6 Things to Do to Winterize Your Home

483590383We’re starting to feel the chill of fall and it’s only going to get colder. It’s just a matter of time before it’s time to turn on the heat and pull out the wool sweaters and layer discount bedding to keep warm at night. But our homes need to transition, too. Here are 6 things you need to do to winterize your home to save energy and money.

Insulation It’s easy to forget how much money we can save in heating costs with insulation. You may already have insulation in your walls and attic, but you may be able to add more to reduce energy consumption.  Energy.gov has a guide on where your house should be insulated to minimize energy use. If you want to take an extra step toward lower heating bills, you can also use a thermal insulation blanket for your water heater to trap heat and prevent it from escaping too quickly during winter months.

Roof Do a spot check of the rooftop. Check for wear and damage and if there are any missing shingles. Around the chimney, make sure the flashing is intact and that it’s not a source for drafts or leaks.

Clean out gutters and downspouts so they’re free of leaves and debris; with clean gutters, rain and melting snow won’t get trapped on your roof and cause water damage. The downspouts should drain at least five feet from your home’s foundation to prevent water from leaking into your house.

winter-curtainsDoors and Windows Caulking and weather stripping your windows can cut down on energy costs significantly. Alternatively, indoor window insulating kits work very well for the winter to keep cold air out of your home. They require a lot less work than caulking and weather stripping, but plastic may not suit your home décor. Consider heavy drapes or curtains to mask the plastic for the winter months. Plastic insulation doesn’t work for exterior doors; weather stripping at the sides and bottoms of doors is your best bet.

Heating System Before it gets cold, turn on your heat to make sure it’s working properly. If it doesn’t kick on, you can try to figure out what the problem is on your own with a little bit of troubleshooting, but if you’re not confident with your home improvement skills, call a service technician to check it out before it gets cold and he gets busy. If it is working properly, make sure to change your air filter once a month and clean the heating vents.

Plumbing In cold weather climates, frozen pipes are a serious problem. When pipes freeze, they sometimes burst, causing costly damage. It’s not as much of a problem in the middle of the house where it’s generally warm in the winter, but in colder parts of your home like the basement and crawlspaces, insulate your pipes with foam insulation. For exterior pipes and faucets, drain the pipes and shut off the water supply. Automatic sprinkler systems require a professional to drain the underground pipes.

When you travel for the holidays and you turn off your heat, remember to also turn off your water. This might save you from coming home to expensive repairs.

fireplaceChimney and Fireplace Chimneys attract critters during the summer months; make sure squirrels and pigeons haven’t made a home there and it’s clear of any other obstructions. Make sure the flue opens and closes properly. When both of those things are done, make sure your chimney draws out smoke. You can do this by burning a few newspapers to create smoke. If your living room fills with smoke, there’s likely creosote buildup and you’ll need to bring in a professional chimney sweep to clean it out.

Winterizing is a big project. You can save time by having an energy audit done on your home. Though it costs a little bit extra, having a certified professional come in and figure all the leaks and areas you missed may save you a lot of money on energy costs in the long run.

LTD Commodities has everything you need to make your home cute and cozy this winter. From baby toys to quilts to keep you warm, shop LTD Commodities for the best products at the lowest prices.

National Punch Day: 4 Punch Recipes

 

Punch

Image source: Mel McC via flickr

September 20th is National Punch Day! Of course, we’re celebrating the fruity beverage and not what you do in the boxing ring.

Punch actually has an interesting history. According to Wikipedia, punch was brought to England from India in the 17th century. It was a drink made up of five ingredients – originally, they were alcohol, sugar, lemon, water and spices, but recipes have evolved since then and now it’s a generic term for a party drink served in a big bowl. Today, we have 4 recipes we call “punch.”

Non-Alcoholic Punch

Holiday Punch

  • 1 liter ginger ale
  • 1 liter seltzer water
  • 2 liters cranberry-apple juice
Punch

Image source: Stuart Webster via flickr

Combine ingredients over ice in a punch bowl, gently stir and serve. If you are concerned about ice watering down the punch, you can freeze half of the juice in ice cube trays and use those to supplement the ice.

Serves 8-10.

Orange Sherbet Punch

  • 1 liter cold orange juice
  • 1 liter ginger ale
  • ½ gallon orange sherbet

Combine juice and ginger ale and gently stir. Fill glasses with ice. Top each glass with a scoop of sherbet. Pour juice mixture over sherbet.

Adult Punch

Rum Punch

  • 3 cup dark rum
  • 2¼ cups lemon juice
  • 1½ cups grenadine
  • 1½ cups sparkling wine

Combine the first three ingredients and mix well. Gently stir in sparkling wine. Ladle over glasses filled with ice.

Serves 10-12.

Warm Holiday Spiced Punch

  • 2 liters cranberry apple juice
  • 1 can (6 oz) frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
  • 2 whole cinnamon sticks
  • 8 whole cloves
  • 2 cups bourbon

In a sauce pan over medium-high heat, combine first four ingredients and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 8-10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in bourbon.  Serves 12.

Punch

Image source: Tymesynk via flickr

Cheese Pizza Day: 6 Tips for Homemade Pizza

cheese-pizzaMark your calendars: National Cheese Pizza Day is September 5th. There are few foods that can instantly put your smile on a face the way pizza does. It’s the food for all ages – young and old enjoy pizza in all shapes, temperatures and texture. Frozen, delivery or homemade, even when pizza is bad, it’s still pretty good. But, of course, when you’re making homemade pizza, you want it to be better than pretty good, so here are 6 tips for great homemade pizza.

Weigh it Baking is a science. All professional bakers measure ingredients by weight using a digital kitchen scale. Using a scale makes measuring more accurate and, in turn, more tasty. It’s not a must for making great pizza, but it certainly makes a difference. Besides, learning to measure opens up a new world of professional recipes you wouldn’t otherwise have access to.

Plan Ahead Just about every pizza dough recipe you find requires it to be refrigerated overnight. When you’ve mixed together the yeast, water, salt, and flour, kneaded it and let it rise, it’s very tempting to skip the refrigeration step – don’t! Pizza dough ferments while it’s in the refrigerator. One night of fermentation is great, but three nights makes it super. This is how they do it in New Haven. If you’ve ever had New Haven apizza (that’s not a typo – that’s what they call it in New Haven), you’ve had some of the best pizza in the world.

cheese-pizzaRoll it Out In movies and TV shows you see people spinning and tossing pizza dough out over their heads to make a perfectly circular pie; what you don’t see is that it takes years of practice to make it look that easy. Tossing pizza dough is really hard. Don’t be ashamed of using a pin. It’ll make nice circles and it won’t take you years to do it.

Keep it Loose Professionals and serious pizza makers toss the dough, top it and slide it into the oven with the help of a pizza peel (like a big paddle) and a lot of semolina or cornmeal to make it loose so it doesn’t stick to the peel. To do that without everything falling off into your oven in one big lump also takes a lot of practice. But you can skip the practice and the equipment (unless you’re aiming for authentic). Parchment paper or bake mat work just fine to replace the cornmeal and the pizza peel. Roll your dough out on the paper, top it, carry it to the oven and lower it onto the pizza stone. Easy-peasy, pizza-cheesy.

cheese-pizzaKeep it Flat The best homemade pizzas are made with pizza stones, but you don’t have to have one to make a pizza good. Flip over a cookie sheet and use the bottom for your flat surface. Make sure you preheat the oven with the pan inside (as you would with a pizza stone) so it’s hot when you slide your pizza in. Alternatively, you can assemble it all in a cast iron skillet and bake it just like Pizza Hut.

Get it Hot! Turn your oven up as high as the temperature can go – most ovens won’t go much higher than 500°F. The dough has to be baked all the way through without burning the cheese on top. The high temperature for a short amount of time (10-15 minutes) allows the pizza crust to get crispy and the cheese just hot enough to bubble and melt.

Pizza is hard to make – which is why there are so many alternatives to making it at home. But eating a pizza you created yourself is way more satisfying than anything you can buy. Happy Cheese Pizza Day!

Guide to Upcycling Wooden Pallets

Wooden-PalletWooden pallets: they’re everywhere, they’re free (or almost free) and they’re versatile. Inside and outside they can be converted into inspiring and functional pieces of furniture. Here is a brief guide to upcycling wooden pallets .

Before You Get Started Wooden pallets are used for shipping; they keep items secure during long distance transit as well as in warehouses when goods are being moved by forklifts. They’re very sturdy but discarded fairly quickly after use – making them the perfect material for upcycling. But, because they’re cheap, discarded materials, working with them comes with pitfalls.

Selection Because they’ve traveled across the country and maybe an ocean or two, pallets have likely been exposed to chemicals and bacteria. When you’re choosing palates from a pile, use your instincts. Don’t take anything home that looks or smells terrible – it’s probably not safe. Try to stick with the clean ones and look for stamps and markings to tell you if it’s safe to use.

Preparation Scrub down the pallets with a strong disinfectant and soapy water to get rid of any bacteria lurking in the wood. Rinse it well. Bacteria grow in moist spots, so make sure it’s completely dry before starting your project.

Dismantle They can be tough to take apart, but if you’re willing to work with shorter pieces of wood, you can saw off the joints connected by nails and avoid the hassle of nail removal.

Wooden-PalletOutside Projects

Patio Furniture Pallets are sturdy enough to stand up to most of the elements which make them ideal for patio furniture. There’s no limit on the size of outdoor seating. It can be as small as a single-seat bench or big enough to accommodate five people. Construction is minimal and requires few tools. The most thought you’ll put into it is for the color of the cushions to finish off the furniture.

Gardens Pallets are a practical material for getting creative with gardens. If you just want a simple raised bed, it only takes about three pallets to put one together. With even less work and fewer pallets, you can turn a wall into garden; all you need is your garden supplies and finishing materials (landscape fabric, staple gun, staples, and sand paper) for the pallet.

Inside Projects

Beds If you’re familiar and comfortable with platform beds, wooden pallets can be collected and fitted to make a bed in just about any size and shape you need. A drill and brackets are about as complicated as the accessories get to put together a durable bed frame.

Shelves Wooden pallets as shelves give a living room or bedroom a rustic quality when the texture is left untouched. But pallet wood is, generally, good quality – some are made with cherry wood or maple – so when the wood is sanded and finished, the product can be elegant.

Wooden-PalletTables Pallets can be transformed into tables of different sizes – an end table, a coffee table and even a dining room table. Because you’re making it yourself, you can tailor the table for your needs – add compartments or drawers to make magazine storage or shelves to put books.

If you’ve never thought about upcycling pallets before, you will now. Even the least crafty people can turn out an original furniture design with the wooden pallet.  As your ideas about what you can make with them start to develop in your head, you’ll start noticing how easy they are to find and once you get started, you’ll find they’re easy to work with, too.

Who We Are Following

The Internet is exploding with new slants and twists to simplify and enhance our lives. We’re on Pinterest, Twitter and the blogosphere, watching for what’s trending, what’s useful and what we think you might like. Here’s our list of who we are following:

theidearoomAt  theidearoom.com, Amy, as a science teacher turned-DIYer-blogger-crafter, shares fun projects to inspire even the craftiest of people. She has tips on everything from dealing with a child’s temper tantrum to creating a DIY vertical flower bed. For June, our favorite was her 30 day photo challenge post. Inspiring indeed.

Every-MileEverymilesamemory.com chronicles Pat and Cindy Bonish’s travels in their RV. They’ve been on the road for the last two or so years, living, loving and taking pictures of all the places they’ve seen around this beautiful country of ours. Their story is inspiring and their pictures are enviable. Their latest adventure was to Cedar Key, Florida; check it out and you won’t be able to trade in your house keys for RV keys fast enough.

Pinterest

PinterestJen Simpson  pins and pinspires. Her boards vary – she throws a “pet-shaming” board in between her breakfast recipe and home improvement boards and you might even find a board dedicated solely to Valentine’s Day wallpaper. However unpredictable her pinning ideas are, the inspiration is always consistent.

Mandy Naranjo is full of tricks and tips to share and we’re so glad she shares them with us on Pinterest. She’s not short on ideas for what to do with a box full of buttons or what teens can do with their extra energy. DIY and crafts are what on Mandy’s mind and, you know, great minds think alike.

TwitterTwitter

@craftaholicanon If you have a DIY or craft question, @craftaholicanon will answer it. Really. Just tweet her – she’s standing by with a response or she’ll find someone who can give you the answer. In addition to answers, she also offers craft tutorials, creative ideas for the family and holidays.

@allthingsthrift tweets from every angle to keep things affordable whether you’re making holiday decorations yourself or you need a new blueberry recipe. Hair tutorials, DIY day bed pallet projects and a July 4th wreath are all on @allthingsthrift’s Twitter feed this month.

Pinners, tweeters and bloggers – there are a lot out there with great ideas; these are just a few we think are worth following.

Items We Adore: LTD Product Picks for the Week

Getting organized often seems like a daunting, as well as expensive, task. However, just a few quick changes can make your life more efficient, freeing up more time to relax with a pitcher of lemonade or iced tea. LTD’s Product Picks of the Week get you started without breaking your budget.

Slim-can-and-spice-racks

Get maximum kitchen storage in a minimum amount of space with the wooden Slim Can and Spice Rack.

Brick-or-siding-clips

Use these Brick or Siding Clips as an easy and simple way to decorate vinyl sided or brick walled homes.

2-pc-quilted-auto-organizer-sets

Keep everything a driver needs at hand with a 2-Pc. Quilted Auto Organizer Set.

set-of-2-silicone-counter-gap-covers

Prevent spills and dust collection in hard-to-reach places with a Set of 2 Silicone Counter Gap Covers.

Shatter-resistant-pitcher

The ergonomic design of the Shatter-Resistant Pitcher makes it easy for anyone to pour themselves a drink.

The Unofficial Duck Dynasty Guide to Enjoying Memorial Day Weekend

Tomorrow is get away day! Memorial Day weekend is the perfect time to spend in the country. And who knows better about country living than the Robertsons? No one. So here’s the unofficial Duck Dynasty Guide to enjoying Memorial Day weekend.

Keep it spontaneous…

“When you don’t know what you’re doing it’s best to do it quickly.” – Jase Robertson

“Here we gooooo!!!!” — Jep Robertson

“Time for some motivation. Hold on to your hat.” – Jase Robertson

Keep it interesting…

“Is this turning into a near death experience…possibly. Does this add to the adventure…absolutely!” –Jase Robertson

“You can talk any redneck into a challenge. That’s why so many rednecks die in strange ways.” — Jase  Robertson

Make your meals memorable…

“Squirrel brains make you smart.” – Kay Robertson

“I am the MacGyver of cooking. If you bring me a piece of bread, cabbage, coconut, mustard greens, pigs feet, pine cones…and a woodpecker, I’ll make you a good chicken pot pie.” — Si Robertson

“Crawfish Pie.” – Willie Robertson

Keep it country…

“You can put camouflage on anything and it automatically becomes cool.” – Si Robertson

“Camo does make everything look better!!” – Jep Robertson

“Faith, family, facial hair, and #4 feathered fowl.” – Jase Robertson

Keep it DIY

“Redneck rule number one, most things can be fixed with duct tape and extension cords.”-Jase Robertson

“Work hard for your own crap.” – Willie Robertson

“I figure everyone living in a city starting with Fort appreciates the gesture. Let’s build a fort and live with confidence.” – Jase Robertson

Keep it real…

“That’s right….I got smoke coming outta my duck call, that’s cool I don’t care who u are!!” – Jep Robertson

“I like a bunch of books, problem is, I read first 4 chaps, get fired up, forget to finish.” – Willie Robertson

“Gotta go quack some skulls in the duck call room.”– Willie Robertson

“’Hey’ can mean anything. It can mean yes, it can mean maybe, it could mean no, it could mean next week. Hey, the bottom line is you have to understand me to understand hey.” –Si Robertson

Whatever you do this Memorial Day weekend, if you have a Duck Dynasty frame of mind, your weekend will certainly be entertaining.

Happy Memorial Day!

4 Creative Ideas to Use a Curtain to Simplify Your Home

curtain-ltdCurtains are unsung accessories for the home. They cover up the windows to keep outsiders from looking in, but they can do so much more. Here are 4 creative ideas to use a curtain to simplify your home.

Room Divider

Whether you’re making one bedroom into two for your kids or you want to separate your office space from your living space, a carefully thought out curtain is a great do-it-yourself option.

For the kids’ room: It’s functional decoration – not only will the curtain provide privacy to each child, but it also provides an opportunity to add colors or shapes to reflect each child’s personality and taste.

For the office: While it doesn’t drown out the noise, an appropriate curtain room divider gives the illusion of an office and adds a wall to cut off chaos. A curtain can create a separation of your personal life and your work life even when you’re doing it all at home.

Shelf Concealer

If you’re looking to cover up clutter or you just want to create more visual order to your living space, consider using curtains as shelf concealers. For small spaces, this a great idea – especially if you have a lot of papers and bills as necessary clutter. But even for large spaces, to be able to close a curtain on disheveled shelves is a cleanup time-saver.

Closet Door

Much like hiding a shelf, a curtain hides entire closets. In small spaces, opening and closing doors takes up space a curtain conveniently avoids. The other benefit to a curtain closet door — in addition to hiding clutter and unmentionables – is it’s much cheaper and far less work to install a curtain rather than a door.

canopyBed Canopy

One of the most elegant additions to make to a bed is a canopy. Not everyone has a four-poster bed to hang a canopy from, but it’s just as easy to hang a canopy without the four-poster; all you need is a sheer curtain and a couple of curtain rods and you’ll be sleeping like a princess. The beauty of this particular canopy is it’s classy enough for an adult room and frilly enough for a girl’s room. While it doesn’t actually simplify your life, this curtain may just add a little charm to it.

Curtains are a cure-all to DIY home improvement and design. While it’s an inexpensive solution to many problem areas around the house, it also adds a layer of design options. Curtains come in all sorts of colors and patterns – putting up a curtain is like being able to wallpaper or paint without all the work and mess – the functional part is just a bonus. DIY + Simplify = Curtains.

Ideas on How PVC Pipe Can Simplify Your Life

PVC-PipePVC stands for Polyvinyl Chloride. It’s a polymer commonly used for pipes in construction because it’s strong, lightweight and inexpensive. But it’s not just for piping your bathroom or kitchen; there are many ways the creative layperson can use PVC pipe – it’s the DIY material of the moment. Some might say PVC is the new wood. Here are some ideas on how PVC pipe can simplify your home.

Kitchen

Make space in your kitchen by pulling pans out of the cupboard and hanging them on the wall. This PVC pipe was cut short enough to fit a pan handle and then mounted on the wall for easy storage.  Develop this idea into other simplifying methods around the house – this idea would work as a wall mount to sort cords behind an entertainment or computer console or to keep hair dryer and curling iron cords in the bathroom.

Bathroom

This caddy keeps your cotton balls, q-tips and toothpaste tidy on the bathroom vanity. It’s brilliant with simplicity. Use this idea and expand it into the play room where it’s used as an art station organizer or keep pens and pencils neat in your home office. The possibilities with this idea practically come up with themselves.

Living Room

How great is this coffee table? It may not simplify the living room, but it looks really cool. You can get so many PVC furniture ideas you can come up with from this table: an end table, a kitchen table, bedside table. You can make just about any kind of table using the exact same idea.

Bedroom

This is probably the most useful idea for PVC pipe. The bunk bed is a complicated piece of furniture to put together with wood, hammer and nails, but it’s a fairly simple structure using PVC pipe and glue. Shrink the plans down and you can construct a bed closer to the ground or even make a dog bed. Anyway you spin it, a basic bed for children to grow out of for little money = simplified gold.

Backyard

The backyard sprinkler doesn’t need to be simplified, but it can be amplified. This one is built for fun, but the idea can certainly be manipulated to make a practical garden watering system. What’s so useful about making a sprinkler with PVC pipe is you can design it to fit any garden of any shape.

Entry Way

PVC pipe as a shoe rack, but it screams to be so much more. It can bring order to the bathroom for towel storage. It can easily work in a child’s bedroom to sort t-shirts, socks and underwear. As a shelf in the office it can keep bills and mail straight.  If there’s stacking to be done, this storage idea can be the receptacle.

There are so many clever ways to use a PVC pipe it’s hard to believe it’s not more common. Though Polyvinyl Chloride isn’t a simple word or a simple polymer, simplify is what it does best.

Tips for Shopping for a Hot Water Heater

Hot-water-heaterHot water heaters don’t last forever, but they do last a long time; over the lifetime of a water heater technology changes. So what are the options now? Here are some tips for shopping for a hot water heater.

 

Easy and Quick vs The Best Longer Term Decision

If you are considering the purchase of a new water heater, odds are there has been a problem with your old one.

With that thought in mind, let’s be upfront. It will be cheaper and easier to replace your water heater with a similar model to what you previously had. At least for today. The reasons are easy to understand. You currently have the wiring, ventilation and plumbing in place to just change it out. Find a similarly sized water heater and you can replace it relatively cheaply and quickly. But is it your best long term move?

Probably not.

Your Options

You can choose a traditional storage tank gas water heater that heats water pretty quickly, but it may not be energy efficient. It also will not likely last as long as a solar water heater. If you currently have a gas water, it is easy to replace, but wouldn’t you rather improve than just replace?

A traditional storage tank electric heater takes longer to heat water, and other than better insulation these days, they are pretty much the same technology that has been used for years.

That leads us to tankless water heaters. Tankless water heaters were touted as being a way in which users could save energy. The think was they would only use the energy absolutely needed to heat the water they needed right now. The problem is, it takes more energy overall to keep heating the same amount of water as your traditional tank heaters. If you are going tankless throughout your whole house, it will not only be energy inefficient, but if you have a large family it may have trouble keeping up.

In moderate climates, a heat-pump water heater could be a viable option. A heat pump water heater uses the heat in the air to directly heat your water. It does this rather than converting it into heat through a heating element. These types of water heaters are expensive to buy and install, but can significantly save you long term on your water heating costs.

Solar-water-heaterWhen it comes to solar powered water heaters, other than an initially higher cost of purchase and installation, there are few downsides. You will, after all, be using the free energy of the sun to heat your water, which can account for upwards of 15% of your total energy bill. When it comes to solar water heater systems, you have several choices. Your decision may be based on usage and where you live. The U.S. Department of Energy has an easy to read and understand explanation and graphics that detail your choices.

You should take into consideration that many custom built homes today employ the use of solar water heating systems. That is a pretty valuable indicator of the trends that lie ahead.

Ken Uhrich likes energy efficient houses. In fact he lives in one. You can contact him at the Custom Home Group website