Winterize your home for long-term payback

  • Written by ARA

You may not want to think about it, but winter will be here again before you know it. Of course, winter means it’s time to turn the heat back on, which can be a strain on your home energy budget.

“Older windows are a common culprit of air leakage in the home, but today’s replacement options have insulating values that are moving closer and closer to the insulating value of a wall,” says Chris Pickering, vice president of marketing, Ply Gem Windows. “If your home has original windows, having new energy efficient ones installed can make a significant difference in comfort, while also saving energy.”

For instance, installing highly insulating R-5 windows in a replacement project previously would have been cost prohibitive to most consumers. With new glass technologies now available, windows that achieve R-5 performance (U-value of 0.22 or lower) have become much more affordable. Ply Gem Windows offers an R-5 option on many product styles at multiple price points.

“Air leakage through holes, gaps and cracks is another one of the biggest causes of home heating and cooling loss,” says Mike Kontranowski, strategic marketing manager, Dow Building Solutions. “It accounts for a significant amount of the energy used in most homes, with older homes being especially vulnerable to air leaks.”

More Households Using Cleaning Services Even in Tight Times Customers want free time for family, friends, fun

  • Written by (Grassroots Newswire)

Even in a tricky economy, more and more households are getting outside help. What precious free time people have they don’t want to spend scrubbing the toilet.

“People want more balance in their lives and the free time that they do have they want to spend with their families or friends,” said Randall Shear, owner of The Maids of Seattle. “Knowing that the house will get a good scrubbing not only frees up time but reduces stress for many of our hard-working customers.”

The Maids International, an Omaha-based franchisor, reports use of home cleaning services is on the rise in many markets across the U.S. Customers include dual-income families, single-parent households, members of the military and retired couples.

In more than 100 U.S metropolitan areas with franchises of The Maids, people such as Karleen Dell’Ova say regular service from their local team is the last thing they will give up.

“I would give up my iPad, my iPhone, whatever to have The Maids,” Dell’Ova said. “I told my husband that when he retires, The Maids will be the last thing to go.”

Dell’Ova has used The Maids of North Hampton, N.H., since 2003. With their two children grown and out of the house, she and her husband Vin moved to a retirement community in nearby Durham.

She wanted some help and a neighbor recommended her cleaning woman. Dell’Ova gave her a try. “It did not work for me,” she said. “I wanted a company.” She uses The Maids once a month and the schedule keeps her on track with routine upkeep but spares her the heavy-duty stuff. She appreciates how fast the team works and loves returning home to a spotless house.

“They know the house,” she said.

“Personal attention and outstanding customer service are hallmarks of The Maids,” said Shear. “We treat every house like it is our own.” or call 1-800-The-Maids.

Bulbs: Easy Care Color

  • Written by Pat Roome, for Molbak’s
P3012245Want to be greeted in early spring by brilliant blooms? Then it’s time to pull on the garden gloves and get busy planting bulbs for spring color and inspiration.

Planting bulbs

Bulbs perform best in well-drained soil; soggy soil can induce rot and inhibit healthy growth. A rockery, a sloping bank or a raised bed provides good drainage. Bulbs are also great in container gardens. Most bulbs are hardy and easy-to-grow; they make beautiful displays in sun or shade, even ice and snow. Choose bulbs that are big and heavy with skins intact. All bulbs require a period of cool temperatures to grow healthy roots – so fall is the perfect time for planting.

Prepare the planting soil by loosening it down to 6 inches. If the soil is heavy and compacted, add compost. Tulips and daffodils need to be buried 4” deep, small bulbs only an inch or so. Plant bulbs at least 4 inches apart, plant farther apart if you want them to spread and naturalize.  To create a longer flowering bulb bed, plant larger late-blooming bulbs first, like tulips, daffodils and hyacinths, add soil up to the top of the bulb then plant small early-blooming bulbs, like snowdrops, crocus and early daffodils, between the big bulbs. Cover them with soil.

Protecting your buried treasures

Do you have bulb-stealing voles or squirrels? (By the way, moles are meat eaters and don’t eat bulbs). After planting a bulb, set a low growing ground cover plant right on top. Choose Lysimachia nummularia (creeping jenny) or Viola odorata (sweet violet) over small bulbs. Vinca minor (periwinkle) looks spectacular under-planted with daffodils. Try topping bulb beds with aromatic woolly and red creeping thyme.

Feed now for brilliant blooms

At time of planting, apply an organic fertilizer with high phosphorus and potash such as Dr. Earth Bulb Food or Espoma Bulb Tone on the soil surface and let fall rains water it in. Or make your own formula; I use 3 parts dolomite lime, 2 parts bone meal and 1 part 5-10-10 fertilizer.

Great plant combinations

Early arriving snowdrops create a graceful effect under a low growing Japanese maple. Scatter colorful Anemone blanda (windflowers) under shrubs to create a blue, pink or white mat of cheerful daisy-like flowers from March to May. Alliums are architectural and modern looking; schubertii and globemaster are eye-catching varieties in garden beds. Plant bulbs around Hellebores, columbine or flowering currant for a brilliant display of early spring color. For the new gardener, “Perfect Partner Bulbs” are bulb packages pre-selected for compatibility and color harmony.

Learn more

On October 1 from 12:30-1:30 p.m.,  I will be presenting a free seminar, Year-round Color with Bulbs. Please join me for time-saving tips and creative ideas to brighten your garden with bulbs. I’ll also explain how to force bulbs for holiday blooms.

Pat Roome is a long time Master Gardener, a landscape designer and consultant and has lived and gardened in the Seattle area for many years. She can be reached at (425) 454-1308 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Put down that knife! Creating pumpkin and gourd creatures without the mess.

  • Written by Teresa Grimm, Dr. Maze’s Farm

As the calendar draws closer to Halloween, our thoughts turn to decorating with pumpkins and gourds.

For some, cutting, cleaning out, and carving creative faces on a Jack O’ Lantern pumpkin is a treasured fall tradition.

For others, cutting and cleaning out a pumpkin is just not on their list of fun things to do.

For anyone looking for scary, beautiful and unique fall decorations, gather the family and try your hand at decorating the outside of pumpkins and gourds.  No knives and no mess!

The kids here at Dr. Maze’s Farm have been making gourd creatures and have found lots of materials to use for creating their own crazy creatures.

Using your own cleverness and readily-available materials, you can create a porch full of your own ghoulish family. Look through your stash of craft supplies for foam shapes, pipe cleaners, glitter, feathers or fake fur and googly eyes.  Use materials such as candy, licorice wheels for eyes, long green licorice for hair, old-fashioned marshmallow peanuts for a nose, and black and white jelly beans for the teeth. Use fall foliage from your yard like leaves, sticks and stems or pine needles for hair. For the larger pumpkins use mini pumpkins and gourds for eyes and noses.  Or, paint your gourd or pumpkin all white and spray with glitter. Once, dry you can add eyes and paint on a face for a ghostly effect.

A hot glue gun will work for most projects but could be dangerous for little ones.  Kid-friendly craft glue works just fine, allow time to dry.  Use small nails or dowels to attach the mini pumpkins or small gourds to your pumpkin.

To show off your masterpieces, place them on a pedestal such as a cake platter, atop a large jar filled with colored marbles and twinkling lights, or on your favorite plant stand.  A family of creatures in assorted sizes, shapes and heights will get a lot of attention in your neighborhood.

College dorms taking on a new (and better) look

  • Written by ARA

13837_B12_rgbThirty years ago, life in a college residence hall was appreciated by students for what it didn’t have: parents.

The rooms then were nothing to write home about: the size of a shoe box featuring hard mattresses beat-up desks and immovable dressers.

Showers took place in flip-flops in the communal lavatory down the hall; dining was military-style in the nondescript cafeteria downstairs.

But today’s college students expect and get much more.

They get dorm rooms double the size of the rooms of old.

Suites that feature 9-inch-thick pillow-top mattresses, flat-screen TVs, DVD players, custom study nooks, barbecue grills, in-room snack bars and card-swipe security.

One example is found on the campus of Grand Canyon University in Phoenix. There, the five-story, 500-bed Prescott Hall is opening this fall with 736-square-foot suites that include two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a common area for the suite’s four residents.

It’s part of a trend sweeping across college campuses from coast to coast.

But that’s not all there is to Prescott Hall. Each floor contains two mid-corridor study rooms, two laundry rooms and two lobbies. These inviting spaces — some of them with spectacular views of campus and beyond — are some of the extras that are fast becoming the standard in campus living across the country.

Architects don’t even like to call these places "dormitories" anymore. The modern residence hall more closely resembles an upscale urban condo building or a well-appointed hotel. It’s what students of the 21st century — many of whom are not used to sharing a bathroom, let alone a bedroom — have come to expect.

"People are blown away," says James Rogers, one of Prescott Hall’s two resident directors. "For us, it’s more opportunity to create community. The new things are great visually, but they also facilitate community."

The current trend in residence halls is designed to blur the line between living and learning, intentionally replacing the old (which emphasized durability and efficiency) with the new (flexibility, technology and a balance of community and privacy).

The 21st Century Project, an initiative of the Association of College and University Housing Officers, champions this living-and-learning movement, even convening a summit conference, hosting design competitions and publishing books on the subject of cutting-edge campus housing.

"It is no longer enough to provide students with four walls and a bed," the ACUHO says on its website. "Current and future students demand more from their residential experience. And administrators have realized that (this) can attract and retain students."

Even the exteriors of today’s dorms are designed with both form and function in mind, incorporating space for offices, group gatherings and small concerts.

Residential facilities ranked second in importance during pre-enrollment visits, behind only facilities related to specific majors, in a recent survey of college students by the Center for Facilities Research of the APPA.

The many conveniences do make old-school dormies wonder: Is it possible for a residence hall to be too nice, inhibiting the social interaction that naturally comes from being out and about on campus? Will students just hole up?

"There is some tension between students’ desire for personal space and amenities and their desire and need to meet others and interact," says Emily Glenn of ACUHO.

However, as universities across the country continue to build bigger and better residence halls, it seems the new era of swank college living is here to stay.