Controlling Your Environment

digital thermo 1All new homes usually contain a digital thermostat of some capacity. The old fashioned analog thermostats are being phased out; to be replaced by digital technology. There are a lot of benefits to upgrading your old thermostat; here are a few:

Analog thermostats contain mercury, a dangerously toxic material. Some states actually ban the use of mercury, and it is banned in many countries as well. It does not take much exposure to mercury to have negative effects. Surprisingly, analog thermometers contain a relatively large amount of mercury. Digital thermometers have no need for mercury and are therefore safer.

Digital thermostats have fewer parts to break. While the analog thermostat has the above mentioned vial of mercury, plus a number of working parts; they could easily be digital thermo 2broken, especially if the thermostat is old. Digital thermostats are controlled by thermistors and semiconductors; no moving parts to wear down.

The accuracy and precision of a digital thermostat means it could save you money in the long run. Analog thermostats only turn the heat on and off when their trigger point is reached. A digital thermostat can store data and give you a precise temperature reading at any point; not a temperature that’s “in the neighborhood” of a certain mark. There are units on the market today that are WiFi enabled and accessible for mobile devices, allowing you to monitor and control your homes’ temperature while away.

Finally, the new thermostats can be programmed to turn on and off only when you need or want them to; down to the minute.

Christmas Around the World

christmas around the worldPeople in the U.S. have generally celebrated December 25th in fairly common ways: “Santa” brings presents either on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning; families gather for a special meal and exchange gifts. Santa may leave a little something in the stockings of good little boys & girls. Carols are sung, games played & plans for the New Year are made. Our meals usually feature turkey, ham or beef & lots of desserts. Diets go on vacation at this time of year!

In other parts of the world, traditions are a bit different. Santa is called either Father Christmas or St. Nicholas in the United Kingdom, also they celebrate Boxing Day on December 26th. Boxing Day was named for the day that “poor boxes” found in churches were opened and the contents given to the needy. These days Boxing Day mostly means a day of sport as many competitions are held, both professionally and locally.

In Asian countries, especially where snow is present, Winterfests are held with wonderful ice and snow sculptures. Theme parks and special shops are opened up for the celebration.

In Hungary and other European countries, a traditional fish soup or entrée is served along with cabbage rolls and sweet desserts like a poppy seed animals

Finland and other northern European countries include animals and wildlife in their celebrations by hanging a sheaf of wheat, suet, nuts and fruit outside for wildlife and birds to eat.

In Mexico, families’ hold Posadas; parades and parties that celebrate the journey Mary posadaand Joseph made and finding the manger where Jesus was born. Children traditionally get excited while attempting to knock off the 7 spikes on a candy-filled piñata. The spikes represent the 7 deadly sins.

Christmas in Russia is a very quiet time, as the holiday was banned in 1929. The New Year’s celebration burst on the scene in 1939 with a New Year’s tree, plenty of food and drink. “Grandfather Frost” brings presents to children at this time. (BTW- Christmas was restored on 1991-people were free to celebrate, but to this day, it remains a quiet celebration).

Many countries celebrate Christmas on January 6th or 7th by the Lunar calendar.

There is so much more we can share, but let’s close with some Christmas greetings in a few other languages:

Irish: Nollaig Shona Dhuit

French: Joyeux Noel

Croatian & Bosnian: Sretan Bozic

Chech: Vesele Vanoce

Greek: Kala Chrisrouyenna or Καλά Χριστούγεννα

Hawaiian: Mele Kalikmaka

Hindi: Subh krisamas (शुभ क्रिसमस)

Italian: Buon Natale

Japanese: Meri Kurisumasu (or Meri Kuri for short!)

Swedish: God Jul


What’s That Smell?

stinksOther then something is rotten or died…the number one cause of a bad smell in your house comes from problems with poorly vented drain lines.

Drain line vents are the vertical iron or plastic pipes that run from the drain through the roof. When functioning properly, they allow air into the plumbing so pressure inside the drains do not form an air lock that stop waste water from free movement.

The first sign that you have trouble is a noxious odor. Traps inside your sink plumbing contain a little bit of water that helps keep the sewer gas out. If the vent is clogged or obstructed, a sewer smell is produced. It may require a snake to remove the clog, or for the plumber to flush out the vent with a hose.

If you are hearing strange sounds from your drains, especially when they are not being used, it’s possible that air pressure is not escaping as it should to properly vent the pipe.

If you are finding that a single flush does not clear the toilet bowl, the vents may be blocked and not enough pressure is produced to encourage the flush.

Another indication that your venting may be clogged is: air bubbles in your toilet bowl.  This is especially true if your washing machine is located near the toilet. The force of a draining washer will push air bubbles into the toilet when the air pressure is not properly vented.





Water Conservation in Your Garden

Even if the winter was a wet one and there are prospects for a wet spring; it only takes a few years for drought to set in and cause problems in your landscape. Understanding how and where to alter your garden or landscape to include water saving plants can be very rewarding.

First, having your irrigation or sprinklers placed to cover the most area while excluding sprinkler 1places that don’t need watering (i.e. sidewalks or driveways) is easily achievable. You can put your sprinklers on “test” while you observe the direction of the sprays. Then you can correct any over spray or problem directions. Don’t forget to water in the early morning or evening so the sun isn’t stealing any water.

Succulent plants can add a lot of texture and dimension to your yard. Compared to annual plants & flowers, they are slower growing, but when they are filled out, create just as much drama as those big blooms.

vertical wall succulentsA popular trend is vertical gardening with succulents. In fact, vertical planting for succulents plays right into their strong suit, as it is difficult to over water them! There are lots of DIY videos and articles tutoring you on how to create vertical gardens.

Remember when planting, to have “like” flowers or plants (needing the same water and sun amounts) grouped near each other to take advantage of the watering. Research plants that are native to the area & are adept at the water provided to flourish. Sadly, some plants found in big-box stores are not suitable for the climate, but are attractive due to the blooms or leaves. Check with a reputable garden center,

Introduce water retaining compost, soil, etc. into your garden. They include polymer “beads” that hold more moisture for later release. This aids in keeping moisture in the soil for a long time.

Water Conserving Water Features!

If you desire the calming sound of water tricking over rocks or bubbling up, a small self-contained water garden is just the ticket for you.

Placement of your water feature is very important. Having it partially or completely out of the sun will help slow the evaporation. Placing wide leaf plants in the feature also water feature urnhelps retard evaporation. Installing the proper recycling pump for the feature helps to keep the water moving, prohibiting insect larvae growth.

For a very small water feature, say in an urn or some kind of ceramic planter, having the top of the planter with a smaller mouth will help reduce evaporation.

Whatever you choose, make sure you maintain your yard and landscape, keeping weeds, thatch or overgrowth to a minimum, which will reduce those things that suck up the water.  Mulch is your friend. It helps the roots retain water and keeps out bad stuff.

If your budget allows, contact your local landscape business for information and ideas to improve the health of your landscape with drought-resistant ideas.


Flooring and Radiant Heat

The first thing to know is: if you have carpet or want carpet, radiant heating is not such a gooUNDER FLOOR HEATINGd idea. The carpet will insulate the heat rather than radiating it through the room.

Radiant heating eliminates the use of ductwork needed for forced air heating. Also, there will be no baseboard heating fixtures or floor vents needing clearance to be effective. They are usually self-contained and do not require constant maintenance.

Tile or wood flooring is the best choice if you wish to heat your home with radiant heat. But with wood, the type of radiant flooring is important due to the constant heat exposure.

You have three types of radiant heat installations: radiant air floors (hot air delivers the warmth), electric radiant floors and hot water floors.

Air-heated: This is the least cost effective because air does not hold the heat well. Some air heated radiant floors have a supplemental solar energy component, but that means it will only draw heat during the daytime, when the demands for heat are usually lower. This is rarely installed.

Electric radiant floors: These usually have cables built into the floor. They perform best when used with a huge thermal mass such as concrete. Signing up with your power company’s “Time-of-Use” rates program allows you to charge a concrete floor during off peak hours.

Hydronic radiant floors: These are liquid systems that are the most popular and cost-effective, especially in cooler climates. These heating systems use boiler heated water through tubing laid under the floor. You can have a whole house heating system, or a zone system, where you can direct the heating into areas or rooms that are often used; and reserving heat from areas that are not commonly used. The downside of this system is: you will need to purchase and install a boiler if you don’t already have one.


Ceramic tile is the best choice for heat conduction, as it breathes. It also best for storing heat. Vinyl and wood are also good, but do not breathe as well as tile. As noted above, if you decide on wood flooring, it’s best to get a laminated wood instead of solid wood to decrease the chances of shrinking and cracking from the effects of heat.

Carpet: while the warmest covering outright; if you want radiant in-floor heating, carpet will stifle the heat being generated from underneath. And that’s what carpet is designed to do: insulate the elements above and below the carpet pile from each other.

Cement flooring: This style of flooring is becoming quite popular, due to itscement flooring designs design versatility. You can literally design and finish your cement floor to look any way you wish. Adding underfloor radiant heating is simple, with just a few additional steps needed when installing concrete. Concrete does conduct the heat nicely; but on “shoulder” days in between seasons, your feet might have a cold awakening some mornings. Throw or areas rugs will help.



Simple Care for Your Dishwasher

Most of the time you throw your dishes into the dishwasher, add detergent, press a dishwasher button and go. Sometimes, after several years, you suddenly realize your dishes aren’t getting sparkly clean as when you first began using the dishwasher. Maybe it isn’t draining well and there may even be a bad smell coming from it.

There are a few simple things you can do to prevent the dishwasher from developing some bad habits and cause you problems.

Check out the door seal. Over time & repeated usage (along with the drying heat) the seal will become weathered, just like the weather stripping on your front door and needs to be replaced. A weakened seal can cause leaks that can damage your floor or cabinetry, which could develop into an expensive problem. You can contact the manufacturer to get a replacement seal, or schedule a plumber to come out, inspect the appliance and replace the seal.

Just like the lint catcher in your dryer, the dishwasher has a screen in the bottom to collect large chunks of debris from your dishes. This screen should be cleaned often to prevent odors and allow for proper drainage.

Most dishwashers have moveable spray arms that can be taken off and washed in warm soapy water to remove any buildup. Be sure to clean each nozzle opening; you can use a soft brush or toothbrush.

Mold is a common problem for dishwashers. It’s a steamy, damp environment, ripe for mold and mildew growth. There is an easy fix and prevention: simply pour about 2 cups of white or apple cider vinegar into the dishwasher & run it on the heaviest setting. If you do this on a regular basis, it will help prevent mold.

Is your dishwasher level? Believe it or not, if the dishwasher is not level you will not get the optimum performance out of the appliance. Plus, an off-kilter dishwasher could cause drainage problems.

Was your dishwasher plumbed properly with a drain trap? That is a section of pipe that looks like a “U” close to the drain opening. It should be installed on the proper side of the drain to prevent odors and catch accidentally dropped items in the dishwasher (i.e. wedding ring)

A healthy dishwasher should give you many years of service with proper maintenance.

Getting Your “Ducts” In A Row

duct and duckThe ducts in your home are like to the “lungs” of the house. They conduct warm or cool air throughout your home. Most people ignore the health of their ducts until something goes haywire; you suddenly see debris in the air or it seems to take forever for the heated/cooled air to reach you.

Maybe it’s time for a duct inspection. Your ductwork may have developed a leak that needs to be sealed. Duct sealing is used when there is a small tear in the ductwork. Even if the leak is small, it can effect up to 30% of your heat or cool output!

You should hire a licensed HVAC technician to inspect your ductwork properly. They have the necessary equipment that can test and locate any issue without causing any problems.

If they discover a leak, and depending on its size, they will plug the leak with a substance called mastic. Mastic is a malleable putty that can be molded over the leak on the outside, to create a tight seal over it. The mastic will dry and harden. It is able to “move” somewhat and flex with the ductwork to a certain point. The technician may choose to cover it with a regulation metallic duct tape. This duct tape is not the same as the store bought type most people have on hand.

Duct sealant can last a very long time, sometimes up to 10 years; but it is prudent to have your ductwork inspected about once a year, especially if there are patches on the ducts.