5 Easy to care-for indoor trees

Although houseplants are seeing a resurgence in popularity, especially with our millennial generation, growing plants indoors is an ancient practice.

In fact, it dates back to the early Romans and Greeks, according to Encyclopaedia Britannica. But it was during the Victorian period that we Americans went nuts for growing plants indoors.

Today’s holy grail of indoor growing is the tree. It adds height, texture and drama to indoor décor.

Thankfully, one doesn’t necessarily need a green thumb or a conservatory to be successful with indoor-grown trees. Shopping for those that are easy-growers is the trick.

We’ve rounded up five of the easiest-to-grow indoor trees.

Ponytail Palm

Serious houseplant gardeners know that every home needs a palm. While some are too finicky for the casual grower, anybody can be successful with the ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata or Nolina recurvata).

Ponytail, however, isn’t a true palm, but it’s appearance is close enough to get away with faking it.

Well suited to a more modern interior, the ponytail palm thrives in normal household light levels and won’t up and die on you if the only spot you can find for it offers low light.

This is the ideal plant for the busy indoor gardener because it stores water in its trunk, saving it for those days when you forget or don’t have time to water it. This plant is so water-efficient, in fact, that overwatering it is the most common cause of its demise.

For best results, plant the ponytail palm in a loose potting soil. Cactus mix is ideal. When you water, do so deeply and then don’t water again until the mix is completely dry.

Learn more about the ponytail palm from the master gardeners at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Rubber tree

It’s a testament to a plant’s popularity when the likes of Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, Sammy Davis, Jr., Bing Crosby, Dinah Shore and a host of other popular singers put their voices to a song about it.

When you grow the rubber tree plant (Ficus elastica), you may just be singing about it too – it’s that easy to care for.

The rubber tree offers large, shiny, colorful leaves and lots of height (able to grow to 10 feet indoors).

Grow the rubber tree in bright light, although it won’t die if you offer less. In fact, “they grow best with the morning light from an east window,” according to the experts at Clemson University Cooperative Extension.

This is another houseplant that tolerates the forgetful owner, requiring infrequent watering. Learn more about rubber tree care at the aforementioned Clemson University website.


Corn plant

Virtually indestructible, about the only problem encountered by most corn plant (Dracaena fragrans ‘Massangeana’) growers is the brown leaf tips caused by a lack of humidity.

They’re not terribly unsightly and a small price to pay for a practically set-it-and-forget-it houseplant.

The bonus is that corn plant is one of those studied by NASA and found to help clean indoor air of various pollutants.

Don’t overwater the corn plant; it is quite drought-tolerant and may die if overwatered. Allow the soil to dry completely before watering.

Most experts suggest bright indoor light for the corn plant, although personal experience finds that the plant’s leaves fade with too much direct sun and it thrives even in dark corners of the home.

Avoid the brown leaf tips mentioned earlier by placing a humidifier in close proximity to your corn plant.

Learn more about this air-cleaning, statuesque indoor houseplant at the University of Florida IFAS Extension website.


Fiddle Leaf Fig

The current darling of houseplant collectors, the fiddle leaf fig (Ficus lyrata) can grow to 25 feet in the landscape (within its USDA hardiness zones 10B through 11). Find your growing zone at Gardenologist.org.

Most are grown indoors, as houseplants, where they can grow to 6 feet in height. And, by the way, don’t expect to harvest figs from the fiddle leaf – although it hails from the same biological family (Moraceae) as the fig we love to eat, it’s strictly ornamental.

Fiddle leaf thrives in bright but filtered sunlight. It will start leaning toward the sun, so rotate the pot occasionally.

While not as forgiving as some houseplants when it comes to forgetting to water, do allow the top of the soil to dry completely before watering the fiddle leaf fig.


Umbrella Plant

Not only is the umbrella plant (Schefflera arboricola) easy on the eyes, but it’s one of the least-demanding houseplants you can grow.

We must warn you, however, that, if chewed on, the leaves can be harmful to pets and children.

The umbrella plant thrives indoors, where it can grow from 8- to 10-feet in height. Give it bright, filtered sunlight for at least three to four hours per day.

Like most houseplants, the umbrella plant is tropical in nature and requires somewhat warm temperatures. In winter, for instance, temperatures lower than 50 degrees Fahrenheit may cause the foliage to turn black and fall from the plant. Sixty degrees is the umbrella plant’s sweet spot in winter.

When you water the umbrella plant, do so deeply and don’t allow the excess water to sit in the saucer under the plant. Water again when the top ½ inch of soil is dry.

“Schefflera is much more forgiving of too little water, than too much,” according to Dr. Leonard Perry, horticulture professor emeritus with the University of Vermont.

Fun Tips for Holiday Road Trips

Whether the holidays take you over the river and through the woods or you travel strictly in the fast lane of a national highway, traveling by car is one of the few things that the pandemic hasn’t changed.

The road trip, whether it’s to Grandmother’s house you go or a fun local getaway with the kids, is one way to get a sense of adventure during the “new normal.”

Since so many Americans spend far more time on the road during the autumn and winter holiday season, we thought it might be time for you to do a checkup on your vehicle. No, not just for safety (that’s a given), but for comfort and convenience as well.

Charge it

The last thing you need on a long road trip is a dead battery in your phone or whatever gizmo is keeping the kids entertained.

About the size of an iPhone, a power inverter can provide DC to AC power. Handy if you need to charge your phone, laptop, “… breast pump, CPAP, nebulizer” and more. We found this one on Amazon.com.

There’s an app for that

Technology is your friend, especially when you’re traveling. Take a look at some of the latest travel apps and download those that meet your needs.

There are plenty of free apps to choose from:

Roadtrippers—If your journey will include multiple stops, this may just be the app for you. Plug in your stops and the app will figure out total trip time and mileage and even offer a guess at how much gas will cost for the trip. It’s available for both iOS and Android.

Waze—Keep abreast of traffic conditions with this app, which actually warns you of traffic conditions ahead. Available for both iOS and Android, the information comes from other users and includes accidents ahead, traffic jams, changes in speed limits and warnings of police in the area.

GasBuddy—Not only will GasBuddy help you locate a gas station (even in the boonies) but will also help you find the one with the least expensive gas prices. In fact, the creators claim that “GasBuddy app users in Canada and the United States have saved over $2.9 billion at the pump over the last 15 years.” GasBuddy is for iOS and Android.

Do a Google search for “travel apps” to find more.


Download stuff to keep the kids busy and yourself from dying of boredom.

Add some small luxuries

  • Keep your drinks and snacks cool and within reach with a car-sized cooler.
  • Add a “play station” to the backseat for the kids
  • Taking turns driving? Catch better Zzzs between shifts. And don’t forget these.
  • The kids can get good Zzzs too with an inflatable bed for the backseat. We found two that we like: the Nex Mobile Inflatable Bed and this one, that fills the gap between front and back seat, making the backseat larger.
  • Making a night-time pit stop? Download the StarWalk app, point your phone at the sky and learn “…which stars, planets and constellations are above you.” The kids will love this one.
  • Get the fast food out of your lap and into something classier. The Zone Tech Car Swivel Tray fits in most cup holders and has a non-skid bottom to keep your food from sliding into your lap.
  • Backseat driver has four legs instead of two? Protect the seat with a comfy cover.

While this list is just for fun, don’t neglect all the necessary preparations for a road trip. You’ll find important tips online at The American Red Cross and Triple A.

Houseplant rescue

Hot summers and frigid winters are brutal on outdoor plants. We expect that our indoor plants are sheltered from Mom Nature’s extremes so it’s a bit disheartening when that alocasia you’ve fallen in love with gets sick.

There are several common reasons for houseplant problems. Some are caused by improper care, others, such as pests, are not of your doing. Let’s take a look at the causes of some of the most common causes that stress out houseplants.

Improper watering

Those new to growing plants have a tendency to over-nurture them, especially by over-watering. If the plant’s foliage is wilting, check the soil. If it’s dry, water it. If it’s wet, you are either over-watering, or the soil doesn’t drain sufficiently.

Other signs of too much water include:

  • Leaves that seem soft
  • Inner and lower leaves turning yellow
  • Foliage appears scorched (an advanced symptom)
  • Leaf drop (another advanced symptom)

Symptoms of the plant not receiving enough water are similar but also include:

  • New growth may be smaller than normal
  • Wilted foliage
  • Folded or misshapen foliage
  • Dull, grey-green foliage
  • Leaves that appear brittle

There is a fine line between giving a houseplant too much and not enough water and how often to water depends on the environment inside the home.

To determine when to water, stick your finger about an inch deep into the soil. If it is absolutely bone dry, it may be time to water the plant. Take it to the sink and slowly pour water over the soil and keep pouring it until the pot feels heavy and water drains from the bottom of it.

Always allow your houseplants to drain completely before putting the pot back on the bottom tray (if you use one).

When you think it’s finished draining, tilt it at an angle. The chances are good that more water will drip out. This is known as “perched water” and you need to let it drain to keep the roots healthy.

Different plants require different light levels

Most houseplants hail from tropical regions. There, they typically thrive in the rain forest’s under-story, receiving dappled sunlight through the leaves of the tall trees.

Some houseplants, however, thrive in more light and others in less. The easiest way to learn about your plant’s needs is to place it in an area of the home and keep an eye on it for a week or two.

If it seems to be thriving, leave it there. If not, move it into an area that receives either lower or higher light (but not direct sunlight). Keep moving it and, over time, you’ll find the ideal spot for it.

Symptoms of insufficient light include:

  • Leaves that curl upward
  • New growth that remains small
  • The plant is reaching toward the source of light
  • Falling leaves

Symptoms of too much light include:

  • Scorched leaves
  • Leaves that appear to have been bleached
  • Limpness

With summer here, it’s only natural that our outdoor plants will become the center of attention. Keep an eye on your houseplants, though, for signs of environmental stress.

How to Clean Your Ceramic Cooktop

Americans have had a love affair with smooth cooktops since the 1970s when they were first introduced. At that time, the cooktops were created from pyroceramic glass — the same material as Corningware dishes. This material was replaced with less-brittle glass ceramic in the 1990s.

While glass ceramic cooktops lend a sleek, modern silhouette to the kitchen, they have different care requirements than conventional stovetops.

While you won’t need to dig around burners and drip pans, you do need to use caution to avoid scratching the cooktop and you may need to clean it more frequently.

Which cleaning products to use

Avoid using abrasive cleaners and rough scouring pads, which may damage the surface. Products such as bleach, ammonia and oven cleaner may cause discoloring.

The ideal product to use to clean the glass ceramic cooktop is one that is manufactured expressly for that purpose. Read your owner’s manual for a recommendation or consider one of the following products:

How to clean the cooktop

Light stains and spills are easy to clean up if you attend to them as soon as possible.

  • Wait until the cooktop is completely cool.
  • Pour a few drops of the cleaner onto the surface.
  • Use a cleaning pad (included with some of the products) or a clean, soft cloth to wipe the soiled area clean.

To remove heavy stains:

  • Use a cooktop scraper (included with some of the aforementioned products) or a metal razorblade scraper, at a 30-degree angle, to lightly scrape the soil from the surface.
  • Wipe up the loosened debris.
  • Apply a few drops of the cleaner and rub the cooktop with the cleaning pad until it’s clean.
  • Buff the surface of the cooktop with a clean microfiber cloth.

Melted plastic, or spills of foods that contain a lot of sugar may require special treatment:

  • Don’t wait for the cooktop to cool – these stains require immediate removal.
  • Protect your hands with oven mitts.
  • Use the scraper or razor blade to scrape the stain from the cooktop.
  • Immediately wipe away the loosened debris.
  • Allow the cooktop to cool and then clean with the cooktop cleaner and a cleaning pad.

Tips to create the ideal home-study space for your child

One of the biggest questions during the COVID-19 crisis is whether or not schools should reopen. It’s challenging to keep up with school closures on a nationwide basis since there are a variety of them in use:

  • State-ordered closure
  • State-ordered regional closure
  • Varies by school/district
  • Hybrid or remote instruction only
  • State-ordered in-person instruction


Whatever the current situation, if you’ve decided to home school your child or are forced to, it’s time to dedicate a space within the home for studying.

It’s not as challenging as it sounds

Most students will spend much of their “school” time in front of a computer. Thankfully, laptops are small enough to set up just about anywhere.

Start with a work surface

It doesn’t matter if the work surface is the kitchen or dining room table or a coffee table, as long as it’s large enough to allow your child room for a computer and for paperwork and books.

If using one of the aforementioned surfaces, however, your student will have to clean up after each session. If at all possible, try to find an area for a desk that is roomy enough to hold everything and when the study session is over, he or she can leave it as-is and return the next day knowing where everything is.

Finally, design experts recommend that you place the desk so it isn’t facing a window or any other distracting feature.

A comfy chair will help keep your student working

It’s a wonder that kids learn anything in school with their hineys stuck to that hard piece of wood that serves as seating in a traditional classroom.

Go bigger than our schools and choose a comfy chair. Ensure that the chair has an adjustable height mechanism or that it is the right height for your child to work comfortably and not have to raise or lower his or her head to view the computer monitor.

You may want to add additional seating such as “… bean bags … so your child has the freedom to move about as they study,” suggests Julia Reis at FamilyEducation.com.

Lighten up the area

An overhead light isn’t enough for a child who is doing a lot of reading and screen time.

Although natural light is best (and the more the better), task lighting, such as pendant lights or table lamps, not only help prevent eye strain but help keep “… your child alert and focused,” Deborah Gilboa, MD, tells Jennifer Kelly Geddes at ThisOldHouse.com.

You have so many options when setting up a work space for your children, whether elementary school-aged or high school students. Get some inspiration online at:

Have fun with your project!

Learn about 3 hidden household hazards

When you bought your home you most likely had a home inspector visit to find out what, if anything, is wrong with it.

The professional home inspection, however, only tells a potential homeowner what’s wrong with visible areas of the home and its systems. The inspector can’t, for instance, tell you what’s happening inside the HVAC system in the areas that aren’t visible.

Nor can she tell you what is lurking behind the walls or under the floorboards of the home.

This is why it’s so important to expect your home’s systems at least once a year.

Let’s take a look at three areas of the home to inspect closely to mitigate hidden household hazards.

1. Invisible, odorless and lethal

Radon, a radioactive gas, is a common indoor pollutant. It creeps into the home through cracks and holes in the foundation and walls and, once there, it becomes trapped and the levels continue to rise.

Exposure to radon gas, for long periods, is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S., according to the National Cancer Institute.

Testing the home for radon gas is easy and inexpensive, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“There are many kinds of low-cost “do it yourself” radon test kits you can get through the mail and in some hardware stores and other retail outlets,” the agency states in “A Citizen’s Guide to Radon,” its consumer information booklet (you can find it published online at EPA.gov).

The booklet is full of information about how to test for radon and what to do if levels are above a certain threshold.

2. The deadly arc-fault

If you’ve ever experienced an arc-fault in your home, you need no explanation about the hazard. If you haven’t, read on.

“An arc-fault is an unintended arc created by current flowing through an unplanned path,” according to the experts at the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA).

An arc is like a mini lightning bolt and its “temperatures … can exceed 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit,” and may ignite anything surrounding it, such as wood framing or insulation.

Although it seems like a longshot that this might happen in your home, that assumption can be deadly.

“Electrical failures or malfunctions were the second leading cause of U.S. home fires in 2012-2016,” according to the National Fire Protection Association.

And, they don’t just occur in hidden areas of the home. A damaged cord or loose connection can cause an arc-fault as well.

The experts at NEMA suggested that protecting the circuit is the best way to reduce the chances of this type of electrical fire.

An arc-fault circuit interrupter (AFCI) is “… a product designed to detect a wide range of arcing electrical faults to help reduce the electrical system from being an ignition source of a fire,” they claim.

Find out why it is important to have an AFCI installed in your home by visiting AFCISafety.org.

3. Swimming pool drains and filters

The drain in your swimming pool uses suction to filter out debris such as dirt, oils from your body and other items.

This suction can be strong enough to trap a child underwater which can lead to drowning.

While on a family vacation, “A six-year-old British girl almost drowned when her hair was sucked into a swimming pool filter at a hotel in Lanzarote,” according to a reporter at BBC.com.

She was trapped for more than two minutes before being rescued. Thankfully, she lived.

While these cases are rare, “… long hair is considered a safety hazard when entering a pool or hot tub,” according to Amy Kapetta at YahooNews.com.

But, it’s not only long hair that can trap someone underwater. Dangling straps from bathing suits, jewelry and more can be sucked into filters and drains.

Tie back long hair before swimming (better yet, wear a swim cap). Teach your children to “…stay away from drains,” Elizabeth Klinefelter, Pool Safely Campaign Leader tells Kapetta.

“Another important safety tip is that while using a spa, always locate the emergency vacuum shutoff before getting in the water,” she continues. “This emergency vacuum shutoff stops the suction in the spa, freeing whoever or whatever is stuck in it.”

Finally, ensure your home pool drain has an antivortex cover.


Autumn in the garden

Summer 2020 brought record-breaking heat, leaving many home gardens in tatters.

In fact, “July 2020 has tied for second-hottest July on record for the globe,” according to scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

“… the Northern Hemisphere saw its hottest July ever,” they concluded.

The results included crispy foliage, flowers that didn’t bloom when expected and vegetable gardens starved for shade.

Temperatures are thankfully falling as we head into autumn, a welcome change for gardeners and their plants. A new season and a new opportunity to grow, whether you’re a flower gardener or crave home-grown vegetables.

Let’s get rid of summer’s detritus and get that fall garden underway.

Prepare for planting

The first step to a successful autumn garden is to clean up the beds. Get rid of plants that sizzled over the summer and anything else that needs to come out to make room for new plants.

Don’t allow the roots to remain. Use a hand tiller to get at them and get them out of the ground.

  • Trim the dead and dying leaves and flowers from your perennials and add a layer of mulch over the root zone to protect them from winter’s cold.
  • Divide perennials that have become overgrown. Those that tolerate October division include Oriental and Asiatic lilies, daylilies, bearded iris, sedum and hosta. For a walkthrough on dividing hosta, visit Gardenologist.org.
  • Add a layer of compost (about 6 inches is fine) to the top of the soil and dig it into the top 12 inches of soil.
  • If you’ll be growing in containers, add some compost to those as well.

Get planting

October is a great month to plant new trees and shrubs. Keep them well-watered so they establish quickly. Stop watering when the ground freezes.

It’s also a good time to plant those cool season annuals, such as:

  • Chrysanthemum
  • Daisies
  • Echinacea
  • Pansies

Don’t forget to get your tulip, crocus and daffodil bulbs into the ground this month.

There are many vegetable plants that thrive in the fall weather, especially if you experience frost-free winters. Consider growing the following:

  • Beets
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Collards
  • Garlic
  • Kale
  • Lettuce
  • Mustard
  • Onions

All of these can be planted from now until late October.

Keep an eye out for pests

Don’t let late-season pests take control of your vegetable garden. Prepare yourself to do battle with them and you’ll have a bountiful harvest. Here are some of the more common fall garden pests to look for:

Aphids—The bane of summer gardens, they’re almost as prolific in fall. Lady beetles can help manage their numbers, but your best recourse is to squirt them off the plants with a strong blast of water from the hose.

Cabbage loopers—Small green caterpillars, cabbage loopers have voracious appetites. Keep an eye on the undersides of foliage, especially on cabbage, broccoli, collard greens and cauliflower. When you find them, treat the plant with Btk (Bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki). Learn more about cabbage loopers and how to control them at arbico-organics.com.

Cucumber beetles—Don’t let the name fool you; cucumber beetles enjoy lots of vegetables. These include:

  • Beet
  • Cabbage
  • Eggplant
  • Lettuce
  • Onion
  • Pea

You’ll win the battle if you can get to the larvae before they hatch in the soil. A spinosad spray can be applied as a soil drench and should do the trick.

Slugs and snails—And we thought bunnies are prolific! Snails – all of them, male or female – “… lay hundreds of eggs at a time with a gestation period of only 2-3 weeks, according to the pros at Superior Pest Defense.

“They lay more than half of their eggs in the fall making them a prime garden pest,” they conclude.

They feast mainly at night or on rainy days. Unless you control them you may not have a crop at all. Use a product like BONIDE® Slug Magic or Monterey All Natural Snail & Slug Spray.

Happy fall gardening!






Is Halloween cancelled this year?

There are Halloween folks and then there are those among us who can take it or leave it. Oh, and a handful of downright scrooges who despise the holiday. Those are the people who don’t buy candy, don’t put pumpkins out and refuse to turn on the porch light.

The latter are the ones who so hope that the holiday is cancelled this year, because of the pandemic.

Guess what? Halloween 2020 is on

Yes, we need to be a bit more creative and a lot more cautious, but Halloween is alive and well, despite COVID-19.

How to celebrate Halloween safely

The Hershey Company and The Halloween and Costume Association have partnered to provide Halloween safety guidelines. Head over to Halloween2020.org. There you will find a map, color-coded by a county’s COVID risk level.

Once you know your county’s color, you are then invited to read a list of safe Halloween practices in your area.

Most counties in the U.S., by the way, are in the “yellow,” or moderate risk category.

Naturally, if you or a family member are in a high-risk category, such as the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions or compromised immune systems, you should stay home and not risk your health.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has released its suggestions for keeping safe during the fall holidays, such as Thanksgiving, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and, yes, Halloween.

The safety guidelines presented by Hershey and the Halloween and Costume Association are based on the CDC’s guidelines.

Tips on celebrating according to your “risk zone”

In any of the zones, if you decide to throw caution to the wind and head out into the night to get your share of candy, look for the official Safehouse certificate on homes.

“These are the folks that will have a table or sanitized barrier to help you maintain a safe distance as you grab your goodies!

Watch for 6-foot markers in front of homes and in driveways, that’s a great sign that those folks are going the extra mile to help keep you healthy!”

Green Zone

Counties in green zones have the lowest incidence of COVID-19 infections and the recommendations for Halloween celebrations include Trunk-R-Treat.

“It’s not just for parking lots anymore! Neighborhood Trunk-R-Treats will be popping up everywhere this Halloween to help minimize the close quarters of pathways and porches.”

The same goes for the Garage Trick or Treat. “Check out the neighbors that are going all out and paving the way for garage give-outs. Driveways offer up more room to roam than a traditional walkway and can even sport more fun and frightful décor.”

Consider an outdoor (front yard or cul-de-sac) costume party. “…just don’t forget the strategically spaced seating, full moon music and bucketloads of candy!”

Yellow Zone

You’ll need to pay a bit more attention to safety measures if you’ll be trick-or-treating in a yellow zone.

We like the “reverse trick-or-treat” suggestion where the kids, in their costumes, stand in their front yards while the grown-folk neighbors do the walking from house-to-house, handing out the goodies.

Orange zone

The reverse trick-or-treat is also suggested for those in orange zones. Or, load your costumed kids into the car and drive to friends and family and exchange candy.

This one takes a bit of planning and coordinating with neighbors, but it sounds so fun. Create a trick-or-treat treasure map to where the goodies are hidden around your home or neighborhood.

Or, make it HallowEaster and skip the map. Hide the treats in orange and black plastic eggs (maybe even paint them with glow-in-the-dark paint) and let the kids loose to find them.

Naturally you’ll want to ensure that social distancing guidelines are in place.

Red zone

The experts suggest that “At-home celebrations are safest for red zones.”

  • Backyard movie night with your closest friends and family
  • Zoom party—This one can be organized via the NextDoor app. Put the idea out there and you’ll be surprised how many of your neighbors want to participate. Feature “games, scary stories and a costume contest. Goodie bags and candy buckets can be dropped off on doorsteps in advance or porch pickups can be arranged from one location.”
  • House scavenger hunt—Transform each room of the house into a theme room, then “… send the kids on a scavenger hunt for fun swag. Hide candy, toys and prizes or even make some gift certificates to stay up late, choose the movie or eat an extra piece of candy.”
  • Family movie or game night with a twist—at the conclusion, hang a piñata and let the kids go wild getting at the goodies inside.

Halloween 2020 will be different, and in more ways than we’ve mentioned. We’ll enjoy the second full moon of the month (known as a “blue moon”). and it also leads us into the end of daylight savings time

However you choose to celebrate, we hope you stay safe and healthy.


Working on the house? Talk to your insurance agent first

The folks at Pew Research released the results of a recent poll that shows “Half of adults who say they lost a job due to the coronavirus outbreak are still unemployed.”

How they are faring financially depends a great deal on how prepared they were to lose their paychecks.

Apparently, some are doing ok, according to another survey that finds slightly more than half of unemployed Americans are performing some sort of home improvement project. Many are going the DIY route, but handy men and women and painting and flooring contractors are quite busy as well.

If you’ve performed home improvements, or are considering doing so, you may want to speak with your homeowners insurance agent to learn if and how these projects will affect your policy.

Certain renovations will increase the home’s value significantly and, thus, the cost to rebuild it as well. Let’s take a look as some of these projects.

Swimming pool installation

Judging by the enormous spike in U.S. sales and installations of inground pools, you aren’t alone in your desire to add one to your backyard.

Although they’re pretty to look at, fun to swim in and one of the best ways to cool off on a hot summer day, they’re also considered a liability risk to insurers. Yes, it probably will raise your premium.

You can mitigate some of the risk by constructing a fence, with a locked gate, around the entire pool.

Speak with your insurance agent before the excavator arrives to get the skinny on what else you can do to keep the cost of your homeowners insurance from skyrocketing.

Need a new roof?

Adding a new roof to the home isn’t one of the more exciting home renovations, but when it has seen better days, adding a new one is a necessity.

The impact on your insurance premium depends on several factors, including the material you choose. Definitely run this plan by your insurance agent because you could qualify for a discount on your premium, depending on the roofing material you choose.

On the other hand, a new roof may increase your property value and you will need additional coverage.

Basement renovation

A finished basement is many a homeowner’s dream. It also adds to the usable square footage of the home thereby increasing the home’s market value and the cost of your insurance premium.

There is also the issue of flooding and most policies don’t cover flood damage.

“There are several reasons why a basement may experience water damage,” according to Guy Kopperud at InsuranceJournal.com.

He goes on to suggest that some of these instances are covered by homeowners insurance and others will require you to buy a certain type of flood coverage.

“Your standard policy flood damage coverage is most often based on whether the event was sudden and accidental, like an overflowing tub or product failure such a malfunctioning washing machine,” Kopperud says.

“Storms and other rising waters are generally not covered under a standard homeowners’ policy and require additional flood insurance.”

He goes on to recommend using one or more sump pumps and keeping them maintained to avoid flooding.

Most important of all is to pick up the phone and call your insurance agent while your home improvement project is still in the planning stages. Ask about discounts and how to get them and how to mitigate anything that will raise your premium.

The Best Ways to Get a Shine on a Laminate Floor

It’s difficult to believe when looking at it, but a laminate floor is actually just a photograph of wood.

This picture is generally attached to melamine and then particleboard and the whole strip is coated with aluminum oxide.

The floor looks like wood but the aluminum oxide coating makes it four times stronger than wood, according to the experts with Lamanator Plus.

While laminate flooring provides the attractiveness of hardwood floors with less maintenance, caring for it regularly helps to maintain its shine.

Protect the Laminate Floor

Use rubber-backed rugs at all doors leading into the room with laminate flooring to catch the dirt before it hits the floor and dulls it.

Place felt pads on the legs of furniture on the floor – especially dining room chairs that are repeatedly dragged over the floor – to prevent scratches.

Use a dry dust mop or vacuum cleaner when you clean, instead of a broom, which may leave tiny scratches that build up over time, dulling the laminate’s shine.

Keep it Clean

Routine dry-mopping or vacuuming keeps small particles of dirt from scratching the laminate floor. Although the scratches may be tiny, from a distance they make the floor appear dull.

Depending on how much and what kind of traffic the floor receives, such as crawling babies or pets, you may need to sweep or vacuum daily.

Running a damp mop over the floor also helps keep the dirt from collecting in the scratches and grooves.

Remove Built-Up Residue

If you use a cleaning product on the floor, such as oil soap, it may build up over time, leaving a residue on the laminate.

Some cleaning products also leave streaks, which dulls the shine.

Remove built-up residue with 1 cup of vinegar in a gallon of water. If the residue layer is particularly thick you may need to use straight vinegar on a cloth.

It’s time consuming to have to clean the floor on your hands and knees but once the residue is removed, the laminate will shine.

Additional Tips

Since excess water may streak the laminate floor, use a slightly damp mop when cleaning.

After mopping, go over the floor with a micro fiber or terry cloth towel to remove excess water and buff the finish. As the towel becomes damp, use another, dry towel.

Remove stains, such as candle wax or chewing gum, with a plastic scraper, or putty knife. Don’t dig deeply into the finish, but lightly scrape the material from the floor.

Then, use a rag dipped in nail polish remover to remove any residue left after scraping.