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 :)

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas 2009 snow globe ornament

Garden Gnome

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Hydro-One Time-of-Use (TOU) Prices

Towards the end of 2008 there were rumours of Hydro One, our electricity provider, going to a terms-of-use (TOU) electricity rates. I think it was in February that they came out to install our Smart meter. What the Smart meter allows Hydro One to do is read the meter via satellite eliminating physical meter readings. Now if you are in town or a city in Ontario meter reading is done monthly. If you are in a rural setting it is very different in that you get two months of estimate billing and one month of actual billing so essentially in rural areas your meter is actually read quarterly. This results in some very strange readings like our last December bill that showed us using 1 kWh per day when we average about 20 kWh which is hard to average due to the estimated billing. Then the estimates take into consideration the average electricity usage which means in the summer higher bills due to air conditioning despite the fact we had our air conditioning on for all of 5 days this past year. There has been a lot of complaints regarding the TOU metering but I for one am looking forward to it because I will be able to monitor our electricity usage online and it will eliminate the estimate billing.

According to the TOU pricing off-peak cost per kWh will be 4.2¢, mid-peak cost 7.6¢ per kWh and on-peak hours 9.1¢ per kWh in comparison to our current flat rate fee of 5.8¢ per kWh upto the threshold of 1,000 kWh then 6.7¢ per kWh above that threshold. So on first glance it looks like our hydro rates are going increase considerably. About 56% of our electric bill is service charges based on kWh used. So the cost per kWh is increasing but this will not affect the service charges based on kWh used. They are saying that if you shift your energy use to off-peak hours you can save money but looking at their pie charts it's easy to see this is not quite so easy. But what does this really mean? Essentially a large majority of Ontario households will change the way they use electricity from 7 am to 9 pm on weekdays year round.

We have high efficiency (HE), EnergyStar® qualified appliances. I'm home most days so can easily shift cooking and because we have HE appliances any shifting is going to have a minimum effect. They are suggesting running the dishwasher at after 9 pm or on weekends as well as doing laundry on the weekends. Well that is fine and dandy if you are a household of 2 but really I don't see much of a shift in energy usage for us. I usually run the dishwasher after 9 pm and the washer on weekends anyway so there won't be a change for us. I will likely shift more baking and canning to the weekends when the rates are cheaper but other than that there won't be a lot of change for us.

The reality is during the winter months the weekday hours between 5 pm and 9 pm are basically the dinner and after dinner hours at the highes cost per kWh. How exactly can you defer cooking times for dinner? The solution to minimizing the costs associated with cooking will be to use energy efficient cooking methods. Use a countertop roaster rather than an oven or use the oven to cook most of the components of the meal in the oven with an extra piece of meat to be used for sandwiches during the week will help maximize the energy you are using. A crockpot (slow cooker) while not my favourite cooking appliance can be set to take advantage of the lower mid-peak prices during winter days. A pressure cooker will help put tasty meals cooked during high-peak hours on your table without using a lot energy. Get into the habit of using lids on your pots and pans and any time you can eliminate boiling anything do so. It uses less energy to steam vegetables than it does to boil them and the results are nicer. Of course if you have the option to switch to cooking with natural gas entirely or partially you will definitely save all the way around since natural gas is currently considerably less than electricity in Ontario.

The TOU will affect people without HE appliances, those with children or on fixed income the most. Hydro One has a cute applet that helps you determine how much various electrical appliances will cost you to run based on the new TOU rates. This will give you an idea of what appliances could be switched to the low rate times. Now this tool is just a guide. For example the lowest time setting for the coffee maker is 1 hr but we use a purcolator or the espresso machine neither of which run more than 15 minutes. It also allows for 13 lights with no way to alter the number and a maximum of 12 hours on. Due to the design of our house we have 7 CFL on most days from about 8 am to midnight. It only gives 2 options for television, 50 - inch plasma or conventional and there is no allowance for hot boxes like cable or satellite. There are a lot of little energy users like phone adapters, alarm clocks and always on night lights that eat up electricity 24/7 that the applet doesn't account for either but it is a good start towards saving electricity.

Garden Gnome

Monday, December 7, 2009

Artificial Plants

Being a gardener at heart the idea of using artificial plants in our home doesn't really sit well with me. They tend to be huge dust collectors and well they just look fake. However, there are certain spots in the house where a plant would look perfect but the spot is not exactly conducive to good plant growth. This is were an artificial plant can come in handy.

It is easy to put together a fairly natural looking basket of ivy or other potted plant look. Craft type stores, dollar stores, department stores and even plant nurseries carry a wide range of artificial vines, flowers and greenery. With a little practice and tweaking you can get a realistic looking artificial plant for those spots where a real plant would not survive in your home.

Garden Gnome

Friday, December 4, 2009

Closet Decluttering

We bought this house based on it's unique character and location. This is the first home we've owned that has an abundance of storage! In addition to the generous closets there are custom built-ins and nooks for more storage. Each of the closets have been customized and the linen closet is cedar tongue and groove lined.

We have been decorating one room at a time so this past week we tackled the master bedroom closet as part of the preparation for re-doing our room after the holidays. This will be a DIY project. Our large master bedroom is on the lower level. The ceiling is two levels with the entrance half of the room about a foot higher than the sleeping half of the room. Adjacent to end of the closet (right of picture) there is the door to a large, unfinished storage room about 8' x 8' that will be insulated and finished during the make-over. We are planning on replacing the carpeting with hard flooring. One of our kids will be painting the ceilings and walls that will consist of 3 possibly 4 colours similar to how we used shades of complementary colours to tie the upper rooms together with the entrance and lower level. I'll be using colours complementary to the two Behr swatches I've been working with.

Like the rest of the house there is custom woodwork.
The master bedroom closet spans floor to ceiling with an opening 5'10" W x 6'6.5" H covered with double shutter style folding wood doors. The inside measurements are 7'11" W, 6'6.6" H, 28" D on each end and 31'5" D across the opening. The closet has a light with a 2' fluorescent tube.

We we moved in it was more of a concern getting rooms functional. All of the bedroom closets became semi-organized slowly being organized know they would have to be completely re-organized at some point. One of the bedrooms is being turned into a craft room which is another planned winter DIY project. The other bedroom will be redone as well for a guest room. We plan to remove the carpeting from these rooms as well.

inside master bedroom closetIt is surprising how re-organizing and de-cluttering a closet of any kind can be so disruptive. The work is not difficult at all but everything that was in the closet ends up being spread everywhere as the only way to do this effectively is to completely empty the entire closet. Once the closet was completely empty my husband washed the ceiling and walls with a 1:1 vinegar solution. We removed any scuff marks with a Mr. Clean® Magic Eraser®. We washed the wood shelving and baseboards with Murphy Oil Soap solution.

We used the 3 pile method of toss, donate and keep. This is really quite easy as long as you don't let emotion get in the way. The difficult part is trying on all your clothes to de-clutter all clothes that no longer fit or haven't been worn in the past year. This is time consuming. It's a bit depressing too when you realize it's your body that has changed not the clothes. In my case it was a bit worse because I had to go through over 40 pairs of shoes many in plastic lidded shoe boxes. I will admit to bending the worn in the past year rule when it came to my shoe collection but I did manage to relinquish 8 pairs. In the end 2 large bags of clothes and a bag of hangers were donated, 1 large bag of clothes went to one of our kids and a box of shoes/clothes went to another one of our kids so we cleared out a lot but that included the dressers as well as the closet.

closet shelvesAll of the closets have some type of customized shelving to maximize storage. The closet in the soon to be craft room has some rather impressive customization that I will show in greater detail when we get to that room. The master bedroom closet has 3 wood shelves on each end of the closet to make use of space that would normally be wasted. It is surprising how much extra storage space this adds in the closet.

On my end pictured, I have shoes in plastic shoe boxes neatly stacked 3 wide 6 high (18 pr). The bottom two shelves hold shoes that won't fit in shoe boxes and purses. The top shelf holds my doggie slippers and a couple of additional accessories. My husband uses his shelves for sports wear.

After using the closet for awhile I decided that bins spanning the width of the long top shelf would be quite helpful to keep things organized. I picked up 5 plastic bins at the dollar store. They are a nice taupe colour so will fit in with the colour scheme. There is room for 3 more so I'll pick those up the next shopping trip. I'll post more pictures of the finished results in another post.

Garden Gnome

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Cleaning - A Woman's Work is Never Done

broom sweeping

The say that a woman's work is never done and in many respects that adage is so true when it comes to cleaning. It honestly never ends! Just when you think you have everything sparkling it's time to start over again. In today's world cleaning is a huge issue and it isn't just for women anymore. In many single parent households men take the role of main homemaker and that included cleaning as well. Now there is a difference between tidying up and cleaning. Homes can be quite neat and tidy but not clean and visa versa. In addition to that homes can be surface clean but not really clean.

The main thing with cleaning is you want neat and tidy with the dirt and grim up and out of your house. In order to do that you want to use methods that trap the dirt so you can discard it. In order to do this you need to wet dust and use a vacuum with good regularly changed filters . Use good eco-friendly cleaners on hard surfaces. Ok so you know how to clean but finding the time is a different matter and lets face most people don't want to spend their entire weekend cleaning. Here are a few of my cleaning tips:
  • clean as you go - This really is a very simple method but often overlooked. I got into the habit when cooking of cleaning when doing any prep work which means starting with an empty dishwasher and loading as I use dishes and utensils. When I'm canning I always have a couple of wet bar towels to clean up any spills on the floor. Wiping as you go means no huge clean-up later. At the end of each day when I clean the counter I wipe it down with 50% ethanol. This is an effective germ control while providing that sparkle effect. Cleaning as you go means dirt doesn't have a time to build up.
  • use small blocks of time - It is surprising how much cleaning you can get done in a 15 minute period. Even more surprising is how much cleaning you can get done in the period of a television commercial. Grab a clean cloth and your eco-friendly cleaner of choice or plug in the vacuum cleaner. When a commercial comes on do as much cleaning as you can during that time period then go back to your program. Now the nice thing about this method is you are consistently getting a bit of exercise as well. Never sit through a commercial if you can do a little tidying or cleaning. If used consistently daily you are always on top of those cleaning jobs. This is especially usefully for tidying and decluttering but is also useful for deeper cleaning.
  • keep cleaning cloths and solutions handy - Keeping solutions and cleaning cloths handy allows for easy spot cleaning. During food prep I keep a spray bottle of 50% Ethanol on the counter for wiping any spills from raw meats.
  • declutter as you go - Every time you go into a room remove one or more items that doesn't belong there or put something away. Attack those vertical surfaces that are just magnets for clutter. Every time you go by a vertical surface grab something that doesn't belong. Keep 3 boxes - give away, keep, toss and use them. Getting the clutter out of your house makes it a lot easier for cleaning.
Garden Gnome

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Gifts in a Jar

Every year folks struggle to come up with unique yet inexpensive gifts for the holiday season. This year is going to be quite difficult for many who have found themselves recently unemployed or facing the threat of unemployment. One solution to keep the cost of holiday gift giving is to give homemade gifts. Homemade gifts take a bit more thought but I think they are nicer because they are personally tailored to fit the recipient.

chocolate chip cookies in a jarChocolate Chip Cookies

Homemade gifts from the kitchen are always well received. The holiday season is always quite busy so unless you start out early you may run out of time for baking. In this case turn to making gifts in a jar. I recently made Gift from the Kitchen - White Chocolate Chip Cookies that took me about 10 minutes to put together so this would be a great last minute gift as well. Essentially gifts in jars are made using all the necessary dry ingredients with the recipient adding the wet ingredients (oil, eggs, liquid) when they want to use their gift. Gifts in jars can range from cookies, brownies, breads, soups to spice blends and quick mixes. They are really easy to make. If you have scrapbooking supplies you can get some lovely tag and gift card results.

A list of material follows but they will greatly vary depending on what you are making. You can buy used mason jars but should use new jars and rings for a nice presentation. The outside of the lid can be painted as can the ring if you like or you could decorate it with embellishments or you can cover it with a square of fabric or decorative paper. Check the craft and scrapbooking sections of dollar stores for a wide variety of affordable embellishments. Each jar depending on the ingredients and including additional materials will come in at about $2 per jar or less.


recipe ingredients
1 mason jar per recipe (size varies depending on recipe)
lid and ring (decorative or plain)
ribbon or twine
embellisments (eg. brands, spoon, cloth, tags)
recipe tag (hand printed or computer generated)
cardstock in colours of your choice
craft scissors
decorative pens
pre-cut tags

Garden Gnome


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Fall Cleaning

When I was growing up fall cleaning signified the official end of summer. At one time it was common to do a complete attic to basement cleaning twice a year usually in the spring and in the fall. By complete cleaning I do mean complete from sweeping out the cobwebs in the attic to scrubbing down walls and ceilings. All the light fixtures were cleaned and polished, screens were removed from the window then after the windows were sparkling clean the storm windows were put into place. Floors were stripped then re-waxed. In the spring winter clothes and bedding were put away with the reverse in the fall. Quite often a couple of my Mom's friends would come over to help with the cleaning and in return she would help with theirs.

I continue to follow the tradition of seasonal cleaning to a bit lesser degree as do many older folks but for the most part this type of seasonal cleaning has gone by the wayside for the younger generation. Now that's a shame because seasonal cleaning greatly lowers the level of germs and allergens in your home. It removes any droppings that may have been left behind by little visitors and vacuum up any spiders getting ready to set up home.

My cleaning products are: concentrated Simple Green, Murphy Oil Soap®, baking soda, vinegar, liquid Bar Keeper's Friend®, ammonia, Mr. Clean® magic erasers and rubbing alcohol. I of course have dishwasher detergent and dish soap for hand washing. I have 6 commercial grade spray bottles with the dilutions on them bought for less than 6 cheaper spray bottles at the dollar store would have cost. I make the Simple Green concentrate (1 gallon, $8.99) into 3 different strengths depending on the use. One gallon of Simple Green goes a long way! Cost per ounce works out to less than the cost of dollar store cleaners. I bought the Murphy Oil Soap® (96 oz,) so long ago I forget the price but it would have been well under $10. I bought the bulk bag of baking soda at Sam's Club ($4), cheapest white vinegar (4 L, usually $1) at no frills, jug of ammonia (1.8 L, $1.50) at no frills, magic erasers 8 pk (Sam's Club) and rubbing alcohol (450 ml) at the dollar store. Murphy Oil Soap® is a must as much of our main living area is wood as in wood wainscoting, wood cabinets and wood ceiling and all dusting is damp dusting not dry. I have six solutions I make from these ingredients - mild/medium/heavy Simple Green® solutions (one 32 oz bottle each), one 1:1 vinegar solution, one of rubbing alcohol and one of Murphy's Oil solution. Here's my reason and why I think these are frugal choices for me:

  • Simple Green®: great, low cost indoor/outdoor multi-cleaner that can even be used as a laundry booster, concentrated, non-toxic eco-friendly
  • vinegar - cheap, best solution for washing ceramic tile and many other surfaces, has anti-bacterial properties
  • Murphy Oil Soap® - safe for all wood surfaces, ideal for damp dusting to prevent allergens from becoming air born
  • baking soda - cheap, idea for cleaning shower stalls and bath tubs, used for removing burnt on food in stainless steel pots, a good all purpose stain remover and deodorizer
  • ammonia - the ultimate de-greaser that works great indoors and out, strips wax build-up
  • Bar Keeper's Friend® (liquid) - less than half the cost of the smoothtop cleaner yet works better, can be used to shine up stainless steel or polish other metals
  • rubbing alcohol - kills most biologicals not just bacteria, the true way to a sparkly clean surface especially windows, mirrors, ceramic tile and faucets, a little goes a long way
  • magic erasers - overall quite inexpensive yet work well without chemicals
Garden Gnome

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Forgotten Cleaner - Rubbing Alcohol

When it comes to eco-friendly cleansers the top of the list cited are: baking soda, ammonia, soap, hydrogen peroxide and vinegar. However, rubbing alcohol has played a role in cleaning laboratories for years. In labs the alcohol of choice is 95% ethanol but that isn't available to the general public and if it was it would be more expensive than isopropanol or rubbing alcohol. Isopropanyl alcohol is not ingestible so does not present a health risk so is available over the counter at most pharmacies and department stores.

rubbing alcoholRubbing Alcohol

Isopropyl alcohol (isopropanol) serves two purposes when used for cleaning. First it will wipe out most biologicals like bacteria and virii on surfaces so it is a very effective disinfectant. Rubbing alcohol is the perfect shiner for mirrors, glass, windows, and your faucets. Not only that if you want your faucets or stainless steel to sparkle wipe them down with rubbing alcohol. It is one of the best cleaners for eyeglasses as well. Disinfect door knobs, counters, sinks and handles with a wipe of rubbing alcohol. if you have shiny ceramic tile floors a quick wipe down with a cloth dampened with rubbing alcohol will keep them shiny. It doesn't take a lot either unlike a lot of cleaners.

Isopropanol is flammable in liquid form so should not be used around an open flame. It dries very quickly which leaves no residue or fire hazard. I keep rubbing alcohol in a spray bottle in the kitchen for keeping my counters and faucets clean and spot free but it gets used on a lot of kitchen surfaces because it is one of the quick cleaners I reach for first. Rubbing alcohol is readily available in the dollar stores and because a little goes a long way it is a more than affordable but extremely effective eco-friendly cleanser.

Garden Gnome

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

New Phone System

When we were newlyweds there really wasn't a lot of choice in phones other than colours. They were corded units with no extra functions. Over the years as times changes with a busier lifestyle stand alone answering machines became quite popular. These devices used micro-cassettes but they served the purpose. The down side answering machines was of course power outages. Well Bell Canada saw they could be making more money off of customers by offering their own answering service (voice mail) and they sweetened the deal by allowing you to call into your voice mail from another location so you could hear your messages. This was an attractive feature for those traveling a lot but really was meant for the business people. At the same time telemarketers saw residential homes as the perfect market. Bell quickly started adding new features with one of the most useful being caller id that is a somewhat effective way of dealing with telemarketer.

The last phone system we bought had a built-in answering machine. We saw this as a way to eliminate voice mail from our phone service. If I recall correctly the system consisting of the base and two addition hand sets cost $79.99. It worked well for us for about 8 years but over the last couple of months it was apparent the system was dying. None of the handsets would hold a charge longer than about 5 minutes and two of the handsets lost partial parts of the display. It was time to go shopping for an eco-friendly solution.

Panasonic KX-TG6473 Phone SystemPanasonic KX-TG6473 Phone System

Pictured is the Panasonic KX-TG6473PK eco-friendly cordless expandable phone system we purchased at Sam's Club for $59.99. This is the first phone system I've seen with the EnergyStar logo! It is also RoHS specified no chemicals used which includes lead, mercury, hexavalent chomium, and specified brominated flame retardants (PBB and PBDE).

The standby power consumption has been reduced by 59% over their previous model which means we use 10.52 kWh verses 25.83 kWh annually on standby. In terms of electricity savings that is $1.63 so nothing to get really excited about. However, calculation of our previous system that used 2 - 6.5 W and 1 - 18 W adapter the cost for that phone system worked out to be $28.54. The new system will cost $11.07 annual to operate at our current electricity rates. Again, an $11 annual savings doesn't seem like much but it gets better!

The phone system has a built-in answer, call block, call screen, call waiting, 4-way conferencing and ringer id all features that cost extra if using Bell Canada's services. The call block is not limited to just phone numbers either as this system allows the blocking of calls without phone number such as out of area, private caller, or long distance with no phone number identified. What this really means is that the only additional service we need from Bell Canada is caller id. That's it! This should give a maximum savings of almost $30 per month for 3 months then $24.95 for a total savings of $290.60 the first year then $275.20 annually depending on the plan we replace our current home complete plan (most expensive) with. So now that really is a savings but if we consider the new phone system also acts as an alarm clock we save an addition $6.31 in electricity. In short we stand to save $307.98 the first year the $292.58 each year after that making this purchase very frugal with a payback period of 2.3 months! In terms of combining frugality with being eco-friendly this ended up being an excellent purchase.

Garden Gnome

Sunday, November 1, 2009

More Electrical Outlet Sealing

Electrical outlets can result a considerable source of air leakage and infiltration. A couple of posts ago I discussed sealing and insulating electrical switches on outside walls. This is necessary to eliminate as much air infiltration as possible thus reducing drafts. If you take a good look at the actual metal or plastic box though it is quickly apparent that caulking around electrical box and adding insulating foam will only solve part of the problem. That is because electrical boxes have several holes in which you can choose where to run wires through. Ideally spraying expandable spray foam around the outside of the electrical box would seal around the box to the point that all drafts would be stopped. However, do not be tempted to use expandable spray foam insulation to seal electrical outlets. The expandable spray foam is flammable until cured and at some point that outlet may require work on it which the cured expandable spray foam would make almost impossible. There is a way to deal with any minor air filtration that comes through the plug holes though.

Safety PlugsSafety Plugs

All outer wall pugs must have something plugged into them to prevent air infiltration during the colder months. Now the natural choice for something to plug in is an electrical appliance but that is not always convenient. Onto the scene comes a nice product that cuts any air infiltration through the outlet holes yet it is usually sold as a safety device to prevent children from electrocuting themselves playing with electrical outlets. These safety plug protectors come in clear, white, ivory and brown. A pack of 10 will cost $1 at the dollar stores or you can pay a bit extra at the discount stores. They all work the same. I like the larger clear ones pictured as the tabs on the white ones pictured tend to break off after repeated removal. The main downside to these inexpensive safety plug protectors is removing them for using the plug. Once you get the knack of it you can pop them out anytime you need to use the plug.

installed safety plugsInstalled

No special tools are required for installation. Installation is as simple as plugging the plastic safety guard into each outlet. Unless you have small children and you are installing these safety guards for energy conservation then the only outlets you need to be concerned about are on your outside walls. For the most part aside of not having any drafts and the occasional having to remove them to use the outlet you won't even notice they are there. There is no need to remove the safety guards during nicer weather either unless you are using the outlet.

Garden Gnome

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Cold Busters

My childhood home was definitely not energy efficient! It was a small 2-story home with dirt floor walk-out basement. The gas hot water tank was in the basement. My Mom kept bushels of apples, potatoes and home canned foods down in the basement aka dungeon. The main level was heated by 2 natural gas space heaters and I can still remember my Mom's excitement when one of the space heaters was replaced with a new model with a blower. A very steep, narrow staircase led to the upstairs with 2 bedrooms separated by the staircase landing. Cut into the landing there was an opening with a metal grate to let heat up from the main floor. On the narrow end of the landing there was a deep spot where my Mom kept a huge cedar chest to store out of season clothes and behind that was an entrance to one attic. Over top of the stairwell was the entrance to the other attic that we got into by spanning a 2" x 12" plank between the opening and landing then crawling across the stairwell. During the cold winter months the windows were usually covered with beautiful frost created by Jack Frost and large icicles hung from the roof. Many a morning I scorched my backside sitting or leaning on the space heater near the stairwell door!

I honestly think people have become very spoiled with keeping their homes so warm they have forgotten how to dress for winter. When I was growing up September 1 meant no more bare feet and as soon as snow hit boots and winter outdoor clothing were the rule. My Mom also insisted on us wearing under shirts combined with leotards aka tights or one piece thermal underwear aka long johns under our clothes. She also insisted we wore sweaters, slippers and bed socks. At one time nightcaps were always worn but my Mom didn't insist we wear one which was a good thing because I can't stand anything on my head! Now all of that is considered a bit old fashioned! Instead of dressing warmly in the house it is easier to turn the thermostat higher. The problem with turning the thermostat higher is the environmental and financial costs! In my quest to become more eco-friendly I refuse to turn the thermostat any higher than 20ºC (68ºF) during the day and 17ºC (63ºF) at night.

socks and slippersSlippers

I'm a big fan of slippers! I make several pairs of slippers each year using my favourite slipper pattern. Hand knit slippers keep your feet warm and toasty while allowing your feet to breath. They wash beautifully as well. During the winter months I pair the slippers with thick socks usually funky fluffy socks or on really cold days wool socks. You can't beat wool socks for warmth!

When sleeping I still wear bed socks (not pictured) to keep my feet warm. I prefer white, all cotton anklets for bed socks because while providing warmth they allow air circulation. It is important to get good air circulation to your feet to keep the dry and healthy because foot moisture encourages fungal growth.

thermal under garmentsThermals

Thermal knit underwear is an ideal energy saver! They are a favourite for those working outdoors during the cold winter months, outdoorsmen and those enjoying winter sports. At the same time they make a great basis for indoor layering. Despite being light weight they really do help keep you warm. They are also quite inexpensive. I paid $5.99 each for the pants and top. As a child long johns doubled as pajamas on warmer winter nights and were worn under flannel pajamas on the bitter cold winter nights. I love using the two piece thermal knit underwear as pajamas because they are downright comfortable! The thermal top can double as a long sleeve shirt for day use paired with a polar fleece zippered vest (one of my favourite cold busters) or T-shirt then topped with a sweater or polar fleece buttoned shirt. On extremely cold winter days the pants can provide an extra layer that will keep you warm without being seen.

Dressing for winter even when lounging around the house will reward you with lower heating bills. Extra clothes do not need to be restrictive either. The trick really is layering as you can always take off a layer if you become too warm. You will be pleased with the lower heating costs too!

Garden Gnome

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Solving Small Problems

Despite the fact that we are constantly on the outlook for any air leaks year round I tend to go into serious overdrive just after the busiest canning season. This will be our third winter here. I honestly do think it takes a full three years to seal up a house after just moving in. That is because you are still discovering problems that were overlooked or incorrectly repaired by the former owners. Quite often the larger more demanding repairs take precedence over the smaller, minor ones as well.

When we moved in we immediately started replace the electrical outlets. There were a few issues with the older plugs and we really like the look of the European style outlets. Our main level bathroom while smaller but most used is slated for a complete renovation that will include ripping everything out and making it bigger. In order to do this we have to replace the furnace and hot water tank to free up room for the expansion. That means we did a quick paint job to make the bathroom presentable and changed out the outlets.

We installed a timed switch for the bathroom fan. It was one of the dial styles. Last winter it suddenly stopped working. It would turn on but the timer function simply stopped working (the problem). The other day we were doing a bit of home improvement shopping expecting to pick up the tankless hot water tank for the kitchen but apparently Home Depot® don't keep those eco-friendly devices in stock! However they were offering green coupons for other eco-friendly products. We found a great push button style, hard wire timer replacement for $24.95 with $6 off so it ended up costing us $18.95. Installing the timer was as simple as turning of the breaker, checking for no live electricity then removing the old timer and wiring in the new one. Problem solved.

One of our outdoor outlets was missing part the weatherproofing cover. Now this outlet is controlled by an indoor switch that is always off unless the outlet is being used. Still this was a problem in terms of safety when the outlet was switched on. Not only that it just didn't look nice. The box itself was still fine so we picked up a replacement cover for $3.58. It took a bit of chiseling to remove some of the surrounding mortar but it really was a fairly easy repair.

It's amazing how doing one or two low cost minor repairs each weekend can make such a difference in your home. These two repairs cost under $25 and took less than a half hour total to complete for both of them. This approach really helps to keep small repairs from becoming major ones. At the same time spending a half hour or so on your house each week just feels good. This is what home maintenance is all about.

Garden Gnome

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Ultimate in Winterizing Water Pipes

Sometimes winterizing involves closing up a house or cottage for the winter months and this is typically the time for doing that winterizing. When it comes to dealing with winterizing there really are two options available. The first is to leave some type of heat source on or use a pipe heater and hope there is no power failure. This option has the downside of costing money while the house or cottage is not being used as well as the possibility of frozen pipes that could lead to considerable damage if they burst. We had our pipes freeze at one our previous houses and I will tell you that definitely was not a lot of fun. The second option is to shut off the water and blow out the lines with pressurized air. The former owner of this house chose to put in a multi-shutoff water system so the house could be shut down for the winter months.

multi-shutoff water systemMulti-Shutoff Water System

Pictured is our multi-shutoff system. The green arrow is the in house water meter. When we moved in there was an outdoor sensor for reading it but they have since changed that out for an indoor sensor that they can read from the main road! This system looks a bit more complicated than it is. Basically each faucet in the house has both a hot and cold water shutoff as does the washer. Each toilet has a shutoff as does the outside water taps. Some are knows while others are levers. The top main with the red knobs is hot while the bottom with blue knobs is cold. Some of the knobs are hooked to nothing so the system can be expanded.

We are not currently using the multi-shutoff system for winterizing purposes. A huge benefit to this type of system is when we are working on anything water related we can simply turn the water off to that faucet using the centralized system. There's no need to turn off the supply to the entire house something that many do not appreciate until they have done plumbing in your home or had a plumbing problem. Basically the water is shut off to only the pipes you are working one with this system. The downside of this system and this is specific to this house is the hot water has to travel about 70 feet to get to the kitchen. Our work around for this is we are planning to install an under the counter electric tankless water heater in the kitchen to service the sink and dishwasher. This will eliminate the long run decreasing energy wastage. The water heater tank that services the rest of the house will be changed out for a natural gas tankless water heater. The tankless water heaters will end up be eco-friendly while letting us enjoy a bit more energy efficiency.

Garden Gnome

Friday, October 23, 2009

Winterizing Electrical Switches

It is extremely important with the ever increasing cost of home heating to continuously be on guard for any points of air leakage or infiltration. Sealing these cracks and crevices achieves a few goals. First it keeps cold air out and heated air inside. Eliminating the drafts make your home feel more comfortable as well. At the same time sealing these cracks can cut off a port of entry for insects and other critters.

unsealed electrical switchThe Problem

Electrical boxes on outer walls are often the source of drafts especially in older homes. It is also one of the easiest to remedy for very little cost and minimal DIY skills.

Materials Needed:
- flat head screwdriver
- latex caulk
- caulk gun
- switchplate and electric out foam weatherstrip
- wash cloth
- dry cloth
- soapy water

Before starting this project turn the breaker off to the electrical outlet and test to be sure the outlet is not live. Unscrew the plate cover and remove. This is a good time to wash up the plate cover while you have it off. The area of interest for sealing is the gap around the electrical box indicated the red arrow in the left side of the picture. Brush away any loose debris then wipe the surrounding area with soapy water. Dry thoroughly. Load the caulk into the caulk gun. Seal around the entire perimeter of the electrical box (right side). Do not seal inside the electrical box. Smooth the caulk. Allow the caulk to cure according to the caulk instructions (about 12 hrs).

sealed electrical switchWinterized

These outlet weatherstrips are to be used in dry locations only and cannot be used with dimmer switches. Once the caulk is cured, punch out the die cut areas of a switchplate or electric outlet weatherstrip. Place it over the outlet. Place the switch cover on the outlet and secure with the screws. Turn the power to the outlet back on.

From outer appearances you won't notice any changes. If you check the outlet when the wind is hitting that wall you will notice the outlet is no longer drafty. If you are diligent and seal every outlet on an outside wall throughout your house you will notice this winterizing by a more comfortable house and lower home heating costs. The weatherstrip comes in a package of 10 for about $1.99. A tube of latex caulk will cost about $2 but you likely won't go through the whole tube for this project. At under $4 this project has a pay back period of under one heating season. Once completed this project will continue to provide energy savings without having to replace for a number of years depending on the lifespan of caulk you use. For example if you use a 20 year durability latex caulk as we do, you can expect this winterizing project to last for that period of time.

Garden Gnome

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Towel Solution

We have been trying to find eco-friendly solutions for keeping the household running smoothly. When we bought the extra capacity washer and dryer (more here) the main consideration was energy efficiency and low water usage. An unforeseen problem I quickly learned was it took a long time to generate enough whites for a load of laundry. During heavy canning sessions this was a huge problem because I could easily soil half of my T-towels! Two days of heavy canning would leave me with no T-towels yet not enough whites to run the washer. At the same time and while I still do use paper towels, I was looking for a way to reduce paper towel usage. Another consideration was the cost of buying more T-towels that really add up in price when buying a lot. The final consideration especially when canning but also for some spills is staining is almost a given. With all of this in mind I was off to find a solution.

cotton towels and clothsCotton Towels & Cloths

Our next shopping trip I found a bundle of 25 - 100% cotton wash cloths on sale for $4.99. They were nothing fancy and some would say even cheap looking because they were obviously considerably thinner than the nicer wash cloths. I saw them in a different light though. First they were 100% cotton so that meant over time they would basically be reduced to nothing. The size would be perfect for cleaning up all kinds of spills reducing the need for paper towels and staining would not be a huge concern. So I bought a package.

At our second stop (Sam's Club) I found a 24 pk of bakers & chefs bar mop (bar keepers) towels for $10.36. These were also 100% cotton and measured 16" x 19" so a bit smaller than some T-towels but more than suitable for what I needed. So I bought a package.

Armed with my purchases I was ready to set my plan in motion. I finally had enough whites to include the new purchases then washed them. I did not use any fabric softener as that interferes with absorption. I have been using both the wash cloths and bar mops for over 2 years now. Our paper towel consumption has been reduced to under 1 roll per month. I don't use bleach when doing a white load as bleach is not only damaging to fabric but can be a trigger for those with respiratory problems. When folding the freshly washed cloths I sort them into lightly stained, medium stained and heavily stained. The heavily stained wash cloths are great for easily clipping into the Swiffer® wand for quick floor mopping and wiping up spills on the floor. They make great damp dusters as well as any other cleaning chore. The cloths have also made their way to the garden and garage. My husband really likes the bar mop size for washing the vehicles and he keeps a couple in the vehicles for wiping his hands after adding any fluids. I keep them stacked in the utility room bringing out what I need for kitchen use each day. I just bought another package of the wash cloths and will pick up another package of the bar towels the next time we are at Sam's. I'm quite pleased with how this eco-friendly solution has worked for us.

Garden Gnome

Monday, October 19, 2009

Extra Sleeping Arrangements

I grew up in a rather small house that was often overflowed beyond capacity. So finding sleeping arrangements for overnight guests was always a challenge for my Mom. Usually the kids gave up their rooms and beds for the adults and we had a chesterfield that pulled out to make a bed as well. The kids usually found a sleeping spot on the floor with heavy blankets and quilts. The upper bedroom level wasn't heated (more on this later) so sleeping on the floor was cold. I can still remember when my Mom bought two folding roll-away beds. They had thick mattresses so were more like beds. The biggest problem was finding a storage spot for them since the house had no closets either! Fast forward to the 2000's and there is a whole new solution for spare beds. We bought an Columbia Air Bed that essentially is an air mattress that goes into casing on an easy to set up frame for comfortable sleeping yet it has compact storage and easy portability.

Columbia Air BedIn the Box

We bought a queen sized Columbia Air Bed on sale from Canadian Tire® for $149.99. The box was as long as the folded height of the frame. It was heavy as well. Inside the box there was the carrying case, mattress, electric pump, bedskirt with pocket that holds the mattress in place and a reversible heavy comforter that can be zippered to prevent it from falling off the bed. All of the bed components were packed into the compact carry case that has wheels for easy portability.

The entire set-up is heavy and sturdy but portable. We were immediately impressed with the quality. We also liked that bed included an electrical pump for easy inflation.

Columbia Air Bed Carry CaseCarry Case

The nylon carry case is large enough for all the bed components to fit in. It has a three sided zipper for easy removal and replacement of the bed components on one long side. The velco flap with the Columbia lifts up to reveal a plastic protected luggage tag holder. There is a heavy duty handle on one short end and wheels on the other.

Pictured is the filled case. The air mattress behind it is another one we have that doesn't have a frame. The new air mattresses inflate with included electric pumps or electric blow dryers and they easily deflate making them an ideal solution for temporary additional sleeping arrangements.

Columbia Air Bed inflatedInflated

We set the Columbia air bed up in the soon to be craft room. The set up was surprisingly easy taking less than 5 minutes. We found that an extra blanket between the air mattress and bottom sheet keeps the bed from getting cool. This is a problem with air mattresses. I like that the bed is up off the floor so it looks and feels like an actual bed. It's a lot nicer to be up off the floor! I also like that the bed sets up and dismantles quickly taking up minimal storage.

We have taken this air bed with us on a few trips to one of our kids who does not have a spare bed. I'm glad we bought it as it does solve the problem of having a temporary spare bed. So if you are in need of an extra bed this might be a solution for you. There are several brands available through most sporting goods and outfitter type stores.

The crib in the background has now been dismantled and the air bed is in it's case. The craft room is our winter project this year. It will have a complete make-over including replacing the carpeting with hard flooring. While this will remove a temporary overnight guest room it will provided the much needed space to organize all my craft supplies as well as set up the sewing and knitting machines for ready usage. I'm really looking forward to this space so please check back to see how we complete this project.

Garden Gnome

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Sealing Drafts

Winter is just around the corner so it's time to increase the draft sealing efforts. While draft sealing should be an ongoing project year round, catching any new air leaks as they appear it is the quickly approach heating season that serves as a reminder to get sealing. For those considering adding more insulation, sealing drafts must be your first step. The nice thing about sealing drafts is the effects can be felt immediately!


Caulking is one of the most effective, low cost, DIY project you can do. Two tools are needed for applying caulk. A caulk gun is a must but this inexpensive tool (under $5) will provide many dependable years of service. A corner tool for smoothing the bead of caulk and forcing it a bit further into the crack is nice to have however, you can get the same results using your finger or popsicle stick.

Caulk should be applied to any joint where two differing surfaces meet such as wood and metal. It should also be applied to fill gaps between same materials such as wood window frame meeting wood window sill. It should not be used for filling cracks larger than ¼-inch. The key step is preparing for caulking is to remove any old caulk then clean and dry the surface. There seems to be a debate as to whether to push the caulk bead ahead verses pulling the caulk bead when applying. I say to use which ever method is comfortable for you. The important thing is the caulk filling the crack. There are different caulks for various applications so choose one that meets your needs.

By far my favourite caulk is Weathershield® 20 Year Duribility Acrylic caulk (1). This low odour caulk applies smoothly, cleans up with water, is paintable and remains flexible even in extreme cold temperatures. This multi-purpose caulk is ideal not only for giving that profession looking results when painting a room but also for stopping those drafts quickly and effectively. I like using Weathershield® 35+ Year Durability Silicone caulk in areas that may experience moisture problems. I've used it successfully to re-seal around where the window pane meets the frame which is often needed when dealing with older windows. This caulk is clear so barely noticeable but very effective. However, I really like using this caulk as a glue. A little dab works for this application. I use DAP® Polyurethane Waterproof Concrete Sealant (3) for sealing any exterior gaps, joints and cracks in the foundation. This masonry/concrete caulk is ideal for sealing around any wires or pipes entering through the foundation. Several years ago I discovered Lepage® Bulldog Grip® Draft-Stop® removable weather stripping (4). This is a temporary clear caulk that can be applied in the fall then removed in the spring making it ideal for sealing shut a leaky window during the winter. This is a good caulking solution for those who rent and for homeowners who need a quick, temporary solution until a more permanent solution can be found.

insulating foamInsulating Foam

By far my most favourite draft sealant is expandable, insultating spray foam. There are two versions with one meant for around window and door frames that doesn't expand as much. Some manufactures distinguish the two by calling one high expanding and the other low expanding that cures flexible. This is by far one of the most useful products you can use in an older home. I keep a couple of cans of this sealant on hand all the time. Unlike caulk it can be used to fill gaps greater than ¼-inch while adding insulating value. When applied the foam expands to fill the entire gap. Once it is cured the foam can be trimmed, sanded and painted. If used outdoors where the foam will be exposed to sunlight it must be painted as UV will cause the cured foam to break down. The downside to this sealant is that if the crack or hole is filled too full buckling can occur so it's better to use a bit less until you get the feel of how it expands.

Unlike caulk expandable spray foam can be quite messy to work with. From personal experience it does not come out of clothes so wear old clothes when using and protect any furniture or carpeting. I also find it is better to use the entire can at once so this becomes a project where several spots that need sealing are identified and tagged with post-it notes then when I have enough spots to use a full can I go back and do all the sealing. Once the foam cures, I trim it with an old serrated knife then finish as needed. If indoors in an area where the foam will not be seen it can be left as is if desired but trimming will reveal if any gaps are present that may need a bit more foam.

Garden Gnome

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

It's Coming

Victorian winter
Victorian Winter

There is no doubt after the last couple of days that winter is making an entrance early this year. Heavens I have really used a lot of personal restraint to not put on the fireplace to take the chill out of the house. I'm determined to hold out to get to as close to November 1 as possible before using any heating other than solar. The cooler temperatures at a balmy 18ºC (64ºF) indoors just a little lower than the 20ºC (68ºF) we try to keep the house at during the day in the winter. The end of last heating season we discovered a way to shave off a lot of BTU by using only the gas fireplace so I really want to try using that method for as much of the month of November as possible.

We had a cooler and wetter summer that many complained of having no summer at all. It was not all bad though because we only ran the AC for 3 days and with staying home more we spent less money, getting more things done. The fall is now well into it's first week feeling more like winter than fall. Throughout the blogosphere there are warnings for those in the northwestern US states to stock up on wood and supplies for the predicted long, cold winter ahead.

I have been consistently working on caulking and sealing since we moved here just a little over 2 years ago. We are now reaping the benefits of that sealing! I continue to be ever vigilant for any drafts, sealing as soon as they are discovered. Unfortunately we did not get the sunporch rebuilt this year so we will be sealing it up with plastic shortly. The main focus of this year's winterizing is: replacing weather stripping on outer doors, weather stripping windows and installing window treatments (blinds, etc). I will be writing more about that shortly. Window treatments are not a high priority for privacy here so we simply haven't bothered with them because we like the open look. Using energy efficient window coverings will increase our energy savings lowering our carbon footprint.

Garden Gnome

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Solar for Emergency Preparedness

Solar Emergency Preparedness

As summer comes to an end it's time to make sure we are well stocked for the winter months. Not only am I busy making sure the pantry is well stocked with home canned and dried foods, I'm also adding to the freezer stock. However, preparedness is more than just have a 1 - 2 year supply of food on hand. This is also the time of the year to stock up on sundry type items such as laundry soap, personal needs items, toilet paper, First Aid supplies as well as emergency preparedness items. I'll be making a few posts on getting prepared for winter.

During winter storms the prospect of having no electricity for short periods of time increase. The normal recommendations is to keep oil lamps with plenty of fuel and lots of candles in your emergency preparedness stores. In cold climates both serve to provide light with a bit of heat. I keep a good supply of homemade beeswax and soy candles on hand for regular and emergency use. However, in homes with pets or children using oil lamps and candles can present a risk of fire and/or injury if they get bumped or knocked over. Battery operated emergency devices only work if you have sufficient batteries. I've turned to solar devices as part of my emergency preparedness.

Pictured is the wind-up/solar powered radio, Coleman camp lantern, a few of our many flashlights, solar light stakes, battery operated lights, rechargeable batteries (AAA, AA, D), 6 V battery adapter and solar battery chargers. Not pictured are a couple of small camp lanterns that use only one 6 V battery and a wind-up flash light. The principle of using solar rests on turning solar energy from the sun into usable energy for lighting and heating. In emergency situations you cannot always rely on the sun however in most cases you will be able to get enough sunlight exposure to power emergency equipment such as the radio, some lights and solar battery chargers if need be. Combining wind-up power for essentials like flash lights and a radio makes good sense as these can be used without relying only on solar.

The light stakes are meant for garden use but can easily be charged in a sunny window to provide indoor lighting for the evening during a power outage. I like keeping a good supply of charged batteries on hand that can be recharged if necessary using the solar battery chargers. The 6 V battery adapter is a rather interesting find. It uses 4 - D cell batteries and can be used in place of a 6 V battery. I think these are great items to have in our emergency preparedness supplies.

Garden Gnome

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Plumbing Update

I know many readers have been waiting for the current plumbing problems. If you recall my last post talked about our plumbing problems (more here). The plumber snaked from the house and back the other way hoping to solve the problem. Ideally had this worked we would have noted a great improvement in our drainage problem.

indications in the grassIndication

Snaking should have opened the drainage lines but what we quickly realized is it caused the lines to collapse. The water wasn't draining properly then about a week later we noticed greening of the grass (red arrows) right in the same orientation of where the line ran and not really noticeable in the pictures the ground caving in. So we thought we found the exact location for the problem not realizing that we had a type of fiber piping that has been banned since the 1970's. In it's inception this piping was supposed to prevent root damage. However, as we quickly found out this piping does collapse causing major drainage issues. It is proving to be a costly repair for anyone who used the fiber piping!

dangerous wireDangerous Wire

In Ontario it is supposed to be mandatory that you call for utility line locates prior to digging. Line locates are free but can take up to 2 weeks if it is not an emergency. In emergency situations line locates can be done within 24 hours. The fine if you hit a line without calling for line locates is $5,000. Now we knew from previous line locates there were no official utility lines as in from the utility to us where we were digging. What we also knew is the previous owner installed an outdoor plug off of which fed an outdoor utility light and the line to the dock lift. We disconnected the line to the dock lift so here is what we saw with the first backhoe shovel not even 2 feet under the ground and only a foot from the sidewalk where digging for flower beds easily could have happened was this totally illegal wire hook-up running from the main backyard plug to the utility light. I was shocked and yet happy we found this potentially very dangerous wire. How could anyone be this stupid? I'm not kidding! This unprotected electrical wire had the very real potential to kill someone. It's eerie too because my husband said to keep the backyard breaker off unless we were using it so he must have suspected a problem. So that is our next household project.

new weeping bed pipesPipes

It was decided after a bit of discussion to install a weeping bed that would be between the house and the lower clean-outs. This involved digging a trench from the back of the house to the clean-outs or about 100 ft. Three quarters of the trench was filled with 1' of gravel then the solid piping from the house was connected to two lines of holed piping that reconnects into solid piping that connects to the final drain. What this means is any storm, grey or rain water coming from the house ends up being filtered into the ground so it doesn't reach the water. In our area this is a more expensive solution that is eco-friendly as well. We are very, very conscious about what goes down our drains even though all but the kitchen are hooked to the municipal sewage system. This means nothing from the kitchen even though it is all phosphate free will not reach the water. Rain water is collected and used for the gardens. Now eventually any excess will reach the water but not much and by then it has been filtered so again another eco-friendly solution.

new line end of dayEnd of Day

It really was a depressing day in a lot of respects. My husband and I watched as the entire backyard was essentially destroyed. All the sod, seed and work we had done was gone. At the same time I couldn't help but think perhaps we finally have the problem fixed meaning no more water in the house.

Over the past 2 years we have had water levels in the house as high as 3" on several occasions. It is never pleasant to deal with flooding problems. So while our backyard now looks like this as of last Friday I'm looking forward to flood free days indoors. I think too that with the improved drainage our millipede, centipede and earwing problem will disappear even though I definitely have those issues under control. Our main concern right now is to solve all of our drainage issues. Once those are solved any of the side effects of drainage problems should go away including moisture loving insects.

Garden Gnome

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Quick Plumbing Update

As of tomorrow it will be two weeks that the patio has been dug up with a hole about the size of a grave. The good news is everything appears to be draining fine. The bad news is our plumber is on holidays so we still have the hole. He is supposed to come out the first of the week. So there's where we sit with out plumbing problem. I'll update more as soon as the plumbing is being worked on. In the meantime tomorrow I will post how we finished off the down draft vent.

Garden Gnome

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Why Install a Broan® EcoVent?

Broan® EcoVent
August 16, 2009

One question immediately arises with the final installation of our Jenn-Air® down draft system and that is why use a Broan® EcoVent? In the winter of 2006 we installed our Jenn-Ai® slide in range (more on my range here) with down draft system in our previous house then moved it here in June of 2007. At the same time we installed our front loaders in the old house in February 2007 and also moved them here. All three appliances are high efficiency appliances but what we noticed as a flaw was the venting on both the dryer and the range. Both had regular vent covers. Cold air despite everything we did came back up through the vent! I actually resorted to placing a folded up towel over the down draft grate of the range.

When we moved here we looked for an eco-friendly, energy efficiency dryer vent (more here) and found it in the Broan® EcoVent. This is a Canadian made vent cover designed for Canadian winters. It is larger than regular vents because it is insulated preventing cold transfer. It has a unique floating ball check valve that prevents back draft as well as insects entering and the design also prevents rodents from getting in. It definitely solved our dryer vent problems. I decided I wanted this vent for the Jenn-Air® down draft even though it meant reducing the air flow from 5" to 4". The problem is and there has been complaints over the vent cover meant for the Jenn-Air® down draft ranges which includes both back draft and rodents getting in. We live on water front property so rodents are a huge concern! We also live in Canada so cold back drafts is a major concern in terms of energy efficiency. Reducing the air flow but using an energy efficient vent cover made a lot of sense. First the reduction would actually create a stronger flow of air from the range increasing it's efficiency. Second using this vent cover virtually eliminates the back draft and rodent problems making this vent cover an extremely eco-friendly choice for the down draft system. It meets all of our needs as well as providing energy efficiency!

Garden Gnome

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Hooking Up the Down Draft

We moved here in the spring of 2007. I have a down draft Jenn-Air® slide-in range with down draft system (more here). Hooking up the down draft in our previous house was as simple as attaching the down draft to the floor the going through the outside vinyl sided wall. It took minimal effort and about an hours worth of time. Here it was a different story. The house is earth bermed with the lower, main living level mainly below ground. That meant the vent had to go through a cement foundation wall that was about 12" thick and on the only on ground level. So the vent would span from the lowest level exiting on the ground level. This past weekend we decided to hook-up the down draft after securing the necessary equipment to do so. It was a DIY project.

down draft 1 to 4Our first step was work in the walk-in pantry that is below the only room on the ground level which is a large entrance. We marked out the area in the pantry where the vent would be going through then carefully dug around to make sure there were no wires (1). Next we used a 4" cement drill bit (2) and marked on the outside (3) where we would be drilling. We decided drilling from the outside in would be a lot less mess indoors and it would keep the noise for the most part out of the house.

The drill bit was attached (4) to the heavy duty drill then we started drilling. I'm telling you drilling through cement is very loud, dusty work and slow going work. You definitely need ear plugs and don't push the drill. Let the drill do the work for you without forcing it.

down draft 5 to 8The drill went through the cement foundation wall (5) in about 4 inch segments. This actually took a lot more time than expected as you just can't rush the drill. Once the drill hit that mark my husband wacked out the plug (7) with a hammer and huge screwdriver. We ended up with 3 full sections of plugs plus a small one. They looked like the big beads the Flinstones might have worn! Then he drilled further until he finally broke through (6). Breaking through really meant we were able to free the hole of any debris and not actually drilling completely through. Had we drilled completely through we would have had quite the mess in the pantry! At the end of Thursday night we were left with a nice hole in our foundation that spanned from the outside into the pantry. We stuffed the hole with an old towel and called it a night. My husband was sore and achy from running the drill and it was getting hot an humid out so we figured on finishing the hook-up over the weekend.

down draft 9 to 11We had all the materials ready for the hook-up that included rigid ducting, flexible ducting, elbows, a reducer, eco-friendly vent cover and metal duct tape (9). The first step was to install the eco-friendly vent cover on the exteriour (10) in the duct lined hole (11). This is a special Canadian made vent cover that is heavily insulated and saves energy (more here). I should mention when doing this type of DIY project go as energy efficient and eco-friendly as possible even if it costs a bit more. The vent cover is not only heavily insulated but during insulation a heavy application of caulking is applied assuring no air leaks later. The insulation and automatic valve closure via a specialized floating ball means there will be no transfer of cold air into the interiour of the house during the cold weather. The automatic valve also ensures that rodents and insects even if they somehow got through the vent grate system would not be able to get into the vent pipe itself.

down draft 12 to 15The down draft system of a Jenn-Air® is an extremely powerful venting system. The main blower that moves the air to the outdoors is attached to the floor (12) which means moving these types of stoves is not quite all that easy. The back of the down draft (13) is the main area of interest. A short flexible metal hose runs from the air intake to the down draft exhaust (not shown but basically in line with the plug in 12). A rigid duct pipe runs from the outside vent (14) to the down draft exhaust (15). Each bend is carefully sealed with metal duct tape to keep the velocity in the duct.

The actual opening of the Jenn-Air® down draft (13) is 5" but we used an adaptor to reduce that to 4" for two reasons. First we wanted to us the high efficiency vent cover by Braun which in our climate saves a lot of money and second by reducing the duct size we increased the velocity of air being expelled so increased the efficiency. Unlike a dryer vent there is no concern over lint build-up either so the ducting should stay relatively clean.

Once everything was hooked up we gave the down draft a test run. Oh my, it was wonderful! Surprisingly it was a lot quieter than the last installation and in fact is barely noticeable when turned on. The stove is now 100% fully functional. I am a very happy camper!

Garden Gnome

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Plumbing Problems

We have had on and off plumbing problems since buying this house. We actually are dealing with two drainage systems possibly three, faulty design for both and roots. The first system is the municipal sewage system. The two bathrooms and laundry room drain into the municipal sewage system. Shortly after moving in we discovered a problem with this system which we thought was fixed until another problem appeared the following spring that involved using a porta-john and digging up the neighbours' yard. That ended up being a rooting problem so once the roots were removed that system has been working fine. During the second repair we installed additional drain clean-outs for that system and the system that drains into the natural water body. Ground water, rain water and the kitchen grey water drains into this natural drain system. This means we have to be careful to use a no or low phosphate dish and dishwasher detergent as well as scrap plates before washing either by hand or in the dishwasher. Before you ask, yes this is a perfectly legal, acceptable and common drainage system here. Now we know there is a septic system that we suspect may still be in use for rain water drainage but we haven't found it yet.

plumbing problemsJust outside of the kitchen patio doors there is a pit, brown circular object at beginning of the arrow. Water from the kitchen, rain water and two drains from the patio (one pictured end of arrow) (1) drain into this and from there travel down another solid pipe to the natural water way. We suspected a blockage of this solid pipe that forced water up and back into the house. The only solution was digging up the patio.

We discovered a corrugated drainage pipe that was obviously bowed (2) and (3) so now things got interesting. When the solid pipe was snaked, the snake went through the 'Y' joint instead and snaked the corrugated pipe instead of the smooth pipe. We do not know and the plumber can't figure out why the corrugated pipe is there in the first place unless it was a shoddy repair. At the same time we found the solid pipe (4) that had obviously been patched at some point. The end solution is we are tying all of the drainage pipes together in one solid fashion so nothing can get inside the pipes. The pit is going to be replaced with a clean-out. What we will end up with is a solid plumbing system into the natural system with 3 clean-outs covering all bases.

sludgePictured is the machine our plumber uses to snake the drains. A large coiled, flexible metal rod attaches to the front. It is then fed into the drain and the machine is turned on forcibly clearing any blockage. Additional rods are added as required. When the blockage is cleared is shows as a thick, black and very smelly sludge. In a normal system you would not see this as it would go directly into the sewage system. In our case we could both see and smell it!

Once we got the blockage cleared we discovered another problem. The pipe end in the pit (1) was more than half blocked with cement reducing the diameter considerably which reduces the flow of water from the pit. This creates a greater chance of water backing up into the house. Then when the blockage was cleared it was obvious the patch in the solid pipe wasn't sealed. So we are replacing the solid pipe from the pit that will no longer be a pit to the connection of the first patio drain.

The majority of the work happened Tuesday afternoon. The good news is there is no flooding in the house. It has drained and dried up. The trench my husband dug has also mostly dried. As you can see from the bottom picture the water coming out of the drainage pipe has cleared considerably. The bad news is the plumber wants to leave the open trench as is for at least one week before hooking things up properly. That means we are left with a nice trench, piles of bricks and a pile of dirt for the next week.

Garden Gnome

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Simple Inexpensive Solar Heater

Heating costs continue to rise and while energy conservation through lowering the thermostat combined with insulating and sealing your home helps keeps those costs down there are other ways to help reduce your heating costs. A logical place to look for a free heat source is the sun. Many of us already take advantage of solar energy during the winter months by opening window coverings on sunny days to help warm rooms and closing them on cloudy days and at night to keep the heat in the room. Using a few recycled items we can take advantage of those sunny windows to boost that heat output by using simple homemade solar heaters. Over the next month or so, I will be making a few posts on homemade solar heaters.

These solar heaters are not meant to be your sole source of heat. They are meant to supplement your existing heat. The more you use the more savings you will see on your heating costs. Keep in mind that if you live in an area that has a fair number of grey days with little sunshine, the solar heaters will not produce any heat. They also will not produce any heat in north facing windows.

I found the following video that shows how to make a rudimentary solar heater using recycled pop bottles and beer cans. Aesthetically this solar heater might appeal to you but it is a very inexpensive way to get a good idea of the possibilities of using a solar heater. Surprisingly this solar heater will work quite nicely in a sunny window. It would be a good project for parents or teachers to introduce solar energy to children.

This homemade solar heater follows the basic principles of all solar heaters. There is an air flow that goes through the collector (tin can) that is heated then released. The glazing (pop bottle) intensifies the heating effect. The air flow moves from the bottom of the bottle (cool air) to the top of the bottle (hot air) due to physics. Hot air is not as dense as cool air so it rises. This simple solar heater takes advantage of this principle.

Despite its looks this heater will work and can be modified to fit the size of your window. The best part is you are using mainly recycled materials so the cost is minimal. The kind of pop bottle really doesn't matter as long as it is a clear 2L size. Beer cans are taken back to the Beer Store for a cash deposit back so I would recommend using pop cans and adjusting the size of each solar unit to fit the can. The tape will make a somewhat adequate seal. What I would suggest is to run a bead of clear silicon seal around the bottom portion of the unit before pushing it into the upper portion then running a smooth bead of silicone on the resulting outside seam. Also hand painting is rather tedious. A spray bomb of flat black paint will have the cans quickly coated in a lot less time than brushing on the paint. When it comes to mounting this particular solar heater you will want it a few inches from the window sill simply for air flow but I don't think hanging the heater is the best way to go. Eventually the glue will give way causing the individual units to fall as well. What I would advise is using wood dowels. Attaching two dowels within the window frame on which each solar unit could sit then another dowel spanning from distance between the window frame would create the perfect spot to simply set as many units as would fit across the span of the window. The air flow would not be restricted either. So this simple design has a lot of potential. It would be an ideal way to add a bit of free heat to basement windows!

Garden Gnome

Monday, June 29, 2009

Scrapbooking - Cooking Layout

Scrapbooking and family history just go hand in hand. Back in 2005 I started experimenting with digital scrapbooking as a way to extend my scrapbooking experience as well as document our life through both pictures and journaling. A contributing factor was not being able to find the right sticker or background mixed with wanting something unique. If you have been following this blog you will know that I love Photoshop® as my main graphic editing software but the following 2 page layout was created with Microsoft Word® for Mac. The layout is a combination of digital and paper scrapbooking using elements of each. It is part of 6 pages highlighting our culinary favourites from 2005.

scrapbook page 1Page 1

The first thing I did was determine the main colour theme as being an almost sky blue. What doesn't show well in either picture is the actual background. On this two page layout the background and title is printed on brilliant white cardstock. The background for this two page layout is multiple lines of canning in a light sky blue. I used the same colour to make the title a script font and highlighted that to use Word Art. Once I had the desired effect, I printed out two sheets, one with the title and one without.

Next I selected the photos I wanted to use and size then printed off all of my pictures on matte photo paper using iPhoto. At thirteen pictures I knew the layout would be rather graphic intensive so kept the images small. Once I had the two sheets of pictures printed I had to cut them out using my Fiskars® large flatbed rotary cutter. This really is a must have for anyone doing paper scrapbooking! Next I used scalloped decorative scissors to round the edges of the photos for the first page. I really like the look of rounded corners and I know there are punches for that but part of scrapbooking is using what you have on hand sometimes.

Journalling is very important in scrapbooking because it ads that personal touch. I wrote the recipe in a dark blue font in Word and printed it off on plain medium blue card stock. Then I cut it into a rectangle and positioned it using 2 sided tape on an angle to give movement to the page. Using movement is a big part of scrapbooking but basically it just means adding interest. With the journalling in place I snipped off the over hanging portions with the rotary cutter. The pictures were then positioned around the journalling and secured with 2 sided tape.

scrapbook page 2Page 2

The pictures on this page were left with sharp corners. The journalling used the same font and font colour to write a bit more personal touch to canning then printed on white card stock. I used a fancy corner punch to make a design in the upper corner the used a piece of scrap paper to form a stencil to colour in a mirror image of the punch in the lower corner with a gel pen. To give the journalling a bit more of an impact and tie it in with page 1 I used the same blue card stock cut into a square then used it as a partial matting.

Next I arranged the pictures then secured them to the page using 2 sided tape. Next I wanted something a little extra so chose a couple of stickers from my vast supply of stickers. These were stickers from Creative Memories®. Now, I do have a love/hate relationship with stickers. First you are really restricted to available stickers and second you can never just find the right sticker. At the same time, you end up with a lot of stickers you will never use. But there's a work-around by using a Xyron Create a Sticker gadgets of which I have the smaller X and the larger 500. Just about anything can be turned into a sticker using either.

Microsoft Word® also has a feature where you can import photos. You can resize and position alignment them as well as some basic photo adjustments. Simply import your image into the Word document then go to Edit > Edit Picture. I was surprised at some of the effects so this is a nice feature of Word without having to invest a lot of dollars.

Scrapbooking remains to be a mixture of both paper and digital imaging for me although I am moving ever more to strictly digital. Digital scrapbooking expands your creativity. Basically any image can be used, adjusted or tweaked so you really are limited only by your imagination. You can add shadows for depth, rotate images for movement and the best part everything is done on the computer without any wastage. When you are finally finished you can print out the end result on brilliant white card stock. So a scrapbooking layout that would have taken several sheets of paper, cutting, trimming, stickers and other embellishments is now reduced to one sheet produced on the computer. In scrapbooking terms you are saving a lot of money! With experience you can get some very beautiful and very realistic results. At the same time digital keep your layouts flat so you don't have to worry about other layouts being damaged by raised elements on another. However, you will be missing some of the texture and textile feel of fully paper scrapped layouts. Combining the two techniques gives you the best of both worlds!

Garden Gnome