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4 Home Improvement Hacks for this Winter

4 Home Improvement Hacks for this Winter

Winter is fast approaching and, along with the weather, many of our thermostats are dropping down to survival mode temperatures. The luxury temperatures that we could afford to maintain in the fall seem impossible in the face of winter winds. Unfortunately our utility bills can’t drop as well.

Many of us will face mounting electricity and gas costs just to make our homes comfortable over the winter. These costs, along with the other damage the cold can do to an unprepared home, are enough to remind one of the devastating winters that early American settlers suffered.

Fortunately, there are steps that you can take that were not open to the English colonists. By utilizing new and old technologies you can knock digits off your energy bill and save money this winter.

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1. Solar Tech

We usually associate solar energy with hot sunny days, but the sun shines in the winter as well. Solar panels are still an effective energy producer in the winter as long as you keep them well-maintained and free of snow and ice.

A solar powered central heating system in the right state can cut your energy bills to practically nothing. For example, a solar powered home in Oregon could collect energy almost every day of the winter, thanks to the cloud-blocking properties of the Cascade Range.

The energy savings doesn’t stop at the end of winter. A solar powered home is an investment for years to come.

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2. Smart Winter Insulation

Your home’s insulation is your first defense against the cold. It’s critical that it be completely intact and working for you to get the most out of your home’s heating and air.

If you conduct a home energy audit and discover that you have insulation leaks in one or more parts of your home get those fixed as soon as you can. Since insulation repairs can be very costly and time-consuming, you may want to consider closing vents and doors to affected rooms until the necessary repairs can be made.

If you don’t have to use the rooms often, block off the bottom of the door with a blanket or something else thermally insulating so that the warm air in the rest of your home doesn’t go to waste.

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3. Keep Your Heater in Good Shape

Your heating system is the keystone for a comfortable winter. While an entirely broken heater might save you some money, you’ll be in for quite a chilly winter. Meanwhile, a heater that’s just barely pulling through will cost you a lot more than it needs to.

The happy middle ground is a fully functioning heater that’s in good shape. Having your heater at its best will save you money and keep your comfortable at the same time.

In order to keep your heater in good shape, you should schedule regular maintenance with a professional before the coldest weeks of winter come in. October and November are both great times to do this as you won’t be quite so reliant on your heater, but you also won’t be leaving much time for things to break down before the worst of winter starts.

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4. Don’t Forget About the Rest

It’s easy to think that saving money during the winter comes down to managing your heating energy well, but there’s a lot more to it than that. A cold winter can take its toll on a lot more than just your furnace.

Be sure to blow out your sprinkler system before the freezing temperatures come or you’ll be paying a lot to get that fixed in the spring. It’s also important to prepare your lawn tools for winter so that they’re there for you when the grass starts growing once again.

There are a lot of things that we all look forward to with winter. I know I’m excited for hot chocolate and warm fires. As long as we’re ready for the tough parts of winter, we can enjoy the fun parts with zero stress.

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Last Updated on September 28, 2020

The Pros and Cons of Working from Home

The Pros and Cons of Working from Home

At the start of the year, if you had asked anyone if they could do their work from home, many would have said no. They would have cited the need for team meetings, a place to be able to sit down and get on with their work, the camaraderie of the office, and being able to meet customers and clients face to face.

Almost ten months later, most of us have learned that we can do our work from home and in many ways, we have discovered working from home is a lot better than doing our work in a busy, bustling office environment where we are inundated with distractions and noise.

One of the things the 2020 pandemic has reminded us is we humans are incredibly adaptable. It is one of the strengths of our kind. Yet we have been unknowingly practicing this for years. When we move house we go through enormous upheaval.

When we change jobs, we not only change our work environment but we also change the surrounding people. Humans are adaptable and this adaptability gives us strength.

So, what are the pros and cons of working from home? Below I will share some things I have discovered since I made the change to being predominantly a person who works from home.

Pro #1: A More Relaxed Start to the Day

This one I love. When I had to be at a place of work in the past, I would always set my alarm to give me just enough time to make coffee, take a shower, and change. Mornings always felt like a rush.

Now, I can wake up a little later, make coffee and instead of rushing to get out of the door at a specific time, I can spend ten minutes writing in my journal, reviewing my plan for the day, and start the day in a more relaxed frame of mind.

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When you start the day in a relaxed state, you begin more positively. You find you have more clarity and more focus and you are not wasting energy worrying about whether you will be late.

Pro #2: More Quiet, Focused Time = Increased Productivity

One of the biggest difficulties of working in an office is the noise and distractions. If a colleague or boss can see you sat at your desk, you are more approachable. It is easier for them to ask you questions or engage you in meaningless conversations.

Working from home allows you to shut the door and get on with an hour or two of quiet focused work. If you close down your Slack and Email, you avoid the risk of being disturbed and it is amazing how much work you can get done.

An experiment conducted in 2012 found that working from home increased a person’s productivity by 13%, and more recent studies also find significant increases in productivity.[1]

When our productivity increases, the amount of time we need to perform our work decreases, and this means we can spend more time on activities that can bring us closer to our family and friends as well as improve our mental health.

Pro #3: More Control Over Your Day

Without bosses and colleagues watching over us all day, we have a lot more control over what we do. While some work will inevitably be more urgent than others, we still get a lot more choice about what we work on.

We also get more control over where we work. I remember when working in an office, we were given a fixed workstation. Some of these workstations were pleasant with a lot of natural sunlight, but other areas were less pleasant. It was often the luck of the draw whether we find ourselves in a good place to work or not.

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By working from home we can choose what work to work on and whether we want to face a window or not. We can get up and move to another place, and we can move from room to room. And if you have a garden, on nice days you could spend a few hours working outside.

Pro #4: You Get to Choose Your Office Environment

While many companies will provide you with a laptop or other equipment to do your work, others will give you an allowance to purchase your equipment. But with furniture such as your chair and desk, you have a lot of freedom.

I have seen a lot of amazing home working spaces with wonderful sets up—better chairs, laptop stands that make working from a laptop much more ergonomic and therefore, better for your neck.

You can also choose your wall art and the little nick-nacks on your desk or table. With all this freedom, you can create a very personal and excellent working environment that is a pleasure to work in. When you are happy doing your work, you will inevitably do better work.

Con #1: We Move a Lot Less

When we commute to a place of work, there is movement involved. Many people commute using public transport, which means walking to the bus stop or train station. Then, there is the movement at lunchtime when we go out to buy our lunch. Working in a place of work requires us to move more.

Unfortunately, working from home naturally causes us to move less and this means we are not burning as many calories as we need to.

Moving is essential to our health and if you are working from home you need to become much more aware of your movement. To ensure you are moving enough, make sure you take your lunch breaks. Get up from your desk and move. Go outside, if you can, and take a walk. And, of course, refrain from regular trips to the refrigerator.

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Con #2: Less Human Interaction

One of the nicest things about bringing a group of people together to work is the camaraderie and relationships that are built over time. Working from home takes us away from that human interaction and for many, this can cause a feeling of loss.

Humans are a social species—we need to be with other people. Without that connection, we start to feel lonely and that can lead to mental health issues.

Zoom and Microsoft Teams meeting cannot replace that interaction. Often, the interactions we get at our workplaces are spontaneous. But with video calls, there is nothing spontaneous—most of these calls are prearranged and that’s not spontaneous.

This lack of spontaneous interaction can also reduce a team’s ability to develop creative solutions—there’s just something about a group of incredibly creative people coming together in a room to thrash out ideas together that lends itself to creativity.

While video calls can be useful, they don’t match the connection between a group of people working on a solution together.

Con #3: The Cost of Buying Home Office Equipment

Not all companies are going to provide you with a nice allowance to buy expensive home office equipment. 100% remote companies such as Doist (the creators of Todoist and Twist) provide a $2,000 allowance to all their staff every two years to buy office equipment. Others are not so generous.

This can prove to be expensive for many people to create their ideal work-from-home workspace. Many people must make do with what they already have, and that could mean unsuitable chairs that damage backs and necks.

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For a future that will likely involve more flexible working arrangements, companies will need to support their staff in ways that will add additional costs to an already reduced bottom line.

Con #4: Unique Distractions

Not all people have the benefit of being able to afford childcare for young children, and this means they need to balance working and taking care of their kids.

For many parents, being able to go to a workplace gives them time away from the noise and demands of a young family, so they could get on with their work. Working from home removes this and can make doing video calls almost impossible.

To overcome this, where possible, you need to set some boundaries. I know this is not always possible, but it is something you need to try. You should do whatever you can to make sure you have some boundaries between your work life and home life.

Final Thoughts

Working from home can be hugely beneficial for many people, but it can also bring serious challenges to others.

We are moving towards a new way of working. Therefore, companies need to look at both the pros and cons of working from home and be prepared to support their staff in making this transition. It will not be impossible, but a lot of thought will need to go into it.

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Featured photo credit: Standsome Worklifestyle via unsplash.com

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