Author Archives: Trish Popovitch

About Trish Popovitch

Trish is a copywriter, blogger, eco journalist and columnist living in Wyoming. Check her out on Google+!

Double Digging Boosts Soil Health in Your Garden

Of all the many ways to till the soil of your garden, the centuries-old process known as double digging may yield the best results.

Double Digging

Photo: shutterstock.com

Quality, nutrient-rich aerated soil is the foundation of a good garden. Sure, the “no dig” gardening method has its adherents, but if you wish to reap the many rewards of soil aeration, digging is a must.

Forget the rototiller; this tool not only compacts the soil, which is expressly not the goal of aeration, but also breaks up the soil aggregate (sand, clay, and so on), undermining the structure that promotes plant health.

In my opinion, the best way to till a garden is through a process called double digging, which preserves the aggregate and leads to vivacious veggies, flourishing fruits, and beautiful blooms. So how’s it done?

1. Trench Planning
You’ll be digging a trench the length of your garden, one foot wide and one foot deep. Before you begin, make sure you have the right spade for the job at hand; most appropriate for trench work is either a drain spade or a wide-blade garden spade.

Double Digging - Trench

Photo: kohalacenter.org

2. Getting Started
At the start of your imagined trench, insert your spade into the soil, pushing down about one foot below the surface. Gently scoop the dirt onto the blade of your spade, depositing the earth into a wheelbarrow.

3. Completing the Trench
Continue shoveling out your one-foot-deep trench. Avoid standing in the trench as you go; doing so compacts the soil. To better distribute your weight, you may opt to stand on a sheet of plywood or particle board.

Related: 10 Not-to-Be-Missed Sunflower Blooms

4. Aerate the Trench
Aerate the soil at the bottom of the trench by twisting a sturdy garden fork side to side, breaking up hard clumps, to a depth of about one foot. Do not remove this layer of subsoil; it must be treated with care.

5. Add Compost
Fill the aerated trench with your choice of nutrient-rich, zone-appropriate compost. If the area is to be left fallow for the season, you might even consider adding fresh horse manure.

6. Trench Two
Dig out a second trench next to the initial one. As you remove soil from the second trench, place it upside down onto the compost you’ve added to the first trench.

7. Finishing Up
Trench by trench, proceed to till the total surface area of your garden. Be sure to use height-appropriate gardening tools; tools that are too long or too short can make soil turning into backbreaking work. This is supposed to be fun!

Vintage garden tools, which I find much sturdier than most of today’s mass-produced ones, may be purchased through online auctions (good for box lots of hand tools) or yard sales (good for avoiding the shipping costs on bigger diggers).

A great opportunity to make use of your homegrown compost, double digging has been trusted for centuries and has always yielded the best results in my garden.


Radon in the Home: It’s a Gas, Gas, Gas!

Test for the presence of radon in your home, and take any steps necessary to mitigate the problem.

Radon in the Home

Photo: shutterstock.com

Did you know that radon gas, a byproduct of decaying uranium in the soil, is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States? When it comes to indoor air quality, there may be nothing more important you can do for your family than test for the presence or absence of radon.

There are short-term and long-term tests for radon in the home. The short-term approach is less expensive and either provides you with peace of mind or informs you that an issue exists. Long-term tests more accurately measure annual levels of radon in the home.

Related: The Importance of a CO Detector

Many homeowners begin with the short-term test and if radon is detected (at a level above 4pCi/L), they move on to administering the long-term test. If both tests agree there is a dangerous level of radon in the home, the next logical step to undertake is mitigation.

Follow guidelines from the Environmental Protection Agency to eliminate radon or at the very least lower the levels at which it appears:

• Introduce a gas-permeable layer of gravel beneath the foundation of your house.

• Seal any cracks or damaged patches in the concrete flooring of your basement.

• Install an attic fan (a secondary junction box may be required for the wiring).

• Run a vent pipe from the ground beneath your house to an exhaust point above the roof.

A vent pipe (usually PVC) may be incorporated into new construction plans or added onto an existing home. Is installing an attic fan absolutely necessary? That depends on the detected levels of radon in the home. The higher the levels the more urgent the need.

If your testing suggests that radon gas is not a problem now but might become one in the future, a convenient time to address all or some of the steps listed above is while basement remodeling or completing other home improvement projects on your home’s lowest level.

Remember: Any home, new or old, can have a radon gas problem. Take the first step toward breathing easier and contact the radon gas office in your state to request a test kit today.


My House Contains Asbestos: Now What?

Designated a carcinogen in the 1970s and largely banned, asbestos can still be found in older homes. A little education can help you deal with its discovery and removal.

Asbestos Removal

Photo: tejashomeinspections.com

Many older houses incorporate construction materials that contain asbestos. Usually its presence is uncovered during closing, when the house undergoes numerous inspections. Asbestos removal then becomes part of purchase negotiations. For home buyers who skip inspection to keep upfront costs low, asbestos discovery can be quite scary. After all, they’ve just learned that their beautiful slice of American history is contaminated.

Asbestos, which occurs naturally, is a silicate-based mineral that has fire-resistant properties; there are six different types of asbestos. Until the 1970s, asbestos fibers were woven into or used in the manufacture of floor tiles, fire-retardant clothing, fire blankets, roof shingles, pipe insulation, and many car parts, just to name a few items. Federal regulation sharply curtailed domestic use of asbestos after it was designated a carcinogen. The material’s microscopic fibers enter the body through inhalation and cause the deadly disease mesothelioma.

Related: 8 Home Hazards—and How to Mitigate Them

Asbestos is typically uncovered in the basements and attics of older homes. You would probably not recognize it, however, by visual inspection alone. But if your house was built before the 1970s, the chances are likely that the vintage floor tile you want to replace or that weird-looking pink insulation around your furnace contains asbestos.

Just because you have asbestos in your home doesn’t mean you are being exposed to it. If the asbestos-containing material is intact, untouched, and unreachable, it is unlikely to cause harm to you or your family. Leave it alone and it will leave you alone. If the material is cracked or crumbling, but still untouched and unreachable, it can be sealed off—encapsulated—and left alone. If, however, you discover asbestos during renovation, it’s time to stop work and immediately seek professional help.

When you uncover asbestos that you can’t avoid or encapsulate—perhaps it’s in a wall you want to knock through or in those tiles you’d like to pull up—find a certified asbestos consultant in your area and request a home evaluation. The cost of removal, which is in the thousands, is determined by the amount of asbestos that has to be removed. Asbestos abatement is not cheap and may alter your renovation plans. Homeowner’s insurance policies typically do not cover removal. Always check with your state agencies to see if they provide any sort of funding—grants or loans—to assist with asbestos removal.

Asbestos Removal 2

Photo: radiogreenearth.org

Professional asbestos removal involves sealing off the affected area, encapsulating the asbestos-contaminated material, and then safely removing it from the site. To ensure that there is no conflict of interest, be sure to use one asbestos professional to evaluate your home and a different asbestos abatement firm to do the actual work. Always ask for proof of certification and get copies of all the paperwork that documents that your asbestos was removed in accordance with state and federal procedures.  Photos of how materials were handled and removed should also be included in documentation.

Many people are convinced they can remove asbestos from their home safely without calling in the experts. This is not recommended and could endanger your health and your life. There’s more to removal than spray bottles and dust masks. If you want to become certified in asbestos removal, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides a list of approved state contacts to get you started. Asbestos education is the best way for DIY fans to keep their renovation projects safe and their homes healthy.


5 Things to Do with… Gutters

Sure, they are designed to keep rain runoff away from your house, but gutters can be used in so many other creative and useful ways.

Spring is a great time of year to clean the accumulated debris from your gutters—and perhaps even replace gutters that have seen better days. So, what can you do with old gutters or the remants from a new installation? Put them to practical and creative DIY use, of course! Here are five smart rain gutter projects that may surprise you.

 

1. BOOKSHELVES FOR THE NURSERY

Gutter-DIY

Photo: Angela Whelan-Obermueller

Whether you are designing a new nursery or carving out a quiet space for your toddler’s story time, rain gutter shelving is ideal for over-sized books. Be sure to mount gutters securely to the wall and at a height that your kids can reach easily.

 

2. INSET TABLE CADDY

Gutter-DIY

Photo: Christina Gillette

There’s no need to bring the cooler to the table when it’s already built in. This rain gutter ice caddy was made by removing most of the center slat of a picnic table and replacing it with a gutter of the same dimensions. Check out the great step-by-step at Redesign Revolution.

 

3. VERTICAL GARDEN

Gutter-DIY

Photo: www.thethriftymama.com

Gutters with end caps can be used to make suspended planters inside or outside of the home. Simply cut the gutters to size, drill holes on both ends, and thread chain or tension wire through to create a hanging gutter garden. If you’re suspending the planter outdoors, locate it near a sprinkler or hose for easy maintenance.

 

4. FEEDING TROUGH ON THE FLY

Gutter-DIY

Photo: Mark Tighe

Farm animals are typically fed from a trough, and what is a gutter but a roof-mounted trough? Brought down to earth, a gutter’s perfect for this chicken buffet. Just cut a length of gutter to size and mount it on leftover wood. Be sure to get the height right so the chickens don’t have to jump for their breakfast.

 

5. RIBBON ORGANIZER

Gutter-DIY

Photo: splitcoaststampers.com

One of the biggest challenges for crafters is figuring out where to stash all the supplies and materials. This gutter-turned-ribbon dispenser is a clever solution. Attach a length of gutter to the inside of a cupboard or above a worktable to keep ribbons organized and readily available.

 

For more DIY ideas, consider:

5 Things to Do With… Old Tires
5 Things to Do With… Bottle Caps
5 Things to Do With… Globes


Construction Site Living: Surviving Days (and Days) of DIY

Construction Site Living - Exposed Studs

Photo: Kim Piper Werker

Homeowners begin every renovation with the best of intentions. The budget is fixed, the schedule is firm, and the results—well, the results are sure to be spectacular.

Unfortunately, life gets in the way, and that week of organized chaos for which you had bargained soon becomes a month (or more) of construction site living. If your home improvement is taking longer than expected, don’t panic—plan!

Demolition is only the beginning
First things first, set aside sufficient time for deconstruction. A good way to kill your drive from the get-go is attempting too much on day one. Come up with a conservative plan, then stick to your set schedule. Remove debris as it accumulates; don’t wait until you’re knee-deep in rubble. Also, consider getting the demolition done a week prior to your official project start date. This strategy helps remodelers move through the “What did I get myself into?” phase.

Put safety (and sanity) first
Do everything possible to protect your children or pets. Unplug and store power tools, tighten the lids on paint cans, and vacuum all dust. Clean up loose nails, gather stray wires, and remove toxic liquids or putties (e.g., joint compound). Here’s a neat trick for dealing with dirty paintbrushes: Between uses, wrap them in plastic and place them in the refrigerator. They’ll be ready for action when you next need them, and your dog will stay its original color.

Construction Site Living - Renovation Progress

Photo: retrorenovation.com

Keep things moving
You may discover after a few days that your seemingly simple project is more involved than expected. At this point, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed. Resist the temptation to back away from the task altogether. Even if you can only bear to commit one or two hours per day, continue to chip away at making progress. Sooner than you think, the end will be in sight.

Encase your project in plastic
Plastic sheeting serves at least valuable roles: It prevents construction dust and debris from spreading throughout your home, and it enables you to hear when a child or animal has entered the work zone. Buy this product by the roll at your local home improvement center, and attach it to wall studs using a staple gun.

Create an oasis of calm, or escape
Give yourself a place to retreat. Maintain at least one room that is renovation-free. Here, you do not have to deal with, let alone see, the work underway. Being able to forget about the project, even for a short time, helps remodelers relax and rejuvenate. If the nature of your renovation is such that you cannot carve out a calming oasis, think about temporarily residing somewhere else—a relative’s house, a hotel, or even a rented RV.

For more on managing construction, consider:

Cookies, and Other Tips for Coping with Remodeling
Live In or Move Out: The Remodeling Dilemma
The 12-Year Kitchen


Top Tips for Tiling a Backsplash

Tiling a Backsplash

Photo: lebaroninteriors.blogspot.com

Everyone knows the backsplash is an important element in kitchen design. What you may not know is that, considering its high degree of visual impact, tiling a backsplash is surprisingly easy for DIYers. Before you start, here are five points to consider:

1. Choose Tile Carefully
Think long and hard about the type, size, design and color of your backsplash tile. Fads and trends come and go; consider colors and patterns with classic, assured appeal. Make sure that you buy a sufficient number of tiles by carefully measuring the backsplash area. (This is especially important if you are purchasing discontinued designs.) It’s smart to buy a little extra, knowing that what you don’t use can be stored for use in future repairs.

2. Plan Before You Place
No matter how simple your backsplash design, take the time to lay out the entire project on the floor before putting it on the wall. (Alternatively, draw the planned arrangement of tiles on a sheet of graph paper.) Doing so enables you to determine whether you have enough tiles to complete the job and whether any tiles require cutting. Photograph and print out a copy of the layout so that you have a visual reference to consult as you work.

Tiling a Backsplash - Process

Photo: shutterstock.com

3. Prepare for Every Stage
A backsplash project involves more than simply buying and placing tile. Make a list of all the supplies you need to get the job done from start to finish, then secure and organize those tools and materials in one place. Having everything required for the project before you begin will save time and reduce stress.

4. Consider Cleanup
Protect surfaces in your work area from dents, dirts, and scratches, using a roll of wallpaper from the thrift store. Fasten the wallpaper sheets with painter’s tape, so they can be easily removed later. Once you’ve finished, simply shred the paper and compost or recycle it.

5. Time to Tile
Leave yourself enough time to get the results that you want. If the experts’ two-day timeline makes you feel anxious, then allow an extra day or two. A holiday weekend is an ideal interval during which to take on a backsplash. DIY supplies will be on sale, and you won’t feel rushed to bring about your kitchen’s beautiful new look.

For more on backsplashes, consider:

How To: Tile a Backsplash
11 Backsplashes for a Unique Kitchen
The Backsplash: A Kitchen’s Most Underutilized Real Estate


Top Tips for Refinishing a Bathtub

Bathtub Refinishing

Photo: abcorefinishingservices.com

Want to replace your vintage cast iron bathtub? You may be surprised that a comparable antique tub, or even a period-style reproduction, can easily cost thousands of dollars.

Sure, $30 will get you a refinishing kit at the local home improvement center. But while that may sound like a deal too good to pass up, understand that bathtub refinishing is no modest undertaking.

However, if you possess the requisite skills, feel comfortable working with chemicals, and are able to commit the time it takes to accomplish the task, you can transform your old stained bathtub into a new version of itself within one weekend.

Here are some important considerations to bear in mind:

Calculate the True Cost
Check to see what is included in your refinishing kit. If it comes with paint and only paint, then you will have to purchase other essential project materials separately. These include but are not limited to painting tools (brush, roller, painter’s tape), protective gear (rubber gloves, eye wear, respirator), and cleaning supplies (drop cloths, mineral spirits, chemical cleaning agents). While it’s possible to achieve a satisfying finish with a brush and roller, a paint sprayer will provide the most most professional-looking result.

Bathtub Refinishing - Products

Photo: TPopovitch

Understand the Project Scope
Like any do-it-yourself project, bathtub refinishing involves an order of operations. As a first step, rid your tub of scum or soap residue, and be sure that chipped or pitted areas are filled with putty and sanded. Also, remove the drain cover, lever plate, and caulking around the tub’s edge. Since you will be working with chemicals, wear adequate protective gear and keep the room well-ventilated throughout the process. Allow sufficient dry time between each application, and remember that once the project is complete, you won’t be able to use the tub for three to five days—something to think about if it’s your home’s only bath.

Prepare for the Unexpected
You never know when a straightforward bathtub refinishing job can turn into an elaborate bathroom overhaul. When I removed the old caulking around the tub in my own 1918 bathroom, I found hidden areas of damp in the walls. We had already planned to install new walls in the house, just not immediately. Needless to say, our priorities changed after this discovery. Indeed, older homes are full of surprises, so be ready for anything.

Bathtub Refinishing - After

Photo: allsurfacerenew.com

Consult a Professional
If you would rather not do the work yourself, professional bathtub refinishing may be an option worth pursuing, depending on where you live and how much you can spend. In your search for a local refinisher, don’t forget to ask whether additional expenses (e.g., travel) are counted in the estimate. You can expect to pay between $300 and $650, according to the Professional Bathtub Refinishers Association.

For more on bathrooms, consider:

Helpful Hints for Cleaning Bathtubs
Nate Berkus on Updating a Dated Bath 
7 Easy Ways to Boost Bathroom Storage