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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? Go into it with your eyes wide open.

    Think you have a good idea of what your coworkers are all about after spending 40 hours a week with them? Most people are different at work than they are at home. Even friends outside of the office can find it's not the same as living under one roof 24/7.

    However, affordable housing is hard to come by, and sharing a house or apartment with a fellow employee can help, especially if you have similar schedules and budgets. But you must stick to some basic rules. 

    Lay out the expectations

    Even the most accountable, driven workers may let loose in their personal lives. That's why it’s important to be open about roommate expectations, as well as considerate of shared spaces. Some important things to talk about: Cleaning up after yourself, sharing household duties, overnight guests, parties and more. Both roomates should feel comfortable and relaxed, so make sure everyone is on the same page.

    Realize this, though: The perfect roommate arrangement simply doesn’t exist. Conflicts will arise, and preparing a roommate agreement in advance is the best way to keep small issues from blowing up.

    It should include things such as overnight guests, quiet hours, specific cleaning and maintenance responsibilities and when to lock the door. Don’t forget to address how to split bills and when to pay them. 

    Consider carpooling

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

    Understand you don't have to be best friends

    Though roommates can be friends, a roommate relationship isn’t always same as a friendship. If you and your roommate live together with little conflict, sometimes that’s all that matters. In many cases, it’s better not to be best friends with your coworker/roommate. You spend a lot of time with him or her at work, and everyone needs space.

    Keep work and home separate 

    One big danger of living with a coworker is blurred boundaries. If you and your roommate get in a spat about dirty dishes or guests overstaying their welcome, don’t discuss it with other coworkers. And try to keep work issues out of the home, too. 

    Don’t gossip about other coworkers with your roommate. While there may be coworkers you both dislike or work issues that affect the two of you, keep these types of discussions to a minimum. You both need to fight your own battles at work in a professional manner. Moreover, it’s unhealthy to vent constantly about work.

    Finally, if a roommate moves out, it’s important to try to end your partnership on peaceful terms. Of course, many coworker/roommate relationships do succeed. 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


    April may be the cruelest month – the poet T.S. Eliot said so, anyway. But 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.

    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 remove it efficiently. At a minimum, you'll want a good snow shovel to clear your driveway and remove excess snow from your car.

    Even if you don't drive, it's important to keep walkways and sidewalks clear. Otherwise, you could get in trouble with municipal authorities or your homeowners association. Maybe even more importantly, you want to reduce the chance of slips and falls – and a costly lawsuit. A de-icing compound, such as salt, can help you melt ice and thus improve the safety of exterior walkways.

    Avoid plumbing damage

    When temperatures dip below freezing, water inside your plumbing system could freeze, thereby expanding. This can cause pipes to burst, which makes for a costly repair.

    Pipes running through uninsulated areas of your home are particularly vulnerable. Use foam insulation to keep them from getting too cold. Also, drain exterior faucets and turn off the water supply to them. If you'll be away from your house for a significant time, it might be wise to turn off your water main just to be on the safe side.

    Weather strip windows and doors

    During winter, the cost of heating oil, natural gas or electricity to keep your home warm can be significant. 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 weather-stripped to eliminate drafts and other air leaks.

    First, how do you know you have a problem? Many people use incense sticks to check for air leaks. If the smoke moves horizontally rather than vertically, there is a leak.

    What do you do if you have a leak? Rope caulk is an excellent material for weather-stripping. You may also wish to install storm windows and storm doors for additional protection. Also—consider replacing your windows if they are cracked or damaged.

    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.


    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 professional for any fixes.

    First off, check your shingles to make sure they're not damaged. You also 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.

    HVAC system maintenance

    You rely 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. Test 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, 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

    From your movers to your friends to your parents, nearly everyone wants to tell you how to prepare for a move – but what about once you arrive in the new home. What should you do first? Here are some ideas to help you start on the right foot.

    Check things over

    Before you unpack in full force, check to see whether anything is damaged. Start by examining appliances that came with the apartment or house to make sure they function properly. If not, your next move depends on whether you rent or own the new place. If you rent, let the super know right away. If you own, your homeowner's warranty may cover repairs.

    Now examine the appliances you brought with you to ensure they weren't damaged during the move. That could be on the movers – keep a copy of your contract around – or, if you are a DIY-er, on you.

    Next, inspect your furniture for nicks, scrapes and damage. Contact the moving company immediately to report damage.

    Now you're ready to unpack. Many movers begin with boxes for the bedrooms and kitchen because they're likely to be the first rooms you'll need.

    Get registered

    If you have kids, register them for their new school. Getting your kids in school is one of the best steps you can take to help them settle in. You'll need to provide academic records from the old school and, in many cases, immunization records.

    Now let's look at you. You should update your voter registration to reflect the new address. And even if you just moved across town, you need to contact your state's DMV to change your address for your driver's license and registration. In some cases, you only have 10 days to make these changes.

    And about that car – you'll also need to let your auto insurer know that you've moved. Your premiums could change when you do. If, for example, your commute is significantly shorter, they could go down. If you've moved to an area where wrecks are more common, your premium could increase. Failure to notify your provider about a move could result in denial of a claim.

    Make connections

    Now that you've got everything in the new place and attended to the various registrations, it's time to make the new digs home. Try to make 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. It's up to you to reach out first. You also can learn more about the community by joining Facebook pages or attending local meet-ups. It might be worth it to subscribe to the local newspaper.

    Don't take too long to make professional connections, either. You'll need to choose a doctor, dentist and optometrist, for example. Learn the location of the dry cleaner, post office and other services you use regularly. Choose a bank, and get your accounts transferred. Depending on your preferences, check out the local library and places of worship. These types of connections can help you feel settled in your new home.

    Broadcast your new location

    The Change of Address form you file with the post office only reaches so many people and forwards mail for a year at most. Notify credit card and other companies you have an account with that you have a new address.

    It also may be helpful to send a 'We've moved ' notification – whether by email or regular mail – 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! Compile a change of address checklist to help ensure that you have contacted everyone.

    Want to do things in a different order? Go ahead. The point isn't the process – it's that you should set a strategy for settling in.

    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

    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? Factors to Consider

    by Kate Voss

    For so many of us, there simply aren’t enough hours in a day between commuting, work, sleep and other responsibilities. We rush everywhere and everything. Rushing, of course, can lead to forgetting tasks such as turning off lights when you leave home or leaving the front door unlocked with the security system unarmed. All have serious consequences.

    Thankfully, technology can solve some forgetfulness issues. Home automation systems increasingly are commonplace, and of course, moving into a new home provides the opportune time to install a system or upgrade it. But with so many options available, how do know you which one is right?

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