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Featured Articles

Galvanized Pipes in Older Homes

My husband and I are buying an 80 year old home in Columbia, South Carolina, but we are not sure about the galvanized water pipes under the house, What is the life expectancy of these pipes?

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Galvanized pipes have a general life expectancy of 50 years, but this can be shortened considerably by the amount of minerals in the water supply. Columbia has naturally soft water, and galvanized pipes here tend to last longer. Other areas of the country such as Southern California have rather hard water, and as a consequence, galvanized pipes won’t last as long there. Two things happen to galvanized pipes as they age.

First, minerals tend to slowly build up on the inner walls of the pipe decreasing the inside diameter. In extreme cases, this can slow the water flow to a trickle.

The other common problem with galvanized pipes is corrosion at the joints. In the process of cutting the threads for the pipe fittings, the protective galvanizing is cut away exposing bare metal. Over time, these threaded joints will corrode and eventually break. In the case of your 80 year old house, if the pipes are original I would definitely consider replacing them. If you are not sure how old they are, I recommend that a qualified home inspector examine them and look for signs of corrosion at the fittings, and check for low water flow at all of the faucets.

Bathroom Remodeling Homecheck

Your bathroom is where you prep to start your day and where you wind down at the end of the day.

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Your bathroom is where you prep to start your day and where you wind down at the end of the day. From a nice hot shower to an at home spa, the bathroom is an important room in every home and to our daily lives. However, it can be the room most overlooked when it comes to decoration and/or remodeling. It shouldn't be. According to Contractors.com, remodeling your bathroom can yield an 80-90% return in the value of your home. Adding a new bathroom can also easily give you a 90% return in the value of your home. Improving this room can, therefore, be a savvy investment in your property. But it can be more than just a wise investment. Updating your bathroom can make this at home retreat more inviting and invigorating. Take the time to make a bright, friendly room to jump start your busy work day, and a calm, peaceful room to help you wind down in your own do-it-yourself spa retreat. Below, we provide some hints and tips for your bathroom makeover. Whether just changing a few decorations or completing a major remodel, we hope you will find something beneficial for your bathroom remodeling project.

Part I: Decoration Makeover & Small Remodel - This decoration makeover includes simple, do-it-yourself solutions for a quick update. Many of these changes could be done in one to two days. Some of these remodel items may take longer.

Make a Plan - The fist step to any decoration makeover or remodel is to set out a plan for the project.

  • Determine your budget and time. Both will help determine what you can do. You may need to consider doing the project in stages or altering your original ideas. Planning ahead will help make certain you do not end up with an unusable bathroom for weeks or even months!
  • Consider what the bathroom is lacking such as do you have enough functional space, storage space, lighting, etc.
  • Does the room have any items that need updating? This can anything from the toilet to the outdated wallpaper on the walls.
  • What do you envision for the space? Do you want a Zen retreat or a homey B&B feel to the room. Consider what you want the completed room to look like. Do you have anything in there that fits this idea now? Or will it be better to start from scratch?
  • How much experience do you have with remodeling. Are you limited to painting the walls and changing hardware? If some of your ideas seem over your head, you may want to consider hiring a contractor, plumber or electrician. For more information about a major remodel projects, see below.
  • Finally, if you want a change but are drawing a blank with ideas, consider hiring an interior designer. Some people are hesitant about hiring an interior designer because they think they have to use them all the way through. But indeed you can work with them to make a project plan and project manage the remodel yourself. Or you can also hire them to follow the entire project from start to finish.

Cabinets and Storage - You may want to replace or add to your existing bathroom cabinets.

  • Changing a mirror to a medicine cabinet can help add space above your sink.
  • Adding cabinets can help you store essentials for the bathroom from towels to extra soaps and supplies. There are many styles of cabinets available.
  • You can get stand alone cabinets or wall cabinets that fit above a sink or toilet that provide quite a bit of extra space. You can also consider changing your sink cabinet. A new design can offer an updated look and add more storage space to your bathroom. **You may wan to consider hiring a contractor for this type of work!

Walls - Is the paint or old wallpaper making the room too dark, out of date, or showing damage or spots from mildew?

  • Determine your new color scheme or theme for the room before painting or wallpaper goes up.
  • Give a fresh coat of paint on the walls! Wash the walls down first and check for mildew. Any light mildew will need sanding and bleaching. Then clean the entire surface to be painted with TSP solution. Although a bit shiner, you may want to consider a satin or even semi-gloss paint as these will make your walls easier to clean and more resistant to constant cleaning. Just keep in mind, the more glossy paint will show imperfections in the wall itself.
  • If you decide to wallpaper a bathroom, keep in mind the moisture content of the room. Also consider how often you may be cleaning certain walls near a sink or bathtub.
  • Consider combining a new coat of paint with a wallpapered trim!

Lighting - Again, how bright is the space? Is it too dark or too bright and harsh?

  • Replacing the light fixtures can help you add more soft light in your bathroom. Try to avoid glaring harsh lights as these can be very unappealing.
  • Consider two light switch options for the room: one to soft light for general use and the other to brighter light for applying makeup, etc.
  • Consider adding a solar tube or skylight for more natural lighting in the room. **You may want to consider hiring a contractor for this type of work!

Windows - If your bathroom has a window, consider if there are any updates needed to the window when coming up with your redesign plan.

  • If an older window, you might consider replacing the window with a newer one. Or you may want to add additional windows or change the style to bring in more natural light. **You may want to consider hiring a contractor for this type of work!
  • Does the window give enough privacy? You may want to consider updating blinds, curtains or frosting the window to provide more privacy to your bathroom.

Fan - If you have any problems with mildew or don't already have a fan, you may want to consider adding one to the room.

  • Many fans now include overhead lights and can add a more welcoming feature to the room than the loud eye-sores of past models.

Shower Curtain or Door - You can brighten your bathroom by changing your shower curtain or door.

  • Replacing an older shower curtain is a cheap way to help update the decor of your bathroom.
  • Installing a bath/shower door can help lighten the space of the room. This can also help make cleaning easier and cut down on mildew or damp spots if this has been a problem. Many times shower curtains will let condensed water sit or runoff the corners of your tub or shower. A well sealed bath/shower door can help.

Hardware - Changing out your old hardware can be one of the easiest updates to the bathroom.

  • Add a new towel rack or completely change the set to start a new color scheme with a brushed nickel, bronze etc.
  • You can add a spa feel to your bathroom by adding little upgrades like heated towel racks!

Faucet - Updating your sink faucets can help give the bathroom a facelift.

  • Sink faucets can be relatively easy to change out. If uncertain, take a class at a hardware store or hire a professional.
  • Changing the faucets in your bathtub can be a littler trickier. However, again a class or professional can help with this change.
  • If you have a showerhead, this can also be changed out to complete your new look and perhaps add a more spa like feel to the room.

Sink & Countertop - You may want to replace or refinish your sink.

  • If you are already replacing your sink cabinet you may replace the sink at the same time if you get an all-inclusive unit.
  • Consider adding another sink if you have the space. Many new vanities include a two sink option.
  • You may also consider changing the countertop if the sink itself is fine. There are many styles of laminate to choose from or you may change the template completely with a new cabinet.

Mirrors - A mirror is an essential item to every bathroom.

  • Consider updating your mirror if crackled or out of style.
  • How do you use your mirror? You may want to consider mirrors that hinge out to provide angles or depth when needed or one that offers different strengths of magnification.
  • Mirrors can also be decorative items! Mirrored sconces or tiles on the wall can help to give a dark corner light or a narrow space depth.

Refinishing & Liners - Refinishing or lining your tub can be a great way to make it look new once again.

  • You can refinish your own tub, but you will need a respirator, spray gun, sander, chemical cleaners and will need to also purchase an acrylic top coat. The actual refinishing product can be purchased as a kit. Keep in mind that there will be a 30-60 minute wait between about three coats of acrylic and a 24 hour set time. Needless to say, this will be a time consuming project that will take patience, clear ventilation, patience, time, and patience. **You may want to consider hiring a contractor for this type of work!
  • Another option is inserting a bathtub or shower liner. This is a task you can do by yourself with some careful planning and a few extra helping hands. There are also many dealers offering liners and installation for reasonable rates. **You may want to consider hiring a contractor for this type of work!

Tiling - Does your tiling need replacing? If you have the time and skill, this can be a great update to any bathroom.

  • Again, consider your timeline, budget and skill before taking on a task of this magnitude. Consider a deep clean. Giving your tile a good clean can help breathe new life into them. Some also find it beneficial to selectively replace specific tiles and re-grout lines rather than replacing the whole wall.
  • Consider this option if you are on a tight budget.
  • Make arrangements to be without your bathtub for a while if you plan to retile this area. Although the tiles and grout may set at specific times, you may need longer to work it out if taking it on as a do-it-yourself project.
  • If tiling/retiling a floor, consider how you are going to move the toilet and sink/sink cabinet or if you are going to tile around them.
  • Be patient with any tiling project, take it slow as this is something that should last a long time.

Vinyl Flooring - If tile flooring is not for you, you may want to consider replacing your existing vinyl flooring with an updated vinyl.

  • As with tile flooring, consider your timeline, budget and skill before taking on this task.
  • Consider how you are going to move the toilet, and sink/sink cabinet or if you are going to tile around them.
  • Again, consider taking a class at a local hardware store or hiring a professional if uncomfortable with this kind of work.

Part II: Major Remodel - This makeover includes major structural changes and updates. You may be more likely to need professional help. Also, this type of remodel may include obtaining specific building permits from your city or county.

Make a Plan - The fist step to any major remodel is to create a plan for the project.

  • Determine your budget and time. Planning ahead will prevent unforeseen expenses and help you obtain better estimates from professionals you may need to hire for the project.
  • You may need to get a building permit for some of your changes, especially if you are making major structural changes to the room.
  • Consider what the bathroom is lacking such as do you have enough functional space, storage space, lighting, etc.
  • Does the room have any items that need updating? This can anything from the plumbing to the sink fixtures. What do you envision for the space? Do you want a Zen retreat or a homey B&B feel to the room. Consider what you want the completed room to look like. Do you have anything in there that fits this idea now? Or will it be better to start from scratch?
  • How much experience do you have with remodeling. Are there some aspects of this remodel that you are confident you can complete on your own? Perhaps you don't want to install the sink but have no problem putting in the tile backsplash. Mixing contracted work with do-it-yourself work can be a great way to save money if you have the time.
  • You may want to consult with an interior designer for a major remodel project. They could bring up considerations for the space you may not have thought about.
  • What kind of professional help will you need? Will you need a general contractor, electrician or plumber? Often times even a general contractor may hire out certain tasks (i.e. electrical work) under their supervision. If you know what tasks will need to be done then you will have a better idea of who will need to be hired on to help.

Hire a Contractor - With a major remodel you will very likely need professional help.

  • Interview several contractors and get estimates from each. Ask questions and be bold enough to ask why estimate are different - i.e. if they are using different materials, this is good to know in advance!
  • Many contractors will help obtain the necessary permits for your project. Check and see if any you are interviewing will help with this process. Avoid any contractors who say this or that permit, "isn't really needed."
  • Check to see if the contractor will be sub-contracting certain aspects of your project such as plumbing, electrical, tiling, etc.
  • Find out what they expect from you in getting sub-contractors access to work site, etc. For even more information, please see our article How to Hire a Contractor: Working as a Team on Your Next Home Project.

Permits - Many overhaul projects that effect the structure of your home will need permits from the city or county.

  • If you are removing or adding any walls this may be affected by local or state building codes.
  • You may not be aware of all the aspects in your project that may need a permit. Check with your contractor or if you are doing it alone, check with your local government for guidance.

Cabinets and Storage - You may want to replace or add to your existing bathroom cabinets.

  • Adding cabinets can help you store essentials for the bathroom from towels to extra soaps and supplies. With a major remodel you may have the opportunity to include built-in wall cabinets/closets in your new bathroom. Otherwise, there are many styles of cabinets available. You can get stand alone cabinets or wall cabinets that fit above a sink or toilet that provide quite a bit of extra space.
  • You can also consider changing your sink cabinet. A new design can offer a updated look and add more storage space to your bathroom.

Walls - Do you have room to expand your space?

  • Taking down a wall to add space can do wonders for a small bathroom.
  • Think outside the box. Replace a dividing wall with glass blocks to allow more light throughout the bathroom. Insert small alcoves within the walls to add little retreats for mirrors, candles and other decorative items to make the space more inviting. Some redesigns are using tiles on the walls as a protective "wainscoting" design. Other designs include half walls to offer definition of space without enclosing it. The possibilities can be endless.

Lighting - How bright is the space? Is it too dark or too harsh?

  • Replacing the light fixtures can help you add more soft light in your bathroom. Try to avoid glaring harsh lights as these can be very unappealing.
  • Consider getting an electrician to add light switches. Add one for soft, every day light and another for brighter, utilitarian light for applying makeup, etc.
  • With the help of an electrician you can add recessed lighting, track lighting, or other design lighting updates.

Windows - If your bathroom has a window, consider if there are any updates needed to the window when planning your redesign.

  • If an older window, you might consider replacing the window with a newer one. You can add a special feature like stained or frosted glass. Or consider built in blinds for a combo of extra privacy and easy cleaning. You may also consider making the window larger or adding an additional window to the room.
  • Consider adding a solar tube or skylight for more natural lighting in the room.

Fan - If you have any problems with mildew or don't already have a fan, you may want to consider adding one in the room.

  • Many fans now include overhead lights and can add a more welcoming feature to the room than the loud eye-sores of past models.
  • Consider working with an electrician to get a more powerful fan with more options and better ability to clear moisture from the room.

Shower Door - You can brighten your bathroom by changing to a shower door.

  • Installing a bath/shower door can help lighten the space of the room. This can also help make cleaning easier and cut down on mildew or damp spots if this has been a problem. Many times shower curtains will let condensed water sit or runoff the corners of your tub or shower. A well sealed bath/shower door can help.
  • Another alternative to a shower door is using glass blocks or a tiled wall to separate the shower from the larger room. This adds a decorative feature and more light for the room overall.

Faucet - Updating your faucets can help give the bathroom a facelift.

  • Sink faucets can be relatively easy to change out.
  • Changing the faucets in your bathtub and the showerhead can help complete a new look for you bathroom.
  • If remodeling an older home, a major remodel may be a good time to consider reviewing the pipes and improving water pressure and usage. There are many water saving devices available now that can still offer a good amount of water pressure.

Sink & Countertop - You may want to replace or refinish your sink.

  • If you are already replacing your sink cabinet you may replace the sink at the same time if you get an all-inclusive unit.
  • Consider adding another sink if you have the space. Many new vanities include a two sink option.
  • You may also consider changing the countertop if the sink itself is fine. There are many styles of laminate to choose from or you may change the template completely with a new cabinet.

Refinishing & Liners - Refinishing or lining your tub can be a great way to make it look new once again.

  • Refinishing your tub is an alternative to replacing or lining it. This process will need at least a 24 hour set time. This should be considered if working with more than one professional as work will have to be suspended as the acrylic is applied and sets.
  • Another option is inserting a bathtub or shower liner. Many companies offer the liner and installation for a reasonable cost.

Tiling - Finish your spa retreat with professional tiling.

A major remodel is a great time to get the bathtub, shower, floor and even walls all done at once.

If you want to keep the old tiling, consider this a time to get damaged tiles replaced and grout redone.

New Big Items - A major remodel may also include getting a new bathtub, toilet, sink or custom made shower.

  • If you are doing a different style design you may want to consider changing some or all of your big items.
  • If you are updating an older home, this would be a great time to get a more efficient toilet or better fixtures to aid with water pressure.
  • This is your own spa, maybe it is time to replace that old bathtub with a jetted one!
  • A custom built shower can offer a neat new design and multiple shower spray option for a more spa-like experience.

Final Thoughts

Whether you are considering a small or large remodel, the short list above makes it obvious the possibilities are endless. In both cases, make certain to plan ahead and really consider how you want your new bathroom to function and feel. Have fun, get carried away, and then look at what you can turn into a reality. Get help from the professionals whether it be an interior designer or a general contractor. Or get in your hours at your local home improvement store's classes and put your patience and creativity to the test. Either way, the best part of a bathroom remodel is that once it is done, you can reap your rewards by enjoying your mini spa retreat everyday!

Preventive Maintenance Tips for your Home-Part 8

We will conclude this series with tips for the fall.

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Every Fall

SMOKE AND CARBON MONOXIDE DETECTORS:

  • Change batteries and check to make sure they are operating properly.
  • Also consider installing a carbon monoxide detector if you don’t have any.

CLEAN CARPETING, UPHOLSTERY, DRAPERIES AND AIR DUCTS:  

  • Have your carpets, upholstery and draperies cleaned regularly, once every 12 to 18 months, to remove the dirt and grit that can wear them out prematurely.
  • Consider having the air ducts in your home cleaned if family members suffer excessively from respiratory infections, asthma or allergies; if there is visible mold growth inside ducts or on other components of your heating and cooling system, the ducts are infested with insects or rodents. Excessive amounts of dust and debris and/or particles are actually released into the home from your supply registers.

DRAIN-WASTE AND VENT SYSTEM:

Flush out system. HEATING:

Forced Warm Air Heating System

Before turning on your unit, make sure nothing flammable has been stored next to the furnace over the summer. Also, change the filters regularly. Be sure all access panels are secure, with all the screws in place. Be sure the thermostat is set in the heating mode. Run your heater for a few minutes to burn off the dust that usually collects on the heat exchanger over the summer (don’t worry, that smell is normal) and to make sure it is in working order before you need it. Arrange for service calls before the start of heating and cooling season to get better attention and have more flexibility when scheduling appointments. Consider hiring a pro to perform a furnace maintenance check-up, including these steps:

1. Inspect thermostat for proper operation.
2. Inspect filter and change or clean as needed.
3. Check all electrical components and controls.
4. Oil motors as needed.
5. Inspect heat exchanger for possible cracks, which would introduce carbon monoxide into the living space.
6. Check airflow. If diminished, it may be necessary to clean the evaporator coil and ductwork.
7. Check air fuel mixture, where appropriate.

Gas Burner 

  •  Clean burners and ports, or have them professionally cleaned.

Oil Burner 

  •  Have your oil burner professionally serviced; lubricate fan and motor bearings.

Thermostat

  •  Clean heat sensor, contact points, and contacts; check accuracy.

Heat Pump

· Schedule an annual service call to have a certified professional to inspect the wiring, check belts and replace if needed, and oil the moving parts. Arrange for service calls before the start of heating and cooling season to get better attention and have more flexibility when scheduling appointments.

Hot Water Heating System

  •  For steam heating, check shutoff valve for leaks and drain lower water cut-off per manufacturers’ instructions. Lubricate pump and motor; bleed air from radiators or convectors.
  •  Oil-fired Boilers
  • Hire a professional for annual maintenance including flue cleaning, a fuel-filter change, cleaning and adjustment of the jets. Arrange for service calls before the start of heating and cooling season to get better attention and have more flexibility when scheduling appointments.

DOORS AND WINDOW WEATHERSTRIPPING:

  • Check the weather-stripping around all doors and windows and replace it if necessary to reduce drafts. And the loss of heated air.
  •  Make sure the weather-stripping on the door between your garage and home is intact to reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

FIREPLACE AND CHIMNEYS:

  •  The most important maintenance to do regularly is to have a pro clean your flue liners in order to prevent the build up of creosote.
  •  Have your wood burning fireplaces and stoves inspected annually and cleaned and repaired as required to prevent chimney fires, carbon monoxide poisoning and mortar and flashing failure.
  •  Water leaks can also cause your mortar to deteriorate prematurely.
  •  Consider installing a chimney cap to protect your chimney from water, debris and critters.

STORM WINDOWS AND DOORS:

  •  Inspect all windows and doors-replace any cracked or broken glass, tighten or repair any loose or damaged frames and repaint if necessary; replace broken, worn or missing hardware; tighten and lubricate door hinges and closers; check for broken or missing glazing.
  •  Consider installing a chimney cap to protect your chimney from water, debris and critters.

GARAGE DOORS:

  •  Clean and lubricate hinges, rollers, and tracks; tighten screws.
  •  If serious repair is required, consider replacing.

PEST CONTROL:

  •  Remember, insects and other critters would naturally prefer to come indoors out of the rain and cold, if possible, as winter sets in.
  •  Make sure all vents and other openings are covered and spray for insects along perimeter of house. ·

WATER HEATER:

  •  Every six months you should turn off the power source and drain it completely until it is clear of sediment.
  •  Also inspect flue assembly (gas heater); check for leaks and corrosion.

EXTERIOR CAULKING:

  •  Inspect caulking around exterior doors and windows, replace if necessary.

BASEMENT AND FOUNDATION:

  •  Check grading for proper slope away from foundation wall.
  •  Inspect for cracks and moisture repair if needed.

DECKS AND OTHER EXTERIOR WOOD:

  •  Inspect exterior wood for cracks, splintering, decay, and insect damage; treat and repair as needed.
  •  Keep decks clean, removing wet leaves and debris that can cause staining or encourage wood decay, mold and mildew growth.
  •  Having your deck professionally cleaned and sealed can add years to its life.
  •  Repair hinges and latches on your gates.

GUTTERS AND DOWNSPOUTS:

  •   Clear/install/repair gutters and downspouts and make sure the runoff is directed away from your home so it can not erode the soil around the foundation or run into your basement or crawl space.
  •  Install gutter accessories to divert water, channel underground drain lines into existing yard drainage or storm sewers, or consider installing a dry well at the end of the drainpipe to slowly distribute the water to surrounding soil.

LANDSCAPING: 

  • Cut back any trees or shrubs that are touching the exterior. 
  •  Check with a local gardening service or your county extension agent for information about appropriate measures in your area for fertilizing, thatching, aerating and reseeding lawn and controlling disease and insects in all your landscaping

PIPES: 

  • Check your pipes for rust or white lime deposits that may indicate a leak is starting, replace if necessary. 
  • Check for leaking around the outside hose bibs.
  •  Install insulation around outdoor water pipes to protect from freezing.

ROOF: 

  • Check for warping, aging, moss, and cracking making sure that shingles, shakes or tiles are sound; repair or replace as needed.
  •  Inspect the flashing around chimneys, skylights and vents.
  •  Seal cracks or openings where water could penetrate. ·
  • If you see significant damage or wear, consider contacting a roofing specialist to give you a bid on a roof replacement. · Do NOT cover air vents or turbines.

SIDING: 

  • Inspect siding (especially on the south and storm sides of the house) for evidence of deterioration, including cracks, splintering, decay, and insect damage; clean, treat and repair as needed.

o Brick and stone: check joints between wood and masonry. Waterproof or repaint if necessary.
o Wood: look for lifting or peeling paint, splitting wood or areas where the wood grain is separating. This is evidence that water is getting into the siding.
o Stucco: a chalky residue that rubs off on your hand is evidence of oxidation, a deterioration of paint or color coat that reduces stuccos’ insulating value. If the stucco is cracked, this allows water to get in around windows and doors.
o Trim: look for peeling paint on the fascia boards, windowsills and sashes that could allow water in to form mildew and fungus on the interior of your home behind curtains, blinds and window coverings.

This concludes our 8 part series on Preventive Maintenance Tips. I hope that you have enjoyed this series and that these tips will make for a more enjoyable home. Join us next time on “Hiring A Contractor.” Visit us at www.freminshomeimprovement.com

Gardening

Tools & Resources Online

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Garden (noun): a) plot of ground where herbs, fruits, flowers, or vegetables are cultivated b) a rich well-cultivated region c) a container (as a window box) planted with usually a variety of small plants [Merriam-Webster Online]. As seen in the preceding definition, gardens can be functional providing herbs & veggies or they can be landscaped areas of beauty with flowers and other cultivated plants. Whether for an apartment with window boxes and porch containers or a house with acres to play, everyone can create a garden if they want one. There are many wonderful resources online that can help those who want to add plants around their home environment.

First we collected some good, free, online landscaping planners that help you plot out your yard and garden before you plant a single seed. Most come with some plant information but we have also collected a list of plant reference sites that detail plant climate preferences, light requirements and much more. Finally, we have listed sites that offer ideas for unique and complex garden solutions or not so common alternatives to liven up your bit of green.

Part I:

Planning Your Garden Masterpiece Part of the fun of gardening or landscaping a home are the random finds at the local nursery. Ooh! That hasta is beautiful and would look great next to my window! Never mind the poor sage that now gets no light and begins to wither away! Granted this doesn't always happen and not everyone has the time (or the budget) to pre-plan and selectively purchase everything for their yard at one time. However, free online landscaping tools are easy to use and are a fun way to get a little more structure to your garden before you start tossing dirt around. Most of these planners are ideal for large scale sketches. Once the big picture is sketched out, you can more easily concentrate on the smaller parts of the project. It is easy to become overwhelmed by all the plant choices and concepts you may like to try around your home. Having a plan eases the work of the anxious gardner working towards a larger masterpiece. Better Homes & Gardens Plan-a-Garden www.bhg.com Website: Plan-a-Garden lets you design anything from a patio-side container garden to your whole yard. Use your mouse to "drag-and-drop" more than 150 trees, shrubs, and flowers. Add dozens of structures like buildings, sheds, fences, decks -- even a pond. Homecheck Review: You must sign up for online membership to access, but it is free. Opening quick tips offers the only tutorial. Plants are more ‘cartoonish’ which makes it easier to draw out spaces but doesn't help the plant-challenged who may not know what the heck a real Heuchera looks like! There is a option for more plant info that offers info about temperatures and growth height; but very basic at best. I do really like the drag-and-drop with the mouse to place objects. Also easy rotation, zooming and hiding controls. Don’t forget to save your garden; one perk to having an online account is that you may save work on projects and come back to them later. gardenplanner www.smallblueprinter.com/garden/ Website: Arrange plants, trees, buildings and objects using an easy to use 'drag and drop' interface. Use tools to quickly create paving, paths and fences. Then produce a high quality color print out of your design. Homecheck Review: This is a paid program but there is a free trial version you may download to your computer or try online.This program is very basic with both objects and their shapes. This is a better concept planner where you can draw out what you want the yard to look like and then fill in plant details later. Program itself is easy to use, just click drag and click you objects wherever you want. Homestore.com The Garden Designer www.homestore.com/homegarden/gardening/tools/landscapeplanner/ Website: Homestore.com's Garden Designer is the easiest way to visualize the perfect outdoor design! Homecheck Review: There is a simple introduction to the program that gives information by answering common questions. There is no membership requirement to use this program. Like the others it includes a drag and drop interface. Objects are easy to size. Although plants are again clip art, they do offer more variation in look so it is easier to distinguish which plants you place on your grid. However, no information about plant lighting, size and other details are provided. Quick and easy to use, just have a good idea of your plants ahead of time. Lowe's Landscape & Garden Planner www.lowes.com Website: If your outdoor inspiration needs a little help, here is the tool you need. Use Lowe's Landscape and Garden Planner to help build the yard of your dreams. With our design tool, garden and landscape planning are as easy as clicking and dragging. Homecheck Review: This site does request user registration to use freebies. It offers free online newsletters at the time of registration and you can opt out if you choose. Once in the Planner there is a great opening tutorial - turn on your speakers as it is narrated! This program is easy to use with a point-and-click and drag-and-drop tools. When you begin your layout you will be prompted for width and depth of the lot and your region on the US climate map. Hardscapes or objects like your home, driveway and fence are basic images. Plants are listed by sun requirement and type. Plant pictures are basic drawings rather than real images which is not as fun to plan with for those of us with less plant knowledge. Nice features include the sectioning off of areas on the plan so you may work on smaller plots one at a time and printable shopping lists of of your design. NOTE: I used this site the first time a couple of months ago (1/05) and LOVED it, great detail and real images of plants! Recently when I reviewed it again (6/05) it was too simplistic and buggy - many of the radio buttons brought up 0 options to choose from when I logged in the first two times; at the third log-in things started working. And now cookie-cutter-clipart plants rather than images of the real thing? What were they thinking? Blah! Not sure what happened to this once awesome program? Still good and easy to use but not as stellar as before.

Part II:

Plant Reference Sites Solanum Tuberosum? I just wanted a potato... Sometimes the most frustrating or overwhelming aspect of planning your yard can be finding the right plants. Knowing your climate zone is only the first part of the battle. A plant's happiness in your yard will depend on sun exposure, watering, soil make up and all other types of fussy tid bits.Then there is the not so obvious questions of what will the plant look like in 5-10 years. Having a good book to flip through is a good start. The power of the internet is that you have the ability to refine searches and find new hardier plants that may not have been originally strong enough for your region. Below are some online plant guides that can help demystify the abundant world of flora. BBC Gardening Plant Finder www.bbc.co.uk/gardening/plants/plant_finder/ Website: Look up detailed information about thousands of plants using our searchable database. You will find descriptions of the plants and tips about growing them. Homecheck Review: Okay, we know it is not local and there are certain quirks - using centimeters instead of inches!? But seriously, this is an easy to use database. The pictures are great and there are good short plant bios. Burpee www.burpee.com Website: The Burpee company was founded in Philadelphia in 1876 by an 18 year-old with a passion for plants and animals and a mother willing to lend him $1000 dollars of "seed money" to get started in business. Within 25 years he had developed the largest, most progressive seed company in America. By 1915 we were mailing a million catalogues a year to America's gardeners. Homecheck Review: Granted this is a site interested in selling products. But the garden wizard is easy to use and full of good information and pictures. A nice feature is the ability to describe what type plant you need: sun, sow, height and difficulty. The search results come with pictures that may be selected for more detail. This was an easy tool for getting information about vegetable garden plants. Again, due to the fact that they are limited to products they sell not every plant out there will be available for search. Dave's Garden http://davesgarden.com/pf/ Website: Welcome to PlantFiles, the largest plant database in the world with 101,549 entries, 76,918 images and 45,373 comments. Currently entries are from 350 families, 3,587 genera, 22,207 species, and 68,483 cultivars. PF continues to grow through the collaborative efforts of 11,388 gardeners from around the world, most notably the Uber Gardeners. Any registered user may add new plants, images, details, comments, and ZIP codes. Homecheck Review: Finally a database worth checking out! Easy to search, great pictures, and great information about how to sow, grow and maintain the individual plants. An extra plus is that visitors may post comments about their experiences growing the plants listed. HortiPlex Database from Garden Web www.gardenweb.com Website: The HortiPlex database contains plant images and data as well as links to information sources, images and vendors at other sites. Searches may be limited to: just those records with images or links to images; records with vendor links; or, records of botanical taxa. Homecheck Review: Some of the plants listed have information in the actual database which is provided users who leave remarks and pictures. For the most part this database lists other listings out there that reference a particular plant. It is bare bones and somewhat difficult as it is not at first obvious where to click for more information. Disappointing in that most plants only have links to other databases. Would be much better if more users participated and left remarks about the plants they have used or know about. GreenPlace.com (Part of Home & Garden Showplace) www.gardenplace.com Website: Need gardening information and inspiration? Help is just a click away. Homecheck Review: Number of plants are limited to the more common variety. Probably based on what the store carries as well. Easy to use search - really like the show everything option. Nice pictures of the plants. Information for the individual plants is basic, similar to what you would find on the the plant tag at the store. Home Depot Plant Guide www.plant-guide.com/HomeDepotForm.asp Website: Get the information you need to design your garden like a pro. Find out which plants are right for your landscaping project or learn about a particular plant you purchased at Home Depot. Homecheck Review: This site is easy to use. I find doing a broad search by climate and plant category to give the most results. When doing a search like this the results can be substantial (in the hundreds!). Results include list of scientific and common names. Clicking on selection takes you to a more detailed description that includes pictures, scale, uses and much more. For an online freebie, I really liked the usability of this tool. Martha Stewart Living www.marthastewart.com Website: Finding plants for your garden is as easy as picking the features that are most important to you. For instance, for plants that attract butterflies, check that box and your Zone, and click on Search. Homecheck Review: The plant search is very detailed. You may also want to browse by plant type if you are still in the broader planning stage. Pictures are good, usually of the plant feature, flower or fruit). The detail about the plants is wonderful. Definitely a great resource about most plants out there. Another fun addition to this planner is the ability to search plants by 'theme gardens'. Great lists and good way to plan various sections of your yard. Plants Database http://plants.usda.gov/index.html Website: The PLANTS Database provides standardized information about the vascular plants, mosses, liverworts, hornworts, and lichens of the U.S. and its territories. It includes names, plant symbols, checklists, distributional data, species abstracts, characteristics, images, plant links, references, crop information, and automated tools. PLANTS reduces costs by minimizing duplication and making information exchange possible across agencies and disciplines. Homecheck Review: It is not the easiest to browse this database. However, if you know what particular plant you are looking for it is probably in here. Plant information is more scientific. Some plants have pics and some do not. Best for general information about your plants but not necessary a gardening tool. Rock Garden Database www.kadel.cz/flora/kvSearch.html Website: Welcome to the Rock Garden Plants Database. It contains 11253 species with 560 photos and is still growing. For each plant you will find here known synonyms of its name, short description, territory and altitude of its natural location, size, color, bloom, if it is calciphile (Ca+) or calciphobe (Ca-), its type (rosette etc.), cultivation and propagation. Homecheck Review: This site is specialized but has some fun information. Not easy to search but fun to browse. A work in progress shows but still information about plants that aren't as common. MORE SEARCHING... Check out local nursery websites as well. Many of these sites list their plants with pictures and all kinds of good information. Plants will be limited to their selection, but it is another fun way to browse the possibilities. Part III: Unique & Complex Garden Solutions Rooftop need a bit of green? Want to soften and add a natural retreat to your patio? Apartment living have your options limited? No problem! These sites give great ideas for complex and limited spaces. They also offer ideas for container gardens or unique features that any home may enjoy. Finally, these sites also offer advice for various garden problems. We have collected a few examples below. Not every subject for each site is listed below; so take a look at the main link and see what other helpful treasures you may find. About.com-Gardening http://gardening.about.com/ Garden Pests: The following photos illustrate some insect pests and diseases you may encounter in your garden. Mole Control: Mole holes are unsightly on lawns and can be disruptive to the root systems of garden plants. Xeriscape Gardening: Xeriscaping was a term coined back in 1970s in Denver, CO, to mean water wise or water efficient landscaping. Better Homes & Gardens http://netscape.bhg.com/ Container Garden: Create a movable feast of color to match your needs -- whether you live in a country cottage or a New York sky rise. Water Garden: Use water to add sound, sparkle, and movement to your landscape. Wildlife Garden: Make your garden into a delightful refuge for wildlife creatures. Do It Yourself Network www.diynetwork.com/diy/gardening Condo Garden: Even those who live in apartments or condominiums, where space is truly at a premium, can convert a tiny area into an idyllic garden that satisfies the senses and soothes the soul. Container Gardens: Artist and gardener Keeyla Meadows enjoys using containers to experiment with plant textures and colors. Paul James, host of HGTV's Gardening by the Yard, explains how to use container plants creatively. Small Space Garden: Small-space gardening can be a challenge. This segment describes a small Chicago garden that had too much sun on one side and too much shade on the other. Urban Garden: How to transform small spaces into fresh, stylish areas of tranquility, using hip hardscapes and cold hardy perennials. Water Garden: Pond builder Richard Koogle of Lilypons Water Gardens offers advice on maintaining a water garden. Wildlife Garden: [Many subjects from attracting humming birds and butterflies to deterring deer from your yard with plant choices.] Environmental Design & Construction www.edcmag.com Rooftop Garden: The garden roof assembly or “green roof system” has been available in the United States for more than 70 years. Construction consists of two equally important phased applications: the waterproofing application and the garden assembly. The ultimate success of a rooftop garden depends largely on the proper design and installation. Garden Guides www.gardenguides.com Container Garden: Even the smallest patio or porch can boast a crop of vegetables or a garden of flowers in containers. Planter boxes, wooden barrels, hanging baskets and large flowerpots are just some of the containers that can be used. See other Tips & Techniques Organic Gardening www.organicgardening.com Organic Garden: We've gathered the basics of organic gardening for you here. You'll be able to find where to get your soil tested, learn how to manage pests without using chemicals, and read growing guides for vegetables and flowers. Conclusion The above collection of resources is only the beginning. Many more articles, blogs, photographs, and other tid bits about gardening are available on the web. Hopefully this article served to illustrate what a great resource the Internet can be when planning and improving your garden. We have covered landscaping planners, plant reference guides and various garden solutions from problems with pests to space. If you find some of the bits in this article resourceful, be sure to bookmark this page to review it in the future. Happy gardening!

Online Insurance

Is online insurance right for you?

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The Internet is a powerful tool for the savvy online consumer. You can review products, compare prices, research companies and purchase almost anything. Following this trend is the increase availability of insurance online. Insurance companies are providing coverage information, quotes and even contracts online. This includes automobile, homeowners, life, medical and even pet insurance. Insurance has traditionally been a high customer service field with direct human contact with your insurance agent. Because of the change in customer contact, the migration towards providing insurance online has not always been a smooth one. Instead companies are finding some tools work and others only cause frustration or confusion. Indeed, the availability of insurance online is still fluctuating and developing. Below we have compiled a few of the ways you can utilize online insurance options and determine if it is the right tool for you. Researching and obtaining insurance online is much easier today. Many websites now offer comparison tools that will provide quotes and coverage information (some of these sites are listed below). Keep in mind if you choose a carrier from these searches, you will then be contracting with that carrier for your insurance, not the original site. This will either be done by forwarding you to the carrier's website or the comparison site will forward your information to the insurance company and they will then contact you. Many insurers still prefer to have a representative call you and discuss your coverage over the phone. Although not the same as meeting with a personal insurance agent, it allows them to make certain you understand the coverage provided. Also, because buying insurance online is new, many companies believe that individualized customer care is still the best way to get your business and a follow up call still provides some of this customer service. The Pros There are many benefits for utilizing online insurance: Easy comparison shopping: Using insurance comparison websites you can compare coverage and prices on almost any type of insurance. You can also browse the individual insurance carrier websites once you have narrowed your search. Almost all companies now have libraries and tools for you to learn more about their services online. Your time is money: Shopping for insurance online can be done at any time of day. It is hard to get time away from your daily schedule to sit down and comparison shop with insurance brokers, or indeed, individual agents. Low pressure: Let's face it, many people find it easier to stand firm without the person-to-person contact. Users feel they can be more savvy and better informed when every option is at their fingertips rather then relying on an agent's account. Save money: Due to the time needed to comparison shop, the pressure to stay loyal with one company, and the uncertainty about other companies, some may lose money by staying blindly loyal to one insurance carrier. The online market allows for easy comparison shopping, less pressure, and research tools to learn more about other companies. By becoming well informed, you can either work out a better rate with your current provider or move to a new provider who offers better coverage for your dollar. Buying Auto Insurance? Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Click hereThe Cons Be aware of these complications when purchasing insurance online: Understanding coverage options: Without an agent to explain 'insurance speak' you may not know all the coverage you may need. This is especially the case for those getting insurance for the first time. However, if you have discussed options with an agent before and have a generally good idea of the type of coverage you will need, this may be something that is manageable with a little extra research. Is that quote really a deal: All quotes may not be equal. Take care to examine all the coverage included with quotes. The online quotes may help you narrow your search, but should not be taken at face value as not all companies offer the same 'comprehensive' coverage. Buying insurance coverage in your state: Not all states will allow you to purchase insurance online. Some allow you to get quotes but still require you to meet with an agent before signing any contracts. Also, because the internet clouds locality, you will need to make sure the insurance carrier is licensed in your state. Individual customer care: Do you really want to push 1, then 2, then 4 to talk to someone about your insurance coverage? Working with a local agent still offers the advantages of individualized customer service. This agent can offer coverage that speaks to your locality as it is more likely they live in your community. They will also have a better knowledge of the coverage their carrier provides and can help you understand all of your options. They may also be aware of more discounts available to you that you may not know to ask for online. In this way they can offer better individualized care. Whether you choose to shop for insurance online or not, you should look at your insurance carrier websites. Insurance carriers now offer detailed information about coverage online. In fact, once you have settled on a carrier you can often answer coverage questions, pay bills, get updates on claims and find useful tip sheets and information on how to better protect yourself and your property. A primary example of this is your health coverage. Most health insurance carriers still prefer you to sign up through your employer or an agent. However, once you have your coverage, they offer information about doctors, medical options, prescriptions, and claims. Considering health care is one of the most complex types of insurance used, their increasing online presence is an invaluable tool. To explore online insurance options more, please see the links below. More Information Online Insurance Comparison Sites Insurance.com http://www.insurance.com/ Quicken https://secure1.insweb.com/cgi-bin/gic.exe?id=UzB94xbaYQ-wpGWHlZbh8l8ZtxL&page=/gic/Quicken.htj InsWeb http://www.insweb.com/ Insure.com http://www.insure.com/ Insurance Company Rankings AM Best Company - Insurance Reports http://www.ambest.com/homepage.asp Consumer Reports (requires membership for ratings) http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/money/insurance/index.htm Standard & Poor's Ratings http://www2.standardandpoors.com/portal/site/sp/en/us/page.topic/ratings_fs_ins/2,1,5,0,0,0,0,0,0,0,0,0,0,0,0,0.html?lid=us_fo_ratings_insurance US News & World Report - Top Health Insurance Companies http://health.usnews.com/sections/health/health-plans/index.html State Insurance Regulators http://www.consumeraction.gov/insurance.shtml Online Insurance articles. http://www.onlineinsurance.com/ When purchasing any product online you always want to make certain it is an authentic website representing a verifiable company with a good reputation. Here are some tips for a safe and rewarding online shopping experience: Be assertive in getting answers about an online company you have not worked with before. Learn as much as you can about them and ask tough questions. Check reviews online, in magazines, with your Secretary of State/Attorney General, the Better Business Bureau, or by word of mouth. Call them up and talk to their customer service. If they don't list a contact number be careful. Review posted company information, policies and the privacy policy. If they do not provide this online, you can move on or call them up to ask why. Make sure any payments are made in a website with https or other secured system. Keep a printed copy of every online transaction. Consider using one credit card for your online purchases/payments. This way you know which to cancel in case of fraud. Also, make sure the card is not linked to any bank account. Some prefer getting a pay as you go credit card for any online transactions. These can be found at any grocery store and can be refilled as needed. Keep your computer updated with anti-virus software, browser updates and spyware programs. NEVER provide personal information from an email they supposedly sent to you. This is a common phishing scam. Everything in the email will look legit but lead to a false site collecting your information. Instead call the company with the number on your contract - not the number given to you in that email! Initiate contact yourself. Go to their website yourself from the address they gave you on your contract. To be on the safe side, never go to their website from an email. Don't give account information to anyone. Your online providers have this information and if anything will be emailing you a forgotten password - never vice versa! Change your account passwords often; every six months to once a year. Use strong passwords with numbers, symbols, changes in case and at least 6 characters.

Preventive Maintenance Tips for your Home-Part 7

This month we will conclude our Spring season tips.

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Welcome back to Rocky’s Corner! Last month we started Part 6(a 2 part Spring) of an 8 part series of Preventive Maintenance Tips for your Home. This month we will conclude our Spring season tips.

Every Spring-Part B

EXTERIOR CAULKING:

  • Inspect caulking and replace if deteriorating.

FLASHING:

  • Check flashings around all surface projections and sidewalls; replace if necessary.

GUTTERS AND DOWNSPOUTS:

  • Clear/install/repair gutters and downspouts and make sure the runoff is directed away from your home so it can’t erode the soil around the foundation or run into your basement or crawl space.
  • Install gutter accessories to divert water, channel underground drain lines into existing yard drainage or storm sewers, or consider installing a dry well at the end of the drainpipe to slowly distribute the water to surrounding soil.

LANDSCAPING:

  • Clean out the flowerbeds, removing fallen leaves and blossoms to avoid potential fungus and molds.
  • Cut back and trim all vegetation and overgrown bushes from structures.
  • Trim non-fruit trees before they start to grow and both fruit trees and Rose bushes before they start to bud to improve their production.
  • Consider a lawn renovation to eliminate the brown spots and crab grass left over from last summer and reseed bare spots. Contact a county extension service or gardening service for advice about proper lawn and garden care for your area.
  • For all of the above items, a prescreened pro may be your best bet. PIPES: Remove insulation around outdoor water pipes. Check for leaking around the outside hose bibs and evidence of rust or a white line deposit that may indicate a leak is starting.

ROOFS:

  • Inspect roof surface for warping, aging, moss, and cracking, making sure that shingles, shakes or tiles are sound; repair or replace as needed.
  • Inspect the flashing around chimneys, skylights and vents.
  • Seal cracks or openings where water could penetrate.
  • If you see significant damage or wear, contact a roofing specialist to give you a bid on a roof replacement.
  • Check eaves, and soffit for signs of water damage or deteriorating paint.
  • Repair, repaint or consider wrapping with maintenance-free vinyl or aluminum soffit and fascia.

SIDING:

  • Inspect siding (especially on the south and storm sides of the house) for evidence of deterioration, including cracks, splintering, decay, and insect damage; clean, treat and repair as needed.
  • Remember, paint protects wood and stucco surfaces; postponing necessary painting will require more extensive and expensive preparation (scraping, sanding, and priming) and repairs before repainting in the future.
  1. Brick and stone: check joints between wood and masonry. Waterproof, repair or repaint if necessary.
  2.  Wood: look for lifting or peeling paint, splitting wood or areas where the wood grain is separating or “checking” because water is getting into the siding.
  3.  Stucco: a chalky residue that rubs off on your hand is evidence of oxidation, a deterioration of paint or color coat that reduces stucco’s insulating value. If the stucco is cracked, this allows water to get in around windows and doors. If this is the case, have your stucco professionally repaired.
  4. Trim: look for peeling paint on the fascia boards, window sills and sashes that could allow water in to form mildew and fungus on the interior of your home behind curtains, blinds and window coverings. Consider installing maintenance-free vinyl or aluminum trim.

SPRINKLERS:

  • Check lawn sprinkler system for broken heads, leaky valves and exposed lines and contact a sprinkler service if necessary.

WATER WELL:

  • Consider having well water tested for safety. Join me next month for our final Part of our series on Preventive Maintenance Tips for your Home. Visit us at www.freminshomeimprovement.com