You don’t need to spend a lot of money to make your dining room table a holiday standout. Ideas include:
MINI MENUS – Don’t keep your guests guessing about what will be served. Leave a small menu at each place setting. Those with special food requirements will especially appreciate this extra effort.
CONVERSATION NAME CARDS – On the opposite side of a standard place-setting name card, include a customized conversation starter (e.g. “Ask me about my vacation”).
DECORATED WINE BOTTLES – Instead of leaving plain bottles of wine on the table, consider decorating them with ribbons, fabric sleeves, gift tags, and more.
ARTFUL NAPKINS – Folding cloth napkins into fun shapes and figures is not difficult (children love the challenge), but the end result will make your guests feel very special.
CLEANING UP HOLIDAY SPILLS
As careful as your holiday guests may be, there’s a good chance one of them is going to spill some food or drink on your carpet or upholstered piece of furniture. Keep this article handy, and you will know just how to respond.
ACT QUICKLY – The longer the spill sits, the more likely it will turn into a permanent stain.
USE A CLEAN CLOTH – Paper towels don’t work nearly as well.
BLOT – If you rub, the freshly spilled ingredients may penetrate and/or spread more. But it may be okay to rub a stain that’s already dried.
HAVE STAIN TREATMENTS AT THE READY – The products most often called for in do-it-yourself stain-removal solutions include: white vinegar, rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, non-bleach liquid laundry detergent, OxiClean, baking soda, ammonia and nail polish remover
Take time now to ensure your home is properly prepared for the onslaught of family and friends who may be visiting during the holiday season this year.
The secret to being a memorable holiday host is having a house that’s not only welcoming, but also safe and well-maintained. Following are some suggestions for quick, pre-visit improvements.
LIGHT UP THE OUTDOORS
Installing exterior lighting can quickly transform your house from a dark object to an evening oasis. For dramatic effect, beam lights along the sides of your house. To bring your landscaping to life, mount upward-facing lights at the base of large trees and bushes. Beckon your guests (and make their final approach infinitely safer) by posting lights along walkways and stairs
PRESSURE-WASH THE WALKWAYS AND DRIVEWAYS
Mossy steps and walkways are very slippery at this time of year. And the best way to remove these organic build-ups is with a powerful pressure washer.
BOLT THE BOOKSHELVES
Bookshelves more than five feet high can be accidentally pulled or pushed over by well-meaning guests – with potentially serious results. Anchor them to the walls with brackets and bolts specially designed for the task.
GIVE YOUR TOILET(S) A TUNE-UP
To ensure your loo can accommodate the additional users…
Use a small, handheld mirror to see if the all-important water holes on the underside of the toilet bowl rim are plugged with mineral deposits and grime. If so, use a length of wire clothes hanger to clear them.
Treat your toilet with one of the products that dissolves built-up paper and organic waste in the pipes (a product called “Toilet Care Tune-Up” is sold at hardware stores, Walmart, big box home-improvement stores, and more).
Make sure it’s still securely bolted to the floor: Grab both sides of the bowl and try to rock it back and forth. If there’s any movement, tighten the floor bolts (but not so tight that you crack the fragile porcelain).
CLEAR THE ENTERTAINING AREAS
If guests have to maneuver around pet food bowls, recycling containers, potted plants, piles of reading materials, and other obstructions, there’s a very good chance someone is going to trip or slip.
HAVE THE CHIMNEY INSPECTED
If there’s even a chance you are going to have a real-wood fire, and you haven’t had your chimney inspected or cleaning a couple years, schedule an appointment with a chimney sweep now.
CHANGE THE FURNACE FILTER
To help those guests who may have allergies to dust, pollen and pet hair, change your furnace filter.
Garage Door Maintenance
If just one part of your garage door fails, the consequences can be significant. If it won’t open all the way, your car could be stuck inside until a repair crew arrives. It it won’t close completely, everything stored in your garage – as well as your home – could be vulnerable to burglars. And should it override the built-in safety features, anyone standing in its way could be badly hurt.
The key to avoiding problems with your garage door is regular maintenance. Once a year, take an hour to perform the following checks and services.
Warning: Garage doors are heavy and dangerous. Always unplug the opener before performing any garage door inspection or maintenance. And do not attempt any significant repairs on your own.
LOOK AND LISTEN – Stand inside your garage and watch the garage door go up and down a few times. Listen for any grinding or scraping noises. Look to make sure the door operates smoothly and makes a tight seal with the ground.
CHECK THE “OBSTRUCTION SENSORS” AND “AUTO-REVERSE” – To ensure no one gets trapped under a closing garage door, all automatic garage door openers manufactured after 1992 are equipped with “obstruction sensors” and an “automatic-reverse” feature. Make sure both are working correctly.
- Place a bucket directly under the open garage door, and push the “close” button. The obstruction sensor should recognize that an obstruction is present and not allow the door to close.
- Next, place an old chair under the open door (positioning the legs so they are out of the way of the sensor beam). Then push the button to close the door. When the bottom of the door meets the chair, the door should immediately reverse and open again.
INSPECT THE ROLLERS AND CLEAN THE TRACKS – The little wheels attached to the sides of the door should roll freely and not wobble. Spray them with a silicone lubricant spray (not WD-40) occasionally to keep them well lubricated. The tracks that the rollers rest on should be clean and free of debris.
LUBRICATE THE SPRINGS AND CHAIN/BOLT – Spread some white lithium grease on the chain or long metal bolt that connects the opener motor and the door (if it’s a rubber belt, do not lubricate it). Spray the springs mounted above the door with silicone lubricant.
REPLACE THE WEATHER-STRIP – If it’s brittle or cracked, the thick rubber strip on the bottom of the garage door should be replaced.
TASKS BEST LEFT TO THE PROS – The following maintenance and repair tasks are dangerous and require an experienced hand. In other words, they should always be handled by a professional garage door technician:
- Professional inspection and adjustment (every three to five years)
- Replacement of worn or broken springs
- Replacement of worn or bent tracks
- Replacement of worn or broken rollers
- Repair of frayed cables
For many people, fall is the best season of all – not too hot, not too cold; lots of color in the leaves; and a little less hectic at home with the kids back in school. What a great time to tackle a few important fair-weather home-maintenance tasks.
In just a matter of weeks, fall will be upon us. If you want your home to be well prepared for the coming rain and cold, focus your attention on these four tasks:
DISCOVER WHERE YOU’RE WASTING ENERGY
An energy audit is a step-by-step analysis of your major appliances, your heating and cooling system, your lighting, the major air leaks in your home, the amount of insulation in your walls and ceilings, plus more. The U.S. Department of Energy website (energy.gov) offers referrals to local energy auditors who can perform this task, as well as instructions for a preliminary do-it-yourself energy audit.
GET AN EXPERT OPINION ON OLDER TREES
Winter is when older trees are prone to falling, which can be very dangerous for any people in the area, as well as any surrounding structures. Now is the time to ask a professional arborist to assess the significant trees on your lot and let you know if any are weak, diseased or otherwise prone to toppling anytime soon.
CONSIDER GUTTER AND DOWNSPOUT GUARDS
This is a great time to consider installing leaf guards to prevent your rain gutters and downspouts from clogging once the rain and leaves start falling. Downspout guards are inexpensive metal spheres about the size of a baseball that fit into the openings of your downspouts and prevent leaves from washing down the downspout and creating a blockage. Gutter leaf guards are a bigger investment. They fit over the top of your gutters and keep leaves from ever even entering the gutter (or downspout). While often advertised as a solution that can eliminate gutter-cleaning for good, the truth is, if you live under large deciduous trees, you should check to make sure the guards are working correctly about once a season.
CHECK FOR CRACKED BRICK MORTAR
If you have brick walls or a brick chimney, you’re going to want to check the condition of the mortar (the filler between the bricks). If that concrete filler is cracked, falling out or already missing in spots, get a bid from a brick mason for its repair. Because, once rain starts oozing inside a brick structure for an extended period of time, the metal supports inside can rust, and the entire structure can start leaning and sinking.
When properly maintained, your air conditioning system will run better, last longer, and operate at a lower cost. Even better, you can do some of the maintenance yourself, without having to hire a technician.
NOTE: Before servicing your air conditioner, turn off all power to the unit (the main shutoff switch on the unit and the air conditioner breaker switch in your home’s main service panel).
CLEAN UNDER THE COVER – Remove the cover on the unit and carefully vacuum the inner workings.
STRAIGHTEN ANY BENT FINS – Improve the air flow between the tiny metal cooling fins y straightening any that are bent.
CLEAN AROUND THE FINS – Spray hose water between the cooling fins.
OIL THE FAN MOTOR – If the motor attached to the fan blades has small oil holes, fill them – until they overflow – with a lightweight oil specifically made for small electrical motors.
Saving Water In The Garden
During the dog days of summer, your lawn, plants, and trees hunger for water. These three water-savers will help you quench that thirst without wasting this precious resource:
DRIP IRRIGATION – This is like a modern-day, miniaturized, more precise version of the old soaker hose that’s perfect for potted plants, vegetable gardens, and shrubs.
TIMER – The most inefficient time to water is during the heat of the day. Instead, consider installing a timer on your watering system (whatever kind it is) that can be programmed to hydrate your plants during the cool of the evening or morning.
RAIN BARRELS – Connect a rain barrel to two or three of your rain gutter downspouts, and the rainwater that collects there during the winter can be put to use in the garden during the summer.
Home Maintenance Checklist
• Change or clean air filters in your central air system.
• Have septic tank system inspected, if applicable.
• Inspect driveways, sidewalks, patios, bricks, and other concrete or stone surfaces for cracks. Repair as needed.
• Inspect decks, steps, and wooden structures for wood rot and other damage. Make repairs as soon as possible to minimize further complications.
• Check eaves around roof, chimneys, caps, etc. Remove flying insect nests. Fix any damaged areas.
• Inspect washer hoses and dryer vent system.
If your yard is not living up to its full potential as a place for family and friends to relax, enjoy the weather, and gather for fun, then it’s time to get out there and make some improvements before winter sends everyone scurrying indoors again.
Because the yards around most homes account for such a large part of the property, any updates to outdoor spaces can make a dramatic difference for the better – for your own enjoyment, as well as the future resale value. Here are seven yard improvements to consider:
A garden fountain can make your whole yard seem more sophisticated. The moving water is a great attraction for birds, plus, the sound effects are perfect for masking the noise from surrounding streets, commercial districts, and noisy neighbors.
These water-less landscape features use carefully arranged stones to create the feel of flowing water in a nearly maintenance-free setting.
With the right lights staged throughout your yard, you can bring your whole garden into view, make outdoor paths, and walkways safer, and highlight the best architectural aspects of your home’s exterior.
Family and guests love to gather in the kitchen (and cooks enjoy the company), so why not create an outdoor kitchen in your backyard? High-end versions often feature running water and natural gas. But less-expensive layouts can be created using bottled water and propane gas tanks.
While everyone loves the sun, your family and friends may not want to sit directly in it for hours at a time. Freestanding yard awnings (also called sun shade sails) offer an inexpensive way to create some respite. Made of colorful, fade-resistant outdoor fabric, they can be relatively easily stretched overhead and across areas of your yard using cables, turnbuckles, and other inexpensive mounting hardware.
Connect a projector to your existing laptop, erect a temporary screen, and before you know it, you can be watching mainstream movies in your backyard.