Beat a Smoke Ban – And Stay Safer – This Summer with an Electric Grill

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If you are a fan of outdoor cookery then you know just how great grilled food prepared al fresco can taste. But if you, like many people, live in an area where outdoor flamed grills are banned, often called a ‘smoke ban’ something that is increasingly common in apartment complexes and condo developments, then you may fear that your grilling days are over.That does not have be the case though, if you choose the right electric grill.

How to Choose The Right Electric Grill For You

There are those that will try to tell you that an outdoor electric grill is just not a real barbecue These people seem to feel that if you are not burning your hands on hot charcoal (or failing to have hot charcoal because it refuses to light or stay lit) or running to the store to fill up empty propane tanks you are just not doing it right.

The fact is that there are a great many outdoor electric grills that produce just the same kind of tasty and healthful grilled foods as their counterparts, but without much of the mess and extra hassle. And definitely without the big fire risk that barbeques and firepits can sometimes be (and it is that risk of fire damage that is the reason for most grill bans in the first place)

Choosing the right outdoor electric grill for your needs can be hard, as there are often so many models and sizes to pick from. Some of the most popular outdoor electric grills are those that are cart based and fairly compact. These are usually big enough to cook for a small gathering but are easy to clean and then store quite nicely on even the smallest patio or balcony. This models usually only cost $200 or less.

For those who like to barbecue big there are outdoor electric grills that are just as big as any other barbecue out there. They do tend to be a little more expensive than their charcoal or propane cousins but they are far easier to clean and use.

If you have a very limited space in which to grill outside there are a number of good quality smaller outdoor electric grills that are also designed to be compact and pleasing to the eye. These are especially good for apartment dwellers who do not wish to attract the ire of their landlord by having a large grill cluttering up their small balcony and spoiling the look of the complex or building for others (or burning it down come to that matter)

The New Alternative – Electric Smokers

You may not be familiar with a smoker or a smoker grill and what it does, many are not. Even fewer people are really familiar with the concept of an electric smoker grill. You have probably however eaten a number of smoked foods, both cooked and uncooked. The electric smoker is merely a modern way to cook in a very old and traditional manner.

An electric smoker grill works in much the same way as any other kind of smoker. The idea behind smoker cooking is that the food is cooked slowly and over a low heat. Smoking is not a quick process but the results are usually well worth the time.

Any smoker is usually a cylinder which inside basically consists of a “fire box” and a cooking chamber. Whatever heat source you use, whether electric gas or charcoal, the food is smoked by the wood inside the smoker. You do have to choose your smoking woods very carefully, as certain woods produce a bitter taste that is far from pleasant. Some of the favorite woods used by smoking experts are mesquite, hickory, maple and apple. Some recipes may instruct you on what kind of wood to use to get the best flavor.

The advantage of the electric smoker is that is easy to regulate so food can be left smoking for hours without the need for constant attention. The result is almost always meat that is so tender and flavorful that it has to be tasted to be believed.

An electric smoker grill is a double duty appliance. Once the food has been smoked the appliance converts into a regular electric grill to finish the job. This is one method of grilling in which the flavor in no way suffers when using electricity instead of charcoal or propane.

Is Your Fridge Leaking? Address it Now to Prevent Disaster Later

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Troublesome kitchen leaks don’t always come from the sink, dishwasher or washing machine, a refrigerator leak is not that uncommon either and a fridge does not have to be old, or have a water dispenser built in to cause a problem, any fridge can suffer from leak issues.

The good news is that any leaks ARE just water. The coolant used in fridges is a gas, not a liquid, so at least you don’t have to worry that something potentially toxic is escaping. The bad new is that the formation of puddles of water inside the refrigerator – an issue in itself, often means that there is already water under it as well – or the will be soon – and that can all too easily lead to more serious water damage issues.

To minimize damage to the appliance itself, the food inside and the floor beneath whatever is causing the leak needs to be determined – and fixed – as soon as possible. Here is a little about some of the most common culprits:

Blocked Defrost Drain

The defrost drain is a good place to begin your troubleshooting, as a blocked one is the most common cause of slow refrigerator leaks. Over time this small opening can easily become clogged with stray bits of food, or even very tough, stubborn ice chips. This blockage prevents water that accumulated during the defrost cycle from draining away to the pan. When enough water builds up, it starts leaking out of the refrigerator and onto the floor, so this is a problem that usually occurs over time.

You can relatively easily clear the drain yourself simply by flushing it with hot water. Use a short piece of stiff wire, such as a wire clothes hanger to poke around (carefully)to check for material still in the drain that the hot water has not flushed out before considering the operation ‘complete’.

Drain Pan
Occasionally the drain pan at the bottom of a fridge develops a crack that allows water to leak out. A small amount of water accumulated in the drain pan is OK, normal even, but a leak is not. That is because any water in the drain pan should evaporate long before it becomes a problem as the condenser fan blows warm air across the surface of the pan.

If you suspect that this is the problem – which it may be if the defrost drain is clear and there does not to seem be water anywhere – check the drains for cracks. If you find them the pan needs to be replaced asap, duct tape just isn’t going to cut it!

Ice Maker

Built in ice makers are a wonderful convenience and many new – and newer refrigerators boast them these days. But they can be problematic. The water-line connections to the ice maker can quite easily loosen over time and with use or the seals can age and crack, leading to leaks that result in water pooled under and around the refrigerator.

To see if this may be the cause of your fridge leak check the length of the water line leading to the ice maker, which is usually on the rear exterior of the fridge, as well as the connections, for any signs of moisture. If the ice maker supply line is the problem, there will typically be water running or dripping down the line and on to the floor. Tighten the connections or replace the water line immediately.

These are far from the only causes of refrigerator leaks though, so if your troubleshooting efforts lead nowhere call in a repairman asap.

The Aftermath of a Fridge Leak

Just because you have found – and fixed – the cause of your refrigerator leak does not mean you are done with troubleshooting. Water in the fridge is dealt with easily enough with a cloth or lots of paper towels but if water has been leaking underneath the fridge there may be more of an issue to address.

People don’t usually make a habit of of moving their fridge around the kitchen so miss the fact that a fridge leak has caused water damage to the flooring itself, often leading to mold and even structural damage. That is why it is important to move a fridge that has been leaking and check underneath it for signs of water damage and if you find them, discuss the situation with a water damage remediation specialist.

How to Prepare Your Home – and Family – for a Summer Storm

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The summer should be all about sun, sea, and maybe a bit of sand if you can spare the time to head out to beach somewhere, although a backyard weekend cookout isn’t a bad substitute if you can’t. However, summer storms can put a damper on all of that in an instant.

Spoiling your day is not the only thing summer storms can do, however short in duration they turn out to be. Summer storms can be very powerful things. The two biggest threats associated with most thunderstorms are lightning and flash floods, and these can result in serious, unexpected damage to property anywhere, including your home.

While you cannot prevent summer storms – or even really accurately predict just when they will hit, no matter how many weather forecasts you monitor – there are some measures you can, and should, take to protect your home from the ravages of a summer storm.

Check Your Insurance

This is actually something you should do before the summer and storm season arrives. And more than just making sure that your homeowner’s policies covers everything it should you should also have a look at just what kind of policy you have. Is it ACV or RCV policy?

ACV stands for actual cash value, while RCV stands for replacement cost value. The former will mean your insurance company will only pay for what your property was worth before the storm while the latter means your insurance pays current market value of the property loss. And it does not take a rocket scientist to work out that RCV is almost certainly the better bet and so if you have an ACV you way want to investigate swapping it out for an RCV before the potentially damaging summer storm clouds begin to loom.

Check Your Trees

Fallen trees are one of the most common results of any fierce – or even semi fierce – summer storm and they can cause untold damage, especially if they fall on your power lines, your home, or even both.

The problem with many trees is that, to the naked eye they can often look just fine, nice and sturdy, and yet by hiding a problem that may make them a real hazard in a storm. There are some extra clues you can look for though.

If a tree has only sporadic leaf cover in the spring, if it seems to have spots that sparser in terms leaves than others – or outright ‘bald patches’ – that is often a good indication that it has a health problem. In addition if the land around your trees is uneven, especially if there is a hump or pivot on one side of the tree you might have a root problem that could eventually cause the tree to fall over, and a summer storm could easily knock it over in one fell swoop.

If your trees are worrying you call in a professional. The extra expense versus the hassle, pain and heartache a fallen tree can cause will be well worth it.

Check the Basement

If you have a sump pump in the basement then that is indeed a great protection against damage from summer flooding. But unless you have it hooked up to an efficient battery back up it may end up being next to useless in a summer storm as another common effect of any storm is knock out the mains power for hours, if not days. If you sump pump cannot function when the lights go out then that is a situation you need to remedy now.

Have All the Right Numbers Handy

The aftermath of a storm that has damaged your home can be a scary and upsetting time. But once you have established that everyone in your household is OK then it is time to take a deep breath and begin to implement the clean up process by getting all the right professionals involved as soon as you possibly can.

Call your insurance company, call a water damage remediation specialist if flooding is involved and call a builder is there are immediate structural issues. And to make of all this easy make sure that you have the numbers for all of these people handy, not just stored on your cellphone but on a list tucked away in your wallet as well.

Can Accessibility Bathroom Remodels Be Attractive as Well as Functional?

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Accessibility remodeling can make the life of an older person, or a person with mobilty challenges far better and allow them to continue to live in the home they love and are used to rather than having to move to a new unfamiliar place.It’s a trend that is hitting homes all over Canada and some homeowners are even choosing to convert their bathrooms before they reach their golden years, just so that everything is in place. But doesn’t that mean sacrificing the style of the space?

In essence, good accessibility remodeling design is all about safety and the ease of use of every element of the space, especially when it comes to an all important room like the bathroom. That does not have to mean that the space becomes too clinical and hospital like though, especially if you work with an experienced contractor who understands the accessible bathrooms do not have to be ugly bathrooms.

Here are some of the ways that a functional accessible bathroom can still be a stylish one as well:

Walk In Tubs – The one piece of bathroom “equipment” that often presents the greatest challenge for a person with limited mobility or who makes use of a wheelchair is the bathtub. The good news about the walk in tubs that are often used as a part of accessible design is that they can be found in a number of different styles, some of which are even more appealing to the eye than many “regular’ bathtub choices. And in terms of safety they just cannot be beat (and bonus, they are great for kids too)

“Designer” Features – Because of the increase in demand for accessible bathroom modeling more and more mainstream manufacturers known for the visual appeal of their products are beginning to offer accessible bathroom items like comfort height toilets, barrier free showers and bathtubs with transfer stations that are attractive while still meeting the high standards required for an accessible bathroom remodel.

Decorative Grab Bars – One other very important aspect of an accessible bathroom – properly placed grab bars – have also undergone something of a transformation over recent years and can now be found in decorative styles that provide the safe support they are designed to without appearing too cold and “institutional” .

The design of your remodeled bathroom is the most important part of any project but especially in the case of a remodel that is commissioned to improve accessibility which is just one of the reasons why taking your time when choosing just the right remodeling contractor to work with is so important. Installing a new bath, for example, is no simple task and if even the smallest thing is wrong your new bathroom could become a waterlogged mess the very first time someone tries out the new tub!

Outdoor Living Tips: Edible Landscaping, a Garden That Tastes as Good as it Looks

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If you have been thinking about re doing the back garden a little this year – adding some colorful plants, maybe planning out the landscaping aspect of things a little better – why not consider trying you hand at a little edible landscaping?

Edible What?

Edible landscaping takes the concept of the back garden vegetable patch to a new level, using attractive and hardy plants that also produce great tasting, good for you home grown fruits and vegetables that should taste a lot better than the pre packed stuff you buy from the shops and forget having to plan a trip to Whole Foods to get those hard to find gourmet lettuces; you can grow them right in your own backyard.

The twist is with edible landscaping is that the garden should be designed to look as good as it eventually tastes. And that is not as hard as it sounds. Here are some of the basics:

Planning

Before you begin, planning is essential. Mark out the areas you have available to you for planting and/or areas of lawn or paving you want to dig up. If you do get a bit stuck, or have no idea where to start book a consultation with a local landscaper. You don’t have to actually engage them to do the actual digging and planting work (although that would be a heck of lot easier admittedly) but in a single consultation they will not only be able to advise about the design and placement of plants but about what to plant as well.

As fruits and vegetables do tend to need better irrigation – aka more watering – than standard flowers try to place your growing beds away from the house as far as possible to avoid over damp soil leading to structural water damage issues.

Before you begin planting, make sure you have at least done a little bit of Googling to see just how the plants and trees you choose look at every stage of growth, as part of the idea is that this new edible garden will be good looking as well and not just and extended vegetable patch.

What to Grow?

With this very important question in mind, here are a few of the plants that look every bit as good as the produce they will eventually bring forth:

Fruit Trees – Not everyone has the space in their garden for a full sized tree (or the patience to wait for one to grow) An interesting and space saving alternative is one of the newer, engineered miniature and dwarf trees that are available.

Apart from the obvious offerings like apples and oranges, clever little gardening scientists have even created miniature “fruit cocktail trees” that bring forth nectarines, peaches, plums, and apricots. Thats what we call value for money and they certainly serve as a whimsical talking point at cookouts when in bloom.

Strawberries – Not only do fresh strawberries taste wonderful the plants they grow on produce attractive white flowers in the spring and summer and then their leaves turn a beautiful russet red in the autumn. Strawberry plants are great ground cover plants too and they even look attractive when grown in hangers.

Rhubarb – Rhubarb is far too pretty to stick it at the back of a vegetable patch where no one can see it. And rhubarb and custard is still one of the best desserts ever and rhubarb jam is tasty stuff that you can store to eat all year round as well.

Raspberries – Raspberries are expensive in the shops but very easy to grow in your own back garden and freshly picked from your own garden raspberries taste a thousand times better than those shriveled up ones in the punnets at the supermarket. Raspberry bushes are hardy things and you can even find some varieties that bear fruit from early summer until the first frost hits.

Veggies – Chard, kale, ornamental lettuces are all good looking, often very colorful choices that add aesthetic appeal to your edible landscape as well. Cucumbers and zucchini can be trained to grow up a trellis or a fence, adding another interesting visual element to your edible landscaping set up.

Want to see some of these ideas ‘in action’? Check out our gallery below.

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Is Your Stucco Hiding a Dark Secret That Could Damage Your Whole Home?

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Stucco is a home siding material that is fairly common in Ontario and indeed across North America, and for good reason. It can be a truly beautiful siding choice with the added benefit that it is both durable and long-wearing. It can withstand reasonably heavy strikes and is relatively easy to repair when superficial cracks appear. It is incredibly versatile, takes paint beautifully and offers a variety of surfacing options, so finding a finish that will suit your home perfectly is practically a given.

But despite all the wonderful things about stucco, it may be hiding a deep, dark secret from you: water damage.

Stucco Can Cause Water Damage?

Yes. At least improperly installed or damaged stucco can. Like any siding, stucco is designed to protect your home from the elements. But it can’t do its job properly unless it is installed properly or if its admittedly considerable ‘powers’ have been compromised by cracks that have been ignored for some time.

Water damage usually stems from improper sealing in parts where the stucco meets windows, flashing and other joints. Have you seen “stucco tears”? No? They look like the marks in the picture above. Basically, it looks like the window is weeping. Think of them as your home crying for help. And when your house is “crying,” you don’t just wipe (or power wash) its tears away. You have to get to the bottom of the problem before you can apply a lasting solution.

Is Your Home Really Crying Out for Help?

You’re actually lucky if you see stucco tears, because at least you can easily tell that you’ve got a water damage issue. But there are many times when there are no outward signs of water or moisture damage at all, which can mean that the poor homeowners have no idea that they’ve got mold, mildew and general rot eating away at their property until it’s too late.

But while stucco tears are a telltale sign, they are not conclusive. The best way to determine whether you have water damage in stucco is a moisture test. You’ll need to hire a professional to conduct this test and then work with them to determine your next best course of action.

Stucco Cracks

Stucco is tough stuff but it will crack over time. And those cracks are often not even caused by a real trauma you might know about (like a car hitting the wall when its backed into a driveway.) Instead the causes can be less obvious, and may include any of the following:

Water Penetration
High Winds
Powerful Vibrations (such as from large trucks or heavy construction near your home)
Improper Construction
Faulty Installation
Improper Mix Composition

Repair or Replace?

If you catch stucco related water damage early, it’s possible that repairs will be enough to remedy the problem. Do keep in mind, however, that repairs aren’t really a permanent solution. After all, your stucco siding can still be at risk of future moisture damage. Also, if the damage is extensive or the necessary repairs intensive, it might be easier and more cost-effective to do a complete siding replacement.

Even more important though, before you make that repair or replace decision is that the underlying cause of the damage is properly addressed. As we mentioned, stucco is great, sturdy stuff. So it is rarely the stucco’s fault. If it was improperly installed that has to be remedied. If it was cracking because of all the big trucks rumbling past your house then you may have to consider an alternative siding altogether, like vinyl or plastic.

Five Signs Your Home May be Harboring Lurking Mould

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Often if mould is present in your home it makes itself known pretty loud and clear, by its colorful presence splattered all over walls, floors, furniture or even carpets and rugs. Some moulds are sneakier though, and like to hide out of sight. behind walls, under floors, in the darkest corners of the attic or basement and occasionally under static appliances. And while hidden mould is much harder to track down, it’s not impossible. Here are five clear warning signs that you have a lurking mould problem that you should never ignore.

Moisture

Anywhere there is moisture in your home there is also the potential for mould growth. Water spots on walls, ceilings or floors or buckling or bubbling floors can all also be harboring mould (and helping it grow) so such things should never be ignored and instead should be examined and investigated properly.

Sudden Sniffles and Other Respiratory Symptoms

One of the nasty side effects of the presence of some types of mould in your home is that they can cause allergy-like symptoms, including sneezing, sore throats, constant headaches and dry coughs. If your family seems to be suddenly plagued by such symptoms, even during the winter when seasonal allergies are not really normal, and your doctor can’t find a reasonable cause, it may be time to have your home professionally checked for lurking mould.

Nasty Musty Smells

A unpleasant, lingering musty smell does not always indicate that a room has a mould problem but more often than not that is in fact at least a part of the problem. Rather than simply trying to disguise the problem with air fresheners and scented candles call in a professional to check for mould as well. They can address any issues discovered quickly and efficiently and maybe save you a small fortune on smelly stuff!

Discolorations
Any type of new or unexplained discoloration on a wall, ceiling or floor, even if it doesn’t look like it was caused by moisture, could be a potential sign of mould and should be checked out by a licensed mould remediation company. If you spot odd dark spots on your wall it could be a sign that mould is really active on the inside of the wall so it’s especially certainly not something to ignore (or paint over)

Ventilation Issues
If your home has any ventilation issues, even small ones, they can quickly lead to mould growth. In addition to high levels of humidity homes that are too tightly sealed and cooled may also be prone to mould, especially in ducts and vents.