How Ikea Could Dominate the Smart Home Market

Like its furniture, Ikea’s smart lighting system is affordable, modular, and easy to set up.

There’s lots to love about smart home technology. It can make daily tasks easier and more efficient, and it’s more than a little fun to bark orders to the systems in your home.

Unfortunately, smart tech can also be frustrating, confusing, and a huge pain to get up and running.

That’s where Ikea can do things differently.

Last fall, Ikea launched its first smart home products: a line of smart lighting called ‘Trådfri’, including light bulbs, motion sensors, and illuminated doors that can be switched on and off with the click of a remote. Now, it plans to bring them up to speed with systems like Google Voice, Amazon Alexa, and Apple HomeKit.

Ikea is far from the first company to venture into the world of smart lighting, but its refreshingly simple attitude has the potential to launch the struggling smart home market into the mainstream. Here’s why.

Why Smart Home Devices Are Still a Niche

The term ‘smart home device’ is a broad category that has grown to encompass hundreds of products. If it’s a standalone object that connects to the internet, and you can control or monitor it remotely, it probably counts as a ‘smart’ device.

Today, the market includes devices to control security and access to a home, lighting, HVAC systems, and kitchen appliances. Personal home assistants, like Google Home and Amazon Alexa, are increasingly adopted as the main hub for the device ecosystem.

So, why hasn’t it hit the mainstream? To start, smart home devices are pricey, especially considering their often-limited use and long replacement cycles. While some proport to save homeowners money over time, like smart thermostats that control and monitor energy use, the upfront cost turns off many ordinary consumers.

But the biggest issue is how fragmented the smart home ‘ecosystem’ has become. There are so many different networks, standards, and devices being used to connect the home that consumers have a hard time deciding which, if any, they should buy.

Setting up and controlling multiple devices is confusing, as many systems are incompatible.

This frustration, along with the cost, has smart home devices stuck in the place between the early adopter and mass market phases. People are buying them – in 2016, there were 80 million smart devices in homes around the world, a 64% increase from 2015 – but it hasn’t hit the point where ordinary homeowners are interested.

A Simple Approach to Smart Homes

A recent article from Wired magazine makes that case that Ikea is in the best position to bring smart home devices to the mass market. How? By retrofitting its approach to the furniture industry to incorporate smart tech.

Ikea is the largest retailer in the world, with 400 stores worldwide and over 900 million customers each year. It owes its success to its simplicity: it sells minimalist, low-cost furniture that is easy to assemble and compatible with décor and furniture from other retailers.

Customers can easily integrate Ikea’s products with the things they already have in their homes. That, along with some savvy marketing, has made Ikea a retail powerhouse.

So far, it’s taking the same approach to smart homes. Ikea entered the market with something simple and familiar: lighting, which is already the largest segment of the smart home market. Its line of light bulbs and motion sensors are simple, cheap, and easy to set up.

That approach is what sets Ikea apart from its competitors in the crowded smart tech market. It’s making smart tech for non-techies, the same way it makes furniture non-handymen can assemble.

Trådfri is a promising start. We’ll see if it can win over the hearts of DIY designers the same as Billy, Malm and Ren.

Why Bungalows are a Good Investment in Canada

They just don’t build them like they used to.

I’m talking about bungalows. Between the 1950s and 70s, these single-story abodes were one of the most popular new styles of housing in Canada. Many older neighbourhoods are exclusively populated by large lots with modest-sized, rectangular bungalows.

However, these houses have lost favour with modern builders. These days, it’s all about square footage, and building lots keep getting smaller and smaller. The present-day equivalent to those old 60s-era neighbourhoods are instead lined with rows of identical two-story townhouses.

But bungalows are still around, and they’re quietly growing in value. If you look past the dated style, there are major benefits to owning a bungalow in Canada today.

Canada’s Aging Population

Canada’s population is aging rapidly, and the way things are going, there won’t be enough senior housing to accommodate the growing demand. That means more and more elderly adults will be downsizing and moving in with their younger family members rather than moving into a retirement home.

For families living with seniors, bungalows are a very appealing housing option. Since everything is on one floor, and there are no stairs to navigate (aside from the basement), bungalows are much safer and more convenient for people with reduced mobility. Everyone in the family can comfortably access the entire living area.

Bungalows are also great for seniors who want to downsize and live independently. The house is much easier to clean than and maintain than a two-story home. There’s no lugging the vacuum up and down the stairs, and less square footage to maintain overall. Cleaning the windows and gutters is far less hazardous on a bungalow.

Homes with two stories are appealing to young families, but Canada’s population is headed in the opposite direction. Families are getting smaller, and many couples are opting against having kids at all. As current trends continue, bungalows are likely to become a highly desired commodity in the housing market.

Easy Renovation

Canadians are hardcore house flippers. Brand-new houses are flying off the market, but so are older homes in need of repair. For those with the time, money and expertise to get it done, renovating homes for resale is a lucrative business.

Bungalows are a renovator’s dream. The layout and construction means they’re easier to alter than two-story homes. Since they’re usually situated on bigger lots, you can add extensions and outbuildings like garages. Converting a bungalow into an open-concept home is also far less troublesome than it is with a second-story floating overhead.

Save on Heating and Cooling

Heating and cooling are major expenses in Canada, and the cost of electricity is higher than ever. Bungalows cost less to keep warm in the winter and cool off in the summer. It’s much easier to maintain a consistent temperature in a single-story house, with the insulated attic right overhead and fewer walls to seal and insulate.

5 Steps to a Rabbit-Proof Home

Rabbits are fragile animals. These steps will help make your home safer for them.

What makes a house into a home? For me, it’s not so much about the rooms or décor or the neighbourhood — it’s who you share it all with. And pets are as much a part of that equation as people.

I love just about all animals, from dogs and cats to fish and reptiles. But there’s a special place in my heart for rabbits. They’re funny and affectionate like dogs, self-sufficient like cats, and quieter than both. Plus, there’s nothing like waking up to a bunny nuzzling your chin.

So I do everything I can to make my space as safe as possible for my rabbit. Here are the basic steps in making your home rabbit-proof.

1. Protect Wires and Cords

Rabbits have a natural urge to chew things. Sometimes, they exercise this instinct on objects you’d rather keep unchewed, like books, furniture, and rugs. Just about anything you leave on the floor could become a bunny’s chew toy (in fact, I think that’s one of the benefits of having a rabbit: it forces you to keep your floors tidy!)

One of their favourite targets seems to be power cords. No one’s sure why — some theorize that cords look like tasty roots to a rabbit, but that sounds far-fetched to me. Regardless, you don’t want your rabbit destroying your expensive electronics and potentially hurting themselves by chewing through a live wire.

Since most power outlets are located near the floor, you can’t always keep cords out of the rabbit’s reach. You can block the outlets with furniture, but that’s not always feasible, since it also blocks your access to them. A better solution is to wrap your cords in plastic cord protectors, which you can find at most electronic supply stores.

2. Block Access to Stairs

Stairs pose a serious danger to rabbits. Some rabbits can navigate up and down the stairs without issue, but it’s hardly worth the risk. Rabbits are fragile animals, and they can easily injure their back or legs if they fall even a short distance.

If your rabbit has access to a room with stairs, you should block access with a plastic or wooden baby gate. This is an inconvenience, so it may be better to keep the rabbit out of that room altogether.

3. Add Rugs to Slippery Floors

Rabbits have a difficult time walking on hardwood, vinyl, and tile floors. Some will avoid these surfaces completely. Others will tread carefully, but they’re still at risk of slipping and falling, creating the potential for injury.

If you want your rabbit to spend time in a room that has slippery floors, add an area rug for traction. Conversely, you can remove the rug if you want to keep the rabbit out of the room

4. Put House Plants Out of Reach

Rabbits love munching on greens, and they’re liable to take a bite out of any plants left within reach. However, many house plants are poisonous to rabbits. Rather than take the chance, it’s best to keep all your house plants on high shelves or the rabbit can’t get to.

5. Keep Dogs and Cats Away

Yes, it’s possible for rabbits to live in harmony with dogs and cats. There are plenty of adorable videos on Youtube showing bunnies playing with big, friendly dogs and napping next to sleepy cats.

But this is by no means the norm. Rabbits are prey animals; cats and dogs are predators. Dogs have an instinct to chase, and cats play rougher than what is safe for rabbits.

This is a bit of a controversial subject in the world of rabbit owners. Some insist that it’s possible to ‘bond’ cats and dogs to rabbits the same way you could bond them to their own species. Others believe it’s never worth the risk, as a dog (and to a lesser extent a cat) could seriously injure or kill a rabbit in seconds.

If you have your heart set on keeping your pets together, always follow the steps in House Rabbit Society’s guides to bonding rabbits to dogs or cats. In the meantime, you must keep them separate, especially while the rabbit is still adjusting to its new surroundings.

How to Make a Small Kitchen Feel Bigger

You can use light and colour to give your small kitchen the illusion of space.

It’s said that the kitchen is the ‘heart’ of every home. I think of it more as our home base. We go there to eat, cook, and prepare food, obviously. But we also gather in the kitchen to read, work, talk family business, and drop off ‘found’ items (if you find something out of place somewhere in the house, it usually ends up in the kitchen).

Point is, everyone agrees the kitchen is an important, multi-functional space. So why are some of them so small?

I’ve toured houses where the kitchen is most generously described as a ‘nook’. It’s especially bad in some century homes, built back when people preferred lots of tiny rooms instead of a few big ones. If that’s the heart of your home, you’d better take it easy, or the whole place might collapse.

Having lived in an apartment or two, I know what it’s like to deal with small kitchens. Here are some tips to help make it work.

Use Colour and Light

You can’t always make your kitchen bigger, but you can create the illusion of space through careful use of light and colour.

Natural light always makes a space feel larger. If you have a window in your kitchen, don’t cover it with blinds or curtains; embrace that light and let it shine. Use generous amounts of task lighting and ambient light to make up for it at night.

Colour is another important factor in the feel of your kitchen. While dark colours don’t always make a space feel small, it’s tricky to get the balance right when it comes to petite rooms, so it’s best to choose lighter shades for your walls and cabinets. Streamline your colour palette to a few basic colours and use it consistently throughout the kitchen for a unified design.

Decorate Lightly

It’s easy to make a small kitchen feel cluttered. When it comes to decorating, use a light touch, paring down your collection to a few favourite items. Be sure to leave some free space on the walls for balance.

Switch to Small Appliances

Appliances inevitably occupy quite a bit of real estate in your kitchen. However, unless you’re cooking for lots of people every night, you don’t really need full-sized appliances. There are lots of alternatives out there for people living in dorms and other small spaces. Singles, couples, and small families can make due with a miniature fridge, dishwasher, and oven.

To maximize the use of what little room you have, you should put away any appliances you don’t use every day. Designate a specific cabinet as your “appliance garage” and use it to store blenders, rice cookers, and other specialty items.

Get Smart with Storage

Getting organized is the best thing you can do for a small kitchen. The Internet is full of clever, do-it-yourself solutions for kitchen storage, from extra shelves to hanging pans. If you aren’t the hands-on kind of person, try using a wire shelving unit – it’s not much to look at when it’s empty, but plenty of designers have used them as part of a beautiful kitchen.

 

Tips for Closing Your Cottage for the Winter

Make sure your cottage is ready for those long winter months so you can enjoy it next spring.

With the summer winding down, it’s almost time to say good-bye to the cottage until next spring. Sad though the parting may be, you can’t just up and leave your place for the winter. Taking care of these tasks now will make your next cottage opening go smoother.

Shut Down the Water System

With the winter comes freezing temperatures. If you don’t properly shut down the plumbing system, you run the risk of water freezing in the pipes, causing them to burst.

First, shut off the main water supply and drain the pipes completely. You should also cut water to your water heater and drain it as well. Then, turn on a faucet to make sure the job is done.

There will always be traces of water left in the pipes, so it’s worth wrapping them in insulation to reduce the chance of freezing. You can buy premade insulation tubes at the hardware store which require no cutting or gluing to install. Put these on any pipes that run through a ‘cold zone’ in your cottage, like an uninsulated crawlspace or garage.

Remove Any Leftover Food

You don’t want to leave anything tasty in your cottage over the winter, as even canned goods can attract wildlife. Give your fridge and cupboards a good clean, leaving the doors open to air them out.

Turn Off / Set Your Heating System for Winter

Should you shut down your cottage’s heating system during the winter? That’s up to you. It can be very expensive to keep it running all winter long, especially up north. But keeping the heat on at a low temperature (around 10 degrees) will help minimize the potential for damage from ice and snow, such as pipes bursting, frost build-up, and roof damage. Ultimately, you should decide whether this precaution is worth the added energy costs.

Close the Gaps

When the temperature drops, your local wildlife will be looking for a warm place to stay. Make sure your cottage isn’t it! Seal up any holes in the foundation that could invite critters in. If you have a fireplace, but sure to close the chimney cap or cover. You can also leave mothballs around the perimeter of your cottage to discourage mice and other critters from entering.

Unplug Major Appliances

Some people shut off power to their cottage at the fuse box, but Mike Holmes advises against this, since that’ll shut down the sump pump and leave your basement susceptible to flooding. Instead, unplug your major appliances individually or turn the power off to these appliances at the electrical panel.

Check the Roof

The roof is one of the most important areas of your cottage to check before winter, since it’ll have to stand up to the weight of the snow and ice. You want to make sure it’s secure to prevent it from buckling or caving in. Inspect for damaged shingles, and trim any over-hanging or dead tree branches that could snap off and fall onto the roof.

You should also take time to clean the gutters. Leaving them full of debris all winter means they’ll block water from draining, which can accumulate in an “ice dam” that packs more snow onto the roof. Wait until all the leaves have fallen and give them one final clean before you leave.

Keeping Your Houseplants Healthy During the Summer

House plants need extra care to survive the steamy summer months.

There’s a lot plants love about the summer. Longer days mean more hours of sunlight for photosynthesis, and many houseplants of the tropical variety thrive in warm, humid air. But some indoor plants need extra care to stay strong and healthy during the summer. Follow these tips to help keep your indoor garden looking great when the temperature rises.

Control Pests

Keep an eye out for signs of bugs infesting your houseplants. Pests can strike at any time of year, but indoor plants tend to be more susceptible in the summertime. If they’re already struggling in the harsh weather, a pest problem could spell doom for your poor plants. Be sure to separate any infested plants from the others and take steps to it.

Water Consistently

Since the days are longer, plants need more water to keep growing during the summer. You should water at least once a day to keep the soil from drying out. It helps to water early in the morning to allow time to absorb the water before it evaporates. However, you don’t want to water at night, as leaving it plant wet for too long makes it more susceptible to pests and fungal disease.

Add Mulch

Most people don’t think to use mulch indoors, but it can be a benefit to your houseplants’ health. Adding a small layer of mulch to the top of the soil will help keep it cool and reduce water evaporation.

Keep Plants and Air Conditioning Separate

Your plants may not appreciate that cool breeze and dehumidified air as much as you do. Most houseplants are from tropical climates, so they prefer warm, humid conditions and a stable temperature.

If you only have air conditioning in certain rooms of your house, keep your plants out of those rooms during the summer. You can also keep small plants under glass or in a terrarium to protect them from the effects of air conditioning.

To Fertilize, or Not?

There are two arguments to be made about adding more fertilizer to your plants in the summer. On one hand, plants absorb more sun from June to August, so it’s important they get enough nutrients to stay healthy. Adding an organic fertilizer can help your houseplants bloom and flourish from the added sunlight. However, fertilizer is only effective if the plant has enough water to support the chemicals.

Adding more fertilizer could give your plants that extra boost they need to keep going, but only if you can provide enough water. Otherwise, it’s best to stick to your old fertilizing routine and maintain a consistent watering schedule.

How Home Design Helped People Survive Before Air Conditioning

Shotgun homes were designed to keep inhabitants cool in the Southern heat.

Back in 1979, former TIME magazine writer Frank Tripper wrote that people have become “all but addicted” to air conditioning. That’s a harsh way to put it, but some forty years later, Tripper’s observation is as true as it ever was. For those who live in hot climates (and even for many of us north of the US border) it’s hard to imagine life without the miracle of mechanical cooling.

Air conditioning has been around since 1902, but it’s only in the last 80 years or so that people have been accustomed to having it in their homes. So how did people survive the sweltering summer months before that?

There’s no one-stop solution to A/C-free cooling. In the years before air conditioning, people combined a variety of habits and routines to keep themselves going during the hottest days of the year: escaping to the outdoors, taking mid-day siestas, and getting creative.

But the coolest pre-AC cooling tricks were found in architecture.

Most modern homes are designed with central air conditioning in mind. They’re built to be as airtight and weatherproof as possible, hoarding cool air during the summer and keeping out cold winds in the winter. But if your A/C is on the fritz, it can be very difficult to keep your home from becoming stuffy, and humid.

Before 1902, builders in warm climates designed buildings that were meant to keep their inhabitants cool. As Apartment Therapy explains, they built higher ceilings to allow heat to rise and make the space below feel cooler. Some builders added deep eaves and porches to prevent sunlight from streaming in through the windows. Rooms had windows on opposite sides of the space for cross-ventilation, and people planted trees for additional shade.

Perhaps the best example of this technique is in shotgun-style homes. These homes were most iconic and prevalent in New Orleans, but you can find them in San Francisco and other American cities as well.

Shotgun houses had all the rooms lined up in a row to allow air to flow through them. High ceilings, covered porches, and window shutters kept the air circulating and the direct sun off interior rooms. Many windows had awnings and interior shades to provide additional UV-protection.

It’s a shame these ingeniously-designed homes gone out of vogue, but it’s not hard to see why: their unique layout is pretty far from what most modern buyers are looking for.

For one, they’re small. While the tiny house movement is bigger than ever, the mainstream thought still embraces the idea that more space = better. Typically, the front door in a shotgun home leads straight into the living room, and the kitchen is all the way in the back of the house to keep the heat from the stove and oven secluded. That made sense back in 1900, but now, we’re open-concept all the way.

Besides, the homes are an introvert’s nightmare – the bedrooms upstairs are often interconnected, with no hallway separating them! What you gain in cooling efficiency, you lose in privacy.

For now, I’ll stick with my air conditioner.

What is the ‘True’ Hygge Home Design?

Quick: describe your ideal home in one word.

Is it big? Stylish? Functional?

Forget the extravagance. My ideal home is cozy.

I know I’m not the only one who feels that way, because hygge, which first hit the international scene in 2016, has been one of the top interior design trends this year. If you follow any lifestyle or design accounts on social media, you’ve definitely heard of it. To date, its hashtag has attracted over 1.6 million Instagram posts.

Like all design trends, it’s attracted its share of praise and contrarian dismissal (can you even pronounce the word hygge?), but it’s not exactly a groundbreaking concept. Hygge has been around for a while – we just didn’t have the right word for it.

What is it?

For the official definition, let’s go straight to the source:

“Hard to explain and even harder to pronounce, the Danish word ‘hygge’ (pronounced ‘hooga’) translates roughly to ‘cosiness’. It may be hard to say, but that hasn’t stopped people finding out that hygge might be a recipe for a happier life.

In essence, hygge means creating a warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people. The warm glow of candlelight is hygge. Friends and family – that’s hygge too. There’s nothing more hygge than sitting round a table, discussing the big and small things in life. Perhaps hygge explains why the Danes are some of the happiest people in the world?”

And in case you were wondering, TIME magazine offers three equally confusing choices for pronunciation: “hyue-gar”, “hoog-jar” and “hoo-gah.”

In terms of home design, the word refers to items and colours that invoke a sense of warmth and coziness. We’ve been doing that for a while across the pond; you don’t have to look far to find beautiful rooms adorned with vintage textiles, warm throw blankets, pendant lights, and candles. Think of rooms that make you want to spending cold nights curled up by the fireplace, or warm afternoons on the patio. That’s hygge.

To me, that pretty well describes the ideal home design. Maybe it’s because I, like the Danes who coined the term, live in a chilly climate and love nothing more than to watch the snow fall on the window from the comfort of a cozy space.

On the other hand…

Are We Ruining Hygge?

I can’t help but feel that the new hygge design trent distills the concept down to material things – and not handmade pieces or treasured keepsakes, but things you can easily find at any Sears store. If hygge is all about warmth and familiarity, how does that square with buying brand-new, mass-produced products to create the atmosphere?

And it ignores something that comes up time and time again in descriptions of the style/lifestyle: the importance of other people.

Search #hygge on Instagram and you’ll find a lot of empty rooms, cute objects, and selfies. What you generally won’t find are people sharing those nice spaces together.

I like that hygge celebrates the kind of spaces I love to be in. And it’s nice knowing that other people feel the same way. But like most things, I think the Internet gets this one wrong.

I like that hygge celebrates the kind of spaces I love to be in. And it’s nice knowing that other people feel the same way. But the idea of what constitutes warm and cozy should be different for everyone.

My thoughts? If you really want to create a hygge space, find a place you’re already in love with – your family room, your study, your backyard patio – and find ways to share it with people you care about. Throw a casual dinner party. Have board game nights. Sit and read a book with your partner.

After all, hygge is supposed to be about enjoying the good things in life with good people. Don’t forget the ‘people’ part of that equation.

 

 

Do You Really Need To Replace Your Old Windows?

New windows can boost curb appeal and energy efficiency, but your money is often better spent on repairs.

Windows are a big deal when it comes to home renovation. They’re considered a high-value upgrade, improving both the curb appeal and energy efficiency of your home. Plus, a new set of windows can also help give you peace and quiet, and even cut the time you spend cleaning.

But windows aren’t cheap. According to Consumer Reports, a full replacement can run you anywhere from $8000 to $24,000, depending on the size of your home and the quality of your new windows. And though they might boost energy efficiency, it can take decades for those cost savings to catch up with the amount you spent on the renovation.

In many cases, fixing your windows is a far better investment than replacing them. But how do you know when to repair and when to replace? It depends on the extent of the damage.

Drafts

When the seal around a window wears down, it causes you to lose heat during the winter and let warm air in during the summer. That bumps up your heating and cooling costs.

If drafts are your only issue, you can usually fix the problem without much trouble. Fill in cracks in the caulking using a caulk gun, sealing the gaps between the window molding and exterior of your house, and around the window trim inside. You can also replace worn-out weatherstripping on the exterior.

Moisture

Drafty windows don’t do much damage, but moisture is another story. Moisture can cause the paint around the window to peel, crate streaks on the walls, and rot the wooden window frame over time.

If you can get to the problem before it damages the frame, you may not have to replace the window. But if the wood is rotting or saturated with moisture, you may need to have it re-installed and re-sealed. Try pushing the end of a flat-blade screwdriver into the frame – if you can push it in easily, there’s water damage.

 

Want to Buy a Home? Avoid Doing These Five Things

Buying a home
You’ll want to avoid these things in the weeks and months before buying a home.

Real estate is complicated. If you rush into the market without doing your research, you’re bound to pay too much, ask too little, or end up buying a crack house.

Okay, scratch that last part. Now that everyone on the planet has read the crack house couple’s harrowing tale, we’re all well aware of that particular pitfall. Point is, there’s a lot you should know before you buy.

There are entire books dedicated to things you should do before buying a home. If you’re in the market, you’ve probably read some already. Instead, we’re going to outline five things you must avoid before making your big purchase.

1. Changing Jobs

You would think lenders would be glad you’re moving up in the world, right? Even if your new job gets you a big raise, it could also delay your settlement by a few weeks. Your creditors will want to see proof of employment, including pay stubs, to prove your income at your new job.

Remember: lenders love stability. Changing jobs might be the best decision for your career, but if it can wait until after your move, you’re better to postpone it.

2. Co-signing a loan

Creditors don’t like it when you’re on the hook for someone else’s debts, even if you’re sure the other person on the loan is financially stable.

3. Getting a New Credit Card

Don’t celebrate your upcoming move with a shiny new credit card. Lenders are going to take a close look at your credit score, and applying for a new line of credit tends to lower it by a few points. You want your credit profile to be as consistent as possible in the weeks and months ahead of buying a home.

4. Skipping the bill

Skipping a payment or paying it late will have a negative impact on your credit score. Make your payments on-time and in-full in the months before you purchase a home.

5. Making large purchases

This could cause a problem in a few ways. To start, you’ll want to keep as much cash on hand as possible for your down payment and closing costs. Your creditor may balk if they notice a discrepancy in your cash reserves from one period of the next.

Big purchases, like a new car, also raise your debt-to-income ratio. You want to avoid increasing your debts if you’re thinking of buying a home. If you take on more debt, you could risk going over the max debt-to-income ratio.