Forecasting the Unexpected Home Improvement Retailers and Emergency Response

Home improvement stores are not only a key resource for bathroom renovations or spring gardening needs; they also serve as the go-to source when a thunderstorm knocks out power, a hurricane strikes, or a tornado touches down. Home improvement retailers, therefore, must plan for the unexpected demands that can accompany a natural disaster, as well as the expected demands as seasons change.

The home improvement industry is expected to reach $143.6 billion in 2014, according to research firm IBISWorld. With their huge assortment of merchandise, home improvement stores already face the challenge of working with carriers and logistics providers to guarantee an uninterrupted flow of goods. But add a natural disaster or major weather event, and the pressure is on to strategically and efficiently move products to customers in impacted areas.

Poised to React

Addressing unpredictable demand is all about being prepared. For Dave Moore, emergency response captain for Atlanta-based Home Depot, addressing these needs is a year-round endeavor. The company operates key distribution centers around the country to react quickly to natural disasters.

“A field team of 61 regional managers supports Home Depot’s emergency response effort,” says Moore. “They work directly with stores, so when a natural disaster occurs, we can react quickly to customer needs. We process orders and expedite them to stores. We strive for 24-hour turnaround between when we recognize there is a need to the time we deliver essential goods.”

Home Depot uses a forecasting system that tracks major weather events such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and thunderstorms. Hurricanes are easier to plan for because they are easily tracked, Moore says, but their damage is often the most devastating. Moore’s team begins working with Home Depot’s head of logistics every January to prepare for the upcoming hurricane season, which starts in June.

“We maintain several key locations that aren’t in impact areas, but are close to them—from the Gulf of Mexico, around the tip of Florida, and up the Eastern Seaboard,” Moore says. “We strategically place products so we can get goods to impacted areas quickly when an event occurs.”

Necessities on Hand

Most hurricanes can be identified about one week before they make landfall. If a hurricane or other major storm appears eminent, Home Depot starts shipping goods most likely to be in immediate demand—such as flashlights, water, gas cans, and plywood—to the targeted area.

Then, 72 to 96 hours before a hurricane is expected to strike, Home Depot mobilizes its command center, which includes store operations, merchandising, inventory planning and replenishment, and supply chain representatives—a total team of about 350 people. Carriers are assigned their own room within the command center, where they focus exclusively on determining how to get needed supplies to the impact area.

As the storm moves closer, Home Depot mobilizes prepositioned loads as close to the expected impact area as possible, while still ensuring a safe distance for drivers and goods. The night before a storm is expected to hit—or on impact, depending on the distance and the situation—trucks loaded with goods proceed to the impact area. As stores reopen in the impact zone, those goods are available for immediate consumption.

Home Depot also follows a post-strike process in which it continues to ship larger supplies of certain goods to stores in an impact area for up to six weeks, or as long as demand warrants. “For example, we sent in goods for more than eight months following Hurricane Sandy,” says Moore.

When a natural disaster strikes without notice, Home Depot engages similar processes, but over an abbreviated timeframe. “We stock goods in a strategic DC, and we go direct-to-store,” says Moore. “The stores contact our regional merchandise managers, who contact me or my counterparts throughout the country. We then work with our urgent host team to fill orders and expedite merchandise to stores in need.”

Unfortunately, the disaster response teams are constantly busy, Moore says. Within a period of two weeks, for example, the group dealt with more than 100 tornadoes in the Midwest, record flooding in Pensacola, Fla., and huge wildfires in Southern California.

“We are on call at all times,” Moore says. “A situation is always developing somewhere, and we apply the same vigilance to every disaster. Lives are affected, so we take our responsibility seriously.”

Crisis Mode

Oak Brook, Ill.-based Ace Hardware takes a similar approach to disaster preparedness. The home improvement company operates 14 retail support centers around the country, as well as two centers that manage its direct import business. Ace can stock key items anywhere within that network to prepare for large weather events or other unexpected occurrences.

“During advanced planning for natural disasters, we position inventory we believe will be in demand if an event occurs,” says Scott McLean, Ace’s director of transportation.

Ace also subscribes to meteorological services that provide updates on incoming weather events and impact area projections.

“When we see an event coming—such as a hurricane tracking toward the Gulf Coast—we transition to a more active approach,” says McLean. “If it’s early in the season, we may not have to do much, because we’ve already built up inventory and planned for it. But if it’s later in the season, we may have to move inventory from other DCs to our support centers in the impact region, and bring in additional merchandise from various suppliers.”

A major incoming storm triggers Ace’s disaster response team, which includes transportation and supply chain representatives, as well as retail support centers on both the inbound and outbound sides.

“Both sides of that warehouse go into crisis mode in managing the changing inbound and outbound velocity,” says McLean. “We may meet multiple times daily as an event is unfolding to ensure the logistics are coming together correctly.”

Like Home Depot, Ace Hardware stocks its retail support centers with core items—everything from batteries, flashlights, generators, chain saws, and pumps, to clean-up items such as rakes, gloves, and garbage bags—to ensure they are prepared if a natural disaster occurs.

“The list of storm preparation and clean-up items we stock is exhaustive,” says Mike Yockey, senior director of inventory control for Ace Hardware. “Depending on the storm paths each season, we stock several months of additional inventory. If nothing happens and the season ends, we reduce that inventory back down to more normal levels.”

Getting Ahead Of The Storm

The earlier Ace can get a jump on an event, the better it can react. “Even a small amount of time can make a big difference in how well we can respond,” McLean says. “Once the media starts hyping a storm, other retailers begin trying to secure and ship the same goods.”

Advance notice for Ace’s transportation providers is also key. The more the retailer can plan and share volume estimates with carriers, the better the product flow.

“If we are forced into a reactionary mode, we have to lean on our core carriers to provide additional capacity—or we may have to expand our carrier base or go through the brokerage market to find carriers to move the freight,” McLean says. “We may also start looking at mode shifts. Items that normally ship via intermodal might shift to over the road, because the product is suddenly in high demand.”

Ace operates its own private fleet, and has built an extensive network. So even in winter 2013, when capacity was tight due to endless bad weather in the southern and eastern United States, the company was still able to move freight fluidly.

Home improvement companies must be agile, because carrying so many types of products—purchased from a large pool of vendors of all sizes—keeps the supply chain in a constant state of ebb and flow, Yockey says. Establishing better internal control over transportation operations has helped Ace Hardware manage that challenge.

“We’ve elected to control about two-thirds of our inbound transportation,” Yockey says. “We’re responsible for it, and we control it. That’s a key advantage.”

A Cloudy Forecast

Ace has also invested in a cloud-based transportation management system (TMS) with a supplier portal.

“Using the TMS allows us to interact with suppliers, and determine when shipments will be ready,” says Yockey. “We can then send that information to the carriers. That gives us a lot of control over a big chunk of our supply chain.”

For home improvement retailers, dealing with Mother Nature and natural disasters is an integral part of the business. When an event strikes, consumers rely on home improvement stores for the products they need to repair or rebuild. Fortunately, market leaders such as Home Depot and Ace Hardware have a plan in place, and are ready to respond to demand.

Hot Water Installation

Hot water heaters are one of the many appliances we do not fully appreciate until it stops working. Believe it not, despite its large exterior and solid metal, steel or copper, hot water heaters do malfunction and require replacement or new installation.

While installing a new hot water heater is certainly not a project for the faint, it can be done in one day with the necessary tools and steps. Below, see when it’s time to replace your hot water, how to install a hot water heater and the total installation cost.

When to Replace Hot Water Heater

Unlike other prominent appliances around the home, there are a few telltale signs your hot water heater needs to be replaced. If you start to see a small puddle or slow drip under your hot water heater, it’s on its way out. Within a day or two, you should see a trail of water slowly running away from the heater. Either way, your tank has rusted and that can not be repaired. If water is dripping from your hot water heater, replace it as soon as you can.

Additionally, and perhaps even more obvious, is the absence of hot water. However, with this sign, before jumping to conclusions, check with a plumbing professional. Chances are, this problem can be fixed.

Types of Water Heaters

Water heaters run via natural gas or electric. Many homeowners are currently using the traditional tank-style heaters. This tank with a heating element is used to store a reservoir full of water. They are cheaper to install and replace. Tankless electric water heaters are considered an on-demand application for the home. Tankless water heaters tend to be more energy efficient and last longer than traditional heaters.

For more pros and cons of each, please see Traditional Water Heaters Vs. Tankless Water Heaters.

Note: Before buying a new water heater, make sure it meets the Department of Energy efficiency standards.

How to Install A Hot Water Heater

Tools & Materials Needed

  • Garden Hose
  • Multiple Wrenches
  • Screwdriver
  • Pipe Wrench
  • Plumber’s Tape
  • Tube Cutter
  • Solder
  • Soldering Torch
  • Metal Screws
  • Pipe Connectors
  • Pressure Relief Valve
  • Discharge Pipe

Now that preparation has been covered, it’s time to get your hands dirty. Below are all the steps needed to replace or install a new water heater.

Note: The steps below are specifically for a gas water heater, but installing an electric water heater is very similar.

Step 1: Turn Off the Gas & Water

The water supply and gas needs to be off. Otherwise, you could have a very dangerous mess on your hands. Find your gas shutoff valve and turn it off. The valve should most likely be at a right angle when off. Next, turn the water off and drain the pipes.

Step 2: Drain the Hot Water from the Tank

Before removing the hot water tank, we have to empty the tank. You can drain your hot water tank using a garden hose attached to the drain valve. However, as you might expect, the water will be very hot. We recommend using safety gloves or waiting one hour before starting the process.

Then, using two wrenches, disconnect the gas line from the hot water heater. You should disconnect the two at the union where the two lines meet.

Step 3:  Cut Off the Water Lines

Time to fully detach the old water heater. First, unscrew the large vent pipe. All you should need is a screwdriver. Next, using a tube cutter, cut the hot and cold water lines. For some operations, you may just have to unscrew the unions with the same wrenches from before.

Remove the old water heater completely out of the way.

Step 4: Attach the New Relief Valve

Take your new temperature and pressure relief value and wrap the end with plumber’s tape. Place the valve in the new hot water heater and screw it in with a pipe wrench. Attach a new copper pipe to the relief valve.

Step 5: Attach Connectors

Next, we have to attach new copper adapters, or short copper tubes, to the new hot water heater. Before attachment, some add plastic connectors to protect against galvanized pipes. These plastic connectors may be required by code, but it is not 100% necessary.

Now, take the two new adapters and screw them into the hot and cold water inlet ports.

Step 6: Attach All Pipes

With the copper connectors in place, we can attach all pipes to your new water heater. Place the new water heater directly under the previously cut pipes. You may have to recut or extend the old pipes. Solder, or attach the pipes to the new water heater using heat from your soldering torch (any heat source can work).

Do not solder any fittings directly on top of the water heater. If you do, you could melt imperative plastic parts and damage your new water heater. That is why we installed those connectors first. Furthermore, you can solder your pipes before attachment as well.

Note: Soldering takes practice. If this is your first soldering project, consult a professional.

Step 7: Reconnect the Vent

Now, reconnect the vent using appropriately sized metal screws. If you are unsure, take a picture of your vent and head to your nearest Home Depot. The vent should not be placed directly on the hot water heater. It should attach right above the draft hood.

Step 8: Reconnect the Gas Lines

Coat the end of the gas line with plumber’s tape and attach it to another plastic nipple. Using two pipe wrenches, just like we did before, reconnect the gas line to the new water heater. You should finish with the union, the actual connection point.

Step 9: Fill the Tank

Before we are complete, we have to fill the tank and make sure all is working. Close the drain valve (the same point you used to drain the old tank). Turn your water back on and open the cold water valve. Turn a hot water faucet on and let it run as you are refilling the tank. Once the tank is full, turn off the faucet and check the discharge pipe on the pressure relief valve to be sure it isn’t leaking.

Note: Make sure your tank is full before turning water back on. Both electric and gas water heaters running on non-filled tanks can cause damage and repairs will be needed.

Step 10: Check the Vents

According to Family Handyman, most water heaters rely on a natural draft to draw combustion fumes up the flue. These fumes must stay within the draft. After changing your water heater, you should check this draft.

First, open or turn on a hot water faucet until you hear the gas burner in the water heater ignite. Then, light a match and place it near the draft hood. The smoke should head up the hood. If not, you should content a plumber.

Step 11: Light the Pilot Light

Time to light it up, but before doing so, double check with the manufacturer’s directions. Set the temperature to 120°F. Test the water as well as possible leaks again.

Removing the Hot Water Heater

Most water heaters are quite large. Many homeowners will just ask a friend to help, but others with electric saw experience can cut the water heater in half using safety goggles and protective gear. A smaller water heater is always easier to remove.

Hot Water Installation Cost

Despite their utmost importance, hot water heaters are not as expensive as most assume. As noted before, traditional hot water heaters have a lower initial cost than a tankless water heater. Whether you choose a gas or electric hot water heater, expect the average price to hover around $800 with installation. However, installing yourself can save almost half that cost.

How To Install A Heat Pump

Many homeowners have to deal with subfreezing temperatures every winter, but many others are fortunate to live in warmer (or somewhat warm) climates. If you fall in the latter, a heat pump is the ideal HVAC system for you.

Heat pump installation is no easy task, but some homeowners are up for the challenge. Below, I will show you all the steps and tools needed to install a heat pump without a professional.

Note: Only experienced DIYers should attempt this project. If you need help installing your new heat pump, please contact an HVAC pro near you.

How Heat Pumps Work

Heat naturally moves to areas with lower temperatures, but if you want heat to stay or move to a specific room, a heat pump is ideal. Heat pumps use electricity to move heat from a cool area to a warm one, which makes the warm space warmer in the winter and the cool space cooler in the summer. Heat pumps can either increase or decrease temperatures.

As you can imagine, heat pumps are energy efficient, compared to boilers and furnaces, and inexpensive solutions for those who spend a fortune on utility bills (more on this later).

Tools Needed to Install A Heat Pump

In addition to the actual heat pump and condenser, there are other tools necessary to install the system.

  • Drill
  • Hammer
  • Level
  • Hole Saw – ½’ Minimal
  • Pliers
  • Wire Stripper
  • Cable Tie
  • Tape

Heat Pump Installation

If you are eager to get the ball rolling and install a heat pump today, please follow the steps below.

Note: The following steps should be used to install a mini-split AC Heat Pump.

Step 1: Install the Condenser

First, we must install the condenser outside the house. The condenser is used to convert and transfer heat and air throughout the home. The condenser is essentially moving heat and air to your desired room.

The condenser must be placed outside the house. Before installation, drill a ½’ hole in the wall for the refrigerant lines. As far as placement, the condenser should be installed at least 4’ away from the house. Also, make sure there is at least 20’ of clear air above and in front. Oftentimes, homeowners have to remove bushes and flowers to make room for the condenser. You can have the unit rest on the ground or mount it, like a TV, to the wall.

Step 2: Add Air Handler Mount

Now, we have to find a place for the air handler, or the device that releases the cold or warm air into the room.

The air handler should be within 30” of the condenser. After all, a few cords will be connecting the two. The air handler should be at least 2’ from the ceiling and nowhere near a TV.

Screw in the mounting plate, the device that holds the air handler onto the wall. This is just like mounting a TV. Once the plate is securely fastened, drill a 3’ hole right below the lower right corner. This hole is to ensure we can connect all the lines.

Step 3: Mount the Air Handler

To make things easier when holding the heavy air handler, we want to make sure all lines are securely fastened into the air handler. With the cover off, connect the refrigerant lines, control wire and condensate hose. Additionally, it may be a good idea to connect the three with a cable tie or tape. Some also cover all three with a protective sleeve to ensure none rip as you’re snaking them through the walls.

With all cords attached, lift the handler and hold until all cords are in the wall. Then, mount the unit onto the actual plate. Once screwed in, make sure it is securely fastened. Just like a TV, you don’t want it falling down five minutes after installation.

Step 4: Connect the Air Handler to the Condenser

This is the step that can trip people up. Once again, if you need help or have any questions, contact a local HVAC pro near you.

After you snake the wires all the way through the walls to that outside hole, connect the outdoor unit’s power cable to a breaker cable. Then, connect the control wire from the outdoor unit to the air handler. To finalize the connection, take the ends of the refrigerant lines and connect them to the condenser. Some use flare nuts to make the final connection as an extra precaution.

Step 5: Cover the Lines

Just like those ugly television wires, the control wires and refrigerant lines are not a sightly view. Therefore, you can install a plastic covering on your siding if more than a few inches are showing. Just make sure everything is fully fastened before attaching to the wall.

Step 6: Make Final Connections

Before we add the cover to the outside unit, we have to connect a gauge manifold and a vacuum pump to the refrigerant lines. Both can detect leaks, dry the lines if needed and ensure the pressure inside the unit is safe.

Finally, go back inside and install the cover on the air handler.

Heat Pump Installation Costs

Since heat pumps replace your current or act as you new HVAC system, their upfront costs are steep. According to our heat pump installation cost estimator, it costs $4,888 to install a new heat pump system. However, since you now know how to install it yourself, there’s no need to spend extra on professional labor.

Additionally, your future HVAC costs will undoubtedly be lower compared to traditional HVAC systems. Just like any big investment, the upfront costs can be scary, but it should pay off over time.

Conclusion

Heat pump installation is no easy task, and as such, is not often completed by a homeowner. But, with the right tools and steps above, homeowners can install a heat pump without a pro.

7 Tips To Make Your House Smell Better

When you own a house, it’s easy to get comfortable in your space and fail to notice when it’s time to make changes. You get busy working, the kids and pets are running around, and before you know it, there are smells coming from places you didn’t know existed.

Odors in the home don’t have to be a common occurrence. There are ways to prevent and maintain a home that not only looks good, but smells good too. See seven easy DIY solutions for freshening up your home so you’ve got pleasant odors roaming your space.

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1. Eliminate Garbage Disposal Odors

Your garbage disposal could be wreaking more havoc in your home than you might realize. Food and grime build up over time and start to seep through to your kitchen and beyond. Start by running some lemon, lime or orange peels through your disposal to eliminate any odors. It’s said that the acid in the fruit kills some of the odor causing bacteria.

Also, if you’re an advocate of baking soda, this cleaning tip is for you. Dump your baking soda into the garbage disposal, add a cup of white vinegar and let your disposal run. Voila! The hardest part of eliminating odors is remembering to actually run these items through your garbage disposal and not letting gunk build up in the first place.

2. Fresh Scents

Budget-friendly scents such as lavender or chamomile go a long way in the home. They’ve even been known to help people sleep better when put in and around bed pillows. Lavender is a fresh, floral, clean and calm aroma that’s the perfect for making your home smell great. Mix together a DIY room freshener using lavender or diffuse it in and around the home to banish stale odors.

Chamomile is another scent that is recommended for removing unpleasant smells in the house. The term refers to a range of different daisy-like plants and has long been known for its healing properties. The odor is sweet, apple-like and herbaceous. An easy DIY chamomile room spray can be made by diluting 12 drops of the essential oil per ounce of distilled water.

3. Deodorize Carpets

Carpets are certainly to blame for a lot of the smelly odors lurking in your house. That’s why it’s recommended that you always have a carpet freshener on deck.

Instead of purchasing products with chemicals in them, you can create your own deodorizing carpet powder using a few natural ingredients. I fell in love with Jillee’s natural DIY recipe on her blog and highly recommend you check it out! This freshener is nice for anyone with carpets and a necessity for anyone who owns pets.

4. Vanilla Extract

Sprinkling vanilla extract on light bulbs is one trick to eliminating odors. This is one tip I’ve never heard of, so I wanted to learn more! Apparently, it’s an old real estate agent’s trick. Put a drop or two of vanilla extract on a lightbulb, turn on the light and smell the magic. Your house will soon smell like you’ve been baking all day. You can also opt to burn vanilla extract or any other essential oil to quickly enhance the smell of your house.

5. Air Fresheners

Grab a few mason jars and your favorite essential oils or liquid potpourri and follow this DIY tutorial for making your own gel air fresheners. The fresheners will not only make your home smell good, but they’re pretty too.

Your other option is to create a mix of your favorite smelling sprays to distribute throughout the house. I found a great website that outlines several different options for you to try depending on your taste.

6. Potted Plants

This is by far my favorite DIY option for making your home smell fresh and clean. Natural air purifiers include palm trees, orchids and peace lilies. Plants not only bring energy and life to your home but they look beautiful too.

Besides the living room, think about bringing plants into your kitchen and bathrooms to brighten up the space and create a peaceful and calm environment. If you don’t want the hassle of taking care of real plants, then you can purchase fancy fake ones and switch them out as often as you’d like.

7. Stovetop Potpourri

Here’s a suggestion that anyone who owns an oven and a pan can tackle. It’s a quick fix too. Interior designer Rhobin DelaCruz suggests you, “Simmer water in a small saucepan and add citrus (lemon) slices and herbs, like lavender or mint.” In no time, beautiful aromas will be floating throughout your home. No need to buy prepackaged deodorizers when there’s a simple and natural DIY solution that’ll do the trick.

Conclusion

A happy home is one that not only looks put together, but smells like it too. These tips are sure to bring a delightful and revitalizing odor to your house. If you have any other deodorizing solutions that you’ve tried, please include them in the comments section below!

How Much Does A Fence Cost

Before installing a fence, the first thing all homeowners need to know is the average price. Fence installation costs vary based on the type and size of your chosen fence and therefore, makes research difficult and long. We have simplified the process and gathered the average prices for the most popular fences on the market. If you have ever wondered how much a fence costs, than this article is your answer.

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Overview of Fencing Costs

First off, installing a fence can be a DIY project, but I will warn you that it is not the easiest home remodeling job. Hiring a professional is the safer route, but as you probably expect, it is also the costlier one.

You must consider your individual needs before purchasing and choosing a fence. Higher fences will not only take longer to install, but are more expensive. The materials are heavier and more difficult to work with.

Chain link fences are the cheapest to purchase and easiest to install. Made from composed galvanized steel or aluminum wrapped with PVC, these fences not only last a very long time, but are also incredibly easy and quick to install. While a wooden fence offers more privacy and security, the costs of labor and materials will be more.

According to our fence installation cost estimator, the average price to install a fence is $2,388. No matter your preferred type, most homeowners choose a six-foot privacy fence. The average minimum cost to install a six-foot privacy fence is $3 per linear foot, with the maximum coming in at $13 per linear foot.

Security gates, for those looking for extra protection, on average, cost around $5,000. Those of you looking to keep your pets in the yard should look into electric or invisible fences, which come in at $1,070.

What Goes Into the Price of Fence Installation?

Undoubtedly, the biggest cost that comes with fence installation is materials. Whether you go with brick, bamboo, vinyl or any other fencing type, this will take up a large portion of your budget.

Next, if you hire a pro, will be labor. It takes time to install a fence and a pro has a right to charge you a fair price.

Other aspects that can fluctuate the price of your fence installation include:

  • Permits
  • Marking utility lines
  • Preparation
  • Approval from HOA
  • Concrete delivery (if needed)

Fencing Types

As you can see above, the dominant factor in fence costs is materials. In order to narrow your search, you need to know all the fence types. That is why I presented an overview of each at 9 Types of Fences, but below is an abridged version.

  • Aluminum
  • Wood
  • PVC
  • Wrought Iron
  • Vinyl
  • Chain Link
  • Electric
  • Bamboo
  • Farm

Privacy Fencing

Fences can be installed for security or aesthetics, but many homeowners install a new fence for privacy. While privacy fencing may not secure your yard or home as much as other fences, they do have a clear set of advantages potential fence installers should know:

  • Clearly shows children a safe place to play
  • Acts as a deterrent for burglars
  • Separates one space from a neighboring property
  • Keeps pets secure and contained in the yard or garden

Nonetheless, there are a few disadvantages that come with privacy fencing:

  • Generally, more expensive
  • More materials
  • More maintenance
  • Not as pretty

For more info, including material costs and average prices for DIY or fencing professionals, please refer to our six-foot privacy fence material estimator.

How to Save Money on Fence Installation

Undoubtedly, the easiest way to save cash on fence installation is by installing the fence yourself. As I said earlier, it’s not one of the easier DIY projects, but one the average to experienced home remodeler can complete. Beware that without a step-by-step guide, major damage can occur. For example, if you accidently hit a utility line as you dig your post holes, you will have some angry neighbors knocking on your door.

Sick of Winter? These Houseplants Will Perk Up Your Mood

Real talk: “JanuFeb” can be grim. The holidays are a distant memory, and now you have to slog through a barrage of dark, frigid days until spring makes its glorious appearance.

To escape that persistent winter funk, shake off that heated Snuggie and take a trip to the garden center. Studies suggest that stocking your home full of humble houseplants can boost your mood, big time — not to mention make your space feel cleaner, brighter, and healthier.

The Power of a Flower

Scientists agree that houseplants likely improve your outlook. Research suggests that plants have a positive effect on stress reduction, pain tolerance, and physical discomfort — but environmental psychologists aren’t exactly sure why this happens. It could be that plants simply make a room more colorful and attractive. Or, an indoor brush with nature may provide the same natural high and stress relief people feel in the great outdoors. There’s even a name for the phenomenon — biophilia (a love for nature) — and entire buildings have been designed to recreate it.

Keeping all those green guys alive is good for you, too. Research has shown taking care of plants can increase a sense of well-being and reduce stress.

Nature’s Air Freshener

Winter means tightly closed windows and stuffy quarters. Plants reduce stale air by producing oxygen. But also, according to research done by NASA back in the late 1980s, certain plants will even filter harmful pollutants such as formaldehyde, benzene, and ammonia from the air. Some folks get headaches, asthma, or have chronic health issues from these VOCs (volatile organic compounds) — which could be off-gassing right this minute from your furniture, cleansers, and flooring! Just knowing that could make you pretty depressed.

To combat stale air, try some of these air-scrubbing horticultural heroes: Boston fern, English ivy, spider plant, bamboo palm, weeping fig, flamingo lily, peace lily, and cornstalk dracaena.

The Best Plants to Beat the Blues

What other plants can bring your spirits ‘round this winter?

  • Anthuriums. These beautiful flowering plants are super easy to care for. “They do need a decent amount of light, but they bloom consistently — especially during the February-March doldrums,” says Rebecca Bullene, founder of Greenery NYC, a botanic design company experienced in indoor plant installations and living plant design. “They’re big and beautiful. Those with red, pink, or white flowers are most common.”

Ferns, particularly the Kimberly Queen (Nephrolepis obliterata) and Boston (Nephrolepis exaltata) varieties. “They need a bit more water and a decent amount of light, but they put a lot of humidity back in the air and will help make your space comfortable,” Bullene says. Plus, the Kimberlys are a little easier to care for than the average fern. “If you forget to water for a day or two,” she says, “they won’t crash out.”Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema modestum). This hardy plant can handle the low light of winter. “It can be in a dark corner and still look amazing,” Bullene says. “The blackest of thumbs can take care of this plant.”

  • Golden Pothos or Devil’s Ivy (Epipremnum aureum). This plant is also a hardy one that’s hard to kill. Bullene recommends it for anyone without much experience with plants.
  • Mother-in-Law’s Tongue, Sword Plant, or Snake Plant (Sansevieria). This houseplant of many names is really drought-resistant. You can water it once a month and it grows in high or low light. “There are a lot of varieties that have cool shapes and colors,” Bullene says.

So when the weather outside is frightful, make way for some greenery and invite some friends over. Call it a Houseplant Happy Hour. You just may be surprised by how genuinely happy your greener home makes you all winter long.

Declutter Your Home Why Being Organized Saves You Money

If you’ve ever accrued a late fee after losing a bill, thrown away spoiled peaches you forgot to eat, or bought yet another pair of sunglasses because you couldn’t find yours, then you know being disorganized can cost you money.

At best, clutter in the home causes mistakes, late fees, overdue payments, and missed deadlines. At worst, a house in chaos can eat away at your finances, mar your credit, and reduce your productivity. That’s a whopping price to pay for being disorganized.

According to an Ikea “Life at Home” survey, 43% of Americans admit to being disorganized, and the average American wastes 55 minutes per day looking for stuff they’ve lost or misplaced.

“Do you think organizing is just for appearances?” asks Lisa Gessert, president of Organizing.buzz, a professional organizing service in Staten Island, N.Y. “Organizing your home is financially beneficial.” Gessert stresses to clients the need to sort, purge, assign things a home, and containerize. “This process saves people tons of money.”

Related: The Link Between Clutter and Depression

Here’s why being organized saves you money, and how to get your home into shape:

Disorganization in the Home Office Costs You:

  • Lost papers = time spent looking for them, money wasted on duplicates
  • Misplaced bills = late fees, bad credit causes higher interest rates
  • Missed tax deadlines = penalties

If any of these sound familiar, you’ll need a home office system for dealing with important papers, bills, and personal correspondence. The Ikea survey found 23% of people pay bills late because they lost them. Wall-mounted bill organizers can help you stay organized. Look for ones with two or more compartments to categorize by due date.

“Having your papers organized will save time, help you pay bills on time, and allow you to be more productive,” says Alison Kero, owner of ACK Organizing, based in New York City.

Mount shelving and create a file system for important papers, such as insurance policies and tax receipts. Look for under-utilized space, such as converting a standard closet into built-in storage with shelves and cabinets for your papers, files, and office equipment. If you need to use stackable bins, don’t stack them around equipment that needs air ventilation, such as scanners and Wi-Fi receivers, since they could overheat and malfunction — costing you money.

Disorganization in Your Closets Costs You:

  • Missing clothes = money spent on duplicates
  • Hidden items = wasted time since you can’t see what you own
  • Accessory mess = wasted money on items you don’t wear, can’t find

“Organizing often reduces duplication of possessions,” says Lauren Williams, owner of Casual Uncluttering LLC, in Woodinville, Wash. “No more buying an item for a second, third, fourth time because someone can’t find it.”

If closets are crammed, paring down is a must. First, take everything out. Rid yourself of multiples, anything you no longer wear, and assess your shoe collection. Create piles: purge, throw out, or donate.

For what’s left, you’ll need a better closet system. You can choose a ready-made system that simply needs installation, or create your own. PVC pipe can be used to create additional hanging rods, and you may also want to add shelving to store folded clothes, hats, and bulky items. Look for wire mesh shelving, solid wood shelves, or an all-in-one closet shelving system depending on space. Large and small hooks can be wall-mounted to hold belts, accessories, and scarves.

Related: Savvy Closet Organization Tips and Tricks

Disorganization in the Kitchen Costs You:

  • Expired food = wasted money
  • Overflowing pantry = can’t see what ingredients you have and duplicate them
  • Crammed cabinets = overspending on multiple dishes and gadgets

Since the kitchen is often the hub of the home, it has a tendency to clutter. No wonder the Ikea survey found 50% of the world’s kitchens have junk drawers. Categorize yours by adding small plastic or wooden drawer organizers for things like thumbtacks, rubber bands, scissors, and tape.

To avoid buying your third jar of oregano or second potato ricer, buy or build an organizational system for your pantry. Built-in lazy Susans work great. Use pull-out mini shelving to corral items like dressings, hot sauces, and vinegars. Tackle cabinets and counters by mounting behind-the-cabinet-door racks to hold items like pot lids or cutting boards.

Add pull-out drawers in your bottom cupboards to make everything easily accessible and easy to see. You’ll thank yourself when you get older, too.

Related: Smarter Ways to Use Your Kitchen Cabinets and Drawers

Disorganization in Your Living Areas Costs You:

  • Lost keys, missing wallet = late for work, lost productivity
  • Not being able to fully enjoy your home = you spend money elsewhere for fun
  • Blocked ventilation = utility costs rise

Your living space is where you want to get the most enjoyment out of your home. If you can’t relax and enjoy yourself there, you’ll constantly be seeking out other places to find solace and fun — and that can add up to a lot of money spent on entertainment and recreational venues.

And, meanwhile, you could be paying more than you should for the living space you’re not enjoying.

“I run into people whose homes are unorganized to the point of papers, boxes and ‘stuff’ blocking air vents that supply heat and air conditioning to their homes,” says Gessert. This costs a fortune in utility bills. Likewise, a jumble of electrical wires around TVs and home entertainment systems can be sucking energy from always being plugged in. Connect them all to smart power strips that can turn everything off with one switch.

Once you’re living with organization, you’ll start to see the benefits everywhere. No more dealing with late fees on bills, having to buy replacement earrings or bread knives when items go missing, and — perhaps best of all — no more having to leave your home in order to find relaxation and entertainment. After all, saving on bills can be a big boost to your monthly budget, but there’s no greater value than getting more enjoyment out of your home.