Dana McMahan's Recent Articles
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My Credit Score Was Actually 70 Points Lower Than I Thought—And Yours May Be, Too
When my husband and I decided to take out a home equity line of credit for a renovation, we assumed we’d get a great interest rate based on our good credit scores. We’ve always paid our bills on time and don’t maintain any credit card debt. There’s just one demerit on my report; a medical bill in collections I’ve unsuccessfully disputed. But even with that blip, the credit monitoring service I use—CreditWise—said my score hovered in the high 700s!
Feb 8, 2019
What Nobody Tells You About Smart Wifi Thermostats
Have you made the leap to a smart Wi-Fi thermostat yet? Once you experience the bliss of a pre-warmed house before you get out of bed in the morning, you can never go back. But did you know there is SO much more to the gadgets like Nest, EcoBee, and the rest? I was maybe too early of an adopter, and bought a pretty standard issue Honeywell Wi-Fi thermostat with no bells or whistles. Hey, at the time, just changing the temperature from my phone was amazing enough.
Feb 6, 2019
This Super-Common Real Estate Tip is Actually Terrible Advice
We’ve all heard it. If you’re looking to buy, you should always go for the worst house in the best neighborhood. But have many of us ever stopped to question that conventional wisdom? I thought I was bucking convention when I bought one of the lowest priced houses in a neighborhood that many locals steer clear of (and to my eternal frustration that Uber drivers tell my Airbnb guests they should avoid) — but is it true?
Feb 3, 2019
5 Ways I’m Making Sure I Don’t See Another $700 Heating Bill This Year
When I moved into a sprawling old Victorian in Louisville, Kentucky three years ago, my neighbors terrified me with their tales of four-digit utility bills. I’d swapped an under-900-square-foot bungalow for the three-story, 1890 behemoth, and was so scared of the bill the first year, I chose to freeze rather than turn up the thermostat.
Feb 2, 2019
The Best Money-Saving Advice I Got From My Contractor Father
Save yourself some time and money with this one tip.
Jan 30, 2019
The Smart Way My Real Estate Agent Quickly Calculates My Home’s Value
Imagine my surprise when my real estate agent gave me a simple appraisal number—and all additional information in a completely jargon-free way.
Jan 16, 2019
I Doubled My Kitchen Sink Storage for Only $22
What is it about under-sink areas that make them so likely to turn into a black hole? Is it because they’re sort of low to the ground and tucked away that we have a tendency to just crack the door, shove stuff in, and slam the door? As a result, sink cabinets turn into these dank, dark, places where all the stuff you don’t want sitting on your countertop just accumulates.
Jan 9, 2019
Here Are Your Best Bets for Cheap Bathroom Vanities
Bathroom vanities can take a serious chunk out of a renovation budget. Given that a mid-range bath remodel can run upwards of $19,000, according to Remodeling’s 2018 Cost vs. Value report, the prices shouldn’t come as a surprise, but they often do. I was determined to not drop a small fortune during my recent bathroom remodel, but at first that seemed like an impossible task.
Dec 15, 2018
Being Your Own Contractor Saves a Ton of Money, But I Don’t Recommend It
It’s funny how most of us know we can’t be our own physician or attorney after watching a few YouTube videos, but ask us if we can run our own renovation and an awful lot of us think we can handle it just fine. Who needs a contractor when you can find your own sub-contractors online and order all your own materials? Why pay them a percentage of the cost (ranging from 10 to 50 percent) on top of your already over-budget budget when you can just DIY? Well, I’ve done it. Twice.
Dec 9, 2018
Why Rain Shower Heads Aren’t All They’re Cracked Up to Be
Yes, they are so luxurious, but there's a catch.
Dec 1, 2018
5 Surprising (and Costly) Ways Smoking Can Ruin Your Home
Smoking doesn't just ruin a smoker's health—it's ruining their home, too.
Nov 15, 2018
This $28 Amazon Item Is My Secret to Surviving Winter
I used to be one of those people that always preferred being cold to being hot. “You can always put on more clothes,” I’d insist, “but there’s only so much you can take off.” Then a few things happened, one of which was that I developed an auto-immune condition called Raynaud’s. As many as one in 10 people have this issue, which causes fingers and toes to overreact to cold, losing blood and turning white-blue. (Yes, it’s as painful as it sounds.
Nov 9, 2018
15 Major Money-Saving Ways to Cut Remodeling Costs
How I got what I wanted, for a whole lot less.
Nov 8, 2018
Amazon Warehouse Is a Hidden Resource for Discounted Stuff
It’s hard to imagine how we did things before Amazon, which brings us anything we need in a very short timeframe. But there’s more to the site than super speedy delivery. For several years now, I’ve been indulging in my champagne taste on a beer budget, thanks to Amazon Warehouse and third-party sellers. See that price right next to the item you must have? That doesn’t have to be the price you pay.
Nov 5, 2018
Kitchen Flooring That Won’t Drain Your Remodeling Budget
When you’re redoing a kitchen, flooring has a huge impact on the way the room looks. The orangey faux terra cotta we inherited in our Victorian kitchen drove me nuts and I couldn’t wait to replace it. New floors aren’t cheap though. If you’re considering an overhaul of your kitchen up to and including the floor, it’s easy to drop way more than you intend to. The good news is you don’t have to.
Nov 4, 2018
The Kitchen Splurge I Totally Regret Buying
Kitchen renovations are basically one long series of compromises. Stumble upon a Ferrari red Bertazzoni range at half price? Obviously you have to slash the budget elsewhere (many elsewheres) to make that the star of the new kitchen. More often than not, these compromises are focused on the savings and not the splurging. Those splurges are oh-so-tempting, though, and wait for you around every corner—and on every Pinterest or Instagram refresh.
Oct 31, 2018
4 Big Facepalms from My Recent Bathroom Renovation
Have you ever met anyone who finished a renovation with zero regrets? If so I’d love to know their secret. It’s a daunting task to take a room, especially a high-stakes one like a main bathroom, and totally redo it. Somehow I thought I could easily manage our recent bath renovation (down to the floor joists and wood lathe) without a contractor—while simultaneously doing a full kitchen reno—but I was wrong on a couple of things.
Oct 22, 2018
What Nobody Tells You About Trendy Sliding Barn Doors
Read up before you install one of these.
Oct 19, 2018
You’re Missing Free Money—Here are 5 Places to Look
What would you say if I told you I stumbled across $2,000 in free money that I’m using to go to France? It sounds like the beginning of an email scam you’re too smart to click on, right? Well get this: It’s a true story. This summer my husband and I replaced the decrepit roof on our 128-year-old house.
Oct 16, 2018
The Biggest Mistake I Made During My Budget Kitchen Renovation
Anyone who’s ever done a renovation on a budget knows that you have to find places to cut costs. Everything can’t be a splurge, after all. When my husband and I redid our home’s third floor to make it a full-time Airbnb, we were starting from scratch, so expensive things like HVAC systems ripped huge chunks out of our budget. I knew we had to restore the gorgeous original wood floors, and that meant another big expense.
Oct 11, 2018
Why Paint Color Matching Doesn’t Always Work
Here's what you didn't know.
Oct 9, 2018
7 Things Smart Shoppers Do Right Before They Hit “Add to Cart”
We’ve all been there. You’ve found just the right fill-in-the-blank (light fixture? bag? end table?) you’ve been looking for online, and are ready to load up your cart and check out. Then that nagging suspicion hits that there might just be a better price out there. It’s a valid concern. Prices can vary, sometimes drastically, from site to site, promotion to promotion. So how can you be sure you’re getting the very best price?
Oct 7, 2018
This $20 Mop Is So Much Better Than a Swiffer
Raise your hand if you have a household chore that you just love to do. Even if you hate cleaning, you probably have your hand in the air. There’s always something. I love, love, love using the Shop-Vac. It’s incredibly satisfying to watch it cut a swathe through dust and dirt, swooshing everything up into its roaring nozzle. I can Shop-Vac all day long, and I always claim the job when we’re doing a big project. I even picked one out as a Valentine’s Day present once.
Oct 6, 2018
The Source for Cheap Tile Everybody Should Know About
If you’ve ever looked into tile prices, you probably know that materials can destroy your renovation budget in no time. My jaw hit the floor when I saw the prices on some of the beautiful tiles popping up in Pinterest. Honestly, who is out there paying 50, 75, or 100 bucks and up, per square foot? (And when the manufacturer website doesn’t even tell you the price, you know the old saying is true—if you have to ask, well, you can’t afford it.
Oct 2, 2018
What Everybody Forgets About Elegant Pedestal Sinks
See a bathroom pedestal sink and you can’t help but think things like sleek, streamlined, graceful. And they are undeniably handy in tight quarters when there’s no room for a full-fledged vanity, and they do tend to be much less expensive than a sink and vanity. Also? There’s just something romantic about them.
Oct 1, 2018
Here’s Why We’re All Obsessed with the Scandinavian Lifestyle
Welcome to Scandi Week—Apartment Therapy’s seven-day focus on all-things Scandinavia (often defined as the countries of Sweden, Denmark, and Norway). Sometimes it seems like the whole world is obsessed with trying to copy this corner of the globe, from its timeless style aesthetic to its now-famous coziness rituals. For the next week, we’ll take a look at all of it—cleaning, pop culture, and of course tons of eye-popping design inspiration.
Sep 28, 2018
This Ubiquitous HGTV Trend Might Already Be Dated
When do you know when a trend is over? For me it’s when there’s a knockoff of the real deal at a big box store. Sadly it wasn’t long after I had a kitchen island built of reclaimed wood (Kentucky barnwood, and it wasn’t cheap, you guys) that I saw a faux reclaimed version at Lowe’s and sighed. As much as we all like to be on-trend, at the same time, who wants to be just like everybody else?
Sep 27, 2018
7 Things You Should Know Before Painting Your Kitchen Cabinets
If you’re looking for a relatively painless, low-cost way to update your kitchen, and have ever been on the internet, you know that painting your cabinets is the way to go. Honestly, I can’t think of better dollar-to-dramatic improvement ratio on any other project. And the news gets better: It’s way easier now than it was the olden days, before the miracle of chalk paint.
Sep 21, 2018
7 Must-Do Adulting Chores You Shouldn’t Avoid This Fall
Spring might get all the attention when it comes to cleaning, but it’s pumpkin spice latte season, and you know what that means—winter is coming. Fall is the time for hoodies and boots, but also the time to tend to some of those yearly chores. So get busy! It’s easy to forget about smoke detectors. They’re those things we sort of take for granted most of the time, but they save lives.
Sep 12, 2018
How to Paint Your Bathroom and Not Screw it Up
Painting the bathroom is just like painting any other room, right? Not so much, it turns out. I’ve painted my share over the years and never treated them any differently than any other room, but I’ve been doing it wrong. When it comes to bathrooms, there are a few things that make painting a little trickier than the rest of the house. Sam Ross of Nailed It Contracting was nice enough to pepper him with painting questions when he painted my bathroom recently.
Sep 9, 2018
There’s a Wrong Way to Refinish Floors and Then There’s This Way
I learned this one the hard way.
Sep 8, 2018
Here’s the Trick to Picking the Very Best Paint Color For Your Walls
I used to live dangerously, buying paint willy nilly without ever trying it out on the walls first. Who needs samples anyway? Be bold, be daring, and trust your instinct, right?! Once, I even made a choice just by looking online and letting the painter pick it up at the store. Surprise! I made some regrettable choices. In fact, it’s kind of amazing how many times I was happy with my decision without trying out paint first. But how many ways did I find paint disappointment?
Sep 7, 2018
The One Valuable Lesson I Learned from HGTV
Does anyone else have a love/hate relationship with HGTV? Ever since I got hooked on Christopher Lowell’s show ages ago and took his advice to hang a sheet on my bedroom wall as decor (don’t ask, I have no idea) I’ve dipped in and out of home and design shows. After swearing off the genre for months I’ll find myself watching again. Weeks will go by in a blur of binges, usually around the time we’re planning a big change to our own home situation.
Sep 5, 2018
Sorry, but Here Are 5 Things You Should TOTALLY Worry About at Home
We recently wrote about things at home you don’t need to worry about. But that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. For every ahh, it’s not actually that big of a deal item on the list, there’s—sorry—something waiting to take its place. And it’s not always the stuff you might think about. So, just in case you need something to keep you up at night, here are five things that you should be worried about.
Aug 31, 2018
Here Are Your Best Bets for Finding Cheap Kitchen Countertops
So it’s time to stop telling yourself you’re okay with your old countertops, that they’re fiiiiiine, there’s nothing wrong with them, really. Because, truth be told, you just can’t stand to look at them one more minute. Maybe you tried an interim measure, a quick budget fix, but that reached its expiration point. The time has come and you couldn’t be more excited. But, before you get too giddy, there’s some bad news.
Aug 28, 2018
I Doubled My Bathroom Vanity Storage for Only $20
Your poor bathroom vanity. It has to hide all the things we don’t want on display, which is no easy task. Consider that we’re talking about a box that also has to hide a nest of plumbing pipes: No wonder it easily devolves into a jumbled mess and then a black hole into which toiletries disappear. Soon you end up with duplicates of mouthwash and deodorant—which only makes things worse—because you can’t find anything under there.
Aug 23, 2018
What No One Thinks to Ask About Those Cute Backyard Sheds
Here's what you need to know, before you start building.
Aug 18, 2018
I’ve Tried Tons of Spray Paint, and This is The Only One I’ll Buy
Sometimes there’s just nothing better than a simple change of color. And, when it comes to giving furniture and decor a brand new lease on life, for the least money and effort, the hands-down winner is spray paint. I’ve tried a lotta lotta spray paint, and recently found my new favorite. It’s easier to think of things I haven’t spray painted—my dogs, maybe—than all the things I have.
Aug 15, 2018
The Dark Side of Renovations That Nobody Talks About
If you’ve ever done a home renovation you know what comes along with it. Gut-shredding, teeth-grinding, hair-pulling, night-terrors stress. It is an absolute wonder why any of us would ever do it again. But, maybe as is the case with other painful things like tattoos, or (I hear) childbirth, we seem to forget in our headlong rush to start that next project just how bad it can be.
Aug 12, 2018
The Scary Reason I’ll Never Cook with Glass Pans Again
Chief among the sounds you never want to hear in your kitchen is an explosive shattering of glass. I’m here to tell you that the stuff of urban legend sometimes is true. Picture a cozy Sunday supper underway: my husband, Brian, is making his mom’s Yorkshire pudding to go with a beef roast and carrots and buttermilk-poached cauliflower. Our neighbors are over with their sweet toddler.
Aug 11, 2018
What No One Tells You About All Those Beautiful Cement Tiles
This might give you pause.
Aug 11, 2018
This $10 Buy Can Save You a Paint Job
In the midst of a kitchen and bath renovation in our 1890 home, I find myself uttering those four expensive words: while we’re at it. Most recently it was, “while we’re at it, why don’t we paint our dining room?” So I asked our drywall/paint contractor to add that onto his estimate for work in two other rooms. The total for the 225-ish square foot room? $1,890. (Turns out, we won’t be painting the dining room while we’re at it.
Aug 4, 2018
I Was “Househacking” to Pay My Mortgage—Then Things Fell Apart
Essentially we decided to buy the home, rent out the parts we weren't using, and cover our mortgage with the income. But then it got hard.
Aug 1, 2018
You Aren’t Cleaning Your Pet’s Bowls Often Enough
How often do you clean your pet’s bowls? Are you washing them daily in soapy water as hot as you can stand it, followed by air-drying them, and also sanitizing them once a week? No? Well, according to Dr. Jerry Klein, an emergency and critical care veterinarian in Chicago and chief veterinary officer for the American Kennel Club, it’s time to up your pet bowl game. Here’s the thing. Pet bowls are disgusting. DISGUSTING.
Jul 31, 2018
Why I Will Never Switch to an Open Kitchen Floorplan
I can get behind a design trend just as fast as the next person. Exposed brick? Sliding barn doors? Reclaimed wood? Check, check, and check! I dream of a farmhouse sink and a subway tile backsplash and am about to do the all-open-shelving thing in our kitchen. But there’s one seemingly mandatory design decision that I have zero interest in making: adopting the open kitchen. In our 1890 home, the kitchen is at the back of the house in a textbook-style late-Victorian floor plan.
Jul 29, 2018
Stop Worrying About These 5 Things at Home
Full disclosure: I’m the last person to give advice about not worrying. I was up half the night last night thinking about everything currently going wrong with my home renovation. Trust me, if it wasn’t that it would be something else. But look, there’s plenty of actual Bad Stuff happening out in the world—none of us need to add to that worry load. So take a look at a few things around the house that I believe we can just strike off the list.
Jul 28, 2018
The Best Budget Fixes for Your Really Bad Countertop
Nothing screams ‘Sad Kitchen’ like shoddy old countertops. Okay, a bad floor or rickety old cabinets are probably right up there, but a decades-old, grungy, cracked, and damaged counter can turn an otherwise perfectly decent kitchen into something to cringe over. When my husband and I prepared to put our previous home on the market, our realtor encouraged us to replace the dated laminate counter.
Jul 27, 2018
The 9 Deadly Sins of Bad Paint Jobs, According to a Pro
With so many things that really ought to be done by a professional when it comes to home improvement, the temptation—the need if you don’t have deep pockets—to DIY the simple stuff is totally understandable. And first on that list has got to be painting. All you do is grab a brush and go to work, NBD. Right? Well, it’s true that most anyone can do it. Doing it well, on the other hand? Maybe not so much.
Jul 7, 2018