5 Over-the-Top Outdoor Improvements for DIYers

outdoor2(BPT) – A beautiful backyard has become a suburban status symbol much like a brand-new car in the driveway. Upgrading your outdoor space is not only uplifting, it’s practical, too. A great backyard expands your living space, enhances your enjoyment of your home and can boost resale value.

Anyone can plant some flowers or put in a patio. To truly take your outdoor spaces to the next level, though, look to projects that offer a big “wow factor.” Many are well within the capabilities of most do-it-yourselfers. You can find detailed instructions online, and all the tools you’ll need are at your local American Rental Association member rental store. Here are five warm-weather projects to turn your backyard into an enticing oasis this spring and summer:

1. Create a fire pit area

Metal fire pits and chimineas are available in home improvement stores, but to create a truly memorable outdoor experience, consider building your own fire pit. Rather than simply being another portable accessory cluttering up your outdoor space, a built-in fire pit becomes an ambience-boosting design element in your yard. To create a fire pit, you’ll need a good-sized circle of level ground in your yard, tools for digging, stones or bricks for construction, and implements for hauling sand, stone and bricks.

2. Plant a vertical garden

Gardening is a popular summer pastime, one that can fill your yard and home with beautiful blooms, lush greenery and nutritious, low-cost produce. If you don’t have a great deal of room for a spacious garden plot, or if you want a garden that’s more visually striking than raised beds or containers, consider a vertical garden. Virtually any unadorned outdoor wall can accommodate a vertical garden. Depending on how you choose to affix plants and containers to the wall, you may need to rent nail guns or construction-grade staple guns.

outdoor3. Add an outdoor kitchen

Cooking and eating outside are among the great joys of warm weather, and outdoor kitchens are a popular improvement to outdoor living areas. You have many options for creating an outdoor kitchen, from building a simple frame and sliding a standard gas grill into it, to a more elaborate stone installation complete with an oven and multiple burners. You can save money by using online guides and renting tools to build your own backyard kitchen.

4. Build a dedicated space for napping

What’s more relaxing than napping in the shade with a soft breeze as your blanket? Constructing a wooden swing, suspended bed swing or a wooden hammock can be an easy weekend project that requires the rental of only a few simple tools. When you’re done, you’ll enjoy testing the fruits of your labor with an afternoon nap.

5. Set up superior seating

Anyone can buy some patio furniture and put it on the deck, but built-in seating takes outdoor relaxation to the next level. Adding built-in seating can be as simple as building a wooden frame along a deck railing and adding plush cushions, or as elaborate as creating a sunken pit from field stone and patio pavers. Look online for inspiration and ideas that will fit with your space and design tastes.

Whatever project you decide to tackle, renting the tools you’ll need is a cost-effective way to get the job done without overspending. Plus, when you’re done with the tools you won’t have to worry about finding somewhere to store them. To find a local rental store, visit www.rentalhq.com.

Dress Up Your Floors With Top Tile Trends

tile 1(BPT) – If you are renovating any area of your home, it may be time to try something new-such as bringing tile into main living areas in addition to your bathrooms and kitchen. New designs, styles and technologies are making tile the most versatile and accessible flooring material.

“Tile has always been durable and easy to maintain,” says Kevin McDaniel, director of product development and design services for The Tile Shop, which sells tile and natural stone at more than 100 retail showrooms across the country, from Arizona to New York. “Tile has a long life span and classic good looks, making it a favorite flooring of choice wherever homeowners need a floor material that’s both practical and beautiful. Even more design options are available now, making tile a smart floor surface in virtually any room of the home.”

Homeowners, builders, designers and product developers are thinking outside the box when incorporating tile into renovations and new builds. From bringing tile flooring up the wall, to using the same tile flooring across multiple rooms, to using water jet technology, they’re working with tile in non-traditional ways. Here are some top tile trends to consider for your interior design project:

1. The look of real wood with a rustic finish. Many of the larger-format faux wood tiles mimic the look of real hardwood floors. Less expensive and more durable than real wood, these tile floors are practical yet beautiful choices for active households with children and pets. Details evoke the character of real wood, right down to the nails. “Rustic faux wood is making a huge splash because of its warm, earthy coloring and unusual time-worn finishes such as aged paint, a finish hard to achieve with real wood. I foresee it continuing to be a very popular design trend,” McDaniel says.

2. Those longer tile planks. While standard square tile sizes will always have their place in home décor, rectangular tiles – otherwise known as planks –tile 2 are gaining popularity. New 12-by-24-inch tiles are a hot choice in bathrooms and 6-by-36-inch tiles or 8-inch by 8-feet planks (often in wood-grained looks) are a favorite for living areas.

“Using longer planks can help smaller spaces look larger, and create an appealing consistency across multiple rooms,” says McDaniel. “While consumers may be familiar with traditional tile shapes such as square or hexagon, these longer tiles offer exciting new design flexibility.”

3. That poured concrete look. While concrete is a trendy design material right now, it’s not practical for every household or application. New tile styles create the look of poured or stained concrete at a fraction of the cost, and with all the durability, versatility and ease associated with tile. Tile options range from long rectangular 8-by-18-inch or 12-by-24-inch planks to 18-by-18-inch squares. Tiles are rectified-the edge is cut completely straight-and grout joints are very narrow to further create the look of seamless concrete.

4. The warmth of heated floors. While heated floors were once a luxury option for homeowners, they’re becoming increasingly mainstream. Tile lends itself to radiant heat beneath the floor. The Tile Shop carries a full line of accessories, including thermostats, which can control the heat in any floor in your home. This includes both the shower floor and shower benches.

5. Unconventional grout and tile design ideas. Using a high-contrast grout color can make the floor pop, and it’s a tactic that works well with mosaic designs. Choosing the right grout color is just as important as the tile you select. Also popular is the concept of mosaic designs that mimic an area rug within a larger section of tile flooring and create the look of custom art within the floor.

Shopping for tile designs and inspiration is easy when you visit one of The Tile Shop’s local showrooms or visit www.tileshop.com.

How to Determine the True Value of Home Improvements

home value(BPT) – As the U.S. housing industry continues to emerge from the Great Recession, signs are pointing toward positive recovery. In fact, a recent report from the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University states that the home improvement industry could see record spending in 2015. It’s news like this that may have you contemplating an update to your house. Even if you plan to stay in your home for years to come, it’s important to consider which home remodeling projects offer the potential for a positive return on investment.

“Research shows that more homeowners intend to remain in their homes after remodeling, however, resale value is still a major factor when planning renovations,” says Susan Selle, chief marketing officer of exterior building products manufacturer Ply Gem Industries.

Before spending a significant amount of time and money on your next home improvement project, consider these tips.

Five home improvements with the highest ROI

The 2015 Remodeling Magazine Cost vs. Value report identifies these top five mid-range exterior home renovations as beneficial investments that allow homeowners to recoup a substantial percentage of their investment when they resell their homes:

* Replacing the front door (steel 101.8 percent)

* Adding manufactured stone veneer (92.2 percent)

* Replacing the garage door (88.4 percent)

* Replacing the siding (vinyl 80.7 percent)

* Adding a deck (wood 80.5 percent)

The cost-value ratio compares resale value to construction cost. The higher the percentage, the more of the job costs you are likely to recoup whenhome value 2 selling your home.

“Homeowners want lasting value from their exterior renovation projects, so it’s important to select the best materials for the job upfront,” says Jerry Blais, senior vice president of marketing for Ply Gem Industries. “For example, when choosing siding for the home, vinyl siding provides overall better performance than wood, engineered wood and fiber cement and requires less maintenance both in the short and long term, allowing homeowners to complete their renovation and enjoy it, hassle-free, for years. In addition, vinyl siding provides the styles, textures and stylish colors homeowners want to create beautiful curb appeal.”

Budgeting for success

Once you’ve decided which replacement and remodeling projects will offer the best ROI, develop a schedule and a budget to ensure the home makeover remains financially sound. The budget defines the project’s scope, estimates overall costs, and helps to establish priorities. Generally, renovation costs should not exceed 30 percent of your home’s value and should be consistent with housing trends in your neighborhood.

What should the budget include? Websites like www.plygem.com offer comprehensive advice for creating a renovation budget and sticking to it. To start, consider these likely-to-occur expenses:

* Contractor costs. These include labor and may incorporate employee benefits, professional fees, permit and inspection charges and, of course, profit. Get at least three contractor estimates to ensure your contractor is cost-effective and reputable.

* DIY costs. Should you forgo a contractor? Keep in mind you will need to rent or buy power tools and equipment and potentially learn new skills.

* Hidden costs. For example, bringing outdated electrical or plumbing installations to code, or removing lead paint.

* Site preparation costs. For exterior renovations, this may include tree trimming, clearing land, and renting a haul-away container.

* Interim housing costs. If you plan to relocate, you will need living expenses for the project’s duration.

* Material cost. These include large expenses and small ones (ex. nails, trim) and could account for as much as half to 75 percent of the total cost. Factor in an extra 6-to-10 percent for waste for materials that are cut and fitted.

Bringing it home

If you’re interested in near-term resale value, it’s important to make sure that selling your home will at least recoup the cost of any completed projects. If you plan to stay in your home for many years, however, you’ll not only benefit from an improved resale value down the road, but you’re also more likely to appreciate the improved comfort and curb appeal in the meantime.

How to Withstand Severe Summer Weather

weather 1(BPT) – Mother Nature can be hard on your home, especially during the summer months. Thunderstorms, tornadoes and hurricanes can cause extensive damage to houses and entire communities. Some preparation, however, can help homeowners defend their homes against severe-weather damage.

“It pays to prepare your home to handle the worst of what Mother Nature dishes out in any season,” says Ed Del Grande, a home improvement expert, author, TV host and spokesperson for Kohler. “Damage resulting from storms can create costly repairs, or even force you to leave your home altogether.”

Here are six home improvements you can undertake to help protect your home from summer storm damage:

1. Repair or replace windows.

Check the condition of your home’s windows as well as the weather stripping around them. Re-caulk windows where stripping is worn, and replace any windows that are damaged. If you live in an area prone to storms and high winds, such as those from hurricanes and tornadoes, consider investing in some plywood or permanent storm shutters that you can keep on hand to cover windows when a storm approaches.

2. Trim trees and shrubs, and take care of landscaping.

Keep your yard free of debris and items like kids’ toys and gardening tools. During storms with high winds, debris and items on the lawn can become projectiles that damage siding and windows. Inspect trees and shrubs to ensure they’re healthy. Remove diseased trees, which are more likely to come down in a storm, and keep trees and shrubs trimmed to minimize the risk of branches damaging your house.

3. Install a standby generator.

Power outages are a common result of severe weather, and losing power can cause further damage to your home. Automatic standby generators, like those from Kohler, turn on within seconds of a utility power outage, run on propane or natural gas and are connected to the home, similar to an outdoor air conditioning unit. Automatic standby generators keep critical appliances operating when the power goes out, ensuring you won’t go without refrigerators, sump pumps, and critical home systems such as air conditioning. If you’re interested in learning more about standby power options, visit www.KohlerGenerators.com for informational videos, sizing calculators and other helpful information.weather 2

4. Install a sump pump.

Summer storms frequently bring flooding to many areas of the country. If your home has a basement, investing in a sump pump – which removes water when it accumulates in a basin – can help prevent the costly damage caused by flooding. Heavy rains can quickly fill a basement with water, damaging anything stored there, as well as vital systems such as furnaces or water heaters. A sump pump with an automatic sensor will turn on as soon as it detects water, protecting your basement even if you’re not home when the flooding occurs.

5. Take care of gutters.

Clogged gutters can cause flooding in the basement and leaks in the ceiling during storms with heavy rain. Before storm season arrives, check your gutters and clear them of debris. Repair or replace any damaged parts of the overall system. Gutters provide vital protection for your home, so if yours have seen better days, consider replacing them altogether.

6. Install roof clips/hurricane straps.

If you live in an area prone to hurricanes, roof clips or hurricane straps can help ensure the roof stays on your house in high winds. Check building codes in your area, as some states require new construction to be built with these protections. If your home doesn’t have them, a professional can easily retrofit your roof with clips and straps to help prevent the roof from blowing off. Losing the roof is not only a massively costly repair, it means you’ve also lost the part of your home that does the most to protect everything and everyone inside it.

“You can’t control the weather, but you can definitely prepare for it,” Del Grande says. “And you can protect your home and family from bad weather’s worst effects. It’s essential to be proactive, before storm season really gets going.”

Power Tools to the People: Getting Your Outdoor Equipment Ready for Summer

Power ToolsPower tools to the people: Getting your outdoor equipment ready for summer

(BPT) – Some people eagerly anticipate summer barbecues, beach vacations and blue skies, but for avid do-it-yourselfers, the best thing about summer is the opportunity to use their favorite power tools to make their yards look great. Before you revel in the rich rumble of your prized lawnmower or the energetic buzz of a trimmer, it’s vital to do some basic maintenance that will get your tools ready for summer.

While many of the most rewarding outdoor projects are within the abilities of the average DIYer, some aspects of power tool prep are best left to professionals. The power tool experts at Husqvarna offer some tips for ensuring your outdoor equipment is ready for warm-weather chores. However, when performing any maintenance on your equipment, make sure to read and follow all instructions in the operator’s manual – that way, you know you are doing it right.

Lawn mower maintenance tasks

You’ll likely mow your lawn dozens of times during the growing season. A quality lawn mower like a Husqvarna AWD or Z200 is an investment well worth protecting. Here are some maintenance tasks that should be performed periodically during the mowing season:

* Every time you finish using your mower, tractor, or zero-turn mower, clear the mower deck of accumulated grass clippings and debris. During normal operation of the lawn mower, built-up debris can loosen and fly off, potentially damaging belts and critical parts. Built-up debris can also dry out, potentially creating a fire hazard if it contacts hot moving parts.

* Sharpen blades. Dull blades reduce your mower’s cutting power, and can also damage your lawn.

* Replace spark plugs. Old plugs can make starting your mower difficult, cause misfires and reduce fuel economy.

* Check the operation of all-wheel drive parts. Lawn mowers like the Husqvarna HU625 use all-wheel drive to make mowing easier, so keeping these parts in good repair directly affects the quality of the mower’s function.

* Replace the fuel filter. Chances are good that if you ran all last summer on the same filter, it’s time to replace it. Dirty fuel filters can be a factor in hard starting and reduced fuel economy. Whenever working with fuel system components, be sure to read and follow the operator’s manual, use manufacturer’s recommended components, and make sure all connections are secure when complete.

* Replace the oil filter and change the oil. Just as oil quality and a clean oil filter are key to your automobile’s good performance, your lawn mower needs clean oil and a fresh oil filter, too.

* Check the air filter and change it if it’s worn out. Clean it if it’s just dirty but in good shape otherwise.

* Lubricate all joints and moving parts on your mower per the instructions in your owner’s manual.

Properly prepping your lawn mower for spring and summer can be time consuming and tedious. If you don’t have the time or expertise to do the job well, it pays to take your mower to a professional Husqvarna service center, of which there are thousands across the country. Visit www.husqvarna.com to find one near you.

Taking care of your trimmer

If the lawn mower is the powerhouse of yard care, the trimmer is the crowning touch that makes your lawn and landscaping look polished. To ensure they work well throughout the summer, gas-powered trimmers like Husqvarna’s 525L trimmer need maintenance at the beginning of spring. Tasks should include:

* Replacing the string. You’ll likely replace the string throughout the season as you use it up during trimming chores. Starting the season with fresh string also affords the opportunity to clean and inspect the cutting shield and the area around the trimmer head.

* Be sure to replace any gas still left in the trimmer from last season. Gas degrades over time and old fuel can make it difficult to start the trimmer and keep it running. Consider using Husqvarna XP pre-mixed 50:1 fuel/oil mix, which has the right blend of fuel and oil, without all that Ethanol, to keep your trimmer running smoothly.

* Check the spark plug and replace if necessary.

* Check the oil level and add oil if needed.

* Clean the entire trimmer and lubricate it per the recommendations in the owner’s manual.

Husqvarna service centers can also take care of trimmer maintenance.

The fresh, earthy aroma of newly cut grass is one of the best-loved scents of spring and summer. Taking care of your power tools before and during the season begins can help ensure easier lawn tasks throughout the summer.

This Top Garage Trend Keeps Gaining Momentum

Carrige House Garage Doors(BPT) – The carriage house garage door is to your house what the little black dress and strand of pearls are to your wardrobe; classic style elements that never go out of fashion.

At the dawn of the automobile age, those who were affluent enough to own a car kept it in the carriage house, where the horses and buggy would have been stored. But this cohabitation became a little, well, smelly, and the need for separate storing structures was soon realized.

Enter, the garage. Built in the style of the original carriage house, the garage’s sole intent was to store the car away from the animals and elements. The word garage actually comes from the French word, garer, which means to shelter and protect. Naturally, the garage needed a door to offer protection to the automobile. The ensuing “carriage house door” was a hinged, double door that swung outwards, and can be considered the original garage door.

In the early 1920s, the kickout door was invented and progress continued from there, bringing homeowners the modern convenience of today’s overhead garage doors. Today’s carriage house sectional garage doors open overhead and continue to gain in popularity, constituting 35 percent of the volume in the garage door industry with projections to remain a huge trend.

When it comes to the style of garage door chosen, most homeowners want something classic, that won’t fade in popularity over the years and will also enhance curb appeal. This is especially true if home resale is a factor.

The carriage house door also offers a myriad of design elements. For example, the Classica Collection by Amarr offers a dual-directional wood grain design that provides the realistic look of wood with the practicality and low-maintenance upkeep of steel. With a three-section design and the option of larger windows, this door offers a more authentic carriage house look with the benefit of additional natural light flow into your garage. Two-tone looks are also available with many color combinations and panel designs, and hardware and window choices are plentiful. These different design options can be tailored specifically to your home’s façade and will further enhance curb appeal.

Planning a Home Improvement Project? Financing is the First Tool You’ll Need

Capture(BPT) – If you’re planning a home improvement project this year, you’re in good company. The economy and housing market are recovering, home values and equity are rising, and many homeowners are beginning projects they had put off over the past few years. A recent report by the Joint Center of Housing Studies at Harvard University predicts that the home improvement industry could post record-level spending in 2015.

Creating your dream home could involve major work, like remodeling a bathroom or finishing a basement, or smaller changes like landscaping or new flooring. As costs can range from $30 for a can of paint to six figures for big additions, a significant part of planning your project is financing. Numerous options may be available, and it’s important to seek information from an experienced financial professional.

“Many consumers aren’t aware of all the financing options for home improvement, or they may not have thought of those options to pay for the work they want to do,” says Kelly Kockos, senior vice president with Wells Fargo Home Equity. “Homeowners can start by defining a vision of what they want their finished project to look like, and talking with a banker or lender to explore how to pay for it.”

As you prepare to make decisions about financing, ask yourself these questions to get started:

Size of project: How much do you want to spend, and will you need access to funds throughout your project or one lump sum? You may not know your total budget, but it’s important to have a good idea of what your project might cost. DIY vs. contractor: Are you planning to do the work yourself or hire a contractor? If you are using a contractor, references and your own research can help you make an informed choice. Repayment plan: Will you need long-term financing or is short-term financing sufficient? If you plan to borrow funds, consider the monthly payment that would fit your budget.These are some common financing options to explore:

*Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) – A HELOC can provide ongoing access to funds using the equity in your home, which typically results in lower interest rates than unsecured credit. This type of credit may also provide you potential tax benefits. Consult your tax advisor regarding the deductibility of interest. Wells Fargo has a combination of industry-leading features to help you borrow responsibly – principal and interest payments that rebuild your equity, annual and lifetime rate caps, and the ability to lock and unlock your rate with a fixed rate advance.

*Mortgages with built-in renovation financing – These loans help homeowners complete renovations with a loan amount that is based on an appraiser’s estimate of what the property value will be with completed improvements. This is also an option for aspiring homeowners who purchase properties that need repair. Whether a home purchase or a refinance, this option finances the renovations and mortgage in one loan. Wells Fargo is the nation’s leading originator of renovation financing, with a dedicated team of home mortgage consultants specializing in renovation lending.

*Cash-out refinance mortgages – A cash-out refinance replaces your current mortgage with a new and larger mortgage that pays off your current balance and allows you to use the equity in your home to provide additional funds for other purposes.

*Credit card – Credit cards can be used for large or small purchases and may earn rewards, which can add up to significant benefits when you’re making big home improvement purchases. However, credit cards often have higher interest rates than other loan or credit options, which should be taken into consideration.

*Personal loans and lines of credit – These personal credit options typically offer quick credit decisions and access to funds in a day. Lines of credit provide ongoing access to funds.

*Savings – If you have a do-it-yourself project or a small renovation, accessing your savings might be an option. By paying cash, there is faster access to funds and nothing to repay.

Your bank may not be the best source for what color to paint your room or which walls to move, but it can help you identify your financial options. Each option has its associated benefits and considerations, and your bank can provide valuable information to help you make informed decisions about which options are right for you. More information and tips on home improvement financing are available online in the Wells Fargo Home Improvement Lending Center, including a financing option comparison tool.

With these tips and the help of a finance professional, you can go from imagining your modern kitchen or new deck to getting started on them.

Easy Ways to Protect Your Home’s Exterior

exterior(BPT) – When considering home improvements, people often picture costly, time-intensive endeavors. But enhancing and protecting your home this season can be enjoyable – and deliver plenty of bang for your buck. One of the fastest, easiest ways to dramatize your home’s exterior is to install vibrantly colored window headers and matching shutters.

In fact, shutters decorate the sides and back of the home exterior too, not just curbside. With the emergence of outdoor living and gathering in yards, elegant window decor creates a warm, welcoming atmosphere.

Popular craftsman-style Flat Panel and geometric-style Classic Dentil headers are both available from Mid-America Siding Components from The Tapco Group. For functional, professionally installed shutters, select a design from Wood-Composite Premium Atlantic Architectural, Classic, ProSeries, and Storm-Rated Collections. For purely decorative, ultra-low-maintenance, choose Mid-America Exterior Vinyl Shutters, which never fade or crack. These shutters offer endless, enduring possibilities, including custom Board-N-Batten and Panel-Louver combinations to shutters for double-wide, arched and long narrow windows.

Trend-wise, board-and-batten shutters are on the move, while raised-panel shutters are the most sought-after. Black is ever-popular for shutters and headers, and neutral colors are holding their own. But the trend toward richer tones is growing. Lush forest greens, autumn reds and deep blues are gracing more homes, creating attention-grabbing contrasts between shutters and siding. For the main entryway, understated white or cream door surrounds complement richly-toned shutters.

“Shutters and matching window headers are the easiest way to upgrade your home if you don’t want a massive undertaking and want the biggest impact for your investment,” says Trisha Anderson, product manager of Mid-America. “Shutter and header colors change everything by enhancing the tone of your whole home. You’ll gain more satisfaction from rich-colored matching shutters and headers than from virtually any other exterior home improvement.”

Decorative hardware on shutters is another easy, economical way to upgrade exteriors. Yet this fine detail often gets overlooked. Beautifully crafted, historically accurate Atlantic hardware, including elegant pintel and hinge combinations, make functional shutters pop on homes, adding dimension and drawing attention. Artful, refined Mid-America hardware, including charming hinges and spindle-hooks, can make vinyl shutters indistinguishable from functional shutters, boosting curb appeal.

During new construction or exterior remodeling, SturdiMount fiber cement mounting blocks offer a simple, affordable way to enrich architectural beauty and provide water management capabilities that prevent costly damage to fiber cement, stucco and wood siding. “SturdiMount is an innovative solution for mitigating water in fiber cement cladding. It’s an essential detail that protects home investments long-term, enhances aesthetics, is easily installed, and saves contractors time,” says Anderson.

Designed with a robust, built-in flange, SturdiMount offers four distinct profiles, which professionals can install right out-of-the-box for exterior finishing touches that cover every need. The solid, level, crack-proof surface makes it easy to mount decor, such as coach-light fixtures, and necessities, including outlets and vents. For seamless aesthetics, SturdiMount blocks can be maintained in original white or spray-painted to color-match exteriors during whole-house paint jobs.

For more information on beautifying your home with shutters and trim, visit TheTapcoGroup.com or call 800-521-8486.

5 Ways to Protect Your Family From CO Poisoning

19400905_original(BPT) – Most homeowners recognize the importance of protecting their homes from fire. They do this by checking the batteries in their smoke alarms, completely extinguishing fires in their fireplaces and keeping flammable materials away from candles or space heaters. However, while fire safety is front and center, many homeowners overlook the ways they can protect their families from carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning.

And that’s a mistake no homeowner can afford to make.

Census data shows most homes in the U.S. have either fuel-burning appliances or an attached garage, but only approximately half of all homes have a working CO alarm – the only safe way to detect this odorless, colorless and invisible threat. Carbon monoxide is the leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths in the United States; claiming more than 400 lives each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition, more than 20,000 people visit the emergency room and more than 4,000 are hospitalized due to accidental CO poisoning annually.

Thankfully, protection can be as simple as applying these five tips.

* Seek professional help. One of the most common causes of CO poisoning is a filthy or inefficient heating system. Poorly maintained chimneys and flues can crack, causing ventilation problems and preventing CO from escaping up the chimney. Likewise, a faulty furnace could also emit CO into the home. Have your chimney or heating system cleaned and serviced by trained technicians annually to eliminate this risk.

* Add or upgrade your carbon monoxide alarm. Your CO alarms is just as important as your home’s smoke alarms, so make sure you have one and that it is working properly. Kidde Worry-Free carbon monoxide alarms have the longest life available in a CO alarm – 10 years – and come in both battery and hardwired power options. Each alarm contains a sealed-in lithium battery that last a decade providing homeowners with peace of mind knowing their alarms are always on. The Worry-Free Combination alarm offers warning of both fire and CO and includes a voice alert to clearly identify the hazard present. It also features a unique smart sensing technology to significantly reduce nuisance alarms.

* Keep the grill and generator outdoors. Using a grill or generator due to a power outage? Put on a jacket and go outside. Never bring the grill indoors or operate it or a generator in a space attached to your home such as a porch, patio or garage. Both can emit high levels of CO, and need plenty of ventilation. Even having the garage door open does not offer enough air flow to reduce CO levels.

* Use your indoor appliances properly. Only use appliances as they are designed by the manufacturer. For instance, never use gas appliances, like your range or oven, to heat in the house. This increases your risk of CO poisoning.

* Know the symptoms. CO symptoms mimic the flu without fever. Since winter is also peak flu season, know the difference. If you or a loved one is feeling confused or dizzy, or if he/she is suffering from headaches, nausea, sleepiness, vomiting or weakness, but has no fever, it may be a case of CO poisoning. Get the victim outside in fresh air and dial 911 immediately.

Carbon monoxide poisons thousands each year, but you can protect yourself and your family by employing the tips above. To learn more about how Kidde alarms can raise your family’s awareness of CO threats, visit www.KnowAboutCO.com.

Enjoy Your Backyard This Summer

Capture(BPT) – In the midst of the winter we love to think of the summer as this idyllic time when we live barefoot under the sky and everything is perfect and beautiful. Then when the summertime comes, we find ourselves complaining about too much sun, being too hot or bugs – and stay inside in the cool AC to avoid them. The good news is you can create a cool, shady and even bug-free spot for yourself, no matter the size of your outdoor space or your wallet.

Natural Tree Shade

Before building a patio or deck canopies, take another look at your yard. Perhaps nature has a solution. If you don’t have a nice tree already, consider planting one. Trees provide natural canopy, especially during the summer when they have the most leaves.

If that is not an option or you want to enjoy shade while your newly planted tree is growing, take a good look at your backyard and think of how and when you want to use the space, which will help you pick the right solution.

Umbrellas

A freestanding umbrella, grouped with a table or a chair, will provide shade for alfresco dining or a morning coffee. Also, a bright umbrella can add a splash of color to your home’s exterior. Most umbrellas can be easily moved, so you can block the hot sun from any direction or stow it away when not in use.

Pergola

For a more traditional and permanent option consider a custom-made pergola. They can provide a real sense of having a room outside that is either open to the sky, air and nature, or fitted with a Somfy automated system of fabric or slats. You can also screen the sides of your pergola for added privacy or insect protection.

Think low maintenance materials such as acrylic trim boards, fiberglass columns and woods such as ipe and redwood. This way you can enjoy your pergola rather than spending time cleaning, scraping and painting it.

Cabana

For a tropical option at a fraction of the cost, go with a cabana that you can pick up at most outdoor furniture stores. Customize your piece with outdoor fabrics in colors or patterns that match the style of your home. Pack it up and store it when the weather turns cold or if you’re expecting a storm.

Retractable Awning

Motorized retractable awnings powered by Somfy are a great adaptable option, which allow you to enjoy the sun or shade, whenever you choose, at a press of a button. Maximize energy savings by having your awning react to the weather or a schedule set by you. Automatic sensors will also protect your awning during high winds or rain by retracting it.

Shade “Sails”

Tension fabric shade sails can be ready-made or custom designed. Select durable material and make sure that the cloth is pitched to allow rainwater to fall off of it. Water that collects in the middle of the cloth sail can stretch the fabric or damage the system. Design it so you can easily take down the fabric canopy and store it for the winter, especially in climates that get ice and snow.

Covered Patio

If you already have a covered patio or are adding one to your home, consider integrated, automated screens to keep the bugs out, and/or to provide additional sun protection. This option gives you a useful space no matter the weather, year round.