Category Archives: Home Repair and Maintenance Tips


Living Green: Lawn Care

Interested in changing some lawn care habits to help the environment and your pocketbooks? Here are 5 great ways to start living green!

 

1. Pour with Care! – Gasoline can be very damaging to the soil of your lawn not to mention the creatures that come in contact with it. So, when you’re pouring gas into your lawnmower take your time. All too often we’re trying to be quick and we end up spilling gas everywhere which is wasteful and potentially very harmful. We recommend investing in a funnel or a gas canister with one built in to help you control the gas as you pour!

2. Don’t Water the Sidewalk – We talked about this in our Living Green: Conserve Thy Water post but we wanted to say it again, don’t water the sidewalk! It’s very wasteful of our water resources to be spraying the lawn so be extra careful where you place that sprinkler the next time you go to give your lawn a drink!

3.  Get Reel About Mowing – You may have never considered a Reel Mower before but this handy tool will help dramatically reduce the negative impact that your lawn care has on the environment. This tool is run totally by you, no gas and no electricity. Look at it this way, by using a reel mower you’re trimming your lawn, saving the environment, and getting a workout all in one! Now that’s a win.

4. Downsize – A bigger lawn means more work which usually means more resources. Consider investing in a smaller lawn the next time you’re home-shopping. Remember, there are always parks and public spaces if you’re concerned about having the space you need.

5. Eco Landscaping – It may seem strange but there are ways to design your lawn that will make your home more ecologically friendly. For example, deciduous trees can be planted to the south or west of your home to shade the building and lower air conditioning costs. Shrubs can also be planted around the foundation to help insulate your home and keep that heat in! For more info check out this article!

Interested in other ways to live green? Check out our other blogs:

Living Green: Conserve Thy Water

Living Green: Laundry

Living Green: Conserve Thy Water

Living a green life is about more than just saving money, it’s about minimizing as much as possible our negative impact on the environment around us. At Martell Home Builders this idea is more than just words, it’s action and we want to empower you to action as well. Besides purchasing a net-zero home (which you can definitely do!) there are other ways that you can minimize that negative impact.

 

In our first installment of the living green series we talked about how to live green in the way you wash laundry (check out that post here). Today, we want to talk water. In a Country covered in fresh water lakes, ponds, and streams, we often don’t fully appreciate how lucky we are to have access to clean water. By being intentional in our efforts to conserve water we are both ensuring a ‘moist’ future for our children and also expressing solidarity with those around the world that are less fortunate than we. So, without further ado, here are our top 10 tips on how to conserve water in your home!

1. Turn off that Tap! – We’ve all heard this one before (or at least should have) but turning of the tap while you’re brushing your pearly white teeth is a great step towards water conservation. You don’t need to hear a waterfall while you brush!

2. Don’t Flush Unnecessarily – Instead of flushing that kleenex away, just put it in the garbage and save water.

3. Basin, Not Tap – Wash your fruits and veggies in a basin or bowl instead of under a running tap.

4. Brick in the Tank – If you have a large toilet tank but a displacer inside of it to save water.

5. Brita in the Fridge– If you keep a jug of cold water in the fridge it will keep you from running it (until it goes cold) the next time you want a glass

6. Don’t Water the Road– Position your sprinkler so non of the water is getting wasted by watering roads, driveways, etc.

7. Big Close Drops –  Set your sprinkler or hose to dispense big close drops. A mist will likely be wasteful since a lot of it blows away!

8. Check– Check those valves and pipes for cracks and leaks

9. Long Lawn – Set your lawn mower to a high setting – longer grass = more shade = less evaporation!

10. Fish Food – Use your old fish tank water (when you’re switching it) to water your plants!

Check out more tips (100 to be exact) here!

 

Lawn Care Tips For Spring

Neglecting your lawn now can mean paying for it later. Whether you want your lawn to look good because you’re selling your home or you just want to keep your home beautiful, taking the time to protect your lawn in the spring is key. Spring is the beginning of new grass life which means that nurturing your yard starts now. Here are some tips about how you can start to cultivate the type of lawn that you can be proud of and that your neighbors will be jealous of.

 Attack Thatch (Aka Rake) – Thatch are those nasty clumps of dead grass that essentially suffocate any new baby grass trying to survive in this world. So, once the snow is gone (which it likely is now… fingers crossed for no more snow!).. dig out your rake and get that dead grass out of there! Make sure to rake deeply especially if you didn’t take the time and do so in the fall.

 

Lime is Prime – Grass is no fan of acid (which could be indicated if you have compaction or moss) so make sure to create a neutral pH for your little ones by liming your lawn. Make sure to send in a sample of your soil to ensure that it does indeed need liming because liming is only corrective, not preventative.

 

Whack those Weeds-  Getting rid of weeds before the flower and seed is key. It may not be fun, but getting outside in the spring and scouring your lawn for those pesky dandelions will help your lawn to be even more beautiful (and less yellow) when the summer months roll around. While spraying weeds with herbicides may be more effective in the fall, in the spring doing outsides and pulling them will garner you better results.

 

If your interested in learning about more spring lawn care tips a great place to start is the About.com site (here) or to go into a local home renovations or gardening store and talk to one of their experts. 

10 Simple Ways to Winterize Your House

Photograph by  StevenM_61 on Flickr 

With Halloween and Remembrance day behind us, and the thermostats dipping below zero at night, it’s time to start thinking about winter. For many of us, preparing for with means digging out our sweaters and search for that missing mitten. But it is equally important to ensure your house is ready for winter. Not only will you be more comfortable, but following a few simple suggestions may also save you some money!

Here are 10 easy ways to winterize your home:

 

Check your insulation

Be sure your attic, basement, and exterior walls are properly insulated—even in newly built homes. Insulation can settle and shift over time, leading to cold pockets.

 

Check for cold air entry ports

Spend a few hours giving your house the once-over. Look for areas where cold outside air can seep in or warm inside heat can escape. Some common places include electrical outlets, switch-plates, and gaps around windows and doors. You can buy inexpensive foam insulation made for outlet and switch plates that are easy to install. Ensure your door and window weather stripping is in good condition. Consider caulking drafty areas where weather stripping is not appropriate.

 

Check your HVAC

If you haven’t done so in a few years, call an HVAC professional to inspect your furnace and ducts system. They’ll make sure your furnace is running efficiently and safely. While s/he’s there, ask the HVAC pro to clean and inspect your ducts heating ducts. Over time, dust and grime can build up and your house can settle, creating gaps in the ducts allowing warm air to escape. An inspection every 3-5 years should be sufficient for most newer homes.

 

Replace Your Filters

The best way to ensure your furnace is working efficiently as possible is to remember to replace your furnace filter, regularly—normally every 4 to 6 weeks, depending on use patterns and filer types. This will help your furnace run more efficiently and cut down on heating costs. I should also help with indoor air quality.

 

Install a Programmable Thermostat

A programmable digital thermostat is another heating cost cutter. They are pretty easy to install and can be programmed to automatically lower temperature at night when everyone is asleep, and during times when the house uninhabited.

 

Reverse ceiling fans

Many of us forget that you can use your ceiling fans during the winter to keep your house warm. On every ceiling fan there’s a switch that allows you to reverse the direction of the blades. Switch it so your ceiling fan rotates clockwise. This will push warm air down and recirculate it throughout the room, easing the burden on your furnace.

 

Trim any nearby trees

Each winter, there are stories of tree branches falling on cars or houses. This is often cause by winter storms or the build up of snow and ice that weighs branches down and causes them to break .Such misfortune is easily voided by taking some time each fall to trim back any tree branches hanging near your roof, windows, or driveways, trim them back.

 

Clean your gutters

While you are outside, check your rain gutters and clean out the dead leaves and other gunk in your gutters so water can drain freely. Clogged gutters can cause water to back up and freeze near the edge of the roof. This ice will eventually forms “dams” that block the path of melted snow from your roof and cause to seep into your house. Even if you don’t have trees directly overhead, be sure to check your gutters every couple of years. Dust and airborne debris can also create blockages.

 

Prepare a 72 hour emergency kit

Every so often a big winter storm hits that can knock out power for a few hours, or keep you in the house for a few days. We recommend that you create a “72-hour kit” for such emergencies. Stock the kit with food, water, and other supplies. While you can buy pre-made 72-hour kits online or at most outdoor stores,  you can save some money by making your own. Remember to only include non perishable food, and—unless you have a camp stove—pick food and beverages that do not need to be heated.

 

Wear a Sweater

You mom was right. If you are a bit chilly, put on a sweeter before reaching for the thermostat. This is an easy way to lower your energy bills. A heavy sweater adds a couple of degrees of warmth to your body. If you set your thermostat to 18 degrees and wear a sweater, your home will feel like a comfy 22 degrees.

7 Sustainable Ways to Keep You House Cool this Summer

A cheerful reminder that it is summer.  Photograph by zharth on Flickr

Summer is a great season—beachesvacations, BBQs on your patios…  But as we enter the dog-days of summer, you home may feel more like a sauna than a refuge.  If you have air conditioning, your utility bills are skyrocketing.  It doesn’t have to be this way.

Here are a few easy ways to keep your cool this summer:

1. Fans are your Friends.

Neither ceiling nor portable fans use much energy to power, but both offer great air circulation. They can make the temperature in the room feel up to seven degrees cooler and are much more efficient than air conditioning, In large rooms, ceiling fans work best, as they blow air downwards—just make sure they are rotating counterclockwise to circulate the cooler air. In bedrooms and small areas, portable fans do a good job.  For added cooling, place a frozen bottle of water in front of a table fan. Be sure to turn them off when you leave the room.

2. Savvy Shades

The best way to keep your home cool is to keep the heat out. Consider installing solar screens or reflective window film to the outside of your windows, especially ones that get direct sunlight throughout the day. Solar screens can prevent up to eighty percent of solar heat from entering your home through the windows. Alternatively, be sure to keep your blinds and curtains closed during the day.

3. Get Greenery

Consider planting trees on the side of your house that gets the most sun. Leafy deciduous trees will shade your home and keep things considerably cooler in the summer. Come winter, the trees will loose their leaves and let sunlight through when it’s needed.

4. Power Down

Unless you absolutely need them, turn off incandescent lights and heat-generating appliances. Replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents or LEDs; they produce the same light but use a fifth the energy and heat.  Turn off your computer when you’re not using it. Also avoid the summer reruns and turn the TV off—it generates a lot of heat. Some plug-in power adapters also give off heat, so unplug you cell phone charger when you’re not using it..

5. Eat Out(side)

Your oven really heats up your kitchen.  Use your barbecue instead!  When cooking inside,  rice cookers, crock pots, and pressure cookers are great ways to heat up food without heating up your house too much.  If you must use your stove or oven turn on your  hood fan to vent the hot air outside.

6. Keep Dry

Humidity makes room air feel warmer. Minimize mid-day laundry, showering, and cleaning. When you must do these things, be sure to turn on ventilating fans to help extract warm, moist air.

7.  Let the Evening Air In

As the temperature falls in the evening, open some windows. This will let the evening air come through and cool the house. Maximize the impact by using table fans to create a cross breeze. Just be sure to close them before the temperature starts to rise again!

Tips on Hiring a Contractor

Hiring a Contractor

Hiring a contractor can be a little – or a lot! – scary, especially now, thanks to reality TV and shows like Holmes on Homes, we are shown the devil himself in the world of home renos: the deceitful, rogue contractor!

The task of hiring a contractor can also make you feel overwhelmed if you have little or no experience of doing so in the past. Here is some great information to help you out, along with some general contractor questions you should definitely ask before signing on the dotted line and handing over your hard-earned cash (actually, you should never hand over cash, but more on this later).

First Things First

Before you even set out to find a contractor, you first need to figure out exactly what work it is that you want done and check to see if you will need a building permit. For Moncton residents, the City of Moncton website will provide you with all the information you need to get going, including a detailed FAQ and permit application forms that you can download. If you don’t live in Moncton, you can find out more by contacting your municipal office.

Finding Potential Contractors

Get the word out that you’re looking for a contractor to see what recommendations pop up in conversation. By letting your friends, family and neighbours know that you’re hiring a contractor, if they have any positive or negative experiences with a contractor, you can be sure they’ll let you know. “Hey! You should totally hire so-and-so, they did my kitchen last year and I’m so happy with it!” or “Oh, don’t even think about hiring so-and-so, I got them to do my deck and I’m having nothing but problems.”

Don’t just try to find recommendations the conventional way either; use social media to help you find the perfect contractor. Post on your Facebook Wall that you’re looking for a contractor, or use Twitter to see what sort of response you get: tweeting “Know of any great remodelling contractors in #Moncton?” could provide you with some great recommendations.

Once you’ve shortlisted some potential contractors, make sure you check out their reputation with your local Home Builders’ Association:

Canadian Home Builders’ Association

General Contractor Questions

Okay, so now you think you’ve finally found the perfect contractor for the job. Here are several questions you should ask before you hire:

  • Can you provide me with five to ten references from past clients?
  • Can you show me your business licence?
  • Do you have insurance and, if so, what does it cover?
  • What hours will you be working?
  • Will you clean up after yourself each day?
  • What costs could occur that are not including in your quote?
  • What sort of warranty do you offer? How long is it good for and what does it cover?
  • What sort of payment schedule do you expect?
  • What methods of payment do you accept? Note: You should never hire a contractor that will only accept cash. In fact, you should never pay in cash as there will be no solid proof of payment.
  • Can you provide me with a detailed written contract?

Helpful Resources

How to Hire a Contractor by Mike Holmes: In this HGTV article, Mike Holmes covers a lot of important details, such as: what questions you should ask the references of potential contractors; what kinds of terms you should make sure are included in your contract; information on payment schedules; your rights to hold back a percentage of your final payment for a certain amount of time to ensure the job was done correctly; and more. (Another great read by Mike Holmes is an article called Contractor Red Flags: How to Spot Trouble.)

Hiring a Contractor by CMHC (Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation): This article has an abundance of helpful information on finding and choosing a contractor, information on getting estimates and proposals, consumer protection laws, information on insurance, and more. This article also includes a great checklist to assist you in hiring a contractor. You should also check out CMHC’s sample renovation contract.

Success Stories / Horror Stories

What sort of experiences have you had hiring a contractor? Share your stories by leaving a comment below!

Get Your Geek On: 6 Cool Gadgets for DIY Enthusiasts

Cool Gadgets for DIY Enthusiasts

Here are a few cool gadgets that every DIY enthusiast should consider owning. Some of these gadgets are completely useless, but still awesome to have, while others are actually very practical (we’ll let you decide which falls into what category).

Everybody has a little geek in them, and DIY enthusiasts are no exception. So, without further ado, here are six cool gadgets to help the DIY enthusiast get their geek on.

Measuring Toilet Roll

Measuring Toilet Roll

We’re not sure what, exactly, you’ll want to be measuring when you’re alone in the bathroom, and we’re probably better off being left in the dark on that one. Whatever it is you want to size up, this cool gadget has got your back (side).

iPlunger

iPlunger

This sucker (pun totally intended) is a cool gadget made for your iPhone or iPod Touch, although we can’t see any reason why it wouldn’t work with your BlackBerry or HTC if that’s the team you play for. Hey, you could even use the iPlunger to prop up your smartphone on your bathroom counter to make a hands-free call while measuring things with the Measuring Toilet Roll. Multitasking, we love it.

Kill-A-Watt

Kill-A-Watt

This cool gadget enables you to plug in any electronic device to accurately gauge how much electricity it uses. Use this gadget along with these ways to reduce your electricity bill and you’re sure to save some money.

Screwed Up Refrigerator Magnets

Screwed Up Refrigerator Magnets

Forget about using lame fruit and vegetable fridge magnets, these are perfect for any DIY enthusiast.

Instant Switch

Instant Switch

This is, by far, one of the coolest gadgets for DIY enthusiasts. Don’t know how to install a light switch? No problem! Too lazy to install a light switch? That’s cool. Want a device that enables you to turn on a light without removing your arse from the couch? We completely understand. The Instant Switch is a remote-controlled light switch that enables you to turn on a lamp from up to sixty feet away, doesn’t require any tools to install, and includes a dimer-control in addition to the standard on/off switch. Hey Clapper, eat your heart out.

Mike Holmes Make It Right App

Mike Holmes Make It Right App

No product roundup of cool gadgets for the DIY enthusiast would be complete without something to do with our Canadian hero: Mike Holmes. The Make It Right app is compatible with all iThings – iPod Touch, iPad and iPhone – and has been created to assist you with your home renovations. Check out this review for more information.

Get Your Geek On

Do you know of any cool gadgets designed specifically with the DIY enthusiast in mind? Leave a comment to let us know!

DIY Videos on How to Fix a Toilet

 How to Fix a Toilet

If you are having toilet troubles – and I mean in the literal sense – there are some easy and affordable steps you can take to try to fix it yourself, before calling in a plumber.

There are an abundance of YouTube videos that illustrate how to fix a toilet; some of the videos are great, many more are crap (no pun intended). Here are a few videos that do a good job at explaining how to fix common problems. If you don’t find what you’re looking for here, leave a comment to let us know what toilet troubles you’re having and we’ll do our best to help you out!

If you have a leaky toilet, this video will teach you how to replace a damaged seal:

 

This next YouTube video will show you how to fix a toilet that won’t stop running:

 

And finally, this DIY toilet repair video will teach you how to fix a toilet that has a leaky flapper valve:

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