Visit our forum for helpful tips and advice from other do-it-yourselfers! Click here.
Have an idea for our next newsletter? Send it our way!
Would you like to advertise on the On The House website or e-newsletter? Click here to tell us more!
To unsubscribe or change your subscription preferences, click here.
On The House Express is brought to you in part by:
Among our least favorite chores is weeding. This likely stems from one Carey brother as a child being employed as chief gardener for an aunt with an elaborate flower garden.
While her home would be considered modest by most standards, there was nothing average about her garden. It was her passion, and was surrounded by countless large trees, plants, ornamental shrubs, decorative hanging baskets, stately hedges, four lush lawns and a "Versailles-like" rose garden. It goes without saying that a garden of this magnitude required constant care. That meant that three days each week after school, all day Saturdays and summer vacations were committed to work in her garden. A day's work might include mowing, edging, trimming, pruning, fertilizing, raking leaves, watering and the dread weeding.
There were always weeds to pull somewhere in that garden. The rose garden was most prone to weeds. It consisted of six separate beds, each of which contained a dozen or so rose bushes. The beds were symmetrically laid out, surrounded by concrete paths and set off by a multi-tiered fountain.
The weeds would become so thick at times that no soil was visible, and frequently the rose bushes would be hidden. What we didn't know then was that weeds are not simply an ugly eyesore; they battle plants, shrubs and trees for water and essential nutrients.
Today, there is a cost-effective and environmentally sound alternative to the old-fashioned way of dealing with weeds a hoe or bare hands. In fact, it's a process that professional landscapers have used for years landscape fabric.
Landscape fabric is a barrier designed to prevent the growth of weeds present in the soil. It is produced either by weaving synthetic fibers together at right angles (woven) or by bonding short or continuously spun fibers together through heat bonding, needle-punching, spin bonding or other processes (non-woven).
Most applications involve the fabric being applied directly on top of the soil and then overlaid with ground cover or other decorative coverings such as mulch, bark chips, gravel or stone. Aside from keeping weeds at bay, the fabric helps prevent the decorative covering from deteriorating by keeping them separate from the soil.
Many green-thumbers have tried plastic sheeting only to be disappointed by the results. What many have found is that plastic sheeting tears easily, disintegrates and often results in "sour soil". This is in sharp contrast to landscape fabrics which breathe, allowing air and water to pass through. This is especially important on hilly areas where, with sheet plastic, water produced by rain or sprinklers can be trapped, washing away decorative mulch or other ornamental coverings.
Landscape fabric is also good for the environment. One of the traditional ways of dealing with weeds is through the use of potentially hazardous chemical herbicides. Families with small children or pets, now more than ever, are taking steps to limit the use of products around the house and garden that contain toxic chemicals.
For many parts of the country the last decade has been one of drought which has, in many cases, resulted in water rationing. In situations such as this, more often than not, landscaping is the first element to suffer, frequently creating a wasteland. Although landscape fabric can't make rain, it can slow down the evaporation process and result in less frequent waterings. This not only saves water, in a drought it can save a garden.
Landscape fabric is affordable, easy to use and can be installed around trees, ground cover and decorative plants and shrubs. For more information about landscape fabric call Easy Gardener toll-free at 1-800-327-9462.
Shut the Window on High Utility Costs
During the spring and summer, windows frame a picture perfect world filled with brilliantly blooming flowers and trees, children riding bikes and dogs running in the yard.
Unfortunately, windows can also increase utility bills. However, taking a few steps to improve the efficiency of your homes windows can make all the difference between spending money on high utility bills or taking a well-deserved family vacation.
Everyone knows that there's money to be saved by replacing old, drafty windows with new energy-efficient ones. However, window replacement, typically a professional job, may be more than your pocket book will allow for at the moment.
In the meantime, with a few simple steps and a trip to the local hardware store or home center, even a novice do-it-yourselfer can find it easy to reduce utility bills and increase home comfort.
Weather-stripping is an easy and inexpensive way to reduce drafts around windows. It can be applied to the window sash to decrease the amount of airflow leaking through the frame. Peel-and-stick or nail-on material is easy to install and can pay big dividends in energy savings.
Keep in mind that even weather-stripping has limitations. It works great on windows that open, but wont help improve the energy efficiency of fixed frame windows.
Closing blinds and curtains to block sunlight will reduce the amount of UV rays and heat that enters a home. Unfortunately, heat can still build up between windows and window coverings and radiate throughout a home. Plus, covered windows destroy your view and can make an otherwise cheery room feel dark and closed in.
Planting shrubs and trees around a home can help provide shade for a home as well as increase the privacy and beauty of a home. One or more strategically placed shade trees can significantly lower the temperature in your home, thus increasing personal comfort and lowering cooling costs.
Keep in mind that it may take several years to enjoy the full effect of this option while waiting for shrubbery and trees to mature.
Window film is an easy way to quickly reduce utility costs. It can be installed on single pane windows or as an upgrade to dual pane, insulated windows.
Window film consists of a micro-thin layer of polyester film with a coating specially designed to reflect up to 70 percent the summers heat.
Window film industry studies demonstrate that window film can save a homeowner an average of 47 percent off their current annual cooling costs based upon the type of windows in their home and geographic location. The savings are based on the ability of the film to reduce summer heat gain on windows, which average 40 percent of a homeowners monthly utility bill. Unlike days gone by, most of today's window films are virtually invisible, which allows for an unobstructed view.
Although window film can be installed professionally, leading manufacturers are producing do-it-yourself-friendly installation kits that contain precut material along with all the tools necessary for a successful installation. Installation time for an average size window is about 30 minutes and costs less than $30 or about 80 cents a square foot.
Besides blocking summer heat, window films provide up to 99 percent UV rejection to help reduce fading year-round. If your window coverings, flooring or furniture are showing signs of fading, window film may help be the answer.
KAREL’S KORNER: Maintaining a Healthy Back while Maintaining Your Home
So much of the success of a home improvement project lies with the tools that you use. Ironically, one of the single most important tools associated with a do-it-yourself project is YOU! We spend so much time making sure that our chisels and saw blades are sharp and tend not to give our ‘human machine’ it’s due. Keeping yourself in good physical condition and knowing how to avoid injury can make working around your home more enjoyable and give you the stamina and confidence to tackle projects that you previously may not have considered.
First, remember that anything you do that requires you to bend over and twist at the same time will most likely tweak your back. This is especially true for people who are carrying more weight than they should — particularly around the stomach region.
The good news is that your spine is an amazing mechanism. Due to its curvaceous composition, the spine is nineteen times stronger than it would be if it were a straight line. Your disks (internal shock absorbers) will withstand up to 2000 pounds of force. But there are limitations. You cannot repeatedly bend or flex the spine and twist at the same time, without a paying a price. Sooner or later – like more than over 80% of Americans – you’re likely to have back problems.
The ‘core’ to preventing a back injury is to strengthen your core or ‘torso’ by training the 29 muscles around your pelvic region. This need not be painful nor time consuming. All you need is fifteen minutes a day and a soft padded mat for the floor. Then, just lie on your back and, while keeping your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, raise your hips and hold them for a count of ten. Repeat this five to ten times. This is only one example of the many ways to strengthen your core.
Once these muscles are strong, you’ll be ready to tackle all those projects without fear of injury and you’ll gain more energy to boot! You can get more information on getting fit and improving your health by visiting my website at www.overthehillfitness.com. And while you’re there, don’t forget to pick up a copy of my new Living Proof DVD for only $15.99.
Thanks, and live with vigor!
Karel(Karel Nunnink is a certified personal trainer with more than 35 years of experience.)
Keeping your grill great
With warm temperatures finally here, it's time to haul out the barbeque and get it ready for the season. We think we can make it a bit easier for you this go round.
Here are a few common gas grill problems and their solutions:
BURNERS THAT WON'T LIGHT OR ARE DIM
When the burners won't light, there is often an obstruction in the fuel supply line. This normally occurs between the on-off valve on the barbecue and the burner.
The usual culprit: A bug. Even when the valve is off, insects can nest in the line. Keeping them out is tough to prevent -- even wrapping the unit in a plastic bag hasn't done the trick.
So you'll have to deal with it on the other end by cleaning them out. Here's how:
—Remove the cover that conceals the metal line between the burners and the on-off valve on the barbecue (not the on-off valve to the propane tank).
—With the fuel tank completely off, disconnect the fuel line.
—Immerse the line in cleaner and use a long, soft, narrow wire to thoroughly clean the inside of the fuel tube. We use auto parts cleaning solvent and air pressure from our compressor. Never put the line back unless you know it is completely dry.
—Replace the parts as they were removed only after spraying soapy water on the connections to insure that there are no leaks. If a leak exists, the soapy water will bubble.
If you are experiencing uneven heating, chances are your burners are rusted or corroded.
When a burner is new all of the holes are the same size. As grease and food make their way to the bottom of the barbecue the burner ports often become partially clogged. Also, rust can wreak the same kind of havoc.
All that is needed here is a wire brush, an ice pick and 20 minutes of your time. Barbecue burners are usually very easy to remove. That's because they are designed to be easily removed for cleaning.
Remove the various layers between the cooking surface and the burners, and then simply remove the burner. It may be wise to review your owner's manual on how to perform this task. Use a wire brush to completely clean the burner surfaces scrub until a shine results.
Use the ice pick to loosen fragments caught in the burner holes. Clean until all of the holes look about the same size. Use an air compressor at your local gas station if need be, and ensure that all debris has been removed from within the burner.
NEW, BUT TATTERED
The really neat thing about barbeques is that they are either stainless steel, enameled or painted.
Stainless is best cleaned with stainless cleaner period.
Enameled surfaces are best cleaned with mild acid like vinegar.
However, painted barbecues tend to remain dirty looking no matter how hard you scrub. That's why we paint ours ever season or two.
Flat black engine paint (high heat paint) is just about the easiest and most forgiving paint on the planet to apply. If you haven't tried it, you are in for a treat:
—Scrub everything down with soapy water. Rinse and dry.
—Use masking or painter's tape to mask off everything you don't want painted (including the ground).
—Sand or wire wheel any and all rust.
—Spot paint the shiny spots with the flat black engine paint (or a metal primer for high heat applications) and wait until dry.
—Next, shoot a coat over the whole unit.
—Remove the tape and be amazed at the beauty you've created.
A dirty cast iron barbecue grill grate is easy to clean. Here's how:
—Get a bowl of plain water and a long grill cleaning brush (the metal kind).
—Get the barbecue as hot as you can get it.
—Submerse the cleaning brush in the water and immediately scrub a rung from end to end until all the water disappears (about 7 seconds). Repeat for each rung.
—Finally, lightly coat the grill with oil to season it.
You should not use this process on stamped metal grill (the kind that looks like the top of a broiler pan). It will warp and twist and be damaged beyond repair.
Skylights and Indoor Air Quality
So What Is It…Exactly?
Building or remodeling “green” can mean a number of different things. In essence, it falls into various “what can be done” categories, which then makes the whole thing much easier to understand – and to actually accomplish.
Structurally, building “green” can mean using eco-friendly materials, such as lumber from easily renewable or recyclable resources, or man-made synthetic substitutes that last longer and reduce maintenance.
Planning-wise, it can be achieved in a number of ways – from architectural design to operational revamping – and for most, the first steps toward going “green” begin with the easiest category to achieve: improving energy-efficiency, thus reducing demand on our Earth’s earth’s precious resources.
This includes things like: using compact fluorescent bulbslighting, buying energy-saving “Energy Star” appliances and products, and adding extra insulation. Further efforts include replacing wWeatherstripping, re-caulking and installing hi-tech replacement windows and doors, which – individually or in combination – in turn, eliminates air leaks, reduces utility bills and (oops) often “reduces” indoor air quality, as well.
Its Not Easy Being Green
Here’s the catch. As builders and homeowners continually tighten-up a home’s interior envelope, it also traps more and more airborne pollutants that now have no way to escape.
Today, various studies indicate that, on average, the air in our homes is from two to five times more polluted than the air outside outdoors – and it can be as much as 1,000 times worse after certain activities such as household cleaning or, stripping paint or installing new non eco-friendly finishes such as some flooring, cabinets and paint.
Serious health issues begin to arise when combinations of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are trapped in the home, many of which come from unlikely sources – such as new carpeting, new furniture, aerosol sprays, dry-cleaned clothing and even home office equipment such as copiers and printers, and using correction fluids, glues, adhesives and permanent markers.
Health effects can include: eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches, loss of coordination, dizziness, nausea, fatigue; allergic skin reaction; visual disorders and memory impairment. These are among the immediate disorders. Over time, it may also lead to and include damage to one’s liver, kidneys, and central nervous system – and some organics organic compounds are also suspected or known to cause cancer.
And, as with other pollutants, the extent and nature of the health effect will depend on many factors including level of exposure and length of time exposed.
Let’s Clear The Air
Today however, there are however easy and simple solutions that readily complement America’s efforts to make our homes “green”-er and our indoor air cleaner. One solution involves teaming-up skylights with Mother Nature to help clear the air.
Venting skylights by VELUX take advantage of heat that naturally rises to help remove trapped VOCs. While the natural “chimney/exhaust” effect of venting skylights removes room odors and stale air, it also helps to takes with it – the hidden “health-threat” of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that lurks in today’s heavily insulated and tightly sealed homes.
Eco-friendly VELUX skylights and VELUX Sun Tunnel tubular skylights provide another natural solution for “green” planning and today’s home design, as well – with free “passive illumination” that lights up a home without the energy cost and heat generated by electrical fixtures.
It’s Now Easy Being Green
Boost your IAQ (indoor air quality) by using VELUX ENERGY STAR® rated VELUX venting skylights in selected areas throughout your home. To further reduce energy bills, use VELUX comparable fixed and tubular skylights for passive lighting as well.
Teaming VELUX and Mother Nature is a smart and winning combination.
For more information and skylight selection literature visit www.veluxusa.com or call 1-800-283-2831. For government information on window and skylight energy efficiency, visit www.energystar.gov, and for additional independent agency information, visit www.nfrc.org or www.effcientwindows.org.