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posted: 1/18/2013 2:25 AM

Avoid coughs and colds by properly sealing your home

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Sealing up your home is a good way to become more energy efficient. But for those with allergies and lung issues, being sealed tightly inside a home can be problematic. Here are some extra precautions you can take to avoid breathing issues during a long winter:

• Porous materials, like fabrics, absorb odors and allergens. Try to cut down on drapes and curtains that will hold these particles.

• Keep sofas cleaned, or switch to leather.

• Avoid carpeting and rugs. Wood floors and tiles are a much better choice. You can have rugs, but you need to clean them often.

• Synthetic pillows and blankets are better for most allergy sufferers. Choose hypoallergenic linens as well. Cover pillows and mattresses with special zippered allergy covers. These should be cleaned periodically.

• Use non-VOC (volatile organic compounds) products when doing renovations inside your home. Dust often, and wear a mask when you are doing it. If you have severe allergies to dust, have someone do it for you.

• Vacuum often and make sure your vacuum cleaner has a very good HEPA filter. Replace the bag often, and keep filters extremely clean.

• Watch out for mold and mildew. During the winter, moisture can build up and become trapped inside your home and cause these problems. Run ventilators in the bathroom and laundry room to avoid them. It also can be a problem in some appliances, too. Keep a close eye on washing machines and refrigerators.

• Candles and oils can smell good, but too much can cause problems to those with allergies and sensitivities to strong smells.

Being very aware of these things can limit the problems and symptoms for you and your family.

Hot glue in the workshop

Hot glue isn't just for crafts anymore! That's right. It can really come in handy in the workshop. It can hold wood and other projects together better than clamps, in many cases, especially if the items to be clamped are oddly shaped or awkward to hold together. Hot glue even comes in some pretty handy formulas, like caulk and wood glue. Perhaps a glue gun might be handy tool to add to your workshop.

Add to the tension

Tension rods are an easy way to install a closet or curtain rod. They allow you to make the installation without any additional tools or hardware. They come in a variety of sizes, so they are quite versatile. Install a small one in a closet or pantry to hold spray bottles of your various cleaners. It's a perfect way to keep them ready to go, and you can see when it's time for a refill or replacement. Store car cleaners and wax in a garage storage closet, or bug sprays and fertilizers in a garden shed.

Super hints

• Those rubber pads are great for getting tough jar lids unscrewed. But if you don't have one handy, try some sandpaper. It works just as well. Keep this in mind, and use them in the workshop on tight lids, too. Some people think this works even better than the rubber ones.

• I vacuum quite often, and since I also do a lot of crafts, I get mass quantities of thread and string wrapped around the carpet bar. I have found that the best way to remove it is to use a razored letter opener. These have a point that you can run under the threads, and the razor at the back end will cut the stuff off the beater bar. It's a very quick way to clean this part of the vacuum.

• Use dishwasher soap, the spot-free type, as your window cleaner, along with a squeegee. This will clean your windows and will sheet right off without spotting. The squeegee also will help prevent streaks. Both work superfast, too.

Q. I think I have a problem in my attic. When I went up there to store the Christmas decorations, I found icicles around a couple of vents in the attic. I closed off these air vents last fall, but maybe they are not sealed up well enough. What do you recommend?

A. Icicles are a sign that you have too much condensation in your attic. It's never good, but the icicles are proof that it happens only when it's freezing. You need to uncover the vents and allow the excess moisture in the attic to be vented out. Make sure your vents don't leak when it rains, but keep them open to allow the humidity to disperse.

Q. I've always heard you can't use harsh cleaners or strong scrubbers inside a microwave because it might damage the surface. I also worry that these chemicals might cause problems when you start cooking in it again. How do you clean your microwave?

A. Put a large bowl of half water/ half vinegar inside and heat it for about 2 minutes on high. Don't open the door when it's finished. Allow it to sit for about 10 minutes. The moisture will condense on the sides and top of the microwave and start loosening the grease. Then you can remove the bowl and use a soft sponge to scrub away the dirt. Repeat if you need to.

Q. My dishwasher stinks! It really smells rank, and I've cleaned it inside three times. What else can I look for and clean?

A. Check the bottom of the dishwasher, inside the unit, to make sure that no food or other waste is sitting in there. Also check the heating element to make sure it's not clogged with food particles. Try cleaning inside the unit with vinegar. Don't forget to wear rubber gloves. If the dishwasher drains into the sink disposer, as most do, make sure your disposer is draining properly. You can clean it, too, and see if that doesn't resolve the issue. Check the drain hose coming from the dishwasher to the drain and make sure it's clean. It also should have a trap in it, which is simply a raised portion of the hose that allows it to stay sealed against sewer gas. Add a pipe strap if it doesn't have this trap.

Reader tips

• Our basement is unfinished, so it has pipes running along the ceiling under the framing. I can see where the water line is rubbing up against one of the beams, and it is making a weird noise, too. I got a small scrap of rubber pipe insulation and wrapped it around the pipe so that it would be between the pipe and the wooden beam. That did the trick. No more noises!

• We have had a very squeaky kitchen door for years, maybe since we moved into the house. We keep the door closed most of the time but go in and out several times a day. It's been really annoying. I used some spray lubricant on it, but I've repeated this several times, and it never lasts for very long. I finally used petroleum jelly, as suggested by my sister-in-law. It worked! It's been almost six months now, and no more squeaks.

• My old shop vacuum has been very reliable. I thought it had finally started to wear out when it stopped picking up like it used to. Then I noticed that part of the foam gasket around the top edge of the canister had torn away. I got a little weatherstripping and used this in place of the original foam gasket, and now it works like new again.

• I got a couple of old sample carpet squares from the home center. They were discontinuing the items and were getting rid these samples. I put one of the floor in front of my workbench to make it easier to stand up and work longer. The other was just laying on the bench top. I ended up leaving it there, as it makes a great work surface for smaller, more delicate projects.

• You'll love this. My sister showed me a trick she has tried to keep wrapping-paper rolls from unrolling all over the place. She takes an empty toilet-tissue core and slits it all the way down one side. Then she puts this around a roll of wrapping paper. It coils back up and keeps the wrapping paper on the roll. How simple is that?


• While ironing clothes is not something we do a lot of -- in fact, we avoid it like the plague -- it is something most of us have to do at least once in a while. You can buy a standard ironing board. Most fold up and store in a closet or behind a door. They even make special holders that help you store it easier. But for those quickie ironing jobs or for those of you who don't want a big ironing board, you'll love this super magnetic ironing blanket. It has built-in magnets so that it will lay, and stay, on top of your dryer. It's made of heat-resistant material so that it won't harm the dryer's surface. It makes ironing so much quicker and easier. Find out more at

• Complete Idiot's Guides are so great at presenting simple ideas or explanations for projects. "The Complete Idiot's Guide for Getting Organized" is full of super tips and plans to help you get your home and workshop organized and keep it that way from now on. You'll learn how to declutter parts of your home and life. You'll also learn how to improve your time-management skills. You can find out more about this book and others like it at Check your favorite bookstore for a copy of your own, and get organized!

• Write to Al and Kelly Carrell in care of the Daily Herald, P.O. Box 280, Arlington Heights, IL 60006 or visit the Carrells' website at

2012, Cowles Syndicate Inc.

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