Our 2018 Fall To-Do List

Fall is here.  We definitely enjoy the cooler weather.  We’ve already had a great cider mill experience.  We have a fridge drawer full of apples from picking.  It’s a great time of year.  Although summer is my favorite season, fall is a great time. But, it’s not all fun and relaxing.  There is work to be done!  Here are some items on our fall to-do list.

Paint Swing Set

It’s been at least seven years since I last painted the kids swing set.  It definitely needs it.  This will honestly probably be the last time it gets painted.  It’s a wood set and water always breaks down wood.  Still, maybe this will get at least a few more years until they naturally grow out of the set.

Till The Flower Bed

We have a flower bed in front of the house that needs work.  There are nearby trees.  The roots from the trees have made the soil pretty hard.  After pulling the flower, I need to till the soil.  This should help for spring.  The flowers haven’t done as well as they used to.  I am hoping that some loosened soil will help next spring.

Fill In Grass Seed

I went through and put seed over some spots where the grass has gone down to bare soil.  I need to check if there are any remaining areas.

Fertilize The Grass

The pre-winter application helps keep the weeds down in the spring.  I have the fertilizer.  I’m just waiting until the new grass gets established before I apply it.

Sell Strollers

We have several strollers in the garage.  They are perfectly good, but we have no more need for them.  It’s time to clean them off and list them on Facebook Marketplace.

Organize Our Camper Stuff

As I mentioned, we sold our camper.  All of the inside stuff is neatly organized and in bins.  But, the outside stuff is in a big pile inside the garage.  Now, I need to get some additional shelving and store it properly.

Put Away Patio Stuff

Our glass table can’t sit out as is during the winter.  I tried it once and the snow was too heavy, and the glue that holds the glass to the frame became fatigued and had to be completely re-done.  So, I have to store it either in the basement or under the deck.

Trim Down The Perennials

We have quite a few perennials that need to be trimmed back.  So, some of them may need to eventually be removed.  We have some rose bushes that, no matter what I do, just look worse and worse every year.  It might be time to try something different.

Get Rid Of Old Computers

This really isn’t tied to fall but just something I want to do.  I have several old laptop and desktop machines.  But, I don’t use them. They are way too old to be sold.  I need to make sure to get any data from them and dispose of them properly.  I am just tired of things like that taking up space unnecessarily.

Start Planning For Christmas

It’d be nice to get a jump on the holidays.  They always seem to sneak up.  I’ve already encouraged the kids to start writing down items they might want for their lists.  Ideally, it’d be nice to go through our stuff and identify anything we might need.  Additionally, setting early shopping plans and budgets will only make things easier when the busy season hits.

That’s our list, though I’m sure it will get bigger.  What’s on your fall to-do list for the year?

9 Tips To Take Care Of Your Roof

We replaced our roof a few years ago.  It cost us a lot of money.  Chances are if you own a home for a long period of time, you’ll have to replace the roof.  Once you do, you’ll want to keep it lasting for as long as possible.  With winter just a few months away, give your roof some attention.  A few easy tips and you can extend the life of your roof.  This can save you thousands in the long run.  Here are some tips to take care of your roof.

Inspect It Regularly

I don’t get up on my roof regularly.  However, I do walk around and check things out regularly.  I will look things over every spring.  After a big windstorm, I always walk around.  So far I haven’t noticed any problems, which is great.  However, if there did happen to be a problem, early detection and repair is key.

Keep Your Gutters Clean

We have a lot of tall trees around our home.  Every year the leaves clog the gutters.  I don’t enjoy paying to have the gutters cleaned, but I do anyway.  Clogged gutters can increase your chances of ice dams under the shingles.  Gutters that are clear will allow water to drain off properly.

Keep Trees Trimmed

As I mentioned above, we have many mature trees.  We keep them trimmed regularly.  One of the things I had done during trimming is to have branches close to the roof removed.  I don’t want them scratching against the roof.  Nor do I want branches or twigs falling loose onto the roof.

Remove Debris

If something does land on your roof, make sure it gets removed.  Moisture can form underneath anything that sits on your roof for a long period of time.  Getting up on your roof isn’t fun, nor is paying someone to do so.  However, if you need your roof cleared of something, you may have to bite the bullet.

Stay Off The Roof As Much As Possible

Try to stay off the roof if at all possible.  As mentioned above, there might be times when you need to get up there.  However, try to stay off of it.  People traipsing around will just create additional wear and tear.  This can shorten the life of your roof.  Additionally, many roofs have materials which are meant to reduce spotting or mildew.  Anytime you get on the roof, you knock some of this material off.  So, stay off the roof if you can.

Don’t Mess With The Structure Below

A co-worker of mine once had an attic fan installed.  Without their knowledge, the installers cut through part of a truss.  A roofer later told them that this was bad as the trusses are installed in a way to evenly distribute the load.  They ended up having to take on an expensive repair to reinforce their structure.  Make sure anything you have installed, such as attic fans or solar panels, don’t modify the support structure of the roof itself.

Leave The Snow On The Roof

Going along with the item above, it’s usually best to leave snow alone.  There is the occasional snowfall that does require removal, but most of the time, the roof can handle heavy snowfalls.  Homeowners that attempt to rake or shovel the snow off often cause unnecessary harm to their roof.  If you are nervous about the snow on your roof, call a roofer.

Ventilate Your Attic

When we had our roof redone, our roofer added more soffet vents.  He said that code dictated how many vents need to be installed during construction.  Builders follow this. However, this is way short of what roofing manufacturers recommend.  More ventilation keeps the attic space from overheating.  It also reduces moisture buildup from underneath.

Hire Professionals

If you have any work done tied to the recommendations above, hire professionals.  Whether it’s someone working on your roof or someone that will come in contact with it, professionals are much more used to being up on a roof.  Solid pros will know how to do their work with the roof in mind.  They should also be insured in the event that anything does happen.

To properly take care of your roof, these are practices I follow.  I hope that they’re helpful.  Everyone wants a long lasting and healthy roof.  After all, the roof is what covers us up!

Readers, what do you do for your roof?  What tips do you have to take care of your roof?  Let me know in the comments below.

How Many Trips To The Hardware For A Small Plumbing Project?

One of the joys of having a nearly 15 year old camping trailer is that things break often.  Recently, we discovered a minor drip from the interior water system.  The drip was from a section of plumbing that was replaced just last year, so I was well familiar with the process.  Or so I thought.  This is the story of how many trips to the hardware it took to fix one drip!

The Broken Part

Near the hot water tank in most RVs, there’s a whole series of valves and connections.  This is so that you can bypass the hot water heater when it comes time to get things prepared for winter.  Last spring, several sections of pipes and valves broke.  This included the supply line into the water heater.

We replaced it with PEX piping and new valves, most of which are called Sharkbite.  These are cool.  It allows you to push the PEX in without clamping or crimping.  When you want to disconnect it, you have a small tool that pushes a lip over the ‘shark’ teeth, and the piping can be removed.  Easy peasy, right?  We’ll see!

Last year, because there were a few sections involved, it took a few hours.

However, this year, I noticed a drip in the supply line into the water heater.  It was just a minor drip but enough to form a puddle, so it needed to be fixed.

So, how many trips did it take?

First Trip – The One Crimped Valve

As I said above, we used mostly Sharkbite valves.  These don’t require any crimping.  But, the one section that goes into the heater requires a crimped pipe.  So, I decided to get this taken care of.  I had some leftover PEX, and drove over to the nearby hardware.  This is an old time hardware, and I love it.  It’s small but they seem to have everything.  Plus, they know their stuff!

I explained what I needed, picked out the valve, and was on my way in about 10 minutes.

At this point, I thought we had everything we needed.  I was wrong.

Second Trip – The Sharkbite That Wouldn’t Let Go

Sharkbite pulls apart pretty easily.  I tried it last year when I was putting it together.  I was smart.  You know how?  I even kept the tool right there with the pipe in the event I would need it.  So when I did, I was proud that the tool was right there.

Except it didn’t work.

We were trying to remove pipe from an elbow, and it wouldn’t come loose.  I probably had pushed the pipe in too far into the elbow, and it just wouldn’t budge.  (Pushing this in too far was probably the cause of the leak, as is my best guess).

After about 15 minutes and some near damaged fingers, we decided to get a new elbow.

Off to the hardware we went.

This time, the salesman showed me a different version that he thought might work.  It was a couple bucks cheaper, and at first glance, would do the trick.  I decided to get it and took it home to see if it would work.

Guess what?  It wouldn’t work.

There’s an electrical box that sticks out just enough that it was in the way.  My father-in-law and I had both forgotten about it.

Third Trip – The Original Elbow

So, off we went to get the replacement for the original elbow we should have gotten all along.

This was a pretty quick trip in and out.  I thought we had it straightened out.

Except.  We didn’t.

Fourth Trip – The Wrong Right Angle

Once we got back and started getting to work on cutting, my father-in-law noticed a problem.  Remember back in the First Trip when I got the part crimped to the pipe.  Turns out, I’d gotten the wrong one.  I got a valve that came out and then bent at a 90-degree angle before it was crimped.

It was supposed to be straight.


By this time, I was getting frantic.  It was 5:50 and the hardware closed at 6:00.

Lucky, it’s only a few minutes away and we made it in by 5:55.  They were laughing by now.

After getting the right piece and getting it crimped, we were out by 6:01.

I made a joke that the credit card company would start declining the purchase.  He said that they wouldn’t, because they would be coded as Plumbing purchases.  And he then said that the average number of trips for any plumbing project was 3.5.  He said that there was always three, plus usually one thing you remember in the parking lot for the ‘half’.

I guess I was only off by a half.

Install – A Breeze!

All of that took us about 1 hour and 45 minutes.  This was a lot longer than I’d anticipated.  Once we got back, cutting and installing the pipe took about 15 minutes.

Yep, it took about 7 times longer just to gather the materials than it did for the actual install.

I guess that sounds about right, too!

In the end, the leak is no more.  For now.  Let’s hope that it doesn’t return.  And, if it does, well at least I know what to expect!

Readers, what’s been your highest trip count to the hardware for a simple project?  Tell me some of your favorite DIY stories in the comments.  Thanks for reading.


DTE Insight v3 Review: A Big Step Back

Like many power companies, our local company rolled out smart meters a few years ago.  These smart meters are in constant communication with the power company.  Benefits for this include real-time monitoring capabilities and the elimination of meter reads.  Drawbacks are, according to some, increased exposure to RF radiation as the communication takes place.  Like it or not, they are here to stay. Our company, DTE Energy, made it really cool. They came up with a device called an Energy Bridge and an app called DTE Insight that allowed real time monitoring of your usage. They recently rolled out DTE Insight v3.  Here’s my review.

Energy Bridge and DTE Insight

The Energy Bridge and the DTE Insight app went hand in hand.  With the app, any electric customer could monitor their usage.  It provided breakdowns by day, week, and month.  You typically had access to your statistics after a day or two.  With the Energy Bridge device, it moved this up to real-time.  This device had a data connection that you plugged into your home router. It paired with your electric meter, and you could view your usage in real time.

It’s a really cool bit of technology.  On many occasions, I would pull up the app, and literally go around the house, turning things on or off, or plugging or unplugging devices to see how much energy it used.

It was wicked cool

And, because I signed up when it first came out, it was free!

Widespread Rollout

After a couple of years, they announced that they would be making this available to everybody.  Apparently once they ran out of the initial devices, that was it.

Existing customers received notice that a brand new device would be coming our way, replacing the first device.  The new devices were wi-fi capable, which was a definite plus.  So far as I can tell, that was about the only improvement.

Still, the device came, and after getting it configured, it was back to business as usual.

Trouble On The Horizon

One of the things their rollout e-mail promised was that we would soon have an updated app to use.  I was curious so I went on the Google Play Store to see what I could find.

It wasn’t good.

The reviews of the updated app were lukewarm at best.  One common complaint was that the newer version of the app took away a lot of features.

I guess I was skeptical of this, because why would any developer take away features?

Well, turns out that they were right.

The New DTE Insight v3 Sucks

The old version of the app (v2.3.7) will no longer be supported.  Customers who want to use their Energy Bridge have to upgrade or it won’t work.

I have automatic updates turned on for my apps, so one recent morning I saw that I’d received the newer version of the app.  How did I know? Well, the icon was missing from my front page but I found it in my Apps folder, and the icon was different than before.

I had a feeling that the fact that it didn’t put the icon back wasn’t a good sign.

Turns out, I was right.

First, the new app made me log in again.  I can’t stand when apps do this.  Unless it’s a financial app or app that can be used to compromise my identity, I want to set it and forget it.  But, no big deal, I soon supplied my username and password and I was in.  It kept the connection to my Energy Bridge device, which I guess was good.

But, then I started noticing how awful this app is.  I realized after about two minutes that none of the reviews were exaggerating.

Pretty much every feature I’d found helpful in the old app was gone.

Missing Features

  • Current Day Access to Real Time Data – In the old app, you could press and hold a circle and move it around and it would show you your usage for any point in the day.  Now, that was gone.  I could see my real time data, but trying to go back a few hours was a no-go.
  • Historical Data – The old app showed pretty much every bit of historical data you could think of.   I could compare any month to the last twelve months, or even go back over a year.  The new app has no historical data whatsoever.
  • Budget and Usage Goals – In the old app, you could set your goals based on historical data.  I always set that I wanted to keep my usage at the same level as the same month a year ago.  But, since they got rid of the historical data, the ability to goal set is gone as well.  How lame.
  • Challenges – The old app had some different challenges, and when you made them you were awarded points.  For example, if you checked your usage on three different days, you’d often get a couple hundred points.  If you kept your usage under a certain amount for the week, that was good for a few hundred points.  The challenges changed weekly.  They were cool.  You didn’t really get anything for them, but it was still something to shoot for.  These have all vanished.

Adding Insult to Injury: They Are Charging For This

All of the above is bad, but to top it off, they’re now charging for anyone that wants an Energy Bridge device.  They will start charging 99 cents per month.  Now, since I was a user of the old device, I get six months for free.  Which is good, because otherwise I’d be sending that thing back today.

I find it really amazing to think that they would strip away so many features, and then turn around and call it an upgrade.  My guess is that this is probably a brand new app, so technically they’re starting from scratch.  But you know what?  That’s no excuse for rolling out something so terrible.

Because of the fact that I’m getting this for six months, I guess I’ll hold onto it for now.  But simply put, DTE Insight v3 is awful.  Hopefully by December they are on a newer version that brings back the features I found handy.  If not, I have a feeling they’ll be getting a lot of these things sent back.  Mine would be one of them.

Readers, do you have any devices or systems that allow you real time monitoring of your utility usage? Would you pay for such a thing?  

Musings On Smoke Alarm Batteries

The switch to Daylight Savings Time was about a month ago.  This is the traditional time to change smoke alarm batteries. Though I’m a little late, I thought it’d be a change to talk about a few questions that have come to mind.  Yes, I actually think of such things.

And since this is a few weeks past the switch, maybe it’ll remind some stragglers!

Do You Change Your Batteries Twice Per Year?

The traditional advice is that you change your batteries around the time switch.  This would mean changing them twice per year.  I’m curious how many actually do that.  And, given that they changed the dates a few years back, the times are no longer even at all.   Daylight Savings Time lasts almost eight months now.  That’s hardly even.

However, I personally don’t change ours twice per year.  I change them only once, around spring time.  All of our smoke alarms are hard wired, so the battery is a backup. Even if a battery did go bad, it would start chirping.  So far, the once per year schedule has never yielded a run down battery.  In fact, I’ve taken the batteries from smoke detectors and used them for other things, and they’ve lasted a long time.

My guess is that I could go much longer than a year on hard wired devices.  I’m not going to chance that. I’m curious how many change their batteries twice per year?

What About When There’s No Daylight Savings Time

Some places don’t observe Daylight Savings Time.  They simply don’t change their clocks in the spring or in the fall.  I guess there’s enough hype that people probably hear about it anyway.  But, I’ve also heard that there are more and more places that want to get rid of it.  What if it went away altogether? Would our built-in reminder to change batteries be put at risk?

Is Battery Changing A Business Opportunity?

It crossed my mind that there are probably many people that can’t change their batteries.  Older people or disabled people might not be comfortable or even able to change batteries. The enteprenuer in me wondered if this could be a business opportunity.

I did a few Google searches and it looks like some people do offer this, but typically alongside other services.  This makes sense, because I guess it’s pretty hard to build an entire buisness model around something that would see peak demand for only a few days per year.

Still, interesting concept.

What About Changing Smoke Alarms?

This year, I changed out most of the smoke alarms.  They say you’re supposed to change them out every ten years.  I’m guessing ours were much older than that.  We’ve lived in the house 10 years and the house was 8 years old when we moved in.  So we probably should have done this sooner.

It was a little more involved of a process. We have eight smoke alarms.  Technically, we didn’t replace all of them, as I only replaced six.  One smoke alarm was added a couple of years ago when we finished off a basement room.  Another had recently been replaced because it did go bad.  But I replaced the other six.  It has a sticker where you’re supposed to write the year it was installed.  So that’ll be a reminder for when it’s time to replace them again.

When was the last time you replaced your alarms?

Sometimes You Tear Your Hair Out

This story goes back a ways but it’s still worth sharing. My previous residence did not have smoke alarms in the bedrooms as it wasn’t code when my condo was built.  So, I’d purchased battery only alarms and kept them in the bedrooms.  I didn’t install them, they just sat around.  When I moved, I threw them into a box and forgot about them.

Fast forward several years and I could hear a smoke alarm chirping somewhere in the house.  I never took the battery out and had stashed it away in some drawer.  It took me a few days to figure that out (it was in the basement) but maybe that helps answer the question on how long a battery really lasts!


Smoke alarms might not seem like the most exciting thing, but they’re so important.  Many people die every year in house fires.  So many stories that I’ve read talk about how it was discovered that there were no working smoke alarms.   I don’t want me or anyone I know to be a victim.

If you haven’t spent the few minutes to make sure your smoke alarms work and have working batteries, please do so.  It could be the difference between life and death!

Letting Go

Have you ever had something that you held onto that you knew you shouldn’t have?  Eventually the time came for letting go.  For me, the recent example of that was my old artificial Christmas tree.

My First Adult Christmas Thing

I had the tree in question since 1996.  That was the year I graduated from college.  So, that holiday season, I bought myself my very first tree.  It was nothing special.  It was probably around 7′ tall and fit nicely in our small apartment.

This was in the days before pre-lit trees.  The tree was in layers.  Each layer had about 7 or 8 branches that you stuck into the pole.  They were all color coded at the end so you knew which ones went where.

The tree did well for me.  It went up every single year.  For all of the years when I was single, it was my only tree.  I originally had a snowflake theme where most of my ornaments were snowmen.

There was one year after a breakup that I was not much in the holiday spirit.  I still put up the tree and put the lights on.  I just didn’t put on the ornaments.

One of the cats that I used to have was a huge fan of Christmas.  She actually got excited when the boxes came out.  During the time the tree was up, her favorite spot was to lay underneath.  When it came time to put the decorations away, she would purposefully get in the way.  I know that she loved the tree, too.

It was always a very nice tree with a good shape.  Because it went on in layers, I could always get lights on very evenly.  I would put one layer of branches on, then put the lights on, and move upward.  This was a trick my dad taught me.  It allowed lights to go on further back in the tree, which is the secret to getting lots of lights on a tree and having it look good.

Signs of Age

After we moved into our house, we got a bigger tree as our main tree in the living room.  Still, we started putting up multiple trees and this tree got relegated to the ‘second’ tree.  Then, we got a new tree for the family room and this became the ‘third tree’ that got put in the dining room.

By now, the tree was around 15 years old and was showing signs of age.  The tape on the box fell apart and had to be re-done.  A few of the branches were broken.  They had to be put towards the back.

The biggest issue was that the plastic needles started to fall off in mass quantity.  Putting up and taking down the tree literally covered the floor with needles.  In addition, one of the cats took a liking to licking up the needles.  Since they weren’t real, he’d throw up somewhere in the house.  I think he thought this was a fun game.  (It wasn’t)

The original stand that the tree came with broke.  The replacement stand never did the trick.  It held it up but the tree was always crooked one way or another.

Finally Letting Go

My wife found a deal on a new tree and convinced me it was time to let go.  We got a tree that matched another one we have.  We definitely like the way it looks.  Maybe in 10-15 years this tree will hold some nostalgia.  But for now the new tree is the one that pushed out my history.  Even though it was time to go, it was still a forlorn moment to discard the tree.

Of course the tree did give me one last smile.  After the tree was taken out of the house, I grabbed the broom and dustpan, and swept up the trail of needles that fell from the box.

Thanks for the memories, old tree.

Readers, what have you let go of lately?