It is now the middle of January, two weeks into the new year and all across the country many people have been, and will continue to, deal with bitter cold weather and snowy/icy conditions. It’s the time of year when many of us get a chance to burn off those holiday pounds by shoveling or pushing a snow-blower. And, while shoveling and snow-blowing may get rid of the bulk of the snow in your driveway or on your walkways, they won’t take care of the ice which can be a slipping hazard. The answer to that problem is deicers. Unfortunately, the most common deicer (salt) can be hazardous to your pets, plants, and driveway/walkway.
Luckily, there are several safe and natural deicers that can handle the job of making your driveway/walkways slip-free. Listed below are a few examples of alternatives to salt which are safe, natural and effective.
“Kitty Litter”- If you happen to own a cat, or know someone who does, this is an effective way of keeping your footing on those icy surfaces. While kitty litter won’t actually melt the ice, it does create traction for a far less slippery surface.
“Coffee Grinds”- This effective no-slip solution can be found in just about any kitchen in the country. The dark colors of the coffee will also help absorb more heat and therefore help with the melting of the ice.
“Organic Salt-free Deicers”- If you don’t mind spending a few extra bucks, salt-free organic deicers, work just as well as salt but won’t harm your pets or plants.
“Alfalfa Meal”- This may actually be the most effective all natural deicing solution. Not only will it create great traction and assist in melting the ice, it is also often used as a fertilizer, so no worries about it coming in contact with your plants.
While some of these may not work as quickly or effectively as salt, they are a safe and natural alternative.
The cold, wet weather of winter also means, cold wet messes in your home. Every time you, a family member, or your pets come in from the winter streets and sidewalks, you are also dragging in whatever snow, sleet, salt or slush that may be present into your home as well. Luckily, this article from Enviro Maids, has tips on how handle those winter messes being brought into your home.
How to Handle Winter Messes
Snow, sleet, and ice not only make for slick road conditions, they can also cause quite the mess inside your home. Floors and carpets usually take a beating this time of year largely due to family members walking through the house in snow-covered boots and tracking in rock salt and other melting materials. As we get ready to tackle another long New England winter, we’ll share our tips on how to keep the winter elements outdoors where they belong and out of your home.
Stop Moisture and Muck at the Door
While a “Welcome” mat is a great way to greet visitors and adds a warm touch to your home, you’ll want to store yours away during the winter months and replace it with one that’s more utilitarian. Look for rugs with firm bristles that guests can use to scrape the salt, dirt, pebbles, and grime from the soles of their shoes. Rugs made from coir — a natural fiber extracted from the husk of coconuts — is a popular material used in outdoor rugs and is an eco-friendly option. Once you have your heavy duty outdoor rug in place, you’ll want to add a super-absorbent rug in the entryway of your home. Look for ones made from cotton and microfiber to soak up any moisture.
Shoes Off, Slippers On
Get family members into the habit of taking their shoes and boots off immediately upon entering the home. Place a rubber-backed absorbent mat or a metal boot tray in your mud room or foyer where kids can deposit their footwear. The mat and tray help to collect any moisture that melts off footwear, avoiding a messy puddle on your floors. Have a basket or bin handy to keep everyone’s slippers within reach. What about house guests? Unless you’re very close to the person paying you a visit, you may feel awkward asking them to remove their shoes. In addition to the outdoor and indoor mat, on nasty weather days, lay a walking mat in the main entrance way. This extra-long, narrow mat (usually 10 feet long) extends into your home helping to remove any remaining residue.
What kid doesn’t enjoy frolicking in the snow, especially when they’re treated to a day off from school? Between snowball fights, snowman building, and making snow angels, your young one’s jacket, pants, and clothing will likely get wet. Have a coat rack or hooks where each child can hang their coat, scarf, and gloves up to dry. If they have an easily accessible place to put their wet gear, they’ll less likely be tempted to drop them on the floor or on furniture.
Keep a Mop Handy
As much as you try to avoid tracking in snow, dirt, and moisture into your home, accidents are bound to happen. In addition to creating a slipping hazard, slick spots on your floor can damage certain types of flooring materials. Hardwood floors are especially vulnerable to winter damage. According to the websiteImpressionsHardwoodCollection.com, water and hardwood shouldn’t ever mix. Water that’s left for long periods of time can cause damage to hardwood floors, including warping and staining. Keep a mop handy so you can quickly remove any excess moisture from your floors. Another enemy of wood flooring is rock salt and sand. Rock salt is the mineral form of sodium chloride and when left on wood can leave spots and a white film on the surface. In addition, the abrasive texture of salt can cause tiny scratches in the wood finish. Vacuum or carefully sweep any salt, sand, or other winter debris immediately and wipe with a damp cloth to remove any traces of residue.
Clear Walkways and Steps
Before entertaining guests at your home, be sure to clear the walkway and steps of as much snow and ice as possible. Doing so will help create a safe surface for them to walk on, as well as help to keep the amount of slush and moisture they track into your home to a minimum.
There is absolutely nothing fun about being bed-ridden with a bad case of influenza. This also just so happens to be the heart of flu season. So, how do you defend yourself against catching the flu this year? Well, avoiding contact with people who currently have the virus is always a good idea, as is quickly disinfecting areas and materials that have come into contact with an infected person. Carrying around a portable bottle of hand sanitizer, is also a very good idea. And of course, trying to avoid contact with objects which are known to be covered in germs, ie., subway poles and stairwell banisters. But what about those lesser known, somewhat hidden areas where flu germs may lurk? Luckily, Market Watch, has a list of 7 unexpected places flu germs may be hiding.
Don’t touch anything this holiday season
This flu season is expected to be a particularly nasty one due to the strain of virus that’s being reported, and as careful as we try to be, there are germs lurking in some surprising places.
Although reports of influenza are low compared with previous years, Americans should brace for a particularly bad strain, according to an official health advisory released this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “This season, influenza A (H3N2) viruses have been reported most frequently and have been detected in almost all states,” the advisory said. H3N2 is associated with higher hospitalization rates and more mortality has been observed, especially among older people, very young children, and persons with certain chronic medical conditions, the CDC reported.
If that wasn’t bad enough, microbes that cause norovirus — which in turn leads to vomiting and diarrhea — as well as other infections lurk right under most people’s noses.
Here are 7 odd places to watch out for hidden germs:
Airplane food trays and seat pockets
The bad news for planes with quick turnarounds: nasty bugs can last for days. The sinister sounding Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (more commonly known as MRSA) lasted longest (168 hours) on material from a seat-back pocket while the bacteria Escherichia coli O157:H7 (also known as E.coli, which can cause kidney problems) survived longest (96 hours) on the material from the armrest of planes, according to research presented to the American Society for Microbiology earlier this year. Restrooms in planes where space is cramped is also another hotspot for germs.
Subway turnstiles and bus ticket machines
Most people (at least during flu season) are careful about touching stainless steel poles on subways and buses, but don’t often think about subway turnstiles and bus ticket machines that are arguably touched by even more people, says Charles Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona. “They don’t routinely disinfect these machines,” he says. Commuters are 6 times more likely to develop an acute respiratory infection if they traveled recently by bus or tram, according to a 2011 study by the University of Nottingham in the U.K. and published in “BMC Journal of Infectious Diseases.”
Office coffee stations and water coolers
Smart people keep their distance from sick colleagues, but then use the same coffee machine or water cooler. Germs like hard surfaces and can find their way to 40% to 60% of common surfaces in offices, hotels and health care facilities in just 2 to 4 hours, says Gerba, who recently conducted a study on how viruses spread in the workplace. He presented its results earlier this year at the 54th Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy in Washington, D.C., an infectious disease meeting of the American Society for Microbiology. Obviously, avoid doorknobs and other people’s keyboards.
Liquid soap in washrooms
While it’s a good idea to open the door of a washroom with your sleeve, there’s one other piece of equipment that should be avoided like the plague: Soap dispensers. Liquid soap itself can become contaminated with bacteria and 1-in-4 dispenser machines in public restrooms are contaminated with bacteria, including fecal matter, according to a 2011 study published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology. “Washing with soap from dispensers with sealed refills significantly reduced bacteria on hands,” the study found. Failing that, bring your own.
Aisle seats in planes, trains and theaters
When traveling by bus, train or plane this holiday season — or even when visiting a theater — think twice before choosing aisle seats. These are the seats that will be touched most often by other people as they’re trying to find their own, Gerba says. In 2008, members of a tour group experienced diarrhea and vomiting in an airplane flight from Boston to Los Angeles. Other passengers who suffered secondary infections were either sitting next to those infected — or unsuspecting passengers seated in aisle seats, according to a study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.
Salt and pepper shakers
There’s often no point in washing your hands before a meal (thereby avoiding doorknobs and soap dispensers), and picking up clean cutlery — and then using condiment holders that have often not been washed. A 2008 study by researchers at the University of Virginia examined 30 people who were showing symptoms of the common cold and were asked to identify 10 surfaces they’d touched in their home over the previous 18 hours: more than 40% of the surfaces tested positive for rhinovirus, the most common virus to cause the common cold: All salt and pepper shakers cited by participants tested positive.
Exercise equipment at the gym
Bacteria loves moisture, especially sweat, but one study found that rhinoviruses still cling to exercise equipment — even after cleaning. A final thought for germ-phobic people who are afraid to travel this holiday season: Many colds and flu are spread around the home, says Elizabeth Scott, associated professor at the Department of Biology at Simmons College in Boston. But it’s always good to leave the house prepared. “When I am traveling, I always carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer and use it many times,” she adds.
With just over a month before winter is officially here, it’s time to start thinking about prepping your home for the cold winter months ahead. With the holidays soon approaching, now is probably the best time to start winterizing your home. If you are not entirely sure what you should be doing to prep your home for this winter, this article from Enviro Maids, has some great tips on how to get your home clean and safe for the frigid months ahead.
Daylight savings time ends, now the winter home prep begins!
Daylight savings time ended at 2:00am on November 2 and with the turning back of the clock, we’re reminded that the days are getting shorter and winter is creeping around the corner. The end of daylight saving is also a reminder for homeowners to get those important household chores done in preparation for the cold months ahead. Read on to learn what you need to do now to keep your home safe and ready to tackle another New England winter.
Smoke and carbon monoxide detector test
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) urges homeowners to check their lifesaving devices once a month to make certain they are working properly. Consult the instruction manual for your particular model for important instructions. The NFPA also recommends replacing fire and carbon monoxide detectors every 10 years.
Have your furnace checked by a professional once a year. If you haven’t gotten it done already this year, now is the time to get it properly inspected. Also, according to Popular Mechanics, replace or clean your furnace filters once a month during the heating season. Dirty filters can block airflow resulting in an increased energy demand — putting a strain on your furnace and on your wallet. The type of filter you choose is also important. Certain filters do a better job at trapping debris. Popular Mechanics recommends an electrostatic filter for its ability to trap around 88 percent of debris. Another great choice is a genuine HEPA filter which can remove at least 99.97 percent of airborne particles.
Switch your fan in reverse
Ceiling fans often take a vacation during the winter. After all, most people use them to keep cool in the hot months. But did you know that your fan can actually help keep your home warm during the winter AND reduce your energy bill by up to 10 percent? When fan blades spin counterclockwise, they produce that refreshing breeze that cools you down in the warmer months; when the blades spin clockwise, they create an updraft that pushes the warmer air that collects near the ceiling back down. Most ceiling fans come with a direction switch on the unit; simply flip the switch, set the fan on low and enjoy the toasty warm air.
Fight stormy weather with storm windows and doors
Swapping out your screens for storm windows and doors is a tedious task, but well worth it; doing so helps to seal out drafts and prevents the frigid outdoor air from creeping indoors.
Clear your dryer’s vent and ducts
In addition to cleaning the lint filter after every drying cycle, the NFPA recommends taking the time now to check that the air exhaust vent pipe is not restricted and that the outdoor vent flap opens when the dryer is operating. Be sure to clean accumulated lint out of the vent pipe, as the lint that collects in the pipes and the ducts outside your home are common causes of dryer fires.
According to the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA), have your wood burning fireplace inspected annually by a certified professional. The professional will sweep your chimney, remove creosote buildup (a residue that builds up on the chimney’s inner walls and can cause chimney fires) and check for any structural problems. Even if you don’t use your fireplace often, it still should be inspected before lighting it to make sure objects such as bird’s nest haven’t blocked the inside.
Seal up leaks
When the temperature dips and the winds start to howl, any leaks or cracks around your windows, doors, vents, or pipes become noticeable. Uncomfortable drafts can be remedied by installing weather-stripping or caulking windows and doors, and sealing electrical outlets. Caulk inside and out, if necessary, to prevent heat from escaping.
Other miscellaneous tasks:
Flip your mattress to ensure even wear and to extend the life of your mattress; if you have a pillow-top mattress, rotate it instead. Also take this time to thoroughly vacuum your mattress and box spring.
Make sure all heating vents are opened and unblocked. Check that large pieces of furniture such as couches aren’t blocking baseboard heating elements. Move couches at least a foot away to ensure even heat distribution.
While some areas of the country may still be dealing with some winter like conditions (hopefully not for long), most of the country is beginning to feel more and more like spring. With the melting of snow and overall thaw of spring, lawns and gardens begin to emerge again. Before you can have the greenest lawn or prettiest garden on the block, there is a clean-up job to be done. In this article from Lawn Doctor, there are several tips on how to properly clean-up your yard after the harsh winter months.
End of Winter: Tips to Clean Up Your Yard After Winter
This winter has been one of the worst in years – and in some areas of the country, even decades. That severe weather, including snow and ice, has wreaked havoc in many parts of the United States. Even areas like Atlanta faced multiple snowstorms this year. All of this winter weather could mean damage to your yard. Here are some tips to clean up your yard and prevent winter yard damage:
Clean up rock salt and other deicing products
Using rock salt, ice melt, and other liquid or solid products to deice the sidewalk or the street may be important in the winter to keep you from falling or sliding around on the roads. But some of the products can potentially cause damage to your greenery. When the snow starts to melt, make sure that you clear off the deicing materials off your lawn, shrubs and trees to potentially protect against any winter yard damage. Apply gypsum to the areas of the lawn where road salt or salt from the driveway or sidewalks may have made contact.
Prune trees and shrubs
You many have put burlap around your trees or shrubs to protect them from the worst of the winter. If so, now is a great time to remove the burlap. However, winter storms may have done damage to the shrubs or trees in your yard. Make sure that you clean up your yard by pruning any branches damaged by the winter, so that new growth can take its place.
Remove dead materials and litter
One of the pitfalls from winter is that many things may blow onto your lawn that do not need to be there. Once the snow melts, you may see that litter has made it onto your lawn. Obviously, you need to clean it up. Other things you will need to remove include things like leaves, pine cones, fallen tree branches, and dog waste that may have ended up on your lawn.
Trim back perennials and remove annuals
Cut back the dead leaves and branches on your perennials to ensure future growth. In addition, if you have some annuals that you did not remove in the fall, now would be a good time to do so. Many of this plant material could end up in your composting bin.
If you did not get rid of any existing weeds at the end of fall, apply weed controls when temperatures are 50 degrees or higher.. Do not put the weeds, though, in the compost pile, as they could sprout and overwhelm your yard.
Treat snow mold
You may have an unpleasant surprise after winter – snow mold. This is common in areas with significant snowfall. Areas that have been matted down by the snow mold, use a leaf rake to remove the dead leaves and allow the lawn to recover.
Fertilize for spring
Now is a good time to start on spring fertilizing to get your yard ready for summer enjoyment. Use a fertilizer which includes crabgrass preventer. Follow label directions to avoid over fertilization.
If you happen to have wood flooring in your home, the winter months can wreak havoc on them. Wood flooring can be quite expensive, so if you do have it in your home I’m sure you’d like to keep it in the best condition possible. In this article from Enviro Maids, you are given some tips on how to protect those wood floors throughout the winter.
Protecting Your Wood Floors During the Winter
Wood floors are one of the most sought after types of floor covering. With so many choices of colors and styles to choose from, wood floors can complement any house style. Knotty, pine wood floors can add warmth to a cottage, while deep brown or black cherry wood floors can give a modern home a sleek, elegant feel. While durable, wood floors require a bit more care, especially during the winter months. Moisture, salt, and ice melting products can wreak havoc on wood. Here are our tips with the help of Real Simple and the pros at Floors to Your Home for protecting the beauty and integrity of your wood floor during the winter.
Mats, mats, and more mats
Water or moisture is the number one enemy for wood floors. Excess moisture can have many negative effects on your wood, including warping and staining it, causing it to lose its original luster, as well as leading to the growth of mold. The best way to protect your wood floor from the winter elements is to have a “no shoes” policy. While this can be enforced for family members, you may have to forego this rule when guests arrive. The second best way to protect your wood floor is to arm your home with several strategically placed mats or rugs. When it comes to mats, quality and quantity are equally important. The outside rug should be a rugged, bristly one. Use this rug to help dig out mud, dirt, pebbles, and salt from the tread of winter boots. The rug located inside your entryway should be plush and super-absorbent. This rug should be capable enough to dry the bottom of shoes and collect any remaining outdoor debris. A final and precautionary step is using a walking mat. These mats are long and narrow (usually 10 feet long) and ensure that every last trace of moisture is removed.
You can train your children and spouse to remove their muddy, snowy boots before entering the house, but you’ll run into a problem when it comes to your dog. Unless you routinely put boots on your pup’s paws, you’ll have to contend with wet, dirty paws. Before letting your dog out, have a towel by the door. When your dog is ready to come back inside, wipe his paws dry. For extra muddy paws, have a small basin filled with a bit of warm water on hand by the door. Wash off all traces of mud and grime and dry paws with a towel.
Moisture, salt, and ice-melting products aren’t the only cause of damaged wood floors. In fact, dryness can be just as damaging! Wood is fickle when it comes to shifts in humidity levels. The dry air of indoor heating and lower humidity levels can cause wood to shrink. The telltale sign that dry air has caused your wood to shrink are the gaps between the planks of wood. The opposite effect happens when there’s excess moisture in the air; the higher humidity during the summer months causes the wood to expand. The ideal indoor temperature for wood floors is between 60-80 degrees Fahrenheit and a 30 to 50 percent humidity level.
As careful as you try to be, sometimes moisture, spills, and water get on your wood floors. It’s important to clean up spills immediately with an absorbent towel. Thoroughly dry the floor; no dampness should be left behind.
Keeping your walkways and driveways free of snow and ice is an important safety precaution. However, many times shoveling and/or snow-blowing doesn’t fully get the job done. That’s when many people put down salt to melt away any remaining snow or ice which could be hazardous. Unfortunately, that same salt can wind up being hazardous to your pets, lawn, concrete walkway, and even the environment. Luckily, there are plenty of alternatives to salt which can also get the job done. Here are a few examples of some more “green” alternatives for deicing this winter.
“Sand”- Sand can be used to create traction and won’t harm your lawn or pets. However, it will have to be cleaned up after the snow has melted so it doesn’t clog drains or sewers.
“Kitty Litter”- If you happen to have a cat, you can actually use some extra kitty litter to take care of a slippery walkway.
“Urea”- This deicer is safe for your pets and concrete but can do damage to your lawn or garden.
“Coffee Grinds”- Your morning “pick-me-up” can also double as a natural deicer.
“Potassium Acetate”- Extremely effective and biodegradable. This deicer may not harm your plants or pets but your wallet may take a hit, it’s eight times more expensive than salt.
All across the country there has been an arctic chill that has many cities and towns stuck with temperatures in the single digits or lower. Obviously, when it’s that cold outside you have no other option but to turn up the heat, at least for a little while. However, there are other ways to keep yourself warm during this cold streak. Below are just a few ways you can stay warm without cranking the heat all day.
“Toss a Log on the Fire”- If you happen to have a fireplace in your home, turn down your heat, and instead warm up next to a nice fire.
“A Hot Beverage”- You can warm yourself up with a cup of coffee, tea, or hot chocolate.
“Cover Drafts”- Block drafts coming into your home through windows and doors with a draft stopper, weather stripping, or even a towel.
“Switch Your Sheets”- If you’re using regular sheets on your bed try switching to flannel. If you’re using a regular comforter try switching to down.
“Let the Sunshine In”- Open your shades during the day and let some sun in your home. Not only will it help warm the place up, but it’s good for the mind.
“Stay Active”- Activities like, exercising or cleaning the house are great ways to stay warm while being productive.
All across the country, states are getting hit with winter storms. If you happen to be a dog owner, you don’t really have a choice of just staying inside and waiting the storm out, you have to walk your dog. However, there are a few things you should know before taking the pup out for a winter walk. The good people at Seventh Generation, have a list of do’s and don’ts for walking man’s best friend this winter. So, check out these tips and keep your furry friend safer.
Dos and Don’ts of Winter Dog Walking
A snowy jaunt with your pup is just what the doctor (and vet) ordered for a bout of cabin fever. You don’t have to go out of your way to make it happen—any old yard or street will do—but you should bear in mind that as your needs change with the seasons, so do your dog’s. Here’s how to keep fun and safety top of mind:
Do: Size up your pup. If you have a long-haired breed, or a breed known for cold-weather tolerance (like a Husky or a St. Bernard), you’re probably OK to leave the coat behind. Tiny breeds like Chihuahuas, short-haired breeds (even big ones like Great Danes), and senior pets, though, all need the extra protection a coat offers.
Don’t: Let your dog eat snow or lick the ground. Or his paws, for that matter. Ground chemicals used for ice melting are not only rough on the paws, but also the organs. Another common winter concern: the presence of ethylene glycol (better known as antifreeze). If your dog tries to drink from that sweet, blue-green puddle, lead him quickly away.
Do: Consider boots. Our feet clearly need shoes, but did you know your dog’s feet are fragile, too? Paws are built for insulation, but they’re also super-sensitive—kind of like our fingertips. Good boots will protect your dog from salt, cold and chemicals. Find the right fit by bringing your dog to the store with you, or if you’re buying online, looking for companies that have detailed sizing charts—including nail measurements. And be patient. It takes a while for some dogs to get used to walking in boots.
Don’t: Air dry. If your pup doesn’t don boots, a full foot wash-and-dry after your stroll is a must. This little cleanup helps avoid licking of any chemicals or salt that might have gotten stuck between the pads of the foot while you were out. Go full-on pamper and rub on some organic paw and nose balm or lotion afterward.
Do: Choose your leash wisely. A front clip harness will help minimize strain, and a solid leash (rather than retractable) helps exact control. One important consideration: How good is your traction? If you’re wary of falling and not having free hands to catch yourself, a waist-wrapping leash might be your pick.
Don’t: Neglect grooming.This tip is for the pre-walk more than the walk itself. Matted fur isn’t as good as well-groomed fur at keeping dogs warm; it provides less adequate insulation. Plus, your dog will want to look nice while she celebrates the season.
Do: Be vigilant. Learn the signs of antifreeze poisoning (similar to alcohol poisoning and noticeable quickly), frostbite (pain, brittleness and discoloration), and ice melt poisoning (hypersalivating and vomiting, to start). Keep your eyes on your dog to help avoid these concerns and catch any issues quickly.