Preparing Your Home for Summer Heat and Wildfires

Summer is the season for spending long days in the yard, taking dips in the pool, and sitting in the shade to beat the heat. In the midst of these sun-filled adventures, though, lies the potential for heat waves, smoke, and wildfires. Every homeowner should be ready for these emergencies as well as the damaging effects they can have on their home. The following information will help you prepare your home for the hottest days of the year.

 

Preparing Your Home for Summer Heat

As temperatures soar, it’s important to make sure that your methods of cooling your home are as effective as possible. Adding insulation may not be the first thing that comes to mind when prepping your home for the summer heat, but it will help prevent cool air from leaking outside and hot air from entering. If your insulation is out of date, now is the time to make replacements as needed. Windows are another culprit for air leaks, which commonly form between the window frame and the frame of the house. Fill these cracks with caulking between the frame and the exterior siding. If your windows are exposed to prolonged periods of direct sunlight, consider placing an awning or screen shades above the exterior side to provide some relief from the radiating heat.

Air conditioning can be a lifesaver during summer. There are two main options when it comes to air conditioning: either a window unit or central cooling. Window units are the least expensive option and offer portability. It’s important to choose a unit that is the right size for your home or the room you’re trying to cool. One that’s too big will quickly cool your space and then shut off completely. This can increase your energy bills and put unnecessary wear on the unit. An undersized unit simply won’t cool your home and will constantly run to try to reach the target temperature. With central air conditioning, homeowners can expect much higher startup costs. But once installed, central AC provides short- and long-term comfort and adds to your home’s value.

Summer is a good time to check your HVAC unit’s air filters. Turn the unit off before performing any maintenance. If any devices that give off heat are close enough to the thermostat that regulates the AC, they could generate an incorrect reading, which could throw off your air conditioning efficiency. For maximum efficiency, place these devices away from the thermostat.

 

Preparing Your Home for Wildfires

The first step in preparing your home for wildfires is to have an emergency plan. Make sure everyone in your household is aware of what to do in the event of a wildfire. Pack an emergency kit to bring with you in the event of an evacuation. For homeowners who live outside a fire zone, consider buying an air purifier to protect yourself from smoke.

To give yourself the best chances of keeping wildfires from getting too close to your home, keep all flammable objects away from the house, preferably at least thirty feet. Clear your gutters of debris such as leaves, twigs, sticks, and the like. These materials are tinder for fire. Any flammable vegetation within five feet of the home should be cleared away, and any trees that overhang close to the home should be cut back to a distance of ten feet. Remove any dead plants or vegetation from your yard and keep your lawn short. Install mesh screens over exterior vents to prevent embers from entering your home. 

This may seem like a daunting list, but these preparatory measures are worth it to protect your home and loved ones this wildfire season. Once you’ve taken these steps, you can enjoy your summer days at home knowing you’re prepared.

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The Best Indoor Plants for Every Room

With thousands of plant species, it can be hard to distinguish which plants are best suited for each room in your home, which greatly depends on sunlight exposure and temperature. A simple rule of thumb is to make higher maintenance plants more accessible to you. Some lower maintenance plants can go weeks without watering and require very low levels of sunlight.

Here’s a quick guide on indoor plants and where to place them in your home based on the level of care and management.

 

The Best Indoor Plants for Every Room

Living room

A monstera, a.k.a. Swiss cheese plant, works well in the living room due to its size and their natural inclination to climb. Providing a monstera with a stake or a trellis will bring about some decorative growth. Another large plant, the fiddle-leaf fig, works well in larger rooms. Fiddle-leaf figs tend to be more top-heavy with their large, floppy leaves. Both of these plants could work well next to a couch or sitting area where there is ample overhead space for the leaves. These large-leaved plants are typically happiest with indirect sunlight. Proper watering can be determined by observing the dryness of the soil. Once the top of the soil is dry to the touch, which is typically once a week for these plants, it’s time to give them a shower. 

 

Bedroom/Office

Spider or jade plants can be great to have on a desk, and also work well to fill up shelving space. Adding a plant to a bookshelf here and there adds texture and brings a sense of wellness to the space, which is especially important when you’re working long hours from home. You could even swap a bookend for a plant to liven things up. Both of these plants are low maintenance and thrive in partial sun or shade. These plants typically require watering every two weeks, but when in doubt, check the soil to see if it’s dry.

 

Bathroom

Plants that require low levels of sunlight and enjoy high humidity—like ferns or bamboo—are great for the bathroom. Place them on your shower shelves or on a countertop to give your bathroom a spa-like feel. Because they can absorb water from the shower steam, they can go up to three weeks without a proper watering. Pothos, or Devil’s Ivy, is another great houseplant for the bathroom. They like to grow downward in a draping manner, so you can get creative with a hanging basket display.

 

Kitchen

Two plants that work well in kitchen spaces, such as on windowsills or in corners, are the Snake Plant and Cast-Iron Plant. The snake plant is known for its resiliency, and its thick leaves can handle the occasional splash from the kitchen sink or accidental bump from pots and pans. The Cat-Iron Plant is one of the toughest houseplants you’ll find. Where another plant may wither and die, the Cast-Iron Plant survives. Both are low maintenance plants can last weeks without watering. No green thumb? Fear not. These plants will keep on keepin’ on through harsh conditions or neglect, and their bright green leaves will help give your kitchen a fresh look and feel.

 

As the seasons change, your plant care routine will need to adjust to climate conditions. Some plants are known to go dormant in the darker months and require less amounts of water and sunlight. During springtime, fertilization can be done by adding fertilizer to the top of the soil.

Before you bring a new plant home that could end up in the hands (or paws) of a child or pet, do some research to be sure it’s safe for everyone in your household. Organizations such as the APSCA and the National Poison Center offer online sources to research the plants you plan on bringing home.

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How to Handle Water Damage In Your Home

Even if you’ve done all you can to prevent water damage in your home, there’s still a possibility it could occur. During a water damage emergency, it’s important to have a plan in place and be proactive to make sure things don’t go from bad to worse.

 

How to Handle Water Damage

If your home is in danger of flooding, evacuate the area until it is safe to return. In all other situations, as soon as you notice any water damage, it’s time to act quickly to prevent further damage. Water reaching an electrical source spells danger, so be sure to switch off your circuit breakers to cut the electricity. If your circuit breakers are in the same room as the source of the water damage, it’s best to stay away and call an electrician. Unplug devices from outlets as well to avoid getting shocked. In all situations, wear rubber boots, gloves, and protective gear.

After the electricity has been turned off, the next step is to find the source of the water damage. In the case of a burst pipe or a leaking hot water tank, cut the water supply by switching their shut-off valves. If the water damage has occurred in a small, contained area, you may be able to handle the repair independently. But if the water damage has spread to a large area, it will require a professional.

Moving furniture, household items, and possessions not only helps to protect them, but will also clear the area for when professionals arrive, allowing them to get right to work. If the water continues to flow while the technician is on their way, try to prevent further damage by slowing its spread using buckets, towels, and mops. These items don’t have the salvaging power of a professional’s tools, but anything you can do before they arrive could help to prevent further damage.

 

Water Damage – Insurance

Contacting your insurance company as soon as possible will help to navigate the situation. Find out what steps they may require you to take in the event of a flooding emergency. It’s helpful to get a claims adjuster to your home quickly to assess the situation and provide estimates on the potential cost of making repairs. Water damage can easily feel overwhelming and chaotic, but it’s important to photograph the incident. Take photos of the source of the damage, where it spread, and the damage it caused—both to the home and any personal items of value. Documenting the incident will inform your claim with your insurance company.

Whether the damage is covered by your insurance depends on the source of the problem and how your policy is arranged. If the damage was a result of an underlying condition that worsened over time, your claim may be denied. If this happens, ask for a detailed explanation to understand the gaps in your policy. This emphasizes the importance of regular home maintenance on the systems that control the water in your home. Even if you run into a costly repair, it’s better to be aware of deficiencies and fix them than to wait and be faced with a full-fledged emergency later on. Take time to review your policy as is and understand what you as the homeowner are ultimately responsible for in the event of an emergency.

For more information on how to get ahead of potential home emergencies, read our guides on preparing for wildfires and winter storms.

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8 Tips for a More Energy Efficient Home

Whether they are motivated by rising energy costs or a desire to cultivate a more sustainable home, homeowners are constantly searching for ways they can go green, reduce their home’s energy waste, and save money in the process. Here are some simple methods for a more energy-efficient home.

 

1. Determine Your Energy Output

A natural first step in your energy-efficient journey is to get a gauge of how much energy your home is currently using and where it is being used. Analyze your recent bills to get a picture of your home’s energy consumption and the habits that are tied to that level of usage. From there, you can determine what kinds of cutbacks can be made to save energy. You might also consider hiring a professional energy auditor to fully inspect your home’s energy practices and identify where there’s room for improvement.

 

2. Laundry Room Best Practices

Adjusting your methods in the laundry room is an easy way to make an impact on your home’s energy output. When it’s sunny, air-dry your clothes to save energy. Most of the energy consumption generated by doing laundry comes from the heating of the water, so use cold water when possible. Wait until you have a full load before running the washer to maximize your laundry room’s efficiency.

 

3. Install Energy-Efficient Lighting

Replacing incandescent lights with newer, more energy-efficient options is a productive step towards reducing your home’s energy waste. A change of lightbulbs is a relatively cheap solution compared to more expensive energy-saving methods like replacing appliances. Because energy-efficient lightbulbs use less energy than standard bulbs, they commonly last much longer as well.

 

4. Check Your Windows

Excessive air conditioning and heating are often the culprits behind wasteful energy practices. Weatherstripping and caulking your windows help to regulate the flow of air, keeping your home warmer in the colder months and cooler in the hotter months. Old, drafty windows let in air that can increase your home’s energy usage, regardless of the season. The upfront investment in purchasing new windows will pay off in the long run and will help to reduce energy waste.

 

5. Check Your HVAC Unit

A fine-tuned HVAC system is critical to making your home as energy efficient as it can be. Maintenance of your HVAC unit periodically to make sure it’s running in tip–top shape and to avoid replacements, which can be quite expensive. The cleaner your HVAC filters, the more efficiently they can run. The filters should be swapped out a maximum of every three months, more often if you use it year-round or if you have pets at home.

 

6. Insulate Your Home

A well-insulated home can deliver significant savings on heating and cooling costs. Walls and windows are common areas where air can escape, but so are pipes and ducts. Wrapping all these areas in insulation will pave the way for saving energy throughout the house.

 

7. Turn Down Your Thermostat

Turning down your thermostat is an effective method of reducing energy consumption. Even lowering it by one degree will lower your furnace’s energy output and can make a difference in your home’s overall energy efficiency. Remember to clean your furnace filter often. A clean filter will allow your home’s heating system to run more efficiently and cost-effectively.

 

8. Set Energy Efficiency Goals

Once you’ve begun to implement some of these strategies to make your home more energy-efficient, you’ll discover new ways to reduce your home’s energy waste while saving money. Set goals for your home’s overall energy output in a given month or set a target number you’d like to see on your next energy bill. Track your home’s progress in energy efficiency and the savings you’ve generated over time to see the difference you’ve made.

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10 Tips for Sustainable Gardening

Spring is calling and the flowers are in bloom. It’s the time of the year that many homeowners start spending more time in the garden. Having a healthy garden is one of the best ways to create a sustainable home and reduce your household’s carbon footprint. Here are some eco-friendly tips that will help to make your garden even more sustainable.

 

1. Compost Your Waste

Composting, which puts your natural waste to good use, is the cornerstone of any sustainable garden. All grass clippings, dead leaves, plants, flowers, and the like are rich in nutrients. By composting, you provide your garden with a natural fertilizer, free of contaminants. Not only will this provide nourishment, but it will also help to produce healthier and tastier food.

 

2. Mulching

If having a sustainable garden is your goal, it’s important to treat your soil with care. Mulching enriches the soil and ensures it’s as healthy as can be. Mulch conserves the moisture in your soil, ensuring it won’t dry out. It also reduces weed growth and naturally moderates the temperature of the soil. Mulching can cover either bare soil or freshly planted food and flowers.

 

3. Garden Design

It’s natural to want to accentuate the beauty of your garden when designing it, but the sustainable gardener will prioritize giving plants what they need. Take into consideration which plants need direct access to sunlight, which need the most space in the garden, and any special requirements a plant may need to inhabit optimal growing conditions.

 

4. Use Natural Weed Killers

One of the pillars of organic gardening is to reduce the use of chemicals whenever and wherever possible. Homemade recipes involving vinegar and corn gluten meal are effective substitutes for harmful, chemical-based weed killers. Whichever method you choose, it’s important to weed by hand often.

 

5. Use Water Efficiently

Substantial watering is critical to keeping your garden healthy, but overwatering is a common practice and leads to an unsustainable garden. Research the amount of water your plants and flowers need to make sure you aren’t overwatering. If you live in a rainy climate, rain barrels are a useful tool as their function is to catch and conserve the water from your downspouts.

 

6. Animal Manure

For a more sustainable garden and even healthier soil, consider adding animal manure. Chicken, sheep, and cow manure are all popular choices. Rich in nutrients, it can be used both as a fertilizer and as a soil conditioner. Make sure the manure you purchase is free of pathogens and ask about the recommended window of time from application to harvest before you begin using it.

 

7. Go Local

Planting natively is a fast ticket to sustainable gardening. Native plants are innately acclimated to local climate conditions, making them easier to grow and maintain. Native plants often require less water to grow due to their familiarity with the soil and rainfall in your region, which cuts down on your garden’s total water intake.

 

8. Collect Dried Seeds

Believe it or not, you can save your seeds and sow them next year. Wait until the seed is fully ripe before you collect it. It’s important to gather seeds when the weather is dry and to store them in a dry place. To produce healthy plants in the future, the seed must be completely dry.

 

9. Control Garden Slugs

Slugs are known to wreak havoc on gardens, eating through leaves and fruit, leaving a trail of destruction. There are many ways of controlling slugs in your gardens, but some may do more harm than good. If you choose to use slug bait, go organic. Many slug baits contain chemicals that are highly toxic to other animals.

 

10. Replace Your Gas Mower

How else can you reduce your garden’s carbon footprint? Replace your gas mower with a more sustainable alternative. Electric mowers and push mowers are functional and more eco-friendly replacements. For added sustainability, consider replacing your other gas-powered equipment, such as trimmers and leaf blowers.

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How to Prevent Water Damage to Your Home

Water is constantly coursing through your home, flowing in and out of drain pipes, sinks, tubs, and showers. Numerous systems in our homes are dependent upon water, but the minute it runs rampant it begins to cause damage. The consequences of water damage run the gamut, from rotted drywall and mold growth to serious structural issues. The following guide will help you understand what you can do to prevent water damage in your home.

 

How to Prevent Water Damage

Leaks

Leaks soften wood, which invites all sorts of unwanted activity from termites, while simultaneously creating a perfect habitat for mold and mildew growth. To prevent leaks, keep your drains healthy by frequently cleaning out your drain strainers and refraining from dumping grease down your drains. Check to make sure none of your drains are leaking and if need be, repair or replace your p-traps. Drips, dark stains around your pipes, and discoloration on your ceilings and walls are all strong indicators that a leak has sprung. If you notice an inexplicable spike in your water bill, this is also a sign of a potential leak. By identifying these signs, you can begin repairs right away and stop the water damage in its tracks.

Gutter drainage

A home with weak gutter drainage is an open invitation for water damage to occur. Cleaning your gutters routinely is the best way to prevent them from clogging, which helps to avoid damage to your siding and foundation. Make sure your downspouts expel the gutter water away from your house parallel to the ground. Take a trip to the hardware store for downspout extensions and elbows to make sure that water won’t build up around your home’s foundation, especially if you live in a rainy climate.

Sump pump

Your sump pump can be your saving grace should a water emergency occur. Sump pumps move excess groundwater away from your home, preventing it from infiltrating your basement or crawl space. They are connected to the Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) electrical outlet, which protects it from electrical shorts. There are two ways to test your sump pump. The first is by pouring in enough water to raise the float. If it’s working properly, the pump should activate and begin removing water from its pit. The other method is to unplug the pump’s power and plug it back in. If it does not turn on, it requires repair or replacement.

More

There are some additional steps you can take to prevent water damage to your home. Inspect your roof to identify any damaged shingles or cracks. While you’re up on the roof, take a look at your chimney. Repair any cracked or broken bricks and consider a chimney cap if you don’t already have one in place.

 

Water damage can be harmful to your home and your finances. Even the smallest leak can snowball into larger problems if neglected. By following the steps to prevent water damage, you’ll know if your home needs repairs before it’s too late. For more advice on preventing damage to your home, read our guides to wildfire and winter storm prevention.

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