Handy hacks to clean and refresh home appliances

As we juggle chaotic schedules, we often forgo a deeper level of household clean for a quick tidy. While this might sustain a relatively livable space, it may have unexpected consequences. Take your appliances, for example. Built-up grime from months of neglect can compromise their performance and longevity. But with these simple solutions, your appliances will be working and looking like new in no time.

Dishwasher. Your dishwasher works hard to clean your dishes, but it could benefit from a monthly cleaning to help eradicate old, stubborn food particles and prevent odours. Toss a cup of white vinegar into the bottom of the empty dishwasher and run on normal cycle. For dishes that shine, be sure to use a rinse aid and avoid over-crowding.

Refrigerator. You can hide the state of your refrigerator from company, but over time spills and odours have a way of getting noticed. For a quick fix, use baking soda and water to clean removable parts and shelving. To banish that funky smell, place a box of baking soda or activated charcoal inside the fridge. Replace the box or container monthly. Dusting or vacuuming compressor coils twice a year helps to extend the service life of your fridge.

Portable spot cleaner. A convenient and practical solution to life's every day spills and accidents is a portable spot cleaner. Over time, however, filter hoses can accumulate grime and residue, causing unpleasant odour. Avoid this by choosing a unit with a self-clean function. A popular choice is the Hoover Spotless Portable Carpet and Upholstery Cleaner, which allows you to flush the hose clean after each use to remove dirt and bacteria.

Microwave. To banish nasty odours and make caked-on residue easy to wipe away, stir six tablespoons of baking soda (or half a cup lemon juice) into a cup of water, then heat the mixture on high for two to three minutes in your microwave. The steam helps soften the mess, then just wipe clean.

Repeat regularly to keep your appliances in tip-top shape.

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What you need to know before getting new windows

Sooner or later every home needs new windows, and it's important to choose well. With many manufacturers and installers out there, you need to make an informed decision. Here are some tips to help you out:

Choose proven windows. Every window company says they make great windows, but how do you know for sure? That's why the Canadian Standards Association and two American Standard writing organizations have developed a harmonized North American standard for window performance — North American Fenestration Standard. NAFS is a rigourous testing scheme that determines how well a window will perform in the real world. Performance ratings are awarded to specific models of windows, not to companies. Be sure to ask for a window with a NAFS certification and performance rating that is appropriate for your location and application.

Choose an experienced installer. The installation of your windows has a big impact on how well they work. Poor installation can even lead to significant damage to your home due to water leakage. That's why you need to hire an installer who knows what they're doing and provides a proper contract and warranty. Proper installation will also protect your new windows from warping and becoming difficult to open.

Expect tighter window performance. Less air leakage and lower heating costs are key benefits of new windows. But less air leakage can mean higher indoor humidity levels in winter. This sometimes means more window condensation during cold weather, not less. If your current windows are leaky, you may have more reason to mechanically ventilate your home after new windows go in.

Find more information at www.getitinwriting.ca. It's Canada's best free and unbiased source of information on how to hire a contractor the smart and safe way.

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Inspect your new home carefully before you move in

When you buy a newly built home, there is an important step you need to take before you move in: a pre-delivery inspection.

Commonly called a PDI, this inspection is more than just a quick tour. It is your first opportunity to view your home in its completed state and thoroughly assess its condition.

All builders in Ontario are required by law to conduct a PDI with homeowners prior to a home's date of possession. This inspection is part of your new home warranty that is provided by your builder and backed by Tarion.

The PDI lets you ask questions and learn about how your home functions. Your builder will show you how to operate your home's systems, like heating, electrical, air conditioning and plumbing, and provide you with operating manuals.

You should also take stock of anything that may be damaged, incomplete, missing or not working properly. Carefully examine your home both inside and out. Look for things like chips in bathtubs and sinks; scratches on counter tops; damage to floors, walls, cabinetry or other finishings; and doors and windows that are not secure or do not open and close easily.

Outside, check things like the quality of brickwork and siding, whether window screens have been installed, and the appearance of the driveway and landscaping.

During your inspection, your builder's representative will note everything down on a PDI form. Once completed, you should review the form carefully to make sure it's comprehensive. You will get a copy, which will become the official record of the condition of your home before you moved in. If there is disagreement between you and your builder over whether any damage occurred before or after you took possession, Tarion may refer to this form to help resolve the issue.

Sometimes, due to weather or other factors, you may not be able to inspect a certain item. If this happens, simply make sure it's noted on the PDI form.

Your new home warranty doesn't begin or end at the PDI — it all begins when you sign an Agreement of Purchase and Sale with your builder, and stays with the home for seven years.

Find more information online at tarion.com.

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Modern meets rustic for fashionably fresh décor

With so many interior design styles to choose from, you may be torn between a chic rustic home or cool contemporary space. According to Sharon Grech, colour and design expert for Benjamin Moore, there is no need to limit your décor choices to one look. Combining two opposing styles can feel current and leave a lasting impression. Here, she shares suggestions on how to master the art of mixing modern and rustic interior décor.

The 80/20 rule. “This is the perfect formula for combining different trends,” explains Grech. “The main style should be represented in 80 per cent of the space and the other 20 per cent should be the contrasting style. If most of your furniture is rustic, try adding modern touches such as an edgy coffee table and sleek lighting.” Conversely, if most of your existing furniture is modern, accent with textured and repurposed pieces like woven mats, a wooden rocking chair or even antique vases or jugs with local flowers.

Natural beauty. “Layering in earthy and natural materials will effortlessly unite modern and rustic styles, creating a cozy yet current space,” says Grech. Existing features like exposed beams, reclaimed wood or a stone fireplace naturally lend country charm to any room. For homes that need a modern infusion, try adding small accents in natural materials to bring warmth and texture, like a wicker side table, linen throws and pillows or a jute rug.

Keep calm and colour on. Colour plays a crucial role when it comes to mixing different interior decor styles. “For contemporary rustic decor, I recommend soft, subtle colours that can be considered both classic and modern,” says Grech. “Whites, beiges and blues are perfect for a home that is blending two different styles. My go-to shades for a contemporary rustic vibe are Ballet White OC-9 and Grey Owl 2137-60 in a flat finish.”

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Expert-approved renovation tips for a seamless design

Reducing visual clutter by creating streamlined sightlines is a home design trend that is here to stay. Whether it's hiding away wires in your living room or stowing kitchen appliances inside a cabinet, design expert Kimberley Seldon and the Electrical Safety Authority say the key to achieving an organized look is to plan early and hire the right professionals for the job, including a licensed electrical contractor.

For a clutter-free space, follow this rule — if it can be hidden, hide it. Whether it's a toaster or blender, store all kitchen appliances in an appliance garage when they're not in use. But keep in mind that these nifty storage solutions have special electrical requirements. Appliance garages need to have an interlock switch that cuts power to the outlet when the cabinetry door is closed to prevent a fire.

Embrace clean, modern lines in the family room by mounting the television on the wall and adding immersive sound, without the sight of wires. According to the Ontario Electrical Safety Code, electrical cables must be kept at least 2.5 centimetres away from duct work and heating pipes. A licensed electrical contractor is required to make sure everything is installed safely and to code. Work with them to determine wire and cable placement in advance before closing up the walls.

Remember: when planning for any renovation, it's important to develop an electrical plan early in the process. The electrical code can impact where things go in your space and how electrical elements can be installed; planning ahead will help avoid costly mistakes down the road. Building electrical into the design means you can work through the placement of outlets and address all other electrical requirements before the project is complete.

Find design and electrical tips online at www.poweryourreno.ca.

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How to power your outdoor living space

A gourmet kitchen, a ceiling fan and ambient lighting sound like the must-haves for an indoor reno. For today's homeowner, maxing out on summer means setting up al fresco living. Here is what you need to know about powering your outdoor space so it delivers all season long.

Choose the right outlets for outdoors. Outlets are an essential element for a fully functioning backyard. Whether you're planning to power decorative lighting for romance or speakers to play the perfect music while entertaining, ensure all outdoor outlets are protected by a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) to help avoid shock.

Protect power sources from the elements. Any outlet that could be exposed to snow, rain and other debris needs to have a cover plate marked “extra duty.” These covers are important for preventing electrical shocks.

Running wires to power your backyard. If electricity is needed to power your garden from the front to the back, a trench may be required to run wires underground. Wires need to be buried anywhere from 45 centimetres up to one metre depending on the location, voltage and wiring method.

Whether you're planning a complete backyard renovation or an electrical upgrade, hire only a licensed electrical contractor for the job – it's the law in Ontario, and each province has its own requirements. Licensed electrical contractors are required to know what's needed to make your backyard electrically safe. Verify or find one in your area online at findacontractor.esasafe.com.

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Tips to protect your home from water damage

Did you know that water is the leading cause of home damage in most provinces? Just this past May, communities across the country had to cope with flooding as heavy rainfalls hit various regions over many days.

What can you do to protect your home? Here, Marc Barbeau, property claims manager of Intact Insurance shares his top four tips:

1. Water-resistant décor. The next time you're renovating your home, explore installing cement board instead of drywall in your basement. It's typically used in showers and tubs and is less likely to absorb water. Cement boards are extremely moisture resistant and dry quickly when wet. For base moulding, consider a formed, paintable plastic material instead of wood. This way, even if water gets in, your home may be able to withstand excess water and mould damage.

2. Install backflow valves and sump pumps. A sump pump may help keep your basement safe and dry by collecting and disposing the water from your home. Already have a sump pump? Think about adding battery backup for times where the power is out.

When there's a heavy rainstorm, it may become too much for the sewers to handle, and waste can back up through floor drains, toilets and sinks. A backwater valve is a one-way valve that is installed on the main drain of your home. In the event of a backup, the valve closes to stop sewage from coming in.

3. Consider overland flood insurance. It's estimated that only 10 to 15 per cent of Canadians have insurance for overland flooding. New insurance products can help cover this. For example, Intact Insurance's enhanced water damage package consists of up to four components: sewer back-up, water and sewer lines, overland water and ground water. It's best that you talk to a broker to ensure you're getting the coverage you need.

4. Keep valuable items on higher floors. Store sentimental and valuable items on the upper floors of your home, away from the basement as many of these items may never be replaced if your basement floods.

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Celebrate Canada's 150th on your family's dinner plate

Canada turns 150 this year and families can feel fortunate for the many healthy and delicious local foods that inspire gatherings with great friends. In fact, more than eight out of 10 Canadians want to cook with more fresh, local or regional ingredients according to a recent study. Fortunately, celebrated Canadian chefs, like Toronto's Cory Vitiello, make it easy with delicious recipes for any kind of family gathering.

For an easy-to-share reunion winner made with wholesome ancient grains pasta, try this effortless dish Cory created for Catelli Pasta's 150th anniversary recipe collection in honour of its shared birthday with Canada.

Fresh Halibut, Pistachio & Cherry Tomato Fusilli

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cook time: 25 minutes

Serves: 4-6

Ingredients:

• 1 pkg. (340 g) Catelli Ancient Grains Fusilli

• 10 oz. Pacific halibut fillet (cut into one-inch cubes)

• 1/2 cup (125 mL) pistachios, shelled and chopped

• 2 cups (500 mL) cherry tomatoes

• 2 handfuls of washed baby arugula

• 10 slices pancetta

• 12 Brussels sprouts

• 1 clove of garlic

• 1/4 cup (60 mL) extra virgin olive oil

• 1/3 cup (83 mL) flat leaf parsley, chopped

• Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

2. Slice pancetta into half-inch pieces. Over medium heat, cook pancetta in large sauté pan until it begins to brown and tender. Add garlic, cherry tomatoes and olive oil and cook until tomatoes begin to blister and burst.

3. Add pasta to boiling water and cook fusilli according to package instructions.

4. Add halibut to pan; lightly season with salt and sauté over medium heat, turning pieces over for 3 to 4 minutes until lightly browned and just cooked. Fish should be flaky and fork tender.

5. Roughly chop pistachios and thinly slice Brussels sprouts, removing root ends.

6. Add pistachios, Brussels sprouts and arugula to sauté pan and stir on medium heat until greens are wilted — no more than two minutes.

7. Drain cooked pasta and add to sauté pan; gently stir in chopped parsley and a pinch of salt. Add pepper to taste. Drizzle with olive oil and garnish with extra parsley leaves.

Find more recipes at www.catelli.ca.

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Ninety per cent of Canadians agree: Nothing brings people together like eating together

New research reveals that many of us struggle to actually sit down and enjoy a meal with others — and the key to more meal gatherings could lie in the food we serve.

Although a whopping 83 per cent of Canadians agree that families should eat together every night, only one in three are able to do so. Reasons for this include competing calendars of family members, busy work schedules and technology. These reasons are even more prevalent among the younger generation, indicating that the speed and complexity of modern life may be inhibiting family and community moments.

“We know that when people eat together, good things happen,” says Tom Fillipou, executive chef from President's Choice. “But in a world where fast-paced technologies and busy lifestyles can easily take over, it can be difficult to carve out time to enjoy meals with family and friends.”

If you want to bring your loved ones to the table, it's clear that the menu plays an essential role. In fact, 92 per cent of survey respondents agreed that food is a common thread that ties people together.

The food itself varies by region, as Canadians embrace diverse flavours and ingredients. For example, nearly half of Ontarians believe that pancakes and maple syrup bring people together, while people from Nova Scotia are more inclined to enjoy seafood like lobster and chowder with others. In Quebec, Canadians believe tourtière, a dish steeped in history, has the power to unite. Along the west coast, BC residents enjoy eating Pacific salmon at a communal table.

“Food has a unique ability to create common ground and facilitate shared experiences,” says Fillipou. “When we acknowledge that fact and consciously select ingredients and dishes that we like to eat together, it becomes much easier to reap all the benefits associated with sharing a meal with others.”

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Looking for a new home? Top tips before you sign

You've found the newly built home you've been looking for and are ready to make one of the biggest purchases of your life. But do you know how to protect your new home?

Before you sign an Agreement of Purchase and Sale, consider these tips:

• Review the APS with a real estate lawyer to ensure you understand exactly what is included in the price of the home. If you are buying a condominium, review the disclosure statement to understand which items are part of your unit and which are considered common elements. Make sure everything that is agreed upon is reflected in writing.

• If construction has not started on the home or condominium, find out when the builder will begin and how you will be notified if there is a delay. Be sure that you and your lawyer document all details regarding deposits and delayed closings or occupancy.

A standard Addendum is required to be included in the purchase agreement. It provides additional information, as well as your rights concerning delays in construction. It is important to review this document with your lawyer.

• At the signing of the purchase agreement, you will likely be required to provide a deposit for your home. Understand that deposits on freehold homes are protected up to a maximum of $40,000 by Tarion, the administrator of Ontario's new home warranty program. Condominium deposits are covered for up to $20,000 by Tarion. Deposits over $20,000 are protected by the trust and excess deposit insurance provisions of the Condominium Act, 1998.

• Ask when you will be contacted to make selections for interior and exterior finishes. Each builder has a different policy for finalizing selections.

• Ask your builder who to contact about scheduling your pre-delivery inspection and when it will take place.

• Ask about the builder's after sales service policy and who to contact should an issue arise. Ask who to contact in emergencies, too.

• Read about the warranty that comes with your new home and understand what to do if you think you have a claim.

Sign up for the MyHome, the portal where you can manage your warranty online at www.tarion.com.