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 :)

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Bathroom Make-over Research

When we moved into this house just a little over two years ago we immediately made plans to renovate the dated and lack-luster bathrooms. Unfortunately a few major plumbing repairs popped up and we decided to do a temporary kitchen update that took a bit longer than expected. This year we have decided to completely renovate at least the small bathroom, change one bedroom into a craft room and redo our bedroom and guest room. We hope to get the larger bathroom done as well but we'll see as there is still a fair amount of outside work to be done including installing a new dock. Of the four projects the bathroom will be the most extensive with completely gutting and starting from scratch.

With that in mind I have started do research on bathrooms and craft rooms. Not only am I pouring through magazines and websites I'm checking out friend's bathrooms and even taking pictures of motel elements I like. It sounds a bit funny to take pictures of motel bathrooms but why not? We love to travel so have an opportunity to see a lot of motel bathrooms some that have the elements I want in our bathrooms. The neat thing is with motels you get to try out the elements so to speak which helps make your decision easier.

toilet cabinetToilet Cabinet

Our small bathroom is off the open concept family room. This is the washroom my husband and I use most often. It consists of a shower stall, toilet, sink and storage. Expanding it is not really an option without losing part of the utility room built-in storage and the master bedroom closet. We've decided that we want to work within the existing space to create a nice washroom that works with the rest of the house.

Pictured is the washroom in the room we stayed in at Harrah's in Joliet, Illinois. I like that the toilet could be completely closed off from the rest of the washroom. So that is something I would like to incorporate into the small bathroom. I like the floating vanity too but am not sure how practical that would be for daily living as we would be giving up vanity storage. I think a vanity similar to dresser would work nicely as that would visually extend under the vanity while giving us the storage we need.

granite countertopGranite Countertop

Pictured is another view of the washroom at Harrah's. Definite don't likes are the mirror, lighting and textured wallpaper. I do like the overall colour tones of the bathroom as well as a touch of quiet elegance. What I really like about the floating vanity is the granite countertop and the curvature of the vanity. I like the smoothness and feel of the granite. However, I was watching DIYnetwork today and they showed a kitchen countertop using soapstone. It was stunning! We wouldn't need a huge piece for the small bathroom so it wouldn't break the budget. I want to do a bit more research on the soapstone as I think it would fit our house even better than granite.

extended countertopExtension

Pictured is the washroom in the room we stayed in at Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort. The vanity was again a floating style but with a leg on one end then wrapping over the toilet. I liked the curves of the vanity but did not like the actual countertop at all. I did like the extra countertop gained by extending it over the toilet tank. The immediate problem to doing this is of course toilet tank access and we all know at some point even with a newer toilet you might have to access the tank. We are also looking at installing dual flush eco-friendly toilets that have the flush buttons on the top of the tank. So even though I like that idea it is a no go for our bathroom renovations.

ceramic tilingTiling

Pictured is the hot tub in the room at Soaring Eagle. We are considering this type of set-up for our large bath if we can expand it a bit. At any rate and beyond a shadow of a doubt these are the tiles I want for the smaller bathroom! They will fit well with the overall design of our house keeping a cottage feel. Originally I thought a similar tile but all the same size would be nice but I really like the mixed sizes that will add a subtle interest. I don't like the textured wallpaper so the entire bathroom will be tiled including the ceiling although thinking about it we could put tongue and groove wood on the ceiling to tie the room into the family room. Still, I really like the idea of the whole room being tiled with a glass shower wall and door. What I think would look quite lovely is a antique dresser with soapstone top for the vanity. The soapstone would look quite lovely with this tile. I'm still not sure what I want for a mirror/medicine cabinet.

Ok so now I'm armed with a few ideas it is time to go shopping. Please check back to see our progress on these projects.

Garden Gnome

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Insects as Problem Indicators

Shortly after moving into this house we noticed a problem with creepy crawlies.  Now I'm not terrified of insects but I would prefer them to not be in our house.  Some of these insects were to be expected given the location and design of the house.  What we really learned is insects can be a very good indicator of other problems such as moisture.  If you eliminate the causation then you eliminate the insects.  We also learned that even though you eliminate the cause it can sometimes take a couple of weeks to notice any change in the number of insects.  At times especially if the insect problem is caused from infiltration though cracks and crevices it is quite possible to seal these effectively sealing the insects in the house.  In this case it may take manual removal as well a natural die off to eliminate those insects inadvertently trapped in the house.   

spiders, centipedes, earwigsCreepy Crawlies

We identified a few problem insects like the huge diving spiders (top left) and large black funnel spiders (top right).  The boxwoods edging the lower patio were laiden with funnel spiders giving them easy access to indoors.  Originally we thought the multitude of house centipedes (bottom left) were normal but after considerable research we found they were actually beneficial insects and indicators of other insect infestations combined with moisture.  Earwigs (bottom right) were quite common around the foundation and occasionally a few found their way indoors.  Other insects not pictured that enjoyed our indoors during our first year were pill bugs, millipedes, carpenter ants and a small fuzzy brown beetle with yellow markings. 

We took an aggessive approach to sealing insects out of the house that involved a lot of caulking.  However, the lower main living area including kitchen is mainly below grade with windows and patio door at ground level making any tiny gap an insect point of entry.  Despite our efforts the centipedes remained our house companions all be it in much lower numbers.  Up to the time of the discovery of our major plumbing problem in 2009 the centipede count was up to 17.

new line end of dayEnd of Day

In August of 2009 we discovered the reason for some of our major plumbing problems that caused flooding in the furnace room.  The portion of the drainage pipes were dug up from the house to the side of the patio leaving us with a lovely hole resembling a grave for a couple of weeks while the plumber did a lot of troubleshooting to discover the actual problem.  Having dealt with having the front yard dug up the year before due to plumbing problems we knew it would likely be a huge mess.   This solution resulted in running new drainage lines tearing up a good portion of our backyard.  Pictured is the backyard after the new lines were run.

With fall quickly approaching I geared up for the increased sightings of earwigs and centipedes.  Instead what happened is I spotted one centipede in mid September and that was it.  Apparently with the drainage working properly thanks to the aggressive approach we took, the area around the foundation quickly drained and dried.  During the rains the water drained quickly away.  So the centipedes were an indicator of other moisture liking insects (pill bugs, earwigs).  We have seen no pill bugs or earwigs indoors other than an occasional on that comes through the patio door.  A residual insecticide along the patio door threshold as well as the outer window sills has stopped insects before they can get inside.  Removing the moisture problem eliminated these insects which in turn eliminated a source of food for the centipedes resulting in eliminating the centipedes.  Or at least I think they are eliminated.  Spring is coming so that will be the confirming test even though we have stayed centipede free since mid September.

Garden Gnome

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

My Handy Kitchen Helper

A few years ago when we moved from an urban to rural setting we discovered mice. That house was sandwiched between the water and farmland much the same as this house is. We embarked on an extensive rodent control program at the last house then continued it when we moved here since we knew we would be dealing with the same issues. Aside of sealing rodents out of the home I feel it is extremely important to remove any food supply so meet my handy kitchen helper.

The kitchen is by far the first place food crumbs occur. It's hard to keep the crumbs picked up all the time and rather a pain to get the big vacuum cleaner out every time just to pick up the crumbs. This cute little Dirt Devil® helps keep those dry kitchen spills under control. I can easily clean up dry spills as they happen. We bought it on sale a couple of years ago for $30. Surprisingly this hand held vacuum has become one of my most used tools in the kitchen even though it is not nor ever was billed as being a kitchen appliance.

Garden Gnome

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Remotely Controlling Electricity

homemade beeswax candle burning
Homemade Beeswax Candle Burning

CBC and Toronto based e-Radio Inc. have announced plans to use a signal on their FM station that will cause your smart-grid enabled appliances to operate during Ontario's off-peak hours. This will involve using a made in Canada micro-chip installed in appliances and thermostats that can be controlled remotely though the signal coming through the FM station. This would allow public utilities to control the energy consumption in your home. Hydro One has had a similar program called peaksaver® they have been encouraging homeowners to enrol in. This involves installing a special thermostat that Hydro One can remotely control to increase your air conditioning temperature setting 2ºC for up 4 hours. The thermostat is programmable so will save upto 10% and you receive a $25 rebate incentive for participating in the program. At the same time Hydro One has introduced the Smart Meters with the phasing in of Time of Use (TOU) pricing. The Smart Meters have the ability to send meter readings via wireless technology to Hydro One which will eliminate estimate readings for rural customers as well as allow customers to manage their electricity consumption more effectively. Now nothing has been mentioned about this and this is pure speculation on my part but if the Smart Meter can send a reading then there is a good possibility that it can receive a signal that at some time in the future may lead to Hydro One further restricting electricity usage during peak hours. The idea of remotely controlling electrical appliances in your home is not a new one as home automation has been around for a number of years. A home automation system can be a professionally installed one or a DIY sytem using X-10 components or similar. What is different about the CBC and peaksaver® is who is controlling the electricity usage!

In the case of home automation the home owner controls the use of electricity through a series of modules electric appliances and lights are connected two. These can then be turned on and off remotely using a remote control and/or accessing computer software remotely. So if you were on vacation for a week in the winter and wanted to come home to a warm house you could access your system from another computer to turn the thermostat higher say a half hour before your arrival home. In addition to this home automation offers the ability to control lighting via motion turning lights off when no motion is detected in the room after a certain period of time that the homeowner determines. Home automation systems can be expanded to include security features such as video cameras as well. The point is the home owner has complete control over how the home automation system is used.

In the case of CBC's FM signal system and peaksaver® the control is entirely in the hands of the utility company. If I'm reading the information correctly you will need to have a FM RDS receiver module in your house so the FM signal goes to the module which then sends it to the appliance. However, I can't find a clear answer on this since e-Radio is saying these modules are already integrated into smart-grid devices. Of interest e-Radio sent their first test transmission in Toronto on January 10, 2010. At the same time, downtown Toronto was reporting a power outage. I'm sure the two are not connected but it could be possible.

Do you really want the utility company controlling how you use electricity telling you when you can or can't use certain appliances or how cool to keep your house? Anytime you give control to someone else it is very difficult if not downright impossible to get that control back. While at the moment they are saying they will only adjust your thermostat by 2ºC for up to 4 hours at some point that could easily change. Using this technology they can essential throttle down your electricity usage much the same way as satellite internet provides throttle the signal so you get 40% of the signal yet pay 100% of the price. In fairness throttling down your electricity would result in lower kWh used but you can bet your bottom dollar that the utility company will come up with some reason why they have to charge for throttling your electricity meaning you will be paying for them to do so. What happens if you need to run an emergency load of clothes if one of the kids are sick but your washer is on the system that it will only work during off-peak hours?

When it comes to utility usage it is best that you keep the control. The incentive is going to be there anyway through lower price per kWh during off-peak hours. Now is the time to get used to TOU times and adjust accordingly if you aren't already of TOU pricing. If you are on TOU pricing already now is the time to closely monitor your electricity usage and adjust where possible. When it comes to running your dishwasher and washer it is not that difficult to set either to run during off-peak hours. We always run our dishwasher as needed just before we go to bed with the exception of when I'm doing a heavy day of canning when it will run once or twice during the day. This is also an excellent time to start or continue making the conversion towards solar. There are some good incentives for adding solar to your home right now.

Garden Gnome

Friday, January 8, 2010

New Electricity Prices in Ontario

By now if you live in Ontario you will have received a flyer from the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) stating the increased electricity prices. Of course the prices per kWh have increased once again. Why is this not surprising? Our Smart Meter was installed in February 2009 but to date has not been activated. The writing was on the wall for increased prices. In some ways the Time of Use (TOU) is another way to charge extra for electricity and because it will cause confusion for those not understanding the three different rates it will actually be easy to get more rate increases through without people noticing it. Yes the OEB determines the electricity rates but they are influenced by Hydro One. After all if the electric infrastructure needs upgrading the the OEB will approve rate increases to help cover the costs of the upgrading. These new meters have gone in at what cost and yet almost a year later ours is still not activated. Why not? In this day and age of computer technology activating those meters should be as easy as pressing a button. We are looking forward to having our Smart Meter activated which will eliminate estimated billing and allow us to track our actual hydro usage.

Now here is something I'm not understanding about the new TOU prices. They apply from 7 am to 9 pm weekdays being either mid-peak or on-peak hours. Off-peak pricing of 4.4¢ per kWh will 9 pm to 7 am weekdays, weekends and holiday. Hydro One is encouraging people to switch to off-peak hours for things like running the dishwasher and washing machine. If everyone makes this switch won't those hours become mid or on peak?

And while we are on the subject of utility price increases Dalton McGuinty and his fine government (note the sarcasm) has decided that we need to pay an additional 8% on utilities that were previously exempt from PST but will not be exempt with the new HST. So not only are are electricity prices going up we are going to pay an extra tax. I'm wondering how these increases are going to affect a province already so affected by the current recession?

Watch for the next post with some of the things we will be doing to minimize the impact of the new electricity rates combined with the new tax.

Garden Gnome

Sunday, January 3, 2010

A Christmas Gift

James C. Brett
100% Acrylic

I learned to knit by hand when I was knee high to a grasshopper! It wasn't long after that I learned to crochet as well. A few years ago I bought my first knitting machine that was quickly followed by a second one. It is quite common for me to have several knitting and crocheting projects in various stages of completion on the go at any given time. Anyone who knits or crochets can attest to the large stash of various yarns they tend to accumulate. I'm no different in this respect.

What is better than buying yarn? A gift of yarn is even better as it is a thoughtful and useful gift that is sure to bring enjoyment while working with the yarn and later while wearing the garment. I was gifted with 4 skeins of James C. Brett Marble ( colour: MT9 Berries) 100% acrylic yarn that is machine washable and dryable. This gorgeous, super soft, double knitting weight yarn is made in Turkey. The yarn is a marl meaning it has two plies of different shades spun together. Unlike a normal varigated yarn, each of the plies change colour along their length, so this yarn knits into bands of colour to a very unique effect.

Each skein is 100 g, 220 m/240 yds so according this conversion chart there is approximately 75-100 yds per oz in double knit weight yarn so I have a total of about 9.6 - 12 oz of yarn to work with. According to weight I have 14 oz of yarn to work with. Using both the weight and length will help me decide what I want to make with the yarn. Now I need to find a pattern that will show off this gorgeous yarn.

To the gift givers of this beautiful yarn, thank-you so very much! I can't wait to see what it works up like :)

Garden Gnome

Friday, January 1, 2010

Welcome 2010 from Garden Gnome at Home

Welcome 2010 from Garden Gnome at Home
Garden Gnome