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

Thursday, December 29, 2011


Snowbird is a term used for those in the northern US states and Canadian provinces spending most of the winter in the southern US states.  While my husband and I own vacation property in the sunny south we are not the typical snowbird because we only go down three times a year for 2 to 5 weeks at a time.  It's not that we couldn't stay longer, we choose not to and my husband isn't ready to fully retire anyway.  We are homebodies enjoying being at home entertaining our family and friends especially during the holiday season.

What is really nice about our vacation home is it is pretty much the same colour schemes as our new home - taupes, moss green, browns and burgundy.  I think the only real difference is our couch set here (permanent home) is navy blue but that works with all those colours too.  So anything I bring to the vacation home from here automatically matches. 

Garden Gnome

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Back Home

We left on December 4th to spend a couple of days in Wisconsin before going to our vacation home in the sunny south.  It was a very much needed break and while we could have stayed longer, we arrived home on the 22nd because I wanted to be home for the holidays with the kids and grandkids. 

We didn't do a lot of shopping in Florida as we were flying without checking a bag.  It's less expensive that way.  We did find a Hobby Lobby that was amazing so I went online to find one closer to our permanent residence.  It was late so we stayed overnight to have a fresh start the following day.  I picked up a few craft projects at Hobby Lobby so will be sharing those with you shortly.  We stopped there along with stopping to do a bit of shopping the day after arriving at the airport.  One stop was Bed Bath & Beyond, another really nice place to shop. 

Without a shadow of a doubt the number one kitchen gift this year was the Keurig single server coffee makers with accessories and K-cups.  We absolutely love our Keurig!  One of our kids bought theirs first to replace their Melitta One:One.  After much consideration along with our badly failing Melitta One:One we bought our Keurig coffee maker and just recently another of our kids bought one.  K-cups are expensive as homemade coffee goes coming it at as high as 79¢ per cup but less expensive than coffee purchased out.  Bought on sale I can find the K-cups for as low as 50¢ per cup and through One Cup Connection I can get them for about 39¢ per cup.  We bought the My K-cup re-usable filter system which brings the price down to 9¢ per cup.  The My K-cup comes with one re-usable filter basket but we found a two pack of the filter baskets at Bed, Breakfast and Beyond for $8.99, not a bad price considering we use our Keurig on average a few times a day and not just for coffee.  There are other re-usable filter systems for the Keurig and now there are various styles of storage systems for the K-cups.  The Keurig was the only noticeable kitchen gift item this year from what we saw.

Anyway we are back home so I'm looking forward to a couple of months of turning our new house into a home.  It already feels like home but I want to make curtains, cushions, paint all of the rooms, add my own decorating style and that type of thing.  I will be heading to the paint store the first week of January so expect to hear a lot about painting!  I need to make a new afghan for the family room just for this house as that has been a tradition for every home we have been in.  I found a really nice pattern so just have to buy the yarn.  I'm planning on redoing most of the landscaping as well as adding new garden beds.  It should be a rather exciting 2012 with everything I have in mind!

Garden Gnome

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Some Home Upgrades Do Not Pay When Trying to Sell a House

We recently sold our fifth house, bought a vacation home and moved into our sixth purchased house.  When it comes to buying and selling houses some home upgrades simply do not pay for themselves when trying to sell a house.  They may help sell the house faster but you won't recoup the costs.  The list of upgrades fitting into this category will depend on the location and the current real estate market.  For example, it would have cost us $30,000 to rebuild our dock at our last house and yet we still would have taken a loss on the house.  The real  estate market had softened to the point we could have spent $100,000 on the house and still see a loss.  'Twas the sign of the times.  In general, in our area the following will not help greatly when selling a house and in some cases may even hurt the sale:

  • swimming pool - In our area we pay taxes on an inground pool but no taxes on an above ground pool. Pools in general are not selling features in our area.  If you are lucky a pool can be used from June to mid-September.  They are expensive to operate and work.  We looked at two houses, one with an inground pool and the other with an above ground pool.  We chose the one with the above ground pool because it could easily be dismantled if we decide we did't want a pool.  In reality, any pool is not a selling feature unless you find the right buyer.
  • landscaping - Landscaping is expected but specialty landscaping (eg. formal garden with greenhouse, ponds, and etc.) is not a selling feature.  About 90% of potential home buyers will see this as a lot of work so won't even bother putting in an offer.  The reality is most home buyers will remove a good portion of the existing landscaping so when sell just make it neat and tidy, without emphasizing any additional work.
  • windows - Prospective home buyers expect windows and they really don't seem to care whether they are energy efficient or not.  Our real estate agent said this is just the way it is but I'm not sure why.  
  • carpeting - Many prospective home buyers are not impressed with newly installed carpeting.  The growing trend is to go with hard flooring, not carpeting.  If you have carpeting, rather than replacing it, have the carpet steam cleaned for selling purposes.  Chances are very good anyone who buys the house will rip out the carpet anyway so just make sure it is clean and stain free for the showings.
  • painting - A fresh coat of paint may make the house more appealing but may not necessarily help you sell your house.  If a prospective buyer smells fresh paint in the house, they may view it as a quick cover-up, hiding something so painting may actually hinder the sale of your house.  Unless you have a garish colour in a room, the best bet is to wash the walls to brighten them a bit then leave them alone when selling.  Any potential buyer is going to repaint anyway so save yourself the work.  

Garden Gnome

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


We live in beautiful Ontario, Canada and own vacation property in Florida.  Windows are an odd thing.  You need windows in your home and yet if you try selling your home you won't recoup the costs of replacement windows.  Buyers expect windows but most don't care about having energy efficient windows.  That little tid bit came directly from our real estate agent.  When I was growing up we had the old double hung wood, single pane windows with wood storm windows.  The storm windows were supposed to make the windows more efficient.  Well they didn't help much but the did help I suppose.  At some point my Mom had aluminum storm windows installed.  They were a bit more efficient but not by much.  There are still many homes in Ontario that have the older wood windows with wood or aluminum storms.  They can be made a bit more efficient using caulk and weatherstripping.

Newer homes tend to have double or triple pane windows.  Our new house has double pane, energy efficient windows.  So far I have not found any air leaks.  Double and triple pane windows save on both heating and cooling costs while eliminating the work of putting up and taking down storm windows.  At the same time they greatly reduce outdoor noise from entering the house.

Our vacation home has what I basically would consider aluminum storm windows or at least that's what they would be considered in Ontario.  These single pane windows do little to buffer outdoor noise or prevent thermal loss/gain.  Our vacation home is in a very quiet resort so dampening noise is not a real issue.  What has become an issue since we bought the house is telemarketers trying to sell us upgraded windows.  I'm not kidding!  The problem is our vacation home is a manufactured home built in October of 2006, erected here in the spring of 2007.  The payback period for replacement windows at this time is not worth the expense especially when we rent the house out when we aren't there so it is either rented or empty.

Garden Gnome

Monday, December 12, 2011

Centipedes At the New House

We first encountered centipedes in our last house.  It was a bi-level house with the main living area mainly below ground with the back opening to the water in what some would call a walk-out basement.  The centipedes were bad because the previous owner was a hoarder so there were ample hiding spots for them to breed.  When we moved in, the clutter was gone so we were left to deal with the numerous centipedes.  I wrote a blog post on how to control house centipedes.  I took a very aggressive knock down then ongoing control approach.  We sold that house in September, buying another bi-level house and weren't even moved fully in before spotting the first centipede.

In fairness, I think since September 1 we have only spotted 3 centipedes in the new house, no where near the number of centipedes at the other house.  It was quite common to see upwards of four or five centipedes daily at the old house.  In all honesty, we should have called in a professional exterminator to deal with the centipede and spider problem at that house.

The lower level in our new home consists of the pantry, bathroom, games rooms and storage under the stairs.  There is an exit door at the end of the hall.  Anytime windows and doors are located near or below the ground level, there is the opportunity for insects and pests to get into the house.  We did a residual spray on the lower level of the new house which was a bit of overkill because the new house has a couple of features that will help to keep any insect controlled without the use of pesticides.  Essentially is does not provide centipedes with what they need to survive but because we have a pool that creates a damper area around the house, we need to stay on top of controlling insects attracted to damp areas.  We also have a sump pump that can attract moisture loving insects.

First, the centipede population is not big enough to be of concern.  The quick knock down will more than likely solve the problem.  The house is only 17 years old meaning it is considerably better sealed than the old house.  Sealing keeps insects and pests out of the house because there is less cracks for them to get into the house.  There is no carpeting in the new house.  Did you know that centipedes actually lay their eggs in carpeting?  This greatly reduces the breeding areas for centipedes.  I vacuum the hard flooring almost daily as part of my dust control which will effectively remove any centipede eggs that may be laid in the house.  Any damp clothing or cloths are hung to dry before going into the laundry hamper.  This is just good practice anyway even if you don't have insects that are attracted to moisture.  It prevents any molding issues too.  Finally, the lower level of our new house (unlike our old house) has an abundance of natural light.  This discourages insects like centipedes that prefer darker hiding spots.

In short, I don't anticipate any problem with centipedes at our new house.  I doubt we will see more than a couple in the year, likely in the spring and fall during the wet seasons.  The nice thing is we already know how to deal with centipedes!

Garden Gnome

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Laundry Woes

My husband and I raised a larger family so I did one or two loads of laundry on a daily basis.  I seriously learned to hate bordering on detest doing laundry.  It was never ending!  Fast forward to my Whirlpool Duet HE front loading machines and doing laundry has been a treat.  I do one or two loads of laundry every seven to ten days.  It's not that I like doing laundry but those machines have made it tolerable.  Then we bought the vacation home and oh good gosh, I'm back into the laundry twilight zone there!  There are two of us and I have to do laundry almost every other day.  When we have guests I end up doing laundry once or twice a day.  It is just horrid if you ask me!

Garden Gnome

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Issue of Closets

Closets present two problems: either there are never enough or they are over stuffed.  Our last house had amazing closet space with built-ins.  There was a tremendous amount of storage space tucked in areas that would otherwise be wasted space.  The previous owner was a hoarder, exactly like what you see on television so when they bought the house about twenty years before we bought it, she had all of these closets custom made.  She likely was not near the hoarder back then.  Anyway, I'm missing my closets!  In perspective though, closets cost both time and money.  They take up valuable real estate that you pay for through mortgage payments and property taxes.  The cost in terms of valuable time especially when they are not organized.  In general, it really is best to reduce the amount of closet space in your home while increasing the functionality.

I grew up in a small house with virtually no closets.  My Mom hung a metal pole between the two walls at the top of the stairs where our good clothes hung and those were put into storage according to the season.  We had a cedar chest in each bedroom for blankets and dressers for clothes.  That's it.  Our second house was a Victorian.  We never knew exactly how old it was as it was built before the town was established but it came on their books in 1904.  Originally there were no closets but a previous owner had created on over the top of the stairs when they converted that space from the landing sitting area to a bedroom.  We had dressers and clothes chests including an old restored trunk.  I stored things like mops and brooms much the same as my Mom did, behind a door.

This house has closets but considering the size of the house I'm surprised at the lack of closet space.  Each bedroom has a closet, there is a very small linen closet, a small closet on the entrance landing, larger closet in the master bedroom and a larger storage closet in the utility room.  I'm back to getting creative at finding closet space.  Surprising the closet I miss the most from our old house is the broom closet. 

Less closet space is not a bad thing so I'm using it to my advantage.  We have more actual living space with less dedicated to storage.  It is helping me on my quest of decluttering while curbing accumulating unnecessary items.  My Mom used to rotate clothing twice a year, spring and fall so I have gone back to that method.  I used it for years but with the last house didn't need to.  Our clothes are stored based on the season with heavy winter coats and sweaters out now but in the spring all but a few sweaters will go into storage as the summer clothes come out of storage.  The same goes for shoes and boots.  This really a more practical way of dealing with clothes anyway and it gives the opportunity to do a bit of decluttering each time. 

Garden Gnome

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Sources of Air Leaks in a House

The cost of energy is consistently rising so energy efficiency is ever more important.  Air leaks in your home can cost you hundreds of dollars a year in energy costs and yet they are one of the easiest to remedy with low cost materials and DIY projects.  For example, a 4  x 300 ml package of 25 year durability interior/exterior acrylic caulk costs $8.97 at Home Hardware.  Simply using one of the tubes to seal cracks could save you the cost of the caulk in less than a month during the heating season.  Just imagine the savings if you used all four tubes!  Chances are good that you may not have to use all four tubes of caulk depending on how well sealed your house is already.  For example, I likely used four tubes of caulk in our third house but closer to twenty tubes in our last house, and I estimate this house will need less than four.  The difference being the age and design of the houses as well as whether the previous owner did any sealing. 

Cracks and crevices are not the only source of air leakage in a house.  Improperly weather stripped door and windows can cause a significant amount of air leakage.  Faulty seals on refrigerators or freezers can cause air to leak out of either which causes the appliance to use more energy which translates into paying more on your hydro bill.  Electrical outlets, switches, and ceiling/wall fixtures can all be sources where cold air can leak into the house.  Our hydro panel was located on an outside wall in main living area.  On a windy day, enough wind came in to move the mirror hung over it!  Fireplaces can literally suck heat air from the room, ultimately costing you more in heating costs.  Gaps around wires, cables and pipes entering the house can be a significant source of air leakage.  A gas pipe had been installed in our fourth house but had not been sealed properly allowing a gap big enough that rodents could get in!  Bell installed our satellite tv here and I specifically asked the technician if he had caulked around the cable.  He said he had but he obviously didn't as I found out the first windy day where the wind was hitting that side of the house.  Exhaust fans and clothes dryers both can let in a significant amount of cold air.  One solution to this problem is to replace regular vent covers with the Braun Eco-Vent.  This specialized insulated vent cover has a ball closure that opens to allow exhaust air out but seals when not in use to prevent cold air from entering the vent.  Your HVAC ductwork may have seams and joints that aren't sealed causing the loss of hot or cold air when in use.  Seal any you can with aluminum foil duct tape.

It is possible to use temporary air leakage blockers such as door snakes, removable caulk, heavy quilts or blankets, towels, shrink plastic, and cardboard secured with removable tape.  These are ideal when you discover a bad air leak that can't be immediately repaired.  For example, today it is extremely windy with driving torential rain.  I discovered the range hood that desperately needs replacing is pouring in very cold, damp air.  I taped a piece of carboard to the filter just to stop the cold air from coming it.  It is only a very temporary measure that quickly solves the problem until the wind dies down and obviously one that can't remain if using the stove.  What this means though is the flapper on the range hood that prevents cold air from entering the house is broke.  Since we are replacing the range hood the problem will be solved anyway.  If using a temporary blocker, do not create a fire hazard or block exit routes from your home in the event of an emergency. 

Before embarking on sealing your house, be aware that a house can be sealed too tightly creating problems with indoor air quality and the proper operation of combustible appliances (eg. gas fireplaces, gas furnace, gas water heater, gas ranges).  Be sure all combustible appliances are venting properly before and after sealing.  Under normal daily activities, there should be enough fresh air entering a house via outside door during entry and exit.  A tightly sealed house may require an air exchanger.  Our new house has a Lifebreath HRV (model 150Max) that is set on a 40/20 cycle.  For twenty minutes each hour the HRV brings in fresh air from outside while exhausting stale air.  Also be aware that in tightly sealed homes it is even more important to avoid using toxic household cleaners and anything containing VOCs (eg. some paints, household cleaners).  It is important to use controlled air exhaust (eg. range hoods, bathroom exhaust fans, HRV,) methods to reduce indoor air pollution, ensure sufficient fresh air entering the house and to ensure combustible appliances have ufficient oxygen for proper operation.  It is a good idea to have an air pressure test done on your home before and after sealing as well as have any combustible appliances checked for proper venting before and after sealing.

Garden Gnome

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Energy Conservation Plans for Our New Home

We have practiced energy conservation ever since we rented our first apartment as newlyweds.  Although utilities were included we paid extra each month to be able to have an air conditioner in the summer months.  Once we bought our first house, paying all of our own utilities including using AC and a pool in the summer months, energy conservation went into high gear.  As a young couple with a growing family, keeping the utility bills down was a matter of being able to afford living in our own home.  It was that first house (a duplex) that I experimented with solar heat banks, made quilted insulated window shades, learned to heat with wood and perfected using a caulk gun.   We have come a long way since that house!

We bought a vacation home in March of 2010 and we moved into our new home, our sixth purchased permanent residence in September of this year.  The primary focus of every home we have owned including the two we currently own is getting the house as energy efficient as possible as quickly as possible.  Now it is not a matter of not being able to afford higher utility bills but rather reducing our consumption to become more eco-friendly. 

I estimate it takes a good three years to achieve that goal in a house we just move into but this house likely won't take much more than six months to a year.  It's a newer home that was built in 1994 so has good insulation and a good lot position that takes advantage of the south and west walls for passive solar gain.  The biggest problem we are facing is the house is too new to warrant higher energy savers like replacement windows or new furnace and AC as the energy savings would be too low, creating a high pay back period.  In other words we would likely end up replacing what we replace ten years down the road without it ever paying for itself.  The house is too new to take advantage of the Energy Audit for grants covering a portion of any updates like windows, doors, and HVAC system.  The furnace is original but considerably newer than our old furnace and it has a heat recovery ventilation system for higher energy savings.  The windows are fairly large to take advantage of natural lighting reducing the need for indoor lighting during the day but that can mean thermal loss on cloudy days and overnight.  Our best course of action to reduce our energy usage in our new home will be considerably less expensive than in any of the other homes we have owned!

Here are a few things we have done and plan to do to conserve energy in our new home:

  • sealing - The caulk gun is loaded and ready for action as leaks are detected indoors and where I see the need outdoors.  I've sealed all leaks I've found so far and will continue doing this as the need arises.  I use a paintable 20 or 25 year acrylic caulk for sealing unless silicone is warranted.  A rule of thumb is if you see a spider web there is an air leak nearby as spiders spin their web in cooler locations to keep the egg sac cool.
  • insulating - We insulated all of the outside wall electrical outlets and receptacles using foam insulators and child safety plugs.  There is very little need for additional insulation in the walls or attic however, we are considering adding a bit more insulation in the attic as it may save a little money and it is a rather easy, low cost DIY project.
  • lighting - We added solar lighting outside and changed most of the incandescent light bulbs indoors and outdoors to CFL bulbs.  There are a couple of outdoor fixtures that need the bulbs changed or the fixture replaced to accommodate the CFL bulbs.  I'm using timers on our energy efficient Christmas trees and will be working on our X-10 home automation system during the winter.  I plan on adding more solar lighting outdoors including a solar powered, motion activated security light.  A few of the indoor windows lend themselves nicely to using solar powered lighting as well and we are planning to install a solar tube in the main bathroom.
  • heating - We are heating with natural gas using the energy efficient furnace installed when the house was built.  It has a HRV system for further savings.  On sunny days there is a gorgeous passive solar gain through the windows on the south wall.  I'm taking advantage of that.  There is also nice passive solar gain in the kitchen that faces east.  More importantly, the kitchen floor (marble) and entrance floor (ceramic tile) act as heat sinks absorbing heat from the sun's rays then releasing it back into the rooms once the sun is off the windows and patio doors.  The partial ceramic floor on the lower level creates a smaller heat sink.  I've been working on sealing any duct work I can reach using aluminum foil tape that will reduce heating and cooling loss through the ducts.
  • water - When we moved in, both toilets were leaking as was the main bathroom faucet.  We repaired all three water leaks immediately.  We know our water usage will increase with a pool but feel we can be frugal with this aspect as well.  Surprisingly, many will spend more watering their yards and gardens than we will operating the pool.  We are installing two DIY rainwater fed, gravity activated water storage units for the gardens and yard, possibly three.  I'm working on a great DIY gravity fed irrigation system for the vegetable gardens as well.  
  • cooking - My husband and I are very much foodies who enjoy home cooked meals the majority of the time.  That is not going to change.  We did however switch from cooking with hydro (indoors) and natural gas (outdoors) to cooking with natural gas (indoors) and propane/charcoal (outdoors).  Natural gas is one third the price of hydro here.  There is better control for the burners so less energy is needed and preliminary results have shown foods cooked with natural gas cook faster further reducing the energy needed.  This house is ideal for experimenting using solar power so I already have a couple of projects lined up involving solar power. 
  • windows - We are taking the maximal advantage of our windows for daytime solar gain but at night we cover them to prevent thermal loss.  We have two half circle windows and two side windows that are a bit problematic.  I'm making quilted insulating shades for the north windows and adding insulated panels to the large living/dining room window.

Garden Gnome

Monday, November 28, 2011

Second Month of Utility Bills at Our New House

The September utility bills at our new house were rather discouraging.   It is a bit difficult to compare usage between the two houses as the billing periods are quite different.  They were usually 30 day bills at the old house for natural gas and hydro but quarterly for water.  The hydro and water are combined on one bill at the new house and natural gas remains the same.  Here's the breakdown for October's utility bills:

  • hydro - The cost per kWh for both houses is the same and both houses are on TOU pricing (10.7¢ per kWh on peak, 8.9¢ per kWh mid peak, 5.9¢ per kWh off peak).  The usage pattern remains fairly consistent with the highest usage during off peak hours (8 PM to 8 AM and weekends). We used 430 kWh total at a cost of $66.65.  We averaged $120 per month for hydro at our old house so we are definitely using less hydro which is to be expected given we are no longer cooking with hydro and we are using less lighting.  In a comparison of homes in our new neighbourhood, 33.72% of our neighbours used less hydro than us and 66.28% used more hydro than us.  We are back into the lower end of hydro usage.  $53.35 savings
  • water/sewage - Our water/sewage averaged $35 per month at the old house.  The water/sewage portion of October's bill was $42.92.  The water rates are higher at our new house (88¢ per cubic meter vs 76¢ per cubic meter) and the sewage rates are lower (75¢ per cubic meter vs $1.25 per cubic meter.  The basic water service charge was $19.50 at the old house and $15.40 at the new house however there is a sewage service charge of $18.70 where there was no sewage service charge at the old house.  $7.92 expense
  • natural gas - We used 1.83 cubic meters of natural gas for a total cost of $35.54 from September 29 to October 27 at our new house.  At the old house from September 24 to October 27, 2010 we used 1.665 cubic meters for a total cost of $31.85.  Two weeks during both billing periods were spent at our vacation home and the furnace was on during the last week to ten days.  The natural gas usage will increase with cooking but decrease because the outdoor grill is no longer natural gas, we no longer have a gas fireplace and the furnace is newer than our old one.  The furnace also has a heat recovery ventilation unit so we expect heating costs to be a bit lower even though the new house is larger.   $3.69 expense
During the month of October, we paid a bit more for water/sewage and natural gas but less on hydro for a net utility savings of $41.74!  Over a year that works out to a savings of $500.88.  We know that the AC will be on more at our new house and we will use more water and hydro when the pool is open but if we continue with good energy conservation methods we should still realize a reduction in utility costs by moving to our new house.

Garden Gnome

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Moving Towards An Organized Home

Our former house was on the market for eighteen months before it finally sold.  I used that time to declutter thus reducing what we had to move.  The reality is moving from any house to another is going to result in items that are no longer wanted or needed.  We started moving in on September 1, closed on September 15 and left for our vacation home on September 18.  Our goal during the time prior to our fall vacation was to get our new home to the point it was livable.  Once we returned home in October our goals were to get the garage to the point we could get one of our vehicles in it and get the walk-in pantry set up.  We have achieved all of these goals and then some.  Now we are at the point to gear up for organizing and decorating.  I'm rather excited about this!

Garden Gnome

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Downside to Hard Surfaces

Hard surfaces are so much more health friendly, reducing the allergen level when properly cared for but there is a down side.  Thursday night I started reacting to something in the house.  The reaction became steadily worse over the weekend with two asthma flare-ups.  The problem with hard surfaces is the allergens are just there, free to become airborne unlike when they settle into carpeting where they are slowly released back into the air.  An allergic person will still react but because it is a slower release the reaction is not as severe however, in a home where there are fewer hiding places for allergens, the allergic reaction can be more severe.  That's what I'm experiencing and so far it hasn't been pleasant. 

Garden Gnome

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Household Dust Control

Any allergist will tell you it is vital to eliminate dust in your home but the reality is, it is virtually impossible to remove all the dust in your home.  You can reasonably reduce it and control it but you can't eliminate it.  However, the fact remains that effective dust control results in a healthier indoor environment that reduces the need for respiratory medication.  It is a pro-active approach in allergy and asthma management that can save you a considerable amount of money.  Most methods of household dust control are low or no cost, more of a time commitment than anything else.  Here are some of the things I am doing to control household dust:

  • shoes off at the door policy - We have a policy of no outdoor shoes being worn inside the house.  This decreases allergens and dust from entering our home.  Of note, when we had asphalt driveways (two homes) we quickly discovered that oil from the asphalt tracked in on the bottom of shoes can cause light coloured sheet flooring to yellow
  • no pets - At the current time we have no pets by choice and that is mainly due to allergies.  Pets shed hair and skin cells much the same as humans do.  They can greatly increase the dust level in a home.  In addition, pets that go outdoors are walking allergen traps bringing all those allergens back into your home.
  • dusting - Regular dusting is critical for dust control.  The best methods are those that do not cause the dust to become airborne.  Use microfibre cloths (eco-friendly), disposable Swiffer cloths, damp dusting using a solution of Murphy's oil soap not spray dusters or your vacuum cleaner attachments. 
  • filters - Filters are paramount especially if you have HVAC (forced air and heat).  Use a good quality allergen reducer (HEPA) filter on the furnace as well as filters on the floor/ceiling heating vents and air returns.  This essentially filters your air three times and can be quite effective at reducing household dust.  Be sure to change the filters as needed.  Use a vacuum cleaner with a filtering system preferably HEPA.  There are special filters available for windows as well so you can have your windows open for fresh air without letting dust and allergens in.
  • reduce the clutter - It goes without saying but the less dust collectors you have the better.  Use closed glass cabinets for those items you want on display then keep all other items to a minimum. 
  • reduce textiles - All textiles (eg. upholstered furniture, towels, carpeting and etc.) attract dust as well as produce dust as they wear down.  The less of these types of items you have the better when it comes to household dust control.  Use allergen reducing covers on all pillows and mattresses.  Air fluff throw pillows and comforters in the dryer to freshen and remove dust that has settled on them.  Stuffed animals can also be air fluffed to remove dust.  Replace fabric upholstered furniture with leather, naughihide, vinyl, wook or wicker.  Replace carpeting with hard flooring and keep the use of area rugs or mats to a minimum. 

Garden Gnome

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Bissell Opticlean Cyclonic Bagless Vacuum Cleaner

[Please note: I am not in any way compensated by Bissell.  The thoughts expressed here are my own based on my experience using Bissell products.]

I have used a lot of floor maintenance machines since being a newlywed eons ago.  We bought a Bissell electric broom for our first apartment.  Even though I have had a used and rather old red Hoover cannister vacuum cleaner, a Filter Queen (at one time the creme de la crop), and a central vacuum, I keep coming back to Bissell products.  One reason I love Bissell is because I get consistently good results.  Years ago we were renovating a turn of the century home.  My FIL thought a low pile carpet would be good for the kitchen to quickly get a floor in for winter [we later had it professionally replaced with sheet flooring].  With young kids, a cat and allergies it wasn't the wisest advice but we heated solely with wood and needed anything possible to help warm the house during the renovation stage.  Anyway, Zeller's had a new loyalty program called Z-points so we signed up and soon had enough Z-points to cash in for a Bissell steam cleaner.  It was a tank rather stand-up model but it was free.  That was back in the mid-1980's and do you know we were still using that very same steam cleaner to clean carpets at our last house (2007 - 2011)?  Now that is a good machine!  I've had two Bissell upright, bagless vacuums that are still in action (one at my husband's office, the other at one of our kids) and one DirtDevil that went to the landfill.

Bissell Opticlean cyclonic bagless vacuum cleaner
When we moved into our new home in September, I knew I would have to get some type of vacuum.  The handheld vacuum is great for quick cleanups but it was obvious that more dust control was needed in the absence of carpeting.  I bought a Bissell 3-in-1 Vac ($29.99).  It's basically a nice, bagless, convertible hand held vacuum.  It did not take me long to realize while the 3-in-1 is great, I really needed a vacuum cleaner with extra cleaning tools for deep down cleaning.

WalMart Canada had a sale on vacuum cleaners including the Bissell Opticlean cyclonic bagless vacuum cleaner.   It was originally $149.99 on for $68.99.  I didn't even blink when I put it in the cart.  I wanted something bagless, compact, versatile with cleaning tools and the reality was for our purposes we did not need anything really fancy.

The Opticlean has a lot of very nice features like filters, telescoping extendable wand, onboard attachments, automatic power cord retractor with cord storage, easy carpet to hard flooring, wand storage in two positions and it's bagless.  It lightweight enough for me to carry between the three levels yet is heavy enough for substantial usage.  The previous owners had two dogs and I'm pretty sure they had a cat or two.  You should have seen the area around the furnace and water heater.  Talk about fur balls!  They were huge.  We clogged up the new vacuum three times just cleaning that space then clogged it a couple more times cleaning hair balls from under the refrigerator we wrote into the deal.  Removing the vent cover at the bottom of the refrigerator revealed a giagantic as in never had been cleaned since buying the fridge hair blockage!    Three floor heating vents were equally blocked.  Had we ruined the new vacuum we would have been out $68.99 but well ahead in the resulting energy savings. 

We didn't ruin the machine.  It follows me around like a little blue beetle on my heavier cleaning days.  I've used it a lot with no problems to clean window tracks, door sills, the floors and so much more.  I'm actually quite fond of my little blue beetle!  For the price, I certainly cannot complain but then I wouldn't expect anything less from a Bissell.

Garden Gnome

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Wet and Dry Floor Mops

In many ways hard flooring is a bit more work than carpeting but only because dust and dirts becomes hidden in carpet whereas there is no place for it to hide on hard flooring.  Properly maintained hard flooring results in a healthier home.  There are dust mites and other allergens than there would be with carpeting and even fewer if you make a point to dust down the floors daily.

wet and dry floor mops
I had a plain Swiffer wand that I used for many years for both damp and dry dusting.  I had more than seen better days so I replaced it with a Vileda FibroContact wet or dry mop (right).  This mop uses a unique cotton and microfibre blend for cleaning walls, ceilings and all hard flooring.  The removable pad is machine washable so that will greatly eliminate the need for buying the Swiffer cloths.  Extra pads are available.

I also had a Swiffer WetJet at one time but did not care for it as both batteries and special propriety cleaning solutions were required.  I replaced the WetJet with a Bissell steam mop.  The steam mop does a wonderful job cleaning and while I can use in on ceramic tile, marble and laminate flooring, I decided to buy a Rubbermaid Reveal microfibre spray mop (left) for lighter cleaning.  The microfibre pad is machine washable and extra pads are available.  I can use a simple water and vinegar solution on all of my floors except the marble tile in the kitchen.

Both of these mops are eco-friendly tools to help me keep my floors looking gorgeous and clean without using strong chemicals, disposable cloths, batteries or electricity.  Running the dry dust mop over the floors at least once daily keeps them about as dust free I can get.  Honestly, within 10 minutes of dusting the floors, I can see a bit of fresh dust.  It is a never ending battle that would be quite costly if running the vacuum cleaner every day!  From one end of the house and back including the entrance and lower level of a large bi-level home, it takes me about 10 minutes to dust the floors.  

Friday, November 11, 2011

Excited About Recycling

My gosh we have been into recycling since we were newlyweds, back when recycling was more a norm than a luxury.  Re-using and re-purposing items was quite common.  In the 1980's the blue box was introduced and in some communities like Guelph, Ontario just about everything including baby's diapers can be put into the recycle bins.  They have a three tier recycling system that includes paper, metal/plastics and wets (eg. kitchen waste, diapers).  Their system is absolutely amazing with very little going into the garbage.

For the past almost ten years we have lived semi-rural and rural.  The recycling service was dismal at best yet we still had one.  They would take cardboard, newspapers, tin cans, glass and plastic pop bottles.  Anything that wasn't to be in the bins they would toss back into the yard, not always the best thing to have blowing around.  They would not take the plastic tub containers that sour cream and cottage cheese come in. 

We have a new recycling system at our new house.  The black bin is used for all fibre products like paper beverage cartons, household paper/newspaper, catalogues, books, telephone books, cardboard, boxboard and egg cartons.  The blue bin is for food, beverages and liquid containers including sour cream and cottage cheese tubs AND aluminum foil containers and foil.  They will even take milk cartons!  We can get a compost bin from the municipality for $25 and we are planning on installing a garburator so actual garbage going to the landfill will be greatly reduced.  I was quite surprised that over the last week our actual garbage to toss out amounted to less than a grocery bag. 

This new system has sparked my interest in recycling again.  Don't get me wrong as I found a lot of creative ways to recycle containers but this is so much easier.  They collect the bins every other week.  We don't drink much in the way of soft drinks or use commercially canned foods so this collection schedule works well for us.  We have extra cardboard due to the move but once that is cleared there should be little all the way around going to the curb.

Garden Gnome

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Downside to Moving - Cleaning

Moving is undoubtedly a massive amount of work even if you hire some of it out.  Amidst the chaos of packed boxes, packing and moving in there is the extensive cleaning that needs to be done on both ends of the move.  The house or apartment you are moving from needs to be cleaned top to bottom before it changes ownership.  For the most part this means surface clean, no garbage or debris laying around, and everything neat and tidy.  If it is not the real estate agent can be held liable on a house or apartment that is sold or on a rental property it could mean you lose your security deposit. 

If the house or apartment has been reasonably maintained, the final cleaning shouldn't be much of a problem.  Simply dust down the walls, wash any marks on the walls off using a Mr. Clean Magic eraser, clean the windows, dust the wall, vacuum the floors and shine any chrome like faucets or mirrors.  That way the new homeowner/tenant is greeted to a clean house or apartment to which they can clean further to their specifications.

Moving into a new house or apartment means you will be cleaning, period.  You can hire some of it out or do it yourself but it still needs to be done.  The amount of work required will of course depend on the move-in condition of the premises.  The problem with this is you more than likely will have to deal with some cleansers you normally would not use.  We tend to use as natural of a cleaning process as possible (eg. steam, vinegar, baking soda, Mr. Clean Magic erasers, soap, Simple Green, Murphy's oil soap, household ammonia).  Our new house was left somewhat surface clean in that the surfaces were wiped down but definitely not what I would consider clean and the previous owners admitted they hadn't had the time to clean the house better. 

I was surprised at the amount of cleaning I have had to do.  The house was neat and tidy when we viewed it but quite frankly the previous owners either didn't know how to clean or were too lazy to do so.  We were lucky in that we took possession on September 1 but most of our furniture did not arrive until September 6 so that gave us five days for cleaning and moving smaller items.  The cleaning continues though.  I've spent more time on my hands and knees cleaning as well as getting into nooks and crannies for cleaning than I really wanted but it has to be done.  While I resorted to my tried and true, eco-friendly cleaning methods, I had to buy a special cleaner.polisher and sealer for the marble floor in the kitchen, another special cleaner for the laminate flooring and pinesol to clean the grout on four floors plus the countertop.  I bought a large container of TSP for the walls as that will be needed for painting anyway.  I've had every cleaning device imaginable (eg. handheld steam cleaner, steam mop, dust mop, wet mop, and etc.) in use almost daily.  The vacuum cleaner and electric broom have been huge assets for getting dust and dirt up and out of the house.  We even had the house powerwashed because it was quite obvious the previous owners had never washed the exteriour.  I'm looking forward to getting the major cleaning behind us!  Once everything is cleaned, maintaining it along with spring and fall cleaning is a cinch.

Garden Gnome

Monday, November 7, 2011

Having the House Power Washed

Our vacation house in Florida is vinyl sided and our new house is mainly vinyl sided with brick on parts of the front.  Vinyl siding gets dirty through the normal weather as well as dust and debris in the air.  Some locations are dirtier than others.  For example our property backs onto a field that creates a fair amount of dust when it is harvested.  Houses on busier streets will get dirtier faster as will those near or in the air currents of factories.  Some locations are prone to mildew, molding and moss issues due to high humidity levels and/or high shade levels.  The end result is even a fairly new house with vinyl siding can look dull and dingy with dirty streaks.  The easiest way to deal with this problem is to have the house power washed. 

We have a small power washer suitable for keeping some house areas, outdoor furniture and lower windows clean and tidy but it is not strong enough to reach up into the eaves and soffits since the house is fairly high.  We are having the house professionally power washed today by a good friend who has his own power washing business.  They are about half-way finished so I'm looking forward to seeing the difference.  The house is almost fourteen years old and it looks like it has never been power washed!  Our vacation home is only four years old but vinyl siding really needed washing.  We've had it power washed twice now. 

It's amazing what a difference simply power washing the siding makes.  It is not expensive either.  We pay $60 per wash in Florida.  We feel that the house needs it twice a year due to the mold and mildew issues.  The HOA there is rather particular too so we would rather not get on their bad side.   Besides the house looks so much nicer with the siding clean!  We don't have a HOA where our new house is but it is a nice subdivision where people keep their properties neat, tidy and well maintained.  We have a tendency to do the same with our properties anyway as that keeps the value of the property higher.  It will cost us about $250 for power washing the new house.  It is a considerably larger house than our vacation home.  We anticipate having the house power washed once a year after the field has been harvested.  It really won't be necessary to have it power washed more than that.

Garden Gnome

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Our First Hydro Bill for Our New Home

I mentioned in another house that it is very difficult to compare energy usage between two houses even if they are identical home.  There are a lot of factors that affect energy usage.  We just received our first hydro bill for our new home.  We moved in on September 1 and the billing period ended October 5.  We used a total of 523 kWh with 336 kWh at off peak rate.  The good news is a good portion of our hydro usage is during off peak hours.  The bad news is the consumption is up from September of last year at our old house.  I certainly was not impressed to see that 79.86% of neighbouring homes used less hydro than we did for that month.  We are used to being on the lower end of hydro use.  Given we were away for two weeks during September of each year, I would have expected our usage at the new house to be lower but instead it was higher.  One month is not enough usage to determine if our hydro usage will remain higher here especially since there was higher usage due to the actual move (eg. AC on but doors constantly opening to bring things in, power tools, charging lawn mower batteries, and etc.).  However, I am speculating over the course of a year our overall consumption will be about the same.  Here are some of the changes from our last house to this one.  The ones that will save us money are in green while the ones that will cost us money are in red.  Hopefully, there will be enough in the green to keep us on track.

  • cooking - We used hydro for cooking at our last house but using natural gas for cooking here.  This is a big change as natural gas is about a third of the cost of hydro here so we should see a difference on hydro usage.
  • lighting - By design it was necessary to have 8 to 12 lights on even during the day at our old house from the time we got up to late evening.  This house has plenty of natural light so at most one or two lights are on but only on the dull, dreary days or briefly when in the laundry room or pantry.  Ceiling lighting in the games room and our bedroom is halogen and one bathroom has the narrow base incandescent bulbs.  The games room lights are recessed so would be a pain to change out and they are only on when the room is being used for larger gatherings so we will likely leave them as is.  Neither bathroom has a window meaning the lights are on when in use.  We are installing a solar tube in the upper level bathroom in the spring.
  • air conditioning - Our old house was on waterfront property (natural cooling effect) with a good cross air current.  The main living was on the lower level that was mainly below grade so was always cool in the summer.  As a result the air conditioning was only used on the uncomfortably humid days.  Our new house is wide open on one side and the back but lacks the natural cooling effect of a larger body of water.  We anticipate having to run the central air more often here.  The unit is likely as old as the house, almost 14 years.  The central air at our last house was only 4 years old so more efficient.  Clogged floor vents were discovered here and the furnace filter was blocked that would make the AC work harder but we did get them cleared out so the HVAC should work more efficiently
  • televisions - We had a television in the family room, game room and master bedroom of our last house, each with satellite receivers.  Two of the tvs were in regular usage almost daily and quite often I would have the family room tv on during the day for the noise.  In this house we still have three tvs.  Two are brand new Phillips LCD 32" screen to replace the two older CRT (tube) televisions.  These are hooked to one satellite receiver rather than two, eliminating one hot box.  They are EnergyStar® certified and are only on when the games room is being used, about once a month.  We eliminated the television from our bedroom entirely and I've returned to not having the television on during the day.
  • refrigerators - We had a Whirlpool ED2FHXSQ02 22 cubic foot side-by-side refrigerator and an Igloo Party refrigerator (4.6 cubic feet) at our last house.  We brought both with us but the Igloo is not plugged in and the Whirlpool is now the games room refrigerator.  We have a 26 cubic foot Maytag MZD2666KEB in the kitchen.  Both the Whirlpool and Maytag refrigerators are EnergyStar® certified but obviously running two larger fridges will cost us a bit more.  Of note, the Maytag was so blocked underneath with dust and hair that it clogged the vacuum twice while trying to clean out the clog.  This was costing in terms of higher energy usage but now we have it cleaned out so the cost should be reduced.
  • dishwasher - Our old house had a Bosch SHE44C02UC bought in 2007 when we moved into our last house.  It was a nice machine and I have no complaints but I chose a Whirlpool Gold Quiet Partner Esquire GU2475XTVB1 for this house.  The Bosch is super energy efficient but we got an excellent deal on the Whirlpool because we bought the natural gas stove at the same time.  It is EnergyStar® certified using 40% less energy than older models because it has a low wattage motor but it is not as energy efficient as the Bosch.  It says that some loads can average 2 to 3 hours but I have not experienced that yet.  The loads are running the normal hour or so.  The nice feature is there is a 4 hour delay so I can load the dishwasher then set it to run during off-peak hours something I could not do with the Bosch.
  • swimming pool - We had swimming pools in our first two houses but not our last three so we are aware of the associated costs.  Right now there is no way of telling how much hydro the pool will use but it is newer equipment so shouldn't be too bad.  There is no doubt it will cost though for the months of June through September.
Garden Gnome

Friday, November 4, 2011

Seamstress Rotary Treadle Sewing Machine in Working Condition

About a year before selling our first house, I found this wonderful treadle sewing machine in need of restoration that would be perfect for my then country decorating style.  I am no stranger to sewing having learned on an old portable Singer machine from an aunt who was a seamstress with Hudson's.  By thirteen I was an accomplished enough seamstress to make a lot of my own clothes so my Mom gifted me with my much beloved Brother Festival 461.  This beautiful shocking pink sewing machine is still in regular use.  I reasoned that I knew enough about the care and maintenance of a sewing machine that I could get the treadle machine to work.  The treadle machine is a Seamstress Rotary sewing machine manufactured by the National Sewing Machine Co. in Belvidere, Illinois.  It was distribute by the T. Eaton Co in Canada according to the information I found.

Seamstress Rotary refinished cabinet
The Seamstress Rotary machine sits in a beautiful oak cabinet.  It was a bit on the rough side but cleaned up nicely.  The six drawers have ornate trim.  The two top drawers on each side lock and I have the original key.  There was matching trim on the bottom edge of the swing door covering the machine when not in use.  Unfortunately all but about an inch of this trim was missing when I got the machine.  I have always hoped to get lucky and find the decorative trim in an antique store.  Also missing is the side cabinet trim that would cover the gears when closed.  I'm on the look-out for that as well. 

The iron legs, gears and treadle are in excellent condition.  I cleaned them good and painted them.  The only downside is the treadle and fancy legs tend to be a bit of dust collectors.  One problem with restoring a treadle sewing machine is finding the parts especially for the cabinets.  The legs tended to outlast the cabinet so frugal folks have been using the legs as a base for end tables, desks and even dismantling them to make shelving and garden decorations.  Small pieces like decorative trim tends to get tossed out if they break

the Seamstress Rotary in perfect working condition
The Seamstress Rotary sewing machine was in rather good condition.  The machine is attached to a wood base that automatically rises when the lid is opened.  That's even a bit more advanced than the cabinet I have my Brother in as I have to lift the machine up manually.  The seamstress had obviously been well used as the decals are worn away in spots.  I found a leather belt for the gears, oiled the machine then threaded it for a test run.  The machine sews quite nicely!

Of interest, when I bought the machine for $25 I did not realize how nicely it would clean up.  There was an instruction book for the Expert B T electric sewing machine so that's likely what the owner replaced this one with.  One of these days when I get a bit of time, I will go through some of the T. Eaton & Company catalogues at Archives Ontario. 

Garden Gnome

Thursday, November 3, 2011

My Knetchtels China Cabinet

my Knetchtels vintage china cabinet

Shortly after buying our first house several years ago I came across two old china cabinets.  The first one was painted and the fretwork was damaged and the other pictured above in pour condition.  I stripped both, cut new fretwork, varathaned one for the kitchen and put the one pictured in the good livingroom.  When we bought our third house I sold the fretwork cabinet to friends but I wish I hadn't.
The vintage china cabinet (circa 1950's) pictured was made by Knetchetels Limited of Hanover, Ontario.  Originally it was a blond finish that can still be seen on the inside but had been painted over a few times.  Once I started stripping the piece I decided to go with a darker wood finish.  At some point I may refinish the piece to fix the damaged vaneer and restore it closer to the original blond finish.  I was told by one source that the curved glass, original to the piece, came from England.  Apparently would be rather costly to replace so I've always protected the cabinet by keeping it well away from regular household traffic.  I honestly love the piece as is, flaws and all!

When we moved into our third house this cabinet was pushed to a corner where it was just barely possible to open the one door.  It found its way to a spare bedroom used for storage in our fourth house and then a place in the room we didn't know what to do with in our last house.  So for the past almost fifteen years the cabinet has been used for little more than storage.  I am pleased to say the cabinet has found a new home in our dining area where it is once again home to my Depression, pre-Depression era glass and cut lead glass pieces.  The drawers and cabinet below them hold necessary extras for entertaining.  

Garden Gnome

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Decorative Wall Stickers

decorative wall stickers

It has been a few years that decorative wall stickers have been available.  These stickers are peel and stick but easy to remove.  Until now I had seen them mainly in children themes and while I have bought some for the grandchildren, I had not bought any for our home.  A couple of years ago the stickers were showing up in a black, more adult theme to add instant interest to a room.  These were larger designs like flowers, trees or geometric shapes.  I was in the dollar store the other day and noticed packages of removable vinyl lettering in different phrases so I bought a couple of packages.  All of the rooms need painting so for $2 I thought it would be a inexpensive way to see if I liked the effect or not.  Pictured is the one I put over the staircase bulkhead.  I put another one that says "Home is where our story begins" over our bed in place of a headboard as shown on the packages. 

I really like the effect!  It's not something I would go overboard using but as a bit of interest, the vinyl lettering is much easier to put up than stenciling.  I ended up buying five more packages, two to replace after painting and three different phrases just in case.  I learned a long time ago if you see something at the dollar stores you want or may want in the future to get it then as it may not be available after that stock is depleted.  The downside to the lettering is you are limited to the available phrases and colours.  There is a print shop that does the vinyl lettering for commercial signage that my husband has used many times.  It is on the same principle as the decorative lettering (applied the same way) I bought so I'll have them make up the lettering for my favourite quote for my home office once it is painted.  That way I can choose the font and colour I want. 

The vinyl lettering comes sandwiched between a heavy piece of coated backer paper on one side (sticky side) and a thinner coated paper to temporarily hold the letters for mounting.  To place the stickers on the wall, carefully peel back the thinner paper.  You may have to nudge the letters a bit to come off the backer paper while peeling so go slowly.  Position the sticker in the desired location on a clean wall.  Smooth out any air bubbles in the wall sticker.  Before removing the thin mounting paper, I used a flat edge over the lettering.  Carefully peel off the mounting paper and voila, instant interest!  The lettering can be peeled from the wall and stored on the backing sheet if desired but I'm not sure how well this will work which is why I bought extra packages in case I wanted to use that phrase again. 

Garden Gnome

Friday, October 21, 2011

Designate One Spot For Items Without a Home

There are no two ways about it, moving can be chaotic.  It doesn't stop with the actual move but it does help get organized quickly following the move.  There are bound to be some items you unpack that will not fit the new house or you just don't know where to put them.  All of these items should be diverted into an items without a home spot aka a temporary location out of the way of putting other items away.

Our new home space under the stairs closed off from the main living area via a door.  It has ample storage shelving the previous owners left with the house.  I'm diverting all holiday items (eg. Christmas, Hallowe'en, etc) to one wall of shelving then anything I come across as I unpack that doesn't have an immediate home goes on one of the shelves.  I put the box of marine theme items in there as well.  Most of that does not fit this house so some will be going to our vacation home and the rest donated.

This really is an easy way to get organized after a move.  Essentially you are creating a temporary home for items that don't have a home.  It gives you the option of temporary storage or culling out as the need may be.  My husband even used this tip in the garage.  He designated a temp shelf and a give-away shelf.  He will have one of vehicles in the garage this weekend using this method.  It is a simple method that costs nothing but sure does help with getting organized.

Garden Gnome

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Know When to Not Do-It-Yourself

My husband and I have been avid DIYers ever since we bought our first house eons ago.  We are quite capable of doing a vast number of repairs and renovations around our home.  Believe me we have dealt with some rather tricky DIY projects given that our second house was a turn-of-the-century Victorian era house.  We did everything on that house including siding, roofing, electrical, plumbing and then some.  There comes a point though that there are some projects that are beyond the scope of the advanced DIYer.  Knowing when to hire or get a professional in is half the battle with respect to DIY projects and in some cases when working to code there is no choice but to hire a professional.  The building code is there for your safety so even when doing it yourself it is to your benefit to know the code and work within those parameters. 

Using a professional does not always mean you have to pay out.  The building code in Ontario stipulates that gas connections must be done by a licensed gas fitter.  So we can run the gas lines but we cannot connect them to the gas line or to the appliance.  Luckily we have family members who are licensed and willing to hook up any of our gas appliances free of charge.  We have found it best to hire out the annual furnace and AC inspection.   We do have a certified electrician to do any work we are not capable of doing.  He is really good and his rates are more than reasonable.  We also have a certified plumber to deal with any plumbing situations we can't handle.  He was out a lot at our last house but has only had to help us out once at this house for a leaking tub faucet with no access to change out the fittings.  The new fittings we bought wouldn't fit so we called him in. 

Our gas water heater is a rental, something we don't like.  We have always bought them out or replaced with a new one we bought.  Well this water heater is less than five years old so we are leaving it as a rental until spring.  In the meantime, they have already been out to clean and check the water heater free of charge as part of the rental agreement.  We only pay $13 per month for the water heater rental which covers all maintenance and repairs but still buying your own is cheaper.  It will do until spring while we focus on gettle settled into our new home. 

We are busy fixing things that quite frankly the previous owners should not have done themselves.  The caveat is, if you don't have the skills to do the job properly or it is beyond your scope as to learning how to do the job properly, that is the time to get a professional in that does know how to do the job properly.  Rely on your resources (eg. family, friends) and if that fails get recommendations for repairmen that have a good reputation.

Garden Gnome

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Few Things to Consider When Moving into a New Home

Moving into a new house is exciting.  The surroundings are different inside and out which takes time getting used to.  Some things may not be as you remembered or as they seem though.  In fact they more than likely won't be as you remembered.  Even if you buy a new built home you will be dealing with the remnants of anyone or anything including pets or animals that were in the house prior to you taking possession.   There are a few things to consider when moving:

  • cleanliness - Regardless of how clean the house was when you viewed it or when you started moving in you will have to clean every surface to your standards.  You may need to hire a cleaning service, have carpeting steam cleaned or the exterior of the house power washed.  It is a good idea to use a disinfecting spray or wipe down all hard surfaces including door knobs with rubbing alcohol or white vinegar to kill off any lingering germs.
  • allergen control - Allergens such as pet dander, mold and dust mites stay with the house meaning you get to deal with them.  This can be quite problematic for those with severe allergies.  All window treatment should be removed and washed.  Every nook and cranny should be thoroughly vacuumed (eg. under refrigerator, around baseboards, windowsills, and etc.).  If the house has carpeting it should be treated with a mitacide then steam cleaned.  Mold hides behind wallpaper, anywhere that it is damp (eg. bathrooms, anywhere there's a water leak) and around windows.  Clean these surfaces well with rubbing alcohol, white vinegar or chlorine bleach as well as remove wallpaper or wallpaper border.  Only use chlorine bleach as a last resort as it can cause respiratory problems.  Remove the vent cover and vacuum any heating vents.   Add vent filters on forced air system.  If you have forced air (HVAC) have the duct work cleaned.
  • tobacco residue -  Tobacco leaves a yellowing residue on all surfaces although some show the residue more than others.  If the previous owners/tenants were smokers the ceilings, walls and all light fixtures will need to be washed thoroughly to remove the residue.
  • odours - It is surprising how many odours can linger in your new residence from the previous homeowner or tenant.  You really need to get to the source of the odour meaning the vacuum cleaner is your best friend to rid your new home of odours.  Persistent pet odours can be neutralized with specialized spray combined with a good vacuuming.  Wash any window treatment left behind and wash the windows as well.  A bowl of white vinegar will help neutralize any recent cooking odours.  Change the furnace and range hood filters.  Clean the bathroom exhaust cover.  If a refrigerator is part of your purchase or lease, remove the bottom vent cover then vacuum under the fridge, wash the cover and replace it.  Clean the fridge drip pan if it has one too as this can be a source of odour sometimes.  Neutralizing sprays can be used on any carpeting but they really should be professionally steam cleaned to effectively remove odours.  Neutralizing sprays can be used on hard surfaces as well.  White vinegar will also help neutralize odours on hard surfaces.

Garden Gnome

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Settling in Costs After Moving

There are always costs associated with moving.  These range from legal fees and real estate fees to utility connection charges.  What often is not mentioned is the settling in costs of moving.  You are tired from the move and everything is chaotic so for the first week or so after moving, you eat out more.  That's to be expected.  There's window treatment to replace, hooks to hang your pictures, as well as all those odds and ends that just pop-up.  For example, we needed to run a gas line for our dryer when we moved in.  We discovered the winter pool cover is beyond repair so needs to be replaced.   We also discovered both toilets needed the flushing mechansism replaced and one tub faucet is leaking.  These are things that are unexpected expenses yet are seldom seen during a home walk-through.  Some of our floor vent  covers needed replacing because they are in poor condition but that was hidden by the previous owners furniture.  There were several uncovered cable outlets because the previous owner had at least three satellite dishes feeding into each room but it was at best a very amateur intallation.  We intend to remove the boxes and cover in the holes as we prep each room for painting but there were a couple that needed covers to keep curious little hands safe.  All this is unavoidable, falling back to the associated costs of moving.

Then there are the extras.  There is no medicine cabinet in the main bathroom so we have a friend custom making one to match our cabinets.  He is also making a custom lighted shelf for the kitchen where some of my cookbooks can be displayed.  I replaced the kitchen cabinet pulls/knobs to something a bit more suiting to the kitchen.  I bought a new electric broom, refillable swifter style wet mop and dust mop to help care for the hard flooring.  We don't know if the grout for ceramic tiling (counters, entrance, bathrooms, half of family room) was seal so still need to pick up grout seal and we need to get marble floor restorer/sealer that is recommended for the proper care of marble floors.  I'm sure there will be a lot of little extras needed as we work on getting settled into our new house!

Garden Gnome

Friday, October 14, 2011

Compariing Utility Usage

It is quite common amongst frugal circles to try and compare utility usage (eg. home heating fuel, electricity, water) but the reality is this comparison serves no purpose.  You can have two identical houses side-by-side and their energy usage will differ due to family lifestyle.  In any given neighbourhood, the houses may be of different ages as well as upgrades so the energy usage with differ significally.  Our natural gas provider has a comparison app to compare our energy usage to the average energy usage in our neighbourhood.  At our old house we were coming in at one third of the energy usage when compared to the neighbourhood average for natural gas and electricity.

Our recent move will result in less electricity usage but an increase in gas usage given that we are now cooking with natural gas rather than electricity.  The overall natural gas usage may decrease without the natural gas outdoor grill and fireplace.  I printed out our natural gas usage chart from the last house.  While I know I can't compare the two houses in terms of energy usage since this house was built in 1997 while our last house was built in 1945, it will still give me an idea of where we need to focus for energy reduction.  Overall, we should see a total reduction in our actual energy usage in this house in comparison to our old house.  My goal is to keep our usage to the one third mark of neighbourhood average, hopefully less than what we were paying at our last house.

Garden Gnome

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Missing Our Gas Fireplace

Over the Canadian Thanksgiving (Oct. 10, 2011) weekend the weather was in the high 80ºF range.  The days were hot but quite pleasant.  Yesterday the rains came dropping the temperatures into the high 50ºF range which is quite a temperature drop.  According to the weather forecast it will be raining through next Tuesday (Oct. 18) meaning cooler temperatures and grey days.  These are the kind of days that we used the gas fireplace to take the chill off of our previous house without having to turn the furnace on. 

We haven't installed a gas fireplace here yet and haven't decided if we will since the spot we thought a gas fireplace would fit is not suitable.  Yesterday I cooked up a large batch of homemade chili.  The heat from the new gas range heated the kitchen considerably so that was a nice bonus.  It's cold, grey, and damp today so I'm really missing our gas fireplace.  I hauled out my fleece vest and sweater thern put on an extra pair of socks.  It's time to get the knitting basket out to make each of us a new pair of slippers.  That furnace isn't going to be turned on aside of testing through one cycle until we absolutely have to turn it on.

Garden Gnome

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Lesson Learned

We did our final house walk-through about two weeks before moving in to our new house.  The previous owners' son was staying here but aside of a few odds and ends the house was empty.  Their main moving had been done in June.  We had arranged with them to move in on September 1, paying a rental fee to cover until our closing date of Sepetember 15.  All of that went smoothly, without a hitch.  They left a few things behind but many folks do that so it was not abnormal.  We were rather pleased with the condition when we moved in.  One day I was working in my new kitchen after returning from our vacation home  when I commented that we would need to replace the kitchen faucet for one with a sprayer.   As I was going through pictures from our vacation I also looked through the pictures I had taken of our new house during our final walk-through.  You are not going to believe this!  The previous owners actually the from the looks of the pictures rather expensive faucet with sprayer with them leaving the plain jane model that is now in the kitchen.  Technically the faucet is considered a fixture so should not have been removed.  My husband called the real estate and left a message with our agent but I doubt they will return it.  I think it was a rather nasty thing to do especially when we paid them rent to move in early.  The problem is because I didn't go through the pictures during the move (14 days) because I was busy and the time we were on vacation, the previous owners can likely deny they took the faucet.  It's a lesson learned!

If buying or even renting a house/apartment, condo or any other domicile, take pictures before you move in.  Compare those pictures to the condition the place is in as soon as you get the keys preferably while it is still empty.  Note any discrepancies as well as take pictures.  Pay particular attention to any damage or removal of fixtures contrary to any offer to purchase or lease agreement.  Notify your real estate agent as well as your lawyer to resolve the issues prior to the closing date.  If leasing notify the landlord of the problem and if not resolved appropriately, notify your lawyer. 

Garden Gnome

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Many Homeowners are Chemically Addicted

Many homeowners are chemically addicted from their cleaners to lawn and garden care to pest management.  The problem with this approach is chemical cleaners and pesticides contaminate indoor air and creates an unsafe environment for children and pets in yards and gardens and increase respiratory problems.  Pesticides in particular used outdoors can have a chain effect killing off other critters that feed on the pest you are trying to eliminate.  One of the biggest problems with chemical pesticides is some critters develop resistance to the pesticide meaning regardless of how much of the pesticide you use, it will not be effective.  This is why cleaners with additional anti-bacterial properties should not be used in your home.  Urban lawns in particular are very much chemically addicted to weed and feed products which is about the least eco-friendly approach you could take!

Many pests (eg. critters, insects, weeds) can be controlled by manual removal and physical barriers.  It is an eco-friendly approach to pest management.  Keep pests out of the house by sealing cracks and crevices as well as keeping doors, windows and screens in good repair.  Create a three to six foot barrier around your house to discourage insects and spiders.  An effective barrier is cedar mulch as cedar is a natural insect repellent.  Encourage insect eating birds, toads, frogs and bats around the perimeter of your property.  Indoors, discourage pests by keeping counters and floors squeaky clean.   Store food in glass containers.  Caulk all cracks and crevices.  Vacuum up spiders and other insects rather than using chemical sprays.  Nix as many chemical cleaners or pesticides as you can to create a healthier home environment both indoors and outdoors.

Garden Gnome

Monday, October 3, 2011

Hard Flooring in the New House

One of the biggest selling features for our new house was the complete absence of carpeting.  Years ago my allergist was adamant that we should remove all carpeting from our house.  Carpets are horrid breeding grounds for dust mites.  There are three work around with the first being removing carpeting entirely.  The second is using a pesticide that is mite specific but this is not the best solution as it can cause allergic reactions as well as introducing a toxic chemical into your home.  The third solution that will not work in warm locations is to let the indoor air temperature drop below 50°F for at least a 24 hour period.  This will cause a kill-off of dust mites reducing their numbers.  Do a thorough vacuuming immediately to remove the dead dust mites.  The important thing to remember is keeping the dust mite population down reduces the amount of dust mite feces which is the actual allergen.

ceramic tile flooring
The previous homeowners installed higher end ceramic tile in the entrance, part of the family room and both bathrooms.  The upper bathroom is a marbled dark hunter green (pictured) and the lower bathroom is a marbled deep burgundy.  The entrance is a beige textured tile while the family room is a greyish blue textured ceramic tile.  Not pictured and not related to the flooring, the kitchen countertop and backsplash are also tiled in terrazzo tile.

Ceramic tile is extremely easy to care for.  According to our ex-BIL who was a flooring installer the only thing that should be used on ceramic tile flooring a a solution of vinegar and water.  Vinegar has antibiotic properties and cleans as well as expensive cleaners without leaving any cloudy film.  It also neutralizes household odours so it freshens the air while cleaning the floors.  In our last house when I was getting the house ready for showing I would wipe down the shiny ceramic floor in the kitchen with rubbing alcohol for a sparkly finish.  All the tile at the new house is textured so I will just use vinegar and water or my Bissell steam mop.

marble tile flooring
I am not a huge fan of smooth, shiny floors in kitchens because they tend to me a slip and fall hazard.  The floor in our new kitchen is marble tile and oh my gosh, I love it!  It is rich and luxurious feeling.  Dirt and sand can scratch marble tile flooring so I'm using an electric broom daily.  Really though this is nothing new as kitchen floors usually need to be swept or vacuumed daily.  I'm rather particular about my kitchen floors, wiping up spills as they happen and cleaning daily.  I kept the dustbuster handy in my last kitchen to keep any crumbs off the floor as part of rodent control.  Marble is a porous stone so harsh chemical cannot be used on it.  It is important to use pH-neutral cleaners so no vinegar, alcohol and many of the commercial cleaners.  Spills should be cleaned up to prevent staining as well.  I will be using my Bissell steam mop for cleaning the marble flooring.

laminate flooring
All five bedrooms, living/dining rooms, part of the family room and staircase are laminate wood flooring. [ We aren't using all five bedrooms as bedrooms - one is an office, one a dart room, one a pantry, one a guest room and one the master bedroom.]  Laminate wood flooring is very easy to care for with the primary concern being over wetting.  There is no way I could use my Bissell steam mop on the laminate flooring.   I bought a light mop device that I can put my own solution into.  So far I have been using a dust mop daily which really is not as much work as it sounds.  It takes me less that 10 minutes and is good exercise.  I've cleaned the floors a couple of times using the light mop.

The nice thing about having no carpeting is ease of cleaning as well as the reduction of a major allergen.  The scary part is realizing all that dust and daily living particles was going into your carpeting.  While we may use a throw rug or two during the winter and definitely an entrance mat there will be no carpeting in our house.  I'm loving it!

Garden Gnome

Monday, September 26, 2011

Dishwasher Detergent Does Expire

We have had a dishwasher ever since our first home purchase where we splurged at the second-hand store for a $25 portable, avocado green dishwasher.  The thing was a blessing with a growing family and the amount of cooking I do.  Back then I don't recall anything other than powdered dishwasher detergent and if there was we wouldn't have bought it unless it was less expensive than powdered.  Fast forward to 2011 where we have a dishwasher at our vacation home and just bought one for our new home.  My husband was being quite helpful setting up the dishwasher to run at our vacation home during our spring visit.  The next thing I saw was the full container of dishwasher gel sitting in the garbage.  When questioned he said there was something quite wrong with it.  The gel had separated to the point that even shaking it did not help.  The solids had congealed to the point he thought it could cause problems with the dishwasher.  This is a valid concern.

I did a bit of research to find that dishwasher detergent does indeed expire, losing it's cleaning effectiveness.  Powdered dishwasher detergent can be further affected in humid locations.  The problem is, some dishwashers can be a bit picky about their detergent.  I was using a Bosch dishwasher at our last house where the only detergent that worked well was the new dishwasher tab.   I tried gel and powder a couple of times and the Bosch simply would not perform well.  Our new dishwasher at our main home is a Whirlpool Gold that came with Finish dishwasher tabs.  That was fine with me because that is the brand I had been using in the Bosch.  The dishwasher at our vacation home is also a Whirlpool, new when the house was constructed in 2007.  My husband did a minor repair on it but other than sounding like a tank when it runs, the machine does clean well.  The pillow style dishwasher tabs do not fit the dispenser well and obviously the gel is not going to work so I bought a small box of powdered that worked good.  Next trip I will try the Finish tabs.  

The commendation for dishwasher detergent, regardless of what version you use, is to not buy any more than you will use within a three month period.  Unless you are using your dishwasher daily (full load) or more those gigantic containers of dishwasher soap are not the bargain you expect given that over time the cleaning effectiveness is reduced.  Even though you may save on the actual cost per unit on the detergent, any savings will be lost on re-washing dishes that weren't washed properly the first time.  

Garden Gnome

Thursday, September 22, 2011

It's That Time of Year

It's that time of year - the kids have gone back to school just in time to bring all those little pests and germs home.  The problem is kids come into contact with other kids at school or daycare.  They bring things like lice, impetigo, pink eye, colds, flu and all that great thing home to share.  Now you can't really blame them because they contradict all this fun stuff simply by following the sharing rules but here is where you as a parent have to educate them that there is good sharing and bad sharing...

  • impetigo - This infection will cause a spreading, oozing but somewhat crusty rash most prevalent around the mouth area. It is highly contagious.  Children need to be educated that they should not drink from a cup another child has used and they need to be particularly careful about washing their hand to prevent the spread of the infection.  If your child does get impetigo, seek medical help and wash all their linens separately from the main wash.
  • cold sores - Cold sores are cause by the Herpes Simplex I virus.  This is spread by the sharing of drinking cups, straws and intimate contact.  Now, in most cases this virus will affect the mouth region but it can spread causing significant problems for the nasal and eye areas.  The best bet is to teach your children to not share drinking vessels and believe it or not use a sun block on the lips.  Sun can be a major trigger to a cold sore outbreak.  In adults prone to cold sores use L-Lysine, a mutagen for the Herpes Simples I virus.
  • lice - Lice is a common childhood infestation usually contracted by sharing combs, hats, pillows and that type of thing.  There are actual pesticides on the market for lice but an eco-friendly approach is to soak the head good with cider vinegar then let sit for 15 minutes before washing.  Use a baby comb to remove any nits (lice eggs) or simply repeat the cider vinegar treatment a couple of times.  
  • colds/flu - Colds and flu are spread by viruses.  The best way to avoid these viruses is to no share drinks (eg. juice boxes) and to keep the hands clean (eg. 30 second hot water wash).  Get your children and yourselves used to washing your hands well at every opportunity.  Use the sanitizer cleanser if need be and for those concerned you can find these types of cleansers that do not have ethanol in them. 
  • food poisoning - Food poisoning will happen when enough bacteria builds up in the food that can cause food borne illness.  Hot foods need to stay hot so use a thermos and cold foods need to stay cold so use ice packs or similar. The problem with food borne illness is it can take 24 hours to a couple of days for symptoms to appear and some can be life threatening.  
  • food allergies - The best policy is to get your children into the habit of not sharing food, any food.  I'm sorry but what is good for your child may actually be life threatening to another child.
Garden Gnome

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Silencing the Noise of Hard Flooring

Any room without carpeting is going to be a bit louder than a room with carpeting because it lacks the sound deafening properties of carpet.  Carpet absorbs sound waves but without that carpeting the sound waves have a chance to bounce around creating more noise.  Now in terms of health, a home with no carpeting is considerably healthier with better air quality and less allergens.  So the trick becomes toning down the noise level while enjoying a healthier house.  There are several ways to help reduce the noise level in homes without carpeting:

  • volume controls - A large portion of noise making devices (eg. televisions, alarm clocks, signaling devices like timers, and etc. ) within our homes have volume controls.  Turn these devices down to a comfortable level.  Eliminate some like timers if not necessary.  For example both my washer and dryer signal when finished but the signal can easily be turned off if desired.
  • furniture pads - All furniture should have some type of furniture pad for the feet.  Not only does this protect the floors it almost eliminates any noise from sliding chairs and other furniture over hard surfaces.  
  • cabinet pads -  Kitchen and bathroom cabinets can make a fair amount of noise when closed.  Solve this by using felt or plastic cabinet pads on the two outer, inside corners of each drawer and door. 
  • window covering - Window covering serves a decorative and functional purpose including privacy and light control.  However window coverings can serve as a sound deading barrier between the outside and inside as well as absorbing indoor sound waves.  Ideally those with asthma and allergies are told to not use fabric curtains or blinds.  In a home without carpeting the allergens especially dust mites has been reduced to such a low level that you can get away with using some fabric window treatment without creating a health problem.  Just be sure the window treatment can be washed on a regular basis.  The fabric will help soften the indoor noise.  
  • decor - It is surprising how decor can actually quiet a house.   Anything textile like afghans, sofa sets, cushions, plants and that type of thing can really help with noise reduction.
  • throw rugs - I personally want to keep throw rugs to a bare minimum and in fact am working on using indoor/outdoor carpeting on the porch to collect any debris before getting into the house that would eliminate a throw rug at the entrance.  I'd rather not have any throw rugs in our home but adding throw rugs in the bathroom and bedrooms can help dampen the noise and during the winter months a throw rug in the family room will warm the floors while dampen the noise. 
  • appliances - Large appliances can add a considerable amount of noise to the household which is amplified in a home with no carpeting.  If you are in the position to replace any large appliance look for the ultra-quiet models.  Some manufacturers like Bosch take pride in how quiet their appliances are.  Try to run louder large appliances (eg. washer, dryer and dishwasher) when you are away from home. 

Garden Gnome