Should You Buy a Wood Stove?

Are Wood Stoves Worth the Investment?

Old Fashioned Radiant Heat

Many people don’t think of adding wood burning stove until the energy prices rise precipitously or they have a prolonged power outage during cold weather, but a wood burner is not just useful for both those circumstances, it is comforting heat. There are caveats, and this lens is to address as many of those as my experience with wood stoves allows. You have probably thought of some of the pros and cons, but still wonder if wood heat is for you. I hope to give you pointers and tips, too (consulting with my husband who is a fire and safety specialist and our home’s woodstove installer and maintenance man).

Once you remember certain precautions such as clearance and regular maintenance chores such as creosote cleanup, wood heat is a viable alternative to comfort and going off the grid, if that is your aim.

I hope to expand on this introduction to wood heat and wood burning stoves. Stay tuned as the lens develops…

Warm, comfortable radiant heat…. ahhhhh. Sit around my stove and join me while I tell you more.

Stove vs. Fireplace

Why shouldn’t I just light a fire in the fireplace? Many homes have a fireplace in the living room. A fireplace with a mantle is a decorative feature that remained after the need for fireplaces for heat and cooking were long gone. In fact, the heat stove was a big improvement on the fireplace for those necessary activities.

Although we now largely use wood in heating stoves, coal was the fuel of choice prior to the advent of electricity and natural gas (the usual heat and cooking energy sources used today). There still are stoves fitted for coal rather than wood, as well as highly efficient stove heaters which use “pellets”, but in many areas of the USA, wood is a renewable resource that is readily available, features that are important in the choice of a stove, or even whether a wood stove is a practical purchase. Wood stove fans area also brilliant addition and they help make your stove more efficient.

The trouble with most of today’s fireplaces is the fact that they don’t work well, they don’t “draw” the smoke up the chimney or create the ideal combustible conditions. When we first made the decision to use supplemental heat so many years ago, we had contracted with a person who made “Rumford” design chimneys, and then attached the Vermont Castings stove to that.

Usually fireplaces are very inefficient ways to heat a room, and trying to cook with a fireplace is not something most modern people want to attempt. Even wood stoves must be of a certain make and design to be used for cooking, although that is available.

Rumford Chimneys

Count RumfordNamed after Count Rumford, who popularized this style of building a chimney, the Rumford chimney was a step towards creating a more efficient way to heat the home in cold climates.

As much of an improvement as this style of fireplace was at the time, the stove, and later the “air tight” stove became great improvements in use of fuel and in reducing the level of emissions and particulate from many of the types of wood that gets burned in them.

Stove Features

Wood stoves are commonly made of several materials. Cast iron, enameled cast iron, soapstone, and steel are among the choices available. I have not had the privilege of owning a soapstone stone, but have had both steel and cast iron. I think the cast iron, especially the enameled ones, are highly preferable. We’ve owned Vermont Castings brand, but the Napoleon brand compares very well.

What are the pros and cons of each type?

Steel Stoves

Economy sums up the benefit for a steel stove, it is lighter in weight, and less expensive than other material choices, usually. It heats up quickly, but is dangerously hot to the touch ( if you should accidentally come in contact with the hot metal.) The finish is usually easy to care for.

Cast Iron Stoves

Solid, heavy, and retains heat well. Cast iron stoves will need some maintenance work to keep the finish looking good. Quality stoves range from $800 up depending on factors such as size and features.

Enameled Cast Iron Stoves

Enameled Finish Cast Iron StoveThe beauty of the enameled finish is one obvious feature. The finish is easy to wipe clean and maintain, but my own experience is that it crazes and cracks with use over the years. Still, a beautiful choice and not every user is as hard on their stove as my family has been.

Soapstone Wood Burner Stoves

As one manufacturer says, “Unlike standard wood burning stoves, a soapstone masonry heater uses the soapstone mass to store the heat, and slowly radiates it over time. The heat released by the soapstone, very much feels like the heat from the sun when you sit in a sunroom.” Soapstone is not only quite beautiful, it is safer should you happen to make contact with it while hot. Quite heavy and expensive, as well. Expect to pay between $5,000 to $10,000 for your stove. Stone requires more time to heat up, but once it has, it holds heat much longer.

Lehman’s, a purveyor of many many homesteading items describes the Napoleon brand of wood stoves:

“Affordable, efficient heat with low emissions A trusted name in wood burning, Napoleon is North America’s largest hearth products manufacturer. Now your family can reap the benefits of the company’s years of research, strict quality testing and patented technology. Designed and built in Canada, these stoves consistently surpass EPA standards, providing you with an extremely clean, efficient wood burner. Stoves completely utilize the firebox chamber with a fully lined refractory system. This kiln-like atmosphere results in amazingly long day or overnight burns with very low emissions. Innovative engineering and design and outstanding craftsmanship make these stoves a great value and investment for any home. “

Living with a Wood Stove

For heat or cooking, or both. Wood stove heat is cozy, it is a steady and soothing radiant warmth on chill wintry days. It removes the sting of electric outages and gas price fluctuations. It is efficient if you purchase a well made, air tight and technologically up- to-date model. What is not to love?

I wouldn’t trade the good feeling of radiant heat for anything else in our cold winters, but there are some drawbacks to living with the wood stove.

  • You have to feed it- hauling in wood daily. The wood supply is usually kept outside, and you have to get several logs into the fire several times a day.
  • Even an air tight stove produces some fine ash. Ashes around the stove, and regular clean-out of the ashes is necessary. You might feel a little like Cinderella, cleaning it all up.
  • Wood needs to be purchased each year, or obtained and split to size. It is usually up to the purchaser to stack it after delivery.
  • Chimneys should be cleaned annually.
  • There may be issues with your insurance company which need to be worked out.

Wood Cookstoves

Most cook stoves are made of cast iron, some are trimmed with nickel, some have an enamel coating. They are very heavy.

Cooking with wood heat is a little different. That is an understatement! The wood-burning cook stoves of today, such as the replica 1800’s stove made by the Elmira Stove Works company, are far more efficient than the predecessors they were styled upon, but they still operate in ways that make cooking and baking much more time consuming and inexact.

A few things to note about cooking with this type of stove:

  • Temperature gauges tend to be inexact when it comes to baking. Use a standalone oven thermometer.
  • Wood stove heat requires more attention, adjusting temperature through dampers and relative distance to heat source (the woodbox)
  • You may need to rotate the pans during the baking process
  • Size and type of wood makes a difference in resulting temperatures.
  • Stovetop cooking temperatures are adjusted by moving the pans to different areas of the top surface

When investigating buying a new stove, I was impressed with the Waterford manufacturer. It is compact, and efficient, with a clean white enameled surface. That is the one I would buy. The one I had was an antique and I don’t advise this choice on several counts. It can be missing racks, and other types of parts, which aren’t easy to replace. If it is cast iron (mine was) it will need blacking. Not being airtight, a great deal of heat is lost.

Still, whatever wood heating cookstove you have, it will heat the room well during the cold season, and you can continue cooking regardless of electric power. Stews, soups, and other meals that are best slow cooked will be the perfect choices for this type of stove.

Finding the Right Stove for You

Research… that is the basic source of information gathering that you will do when purchasing your stove, but I also like to talk with those who have a particular wood stove and to visit showrooms. These aren’t located just anywhere, I realize. In Ohio the Lehman’s store, which is known nationwide, has a large showroom for wood cookstoves and heaters. There used to be more, but the economy means that not every store is displaying a number of wood stoves. Public tastes seem to have shifted towards gas and electric as energy prices eased, but wood energy is not dependent on whether you have electric working or not. That is one of the beauties of it.

Answering questions of sustainability, “Use of USA Forests for Home Heating“.

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What is the Best Pressure Washer Under $400

Looking for the best pressure washers for the money? There are many great power washers available, yet only a few of them are noteworthy below four hundred dollars. With that said, you can undoubtedly find what is the best pressure washer under 400 bucks for yourself with just a little bit of research.

I am confident that the products I have decided to review will impress you so much that you may even be compelled to pick one up on the spot. My reviews are focused on providing you with an overview of these products. Of course, I only choose pressure washers that are already positively reviewed and reliable as well.

powerful gas powered pressure washers

AR Blue Clean AR240 1,750 PSI 1.5 GPM Electric Pressure Washer

AR Clean Blue Pressure WasherThe AR Blue Clean AR240 1,750 PSI 1.5 GPM Electric Pressure Washer is a top of the line product manufactured by Annovi Reverberi. The make and quality of this product assures users that it is effective, safe, and very easy to use. It cleans everything from your car, walls, and even stucco.

We will look into this quality product and see what great features and recommendations we can find.

What Can You Expect From The AR Clean Blue Pressure Washer?

  • 1,750 PSI/1.50 GPM.
  • Automated safety vent that allows pressure shut-off in its pump head.
  • Three axial-piston wobble-plate pump.
  • Tempered stainless steel plungers.
  • Power cord up to 30 foot long/20-Foot hose.
  • Durable induction motor.
  • Modifiable spray head.
  • Adjustable or turbo nozzle.

Product Overview

The AR Blue Clean AR240 1,750 PSI 1.5 GPM Electric Pressure Washer is a state of the art high pressure pump created to clean and remove dirt from surfaces. This is perfectly safe to use because of its automated safety valve that allows pressure shut-off located in its pump head.

It has three axial-piston wobble-plate pump, tempered stainless steel plungers, durable induction motor, and a modifiable spray head.

Clean those hard to reach areas; this item has a power cord that is 30 feet long, and a 20 foot hose that will enable you to walk far away from this device. Never get frustrated in trying to find a power cord near you just so you can do your work.

This product is ideal for cleaning any type of vehicles, and even concrete. You do not have to scrub it anymore. With its high pressure pump, you can avoid the hassle of cleaning for a long period of time.

Pros and Cons

Pros

A very descriptive booklet is provided for guidance on how to use the product. The writing is quite small, so for those of us that are a bit longsighted, you can even check their website to see how to assemble and use the item safely.

The cord attached to the pressure washer is thick and assures that it will not snap easily. It is very compact and can be stored anywhere; the pressure is amazing and cleans easily without having to scrub.

This is a bang for the buck product that does exactly what it offers in its description.

Cons

Some people cannot read the manual properly because of the small size and had to check the website for more information. Some customers complained that their swivel hose adapter leaked.

Conclusion

Disregarding the faulty manual description, I could say that this item is worth buying. Just make sure that you try it a couple of times so you can replace it immediately if there are leaks.

Generac 6022/5989 2,700 PSI

generacThe Generac 6022/5989 2,700 PSI 2.3 GPM 196cc OHV Gas Powered Pressure Washer can help you bring new life to old surfaces. From wood, to concrete, vinyl, and even metal, you can get the best looking surfaces with a high-powered spray of water and nothing else.

This pressure washer is powerful and easy to move around. You can clean the outside of your house with relative ease. It starts easily and it is great for taking dirt and mold off a deck. You can even use it to blast scale from boiler tubes. Once you have this you won’t be able to resist cleaning everything, it is that easy to use!

Key Features

  • Pressure up to 2,700 pounds per square inch.
  • Expels 2.3 gallons of water per minute.
  • Ergonomic spray nozzle included.
  • Easy to pull trigger.
  • Measures 17.6” by 27.1” by 20.6 inches and weighs 71 pounds

Product Overview

The Generac 6022 Gas Powered Pressure Washer is a residential grade power washing machine with 2,700 PSI and 2.3 GPM. The powerful 196cc OHV engine from Generac includes automatic low oil shut down feature to protect the engine from damage in the event that there is not enough oil lubricating it.

The easy access to the axial cam pump let you make those hose connections with ease, and the ergonomic spray gun has a soft grip and an easy-pull trigger which can reduce fatigue as you use the power washer.

This device comes with an ergonomic spray gun style and its grip where intended to be soft and manageable or easy to use. This is non-CARB compliant and uses a hose of 25 foot.

Pros and Cons

Pros

Powerful! For a residential power washing machine, this device does an excellent job and has a high power rating. The power rating is a number determined by multiplying the PSI with the GPM of the pressure washer.

Cons

The engine can sometimes stall out, and the pumps have been known to have issues with them. The machine has a high rate of error in production as some have complained of problems from the first time they used the pressure washer such as leaking gasoline, having a broken handle rack, engine stalling, and other various problems that had they been properly inspected and tested would probably have been kept out of the hands of the consumer.

Conclusion

This is a practical power washer for the average home owner and can definitely help you get the job done when you’re being a weekend warrior and getting things off your honey-do list. I could use this power washer proudly knowing that it is powerful enough to handle just about any job around the outside of the house and around the yard. There’s nothing like a freshly cleaned outdoor surface free of mold. It is a deep clean that lasts long enough to be completely worth the up-front effort involved.

Generac 6024/5991

This gas powered high performance washer has a 212cc OHV engine with multiple features. It earned about 4.5 stars from Amazon reviewers and costs about $400. It has a low oil shut down to help prevent burning out the engine, it has quick click nozzle tips with various degrees of washes from zero to 40, and it has a back side hose connection.

It is easy to maneuver and has a pump easy access. This machine has a built in step to enable easy starting. It has a 30 foot hose and an integrated gun holster. Foot rests are also included to relieve stress on your feet. It has axial cam pump that dissipates the maximum heat.

A thick cushion grip is added for more comfort along with an ergonomic wand. There is a two year warranty that is included when you purchase this product. It is not sold in the state of California since it is non carb compliant. It has a welded framed for additional durability.

This gas powered power washer generates 3,100 PSI. It has five quick nozzles and a quick connect steel lance. It has a robust trolley and a profi 200 ergonomic spray gun.

Its tires are 10 inches premium pneumatic and are double sealed. Its engine is a Honda GC 190 and is reliable for an easy start. This machine run quietly and is heavy duty and durable. It received four stars from Amazon reviewers and costs about $400. It also has a thermal relief valve.

Powerhorse Gas Powered Pressure Washer

This machine generates 3,000 PSI and runs at 2.5 gpm. It has a 208cc OHV engine with a cast iron sleeve. It has a downstream injector along with an ability to shut down if the oil is low. It has a direct drive axial pump where the pressure can be adjusted. There is a pump oil included along with a 25 foot high pressure hose that is thermally protected.

There is a 25 inch high pressure nozzle along with a detergent nozzle. It is non carb compliant which means it will not be sold in the state of California since it does not meet environmental requirements. This washer has a steel frame with large 10 inch pneumatic tires for easy maneuverability. This product costs about $300 on Amazon.

Best pressure washer for car detailing

Knowing what you’ll be primarily using your washer for helps in making a decision on which model you should be looking at. If you will be using it for car detailing for your own cars, you won’t need anything too powerful. But if you’re looking to start a car detailing business, then you should be going with  a gas powered model. Once you have your washer, just wet down your vehicle and quickly apply soap, sponge it off, then rinse. It just doesn’t get much easier than that!
Best pressure washer for car detailing
Within a four hundred dollar budget, you can absolutely find a pressure washer that can meet your needs and last for a long time as well. In this price range, you are paying for a quality product that is intended for long period of use.

Whether you are planning to use this washing machine every week to keep your car looking sleek, or just once a month or two until the end of your lifetime, you will likely be able to find some reason to buy one of these appliances. The best pressure washer under 400 dollars is prepared to help you achieve any goals you have at home related to cleanliness on a larger scale.

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Awesome Outdoor Kitchen Tips!

Tips On Creating an Awesome Outdoor Kitchen

Outdoor kitchens are perfect for sprucing up your backyard oasis and entertaining your friends and family during the warm summer months. Enjoying the fresh air along with some quality food is fun for everyone, and having an outdoor kitchen saves you from having to run back and forth constantly from your indoor kitchen to get a meal prepared and served.

If you’re planning on adding an outdoor kitchen to your backyard or garden area, there are certain aspects you need to be aware of before finalizing your plans.  You should carefully consider aspects such as location, design and materials to ensure that your outdoor kitchen is convenient, is fully equipped and can withstand all types of conditions throughout the year.

Where Should You Build Your Outdoor Kitchen?

Placement is very important when you build an outdoor kitchen because you need to ensure that you do not restrict any views, that the placement is convenient for you to use and that you locate the kitchen in an area where the weather is not going to affect it adversely. Ensure you consider all of these things when choosing your location:

  • Wind – You can’t control the elements, however you can place your grill accordingly so smoke doesn’t billow into your neighbor’s gardens or disrupt your guests. Smoke will usually blow downwind of the grill so if you can, try and make sure patios or decks upwind of the smoke. In addition, refrain from placing your outdoor kitchen near windows or doors that are downwind because then the smoke will flow inside the house.
  • Vision – Place counters in such a way so that every view is taken into account. For example, the main thing you need to think about it is whether your neighbors can see you. You will probably want some privacy when you are working and entertaining in your outdoor kitchen, so consider placing it where hedges or trees block the view to the neighbor’s house.  This will not only benefit you, but your neighbor’s privacy as well. Moreover, you must consider what your guests will be seeing when they are sitting at the counter or table, as well as what view the person has that will be cooking at the grill.
  • Keep cool – The outdoor kitchen will be used on many a warm sunny day, but to refrain from getting yourself and the appliances too hot, make sure the area around the kitchen is shaded so that it stays cool. The cheapest option is to build the kitchen under the shade of trees, as it will block out the harsh sun to prevent electrical equipment from overheating and will also keep the rays of sun out of your eyes while cooking without it costing you anything extra. If this option doesn’t work for you, or you don’t want to deal with falling leaves or acorns from overhead, then you can always purchase patio umbrellas which can provide some shade near the cooking areas and also by outdoor dining room sets, or you can build a covering or trellis overhead.   You can also install a rollup awning or motorized blinds for coverage.
  • Stay close to your house – Having a kitchen area in close proximity to your indoor kitchen is a good idea because then you only have a short distance to walk if you need additional supplies. Moreover, you will still need to store and prep the majority of the food indoors, so it makes sense to build the outdoor area near the back entrance to your home. Also, you will most likely have electric and gas lines located near the home, which is vital in order for your outdoor kitchen to run.  Not having to run these lines too far from the house will limit your installation costs.
  • outside kitchen tips

Outdoor Kitchen Design

The design of your outdoor kitchen is pretty much up to you.  However, there are three main layouts that you may want to consider adopting for your backyard kitchen.

  • Basic – This style is best suited for people that will be using the outdoor kitchen on an occasional basis rather than more regularly. It features a grill, a sink and a counter used for prepping food, as well as a small storage space.  This design leaves out many extras but is also usually the most affordable.
  • L-shaped – This layout consists of two separate units. The base of the ‘L’ shape will contain the grill along with the storage compartments, whereas the other counter will provide a preparation area as well as a small space for dining. You will be able to place stools underneath this counter to allow people to sit at the counter for dining and entertaining purposes.
  • U-shapedThis design is the most popular among those that intend to use the kitchen on a regular basis. It provides a larger dining space for a number of guests, as well as all the necessary areas for the grill, the prepping station, storage compartments and any other extras you desire. It is also the most convenient, as the chef can place all of the cooked food straight onto the dining area.

Using the Right Materials In Your Outdoor Kitchen

One of the major things you need to consider is the types of materials you are going to use to construct your outdoor kitchen. You want to make sure you have materials that are made to withstand food use in order to ensure that food will not be contaminated. Moreover, if you choose the right materials, then you can prevent too much wear and tear or corrosion throughout the year so you want to make sure the materials withstand outdoor use as well.

When it comes to outdoor kitchen materials, consider these points:

  • Ensure it’s easily manageable – There is nothing more frustrating than having to clean a surface that requires a lot of work, so make sure you use stainless steel on your units and grill. It is the most sanitary material and it is very easy to clean.  It also maintains its condition well even in various types of weather.
  • Install counters that can handle the heat – Despite shading your kitchen, it will at some point be in direct sunlight, which on a very hot day, can heat up surfaces very quickly. Make sure you find heat durable materials.  You also want to make sure that any materials near grills or other cooking surfaces are heat resistant.
  • Consider natural stone – Installing stone counters may be the best way to go, as they are easy to clean as well as looking stylish. However, keep in mind that they may need to be sealed on a regular basis, especially since they are outdoors.
  • Be aware of grease – We all know that cooked meat straight off the grill is accompanied by unsightly grease stains so make sure that any of the furniture you locate near the outdoor kitchen contains materials that don’t stain.  This is especially important for any patio cushions, stool cushions or other materials on your outdoor dining chairs.

Appliances for Your New Space

No kitchen is a “kitchen” without the right equipment. This can be anything from having some solid sharp knives around to having Japanese rice cooker or an espresso machine.  Just follow a few guidelines to make sure what you decide to include isn’t overkill or a potential hazard!

  • Outlets – Are there enough outlets for all of the appliances you’re looking to install? Running extension cords in an outdoor kitchen can be very dangerous if it starts raining or there is grease or other conductive material around. Don’t crowd the plugs you have.
  • Materials – Stainless steel may be the best option for outdoor appliances like refrigerators or slow cookers. They resist staining and rust better in an environment that will always be changing. Remember, unless you’re going to be bringing these in every time, they need to last in outdoor conditions.

Additional Items To Consider For Outdoor Kitchens

If you’re hoping to get a lot of use out of your new outdoor kitchen, then you will probably want to consider adding some extra goodies to give the outdoor space the right ambiance and design. If you’re aiming to throw a lot of parties, then music is a necessity for creating a fun and social atmosphere.  You may also want to consider amenities such as lighting and other forms of entertainment.

  • Music – There are a number of types of outdoor sound systems that you can incorporate into your outside space which can be installed so that loose wires aren’t in view and the speakers are nearly hidden. Make sure you make your decision before the outdoor kitchen is installed so you can incorporate the speaker setup into the overall outdoor kitchen design.
  • TV – You can also incorporate television sets and screens into your outdoor area if the electrical wiring allows it. However, ensure that you place the screens in an area that will not encounter direct sunlight or rain, otherwise they could overheat and become damaged and it may be difficult to see the screen.
  • Lighting – If you’re planning on using your outdoor kitchen in the evening, then having the correct lighting is vital in setting the perfect atmosphere. Consider low lighting around the dining area (LED lighting kits work great for this); however you will need a brighter light by the grill. The types of outside lighting you can use are endless, however a good idea is to purchase solar lamps that can soak up the energy throughout the day and then light up in the evening. This will save you in energy costs and from having to install additional electrical wiring, while still creating a comfortable and ambient dining experience for you and your guests.
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Building Your (Perfect) Backyard Oasis

11 Ways to Cultivate Backyard Space for Relaxation

Imagine yourself sitting on the deck of an old mansion in a rocking chair, iced tea in hand, and big bunches of purple wisteria climbing the porch columns.  Now, you are outside an ocean beach house quietly watching waves and sand flow over your toes.  And now, you are at your own back door about to step into your yard.  Which one do you want to pick as your next weekend get-away?

It’s hard to imagine a regular everyday backyard as an oasis for relaxation.  But, a place of peace and beauty doesn’t have to be exotic, or expensive.  A simple change in perspective and a little ingenuity can transform your ordinary landscape into an extraordinary personal retreat.

Take a Walk

Sometimes the most dramatic renovations start with a simple change of perspective.  In order to discover relaxing space in an ordinary place, take a slow walk and a long look at your yard.  Give the entire landscape a discerning evaluation. Try to look at the overall layout like a realtor or guest would see it.  What assets or liabilities do you see? What jumps out at you? What are the first things you notice about your property?

Create Rooms

Make a list of how you want to use your space.  Start simple.  Think of creating ‘rooms’ of activity around your yard.  Even the smallest of yards can be maximized in a way that allows personal relaxation.  Yards that are low on space simply force designing homeowners to decide what matters most in life.  How do you want to live?  If pets have overrun the lawn, consider how to best ‘share’ the space and relegate messes to one place.  If you enjoy grilling out with friends, set aside some grill, deck, or table area.  Or go big and build an outdoor kitchen. Your lifestyle will determine if you need rooms for dining, playing, sitting, gardens, or pets.  Your list of rooms should reflect your lifestyle.

Know Yourself

Examine your preferences and habits.  If you enjoy a yard full of flowers because gardening is your lifestyle, then choose to add blooming space and lawn.  If weeding means de-stressing, and you have the time, go for the gardens!

However, if the thought of weeds or mowing keeps you out of the yard, design your space for minimal landscaping  work.  Skip the perennial bed and go for self-sufficient shrubs. Choose xeriscape alternatives for low watering and resource efficiency.  Or build out a large brick patio to cover more lawn area for even less maintenance issues. Or a nice wooden deck. Consult a local do-it-yourself store for low-maintenance ideas.

Design your Dream

One important aspect of outdoor space is balance.  Work with your tastes and budget to integrate your ‘rooms’ into one flowing overall environment.

Think creatively.  Create the illusion of space by installing gently curved pathways.  Or design a winding walk to a private, tucked away oasis.  A simple bench or patio rocking chair can provide a personal get-away when placed strategically.  Whatever you choose, pull it all together by following the balance of your overall plan.

Bring the Sound

Certain sounds add a sense of calm.  Wind chimes or trickling fountains bring soft ambient noise.  A birdbath also adds a splash of wildlife sound.  And, if an iPod is always in your pocket, go high tech and install stereo speakers throughout the yard. or at least bring out a small Bluetooth speaker that doesn’t even need to be “installed”.  Whether for private down time on the patio or entertaining around the pool, music adds ambiance and enhances the mood.

Play in the Space

If friends and family bring joy, design your yard with them in mind.  Use square footage wisely in order to create areas for eating or play.  And, if kids are a priority at your house, make sure their space is open for safe, fun playtimes.  Swing sets, enclosed trampolines, slides or covered sand boxes are classic and timeless favorites that earn their keep in kid-time spent outdoors instead of in front of the television.

Outdoor fun can also include a barbecue patio, or a grill on the deck.  If grilling is your game, make sure you leave space for good eats.

Bring in Nature

Do you like to see rabbits hoping along the edges of your garden or lawn space? Maybe deer eating from the trees you have on the edge of your lawn in the backyard? Or maybe squirrels and chipmunks are your thing. Brining in nature makes for a great way to enjoy all your yard has to offer. Even if you don’t have any woods or real wild places on your property, you can always help out the birds with a nice bird feeder. Or you can help out ferral cats by providing them with an insulated feral cat house for outside. Where ever you are, there really are ways to bring nature to you, unless of course that means bugs and mosquitoes!

Light the Fire

Big flames captivate and invite a gathering.  Bring magic to an evening and distract thoughts from everyday worries with a popular clay chiminea or brass fire pit on the lawn.  A fire pit is cheap and easy to construct, and if you have the time and money, you could even build a “patio” like area around your pit for even more easy living space. Fireplaces bring people together but always use caution.  Pay close attention to child safety and local fire codes.

Inhale Aromas

Let fragrance set a soothing mood.  Intentionally plant herbs and flowers for their aroma.  Sage, basil, thyme, and mint bring their own sweet smells.   Also consider adding the heavier scents of lavender, chamomile or sandalwood in your garden or even across the grass.  Or, if the garden isn’t your thing, light scented candles or essential oils to fill the air.

Put up your Feet

Backyard furniture is a must for your relaxation space.  It means the difference between sitting or standing, engaging or observing.  Look for a comfortable, quality table and chairs.  Consider a hammock for sleeping in the sunshine. Solid wood furniture like benches and swings work well on decks and between trees.   A patio glider or rocker can be placed beside the garden for a rest spot or tucked in an alcove for reading, napping or meditating.

Come Back Again

The next time an expensive retreat beckons, open your back door.   Spend the money for travel and airline tickets on a different dream and find a personal retreat to return to, right in your own backyard, every day of the week.

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Buying a House? READ This First!

Essential House Buying Tips…

Buying a house is a monumental purchasing decision that many people only make a few times or less in their lives. Fortunately, the process does not need to be complicated or filled with unpleasant surprises. Before embarking on buying a home, remember to keep these essential tips in mind.

Financial Considerations

No matter if the housing market is up or down, homes are enormously expensive. As a result, it’s no surprise that financial considerations top the list of what you should think about before buying a house. Understanding the true costs of home ownership is chief among them.

You should examine the impacts of renting versus owning. You’re probably aware that over the long term, it costs more to rent than to own. This generally holds true. However, homeowners need to be prepared to fulfill responsibilities renters are not liable for. All utility bills, maintenance, cleaning, property taxes, as well as mortgage payments are necessities managed by the homeowner.

Zooming in on the details from this list will help you get a better picture of what your prospective house may cost beyond the closing price. Asking for a full breakdown of utility bills, for instance, lets you calculate your average monthly expenses. Request a copy of last month’s utility bills from the owner, realtor, or get an estimate from local providers. You should look at gas, electric, water, and trash costs. Don’t forget additional services you may want like internet, cable, and lawn maintenance or winter care.

Property taxes should be analyzed the same way. Don’t rely on estimates from realtors or owners. A hard look at what was actually paid out last year, and preferably the last five years, shows you what the real property taxes are, and how fast they ordinarily increase.

Figuring out a home’s structural condition may save you additional money as well. Bring inspectors to look at the home‘s foundation, wiring, roof, and other vital systems. Also, make sure you get things like a mold inspection and inspections for lead paint and radon. Property solutions in Hua Hin can help you if you’re abroad, or search your local area for the country you’re in. If the owner has done recent improvements or remodeling, verify the value with an inspector, or ask to see the construction receipts. Although many sellers are honest, there always some who try to inflate their home’s market price by overstating the value of upgrades.

Getting to Know the Neighborhood

Learning about the location of a potential home is just as important as collecting information about the house itself. Remember to take a look at statistics regarding crime, demographics, and education in the area you plan to move to. Normal climate data and potential natural disasters your property could face are worth analyzing too.

You can find out about the general state of the neighborhood by talking to residents, discovering community groups, or pulling up old news stories. Serious crimes in the area will always appear in reports by police and media, while neighbors are likely to mention nuisances, or confirm pleasant features. Visit the area during the day and night to ensure there are no odd surprises that only occur after sundown, or during daylight.

Although scrutinizing a home takes a great deal of work, it saves on potential disappointment and expenditures. Putting in your research ahead of time pays dividends for as long as you live in your home.

 

4 Money Moves Before Buying a Home

Remember the days when the only thing you needed to do to buy a home was to bring some I.D. and stand in line somewhere?  The days of “E-Z Lending!” and “No Money Down!” have long given way to an era loaded with banks and lenders that actually require that potential homeowners have the ability to pay for the homes they’re trying to purchase.  If you’re in the market for a home, you need to make sure that your financials can withstand an underwriter’s scrutiny.  Check out the following four money moves that you’ll need to make before even thinking about buying a home.

Raise Your Credit Score

If you’re planning on applying for a mortgage, but your credit scores are barely there, or smudged, you’ll need to put in the work to raise them to a number that lenders are comfortable with.  Borrowers with high credit scores are rewarded with lower interest rates and less money required for down payments.  Pull your reports from all three CRA’s (credit reporting agencies).  Pay down your credit card debt.  If you’re thinking of paying off old debt or charge-offs, check with the creditor in question to make sure that once you pay, they report the debt to the CRA’s as “paid in full.”  Paid charge-offs are often reported as “new,” a notation that will result in a lower credit score.  Dispute any errors on your reports directly with the CRA’s.

Pay off Debt

If you’re carrying sizable debt, it’s going to negatively affect the amount of money that a lender is willing to lend you.  If you have a lot of revolving debt, pay as much of it off as you can.  Not only will it make you more attractive to lenders, it will save you money over time since revolving debt like credit cards carries much higher interest rates than mortgages do.  Paying off that money up front will save you thousands of dollars in interest in the long-term.

Save for (or be Gifted With) a Down Payment

If you’re going for an FHA loan, the minimum down payment required is 3.5% of the purchase price, provided you have a credit score of at least 580.  If your score is lower than that, you’ll need to put down 10% (another reason to get those scores up!).   Traditional loans can require as much as a 20% or more down payment.  Figure out how much you’ll need for a down payment and aggressively go about saving for it.

You can receive familial down payment assistance in the form of a gift, but make sure that it is accompanied by a “gift letter,” which will include the amount being given, the relationship of the person giving you the money, clarification that it’s actually a gift and not a loan, the property address, and the signatures of all involved parties.

Determine a Realistic House Budget

Everyone wants to buy a dream house, but that dream house can quickly turn into a true nightmare if you bite off more than you can chew in terms of house price.  Assess all of your monthly expenditures including your monthly take-home pay, outstanding debts, home maintenance expenses, taxes, school fees, utilities, etc.  As you can see, the list is long, so when you’re figuring out what you can afford for a monthly mortgage, include all of those other expenses in your calculations.

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How To Get Rid Of Bed Bugs At Home

Get Rid of Bedbugs Once and For All!

Discover how to get rid of bed bugs at home effectively. Get rid of bed bugs at home permanently. Learn how to prevent a re-infestation by these tiny parasites from ever occurring again.

“Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite” is not an appropriate lullaby to kiss the kids goodnight anymore, since these parasites have made a dramatic come back as recently as the mid 90’s after they were almost completely eradicated in the 40’s. At the time DDT was legally used to exterminate cockroaches and many other pests and soon after vacuum cleaners were introduced.

Bed bugs had been confined to developing countries for the time being, but recently they spread across the developed world due to a number of factors like neglect in favor of other pest treatments, resistance to insecticides, ineffective treatment methods and traveling. Bed bugs are opportunistic parasites that will gladly hitch hike in a suitcase and follow their hosts to infest new countries and their inhabitants, hence their success.

Inspecting For Bugs

Bed Bugs are also difficult to spot at first, not until the human host has already been bitten and decided to inspect his/her surrounding to find the culprit do most people even realize what is happening. Bed bugs are oval shaped and flat for easier access to crevices and nooks, usually hiding in the tufts and seams of bedding, head rests, buttons, head boards, edges of carpets and anywhere near where the host sleeps like skirting boards, bed side tables and inside chests of drawers.

They have an ability to infiltrate under wall paper, bed frame hollows, smoke detectors and generally anywhere near their source of food big enough to hide them.

Apart from human transport, bed bugs can be also carried with birds and bats and once established they congregate near their source of food. Apart from red bite rushes anywhere on the body, clues of their presence are their molting outer skeleton shells, tiny fecal droppings and eggs.

Bed bug are attracted to their victims by carbon monoxide and heat and will congregate near them but will also wander around to other rooms in search of food sources. Their flat oval shape makes them adapted for hiding in crevices, staying there in daytime to crawl out at night to feed on their hosts.

Once you’ve completed your own home inspection and their presence has been established, you can start the 2 phase elimination process described below or find out how to get rid of bed bugs at home naturally.

Phase 1 – Remove, Clean, Tidy Up, Vacuum Thoroughly!

This phase is very important in order to remove as many nymphs, eggs and organic debris as possible.

Remove all personal items including laptops, phones, teddy bears, cushions, pillows, blankets. Then vacuum them thoroughly and seal them in plastic bags for few days to check for missed bugs or newly hatched eggs.

Empty dressers, bed side tables and chest of drawers, move them from their place and deep vacuum corners and the inside of cabinets with a nozzle. Go to your sofa and mattress, remove them and vacuum with special attention to seams, tufts, skirts and under the cushions.

Check the box springs for infestation. If there is one, you may have to dispose of the mattress. Dismantle the bed frame and check in the hollow of the metal frame or between the component edges if it is a wooden frame. Vacuum and vacuum again.

Empty your wardrobe and clean it as for the chest of drawers. Since garments cannot be treated with insecticides, machine wash them at a temperature higher than 120*F because adults, nymphs and eggs are all killed within minutes above this temperature. Repeat the process for curtains.

Once you cleaned all the individual parts of the room, furniture,mattresses, textiles, fabrics and upholstery, you can move onto the rest of the room. Vacuum the carpet religiously especially along skirting boards, along the frame of furniture, rails, corners, wall cracks and all visible surfaces and crevices where the parasites may be hiding.

Do the same in all of the rooms of your house that has carpeting or fabrics like your living room. Bedbugs don’t just live in the bedroom.

Next, seal cracks in walls and wall paper with plaster, silicone or acrylic filler to prevent future infestations. In order to expose more bed bugs from their hiding places, you may want to use a flashlight. Finally, remove the vacuum bag and seal it is a plastic bag before disposal. Thorough cleaning and vacuuming is the foundation key to get rid of bed bugs at home.

Phase 2 – Life Cycle And Treatments

life cycle of a bedbugThe life cycle of bed bugs lasts up to 1 year and is divided in 6 stages. Only the last stage is the adult reproductive stage, while the others are immature stages that start with the egg stage followed by a nymph stage with 3 successive molts before the adult stage.

Adults are 4/5 mm long and all bed bugs stages are surprisingly resistant to low and high temperatures. They can survive many days in temperatures below 0* but will die if the temperature is higher than 47 Celsius or 120 F, so anything short of prolonged freezing temperatures or heat won’t kill them.

The treatments available focus on breaking the bug life cycle and are targeted at all life cycle stages repeatedly, either by killing them directly or by interfering with IGR ( Insect Growth Regulator). It’s too bad they weren’t more like a mosquito and you could just use one of the best bug zappers on them 🙁

Chemical treatments like sprays or dust should be applied at least 3 times 10 days apart to be sure of success. In fact, bed bugs feed sparingly few weeks apart, so re-treatment is necessary for complete elimination. Unlike with fleas where foggers are successful, with bed bugs such treatment produce the opposite effect, the bugs will scatter around making it even more difficult to exterminate them.

Pyrethroid, Malathion and Dichlorvos are commonly used for mattresses, sofas, cushions and upholstery, cabinets and chests with particular attention to seams and tufts, However, some bed bug populations have developed a phenomenal resistance to these agents and there is growing concern as to how to find a more effective way to kill them.

Another solution may be an IGR (Insect Growth Regulator) based treatment.

There are also mattress cases on the market that completely seal the mattress and prevent any escape from it. They must be kept for 1 year or so to make sure to break the whole life cycle of the bed bugs by starving them and stop the infestation spreading. If the infestation is severe, you may need to dispose of the mattress, but If it is not too advanced, you may decide to use sprays and dusts to kill the unwanted guests.

Prevention After The Infestation

There is a sound and chemical free way of dealing with bed bugs. If you have already experienced the trauma of an infestation you are already in a better position NOT to underestimate the resilience and adaptability of this successful bug. Wherever and whenever you travel, be wary of where you sleep and of your luggage. Here below there is a prevention check list to help you understand howto  get rid of bed bugs in Pheonix or wherever, even at home and the trauma and disruption that these tiny creatures can do to your life.

  • Always check your hotel mattress and headboards when traveling
  • Do not drop your luggage on the floor but keep it off it
  • Keep a vigilant eye on public transport seats
  • Check for bugs in new furniture delivered from warehouses
  • Avoid buying second hand furniture or bedding
  • Carry a mini flash light to inspect the bed area
  • Back home from a trip, inspect your luggage and vacuum clean it
  • You may want to use a pocket spray can for mattresses and luggage when traveling
  • Use a sticky bed bug trap

Getting Rid of BedBugs Through Cleaning

  • Vacuum the furnishings, including mattress, box spring, headboard, couch and other possible infested areas such as wooden doors and floors every other day.
  • When you are cleaning the furniture, dismantle the bed frames and other furniture so that you can be sure that you can get to all of the bugs when cleaning.
  • You should also dry-scrub the mattress and carpets with a stiff brush to dislodge any bedbugs and their eggs that may not have been suctioned with the vacuum.
  • When you’ve finished vacuuming, immediately remove the bag from the vacuum cleaner, seal it in a plastic bag and take it out to the trash can.
  • Bedbugs sometimes hide in wood piles, paper trash bins, and other areas with debris around your house, so it’s a good idea to go around the house and remove any of these possible housing sites.
  • Remove any unnecessary clutter from around the house and keep it tidy. This will reduce their hiding spaces and increase the effectiveness of the cleaning process, making getting rid of bedbugs a lot easier.
  • Sometimes, it is a good idea to throw away mattress or box springs that are heavily infested with bedbugs.
  • An alternative to throwing away mattresses that may still be in good condition is to get a bed bug proof mattress encasement, which helps protect the mattress from infestation.

Kill Bed Bugs Using Heat

small bed bugLike many living pests, you can also get rid of bedbugs and their eggs by using heat. Most bedbugs can be killed at temperatures of 97°F to 99°F, but you get better results if you heat things up to 120°F.

Here are some ways on how you can kill bedbugs with heat:

  • To get rid of bedbugs, wash your bedding and clothing in hot water and then drying them in the dryer with the hot setting.
  • The same dryer can also be used to kill bedbugs that might be hiding in toys, stuffed animals, shoes, backpacks and other items. Place the items in the dryer and then set for 10 to 20 minutes on a medium to high heat setting.
  • For large item like luggage, try PackTite, a portable electronic heat treatment device guaranteed to kill bed bugs in all its life stages. (above 120°F)
  • Similarly, you can also take items that you suspect have bedbugs and place them into a black garbage bag, leaving them outside in direct sunlight for 2 to 3 days.
  • You can also shop for a bed bug steamer or regular steam cleaner to kill bedbugs. They are quite effective in getting rid of bedbugs, however it is advisable to use one that has dry vapor steam when steaming your mattresses otherwise you may end up with other problems such as mold or mildew growing, as well as dust mites allergies.

Getting Rid of BedBugs With Chemicals

Another way to get rid of bedbugs is to use inorganic agents like silica Aerogel or Diatomaceous Earth which dehydrates and kills the bedbugs.

There are also aerosol sprays that can be used for bedbug removal. Among the more popular brands includes Bedlam Insecticide and STERI-FAB bed bug spray which effectively get rid of bedbugs with lasting residual performance.

Exterminate BedBugs With Professional Exterminators

Getting rid of bedbugs will unquestionably be a long-winded and demanding task. If you feel that you do not have the time or the energy to execute the extermination well on your own, it is advisable to hire a bed bug exterminator who have invested in the knowledge, training and equipment to do the job well and guarantee the success of the extermination operation.

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Top 10 Problems Home Inspectors Find

My Home Inspection Head Start Guide

When you get your home inspected, any problems that are found mean that you have to fix them and get another inspection, at a greater cost to you. You can prepare to avoid that second inspection by learning what home inspectors consider to be the ten problems they most frequently find.

A short prelude is to recognize that of the ten items, four relate directly to water and its damaging effects. It is then important that keeping water out should be at the forefront of the homeowner’s consideration when it comes to home maintenance and repair.

1) Surface Drainage

This problem is the most frequently cited problem that homeowners face. It is the back up or slower than standard drainage of surface water, and it is responsible for the number one household malady – water in the basement.

2) Electrical Wiring

This common problem is the result of insufficient overload protection, insufficient electrical supply and home wired connections, which are potentially dangerous to occupants.

3) Roof

This ailment is the result of degraded or damaged shingles, which causes roof leakage. Flashing that was improperly installed can also be a problem.

4) Heating

This category includes such items as a defective, non functioning thermostat, chimney blockage, and an unsafe venting of exhaust away from the home. Make sure you change your furnace filters before the inspection, and if time and finances allow, get it properly cleaned and looked over by a professional. Then include the receipt as “proof” of both maintenance and that there are no problems the new owner needs to worry about.

5) Overall Maintenance

This is where various areas of easy to repair items accumulate, such as makeshift fixes for wiring or plumbing, broken fixtures, cracked and peeling painted surfaces, wood flooring or carpeting that hasn’t been maintained and degraded masonry. Everything should look clean and sharp, so do some paint touch up if that’s what’s required.

6) Structural Issues

This category covers damage sustained by load bearing, structural components, such as the foundation, floor joists, rafters and trusses, support beams, headers around doors and windows, and much more.

7) Plumbing

Plumbing problems rank high when it comes to issues of the home. This includes the presence of old and outdated materials, defective or damaged fixtures, problems with the septic system or sewer lines, and so forth. Although the two main rooms these problems occur, the kitchen and bathroom, you still need to be looking through the entire property. Including the water pipes that come up to the house.

8) Exterior

Problems with the exterior of the home, such as for doors, windows and outer surfaces, allow atmospheric heat and humidity penetration, although they do not have much of an impact on the overall structure. Caulking and weather striping are the usual suspects when it comes to issues of the exterior.

9) Ventilation

It is frequently the case that individuals will over seal their home in an effort to have a more efficient air system. This results in the excessive build up of moisture, however, leading to rotting of structural elements. The most common areas are again, the basement and the attic. Make sure trusses are dry and there are no water damage stains or other problems.

10) Miscellaneous

This catchall category covers cosmetic issues that were not cited enough to gain its own category.

 

The results of the survey are dependent upon the age of the home and the area it is located in. Homes in the desert do not have as strict regulations on rain protection than in Chicago for example. Home inspection in Tulsa would be more strict than a smaller town like Wagoner. For the homeowner, it is important to go through the home and review various sections of the home in relation to these categories. They should avoid any self repairs if their skill level is not considered to be up to standards, especially when it comes to wiring and plumbing.

Fix what you can before the inspection, and you may avoid having to do the same procedure twice.

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