Category: DIY

Make It a Green Winter With These Energy-Saving Tips

Conserving energy is a great way to protect the planet and save money. While energy bills might be highest in summer thanks to air conditioning units, certain factors around a house can make winter more wasteful and costly than it needs to be.

Energy bills are influenced by a variety of factors, including geography and how energy-efficient a home is. For example, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average monthly utility bill in Connecticut in 2015 was $153.13, while New Mexico residents paid slightly more than half that amount ($79.23) on average. Homeowners cannot control winter weather, which can greatly affect how much energy homeowners consume between December and March.

However, there are other ways for homeowners to curtail their energy consumption and save money throughout winter.

Address any leaks or drafts

Drafty windows and doorways can make the air inside homes feel warmer in the summer and colder in the winter. As autumn weather grows colder, homeowners can perform simple inspections around windows and doorways to determine if they have any leaks. On a cold and/or windy day, place a hand near all windows and doors to feel if there are any leaks. Use caulk or another type of sealant to address leaks so you can keep cold air out and set your thermostat to a reasonable, eco-friendly temperature.

Inspect air vents, faucets and plumbing fixtures

Air vents, faucets and plumbing fixtures attached to exterior walls should be inspected for leaks. Such inspections might need to be conducted from outside the home, which can make it more difficult to detect if cold air is entering the home. Look for gaps in the insulation around these areas, filling in those gaps as necessary.

Inspect heating systems at the start of each new season

According to EnergyStar.gov, heating systems account for 29 percent of the average homeowner’s energy expenditures. Inspect your heating or HVAC system before the start of winter, making sure all gas or oil connections are operating properly. EnergyStar.gov notes that dirty burners and cracked heat exchangers can cause heating units to operate less efficiently and may even pose a safety risk. Inspect the air filter of the heating system at least once per month, as filters can quickly become dirty during a heavy-use season like winter. Dirty filters cause the system to work harder to keep a home warm, unnecessarily wasting energy as a result.

Install a Wi-fi enabled programmable thermostat

Some programmable thermostats can be very difficult to use effectively, making it far too difficult if not impossible for homeowners to set their thermostats for various temperatures in a single day. Wi-fi enabled programmable thermostats that allow homeowners to control their heating and cooling systems via their smartphones can be more user-friendly than many other programmable thermostats, ensuring homeowners are saving money and not wasting energy heating empty homes.

Winter utility bills can be costly, but homeowners can reduce their cold weather energy consumption in various ways without sacrificing comfort.

Fall Lawn Care Tips

Spring and summer may be the seasons most often associated with landscaping and lawn care, but tending to lawns and gardens is a year-round job.

If lawn and garden responsibilities dip considerably in winter, then fall is the last significant chance before the new year that homeowners will have to address the landscaping around their homes. Fall lawn care differs from spring and summer lawn care, even if the warm temperatures of summer linger into autumn.

Homeowners who want their lawns to thrive year-round can take advantage of the welcoming weather of fall to address any existing or potential issues.

Keep mowing

BUT adjust how you mow. It’s important that homeowners continue to mow their lawns so long as grass is growing. But as fall transitions into winter, lower the blades so the grass is cut shorter while remaining mindful that no blade of grass should ever be trimmed by more than one-third. Lowering the blades will allow more sunlight to reach the grass in the months ahead.

Remove leaves as they fall

Much like apple-picking and foliage, raking leaves is synonymous with fall. Some homeowners may wait to pick up a rake until all of the trees on their properties are bare.

However, allowing fallen leaves to sit on the ground for extended periods of time can have an adverse effect on grass. Leaves left to sit on the lawn may ultimately suffocate the grass by forming an impenetrable wall that deprives the lawn of sunlight and oxygen.

The result is dead grass and possibly even fungal disease. Leaves may not need to be raked every day, but homeowners should periodically rake and remove leaves from their grass, even if there are plenty left to fall still hanging on the trees.

Repair bald spots

Summer exacts a toll on lawns in various ways, and even homeowners with green thumbs may end up with a lawn filled with bald spots come September. Autumn is a great time to repair these bald spots. Lawn repair mixes like Scotts® PatchMaster contain mulch, seed and fertilizer to repair bald spots, which can begin to recover in as little as seven days.

Before applying such products, remove dead grass and loosen the top few inches of soil. Follow any additional manufacturer instructions as well.

Aerate the turf

Aerating reduces soil compacting, facilitating the delivery of fertilizer and water to a lawn’s roots. While many homeowners, and particularly those who take pride in tending to their own lawns, can successfully aerate their own turf, it’s best to first have soil tested so you know which amendments to add after the ground has been aerated. Gardening centers and home improvement stores sell soil testing kits that measure the pH of soil, but homeowners who want to test for nutrients or heavy metals in their soil may need to send their samples to a lab for further testing.

Fall lawn care provides a great reason to spend some time in the yard before the arrival of winter.

5 Ways to Make Homes Safer

Injuries that occur around the home contribute to millions of medical visits and tens of thousands of fatalities each year. Falls account for the largest percentage of home accidents, with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting that around 30,000 fall-related fatalities occur each year in the United States.

Many home accidents are entirely preventable when proper caution is exercised. As homeowners prepare for home-improvement projects, improving safety inside and outside the home should be a priority.

1. Improve lighting

One of the easiest ways to reduce the risk of falls is to improve lighting around the home. The National Institutes of Health state that adequate lighting is important at entrances to the home, stairways, hallways, and other frequently traversed areas. Make sure lighting fixtures are using the highest wattage light bulb allowed. Artificial lighting sources become even more vital in fall and autumn, when natural light is less abundant in a home. In addition, install lighting outdoors by the front door, over the garage and where garbage pails are stored to facilitate safe passage.

2. Eliminate slick surfaces

Improving traction around the house also can minimize falls. Throw rugs and runners can be made more secure with nonslip rubber backings. Bath rugs can reduce slipping on wet surfaces in the bathroom. Also, nonslip mats can be used inside of showers and bathtubs.

Use shoe trays to reduce puddling from melting snow or rain runoff in entryways. Mop up spills quickly, and consider the use of matte- or textured-finished flooring to improve stability underfoot. Promptly remove snow and ice from driveways and walkways. For those who live in cold climates, heated concrete can help melt precipitation before it accumulates.

3. Make needed repairs

Repair loose floorboards and pull carpet taut if it has started to stretch out. Address cracks outdoors and ensure that patio stones, bricks and pavers are secure and level to reduce tripping hazards. Fix areas of the landscape where water may pool and freeze, creating potential hazards.

4. Declutter all spaces

Remove unnecessary items and furniture from rooms to free up more space to get around. Be sure there are no obstructions in walkways, entryways and near doors. Keep staircases clear at all times. 5. Invest in assistive devices Handrails, grab bars, nonslip stair treads, and many other devices can make homes safer for people of all ages and abilities. Outfit cabinets and closets with organizers that put frequently used items within easy reach. A sturdy step stool can reduce the risk of injury while reaching for items stored on high shelves.

Taking measures to reduce the risk of falling around the home is a worthwhile home improvement project.

Inspiration and Ideas for Summer Gardening and Home Improvement

With longer days and shorter nights come warm weather opportunities to make home and garden improvements. Become inspired to start working on projects, both indoors and out, with these new seasonal books.

Caring for Cacti

There’s much more to your little green plants than just keeping them alive, according to “Happy Cactus: Cacti, Succulents, and More.” Unearth the secrets of different cacti and succulents with profiles of more than 50 popular varieties — from the cute, flowering pincushion cactus to the wacky prickly pear. Discover what makes your plant unique and find out where to put it, when to water it, what to feed it, what to look out for, and how to encourage its distinctive traits, from flower stalks to fast growth.

Simplify Your Life

Living simply can mean living better, according to “Less: A Visual Guide to Minimalism.” Using, flow charts, icons and other graphics, the book demonstrates how to apply minimalism to your home, wardrobe, decor, cooking, cleaning and finances, to give you more time, space, money, clarity and overall enjoyment of your experiences.

Understanding Tools

Are you a DIYer or aspire to be one? Get a better handle on tools with “The Tool Book: A Tool Lover’s Guide to Over 200 Hand Tools.” This visual guide highlights how to use, understand and properly care for over 200 hand tools, and includes a foreword by Nick Offerman, host of NBC’s “Making It.” Discover why each tool is perfect for the job, through step-by-step illustrations and scientific explanations, and why it deserves a prominent spot in your shed, workshop, studio or makerspace.

Gardening Indoors

Learn where to place houseplants for the best effect in your home and how to properly care for them, with the trusted advice, creative inspiration, strong visual aesthetic and step-by-step detail found in “Practical Houseplant Book.” Two-hundred plant profiles provide information and care instructions for a variety of plants, including ferns, orchids and succulents, while a dozen photographic projects offer ideas for using plants to decorate your home or greenhouse — from eye-catching terrariums to a living succulent wall. With information on plant care, propagation, pests and diseases, pruning, and problem-solving, this is a useful guide for any indoor gardener.

Growing Food

Whether you’re a beginner or seasoned grower, “Grow Something Different to Eat: Weird and wonderful heirloom fruits and vegetables for your garden,” can give you confidence to grow, cook and preserve some unusually tasty crops. Learn to grow unique fruits, vegetables and grains, such as orange eggplants, quinoa, chia, and white strawberries. All plants can be started indoors and kept as houseplants, or grown outdoors in the garden.

This summer, discover creative ideas for improving your indoor and outdoor spaces with gardening, DIY projects, and more. (StatePoint)

The Secrets to Being an Organized Family

Modern families seem to be juggling more than ever before. When time seems to be a luxury, an ability to stay organized can help families manage the hustle and bustle of daily life more effectively. An online survey conducted by an internal research team on behalf of The Huffington Post polled more than 1,000 American adults in 2013, revealing 84 percent of recently stressed Americans say they worry that their home isn’t clean or organized enough.

Within that group, 55 percent cited disorganization at home as a source of recent stress. Disorganization does not occur overnight, and neither will getting re-organized. But with some motivation, all families can become more orderly.

Manage mornings

Families can usually use more help getting out of the house each morning in a timely manner. Each member of the household should have a designated area where they keep the items they will need for the next morning. Backpacks and briefcases should be prepacked, and lunches made the night before. In addition, sort the next day’s clothes before going to bed. Such efforts should make it easier to get out of the house on time each morning.

Sort the entryway

Home entryways are usually hubs of traffic. Such areas are the first and last place family members go when entering or leaving the house. As a result, these areas are in need of some routine organizational attention. Use sorting bins for shoes, hooks for coats, trays for mail or homework, and other sorting equipment to keep things tidy and orderly.

Embrace the purge

Take a hard look at what you use and what you don’t use around the house. Holding on to items you rarely use can contribute to clutter and create a disorganized home. Save only a few sentimental items, donating, recycling or discarding the others. Many organizational experts suggest going through items one by one and asking oneself if this is something that has been used recently. If it’s been collecting dust for a year or more, it can go.

Sensible storage

Analyze what you have and then find sensible storage solutions. Store belongings in the same place each day so items are easy to find when needed. Frequently used items should be easily accessible. Seldom used items, such as holiday decorations, can be stored out of the way.

It takes commitment and time to get organized. However, life tends to move along much more smoothly in organized homes than homes marked by clutter.

Create an Inviting Outdoor Living Environment

Be ready to enjoy the warm days of spring and summer with an “updated” outdoor dining/living/garden area that is welcoming and efficient. Woodcraft has the tools and supplies you will need, along with helpful advice at your local store and free how-to articles on Woodcraft.com.

Projects

Take stock of your outdoor furniture — do you need more? Would colorful new Adirondack chairs, a new picnic table and maybe a garden bench and planters be more inviting? Or perhaps a cleanup and new paint would bring your existing furniture to life for another season? Does your porch/patio/deck area need to be resurfaced or enlarged? Streamline your dining by building mobile carts to transport food for prep and for serving. Add a butcher block top to the food prep cart and storage drawers to both, and improve the efficiency and pleasure of your dining experience. Gardeners may want to build a potting bench and wooden flatbed wagon to haul plants and supplies.

Tools, Supplies and How-Tos

“Make anywhere your workspace with the Kreg Mobile Project Center,” Woodcraft senior product manager Peter Collins said. “It’s a portable workbench, sawhorse, assembly table, and clamping station all in one that provides a versatile work space for DIY, repair, and woodworking projects.” The large 273⁄4″ x 311⁄2″ polypropylene work surface supports a 350-lb. load capacity, and two centers can be connected to double the work area. Collins also suggested adding the new Kreg In-line Bench Clamp and Bench Clamp System for Dog Holes to make almost every clamping task possible. Visit Woodcraft.com to see Building Plans for Outdoor Furniture, as well as Adirondack chair templates.

Woodcraft.com also offers a large number of how-to articles such as “Laid Back in a Classic Adirondack” that shows how to build with Adirondack chair templates, while “WoodSense: Spotlight on Outdoor Projects,” describes woods that work well outdoors. For building projects, the Freeman 11⁄4″ 18-Gauge Brad Nailer is a professional quality, innovative home improvement tool that is great for furniture. Its oil-free operation requires no regular maintenance and eliminates the risk of stains on project surfaces.

If your joinery choice requires screws, the Groz Insta Drive Screwdriver features a patented retractable, rotating bit cartridge that makes it easy to find, store and change driver bits. For hauling lumber or other large items to your project site, use the Xstrap Heavy Duty Ratchet Tie Down to hold up to 1,000 pounds in place on a truck bed. To finish new furniture or recolor existing pieces — and brighten your outdoor landscape — choose one of the 28 premixed General Finishes Milk Paint colors that can be mixed, lightened, glazed, layered, antiqued, or distressed.

Other good choices for outdoor surfaces include General Finishes Outdoor Oil Finish (use over exterior oil stain or exterior clear oil finishes for additional protection) and General Finishes 450 Varnish (minimizes fading, retards mold and fungus growth).

For painting guidance, watch “Hand Applied Milk Paint from General Finishes at Woodcraft” and read “Create a Milk Paint Masterpiece” on Woodcraft.com. HOMERIGHT’s Finish Max HVLP Sprayer will spray most solvent (except lacquer and conversion varnish) or water-based products — latex paint, milk paint, chalk paint, furniture paint, stains, and finishes. It’s easy to set up, use and clean. When painting furniture, consider using the HOMERIGHT Large Spray Shelter. When painting small accessories, opt for the Small Spray Shelter.

For furniture that needs some TLC, read “Restoring Outdoor Projects” on Woodcraft.com to learn how to determine what needs to be deep cleaned, repaired, rebuilt and repainted. Handy helpers for the TLC process include Blue Bear Paint and Urethane Stripper, Krud Kutter No-Rinse Prepaint Cleaner, Titebond III Ultimate Wood Glue, SculpWood Putty, and Briwax ChaiRX.

Garden & Game Projects

Turn a unique transplanter, cultivator and weeder with the three-piece WoodRiver Garden Tool Turning Kit constructed of durable, cast aluminum. Turning blanks for the handle, sold separately, may be made from wood, acrylic or another man-made material. Build a wooden croquet set with help from “Picnic Perfect Croquet Set” in Issue 65 of Woodcraft Magazine. Subscribers can download the article free, or the issue can be purchased at Woodcraft.com.

To learn more about these and other products, visit your local Woodcraft store, call (800) 535-4482 or visit www.Woodcraft.com.

Early-Blooming Spring Flowers

The arrival of spring is a welcome occurrence for many people. Budding flowers are among the harbingers of spring. Spring flowers can revitalize winter-weary people just when they need it most — and provide reassurance that brighter, warmer and longer hours of sunlight are just around the corner. Cold-tolerant flowers are hardy enough to start blooming before the last frosts have dissipated. Other flowers will begin to fill in as days warm a little bit more, according to Better Homes and Gardens. Home gardeners looking to warm up their gardens with early blooms can use these flowers in their early-season containers, window boxes and planting beds.

Pansy

Pansies prefer cool weather, which can make them one of the best flowers to plant in early spring and late fall. Pansies come in a variety of colors, so there’s bound to be an offering that will blend with any homeowners’ landscape design.

Creeping phlox

Also known “moss phlox,” creeping phlox is a short ground-cover that is a herbaceous perennial. Phlox produces small, fragrant flowers in dense clusters, which can attract wildlife, such as butterflies, to their mats across the soil surface.

Snowdrops

Snowdrops can peek out even when there is snow still on the ground — sometimes as early as January and February. But their name is actually a reference to their appearance, as snowdrops have three white petals that hang down like drops dripping off the stem.

Violets

These flowers are closely related to pansies and, as a result, prefer cool seasons. Violets are generally slightly smaller than pansy blooms, but they can be just as beautiful. But as with pansies, violets will start to fade when the heat arrives.

Crocus

Crocus plants are relatively small, only reaching three to six inches in height. However, their grass-like leaves are some of the first sprouts that can be seen among bulb and corm plantings. Preferring full to partial sun, these gold, purple, lavender, white, or yellow flowers can be enjoyed during the earliest days of spring.

Daffodil

Daffodil bulbs produce cheerful, yellow flowers in early spring. They’re one of the most recognizable flowers thanks to their familiar shape and fragrant aroma.

Lenten rose

Hellebores, also called the Lenten rose or Christmas rose, can tolerate light frosts. These blooms get their name from the time of year when they bloom, which is typically around the Christian Lenten season. Despite their name, these delicate flowers are not actually related to roses, however.

Early-blooming flowers give winter-weary gardeners hope that spring has arrived.

Various Ways You Can Put Pumpkins to Use

Few items signal the fall harvest season more than the bright, orange pumpkins that dot fields and liven up displays outside of homes and businesses. Come fall, many pumpkins are turned into grinning jack-o-lanterns just in time for Halloween. But there are many other uses for pumpkins as well.

Pumpkins are believed to have originated in North America. Early Native Americans relied on pumpkins as a source of food that helped them survive long winters. Pumpkins could be roasted, baked, boiled, and dried, and they were eaten and used as medicine. Pumpkin blossoms were added to stews. The shells of the pumpkins could be dried and used as eating and storage vessels.

While pumpkins may now be symbolic of Halloween, the following are a handful of additional ways this versatile fruit can be put to use.

Beauty regimen

Pumpkins contain a number of essential vitamins and minerals that can help replenish the skin. Pumpkin purée can be mixed with honey, aloe vera gel, olive oil, and a bit of cornmeal to create an exfoliating mask for the face or body. Pumpkin also can be used to rejuvenate dry or tired skin from cold weather.

Honey, pumpkin and yogurt can be mixed together and used to condition hair. Let the mixture sit for 15 to 20 minutes, and then wash it out and shampoo.

Foods and beverages

Pumpkin purée is the basis for many tasty, pumpkin-infused treats. Purée can be used in pies, cakes, muffins, breads, and many additional foods. Pumpkin purée also may be found in certain beverages, such as smoothies and shakes. A bit of spiced purée may appear as flavoring in teas and coffees.

Roasted pumpkin seeds make a healthy treat. Foodies suggest using the seeds from “sugar pumpkins” or the ones best for making pies. Boil the seeds for a few minutes before draining. Spray a baking sheet with non-stick spray and put the seeds in a single layer. Bake at 400 F for 20 minutes. Allow to cool and serve.

Pumpkin wines and beers are popular as well. There are many recipes for developing sweet, fermented beverages, which tend to be especially popular in the fall.

The “guts” of the pumpkin can be simmered along with aromatics and other vegetables to create a vegetable stock perfect for soups and broths.

Decorations

Pumpkins can also add to one’s home décor during the fall. Pumpkins can be carved for Halloween displays, hollowed-out to hold tealights or simply left on tables and used as centerpieces. Larger pumpkins may be used as natural flower pots for mums or other seasonal floral displays. As the Native Americans once did, pumpkins can be hollowed-out and used as bowls to serve favorite soups and dips.

Use a hollowed, small pumpkin as a natural aromatic candle holder. Cut holes in the sides to vent the exhaust. Rub aromatic spices, such as cloves, nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, and vanilla bean, on the inside of the pumpkin. Insert a beeswax candle in the bottom of the pumpkin and let it send inviting aromas into the air.

Pumpkins are a versatile fruit that can serve many purposes beyond just jack-o-lanterns and pies.

Satisfy With A Simple, Spicy Appetizer

Hosting often involves serving food, and the following recipe for “Spicy Cheese Balls” from A.J. Rathbun’s “Party Snacks!” (Harvard Common Press) is sure to please hosts who want to serve their guests an hors d’oeuvre that’s simple but spicy.

Spicy Cheese Balls (Makes 35 to 40 bite-size balls)

1 8-ounce package cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup finely chopped walnuts

1. Put the cream cheese, cheddar, garlic, parsley, cayenne, black pepper, and salt in a food processor. Process for 5 to 10 seconds, until well blended. Scrape the mixture into a bowl, cover, and refrigerate for 1 hour.

2. Spread the chopped walnuts on a plate. Shape the cheese mixture into 35 to 40 small cheese balls, each about the size of a large marble. Roll each cheese ball in the walnuts, coating the outside (you may to press a little to ensure sticking).

3. Serve the cheese balls on a large platter. You can put a toothpick in each ball, but you could also surround them with crackers and let guests use their hands. It all depends on what kind of party you’re having.

Homemade Pie Crust Made Easy + Turkey Vegetable Pot Pie Recipe

Pot pie makes for a delicious meal, especially when home cooks go the extra mile and prepare homemade pie crust. Some may be intimidated by the idea of making their own pie crusts, but the following recipe for “Turkey Vegetable Pot Pie with Whole-Wheat Crust” from Michelle Dudash’s “Clean Eating for Busy Families” (Fair Winds) simplifies that process, ensuring a fun and easy time cooking and, ultimately, a delicious meal.

Turkey Vegetable Pot Pie with Whole-Wheat Crust (Serves 6)

For the crust:

1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup corn oil
1/3 cup orange juice

For the filling:

1 carton condensed cream of chicken soup (organic preferred)
1/2 cup low-fat milk
11/4 pound boneless, skinless turkey breast, thinly sliced into bite-size pieces
1 cup thinly sliced carrots (or frozen sliced carrots, thawed)
1 cup leeks, quartered lengthwise, then thinly sliced crosswise, using white and pale green parts only
3/4 cup thinly sliced celery
1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
3 tablespoons whole-wheat flour
2 teaspoons dried herbes de
Provence (or 1/2 teaspoon each thyme, rosemary and basil)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt

To make the crust: Combine flours and salt in a medium bowl. Pour in oil and orange juice and stir until moistened. Press dough to flatten and chill.
To make the filling: Blend soup and 1/2 cup of milk in a large bowl. Mix in the remaining ingredients.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Divide dough into 2 balls, one slightly larger than the other. Roll the larger ball between 2 large sheets of waxed paper until it is 1/8-inch-thick or until it fits in the bottom of a 9-inch pie pan. Remove the top sheet of waxed paper. Turn dough over and carefully place in the pie pan, removing remaining piece of waxed paper. Press out any bubbles and patch holes with scraps of dough. Pour filling into the prepared pan. Roll remaining dough and lay it on top. Cut any excess dough hanging from the edges and crimp the crust between your thumb and forefinger to seal. Cut a heart into the center to allow steam to escape.

Place the pie on a sheet pan and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, until center of crust becomes golden and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the pie’s center reaches 165 F, covering browned edges only with foil about halfway through cooking. Remove the pie from the oven and allow it to rest for at least 5 minutes before cutting.