Tips for making your home pet-friendly

An estimated 67% of U.S. households are home to one or more pets. These animals bring a special joy to many homes, but they also bring unique needs. If you have a pet or plan to get one, here are some ways you can make your home more pet-friendly.

Create a special spot

Pets, like people, enjoy having a place that’s truly their own. Provide them with just such a space by designating a spot in your home that’s just for them. You may wish to include a bed, a blanket, a few toys or whatever other amenities your pet loves.

Pet-proof your home

Failing to properly “pet-proof” your residence can be harmful for your pet and your home alike. Secure anything that could injure your pet or that your pet could damage, including garbage cans, cleaning products, pet-toxic plants and fragile or unstable objects. It may be best to limit your pet to certain areas of your home by closing doors or installing gates.

Protect your furniture

If your pet sheds or chews or is accident-prone, you may need to protect your furniture. Consider pieces with easy-to-clean materials like leather or microfiber, or purchase furniture covers to protect your upholstery. Choosing materials that match the color of your pet’s fur can help hide shedding. Furniture with bare wood may be a poor choice if your pet loves to chew.

Choose the right flooring

Pets can be tough on your floors, which is why it is a good idea to be mindful of your flooring choices. Hard floors such as tile, hardwood or laminate are often best for pets because it is easy to clean up fur and accidents from these surfaces. Just make sure your pet’s claws won’t be liable to scratch your flooring of choice. If you prefer carpet, look into varieties with “pet-proof” qualities.

Secure your outdoor space

Protecting your pet from dangers outside your home is also important. Keep their outdoor area clear of any tools, chemicals or plants that could harm them. If your pet is prone to running away, a physical or “invisible” fence may be recommended to safely keep them in bounds.

For more tips on improving the wellbeing of your pets, check out our post on smart home devices for pets.

How to care for your clothes dryer

Caring for your clothes dryer involves more than just cleaning its lint trap. In order to keep your appliance running safely and efficiently, there are several regular steps you’ll need to perform.

These are some telltale signs that your dryer needs extra attention:

  • The machine runs longer than necessary
  • Clothes are still wet or damp after one cycle
  • The machine moves or shakes while it operates

Here are some helpful tips to keep your dryer running well:

  • Clean the lint screen before or after every load.
  • Keep the lint trap clear by removing the lint screen and cleaning its housing cavity with the crevice attachment on your vacuum or a dryer lint brush.
  • Wipe down the dryer’s interior monthly by unplugging the appliance and cleaning the drum with a cloth dipped in warm, soapy water.
  • Vacuum behind and underneath the dryer every three months to help avoid moisture, dirt and lint build up.
  • Make sure your dryer is balanced. If your dryer moves or shakes when in use, it is not level which can cause the rotating components to wear out sooner. Simply adjust the feet at the bottom of the unit to fix this.
  • Ensure that your dryer vent is short and straight vs. long and full of bends.
  • Check that there is adequate clearance space between your dryer and wall. If your dryer is too close to the wall, there is a chance you are crushing the venting material which can restrict airflow.
  • Inspect and clean the vent system. This can be a DIY job, or you can hire a professional. If you have pets or a large family, it may be necessary to clean the vent system as often as twice a year.

Follow these steps, and you can help maximize your dryer’s lifespan and keep it running great. 

Tips to create a workspace in your home

Our surroundings influence our work, whether it’s office work or homework. Mood, focus, creativity, productivity, comfort and health can all be enhanced or hindered by our environment. We don’t always get to outfit our school or office space as we please, but our homes are a different story. Here’s how to create a home workspace where you can do your best work.

Location

Choosing a location for your workspace is the first step. A central, visible place helps with collaboration and accountability, while a more removed area offers greater privacy and fewer distractions. Locating the space near a window can bolster mood and minimize eye strain so long as glare is avoided.

Amenities

Above all, the workspace should be comfortable and functional. Ensure that work surfaces and chairs are ergonomic for their intended user during reading, writing and computer use. Lighting should be sufficient for reading printed text. Chalk, white, cork or magnet boards can offer a helpful place to organize notes. Built-in storage in the form of drawers, shelves and cabinets helps keep supplies close at hand. Larger spaces can be outfitted to accommodate two or more users (with optional privacy dividers) as appropriate.

Décor

The workspace’s decor should be inviting and inspiring but neither distracting nor austere. A bright white desk with matching chair, a basic light fixture and an inspiring element is the simplest approach. Greenery in the form of potted plants is a great way to add a touch of life. Design websites like Pinterest abound with ideas for customizing workspaces to a family member’s age and personality.

Tackling homework, office duties and home bookkeeping aren’t always fun, but with the right workspace, you and the members of your household will be ready to take on the job.

5 tips for a lower home cooling bill

Soaring summer temperatures mean higher electric bills for many homeowners. A well-insulated home with an efficient air conditioning system is the best way to keep your energy bill down, but you don’t need to make major upgrades to enjoy savings. Here are five simple ways you can minimize your cooling bill this summer.

  1. Keep your AC flowing free. Your air conditioner needs some occasional TLC to keep running at peak performance. Old air filters, blocked vents and dirty evaporator and condenser coils can all make your system work harder than needed. Clean or replace your filters once a month (to save as much as 5 percent to 10 percent on energy), keep vents free of dust and obstructions, clean your air conditioner components at least once a year and trim back foliage to at least two feet from outdoor equipment.
  2. Shut out the sun. A sun-filled home is a lovely sight, but it can make for a scary electric bill on hot days. Keeping the sun out with proper curtains, blinds or shades can save as much as 45 percent in cooling costs. Insulated window treatments that are light-colored or reflective and hang close to the glass will have the best effect.
  3. Don’t help the heat. It’s hard enough to beat the sun’s heat without contributing any of your own. Whenever it’s hotter outside than in, consider delaying or avoiding activities that generate heat. Cooking, appliance use (especially dishwashers and clothes dryers) and bathing are some prime culprits. Consider putting off these chores until after dark when temperatures fall. Exhaust fans can also help to vent the heat from these sources.
  4. Become a fan of fans. Ceiling and circulating fans can make your home feel as much as 8 degrees cooler and save up to 40 percent on air conditioning bills. Make sure your ceiling fans are set to summer mode – rotating counterclockwise to blow downward – and turn off any fans when not in use.
  5. Roll back your thermostat. If you can stand the heat, turning your thermostat up a few degrees is a guaranteed way to save. A programmable or smart thermostat can help further by adjusting the temperature when you’re away or asleep. These strategies can shave as much as 10 to 20 percent off your bills.

For more energy-saving tips, check out this page from energy.gov. Stay cool out there!

Get more from your mail

Even in the age of email, old-fashioned “snail mail” is still an important and well-used service. However, traditional mail has its hassles and limitations. These include issues like misdirected items, damaged parcels and messy mailboxes. Thankfully, there are a few great high-tech ways you can improve your postal experience. Here are some tips to help you better track, direct, protect and declutter your snail mail.

See your mail online

You don’t have to visit your mailbox to check on your snail mail anymore. Services are available that can alert you to incoming mail or even allow you to view the contents of letters – all from the convenience of your Internet-connected devices.

The United States Postal Service (USPS) offers the free Informed Delivery service. If you sign up, you’ll receive a daily email with a summary of your incoming mail. This includes scanned images of the exteriors of the pieces that will be delivered to you that day and tracking info for any packages that are on their way to you through USPS.

To receive notifications about inbound packages from other carriers, you’ll need to sign up for their services, such as Delivery Manager from FedEx and My Choice for UPS.

Private paid services such as PostScan Mail go even further, allowing you to redirect your mail and have its contents scanned and uploaded for you to read from an online account.

These options may be especially useful for those who travel frequently or have multiple addresses.

Go paperless for bills and statements

Bills are no fun no matter how they’re delivered, but receiving them by snail mail may be the least appealing option. Hardcopy deliveries can create extra clutter and are susceptible to being delayed, lost or stolen.

Instead, consider opting for paperless bills and statements instead. Many utilities, subscription services and financial providers offer this option, which typically means you’ll receive a monthly email with your bill or statement or a notification that it is available to review on the company’s website.

If you make the switch, be sure to keep paying your paperless bills on time.

Protect your packages with a parcel box

Are you worried about package thieves or rain showers getting to your deliveries before you do? If so, a parcel box may be the solution. This is a secure, weatherproof container for receiving your incoming packages. While there are many purpose-built options, the do-it-yourself route may be cheapest. You can simply purchase a waterproof garden tool storage trunk, place it on your porch with an unlocked padlock and post instructions for the delivery person to deposit your packages and then lock them up.

Hold or redirect your mail

The hold mail and address change services from USPS are nothing new, but they’re still important tools for managing your mail. Both services can be conveniently activated on the USPS website.

If you’ll be out of town for a while and don’t want mail piling up at your address, the Hold Mail service allows you to stop delivery of your mail for 3 to 30 days. When initiating the hold, you may choose to have your accumulated mail delivered at the end of the hold or held at the post office for you to pick up.

UPS also offers the option to hold deliveries, as does FedEx. The Access Point service from UPS and hold at location service from FedEx also allow you to have your packages delivered and held at local businesses for you to pick up.

If you’re moving or otherwise want your mail forwarded to another address, the Change of Address feature from USPS allows you to redirect your mail for 15 days to one year. While this service is a convenient catchall, it’s still best to have your inbound mail addressed directly to its final address, so don’t forget to notify all the relevant parties after a change of address.

Conclusion

Snail mail may still lack the speed and convenience of high-tech communication, but with the help of these tools, you can benefit from the best of both worlds.

Tips to freshen and deodorize your home

How your home smells can affect how much you enjoy living in it. Positive smells can cheer you up and bring back good memories, while bad smells can dampen your mood or signal unclean conditions. Store shelves are filled with air fresheners and odor busters, but a fresh-smelling home doesn’t come from an aerosol can. Here are the most effective ways to help your home smell its best.

Eliminate the source

The most effective way to banish odor is always to remove the source. This can range from cleaning or throwing out specific items to scrubbing down entire surfaces or rooms that have attracted smells over time. Use these methods to attack unpleasant odors at their origin:

  • Regularly take out the trash, do the laundry, clean out the fridge and wash pets.
  • Sprinkle carpets with baking soda or carpet deodorizer, let the powder sit for several hours or overnight and then vacuum with several passes.
  • Vacuum or clean rugs, drapes, upholstery and mattresses according to their care instructions
  • Wash hard surfaces (including glossy/semi-gloss walls) with a mild cleaner that will not harm their finishes.
  • Use dry cleaning sponges to clean matte paint and wallpaper, discarding the sponges as they become soiled.
  • Clean appliances inside and out.

Ventilate and dehumidify

Funky smells thrive in conditions with poor ventilation and high moisture. Don’t indulge them. Keep air circulating and humidity down using these methods:

  • Take advantage of your home’s HVAC system or open windows when possible to circulate air.
  • Use vents to manage steam and moisture from cooking and bathing.
  • Keep doors open throughout the house when practical.
  • Consider adding a dehumidifier if areas of your home – like the basement – tend to stay humid (above 50% humidity).
  • Ensure your HVAC filters are replaced frequently, and consider using carbon filters for extra odor control.
  • If you don’t have an HVAC system with filtration, consider an air purifier with odor reduction capability.

Neutralize and cover

Masking or minimizing unpleasant odors only goes so far. However, if you’ve exhausted your other options, or you enjoy fragrances for their own sake, you may find these options worthwhile. Here some ways to knock down bad odors or introduce pleasant ones:

  • Boiling a pot of white vinegar is said to neutralize airborne odors, and the vinegar smell itself should dissipate relatively quickly.
  • Odor absorbers such as odor absorbing gels or bags of activated charcoal or cedar chips can counteract undesirable smells.
  • Scented candles, incense, wax or oil warmers, diffusers and air fresheners are all popular options for adding pleasing fragrances to the air, however, frequent use of some of these products may leave soot or a film on surfaces and even cause discoloration.
  • Fresh flowers, potpourri or simmering pots of citrus, vanilla or spices (e.g. cinnamon, cloves, or nutmeg) are more-natural ways to impart pleasant scents to your living space.

If the methods above do not eliminate unpleasant odors to your satisfaction, consult with a professional cleaner. Once you’ve found the solutions that work for your home, keep up your good habits to maintain a fresh-smelling living space.

Smart Home Devices for Pets

Pets don’t ask for much, but giving them the care they need can be a challenge in today’s busy world. While there’s no substitute for personal time with your pet, there are countless smart devices that can help you care for your four-legged family member when you can’t be there. Here are some smart devices to enrich the lives of you and your pet.

Convenient cameras

Pets can get up to some serious mischief when no one’s around to provide a watchful eye. Web-connected home security cameras let you check in on your pet from a computer or mobile device while you’re away. Pet-specific models like the Furbo or Petcube may even allow you to dispense treats or remotely interact in other ways.

Futuristic food dispensers

Keeping your pet fed – but not overfed – and hydrated can be tricky when you’re not at home. Automatic feeders can provide your pet with a set amount of food on a schedule, and pet drinking fountains are a source of clean, running water.

Versatile vacuums

Not every vacuum is equipped to keep up with the mess of a shedding pet. Pet hair vacuums are designed with these hairy situations in mind, and a robotic model can patrol your home automatically to clean up pet hair.

Discerning doors

A pet door means greater freedom for your furry family member, but it can also let in unwanted guests, both domestic and wild. Smart pet doors restrict access by remote control, a preset schedule or a microchip on your pet.

Precise position trackers

A runaway pet can mean a big hassle for you and a major safety risk for them. With a GPS tracker, you can pinpoint their location from your smart device, helping you locate them quicker and return them home safely.

While you shouldn’t rely on technology alone for the welfare of your pet, it can be a valuable tool to help keep them happy, healthy and safe.