Monday, January 31, 2011

Organic Fruit Tree Care – Preventative Medicine (Part 1)

in Professional Arborist Tips

As you are probably aware, your ornamental fruit tree is susceptible to disease and bugs. Whether you desire an ornamental fruit tree for its aesthetics or you wish to pick fruit off your tree, you should develop a plan to help the tree fight off these pesky predators.
And what better way to help put a smile on your fruit tree’s face than by utilizing the organic way!

Compost Around Pear Tree
So, first things first.
Preventative medicine is best applied by a reputable and honest tree care company. A certified arborist can work with you to develop an organic tree care program that works best with your beloved fruit tree.
Good Food and Environment Make For a Healthy Body
A fruit tree is a living being and needs sustenance and nurturing to thrive and grow.
Five things are crucial to a healthy fruit tree.
Read More Here

Content provided by ArborScape Services

Monday, January 10, 2011

January is National Radon Month - Radon Myth vs Facts

Professional Radon Test
ONLY $99 Jan & Feb 2011
(regularly $135)
 Call 303-284-6354 or email to schedule your radon test today!
According to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency January is National Radon Month, at least .  The EPA and 8 other federal agencies have joined together to educate the public about the negative health effects to individuals caused by long term exposure to Radon.
What is Radon?
Radon is a radioactive gas that is released from the normal decay of uranium in rocks and soils and is found in nearly all soils in the United States.  Radon is invisible, colorless, odorless and tasteless and seeps up through the ground and diffuses into the air. We all breathe radon every day, usually at very low levels without serious negative effects.  However, it has been estimated that 1 in 15 American homes have high levels (above 4.0 pCi/L) of Radon.
Myth vs Fact
Is radon a health hazard?
Many people have dis-regarded the warnings about radon because most early testing was done on hard rock miners who were exposed to extremely high levels for long periods of time.
New studies performed on homeowners have confirmed Radon’s negative health affects. The most recent  residential case-controlled study’s results were published in 2000.   Radon is considered a Group A carcinogen which means it is known to cause cancer in humans with prolonged exposure.
Is radon a problem in Colorado?
It is estimated that nearly 1 out of every 15 homes in the US have elevated radon levels. The concentration of radon does vary by geographical area. 
The map to the right is the EPA Radon map of Colorado. As you can see the majority of Colorado is in Zone 1 which has the highest potential for predicted indoor averages over the EPA limit of 4.0 pCi/L. 
Should Homeowners Test for Radon?
In 2005 the Surgeon General released a National Health Advisory on Radon recommending testing of all homes. You can read that press release here:
What are dangerous levels of radon?
I have often heard that the levels considered dangerous are different in Canada and the US giving rise to questions about the validity of the problem.  The fact is that levels, at which mitigation is recommend, are very close and the recommendations are similar.  Until recently testing in the US usually occurs during real estate transactions while in Canada they tend to be done by homeowners.
The US Environmental Protection Agency and Surgeon General recommends that people not have long term exposure in excess of 4.0 Pico Curies per liter (4.0 pCi/L).  In Canada the number is 5.4 pCi/L.
The following are the general recommendations of the EPA based on the results of short term radon testing. The amount of radon in the air is measure in “picocuries of radon per liter of air” or “pCi/L”.
  •  Short term testing with levels less than 4.0 pCi/L - The EPA does not recommend any follow up action or mitigation.
  • Short-term testing with levels near but not more than 4.0 pCi/L - A second short term test may be in order.  If you do a 2nd short-term test the 2 values should be averaged and if the average is LESS THAN 4 pCi/L no follow up action or mitigation is recommended.
  •  Short term testing with levels equal to or greater than 4.0 pCi/L- The EPA recommends mitigation to reduce radon levels.
In Canada the recommendations are slightly different.  Remedial measures are recommended in a dwelling whenever the average annual radon concentration exceeds 200 Bq/m3 (5.4 pCi/L).
  • Short term testing with levels less than 5.4 pCi/L – no mitigation necessary
  • Short term testing with levels between 5.4 pCi/L and 16 pCi/L – mitigate within 2 years
  • Short term testing with levels over 16 pCi/L – mitigate within 1 year.
What to do with the results.
If testing shows levels well above those listed above mitigation within the next year is strongly advised.  If your results fall below the levels listed above than not action is required.  If testing shows levels very near the 4.0 pCi/L level you may want to consider a few things before deciding when or if to mitigate.
  • Is anyone who will be living in the home a smoker?  The risk of contracting lung cancer rises significantly for smokers.
  •  How much time will family members spend at home? 16 or more hours in the home (including sleep) would be considered long term exposure.  Stay at home moms with young children will easily meet these times.
  • Do you have bedrooms or a home office in your basement? Radon concentrations tend to be greater on the lower levels of a home and testing should be performed in these areas. A person who sleeps or spends much of his/her waking hours in the basement is exposed to more risk than others who occupy higher levels in the same house.
  • How long will you live in your home? Consider the amount of time you expect to live in your home. Most of the studies and guidelines are based on a “lifetime” of exposure. Be aware that radon testing results may be an issue when trying to sell your home.
How radon is mitigated or reduced?
There are several methods that a contractor can use to lower the radon levels in your home.  Some techniques prevent radon from entering your home with others reduce the level after it has entered.  They type of radon reduction system that will work best for your home will depend on the foundation design of your home. (i.e. basement, slab-on-grade, crawlspace).
In houses with basement or slab-on-grade foundations, radon is usually reduced by one of four types of soil suction: subslab suction, drain tile suction, sump hole suction, or block wall suction.
The most common and usually the most reliable is the subslab suction technique.  Basically suction pipes are inserted through the floor slab into the soil underneath.  A radon vent fan connected to the suction pipe draws the radon gas from below the house and releases it into the outdoor air while creating a vacuum beneath the slab.  For a more detailed description of this an the other types of radon reduction techniques I recommend you download the EPA’s “Consumer’s Guide to Radon Reduction”
All radon reduction techniques typically include sealing cracks and other openings in the foundation.  Sealing cracks helps limit the flow of radon into the home thereby improving the effectiveness of the other systems in place.  Please note that the EPA does not recommend the use of sealing alone to reduce radon. Tests have shown this is not an effective way to reduce radon levels consistently.
You can help in the reduction of radon levels in your home by opening windows, doors and vents on the lower floors in your home.  This mixes the outdoor and indoor air together effectively reducing radon levels in the home.  This should be regarded only as a temporary radon reduction technique as radon levels will return to the previous levels when the doors and windows are closed not to mention the increased cost of re-conditioning the air.
Professional Radon Test
ONLY $99 Jan & Feb 2011
(regularly $135)
 Call 303-284-6354 or email to schedule your radon test today!
Radon Study (American Journal of Epidemiology  ) 
EPA’s “Consumer’s Guide to Radon Reduction” 

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Warm Window Shades - Fabricating

This is a short summary of my adventure in making insulated window shades for my home.  I won’t go into a lot of the details that can be found at various websites but I will include a list of links, to which you can refer, at the end of the post.

Choosing the type of shade - There are several types of shades that you can make from a simple square or rectangular cover that is attached to the wall using Velcro to a more traditional side draw shade which requires purchasing special hardware.  I chose something in between, a simple Roman type shade that would be mounted on the outside of the window frame. I wanted something that was easy to open and close  but didn’t require me to remove the vinyl shades already installed.

I ultimately made and installed 4 shades of different dimensions.  Here is a list of what I did right and what I would do differently next time.

Did it right - I measured, figured and measured again before I bought a single piece of material.

Do Differently -  I did all the planning about 2 weeks before I went to the fabric store.  I should have reviewed my notes before I went but fortunately the woman helping me at Denver Fabrics, saved me from making a big mistake and wasting money.  The warm window fabric is quite expensive so you don’t want to buy more than you need.

Cover Fabric
Did it right – Found a cover fabric I liked and chose a light weight cotton that was easy to work with.

Do Differently – All my future shades will be solid colors or patterns that repeat often enough to make piecing together easier.  I had to  piece together fabric for 2 of the windows and had to by 2 more yards to make it work.

Sewing vs Non-Sewing
Did it right – Decided not to use my sewing machine and instead used ‘steam-a-seam” for all of the connections and hems.
Did it right – Hand stitched the cord rings.

Do Differently – Sew on the Velcro rather than using the self adhesive kind.  I have several edges that are not sticking and I can’t just remove the blind without re-string the cord to fix the problem.  If you use the self adhesive Velcro at least hand stitch it to the fabric and staple it to the support especially on the edges.
Fabricating the shades

Did it right
  • Set up a large table right in the room where the shades would be installed to do the work.
  • Double checked my measurements as I was working.
  • Used a framing square to make my warm window fabric cuts and place my cord rings
  • Took the time and spent the extra money to allow me to piece the cover fabric together correctly
  • Scotch guarded the cover fabric to make on-going cleaning easier.

Do Differently

  • Make my shades at least 2 inches wider on each side rather than the 1 inch I used.  2 inches would have left room for inconsistencies in the window dimensions and installation issues.
  • Where possible plan ahead to use full widths of the cover fabric rather than worrying about the exact length of the blind.  It would not be noticeable in my room if one blind was hung at a different height above the window than the others.
  • Spray the scotch guard on the blinds before you install them  I learned this after the first one.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Warm Window Shades

If you’re like me you are probably sick and tired of the chill you feel on the back of your neck when sitting in front of your window or feeling the chill in your bedroom when you’re getting ready for bed.  If so, I have found a solution that is much less expensive and more effective than spending $1000’s on replacement windows, Warm Window Shades.

This is the first in a series of short articles about Warm Window Shades and my adventure in making them for my home.

I first heard about warm window fabric from a student who took my home maintenance class, “The Morning After Closing”.  I decided to do some research for myself and this is what I found.

What is Warm Window Fabric?  Warm Window fabric is a four layered insulated fabric consisting of (1) a moisture resistance lining, (2) high density needled hollow fibers, (3) reflective polyethylene vapor barrier, (4) metalized Poly with needled air-trapping polyester fibers.  This fabric is the basis of the Warm Window Shade.

How does it compare to standard windows for insulating ability?  Let’s compare R-Values.  As a reminder R-Value is the measurement of a material’s resistance to the flow of heat.  The higher the R-Value the greater the capacity of the material for insulating. For comparison:  An old style single pane window has and R-Value of about R-1 and typical double pane window range from R-2 to R-3 depending on the quality.  Adding a Warm Window Shade can increase the R-Value to R-7.5 something no window currently on the market can achieve on its own.

How much will it cost to make and install a Warm Window Shade?
  I have made 4 roman style shades of varying sizes.  The average cost of materials was $80/shade.  It took me an average of 3 hours to make each shade and about 1 hour to install.

Where can I get the materials?  I found my materials and accessories at Denver Fabrics (2777 W Belleview Ave, Littleton, Colorado 80123 (303) 730-2777)  You can also buy material online at .  Because some idiot sued them when a child got hurt in a shade drawstring they no longer sell the components for the roman shade but the fabric store had everything I needed.  They do have materials for other shade styles.

Are there instructions for making my own shades?  I purchased a booklet on how to make a variety of different shade types at the fabric store.  I also found that some instructions could be downloaded from the Warm Window website.  You cannot find the instructions for the roman shade at their site because of the law suit.  If you’d like a copy please let me know or call Denver Fabrics to see if they have any more instruction booklets.

My next few posts will be about what I went through and discovered while making my shades.  My next project will be to make side draw shades for the large exterior door in our family room.

Monday, January 3, 2011

5 Important things to think about when buying hand tools

Do you need a new set of hand tools or do you need to replace one?

If you do, you might be tempted to just run out to your local hardware store and buy the cheapest one you can find, and I don't blame you.  Who wants to spend a lot of time doing research on an item that will most likely cost less than $20?  Although  most hand tools are not very expensive, especially when compared to the cost of a new power tool, you might want to consider a few things before heading out to the store.

5 things to think about:
  1. Warranty/Quality - Does the hand tool come with a warranty? Several brands such as Craftsman and Ace Hardware come with lifetime warranties for all hand tools.  Why not buy a tool that is guaranteed to last?
  2. Supplier/Manufacturer’s reputation – Who is giving you the guarantee? A warranty is only as good as the company providing it. A lifetime warranty from a company that may not be here tomorrow is not worth anything.  Be sure the store and the manufacturer have a reputation you can count on. 
  3. Comfort – Is the tool comfortable to hold and use?  I know from personal experience that if the tool is not easy or comfortable to use it will never leave my tool box.  Hold the tool in your hand and see how it feels. This is especially important if you have extra small or extra large hands.
  4. Function – Is it the right tool for the job?  Buying a tool that is too big, too small or just a little bit ‘off’ is not worth the money no matter how much you are spending or think you are saving.  Also buying a ‘multi-purpose’ tool that does 10 different things when you only need it to do 1 thing may not be worth buying.
  5. Cost – How important is it? In general hand tools are not very expensive and it is worth spending a few extra dollars to get a high quality tool with a life time guarantee from a reputable source.