How to Reduce Traffic Noise in Your Backyard

Nothing says serenity like the shrill of sirens, blaring of horns, and jarring cacophony of traffic. Your backyard should be a place to get away from it all. But, if you live in a busy area, peace and quiet can be hard to come by. To make it easier, we’ve rounded up six ways to reduce traffic noise in your backyard. Not to go all science geek on you, but it ultimately comes down to creating sound barriers between you and the offending source.

6 Ways to Reduce Traffic Noise in Your Backyard

  • Plant hedges and vegetation
  • Install a deck
  • Build a privacy wall
  • Install an acoustic fence
  • Add water features
  • Build a shed

Pro Tip: The right additions for you may depend on the architecture style of your home. Learn more about the most popular house styles and how to identify yours with our quick guide.

1. Plant hedges and vegetation

One of the best (and most eco-friendly) ways to reduce traffic noise in your backyard while complying with city building codes is by planting hedges and additional vegetation. Hedges aren’t commonly subject to height limitations and can provide a great sound barrier between your yard and busy streets when planned correctly. Not only will hedges and trees reduce noise, but they’re also an excellent technique to give your backyard some more privacy. We know the prospect of new plants is always exciting, but be sure to talk to a landscaper about choosing the right greenery for your situation, space, and climate before you start planting.

2. Install a deck

Aside from vegetation, there are some other aspects of landscape design that can help you reduce traffic noise in your backyard. It’ll take some time, money, and effort, but building a deck can go a long way in reducing the traffic noise you’re dealing with. Building a deck is also a great way to build equity and increase your home’s value.

3. Build a privacy wall

There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned brick wall to keep out unwanted traffic noise (and nosy neighbors). Brick walls give you a lot of freedom when it comes to where and how high you want to build, plus they’re the perfect density for blocking vibrations and don’t have gaps for sound to leak through. But while brick walls can reduce unwanted traffic noise by up to 50%, they’re also costly, take a lot of time and effort to install, and aren’t always the most aesthetically pleasing. If you’re in a neighborhood with height restrictions and regulations on what you can build in your backyard, you may want to opt for something a little less conspicuous.

4. Install an acoustic fence

Enter the acoustic fence. Acoustic fences have the same noise-blocking ability as brick walls at almost half the price. Not to mention, they can be much easier on the eyes and are available in many different styles and colors. They’re easy to install and will blend right in any neighborhood you live in. You can’t go as high with an acoustic fence as you can with a brick privacy wall, but you can still reduce noise quite a bit with this method.

5. Add water features

Sometimes you have to fight fire with fire—or in this case, water. Sound barriers are great, but let’s be real: It’s impossible to block out ALL the noise of the city. In this case, you should start thinking competitively and attempt to create your own white noise to counter the traffic. Water features like fountains, a pool, waterfalls, and streams in your yard can create a soothing source of white noise that drowns out unwanted sounds. No pun intended.

6. Build a shed

A well-placed shed can be a superb sound blocker while also adding some extra storage to your backyard. If you know there’s an acoustic corridor in your backyard, such as an opening in a wall or a passageway leading into your garden, a shed could be the perfect solution to stop those sound waves from getting any further. Still not quiet enough? Try soundproofing the shed to double down on your noise-reducing tactics.

Any other tips for reducing traffic noise in my backyard?

Your backyard is supposed to be a place you can retreat to for relaxation, and traffic noise can get in the way of that. But you don’t have to let it win! Any one of the techniques listed above can help you fight back, but a comprehensive landscaping strategy that includes vegetation, creative landscaping and design, and some soothing white noise is your best bet at turning your backyard into a peaceful sanctuary. And if you can still hear the countryside calling through all your newly-installed white noise, we’ve got a loan for that.

Reclaim your backyard zen with sound barriers, white noise, and more strategies to reduce the clamor of city life.


10 Interior Design Tips for Every Budget

If current rates have you staying put, that doesn’t mean your decor has to stay the same, too. There are plenty of great ways to use interior decorating to refresh your space while reaching your savings goals. So many great ways, we couldn’t fit them all into this blog. To get you started, here are our top 10 interior design tips for a home that’s easy on the eyes and your bank account.

Top 10 Budget-Friendly Interior Design Tips

  • Reorganize and rearrange
  • Declutter
  • Repaint your trim
  • Replace fixtures
  • Thrift accent pieces
  • Add a pop of color to smaller furniture with paint or wallpaper
  • Support local/independent artists
  • Don’t forget the frame
  • Splurge on one item that makes a big difference
  • Be patient

1. Reorganize and rearrange

Before you consider purchasing new furniture and decor, take inventory of what you already have. Whether it’s adjusting the angle of your couch, moving those throw pillows to the bedroom, or rearranging your gallery wall, a new look doesn’t have to mean new stuff.

2. Declutter

Interior decorating isn’t just about adding new pieces—what you take out can have just as much impact. And, if you’re moving on from pieces that are still in good condition, you could actually resell them and make money off your redecorating plans rather than lose it. Pro-Tip: Not sure where to start? Ask yourself WWMKD: What would Marie Kondo do?

3. Repaint your trim

Painting is one of the cheapest ways to update your home’s look, but repainting entire rooms can be a lot of work. If you like work, more power to you! Otherwise, simply repainting the trim in your home can make a big difference for a small amount of money and effort.

4. Replace fixtures

When it comes to interior design tips on a budget, it’s all about the little things. In this case, swapping out knobs and handles on your cabinetry and furniture is a quick way to add character to your space and tie your rooms together. Unlike more work-intensive projects, this interior design tip is quick, mess-free, and easy to do yourself.

5. Thrift accent pieces

Thrifting can be hit or miss, but by sticking to smaller accents like lamps and side tables, there’s a good chance you’ll find quality pieces that fit your budget. Especially if you’re aiming for a more eclectic look over modern minimalist trends, thrifted furniture can bring a space together in a way that’s truly unique. Not to mention, it’s good for the environment and most vintage stores are independently owned and operated.

Pro-Tip: Nail your vintage purchase with this handy list of furniture thrifting considerations.

6. Add a pop of color

From repainting your bedside table to wallpapering the interior of your bookcase, a little color can turn a standard piece of furniture into a statement. Don’t be afraid to try out multiple patterns and palettes. If you change your mind later, you can always repaint again. And in this case, fortune really does favor the bold—it’s often easier to find bolder colors on sale since they’re generally not as popular as neutrals.

7. Support local/independent artists

Real talk: Fine art pieces are out of the average person’s budget. That doesn’t mean you have to settle for recreations and reprints. Seek out local (or independent, “local” is a relative term in the digital age) artists for unique pieces at reasonable prices. Just don’t try to haggle them to even lower prices. Remember that you’re paying them for the years spent learning their craft, the materials, the hours spent creating it, and the originality—not just the piece itself.

8. Don’t forget the frame

Unframed movie posters might be a coming-of-age decor right of passage, but you’re an adult now. That means you need to frame. Your. Art. The right frame can elevate a photo or art print you already have, create dimension on your walls, and bring texture to your interior. From simple custom frames to vintage scores, there are endless affordable options to express your style.

9. Splurge on one item that makes a big difference

Sometimes, it pays to pay more. If you’re thinking of replacing focal items like your couch or bed, you’ll save more in the long run by buying quality pieces that stand the test of time. It’s ultimately up to you to decide what’s worth splurging on based on how you use it. If you work from home, you may want to spend more on a great desk and comfortable chair. For families with kids and pets, a durable couch might be the priority. And if you’re a vampire who never sleeps, we understand if you’d rather invest less in your bed.

Pro-Tip: If you’re not sure how to prioritize what’s worth the splurge, check out this breakdown of essentials.

10. Be patient

All those home renovation shows make one big, complete transformation seem like the way to go when you decide to refresh your decor. Realistically, though, decorating your home is an ongoing process. Don’t spend money on pieces you don’t love just for the sake of filling a space. Take your time, buy as your budget allows, and don’t settle for anything that doesn’t feel like you (are we still talking about interior decorating?).

Any other interior design tips to consider?

The most important interior design tip we can give you might seem counterproductive to this whole blog you just read, but here it is: Trust your own taste over any interior decorating advice you might receive. Tips and tricks are a great place to find inspiration, but it’s ultimately your home, your budget, and your call. And if redecorating gets you thinking about larger-scale renovations, we’ve got a loan for that.

Thrift, paint, repeat. Try these easy interior design tips to give your home a fresh look without compromising your financial goals.


Does a Swimming Pool Add to Home Value?

As the weather heats up, there’s no denying the appeal of a swimming pool in your own backyard. Before you take the plunge to have a pool installed, it’s important to ask yourself “Does a swimming pool add home value?” Answering that question is more complicated than you might think. So, let’s break down the pros and cons of pools.

Is a pool good or bad for home resale?

Some buyers might consider a pool more of a liability than a luxury. If your home has a swimming pool, it may be a feature that deters a family with small children or pets who don’t know how to swim.

You’ll also want to consider the true cost of a swimming pool, both for you as the homeowner installing it and for the potential buyer maintaining it. As a homeowner, it could cost you more than $50,000 to install, equip, and fill an inground pool. Maintenance costs could raise your utility bills each month, the chemicals could cost you hundreds during swimming season, and you may also want to increase your liability coverage on your homeowner’s insurance.

When is it a good idea to install a pool?

Adding a pool could increase your home’s value if:

  • You live in a warm climate
  • The style of your pool fits the neighborhood (and meets HOA regulations)
  • Most homes in your market have pools
  • You know you’ll keep up with maintenance
  • Your lot is big enough for a lawn and a pool
  • You plan on selling to buyers who would prefer a pool, like families with teenagers or empty nesters who host grandkids often.

Often, it’s all about location. Do you live in an area that appeals to the kind of buyers you want? Is there a good spot on your property for a pool? Does your HOA have strict specifications regarding pools? Ultimately, only you can make the call as to whether or not a pool is right for your home.

So, does a pool increase home value?

The truth is, whether or not a swimming pool adds home value is determined by a number of factors—the answer depends on your homeownership goals. But, when it comes time to sell your home, the right real estate agent can help you market your pool to buyers who will love your pool as much as you do. And if you’re staying put, take a dip for us. We’re not jealous or anything.


The Most Popular House Styles and Where to Find Them

Environment influences architecture, so knowing where to find the most popular house styles is a great place to start your home search. Whether you’re dreaming of a classic Colonial or a Contemporary home base with all the trendiest innovations, there’s a style out there for you—and a loan originator to help you finance it.

8 Most Popular House Styles in the US

As with just about everything in the United States, home architecture is an eclectic mix of influences from all over the globe. From historic English woodwork to cool Tuscan tiling, the most popular styles in the country can be hard to pin down. Many homes today will probably have elements of multiple styles, but we’ve rounded up eight of the most-loved looks you’re likely to see on the market.

  • Cape Cod
  • Colonial
  • Contemporary
  • Craftsman
  • Mediterranean
  • Ranch
  • Tudor
  • Victorian

Ready to get this house tour started? Let’s go.

Cape Cod Home Architecture

A fixture on the east coast, Cape Cod-style homes feature steep roofs, central chimneys, and shuttered windows. Settlers originally designed these homes to conserve heat and keep too much snow from accumulating on the roof, which may still be a priority if you’re looking to buy a home in the northeast US. As the name implies, this home style is also known for its coastal charm.

Escape to the Cape: Learn more about Cape Cod architecture here.

Colonial Home Architecture

If you’re looking for simple symmetry, a Colonial house could be right for you. This classic architecture style can be found all over the country, but especially in the New England area. In the southeast US, you can typically find French-style Colonial homes with wraparound porches and multiple doorways. There’s a wide variety of Colonial styles, but it ultimately comes down to rectangular shapes, simple floor plans, and symmetric sightlines.

Colonial Collection: See how to spot a Colonial-style home with these examples.

Contemporary Home Architecture

Contemporary home architecture (not to be confused with the strictly minimalist features of modernism) is all about natural light, sustainable materials, and biophilic design* in general. If you’re looking for a home that’s in harmony with nature, Contemporary architecture fits the bill. The floorplans tend to be spacious and sprawling, which means you’re more likely to find these in areas like the southwest, where there’s plenty of open space available. Keep in mind that with such an emphasis on large windows to maximize natural light, you’ll want to consider a sustainable energy source to keep your utility bills manageable.

*Biophilic design is architecture and interior design intentionally created to connect people with nature.

Can’t-Miss Contemporary: See Contemporary design at its finest with a look at the Tubac House in Arizona.

Craftsman Home Architecture

One of the most popular house styles in the US today is the Craftsman style. This architecture is recognizable for its use of natural materials, tapered columns, and inviting front porches. Inside, you’ll enjoy open concept floor plans and built-in features like desks, bookcases, and cabinets to save space. Because of this, Craftsman homes are one of the most energy-efficient styles available, which makes them popular in areas with more extreme temperatures in the summer and winter seasons.

Craft Corner: Get a feel for the Craftsman style with these examples.

Mediterranean Home Architecture

The mild climate of the west coast means Mediterranean architecture is prevalent in the area, especially in California. Mediterranean architecture is characterized by warm colors, terracotta roofs, and welcoming spaces that blend indoor and outdoor access. If you’re looking for a timeless home, this style can give you that ideal balance of classic and modern elements.

Mediterranean Musings: Find more Mediterranean inspiration here.

Ranch Home Architecture

Ranch homes are typically single-story and open concept. Easily identifiable by large windows and low rooflines, Ranch-style architecture is gaining popularity across the US but is usually found in warmer areas like the south and southwest. These homes often include basements, which could be an important safety feature if you plan to live in a tornado-prone area like Texas, Kansas, or Oklahoma.

Ranch Round-Up: Explore modern examples of Ranch style here.

Tudor Home Architecture

If a home made of quality materials that stand the test of time is a priority for you, Tudor-style home architecture may be just what you’re looking for. Tudor houses typically include gabled roofs, brick exteriors, and narrow windows. This house style is most often found in the midwest and northeast. The cons of Tudor architecture include less natural light and difficulty renovating if you change your mind later.

Tudor To-Do List: Explore stunning examples of Tudor architecture here.

Victorian Home Architecture

Not a fan of modern architecture? Then you’ll love the bright colors, ornate woodwork, and round angles of Victorian-style homes. Buying a Victorian home these days will probably entail some fixing up, so don’t forget to account for renovation costs in your budget. You can find Victorian architecture just about anywhere, but Georgia, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania may be your best bets for residential Victorian properties with the modern conveniences you need.

Victorian Views: San Francisco, CA is home to one of the most iconic examples of Victorian home architecture, the Painted Ladies.

How do I decide which of the most popular house styles is right for me?

If you’re not sure which style is your best fit, take our tried-and-true advice and start with a chart.

Energy efficientCraftsman, Cape Cod
Sustainable materialsContemporary, Craftsman
Biophilic designContemporary, Mediterranean, Craftsman
Unique designVictorian, Craftsman, Tudor
Open conceptRanch, Mediterranean, Contemporary
Easily renovated/expandedRanch, Colonial
Durable buildTudor, Colonial

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list of potential styles to consider. And if you’re building your home, you may be able to pick and choose elements of each to create something that fits all your wants and needs. Either way, enjoy the search! It’s one of the fun parts of the home loan process.

Knowing which notable features are a priority for your next home can help you narrow down which popular house style is for you.


Pet-Friendly House Tips: Best Home Features for Pets

Some say pets are the new kids. Whether you agree or not, it’s no secret that our fur babies are like family. So, how can you make sure your next home purchase or home renovation provides a pet-friendly house for them? Let’s explore some of the best home features for pets.

7 home features to create the ultimate pet-friendly house.

  1. Wash station
  2. Automated vacuum
  3. Hidden litter box
  4. Durable floors
  5. Fenced-in backyard
  6. Enclosed patio
  7. Fence and door windows

1. Wash station

Your cats might not appreciate this one, but a wash station is a life (or, at least, furniture) saver for those inevitable occasions when your dog makes the most of their outside time. And hey, no judgment if your toddler gets some mileage out of it, too. Some key features to consider for your wash station include:

  • A detachable hose
  • Leash hooks
  • Non-slip floors
  • Product storage nooks
  • Adjustable height

2. Automated vacuum

No need to get a hairless cat (unless you want to). With an automated vacuum system, you can schedule it to circulate your home periodically and reduce all that pet hair accumulating faster than you can sweep it up.

3. Hidden litter box

You can’t avoid litter boxes, but you can make them less noticeable. If your home has stairs, consider converting the storage area underneath into an enclosed litter box area for your cat. Provide a small entrance (within a door that you can fit through for cleaning access) for your cat to discreetly get in and out. A flap over the entrance can also help reduce escaping odors.

If you can’t dedicate a whole room to your cat’s litter box, try getting an enclosed cover. A box with steps leading up to the entrance can help minimize the litter that gets tracked through your shared spaces.

4. Durable floors

Accidents happen, so choosing the right flooring in your home will save you a lot of time and frustration. Vinyl is considered the most durable, waterproof, and easy to clean. If you can’t reconcile vinyl with your aesthetic, tile is another great option, if a little less comfortable for your pets.

Green Tip: Linoleum is an excellent eco-friendly alternative to vinyl. Just keep in mind that it tends to be more expensive and harder to find.

5. Fenced-in backyard

Dogs need outdoor access, but when life gets hectic it can be hard for you to make as much time for it as they need. With a fenced-in backyard, you can let them outside and off-leash without having to keep an eye on them or put the rest of your day on pause. To make things even easier, install a doggy door.

6. Enclosed patio

Your cat loves looking at the outside world, if not necessarily participating in it. An enclosed patio lets your feline friend take those sunshine snoozes to the next level, without the risk of getting loose and exploring more than they bargained for. From translucent plastic to chicken wire, there are plenty of ways to create an enclosed space without breaking the bank, depending on the look you’re going for. Explore these ideas for more inspiration.

7. Fence and door windows

Pets of all kinds need a stimulating environment that offers a taste of what’s going on outside their home. For your smaller or older dogs with mobility issues, lower windows on your doors are a smart solution to make sure they don’t miss out on their daily squirrel watching.

Adding a window to your fence is another option, as long as your neighbor doesn’t mind. Who knows, your dog might just become best friends with the canine next door (but don’t worry, they’ll never replace you).

Is there anything I should avoid to have a pet-friendly house?

When it comes to creating a pet-friendly house, it’s as much about the features you don’t have as the ones you do. Your needs will depend on your pet, but avoiding these common hazards are a great place to start:

  • Toxic plants: Unfortunately, this includes most houseplants. If you don’t want to give up your greenthumb lifestyle, consider hanging your plants out of reach (easier said than done for cat owners). Refer to this list to double-check which plants are safe and which are toxic.
  • White furniture: White furniture is hard to clean and will show the normal wear and tear of pets being pets more clearly than darker tones. Sometimes, ignorance is bliss when it comes to the amount of dirt and fur your four-legged friends track through the house.
  • Exposed cords and wires: If you have exposed electrical wires in your home, that’s a bigger problem that needs immediate attention for everyone’s sake. But you’ll also want to be mindful of cords for appliances like lamps, TVs, and device chargers. These are all prime nibbling real estate for your pets.
  • Open access to household cleaners and medications: There’s a lot of overlap between child-proofing and pet-proofing. Keep potentially toxic materials out of reach and behind closed doors to make sure your human and animal children can’t get into them.
  • Faux plants with small leaves: It’s not just real plants you have to watch out for. Faux plants often have small plastic leaves that are easy for your pets to choke on or swallow. At best, this results in some unpleasant cleanup for you. At worst, it could cause blockage in your pet’s stomach that requires surgery to fix.

Of course, your pet will love you whether you upgrade your home or not—but they aren’t the only ones who can benefit from it. Adding these features could also boost your home equity. This might qualify you for better rates and terms should you refinance your loan down the road. Speaking of refinancing, a cash-out refi* could help you pay for these pet-friendly house upgrades by leveraging your existing equity for cash out. You’re about to earn serious bragging—er, wagging rights.

*Using your home equity to pay off debts or make other purchases does not eliminate the debt or the cost of the purchases, but rather increases the loan amount of your mortgage to be paid according to your new mortgage terms.

Pets make a house a home, and a home with the right pet-friendly features can make all the difference for their quality of life.