Category: Home Improvement

Safety In And Around The Pool

Beating the heat in a pool is one of the most popular warm-weather activities. Swimming attracts people of all ages because of its various benefits. In addition to being an enjoyable recreational activity, swimming also is a low-impact way to exercise. Having a backyard pool makes swimming and outdoor fun that much easier.

Although exact numbers are difficult to come by, various sources indicate there are approximately 4.5 million residential swimming pools across the United States. While it once was relatively rare to find a backyard swimming pool in Canada, things have changed — especially in Quebec. No other province comes close to matching Quebec for backyard pools, which has well over 300,000 backyard pools, more than Ontario (which has five million more people). Quebec also has more pools per capita than almost anywhere else in North America according to numbers compiled by Pool & Spa Marketing magazine.

Pools can be enjoyable places to gather and make for the focal points of yards, but they require careful use so fun is not overshadowed by tragedy. Unfortunately, young children have the highest risk of pool injury or drowning, with more than 200 youngsters drowning in swimming pools each year. The American Red Cross and National Swimming Pool Foundation® have partnered to educate home pool users. The following guidelines are important when adults and children are enjoying the pool.

Create pool barriers.

Preventing accidental drowning means removing easy access to pools. Pools should be surrounded by secure fencing with an automatically latching gate. Fences should not be accessible by climbing. Extra precautions like installing a safety cover on inground pools and removing or securing ladders when the pool is not in use can help as well.

Establish rules.

Each pool owner should establish their own set of rules for the pool. These can include “no running around the pool,” “no diving in a shallow pool” and “no riding toys at poolside.” Pool owners can customize rules as they pertain to safety issues in their yards.

Maintain constant supervision.

People of any age can drown. That is why it’s always safest for swimmers to swim with a buddy or with someone watching. The American Academy of Pediatrics says an adult should be in the water and within arm’s reach when infants and toddlers are swimming. This is known as “touch supervision.” For older children, an adult should be paying constant attention and remain free from distractions, like talking on the phone, socializing, tending to household chores, or drinking alcohol.

Use approved flotation devices.

Individuals who do not know how to swim should rely on a Coast Guard-approved flotation device. Water wings and general pool floats are not adequate, especially in situations that requires someone to be saved.

Take swimming lessons.

Knowing how to swim will not entirely remove the risk of drowning, but it certainly can reduce it. Many swim programs teach water survival skills as well as general swimming techniques.

Fun around the pool is par for the course come summer. But fun must be balanced with safety when swimming.

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How to Conserve Water at Home

Conservation is an essential component of an eco-friendly lifestyle. Conserving the planet’s natural resources can have a profound impact on the planet, and conserving at home is a great way for men and women to get the ball rolling on their conservation efforts.

One of the most effective ways to conserve at home is to reduce water consumption. Few people give much thought to how much water they consume at home, as water bills tend to be considerably lower than other utilities like energy and phone. But even if efforts to conserve water at home may not make a dramatic impact on monthly utility bills, the following measures can go a long way toward preserving one of the planet’s most precious resources.

· Fix leaky faucets. Leaky faucets in a home might not seem like they waste much water each day. However, the U.S. Geological Survey estimates that a single home with three leaky faucets that each produce one drip per minute will waste 104 gallons of water per year from these faucets alone. This waste is easily prevented by simply fixing leaky faucets the moment drips are noticed.

· Wash your car at a commercial car wash. Some vehicle owners may enjoy washing their cars at home in their driveways. But getting a car washed at a professional car wash can conserve substantial amounts of water. That’s because many new car wash facilities employ water reclamation systems that reuse water. According to San Diego Car Care, a professional car wash that employs water reclamation technology, each car washed at their facility consumes just nine to 15 gallons of water per wash. That’s a considerable savings compared to washing at home, as the State of Maryland’s Department of the Environment estimates that 100 gallons of water are consumed during a single 10-minute car wash at home using a garden hose.

· Install shower heads that earned the WaterSense label. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says that showering accounts for nearly 17 percent of home water consumption. For the average family, that translates to almost 1.2 trillion gallons of water each year. Shower heads that have earned the EPA’s WaterSense label have met various conservation criteria established by the EPA. Such shower heads are 20 percent more efficient than the average product that does not have the label. According to the EPA, the average family can save 2,900 gallons of water per year by installing shower heads that have earned the WaterSense label.

· Use a dishwasher. This particular effort to conserve water is one that everyone can embrace. According to the GRACE Communications Foundation, an organization devoted to developing innovating strategies to increase public awareness about the issues facing our environment, using an energy-efficient dishwasher instead of hand-washing dishes can save as much as 15.5 gallons per wash.

Conserving water at home can have a profound impact on the environment. And efforts at conservation are often simpler than many people may think.

Benefits of Hiring Professional Contractors

The DIY movement has inspired many homeowners to tackle home repair and remodeling projects on their own. DIY projects can be rewarding, and many homeowners who have embraced the DIY movement have discovered talents they never before knew they had.

But no matter how simple popular home renovation television shows make remodeling projects appear, homeowners should know that such undertakings are far more difficult than they appear on television. Homeowners who overestimate their abilities and the time they have to complete projects can cost themselves substantial amounts of money. In fact, there are a variety of reasons homeowners might want to work with professional contractors when tackling home improvement projects.

Experience

A trial and error approach can work with various projects and problems. But applying such an approach to home improvement projects is risky and potentially dangerous, not to mention costly. Experienced professional contractors with strong track records (seek recommendations from friends or neighbors) won’t have to go through trial and error and are therefore more likely than DIYers to complete a project on time and on budget.

Inspiration

One oft-overlooked benefit of working with professional contractors is the likelihood that they can draw up ideas for projects that homeowners might otherwise never have thought up on their own. Homeowners without specific ideas in mind can ask contractors to come up with various scenarios before committing to a particular one. Veteran contractors can draw on years of experience to create designs that DIYers might be incapable of coming up with and/or incapable of seeing through to completion.

Cost

Conventional wisdom suggests it’s less expensive to do something yourself than to hire someone else to do it for you, but that’s not necessarily true of home improvement projects. Labor costs typically account for a substantial amount of professionally contracted projects, but homeowners can cut those costs by volunteering to do some of the simpler tasks themselves. In addition, contractors often purchase materials at a much lower cost than individual homeowners because contractors buy in bulk. So while labor costs might be lower on DIY projects, the cost of materials can offset those savings.

Resale value

Many homeowners renovate their homes with eyes on improving the resale value of those homes. But if homeowners want to showcase a newly remodeled kitchen when selling their homes, they should be prepared for prospective buyers to ask who worked on the project. Fearing potential problems down the road, some buyers might be put off by homes that were remodeled by DIYers and not professional contractors.

Renovating a home on your own can be a rewarding project for homeowners. But it’s important that homeowners recognize the many benefits of working with professional contractors before making any final decisions with regard to who will tackle their next project.

How to Replace Energy Hungry Appliances

According to the Energy Star program, a refrigerator that is at least 15 years old may be consuming twice as much energy as a newer Energy Star-rated refrigerator.

Even though purchasing new appliances will require a financial commitment, such items may help save money while benefitting the environment at the same time.

Home improvement projects often involve remodeling. But homeowners can improve their homes without ever picking up a hammer. Upgrading a home’s appliances with products that are more eco-friendly can add value to a home and make the home more attractive to buyers who want their homes to look good and pay dividends for the environment.

The United States Department of Energy says the average American family spends about $2,200 each year for energy costs, and large, inefficient appliances no doubt contribute heavily to those expenditures. Appliances that are several years old, including refrigerators, washing machines, dryers, and even ovens, may no longer meet the stringent energy-saving specifications required of new items. That means such appliances are negatively affecting the environment and their owners’ bottom lines.

According to the Energy Star program, a refrigerator that is at least 15 years old may be consuming twice as much energy as a newer Energy Star-rated refrigerator. Even though purchasing new appliances will require a financial commitment, such items may help save money while benefitting the environment at the same time.

Read the label

Familiarize yourself with the “EnergyGuide” label that appears on most appliances. This label gives consumers an idea as to how much it will cost to run the appliance, as well as how much energy the unit uses on average. Use this label to compare the different models you are considering.

Choose appliances that are part of the Energy Star program, which helps consumers find products that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Downgrade to a small model

Large appliances tend to consume more energy than small appliances. Scaling down the size of the appliance can reduce energy consumption. Empty nesters may no longer need a refrigerator capable of holding food for a family of four, while those who routinely dine out may find they don’t get much use out of their larger refrigerator.

Look for rebate programs

Rebate and recycling programs can help reduce the initial cost of purchasing new appliances. The government may offer tax incentives to those people who purchase a new, energy-efficient models.

Think about future salability

Homeowners who do not intend to stay in their homes much longer may find energy efficient appliances make their homes more attractive to prospective buyers.

Energy efficient appliances can reduce homeowners’ carbon footprints while also saving them considerable amounts of money over the life of the products.

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Renovations That Add Value To Your Home

Homeowners choose renovation projects for a variety of reasons. Although many improvements are made to increase functionality and comfort of a home, several others are seen as worthwhile investments. These investments can add up to a higher resale value when the time comes to sell a home.

Certain projects have a history of providing a greater return on homeowners’ investments than others. The following renovation tips can add beauty to your home and generate great returns when you put the home up for sale.

Invest in your kitchen. Kitchen remodels are a safe bet when it comes to putting money into improving a home. Residents tend to spend a great deal of time in the kitchen, but a dated, poorly functioning kitchen can detract from the value of a home, even if the rest of the home is in good shape. It’s possible to recoup between 60 and 120 percent of your kitchen remodel investment, especially if the kitchen matches up well with the rest of your home. Homeowners should know that a deluxe renovation may not be necessary, as relatively moderate improvements can create a whole new look for a kitchen.

Look to paint. One of the least expensive improvement materials, but one that has a significant impact, is paint. Neutral, modern colors can easily liven up any space. If you paint with low-VOC paint, you also can advertise an eco-friendly home, which is very desirable these days.

Put in another bathroom. Multiple bathrooms are an attractive selling point, particularly in older homes that may not have been equipped with more than one bathroom. Finding extra space for a bathroom can be tricky, but consider closets, areas under stairs or even taking some space away from another room. Popular home-improvement television channel HGTV advises that half-bathrooms require at least 18 square feet of space, while full baths need 30 to 35 square feet for a stand-up shower or bathtub.

Renovate the HVAC system. Aesthetic improvements aren’t the only ones that add value to a home. Many home buyers are eager to purchase a home that has a new heating and cooling system, as buyers understand that furnaces and air conditioning units are substantial investments that can last for years. Other improvements, such as adding attic insulation or replacing older windows and doors with more energy efficient options, also are smart bets.

Add illumination to rooms. A dark home is a dreary home. Adding light can mean including more overhead and accent lighting. Under-cabinet task lighting is a nice touch. Inclusion of skylights and sun tubes can bring natural light into rooms that may not have south- or west-facing windows.

Put a deck addition outdoors. Outdoor living spaces have become more desirable, especially as the “staycation” has grown in popularity. Decks and patios can make backyards more appealing. The scope of your investment will depend on the size of the deck and design. Doing the work yourself can cut the cost of decks in half, but only if you have the specific tools or experience to tackle such a project.

Improve curb appeal. Adding attractive landscaping and freshening up the entryway to a home can add considerable value to your home, as buyers judge homes by their exteriors. Completely renovated interiors may never be seen if buyers pass up your home because of a less attractive exterior. Classy, subtle changes, like well-placed shrubbery and a green lawn, can work wonders. An inviting front door and well-lit entryway also add curb appeal to a home.

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Maintaining a Bird-friendly Environment This Season

Bird watching is a pastime enjoyed by people of all ages. While many people trek into the woods to see their favorite birds, homeowners can take steps to entice these fascinating and feathered friends right to their backyards.

Homeowners who want to attract birds to their properties can do so by providing the birds food, shelter and places to wash up or cool off. Installing a bird feeder and a bird bath in your yard is one way to attract a bevy of winged creatures that can provide hours of enjoyment.

Establishing a bird-friendly environment may seem as simple as hanging a feeder on a pole or tree and erecting a bird bath nearby. But a certain level of maintenance is needed to keep birds healthy and happy.

According to the experts at the Bird Watcher’s Digest, recent research indicates feeders can sometimes be a source of disease for the birds visiting them. The Audubon Society echoes that warning, saying that bird feeders and baths can serve as transmission stations for diseases such as aspergillosis, avian pox and salmonellosis. Recently, scientists noted that the spread of trichomonad protozoan parasites is on the rise, especially among mourning dove and band-tailed pigeon populations.

Such warnings are not meant to deter budding birding hobbyists. Organizations like the Audobon Society hope that such warnings send the message that disinfection and maintenance is necessary to maintain sanitary environments for birds. Doing so is relatively easy and well worth the time for birding enthusiasts.

• The Humane Society of the United States advises cleaning hanging feeders once every two weeks or more often if they’re heavily used. Ground-feeding designs should be cleaned every two days. Feeders can be immersed in a very-diluted solution of bleach to water (nine parts water to one part bleach). Let soak for a few minutes, and then scrub the feeder with a stiff brush or scouring pad before rinsing. Allow the feeder to dry completely before refilling it with seed.

• Bird baths should be emptied of water each day. Brush or wipe the bath clean, then rinse and refill with fresh water. Do not leave standing water overnight; otherwise bird baths can easily become a breeding ground for mosquitoes and other parasites.

• Frequently collect discarded seed hulls and clean bird droppings from beneath feeders. If the area around the feeder has become especially soiled, relocate the feeder elsewhere and clean its initial location.

• Follow proper instructions with regard to seed and other bird food. For example, reduce the amount of suet offered in hot weather. Heat can cause suet to spoil, and sticky suet can become stuck in birds’ feathers and make it hard for them to keep clean.

• Try to provide more than one feeder and bird bath to prevent overcrowding. Crowding can contribute to the spread of disease.

• Do not situate feeders and bird baths under perches where they can be soiled by droppings.

• If you notice birds look sick or are not acting strangely, halt feeding and bathing to prevent healthy birds from becoming ill. Wait a week before resuming feeding and notify wildlife officials if you find dead or sick birds around your property.

• Locate feeders and baths at least 30 feet away from windows so birds do not get confused by reflections and collide with the glass.

• Store seed in a dry container with a tight-fitting lid to prevent mold from forming and moisture from getting in.

Creating a thriving habitat for bird watching is easier than one might think. But once birds begin visiting a yard, homeowners must diligently maintain clean feeders and bird baths to ensure the birds stay as healthy as possible. Any questions about wild-bird care can be directed to a local Audubon Society chapter or by visiting a pet store or bird hobby center.

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How to Manage Credit this Holiday Season

Holiday shopping takes up a considerable amount of time between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Shoppers who scour in-store and online retailers in the hunt for the perfect gift annually spend hundreds of billions of dollars during such pursuits, and what they swipe when making purchases could go a long way toward how their new years begin.

Overreliance on credit cards to make holiday purchases can prove crippling once the calendar turns to January. According to an analysis of statistics from the Federal Reserve, the average household consumer debt in the United States was more than $15,700 as of June of 2015. That’s roughly one-tenth the average mortgage debt, suggesting that many consumers are relying too heavily on credit cards when making their purchases.

This holiday season, consumers concerned about swiping their credit cards too often can take the following steps to more effectively manage their credit.


· Know what you can afford. Swiping now and dealing with the consequences in January is a recipe for a rocky new year. In some cases, it can benefit consumers to make purchases with their credit cards as opposed to their debit cards. For instance, when making purchases online, it’s often safer to use a credit card rather than a debit card linked to your checking and savings accounts, as using the latter can make your life’s savings vulnerable to hackers. But don’t start swiping your credit cards until you know what you can afford. Examine your finances and only use your credit card if you know you can repay the balance before it incurs any interest. If you can’t pay the balance in full at the time the payment is due, use a debit card so you are only spending money you already have and not taking out what amounts to a high-interest loan on your holiday purchases.

· Resist retailer cards. When making in-store purchases, chances are the cashier will invite you to sign up for a retailer credit card, even offering an immediate discount if you do so at the registers. While this discount may seem too tempting to ignore, keep in mind that many retailer credit cards come with considerably higher interest fees on balances that are not paid off in full. So that discount at the register may end up costing you more money if you get to January and can’t pay the balance in its entirety.

· Try not to juggle cards. Many shoppers juggle multiple cards to avoid building up too big a balance on one particular card during the holiday season. But that’s an easy way to lose track of how much you have spent. Rather than juggling cards, use only the one with the lowest interest rate.

· Monitor your balances. Swiping a credit card is easy and hassle-free, and many retailers both big and small now accept various types of cards. Keep a close eye on your balances, checking them online after each shopping trip. This can help you control your spending and also can alert you to any fraudulent activity.

Shoppers who must use their credit cards this holiday season can employ several strategies to ensure they don’t dig themselves into a financial hole by the end of December. GG159504

Save Energy with Holiday Decorations

The holiday season allows people to transform their homes into wonderlands of lights, garlands and poinsettias. Each family has its own holiday traditions, and decorations are a part of many of those traditions.

Decorations might be awe-inspiring, but those that include lights often lead to substantially higher energy bills. Fortunately, there are ways for homeowners, whether they prefer subtle displays or more over-the-top arrangements, to save money and still celebrate the holiday season in style.


· Switch to more efficient lights. A great way to ensure holiday displays consume less energy is to change the bulbs being strung. Incandescent lights can use 80 to 90 percent more energy than LED lights. Gradually replace older light strands with newer, energy-efficient LEDs. Not only do LEDs require less energy, but they also can last longer than incandescent bulbs, meaning you won’t have to replace them as frequently as more traditional bulbs. Furthermore, lower wattage usage means you can attach more strands of lights together safely.

· Use timers. Timers can be set to turn lights on and off at specific times, ensuring lights aren’t turning on during the daytime or being left on into the night by forgetful homeowners. Timers also are a good safety precaution. A dark house that is normally lit up can advertise to thieves that no one is home. When lights turn on with a timer, it will create the illusion that it is business as usual in your residence.

· Use homemade decorations. You also can save energy and money by recycling materials into holiday décor. Trim branches from trees and use them in vases for an instant wintry look. Prune an evergreen on your property and make your own wreath with some wire and twine. Shop yard sales for gently used decorations that still have years of utility left. Sew ornaments from scraps of fabric or clothing that no longer fits. Each of these ideas reduces reliance on manufactured decorations that consume energy during production and fuel while being transported from factories to store shelves.

· Rely on extension cords. You can extend the length of displays without using more lights by spacing out light strands with extension cords. Intersperse spotlights to add attention to key elements of your display as well.

· Turn off interior lights. If a Christmas tree is illuminating a front window, turn off the lights in your home, as the tree may provide enough light to make a living room or den extra cozy.


The Importance of Clean Gutters

Every autumn, trees and shrubs take on their brilliant display of reds, oranges, purples, and yellows that mark the end of the growing season. Fall foliage may make for ideal photo backdrops and scenic days in the countryside, but closer to home leaves may be more of a hindrance than an aesthetic pleasure.

The hundreds of leaves that adorn the maples, oaks and other trees near homes will eventually fall as autumn turns into winter. Some will float down to lawns, while others will get lodged in gutters and downspouts, posing problems that can cause substantial and potentially costly problems for homeowners.

Homeowners know that gutter cleaning is an important part of fall home maintenance, but they may not completely understand why. Gutter cleaning can be a messy and time-consuming project, making it a project many homeowners are apt to put off. Waiting to clean gutters can lead to considerable problems, so it’s best to tackle the job well in advance of the winter.

Gutters guide rainwater and runoff from the roof so it drains properly away from homes. When gutters are clogged with leaves, a number of problems can occur.

· Leaks: Water will take the path of least resistance. When clogged gutters do not allow the water to drain away properly, water will find other ways to the ground. It may work itself right into the walls and ceilings of the home. In addition to damaging walls and ceilings, moisture inside the home can promote mold growth. It also makes interior spaces more appealing to pests.

· Excess weight: Gutters are meant to hold the weight of traveling water and not much more. Gutters filled with leaves and other debris can quickly become heavy. This stresses the entire gutter system and can cause the gutters to fall off of the home entirely.

· Nesting areas: Clogged gutters can serve as nesting areas for insects and birds. Mosquitoes and other insects lay eggs in pooling water. Gutters can quickly become breeding spots for harmful pests. Furthermore, birds may nest in gutters, creating unsightly messes and more damage. Seeds that sprout in clogged gutters can grow unchecked.

· Ice-damming: Left untreated, pooled water and leaves in gutters can freeze over. Blocked water can back up and push against the roof, lifting shingles and destroying the roof in the process.

· Foundation trouble: Clogged gutters also may contribute to flooded basements and cracked foundations. Leaking water will pool around the foundation, expanding when frozen and causing cracks in basement and crawlspace walls. It also can cause driveways and other cement areas around the home to sag and crack.

Gutter cleaning should be scheduled in the spring and fall of each year. Homeowners can hire gutter-cleaning services to handle the job or do the job themselves. Rinse the gutters with water from the hose afterward to ensure good run-off. Take the time to seal any leaks as well. This routine maintenance can save homeowners many headaches and prevent some very expensive repairs.


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Improve Indoor Air Quality as Winter Approaches

With fall soon to give way to winter, many people will soon be spending more time indoors. Winter weather can be harsh, and it can be difficult for fresh air to make its way into a home once the warmer temperatures of summer and fall give way to the cold days of winter.

Poor indoor air quality can cause multiple problems. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, poor indoor air quality can increase a person’s risk of developing pneumonia, and it also may aggravate existing respiratory conditions such as asthma. The EPA also notes that long-term exposure to indoor air pollution can increase a person’s risk for heart disease, respiratory diseases and even cancer.

Because indoor air pollution can be so devastating, many homeowners look for ways to improve their indoor air quality, especially before the arrival of winter, when residents of the home figure to spend such a significant amount of time indoors. Fortunately, homeowners can take many steps to do just that.

* Clean with soap and water. Soap and hot water can still clean a home effectively, and this age-old combination might be the healthiest way to clean as well. Many household cleaning products contain potentially harmful ingredients that can introduce toxins and irritants into a home. Avoid such cleaners and solvents when cleaning a home. If stains prove too stubborn for soap and water, be sure to open windows when using potentially harmful cleaners indoors.

* Purchase an air filtration system. Air filtration systems vary significantly in size, cost and function. Some systems are designed to remove specific pollutants, and may not be effective at removing additional indoor air pollutants. Larger models tend to be most effective at filtering pollutants like dust, but such units are more expensive than smaller units. If your home is especially dusty, then a large filtering system may prove a worthy investment.

* Open windows and doors when possible. Introducing outdoor air into a home is a great way to improve indoor air quality. Of course, opening windows and doors might not be feasible in the middle of winter. But take advantage of any such opportunities when they present themselves. For example, after cooking a big meal, open the kitchen exhaust fan to allow fresh air into the home. Such fans are not large enough to cause a significant temperature drop in the home, but they can directly remove contaminants from inside the home, like those that might be emitted from gas stoves.

* Insist guests and residents remove their shoes. Chemicals can find their way into a home in a variety of ways, and you and your fellow residents or guests may be tracking them into your home on your shoes. Keep a doormat inside all entryways, and insist guests and residents remove their shoes before entering your home. This reduces the amount of potential pollutants brought into your home and also makes cleaning the home that much easier.

* Break out the mop. Vacuum cleaners can be effective at picking up pollutants inside a home, but they also can leave things behind. When a vacuum cleaner seems to be leaving some dust behind, take out the mop and, with just a little water, address the areas where dust is still lingering. Water should be enough to do the trick, and, unlike some cleaning products, water won’t be introducing any additional harmful pollutants into the home.

* Smoke outside. Smoking inside a home is inviting trouble, especially during those times of year when the windows cannot be opened. Secondhand smoke is a significant source of indoor air pollution, as cigarette smoke is known to contain more than 4,000 chemicals. Smoking indoors, whether an area is well- or poorly-ventilated, can be dangerous to smokers. Exposure to secondhand smoke puts adults and children alike at risk of several diseases, including asthma and cancer. If you or your fellow residents or visitors must smoke, do so outdoors. FH139466