Common Sense Tips for Staying Safe in Summer Storms

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Although summer brings sunny skies and soaring temperatures it also brings summer storms, especially in the ‘dog days’ of August. And these storms can – as many of us know first hand – be pretty nasty. As water and fire damage restoration experts we know all too well the damage they can do to homes and commercial buildings. Flooding, fire and more can result from just a single short but violent summer storm, and often there was very little a property’s owners could have done to prevent it it.

But there can be more than just a threat to buildings during a summer storm. Lightning and flash floods injure dozens of Canadians every summer. And while you may have thought of what you would do to help safeguard your home during a summer storm, and even know who to call if something does go wrong do you know what you should be doing to protect yourself? Here are some simple, common sense ways to reduce your risk.

Summer Storm Safety Indoors

Avoid Water and Wires – If lightning strikes a building, the electrical charge it creates can quickly surge through both electrical wiring and water pipes. Essentially this means that you could get shocked if you happen to be in contact with running water OR using any device that is plugged into ‘the mains’.

To be safe, stay away from microwaves, toasters, landline phones and other plugged in gadgets until the storm has passed. And don’t do anything that involves using the tap, even washing the dishes.

Wait for Quiet Skies – Even after the pouring rain stops, it’s usually best to stay inside for a a while longer, even if you are keen to get outside to check for any property damage that may have occurred. Lightning can strike up to 10 miles away from the storm itself, so just because the rain is gone may not mean the danger is just yet.

You can fairly accurately gauge your distance from a storm by the sound of thunder, which usually doesn’t travel more than 10 miles. If you can hear it, you are still at risk. Stay put until the skies are silent again even if the rain stopped a while ago.

Summer Storm Safety Outdoors

Skip Shaky Shelter – If you are caught outside in an open area during a storm – a park perhaps – it’s very tempting to take cover under a picnic shelter or maybe in golf cart. However, in open-sided structures with no conductors to channel strikes, a lightning bolt’s path of least resistance to the ground could be you. Instead keep moving towards proper shelter as quickly and calmly as you can. Better still, when the weather forecast calls for a storm take notice, and plan your outdoor activities for a different time.

Steer Clear of Trees – Lightning often connects with trees simply because trees are tall. If struck, a tree conducts potentially deadly current into the ground and can even explode from the bolt’s extreme heat. Add in gale-force winds that can snap large branches, and the result is serious danger. Be smart and give trees a wide berth.

Don’t Touch that Dial – It’s not just a myth; sitting inside a vehicle is safer than being outdoors during a storm, but not because of the rubber tires. The car’s metal body protects you by conducting electricity around the passenger cabin and into the ground. But, for this reason, you should avoid contact with any metal components in the vehicle , such as door handles or the radio dial.

Avoid the Puddles –  As you have probably seen on TV if not in person, torrential rain can wash out chunks of road, creating puddles that look shallow but run deep and even a mere 6 inches of water can stall a car engine.

Stalling increases the risk that another vehicle will hit yours, and it also leaves you vulnerable in the event of a flash flood. If you can’t drive round around a large puddle, find another route or pull over in a nonflooded area until you verify that the road is passable.

Outdoor Living Ideas: Creating Your Own Backyard Vegetable Patch

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Most of us really are making the effort to go a bit greener, especially at home and at the same time lots of people, not just in Ontario but all over the world, are becoming more and more concerned about the quality of the food they buy at the supermarket and are opting to go organic whenever they can.

Organic fruits and vegetables can be pricey though, however good for you they might be. there is an alternative though and all you need is some space in your garden a little guidance and a lot of patience. and that alternative is growing you own produce in your very own vegetable garden.

Before you recoil in horror and protest that you simply do not have the “green thumb” to create and cultivate a vegetable garden you should know that it is nowhere near as hard as it sounds. Here are some pointers for the first time veggie gardener:

Deciding What You Want to Grow – Starting fairly small is usually the best idea for those new to the concept of vegetable gardening. Some first timers make the mistake of over-planting at the start of the growing season and end up not only feeling overwhelmed by their garden but left with too much produce on their hands as well.

When you are deciding what you want to grow you should remember that certain vegetables – tomatoes, peppers, beans etc – will keep on producing for months while other veggies like radishes, carrots and corn will only produce once so you should plan your garden accordingly.

A growing trend among vegetable gardeners right now is to try out heirloom seeds. Most of the fruits and vegetables you can buy in the supermarket are derived from just one or two varieties (its cheaper and easier that way) but heirloom seeds bring back varieties that have not been cultivated for years, or that have been created by horticulturists.

The variety in terms of color and taste is astonishing and there are now a number of great Canadian suppliers you can all kinds of seeds from online. These sites offer detailed information about each seed including what soils and climates it is best suited for, allowing you to choose the varieties that have the best chance of success if they are planted where you live.

Heirloom carrots. Yes, they grow like this and taste great
Heirloom carrots. Yes, they grow like this and taste great.

Finding the Space to Grow – Once you have determined what you want to grow then you have to find the room! But you do not need miles and miles of space to start a vegetable garden. Urban dwellers often do very well with container gardens set out on their decks and there are many postage stamp sized veggie patches that still produce lots of tasty food all year round.

In fact there are only three main requirements for the success of a vegetable garden (hard work aside) You need good light, a good soil and the right amount of water and these are things that can come together almost anywhere with a bit of effort. And now, time for the harder part…

Simple Steps to a New Vegetable Garden

The very first thing you need to do is to define just where your vegetable garden is going to be located and define its borders. this is your first chance to get a little creative as well. Instead of choosing to stick with a square or rectangle why not go for a circle, an oval or even an abstract shape instead? Once you have determined the perfect shape mark it out with a simple line of sand.

If your new garden currently has grass then that will need to be dug up carefully. The easiest way to do this is to use a specialist sod cutter but if you work carefully a spade can do the job just as well.

Next comes the hard work, the digging. You need to dig (or till) until all the rocks, roots and debris in the soil are gone. This is a good time to add an organic compost to improve the soil quality, simply mix it in as you dig.

The next step is to further delineate the vegetable garden from the rest of the landscape with some edging. A trench of about 6-8 inches deep and 1 to 2 inches wide should be sufficient.

It will take extra time and effort but if you place plants and seed where you want them to go before you actually plant them you can lay out your vegetable garden far more  effectively. This helps you get the spacing right as well as create visual appeal as well.

Now for planting time. Try to follow the directions on seed packets as closely as possible and any plants you are adding should be handled with extreme care, especially around the root area. If a plant has been potted and seems to have become rootbound gently tease the roots free, don’t pull!

Adding mulch to your new vegetable garden is one of the best things you can do to ensure that all the new seeds and plants it contains have the best chance of achieving great growth. A 2 inch layer of shredded wood chips or other mulch material will help keep the weeds at bay and trap essential moisture in the soil even when the weather above ground is hot and dry.

Once everything is planted and mulched it all needs a good soaking. If you are using a very dry mulch it may absorb a lot of the water before seed and plants can get any so soak it well to make sure that the moisture will seep down to them.

Not that hard is it? All you have do after this is keep an eye on your garden, water it is a needed and then go and treat yourself to a new recipe book in anticipation of all that wonderful homegrown food!

Choosing Your Outdoor Kitchen Essentials the Right Way

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Summer is the perfect time for making the most of the good weather and taking your meals outdoors instead of being stuck in a hot kitchen or stuffy dining room to eat. These days more and more people are taking that idea to the next level and creating an complete outdoor kitchen that truly allows them to make the most of those warm, balmy summer days.

An outdoor kitchen can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be, or can afford it to be anyway. But there are certain things that every outdoor kitchen really needs to make it properly functional and save you from having to keep running back indoors every few minutes! Here are a few essentials you should not be without

A Good Cooking Appliance

The simple BBQ has evolved a great deal and many of the best outdoor kitchens now feature a real live oven, usually a wood burning one. If your budget won’t run to anything that fancy a simple fire pit designed for cooking costs less than most standard grills do and the flavors you can create by experimenting with cooking woods and other fuels are often unique and exquisite.

A Place to Chill

One of the delights of a summer evening spent outdoors is the chance to sip on long, tall, cool beverages – or just a beer or two. In order to be able to do that with ease a small fridge is a great addition to any outdoor kitchen. You probably do not need anything bigger than a dorm style refrigerator, the kind you can usually find right at your local home goods store for less than $100.

Storage: Any outdoor kitchen needs some great storage space. You do not have to spend a fortune on built in outdoor cabinetry though. A mobile kitchen island can do the job very nicely and they too are far more affordable than you might think, especially if you shop at a home improvement chain store. A mobile island also offers the advantage that it will give you a ready-made outdoor food prep area as well and, if you are willing to spend a little more, the convenience of a sink as well.

Dinnerware for Outdoor Use:

Running back to the indoor kitchen to get extra plates, cutlery and glasses will certainly cut down on the time you have to enjoy your outdoor kitchen so keeping a dinner and glassware set outside, even if they they are plastic, is always a good idea.

Great Lighting

Eating in the pitch black is not too much fun indoors or out so make sure that your outdoor kitchen area is well lit. Bear in mind that for maximum function and beauty an outdoor lighting scheme should follow the same pattern as an indoor one; you’ll need task lighting as well as the stuff that sets a great ambiance.

Safety Equipment

Just like you should have a fire extinguisher in your indoor kitchen there should be one in your outdoor version as well. No matter what mode of cooking you employ there are fire hazards involved and you need to be prepared.

Need some design inspiration? Check out our great gallery below:

Top Tips for the Basic Care and Maintenance of Your New Fire Pit

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An increasing number of people are opting to swap – or supplement – their existing BBQ grill set up in favor of a fire pit. It can indeed be a great idea. As a part of an outdoor decor set up they look very cool and they can be very enjoyable to use as well.

After you have made the investment in the right fire pit you want to be able to enjoy it – and enjoy it safely -for years to come. Like anything else around the home though your fire pit – whatever kind you choose – does need the occasional bit of tender loving care to ensure that it remains safe to use and in great working order so that you can reap the benefits season after season. Here are some basic tips:

Keep it Clean – Cleanliness tends to increase the longevity of almost any appliance or product in and around your home and that is certainly the case when it comes to a fire pit. If yours is a gas model, make sure that its nozzles remain free of any blockages, not just to ensure it functions at its best but for safety’s sake as well. You should also have it inspected by a professional at least once a year to check for any problems that are not immediately visible to the untrained eye.

If, on the other hand, you opt for a wood burning fire pit instead always clean out the ashes after a fire as soon after they have cooled as possible. It is especially important to give your wood burning fire pit a through cleaning if you have used it to cook with. After they have cooled off completely things like meat juices and oil splatters can be very hard to remove.

Do Not Put Out a Fire with Water – It may seem like a quick and easy way to put out a fire but by drenching your wood burning fire pit with water you may unintentionally damage it, especially if it is a clay or ceramic fire pit as the sudden change in temperature can cause cracks to appear very quickly. It may also cause the fire to flare up out of control. You can use a certain amount of water to put out an already dying fire, but take it slowly. Sand is often a great alternative though and has far less potential to cause permanent damage.

Cover it Up – If you do not intend to use your fire pit for a while a proper cover is an investment you should certainly give serious thought to. Outdoor fire pits are designed to be able to withstand the elements fairly well but in certain conditions, especially during the coldest and snowiest months, affording it a little extra protection can only help to prolong its useful life.

Avoid Accelerants – Getting a good fire going in a wood burning fire pit can sometimes take a while. You should never however be tempted to speed the whole process up by using an accerlerant to get the flames burning higher faster. Not only can such things cause permanent damage to your fire pit but they are also highly dangerous and can create a fire that burns out of control in just seconds.

Follow the Instructions – There are many different kinds of fire pit available made from a number of different materials. Some of these materials require more care than others. For example, a certain surface may require resealing or refinishing once in a while to keep it in the best possible condition. When you buy your fire pit review any such recommendations and then make sure you follow them.

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.

Great Outdoor Living Ideas: Gutter Gardens for Any Space

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Love the idea of growing your own fresh, pesticide free produce and herbs but believe you can’t because you’re a little short on yard space? Well, thanks to a hip new gardening trend that may no longer be the case.

Gutter gardens have been growing in popularity as those short on space have found them to be a great – and relatively easy to implement – way to to indulge their need for green. . Perfect for patios, decks and porches, as well as tiny yards, these space-saving, sustainable little gardens provide a way for anyone to cultivate fruits, veggies, eye-catching blooms and more, with the added benefit that they certainly lend a rather lovely natural aesthetic to your outdoor décor scheme as well.

Planning Your Gutter Garden

The first step in the creation of any gutter garden is deciding just where you want to place it. All you really need is a sunny space that catches the sun three to four hours a day, so that could mean attached to porch or deck railings, in the places where traditional window boxes are usually found, adorning a plain fence or garden wall and more.

Sourcing your materials should not be that hard either. If you are going for brand new you will find that your local home store stocks a variety of guttering in in a variety of shapes, sizes and materials, including plastic, aluminum or copper. You can choose one long gutter, or go for several shorter pieces for use as accents or to create a stacked design. People are getting pretty darn creative with their gutter gardening efforts so there is no reason that you shouldn’t too.

If you have older guttering lying around in a shed someplace, or maybe you have recently replaced some of the guttering around your home (as you may have to once every several years to ward off water damage issues) that can be used to create a slightly vintage looking garden, great if you like the ‘shabby chic’ vibe.

Getting Things in Place

Before you begin mounting your gutters don’t forget your new garden’s ‘contents’ will need a drainage system. You can achieve this in one of two ways; either drill holes in the bottoms of your gutters, or hang them at a slight angle so that excess water drains away harmelessly (in which case be careful that they will not be draining onto walls or too close to your home’s foundation.) That done, ensure your gutters are securely hung, and then fill them with a good quality potting soil.

So what can you grow in your new gutter garden? All of the following should thrive beautifully with minimum effort on your part:

Herbs: mint, chives, parsley, cilantro, scallions, marjoram, thyme
Flowers: pansies, violas, marigolds
Greens: ornamental lettuces, chard, kale, spinach, arugula,scallions
Vegetables: radishes, beets and shallow carrot varieties
Strawberries!!!

Thanks to their elevated existence, gutter gardens will also resist rabbits, bugs, slugs and other pests that roam on the ground grubbing for food. The added height also makes gutter gardens easier to harvest than ‘normal’ gardens, with no excessive bending over. They are great for renters too, as they don’t involve making any permanent changes that might annoy the landlord!

Not sure what gutter gardens can actually end up looking like? Check out the gallery below for some inspiration: