For hands-on advice on all things home & garden!

What can I do to prepare my home for winter?

There are several things you can do to keep your home warm and protected during the winter months.

  1. Purchase colored acrylic caulk that matches your siding and check for any gaps or cracks in the siding that need to be filled.
  2. Make sure your gutters and downspouts are in good working order.
  3. Get into your crawl space to close any vents, inspect for wet areas and shut off any valves to outside faucets.
  4. If you have storm windows, lubricate tracks and drop the glass panels in place, making sure the panels are sealed tightly to keep out cold air.
  5. Have your furnace cleaned and inspected.
  6. Check your exterior doo weather striping and replace if needed.
  7. Use interior plastic “storm windows” for windows that leak any cold air.
What are some basic tools that I should always keep around the house?

First, you’ll need a toolbox. Choose one that’s big enough to fit all of your hand tools but not one that’s so big you need a pack mule to carry it. Once you’ve found one, here is a list of basic tools I always recommend having around. Be sure to choose mid- to high-end quality tools. Inexpensive tools are hardly ever worth it.

  1. 16 oz. hammer
  2. Pliers
    • 8” slip joint
    • 6” long nose
    • 6” diagonal cutting
    • 12” channel lock
    • 8” or 10” vise grip
  3. Tape measure, 16’ to 25’ (I prefer the 16’ size since the weight of the larger tapes can lead to the exposure of one’s gluteus maximus.)
  4. Multi-bit screwdrivers – one handle with 4 to 12 different bits.
  5. 2’ level – a must for hanging frames, shelves, etc.
  6. Hack saw – a metal cutting hand saw.
  7. Short cut saw – 15” wood cutting hand saw that fits in most toolboxes.
  8. 8” or 10” adjustable wrench
  9. 3/4 “ or 1” wood chisel
  10. Utility pry bar
  11. Band Aids (It’s just a guess.)
  12. 1-1/2” putty knife – get one stiff blade and one flexible blade
  13. Flashlight – get a heavy-duty aluminum body flashlight
  14. Safety goggles
  15. 14” pipe wrench
  16. Rabbit’s foot (It can’t hurt.)
  17. Utility knife – purchase a model with a retractable blade
  18. Nail set – 2/32 size
  19. Center punch
  20. Small block plane or surform tool
  21. 12” combination square
  22. 10” or 12 tin snips
What time of the year do I plant flowers, vegetables and tulip bulbs?

The best time for planting depends on the type of plant, but here’s my general rule of thumb.

  • Perennials – mid-April
  • Annuals – from early to mid of May
  • Warm season vegetables (i.e. tomatoes, sweet corn) – early May
  • Mums – late July to early August
  • Cold season vegetables (i.e. lettuce, turnips) – late July to early August
  • Spring bulbs (i.e. tulips) – late October to early November
How do I prepare my lawn for the growing season?

Mid March is a great time to seed your lawn. The soil temperature is approaching the 50-60 degree germination temperature and spring rains provide the needed moisture for seed to survive and grow. First agitate the soil before spreading seed and work in a little grass-starter fertilizer.

  • Some of the grass seed mixes have a moisture-guard coating that helps keep them moist. It is critical to keep germinated seed damp .
  • Dense shade mix is good for shady locations but still requires at least 3 hours of sun each day.
  • Kentucky Bluegrass is considered a premium turf grass. It is typically more expensive but is a good value because it has 3 to 4 times more seeds per pound than other varieties.
  • Some patch products such as Scott’s EZ Seed Patch & Repair contain everything you need in one bag – a slow release fertilizer and absorbent growing material mixed with the seed.
What is the best way to unclog a drain?

The first thing I always recommend is a regular old plunger, but if you’ve already added chemical clearers avoid this method. Splashing water can lead to skin burns. Also, be sure to put wet rags in any nearby drains, such as in the kitchen, so the pressure of the plunger is exerted entirely on the clog. If that doesn’t work you could also use a drain auger or plumber’s snake. If you’re in a hurry and don’t have either of those products, occasionally a blast of water from a garden hose can do the trick as well.

What can I do to make my home safer?

First and foremost, install photoelectronic/ionization smoke detectors on each floor of your home and in every bedroom. These types of detectors provide the earliest warning for both fast flaming and slow smoldering fires. Secondly, install a carbon monoxide detector if your home has gas appliances or a fireplace. To prevent accidental electrical shock have Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters installed in your home. Commonly called GFI’s, these devices should be (and are required in new construction) placed in bathrooms, kitchen counters, garages, outdoor receptacles, basements or any other area where water is present. If you have children, it is also important to place safety caps over electrical outlets, install safety latches on cabinets and drawers where cleaning chemicals and medicines are stored and wind up any excess blind cords to prevent children from becoming entangled.

How can I get my dishwasher to perform better?
  • Run hot water at the kitchen sink before starting the dishwasher to ensure there is hot water in the pipe entering the appliance at the beginning of the cycle.
  • Clean the filter under the wash arm in the bottom of the dishwasher periodically. Check the internet for instructions for your model. Once the filter is out, scrub the screen with a small brush and vinegar.
  • Sometimes running a cycle with a cleaner such as Glisten Dishwasher Magic (follow label directions) will clean the machine adequately without having to physically clean the filter. An alternative is to put 2 cups of white vinegar in a cup and set it upright on the top rack and run a cycle.
  • Some problems are caused by older dishwashers that have rusted parts. If the vinyl coating on the racks has cracked and the exposed wire is rusty, use a product such as ReRACK to recoat the bare metal. IRON OUT can remove rust stains in a dishwasher. Follow the label instructions.
I just bought a new gas grill. Do you have any tips before I start cooking?

If you purchased a gas grill make sure you always carry and store the propane tank in the upright position. You should also never store a propane tank inside the house or garage, and to check how full a propane tank is the easiest method is weighing. A full tank (standard size) weighs 38lbs, and an empty one weighs about 18lbs. When lighting a gas grill, make sure the hood is in the open position, and if you have to light it manually strike the match before you turn on the gas. For the best results, try to keep your grill clean, protected from the weather and the burners clear of any spider webs. Also, you should always grill outside and away from your home or any buildings, but most importantly, don’t burn the food (trust me you won’t win friends with hamburgers that taste like hockey pucks).

How to shape an artificial tree

Pat & Ann provide detailed instructions & tips to get the best look from your tree, year after year.

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