If your air conditioner is less than 10 years old, then some do-it-yourself maintenance can help improve its efficiency.
These are some things you can do to keep your home air conditioner running smoothly.
Replace the air filter every month to avoid unnecessary calls to a heating, ventilation and air conditioning technician. After you remove the old filter, vacuum or wipe off the grill that holds the filter in place and insert the new filter. Then close the cover.
Make sure the heating and cooling system’s ductwork is insulated. If your home and its ductwork are air-sealed properly, your home can cool much faster, and maintain that temperature much longer.
Remove any debris and vegetation from around the outside condenser unit to maximize airflow.
When to Call a Professional
If you’ve performed seasonal maintenance on your home’s air conditioner and it’s still not functioning properly, it’s time to call a professional.
Also, if your home air conditioner malfunctions, or has damaged ductwork or exposed electrical connections, don’t try to fix this yourself.
These issues must be addressed by a trained technician who can evaluate your system and make the best recommendation based on your needs.
Time to Replace Your Home Air Conditioner
Choosing to repair or replace your home air conditioner both cost. By weighing the options, you can determine what gives you the biggest return on your investment.
If you have an older system, it may cost more to operate and/or repair, because it is not as energy efficient, and manufacturing for some of its parts may have been discontinued.
Most older units use the outdated refrigerant Freon, so eventually, you’ll have to upgrade to equipment that uses the latest refrigerant.
Does your unit frequently break down? Does it make odd noises or take a long time to reach the cooling set point? If so, you may need to seriously consider a replacement.
A good rule of thumb for determining whether to repair or replace a home air conditioner is to use the $5,000 rule. Just multiply the age of your equipment by the estimated repair cost. If the number you get is more than $5,000, consider a replacement. If less, repair it.
In the market for a new air conditioner? Local rebates or tax credits may be available for purchasing an energy-efficient system.
First, call a professional to do a free in-home visit and learn about your options. To find your local American Standard Customer Care Dealer, visit their website at americanstandardair.com.
With help from our friends at The Home Depot, we’ve compiled this list of timely chores to keep your house clean and comfortable.
Listen to this special-edition Today’s Homeowner Podcast, and follow along below, to learn all about the top summer home maintenance projects!
1. Change AC & Heating System Filters
Regularly changing your HVAC system’s filters is important because a dirty filter will slow down and strain your system. It should take about two to three minutes to take out your old filter and put in a new one.
Also, once your filter is out, go ahead and vacuum the cavity in case of dust build-up.
2. Flush Out AC Drain Line
Your AC drain line can get blocked with mold and mildew, causing its pan to overflow. Flush it with bleach twice during the summer, when it’s working at its hardest.
3. Check for Loose Railings or Damage on Wooden Decks
Changing weather can take a toll on your deck. Nails and screws can loosen during the temperature change and splinters can pop up once the heat rises.
Inspect and repair any damage to your deck so you can have some safe fun in the sun. Top it off with a coat of sealer to keep it protected all summer long.
4. Inspect Fencing & Gates for Damage
Look for rotting and damage and check your posts’ sturdiness. If any boards are warped, replace them with new ones.
Now is also a great time to pressure wash your fence and apply a fresh coat of stain.
5. Clean & Inspect Outdoor Grill
Cleaning your grill will not take away any of your food’s flavor, but it will get rid of any nasty germs and fire hazards.
Whether you have a gas or charcoal grill, scrub away any drippings using aluminum foil and white vinegar.
Check for any loose parts or rot (if it’s wood). If you have cushions, be sure to wash them. In addition, if your cushions get wet from rain, be sure to hang them out to dry on a sunny day to avoid mold.
If you do this on a regular basis, it makes it a lot easier to keep everything clean.
7. Have Chimney Inspected & Cleaned
Now’s a great time to have a professional inspect your fireplace and chimney because you aren’t using them during the summer.
Plus, you’ll have more time for repairs if needed.
8. Scrape Loose Paint from Siding & Trim
Boost your home’s curb appeal by freshening up siding. Scrape away any loose paint, sand if needed, then prime and paint on a fresh coat.
Victory gardens are experiencing a resurgence as the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are still lingering two years on.
The renewed interest in victory gardens began at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Online searches for victory gardens surged in April 2020, the start of lockdown. As people were quarantined, they were looking for ways to channel emotional energy in a positive way, while also securing a safe source of fresh produce.
Now, victory gardens are experiencing a second wave of popularity. Supply chain issues and food shortages have more people than ever unsure if they will be able to purchase their food when they need it.
History of Victory Gardens
Victory gardens were vegetable gardens planted during World War II in order to ensure an adequate food supply for civilians and troops.
The goal of the Victory Garden Program, which started in 1942, was to reduce demand for commercially grown vegetables by encouraging Americans to grow their own produce and preserve and can their surplus harvest. By empowering people to grow their own food, victory gardens made Americans feel part of a greater cause.
Victory gardens supplied 40 percent of the nation’s produce by 1944. By the time the war ended the next year, American families had grown about 8 million tons of food.
Starting a Victory Garden
With proper planning and regular maintenance, you too can have a bountiful victory garden.
Choose a place where your plants can get at least six full hours of sun. Don’t plant your victory garden near trees or shrubs, as those can compete for nutrients and water.
Also, make sure you will have easy access to water. Consider a raised bed or container gardening if you don’t have much space.
Browse through garden catalogs and check out garden stores to help you choose what you want to plant.
Because what you can grow is highly dependent on the climate where you live, refer to the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map to find what vegetables are good to grow in your environment.
Historically, some of the most popular produce grown in victory gardens included beans, beets, cabbage, carrots, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, peas, tomatoes, turnips, squash and Swiss chard.
Prepping for Your Garden
Remove grass and sod and till the upper layers of soil in your garden area.
Then, be sure to add four to eight inches of organic matter for the first year or two in new gardens if the soil is of poor quality. Home-made or store-bought compost provides good options for adding organic matter.
Perform a soil test to provide information about the pH (acidity and alkalinity) and available nutrients in your soil. A soil test also provides recommendations on how to amend your soil to better support plant growth.
Add compost as top-dressing or mulch throughout the growing season but incorporate it lightly to keep it from washing away. Add 1-2 inches of compost each year after you’ve started your garden.
Gardens that have yearly additions of organic matter may have enough nutrients to grow most crops without the need for supplemental fertilizer.
Planting a Victory Garden
Plant your seeds according to the instructions on the packet. Firm the soil over your seeds to increase soil contact and speed up germination.
If you don’t want to start your victory garden from seed, buy transplants from a garden center. Choose vegetable plants that are stocky, disease-free, insect-free, and have good roots.
Plant transplants on a cloudy, windless day in the late afternoon or early evening to prevent wilting. Water the plants several hours before transplanting so the roots won’t dry out.
Dig a hole large enough to hold the roots and set the plant just slightly deeper than previously planted.
One exception is tomatoes. They should be planted deep enough to leave only two or three sets or leaves exposed because they will develop new roots along the stems.
Press the soil firmly around the roots of the transplant. Water, then pour starter solution around the roots per instructions on the starter solution label.
Plant the remaining plants, and keep them spread apart according to their recommended spacing.
To protect the new plants from wind and direct sun, cover them with a plastic jug for a few days. Make sure there is adequate ventilation so the plants do not overheat.
If you’ve properly cared for the plants in your victory garden, you might find you have too big of a harvest to eat before it goes bad. Here are some ways to preserve your produce:
Canning: Canned vegetables are heated hot enough and long enough in a jar to destroy organisms that can make people sick and spoil food quality.
Pressure canning is the only safe method of canning all vegetables, except tomatoes. Jars of food are placed in a pressure canner which is heated to an internal temperature of at least 240°F. This temperature can be reached only in a pressure canner.
Zoysia grass is a warm-season turf from Asia made of several species. This coarse grass— which thrives in central and southern states — is not shade-loving and prefers the sun.
Still, even with the best care, drought and pest damage can cause grass blades to turn brown or go dormant. If extensive damage occurs, and bare spots form, overseeding zoysia grass in the fall can help restore the turf.
To that end, here’s what makes zoysia grow patchy, how to overseed your zoysia lawn, and how to ensure the best results.
What Makes Zoysia Grass Patchy?
Before overseeding zoysia grass, you’ll need to identify the root cause of the damage. Drought is the often leading factor, but pests such as Chinch bugs, Hunting billbugs, and fungal pathogens like Rhizoctonia solani could also be culprits.
Here’s a breakdown of how pests and pathogens affect zoysia lawns:
Chinch bugs — the most common pests of zoysia grass — spread rapidly to destroy major lawn areas. These insects inflict damage during the hot and dry summer months, and it’s tough to distinguish their visits from drought effects. Still, their patterns are predictable. Chinch bugs begin damaging grass from one side and expand as populations increase. As a result, damage is the most severe along lawn boundaries, like sidewalks and driveways.
Hunting billbugs are most active during the night and early morning. Their damage is more common in mid- to late spring and early summer, when billbug larvae bore into the zoysia’s lower leaf stem and flourish. The turning point comes when growing larvae feed on stolons in the early summer, and grass shows symptoms of yellow areas that eventually brown and die out.
Rhizoctonia Solani – Fungal Pathogen
The third most common zoysia grass nuisance is Rhizoctonia solani, a soil-borne fungal pathogen. The large-patch symptoms appear in the fall and are most severe as zoysia grass growth slows due to cool temperature. This fungal pathogen can affect patches ranging from 6 inches to many feet in diameter.
How to Overseed Zoysia Grass — Easy Steps
Overseeding zoysia grass is necessary to cover bald lawn patches and create a healthy lawn. You should overseed lawns in the late spring or early fall as temperatures are favorable for seed germination. If you overseed in the fall, spread seeds at least 60 days before the first frost.
To prepare a zoysia lawn for overseeding, follow these steps:
Collect debris. The first step of seedbed preparation is removing debris, stones, rocks, pinecones, straws or any other ground cover. Use a rake to collect and remove smaller pieces of debris. If you’re seeding a bare spot, remove any dead grass to expose the soil.
Mow. Cut the grass to about 1-inch tall, ensuring appropriate seed-to-soil contact. When grass is high, seeds get stuck in the blades and may not reach the soil. Maintaining low blade height is mandatory for the successful overseeding of zoysia grass.
Aerate. This involves punching holes into the ground to loosen compacted soil. Adequate air circulation allows water to penetrate deeper to reach roots, and aerated soils can allow for greater seed-to-soil contact.
Dethatch. Whereas aeration prepares the soil, dethatching prepares existing turf. Thatch— consisting of dead grass under actively growing turf — accumulates over time. It limits water, fertilizer and grass seed from reaching the soil. Even if the lawns are mowed and aerated, don’t overlook dethatching before overseeding zoysia.
Fertilize. Before distributing seeds, check the soil for nutrient deficiencies and apply a fertilizer based on recommendations from a soil test.
Zoysia needs more nitrogen, little to no phosphorous and less potassium. Always keep in mind that the best Zoysia grass fertilizers will have high nitrogen content.
Distribute seeds. Zoysia needs 2 pounds of seed per 1,000 square feet for optimal overseeding. Calculate the amount of seed needed by dividing your lawn area by the recommended seeding rate.
Typically, a hand spreader or push spreader is the best tool to spread seed. Either one will help ensure that seeds are dispersed uniformly, so that revived lawn is equally covered.
So, you’ve overseeded your zoysia grass—now what? Here are some pointers.
Overseeded zoysia lawns need good moisture to sprout seed. Initially, water daily until germination. The recommended rate is 1 inch of water per week, including rainfall.
Remember: Overwatering attracts pests to the lawn. Take regular measurements of water for optimal results.
Fertilization helps lawns thrive and indirectly helps to reduce the risk of insect damage. Proper fertilization makes grass blades thick and gives denser growth. When there is a thick layer of grass above the soil surface, insects have less access to the nutrients found in the roots of the turf, and the lawn is more likely to grow insect-free.
Mow the overseeded lawn when grass gets to a height of 2 inches or more. Under ideal conditions, you will start to see growth in 14 to 21 days.
Gardening tools are essential not only for your safety and comfort but also for productivity. With the right tools in hand, you’ll be able to work more efficiently and effectively, yielding bigger and healthier harvests.
As you move through this checklist of essential gardening tools, keep in mind that different products offer a wide selection of features, as well as varying degrees of quality.
How tall are you? Can you kneel to work? How large is your garden?
These are just a few questions to ask yourself as you move through all your options.
1. Gardening Gloves
A good pair of gardening gloves will protect your hands from a number of hazards, including thorns, chemicals, and adverse weather conditions. They’ll also keep your hands and nails clean.
Choose gloves based on the task you’ll be performing — for instance, pruning roses and planting seeds make for two very different gardening experiences.
So, if you’re an avid gardener, you’ll want to have different pairs of gloves to tackle various jobs.
2. Pruning Shears
This handy gardening tool will prove invaluable for cutting smaller vines and branches. Even vegetable gardeners like to use pruning shears to harvest tomatoes, peppers, melons and other yields that don’t easily pop off the vine.
When choosing your pruning shears, make sure the grips are comfortable and the blades are sharp.
It takes just a few minutes to sharpen shears with grinders, files or sharpening stones. You just need to disassemble the tool, clean it, sharpen it, reassemble it, and clean the assembled tool for optimal performance.
And once you start using pruning shears, you might be surprised at how many miles you put on these handy little devices!
3. Garden Hose
Your plants will need water — and unless you plan on hauling it in buckets, you’ll need a hose that reaches the farthest end of your garden.
Some plants, particularly perennials, don’t thrive with wet foliage, so you’ll also want a soaker hose, which slowly releases water so it soaks deeply into the soil.
Best of all? You can hide a soaker hose beneath your mulch and set it with a timer to turn on and off as needed.
Chances are you’ll need to move dirt, clippings, compost, rocks — and the tools listed in this article. A wheelbarrow (or a garden cart or sled) will come in handy. Choose one that feels sturdy and balanced.
• Replace the wheelbarrow’s tire with a solid, universal tire that’s not inflated with air and can never go flat.
• Before you load up a wheelbarrow, point it toward the direction of travel. This will prevent you from pivoting with a heavy load
5. Garden Shears
Lawn/shrub/garden shears, which are larger than pruning shears, are designed to trim shrubs and cut larger vines and branches. Choose a model that’s sturdy, yet light enough to be ergonomic.
Whether you’re digging out old shrubs, root balls or rocks, transplanting seedlings or filling a bed with soil or mulch, you’ll need a shovel or spade.
Choose one with a sharp edge, comfortable handle and a shaft that’s the right height for you.
7. Hand Trowel
This is much like a shovel, but it’s small enough to fit in one hand. Select a hand trowel that feels good in your grip, with a steady blade that won’t bend. Then use it to carve out holes for small plants, dig up weeds and extract plants for overwintering.
8. Garden Rake
Whether you need to smooth out soil after it’s been tilled, comb rocks from the dirt or level out mulch, a garden rake with metal tines is a necessity.
You may need multiple rakes, depending on your lawn and garden’s needs. The three most common options are bow, leaf and shrub rakes.
Bow rakes help with smoothing out soil in a garden; leaf rakes are perfect for gathering leaves or pine straw; and small shrub rakes come in handy for placing mulch in tight spaces.
Pro Tip: Rake leaves fast with a tarp and two wooden dowels that make it easy to transport piles of leaves to a garbage can.
9. Garden Hoe
When it’s time to create furrows, plant seeds, mound up soil and dig weeds or root vegetables, a garden hoe is the tool you’ll need.
Choosing the right garden hoe will require a bit of research. If eliminating weeds is at the top of your list, a scuffle hoe, swoe or serpentine hoe might be the best choice.
For planting seeds, go with a warren hoe; and for tougher jobs that require more earth-moving, the draw hoe will be your multi-purpose friend.
10. Garden Fork
This tool is great for breaking up compacted soil. Choose a garden fork with sturdy tines that won’t bend if you hit a rock. If you plan to move mulch or compost, pick one with curved tines so you can use it as a shovel.
When you have just the right gardening tool for every job, you will move quickly through tasks, your garden will look beautiful, and you’ll be better equipped to care for plants.
Choose tools that will work best for you and your garden, but also those you can expect to last for years to come.
And remember: Inexpensive tools might seem attractive at first, but nothing beats reliability and longevity.
Barb Abrahms is the CEO and co-founder of PalmFlex. Abrahms has over 20 years of experience consulting her team and customers on their ideal personal protective equipment needs for a variety of industries and applications.