5 Basics for Measuring Baking Ingredients

Baking Ingredients

When it comes to creating the perfect meal, it is imperative that you measure your ingredients correctly. Even when you’re just experimenting in the kitchen, finding the right amount of any ingredient is critical for creating a delicious end-product. There are many different options for tools to help you measure foods and spices. Here are five basic ways to measure common baking ingredients, including how to properly use tools such as cups, spoons and scales.

1. Measuring Cups

If you have a kitchen and you do any sort of cooking in it, then you probably already have a set of measuring cups on hand. There are a couple of different types of measuring cups available. Some are designed for measuring dry ingredients while others are designed specifically for measuring liquids. Dry measuring cups often come in nested sets that range in size from 1/4 cup to 1 cup. Liquid measuring cups typically come in a wider range of sizes with more precise readings. They may have notches located somewhere on the cup that indicate an amount in cups or by ounces.

An accurate measure of dry ingredients meets the rim of the dry measuring cup. You can usually take your finger and run it across the top of the cup to push off any excess ingredients. Make sure you do this away from your bowl or pot where you are combining the ingredients in order to avoid accidentally adding too much of the ingredient. Whether or not you need to pack the ingredient into the cup depends on the ingredient. Brown sugar, for example, should be packed down into the cup. Ingredients that are bulky, such as oats, coconut or shredded cheese, do not need to be packed down. Packing down these softer ingredients can damage them and ultimately create undesired results in your cooking.

Accurately measuring liquid ingredients usually just involves filling the liquid measuring cup to the indicated line. Use a clean, dry measuring cup before pouring the liquid in. If you are measuring a sticky ingredient, such as molasses, syrup or honey, you can lightly coat the measuring cup with vegetable or olive oil to help it slide out more easily.

2. Measuring Spoons

Teaspoons

Measuring spoons are another necessary tool to have stocked in your kitchen. Similar to dry measuring cups, most measuring spoons come in a nested set that ranges from 1/8 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon. Measuring spoons can be used for small amounts of dry or liquid ingredients.

If you can, it is useful to have two sets on hand, one for measuring dry ingredients and one for liquids.

3. Measuring Scales

Kitchen scales can be used for a wide variety of dry ingredients. If your recipe calls for an ingredient by weight, then a kitchen scale will come in handy. Kitchen scales are usually able to measure very light ingredients, which is particularly useful when measuring out portions of meat or chocolate. If you are more comfortable measuring out dry ingredients by weight rather than volume, then a scale is likely to be an asset in your kitchen.

When using the kitchen scale, be sure to zero the scale with any additional container you will be using already set on it. For example, if you are using a measuring cup to hold the ingredients that you plan on measuring on the scale, be sure that you calibrate the scale so that it does not measure the weight of the cup and the ingredients, but only the ingredients.

4. Unusual Ingredients

Some ingredients will simply not sit well in a measuring cup or spoon. At the same time, they are probably not suitable for measurement by weight. These are items that might not necessarily fall into either a liquid or dry ingredient category, or perhaps they are a chopped ingredient that sits awkwardly in a cup.

For ingredients with difficult or abnormal consistencies, such as butter, scoop it in the cup, pack it down and level it off, then add it to your ingredients. For chopped ingredients, chop them as best as you can and measure it out as directed. You do not necessarily need to level off these types of ingredients; rounding is usually just fine. For eggs, remember to crack them into a separate bowl to check for shell pieces before adding them to the rest of the ingredients.

5. Unusual Measurements

Sometimes a recipe has an unusual phrase that is not an exact measurement. If you have ever run across a pinch of this or a dash of that, you may have wondered how much it is in exact measurements. Believe it or not, a pinch and a dash are two different measurements. Here are some unusual measurements that you may come across with some of your recipes:

Dash of salt
  • Dash

    A little over 1/16 of a teaspoon for dry ingredients. If you are using a dash for liquid ingredients, use about three drops.

  • Jigger

    For dry ingredients, approximately three tablespoons. When measuring liquids, it equates to approximately 1.5 fluid ounces, or your standard shot glass.

  • Heaping

    A scoop that heaps up and over the edges of the cup or spoon. There is no need to level off ingredients that require a heaping.

  • Pinch

    An amount that you can pinch between your thumb and finger. It is about 1/16 of a teaspoon, but slightly less than a dash.

  • Scant

    This is a term that means to use slightly less than the specified measurement.

Additional Tips

Accurate measurements are important for the outcome of your recipe. The best way to learn how to accurately measure ingredients is to practice. Over time, you are more likely to become familiar with small measurements, saving you a lot of time during preparation.

You might also consider having two sets of each type of measuring device so that you have something to use with dry ingredients and something to use for liquids without having to clean and dry in between.

Keep in mind that fluid ounces measured in a liquid measuring cup and ounces measured on a kitchen scale are not the same thing. Fluid ounces measure volume while ounces are a measurement of weight. Once you have ingredient measuring down, you’ll quickly gain the confidence to create delicious meals.

9 Tips for Using a Chainsaw

Chainsaw Tips

Consumers, construction workers, and landscapers alike are realizing the benefits of owning a chainsaw. From tackling large tree-cutting jobs to home-improvement projects, there are many uses and benefits to owning this piece of equipment. Regardless of what type of home project you’re using it for, it’s important to understand how to use this powerful tool correctly and safely from the start. The following are nine helpful tips for using a chainsaw safely and effectively:

1. Read the Instructions

As with any new machinery you purchase, you should read the instruction manual completely and thoroughly to understand the specific functions, components, and modes of the product before you begin using it. While the basic operations of all chainsaws are essentially similar, there can be variations. If you’ve owned a chainsaw in the past, don’t assume that the one you’ve just purchased will operate in the exact same way. Again, reading the instruction manual that comes with the product is the only way to determine what the product can do. This should absolutely be done before using the product for the first time.

2. Take a Class

Because a chainsaw is a powerful piece of equipment–more so than most over-the-counter machinery sold today–having some initial in-person instruction as to its functions and operation can help you acclimate to the product more quickly. Many retailers offer one-on-one tutorials or even classes in properly using chainsaws when you purchase the equipment from them. It’s important to take advantage of these tutorials or classes if you can. Indeed, fully understanding how to use a chainsaw requires a bit of a learning curve–you need to get used to the nuances of holding the equipment and cutting through wood or other materials. In short, the more you correctly handle the equipment, the better you’ll get.

3. Pay Attention to Safety

Because chainsaws cut through things at a rapid speed, it is inevitable that they produce a lot of debris. As such, safety measures should be taken, including wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), such as goggles. Other PPE to consider, particularly if you’re using a chainsaw to cut down trees, are helmets and “chainsaw chaps”. Chainsaw chaps are made of several layers of Kevlar beneath a nylon outer shell to protect against both debris and potential accidental “kickback” from the chainsaw. Finally, ensuring that the chainsaw is not operated within close proximity to people or pets should be a standard safety measure.

4. Use a Work Station

Chainsaw

Setting up a work station goes hand in hand with tip number 3–that is, paying particular attention to safety–and is especially important when you’re working with lumber or other pre-fabricated construction materials. By giving yourself the proper radius to work, you’ll keep yourself and people around you safe from flying debris and potential accidents. A work station also provides a controlled space to put the chainsaw down safely as well as a place to hold the lumber or other materials that you’re cutting through. This step may seem simple or obvious, but it is often overlooked.

5. Know the Risks

If you’re planning on going into the woods and cutting trees with your chainsaw, knowing your surroundings and the trajectory that the tree will fall is paramount to both your safety and a successful operation. Just as setting up a work station is key to creating a safe environment for chainsaw use, so is ensuring the environmental safety of a specific situation when you’ll be using the machinery out in the woods. You should ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is there an escape route to take when the tree falls?
  • Is there a clear path for the tree to fall?
  • If the tree goes in an unintended direction, what would be the consequence?
  • Are there any other people or animals that could potentially be harmed by the falling tree?

6. Double-Check Before You Begin

Before starting up your chainsaw, make sure that everything is in working order to get the job done safely and effectively. A quick check of the controls, handles, bar, and chain sharpness and tension will help mitigate potential malfunctions. In addition, it’s important to make sure that the gas and oil reservoirs are properly filled before beginning a project. Aside from the obvious frustration of running out of oil mid-way through a job, this can also cause friction and heat that can seriously damage the chainsaw.

7. Startup and Operation

You should always start a chainsaw while it’s on a flat surface, especially if you are a first-time user of the machine. This protocol ensures the safest startup method for you and anyone around you. Know that it’s still important to consult the instruction manual, professionals, or both before trying this for yourself. Before you start your chainsaw, always make sure that the chain brake is engaged, that the choke is closed, and that the start switch is in the “on” position.

8. Proper Stance and Form

Often overlooked, a key aspect of operating a chainsaw effectively is proper body stance and form, which translates to better overall handling. For instance, no matter what you’re using a chainsaw for, it’s important to maintain good footing, to watch for tripping hazards, and to keep a good balance by not overreaching with the saw. It’s also important to employ common sense measures. For instance, know that you should never run with the chainsaw, even if it is off. Finally, when operating this piece of equipment, remember to keep your hand (including your thumb) firmly around the front handle to maximize performance.

9. Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Last, but not least, consider what you’re going to do with your chainsaw when it’s not in use. Storing the machinery safely and securely–away from curious children, for instance–not only brings peace of mind, but it’s the responsible thing to do. Keeping your chainsaw in an industrial storage locker or similar container will also protect it from dust, dirt, and other environmental conditions that could cause damage. This final tip, combined with the previous eight, will keep your chainsaw safe and operating to its fullest potential.

9 Pool Safety Tips to Keep Your Family Safe This Summer

Safe swimming

Swimming in a pool can be lots of fun for family members of all ages, but if you’re not careful, this recreational body of water can turn deadly. Between 2005 and 2010 there were more than 3,500 accidental drownings that were non-boating related. One in five of these victims were children under the age of 15, mostly in the age range of one to four years old. 80% of these individuals were male and most of them died in home swimming pools. Don’t let this happen to your loved ones. Be proactive and make your backyard a safe oasis to relax and swim. You can create a safer environment by making sure your pool is a danger-free zone and all swimmers are aware of safety rules. Here are nine pool safety tips to keep your family safe around the water:

1. Surround Your Pool With a Fence

Install a fence that’s at least four feet high around the outside of your swimming pool and spa. Some municipalities require homeowners to have fences around their pools, so be sure that you are aware of your local laws. If you are installing a new pool, check with your local planning and zoning authorities to find out the rules in your area.

Don’t think that a fence will ruin the look of your yard, though. Fences can be attractive and add to the ambiance. You can choose from many stylish options, including:

  • Wrought iron painted in a variety of colors
  • Wooden pickets for a homey look
  • Chain link in an array of hues
  • Block or brick walls

2. Have an Automatic Closer on Your Gate

Even if you have a fence, it won’t be truly safe unless you make sure the gate automatically clasps. Trying to remember to do this yourself or relying on others to close the gate can lead to trouble, so install an automatic closing device that self-latches. The gate should open outwards for optimum safety.

3. Install an Alarm System

Alarm systems are available for your backyard pool to add another layer of safekeeping. When an object that is 15 pounds or heavier breaks the surface of the water, an alarm blares, alerting homeowners and others that someone or something has entered the pool. You might also want to consider a gate alarm as well, which provides an extra layer of protection. More sophisticated alarm systems include video surveillance, which might better suit your needs. Some states require alarms to be installed for in-ground and above-ground pools, so check this out with your local municipality.

4. Keep Drains and Other Openings Covered

Accidental drowning is not the only danger involved in swimming pools. Children can become trapped by drain suction if the openings aren’t properly covered. There are horror stories of children who have died after being pulled under by such immense suction power that adults couldn’t even break them free. Make sure your grate covers are properly sized so they fit snugly.

5. Keep Chlorine and Other Pool Chemicals Locked Up

The chemicals used to keep your pool water sparking clear can be dangerous if they fall into the wrong hands. Chlorine, muriatic acid, and other chemicals that are added to pool water to keep germs from spreading can be lethal if improperly handled. These chemicals can cause injuries to eyes, skin, and lungs. In 2012, nearly 5,000 individuals were treated for pool-chemical related injuries in emergency rooms in the United States. Some pool chemical safety tips include:

  • Use goggles and/or masks when handling swimming pool chemicals
  • Read directions on labels and follow directions carefully
  • Lock up chemicals to protect animals and people from accidental exposure
  • Keep children away from the area when you’re handling chemicals
  • Don’t combine chemicals; use separately and only as directed
  • Add chemicals to pool water, rather than vice versa, or you may get an unpleasant chemical reaction

6. Be Vigilant in Watching Children and Others Around the Pool

There’s a reason public pools hire lifeguards. It is not enough to casually monitor the safety of swimmers, young and old. A responsible adult should have eyes on everyone in the water at all times. This is especially true during parties or barbecues, because if no one is designated as “lifeguard” for a period of time, adults may assume someone else is watching the kids.

Life Preserver

Drownings occur during social gatherings because people are chatting and enjoying themselves and may not notice when someone has gone under the surface of the water. The drowning victim could be a baby, toddler, or even an adult. Even strong swimmers can drown if they fall, become ill, or have too much too drink. This is why it is important to schedule lifeguarding “shifts” between your guests during these social gatherings. It might not be fun, but it could save someone’s life. Vigilance is mandatory!

7. Become Certified in CPR

You and other adults in your family should learn CPR and keep your skills current. There are classes available through places such as the American Red Cross or your local fire department. In a CPR class, you will learn the steps to save children and adults and be able to practice them with classmates and instructors.

Being certified in CPR is not only useful around the pool. This skill is good for any parent to know. CPR can save a life in a number of situations–not just drowning.

8. Enroll Your Children in Swimming Lessons

One great way to ensure the safety of your kids is to teach them to swim. You can find private or public lessons at the YMCA, at public schools, through your city’s parks and recreation departments, or you can hire a certified instructor to teach lessons in your backyard pool. Some of the beginning skills children learn in early lessons include:

  • Kicking
  • Blowing bubbles
  • Playing on the steps
  • Getting their face wet
  • Riding on parent’s shoulders
  • Going underwater
  • Picking up a toy from steps or bottom of pool
  • Back float
  • Pushing off from the wall
  • Prone glide to wall or steps
  • Jumping into the water from the side of the pool

Learning the basics of swimming not only provides children with the skills to protect themselves better in the pool, but also gives them the confidence to remain calm in the face of a pool safety emergency.

9. Make Sure Everyone Knows Pool Rules

Make a list of rules for your backyard swimming pool and teach them to every swimmer who enters. Create a laminated, waterproof poster of these rules and review them with your children regularly. Some examples of ironclad rules and regulations are:

  • No one swims alone
  • No running around the pool
  • No diving off the side
  • Stay away from drain covers
  • No glass containers in fenced area
  • No food in the pool

You can keep everyone free from danger if you plan ahead. Your swimming pool can provide many happy times for your family members, friends, and neighbors if you make sure it’s safe. By being proactive and vigilant, they’ll be protected and you can rest assured that your family is safe.

14 Simple and Effective Home Cleaning Tips

We are well into spring–have you started your spring cleaning yet? Although tidying up your house is probably not as exciting of a spring activity as relaxing outdoors is, you can’t deny that a neat living space looks great and really does improve your mood. Here are some of the top tips for keeping your home clean this spring.


Appliance Care

Clean Kitchen Ice Maker

Instead of putting all of your cleaning off to do in a single day, remember that it’s easier to do small, daily maintenance tasks. By practicing this method of cleaning, you can avoid doing a major cleaning project every week or two–giving you more free time to enjoy the springtime. A good place to start is in the kitchen: try to wipe up spills and clear away stray crumbs as soon as you notice them. Also, make sure that your appliances are cleaned often: remember to wipe down your mixer, blender, ice maker or hot plate right after using to avoid stuck-on grime and streaks.

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How Effective Is a Ceiling Fan at Cooling Your Home?

Fan

Rather than depend solely on your HVAC system to keep you nice and cool during the summer, you may want to start using your ceiling fans more efficiently. While your ceiling fans can’t cool you off by themselves, they can most certainly help your fixed or portable air conditioner work more efficiently and make you at least feel cool without having to set your temperature to a lower setting. Keep reading to discover just how effective and efficient your ceiling fans are at keeping your home cool.

Ceiling Fan

The Importance of Air Circulation

Ceiling fan cooling allows you to set your thermostat four degrees higher than you normally do and still feel just as cool. If you live in an area with an especially temperate climate, you may be able to stay cool and comfortable with just your ceiling fans, allowing you to save money on energy costs. Make sure there’s a fan in every room in the house you’d like to cool, and only have fans running when someone is in the room.

Ceiling fans work most efficiently in rooms with ceilings that are at least eight feet high. The blades should be anywhere from seven to nine feet from the floor and 10 to 12 inches from the ceiling. You’ll also want to install your fans so the blades are no closer than eight inches from the ceiling and 18 inches from the walls.

To keep rooms as cool as possible, get a larger ceiling fan. Fans with a 36- to 44-inch diameter are powerful enough to cool rooms measuring up to 225-square feet. It’s best that you install at least two fans for expansive rooms that stretch more than 18 feet. You can also run a fan with larger blades slower than you can a fan with smaller blades, which is a good idea if you want to cool a room with lots of loose papers and other objects that might blow around.

How Ceiling Fans Work

The way ceiling fans are able to make you feel cooler is they move air over your skin and brush away heat from the boundary layer of your skin, which is the layer of warm air that encases you body at all times. A ceiling fan can work as much as 20 percent more efficiently if it has an Energy Star rating. While such fans may be a bit more expensive than non-rated fans, they’re well worth it in the long run.

Save on Energy

The amount of money you save on energy by using a ceiling fan depends on your climate, the size of your home, the cost of electricity in your specific area, and your basic heating and cooling costs. Some reports state you can reduce the cooling costs in a single room by as much as roughly eight percent simply by properly utilizing your ceiling fan.

The recommended temperature to keep your A/C running at is 78 degrees. This temperature will save you energy and money on cooling costs. If this is too warm for your comfort, a ceiling fan can certainly help cool you down without significantly spiking your energy bill.

Proper Rotation

If you already use your ceiling fan in the summer and think it doesn’t do you much good, your problem may be that you have the blades turning in the wrong direction. You’ll want the blades spinning counterclockwise in the summer and clockwise in the winter. When spinning counterclockwise, the blades push air down, and when spinning clockwise they pull air up. To make things easier, stand beneath your fan while it’s operating. If you can feel a breeze, then the blades are spinning in the correct direction.

Shopping for the Right Ceiling Fan

Ceiling fans are available in all kinds of colors, sizes, designs and prices. You can also find models with and without lights in addition to those that can be operated with a remote control. You might also prefer a model that allows you to alter to speed of the spinning blades.

Before you head out shopping for a new fan, take the measurements of the rooms you want to cool so you can get a fan that’s the perfect size. Just like choosing the right size air conditioner for your home is essential for maximum efficiency, the same is true of your ceiling fan. While you’re considering your options, bear in mind that a more expensive fan is more likely to operate quieter and not have as many mechanical problems when compared with a less expensive fan. In any case, you’ll want to check the noise ratings and possibly listen to your fan and see it in action before you buy.

Ceiling Fan Installation

While you can easily install a ceiling fan on your own, you may need the help of an experienced and trusted professional if you desire to put the fan in a room that doesn’t already have an overhead light fixture. If you want to install the fan in a room with cathedral ceilings, you’ll want to make sure you use a down rod for mounting.

Before you start the installation process, it’s important that you turn off the correct circuit at the breaker box to keep from accidentally shocking yourself. If you want to leave nothing to chance, you can flip the main breaker and cut the power to everything and every room in your home.

While you’re installing the fan according to the manufacturer’s directions, make sure the blades suspended at least seven feet from the floor. You’ll also want to take note of the fan’s position. Even if a person is six feet tall, there’s still a chance a hand can be clipped or bruised when the individual stretches or reaches up while dressing.

Otto Fan

A Fan for All Seasons

In addition to using your fan to keep cool in the summer, you can also use it to stay warmer in the winter. By changing the setting so the blades spin clockwise, you can pull air up into the ceiling to better circulate warm air and keep from having to use your HVAC system more than absolutely necessary. Some studies have found that using a fan in the winter can lower your heating costs by as much as 20 percent.

Try using ceiling and house fans this summer rather than cranking up the air conditioner. In addition to ceiling fans, there are also window fans you can use to pull hot air from your home and keep things at a more comfortable temperature.

4 Tips for Remodeling Your Empty Nest

Redecorating

Transitioning from a full and bustling house to an empty nest can be difficult. Don’t think of it as losing your children once they move out, think of it as you regaining plenty of empty space in your home that you can do anything with. If you do not feel the need to preserve your children’s rooms for their visits, why not create a fun an usable space instead?

There are plenty of remodeling options available to you, and hopefully something inspires you enough to take on the project. Here are four great ideas for how to convert your newly regained space:

Repainting

1. A Guest Suite

A lot of older homes have several bedrooms right next to each other. If your child’s room is adjacent to another spare bedroom, you might consider knocking out the wall and converting the entire space into one big guest suite. A guest suite is not only trendy, but also functional. When your kids (and maybe even grandkids) want to come for a visit they’ll have a comfortable place to stay. This is a good bridging point between redecorating the room completely and preserving the nostalgia of your kid’s bedroom.

If you’re learning toward creating a guest suite, consider a bright yet neutral color for the walls and bedding. You’ll want to choose something that’s inviting and welcoming to your guests.

Remember, this space is more than just a bedroom. You can add a sitting room or an entertainment area for the little ones. You can even add a small refrigerator and microwave, like you’d find in a hotel. It’s all up to you and your budget!

2. A Home Gym

A spare bedroom can easily be converted into an exercise room. With the right paint, equipment and decorative choices, you can create a calorie-burning room of your very own. Start by looking into and pricing exercise equipment. Test out a few options, especially if the room is only big enough for one machine.

Most people make space for a television, which serves multiple purposes. You can watch your favorite shows to distract you from your burning muscles, or you can use it to watch exercise videos. If you buy a few yoga DVDs, for example, you can rotate your routine between the exercise machine and your 30-minute yoga show. Plus, your TV stand can double as a locker. You can store your yoga mat, sneakers and towels in there.

You may want to paint the room an energetic color like a light yellow or green. Sometimes a fresh paint job can completely transform the energy of a room.

3. A Game Room

Edgestar Ultra Low Temp Full Size Stainless Steel Dual Tap Kegerator

What adult doesn’t want a little room to play? From pool tournaments to Bingo nights, you can soon host a game night at your house. Of course, you’ll need to use your space wisely. Try creating a wish list of games you’d like to play in your new space. Keep in mind that the average game table takes up an area of about 3 feet by 5 feet. Plus, some games–such as pool–require additional space for adequate play.

The game tables will likely take center stage, but you should also consider size-appropriate furniture so guests can relax during or in between play. Stools and ottomans make great, space-saving seating options.

Don’t forget a place for cold drinks. A small bar with either a kegerator or a wine refrigerator would make a nice addition to any game room. These appliances are compact enough to fit into a bedroom while not completely dominating the space.

4. A Dad Cave/Mom Cave

Tired of battling your spouse for the remote control to watch your favorite show every weekend? The spare bedroom could solve that problem. Consider converting this room into your own personal space–a private mom or dad cave. Take down your teen’s posters and change the walls to something more your style. A new coat of paint could do the trick, or you might even consider stained wall paneling. Your cave, your rules!

Traditionally, this cave-type room is converted into a sports room, equipped with a flat-screen TV, lots of seating, and a mini bar. If this is your style, go for it! Having a new place for entertainment that is 100% your style can be fun and stress-relieving.

Perhaps you’re less into sports and more into crafting. A bedroom is the perfect size to create an organized sewing and beading station. Or, perhaps you have a couple of grandchildren running around–why not cater this new craft room to their interests?

If you’re more of a book-worm, consider making this spare room into a cozy library. Finally, an organized way to store your hundreds of books! Invest in nice furniture, dark walls, and mood lighting to create the perfect reading room.

Of course, these are just a few ideas. You could remodel the room into a small library with built in bookcases; change it into a hobby room where you can spread out all sorts of odds and ends; or convert the space into a movie room complete with stadium seating and surround sound. You’ve got a lot of options, and what better time than now to turn that room into a fun space for you and your spouse.

8 Dangerous Items in Your Home

House Cleaners

Although most people recognize the dangers of a car accident or a home fire, they often overlook some of the ordinary items in their homes that can also pose a safety risk. The Consumer Product Safety Commission, the organization that regulates recalls, estimates that 33.1 million people are injured each year by household consumer products in the United States. Here are eight common but dangerous items you can find in your home and what to do to minimize their risks.

1. Household Cleaners

Although people use household cleaners everyday, they rarely think about the dangers they pose.

Read the labels of most of the commercial cleaning products in your home, and you’ll quickly notice the list of warnings and dangerous ingredients. Some warnings caution you to avoid contact with the eyes or skin, but that’s not the only danger they pose. In fact, many of these also release toxic pollutants into the air. Using them in an area that isn’t well ventilated can pose serious health hazards. Here are a few common cleaners and the hazardous ingredients they contain:

  • Air fresheners:

    Air fresheners can contain compounds like nitrogen dioxide which do more to pollute your indoor air than to freshen it.

  • Cleaning Container
  • Bleach:

    Anyone who has come into contact with undiluted bleach can attest to its danger. Not only can it cause burns on the skin, it’s also dangerous to inhale in an unventilated area.

  • Toilet Bowl Cleaners:

    Like bleach, most toilet bowl cleaners can cause burns if they come into contact with the skin or eyes.

  • Oven Cleaners:

    There’s a reason that commercial oven cleaners power through caked-on grime. The corrosive alkalis in oven cleaners make quick work of a dirty oven. Unfortunately, they can also do serious damage to your respiratory system if inhaled and to your gastrointestinal tract if ingested.

Even if you banish dangerous household cleaners, you don’t have to give up on a clean house. It’s easy to mix together effective cleaners with less toxic, common household ingredients. With an initial investment in vinegar, baking soda, borax, and liquid soap, you can whip up batches of cleaners whenever you need them. There are also many nontoxic, natural cleaners on the market.

2. Cosmetics

From shampoos to lotions to makeup, most bathrooms are overflowing with cosmetic products. However, many popular cosmetics actually contain harmful ingredients. One common ingredient–specifically, parabens–is a plasticizer. Although parabens may extend the shelf life of cosmetic products, they are linked to reproductive and developmental problems in animals. Read labels carefully and opt for products with short lists of recognizable and natural ingredients.

3. Lead Paint

Lead paint is probably one of the more recognized dangers in the home. With recent attention and educational campaigns, most homeowners are aware of its hazards. Exposure to lead paint can affect the central nervous system, blood, brain, and kidneys of people who are exposed.

Lead paint was commonly used in homes built pre-1978. If you have an older home, have the paint tested. If you notice peeling paint in your older home, don’t tackle the job yourself. Instead, call in professionals experienced in lead paint removal.

Even if you don’t own an older home, you may be exposed to lead paint. Many toys and dishes made in China contain lead paint. In particular, watch for made-in-China products that are red or yellow, colors that are frequently made with lead.

4. Pressed Wood Furniture

From wood paneling to chipboard or particle-board furniture, pressed wood can be found in many homes. Pressed wood is made by gluing many thin layers of wood together to create a stronger, lighter product than solid wood. The glue, however, can pose health hazards. Many pressed wood products use urea-formaldehyde in their construction. Exposure to formaldehyde can cause a host of health ailments ranging from watery or burning eyes to asthma attacks. Because new pressed wood releases more formaldehyde, avoid purchasing any new products containing it.

Dangerous extension cords

5. Mothballs

Mothballs are another dangerous item often found in our homes. Mothballs contain naphthalene, which can actually destroy red blood cells. Although scientists don’t yet know if naphthalene causes cancer in humans, it has been proven to cause cancer in animals. The EPA requires mothballs to come with a warning label cautioning buyers to avoid breathing in their vapors. Trade out your mothballs for cedar chips. Not only do they smell better, they are a far safer alternative.

6. Extension Cords

In and of themselves, new extension cords are not dangerous. However, without proper use and care, they can quickly become hazardous. They are, in fact, a leading cause of house fires. To avoid dangers, check the voltage capacity on any extension cords you use. Just because there is an open spot on the extension cord doesn’t mean that you can plug in all your appliances. Also, be sure to check extension cords frequently to make sure they are not showing any signs of wear. If you notice exposed wires or worn spots in the cord, it’s time to trade it in for a newer model.

7. Prescriptions

Prescription medications can be dangerous to anyone that misuses them. Be sure to always follow your doctor’s orders when it comes to the proper dosing of your medications. If you have small children or pets around your house, you should be extra wary of where you keep these prescriptions. Consider keeping them on the top shelf of your pantry or cabinet. Another option is to invest in child-locks for your cabinet doors, which makes it challenging for little hands to open them and grab what is inside.

8. Gas Space Heaters

Gas space heaters put out a lot of heat quickly, making them a popular purchase. Most are labeled as suitable for outdoor use only. However, people sometimes overlook that and use them inside. In enclosed spaces like a garage or bedroom, gas fumes are extremely dangerous, carrying a risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Be sure to only use gas space heaters outside, and stick to electric space heaters inside your home.

Make your home a safe haven. Weed out as many dangerous household items, like toxic cleaners and mothballs, as you can. Use caution when using things like extension cords. Read labels carefully and look for safer alternatives whenever possible. By eliminating or limiting these eight hazards, you can rest easy knowing that you and your loved ones are safe in your home.

6 Ways to Reduce Yard Work

Yardwork

Everybody loves a manicured yard–fresh with neat green grass and flowerbeds overflowing with blooms. With the growing national focus on water conservation, more people are adding unexpected features to their yards to reduce the amount of growth they need to maintain. For example, some are reducing the size of their lawn by adding ground cover, artificial turf, flower beds or replacing grass with patio space. By adding these features, these people are keeping their yards looking nice while cutting down on the amount of necessary yard work.

No matter how much you simplify your yard, there will always be some yard work to do. However, lessening the amount of time you spend on yard work benefits you and your neighborhood because you will tend to use less water and produce less waste. Employing earth-friendly gardening systems and smart landscaping applications preserves your time and generates limited yard waste while still delivering a great looking yard. Here are six ways that you can reimagine your landscape and enjoy the added perk of reducing yard work.

1. Reduce the Size of Your Lawn

Lawn Mowing

Grass needs an ample supply of fertilizer and water to be vibrant and thick. Add in mowing, trimming and weeding, and maintaining your lush yard becomes quite a lot of work. By decreasing the size of your lawn, you save time, work and money, particularly with the increasing water rates. Some communities even offer homeowners substantial rebates when they trade their lawns for a low-water alternative. Check with your home owner’s associate to see if you would be eligible for a similar rebate.

Shrinking the green area can also solve other problems. You can manage cut-through foot traffic on corner yards by replacing that part of the grass with a border of low-maintenance shrubs, perennials and ornamental grasses. If you space plants close together and mulch areas in between to smother weeds, you can dramatically reduce your chores. Other alternatives to traditional lawns include combinations of paved areas or gravel.

2. Bring in Native Plants

Use plants accustomed to the local soil conditions and climate because those plants are likely to survive without an abundance of fertilizer and water. Nurseries are following this trend by making native species readily available to customers. They also recommend perennial shrubs and flowers so that you will have permanent flower beds without replanting each season. Perennials live for a minimum of two years, but most live much longer than that.

You can also work with your local cooperative extension service for more ideas about climate-appropriate species indigenous to your area. Plants that grow spontaneously in your climate have adapted ways to thrive without the need for humans to care for them. Even if you only use native plants for half of the plants in your yard, that still promises less watering and maintenance overall. The Environmental Protection Agency is another excellent source to investigate. The EPA site offers a handy state-by-state plant selector. These sources can direct you to shade-loving ground cover, hardy ornamental grasses that change with the seasons or species that withstand foot traffic.

3. Plant an Edible Garden

Planting and growing vegetables is easy and cost-effective. Home improvement centers carry various assortments of starter plants and packaged seeds of numerous types of vegetables and herbs. Many people see edible gardening as an enjoyable hobby. The local-food movement and the desire to know where food is coming from are also a good reason to plant an edible garden.

It is a good plan to test your soil before you cultivate vegetables at home, particularly if you reside in a municipal area where lead is a concern. You can also resort to gardening in raised containers, planters or pots, which gives you more control over the chemicals that your plants will be exposed to. Another viable option is using wall-mounted, vertical planters for things like strawberries, beans and tomatoes.

When you plant a garden, utilize the no-till method in which the soil is never disturbed. This method protects the subsoil environment for the benefit of growing healthy plants. You can add compost, peat and organic fertilizer directly to the top of the garden beds. Over time, it becomes incorporated through the watering process and the activity of subsoil organisms.

4. Design an Outdoor Room

More and more people are creating versatile outdoor rooms. Individuals are looking past the typical grill and folding chairs by equipping their open-air gathering spaces with fire pits, water-resistant furniture and entertainment. Retailers offer many options for benches and fire pits for these outdoor rooms. In addition, locally sourced stone is popular for patios and more attractive composites are being produced for deck alternatives.

A simple fountain, pond or man-made brook adds a touch of backyard water elements. Listening to the sounds of flowing water while you are grilling or enjoying a glass of wine with friends in your outdoor space is relaxing and peaceful. Rock gardens typically contain drought-tolerant plants–such as succulents and cacti–and do not require much care. The rocks offer an element that never needs watering while adding a beautiful focal point to your outdoor room.

Cacti

5. Xeriscape Your Yard

Xeriscaping is another method of reducing the amount of grass and sensitive plants that you have to take care of. By completely xeriscaping your yard, you can cut down on your water consumption and time you spend on plant care. Use an abundance of drought-tolerant plants and rocks with an emphasis on your outdoor entertainment area to keep your yard inviting without having a lot of greenery.

Xeriscaping is often recommended for people who live in dry areas where it rarely rains. If done well, xeriscaping can add a modern and minimalist element to your yard and boost your curb appeal. If you are concerned that a xeriscape would not allow you to have any color or flowers in your yard, you actually can. Flowers such as geraniums, purple coneflowers, and butterfly weeds can add plenty of color to your xeriscaped yard while requiring very little maintenance.

6. Follow Sustainable Practices

Nearly all homeowners mulch after mowing and simply deposit the clippings on their lawn instead of bagging them. In fact, you can fertilize less by mulching more with these lawn clippings. This adds nutrients back into the soil, which can reduce your yard’s need for fertilization by as much as 30 percent. When you purchase fertilizer, most people look for environmental friendliness of the ingredients and ease of application. Nothing is more environmentally friendly and natural than spreading the clippings back on the source they came from.

Clover seed is an attractive ground cover and an ideal alternative to grass. It is drought-tolerant, economical, environmentally safe and requires little maintenance. In addition, clovers compete with weeds, do not require frequent mowing and are insect-resistant, making these plants a superb substitute for grass.

When you really want to cut down on your yard work, consider sharing the work with neighborhood children or your family members. Watering with your children can be a fun bonding experience, and the neighborhood teens welcome extra income for spending an hour or so every few weeks mowing or raking. Other approaches to reducing yard work involve lessening lawn fertilizer applications to just a few times annually and mowing less frequently. If you mow only when the grass is about six inches tall, then mow again with it is only one-third of its height, you can help the grass develop a stronger root system.

Yard work can be time consuming. By following these tips to reduce the upkeep, you can save so much more than time without sacrificing a beautiful yard.

8 Tips to Bug-Proof Your Home

Ants

Springtime means budding trees, blooming flowers, soft breezes and, unfortunately, an influx of bugs. Eager to stretch their wings and legs and go in search of a food source, a host of bugs may soon start eyeing your home as a possible new residence. Making sure you bug-proof your house can help keep the bugs outside where they belong. With these eight tips, you can protect your home against unwanted guests.

1. Make Your Surroundings Inhospitable

Like humans, bugs have preferences when it comes to making a new home. In order to discourage them from cohabiting in your space, make your surroundings as inhospitable to them as possible. Spending some time cleaning up both your house and yard provides a first line defense against bugs. Being overly neat and clean around your house and property effectively makes you a rude host to these unwanted visitors.

  • In your yard, dump out any standing water. Stagnant water attracts mosquitoes. In fact, mosquitoes need water to pass through their lifecycle. Within a short time, just a few mosquitoes can lay hundreds of eggs in standing water. These eggs soon hatch into hundreds of new mosquitoes.
  • Mosquitoes aren’t the only insect hoping to take up residence in your yard. Wood piles are cozy and dark, making them ideal homes for a variety of crawling bugs. Be sure to keep piles of wood or debris away from the side of your home.
  • Inside, keep your home clean and tidy. Bugs, like ants, are searching for a food source. It’s easy for crumbs to accumulate on tables, countertops, and on the kitchen floor. A quick wipe-down after meals and frequent sweeping of kitchen and dining room floors can minimize the food trail.
  • It’s just as important to avoid standing water inside as it is outside. A lone mosquito can lay eggs inside your home just as easily as it can in the yard. Cockroaches also need a water supply to survive so drying up potential water sources can discourage them.

2. Watch for Invaders

Cockroach

Ants send scouts to check out a new area before sending in the troops. When you see a lone ant, don’t ignore it. Take care of any initial invaders promptly before they can carry the message back to the rest of the hill. Likewise, keep an eye out for other bugs like cockroaches and crickets that may sneak inside. If you catch them early, it’s much easier to eliminate them from your home before they make it their home too.

3. Guard Your Perimeter

Bugs search for ways into a cozy home. Eliminate the easy entry points. First, seal your doors or install door sweeps to fill in any under-door gaps. Weather stripping isn’t just for winter. Install it for both doors and windows to seal openings. Be sure to check for openings around pipes, vents, garage doors, and windows. Caulk any cracks you find to seal up obvious entry points.

4. Screen Your Windows

When warmer weather comes, many people like to open the windows and let in some fresh air. Make sure that both your windows and doors have good screens so that you’re not letting in more than fresh air. Check existing window screens to be sure they are in good working order. Repair any rips or tears that could let bugs inside. If you have a patio sliding glass door, invest in a sliding screen. Screens keep the fresh air coming in and the flying bugs and other debris out where they belong.

5. Keep it Clean

Food is a beacon to bugs. The pantry is a hotspot for these crawlers, which is why you should be sure to keep dry foods sealed and put away. Plastic or glass storage containers can seal up bug favorites like sugar and cereal. Don’t leave dirty dishes on the counter or in the kitchen sink. Also, avoid leaving overripe fruit out on the counter, which can increase your risk of a sudden infestation of fruit flies.

Be sure to take out the trash promptly as many types of bugs love to burrow into an overflowing trashcan. If you have a lot of food scraps, don’t just toss them in the kitchen trash can. Instead, keep compost and food scraps sealed, and take them out frequently.

Don’t forget about pet food either. Rather than leaving food out all the time, which can quickly become a creepy-crawly smorgasbord, feed your pets more frequently in portions that they can eat in a single setting.

6. Use Safe Chemicals

If, despite all your best efforts at warding your home against insects, you spot a bug or two, don’t despair. You can still get rid of them by using some common household ingredients. Many bugs, like ants, are repelled by strong smells. Reach for the vinegar and spray or wipe down surfaces where you’ve spotted bugs. Ants also do not like cinnamon so sprinkling a line across windowsills or on counters can keep them out.

What about everyone’s favorite home-invading critter, the cockroach? To get rid of pesky roaches, make a cockroach cocktail. Cockroaches love both cocoa and sugar. By mixing either with dichotomous earth or Borax, you can kill any roaches that eat it.

7. Encourage Natural Predators

Cockroach

You can also turn to natural exterminators. By attracting bug predators to your yard, you can help control the bug population. Bats, for example, can eat thousands of mosquitos. They’re also not picky, willing to snack on flies, wasps, and spiders in addition to mosquitoes. To attract bats to your yard, build a bat box and mount it high on a pole.

Bats aren’t the only natural bug predators though. Warblers and swallows also love to eat mosquitos. Put out a birdhouse with some birdseed or nectar to attract them to your yard. To encourage birds to stick around, keep a fresh water source available. Do remember to change it daily or invest in a moving water feature. Birds do not like stagnant water, but mosquitos certainly do.

8. Call in the Pros

When all else fails, you can always call in the exterminators. If your bug situation has gotten out of hand, consulting with a professional can help you get on top of the situation. Exterminators can give you information and options for addressing infestations.

This spring, spend a little time bug-proofing your house. With a few tips and a little preparation, you can discourage bugs from invading your space. By creating a less-than-welcoming environment, you can keep bugs where they belong, outside your home.

8 Easy Ways to Childproof Your Home

Childproofing Your Home

As a new parent, nothing is more important than safeguarding your child. From sleeping arrangements and feeding preferences to nursery setup, there are a million small details that new parents worry about. Childproofing your home so that it’s safe for the baby is chief among them.

Although it may seem like it’ll be months before your child is mobile enough to warrant full-home childproofing, babies go from crawling to walking on their own schedule. It’s a good idea to tackle childproofing long before you think you need it. Here are eight ways to create a safe environment for your child at home.

1. Restrict Access

It’s nearly impossible to childproof your entire home. Some areas, like the kitchen and the bathroom, have items that are essential for every day use, but may also pose potential dangers to small children. Other areas, like stairs, are part of the home’s structure. For these areas, the most effective way to childproof is to restrict access. Here are a few ways to restrict access:

Mom and Baby
  • Use baby gates to block stairs and rooms that are off limits.
  • Buy doorknob covers for rooms you want to keep toddler-free.
  • For kitchen and bathroom cabinets and drawers that contain soaps and small items, invest in cabinet and drawer safety latches.
  • Don’t overlook the toilet; invest in a safety latch designed specifically for toilets.

2. Rearrange Furniture

When it comes to crawling babies, the urge to pull themselves up on the nearest piece of furniture is unavoidable. With wobbly furniture or top-heavy bookcases, this can be quite dangerous. To eliminate the risk of your child pulling over a piece of furniture, move less child-friendly furniture to areas of the home where your child will not be spending a lot of time. Secure bookcases and shelves securely to the wall.

In addition, beware of climbers. Avoid having low furnishings, such as an ottomans or sturdy baskets, which could be used as stepladders for taller furniture. Also, be sure to keep furniture away from tall windows to prevent potential falls.

3. Blunt Hard Edges

For a child just learning to stand and walk, falls are inevitable. There’s simply no way to avoid it. Although you can’t prevent the falls, you can soften the landing. If you have hardwood floors or tile in your main living area, try adding a cushioned area rug where your baby plays. You’ll also want to pad furniture that has sharp edges. Coffee tables and fireplaces are notorious for breaking a child’s tumble. Corner guards, edge guards and padding can help prevent a small tumble from causing serious injury.

4. Keep Medications Out of Reach

Easy Ways to Childproof Your Home

Both medications and household cleaners could seriously harm children. Move medications and cleaners to upper cabinets and keep them locked or latched at all times. Don’t leave medication out on counters or dressers. Even though those surfaces might seem out of reach, climbing children can surprise you with their climbing skills.

5. Keep Track of Small Objects

Be sure to keep small objects put away at all times. Common household items like beads, coins, paperclips, and rubber bands all pose choking hazards to babies and toddlers. While you may keep a close eye on your child, it’s easy for their curious little hands to reach out and grab something without you noticing. And like all curious babies trying to figure out the world around them, that object is likely to go in their mouth at some point. Getting in the habit of putting small items away immediately after use will eliminate potential choking hazards.

6. Guard Against Burns

Kitchens are one of the most dangerous rooms in the house for exploring children. The stove is often involved in kitchen accidents. If at all possible, consider installing a baby gate at the door of the kitchen to keep children safely out of harm’s way while cooking. If that’s not feasible, there are some steps you can take to prevent accidents. First, use the back, harder to reach, burners on the stove. Be sure to keep all pot and pan handles turned in toward the stove rather than out where small hands can grab them. Don’t set hot objects on low counters or tables with a child nearby.

Bathrooms can also be a dangerous place where toddlers could burn themselves. Children can easily reach sink and tub faucets. Invest in anti-scalding devices to help prevent burns. For added protections, turn your water heater down to 120° rather than the standard 140°.

7. Prevent Shocks

Another hazard comes from electrical outlets. Install outlet protectors or covers throughout your home. They’re one of the simplest, cheapest and most effective childproofing products available. When you do need to remove a cover to plug something in, don’t forget to unplug the appliance and put it away as soon as you finish using it. It’s easy for a small child to pull a cord and topple a heavy hair dryer or hot iron.

8. Provide Distraction

While most childproofing involves tangible changes like altering or removing dangerous objects, you can also use distraction to help safeguard your child. For times when you notice a small object that you forgot to put away, distract your child with a song or a toy while you reach for it.

Baby and Mom

In the kitchen, designating one cabinet or drawer as baby friendly can go a long way toward distracting your child away from other locked cabinets. Try filling the cabinet with big pots or bowls and some large plastic spoons. Although you may not always appreciate the percussion or the mess, it’s a surefire to keep your baby entertained while you cook.

Another time when distraction comes in handy is when you find yourself in a decidedly child-unfriendly environment. No matter how carefully you babyproof your own home, your child will inevitably go to other people’s homes. Whether it’s a crowded store with eye-level candy displays or grandma’s knick-knack filled living room, having a few toys tucked in the diaper bag will allow you to redirect your child’s attention at a moment’s notice.

Bumps and bruises are a normal part of childhood. You can’t prevent every fall or slip, no matter how many childproofing techniques you implement. However, as a new parent, you want to do everything in your power to protect your child from unnecessary injury. By implementing these eight childproofing techniques, you can give your baby a nurturing home safe enough to explore.