Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic, many of us now find ourselves working from home. While it’s hard to complain about the commute, working from home can be an adjustment. For example, you may find yourself doing tasks around the house and suddenly you’ve missed several important emails. If you feel like you need some help being more productive while working from home, here are five tips to improve your workflow.
The best kind of light is natural light. Try setting up your workspace by a window. If that’s not possible, add a desk lamp or floor lamp to brighten your space. Not only will it help with visibility; it brightens your mood, which helps you to be more productive.
Remove distracting clutter. Take everything off your desk that you don’t need. Store it elsewhere or use shelves on your wall to display it.
If you find yourself cleaning throughout the day, set aside time specifically for these tasks. If you’re still waking up at the same time you did when working at the office—which studies show is a great strategy when working from home—using your would-be commute time to tidy up helps avoid those periodic distractions.
Bring the Outdoors In
Bringing plants into your home is beneficial for productivity and health alike. Greenery is a natural mood booster and gives life to a room. Plants naturally purify the air, helping you breathe easy as you make your way through the workday. Try arranging both hanging and potted plants to improve the mood around your workspace.
Change Your Chair
A chair that’s too tall, too short, or not comfortable is a fast track to back and shoulder problems that inhibit your workday and linger afterwards. Being in a stationary position for hours at a time requires the right kind of support to stay productive. Features to look for in a quality office chair include proper lumbar support, sturdy wheels, and an adjustable base that allows your shoulders to relax and your feet to rest flat on the floor.
It’s important to keep your home office professional and dedicated to your work. However, adding personal touches to the space will help you feel at ease. Position your work computer and phone front and center with any related work tools close by and handy. Adding pictures of loved ones, artwork, and inspirational quotes will help inspire you to generate ideas while working productively.
Sleek, sustainable design, open concept floor plans, minimalism, and eco-conscious thinking are defining characteristics of modern architecture. Recently, modern design concepts in home building have become more popular, and the resurgence of interest in modern real estate has followed suit.
These characteristics are what define Contemporary Architecture:
Clean geometric lines: At the heart of modernist values lies the simplification of form. Modernist homes have a very ‘linear’ feel with straight lines and exposed building materials. Furnishings and adornment reflect this value, incorporating vibrant, geometric and abstract designs.
Smaller, multifunctional spaces: With the Tiny House subculture consistently on the rise, and the new generation of homeowners expressing a desire to move away from the sprawling dwellings of the past, multifunctional living spaces are a must for modern homes. Built-in storage is commonly used to reflect this multi-purpose; space-saving feel.
Eco-conscious: Modern homes are well–suited for technological and green upgrades, as well as eco-friendly building materials and energy-efficient practices, and flat roofs to accommodate solar power. A new trend is to bring nature into each room for a calming, soothing effect. Large windows are abundant in modern architecture, allowing light to fill and expand the interior space, bringing the natural world indoors.
Post-and-beam structure: Exposed wood posts and ceiling beams are classic elements in modern architecture. This style of building has been around for thousands of years; however, modern homes significantly emphasize the structure, rather than hiding the bones behind drywall. In new modern homes, the post-and-beam structure can be made of concrete, iron or other materials. The visible horizontal and vertical beams reinforce the clean geometric lines of the space.
Open concept: Modern design strives to “open” the space by eliminating enclosed rooms. A common tactic is to open the kitchen and dining room into an open living space, allowing the spaces to flow into one another.
Minimalism: With open and connected modernist spaces, careful curation of furniture, adornments, and household objects is paramount to incorporating the modernist aesthetic. Generally, modernist homes have art and furniture that reflects the clean geometric lines and the natural materials of the architecture, leaving less space for clutter. Minimalist philosophies encourage few household items that serve both form and function, which work well within this design and architectural style.
Every component of your home has a lifespan. Common questions asked by homeowners include when to replace the flooring or how long to expect their siding to last. This information can help when budgeting for improvements or deciding between repairing and replacing when the time comes. We’re all familiar with the cliché: They just don’t build things like they used to. And while this may be true when it comes to brick siding or slate roofing, lifespans of other household components have increased in recent years. Here are the life expectancies of the most common household items (courtesy of NAHB):
Appliances: Among major appliances, gas ranges have a longer life expectancy than things like dishwashers and microwaves.
|Oil-burning Furnace||20 years|
|Heat Pump||16 years|
|Gas Range||15 years|
|Electric range / Refrigerator / Dryer||13 years|
|Electric / Gas Water Heater||10 years|
|Garbage disposal||10 years|
|Dishwasher / Microwave / Mini Fridge||9 years|
Kitchen & Bath: When choosing your countertops, factor in the life expectancies of different materials.
|Kitchen / Bath Item||Life Expectancy|
|Wood / Tile / Natural Stone Countertops||Lifetime|
|Toilets (parts will require maintenance)||50+ years|
|Stainless steel sink||30+ years|
|Bathroom faucet||20+ years|
|Cultured marble countertops||20 years|
|Kitchen faucet||15 years|
Flooring: If you’re looking for longevity, wood floors are the way to go. Certain rooms in your home will be better suited for carpeting, but you can expect they’ll need replacing within a decade.
|Flooring Material||Life Expectancy|
|Wood / Bamboo||Lifetime|
|Brick Pavers / Granite / Marble / Slate||100+ years|
|Carpet||8 – 10 years|
Siding & Roofing: When choosing roofing and siding for your home, climate and maintenance level factor into the life expectancy of the material. However, brick siding and slate roofing are known to be dependable for decades.
|Siding / Roofing Material||Life Expectancy|
|Brick Siding||100+ years|
|Aluminum Siding||80 years|
|Slate / Tile Roofing||50+ years|
|Wood Shingles||30 years|
|Wood Siding||10 – 100 years (depending on climate)|
Are extended warranties warranted?
Extended warranties, also known as service contracts or service agreements, are sold for all types of household items from appliances to electronics. They cover service calls and repairs for a specified time beyond the manufacturer’s standard warranty.
You will have to consider whether the cost is worth it to you. For some, it brings a much-needed peace of mind when making such a large purchase. Also consider if the cost outweighs the value of the item. In some cases, it may be less expensive to replace a broken appliance than to pay for insurance or a warranty.
Most of us tend to think of air pollution as something that occurs outdoors where car exhaust and factory fumes proliferate, but there’s such a thing as indoor air pollution, too. Since the 1950s, the number of synthetic chemicals used in home products have increased drastically, while homes have become much tighter and better insulated. As a result, the EPA estimates that Americans, on average, spend approximately 90 percent of their time indoors, where the concentrations of some pollutants are often two to five times higher than typical outdoor concentrations.
Luckily, there are many ways to reduce indoor air pollution. We all know that buying organic and natural home materials and cleaning supplies can improve the air quality in our homes, but there are several other measures you can take as well.
How pollutants get into our homes
Potentially toxic ingredients are found in many materials throughout the home, and they leach out into the air as Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOCs. If you open a can of paint, you can probably smell those VOCs. Mold is a VOC that can build up in the dampest parts of your home like the laundry room or crawl spaces. Another example is the “new car smell” that seems to dissipate after a while, but VOCs can “off-gas” for a long time, even after a noticeable smell is gone.
Many materials used to build a home contain chemicals like formaldehyde, toluene, xylene, ethanol, and acetone, and even lead. VOCs can also be in the form of pet dander or dust. Fortunately, VOCs from building materials dissipate over time. For that reason, the highest levels of VOCs are usually found in new homes or remodels. If you are concerned about VOCs, there are several products you can buy that are either low- or no-VOC. You can also have your home professionally tested.
How to reduce VOCs in your home
Choose your building materials wisely
- – Use tile or solid wood for flooring—hardwood, bamboo, or cork
- – Choose solid wood or outdoor-quality plywood that uses a less toxic form of formaldehyde.
- – Choose low-VOC or VOC-free paints and finishes
Purify the air
- – Make sure your rooms have adequate ventilation, air out newly renovated areas for at least a week
- – Clean ductwork and furnace filters regularly
- – Install air cleaners if needed
- – Use only environmentally responsible cleaning chemicals
- – Plants are a natural solution to help clean the air
- – Air out freshly dry-cleaned clothes or choose a “green” cleaner
Pick the right carpet
- – Choose “Green Label” carpeting or a natural fiber such as wool or sisal
- – Use nails instead of glue to secure carpet
- – Install carpet LAST after completing painting projects or wall coverings
- – Air out newly carpeted areas before using
- – Use a HEPA vacuum or a central vac system that vents outdoors
- – Clean up water leaks fast
- – Keep humidity below 60 percent, using dehumidifiers if necessary
- – Refrain from carpeting rooms that stay damp
- – Insulate pipes, crawl spaces, and windows to eliminate condensation
- – Use one-half cup of bleach per gallon of water to kill mold in its early stages
If you would like to learn more about VOCs and indoor air quality, please visit http://www.epa.gov/iaq/.
When dissatisfaction with your current home strikes, it can be exciting to launch into a plan for a new addition. A new living room, bedroom, or more can add value to your home while improving your quality of life.
On the other hand, even a modest addition can turn into a major construction project, with architects and contractors to manage, construction workers traipsing through your home, hammers pounding, and sawdust everywhere. And although new additions can be a very good investment, the cost-per-square-foot is typically more than building a new home, and much more than buying a larger existing home.
Define your needs
To determine if an addition makes sense for your situation, start by defining exactly what it is you want and need. By focusing on core needs, you won’t get carried away with a wish list that can push the project out of reach financially.
If it’s a matter of needing more space, be specific. For example, instead of just jotting down “more kitchen space,” figure out just how much more space is going to make the difference, e.g., “150 square feet of floor space and six additional feet of counter space.”
If the addition will be for aging parents, consult with their doctors or an age-in-place expert to define exactly what they’ll require for living conditions, both now and over the next five to ten years.
Types of additions
“Bumping out” one or more walls to make a first-floor room slightly larger is something most homeowners think about at one time or another. However, when you consider the work required, and the limited amount of space created, it often figures to be one of your most expensive approaches.
Adding a whole new room (or rooms) to the first floor of your home is one of the most common ways to add a family room, apartment or sunroom. But this approach can also take away yard space.
For homes with steep rooflines, adding an upper floor dormer may be all that’s needed to transform an awkward space with limited headroom. The cost is affordable and, when done well, a dormer can also improve the curb appeal of your house.
For homes without an upper floor, adding a second story can double the size of the house without reducing surrounding yard space.
Building above the garage is ideal for a space that requires more privacy, such as a rentable apartment, a teen’s bedroom, guest bedroom, guest quarters, or a family bonus room.
You’ll need a building permit to construct an addition, which will require professional blueprints. Your local building department will not only want to make sure that the addition adheres to the latest building codes, but also ensure it isn’t too tall for the neighborhood or positioned too close to the property line. Some building departments will also want to ask your neighbors for their input before giving you the go-ahead.
Requirements for a legal apartment
While the idea of having a renter that provides an additional stream of revenue may be enticing, the realities of building and renting a legal add-on apartment can be sobering. Among the things you’ll need to consider:
Some communities have regulations against “mother-in-law” units so they have zone-approval requirements.
In many cities, you can’t charge a tenant for heat, electricity, and water unless utilities are separated from the rest of the house (and separately controlled by the tenant).
When building an “accessory dwelling unit” (the formal name for a second dwelling located on a property where a primary residence already exists), building codes often contain special requirements regarding emergency exits, windows, ceiling height, off-street parking spaces, the location of main entrances, the number of bedrooms, and more.
In addition, renters have special rights while landlords have added responsibilities. You’ll need to learn those rights and responsibilities and be prepared to adhere to them.
The cost to construct an addition depends on a wide variety of factors, such as the quality of materials used, the laborers doing the work, the type of addition and its size, the age of your house and its current condition. For ballpark purposes, however, you can figure on spending about $200 per square foot if your home is in a more expensive real estate area or about $100 per foot in a lower-priced market.
You might be wondering how much of that money your efforts might return if you were to sell the home a couple of years later? The answer to that question depends on a number of variables, but the average “recoup” rate for a family room addition is typically more than 80 percent.
The bottom line
While you should certainly research the existing-home marketplace before hiring an architect to map out the plans, building an addition onto your current home can be a great way to expand your living quarters, customize your home, and remain in the same neighborhood.
Working from home is an aspiration for many of us, but to do so effectively takes effort. A disorganized space at home can be just as troublesome as a hectic office. The most disciplined telecommuters will tell you that you need a structured routine and organization in order to be successful.
Having a designated workspace is one of the most important elements to your success when you make the switch to telecommuting. Even if you live in a small space, you need to find a balance between home and office. People who work from home often have a difficult time separating their work hours from their non-work hours because it’s so easy to keep at it late into the night. But maintaining a balance and shutting down the computer is important for overall wellbeing. What are some other must-haves for a successful home office? Here are the top five:
- Natural Light – Study upon study tells us that natural light is needed to boost productivity and mood. Make sure to set your desk up as close to a window as you can. If being near a window isn’t an option, a natural light lamp is the next best thing. It helps balance your body clock and leaves you feeling rested and refreshed.
- To-Do List or Planner – Start each day off by making a to-do list outlining what you need to get done before the end of the workday. Make sure to set a realistic time frame in which all of that should be completed, so you can check each one off the list and feel immense accomplishment once you’ve completed them all.
- Storage – If you have a big enough space, put in a large bookshelf where you can organize everything (think storage boxes). It reduces clutter and looks stylish. Using your walls and cabinetry is the most efficient use of space.
- Calendar – Many people tend to rely on digital calendars these days because of their convenience. When all of your devices sync together and pop up with reminders, you never have to worry about missing an appointment. However, many people find that it helps to keep a paper calendar handy too so you can easily view your whole month at a glance. Choose which options works best for you by playing with both options, or something in between and see which one lets you be more productive with the least amount of stress.
- Space for Inspiration – It doesn’t matter what field you work in, having a source of inspiration in your workspace is essential. Whether it’s a photo of your family, your dream car, or that vacation you’ve been dying to take, having that inspiration right in front of you provides a constant reminder of why you do what you do.
With some creative thinking and a few do-it-yourself projects, you too can transform an everyday bathroom into a spa-like experience:
High-end shower head
There are a plethora of shower head options available today that can make even a simple shower space feel like a luxuriating experience.
Heated towel rack
Once out of the tub/shower, heated towels help you comfortably maintain your body temperature while the pampering continues.
Adjust the bathroom lights to match your moods and activities: brighter for primping, and dimmed to create a calming effect.
Not everything that’s meant for the bathroom needs to be stored in the bathroom. Look for things that can be moved elsewhere to make the space feel a bit bigger and more organized.
Essential oils, luxury soaps, and scented candles are an easy way to create an aromatic atmosphere of luxuriousness.
Choosing less space often has to do with a desire to live a life that’s simpler. Whether you’re retiring, want an eco-friendly, low-maintenance lifestyle or your children have moved away, downsizing might be the best option for you. Here are the advantages and disadvantages to consider before making the move and questions to begin asking yourself now.
- Increased cash flow.
- Spend less on your mortgage payment and you are likely to have more money left over for other needs or desires.
- More time.
- Cut down on time spent on household chores such as cleaning and vacuuming which will leave you with more hours in the day to do something more enjoyable.
- Lower utility bills.
- Costs less to heat and air condition a small home.
- Less square footage decreases the amount of energy expended.
- Reducing energy is better for the environment and it helps keep your home green.
- Reduced consumption.
- You would likely buy less since you won’t necessarily have the room for it.
- Minimized stress.
- Homeowners who have successfully downsized often feel happier because they are no longer overwhelmed by the demands of a larger home.
- Less responsibility, less housework to do, increased cash flow and flexibility equals reduced stress.
- Fewer belongings.
- Moving into a smaller space would mean you would need to give away or donate furniture, books, kitchen supplies, etc.
- No room for guests.
- Hosting holiday dinners might be out of the question for a smaller home.
- Space restrictions.
- Less space means you could feel cramped.
- Lifestyle changes.
- For long-term homeowners, downsizing means changing a lifestyle.
What to consider before downsizing
These questions are important to ask yourself because, for some people, downsizing may not be the best option for them.
- Does size matter to me?
- Think about how much your identity is wrapped in your house.
- Is it important for you to have a guest room or a second bathroom?
- Will I miss some important things about a more spacious home?
- Will moving into a smaller home feel like a step backward?
- How will other life events affect my living in a smaller home?
- Consider possible scenarios you may not expect such as adult children moving back home or if you plan to add a child.
The Cost to You
- How much will it cost to replace the furniture?
- When you move into a smaller home this means you might have to downsize your furniture to make room.
- How much will it cost to get rid of the stuff I don’t need or won’t fit?
- It’s important to have a plan for how you’re going to sell or give away the things you don’t need.
- Consider things like family heirlooms. What are you going to do with all your antiques or treasures that your smaller home may not be able to accommodate?
- How much will I get when I sell my current home, and will it help cover the cost of buying my new home?
If you know downsizing is the right option for you, you’re probably asking yourself, “Should I sell first and then buy or buy first and then sell?”. When you’re ready to discuss your options, talk to an experienced Real Estate Agent.
Ask a homeowner which room they would most like to improve, and most will point to the kitchen – the starting point for every meal and the heart of the home.
Ask those same people why they don’t move forward with a kitchen remodel, and many will say the project seems so overwhelming they don’t know where to start. If your kitchen needs an upgrade, here are some step-by-step suggestions to get you started.
Gather your thoughts
The steps that follow will all progress much easier if you take time beforehand to form a strong opinion about the desired look and layout of your new kitchen.
Start by reviewing kitchen magazines and photo-heavy kitchen remodeling guides and/or websites. Compiling clippings and printouts in a notebook helps you refine your vision. Clip or print the photos that capture your imagination, add notes, and draw circles and arrows around the things you like most.
Once you have a clearer vision of what you want, search online for better examples and new solutions, if necessary. If you live with a significant other, share your ideas with them and don’t allow yourself to become too committed before getting buy-in from them. Contractors and sales associates will expect a unified front.
Focus on the flow
Another major factor you’ll want to consider is how your new kitchen will be used, and by whom:
- Do you want to cook with others?
- Do you want family and guests to gather in the space while you cook?
- Do you want to serve meals in the kitchen?
- Do you want to display your dishware?
- Where would you like things stored for maximum efficiency?
Imagine yourself happily cooking and entertaining in your new kitchen, then note the key elements necessary to make those dreams a reality. Having a list of your desired kitchen features and storage needs will help ensure your plan meets your vision.
Determine your budget
According to the annual Remodeling Magazine survey of costs, a “midrange,” “minor” kitchen remodel will cost homeowners living on the West Coast about $23,000. Those same folks can expect to pay about $70,000 for a midrange “major” kitchen remodel. Determine what you can afford before you start work to ensure that your vision is within reach, or to help prioritize what’s most critical.
What to do with the cabinets
Replacing the cabinets is one of the most expensive improvements you can make in a kitchen remodel (typically consuming 20 to 40 percent of the overall budget, according to Architectural Digest).
Consider refacing instead. This can include one of the following: 1) Installing completely new cabinet doors and drawer fronts or 2) installing new wood or laminate veneer over the existing cabinet and drawer fronts or 3) simply refinishing the existing cabinet and drawer fronts.
Shopping for contractors
The contractor you choose will determine much of the cost, the pace of your project, the amount of disruption, the final results, and your level of satisfaction. So be thorough in your search:
- Ask friends and family for referrals and advice.
- Interview at least three of the leading prospects in-person.
- Ask to see samples of past work.
- Look for someone who complements your operating style (similar personality and communication style).
- Once you’ve narrowed your choice to one or two, ask to speak with a few past clients.
You’ll be tempted to latch onto the first contractor who gets rave reviews from a friend or family member. But remember: You and your project are unique, and it’s worth the time and effort to be rigorous in your search.
If you’re planning to replace appliances, here are three factors you’ll want to consider:
Finish – Stainless steel is still the most popular option, but beware: smudges, fingerprints, water spots, and streaks will be obvious. Black stainless steel has a warmer feel and is better at hiding spots.
Extended warranty – According to Consumer Reports, extended warranties are hardly ever worth it because today’s appliances are so reliable. And if something does fail, it’s often less expensive to just pay for the repair.
Unbiased testing and reviews – Before making an appliance purchase, use the information resources available through Consumer Reports.
A final note
Moving walls and extending your home’s foundation are both very expensive options. If your kitchen plans call for these architectural renovations, perhaps you’ve outgrown your home and need something larger (with an already-improved kitchen).