Seven Genius Hacks
Snow is stressful, but just because it’s the dead of winter doesn’t mean you should be left out in the cold. We’re here to make things easier and show you how to survive winter with these brilliant snow hacks.
Get a snow rake. A rake for snow sounds like a joke, but it’s actually one of the best ways to prevent ice dams from forming on your roof. Snow rakes are designed to be used from the ground, with telescopic handles that easily remove snow from areas of your roof around the gutters. This helps melting snow travel through your downspouts instead of backing up into your attic.
Wear socks over your shoes. We promise we’re not (just) trying to make you look like a dork—wearing socks over your shoes before you go out to shovel increases traction over ice and snow. Less slip and fall is always a good thing, are we right? Just make sure you’re using an old pair of socks, because they will get ruined.
Mist your shovel with cooking spray. Scooping your driveway is bad enough, and the only thing that makes it worse is snow sticking to the shovel. Believe it or not, there’s a way to avoid it. Just spray a light coat of cooking oil over both sides of your shovel blade and watch the snow slide right off, every time. No more banging the shovel on the ground between scoops.
Lay out a tarp for easy snow cleanup. If you want to skip the shovel all together, lay out a tarp on your walkways before the storm hits (make sure to stake it down if it’s windy). Once it stops snowing, pull the tarp off into your yard, shake off the snow, and behold your instantly snowless path. Clever you!
Set your ceiling fans to spin clockwise. We all know that heat rises, which would be perfect if we spent our time on the ceiling. This leaves us with the problem of how to get that heat back down where we need it. If you have ceiling fans, you might have noticed that they spin counterclockwise, which draws air up from the floor. You might not know that you can switch your ceiling fan to spin clockwise instead, drawing warm air down from the ceiling to keep you comfortable.
Melt frozen locks with hand sanitizer. Because of its high alcohol content, hand sanitizer is the perfect tool for unfreezing stuck locks. Why does it work so well? Alcohol drastically lowers the freezing point of water, so the outside temperature has to be much colder for water to freeze. Here’s how to pull off this trick (spoiler: it’s really easy): coat your key in sanitizer, then put it in the lock. Best of all, this method will work on any lock, whether it’s your home, your car door or a padlock.
Defrost icy car windows with two ingredients. Everybody hates warming up their frosty car in the morning, but there’s an easy way to save time without having to buy a remote starter. Start by mixing up a solution of 1 part water to 2 parts isopropyl rubbing alcohol, put it in a spray bottle and watch the frost melt away. The solution won’t freeze in a cold car, so you can take it with you wherever you go, and you can even use it to open car doors when they get stuck.
How To Remove Salt Stains the Easy Way
Winter brings more into your home than just snow and ice. In addition to slushy footprints, there’s a good chance that you and your family are tracking in salt, sand and ice melt. Avoiding these substances in parking lots and walkways is almost impossible, so what’s a person to do? You might start by thinking of the clean-up process as a little science experiment.
The salt that we scatter on sidewalks in winter is actually made up of calcium chloride pellets. Calcium chloride is an inexpensive substance known for its effective melting properties, with certain solutions having the ability to prevent freezing at as low as – 62 degrees Fahrenheit. It also happens to have a high pH, one greater than 7.
Because calcium chloride is so acidic, it tends to attract water, which means it loves our snowy boots. You may think you’re in the clear once wet footprints have either evaporated or been wiped away, but unsightly white streaks will likely appear in time. And if salt isn’t properly cleaned, it can slowly destroy a floor’s finish or permanently stain carpet.
How to Remove Salt Stains with Vinegar
Your first thought may be to grab a bucket of hot soapy water or scrub hard at the stubborn stains with a brush. But the best way to remove stains is to neutralize the highly acidic calcium chloride with a low-pH cleanser. You can choose a floor neutralizer for this specific purpose, but our favorite solution is one we’ve already discussed at length in a previous entry—vinegar. With its pH of 3, vinegar won’t just remove tough, baked-on stains from your oven. When used the right way, it’s your best bet for keeping floors clean.
Since vinegar itself is fairly acidic, it’s best not to apply it directly to just any surface. Stone, for example, can be eroded by acidic substances and is not ideal for cleaning with vinegar. The key to using vinegar to remove salt stains is to dilute it. To avoid wear and tear on your flooring, try mixing four to five ounces of vinegar with about a gallon of warm water. Use a generous amount of vinegar solution to mop floors or gently scrub carpets. Allow it to rest for three to five minutes, then use clear warm water to mop stains again.
While vinegar is perfect for vinyl or tile flooring, you’ll need to modify the process if you have a hardwood floor. It’s best not to use a mop since excess or standing water can cause damage to wood. Spot-treat hardwood floor stains with a rag soaked in the solution, then use another clean, dry rag to wipe up the stains and any vinegar residue.
You can also use vinegar to clean salt stains off of concrete. Since calcium chloride tends to bond more strongly to concrete than interior flooring materials, you’ll need to create a stronger cleaning solution. Mix one part vinegar with five parts water, put down a generous amount of cleaner, wait three to five minutes and then mop it up with clear water.
More Winter Foot Traffic Tips
A certain amount of moisture and staining is probably unavoidable when it comes to your home and winter foot traffic. You may need to lay down a strict no-shoes-in-the-house rule and put out additional absorbent mats to catch any water and salt. It’s a good idea to place one for wiping outside the door and then one or two more to cover your foyer. You can also try leaning shoes toes-up on the lip of a boot tray so that excess moisture drains off.
5 Ways to Know if You Need a Gutter Replacement
1. You can see visible damage.
The quickest way to know if you need a gutter replacement is to examine your gutters up close. If your gutters are damaged, you may be able to see visible cracks, rust and holes, especially along the bottom. If the wear and tear is minor, you should be able to make repairs yourself with a little sealant. But before you make a decision about how to proceed with a potential DIY project, it’s important to look for the following signs. If you see any of these, chances are you’ll need a full-blown gutter replacement.
2. There’s water damage on your home’s siding.
The state of your home’s siding can give you great insight into many other aspects of the house’s condition, including its gutters. Another sign you may have a gutter replacement on your horizon is the presence of discolored water marks right below the gutters on your home’s siding. Water marks can indicate that gutters are leaking or overflowing. If your home is made of brick or another material, you’ll need to take a look at the fascia and soffit for water damage.
3. Your gutters pull away from the house.
Sagging gutters that pull away from the house indicate major drainage problems. If gutters get weighed down with water, they can sometimes drop or fall off the home altogether. Sometimes, sagging gutters are unavoidable due to heavy rainfall or freezing snow, but often, they can be prevented by cleaning out the dirt and debris that might be blocking water flow. Just be careful not to cause additional damage to gutters when leaning your body weight or a ladder against your home.
4. Your basement is flooding.
They say that if your basement is flooding, you should start at the top of your home and work your way down to diagnose the issue. This is where gutters come into play. You might experience basement flooding from time to time when your gutters can’t carry water away from your home fast enough. If water isn’t carried away, it can end up right below your eaves as it slides off your roof, seeping into your basement and causing water damage that ranges from wet patches on the ground to inches of standing water. Sometimes, basement flooding is unavoidable, especially in areas of heavy rainfall where gutters overflow often. Often, though, it means your gutters are significantly damaged.
5. You can spot mildew on your foundation.
If your home is experiencing foundation issues, the gutters may be your last area of concern. But they can actually play a big role in the health of your home’s structure. This is because the primary job of gutters is to carry water away from the home. If you can see water pooling around the foundation and signs of mildew, you could be dealing with a major gutter issue. Sometimes, simply cleaning your gutters will help get rid of any plugs, but you could also need a replacement.
The Best (and Worst) Firewood to Burn This Winter
Whether you’re new to the world of wood-burning stoves and fireplaces or a seasoned veteran (pun fully intended), it helps to know the right woods to use to get the most for your money. Here’s some of the best firewood to burn, along with other kinds you should avoid at all costs this winter.
A Word on Seasoning
Before we get into specific types of wood, we need to mention “seasoning,” a term that will apply to all the woods we talk about going forward. Seasoning refers to the process of drying firewood before it’s burned in your stove or fireplace. Burning unseasoned (or “green”) wood releases more smoke and water vapor, which means more creosote buildup and a greater chance of chimney fires over time.
How can you tell the difference between seasoned and unseasoned wood? It’s easy. Green wood often looks freshly cut with visible saw marks, while seasoned wood will look gray or white. The ends of seasoned wood shows radial cracking and the bark should come off easily. If the wood isn’t cracked and the bark is firmly attached, it’s still green and shouldn’t be used in your fireplace yet.
The Best Firewood to Burn
The firewoods that made our “Best to Burn” list had to meet a number of criteria, including having a high heat value and a pleasant experience (fragrance, long-lasting burn, etc.). One cord of each type of wood here produces heat equivalent to burning 200-250 gallons of fuel oil.
Apple: deliciously fragrant aroma, slow-burning
Beech: burns at very high heat, great for colder climates
Cherry: hardwood with pleasant fragrance and long-lasting burn
Oak: hearty and heavy weight, low level of smoke
Sycamore: dense wood for long-lasting fire
The Worst Firewood to Burn
As a general rule, wood from coniferous trees isn’t very good for burning in your fireplace because it lacks the density of hardwood. It burns faster and doesn’t put off as much heat, so you need to use more wood to heat your home. The woods below produce more smoke that ends up as creosote deposits in your chimney, and tend to spark much more than hardwood, making for a less than relaxing fireside experience.
Birch: bark produces lots of soot and smoke
Cedar: filled with volatile oils that create popping and sparks
Balsam Fir: lots of smoke with sparks
Spruce: lightweight and fast-burning
Pine: a resinous softwood that creates lots of creosote
Other Poor Choices
It’s definitely a bad idea to burn any type of treated lumber, as the chemicals used in the manufacturing process can be released in the smoke and inhaled. You should also only use locally sourced firewood to avoid the problem of invasive insects like the Emerald Ash Borer and the Asian Long-Horned Beetle, which can cause massive damage to native forests.
How to Get Organized Around Your House
The start of the new year is a perfect opportunity to set your priorities and get a handle on your possessions. Here are some simple tips to help you get organized and achieve a stress-free home.
1. Pare down your stuff.
Let’s face it, you probably received a present or two over the holidays that you’ll never use. Instead of letting them collect dust and clutter up your home, give them to a friend or charitable organization. Once you have holiday clutter taken care of, you can start tackling the rest of the house.
Going room by room, focus on one item at a time—when’s the last time you used each one, or even thought about it? If you haven’t used, worn or even looked at something in more than six months, it’s probably time to let it go. For items that you’re having trouble parting with because of their sentimental value, take a picture of it instead; you’ll keep the memory and lose the dust-catcher.
Tip: Avoid the common mistake of thinking you can take care of clutter with containers—that step comes later. Once you’ve simplified your living space by removing items you don’t care about, you can focus on creating attractive storage for all the things your family actually uses.
2. Make a cleaning schedule . . . and stick to it.
Now it’s time to bring out the cleaning supplies, but you have to have a strategy. Rather than just jumping in and cleaning the first thing you see, keep a few rules in mind:
It’s faster to clean by task rather than by area, so work on all the mirrors and windows first, followed by dusting, polishing, vacuuming and mopping.
Keep organized by working methodically down from the ceiling to the floor. This ensures you don’t accidentally dirty anything you just cleaned.
Once you have everything spic and span, create a weekly cleaning schedule. By focusing on one task or area a day, you make the task as a whole less daunting.
A regular cleaning schedule can also yield unexpected benefits. For example, cleaning out the fridge once a week cuts down on food waste, helping you save money and avoid gross “time capsule” leftovers.
3. Create a storage solution for every area.
What works in one room won’t necessarily be your best bet in another. Take your mudroom—this space is perfect for a hook and cubby system to keep your family’s belongings off the floor and organized. Your living room lends itself to decorative storage baskets for holding useful items like DVDs and other media, while your bedroom closet could benefit from an over-the-door shoe rack or modular shelving. For overcrowded garages, look into overhead storage for bigger items and wall-mounted racks for tools like shovels, rakes and brooms so you can free up much-needed floor space. The possibilities are endless, so you can get as creative as you want!
4. Get organized for safety’s sake.
Keeping your home organized also lets you concentrate on the safety issues in your home that might otherwise slip your mind. Make sure your home is equipped with both smoke and carbon monoxide detectors (and that they have fresh batteries installed). You can also have an inspector check your home for radon—one in every fifteen homes has elevated levels of this odorless gas, which causes around 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year.
Moving to the laundry room, your dryer vent can often become clogged with lint (even if you always clean the trap). Lint is highly flammable, and it’s responsible for starting over 15,000 building fires a year, which is more than enough reason to make it a priority. If you notice your dryer taking more time than usual to dry a load of clothes, this is a sign your dryer vent needs cleaning. Depending on the length of your dryer vent and the number of turns it takes, you can either DIY the process with a dryer vent cleaning kit (these cost around $20) or hire a professional.