The blueprint of a thoughtful home is simple: begin with clever ways to run it more efficiently and save serious money, and create a space filled with things you love in a way that works today — and tomorrow.
Start with basic ways to save water, energy and money.
Lower your water heater to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. “Most manufacturers set them to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, but 120 is hot enough,” says David Nemtzow, director of the Building Technologies Office at the U.S. Department of Energy in Washington. With this minor tweak, you’ll cut costs 6 to 10 percent.
Turn off the “power dry” feature on your dishwasher. This setting was designed to speed up the drying process. But if you’re not going to run another load right away, there’s no need, according to Tom Kraeutler, host of “The Money Pit,” a nationally syndicated home-improvement radio show. Plus you’ll save about 30 percent on your dishwasher energy costs.
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Switch to “advanced” power strips. These multiprong bars reduce the electricity wasted when your desktop computer, printer, TV, phone charger, game console, etc. are idle. Nemtzow points out that these “energy vampires” can add nearly 10 percent to your monthly electric bill.
Replace your showerhead. “Water-efficient models are phenomenal these days — they deliver a stream that wakes you up in the morning,” Kraeutler says. He likes ones from American Standard, which use 40 percent less water than conventional showerheads and can save a family up to 8,000 gallons a year.
Upgrade your insulation. It’s not sexy, but “it’s the No. 1 way to reduce your energy bill,” Kraeutler says. Peek into your attic. There should be 15 to 20 inches of insulation throughout; if not, hire a contractor or handyman to install it.
Plant trees strategically. Positioned near the south or southwest corners of your home, deciduous trees (ones that lose their leaves in autumn) offer shade in summer and let in light in winter. The DOE estimates that they can cut energy costs by 15 to 50 percent.
MAKE YOUR KITCHEN COVETABLE
It’s the most expensive room to upgrade, but doing so adds tremendous value — and happy living — to your home. Here’s how to tackle a refresh.
Stay open-minded. Open kitchens are still popular as hubs for entertaining and family togetherness. “People want informality and rooms that are multipurpose,” says Elizabeth Roberts, an architect in Brooklyn. “You’re prepping food in the kitchen, and the kids are doing homework at the dining table.” Consider opening up your space if you can.
Spend selectively. Splurge on the one or two items that matter most to you, and opt for tried-and-true basics elsewhere. In the kitchen, a “can’t-go-wrong combination” of white subway tiles and IKEA cabinets will keep costs under control, says Julie Carlson, editor in chief of the home-design site Remodelista. (Big box stores, like Home Depot, are also worth perusing.) Then, if you’re an avid cook, you can buy the best range you can afford.
Be a snob about your sink. Invest in high-quality, classic faucets, suggests Carlson. “There’s nothing more annoying than a leaky or temperamental one. And knockoffs of higher-end brands are made with plastic components. You want solid metal — like ones from Chicago Faucets.”
Select countertops with care. They should be strong, heat-resistant and nearly nonporous. Marble, to the lament of every aesthete, comes up short. But there are lots of gorgeous choices that meet these criteria. Natural stones include granite, soapstone and quartzite (just as lovely as marble). For man-made, try composites like Caesar-stone or Corian, or check out the new ceramic slabs — they’re hugely durable and come in lots of shades.
TREAT YOUR HOME LIKE A RETREAT
An emotionally intelligent home stimulates your senses and makes you feel calm and happy, too.
Fill it with things you love. Aim for a “collected over time” look, versus “furnished in one week,” Carlson says. And remember, no detail is too small to spark joy: Even your tiniest choices — coat hooks, key drop, drawer pulls — should please your eye, so don’t settle. “The marketplace has every flavor of everything; you can find whatever you’re looking for in a period and style that matches yours,” New York City professional organizer Andrew Mellen says. “Why settle for an approximation?”
Create a pleasant flow. Your home should feel open. Be sensitive to pinch points in the entryway or living-room seating situation, and leave some space in big rooms,” New York City interior designer Steffani Aarons. “This makes even a small home feel gracious.”
Commune with nature. If you have a patio or deck, “take the foot-print of your living room and duplicate it outside,” says Barbara Bestor, principal at Barbara Bestor Architecture, in Los Angeles.
Presto: You’ve doubled your common space. Likewise, bring the outside in and add greenery. “Being in a place with a lot of living things has positive psychological and physical effects, Bestor says. She loves succulents, spider plants and fiddle-leaf fig trees
PICK A TIMELESS PALETTE
That means grays, whites and natural tones.
Roberts has a cache of “nonboring neutrals” she uses, including Benjamin Moore’s Blue Veil (a cool blue-gray) and Farrow & Ball’s Railings (an inky blue). Once you’ve established a simple and serene foundation, add bolder tones through less-permanent objects, like a piece of furniture, drapes or throw pillows — and change them up as your taste or trends evolve.
GO FOR FAIL-SAFE FABRICS
“Most people have kids or pets — why not take away the anxiety that something will get spilled on?” Aarons says.
The market is full of stainproof, washable options that are so luxurious you’d never know they’re super-practical. Aarons especially likes the chic options from Holly Hunt, Holland & Sherry and Sunbrella. “I’d say about 70 percent of the fabrics we order for a job are stainproof,” she says.
LIGHT UP YOUR LIFE
Change to led bulbs everywhere. According to the DOE, they’re six to seven times more energy-efficient than incandescent lights, cut energy use by more than 80 percent, and can last 25 times longer — up to 10 to 20 years per bulb.
They also come in limitless styles (design experts love Philips’s vintage-style Edison LED bulb, $9, homedepot.com). A tip from Bestor: “For warm light, buy bulbs that are 2,700 Kelvin or below,” or your space will feel like “an airport.”
Swap out window treatments. “If they’re dark and heavy, changing them can make a huge difference,” Aarons says. “I’ll say to a client, ‘Why don’t we take off the 40 yards of fabric on your windows, and you’ll get 40 percent more light?’ ”
Let it shine outside. Illuminate trees or specific landscape features at night, “as opposed to using standard flood lights,” says Bestor, who adds that among her West Coast clients, “lighting pools in the evening is a big deal. They glow like jewels.”
Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate