5 Terrific Home Tech Innovations From Kickstarter Any Home Owner Will Love

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As people who make use of all kinds of technical equipment and technology all day every day to help tackle water, mould and fire damage (among other things) it’s fairly natural (we think) that we all love gadgets. Especially home gadgets, cool stuff that makes the operation – and sometimes the looks – of average home systems even better.

It’s for this reason that, when we have a chance, we do like to have a look at some of the innovations being pitched on Kickstarter. You really can find some amazing stuff, as some of our recent favourites demonstrate:

Nebia

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Imagine showering in the soft spray of a raging waterfall. However, although we do have some lovely waterfalls here in Ontario try it in real life and you’re likely to be arrested (and make the ten o’clock news) The Nebia is a new kind of showerhead that atomizes water into millions of droplets, creating a water ‘surface area’ that’s ten times larger than a standard shower and yet actually uses less water and less energy is needed to heat the  water. The fine, fine  spray also reduces splashing, decreasing the  risk of  the kind of long term water damage some showers can cause.

Miito

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Speaking of  water and saving energy the Miito is akin to the kettle of the future. Aside from its astonishing good looks the Miito trumps a traditional kettle in that it can heat  just enough water for a single cup of tea or coffee far faster, a much less wasteful way to get a brew on. It can actually even heat soup if you so desire and the clean up is easy too.

Flyte

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The Flyte is more than an energy saving lightbulb for almost any room in your home, it’s practically magic . The Flyte is a levitating light which hovers by magnetic levitation and does not even need any batteries, as it is powered by air and induction. Oh, and each one has an IKEA like wooden base that serves as rather a nice piece of home decor as well.

Bruno

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The Bruno combines two common household items – the trash can and the dustpan – and takes them both  to the next level. Simply sweep dirt, dust, pet hair and more to the ‘mouth’ of this clever bin and it will literally suck it up, saving you what is often some rather back breaking dustpan work and making the whole floor clean up process easier and more efficient and yet it can  still be used as a ‘regular’ trash can as well. And what’s even better is that it hooks up to your smartphone to remind you when it’s garbage day as well as to alert you to the fact that it is getting full.

Alchema

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OK, so the Alchema is a bit indulgent, but we love it anyway, especially as the hot cider season approaches. This clever take on a Keurig allows you to make fresh hot apple cider in the comfort of your own kitchen, and it’s as easy as brewing coffee. Don’t really like cider? That’s OK, because you can use the Alchema to brew small batches of homemade wine too.

 

 

 

 

Choosing the Right Vacuum – Top Tips You Might Have Overlooked

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Regular vacuuming is the best way to help keep your carpets in good shape between visits from a carpet cleaning company. But it can do more than that. By helping to eliminate the amount of dirt and dust that’s around in general you can extend the life of your HVAC filters, improve the general air quality in your home and reduce the fire risk that clogged filters can present.

For it to be most efficient though you need a really good vacuum cleaner. Head to any store that sells them though and you are likely to be faced with dozens of different choices. The important thing to remember when shopping is that there is more to a great vacuum cleaner than just flashy good looks or the promise of great suction.

Here are a few things some people overlook when choosing the right vacuum for their home:

Size: Vacuums come in lots of different sizes and size is actually important when it comes to using it. If you choose a certain model because it seems to offer a lot of power, or because its a great price but it is then rather heavy it may become even more of a chore to use. If possible test drive a vacuum before you buy it. If it is too heavy for you to lift, or hard to push you are less likely to actually use it as often as you should.

Attachments – Many people want to be able to use their vacuum for more than just cleaning their carpets. A vacuum with the right attachments can be used to clean upholstery, draperies and blinds so if all of these are present in your home choosing a vacuum that is up to these tasks is important as well.

Versatility – There are very few homeowners whose home is completely carpeted and the non carpeted floors have to be kept clean as well. If you have a vacuum cleaner that can be adjusted for use on other types of floor then it will help reduce the amount of effort to have to put in to do this.

There are also some models available that double as wet vacuums as well. These can be handy if you have a leak prone basement but on a day to day basis most homeowners probably won’t get enough use out of the functionality to justify what is often a hefty price increase over standard models.

Noise – How noisy a vacuum is may not be the most important consideration when choosing the right model for you but after a few months (or even weeks) of using a noisy vacuum then you may wish you had given it a bit more thought. No vacuum is silent but you do not have to be stuck with one that almost deafens everyone in the house every time it is used!

Essential End of Summer Home Maintenance Tips

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Wow, where did the summer go? It only seems like five minutes ago that we were all opening up pools, setting up the patio furniture and dusting off the grill. Now summer is almost over, the kids are heading back to school and it’ll only be a few weeks before pumpkin spice returns to your favourite coffee shop and the NHL is back on TV.

The end of summer calls for a celebration – one more chance to fire that grill up in earnest perhaps – but it also calls for a little extra home maintenance, in order to help ensure that your home is ready for the rigors of the colder months that lie ahead. With all of this in mind, here are some of the most important items to add to – and then check off – an end of summer home maintenance checklist.

Dust, Dust Dust and Dust Some More

It’s time to get out the vacuum (and maybe the feather duster) out and make sure that the basic airflow system in your home is nice and clean before you turn the heat back on and close all of the windows. Make sure that your vents, extractor fans, baseboard heaters, floor registers and/or furnace ducts are all clean and dust free. Not only will this help maintain better air quality all winter long but it will help reduce the risk of fire as well.

Get Ready to Crank Up the Heat

Now is the time to call to get your heating system serviced but in the meantime you can stock up on new furnace filters and then plan to change them at least once every six weeks throughout the winter months. If you are lucky enough to have a fireplace it’s time to get that checked and cleaned as well. A build up of creosote is not only a fire hazard but it can lead to toxic fumes as well, once the fire is lit, and so this is a task that should never be skipped.

De-gunk Those Gutters

Another crucial autumn maintenance task is ensuring that your gutters are in the best possible shape as damaged, clogged and inefficiently placed guttering is one of the biggest causes of the water damage we see every year once the colder weather takes hold.

In addition to cleaning your gutters – or having someone clean them for you – make sure that you replace any damaged sections and ensure that nothing is sagging and that gutter hangers and downspout brackets are screwed in nice and tight.

Finally ensure that all of the downspouts extend at least 5 feet away from your house to prevent water and/or ice related foundation problems. If they don’t, add downspout extensions; they are only $10 to $20 each and it’s a very small price to pay to prevent what can be very serious water damage.

Check Out the Roof

Your roof really should be checked, but to stay safe grab a pair of good binoculars and inspect it from the ground first.

What are you on the lookout for? Shingles that are buckled, cracked, or missing; rust spots on flashing, loose, damaged, or missing shingles any and all of which should be addressed as soon as possible, preferably by the professionals.

Seeing stains as well? Often black stains are harmless – but admittedly very ugly – but masses of moss can be more of a problem as they often also harbour mould which will happily eat away at your roof all winter long, especially if heat is escaping from a poorly insulated attic. Again, if you are concerned, call in the pros to investigate before the snow starts to fall.

3 Reasons Cooking with Softened Water Is the Best Choice

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We’ve written before about hard water and what it can do your appliances and your home. We’ve also written about the possible advantages of installing a water softener in your home to address the problem. If you need a quick reminder of just what hard water vs. soft water does though, this chart lays it out rather nicely:

Hard Water Soft Water
Often leaves dishes coated in a slimy film because the dish washing liquid’s capabilities are lessened by the minerals in the water Is a better choice for dish washing and laundry as it works well with the detergents used in it.
Is responsible for that scummy “ring around the bath tub” that is so annoying. Does not leave that telltale ring around the bath tub behind.
Can make it hard to get a good lather with your favorite soaps and shampoos Does not affect the efficiency of your soaps and shampoos and makes it easier to get a good lather.
Can shorten the useful life of appliances that use it as a layer of minerals can build up on their workings, causing them to be far less efficient. Will not leave a residue in the workings of appliances, allowing them to operate more efficiently.
Is sometimes considered a better drinking water because of the minerals it contains. Some of the minerals are indeed good for the human body, especially calcium. Is fine for drinking but may occasionally have a slightly salty taste thanks to the sodium ions.
May have elements in it that are not so nice to drink including dissolved sewage Has all minerals removed so is reasonably “pure” compared to hard water

Recently however we discovered another reason why you may want to take some action to ‘soften up’ the hard water in your home; soft water improves the culinary experience. How? Here are just three ways cited by culinary professionals:

1. Better baked goods

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Minerals, such as calcium and magnesium, are what make tap water hard. Some chefs prefer to use soft water when baking so that the taste of the dough stays true to its flavor. In addition, according to none other than BBC/PBS reality show legend and master baker Paul Hollywood – he of The  Great British Bake Off – harder water can lead to stiffer dough, leading to very bad bakes. Soft water can yield slower-rising dough, which is ideal, whatever you are baking.

2. Tasty beverages

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When your main ingredient is water, it really helps if it’s the good stuff. In the case of coffee or tea, when the hot water hits the beans or leaves, hundreds of compounds are released. Since coffee and tea are the kind of beverages people taste with their tongue and their nose, this chemical reaction is critical. The calcium and magnesium in hard water can actually block this process by binding to the compounds, inhibiting the full sensory experience,  ruining the taste of that $10 a kilo coffee you intended to treat yourself to.

3. Cleaner kitchen and cooking supplies

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Another sense that we tend to overlook during the dining experience is sight. You may make the best pizza dough and coffee in the neighborhood, but spotty glassware and dishes can overshadow it and won’t impress your guests, or your family, very much. In addition, soft water keeps appliances like coffee makers in proper working condition, free of mineral clogs, extending their useful life significantly.

Great Reasons to Incorporate Some Natural Interior Design Products into Your Home Decor

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Over the last few years more and more people have been trying to be a little more environmentally conscious when it comes to many different aspects of their lives including trying to use more “green” products and materials for the interior design in their homes. From flooring to furniture and almost everything in between more and more people are adding some elements of natural interior design to their homes and for some very different reasons.

Here are some of the more popular natural additions people are making to their homes and the advantages that can be gained if you choose to do the same:

Natural Interior Design: Flooring

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Several natural flooring products are considered to be very hot right now. For example natural stone is making a comeback in a big way. Natural stone is a great choice for flooring in the kitchen or for an outdoor room and the choice of colors and tones is quite extensive. It is a very popular option for those who live in warmer climates as it has the ability to remain fairly cool in the heat (although that can be a disadvantage during a cold winter) Natural stone is expensive but it will also outlast most other forms of flooring by decades , something that is good for the environment in terms of reducing waste as well as good for a homeowner’s long term budget!

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Traditional hardwood flooring is also being replaced with more eco friendly options. Bamboo is as durable and beautiful as any hardwood and because bamboo is a grass it is a renewable resource making bamboo flooring a very environmentally friendly choice. It is also a smart choice for family homes as bamboo has natural anti bacterial properties that can help make your home a slightly healthier place for everyone to be.

Cork kitchen

Another renewable resource used to create flooring is cork. Cork does come from a tree but only the bark is harvested, leaving the tree itself alive and thriving. Lots of people love cork because the flooring has a natural “give” – try squeezing a wine cork to see what we mean – that is very easy on the feet as well as great sound absorption properties that can help make a busy, noisy place a slightly quieter place.

Natural Interior Design: Wall Coverings

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People are also going greener when it comes to choosing what to adorn the walls of their home with as well. One interesting trend is the return of milk paint. Milk paint is made of real milk proteins, clay and natural colorants and was widely used in the 18th century by the colonists who settled the US. Because of the concern about all the dangerous chemicals that modern paint contains that are bad for the environment and for humans more people are rediscovering this natural, chemical free alternative that also creates a very unique look when used in the home.

Another natural wall-covering that is gaining popularity pretty rapidly is grass cloth. Grass cloth looks like a very rough and textured wallpaper that is actually woven from all natural fibers by hand. The look can be a very unique one and is certainly a lot more environmentally friendly than traditional paper based wallpapers.

Natural Interior Design; Recycled Products

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More and more products made from recycled materials are finding their way into our homes as well. These includes beautiful brightly colored counter tops and wall tile made from recycled glass and sturdy but lightweight plastic home furnishings that care crafted from recycled plastic from simple soda bottles! Old wood is also finding new life in the form of reclaimed wood flooring and reclaimed wood furniture.

These are just a few ideas for incorporating natural and eco friendly interior design into your home, there are plenty of others you can explore. What all of this demonstrates though is that going green and natural does not have to mean that you live in a “hippie” home, just that you are a little more thoughtful and responsible about the materials and products you choose for your home decor.

Tile Flooring Installation Mistakes that Homeowners Make You Need to Avoid

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As a flooring material, ceramic tile is many things; great looking, extremely durable, versatile and suitable for use in almost any room in your home. The one thing that ceramic tile – when used on the floor anyway – is easy to install. However, encouraged by big box home store salespeople many homeowners do decide to give floor tiling a go themselves.

With the right instruction this actually does not need to be such a rough job after all. However, there are some common mistakes that many people make when laying a tile floor, and then caring for it later, that if you can avoid will back the end result so much better. Here are a few of the most common of those avoidable tile related faux pas.

Getting the Tile Math Wrong

Usually, when a homeowner is purchasing floor tile if their salesperson is a knowledgeable one then they will advise them that buying 5-10% more tile than they have actually measured out that they need is a good idea. Unfortunately, many people mistake this advice for a sales pitch and stick to purchasing the exact number of tiles they need and no more.

Then the job begins. A tile cracks. The homeowner has to cut a few tiles to fit them in an awkward nook or cranny. And then all of a sudden there is a big patch of bare, untiled floor remaining and no more tiles left. At best this will now involve halting the job and heading back to the store to buy more and at worst getting to the store and discovering there is no more of this particular tile left in stock! The extra really is necessary, not only to make sure your tile installation goes smoothly but also as a precaution so that you  have a few extra tiles on hand in the future should one become damaged or cracked.

Poor Prep

In a hurry to get the job done as soon as possible many people skip one very important step when laying floor tile; they fail to prepare and clean the sub floor below properly. Thinking that a clean, smooth sub floor does not matter as it will be covered up soon any way, it can be tempting to skip sweeping and sanding. However, surface preparation does matter a lot. Laying tile over a dirty, uneven sub floor – and we’ve even heard of people tiling  over a mouldy floor – often results in an uneven floor that is prone to lifting tiles as they never really adhered properly in the first place. It c an also lead to a sunken floor and even gradual water damage as the water used to mop the floor gradually seeps through little cracks.

Grouting Errors

Grout is perhaps one of the most potentially troublesome things about having a tile floor in the first place. It does not have to be though. Further down the line, when your tile floor has been in place for a while and it is time for its first professional tile cleaning, a good tile cleaning company will be able to effectively remove the grime that will inevitably build up as well as seal it so that it remains cleaner longer.

However, a homeowner can also help minimize the grimy grout problem when they are laying tile by ensuring that they remove excess grout as they work. Doing so is a little more time consuming and painstaking but the extra effort will pay off in the future.

Quick Maintenance Tip – Troubleshooting a Faucet Aerator

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Here’s a quick question; what’s an aerator and where is it located in your home? Those of you who are ‘handy’ almost certainly know but not everyone does. An aerator is rather important though, although it’s very small and easily overlooked. Most commonly one is attached to every faucet in your home and it’s there to catch particulates in the water -n no one likes sand and dust in their water glass – but more importantly it creates a non-splashing stream of water by mixing water and air. And even if you knew what an aerator is the chances are that you don’t think twice about them until the flow starts to slow down to a trickle and begins to drive you nuts …

Cleaning an Aerator

All of this usually this means that this little gizmo is clogged and needs a good cleaning. But just how do you do that?

The first step is to gain access to the aerator. This is done using a pair of channel locks and duct tape. Wrap the jaws with a little tape so you don’t scratch or damage the surface.

As you look down at the faucet, turn the aerator clockwise & it will unscrew

Check for any damage to the washer, and if there is take the washer to have it replaced

Pop the washer & screen part out & rinse off.

Put the aerator back together

Turn on the tap in order to clean out any other gunk out of the faucet

Screw the aerator back in by hand and then give it a 1/4 of a turn with the channel locks to make sure it is securely back in place.

Turn the faucet on to verify you completed everything above properly.

Don’t Forget Your Showerhead

Your shower head has a similar setup. In most cases you would simply unscrew it like above, pop the washer out and rinse the screen portion. Reinsert the washer, apply some Teflon tape (if needed) and screw it back.

Troubleshooting Other Problems

Slime Buildup

The easiest way to deal with a slimy aerator is to disassemble the pieces and place the affected parts in either vinegar or baking soda and water mixture. Rinse everything off a few hours later and if clean, reassemble. This is something that you should do at least twice a year even if the water flow is not impeded, just to make sure that that gunk (which is often a combination of dirt, dust, mould and mildew) is not affecting the quality of your water.

Water Leaks

Leaks from the shower head or faucet can be caused by several things. One of the most common is a problem with the washer around the aerator. Check to make sure that it is in good shape and properly tightened down. Make sure the aerator body isn’t deformed or cracked this is rare with most of them but cheaper versions have been known to have issues. For extra ‘safety’ wrap a few strands of Teflon tape around the body to tighten things up.

If, after all of this, you still have a leak you should consult a pro, especially as even a small leak can waste a great deal of water and cause the kind of slow water damage that can be especially difficult to deal with.

Would Buying New Aerators Save Money?

Some people do suggest replacing older aerators with newer models. It can indeed be a good way to save water as many of the older ones allow for two or more gallons of water to flow through them per minute while you can buy replacement ones that only allow .5 of a gallon.

For bathrooms it can definitely be well worth it, especially if you like to leave the faucet on while brushing your teeth. And for shaving you might actually enjoy the change, as the addition of air to the mix creates a better spray to help clean your razor.

For kitchens however this might not be such a hot idea, especially if you are constantly filling pots, pans, the sink, etc. for cooking. It may take longer AKA the “I hate wasting water and it seems like I have to leave the tap on for a few minutes before I get hot water. It only took a minute before…” The catch is you are still wasting the same amount of water, the issue is you are just now stuck waiting longer for it making you think you are wasting more.

Home Maintenance 101: Electrical Safety in the Home

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Most of us actually take the complex electrical installations in our home for granted. As long as the lights stay on, the washer and dryer keeps running and the TV stays on we rarely give it a second thought. But with the amount of electrical equipment in the average home today (it’s a lot) being aware of basic electricity safety rules and what to do when something goes wrong is essential. Here are some basic tips to make your home a safer place to live:

Safety in the Bathroom

Any electrical outlets in the bathroom should have auto safety cut outs and be checked by a professional electrician once in a while to make sure they are functioning properly. As we all know, water and electricity are a very dangerous mix so a faulty outlet can be far more than simply a nuisance. When using electrical appliances in the bathroom, do so away from the sink or shower, never with wet hands and when they are not in use unplug them immediately.

Safety in the Kitchen

Kitchen appliances use a lot of power and should always be installed by a professional electrician to ensure that they function correctly and when used together will not overload the electrical circuits. As in the bathroom, any outlets near the sink should be equipped with an auto safety cutout.

Safety in the Living Room and Beyond

How many devices do you have plugged into that one outlet by the TV in the living room? Many homeowners plug the DVD, the game system(s) , the DVR and assorted other entertaining gadgets into one socket, which is a recipe for disaster. Overloads can not only destroy your expensive electronic equipment in the blink of an eye but can also cause electrical fires. Use a surge protecting power strip if you do not have enough individual electrical sockets in the area you need them.

One word about home theaters; if you are considering one, call in the pros to do the wiring. Unless you have considerable experience in the area, installing all the components of your home theater and then actually having them function together cohesively can be a tall order for the amateur. You will be spending hundreds of dollars on cool electronics so making that extra investment in the services of a professional to ensure that they will actually work is simply common sense.

Spotting Trouble

If the lights in your home flicker a lot, you see a few sparks when unplugging an appliance from its socket or you start to notice strange burning smells, even faint ones, it is time to call in a licensed electrician. Outdated electrical systems can be dangerous. Electrical equipment such as fuses, wires, and other elements deteriorate overtime and the wiring in older homes is often unable to cope with the higher electricity usage of today’s homes.

The best thing to do is have a professional electrician come in and perform a full inspection of your home’s electrical systems. They will be able to inform you of the exact state of your circuitry, and advise you on any upgrades or repairs that need to be done before anything can go wrong.

Home Maintenance 101: Preventing Water Damage in the Kitchen – Part 2

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After following the basic steps in part 1 of this article and learning how to prevent water damage in the kitchen’s sink, counter tops, and dishwasher, we’re now moving on to the other high risk areas in your kitchen

The Refrigerator

As it is usually hard and cumbersome to see, let alone reach, the area behind the average fridge is rarely something that any homeowner inspects. However, a periodic inspection will significantly reduce the risk of water-related problems, of which a fridge ‘gone bad’ can cause a number.

Any sign of moisture behind the refrigerator is a major warning. Never ignore any sign of moisture or leaks, and fix them immediately or call in your assigned appliance maintenance team if the appliance is still under warranty. Don’t wait, as, in addition to the moisture there is a good chance that mould is lurking underneath as well, as the moisture, combined with the heat the fridge gives off, offers mould the ideal living – and growing – conditions.

Icemakers are great, but if your refrigerator has one you need to check the hose connection regularly to ensure that it is sealed and properly and securely attached to its water supply. Even the smallest leak can cause big problems, so never ignore one. And again, just like the dishwasher, if replacing a plastic hose with a steel braided one is at all possible you really should consider doing so.

And finally, if your fridge has a drain pan check it often and make sure to keep it clean
to prevent waterborne bacteria and mould.

The Cooking Range

Since it is not directly related to water, the cooking range area is another overlooked part of the kitchen.

If your stove portable, move it occasionally to check for water or moisture signs. If your stove is fixed to the wall, remove the bottom drawer and search that way. The moisture could come from a damaged dishwasher of fridge nearby or simply from excess condensation in a steamy kitchen that is not ventilated out properly. Locate the source of the problem and make repairs as needed and as quickly as possible, especially in the case of mould.

The Exhaust Fans

Exhaust fans are hugely important in maintaining lower levels of humidity in what is often a very steamy space. To maintain proper ventilation and smooth air circulation, exhaust fan filters must be cleaned regularly to prevent dust and mold accumulation. Make sure that the exhaust fan is operating well and that it is actively switched on every time you cook anything, even in the winter.

Home Maintenance 101: Preventing Water Damage in the Kitchen – Part 1

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Although it is usually one of the busiest – if not the busiest – rooms in the average home apart from general cleaning , all too often certain warning signs and basic maintenance tasks in the kitchen are often neglected or overlooked. And one of the biggest dangers of this homeowner habit is that warning signs of excess moisture and impending water damage go unaddressed until it’s too late.

What should a homeowner be doing to prevent this? Keeping an eye on the following moisture sources will help prevent water damage and its related issues.

Sinks and Counter Tops

Kitchen sink and counter top areas are obviously, some of the most water-exposed areas in any home. And they are often the source of a number of water related issues that could easily lead to damage.

Prevention in these areas should begin with a regular check underneath the sink. Yes, this probably means hauling out everything you store under there but it’s worth the effort. Once the area is cleared check for damp spots, drips and small leaks. Even a small, slow drip from the sink trap can be an indication of much bigger problems to come and it’s something that should be dealt with immediately.

Next have a look around the sink. A sink that drains slowly can be a sign that the drain itself is beginning to clog. A constantly dripping faucet is not only a water damage risk but a real resource waster as well (both in terms of water and money) And cracked seals are an accident waiting to happen. All of these things are relatively minor and inexpensive fixes when caught early, but that is the key.

Turning to counter tops, if there are obvious cracks daily usage, which almost inevitably involves some moisture, will, over time, lead to water seeping inside and damaging the counters themselves, and even, in some cases, to unseen mould. Fixing these ‘little problems’ while they are still just that is a must as well.

The Dishwasher

However expensive it was to purchase, any dishwasher is prone to leaks and as they age even the priciest models will lose efficiency. But again, there are early warning signs that trouble may be ahead. If the dishwasher doesn’t empty completely after each use, the main filter may be clogged and must be replaced promptly. If the sink overflows, it is often due to dishwasher back-ups, a problem that usually occurs when the drain line is clogged. Therefore cleaning this regularly – which is not too hard – is a must take precaution. And if the hoses are plastic or rubber, installing longer lasting steel-braided hoses in their place is a great idea too.

A dishwasher leak can be slow and hard to notice, but also lead to flooring water damage that can be very serious. Even if you can’t spot an active trickle of water stained, warped, or soft flooring materials and cabinets near the dishwasher are an indication that something is wrong and needs to be checked out further.

Stay tuned, Part 2 of this prevention primer is coming soon.