All posts by Jennifer Morton

Going Green in Your New Home

In the past few years, we’ve all put more focus on sustainability and going green. We replace plastic straws with reusable or biodegradable ones, carry reusable water bottles, bring our own bags to the store, and put as much in our recycling bins as possible. There are also ways to go green when you’re building your home. Here are some simple ways that you can make a difference in the environment while building your home.

 

Appliances and lighting

Switching to energy efficient light bulbs and choosing Energy Star appliances will reduce energy and water use. They also use less energy and water, reducing your utility costs.

 

Insulation

Another money-saving and earth-friendly choice is investing in quality insulation. You will use less energy to heat and cool your home, which will cut costs on your electric bill. Talk to your builder about available options.

 

Solar Energy

You can choose solar panels to power your entire home or use solar energy to power just some parts of your home. There are vendors available to add these once your home build is complete.

 

Windows and Doors

The entry points to your home are also entry points for summer heat and winter cold. Choose high quality doors and double paned windows to keep your house at the temperatures you want it. Also consider low-emittance, or low-e, windows to reduce heat from the sun from entering your home, without reducing natural light. Horizons East’s uses low-e windows as a standard. One of which, is the Ply Gem 1500 series, and was recognized as the “Most Efficient” of Energy Star in 2021. Look for sustainable produced and low-e rated products when making selections for your new home.

Value of a Mudroom

A mudroom is the perfect place to keep extra dirt and clutter from finding its way into the rest of your home. It provides a specific location for dirty shoes to be removed before dirt or mud is tracked onto your living room floor. Backpacks, coats, and sports gear can be stored, instead of tossed on the couch or in the dining room. It can make your life so much easier! Here are 5 valuable benefits of having a mudroom in your home.

 

1. More Useful Storage

Winter gloves? Coats? Rain boots? Extra shoes you don’t want in your closet? Having a mudroom is like having an extra-large coat closet. It’s the perfect place to stash seasonal items, keeping them out of your bedroom or coat closet. They’re available when you need them, but not in your way everyday.  With built-in storage options, your mudroom will stay tidy, too.

 

2. Everything in One Place when it’s Time to Go

Many families can have a hard time getting out the door. Everyone’s shoes are in different places, someone left their backpack in their room, you can’t find your coat, etc. A mudroom makes it easier to get everyone ready to leave in one place and at the same time. All the shoes, bags, car keys, everything you need to leave the house can be safely stored in one place! A little bit of planning can make your morning routine “grab and go.”

 

3. Everything has a Place, too

Giving kids a dedicated place to hang school bags, or sports equipment, means there is less chance that it will end up in the middle of the floor. Everything should have a home, and a mudroom is a great home for a lot of things. And when they are stashed on the way in, life’s a little easier for everyone.

 

4. Functional Space

Many mudrooms have a bench to make putting on shoes a breeze. It’s also right by the door, so the perfect place to take things on and off as soon as you leave or enter the home. No more stomping around the house in your boots! Use this space to create functional storage that fits your family’s lifestyle and needs.

 

5. Keep it Clean!

Rain and mud are part of daily life in eastern North Carolina. Mudrooms help ensure muddy shoes and dripping raincoats don’t make the whole house messy. Consider adding a sink to your mudroom.  It’s a great place to clean muddy shoes, dry umbrellas or soak a stained uniform. Some families even plan for laundry rooms to be near a mud room for easy access. Talk to your builder about your options.

 

A mudroom helps preserve your home’s interior, flooring and well… maybe Mom’s sanity.  We think that’s a great investment.

Best Big-Budget Features to Include in Your Dream Home

When you’re building your forever home, investing in key big-budget features can make all the difference.  Here are a few of the best big-budget features to consider to make your new home a dream for you and your family.  Whether your family loves to entertain, stay in, or be adventurous, there are options for you!

 

Adventures on (or in) the Water

A boat lift is something many eastern North Carolina families dream about. Make your days on the water easier to access with a boat lift.

https://www.shorestation.com/permanent-boat-lifts/boat-house-lifts  https://www.bluehaven.com

 

Prefer chlorine over fresh water? Invest in a pool for hot summer days. Your kids will love it, and so will adults when you entertain.  If you’re planning to spend lots of days on the water or at the pool, an outdoor shower may also be a great addition to your home and lifestyle. Please ask us for a recommendation, as Horizons East currently does not install pools.

 

Coming to a Theater Near You…

A very popular big-budget feature is a state-of-the-art home theater.  Digital entertainment is here to stay and with luxury seating, digital surround sound, snacks and a bar, it’s hard to go wrong.  Everyone in the family will enjoy their favorite movies in style in your own theater.

 

Going Up?

Boat lifts aren’t the only things going up in some new homes.  An elevator can also be a worthwhile investment for some families. They make your home more accessible for aging or differently able friends and family, and they can make life easier for anyone with heavy items to bring upstairs.

 

Ideas Tailored to Your Family’s Lifestyle

Have a budding chef?  A dual kitchen workspace allows for multiple people to cook at once.  Love natural light?  Consider sun tunnels.  Are her feet always freezing?  Perhaps heated floors in the bathroom. The options are virtually infinite.  When considering which features will be best for your home, remember it comes down to what your family will enjoy for years in your dream home.

 

Need help?  We know details make the difference.  Our team is here to help you plan and build your dream home.

Clever Storage Options for Your Home

You want to be able to enjoy every single space in your home. Here are a few clever storage solutions, some big and some small, to help you make the most of your home.

 

Clever Kitchen Spaces

Adding a pull out spice cabinet will save space by utilizing small vertical spaces between cabinets and appliances.  Wall spice units leverage space over counters and spice drawers keep spices handy and save cabinet spaces for other uses.  In any case, they add and create a practical way to store all the tiny bottles used for spices.

Add a Lazy Susan in a corner cabinet or shelves that pull out like drawers to utilize every inch of useful cabinetry space.  Use stacking shelves, wall shelves or other creative storage ideas in pantries and kitchen spaces to increase storage capacity and ease of access.

Photo https://www.homecrestcabinetry.com/products/cabinet-interiors/wall-spice-pull-out-cabinet

 

A Christmas Tree Closet

Does your Christmas tree take up a lot of space?  Do you dread assembly before the holidays and disassembly in January? Plan a large closet for your tree in or near your living room. Then just roll your Christmas tree out in December and back into the closet in January.  Done.

 

Mirror Mirror on the Wall

You’ve heard of barn doors? Well how about a barn door mirror?  Extra storage can be tucked behind a sliding vanity mirror or full length mirror in bathrooms, closets, bedrooms or virtually anywhere you want to hide shelving for small storage.

 

Virtues of Going Vertical

Don’t forget to utilize vertical space! You may need to invest in a ladder or a good step stool, but using vertical space can help with space and efficiency in living spaces, storage spaces and garages. Items stored vertically are take up less space overall and are easier to access.

Photo: homedit.com/cool-firewood-storage-designs/    Photo:https://hips.hearstapps.com/

While you’re thinking vertical, also look for high points in closets, nooks or walls that can be leveraged with wall shelves or other forms of storage to keep items you don’t use everyday up and out of the way.

 

Clear as Mud (Rooms)

Finally, a great place for families to add storage is in a well-equipped mud room. Having a place for coats, hats, gloves, shoes, backpacks and purses to live when not in use will keep this clutter out of your own closets. It’s also easier to grab everything that everyone needs in one place, rather than stopping in several bedrooms and closets looking for each item. This can be as simple as a bench that doubles as storage with hooks hanging above it, or as elaborate as a small room with shelving, a shoe rack, coat closet, etc.

photo: https://www.thisoldhouse.com/entryways-mudrooms/21372103/mudroom-storage-ideas

Budgeting for Building Your Home

When it comes to building your dream home, you want to get all the “must have” features and beauty.  You also want to make sure you’re getting the most out of your investment.  Sometimes, that’s as simple as knowing which features to splurge on and which to keep economical.  Let’s take a look at a few key areas worth investing in as you build your new home.

 

Where should I make premium investments?

 

1. Insulation

Insulation will not only impact how comfortable your home is, but how much you spend on utilities every month of every year.  Remember, summer heat and humidity in Eastern North Carolina is no joke.

It is difficult to add insulation in the future if you need to, but it’s recommended and most cost effective to do so when building.  Investing in high-quality insulation during your build will save you money for years. Ask us about the different types of insulation available for your build.

 

2. Foundation

Anything that is considered permanent, or essentially permanent, merits a good investment. An experienced foundation contractor who uses quality materials is essential. Choose a slab foundation instead of a crawlspace or basement, but don’t skimp on quality materials or workmanship. Any of these can be good options if you use quality materials and contractors. A monolithic slab tends to be more cost effective than a raised foundation, or crawl. However, since you cannot raise your house after pouring the foundation really consider the investment at the beginning of your home build because it cannot be changed later.

 

3. Framing

A highly qualified framing contractor will save you in time, frustration, waste materials and repairs down the road.  If you can, consider 2×6 exterior walls instead of 2×4. This makes walls thicker, allowing more space for more insulation against weather and noise.

 

Where should I skip the splurge?

 

1. Appliances

Don’t panic!  Of course, you want great quality appliances.  But unless you’re a gourmet chef, you probably don’t need to invest in professional grade ovens and a blast chiller.

 

2. Countertops and backsplash

These are important to the aesthetic of your new kitchen. But keep in mind, they are cosmetic.  You can always change out a countertop or backsplash if styles change or you want a makeover in the future.

 

3. Paint Variations

Painters often charge based on the number of colors used throughout your house. Stick with one color for the majority of the home, using accent walls or varying colors sparingly at first.  Keep in mind, walls will be painted again over the years.  You can always add more color later to save a little expense now.

Smoke & Carbon Monoxide Detectors

We all want to keep our family safe. Taking certain precautions in your home can help. One simple, important way to protect your family at home is with carbon monoxide and smoke detectors.

 

Carbon Monoxide Detectors & Maintenance

Carbon monoxide is a gas that has no color and no odor, making it virtually impossible to detect with your own senses. It is potentially lethal and can cause a number of symptoms, such as chest pain, vomiting, or dizziness.

Carbon monoxide detectors have an alarm that sounds whenever they sense unsafe levels of carbon monoxide.  There are a few kinds of detectors on the market, but in general, the alarm is set off when carbon monoxide causes a reaction in the chemicals the detectors contain.

There’s easy maintenance for carbon monoxide detectors to ensure they are working properly. Simply test the detectors once a month by pushing the test button on the front of the unit. Replace the batteries as often as the manufacturer recommends and replace the detector every few years. Also, remember to keep them clean and free of dust.

 

Smoke Detectors & Maintenance

Smoke Detectors are another simple, but very important way to protect your family. Some smoke detectors can also detect carbon monoxide. It is important to have a both types of alarms in your home at all times, whether they are separate devices or a hybrid unit.

Smoke detectors set off an alarm when smoke causes a chemical reaction inside the device or heat rises to a very high level. Maintenance for smoke detectors is similar to the maintenance of carbon monoxide detectors, but be sure to check the manufacturer’s instructions for specifics. Generally, you should test them once a month and change them out every few years. Also, keep them free of dust.

 

What About False Alarms?

Sometimes, both detectors may give a false alarm. For example, smoke detectors can go off because of steam, which causes a similar reaction as smoke would inside the device. Carbon monoxide detectors may sound a false alarm if they are too close to appliances that use gas, like a stove.

Even though a detector may give a false alarm, always take any alarm seriously and take appropriate action until you can confirm the alarm was false and your home is safe. Since carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas, it is strongly advised to have a professional come out and verify that there is no leak in your home if your carbon monoxide detector sounds an alarm.

Winterizing Your Roof

Winterizing your roof can prevent damage from icy conditions and make your life easier in the long run. Prevention costs less than repair and replacement! Here are some ways to keep your roof intact all winter long.

 

Clean Gutters, Downspouts and Roof Areas

When rain and snow hit your roof, they leave through your gutters if applicable, as we don’t typically install gutters. Keeping gutters and downspouts debris-free prevents poor drainage.  Proper drainage prevents damage to your roof, landscaping and siding.  To protect your foundation, ensure downspouts are pointed away from the house. Good practice is to drain into a splash block.

Additionally, debris has a habit of getting trapped in valleys on the roof and can prevent water, snow and ice from draining, which causes damage.

 

Insulate & Vent Your Attic

Insulating and ventilating your attic will prevent heat loss and money loss in energy bills.  They can also help prevent ice dams and icicles from forming. Check with a local roofing expert for their recommendations on your roof’s insulation.

 

Check for Damage

Before winter starts, inspect your roof.  Pay special attention to any areas where you have had repairs before and make sure all shingles are intact. This can prevent leaks and further damage.

 

Trim Your Trees

When snow falls, it can weigh down tree branches.  Heavy branches can break and fall onto the roof of your home. Remove and trim the branches that extend over your roof to prevent limbs from landing on your home.

These tips will help you get through winter and protect the roof over your head.  However, if you detect a leak, do not walk on the roof while it is wet. Shingles are very slippery when wet and walking on the roof is potentially harmful to the roof itself.  If you are able to go into the attic space, it is recommended to install a bucket or container to prevent excessive damages. If this is done, be sure that the container is placed on a SOLID surface and is empties periodically depending on how bad the leak is, and how fast it will fill the container. Take note of where the leak is located and call a professional or inspect it yourself once the shingles are dry.

Winterizing Pipes and Exterior Fixtures

Before winter hits, we often take measures to winterize our lives. We may buy sweaters, new boots, chains and antifreeze for the car, and generally get our lives ready for cold weather. Just like our wardrobe and our vehicles, it is important to prepare your home for lower temperatures.

One specific way to prep your home for winter is to winterize your pipes. Winterizing pipes can protect your plumbing system, as well as keep your water accessible, even when the weather is below freezing. By winterizing your pipes, you will prevent water freezing inside the pipe which stops the line and can burst the pipe.

Here are a few things to do before the first freeze of the year arrives.

 

Drain, Turn Off, and Disconnect

Outside the home, make sure to disconnect and drain any garden hoses. Locate the shut-off valve for the exterior faucets and close the valve to stop the water inside the home.  The shut off valve may be in an access panel, or near the back wall in a garage or basement.  Open the exterior faucet to drain any remaining water in the pipe.  Leave the exterior faucet turned on (open) for the winter to prevent the trapping and freezing of moisture.

 

Keep a Heat Source On

Heating your home is one of the best defenses against freezing pipes.  A warm environment prevents freezing.  Keep your thermostat set at 60 degrees or higher during very cold weather.

 

Insulate

Insulate outdoor or exposed pipes with insulation sleeves, wrapping or using slip-on foam pipe insulation. Do not leave any gaps in the insulation.  Cold air can affect the pipe in these spaces. Good practice is to tape to prevent sun dry rot of insulation, so it doesn’t have to be done as often.

 

Going Out of Town? Prep the Pipes.

If you are leaving your home for an extended period during cold weather, you may need to take extra precautions. Keep the thermostat set at 60 degrees or higher and drain water lines before you leave. To do this, turn all sinks, shower heads, etc. on at around half flow with both hot and cold water, then shut off the main water valve, any water pump and the hot water heater.  Leave the faucets on and flush every toilet.  This should drain the water from your interior pipes.

When you return home, turn on the main water valve and pump.  Let water flow through the pipes and water fixtures for a few minutes. This may be noisy for a few moments. After you turn off the faucets, toilets should fill up again, too.  Be sure to turn your hot water heater back on once it fills. If a toilet, faucet, or showerhead does not have water coming through it, you may have a frozen line. If that is the case, call a plumber immediately.

Heating and Cooling Systems

Central Cooling

The most common central cooling system is a split system, which includes an outdoor cabinet containing a condenser coil and compressor, and an indoor evaporator coil, usually installed in conjunction with your furnace or air handler. The compressor pumps a chemical called refrigerant through the system.  Heat is transferred from air in your home to the refrigerant in the evaporator coil, thus “cooling” the air. Your cooling system is usually combined with your central heating system because they share the same ductwork for distributing conditioned air throughout your home.

Central Heating

Central heating systems have a primary heating appliance, such as a furnace, typically located in your basement or garage. All furnaces consist of four main components:

  1. Burners that deliver and burn fuel
  2. Heat exchangers
  3. A blower
  4. A flue that acts as an exhaust for gaseous by-products.

Depending on your situation, region, and needs, you can choose from heating systems running on either gas or oil as fuel, or a hybrid packaged system that can use both fuel types. Air from your home blows across the heat exchanger to be warmed. It is then blown through a system of ducts to distribute around your home. During warm seasons, your heating system works with your central air conditioning. Air is cooled as it is blown over your air conditioning unit’s cooling coil and then sent through the same air ducts through your home.

Heat Pumps

Heat pumps are designed to move heat energy from one location to another.  They typically pull heat out of the air or ground to heat a home or building, but they can be reversed to cool a building.  They transfer heat very much like air conditioning units transfer heat with refrigerant. One of the biggest advantages of a heat pump is there’s no need to install separate systems to heat and cool your home.  In moderate climates, heat pumps work very efficiently because they simply transfer heat, rather than burn fuel to create it.

System Efficiency

Heating and cooling systems are rated according to their seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER). SEER indicates the relative amount of energy needed to provide a specific cooling output. Many older systems have SEER ratings of 6 or less. Look for the ENERGY STAR® and EnergyGuide labels — qualified central units are about 15% more efficient than standard models.

Air Conditioning Troubleshooting Tips

  • Check to make sure your thermostat is set in the “cool” position.
  • Ensure that your outdoor air conditioning (condensing unit) is running:
  • Check the circuit breakers in the circuit breaker box (or electrical panel), most likely mounted to an outside wall in the back of the house. Are they in the “ON” position?
  • Check the outdoor unit “disconnect switch” to make sure it is in the “ON” position. The disconnect switch is located near the outdoor unit. (Typically, a grey 8″ wide x 6″ high x 4″ deep box mounted to the wall).
  • Ensure that the blower motor in your air conditioner is running. (If the thermostat is in the “cool” position, the air conditioner blower should be running.) If it’s not, check to make sure the on/off switch on the air conditioner is in the “ON” position. Sometimes a switch is located at the top of basement steps.
  • Be sure that you have changed your filter in the air conditioner recently. Your filter should be changed every month.
  • Check all return air grilles to make sure they are not blocked by furniture.
  • Check all supply air registers to make sure they are open and blowing air. (The return air grilles are normally located on your walls and are wide and flat).

Gas Furnace Troubleshooting Tips

  • Check to make sure that your thermostat is set in the “heat” position.
  • Make sure that the temperature setting on the thermostat is set above (or higher than) the indoor temperature showing on the thermostat.
  • Ensure that there is power to the furnace: Try turning the fan to “ON” using the fan switch on the thermostat to test for power to furnace.
  • Check the circuit breakers at the electrical panel to make sure they are in the “ON” position.
  • Check the SSU switch (it looks like a light switch on a gray box located at the furnace) to be sure it is in the “ON” position.
  • Replace the furnace filter if needed. All 1-inch thick furnace filters should be replaced monthly.  Purolator 2-inch-thick and other high-capacity pleated filters can most likely be changed every other month; 6 times per year.
  • If the system is running but you have not changed your filter, the filter may need to be replaced.
  • Check all return air grilles to make sure they are not blocked by furniture.
  • Check all supply air registers to make sure they are open and blowing air. (The return air grilles are normally located on your walls and are wide and flat).

Heat Pump Troubleshooting Tips

  • Check thermostat settings. Is the heat pump set on the desired mode and temperature?
  • Ensure the unit has power and breakers have not been flipped.
  • Clean or replace the air filter in the indoor air handler.
  • Ensure the outdoor unit is not blocked and has free airflow on all sides.
  • Your heat pump may need a tune-up. Having your heat pump serviced regularly by a professional, qualified HVAC technician can provide higher efficiency operation and more reliable comfort. One service typically offered during routine maintenance is cleaning your outdoor coil. If the coil is extremely dirty, your system may have trouble keeping up with demand.

Call an HVAC Technician

If you’re not comfortable troubleshooting, or attempts to find the issue don’t resolve the problem, it’s time to call a trained HVAC technician. Some HVAC issues are best left to the experts.  Frozen coils, water leaks in an indoor unit, an outdoor unit that will not shut off, and strange and/or loud noises are a few examples that call for a pro. Calling an HVAC technician will ensure that your repair is done safely and correctly the first time, reducing the risk of needing more costly repairs down the road.

Fireplace Safety and Care

Fireplaces, whether wood burning or gas, offer homeowners a warm haven during cooler seasons.  Understanding proper safety and operating procedures is important for any homeowner with a fireplace.  Families with children are often concerned about the possibility of accidental burns and increased fire hazard.  No need to fear.  In this article, we will share safety and care tips for wood burning and gas fireplaces to help you enjoy this feature of your home comfortably and safely.  We’ll also point out when it’s important to hire a qualified technician.

Gas Fireplace Safety

Gas appliances have some automatic safety features, but they still require good safety habits from you, the homeowner.  Here are a few helpful safety tips for gas fireplace use.

  • Always obtain and review your fireplace’s model information and manual so that you fully understand how to operate and maintain the appliance.
  • Know exactly where the gas shutoff and control key are located, before operating the fireplace.
  • For direct vent and B-vent fireplaces, practice operating the valve before the fireplace is used for the first time.

What to Inspect

Damper inspection is similar to that of a traditional wood burning fireplace.  Direct vent and B-vent appliances do not have dampers, but still check the flue termination to look for bird or rodent nests or the buildup of spider webs.  Debris from your lawn can also contribute to clogging the horizontal direct vent.

You can contact a local National Fireplace Institute (NFI) professional technician to inspect for leaking seals, loose gas fittings, dirty burners, or anything else that might affect the safety of your gas fireplace.

Wood Burning Fireplace Safety

The National Fire Protection Association recommends chimneys be swept at least once a year, at the beginning of winter, to remove soot and debris by a professional. Here are several safety items you can check yourself.

  • Store wood away from your home’s foundation and bring in what you need to use in small batches.
  • Choose the right woods: dense, hard woods such as oak should be split and stored in a high dry place for about six months.  A mix of seasoned and more green wood is helpful to control how long your fire burns, but avoid soft woods such as pine.  Pine can produce more creosote and eventually create a hazard.
  • Clean ashes out regularly, ensure they are completely cool before dumping them or spreading outdoors.
  • Use a metal-mesh screen or glass fireplace door to prevent hot embers from popping out of the fireplace onto flooring.
  • Ensure young children are unable to reach hot surfaces or fireplace tools.

What to Inspect

Inspect your damper to ensure it is opening and closing properly.  Check the flue for creosote buildup.  Creosote is a chemical mass of carbon formed when wood, tar, or fossil fuels are burned.  Creosote buildup is one of the many causes for chimney fires. Make sure a wire-mesh cap covers the top of the chimney to keep birds, squirrels, rain and other debris from entering and blocking the flue.  Finally, as always, test your smoke alarms to be sure they are functioning properly.

Once a year, before you start using the fireplace, contact a professional to clean and inspect your flue, damper and fireplace.

When you understand how your fireplace works and use basic safety measures, you can enjoy a warm fireside with your family all winter.