Category archive - General

Trees and Shrubs Are No Trouble in Winter

Trees and Shrubs Are No Trouble in Winter

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The best time to plant shrubs, along with trees and long-growing flowers, is right when it turns colder; this goes double when you consider that gardening centers and supplies stores hold sales regularly in these times. Roots are given time to grow and establish, and by the time Spring saunters in, you’re looking at the beginning of a healthy, long-lasting set of trees and shrubs. As the man said, all you need is water.

To be clear, cold months are a good time to plant your shrubs, trees and perennial flowers, not fertilize them; wait for the spring and summer to do your pruning and fertilizing. Before you go to the store, do some heavy research on fall/winter gardening. Plot out where you’ll want to plant, how tall and what the spread of the mature plant would be, and what plants are habitable and easy to grow in your region. It’s important to be both careful and reasonable when selecting the plant as well: look for healthy plants but forgive them if they are a bit frayed, imperfect or discolored, as it is the end of the season after all.

Measure the root ball at the bottom of your plant. The hole you plant it in should be approximately three times that size to allow for healthy growth and sturdy roots. Carefully remove the tree and loosen the roots if the ball comes in a container, and cut twine from any branches; if its just burlap, plant it with the burlap still attached. Regardless, it is essential that the roots are loose when planting when you place the tree or shrub into the hole and backfill. For ground with more clay, mix soil evenly with peat moss and be sure to tamp the soil down after planting.

To ensure and promote great growing, you can create a saucer around the edge of the planting by building up a 2” barrier to prevent water from escaping before it soaks into the ground. A layer of compost spread around the top of the tree or shrub, not at the roots, to enrich the native soil. Make sure that the soil around the plant stays moist until the ground freezes. Adequate water supply is crucial to the plant lasting through the winter as the soil freezes over; water bags are a good item to ensure that they get enough water through the fall. So, when the warm weather comes back, your trees and shrubs will be ready to burst into visible life.


Examining Your Electrical System In New Homes

Examining Your Electrical System In New Homes

A home inspector’s work is never done. Whenever a new home is being prepared for purchase, an inspector will likely be scheduled to inspect the house and perform a number of check-ups: outstanding code violations and safety issues are their bread and butter. As laborers, however, they are human and can miss certain problems, and electrical issues are their most prominent blunder. Studies made in the last few years have suggested that 20% of U.S. homes have a wiring problem of some sort. Some of these problems can come with a serious price tag, so it’s good to know what to look for, as a double check for busy home inspectors.

When it comes to old homes, undersized electrical services are the norm. When they were built, there was one television in the home, usually, and no one knew what an internet was. So, make sure the electrical panel is capable of supporting your electrical needs, whenever dealing with an older home, by making sure the amps on the electrical panel are 200 or more. If you are a technology lover, you may even need an upgrade from 200. And in these older homes, it’s not uncommon to find the entire home wired with fiberglass-insulated wires. These fiber-insulated wires are famous for fraying and can bring on rodent infestation in certain cases. If you find any wires in your basement that go through joists, inspect them for any sign of damage, including fraying.

If you are planning on keeping some of the seller’s appliances, smart move but do your homework. Find out when the appliances were purchased and if they have ever been serviced. This will ensure that this gesture isn’t just to raise the price a bit or cut down on moving costs. Some appliances require dedicated circuits straight from the electrical panel, so it’s important to check that your panel has dedicated wiring to the stove, fridge,  microwave and dishwasher. One should also be sure to buy or borrow a voltage tester to ensure each electrical outlet in the home is grounded and working popularly; plug-in testers are best for these scenarios. Check the electrical outlets to make sure each one has a ground prong and then use a plug-in voltage tester to make sure they are grounded. Most homes now require a three-prong outlet and, in areas that are prone to moisture (bathrooms, kitchens, exteriors etc.), GFCI outlets must be installed. This will also gauge whether the polarity is wrong and if you have lost neutral or feed.

To quickly check your lights, install new light bulbs in all of the permanently installed fixtures in the home. Do the bulbs dim or blink when you put them in? This will check for voltage drops or loose connections in those particular circuits. And whenever dealing with a junction box, take a look inside but do NOT touch the wires inside. Do not touch the wiring, just look at it to see if the connections look good. If a connection looks faulty or loose to you, call an electrician in to check or, after turning off the breaker, carefully inspect the connections yourself. This is also an opportune time to check that the home has an adequate amount of smoke detectors (one on each floor, outside bedrooms, smaller rooms and/or kitchens) and a carbon monoxide detector. To check if they work, simply install a new battery (usually a 9-volt) and run a test.

Finally, if you find any scorch marks on any outlet or if it smells like something burnt, then that circuit has gone through a dead short. Ask whether the circuit was repaired and if the plate or outlet was replaced, and if the seller is dodgy, ask a professional electrician to double check. Some of these things will, in fact, be checked by more attentive inspectors but when buying a new home, its best to check for issues early, before you get a slew of extra electrician bills tagged onto the original price.


Paving Your Patio with Precision

Paving Your Patio with Precision

Having a patio on which to place furniture, enjoy summer barbecues and relax on warm days is a great advantage. It allows you to expand your house from the inside out, giving you additional living space and a place to enjoy the outdoors from the convenience and comfort of your home. However, if your patio space is unpaved, it won’t be nearly as nice! Bare dirt and gravel from an unpaved patio can easily be tracked into the house, creating a mess that you’ll have to deal with day in and day out. An unpaved area is also much more susceptible to erosion from the elements, and can get muddy after rain or snow. In order to truly enjoy the patio of your home on Long Island, patio paving is absolutely necessary.

Once you decide that you want to pave your patio, selecting a paving material is the first step. There are many paving materials to choose from: flagstone, brick and concrete are all great choices that allow you to customize your patio to suit your tastes and preferences. Whether you’re going for a classic, understated ambiance, or you want to make a bold statement with your patio, brick, stone and concrete are all versatile materials that allow you to create your own unique look. For residents of Long Island, patio paving is a great opportunity to beautify your home and showcase your personal style.

When you decide to pave your patio, you have a couple of options. If you have experience with home improvement projects and you have some time on your hands, patio paving is a project you can do yourself. It does, however, require time, patience, dedication and attention to detail. Hiring a professional means that all the work is done for you – and that you can count on professional results. Whichever route you take, patio paving is well worth it. If you want to give new life to the backyard of your home on Long Island, patio paving is a great way to do so!


New Appliances Need Expertise

New Appliances Need Expertise

Buying a new appliance can be a very satisfying experience: getting rid of a creaky washing machine, an out of date fridge or an ancient stove and replacing it with a shiny new one is a great feeling! However, many homeowners are wary of the cost of purchasing and installing new appliances. For many people in Westchester, appliance installation is seen as an unnecessary expense; why spend money on professional installation if you can easily do it yourself? The answer to this question is that appliance installation is not as easy as it seems!

Although you may think that appliance installation can be accomplished quickly and with minimal hassle, there are lots of things that can go wrong as the result of even minor mistakes. Appliances that use water, such as dishwashers, washing machines and some refrigerators, can cause severe water damage if they are not properly installed. Even minor leaks can cause major damage before they are finally detected. Professionals are trained to be attentive to the little details that homeowners might not notice, even if they are being extra careful.

Appliances that use gas, such as stoves and gas dryers, can be particularly dangerous if not installed correctly. An ill-fitting or improperly placed gas line has the potential to leak, leading not only to expensive energy loss, but also to potential fires and explosions.

For optimal safety, function and long-term cost savings, it’s a much smarter option to have your appliances professionally installed. Compared to the potential hassle and expense of dealing with an improperly installed appliance, paying an expert to give your appliance a proper installation will make you happier in the long run. After all, the whole point of buying a brand new appliance is to have something that works perfectly and predictably – not something that will cause you more headaches! Do yourself a favor, and have your appliances professionally installed.


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.


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.


Be Yourself With A New, Personalized Backsplash

Be Yourself With A New, Personalized Backsplash

Kitchen renovations are expensive, obviously, but that doesn’t mean that one’s kitchen has to remain a dull workspace for home cooking. A very popular way to give a kick of color and personality to a kitchen is installing a new kitchen backsplash with some personally chosen tiles. And whether you currently have a backsplash or merely painted drywall in your kitchen, the job is, as it turns out, relatively easy from a DIY standpoint, though removing old backsplash can get a bit messy to say the least.

In the case of painted drywall, you can start by sanding the area to rough up the surface for installation. If you already have a tile backsplash, however, you need to get rid of it completely, which tends to involve cutting out and getting rid of both the drywall and the attached tiles before putting the new backer board onto the studs; cement backer is best but green drywall is ultimately almost as good.

Now, its measuring time! You’ll need to get the length of the backsplash and measure the distance from the top of your counter to the bottom of your top cabinets to calculate what will be your tiled area. Now, this is where you begin to have fun. Use graph paper and draw a scale outline to see how you’ll want to set-up your tile pattern. 4 x 4, 6 x 6 or 3 x 4 subway tiles tend to be the favored types but using 1 x 1 tiles attached to a back mesh has become just as popular over the years. Calculate your tile quantities from there but be sure to tack on 10-15% for cutting and wastage and be sure that you’re using glazed tiles.

So, when you get back from the Home Depot or local hardware store, it’s time to install. First, remove the stove or range hood, outlet or switch cover plates, and anything else that will be in the way of a precise tiling job. (Also, be sure to turn of the electricity to that particular area!) If you need to, install the backer board first by using galvanized drywall screws. A 1/8″ gap between the edges is a solid distance when installing the boards. Use mesh wire and filler to cover. In case of any gaps (ex. the range area), use a temporary ledger board along the base of your tile line to help hold your tiles in place. Find, mark and draw a visible startling line with a level at the central focal point of your design. This is to line up your tiles vertically in the correct way.

It’s best to lay your tiles out somewhere open, just to have the design set in your head, and then get ready to place the tiles. From the center, begin with the bottom row. You will need tile mastic or thin-set mortar to set the tiles. Add a little of either to a small section of the wall using a trowel, preferably grooved. Put the edge of the first tile on the starting line you made and remember to leave a 1/8″ gap on the bottom for caulking. Press the first tile into place, then put in a temporary 1/8″ spacer vertically and continue on like this.

At one point, you will likely have to cut a tile to fit certain areas and for this, you will need a scoring cutter, which can be rented or purchased. Mark on the tile where you will need to cut before putting the tile in the tool and scoring said mark on the surface. Used properly, the cutter will break the tile along the scored line. In the case of an electrical outlet, you may be need to cut two tiles and then use tile nippers to cut out the opening and put them on each side of the outlet. After the tiles are in place, apply a mixed sandless grout with a rubber float. Make sure to push it down into the gaps between the tiles and remove any excess grout. Then, just let it set for about an hour or so.

Use and regularly rinse wet sponges for the cleanup and it doesn’t hurt to employ a clean dry cloth to give the tiles a good buff and shine. 
Your electrical outlets will likely need box extenders before you place the cover plates back on and then, finally, apply caulk, preferably the same color as your chosen grout, all along the bottom seam where the backsplash meets the countertop. With this, your kitchen should not only be a workspace but will emanate the feeling of a distinct place for friends and family to take a moment and share a story or take a peak at what you’re preparing.


Correct Composting for Caring Gardeners

Correct Composting for Caring Gardeners

There are many facets to living Green that, at first glance, seem a little annoying or even outright preposterous. Why exactly should I pay substantially more for a light bulb that looks like a curly fry if my neighbor is already doing it? Is it really that important that I resize all my doors and windows, and install bamboo instead of hardwood floors? Well, the light bulbs are, at the end of the day, easy to replace and last longer, so it’s worth it in the long run. As for the bamboo and the house-wide resizing, they really are for the best but aren’t urgent and do require some planning.

In between these two ends of the Green-living spectrum lies the relatively simple act of composting, which, despite its reputation as an activity solely for those with dreadlocks and more than one piece of Phish merchandise, is a hugely beneficial practice that takes very little time to enact and keep up. For gardening enthusiasts and anyone even remotely interested in sustainable living, it should be a no-brainer. Oh, and did I mention it’s incredibly simple?

So, what is a compost pile? To put it simply, it’s waste, piled on top of waste, for the purpose of making the waste usable. Most of this is natural waste: dead leaves, branches, twigs, grass clippings, fruit scraps, old vegetables, vegetable waste and, lastly, coffee grounds. The committed composter maintains a healthy, even balance between the “brown” (leaves, branches, twigs) and the “green” (everything else), and regularly waters the pile.  This makes an ideal mixture of carbon and nitrogen, which are the major elements in compost.

Keeping up an ideal level may not be easy for most people, but as in most things, one need not be ideal in practice to see results. Set your compost pile or bin in a dry, shady spot in your backyard. Place it as close to a water supply as possible, as you will want to moisten the materials as you add them; it’s even suggested that you place a tarp over the pile or bin to ensure the mix will remain moist.

Whenever adding new materials, try to break down larger pieces into much smaller material, through shredding or other means; this will help ensure healthy, regular breakdown throughout the pile. And, if possible, the top of the pile should be mostly “brown” material. Mix the material regularly, either with a pitchfork, a shovel or even your hands and make sure to put fruit waste about a foot beneath the top of the pile, as well as grass clippings. Mixing should occur about 3-4 times a month to distribute air and moisture.

The bad news is that compost can take up to 18 months to reach its desired state, but this is only in rare cases. Most of the time, if you tend to it correctly, the process of composting should be ready in 2-6 months. When the bottom of the pile is a dark, damp color, you’re ready to use your compost, whether it be for agriculture, horticulture or even to lessen the impact of erosion on topsoil. There are various things that should not be put into compost (diseased plants, pet waste, lawn waste treated with pesticides recently) and a little research will provide a longer list of these things to watch out for. But even with stipulations, the act of composting offers several beneficial results, not the least of which is healthy soil for gardening, regular, if minor exercise and a simple way to help the earth with little to no damage done to your wallet.


Light Fixtures to Light Up Your Life

Light Fixtures to Light Up Your Life

Being a rather huge movie buff, the importance of lighting has always been something I’ve taken an interest in, especially in homes. The type of light fixtures you put in each of your rooms is integral to the mood of that room and the overall personality (and style) of your home. Whether it happens to be recessed, chandelier, wall sconces, pendant, or soffit, it says something about what use you want to get out of the room and what atmosphere you want it to capture. And, like most things, both of these facets can change rather quickly, so if you’re looking to get more ambitious with your DIY home repairs, it’s a good starting place for electrical work.

For tools, you merely need the new light fixture, wire cutters, a flathead screwdriver and something to stand on (depending on where they are placed and/or your height). Get to your power supply and shut down power to that part of the house, as to ensure no one gets zapped or worse. If there are decorative glass covers surrounding the light bulbs, remove them along with the light bulbs and only then unscrew the old fixture – there should be easy-to-spot screws holding it to the wall and the electrical box. In some cases – it’s more common in older fixtures – you will also have to unscrew mounting brackets that are helping to hold the fixture in place.

Take special care to notice how the wires are connected to your old fixture: they will like be either connected with the screws on the existing fixture or there will be wires coming out of the fixture that are directly connected to the wires in the electrical box. Have a pen and paper handy to write things like this down and when you disconnect the wires, also note color or size of the wires so you can easily attach the new fixture.

Once you have the information down and your old fixture has been set aside (or has found its new home in the garbage can), it’s time to connect the new fixture. If it connects with the screw, the black screw should go with the brass screw while the white screw should be connected to the silver screw; the ground wire (green or copper) will connect to final screw, which is usually colored green. As for direct wire connections, use the wire nuts provided with your fixture and just connect colors correspondingly (black to black etc.). Screws will be provided with the fixture to mount the new fixture in the designated spot and then all you have to do is flip on the power to test.

If there’s a problem, or if electrical work is (understandably) the one area of home improvement you’d rather leave to the professionals, it’s best to find a trusted electrician to check it out/do the work. Otherwise, this should make it easier if you ever want to change the lighting in your living/entertainment room in time for movie night.


Fixing Those Pesky Flickers

Fixing Those Pesky Flickers

The first thing most people do (rightly) when they see a bulb flickering is try to replace it, or just chalk it up to bad weather or a momentary dim from a momentary glitch. Most of the time, this is all a flicker denotes but some flickers (think a three-to-four-second flicker) can become annoyances and represent a fault that requires either immediate or forthcoming repair.  Now, to be sure, we’re not talking about the expected dims that can come from CFL bulbs (the twirly, spiral energy-saving ones) connected to dimmer switches, but rather repetitive flickers that usually coincide with other electrical usage.

Consistent flickers are usually due to a poor connection in your wiring, affecting a singular part of your circuit. If an entire circuit is affected, the source of the problem will likely be in the breaker or, less frequently, the panel; the panel is a regular source for flickers on an entire circuit. But we’re talking about consecutive flickers coming from a single source. For an example, let’s say an overhead light is flickering every time you turn it on at night. The source of the problem will almost always be spotty connections coming from the light fixture, the switch box or the outlet. To help diagnose which one it is, one should mark when the flickering occurs and for how long. For instance, if it starts immediately as you flip the switch, the likely culprit is the switch box. It’ll make for an easier project, whether you’re trying to fix it yourself or you’re hiring a professional.

Though this seems like a minor issue, these problems almost always cause arcing, which can heat up connections or wires and lead to further problems either with the single fixture or the overall circuit if it goes unchecked. Smaller, fickle outages will likely be unable to be diagnosed until they erupt in an outright open. In any case, the rule of thumb here is to trust a professional electrician with these problems though, if you do go DIY, be sure to shut off electricity to the entire circuit if you’re attempting to replace or repair the wiring or connection.