Outdoor living is one of the hottest lifestyle trends this year, fueled by the increased amount of time people are spending at home. From elaborate patios to pretty pergolas, homeowners are expanding and upgrading outdoor spaces to make them as comfortable and inviting as their home’s interiors.

Here’s a simple, all-weather accent that adds cozy appeal to your yard while also providing the shade and privacy you need for everyday use: Outdoor curtains. Tie them back for a soft decorative touch, or let them hang to block bright sunlight and prying eyes. Either way, outdoor curtains create the look and feel of an outdoor room.

About Outdoor Curtains

Outdoor curtains stand out for their durability. They’re designed to withstand the rigors of the elements without fading, tearing or developing mold. Made from weather-resistant fabrics that repel water and stains, many types are also UV-stable to retain their color over time.

For extra hardiness, outdoor curtains are often fitted along the header with reinforced hanging tabs or grommets so strong winds won’t carry them away. Heavier fabrics can offer UV protection and even keep temperatures in check under your porch or patio on hot summer afternoons.

Choosing the Right Outdoor Curtains

Whether you’re going for a breezy beach-house vibe or need some heavy-duty drapes to keep out the sun, outdoor curtains are the perfect mix of flair and functionality. Here are some basics to help you choose the right fabric and style for your outdoor space:

Types

Olefin: This synthetic fabric — also known as polypropylene — is colorfast and UV resistant, so it’s ideal for sun-washed outdoor spaces. Soft and lightweight, olefin fabrics also dry quickly, giving mold and mildew little time to take hold.

Acrylic: Vibrant solid colors and stripes that resist fading make acrylic fabrics an attractive choice for outdoor curtains. Unfortunately, these fabrics tend to build up a static charge that attracts fur, so are not the best option if you have pets.

Polyester: Less expensive than olefin or acrylic, polyester comes in endless prints and colors. It’s beloved for its elegant drape, but can fade or discolor in direct sunlight after a year or two.

Cotton and Canvas: These natural fibers are ultra-absorbent and slow to dry, so they often develop mold and mildew and its colors fade or bleed.

Colors

Neutral Solids: With subtle colors and “homespun” textures mimicking raw linen or cotton, neutral solids add softness to your outdoor space without drawing attention. Opt for a darker color to block harsh sunlight, or a sheer color to let the natural light filter in.

Bold Stripes or Solids: Add a timeless coastal look with wide beach stripes or make a bold statement with a bright solid. Coordinate your curtain color with the overall palette of your outdoor décor for a pleasing room-like atmosphere.

Botanical Prints: Emphasize the garden location with a floral or nature-inspired print that mirrors the surrounding greenery, from bright floral patterns to lush tropical prints.

Trends

Vintage: Match your curtains to the architectural style of your historic home by choosing a print or color that was popular in the same decade, from mid-century modern to ’70s hip. This is an especially striking detail if you own antique or period garden furniture.

Romantic: Flowing, gauzy curtains that shift in the breeze set an enticing “Lawrence of Arabia” mood, especially paired with glowing lanterns and an assortment of poufs and pillows strewn over the floor.

Eco-chic: Fabrics inspired by raw linen or cotton give your outdoor space a natural feel without the mold and sun-fading of real natural fabrics. Pair this look with patio furniture made of teak, rattan, bamboo and other natural materials.

Outdoor Curtain Price and Purchasing

Browse the selection online at The Home Depot and Bed Bath & Beyond for outdoor curtain panels that are pre-hemmed and finished with tabs or grommets for hassle-free hanging. Although you can adjust the hem and make other alterations, outdoor curtains are sold in various lengths and widths, so you should be able to find something ready-made that will work. Often you’ll find a set that fits your space and can be purchased and hung in the same day.

Double-check the product description before purchasing, as panels can be sold separately or in pairs. Expect to spend from about $20 to more than $50 per panel, depending upon the fabric quality and panel size.

If you want to splurge or have a unusually-sized sized space, OutdoorCurtains.com carries high-end Sunbrella and Tempotest curtains that are more expensive but can be made to order in the fabric and size of your choice.

Tips for How to Hang Outdoor Curtains

The easiest way to hang outdoor curtains — especially those that come with tabs or grommets — is by installing curtain rods directly onto your patio or other outdoor space. Keep the rods in place by screwing the hardware into the wood beams, or opt for a tension-style rod if you have an aluminum or other metal structure.

If your hardscaping doesn’t support rod installation, you can hang your curtains on heavy-gauge outdoor steel wire rope with a kit that includes the rope, hardware and turnbuckle tightening system. Affix one end of the wire rope to a nearby wall or beam with eye hooks and wall anchors. Run the length of the rope through the hanging tabs or grommets on the curtains. Then secure the other end to an opposite point, making sure to create enough tension in the wire to keep it from sagging.

From Winnie the Pooh to Calvin and Hobbes, tree swings have long been a touchstone of childhood. Depictions of this backyard icon go as far back as ancient Greece and the basic design has changed surprisingly little over the millennia. If you’re considering installing an old-school swing under your shade tree, here’s what you need to know for maximum fun and safety.

What Is a Tree Swing?

Whether the seat is a used tire or futuristic saucer, tree swings have one thing in common: They are all hung from a sturdy branch. Traditional swing sets, backyard play structures and even tree houses can provide a secure, level beam or platform for attaching a swing’s ropes or chains.

Tree swings, however, present the challenge of uneven tree limbs that may have hidden stability issues. That said, the carefree feeling of swinging under a canopy of leaves makes installing a tree swing well worth the extra effort and attention to safety.

Tree Swing Types

There are multiple types of tree swing to choose from, ranging from single board seats to multi-person saucers. The most common include:

Plank: The most traditional tree swing is a flat wooden or plastic plank-like seat attached to the branch above with two ropes or chains.

Disk: This type of swing includes a single rope that passes through the center of a wooden or plastic disk.

Tire: A tire swing can be hung vertically with a single rope or horizontally with three ropes to keep it level.

Saucer: Hung horizontally with four ropes, saucer swings are often large enough to fit multiple children and have a nylon webbing or net center.

Bench: Much like a porch swing, bench tree swings are meant for more than one person but move in a soothing rocking motion more than an adrenaline-pumping arc.

Baby seat: Hung like a board swing with two ropes, these swings are fitted with a bucket or belted seat to provide a safe ride for infants and toddlers.

Should I Build or Buy a Tree Swing?

To build a basic tree swing, you’ll need to purchase rope, hardware and a length of 2×6 to make the plank seat. The cost of materials starts at around $40, depending on the length and quality of your rope, and you can have it built and hung in just a few hours. Go DIY if you will be hanging the swing from an especially high branch, as many kits include a limited amount of rope.

Tree swing kits can be more expensive ($40 to $100) but include a pre-sanded and varnished plank seat, rope, hardware and hanging straps to avoid damaging your tree. Assembly can take a matter of minutes. Be sure to measure the height of your tree limb to ensure the kit includes enough rope. Kits are a better option if you want something other than a classic plank, disk or tire seat.

Tips for How to Hang a Tree Swing

There are a few methods for hanging swings that are safe and limit damage to the bark and limb. Always avoid wrapping metal chains around your tree branch. Doing so will almost always harm the tree.

Rope: Tie rope around the branch with a slip knot and use a rope sleeve or piece of rubber tubing to reduce friction against the bark.

Eye bolts: Drill vertical holes through the tree limb to permanently affix the bolts. This method can harm the tree but eliminates the problem of friction.

Hanging straps: By far the safest and least damaging solution is affixing your tree swing to hanging straps, which can be purchased in kit form for less than $25.

Tree Swing Use and Safety

Make sure your tree swing is always the source of happy memories by following these tips.

Choose a suitable branch

Select a healthy, relatively horizontal branch that is at least 10 inches in diameter, no more than 15 feet off the ground and long enough to position the swing at least four to six feet from the tree trunk.

  • If you’re not sure about the stability of your tree, have it inspected by a professional landscaper or arborist.
  • Opt for mature hardwood trees, not fruit trees or evergreens that are prone to branch breakage.
  • Avoid steeply angled branches that can cause the swing to twist while in motion.
  • Keep in mind that really high branches can present a challenge when hanging the swing. Longer ropes also allow for a higher range of motion while swinging, which can be unsafe.

Choose sturdy rope

Choose a rope that is at least 1/2-in. thick and strong enough to support the weight of an adult.

  • Of synthetic ropes, braided polyester is the best option for its strength and durability. Nylon rope is strong but tends to stretch and can be slippery, while polypropylene ropes don’t hold up well against the elements.
  • Natural-fiber ropes absorb moisture and will rot over time, so should be replaced every year or two.
  • Metal chain is the strongest option but will damage your tree if wrapped around the branch. Use with heavier swings like benches, attached to hanging straps or eye bolts.

Attach a smooth seat

Whether you’ve built a classic plank seat or purchased a colorful spider web saucer, make sure there are no splinters, sharp edges, cracks or other flaws that can cause injury.

  • Install the seat so that it sits about 24 inches off the ground.

  • Make sure the ground around the swing is grass-covered and free of rocks and other debris.

Inspect the swing periodically for wear

This is especially important if your swing uses natural-fiber rope, which can break without warning if rotted. Don’t forget to check the tree limb regularly for damage or signs of disease.

Magic Erasers

All About Magic Erasers

Originally introduced in 2003, the Magic Eraser, by Mr. Clean, has become a popular option for cleaning a wide variety of messes with just a sponge and a bit of water. It’s spawned plenty of knock-offs too.

But do you actually know what those beloved white rectangles are made of? Or what to avoid using them on? We’re here to clue you in.

What Are Magic Erasers Made Of?

Magic Erasers are made from melamine foam, using a compound called formaldehyde-melamine-sodium bisulfite copolymer. In addition to being an excellent stain removal option for the otherwise “uncleanable,” melamine foam has a variety of other applications including:

  • Sound insulation (improve acoustics and lessen outside noises)
  • Temperature insulation (protect against hot or cold temperatures)

Melamine foam is made of a mix of hard and soft structures, hydrogen, carbon and nitrogen, which combine to combat stains without harming the surface underneath. Melamine foam has been manufactured since the late 20th century, most notably by BASF of Germany under the name Basotect, and it was discovered in the early 21st century to be an effective cleaning tool.

Plus, these are the top-reviewed cleaning products on Amazon.

How Do Magic Erasers Work?

Magic Erasers only need water to effectively clean most stains—no chemicals or soaps necessary. On the outside, they look, act and feel like most other sponges, but that’s where the similarities end.

Melamine foam is a porous material, which acts something like very fine sandpaper to gently remove stains. Though it feels soft on the outside, each eraser is actually uniquely abrasive and uses small air pockets in the material to lift stains when damp.

However, one downside is that Magic Eraser sponges do wear down quickly because they are so porous, so, if you have a lot of projects to tackle, you may want to purchase a few boxes. This is because the delicate sponge-like cell structure loosens the dirt and grabs the grime simultaneously, breaking down the material.

Are Magic Erasers Safe?

In short, yes. While the compound ingredient mentioned above does contain the word formaldehyde, it’s part of a chemical name. Formaldehyde itself is not an actual ingredient in the sponges. Magic Sponges are non-toxic and safe for household use. They are abrasive, however, so you don’t want to rub them against your skin or let your kids get ahold of them.

As for the actual material and its impact on the environment, some studies have identified the particles that get washed down the sink as a potential addition to the microplastic scourge in waterways, but this is still largely unclear. Magic Erasers are not biodegradable, but they are a safer alternative to potentially toxic cleaning supplies.

How to Use Magic Erasers

Obviously, Magic Erasers are most commonly used on surfaces such as countertops, floors and fixtures. Simply dampen your eraser and squeeze out the excess water before gently rubbing the sponge over the dirty surface.

If you’re focusing on specific areas of the home, try the bath- and kitchen-specific varieties to best suit your cleaning tasks. They make towel-like Magic Eraser sheets now, too.

Areas to Avoid

Avoid using a Magic Eraser on polished, delicate, or easily scratched surfaces because it may end up removing the exterior finish or causing potential damage to the outer surface. Try a test patch on a less noticeable area before going to town on a larger spot.

Although versatile, you should steer clear of your car, stainless steel, glossy walls and wood, among other surfaces, when using your Magic Eraser.

Up next, these are the 15 best cleaning products for people with allergies.

If you’ve ever stood outside your door fumbling for your keys, or worried about a burglar finding the spare key hidden for the pet sitter while you’re off on vacation, you’ll appreciate the conveniences smart locks offer.

Different brands let you automatically unlock your door as you approach, create codes to allow visitors access, and remotely trigger your lock while you’re miles away. Here are five of our favorite smart locks for 2021, based on professional and customer reviews.

Best for Renters: August Smart Lock 4th Generation

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Easy to Install: ULTRALOQ U-Bolt

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The ULTRALOQ U-Bolt Pro Smart Lock is a six-in-one keyless entry door lock that runs on Bluetooth. This smart lock features a fingerprint ID system and an anti-peep system that allows you to add random digits to protect your passcode from prying eyes.

The system locks automatically as you leave so you’ll never worry about forgetting to lock the door. It unlocks automatically when you arrive home with your smartphone in your pocket. Share access with family and friends via a code or eKey for permanent access, specific dates or periods of time. 

The system is currently selling for $180 on Amazon. Buyers noted it was easy to install.

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Variety of Features: Yale Assure SL

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The Yale Assure SL Connected by August costs $300 at Home Depot. It incorporates August Home technology into a Yale lock. You can set your phone to automatically unlock the door within Bluetooth range or use the integrated keypad to enter your house.

There’s a version of the lock with a keyway, too. Guests can get unique passcodes or a virtual key to enter, and access can automatically expire. A Connect Bridge (included) gives you remote access and lets the lock connect to Apple HomeKit, Alexa or Google Assistant. August DoorSense technology, also included, can set the door to automatically lock and tell you if it’s ajar.

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Great Entry Level: Hornbill Smart Lock

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The Hornbill smart door lock, a great entry level option, is currently priced at $115 on Amazon. That makes it a good choice for renters as well as apartment- or condo-dwellers. You will need a WiFi bridge (sold separately on Amazon) to remotely lock and unlock and monitor your entry. Operate the door with your smartphone, keypad or mechanical key.

You’ll monitor who comes and goes via your smartphone. It takes just 20 minutes with a screwdriver and a drill to install. Wrote one Amazon reviewer: “The app setup was straightforward and works great. The unit is very well made and durable.”

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WiFi Included: Schlage Encode

passcodes

The Schlage Encode lets you set up to 100 unique passcodes that are permanent or set to expire, or offer recurring access according to a schedule. A built-in alarm will sound if the lock senses an attempted break-in, and you can set the door to automatically lock when you leave.

Built-in WiFi means no hub is needed to connect the Schlage Encode to other devices, although you’ll probably need to change batteries more often than locks that rely on Bluetooth. (Schlage estimates batteries will last six months.) At Lowe’s, the Schlage Encode is currently priced at $250.

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Need more choices? Here are 15 smart locks to consider.

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Despite a banner year for home sales in 2020, not all housing markets are expected to have a banner year in 2021. Zillow forecast its five hottest and coldest U.S. housing markets for the new year, tabbing Austin, Texas, as the hottest housing market and New York City as the coldest. The top four markets are all in warm climates, while three of the bottom five are in cold climate regions in the U.S.

“These Sun Belt destinations are migration magnets thanks to relatively affordable, family-sized homes, booming economies and sunny weather,” Jeff Tucker of Zillow wrote. “Record-low mortgage rates and the increased demand for living space, coupled with a surge of Millennials buying their first homes, will keep the pressure on home prices there for the foreseeable future.”

Zillow compiled its rankings based on the Q4 2020 Zillow Home Price Expectations Survey, which asked a “large panel of economists, investment strategists and real estate experts for their predictions about the U.S. housing market.” Zillow sponsored the survey.

Hottest housing markets

  1. Austin, TX;
  2. Phoenix, AZ;
  3. Nashville, TN;
  4. Tampa, FL;
  5. Denver, CO.

According to Tucker, Austin had been predicted to be the hottest housing market in 2020 as well, which held true. Austin median home prices increased 23.6 percent year-over-year.

Coldest housing markets

  1. New York, NY;
  2. San Francisco, CA;
  3. Los Angeles, CA;
  4. Philadelphia, PA;
  5. Minneapolis, MN.

That New York and Los Angeles are both expected to do poorly reverses a 2020 trend.

“While sustained tailwinds are forecasted this year across most of the shifting U.S. housing landscape, certain densely populated markets with high-priced real estate face prevailing headwinds,” Pulsenomics founder Terry Loebs told Zillow. “Accordingly, home value appreciation rates within coastal cities such as New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles are projected to see a downshift from last year’s remarkable levels.”

A home safe provides security for your belongings and peace of mind for you. While the average home safe isn’t completely impenetrable, it’s an effective deterrent for all but the most determined thieves. Even an inexpensive home safe certainly stops prying eyes and opportunistic hands in their tracks.

Before purchasing a safe, you must first decide what it is that you want to protect. Safes intended for irreplaceable valuables have extra security features and cost more than simple, fire resistant document safes.

Choosing the Right Size

Your safe’s size and features will depend on its contents. A few family heirloom jewels don’t require much space, but once you add paperwork to the mix, you might want the extra real estate. Safe and Vault Store suggests sizing up if you can, since you’ll find more items to add over time, and replacing your safe in a few years is inconvenient.

A safe’s exterior dimensions aren’t an accurate measurement of its storage capacity because the door and walls vary in thickness. Instead, look at its interior size in cubic feet. Use the exterior dimensions to decide where you’ll put the safe.

Combination or Keypad

Choosing between a dial combination lock and a digital keypad depends on individual preference. If you find the numbers on a dial difficult to read, a keypad might be a better option for you.

Both styles have pros and cons. Combination locks are less expensive and don’t require batteries, but it takes a locksmith to change the combination, and they can be difficult to use for people with poor eyesight or shaky hands. Digital locks are easy to open and often have security features for incorrect attempts, but they require batteries and usually cost more.

Home Safe Security Features

Beyond the two most apparent home safe features — size and lock style — there are a number of specifications to research before making a purchase.

Product Certifications

Underwriters Laboratories tests many products to evaluate their performance, including holiday lights, space heaters and safes, although Safe and Vault Store says some safe manufacturers use private laboratories to save money. You may also see safes bear the ETL mark, meaning they were tested by Intertek Laboratories.

Safes without a UL or ETL label aren’t necessarily all bad. However, these labels prove that the safe model complies with industry standards. That assurance is reflected in the safe’s price.

Waterproof and Fireproof Safes

If protecting paper documents like tax records and birth certificates is your primary concern, you probably want a fire resistant safe. American Security Products Co. explains how home safe fire ratings work.

Good fire safes use one or two layers of gypsum board in the body and door. Better fire safes use two to four layers of gypsum board. And the best ones sandwich fire insulating material between steel plates. Better and best fire safes are more likely to be tested by Underwriters Laboratories or Intertek.

Any fire safe should list the amount of time it can maintain a safe internal temperature when exposed to a house fire. If your safe has a UL or ETL label, you can read the specifics of what its rating means and how it was tested.

Water resistant safes will protect your possessions in the event of a flood or under the spray of a fire sprinkler. These are rated for a certain amount of water and time. If you bolt down the safe, its waterproofing may be compromised.

Damage Resistance Specifications

Fire and water certainly post a threat to your safe’s contents, but some home safes are designed to resist other types of damage as well. These safes will thwart thieves with tools and survive higher falls.

Underwriters Laboratories conducts burglary testing and classifies safes according to its standards, but you can find damage resistant safes without an official UL sticker. Longtime safe and smart lock manufacturer Yale Home’s Product Manager Garrett Lovejoy recommends looking for “terms such as anti-drill, anti-saw, anti-bump and pry resistant.”

Another feature to look for is a tamper alarm. For example, the Yale Alarmed Value Safe “provides several different alarm types: lock out from entering the wrong code, tampering with the safe and low battery,” says Lovejoy.

Installation Considerations

First things first: Where will you put your safe? If thieves can’t find your safe, they can’t break into it.

The bedroom is the first place burglars look. But if your safe is somewhere so inconvenient that you avoid using it, that defeats its purpose. Take stock of your home to find a space that’s accessible to you but out of sight to others.

Something else to consider when installing a safe: Can a burglar pick it up and carry it away? If it’s a large, heavy safe, the answer is probably no. However, Consumer Reports says 1.2 to 1.3 cubic feet is a common home safe size, which will usually weight around 100 pounds and cost between $150 and $300. And large safes can still be stolen by a group with the right equipment. That’s why many safes come with holes to be bolted to the floor. Not only does fastening the safe protect it from theft, it may help you save money on insurance.

Placing and bolting down a safe can be an arduous process, so it might be worth hiring a professional to do the installation, especially for larger safes. Before making a purchase, ask the retailer if they offer installations.

A home disaster during the winter months is always exponentially worse than any other time of year. Make sure you check these 12 things.

Pipes

When temperatures start to drop below freezing, your plumbing may be in danger. Pipes where water tends to linger, unprotected by the insulation that guards the rest of your home, can freeze on particularly cold nights.

The expanding ice can even crack pipes and flood homes – a disaster you definitely want to avoid. Make sure that pipes in cold areas are properly insulated and protected when you expect the temperature to drop below freezing.

Air Leakage Points

Outlets, switches and light fixtures can allow air pass through. Over time, these small gaps and leaks can lose a lot of heat.

Fortunately, an easy DIY insulation project to properly seal them will prevent that problem.

Carbon Monoxide Season

You’ve got a house full of guests, so the oven and stove are working overtime, the water heater is struggling to keep up with demand, the fireplace is burning and the furnace is fighting the cold. It’s the perfect setting for carbon monoxide buildup.

So if you don’t already have a UL-listed carbon monoxide detector, put it at the top of your shopping list. Detectors are available at home centers and discount stores.

Get more information about carbon monoxide detectors and smoke alarms and keep your family and friends safe all year.

Check for High Water Pressure or Wreck Fixtures and Appliances

Listen to this home maintenance horror story: A technician was assisting a water softener installer who was replacing a fairly new softener because the first one had ruptured and filled the pipes with little zeolite beads.

The installer didn’t seem too worried about why the first one failed, but the assistant did a little investigating. A water pressure test gave a reading of more than 110 lbs. psi. The culprit was the 20-year-old pressure-reducing valve.

After a new valve was installed, the pressure went down to about 75 lbs. Pressure-reducing valves are usually found near the main water shutoff valve, but not all homes have them. It depends on your municipality.

High water pressure can harm pipes, connections, and appliances. It also creates water hammer and waste massive amounts of water. Checking for high water pressure is an often overlooked maintenance item, and one that’s easy enough to perform. A new pressure-reducing valve and a simple pressure gauge can hook up to a spigot or laundry tub faucet.

Winterize Your Gas Grill

If you’re not a winter griller, now’s the time to pack away your grill before it’s covered with a foot of snow. In addition to giving your grill a thorough cleaning to remove grease and food scraps, take these steps to help prevent any unpleasant surprises when you fire up your grill again next spring.

Shut off the gas at the LP tank, unfasten the burner, slip the gas tubes off the gas lines and lift out the unit. Coat the burners and other metal parts with cooking oil to repel moisture that can build up over the winter and to prevent rust.

Then wrap the burner unit in a plastic bag to keep spiders and insects from nesting in the gas tubes during the winter. This is a common problem that can make for balky starts, uneven flames or even a one-alarm fire the next time you light your grill.

If you’re storing your grill outside during the winter, just keep the propane tank connected (but shut off) and put a protective cover over the entire grill when you’re done cleaning it. If you’re storing the grill indoors, don’t bring the tank inside, even into the garage or a storage shed.

A small gas leak can cause a huge explosion if the tank is stored in an enclosed space. Instead, disconnect the tank and store it outside in an upright position away from dryer and furnace vents and children’s play areas. Tape a plastic bag over the grill’s gas line opening to prevent insects from nesting.

Winterize Your Pressure Washer or Ice Might Destroy It

I once owned an electric pressure washer. I refer to it in the past tense because a few years ago, I left it in the garage over the winter without draining the pump. The water froze and expanded, and when I fired up the washer the following spring, water sprayed from every part of the machine except the end of the wand.

I should have disconnected the hoses and sprayed in a pump antifreeze/ lubricant like Pump Saver from Briggs & Stratton. That forces the water out and replaces it with antifreeze and lube. — Mark Petersen, Contributing Editor

If your air compressor stalls out, here’s how you can fix it yourself by replacing the unloader valve.

Swap Out the Gas in Small Engines or Replace the Carburetor in the Spring

Standard gas at the pump can gum up a carburetor on a small engine in just a few months. I’ve had to replace a few carburetors for this reason. Now, when I know that it’s the last time I’m going to use a tool for the season, I suck out the gas from the tank with a turkey baster and run the engine dry.

Then I add a bit of non oxygenated gas, which has a longer shelf life but is too expensive to burn all year. I also add a splash of fuel stabilizer and run the engine for a while on the good stuff before storing it.  — Josh Risberg, Contributing Editor

Find out what small engine mechanics say about how stale gas could be killing your small engines.

Check Insulation

Proper insulation will keep your home warm in the winter, cool in the summer and cut down on energy costs. It’s also a place mice and bats like to call home.

And when the weather turns cold, do a check of your insulation—especially in your attic—to ensure there are no unwanted guests.

Check for Air Leaks

Act now on your home maintenance checklist to save on heating costs during the winter months. And check for air leaks around windows and doors, including cracks in caulking or weatherstripping. Also, replace caulk and weatherstripping if necessary.

Reverse Ceiling Fans

If you have ceiling fans, there should be a switch to make the fan blades run clockwise. Running the blades in a clockwise position during the colder months can push heated air down.

This home maintenance task makes rooms with high ceilings more comfortable.

Prepare for a Storm

Power outages are common during winter storms, so make sure you’re prepared with a survival kit. Your winter home maintenance checklist should include stocking up on bottled water, non-perishable food, flashlights, first-aid supplies, batteries and a smart phone charger.

Prep the Humidifier

If your home has a whole-house humidifier, make sure the drain line is clean. And replace the media panel, which mixes water with the flow of hot air from the furnace. This should be done twice each season.

Finally, check to make sure the solenoid valve is working correctly and clean the humidifier’s fan.

Up next, check out these winter maintenance myths you need to stop believing.

Parts of the country have already been hit by their first wintry blasts, which means many people have had to deal with driveways and sidewalks covered in snow and ice. Not only is that ice a hazard to homeowners and their neighbors, but in some states and municipalities you might even be required by law to clear your sidewalk after a winter storm. If you don’t, you might be liable for any injury caused by uncleared ice. These are serious consequences!

Salt (sodium chloride) has long been the standard for melting ice, because it lowers the freezing point of water. It’s also relatively inexpensive. But rock salt has many downsides. It can cause rust, harm the environment, ravage concrete and damage your lawn and landscaping. Fortunately, there are alternatives that can mitigate these problems.

Calcium Magnesium Acetate

Calcium magnesium acetate (CMA) is an alternative, but it’s not perfect. It can deoxygenate the waterways it’s washed into, which can be harmful for aquatic life. Otherwise it’s a safe, effective ice melter that doesn’t harm plants, pets or your sidewalk. It’s much more expensive than other ice melting products, however. Look for products that are listed with CMA on the label, like Snow Joe.

Sand or Kitty Litter

If you’d rather not use chemicals to melt the ice but would like to make your sidewalks safer to walk on, spreading sand or kitty litter on top of the ice can be effective. It does get messy, as you will often track it into your house on your shoes. And once winter’s over you should sweep it up, since either one can clog street gutters and sewers. It does nothing to actually melt the ice; it merely provides traction.

Sugar Beet Juice/Brine

Surprisingly, this sweet juice made from sugar beets is an effective ice melter. However, most households won’t consume enough beets to make it effective for home production unless you make massive quantities of borscht every winter. According to the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Ill., beet juice lowers the freezing point of water to -20 degrees F, and it doesn’t affect plant or pet life. It can, however, stain concrete.

You can purchase a sugar beet juice-based product that makes application easy. Remember, however, this brine does contain salt, so it could stick to the underside of your car and cause corrosion if you use it on your driveway. Other brines, including cheese brine and pickle juice, can work in a similar manner, but often require quantities larger than the typical household has on hand.

Coffee Grounds

This might be best if you run a coffee shop, but spent coffee grounds can help give you traction on slippery pavement. The dark color helps absorb the heat of the sun to melt the ice a bit, and the nitrogen in the grounds can help melt the ice. Mostly, much like sand, it will add friction between your boots and the ice. Most people don’t drink enough coffee in a household to make a huge difference.

Alfalfa Meal

Alfalfa meal is an all-natural fertilizer that works surprisingly well as an ice melter. It contains plenty of nitrogen, which helps melt the ice, while providing gritty traction. A bonus — it smells good, and in spring it’s a good fertilizer for your lawn.

Heated Mats

Heat is one sure way to beat the cold. Some cities throughout the world, including Helsinki, Finland, actually have heated sidewalks to keep them free of ice. Plugging in a heated snow melting mat is one way to keep places like the front step of your home free of ice. This mat, for instance, can melt up to two inches of snow per hour, and is meant to be left out all winter long.

The year 2020 was the year of toilet paper shortages, and the year Americans realized there’s more than one way to clean up after using the restroom.

Enter: the bidet.

Bidets are a bathroom standard in Asia and Europe, but until recently few Americans chose to clean themselves with water instead of toilet paper. That is, until COVID-19 hoarding made toilet paper hard to find.

Kohler Co., a U.S. based plumbing product manufacturer, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel back in March its bidet sales were up eightfold over March 2019. And Google saw bidet search results for the first time … ever. Kohler Co. anticipates demand for bidets will continue as the product grows in popularity through referrals and online ratings.

“In most cases, you’re breaking a routine that you learned at three years old,” says Kohler Co. Marketing Manager Nicole Allis. “Once you get used to cleaning with water you don’t want to go back.”

Kohler’s bidets cost around $800 and require plumbing to install. Even higher-end Japanese Toto bidets (or washlets) go for anywhere from $450 to thousands of dollars. The best Toto washlets have an automatic lid and a musical function to cover up any embarrassing bathroom sounds. But at that price point, we’ll just fly to Tokyo for vacation — thank you very much.

Don’t worry, there’s a better bidet way. And it’s totally gift-able and way more affordable.

The Tushy Modern Bidet Attachment turns any standard toilet into a bidet. The attachment is easy for an amateur DIY-person to install, and doesn’t require electricity or a plumber.

To install a Tushy Modern Bidet Attachment: Remove your toilet seat, attach the Tushy, connect to water, and voilà! Clean bottoms ahead. Still concerned you can’t install it? We broke down to install a Tushy bidet attachment in seven easy steps.

A simple knob lets you control the pressure, from gentle to powerful. Bidets have other benefits apart from hygiene. They save money on toilet paper and septic use. If (gasp!) you’re still using wet wipes to clean yourself, it’s truly time to upgrade to a bidet attachment. Your wallet and the environment will thank you.

The Classic has more than 6,800 reviews, and the majority are five-star. One user says, “Buying a tushy was a life changing decision. It might sound trivial to the common people but words can’t describe how much better you feel using it. I’m hooked and never going back to primitive wiping.”

We asked a Tushy user for her thoughts on the bidet attachment. Anne Olivia Bauso, a Brooklyn resident, tells us, “After a trip to Japan, I came home with my heart absolutely set on the Toto washlet. But I just couldn’t commit to the $450 price tag (and the ugly cord) for my rental apartment. The Tushy has been the perfect compromise! The set up took about a half hour, for someone with zero plumbing experience, and it looks nice and discreet. It’s so easy to use and effective — I legit can’t imagine how I lived without it before.”

The Classic is on sale for $89, or upgrade to the Tushy Spa Warm Water Bidet Attachment for $119. The latter offers temperature and pressure control. Both versions come in various colors to match your toilet and bathroom decor. It’s not the most expected gift under the tree for someone you love, but it will upgrade their bathroom and maybe their whole life.

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There are deals we love and then there are deals we simply cannot ignore. This week in Deals We Love, we’re highlight two of the latter. Some of the biggest players in the cordless tools game are offering deep discounts and free tools through The Home Depot’s season-long Black Friday promotion.

Milwaukee 18-Volt Cordless Hammer Drill and Impact Driver Combo Kit (+ Free Tool)

Milwaukee’s M18 Fuel series tools are some of the most advanced and powerful cordless tools on the market. They feature 5.0Ah lithium-ion batteries that run longer and can be swapped in and out of any of Milwaukee’s 175 top-range line of cordless tools.

This particular deal includes a 1/2-in. hammer drill that delivers up to 60 percent more power than its competitors and offers 1,200 inch-pounds of torque. It also includes Milwaukee’s 1/4-in. hex impact driver and its 2,000 inch-pounds of torque.

Why We Love It: Two drills means two batteries, and that means never stopping to recharge in the middle of a project. And while Milwaukee certainly isn’t giving away its drills, with this deal — $399 for the pair — it is including a third tool, free of charge. Customers can add one of 14 cordless tools and not pay a single cent more. The list of free tools includes:

  • Two Gallon Wet/Dry Vacuum;
  • Radius LED Compact Site Light;
  • Six-port Sequential Battery Charger;
  • Handheld Compact Vacuum;
  • Oscillating Multi-Tool;
  • Extended Capacity 5.0Ah Battery;
  • Handheld Blower;
  • Grinder with Paddle Switch;
  • Compact Router;
  • Drywall Screw Gun;
  • Reciprocating Saw;
  • Jig Saw;
  • 1/4-in. Hex Impact Driver;
  • Wireless Jobsite Speaker.

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Makita 18-Volt Cordless Hammer Drill and Impact Driver Combo Kit (+ Free Tool)

Makita claims to have the world’s largest 18-Volt cordless tool line-up, which means buying into this brand covers every conceivable DIY project on your list. The 18-Volt LXT Lithium-Ion Cordless Two-Piece Combo Kit includes a 1/2-in. hammer drill that delivers 530 inch-pounds of torque. It also includes an ultra-light three-pound impact driver that delivers 1,500 inch-pounds of torque.

Both tools are engineered for longer run-time and come equipped with an on-board LED charge level indicator, so you always know how much power you have left before needing to swap out the battery. Each tool also comes with a 4.0Ah battery that takes just 40 minutes to achieve a full charge.

Why We Love It: The $249 price tag offers significant savings over the Milwaukee deal. Unless you’re a super-savvy pro, you probably won’t notice the difference in power output or run time. Like Milwaukee,  Makita is also letting customers add a free 18-volt cordless tool to their purchase. Its full list of add-ons:

  • Handheld Blower;
  • Cut-Off/Angle Grinder;
  • Compact Router with Built-In LED Light;
  • Random Orbit Sander;
  • Lightweight Circular Saw and Blade;
  • Inflator;
  • Jigsaw;
  • Reciprocating Saw (Tool-Only);
  • Variable Speed Oscillating Multi-Tool;
  • 5.0Ah Battery with Fuel Gauge.

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