Other Rooms - 4/10 - Bob Vila

Category: Other Rooms

Planning Guide: Laundry Room

Take some of the drudgery out of doing the wash by creating a cheerful, better organized, and more efficient laundry room.

Laundry Room Ideas

Photo: agreatkitchen.com

The space where you wash dirty clothes need not be dirty too. Whether you’re starting from scratch or updating an existing space, these laundry room ideas can help you design a cheerful, comfortable, and efficient area for this often dreaded but necessary household chore.

In the typical home, the laundry room is in the basement, and for good reason: Washers and dryers are notoriously noisy contraptions. With advancements in their technology, however, these machines have grown quieter. As a result, more and more homeowners are choosing to locate the laundry room closer to main living areas, especially those rooms where clothing tends to come off—namely, bedrooms and bathrooms.

Bear in mind that laundry equipment needs two things in order to operate: first, a plumbing hookup, and second, a means of ventilation to the outdoors. Given the plumbing requirement, it’s wise to position a washing machine near existing water supply pipes, otherwise you’ll need to call in a plumber to install new ones. Review local building codes; a plumbing vent, which allows air to escape the system, may be required.

Related: 15 Laundry Rooms We Love

The necessity of ventilation dictates placement of the dryer, because its vent works best when it spans a short distance with few (if any) redirections. For this reason, locating the dryer against an exterior wall is strongly recommended. If you’re given a choice between a metal vent pipe and a corrugated metal tube, choose the former. Its smooth interior enhances airflow and reduces lint accumulation, making drying quicker and safer.

Putting a washer and dryer in a room that’s never before held heavy appliances? Look into reinforcing the floor joists so they can safely carry the load. Doing so also helps contain noise or vibrations. Although many energy-efficient machines are small enough to occupy nontraditional laundry spaces, such as closets and pantries, double-check your measurements to be sure the appliances will fit through the doors and staircases in your home.

Traditionally popular laundry room flooring choices are vinyl or linoleum. Both are more affordable and less maintenance-intensive than either wood or tile. Today, however, as homeowners seek to humanize these formerly utilitarian spaces, there has been a surge of interest in cork flooring, a handsome, hard-wearing, and relatively inexpensive material. Consider also rubber mat flooring, commonly used in fitness gyms, which is quick to install, sound-muffling, and comfortable underfoot.

Laundy Room Ideas - Beadboard

Photo: whittenarchitects.com

Although designed for other applications, closet storage organizers and kitchen cabinets adapt well for the purpose of minimizing clutter in the laundry room. Home improvement centers offer a wide selection of cabinets and countertops that can be installed with ease by intermediate-level weekend do-it-yourselfers. Above the washer and dryer, use wall-mounted units to conserve valuable floor space. And, if you have the room for one, set up a permanent rack on which to hang clothes as they come out of the dryer. You can also use it to air-dry delicate items, if desired, but for best results, install a dehumidifier or exhaust fan to take moisture out of the air.

Good light is essential at different stages of the clothes-washing process: You must be able to see stains in order to treat them prior to washing, and you can’t iron out a wrinkle that you failed to notice in the first place. In a laundry room, track lighting excels, because its multiple heads can be adjusted to illuminate different work areas. Meanwhile, windows are advantageous, because they not only usher in fresh air and release humidity, but they also provide ambient light.

Washers and dryers sometimes make a racket like an alien spacecraft revving for takeoff, so insulating against sound can be very important in a laundry room. Two layers of wallboard on the walls and ceilings suppress noise better than one, and the cavities between wall studs and floor joists should be filled with fiberglass, rigid foam, or spray insulation. Any of these prevent sound from reaching adjoining rooms, including those on the level above or below.

A licensed electrician must install dedicated lines for both the washer and dryer. If you have an electric dryer, you need 240-volt service. Gas-fueled dryers, by contrast, operate on standard 120-volt lines. With a gas appliance, however, be aware that building codes often require a plumber to handle the piping between the municipal supply and the on-site gas storage tank.

To prevent the damage that a malfunctioning washing machine can cause, situate the appliance in a drip pan—or better yet, install a floor drain. Water valves should be easily accessible to the homeowner. As an added safeguard, opt for an automatic shutoff that halts the flow of water in the event of a leak. Another prudent measure is to install a raised threshold at the entrance of the laundry room; that way, if the room ever floods, the rest of the house is spared.

Laundry Room Ideas - Ironing Board

Photo: crisparchitects.com

Worthwhile Extras
– A laundry chute spells the end to those exhausting trips down the stairs, basket in hand, to laundry rooms on lower floors or in the basement.

– For many tasks, and not only those related to washing clothes, a laundry sink may prove to be a valuable asset—for example, they’re great for rinsing gardening tools.

– An ironing board hinged to the wall, incorporated into a pull-out drawer, or stored in a tall cabinet beside the dryer makes ironing more convenient—and may even inspire you to do it more often!

– Consider mounting a small flat-screen TV to the wall of your laundry room, so all that stain-treating, folding, ironing, and hanging will seem to go by more quickly.

Weekend Projects: 5 Fresh Laundry Room Storage Options

Create a less cluttered, more efficient laundry area, so you can easily get this chore done fast.

Whether you have a small closet or a large room devoted to doing the laundry, chances are that you want more storage in your laundry area. While there’s no avoiding this chore, having a more functional and efficient laundry area can at the very least make the task less of a nuisance. These DIY laundry room storage solutions won’t necessarily make you love washing your clothes each week, but they can assist in you completing the job more quickly and with a minimum of headaches along the way.



DIY Laundry Room Storage - Drying Rack

Photo: centsationalgirl.com

How many times has one of your favorite shirts emerged from the dryer two sizes too small? The surefire way to protect delicate articles of clothing from a similar fate is to let them air-dry. Centsational Girl shows how you can build your own wall-mounted, fold-out, space-saving drying rack in no time.



DIY Laundry Room Storage - Ironing Board

Photo: designdishes.blogspot.com

Make the most of every inch with this simply genius DIY laundry room storage trick. If your washer and dryer are front-loading, they can easily support a combination countertop-ironing board. Yes, you can finally say goodbye to that clunky, creaking, stand-alone ironing board that you loathe to unfold.



DIY Laundry Room Storage - Sock Board

Photo: shopruche.com

Few things are certain in life, but besides death and taxes, you can also count on occasionally losing a sock or two in the wash. Here’s a project that can help ensure a happy ending for incomplete pairs: Build a board to serve as a DIY laundry room storage area for single socks in search of mates.



DIY Laundry Room Storage - Riser

Photo: justagirlblog.com

The dead zone above side-by-side washers and dryers is especially frustrating where floor space is limited. Installing cabinets beneath laundry machines is smart for two reasons: Not only do such units add storage space for supplies, but they also eliminate the need to hunch over when loading and unloading.



DIY Laundry Room Storage - Mobile Station

Photo: hoosierhomemade.com

From Hoosier Homemade, this DIY laundry room storage cart can be modified to hold as many baskets (or shelves) as desired. Designate one compartment for each family member, or use the sections to separate whites, colors, and delicates. The best part? Casters make the cart effortlessly easy to move.

Bob Vila Radio: Upcycling Cribs

In 2011, federal safety standards for baby cribs changed, making it illegal to sell older, unsafe models. Rather than send yours to the landfill, consider new ways of putting that old crib to some good use.

In 2011, federal safety standards for baby cribs changed significantly, making it illegal to sell older models that no longer make the grade. Even thrift shops no longer accept these cribs, because they cannot be resold.

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Listen to BOB VILA ON UPCYCLING CRIBS or read the text below:

Upcycling Cribs

Photo: shutterstock.com

That left an awful lot of families with beautiful cribs languishing in their attics and basements, unable to donate them and unwilling to pass on potentially dangerous designs to family or friends. Short of sending these lovely and sentimental pieces to the landfill, what can you do?

Well, I’ve been amazed at what some people have done—I’ve seen creative upcycling ideas including chairs, benches, dish racks, desks, chalkboards, easels, magazine racks, even a garden trellis!

Keep in mind that cribs were designed to be structurally sound only when assembled as intended, so you’ll have to be smart about designing your new piece so it doesn’t wobble. Draw a few variations on your ideas before you start cutting anything, and try to anticipate weak spots that may need extra support or bracing.  Just remember, any project is a success that keeps the old crib useful and out of the landfill!

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.

Weekend Projects: 5 DIY Ways to Organize Your Bedroom

Promote rest and relaxation in your nightly refuge from the world at large with thoughtful, stylish, and budget-friendly DIY bedroom storage solutions.

At the end of another long day, doesn’t everyone want—or even need—the bedroom to be a place of peace, a relaxing refuge removed from the rest of the world? And let’s face it: Messes are stresses. If you’ve been too busy lately to organize your boudoir, devote time to DIY bedroom storage projects this weekend.



DIY Bedroom Storage - Corner Shelves

Photo: apartmenttherapy.com

Corners get a bad rap. People assume they’re good for nothing. But in the case of DIY bedroom storage, corners become very valuable, if only because they are so often left empty. Fill yours with a wooden magazine holder (Design Sponge), a space-saving corner table (Martha Stewart), or floating shelves (House of Rose).



DIY Bedroom Storage - Walk By Closet

Photo: marthastewart.com

Some grumble over not having a walk-in closet, but others must suffer bedrooms with no closet space whatsoever. For those miserable unfortunates, there’s the option of creating a walk-by closet like the one pictured. Here, a vintage ladder bridges two shelving units, and a bench sits between. So simple, and so effective.



DIY Bedroom Storage - Clothes Organization

Photo: ikeahackers.net

Like skinning a cat, there is more than one way to store clothing. If you love quirky minimalism—and frankly, who doesn’t?—check out this funky yet functional IKEA hack. Surprisingly, vintage suitcases also lend themselves to DIY bedroom storage solutions that are at once decorative and effective.



DIY Bedroom Storage - Wall Hangings

Photo: pegasuslighting.com

Cutting clutter plays a major role in successful DIY bedroom storage, so it’s time to finally hang that poster you bought at the museum gift shop last year. Wood-mounted artworkclipboard displays, and picture frame collages stand out among countless gallery wall project inspirations over on Apartment Therapy.



DIY Bedroom Storage - Floating Shelves

Photo: bobvila.com

Especially in small bedrooms, bulky standalone storage units hog what precious few square feet there are available. A space-saving alternative is to install floating shelves. You can achieve this sophisticated modern look on Saturday morning, leaving the rest of your weekend free for browsing bookstores!

Planning Guide: Home Office

For an increasing number of us, a functional and comfortable home office design is not a luxury, but a necessity.

Home Office Design

Photo: bh2.com

With more and more people telecommuting to work each day, the home office is no longer a luxury—for many, a productive and comfortable work space at home is now a necessity. Numerous factors must be considered as part of an effective home office design; before setting up phone and fax lines, invest time in developing a plan.

Identify Your Needs
Figure out what kind of home office space you require. Do you work from home every day or only on occasion? Will the space be shared with family members? To perform your job successfully, what equipment must the office contain? Will you be video-conferencing or meeting clients in person? The answers to all of these questions may influence your home office design plan.

Pick Your Space
If you regularly work from home, having a dedicated office space may help you foster improved at-home work habits (and if you meet the IRS requirements, the room can be a write-off on your income taxes). Choose a space—a room with a door, ideally—removed from the distractions of your home’s main living areas. Don’t have such a space? There’s always the possibility of converting a prefab shed into a backyard studio.

If your home office will be used by different members of the family for different purposes, then be sure it’s large enough for more than one person but also private enough to facilitate work getting done.

Home Office Ideas - Desk Area

Photo: bh2.com

Putting It Together
Once you’ve determined the “what” and “where” of your home office design, several key components must be added for the space to perform its role satisfactorily.

Choosing the right desk depends on two things: the type of work you do and the amount of space you have. If your responsibilities are mainly confined to the digital realm, you may not need a lot of physical real estate. But those who regularly work with print-outs and reference books may require a large desk top, perhaps even multiple work surfaces.

Before committing to buy, sit down at the desk and test the feel. Is the desk a good working height for you? Will it accommodate all of the equipment you require?

If you access files frequently, a desk with built-in storage may be your best bet. Streamlined, modern table styles are fine to use in office settings but necessitate a separate file storage solution. You ought to have no trouble finding a desk to suit your style and budget, but remember, there are DIY options, too.

Related: Create a Home Office That Works: 10 Expert Tips

The most important piece of furniture in your home office design is the chair. There are many styles from which to choose, but resist the temptation to make your selection on the basis of aesthetics alone. Look for a chair that offers sufficient depth; the ideal seat supports your thighs without touching the back of your knees. If you are prone to lower-back pain, insist on a design that provides adequate lumbar support. And if not adjustable, be sure the chair’s height is appropriate for your desk or worktable.

Plenty of excellent options exist in the $100 to $200 range. Take your time and when faced with a choice between comfort and good looks, err on the side of comfort, which is likely to enhance your level of productivity.

Other Work Areas
What other work areas would it be wise to add? Those who review large documents or assemble materials may appreciate the virtues of a standing desk. If you expect to host clients for face-to-face meetings, think about including a small conference table. The best home office design will respond sensitively to the realities of your day-to-day schedule.

Technology and Peripherals
Love it or hate it, technology is the reason so many of us are able to work from home—embrace it! If you are shopping for a new computer, fax machine, or copier, get the best your can afford. That way, you can be assured that your equipment will be compatible with the latest software and operating systems. When possible, choose hardware with wireless capability, and if you can, go paperless.

Lighting plays a major role in home office design. As in other rooms, the best approach here is to layer lighting from multiple sources. Use table lamps, floor lamps, and wall sconces to achieve diffused, ambient lighting that fills the room. While natural light is certainly a plus, direct sun may result in glare. Install window treatments so that over the course of the day, you can control the amount of daylight admitted through your windows. For task lighting, use desk lamps that not only deliver the quality and intensity of light you prefer, but also provide flexibility through design features like adjustable swing arms.

Organization and Storage
No matter the details of your home office design, organization is key, particularly in a shared space. Find a categorization routine that works, then stick to it. Since all those cords and cables are a distracting eyesore, look for ways to consolidate and conceal them as well.

The last step in creating the perfect home office space is making it your own. Add personal touches that make you feel comfortable and that inspire creativity. Your home office can and should be a place you can grow and prosper.

Now, get to work!

Planning Guide: Home Theater

Design a blockbuster theater room for convenient, casual, cinema-style entertainment at home.

Home Theater Ideas

Photo: HGTV

Millions of Americans are plugging into dedicated home theaters as their ticket to relaxation and casual entertaining. Though any space with a TV and a surround sound audio system qualifies as an entertainment area, only a home theater room simulates a sensory cinema experience. Here are four key considerations to help make an attractive, comfortable space with top-quality acoustics and viewing.

Room Place, Shape and Size
Unless you have exceptional wall insulation, locate the home theater room in an area of the house where ambient noise won’t disrupt viewing, and where cinema sounds won’t interfere with other household activities. Possibilities include a basement or a space adjacent to the family room with minimal natural light.

Choose a rectangular-shaped room rather than a square space where sound build-up bounces off the walls. For excellent acoustics, most design experts suggest an area that measures about 20′ x 13′. Others point to an acoustics room ratio, which indicates that room width should be 1.6 times, and room length should be 2.6 times, the ceiling height. Considering cinema sound is as powerful as its imagery, acoustics deserve to be a big deal.

Projectors vs. Big-screen TV
Deciding between a television or a projector should be based on how you plan to use the room. If you’re keen on TV programs or gaming, then image quality is usually better on a flat-screen TV. But if you’re more interested in watching movies (DVD, Blu-ray, HD-DVD) and entertaining friends, then a projector offers the better picture, the largest screen size, and a more authentic experience. Projectors trump televisions in tendering realistic 3D escapades, too.

Screen Size and Viewing Experience
Remember the days when owning a 27″ TV model practically ensured you’d be hosting the next Super Bowl party? Today 4′ and 5′ screens are the norm (with 6′ and 7′ models gaining ground). Bigger isn’t always the best choice, however. When the screen is too large for the viewing distance, the individual pixels are evident, and the eyes are strained by the need to scan the whole thing. When the screen is too small, viewers miss the experience of being drawn into the show.

As a general rule, select a screen size that is about one third of your viewing distance. For seating about 13′ (156″) from the television, for instance, opt for a 52″ screen. One way to test optimal viewing distance is to measure between your seating area and the television, then stand that far away from the displays at the store. If you can see a model’s whole screen without moving your head or eyes, you’re in the right range.

Finally, when it comes to size, projectors go up to 300″ diagonally, compared with 70″ to 90″ for flat-screen TVs. Keep in mind that projectors have “throw” ranges, indicating the distance between the projector and the screen. (Find a throw range calculator on individual manufacturers’ websites.)

Home Theater Ideas - Cinema

Photo: HGTV

Furnishings and Lighting
A home theater room can trump even the poshest cinema in terms of comfort and personal style. To set a specific mood, turn to theme decor ranging from swanky Hollywood glamour to cozy wine bar or lively ’50s drive-in. Or take design cues from favorite genres like Westerns or from beloved series like Lord of the Rings.

For the sake of both comfort and acoustics, begin with carpet that adds warmth and absorbs sound. Next, indulge in comfortable seating. Though sofas, chairs, and even bean bags will work, the ideal arrangement is a row or two of cushy chairs facing forward to mimic theater seating. Consider using risers or platforms to elevate the second row and add LED step lighting that can be dimmed. In fact, wall sconces and subtle lighting controlled by a remote can greatly enhance mood—everyone enjoys the suspense when the lights go down. And because you want things as dark as possible for improved viewing, choose deep colors for walls and dress any windows with blackout curtains.

Finally, add in special touches like a star ceiling made from fiber optic tiles, acoustic panels on the walls, a mini concession stand with popcorn machine, movie posters and a velour curtain to trim out the screen.

Designing a Kid’s Room: Make It Their Own

Regardless of what you decide for walls, windows, furnishings and storage, be sure to get the kids' involved when designing their rooms.

Kids Room Ideas

Photo: the boo and the boy

Everybody needs their space, right? Even a kid. Nothing’s better than having a little place all your own—one that feels like you and makes you feel good when you’re in it. When designing spaces for kids, get the children involved so they have a sense of investment in their space. Who knows, maybe it’ll inspire them to keep their clothes off the floor.

Here are some tips on how you can easily create a kid-worthy space in your home:

Almost nothing makes a bigger impact for less money than paint. Painting is an easy way for kids to help with their room design. Picking the color can give them a sense of excitement and ownership.

Kids Room Ideas - Painted WallsIf your kid wants to paint each wall a different color, why not? It’s just paint. All ages can participate, even if it’s just the undercoat. If you really want to give them some freedom, let them have one wall to do as a mural, all on their own. You might be surprised at how creative your kids are and how well it turns out.

Related: 12 Jaw-Dropping Room Ideas for Your Prince or Princess

If painting with your kids is more than you can bear, step down the intensity and decorate the walls with decals or stencils. Decals are easiest. There are heaps of designs, from small accents, to large murals, to peel and stick borders. Kids can take part in the design and placement of decals. And if they don’t come out just right, pull them up and move them. Stencils require a little more effort.

Depending on the age, you might want to place the stencils on the wall yourself (with a child’s supervising eye, of course). Then let them apply the paint. Removing the stencils will be thrilling for both of you.

There are so many options for windows, even for kids’ rooms. Basic vinyl roller shades are inexpensive and functional, and available to be cut to size at your local hardware store, they are extremely customizable. Many projects are easy enough for kids. You can stencil, stamp, or paint them. You can border them with fabric glue and ric-rack, ribbon, or other embellishments. You can apply fabric accents with spray adhesive, or cover the entire shade with a coordinating fabric. If light control is not an issue, cut-outs can add extra zing. Any kid would love to pull down their own work of art every night.

Creating a valance that reflects a special interest can serve to highlight windows as well. With a basic curtain rod, a hot glue gun (for adults only, of course), and some tulle, sports pennants, award ribbons or other materials, you can make something that’s fun and meaningful to wake up to.

Kids Room Ideas - Trim

If you are purchasing new furniture while redesigning a young child’s room, try very hard to resist the cutest-ever princess headboard or the race car bed. Your kid will outgrow it before you want to buy a new one. You’ll get the same effect by dressing the room to suit their young sensibility with less expensive items like bedding sets, window treatments, throw pillows and rugs, which you can switch out easily when tastes change.

Concentrate on buying the best quality furniture your budget can afford and choosing pieces that will grow with along with your kids. A young child’s reading nook can become a study desk. A train table can become a Lego construction zone, or an art center. You get the idea.

Kids have so much stuff. It must be controlled, corralled. Storage is a major priority. The ubiquitous cubbies with baskets, buckets, and boxes work well, and you can find them almost anywhere these days. You’ll get the same functionality from an old bookshelf with a fresh coat of paint, perhaps with special decoration added by your kid.

Artwork and special treasures constantly collect in piles at our house. Paint a pegboard and attach some bulldog clips and elastic bands. Art can be stored and displayed at the same time, and your child is the curator. And did you know about magnetic primer paint? Yes, really. Paint any surface—a closet door, side of a cabinet, or an entire wall. Paint over it with any color you choose. Grab some funky magnets and voila! A place for all that STUFF—and the magnetic letters crowding the fridge.

Kids Room Ideas - Storage CratesFor closets, consider putting rods and shelves at kid-height, so they’ll be independent when getting dressed. Then, there’s no excuse not to hang things back up! No matter how many cubbies, book shelves and bulletin boards you have, there are things that seem to have no “place” to go.

A “catch-all” type of storage piece, like a toy box or large hamper to throw everything into becomes pure gold when your mother-in-law calls and says she’s dropping over. Have Granddad’s old steamer trunk? Make it new with some paint. Or, throw some casters on a big crate, so the chaos can be wheeled into the closet.

However you decide to design a room for your kids, do it with your kids. It will be a memorable experience, and will make the space much more meaningful for them. And don’t forget to have fun. It’s not a good day’s work unless there’s paint in your hair at the end of it!

Home Renovation: The Living Quarters

To restore, preserve, or simply renovate, examine your home in detail.

Home Renovation

Photo: lakemartinvoice.com

The biggest challenge in inspecting your own house is to be able to see it as if for the first time. Let me suggest one mindset you might adopt that may help detach you from your day-to-day life. Try thinking like an archaeologist.

You don’t have to wear a pith helmet to do it; this is an architectural kind of archaeology. Your job is to go back in time and try to identify layers of change in the house. You’re seeking signs of alterations made in the past. Unless your house is very new, some changes were made, even if they were only cosmetic. Most older homes have seen a lot of change: remodeled kitchens, added baths, dropped ceilings, partitions added or removed, paint jobs, floor or carpet changes, updated lighting fixtures, and on and on.

Unless you just bought the place yesterday, you’ve probably made some changes yourself and encountered evidence of other people’s changes. Is there cheap paneling on the walls? How about a ceiling with dusty old acoustical tile? Such surfaces are probably evidence of 1960s remodeling work. In a house that’s more than thirty years old, you are likely to find wood floors beneath wall-to-wall carpeting while such carpeting in more recent homes typically was laid directly on a plywood subfloor. Narrow strip flooring in a house you know was built before the Civil War was probably applied in the twentieth century directly on top of earlier wide-board floors. Beneath a surface layer of wallpaper may be more layers of paper, as well as wall board or perhaps plaster and lath.

If you are lucky in your archeological investigations, somewhere beneath the layers you’ll find much evidence of the original house. If you’re not so lucky, someone gutted the place and off to the dump went much original fabric (that’s preservationist jargon for the physical material of the building, the implication being the original component materials were interwoven).

The changes made in remodeling usually go more than skin deep. Often the floor plan gets transformed, too, with new walls added, old ones removed, new doorways introduced or old ones closed up. A small bedroom or pantry may have become a bath. Perhaps two original rooms, such as the kitchen and dining room, were opened into one another to create one larger, multipurpose space.

If you have already detected changes made to spaces in the house, how was the floor plan changed? Look for evidence of new partitions. If you noted any apparent additions while examining the exterior, follow up those clues inside. How about the bathrooms? Patch marks or long straight cracks in a plaster wall are often indicators of change.

When you were examining the exterior, did you detect certain windows that differed in form, style, or detailing from the rest? Look carefully at the window trim on the inside. Follow the baseboard, cornice, and other moldings from room to room. Does the trim remain the same throughout?

Often in older homes, there are fancy areas with more elaborate moldings (the parlor, the entry hall, the dining room) and private areas with fewer and simpler profiles (the bedrooms upstairs). Even when such differences are evident, however, the moldings usually relate to one another and are consistent within a given room or area. But when the same room has two different window treatments, the chances are that you are looking at two different generations of construction work. In a house that has been renovated over the years, it’s not surprising when different molding profiles have been used—tastes change, and the local millwork supplier will sell different molding profiles from one generation to the next. So look for things that are different: When there are two or three interior doors that are different from the rest or if the floorboards vary only in one area, those are clues that something changed.

Trim and Wall and Ceiling Surfaces. Examine every surface. You’re looking for cracks, stains, and peeling paint. Look at the corners in particular: they’re structural points where problems often reveal themselves. Are there water stains anywhere? Look with especial care at ceilings and walls beneath upstairs bathrooms. Showers and bathtub enclosures are notorious for leaking. Is there peeling paint? In an old house, this can actually be a health hazard, especially for children, since lead paint was once commonplace.

The Floors. Perhaps the most common floor covering is wood, whether it’s hardwood like oak or maple or a softwood like pine or fir. Wood has a literal and visual warmth that can enhance the comfort of a room. A quality wood floor, when well maintained, can be beautiful and durable. Do you have wall-to-wall carpeting? If you’re going to change it, you need to see what’s beneath. If there are tile floors, are there loose tiles? Have the grout joints deteriorated?

Windows and Doors. Are the windows loose in their frames? Are the window sash suspended on sash cords and pulleys like mine were? Again, in a cool climate that means the cavities in which the weights are hung are energy eaters, allowing heat to escape. Do any of the doors stick? Is there a thick buildup of paint on the edges of the doors or on the jambs (the inside surfaces of the door frame)?
Examine all the details of the house. Make notes of problems—and any desires you might have to change things.

Safety Concerns. Does each staircase, inside and outside, have a handrail? Are the railings solid? Is there adequate lighting? In an older house, an occasional creaky tread is not unusual—but if virtually every step complains when you walk up the stairs or there’s a noticeable give, it’s time to check that out.

Are there smoke detectors on each floor and, in particular, is there one near the bedrooms? Is there a window in each bedroom that opens enough to serve as a fire exit?

Don’t leave out the fireplace: Is the chimney lined? Is there adequate hearth in front of the fire box? (According to most building codes, it should project at least 16 inches and extend at least a foot on either side of the firebox opening). Has the chimney been cleaned recently? Is there a damper? The damper—which closes off the chimney flue when not in use—is key to conserving energy in the house. Without one, the chimney flue continually draws warm heated air out of the house.

In order to restore, preserve, or simply renovate your home, you need to examine the place in detail as you think through your needs and desires. You know your house and what aspects of it make you unhappy. Make notes not only during your walk through, but as you go about your daily activities. Are there rooms that are too hot or cool? Are there too few electrical outlets? Not enough of this, too much of that… keep a running list.

The Green Bedroom

Here are a few eco-friendly ways to light your bedroom and clean your air.

How To Be Eco Friendly

Photo: Flickr

Your Electricity
You hear it everywhere, but it’s an easy and cost-effective change: compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs. When Leah Ingram wanted to trim her family’s budget, which she wrote about in her blog, www.suddenlyfrugal.com, light bulbs were the first thing to change. “While they are significantly more expensive than the incandescent ones, we’ve seen our electric bill drop,” she says.

Got shutters? Use them. If you don’t, install them. They’re the easiest way to keep hot air inside in the winter and cold air inside in the summer. “We open up the window treatments so on warm sunny days we help to heat the house,” says Ingram.

Ceiling fans. They might not cool you like air conditioning will, but they help your system circulate the air, and the breeze keeps your skin temperatures cool.

Your Bed
“If your linens are made of synthetic materials, you could be sleeping with toluene [an inhalant drug], formaldehyde, PDBEs [polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or flame-retardants] and petroleum derivatives,” says Anca Novacovici, founder and president of Eco-Coach, an environmental sustainability consulting company based in Washington, DC. Choose bedding and pillows made of organic cotton or bamboo instead. Avoid polyester sheets, which are made with petroleum-based fibers.

“Bamboo doesn’t have as much of an impact on the environment when it’s harvested,” says Linda Chipperfield, vice president of Green Seal, a nonprofit organization that writes environmental standards and gives their seals to the best of the best.

If you’re in the market for a new bed, think green, too. “Standard mattresses are made with petroleum-based foams and soaked in about one and a half pounds of toxic chemicals,” says Novacovici. Plus, if you or anyone in your family has allergies or asthma, the encasing on green mattresses help keeps dust mites from coming into contact with your skin.

Your Air
Clean the air inside your room by installing high-efficiency particle air (HEPA) filters. Not only will it improve indoor air quality — the EPA estimates that indoor air is two to five times as polluted as outdoor air — but it could help your heart since a recent study found that HEPA filters can improve cardiovascular health. To ensure you’re getting a top-quality filter, look for those that trap 99.97 percent of particles that are 0.3 microns in diameter.

Your Cleaning Routine
Get rid of anything that says “danger” or “poison.” Instead, check out care2.com for easy-to-make recipes for household cleaners, most of which can be made with baking soda, white distilled vinegar and liquid soap. The site even has instructions on how to make a non-toxic cleaning kit. You can also check out eco-friendly cleaning lines, such as Seventh Generation, Mrs. Meyers, and Green Works from Clorox, whose products are non-toxic and biodegradable. Clean on a regular schedule. “The more consistent you are with cleaning, the less deep cleaning you’ll have to do in the long run,” says Chipperfield.


Your Paint
You don’t need to change your paint to go green. But if you’re considering repainting your room, look for paint cans with low or no volatile organic compounds, also known as VOCs . You can also look for paints with the Green Seal stamp of approval. “You want to buy paints that have minimum toxins and minimum violates so when you’re painting, the fumes aren’t toxic,” says Chipperfield. Benjamin Moore, Dutch Boy, MAB Paints, and Cloverdale are just a few name brands with the Green Seal. You can find a full list at the paints section of the Green Seal website.

Your Floors
Look for carpet that comes from recycled content. Not only are you recycling, but if you or the next owner decides to replace that carpet, it’s recyclable, too. If you’re thinking of hardwood, look for products approved by the Forest Stewardship Council, which certifies companies and products that practice responsible forest management.

Your Furniture
Remember the three Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle? The same goes for furniture, so consider going consignment if you’re in the market for a new bedroom set. “At the end of the day, you’ve saved about 10 trees,” says Terri Bowersock, of Terri’s Consign and Design in Phoenix, AZ, plus you can save 50 percent on cost. To make sure you’re buying good wood, look at the back and underside of dressers to make sure you’re buying solid wood instead of pressed wood covered in a veneer. Also, pull out the drawers to see how they’re slotted into the dresser. Wood on wood is best. Plastic wheels on thin metal slides? Pass.

Small changes can turn your bedroom into eco-friendly green. Just remember to recycle what you’re not using anymore — whether you go green now or later.

Nursery Safety Tips

Worried about the hazards lurking in your child’s room? Skip the fretting and check out these expert tips on how to make the nursery the safest place in the house.


Photo: sheknows.com

Want to know what you need to do to make sure baby’s nursery is safe? Don’t ask your mom, says Meri-K Appy, president of the Home Safety Council.

“Things have changed so much as far as safety,” Appy says. “You really need to make sure you have the best, latest information so you can keep your children safe.”

Crib Care
The crib should be the safest place in the house,” says Jamie Schaefer-Wilson, child safety advocate and author of The Consumer Reports Guide to Childproofing & Safety: Tips to Protect Your Baby and Child from Injury at Home and on the Go. “There should be no soft bedding, comforters, blankets, dolls, bumpers or quilts,” she says. “It may seem severe, but you don’t hear of babies becoming hurt or entangled in an empty crib.”

Schaefer-Wilson says parents often underestimate babies’ abilities to get into trouble, even at a very young age. “Kids put everything in their mouths,” she emphasizes. “It just takes one second for something to happen.” Removing all toys from the crib is one of the best ways to keep baby safe.

Some studies have shown that bumpers or other soft items in the crib can increase the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, according to First Candle/National SIDS Alliance and the American Academy of Pediatrics. While some trade groups maintain that soft items don’t pose a danger, activists say it’s better to be safe than sorry.

And while it’s important to make the crib environment as safe as possible in your home, don’t forget to safety check anywhere a baby will be sleeping, such as a babysitter’s or grandparent’s house. “They may have outdated information,” Appy says. “You really have to confront old myths. Make sure they keep the crib clear and don’t wrap the baby in blankets or put them to sleep on their stomach. Create a safe sleep environment wherever baby will be.”

Another thing to remember is to always use a tight-fitting, crib sheet — never put an adult sheet on a baby’s mattress. “It can be tempting in the middle of the night when you’re out of clean sheets and you just want to sleep, but it is really so dangerous,” says Schaefer-Wilson. “Babies can easily become entangled.”

Appy says while it may sound austere, the facts support the empty crib advice. “Research is very clear on this,” she emphasizes. “The safe way for a baby to sleep is on her back in a very sparse environment with a firm mattress and tight-fitting crib sheet.”

Window Hazards
The designer-photo image of a bright, airy nursery with huge windows and long, sheer curtains backlit by sunshine may be a beautiful sight, but experts say it is not the safest place for baby to rest.

Windows are a major hazard in children’s rooms, especially in multi-level homes or high-rise apartment buildings. But if you take care to create a safe environment, you can mitigate the dangers windows cause, says Appy. “Never put a crib in front of a window,” she says. “Babies become toddlers soon, and they can easily climb up and fall out.”

Install window guards, recommends Schaefer-Wilson. “A screen won’t stop a child from falling through an open window,” she says. “Window guards are a good idea, just ensure they’re properly installed. Look for something hardware-mounted that has a latch to allow for safe escape in case of fire.” Another option is clear, hard plastic window covers. Just make sure they’re easily removable for an adult in case of fire.

Be aware of the window coverings you choose for the baby’s room, says Michael Cienian, vice president of quality assurance for Hunter Douglas and past president of the Window Covering Safety Council (WCSC).

Window cords may seem like a small detail, but ignoring them can be a tragic mistake. “Strangulation deaths on window cords really do occur, and it’s usually with children under two years old,” Cienian says.

He says all window blinds sold in the year 2000 or later should have built-in safety features. But if your blinds are older, the WCSC has free retrofit kits that will make pre-2000 blinds safer for homes with children. If you’re installing new window coverings, cordless options are now available, and that’s the safest choice.

If you’re unsure about the age or safety of your home’s blinds, here are some tips from Cienian:

  • Look for a loop: If a cord loops at the bottom, it is unsafe, he says. Go to WSCS and order the retrofit kit, or simply cut the loop to reduce the strangulation hazard.
  • Search for “stop beads”: “Look at your cords where they go into the headrail. You want to see some little plastic rings or washers tied up there. Those are called “stop beads” and they prevent inner-cord loops from tangling,” he says. If they’re not there, order a retrofit from the WSCS site.
  • Vertical blinds pose a danger. They often have what’s called a “continuous cord” loop or chain, which is also a strangulation hazard. The WCSC also offers a free fix for this.
  • Know how to fix it: Visit the WCSC website or call 1-800-506-4636 for help solving any of the problems mentioned above or to find out more information.

Photo: sheknows.com

Electrical Dangers
Outlet covers are often one of the first things parents buy when they’re safety proofing their home. Here are just some of the many options available today:

  • Outlet caps: The cheapest and easiest solution, these plastic caps simply slide into the exposed outlet, blocking little ones from sticking in fingers or foreign objects. These work well for babies’ rooms, but as toddlers watch you remove them and gain manual dexterity, they may figure out who to work these covers. OneStepAhead designs outlet caps that are larger so they’re less of a choking hazard, but it’s still prudent to make sure these aren’t left loose within a child’s reach.
  • Plug adapter and cover: Want full coverage for outlets where something is plugged in? This boxy adapter provides that as well as a cord-shortening device to reduce cord hazards.
  • Universal outlet covers: These outlet covers are often found in commercial settings like doctors’ offices or play areas because of their effectiveness and convenience. These are easily installed in minutes with just a screwdriver, and they keep little fingers out of sockets while allowing adults to plug in needed items.
  • Power strip cover: If you have an outlet shortage and must use a power strip in your child’s room (or anywhere else in the house), these covers are a great way to keep your littlest family members safe. They snap over the entire power strip and are a cinch for an adult to remove, but they will stymie curious little fingers looking for trouble.

Also, be aware of cords from outlets snaking around a baby’s room. Not only do they pose tripping hazards, they also make the outlets more attractive.

Can’t figure out what you need for your house or want to simplify shopping? The Child Safety Kit from CableOrganizer.com offers several different electrical — and other — safety solutions in one package.

Changing Table Safety
The changing table can be a hidden danger spot in many nurseries, says Schaefer-Wilson. “Parents sometimes leave kids [unattended who] they think can’t roll off, but they will surprise you,” she says. “Children have fallen off changing tables and died.”

Appy points out that the safety straps on changing pads should not be ignored. They wouldn’t be there if someone hadn’t been hurt before, she says.

Also, be cautious about the baby care items you leave in the area. “Never leave an oil or a powder on the changing table,” says Schaefer-Wilson. “If a child ingests the oil, they can’t get it out of their lungs and they can actually suffocate that way.” She says powders and other creams should also be kept out of reach, preferably stored away in a medicine cabinet that isn’t in the baby’s room. For ease of use, however, try installing wall shelving high above the changing table where the child—even a standing toddler—can’t reach.

Safe and Secure Furniture
One subject that has been gaining attention as a safety hazard is furniture tips and falls. It’s garnering more attention for good reason, says Schaefer-Wilson: “Think about it — what does a child do when they want to get to something on a dresser?” she asks. “They open the bottom drawer and they step in.”

She says just opening all of the drawers on the dresser, if the drawers are full, can cause a tall piece of furniture to tip over. She also warns that in any room, putting a television on top of a dresser is a bad idea because kids can climb anywhere, and television falls have been associated with many tragic tipping deaths.

Furniture straps are an essential ingredient in any nursery, she says, and they should be installed before the child is old enough to climb. “[Children will climb] as soon as they can, which is going to be earlier than you think,” she says.

Breathe Easy
Because babies’ systems are still developing and they breathe at a faster rate than older children and adults, it’s especially important to ensure the indoor air in your home, and specifically in your child’s nursery, is healthy.

One way to ensure better air quality for your whole house is to buy an air filter specifically designed to trap harmful particles like formaldehyde and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), like the SafeHome air filter. “It is sad that many of the exciting steps taken to prepare for a child’s arrival, from painting walls to moving into a larger home, can be detrimental to their health,” company president Sam McLamb says.

Beyond filtering out harmful air quality problems, you can help your child by choosing “green” items and practices. Natural and organic mattresses are a great choice since the fire retardants used in conventional mattresses contain many harmful chemicals. “We decided to go with a natural mattress after we shopped and realized the regular ones were recommending they be aired out before being used,” McLamb says. “The recommendations to leave vinyl mattresses outside for two weeks before use were not comforting.”

If you’re painting a room, choose low- or no-VOC paints, and have your home checked for radon, lead and mercury by an environmental inspector. If you’re worried about allergies, add a mold inspection to the list. You and your baby will breathe easier because of it.

Odds and Ends
Some other things to consider:

  • Appy emphasizes that parents often worry about babies getting cold, but it’s been shown that if the adult is comfortable with the temperature, the baby is, too. In fact, she says new research shows the safest temperature for a sleeping baby is between sixty-eight to seventy-two degrees. “And it should never get above seventy-five degrees in a nursery,” she says.
  • Loose floor rugs may look pretty, but they can be a tripping hazard, especially when you’re dealing with a baby that often wakes in the middle of the night.
  • Make sure furniture hasn’t been recalled, and reconsider using “vintage” pieces—they may pose risks you haven’t considered. Old toy boxes aren’t designed to open from the inside, so toddlers can become trapped and suffocate, for example. All newer designs come with a feature that allows them to open safely. Never use an old crib, either, because it may not be stable and the slats may be far enough apart to allow child entrapment and strangulation.