modular engineered stone: Manmade stone looks very much like granite, but you’ll save on the material, and installation is easy, even for DIYers.
  • Laminate: Gone are the ’70s orange and brown laminate countertops. Today’s laminate looks like natural materials and comes in a variety of neutral colours. The cost of a laminate countertop is approximately $1,200 for 30 square feet, while the price of granite is roughly $3,500 for 30 square feet.

Remember: You could also buy granite tiles and tile your countertop, but you will need to be happy with mortar lines if you opt for this granite countertop option.

3. Should you install energy-efficient windows?

Replacing the windows in your home saves money on energy costs and improves the value of your home. Recoup around 74% of your investment in new windows as well as upgrading the overall look of your home both inside and outside. Some things to keep in mind:

  • Do the new windows mesh with the overall design of your home from the outside?
  • Windows offer different energy savings depending upon their design and quality. Buy windows in your budget but with the highest energy-efficiency rating possible.

Remember: If you can’t replace every window in your home, start with the side of your home that takes the brunt of wind when a cold front comes through. Slowly replace the other windows as your budget allows.

4. What bathroom upgrades make sense (without costing loads of cents)?

Bathroom remodelling projects don’t have to cost a bundle. Try these upgrades to bring your bathroom up to contemporary standards:

  • Refinish your bathtub rather than replacing the entire thing.
  • Tile around the top of your bathtub insert to freshen up the entire look of the space.

Remember: Bathroom remodels often grow costly, but they don’t have to be if you keep an eye out for a bargain and repurpose materials you already own.

5. A new coat of paint is a good idea, but what paint should you use?

One final investment is spending a bit more on the paint you use when repainting your home. Washable paint is a must when you have pets and children. You will pay a little more per gallon, but you’ll save in the long run by extending the life of your paint job. Some other options:

  • Choose an inexpensive flat paint, which is easy to touch up when the wall gets a scuff mark.
  • Paint the entire house the same colour and buy 5-gallon buckets of paint, which saves a little money.
  • Use a semi-gloss, which you can wipe down without wiping the paint off the wall.

Remember: One thing to keep in mind is that if your walls have flaws, you’ll want to invest in eggshell paint, which appears flat but is more washable because it hides drywall imperfections.

Update your home with the next buyer in mind

If your concern is resale value, look at your home through the eyes of a stranger. When home stagers set up a house for showings, they use neutral design elements.

You might adore copper kettles, but if you paint them on the main wall of your kitchen, it could be a turnoff for potential buyers in the future. Go for elements that stand the test of time and remain classics rather than trendy materials that date your home quickly.

The post 5 housing materials that provide more value for less appeared first on Zolo.

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Until recently, a pantry or butler’s pantry was associated with grand kitchens of the past.  Now having a kitchen pantry is one of the latest trends in custom kitchens and home design.

When we think of a pantry, we often conjure up images of the below-stairs servant staff at Eaton Place in Upstairs Downstairs or, more recently, we think of Downton Abbey. Two historical British TV dramas showcasing the life and times of the wealthy and their servants — servants who often spent time in the basement pantry, working, gossiping and keeping stock of the household supplies.

This association — of a pantry with servants or help — once kept the idea of a storage room off the modern home renovating agenda. After all, who these days has servants apart from Royalty and the very wealthy?

All that changed, however, with the open-concept designs of more modern homes. All of a sudden, homeowners needed a space to store stuff and, suddenly, pantries were back in vogue. Open plan kitchens are fabulous for socializing and entertaining but they fall short for cooks who want some privacy when preparing a meal or want a place to hide the storehouse of food items or the mess of a well-prepared meal.

Here are the three main reasons why this kitchen design trend is back on the home improvement agenda:

1. The small kitchen appliance

Anyone who regularly uses small kitchen appliances, such as blenders, juicers, fruit processors, sandwich makers, slow cookers etc., will quickly explain how fast these great time savers take up much-needed kitchen space. Whether it’s sitting on a countertop or filling up cupboards and drawers, small kitchen appliances can really start to clutter a kitchen.

But add a pantry, particularly one with open shelves or extra countertop space (or, better still, with plenty of power sources) and suddenly the ease of those small appliances isn’t overshadowed by the potential clutter.

Even a hidden alcove turned into a butler’s pantry or an appliance garage can transform a kitchen from cluttered to tidy by providing a closed space for seldom-used appliances.

2. Entertaining Artichoke

The open plan kitchen is a fantastic interior design feature which makes eating and entertaining a truly sociable event (no more being stuck in the kitchen while guests quaff your expensive wine without you). But as anyone who has prepped a big meal knows, things can get pretty messy in the kitchen. Worse, being in full view of guests when things go wrong is, quite frankly, rather embarrassing.

Having a closed space to keep messy food prep out of view from guests is a blessing. It also means that dirty dishes, pots and pans can be put out of sight to be stacked in the dishwasher later.  This allows you to enjoy the company of your guests for longer without worrying about the state the kitchen is in.  This is particularly useful if you plan to congregate and socialize around your kitchen island.

3. More food storage

Bulk buying your larder favourites is often difficult purely because of a lack of storage space. Where do you put that extra box of pasta or the bag of oatmeal if you cupboards of full? A pantry, not only provides more kitchen workspace for preparing food, but it can also provide space for additional food storage.

Design tips for a perfect pantry

The most important consideration when designing a pantry is how you live in your home.  How do you use your kitchen space and what do you want to achieve by adding a pantry? A pantry is usually an extension of the kitchen.  You’ll ideally want to use the same flooring, worktops, cabinetry and colours as your kitchen. Though, if it is separated with a door, you could ignore convention and create something completely different.

How much space you have will inform your design choices. Make a wish list and prioritize if space is at a premium. Open storage has been a trend in kitchen design of late.  But that only works well with stylish and tidy kitchen spaces.

Once open shelving becomes a disorganized dumping ground it also becomes an eyesore. This isn’t a problem for the pantry. The whole point of the pantry is that it’s tucked away. Storage space in a pantry is key. Open storage is great for easy access. Lots of cleverly designed cabinetry will also keep your pantry organized.

A large double-sized butler’s sink is an absolute must in a pantry, as is a large dishwasher. This is the place to keep your heavy-duty washing zone hidden from the view of guests.

A pantry should be designed to suit your home and your lifestyle. The whole point of a pantry is to provide a useful support space so you can keep your kitchen tidy and smart.

The post Here’s why the pantry is making a comeback appeared first on Zolo.

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Are you considering a home renovation? While loads of people will tell you that upgrades add value to your home, the reality is that not all home improvements are created equal. When it comes to investing in the single largest asset you own the last thing you want is to sink money into a project only to find out the upgrade is a sunk cost.

To avoid this, step away from the standard list of home renovations such as kitchen remodels and new floors. Turns out these aren’t the only upgrades to consider. Instead, consider these five home improvement suggestions to help add function and value to your home. By doing home upgrades such as these you’ll be able to increase your home’s value and appeal to potential buyers.

1. Focus on curb appeal

They say you only get one chance to make the right first impression. Take full advantage of the psychology of buying and selling homes and put extra effort into the curb appeal of your home, including the garden, the drive and any exterior elements of the building.

Check the roof for missing tiles, refresh exterior render or discoloured brickwork, power wash a dirty path or mossy drive. Take a look at your front door and windows to see if they need repairing or replacing, and make sure that everything is sparkling clean.

A garage and drive is a big selling point, particularly in urban areas where parking might be at a premium. Revitalise your old garage door with a lick of paint, or upgrade to a secure, stylish door in a choice of finishes. Or spend a little and paint your entry door or garage door a bright, new colour to add a bit of pop — and to immediately improve your home’s visual appeal.

Finally, make sure that rubbish bins and other unsightly items are tucked out of sight, mow the lawn, tidy up the front beds and welcome your guests with some pretty planters or a hanging basket of flowers by the front entrance.

2. Tap into the bathroom

There’s no doubt that bathrooms add value. According to recent figures, an additional bathroom installation costing an average of $15,000 CDN can add as much as 5% to the value of your home.

Remember, house buyers now expect 1.5 bathrooms for every 2 bedrooms, which is what new builds tend to provide. In a 4-bedroom home, this translates to a family bathroom, and master bedroom with ensuite facilities, and a downstairs powder room. If your main bedroom doesn’t have an ensuite bathroom, this is where you ought to direct your money and your efforts.

In terms of style, design and functionality, it should go without saying that all bathrooms in your home must be updated to contemporary standards. Such as updated bathroom fixtures (no plastic towel rails!), glass shower doors (no soggy shower curtains!) and contemporary vanity and light fixtures.

Finally, give your bathrooms a deep clean (or get a professional cleaning company to do it for you) so it smells fresh and gleams like new.

3. Present a tech-friendly home

Whether your home is a chic urban pad or a rambling country home, present-day utilities include fast internet speeds and a robust mobile reception. If there is a problem with your broadband connection or phone signal, this will need urgent attention to bring your property up to scratch with the competition.

Sometimes, this is simply a case of relocating your router to balance out interference from solid walls and heavy doors, or buying a WiFi signal booster to solve the problem. If you have internet, there are several free tools that can measure your download and upload speeds, along with helpful advice on how to increase your speed if there’s a problem. If you don’t have broadband or need to upgrade, you can check what’s available locally through comparison websites such as this one.

By making small upgrades or modifications to your home’s tech, you can add value to your home. People love a home that’s “connected” and you can add this to your home’s listing description. Another selling feature is how this tech can add security to your home. If you have cameras installed or smart locks, make sure you let potential buyers know, as these upgrades go a long way to providing a safe, secure feeling in the home.

4. Woo them with a cosy fireplace

While very few modern day house hunters would willingly choose a property without broadband, a back-to-basics open fire or woodburning stove exerts an irresistible pull. If you already have a working fireplace that’s fed by wood, gas or electricity, make sure this is a standout feature on a day when you’re home has viewings arranged. There’s nothing better than a crackling real fire to make you (or your punters) feel at home!

If you have an old fireplace in the house but don’t use it, repairing and/or re-commissioning the fireplace and flue are well worth doing, so that the next owner doesn’t have to. If there is no fireplace, consider installing a stylish wood burner, which is technically more straightforward and a bit cheaper too.

5. Offer extra outdoor space

If you’re selling a home with a garden, be reassured that any outsize space will add to the value of your home. Styles and tastes vary widely when it comes to garden design. Some people love the romanticism of elaborate, labour intensive English country gardens while others prefer the low-maintenance convenience of a mowed, minimalist garden design.

Unless you’re passionately green fingered and love to show off your garden space in all its lush glory, focus on showing the potential. This means not worrying about the perfection of your perennials and focusing, instead, on making sureEnsure your garden looks healthy, your lawn, beds and borders are tidy, your hedges are pruned and your patio and fences are clean. Tackle any neglected corners where garden junk may have accumulated and in order to maximize space and light.

The post 5 home upgrades that add value appeared first on Zolo.

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So the house you’re looking at buying is listed as having a chef’s kitchen but what does this actually mean? Does a chef own the house or just a normal everyday person who likes to cook?

In real estate terms, a house that is advertised as having a chef’s kitchen means that you should expect a certain standard of quality. It also means the kitchen is one of the major selling features of the home. The problem is the term ‘chef’s kitchen’ is bandied around so much — it’s a great way to attract buyer attention — that sometimes that promised chef’s kitchen is little more than an open-plan layout and a fancy fridge. So help you cut through the marketing noise, we looked into what really constitutes as a real chef’s kitchen. Here are some tips to help you spot the difference.

What features does a chef’s kitchen include?

A chef’s kitchen doesn’t necessarily mean a professional chef uses it, but the people who live there definitely appreciate food. They also tend to like cooking gourmet meals and entertaining. A chef’s kitchen is probably the central hub of the home and will have a spacious open layout that allows multiple people to cook and prepare food simultaneously.

Generous countertops are definitely a desired feature of a chef’s kitchen with a variety of workstations and islands for prepping and cooking functions, including a plate-staging area for adding the final garnish to dishes. There may also be a baker’s station or pastry station.

Multiple deep sinks are a must in a chef’s kitchen for washing food and rinsing dishes easily.  Some kitchens have islands that sport an additional sink for washing vegetables. If you’re cooking up a storm, you’ll want a faucet or ‘pot-filler’ over your stove to easily fill large pots of water directly on the stove so you don’t have to lug the pot from the sink.

Other must-have features that typically appear in a chef’s kitchen are multiple ovens, including convection or steam models, with induction or gas cooktops for faster, more efficient cooking. A microwave and warmer drawers to keep food hot are also must-haves.

Name brand, specialized appliances are usually featured in a chef’s kitchen, and because they add to the designer appeal, you can expect at least one or two. These could include (but are not limited to): twin dishwashers, a high-end fridge with an air purification system and a vacuum seal to keep food fresher longer, a freezer with an ice maker and a wine cooler.

Cooking utensils and gadgets are also high-quality items that appear in a chef’s kitchen and will be super organized, with everything you need in pull-out drawers or within arm’s reach.

Basically, a chef’s kitchen will make cooking a pleasure rather than a chore!

Why is a chef’s kitchen so popular?

If you’re not a professional chef it begs the question: why have one?

A chef’s kitchen is a trend because of reality TV shows, and because people are more aware of the food they eat and how it’s prepared. Entertaining at home is more popular these days as people want to try out the recipes they’ve seen on TV.

For those who only cook for friends and family on the rare occasion, it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a kitchen with the wow factor to make your guests envious.

How much does a chef’s kitchen cost?

If you’re building a home or renovating an existing one, a house with a chef’s kitchen is worth the money you spend. The appliances and storage components are going to be of high quality overall and have good functionality, so an everyday cook will appreciate it as much as a gourmet cook.

There are endless possibilities for customizing your own chef’s kitchen, but, in general, you can expect to pay between $50,000 and $100,000 if you want high-end appliances. These take up a major chunk of the cost.

Yes, a chef’s kitchen isn’t cheap to install, but the good thing about it is that you can never lose money on it (unless you over-capitalize for your market). Kitchens and bathrooms are the two rooms of your house that offer a great return on investment (for the most part). Plus, having a streamlined kitchen will make you more inclined to cook at home rather than eat out, so it could help you save money in the long term!

Hopefully, this article has cleared up any misconceptions about what a chef’s kitchen actually entails. If you’re still on the fence about buying a house with one or installing one, remember that when it comes to selling your home in the future, a chef’s kitchen is definitely an asset that will boost your home’s value markedly.

The post What defines a real chef’s kitchen? appeared first on Zolo.

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If the 2019 resolution is to at last give your home a much-needed makeover, you’re in luck: the new calendar year is bringing with it furniture trends that are as comfy as they are trendy.

Whether you’re re-doing just one room or looking to furnish the home you just purchased, one thing’s sure, in this New Year, you’ll be spoiled for choice. Style-savvy interior design fanatics are already predicting which crazes are going to be most prominent in home outfitter shops and furniture retailers. In general, we’re seeing a lot of low-key designs, basic but quality materials and furniture to make your home an ideal place to relax. For specific furniture trends of the new year, see below.

#1. Curved furniture 

The past few years have seen a lot of sofas, chairs and benches with ruler-straight lines and sleek, simple contours. This year though, those pieces are out in favour of furniture with non-symmetrical shapes and playful curves. Think wave-shaped coffee tables instead of rectangular and living room chairs with rounded backs. Overall, these pieces of furniture will likely make your rooms look less rigid and more inviting. 

#2. Comfy couches 

Fashion and comfort don’t always go hand-in-hand but one of Canada’s top design magazines, Style at Home, suggests that furniture in 2019 is only going to be in-vogue if it’s comfortable too. That’s a trend we are definitely a fan of. In the past, angular seating with structured armrests may have made for a lousy spot to chillax but it brightened the room just perfectly. This coming year though, the goal is to have the best of both worlds meaning that your couch should look great while also being the perfect spot to curl up with a book.

#3. Antiques

The editors at Vogue are begging us all to bring antique furniture back to our offices, kitchens, breakfast nooks and really, anywhere else in the home. Sure, modern and mid-century pieces are great but what’s really going to make for a great indoor aesthetic in 2019 is matching your new, sleek-looking West Elm chair with grandma’s old desk that had been long forgotten in the attic.  

#4. Upholstery with small details

If you’re looking for new living room or bedroom furniture this year, Elle Decor suggests keeping an eye out for upholstery that is simple but with small, pretty details. For example, an interesting seam can really make a piece stand out. Or, ornate embroidery could be a detail that really sells a two-seater bench.

#5. Slate blue, forest green and black

Scroll through scores of interior design images on Pinterest and Instagram (whichever platform suits you best) and you’re bound to notice the prominence of three colours: slate blue, forest green and black. These three colours are having a moment and are used on anything from bed linens to cozy couch throws, to office chairs, couches and bar stools. For a budget-friendly option, observe this trend by staining old kitchen chairs or buying new cushions to spice up a neutral coloured couch.

#6. Light wood tables

Beachy driftwood-looking coffee tables or dining rooms with a birch table and going to be trending in 2019. These tables of light coloured wood give an airy and casual vibe to any room and allow for centrepieces like a handcrafted vase, a bouquet of wildflowers or intricate lighting fixture to get the spotlight. Paler wood furniture is going to be a sign that you’re at the address of a truly stylish friend this year.

#7. Formal living rooms are out

Our friends at Style at Home suggest not even thinking about buying a couch unless it’s a snuggle-worthy sofa. They didn’t stop there though and also predicted that the posh, overly formal living rooms of the past are officially getting the boot in 2019. For a while there, many of us had that decorative and pretty living room that hardly got any use. If you have one resolution this year, it’s to do away with that. Your home should be a tranquil place to rest, recharge and socialize with friends. Keep your guests and your family comfortable by turning the fuss down just a notch. Remember, your home is for living in. 

The post 7 furniture trends to watch for in 2019 appeared first on Zolo.

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