6 Ways to Create a More Livable Outdoor Oasis

If your home is your sanctuary, then your backyard is your oasis. You work hard and should be able to come home after a long day and relax in comfort. But, for all the comfortable accoutrements, the modern backyard haven won’t be enjoyable if you can’t temper the climate anb2ap3_thumbnail_misting-system1-150x150d other natural forces. If you have all the basic necessities for relaxing and want to make your retreat even more livable, take a look at what you can do:

Misting System
– These systems work best in low-humidity climates, but are still valuable anywhere it’s just too hot. A misting system sends out a vapor mist that cools the surrounding air a few degrees, similar to the mist from a waterfall. Used in conjunction with an exterior ceiling fan, this type of cooling system can really make a difference during warmer days.

b2ap3_thumbnail_artic-heaterOutdoor Heaters
– Utilizing heaters in your outdoor design allows you to extend the enjoyment of your backyard well into the chillier fall months and open things up earlier in the spring. You can now find a large variety of free-standing heaters specifically made for patio and pool areas. Also look for built-in versions and compare pricing. If you have a beautiful backyard and can only enjoy it three or four months out of the year, the investment may be worth it.

Bug Misting System – This may be one of the best inventions ever. Instead of running around lighting citronella candles and spraying guests down with bug spray, maybe it’s time you consider investing in a bug misting system. Basically, small misters are strategically placed throughout the yard, in planting beds, near the pool or next to the porch. The mechanisms spray an all-natural bug repellent that works on flies, bees and even those annoying mosquitoes.


b2ap3_thumbnail_shade-sailsShade Sails
– We dream for the warm summer sun all winter, and when it finally arrives, we are reminded that it can be (too) hot to enjoy the outside the way we want. Shade sails are a great, contemporary way to bring a little shade into your outdoor life. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors, and are made of weather-resistant materials. A few areas of shade are always welcomed the deeper we get into the summer heat.

Pergola – For a more classic shade solution, build a traditional pergola. You can find pre-fabricated pergolas available, or there are often craftsmen looking for just such a project. The structure creates a romantic, dappled shade formed by the frame work and climbing vines. You can even drape flowing curtains from the support posts to add to the ambiance.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Outdoor-Furniture-300x210Cozy Seating
– Move beyond the folding lawn chair. Instead, design dining and living areas in your outdoor space with comfortable seating just like you do indoors. A comfortable sofa and chairs pulled  up close to an outdoor fireplace or fire pot would be welcomed by all. Think about including a chaise lounge or small daybed tucked away in a shady corner for lazy afternoon naps.

Putting a few chairs and tables next to the pool or on the patio is not the same as making your outdoor area comfortable. Think of your outdoor area the same as you do your home. After all, the square  footage you enjoy outside should be as important as the square footage inside.

How to Choose the Right Fire Extinguisher

Every home should have at least one fire extinguisher for the kitchen, one for the garage, and if you have a separate workshop, one there. However, there are several types to choose from, so how do you know which one is proper?

b2ap3_thumbnail_fireThere are 4 categories of fire extinguishers for different types of fires:

Class A

This is for ordinary combustible materials like wood, paper and cardboard. It also includes most plastics. These types of extinguishers may be filled with water that is air pressurized, but you should only use a Class A extinguisher when you know that only ordinary combustible materials are involved.

Class B

Kitchen fires need this type of extinguisher. It is for flammable or combustible liquids, including grease, oil, oil-based paints and gasoline. Water should never be used on a grease fire, as it will spread the fire.

Class C

If you have an electrical fire, you’ll want to break out this this type of fire extinguisher. It is for appliances and tools that are plugged in, or electrically charged equipment. Many people don’t know that you should never use water on an electrical fire because of the risk of electrical shock.

Class D

Class D models extinguish fires that involve combustible metals, so you will usually only see these in businesses that use metals.

Class K

You will mostly find these extinguishers in commercial kitchens, as they are for fires involving vegetable or animal oils or fats. However, you can buy a Class K extinguisher for use in your home kitchen as well.

It’s possible that a fire has a combination of these categories. If your fire extinguisher has an “ABC” rating, it is good for Class A, B and C fires. Such extinguishers are usually filled with dry chemicals and pressurized by nitrogen. They leave behind a residue that can damage equipment and other items, however they are better than carbon dioxide (CO2) extinguishers because they leave a non-flammable material to prevent the fire from re-igniting. A CO2 fire extinguisher is only meant for Class B and C fires. They contain highly pressurized carbon dioxide, and they don’t leave any residue, which is why they are good for electrical fires. Class D extinguishers should only be used on Class D fires.

If you’ve never used a fire extinguisher before, remember these 4 simple steps:

  • Pull the pin so you can discharge the contents of the fire extinguisher.
  • Aim at the base of the fire because that is where the fuel is. Don’t be tempted to hit the flames.
  • Squeeze the lever so the contents come out. If you let go, nothing will come out.
  • Sweep the extinguisher from side to side until the fire is out.

Always make sure you stand at a safe distance and move in closer to the fire once it gets smaller.

Most fire extinguishers only have 10 seconds of use. If the fire extinguisher has already been partially discharged or is old, it may have even less than that. Be sure you immediately recharge the extinguisher once it’s been used.

Even though it may sound like a fire extinguisher is easy to use, proper training will help you in an emergency situation. For example, you will learn that it is only safe to use a fire extinguisher: 1) when everyone has been notified of the fire, 2) you know the fire department has been called, 3) the fire is small, 4) you are not inhaling toxic smoke and 5) you have a way to escape. If all of these conditions are not met, make sure everyone is out and call the fire department from a safe location.

Just like everything else, fire extinguishers need to be maintained. They should be stored in an accessible place, be pressurized at the proper level, not have any damage and be clean. If you have a dry chemical extinguisher, shake it so the powder doesn’t settle.

It is also a good idea to have several fire extinguishers in your home. Just be sure to have the right extinguisher for the area and that you know how to use each one.

Things to Consider When Repairing an Older Home

b2ap3_thumbnail_old_farmhouse_6-150x150When it comes to living in an older home, there are some conditions you can live with (for the time being) and others that must be taken care of as soon as possible. It’s nice to purchase a home with architectural character, but sometimes those same details can become expensive in the future if you don’t repair them in a timely fashion.
Among all the must-do repairs in the house, you should start on the outside. Not only is it the first impression visitors get when they see your house, but you need to protect the outer layer of your home from weather and

pests. If you have any broken shingles or holes in the roof, get those repaired immediately, as moisture and insects can cause structural damage to your home. The next task is to clean and caulk the windows, which are often in desperate need of attention. The final task outside would be to spruce up the landscaping. Weed flower beds, trim the grass and add some potted flowers around the yard for a special touch.

Inside the house, there are many little things to do. You can start with the floors. Wooden floors may need to be refinished, repaired and polished. For tile floors, check for any loose, cracked or broken tiles and repair those. Also look at the grout, and if it is deteriorating, re-grout the tiles. Carpets should be cleaned, or if worn, replaced, and you may consider replacing linoleum if it is faded, stained or torn.

When it comes to painting the walls, repair any loose plaster and nail-holes prior to painting. While working on the inside of your home, you also want to make sure that everything functions – the stove works and the faucets aren’t leaking. Other “must work” items on the short list should include all fixtures in the bathroom.

Besides the aesthetic repairs, look behind the walls for other issues that could be a real danger. Electricity can be a real problem, especially if it was installed more than 50 years ago. There have been many code changes and technological advances since then to make electrical wiring and outlets safer and less of a fire hazard. If you are unsure, hire a professional to inspect the wiring in your home.

Other issues commonly found in older homes are asbestos, bacteria and mold (caused by high humidity), lead pipes and cracking foundation. Again, whether buying or selling, these are items that should be addressed immediately.

Although you may feel that repairing an older home is more of an expense than what it is worth, that is usually not the case. Once the home is functioning and safe, your family will enjoy the architectural styling, texture and details not found in newer homes.

The Power of Insulation: Keep Energy (and Money) from Escaping Your Home

When we think of cutting our utility bills, we typically look for ways to use less and cut back on the little extras. That certainly works, but how about taking a closer look at the energy we waste, often unnoticed.

A number of areas in your home can allow heated or cooled air to easily escape outdoors if you’re not careful. Our parents may have said, “Close the door! I am not heating the outside!” and we laughed, but let’s face it: paying to heat or cool the air, then letting it leave the house is a huge waste of money. The best and most cost-efficient way to stop the leaks is to first find the source. So, where are the leaks and what do we do about them once they’re found?

Ask the Experts

The first step is to call in a professional to perform an energy assessment on your home (your local power company may even offer this inspection free of charge, so check there first). This assessment provides information on the biggest offenders in your home’s energy system and will suggest ways to remedy each situation.

Professionals performing the assessment will use some pretty interesting equipment – including infrared cameras, surface thermometers, blower doors and furnace efficiency meters. The goal is to detect the sources of energy loss in your home, and fix them to save money on your heating and cooling bills over time. When the professional finds the sources that are leaking, the first defense recommended is usually added insulation.

Target the Insulation

Areas of your home where insulation is usually lacking include:

  • The attic
  • The door leading to the attic and the knee walls
  • The ducts running through any non-insulated spaces
  • Plug and light switches on exterior walls
  • Ineffective windows
  • Cathedral ceilings
  • Floors over garages
  • The basement

This list may seem overwhelming, but a professional energy assessment will help you narrow down the areas you need to target to get the greatest results.

Some insulation jobs are great for the do-it-yourselfer interested in saving money. Explore YouTube, HGTV and the DIY channels to get some ideas of what you can and should not do.

Additionally, be sure to take into consideration your own region and the requirements for insulation. Each area of the country has different suggested R-values for walls and ceilings; specifically in the [insert, suggested R-values are set at [Insert your own region’s requirements here].

Installing insulation can be one of the easier jobs for the home improvement newbie, and the rewards are huge. An afternoon spent crawling around the rafters of your attic can net you some big savings on your next utility bill. With a little know-how and some help, the ambitious homeowner can tackle these insulating jobs with success.

The Smallest Improvements Help

Even the least talented homeowner can do a few home improvements that will add up to considerable savings over time. For instance, an often-missed area for air leaks is around electrical outlets. Buy ready-cut foam insulating gaskets and, with just a screwdriver, you can stop the air leak that occurs around the outlets.

Easy-to-use spray foam is also perfect for the do-it-yourselfer who wants to tackle the air loss around dryer vents, plumbing and other places the outdoors meets the indoors. Follow simple instructions, and within minutes you will have a trouble spot sealed tight. And don’t forget that simple caulking around the windows can stop some serious leaks and save some serious money. This process is easy to learn, and with just a few practice runs, you’ll be caulking like a pro in no time.

Not every home insulation project has to be a huge renovation. Yes, replacing old windows and doors may be desirable at some point, but once you know where the house is leaking air, you can start with the simplest things – and then hire a contractor to tackle the more difficult jobs – and the results of your efforts will save energy and pay off nicely toward your bottom line.

Summer Home Care Tips

Summer Home Care Tips

When summer rays are shining, it is tempting to grab your book and relax in the hammock. But before you do, take some time during a cooler summer morning to walk around your home and inspect it with a keen eye – to ensure that there isn’t anything that needs your attention.

Inspect Your Dryer Vent

According to a 2007 report by the U.S. Fire Administration, approximately 12,700 clothes dryer fires occur annually in residential buildings – resulting in 15 deaths and 300 injuries. To avoid being another statistic, use a vent-cleaning brush to regularly clean your vent, the lint trap and the hose leading outside. Also remember to inspect the vent from the outside to ensure both ends are free from any blockages. Birds and other insects often will make this hole in your house their home.

Keep Your Gutters Free from Debris

Inspect your gutters and remove any debris. In many parts of the country, flash thunderstorms are common, and your house can suffer from water damage as a result of debris and water accumulating in your gutters. If you happen to live in a dry part of the country or an area experiencing drought-like conditions, dry leaves in your gutter can also create an additional fire hazard to your home. Sparks from brush fires (or even neighborhood camp fires) can become airborne and cause the dry debris to catch fire.

Clean Your Garage

During summer, temperatures can rise to new highs every day. Heat-sensitive materials such as paints and solvents should be stored in a cool, dry place or, if no longer needed, disposed of properly. Summer is a great time to organize your garage and get rid of the clutter. You can also store winter tools – such as the snow blower and shovels – to make room for your summer tools and toys.

Examine for Pests and Insects

With the summer months come the insects and other pests. Inspect your deck and other wooden areas for termites. If you live in a humid climate, watch for puddles around your yard and other standing water – which is a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes (and the West Nile virus). Check your lawn for holes created by moles, gophers, chipmunks or other furry creatures. Finally, examine the eaves around your home for hornets’ nests. Depending on the type of insect or pest, you may want to consult a professional for extermination.

By pinpointing problems early, you can usually avoid larger repair headaches (and bills) down the road – and have more time to relax in the summer sun.

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