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    Living With a Coworker? How to Keep Your Roommate Relationship Fun and Professional

    by Abby Perkins

    Considering living with a coworker? You should give it some serious thought.

    You may think you have a good idea of what your coworkers are all about. After all, you spend 40 hours every week with them. But the truth is that most people are completely different at work than they are at home. And even if you’re friends outside of the office, it’s still not the same as living under the same roof 24/7.

    However, affordable housing is hard to come by—especially if you live in a big city. And sharing a house or apartment with a fellow employee can make a lot of sense, especially when it comes to similar schedules and budgets. The bottom line? Cohabiting with a coworker can be a positive and even fun experience—if you stick to some basic rules. 

    Be Upfront about Expectations

    Sharing a residence with a respected coworker doesn’t ensure that he or she will be as well-behaved at home. Even the most accountable, driven workers may be less reliable or organized in their personal lives. For this reason, it’s important to be open and honest about roommate expectations, as well as considerate of all shared spaces. 

    Some important things to talk about? Expectations for cleaning up after yourself, sharing household duties, overnight guests, parties and more. A home is a place where both parties should feel comfortable and relaxed; make sure everyone is on the same page.

    Create a Roommate Agreement

    No matter how compatible you think you are or how many expectations you set out, the perfect roommate arrangement simply doesn’t exist. There’s no doubt that conflicts and problems will arise, and preparing in advance is the best way to help prevent potential issues from blowing up.

    Whether it’s written or not, the agreement should include things like overnight guests, quiet hours, specific cleaning and maintenance responsibilities, and when to lock the door. Don’t forget to include important information like how the bills will be split and when they will be paid. 

    Consider Carpooling

    One of the great advantages of having a “workmate?” Sharing the transportation to work. Carpooling can save you money in the long run – and it can even benefit the environment. If you and your roommate work similar schedules and don’t mind carpooling, create a simple schedule indicating who will drive on what days. If only one of you owns a vehicle, work out a reasonable plan for compensation for gas and vehicle maintenance. 

    Understand That It Isn’t Necessary to Be Best Friends

    Recognize that being roommates with a colleague isn’t necessarily about being best friends. Though roommates can be friends, a roommate relationship isn’t always same as a friendship—and that’s fine. First and foremost, the relationship is a shared living arrangement. And if you and your roommate live together just fine, sometimes that’s all that matters. In many cases, it’s actually better not to be best friends with your coworker/roommate—after all, you spend a lot of time with him or her already, and everyone needs space. Which brings us to our next point…

    Have Respect for Personal Space

    Like you would in any living arrangement, be respectful of your roommate’s personal space. Don’t poke into your roommate’s business, snoop around her room or go into her personal belongings. Always knock before you enter your roommate’s bedroom—and if the door is open, try to announce yourself with a rap on the doorframe or a quick “Hi!” And, though this might seem obvious, never read her emails, snail mail, text messages or notebooks—work-related or otherwise. Remember that no matter how close you are, your roommate has a right to live her own private life and come and go as she pleases.

    Keep Work and Home Separate

    One of the biggest dangers of living with a coworker is blurred boundaries between work and home. Keep what happens in your home life between you and your roommate. If you get in a spat about dirty dishes or guests overstaying their welcome, don’t talk about it with other coworkers. And try to keep work issues out of the home, too. You don’t want your home life and your office life to overlap too much, and you want to make sure you respect each other’s confidentiality and privacy. 

    Don’t Discuss Other Coworkers

    The last rule for a great roommate relationship? Don’t gossip about other coworkers with your roommate. While there may be other coworkers you both dislike, or work issues that both affect you, try to keep your conversations about workplace drama to the workplace. First, you both need to fight your own battles at work in a professional manner. Moreover, it’s just unhealthy to constantly vent about work.

    One last thing to remember—if a roommate arrangement doesn’t work out, you can’t just avoid your coworker after he or she moves out. You’ll still have to see each other at work, so it’s important to try to end the living situation on friendly and peaceful terms. Nevertheless, many coworker/roommate relationships really do work out well. The trick? Clear expectations, open communication, and respect.

    Abby Perkins is Editor in Chief at Software Providers, where she writes about jobs, workplace culture, and HR solutions

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    Preparing Your House or Apartment for Winter

    by Kate Voss

    Winter is probably the harshest season of the year for your house. Before the weather gets too bad, there are a few simple things you can do to prepare for winter—whether you own or rent your living space.

    5. Get Snow Removal Equipment

    Depending on your location, you might see snow this winter, so it's important to equip yourself in advance with the tools you'll need to efficiently remove it. At a minimum, you'll want a good snow shovel to clear out your driveway and remove excess snow from your car. Even if you don't drive, it's important to keep walkways and sidewalks clear to reduce the chance of slips and falls. A de-icing compound, such as salt, can help you melt ice and thus improve the safety of your exterior walkways.

    4. Avoid Plumbing Damage

    When temperatures dip below freezing, any water inside your plumbing system could turn into ice, thereby expanding. This expansion can cause pipe ruptures, which are costly to repair. If you have any pipes running through uninsulated areas of your home, use foam insulation to keep them from getting too cold. You should drain all your exterior faucets and cut off the water supply to them. If you'll be away from your house for any significant length of time, it might be wise to turn off your water main just to be on the safe side. Now might also be a good time to look into a simple toilet repair kit for your home.

    3. Weatherstrip Windows and Doors

    The cost of heating oil, natural gas, or electricity to keep your home warm can be a significant expense during winter months. You can save a considerable amount by making sure that your place is adequately insulated, as well as by making sure that your doors and windows are properly weatherstripped to eliminate drafts and other air leaks. Many people use incense sticks to check for air leaks; if the smoke moves horizontally rather than vertically, there is a leak. Rope Caulk is an excellent material for weatherstripping. You may also wish to install storm windows and storm doors for additional protection. The best part about improving insulation is that it requires less energy to heat your place, which would enable your house or apartment to run more efficiently on alternative energy, whether you go through one of the many providers in the United States or Edmonton energy service in Canada. Also—consider replacing your windows if they are cracked or damaged.

    2. Roofing

    Much like your doors and windows, your roof can allow cold air to enter your property. Unlike your doors and windows, there are certain hazards that come with roof work, so you may wish to enlist a roofing professional. Check your shingles to make sure they're not damaged. You should take a look at the flashing around your chimney and other parts of the roof and seal any leaks. It's important to make sure that your gutters are properly fastened and aren't clogged with debris. They'll play a vital role in removing water from your roof when snow melts. And, if your roof is in a state of severe disrepair, you may also consider contracting a roofing specialist to assist you.

    1. HVAC System Maintenance

    You'll be relying on your heating system for comfort and safety during frigid winter months, so it behooves you to make sure everything's in order well before the temperatures start dropping. You should test out the thermostat, furnace, and other parts of your heating equipment and fix anything that doesn't work properly. Be sure to put a clean air filter in your furnace for maximum efficiency. You probably won't use your air conditioners at all during the winter, so you should remove window-based units or use insulated liners to cut down on heating costs.

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    Getting The Most Out Of Your Kitchen Remodel

    by Darryl Crosby

    Whether it’s to increase your home’s value before you sell or to finally have the kitchen of your dreams, remodeling a kitchen is a renovation project with a lot of potential payback. Not only would you enjoy a renovated cooking space as long as you live in your home, but your home’s next buyer will enjoy it too. In fact, most buyers today want updated kitchens, according to reports where both minor and major kitchen remodels ranked in the top 10 home renovations for costs recouped.

    Along with bathrooms, kitchens are one of the first features buyers notice when they’re shopping for a home. So what’s the secret to getting the most of your kitchen remodel? How do you know what to invest in when you’re looking to make a profit when you decide to sell? The bottom line is this: you need to know what to change and how. With that in mind, here’s a look at the best kitchen renovation projects to take on when you’re looking for the highest returns.

    1. New Countertops: A whopping 94 percent of homeowners surveyed by Houzz in 2013 said they planned to update their countertops, according to CBS News. The same article says the costs of updates like these can be recouped by as much as 75 percent. What countertops are popular right now? According to HGTV, people like to see eco-friendly composite, granite, quartzite, soapstone, stone, butcher block and solid-surface. Also popular are stainless steel counters and upscale-looking versions of laminate.
    2. Bright Cabinets: You don’t have to shell out for all new cabinets unless they’re truly shoddy. To give your kitchen cabinets a fresh look, try painting them and updating the hardware instead. This budget-friendly update infuses new life into your space without costing a fortune.
    3. Stainless Steel Sink: In a 2013 Forbes article about top kitchen renovations to avoid, farmhouse sinks were dubbed a trend that seems to be subsiding. Recommended instead is the ever-popular stainless steel, called “the workhorse of sinks” by an expert quoted in the article.
    4. Updated Appliances: According to an article at FrontDoor.com, since “the kitchen’s primary function is for preparing and cooking meals … the room is only as good as its appliances.” In fact, some experts rank new appliances as the most important home improvement for the kitchen accordingly. Before you think swapping out appliances will cost too much money, though, consider this: the biggest mistake you could make in a kitchen remodel is overspending. So rather than picking the most expensive option for new appliances, go for mid-range, high-quality appliances in stainless steel. These will look good, add value and give your kitchen updated efficiency and style.
    5. Timeless Style: No matter what renovations you select, remember to think longevity. Even if your favorite color is bright red, for example, think twice before painting all your kitchen cabinets that color. Generally speaking, when it comes to kitchen finishes, “aim for classic or neutral colors and styles,” says Carl Vogel at This Old House Magazine. In other words, go for natural colors that will still look attractive in five, 10 or 20 years. Classic styles will stand the test of time and won’t run the risk of becoming an eyesore in the future—and even if you’re planning to sell soon and think a certain trend will last a year or so, know your buyer will likely care about resale value farther down the line, too.

    According to U.S. News, the average cost of a minor kitchen renovation was $18,856—but sellers can expect to recoup an average 82.7 percent of the project’s cost when they sell; a similar article from HGTV said minor kitchen remodels average around $14,913—but bring in 98 percent of that when resold. In either case, the key to making the most of your remodel’s value is choosing cost-effective updates that will appeal to the broadest range of buyers. By putting in a manageable amount of money toward renovating your kitchen, you set yourself to add value to your home when it’s time to sell.

    Darryl Crosby is a home renovation blogger and the Senior Director of Marketing at Case Design/Remodeling, Inc.  Darryl and his team work with their customer and make sure they are getting the maximum value of every dollar they invest in a kitchen remodel.

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    The New Home Move-In Checklist

    by Vicki Clary

    Everyone, from your movers to your parents, has great advice for how to prepare for your next move—but what about after you arrive? What should you be doing first when you move into your new home? Here are some ideas to help you start off on the right foot as you begin settling into your new house.

    Get Registered

    Once you move, you will have several matters of official business to take care of. First, if you have kids, make sure they are registered for their new school. Getting into the routine of school is one of the best steps you can take toward helping your children settle into life in your new home.

    Vehicles also need to be registered for new license plates, if you have moved out of state. Regardless of how far you moved, you will need to register your driver's license for your new address, and register to vote in your new location. Take care of these things right away while you are still in "moving" mode, before you have a chance to forget about them.

    Check Things Over

    Before you start unpacking in full force, check things over to see if anything was damaged. Start with the appliances. Any appliances that came with the home should be checked to ensure they are functioning properly. If they are not, your homeowner's warranty may cover the repair. Then, you need to check the appliances you brought with you. Sometimes the moving process can cause damage that you will need to address.

    Next, check all of your furniture for nicks, scrapes and damage. If you used a moving company or service, they may have insurance that covers these types of problems. If you find something is damaged, contact the moving company immediately to see what can be done about it.

    Make Connections

    It's important to start making connections from the first day you move into the home. Yes, your to-do list is a mile long, but that should not stop you from running next door and saying "hi" to your new neighbors. Remember, you will be living next door to these people for a long time, and it's up to you to make those first connections. You can also learn more about the community by joining Facebook pages or local meet-ups, as well as checking out the local newspapers.

    Don't take too long to make professional connections, either. You will need to choose a doctor, dentist and optometrist, for example, so you know whom to call when you have an emergency. You will also need to learn where the dry cleaner, post office and other services you use regularly are located. Choose a bank, and get your accounts transferred over to the new financial institution. Find the local library and register for your library card. If you attend religious services, find time to choose a congregation as well. These types of connections will help you feel settled and "at home" in your new home.

    Let People Know You Moved

    The "change of address" form you file with the post office will only reach so many people. You need to contact all of the companies you have accounts with and have those accounts switched to your new address. Credit cards, insurance companies and other companies that have ongoing bills with you need to be contacted. Also, it may be helpful to send out a "We've moved!" email to family and friends who might need your address. When December rolls around and you are not getting any holiday cards, it may be because no one knew you moved! Use a change of address checklist to help ensure that you have contacted everyone.

    When you contact the insurance company, be sure to ask them about coverage for your new home. Coverage does not automatically switch just because you’ve moved, and you want to ensure that you are properly protected.

    Moving is an exciting and overwhelming time. Knowing the tasks you should tackle first will make the job a little easier. With these guidelines, you will be well prepared for your next move.

    Vicky Clary is the Marketing Director at Curtis Homes, a semi-custom home builder of Southern Maryland Communities. For over 50 years Curtis has been providing premium homes and townhomes while making the transition into their new home as easy as possible.

     

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    Outfitting Your New Home with Natural Gas

    by Kate Voss
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    With the growing cost of energy and concerns about climate change looming, one has to wonder what our available options are. It’s common knowledge by now that the conventional methods of energy (namely coal, which is used to produce the majority of the electricity in the US) simply may not be sustainable for much longer. The demand for more environmentally friendly and renewable energy is growing every day, and in the meantime we must combat both the hole in the ozone layer and the growing hole in our wallets. For many homeowners, the current solution is natural gas—what was once simply used in our stoves, ovens, radiators, and water heaters is becoming a viable option to power our entire home.

    This increased interest is a result of natural gas prices steadily declining in recent years, dropping close to the numbers we saw in 2002, and coming in at approximately half the price they were in 2008. Many are crediting the plentiful extraction from the Marcellus Shale as the reason behind the decreasing natural gas prices. On the upswing, though, are electricity prices, which averaged an increase of nearly 30 cents per kilowatt hour in all sectors between June 2014 and June 2013 (according to the Energy Information Administration).

    These two factors alone should be enough to have anyone questioning their use of traditional coal-powered electricity in their homes. Many homeowners in states where the energy market is deregulated, like New York, Nevada, and Ohio, are choosing to work with electricity providers that instead utilize natural gas to create electricity (click here for more info). The switch makes sense from an environmental standpoint too, especially when you factor in that, per megawatt hour, electricity produced by coal creates roughly twice as much carbon dioxide emissions than electricity which is generated with natural gas (approximately 2,000 pounds vs. 1,100).

    While the ability to simply switch your energy provider is an easy and convenient option for those living in deregulated states, those who live elsewhere have fewer options. Luckily, there is some hope to be found by following models like the Houston couple who built a home that’s run almost entirely off of natural gas and the solar power harvested from panels on their roof. Steve and Brenda Norwood’s new home features a “micro-trigeneration system” from Texan power generation system makers M-CoGen, which could reduce their electricity use by 70% and provides them with their own power source, making them immune to things like down power lines and outages. While the system the Norwood’s have isn’t available for purchase from M-CoGen just yet, it shows a promising future for those looking to reduce their carbon footprint and lower monthly bills.

    Of course, there are downsides to using natural gas for power as well. While it may produce less carbon emissions than coal powered electricity, it’s the subject of many environmentalists’ scorn due to the hydraulic fracking process which is used to retrieve it. Despite the EPA’s insistence that fracking poses limited risk of contaminating our air and water supplies, there have been instances where it has happened (such as Wyoming and Colorado). In addition to that risk, there is a widely accepted belief that fracking can cause seismic activity and earthquakes, even in places with no history of them before. This is according to a study from the Journal of Geophysical Research which showed the town of Youngstown, Ohio (located near a fracking location) went from having no history of earthquakes to having over 109 small quakes in just a 14-month period. This information fuels the claims that relying on natural gas for power will become just as unsustainable as fossil fuel, and that our methods of doing so can have serious ramifications in the future.

    There is hope for a more efficient way to produce power through natural gas though, making the process much more effective than coal generated power. Last year a research team at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory began their study of how using solar power could increase the power of natural gas, thus taking less of it to do the same task. It’s a promising idea for those who aren’t fully convinced in the viability of solar power or want to lower their carbon emissions from even natural gas. While it’s not likely to be a method available to the masses for a while, it shows a promising future for a cheaper, greener source of energy.

    Image credit: Thinkstock/iStockphoto

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    Garage Maintenance Checklist

    by Justin White

    Frequent residential garage maintenance can spare you from unexpected repair and replacement costs that result from neglect. It’s worth your while to stick to a regular maintenance schedule—from general cleanliness to more in-depth maintenance—so that you don’t overlook any single area over time.

    Below is a garage maintenance checklist broken down into manageable intervals throughout the year.

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    Family-Friendly Neighborhoods in Chicago

    by Carolyn McKibbin

    As a new mom, I’m always looking for fun things to do as a family in my neighborhood. I’m lucky to have parks with swing sets and dog runs, hiking trails, museums, and a library all within walking distance. Key to a family-friendly neighborhood are conveniently located retail shops, public transportation, entertainment and schools.

    If you’re considering renting in Chicago and you rely on family-friendly resources, check out this infographic by the Apartment Guys. They chose five family-friendly Windy City neighborhoods and break them down by average cost, renter/owner occupancy, conveniences, historical highlights, and charm.

    Do you live in one of these neighborhoods? What do you like least/most about it?

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    Considering Home Automation? Read This First

    by Kate Voss

    For so many of us there simply aren’t enough hours in a day. Between commuting, work, those pesky hours needed to sleep, and other responsibilities it’s very rare that we have a chance to do anything but rush. Of course, rushing around everywhere leads to the inevitable forgetfulness, like forgetting to turn off the lights in the house when you leave, or forgetting to lock the front door, both of which can cost you big time.

    Thankfully, technology has the answer to solve some of the problems your forgetfulness can cause. That’s because home automation systems are increasingly becoming commonplace in homes around the country, and of course moving into a new home provides the opportune time to upgrade. However, with so many options available, how do know you which one is right? Or even more importantly, what exactly is home automation? Let’s take a look at what these products offer.

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