A Little Prevention Can Go a Long Way this Fall


Fall is the perfect time to take care of the little things around your home that can make a big difference. Take advantage of the temperate weather to repair any damages before the first frost hits. Here are some tips that will keep your home in good running condition throughout the winter.


Check foundation for cracks and caulk around the areas where masonry meets siding, where pipes or wires enter the house, and around the windows and door frames to prevent heat from escaping. Openings in the structure can cause water to get in and freeze, resulting in cracks and mold build up. A careful check of the outside structure combined with inexpensive maintenance can save you money in the long run.


Inspect exterior walls to see if any paint is peeling or blistering on the house or outbuildings. Peeling or chipping paint is a sign that the existing paint film is no longer protecting the siding of the building. Left uncorrected, the siding itself will deteriorate, leading to expensive repairs in the future.


Make sure the roof is in good shape. Inspect for missing and loose shingles. Ice, rain, snow and wind combined with rapidly changing temperatures and humidity wreak havoc on roofs. Inspect your roof from top to bottom, using binoculars if necessary. Check ridge shingles for cracks and wind damage. Look for damage to metal flashing in valleys and around vents and chimneys. Scan the entire roof for missing, curled, or damaged shingles. Look in your gutters for large accumulations of granules, a sign that your roof is losing its coating; expect problems soon.


After leaves have fallen, clean out the gutters and downspouts, flush them with water, inspect joints, and tighten brackets if necessary. Replace old or damaged gutters with new ones that have built-in leaf guards. Clogged gutters can lead to damaged exterior surfaces and to water in your basement. They are also more prone to rust and corrosion.


Weather-strip your garage door. Make sure the seal between your garage door and the ground is tight to prevent drafts. Inspect your driveway for cracks. Clean out and repair any damage with driveway filler, then coat with a commercial sealer.



Heating and cooling amount to 47% of the energy costs in your home. Proper sealing and insulation can save up to 20% on heating and cooling costs, or up to 10% on your total annual energy bill. Air leaks from windows and doors are easy to find by moving your hand around the frame. Applying weather-stripping and caulk to these areas will help cut down on drafts. Gaps in caulk and weather-stripping can account for a 10% of your heating bills, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Have your heating system checked by a licensed heating contractor. Heating systems will use fuel more efficiently, last longer, and have fewer problems if properly serviced. 

Check basement windows for drafts, loose frames or cracked panes.

Change the direction of your ceiling fan to create an upward draft that redistributes warm air from the ceiling.


A clogged chimney is a fire hazard. Get your woodstove and fireplace in working order. Clean and inspect the glass door for cracks and have the chimney cleaned by a licensed chimney sweep. Birds love to nest at the top of an unprotected flue; a chimney cap can prevent this from happening.

Test the batteries in your smoke and carbon dioxide detectors and keep extra household batteries on hand. Replace the batteries in each smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) detector, then vacuum them with a soft brush attachment. Test the detectors by pressing the test button or holding a smoke source (like a blown-out candle) near the unit. If you haven’t already, install a smoke detector on every floor of your home, including the basement.


Vacuum internal parts of air conditioners. Remove units from windows or wrap outside box with an approved tarp or plastic air conditioner cover in order to prevent rusting of vital parts.  

Clean humidifiers regularly during the heating season. Bacteria and spores can develop in a dirty water tank resulting in unclean moisture misting out into your room.


Pile of fall leaves with fan rake on lawn

Clear leaves from lawn, reseed patchy areas, and plant spring flowering bulbs. If deer are a problem, start deer-proofing by covering plants with netting and chicken wire.  Fertilize your lawn with a high phosphorous mix to ensure healthy grass in the spring.

Prepare your yard equipment for storage. This includes draining fuel from all gas-operated equipment such as lawn mowers, leaf blowers, and chain saws. Drain garden hoses and store them inside.

Inspect and fill bird feeders. Keep in mind that once you start feeding birds you should continue on a regular basis throughout the winter months.


Check the supports, stairs, and railings on porches and decks. Make sure the handrails can support someone slipping on snow or ice. Cover and store outdoor furniture and barbecues in a protected area.

Make sure all soil is emptied from pots and planters. Dirt left in clay pots will freeze and cause the pots to crack if left outside

Please share your tips for winter preparation!

Fire Hazards in the Home


The cold weather often means that people are spending more time at home increasing the risk of house fires. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) says there are more than 360,000 home structure fires each year, resulting in about $6-8 billion dollars in damage.

The good news is that the most common causes of household fires are largely preventable. As we begin to flirt with colder weather here in the Valley, now is the time to identify and correct potential fire hazards in your home.


“People don’t think of wiring as a danger, because it’s out of sight behind walls,” says Lorraine Carli of the NFPA. But electrical fires have accounted for more than 50,000 home blazes a year, plus $1.5 billion in property damage. And seemingly innocuous acts, like driving screws into a wall to hang a mirror, can easily pierce wiring.

One good fix: Replace circuit breakers with arc-fault circuit interrupters (about $30). These safeguards detect dangerous electrical arcs—abnormal sparks that signal bad insulation or loose connections—and stop them before they start a fire.

Kitchen Hazards

The number one source of house fires is cooking – usually leaving pots or pans unattended on the stove while you run away to do something for “just a minute.”  In fact, over 40% of all house fires begin in the kitchen.

Create (and maintain) a 3-foot zone between combustible materials (paper towels, pot holders, recipes cards) and the burners. And, of course, never leave cooking unattended.

Other kitchen tips:

  • Don’t throw water on a grease fire, put a lid on the pan to smother the fire.
  • If an oven fire flares up, turn off the oven and leave the door shut until the fire extinguishes itself.
  • Keep clothing, pot holders, paper towels and other flammable items away from fires.

Clothes Dryer

Clothes dryer fires happen more often than one might think and the risk is about the same for both gas and electric-powered dryers. The most frequent causes of fires in dryers are lint/dust  and clothing. Even if you diligently empty the lint catch every time you dry clothes, the very flammable particles still build up inside the dryer cabinet. To minimize the risk, hire a professional to clean the cabinet and the pipes at least every two years.

Dryer tips:

  • Clean the lint screen frequently and don’t run the dryer without it.
  • For gas and propane dryers, make sure there aren’t any leaks in the lines.
  • Vent the dryer to the outside of the house and ensure nothing blocks the vent pipe.
  • Clean the vent pipe and the area where the screen is housed.
  • Keep the area around the dryer free of combustible materials.

Electrical Outlets

The blades inside electrical outlets loosen over time, something you may notice when you plug in an appliance and the cord falls out easily. A seemingly small annoyance can generate a lot of intense heat and lead to a fire. Your best bet is to replace outlets as soon as you notice that plugs don’t fit snugly.

Aging Appliances

While vintage appliances add charm to a home and may still run well, they were made according to antiquated safety codes and may include frayed or damaged wires. Have them rewired, and, in general, stick with modern equipment that comes with a UL mark, signifying that Underwriters Laboratories has vouched for the item’s safety in actual use.


While candles add ambiance, warmth, and fragrance to a home, keep in mind that there over 29 candle fires per day in the United States.

About one-third of these fires started in bedrooms and more than half of all candle fires start because of candles that were left too close to flammable items. They should always be kept at least 12 inches away from anything that can burn and never be left unattended. Those of us fortunate enough to have animals in our homes must be aware that a pet brushing up against a flame is enough to spark a fire.


Need another reason to quit? While the number of fires caused by smoking is trending downward along with the habit itself, smoking still accounts for a significant percentage of household blazes.

From the moment a fire starts to the point where the structure is fully engulfed is usually less than two minutes, which is why prevention is so important.

Please take the necessary precautions to protect your family and home. Always have working (and regularly tested) smoke detectors in your house and keep a fire extinguisher nearby just in case.

Have a fire safety tip to share? Please leave a comment below.

Autumn is Around the Corner – Go Outside and Play!


The kids are back in school and the first cool chill has descended on the Valley. Before it gets too chilly and our thoughts turn to pumpkin carving, apple picking, hot cocoa, and fireplaces, here are a few ideas to enjoy some outdoor activities before the real cold hits!

A Dream Come True Playground

This wheelchair-inclusive playground in Harrisonburg features a rock, rainbow arches, shade structures, roadway, hammock swing, draw wall, pavilion, and family comfort stations that are fully accessible. The Liberty Swing allows children in wheelchairs the opportunity to experience the joy of having a swing in the park. The playground is open from 8:00am to dusk, weather permitting. The park will remain open year round unless the temperature is 32 degrees or below, or the ground is frozen.


The Supporting Therapeutic Access to Recreation, STAR Trail at Woodrow Wilson Rehab Center in Fishersville, Virginia welcomes visitors daily, free of charge, from dawn to dusk. The half-mile wheelchair accessible crushed stone trail enters a white pine forest above the picnic shelter and crosses the lake onto an island with a bridge continuing the trail around the lake. Benches are located along the trail.

The Blue Ridge Parkway

Breath-taking scenery and abundant recreational opportunities make the Blue Ridge Parkway one of the most popular components of the National Park System. “America’s Favorite Drive” winds its way 469 miles through mountain meadows and past seemingly endless vistas. Split-rail fences, old farmsteads and historic structures complement spectacular views of distant mountains and neighboring valleys.

George Washington and Jefferson National Forest

These two national forests stretch from one end of Virginia to the other, as well as extending into West Virginia, along the legendary Appalachians. Virtually every type of outdoor recreation activity you can imagine is available. In addition to hiking, fishing, mountain bicycling and camping, don’t forget hawk watching, cross-country skiing, horseback riding, nature photography, and orienteering.

Ramsey’s Draft

Ramsey’s Draft Wilderness in the George Washington National Forest is one of the largest tracts of virgin forest left in the eastern United States. Among the variety of plants you may see are some virgin hardwoods and hemlocks standing in the upper elevations and a more typical Appalachian forest of tulip poplar, red oak, and basswood. Keep your eyes peeled for deer, bear, and the many smaller mammals that inhabit the woods of central Virginia.

Frontier Culture Museum

Staunton’s Frontier Culture Museum features four working farms and a blacksmith’s forge. Reenactors help create a living illustration of life in Europe before immigration to America at a 1700’s German farm, 1700’s Scotch-Irish farm, a late 1600’s English farm, and the American farm of the Shenandoah Valley in 1840-1860.

Luray Zoo

Luray Zoo is home to over 250 animals, and is the only true rescue zoo in Virginia! The Zoo receives animals that are retired zoo animals, unwanted pets, confiscations, and abused animals. The 3+ acre facility offers one of the largest venomous snake collections on the east coast, outside exhibits, as well as a petting zoo.

Crabtree Falls

The Crabtree Falls Trail features a series of five cascades and a number of smaller ones that fall a total distance of 1,200 feet. The trail provides views of the falls from overlooks constructed to accent the beauty of the valley.  The first overlook is just 700 feet from the lower parking lot and for those not afraid of a pretty steep hike, Crabtree Meadows offers an amazing vista where the trail ends and the Appalachian Trail begins.

What are some of your favorite places to visit in the Valley?   

Barn Again – Repurposing to Create New Homes


It is not hard to see why old barns fire the imagination. In Central Virginia there is ample opportunity to find that diamond in the rough and put your unique stamp on it while preserving the rough elegance that connects us to our pioneer roots.

There is something uniquely and enticingly American about repurposing non-residential buildings that have outlived their original purpose – barns, churches, schoolhouses, fire stations – into homes. Those who have done it say it’s not easy—but that it’s a process so rich in its own rewards that it amply pays back the time, money, and effort involved.

Enlist the help of a pro

Read any article or talk to anyone who has undertaken a repurposing renovation and, most likely, the first piece of advice will be ‘get expert advice.’ Choose your architect wisely; they should be intimately familiar with the design and materials of the original building.

When building under strict building codes, or by a preservation board’s regulations, enlist the help of a local builder who knows the area and its history.

Prepare for plenty of work

Moving into a non-residential structure means signing on for all sorts of repair and conversion projects to make the place workable as a house. Plumbing and lighting can be issues that take time, thought, and money to solve; so can drainage and dampness in basement and garage areas. This will all need to be considered in the budget.


The chances are that the barn you have found will have been left unused for some time, and given the non-domestic nature of its former purpose, will not be connected to the main lines — so getting water and electricity will be a top priority, as will sorting out a sewage system.


One of the key considerations when converting barns is the use of natural light. Barns typically have either small openings for ventilation purposes or enormous cart door openings, so lack of light is not an uncommon problem.

In order to introduce natural light, barn converters have adopted numerous creative solutions, including:

  • adding sun lights
  • using glass pantiles or discreet ridge glazing
  • glazing entire gable ends
  • applying full-height glazing to cart openings

The roof

In most cases, the existing roof covering will need to be removed to allow for any repair work to be carried out, as well as the addition of insulation and a membrane installed to improve airtightness and weatherproofing.

Embrace the imperfections

Living in an old building means learning to accept, and even appreciate, the scars left by time.

Even material you don’t immediately see a purpose for can come in handy.  Build a custom fireplace and hearth.  Materials that prove unusable in their original functions can be repurposed for an authentic look that’s cost effective.

Panel walls with larch to give an aged, rustic feel. They can be custom-milled with an eased edge to look like barn boards. Boards can also be tinted with pigmented lacquer to pull the timber frame into focus. Insect- and rot-infested wood can be salvaged by using a borate solution to stop the pests, and then patched for reuse.

Keep the past present 

Use reclaimed materials from the former structure, and from sites around the country, to help maintain the house’s history. Cut down on costs by saving and reusing old window panes. Consider storing cookware on open shelves once used for oil cans and brake parts. In addition to preserving the authenticity and original flavor of the structure, this saves money for other projects.

Modified Open Floor Plans

Barns are usually long and narrow so a central hallway is often the best solution to providing access and circulation, as well as being the ideal place to show off the volume of the space. With a double-height feature in the central hallway, the barn will maintain its original look and feel while adding a dramatic and pragmatic entrance to your new home.

Using open plan living arrangements will also aid in maximizing the amount of central light which is so important to any home.

Add sound insulation to floors to keep noise from traveling down to other levels of the house. Open plan spaces, for instance, are best-served by under floor heating which works well with heat pumps.

As one architect aptly put it – “People looking for a barn home, they’re not looking to save money,” he says. “It’s character. You’re living in a piece of history.”

Please share your experiences and tips!

Staging Your Home for Success


Getting ready to sell your home? Appearance is everything. That’s where home staging comes in. Hiring a professional “stager” to prepare your home can cost anywhere from $50 to $150 per hour. Here are some tried and true trips to get your home ready to sell!

Always be ready to show.  Your house needs to be “show-ready” at all times – you never know when your buyer is going to walk through the door.  Don’t leave dishes in the sink, make the bed, keep the dishwasher cleaned out, the bathrooms sparkling, and make sure there are no dust bunnies in the corners.

Curb appeal is vital to attracting buyers. This first view of your home that a buyer has is the most important. Studies show that a majority of buyers will not get out their car if they do not find your home’s curb appeal visually attractive. Spruce up your home’s exterior with inexpensive shrubs and brightly colored flowers, update outside fixtures, and make sure the paint and siding are in tip-top shape. See my previous blog for curb appeal tips.

Stage rooms with one purpose so buyers will know what it is. Paint the walls a neutral tone and then furnish the room with a theme – spare bedroom, office, etc.

Bathrooms that sell. Bathrooms are one of the most important rooms in a home to prospective buyers.  A low-cost alternative to replacing dated tile is ceramic epoxy paint. Thoroughly clean the walls or, even better, repaint for a bright, fresh look. Pedestal sinks show off square footage in small bathrooms beautifully.

Fireplace facelift. Give your fireplace a thorough cleaning, scrubbing it with soap and water. Then, using a stone color enhancer, polish the bricks to make them shine. A centerpiece worthy fireplace is undeniably inviting.

Kitchen, kitchen, kitchen. Studies consistently show that the kitchen is the most important room in regards to selling your home AND the best return for your money in upgrades and updates. The fastest, most inexpensive kitchen updates include painting and new cabinet hardware. Use a neutral-color paint. Instead of replacing dated cabinets, stain them. Add new, complimentary hardware and you have an updated kitchen for a few hundred bucks.

Built-in bookshelves. Like a lot of the other tips here, you are going to have to take yourself out of the picture. Remove personal affects and replace with a sparse array of neutral objects.

Let the sun shine in. Maximize the light in your home. After location, good light is the one thing that every buyer cites that they want in a home. Take down the drapes, clean the windows, change the lampshades, increase the wattage of your light bulbs, add more interior lamps, and trim any outside greenery that may hinder sunlight from streaming in.

Less is more.  Cluttered rooms indicate to a buyer that your home lacks storage space. Pack up unnecessary items and furniture, and move items to your garage or a nearby storage facility. See my previous blog about how to de-clutter your home.

But more storage space is more! Ample storage space is a huge selling point for a home. Organize and clear out closets and your cabinets to visually enhance the storage you really have.

Incorporate some of these tips to get the most for your home. Taking the extra step to stage a home can make a difference in how a buyer values it and the price a seller might get for it, according to the National Association of Realtors® 2015 Profile of Home Staging.

Have some home staging tips of your own?

I look forward to hearing from you!

Home Color Trends – These Aren’t Your Grandma’s Neutrals

Color Swatches and plans

Deciding which color to paint a wall, a room, or even the exterior of your home is personal and, to a degree, financial decision. The trends for 2015-16 are decidedly neutral in contrast to the bright colors that have been in vogue the past few years.

There are actually ‘color forecasters’ who determine the ‘it’ colors for a given year. It is an interesting combination of prediction, social psychology, and design savvy. Information is gathered from advertising and media, trade show displays, and even the nation’s mood and the cultural temperature. Neutrals seem to feel safe in a huge election year, an ongoing war, and an uncertain economy.

The New Neutrals

BUT, this does not mean boring. Not at all. The ‘new neutrals’ are more balanced between warm and cool tones, allowing the decorator/owner to really make a splash with strategic accent colors. In the past, neutral tended toward a warm, yellow-based undertone; the new neutrals mix warm grays and greens that work well with pretty much any color because they are, in fact, truly neutral. Used throughout a home, they lend a warm, inviting hue.

Olive Green and soft gray are two of the hottest neutrals this year according to Dubai Chronicle. These both offer an upbeat base, perfect to pair with neutrals like chocolate brown and grey or colorful.

Pure whites are also very popular. A neutral white allows a wide range of colors to blend nicely and give the space the personalization the owner desires. This also allows the furniture, materials, and accent pieces to stand out in defined contrast.  

Something Blue

Blues never go out of style and this year is no exception.  Mediterranean Blue and Seaport Blue – these two shades of blue predicted to be most popular – will balance wonderfully with the new neutral trend. Blue is a versatile color of calm and peace that will fit in virtually and room of a house.

How Do I Know this is THE Right Color?

The tiny paint sample cards hardware stores hand out may not accurately indicate how the colors would look on your walls. Colors generally look darker and more vibrant in larger quantities, and an entire wall full of paint is a much larger quantity than the little samples.

Here are two ideas:

Paint the walls of the room with a white primer if their current color is dark or distinctive. Testing your samples on a colorful wall will not give you an accurate idea of what the color will look like by itself, so start by creating a blank canvas for your tests. You are going to have to prime the walls before you paint anyhow, so make sure you love it!

Even easier – take a piece of foam board or even cardboard, paint it the potential color and adhere to a wall.

Either way, be sure to really look at the color throughout the day when the room receives different amounts and types of light to ensure that it is the perfect fit for your home. 

Ever chosen just the right color? Or a just awful color? Please share your painting tips and experiences!


Simple Tips to Reduce Moving Day Stress

Moving Image

Moving day! It inspires hope, thoughts of new beginnings, new arrangements…and, to be perfectly honest, dread. No one enjoys moving (and even fewer enjoy helping someone else move), so here are a few tips to make your next move as pain and stress-free as possible.

Update your address – this seemingly obvious task is necessary to avoid future headaches and save time and money. In addition to the USPS update make sure to update all regular correspondence with your new address.

Set up utilities in advance – there are few things as frustrating as successfully schlepping your belongings to your new abode only to find you overlooked a basic necessity. Once you have your move date, arrange for water, cable, Wi-Fi, the works. There is no penalty for being ahead of the ball here.

Take a photo of how your electronics are connected so you can remember how and where all the wires go.

Sandwich bags and markers – bag and tag all of the removable parts of items such as screws and mounting parts, to make re-assembly a cinch. Tape to the corresponding box or the item itself.

Recruit help in advance – if you aren’t using professional movers, make sure to make the task of helping as appealing as possible. Order pizza and beverages to celebrate the completed job and reward those wonderful people! Give them first dibs on items you were going to toss or donate – this is a great perk that is a win-win!

Overnight kit – Imagine a long day of moving, wearily but proudly ready to call it a day and then desperately digging through boxes for that toothbrush or comb.  Assign (and clearly mark) a box or bag to store your basic necessities – toiletries, a towel, a change of clothes.

Pack the necessities in a clear container – I love this one! This includes things like a box cutter, paper towels, trash bags, eating utensils, select cookware, power strips, phone chargers, toilet paper, tools, etc. The clear bin allows you to see inside; it also separates itself from the myriad of cardboard boxes.

Pack your drawers like a box – you put your clothes in their respective drawers for a reason, right? Why pack, unpack, and refold when you can simply remove the drawers with the clothes intact and cover with Saran Wrap.

Save receipts – “In many cases, moving expenses are deductible from federal income taxes,” says Rachmany of Dumbo Moving + Storage. “If you’re moving because of a change in employment, you may be able to claim this deduction even if you do not itemize.” Try to keep track of all moving costs for your accountant.

Please share your moving tips!