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, 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