Tips To Protect From the Unexpected: Necessary Home Essentials

(BPT) – While spending more time at home, it’s important that you take the necessary steps to make sure your family is ready for the unexpected in the event a home fire or carbon monoxide (CO) leak occurs. You might be surprised to learn that CO poisoning is the number one cause of accidental poisoning in the United States each year and, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), three out of five fire deaths occur in homes without working smoke alarms. Make sure your family and home are prepared by following these tips and tools.

Every level, every bedroom.

Even if you have smoke and CO alarms in your home, you and your family may not be sufficiently protected if you don’t have enough devices throughout your entire home. To help ensure the highest level of protection, the NFPA recommends installing alarms on every level of the home, inside every bedroom and outside each sleeping area.

Test, maintain and replace.

Even though testing your alarms is as simple as pressing a button and waiting for the beep, a First Alert survey showed that more than 60% of consumers do not test their smoke and CO alarms monthly. Test alarms regularly, change the batteries every six months if battery-powered and be sure all alarms have a battery backup if hardwired, for protection during a power outage. To eliminate battery replacements for a decade, upgrade to 10-year sealed battery alarms to make battery replacements a thing of the past. Also, if you can’t remember the last time you installed an alarm, chances are, it’s time to replace it. Alarms are on duty 24/7 and need to be replaced at least every 10 years.

Double-up on safety.

While many homeowners know the importance of protecting their home from the threats of smoke and fire, studies show that fewer households are equipped with CO alarms. CO is responsible for an average of 450 deaths each year. CO is an invisible, odorless gas that is impossible to detect without an alarm. For ultimate home safety, install combination alarms for 2-in-1 protection, such as the First Alert Combination Smoke and CO Alarm with a 10-year sealed battery for long-lasting protection.

Be prepared to fight small flames.

According to the NFPA, the number one cause of home fires is unattended cooking. Cooking fires are expected to increase significantly with incremental cooking occurring at homes across the country right now, so it is important for you to stay alert and be watchful in the kitchen. Beyond alarms, having fire extinguishers – and knowing how to use them – is an integral part of a home safety plan. Place a fire extinguisher in the kitchen and keep it within reach so it is easily accessible in the event of a fire. First Alert manufactures a model, the First Alert Kitchen Fire Extinguisher, which is rated to fight flammable liquid and electrical fires and features a durable metal head.

Form an escape plan.

In the event that your family needs to evacuate your home, every second counts – and yet the NFPA reports that only 32% of American households have actually developed and practiced an emergency escape plan. Involve everyone in your household when developing an emergency escape plan. Identify two exits out of each room, including windows and doors, and set a dedicated meeting spot outside. Once outside, stay outside and call 911. Be sure to practice your escape plan with the entire family at least twice a year.

To learn more about how to keep your family and home safe, visit www.FirstAlert.com/BeReady.

Spring Into 2020 Design Trends

(BPT) – The year is already off to a stylish start, but there are plenty more trends that will be coming into focus in the coming months. Designers around the country are exploring a dynamic mix of patterns and unexpected colors, plus creative new approaches to flooring, accents and lighting.

Here are the go-to trends making a splash in design studios and homes this spring.

Florals are blossoming

Just in time for spring, floral designs are bringing walls and furnishings to life. Floral wallpaper is coming back in a big way, turning rooms into virtual gardens. But not to worry – the latest designs are not your grandmother’s wallpaper. Intriguing, modern and sophisticated floral designs in vibrant color choices are available to suit any taste.

Biophilic design

Another great trend for spring combines people’s passions for naturally occurring aesthetics and nature, often brought to life through indoor gardens, small trees or “living walls.” These design statements allow plants and other aspects of nature to become a visual focus in any home.

It is also inspired by natural materials like wood and stone, earth tones and natural colors, and organic shapes. These elements are showcased throughout the home, including in wooden architectural beams, stone-based accent pieces and naturally colored accent walls. Yesterday’s linear furniture designs are being replaced by softer, curvier shapes that mimic forms in nature.

Naturalistic flooring

Designers and homeowners alike are making a statement in flooring that combines intriguing design with a natural flair, such as geometrically patterned flooring created from naturally beautiful hardwood.

“Patterned flooring is beginning to dominate today’s interior designs,” says Katie Allen, design and trend director at Lumber Liquidators Flooring. “It can be used in a wide variety of spaces to add texture and character to any room.”

For example, it is easier than ever to create a warm, visually exciting look in almost any home with a chevron pattern using Bellawood Engineered Hardwood Flooring from Lumber Liquidators. Each patterned plank is arranged in a custom zigzag pattern, meaning homeowners won’t be wasting time installing individually angled boards.

The handcrafted distressing of the wood also reveals the natural grain and rich brown hues, appealing to homeowners wanting a natural look.

Color your world

Along with the emphasis on nature-based color palettes comes a shift away from the neutral tones that have become popular over the last couple of years. Jewel tones like deep blues, a variety of green hues and even subtle pinks are seeing a comeback for walls, rugs, cabinets and furnishings.

Designers are often choosing strongly contrasting colors to make visually bold statements, like pink against blue, rich blue against a lighter green or any color paired with black or white.

Mix and match

Unusual juxtapositions of color are being matched by contrasting textures and materials. Architects and designers are getting creative with the interplay of materials such as marbles against woods, plus geometric patterns created by tiles used for accent walls or as a backsplash.

Fiber art – like handcrafted rugs, throw pillows, blankets and wall hangings – is popular again, and will help make any room pop. Rattan and cane furniture also provide similar variety in terms of texture, color and pattern.

Brighten it up

Lighting is no longer just a way to illuminate your space, but a bold detail to add visual excitement to any room. Champagne gold lighting fixtures are one fun trend that really stands out, seen in every room from living and dining rooms to kitchens and baths.

Some of this spring’s overall trends can easily be brought to life through lighting choices, from wicker or caned pendant lamps to rounder, more organically shaped lighting fixtures.

Let your own personality and design sensibility shine through when decorating your living spaces, using these trends as inspiration.

Want to see more flooring options and ideas to help transform your home this spring? Visit LLFlooring.com to see the latest in flooring materials and designs.

Boost Your Home’s Curb Appeal

(BPT) – Looks matter and first impressions count! So to pique the interest of potential buyers, refresh your home’s exterior and boost the curb appeal with new siding. In-the-know design pros are choosing cypress siding for the upgrade. It looks great and can last a lifetime, no matter what Mother Nature might have in store.

“Cypress siding offers the complete package,” says Zack Rickman of the Southern Cypress Manufacturers Association, www.CypressInfo.org. “It’s not only beautiful, it offers proven outdoor performance by naturally repelling insects – like termites and carpenter bees – and minimizing decay, chemical corrosion and other damaging elements.”

Be informed

Wood siding offers a timeless look that is often imitated, but never really duplicated. And while there are many siding products to choose from, homebuilder Stephen Ellis, MGB Fine Custom Homes of Sarasota, Florida, chooses cypress. And for good reasons!

“Often we clad our homes entirely in cypress,” he says. “It’s a material we enjoy working with because it’s dimensionally stable and holds up well in our humid, coastal environment. And it’s locally sourced, which is something homeowners are valuing now more than ever. Ultimately, the decision comes down to the architectural style of the home, maintenance and cost. I do my best to help homeowners make an informed decision based on their goals.”

When it comes to picking a siding style, cypress is available in all the popular patterns, like traditional bevel or modern shiplap. Yet in Ellis’ area, he’s seeing a different trend. “These days, we’re putting up a lot of board and batten,” he says. “It’s always been popular for farm houses, but it looks great on beach homes and complements the casual, relaxing vibe.”

Expert advice about finishing options

“If you’re drawn to cypress’ natural honey-like hues and want to enhance the natural richness of its color and grain pattern, focus on semi-transparent, oil-based stains,” Rickman advises. “These products provide superior protection because they penetrate the wood and allow it to breathe, whereas water-based stains sit on the surface and are prone to peeling and cracking.”

If a cleaner, solid color look is more your style, Rickman says 100 percent acrylic latex paint, with a compatible primer, is the way to go to ensure cypress’ best performance.

Architect John Harrison Jones, Memphis, Tennessee, says some of his clients prefer the weathered wood look. “It’s contextual to our region and environment,” he says. “And while cypress is naturally decay and water resistant, I still recommend applying a water-repellent sealer to provide added protection. Some products include an ultraviolet light inhibitor to block the sun’s rays and prevent premature graying. Nevertheless, cypress will weather to a light gray patina over time.

“If you want the weathered look now, consider applying a bleaching stain with a subtle gray tint. But, be careful not to apply too much because it can get too light. Test it out on a piece of scrap wood first.”

Whichever finish you choose, Rickman recommends always applying stain, primer or sealer to all sides and edges of the boards. “This will protect the wood from moisture and prevent problems down the road,” he says. “And perhaps most importantly, make sure to follow the finish manufacturer’s instructions.”

For more ways to boost your home’s curb appeal with cypress siding, visit the Southern Cypress website at www.CypressInfo.org.

4 Outdoor Cleaning Tips That Could Help You Save Thousands

(BPT) – The sounds of birds chirping, longer daylight hours, and budding trees and flowers are early signs that warmer weather and spring are on the way. That means more time outside to enjoy nature, but it’s also a sign it might be time for a little spring cleaning.

“Cold temperatures, snowfall and winter rains can have a big effect on houses and landscaping, so now’s the time to check for potential home repairs and maintenance,” said Christopher O’Rourke, Mercury Insurance vice president of property claims. “Spring cleaning isn’t just about getting rid of belongings you no longer want or need – it’s also a time to get your home in tip-top shape so you can enjoy it throughout the rest of the year.”

Here are four tips O’Rourke recommends to welcome the new season and save some money down the road.

Clean your gutters.

Gutters collect debris over time, especially when rain, snow and wind causes twigs, pine needles and leaves to settle on your roof and in your rain gutters. Accumulated debris can create blockages that direct water into the home or, in areas without much precipitation, can act as kindling in the event of a fire. Buildup also allows mildew and mold to develop, which can slowly decay a home’s exterior and roof.

“Preventable damage like mold or mildew that develops and rots a home’s exterior isn’t covered by homeowners insurance,” said O’Rourke. “It’s important to routinely clean out gutters – even if you have gutter guards installed, they don’t completely protect against debris building up eventually. An hour or two spent cleaning or checking your gutters is time well spent compared to the alternative.”

Trim branches and remove dangerous trees.

Thunderstorm frequency picks up in summer months, and high winds can occur year round, so it’s best to get a jump on tree maintenance in early spring. Regularly trimming tree branches reduces their chance of breaking during a storm, which could cause power outages or property damage.

“Properly trimmed branches present a lower risk of falling onto your home, power lines or possibly injuring someone on your property,” said O’Rourke. “Also, in areas that are prone to wildfires, trimmed trees create a buffer zone to help lower the chances of flames easily jumping onto your roof.”

Consider having the trees on your property inspected by an arborist to determine their health and have diseased trees removed before they topple over unexpectedly. Removal costs vary depending on height and difficulty, but range from $100 to around $1,800. These preventative costs are not covered by your homeowners policy, but can be a wise investment that saves you time, money and anxiety.

Watch out for service lines.

Homeowners who want to plant gardens, trees or install additional landscape features to enhance their outdoor living space should be aware of potential underground utility lines. Most service lines – a network of exterior, underground utility lines or pipes that supply a home with electricity, gas, water and sewer functions – are only buried a few inches beneath the ground. Accidentally hitting one when digging can result in loss of service, expensive repairs or a serious injury.

If a break to a service line happens on a homeowner’s property, special machinery may be needed to excavate pipes from beneath the ground, which may require digging under your home, garden or driveway. The homeowner is responsible for repair or replacement costs, and this damage can be inconvenient, expensive and isn’t covered by a standard homeowners insurance policy.

“The average cost to repair a break to a service line is about $5,000 and most Americans wouldn’t welcome such a large surprise bill,” said O’Rourke. “Homeowners should definitely consider purchasing an endorsement to their insurance policy to protect against losses of this nature. Mercury offers this coverage as an addition to our home insurance policy and it costs as little as $8 a year, depending on the home’s age.”

To be safe, homeowners should call 811 before digging so the utility companies can send a locator to mark the approximate locations of underground service lines.

Service your air conditioning unit.

Regular maintenance of heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems is essential to ensure the equipment is in proper working order, which can save money on energy bills, as well as protect against expensive repair and replacement costs.

“No one wants to unexpectedly find themselves living in a sauna during the dog days of summer, so the start of spring is a great time to have your air conditioner inspected,” said O’Rourke. “You should also change your air filter to make sure it’s operating at its highest efficiency, so when that heat wave hits you’ll be nice and cool inside your home.”

Have a professional inspect your HVAC unit to make sure its exterior condenser coil and compressor are clean and free from blockages – the average cost for an inspection is about $300.

Your home will bring you security and joy for many years to come. Taking the time to maintain it is well worth the investment.