Learn More About Creative Upcycling Fails

I am a big believer in upcyling, recycling and repurposing to keep discarded items out of landfills. I’m just not very good at envisioning something that already has a specific function as something that can fulfill an entirely different one.

I need suggestions. The internet is filled with examples to guide me. DIY websites, blogs and Pinterest provide an endless array of good ideas for those of us who are creatively challenged when it comes to finding a second incarnation for used “stuff.”

Unfortunately, some examples are pointless or just unappealing. There is, as a friend once told me, no accounting for taste when it comes to repurposing, which means you need to apply a critical eye to what someone else thinks is a really clever, attractive and effective reuse of old junk. Not everything should be reinvented as something it was never meant to be.

Painted furniture is not always an improvement

Painting furniture is not necessarily the best way to give it a second life. Distressing a beautiful piece that needs refinishin — stripping, sanding and staining — and slapping on some paint instead is sacrilegious at worst and frivolous at best, especially when the painter doesn’t know what she’s doing.

While browsing an antique shop today, I nearly cried when I saw a vanity table from the 1920’s that had been painted three different colors — white, magenta and mint green. And the once-beautiful but now tarnished metal and tortoiseshell drawer pulls, which were an essential part of the original design, had been totally ignored and looked grossly out of place.

Repurposing: what works and what doesn’t?

There are some truly amazing upcycles to be found online such as piano bars repurposed from old pianos. And then there are some less sophisticated, but extremely economical and useful repurposing projects such as pallets turned into all sorts of backyard furniture and shelving. But not all repurposing can qualify as “up” cycling. Some projects get a definite thumbs “down.”

By now you may be familiar with some epic repurposing and upcycling fails — for example, the deluxe bar and toilet grill that utilizes the commode’s tank as an ice chest for chilling beer — and the toilet bowl for grilling burgers. If you’re someone who thinks it’s brilliant, don’t invite me over for a barbecue.

Granted, I turned a chi chi cat litter box into a planter and to some that might be distasteful, but it didn’t look like a litter box. And I wasn’t using it to cook my dinner or serve my neighbor a beer.

That said, I have recently come across these repurposing projects that, in my opinion, earn a thumbs down for aesthetic appeal

Prevent House Fires

If you heat your home by burning wood in the cold weather or simply enjoy gathering round the hearth to watch a crackling fire, now is the time to service your chimney.

Professional chimney sweeps perform three important services:

Cleaning to remove dangerous deposits that can cause chimney fires

Inspection to make sure the chimney is free from all fire hazards, including structural damage

Repair to eliminate safety hazards and bring the chimney up to working standards

Jack and his brother Joe, Ye Olde Chimney Sweeps in Brooksville, Fla., have been cleaning chimneys for 30 years. They used to delight their original clients by showing up to work in top hat and tails. But talking to Jack, the self-described technician of the two brothers, soon dispels images of Mary Poppins’ sooty pal cheerily dancing to the tune of Chim-Chim Cheree.

Why hire a chimney sweep to clean your chimney?

When they first set up shop, Ye Olde Chimney Sweeps learned their trade hands-on, starting out by buying a chimney cleaning kit. As their expertise and clientele grew, they dropped the costumes. Keeping chimneys free from soot is serious business, and the service they and other chimney sweeps provide is one that homeowners should not attempt themselves. Why not?

  • It’s a dirty job. Jack cautioned against DIY chimney cleaning. “If you don’t know what you’re doing, you can blow your whole house full of soot,” he said.
  • It can cause a catastrophic fire if not done right. Chimney cleaning poses a serious risk. Creosote deposits in chimneys can be dangerous at any stage of formation, but once the soot glazes over and hardens, it becomes more difficult to thoroughly remove. The build-up can cause a catastrophic, fast-burning fire that leaves no time for occupants to escape before it engulfs the house.

How often should you have your chimney inspected and cleaned?

The consensus is to have a professional inspection annually.

Ye Olde Chimney Sweeps suggest that clients have their chimneys inspected at least once a year, but Jack says that how often you need to have it cleaned “depends on use”. If you burn two face cords of wood each year, get an annual inspection. If you use a Franklin stove, inspect more often. “They burn dirtier.” To reduce creosote deposits, he says, “Burn hardwoods. They burn hotter. Pine is gooey, and the soot will be sticky. Grocery store logs are okay, or [burned] in conjunction with hardwoods.”

The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA), which offers training and certification and continuing education for chimney sweeps recommends that you have your chimney and venting system inspected each year.

Terry Dearborn of Valley Chimney Sweep and Restoration in the Chicago area has been a CSIA-certified chimney sweep continually for 30 years. He cites the National Fire Protection Code 211 as the ultimate authority, which “requires an annual inspection of all chimney systems.”

Chimney cleaning is not limited to fireplaces and wood-burning stoves.

Dearborn recommends, “Gas and oil flues should also be checked on an annual basis for any soot deposits or debris blockage, which could lead to dangerous carbon monoxide poisoning.” Gas logs also generate soot and leave deposits in the flue. A professional sweep can clear the chimney of these hazards, as well.

When and why does a chimney need repair?

A cracked chimney can lead to toxic fumes seeping into the house or chimney collapse.

According to Dearborn, even a loose brick on a chimney is cause for concern. It can indicate more serious damage to the chimney, making it unsafe to use. “In all cases,” he says, a missing brick “should be checked by a professional immediately to avert the dangers of fire hazard or structural failure.”

To prevent damage to the bricks and mortar, Dearborn recommends waterproofing the exterior of the chimney. “Brick is porous, he says. “Heavy rains and melting ice fill pores and expand when temperatures drop,” leading to brick and mortar failure.

The flue liner, which protects the house from the intense heat in the chimney, must be replaced if it’s cracked. Even a small crack in the liner can be a serious fire hazard. Dearborn recommends metal chimney liners because they can be customized to fit your chimney’s specifications, but clay tile liners are another option.

Whether you are venting a fireplace, wood stove, gas or oil furnace, it’s important to be aware of the fire and carbon monoxide hazards of ignoring your chimney’s condition. As winter approaches, contact a professional chimney sweep for an inspection and cleaning.

Know More About High Efficiency Homebuilding Trends

Advances in homebuilding technology have made new construction homes more efficient than ever. Even older homes can benefit from being retrofitted with the latest systems and technologies. Lance Manlove, Certified Green Homebuilder and Division Manager at Schell Brothers in Delaware says, “The whole concept of high performance in homebuilding revolves around buttoning a house up to make it super tight, and then using engineered mechanisms to control the amount of air that comes in and out of it.”

Boost your home’s efficiency in five important ways:

1. Advanced framing techniques

Advanced framing techniques, or engineered framing, minimizes the amount of wood, while maximizing the amount of insulation in a wall. Because, according to Manlove, a typical 2′ x 6′ wall has an R-value of around R-19 to R-20, while a wooden stud itself has an R-value of around R-5 1/2. If you engineer walls so the studs are 24 inches on center (instead of the typical 16) you allow for more insulation and less wood in the wall cavity, and thus greater energy-efficiency. Line those studs up directly under the 24 inch spans of the roof trusses, and the load transfers immediately down. Your structure is just as sound, using less energy-inefficient wood.

2. Air sealing

Generally performed by insulation contractors, air sealing attempts to make a house as air tight as possible. From the exterior walls, to around outlets and lighting cans, every nook and cranny gets filled. Manlove says, “You want to minimize the amount of air infiltration into the house.” Because those nooks and crannies allow air to both penetrate and escape the structure, and allow in moisture and contaminants. Air sealing is verified by an air flow pressure test, which indicates how tight a house is, holistically.

3. Energy-efficient windows

While a wall has an R-value of R-20, a good window has an R-value around R-3 or R-4, says Manlove. He predicts that windows may get more efficient in the next 5 – 10 years, because “a double hung, argon-filled glass window just isn’t cutting it anymore in terms of high performance.” It’s the next big frontier. Europe is already making R-15 windows. “If we can get windows to be that efficient here in the U.S.,” he says, “we could reduce the loads on [heating, ventilation and air conditioning] HVAC systems by half.”

4. Dual fuel HVACs

Speaking of windows, they matter when it comes to HVAC. HVAC systems are, in large part, sized based on a home’s windows. The more efficient the windows, the smaller the HVAC system required. The latest trend is dual fuel systems. A dual fuel HVAC utilizes both electric and gas, using each fuel when it’s most economical, based on the weather. In milder temperatures, the electric heat pump provides heat, because it’s a cheaper source of energy. When the temperature drops below 40 degrees, gas is more efficient, and more comfortable. A dual fuel system with a variable speed fan is even higher performance. Less fan force is required to warm a house when it’s 60 degrees out, than when it’s 20 degrees. So, a lower fan speed does the job until temps drop lower. In the meantime, you’re saving money.

5. Solar

Solar technology has gotten so much cheaper, more Americans are choosing it to power their homes. However, cautions Manlove, you shouldn’t go spending lots of money on a solar system before tightening up your house. “The most cost-effective way to reduce your energy bill,” he says, “is to tighten up your house and air seal it. Do the sealing, the high-efficiency windows, and upgrade insulation first. Then, you can resize your HVAC, and figure out how much solar you need to offset your energy bills.”

As always, return on investment with any of these technologies depends on individual circumstances. So, talk to your contractor about the potential advantages of integrating certain high-efficiency system into your home. It is clear that by implementing technological improvements, we have the opportunity to live more energy-efficiently than ever before.

Tipas to Transplant Trees and Shrubs in Fall

Spring’s not the only time to transplant shrubs and small trees. Fall is also an excellent time for this garden task. Cooler temperatures reduce the stress plants experience when moved, but the ground is still warm enough for their roots to get re-established before winter dormancy. Transplant in fall, and your trees and shrubs will be ready to grow once spring arrives.

Why Transplant?

  • Landscape Changes. Perhaps you’re adding a deck, or expanding your driveway, and plantings are in the way. You can use them somewhere else on your property if you carefully transplant them.
  • Space Issues. Some trees and shrubs are planted in spaces too small for their mature growth. You can move them, or adjust their spacing, to increase their chances of remaining healthy, and looking great.
  • Failure to Thrive. All plants have different light, water, and soil requirements. If a shrub or tree is underperforming, it may need a change of scene. Some flowering shrubs manage to live in shady environments, but their blossoms won’t flourish without six hours of unfiltered sunlight daily. Similarly, drainage problems may waterlog the roots of a plant that prefers dry soil conditions. Transplanting these specimens may give them an opportunity to shine as nature intended.

Tips for Transplanting

  • Choose the Right Location. If you’re transplanting for lack of space, avoid the same mistake again. Be sure there’s room for the tree or shrub to grow to maturity. Ensure its new home will provide the right light, soil, and water requirements.
  • Dig the Right Hole. You should dig a new hole that is at least 2 – 3 times as wide as the root ball, to allow the lateral roots to spread out. Only dig as deep as the root ball, so the weight of the plant or tree is well supported. Dig the new hole, and water it well, prior to removing the transplant from it’s old location. This will minimize chances the roots will dry out.
  • Water Well. Water the soil well around the tree or shrub the day before transplanting. It will make digging easier, and help soil stick to the roots as you remove the plant, reducing stress.
  • Root Pruning. Do not prune branches when transplanting, as that will stimulate new top growth. You want the plant to concentrate on re-establishing roots instead. Root prune as you dig up. Remove the top soil from the roots around the trunk or crown and mark the area where you’ll dig. Use a sharp, flat spade to dig around the plant, going progressively deeper to create a root ball. As you run into big roots, cut them with a lopper. After you’ve completely root pruned the circumference of the root ball, dig under the plant to sever the roots beneath.

Care After Transplanting

After transplanting, your job isn’t over. New transplants require ongoing care and consideration. Don’t expect them to come back in full force for at least a year, as they need to acclimate to their new space before sending out new growth above ground.

  • Mulch. Add 2 – 3 inches of mulch around the base of transplants to help retain moisture and moderate soil temperature. That helps promote root growth as the plant settles in. Be sure to keep mulch away from tree trunks and the crown of shrubs, to keep air flow optimal and prohibit rot.
  • Water Deeply. It’s important to water a newly transplanted tree or shrub thoroughly, and consistently, for a couple of weeks after moving it. Give it a very deep drink every day that it doesn’t rain substantially.
  • Stake Trees. If you’ve transplanted a tree, you need to stake it, at least for the next 6 – 12 months. Use 2 – 3 stakes, making sure any wire or rope used doesn’t strangle the trunk, damaging the bark.
  • Don’t Fertilize. Do not fertilize newly transplanted trees and shrubs. That encourages new leaf and branch growth, when all the plant’s energy needs to focus on rebuilding the root system.

With planning and careful attention, you can transplant shrubs and small trees in your landscape with success, giving them the opportunity to bring you enjoyment for many years to come.

Tips To Hosting Holidays in a Small Home

If you think you need a big house to host a major holiday meal, you’re mistaken. The spirit of the holidays is about being together with the people you love, and no amount of square footage can create that magic. You can host a Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, or Christmas meal, even in a small house or apartment. You just need to get creative. These out-of-the-holiday-gift-box ideas will get you ready for a truly enjoyable event, regardless of the size of your home.

1. Create space

You have limited room in an apartment or small home, but you can make the most of what you have. Rearrange the furniture to maximize floor space. Pack it all into the corner of a bedroom if you have to. Rent or borrow folding chairs, which can be easily whipped out, moved around, and stored away again. Bring small side tables out of bedrooms to make a resting place for drinks and plates. Then, designate a single room, like a bedroom or office, where guests can leave their things, so your entertaining space won’t get cluttered with coats and bags as guests arrive.

2. Serving alternatives in small homes

Not everyone has room to serve 20 at their dining table. Who cares! There are plenty of alternatives to the Norman Rockwell depiction of a holiday meal. Dispense with the table completely if you need to. Most people won’t mind sitting on the couch with a plate in their lap, catching up with a relative they rarely see. Plan to serve buffet style, and release any anxiety you have about your upholstery. There are wonderful stain removers on the market, and the Internet is loaded with tips to remove gravy from anything. Got a gang of kids coming? Pull out an extra tablecloth and let them picnic on the floor! While you’re at it, seriously consider disposable plates, napkins and flatware. A heaping mound of dirty dishes in a small kitchen sink is overwhelming. If the food and company are memorable, few are likely to focus on the plates and cutlery.

3. Keep meal-prep simple

Chopping, mixing, and all the other cooking what-not takes up a lot of space. As much as you can, pick recipes that you can prep and cook ahead, to keep the kitchen less crowded and give you more time to enjoy your guests. When it comes to beverages, forget about offering every option. Create a small station with a signature drink where guests can serve themselves.

4. Get outside your small house

Find opportunities to get outdoors. In many parts of the country, the weather can be nice enough to enjoy a fire pit, hiking or snow-shoeing and lawn games like corn hole and horse shoes. Take an after dinner walk through the neighborhood to check out the holiday lights. Live in an apartment building with no yard? Plan a scavenger hunt, and get your neighbors involved. Then, invite them back for a piece of pie, and get to know them better. Connecting with your community can make life more fulfilling all year long, not just during the holidays.

5. Ask for help!

No matter the size of your home, if you’re hosting a holiday, you should absolutely ask for help. Most guests want to contribute, and it’s more fun to work as a team. Ask some guests to arrive early to help with parts of meal preparation and table-setting. Ask other guests to bring an appetizer or dessert to eliminate some of your cooking chores. Enlist a teenager or grandparent to help entertain little kids. In entertaining and in life, when everybody pitches in, it brings us closer together.

With some planning, you can pull off a wonderful holiday celebration no matter the size of your space. It’s the time you spend together that makes the memories — not the table settings and other trappings. Now, find your favorite recipes, and ask your Mom to bring Grandma’s famous casserole. Happy Holidays to one and all!