This Valentine’s Day, Show Your Home Some Love

As February 14 approaches, don’t neglect the major relationship you have with your home! Who else so consistently provides you sanctuary, shelter and comfort?

Here are five ways to show your home a little love:

(1) Clean the Windows. As soon as the last winter storm is over (later this month, surely), have a professional window cleaning company brighten up the glass inside and out. You’ll be surprised at how reasonably priced this service can be, and how much more light a good cleaning will let into your rooms.

(2) Touch Up the Paint. Refreshing the finish on scuffed baseboards or nicked trim, adding an accent paint color to one wall, or switching things up with a whole new color scheme can all be pretty high-impact, relatively low-cost changes for your space. Professional painters do a terrific job and are the best choice if you’re strapped for time. Whether your paint job is DIY or done by a professional, check out our Seven Tips for the Perfect Paint Job before getting started.

(3) Refresh the Deck. Spring is just around the corner and you’ll want to be outside when things get warmer. You may not need to completely replace the deck to get one that looks like new. Sometimes a simple powerwashing will do the trick. If the deck boards need repair, consider replacing them with a more durable wood-look composite material, like Trex. Depending on the condition of your underlying structure, properly credentialed contractors (and we know lots) may be able to lay a new top over the existing foundation/frame for a much lower cost than total replacement.

(4) Update Fixtures. Isn’t it high time you brought your house into the 21st century? Simply switching out old doorknobs, cabinet and drawer pulls, faucets, and lighting for newer versions can really update your home’s look. A word of caution: always hire licensed electricians and plumbers for any switch-outs involving electrical or plumbing fixtures. Older homes in particular may have outdated wiring or pipes that require specialized knowledge that you, or the average handyman, won’t have. Failing to do the work properly could result in fire or flood.

(5) Replace Countertops. Putting down granite or quartz where you have laminate can completely update the look of your kitchen or bath, and is so much less expensive and disruptive than a total room makeover.

Wise homeowners take care of the house that takes care of them. Now, go forth and love your home.

Image courtesy of SweetCrisis at

Word to the Wise: Snow Removal Important (And May Be Required by Law)

With a storm a-comin’, you’ll want to know your obligations for snow removal. Here’s a review, posted last year but still very relevant:

Ahhhhhh, the Snow Day: delight of school children, scourge of their parents.

Perhaps you think you’re ready. Your pantry and Netflix queue are full and your calendar is not. No need to shovel snow or de-ice, you figure; you’re not going anywhere anyway.

I hate to be the bearer of unwelcome news, but that’s where you’re wrong.

Here are three reasons to care about the state of your walkway, driveway, and even adjoining sidewalks in winter weather:

  1. Because It’s the Law

Metro DC localities address snow removal in ways ranging from friendly suggestions to rules with penalties for breaking them. For example, Fairfax County encourages residents to clear walkways by making an emotional appeal to the safety of neighbors, school children and others.

Alexandria takes a more hard-nosed approach, threatening a $50 fine if you fail to remove snow and ice from the sidewalks abutting your home within 24 – 72 hours of a storm’s end.

  1. Because You’re More Popular Than You Think

Just because you don’t have anything scheduled, don’t conclude you won’t get visitors. You know the mailman will come up the walkway, right? (Heck, it’s the official USPS credo: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night . . .”) Neighborhood kids may come knocking to see if your kids can play. Your sweet, cane-wielding neighbor may decide the presence of your car in the driveway on a weekday is all the invitation she needs for a pop-by.  Any one of these folks could end up heels-over-head if you’ve failed to remediate slippery conditions, leading to payouts by your homeowners’ insurer and a likely raise in your premium rates.

  1. Because You May Need To Get Out Quickly

If an emergency occurs (high fever, kitchen knife accident, gas leak), you need a quick and safe escape route.  An icy walkway, or snow piled up to prevent your vehicle from moving, will slow your progress, potentially with dire consequences.

If you can’t remove snow due to age, infirmity or other limitations, don’t despair. There are plenty of licensed, insured professionals happy to do it for you (we can refer you to the best.) You may also have teenaged neighbors thrilled to make a buck for a little bit of hard labor or the altruistic friend only too happy to assist if you just ask. Reach out, accept some help, then sit back and enjoy the “found time”, secure in the knowledge that you and your visitors are safe.

New Year’s Resolutions for Homeowners

Now’s the time when our minds turn back, to review the year past, and forward, to resolve what we’ll do differently.  Be sure to leave room on your list for resolutions concerning your largest asset and the place you spend most of your time. Here are a few to get you started.

1. Resolve to Fix Dangerous Situations.

Sparking electrical outlets, drippy pipes, and a leaking roof – – these are all things you shouldn’t let go any longer. They’ll just get worse the longer you wait, and cost more to fix when you’re forced to deal with them after they give away completely. Gather your list of fixes and give us a call. We can get just the right repair professionals out to you in no time.

2. Resolve to Enjoy More and Fret Less.

You’ve spent a lot of time and money on this home. Remember the difficulty of choosing just the right paint color, the weeks of disruption while that addition was being built, or the years you spent saving up to put that screened porch on? Don’t be too busy to enjoy what you’ve created. Resolve to sit still daily, or at least weekly, in one of your beautiful rooms. Appreciate the memories it holds and the creativity that went into putting it together. Invite friends over to enjoy the front porch this coming spring, or play games in the finished basement while winter rages outside.

3. Resolve to Hire Out the Stuff You Hate.

I know, I know. No one cleans like you do. But, really, do you ever get to do it as thoroughly as you picture it in your imagination? And if you hate it, do you really want to spend hours of precious weekend time doing it? A regular cleaning service that comes every week or two will keep your house a lot more consistently clean that your cleaning efforts once every month or month and a half. Yard work and laundry can also be done by hired professionals, freeing up your schedule for things only you can do (like being a parent, spouse, or friend.) Sure, it’s not in everyone’s budget, but if it’s in yours, at least consider how much time it will give you back to be with the ones you love in the home you’ve created (see no. 1 above). If you’re looking for just the right housekeeping or yard professional, HomeWise can help.

4. Resolve to Enjoy Your Community.

Just like with your home, you put a lot of thought into the community where you settled. Here in the DC area, you’re likely to have parks, museums, libraries, walking trails, and theaters within a mile or two of your address.  Most of these things don’t cost a dime (except the tax money you’ve already paid.) Get out and enjoy them. They’re part of the reason your property values are so high.

Wise homeowners step off the hamster wheel long enough to enjoy what they have. Now, get out there and really live in the home and community you’ve worked so hard to attain.

Tips for a Hassle-Free Holiday Home


This is a post from last year, and some of the advice pertains to the whole holiday season which we know started in November. Still, there is a lot of holiday celebrating, and probably even some decorating, to come. These tips will help keep you sane and calm so you can enjoy your holiday home.

What is your home like at the holidays? The Cleavers’ (smiling perfection, at least by the end of every episode) or the Bundys’ (bickering and dysfunctional)?

Truth is, for most of us, reality is somewhere in between.

Here are a few tips to keep your November and December happy but not harried:

  1. Tame Your Inner Perfectionist. Wouldn’t you rather bake a few dozen cookies that everyone enjoys, then still have time for trimming the tree or putting up lights, than spend three days dressed in an apron and coated with flour, with no energy left to hang a wreath?
  2. Get Organized. Yeah, I know. Nag, nag, nag. But those gifts you’ll get have to go somewhere. Take time now to make room. If you’ve not touched it in 12 months, you neither want nor need it. Hold a yard sale, and you could end up with a head start on your holiday shopping fund.
  3. Take On Small Fixes.  Those annoying little things you still haven’t fixed will not be pleasant for your houseguests. In my house, we have one-half the kitchen sink, one bathroom faucet, and one shower drain in need of repair. You can bet I have a plumber (licensed, insured . . . duh!) lined up to come before my dad arrives for Thanksgiving in a couple weeks. Get your fireplace and chimney inspected so they can safely add warmth and ambience to your holidays. If your appliances are acting up, get them fixed before the heavy cooking begins. In fact, many things (broken door handles, missing knobs, cracked exteriors) can be fixed easily and cheaply if you order the part and install it yourself (but leave the mechanical stuff to the experts and NEVER attempt to fix a gas-powered appliance; that is a job for a licensed, insured gasfitter ONLY!).
  4. Decorate Smart for High Impact With Less Effort. Don’t spend so much time decking every hall that you’re too exhausted to enjoy family and friends. Rather, just concentrate on two or three areas. A well-decorated tree, greens-draped banister, and welcoming front entry will have a greater impact than all of your knick-knacks scattered throughout the house.
  5. Don’t Go it Alone! This is the voice of experience. I spent a few years decorating my tail off while the fam “relaxed” around me, only to finish exhausted and resentful. Turns out, the kids were happy to help, and we had so much more fun doing it together. Similarly, if you’re having a crowd to your house for dinner, let everyone bring something. If you really want to do all the cooking (and I, for one, can’t imagine why you would), allow others to provide the centerpiece or drinks.
  6. Plan for January! Sad but true: eventually, the presents and decorations have to be put away (don’t be that neighbor with lights up in July!) If you’ve followed tip 2 above, present-stowing will be a breeze. But, you can make the de-decorating process easier, too, if you plan ahead. As you’re decorating in the next few weeks, get rid of anything broken, outdated, or simply unused in the last couple of years. Toss broken-down storage boxes and replace them with sturdier ones.
  7. Dream a Little. When your mom asks what’s on your wish-list, she really wants to know. If you don’t tell her, you might end up with stuff you’ll be getting rid of next year (see tip 2 above). Don’t be too proud to tell people exactly what you want (my husband has yet to come through with that new Mercedes, but I’m not ashamed to keep asking). The kids will love this part – – but you might have to manage expectations if their list consists exclusively of designer clothing and pricey electronics.
  8. Simplify Gift-Giving Within the Extended Family. Now’s about the right time to suggest name-drawing among cousins, or adult siblings and their spouses. Put everyone’s name in a hat, and let each person draw for the one person they’ll purchase a gift for. You could add a price limit, or present category like books or music. Alternatively, forego the presents among extended family members altogether in favor of a shared experience – – maybe you all take in Mount Vernon by Candlelight, go see a Nutcracker performance together, or “adopt” a family in need by providing them holiday food or presents.
  9. Don’t  Break the Bank. You’d be surprised how you can stay within a budget if you make one. On the other hand, without a budget, you’re almost sure to be paying for this December’s purchases on the credit cards next year. Don’t forget to budget for necessary holiday home repairs (see tip 3 above).

Bottom line: A little planning now can ensure your home is peaceful as well as festive this holiday season.

Now, go forth and celebrate smartly!

Fall Home Checklist for a Warm, Safe Winter

This one is from a few years ago, but the advice is timeless, and timely, so we’re reposting:

A recent poll of the outstanding professionals in my network yielded the following list of home maintenance projects to ensure your safety and warmth this winter. Some of these things you can do yourself. For those that require a contractor, please contact HomeWise for a quick and hassle-free connection to the right professional.

Concrete and Pavement

Water will seep into cracks, then freeze over the winter and expand, causing larger damage to your driveways, walkways and patios. Check for cracks and, if large ones are found, have them repaired before they worsen. Concrete work should be done before temperatures drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.


Have a licensed contractor professionally clean and inspect your fireplace/chimney once a year to remove creosote build-up and detect and repair firebox or chimney liner cracks, gas line leaks, chimney cap cracks, bird screen holes and other fire hazards.


Check foundation walls for cracking, heaving, or deterioration. Small cracks are normal, but those wider than 1/8 inch or having edges that don’t match up should be filled in. Home improvement stores sell filler products but, if you have buckling or bulging, let HomeWise put you in touch with a structural engineer or licensed general contractor to see whether more extensive repairs are needed to protect your home’s structural integrity.

Gutters and Downspouts

Avoid winter ice damming  (which leads to roof, fascia and siding damage) by cleaning gutters and downspouts, inspecting them for proper drainage (gutters should be slanted ever-so-slightly toward the downspout), repairing leaks (generally found at seams), and reattaching any loose portions. Add extensions to direct water away from your home’s foundation.


Consider installing a programmable thermostat to turn the HVAC system on and off based on your occupancy schedule or decrease the temperature during sleeping hours then raise it just before you wake up. This could save between 3% and 5% on your utility bills. BUT, if you have a heat pump, efficient operation dictates that you set your thermostat at the desired temperature and leave it there.

Remember to change your HVAC’s filter regularly, at least once every 1 ½ to 3 months. A dirty filter decreases airflow and efficiency and can lead to system failure and unnecessary repair bills.

Consider a maintenance contract with a reputable HVAC service company. They usually pay for themselves with two free annual seasonal checkups of your system and often include significant discounts on labor and/or parts if you need repair during the contract period.


Cut back and trim all vegetation and overgrown bushes and make sure your grading slants away from the house to prevent basement and foundation water damage.


Touch up areas of exterior cracking or peeling to avoid exposure of the underlying material to winter’s severe weather. Exterior painting work should be done before temperatures drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.


Frozen pipes can be prevented. Never leave your home without heat during cold weather. Always allow a little heat in unused rooms and cut off water supply lines to outside hose bibs. Drain these lines before cold weather hits and disconnect all hoses. If freezing should occur, contact a licensed plumber for assistance.


Have a licensed contractor inspect your roof for gaps in flashing around the chimney and gable intersections, loose or missing shingles, “soft spots”, and other conditions that could lead to leaks during icy/snowy conditions.

Smoke  and Carbon Monoxide Detectors

You should change batteries twice  a year.  Fire stations recommend doing this when you “fall back” and when you “spring forward”.  “Fall back” day is November 3 this year.


Ensure that your sump pump and emergency back up systems are in good working order. Just one snowstorm or rainstorm with loss of power could cause a flooded basement, damage drywall and flooring, and lead to mold growth. If your waterproofing system has not been maintained or you do not have a sump pump or battery back-up system, consult a waterproofing specialist.

Windows and Doors

Inspect the caulking around your windows and exterior doors. If you find gaps, replace old caulk with a clean secure bond. This will lower your energy bills and prevent insects from getting in. You should also repair holes in screens and cracked windows, replace broken or missing window or door hardware and tighten and lubricate door hinges and closers.

A little work during this fall season will keep your home safe, warm and happy through the winter.

Debbie Farson is the owner/operator of HomeWise Referrals, Inc., a FREE service to Northern Virginia, DC and MD homeowners connecting them with licensed, dependable contractors for every home repair, home improvement or remodeling project. She can be reached through the company website, or by phone, 703-360-8222.

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