DIY Nation: Jump-Start Your Next Project With These 5 Tips

(BPT) – If you prefer to take on your own home improvement projects instead of hiring professional craftsmen, you’re part of a growing trend.

Americans are increasingly aware of the money they can save by completing their own renovations rather than paying premium prices for the work of others. And that’s reflected in sales figures; not surprisingly, the value of the DIY market rose a full 45 percent between 2012 and 2018, from $30.2 billion to $43.7 billion.

With careful planning and budgeting, DIY projects can be fun, efficient and creatively satisfying while allowing you to customize your finished product to your own tastes.

Is there a new DIY project in your future? If so, consider these tips for forming a workable strategy that ensures you’re prepared for every step of the process.

Create a wish list.

If you’re like most people, you have a list a mile long of the updates or fixes you’d like to make to your home. That ever-evolving wish list is one of the joys (and one of the challenges) of homeownership. Create your own list, then determine which projects you can do on your own and which ones will require professional help. This will give you a starting point.

Prioritize the projects.

Once you have your list, you’ll need to prioritize and decide which projects come first. Take an objective look and assess “need” versus “want” to help you rank order. Improvements may be driven by plans to sell your home, host an upcoming social event or welcome a new family member. Consider all the variables. In a recent Coinstar survey, nearly 40 percent of homeowners’ DIY projects were initiated to increase the value of their home.

Set budgets.

Evaluate your top projects and estimate how much each one will cost. Some may be beyond your budget, some will be surprisingly affordable, and others may be achievable after you save a little money. One funding source you may not have considered is the spare change laying around your house or car. Round it up and you may be surprised how far it goes in financing your project. About half of U.S. homeowners surveyed already use spare change for DIY projects or like the idea of doing so, reports Coinstar.

Plan time and resources.

Before scheduling your DIY project, think about your free time and if your project has a deadline. To what extent are your nights and weekends open? Do you have the skills to get started on your own? Watching a YouTube video may give you that needed knowledge, or you may need the help of family or friends who can complement your skills or assist you in meeting a deadline.

Get supplies, then jump in.

Now that you’ve zeroed in on your project, identified financing and recruited helpers, you’re nearly ready to go. Next, create a supply list of the tools and materials you’ll need. To save money, check with those you know who may be willing to loan you tools or other supplies. Community groups like Nextdoor are also a great resource. When buying new, save receipts in case you purchase the wrong item, don’t like something when you get it home or buy too much.

With a little planning, DIY projects can be cost-effective, fun and truly rewarding to complete. When it comes to financing, don’t forget to cash in spare change at your neighborhood Coinstar kiosk. It’s easy to use and you’ll have the option of getting cash or putting funds onto a no-fee e-gift card for retailers like or Home Depot.

Dispelling Myths About Home Warranty Plans

(BPT) – If you’re considering a home warranty plan, you are probably doing your due diligence – as you should – on how they work, who the different providers are and what to expect from the experience. This article is meant to help you understand home warranty plans, as well as separate fact from fiction.

Go the extra mile to protect your home

Myth: “I don’t need a home warranty plan because I have home insurance.”

Investing money, time and love into a place to call home can be scary, especially knowing that things don’t always go as planned. You may have homeowners insurance to protect your home against unexpected disasters, but these plans typically don’t cover the issues that come with the everyday wear-and-tear your home systems and appliances go through. The reality is that unexpected breakdowns will happen, and they can be costly.

Trusted connections and expert service

Myth: “It’s hard to know who you can trust these days, and I need someone who knows what they’re doing and is looking out for me.”

When an appliance or home system needs repairing, choosing the right person to bring into your home can be a daunting task. If American Home Shield is your home warranty provider and you need service, it’s like getting a recommendation from a trusted neighbor (if that neighbor had facilitated over 65 million in-home service requests in their lifetime).

Contractors for American Home Shield must meet certain criteria, including background checks, company training and living up to high customer-service standards.

“Our network of over 16,000 local professionals are in homes making quality repairs for our customers over four million times a year,” said Dave Quandt, vice president of field services with American Home Shield. “Along with convenient access to qualified service contractors, we also provide our customers with valuable protection against costly repairs when major home systems and appliances break down.”

Smart budget protection

Myth: “I’m already saving for unexpected breakdowns, so I don’t need extra coverage.”

Many home warranty plans offer varying coverage levels so that homeowners can choose the level of protection that’s right for their individual home and budget needs. Considering that 58% of Americans have less than $1,000 in savings, an unexpected repair cost could cause serious financial strain. American Home Shield plans cover components of up to 21 major home systems and appliances that are most likely to break down over time due to normal wear-and-tear.

“Every homeowner knows that it’s just a matter of time before something breaks down, and no one likes unexpected repair costs. That’s part of what makes home warranties a smart choice for so many consumers,” said Tim Meenan, executive director of the Service Contract Industry Council. “However, coverage varies by plan and provider, so it’s important to do your homework and ask questions.”

Meenan says with most plans, customers pay a predetermined service fee to diagnose and repair a covered item, but there can be non-covered expenses such as permit and disposal costs, refrigerant, necessary code upgrades and more.

If you’re in the market for a home warranty, keep in mind that some companies offer additional home-related services and discounts to their customers. Those with American Home Shield, the largest provider in the nation, can also take advantage of services such as seasonal HVAC tune-ups and upgrades, lock re-key services (real estate customers only), appliance discounts and more.

Home warranties can help save homeowners from many of the headaches that come with owning a home. The plans are growing in popularity as more and more consumers take advantage of the convenient access to professional service contractors, valuable budget protection, and now, the additional services that providers like American Home Shield offer.

The Building Blocks To a More Beautiful Outdoor-Living Space

(BPT) – Segmental retaining wall units are one of the most versatile landscaping tools in the homeowner’s and professional landscaper’s toolbox. Retaining wall units have evolved from just retaining soil, transitioning slopes and preventing erosion. Today’s SRWs can do all that plus serve as multipurpose building blocks for outdoor-living features, including stairs, columns, freestanding walls, tiered walls, curved walls, seating and more.

Creative designs

While these walls still accomplish their original intent, professionals and homeowners can easily create hardscape features that make outdoor-living spaces more useful and enjoyable. “Our landscape designers are very inventive in their use of segmental retaining wall units, and our customers really appreciate all the features that can be created with SRWs,” says Scott Arnold, manager of Villa Landscapes in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Products such as the Versa-Lok retaining wall system can be creatively adapted by homeowners and professionals to accommodate curves, corners, columns and tiers – without any special pieces. For example, one popular application is a retaining wall that employs a convex curve set into a small slope. Additional courses can be stacked against the lower courses of the wall to create a “couch” or seating area to surround a circular paver patio and fire pit installed at ground level.

Freestanding walls

Freestanding walls are common applications for retaining wall units. Sometimes called garden or seat walls, freestanding walls are designed to surround the perimeter of a patio and can serve as space for seating or potted plants. They also add a measure of privacy around an outdoor-living space, and when designed with inset columns, can be a support for fencing.

Tiered walls

Tiered walls are a common solution for grade changes and erosion control. The benefit of tiered walls is that they look great, and the space in between the walls can be used for a patio or for perennials, shrubs, vegetables or herbs. Tiered walls add visual depth and texture to a hardscape design and can be more aesthetically pleasing than a single wall. Stairs incorporated into a tiered wall design give safe access to a home on a slope or hill. A tiered design also creates a low-maintenance landscape, eliminating the need to mow a difficult slope.

Stepping up

Retaining wall units can serve as risers for steps. Stair treads can be finished with special precast stair tread units or bullnose (round-edged) paving stones. When installed in a contrasting shade or color, stair treads add interest to a hardscape design. Stairs created from retaining wall units can be placed within a tiered wall design, in a single wall or with wing walls on each side. Raised patios, built with a foundation created by SRWs, are often used to replace high-maintenance decks.

Can-do columns

Columns created with SRWs are a versatile, beautiful and functional feature within a hardscape design. They can support a pergola, lighting or other landscape features such as statuary, and are used to finish off the ends of a freestanding or seat wall. They can also be installed at intervals within a wall design, and columns create an attractive way to frame and support fencing.

The use of SRWs is limited only by the imagination for outdoor-living features. With a variety of colors, textures and configurations, they can do it all – from landscape walls designed with curves, columns, corners and steps to professionally engineered, soil-reinforced retaining walls.

“Versa-Lok is the one block I do 90 percent of my projects with; it can do it all,” says Stan Genadek, owner of Genadek Excavating and Landscaping in Mendota Heights, Minnesota, and the creator and host of a popular YouTube channel on landscaping, “Stanley ‘Dirt Monkey’ Genadek.”

6 Features Luxury Home Buyers Desire

(BPT) – Modern trends in luxury homes are not just about location, size or specific decor, but reflecting the sophistication of their buyers. Buyers in today’s luxury home market desire innovative features that enhance their quality of life, provide extra touches of relaxation and use smart technology to increase safety and security.

Junaid Siddiqi, CFO for the developer of the exclusive Four Seasons Private Residences in Baltimore, offers some of the latest trends seen in today’s luxury home designs.

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Luxurious outdoor spaces

Today’s luxury home buyers want more than just a patio and pool. Outdoor spaces with unique, extensive seating areas for homeowners to relax and entertain are a must. This might also mean specially designed water features like ponds or fountains to create a zen-like experience, plus a fire pit or even a fully equipped outdoor kitchen, for people to gather and socialize outdoors.

Bathrooms that rival a spa

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The finest luxury home bathrooms now resemble five-star resort spas. Desired elements might include a large standalone or sunken tub, walk-in showers – with enough space for two – complete with seating, radiated heated floors, towel warmers and even heated toilet seats. Bathrooms with a view are a recent trend, appealing to homebuyers in terms of their natural lighting and enhanced ambiance. Natural stone and wood elements create a beautiful effect seldom seen in bathrooms in the past.

Kitchens fit for a chef

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While top-notch kitchens have always been a must-have in the finest homes, modern state-of-the-art kitchens for the gourmet and gourmand alike require the most high-tech, commercial quality appliances. Would-be sommeliers look for a climate-controlled wine fridge or cellar, and java lovers want the highest quality coffee brewers or espresso machines. And the kitchens should look as great as they perform.

“The Four Seasons Private Residences Baltimore, for example, are outfitted with designer chef kitchens, equipped with professional-grade Miele appliances,” says Siddiqi. “Gorgeous waterfall marble countertops and the finest quality Eggersmann cabinetry complete the extraordinary kitchen experience.”

Enhanced privacy, security and technology

Luxury homeowners expect the best use of modern technology to ensure their safety and peace of mind, including everything from outdoor surveillance cameras with night vision, safe rooms, back-up generators and automated security systems. Smart home features that connect homeowners easily to their appliances, security and entertainment systems are also increasingly expected in luxury homes.

State-of-the-art gyms

Fitness facilities in modern luxury homes are not just about the latest workout equipment. Today’s fitness fanatic wants a flat screen TV for workout videos, built-in speakers for music plus a spa or indoor lap pool.

“The recently completed club level at the Four Seasons Private Residences Baltimore includes a private fitness and health center,” Siddiqi notes, “plus a sauna with windows overlooking the sky-high panoramic view of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, and a heated indoor infinity pool designed by Counsilman-Hunsaker.”

Unique design elements

Today’s luxury homebuyers are attracted by special design finishes such as textured accent walls using reclaimed wood, shiplap, stone, tile or brick. Even unique wallpaper with a European flare is showing up on the walls of modern luxury homes. “Open concept designs with high ceilings or skylights, large windows and a light, airy ambiance are on the top of homebuyers’ wish lists,” shares Siddiqi.

Luxury home design has reached new levels of innovation and sophistication. The Four Seasons Private Residences Baltimore was developed for those looking to experience a ground-breaking lifestyle in the heart of Baltimore. The luxury condominiums range from 900 to 7,000 square feet, each with unique finishes such as herringbone-walnut floors.

“Every detail of the design, from the size of the outdoor balcony, the materials used in the kitchen, to the various offerings included on the club level were carefully researched, planned and executed by our team, and we are thrilled with the ultimate result,” says Siddiqi. “I have traveled the world, and I can proudly say that this property shines for its sophisticated design and sleek aesthetic.”

Are You Looking for a Luxury Home Plan?

The COOL House Plans luxury house plans collection contains homes of every style. Homes with luxury floor plans such as large estates or mansions may contain separate guest suites, servants’ quarters, home entertainment rooms, pool houses, detached garages and more. “Luxury” itself is not a style but a lifestyle.  Click here if you are shopping for a luxury home plan.

3 Tips To Make Your Bathroom More Inviting and Functional

(BPT) – We tend to think of the bathroom strictly as a utilitarian space, and therefore not worthy of the same energy and expense put into designing spaces like the living room or kitchen. We spend a lot of time in the bathroom, however. It’s the room where we start and set intentions for our day. In the evening, the bathroom is where we go to unwind – some people prefer soaking in a bubble bath while others take a hot shower to relax after a long day.

How a bathroom is designed can dramatically affect your experience. Consider improving your daily ritual with these three upgrading tips.

Design with ergonomics in mind

Ergonomics is the process of designing and arranging spaces so that they fit with the people who use them. When making upgrades to your bathroom, it’s important to think through how you use the space each day. What a functional design might look like to someone else could be inconvenient for you.

Bathroom storage tends to be treated as one-size-fits-all. Many bathrooms have a vanity that contains deep cabinets. People with this basic storage solution are forced to use small containers to organize their products and often have to rummage through belongings to get what they need.

An ergonomic bathroom considers what items you use most frequently, and is designed to keep those items accessible. Consider adding a medicine cabinet to your bathroom to keep smaller products that get easily misplaced on hand. A vanity that offers a top drawer allows you to store everyday items, like a hair brush or toothpaste, up higher than a storage cabinet would, meaning you wouldn’t have to bend down as often.

Find the best solutions through personalized designs

The way that your bathroom is set up and how you use your bathroom are unique. It’s often difficult to find an off-the-shelf solution that gives you exactly what you want from this space. Consider a solution instead that is customizable to your needs. Whether you’re working with a difficult bathroom layout or you feel limited by space constraints, modular designs help ensure you are able to meet your storage needs.

Bring technology into the bathroom

Technology plays a big role in most people’s lives, so it’s no surprise that it has started to pop up in bathroom designs too. Consider how technology can simplify your daily routine. For example, defogging technology can be built into the vanity mirror to allow one person to shower while another is using the mirror. If you have products that need to be charged, like an electric toothbrush or razor, consider installing USB ports inside the medicine cabinet to ensure your go-to items are always ready to use.

Technology can bring entertainment into the bathroom as well. If you like to start off the day with some energetic music or unwind in the bath listening to your favorite podcast, Bluetooth technology can be the perfect way to add entertainment without sacrificing counter space.

The bathroom plays an important role in your day-to-day life. Use these tips to design a functional space that best fits your needs and find more ideas for bathroom upgrades at