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Home improvement topics
|Housing considerations for pet owners
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 24, 2011
For some owners a house just isn't a home without a cat or dog. Regardless of the pet you have, it's helpful to decorate and design with your pet in mind, as you'll want to make sure you can provide a safe and suitable environment for your animal companion.
When looking into a new house (or new pet), you'll want to make sure your home will suit your pet's needs. For instance, will your backyard be big enough for your dog to play and get exercise? The age of your pet may also factor into your housing decision. A home with a steep staircase, for example, may not be ideal for an older or arthritic pet who's not as nimble as he used to be.
You should also take into account the neighborhood in which you're looking to live. Would you and your pet be safe if you were to take her for a walk? Would your pet be in danger of heavy traffic if he got loose from your home? If you're worried that your pet may not be safe in a particular neighborhood, reconsider living in that area. If you cannot change your environment, you may need to take additional steps to help ensure your pet's well-being.
If your pet spends the majority of its time indoors, there are a number of things you can do to help protect your home from damage. To prevent your floor from scratches or stains, install pet-friendly flooring such as hardwood or linoleum. If you still want a softer feel under your feet, consider using inexpensive area throw rugs, particularly those that are machine washable. An expendable rug comes in handy in the event that your pet has an "accident."
Most pet owners are familiar with the seemingly never ending amount of pet hair on their clothes and furniture. Some experts suggest matching the color of your furniture with that of your pet's fur to hide the hair that accumulates. Additionally, you might use slipcovers made out of the fabric that you can wash on a regular basis. Some pet owners find that furniture covered in leather is easy to wipe and doesn't absorb stains or smells like other materials (just remember that leather is not immune to scratches from pet's claws!).
By taking proper precautionary measures, you can make your home both safe and enjoyable for you and your pet. For more tips about making your home accommodating for your pet, visit HomeCheck.com.
|Help your yard beat the heat with xeriscaping
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 3, 2011
Texas is currently in the midst of a statewide drought, leaving much of our landscape brown and dry. But don't worry! It's possible to have a healthy and attractive yard that doesn't require large amounts of water. Among other methods, xeriscaping is a great way to save water at your Austin home. Below we have outlined the basics of xeriscaping.
The term "xeric" is adopted from the Greek word "xeros," meaning "dry." Xeric plants, by their design, can survive with very little water intake and adapt to extremely dry environments. Because of this, xeric plants are often labeled "drought resistant." Lawns and gardens using xeric plants can use up to 50 percent less water.
The Seven Principles of Xeriscaping
In 1981, Denver Water coined the term "xeriscape," which refers to a landscape requiring little to no water. It was in Denver, Colorado that the Seven Principles of Xeriscaping were devised. The seven principles are as follows:
1. Planning and design
As with any gardening project, creating a game plan for your xeriscape is essential. First off, you'll want to create a diagram which designates where the xeric plants will go-will they be in your front yard, or out near your pool? Will they become part of a garden? You'll also need to consider how your xeriscape will be used. Will your children be playing in the area? Aside from water conservation, will it be used for aesthetic appeal?
2. Soil amendment
The type of soil you use is critical to success. Experts suggest that amending soil, or adding a couple inches of organic material six inches deep, will help it better retain water and support xeric plants. It's important to note that non-native plants often require soil amendment while native plants usually do not. Some plants, such as cacti or succulent plants, require gravel soil as opposed to organic compost, so make sure your plants are in the environment that's right for them.
3. Efficient irrigation
Because water conservation is the goal, you'll want to ensure you're watering your plants efficiently and effectively. Infrequent but deep watering is the key to sustaining xeric plants. Whether you water by hand, install an automatic sprinkler system or use drip-irrigation, it's best to release big drops of water close to the ground to reduce the amount of water lost to evaporation or run-off.
4. Plant zoning
In both landscaping and gardening, where you put your plants is crucial, as different plants have specific sun and air requirements. Examine your yard to determine what areas get the most sun during the day. It's a good idea to group plants together by water and sun requirements. Plants that use more water than others should be placed behind plants that require more sunlight.
Adding mulch to your xeric garden brings a variety of benefits. Mulch reduces evaporation and can deter weed growth. Both organic mulch (e.g. wood and bark chips) and inorganic mulch (e.g. small rocks or gravel) can be used. Organic mulch has the advantage of providing nutrients to the soil and your plants, as well as offering protection against the elements. Inorganic mulch, on the other hand, will not decompose, meaning you won't have to replace it often. Inorganic mulch works well in windy areas but shouldn't be placed close to your home, as it can retain and radiate heat fairly well.
6. Turf Alternatives
Turf such as Kentucky bluegrass, while attractive, requires a substantial amount of water. Therefore, consider replacing your turf with a drought-tolerant species such as Bermuda, buffalo or Zoysia grass. Another way to cut down on watering is to reduce the grassy areas in your lawn. This can be accomplished, for example, by expanding landscaping, installing a patio or widening walkways. Less grass requires less water.
Maintaining your xeriscape is fairly easy but, nevertheless, important. You'll need to prune dead stems, cut grass to a three-inch height and apply organic pest control for the best results. Remember to check your irrigation system each month to adjust watering settings and try to maintain about two to four inches of mulch for maximum water efficiency. With proper mulching, weeds should sprout infrequently.
By following these seven principles, your xeriscape should thrive in even the harshest drought conditions. For a list of xeric plants you can plant in Central Texas, visit the City of Austin's Xeriscape Plant List.
|Natural Disaster Preparation
THURSDAY, JULY 21, 2011
Austin is occasionally hit with severe thunderstorms that can create ideal conditions for tornadoes and flooding. While you can't stop Mother Nature, it's important to develop a plan to keep you and your family safe in the event that a natural disaster hits your neighborhood.
Regardless of the disaster you're preparing for, you'll want to make sure your Austin home is equipped with emergency supplies in the event that the power goes out or you're forced to remain inside. Safety experts suggest that your emergency supplies include the following:
- First aid kit (with cleaning agents, sterile bandages, etc.)
- A week's supply of water (about 5 gallons per person)
- Non-perishable food items
- Hand-powered can opener
- Two flashlights
- Batteries (AA, AAA, C, D)
- Blankets and pillows
- Battery-powered radio or television
If the National Weather Service indicates that an emergency is possible (e.g. a tornado watch or flood watch is issued), double-check your emergency supplies and make sure everything is working properly. Outfit your flashlights with fresh batteries, check expiration dates for food and turn on your radio or television for updates on the situation.
Thankfully, tornadoes in Austin are a rare occurrence; however, the Capital of Texas falls within the Tornado Alley region of the United States, so knowing how to survive one is nevertheless important.
If a tornado warning has been declared in your area, the safest place to go is your home's basement. Basements provide ideal shelter during tornadoes, as they're usually below ground and devoid of windows. If your home doesn't have a basement, take shelter in a room or hallway near the center of your home. This space should have no windows and should be on the ground floor of your home. Use a blanket or mattress to cover yourself in case of falling debris.
Once the tornado has passed, ensure your family hasn't been injured and inspect your home for any damage. If your home's been severely damaged, turn off your electricity and natural gas, as your home could be at risk of an electrical fire or an explosion.
As Austin is currently experiencing drought conditions, flooding may be the last thing on your mind. However, Central Texas is prone to flooding, and it's important to be prepared for dealing with such an event.
If the National Weather Service issues a flood watch, make sure your car is filled with gas and your emergency supplies are freshly stocked. You may also need to gather important documents you're storing in your home, such as insurance documentation and social security cards. Most importantly, turn on your radio or television for updates on the situation. Floods can produce dangerous road conditions, so be sure to check local news reports before driving your car.
Floods can become so severe that authorities will issue an evacuation order. If an evacuation is ordered in your area, gather your essential belongings and turn off your gas and electricity. If you cannot turn off your utilities, disconnect as many electrical appliances as you can. Once you've left your home, be sure to exercise caution as you follow the designated evacuation routes provided by local police.
Thunderstorms can be hazardous, but with the right amount of preparation, you can help keep your family safe in case things take a turn for the worse. For more weather safety tips, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website for natural disaster preparation.
|Water conservation: Your summer savings plan
WEDNESDAY, JULY 6, 2011
Americans consume more water during the summer than any other season, particularly in Central Texas where temperatures can climb to the triple digits. However, it's important to conserve water whenever and wherever possible. Doing so can help you save money, as well as help the environment. Below, we have listed eight of our favorite water-saving tips provided by the City of Austin.
1. Reuse water whenever possible
You can save a tremendous amount of water by using the same water to perform multiple tasks around your Austin home. For example: instead of rinsing fruits and vegetables in the sink, put water in a dish and rinse them there. When you're done, use the leftover water for your houseplants or lawn.
2. Use a pitcher for drinking water
Instead of filling a glass of water in the sink, invest in a water pitcher to store in your fridge. This ensures that water is not wasted down the drain by running the tap. Some pitchers are outfitted with water filters, which can help purify the water and improve its taste.
3. Turn off the water when brushing teeth or shaving
Next time you brush your teeth, wet the tooth brush and then turn the faucet off while you brush. Doing so can save as much as four gallons per minute. When shaving, try filling up your sink with a few inches of water for rinsing your razor.
4. Avoid rinsing dirty dishes with running water
When hand-washing your dishes, fill one side of your sink with soapy water and the other side with clean water. This method saves much more water than rinsing your dishes with a running faucet. If you prefer to use a dishwasher, scrape the leftover food off your plates instead of rinsing them. Newer dishwashers and detergents are powerful enough to thoroughly clean your dishes without rinsing beforehand.
5. Use a water-efficient showerhead
Try this experiment at home: take a one-gallon bucket and fill it up with the water from your showerhead. If the bucket fills up in less than 20 seconds, your showerhead expels too much water. Consider installing a showerhead that uses 2.5 gallons per minute or less to conserve water.
6. Find and fix leaky faucets
Check your kitchen and bathroom sinks to see if they're dripping. A leaky faucet can waste as much as 20 gallons of water a day. Thankfully, fixing a leaky faucet is much easier than you may think and usually requires little more than a wrench to repair. DoItYourself.com has a handy guide to fixing a variety of different faucets typically found in homes.
7. Only water plants when necessary
Did you know that more plants die from over-watering than under-watering? Prevent this by only watering your plants when they need it most. Try to water your plants early in the morning, when cooler temperatures reduce evaporation. To make it simpler, invest in a self-watering system with a timer so your plants get the water they need at the right time. Make sure you adhere to the City of Austin's water use schedule.
8. Reduce unnecessary flushing
You might be tempted to dispose of dead bugs, cigarette butts or used facial tissues in the toilet. However, these unwanted items should be thrown in the trash instead. A typical toilet can use as much as seven gallons of water per flush. Better yet, consider replacing your toilet with a high-efficiency model. The City of Austin is currently running a free toilet program where qualified participants can receive up to three high-efficiency toilets for their home. Be sure to submit your application on or before August 31, 2011.
Determine how much water you currently use in your Austin home by using this water calculator. Then, see how much you save by following these water-saving tips. Both Austin's water supply and your pocket book will thank you.
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