The Inexpensive Home Improvement Series: Showcasing Your Stairs

blue leaves stairs
Delicate leaf stencils tie the stairs and wall together in this photo from

The first thing many people see when they walk into a two story home is the staircase. Unfortunately, many of today’s staircases are straight and narrow in order to take up a small footprint. This often leads to stairs that are boring, plain and dark. But a few added touches to your stairs can transform them from a practical necessity to a decorative focal point that is inviting and memorable. In most cases, a few simple touches can have a huge impact.


If you want your staircase to be something more than a way to get to the second floor, turn them into a dramatic statement instead of letting them blend into the floors or walls. Here are a few great staircase projects that you can easily do in a weekend:

Use Contrasting Paint for Color Pop

On wooden stairs, consider painting the risers a different color than the steps themselves for a more dimensional look. As a bonus, it’s easier to see each step because of the contrast, so you’ll be less inclined to stumble at night or if you have vision problems. If you love the look of your wood stairs and don’t want to give up the grain, you can use a color wash or stain so that you have two different shades or tones instead of using paint. For even more impact, consider using an ombré effect. Paint the lowest riser in a deep shade, then add a bit of white paint to the color for each subsequent riser. As the color gets lighter, it will naturally draw the eye up the stairs.

Decorate the Risers

There are dozens of ways to decorate the risers for dramatic effect. Trompe l’oeil literally means “fool the eye,” and is a time honored paint technique. You could paint each riser to look like one of your favorite books lying on its side, or paint them to look like old stone or aged wood for a rustic appearance. You can even add a touch of whimsy by adding a small mouse at the entrance to a faux, painted mouse whole. The secret is to make sure you’re using proper perspective for depth in order to achieve the realistic appearance you’re looking for.

staircase meadow
This charming stairway evokes a midsummer meadow and is easy to do with stencils or decals. To learn more, visit, the source of this photo.


Hang Artwork in Unexpected Areas

Hanging family photos along the wall of the stairs is a time-honored tradition, but you can update it by taking the photos from the walls and hanging them along the side of the staircase that is exposed to the room instead. Keep each frame uniform in size and shape for symmetry and use bold colors to capture guest’s attention when they are looking from across the room.

Replace the Bannisters with Something Unusual

The slender spindles in your staircase bannister can seem a bit dated or ordinary, particularly in a house that has a more eclectic vibe. To add interest, remove the railings and replace the traditional wood with wrought iron, steel or even Plexiglas for a sleeker, more modern feel that will be a focal point. For some country charm, you could even install lengths of fresh wood trimmed from trees. Keep the bark on them and install with a simple railing cap painted black to keep things grounded, or mount a thick limb or length of rope for a wall mount railing.

Spice Things Up with Tiles

For a bit of south of the border flair, purchase Mexican or Spanish, hand-painted tiles and adhere them to the risers in a row for gorgeous detail. For added impact, choose different colors and patterns for each riser. Or opt for blue and white, Dresden style tiles for a Dutch colonial feel that’s elegant and serene.

Wallpaper Scenery

You can even add a landscape that runs up the stairs if you choose an oversized wallpaper print that features a pastoral scene. Kids in particular like this, especially if there are hidden elements they can look for amidst the scenery.

Alphabet Stairs

Whether your stairs are curved or straight, you can stencil in either the alphabet or numerals on stairs as the go up so that the first step says, “1” or “A,” depending on your choice. To enhance each number or letter, stencil or paint in an illustration of that number or letter. For instance, for the letter “C,” you could paint a cat next to the letter. This is an especially lovely idea for stairs that go up to a nursery or children’s room.

The Age of Aquarius

Although astronomy might not be your strong suit, you probably know what your birth sign is. If so, paint a riser in a dark blue/purple shade and let dry. The next day, use bright white paint to apply the stars of your constellation. Add the appropriate constellation for each family member on their own riser. For even more dramatic effect, consider adding some glow in the dark paint to the white. In the evenings, your night sky will glow with stars, leading you to bed.

Using some of these suggestions, you can transform the lowly, utilitarian stairs into a work of art that will add beauty to your home all year round. For more great ideas for upgrading your stairs, check at 40 Smart DIY Stair Projects For The Perfect Home Makeover at

At Look At My Homes, you’ll find several Ellwood City area homes that feature beautiful wooden stairways just waiting for your unique, personal stamp. Isn’t it time you made your next house your home?






Treat Your Business’s Lawn Now for Better Color & Growth All Season

Wondering how to keep your lawn looking great this summer? It goes far beyond just mowing and trimming your lawn. Mr. B’s has parternered with PennTurf to offer all of our customers in the Ellwood City, Koppel, Wampum, Cranberry & Wexford areas the finest in weed and pest control in additional to lawn maintenance and landscaping.

woman with laptop on lawn

Timing is crucial for correct lawn maintenance and treatment. Over the next few weeks, PennTurf and Mr. B’s will be making the rounds for our loyal customers to begin the first spring lawn treatments. Each treatment addresses specific needs for western Pennsylvania lawns, including white grub control, and appropriate fertilization.

PennTurf carefully spaces each lawn treatment at approximately 6 week intervals for maximum effectiveness. Each treatment is tailored to the type of problem, the area of the country and more. These may contain seasonally selected combinations of fertilizer, broad leaf weed control, and pre-emergent crabgrass control.

This week and next we will be concentrating on a powerful but safe blend of fertilizers for improved green and increased turf density so that the roots will be stronger even during future dry stretches.

A second application six weeks after the first one will balance fertilizer that focuses on both color and strong growth. There will be an inspection of the lawn and a customized weed control treatment applied. If there are any indications of broad leaf or grassy weeds present, PennTurf and Mr. B’s will also pay careful attention to these.


We offer a variety of PennTurf packages for every business budget. Please call Mr. B’s at 724-752-5551 or PennTurf at 724-758-3647. We will be happy to give you an estimate on what it will cost to keep your business’ lawn looking beatiful all season long!

Lawn Care Tips from Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences

Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences says, “Fertilization does more to improve poor quality turf or maintain good quality turf than any other single management practice.”

Isn’t it time to contact PennTurf and Mr. B’s Lawn Service to discover how we can transform your lawn into a soft, green oasis? Call 724-752-5551 or 724-758-3647 for a free estimate or to schedule your lawn for PennTurf’s fertilization treatments.

The full article, “Lawn Management Through the Seasons,” outlines when and why you should take care of fertilizing your lawn, seeding, reseeding, thatching and more.  You can read more about lawn care from Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences by visiting their website.

Ask Potential Landlords These Crucial Questions Before Signing a Lease

When renting a home or apartment, it’s always important to go over the terms of the lease before signing. A lease is a legally binding document, so signing on the dotted line obligates you for the term of the lease. Be sure to ask the right questions so there aren’t any unpleasant surprises after you’ve moved into your new home. A good landlord will have no problem answering your questions and will be forthcoming about any potential issues so that you’ll want to extend your lease at the end of the year.

Here are some important questions you should always ask when talking to a potential landlord or property management company:

Is this a long-term lease or a short-term rental agreement?

A lease is generally binding for a full twelve months, although you can also get a six month lease from many landlords. If you want a shorter time period or want to be able to move elsewhere on short notice, a rental agreement that is month-to-month may be a better option for you. Be sure you know how long you’ll be tied to the property.

When and how is the rent due?

Some landlords want payment at the beginning of each month, others will have a date in the middle of the month. Be sure you know when the rent is due and how. For instance, if rent is due by the 15th of the month, does that mean a check has to be in the landlord’s hands by then or does it mean that it has to be post-marked by then? This is an important question, as some landlords add late fees to your rent if you’re late making payments. Ask about late fees and penalties as well, as these costs can add up.

If you’re moving into an apartment in the middle of the month but the rent is due on the first of the month, ask the landlord if he or she will pro-rate the first month’s rent. Some will, some won’t; it doesn’t hurt to ask.

Are the utilities included?

Ask what utilities, if any, are included in your rent. These may include water, electricity, gas, cable and Internet. If you will be responsible for utilities, ask to see copies of past utility bills for the house or apartment you’re renting so that you can budget accordingly.

Can I personalize the house or apartment?

Don’t paint the walls, hang artwork or make any changes to the house or apartment without asking the landlord about the rules surrounding these changes. You may want to paint the bedroom pink, but the landlord might deduct the cost of repainting the room after you move out from your security deposit.

Can I have overnight guests?

For the most part, landlords have no problem with overnight guests in rental houses unless they become a nuisance. They will often stipulate the length of time they can stay, however. More people means more potential for damages.

Can my dog/cat/lizard/fish stay with me?

no pets allowed

Ask your landlord if pets are allowed. In many instances they are allowed, but you have to pay an additional fee of between $50 and $200 a month to cover the cost of any potential damages. Most landlords also have limits. One dog may be fine, three dogs may be too many. Also ask what kind of pets are allowed. Some landlords won’t allow exotic pets or large pets. Others may not allow aquariums because of the potential for water damage.

Will I get my deposit back?

The security deposit on a rental is designed to cover the cost of any damages caused by tenants. In most cases, a landlord will refund all or part of the deposit once the tenant moves out, but be sure you know what constitutes “damages.” Before moving in, do an inspection of the unit with the landlord. Take pictures and make note of the condition of the house, then add the signed inspection to the lease agreement so that you aren’t charged for damages that you didn’t cause.

Who is responsible for repairs and maintenance?

If you’re renting an apartment, most repairs will be the responsibility of the landlord, but be sure to ask. If you’re renting a house or duplex, the question of repairs may be more complex. You may be responsible for maintaining the yard while the landlord is responsible for repairing any included appliances. Also be sure you know who to contact and how if there is an emergency such as broken pipes, a furnace that doesn’t work, etc.

It’s always better to ask about any concerns you have before signing a lease or rental agreement in order to avoid problems down the road. If you’re unsure of anything, be sure to talk to the landlord so that there aren’t any problems. By having a clear understanding of your agreement, you can ensure that your relationship with your landlord is a good one. Ask!

Look At My Homes has several houses for rent in the Ellwood City, Cranberry Township and Koppel areas that are move-in ready. Call 724-714-9758 or email for more information. To see what homes are currently available, visit the Look At My Homes rental page

Seven Spring Chores for Homeowners

There are a multitude of weekly and monthly chores for homeowners to worry about, but there are also seasonal chores. These are jobs that don’t have to be done more than once or twice a year, but because they aren’t done as frequently, they take on more importance. Skipping or missing them just once can lead to expensive or time consuming repairs farther down the road. Now that Spring is here in the Ellwood City, PA area, you should try to mark off all or most of this list in April

1. Check & Repair Your Gutters


cleaning gutters
Wear gloves when cleaning your gutters to prevent cuts and abrasions from sharp twigs or other debris.


Water damage is one of the most expensive problems you can deal with as a homeowner, so be sure your gutters are free of any debris before those “April showers” set in. Use a garden hose to flush water down through  your gutters to make sure they are flowing freely. If they aren’t, take the time to carefully clear out the leaves and other debris. Also test them to make sure they are securely fastened and don’t have any unexpected holes in them. Finally, make sure that the downspouts are pushing any water away from your foundation and adjust them as necessary.

If you have some extra cash to invest in your gutters, it might be time to have gutter guards installed. These are mesh or vented metal covers that go over your gutters so that rain can get through but dirt and debris can’t. They can prolong the life of your gutters and can mean fewer trips up a ladder to clean them out.

2.  Check & Clean Your Roof

You’ve probably seen houses in your neighborhood that seem to have long, dark streaks on the roof. These streaks aren’t actually dirt. They are a type of algae that develops on some shingles because they feed off of the limestone in the shingles. Your best bet for this it to hire a professional for safety reasons. If you try to clean your roofing yourself, be sure to have a partner to hold and steady your ladder. Replace any loose or curled shingles as well to prevent water seeping in under them and causing more problems.

3.  Walk Around Your Home’s Exterior to Check Wiring

There are several things you need to do on the outside of your home before warmer weather hits. First, check all outside wiring (such as telephone, Internet, cable…) to make sure they are properly grounded. Check for signs that they have been chewed on or destroyed by animals who may have been gnawing on them. If they are damaged, have a professional come out and fix them.

4.  Service the Air Conditioning System

AC unit
Make sure plants are trimmed away from the air conditioning unit to prevent overheating and potential damage.


This is also the time to check your air conditioning unit. Make sure that you trim back any shrubs or other plantings that could interfere with the performance of your AC unit. Install new filters and replace them monthly as long as you’ll be using it. You’ll also need to clean the coils and condenser unit so that the air conditioning runs smoothly and doesn’t get overheated. Changing the filter in your air conditioner monthly is also a good idea if you use it most days during hot weather.

5.  Get A Jump On Your Lawn

Even if you haven’t mowed your lawn yet, you do need to start caring for it by mid-April. A pre-emergent weed control application and some fertilizer designed for this climate and type of soil is essential. This will kill off the weeds and encourage new grass growth so that by the time summer is here, your lawn will be a thing of beauty. If you aren’t sure what applications you’ll need, call PennTurf at 724-758-3647 to get a quote from professionals who have been doing this kind of work for years. They can suggest the right blend of ingredients for optimal lawn performance.

6.  Check Your Appliances

When you’re doing the spring cleaning, check all smoke detectors and carbon monoxide monitors in the house to make sure they are still working properly and that no repairs are needed. It’s a good idea to change the batteries, even if they are functioning right now. It’s easy to forget when you last put new batteries in them, so changing them every April is a good way to make sure they will work when they have to. And be sure to replace all the batteries, not just one or two that you think might be bad. Mixing old and new batteries in the same appliance can shorten their life.

Also check your kitchen appliances such as the oven and refrigerator. Pull the refrigerator away from the wall and vacuum or dust off the coils. Dusty, dirty coils will make the fridge work harder to maintain the cold temperatures, costing you money and shortening the life of the appliance. Vacuum beneath all of your appliances and make sure you check the clothes dryer hose to see that it isn’t clogged with lint.

7.  Clean & Seal Your Deck

Wood decks take a beating in the winter, particularly in colder climates where there is a lot of snow and ice that melt, refreeze and thaw. Do an inspection to see whether any nails or screws need to be tightened or replace, then brush loose dirt off. Renting a power washer is the best way to get a grimy deck really clean. After it has dried completely, either paint or stain it, then wait a few days for it to completely cure. After that, apply an all-weather sealant to prevent peeling, cracking or warping of the boards.

Now get a cold drink, kick back in a lawn chair and enjoy the beautiful weather!








Tranforming Your Lawn with PennTurf

garden3PennTurf is western Pennsylvania’s premier lawn treatment program. In this area of the country, it can be difficult to maintain a lush, green lawn. While you can try to fertilize it and apply weed control yourself, these are tedious chores and if you use the wrong products, you could do more harm than good. That’s why it’s so important to use a professional lawn care service to properly treat  your lawn, including using scientifically developed weed control that focuses on killing the specific types of weeds and undesirable plants known to thrive in this area. The right blend and balance of fertilizer for your specific type of grass is also needed to encourage strong growth and a deep root system so that your lawn will thrive from spring through fall.

PennTurf ( provides everything you need in four easy applications beginning in April and running through September or October. PennTurf also offers additional services such as de-thatching, aeration and grub control. They offer a variety of service plans to suit every need, lawn size and budget. To learn more about the various services offered, visit the PennTurf Services page.

If you would like a PennTurf professional to take a look at your lawn and give you an estimate, call 724-758-3647 to schedule a time for a consultation. PennTurf will begin Early Spring applications next week, so call today!