As most of us prepare to hibernate for the winter, so, too, should we prepare to put away our outdoor summer gear for the the cold days ahead. From furniture, to gardening tools to machinery, how we prep and store our seasonal items can make the difference between enjoying them for years to come and wasting money replacing them. Below are a few simple guidelines for maintaining and storing warm-weather items throughout the fall and winter.
Whether wicker, metal, plastic or cloth, it is critical that all outdoor furniture is clean and dry before being covered or stored. With upholstered cushions, we are all guilty of forgetting to put them away before they have been exposed to some measure of moisture. During the summer, this is generally not a problem because any mildew that may have grown will eventually be killed by exposure to direct sunlight. But, when storing your outdoor pillows and cushions for the winter, it is best that they are brought indoors instead of being covered - and it is very important that they are fully dried (especially when being stored in a dark basement or garage). Once dry, they should be beaten for dust, wrapped carefully and placed in the driest possible place.
Metal furniture should be cleaned with mild soapy water (Murphy's Oil Soap is a good choice) and be sure to drain any water trapped in the frames. Most metals can stay out with a secure cover, but it is recommended that steel furniture be brought in, if possible, because of the greater risk of oxidation and rust. Wicker furniture should also be cleaned, dried and stored inside and again, Murphy's Oil soap is a great option for keeping the wicker supple. Most wood can be left outside if properly sealed and cleaned, but leave some room for air circulation. Stone pieces - especially table tops exposed to repeated freezing - would fare best inside, but a sealant and a loose cover should do the trick in most cases.
While gardening tools are generally made to withstand all types of heavy use and the elements, if you wish to keep them at their best from year-to-year, they need to be cleaned and maintained at least once per year. Metal tools should be thoroughly cleaned with a wire brush, fully dried and hit with a quick shot of lubricant like WD-40 (paying special attention to hinges, bolts, screws and crevices). Wooden handles benefit greatly from a quick shot with low-grit sandpaper and a nice coating of neem or linseed oil. These simple steps will help to avoid cracking and splintering and will ensure you will have rust-free tools ready to go in the spring.
Since mowing is often a grueling chore for homeowners, it is tempting to roll the lawnmower right into the garage and not look back until the spring season. But, lawnmowers and other gas-powered machines benefit greatly from proper maintenance and this can save a lot of stress and money over the years. Here are a few recommendations from lawn mower experts, Briggs & Stratton:
1) Always remove the spark plug lead wire before performing any type of mower maintenance.
2) Remove, cover and store the battery. Starting with the negative terminal first, remove your mower's battery, clean any dirt, debris or corrosion, treat the terminals with a basic protectant and store in a clean, dry place.
3) Treat fuel tank. Gas-powered machines should never be left for months on end with partially full tanks (especially months with high precipitation). Moisture can gather in the tank causing rust that can clog the carburetor. It should either be run completely out of fuel or, better yet, filled to capacity and treated with a fuel stabilizer. If opting to fill and treat the fuel tank, be sure to run for a few minutes to allow the stabilizer to circulate throughout the carburetor. Store in a clean, dry place far away from furnaces or any other source of heat or flames.
Now that you've thoroughly cleaned and properly prepared your summer furniture, tools and machinery for winter storage, one final bit of advice is to park them behind not in front of your snowblower, shovels or generators as it won't be long before they'll need to come out to play.
Pigeons have long been a part of urban landscapes. Romanticized images of older folks feeding them from park benches and children chasing them into the air by the flock, will forever be icons of inner city living. But, pigeons live in many geographical areas and can put down roots on private patios, balconies and poolside areas creating not just a nuisance and an unsightly mess, but a public health hazard. Pigeon feces can carry over 60 diseases including E.coli, Salmonella and Histoplasmosis - a potentially fatal respiratory disease arising from breathing a fungus that thrives in dried bird droppings.
Hope is in the air, however, by way of ultrasonic repellant devices such as those made by Riddex. For less than $50 and a handful of AA batteries, the Riddex Silent Bird Repellant promises to keep pesky birds away by emitting a high-frequency sound heard only by birds. When an infrared motion detector picks up the presence of a pigeon or other bird, the ultrasonic noise is set-off causing the birds to flee from the irritating sound.
As with many products, silent bird repellants have been met with mixed reviews. Some consumers report total success while others experience no effect at all, but if you plan to give them a try, here are some helpful hints to maximize the efficacy of the product and increase your odds of success.
Understanding how ultrasonic waves work is a good place to start. Most importantly, they travel only in a straight line and do not penetrate solid objects. So, unless you have a straight and clear path to where the birds have set up shop, it is helpful to purchase several units - or units with mulitple speaker options - in order to create a "surround sound" type of effect. And, if you are living in a complex or multi-unit type of setting, getting neighbors together to make a concerted effort is a great way to go. Ultrasonic waves can only travel so far (most units covering only about 20 linear feet) and this can create a situation where the birds gather next door or a few doors away.
Perhaps the most common complaint with silent repellants is they work for a short time until the pests become accustomed to the noise. To combat this, experts recommend starting with the lowest frequency and gradually increasing if necessary. Also, occasionally moving the units to different parts of the battle zone helps to prevent the birds from finding a comfortable, noise-free spot.
There are a couple of things to consider before installing silent repellants. One is to be sure to they are "ultrasonic" - not simply sonic. Sonic waves can be detected by the human ear causing a variety of symptoms including dizziness and headaches. It has been reported that some people - mostly women and children - are also able to detect ultrasonic waves. If any physical disturbances arise after installation, try disarming the devices and see if the symptoms go away. If they do, this method may not be the best way to go. Finally, while they are mammals, bats are susceptible to ultrasonic bird repellants. That may be an added bonus to many homeowners, but bats are a vital part of the ecosystem and are a protected species in many states. Simply call your local wildlife association before installation to be sure it is allowed by law.
Since there are many instances where silent bird repellants work very well, it is worth giving them a try. They are a humane, clean and low-maintenance way to rid your property of bird pests - and they are relatively affordable, especially if bought in bulk by your neighborhood association. Placing them strategically and observing the resulting patterns will dramatically increase your odds of success and keep the birds where they belong - in the park amusing the young and old.
According to most sources, the housing market has still not fully rebounded from the 2008 recession although there are some positive trends (prices rising, low interest rates) as well as some negative ones (sales growth flat). That said, spring is traditionally a big season for real estate sales and the season is just revving up. Increasing the value of your home is always an advantage and thanks to a recent article by ConsumerReports.org, we discovered five ways to efficiently boost that value by 10%.
Consumer Reports conducted an online survey of 303 professionals across the country (from all areas and market sizes) and gathered some very eye-opening insights. Asking questions such as "What are the costliest mistakes sellers make?", Consumer Reports found that maximizing the value of your home is simpler than most people thought.
Get Thee to the Dump According to the experts, nothing drives away potential buyers like clutter. The potential return on clearing out and cleaning up ranges from 3% to 5% and can cost you nothing if you do it yourself. Home buyers apparently have a difficult time imagining themselves in your home if it is filled with personal effects and piled high with junk - even if the junk is valuable. If the task is too daunting to go at it alone, think about hiring a professional organizer. It may cost upwards to $2000.00 to get the job done, but selling items online or at a swap meet can help offset that cost. Opening the blinds and permanently getting rid of any odors that may be lingering from years of cooking or pet ownership is also essential.
A Mini-Makeover in the Kitchen The kitchen has always been reported to be the single most important room in the house when it comes to selling - even for folks who aren't particularly interested in cooking or entertaining extensively. Whether meals are painstakingly prepared or nuked on the way out the door, the kitchen is a convening place - a place that needs to appear efficient, comfortable and, of course, good looking. If the kitchen is painfully outdated, it is probably a good idea to do some major renovations, but simple solutions can often reap returns ranging from 3% to 7%. A fresh coat of paint, new hardware on cabinets, an interesting light fixture and even just a fancy new faucet can draw the buyer toward the good points and diminish the not-so-good.
Give your Bathroom a Day at the Spa If we consider how most if us think of bathrooms, we see them at once as spaces of cleansing, renewal and relaxation - but also as veritable Petri dishes of every germ imaginable. When showing and selling a home, this is a paradox, however, that is very easily overcome. An excellent tip from the folks at Consumer Reports, is to apply fresh caulk around all of the relevant places. People don't want to just know that the bathroom is clean on the day of their visit, they want to know that it has been well-maintained all along. Maintenance is vital throughout the entire home, but sometimes folks can be more forgiving of a leaky roof than they can a leaky faucet. The way a property is kept over the years is a personal reflection of the previous homeowner, but there is a difference between not having the money to fix certain things - and just not having the desire. If a home is perceived to have been impeccably maintained, they feel more confident in the integrity of the seller and this goes a long way in increasing the value of your home. New fixtures on the bath and sink are pretty much a no-brainer, but creating a relaxing feel is also of vital importance. For many people - especially those with children - the bathroom is elevated to the level of sanctuary and achieving this effect couldn't be easier. Removing as much cloth-clutter as possible - especially layers of brightly-colored towels - is a great way to lighten the space . Rolling white towels in a yard-sale basket lends to the look of a spa and hanging one clean, white or neutral towel on each bar screams tidy, clean and best of all - sanitary. Bamboo accessories finish the spa-effect and these can now be purchased a places like TJ Maxx, Marshalls and Home Goods for very little money.
Selective Painting When it comes to interior painting, the Consumer Reports survey indicates that re-painting the entire home is not always necessary. Kitchens and baths are the priority second only to brightly-colored walls. Colors are extremely influential on people's moods and are very much a matter of taste. Not everyone will think that your burnt-orange phase was charming, nor will many find the custom periwinkle in the nursery as pleasing as you do. Let the buyer's imagination run wild by painting with clean neutrals - and for rooms that are already quite neutral - leave them be. Leave artwork to a minimum and as universally pleasing as possible. And, for all of the holes left by taking down the clutter - a little spackle and touch-up paint should do the trick. If you do not have back-up of matching paint, most hardware stores have sample sizes for just a few bucks. Selective painting does not yield the highest in terms of resale value (between 1%-3%) but in relation to cost, it is very much worth it.
How Does Your House Say Hello? It goes without saying the exterior of your home is the ultimate first impression. Over the years, many of us begin to take the exterior for granted as we busily live our lives inside. We also tend to overlook certain things like dirt build-up because it is something that develops almost imperceptibly. A good power wash is almost always in order and never, ever show a home with dirty windows. A great bit of advice from Consumer Reports is a fresh coating of mulch around the trees to make the landscape pop and with all of the new colors now available, you can really coordinate the look with the rest of your exterior. Many real estate professionals advocate a new front door to heighten the curb appeal and to further instill confidence that the home has been well-maintained. The great news about all of the above suggestions, is that the entire cost - when taking a middle-of-the-road approach - can be implemented for less than $2500.00. And, who knows, perhaps once you give your home this easy min-makeover, you won't mind waiting until it sells!
Are you having trouble getting your kids to take out the trash or clean their rooms? The answer may be just a download away.
Available for free on a limited time from the Apple App Store, the "Neat Bed" app is the brainchild of KnackMaster, Inc., who released it as the first in their Enzo & Friends series. The series itself is an interactive storybook about a boy who learns new skills around the home. Intended for kids aged 3 to 7, the series teaches children how to take on common household chores, using a handful of fun, animated games as the medium.
Although it's a bit sad that we need apps to teach our kids the value of completed chores they've been tasked with, at least this is a better use of their time on an iPhone or iPad than, say, Angry Birds Space.
The irony of the app? Kids will probably say they are too busy playing it to be bothered taking out the trash.
We understand target marketing, but even this seems a little extreme.
Clorox -- that well-known cleaning company who's name calls to mind the word "bleach" -- has just released a suite of cleaning products designed for Hispanics. "Clorox Fraganzia," as it is called, addresses what the company found to be the three-stage cleaning process practiced by Hispanics: cleaning, disinfecting and aromatizing.
Interesting. Don't most scented cleaning products already do that?
At any rate, the suite of products includes a multi-purpose dilutable cleaner, a toilet bowl rim hanger and an aerosol air freshener.
Through their research, Clorox was also able to determine the scents that appeal to Hispanics, and so the available scents in this new line are Lavendar with Eucalyptus and Mint, Spring, and Forest Dew.
It will be interesting to see if this approach works out.
This week my town started to pick up yard refuse again. (Bless them.) All winter big broken branches from last fall's snowstorm and our winter windstorms have been cluttering up the yard. Add to that the usual spring cleanup stuff.
Barrels and big paper bags full of this junk have been hanging around, half hidden and messy. Just waiting for the huge, squeaky refuse truck with the small man hanging on the back, who throws the stuff into the truck. (Bless him too.)
Even though I compost all I can and try to give away what's useful as firewood, there is still a lot that's got to go.
In many self-pretentious towns people have to drag this heavy refuse, all by themselves, to the dump. On a lovely spring day like today, Belmont seems far more civilized.
Ruth S. Foster is a landscape consultant and arborist. More gardening information can be found on her website, www.mothersgarden.net.
At CES last week LG debuted its new HOM-BOT, the latest in robotic vacuuming.
The HOM-BOT features enhanced navigation technology that relies on cameras and sensors to effectively map a room and avoid potential obstacles. An upper camera focuses on the ceiling, taking up to 30 images per second for mapping data. IR sensors and an optical flow sensor work to detect obstacles for "collision-free operation."
If you're one who hates to clean, it might be worth taking a closer look at the 3.5-inch high HOM-BOT, can go quietly about its business while you tend to the home's other important chores. Just listen for the HOM-BOT's voice alert system when the cleaning job is done or the batteries are dying.
Have you ever used a robotic vacuum? What was your experience like?