The cure for wet basements

Pretend, for a moment, that it’s spring (yes, it will come). Although snow is still deep, temperatures are rising.

What happens?

The snow will melt, sometimes rapidly, creating lots and lots of flowing water. Add a spring rainstorm to the scenario and you may be facing a serious problem.

Where will all this water go? Since the earth is still frozen, it won’t go down. It will follow the path of least resistance, according to Waters Basement Services in Buffalo, NY.

That path typically leads to the home’s foundation and, eventually, to the basement.

Rainwater isn’t the only type of moisture that seeps into basements, however, something as simple as condensation can build into puddles.

Just as condensation forms when cold outside temperatures meets warm window glass, so can that same warm air hitting a cold pipes or a concrete foundation create condensation.

Think you’re safe because your home is relatively new?

Think again. The American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) claims that most new homes experience basement leaks within 10 to 15 years of being built.

Worse, excess moisture leads to the development of mold. ASHI experts claim that 60 percent of homes in the U.S. have moisture in the basement and nearly 40 percent of these basements will develop mold.

More than 60 percent of basements in existing homes have basement moisture.

The key to fixing the problem is to figure out where the moisture is coming from.

Searching for the source

First, you’ll need to determine if the moisture is seeping into the basement from the outside or if it’s a result of condensation.

Thankfully, this is easy. When you find moisture on a wall, tape a piece of foil to the location. Leave it on the wall for 24 hours and then check the foil for signs of dampness.

If it’s wet on the outside, then the source of moisture is coming from inside the basement (condensation, most likely). If the underside is wet, suspect moisture intrusion from outside the home, according to John D. Wagner at ThisOldHouse.com.

Now you’ll need to pinpoint exactly where the moisture is coming from. Wagner suggests that the most likely areas are where the floor joins the walls. Then, check the ceiling for signs of water intrusion (flaking paint, discoloration, etc.).

Other areas to check for leaks include:

  • Beneath buckled floor boards or lifted tiles
  • Rotten wood
  • Near rusty metal surfaces, such as nails and screws
  • Powdery-looking deposits on concrete, stone and stucco surfaces

 Fixing the Problem

The fix for your wet basement depends on the cause. If it’s condensation, airing out the basement may be the cure.

If the source of the moisture is coming from outside the home, the solution may range from filling foundation and wall cracks with epoxy to more expensive tasks, such as:

  • Re-grading the yard to direct water away from the home
  • Installing drains
  • Installing a sump pump
  • Replacing downspouts and gutters

Kevin Brasler of Washington Consumer’s Checkbook and HouseLogic.com offer DIY solutions to try before calling in a professional.

If that doesn’t work, don’t give up. Moisture can damage the home’s structure and cause mold. If the DIY suggestions don’t cure the problem, call in a pro.

Is your wood-burning fireplace ready for winter?

 Winter brings images of getting cozy in front of a crackling fire. Whether your image also includes a steaming cup of cocoa or a glass of crisp Chardonnay, it’s definitely something to look forward to.

A house fire most likely doesn’t factor into your dreams of hearthside dreams. But the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) lists fireplaces as one of the top 10 causes of house fires.

Make fireplace maintenance a priority before touching a match to even one piece of kindling.

Inspect the fireplace and chimney

 You may only need to have the chimney swept. Or, you may need additional maintenance work before your first fire of the season.

While it’s always best to hire a pro to inspect and clean the chimney (we’ll get into the how-tos of that in a minute), many homeowners prefer to perform their own inspections. If you are among them, keep the following in mind:

  • Begin your inspection inside the home, at the fireplace, checking for cracks in the firebox. Use a flashlight to shine up the flue to check there as well.
  • Open and close the damper to ensure it is in working condition. Then, check the metal for signs of damage. Keep in mind that “replacing a damper is not a do-it-yourself job; if the damper is in bad shape, hire a professional to replace it,” according to the pros at Better Homes & Gardens.
  • You’ll also need to check the exterior of the chimney for cracks. If you find them, consult with a licensed mason. If, on the other hand, you find faulty flashing, call a roofer.

We can’t recommend that you drag out the ladder to climb on the roof to inspect the rest of the chimney. It’s always best to hire a professional rather than risking bodily injury.

Call in the chimney sweep

Most experts recommend a professional clean of your chimneys about once a year (or every 80 fires). The Chimney Safety Institute of America offers advice on how to hire a chimney sweep. Also, be sure to check reviews on Yelp.com and similar review sites.

Additional safety precautions

  • Cut away tree branches that hang over the chimney.
  • If you suspect critters have settled in the chimney, call animal control.
  • Ensure your smoke detectors are working properly and consider installing a carbon monoxide alarm.
  • Keep the little ones and pets at least three feet from the fireplace and always supervise them while a fire is burning.
  • The same goes for holiday décor – three feet from the fireplace to be safe.
  • Don’t burn wrapping paper in the fireplace.
  • Use only seasoned firewood.
  • Don’t forget to clean out the ashes about once a week, or whenever they’re about an inch thick. Allow the ashes to cool completely before disposing of them.If you’re up for it, why not store those ashes in a bucket until summer? They make a delicious treat for flower and vegetable beds, according to the Oregon State University Extension Service.

Now all you need to do is stock up on firewood.

Be Prepared for Winter Storms

There is a 65 to 70 percent chance that El Nino will be visiting this winter, so look for it to be a warmer than normal, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

This doesn’t mean we won’t be seeing winter storms; we just may not see as much snow in certain areas of the country.

Take steps now to ensure that you’re prepared for a wicked winter storm or two and the inevitable power outages that accompany them.

Stock up in advance

Watch the news just before and after a hurricane hits and the need to stock up in advance becomes abundantly clear. Yet, amazingly, many people don’t bother.

In fact, two days after Hurricane Michael struck the Florida Panhandle in October, the New York Times’ headlines screamed “Hurricane Michael Leaves Florida Residents Desperate for Aid.”

After only two days

You know what that means, right? Residents of a disaster-prone area, where there is almost a guarantee of at least one annual hurricane, didn’t have an emergency supply of even the basics, such as water.

Thank goodness for early warning systems because you’ll have advance notice of a hurricane or other weather-related event. But, so does everyone else and we’ve all seen the decimated grocery store shelves when one of the warnings goes out.

Promise yourself, right now, that you won’t be like those residents who stand in the long lines at the stores or moans to the media that nobody is helping you.

Stock up now. Put aside enough bottled water and non-perishable food items to feed all family members for at least one week (more is better). And, don’t forget your pets; stock up on food for them as well.

Do we need to remind you to keep a mechanical can opener with these supplies?

The planning doesn’t stop with food and water. If you take prescription medications for high blood pressure or anything else, ensure that you have a weeks’ supply of those as well.

While you’re at the pharmacy, pick up the over-the-counter products you use frequently, such as pain relievers, antacids and allergy meds.

Place all of these items in a waterproof bag, up high, in an easily-accessible area. Next, know where your flashlights are. In fact, keep them all in one spot that is above where floodwaters may intrude and stack up some batteries next to them. LED lanterns are a wise buy as well.

Emergency power supply

The average severe weather-induced power outage lasts more than six hours, according a study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

That’s just long enough to defrost the food in your freezer. Then, you can kiss goodbye most of what’s in the refrigerator.

Some refrigerated food held above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for more than two hours will have to be thrown out, according to FoodSafety.gov. This includes:

  • Raw or cooked seafood, poultry, meat
  • Salads that contain tuna, chicken and egg
  • Soups, stews and casseroles
  • Hot dogs, lunchmeats, sausage and bacon
  • Soft, low-fat and shredded cheeses
  • Dairy products, such as yogurt, milk, sour cream, half-and-half, cream buttermilk, evaporated milk and even soy milk.
  • Eggs
  • Creamy salad dressings
  • Spaghetti sauce, opened

This is but a partial list. See the entire list at FoodSafety.gov.

Avoid this by buying a generator to supply emergency power. And ensure that you buy one with enough watts to power your home, or at least your appliances.

“Homeowners can often power most household appliances using between 3000 and 6500 watts,” according to the pros at Honda.

If your home has a smaller furnace and city water, you can generally expect that 3000-5000 watts will cover your needs. If you have a larger furnace and/or a well pump, you will likely need a 5000 to 6500 watt generator,” they conclude.

A 3,800-watt or above generator is required to power a well pump, and 4500 watts for an electric heater. Find other requirements and useful information about generators at honda.com.

Another helpful online tool is the Generator Size Calculator at Cummins.com. Enter your ZIP code, the square footage of the home and answer a few other questions about your power needs, and it spits out the size of generator you should consider.

Protect your family and your home during winter storms by acting now.

Give Thanks for these 6 Websites and Apps this Thanksgiving

From recipes to timers, this year’s crop of Thanksgiving websites and apps are just about guaranteed to keep you from wishing you had five extra hands and three fewer kids while trying to get the Thanksgiving feast from the kitchen to the table.

1. The Bon Appétit Thanksgiving Headquarters

Although Bon Appétit Magazine has been helping foodies navigate the kitchen since Baby Boomers were kids, it has managed to remain hip and relevant. Proof? The Bon Appétit Thanksgiving Headquarters, offering recipes, tips on how to survive, step-by-step videos and more.

Is there a vegetarian in the family? Bon Appetit also offers “41Thanksgiving Vegetarian Recipes for a Meatless Holiday.”

 

2. Food Network “In the Kitchen” App

What would meal time be without Food TV? Even better is the Food Network’s amazing website where you can get the recipes you see being made on the shows and from America’s top chefs, celebrity and otherwise.

The Food Network “In the Kitchen” app brings it all to your mobile device to ensure you don’t miss a trick on Thanksgiving.

The app was updated just last month and you can download it for both iPhone and iPad in the iTunes store and for Android here.

 

3. Epicurious Everywhere

While it’s not Thanksgiving specific, the Epicurious Everywhere app is full of recipes for all holidays as well as basic every-day meals. That it’s been downloaded more than 8 million times has to be some sort of testament to its usefulness, right?

Last updated in August 2018, not only will you get recipes but shopping list builders (you haven’t done your shopping yet?!), tips on how to use your leftovers and timers.

Download for Android, iPad, iPhone, B&N Nook Color, Windows Phone and Kindle Fire here.

We actually like the website better. Offering tips on everything from how to prep a turkey to vegetarian Thanksgiving recipes and how to smoke a turkey, you’ll find just about everything you need, at Epicurious.com.

 4. For the vegans in the family

If the photos are any indication, a “Plantsgiving” feast awaits you at VeganHeaven.org. In fact, we almost ate the photo of Sina’s “Festive Falafel with Cranberry Pear Dip.”

You’ll find 24 additional yummy vegan holiday recipes at VeganHeaven.

Need more? The folks at SeriousEats.com offer some brilliant Thanksgiving recipes for vegans. We’re sure that the “Vegetables Wellington” will rival the meat-eater’s turkey as the table’s centerpiece – it’s that impressive.

 

5. Timer+

One of the trickiest things for anyone new to preparing Thanksgiving dinner (aside from not having a stove with three ovens and 12 burners) is timing all those dishes so they are finished at roughly the same time.

This is where the genius of the Timer+ app comes in. It allows you to set a different alarm for each dish and even add time if it looks like the turkey will need some extra time or the Brussels sprouts are still a bit crunchy.

This free app is available for iPhone (at itunes.com) and Android (at Google Play).

 

6. BigOven

“Discover, share, plan and shop all in one place,” is what you’ll find when you download the BigOven app. More than 350,000 recipes (not Thanksgiving specific, but it does offer a “seasonal collection”) is reason enough for us, but you’ll also get a meal planner and the ability to make and share a grocery list.

We also love this feature: “simply type the three ingredients you have in your fridge and the app will pull up information on what you can prepare with them.”

Download it for Android, here and for iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch, here.

Don’t Wait until spring! There’s plenty to clean right now

It’s almost winter (it starts on December 21 this year) and that’s the perfect time to tackle some chores that you may typically put off for spring cleaning. Do them now, however, and you’ll not only be better prepared for the feast-heavy winter holiday, but ahead of the spring-cleaning game as well.

Why now?

Think about it: spring cleaning is a generations-old ritual begun when homes were heated by fireplaces. They had to be buckled up tight to keep the heat from escaping, so by the end of winter, homes were filled with soot.

Winter cleaning, on the other hand, has a two-pronged purpose. It’s about preparing all the spaces you’ll deep clean in the spring and getting the home ready for holiday guests.

Closets

This is a perfect time to clear out all those clothes you’re never going to wear again, those that need repairs you know you’ll never make and those that have gone out of style.

Make piles to keep you organized, one for dry cleaning, one for things you want to give away and one for those items that are beyond help and should end up in the landfill.

While you’re in there, organize everything in a manner that makes sense to you. Some folks do better when their clothing is organized according to colors, others group like items together (blouses, slacks, etc.)

Get the shoes up off the floor, even if it means having to buy a shoe rack or hanging holder. If there are folded items on shelves, organize those as well.

Then, stand back and check out your handiwork. Not bad for an hour’s work, right?

Tackle the kitchen cupboards and drawers

Getting more organized in the kitchen is something you won’t regret once the holidays roll around and you’re preparing a feast for company. Plus, getting it done now leaves plenty of time to donate what you don’t need to the local food bank or soup kitchen.

Kitchen cupboards tend to overfill quickly right around Thanksgiving. Then, many people tend to stock up a little more because they don’t want to feel forced to hit the grocery store when the weather turns.

Start with the pantry, since that is the most-used storage area in the kitchen. Be honest about what you will and won’t consume in the near future and donate any canned items that will expire before you can use them.

Then, go through the rest of the kitchen cupboards, organizing your cooking utensils, pots, pans and spices. A good rule of thumb is to place frequently used items toward the front of cupboards.

Paperwork

Didn’t they tell us we were headed toward a paperless world? Obviously, it hasn’t happened yet because many of us are buried in paper.

Take some time to go through that home office and all of the papers you need to scan, file or toss. You’ll find it’s the perfect way to get a jumpstart on your taxes (your accountant will thank you for it).

And, perhaps you can even schedule those annual appointments (such as visits to the dentist and car services).

These days, there’s very little stopping you from a complete spring clean in the middle of fall or winter. We think you’ll find that spreading the work over the course of the year makes each task just that much easier.

Winter is coming – make sure you don’t have a gas emergency

If you leased a property with gas appliances in London, the landlord would be required, by law, to maintain the pipes, appliances and flues. Additionally, he or she would be required to have a gas safety check every year and supply you with a record of such within 28 days of it being performed.

Those Londoners are pretty smart cookies considering that gas problems can kill, and then there’s the massive property damage or even destruction that may occur.

Anytime you smell gas, it’s an emergency. But odor isn’t the only sign that there may be a gas leak. Pacific Gas and Electric in California suggests that you call your utility if any of the following occur:

  • Whistling or hissing sounds.
  • Damage to the connections to gas appliances.
  • Dead or dying vegetation over or near pipeline areas.
  • Exposed pipeline (typically after an earthquake).

Yes, you can prevent gas emergencies

Your first line of defense in preventing a gas emergency is to know what to look (and smell) for. A rotten egg smell is the most common sign of a gas leak.

If you suspect a gas leak, don’t touch anything, especially light switches. But, touching anything may cause a spark, so quickly and gently leave the home immediately.

Once you are a safe distance away, call the gas company (or 911 if you can’t reach the gas company).

Maintenance of your property may help prevent the most serious gas problems. Tasks include:

  • Maintain gas pipes to prevent corrosion and leakage. Have the gas pipes inspected periodically for signs of corrosion and leakage.
  • Have your gas appliances inspected and cleaned periodically by an authorized service technician. Most appliance manufacturers recommend having their products serviced every one to two years.
  • A gas stove will produce a red or yellow flame only when it requires service. If pilot lights frequently blow out, the stove requires service.
  • Clogged dryer lint traps cause fires. They need to be cleaned out before each use.
  • If you have a gas fireplace, have the chimney inspected annually. Blockages, such as birds’ nests, can create inadequate ventilation of combustible fumes.
  • Have your heating system inspected annually to ensure that it is clean and properly vented and replace worn parts.
  • Replace the furnace and return air filters every 90 days unless there are pets on the property. In this case, filters should be replaced every 60 days.

Failure to perform maintenance not only presents a real danger to you and your family but to your pocketbook as well. The average price, nationwide, to repair a gas line is $482, with most property owners spending between $261 and $737.

Gas furnaces cost anywhere from $2,500 to $14,000 and the installation may run you another $1,000 to $4,200, depending on the scope of the job.

A new gas water heater will cost from $400 to $2,000, but then you will need to consider the installation costs. “It can cost anywhere from $700 to $2,000 to install a water heater,” Jason Hanleybrown, CEO of Fast Water Heater Co. in Bothell, Wash. tells Angie’s List’s Joshua Palmer.

Is your home making you sick?

Would it surprise you to learn that 1.2 million American children have elevated levels of lead in their blood?

Lead poisoning sounds like something from out of the past, like polio or leprosy. But, apparently, it’s still very much in the present, and very, very dangerous.

If your home was built before 1978 the paint on your walls may contain lead. If you purchased the home after 1996, you were made aware of the potential harm from lead-based paint when the seller gave you a Lead Based Paint disclosure, required by law.

So, what’s the big deal about lead?

Lead poisoning for starters. There isn’t a lot of talk about it in the media, but an estimated 412,000 Americans die every year because of lead contamination, according to a study published in Lancet Public Health.

Old paint naturally deteriorates and, as it does, it creates dust. Infants and children can become lead poisoned if they eat contaminated paint chips or put their fingers, contaminated with lead paint dust, into their mouths.

Then, there is the lead in soil which, especially in urban areas, can be quite toxic.

“Lead affects virtually every system in the body”

according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Despite efforts to mitigate the presence of lead in homes, however, the CDC claims that “large numbers of children in the United States continue to have blood lead levels in the toxic range.”

Because babies and toddlers are experience rapid growth, their bodies tend to absorb lead easier than we adults do, and their nervous systems react strongly to it. Lead exposure may result in:

  • Anemia
  • Behavioral problems
  • Coma
  • Death (in severe cases)
  • Hearing problems
  • Learning problems
  • Lower IQ
  • Seizures
  • Slow growth

Adults, however, aren’t immune from the effects of lead exposure. “People with prolonged exposure to lead may also be at risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney disease, and reduced fertility,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It’s especially dangerous to pregnant women and developing fetuses. Much like how a pregnant woman’s body releases calcium to help form the developing baby’s bones, so too will it release lead if she’s absorbed it in the past. It then crosses the placental barrier, possibly harming the fetus.

How does lead get into the home?

Not only is it present in the aforementioned paint, but we track the nasty dust into our homes via our shoes. The EPA conducted a doormat study that found a 60 percent reduction in levels of lead dust in homes when shoes are removed before entering the home, or a dust mat is provided at the door.

Even the drinking water in our homes and your children’s toys (especially those made in China) may harbor lead.

How to find out if there’s lead in your home

Whether you are considering a home for sale or just need to know if there is lead present in your current home, an accredited laboratory can help you find out.

You can locate one of these laboratories by calling the state Department of Health and supplying the lab with a paint or soil sample. The most important areas to have tested include those the children frequent, such as a playroom, bedroom and areas of the yard in which they play.

Learn more about how to protect your family from lead exposure in the home at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website.

How to prepare your pet for a natural disaster

It’s hurricane season and even the most prepared among us may have let something fall through the cracks. Typically, it’s the pet’s needs during a natural disaster that are left unconsidered. We’ve seen the videos of dogs left chained in a yard, the flood waters quickly surrounding it.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is urging pet owners to include their pets in the natural disaster preparations and we’re sharing some of their tips with you today.

Come up with a plan

If your pet isn’t microchipped, this should be your first step. In lieu of a chip, ensure that your dog has identification tags securely attached to its collar. If your dog is chipped, it’s still a good idea to collar it (with an i.d. tag attached). Taking a found pet to a veterinarian to be scanned for a chip is impossible in many disaster situations.

If your dog is chipped, is your contact information up-to-date?

Then, make a plan for where you will stay if you have to evacuate. Not all emergency shelters allow pets so call your city leaders to find out if the one in your area is pet-friendly. Or, download the FEMA app, which provides a list of open shelters in your area.

If not, consider other places you might go during an evacuation. Some hotels allow pets, so call the ones in towns where you may end up to find out.

HSUS offers the following list of online sites that can help you locate pet-friendly hotels:

For help identifying pet-friendly lodgings, check out these websites:

If all else fails, start contacting boarding facilities and veterinarians to find one that will take your pet in during an emergency.

Create a pet disaster kit

An emergency medical kit for your dog or cat is essential. You can purchase pre-packed kits or make your own. Use the list provided here.

Then, set aside the following supplies in an area that provides you easy access during an emergency:

  • A 7-day supply of food and water for each pet.
  • Food and water bowls
  • Can opener
  • Cat accessories (litter box and litter, scoop, etc.)
  • Leash or harness
  • Pet carrier
  • Photos of each of your pets
  • Medications your pet needs

Prepare the entire family for a possible evacuation, including your pets, by following the advice from the pros at Ready.gov.

The landlord’s guide to 3 maintenance emergencies

It’s 2 a.m. and the phone is ringing.  You know before picking it up that within ten minutes you’ll be fully dressed and in your car, on the way to take care of an emergency repair at your property. It’s the nature of the beast, right?

No matter how well you maintain your rental property, water heaters leak, air conditioning units fail and pipes burst. But, what constitutes a true emergency may be a matter of differing opinion – yours and your tenant’s.

If it affects the habitability of the property, or if it’s a health or safety issue, rest assured that it’s an emergency.

1. Roof emergencies

If you get a call from a tenant that the roof is leaking, it’s an emergency. The experts at HomeAdvisor.com suggest that most roof leaks stem from some common problems such as missing shingles and faulty step or pipe flashing.

Take the steps to prevent small roof problems from mushrooming into disastrous failures.

Professional roofers offer these maintenance tips:

  • Inspect your rental property’s roof twice a year, in fall and spring. Immediately replace shingles that are buckled, cracked, curled or missing.
  • Then, inspect the area around the chimney, pipes and anywhere else that is attached to and extends from the roof. Look for looseness or wear.
  • When you clean the gutters, look for large amounts of shingle granules that have been blown off or worn away from the shingles. Large amounts in the gutters is a sign that some of the shingles may need to be replaced.
  • Inspect the ceiling in the attic, looking for signs of moisture intrusion.
  • Cut back tree branches that extend to within 6 feet of the roof.

Roof repairs can cost between $150 and $4,000 but the average cost to a homeowner, nationwide is $784. If you, as the landlord, don’t make the repairs, and allow the problems to continue, you can look forward to paying between $2,000 and $12,255 (or an average of $6,637) to replace the roof when it’s no longer functional.

2. Plumbing emergencies

A leaking toilet can waste up to 90,000 gallons of water in just one month and can add $500 to a single water bill. Still think a minor toilet leak isn’t an emergency?

Ok, so maybe it isn’t the drag-you-out-of-bed-at-a-ridiculous-hour type of emergency, but since even minor leaks affect your bottom line, they require prompt attention.

What does constitute a plumbing emergency?

  • Broken pipe
  • Flooded room
  • Overflowing toilet
  • Sewage leak

In fact, anything that causes immediate water damage should be considered an emergency. After all, the average insurance claim for the water damage caused by a burst pipe, for instance, is about $5,000, according to House Logic.

How to prevent plumbing emergencies

Again, routine inspection and maintenance goes a long way in the prevention of plumbing emergencies. Here are a few ways to prevent some of the more common ones:

  • Insulate outside taps and pipes (drain pipes too) and pipes in unheated areas of the property (lofts, garages, basements) to prevent burst pipes.
  • Remind tenants to allow at least one faucet to drip during periods of extreme freeze and to never pour grease or coffee grinds down the drain.
  • Inspect the toilets at least once a year for worn toilet flappers, wax rings and bolts.
  • Check for signs of wear in the screens over tub and shower drains.
  • Install a pressure reducer if the water pressure on the property is above 85 psi. High water pressure puts stress on pipes and valves.
  • Install a water softener in regions with hard water. Mineral deposit buildup is corrosive and can shorten the life of the plumbing system.

3. Electrical emergencies

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) estimates that in 2011, 47,700 home fires were caused by electrical failure or malfunction. Not only did these fires result in 418 deaths, but 1,570 injuries and property damage in excess of $1 billion, or about $13,000 per incident.

So, what constitutes an electrical emergency? Sparking outlets or an outlet that is hot to the touch, and flickering lights may sound minor but they are also symptoms of a larger, more dangerous problem.

Prevent electrical emergencies

  • Hire a certified electrician to check the circuits and wiring on the property. The cost of an inspection will vary, depending on region, but as long as the electrician’s bill isn’t as high as replacing the home after a fire, it’s money well spent, don’t you think?
  • Inspect the electrical system on your property at least once a year. Buy an outlet tester (as little as $4.99 online) and use it to determine if the electrical outlets in the home are wired properly and grounded.
  • As you walk through the property, inspect the light switches and electrical outlets for charring or discoloration. While the problem may be minor, have an electrician check for faulty wiring in the circuit.

When an emergency does occur, it pays to have established relationships with reliable vendors. Cultivate these relationships so that common maintenance emergencies are handled smoothly, safely and professionally.

Cheap and easy autumn home decorating ideas

This year we usher in the autumn season beginning on September 22. And, as we all know, autumn typically brings more than falling leaves. Many of us get lots of company as well.

Instead of digging out the same old décor that you’ve used for the past decade (or more), let’s take a look at some of what the pros recommend when it comes to decorating your home this fall.

Pumpkins

They’re ubiquitous this time of year. From the mini varieties to the gigantic, pumpkins fill supermarket bins, roadside stands and are even for sale at the big home improvement stores.

There are a lot of creative ideas for pumpkins that don’t involve carving scary faces on them.

Mini pumpkins, for instance, can be transformed into candle holders or even vases. To make a luminaria out of a tiny pumpkin, cut “a 1-inch-wide circle into each pumpkin, scooping out the centers with a tablespoon,” recommends the decorating geniuses at Southern Living.

Then, stick a votive candle into each pumpkin. See a photo of the finished product at southernliving.com.

Martha Stewart offers a brilliant idea for an autumn party – a pumpkin party cooler to hold bottles of beer or soft drinks. Chose an oversized, wide pumpkin, cut off the top third and discard it. Scrape all the junk out of the pumpkin, insert a glass or plastic bowl, fill the bowl with ice and insert bottled drinks.

Get the full instructions at marthastewart.com.

Create an autumn wonderland to welcome your guests

There is no shortage of ideas on how to decorate your porch for the season. If it’s pumpkins you want to use, line the walkway with them.

Place hay bales on either side of the front door to hold yet more pumpkins. Since pumpkins and gourds come in various shades, choose as many different colors as possible for added interest.

If pumpkins are a little too obvious for your tastes, consider putting on a fall floral display. Head to the nursery and grab flowering plants in autumn colors. Some to consider include:

  • Chrysanthemum (choose bronze, yellow and orange varieties)
  • Marigolds
  • Helenium

Pot them up in terra cotta pots and line the walkway with them or create an attractive porch display. Or, use a combination of potted flowers and pumpkins and gourds, like this stunning version at countryliving.com.

Make the front door pop

It doesn’t make sense to spend all the time and energy it takes to spiff up the walkway and front porch if your front door isn’t equally as enticing. Take some tips from the pros and spruce it up with festive fall colors.

While many homeowners opt for a seasonal wreath, your choices aren’t that limited. Consider a garland around the door, like this one at homedit.com. You’ll find additional fall garland inspiration on Pinterest.

Whether you decide to DIY the project or purchase one ready-made, you can’t go wrong with an attractive wreath. Countryliving.com offers instructions on creating several fall wreaths and Woman’sDay lists more, with links to the tutorials.

Purchase wreaths and other door hangers online at Walmart, Amazon.com, Kirkland’s, Overstock.com and Pier 1.

Need more ideas? Visit Pinterest boards that feature autumn décor, such as this one and these.