Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Carbon Monoxide

When the weather gets cold people do innocently stupid things that can kill them. Heating the house by leaving the oven door open on the gas stove, cooking in the fireplace, sitting in the closed garage in the car with the engine idling. Not good ideas. They can result in the formation of carbon monoxide, an odorless, colorless, tasteless and deadly gas.

Natural gas, liquefied petroleum, kerosene, coal, oil or wood, even cigarettes can produce carbon monoxide. The usual appliance sources are:

  • The fireplace
  • Gas water heater
  • Gas stove
  • Gas or kerosene heater
  • Gas or oil furnace

Poisoning Symptoms:

  • Flu like
  • Stinging, watery eyes
  • Nausea
  • Achy feeling
  • Dizziness


Huge doses of oxygen at a hospital

Telltale Signs of Trouble:

  • Burner flames that are yellow and waver
  • Pilot lights that flutter or continuously go out
  • The fireplace damper is open but smoke still drafts back into the room
  • Garage has no exhaust vent to outside
  • Garage vents to inside of house


Have fireplace chimney professionally cleaned and inspected annually and resist using an appliance in a way it was not originally intended. Cooking in the fireplace is not a good idea.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Who are you?

You didn't ask but today is the birthday. The plan was to do nothing. But I can't seem to do that. I did hit up Blockbuster for Pans Labryinth and Notes on a Scandal. That will be a night time viewing. However, in the light of day I will take time to ponder the age old question "who am I?" Over the last few years I've found it increasingly important to ask that question of myself regularly. So I ask: Dear Allegra, girl who are you? We all should ask ourselves the question regularly if we are to stay on point with the mission of our unique self.

It's so easy to stray0nto someone else's set, be unhappy and not realize why. The why is because we are cast in a bit part in a stranger's B movie! If we stay focused on our own project where we are the star, director, producer, the everything it wouldn't matter that it was a low grade production. It's our movie, our screening house and greater moments of happiness are more likely. But being able to identify whose movie we're in is the rub. That takes pause, sometimes daily but at least annually and the birthday is as good a time as any.

My friend Lydia has an insightful way of viewing the world and made the point of checking what movie you're in during my recent, long overdue visit with her and family. I am so glad I made the trip. Almost didn't. Cashflow at a trickle. But, I learned a long time ago that if I yield to the "I can't afford it" syndrome that will be who I become in life and I'll never be able to afford anything. So, I figured out a way to afford it and took a window seat on Southwest Airlines and flew off to California for a few days. The benefits began with the woman who chose the middle seat next to me. She said she was a geneticist specializing in horse bloodlines. The job had her regularly flying around the country to meet with clients. She was tiring of it and was training a successor so she could spend more time doing things she liked such as the rafting trip she took on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.

I generate a lot of ideas that spin off of my writing for Renovating Woman. Some of those ideas might include renovating a building, doing home improvement workshops, creating home repair videos, etc. But when sitting alone I know they don't have to do with who I am at my core. "Core." Funny how everyone is picking up on that word and wearing it to hell from aerobic trainers to the talking head broadcasters and media writers. They are like hungry dogs with steaks between their teeth. Shake, shake, shake. Steaks, words, old shoes, whatever. They'll wear the word out until the next invention.

Anyway, at my core I am a writer and entertainer who loves to travel. I like talking to strangers, sharing news folks can use in their lives and making people laugh. I am happiest in that space. That's my movie. Anything else is somebody else's gig.

Talking with my airplane seat mate brought me to that satisfying conclusion. It allowed me to put the brakes on a couple of complicated projects I created and focus on creating a more joyful life this coming year and play Auntie Mame with my grandkids. If what I choose to do has no connection to writing, traveling, meeting new people or making folks laugh, I shan't be a doin' it. So, Yay! Happy birthday to me. Print it. That's a wrap.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Know when the job is a DIYer or a For Hire

Not every job and renovation project is a DIY. Sever the wrong wire or pipe and the whole neighborhood can go up in flames. Know when it’s a do it yourself job or a do it for me that's better left to the superheroes. Both homeowners and contractors talk to me about your dread in working with each other so I’ve created a few talking points that should build a successful working relationship.

For the best experience:

  1. Adjust your attitudes. No need to be defensive. Think of and treat each respectfully as a project partner.

  2. Learn as much as you can about each other and the job.

  3. Do not assume. Before calling any potential heroes to bid on the job, home owner must take time to read, interview and independently research what is involved in the job in time, labor, materials and contingencies. If the house is to be rewired and new outlets installed, know that hanging ceiling fans and light fixtures are separate tasks unless you have it in the contract.

  4. Think of the proposed contract as a wish list and the opener for discussion. Don’t be afraid to openly discuss points of departure.

  5. Be patient with each other and the process. Know in advance that few projects are completed on deadline. Residential contractors typically are doing other jobs simultaneously.

  6. No screeching. No whining. Have a conversation.

  7. Watch your language - both of you. Homeowner, incentive is a better word to use than penalty. Offer to include in the contract “incentives” to finish the job on deadline or within ten days of delivery date.

  8. Make sure you’ve built in about 4 to 6 weeks of wiggle room beyond the projected completion date for actual finish. The availability of material, weather, workers and site contingencies can delay the best laid plans.

  9. When the job is in progress, direct complaints and discussions about the job to the foreman, not the workers or subs.

  10. Be inquisitive but don’t nag.

Know that your home improvement superheroes appreciate cooperative, informed customers who respect their expertise and work with them to complete the project to the satisfaction of all. Envision a successful renovation experience and finish.

Funky time

Dear Allegra: My bathroom develops an awful odor a couple times a week. What can I use to keep the bathroom smelling fresh?

If you are experiencing really heavy odors in your bathroom no matter what you do, you may have a sewage issue to address from your septic tank system or waste stack. Odors are caused by bacteria. You will need to get rid of the bacteria.

Starting with the simplest solution, here are a few tips: Clean out hair, oil and grease that have collected in the drains in the sink, tub and or shower. Using a wire coat hanger pull up hair clumps that have been trapped in the drain. Use a slim, long handled, round bristle brush and clean the walls of the drain by twirling the brush. Fill a bucket with warm water and a cup each of vinegar and baking soda. It will bubble. Pour the solution down the drain in a gush then follow with a slow pour. Clean the toilet and the top and underside of the seat regularly with disinfectant. Replace cracked and otherwise damaged seats. Wipe down bathroom walls with disinfectant particularly around the splash areas near the toilet and shower.

Clean floors, mirrors and doorknobs daily, if necessary, using your favorite scented disinfectant. If you have a bathtub mat, clean it on both sides after every use so scum does not accumulate. Drape floor mats over tub edge or shower rod to air dry after use. Use a plastic liner in the trash receptacle and don’t let trash accumulate day to day. Wipe the trash can with a disinfectant cloth. Keep soap trays clean. Keep scented soaps and candles in the bathroom. When using the bathroom light a scented candle to help absorb odor. If you keep a clothes hamper in the bathroom, drop in a few mothballs and use a plastic or cloth liner to catch clothes. Don’t leave damp laundry in the hamper.

The house from helltown

Dear Allegra: I inherited a house that needs so much work. Gutters, wiring and the fuse box need to be replaced. I need new electrical fixtures and plumbing. Even the lawn work is intimidating. I’m struggling with very little money. I have to do something. Where do I start?

First things first. Lower your stress level by sitting down with a nice cup of tea and a pad and pencil. Take the problems in hand one at a time. Transfer them from your brain to paper. Writing them down creates a concrete form you can manage visually. The task will seem less pressing. I would recommend starting with correcting those things that could make the house potentially unsafe for its occupants and the neighbors such as electricity and plumbing. If there are any structural problems I would attend to those around the same time you get the house newly rewired and the plumbing corrected. A home inspection by a certified home inspection company could be helpful in pointing out the really important places to start. And, put it all in perspective: It is just a house. You can handle it.

Who you gonna call?

Dear Allegra: I want to convert my attic into a master bedroom. Do I call an architect or an interior designer?

Who you call depends on what you need. You may need one or both. If your remake is structural – moving walls, going through the roof, running plumbing lines, pulling electrical lines and installing outlets you’ll want an architect for starters. The other members of the team are the interior designer and crafts people – plumber, carpenter, electrician and roofer, if necessary. The architect would know local building and operational codes and how to create a functional design that conforms to those codes. An architect also will/must have a thorough understanding of the materials and methods that are available to the contractor who will be doing whatever structural work is required in your project.
Both the architect and interior designer will be sensitive to consequences of their design recommendation and also be in tune with spatial and placement details that influence how you will feel and adequately function in the space.