Spring To-Do List

I created a list of things to do around the house that I want to get done sometime in the spring.  Here’s a rundown of each one and where it stands:

  1. Basement Cleaning and Reorganization – Over the winter, I kicked off a project to clean up and organize the basement.  This involved setting up some additional shelving, re-organizing and discarding lots of old computer equipment, books, and other items, many of which were never properly dealt with when we moved into the house in 2007.  I’m proud to say that I worked on this one right off the bat and that this is DONE
  2. Replace backup sump pump battery – We have a sump pump that runs a lot in the springtime and during heavy rains.  There’s a battery driven backup system.  I noted that it no longer works, so I took the battery out and need to purchase, install, and test a new marine battery for the backup system.  IN PROCESS
  3. Repair and repaint bathroom ceiling – Some of the paint was peeling after twelve years of showers and steam (and a not very well located exhaust fan).  In order to avoid potential mold damage or drywall failure, I’m patching areas, re-priming and re-painting the ceiling in the master bath.  I’ve been working through this and expect to be done soon.  IN PROCESS
  4. Repair and repaint damaged bathroom wall – A towel bar was never installed properly and when I attempted to repair it by moving the anchor holes over, it didn’t work and created a hole in the wall instead.  I’m installing a hook on the bathroom door in lieu of the towel rack, and have worked on repairing the hole, and am planning on priming and re-painting at the same time as the ceiling work.  IN PROCESS


  5.  Unclog master bath sink drain – The drain from the sink has been running slow pretty much since we moved in.  Drano helps but only for a little bit of time.  I need to unclog the line or replace the drain.
  6. Clean window blinds – We have fifteen windows with standard horizontal blinds that haven’t been thoroughly cleaned since we moved in and the dustings and quick wipes are no longer cutting it.  I need to take them down and clean them.  Any suggestions on the best way would be appreciated.
  7. Clean inside windows – While the blinds are down, I want to clean the windows with non-streak glass cleaner.  The outsides are professionally done.
  8. Re-paint shutters – I painted the shutters two years ago and I guess I have my answer on how often they should be re-painted.
  9. Re-paint front door / garage entry door – The front door is painted the same color as the shutters and has actually suffered the majority of the fading since it gets lots of afternoon sun so I’ll do this in conjunction with the shutters.
  10. Assemble swing set – My in-laws had a neighbor that was losing her house last year, and had a swing set only a couple of years old that her kids had played with.  She offered it to us via my in-laws, saying all we had to do was disassemble it.  It’s currently in pieces on my in-laws patio, so we want to put it together and paint it so that Baby Beagle has a swing set to play on, which will be nice especially when he gets older.
  11. Clean deck – I want to thoroughly wash our deck to remove some of the grime that has appeared since I painted it last year, as I’ve been advised that washing it will extend the life of the paint job.
  12. Clean garage – I do a re-org and cleanup every spring and fall (at the minimum), so it’ll be time to do that soon!
  13. Clean out dryer line – Good thing to do to prevent dryer fires.
  14. Hang clock – My grandmother had an old antique clock that I’ve always cherished.  I have to mount this on the wall and put a couple of pieces back together….and then remember to wind it regularly!

It’s quite a list, but I’ve already got a head start on some of the bigger items, and some (like the clock and the cleaning of the deck and garage) can be knocked out pretty quickly.  I’ll keep an update of how things are going.

How Did Our Painted Deck Hold Up After A Winter?

Probably my biggest around-the-house project in the summer of 2009 was stripping and repainting our deck.

We have a fairly large wooden deck, probably around 400-500 square feet.

When we moved into our house in 2007, the painted deck was beginning to flake. 2008 showed some definite wear, and I probably should have done the re-finish project then, but I put it off another year.

In 2009, I set forth to strip off the flaking paint and re-paint it.

I used a power washer to pull up most of the paint and dirt that had accumulated.  A few days of dry weather allowed things to settle down.

I purchased Cabot Paint specifically blended for exterior use.  I had done some homework and found some reviews that suggested that Cabot was durable and that many people were quite satisfied.  I had read quite a few negative reviews about Behr paint on decks, which I discovered (from a couple of cans tucked away in the garage) was what had previously been used.

The project went well.  It took two coats.  Our biggest surprise was that, unbeknownst to me, I had picked out a color that had a slight red hue, and it was quite bright after the painting.  Luckily, within a couple of weeks, the color dulled a bit and it actually turned out to be quite a nice color.  I wanted something other than plain brown, and because it had been painted in the past, the idea of applying stain or sealer was pretty much out the window.

Things looked good throughout the summer but I was really concerned to see how the deck held up after a winter.  My research during buying had shown that most of the problems that people had with decks beginning to flake took place after a full winter.  So, while things held up for the summer, I knew the first test would be after a fall and spring.

One of the things I did was to keep the deck fairly clear of leaves during the fall.  We’re lucky enough to have quite a few trees in our backyard, but that means leaves everywhere.  I had read that leaves breaking down (especially after getting wet) is pretty bad for decks, so I made sure to use my leaf blower a couple of times a week during the fall to keep the deck cleared off.

We didn’t have a lot of snow this winter, but we did have a few small snowfalls and a couple of major snowfalls which left snow cover for weeks afterward.

While I know we could get more snow, I am happy to say that everything with the deck looks pretty good so far!  I did a basic inspection and didn’t see any spots of flaking.

When I did my research for Cabot, some people said that they got an extra year in between refinishes (the average time is two or three years, and many people reported three or four years as their timeframe).  If I could get three years between significant breakdown, that would make my next repainting effort in 2012, and I’d be fine with that.  2013 would be even better!

Our War Against The Chipmunks

This is the third summer season that we’ve been in our house. I really don’t count the first one (2007) because we moved in late June, so we barely had a handle on things and I really didn’t know a lot of what was going on.
That year, I did the basics, mowing the grass weeds and pulling weeds from the beds. But, it was only last year that I really started working on really making the outside look better. I attacked the weeds that were filling in the grass and made it look like a real lawn again, mulched the beds, and we also got some flowers to adorn our deck.
The flowers themselves didn’t do so hot, and it turns out we weren’t getting the right type of flowers for the type of sun we got.
So, this year rolls around and we went to the nursery, armed with the knowledge of what flowers would thrive on our deck. We bought them, planted them, and watched with glee as they thrived.
At first.
Now, they aren’t looking so hot. Well, at least the yellow pansies that we have aren’t looking so good. The other flowers (mostly geraniums) are doing OK.
It turns out that the chipmunks are the culprit.
That’s right, chipmunks. Alvin, Simon, Theodore, and they’re host of friends and family.
After the winter thaw, I noticed some strange holes in the ground in the front planting ed under the tree. I figured something was underground, and sure enough, my suspicions were confirmed when the hole kept re-appearing after I filled it in. I even placed a rock that weighed a few pounds on top, only to find it moved.
After keeping an eye on things and consulting with my father and father-in-law, I confirmed that we had chipmunks.

I decided our property needed to be ridded of these beasts. Initially, I had done some research and found that an effective way of eliminating them is to drown them. A five gallon bucket of water with sunflower seeds placed over the water, and a small ramp so they can get to the top is a pretty effective way to get them. They love sunflower seeds, they go to get them, fall in, and that’s all she wrote.
Unfortunately, my wife made me feel so guilty about this plan that I decided against it.
Instead, my father-in-law loaned me one of his traps. The idea being that I would trap them and take them elsewhere. While releasing animals isn’t exactly legal where I live, it is more humane than killing them off.
So, I started setting the trap and caught eight of the little buggers (as well as one really annoyed squirrel) and released them a couple of miles away. Still, I knew that we weren’t rid of them as I still saw them around occasionally.
But, I got lazy as I got tied up with other projects, including staining the deck.
The deck staining involved me moving the flower pots out of the way underneath trees and what not. Apparently, this attracted the chipmunks to ’sample’ the flowers, because when we went to put the flower pots back on the deck, it was with sadness that we noted that our yellow pansies, which previously had been taking over the pots, were now largely wilted messes.
At first, we attributed this to the heat wave that we had last week, when temps were in the 90’s.
Still, the condition didn’t improve even with extra watering and fertilizing, and I couldn’t figure out the deal.
Until a couple of days ago, when I looked outside and saw a chipmunk reach up and yank on the flower, tearing pieces off and uprooting it from the soil.
I actually went outside and chased it off the deck, but either it or another one was back at it a bit later.
I have cayenne pepper spray repellent that is supposed to keep the animals away. I sprayed that on the flowers, and tried my best to replant them (though not sure if they’re too damaged yet or not).
After my wife saw this, she was finally understanding of why I wanted to rid our property of these pests. Prior to that, I think she watched with some level of amusement as I was catching and transporting them, but after seeing what they were doing to her flowers, she was all for the war to continue. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if she opened up to the bucket idea!
So, I went back to trying to catch them last night. My father-in-law caught 25 or so before it slowed down, so I could have a ways to go.
Last night was the first time I went back to setting the trap, but was unfortunately not able to catch any. The reason, heavy winds in the area that kept tripping the trap.
I’ll have to try again.
Let’s hope that we can ‘re-locate’ the chipmunks and save our flowers!

What We Do To Make Things Greener

Today is Earth Day, and it gave me pause to reflect on things that we do around our household to be environmentally conscious:

  • Use CFL bulbs – Most lamps and overhead lights in our house have CFL bulbs. We just put a new lamp in the nursery the other day, and I insisted that we purchase a CFL bulb. Luckily, Meijer (our local grocery store) had them on sale for 50% off to celebrate Earth Day so on top of being good for the planet, we saved money too!
  • Use our energy saving washing machine – When we moved in, we debated whether to get the less expensive traditional washer or the more expensive energy and water saving washer. We opted for the more expensive type, and it definitely uses a lot less water and energy. In fact, it will probably pay for the difference many times over depending on the life of the machine.
  • Use reusable shopping bags for groceries – Not only do they reduce plastic consumption, the great thing about these is that they fit as much as normally goes in 2-3 plastic bags, so instead of lugging in 8 or 9 bags a week, we typically fit just about everything in our 3 reusable bags.
  • Use a programmable thermostat – We had one when we moved in, but if we hadn’t, I would have put one in anyways had there not been one.
  • Set the thermostat lower in the winter – We’ve dialed down to a maximum temperature of 68. While it can be colder, we have learned to make sure to keep our sweatshirts handy to bundle up.
  • Recycle, recycle, recycle – Our city just began to participate in Recycle Bank, which was just featured on Oprah’s Earth Day show today. In addition to taking more types of products than any recycling program I’ve seen (as an example they take plastics 1-7, not just 1-2 like most recycling), they partner up with local and national merchants to offer rewards based on how much you recycle. As an example, you can ‘purchase’ gift cards to various restaurants or retailers like Target. They have a widget that keeps track of how much or recycling to date weighs, how many trees we’ve saved, and how many gallons of oil we’ve prevented used, but it was wreaking havoc on my site. Perhaps I’ll attempt to incorporate it when I re-design the site later in the spring.
  • Use containers for lunch – I take my lunch in a re-usable bag, and also have Rubbermaid containers for my sandwich, fruit, and carrots. We made the switch after realizing the cost, both to the environment and to our pocketbook, of using multiple plastic bags every day.
  • We added insulation to our attic – This reduces the amount of heat and air conditioning we need, and saves us money.
  • Borrow books from the library – Instead of buying lots of books that I read once, maybe twice, I’m using something that will get repeated use.
  • Wasting less food – We rarely let food go bad, wasting resources for food that’s never eaten. I used to be a lot worse at this when I was single and living alone.
  • I have a water bottle at work – I bought a stainless steel water that I re-fill at work instead of taking a bottle of water.

There is room for improvement. I would like to do other things as well, including:

  • Using natural fertilizer – I use the traditional fertilizer to keep our lawn green and weed free, but I’d like to switch to a more natural solution. Right now, they’re quite price prohibitive and not as effective, but I’m sure time will help with both of these.
  • Use more natural cleaners – Especially with baby on the way, some of the harsh cleaners are also not the best for the environment
  • Cut out paper towels – Right now, we use paper towel for cleaning and a lot of everyday usage. I hope that in a year from now I can say that we have drastically reduced our consumption of paper towel
  • Reduce our battery consumption – This one could be tough. We’re expecting the baby in a few weeks, and everything used to entertain the baby seems to run on batteries, and what I’m finding is that they all say not to use rechargeable batteries. I’m not sure why, but have started looking into this. I would dread having to buy the amount of batteries that I envision needing, only to have them be single use.

Overall I’m happy with our efforts to ‘go green’ though I know that there is a lot more that we could be doing.

Our Energy And Water Saving Washing Machine

When we moved into our house last summer, we had to purchase a new washer and dryer. I owned a condo before we bought our house, and had a traditional (top loading) washing machine and a matching dryer. But, I had to leave them behind as the offer for the condo stipulated that I had to leave the washer and dryer. Given that the real estate market was already soft, I was more than willing to include this.
Once we started looking, it was apparent that the biggest decision would be whether to go with a top loader or one of the ‘newer’ front loading washing machines. The up front cost of the front loader is much higher, often $400 or more difference.
The main benefit, however, is that they are much more energy efficient and use a lot less water and a lot less energy than a top loader. Up to 65% less in both cases. That’s many less gallons of water wasted per year, as well as a lot less energy usage.
In the end, we decided to go with the front loading machines. I’m happy to say that we are pleased with the purchase. The part that makes me happiest is that the water usage difference is significant and is more of an impact because of the water rates in our city.
For some reason, the cost of water in our city is one of the highest in the area. Since we moved in, we’ve been hit with increases of 15% and 12%. Therefore, it became apparent that any way we could save water is welcome. I would have very much regretted it if we would have chosen the top loading machine.
When we purchased the machines, one of the salesman told us that the top loaders will most likely be phased out over the next few years. I don’t know if that was just ’salesman’ talk, but in these days of trying to save energy, this would make sense. After all, I have also heard from numerous sources that the incandescent bulb is expected to be phased out within the next 5-10 years in the interest of energy conservation.
As water and energy become more expensive and more valuable, it would only stand to reason that a gradual switch to front loading, energy efficient washing machines would also make sense. In our case, the difference is huge, and as we expect to use the washer even more once Baby Beagle comes, the savings will continue to add up.

Saving Money By Mulching The Leaves

We have a lot of trees on our property, and so the fall brings lots and lots of leaves.
I’ve been raking them and bagging them, but my pack of 25 bags that I bought at Costco ran out last week, and I forgot to buy more. I started wondering if I could just mulch them instead with my mulching lawn mower. I did a little research and found that mulching leaves can be very beneficial to the lawn as it will provide nutrients.
I’ve since read additional information that helps me believe that using the mulching mower is not a bad thing. Unknown to us, there are still earthworms in the ground that will use the mulched leaves to create valuable nutrients that will help the lawn next spring.
So, this past week I actually used the mower and it looks great. The mower shreds the leaves a lot smaller than I would have guessed, and it saved me from having to buy more yard waste bags.
Some highlights from the article, others that I’ve read, and from my own personal experience:

  • It’s better to mulch leaves when they’re dry. Mine were still damp from a rainfall the previous night. If they’re damp, you just have to go slower to let the mower have more time to mulch
  • If there are too many leaves, you should probably stick to raking. When you cut your grass and it leaves clumps, that means it’s probably too high and you should bag it. The same principle applies to mulching leaves. If they’re more than an inch thick, the mower probably won’t be effective at mulching them and it’d be better to rake and bag.
  • You can collect the mulch and spread it around other areas. Apparently a layer of mulch a couple of inches thick around bushes and flower beds will also help provide nutrients to those areas.
  • I probably wouldn’t mulch every time since we have so many trees. I figure if I never collected the leaves, I might be placing too much mulch down would not be doing any benefit after a while. I’d recommend mulching no more often than every other time.

Happy raking and mulching!

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My City Government Is Helping Residents Save Money

One of the things that was new to me when we bought our house last year was having to pay for garbage pickup. Prior to that, I had lived in a condo and so the garbage pickup was included in the monthly association fees.
When we were buying our house, I investigated and found that garbage pickup in our city was up to each individual household. There are five trash haulers licensed in the city, and our subdivision has a recommendation of using one of the five haulers. I signed up with them.
The cost varies with fuel costs, but most recently the cost was approximately $80 for three months, or approximately $27 per month.
I was surprised that there wasn’t a single trash hauler, and did a little bit of research on the subject. I found that the residents had actually voted it down a few years back. The details in the archive news stories were a little sketchy, but I think that the residents were nervous about it being an additional tax, some didn’t like the government ‘taking it over’, and yet other residents didn’t want to pay because they don’t use the service all year. A lot of retired people in Michigan are ’snowbirds’ and spend the winters in warmer climates such as Florida or Arizona. Many of these people felt it would be cheaper for them to pay as you go.
Recently, I heard that the city council has been inundated with requests from residents to consider this again. The costs have gone up tremendously versus what it was a couple of years ago. Plus, the fact that there were multiple haulers meant multiple trucks. This added to traffic, wear and tear on the roads, and the general displeasure of having to look at garbage on the curb as well as listen to garbage trucks going by.
Apparently, the city council is bypassing the city vote. Instead of rolling it into the taxes, they’re basically still making residents pay the garbage hauler, but they’re eliminating all but one of the trash haulers licensed in the city. People that leave for the winter can turn the service off, with a nominal re-activation fee in the spring.
And, the price for three months will be $45. That’s $35 every quarter, or $140 saved per year. That’s nothing to sneeze at. Even people that leave for four or five months will save for the time that they’re using the service. Plus, we’ll have one day of trash pickup in our subdivision, less wear on the roads, and I believe they actually provide better service. They’ll take more recycling than they do now, they’ll provide residents with larger trash bins and recycle bins, and they’ve agreed to purchase all new equipment.
For us, the hauler that was chosen is the same one we’re using, so I’m hopeful that the transition will be relatively seamless when it happens.
I can’t really see a problem with this and am glad that our city government is helping our residents save money.