Pool maintenance tips

– Remove the pool cover (not everyone thinks a pool should be covered, and not everyone does, so this particular advice doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone). Fold and store the cover in a clean, dry place.

– Check the pump, skimmer and filter. Make sure all your mechanical equipment is clean and functional. Vacuum the pool if necessary. Newly plastered arizona custom pools should not be vacuumed for several weeks, until the plaster on the bottom and sides hardens.

– Check your test kit. Make sure it’s in good working order. Accuracy is very important to the life span of a pool. That means each season you need to buy new reagents to get accurate readings. Faulty testing-reagents can mean false answers and a costly and wasteful misuse of chemicals.

– Take a sample of the pool water. Use a clean plastic container. Take the sample, about a quart, to a dealer for testing. Almost all swimming pool companies offer this service free of charge.

– Check the chlorine level. Determine the amount of chlorine in the water and write it down. Don’t adjust it yet – wait until a later retest. The ideal amount is 1.0 to 1.5 ppm (parts per million parts of pool water). A reading below 0.6 means you don’t have enough chlorine power; above 3.0 you’ve got too much. You’re wasting chlorine and money.

– Check and adjust total alkalinity. This is the measurement of the alklines in the water. They act as buffering agents, preventing big changes in the pH and avoiding corrosion and staining. In plaster pools, a measurement of 80 to 125 ppm is ideal; in vinyl, painted and fiberglass pools, it should be 125 to 150 ppm.

Total alkalinity should be adjusted before adjusting pH. Pool supply stores sell chemicals to boost or lower total alkalinity.

– Test and adjust the pH. This is the most important pool test.

The pH reading is the degree of acidity or alkalinity of pool water. The correct pH range for plaster pools is 7.4 to 7.6; for non-masonry pools like vinyl, painted and fiberglass, 7.6 is preferable. Frequent pH adjustments may be necessary in a new plaster pool before the plaster cures and settles down.

A low pH indicates over-acidity. This causes chlorine to dissipate fast, and leads to corrosion of pool parts and damage to pool surfaces.

A high pH reduces chlorine’s sanitizing strength. This could result in growth of bacteria and algae, clouding of water and scaling on pool pipes, equipment and surfaces.

– Measure stabilization. This is the amount of stablizer or cyanuric acid in your pool. Ideally it should be about 40 ppm – this prevents sunlight from dissipating chlorine.

– Check calcium hardness. Make sure the calcium hardness is not too low to prevent etching of plaster and corrosion of metal equipment. The desired range in plaster pools is 200-250 ppm. A slightly lower range of 175-225 ppm is needed for all other pools.

– Add a superchlorinator to the pool water to kill any microbes that might be resistant to the ordinary daily treatment. A “burnout” treatment oxidizes water-soluble, non-filterable swimmer wastes and assures comfortable swimming.

– Retest free (usable) chlorine and pH. Adjust if necessary.

Real estate agents open up with tips on open houses

Real estate agents offer the following suggestions for sellers planning open houses and for those coming to open houses to look.

For sellers – Have the house in tip-top shape – clean, repaired, uncluttered and maximally appealing. Ed Anderson of Great Minneapolis Real Estate said the house should look as if it’s just been cleaned professionally and the owners are out of town.

“The house should be made to look as close as possible to a model home,” said Win Naughton of RE/MAX Real Estate Guide in Bloomington.

– Children and pets should be elsewhere so people can concentrate on the property, not activity, Naughton said. “Remove most of the personal stuff” so buyers will look at the house, not the photos or possessions, she said. “Have some fresh flowers, make sure the house is odor-free. Make sure there’s nothing to bar free flow of traffic, and turn on every light. You want the home to look as bright and cheerful as possible.”

– Then leave for the duration. “Definitely, the seller should be gone because the person coming through who’s at all interested will feel very uncomfortable looking in the closets, the cupboards,” Naughton said. “And they won’t ask the questions they really should because they’ll be afraid of offending. . . . People will look in closets to see how big they are. If they don’t look there, they’re not seriously interested, they’re looking for decorating ideas. When we know somebody is interested is they’re getting into the details.”

Burnet Realtor Dean Trampe said that people who gripe about something in the house are seriously interested, “because they see themselves coping with it.”

Bob Glancy, a Burnet agent, said that some buyer remarks might offend owners but may be small matters easily handled by the real estate agent.

– Put all valuables away and ask that the agent have a guest register. The agent probably will do this anyway; it’s some protection against theft, although people sometimes give phony names, perhaps so they won’t be called by the agent. Naughton said the National Association of Realtors has suggested agents ask to see driver’s licenses or other identification.

– Put the toilet seat down.

For buyers – If you have signed an exclusive buyer-representation agreement with an agent, and he or she is not with you, tell the agent holding the open house right away. That will set relationships straight and prevent problems later.

Remember that the agent holding the open house represents the seller. Naughton said that even unwitting signs of interest can give the seller extra negotiating power. She recommended going to the house with your agent to avoid giving away advantage. “If you get all excited and disclose things, they’re required to disclose those things to the seller, and that could affect the price you pay.”

– Don’t smoke in the house.

– If you’re a neighbor who’s just curious, go on in. Not all agents may feel the same about this, but they thrive on contacts; neighbors have friends or relatives who might want to buy, and some agents even invite neighbors.

– If you have young children, have them under control.

“Hold your children by the hand,” Naughton said. “Children can be destructive or get into something that the parent doesn’t want them to do. The property is the seller’s.”

– Sign in and take an information sheet. Feel free to ask questions it doesn’t answer.

– Common courtesy is in order, Naughton said. Buyers “have a right to look into anything that’s a structural part of the house: Closets are OK, but medicine cabinets is going too far.” You may be asked to remove your shoes, especially if it’s wet outside, the carpet is light-colored or the floors are especially nice. And while this delicate matter may not be encouraged, Glancy said he’s never refused to let any open-house visitor use the toilet.

The lowdown on hardwood floors

This weekend The Flooring Warehouse in Hamilton will be running clinics on how to install your own hardwood flooring.

As overwhelming as that kind of project sounds, Shane Taplay, a flooring consultant at the store, says today’s products have simplified the work involved. There’s no sanding, staining or sealing required.

According to Taplay, pre-finished wood flooring, which comes in a rainbow of colors, is made with a baked-on coating that is more durable than the urethane coatings available for unfinished hardwood.

At The Hardwood Flooring Stores in Burlington, sales representative Zane Kushnirak tells his clients that the hardest thing about laying their own floor is getting started.

He points out that consumer demand for hardwood floors is being influenced by the availability of product options, unheard of five years ago, and the fact that hardwood flooring isn’t as expensive as it once was.

“Most people are spending between $3.50 and $5 a square foot,” he says. “If they’re doing the installation themselves, we tell them that for every 200 square feet of flooring they should add on an additional $40 for materials they’ll require to lay the floor.”

When it comes to choosing pre-finished hardwood there are three categories to choose from — solid 3/4-inch, laminate or parquet.

According to Taplay, the first is the most difficult to lay because it has to be nailed down, get more information.

Concrete floors

Laminate flooring, on the other hand, was designed to go over concrete sub-floors and isn’t nailed down. Taplay explains that a foam underlay is glued or tacked down. Carpenter’s glue is applied along the outside groove of each plank of wood and the boards are then tapped together.

“They interlock much like Lego to create a floor. All you need for installation is a hammer and saw,” he says.

Taplay notes that consumers are often under the impression that laminate hardwood isn’t real wood and that it can’t be sanded and refinished.

In fact, just the opposite is true.

“If you can get four sands out of solid planking, you can get three sands out of laminate,” he says.

He also points out that laminate hardwood is ideal for basement applications because it isn’t affected by dampness. It can also be laid over vinyl flooring, ceramic tiles and hardwood.

As for parquet flooring, Kushnirak says it is the easiest to install. All that’s required is the proper adhesive and a saw.

At approximately $2 a square foot, he says it is also the best value for your money. The one drawback — parquet isn’t popular in Ontario.

Three grades

According to both men, pre-finished plank hardwood comes in three grades: select, mid-grade and rustic. Those divisions are based on such characteristics as grain, number of knots and mineral streaks and color continuity.

Kushnirak adds that parquet flooring comes in two grades: select and rustic.

The following are some tips about laying your own hardwood floors, courtesy of Taplay and Kushnirak:

There are a large number of hardwood-flooring manufacturers, 50 per cent of them Canadian. Keep in mind that sometimes you pay extra for the name not the quality of the product. Shop around and compare apples for apples.

Buy the proper product for the proper application. For example, waxed wood floors aren’t suitable for kitchens where they will be subject to water damage.

Consider which grade of hardwood will best suit your budget and your taste. Try to look at the products separately rather than putting select against mid-grade or rustic.

Fashion colors may be attractive, but they are also trendy. Natural wood grain colors never go out of style.

If you prefer waxed floors, some companies do produce pre-stained hardwood with a wax finish.

When you buy your wood flooring let it acclimatize before you lay it. Leave it in the room where it is to be installed for at least three days.

If you are going to rent equipment, such as a nailer, reserve ahead of time.

When you measure your room to find out how much flooring you’ll need, allow for an extra 5-7 per cent for cutting waste. Since wood flooring is sold by the box, the experts recommend buying an extra box just in case you need it. If you don’t, you can always return it.

Save left-over wood for future repair jobs.

Flooring stores that cater to do-it-yourselfers also lend tapes, and in some cases have instruction brochures.Staff will also provide you with all the assistance you need.

Anti-slip rug and non-slip underlays

Rugs that creep – be it over carpet or smooth flooring – are not only unsightly and annoying but they can be dangerous too. Anti-slip rug underlay is the answer, a product which comes in various forms.

Many consumers are quite simply floored by the problem of the creepy crawlies: rugs which just won’t stay put. Slipping, creeping, call it what you will, the answer lies in some sort of anti-slip underlay which is placed between the rug and the floor. There are two basic types: a plastic mesh and a non-woven sheeting.

Jaymart markets Rugger, a non-woven fibrous material which is both fine and light. With a peel-off backing this tacky material is cut to size with scissors and stuck on to the back of the rug. Suitable for use over carpets and smooth floors, it is peelable, ideal for temporary situations. It comes in 30m rolls in 90cm and 150cm widths and in seven mat sizes: 60 by 130cm; 90 by 150cm; 120 by 180cm; 130 by 190cm; 150 by 240cm and 190 by 290cm.

Gates Rubber markets Roberts Palma Allstop and Roberts Allstop Plus, two qualities of compressed polyester fibre. This spring underpadding is coated both sides with a pressure-sensitive adhesive. The product is dry to the touch, has a slightly rubbery texture, and, says Gates, when placed under a rug the grip is phenomenal. Both products are reusable, moth-proof and suitable for use over carpet and smooth flooring. Palma Allstop is 2mm thick and comes in three roll sizes: 60cm, 80cm and 120cm wide, all 50m rolls, and in four rug sizes: 1.60 by 2.30m, 1.90 by 2.90m, 2.40 by 3.40m, and 2.90 by 3.90m. Roberts Palma Allstop Plus is 5mm thick, available in five roll sizes: 60cm, 80cm, 120cm, 185cm and 240cm wide, all 25m rolls, and in four rug sizes: 1.60 by 2.30m, 1.90 by 2.90m, 2.40 by 3.40m, and 2.90 by 3.90m.

Stikatak Rug Anti-Kreep is highly user friendly. It is completely washable and comes with full instructions for use printed on it. It is used over carpet with the name side up, and on smooth floors with the name side down. Available in three widths: 60cm, 90cm and 120cm wide, all 25m rolls.

Ako is a range of four rug underlays, designed for different situations. For rugs on carpet, Ako Stop is a rayon net with a flocked finish of nylon fibres. Machine washable it comes in five widths: 80cm, 120cm, 160cm, 180cm and 240cm, all 30m rolls. For rugs on polished floors, Ako Super is a pvc coated net in five sizes: 80cm, 120cm, 160cm, 180cm and 240cm wide, all 30m rolls. Ako Top Fleece can be used over carpet and hard flooring. Coated both sides with an acrylic adhesive, this 4mm thick needlepunch fleece comes in rolls: 80cm, 120cm, 160cm, 190cm, and 240cm wide, all 30m rolls and in cut sizes: 80 by 150cm, 120 by 190cm and 160 by 225cm. Ako Elastic is for use on hard floors. In two thicknesses, 2.5mm and 4.5mm, it is claimed to have excellent insulating qualities.

Non-slip underlays

Dycem markets three non-slip rug underlays, all made from coated polyester, which holds rugs in place by friction not adhesive. Miracle-Hold is for use under rugs on carpets, and Hold-Tight for rugs on hard floors. Cushion-Grip, also for rugs on hard floors, is thicker for extra cushioning. Fully washable, Miracle-Hold and Hold-Tight are available in cut sizes: 50 by 110cm, 80 by 140cm, 120 by 170cm and 170 by 260cm; and in 30m rolls in 90cm and 180cm widths. Cushion Grip comes in 20m rolls only, 90cm and 180cm wide.

Anderson Exports, which has specialised in rug anti-creep, anti-slip products for more than 10 years, markets four products. The most popular is Foxi Super Plus, which consists of a printed foam bonded to a ‘fleece’, is sticky on both sides, and is said to be equally effective on carpet and smooth floors. It is available in six pre-pack rug sizes: 70 by 140cm, 90 by 150cm, 140 by 200cm, 170 by 240cm, 200 by 300 cm and 240 by 340cm, and in 25m rolls, 60cm, 92cm, 125cm and 185cm wide. Haltrug is a similar product, aimed at the budget market, available in 35m rolls in the same widths as Foxi, and as cut pieces: 70 by 140cm, 90 by 150cm and 140 by 200cm.

For smooth floors, Anderson markets two products: Stoppy, a polyprop netting coated in latex, and Stargrip a rubber mesh. Both are available 120cm and 180cm wide in 30m rolls.

… and now for something completely different

Neither a fibrous sheeting nor a netting, PozziGrip, manufactured in the UK by Pozzani, is made from a mixture of pvc and polyester. It looks woven but isn’t. MD Steve Malloney says, ‘We’ve tried to get a patent for this product, but have so far been unsuccessful. I can’t tell you exactly what it is made from or the way it is made, as that’s what makes it unique.’

Said to be suitable for use over carpet and smooth floors – though it works best on very smooth surfaces such as marble – it is available in a roll, 30cm wide and 3.6m long.

Tips to cure a roving rug from Centerton Flooring Provider

Place rugs on a level surface to avoid uneven wear.

Vacuum regularly under rugs with loose underlays, but unless you like flying, don’t polish any hard floors underneath.

Don’t use an anti-slip underlay on a new carpet which is still shedding a lot of loose fibres as it will be ineffective.

Most products should be cut one or two inches smaller than the rug. Make sure they are completely flat before putting the rug on top.

Although there is no evidence that they damage the pile, don’t use an anti -slip underlay with a fine silk, old or precious carpet.

Vinyl flooring – visual tricks

Most people would never consider resilient flooring the obvious solution to a room with an awkward floor plan. But remodeling with flooring is second nature to designers and remodelers, who know how it can be used to alter the perception of a room’s proportions. “Consumers shy away from using flooring to achieve special effects because they fear making a mistake,” explains Leonard Ludivico, vice president for product styling and design for Congoleum.

To overcome that fear, Thomas Cook, corporate creative director for Armstrong World Industries, suggests thinking of the floor as a big canvas and of the flooring as paint. New  trends in vinyl flooring: color and patterns can be used to direct traffic away from appliances and other work areas, to create an interesting focal point or to reshape an unwieldy room.

Cook isn’t talking about a single color or pattern of sheet vinyl, but a floor that incorporates two or more colors with inset shapes or borders. The only limit is your imagination and budget. If your creative juices need priming, magazines are among the best sources. There you can see the final effects, and it’s easy to copy or modify details shown in a photograph.

Another source of ideas for patterns and shapes may be the room itself. “Pick a detail, such as an interesting archway, a shape in a cornice or a hutch,” Cook says, “and repeat it in the flooring. just keep in mind that the flooring may last longer than the item you used as the basis for your design.”

PUT YOUR PLAN ON PAPER

To get an idea of whether your design will work, draw the floor plan on graph paper. Make several copies so that you can experiment with a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. Once you’re satisfied with the shapes, use colored pencils or pens to experiment with various color combinations. To see what these colors might do to the room itself, borrow samples from the dealer and lay them on your floor. This will help you decide whether you want a lot of color contrast or something a little safer.

As a final test of your design, cut shapes from colored paper (available at hobby shops) and tape them to the floor with masking tape. This will tell you whether a border should be thicker or thinner, or whether a pattern is too budy–before you buy the flooring.

COST

Custom vinyl floors are relatively expensive. And trying to save a buck by doing it yourself may not pay-a slip of the knife when cutting in borders or patterns can ruin the project.

As a rule, the more colors in your plan, the mostly the floor. To ensure that your plan fits your budget, “Take your colored sketch to the store. The dealer will help you determine the cost and modify the design, if necessary,” says Cook.

VISUAL TRICKS

Borders are great traffic cops and keepers of boundaries. Too many doorways, nooks and jogs in a room’s perimeter and it begins to look like the hallway of a medieval castle. You can bring some order to the chaos with a border that fills in deviations but keeps a straight line against the inner field of color.

If you’ve got a long and narrow space that looks like a landing strip, make it appear wider and shorter by using two different colors of vinyl in alternating horizontal stripes, creating a ladder effect along the length of the space. In a long hallway, these stripes could be 12 in. to 18 in. wide; in a shorter space, 6-in.-wide stripes will work better. For a more complex variation of this idea, use 2-in.-wide contrasting color strips on one or both sides of the wide color stripes.

To make, a short hall look longer, run narrow stripes of contrasting colors parallel to the long walls. It’s the same principle as dressing short people in vertical stripes so they will appear taller.

Square rooms tend to be very static and boring, and often look either too large or too small. If you’re adventurous, split the space into large triangles of color.

If your room is large, use two or more bold, strongly contrasting colors to make the room look smaller. If your room is small, use only two colors in low contrast (off-white and medium beige, or white and pale blue) to make the room seem bigger.

A second approach is to set several increasingly smaller squares of different colors into a big square. Experiment with colored pencils and paper to see whether you want the lightest color at the room’s perimeter or in the middle. A third variation is to set a simple square of patterned flooring inside a bigger solid-color square, or vice versa.

If you want to draw people to a bar or kitchen island, make this element the room’s focal point by emphasizing the flooring around it. There are several ways to achieve this: If you’re treating your room to a perimeter border, for example, repeat it around the island. For variety, reduce or widen the border.

A second option is to call attention to the island with feature squares of color in an otherwise plain floor.

You can also create an “area rug” for the island with an accent color. If your island is too close to adjacent cabinets to be completely surrounded by color, position only two-thirds of it on the area rug so the stools can also be on the accent color.

Breakfast tables and chairs often are adrift in an ocean of plain flooring. Anchor them with a simple square or rectangle of color. To jazz it up, add a 2-in.-wide border around the square or rectangle in a third color.

You can also place the color field on a diagonal so it reads as a diamond. Or combine several intersecting diamonds to define the field.

If you’ve got enough money in the budget and are up to the challenge, you can even replicate a simple pattern from a favorite quilt or drawing in your flooring design.

As indicated in the box at the bottom of this page, even a simple plan can double your costs. But if you can turn an awkward space into an inviting room, it can be worth it.

The patches to restore testosterone levels

Male hormone patches to increase low testosterone levels were launched on the NHS yesterday – with a warning that doctors could not cope if they were swamped by middle-aged men looking to boost their love lives.

The patches are for men with a medical condition which results in low testosterone, but the fear is that men with normal levels who believe their sex drive is falling will inundate GPs with requests for the treatment.

The patches, called Andropatch, are meant for men suffering from hypogonadism. This can result from damage to the testes through disease or accidents, a malfunctioning of the pituitary gland which controls the release of sex hormones, or some rare inherited conditions.

Men with the condition suffer from impotence and loss of libido, fatigue, loss of muscle power and depression. In the long term they are at risk of osteoporosis.

The patches, made by SmithKline Beecham, are said to restore testosterone levels to within the range found in normal men in 90% of patients.

Two have to be worn, with the manufacturers recommending they be applied at around 10pm. The patches cost $1.60 a day – $584 a year – and will need to be worn for life.

Other methods of low testosterone treatment are available through capsules, injections, or pellets inserted under the skin. The patches are said to be easier to use and more closely mimic the natural release of testosterone, rather than causing peaks and troughs like other methods.

Pierre-Marc Bouloux, an endocrinologist from the Royal Free hospital, London, said around one man in 200 suffered from hypogonadism.

Between 20,000 and 30,000 men were known to be taking some form of testosterone replacement therapy in Britain, but there were probably an equal number with undiagnosed hypogonadism who could benefit from treatment.

Ian Banks, a GP from Northern Ireland who acts as spokesman on male health for the British Medical Association, said GPs could not cope with a sudden flood of men wanting the patches.

He said tiredness and impotence were far more likely to be caused by overwork, marital problems, job insecurity or alcohol abuse, but men were likely to see testosterone replacement therapy as an instant fix to their problems.

“If this is presented as a wonder drug, or a panacea, or the elixir of life, which it is not, GPs will not be able to cope. There will very quickly be an overload on our time and our finances, not just from the cost of the patches but also from the costs of the tests to diagnose low testosterone.”

He added: “There is no way we could offer this to every man who feels he is going through a mid-life crisis.”

Colorful Carpet Advice

Since so many color options can paralyze people, I suggest building files of pictures clipped from magazines. This helps you visualize what furniture, accessories and colors do in a room. Darker colors make a room cozier; lighter colors make it appear larger. Take paint chips home and look at them in morning, afternoon and evening light. If you choose a monochromatic scheme, be sure to vary textures.

I use The Wagner Color Institute’s Color Response Report as a decorating resource. It tracks emotional responses to color. Since cheery yellow produces anxiety, it may not be a good choice for the nursery. Green makes us think of home so it might be the perfect color for a child going to college. Navy blue suggests trustworthiness. Blue has a tranquilizing effect and dampens our response to food.

The carpet story goes beyond color to texture.

The carpet industry’s new tufting technology has expanded possibilities. Different loop levels and combinations of short loops with cut fibers create new textures that hide dirt and are virtually trackless.

Technology also spawns new choices in color combinations and patterns. The popular sisal area rugs are being reinvented in nylon and polypropylene, making them easy on the toes, the wallet and the person doing maintenance.

I suggest that renters remember that carpet comes in 12-foot widths and that many retailers can cut a piece to fit your room, creating a wall-to-wall area rug. Further customize the look by bordering the rug with a second carpet or with fringe. When you move, roll up the carpet and take it with you to a new home or apartment.

Whether buying carpet or choosing colors,  the real key to making decorating decisions is to know what you like and what you need. The practical and comfortable approach continues to guide well-informed consumers find out more