For centuries, savvy gardeners used soap sprays to combat bugs.
Andrew Jackson Downing, a gardening celebrity of the 19th century (who would have designed New York’s Central Park if his life had not been cut short in a steamboat accident), wrote in 1845 that a “wash of soft soap is very good for many purposes … penetrates all the crevices where insects may be lodged, destroying them.”
Then, DDT and other harder-hitting, longer-lasting pesticides developed during World War II left soaps on the sidelines.
Yet here we are in the more environmentally conscious 21st century, and soap sprays are back in vogue – for the same reasons they fell out of favor. Soaps biodegrade quickly and are relatively nontoxic to most creatures (including us).
Pests on plants don’t always warrant calling out the sprayer, but when spraying is needed, soap may do the trick.
You could just douse your rose bushes with leftover, soapy wash water, an aphid remedy once popular among British gardeners. Or you could use soap more deliberately, dissolving some tincture of green soap or Ivory soap shavings into water to make up your own mix.
Add 1 to several tablespoons of soap per gallon of water, or enough to make suds. Test a little of the solution to make sure it won’t damage the plant as well as the bugs. Don’t expect consistent results, though, because washing soaps vary in composition. (Note that soaps and detergents are not equivalent; soap is one kind of detergent, but all detergents are not soaps.)
These days, you can buy soaps specially formulated for garden use. Garden soaps, like washing soaps, are made by combining naturally occurring fats with an alkali such as sodium or potassium. Advantages of modern garden soaps come from choosing specific fats and alkalis.
Soaps act by disrupting cell membranes, and depending on the formulation, those membranes might be those of insects, weeds or disease-causing organisms. Insects most affected by soaps are soft-bodied, slow-moving ones such as aphids, mealybugs, scale and mites.
Now is when these insects start to build up on houseplants.
Caterpillars and beetles are not generally bothered by soap sprays.
Different soap formulations are used against weeds. Soaps toxic to weeds are more or less toxic to all plants, so have to be directed right at the weeds. That’s easy enough with weeds poking up between brick pavers, but you’re better off with a hoe for weeding a bed of flowers or vegetables.
Disadvantages of soap sprays on paving are that they can leave a white residue and be slippery until they wash away.
Whether used against insects, weeds or diseases, soaps are contact poisons, effective only as long as target organisms are wet.
This is both good and bad. Sprayed perennial weeds often have enough energy stored in their roots to resprout, so need repeated treatment. Hand weeding might prove easier. Similarly, repeated treatments are needed to kill insects that hatch from eggs on treated plants to get each flush of hatchlings. Soaps have no effect on insect eggs.
On the plus side, beneficial ladybugs and lacewings hanging around houseplants and garden plants usually have enough time to up and fly away before being doused with a soap spray. Once the spray dries, all harm has passed and they can return.
For maximum effectiveness, spray either weeds or garden plants with soap when the weather is overcast or cool, and drying is slowed.
The best water for mixing up a soap solution is soft water, just as for bathing; rainwater is ideal. And once the soap is dissolved, no more shaking is needed – further shaking might cause too much foaming.
Avoid spraying a stressed or blooming plant.
Finally, thoroughly douse whatever plant you spray so that, to reiterate Mr. Downing’s advice of 167 years ago, the soap “penetrates all the crevices.”
Article from The Cincinnati Enquirer, 02/25/2012 by Lee Reich of the Associated Press.
So how do you reduce your energy consumption and reuse the heat and cooled air in your home without it being stale and unhealthy. James Dulley provides Cincinnati homeowners with an idea, a recovery ventilation system. Learn more and contact Home Services Link if you want an system installed.
Question: The indoor air gets stale and too dry or too humid during winter and summer when we heat or air-condition. Is there any efficient way to get fresh air indoors without opening windows and wasting energy? – Mike J.
Answer: The air inside an energy efficient house can get stale both summer and winter. Not only is it unpleasant and
uncomfortable (too dry or too humid), but it can be unhealthy. Many of today’s products and household cleaners emit dangerous chemicals, especially when they are new. Actually, just opening several windows for cross-ventilation for a short period of time on a breezy day during winter is not very inefficient. Much of the air inside your house can get exchanged fairly quickly without a huge heat loss from the house structure. The heat content of air is relatively low.
This method is not as effective during summer in humid climates. The humidity from the incoming fresh air permeates the walls and items in your house. To remove it, the air conditioner must run longer. If the air conditioner does not have a variable-speed blower with humidity control, your house gets chilled.
For continuous fresh air inside your house in the most efficient manner, install a complete heat recovery ventilation system (HRV). During winter, heat from the stale outgoing warm air is transferred to the incoming cold fresh air. During summer, the stale outgoing cold air precools the incoming hot outdoor fresh air. Up to 75 percent of the energy can be saved.
A HRV is a simple system with a heat exchanger inside a cabinet and two blowers, one incoming and one outgoing. It has its own duct system drawing the stale indoor air usually from bathrooms and the kitchen. The incoming fresh air ducts often lead to the living room or hallway. The two air flows pass each other in the heat exchanger, but stay separate.
In many climates, indoor humidity levels are also a concern. For example, during summer, bringing in precooled humid air may not greatly improve comfort and may exacerbate allergies. Excessively dry air during winter can be uncomfortable for the skin and can cause other problems.
An energy recovery ventilation system (ERV) is a variation of a standard HRV. The design of the heat exchanger and its materials are different from a HRV. In addition to transferring heat, the heat exchanger in an ERV also transfers moisture. During the summer, the incoming fresh air is partially predehumidified by the outgoing cool dry stale air. During winter, the indoor humidity is recaptured.
There are various types of automatic controls which determine how long and how fast the blowers operate. An indoor air humidity sensor is common. You can also manually override the sensors and run it when you choose.
Article featured in The Cincinnati Enquirer, 02/24/2012 by James Dulley.
So you want to build a deck, a house or an addition to your home then you’ll need to know about a diagonal bracing. First, you will need to check the building codes for diagonal braces. Second, you should contact a structural engineer if you haven’t done so or built diagonal braces before. Diagonal braces are used to keep your building project square and structurally solid thus the need for getting it right the first time.
We’re sharing the expertise of Tim Carter, Ask the Builder, to provide our readers with a basic understanding of diagonal braces, their importance and how to to construct. When you’re ready to begin a deck, renovation or addition project, contact Home Services Link. We’re here to help with all your home improvement and home repair needs. We have screened reliable contractors such as structural engineers, general contractors, remodelers, and foundation experts.
We’ll provide you with Tim’s “executive summary”.
Books have been written about diagonal bracing. Talk to any structural engineer and I’m sure he’ll tell you that entire college courses are offered on the topic. It’s a very complex topic, but I’ll do my best to give you the basics so you don’t have a failure on any of your projects.
Diagonal bracing is a structural component of just about any building. It provides lateral stability preventing collapse of a wall, deck, roof, etc.
Let’s talk about what happens when you don’t have diagonal bracing in place so you get a better understanding. Imagine if you were to build a wall using 2x4s 16 inches on center and you make it 8 feet tall. If you stand the wall up and nail the bottom plate to the floor to hold just that in place, the wall might seem strong if you put weight on the top. Don’t you stand on the wall to test this. It will collapse.
But here’s the scary test. Get on a stepladder at one end of the wall. Push on the end of the top plate as if you’re trying to move the 2×4 plate forward, not side to side so as to make the wall tip over. You’ll quickly discover you can collapse the wall down onto itself with little effort like you’d close an accordion door. In seconds you can have the 8-foot tall wall folded up on itself and only inches high on the floor.
Now imagine what would happen if you built a home with no or inferior diagonal bracing and a severe windstorm blows against the house. Or imagine the violent side-to-side shaking that happens when the shear waves of an earthquake hit a house. Can you see how the house could easily collapse? When pro carpenters build a house, they install different types of bracing. One might be a metal diagonal bracing from the lower corner of a wall up to the top plate.
Plywood or oriented strand board (OSB) properly nailed will also provide excellent diagonal bracing. You typically only have to put one full sheet of plywood at each corner of a wall to provide the needed stability.
Deck collapses can also be traced to a lack of sufficient diagonal bracing. I’ve seen decks built where the outer support beam just rests on wood posts. If a group of people up on the deck start dancing and a harmonic motion builds up, the entire deck can collapse as the deck starts to shift sideways. Diagonal bracing prevents this side-to-side movement.
There are any number of ways to install diagonal bracing for a deck. One way is to put diagonal braces that connect the deck beams to the vertical posts. These braces are typically cut at a 45-degree angle. It’s really important to bolt these instead of relying on nails.
You can also install a flat 2×6 or 2×8 on the underside of the floor joists to give the decking great diagonal support. Drive no less than two 16d galvanized nails through the brace at each floor joist. Be sure the nails have the proper coating to match the treated lumber you’re using to prevent corrosion.
Diagonal bracing is really important if you’re working with roof trusses on that upcoming room addition. Many a carpenter has been killed or seriously injured when roof trusses suddenly collapse as they’re erected. Wind can easily push them over without bracing.
Large truss roofs often come with detailed drawings that show bracing that needs to be installed in the webs of the trusses. Always be sure to reference any drawings or talk with the engineer at the truss company if you have any questions.
Be aware there are very strict building code guidelines with respect to diagonal bracing. The code almost always dictates the type of nail, length, shape of the head, special coatings, etc. The reason is simple: Diagonal bracing is mission critical to the structural stability of a building.
I’ve always found it best to install diagonal bracing for walls while the wall is built flat on a floor surface. With the wall down on the ground, it’s easy to square it up. With the wall square on the ground, you can temporarily toenail the bottom and top plate so the wall doesn’t move while you nail on the plywood or OSB at the corners.
You can also nail on the rest of the wall sheathing if you like. When you tilt up the wall, it’s already square and you can move on to the next wall.
We have had a couple cold snaps thus far but nothing cold enough and long enough to freeze most pipes that are not adequately protected. The damage that can be done by a burst pipe is huge and it can happen very quickly. Several hundred gallons of water can be released into your home if you are not there to immediately shut off the water. So first and foremost make sure you know where your main water supply shutoff valve is located. Along with finding it make sure it will work when needed. An old valve may be corroded inside and very difficult to turn when the time comes so best to find out now instead of when water is pouring into your home.
So how do you avoid a water problem from frozen pipes? The most common cause is not removing water hoses from outside faucets commonly referred to by plumbers as hose bibs. Even a freeze proof faucet will freeze and burst inside your wall if there is standing water in the hose. So to never have a problem remove those hoses when the watering season is over and if you have them, close the shutoff valve inside your house. If you don’t have a shutoff valve and it is going to be very frigid, you can buy and insulated cover to put on the faucet or just cover it with an old wool sock and small plastic bag. Usually people don’t realize a faucet froze and burst until they turn it to use it later in the spring. The water will gush into your wall or into your basement causing a big mess. Many times in block foundations this shows up as a wet wall or water seeping out at the base of the wall. It goes away after the faucet has been turned off for a while only to return when you use the faucet again. Best to prevent this by just removing the hoses every winter.
The other areas, especially in older homes that are vulnerable, are pipes in cabinets under sinks on outside walls, pipes in outside walls and in crawlspaces. The most economical way to prevent problems if you have access to the pipes is to insulate them with foam pipe insulation. Make sure you seal the joints between each piece. Any exposed piping is vulnerable. Another trick is leave the doors of a cabinet open so room air circulates warming the area more or even using a small heater. Usually the situation is one where the pipes are inside walls that are not well insulated. Short of cutting into the walls to apply better insulation about the only option is to leaving some faucets that are fed by those pipes slightly open to keep water continuously flowing. That can cost you money with a higher water bill but it is much less expensive than repairing water damage.
Prevention instead repairing in the case of anything dealing with water is always better and much cheaper. If you need some help insulating some pipes just let us know. We can send you a plumber or a handyman to address the issue. HomeServicesLink is here to help you with any home improvement or repair. Just contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 513-271-1888.
Plumbing problems and solutions can be a homeowners worst nightmare, but having the right connection to home improvement and repair contractors is what HomeServicesLink is all about. We’re here to provide you information and be your Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky contractor connection with insured, reliable and screened contractors.
So if you need a plumber, electrician, handyman or general contractor, contact us.
DEAR TIM:I saw a new device on a website that says it can replace the traditional p-trap under a plumbing fixture. It has a flexible tube-like membrane that is supposed to stay closed when no water is flowing down the pipe. I’m skeptical this thing would work over the long haul. I also wonder how things like this get approved by code officials? It seems the traditional p-trap under all my plumbing fixtures work well. What do you think about these mechanical plumbing products that attach to the waste and vent lines? Julie P., Rockford, IL
DEAR JULIE: Boy, oh boy, you sure know how to stir the pot! You also did a great job of touching a nerve I happen to have about plumbing devices and code officials. Let’s open the discussion with the fact that I’ve been a master plumber for over 30 years.
I’m pretty certain I’ve seen the exact plumbing waste valve you’re talking about. When I first got it, I immediately recoiled at the design. My years and years of dealing with sludge-encrusted drain lines screamed at me this was a possible disaster waiting to happen.
Let’s go quickly back in time to just after the American Civil War. If memory serves me right between then and the 1880′s, the medical community came to a consensus about the connection between bacteria and diseases. Plumbing standards rapidly advanced and believe it or not, plumbers back then were often more highly regarded than physicians when it came to protecting the health of the general public. Plumbers were seen as knights in shining white armor.
That said, you absolutely never want to underestimate what can happen to you or your family if a plumbing drain system malfunctions or you have a polluted water supply system. Entire books have been devoted to the subjects.
Well over 100 years ago, it was quickly discovered you could completely stop vermin and bacteria from spreading into your home with a simple water seal under each plumbing fixture. They used to come in two styles: the S-trap and P-trap. They got the names because the shape of the drain pipes look like those letters in the English alphabet.
I have huge issues with mechanical plumbing drain and vent products that try to supplant the time-tested p-traps and traditional open vent lines that lead from fixtures up to the roof of your home. A mechanical device is one that has moving parts. We all know that every mechanical device known to man has failed at one time or another. If you know of one that’s not, it will eventually fail.
You don’t want a mechanical trap under a fixture that will not close off properly. When the trap remains open sewer gas or vermin can enter your home. What can cause a trap to stay open? If you’ve taken apart used p-traps and drain lines like I have, you’ll quickly see biofilm, sludge, grease deposits, food chunks, gravel, etc. These can all interfere with a mechanical membrane that’s supposed to close tightly.
It gets worse in my opinion. I’ve never sat in on meetings where building code officials debate and discuss changes to the code. But suffice it to say that I’ve seen parts of the building code that make me shake my head. Some of the building code is not backed up with hard science, and/or the code officials have not seen as many old buildings I have that prove certain minimum standards must be always be adhered to.
You can’t hope things are going to work. Hope is the emotion of last resort. You hope for something when you can’t control the outcome. I can control the desired outcome in my plumbing system by using traditional p-traps and a real interconnected vent system that always supply air to the pipes as water rushes down them.
Realize the building code in your town is very possibly a hybrid of a national model code. The building and plumbing code can be different from state to state and city to city because local code officials can modify the model codes. I’ve also been told that some codes have provisions where a local inspector can approve an alternative material on his own. That’s a very scary situation indeed.
Talk to any seasoned plumber and he’ll tell you he’s able to make a living because mechanical plumbing devices fail. Backflow preventer valves, regular valves of all types, pressure regulators, anything that has a moving part fails on a routine basis. Ask that same plumber about how well-designed and installed vent line systems work. I’ve never in my career had one fail. Never.
Article courtesy of The Cincinnati Enquirer, 02/18/2012 by Tim Carter, Ask The Builder.