Spring Cleaning

I can still remember a lot about my Great Grandmother. Born in 1895, in a very rural community, she was a firm believer in ‘spring cleaning’. This usually occurred on the first warm day in March or April, and it involved opening the windows for fresh air, getting out the ammonia for cleaning, and taking out the rugs for a firm beating on the clothesline.  I was pretty young, but I can remember being amazed at the amount of ‘stuff’ that was in a rug that had been vacuumed all winter. I would love to see the look on my neighbors faces if I did this feat at home this spring. Heck, I’d love to see their faces if I put up a clothesline!

I no longer perform spring cleanings like that. But I do have the following list of things I try to do on the first warm days of the year.

  • Like my grandmother, I like to open the windows and let in the fresh air. This is also a chance to check the screens for damage and get them repaired before the bugs arrive.
  • Take a walk around your homes exterior to look for clogged or damaged gutters and downspouts. Cleaning gutters is not fun. But it’s less fun in the rain.
  • While you’re out there, also look for damaged or loose siding, facia, and soffits.
  • Take a few steps back and take another walk around your home. This time, take a look at the roof for damaged shingles. If anything looks suspect, call a roofer. They’re usually happy to take a look around up there and see if there’s minor damage or something that can qualify for an insurance claim.
  • Winter freezing and thawing can also cause landscaping to shift. It’s best to get that fixed before the spring rains cause further damage.
  • Now’s the time to wash away the winter collection of gunk on your windows. If you’re not a fan of window cleaning, contact your local firehouse. Those folks are great at cleaning windows.
  • Check for bird nests on your home while you’re out there too. Having birds nesting on your light fixtures causes a mess. But let’s face it, you’re not going to take it down once there’s eggs in it.
  • When it gets above 65 degrees, I like to check the air-conditioning system before the hotter weather arrives. Running the A/C when it any cooler, or when there’s a chance that ice could still be on the unit, can damage the system. So it’s best to wait.

These are just a few chores I do when the weather gets warmer. What are some of the steps you take on those first nice days?

Thanks for reading. Please like and share!
And remember to take the next step.

Winter is Back (again)

And this time with a dose of black ice. Even a short drive can be hazardous. While making my way home last night I witnessed way too many accidents. Here’s a few tips to remember (and share) about driving on icy roads.

  • Leave enough room between you and other vehicles. Ice can cause your vehicle to lose traction quickly, so it’s important to slow down and increase your following distance to give yourself more time to react and stop; especially going downhill.
  • Avoid sudden moves. When driving on ice, sudden movements can cause your vehicle to lose control, so avoid sudden braking, accelerating, or turning.
  • Use low gear when driving downhill. It helps keep the car from picking up excessive speed. When going uphill, use low gear to help you maintain control and avoid slipping.
  • Remember too, that cruise control can cause your vehicle to accelerate, or brake, too quickly on icy roads, leading to loss of control.
  • Turn off the radio and listen so that you’re aware of the conditions and if your tires are spinning on the ice.
  • Watch the road closely and be aware of any icy patches, black ice, stopped vehicles or other hazards that may be present.
  • And please make sure that your tires have the recommended amount of tread for your area and the current conditions. If in doubt, don’t go out.
  • Keep and emergency kit in your car. See below for suggested items.

If you must be out in dangerous conditions, consider taking the steps below to prepare yourself with a portable kit containing the items below. For a full list of these items, with links to purchase them online, go to https://www.stepsfortoday.com/items-mentioned-in-posts/#AutoEmergencyKit/.

As always, thanks for reading. Please like and share (especially this one)!
And remember to take the next step…

P.S. And remember, don’t crowd the plow! They’ve got a lot going on; in very bad conditions. Don’t ever assume they see your car, or you on foot.

Things Are Heating Up (but shouldn’t)

Getting the most heat for your money is more important than ever. I’ve discussed ways to increase furnace efficiency, but what about the heat losses in your home. Windows and doors are the most common areas of concern, but there are other places where heat may escape. Let’s see what steps we can take to keep warm air in and cold air out this winter.

The seals around windows and doors wear out over the years. Older, single pane, windows may not have had any weather-tight seal when they were installed. In either case, a wide range of aftermarket weatherstripping products are now available. Some products may use tape to adhere to the window or door casing. Be careful when using any product which adheres to the surface. Often, a layer of paint will come off when removing the tape in the spring. Sometimes, too, the tape may leave a sticky reside on the surface. This can be removed with lighter fluid, or naphtha. Just use a little at a time on a clean white cloth. And make sure to test the surface in an indiscrete area to see if the naphtha blemishes or dulls it. Often, with a little research, you can find replacement parts, including seals, for your windows or doors. If you can’t find it at your local hardware store, online stores such as diydoorstore.com may have a close match to the original seal.

Modern building practices pay much more attention to sealing up air leaks before the siding goes on. In older homes there is often a poorly insulated area between the window and door frame and the casing.  Even if there is a tight seal between the window and frame. There can be large heat loss between the window frame and the house. On a cold, windy day, check for a cold breeze blowing out from between your window casing and the wall.  If you can feel a breeze, apply a bead of caulk where the casing meets the wall, or at any other place where air is blowing through the casing. 

The weather seal at the bottom of the entry door, including the door sweep, experiences daily wear and tear. They’ll often start to split and/or gap, leaving a great place for heat to escape. Not to mention, crawly things to get in (okay, technically, I did mention it). There’s a wide range of these to choose from at the store. I recommend trying to find one that most closely matches your existing sweep in order to minimize the trim work required to get a snug fit.

The last recommendation for this post, is also the least expensive. Close the fireplace damper when it’s not in use. An open fireplace damper lets harmful combustion gases and smoke escape up the flue. It should always be open when there is any heat coming from the fireplace, no matter how small an amount. Likewise, if the fireplace is not in use, an open damper is like having an giant hole in your wall for heated air to rush out and cold air to rush in. If you do close your damper, it’s a great practice to place something in front of the fireplace to remind you that it’s closed, and prevent you from building a fire without opening it.

These are just a few steps to reduce your homes heat loss and increase its overall efficiency. We’ll discuss some other, more challenging, steps in my next post. Until then, look for more tip for home maintenance at www.StepsForToday.com.

Thanks for reading. Please like and share!
And remember to take the next step…

PS: I’d love to hear any cost-saving or home maintenance tips you may have as well.

Get a Check-Up (For Your Furnace)

If you have forced-air heat in your home, chances are that your furnace could use a check-up. It may cost a few dollars but will pay for itself in the long-haul. Many HVAC companies now offer a subscription-like plan in which a yearly fee gets you an inspection and preferential treatment should a problem occur on a miserably cold night.

Whether it’s gas or electric, there’s a blower motor and a fan. Older units can have motors and fans that need a drop of oil on a regular basis. Newer units usually have sealed bearings that can seemingly run indefinitely with no maintenance. In either case, however, there’s a fan. The furnace fans move a lot of air. In doing so, even when the filters are changed regularly, they collect dirt. Over the years, the extra weight from collected dust will put a strain on the fan and its motor, leading to an early demise. These fans aren’t always easy to get to but should be cleaned every few years to avoid excess wear on the unit.

Likewise, households with furnaces and air conditioning will mostly likely have an A-coil inside the furnace housing. The A-coil looks similar to a car’s radiator, so it’s easy for dirt and debris to collect on it as well. I have seen A-coils so clogged that air could not pass through it, greatly reducing the unit’s ability to heat or cool. So, these should be cleaned and inspected as well.

Whether it’s electric, gas, or oil, all furnaces now have circuit boards and many electrical connections that can develop cracks or loosened connections from vibration. A technician can place modern units into a test mode which runs a check on the circuitry. 

And finally, natural gas or oil furnaces can develop cracks in their combustion chamber or heat exchanger, leading to the release of carbon monoxide, an odorless, colorless, lethal gas. If you have a furnace burning fossil fuels in your home, you should have a carbon monoxide tester in close proximity to alert you of escaping fumes. A technician will be able to quickly assess if any of these conditions exist in your furnace.

If it’s been a few years since your furnace had a good cleaning, I suggest getting it done. Taking this step will help it run more efficiently and prolong its service life.

My next post considers what to do when things are heating up (but shouldn’t). To have a well-maintained home takes some planning and good habits. Look for more tip for home maintenance at www.StepsForToday.com.

Thanks for reading. Please like and share!
And remember to take the next step…

PS: I’d love to hear any cost-saving or home maintenance tips you may have as well.

Filter in the Savings

As discussed in my last post, the price to keep warm this winter will be on the rise. There are many steps you can take to reduce your energy consumption. One of the easiest, and most often forgotten, is to replace your furnace filter.

A dirty or clogged furnace filter will drastically reduce the ability of your furnace to circulate warm air throughout your home; making the furnace work harder to heat your home. According to energy.gov, ‘Replacing a dirty, clogged filter with a clean one can lower your energy consumption by 5% to 15%.’  A dirty filter also increases stress on the blower fan motor. If the filter is completely clogged, it can cause the fan motor to totally overheat and shut down. Lastly, a dirty filter just doesn’t do a good job of cleaning the air circulating in your home.

Every home is different. A home with furry pets will probably need the filter changed more frequently than one without. A good practice is to set a calendar reminder to at least check the filter every month to determine how often it needs changed.

Changing the furnace filter is just one step in overall home maintenance. To have a well-maintained home takes some planning and good habits. Look for more tip for home maintenance at www.StepsForToday.com.

Thanks for reading. Please like and share!
And remember to take the next step…

PS: I’d love to hear any cost-saving or home maintenance tips you may have as well.

Turn Down Your Thermostat and Your Heating Costs

The price to stay warm this winter is going up. In an October 12th article by Reuters, the author notes that “U.S. consumers can expect to pay up to 28% more to heat their homes this winter than last year due to surging fuel costs and slightly colder weather, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) projected in its winter fuels outlook on Wednesday.” Whether you heat with gas, oil, or electric, it’ll cost more to stay warm this year.

In upcoming posts we’ll discuss several ways reduce home heating costs. One major way, recommended at https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/programmable-thermostats, is to use a programmable thermostat to reduce the furnace setting while you are away or in bed. In the article they state that “You can save as much as 10% a year on heating and cooling by simply turning your thermostat back 7°-10°F for 8 hours a day from its normal setting.” Other sources estimate that setting back just 5 degrees for 8 hours can save up to 10%. Likewise, two setback periods of 5 degrees for a total of 16 hours can reduce costs up to 20%.

Programmable thermostats cost anywhere from $20 for a basic model, to $250 for a smart, wi-fi model. I use a Honeywell 7-day programmable unit that is well on the low side of that range. If you can’t afford new thermostat, or to have one installed, create a routine to change the thermostat manually. Programmable thermostats don’t always work well with heat pumps or radiant heat systems, so the first step is to do your research before purchasing any new hardware.

Thanks for reading.
And remember to take the next step…

PS: I’d love to hear any cost-saving tips you may have as well.

Drafty Widows and Doors

Fall Is here today! In my last post, I suggested opening a window to get some fresh air in the house and giving the a/c a rest. That’ll save on bills for now, but as the weather turns cooler you’ll no longer want that gentle breeze blowing through your home. Fall is the time to fix those drafty window and doors.

We’ve all seen it. On those windy days, there’s that curtain that’s dancing in the wind, even those the window is closed. That’s a sure indicator that the window’s seal is in need for some adjustment. But if there’s no brisk wind, finding a leaky window may be a little more difficult. Here are a few steps you can take to locate those costly gaps:

  • Have someone stand on the outside of the door with a flashlight and shine around the edges and the bottom of the door. Any light that come through is a sure indicator the air will get through as well.
  • If you have a whole-house fan, or attic fan, you can use it to check for drafts around windows and doors by turning it on and closing all the windows.
  • There are new tools available at a reasonable price. One is a handheld infrared thermometer. Black and Decker makes one specifically for such household use. It’s not a thermal imaging camera, which is way more expensive. It’s more like a the touchless thermometers we now use to take someone’s temperature. It has a digital screen which displays the surface temperature directly in front of the device. By moving it around closed windows and doors, you can detect a large change in temperature.
  • Of course, if you really want the big picture. A thermal imaging camera is a great tool to have in your home. It comes with a big price. But it has many purposes. It can be used to show which dual pane windows have lost the seal between the glass, where the attic insulation may be insufficient above the ceiling, electric outlets and switches which are generating heat due to bad connection, circuit breakers getting hot, overheating bearings, and pretty much any use in which a larger than normal temperature difference is a sure diagnostic clue.
  • To help detect the leaking airflow, Cirrus makes an inexpensive battery-powered handheld smoke generator which will highlight even a subtle breeze.
  • Windows and doors aren’t the only places where your home may leak air. Here are some other places which commonly lose heat during the winter https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/weatherize/air-sealing-your-home.

Once the gaps are located, you’ll have a better idea of what’ll be needed to seal up the house for the winter. Depending on your budget and the need, there are lots of products and services that can mend or fix the problem. Most of which will pay for themselves by saving on heating costs this winter. If your budget doesn’t cover replacing windows this year, and you know it needs to be done, start saving for the project now while you investigate your options. There can be an incredible price difference in windows and their installation. As with most projects, a large investment in time up-front, will lead to a substantial savings in time, cost, and effort later.

For more information on managing life and home, please visit the rest of www.StepsForToday.com.

Thanks for reading!
And remember to take the next step…

End-of-Summer Savings

Fall is nearly here. The hotter weather is on the way out and end-of-season sales will soon be in full swing. The fall months are often when retailers reduce prices to clear out inventory of spring and summer items. Here are a few items typically on sale at this time of the year:

  • Spring and Summer clothing
  • Winter clothing
  • Outdoor furniture
  • Lawn mowers
  • Barbeque grills
  • Summer sporting equipment
  • Water sports equipment
  • Cycling equipment

If you’ve been considering purchasing some of these items, here are a few steps you can take to help guide your purchases.

  1. Know your budget. Always know what you can afford BEFORE you go shopping.
  2. Keep your eyes on the local sale flyers and take some time to look at store websites for sales.
  3. This is also a great time to shop locally for these items because local, smaller, stores are often more motivated to reduce inventory with the changing seasons.
  4. Don’t forget fall garage sales as well. People often take the cooler weather as an opportunity to get rid of yard equipment and outdoor furnishings they do not want to store for the winter. There may just be a larger-than-usual supply of slightly-used exercise equipment making its way to the driveway this year as well.
  5. Stick to the budget. Remember, the holidays are just around the corner!

While you’re at it, you may want to think about having a yard sale of your own, or selling items online. But that’s a future post….

For more information on budgeting household management, please visit www.StepsForToday.com.

And remember to take the next step…

Emergency Car Kit

The current weather conditions in much of the United States make it dangerous to be outdoors for even a few minutes without proper protection. With the impending addition of icy streets, and the inevitable accidents and road closures, it is more important than ever to have an emergency kit in the car which contains provisions to mitigate these risks to our, and our families, health and life.

If you must be out in dangerous conditions, consider taking the steps below to prepare yourself with a portable kit containing the items below. For a full list of these items, with links to purchase them online, go to https://www.stepsfortoday.com/items-mentioned-in-posts/#AutoEmergencyKit/.

• It’s always a good practice to let others know your route and schedule.
• Keep your cars fuel tank topped-off in case you are stuck in snow or traffic and avoid ice forming in the tank.
• Keep your cell phone fully charged.
• Cell phone chargers and backup power supplies
• Rechargeable flashlights and/or battery operated lighting with replacement batteries
• Solar and/or hand-crank recharging devices with a USB output port
• Ice scraper with a brush. Clear snow and ice from windows, lights, the hood, and the roof before driving
• Can of De-Icer
• Jumper cables
• Tire inflator which uses the cigarette lighter
• A small shovel for removing snow or mud from in front of the tires
• Salt for melting ice and traction
• Warm blankets or a sleeping bag in case the car is stranded and fuel is in short supply.
• Boots, hats, and gloves in case the car is stranded and you must walk to safety.
• Chemically activated hand and toe warmers. HotHands makes these small enough to fit in your pocket. They have a 3 year shelf life and they last 10 and 8 hours respectively when opened.
• Food and water. Place some nuts and/or snack bars in a metal container, such as a cookie tin, to keep rodents from finding them.
• Matches and/or lighters
• Fire extinguisher
• Water-tight, puncture-resistant, trash bags (in case they’re needed for sanitation).
• A lidded plastic container big enough to hold most of this (and the plastic bags after use).

More information regarding winter preparation can be found at  www.StepsForToday.com and https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/features/winterweather/.

Thanks again for the thoughts and suggestions; they really do help everyone who reads the blog!

As always, thanks for reading.

And remember to take the next step…


P.S. And remember, don’t crowd the plow! They’ve got a lot going on; in very bad conditions. Don’t ever assume they see your car, or you on foot.

Fall Auto Checkup

Fall has officially arrived. And Winter is just around the corner. In colder climates, winter is especially hard on our automobiles. The sub-freezing temperatures can cause badly mixed engine antifreeze to freeze and crack an engine, washer fluid to freeze up and leave a messy windshield, and reduce tire life by reducing tire pressure. So it’s best to get a jump on things before those temps arrive.

Here are a few short steps to ensure your auto is prepared for winter.

  1. Ensure your engine’s antifreeze mixture will protect against the lowest possible temperatures it may experience during the winter. Then subtract another 20 degrees just to make sure. There are different types of antifreeze for different engines. Always check your car’s manual, or with a car care professional, to ensure the right antifreeze and mixture are being used.
  2. Make it a point to exhaust your current windshield wiper fluid and refill it with something rated for extreme cold. Having working washers when they’re needed makes this process worth the hassle.
  3. Remember to periodically check your tire pressure as the days get progressively cooler. The dropping temperatures reduce tire inflation pressures; reducing tread life.
  4. If you own a diesel with a block heater, do a ‘pre-needed’ block heater check before it gets really cold to ensure it’s working.
  5. Check your tire treads for excessive wear. The penny test for 2/32 of an inch was to place a penny, head-first, into the tire tread. The tread would come to the top of Lincoln’s head. In my opinion, this isn’t enough tread for winter. It should be at least double this. So it’s best to check now to determine if you’ll need a new set of tires before bad weather arrives.
  6. Of course, it’s a good time to review your auto’s emergency preparations. To see a checklist of supplies which should be kept on hand, see my previous post at https://www.stepsfortoday.com/home-organization/emergency-prep-for-the-car/.

As always, thanks for reading.  If you have a moment, please Like this page and consider sharing this post it with others. It’s greatly appreciated.

And remember to take the next step…