Monthly archive - October 2012

Keeping the Cold Out

Keeping the Cold Out

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So, you already cleaned the gutters and got the backyard ready for the impending coolness and frost. Your focus has switched from keeping the cold in to keeping it out, and you now want a warm home to host holiday parties and take comfort in the middle of snowstorms. And as in summer, there are a few things you can do to make this transition easier on yourself, your family and your bills.

You know how it’s harder to get hot water in the winter? There are a plethora of possible reasons but exposed pipes in colder parts of the home are often the true culprit. Wrap insulation around your exposed hot water pipes to give this a quick fix. Bonus: This small investment will show off many dividends when your energy bills start lessening. There are also special blankets that can be purchased to insulate your hot water tank from the cold air.

Many people think roofing and exterior siding work is the most expensive home improvement costs, but actually, it’s the replacement and repair of your HVAC system. So, it’s important not only to check it but do minor upgrades, such as switching out air filters and calling an HVAC professional to do a check-up once a year. And even if you do have to replace the system, many gas and electrical companies offer discounts to homeowners who switch over to a more eco-friendly system. You can also have a humidifier installed in your HVAC system to ensure the air in your home isn’t too dry.

For those with a bit extra money going into fall, installation of a programmable thermostat helps energy bills plummet and allows you to keep your home comfortable while you’re there and use minimal energy when you’re not. An energy audit is also a way to help you find the ways in which you are losing energy and heat. Specialists who perform energy audits can locate leaky air drafts in a myriad of spaces you might not. Most drafts can be sealed up with caulk, weather-stripping, duct tape, foam gaskets, or spray sealant. No matter what you choose to do, however, doing even just a little will help you combat the cold seasons and keep your bills down, saving money to help with Xmas shopping.


Get Gardening, Even in the Gloom

Get Gardening, Even in the Gloom

As spring and summer come to a close, many backyard and front yard gardens are being taken down for the cold months, but those in the know understand that fall gardening is just as fun and plentiful as spring and summer gardening. And as we enter October, it’s the perfect time to get outside for one last push for fresh veggies and beautiful flowers to adorn the exterior of your house.

The best thing a newly dedicated gardener can do is plant vegetables that can thrive easily in the crisp, cool fall air. Carrots, lettuce, onions, spinach and most forms of peas are the best place to start. These vegetables, coincidentally, are great ingredients for a hearty cold-weather stew. This is also a perfect time to plant vegetables from the Brassica genus, which includes mustard greens, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, turnips, brussel sprouts and kale. When you pick your vegetables, make sure to treat your soil with rich organic materials (a good composting pile will come into great use here) and try to stick to plants that are known to thrive in your region.

And just because the sunlight now comes with a bit of frost doesn’t mean you can’t still spruce up your exterior with some vibrant colors. Fall is a perfect season for container gardens and plotted plants that will give the exterior of your home an essential kick of personality and color. Sedum has bright pink/magenta coloring in its flowers; Verbena has a light peach tint to its pedals and some white and red can come out too. For darker colors, try heuchera (also known as coral bells), which come out with dark blue and purple flowers.

For those who are devoted gardeners but like to take the winter off from planting and tending, the cold months are a good time to lay the foundation for a stellar growing season next spring/summer. Enriching your soil with rich organic materials over the fall/winter seasons will ensure that next season, your garden will be even more plentiful than before. It’s also a good time to fertilize: Fertilizing your lawn will help your grass develop a root system that is more sturdy and healthy. I know what you’re thinking: Grass is dead during the winter! Sure, but the roots are still thriving under the ground and can benefit from some attention and nutrients. Keeping this up during the cold months will help protect your grass during bad weather and droughts.

Planting trees, shrubs and perennial plants is also a beneficial activity. Fall and winter months prepare larger, slower growing plants for the heavy duty growing season and (bonus!) most trees sell for next to nothing at garden stores right before winter, to diminish stock. Then there’re crocuses, tulips and daffodils, which are usually the very sign that winter is coming to its end. The variety of flower bulbs that can be planted in the fall and bloom in spring is nearly endless in terms of type and color. One trick: make sure you wait until the first frost to come before planting bulbs to ensure they have the optimal conditions for growth. Then, by the time you’re ready to get back to optimal gardening conditions, you’ll be ahead of the game.


Keeping Clogs in Check

Keeping Clogs in Check

For several reasons that I don’t care to go through right now, there is no clear history of clogs in the United States, nor in any other country. This is a problem I thought the Internet would have solved, but as it turns out, the Internet has slacked off big time. I asked a NYC plumber that I routinely work with about it and all he could give me is remembrances of jobs he went on with his father to dormitories and military bases, where clogs were a weekly ordeal. But there was no talk about what must have been epic clogs in the 19th century—just look at the facial hair from that day and age and tell me the constant trimmings didn’t cause some doozies.

I’ve been dealing with a rash of clogs in both my bathroom and my kitchen recently, the result, I suspect, of a not all that wise attempt to grow my hair and beard out a bit.  Most of them were fixed with chemicals, but Monday night, I found myself struggling with what I would politely call a ravenous beast of a clog in my shower. I called up a NYC plumber friend (my aforementioned colleague, in fact) and he talked me through the process, beginning with a homemade version of a clog dissolvent with baking powder and white vinegar, that ended up not working.

So, taking my friends advice, I popped open the drain with a screwdriver, straightened a metal hanger and got a plunger. I plunged the drain for what had to be ten minutes (my arms still hurt!) and lo and behold, when I took the plunger off, I could clearly see the clog some three feet or so down the drain. I then made a hook with the wire hanger, snaked it down the drain and with only a little bit of maneuvering was able to get the culprit, a wet wad of mess that I will spare detailed definition of, for your benefit.

This was the end of my nightmare but my friend was quick to point out that this is a 50/50 fix, meaning that the other half the time you will have to hire an actual NYC plumber and get a professional snaking job done, or at least get them to inspect the clog firsthand. Still, it’s a relief to have these moments when you can just ask a friend for some advice and put your own elbow into it. That’s old news but the feeling rarely feels old or tired.


Make Those Squeaky Floorboards Silent

Make Those Squeaky Floorboards Silent

Squeaky floorboards are one of those things that most people consider a necessary evil of homeownership. Some people think it’s a sign that the entire floor is about to give way, or that a poltergeist is secretly creeping around, or that they really need to hit the gym. In reality, this is a natural deterioration of the floorboards that have dried out after awhile and are now sliding and grinding against each other; there’s also the factor of unstable subflooring. Bare hardwood floors tend to be the main culprits but the squeaks are still perceivable in carpeted areas and tiled areas.

Fixing these common annoyances is an easy enough project for an active home improvement weekender. In any situation, the first thing to do is locating the squeak and mark it with some electrical tape. Now, the toughest situation is when you have no way of getting under a bear hardwood floor and must fix it from above. This will require a drill, breakaway screws, matching screwdriver bit and a depth-control fixture. (O’Berry’s makes a handy counter-snap kit for this sort of job.) Drill a pilot hole (approximately 3/32 in.-dia) and use the depth-control fixture provided in the kit to drill one of the provided screws into the hole until it snaps off. To conceal the work, fill the hole with wood putty.

Carpeted floors that need to be looked at from above can be similarly fixed. In this case, I highly suggest a squeak-no-more kit, which contain everything you’d need for this job, including breakaway screws and a pilot screw for locating joists. If you have a joist locator, it’s a bit easier and quicker. Using either, locate the joist that is in closest proximity to your squeak and mark it. To ensure your carpet doesn’t get damaged, wrap the special breakaway screw with scotch tape when you drive the screw through the fixture. Screw it in and then use the fixture’s side to break off the top of the breakaway screw. All of the work you’ve should be concealed by the carpeting.

The more common and easier task is fixing squeaks from underneath, through a basement. Have a member of your family or a friend walk over the squeaky area while you’re below. Take a thin wooden shim, cover it with carpenter’s glue and tap it into the area between the closest joist and the subfloor. Follow this up with a drywall screw driven through the joist, the shim and into the subfloor at an angle. This is an easy enough fix, but for a more secure fix, get your hands on a hold-down bracket – the most popular one is the Squeak-Ender. This usually consists of a steel mounting plate being held next to the trouble spot’s closest joist, screwed into the subfloor and then tightened via attached nuts so that the joist and the floor are brought closer together.

Floorboards make noise, so don’t get out your kits and tool belt every time you hear the faintest utterance of sound. Be reasonable, but there’s no denying the sound of a floorboard that needs attention. Now, at the very least, you’ll be able to walk across your home without wanting to run for the scale or checking the notches on your belt.