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Don't let heat escape

December 27, 2008|By ROBERT KESSLER

Is your roof the first one in your area to be free of frost or snow or is it the last?

This is one time that being last is really the best. This means your attic is well insulated and your home's heat is not going through your roof melting the frost or snow. On a frosty morning or after a light snow, go out and look at your house roof and look at your neighbor's roof, especially the area that doesn't get sun.

Most heat coming into the attic is by air leaks rather than lack of insulation. If you have an older home, it might not have adequate insulation, so you should check depth to be sure you have the proper amount. One common area of air leaks is the attic door. If it is a pull-down door, is it weather sealed to prevent air leaks? If not, this is easy to add and very inexpensive. Also, is the door itself insulated?

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Ridged sheet insulation is usually used in this area because the door opens and closes. If you need to, you can add ridged insulation in more than one layer to get an R value in the 40s for our area. You can cover the ridged foam with a sheet of plywood to protect it.

Another area to check is air leaks around pipes, such as bathroom vents. Is the hole into the attic sealed or is there a gap between the pipe and dry wall or plywood that was cut for the pipe? This gap should be caulked to reduce the loss of heated air. You could have the same type of air leaks when plumbing or electrical conduit comes into the attic. Seal any of these openings with caulk or expanding urethane foam.

Check your existing insulation to be sure it is adequate. Older houses may have rock wool rather than fiberglass and this has probably settled and needs to have additional fiberglass insulation. If you have any doubts about whether your insulation is adequate, you should consult an insulation contractor to help you add the proper amount.

Holiday cactus care

If you receive a holiday cactus, you will find it an easy plant to take care of at this time of the year. There is a Thanksgiving cactus and Christmas cactus being sold. It is not hard to tell the difference. Thanksgiving cacti have leaf margins that are rounded and smooth. If you get a Thanksgiving cactus, they produce a flower color of red, lavender or salmon orange. The flowers are not real large. The plant will bloom from Thanksgiving through Christmas.

The Christmas cactus will produce large red flowers from Christmas through March. Both require about the same care as a houseplant. They prefer bright light and cool temperatures of 60 to 70 degrees to prevent flower drop.

You should keep the soil moist, but not wet and be sure the pot has good drainage. Don't let the plants sit in their drainage water. However, they are not cacti that likes dry soil. Fertilize them monthly during the summer months. They don't mind being a little crowded in their pots and have few insect and disease problems.

Christmas tree uses

Once Christmas and New Year's are over, most people will take down their Christmas tree right away. The question often is: "Now what do I do with it?" Recycle it is the obvious suggestion. Many areas have some recycling options, which should be announced in your local papers soon. But there are other ways you can get use out of your tree once you take it down.

One idea is to place it close to your bird feeder if you have one. The tree provides protection for the birds from predators and from the weather. Tie it to an existing tree or the pole you have the bird feeder on. It should be as secure as possible so the birds will use it.

If you don't have a bird feeder, your tree can become one. Tie on ornaments made from bird seed. Suet can be placed in the tree or just spread birdseed on the ground around the tree so they have food close by the protection of the tree.

If you are not into bird feeding, you can cut off your trees branches and use them to help protect tender or fall-planted perennials. Just use your pruning shears and cut off the branches and lay them over the plants. These will help hold snow plus they can help as an insulating material. You can also use the branches around your trees and shrubs in your landscape to provide protection to the roots.

If you have your own chipper, you can put your tree outside and then when the weather warms, you can chip up your tree to use as mulch around your plants. Or if you have children in your family, place the tree outside and decorate it with ornaments that will be OK in the weather as a fun activity. Add pine cones smeared with peanut butter for the birds.

The needles can be removed from your tree to save for a potpourri. Just dry the branches and remove the needles and crumble the needles. Mix these with spices like cloves, cinnamon and store in air-tight containers until you are ready to use it.

If you have a wood stove or fire place, you can cut up your tree and burn it, but be careful and not to add much wood at one time. Christmas trees have a lot of sap that will burn quickly and can pop or explode as it burns.

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