Month: November 2011

Plan Twice, Do It Once

3 online solutions to help you visualize and cost your home improvement projects

Should you replace that door yourself?

Will that couch fit there?

Which green is the perfect color for your living room?

Technology makes it easier than ever to plan, visualize and research your choices for making changes to your home before you ever move a chair, paint a wall or change a fixture.

ColorJive — painting a room a different color is one of the easiest ways to make a big impact in your home. With ColorJive’s online tool, you can upload an evenly lit photo of the room in question and try different colors on the wall – and even find the exact paint color from Benjamin Moore or Sherwin Williams. — whether you want to change the couch in your family room or add a deck to the back of your house, getting a preview of the final results can help you figure out what will (and won’t) work for your space. is a free online tool that uses photos of your actual home and then lets you go through a variety of projects and products to visualize the end result. The tool can even help you request bids from local contractors.

DIYorNot — turns out, doing something yourself is not always the better, or even cheaper, option. Available online and also via a mobile web app ( for smartphones, DIYorNot helps you figure out how much a project will cost if you do it yourself or if you hire someone to do it for you (the site allows you to enter your zip code to improve accuracy of cost estimates). In addition to project DIY tips and advice if hiring a pro for the job, most projects also include a thumbs up or down to indicate whether the site’s readers would do it themselves or not.


Can This Tree Be Saved?

3 things you may not know about storm damaged landscaping

Wherever you live, storms of some kind most likely pose a threat to your landscaping at some time during the year. Hurricanes, rain storms, ice storms, snow storms — they can all cause damage from minor to major.

The University of Minnesota|Extension lists three things to remember when it comes to storm damage to your landscape:

Prediction — Predicting tree damage has less to do with listening to the weather reports and more to do with issues that may exist in your landscaping that make it more vulnerable during a storm. Look for decay and existing site problems; problems in a single branch are less worrisome than issues in the trunk. A common test recommends that “for every 3 inches of branch or stem diameter, solid wood should comprise at least 1 to 1.5 inches. Anything less than that often indicates a branch or stem that is more likely to fail during a storm.”

Find more detail on Predicting Tree Failure here.

Prevention — Monitor, prune, protect. Keeping your eye out for potential problems early gives you the opportunity to nip a small problem in the bud, before it becomes a big problem. Although pruning is necessary, improper pruning can do more harm than good. Protect your landscaping from new wounds and potential weaknesses from machines such as mulchers and trimmers; consider mulching and staking your trees to safeguard against accidental injury.

Find more detail on Preventing Tree Damage here.

Treatment — for all but the most minor damage, experts recommend consulting with an expert — if chainsaws or ladders are required, if power lines are down, if you’re not sure the tree is worth saving — those are all signs that a qualified arborist should be called in. Treating storm damaged landscaping can range from corrective pruning to cabling and bracing (see more detail on these and more treatments here).

More resources for preventing and recovering landscape damage from storms:

Thinking About A Skylight? Consider a Solar Tube Instead

5 reasons solar tubes are one of the most popular home improvements

Solar tube or Skylight? Consider the following:

  1. Solar Tubes Cost less — according to, the national average to install a solar tube yourself is $250 (by a pro the average cost is $483), while the cost to install a regular skylight yourself averages $375, and to have it done by a pro, $597. (To see the average project costs specific to your zip code, click here.)
  2. Solar Tubes Are Easier to Install —unlike skylights, solar tube installations do not require new drywall, paint or major structural changes to your roof or framing. Solar tubes are designed to fit between rafters and other structural elements in your home. (See’s Installation guide for more details.)
  3. Solar Tubes Can Move the Light —while skylights function as “window” on your roof, solar tubes can be installed to bring the sunlight to spaces without direct rooftop exposure to the sun (even through the second floor to a room on the first floor). Available in a variety of sizes, solar tubes are a particularly good solution for hallways, closets and small spaces.
  4. Solar Tubes Are More Energy Efficient —because they are smaller than traditional “window” skylights, solar tubes are responsible for losing less heat in the winter and letting in less heat in the summer.
  5. Solar Tubes Are Gentler —by diffusing the sunlight through reflecting it down the tube, solar tubes filter the impact of UV light on furniture, draperies and carpets.


Some popular manufacturers of tubular skylights include:

Just Say No To Chemicals

3 natural cleaners that are cheaper and healthier than the store-bought alternatives

Those blue, green and orange sprays and aerosols so commonly used to clean windows, counters, stove tops and ovens can add up on your grocery bill, not to mention what they might be doing to your health. Vinegar, baking soda and lemon juice are effective natural alternatives that are healthier and less expensive than their chemical counterparts.

To wash your windows: mix vinegar and water in a spray bottle and spray on your windows, mirrors and glass surfaces. For a streak and lint free clean, use old newspapers instead of paper towels.

To clean your oven: make a paste of vinegar, baking soda and water and spread inside your oven. Leave for an hour or overnight and then wipe away with a damp towel (use a spatula to scrape up any stubborn patches).

To remove wallpaper: a mixture of equal parts hot water and vinegar applied with a sponge too old wall paper will loosen the adhesive.

To remove lime scale: squeeze fresh lemon juice onto target area and let sit for a few minutes. Wipe away with a damp cloth. (For lime deposits in your kettle, put a few tablespoons into a few cups of water and boil in the kettle. Swirl and pour out.)

For more natural cleaning recipes, check out these resources:

For information on the health hazards of chemicals commonly found in household cleaners, visit Gaiam’s 8 Household Cleaning Agents to Avoid.

10 Simple Household Tips from Yesteryears that Still Work.

Did your grandmother always keep a clean home? Ever wonder how on earth she did it? Here are a few of her simple tips from days gone by that she may have forgotten to tell you that will surely help you keep your house tidy and neat all year round.

1) Got moths in the closet? Well these nasty pests have been around long before moth balls. Try hanging an old nylon stocking filled with cedar chips to keep these pests out of your sweaters.

2) Want a simple air freshener in your bathroom? Try spraying some perfume on the light bulb, when it is turned off. When your guest turns on the light, the heat from the bulb will evaporate the perfume and release its fragrance.

3) Last month’s leftovers leave a funny smell in your refrigerator? Clean it with a mixture of three tablespoons baking soda dissolved in250ml warm water to get rid of the smell.

4) Is your home starting to feel like a cave? Try cleaning your light bulbs. Dust can vastly decrease light intensity. Clean them with a slightly damp cloth or sponge after you’ve turned them off.

5) White toothpaste doesn’t only keep your mouth white and sparkling, it is an all-around cleaning preparation. Use it to successfully remove stains on wooden furniture, painted walls, and clean your silver jewelry too!

6) Did you hang the holiday decorations with double sided tape? Olive oil can help clean glue, removing residue from stickers and decals. Apply some oil, and when it is saturated rub them off with a wet rag.

7) Want to add a little more light around the home? Choose LEDs accent lighting; they won’t produce heat like conventional bulbs, and they will save you on your next energy bill.

8) Is your home feeling a little drafty? Perhaps it’s time to change your weather stripping. An easy way to check is close a dollar bill in the door. If it comes out easily, it’s probably time to replace.

9) To prevent soot from coming out of the fireplace first, dust the logs with salt before firing. Salted like this, the fireplace will also burn longer.

10) Need to clean your candleholders? An easy way to take off the wax is put them in the microwave oven on low power. After a minute or two the wax will melt off. DON’T PUT METAL CANDLEHOLDERS IN THE MICROWAVE. You can also use the opposite method-place the candleholder in the fridge for an hour, afterwards the wax will detach very easily.