Six Steps To Home Maintenance

Protect Homes Power Outages

Selling Your Home

Lawn TLC Yard Doctor

National Public Gardens Day

Playsets: 10 Tips

Hydrangea: How To Prune

Backyard Paradise


Six Steps To A Well-Maintained Home

(NAPSI)—Your home is, most likely, your biggest investment. Here, from an assortment of experts, are a few hints on how to keep it in good shape:

1. Good Clean Fun: When it comes to cleaning ceramic floors, there’s no need to wax. Just sweep and mop on a regular basis and they stay clean and shiny. Mop floors with clear water or just a dash of liquid dish soap. Be sure to change the water when it gets cloudy. Too much soap or dirty water will make floors dull or sticky. Don’t use scrub pads on ceramic tile floors or you might scratch them. Professional cleaners wash most floors by hand, cleaning and drying a small area at a time. That’s the advice from Merry Maids comprehensive cleaning service, which can scale a plan—weekly, biweekly or monthly—to meet your needs and your budget.

2. Floor Facts: To maintain your carpets’ appearance, they should be professionally cleaned every six to 12 months. If, however, you’ve suffered damage from water, fire or smoke, they need help right away. The ServiceMaster Clean residential services division specialists in carpet and upholstery cleaning can help either way. In an emergency, their yellow trucks can be dispatched 24/7, 365 days a year to restore your home to pre-disaster condition.

3. When Your Yard Wants to Be a Lawn: Great lawns require great soil with the right balance of alkaline and acid. If your soil is out of balance, you can adjust the pH with lime, potassium or other micronutrients. To help your lawn grow great, a leading provider of lawn and landscape services, TruGreen, delivers customized solutions that are effective, innovative and responsible.

4. Best the Pests: Household pests are more than an embarrassing nuisance. They can carry harmful Terminix into your home. To protect your home, keep the firewood pile away from the house. Seal any cracks around windows and doors and be sure all screens are in good repair. A quarterly pest control plan from Terminix can help eradicate any pests. The program is managed by certified professionals who can also recommend modifications to prevent new infestations.

5. Deter Termites: You can also make your house less attractive to termites. Since the pests need moisture to survive, grade the soil around your foundation so it carries water away from the house. Keep gutters and downspouts in good repair. Consider a Termite Inspection and Protection Plan from Terminix. You get an annual inspection of home and property. If new termite activity is later found, the damage will be covered at no cost to you.

6. Protect Your Appliances: For example, it’s a cool idea to clean the refrigerator’s interior shelves, shell and gaskets at least every three months. Once a year, clean the coils on the back or underneath with a vacuum cleaner. You can get a home warranty from American Home Shield that can be one of the best defenses against extensive and unexpected covered repair costs, with a national contractor network made up of over 11,000 approved, independently insured home-service contractors.

More Information

You can learn more at and (866) 348-7672.

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How To Protect Your Home From Power Outages

(NAPSI)—Every year, millions of homes lose power for hours—or even days—at a time. Being prepared is the best defense for such energy emergencies—and for many homeowners, that means investing in a standby generator.

While virtually all homeowners can benefit from having a standby generator, it is especially important in homes with elderly residents or young children, for home businesses, and for travelers who are not home to deal with the often damaging consequences of a power outage.

Adding a home generator can be easy. A standby generator is installed outside the home, much like an air conditioner. It runs on propane or natural gas and hooks up to existing gas lines.

“Generators can be retrofitted into existing homes and new home construction can be prewired,” said Ed Del Grande, a three-time master pipefitter, plumber and contractor and a home improvement expert on and the DIY Network.

Standby generators, such as those from Kohler, turn on automatically when the power goes off. A transfer switch automatically monitors utility power and transfers the electrical load to the generator if power is lost (usually within 10 seconds).

The generator can power critical appliances and systems in your home, including lights, furnaces, air conditioners, refrigerators, sump pumps, home security systems and office equipment.

Permanent standby generators are different from portable generators, which are designed for worksites. There’s no need to fill them up with gasoline every few hours or change the oil and they have no exposed engine parts. Permanent standby generators are also better suited to delicate electronics such as computers or TVs.

Since they range from 8 to 125 kilowatts, it’s important to choose a standby generator that meets your lifestyle and needs. If you simply want to power a few key appliances/loads, an 8- to 20-kilowatt generator may serve you well. If you want to keep your whole house powered up, a larger generator is required.

To determine what size you need, contact a local generator dealer or licensed electrical contractor familiar with standby generators. A professional can help you determine the right size for your needs. He or she will also help with the following:

• Pulling appropriate permits

• Adhering to local ordinances

• Assessing your flood risks

• Compliance with noise and electrical codes

• Professional installation and service.

When shopping for a standby generator, Del Grande encourages people to consider the following qualities:

• Look for a standby generator that comes with a commercial-grade engine providing clean, consistent power and one that can handle heavy loads.

• Make sure you purchase a generator that comes with a minimum five-year warranty.

• Don’t forget about appearance. A generator sits outside your home, so look for a unit with a bold, clean look that’s corrosion-resistant.

For more information about residential standby power, visit


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Two Words For Those Trying To Sell Their Homes: Be Creative

(NAPSI)--If you’re still having trouble selling your house, it may be time to think outside the box.

We’re not talking about renting out your property until the market improves—something even Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner was reportedly forced to do more than a year ago when there were no takers for the five-bedroom Tudor in upscale Larchmont, N.Y., that he’d paid $1.602 million for in 2004. Although, if you absolutely need to relocate for job reasons, say, that could be one way to go.

No, we’re talking creative ways that and others say help “stressed-out sellers”—sound familiar?—make their homes stand out from all the others on the market. Read on for some tips:

• Sweeten the Deal. In an effort to weed out sketchy borrowers, the Federal Housing Administration, which backs the bulk of all new mortgages these days, recently lowered the ceiling on the monetary “concessions” sellers can offer buyers to help cover expenses like loan fees and closing costs. But that doesn’t mean you can’t try sealing the deal by throwing in a 3-D TV. . .Or a country club membership. . .Or a car, ŕ la the Prius that one real-estate agent justified to CNN by saying: “In this market, you have to learn to do things differently.”

• Go Viral. “The Internet has essentially leveled the playing field across the real-estate market,” proclaims ForSaleByOwner. com’s Greg Healy. True. But don’t limit your thinking to just eBay or Craig’s List. If a YouTube video of a cat bouncing off a mirror can garner gazillions of views across the world, surely you can think of some novel way to show off your home’s assets.

• “Gift Box” Your Roof. One of the questions that potential buyers routinely ask, according to, is how old is the roof? One nice touch is to present your documentation tied in a bow with a box of chocolate-covered strawberries. That’s assuming, of course, your roof is new and attractive enough to have even gotten you to the walk-through stage. If not, and you want to replace it with one that practically screams “curb appeal,” check out GAF’s Lifetime Designer Shingles Value Collection at These shingles from North America’s largest roofing manufacturer are designed to add style to your home—at a very affordable price. (Strawberry-Boxing Alert: All the company’s laminated shingles now come with a lifetime limited warranty that’s transferable to new owners, which can be another powerful selling point.)

• Enlist Your Neighbors. Sure, some would help spread the word out of the kindness of their hearts. But human nature being what it is, offering a $200 gift card to anyone who brings you a real, live serious buyer can work wonders.

Oh, and for those questioning whether any of this works, the award for the “Most Out-of-the-Box Thinking” goes to Bob and Ricki Husick of Wexford, Pa. They gained international attention a while back after advertising that the buyer of their two-story Colonial would receive the full purchase price back after they die.

The house, originally listed for $399,999, sold soon after for $377,000. Not bad, these days.



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Could Your Yard Use An Intervention?

(NAPSI)—Are you struggling with a problem lawn and yard? Are the weeds growing but the grass isn’t? Maybe you’re embarrassed by patchy grass and an overgrown landscape. If so, it may be time for a yard care intervention, and a chance to grow your confidence and a better-looking lawn and landscape.

This spring and summer, the Briggs & Stratton Yard Doctor will roll up his sleeves and help homeowners confront their yard care demons, bringing three of America’s neediest yards back into their neighborhoods’ good graces. Yard Doctor Trey Rogers and his team will spend a day providing advice and hands-on help to transform the winning homeowners’ yards into points of pride.

In addition to a yard makeover, the winners will receive new lawn care equipment and $1,500 in landscape cash. To enter, visit www. Homeowners can apply for an intervention for themselves or (with permission) they can call out a neighbor, family member or friend in need of help. Each “application” should explain the yard care problems faced and why an intervention is needed, using either a short video or up to four photos to show the yard.

One yard will be selected each month from May through July by online voting. Runners-up each month receive cool Yard Smarts gear and a signed copy of the Yard Doctor’s book on growing the perfect lawn.

Rogers, who has helped homeowners across the country bring their yards back under control, has the following tips:

• Eliminate yard clutter. Pick up and put away kids’ bicycles, balls, lawn furniture, garbage cans and other clutter.

• Mow correctly for a lush lawn. When you mow, cut only one-third of the height of the lawn to encourage strong roots. Cutting too short stresses the lawn, creating an environment ideal for weed growth and disease.

• Be sure to trim. Mowing your lawn without trimming is like getting half a haircut. String trim around flowerbeds, sidewalks and decks.

• Eliminate overgrowth. Trim back or replace overgrown bushes and trees that overwhelm the front of your house.

• Add a focal point. Every home should have a focal point, such as a front door painted in a contrasting color to the home or a landscape feature, such as a beautiful tree, flowerbed or curving pathway to your door.

The intervention is sponsored by Briggs & Stratton, the largest maker of gasoline engines for a variety of yard care equipment. The company’s educational web- site,, provides expert advice and information on topics related to yard care and yard care equipment.


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Inspiration Helps Your Garden Grow

(NAPSI)—With so many beautiful plants to choose from, gardeners may wonder where to start. One of the most enjoyable ways to plant a seed of inspiration is to visit a public garden.

Found at zoos, historical sites and entertainment complexes, such public gardens can demonstrate what’s possible—including flower choice, layout and landscaping practices.

Get Advice

According to the American Public Gardens Association (APGA), public gardens can show you how to create a water-wise landscape at home through the use of native and adapted plants and efficient irrigation. Visitors can learn what plants bloom at similar times and what arrangements look good together. Staff members who understand the region are available to offer advice on gardening techniques, and on-site sales can be a great source of top-quality additions to a home garden.

Here are a few types of public gardens you can visit:

• Zoos—Although the focus is on the animals, zoos also have interesting horticultural collections that show both flora and fauna in their native habitats.

Entertainment GardensGolf courses, theme parks and water parks can also have beautiful horticultural displays.

• Historical Sites—Places of historic or cultural significance-such as churches, historic homes and cemeteries-often have grounds shaped to reflect the horticulture of their historical period.

Nature GardensCreated and designed to help visitors connect with nature, these gardens inform and educate about the botanical and ecological origins and functions of plant life and how they relate to human beings and animals.

Get Inspired

The nonprofit American Public Gardens Association has partnered with Rain Bird, a leading manufacturer and provider of irrigation products, to promote the important role that gardens play in promoting environmental stewardship through National Public Gardens Day. Many of the nation’s public gardens will mark the day with special events and activities for schools, families and thousands of visitors. For more information, you can visit


Note to Editors: May 6, 2011 is the third annual National Public Gardens Day.


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Playsets: 10 Tips For Parents

(NAPSI)—Few things work as well as an outdoor playset to get kids out of the house and into the fresh air. There are, however, several things to keep in mind:

1. Placement. Find a spot with at least a six-foot space around the playset so kids don’t swing, jump or fall into or onto anything dangerous. Loose fill materials such as mulch, wood chips or reground plastic should be placed under the playset to cushion falls. Also, the set should be placed where parents can monitor children’s activities.

2. Lumber. Look for a naturally decay- and weather-resistant lumber, such as cedar, which is also a natural insect repellent and blends well with any backyard.

3. Assembly. Consider your options. Should the playset be hand-built? Will the lumber be hand-picked and the playset built with a kit? Or will the playset come ready to assemble-pre-cut, pre-stained and pre-drilled with all the hardware and accessories pre-packed?

4. Cost. Most playsets are built to last whatever the price, but features vary. A playset is something to be enjoyed for years, so be sure it can grow with your family.

5. Safety Railings. Safety features must be put in place during assembly. All elevated surfaces, such as platforms, need guardrails, and sit-down bars should be above the slides. Most quality sets will have an arched entrance area to protect little heads.

6. Anchoring. Make sure the entire structure is firmly anchored to avoid tipping.

7. Maintenance. Preventative maintenance helps keep kids safe and the warranty in effect. Every season, tighten any loose supports, anchors, bolts and screws and replace any missing nuts, bolts or protective caps. Following manufacturer’s directions, playsets should be periodically sealed, stained and painted to prevent deterioration.

8. Everyone Plays. Playsets should be developmentally appropriate, so consider the ages of the children who will play on it. Size depends on how many children will play on the set, as well. Consider how many swings and how many features you need for a fun and safe environment for all.

9. Warranty. You should know what type of warranty is offered and what it covers. Playsets should last a long time, so seek a warranty with long-term protection.

10. Features. Decide if you need an infant swing, a hammock or a two-person glider. Accessories like a buoy ball, rock wall, gangplank, hammock or ship’s wheel create a fun play experience. With most quality playsets, accessories can be added later. You can see some of the features available for Backyard Discovery playsets at

Taking these small steps toward a safer play area can make a big difference when it comes to long-term safety.

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How To Prune Your Hydrangea

(NAPSI)—You prize your hydrangeas for their beautiful flowers. You also want to make sure you prune them at the right time to encourage the stunning blooms every season. But do you wonder whether or when to prune them?

“The first step is to determine the variety of your hydrangea,” said Tim Wood, new product manager at Proven Winners ColorChoice. “This is fairly easy to do. If your plant produces big pink or blue flowers, it is a Hydrangea macrophylla. If its flowers are round and white—or pink in the case of the new Invincibelle Spirit—the plant is a Hydrangea arborescens. Finally, if the plant has large, conical flowers, which are often white but may also be green or pink, you own a Hydrangea paniculata.”

Bigleaf Hydrangeas

If you have Hydrangea macrophylla, also known as Bigleaf Hydrangea, Wood says you can relax. This plant requires little more than a trimming and only immediately after flowering. You should never prune it in winter or spring, because it sets flower buds the year before and if you shear it back, then you will cut off all of summer’s flowers.

Newer reblooming varieties such as the Let’s Dance series from Proven Winners ColorChoice will also bloom on the current season’s growth, but you still want to leave the plant intact through spring so you can enjoy early summer flowers.

Smooth Hydrangeas

Hydrangea arborescens, also known as Smooth Hydrangea, are beloved for their adaptable nature and reliable blooms. You should prune it back in late winter or early spring. These hydrangeas bloom on “new wood”—the current season’s growth. Pruning them back at that time encourages new growth, which produces flowers. Spring pruning will also result in a fuller, stronger plant that’s less likely to flop under the weight of its abundant summer flowers. Cutting the stems back to one or two feet will leave a good framework to support the blooms.

Today, there are two new “Annabelle” Hydrangea arborescens with stronger stems, so they won’t flop after being established. Invincibelle Spirit Hydrangea is the very first pink-flowered form of “Annabelle.” Invincibelle Spirit continues to produce new pink flowers right up until frost, providing a beautiful display across several seasons in your garden, from mid-summer to fall. Incrediball Hydrangea has the biggest flowers and the strongest stems of any of the “Annabelle” hydrangeas. Incrediball produces incredibly large white blooms as big as a basketball.

Hardy Hydrangeas

Hydrangea paniculata, sometimes called Hardy Hydrangea, also blooms on new wood. You should prune it back in late winter or early spring. You can cut it back to the ground or, if you want slightly taller plants, cut it back to one to three feet. This is a great job for one of those early spring days when everything is still dormant but it’s so beautiful and warm you need to be in the garden.

A new variety of Hydrangea paniculata won’t require as much pruning to keep it smaller. The new Little Lime Hydrangea boasts the same colors and benefits of the famous “Limelight” Hydrangea though only reaching three to five feet fully grown. At one-third the size of other hardy hydrangeas, it fits well into practically any landscape. Little Lime produces bright cone-shaped lime-green flowers, later turning into pink, from mid-summer to frost.

Fortunately, even if you make a mistake and prune at the wrong time of year, these plants will forgive you. You may not have flowers for a season but, with proper timing, you’ll see them the following year. Just remember to start by correctly identifying which kind of hydrangea you have. With just a little work, you’ll get beautiful flowers from your hydrangeas year after year. For more information on the newest hydrangeas, visit



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Create A Tropical Paradise In Your Own Backyard

(NAPSI)—Even if you can’t get away to an exotic locale this year, you can still escape to a tropical paradise—without ever leaving home. Thanks to a new crop of tropically inspired outdoor living products and accessories, converting your backyard into an oasis is easier than ever.

“Tropical-inspired designs are extremely popular right now in outdoor living,” explains Adam Zambanini, vice president of marketing for Trex, the world’s largest manufacturer of wood-alternative decking and railing. “Combining warm, nature-inspired hues and textures, these exotic looks are ideal for creating a luxurious, restful backyard retreat.”

Here are some tips for transforming your outdoor living space into an exotic getaway—no passport required:

Lights, Color, Accents: Add ambience for cocktail parties or evening cookouts with dimmable LED deck lighting and create an inviting lounge area with comfortable, durable outdoor furnishings. Even if the budget is tight, adding vibrant pillows or tropical flowers and plants can serve as a quick and colorful pick-me-up.

Take Your Cues from the Tropics: When it comes to decking and railing, look for colors that are rich and saturated and draw inspiration from exotic streaked hardwoods, such as the new tropical additions to the Transcend line from Trex. Offered in vibrant colors such as Spiced Rum (a warm, earthy umber) and Lava Rock (a rich reddish-black), these exotic wood looks lend themselves beautifully to a relaxing, resort-style setting.

Go Green: Opt for eco-friendly outdoor living products made of recycled materials, which both protect and enhance the environment. Wood-alternative decking (made from recycled plastic bags) boasts the beauty of tropical hardwoods, without the environmental stresses associated with importing these endangered materials. It also requires no sanding, staining or power washing, so you can spend more time enjoying—rather than maintaining—your outdoor living space.

For more tips on designing an exotic outdoor living space, call (800) 289-8739 or visit The site features helpful information along with user-friendly online tools, including a Color Visualizer and Deck Designer, which allow visitors to experiment with different products, finishes and layouts.



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