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Organizing Spring Cleaning

Spring is a good time to tackle home and garden projects that have been on the back burner during winter. The garage, basement or carport often are filled to the rafters with items best suited for a rummage sale. A maze of cobwebs, a buildup of soot, dust-laden upholstery and window coverings and filthy windows are a few of the reasons that we engage in the annual ritual known as spring cleaning.

Cleaning is one of the least expensive forms of home maintenance. Shiny, clean surfaces not only look better, they last longer as well. And, with a regular maintenance and cleaning program, a house is easier to keep up. In the long run, it also will be worth more.

Historically, the warmer spring weather was the time to open the home after the long winter months. This was necessary to remove soot accumulation resulting from wood and coal-burning stoves. Carpets, draperies and other items were subtly darkened and dirtied by these heat sources, making necessary the airing of entire houses.

Spring cleaning to most meant carrying mattresses and rugs outside for a solid beating. Curtains came down, and windows, cupboards, closets, walls and woodwork were sanitized inside and out.

While this laborious process might still be undertaken by some, thanks to cleaner burning heating systems and more efficient home ventilation, the scope of work is not quite as intensive. We propose that you simplify matters by taking heed of a few spring cleaning hints that we've discovered over the years.

First, don't be overwhelmed by the volume. Have a family meeting to devise a plan that outlines, in detail, who will do what. It is best to divide the project into areas and functions. Each family member of age can be responsible for his or her bedroom.

Select a space where all discarded items can be temporarily stored until the local charity service can pick up. The secret to a successful cleaning program is to handle items minimally. For example, a stack of electronic equipment will need to be pulled out of a cabinet in order for the electronics to be dusted and the cabinet cleaned. The equipment will then need to be replaced. It's helpful to have a small portable table, such as a card table, that can be used throughout the house to set things on while cleaning an area.

When cleaning a bookshelf, have a box at hand in which to pack unwanted books. Once finished, the box can be toted to the holding area until all of the unwanted goods can be carried off. Moreover, it's helpful to have several storage boxes on hand to accommodate items that you no longer want in the house, but you're not willing to part with. Sturdy small and medium-sized boxes work best. Once full, they won't be too heavy to carry. Boxes of uniform size are more easily stacked and stored. Old newspapers serve as good packing material for avoiding breakage. A roll of box tape is a must to preserve the contents and keep them dust-free.

Tough tasks such as window-washing and bathroom-cleaning, which frequently involve the use of chemicals and lots of elbow grease, should be reserved for an adult with the proper tools. And even adults should be mindful of safety. Safety goggles, rubber gloves and plenty of ventilation are musts when working with chemical cleaning products.

In all cases, work from the top down. Dusty walls and ceilings, dingy light fixtures and door and window trim should be tackled before other elements in the space. Windows, closets and furniture are next. Window and floor coverings should be last. This might include floor stripping, carpet cleaning and polishing.

The kitchen, laundry and bathrooms should be undertaken before other spaces. And, don't forget to dust the top ledge of all doors.


Cleaning Your Barbecue and Cooking Tips

Morris' son Eric (called Ricky) has delighted the family with his talent for barbecuing. His wife and kids had been able to keep his mastery of the grill a secret until recently when he was asked to help cook at a large family gathering.

The question of the day was, "Boy Ricky, how do you get it so juicy, tasty and tender?" Since that event Ricky has been officially appointed family grill master. His secret is patience. Bring the barbecue up to about 400 to 450-degrees Fahrenheit, sear the chosen dish on both sides (a minute or two on each side), turn down the heat way down and cook slowly to the desired degree.

Ricky now is teaching everyone in our family the fine art of barbecuing. After years of scorching hamburgers, splitting hot dogs and destroying such delicacies as fish and veggies, we have learned that patience is a virtue when grilling. That and not getting distracted.

Another trick that Ricky taught us: do not put the barbecue sauce on until the food is almost cooked, wait till the last minute. Brush it on, let it get warm, and then quickly remove your meal from the grill.

Before, our ritual was to burn the food and the sauce and then spend 15 minutes or more cleaning the grill. When properly cooked, barbecued food doesn't mess up the grill nearly as much.

Here's what we used to do: When the mess was really bad, we would close the top and turn the burners to high for about 15 minutes. The super heating process completely charred all the greasy remains. After burning everything to a crisp the barbecue was allowed to cool. At that point a simple wire brushing easily removed any last remnants. Although this technique worked faster with a piece of tin foil over the grill it was still a lengthy process.

After years of wire-brushing drudgery we learned an easier way. It involves water. Step one involves getting the grill hot. With or without foil - your choice. The foil does help. But it must be closely watched. Higher heat can damage your equipment. A wire brush still is needed, but the difference with our second method is that the brush gets dipped in water. The wet brush is quickly swiped onto and across the grates. As the water touches the hot surface it instantly turns to a gas and "steam-cleans" the area. We like to use a two-inch square brush on a long handle. The square brush end is small enough to dip into a small bowl of water, and the long handle prevents hair loss on hands and arms while stroking the grates. Although a wire brush is used to apply the water, using it as a scrubber really isn't required. The water does all the work. You simply won't believe how well this technique works until you've tried it.

The tricks we described won't work on rust. A wire wheel on an electric drill is ideal for rust removal. However, an electric wire wheel might be overkill in situations where spots are hard to get to, or where rust is minimal. A tiny electric motor turns at an extremely high rate of speed making the tiny brass-and-steel brush attachments effective as rust eliminators.

Once your grill is clean use a clean cloth to apply a light coat of cooking oil. The oil will help to prevent rust, and food will be less prone to stick. Never paint a cooking surface. The ensuing meal will not only taste like wallpaper paste, it might be poisonous, as well.

For general cleaning, when everything has cooled off, apply a mild soap and water mixture to your barbecue in the same way you would wash your car. And remember, be sure to rinse all soap completely away, and hand-dry with a soft cloth to prevent water marks.

Finally, remember what we learned from Ricky: Start with a clean, oiled grill on high. Sear both sides to hold in juices, and turn down the heat. Add barbecue sauce after your food is cooked, and when it's heated, sit down for dinner. The grill will be a breeze to clean, your meal will be juicier and your family will consider you a quite the cook.

Boosting Your Home’s Bottom Line: Big Ideas for Making a Good First Impression

Here are some “IDEAS” for choosing a new entryway system for your home:

IDEAS Tip #1: Don’t IGNORE the Small Stuff

An entryway is an entire system of components, not just the door slab. Look for a complete door system designed to work together with high-quality, durable components.” From door hardware to beautiful glass sidelites and transoms, an attractive, high-performance entryway can go a long way toward making your home more appealing and drawing potential buyers to at least look inside.

IDEAS Tip #2: One DOOR or Two?

If you have a single door, you can simply replace it with a new door in the same size. But if you add sidelites---stationary glass panels next to the door opening---you will enhance the beauty of the entryway and also bring more light inside the home to showcase what’s inside. If you currently have double doors, instead of simply replacing them, consider installing an extra-wide single door (3 feet by 6 inches) and use sidelites to fill in the opening. Or, for a truly grand look, expand to double doors and add decorative glass sidelites and a transom window above. This may be a little more work, but it will transform your home with a completely new look.

IDEAS Tip #3: EVALUATE Your Current Entryway

Check the door opening to see what your home can accommodate structurally. Measure the height and width: most doors are 3 feet wide and 6 feet 8 inches tall. But some of the most popular doors are now 3 feet 6 inches wide and 8 feet tall, so you may need to enlarge your opening. In addition, consider adding Dixie-Pacific columns on the outside of the home or Fypon’s crossheads which will not only add style and elegance, but increase the home’s value and appeal.

IDEAS Tip #4: ASSESS What Glass Meets Your Needs

Adding decorative glass to your entryway can greatly enhance the curb appeal of your home. For example, use decorative glass with wrought iron designs to add sophistication to a Rustic or Spanish-inspired entryway; choose oval-shaped glass with curved or angled geometric designs to enhance a Victorian home; or select glass with crossover designs to add personality to a Prairie-style home.

IDEAS Tip #5: What STYLE is Your Home?

Knowing your home’s architectural style, and what kind of statement you want to make with your entryway, will help you narrow the choices. You can find doors and components to fit just about every architectural style. For example, Therma-Tru offers style-specific door collections—from its American Style Collection that complements Traditional or New American Style homes, to the Rustic Collection that is ideal for Southwestern or Old Tuscan style homes, to the Oak Collection that suits everything from Colonial to Contemporary architecture. For entryway design ideas, installation tips and a complete door selection guide, visit thermatru.com. The site features an interactive Door Designer that allows you to match different door styles with glass sidelites, transoms, and stain and paint colors to create the look you want. Therma-Tru door systems are available through a national network of distributors, lumberyards and home centers. For additional ideas, visit www.thermatru.com, www.dixiepacific.com and www.fypon.com.

Maintaining a Swimming Pool

"The Beverly Hillbillies," a '60s television series, might have given viewers the impression that swimming pools were the province of loaded Californians. That is not the case today. We travel by air across this great land and can report with certainty that swimming pools are everywhere.

Regardless of construction; above-ground, in-ground, fiberglass, vinyl or plaster, a swimming pool requires regular care and maintenance to ensure safe and healthful conditions. It is regular maintenance that keeps the equipment operating at peak efficiency. Well-maintained equipment can result in a friendlier utility bill because the equipment won't have to work quite as hard and can be run fewer hours each day.

Many people believe that a pool can be shut down during winter months. This is true in certain parts of the country where temperatures dip below freezing a good part of the time, but can be damaging to a pool in warmer circumstances.

In cold climates there are several steps that must be taken to prepare the pool for winter. Some include draining the heater manifold, strainer basket and pump, and the solar heating system, if one exists. Also, the skimmer expansion plug should be installed inside the skimmer housing. A pool that is shut down for the winter should be covered to keep out leaves and other debris. Consult the Consumer Products Safety Commission for an approved cover that will prevent the possibility of children and animals drowning.

Draining the pool can cause significant damage to it. The weight of the water in the pool actually keeps it from rising out of the ground due to hydrostatic pressure from the earth. Emptying the pool can allow hydrostatic pressure to push the pool and surrounding decking out of the ground.

Whether or not a pool is shut down during the winter, the beginning of swim season or the pool opening is one of the most critical times for pool maintenance.

If the pool is located in a colder climate and has been shut down for the winter, drain plugs at the solar system, pump and heater will need to be replaced, and, the simmer expansion plug removed.

For pools that are covered, any water that has collected on top of the cover should be pumped out using a small submersible pump. Use the leaf net on the end of an extension pole to remove leaves and other large clusters of debris. This is a great opportunity to clean the cover before storing it. Rinse the cover with fresh water while using the pool brush on an extension pole to free debris that clings to it. Continue to rinse and pump out as much water as possible. The cover can then be removed.

The next step is to get the equipment running by restoring the prime. Before starting the pump, completely open the valve from the main drain. Water should be added to the strainer basket at the pump. It's best to use a garden hose, rather than a bucket, since you'll be filling the main drain line as well as the strainer basket. It should be filled until it runs over. Replace the strainer basket lid hand-tight. Add a little petroleum jelly or marine-type grease to the O-ring or gasket material to keep it supple and to avoid a leak. It also serves to keep seals pliable underwater and from drying out when the system is drained.

It is now safe to start the pump motor. Air is likely to blow out of the pool inlet lines causing bubbling at the surface of the water in the pool. This will quickly vanish as water fills the lines and makes it way into the pool. If the pump should lose its prime, refill the strainer basket and repeat the process. Once the pump is running at capacity, excess air should be bled from the filter and separation tank.

With the equipment running, check the system for leaks. A few of the most likely locations are the cover at the strainer basket, valves and plugs, plumbing and equipment fittings and at the compression rings which hold the filter and separation tank lids in place. The most common repairs for leaks include gasket and O-ring lubrication or replacement, and valve or plumbing fitting repair or replacement.

Regardless of the type of filter, it is best to start the season with one that is clean. Back-washing the system is generally not enough to give the filter a good cleaning. For example, a diatomaceous earth filter should first be back-washed and then taken apart in order for all of the filter grids to be washed with a degreasing product, fresh water and a nylon brush. And, although a sand filter doesn't need to be recharged, it's a good idea to pour a degreaser into the top at least once each season. For cartridge filters, install a new cartridge, and follow the maintenance instructions in the owner's manual.

One of the most underrated, yet important aspects of pool maintenance is water balancing. Properly balanced water not only provides a safe and healthful swimming environment, but preserves the integrity of the pool and equipment, as well.

An opening "shock treatment" is the first order of business. This extra dose of sanitizer helps kill bacterial and other organic contaminants, and is the first line of defense for keeping algae from getting started. Also, total alkalinity (TA) should be maintained in the range of 60 to 100 parts per million (ppm). Low TA causes fluctuating pH and excessive corrosion and staining of equipment. Speaking of pH, it should be adjusted to the ideal range of 7.2 to 7.6. The calcium hardness should be maintained at a minimum of 200 ppm.

Once the water is conditioned, maintain free available chlorine in the range of 1.0 to 3.0 ppm. For those who have a pool maintenance service, this is not a concern since the maintenance professional will start up the pool at the beginning of swim season and make frequent checks throughout it. Those who don't should take a sample to a pool chemical and supply retailer. The company will generally test the water for free or for a nominal fee.

Pool water must be tested regularly, especially when the pool is being used heavily, to ensure that the water is properly balanced. Therefore, it's a good idea to have a testing kit handy along with the needed chemicals to keep the water in balance between visits by the maintenance professional.