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

Friday, 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