Christmas Lighting Tips to Save Time and Money

Here’s how to light up your Christmas light display safely and economically.

Christmas lights can be modest displays to show good cheer, or million-bulb light-apaloozas that draw gawkers from near and far.

Here are some tips on how to get the most from — and spend the least on — your holiday display.

1. Safety First

Emergency rooms are filled with homeowners who lose fights with their holiday lights and fall off ladders or suffer electric shocks. To avoid the holiday black and blues, never hang lights solo; instead, work with a partner who holds the ladder. Also, avoid climbing on roofs after rain or snow.

2. Unpack Carefully

Lights break and glass cuts. So unpack your lights gingerly, looking for and replacing broken bulbs along the way.

3. Extension Cords Are Your Friends

Splurge on heavy-duty extension cords that are UL-listed for outdoor use. To avoid overloading, only link five strings of lights together before plugging into an extension cord.

4. LEDs Cost Less to Light

LED Christmas lights use roughly 70% to 90% less energy and last up to 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs. You can safely connect many more LED light strings than incandescents. Downside: Some think they don’t burn as brightly as incandescent bulbs.

5. Solar Lights Cost Nothing to Run

Solar Christmas lights are roughly four times more expensive to buy than LEDs, but they cost zero to run. They’re a bright-burning, green alternative. Downside: If there’s no sun during the day, there’s no light at night. The jury’s also still out on how long they last; they’re too new on the market for results.

6. Dismantle Lights Sooner Than Later

Sun, wind, rain, and snow all take their toll on Christmas lights. To extend the life of lights, take them down immediately after the holidays. The longer you leave the up, the sooner you’ll have to replace them.

7. Plan Next Year’s Display on Dec. 26

Shop the after-Christmas sales to get the best prices on lights and blowups that you can proudly display next year. Stock up on your favorite lights so you’ll have spares when you need them (and after they’re discontinued).

8. Permanent Attachments Save Time

If you know you’ll always hang lights from eaves, install permanent light clips ($13 for 75 clips) that will save you hanging time each year. You’ll get a couple/three years out of the clips before sun eats the plastic.

9. Find Those Blueprints

Instead of guessing how many light strings you’ll need, or measuring with a tape, dig up your house blueprints or house location drawings (probably with your closing papers) and use those measurements as a guide.

10. Store Them in a Ball

It sounds counter intuitive, but the best way to store lights is to ball them up. Wrap five times in one direction, then turn the ball 90 degrees and repeat. Store your light balls in cardboard boxes, rather than in plastic bags: Cardboard absorbs residual moisture and extends the life of your lights.

By: Lisa Kaplan Gordon

Holiday Home for Not-So-Perfect People

Holiday Home for Not-So-Perfect People

Here’s how to cope with your never-ending to-do list.

 

Spending time on your house is just not a priority right now. Instead of aspiring to be Martha Stewart’s protégé, we recommend unabashedly cheating your way through the holiday season. “Martha Stewart has staff,” says professional organizer and organizing coach Melinda Massie. “Stop the psychological torture of comparing yourself to her.”

Here’s how to keep your home respectable with minimal trauma (and maybe even enjoy the season while you’re at it).

1. Embrace the List

Begin the holidays with a brain dump, listing every single itsy-bitsy, annoying task you need to handle between now and New Year’s. Taxes? Dealing with child care? Decorating your front yard? Buying gifts? Cleaning the windows? The Q4 rush back at the (sigh) office?

Then, “go back through the list and remove everything that you don’t have to do,” says Massie.

Prioritize the home-related tasks that actually matter and ditch the ones that go beyond surface cleaning your guests might notice. Feel free to cackle with glee as you cross off “mop the upstairs bathroom.”

2. Cheat Your Way to a Great-Smelling Home

Great-aunt Tilda’s rosemary roll recipe always makes the house smell lovely — but who has time for all the kneading and rising in December?

There’s an easy way to give your house that just-baked scent: Simmer vanilla, lemon, and thyme in a pot on the stove — no baking needed.

Even better, make your sneaky simmer part of the party. Massie recommends warming something delicious in your Crock-Pot. Try mulled cider, which requires only apple cider, a few spices, and rum or brandy — if you’re feeling daring.

“This will make the whole house smell good while not taking up an extra burner on the stove, and give you something delicious to enjoy,” Massie says.

3. Don’t Sweat Your Kids’ Mess

“Let go of putting every single toy away each night before bed,” says Didi Wong, an integrative wellness and life coach.

“The kids are on vacation, and when they wake up, the fun begins all over again,” she says. So let junior relish in his freedom and scatter his toys across his room or some other designated area. That’s at least one less battle a day, right?

4. Focus on the Obvious When You Clean

OK, that’s stating the obvious. But sometimes you need to give yourself permission for everything to not be perfect.

“Of course you want a clean home, but you don’t need to clean every closet and shelf,” says professional organizer Robyn Reynolds.

Instead, focus on the places your guests will see and use. Clean hand towels in the bathroom along with a sparkling sink and toilet will give the impression your entire home has been deep-cleaned recently — even if there is a bit of dust on your coffee table.

5. Outsource Some Jobs

You might be a die-hard DIYer, but that doesn’t mean you have to do everything.

“Outsource anything you’re not good at or comfortable with,” says Massie. “The investment will be well worth the savings of time and sanity.”

Professional cleaners can do in a few hours what would take you days. And if you really want those lights strung outside, there are people for that, too. So maybe you spend a little less on gifts this year, but more on your family’s ability to enjoy home over the holidays. Totally worth it.

Outsourcing doesn’t always have to have dollars attached. It could be teaming up with friends and family. Maybe a friend of yours who’s got that handyman knack but no baking skills will be willing to string your lights in exchange for some holiday treats you’re making anyway? That’s a win-win.

6. Give Artificial Trees a Chance

It’s time to get over your holiday tree nostalgia. Sure, tromping out to the woods with dad to pick out the perfect fir was a delight, but back then, you weren’t the one who had to keep the thing watered all month and sweep up the fallen needles every night.

Artificial trees come in a variety of natural-looking shapes and sizes. Or go all out with silver, gold, even fluorescent pink! Bonus: When you reuse the same tree year after year, you’re actually doing something nice for the earth (especially if you buy yours secondhand). Miss the evergreen smell? That’s what scented candles are for.

7. Keep It Real

If your big family dinner comes and the ham is on fire and your dog peed in the living room and little Mackenzie won’t stop banging her darn blocks against the window, don’t panic. Wonderful days have been salvaged from worse. Guests only care that you’re together.

“If you approach the event with good intentions, it may not turn out to be exactly what you envisioned, but your family and guests will still thank you and be appreciative of your time and effort in putting together such a wonderfully festive get-together,” says Wong.

5 Tricks to Keep Your Pipes from Exploding this Winter

How to prevent your pipes from freezing, even if you think they’ve already started to freeze.

 

Ideally, you should winterize your pipes in the fall, before winter seriously sets in. But if you’ve forgotten and all of a sudden you’re in the middle of a deep freeze, there’s still time to prevent disaster.

Here are some easy techniques to save your pipes from bursting:

1. Turn On Your Faucets

If the temperatures have dropped into freezing and intend to stay there, turning on your faucets — both indoors and out — can keep water moving through your system and slow down the freezing process. There’s no need to waste gallons of water: Aim for about five drips per minute.

2. Open Cabinet Doors

During cold weather, open any cabinet doors covering plumbing in the kitchen and bathroom. This allows the home’s warm air to better circulate, which can help prevent the exposed piping from freezing. While this won’t help much with pipes hidden in walls, ceilings, or under the home, it can keep water moving and limit the dangerous effects of freezing weather.

3. Wrap Your Pipes

If your pipes are already on their merry way towards freezing, wrapping them with warm towels might do the trick. You can cover them with the towels first and then pour boiling water on top, or use already-wet towels — if your hands can stand the heat (use gloves for this). This should help loosen the ice inside and get your system running again.

4. Pull Out Your Hairdryer

A hairdryer (or heat gun) can be a godsend when your pipes are freezing. If hot rags aren’t doing the trick, try blowing hot air directly on the pipes. Important note: You don’t want to use a blow torch or anything that produces direct flames, which can damage your pipes and turn a frozen pipe into an even worse disaster. You’re trying to melt the ice — not your pipes.

5. Frozen Pipes? Shut Off The Water

Have your pipes already frozen? Turn off the water immediately. (Hopefully you know where the master shut-off is, but if not, now’s the time to find it!)

Make sure to close off any external water sources, like garden hose hookups. This will prevent more water from filling the system, adding more ice to the pile, and eventually bursting your pipes — the worst-case scenario. This also will help when the water thaws; the last thing you want after finally fixing your frozen pipes is for water to flood the system — and thus, your home.

Painting Tips When Selling Your Home

Getting ready to sell your home? One of the easiest home improvements to get buyers’ attention is a fresh coat of paint. It’s a cost-effective fix that will make your home look updated, which can translate to increased value.

Here are a few expert tips from Dunn-Edwards Paints on choosing interior colors that appeal to buyers:
Image 1Don’t Go All White or Beige.

It’s true that you want to make your home appealing to the widest possible audience when you are selling, but going strictly white might make your house end up looking more utilitarian than stylish. Stick to earth tones and nature-based colors like warm browns and milky tans (think latte). Light greens and blues are classy, and warm grays are popular now. An occasional accent wall in a darker or complementary shade can also add a designer look.

Take the Flooring Into Consideration.

Lay color chips on the floor to see how they pair-warm tones tend to look better with most hardwood, whereas tile, terrazzo or carpet may warrant other colors.

Focus on Key Rooms.

Don’t want to spend the next few weeks painting your entire home? Don’t worry – you don’t have to. Focus your painting efforts on the rooms that will have the most impact – the kitchen and baths. In the kitchen, soft buttery yellows with slight brown undertones are popular, and olive and sage greens can make it feel garden-y and fresh. Bathrooms (and the laundry room) can tolerate brighter colors because they’re smaller.

Before Buying Your First Home

The ultimate timeline ensures the smoothest of transitions to home ownership.

 

This is why we created our First-Time HomeBuyer Checklist. The 12-month timeline will help you sidestep common mistakes, like paying too much interest or getting stuck with the wrong house. (Yep, it happens!)

12 Months Out

Check your credit score.Get a copy of your credit report at annualcreditreport.com. The three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) are each required to give you a free credit report once a year. A Federal Trade Commission study found one in four Americans identified errors on their credit report, and 5% had errors that could lead to higher rates on loans. Avoid last-minute bombshells by checking your score long before you’re ready to make an offer. And work diligently to correct any mistakes.

Determine how much you can afford. Figure out Lenders are happy to lend you as much as your debt load allows. But will that amount make you house poor? Ask yourself, how much house do I really want to afford?Read More In5 Ways You Didn’t Know You Could Save for a Down Paymenthow much house you can afford and want to afford. Lenders look for a total debt load of no more than 43% of your gross monthly income (called the debt-to-income ratio). This figure includes your future mortgage and any other debts, such as a car loan, student loan, or revolving credit cards.

There are plenty of calculators on the web to help you determine what you can afford. If you’re pushing the limits, start reducing your debt-to-income ratio now. To get a reality check on what you may actually be spending every month, use this worksheet.

Make a down payment plan. Most conventional mortgages require a 20% down payment. If you can swing it, do it. Your loan costs will be much less, and you’ll get a better interest rate. If, however, you’re not quite able to save the full amount, there are many programs that can help. FHA offers loans with only a 3.5% down payment. But they require mortgage insurance premiums, which will drive up your monthly payments. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides a list of nonprofit homebuying programs by state. Also check with credit unions; and your employer might even have an assistance program.

As you’re planning your savings strategy, keep in mind that banks like you to “season” your money. That is, they like to see that you’ve had stable funds in your account for 60 to 90 days before applying for a loan. Don’t worry: You can still use a financial gift from a family member or bonus received near the time you buy.