How To Heat Your Old Home While on a Budget

old home

There is something incredibly charming about living in an old home – it’s historic, the architecture is unique and there is something about an old house that makes it homey. As quaint as an old home might be, it is expensive to keep it warm. Luckily there are some tricks to help keep your old home warm on a budget.

Plastic the windows – Most old houses have big single pane windows. If you have not updated the windows yet, install double-pane windows as soon as possible. If you don’t have the time or finances to do so before winter, put plastic on the interior of your windows. Nowadays, there is plastic that is much clearer and won’t block the view outside, but it will keep your home much warmer by eliminating cold spots.

Door stops – Installing a door stop under each door that leads outside is the most effective way to keep cold drafts out. When it comes to the doors in your home, you can eliminate cold drafts by using a portable doorstopper. Don’t forget about doors with cracks, if you can see the light from outside streaming into the room from the door, the cold can easily get in. A quick trip to the hardware store to purchase foam adhesive will fix this problem for you at a low cost.

Area rugs – If you have hardwood or tile flooring all throughout your home, lay down large area rugs during the cold months. This won’t increase the temperature in your home but it will feel like it when you walk on the rug rather than on the cold tile floor in your bare feet.

Adjust thermostat – Turning the thermostat down while you’re away and at night will save you a great deal in heating costs. Just be sure not to turn it below 55 degrees to avoid any chance from your pipes freezing. You also don’t want your furnace to work too hard to heat back up to the desired temperature.

Eliminate uneven heating – If your home has multiple floors, it should have a thermostat on each floor. If the thermostat is only on the first floor then it is only reading the temperature on the first floor, if you go upstairs its very cold. Installing a thermostat on each floor will cost you money up front, but it’ll keep your entire home at the desired temperature.

How to Properly Winterize Your Air Conditioning Unit – 2017

ac unit in the snow

One of the first things you want to do before the temperatures drop any lower is winterize your outdoor central air conditioning unit. Central air conditioning units cost thousands of dollars, this isn’t something you want to allow the cold Pittsburgh winters to damage and potentially destroy. September into early October is the most opportune time to prepare your unit for winter as this is a task where warm, sunny weather is a requirement.

Before you get started, make sure you turn off the exterior power supply to the central air conditioning unit. You don’t want to risk damaging your unit while simply trying to clean it.
Remove all leaves, branches, twigs, pinecones and any other debris from the unit. Using the garden hose, spray and clean off any remaining dirt and small particles. This is where the warm weather comes in because you don’t want to risk the system from freezing. Do this on a nice sunny morning so the unit has all afternoon to completely dry.

Once the unit is dry, cover it with a waterproof tarp or proper water resistant outdoor air conditioning unit cover. If you cover the unit while it is still wet, mold can grow and you will risk the unit rusting. This will protect your unit from not only rain, snow and colder temperatures but reduce the chances of damage that could be caused due to falling branches on windy winter days. Whether using stakes in the ground or bungee cords, ensure that the covering is properly secured.

Central air conditioning air ducts can be a source of cold drafts during the winter. To eliminate this cold draft, shut the air ducts of these vents. You can also use gaff tape to further reduce the chances of cold draft from coming through the air ducts and vents.

Top Benefits of Automating Your Home

home automation app on tablet

The idea of the ‘Smart House’ is no longer a fictional idea of the future. Home automation is at your fingertips and the benefits are endless. From savings to increased security, you’ll be glad you made the switch and control virtually every aspect of your home from your phone.

Home automation is an investment that will pay off both in your wallet and your personal time. You can turn off lights, lock your door and turn off appliances in your home right from your hand-held smart device. The days of locking yourself out of your house, manually setting the alarm or remembering to turn off all the lights are a thing of the past – saving you time and money.

Your home will also be more energy efficient when you can control the temperature of your home while you’re away. During the summer, you can turn your air conditioner up or off and with a touch of a button, turn it down an hour before you head home so you’ll walk into a comfortably cool home.

Coming home to a completely dark house can raise a little bit of an alarm as well as your heart-rate, but with home automation, you can turn the lights of your house on safely from the parking lot of the grocery store.

Not sure if you locked the door when you left in a hurry? Easily check and lock your front door on your phone in your cubical at work. Depending on your security plan, you can monitor your home right from your tablet.

Honestly, the convenience factor is what makes it worth every penny. You can monitor and adjust virtually every aspect of your home from your smart device. Check in on your home while you’re on vacation, turn off the bedroom light while at work or turn up the heat while you’re at the movies – the possibilities and ease are endless.

How To Prevent Your Downspout from Clogging

downspout on a residential home

Are your gutters overflowing when it rains? Is there water in your basement or home with no explanation as to why or how it got there? Are your gutters falling apart? If you answered yes to one or all of these questions, chances are you have a clogged downspout.

How does a downspout work?
To understand why your downspout is clogged, it is helpful to understand how downspouts work. The gutters along the edges of the roof of your home are connected to your downspout. The water that runs from the roof and into your gutters go down the downspout and into the ground. To protect the foundation around your home, some homes have plastic or rubber splash guards that protect the soil while other downspouts are connected to an underground pipe that carries the water away from the home and empties either in the street gutter or dry well.

When your downspout is clogged, it’s because leaves, pine needles, pieces of your roof and other debris have made their way into your gutter. When your gutter is full of gunk and it rains, all this gunk is pushed into your downspout which can result in a clog of the downspout and or the pipe that is supposed to carry the water away from your home. When this happens, the water backs up and can cause some serious damage to both the outdoor and indoor foundation of your home.

Resolving the problem
If you suspect the pipe connected to the downspout is clogged, take your hose and fill it until the water pours out, go to the location where the pipe carries the water away and wait. If there is a clog, you’ll either see no water or only a small amount of water with leaves and some gunk intermixed with it. If this is the case, call a professional and licensed plumber to run a snake and clear out the clog.

If your home does not have a pipe that carries the water away, the downspout itself might be clogged. Carefully detach it from the gutter and use the garden hose and the handle of a rake to clear the gunk.

In both cases, once the clog has been cleared, clean out your gutters. Remove as much as you can be using a small gardening shovel or your hands placing all of the debris into a bucket – you don’t want to risk pushing all of it down your downspout and cause another clog. After the large particles are collected, take the garden hose and spray anything left down the downspout.

Prevention
The number one way to prevent your downspout from clogging is keeping your gutters clean. Your gutters should be cleaned at the end of each season: after summer, after fall, after winter and after spring. You can also install gutter guards to reduce the amount of leaves, paint and other debris from getting into the gutter. The gutter guards cover the top of open gutters, preventing anything but water from making its way into the gutter.

 

Image credit: GutterHelmet.com

Must-Do Fall Activities in Pittsburgh – 2017

Oktoberfest in Pittsburgh

The moment everyone in Pittsburgh has waited for is finally here – Fall! The Steelers are back on the field, the leaves are beginning to fall and children are back in school. The fall season brings with it many fun seasonal treats and activities to enjoy and Pittsburgh has them all. Whether you’re looking for a date night or a fun night out with the whole family, head to the city for a variety of fall themed events.

Fall flavors
One of the best things about fall is hot apple cider and pumpkin spiced everything! Take an evening to find the best apple flavored cider, visit several breweries to find your favorite pumpkin beer or Oktoberfest, or find the best pumpkin pie in the city. Once you find your favorite beverage or pie, you now have a go to spot to take your friends all season long.

Costume head start
Do you want to get a jump on creating the perfect Halloween costume? Head to the thrift store Friday night for an evening that’s bound to be full of laughter! With ample time to prepare you can find all the pieces you need to create that one of a kind costume that’ll be sure to win every costume contest. If you’re using this as a date night, pick out each other’s clothes and then wear them out to dinner!

Hiking
There’s nothing like enjoying a free fall activity! Take a few hours to look at all the leaves that are changing by going on a walk or a hike around the city. From Frick Park to the river front trail, there are plenty of beautiful options to enjoy the scenery and breathe that fresh fall air.

Cinema
If you love getting scared around fall, you’ll love all the Halloween and other spooky things the city has to offer. Catch all the scary films you want at the Row House Cinema in Lawrenceville during the month of October. You also don’t want to miss Pittsburgh’s 10 Annual Zombieball at Mr. Smalls in Millvale on October 7.

 

Image credit: City Works

The Pittsburgh Potty Phenomenon

Pittsburgh potty - basement

In the beginning of September, Sarah Kovash from Pittsburgh’s NPR News Station wrote an article, Documenting The Pittsburgh Potty: An Architectural Mystery In Our Basements. In the article, Pittsburgh resident Ted Zellers has been putting together a photography project of various “Pittsburgh Potties” from all over the city.

A “Pittsburgh Potty” is what appears to be a toilet in the basement of older homes from mainly between 1880 and 1910. What makes them extremely unique is the randomness and lack of privacy they tend to have – most are completely out in the open with no surrounding walls or other type of usual privacy.

What seems to be making the Pittsburgh Potty even more interesting is the uncertain history or reasoning behind them. Regardless they are not only a bit on the comical side they are also functioning which makes them extremely practical, especially in a home with many family members.

Although this isn’t the type of toilet you’re likely to have the guests use, with a little privacy constructed around it, you can make it more functional and part of your families’ everyday routine.

Pittsburgh Potty privacy ideas:

Curtain – If you’re simply looking for a cheap and easy way to add some privacy to your Pittsburgh Potty, some hooks, wire and a curtain will help you cut to the chase. Attach some hooks to the ceiling, attach the wire to it and hang up a shower curtain.

Walls – Add some privacy with some extra drywall, bricks or cinder blocks you have lying around. This takes a bit more effort but you’ll be adding more privacy while making it more welcoming as well.

Room – With a classic Pittsburgh Potty in the basement, you’re already halfway there to adding a bathroom to the basement. A finished bathroom in the basement increases the value of your home, and with a toilet already in there, the work is halfway done! All you need are some walls, a sink and some style and you’ve got another finished bathroom.

 

Image credit: Ted Zellers and wesa.fm

Plumbing Skills Every College Student Should Know

plumbing tools

 

In all of your child’s 18 years of life, have they ever had to unclog a toilet or deal with a drain full of grease? Odds are the answer is “no”. Now that your 18-year-old has moved out for the first time on their own, there is a lot they won’t be prepared for, but there are some easy plumbing skills you can teach your new young adult or college student that will help avoid a potential disaster.

How to correctly plunge a toilet – One of the most common problems your student will run into is a clogged toilet. Whether it’s due to waste or flushing things that aren’t supposed to go down, your newly independent young adult should know how to correctly plunge a toilet because that’s an errand you’d hate to get a phone call for.

How to stop a running toilet – Most 18-year-old’s have no idea what a running toilet is or that it is even an issue. When a toilet is constantly running, that’s like leaving a faucet on and it’s a waste of water. Make sure you take the lid off of the tank and show your student how to stop the toilet from running.

Unclog a drain – One clogged drain is all it takes for your student to make an expensive call to a plumber and put the charge on that “for emergencies only” credit card you gave him or her when they moved out. Teach your child how to use a small handheld snake and provide them with natural non-chemical ways to clear the clog.

Keep drains clear – If your student wants to avoid unclogging their shower drain every month, teach them the importance of cleaning their hair out of the shower after every use. Make sure they also are aware of things that should not get poured down the drain or garbage disposal, the two most important things being grease and bits of food.

If your young adult or college student is able to perform all of these top four plumbing skills then they should be able to avoid a serious plumbing problem or issue.

Last Minute Fall Maintenance Checklist!

autumn and fall gif

The warm glow from the campfire, cheers at a football game, pumpkin spice scented candles and drinks, children back at school – these are some of everyone’s favorite parts of fall. Here in Steeler country, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the upcoming football season that consumes your Sundays and Monday nights. With the nights getting cooler and sweater weather steadily approaching, you don’t want to forget to prepare your home for fall, because before you know it, it will be here and you’ll be left missing out on Friday night football games or missing your child’s soccer game to clean the gutters and honestly, who wants to do that?

Although there is an endless list of possible tasks that should be done before fall arrives, there are a few that can wait until at least October. Before fall arrives make sure you get the top five fall maintenance tasks completed.

Gutters – Your gutters should not wait until October. The leaves on the trees have already begun to change color and before no time, they’ll begin to fall. After all the rain we had this summer, your gutters are bound to be full of pine needles, leaves, twigs and any other debris that has managed to make its way in there. The leaves will only continue to fill your gutter and with some rainfall, will eventually clog your downspout.

Roof – On a nice dry afternoon or evening, get above eye level and inspect the roof. Often, a big problem can lie just above your head. Inspect your roof and make any necessary repairs. Should you have a major problem with your roof, you want to have plenty of time to have a professional make repairs before winter arrives.

Pool – Close and winterize your pool. Ensure that the pool has been properly cleaned, drained and permanently covered for the season. Waiting until October will leave the risk of a more difficult cleaning job and hours spent outside in the brisk cold.

Winterize A/C – With the temperature at night continuing to steadily drop, you’re using your air conditioning less and less. Before fall, turn off, clean and winterize your air conditioning unit for the season. If you use a window A/C unit to keep your home cool, clean or replace the filter and pack it gently away in storage for the fall and winter season.

Heating unit tune-up – You may have noticed that the heat in your home has already kicked on once or twice. The season of heating your home is about to begin and you want to make sure your heating unit is clean, inspected and ready to go. Call in a professional to inspect your unit and to have any kinks worked out before you turn your unit on for the season.

Why Doesn’t My Toilet Completely Flush!?

flushing toilet

Does your toilet not empty completely when you flush? If this happens to you, you may find yourself flushing the toilet twice to completely rid of all the contents within. This is annoying, wasteful and not to mention gross. There can be a few explanations as to why your toilet doesn’t completely flush.

New toilets are required to use only 1.6 gallons of water per flush. Although this is a dramatic decrease from the five gallons of water used to flush older toilets, it’s common for the water level on toilets to be set too low. When the toilet water level is set too low, there isn’t enough water for the toilet to flush completely. If you suspect this is the case with your toilet, you’ll need to adjust the level of the water by adjusting the arm of the float ball or turning the float adjustment screw of the floating cup ballcock clockwise.

If the chain on the flapper has become caught, it won’t be able to release all the water that is needed to flush the toilet. Remove the lid of the tank to see if there is an issue with either the flapper or the chain attached to the flapper and make the proper adjustments or necessary replacements.

Once you’ve checked both the water level and your flapper and there is no problem, there is a good chance that you have a clog on your hands. A clog, even a minor one, will keep your toilet from flushing completely. First try some plunging, if this doesn’t work head to your local hardware store for a snake to see if you can unclog the toilet.

Should neither plunging or snaking work, call in a professional, there could be a few other reasons as to why your toilet is not completely flushing. This problem could be a result of blocked inlet holes, or an issue with how the toilet drain pipe was designed.

Call Gillece to have a licensed and certified plumbing to further assist you and get your toilet flushing properly.

The Best Labor Day Weekend Activities in Pittsburgh – 2017

happy labor day

It’s hard to believe that September is already here. With your children heading off to school, Labor Day weekend is your last chance at summer. There’s no better way to kick off the school year than spending Labor Day weekend right here in Pittsburgh. From a parade and a Folk festival to a relaxing day in the park, you won’t be disappointed with all the fun Pittsburgh has to offer.

Parade
For those with younger children, make your way downtown to watch the annual Labor Day parade on Monday, September 4 at 10 am. The parade begins at the corner of Liberty and Penn and ends in front of the United Steelworkers Building on the Boulevard of the Allies. Your children will enjoy collecting the seemingly endless candy being tossed by those aboard the colorful floats while you enjoy other many sights and sounds the parade has to offer.

Kickoff Rib Festival 
Does your whole family love the Steelers? Kick off the season right with the 2017 Heinz Field Kickoff and Ribs Festival from 12 pm to 11 pm August 31 through September 4. With free admission to the festival you’ll be able to enjoy traditional festival food, ribs, live entertainment and plenty of family friendly activities.

59th Annual Pittsburgh Folk Festival
For those looking for fun, culture and education, look no further than the 59 Annual Pittsburgh Folk Festival. Bring the whole family from 11 am to 10 pm to Schenley Tent Plaza in Oakland on September 2 and 3 for a day you’ll all remember. Over 500 dancers and musicians will be performing throughout the weekend and you can experience traditional cuisine, a bazzaar and educational exhibits. This is by far one of the best ways for the family to kiss summer goodbye!

Gatorade-Steelers 5K
After eating all that food all weekend, burn it off by running or walking in the annual Gatorade-Steelers 5K. Beginning at 8 am sharp September 4, the course starts and finishes at Heinz Field. This is a great way to see Pittsburgh’s North Side and get a beautiful view of the city on the Riverfront Trail.