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September 28, 2007

Create Built-In Bookshelves


If you want the look of custom bookshelves but your home didn’t come with built-in beauties like these, no worries! You can make your own for a fraction of the price of custom, handmade ones.

The secret to creating the custom look quickly and inexpensively is to accentuate a plain, standard bookshelf with molding. Or go a step further and use stock shelving components to build your own bookshelf first. Are you really handy? Then build your own shelves from scratch.

Regardless which route you choose, stock moldings can help you create the look of custom furniture. Just keep in mind that if you purchase inexpensive bookcases, it may be difficult to match the wood to the molding or consistently coat the pieces with stain. Opt for unfinished shelves and paint-ready molding—it’s cheaper and easier.

Here’s a brief overview culled from step-by-step instructions found in Home Depot Decorating Projects 1-2-3. For specifics you’ll need to buy the book. (Full disclosure: I worked on this book, but it’s chockfull of fun DIY decorating projects and I don’t get a penny from the sales of it so I don’t feel bad about promoting it.)

Begin by building a plinth base that’s the same height as the baseboard in the room. Then remove the existing baseboard where the bookcase will be attached so you can screw it into the wall (this prevents the bookcase from falling over). Once you make sure the plinth base is level and screw it into the wall, place the bookcase evenly on the plinth base and attach it to the walls studs. (If there’s a gap between the back of the bookcase and the wall, you may need to slide a shim into it; you can caulk the gap later.) Now you can attach face-frame pieces to the top, sides, and bottom of the front of the shelf. Attach crown and base molding to the shelves, then cut and nail beaded screen moldings on the three vertical face frames. After that all that’s left to do is seal any gaps between the bookcase and wall or between pieces of molding with paintable caulk. Sand the whole darn thing, prime, and apply two coats of paint. Once it’s dry, you’re ready to fill the shelves with your musty tomes or paperback best-sellers.

For easy, step-by-step instructions, how about this custom bookshelf that can be built in two hours? Or try these free shelf-building plans.

Inspiration always helps, and you’ll find all sorts of ideas from the attractive built-in options showcased here.

And if a built-in bookshelf won’t cut it, perhaps one that hides a secret passageway is more your style.

Until Monday,
The Home Know-It-All

September 27, 2007

Planting Spring Bulbs

Who’s thinking about spring in the fall? Savvy gardeners are. That’s because fall is the time to plant hardy bulbs that can survive in the ground during the winter so they’re ready to flower in spring.

Bulb Planting Supplies

The trick is to plant spring bulbs before the ground freezes (sadly, we’re almost too late in some parts of the country!). This gives bulbs enough time to establish roots. Choose large, firm bulbs (they’ll produce the most flowers) and weed out those bulbs that are soft, moldy, diseased, or damaged. Until you’re ready to plant, store your bulbs in a shady, ventilated spot so they stay dry.

Here are some more planting tips to get you started:

• Select the type of flower you’d like to plant.

• Pick a spot for your bulbs. Early spring bulbs can be planted under trees and shrubs because they bloom before trees or shrubs leaf out. But you’ll want to plant summer bulbs where they’ll get more sun.

• Make sure your soil is properly prepared for planting. Learn what to do.

• Plant the bulbs two to three times as deep as the bulb is tall. The roots of the bulb should face down. Plant teardrop-shape bulbs with the tips facing up. Plant flat bulbs with the flat side facing down. Not sure which side is more flat? Just plant it sideways!

• Water the bulbs as soon as they’re planted to promote rooting—but take care not to overwater.

Have questions about planting spring bulbs? P. Allen Smith probably has answers.

And if you haven’t thought about the fact that climate change is affecting your hardiness zone, now’s the time to take a look.

Until tomorrow,
The Home Know-It-All

September 26, 2007

What's the Deal with Low-VOC or No-VOC Paint?

Low-VOC and No-VOC Paint Options

You know what they say: Once you go no-VOC, you never go back. OK. So I’ve never actually heard anyone say that before. But it’s true—now that I’ve painted with VOC-free products, I’m never going to use the standard stuff again.

Over Labor Day weekend, I managed to paint an entryway, a hallway, a living room, and two bedrooms (with a bit of help, of course!). And we did it all with paint from Sherwin-Williams, which I picked because there was a local store and because they have a couple of paint options that are GreenSure certified (essentially, it’s a high-performance, more environmentally friendly product).

My first paint choice was Harmony Interior Latex, which is zero-VOC, low odor, and silica-free and has anti-microbial properties. But, alas, shopping at a small-town paint store comes with some drawbacks, so I ended up with a mixed bag of paint products. The stucco-color walls are Harmony, the green ones are Duration Home (low-VOC and low odor), and the yellow walls are ProGreen 200 (also low-VOC, it’s typically sold to pros rather than homeowners).

But I also have a red accent wall in my bedroom, and because I was purchasing paint from a small-town store with limited options (on a holiday weekend nonetheless), that paint color didn’t come in a can with an environmentally friendly label. I wasn’t so excited about that fact, but at least now I know first-hand how much better the other paints are.

The funny thing is, even before I opened any of the cans of paint, I knew what that standard paint was going to smell like. Why? Because when I got up close to the walls, I could smell the paint the previous homeowners used. And it didn’t smell good.

That’s because standard paints offgas volatile organic compounds (yep, that’s what VOC stands for). And even when the strongest smell goes away a few days after your walls have been painted, those VOCs continue to contaminate the air in your home for as long as a year after you’ve finished painting. According to the EPA, in addition to contributing to air pollution, VOCs can cause icky ailments ranging from respiratory, skin, and eye irritation to headaches, nausea, and worse. Here’s more info if you’re not sold on why low- or no-VOC paint is better.

Back to my painting tale ... It came as no surprise to me that the GreenSure paints went on smoothly, the colors looked great—and there was hardly any scent at all. And that red accent wall? It made the whole room smell like paint normally smells, even though the other walls were painted with Harmony. Really. That’s why people often vacate the premises during and after interior painting.

All sorts of retailers besides Sherwin Williams are offering low-VOC paint lines now too. One caveat, however: There are often plenty of other toxic substances that come from nonrenewable resources and that are energy-intensive to produce in the paint can even if there aren’t many VOCs. So even the no-VOC paints and stains you buy might not be all that environmentally friendly. But at least it’s a step closer.

If you’re not sure what brand of paint is best, look for the Green Seal label. Maybe ratings systems like this one in Wisconsin will take hold across the country soon too. And, as usual, if you want more information, the green paint section at Green Home Guide is great—and they have a useful paint directory, which is where I started my search.

I’m more than a little disappointed that I settled for standard paint on the red wall. Sure, it looks nice, but the low-VOC walls in the rest of the room don’t have quite the impact when the red wall exudes a ton of volatile organic compounds. Plus, I recently learned that the deeper the hue, the more pigment needed, which means you’re getting more VOCs. Super.

Oh well. When it comes to green living (and first-time home buying, and painting your house when you’re still living almost five hours away from it), you live and you learn. And in the next house, you swear there won’t be any paint unless it’s VOC-free. (At least I have.)

Read about the quest for the right paint from another POV.

Until tomorrow,
The Home Know-It-all

September 25, 2007

Countertop Materials

Squak Mountain Stone Countertop
Photo courtesy of Squak Mountain Stone

The question today isn’t so much what’s on your countertop as what is your countertop made of? Right now my answer would be laminate, but I’m dreaming of the day when I can say marble. Or maybe even recycled glass—really!

If marble’s more your style than recycled glass, here are some traditional countertop choices. (The innovative ones are below, so keep reading!)

Laminate. One of the most affordable options, laminate is comprised of several layers of heated and compressed paper. The color or pattern you see on the countertop is just the top layer. Lucky you, when it comes to laminate countertops the colors, patterns, and design choices are almost endless, so you can emulate the traditional look of stone or go wild with color.

Ceramic Tile. Counters topped with vitreous tile can accept hot pots and pans without scorching and resist moisture from splashes around sinks. The variety of ceramic tile sizes, shapes, and colors makes it perfect for adding style to your kitchen. Just keep in mind that installing ceramic tile can be labor-intensive and pricey. And you’ll have to work to keep those grout lines clean.

Natural Stone. Granite, marble, and soapstone are the most popular stone countertop options. Natural stone gets major points because it’s tough yet elegant, and you can choose from polished, honed, flamed, or tumbled finishes. Keep in mind that most natural stone surfaces require regular sealing. Stone can be a particularly pricey option depending on the type you choose, however. To save money, you might want to consider stone tiles instead.

Solid Surfacing. Another option if you’re not quite ready to fork over the money for natural stone, synthetic surfacing resembles stone and comes in a variety of colors and patterns. It’s nonporous and durable, but it can be scratched and burned (no setting hot pots directly on the countertop like you can with real stone!).

Stainless Steel. It doesn’t get much more contemporary than stainless steel countertops. This material is durable and easy to clean. But be careful—stainless steel scratches easily, and it’s not cheap to replace.

Concrete. Countertops made of concrete are durable and easy to clean if they’re sealed properly. Concrete can be colored any shade and, as a bonus, its pigmented finish is stain-resistant. Much like stainless steel, concrete is best suited for contemporary kitchens.

Butcher Block. Someday I’ll have a stretch butcher-block in my kitchen. But until then I’ll have to be content just writing about it. Butcher block is made from hardwood strips that are glued together. Common hardwoods used include oak, cherry, bamboo, and maple. Moisture will damage butcher block, so keep it away from sink areas. And if you finish your butcher block, make sure you choose a finish that’s safe for food contact—because what good is butcher block if you aren’t going to cut on it?

If you were intrigued when I mentioned countertops made from recycled glass, you’re in luck. Here are a few innovative choices worth considering next time you go countertop shopping. (And if you know of any other cool new countertop creations I missed, let me know!)

Squak Mountain Stone. These eco-friendly countertops are made from a fibrous-cement material comprised of recycled paper, recycled glass, coal fly-ash, and Portland cement. It’s a great alternative to natural or quarried stone and resembles soapstone or limestone.

Vetrazzo Millefiori Countertop
Photo courtesy of Vetrazzo

Vetrazzo. These countertops are made of 85 percent recycled glass and come in a slew of fun colors. Recycled glass countertops sound breakable (or sharp!) but they’re not—in fact, Vetrazzo surfaces are so smooth, they’re comparable to granite. Bonus: The company sponsors a Recycle Vetrazzo program, where people can recycle their old recycled Vetrazzo countertops (yep, that’s a lot of recycling going on there).

Bamboo. These cool countertops are made of solid bamboo plywood and are laminated with a formaldehyde-free adhesive.

Fusionstone. It’s not eco-friendly like the other innovative countertops mentioned above, but Fusionstone is pretty cool. A layer of ultra-clear glass is fused to exotic stone slabs to protect the stone from scratching and stains while still showcasing its natural beauty.

Quartz Surfacing. This material combines 93 percent quartz with 7 percent resin to create a countertop that’s twice as strong as granite—can you believe that! It’s more maintenance-free than granite too because it’s nonabsorbent, easily wiped clean, and is insanely durable (no need to worry about scratches or stains). It is typically as expensive as the real deal though.

Until tomorrow,
The Home Know-It-All

September 24, 2007

Organize It: The Home Office

It’s hard to get work done at a messy desk—especially one that’s at home, where it’s susceptible to more than just work-specific piles. And who wants to spend time organizing when you should be working? While I can’t promise that organizing your desk will chase away all distractions that might strike, I can guarantee that if you tackle your home office clutter soon, you’ll be happier and more productive. Really!

Organized Home Office
Photo courtesy of ClosetMaid.com

The first step to getting organized is to take stock of all the items that are cluttering your home office in the first place. This DIY episode provides a great overview of the necessary steps.

Begin by sorting every item—down to the paperclips—into piles by function. You might have a stack of bills in one pile, miscellaneous school permission slips and report cards from your children in another file, and those darn paperclips sitting with a stash of other office supplies.

Next it’s time to purge. Toss pens that are out of ink, recycle paper you have no use for (shred the confidential stuff first), and make a pile of books that can be donated or given away. Perhaps the trickiest part is figuring out when it’s OK to toss or shred paperwork and when documents should be kept.

Once you’ve sorted and purged, it’s time to take stock of what’s left and figure out exactly what you need to keep everything in place. For paperwork and files, this might be standing file organizers for your desk, file cabinets with hanging folders, baskets, or a combination thereof. Separate personal files and papers from business items by designating a separate drawer or folder for each.

Bookshelves or wall-mount shelves come in handy for books, magazine holders, and baskets. For versatility, make sure your organization plan includes a mix of open and closed storage—open storage makes it easy to find and grab the items you need, but closed storage is ideal for stashing office supplies and other items that might get disorganized quickly.

Now that you have a spot for everything, it’s time to think about the best office setup. Many people swear that an L-shape work surface is the most effective, but it’s really a matter of preference. Just make certain your office space is ergonomically correct—spending the money on a well-made, comfortable office chair and positioning your computer monitor at the right height can make a world of difference. And make sure you have good light.

Whether you’re the creative sort who loves to tear ideas from magazines or you just need a very visible calendar to keep on top of dates, a framed piece of corkboard or a large linen board is perfect for keeping your desk clear and providing an easily visible spot to display ideas and dates.

Keep your desk clear of random items, but ensure that what you use most frequently is within easy reach. Designate a spot nearby for supplies—notice I said nearby, not right in front of you on the desk. Aside from a couple of pens and perhaps a pad of post-it notes, do you really need it all right beside you? (Although I will admit all those cool containers for holding pens, clips, and other office supplies are perfect for displaying.) Storing items on a rolling cart is one way to keep things out of the way but easy to move within reach.

Now, just for fun, how about some home office accessories? And from using egg cups to stash supplies to creating an entire storage wall, you can’t beat these 17 home office solutions.

Have you noticed yet that I’m a sucker for real-life examples of home organization? And look at how you can fit an oh-so functional home office into a tiny apartment!

Once your office is in tip-top shape, all you have to do to keep it that way is to spend a few minutes at the end of each day (or at least those days you use your home office) clearing clutter. Piece of cake, right?

Bonus Tip: Once you’ve tackled the clutter in your home office, it’s time to take a break and celebrate. But sometime soon you might want to address that other cluttered desktop in your office—the one on your computer. Create specific folders on your computer for specific tasks (and separate business-related files from personal ones), much as you did with the files in your office, to whip your computer into shape in no time.

Until tomorrow,
The Home Know-It-All

September 21, 2007

Fast Flooring Fix-Ups

Good Carpet Gone BadDoes a stained, worn, or just plain lackluster floor have you feeling down (or—heaven help us—embarrassed to have company over)? You’re in luck, because today I’m presenting some ideas for ways to fix your floors (whether they’re carpet, wood, or vinyl) in a flash.

The best thing you can do for carpet is vacuum it regularly—this keeps dirt and stains from becoming permanently ground in. In the unfortunate event that surface stains do occur, try these general techniques:
• Blot—don’t rub—liquids with a clean white cloth or paper towel. If that does the trick, rinse the spot with water and blot again until it’s dry. If it doesn’t work, repeat or move on to one of the heavier-duty steps below.
• For spills that are semi-solid (think peanut butter), remove what remains on the carpet with a rounded spoon. Then blot with a clean cloth or towel as above.
• Add a few drops of Dawn dishwashing liquid to a cup of water and dab it into the carpet. Blot, rinse, and repeat if needed. It works especially well on greasy stains (like on greasy pans—surprise!).
• Try a commercial carpet stain remover. But take care to check the label—not all carpet cleaners work on all types of carpets. And you wouldn’t want to create an even bigger mess by using the wrong kind of cleaner! (Plus, carpet stain removers can have icky chemicals—if you want to avoid those, move down the list for more solutions using everyday items that are already in your home.)
• Many stubborn stains (think red wine) require creative techniques if you’re going to get them out. Here are some solutions for removing specific types of stains. Find out more carpet cleaning techniques. (Oh, and in regard to red wine, I can attest to the fact that some panicked blotting with soap and water, followed by white vinegar and more water does the trick—it worked for my mom and me when we shattered an entire unopened bottle of wine on the carpet!)
• If you miss addressing a stain until it’s dry, try clipping it off with scissors.

If the problem is a burn mark or tear, the solution won’t be quite as quick—but it’s still doable on your own if you have carpet pieces leftover from installation. Carefully cut out the damaged area (cutting the base of the carpet, not the pile). Then cut a piece from the carpet scrap using the removed piece as a pattern. Vacuum any fibers that came loose in the cutting process, then secure the new piece by hot-gluing the carpet edges or sliding double-sided tape under the carpet. Press the piece down with a heavy object until it’s set, use a carpet tractor tool to hide the seams, and no one will be the wiser for it!

Fixing wood flooring on your own requires a bit more work than cleaning carpet, but it can be done. (Or, if you don’t want to go to the trouble, how about leaving those minor stains, nicks, and scratches alone? Think of it as adding character to your rooms!)
• Conceal small nicks and scratches with color putty sticks.
• Repair scratches with steel wool and a solvent (try mineral spirits), then refinish the floor.
• Remove stains by sanding off the old finish then pressing the spot with a cloth soaked in an oxalic-acid crystal and water mixture (let the cloth sit on the stain for an hour). You may have to repeat this process. Then, once the stain is gone, neutralize the acid with vinegar and apply a matching oil-based stain to the bleached area. (Warning: Wear gloves for this process!)
• Pry out and replace a strip of damaged floor, rather than replacing the entire floor. If you’re not sure how to do this, you’re in luck. As I was writing this post, an e-mail message popped up on my screen from This Old House. Included in the message: the link to a video on patching strip flooring. How fortuitous is that?
Learn more about repairing hardwood flooring.

Kitchen spills and the like are easy to wipe up on vinyl floors, but if moisture is present beneath your sheet-vinyl flooring discoloration can occur. Plus, drop a heavy or sharp object and you may be looking at a nasty cut or gouge. Try these solutions.
• Use good old water (it might be all you need!), an all-purpose cleaning solution, or a water-based cleaner and polish for regular cleaning. Whatever you do, don’t use solvent-based cleaning product, waxes, or oiled mops, which will damage the vinyl.
• Get rid of black heel marks by spraying WD40 on a towel and lightly rubbing the marks. Voila! They’re gone. Be sure to rinse the floor with sudsy water afterward because the WD40 will make the surface slippery.
• To remedy linoleum floors that still look dirty, you might need to strip and wax them.

If those stains that signify moisture are present on your floor, you’ll need to remedy the source of the problem. And, unfortunately, you may have to replace a portion or all of your flooring. Here are some fixes for damaged vinyl or linoleum floors:
• Fix torn vinyl by spreading new glue under the torn section and pressing it back into place. Cover the damaged area with a weighted board for no less than 24 hours.
• Replace a section of vinyl flooring by choosing a replacement patch that matches the size of the damaged piece.
• To replace a vinyl tile, first make sure you have a replacement tile. Blast the tile that’s damaged with a hair dryer until it heats up. Then use a large chisel to lift away the tile and remove any adhesive that’s left with the chisel or putty knife. Affix the new tile to the floor and you’re set.
Get answers to all of your vinyl floor cleaning and repair questions.

Check out this site, which will fill you in on how to fix all sorts of flooring problems. And these how-to stories cover everything you need to remedy flooring problems in older homes. While I’m at it, here’s one more resource for floor cleaning pointers.

Until Monday,
The Home Know-It-All

September 20, 2007

Early Fall Garden Care

Fall Garden FernWe’re only days away from the first day of fall. And the leaves on the trees outside my window are already turning their autumn hues. Which means it’s time to give the garden some fall lovin’ too.

Here’s a checklist to get you started.

• Take special care of roses. Begin by clearing debris from the base of the bushes—fallen leaves may hold diseases. Once the foliage falls, spray each bush with fungicide and cover with at least 8 inches of loose mulch, soil, or compost.

• Water your plants well. All of your plants—especially your trees—will need moisture to survive the winter months, so make sure to thoroughly soak the soil.

• Prepare your soil for next year’s planting (and what’s left to plant this year) by tilling and adding fertilizer.

• Plant shrubs and evergreens. Stay tuned: During the first week in October, I’ll give you info on how to do this.

Plant fall flowers for an autumnal dose of color.

• Buy spring-flowering bulbs. Visit again next Thursday for the scoop on planting them.

• Avoid pruning spring flowering shrubs, as they may have already set their buds for next year.

• Transplant and divide perennials. This is a good move, particularly if your plant has been in the same location for several years. Water plants before dividing and mulch after replanting.

• Dig up herbs and put them in pots so you can grow them indoors during the winter.

• Prune dead or diseased branches from trees and shrubs.

• Aerate your lawn.

It may be too late to plant these beautiful long-stemmed fall flowers now, but this article is worth checking out, if for no other reason than to inspire you for next year’s fall garden. And when it comes to fall vegetable gardening, this info from NC State is great.

In October, I’ll bring you a few more pointers on mid-fall garden care. And, for those of you lucky enough to stave off snow until later, I’ll bring you pointers on winter garden prep in the beginning of November.

Until tomorrow,
The Home Know-It-All

September 19, 2007

Adding Architectural Detail

Architectural Details

Creating walls and ceilings that elicit oohs of appreciation from guests isn’t as hard as it seems. Include a bit of trim and other forms of architectural detail in your rooms and you’re well on your way to earning major style points.

Adding architectural detail to the interior of your home isn’t a tidy topic that can be fully addressed in a single blog post—entire books are written on it! But to get you inspired, I’ll give you an overview of some of the basic ways you can enhance the look of your home with trimwork. And if what you read here sparks some specific questions, post a comment below and I’ll respond. I’ve spent a lot of time writing on this topic, so I’m happy to put some of that knowledge to good use!

Let’s start at the floor and work our way up to the ceiling.

Baseboard molding. Perhaps the most common architectural element in homes, baseboard molding is used to cover gaps between the floor and wall and protect walls from wear. It comes in a variety of styles and profiles—which you choose will depend on the style of your room and any other trim, such as window and door casings.

Chair rails. A chair rail is, as the name implies, typically installed on the wall at or near the height of most chair backs (about 30 to 36 inches from the floor). It was originally used to protect walls from chair backs and other furniture (particularly in dining rooms or living rooms). But this horizontal band of trim also helps draw your eye around the room, unifying distinct room details and making your spaces seem larger than they are. Chair rails may be used alone or positioned atop wainscoting.

Wainscoting. This decorative finish is often topped by a chair rail (if it’s installed on the lower part of the wall) or a plate rail (if it covers two-thirds of the wall’s height). It may be used in almost any room in the house and is available in a number of styles—including tongue and groove, board and batten, raised panel, or beaded board—to fit the style of your home. Wainscoting kits make applying this decorative feature easy—you simply glue sheets of paneling to the wall with panel adhesive.

Wall frames. Also called picture frames, wall frames are narrow strips of molding applied to the wall that create the appearance of wall paneling (but they’re much less expensive and easier to install than actual panels). Wall frames may be horizontal or vertical and often are placed low on the wall like wainscoting. You can also cover the walls completely to emulate the look of full wall paneling. When you estimate how many individual wall frames will fit on your wall and how far apart they should be spaced, be sure to carefully measure each wall in the room and factor in interruptions such a doorways and windows.

Plate rails. Although it simply looks like a shelf with a groove cut into its surface for holding plates in place, a plate rail is often considered a trim detail. Plate rails are usually installed one half to one quarter of the way down the wall from the ceiling (often atop wainscoting) so breakable items—whether they’re plates, framed pictures, or other decorative elements—are out of reach.

Picture rails. A picture rail is usually installed one half to one quarter of the way down the wall from the ceiling too. Picture rails—which have a rounded top edge that projects from the wall where you can attach hooks or pegs—allow you to hang framed pictures without damaging the wall.

Cornices. Adding architectural detail that draws the eye up toward the ceiling creates visual interest and makes a room seem larger than it really is. Cornices (also called crown molding) are applied to the area where the wall meets the ceiling. They may be simple (perfect for a more contemporary space) or incredibly ornate, with dentil molding or built-up pieces of trim.

Ceiling treatments. The ceiling often gets overlooked when it comes to adding architectural detail—but it shouldn’t. Once you draw the eye upward with crown molding, why not keep it there with an interesting treatment overhead? Applying a grid of trim or a ceiling medallion adds depth and dimension to the ceiling.

Whew. If you’re new to the world of interior trim, you might be asking what else there could possibly be to discuss. But the truth is I’ve barely scratched the surface here. What about trim around windows and doors (often called casings)?
And there are columns, niches and nooks, and ornate fireplace surrounds to talk about too. But that’s enough for today.

If you’re itching to know more before I can make it back to posting about trimwork again, watch videos that show you how to install baseboard, chair rail, picture rail, and built-up crown molding. Or peruse the myriad articles about trimwork written by the folks at Fine Homebuilding. Then it’s time to shop for all the architectural elements you might need.

Until tomorrow,
The Home Know-It-All

September 18, 2007

Cool Cabinet Hardware

Glass Knob
Glass Knob. Photo courtesy of

If you ever watch remodeling television shows or read home magazines, you’ve probably heard it before: if your cabinets are in good shape, replacing cabinet hardware is one of the easiest and most inexpensive ways to update your kitchen or bath.

A little bit of know-how goes a long way in helping you select the right decorative hardware for your cabinets. Here are the basics:

Knobs and pulls. Decorative cabinet hardware typically comes in two basic types: knobs and pulls. Knobs are handles made from any number of materials that are mounted to drawers or doors with a single screw and bolt, which makes them relatively easy to remove and install. Knob sizes may range from ¾ inch to 2 inches in diameter; 1- to 1½-inch knobs work with most cabinets. Pulls are similar to knobs but take up more space and are usually attached with two screws. They come in a variety of styles, including D handle, ball handle, drop handle, lifting handle, ring handle, latch handle, and bin pulls. Learn more about the basic types of decorative hardware.

When you replace existing pulls, be sure to measure the distance between the two screws so you can purchase new pulls with screws positioned in the right spot. Or take a sample piece of the old hardware with you to the store to ensure you buy the correct fit.

Stainless Steel European Bar Pulls
Stainless Steel European Bar Pulls.
Photo courtesy of MyKnobs.com

Hardware styles and materials. Decorative hardware is available in a variety of styles, materials, and finishes to fit appearance of your cabinets and the look you are creating in your kitchen or bathroom. If your home has a distinct period style—whether it’s country, traditional, contemporary, or something else altogether—it makes sense to find hardware that matches it.

The shape your knobs or pulls take influences their appearance, but the materials and finish have a major impact on style as well. Options include antique copper, polished chrome, polished or antique brass, nickel, aged bronze, iron, machine or molded plastic or acrylic, cut glass or crystal, stone, ceramic, or porcelain. In general, brass, nickel, or pewter hardware is best for creating traditional style; enameled or high-gloss finishes look more contemporary.

Still stumped on the type of hardware to choose? Here are a few more pointers to help you narrow down the choices:
• Choose hardware with a darker finish to contrast with lighter color cabinets; look for lighter hardware if your kitchen or bath has darker cabinets.
• Make sure the hardware is proportionate to the cabinet.
• Integrate the shape of the hardware with other elements in the room for serious style.
• Select sturdy pulls for heavy, deep drawers and reserve fragile decorative pulls for drawers or doors that don’t receive as much use.

Price. Decorative hardware costs anywhere from under $2 to more than $20 per knob or pull. Although that seems relatively inexpensive compared to, say, replacing all of the cabinets, the cost can add up quickly. If you’re outfitting an entire kitchen full of upper and lower cabinets with new hardware, you may want to consider less expensive versions (many of which still look pretty cool and can be incredibly durable). Have your eye on some striking knobs that are amazing (and amazingly expensive)? Consider reserving them for the bathroom, where you may only have to buy a couple rather than a couple dozen.

What else? Besides considering the decorative part of the hardware, you may want to protect the surface of your cabinets and cover existing holes with backplates, which are placed between the door or drawer surface and the knob or pull. And when you order hardware, don’t forget about breakaway screws.

Murano Finial Knob in Antique Bronze
Copia Bronze – Murano Finial
Knob in Antique Bronze.
Photo courtesy of MyKnobs.com

Want to know more? The Home Depot makes replacing cabinet hardware easy. And this comprehensive article will fill you in on almost everything you need to know when selecting door hardware.

Ready to shop for hardware? There are a lot of great websites that sell decorative hardware. You can even find knobs made from recycled glass and aluminum, cork, eco-resin, and stone. And some sites, such as Aurora Glass, sell knobs to benefit charity. How cool is that?

Surf these sites to find the hardware of your dreams. (What? You don’t dream about cabinet hardware? I thought everybody did!)

Aurora Glass
Hardware Hut
Knob Gallery
Spectra Decor

Until tomorrow,
The Home Know-It-All

September 17, 2007

What to Clean Daily, Weekly, Monthly

Cleaning Schedule

I’m just going to say this upfront, before I even begin the planned post for today. I am a pretty tidy person, and am even a bit anal-retentive about having a clean home. But I do not clean on the set schedule I am about to present.

When my shower is dirty, I clean it. When my countertops are messy, I wipe them down. I probably don’t vacuum as often as I should because my carpet doesn’t show dirt at all. And I know I don’t do things like dust the blinds and clean nooks and crannies as much as cleaning pros recommend.

Why? For one thing, it really is a case of out of sight, out of mind. If I see a mess (ie the crumbs on my dark kitchen countertops), I wipe it up immediately. But the dust bunnies beneath my desk? I won’t think twice about them until I drop a pen on the floor and come face-to-face with their menacing little figures.

The other reason why I don’t clean as often as I should is one that I’m sure many of you can relate to: I’m busy. I have better things to do with my time than spend hours each week scrubbing floors and wiping down cabinets (especially if it’s a beautiful day when I could be outside). A clean house makes me happy, but spending a good portion of my free time cleaning doesn’t, which is why speed cleaning is the way to go. (I’ll be posting on speed-cleaning pointers soon, so stay tuned!)

BUT. Here’s the big but. I think it’s helpful to have a cleaning schedule to help you stay on top of those evil but necessary tasks that are often overlooked but keep your home looking and functioning at its best. So I am going to present a schedule that outlines what to clean daily, weekly, and monthly. Should you abide by it to the day? You can if you want to, but I certainly don’t. Should you print and post it somewhere to remind you what to clean on occasion? I think that’s a swell idea.

So without further ado, here’s what to clean:

(Most of these tips were adapted from Better Homes & Gardens Making a Home and Better Homes & Gardens Household Hints and Tips.)

Perform these basic chores, which only take a few minutes, every day and you won’t have to spend hours on the weekend catching up with your cleaning and organizing tasks.
• Pick up and put away clutter (including clothes, shoes, toys, books, magazines, and mail)
• Make the beds
• Wash dishes and, if necessary, unload the dishwasher
• Wipe off countertops, cooking appliances, and the kitchen sink
• Take out trash and recycling
• Wipe out bathroom sinks and spray shower doors

Weekly chores might be done in one weekend afternoon or spread throughout the week (perhaps Sunday is grocery day and Tuesday is laundry day, for instance). Depending on the size of your household, laundry and other chores may require your attention more than once a week.
• Launder and iron clothing
• Clean the kitchen
• Clean the bathrooms
• Dust furniture and shelves
• Shake or vacuum rugs
• Vacuum carpeted areas
• Mop floors
• Change bed linens
• Sweep the front entry and step
• Buy groceries
• Water plants

These are the chores that are easy to forget about in the bustle of everyday life—remind yourself to do these tasks once a month to keep your home looking lovely.
• Sweep the garage
• Shake out outdoor area rugs and doormats
• Vacuum furniture (don’t forget to clean underneath cushions!)
Clean windows and mirrors
• Wash out garbage containers
• Clean the stove
• Wipe the interior of the refrigerator and microwave oven
• Clean baseboards
• Dust miniblinds and vacuum curtains
• Change and clean filters on heating and cooling systems

OCCASIONALLY (once or twice a year)
These tasks needn’t be performed very often. But plan to tackle them at least once a year to keep things in tip-top shape.
• Defrost the refrigerator
• Clean mineral deposits out of the coffee maker and steam iron
• Clean out drains and gutters
• Wax floors
• Polish furniture
• Clean out closets (and get rid of what you don’t need)
• Move heavy furniture and clean behind and under it
• Wash walls
• Shampoo carpets, upholstered furniture, and drapes (or have them cleaned)
• Get the chimney cleaned
• Get gas appliances serviced
• Remove and clean light fixtures
• Clean screens and storm windows

Want more info on creating a cleaning schedule? Check out Real Simple’s downloadable schedule. Or try this easy four-step plan for fitting cleaning into a hectic life.

Until tomorrow,
The Home Know-It-All

September 14, 2007

Make My Plastic Wrap Green, Please

After some of the posts I’ve done on green ideas I received a question about options for green plastic wrap. And since plastic wrap is on my shopping list, I thought it was the perfect time to do a little investigating. Here’s what I found.

Plastic Wrap

First, the most green-wise option for plastic wrap is not to use it. Period. Most types of plastic wrap include trace amounts of polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Just because there are only trace amounts doesn’t mean it’s OK—PVC can be incredibly toxic and is dangerous even in small doses. Plus, plastic wraps often include softening chemicals called phthalates too, which can leach into your food and may cause a slew of health problems as well.

I’m not a scientist or a doctor and I’m not going to play one here—more educated people than me are better qualified to discuss the hotly debated problems with plastics. But I encourage you to do research on the potentially harmful effects of storing food in plastic. (Here’s a great place to start.) And consider the environment too—petroleum-based products like plastic are bad for the environment on a number of levels, especially when they’re disposable ones intended to be used once and then tossed in the garbage.

At home, store your food in reusable (preferably glass) containers with lids rather than covering them in plastic wrap. Or wrap sandwiches in wax paper and cover leftovers in aluminum foil instead. Aluminum foil is an especially friendly option because it can be recycled in many places and is even sold in 100% recycled form.

In the off chance you’ve decided you can’t live without plastic wrap (or you run a catering business and it’s an evil but necessary item), there are some safer, more environmentally friendly options out there.

In fact, a number of sources I rely on for green info say that some of the plastic wraps found on grocery store shelves are actually PVC-free, including Glad Cling Wrap and Saran Wrap.

But if you want to go a step beyond PVC-free plastics, look for wraps that are non-petroleum-based and free of plasticizers, chlorine, and carcinogens too. Plastics labeled recyclable or biodegradable (some are called biodegradable film) are even better. Learn more about the safety of green plastics (options include corn-based plastics, starch-based plastics, and BioFilm) here.

A few options I found:
• Natural Value clear plastic wrap, which is certified Kosher (bonus!) and contains no plasticizers or PVCs. (Plus the core and boxes are made from recycled paper.) Buy it.
• Diamant Food Wrap, a plasticizer-free stretch food film that is recyclable and certified by the Environmental Choice Program. You can purchase 2,000-foot rolls of it online.
• BioWrap, a three-layer, co-extruded polyethylene film that is recyclable and biodegradable. (This is a UK-based website, so keep that in mind should you choose to order.)

KNOW-IT-ALL NOTE: I have not personally tried any of the products listed above or investigated the validity of their claims beyond some basic web research, so please use your sensible consumer know-how in determining which product to purchase.

Now go enjoy those PVC-free leftovers!

Until Monday,
The Home Know-It-All

September 13, 2007

Fall Flower Fun

Fall Flowers

If you’re lucky enough to live in a part of the country that experiences a long, pleasant autumn, it’s the perfect time to turn your attention to fall flowers.

Begin by maintaining those blooms that are currently residing in your beds. Remove spent flowers and foliage as well as diseased plants (just be sure to discard those diseased leaves carefully so you don’t spread the problem).

Then it’s time to start planting some fall varieties so you can give the roots plenty of time to establish before the weather gets too cold.

It’s a particularly good time to plant:

Mums. Mums are less expensive than other perennials and are available in a variety of colors and bloom shapes. Some folks say it’s actually best to plant mums in the spring so their roots have time to develop and they’re set to bloom in the fall. But many people bring mums home from the greenhouse to plant in autumn. If you opt for fall planting, be sure you select hardy mums with full buds that have just begun to open. (Florist mums are better-suited for indoor planting.) Plant your hardy mums in a location that receives as much as 6 hours of sun a day and soak the newly planted flowers regularly (but don’t get the foliage wet if you can help it or you may promote disease. If you’re willing to do the work, your mums may survive the winter and bloom again next year. The secret: After the first hard frost, mulch with as much as 4 inches of straw or shredded hardwood and pinch off spent blooms.

This lovely slideshow showcases photos and descriptions of a variety of mums.

Pansies. Plant these flowers in the fall and you’ll likely see blooms again in the spring. But pansies will stop developing new roots if the soil temperature drops below 45 degrees Fahrenheit, so get them in the ground soon. Look for varieties with medium-size blooms, promote blooming by removing spent seeds before they’re formed, and fertilize your pansies biweekly. Once winter rolls around, mulch these babies with 2 inches of loosely packed pine needles or straw to help them survive.

Learn more about pansies and mums.

Ornamental kale. For a burst of fall color, purchase ornamental kale from your garden center to plant between other items in you garden. Ornamental kale is biennial, so it will produce leaves one year and flowers the next. And, just like kale you grow in your garden, the leaves of ornamental kale are edible—you can cook ’em, eat ’em raw, or use ’em as a garnish. Here’s some more info about kale.

If you’re looking for other varieties than the ones discussed here, try these fall bloomers. And here are some more fall gardening pointers.

Or for fun, why not add a new cultivar to your garden: Ornamental Pepper ‘Black Pearl.' Why bother? It’s the first black-leaved ornamental pepper—and when the black peppers mature to a red hue, they’re hot.

Autumn also provides a great opportunity for container gardening.

And remember: It’s almost time to start planting those spring bulbs. Stayed tuned—in two weeks I’ll tell you how!

Until tomorrow,
The Home Know-It-All

September 12, 2007

Small-Space Decorating

You don’t have to live in a cramped studio apartment to appreciate the value of small-space decorating—even if you’re fortunate enough to have decent-size rooms, it doesn’t hurt to incorporate a few space-saving techniques. Here are some of my favorites:

Go light with color. Light, subdued hues make a space seem larger while darker, heavier colors can weigh a room down. Create a soft, monochromatic color scheme to give the illusion of more space. This doesn’t mean your rooms have to be boring beige—try soft hues of green or yellow instead. Go ahead and throw in touches of darker or more vibrant colors too on smaller furnishings, artwork, and accessories.

Add illumination. A well-lit room appears larger than one that’s lacking light. Supplement overhead illumination with floor and table lamps. Consider adding easy-to-install track lighting to the ceiling. And take advantage of accent lighting too—directing light upward at a specific piece of artwork or adding cove lighting near the ceiling is a nice decorative touch.

Storage Cubes

Use multifunctional furnishings. I think the storage cubes, above, are the epitome of multifunctional—as a pair they make a cool coffee table, plus they provide additional seating when needed, feature handy trays for serving beverages, and can be used to store blankets, games, you name it. (Of course, I may be a little biased because they’re mine.) A sleeper sofa is a great invention too—it provides super seating by day and a bed for guests at night.

Keep furniture to scale. In small rooms, opt for scaled-down furnishings such as open-back chairs, low tables, and simple love seats rather than large, overstuffed pieces.

Arrange it well. Create intimate seating arrangements out of the way of traffic flow. Angle furnishings in a triangle or arrange them around an attractive rug to create a “furniture island.”

Avoid overwhelming patterns. Pick one focal-point pattern or fabric and keep the rest simple. Follow this rule: pick smaller patterns on large furnishings, medium patterns on medium furnishings, and large patterns on small items such as pillows. Or forgo patterns altogether and opt for textured upholstery, fabrics, and wall treatments instead.

Look up. Draw eyes upward and create the appearance of height by painting or wallpapering vertical stripes on walls, hanging artwork higher than eye level, or adding white crown molding to draw attention to where your walls and ceiling meet.

Expand your space with glass and mirrors. Here’s how.

Flaunt your views. Take advantage of great views by carefully selecting window treatments that add style without overwhelming your windows. Try these quick and easy ideas.

Clear the clutter. Select a few key decorative pieces and artful accents to showcase on shelves and tabletops. Store what you can’t part with under the bed and in closets. Then save, toss, or donate the rest.

For a bit more inspiration, check out this cool apartment that was featured in Real Life Decorating magazine. And you must check out this pink and green space—even if it’s too over the top for you, the interview includes some great decorating ideas.

Want more pointers? Find a slew of small-space decorating tips. And whether you rent or own, try these pointers. Or check out the fun ideas at Apartment Therapy.

Until tomorrow,
The Home Know-It-All

September 11, 2007

Bathroom Lighting Basics

Photo courtesy of Kohler Co.
Photo courtesy of Kohler Co.

There’s no doubt about it—including quality lighting in the bathroom is important. As with any room in the house, your bathroom should include a smart mix of general and task lighting for shadowless, glare-free illumination.

General (or ambient) lighting usually originates from overhead fixtures that create an overall glow in the bath. In a small bath, one overhead fixture should do the trick. If your bath is larger than 35 square feet, it’s best to include more than one overhead fixture.

Task lighting ensures that specific areas of the bathroom (such as the vanity area, tub, and shower) are properly illuminated. Pay special attention to the lighting at the vanity, which is where most grooming takes place.

Vanity lighting should be evenly distributed above, below, and on both sides of the mirror to eliminate natural shadows on the face. Affixing vertical lights or sconces on either side of the mirror (ideally 36 to 40 inches apart, with the center of each fixture located roughly at eye level) minimizes shadows. If sidelights aren’t possible, place a single fixture over the mirror about 78 inches above the floor. Or try wraparound vanity lights like the BeautyWrap from Kichler, which combines overhead and sidelighting. Movie star lights work too (and look cool!) as long as they’re not too bright.

If you choose to add accent lighting for an extra dose of style, consider the decorative touch pendant lights, chandeliers, or cove lighting provide.

When you select bathroom light fixtures, remember than a bare lamp will be harsh. Instead, look for thickly etched, sandblasted, or white opal glass diffusers. Another attractive option for diffusing bright light is the etched jasmine glass of the Progress Lighting Bourbon Street Collection, shown below. When it comes to bulbs, low-voltage halogen versions create crisp white light. Or consider fluorescent lights, which create less heat than incandescent bulbs so you won’t get as hot when you’re standing close to the vanity.

Photo courtesy of Progress Lighting

If possible, provide separate controls for each type of lighting in your bathroom so you can turn lights on and off as needed. And for safety, remember to keep all switches located at least 6 feet away from the tub or shower.

Speaking of safety—don’t forget to include a nightlight! Automatic nightlights that plug into electrical outlets are an easy addition to your bathroom. Or try a low-voltage system below the vanity toe-kick or around shelving. Another option: The M Series mirrored cabinet from Robern includes a cool blue integrated nightlight with the medicine cabinet.

Until tomorrow,
The Home Know-It-All

September 10, 2007

Save, Toss, or Donate?


Sure, spring is the ideal time to tackle the task of getting rid of unwanted items in your home (that’s why everyone is so big on spring cleaning). But why save all that fun for once a year? Setting aside time each season to tidy and toss ensures your home stays clutter-free year-round.

September is the perfect time to add this task to your to-do list. The weather is still nice enough for tackling the garage, shed, or even your car. Plus it’s a great opportunity to take a look at your summer clothes, sports equipment, and other items to see what you’ve actually used and what has been sitting in the closet since last summer (or—gasp!—even longer).

Here’s how to get started.

Break it down. There’s no need to declutter your whole home in a day or frantically try to tackle multiple rooms at once. Break the project down into manageable chunks by starting with just one room. Survey your space, keeping in mind what the room is used for and what items logically belong there.

Get the whole family involved. Who says decluttering is a one-person project? Have family members tackle their personal spaces (bedrooms, toy rooms, offices, shops, etc.) first. Ask them to identify items they no longer wear or use first, before you go into their rooms with your organization guns blazin’.

Create piles. Or, better yet, set up bins or baskets for corralling items. Designate one for each of these categories: save, toss, and donate. You may want to include a few more categories, such as recycle and sell, too. As you go through each space, place anything and everything you can in one of these piles.

Not sure what belongs in each?

• Items that are regularly used by you or other members of your family
• Keepsakes, important collections, or any items with sentimental value
• Important paperwork such as bank statements and tax information. Learn what to hold onto
• Children’s clothing that could be saved for younger siblings
• Anything you’re certain you can repurpose or that you’ll need soon (be honest!)

• Quality clothing and furnishings that are in good condition
• Items you’re willing to put up on eBay
• Almost anything if you’re willing to host a garage sale

• Items you and your family don’t use anymore, including old books, magazines, CDs, movies, and toys
• Used clothing your family members don’t wear or have outgrown (Salvation Army and Goodwill are always looking for donations)
Cell phones, shoes, and sports equipment are only a few of the things that can be donated to great causes. Find out where to donate these and other items.

• Items others might have a use for—post them on your local craigslist or freecycle site.
• Electronics, motor oil, you name it. Learn where here.

I’ll plead with you one last time: before you throw anything away, consider whether you or someone you know might get some us out of it. If it’s broken, can it be fixed? Can parts of it be used for something else? If you have clothes that aren’t in good enough shape to sell or donate, there’s one more step before the garbage bin. Cut old t-shirts to use as cleaning rags or salvage scraps of fabric for quilting or other crafts. A few items you may want to throw away:
• Garbage
• Items that can’t be repaired
• Old cosmetics
• Toys that can’t be donated because they’re missing pieces or parts
• Random junk that you can’t even figure out what it’s for

Still want more info? Try these great clutter-busting tips or read up on ways to clear clutter.

Until tomorrow,
The Home Know-It-All

September 07, 2007

Easy Ways to Go Green Around the House

You don’t have to be a complete tree hugger to want to go green. But now that it’s becoming increasingly clear that global warming is a very real problem, why wouldn’t you want to reduce your impact on the environment?

If the threat of global warming doesn’t spur you into action, perhaps this fact will: Most of the actions you can take to green your home are easy. And while they save energy and other valuable resources, they also save you a little or even a lot of green (read: money). I’m not expecting you to go off the grid, start raising all your own food, or anything that extreme. These are just easy changes that can be made around your house now to make a big difference.

So, without further ado, I present to you The Home Know-It-All’s Top 15 Ways to Go Green Around Your Home (in order from easiest to accomplish to hardest—although I’d say they’re all pretty darn easy).

Unplug Appliances1. Unplug household appliances and electronics (like the coffee maker, toaster, and cell phone charger) when they’re not in use. Even if they’re not on, appliances that are plugged in use energy. In fact, as much as 40 percent of all electricity is used to power home appliances that are turned off!

2. Get the most out of your appliances by only washing full loads of laundry and dishes. Minimize how often you open the refrigerator too. And keep the fridge full—an empty fridge has to work harder to stay cool than a full one.

3. Turn down the thermostat in cold weather and kick it up higher in warm weather. For each degree below 68 degrees Fahrenheit you set your thermostat during cold weather (or above 78 degrees Fahrenheit in warm weather), you’ll save 3 to 5 percent more heating energy. A programmable thermostat, below, makes this step easy. And using ceiling fans can keep you comfortable even when the thermostat is set higher or lower than you’re used to.

Programmable Thermostat

4. Bring your own (reusable) grocery bags to the store. Paper and plastic grocery bags are no good for the environment—in fact, according to Ideal Bite, about 12 millions barrels of oil and 14 million trees go into producing plastic and paper bags each year. Plus, reusable bags hold more than flimsy plastic sacks and are easier to carry around.

Compact Fluorescent Lightbulb5. Replace burned out lightbulbs with CFLs, right. These fluorescent bulbs use about 75 percent less energy than standard incandescents and last up to 10 times longer. You can save $30 or more in electricity costs for each bulb over its lifetime! Learn more.

6. Remember the three Rs (reduce, reuse, and recycle!). Note that recycling comes at the end of the list. The most important step toward going green is to reduce your consumption—buy less, and you’ll have less to recycle. In the home, that means buying materials, furnishings, and other items that are well-made, durable, and long-lasting (in other words, go for quality, not quantity).

Reusing is the next step. Getting new carpet? Tear up the old stuff to use somewhere else (we moved our old bedroom carpet to the basement to warm up the cement floor). Building or remodeling? Check out a local Habitat ReStore for used and surplus building materials, or look for local vendors of salvaged building materials. If you have items to get rid of, take them to your local Salvation Army or check out websites such as The Freecycle Network before you haul things to the recycling bin (or, god forbid, the dumpster).

RecyclingThen, of course, there’s recycling. Recycle everything you possibly can—plastic, paper, bottles, cans, you name it. It’s important to recycle electronics, batteries, toxic household items, and more as well. Learn where to recycle. Oh, and buy recycled too—all sorts of household items from carpeting to dog beds to paper products are available with recycled content.

7. Use green cleaning supplies or homemade cleaning concoctions rather than chemical ones.

8. Paint with no- or low-VOC paints the next time you want to repaint rooms in your home. (Stay tuned for more on why you don’t want VOCs in your paint later this month.)

9. Insulate your hot water heater to save energy. Placing an insulative jacket around your hot water heater costs as little as $10 to $20, and pipe insulation is less than $1 per six feet. While you’re at it, turn the water heater down to 120 degrees for more money savings—and to ensure no one gets burned by water that’s too hot.

10. Plug air leaks around your house. Air leaks waste tons of energy, but they’re easy and inexpensive to take care of. Simply install weatherstripping and caulk around windows, doors, electrical outlets, and plumbing penetrations to stop drafts. Check the attic for leaks too.

11. Stop using chemicals on your lawn and in your garden. Here’s why. One way to reduce the need for chemicals (and lots of watering) is to try xeriscaping. And while you’re in the garden, here are some natural ways to get rid of garden pests too.


12. Save water by installing low-flow showerheads, faucets, and toilets.

13. Select Energy Star appliances when it’s time to purchase new ones. Clothes washers, dishwashers, refrigerators and freezers, dehumidifiers, and more with the Energy Star label incorporate advanced technologies that use 10 to 50 percent less energy and water than standard models—and they work well too!

14. Replace single-pane windows with double-pane ones to reduce heat loss in winter and heat gain in the summer. An added bonus: they’ll reduce noise pollution too.

15. Purchase sustainable materials for flooring, furnishings, and other home items. Flooring materials such as cork and bamboo are growing in popularity because they’re attractive, durable, and better for the environment than other options. Wood that bears the Forest Stewardship Council has been harvested using environmentally friendly methods—look for sustainably harvested wood furnishings, decking, and more. And check out TreeHugger’s guide to green furniture for more environmentally friendly furniture options.

So there you have it. Ways big and small to go green. This barely scratches the surface, of course. So if you want to learn more about these and other ways to lessen the impact you, your family, and your home have on the environment, check out some of my favorite online resources:

Green Home Guide
The Green Guide

Until Monday,
The Home Know-It-All

September 06, 2007

Using or Saving Your Garden's Bounty

Red PeppersAh, September. When minds turn from summertime to harvest time. Whether you tend a massive garden plot or simply grow a few basics in the backyard, now is the time to start thinking about what you’re going to do with all the fresh fruits and veggies you’re reaping. (And if you’re an apartment-dweller or don’t have a garden of your own, these pointers apply just as well to the produce you purchase at the local farmer’s market or pick at the berry farm).

Consider these common methods for preserving fruits, veggies—and flowers too.

This technique has been around for centuries and is still a great way to preserve fruits and veggies. Mason jars with two-piece lids work best. Clean the jars and lids in hot, soapy water and thoroughly sterilize them by boiling them for 10 to 15 minutes before beginning the process. And don’t forget to wash all produce you plan to can.

There are two methods for canning: the hot pack method (which involves heating the food first and the raw pack method (where you put the raw food right in the jar). Learn about both canning methods.

When you finish canning, test the lids to make certain they are properly sealed. If a jar is not sealed, you can refrigerate it and use the unspoiled food within a couple of days, reprocess it, or freeze it. Label your jars clearly so you know the contents, date, and lot number (if you canned more than one canner full in one day)—that way, if one jar spoils, you know which ones to toss out. Store your canned foods in a cool, dark, and dry place for no longer than one year. And by all means, share with friends!

Try canning pickled cayenne peppers and crab apple jelly (or at least have some fun reading about the process). Or get all sorts of great recipes and ideas from the folks at Ball.

When I was little, I used to love the dried apples my babysitter made. If apples aren’t your thing, you can also dry other ripe fruits such as pears, bananas, strawberries, and kiwi. Veggies (try onions, corn, tomatoes, and green beans) and herbs (sage, parsley, chives, dill, and tarragon) work too—just avoid produce such as celery, broccoli, or citrus fruits that have a high water content.

Drying produce works best with an electric food dehydrator set at 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Before you dry, be sure to pretreat your fruits and veggies. Bone up on the basics of drying produce.

Want to know more about these food preservation techniques? Check out Farm Gal’s comprehensive info on canning, freezing, and dehydrating fruits and veggies (plus you can learn how to make fruit leather and other tasty treats).

Saving fruits and vegetables ensures they don’t go to waste—and provides tasty treats through the winter. But I’m also a big fan of fresh, fresh, fresh. I am by no means a food know-it-all, but I will say that nothing beats fresh veggies on the grill, hearty veggie-loaded soups and stews, and homemade fruits pies and tarts. So get cooking!

Green TomatoesWhen it’s time for fresh peaches at the farmer’s market, I always make this quick and easy Rustic Peach Tart (it’s great with apples after a day of apple picking too!). Here are a few more fun fresh food recipes.

Preserving Flowers
Odds are your garden’s bounty includes more than fruits and vegetables. Why not save those beautiful blooming flowers? You can preserve flowers by air drying, microwave drying, pressing, or using desiccants. North Dakota State University, Clemson University, and the University of Missouri all have good info on preserving flowers.

Until tomorrow,
The Home Know-It-All

September 05, 2007

Check It Out!

In the NewsThe Home Know-It-All was featured in a Los Angeles Times article: It’s not easy being a green consumer on Wednesday, September 5. So I’m going to re-feature the green cleaning post here. And if you want more info on environmentally friendly options, stay tuned on Friday for The Home Know-It-All’s top 15 ways to go green around the house.

Interior Painting Basics


I spent most of last weekend painting in my new house and thought it was the perfect time to share a few painting pointers with you.

There’s a ton of great painting information available online that I referred to before starting. Learn how to pick brushes, apply paint, and more. Get the lowdown on almost everything paint-related from the ladies at BeJane. Or follow my step-by-step advice on how to tackle a weekend painting job successfully—and with minimal hassle.

Continue reading "Interior Painting Basics" »

September 04, 2007

Drain Unclogging and Maintenance

If you’re stuck dealing with a smelly or clogged drain I have four words for you: Put those chemicals away.

If you read last week’s post about green cleaning supplies, you know how I feel about chemicals in products used around the home. And few household items are as caustic as drain cleaners, which typically include nasty ingredients such as lye or acid that harm your plumbing pipes and health—not to mention the environment.

But I also know that drain clogs are annoying and must be dealt with immediately. So how about a rundown on smart, easy ways to solve your drain problems?

Let’s talk about drain maintenance first.

There are plenty of ways to keep your drain clean naturally. Running hot tap water through the drain after use helps prevent obstructions and odors from becoming a problem. Or to prevent smells, grease buildup, and hard-water deposits, there are a slew of recipes you can try. Pour a handful of baking soda down the kitchen drain and run hot tap water through it weekly. Or for a more thorough clean, mix 1 cup baking soda, 1 cup salt, and ¼ cup cream of tartar. Pour ¼ cup of the mixture into each drain and follow it with 2 cups of boiling water. Here’s one more odor buster: Pour 1 cup of vinegar or lemon juice down the drain and let it stand for 30 minutes before running hot water.

Pay close attention to items in or near your kitchen sink—the more spoons, bottle caps, and other objects that your garbage disposal struggles to chew up the more likely you are to have drain problems. If you’re not grossed out by what’s hiding in the drain (and your hand is small enough to fit), reach down in there and fish out whatever fell before turning on the disposal.

Bathroom drains are a bit trickier—if something metal falls down the drain, tie a magnet to a thick piece of string and drop it into the drain. Hopefully the magnet will attract the fallen object. If you’re unlucky enough to lose a wedding ring or other important item into the abyss, try this.

Drain Sieve

And remember to clean your hair out of the bathroom sink and tub often so you don’t have hairy problems (I couldn’t resist) later on. It helps to use a drain sieve so the hair can’t get down there in the first place.

Here’s more on what not to put down the drain. But if you screw up (like I did the day I accidentally dumped a large pot of pasta down the kitchen sink) there are numerous solutions to help solve the problem (assuming that your drain pipes aren’t corroded, old, or leaky—if they are seek professional help!). Here are a few ideas:

Drain Pipe

• Pour a cup of baking soda, followed by a cup of white vinegar, down the drain. Let it bubble for a few minutes, then pour a couple of cups of hot water down. Repeat if necessary, but hopefully after one try your drain will be clear!
• Use a small rubber plunger to free up items that might be causing a backup. Make sure the rubber cup completely covers the drain hole.
• Try a snake (also called a hand auger). Here’s more info on how to snake your way out of trouble. (By the way, a snake saved my macaroni-filled drain!)
• Buy some Drainbo, a nontoxic alternative to those chemical cleaners I abhor. (It doesn’t contain lye or sulfuric acid.) I hear Drainbo also works in toilets, septic tanks, and garbage cans.
• Force an obstruction out of a tub drain with a long brush (found at restaurant supply stores). Stick the brush down the drain, push it down as far as possible, and twist it a few times before removing. Hopefully the gunk will appear on the brush when you pull it out.
• Go plop plop fizz fizz. I’ve never tried this before, but quite a few folks on the web recommend using Alka-Seltzer tablets. Get the scoop here.
• Call for backup. If none of these solutions work (or you have multiple clogged drains) it’s time to call in the pros. If possible, look for a licensed plumber who specializes in cleaning drains.

Before I leave you to your drain unclogging, I’m going to step back from my proclivity to push natural solutions for a moment and acknowledge the fact that a lot of you are itching to get out your chemical cleaners like Drano. If you’re adamant about using them, make certain they’re safe for plastic pipes and garbage disposals. Wear plastic gloves and eye protection if possible. And make sure you place a large plastic funnel in the drain so you pour the chemicals directly into the drain rather than all over the sink.

Until tomorrow,
The Home Know-It-All

September 03, 2007

Happy Labor Day!

The Home Know-It-All is on vacation today (like many of you) ... which means I’m hard at work around the house! So shut down your computer and enjoy your day—whether it involves home and garden projects or simply spending time outside. I’ll be back with more advice on Tuesday.

Until tomorrow,
The Home Know-It-All

January 2011

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