Can You Cut Water Bills with Harvested Rainwater?

Yes you can! In recent years, many people have been setting up systems to harvest rainwater to hydrate their gardens. With a rain barrel, you can collect rainwater that runs off of your roof. The rain barrel has a hose attached, so you can water plants directly from the barrel. This is probably the simplest way to harvest and use rainwater. But it’s not the only way!

Some people take it a step further and use rainwater for indoor uses like washing dishes and clothes. It’s even possible to harvest rainwater for drinking.

You may be wondering if rainwater is safe to drink. It usually is. But to be sure that it’s free of pollen, dirt and other pollutants, you can connect your rainwater harvesting system to a reverse osmosis system. This video will show you how it’s done!

You can potentially cut down on your water consumption by 40% when you start harvesting rainwater. Pretty nifty, huh? You could save about $15 a month! That might not sound like a lot, but it adds up fast: $180 per year! It may not sound like much, but you could get some cute new wallpaper for that amount! Harvesting rainwater can improve your life in all kinds of ways!

Zip Ties for Home Repair

Sometimes you need to make a small home repair and don’t have time to run to the hardware store. And sometimes, you need to make a significant home repair and can’t afford it. Zip ties aren’t exactly the most elegant solution, but they are super easy to install, easy to remove, cheap and effective.

Check out this video:

The quality isn’t great. For most of the video, all you see is this guy’s garage door. But you do get to hear an interesting discussion about repairing a garage foundation. One guy shows the problem to an expert who recommends installing a series of zip ties. I really wish they would have actually shown how that was supposed to work. If you really can fix garage foundations with zip ties, I’m going to buy a bunch of custom printed cable ties with directions printed right on them and sell them right off of this blog. I’d make a mint!

This slide show from Bob Vila’s website shows some ways you can use zip ties around the house. Keeping a workbench neat and helping plants climb trellises are not new uses for zip ties (though they are good uses!). However, this article shows how you can use zip ties to unclog sink drains, which is pretty darn neat — it spares you from having to use pipe-eating chemicals like Drano and having to look at some cranky plumber’s fanny crack.

My favorites household uses for zip ties are the creative ones, especially ones that involve upcycling. I just LOVE this mat made of old hoses and zip ties. It looks just like the braided rugs my mother used to make out of old scraps of fabric, and it’s perfect for using on a patio! 100% weather proof! Amazing.


Etched Stainless Steel Backsplashes

Why is it that decorated trends from bygone decades often seem so ugly? Take the ’90s: floral wallpaper borders, sponge-painted walls, kitchens full of fake ivy…when I think of these things, I can’t help but ask: what were we thinking back then? If your kitchen is a ’90s time capsule, I bet you’re aching for a renovation. Fortunately, there’s an easy — and elegant — way  to get rid of at least one ugly ’90s feature. Cover up that dull, hunter-green tile backsplash with something sleek, sturdy and easy to maintain: an etched stainless steel backsplash.

Photo etched decorative panels make excellent backsplashes. Etching can produce unique, intricate designs, while the steel panel is super easy to clean. Plus, it’s a cinch to install. If you don’t want to pry those old ugly tiles off the wall, you can simply install the backsplash on top of them. Drill four holes, screw in four unobtrusive bolts and you’re done!

Here are some examples of attractive etched stainless steel backsplashes:

Moroccan Stainless Steel Kitchen Backsplash, 30"x48"


Twister Stainless Steel Kitchen Backsplash, 30"x48"
Scalloped Stainless Steel Kitchen Backsplash, 30"x48"
Chevron Stainless Steel Kitchen Backsplash, 30"x48"

Update: My Friend’s Inn

It’s been a very long time since I posted anything about the B&B my friend opened. She bought a large old Victorian house and restored it to its original glory and enlisted my help. It was a big project; in fact it is what inspired me to start this blog in the first place. The very first post I wrote was about whether we should put a commercial water softener in the Inn. (We did install a water softener and it was a really smart decision. Linens stay like-new a lot longer when you wash them in soft, mineral-free water. It might not sound like a lot but it has helped my friends save money in the long run.)

It has been almost two years since we started work on the house. The work was hard and there was a lot of it: we pried up linoleum, steamed off wallpaper, sanded floors, and hunted for Victorian fixtures in salvage shops. It was both the most tiring thing I’d ever done and the most fun. It wasn’t easy getting it to look like this, but it was sure worth the effort:

Photo credit: Patrick Q via RemodelHackers / CC BY-NC

Photo credit: Patrick Q via RemodelHackers / CC BY-NC

The inn hosts about 30 guests each month and is doing exceptionally well. If you’re interested in checking the place out, there are a couple of events coming up.

4th of July Garden Party

Sip lemonade and enjoy some petits-fours in the inn’s backyard!

Sunset Barbecue

Celebrate the end of summer by eating hot dogs by sunset at the end of August.

Harvest Tea

Enjoy everything that fall has to offer! Apple tarts, pumpkin bread, cider and more!

How to Hide Unsightly Appliances

Water softeners are essential appliances but not very pretty to look at. Fortunately they are easy to hide! Photo credit: bfishadow via Source / CC BY

Water softeners are essential appliances but not very pretty to look at. Fortunately they are easy to hide! Photo credit: bfishadow via Source / CC BY

Water heaters, air conditioners, electrical boxes, and residential water softeners are things we need, but they sure aren’t pretty look at. Fortunately, there are several clever ways to hide those unsightly things from view.


Building a beautiful wooden cabinet around an appliance like a water heater or water softener is a great way to disguise it while still making it accessible for repairs.


A screen is a simple, low-cost option for hiding appliances. There are scads of attractive screens to choose from; I bet you could find really neat ones at antique shops or salvage stores. The biggest advantage of a screen is that unlike a cabinet, you can fold it up and take it with you when it’s time to move to a new place.


Another low-cost option is to install a track above the ugly appliance and put up a curtain that you can pull around it. Because curtains come in a wide range of prints, you’re sure to be able to find something that fits with your decor.


For outdoor air conditioners that jut out from the side of your house, consider building a low fence around them. This will disguise the unit while still making it easy to access when the repairman comes.


In place of a fence, build a shed around outdoor appliances. This will give you space for additional storage and keep your spades and pruning shears from getting rusty in the rain.


They’re not just for radiators anymore! I’ve seen people build peg board water heater covers that also provide storage for household tools.

Built-ins/Secret Doors

Want to be really fancy? Build a built-in shelf that will serve as a secret door that will seamlessly hide your water heater while providing a place to put your first editions.

You never have to choose between style and function! The right solution will keep your space pretty.

Tin Ceilings

Photo credit: Terry.Tyson via / CC BY-NC-SA

Photo credit: Terry.Tyson via / CC BY-NC-SA

Few things make you feel like a time traveler more than walking into a saloon, looking up and ceiling a pressed tin ceiling. For 19th century American builders who couldn’t afford to do the elaborate plaster work common in fancy European homes, tin ceilings were an affordable — and attractive alternative.

My favorite example of tin ceilings is Hotel Prairie in Prairie City. The ceilings are a sort of dark bronze color that just has so much warmth. Whenever I go through Prairie City, I like to stop at that hotel and have a glass of wine in their cozy bar.

Tin ceilings seem to be making a comeback. I came across a video on HDTV showing people how to install tin ceilings. If you Google ‘tin ceilings’ you see all kinds of modern uses for them. I gotta say, I really do not think recessed or track lighting go well with tin ceilings. But that’s just one old lady’s opinion. I think a lot of ‘tin ceilings’ are faux now, made out of some sort of vinyl. Everything is vinyl now: wainscoting, tin ceilings. Everything but your record collection!

Tin ceiling tiles are stamped and embossed. (A process that should not be confused with precision metal stamping.) Metal ceiling tiles last for years — they probably hold up better than the embellished plaster ceilings they were created to emulate. I hoped to find a video on the YouTube of a tin ceiling being made but I didn’t have any luck.

Would you add a tin ceiling to your house? Tell me in the comments!

Corrosion Resistant Hinges

Photo credit: kreg.steppe via / CC BY-NC-SA

Photo credit: kreg.steppe via / CC BY-NC-SA

A friend called me up the other day. He said he wanted to retro-fit his garage door with corrosion resistant hinges. I joked with him and asked, “What are you doing in your garage that you’re so worried about hinges corroding?”

Actually, he has good reasons to be concerned about corrosion resistance. As you may or may not know (depending on if you’re an Oregonian or not!) our town, Astoria, is right on the water. My friend’s house is very close to the water, so when storms come through and stir up sea water, he does have to worry about saltwater corroding things.

However, I’m not sure why my friend felt like he had to call me; corrosion resistant hinges are not hard to come by. In fact you can get them pretty much anywhere. The Home Depot in Warrenton isn’t so far away, and they certainly do have plenty of corrosion resistant hinges in stock.

Of course, if you live very close to the sea, corroding garage door hinges should be the very last thing you worry about. It’s very important that you take steps to weather proof your home, and that you have everything you need in case a storm moves through your area. This article about weather proofing seaside homes is pretty good.

Saunas, Steam Rooms and Hot Tubs

Household Amenities for Sane People

Recently, someone asked me if I could help install a cleanroom in his house. I didn’t know what in the sam hell he was talking about. He said he’d seen an episode of “House” where a girl had a cleanroom in her house because she had so many allergies. I told him, you know, that’s a TV show. You probably can’t do that. He insisted that it is possible and he said he needs it because he will sleep so much better knowing that there’s no dust in his bedroom. I am pretty sure he’s just a hypochondriac. I told him that I cannot help install a cleanroom in his house; he should call some cleanroom professionals like Cleanrooms by United for that. (I suspect that Cleanrooms by United will laugh and hang up.)

While you probably don’t have the money (or the need/desire) to install a cleanroom in your house, there are other amenities you can add to your home at a much lower cost.

Hot Tubs

Who doesn’t love a hot tub? Those of us who are getting on in years and complain about plantar fasciitis all day long really appreciate those jets. The great thing about hot tubs is that they pretty much come in all sizes, so even if all you have is a postage stamp of a backyard, you can fit a hot tub in it. Get some high-quality, weather-treated wood and build a lovely deck around your hot tub, string up some lights in your yard, and presto! You’ll transform your postage stamp into a relaxing grotto.

Steam Rooms

It’s really easy to add a steam room to your house. All you need is a small steam generator that you add to your shower stall, and a small bench. (This is probably easier in showers stalls that are just showers, with no tub underneath, but you can do this with your tub too. It may drive up your electric bill a bit but if it helps you unwind, it’ll be worth it.


If you have a basement, odds are there’s a dark corner it it that’s full of empty boxes and spider webs. Why not clean it out and put a little sauna in it? Get some top-notch cedar planks and build a sauna from scratch but be careful to ensure that it’s air-tight so that moisture doesn’t get into your walls and cause mold. Or, buy one from Home Depot and install it — easy peasy.

Other things I have not covered in this post include panic rooms, walk-in safes and gun closets. Sorry folks but you’ll need to consult another blogger about those things. If you need one of those in your house, you’re just as whackadoodle as the cleanroom guy.