Home Maintenance

  1. How Not to Change Air Filters

    How to Change an Air Filter

    Yes, Bryan, “replacing” your air filters with a hole-laden pizza box in front of the air vent is a fabulous idea… aside from the obvious fire risk, it just isn’t practical and is far from attractive to behold.  Let’s go over the right way to change AC filters.

    1. Find the furnace.  Locate the filter compartment, which is typically a sliding metal door.  This is the heart of the operation.  You’ll want to examine the existing filter to help you out in step 2.
    2. Note the size.  There is no uniform rule when it comes to air conditioning filters.  While a common size is 16×24, all furnaces are different.  Jot down the filter size and grab the car keys. It’s time to go shopping.
    3. Go to a home store.  Make a pit stop at any big box home repair store and find your right-sized filter.  AC filters come in a few varieties and are commonly made with spun glass ($) or polyester ($$).  High efficiency filters are well-suited to dry climates, as they’ll catch not only dust (the main purpose of a filter) but also pollen and mold.  If you or a loved one is prone to allergies, consider HEPA filters to ward off allergens.
    4. Determine the airflow.  When you remove the old filter, you should be able to figure out the direction of airflow.  Mark the door with drawn arrows to know which way to insert filters from now on.
    5. In with the new and out with the old.  Pop your new filter in the same way the old one was placed, which should be easy enough.  Toss the old one and enjoy the clean air!

    Now that you’ve finished the job, keep a few things in mind for maximum efficiency and safety.  No one wants a poorly-performing air conditioner!

    • AC filters are scored.  By that, we mean an efficiency score from 1 to 16.  Higher scores mean better filtration (and therefore better filters).
    • Replace the filter often.  Experts recommend to keep the clean air moving by swapping out the old filters once a month.  At the very least, change them every 4 months.
    • Keep costs down.  If you can’t change the filter monthly, that’s okay.  But remember that doing so will cut down on your energy costs.  That’s definitely a reason to keep up with it!

    Now that you and Bryan know the right way to change an AC filter, don’t let us catch you poking a pizza box to death and sticking it in front of your air vent!  There is a right and a wrong way to do everything; do it the right way!

    For more tips about filters, watch this video tutorial about changing a furnace filter.

  2. How Not To Winterize Your Home

    How to Winterize Your Home

    Um, Bryan?  What exactly do you hope to accomplish by putting a heating unit in front of an outdoor faucet?  That’s a head-scratcher.  Well, as usual, we’ll set you (and the readers) straight with some home improvement tips for winterizing your house.

    1. Reverse Your Fans.  Many of us have ceiling fans throughout our homes.  While the common thought is that fans only cool the house, we often don’t consider that fact that they can also keep it warm.  A cool fan always turns counterclockwise, did you know that?  Change the direction to clockwise and the old adage of “Warm air rises, cold air sinks” gets a reality check.  Clockwise blade motion will pull the warm air downward to keep you comfortable and reduce the heating bill.
    2. Wrap Your Pipes.  Freezing weather may cause pipes to burst, which can be a pain.  Instead of sticking a heater at the end of that outdoor faucet, check and make sure the water source connected to a hose is turned off for the season.  Wrap any non-insulated pipes with fiberglass insulation or rubber sleeves.  As an added precaution, you may also consider wrapping pipes with heating tape, which will release heat and prevent freezing.
    3. Inspect the Chimney.  While you don’t necessarily have to clean it yearly, your chimney should at least have an annual checkup.  After all, we tend to use our fireplaces a great deal during the winter.  Contact a chimney sweep and have them do a basic inspection, which will check for more easily-seen issues, i.e. residue buildup or items that shouldn’t have gotten in to begin with.  Animals have a tendency to build nests in there.  Nothing should interfere with the functionality of either the fireplace or chimney, as this creates safety and health hazards. Also, you might consider skipping this step with a direct vent gas fireplace.
    4. Put Up Storm Doors and Windows.  These items add extra weather protection to your home and keep that expensive heat inside where it belongs!  These are stronger and heavier to keep the cold out.  Of course, they do come with a price tag, so if it’s not worth the investment, at least get some window insulation.  The insulation is basically sticky plastic sheeting to put on the inside surface of the windows to block out any air drafts.
    5. Check the Furnace.  When you fire up the furnace for the first time during the season, it will most definitely stink.  A properly working furnace won’t keep the smoky stench for long, though.  It’s wise to make sure everything is working properly by having the furnace cleaned each year.  In conjunction with this, you should check the furnace filter monthly.  Doing so will result in better airflow, keep your furnace cleaner, and reduce the chance of fire.
    6. Clean the Gutters.  The gutters around the outside of your home are meant to drain water.  However, lots of other gunk accumulates in them.  Leaves, dirt and other organic buildup take up residence and impede water drainage.  This is problematic in the winter months due to the amount of rain and snow fall that Pittsburgh receives.  Improperly draining and aligned gutters, pipes and downspouts will sometimes leak near your foundation and into your home, causing water damage.  Grab a ladder and clean those gutters out for winter.
    7. Eliminate Door Drafts.  The doors in our homes sometimes leak in air at the bottom.  An easy solution for this is to get what is called a draft snake—or make one!  Roll up a towel and put it at the bottom of the door or fill strips of fabric with sand and lay it down for a tight seal.
    8. Caulk.  Holes or leaky wall corners drain the heat out of your home.  Find these spots and seal them with caulking material.  You’ll save 5-30% of your energy this way!
    9. Increase Insulation.  While your attic and other areas in the home may already have some insulation, it never hurts to add to it.  It’s recommended that attics have at least 12 –inch thick insulation.
    10. Dress Warmly.  Yes, sometimes you just have to give in and put on that hoodie.  This is definitely the way to go if the goal is to reduce heating costs.  Wearing sweaters and sweatshirts inside can warm your body 2-4 degrees at no cost.

    There are several easy ways to winterize your home.  Don’t be like Bryan and take shortcuts; you’ll regret it later.  Take these steps early and you’ll be set for the winter season!

  3. How Not to Hang a Picture Frame

    How to Correctly Hang a Frame

    Oh, Bryan.  Did you choose the wrong spot to hammer that many times?  Super glue?  Really?  Oh, boy.  It looks like Bryan needs some tips on how to hang a picture frame, and you could benefit too!  Don’t make the same mistakes he did!  Follow these steps and you’ll have some beautiful wall art to admire in no time.

    • Measure the Wall.  Always know where you want your piece to hang ahead of time, and measure that space.  It is usually ideal in terms of viewing pleasure to hang picture frames at eye level, though that’s up to you.  If you want to follow this rule of thumb, note that the average eye height is 57”.  Measure from the ground up, keeping the tape as vertical as possible.  When you reach the desired height, make a light pencil mark on the wall to reference where the screw or nail will go.  Your picture will eventually hang centered from this point.
    • Measure the Frame.  Assuming that you want pictures to hang straight on the wall, it’s a good idea to measure the picture itself.  Take your measuring tape or ruler and measure down the piece.  Whatever that measurement is, divide it by 2 and that will give you your center point (if the picture measures 20”from top to bottom, for instance, your center point is 10” and the picture should hang from that spot).
    • Measure from the Top to the Wire.  Take your tape and measure from the top of the picture frame to the wire that is already attached to the back of the frame.  This wire will hold the piece onto the nail you put on the wall.  Take note of how many inches this difference is, as it affects your next step.
    • Measure from the Original Wall Mark.  How many inches was the difference between the picture top and wire in the previous step?  Whatever that number is, go back to your original pencil mark on the wall and measure from the mark up or down that many inches.  We say up or down because you may find that you wish to adjust the height (Example: you choose the standard 57” for the hanging position and realize that the picture will drop to 55” when hung.  You’d rather have it higher, so measure up).  Make another light mark on the wall where that measurement hits if you would like, again keeping the tape vertical.  This will tell you where the picture will sit when it is hanging from the wire.
    • Drill, Drill, Drill.  Get out your drill or hammer and put the screw or nail in the wall.  Your target height with the pencil mark is exactly where the screw should go.  Remember that this is just where the wire will hang from and that your picture should drop down a few inches.
    • Make Adjustments.  Now that your piece is on the wall, if you find that it tilts slightly, adjust it for perfect balance.  No one likes crooked pictures on the wall!

    Now you know how to hang a frame correctly.  Additional steps may be needed if other hanging devices are to be used, but this can be done fairly simply.  Don’t be like Bryan and muck up your walls with unneeded nail marks, and NEVER put glue on the wall (it’ll ruin the paint).  Follow the guide and display your pictures proudly!

  4. How Not To Paint a Wall (Video)


    How to Paint a Garage Wall

    There is a right and a wrong way to do everything.  In the video, Bryan shows us his interpretation of how to paint a garage wall.  Bryan seems to have graduated from either the Jackson Pollack modern art school of splatter painting, or just the school of lazyiness.  In any case, as usual, he’s wrong (not that anyone’s insulting modern art, here).  Let’s break down the right way to paint that garage.

    1.  Clean out the garage.  The last thing you want after completing a paintjob is to find that there are cat hairs or bits of dust stuck in the paint you just put on the wall.  Dust around a bit first and even wipe down the walls with a damp cloth if needed to make sure your surface is ready for paint.

    2.  Protect the garage floor.  An easy way to protect your beautiful concrete while doing some interior painting is to grab some old sheets or lightweight plastic matting and line the floor with it.  This will be particularly helpful if you accidentally get paint on your shoes and track it around.  If you’ll be doing any trim work, tape off the tops of the trim around the floor or windows with some painter’s tape.  Also move any furniture out of the way.  You may also consider changing into some old overalls now, and even get out a face mask depending on the paint and/or your sensitivity level.

    3.  Get supplies ready.  Now it’s time to grab those brushes, rollers and paint that you so lovingly set aside when you bought them.  Pour your paint into the paint tray, unwrap and moisten your rollers (with water or thinner) and grab those brushes.  You might have both wall brushes and trim brushes for those delicate areas.

    4. Begin painting.  Bring all of your materials into the garage, and begin your task.  It’s important to note that painting with a roller usually begins with upward strokes to avoid dripping. Beyond this, move into an up-and-down M or N-shape to begin coating the wall.  To fill in the gaps made within the M-shape, you’ll eventually incorporate crosswise strokes.  As the paint spreads across your surface, lighter strokes will be used to move the paint around.

    5.  Incorporate brush work.  Eventually you will run into a corner or area close to the wall’s trim.  When cutting in at a corner, you’ll want to get a brush out and begin painting with it for a neater job.  At a corner, hold your brush like a pencil and begin by making a few short strokes away from the corner to begin coating the area.  Once you’ve done this, smooth out the surfaces with a longer upward stroke.

    While completing your task, try not to go too quickly in your strokes, as paint is likely to cover the wall in more of a spray effect rather than coat it.  Take care to paint 3-square-foot areas at a time and take your time.  Try not to overcoat your rollers when dipping them into the pan, and let excess paint drip back into the pan when dipping brushes to keep from dripping all over the room.

    When you’ve finished, be sure to clean up all supplies and dispose of any materials safely.  If you know another paint project is around the corner, consider saving your roller for another use by cleaning it off and wrapping it tightly in a plastic bag.  Painting a garage interior isn’t very difficult, but it does take time and patience.  Follow these steps and the garage will look beautiful in no time!

  5. How Not To Find A Stud In Drywall (Video)

    There are a few great ways to find a stud, but probing drywall with the blunt side of a hammer like Bryan shows us in the video is not one of them. Follow these tips for less clean up and fewer angry spouses.

    Finding a Stud without Tools
    Frames can usually be found in two places: corners and outlets. Bryan should have started at one end of the garage because it can be assumed that a frame is located at each corner. Measure out from that joint in 16 inch installments to mark each stud that is hiding behind the drywall. Those 16 inches are not an arbitrary distance. We use that distance because most American homes use 16-inch spaces during construction. Like every rule, there are exceptions. Some older homes have 24-inch gaps so it is essential to determine the spacing before ever reaching for a hammer or drill.

    Studs can also be found to the right or left of outlets. Electricians prefer to mount outlets and switches on studs for stability. The challenge is determining which side. To find approximately where the stud is located, use the tried and true knocking test for drywall.

    Start where you assume a stud to be—either 16 inches from a corner or directly next to an outlet. Knock gently on the drywall and listen for a change in tone. The space between studs has a hollow, drum-like sound. Move from side to side until that sound becomes more solid. Compare the difference between knocking on a cupboard door and knocking on a sturdy kitchen table. We’re looking for the table’s solid thud sound.

    Tools for Finding a Stud
    Electric stud finders take some guess work out of the search, but it’s still not automated. For $10-70, an electric tool locates each side of the stud and it is your responsibility to find the middle. Just mark the two edges with a pencil and aim the nail or screw for the center.

    Another popular tool is a magnetic stud finder, which is cheaper ($3-10) and locates the center every time. The only requirement is a larger range of motion. With an electric device, the stud is found through a surge in capacitance, or static electricity from the stud so any part of it will trigger the sensors. Magnetic devices search for drywall nails used during construction. Drywall nails are not placed the entire length of the frame so you must slide the tool both vertically and horizontally. But once the magnet locates nails, you can be certain that the center of the stud is right there with them.

    Final Tips
    If you locate a stud but miss it with the nail or screw, try to use the same hole before creating a new one. Simply angle the nail in either direction and gently tap until you find it. That will save your walls from unneeded holes and make you appear much smarter than our friend Bryan.

    Happy hunting!

  6. Fall Cleaning Tips for Rugs

    Fall is here, and before we know it winter will be too. As the change in season causes the climate to transition away from the hot, humid days of summer, and prepares us for the cold days of winter, we are reminded that we need to do some fall cleaning.

    Carpet and rugs collect everything–from crumbs to pet dander to dust. If left unclean all winter, they can become a more serious problem as spring rolls around. This is the time to prep the house and ensure that we get rid of all the dirt and bacteria that lead to mold. No one wants to be locked away until April with a rug that reeks.

    Professionals should be called for serious carpet cleaning, but most of us can handle the rugs ourselves in just a few minutes. Here are some tips on fall rug care to ensure a clean winter and healthy spring.

    Rug Cleaning 15-Minute Fix

    Let’s separate floor coverings into three categories: rare use, common use and heavy use.

    Rare Use. Rugs that don’t receive much foot traffic only need a good vacuum and shake. Remove any furniture that is on the rug and give it a visual inspection for problem areas. A standard vacuum will usually do and a good steam clean may be required every 3-4 years.

    If this process takes longer than it should, remember that prevention is easier than a cure. It might be time to ask rugrats to walk around in socks or slippers instead of school shoes.

    Common Use. A good shake is probably the best place to start, and don’t be afraid to release stress on it. You can get a small plank of wood or a broomstick and give the rug a good beating. This should only be performed outside, preferably on a breezy day. But be sure the breeze isn’t going straight into your neighbor’s open dining room window!

    Simply hang the rug over a balcony or veranda and beat the dust off the rug. The neighbors may think you are a bit savage but the results will please you and the workout is worth it as well!

    Heavy Use. Hallway rugs, rugs under dining tables and in kitchen areas end up being the most worn out and stained. The bristles of the fabric get flattened in certain areas, and the rugs end up looking tired and used. Calling out the professionals for a good steam clean is the most desirable option, however DIY results can be achieved using some simple methods.

    Depending on the size of the rug a good ol’ scrub and rinse can bring about desired results and breathe new life into those old rugs. Soap with warm water and a sturdy brush is all you need. Don’t be shy!

    Try to get the whole rug done in one sitting and keep it damp, otherwise the dirt will dry back into the rug. Once done give the rug a good rinse and hang it up to dry. If there are still some lingering smells, use baking soda to eliminate odors on rugs, just add some to the vacuum bag and hover over the rug.

    Last Bit on Spills and Stains

    Rugs will never be able to escape spots and spills, and these stains can be very difficult to remove and may need a tougher detergent. It is best to tend to spills as soon as they occur by blotting or scraping. Once the spill has been removed, the carpet should be dried as quickly as possible. That’s why it is best to take care of these projects in the fall so wet rugs don’t look like ice sculptures or holiday decorations.

    This is a guest post from Jonathan Azevedo at AreaRugs.com. 

  7. How to Use Autumn to Prepare Your Lawn for Spring

    green grass with picket fence

    The first official day of fall was the autumn equinox on September 22nd. That means it’s already time to begin preparing for Halloween, Thanksgiving and winter. Part of the seasonal preparation for homeowners includes yard work.

    I know it’s not fair! Why can’t it all be about jack-o’-lanterns and holiday wreaths?  At least this 15-Minute Fix will help you understand and prepare for all of the season’s lawn care requirements in just a few quick minutes.

    Although your yard does not have many signs of life on the surface during the winter, roots grow year-round. The winter is actually a vital time for your lawn’s long term health because it is during this time that root networks prepare for new blades in the spring. So, the best way to ensure a full, beautiful yard in 2013 is to put in some time in 2012.

    Rule of 2s For Fall Preparation

    The Ohio Nursery and Gardening Association recommends two lengths to remember while getting ready for winter: two weeks and two inches. They say that you can retire the lawn mower for the season when two weeks pass without noticeable growth. At that point, make sure that the grass length is about two inches in height. Less than two inches overexposes the roots and more than three inches can cause fungus.

    For that reason, it is also important to rake the yard before the first snow. A layer of leaves has the same effect as four inches of grass. Oxygen and sunlight can’t get through and mold forms. It is an unpleasant surprise in the spring to find bare soil and the rotten remains where your lawn used to be. That can all be avoided by putting the rake to work in this autumn.

    Fertilize for Winter (and Next Spring)

    The turfgrass staff at PSU says that fertilizing in the fall is even more beneficial than waiting for the spring showers. It’s so important, in fact, that they recommend two applications. The first round in late September calls for a fertilizer that is high in nitrogen, available at any lawn care store. Nitrogen levels in soil are influenced by temperature, moisture and pH balance, meaning that irregular winters lead to slow springs. Nitrogen fertilizers ensure that the nutrients are available for grass that has been hibernating through the winter.

    The second application should be applied a month later, near the end of November. Choose a winter variety of fertilizer that is high in phosphorus. It is good to space the two rounds by one month because too much fertilizer in a short period can burn the grass. Quantity and frequency depends on grass type and climate, so it is always smart to double-check with local gardening retailers.

    All of this labor is especially necessary if you plan to sell your home soon. Brown grass certainly hurts curb appeal. For more on that topic, see Kevin’s post called Selling Your Home in the Fall. And don’t forget to visit us next week for another 15-Minute Fix article.

  8. 15-Minute Fall Cleaning

    Change in season is always bittersweet. This month we have to say goodbye to summer sun, but are able to welcome fall foliage. It is time for warm days, cool nights, touch-football games and weekend tailgating. There is a reason that everyone loves this time of year!

    But it can’t all be sweet. Fall is also when homeowners prepare their house for winter. In honor of those responsibilities, we would like to introduce a new series on Heartland Today called “15-Minute Fix.” Each article outlines a chore that can be accomplished in 15 minutes, breaking seasonal projects into manageable portions because we understand that there are not enough daylight hours to dedicate an entire weekend to house work.  Hopefully these guides help you accomplish your to-do list while still dedicating time to what really matters.

    For inspiration, we scoured the Internet for topics to address in weekly “15-Minute Fix” articles and found some great resources along the way. Ashley Hackshaw offers a great all-encompassing cleaning checklist. It’s a nice pdf that tackles each area of the house and includes little boxes to mark progress if you print the page.

    There is another check-as-you-go list at RealSimple.com that separates chores into indoor and outdoor projects. A click adds a check mark so this one might be best for your tablet. There is even a button at the top to save progress because no one can conquer this thing from start to finish (which is why we are are breaking it into pieces for you).

    We’re really excited to get started and hope that you are, too. It should be a great opportunity to share lots of useful information among each other. On that note, if there is anything that you would like us to address, let us know on Twitter: @heartlandhomes

    Lastly, you should know that this is not the first time we’ve provided how-to articles and informational videos. If you are anxious to get started before our first post next week, visit some of our past blog posts for DIY tips.

  9. How-To Series: How-To Clean Your Gutters

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    While it’s a job many of us would love to ignore, and many of us do, gutter cleaning is an important twice-a-year ritual all homeowners should do. When clogged gutters overflow, they can cause water to come into the house. They can also get so heavy that they’ll pull the gutters loose and rot the trim and siding. If you have a lot of trees around your house, it’s a good idea to clean your gutters more frequent, even as much as once every season.

    There are many ways to clean your gutters – You can find inventions like tongs on an extension pole, or shop vacuums with a gutter nozzle. But most methods eventually involve getting on a ladder.

    To clean your gutters yourself, wear gloves and safety glasses. Make sure your ladder is well-footed at all times. Scoop the debris into a garbage bag with a garden trowel, then rinse toward the downspout with your hose and scrub it clean.

  10. Interior Paint Colors: Choosing the trim paint and trim colors

    Today, Dee Schlotter, the National Color Brand Manager for PPG paints, discusses choosing trim colors when choosing paint color for the interior of your new home. Guess what? No one’s forcing you to pick white!

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    How important is trim color?

    Trim colors very important, people tend to always default to white or off-white. It depends on what color your wall color is for, what color your trim should be. So the darker your wall color, the darker your trim color should be.

    The great thing about PPG Pittsburgh Paints is we give ideas for your trim color! So that whenever you’re choosing the paint color for the wall, in our 5 color chip, there’s always a trim color for you to pick as well. The creamer whites look better with this type of white that they have here. It’s a little bit of a creamer, yellower white. It just transitions better and makes the room warmer.

    The second you put like an off white or just plain white trim, because you think trim should always be just plain white, it can look really unfinished and too much of a contrast. So you want that nice contrast, a creamer white for your trim.

    What about the sheen of a paint?

    For trim, and doors, cabinets, bathroom walls sometimes people still want to go to the satin or semi- gloss, and you can go all the way to a full gloss. But just know that a full gloss is going to give you a lot of shadows and pick up a lot of light.

    A flat obviously deflects light. Now, in new homes you don’t have to worry about the drywall job being not good. We tend to recommend true flats for older homes that might have some imperfections in the wall. The second you put a flat in there it takes all those imperfections away. The higher the sheen the more you see the finish, so we recommend still for walls it should be a flat or an eggshell, especially for a new home it should be an eggshell finish.

    Our Manor Hall finishes are our best paint of all. We use the Speedhide (paint type) in the new homes for Heartland. If you want to repaint, Manor Hall Eggshell is fantastic. It’s very scrub-able. I use it in my kitchen, where you’re able to scrub off spaghetti sauce, or anything off the wall and it doesn’t come off in the paint. The important part is that when you’re using a flat or an eggshell you get a really elegant finish on the wall. People used to think that in order to scrub the paint you had to go up in sheen, like a semi-gloss or a gloss. People still use gloss in their bathrooms and you don’t need to do that anymore. The hundred-percent acrylic resins that are out there and the eggshell and flat finishes have that ceramic scrub-able finish so you don’t need to use a high gloss.

    It’s always important to change the sheen from your walls to trim. Like you don’t want to use flat on your trim, it just doesn’t look good. If you have beautiful trim and you want to highlight it you absolutely want to increase the sheen to a semi- gloss, satin semi-gloss , or glass and keep the walls of flat or and eggshell. And then you get a beautiful transition and you get a little bit of depth and dimension to the whole wall.

    Like the Pinecrest model home shown? See more new homes in Pine Township!

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