6 Trees and Shrubs You Can Plant Now for a Beautiful Spring

Fall is the perfect time for so many things: hayrides, pumpkin pie and…planting shrubs? Yeah, we’re still working on that last one. But it is true that autumn’s crisp temperatures and frequent moisture make it the best incubation period for young tree roots. Growing trees and shrubs can get used to their new location and establish themselves, without the stress from heat. And the cooler weather encourages trees to focus on their roots, instead of leafing out above.

Of course, if you’re a horticulture newbie, planting your first tree or shrub can be intimidating. This guide from The University of Nebraska Extension should get you through the basics of digging and planting.

In general, it includes digging a hole twice as wide but slightly shallower than the root ball. Then fill the hole with soil and add mulch around the base to keep the surrounding soil nice and moist. Next, stake the tree to protect it while it gets a good root structure going. Nothing to it!

That just leaves what to plant. To help you make this crucial decision, we’ve picked out the hardiest, showiest and best plants money can buy—the kind of beauties that will vault your lawn to floral perfection once spring rolls around. Here are our top choices.

beautiful tree flowering

If You’re Looking for Convenience: Redbud

This low-maintenance showstopper is kind of like the Miss Congeniality of trees. It’s beautiful, but also easy-going. Redbuds do well in all but the most southern and northern US residences, letting loose a shower of snowy, pink blossoms in spring. As a smallish tree, they grow no larger than 20 to 30 feet, making them a good choice to plant near the home or in another close-knit spot. They liked to be mulched occasionally, and pruned once a year to trim away dead growth. Other than that, you can pretty much leave them on their own—and enjoy beautiful, delicate blossoms all spring for minimal effort!

For Something a Little Bit Different: American Fringe Tree

Looking for something a little less conventional? The fringe tree is a beautiful North American native with feathery white blooms and bright yellow fall foliage. Essentially, this one is a stunner all year long. Fringe tree likes slightly acidic soil and a moist, sunny location to flourish. Under ideal conditions, it can grow to 20 feet tall. It’s also a somewhat wider tree, so make sure to plant it somewhere with room to spread out. The female trees produce black berries that birds love, so it’s a great choice if you’re looking to get a visit from some local wildlife.

For Drought-prone Areas: Flowering Quince

Choosing trees and shrubs for dry, arid climates is tricky, sure, but certainly not impossible. Flowering quince has creamy pink blossoms and yellow crabapple-like fruit that belies its inherent drought-tolerance. This tough little shrub prefers moderate to light water, making it ideal for homes with watering restrictions or in dry, arid climates where water conservation is a concern. It can handle a variety of soil conditions as well and will tolerate moderate shade, so it’s both showy and tough—one of our favorite combinations!

For Tiny Yards and Apartments: Citrus Trees

A tree in a pot? You bet! Oranges, lemons and limes come in dwarf varieties that make lovely patio or balcony inhabitants—as long as you remember to bring them inside when the weather gets cold! To plant one, use a special citrus potting soil and place in a large, well-draining pot somewhere where it will get plenty of sunlight. Citrus needs at least eight hours of sunlight per day to flourish, so make sure to choose an especially sun-drenched spot in your yard. Water infrequently, keeping the soil moist but not drenched. Fertilize regularly with a commercial citrus mix.

For Shady Yards: Allegheny Serviceberries

Think of serviceberries as lilacs’ cooler, hipper cousin. Congenial and easy-to-grow with dense, snowy flowers, serviceberries also feature attractive fall foliage and decorative bark that makes them easy on the eyes all year long. True to their name, serviceberries produce small, edible fruits—a huge draw for local birds. And, of course, they can tolerate moderate shade, so they do well as a companion to densely-treed yards.

For a True Showstopper: Southern Magnolia

Long the star of southern lore, there’s ample reason for the magnolia’s long-standing reputation. Large showy flowers crown the magnolia in bloom, atop shiny deep-green foliage that offers a bit of shade on a hot day. The key to growing magnolia is to choose a cultivar that fits your yard’s conditions. There are cold-hardy varieties and compact varieties—essentially there’s one for any growing condition you need to meet. Plant young trees in moist, slightly-acidic, well-drained soil and supplement with at least one inch of water per week until the tree has had time to establish itself.

Whatever you plant, make sure to give it plenty of water the first months after planting. Young roots need lots of moisture since they may not be able to reach down to more remote water reserves. Water yours frequently and you can look forward to showy beautiful springs for years to come. Now you just have to make it through winter!

Your Ultimate Fall Maintenance Guide

Anne of Green Gables once said, “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” But I’m guessing she never had to clean out any gutters. While October’s mild temperatures and gentle sunshine does make a person glad to be alive, those winter storms are just around the corner, bringing plenty of ice, snow and wind.

That makes right now an ideal time to prep your home for the harsher temperatures ahead. After all, the weather is still pretty agreeable, and the days are long enough to take advantage of evening sunlight. Checking off these tasks now will set you up for a long, worry-free winter—and give you more time to enjoy the autumn as well. Here’s everything you need to know.

kid playing with leaves

Clean Your Gutters

You probably don’t need to be reminded about this task; it’s usually pretty evident by the pile of leaves on the ground. But just in case you need convincing, you should definitely give your gutters some attention this time of year. Clogged gutters can cause water to pool on your roof or cascade over the siding, which means your next stop is Leak Central. Luckily, cleaning the gutters doesn’t have to be a massive headache. In fact, you can even install gutter guards after you finish to make the job a whole lot easier next time.

Give Your Windows and Doors Some TLC

About a third of a home’s heat loss occurs through leaky windows and doors, which means getting yours in peak winter condition is key to maintaining a comfortable home and reasonable energy bills. If your windows are older or inefficient, install storm windows over them to keep out the drafts. Next, move inside, adding foam weather stripping to the edges of doors and windows. Scrape out cracked window caulking with a razor blade and apply fresh silicone sealant to prevent drafts and heat loss. Install a door sweep at the edge of all exterior doors, and get ready for your coziest winter yet!

Get Your Heating Systems Cold-Weather-Ready

If La Niña has anything to say about it, most of us have a pretty wet, nasty winter in store this year. And that means our heating systems are going to be working pretty hard. Give yours a head start by putting in some maintenance now. The first thing you should always do is change the filters on your furnace. Dirty filters can make your unit work less effectively, which means less heat for your home. Another smart move is to have a HVAC technician out to perform a maintenance visit. Have them check the electrical connections and air pressure, recharging your unit if necessary. If you plan to use your chimney to heat your home as well, have it inspected and cleaned. Creosote buildup in chimneys is a fire hazard that’s preventable with professional cleaning. An inspector will help locate cracks in the chimney and flashing, as well. After all, nothing is nicer than a crackling fire to stave off the winter chill!

Trim Trees and Rake Leaves

Fall leaves need raking—that’s a no-brainer. Leaves left on the ground over winter can seriously stunt grass growth in the spring. Plus, raked leaves make great fodder for compost or mulch later. But you’ll also need to take your focus a little higher up, too. Dead tree branches and limbs can snap under the weight of ice and snow, causing all kinds of havoc. Usually it’s best to have a professional arborist or tree trimming service out to take care of this work, since trimming can be dangerous for untrained homeowners. The pros also know how to spot problem areas, like a hollow trunk, that might cause problems down the line.

Check Your Roof and Siding

Fall is pretty much the ideal time to have your roof inspected. Roofing inspectors look for loose shingles and damaged flashing that can lead to leaks in wet weather. They’ll also be able to scope out hail damage and other issues that might have popped up from summer thunderstorms. A professional roofing inspection is recommended every three to five years, so if it’s been a while, you’ll want to take care of that now. Another issue to check for? Look for cracks where the masonry meets the siding, or signs of peeling paint or cracked vinyl siding along your home’s exterior walls. Both of these issues should be dealt with before cold wet weather begins.

Take Care of Your Porch and Lawn

Now it’s time to turn an eye on your porch and lawn. First, bring in any potted plants that won’t survive colder temperatures and then store delicate lawn furniture, like anything wicker, in a covered area, like the garage. You should also remove any cushions and fragile decorations that might not make it through the winter intact. Now is also a good time to check the stairs and railings of your porch as well, to ensure that they will be safe to use in slippery winter conditions. Next, move over to the side of your house and turn off the valves to the exterior hoses. These can freeze in the winter and cause pipes to burst. Allow any leftover water to drain out of the hoses, as well. Roll them up and place them somewhere safe where they won’t be bothered by winter winds.

Last of all, grab a blanket and a cup of your favorite hot beverage and scope out this list for your latest Netflix binge. Now you have everything you need to last you through until the end of winter!

Basic Home Repairs You Can Master in Minutes

When you think about it, we live in a golden age of DIY. Almost any questions you have can be answered in a matter of seconds, with a little help of Professor Google. Want to know how to screw in a light bulb? Yep, there’s a video for that. Never learned to use a hammer? Hit up YouTube, and you’ll be pounding nails like a pro in no time.

Even so, there’s something to be said for having a little general knowledge. Get a handle on your basic repairs, and you’ll gain the confidence you need to take on new projects. Plus it will help you tell when some good old fashioned ingenuity will suffice or when it’s time to call in the pros. Read on to learn about several easy-to-manage repairs that can be completed with little-to-no home improvement know-how.

making home repairs

Fixing a Leaking Faucet

Nothing is more annoying than that constant drip…drip…drip of a leaky faucet. It’s enough to make you twitchy—and for good reason! The EPA estimates that leaking faucets waste about 1 trillion gallons of water annually. And guess who pays the price? Yep, you guessed it: you, in the form of skyrocketing water bills.

A leaky faucet is nothing to get all worked up about, though, especially once you know your way around the pipes. Most faucet leaks are caused by worn out or dirty seals—something you can fix pretty easily using one of these detailed guides from This Old House. Essentially, you unscrew the handle and replace the old washer or O-ring. Of course, for certain types, you’re better off just replacing the whole faucet. Luckily, that’s not too hard either.

Voilà—you’re now 10 times smarter than you were two minutes ago!

Patching a Hole in the Drywall

You know the drill: all you want is to play a few video games with the kids, when suddenly you’ve got a controller-sized hole in your wall. Relax. Patching a drywall hole is actually a lot easier than it seems.

Lowe’s has a helpful step-by-step for all kinds of drywall defects which you can use when you begin your project. At a high level, though, patching a hole involves a mesh screen that you position over the hole, then cover with joint compound. Once that’s dry, you sand down the rough edges and paint. It’s so easy, you can even get your kids to help. And that should encourage them never to throw another controller again!

Unclogging the Toilet

Ugh, toilet clogs. This is one plumbing project that even the handiest homeowners don’t cherish. Unfortunately, until they invent something better than the flush toilet, clogs are an unavoidable part of life.

For most stopped up toilets, a good plunger and a little elbow grease are all you need. But for a really stuck commode, you may need to go commando. For these you can use an auger, a plumbing tool that looks like a long wire with a handle at one end. You snake the auger down the toilet, turning the handle until it stops. Then you work it around until you either hook the clog or loosen the gunk—whichever comes first!

Caulking Around Windows, Floors and Tubs

You don’t know it yet, but this fix is going to quickly become your best friend. Silicone caulk is kind of like the duct tape of home improvement, in that it can be used in a number of projects around your house. More specifically, it helps seal joints and stop leaks, like between your tub and the floor or your window glass and the frame. And that last fix can even help lower your energy costs! Woo hoo!

All you need to know is how to load the caulk gun. From there, it’s just a matter of laying a straight bead of sealant and smoothing it down! Easy peasy!

Now the only thing left to do is decide what to do with all the money you’re saving on household repairs!

Brilliant Tips to Unstick a Stuck Window

Now that the weather is finally starting to get nice again, it’s time to throw open the windows and…wait…one more try…put your back into it…okay, there it is.

Sound familiar? Don’t worry, you’re not the only homeowner who’s had to put in a workout just to throw open their windows. But stuck windows are more than a nuisance. They can also become a safety hazard if there’s a fire or other emergency event. Plus sometimes you just need to air out your home, and windows are the best way to do that.

Windows get stuck for a variety of reasons, so you may have to investigate the source before you can decide on an approach. Additionally, a window that won’t budge or that is often difficult to open can be an indicator that your windows were improperly installed (if they’re new) or that it may be time for new ones (if they’re very old). So it could be time to call a contractor, too. Of course, first, you’ll want to try one of the solutions below so you can at least get a breath of fresh air!

pretty window in home

If the Windows Are Painted Shut

Sometimes windows—especially older ones—may be painted shut, rendering them virtually unusable. However, with a little elbow grease, you can pry one of these loose yourself. Grab a putty knife or a utility knife and run the blade all around the edges of the window until you are able to lift the sash. You can also hammer the utility knife under the edge of the frame if you’re having a hard time prying it loose.

If That Doesn’t Work, Try Removing the Frame Yourself

Of course, if your windows are particularly ancient, you might have to do something a little more drastic. Older wooden windows can also swell with humidity, rendering them virtual inoperable. You can try using a hairdryer on the frame to dry them out, but this may not work if you’re windows are really stuck.

In that case, your best bet is to unscrew the frames and totally remove them. First, use a screwdriver to unscrew the fasteners in the top interior of the frame. You’ll then need to pull the stop molding free and remove the parting strips. After that, you should be able to remove both sashes fairly easily. If that sounded like Greek to you, however, you can use this helpful video from Preservation Virginia to smooth out any gaps in your understanding.

Stop Sticking Next Time

It’s not enough to simply remove the window, of course. You also need to take steps to keep it from snagging the next time around. If the culprit was a bad paint job, lightly sand the edges. Or completely sand the windows and repaint them, if you’re looking for something a little bit more extreme.

If humidity’s at fault, though, you may need to engage a professional. If rain or condensation has been damaging your windows, it could mean that they’re not properly flashed. In that case, your window repairman may have to remove some of your siding fix it—not something most homeowners want to be doing themselves. You can also call someone in if you just don’t feel like dealing with a stuck window yourself. After all, that’s what they’re there for!

Which of These Time-Saving Home Services Offers the Best Bang for Your Buck?

Let’s face it: running a household gets tiring sometimes. Between cleaning, cooking, shopping for groceries and staying on top of the basic supplies, it can feel like your second shift begins the minute you get home from work. Luckily, the magic of the internet allows you to take some of that household grunt work off your hands. Services like meal kit delivery, HVAC maintenance packages and air filter subscriptions—or even a home decor box—are all ready to make fast work of painful household chores. Today we’ll give you a rundown of your home subscription and service options to help you decide which ones are right for your household.

shopping for home delivery services

House Cleaning Services

Some people really enjoy cleaning house. For the rest of us, it’s a dreaded task that we delay and delay until the bathroom gets too disgusting to stand. But hire a housekeeper? It seems like a lot of money to spend on something you could do yourself, right?

Not necessarily. Studies suggest that services that relieve you of dreaded household work—freeing up time for fun things—actually make us a lot happier than material goods. Okay, now that we’ve relieved you of that guilt, it’s time to start narrowing down your options.

The first step is determining exactly what you think you need cleaned and how often. Basic cleaning services typically include dusting, vacuuming, sweeping, mopping, cleaning the kitchen and bathroom and making the beds. However, some will offer stain removal, pantry cleaning and laundry, as well, but there may be an extra fee added for those services. Cleaners are usually available weekly, biweekly or monthly—and for one-time visits for special events.

Survey says: If you hate to clean, this is definitely worth the money.

Meal and Meal Kit Delivery

In the past few years, a range of meal delivery services and kits have popped up, all promising to save you the hassle of putting together a delicious, healthy meal. Services like Blue Apron and Hellofresh deliver a recipe, together with just the right amount of ingredients, and let you do the rest of the work. The benefit is that you get a pre-vetted recipe, prepped and measured ingredients, and no running back to the grocery because you forgot the brussels sprouts.

The value of these really is going to depend on how much you loathe grocery shopping and trying new recipes. If you’re worried about wasting your money, however, The Kitchn actually compared the dollar-for-dollar value of these services and found that they actually work out pretty close to the cost for store-bought ingredients—but without the effort of actually elbowing your way through the line at the checkout.

Survey says: A must-subscribe if you’re tired of going to the grocery store three times a week, hate looking for new recipes, or can’t tell the difference between a teaspoon and a tablespoon.

Grocery Delivery

On the other hand, if you do like to throw together your own meals, grocery delivery service offers a happy medium—and means you don’t have to go out for snacks, necessities and pantry staples either. Services like Instacart or Shipt allow you to pick your favorite grocery store (if it’s on their list!), order items, and get same-day delivery, all without stepping away from your desk.

Those who’ve tried these services usually fall into one of two camps: those who love it for the time and hassle it saves them, and those who think the price markups are way too high. If you’re interested in one of these services, it’s definitely worth checking out The New Food Economy’s coverage of the topic first. It breaks down how—and why—services like these add markups and how you can avoid some of the worst ones.

Survey says: You’ll need to weigh how much you hate to shop versus how much you hate paying $2.99 for a can of chick peas

HVAC Maintenance Packages

Your home’s AC and heating are just like any machine: they perform a lot better with a regular tune up. That’s the logic behind HVAC Service Maintenance Packages, anyway. One to two times a year, your HVAC provider sends a technician out to service your home’s heating and cooling systems and make adjustments.

Experts don’t really agree on whether or not they’re necessary, though. Yes, a regular tune up will ensure that your unit stays balanced and that there are no loose connections, and therefore it’s generally a good idea. However, some of these packages run upwards of $500 a year, which seems like a lot, considering you can get a brand new unit for $2,000 to $3,000. So if you decide you want to go for one, it really pays to shop around for a good deal.

Survey says: It depends on the cost of your package and the what’s included for that fee.

Home Decor Subscription Boxes

Yep, you read that right: home decor subscription boxes! Sites like Art in a Box and GlobeIn will send you hand-crafted art and artisan goods you can use to decorate your home. Both sites use your subscription fee to support artists and artisans, so this is one home decor purchase you can feel good about. And you’ll probably get some stuff you never even thought about buying!

Survey says: This is definitely a vanity buy, but since it supports local artists, why not?

Looking for other ways to make your home life easier? Our partner, FilterEasy, offers a convenient way to get the right size air filters delivered right to your door—look in your HomeBit app for the offer! Hey, with as hard as you work, you deserve it!

9 Germ-Conquering, Clutter-Defeating Ways to Deep Clean Your Kitchen

As much as we wish it weren’t true, sometimes the kitchen needs a good purge. Baked-on grease, dusty pantries and cluttered counters aren’t just unsightly—they’re unsanitary, too! And since no one has yet perfected the self-cleaning kitchen, it’s up to you—with the help of a little elbow grease—to get the job done. Here are some smart ways to tackle the worst jobs—without sacrificing your sanity in the process.

water flowing from kitchen sink

Tackle Your Oven the Smart Way

Next to the refrigerator, the oven has got to be the worst thing to clean in the kitchen. And unfortunately, there’s no great way to get it sparkling besides a good old-fashioned scrubbing. But you can make it easier on yourself. Loosen baked-on grit by heating it: set the oven for 225 degrees, and pop a pan of water in for 15 minutes. The rising steam from the water breaks up the caked-on stuff. Hit harder-to-clean spots with a paste made from baking soda and water. Then spritz with white vinegar for some all-natural foaming action. Last, pull out the racks and let them soak in a hot bath for up to an hour. Not a miracle cure by any means, but it beats scrubbing all day.

Stand Up to Your Stovetop

Of course you can’t really call the oven clean until you’ve given the stovetop some much-needed attention. Stoves are tricky, though; depending on the type you have, you may have a little more work in front of you. Generally speaking, for a flat cooktop, it’s up to our old friends vinegar and baking soda. Make another paste and spread it on the surface. Let it sit for a few hours, then wipe it away, loosening any lingering remnants with a nylon scraper. For a stove with electric coils, follow the same steps, but remove the burners first to wipe out any food scraps that may have collected below. For a gas stove, gently lift the burners and then follow the steps outlined here to get both the stovetop and burners spiffy clean.

Get Your Pantry in Order

You could write a whole book on pantry organization (and indeed, someone has—it’s called DIY Pantry Cleaning Hacks, and you can buy it on Amazon). But the main things to do are a) pitch out expired foods and b) wipe up the crumbs and sticky stuff. Only then should you contemplate a serious reorganization. Generally, homeowners follow a system resembling this one: frequently-used items, like cereal and snacks, go on the eye-level shelves. Place lighter items up top—your spices, baking ingredients and extra paper towels, for instance. Then put heavy items on the lowest shelves, things like large jars of oil and vinegar. This is where extras can go too, for instance, any “just-in-case” items, like canned food and emergency supplies.

Take on the Refrigerator

When it comes to loathsome kitchen cleaning tasks, this one ranks right up there. You probably already know the basics of fridge cleaning (if not, Apartment Therapy has some great insights), but there are a couple of things you can do to make the process a bit smoother. First place the trash can next to you to hold anything you’re not going to keep. Next, wipe down anything you plan to put back—it will save time cleaning next time. Soak the trays and shelves in a large tub to lift grimy food residue fast. And don’t forget to vacuum the refrigerator coils! It will save you money on your electricity bills and improve the efficiency of your fridge.

Confront Microwave Grease

A greasy, nasty microwave is no place for your popcorn. But it’s not exactly fun to clean out either. Fortunately, Good Housekeeping has a tip that should take some of the pain out of microwave cleanup. Essentially, you fill a microwave-safe bowl with a cup of water and a few tablespoons of vinegar and set it on cook for a few minutes. The boiling, steaming solution will loosen baked-on grit—but be sure to let it cool a little first before you try removing it! Then attack the walls and door with vinegar, water and a sponge for super clean snacking.

Attack the Coffeemaker

Want a really tasty cup of morning joe? You’re going to have to clean that coffee maker then! Luckily, this one is pretty cut-and-dry. Fill the water reservoir with water and vinegar, then set the pot to brew (or use the clean cycle, if your brewer has one). Run through a few more cycles using water, which will eliminate that vinegar taste. Once that’s done, scrub outside and underneath the coffee maker to get rid of any crumbs, beans or grinds. If you have a reusable filter, pull it out and let it soak overnight in vinegar and water to wash away buildup and improve the taste of your coffee.

Sort Out Counter Clutter

To listen to decluttering acolytes and Marie Kondo devotees, you’d think a cluttered kitchen represented some sort of spiritual decline. While we’re not sure we’d go that far, a counter full of junk does make your kitchen seem a lot messier than it is. To combat clutter, hang mounted baskets under the cabinets and store excess stuff there. And maybe consider installing a small appliance garage too—it’s a great place to stuff infrequently-used products, like the blender and crock pot.

Put Cabinet Junk in Its Place

Of course, if your counter is cluttered, chances are pretty high that your cabinets are, too. If you’re currently suffering from cabinet overflow, use stacked shelves and drawer pulls to make a place for everything. And don’t overlook your doors—throw a few command hooks on the back and you can use them to hold everything from pots to spoons to measuring cups. Meanwhile, don’t neglect the top of the upper cabinets either—if they’re anything like most peoples’, they could probably use a good dusting!

Once you do all that, you’ll totally deserve a lazy Sunday binge session, so here are a few ideas what to watch. Trust us—binging feels amazing after you’ve just cleaned house!

5 Signs Your Hot Water Heater Is On Its Last Legs

Nothing is worse than running out of hot water mid-shower. If you have a household full of teens, you know where that water went. If not? The culprit may lie in your hot water heater itself. Heaters only last into their teenage years themselves, so if you haven’t bought a new one since your kids were in diapers, it may be time you started looking around for a new one.

Of course, age isn’t the only indicator. A handful of tell-tale signs will reveal if your hot water is approaching the end of its life, like if there’s less hot water, or if you notice banging noises and a funny taste in the water. Want to know more? Here’s the skinny on hot water heater failures—and how to tell if your unit is toast.

woman showering

It’s Getting Up There in Years

The lifespan on a hot water heater is typically only about 10 to 15 years, tops. So if yours qualifies as a senior citizen in water heater years, it’s probably time to replace. Not sure of its age? Look at the serial number. The first three digits actually contain a coded date. The month is expressed as a letter of the alphabet at the beginning of the serial number (A for January, B for February and so forth), and the year is indicated next by the two digits that follows (15 equals 2015, for instance). That way, you can identify exactly when your unit came off the line.

Your Hot Water Has a Rusty, Metallic Taste, Color or Odor

A lot of different issues can cause rusty water. But if it only happens when you turn on the hot water tap, it’s usually an indicator that your water heater is going. Why? It means that the inside of the tank is corroded—and that leaks are imminent. But you don’t need to panic quite yet. First, give it a few days. Occasionally, incidents with the public water supply can cause temporary discolorations that go away on their own. Next, try flushing the water heater (something you should do about once a year anyway). Family Handyman has a helpful video with instructions how to do just that. After that, if you’re still having issues, it may be time to start shopping around for a new unit.

It Keeps Making Weird Noises

Either you have a monster in your basement or your hot water heater is going. Either way, some sort of intervention is inevitable. Strange rumbling, banging, cracks and pops coming from inside the heater usually comes from build up around the bottom of the tank. Your water contains traces of mineral sediment that collect over there time. The heating and reheating of this sediment eventually hardens it into a thick, unyielding coat of gunk, meaning your heater has to work harder to do its job—and of course, leaks and other issues are only a short way away.

It Just Doesn’t Work Like It Used To

Sediment buildup doesn’t just effect your water heater’s acoustics, of course. It also impacts its performance. You might notice temperature fluctuations, or maybe it seems like the water doesn’t stay hot as long as it used to. Or in some cases, the hot water might go out altogether—although you should check the pilot light and the circuit breaker first. Of course, all of that rigamarole adds up to higher energy bills,. So if yours have recently skyrocketed, that might be another sign as well.

It’s Leaking

If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a hot water heater failure before it progresses into a leak. But unfortunately, for many homeowners, the first tip off occurs when it starts to spill water all over the basement floor. Fortunately, most leaks start small, with a manageable pool of water around the heater itself. In this case, there’s often a small fracture in the water heater tank. When the water becomes heated, the metal expands—and the crack along with it—causing water to drip through the fracture. Once the water cools, the crack shrinks again and often, the water stops leaking. Of course, the water could be coming from loose connections, too, so check those first before you decide it’s time to buy a new tank.

Want your new unit to last just a little bit longer? Make sure to perform some regular maintenance, then, such as regularly flushing the tank, checking the connections and pilot light, and testing the pressure valve. Other things you can do to extend its lifespan? Change the anode rod every five years and install a water softener to reduce wear and tear. Do that, and your next tank should last you for ages—or at least until the kids are out of college!

5 Home Maintenance Nightmares—And How to Prevent Them

What do you do when you can’t sleep? Count sheep? Watch TV? Use a relaxation technique? Or do you anxiously run through everything that could go wrong with your home? If you’re like most homeowners, it’s hard not to let your imagination run away with you. That drip in the sink? Could easily become a gushing torrent of water one day. The crack in the wall? Might as well count yourself homeless right now.

The truth is, most household issues don’t end in complete disaster. But that might not stop your mind at 3:00 am. Still, you’ll sleep a lot better knowing you’ve done your due diligence to prevent these homeowner nightmares from springing to life. Just a little bit of regular home maintenance here and there will ward off some of the worst home boogie men—and save you from those late-night infomercials!

ants on a board

Dodge Plumbing Disasters with a Little Pipe Upkeep

Imagine coming home to find that a small river had suddenly sprung up in your kitchen. It happens more frequently than we’d like to think. In fact, even the most diminutive plumbing leaks can cause Amazon-sized destruction, leading to swelled flooring, wrecked carpets—and mold growth, besides. But luckily, you’re not helpless to prevent them. In fact, one of the most impactful things you can do is lower your water pressure. High pressure is exactly that—pressure—and it can stress your pipes and reduce their life expectancy. Use a hose bib gauge to test your home’s psi; ideally, you’ll get a reading somewhere between 40 and 85. Don’t forget about what’s going on inside the pipes, either. Hard water can eventually corrode them and cause leaks, so install and maintain a water softener in your home, especially if you have high mineral content.

Avoid Roof Leaks with Regular Inspections

Like a burst pipe, a leaky roof can cause all kinds of havoc—and leave you on the line for thousands of dollars. And while you’ll probably notice the former, roof leaks can be trickier to catch on time, especially if they originate in the attic or between the walls. To combat potential roofing problems, have your roof inspected regularly—ideally once a year. Roofing pros not only look at your shingles and gutters, they also inspect the flashing around your chimney and vents as well. And they’ll be able to detect signs of a leak in your attic, too. A little prevention now could just save you from catastrophe later.

Sidestep Mold by Keeping Surfaces Happy and Dry

A mold infestation is a truly scary thought. Left to its own devices, mold can cost you up to $6,000 to remove and remediate. Meanwhile, it’s a health disaster, that can exacerbate existing conditions like asthma or cause life-threatening infections. And mold is sneaky. It often springs up undetected in unfrequented spaces, like in basements, crawl spaces and attics. To beat it, make sure to check for condensation and moisture near your air conditioning duct work and around your walls, basement floor and windows. You’ll also be doing yourself a favor if you regularly clean your gutters—it keeps moisture away from your walls and foundation and prevents mold in less obvious spots.

Ward Off Pest Infestations with Frequent Maintenance

You probably don’t need anyone to tell you how disgusting and uncomfortable a rodent or insect infestation can make you feel. Your home is supposed to be a retreat from the outside world, not a makeshift roach motel! But not if you leave your pest prevention up to chance. Neglected maintenance tasks, like untrimmed tree branches, untended cracks in walls and unaddressed pipe leaks may lure pests into your home. And of course, they’re drawn like literal moths to the flame when there’s open food and garbage around. A regular cleaning and maintenance schedule will help take care of those pesky critters, as will decking your home out with pest-repelling plants, like citronella, neem, marigolds and mint. Nothing like a little all-natural pest prevention!

Protect Yourself from a Sticky Sewage Situation

Sewage leaks give pest infestations a run for their money in the “disgusting household emergencies” department (although we can’t say why someone created that department in the first place!). A sewer line failure is a truly disturbing event—and if it happens in your yard, it’s your problem, not the city’s. But a little foresight here can go a long way to preventing a really icky situation. If you have clay pipes on your sewer line, have them snaked annually to limit tree root intrusion. You’ll also want to hire a professional plumber to clean the sewer lines once a year, regardless of the type. And keep your eyes peeled for signs of impending trouble: toilets that gurgle after flushing or standing water in your basement floor drain. We can’t promise it will cure your insomnia, but this way, you can at least cross off one item on your list of anxieties!

Do You Really Need to Change Your Fridge Water Filter?

Ah, the fridge water filter. One of those pesky little nuisances that every homeowner—or at least every homeowner with a modern fridge—just has to deal with. Every four to six months, there it is, burning like a red, painful reminder of what you had planned for that $40 you now have to spend on filters. But you’re a good homeowner, so you change it.

A couple of months go by—the blink of an eye really—and the indicator light of doom goes on again. Great, another $40 down the drain. But do you really, really need to change it? What happens if you just. stop. doing. it?

We all know what the manufacturers have to say about the matter. Samsung tells its customers that the filter needs to be changed when the indicator light turns red, which happens every six months. Whirlpool is a little more lenient, allowing a generous six to nine months before your fridge becomes a clogged wasteland.

But check out the number of results that pop up when you Google “do i really need to change the water filter in my refrigerator.” Judging by the sheer amount of queries out there, it’s clear that people have some questions. And that’s where this post comes in. Today, we’ll answer the big filter question once and for all, so you can rest easy, knowing your hard-earned money isn’t going to waste.

lemon water in the window sill

To Change or Not to Change, That Is the Question

When it comes to changing your water filter, the lines are pretty fiercely drawn between those who’d do nearly anything to feel like their water was purer and cleaner, and those that think manufacturers are just trying to lure you into spending your hard-earned money on yet another contraption you don’t really need.

Those who fall into the latter camp often claim to have been instructed by a pro who told them filters are really a scam. Or they’re people who’ve noticed that if they open and shut the filter door, the light shuts off, leading them to wonder if those little indicators even really mean anything. And then there are folks who think, “okay but my local water treatment plant already filters the water. Do I really need to filter it twice?”

Appliance dealers and repair specialists mostly advise that you stick with the manufacturer’s’ recommendations here and replace the filters every six months or so. The reason has less to do with the quality of the water or how “clean” it is—although that’s a part of it. It’s because eventually, the filter will collect sediment, first clogging it and then jamming up the ice maker and water dispenser. And that can mean an expensive fridge repair. In fact, if you have really hard water, you may want to change it a little more often, just to keep yourself in the clear.

Buy Filters in Bulk to Save Money

Okay, so you’re pretty much going to have to buy filters if you want to keep your fridge happy. But you don’t have to spend a fortune on them. Refrigerator water filters can be purchased online in bulk packages, which will save you tons of dough in the long run.

For instance, this three-pack of Samsung filters will run you about $120 on Amazon, where as a single filter costs $44.99. Sure, it’s not exactly a steal, but it’s better than paying full price!

Or Bypass the Water Filter Line Altogether

But maybe you don’t care about highly-filtered water at all. Maybe you’re just fine drinking straight from the tap, but you prefer the ice-cold temperature of nicely chilled water. You’ll probably be thrilled to learn that you don’t have to use the filter function in your fridge. In fact, you can install a filter bypass that will keep your water from ever touching the filter.

As you might have guessed from the name, essentially what this does is connect the water dispenser to the water line, thus bypassing the filter. Of course, you’ll have to find a model that will work with your fridge—and drink the unfiltered water afterwards. But you’ll save yourself $80 to $120 a year, which isn’t a bad haul.

So, to recap what we’ve learned: yes, you need to change the fridge filter unless you plan on doing a little work to get around it. But you can also score cheaper filters by doing a little browsing online. And while you’re at it, check out the Offers section in your HomeBit app to see if you can score some more sweet bargains to go along with it. Now there’s some refreshing news!

10 Easy Tips to Winterize Pools, Spas and Hot Tubs

Sure, the official beginning of fall is still a few weeks off, but it’s still autumn in all the ways that count. And if you’re anything like these fall lovers, you’re too busy contemplating your next pumpkin-spiced bev to be sad about bidding your pool farewell for another season.

That said, closing a pool is no enviable task. Cleaning and balancing the chemicals, protecting against algae and freezing, managing the equipment and blowing out the plumbing lines—it’s a lot to fit into your fall schedule! That’s why we created this list of tips to help you get it right, right from the start. After all, the sooner you say sayonara to your pool, the sooner the real fall fun can begin.

beach ball in a pool

Make Sure the Weather Is Right

An unexpected Indian summer can encourage algae growth, creating a big headache when you open back up in spring. Instead, wait until the water temperature measures about 65 degrees Fahrenheit. You’ll save yourself a lot of work next year!

Give Your Pool Extra Algaecide in the Late Fall

Today’s weather is pretty unpredictable (thanks, global warming!), so you may get some unseasonably warm temperatures even if you wait. That’s why it makes sense to apply an extra dose of algaecide and chlorine in the late fall—or even the early winter—to outthwart warm-weather algae.

Closing is a Process, So Take Some Time to Prep

Much as you’d like to have your pool closing over and done with, you should really break it up into a couple steps throughout the span of a week. Specifically, take some time to vacuum your pool and give it one last thorough cleaning. Then, about a week before you’re planning to close your pool, add a phosphate remover, which helps limit the growth of algae in the coming months.

But Before You Do That, Balance the pH

Balancing your pool’s pH levels are an integral part of your closing process, even if you’re hiring a pool service to close it down for you. In fact, all chemicals should be balanced the day you begin closing, so use water treatments to manage the levels, if necessary. For the record, “balanced” means a pH between 7.2 and 7.6, alkalinity of between 80 and 120 parts per million (ppm), and calcium levels between 180 and 200 ppm. Do this first and your pool will survive the winter with ease!

Don’t Shock and Add Algaecide at the Same Time

Most people consider shock to be an absolutely necessary step in the closing process, but you shouldn’t do it when you’re hitting the water with a dose of algaecide. All that extra chlorine will break up the polymer chains in the algaecide, which basically means you poured it all in for nothing. Instead, shock the pool about four to seven days before you close, then add algaecide right before you cover it.

Never Drain Your Pool All the Way

You probably already know that freezes present a very real danger to your pool. What you might not know is that draining your pool can accelerate those problems. In fact, experts say you should always leave some water in there, particularly if you live in a warmer climate or have an above-ground pool. The pressure from freezing can pop the pool out of place or damage the lining, so it’s best not to drain it to protect pool surfaces.

But Do Completely Drain Plumbing Lines

However, your plumbing will suffer enormously if there’s any water left in the lines. Use a pool blower or industrial-grade shop vac to blow out the water, then add a swimming pool antifreeze to protect your plumbing during freezing temperatures.

Consider Adding a “Winter Pill”

Some professionals advise using a “winter pill,” a floating ball of enzymes and treatments that work to break down oils and prevent scum from forming, all winter long. The only caveat to this is that you’ll have to skip your final shock treatment—or use a non-chlorinated alternative—because the high chlorine levels can disrupt the enzymes’ functioning.

And an Air Pillow

Another floating fix, an air pillow takes some of the pressure off your pool—by that, we mean it literally absorbs some of the pressure from the ice forming in your pool, protecting the surfaces. Place the air pillow under the cover before you close up and let it do its thing all winter long.

If All Else Fails, Hire a Pro

Of course, the easiest way to get something done is to hand it over to the pros! Professional contractors will drain your pool and connected plumbing lines to prevent freezing and algae growth. They can also take special measures to prevent freezing, such as adding antifreeze to the plumbing, or using a winterizing air pillow and enzyme treatments. After all, there’s nothing like having a pro on hand to handle any problems that arise. And that means more time sipping cider and relaxing under a cuddly blanket—a definite fall win!