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 :)

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

Friday, September 9, 2011

No Carpets!

Aside of location, one of the main selling features for our new house was the fact that there was no carpeting anywhere in the house.  I was advised years ago by my allergist to get rid of all carpeting in the home.  Each house since then we worked towards that goal but with this house it has already been done for us.  Most of the house is wood laminate.  The two bathrooms are ceramic tile; the entrance and part of the lower family room are terrazzo tile; and the kitchen is marble tile.  The utility room has sheet flooring that we will be replacing likely with sheet flooring but possibly ceramic tile.  I have two things to master with all hard flooring:

  • cleaning - Each surface has it's own care and maintenance recommendation.  I am adamant about not using toxic cleaners in our home.  It's important to stay on top of keeping these floors clean and dust free so cleaning once a week is not going to work.  Some specialized equipment is necessary but the good news is most of it is rather inexpensive.
  • sound deadening - A house with no carpeting is naturally louder than one that has sound deadening carpeting.  All sounds in a house with only hard flooring are amplified.
I have a few methods for dealing with both the cleaning and sound deadening issues.  I will discuss those over the next couple of posts.

Garden Gnome

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Being Unsettled

Regardless of how organized of a move you make there is a period of being unsettled.  Unfortunately there is no avoiding this adjustment period as you become accustomed to the new sounds and traffic flow of your new home.  We have a fair amount of adjusting to do because we have lived semi-rural and rural for almost the past ten years.  We have moved into an urban setting that will enable us to spend the three months of the year we want to spend at our vacation home.

I honestly think our adjustment period will be lessened in that neither one of us bonded to our previous house.  Don't get me wrong as it was a gorgeous house in a prime location just it wasn't for us.  We never put up any pictures or our original pieces of artwork.  We painted most of the rooms and did a small reno in the kitchen yet the house was not ours.  It was just the feeling both of us had so really it was our house, not our home.  The house was very isolating especially for me as we had to drive everywhere.  It cramped my cooking style somewhat because if I felt like making a dish and on the rare occasion I was out of an ingredient or wanted to make a dish with an ingredient I normally don't stock it involved pretty much a half hour drive one way either direction.  Friends that popped over for coffee didn't come out as much given the drive.  In short, as soon as we bought our vacation home I was itching to sell our permanent residence to buy something a bit more fitting with our lifestyle.

We moved from a fairly quiet house with the main external noise being boat and watercraft traffic mixed with an abundance of bird twittering especially in the early morning hours.  Our new house has little external noise coming in but it is a louder house because there is absolutely no carpeting!  Carpeting is sound absorbing though so despite the benefits of having no carpeting it means we need to take a few extra measures to tame the normal household noise.  Our last house was a bi-level as is this one but the traffic patterns are very different so that will take a bit of getting used to.  Our last house by design was a very dark house with heavy summer shading and little natural light especially on the lower main living level.  As a result I was accustomed to turning a fair number of 'daylight' CFL on each and every day - 4 in the kitchen and six in the family room and office area.  This house is naturally light and bright with good natural light so there is no need to turn on lights during the daytime. Our last house backed onto a beautiful natural waterway that we used for entertaining and sitting by but not swimming.  This house has a large pool with two decks, so we essentially traded the view for usable water.  It backs onto farmland but the view out of our front windows is that of neat, tidy homes something that is rather comforting after being so isolated where we were.  Unlike the bathrooms at our old house that were ancient and badly in need of updating, the bathrooms here are spacious, sleek, and modern with beautiful cabinetry and ceramic tile floors.  Neither have a window so even during the day a light is needed.  We are installing a solar tube in the main bath to eliminate using electrical daytime lighting.

So we are unsettled but quickly settling, a bit more each day.  My husband hooked up the main tv with surround sound last night.  My new gas range won't be installed until the weekend.  It's just sitting in the kitchen taunting me.  A friend is coming over tonight to help install the new dishwasher and change all the locks.  They are hoping to change out the guts in the toilets as well.  I've been working on unpacking and getting things organized.  By this weekend it will be hard to tell that we just moved in!

Garden Gnome

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Those Little Details

It is virtually impossible to notice everything that may be needed in terms of repair, maintenance and decor when buying a house.  The reality is with most sales you the buyer sees the house once.  You may have two additional showings - the final walk-through and the house inspection.  These are optional usually written in as part of your conditions of the purchase.  Even if at best you have three walk-throughs before the closing date, the reality is you will not see everything that needs to be done.  Larger furniture can block a surprising number of flaws as we found in this house where multiple cables had been run for television service but there were just the holes with no cover.  We never pay attention to painted surfaces as that is easy to repaint and my husband has an issue with the older style light switches and outlets so it is a given one of the first things he does is replace all light switches and outlets in the house.  Quite often toilets are leaky which is something you more than likely won't notice with one or two walk-throughs.  Windows can be drafty again something you won't notice especially if viewing the house on a calm day.  Little things like window locks, door locks and quite often light fixtures go unnoticed.  Even the thermostat gets overlooked.  All of these things are easy to fix.  We got the keys to our new home on September 1 with a closing date of September 15.  I immediatedly started making a list and shopping for the necessary repairs.  Here's my list of what we have bought so far for repairs:

  • toilet fill valve and flapper (both toilets) - The existing fill valves and flappers are in rough condition with one already leaking. 
  • lock/deadbolt sets (four doors) - Regardless of the neighbourhood it is always a good idea to have the locks changed on a new house.  If the locks and deadbolts are in good condition, you can take them to the hardware store to have the cylinders changed.  The next option is to completely replace the locks and deadbolts.  Beware though as we found in our previouse home, newer locksets will not fit older doors and mobile homes present a special problem in the doors are thinner than normal so a simple replacement may present problems.
  • outlets/switches - My husband likes the modern decora style so I bought enough of both to replace all outlets and switches in the house with matching covers.
  • outlet/switches insulators - Many people do not understand that foam insulators should be used on all outlets and swiches located on outer walls.  These are cheap to buy and easy to install.
  • tub/shower faucet set - The upstairs bathroom tub and shower faucet set is leaking horribly!  As it happens we bought a lovely Moen set for the intended bathroom reno at our previous house that we never got to so we can use that set here.  
  • caulk - Sealing up a house is always high on our priority list.  I fully believe it takes a good three years to seal a house and it is always an ongoing process.
  • floor protectors - We have all hard flooring here which means floor protectors to prevent scratches and reduce noise.

Garden Gnome

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Move

The major part of our move is over.  We hired movers for the large items and moved much of the smaller items ourselves.  We still have about a pick-up truck load of stuff left at the old house and then the cleaning but we have until the fifteenth so that isn't too bad.  The only real casualty of the move was the movers tipping the deep fryer causing it to leak an oily mess.  In perspective that really wasn't too bad.  Oh and I'm not thrilled with the Bell internet installer that told me I had to delete Airport!  Umm that would give me no wireless anything, and so much for techs that know what they are talking about.  Other than that things have gone rather smooth with the move.  Stay tuned...

Garden Gnome