Snow shovelling tips can save you time and pain

 Friday, January 12, 2018     Suzanne Hooker     Home Maintenance Tips

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We’re having a rather difficult winter so far this year in Burlington and Southern Ontario. Bitter cold and significant snowfalls are creating many challenges for residents. And if you own a home with a driveway, chances are you’re already tired of all the shovelling you’ve had to date. But with two months of winter remaining, chances are we’ll have to shovel at least a couple more times this season.

With that in mind, we’ve decided to provide our readers with a few helpful tips to make your shovelling a little more enjoyable and a lot safer.

  • Shovelling is a physical activity: And like any physical activity, it requires some kind of warm-up to ensure you don’t hurt yourself. Be sure to stretch your back, shoulders, arms and legs and try to do it before you get outside so you can do it in a warm environment.
  • Take your time: Too many people rush when they shovel to ‘get it over with’, thereby hurting themselves because they’re trying to do too much and are not taking any rest breaks.
  • Dress properly: Make sure to dress for the weather. Dress in layers and be sure to take into account any wind or wind-chill factor. Dressing properly will also keep your muscles and joints warm and thus help prevent injuries.
  • Bend your knees: Many shovelling injuries occur because people try to lift heavy amounts of snow primarily with their back and arms. Use the big muscles in your legs to help with the job!
  • Alternate between pushing and throwing: To avoid overworking certain parts of your body, it’s a good idea to switch your hands on the shovel where possible. It’s also a great idea to alternate between pushing and throwing the snow – pushing will give your body a bit of a break.
  • Be prepared: if you know snow is coming and you have room in your garage, it’s always a good idea to get your car indoors beforehand. This way you won’t have to also worry about cleaning off your car!
  • Plan ahead: If your snowbanks are starting to grow, be sure to throw the snow elsewhere, possibly above or around these banks. The less you have to throw over something the better. Also know which way the wind is blowing so you can pile and throw your snow accordingly,

When it comes to equipment, while many of us would love to buy a snowblower for the job, this may not be practical or realistic. Snowblowers cost anywhere from $500-$600 to well over $1,000. Factor in how often you usually shovel a significant snowfall each winter to see if it’s a worthwhile investment.

Choosing the right shovel

If you’re going to go ‘old-school’ with a traditional shovel, there are many options to choose from. And while you might think any old shovel will do the trick, it’s important to realize that picking the right shovel for you can be the difference between getting the job done or landing in a doctor’s office.

Finding the right shovel for you involves picking one that’s the right size and weight (i.e. isn’t too big or too heavy). If you’re slight of build or not very physically active, using a large 30-inch shovel to throw snow may not be the best idea.

Ergonomic shovels (with the curved handles) are great choices for people with back problems. Another great tip is to invest in a scraper or ice breaker. These are great for breaking up ice chunks and boulders left by the street plows and they are also invaluable if and when you get any freezing rain.

Popular Mechanics magazine has developed an excellent article on how to choose the best snow shovel and other tools to take care of your next snow storm. It will give you the information you need to choose the right tools to tackle your next winter wonderland!

Christmas decorating tips for your home

 Wednesday, November 29, 2017     Suzanne Hooker     The Orchard Neighbourhood Home Maintenance Tips

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With the holiday season literally right around the corner, now is the perfect time to get your home ready for any entertaining you might be planning. With this in mind, we’ve come up with some great Christmas decorating and design trends to make your house look festive and beautiful.

  1. Dress for Success: Your dinner table that is. The holidays are all about entertaining, with dinner parties an important theme for many. Popular design trends include using real greenery (pine or cedar boughs, etc.) silver candle holders, glass ornaments and natural wood chargers to provide an earthy yet elegant feel to your table setting.
  2. White is the new green: Add some pizzazz to the traditional by opting for a white Christmas tree and/or white fur to accent your existing green tree. Add lots of fake snow on or around your tree to create your own winter wonderland. The heavy use of white allows the reds and greens to pop that much more vividly with this decorating approach.
  3. Decorate everywhere: Your holiday decorations shouldn’t be reserved strictly for your living room or wherever your tree resides. Be sure to include holiday décor items throughout your home, from your front entryway right through to your bathrooms, where holiday towels, soap dispensers, etc. can create an added design element over the holidays.
  4. Go with modern influenced ornaments: Geometric shaped ornaments in gold and silver provide a chic look and add a special charm to your Christmas tree. It’s a look that will be the envy of many of your guest who will visit your home during the season.
  5. Wrapped presents as a décor element: With the abundance of beautiful, highly quality and inexpensive wrapping paper today, your wrapped presents don’t need to ‘hide’ under the tree or in a closet prior to Christmas Eve. Put them out in key, high visibility locations throughout your house as a unique design element that can be updated every year!
  6. Go vintage: Pull out the old sled from the garage and the vintage paper and burlap sacs and use them to decorate your home, inside and out! Add more traditional natural greenery elements like holly or boxwood branches or magnolia leaves for an added spark to your decorating.
  7. Pack away the books and knick-knacks: Your bookshelves, mantles and tabletops provide an excellent place to showcase your holiday décor. Pack away your everyday stuff and replace them with holiday-themed pieces. Use natural greenery with white LED lights or pretty bowls and vases filled with ornaments and pine cones to jazz up an otherwise stale space.
  8. Light it up: One of the most beautiful decorative features at Christmas is the simple white LED or incandescent lights. Use these throughout your home including on banisters with natural or artificial garland. Outside, don’t just put your lights on eaves but also on bushes, trellises, fences and even bird baths. Be creative and add some light to your home during these short days. Christmas scented candles are another item that adds light plus wonderful smells to your home.

Hopefully some of these decorative ideas resonate with you and are ones you can employ in your home this holiday season. However you decide to decorate your home this year, try to make it an event the whole family can participate in and enjoy; it’s a great way to get everyone into the spirit of the holidays! Happy holidays everyone.

Important pool maintenance tips

 Monday, July 24, 2017     Suzanne Hooker     Home Maintenance Tips

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The dog days of summer are definitely upon us so it’s definitely time to get outside and enjoy the hot and humid weather. For those of us that have a pool in our backyard, having a pool can very much be a blessing for the entire family as a way to beat the heat. But any pool owner knows only too well the time required to take care of your pool.

As a continuation to last month’s blog regarding patio and deck maintenance tips, we’ve come with this list of tips that will enable you to get the full enjoyment out of your pool.

Skim and skim some more

Debris from your yard and elsewhere can create some serious problems for your pool if not managed properly. Be sure to clean any debris from the surface of the pool with a skimmer basket as often as you can and clean any debris in the skimmer itself as it can cause significant problems if it’s allowed to build-up over time.

Vacuuming the pool

Vacuuming your pool on a regular basis – ideally before or right after you use it – is a great habit to get into. It will keep your pool clean while removing any unwanted debris that could damage your skimmer and filter. Vacuuming an average sized pool can take around 30 minutes so be sure to allocate the required time to this activity. Vacuum in overlapping lines as you would when cutting your lawn.

Getting the right chemical balance

One thing every pool owner must do on a regular basis is check the chemical levels of their pool. Failure to do this could result in serious damage to your pool (i.e. algae growth) or to those that use it. The pH or the relative acidity of your water should be between 7.2 and 7.8. If it’s above or below this range you will need to treat the water to return it to these values. Also, if the chlorine is below 1 part per million (ppm) or the alkalinity is less than 90 ppm, you will need to "shock" the water.

Backwash and clean the filter

Your pump filter is a very important part of your pool and needs to be taken care of to ensure it stays clean so you can enjoy your pool when you want to and avoid costly repair bills. Backwashing your filter is a relatively easy and efficient way to clean your filter. Also remember to clean the hair and lint catcher on the filter pump on a regular basis.

Add chlorine/salt and check water levels

Much like checking on the pH, you also need to regularly check the chlorine or salt levels to ensure they are adequate. Add additional chlorine or salt promptly to your pool to ensure your pool will function properly and be safe to swim in, and to help avoid any undue stress or damage to the various components of your pool. It’s also important to carefully check your pool’s water levels on a regular basis. The water should be between 1/3 and 1/2 way up the opening of your pool skimmer.

As you can see, there is quite a bit to do if you own a pool and plan on maintaining it yourself. Creating a regular schedule to take care of these various tasks is the best way to make them less onerous and overwhelming, and to ensure you take care of each item in a timely manner. Do this and you and your family will have a swimming pool you can enjoy for years to come!

Patio and Deck Maintenance Tips

 Monday, June 19, 2017     Suzanne Hooker     Home Maintenance Tips

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With summer upon us, now is the time to get outside and enjoy the weather. For most of us, this will involve venturing to our backyard oasis for a meal, a drink or just some quiet time with a book on your patio or deck. But is your patio or deck looking as good as it once did? Could it use a little sprucing up to bring back that ‘wow’ factor? If so, you will likely find this blog to be of interest to you.

1)    Stain and seal your deck every few years

Decks require ongoing maintenance to protect the wood and structure and ensure it lasts over the long-term. One such job is to seal your deck boards and railings every view years. The way to determine when to do it is when the colour of the stain has a worn or faded look to it. It’s also important to seal the deck boards to ensure the stain lasts as long as possible. Fortunately today there are a number of products on the market that are both stains and sealers so you can save yourself considerable time and money with these products.

Note: You don’t necessarily have to sand the deck prior to using a stain and sealer. Professionals only recommend sanding the deck if there are rough spots or wood splinters in certain areas of your deck.

2)    Avoid painting your deck if at all possible

Unlike staining, painting a deck creates a regular ‘make work’ project for homeowners when it comes to its maintenance. Moisture can easily get under the paint, leading to peeling and chipping and the need to repaint it (including sanding the entire surface). Use a stain and sealer combination instead.

3)    Patios don’t need a sealer

Unless you’re hell-bent on having that permanent ‘wet look’ to your patio, sealing your patio is an unnecessary step that will need to be redone every two years without fail. Sealers can also create a fairly slick surface, especially when wet, which can result in a more dangerous surface for children and seniors. So you’re better off going “au natural” and saving yourself considerable work.

4)    Avoid power washing your deck too often

Wood doesn’t take kindly to water and moisture, which is why most trees have bark to protect their wood from Mother Nature’s waterworks. Power washing or even scrubbing your deck with harsh cleansers can do more harm than good to your deck, drying out the wood and leading to warping and undo wear. It’s best to only power wash your deck every couple of years when it really needs it and instead spot clean your deck if it is dirty or stained.

The same can also be said for your natural stone patios, for many of the same reasons. Again, only clean when and where necessary, ideally with a mild household cleaner (dish detergent is a safe option for less stubborn stains) and never use a wire brush or other harsh materials to clean and scrub your patio and deck, even if they are stained. Only use harsher cleaners (like muriatic acid or chlorine) when absolutely necessary and then only sparingly. Otherwise you’re likely to do more permanent damage.

5)    Remove accumulated debris from your patio and deck

Leaves, snow, grass clippings, tarps and the like can, in sufficient quantities, create an environment that will cause damage to your deck and patio. Wherever possible, promptly remove these items from your deck or patio. Moisture build-up can create permanent damage. This would include removing and storing your patio furniture somewhere other than where you usually place it on your deck. Mold and mildew can build-up on your patio and deck due to their presence, creating unwanted problems.

6)    Repair any damaged deck boards or uneven patio stones promptly

Damaged deck boards and patio stones have a way of replicating themselves over time, in part because damaged areas put stress on neighbouring areas. So it’s best to remove and repair damaged boards or broken or uneven stones quickly before things spread. It’s equally important that you do a visual inspection of your deck or patio at least annually, ideally in the spring after the winter thaw. Look for damaged or cracked boards or support pieces, or for uneven or shifted patio stones.

Hopefully you’ve found the above tips and recommendation helpful, and that they will enable you to protect, preserve and ultimately gain greater enjoyment from your deck or patio. To learn more about the dos and don’ts for deck and patio maintenance, be sure to read a great article from the experts at HGTV that provides countless tips on how to take care of your patio and deck.

As you’ve likely noticed from many of the above suggestions, an ounce of prevention can save you a lot of time, aggravation and money over the long-term! Stay tuned for next month's blog where we will provide you with some helpful tips on how to take proper care of your pool.

Spring lawn care tips

 Friday, April 21, 2017     Suzanne Hooker     Advice for Home Selling Home Maintenance Tips

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In last month’s blog we spoke about tips for your garden that will help get your yard back on the right foot after the ravages of the winter season. This month we’re going to provide you with some tips for a healthy lawn that will make it the envy of the neighbourhood and create the oasis you can enjoy throughout the summer.

1.     Raking

Once an annual rite of spring, raking the lawn has gone the way of the dodo bird for many simply because it’s a time-consuming and exhausting job! And as you’ll see below, the growing prevalence of aeration has made raking one’s lawn less of a concern. Nonetheless, if your lawn is or has been suffering from thatch (grass and other organic material at the base of your grass), this material may need to be removed through raking before it chokes out your lawn. Often times you’ll just need to rake the problem areas where thatch is most prevalent so it shouldn’t be as difficult a task as you might think.

2.     Lawn aeration

One of the best things you can do to kick-start a healthy lawn is through the process of aeration, which involves using a specialized machine to make small holes in your grass. The winter months can ravage your grass and the soil underneath, compacting it and making it difficult for water, air and nutrients to penetrate and reach its roots. Aeration helps to alleviate this problem and speeds up the return of a beautiful green lawn. Mid-spring is the best time to do this so act soon on this job.

3.     Overseeding and top dressing

Older lawns are bound to get bare or dead patches simply due to its age and the stresses of the summers and winters. The best way to alleviate this problem is to overseed these areas with new grass seed along with a 2 centimetre layer of black earth to provide a fertile environment for water retention and seed germination. It’s best to do this as early as possible in the spring while the weather is still cool and there is plenty of natural precipitation to help these seeds take root.

4.     Fertilizing

Another important step in getting your lawn in shape is to apply a quality fertilizer early on. A phosphorous-rich fertilizer is usually what is recommended at this time as your soil has been depleted of its nutrients over the winter and needs a push in the right direction. Many experts also recommend a weed-and-feed product at this time due to the inherent weaknesses in your lawn and the prevalence of those pesky weeds during these cool and wet days. Whichever fertilizer you use, be sure to fertilize as early on during the cool and wet conditions. And remember to apply a second round in late spring just before the real heat begins!

If you follow these four tips, you should be well on your way to a healthy and beautiful lawn. Combined with the beautiful garden you would have created with the help of our previous blog, your yard is bound to be the talk of the street. Just be prepared to have your neighbours come up to you and ask you for your ‘green thumb secrets’. We know you’ll be more than willing to share the knowledge!

If you’re looking for some more tips on getting your grass prepped this spring, be sure to check out this great blog on the topic.