Household hacks for clean freaks


house cleaning products

We’re on a home maintenance roll this week. In our last post, we talked about care for major appliances, and we just found a great article about 10 things in your home you never clean — but should. But our favorite find is a video clip on household hacks, aka “household hints.” These cleaning hack videos are fun and useful. Like the old slogan for potato chips – “bet you can’t eat just one” – it can be hard to stop at just one clip.

This one is chock full of useful ideas, as well as a few corny ones (dust-mop slippers, really??). We’re big fans of multiple use tips for vinegar, baking soda, lemon and other inexpensive, natural products that can replace costly chemical alternatives. We haven’t tried all of these but know that many work. Why not try a few this weekend in your household maintenance?

And if you can’t stop at just one clip, we’ve included links to some of our prior posts for cleaning hacks below the video.

Prior post with household cleaning hacks

Handy household hacks: creative uses for everyday products
Three clips covering vinegar, Windex and common household products

Spring cleaning hacks & tips to make the job easier
3 video clips for cleaning hacks, one focusing on cleaning with salt

Household hacks aren’t just popular since the advent of YouTube – in olden days, they were popular too – see our post on How to stop a runaway horse & other vintage life hacks from days of yore for some fun old time hacks.

How to preserve the life of costly kitchen appliances


kitchen appliances

If you’re a homeowner, you understand that your major kitchen appliances – refrigerator, stove, dishwasher – all represent significant expenditures. An unplanned replacement can throw your family’s budget out of whack.

In an article on remodeling a kitchen, HomeAdvisor offers guidance on appliance costs:

  • EnergyStar appliances ($200 – $3,500)
  • Custom built-in appliances ($1,000 – $10,000)
  • High-end store bought appliances ($300 – $5,000)
  • Budget outlet appliances ($100 – $2,000)

Improvenet also offers guidance on the costs and installation of appliances:

  • Refrigerator, top mounted freezer – $350 to $600
  • Refrigerator, bottom mounted freezer – $800 – $1200
  • Refrigerator, side by side – $700- $2100
  • Dishwasher, basic – starting at $250
  • Dishwasher, premium – $600 to $1,000
  • Ranges, basic to premium – $350 – $2000
  • Cooktops, basic to premium – $350 – $2000
  • Cooktops with single or double ovens – $700 – $3500

Given the cots, it just makes sense to preserve your current appliances and get as long a life as possible. Fix offers a handy article on Home Appliance Maintenance, along with a summary infographic, which we’ve posted below.


Source: Fix.com Blog

Ice dams can be costly. Ventilate & insulate!


Here in the Northeast, one common and costly headache for homeowners is the problem of ice dams. Are ice dams something that could happen to your home? Here’s a quick summary of the conditions that lead to ice dams: snow buildup on the roof + heat loss from the home + freezing temperatures. The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IIBHS) explains it this way:

“During freezing weather, heat from your home or business can escape through your roof and melt snow on your roof. The snowmelt can then trickle down to the roof’s edge and refreeze, creating an ice dam that leaves additional snowmelt with no place to go but possibly under your roof.”

This IIBHS infographic offers a visual for how ice dams are formed. They offer tips for reducing your risk of ice dams: Preventing Ice Dams on Homes.

We have a pretty good prior post on the topic: Ice Dams 101: How to handle winter roof hazards. In that post, we talk about how the unsightly icicle buildup is a symptom of a more serious underlying problem that can lead to water damage, rot, mildew and mold. We talk about the importance of a two-fold strategy for dealing with ice dams:

  • First, you need to get rid of the ice dams and minimize the immediate damage.
  • Second, you need to diagnose the underlying problem and take steps to prevent ice dams from forming.

If you have damage to your home from ice dams, you’ll want to contact your insurance agent to report a claim. The Insurance Information Institute explains whether ice dam damage is covered by your insurance policy in their article, Water Damage: What’s Covered; What’s Not. They offer this helpful summary:

 “Generally speaking, water that comes from the top down, such as rainfall, is covered by a standard homeowners insurance policy, while water that comes from the bottom up, such as an overflowing river, is covered by a separate flood insurance policy.”

Resources for preventing ice dams

Here are some of the best resources we’ve found to help you learn more about how ice dams happen and how to prevent them from occurring:

Liberty Mutual: Ice dams – tips for preventing ice dams and a series of three excellent videos: Causes, Combats and Cures. These offer detailed explanations about how ice dams form and conditions that lead to them along with methods to combat and correct the problem with insulation and ventilation.

Travelers: How to Identify and Help Remove an Ice Dam

This Old House: Preventing Ice Dams

Housing Technology from the University of Minnesota Extension: Ice Dams

Building and Construction Technology, UMass Amherst Department of Environmental Conservation: Preventing Ice Dams

Prevent home heating fires with these tips from the pros


two pairso f stockinged feet before a fireplace

As the temperature drops, home fire risk rises. It just makes sense. While cooking fires are the leading cause of residential fires, heating-related fires come in second place and peak in the month of January. The U.S. Fire Administration recently issued two statistical reports that talk about home heating fires. In their Study of Heating Fires in Residential Buildings (2013-2015), they report that:

  • Approximately 45,900 annual heating fires in U.S. residential buildings were reported to fire departments each year.
  • Annually, heating fires resulted in 200+ deaths, 700+ injuries, and more than half a billion dollars in property loss.
  • Residential heating fires peak in the early evening from 5 to 9 p.m., accounting for 29% of heating-related home fires.
  • Confined fires (fires confined to chimneys, flues or fuel burners) accounted for 75% percent of residential building heating fires.
  • Combustible materials that were too close to the heat source accounted for 29% of non-confined fires.

While only 4% of heating fires in residential buildings involved portable heaters, they were  involved in 43% of fatal home heating fires, a statistic that should give some pause. In the USFA study on Portable Heater Fires in Residential Buildings (2013-2015), they report:

  • Annual estimated occurrence: 1,650 portable heater fires in residential
  • Portable heater fires caused an estimated 90 deaths, 175 injuries, and $84 million in property loss.
  • In 54% of the fires, the heat source was too close to combustible objects
  • About 37% of portable heater fires started in bedrooms.
  • In bedroom fires caused by portable heaters, the leading items ignited (23%) were bedding, such as blankets, sheets, and comforters.

Here’s a short USFA safety clip related to portable heaters.

Heating safety tips

Fire prevention experts say there are many practices you can take to reduce your risk of a heating-related fire in your home. Here are few safety tips we’ve compiled from the experts

Practice the 3-foot safety rule. Keep combustible materials away from the furnace, fireplace, wood stove, or portable space heater.

Maintain a “kid-free zone” around open fires and space heaters. Again, 3 feet is the recommended distance.,

Inspect, clean and test. Have qualified heating professionals inspect and clean furnaces, chimneys and heating equipment every year. Replace batteries in your fire alarms in the spring and fall, and test smoke alarms at least once a month.

Turn off portable heaters when you go to bed or leave a room. Get more space heater safety tips from Travelers,

Never, never, never use ovens or portable grills to heat your home.

Fireplace safety:

  • Use a good quality screen to prevent sparks from jumping.
  • Dispose of ashes in a metal, non-flammable container when they are cold.
  • Dispose of ashes a safe distance away from your home – never beside the home or in the garage or cellar.
  • Learn more about how to dispose of ashes properly – and get a few tips on handy uses for the ash.

Related: see our recent post with money-saving home heating ideas:

Winterizing: Money saving ideas for heating your home

Fire up that snowblower – don’t wait until the first storm hits


We had our first snowfall of the season yesterday … OK, depending on where you live, it was only a few wimpy flakes. But take it as Mother Nature’s gentle advance warning: Winter is on it’s way – get your snowblower ready.

If you have a snowblower, take it out of storage now and test it out – you don’t want to get caught short in the first storm. Popular Mechanics has some tips for how to start your snowblower – including some tips for blowers that are stubborn about starting.

If you don’t have a snowblower, but you have one on your Santa wish list, this video offers  snowblower buying guide tips from Consumer Reports. It’s interactive so you can skip to different chapters. Learn about which type of snow blower best suits your property. The video breaks down what you need to know about size, power source – gas, battery or electric -, key features, trouble shooting, maintenance and how to ensure a smooth start-up each season.

Operating your snowblower safely

Every year, emergency rooms see about 6,000 injuries related to snow blower accidents, many of them amputations. Experts say that most snowblower injuries occur when snow is heavy, wet and deeper than 6 inches – those are conditions that lead to clogging in snow removal machines. Most injuries are hand injuries to the dominant hand.

Whether you are operating a snowblower for your home or your business, the Outdoor Power & Equipment Institute (OPEI) urges you to operate your snow blowing equipment safely. They offer a great list of tips for preparing your machine before it snows, and the following snow blowing safety tips:

  • KEY SAFETY TIP: Never put your hands inside the auger or chute. Use a clean out tool (or stick) to unclog snow or debris from your snow thrower. Your hands should never go inside the auger or chute.
  • Turn OFF your snow thrower if you need to clear a clog. If you need to remove debris or unclog snow, always turn off your snow thrower. Wait for all moving parts to come to a complete stop before clearing any clogs or debris.
  • Only use your snow thrower in visible conditions. Never operate the snow thrower without good visibility or light.
  • Aim your snow thrower with care. Never throw snow toward people or cars. Do not allow anyone to stand in front of your snow thrower. Keep children or pets away from your snow thrower when it is operating.
  • Use extreme caution on slopes and hills. Use caution when changing directions on slopes. Do not attempt to clear steep slopes.
  • Know where your cord is. If you have an electric powered snow thrower, be aware of where the power cord is at all times. Avoid tripping. Do not run over the power cord.
  • Keep pets and children inside. Kids and pets may love to play in the white stuff, but it’s best to keep them inside your home and under supervision while you are using your snow thrower to clear a path or drive. Do not allow them to play in the snow as it is tossed out of the snow thrower’s chute.

If you like to remove your snow the old-fashioned manual way, be sure to see our prior post on Snow shoveling 101: Best shovels, best techniques.