Archive | November, 2008

About Cold Air Return Vents

November 30, 2008

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About this time every year, my blog gets a lot of traffic from people searching for “can I cover my cold air return vents?”

Answer: no.

I want to address this issue again. If you have a forced air furnace, realize that there is an exchange of air going on with it– cold air to hot air. Your furnace needs to take in cold air, heat it up, and blow it out through your heater vents as heated air. If you cover your cold air return vents, you are starving your furnace, creating an air vacuum in your home (leading to an uncomfortable atmosphere), and perhaps filling your home with trace amounts of carbon monoxide.

Do not cover your cold air return vents.

I did a post about this when I renovated my living room, and re-did some of the furnace ducting to the room. I had done some studying and talked with my furnace guy. You can read the post here.

furnacediagram

Now, my home has cold air return vents, but not enough. Not only do you need vents, you need a proper amount for proper air exchange. My house, at about 1680 square feet, only has two small cold air return vents– for the entire house! That is far too few. My Furnace Guy said that for every heater vent (and size) in a room, there should be a cold air return vent. Bedrooms almost never have them, and this explains why bedrooms are so cold in the winter– there is no full air exchange but rather a vacuum of air. The heated air really has nowhere to go, since there is no air flow; and the room air remains stagnant and chilly. So ideally, every room should have a cold air return vent (or at least larger ones in key areas of the home). I know, I know! Replacing and rebuilding your home’s ducting system is not as easy as replacing all the kitchen sinks! With ductwork, you have to rip out walls and work with metal. It’s NOT fun. However, the next time you have a wall open or if you decide to build an addition to your home, keep these things in mind. Your furnace will appreciate it, and it will show in the heating bills.

And in the meantime, keep those cold air return vents uncovered!

Photos courtesy of Americanhvacparts and Office of Energy Efficiency of Canada.

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What I Learned on Thanksgiving Day

November 28, 2008

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I hope you who celebrated Thanksgiving Day yesterday had a wonderful day! My holiday was so relaxing, it was GREAT. The day held quite a few learning experiences for me. Most notable was the one with the baking of the Green Bean casserole (the famous one, on the back of the French’s Fried Onions can). Oh, I’ve made this recipe many times before. I don’t think I’ve ever baked it in a disposable aluminum pan, though. This is where my little learning experience comes in.

Casserole

Melted Lid1

Yah.

ALWAYS take off the flimsy plastic cover before baking in the oven at 350 degrees.

Oops. Hehehehe.

Melted Lid2

The casserole wasn’t ruined, so I served it.

I ignored the children’s protests that it tasted like plastic grocery bags.
(JUST KIDDING!)
(How would they know what grocery bags taste like, anyway?)

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The Paper Towel Duel

November 25, 2008

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Just in time for the holidays, I decided to do my own little experiment with paper towels. Now as a frugal lady, I don’t use paper towels a great deal– I use washcloths and then I launder the washcloths. But I need to keep paper towels around the house for things like cleaning out the cat litter box, wiping the car’s oil dipstick, cleaning up hairballs, etc. These are things I consider unsanitary and do not want to have circulating through my laundry.

Also, I have paper products during the holiday season when I am more inclined to have lots of company over, making lots of little messes. So I purchase paper towels, paper napkins, etc. These days I am in “paper products” mode. I’ve been checking out the many brands (btw, MUST stores have so many brands?!) and their prices. I have been wondering for a while which paper towel is more economical and effective– a “fancy” name brand, or the generic, store brand? Here’s what I found out!

*AAAAAAND in this corner! It’s the Bounty one-sheet working wonder! In the other corner, it’s the cheapo Decorator Towels Walmart brand!*

*ding ding*

Papertowels 1

(please ignore my horrid orange laminate countertops. I DID NOT install them. And yes, we do need a new kitchen! 😀 )

OK, on with the show. Here are the prices of the paper towels at my local grocery store:

Bounty: 138 sheets per roll (63.2 square feet) $2.19/roll
price per sheet: 1.590 cents

Store Brand: 90 sheets per roll (75.6 square feet) $1.79/roll
price per sheet: 1.990 cents

First off, you can see that Bounty is less expensive when you are going per sheet. Yet the Store Brand has fewer sheets and more square feet per roll. How can this be? Well, the Bounty roll has smaller sheets. As a matter of fact, the Bounty sheets are half the size of the Store Brand sheets. And even though there is more square footage with the Store Brand roll, the Bounty roll is bulkier and thicker. The Store Brand sheets are thinner and resemble the paper napkins you get at McDonald’s– kind of rough and stiff; the Bounty sheets are much thicker and have a cloth-like feel to them. You’ll also notice that the Store Brand sheets have pretty butterflies. Not to be influenced by pretty pink and blue butterflies, I purged that from my mind and concentrated solely on the important matter at hand: which was a better deal?

Papertowels 3

Judging thus the consistency and thickness of the sheets, I predict that the Bounty roll will absorb more liquid into a denser area, whereas the Store Brand will cause the liquid to expand out into the sheet more. Now for the experiment!

I decided to set globs of soy sauce on my counter to test each sheet. I’ll have you know that I wasted .047711 cents of soy sauce right there. Consider it my sacrifice for science.

Papertowels 4

And why do scientists use the same ol’ boring circles of liquid mess? I decided to make my liquid messes in the shape of Mickey Mouse for added human interest to our rather sterile and impartial scientific experiment. (Here’s hoping Disney doesn’t sue me for copyright infringement).

Papertowels 5

Ah, so here you see the sheets at work. They performed much as I hypothesized they would. Bounty picks up the liquid in a denser area; the Store Brand splays out the liquid. That line you see in the Store Brand sheet is the “glue” line that holds the sheet to the roll. It is always on the first 3 or 4 sheets of a new roll. Bounty doesn’t have that line, btw. I lifted up the sheets to see which sheet was more absorbent.

Below you will see how the Store Brand sheet performed. It didn’t absorb as much of the liquid. When I lifted the sheet, the liquid dripped off the sheet and back onto the counter.

Papertowels 8

The Bounty sheet absorbed much more of the liquid. You can also see that more of the sheet is saturated with soy sauce.

Papertowels 6

To be honest, I was surprised that the Bounty sheet picked up so much and the Store Brand picked up so little. I ended my experiment by sopping up every bit of the liquid that I could and comparing the sheets.

Papertowels 7

Hmmm. So my conclusion is that Bounty paper towels are actually a better deal. The roll itself is more expensive than the Store Brand, but there are more Bounty sheets per roll. Despite that there is less square footage than the Store Brand, the Bounty sheet performed better than the Store Brand. So, my final conclusions in table form:

Bounty:
More expensive per roll, at $2.19/roll
Less expensive per sheet, at 1.590 cents
More sheets per roll, at 138 sheets
Fewer square footage per sheet and per roll, at 63.2 square feet per roll
Performs better than Store Brand

Store Brand:
Less expensive per roll, at $1.79/roll
More expensive per sheet, at 1.990 cents
Fewer sheets per roll, at 90 sheets
More square footage per sheet and per roll, at 75.6 square feet
Not as good a deal as the Bounty roll

Thus concludes my great experiment. I hope you have found this information profitable in some way. You probably won’t get rich saving all that money on Bounty paper towels, but you may be able to buy an extra jar of soy sauce after a few months.

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For Your Little Builder

November 25, 2008

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Need some cool gift ideas? Lookie what I found– the MEGA Brands toy store! They have some really neat stuff! You can search by age category, toy brand, type of toy, and by price. The website is really cute and interactive, too. Kids would LOOOVE it. There are free games to play on the site, it’s amazing! There’s a terrific King Arthur game that my young son would love to play.. er, make that– he’s playing it now!

game

Hey, move over I have to write my post! (He’s pretty good– how do kids do that so well?!)

OK OK… this is an amazing and fun website. They have games, an activity center, articles and ideas for parents, a consumer services section, instruction manuals, and an area where you can browse some very cool toys. My pre-teen and teenage boys are into construction stuff, like MagNext stuff and the iCoaster, and at the MEGA Brands site they can browse through the different models.

MEGA Brand is well known for their toys for very young children, too. My kids have always had MEGA Brands toys; MEGA Brand stuff is very durable and very affordable.

toy

Check out the site, it’s a great place for all ages. And you may want to bookmark it for when company arrives over the holidays- this site is kid-safe and will keep them busy for hours.

OK, I have to go now. My son wants to continue his game…. :S

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Yugo No More

November 21, 2008

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With hats in hands, we bid a sad farewell to the Yugo tomorrow (I’m such a sentimental schmuck, I know). The Yugo, mass produced in the 80s, was a simple car designed to be small and economical, compared to the futuristic, complex, gas guzzling SUVs with their flashy gadgets and flash memory microchip in the engines. The Yugo was also notoriously unreliable.

KRAGUJEVAC, Serbia, Nov 20 (Reuters) – Serbian auto maker Zastava, producer of the iconic Yugo, will make its last vehicle on Friday before closing its doors to revamp operations in a joint venture with Italy’s Fiat. The Yugo car dates back to 1978, and, since mass production started in 1980, nearly 800,000 Yugo vehicles have rolled out of the Zastava plant, 142,000 exported to the United States.

Socialist Yugoslavia created the Zastava car plant in 1953 to service its domestic market of about 20 million people.

Thus ends another chapter in the closing of what could loosely be called an automobile. It was imported into the U.S. by businessman Malcolm Bricklin, who:

…wouldn’t be satisfied until he had forced every American to walk to work. To that end, in 1985, he began importing the Yugo GV, which turned out to be the Mona Lisa of bad cars. Built in Soviet-bloc Yugoslavia, the Yugo had the distinct feeling of something assembled at gunpoint. Interestingly, in a car where “carpet” was listed as a standard feature, the Yugo had a rear-window defroster — reportedly to keep your hands warm while you pushed it. The engines went ka-blooey, the electrical system — such as it was — would sizzle, and things would just fall off. Yugo. Or not. (TIME magazine, The 50 Worst Cars of All Time, 2007).

The Yugo became something of an icon, a symbol of everything that was wrong and inefficient about the Soviets, socialism, and later, wacko-liberalism. The Yugo was the brunt of many jokes over the years.

Yu*go (yoo-go) n. (1) A small, economical, Yugoslavian-built automobile. (2) a 4×4 hood ornament.
adj. 1) What doesn’t happen when you press the accelerator.

A man walks into an auto parts store and says,
“I’ll take a gas cap for a Yugo.”
“Sounds like a fair trade,” says the salesman.

How do you double the value of a Yugo?
Fill the tank!

What is found on the last two pages of every Yugo owner’s manual?
The bus schedule.

What do you call a Yugo with a flat tire?
Totalled.

Why do Yugos have a heater for the back window?
To keep your hands warm when pushing.

How do you make a Yugo go faster?
A towtruck.

Yuk yuk yuk! Goodbye, Yugo. If nothing else, you made us laugh.

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Staging Your Home to Sell Your Home

November 21, 2008

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Now that real estate seems to be the hot topic these days (what with the mortgage bust and the major shift in the real estate market), more people are thinking about selling their homes. Now everyone knows that you can’t put your house on the market, fling the doors open, and expect interested buyers to come streaming in and handing you cash. It requires a little more effort than that. The market is a little shaky right now, and the competition is pretty fierce. You want your property to shine above the others. So everyone knows that much. The real question is HOW DO YOU DO THAT?

Have you ever heard of the book, Dress Your House for Success? It was written 20 years ago, a groundbreaking book, way before its time. It’s a book about the art of “home staging,” which is preparing your home to look, smell, and feel attractive to prospective buyers. It was written by Martha Webb, author and home staging expert. I got the chance to ask Ms. Webb a few questions about home staging, especially for the renovator who has an older home. Her answers are very insightful; some surprised me. Here’s the interview:

Mrs. Mecomber: What are the worst things you’ve seen some homeowners do when trying to sell their house?

Martha Webb: Do nothing, or believe that lived in is good enough for selling. Fail to pay attention to the basics – clean, clutter and odor free, in good repair.

Mrs. Mecomber: When I was looking for a house, over decade ago, it seemed that people were not averse to buying a “fixer-upper.” Does this hold true today?

Martha Webb: No, there are so many properties on the market that are phenomenal deals, there isn’t the reason to buy a fixer upper to get sweat equity. Also, today’s buyers (average age 39) have less time and money to fix up a property. With all the competition for buyers, they need only look around the corner for a house that won’t require time, work or money.

Mrs. Mecomber: Do perennial gardens add much to the emotional value of a home? In your opinion, about how much emotional value would a garden (or gardens) have, overall?

Martha Webb: A garden (perennial or well-landscaped) tells buyers that the house has been well cared for. The garden can add to the “homey” feel of a property and may be an added benefit to some; to others, they may not want the work to maintain it. If the gardens exist, sellers should make sure they are well-manicured to add to the charm of the house, not elicit the response of work. If there are not gardens, I would not recommend spending money to install them.

Mrs. Mecomber: What are most prospective buyers looking for the most when walking through a prospective home?

Martha Webb: Research has shown that buyers’ first impression have to do with the basics of cleanliness, clutter and repair, which translate to “well cared for,” “spacious,” and “no work.” They also want the “homey” feel, but are less likely to be able to describe that; they recognize it when they feel it – and that where staging comes in.

Mrs. Mecomber: What are some inexpensive “props” or techniques for staging a home?

Martha Webb: Entry: make sure that you show some elegance or style – possible a half-round table, artwork, a mirror, flowers
Kitchen: show more than an organized space, include a hint of entertaining or family gathering: a cookbook, serving dish, fruit arrangement
Bath: counter the cold of tile with a fabric shower curtain and matching rug, stacked or rolled towels and a packaged spa-like soap or bath product
Bedrooms: add comfort and relation with pillows and throws, a book on a nightstand

I really appreciate Martha Webb taking the time to answer my questions. Someday I hope to sell my own house, and I’ll come back to these tips and the ones in her books.

I’ve been through a lot of homes, and the one thing that strikes me just as much as the appearance of the home is the smell. I have a very sensitive nose (more women than men do, too). If I smell stale cigarettes or mildew or dog, that’s a REAL turn off. You can count on me turning down the house. So I recommend eradicating the sourest smells from the home before showing the home. For other smells, like cooking oil (another smell that makes me wretch), burning toast, or an oddball stinky sneaker that one of the kids left in the front entry, I recommend the new Febreze candle. I have used the Apple & Spice and I am nuts about it. I have four kids, a cat, and a bird in the house. I NEED these candles. They have a special core that freshens the air while the colored section fills the house with frangrance. The Apple & Spice is sooo good, and I love to burn them during the winter months. It just makes the house feel warmer.

I hope these tips help you! And really, even if you aren’t selling your home, you can always do yourself a favor by staging your home for yourself! The holidays are coming up, so this is actually a terrific time to pamper the family and spruce up the place for them.

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Woman’s Home Threatened Over 1 Cent Water Bill

November 20, 2008

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UNBELIEVABLE!!! First, the story:

A 74-year-old blind woman was shocked when her daughter found a letter from the city saying a lien would be placed on her home unless she paid an overdue water bill.

The amount? 1 cent.

…The letter warned of a lien and a $48 penalty if the overdue bill is not paid by December 10. The charge was from the previous fiscal year, which ran from July 2007 to July 2008.

I’ve read this story at several news sites: CNN, Fox, Yahoo, etc. NOT ONCE was the point made that this woman was threatened with her home being taken away from her because she didn’t pay the full amount on her UTILITY BILL.

SINCE WHEN can a person’s home be taken from them because of an unpaid utility bill??? I don’t care if the amount is 1 cent or $1million dollars. This is outrageous, and I can’t believe this isn’t being screamed from the rooftops. A defaulted utility payment is warrant for the government to put a lien on a woman’s home?!?!? The woman has lived in her home since 1959. They were just itching to take her property away. Unconscionable!

And then the Attleboro government has the nerve to say that this issue was “blown out of proportion.” What happened to your guts, Massachusetts? It wasn’t even 300 years ago that you stood up to show the rest of the world what you thought of tyrants who want to take your property and liberty away.

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Safe and Secure With All Alarms

November 19, 2008

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There have been a rash of robberies in my area lately. I remember, years ago, when we could easily leave our doors unlocked while we went out. Not so anymore. As a matter of fact, I admit that I sometimes don’t sleep very well because I’m concerned of a break-in. There’s just SO much night time activity around here these days and it seems to have worsened along with the economy; it’s unnerving.

I always thought security systems were something for “the rich people’s homes.” I always saw that blue octagonal “ADT” decals on doors of houses I visited. I have recently checked into the ADT home security system, and I must say: I am impressed. It’s very affordable! I don’t see how any home can be without it.

There are many various options and plans you can choose from with the ADT security system. You can mix and match an alarm system with video surveillance, 24-hour burglary monitoring, or get their new TouchPad system (it disarms the alarm with a wave of a special remote keychain device). Installation cost is as low as $99 (there’s a special going on right now, see here) and monthly monitoring costs are right around $35– that’s the cost of a pizza dinner for 6, people. I had no idea ADT was so affordable! And now I know why so many New York State homes have ADT– there’s a monitoring station here in the state, and ADT is the largest and most reliable security system in the country. ADT can monitor for burglary, fire, flooding (oh THAT would be wonderful for my property!), medical emergencies and more. The ADT Safewatch QuickConnect plan has gotten good reviews, too.

adt

I’m looking into the ADT security system for my home. I recommend you do so, too. ADT offers a free home security evaluation- see here. You can fill in the form and an ADT representative will contact you for an appointment. If nothing else, check the website for home security tips and information about how to make your property more secure. Don’t leave things to chance!

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These Are Our Next Kitchen Trends? Really?

November 18, 2008

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My local news source linked to a Move.com article detailing some exprected trends in kitchen remodels. To be honest, I really question the trends. They seem extremely extravagant. Now I know, I know, I live in Upstate New York, not exactly within the realms of the Beverly Hills/Manhattan Home Re-Do specialists. And I admit, I do view “trends” with a wary eye. To me, “trends” are less about “what’s hot,” and are more about “stuff that corporations are marketing to consumers.”

Here are some of the trends that are being marketed to us this yeareveryone is buying so we have to have it too … becoming popular:

1. Granite countertops.

Are they kidding?! There was a flurry of news reports in July and August, claiming that granite countertops emit radon. I blogged about it, too. Besides, granite is THE most expensive countertop you can buy (unless you want gold plate). I am highly suspicious that granite countertops are the new “trend” at the same time that people are losing their 401Ks and manufacturing jobs continue to be outsourced (by the way, do we still have any manufacturing companies in the U.S.?)

2. Personalized, decorative tile backsplashes.

Again, this is a highly customized feature. I seriously doubt that people are going to want to spend 5 times more for decorative tile for their backsplashes.

3. Glass front cabinets.

Not terribly thrifty, but glass front may eventually be cheaper than solid wood. Still, it’s another semi-custom feature. I think consumers are going to lean toward more stock items, things that are durable and easy to maintain.

4. Stainless steel appliances and white appliances.

When did white appliances go out of “trend”? I think 99% of us have white refrigerators, right? Stainless steel appliances have come a long way. I think they used to be priced right around $2500 when they first came out; I saw one at Lowe’s for about $1,500 recently. Still… a refrigerator is a refrigerator. Does it really matter if it has a micro computer memory chip to make the perfect ice cube? Do you think you’d pay $1000 more for a fridge because it has stainless steel covering? Not me, anyway.

5. Turquoise and pink colors.

*screams in horror*

I FINALLY got rid of all the turquoise and pink paint from when they did it to my house in the 1950s! Noooooooooo!

“It’s any color pink. Pink is the hot shade. Bubblegum, raspberry pink, cherry pink… all those pinks are big. The other big shade is turquoise. Turquoise jewelry is hot and we’re starting to see that in fabric and wallpaper design. It’s just now starting but it will get huge.”

Ladies, if we want the men to pitch in in the kitchen, JUST SAY NO to pink.

6. Round or oval tables.

7. Hardwood floors.

Again, #6 and #7 are in moderately higher echelons than the other existing choices– rectangular tables and vinyl flooring. I have seen some very nice hardwood-looking resilient flooring at Home Depot. The stuff is amazing– my local Walmart actually installed it recently on their floors. The stuff is beautiful and incredibly durable. It’s called “Trafficmaster Vinyl Plank flooring.” It installs in strips, like laminate flooring, but it has sticky tabs that make it stick together. When I re-do my kitchen, I’m using that stuff. It wil last forever, and be a breeze to maintain.

Well, that’s my take on what the talking heads are saying about kitchen trends. I’d really like to know what you think about all this. I read these “trends” lists with a skeptical eye, but I do wonder if it’s just me being too cheap, or do I really have a pulse on the average homeowner’s thoughts? Let me know!

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Make Your Own Air Freshener

November 18, 2008

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I don’t know why I am so focused on air fresheners lately; perhaps it is due to the cold weather settling in, and we are indoors all the time? If there’s one thing about old houses, they do tend to smell. I have a very sensitive nose, so the smells of old lathe-and-plaster, 150-year old mouse nests in the walls, and the wet basement smells drive me near crazy every winter. I’m always trying out new fresheners. I can’t bake apple pies and zucchini breads every day, now can I? On really cold days, besides baking, I sometimes simmer orange peels and cinnamon bark on the stove. There is something really wonderful about oranges and cinnamon on cold, snowy days; but I don’t always have a fresh supply of either.

I saw this hilarious video at Dine-o-meter blog. Oh my word, this is terrific! It’s all a funny spoof, but making the air freshener is for real. The video is done by Jolene Sugarbaker, and it’s great! LOL. I checked out Jolene’s site (is it just me, or is Jolene really a GUY??) and “she’s” been doing this since 1993! How could I have possibly missed this?! This is really fun. My son watched the video, and this looks like a really fun craft project.

I haven’t seen any of those scented oils at the Dollar Store; but then again, I haven’t ever looked. This look like a frugal, fun way to make your own scented air freshener! LOL. I also like Jolene’s suggestion of prettying up the jars with baubles, kind of like how kids decorate hoto digital frames with sequins and such. Maybe I’ll have the kids make a video of them doing the craft, and I’ll post about how our version runs. I am curious as to how well this sceneted freshener would work– my house is pretty big and pretty smelly…

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