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Creating modern homework spaces that kids will thrive in

In this digital age, finding the right place for kids to do their homework has definitely changed. While kitchen tables are still a popular choice, with the need for easy access to computers and smart devices for even the youngest of children, parents are looking to new spaces and ideas for creating tech-friendly, creativity-boosting spaces that kids can thrive in.

Keeping kids close is still one of the main requirements when planning for homework space. Monitoring their progress and their internet usage, as well as being close at hand for assistance when needed means kids need to be near where mom or dad are hanging out too. Since the kitchen is still the central gathering point of most home, kitchen-adjacent areas such as corner cubbies, hallways, large closets and even dining rooms can become the perfect workspace.

Check out Pinterest and you’ll see thousands of pins pointing to blogs and websites with articles about designing and creating modern homework spaces for kids, showing the need for new ideas and direction when setting up and organizing a space in which kids can thrive.

Homebuilders are even adding new elements to new home construction floor plans that feature dedicated areas, such as a nook by the kitchen, a desk area in the mudroom, or an office near the family room, for children to focus on their homework.

If you’re thinking of creating a new space for your children’s homework activities, here are a few ideas that might inspire you:

Featured as the #1 home office space of 2016 on Houzz.com, this design from the Johnston Home blog shows how a space right off the kitchen that could have been used as a breakfast nook, study, TV room, or small dining room was instead cleverly converted to the perfect homework zone. For this 5-person family, each child was given storage for books and binders including flat cubbies for paper stacks and file drawers for long term storage. There are a couple of swivel lounge chairs for more cozy reading. Bonus: It features Pantone 2017 color of the year: “Greenery.” (top photo, courtesy ajohnstonhome.com)

If you’ve got a hallway with open wall space, you can create a workspace station for your kids, like they did on the Sand and Sisal blog (middle photo). Think mini-murphy bed and you’ll see how this easy-to-create and install compact solution works for storing homework supplies out of the way until they are needed. When kids are ready, just open, pull up a chair and let their creativity flow!

Even little-used closets can be transformed into fun homework spaces. Take the doors off, line the walls with a fun pattern wallpaper, add some shelves to create a desk-like surface and some storage and you’ve got a space that will offer big appeal to pint-size learners. (bottom photo, courtesy IPC)

No matter where you put it or how you decorate it, there’s just something about a designated space just for kids that gives them a sense of focus and opens up entire new levels of creativity. Designing a space that works well for today’s homework needs is a great way to support your child’s learning and keep them on track all year long.

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Five common delays to watch for in remodeling projects

posted by: Mike in Home Owner Tips

When it comes to remodeling projects, one thing you can almost always depend on is that there will be delays. Hope for the best, but plan for the worst, and be sure to leave room in your plans for the inevitable issues that come up during projects big or small.

No matter how experienced you are, or how much effort you put into planning, things can and will go wrong. But if you know what to watch for, and how to be ready for it, you’ll be better able to get your project back on track as soon as possible.

As a Real Estate Consultant with more than 30 years as a licensed Realtor in Arlington, Virginia, I’ve watched many of my clients remodeling and building projects and noticed a few issues that universally cause delays. Here they are:

Permit Delays

When it’s time to remodel or make improvements to your home, one thing you must take into account right from the start is whether you need a permit. Permits are crucial to ensure changes to your home are on record with the county, and permits ensure inspectors will check for any problems along the way. (Check out “Do I need a permit for my remodeling project” to learn more).

If permit offices are understaffed or overwhelmed with a high number of requests (a likely possibility), getting the permits you need can take a while. Plus, if your contractor doesn’t have all the necessary materials on hand such as plans or documents, more delays can happen. Plan ahead and know what you need for your permits and you’ll hopefully head off this potential delay before it can happen.

Pre-existing conditions

Unplanned problems can happen if hidden problems reveal themselves during the project. Things like rot, mold, asbestos, insect damage, and poor construction, often can’t be seen until you’re in the middle of the project, and they will have to be addressed before the project can move on. These will add time and money to your project, but if you talk to your contractor, get a clear idea of the work needed and expected time frame, you can adjust your plans and continue on the right path.

Weather

Here in Arlington, Virginia, residents are able to enjoy all four seasons. However, this means that sometimes our weather can be unpredictable, and as much as you try to plan ahead and listen to your local forecaster, no one can predict the weather with 100 percent certainty. Rain, snow and windy days can all affect the work being done for your remodel project. Things like pouring concrete, painting, and working on a roof can be delayed by inclement weather. When this happens, ask your contractor if there are alternate tasks that can be addressed to maximize efficient use of their time. If not, take a mental break, and be prepared to get back to work as soon as the weather turns for the better.

Wait times and back orders

If your contractor asks you to start making decisions at the very beginning of the project on things like paint colors, plumbing fixtures, lighting and tilework, listen to him. Often these items must be ordered ahead of time and the wait until they are delivered can delay a project if ordering is put off too long. Back orders and delivery issues are often a problem as well, causing delays while waiting for the products to be fulfilled. When planning for your project, do your research and make your selections ahead of time and it’ll pay off in saved time.

Communication Issues

Clear communication with your contractor through the life of the project should probably have been the very first thing I mentioned. Everyone will have certain expectations for the timing of the project. It’s important to sit down with your contractor and review the project in detail from start to end to avoid surprises. Understand what your responsibilities are throughout the project. Agree on the best method of communication for all parties, whether it’s email, texting, or phone calls, and stick to it.

Preparing for the inevitable is the best tactic to take for a successful remodeling project. It’s normal to expect the contractor you’re working with to provide and stick to a schedule. But it’s also important to be prepared for the possibility of speed bumps and how to navigate them for a successful experience overall.

What Home Technology Will Look Like in 2017

During the annual consumer electronics tradeshow (CES 2017) last month in Las Vegas, a fun section to watch was the introduction of new technologies developed for the home. Forget drones and spyware; the kitchen, bathroom and even babies’ bedrooms are the hot spots to watch, with smart home technology and household robots taking center stage. Here are a few things that caught my eye:

Meet today’s version of “Rosie” the robot

Remember the Jetson’s cartoon robot, Rosie? Every kid wanted one of those (parents, too) and now it looks like we may finally be approaching the reality of helpful home robots with the debut of Kuri. One of the newest robot friends expected to enter households in 2017, Kuri (pictured here) is a 20-inch, 14-pound robot that features Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, a 1080p camera, and full iOS/Android app control. Kuri can learn and navigate its surroundings, recognize specific people, follow homeowners around the house, play podcasts and music, and even read a bedtime story to the kids. At only $699, Kuri, available in the fall of this year, is expected to be be the first of its kind to become a truly affordable household resource. (Photo courtesy: heykuri.com)

Smart mirrors

Another bit of home tech that I think we’ll be seeing more of is smart mirrors that do much more than reflect your image. “Connected” mirrors can play music, TV shows, stream YouTube videos, display weather and news feeds, and even allow you to quickly scan calendars and emails.  (Photo courtesy: Miliboo.com)

Voice-controlled everything

When Alexa debuted at CES last year, it created a popularity and ease of access for voice-controlled devices that has permeated new technology offerings this year. Voice-activation is entering practically every household device including things like vacuum cleaners, home security systems, retractable awnings, thermostats and lighting.

Baby tech

Even technology for the baby’s room is moving forward at light speed. Hailing itself as the “safest baby bed ever made,” SNOO debuted a few months ago with a smart crib developed in collaboration with pediatrician Dr. Harvey Karp that rocks babies to sleep by mimicking the rhythms of the womb. There’s also Ray, a sleep and health monitor for the digitally savvy parent that is being billed as “the first and only non-contact health and sleep monitor” for babies and toddlers. The Wi-Fi- and Bluetooth-enabled monitor measures a baby’s respiratory rate, uses thermal sensors to keep track of sleep cycles, and notifies parents, via the Ray app, if the baby has a fever or shows signs of other illnesses. For those expecting, or wanting to lock in the title of Best Grandparents Ever, the Ray monitor is available for preorder via its Kickstarter page, and expected to be ready for delivery (no pun intended) in September of 2017.  (Photo courtesy: Designboom)

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How to choose the right neighborhood for you

One thing many people forget to consider when looking for a new home is finding the right neighborhood to fit your needs. After all, there’s no point in finding the perfect house if it’s in an area you don’t really like. Here’s a quick checklist to keep you on track as you search for the best place for you.

__ Know Your Type

What type of neighborhood environment appeals to you best? How about one with a hot-spot, high energy, urban vibe? Or a park-filled, family-friendly suburban area? Maybe you want to experience quiet, private country life. One of these scenarios may peak your interest, or more likely a mix of them is the perfect thing. No matter what you choose, this is an important first step in defining the type of neighborhood you want to live in.

__ Amenities & Activities

Next, think about what amenities you’d like to have nearby like coffee shops, golf courses, health and fitness centers, shopping malls, grocery stores, and restaurants. If you have kids, note the location and accessibility of swimming pools, parks, libraries, and playgrounds. When it comes to social life, consider access to museums, clubs, concert venues and movie theaters.

__ Schools

Schools matter, even if you don’t have children. Homes located in a good school district typically hold onto their value better than those in less highly regarded districts. In fact, a 2013 realtor.com® survey of nearly 1,000 prospective home buyers showed that 91 percent said school boundaries were important in their search and are willing to pay 1 to 10 percent above budget to live within certain school boundaries.

__ Neighborhood Associations

Once you start narrowing down the field, ask your Realtor for information about neighborhood associations. Does the area you’re interested in have one? If yes, find out as much as you can about fees, benefits and restrictions.

__ Commute

If you plan on commuting to work, it’s best to chart your course beforehand. Take a practice drive during the hours you would normally work to evaluate the commute before making a commitment. Also, check out public transportation options – train, subway, bus, carpools, etc.

__ Take a Tour

Once you narrow down your search, take several tours of the areas you are considering and make it a point to observe those neighborhoods at different times. See how traffic adjusts to different times of day. Also note things that can affect your everyday life such as children playing in the neighborhood, construction, how well lit the streets are at night, and noise levels. Note the placement of amenities you would use regularly, such as coffee shops, grocery stores, or parks with playgrounds. And watch for potential negatives such as late-night bars, college hangouts, or bustling all-night convenience stores.

__ List Your Priorities

Defining the right neighborhood is the perfect first step to take when searching for a new home. Create your wish list filled with your wants, needs, and priorities using this checklist as your guide, then share it with your Realtor and you’ll dramatically increase your chances of finding a place to live that you can’t wait to get home to every night.

2017 Kitchen Trend: Incredible Shrinking Appliances

One of the newest trends for 2017 in home design isn’t about what you see, but what you can’t see. Hidden appliances that easily blend into design schemes while offering a greater degree of functionality are giving us an unexpected peek into the future of home design, and the way that homeowners want to use their kitchens.

Appliance design for the most-used room in the house has generally been about providing bigger, better and bolder choices by adding size, space, color and even new technology for each new line. Homeowners today, however, are shifting their priorities to reducing the size of their home while increasing the ease of use and functionality of each piece in the home.

With this demand for appliances that provide high performance in smaller, more versatile sizes, homeowners have new opportunities for transforming kitchens into high-functioning hotspots of the home that merge the best of design, technology, and old-fashioned warmth and appeal.

Microwaves, refrigerators and dishwashers can now be installed in homes where they look like drawers. Vertical freezers and dishwashers can be had that are taller, narrower, and have more than two racks. Undercounter beverage coolers, warming drawers and freezer drawers, and even mini fridges that are at children’s eye level are seen more and more in kitchen design. And manufacturers are paying attention.

Sub-Zero and Wolf appliances, known for giant refrigerators and red-knobbed ranges that span up to 60 inches, introduced late last year a line of 24-inches-or-less appliances for compact spaces “from luxury high-rises and city homes to beachfront bungalows and cozy mountain cabins,” according to its website. Several 15-inch “transitional multifunction modules” let users customize their small cooktops into a fryer, steamer or grill, among other functions. And for urban dwellers, the 24-inch Wolf oven is slim enough to fit in a small apartment.

Bosch last year also began rolling out more small options after noting rising demand in cities across the U.S. including Austin, Seattle, San Francisco, and Washington D.C. And on their blog, Lifestyle expert Danny Seo has addressed small space design and small kitchen functionality in several articles, showcasing Bosch’s small-space friendly options along the way. LG and Thermador as also designing for this trend, as small refrigerators are seen more and more outside the kitchen in places like bedrooms, libraries, offices, exercise rooms and home offices.

As Millennials are buying their first homes and Baby Boomers are downsizing for retirement, I’m predicting that this trend is here to stay. If you’re interested in the Arlington and surrounding Northern Virginia are for your next home – no matter what size – give me a call at 703-593-6320 and I’ll be happy to get you started. (email’s good too: mike@mikesellsvirginia.com)

Top Home Design Trends for 2017

If you’re renovating, redecorating, or even building a new home in the Arlington, Virginia area, I’ve gathered up a quick list of a few trends for 2017 that you can work into your plans, as well design ideas that have run their course. Don’t worry that you’ve got to throw everything out and start from scratch, though. A lot of what was popular last year is still fresh and worth keeping.

What’s New

Colors of the Year: The Pantone color “Greenery” was announced this week as the Pantone Color of the Year selection for 2017. According to their announcement, Greenery is “a fresh and zesty yellow-green shade that evokes the first days of spring when nature’s greens revive, restore, and renew.” Designers and retailers immediately started working this fresh springy color into home design and you’re sure to see it as a theme throughout next year, such as with this fun collection of Greenery-inspired home décor items curated by the Design Milk blog to celebrate Pantone’s announcement.

Don’t worry, your street won’t be going too green this year with a row of Kermit-colored homes, because Pantone also announced their home and interior color trend forecast for 2017 that includes rich floral hues, citrus paired with grays, nostalgic blues, and Native American pottery-inspired neutrals.

Terracotta: All-white kitchens and cool-colored tiles have enjoyed their time in the spotlight, according to design gurus, who are predicting that warm, rustic materials such as terracotta tiles will be coming back. Unlike the shiny orangey-brown floors of the 80’s, modern terracotta tiles with natural matte finishes will be used more as feature walls or to frame fireplaces to add character and warmth to interiors.

What’s Still Fresh

Nooks and crannies for technology, and for escaping from technology, are still popular and functional for the modern world we live in. No-tech Living Rooms where you can ditch the matrix and spend quality time with friends, family or pursuing other interests still holds true. But when you need to plug back in, Smart Spaces cleverly arranged throughout a home, such as in kitchens, entries, bedrooms and man caves are perfect for storing, charging and using smart phones, tablets, TVs and more.

Understated Luxury: Luxury is in, excess is out. That’s why décor and styling elements such as glamorous statement lighting, luxurious upholstered headboards, and statement furniture that anchors a room are a good way to treat yourself without going overboard.

What’s Out

Shiny Copper: As a material, copper will always be a classic. But the overuse of super-shiny copper in kitchens and bathrooms for everything from fixtures to appliances to décor is done. Instead, design pros say that we’ll see a turn toward either industrial (think black steel and burnished metals) or understated rustics.

Quote Artwork: After years of popularity and countless Etsy shops, consumers are finally moving away from using quote artworks as design elements throughout their homes. So “Keep calm and…” take a look at these trends and others as you plan for your next home design adventure. And remember, staying true to your personal aesthetics and functional needs is a trend that will never go away.

Easy, creative ways to make the most of small backyards

For many people living in popular urban or suburban neighborhoods, small outdoor spaces are often the norm. But just because you’ve got a small backyard, doesn’t mean you can’t get big enjoyment out of it. With just a little dash of creativity you can transform your small outdoor space into a beautiful and functional escape using these totally doable design ideas.

First things first. Having fewer square feet means you need to prioritize. Decide what’s most important for you to have in your back yard and focus on elements that will create a space that will give you the greatest enjoyment.

Gardeners and Green Thumbs

If you love to garden, you must have tools. And if you have tools, you need somewhere to store them. If your space is small, a compact shed is a must-have.  It’s cute, it’s practical, and it doesn’t take up much space. Check out this one pictured here from A Cultivated Nest. (you can click through for instructions to build your own).

Next, you’ll need some green. Full garden plots won’t work in a small space, but a few planters or pots can produce a bountiful harvest. Try using tiered planters stacked to maximize space and create more area to grow vegetables, herbs and flowers.

For an artistic twist, you can create visually beautiful living art with succulent wall gardens or wreaths. Or you could hang containers along a wall, using everything from Mason jars to interesting coffee cans, to create beautiful vertical gardens.

Outdoor Entertainers

If you love to entertain and would like to extend that to your back yard, first decide what kind of entertaining you would like to do most. Cooking/eating? Then you’ll want to create an outdoor kitchen area. Cocktails and comfortable chatting? Or maybe just more space for your family to hang out together? Then an outdoor living room is probably more your style. With the development of outdoor furniture, décor and technology, almost any room can be extended into your yard.

Comfortable, stylish furniture that would look right at home inside the house, is now built using sturdy, weather-resistant materials and featuring bright, stylish cushions and pillows that add a little flair. Outdoor rugs, as well, look just as good as their indoor cousins, yet are hearty enough to weather the elements beautifully while helping homeowners feel like they are still cozy in their family room. One more tip for making your yard seem larger than it is? Hang a few mirrors here and there to create the illusion of space.

If you want a space that will draw your guests and create a place to gather, a fireplace or fire pit is a great solution for small yards. You can have something custom made for the space, or there are a wide variety of good quality ready-to-go fire pits at local garden centers. And if you’ve dabbled in gardening, but want a way to transition to entertaining at will, here’s a solution: Be sure to use wheels on the bottom of planters and urns so you can wheel them away any time to create more space.

If you’re ready to buy, sell or learn more about the real estate market in the Arlington area (and look for a great backyard too!) I’m here to help! Give me a call at 703-593-6320 or email mike@mikesellsvirginia.com.

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8 Ways to Winterize Your Home

Sooner than you know, temperatures will be dropping here in Arlington, Virginia. Snow will start falling, and people will start looking forward to quiet evenings in front of their fireplaces with festive lights, hot cocoa and hot toddies. This all sounds warm and cozy, but add in just one clogged chimney, frozen pipe or broken window, and things can turn from cozy to chaotic in the drop of a hat (or a tree limb). To avoid winter’s little danger zones, here are eight ways to keep your home and family happy and safe throughout the season:

  1. Inspect the roof, gutters and downspouts. Before winter weather sets in, take a quick visual inspection around the exterior of your home. Note any loose or missing shingles, then schedule a professional inspection to see if repairs are needed. Downspouts and gutters also need a thorough check, clean out leaves and dirt, tighten loose fastenings.
  2. Trim your trees. No, not with lights and décor. Rather, check if there are any broken tree limbs or ones that have grown during the summer and need to be trimmed back. Check with a professional if you think you need extensive work.
  3. Dig out winter gear such as snow shovels, window scrapers, or snow blowers. Make sure they are serviced and ready to go at a moment’s notice.
  4. Seal windows and doors to keep cold where it belongs – outside. Loose seals and drafty areas can often be taken care of with simple window insulation kits from your local home improvement store.
  5. If you have a fireplace, schedule a professional chimney inspection or cleaning. Weather damage, creosote buildup, and other issues such as foundation settling can cause serious problems that won’t show up until you light your first fire and it’s too late.
  6. Service your heating, ventilation and air conditioning system (HVAC). Changing your filters is a good first step, but it’s also a good idea to hire a professional for a full-system inspection including pipe, wiring and thermostat tests.
  7. Make sure smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are working and have fresh batteries. (Many people use Daylight Savings Time as a reminder for this task).
  8. And finally, for both your home and your car (aka: many people’s second home!) create or restock a winter emergency supply kit. Storms, power outages, and other emergencies are more common this time of year. Make sure you have the right supplies on hand to weather any emergencies including blankets, candles, matches, flashlights, flares, first aid kits, water, nutrition bars, and necessary medications. For a list of recommendations, check out this page on The Department of Homeland Security and FEMA website.

Creating a home perfect for every stage of life

It used to be that adding features that adapt to lifestyle changes in your home meant you had to make do with design that looked less like a stylish, comfortable retreat, and more like a hospital room.

The good news is that contemporary universal design features have become much more aesthetically pleasing and adaptable to many different styles. In fact, a well-designed accessible space can be quite spa-like and luxurious due to creative design ideas and high-end finishes. Plus, the cost of universal design isn’t prohibitive anymore, often only adding a few hundred dollars to your original budget for features that last a lifetime.

According to AARP, older home owners overwhelmingly prefer to age in place, which means living in your home safely, independently and comfortably, regardless of age or ability level. In fact, this is so prevalent that the NAHB Remodelers of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) in collaboration with Home Innovation Research Labs, NAHB 50+ Housing Council, and AARP, developed the Certified Aging-In-Place Specialist (CAPS) program to address the growing number of consumers that seek these modifications. While most CAPS professionals are remodelers, an increasing number are general contractors, designers, architects, and health care consultants.

No matter what stage of life you are in, here are a few common-sense features perfect for creating living spaces that allow you to enjoy your home at any time of life:

  • Wall-mounted sinks: With no vanity cabinet or supporting legs underneath, wall-mounted sinks are a creative design choice with the added bonus of making cleaning floors a snap. They are also perfect for accommodating wheelchair footrests and walkers.
  • Slip-resistant tile: Slip-and-falls are a danger for any age, so slip-resistant tile is always a good idea. Ask your contractor for tile with a COF rating of .60 or above, which meets safety requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Plus it’s about the same cost as normal tiles.
  • Wider doors: Anytime a room is remodeled, widening the doors to 36 inches wide is considered universal access friendly.
  • Curbless showers: Head to your nearest spa and you’ll probably see curbless showers as part of their facilities. From a design standpoint, the minimalist lines fit seamlessly into a contemporary spa-style bathroom. Curbless showers have no lip at the floor and can be easily accessed by wheelchairs.
  • Lever-style door handles and faucets: Lever-type handles are easier to use than twist-type knobs or handles, and they’re especially convenient for kids or anyone with limited dexterity.
  • Touch faucets: While you’re looking at faucets, check out touch-sensitive faucets that turn off and on with a simple touch. These are great and extremely convenient for any age.
  • Tall toilets with no-slam seats and lids. Toilet seats with soft-close mechanisms are a dream for anyone who has ever been woken up late at night by the sharp bang of a falling lid. They are usually only slightly higher in cost than regular lids, and can be easily installed on your own.

The next time you schedule a remodel or upgrade in your home, stop and take a minute to think about adding a few features like these. With only a few changes you can have a stylish home sure to gracefully accommodate every life stage.

Got questions or ideas about living in Arlington, Virginia? I’m here to help. I’ve lived and worked in the area for more than 30 years and can help you find the right accommodations for your specific needs.  Please feel free to call or email me at 703-593-6320 or mike@mikesellsvirginia.com.

3 Simple Ways to Reduce Heating Costs

posted by: Mike in Home Owner Tips

Fuel prices are on the rise, and even in modern homes, winter can mean dramatic spikes in your utility bills. According to the Department of Energy, heating and cooling costs account for 56 percent of the energy use in an average American home.  Don’t stock up on wool socks just yet, though. There’s a lot more you can do than “put on a sweater” this winter to keep your bills down and your home toasty warm.

  1. Reverse ceiling fans

Ceiling fans aren’t just for summer. Typically, people think of ceiling fans as a way to cool down, but they can also be used for heat. When temperatures start to chill, set your fan to a low speed and use the button the fan to change the direction to clockwise. Warm air trapped at the ceiling will be pulled down to mix with cooler air and warm up the entire room. Do this, and you could see a 15 percent savings on your heating bill for the entire house.

  1. Use a programmable thermostat

If you have a manual thermostat, it’s time for an upgrade. If you already have one, but don’t know how to use it, time to dig out the manual. “Smart” thermostats don’t cost that much money and more than make up for it in the reduction of utility costs and sheer convenience. They can be programmed to automatically raise and lower temperatures depending on time of day or day of week. And with the proliferation of Wi-Fi in residential homes, many can be controlled via smart phone when you’re away from home.

  1. Prevent heat loss from your fireplace

Many homes here in the Arlington, VA area have at least one or more fireplaces throughout the residence. This may sound counter-intuitive, but fireplaces can be one of the worst culprits when it comes to heat loss. Yes, loss! If you keep the damper open when a fire is not burning, it’s like leaving a window wide open during the winter, warm air from inside the home escapes right up the chimney. Imagine little dollar bills floating out your chimney, that’s the best way to remember to close the damper each time after enjoying a toasty fire.

There are a lot of other ways to reduce heating and utility costs during the winter season, from investing in LED holiday lights to layering on those ugly holiday sweaters you bought for the last office party. These three simple tips are a great way to get started, though, without a lot of inconvenience or stress, and you’ll notice immediate savings that will go a long way toward a very happy holiday season.