Homeowner Tips

The magical glow of a wood-burning fireplace requires extra attention to safety. Always use a fireplace screen when burning logs, but you may not want to completely close glass doors to create the proper draught. Don't use your fireplace as an incinerator or overload with logs. The Hearth, Patio & Barbeque Association recommends having your fireplace inspected annually by a qualified professional.

Since gritty materials, like sand and dirt, and other substances such as oil damage any kind of flooring, it's advisable to use mats at all entry doors to help prevent tracking these materials throughout the house. For vinyl flooring, make sure you don't use a latex-backed, rubber-backed or coco-fiber mat. They can permanently stain the floor. Instead, look for a mat identified as non-staining.

The U.S. Department of Energy calculates that 14% of a typical household's energy bill is devoted to the water heater. Consider lowering the water heater's thermostat. It not only saves energy but prevents accidental scalding. Also refer to your water heater's manual on how to drain a small amount of water from the unit to remove sediment.   

Moen® advises against using foaming spray cleansers on acrylic faucets. It can make the material brittle and prone to breakage. For clogged showerheads, consider using vinegar to clean away the deposits. If you have hard water, you may need to use a stronger commercial product designed for heavy mineral deposits.

If you have a jetted or garden tub, Jetta Corp. advises that you clean your tub exclusively with a damp cloth and window cleaner. Never use any sort of solvent, as it could damage your tub. The company also advises against using bubble bath or bath oils in your Jetta® tub.

To thoroughly clean your whirlpool every two or three months, fill the bath with warm water and add a small amount of liquid dishwasher detergent. Circulate the water for 10 minutes and drain. Refill with cold water. Circulate for another 10 minutes and drain.

In-Sink-Erator®, the manufacturer of the garbage disposals Lancia uses, advises you use cold water when grinding food waste. To freshen your disposal drain, grind citrus peels or run eggshells through. Run the disposal after draining a sink-full of water. Avoid grinding fibrous materials like corn husks because they can cause drain blockages. Never place your hand in the disposal. If you have to retrieve something from the drain, use a pair of metal tongs.

When going on vacation, don't forget to turn the central water valve off to your home. This will minimize any damage if you have a plumbing problem. To save energy, you might also want to turn down the thermostat on your water heater. But don't turn off the heat. Leave the thermostat at a low setting.

Other vacation hints:

Put a few lights on timers throughout the house.
Stop mail and newspaper delivery or ask a neighbor to collect them while you're gone.

A plunger isn't your only option to unclog a toilet. If you don't have a plunger handy, you can try using a bucket of water and physics to unclog it. If the water in the bowl is low, you can fill a bucket or trash can with water and dump into the bowl from approximately waist height. This can force the clog through, although it can create splash-back.

If a plunger doesn't work on a clog, you may need to resort to a toilet snake (with rubber padding to avoid damaging your toilet). This will work the clog through the system.

Clogs in sinks and tubs often develop over time. In a best-case scenario, you periodically clean out any hair or other materials from the drains to avoid a clog. You can also pour boiling water down drains to clear them out.

But if your drain is completely stopped, you can try using a plunger. To create the proper vacuum and seal, you will need to seal off the overflow drain and add some water to the tub or sink basin. Do not plunge a drain line after chemicals have been used. Also, don't use a plumber's snake on a tub drain.

Ceiling paddle fans are an effective way to reduce your summer cooling costs, if used properly. In warm months, paddle fans should circulate the air downward. (Different manufacturers have fans rotate clockwise or counterclockwise to circulate air downward). Paddle fans work by cooling you from the breeze they create. They do not change the actual air temperature. Therefore, ceiling fans should be turned off if no one is in the room to feel the effects. For maximum energy savings, raise the thermostat a few degrees when using your fan.

Ceiling paddle fans shouldn't be reserved for summer use only. They can also be useful in better circulating already warmed air during cooler months. The fan needs to be set so the blades pull the air up. To avoid the evaporative cooling effect of your fan, keep it on low speed in winter.

The first 90 days are critical for your new lawn, which is seeded with a combination of bluegrass, ryegrass and fine fescue. Water your new lawn in the morning for the first 60 days, with the sprinkler covering each area for 15 minutes. Fertilize four weeks after installation and repeat frequently in the first year. 

Allow the grass to grow to 4" before the first mowing. Don't mow shorter than 3" to avoid stressing young plants. Avoid using weed killer the first year and don't rake the straw from the lawn. It will decompose and add organic material to the soil.

Indiana-based Heating and Cooling Systems, Lancia's furnace and air-conditioner manufacturers, suggest checking your air filter every three to four weeks. A dirty filter makes the system work harder. Homes in their first heating season need to have their filters changed more frequently because of the residual construction dust. If you have a reusable filter, make sure it is dry before reinstalling it. 

Bushes and other landscaping should be kept at least 18 inches from the outdoor unit of your central air conditioning unit. This will give enough air to circulate around the unit and help avoid any heat build-up.

Your whole-house humidifier needs to be cleaned annually to remove hard water scale and bacteria. It's advised that you clean it at the beginning and end of each heating season. Consult your owner's manual for exact cleaning instructions.

Dirt is the enemy of any flooring, and carpet is no exception. According to the Carpet and Rug Institute, dry soil, which is abrasive, can permanently damage carpet fibers, giving them a dull appearance over time. Vacuum soil and dirt before it gets ground into the carpet. The institute advises vacuuming high-traffic areas a minimum of twice a week.

Ceramic tile is known for its durability, but it does require care and maintenance. Keep ceramic tile free of dirt and particulate matter, as it can scratch the floor. Vacuum glazed and unglazed tile floor regularly.

For glazed floors, clean with an all-purpose, non-oil based cleaner. Unglazed tiles should be cleaned with soapless detergent.

Use bleach cleaners only for deep cleaning. Never use ammonia-based products because they can stain grout. Grout should be sealed twice a year to prevent stains.

Laminate floors give you the look of wood without the care and upkeep. Laminate floors can be swept or vacuumed with hardwood attachments. Laminate flooring manufacturers advise against using soaps and detergents to clean the floor. Some manufacturers have products specifically designed to clean laminate floors. Never wax, polish, sand or try to refinish laminate floors. 

Vinyl flooring, also known as resilient flooring, can offer years of beauty and service if maintained properly. Keep vinyl floors free of dirt, sand and other gritty material to avoid scratches. Consider using curtains to block direct sunlight on your vinyl floor to prevent discoloration. If you have to move appliances or other heavy objects, use wood "runways" to move the item. Don't drag it across the bare floor. It could rip the flooring. Don't use a beater bar when vacuuming vinyl floors.

Keep wood floors free from dirt and other gritty materials by frequent sweeping. For regular cleaning, use products specifically designed for wood floors, but avoid leaving standing water when you clean.

Avoid moving heavy furniture across the floor. Pick them up or slide rags underneath and move. If your wood floor has been finished with polyurethane, contact a professional when the floor looses its luster and gloss. Never wax a wood floor finished with polyurethane.