10 Ways to Make Your Backyard a Grand Oasis without Breaking the Bank

For many homeowners, the backyard offers a retreat from the fast-paced swirl of life, promoting solitude and serenity, calm and good health amid the daily grind.

Though the popular home improvement shows spotlight finished outdoor spaces with massive water features, grand exterior kitchens, and ambitious landscaping, creating such splendid spaces often carries a mighty cost. With some calculated planning and creativity, however, you can inject fresh flair into your backyard without breaking the bank.

1. Hit the Lights:

Outdoor lighting brings a whimsical look to any backyard while also increasing safety. From vintage Edison bulbs to lights contained in mini-mason jars, retailers big and small now carry a range of string lights in fun shapes and colors to make backyards sparkle.

2. Ignite Your Green Thumb:

Adding fresh flowers is among the easiest and most economical ways to enliven your backyard. Whether you create a flower bed surrounded by stones, use planter boxes, or turn that rickety old red wagon into a garden on wheels, fresh flowers add color and perfume to any outdoor space.

3. Aim and Fire:

A good power washing to your sidewalk, patio, or fence can quickly – and economically – rejuvenate your backyard.

4. Get Your “Upcycle” On:

While you could go out and purchase new seating and a patio table, that can hurt the pocketbook. If you can find furniture, planter boxes, and other tangible elements with good bones, you can resuscitate those dated pieces with some elbow grease and spray paint for a vibrant, contemporary look.

5. Grab Some Gravel:

Gravel is low-maintenance, durable, available in multiple colors, and rather inexpensive. It’s also often overlooked as an on-the-ground solution to high-traffic areas or spots unfit for plants. When used on walkways, in particular, gravel can surround flagstone or stepping stones to merge style and function.

6. Make Mulch an Ally:

Considered the “carpet of the backyard,” fresh mulch brightens the look of any backyard. Dedicating a few bags to flowerbeds and exposed soil, fresh mulch delivers an invigorated look, blocks weeds, and ensures plants receive much-needed nutrients.

7. Let the Water Flow:

A fountain will not only serve as a decorative element, but it will also bring the soothing sounds of flowing water right to your backyard.

8. Bring Inside Elements Outside:

Extend your living space into the great outdoors by bringing some traditional interior elements outside. Add color and texture to the backyard with a large outdoor rug or transform an old hutch into an outdoor bar.

9. Embrace Your Inner Architect:

Pergolas and trellises add immediate heft to any backyard. A trellis, for instance, can sit in the back of a yard as a charming focal point or delineate one backyard area from another, while a pergola can provide shade and serve as a dramatic anchor to any backyard’s design.

10. Use the Fence as a Canvas:

Feeling particularly artistic and daring? A unique mural on the fence or even a two or three-toned “racing stripe” running across the fence can add a vibrant pop of color and fun-loving dimension.

10 Questions to Help You Find the Right Homebuilder

Selecting the right homebuilder can be a daunting task.

With a home being the largest and most significant purchase of one’s life, buyers understandably fret over the decision – the trustworthiness of the builder, the budget, and the quality of the construction. These 10 questions, however, will help you evaluate homebuilders and team with the right pro for the job.

#1: Might you connect me to recent homebuyers?

Reputable homebuilders are confident in their work and their ability to please clients. Connecting with current homeowners can provide firsthand perspective regarding a particular builder’s competency as well as insights on the construction process.

#2: How long has your company been building homes?

It’s true that every homebuilder was, at one point or another, a new homebuilder. That said, experience counts. Established, credible firms have a track record you can evaluate, deep industry relationships, and the wisdom to troubleshoot challenges.

#3: Who will lead the building of my home?

Homebuilders will generally appoint one specific individual to oversee the entire construction process. Meet this individual, as he or she will likely be your primary point of contact during construction.

#4: Will I be able to visit the worksite?

It’s completely understandable that you’ll want to see construction progress for yourself. Trustworthy builders will gladly accommodate a more in-depth tour, though it is often best to schedule these visits so as not to impede progress.

#5: What changes can I make to the floor plans?

All builders handle floor plan changes a bit differently, so understand if and how changes are addressed. While some only build to the precise blueprint plans, others will move walls, add windows, shift closets, and incorporate other architectural changes as requested by the buyer.

#6: What are standard features and what are options?

Homebuilders will often supply a comprehensive list of the standard features included in each home plan, many of which will be different than what you might view in the model home. Getting clarity on standard features, available options, and the pricing structure for upgrades, particularly those important to you, is imperative to your budget and landing the home you desire.

#7: Is there a homeowners association (HOA)?

If there is an HOA, it will certainly have its own bylaws. Ask the builder for this information as it could influence your final decision and what you can – or cannot – do with your home. (It’s worth noting as well that some homebuilders impose their own community restrictions, such as preventing two like homes from sitting side by side. So-called monotony clauses ultimately protect the community’s integrity.)

#8: What is the inspection process like?

While many municipalities require specific inspections, many builders have an inspection process of their own with buyers that might include a pre-drywall walkthrough or an “Orientation Walkthrough” in which the superintendent familiarizes the new homeowners with maintenance and operation and identifies any final issues in need of attention.

#9: How long will it take to build my home?

Get an accurate estimate of your build time and understand the factors – weather being a notable one – that could delay construction. Dependable homebuilders can offer rather firm answers, not wishy-washy replies.

#10: What is your warranty program?

While appliances and other home elements are often covered by manufacturer warranty, proven homebuilders typically offer their own warranty plans. Gather specifics on the length of the warranty, what is (or is not) covered, and how repairs are handled within the warranty period.

Fido is Living Large: How Homebuyers are Creating Super Dog-Friendly Homes

For many Americans – nearly 9 out of 10, in fact – dogs are more than furry, four-legged friends; they’re treasured members of the family. With that, it shouldn’t be surprising that homeowners keep their dogs top of mind when designing a new home.

As a result, Fido is living large these days as homeowners create dynamic, dog-friendly spaces throughout the home.

Napping Nooks

Often tucked in alcoves beneath stairways, under laundry room counters, or other “dead space” within a home, homeowners are creating comfy sanctuaries for dogs to cuddle up and nap. Outfitted with plush beds, homeowners are also adding décor elements like custom wallpaper, textured throws, and pet candles to further enliven the spaces.

Grooming Stations

Rather than washing Fido outside or in the family bathtub, homeowners are giving dogs their own pampering space – often adjacent to laundry or a mudroom – featuring easy-access tubs, hand showers, drying equipment, grooming tools, and even customized towels.

Motion-Detecting Doggie Doors

In an effort to give their dogs on-demand access to the great outdoors, some homeowners are installing motion-detecting doggie doors wirelessly linked to a dog’s collar. In comparison to the traditional swinging doggie door, these tech-enabled doors also limit outside critters’ ability to wander inside as well.

Brain Games

In an effort to engage Fido, many dog owners are bringing clever food or treat-dispensing devices into the home. These “brain games” require dogs to somehow manipulate the item to receive their goods, which offers both physical and mental stimulation.

Smart Tech

Homeowners are increasingly adding smart technology to ensure their dog’s comfort and health. There are electronic devices that allow owners to talk remotely to their dog; mobile apps that allow out-of-the-home owners to dispense treats; and even GPS-enabled fitness trackers that monitor a dog’s activity and whereabouts.

Outdoor Retreats

From faux fire hydrants, obstacle-course elements, and enticing water features to designer outdoor doghouses, owners are dressing up their outdoor spaces to help Fido feel comfortable in or out of the home.

5 Common Mistakes of First-Time Homebuyers – and How to Avoid Them

Looking for your first home can be a daunting task. Rookie homebuyers face new vocabulary, a myriad of questions, and, of course, a significant financial investment.

The often-overwhelming nature of one’s maiden voyage into real estate can hamper decision-making and drive unnecessary stress. But with a little education, planning, and market understanding, first-time homebuyers can navigate their home-buying journey with increased confidence and smarts.

Mistake #1: Not understanding what you can – or are willing – to afford

For the vast majority of first-time homebuyers, making a six-figure purchase is a new experience. And far too often, first-time buyers waste precious time looking at homes beyond – or, in some cases, below – their price range.

Avoid it:

While digging into finances isn’t the most enjoyable of experiences, it’s a critical early step. Get a handle on your finances and what you are comfortable paying by tallying current expenses and getting pre-approved for a mortgage.

Mistake #2: Overlooking additional expenses

Homeownership comes with a litany of expenses beyond the mortgage payment. From taxes and homeowner’s insurance to home furnishings, rookie homebuyers who neglect to account for additional expenses can quickly find themselves stretched thin.

Avoid it:

Gather information on local taxes, get quotes on insurance and closing costs, and create a realistic budget for home goods and maintenance needs.

Mistake #3: Compromising on the important things

First-time buyers frequently fall into the trap of insisting on having everything or letting rather trivial wish-list items derail an otherwise promising deal. It’s important to know what really matters and the true non-negotiables.

Avoid it:

Compromise is commonplace in homebuying, so create a list of wants and needs and prioritize accordingly. Then, honor that list while exploring homes.

Mistake #4: Failing to consider the future

Some rookie homebuyers are so focused on the present that they overlook the future. While no one has a crystal ball, some educated assumptions can inform home choice. Perhaps a potential in-law situation makes a first-floor suite attractive. With the potential of kids looming in the near future, schools gain added importance.

Avoid it:

Consider where you might be in 5-10 years and make thoughtful, forward-thinking decisions about your home choice. Also, research the community and town to understand what’s in the pipeline. Are town leaders contemplating a new school? Is a sprawling apartment complex in the works for that nearby vacant field?

Mistake #5: Thinking a new home is beyond your reach

The real estate market is full of options and first-time homebuyers frequently think they’re confined to the resale market. While existing properties might carry a lower price tag, potential renovations, repairs, and maintenance can consume one’s finances.

Avoid it:

New home construction covers the entire pricing spectrum. Be educated about your options and tour promising new home communities. Ask questions about standard features, upgrades, and warranties to better understand the total investment.

ENERGY STAR Homes Defined

The now-ubiquitous Environmental Protection Agency credential is for more than household appliances and electronics

While Americans are accustomed to seeing the ENERGY STAR label attached to refrigerators, dishwashers, furnaces, and other household staples, new residential homes can also carry the moneysaving, environmentally conscious credential.

New homes claiming the ENERGY STAR label have been designed, built, and independently tested to meet strict requirements set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In hitting these marks, ENERGY STAR-certified new homes use 15-30 percent less energy on an annual basis, which translates into cash savings for the homeowner and a reduced environmental impact.

To earn the ENERGY STAR certificate, an independent energy rater analyzes the home at three distinct phases: pre-insulation; pre-drywall; and a blower door test upon completion. Tests examine key elements such as the tightness of the home’s envelope, the effectiveness of insulation systems, and the efficiency of heating and cooling equipment.

Though all new Gallagher & Henry single-family homes are ENERGY STAR certified, only three out of every 100 newly built homes in Illinois earned the credential in 2017.

An ENERGY STAR-certified home includes:

  • High-efficiency heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems: ENERGY STAR homes are required to have high-efficiency HVAC equipment. Such mechanicals provide lower utility bills, increased comfort, decreased noise levels, and a constant source of filtered air to minimize indoor air pollutants.
  • A thermal enclosure system: By sealing air leaks and installing high-performance windows and insulation, ENERGY STAR homes provide consistent temperatures throughout the home and optimize energy usage.
  • A comprehensive water management system: Utilizing proven building practices and materials that protect foundations, roofs, and walls from water damage, ENERGY STAR homes limit the stress and expense moisture can inflict on a home.
  • Energy efficient appliances and lighting. Packing homes with ENERGY STAR-certified appliances, lighting, fans, and more sparks savings on monthly utility bills and delivers quality performance.

Enjoy peace of mind with an ENERGY STAR home

When homebuyers purchase an ENERGY STAR-certified home they can rest assured that the home’s construction followed industry-leading construction practices that drive quality, durability, comfort, and, perhaps most importantly in today’s dollar-conscious world, lower cost of ownership and greater resale value since the ENERGY STAR certificate remains with the home.

Video Link: ENERGY STAR Certified Homes – Better is Better