From installing a water feature to welcoming the birds, these Motherboard Mom-tested tips will make summer even sweeter.
By Barbara Alden Wilson
Not only can drying your clothes the natural way save 15 to 20 percent on your energy bills, it has aesthetic benefits as well. "My husband and I love the smell of line-dried clothes," says Margie Spino of Toledo, Ohio. "I even love the 'crunchy' bath towels, and the whites get so much whiter when they're dried by the sun."
Throughout the summer, Spino uses the "old-fashioned" type of double clothesline anchored by two T-shaped iron bars at each end. Other options are the "umbrella" type of single-pole clothesline, or even a retractable line, which can be attached to your house on one end, with a metal loop to be fastened to a tree or post at the other end. And if your neighborhood has rules against outdoor clotheslines, even a small one set up in the laundry room or over the tub can make a difference.
Linda King, of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, updates the accessories inside and outside her house as the seasons change. "I change the three flags in front of the house for every season and every holiday," she says. "The doormat gets changed seasonally. Then inside, I change the covers on my accessory pillows. For summer, they're lighter. I change the towels in the guest bathroom. Everyone's comforters are changed for the summer, fall, and again in the winter. I even used to change my 12-year-old daughter's shower curtain for fall/winter and spring/summer, but now I love the new one she has, so we won't be changing that."
King loves the mood boost that tweaking her decor provides, and she prides herself on how little she spends. "Everything I do, I do very inexpensively," she says.
Homes can sometimes smell musty this time of the year, especially when the heat is off and the air conditioning isn't yet on. To banish that funk, create a "signature scent" for your house that will greet guests with a hint of summer, says cleaning coach Leslie Reichert. Choose a fresh scent such as a citrus (there are ready-made environmentally friendly cleansers with grapefruit, lemon, or orange fragrance, or you can make your own with 4 ounces of water, 4 ounces of vinegar, and 8 drops of citrus-scented tea tree oil).
Spray your doorjambs with the cleanser at least once a day. "Your house will smell clean even before you open the door," Reichert says. And this fresh scent can become your home's signature scent.
Kids, no matter their age, aren't likely to remember to apply sunscreen 30 minutes before they shoot out the door. But that's exactly what they need to do to prevent sunburn—and later, skin cancer.
To make sure they're covered, create a "sun center" in a convenient place, such as the mudroom, on the kitchen counter, or in each kid's bathroom. In it, keep several bottles of broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher at the ready. (For extended outdoor activity, the Skin Care Foundation recommends using a water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.) Keep hats and bug repellant in the basket, too, and make hitting the sun center a daily routine, say, after the cornflakes or before toothbrushing.
Although your American flag may have been flying since Memorial Day (or before), if it's tattered, it's time to take it down and put up a new one. Although not a punishable offense, flying a tattered American flag is disrespectful to our nation, according to the U.S. Flag Code. But don't just throw your old flag away. Along with protocol for flag flying, there are guidelines for disposing of old flags. The proper way to dispose of a tattered flag is by burning, according to the American Legion. The organization even holds a Ceremony for Disposal of Unserviceable Flags each Flag Day, June 14. To find out about such ceremonies in your area, visit the American Legion website.
The key to an organized garage or storage space? Hang up as much stuff as possible, says Julie Edelman, also known as "The Accidental Housewife" and author of The Ultimate Accidental Housewife: Your Guide to a Clean-Enough House. "You can hang wall racks for bikes so that the kids big enough to lift them can still reach them to take down or put away. There are also easy-to-install shelving systems for sports equipment. You can get all of these organizing items at home improvement stores." She recommends hanging rakes, shovels, and tools on the walls too. Use labeled bins on shelves or that hang off of pegboards for little items such as nails, screws, nuts, and bolts. A weekend spent hanging up garage items will gain you a whole summer of feeling more relaxed and organized, she says.
Sometimes all that's needed to inspire you to tackle that gardening or homecare job is a shiny new tool. And summer is a great time—both around Dad's Day and at the end of the summer—to find deals on new tools. And the deals aren't just on "manly" items. "We recently got a great deal on tools sized for women," says Chris Delis, mom of three in Oviedo, Florida. "It's nice to have something that's comfortable for me to use."
A rainy spring season can leave concrete pathways, porches, and driveways looking green and grimy. Those that have been neglected for even longer are likely to be dangerously slippery when wet. The best solution to ready these areas for increased summer foot traffic? Pressure washing. Whether you do it yourself or hire it out, it's a quick, effective solution.
"We waited to pressure wash until after pollen season," says Sarah Lester, whose Philadelphia home on a wooded lot demands yearly concrete cleanup. "We do the deck too. It's amazing how fast these areas get gross, but it's also amazing how quickly you can clean them up with the pressure washer."
Some people use pressure washers to clean moss off of their roofs, but most experts recommend against it for fear of damaging the shingles. Better solutions: spraying the moss with oxygen bleach (not chlorine bleach), letting it sit for 20 minutes, then scrubbing it off. Or, as a preventive measure, install zinc strips about an inch under the ridge cap (the very top of the roof), running the whole length of the roof on each side. When it rains, the runoff from the zinc will kill the moss.
A big new trend in outdoor decorating that's practical too? Outdoor rugs. "I love the outdoor rug on our deck," says Lester. "The floor of the deck is slatted, so small items sometimes literally fell through the cracks. But not anymore." Lester's rug is made from weather-resistant polypropylene, which also can be simply hosed off when it gets dirty.
Another idea is to paint a "rug" in bright colors on a dull concrete porch or patio floor. "I have a very artistically talented neighbor who did this on her porch," says Lester. "It looks great and really brightens up the space."
Once you have a nice, clean porch or patio to sit in, consider adding to the view by hanging a birdhouse or bird feeder. "I prefer birdhouses to bird feeders, because the bird feeders seem to feed more squirrels than birds," says Lynne Masters, mother of three in Naperville, Illinois. "I have four birdhouses painted with fun designs hanging from a tree in our backyard, and the kids love watching the birds use them."
If you live in a cooler climate where the planting season isn't yet over, consider planting a tree (or several) to get started with creating some shade on or near your house. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, shading and evapotranspiration (the process by which a plant moves and releases water vapor) from trees can reduce surrounding air temperatures by as much as 9 degrees. And air temperatures directly under trees can be as much as 25 degrees cooler than air temperatures above nearby uncovered blacktop. Keeping your home's air-conditioning unit shaded (with no air flow reduction) can translate into a 10 percent energy savings.
If it's already too hot to think about planting, consider putting up a wooden pergola, or a canvas gazebo or awning. Even if the only shade it creates is over a patio, deck, or part of the yard, it will add comfortable daytime living space to your home.
Outdoor lighting is a great way to add atmosphere to your outdoor "rooms." It can be as easy (and inexpensive) as stringing outdoor Christmas lights or Chinese lanterns, or as elaborate as installing spotlights to feature a tree or area of your garden. The swivel-headed variety allows you to change the focus from week to week as the garden matures during the growing season, according to Stacy Henninger of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers.
"We'd eventually like to put some solar lighting outside," says Chris Delis. Solar lights are becoming increasingly popular and come in a variety of colors including red, blue, and the more usual white. They can also be used for practical purposes such as lighting up a driveway, deck stairs, or pathways.
While you're creating all that outdoor ambience, don't forget the music. A simple versatile solution is wireless speakers, which you can use indoors or out. "We use them all the time when we entertain," says Julie Kreafle, mom of three in Jupiter, Florida. "You can put them wherever you want to. You can even hide them in the landscaping or disguise them among home accessories." Kreafle and her family use the speakers to play music from their computer and stereo—whether it's their own CDs or iPods, the radio, or the custom online radio station Pandora.
Fountains aren't just for the rich and famous—or ostentatious—anymore. From tabletop fountains for a deck or patio to a pond in your landscape design, there's a water feature right for your home, says Henninger. And the benefit is a more soothing atmosphere.
"We have a small, wall-mounted fountain on the back of the house that we can listen to and look at while we use the deck," says Lester. "It makes it seem very Zen back there. You can't help but relax."