Fire Can Happen. Anywhere. Anytime.

Fire can happen anywhere, anytime.

That is the 2018 slogan—and the warning—of The National Fire Prevention Association.  And while October 7-13 is officially National Fire Prevention Week, we should be vigilant all fifty-two weeks of the year.  Fire is a devastating and quick-moving danger, and mere seconds can mean all the difference between safety or tragedy.  How ready are you—and your family—to handle this kind of a crisis?

Every home should be equipped with at least one smoke detector on every floor and one near every bedroom.  If battery-operated, the batteries should be changed every six months and the detectors themselves tested monthly.

Is anyone in your home hearing-impaired or are they heavy sleepers?  There are smoke detectors designed to awaken people in other ways besides sound.  Investigate these types if there’s a risk that anybody in your house might not be alerted to the alarm a standard smoke detector produces.

ThinkstockPhotos-177031254_smallKeep a fully-charged fire extinguisher on every level of your home and inspect it regularly to make sure it remains in good working condition.

It’s important to plan not one, but multiple escape routes from your home.  Every single member of the household should have a clear plan in mind for getting out of the house as quickly as possible, and to practice the route several times.  It’s a good idea to keep your phone by your bed in the event that you aren’t able to escape.  By the same token, when staying with friends or in a hotel, take a few minutes to spot fire exits, fire extinguishers and the best route for getting out of unfamiliar surroundings as quickly as possible.

Everyone should conduct a thorough safety inspection of their house and to do so often.  Chimneys and furnaces should be inspected and cleaned regularly.  Make certain that all objects—flammable or not—are never closer than three feet to any heat source.  There should be a clear and unobstructed path leading out of every single room.  Never leave portable heaters running when you are asleep or out of the house.

These are just a few of the fundamental things to keep in mind to ensure that your home is as “fire-proofed” as possible.  Take the time to visit The National Fire Prevention Association’s website at www.nfpa.org   where you can click on “Safety Tip Sheets” for much more valuable information on the steps to keeping yourself, your family and your pets safe.

Remember, too, that you can rely on the professional and friendly Craftsmen at your local Handyman Matters office to assist you with the installation of smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors and any other tasks—large or small—that will make your home a safer and happier place to live.

 

GIVING THAT SMALL ROOM A BIGGER LOOK

The longer you live in a home, the more possessions you acquire, say nothing of how your family itself may have grown through the years.  Whether you live in a small place, to begin with, or a larger one that somehow seems “more full” than it did once upon a time, there are ways to open up those cramped rooms. These options do not require actually having to expand the walls, and many can be accomplished without spending a fortune in the process.

Dark flooring, walls, and paneling can give a room a cozy appearance that feels great on a chilly winter’s evening but creates a claustrophobic atmosphere the rest of the time.  Consider taking advantage of our Accent Wall package by adding a decorative accent wall using reclaimed wood, similar to the one shown in the image below, or painting one wall in a cooling shade of blue or green, or simply changing out curtains, fabrics, and a piece or two of furnishing for ones with lighter tones.

Artiswall_Original_5Inch_inuse3

Mirrors are an excellent way to create a comfortable illusion of added space, particularly if your room’s configuration allows for mirrors that can face each other from opposite walls.  In tiny kitchens, reflective surfaces such as stainless steel appliances serve the same purpose.

Too many decorative elements “shrink” a room, as well.  As an experiment, remove a third of the knick-knacks that occupy shelf and table space to see how much of a difference their absence makes, and whether you can—or you want to—live with the difference.  Inspect your furnishings, as well.  Is there a chair that remains unoccupied most of the time, or an end table or lamp that don’t really need to be there?  Or you can always trade these out for taller, narrowing furnishings which tend to give the illusion of added volume.

If the budget allows, there are other options.  Could small paneled windows be traded out for a larger single pane which will bring more light into the space?  How about installing a bay window to add square footage to a room?  Could shelving be narrowed or recessed without taking space away from adjoining areas?  Can you “go more vertical,” installing double-height cabinetry, which allows for more display areas without sacrificing already-limited space?

These are some of the more straightforward options for “expanding” a room.  Your local Handyman Matters office can assist you with any of these types of alterations. Or, if you have bigger ideas in mind for enlarging your living space (like, combining two smaller rooms into a larger one) they are happy—and qualified—to help you with those options, as well.

WAYS TO KEEP YOUR HOME COOLER DURING THE SUMMER MONTHS

Summer brings a lot of great things our way—more daylight, beautiful gardens, cool drinks and delicious fresh fruits and vegetables, trips to the local pool, among other things—and it also brings considerably warmer temperatures, particularly inside our homes.  Air conditioning is a blessing, but it’s also a significant energy- and money-grabber.

Here are a handful of other suggestions for cooling your house during those pleasant, but overly warm days.

Energy experts suggest you look for the ways to reduce solar gains—the natural heat your residence collects from the sun.  Conduct an inspection of your windows, particularly the south- and west-facing ones.  Consider putting up awnings or look into installing reflective window film.  The latter not only helps to cool your home in summer, it also blocks the ultraviolet rays that tend to fade fabrics and furniture.  Manufacturers like Indow Windows (www.indowwindows.com) make a window insert that blocks hot summer air as well as reducing exterior noise.

Maggie Finnerty-vintage-2-RGB

Planting trees and bushes to block the sun’s heat through windows is a good organic solution, but may require a considerable length of time for these to mature enough to become a solar blocker.  This is a step you might want to take in conjunction with quicker solutions.

Check to see if there are seals or cracks around windows and doorframes.  These permit warmer air to enter in the summer months as well as to escape in the winter months when you want to be retaining as much heat as possible, so fixing these with weatherstripping, grouting or other means addresses two problems in one.

Install efficient lighting that runs cooler.  Only 10 to 15% of the electricity that your incandescent lights consume produces light—the rest is turned into heat.

You can always open your (screened) windows during the summer months, but do so strategically. You may think that opening all of your windows will create a nice cross-draft, but that isn’t necessarily the case.  Instead, open only the windows on the shaded downstairs side of the house and the upstairs windows on the sunnier side, creating a breeze that will carry the cooler air throughout your home.

Avoid using heat-generating appliances as much as possible in the hotter hours of the day.  Do laundry and run the dishwasher in the early mornings or late evenings.  Do as much of your meal preparation as possible in the microwave, or grill outdoors.  Turn off lights when not in use and confine baths and showers to early morning hours.

Set your thermostat as high as comfortably possible in the summer.  The less difference there is between the inside and outdoor temperatures, the lower your overall cooling bill will be.  Lowering your thermostat while simultaneously running your air conditioning is an energy-burn that forces your air conditioner to work harder than it needs to.

Of course, installing a ceiling fan is a good way to get heavy warm air moving in a room.   Portable fans work, as well, but keep this in mind:  Neither of these actually changes the temperature of the air.  Fans cool people and pets, not rooms.  Leaving a fan running when you are somewhere else does nothing apart from boosting your energy bill.

Need assistance in implementing any of these steps?  Handyman Matters stands ready to assist you with any cost-saving or energy-saving measures you may want to take, as well as any other improvement or repair jobs you are considering having down around your home.

ORGANIZING YOUR PANTRY

pantryOne of the most overlooked—and probably one of the most despised—jobs around your home would be that of reorganizing your kitchen’s pantry.  It’s one of those tasks that generally isn’t even on your radar.  When it occurs to you is when you are digging through shelves of items hurriedly looking for that spice or canned good you know is there somewhere.  You saw it a while ago, but now it seems to have vanished.  You make a mental note that “one of these days,” you’re going to take the time to straighten up everything on those shelves and put them in some kind of order.  And then you forget all about it until the next time you can’t find something.

And here’s a bit of bad news:  There is no easy way to reorganize that space.  There are no short cuts.  Once you’ve made your peace with that bit of bad news, you can move on to actually doing something about it.  With that in mind, here are some tips that will make the process somewhat less painful, and the end result much more effective.

Step one is to remove everything from the shelves and other storage space in the pantry.  This enables you to give the space a thorough cleaning and to inventory all of the items on hand.

Toss out the empty or nearly-empty containers and check labels to see whether anything is past its expiration date.  Get rid of those things, as well.  Scrutinize what is left and determine what is worth keeping.  There’s no point in holding on to items that have seen no use over the past few years.  Decide also whether there’s anything that has been occupying space that really belongs in another area of the house, such as in a linen closet or desk drawer.

You’re still not ready to return anything to the pantry just yet.  Instead, group everything you intend to keep into appropriate categories.  For example:  spices and baking goods together, beans, grains and pastas together, condiments, oils, salad dressings and vinegar in one area.

Consider which articles you reach for most often, and which ones see less regular use, and let that be you guideline for how you return them to the shelves.  The more frequently you need to reach for something, the more convenient its regular spot should be.

Finally, scrutinize your pantry space closely while it’s still empty and uncluttered.  Consider additional storage options.  What about using an over-the-door shoe organizer to hold some items?  Does your pantry space allow for pegboard backing on a wall or a door?  These can be amazingly versatile and strong.  You can anchor hooks or suspend plastic baskets for these, creating room for cutting boards, utensils and shelf-stable items.

Take a few moments to plot out just how and where you will store things in your refurbished pantry area and what you might want to buy before everything goes back into the space.  Be realistic and reasonable in your goals.  Using clear plastic storage containers with labels can be time savers and efficient places to keep cereal, snacks or bulk items.  Remember, however that those require some ongoing maintenance (transferring the contents from the boxes and bags in which you purchase them, and keeping the bins clean).  If you know yourself well enough to know it’s not something you’ll keep up with regularly, then buying things like these may be nothing more than a needless expense and a waste of your time.  You might be better off simply keeping things in their original containers!

One last key element to pantry reorganization…  If you’re going to go to all the trouble of doing it, then keep up the good work!  Incorporate a few moments in your week to making sure things remain tidy and in their proper space.  Don’t fall into the trap of casually tossing something back into the pantry telling yourself that you’ll put it away properly later.  At least once a week, take the time to make sure everything is in its designated spot, package labels facing outward.  Wipe down the shelves and inventory items regularly so that you know approximately when amounts are getting low and things don’t remain well beyond their expiration dates.

It’s easy to let messiness and disorganization creep in.  It’s also easy to prevent it with just a little vigilance.

If you are looking to expand your pantry’s space or to create a new one, remember that your local Handyman Matters office is happy to assist you with this or with any other repair or remodel jobs around your home.

WINDOW DESIGN CAN IMPROVE YOUR HOME’S ENERGY EFFICIENCY

PSHD (Passive Solar Home Design) is the term used to describe the process that takes advantage of a building’s site, climate and materials to minimize energy usage.  A passive solar home gets at least part of its heating, cooling and lighting energy from the sun, and windows—and their ability to either retain or lose heat—play a large role in regulating that energy.

The efficiency of existing windows can be dramatically improved by utilizing weatherstripping or caulking, and by adding storm windows or window treatments and coverings.  In some instances, the better option is to replace older, less efficient windows with new ones that are better-designed for energy-saving purposes.  They quickly pay for themselves in reduced utility costs.

Before installing new windows, it’s important to determine the type that will work best in your home’s configuration.  Consider that south-facing windows will collect the most solar heat.  This is advantageous in the winter months, but less so in summer months, particularly in warmer climates.  In those areas, overhangs, glazing, or other shading devices will help to prevent excessive heat gain.  In colder climates, owners will welcome the additional warmth that southern-facing windows can absorb.

Windows on east- and west-facing sides of your home admit less sunlight.  It is more difficult to control the heat and light that come through them; ideally, they should have a low solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC).  This is a scale that determines the fraction of solar radiation admitted through a window or shading of some type.  You can learn more about this scale at www.energy.gov.

Northern-facing windows collect no solar heat and generally are used only for lighting.  They can’t be counted on to provide sustained warmth.

Consider, too, the type of window operating system you want to install, since different styles have different air leakage rates.  Fixed panes do not open at all, making these generally airtight, but no ventilation is available, either, which can reduce their appeal.

Single- and double-hung windows have two separate panes of glass.  In single-hung windows, only the lower half of the window opens, sliding upward.  In double-hung windows, both halves are moveable.  Both types have a much higher air leakage factor, since they don’t seal as efficiently as other styles.

Similarly, single- and double-sliding windows feature glass which slides horizontally, and they, too, have higher air leakage.

Casement windows are hinged at the sides and open outward.  Both these and awning windows, which are hinged at the top, are more airtight since the sash closes by pressing against the frame.

Naturally, your selection is going to come down to the style that looks best on your home but, armed with this information, you can make a choice that balances aesthetics with energy-efficiency.

Even the most energy-saving windows must be installed correctly to ensure their efficiency.  The craftsmen at Handyman Matters are always available to assist with this important home upkeep task.  Call 1(800)FIX-MY-HOME to locate the office nearest you.

 

 

RE-CONFIGURING YOUR HOME’S STORAGE SPACE

Are you a recent empty-nester?  Have you just finished decluttering the house?  Or maybe you’ve simply been contemplating the current layout of your living space and you wonder if there could be a more efficient—or a more attractive—way of arranging your belongings.

You could, of course, put your home on the market and find an entirely new place to live, but if you’re looking for something a little less disruptive and complicated, here are a handful of smaller suggestions to consider.

EXPAND AN EXISTING ROOM – Is there a room in your home that’s rarely used these days?  Consider the idea of knocking down the wall between it and an adjoining room to create a more open and welcoming space between the two.  Interestingly, a larger expanse can give a stronger sense of intimacy!

ADD A CLOSET OR INCREASE THE SIZE OF A CURRENT ONE – Maybe it’s time to consider turning that small, cramped closet into a walk-in space where your clothes, shoes and other paraphernalia aren’t competing for visibility.  Examine your options:  is there some adjoining space that could be better served by making it part of a larger closet?

ADD OR MOVE CABINETS – Every home seems to have that catch-all cabinet and/or that junk drawer, the place where everything that has nowhere else to be winds up.  Even those storage spots that have an assigned purpose tend to accumulate items that don’t belong there, because they don’t quite seem to fit anyplace else.  Conduct a walk-through of your home for the specific purpose of inventorying cabinet/cupboard locations and their contents.  It’s probably been awhile since you actively considered whether things are stored in their most convenient spot.  You’ve simply become accustomed to retrieving them as needed without much thought about how far you have to walk, or how deeply you have to dig.

LOOK AROUND FOR UNUSED AREAS – Most homes have a lot of unoccupied space…if you know where to look.  Is it possible to open up space under a set of stairs for cabinets, sets of drawers, or even shelves?  Also, “think vertical!”  Floor-to-ceiling built-in-shelves enable you to put overhead space to better use.  In your kitchen, can you mount a second bank of cabinets above the existing ones?  These are good locations for those seldom-used items that are taking up valuable real estate in the more accessible cupboards.  Are there stray corners in your home, particularly behind doors, where diagonal shelves could be installed?  These don’t impede traffic or block the door and serve as both a point of decoration for things like vases and framed photographs, and for objects you typically grab on your way out of the house.

LOOK FOR FURNITURE THAT CAN DO DOUBLE-DUTY – Furniture has become amazingly functional in new ways these days.  Many beds, couches, coffee tables, credenzas and other items are now designed to have multiple uses, including hidden storage space.  A trip to a local furniture store can open you up to all kinds of new ways to relocate your possessions.

These are just a few of the options worth considering if you are looking to upgrade your home with an eye towards space reconfiguration.  Our many Handyman Matters offices have qualified craftsmen who can help you decide what the best option for your home may be, and to help you complete the job to your satisfaction.  Call 1(800)FIX-MY-HOME or go to www.handymanmatters.com where you can enter your zip code to find the phone number of the Handyman Matters location nearest you.

 

INSOMNIA-PROOFING YOUR BEDROOM

There are any number of reasons why you might experience sleepless nights, and more than a few of them can relate to your sleeping quarters.  Sometimes the cure to your insomnia can be found in examining the layout of your bedroom.  Here are some things to consider:

Sleep experts agree that keeping a room as dark as possible helps to promote a good night’s rest.   Are your furnishings, decorations, window treatments or wall colors preventing you from sleeping as well as you might?  It might be time to consider redecorating in hues of darker blue, purple, or maybe even black.

Are lighter-colored drapes or blinds allowing too much outdoor ambient light into the room?  Consider heavier or double curtains, or shades/blinds that are better light-blockers.

Are you sleeping on a twenty year-old mattress that has outlived its usefulness?  Even just your well-worn pillow can be preventing that restful night’s sleep.   Begin by changing out your pillows for new ones, to see if that simple change can provide the cure you seek.   A heavier, high quality set of pillows may make a huge difference in the type of sleep you get.  Try this before investing the money in a new mattress or bed; then, if the problem persists, consider making the larger purchase.

Pay attention to the temperature.  Try experimenting by adjusting the thermostat up or down a few degrees from night to night.  Perhaps a slightly warmer or cooler room will be more conducive to your rest.

It’s actually possible for the clutter in your bedroom to make a difference, as well.  It could be overt—the “busy-ness” of your knickknacks and decorations can inhibit your sleep.  Or it might be a little more subtle.  Are you falling asleep each night staring at stacks of things you’ve been planning to move, clean or rearrange?    Your brain carries these thoughts into your sleep, impacting it in all kinds of negative ways.

Some people sleep better when things are absolutely still.  Others do better with some sort of ambient noise—perhaps soft music or the sound of a fan.  Do some experimentation, if you aren’t sure which works best for you.  If light seeping under the door or the sounds of other occupants moving around in your home creates distraction, take steps to layer your walls and windows to provide better insulation.  This can be done with additional plaster or “popcorn” texture.  If soft noise provides a more soothing environment for you, look into purchasing a white noise machine or a small fountain that trickles water over stones.

These are but a few of the possibilities that may open up a whole new night’s rest for you.  Some are more easily tackled than others, of course.  In any event, Handyman Matters stands ready to assist with any sort of bedroom renovation, whether it’s to help you track that elusive better night’s sleep, or to do an extensive remodel when you are ready to change things up a bit.  Our expert craftsmen can provide both consultation and expertise for every kind of job, big or small.  Contact them at 1(800)FIX-MY-HOME or by entering your zip code on our website.

Protect Your Home and Family from the Threat of Fire

The U.S. Fire Administration reports that fires kill more than 4,000 Americans annually and injure 20,000 more. U.S. fire departments respond to nearly 2 million fires each year, with three-quarters of them occurring in residences. In order to avoid becoming one more of these unfortunate statistics, the NFPA recommends that every family implement the following safety procedures:

  • Draw a map of your home with all members of your household, marking two exits from each room and a path to the outside from each exit.
  • Practice a home fire drill twice a year. Conduct one at night and one during the day with everyone in your home, and practice using different ways out.
  • Teach children how to escape on their own, in case you can’t help them.
  • Make sure the number of your home is clearly marked, and easy for the fire department to find.
  • Close doors behind you as you leave—this may slow the spread of smoke, heat and fire.
  • Once you get outside, stay outside. Never go back inside a burning building.

Additionally, how long has it been since you’ve conducted a safety inspection of your home? Here’s a quick checklist:

  1. Replace the batteries in your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors regularly. Test them at least once a month.
  2. Keep a fully-charged fire extinguisher in an easy-to-get-to spot.
  3. Don’t overload circuits or extension cords.
  4. Make sure there’s ample space around all portable heating units. Anything that could catch fire should be at least three feet away from these.
  5. Position appliances (TV sets, kitchen and other appliances) away from curtains and water sources.
  6. Clean your dryer’s lint filter after every use and check behind your dryer for lint build-up regularly.

Most items on the standard home fire safety checklist are relatively easy for anyone to implement. But for those that may present more of a challenge—installing smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, chimney cleanings or the maintenance or replacement of wood stoves, to name a few—remember that your local Handyman Matters craftsmen stand ready to assist you in making certain that your home is fire prevention-ready!

THAT EVER-GROWING LIST OF SMALL REPAIRS

Human beings are not only creatures of habit, we tend to be an extremely adaptable species.  For proof, look no further than your own house.

The odds are there are several small items in need of repair that you have put off fixing, and in the process, you’ve learned to work around the inconvenience they present.  In fact, you’ve put up with the situation so long that, most of the time, it doesn’t even seem like a problem any longer.  For example:

  • The wobbly towel rack that’s worked its way loose from the wall
  • The warped drawer that’s difficult to open or close
  • The sliding shower door that’s come off of its track
  • The ripped screen in the screen door
  • The cracked floor tile in the entryway
  • The “ding” in the wall caused when a piece of furniture banged against it

Without even thinking about it, you’ve become accustomed to stepping over or around the cracked tile.  You brace yourself in order to tug extra hard when you need to open the drawer.  You’ve stopped using the wobbly towel rack altogether.  You’ve moved a chair in order to conceal the damage to the wall.

You’ve told yourself that any one of these jobs is just too small to worry about right now.  You’ll get around to fixing all of them one of these days.  But more days go by, and instead, the list has just gotten larger.  You could probably go along like this for quite a while, finding new ways to live with the problems.  But, as with so many things in life, these situations don’t go away, or get better on their own.  It’s time to address them head-on.  You either need to set aside the time to handle the repairs on your own, or call in an expert.

That’s where Handyman Matters can come in, well… handy.  Their qualified craftsmen can handle more 1,162 home repair projects, large and small.  You tend to consider calling in an expert when you have one big job that needs fixing.  But why not bring in someone to tackle the half-dozen or more “honey-do” items that have been stacking up around your house?  In a single visit, a Handyman Matters craftsman can address the many little and mid-sized repair projects that have disrupted the orderly flow of life around your home.

Call 1(800)FIX-MY-HOME or go to www.handymanmatters.com where you can enter your zip code to find the phone number of the office that serves your area.

Is Hardwood Flooring Right For You?

Hardwood flooring has been the latest craze in flooring and decorating for practically forever. From cozy beach cottages to swanky city apartments to grandiose suburban dream-homes, it seems like everyone is jumping on the hardwood bandwagon, and demand hasn’t slowed down since it began.

Still, after installing hardwood flooring for thousands of homes, our expert handymen don’t think that hardwood is perfect for everyone. For one, it requires a LOT of maintenance. There are also other, much lower-maintenance alternative flooring that can make your home stand out from the crowd. Here is a quick guide to decide if hardwood flooring is right for your home:

1) Do you have large pets? While a kitten or two probably won’t do much damage to the floor, dogs (especially the larger breeds) can scratch up the surface quickly. Unlike cats, dogs can’t retract their claws and end up leaving microscopic scratches everywhere they walk. This could leave a high-traffic area or a sharp corner covered in scratch marks. And if you let your dog go outside regularly, be prepared for additional upkeep as dogs can track mud and dirt through the house.

2) Do you have young children? Having children shouldn’t automatically preclude you from choosing to put in hardwood floors. Still, they will require additional maintenance with kids running around. Children will often run through the house with their outdoors shoes still on, and are harder on floors than most typical adults. If you have kids, be ready to mop several times a week at minimum.

3) Like wearing heels or throwing fancy dinner parties? Now, it would seem that you would be perfect for the elegance and style of hardwood flooring, BUT… High heels and formal mens dress shoes have much harder bottoms than typical shoes, and will cause your flooring to crack, chip, and dent much faster than under regular use. Moreover heels are generally very narrow and concentrate the force of your foot into a small area, making it much more likely that your floor will get the kinds of dents and dings that require regular resurfacing. If you still want wood floors, make sure you put runners and rugs in high-traffic areas, and be ready to spend money on refinishes once every few years, or more often, depending on how often you throw parties.