Is it really possible to improve your kitchen’s look for about the cost of a takeout gourmet dinner with the family?


Obviously you’re not going to be able to do anything major, such as replace the cabinets within that budget. But, there are many surprisingly low-budget ways to spruce up the kitchen. Here are a few ideas:


• Do you have old cabinets? You’d be surprised how much newer they can look simply by replacing the knobs and/or handles. Pick a colour that blends, rather than contrasts, with the cabinets.


• Does your sink have a few stains? That’s not unusual! There are special cleaning products available to get out the toughest stains without damaging or scratching the sink’s finish.


• Lighting can have an enormous impact on the look and feel of a space, particularly the kitchen. Experiment with new lighting ideas. Try different bulb wattages. Consider a new lighting fixture that looks good and distributes the light more pleasantly.


• Often you don’t need to upgrade anything – you just need to do a little redecorating. Consider new window coverings. Declutter to create a greater sense of space. Play with such design touches as placing trendy cookbooks on the counter, adding a plant, or putting an attractive fruit basket on the counter.


Sure, depending on your choices, some of these ideas may cost you more than $100. However, any of these low-budget improvements can make your kitchen look considerably more attractive.


You’ll notice the difference. And, if you’re selling, so will buyers.

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There’s no doubt about it. Preventing mice from entering your home is much easier than evicting them once they’ve moved in. If you take just a few simple precautions, you can avoid the trip to the store to buy traps or the call to the exterminator.


Here’s what the experts recommend:


-  Install mouse-mesh in the drainage slots of exterior brick or siding. There are many types available on the market. (Note: make sure you don’t block water drainage!)

- Trim back tree branches that are within two feet of the siding or roof. Mice can jump horizontally as far as 15 inches.

- Make sure weather-stripping on doors and windows seal tightly. Mice can easily squeeze through weak spots and gaps, especially where stripping meets at a corner.

- Don’t leave open packages of any type of food — birdseed, apples, etc. — in the garage. That’s like telling the mice, “The buffet’s open!”

- Inspect the outside of your home and look for evidence of mice near walls, doors and windows. Look for mice droppings, which look like black rice.

- If you see a mouse outside your home, don’t shoo it away. Instead, watch where it goes. The mouse might show you how it’s getting in.


Taking these precautions will significantly reduce the chances of micebecoming unwanted guests in your home.

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When you’re selling your home, you want it to look its best to buyers. Unfortunately, buyers are likely to notice any cracks or stains on your floor.


Luckily, there are many do-it-yourself solutions to help make your floors look significantly better.


Let’s start with stains.


If you have carpeting, there are a number of spot cleaning products on the market. But before you try one of those, consider this simple remedy. Sprinkle a little baking soda on the stain and then add just enough drops of white vinegar to make it bubble. Wait two minutes. Then, dab carefully with a paper towel and vacuum the residual. This method often works.


For hard floors, gentle rubbing with warm water will take care of most stains. If you have hardwood floors, don’t let the area remain wet. Dry it completely.


Ceramic tile floors often have old, discoloured grout that is an eyesore. Of course, there are products available to clean grout. But try using an old toothbrush and water before investing in those products. Scrub the grout gently. Then mop the entire area.


If you have minor damage to a section of hardwood floor or floor tiles — for example, a chip or crack — the best solution is replacement. Unfortunately, this isn’t a DIY-friendly job, so unless you’ve done it successfully before, consider hiring a contractor.


If the crack is minor and you don’t want to replace the piece, there are sealing products available, which will camouflage the crack — to some extent — and prevent it from getting worse.


If you have a flooring crack or stain you’re concerned about, try these tips. Also, check out your local home improvement centre for more ideas.

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Chances are, you know that you should change the batteries in your smoke detectors at least once a year — even if you suspect the batteries are still good.


But that isn't the only fire safety check you should do annually. Here are some other recommended tips to help keep you and your family safe.


• Clean your stove burners and oven regularly. Hard grease build-up can become combustible.

• Check your cupboard for cleaning products, paints and other liquids that are flammable. Read each label carefully. Use and store each product only as recommended.

• If you keep a fire extinguisher in your kitchen — and you should —confirm that it is still good. Extinguishers are like food. They have expiry dates!

• Go over your fire escape plan with your family. Make sure everyone knows exactly what to do if a smoke detector goes off or if there's a fire. (Don't have a fire escape plan? Make one!)

• Check that all windows open easily, especially upper floor windows.

• Check appliances you use often, such as hair dryers, for worn or frayed cords.

• Regularly clear away lint build-up in the clothes dryer. Check the outside dryer vent annually to make sure it's clear and working correctly.

• If you have a wood-burning fireplace or stove, get it cleaned and inspected by a licensed technician once a year.


Many local fire departments offer homeowners free tips and even in-home advice and inspections at no cost. Contact your fire department and ask about programs available to you.

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No matter what you think of snakes, you must agree that they have a unique way of dealing with worn-out skin. When the time comes, they simply shed it — like an old jacket — revealing a fresh new skin underneath.


Your home's roof doesn't have that advantage! So, when the shingles wear out or become damaged, you need to have them replaced.


Unfortunately, it's not always easy to determine whether your shingles need replacement right away, or whether you can hold off for another year. Assuming your home has the most common type of shingles — asphalt —here's what to look for:


• Corners upturned on some shingles.

• Missing shingles.

• Shingles lifting during high winds and not settling back into place (flat) within a day or two.

• Heavy accumulation of shingle debris (particles) in the gutters.

• Shingle bits and pieces found on the ground around your home.

• Spots on your roof that still look wet a day or two after a rainfall. (This

could be a sign of water infiltration into the felt or even the roof deck.)


If you have any of these signs, be sure to have a roofing contractor take a closer look.


Before investing in a new roof, be sure to check with the retailer or contractor who supplied the original materials. Your shingles might still be under warranty.


Bottomline: Don't delay. You don't want to wait until you hear drip drip drip before taking action!

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Two of the biggest stressors for DIYers are projects that cost too much or take too long. Unfortunately, there’s no sure way to guarantee that one or the other (or both) won’t happen. But there is a lot you can do to minimize the probability.


When budgeting, a big mistake DIYers make is not considering the little things. For example, you might budget for drywall panels but neglect to include the cost of nails, tape and plaster. It's easy to overlook these small items thinking they won't add up to much of an expense. But often they do. In fact, for many renovation projects, the little things account for up to 20% of the cost.


Another expense that is often overlooked is taxes. When you find a bathtub you like for $399, be sure to budget for what you'll actually pay out-of-pocket. Also, don't forget possible delivery expenses.


A budgeting tip many experts recommend is to price everything you need and then add 10%. That gives you a buffer.


Regarding scheduling, consider whether or not you've done this type of project before. If you're laying hardwood floors for the first time, there's a learning curve. You'll likely take two or three times longer than you would if you were more experienced.


Even if you have experience with the type of project you’re undertaking, it's human nature to underestimate how long it will take. So, if you feel confident you can install that sink in an hour, give yourself two.


A lot of this, of course, is common sense. But if you take a common sense — rather than an optimistic — approach to budgeting and scheduling, you'll stand a much better chance of your DIY project going smoothly.

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As you probably know, it's easy to lower the costs of a renovation. Just hire
an inexpensive, fly-by-night contractor — and hope for the best!


Chances are, you won't want to take that risk. So how do you ensure you get
quality work while keeping your budget in check?


Here are some tips:


• Get estimates from at least three contractors. Often prices can vary
widely, even amongst contractors with similar reputations and
experience.


• Narrow the project focus. If you're getting a bathroom renovated, for
example, decide whether you need the contractor to paint the new
walls. Can you do that yourself?


• Shop around for the building materials. Yes, contractors often have
access to wholesale prices. Still, you might be able to find a bathtub
and vanity at a lower cost or at least avoid any markup the contractor
may charge.


• Negotiate. Sometimes a contractor is willing to lower the price for
concessions, such as quick payments or more time to complete the job.


• Schedule the renovation during a low-demand season. For example,
deck contractors charge more in the spring than the fall. It's supply and
demand. More people want their decks done in the spring.


Keep in mind that spending a little more for a skilled and reputable contractor
can save you money in the long run. The renovation will have fewer, if any,
"issues" (that may require an expensive fix) and will last longer.

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Here's a surprising statistic. Less than 30% of window replacements are the result of the old windows being worn, broken or otherwise in need of replacement.


Clearly, there are other good reasons to consider new windows!


One of the most popular motivations is cosmetic. Brand new windows have a huge impact on the overall look of a home, both on the inside and the outside. New windows can improve curb appeal — an important element when you sell a home. From the inside, new windows can dramatically improve the look of a room.


Another reason to replace windows is to address energy costs. Modern windows are packed with technologies that lower heating/cooling bills. From low-e/argon to special spacer bars to high-insulating construction, these technologies can provide savings you'll notice, especially if you're replacing very old windows.


A third reason is window style and characteristics. Simply put, you may not like your current windows! You may want more glass and less frame to enhance your view. Maybe your windows pull up (vertical sliders) when you'd rather have them open like a door (casements). Perhaps you'd like fancy blinds in-between the panes of glass. Replacing windows lets you get exactly the look and features you want.


Will new windows boost the resale value of your home? They might, at least a little. But there's one thing for certain: upgraded windows definitely make your home look more appealing to buyers.

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Is your home office the dining room table? Is it anywhere you can sit down undisturbed with your laptop? If so, you might be interested in converting a room or nook into a dedicated home office. Depending on what you do for a living, there could be a tax advantage to creating this space too.


The first step is to pick a spot. Ideally, you want an area where you can work without too many distractions.


Next, make sure the spot you’ve chosen can accommodate a desk and any other furnishings you’ll need. Think about what you want within easy reach of your work area. Will you need a place for books and other papers? An extra chair for client meetings? A flipchart? A filing cabinet? Think about all of the options in advance.


Then, you’ll want to make sure the spot you picked has the electrical outlets you need, especially if you’re going to have a printer, special lighting, a computer and other items that need power.


Finally, you’ll want your home office to be a place where you can enjoy working. So decorate it with that in mind. If you like plants, get plants. If you enjoy golf, have your golf trip pictures hanging on the wall.


With a little work, you can quickly create a home office space that is comfortable, functional and enjoyable. It sure beats the dining room!

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If you want to transform a room into something that’s functional, beautiful and perfectly matched to your taste, then you might want to hire an interior designer.


It’s an interior designer’s job to come up with imaginative ideas that will wow you.


It’s a myth that interior designers just deal with paint colours, décor and furnishings. In fact, according to the Interior Designers Institute, these professionals have the training needed to handle all aspects of a renovation or remodeling project, including selecting and managing contractors. They can direct a project from beginning to end.


If you want to renovate your basement into a stunning home theatre and gathering place, an interior designer can:


• Draw out several concepts for you to choose from,
• Purchase the best building materials,
• Hire the contractors, and
• Manage the project.


He or she can even pick out classic movie pictures for the walls!


There are many professional associations that have “Find an Interior Designer” links on their websites. In Canada, check out the Interior Designers of Canada (www.idcanada.org).

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