Martha Mullins

6 Tips to Reduce Waste that are Better than Recycling

Ideally, yes, you are recycling everything you can.

However, there's something you can do that will have a heck of a lot more impact: don't buy things in plastic in the first place! The news that China is no longer purchasing our recycling is prompting folks to think about their recycling load. Here are some ‘non use it’ opportunities.

1. Take your own tote bags to the store, (not just supermarket!), is one obvious no brainer.  

2. Straws: maybe not using that ubiquitous straw isn’t just a symbolic gesture for sea turtles.

3. Say "no" to extra packaging: Do you need a bag to carry your takeaway sandwich? Maybe not.

4. Plastic free reusable wrap is an easy switch from saran wrap or a zip loc.

5. When’s the last time you actually used the yellow pages? Opt out at  

6. Cut down on direct mail paper in your post box for $2.00 for 10 years of service at

Some of these options will save you money as well as the reduced onus recycling. Find out more tips and tricks here


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    10 Affordable Home Improvement Tips

    First impressions are everything, and your home's curb appeal matters, not just for potential buyers.

    Did you know that taking care of your belongings (including your home and car) can contribute to the same sense of well-being that taking care of your health by exercising and eating well can? If you are preparing to sell your home, use spring cleaning as an opportunity to go a bit further to improve the appearance of your home. Here are some cheap fixes that go a long way.

    10 Easy Ways to Spruce things Up

    1. Fertilize your lawn for a fresh, healthy look. All you need is fertilizer, spreader, and a hose.
    2. Stain the deck and touch up peeling paint around your entranceways.
    3. Sweep under overhangs to clear cobwebs.
    4. Fix or upgrade your fence. If it’s in really poor condition, remove it.
    5. Replace the errant rock that fell off the wall last year.
    6. Trim your trees and bushes.
    7. Clean leaves and debris from your yard, and from gutters.
    8. Clean windows inside and out.
    9. Maybe invest in a new mailbox and doormats.
    10. Consider planting a bush or small tree if you have the space.

    A neatly-kept outward appearance goes a long way in setting the tone of your home to a potential buyer. The added bonus is feeling great when you return home every day. Go ahead and enjoy that glass of wine in your beautiful living room! 


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      Little Tips for Saving in the New Year

      As many articles explain at the start of the new year, this is a good time to look at your budget and consider some instant gratification with immediate savings. Here are a few easy money-saving tips:

      First, make sure to shop your electric rate. The website allows you to choose your supplier based on rates and also provide helpful energy saving tips. As of the start of the year, Eversource was charging 10.14 cents compared to other suppliers with rates as low as 7.99.  Cut your cable bill by subscribing to streaming services such as Sling TV, Hulu Live TV, Netflix, and HBO. If you subscribed to all of those services, the bill would be around $88. Cable starts at around $100. Remember that cutting cable doesn’t mean you lose basic TV; you’ll still receive your local channels.

      Finally, check with your insurance agent about installing security cameras and smoke detectors; they could save you more than the cost of the equipment and installation.


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        Electronic Pest Control

        What could sound better? Instead of trying to catch something already inside your home, why not try to deter it from entering in the first place? The challenge is finding a reliable product.  There are so many electronic “ultrasound” devices flooding the market that it’s hard to know which one, if any, works.      

        There was a very funny headline from a September court case where the judge ruled against the manufacturer. “Judge cites pictures of mice resting on pest control device in ruling.” Apparently, the frequency of the device determines its effectiveness.

        An exterminator recently explained to me that if you set the device at an incorrect frequency, you could be luring mice inside! It seems that there is a frequency targeted to each particular pest. Do your homework and research which frequency is needed to deter which pest, then Google to see which ultrasonic device provides that frequency. 

        Avoid any device that claims it serves to deter all pests. Also handle with care, as the devices are delicate, and any jostling could impact preset frequencies.


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          Stinky Bugs

          Apparently, stink bugs don’t like the cold and will be happy to find a place to roost inside your home this fall. Supposedly, they don’t pose a risk to your health or damage your property, but they provide a good shock when you come upon them unexpectedly.  They look like miniature Klingon aliens from Star Trek.

          This bug was accidentally introduced into the United States from China or Japan, by hitching a ride as a stowaway in packing crates or on machinery.  They actually did not make their way to CT, NY, and the Northwest Corner until relatively recently.

          The recommendations to keep the bugs out of your house are the same as for general winter maintenance:     

              1) Sealing off little cracks around your home - but most of our homes are so old we could spend a lifetime caulking for little improvement!

              2) Definitely repair storm windows.

              3) Like almost every other bug in my woods, they like light, so turn off outside lights at night.

              4) Finally, make sure there isn’t standing or leaking water outside or in your basement.


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            What Am I Drinking?

            Well, municipal, or spring water? It may be a good idea to occasionally test the drinking water coming out of your faucet.  It’s one of the home chores you’d like to get ahead of before you end up asking yourself  “I was drinking what?!”

            The Torrington Area Health Department office provides water tests. A basic $135 kit tests for general chemistry, hardness and alkalinity, toxic and heavy metals, nitrate and nitrite, plus Coliform and E. coli. An advanced test ($110+) will include VOCs (volatile organic compounds) such as diesel fuel, home oil fuel, dry cleaning and degreasing chemicals. There is a two-week turnaround.

            There are also companies offering testing online. Tap Score is one endorsed by The Water Systems Council, a governmental group focused on safe well water.  Join their “Wellcare” group for updates, blogs, and discounts on well testing. Tap Score has a 5-day turn around. Their advanced testing kit is $219, or with the “Wellcare” discount, under $200.

            Do-it-yourself kits are also available, as are tests for individual components. It’s such an important test, I’d tend to stick with the professional options.


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              Electricity In The Air

              If you have a lightning strike near your home, it can be a very expensive ordeal. Electricity in the air can randomly strike unprotected electronics in your home.   

              We had a strike near our house that blew the sound card in my laptop, crippled my bluetooth mouse, shut down the Netgear extender (connected to a professional grade surge protector), and blew the fuse to the spring house. Apparently, my lightning defenses needed updating. The first thing we checked was the ground rods and wires. They had corroded, were painted over, and loosened by gardening and mowing.  Make sure to have a professional review your system periodically.   Second is to think about installing a surge protector designed to attach to the breaker box, cable line, and phone line. The last defense is to have surge protectors for individual items, such as computers and TVs.

              For personal safety, FEMA reminds us that, during thunderstorms, we should stay off corded phones, computers, and other electrical equipment that put you in direct contact with electricity. Avoid plumbing, including sinks, baths, and faucets, and stay away from windows and doors, and stay off porches.


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                Black Bears Everywhere?

                According to a report from the CT Dept. of Energy and Environmental Protection, from May 2017-June 2018, the black bear population loves suburban areas. The numbers are a bit skewed as a suburbanite is more likely to call in than someone living in the country. Farmington reported 403 sightings, while Avon reported 427.  In contrast, Norfolk reported 77, Sharon 74, Salisbury 71, Cornwall 44, and Falls Village 1! We just don’t report them. I’ve seen too many to count recently. We had a young adult scratching at the office door last week (which we didn’t call in to report). I only reported the one who had the nerve to come into my house!

                There are helpful tips on the CT DEEP website, e.g. bring bird feeders inside and don’t put sweets in your compost. The tip to get into your car if you encounter a bear while hiking made me smile—as if I am in proximity to my vehicle in the middle of the woods! The suggestion to be aggressive and on the offensive if a bear charges you is counterintuitive to every instinct I have, so I’m glad to know that now. I’m definitely a runner and that’s the wrong thing.

                For more black bear info, visit



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                  Appropriate House Appraisals

                  Mortgage applications almost always require a professional appraisal of value.  The bank needs to ensure they’re processing a loan for the appropriate value of the home.

                  This is where many mortgage applications can encounter difficulties, which may lead to contract cancellations. Buyers often go online to check national mortgage rates and engage a mortgage broker from one of these companies.  The broker then issues the appraisal to an appraiser that might not be from the area. Our area isn’t “standardized” such as a suburb where the homes are very similar, so the appraiser needs a fair idea of what to use to compare the property.

                  It wouldn’t hurt to touch base with a local mortgage broker before making an offer. They may be able to match the national rates, and they will help get the property appraised correctly.


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                    Is Solar Energy Affordable Yet?

                    The monthly electric bill is a big part of monthly expenses, particularly in the winter. There are several ways to reduce your electricity use, from not overcharging your devices overnight to changing your lightbulbs to energy efficient versions to using the energy efficient options on your washer/dryer, for example. But, the one change that makes the largest impact could be converting to solar panels.

                    According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, solar panel installation has grown 59% in the last 10 years.

                    Although the cost of solar panels has dropped in recent years, installation can cost up to $30,000. To help, there is a 30% federal residential renewable energy tax credit available (visit for more information).  For families with limited or fixed incomes, there are programs for no-cost solar panel installation.   

                    If installation prices continue to drop, solar energy may soon be an affordable option for all. Or perhaps a community-based solar project will be possible. Connecticut passed legislation in June, 2015 authorizing a shared renewable pilot program.


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                      Roof Options

                      A solid roof is worth its weight in shingles when selling a home.  One of the first questions buyers ask about their potential purchase is the age of the roof.  So if you are considering selling soon, you may want to consider upgrading your roof if it is at the end of its natural life.

                      A shingle roof may last 20+ years, depending on whether it was kept clear of debris. Cedar was once the go to standard in roof tile but the older cedar tree stock is depleted and the available younger wood does not last as long. It is not worth the price. There are multiple terrific ‘fake’ cedar and other synthetic roof tiles on the market.  Google it and you’ll find a ton of options. Metal roofs in general are longer lasting than standard roofing tiles, around 50 years.  An added benefit is they are fire resistant and recyclable.

                      There is a combination of tar and gravel that is long lasting, but it is a very heavy option that would require weight bearing studies of your home.

                      Clay, concrete and slate tiles, which are the most expensive option, may last up to 100 years.


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                        Most Popular Home Features

                        In the overall plan to sell your home, whether it’s imminent or years away, some updates or improvements will increase the sale value of your home.

                        When planning these projects, it’s helpful to review some trending popular features. A 2013 National Realtors Association survey outlined what buyers are looking for when they purchase a house.  The report is a bit dated but we see that much of it still holds true. Nationwide, 78% of home buyers purchased a home with a garage and 57% purchased homes with fireplaces. No explanation needed for us Northeasterners on those points!  Updated kitchens were more important to buyers than specific types of countertops or appliances. Almost one half of buyers were looking for laundry rooms. 65% of home buyers were looking for air conditioning, a trend we’re seeing in our buyers as well.

                        Finally, good news in our land of lakes, the feature that had the highest dollar value was waterfront property.


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                          Closing Walk Through

                          Closing day can be exciting - and stressful - for homebuyers. The listing agent representing the seller, the buyer’s agent, and the buyer should run down a check list. The utilities (electric, oil, propane) should be swapped to the buyer for the day of the closing.  The buyer’s agent or attorney will request a list of service providers for the buyer to contact prior to closing day.

                          At the property, turn on the heat/air conditioning, the washer and dryer, and the dishwasher. Check the lights, turn on the taps, and flush the toilets. Test the garage doors, if appropriate. Make sure that  items that were supposed to remain are there and those that were agreed to be removed are gone. Compare the condition of the home to the inspection report to make sure all agreed upon repairs are complete.

                          The home should be broom swept clean and the lawn/yard should be maintained. Bring your contract and inspection report to refer to. Take notes and photos of anything amiss to share with your attorney prior to signing the final closing documents.


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