What does a Garden Gnome do when she is not gardening, in the kitchen or doing genealogy? Well the answer might just surprise you so read the entries to find out more. This blog focuses on everything we do to make our house a home. There will be a strong emphasis on home energy efficiency and do-it-yourself (DIY) projects. At the same time there will also be crafts, knitting and crocheting projects along with any other little tips we do to create that down to earth, I want to be here home. Please enjoy your visit :)


Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas


Garden Gnome
©2006-2008


Monday, December 22, 2008

Beeswax Hangies

Christmas gifts need not be expensive and many can easily be made even if you aren't a crafty type of person. Pure beeswax is one of my favourite crafting mediums. I love the smell! I also like how I can use it for so many crafting projects. Not only does it smell good when you are working with it, it acts as a natural air freshener.

Beeswax Hangie

Beeswax hangies can be used year round as this one is or they can be used as ornaments for Christmas decorating. Traditionally beeswax hangies used year round are made in polar bear, moose or deer shapes but you can use whatever shape you want. These hangies are about one of the easiest craft projects you can make. The materials needed are minimal and you are only limited by your imagination when it comes to shapes.

If you look closely you will see white spotting and a cloudy film on the beeswax. This is normal and should be left as is. The white spotting is called the bloom. It does not have any impact other than visual. When your hangies are first made there will be no bloom but they will develop it over time. I like the rustic, natural look of the bloom so leave it as is. If you don't like the look of the bloom then gently wipe off using a soft cloth or gently heat the surface with a blow dryer.

Supplies

You want pure beeswax for this project. This is beeswax that has been filtered and is free from any colourants. Beeswax like honey should be bought locally if possible. I buy mine from a bee keeper as well as online from a fairly local supplier. Beeswax will come in 1 or 5 lb blocks. I prefer the 1 lb blocks as they are easier to use without cutting. Expect to pay about $6 per lb for pure beeswax but depending on your location you might be able to find it a bit cheaper. You can use candy or soapmaking molds, silicone molds or even decorative non-stick baking molds as the wax.

Materials:

beeswax
#1 wick
tin can
sauce pot
shallow mold

Method:

Cut wick into 3 inch pieces. Place about 3 inches of water in a saucepan. Place the beeswax in a large tin can. Place the tin can in the saucepan. Bring the water to a boil the reduce to simmer until the wax is melted. Slowly pour the wax into the mold being careful to not over fill. Fold wicks in half. Place wick at the top of the hangie as it is cooling. Hold wick until wax cools enough the wick doesn't move by itself. Allow to cool completely. Pop the hangie out of the mold and enjoy :)


Garden Gnome
©2006-2008


Sunday, December 21, 2008

More Decorative Boxes

The craft section of the dollar stores can be a mecca for craft supplies for gifts. I honestly cannot believe some of the craft items available for only $1. With very little cash outlay you can easily get the items needed to complete several customized gift items. Don't let the words craft or DIY scare you either because the following way to finish decorative boxes require so little effort that a child could easily make them.


I came across oblong (about 8" long) wood decorative boxes at our local dollar store. They are made using two types of wood so even if simply given a clear coat the result is subtle beauty. Pictured is an unfinished and finished oblong box. They have hinged lids with brass coloured hinges and clasp. These boxes are idea for gift giving as is but are perfect packaging a pen and pencil set, necklace or watch. Simple wrap a hand tied bow around the box and add a tag for gift giving letting the beauty of the box serve as gift wrapping.

I finished one of the boxes using spray satin varathane for a durable low luster sheen. One spray can will be enough to finish 4 to 6 boxes. Home Hardware (Canada) and other home improvement stores sell small packets (similar in size to ketchup packets) of stain for about 69¢ each. One packet will be enough to stain at least 2 boxes. Total cost per box will cost about $2.50 but they look like you spent so much more and you can customize them for the receiver's tastes.

Materials

1 oblong hinged wood box
1 spray can Flecto® Varathane clear
stain (optional)
fine grade sandpaper

Method

Lightly sand the box with fine grade sandpaper. Stain if desired. Allow the stain to dry 24 hours. Lightly sand. Wipe to remove any dust. Spray with clear varathane using a sweeping motion for even application. Allow to dry. Lightly sand and and wipe. Spray again then repeat for at least three coats of finish. Allow to dry thoroughly. Your box is now ready to be used as desired.


Garden Gnome
©2006-2008


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Decorative Wood Boxes

I love crafts so generally have several projects on the go at one time. Aside of textiles one of my favourite mediums to work with is paint. Several years ago I discovered thin unfinished band boxes suitable for decorative painting or decoupaging. At that time they weren't exactly cheap. A couple of years ago I rediscovered unfinished boxes at of all places a dollar store! These are not the wood boxes of the past!

Decorative Wood Boxes

Pictured are two wood boxes purchased at a dollar store for $1. The hexagon box is unfinished to show you what the finished box looked like when I bought it. The boxes are about 6" in length, 4" wide and 3" deep. They come with hinged lids and a small clasp. The hinges and clasp are brass coloured. The pressed raised design in the centre is recessed and leaves a lot of ways to finish it.

I wanted a quilted look for the finished box so painted the raised design with acrylic craft paints that are also available at dollar stores. I used tole painting a type of folk art for the inside panel. When the inside panel was dry, I used 3 coats of water based urethane to finish the box. There is still plenty of time to make up a few of these decorative wood boxes for gift giving.

The most expensive part of this project is the water based urethane but you can easily finish four or more boxes using one small can. You can use either spray or brush on urethane in satin or gloss finish. You will need a few bottles of Crafter's Acrylic paint in various colours but at $1 a piece for a 55 ml (2 oz) bottle they will last for several crafting projects and can be used on a wide variety of surfaces. Don't let the shading scare you either. It is rather easy simply by applying the base coat of paint then stroking on a little white while the base coat is still damp using a semi dry brush. Artists brushes are also available at the dollar stores.

I hope you like this inexpensive gift idea and have a lot of fun creating these cute decorative boxes. They are perfect for gift giving as is or filled with something special. Another way you can gift these boxes is to create a kit with everything needed to finish the box for the crafter on your list.

Materials Needed

decorative hinged wood box
Crafter's Acrylic paint (variety of colours)
sheet fine grade sandpaper
artist brush(es)
½" sponge brush (only if using brush on finish)
Flecto® Varathane
newspaper to protect surface




Garden Gnome
©2006-2008


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Slippers Revisited


Slippers in Progress

Christmas is drawing near but there is still time to knit up a pair or two of slippers. Pictured are one pair ready to be sewed up and another pair just started. The pattern can be found here. These slippers are quick and inexpensive to knit. An experienced knitter will be able to do a adult pair of these in two days or less. A less experienced knitter will still have time to make at least one pair of adult slippers. Total cost for each pair of slippers should be about $3 if you are buying new yarn but this is a really good project for using up some of the yarn stash that ever knitter has.

Garden Gnome
©2006-2008


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Homemade Christmas Gifts


It's only nine days until Christmas but it is not too late to make a few homemade gifts from the heart for gift giving. I've been busy with getting knitted items ready. Starting tomorrow I will be adding a post a day that highlight some low cost homemade, last minute items you can make for gift giving. I hope you find some of these posts useful.

Garden Gnome
©2006-2008


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Analyze Your Energy Consumption

When I was growing up we heated with two radiant natural gas heaters on the main floor. Heat rose to the upstairs through a vent in the floor. During the winter months the bedroom windows were iced over and many a morning a scorched by toosh sitting on one of the heaters to warm up enough to get dressed. When we got married we lived in an apartment where heat and electricity was provided but the seeds of being energy efficient had already been firmly implanted. We were young when we bought our first home that was heated with wood as was our next home. The next house we bought was heated by forced gas as was the next one. This house and likely our last is also heated by forced gas.

When we moved here in 2007 we were a lot wiser as far as saving energy and resources. The design of the house meant it would be cheaper to heat The first thing I did was set up a file to track our electric, gas and water usage. Within days the caulk guns were in high gear and most of the lights had been changed out for compact fluorescent bulbs. All of our major appliances are higher end EnergyStar® rated so there would be no further savings that way. The computer and laptop are also energy efficient so short of leaving them off, there would be no further savings. The house itself is brick with the main living area on the lower level mainly below ground. The lower walls are 12 inch thick for most of the living space. The windows are older Dashwood® double pane and are in good condition. The furnace is a Clare MegaSave I that has a secondary heat exchanger that saw very little use other than in the fall as the former owner shut down the house to vacation in the sunny south during the winter. The hot water tank is a 40 gal standard gas tank that while older would not warrant changing out because of its condition. We also have a gas fireplace, gas dryer and gas outdoor grill. We put plastic up on the upper level sunporch that serves as an excellent windbreak on that upper level wall.

I spent some time on the PowerSaverPlus website today. This is an excellent online resource for users of HydrOne in Ontario, Canada. Through a series of questions this calculator determines your annual cost of energy use by appliances and gives you a comparison of how your home energy use is in relation to similar homes in your area. The nice thing about this calculator is it takes into consideration both your electricity and natural gas usage. Other energy sources such as wood and heating oil can also be factored in. The site then analyzes how you are using the energy resources and give you tips as to where you can save more money. The tips include an estimated cost to complete that recommendation as well as the projected savings so you can focus on those modifications that will have the greatest impact on reducing your energy consumption. You can calculate the pay back period for the modification from this information. A surprising number of the tips cost nothing other than effort to put into action.

Note: The following two graphs courtesy of PowerSaverPlus are from the energy analysis I did for our house today.

Monthly Energy Cost Comparison

The calculator assesses your energy usage base on the information you give it. For best results you will need the last 12 months for electricity and gas bills. The electric bill will give you a kWh and an adjusted kWh number. Use the adjusted kWh as that is what Hydro One determines you use. Enter each month into the calculator. Now look at the natural gas bill and it will give you an amount of gas you used in cubic metres. Enter each month of that into the calculator. When both sets of numbers have been entered press next then go to the section for appliances and fill that out. The last section is for tips or you can hit report. The report will give you this graph and the following graph but on the home page when you log in again you will see a pie chart of your energy usage breakdown and a linear chart for similar home comparison in dollars.

The monthly energy cost compares your energy usage to similar homes in your area. As you can see we (pink) use a fair amount less energy than similar homes (purple) in our area. On the home page our comparison chart shows we are just over the half way mark by about $20 of what others use in our area. That means we are basically using half the electricity and natural gas than others are using. This data does have to be used as only a guideline. Houses differ in energy usage based on location, insulation and how well they are sealed as well as the personal comfort levels of the residents. Identical houses can vastly differ in all these factors even if they are side by side. So this chart is best used to note the trends.

First we are well under others most months for energy use but look at January to March. When others were decreasing their overall energy use ours was increasing. I'm still trying to figure out why and can't recall anything major that would have caused the increase overall energy use. One explanation with us being in a rural area is the metres were estimated instead of being read resulting in a bit of catch-up that skews the graph.

Annual Cost Appliances

The annual cost of energy use by appliances is a very useful graph. At a glance is gives you a visual as to where you are using the most energy. That is where you should put the greatest effort to reduce. However, when answering the questions it doesn't give you the options to indicate how long a particular appliance is on. For example it would appear our AC costs are second to heating but that is not the case. This past summer our AC was on for about a total of 5 days because we only put it on when the heat and humidity levels get too uncomfortable. Our main living space is mainly below ground so is naturally cool in the summer greatly reducing the need for using the AC. I also think the computer energy usage is not accurate as they are both very energy efficient and one is only used occasionally. Something that isn't showing in the energy usage is the hot boxes - satellite receivers, adapters, router, and those types of things that are plugged in all the time using energy 24/7.

At the end of the analysis I printed off the 8 page report for our energy files. We are at the point where there is very little major to do to reduce our energy consumption. There are several minor things to do that will save energy. We will be focusing on the following points for energy reduction over the next couple of weeks. You will notice that some of the most commonly recommended tips are not on the list. That is because they have already been completed or in some cases as the dryer vent the recommendations have been exceeded. Other things like air sealing is an ongoing process that you need to be doing year round.

  1. turn computer off at night - This really is not going to save us much but if it ends up being 10¢ per day for the computer, router and satellite box in energy savings it would be an annual savings of $36.50.
  2. seal air leaks in ducts - This is an inexpensive, DIY task that has the potential to save $70 to $117 per year. It pays for itself in well under one heating season
  3. install heat traps in hot water tank - This is another inexpensive, DIY project that can save $45 to $75 per year. It pays for itself in about 3.5 years.
  4. install low flow shower heads - This is a very inexpensive, DIY project that can save $13 to $22 per year in energy savings but at the same time they save on the amount of water used.
These types of energy calculators are extremely beneficial. While they cannot possibly give you a 100% analysis, they can give you a fairly good idea of where your energy dollars are going. At the same time they can give you tips for how to improve your energy consumption. There is no charge for the service either so you can update and reassess your progress as often as you would like.


Garden Gnome
©2006-2008