One of the most common resolutions people make every year is to take better care of their bodies, either by losing weight, quitting smoking or exercising more. Another resolution that may be easier to stick with is to better take care of your home! When you consider the amount of time your family spends at home, it makes total sense to give your home an annual physical to make sure you are doing what is needed to keep your home and your family healthy. HouseMaster has prepared a list of some basic items to check to help assist you in performing a “physical” on your home.
- Security Alarms/Detectors. Check all safety and security alarms. If tied into a monitoring system ensure all contact information is up to date.
- Smoke/Fire Alarms. These are your family’s first line of defense –warning you in the event of a fire/smoke emergency. Test all fire/smoke alarms regularly. Change the batteries at least annually. Set a regular date to change the batteries in all the units. Replace older units (after five years or as otherwise recommended by the manufacturer).
- CO Monitors. Carbon Monoxide is odorless and colorless. A CO detector is the only way to identify elevated levels of CO in your home before physical injury occurs. If you don’t have CO monitors protecting your home from this toxic gas, you should act immediately and install them in strategic locations near the sleeping areas and other points recommended by the manufacturer or local officials. Check that presently installed units are operational and change batteries annually.
- Moisture and Mold. Mold spores abound in any home, but they need moisture and food to become a health threat. Most molds are toxic; however, any mold – and the cause of the mold – needs to be eliminated. The first step in minimizing the health effects from mold is to remove the moisture. Check major appliances and all plumbing fixtures for leaks. Look closely around and under showers, tubs, and any tilework. Don’t forget roof and exterior wall penetrations. The flashings at these areas often need to be resealed periodically. If mold is found, consider testing it to identify the type of mold and determine remediation options.
- Radon Testing. Radon gas is another odorless, colorless health hazard that could be lurking in your home. Testing is easy and inexpensive. Do it yourself test kits are available at most hardware stores. If elevated levels are found, the good news is a radon mitigation system can be installed to reduce the health threat and give you peace of mind.
Surprisingly, the majority of injuries to children are not the result of a recalled or dangerous product. Even well designed toys can be hazardous if given to a child in the wrong age range or if not used properly. Injuries from riding toys account for a significant number of incidents and choking incidents are always an ongoing concern.
Make sure toys are suited to the child’s age, abilities, skills and interest level. Review all manufacturer instructions and warnings and pay special attention to the following hazards:
- Magnets - For children under age six, avoid building sets with small magnets. If swallowed, serious injuries and/or death can occur.
- Small Parts and Sharp Edges - For children younger than three, avoid any toys with small parts or points that can cause choking or contact injuries.
- Projectile Toys - Projectile toys such as air rockets, darts and sling shots are for older children. Improper use of these toys can result in serious eye injuries.
- Batteries and Chargers - Make sure battery compartments are secured and childproofed if necessary. Small batteries can be swallowed with serious consequences. Battery charging should be supervised by adults. Improper use can pose shock or burn hazards to children.
Toys aren’t the only items found in a home that children may need protection from. Every year the Consumer Product Safety Commission and Canadian Standards Association issue recall notices and product alerts for products that pose safety risks to children as well as adults. These include:
- Lead and lead-paint hazards with cooking and eating containers
- Choking hazards associated with blinds and Roman shades
- Electric and fire hazards associated with electric space heaters
- Carbon monoxide hazards associated with portable generators
To keep up to date on potential concerns in your home, visit the following websites: The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and CSA Product Alerts & Product Recalls. You can also sign up for a subscription service to get regular notices via email of new product safety warnings.
Q. I vent my range hood into the attic. My neighbor told me this should not be done because it will add heat and moisture into the attic? Does this really matter?
It is definitely not a good idea to vent a range hood exhaust fan into the attic. The purpose of the hood is to collect the moisture, grease and odors that result from cooking and discharge them to a point where they will generally do no harm. Venting into the attic creates moisture-related problems as well as a potential fire-spread hazard due to grease buildup. Water vapor from cooking can condense on wood framing and other surfaces in a cold attic, often contributing to sheathing and insulation damage, and mold.
Ideally, the range hood should be vented to the outside, through metal ductwork. This requires installing the ductwork and an exterior vent hood, but is worth the extra work and expense. If for some reason it is impossible to vent the hood to the outside, you can use a hood that contains a filter. After filtering the cooking vapors, the air that enters the hood is re-circulated back into the kitchen. Not the ideal situation, but it prevents the moisture or grease from contributing to other problems. Of course, the filter must be cleaned or changed regularly to be effective.
Q. A slimy black substance accumulates in the drain of my bathroom sink and eventually clogs it. What is it and how do I keep the sink open?
It’s impossible to say exactly what you find in your drain, but it likely is a combination of dirt, soap, bits of hair, as well as microorganisms. It occurs in all drains but tends to accumulate more in some cases than others. If your sink has a pop-up stopper, remove it periodically and clean it with soap and water and an old toothbrush. Check down into the drain tube for blockage as well. Long tipped needle nose pliers may prove helpful in removing loose matter. Some stoppers remove easily, others require disconnecting components under the sink.
If the sink clogs, first carefully try using a plunger to open the drain (remove the stopper and seal the sink’s overflow holes with duct tape before using the plunger). If that doesn’t work, some people have had good results in opening clogged sinks with water-pressure and air-pressure devices, sold at some home centers. Another option is gel-type cleaning product that clings to and eventually dissolves the buildup. Do not use a plunger or add water or air pressure to the drain if a chemical cleaner has been used, as the potentially hazardous chemical could splash back or be blown out of the drain. A mixture of baking soda and vinegar, flushed by warm water can help clean slightly clogged drains.
Q. I have a typical older garage floor with stains and slight cracks. What is the best way to spiffy it up without much effort?
The simplest and least expensive approach would be to clean the floor with a degreaser/cleaner, fill any larger cracks, and apply two coats of a patio or floor paint. There are other products specially designed for use on or over garage floors. These options can be expensive, but include, laying down heavy-duty, flexible vinyl flooring (available in up to 12-foot wide rolls); using interlocking plastic tiles, or applying durable, epoxy paints designed specifically for garages. Some of these epoxy products can be finished off with an application of multi-colored chips to help hide dirt and imperfections.
Over 50 million people in North America are estimated to have some sort of disability that could make it difficult for them to evacuate from their home or another building in the event of an emergency. While building codes have continuously improved over the years to include requirements that reduce damage and injury to people and property by mandating features such as fire-resistive construction materials and structural stability, equally important issues such as accessibility and egress provisions have only relatively recently gotten the attention needed.
In response to the increasing need to properly provide emergency evacuation procedures for the disability community, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has developed an Emergency Evacuation Planning Guide for People with Disabilities. This Guide addresses the minimum information necessary to develop a comprehensive personal evacuation plan and is available in a free, downloadable format from the NFPA website at www.nfpa.org orhttp://www.nfpa.org/assets/files//PDF/Forms/EvacuationGuide.pdf
Accessibility considerations are equally important for individuals living in single family detached homes as well as townhouses, condominiums, and multiple-unit dwellings. Many newer buildings are constructed as “accessible” or “barrier free” to allow people with disabilities ready access. Visual as well as audible fire alarm system components, audible/directional-sounding alarm devices, areas of refuge, stair-descent devices, and other code-based technologies clearly move us in the right direction to address these issues. But regardless of the presence of these features everyone needs to be prepared to take appropriate action for themselves or other disabled individuals during an emergency.
The Guide is arranged by five general disability categories:
- Mobility impairments
- Visual impairments
- Hearing impairments
- Speech impairments
- Cognitive impairments
The four key elements of an evacuation plan are highlighted for each disability category:
- Notification of an emergency
- Finding a way out
- How to get out by self, by self with special devices; or with assistance
- What kind of assistance might be needed
Maintenance requirements for modern heating systems may not involve as much of a homeowner’s time and effort as years ago, but there are still some basic maintenance issues that need to be addressed to help ensure your system will operate properly when needed.
Ideally all heating systems should undergo a preseason maintenance check. Some steps are relatively simple and can be handled by any reasonably competent homeowner; however, with the extra controls and safety devices used with modern systems, most systems should be serviced annually by a qualified heating or plumbing serviceperson.
A trained serviceperson is equipped with the tools, instruments and training necessary to inspect your system, complete regular maintenance tasks or needed repairs, and adjust the burners and other components of the system for optimal and dependable performance.
While you may already have started up your system for the heating season, it is always best to arrange this servicing well before the season starts. Wait too long to schedule an appointment and you may find that you are on a long list for service – well below all the “emergency” heat calls on the service technician’s list.
For many homeowners, if their system turns on that first chilly day of the season, they tend to assume all will go well for the rest of the heating season. It’s not that the system can’t undergo servicing during the season, it’s just that doing so means you’re likely to have to pay more for the service — and worse, you increase the chance of a cold, heatless day.
Whether your system received a professional seasonal launching or not, if the system doesn’t come on when the thermostat is turned up, there are a few steps to take that might get it going before you have to call for help:
- Check the thermostat for any obvious signs of physical damage.
- Make sure the day, time and ON-OFF settings are correct.
- If the thermostat was moved or removed for re-painting or a new wallpaper project, check to make sure the wires were reconnected (with power off).
- Check to make sure the power switch for the heating system is on. (This switch is typically located on or near the unit, or if an older house, it may be located at the top of the basement stairs or on the wall of the garage.)
- Replace the thermostat battery with a fresh one.
Note: if the power switch was turned off or the battery died, the programmed settings may have returned to the factory default settings and a full reprogramming to your desired settings may be needed. Look on the back of the thermostat cover for basic instructions; otherwise refer to the manufacturer’s instructions. If these are not available, try contacting the manufacturer through its website. Instructions may also be posted online. If you can’t immediately figure how to change the settings, look for a manual override (usually UP-DOWN arrows) to raise the setting to at least manually get heat if needed.
P.S. Look ahead: get your name on the service company’s schedule for next year now so you can benefit from off-season fees and ensure a successful startup next year.
The pantry is stocked with hot cocoa and there’s a stack of logs by the fireplace. You may be ready for colder weather, but is your home? Whether you expect your winter to be mild or wild, don’t ignore these steps to get your house ready for colder weather.
Inside the house
- Check weather stripping around doors and windows, and replace where necessary.
- Place a draft snake or rolled towel underneath drafty doors.
- Turn the toggle switch on your ceiling fans so that the downward sides of the blades are leading. (In most cases, this means they’ll be rotating clockwise.) This rotation will help pull warm air down into the room.
- Remove and store window AC units. If you leave them in year round, air can seep in (and out) through the sides.
- Reduce the temperature of your water heater to 120 degrees or lower. You’ll enjoy lower utility bills – and you won’t have to worry about getting scalded.
- Install storm doors and windows. Yes, it’s a time and money investment, but it can seal drafts and reduce airflow significantly, especially if you live in a cold climate.
- Before the weather gets too cold, get your heating system inspected by a professional. Periodic maintenance will help your unit run smoothly.
- Make sure you have enough insulation in your attic. A well-insulated attic should have at least 12 inches of insulation. Here’s a tip: If you can see the ceiling joists, you need to add more.
Exterior and lawn
- Prepare your lawn. Rake up all your leaves before winter arrives. Apply a sustained-release fertilizer in late fall – it will help the roots survive the cold season and bounce back quickly in the spring.
- Drain all hoses and turn off faucets.
- Check your gutters. Properly pitched gutters slope between 1/16 inch and 1/8 inch per foot.
- Inspect the exterior of your house. Seal entry points around pipes with caulk or foam.
- Seal driveway and walkway cracks. For crevices less than a half-inch wide, use acrylic latex concrete repair compound. For larger cracks, apply vinyl concrete patching compound with a trowel.
- Empty your lawnmower’s fuel tank and store it for the winter.
You’re busy. Dashing here and there, taking care of errands, attending business meetings, and socializing with friends. Most people have stressful schedules in which every minute is a precious resource not to be wasted.
But while you’re squeezing the most fun and productivity out of each hour, many elements of your home and office are probably wasting energy.
Think about everything you do in the hour before you leave for work; turn on the morning news, put in a load of laundry, grab some juice and breakfast from the refrigerator, and check your email before heading off to start your day.
All of these things can easily be done within an hour, but during that hour, a lot of energy is used. The infographic below takes a look at just how much energy is used in an hour by some of the most-used appliances in our homes.
Hanging artwork isn’t always easy, but with a few simple tips, you can do it and feel good about the results. Although not necessary, it never hurts to have an extra set of hands and eyes.
Items you’ll need:
- Stepladder or folding stool
- Level or laser level
- Stud finder
- Picture hanging kit
A good rule of thumb is to hang artwork at eye level, which is approximately 5’ 6” – 5’ 8” from the floor. If you have vaulted ceilings and large pieces of art, you may to increase the distance from the floor.
When you’re hanging your art above furniture, keep in mind that the piece should be at least half as wide, but not wider than the furniture it’s placed above.
Groupings and clusters of artwork/photos are quite popular, but they’re generally the most difficult to hang. To find the best placement, you can make paper cutouts the same size as the art to be hung and tape each piece to the wall. Once you find the perfect arrangement, simply mark the wall with your pencil and hang. Check each piece as you go and keep in mind that you’ll want a central theme among the grouping, and that they should be hung approximately 5-6” apart.
For large focal points in a room, such as a buffet or fireplace, go for larger works of art that accent the room without overpowering the focal point.
Ready. Set. Hang. One last tip: to keep pictures from shifting, use wall putty on the backside. Voila!
The kitchen is one of the most popular rooms in a home, so why not make yours really stand out? Whether you’re selling or simply want to upgrade, here are some simple tips and ideas to get you started without breaking the bank:
- Plan ahead and find patterns, colors and textures that you like from magazines, home improvement stores and the Internet.
- Set a budget! Know what upgrades will give you the most value for your money and do your best to stick with your budget.
- Make a plan and do one thing at a time, especially if you’re going to do it yourself.
So where should you start?
Repaint or stain your cabinet doors and add new hardware. This is one of the easiest and least expensive upgrades you can do that makes a big difference. If you need advice on what works best with the cabinets you have, take a door into your local home improvement store and ask for professional advice.
Kitchen Counter Tops
Counter tops can be expensive if you’re going for granite, but that’s not your only option. You can opt for concrete or granite overlay. Do your research to find what suits your budget and style best.
Your choices are endless when it comes to updating your kitchen floors. From peel-and-stick tile to laminate wood flooring and travertine, the sky is the limit— but be mindful of your budget! Bring home samples of the flooring based on your style and budget before you make a final decision. Many real estate professionals agree that a kitchen remodel splurge should be saved for the countertops and not the floors, so keep this in mind when deciding. You want to make sure you get great value from any upgrades you do.
Saving Money on Kitchen Appliances
If your appliances are in good working order and match in color and style, save your budget for more beneficial upgrades. If your appliances look really dated or don’t match the new look of your kitchen, you may want to consider finding some great scratch and dent deals.
Did you know that appliances can be painted? A professional paint job can turn your white appliances into fresh, new-looking ones. You can also buy appliance-safe paint at your home improvement store and do it yourself.
Installing modern lighting is amazingly simple if your kitchen is already wired for overhead lighting. A new chandelier can make a big difference, and you can find options for less than $150! To make an even bigger impact, be sure to install a dimmer switch. You’ll be surprised what a difference a little “mood switch” can make.
The options are endless for remodeling your kitchen on a budget. The hardest part is deciding which upgrades will make the biggest difference on the smallest budget. Just be sure to do your research and to set realistic goals. And last, but not least, enjoy the project by making it your own.
Making sure your home is well-sealed against the elements is the first step to winter efficiency. By sealing leaks and adding insulation you’ll cut drafts while reducing the amount of heated air you lose to the great outdoors. Combine these upgrades with a programmable thermostat and your annual furnace tune-up and you’ll be set to save all winter long.
Cut costs and keep cozy this winter
Join the ranks of winter-wise homeowners today by exploring our tips or by scheduling a home energy audit.
Low cost and no cost tips for beating winter energy bills
- Get a furnace tune-up yearly. Professional tune-ups ensure safe and efficient operation.
- Keeping your furnace clean, lubricated and properly adjusted can save up to 5% on heating costs.
- Window curtains and blinds are an easy way to insulate your windows.
- Use caulk or expanding foam sealant to seal indoor air leaks, such as gaps around pipes and wires, electrical outlets, foundation seals, and mail slots.
- Weather-strip your doors and windows. Sealing old windows can be more cost effective than replacing them.
- Install foam gaskets behind outlet and switch plates on walls.
Great investments for long-term savings and comfort
- Install R-30 attic insulation and R-13 wall insulation to save up to 25% on heating costs.
- Install a programmable thermostat to automatically adjust your heating settings and maximize efficiency.
- If you really want to save, purchase an ENERGY STAR qualified furnace.