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Fall Home Improvement Pruning plants, trees can be intimidating. Page 3. Reupholster to go from shabby to chic. Page 4. How to determine what’s eating the garden. Page 7. Pros and cons of wood pellet stoves. Page 13. DIY daylight helps beat winter blues. Page 14. Keep your homegrown food clean. Page 16.






How to treat filtration soiling in your home By MARY HUNT Dark, shadowy, dirty lines on the carpet along baseboards, under doors, underneath draperies and along the edges and crevices of carpeted stairs are visible signs of a very aggravating problem called filtration soiling. It comes from airborne pollutants passing through the carpet as they attempt to get through the crack between the carpet and the baseboard, or under a closed door. Filtration soil is an accumulation of soot from dirty ducts; smoke from candles and the fireplace; tobacco smoke; kitchen grease from the oven and cooktop; smog; auto emissions; and pollutants from outdoors. A good heating, ventilation and air conditioning, or HVAC, system is designed to filter out airborne soil, trapping it in the HVAC filter. But once the filter is full, the system will send the air pollutants back into the house through the ducts, where all of that icky, sticky mess gets blown into corners and crevices. Normal vacuuming is no match for filtration soil. And neither are the best carpet-spot removers. Filtration soil requires the big guns. Severe filtration soil may require the services of a professional carpet cleaner who specialize in this unique problem. To remove filtration soil, follow these steps: ■■ Using the vacuum crevice


Filtration soiling is a sticky mess of air pollutants that can be removed and prevented with routine home maintenance. tool, vigorously vacuum the areas suffering with filtration soil to remove all the debris and dust from the stains areas. ■■ Use a specific cleaning product for this kind of soil, such as Prochem Filter-Out, specially formulated to remove filtration soil lines, soot and other electri-

cally charged particles. (It’s about $17.) Apply it undiluted so it saturates the fibers in the stained areas. Allow it to sit for three to five minutes. ■■ Scrub the lines of filtration soil with a good strong brush that can get down into the crevices. ■■ Extract completely using

hot water or All Fiber Rinse -- not absolutely necessary but an excellent product that will assure a good clean rinse. (About $36). Use a wet, dry vacuum to do this if you have one available, or blot well with a clean white cloth. ■■ Repeat as needed depending on the severity of the problem.

Filtration soil can be prevented by following taking the following steps: ■■ Have your air ducts cleaned professionally, ideally once a year. ■■ Change the filter(s) on your HVAC system once every three months without fail. ■■ Thoroughly clean the filter in the range hood weekly. ■■ Use the range hood fan and vent every time you use the oven or cooktop. You want all of that smoke, cooking oil and airborne residue to leave the house immediately. ■■ Keep doors and windows closed if you live on a busy street or in an area with a lot of pollutants. ■■ Make your home a smokefree zone. All smoking should be taken outdoors and away from open windows and doors. ■■ If you use a fireplace, make sure the system is clean and the pollutants it creates are being properly removed from the house. Clean the chimney and filter (if any) regularly, as well as any filters. ■■ As lovely as candles and aromatherapy can be, these can contribute to a filtration soil problem. Convert to flameless LED candles, which create a lovely, realistic ambience. Some even have fragrance. For more information and links to the products mentioned in the instructions above, visit grimylines.

Unwanted creatures: Autumn pest prevention By DIANNE CROWN As temperatures fall, bugs and rodents seek warm shelter in homes across the country. If that cozy new accommodation also has a handy source of food and water, all the better. Make sure yours doesn’t. Prevention According to pest control expert Lisa Jo Lupo, you should “seal your home against insects.” Weatherproof windows and doors. Caulk cracks along bathroom and kitchen fixtures. And “check your home for light leaks.” An easy way to check is for one person to walk along the outside of the house and shine a flashlight onto the house and another person to walk along inside to watch for any light shining through holes. Mice can get through a hole slightly larger than a quarter-inch, according to pest professional Simon Berenyi. Fill any gaps that can’t be repaired with steel wool. “Firewood can be home to ants and termites. Store wood at least 20 feet from your house,” says According to Boyd Huneycutt, co-founder of Mosquito Squad, firewood should be placed at least 20 feet from your house. That way, any ants, termites or other bugs that may live in the pile won’t easily transition to your house. For the same reason, keep trees and shrubs well-groomed and away from your house. Clean and defend Clean up leaves, mulch and any other debris that might provide hiding places around your home’s foundation, says a Family Handyman article titled “14 Ways to Keep Out Fall Pests.” Also inspect your crawl space and basement for “large, obvious nests of shredded material,” which indicates the presence of rodents.” And install a chimney cap and screen to keep away rodents, birds and other creatures you don’t want inside

your home. Be sure that all dishes and inside surfaces are thoroughly cleaned each day and that all food products are tightly sealed and stored. Thoroughly rinse recyclables, and store them in bins outside your home. Vacuum the house at least once a week, and be sure to seal all trash bins that aren’t emptied daily. Cleanliness is the key, according to an article by Michael Pomranz for

“Cockroaches hate light and love the smell of paper, so try to avoid (creating) clutter areas where bugs can congregate, especially things like stacks of magazines, boxes or bags.” Place moth traps near but not inside food pantries and clothes closets to catch moths without attracting them to the very places you want them to avoid. To use borax or diatomaceous earth as an organic alternative to toxic pesticides, simply sprinkle the powder across door thresholds

and in susceptible corners of your basement, pantry and attic, where bugs are likely to enter, congregate and travel. Dry up Mice need water. Make sure that pipes in kitchen and bathroom sink base cabinets don’t leak, that basement drains are dry and that sinks are emptied of all dishes, food and water before bed each night. Even condensation on

pipes is attractive, according to Family Handyman. Bedbugs, termites, lice or fleas? If you notice red, itchy bites on your arms and legs, piles of wings or droppings, nits in anyone’s hair, or other signs of particularly pesky problem bugs, it may be time to call a licensed professional. These problems spread fast and are hard to get rid of. Know when to call for help.

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What, when, how to prune By KRISTEN CASTILLO Every yard needs proper upkeep. Still the idea of pruning plants and trees and snipping flowers can be intimidating. But it doesn’t have to be so overwhelming. Read on as experts share their pro tips for shearing and shaping your greenery. “Pruning really is an art and timing is everything when it comes to making plants and gardeners happy,” says Doug Oster, home and garden editor for Follow this rule Take your time when trimming. “Remove crossing branches and inward growing shoots one at a time,” says Oster. “Step back with each cut to access the overall look of what’s being pruned.” Nate Mason of Monster Tree Service, a national tree care franchise, urges consumers to obey the 25 percent rule: never remove more than 25 percent of a tree or shrub’s canopy in one season, or remove more than 25 percent of its foliage on a single branch unless removing the entire branch. Here’s why: many trees will go into shock and respond with suckering if pruned too much in one season. “Less is more, and you can always take more off, but you cannot put it back,” says Mason. When to trim Timing matters. Mason says late spring is the time to clip needle- and scale-leaf evergreens. Spring-blooming plants like lilac, forsythia, rhododendron and most roses should be snipped postbloom. Cut boxwoods and privets, too. In the summer, it’s smart to tidy deciduous trees such as maples, birches, elms and dogwoods. These trees produce excessive sap flow when pruned in winter. You can also deadhead flowers and


prune overgrown herbaceous plants in the summer. “Strictly avoid spring and summer pruning of oaks vulnerable to oak wilt and elms vulnerable to Dutch elm disease,” says Mason. During the winter, it’s safe to prune other deciduous trees as well as broadleaf evergreens. Cut back or remove stormdamaged trees, especially any tree or shrub, including ash, oak and elm, which are susceptible to fungal diseases. Mason says you can also do dormant season pruning for summer-blooming plants, as well as shrubs without showy blooms, fruit trees, broadleaf evergreens and bush berries. But Oster warns that spring flowering trees and shrubs shouldn’t be pruned during winter. “If dogwoods, azaleas, rhododendrons and others are pruned at the wrong time, the buds are being trimmed off,” he says. “Without buds, there will be no flowers.” He says dead wood can be pruned any time, especially since insects and disease can harm the plant. Tool time Make sure you have the right tools for the job. “A good tool will last a lifetime and when they are sharp will assure a good cut,” says Oster, who suggests investing in good pruning shears, loppers and a pruning saw. Sterilize pruners between plants to minimize the spread of disease. Oster advises using a 10 percent bleach solution or other disinfectant cleaner. Learn proper technique Learn the difference between “shearing” and “selective pruning.” Mason says you should only shear shrubs that respond well; other trees and shrubs should be selectively hand pruned. Shorten branches with a cut to a major intersection where


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Doug Oster, pictured, recommends investing in good, sharp tools to make pruning easy and efficient. the branch forks. He also advises making all pruning cuts just outside the branch collar. That way you don’t leave a stub or cut so far into the tree that you create a pruning wound that’ll struggle to heal. Cut larger branches using Mason’s “three-cut” technique, which prevents the weight of the pruned branch from ripping a strip of bark off the tree: 1) Make an undercut. 2) Make a top cut a little farther out on the branch. 3) Make a final cut just outside the branch collar to remove the stub. When pruning trees, minimize

danger by not using a ladder taller than an orchard ladder. If you’re not sure what to do, consult a professional who can safely prune your trees. Just a pinch Pinching is the term for trimming flowers. “There are benefits to pinching flowers instead of simply having them deadhead,” says Tatyana Rodriguez, garden blogger at Florence’s Flowers. She says if flowers are pinched correctly, the blooms will yield two to three times their annual flowering. For best results, con-

sistently pinch flowers and make cuts above a set of leaves. For an annual flowering plant, the blogger suggests waiting to pinch the flowers until the plant is between eight to 10 inches tall. Find the center stalk and cut off two to three inches from the top, right above a set of leaves. “This signals the plant to start branching from the base which will result in longer stems and more of them,” says Rodriguez, who recommends pinching and pruning during the coolest parts of the day, usually morning or evening, when the plants are most hydrated.


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Reupholster to go from shabby to chic By KRISTEN CASTILLO Before you donate that old chair or couch to charity, or ditch it altogether, consider whether or not it has new potential with reupholstering. The term reupholster dates back to the late 1800s and refers to upholding or repairing furniture. The concept makes sense: why discard something that could be fixed? Interior designer Mark Cutler of Mark Cutler Design says reupholstering is a good idea if the item is well-made and in timeless shape. Also, many people choose to give new life to pieces that are worn but have sentimental value. Don’t just jump into a project though. Have your upholsterer look at the frame, a process that involves inspecting the underside of the item. “A piece that was cheap to begin with, may not have a frame that will stand up to this,” he says. “A lot of pieces that are bought from mass retailers are actually just stapled together and these frames are not worth the effort.” Fixing old chairs and sofas can be pricey and a lot of work. But experts say many projects are worthwhile. “Reupholstering can absolutely be worth it,” says Sallie Kjos of GreyHunt Interiors, who advises not taking on the job if the piece is low quality or old with outdated frames. She offers these guidelines to consider before getting started: 1. Is it vintage or does it have a unique frame? 2. Is it a high-quality piece? 3. Do you like piece’s size and level of comfort? It’s also smart to test the furniture — is it wobbly? Is the frame crooked? Especially for an old piece, look at the manufacturer’s name. Do a web search to see how well the furnishings hold up. A good brand can be a sign of a quality item.

Cutler says most people don’t realize that reupholstering only saves the cost of the frame of the seat or the sofa. All the springs are usually replaced and cushions are re-stuffed. “Depending on your fabric choice, reupholstering might only save you 25 percent of the cost of a new sofa,” he says. “However, it’s important to know that what you get back is, essentially just that, a new sofa, or chair.” Kjos says the cost of redoing a basic chair can start around $250. But pricing can go up based on fabric choice, embellishments and the fees charged by the upholsterer. HomeAdvisor says consumers will spend $1,200 to $3,500 updating a couch. They point out the cost of a new couch can be $2,000, while a new armchair can run $800. When it comes to styling your chair or couch, you have more options than ever. Expect to pay for fabric by the foot, just like any other textile task. Outdoor fabrics are becoming a great choice for their varieties of patterns, colors and textures. “These are becoming very popular to use in high-traffic areas as they resist dirt and pets better than most fabrics,” says Cutler, who’s also seeing use of heavyweight linens and cottons, which are elegant and can modernize a vintage piece. He recommends personalizing your style by adding nail heads and deep buttoning. Kjos suggests choosing a timeless fabric in a solid color for lasting impact and classic appeal. Then for added appeal, toss in some trendy pillows: “Easy to remove, replace and change as your space changes — not to mention less expensive than reupholstering,” she says. Whether you’re reworking your own furniture or transforming antique seats purchased at swap meets or estate sales, know that vintage items were built to last. “The frame is meant to be used over and over again,” says Cutler,

Reupholstering a chair with updated color, fabric and styling can transform it from dated to modern. CHRISTY KOSNIC PHOTOGRAPHY CREATORS.COM

explaining frames typically have been glued and nailed to be sturdy. Most items will need to be professionally done, especially if re-

pairs need to be made to the frame and springs. In some cases, if you’re skilled, you may be able to do simple fixes on your own, such

as like replacing fabric or adding trim. You’ll need the right tools though, including a staple gun, tacks and fabric scissors.

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How to figure out whether tree poses risk By KRISTEN CASTILLO Trees provide so many benefits — from clean air to shade and more -— but they can also be dangerous in stormy weather. Wild winds, rains, tornadoes and even heavy snow can put deadly strain on trees, potentially snapping limbs or even causing trees to topple over. “Wind is not the only weather condition that can cause a tree to fail,” says Alex Julius, education manager for the International Society of Arboriculture, a nonprofit that promotes the professional practice of arboriculture and fosters global awareness of the benefits of trees. “Areas that have flooded can leave trees waterlogged, and they could tip over when lacking the structure of the soil underneath.” For example, high winds and floodwaters from hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 and Harvey in 2017 caused lots of tree damage. Now forestry experts are calling some of those trees badly damaged by Hurricane Harvey “zombie trees” because they’re dying. Those dying trees pose a falling hazard. Just this summer, three people were killed by falling trees. Tree risks ISA recommends that homeowners find a qualified local tree risk assessor through the nonprofit’s http://www.treesaregood. org website to determine whether their trees are at risk of falling or hurting people or property. “We try not to use the word ‘dangerous’ to describe trees,” says Julius. “Trees can be highrisk, depending on if there is a defect or condition that might fail.” But “usually, trees are not a risk to public health, and the actual likelihood of a tree failing and landing on a target is low.” Here are some signs your tree may be at risk: ■■ It’s adjacent to an electrical line. ■■ There’s been recent site construction, grading or a change in soil level or grade. ■■ The tree has developed a strong lean in a particular direction. ■■ There is visible decay or rot. ■■ You see dead, dying, broken or partially attached branches. ■■ The trunk is cracked or split. ■■ The base is in a wet area with shallow soil. ■■ It has a forked trunk where the branches and stems are the same size. ■■ There have been other tree failures in the local area.


Damaged and downed trees can block roads after stormy weather. Examine your trees at least once a year for damage, decay and other concerns. Trimming Mitigating a tree problem could include pruning or cabling it or restricting traffic near the tree. Moderate pruning is generally OK, but cutting the top of a tree, known as topping, is a bad move because it prevents the tree from growing. Though homeowners often want to tackle tree trimming, experts say it’s best to call a certified arborist to do the job. ISA says improper pruning can weaken a tree. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration says it’s never a good idea to trim trees during dangerous weather conditions. OSHA warns both amateur and professional tree trimmers to stay alert while cutting and removing trees.

If a broken tree is under pressure, OSHA recommends making small cuts to release the pressure. The agency advises inspecting the limbs for strength and stability before you climb a tree. Be sure to determine the direction the tree would fall and have a safety plan. Trimmers should never turn their back on a falling tree. Safety first Always wear protective gear, including gloves, safety glasses and a hard hat. Take extra caution when trimming trees near power lines. OSHA advises contacting your utility company about de-energizing and grounding power lines. It says all trimming or removal work within 10 feet of a power line must be done by experienced and trained line-clearance tree trimmers. An additional tree trimmer is required within normal voice

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Not all trees can be saved from damage or rot. If you do remove a tree, consider planting a replacement nearby in a safe area. Monitor that new tree’s health regularly.

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Prepare your fireplace for winter months By CHRISTOPHER CROWN Nothing adds cozy comfort to your home like a crackling fire on a winter night. However, nothing can ruin that coziness like a rogue family of bats or a spontaneous chimney fire! Lighting and tending a fire can be quite easy, but several fireplace experts and agencies encourage proper inspections and installations before you spark up the kindling. From ensuring chimney safety and upgrading your ventilation hardware to clearing out any squatting chimney critters, there are some important preparatory steps you should take to ready your fireplace for this cold season. The first step is to check on your chimney. Your chimney is likely dormant for more than half of the year, and much can go awry if you do not have it inspected. contributing author Oliver Beauchemin discusses how the National Fire Protection Association’s Code 211 pertains to the average homeowner. Beauchemin cites the NFPA’s strong recommendation to have your chimney thoroughly inspected before each burning season. Inspectors can look for any obstructions, identify any resident animals and further investigate any potential damage from chimney fires in previous years. Before lighting new fires, it is crucial to check your chimney’s infrastructure. In addition to checking chimney integrity, it is important to have your chimney cleaned during your inspection. HMS Home Warranty, an online resource for homeowner maintenance, emphasizes that frequent cleaning and limiting fire size can prevent chimney damage. It’s possible that, during previous years’ fires, a compound called creosote (and many other combustible chemicals) accumulated and are lining the walls of your chimney. Without proper cleaning, this buildup can drastically increase your chance of chimney fires this year. If you do not have a go-to chimney sweep, Shyra Peyton of recommends referencing the Chimney Safety Institute of America (http://csia. org). On the CSIA site, homeowners can search a database of chimney sweeps to find one nearby. The site also offers information on chimney fires, guides on wood use and storage and many other useful articles on owning and operating a fireplace. Once you have had your chimney and fireplace inspected, it is very possible that you will need to do some minor maintenance. Most chimney work will require a certified professional, but CabinLife. com notes several common fireplace upkeep projects that you can tackle on your own. ■■ Clean your blower: Many

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wood-burning fireplaces have air blowers to increase flame quality and heat. Using a Shop-Vac, clear out any dust and debris that has accumulated in the blower. ■■ Inspect and replace any deteriorating brick lining: High heat or overloaded fires can cause fireplace damage. “A fire that’s too large or too hot can crack the chimney,” Peyton writes. Cabin Life recommends purchasing fireproof brick lining and recoating any damaged or cracking surfaces between bricks in your fireplace. Do this at the start of the season and in a completely cooled fireplace. ■■ Empty, clean and inspect the ash dump: Beyond cleaning out any of last year’s ashes, make sure that all the gaskets and airtight seals for the ash dump and the flue are intact. Leaking can cause inefficient burning or overaeration (leading to overheated fires). If that seems like a lot to deal with, don’t hesitate to call in professionals, as they are equipped with the skills and tools to handle most of your fireplace preparation

Invest in professional inspections to maintain your fireplace and ensure the safety of your home. JILL WELLINGTON CREATORS.COM

for winter. However, with ample knowledge, you can keep an eye

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of next year’s minor maintenance on your own.

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Holey moley: What’s eating your garden? By SIMONE SLYKHOUS

son, skunks are on the patrol for earthworms, grubs and a variety of soil insects.” These nocturnal eaters also enjoy feeding on “crayfish, small animals, birds and their eggs, frogs and turtle eggs -- if they can find them,” says Voyle. To get at their food sources, skunks push their noses to the ground and dig holes with their claws. The holes are typically surrounded by a ring of loose soil, so keep an eye out for this telltale sign.

As the saying goes, “It does no good to make a mountain out of a molehill.” It doesn’t help anything to pretend that the small inconveniences in life are major issues. But what if the minor inconvenience is an actual molehill? As the weather turns cooler, many neighborhood critters are looking to fatten up before winter. And digging in your yard can unearth some delicious food or advantageous shelter. The best way to beat these pests is to first determine what’s destroying your lawn and garden. Grubs Grub is the generic name for the larval form of many lawn beetles. And their presence entices other unwanted critters to visit your garden. According to DIY Network gardening expert Julie Martens, “Which beetle grub your lawn is most likely to be infested with depends on where you live.” Grubs are a common issue for gardeners in the Northeast, Midwest and Southwest who irrigate their turf. Grubs like very moist soil and thin grass patches. You can identify a grub problem in your lawn by patches of dead grass about 2 or 3 inches in diameter. Grubs kill grass by eating the roots, and early fall is peak feeding time. Once soil temps drop, these bugs start to fatten up for winter and dig about 6 inches below your turf to settle in until spring. To beat these beetles before they eat up, consider overseeding in the fall or spring to create a thick, lush lawn. Water-


The best way to beat yard pests is to first determine what’s destroying your lawn and garden. ing your lawn infrequently with deep irrigation systems can also prevent grubs. Moles Moles are hardworking tunnelers. These carnivores create tunnel systems through lawns to get at grubs, earthworms and other bugs. You can tell moles are busy at work when you see raised ridges of dirt along the surface and mounds of soil where they deposit the earth they’ve moved from deeper tunnels. Walking along a lawn with mole holes feels like bouncing on a spongy surface. Much like grubs, overwatering your lawn attracts moles. The

damp soil is easier for them to move to their liking. Traps are the most effective means of getting rid of moles; however, some gardeners prefer the more humane use of castor oil to deter them. Voles Voles are often confused with moles; however, these tiny critters are rodents and relatives of mice, whereas moles are in the mammal family. These field mice like to eat plants more than other small animals, burrowing under lawns and gardens to chew on grass throughout the winter. Snow tends to hide the damage voles are doing to your yard, so their trails become

visible when the snow melts. To fix this, Martens recommends you “Fill in vole trails with quality potting soil or compost.” Your grass should eventually get back to normal. And to help stop voles before the winter, “treat areas prone to vole activity with castor oil to help repel these munchers,” says Martens. Skunks More often smelled than seen, skunks can be very destructive to lawns when looking for their next meal. According to Gretchen Voyle of the Michigan State University Extension, “In the fall and all during the growing sea-

Raccoons Though these “trash pandas” are better known for their garbage antics, raccoons can also heavily damage lawns and gardens. Their diets “are almost identical to skunks, but raccoons use their front paws like hands,” says Voyle. Using their paws, raccoons will rip up and flip over chunks of sod and grass to look for their next meal. They have been known to roll up freshly laid grass on a new lawn. Raccoons are nocturnal feeders as well, so if holes are appearing during the day, it might be the work of a squirrel rather than a skunk or raccoon. To deter these little bandits from your yard, consider spritzing your lawn or garden with a spicy mix of 1 small canister cayenne pepper, 1 bottle of hot sauce and 1 gallon jug of water. On the one hand, the presence of pests can be a sign that you’ve created a very hospitable lawn environment. But anytime these pests are at work, you could get stuck with additional yardwork. Head outside to start your critter crowd control for this season.

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Issues you notice about your foundation or basement are things we are here to consult with you about. If you have vertical or stairstep cracks in your home, bowing basement walls, cracks in your brick or stone work, windows and doors hard to open, wet basement, or musty smells, these are all signs of potential foundation trouble.

These problems can occur whether your home is old or new, whether it sits on a crawlspace, basement, or a combination of both. Bramwell-McKay has replaced more foundations in the Midwest than any other contractor.

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Ground cover underfoot, but not out of sight By CHELLE CORDERO There are some of us who enjoy the winter when the ground — and especially our lawns — are covered with a blanket of white snow. It hides so many sins. Then comes the spring, and our lawns’ bare spots crop up. Ouch. Year-round lawn maintenance seems like a daunting task for some, yet there are others who make it look so easy. What’s the trick to a lush and attractive yard that doesn’t require the expense of a professional weekly lawn service? Professional landscapers say the choice of ground cover can make all of the difference between well-worn bare spots and a lawn that retains seemingly effortless beauty. Depending on your needs, the use of the area, climate and rain, visiting wildlife and the amount of sunshine, the right creeping perennials and foliage can minimize your mowing, maintenance and watering schedules. Some of the most popular choices for ground cover include a mix of plantings; the diversity fosters plant health and creates attractive texture and focal points to your property. Using low-growing plants that tolerate some walking mixed with patio stones or pavers make for excellent and durable walkways. You can also choose 100 percent recycled rubber pavers for your walkways. These look like stone, are maintenance-free and are long-lasting. Creeping perennials grow thick and close to the ground and form carpet-like textures. Some popular choices include chamomile, Corsican mint, assorted thymes, clover and Veronica liwanensis. Many of these crops have the added benefit of pleasant fragrances, attractive flowers and dense root systems that discourage weeds. Clover is not the weed many people mistake it to be; a grass/ clover seed mix grows quickly, stands up to foot traffic, is resistant to drought, is inexpensive and produces a white bloom which benefits the natural bee popula-

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Turkish Veronica Liwanensis enhances the look of a flagstone patio. PATRICK STANDISH CREATORS.COM

tion. Many low growing perennials react well to occasional mowing, which will help the clover bloom more frequently. Veronica liwanensis is a dense, drought-resistant evergreen ground cover and produces beautiful small blue flowers. Veronica liwanensis stands up well to light foot traffic and propagates easily by dividing and spreading the clumps. When planted around steppingstones, this foliage makes an excellent walkway. It does require adequate drainage and tends to turn an attractive bronze under the hot dry sun. Creeping bugleweed plants create low-lying borders that go well at the edges of walkways and ponds. The plants grow only a few inches high and thrive in either drought or bogs. Bugleweed

tends to be hardy and offer variegated leaves and flowers that add delightful colors to your garden. It does well in shade and also offers bright bronze or burgundy hues under the hot sun. There are multiple varieties, including Burgundy Glow, Bronze Beauty, Black Scallop, Catlin’s Giant and Sunny Blue Deer. Catmints grow about a foot tall with bright blooms of blue (Nepeta racemosa) or 2- to 3-foot and lavender-colored blooms (Walker’s Low). The fragrance attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. Although it is distantly related to

catnip, the genus is not the same; catmint is more colorful, and catnip has a stronger fragrance. These plants do best in a mild nutritive-rich soil with good drainage. Catmints bloom in the late spring and can stay in full bloom well into the fall to provide a tall, colorful wall around the yard. Smooth bromegrass is a cool season perennial grass that can grow 4 to 6 feet high and offers erosion control. It tolerates drought conditions, extreme temperatures and less than perfect soils, but it can become invasive, so it might grow beyond the design borders

you have in mind. It is also excellent if you have livestock or want to contribute to hungry wildlife. If you have buildings you but would like to hide, or at least integrate into your landscaping, you can look into ivy. Ivy tends to grow several feet high, has flowery blooms, is generally droughtresistant, does well in full sun and can tolerate occasional foot traffic. Ivy is not recommended next to porous walls but does very well planted against solid masonry. Its large, bright leaves can camouflage unsightly walls and rock outcroppings.

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Mirror, Replacing bottom door seal is easy mirror on closet doors ... By MARK J. DONOVAN

By JAMES DULLEY Dear James: The dressing area in my master bedroom is not so bright as I would like. I thought about hanging a mirror somewhere, perhaps on the closet door. Will this really help my problem much? — Mary T Dear Mary: Using mirrors is an excellent and effective method to brighten up any room. An added benefit is your room will also look much larger than it actually is. This can be a real plus in a relatively small and dark dressing area. The actual amount of increased brightness will depend on both where the existing source of light is located and the wall covering. If you are lucky and the light source is located properly, it may reflect off the mirror exactly to the spot where you need it. If your dressing room has dark patterned wallpaper, which now absorbs light, the improvement will be even greater. Just a note about locating the mirror. Many people think that since a mirror reflects light, it will also reflect heat. Since you may often be just partially dressed and perhaps chilly in a dressing room, you may think about hanging the mirror directly across where you stand to reflect your body heat. Glass mirrors do not reflect heat, so it will not help this. Using the closet door for the mirrored surface is an excellent idea. The outside of a closet door is generally not used for anything else, so you will not be losing any usable wall space. Closet doors are often located in the center of a dressing room wall, so the mirror will provide more even light distribution. You have two options for hanging a mirror on the closet door: adding a mirror or installing a mirror door kit. Long mirrors can be purchased at home center stores or can be custom-made. Hanging a standard mirror can have that “add-on” appearance. Custommade ones with fancy beveled edges and professionally installed look great, but they are expensive. A better option is switching out the old door for a mirrored door kit. These are often available as sliding doors where each side bypasses the other or hinged bi-fold doors. The hinged bi-fold ones are particularly functional because you can partially open a door. This changes the angle of the mirror so the light can be directed to exactly where you need it at that time. Depending on the decor of your bedroom, you can choose among several general designs of mirrored door kits. Some of the most attractive ones have real wood edge moldings or solid hardwood surrounds in cherry and oak. More contemporary ones are frameless with the mirror covering the entire door. It is not difficult to install a mirror door kit yourself, but it can be heavy, so you may need a helper. If you are not a handy do-it-yourselfer, the bypass sliding doors are easier to install. You just have to install the upper track to the top of closet opening and the lower track on the floor. It operates very similar to a sliding shower door. Installing the hinged bi-fold doors requires a little more careful alignment.

Over time, an exterior door’s bottom seal can deteriorate and break. When this happens, cold air often can slip into the home and cause drafts. As a result, these chilly busts of air can end up costing you more money in the form of higher heating bills. Fortunately, even a do-ityourselfer who’s a beginner can replace a bottom door seal in less than an hour. All you have to do is be willing to make the effort, as well as the access to a few tools. The only tools required are a screwdriver, a drill, a drill bit and a hacksaw. You can purchase a U-shaped bottom door seal at any home improvement store for less than $20, and most will fit any standard exterior door. Stores such as Home Depot and Lowe’s offer additional information regarding special sizes on their websites, or just call your local location. To install a bottom door seal, you obviously must first remove the old one. You can often just use your hands to pull it away from the bottom of the door, which

should be easy enough. However, a screwdriver or a small pry-bar can also help if it’s old or just being stubborn. A tool will most likely be more helpful if there are layers of paint in the way, and it’s also always helpful to clean the area and remove any grime or dust that may be intrusive, as well. And think -- it’s another excuse to clean up a bit! Once you’ve removed the old bottom door seal, slide the new one in its place and use a pencil to make a marking where you will need to trim the excess material. You should then use a hacksaw to cut the excess material. However, in some cases, a set of scissors can work to cut the excess material. Next, slide the U-shaped bottom door seal into place and, once again, use your pencil to mark the door where the screws should be installed. In DIY home improvement fixer-uppers like this, feel free to make as many pencil marks as you need. It’s better to have everything fitting in place, and all you’ll have to do is erase at the end. Then, using a drill and drill bit that is about half the diameter of

Keep your doors closed tight by replacing the bottom seal. MARK J. DONOVAN CREATORS.COM

the screws that came along with the replacement bottom door seal, drill pilot holes in the door where you made the pencil marks for the screws. Next, use the screwdriver to attach the screws to the door. Finally, swing the door closed and then open it up to make sure

that the bottom door seal makes a tight seal with the bottom of the doorframe. Just a few easy steps and not only will you have a cleaner, more efficient door but also the air in your home will be warm and your heating bill will go down.



Pros, cons of wood pellets

Lay wire under sidewalk for lights By JAMES DULLEY

By MARK J. DONOVAN A wood pellet stove is an alternative heat system to the direct vent gas stove or traditional wood stove. Wood pellet stoves look very similar to both direct vent gas stoves and wood stoves; however, they burn different fuel and in general are more complicated. While they were invented in the 1980s, their popularity has somewhat waned in recent years and they are not allowed to be used in manufactured homes. A wood pellet stove burns saw dust or wood shavings that have been compressed into small pellets of wood, which are automatically fed through an electrically controlled auger system. Because of the fact that they require 110 volts to operate, a these stoves are not necessarily the supplemental heat system of choice if you are concerned about a loss of electricity and your main home heating system. The heat output capacity is measured in British thermal units, as all other heat delivery systems are. These particular stoves are available in a wide variety of BTU output levels, varying from 10,000 to 80,000 BTUs. Prices typically range from $1,500 to $2,000, and they are available in top-fed and bottom-fed models, each with their own unique pros and cons. There are also two main styles of pellet stoves: free standing ones and fireplace insert ones. They are also available with a variety of options, including remote thermostat control. Compared to traditional wood stoves, wood pellet stoves are extremely efficient and produce little smoke and ash. Therefore, they do not require as big a chimney to expel the smoke and ash. In addition, they produce relatively little ash that needs to be cleaned out of the ash pan. That being said, they should be cleaned fairly often to make sure the mechanical parts


There are pros and cons to wood pellet stoves — and all kinds of stoves, for that matter. do not get jammed. Because of the number of moving parts and the complexity of these stoves, they are prone to frequent maintenance issues and regular care. When buying one, it’s often wise to sign up for a regular maintenance schedule. They tend to be a bit messy, at least around the hearth area. Similar to dried dog or cat food lying around a pet’s dish, pellets end up spilling and lying around wood pellet stoves. From a cost of operation standpoint, a wood pellet stove’s true energy cost saving is debatable. If you were to plan to heat your entire home with this, you could possibly need several tons of wood pellets for the year. Besides the actual cost of the wood pellets, you also need to factor in the cost of delivery. Then there are also maintenance costs that need to be taken into account. In the end, the

only way to assess whether a wood pellet stove will truly provide more cost effective heating within your home is to compare your current actual oil, gas or electric heating costs with the expected costs of a pellet stove. In addition, you need to factor in the storage of the wood pellets, particularly when you are buying them by the ton. So before running out and buying a wood pellet stove, it is best to first do your math homework and carefully consider all the other nonfinancial aspects of owing one prior to taking the plunge.

Dear James: I want to install low-voltage lights in my yard, but I have to run the wire under a three-foot-wide concrete walkway. Is there any way to get it under the walk without taking out a section? — Kathy W. Dear Kathy: Your problem is very common because low-voltage lighting is commonly used around patios and landscaping with walkways. Luckily, low-voltage wiring is safe to install in the ground without protection so the job is much simpler than installing standard 120-volt lighting. You have quite a few do-it-yourself options for making an opening underneath a walkway which is only three feet wide. The first method to try is just digging under the walkway with a shovel. If the soil is relatively loose without a lot of stones, this should work well. Use a duckbill shovel. This is the type often used by landscapers to dig narrow holes when trenching or planting things. It is long and narrow and looks similar to a ducks’ bill. Start digging down on opposite sides of the walkway to determine the soil conditions. If the digging goes fairly easy, dig to a depth of about one foot below the bottom of the walkway. Dig out about three feet on either side so you can get the shovel in a more horizontal position. Remember, you do not have to dig deep. You just have to make a tunnel large enough to get the small wire through it. Push the shovel blade in horizontally and rock it back and forth to slowly loosen the soil. Once you get near the middle from either end, you will probably have to finish with a hand digger and your bare hands to remove the dirt. Another option is to saw an angled chisel end on a piece of PVC pipe. Use a piece about two feet long so you can place it horizontally in the trench on either side

of the walkway. Place a wooden block over the end and pound on it with a heavy hammer. After it goes in several inches, grip it with pipe wrench, rotate it and pull it out. Clean the dirt out of the end and repeat the procedure until you are half way through. Do the same from the other side until the holes meet. If the ground is full of stones, use a piece of steel pipe instead of PVC so you can pound harder in it. Another possible method requires the use of a pressure washer. Drive the pipe into the ground under the walkway about six inches as described above. Clean the dirt from the pipe and insert the wand from a pressure washer into it. The water pressure will help bore a hole under the walkway. Wear eye protection and a face mask. Keep your head well above the pipe and over the walkway — dont’ watch in the end. Once you have the hole opened, put a piece of conduit in it and run the wire through it. Code does not require conduit, but you may want to run additional wires someday. Use sand or fine gravel to fill in around the pipe so the walkway is still well-supported in that spot.

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DIY daylight helps beat the winter blues By NICOLA BRIDGES If you feel sluggish, moody and like you’re functioning slower in the fall and winter months, you’re not alone. Roughly five percent of the population suffers severely and is diagnosed with light-related depression appropriately known as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, as a result of short days with reduced sunlight and long hours of darkness. But many more of us experience a general malaise. “This seasonal effect is a spectrum,” explains Dr. Norman E. Rosenthal, clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University Medical School and author of “Winter Blues: Everything You Need to Know to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder.” “For every SAD sufferer there are five of us who feel like we’re just not performing up to snuff. We can get into work but we’re slower to produce, less competent and not up to our usual standard.” To feel well in winter, it’s critical to create surroundings that help lift your mood, and doing so doesn’t have to break the bank. There are easy and affordable improvements you can make using warm hues, strategic lighting, fun accessories and the sounds of summer. Get creative with color Research shows that warm and glowing colors like oranges, yellows and golds have a positive impact on mood. “A golden glow can provide a great sunny feel in winter,” explains Sherry Burton Ways, certified design psychology coach of SBW Aligned Expressions. But, she says, be careful of too much bright white. “With the outdoor winter landscape being so gray and white, it’s better to avoid glaring whites, grays and blues — considered cool and ‘quiet’ colors — and instead give your eye something warm to enjoy indoors.” Designer Olivia Williams says to consider a fresh touch of multi-pigment paint, such as those offered by Drikolor. “Pigment in paint changes the

color and strength of the light it reflects due to selective wavelength absorption, and most traditional paints are single pigment. New multipigment paints on the market are great for shifting light to flow around a room as you move through the space, helping reflect light even in shaded corners.” Painting new shades on your walls can create a comfortable respite from the outdoors. Use the right lighting Burton Ways points out that even walls with the warmest of hues can’t elevate your mood if the room lacks the right lighting. Deficiency of light is a key cause of the winter blues because the decrease of daylight results in our brain secreting more of the sleep- and mood-related hormone melatonin, which makes us feel sluggish. Williams, Burton Ways and Rosenthal all recommend installing LED track lighting, adding spotlights and lamps to create additional ambiance, or simply swapping dim bulbs for brighter bulbs for an instant mood elevation. “LED lighting has the capacity to create a very pleasant, sunny home environment with the advantages that it looks like incandescent light and provides a warm glow but doesn’t give off as much heat,” explains Dr. Rosenthal, “unlike fluorescent lighting, which results in a clinical and artificial atmosphere.” Designer Williams says another great way to extend winter days is to install lighting behind window treatments: “Hang sheer blinds or matchstick bamboo shades. Then install an inexpensive LED daylight strip behind it to give the illusion of daylight streaming through, which is really lovely to have when the sun is done for the day.” These simple tweaks can brighten up the darkest of moods.


Dr. Norman Rosenthal illustrates the positive effect of illumination with LED track lighting, spot lights and lamps in his home. embrace the Danish concept of hygge, bringing comforting images and feelings of contentment into your space to create a happy environment. “Multiple inputs of spring and summer act cumulatively to uplift us, so consider bird song and fragrances as well as accessorizing with bright throw cushions and rugs with spring and summer illustrations and themes,” he suggests. “And make the most of your mornings. Research shows that we need a boost first thing to elevate our spirits.” Creating a well-lit bathroom and breakfast area is key, and consider a sound machine that can wake you up to the sounds of birds flying through a summer breeze. We often feel that winter dread creep in once we set our clocks back and see the days getting

shorter. Be proactive with these small, simple home improve-

ments to turn your frown upside down.

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Simulate summer Re-creating upbeat feelings of sunnier seasons is also psychologically important to beating the winter blues. Dr. Rosenthal says the best way to do this is to

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Essential knowledge: Growing herbs to make oils By NICOLA BRIDGES Perhaps you already have an herb garden for cooking and salad garnishes. But have you considered using herbs you grow to make your own essential oils? Essential oil consists of plantderived aromatics that offer both therapeutic and medicinal benefits. “It’s the essence of the plants’ flowers, bark, spice, resin or herb plant matter — the natural chemical compounds found in nature that make up the plant’s fragrance and healing properties,” explains Diane Maurice-Brault of the Herb Garden Lady ( “The oils of peppermint, patchouli, basil and geranium come from the leaves and stems; clove oil comes from flower buds; and oils of jasmine, rose and tuberose come from the open flowers,” writes Harriet Flannery Phillips of Mother Earth Living. Helge Schmickle, coauthor of “The Essential Oil Maker’s Handbook,” explains that the compounds in herbs that create scents, flavors and aromas are called the volatile components. They are the chemical compounds that in nature disperse into the surrounding air to attract insects for pollination or to protect the plant by warding off parasites and herbivores, and it’s not difficult to harness these compounds at home. How to extract essential oils There are several methods used to extract essential oils from herbs, including expression, when the oil is pressed directly from the plant, seed, fruit flesh or peel; steam distillation, where heat is used to extract the oil using a still; or using a chemical solvent to extract oils before the solvent is then burned off. While steam distillers can be purchased online, both MauriceBrault and Sarah Trogdon, founder of Goldie’s Natural Beauty— a line of beauty and home products made from 100-percent organic essential oils, spices, flowers, herbs and other ingredients — say that for home gardeners, the easiest way to extract the medicinal properties from your plants is by infusion, also known as maceration. This is where herb plant material is placed in a carrier oil, such as sweet almond oil. This process


Mints are great herbs for someone new to making essential oils because they grow in abundance. has the benefit of retaining more of the herb’s therapeutic value because it captures larger molecules than distilling. First, pick your herbs in late morning, after the morning dew has dried. This is when the essential oils are at their best quality, according to Maurice-Brault. Clean and dry them. Use a paper towel to remove as much moisture as possible, because moisture can turn your oil moldy. Whether the herbs are whole, in pieces or chopped, place them in a sterilized Mason jar and pour the carrier oil over to completely cover. Cut a circle of wax paper on top; then screw on the lid tightly; seal, label, and put in a cool dark cabinet (ideally for a few months, depending on the herb). Shake the jar every few days. “After the completion date, I strain the liquid oil and discard the herb plant material, and if I need a stronger batch I repeat the process then strain several times until the oil is nice and clear, pour it in small bottles and label

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for use,” says Maurice-Brault. Plants for beginners Maurice-Brault recommends mints — great for digestion, fatigue, headaches, skin irritation,

toothaches and travel sickness — as the best and easiest herbs to grow for essential oils, especially spearmint, because it grows and spreads easily, producing an abundance of leaves for picking.

Trogdon’s favorites are rose, chamomile and sage. “Aromatic rose oil is so calming and beautifying, and rose water is a beautiful skin toner. I also like to freeze rose infusion in ice cube trays and keep them for smoothies and teas. A strong chamomile infusion, preserved in vodka, is great for the hair. It smells beautiful and helps your hair catch natural highlights.” And from sage, Trogdon makes soothing essential oil as well as tea and sage vinegar. Experts also shared some additional do’s and don’ts for successfully growing herbs and making oils: ■■ Know your growing zone. Check the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map at and do a soil test so you can be sure you’re growing herbs that thrive in your climate. ■■ Know your herbs’ growing requirements: how much sun, shade and watering they need. ■■ Never make skin or culinary applications from plants that have been treated with pesticides and chemicals. For natural pest deterrents, Trogdon recommends neem oil and soap. ■■ Don’t plant herbs next to high-traffic roads that expose them to exhaust fumes, oil and gas leaks. One final tip from MauriceBrault: When you’re starting out planting herbs, resist buying too many. Start with a simple herb garden to test your favorites for making oils.



Exterior house painting: Weather, other concerns By MARK J. DONOVAN Exterior house painting is one of the most difficult projects to schedule and complete, from a weather perspective. Exterior painting requires an ambient air temperature of about 50 to 90 degrees. In addition, the humidity should be low, and there should be little to no wind. If you decide to tackle an exterior house painting project outside of these weather conditions, chances are the paint will not hold up well. Consequently, the window of opportunity for exterior house painting is dictated by the climate in your area. In general, July and August are the worst months of the year to paint a house, because the siding is often too hot to paint. And winter is an impossible time

of the year for exterior house painting if you live in a cold climate. The fall season is usually the best time of the year for exterior painting, followed by spring, although spring weather can be quite rainy and humid. Often, the do-it-yourself homeowner who chooses to paint his or her own house finds himself or herself tackling it in a way that resembles guerrilla warfare. This approach involves painting portions of the home over an extended period of time as weather conditions permit. Another approach used by DIY homeowners is to have a weekend painting party, to which they invite friends and family for a weekend of painting and cookouts. A problem with this approach is that often more than


Because of weather conditions, the fall is usually the best time of year for exterior house painting.

just the house is painted. There are also some liability concerns. For example, someone could fall off a ladder. For the best results, it is usually wise to hire a contractor who has a team that can quickly paint a home. Although they are also at the whim of Mother Nature, they at least have the ability to rapidly paint a house. In addition, they won’t paint your car and themselves in the process. Another solution, particularly when building a new home, is to use pre-primed or -painted house siding. This way, the weather window for applying a final coat of exterior paint is wider. Also, there is always the alternative of using vinyl or brick for the house siding, which would eliminate the need for any significant exterior house painting.

Homemade ways to keep homegrown food clean By MARY HUNT Every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 48 million people become ill from food contamination. To avoid this, many dietitians say washing produce thoroughly with a vinegar solution can help kill bacteria and ensure it is safe for consumption. Walk into any grocery these days and it’s more than likely you’ll find multiple commercial fruit and veggie washes displayed between baskets of kumquats and kiwis, all promising to save your family by making produce safe for consumption. Stop! Before you spending even a few bucks for a fancy container with glowing promises, consider that you can make your own highly effective


fruit and vegetable wash for just pennies. While commercial produce cleaning products might sound great, check the ingredients and you’ll likely find an ironically high number of chemicals with a price tag to match. Mixing up your own fruit and vegetable wash is cheap and easy — plus you know exactly what’s in it. Fruit & Veggie Wash 1 cup cold tap water 1⁄3 cup white vinegar 2 tablespoons lemon juice Mix these ingredients together, and pour them into a spray bottle. Spray your produce two to three times. Let it rest for two minutes, and then rinse it off with more tap water. This mixture stores well, so do not worry at all should you

want to double the recipe. According to the Colorado State University Extension, blending lemon juice with the vinegar and water makes it more effective by increasing the acidity. This can help kill a greater number of bacteria including E. coli. Washing berries with a vinegar solution offers additional benefits: It prevents them from molding within a few days of purchase. When shopping, choose unbruised and undamaged produce. ■■ Smooth-skinned produce. Tomatoes, apples and grapes are examples of smooth-skinned produce. Spray these types of produce

with the above spray, thoroughly coating them. Allow the produce to rest for 30 seconds before rubbing the skin with your hands and not an abrasive scrubber. Rinse under cold running water to remove all vinegar taste. This prevents you from breaking the skin before the fruit or vegetable is completely clean, which could expose the flesh to contaminants. ■■ Rough firm-skinned produce. Broccoli, cauliflower, leafy greens, melons, potatoes, berries and other produce without a smooth or soft surface are slightly more difficult to clean. They require soaking in a mixture that

is 3 parts water to 1 part vinegar. This ensures the acidic blend kills all bacteria. For heads of cabbage or other leafy greens, separate the leaves for thorough cleaning. Use your sink as the container for the water and vinegar mixture and you will have plenty of room. After soaking (just a few minutes are necessary), scrub gently and rinse under cold running water. One last thing: Don’t assume you can skip washing produce that has an inedible rind like oranges, melons, squash and pineapple. Cutting or peeling the produce can transfer contaminants to the edible flesh.

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2018 Fall Home Improvement  
2018 Fall Home Improvement