Home Care

How To Paint a Brick Fireplace

A painted brick fireplace in a modern living room.
Suzanne Dhinoy

Brick fireplaces are great, but they often look dated, dark, and dirty. Instead of living with that drab, sooty look, learn how to paint a brick fireplace to give your space some fresh new style.

When it comes to fireplaces, brick is overwhelmingly the most popular material choice for the surrounding wall. It’s affordable, and its non-flammable properties make it a practical option. But, as brick ages, it deteriorates, loses its color, and captures dirt and grime. Give yours a fresh new look by learning how to paint a brick fireplace.

Learning how to paint a brick fireplace isn’t hard, but it does require certain tools and materials.

Tools for Painting a Brick Fireplace

Wire brushesWet-dry vacuumSpongeRespiratorRubber glovesSafety glasses3 or 5-gallon bucket
2-inch paintbrush (angled and stiff is best for this application)Paint rollerTwo ¾-inch nap roller coversPaint trayPaint tray linerLadder (for taller fireplaces)Materials for Painting a Brick FireplaceTrisodium phosphate cleanerPainter’s tapeDrop clothsBrick primer and sealerAcrylic latex paintNote: White is the most popular color for painting brick fireplaces, but the following steps are applicable for any color.

How to Paint a Brick Fireplace

Painting a brick fireplace shouldn’t take all day, but there is a certain order to follow to achieve the perfect painted brick fireplace look. The following steps will take you from preparation to the finished product.

1. Clean the fireplace

Even well-kept fireplaces are too dirty to paint, so a bit of preparation and cleaning is in order. Start by removing the fireplace surround, if there is one; this usually just requires loosening a few screws on the inside of the surround.

With the surround removed and all the brick exposed, take a wire brush and give the bricks and mortar joints a light scrubbing. This will loosen any debris, chunks of dirt, and loose mortar that would affect the paint job. Use a wet-dry vacuum to clean up the dust.

With the dust removed, it’s time to clean the surface to remove soot, chemicals, oils, and anything else that could be on the brick. Put on some rubber gloves, a respirator, and a pair of safety glasses and mix a solution of trisodium phosphate according to the directions. Use the bucket and sponge to scrub the brick.

2. Prepare the fireplace for paint

After all the loose debris, soot, and grime are removed, give the fireplace a few hours to dry. In the meantime, use tape and drop cloths to protect the wall, hearth, mantle, and any other surfaces you don’t want to paint. Take your time with this step, as the brick has to dry anyway and the more effort you put in now, the less cleanup you’ll have to do later.

3. Seal the brick and mortar

Before painting a brick fireplace, the porous surfaces in the mortar and brick need sealing. Using a product specially designed for sealing masonry will ensure that these pores don’t absorb the paint, requiring fewer coats and ending with a better result. And the sealer will prevent stains and create a uniform basecoat for a clean finish—particularly important if your color of choice is white.

Place a tray liner into the paint tray and pour about ¼ gallon into the tray. Use the paintbrush to work the sealer into the mortar, pushing it into any cracks and crevices with the bristles. Use the paint roller and the ¾-inch nap cover to coat the brick with the sealer. The thick nap should cover the brick quickly while getting plenty of sealer into all the nooks and crannies. If necessary, apply a second coat.

4. Paint the brick fireplace

Since you took the time to prime and seal it, painting the brick fireplace is fairly straightforward. While the sealer is drying, wash the paintbrush with soap and water. Also, change the liner in the paint tray, and swap a fresh roller sleeve on the paint roller.

Pour about ¼ gallon of acrylic latex paint into the paint tray, then use the brush to work the paint into the mortar joints, following up with the paint roller. Just go slower in this step than you did with the sealer, as it’s easy to miss a spot if you’re using white or light paint over the light sealer.

Repeat this step as many times as necessary until you’re happy with the coverage. Once the paint is dry, resecure the fireplace surround.

Maintaining a White Painted Brick Fireplace

While the main purpose of painting a brick fireplace white is to brighten a dark, dingy element within a home, easier maintenance is a secondary benefit. Warm water, a non-abrasive all-purpose cleaner, and a sponge are all it takes to keep a white-painted brick fireplace looking fresh and clean.

And, with the work behind you, it’s time to enjoy a fresh, clean, brighter space. Choose new decor items, house plants, and other touches to accent the painted brick fireplace for a totally new feel.

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Home Remodeling

How to Move a Hot Tub by Yourself

A round, wooden hot tub bubbles and steams next to a wet deck.
iStockIf you’re moving to a new house and want to take your hot tub with you, there are two basic options: hire a moving company (or add the tub to the list for the company that’s moving the rest of your belongings), or move it yourself…

And I don’t mean try to move it all by yourself—you’ll need help, at least three or four friends with strong backs. An empty hot tub can weigh between 500 and 1000 pounds. The most important thing is to first devise your plan and route. If you can’t find enough helpers or if the route is too complicated, do yourself a favor and hire professional movers.

What you’ll need

A pickup or moving truck
Four-wheeled furniture dollies (at least two)Nylon moving strapsTwo 8-foot 4x4sRampMeasuring tapeFour strong friendsTwo or three sheets of ½-inch plywood (if you’ll be moving across grass)

Steps to Move a Hot Tub

First, unplug the power cord from the tub. If it’s hardwired, you’ll need an electrician.Measure the dimensions of the tub so that you can rent or borrow the right-sized truck. Know that it’s possible to move a tub in two positions—on the flat or on edge. The first option is easier—positioned flat, the tub will be more stable when it’s being moved. The second option should only be considered if you can’t find a truck wide enough. Still, if you work carefully, a hot tub can be moved on edge.
Drain the tub. Open the access panel and connect a garden hose to the drain, checking the tub’s manual for any instructions. Allow yourself ample time for all the water to drain out. Now’s a good time to clean the tub, too.Once the tub is empty, check the manual to remove the tub’s cover, and pack it separately. If you have to remove any screws, put them in a plastic bag and tape it to the cover so you’ll have them when it’s time to reattach the cover.Take time to plan your entire moving route so that it’s as direct and barrier-free as possible. Check any gates or other passageways to ensure that you’ll have enough clearance, both in the old and new locations. Plan carefully: a hot tub is cumbersome and heavy, and you want the move to go as smoothly as possible—for your sake, for your crew’s sake, and for your tub’s sake.

How to Pick up a Hot tub

When you’ve procured a truck, a crew, the necessary materials, and assured your route is clear, it’s time to move.

Moving on the flat

With as many helpers as it takes, lift one side of the tub high enough so that you can slip a 4×4 underneath the tub’s edge. Repeat on the opposite side. Next, slide a furniture dolly under one end of the tub between the two 4x4s and slide the second dolly in place opposite the first. Remove the 4x4s. Using moving straps, tightly secure the tub onto the dollies.Position a helper on either side to stabilize the tub and start to slowly roll it toward the truck. Maintain the balance by reassigning helpers as you go.
Note: If you happen to be moving across an area of lawn, it’s best to place a sheet of plywood on the grass so the dolly wheels don’t sink into the ground. If you’re moving across an expanse of lawn, you can “leapfrog” the plywood sheets ahead of your progress as you go.When it’s time to push the tub up the ramp into the truck, be careful to keep the dolly wheels on the ramp. Once the tub’s in the truck, secure it by tying it with ratcheting straps to the inside of the truck box.
Note: Most rental trucks have rings bolted to the box sides for this purpose. Cover the tub with moving blankets to protect it during the trip.

Moving on the edge

If you can’t find a truck wide enough for your hot tub, you may have to move it upright on its side.

Get half of your crew on one side of the tub. When you’ve raised it, you don’t want to have the weight of the tub resting on the access panels or electrical connections, so plan accordingly. Place a furniture dolly alongside the chosen edge of the tub, and station two people at the dolly. Have everyone lift up the opposite side until the tub’s edge is fully resting on the dolly. Secure the tub to the dolly with straps, and, monitoring the tub’s balance, start to move the tub as described above.Once you have the tub loaded on the truck bed (assuming the truck is a pickup), use straps to secure it so it can’t move from side to side. To protect it, use moving blankets and drive slowly, exercising extra caution on sharp turns.Before leaving, be sure to take with you all the 4x4s, plywood, and anything else that you’ll need to unload and move when you arrive at the tub’s new location.When unloading the tub, make sure to have crew members stabilizing both sides of it as it comes down the ramp.After you’ve wheeled the tub to its new location, reverse the dolly-loading procedure to offload it, and begin the installation. Then have a soak.

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Home Improvement

All About Cork Flooring

A checkerboard floor is a kitchen classic; these glue-down cork tiles make it back-friendly, too. SHOWN: Duro Design’s Barriga Natural and Baltico Stormy White, about $8 per sq. ft. | Michael J. Lee

It’s cushiony underfoot, easy to care for, and far more versatile than you might think. Here’s what you need to know about choosing and using this resilient natural floor material in your home.

This story originally appeared in the Winter 2021 Issue of This Old House Magazine. Click here to learn how to subscribe.

The bark of the cork oak tree has been used to seal champagne bottles since the 1600s, but it was a pretty new idea to use it as flooring in 1937 when it was installed at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. Visit the iconic house today, and you’ll see much of that cork still in service, a testament to its durability. The material was prized for its warm natural look, noise-dampening ability, and ergonomic comfort—and still is. “Many adults with back issues who can’t stand on hardwood or tile for very long love cork,” says Joel Hirshberg, co-owner of Iowa-based Green Building Supply, who has been selling the flooring for 21 years.

How is Cork Floor Made?

It’s also a sustainable choice. Cork is harvested by carefully peeling off the outer layer of a mature Quercus suber; the harvest doesn’t damage the evergreen tree, which regrows its bark roughly every nine years. Cork is made into two types of flooring: glue-down tiles and click-together planks. In 2019, waterproof cork planks hit the market, making cork floating floors viable anywhere in the house, even bathrooms and laundry rooms. Cork flooring now comes in a wide variety of looks, too, from classic speckled designs to a range of colors to finishes that mimic wood and stone.

But while today’s cork works with all kinds of interiors, its inherent characteristics remain its strongest sell. “I installed a floating cork floor over vinyl tile in my living room, dining room, kitchen, mudroom, and den,” says Texas interior designer Amity Worrel, who has worked with cork for more than two decades. “When I drop things they do not break, they bounce. And when my kids run through the house at breakneck speed, their footfalls do not interrupt my Zoom calls,” she says.

The Basics of Cork Flooring

What does it cost? About $5 to $10 per square foot. Pro installation adds $2 to $3 per square foot for a floating floor and about $6 to $10 for glue-down.

How long does it last? Both glue-down and floating cork can last 40 years or more if they’re carefully maintained—otherwise expect 15 to 20 years.

DIY or hire it out? Floating cork clicks together without fasteners or adhesive, making installation a DIY-friendly job. Glue-down cork requires a perfectly flat subfloor and quick-setting adhesive, so in most cases, installation is best left to a pro.

How much maintenance? Cork requires the same routine care as a wood floor: vacuuming, damp mopping, and protection from sliding chair legs and grit-covered footwear. Most cork flooring needs recoating with polyurethane every 3 to 10 years, depending on how much use it gets.

Where to buy it? A flooring store, green building supplier, or manufacturer’s website will have the best selection and service.

What’s the warranty? It will range from 15 years to “lifetime,” or as long as you own the house. There should be one for the cork and one for the finish.

Is Cork Flooring Right for You?

Thinking about installing cork flooring? Here are some pros and cons to consider.

Pros of cork flooring

RESILIENT AND COMFORTABLE: A cubic inch of cork bark holds about 200 million air cells—so even a quarter-inch of cork in a floating floor offers ample cushioning for your feet and back.WARM AND QUIET UNDERFOOT: Its air cells make cork a natural thermal and acoustic insulator. Cork flooring is an especially good choice in colder climates.MOLD, INSECT, AND FIRE RESISTANT: Cork contains an antimicrobial wax called suberin that also repels moisture, mold, bugs, and even fire.DAMAGED SPOTS CAN BE REPLACED: If tiles or planks get gouged, the affected pieces can be removed and new ones swapped in.ECO-FRIENDLY CHOICE: In addition to regrowing their bark roughly every nine years, cork oaks can live for 200 years or more. Cork forests absorb millions of tons of carbon each year.

Cons of cork flooring

FADES IN DIRECT SUN: Unless it’s a wood-look product with a PET (plastic) top layer, cork flooring—including products printed to look like stone or colored with stain—will lighten with exposure to ultraviolet light. The UV protectants in a clear coat provide some buffer, but not as much as UV-blocking windows or window film. Without these precautions, it’s best to avoid cork in areas that get a lot of direct sunlight.PRONE TO SCRATCHING: Like other natural floorings such as wood and linoleum, cork can get abraded over time, especially if you have pets. If that’s a concern, avoid it in high-traffic areas, or be prepared to refresh the topcoat regularly.HARD TO TELL WHEN IT’S TIME TO RECOAT: The visual complexity of many cork floors can make it difficult to see when the finish is wearing away and a new coat of polyurethane is needed. Poor maintenance will shorten its life span.

Waterproof Floating Floors

The structural layer inside waterproof floating cork planks is impermeable to moisture.
Courtesy RealCorkFloors.comThe structural layer inside waterproof floating cork planks is impermeable to moisture. SIMILAR TO SHOWN: Wood Inspire in Quartz Oak, about $5 per sq. ft.; amorimwise.usIts natural wax makes cork inherently water-resistant. But the high-density fiberboard (HDF) layer that typically stiffens floating floor planks and forms their click-and-lock fastening system can absorb moisture that seeps into the seams between the planks.

That’s what makes waterproof click-together cork such a big deal: It replaces the standard HDF structural layer with one made from cork that’s been impregnated with high-density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic. “Although it’s derived from petroleum, it is free of chemicals like formaldehyde or PVC, and is a favorite among people with allergies and chemical sensitivities,” says Hirshberg, who has seen a 300 percent spike in cork flooring sales since waterproof planks were introduced.

The HDPE makes floating cork floors a great choice for full baths and laundry rooms. In the wettest locations, Hirshberg recommends following manufacturer instructions for gluing down the waterproof planks rather than floating them; that way, if water does work its way down between planks, it’s unlikely to lead to mold growth or rot underneath.

Two Types of Cork Floors

Their costs are similar, but the two types of cork flooring are manufactured and installed differently.

Click-and-lock floating planks

Cork Tile
Meg ReinhardtBest for: DIY installation, including over existing flooring such as vinyl or tile.

These planks click together and have an HDF or HDPE core that’s typically sandwiched between layers of agglomerated cork, which is ground-up cork pressed together with adhesives.

They come in a range of looks: Many products have cork veneers, often stained or photo-printed with a realistic wood or stone image. Boards can be laid horizontally, vertically, or diagonally, allowing for certain patterns like herringbone. Floating cork usually has beveled edges and almost always comes with a long-lasting polyurethane-based factory finish.

Planks are often 36 inches long and 7 12 or 12 inches wide, although some products with wood or stone looks come in tiles and squares.

Glue-down tiles

Glue down cork tiles
Meg ReinhardtBest for: A showpiece pattern or an authentic mid-century look.

These tiles get adhered to the subfloor and have been made the same way for 75 years: Agglomerated cork is pressed into blocks, sliced into sheets, and cut into tiles. They’re either homogeneous—meaning the material looks the same throughout—or heterogeneous, which means they have a veneer layer that may be stained or printed.

Most are 3⁄16 of an inch thick and are prefinished with polyurethane (a few old-school products come unfinished or coated with wax). What sets them apart from floating cork is that they’re available in a wide range of colors, sizes, and shapes, such as triangles and pentagons, allowing for endless mosaic patterns, like stars and geometrics.

See if it has a rating

Some cork products are labeled according to one of two classification systems for resilient flooring. This means the manufacturer tested and rated the flooring’s resistance to abrasion, impact, staining, fire, and moisture. When in doubt, order a higher level for your project; this ensures a more durable floor and finish, says Gonçalo Marques of Amorim Cork Flooring, the world’s largest producer of cork products.

Marks of Quality to Keep in Mind

Here is what to keep in mind when shopping for cork.

Cork from the Mediterranean is more resilient than cork from Asia, which comes from a different tree species, Quercus variabilis.To ensure cork flooring has no formaldehyde and won’t release VOCs, look for independent certifications such as GreenGuard Gold and Global GreenTag.Most cork flooring with a veneer top has a wear layer 2mm to 3mm thick. Check the spec sheets and choose products with the thickest wear layer: They will be more resilient and durable.

Syles of Cork Flooring

eight types of cork options
Meg Reinhardt

1. Dramatic Veining

Made from offcuts produced by the wine cork industry, this click flooring has a bold marbled pattern.

Shown: Marmo Creme 12×36×7⁄16-inch plank, about $7 per sq. ft.; novafloorings.com

2. Staggered Stripes

Because this glue-down tile is made from homogeneous, or “through-color,” cork, it can be sanded and refinished.

Shown: Tigress 12×24×3⁄16-inch tile, about $7 per sq. ft.; apccork.com

3. Faux Stone

This slate-look click flooring’s AC5 rating means it will hold up to heavy traffic at home.

Shown: Serenity Collection 17 23⁄32×24 13⁄32×7⁄16-inch rectangle in Hearth Slate, about $8.50 per sq. ft.; wecork.com

4. Harvest Hue

Order this 3⁄16-inch-thick glue-down flooring in any size or shape; its earthy orange color is an instant warm-up.

Shown: Nugget tile in Tangerine, about $10 per sq. ft.; corkfloor.com

5. Classic Cork

With veneer cut from a full sheet of bark—no agglomerated pieces—this click plank’s square edges create a seamless look once installed.

Shown: Avant Garde Collection 11 7⁄8×35 9⁄16×7⁄16-inch plank in Canyon, about $9 per sq. ft.; wecork.com

6. Versatile shade

Available in dozens of shapes, this glue-down cork’s soothing blue color is a natural for subtle patterns.

Shown: Nugget 3⁄16-inch-thick tile in Powder Blue, about $9 per sq. ft.; corkfloor.com

7. Tile Effect

It may look like limestone, but this click flooring has a springy feel underfoot.

Shown: Cork Essence 48 1⁄32×7 9⁄32×3⁄8-inch plank in Flock Moonlight, about $6 per sq. ft.; wicanders.us

8. Wood Look

This narrow, waterproof click plank comes embossed with realistic graining and knots.

Shown: Wood Inspire 48 15⁄64×7 31⁄64×9⁄32-inch plank in Sprucewood, about $6 per sq. ft.; amorimwise.us

What to Know About Installation

Floating floor planks click together with the help of a hammer and a tapping block made from flooring scrap.
iStockFloating floor planks click together with the help of a hammer and a tapping block made from flooring scrap.With any type of cork, order at least 10 percent more than is needed to allow for any cutting mistakes and to ensure there’s a good supply of replacement tiles or planks for the future. Acclimate glue-down cork tiles and floating-floor planks for three days before installation—and, as with other natural flooring products such as wood and bamboo, avoid laying them during humid weather.

Test a concrete subfloor with a moisture meter; depending on the manufacturer’s installation guidelines, you may need to apply a moisture sealer. If you’re installing glue-down tiles, make sure that the product is compatible with your adhesive.

Floating Cork Floors

Floating cork floors have a strong, rigid middle layer, so they can be installed over an existing floor or subfloor; using a foam underlayment in between helps soften any imperfections. Start in a corner and work from left to right or right to left; use an aluminum straightedge—not the walls—to keep your rows straight. A hammer or mallet and a tapping block will assist in clicking the planks together without damaging the flooring.

To allow the floor to expand due to changes in temperature and humidity, leave a 1/2-inch gap along the perimeter. If you remove existing baseboards, they will cover the gap when they are reinstalled; otherwise, cover the gap with a 3/4-inch quarter round.

Glue-Down Tiles

Glue-down tiles require a perfectly smooth subfloor; otherwise, dips and bumps will transfer to the finished floor surface. To fix an uneven wood subfloor, typically underlayment plywood is nailed down over it; with concrete, a floor-leveling compound may be used.

Both the subfloor and the back of the tiles are painted with quick-setting contact cement before tiles are placed. This type of adhesive is unforgiving: As soon as the surfaces meet, that tile’s placement is permanent. Some manufacturers now offer heavy-duty double-sided tape to simplify the job. This is still a project for the most meticulous DIYers—especially when piecing together intricate patterns.

How to Care for and Maintain Cork Floors


While most dents eventually disappear on their own, cork is prone to scratching. To prevent abrasion, consider implementing a leave-your shoes-at-the-door policy, add felt buttons to the bottoms of furniture legs, and set door sweeps just above floor level.


Vacuum as often as daily to remove grit that can otherwise get ground into the finish and scuff it. Once a week, use a just-damp mop and an oil-free wood-floor cleaner, such as Bona’s.


Most types of cork flooring should be recoated with water-based polyurethane every 3 to 10 years, depending on the abuse it takes. One exception: Wood-look cork with a PET finish can’t be recoated. Assess the condition of the finish annually.

To recoat, prep the floor according to manufacturer instructions—often with a light screening to rough up the finish without sanding into the cork itself— then apply three coats of polyurethane. This process can be tackled by any handy homeowner.

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Home Remodeling

How to Install a Window AC Unit

The exterior of a house with a brand new AC unit in the window.

Window air conditioning units may seem intimidating, but they’re actually quite easy to install. With a bit of background knowledge, the right tools, and a guide to show the way, cooler temperatures are on the horizon—even when it’s boiling outside.

When the hot weather hits, we all need a bit of reprieve. Unfortunately, many older houses and apartments don’t have central air, which means window AC units are an absolute necessity. But these units can be heavy, and the idea of hanging an expensive appliance out of a window can seem intimidating. With this guide on how to install a window AC unit, you’ll be able to cool down in no time.

How to Mount an AC Unit in a Window

You’ll need a few items in order to install a window AC unit correctly. Most DIYers will have them on hand already:

A sturdy stool or bench to place the AC unit onUtility knifePower drillScrewdriverTorpedo levelTape measureIt can also be handy to have a helper for larger AC units, as they can be heavy. One person can hold the unit while the other lowers the window to lock it in place.

What to Know About Window AC Unit Installation

Older homes might not be great candidates for window AC units. This is especially true if the sills aren’t in good shape or the sashes aren’t as structurally sound as they used to be. A window-mount AC unit can cause more damage, and damaged windows can prevent the installer from securing it in place.

Before attempting to install a window AC unit, ensure that it will fit. If the AC unit is new, check the specs on the box to ensure that it’s the right size for your window. If the air conditioner is pre-owned, measure the unit itself, as well as the distance the side panels extend, and compare the dimensions to the window opening.

Also, understand that window AC units come in different outputs, known as BTUs. Different BTU values can cool differently-sized spaces. The best resource is the manufacturer, but here’s a quick, rough guide:

5,000 to 6,500 BTUs for rooms 100 to 300 square feet in size7,000 to 8,500 BTUs for rooms 250 to 500 square feet in size9,800 to 12,500 BTUs for rooms 500 to 900 square feet in size Window AC units are designed to work in double- or single-hung windows. Casement and sliding windows will complicate things and require additional hardware. Be sure that there is an outlet near whichever window you choose, or purchase an AC-rated extension cord.

Steps to Install a Window AC Unit:

Step 1: Prepare the window for the AC unit

The first step in installing a window AC unit is to prepare the window. Remove any items from the window sill, open the window completely (from the bottom), and remove the screen. It’s also a good idea to place the stool or bench near the window, to provide a nearby place to rest the AC unit without putting it on the floor.

Some alarm sensors might get in the way, so be sure to assess yours. Temporarily removing them might be in order.

Step 2: Unbox and assemble the window-mount AC unit

Window AC units typically come in boxes with Styrofoam bottoms. Place the box on the stool so you’re not working on the ground. Cut the cardboard along the dotted line to remove the box and reveal the AC unit.

The back of the window AC unit will contain aluminum fins, and they’re sharp. They’re also easy to crush, which will reduce the AC unit’s effectiveness. Ensure yours aren’t crushed and be careful when removing the unit from the box.

Install the extendable side panels and corresponding brackets according to the instructions. This will usually require a screwdriver. If you use a drill, lower its torque to prevent it from stripping the AC’s housing.

Step 3: Place the AC unit in the window opening

With the brackets attached, face the front of the window AC unit and lift it from the left and right sides. Air conditioners can be heavy, so be sure to lift with your legs as much as possible to prevent back injury.

All window AC units have a bracket of some sort on their bottom side. This is often the bracket into which the extendable side panels slide. This bracket must sit on the outside of the window’s bottom lip. There is also a bracket on the top of the unit, and it must be inside the window.

With these points in mind, lift the air conditioner and place it in the window. Steady the unit with one hand while lowering the window sash with the other. If you have a helper, ask them to lower the sash for you. Be sure that the back of the top bracket sits flush against the bottom of the window sash before letting go of the AC unit.

Check to ensure that the unit is centered in the window. Place a torpedo level on top to ensure that it’s level side to side, as well as pitched backward so water will drain outside, rather than in.

Step 4: Extend and secure the side panels

With the AC unit sitting properly in the window, extend the side panels so they block the openings on either side completely. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for securing the side panels. This will involve either attaching brackets to the window sash or running screws through holes in the panels and into the window sash.

Step 5: Screw the window AC unit in place

The unit is mostly in place at this point, but manufacturers typically include brackets to anchor it down.

The installation kit will almost certainly include at least one L-shaped bracket. This bracket keeps the window sashes locked in place, and it installs where they meet. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure it’s installed properly; installation generally involves placing the bracket on top of the lower sash and attaching it to the upper sash with a screw. This will lock the AC unit in place and prevent it from falling out of the window.

Step 6: Plug in the window AC unit

The only thing left to do is plug the AC unit into an outlet and turn it on. Don’t be alarmed if it takes a few minutes to produce cool air; AC condensers often need a few minutes of running before they kick on and pump refrigerant through the lines.

With your window AC unit installed, you’ll be able to benefit from cooler, more comfortable temperatures when the weather is brutal. Kick back, grab a cold drink, and enjoy the cold air pumping from your newly installed air conditioner.

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Home Care

My Sweeten Story: A Retro Pink Bathroom Takes a Modern Turn

small-spaced bathroom remodel in Philadelphia maximizes every inch to fit a deep soaking tub

“After” photos by Kristina Kroot for Sweeten

Homeowners: Kait and Patrick posted their project on Sweeten as first-time homeownersWhere: Philadelphia’s Point Breeze/Newbold neighborhood, PennsylvaniaPrimary renovation: A full-scale rip-and-replace of the small outdated bathroom original to their 1920 homeSweeten general contractorSweeten’s role:Sweeten matches home renovators with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and up to $50,000 in financial protection—for freeWritten in partnership with homeowner Kait

Living with a yesteryear Philadelphia bathroom

Tiny pink south Philly row home bathroom needs a complete renovation, our Sweeten project post read. We attached photos, featuring not only the Pepto-toned tiles, but teal-colored rugs and seashell wallpaper. They’d been photographed three years earlier, but little had changed—proof that the project was way overdue. The bathroom hadn’t been renovated since the home was built in 1920.

Portrait of Sweeten homeowners

We’re Kait and Patrick, former renters who jumped to buy a fixer-upper as we watched housing prices tick up in our ideal Philadelphia neighborhoods. When we purchased our 1,400-square-foot row house in the southern Point Breeze/Newbold area a few years ago, we completed renovations including laying new floors, adding central air, skim-coating and painting the walls, and installing a new kitchen. But we didn’t have the budget to renovate the old bathroom.

Learning from past renovations

As anyone can see, the bathroom was ugly. The floor tile didn’t coordinate with the walls. Everything was old and stained; no amount of cleaning made it look presentable. But it was our only bathroom (unless you count the creepy basement toilet and slop sink). When the time came to remodel it, our immediate priorities were practical: finding a contractor who could complete the project in a reasonable amount of time and without sacrificing the quality of materials or workmanship.

Split images of the bathroom before renovation

Bathroom with pink walls and wooden vanity

Then there was the goal: To create something that would feel like a sanctuary. With that vision in mind, we put a lot of effort into interviewing contractors who responded to our Sweeten project posting and hired our general contractor. In our last renovation, honestly, we had terrible experiences. Like with the contractor who demolished our kitchen so prematurely that we lived without a kitchen for eight months. We were determined to prevent another debacle like that.

The bathroom was chaotic and we lived with it for a long time, but the chance to improve it came sooner than expected. After twice canceling our wedding due to Covid, we eloped and put the money saved towards the bathroom project. Our families and friends were generous with wedding gifts, further helping us fund the job.

Wood vanity with mirror and gold hardware

Shower with chevron tiling and bronze hardware

After twice canceling our wedding due to Covid, we eloped and put the money saved towards the bathroom project.

The small-spaced bathroom stays small

From the first planning phases, we knew we would have no layout changes. We didn’t want to expand into any of the bedrooms, so we agreed that the bathroom would remain really small. We set out to use every inch.

Making the bathroom functional—versus crammed—meant we had to be intentional with the size of everything. The original bathtub was designed for shorter people, so finding one that could fit my 6’3” husband was a must, and we eventually did. We chose a trim toilet and a vanity that is narrow, but offers storage. We opted for a barn door-style glass shower enclosure to let the light flow through and open up the space.

Vanity and mirror with bronze hardware

Choosing neutral with a pop

We also achieved a visual openness with color, or lack of it. We used a lot of bold hues in the rest of our house; we wanted this to be a departure from that, so we went with gray and white. But with this neutral tile choice, we started to worry that the bathroom would be boring—even if it did feel bigger, and calmer. We added the gold fixtures to give it a luxe feel. The pink paint is a sort of homage to the old bathroom.

The right renovation team

Throughout the project, our Sweeten contractor gave honest recommendations and feedback. He was straightforward about what tile and fixtures would work best and be most durable. We received a lot of check-ins from Sweeten as the project progressed; it was helpful to know we had extra support if we needed it.

Chevron tiles in the shower with built in shelving

Inside the chevron tiled shower with bronze hardware

We love the result. The super deep soaking tub is amazing and was absolutely worth the money. I love that, unlike with the previous bathroom, I’m not aggravated by the decor when I walk in. Long overdue indeed. We’re so happy we made the most of nearly two tough years and turned this bathroom into a peaceful haven we both love.

Thanks for sharing your bathroom remodel in Philadelphia with us, Kait and Patrick!

Renovation Materials

BATHROOM RESOURCES: Viviano Thassos polished marble floor tile: Floor & DecorAuteur Diagonals Pattern One, 9×9 porcelain wall tile in AshTileBarFour-piece brushed gold bathroom hardware set: WayfairAlignshower fixtures, Align 1.2 GPM widespread bathroom faucetMoenElan brushed gold adjustable frameless sliding tub door: VigoWalnut and white Render bathroom vanity: ModwayToilet:sourced by Sweeten general contractor. Seamless medicine cabinet: West Elm.

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation with Sweeten

The post My Sweeten Story: A Retro Pink Bathroom Takes a Modern Turn appeared first on Sweeten.

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Home Improvement

Editor’s Picks 2021

look back at 2021’s top renovation stories that made dream homes come to life

With 2021 coming to a close, we take a look back at some of our most popular remodels and stories on Sweeten’s blog.

These eight posts represent a 360-degree view of common renovation questions when a homeowner decides to renovate. Where do you start? How do you find a contractor to trust? Who are some of the vetted contractors you could meet? How do you choose timeless materials?

The culmination of these questions is revealed in our homeowners’ renovation stories—and the questions answered. These homeowners were guided through the renovation process by their Sweeten contractor. Then they graciously shared their new homes and journeys on our blog. 

Sweeten matches home renovators with vetted general contractors, offering advice, backup, and up to $50,000 in renovation financial protection—for free.

The best home remodeling tips to get you started


There are many moving parts when considering a renovation. Sweeten’s Renovation Checklist offers an eagle’s-eye view of what you can expect during the process—from pre-renovation to punch list.  

An experienced partner to take you through the renovation process is valuable. Should you accept a friend referral for a contractor? At Sweeten, we carefully vet the general contractors in our network—each with their own strengths in the types of projects they do. A friend referral won’t check off the most important boxes when looking for the right team. This includes securing multiple bids and knowing whether a contractor is the right one for your specific project. If you’re considering a friend referral, here’s more information to know before you decide.

Sweeten also supports you from start to completion. If your project goes off track, a friend may not be in a position to help you. (Read how we vet our contractors here.)

Women general contractors are changing the look of construction

White kitchen island with seating and undermount sink with faucet facing open kitchen after renovation

To honor Women’s History Month in March, we highlighted some of the women-owned and women-operated general contracting firms in Sweeten’s network. These entrepreneurs found success in a traditionally male-dominated industry. The job of the general contractor is a complex one. It is a delicate balance of communication and logistics, with many plates spinning at once. “Using these executive functioning skills, women are great at that,” notes Sweeten’s founder and CEO Jean Brownhill. Read our blog post series on Sweeten’s contractors who are changing the narrative. 

Renewed and remodeled kitchens that inspired us

Image of a kitchen with patterned floor tile and blue cabinets

This small-space kitchen in a 100-year-old co-op is proof that you can do a lot with a little. While the space measured 90-square-feet, the kitchen proper required compact-sized appliances. Highlighting the value of reassessing a space’s layout, this Sweeten homeowner was even able to install a small dishwasher for the first time. 

Renovating also requires flexibility. While the homeowner had a vision in mind, plans changed when they discovered that plumbing and electrical upgrades were necessary. The budget had to be redirected and materials costs cut.

A bold color palette brought her personality into the kitchen: a purple island, blue-and-white floor tile, and cabinets in Brittany Blue.

white kitchen with patterened floor tiles and golden oak cabinets and butcher block countertop and range hood after renovation

For Chrissy and Matt’s kitchen, their renovation would result in a customized cookspace that was still within budget. Thinking outside the box, they combined a mix of complementary materials. They chose plywood cabinet bases for their cost-effectiveness and simple aesthetic look. Natural clay backsplash tile provided texture while a Moroccan-patterned cement tile floor would add the graphic pop.

A good tip when designing your kitchen cabinets: measure the cookware, small appliances, and tableware you’ll be using. Because the couple was able to customize their cabinet dimensions, they took measurements of items such as the height of the coffee grinder and Chemex pitcher, and custom-fit exactly where they would be stored.

The right remodeling materials for a big impact

When choosing materials, many surfaces and finishes may look similar. With a little research, you may find differences in criteria that are important to your vision, such as maintenance and durability.

Carrara and Calacatta marbles may both be from Italy but they are very different. Sweeten’s guide to Carrara vs. Calacatta marble clearly lists the characteristics, the costs, and the pros and cons of each. White marble is no doubt on many “must-have” lists as the look complements every finish, era, and style. But Carrara and Calacatta each have their own nuances—and their own fan clubs. One thing is for certain, they both elevate a kitchen with elegance and universal appeal. 

The value of the right renovation team

Steve and Lewis, who were first-time renovators, were about to renovate an 1882 three-story rowhouse. Each floor would be open-concept, so walls, bricks, and joists would be removed. It was a major investment and alteration, with added complexity: nothing existing was good enough to keep. To tackle this complete gut, they found the right professional renovation team to help them through the process from start to finish. An architect and a Sweeten design-build firm recreated a live/work home. New features included radiant-heated floors, a custom kitchen, and a relocated building entrance.

“Throughout the job, we enjoyed a collaborative exchange with the architect and contractor,” said Steve and Lewis. “As first-time (and last!) renovators, we’d embarked on possibly the most stressful project of our lives. Luckily, we had chosen our team carefully.” Looking back, they share this advice, “Issues that arise and seem monumental during the process get solved, and are forgotten once you move in. Now when we enter our home, we feel serene.”

Repurpose and function for a Los Angeles bathroom

wet room bathroom

Several elements make Liz and Kevin’s mid-century bathroom a modern inspiration. The soaking tub sitting in the shower not only has a wet-room feel but has potential space-saving qualities. Spotting a vintage six-drawer walnut dresser, Liz repurposed it as a sink vanity. And the orange penny tile would match the family’s personality. It “felt like a risk, but a little playful, like us,” said Liz.

The renovation came together during the pandemic, so there would be delays. But the couple searched and found a woman-owned contracting firm at Sweeten who would guide them through the process.

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation with Sweeten

The post Editor’s Picks 2021 appeared first on Sweeten.

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Home Improvement

11 Creative Home Library Ideas

A modern living room with a library full of books that are color coordinated in a rainbow spectrum.
Mark Lohman | Courtesy Kristy Kropat Design

Whether you’re a bookworm with a growing collection of works, or you’re just looking to add a smart focal piece to a room, here are some creative ways to create a library in your home.

Have you always dreamed of a library of your own, but don’t think you have the space for one? You can always get creative: A home library is more about organizing a beautiful display for your book collection and having a cozy spot to devour stories than about owning built-in bookshelves or dedicating an entire room to leather-bound volumes. You don’t need a large space, and you may not even need an actual bookcase.

Let’s take a look at some home library designs and ideas that’ll put you right in the mood to curl up with your favorite book.

Office Library

If you’ve got a spare wall in your home office, that’s a natural space to turn into a library. Being in a room intended for getting work done should inspire you to sit down and read as well. Fill up those shelves with books for work and for pleasure.

Faux Library

No built-ins? No matter. You can easily purchase multiple bookcases and line them up around a room to create the illusion of a wall with built-in shelving. Turn any spare room of your home into a library with this setup.

Corner Library

a midcentury modern style living room with a corner bookshelf.
Mark Lohman | Courtesy Kristy Kropat DesignLibraries don’t have to be expansive. A single armchair, lamp, and bookcase can transform any corner of the house into a comfortable reading spot and small home library. After all, it’s about having an inviting place to settle down with a riveting story.

ttic Library

Turn a narrow or slope-ceilinged attic into a cozy little library of your own. Adding some shelves and a comfy chair or window seat can transform your underused top floor into a welcoming living space.

Bedroom Library

A modern bedroom with a wall of bookshelves behind the bed.
Michael J. Lee | Courtesy Platemark DesignSerious readers will want to surround themselves with books all the time, even when they’re asleep. This charming setup ensures that a novel is always within arm’s reach, even when you’re feeling too lazy to get out of bed.

Hallway Library

Many homes have a long hallway or stair landing that’s basically dead space. Put it to work by turning the walls into shelves and lining them with your favorite stories. It’s a brilliant way to kill two birds with one stone.

Nook Library

A home library with a large window as the focal point.
Anthony TieuliIf you’ve got a bay window or space under the stairs (or even a large hall closet), you’ve got yourself a cute little nook library in the making. Just add some shelves, a bench, and a few comfortable throw pillows to make it official.

Sunroom Library

Who says libraries have to be dark and musty? A home’s sunroom lends itself nicely to being a library, as natural light is great for reading. Just make sure the sun isn’t shining directly upon your books, as that can cause the print on the covers to fade.

Kitchen Library

A modern kitchen with rustic wood accents. Books are stored in the kitchen island and on open shelving bringing a pop of color to the room.
Colin Poole/GAP PhotosShow off your extensive cookbook collection with a library situated right in your kitchen. (Even a regular kitchen cabinet with glass doors would work as a bookshelf!) Bright book jackets are a great way to add an unexpected pop of color to straightforward kitchen decor.

Floating Library

Tight on space? Create a floating library on wall shelves above your desk, sitting area, or any spot in the house, really. The best part is that your books can double as wall art—the kind that visitors will notice and want to discuss.

Library Ladder

A library in the hallway of a home, equipped with a ladder that allows you to get books from the upper shelves.
Anthony TieuliAdd a ladder to any floor-to-ceiling bookshelf and suddenly you have a bona fide home library. There’s something so fun and charming about this feature!

The possibilities for home libraries are endless. It’s all about getting creative with your space and personalizing it with your favorite books!

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Home Improvement

How to Install a Freezeproof Faucet

A step-by-step guide to protecting your exterior faucets from freezing and bursting

Most homeowners are prepared to deal with the occasional sticky doorknob or cracked floor tile, but even the most intrepid do-it-yourselfer shudders at the thought of a burst water pipe. If not immediately noticed, a ruptured pipe can be both expensive and time-consuming to clean up.

Fortunately, the pipe that’s most susceptible to extremely cold weather—the outdoor hose faucet—is also one of the easiest to protect from freezing. Here, This Old House plumbing and heating expert Richard Trethewey shows how to replace an existing hose faucet with a freeze-proof faucet.

Prevent outdoor faucets from freezing

Water expands when it freezes, and if that water is sitting in a pipe, the resulting pressure can be enough to crack it. Insurance companies say that just a ½-inch crack can cause enough damage to result in a $9,000 claim. Save your garden hoses, outdoor faucets, and their indoor pipes from freezing with these simple steps: Disconnect, drain, and store all hoses. Next, close the shutoff valve on the spigot’s water line inside the house, and open the faucet to let the remaining water drain outside. Leave the faucet slightly open until you plan to use it again.

Freezeproof Faucet Overview

Illustration by Gregory NemecA burst water pipe is a home-repair nightmare: When the temperature drops below freezing and the water in an exposed pipe freezes, it expands, rupturing the pipe. While most plumbing is protected by insulation or heating, an outdoor faucet is vulnerable to the elements.

Fortunately, this fixture is easy to protect with a freezeproof faucet (aka a freezeless or frostproof hose bib, sill cock, or faucet). A standard hose faucet freezes because the supply pipe connect to the faucet outside the heated house. This exposes the water to freezing temperatures. A freezeproof faucet, ranging from 4 to 24 inches in length, extends back into the house, and its valve seat—where the water stops when the faucet is off—is all the way inside. So once the handle is turned off outside, the water never makes it farther than the warm side of the wall; any water trapped in between just drains out the faucet.

Note that this installation presumes your house is plumbed with copper pipe. You’ll generally be able to follow these directions for other materials, although cutting and joining will be different. If you have galvanized steel pipes, don’t forget to use a dielectric union if you introduce copper pipe into the system.

CAUTION: This project involves soldering with a propane torch. Use extreme care when working with the flame: Wear eye goggles, protect combustible materials with fire-resistant cloth or sheet metal, and keep a fire extinguisher nearby just in case.

Step 1: Drain the faucet

Photo by Shaffer Smith PhotographyClose the water-supply shut-off valve nearest to the hose faucet to be replaced.

Go back to the faucet, disconnect the hose, and open the faucet so it drains.

Return to the shut-off valve and check its side for a small nut, or drain cap. If you see one, hold a bucket under the valve and loosen the nut with your fingers or a pair of pliers. Any water tapped between the faucet and the shut-off valve will drain out.

Step 2: Cut the supply line

Photo by Shaffer Smith PhotographyOn the inside of the wall, find the horizontal pipe coming from the hose faucet. Estimate where the new freeze-proof faucet will reach, add 6 inches, and make a mark.

If the pipe is copper, use emery cloth or 100-grit sand-paper to clean this area.

Cut copper pipe at the mark with a mini hacksaw, tubing cutter, or close quarter tubing cutter.

Tip: When using a tubing cutter, make at least one full revolution around the pipe before tightening its knob a turn.

Step 3: Take out the old faucet

Photo by Shaffer Smith PhotographyGo outside and remove the two screws holding the old hose faucet to the house.

Carefully pull the faucet out of the wall. If its flange is trapped behind a piece of siding or trim, use a pry bar to work the flange free.

Tip: Don’t discard the old faucet just yet. You may be able to use the part of the supply pipe that’s attached to it to connect the new freezeproof faucet.

Step 4: Remove the new faucets stem assembly

Photo by Shaffer Smith PhotographyUse an adjustable wrench and pliers to remove the stem assembly from the freezeproof faucet. Twist off the retaining nut and slide out the assembly.This is necessary to prevent the stem’s rubber seat from melting during soldering.

Test-fit the new faucet into the hole in the house wall. If it doesn’t quite fit, enlarge the hole with a drill and 1-inch-diameter spade bit.

Step 5: Install the new faucet

Photo by Shaffer Smith PhotographyWrap the threaded end of the new faucet with Teflon plumber’s tape, then slide it through the hole and press the flange tight against the siding. Don’t screw it in place just yet.

If the hole is a bit too big, pull ou tthe faucet a few inches and fill the space around the pipe with a thick bead of adhesive caulk. This will help to seal out the cold.

Now, move inside and bring with you all the fittings and tools for making the plumbing connections.

Step 6: Fit the pipe connection

Photo by Shaffer Smith PhotographyThread a 1/2-inch female copper adapter onto the end of the freezeproof faucet, then tighten it with a wrench.

Meaure the gap between the adapter and the water-supply pipe you cut; add 1/2 inch and cut a length of new pipe to fit or use what’s attached tot he old faucet.

Tip: Fit an adjustable wrench on the wrenching surface, next to the threads, to hold the faucet steady as you tighten the adapter.

Step 7: Solder the connections

Photo by Shaffer Smith PhotographySlide a 1/2-inch coupling over the end of the water-supply pipe.

Insert the short pipe section into the coupling at one end and the adapter at the other.

Solder the three joints using a propane torch and lead-free solder.

Wipe the joints clean with a thick cloth, being careful not to touch the hot pipe with your bare hand.

Tip: Remember to clean all the pipe endsand fittings with emery cloth and a wire fitting brush, then apply flux to all connecting surfaces before soldering.

Step 8: Reinstall the stem assembly

Photo by Shaffer Smith PhotographyNow you can secure the faucet to the house with two 1 1/2-inch long weather-resistant screws. Drive the screws through the mounting holes int he flange.

Slide the stem assembly into the faucet and tighten up with pliers.

Close the drain nut on the shut-off valve, then open the valve and check for leaks.

Now go back tot he new faucet and turn it on. Allow the water to run for a few seconds to flush out any excess flux.

Tip: For extra weather protection, wrap the faucet’s pipe with pre-slit foam or fiberglass pipe-insulation tubes.


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Home Care

Smart Home Security: Keeping Tabs on Your House

Courtesy Ring

Protect your property from porch pirates, intruders, and more with a smart home security system you can set up in an afternoon.

This story originally appeared in the Winter 2021 Issue of This Old House Magazine. Click here to learn how to subscribe.

After four years of living with a traditional wired security system at his Mariposa, CA, home, Jim Allen was ready for a change. “I was tired of walking through the door with my arms full of groceries thinking; I’ve got 30 seconds to turn o that alarm,” he recalls. So Jim canceled his service—which took nearly a week of customer service calls—and installed a smart home- security package himself. He was also paying $40 per month for professional monitoring, with a price hike looming.

DIY Smart Home Security Systems

Most smart home security is designed with DIY in mind. There’s generally no pro installation called for and no contract required. Homeowners affix sensors to doors and windows and set up motion detectors and cameras themselves; everything is connected to a Wi-Fi-enabled hub and controlled via a mobile app.

Unlike old-school security offerings, these smart systems give homeowners instant information about what’s going on in their homes via their smartphones. And they communicate wirelessly with monitoring and emergency services instead of relying on a landline that could be cut by an intruder.

As for smart security cameras, they are evolving rapidly, most notably with improvements in night-vision technology. Grainy black-and-white footage is being replaced by crisper, high-resolution infrared video and newer full-color modes. Thanks to new facial recognition technologies, in the not-so-distant future, cameras will be able to tell not just that someone is approaching but whether they’re a stranger or part of the family, reducing false alarms.

The Smart Security Difference

“I appreciate that I can see what’s going on in my home no matter where I am—one time I checked in from a cruise ship,” says Jim, who set up a SimpliSafe system. “And when I arrive home, I can disarm the system and unlock the door from my driveway.” A smart alarm can be voice-controlled, too, if connected to a voice assistant such as an Amazon Echo or a Google Nest device.

Systems also can be customized with add-ons that traditional wired alarms don’t offer, such as water-leak and smoke detectors, as well as temperature sensors that send you a smartphone alert if your pipes are at risk of freezing and bursting. Jim upgraded his own with leak sensors at his sinks and smoke sensors that alert him if a fire ignites.

Some companies, such as Ring, also include a feature in their mobile app that lets neighbors share and comment on one another’s videos, creating a virtual Neighborhood Watch.

What to Look for in a Home Security System

The easiest and most cost-effective solution for most homeowners is a whole-house smart security system. It comes with a hub or control panel with a siren, a handful of magnetic sensors that are triggered when a door or window is opened, a motion sensor that detects movement in a room, and sometimes a security camera.

But if you only need to monitor a small area, such as a sliding patio door, a front entryway, or part of the backyard, there are also stand-alone options that can be purchased à la carte, such as iHome’s iSB01 motion sensor ($30; ihomeaudio.com), which detects unexpected activity in a room, and the affordable Wyze Cam v3 ($30; wyze.com), a simple indoor/outdoor camera.

Be sure any camera installed outside is rated for outdoor use; you can also check the IP (ingress protection) rating, which indicates how well it will stand up to the elements, including water (look for IP55 or higher). If the camera requires AC power, consider how you’ll run a line to the power supply when deciding where to place it. If it’s battery-powered, mount it where it can be easily retrieved for periodic recharging. Most major brands offer monitoring as an upgrade. This can be worth paying for, especially if you travel frequently or are often out of wireless range.

For as little as $4.99 a month (with the option to cancel anytime), most monitoring companies will call if an alarm is tripped and will send first responders to your home if you don’t answer within a set amount of time or if you request help.

For Jim, the money he’s saving is a major plus, but what he likes most about his smart home security system is that it keeps him informed and in control 24/7. “I can always check my phone to see exactly what’s going on in my house,” he says. “I have total access.”

Comparing Smart Home Security Systems

These popular whole-house systems all offer starter packages with hubs and door/window sensors, plus plenty of extras, but their prices and features vary widely.

Blue by ADT


Blue hub by ADT
Courtesy ADTWhat you get: The Starter System ($220) comes with a hub and two door/window sensors.Add on options: Doorbell, outdoor and indoor cameras ($200 each); motion sensor ($25); flood and temperature sensor ($35).Pros: Access to the same quality monitoring service ($20 per month) used by wired-alarm customers.Cons: No smoke sensor available. Utilitarian design.



SimpliSafe Security Base
Courtesy SimpliSafeWhat you get: The Essentials package ($259) comes with a hub, three-door/window sensors, and a motion sensor.Add on options: Doorbell, outdoor and indoor cameras ($99–$170 each); glass-break sensor ($35); smoke detector ($30); carbon monoxide sensor ($50); temperature sensor ($30); water sensor ($20); smart lock ($99).Pros: Established brand with dependable, relatively stylish hardware.Cons: Monitoring service is pricey at $25 per month. Indoor camera feels flimsy.



Wyze Security Hub
Courtesy WyzeWhat you get: The Core Starter Kit ($70) has a hub, two door/window sensors, and a motion sensor.Add on options: Doorbell, outdoor and indoor cameras ($27–$51 each).Pros: Very good video quality despite the reasonable price tag. Sleek hardware design. Professional monitoring is only $4.99 per month, the most affordable on the market.Cons: No smoke sensor available.

Ring Alarm


Ring alarm hub
Courtesy RingWhat you get: The Alarm Security Kit ($200) comes with a hub, one door/window sensor, and a motion sensor. Monitoring is $20 per month.Add on options: Doorbell, outdoor and indoor cameras, some with motion-activated lights ($60–$250 each); a smoke alarm listener that sends an alert when existing smoke alarms go off ($35); flood and freeze sensor ($35).Pros: Compatible with other brands’ “Works with Ring” devices.Cons: Extra door/window sensors are pricey at $20 each.



Vivint Home Security System
Courtesy VivintWhat you get: The Starter Kit ($599, plus $45 per month for monitoring) includes a hub, two door/window sensors, a motion sensor, and a leak detector. Or sign a five-year contract and pay $60 per month.Add on options: Doorbell, outdoor and indoor cameras ($200– $400 each); smoke and carbon monoxide detectors ($100); glassbreak sensors ($100); smart lock ($180).Pros: Sophisticated, easy-to-use equipment. Works with third-party Z-Wave devices.Cons: Expensive. Pro installation required.

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Home Improvement

203(k) Loans: What to Know When Clients Use Them

203(k) loans come with strings attached. Understand how they work, and when they can—and can’t—be used.

In addition to cash, home equity loans, and home equity lines of credit, many homeowners pay for their renovations with Federal Housing Administration 203(k) loans.

How do 203(k) loans work?

These federal loans come with strings attached: they can only pay for specific categories of work, they release funds in two lump payments, and they often require the client to hire a HUD consultant. They pay a maximum of $35,000.

FHA 203(k) loans can be used to:

Improve a home’s functionality or attractivenessEliminate health and safety hazardsRehab the plumbing or sewer systemsInstall or repair the roof, gutters, and downspoutsInstall or replace the flooringImprove major aspects of the landscaping
Ensure accessibility for a disabled person
Make a home more energy-efficient

FHA 203(k) loans can’t be used to:

Make structural repairs or improvements
Work on a rental property
Build new construction / room additions
Build new swimming pools
Build tennis courts, gazebos, or bathhouses
Build other “luxury items”

Payment schedule

The FHA will pay the homeowner a partial sum when the 203(k) loan is approved, and the remainder at the conclusion of the project, typically after all required inspections. You won’t be able to negotiate for payments in-between these official ones.

How to handle 203(k) loans

First, decide if you’re willing to accept them at all. You’ll get more work if you do, but you’ll have to be ok with the payment schedule, and possibly additional paperwork. 

Whether you choose to accept 203(k) loans or not, bring up the topic early in discussions with a potential client, before submitting an estimate. 

If the client plans to use a 203(k) loan, this will put hard constraints on the project scope, the budget, and the payment schedule. You’ll have to figure all of this out before you draft the contract. 

You absolutely don’t want to have a signed contract in hand, and then hear, “By the way, we’re paying with a 203(k)!”

Questions? Contact [email protected].

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