Hands at Home

Using your imagination

Home Solar Energy


Converting an existing home to solar power can cost upwards of $25,000 and is probably not be a good investment for most people, strictly economically speaking. But if you’re building a new home, incorporating a solar system from the get-go is simply a matter of choosing solar over something else and therefore may pencil out much better. Photo credit: Student Design and Experiential Learning Center, courtesy Flickr.

Dear EarthTalk: Is it now feasible to provide all of a home’s energy needs—including air conditioning—with solar power alone? If so, why hasn’t solar caught on more, particularly in U.S. “Sun Belt” states from southern California east to Florida?
-- Tim Douglas, Burlington, VT

It has been possible for years if not decades to provide all of a home’s energy needs with solar power. The technology is here and is only getting more efficient and less obtrusive every day. The only real stumbling block is cost: Solar systems capable of meeting all of an average U.S. home’s energy needs start at around $25,000. Given how inexpensive the grid-based power we now get all across the country remains—and, bear in mind that many utilities are working more and more renewable energy sources, like wind power, into their mix—going solar alone just doesn’t pencil out economically for most people.

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Make Your Own Gift Baskets EBook

Don't purchase another expensive gift basket--
YOU can create terrific & unique gift baskets yourself for a fraction of the price!
Learn How to Make Gift Baskets at Home!

Dear Readers,

Saving money on gifts is a favorite topic around here. We all have holidays, birthdays, anniversaries and other gift-giving occasions to deal with, and it adds up, doesn't it!

But no one wants to be a "skin-flint," or worse, see our gift "re-gifted" at a garage sale! We want our gifts to be appropriate and wanted--we want people to see we went to some trouble and were really thinking about them. Right? Of course.

Nothing says, "I'm really thinking about you" more than a custom gift basket--and nothing could be more expensive!

Have you priced a gift basket lately? Yow! Talk about sticker shock! But it's hard to look past those beautiful hampers, when you know the person you're shopping for would just love what's inside.

Here's a thought:

Make the gift basket yourself!

This guide can show you exactly how to put together 99 different homemade gift baskets--baskets you can easily customize even further for a gift your loved ones will know was made just for them!

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A Craft Fair Goldmine Ebook

Psst! Be sure to read all the way to the end so you don't miss the free bonuses--more than 500 craft ideas that come with this ebook!

Do you love making unique gifts and keepsakes with your hands? Do you wish you had more time so that you could do more crafting and maybe make money doing it? If so, this could be the most wonderful message you've ever read! Why?

Because I Can Teach You How to Succeed Selling Your Own Crafts!

It's a huge step when you decide to take a hobby to the next level and start trying to make money off of it. It's a little scary, but it can be so very rewarding. The key to making your crafting business a success is being prepared and armed with information. You have to know what you're doing before you start.

That's why I'm offering you this wonderful ebook, "Craft Fair Goldmine," to help you along the way! This is more than just a guidebook, it's a training manual designed especially for you--the beginning craft business owner.

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The Budget Guide to Home Decor Ebook

Redecorate With Style at Bargain Basement Prices

Don't waste tons of money on a professional interior decorator. Instead, grab this guide doing it yourself--for pennies on the dollar!

Redecorate your home for little...or nothing!...with the info-packed

The Budget Guide to Home Decor Ebook!

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Home Decorating: 5 Green Ideas on a Budget

Decorating your home to be environmentally friendly shouldn’t be expensive. And it shouldn’t just be for the environmental activists either; we all have a responsibility to our communities, and to our families. There are many ways you can decorate “green” for a lot less “green”! Here are The Budget Decorator’s top 5 ways to green up your home, on a budget!

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From House to Home Last Week of July

  • To give a room a taller feeling, place matching tall plants in the corners and add a torchiere light behind a sofa or chairs for extra illumination.
  • Buy a brass knocker for your front door. Consider having it monogrammed.
  • Bring out your good china, glassware, silver and placemats, place them somewhere where they accessible so that once a month you can use them for dinner when you cook a special meal with a theme
  • Turn an ugly old tub into a nicer combination tub-shower or just a glass-enclosed shower.

Click through for more great tips!

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From House to Home, First Week of February

Seven tips to start this winter month out right--it's all about being warm, cozy and prepared!

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From House to Home 10/10/07

  • Have a dinner party, invite friends who don't know one another and serve wine in new attractive stemware and buy some new colorful dessert dishes that don't match your regular china, but complement it.
  • If you never use a dining room, turn your new one into a quasi-library by placing a smaller table that can expand at one end, adding bookshelves, comfortable seating, stereo equipment, a soft patterned rug underfoot and good lighting.
  • Put in an underground sprinkler system that will water your grass and flowers better, save you time and labor and ease your back strain.

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From House to Home 10/3/07

  • Have your curtains cleaned, dust all blinds and baseboards before you place your furniture, and have your windows washed. Your house will sparkle.
  • Get ready for Halloween by planning a costume party for different generations of your family and friends. Pick a theme and include old-fashioned games such as bobbing for apples.
  • Assign a chore to each family member to make life run more smoothly in coming months. For exmaple, have one child set the table nightly, and another do the dishes. Rotate tasks so everyone gets to learn something new.
  • A mah-jongg set with creamy plastic tiles the size of dominoes with pretty symbols adds cachet to a family room. It can create the theme of the room with the proper mah-jongg table, tiles encased in an alligator-embossed box and the mah-jongg pad or cloth.

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From House to Home 9/26/07

  • Learn a new sport, even if a spectator; you can buy a book, tapes or take a class to hone your skills.
  • Check your property for dead trees and foliage. Take down old greenery, then plant some new items to fill in where it's bare.
  • Cover a bulletin board with special photographs and illustrations that typify your lifestyle such as quotes from a magazine or funky cartoons.

Click through for more early fall ideas!

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Online Scrapbooking

A new generation of parents is bringing the family scrapbook into the 21st century with a fresh, decidedly modern twist: The photo blog. These wildly popular online journals allow parents to record and share their everyday lives through images instead of words.

"This is a great way for families and friends to stay in touch and boost their bonds," says Adam Seifer, the co-founder and CEO of Fotolog.com, the world's largest photo blogging community. "Photo blogs have become an intriguing, real-time window into everyday life."

Once you create your own photo blog, friends and family members will no longer cringe when you jam their in-boxes with dozens of photos of your latest birthday party or amusement park excursion. "I used to get about two or three e-mails a week from my sister with tons of .jpeg attachments of pictures of my one-year-old niece," says Jamie Frazier, 36, of St. Louis, Missouri. "The files were always huge and I felt nervous about downloading them at work. But now I can just go to one site and check them all out at my convenience. It's like one-stop shopping!"

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From House to Home 9/18/07

  • Before you buy new clothing for fall, clean closets and check what you need. You may be surprised by how much you own, especially if you alter or clean items.
  • Celebrate one new occasion in September, such as Grandparents' Day.
  • Convert a family room into a music room with soundproof walls using wool felt on the walls that are padded to muffle the sound. A handsome complement in the room might be leather floor tiles and a comfy chair in which to listen to your favorite tunes.

Click through for more tips!

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Heaven to Betsy

I recommend this book for girls ages ten to sixteen. Betsy
is a fun and imaginative girl. Everything goes fine until

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The Hand-Sculpted House

Standard house construction has a problem, and it's wooden.

With the price of wood skyrocketing, and the ecological impact of all that wood, glue, nails, gypsum, Tyvek, fiberglass, paint and primer on the landscape, the cost of a house is quickly becoming more than just the price of the land and a few 2x4s.

The Hand-Sculpted House is the where, when, how and why--written by the "who"--of cob construction, an ancient building style undergoing a big revival. It explains everything, from the right consistency of soil to the best dance-moves to use when mixing up a batch of cob. Yes, I said soil.

I can hear the howls now: "A house made of DIRT?!?!? What, are you nuts?" Nope.

Cob is one of humanity's oldest construction methods. While "rammed earth" compresses dirt into a semi-resilient construction material, cob takes that same base element, dirt--or more specifically, clay--and then adds in sand for aggregate. Then we add structural integrity in the form of straw.

Walls aren't so much built as they are "knitted," or squished into place. Once dry, it is covered in plaster or mastic, and then painted. You have seen these houses before; you just didn't realize that that old English countryside house dated 1544 was actually made out of clay, sand and straw.

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From House to Home 9/12/07

  • Add elegance to a living room entrance by creating an archway adorned with ornamental plaster moldings. Add columns on either side of the arch to support it in a grand manner.
  • To have a place to sit in a child's tiny bedroom, consider stacking stools with vinyl cushions. Also, instead of a bedspread, buy a duvet cover that can double as a sheet.
  • When issuing invitations to this year's Thanksgiving feast, ask your guests to write down what they most love about their family and friends and what they have to be thankful for this year.

Click through for more ideas!

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From House to Home 9/5/07

  • If you've redecorated your kitchen, consider buying a chef's apron and embroidering your monogram or moniker on the front to match the color of the walls. You might want to add new dishtowels to match the wall color as well.
  • Gel, a form of polyurethane, is a hot new furniture statement that takes the place of padding. The user just melts into the gel-like surface that comes in the shape of chairs and chaises in a variety of candy colors.
  • To add an accent of sunshine to your new kitchen, fill a wrought iron bowl with ceramic lemons.

Click through for more tips!

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From House to Home Last Week of August

This week's tips: Start the transition from outdoor summer fun to indoor fall fun!

  • Buy new bath and spa items. Be sure you include bath gels or salts, a candle, a great smelling bar of soap, and a new scrubber for your bath. If you really want to splurge, buy new towels with your initials monogrammed on them. And if you have an extra CD player, consider bringing it into the bathroom as well.
  • Start reading and relaxing each day in your home. Buy some new books, join a book club, or start a new magazine subscription.

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From House to Home Third Week of August

  • If your kitchen is small, mirror the backsplashes to expand space rather than use a solid material such as tile, wood or laminate.
  • If space is at premium in your abode, consider covering a long wood table with glass to double as a desk, dining table, sideboard or bar.
  • To break up space in a child's room in a pragmatic way, use a three-paneled cork board. This serves as a screen and doubles as a bulletin board on which to post precious artwork.

Click through for more tips!

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From House to Home Second Week of August

This week's tips:

  • Tired of hardwood floors? The new trend today is bamboo. It can be dyed a color or kept a natural hue which gives a beach-like feel to your home. But buyer beware: cheap bamboo flooring can buckle and delaminate.
  • If you love tea, start collecting tea items that will enhance your tea-drinking experience when the weather turns a bit cooler. There are tea strainers in various shapes, all sorts of teapots, cups, and trays to make the ritual of sipping tea more fun.

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From House to Home First Week of August

This week's tips:

  • Transform a room into a magical place that makes you feel like you're outside looking up at the sky: Paint the room a pretty sky blue and paste gold astrological signs on the ceiling
  • Consider building a tree house in the backyard for children or grandchildren. There are kits available, or you can design one yourself with a little help from experts at your favorite home shopping store.
  • During warm weather months, place a large empty basket in your fireplace and fill it with dried flowers. In winter, lay your fireplace with dry logs and newspaper, so that all you'll need to do is light it.

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From House to Home Fourth Week of July

  • Be sure your property is sufficiently lit at night so you can use your outdoors for nighttime dining, chats, cocktails, etc. Place bulbs discreetly along the sides of the house, along walkways, and sometimes in trees to diffuse the light.
  • Buy enough Citronella candles, lanterns and other aids to discourage bugs from visiting when you dine outside.
  • Think about adding a front porch or verandah to your home. It adds an attractive look and can become a gathering spot for your neighborhood, like the old-fashioned stoops where city dwellers used to gather.

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From House to Home Third Week of July


  • Plan to finish your outdoor maintenance before the summer ends. With trades people so busy, it could take months to get on your carpenter's, bricklayer's or painter's schedule.
  • If you're looking for a different style of garden, consider an ecologically correct garden for your area. In the Midwest, you might try a "prairie-scape" if your house isn't too formal. If you live in the Southwest, you might want an arrangement of stones.
  • Try decorating your door, or the front of your property, with a custom-designed address plaque in sold brass, bronze, copper or aluminum.

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From House to Home Second Week of July


  • Consider building a screened in gazebo to create an attractive dining space in the shade outdoors. This not only offers a dramatic mood for food, but will add gorgeous simplicity to your property.
  • Consider adding an attached sun porch or greenhouse to grow fruits and vegetables year-round and to park the summer plants that are now proliferating in your yard. Prices on prefab sun porches or greenhouses will be more reasonable than having one constructed custom.
  • Birdhouses add pizzazz and can be a conversation piece. They come in a range of styles and colors with patterns and special features. You might even find one that duplicates the style of your home.

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From House to Home First Week of July


  • Buy an antique hutch, remove the door and use the shelves to display ceramics you picked up at a summer estate sale. Paint the back of the hutch a darker color than the rest of the piece to add depth and dimension.
  • Do you have a yearning for a pet? Summertime is the best time to get a dog since the weather is warm, which makes training easier. Why not adopt from the Humane Society? To make life with your new friend easier, you might consider fencing part of or all of your yard.
  • Summer is the season for barbecue. Stock your pantry with a hearty supply of accompaniments that can turn a bland meal into something special. Olives, roasted peppers, pimentos, soy sauce, fish sauces, and assortment of salsas, chili sauces and bean paste.

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From House to Home Last Week of June

This week's tips:


  • Have all your windows washed to let more sunlight filter into your home. You can do it yourself or hire a company.
  • If your weather will permit it, consider creating an outdoor kitchen. Purchase a grill, small portable refrigerator, and sink and install them in a handsome stone counter. Consider building a permanent outdoor fireplace for cooler evenings.
  • To hang pots or even flower baskets outside, try an interesting and attractive chain of oxidized bronze thorns, ranging up to four inches in length.

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From House to Home Second Week of June


  • Hand paint the cement or wood floor of a screened-in porch to look like a faux rug with diamond-shaped pattern and a squiggly border in favorite colors. Get young family members involved and ask them to splatter the paint like Jackson Pollack once did.
  • Buy fresh herbs and plant them outside. Liven up your meals by adding fresh herbs from your own garden.
  • Organize a special Father's Day (June 17) and invite dads who might be forgotten (whose children have grown and moved away, whose spouses have died, or who may be divorced). Make the food simple such as bratwurst, corn on the cob, and blueberry pie.

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From House to Home First Week of June

This week's tips:


  • Organize a Flag Day party on June 14. Hoist your American flag, tell the generations to dress in red, white and blue, have everyone bring favorite American classics such as baked beans, potato salad, hamburgers, lemon meringue and cherry pies.
  • Build bookcases along a wide hallway. They add an interesting visual element. If the hallway is wide enough, consider adding a built-in desk to be used as a homework station.
  • Punch storage units into a bedroom or family room wall or hallway to store everything from linens to out-of-season clothing.

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