Your Quick Guide to Winter Gardening

The green lawn surrounded by flower beds and blossoming trees

While you might consider your garden a dormant part of your yard until spring, there are still plenty of ways to give it some much-needed attention in winter. How you go about winter gardening will depend largely on the climate and weather in your region, but here are a few ideas to get you started.

It’s Never Too Early to Start Planning

No matter where you live, you can make planning the backbone of your winter gardening initiative. January happens to be National Mail-Order Gardening Month, so there’s no better time to order new plants and draw up a map for your spring garden. Pinterest has an endless assortment of photos to start for inspiration. From there, we recommend charting your garden with pencil and paper and researching your dream plants to be sure they’re suitable for your region. Now is also a great chance to consider footpaths, fountains, raised beds and more.

Winter Gardening by Growing Zone


In the Southwest U.S., January is a great time to plant. Herbs, cool-season flowers, certain vegetables and bare-root fruit trees are all a great bet. You can revamp your garden or start from scratch by loosening a large patch of soil. You can also start seeds for herbs like calendula, catnip, feverfew and sage, and vegetables like eggplant, melons, peppers and tomatoes.

If you’re in maintenance mode, you’ll need to prune any dormant plants and be mindful of watering patterns. Winter may bring plenty of rain or precipitation could be scarce, so you’ll need to adjust irrigation timers accordingly. You may also need to head off insects.

Gulf Coast/Lower Mississippi/South Atlantic

In the Gulf Coast region, things can heat up fast once the spring and summer months hit. In the winter, when the temperature is more moderate, you’ll likely have great luck with vegetables like spinach, broccoli and peas.

Since weather can be slightly unpredictable in parts of this region of the U.S., it’s best to keep your eye on the 10-day forecast. Each year may bring freezing temperatures, heavy rainfall and even snow. To make the best decision for your garden, you’ll want to keep fabric and row covers on hand in case you need to protect your crops.

Southern Plains/Lower Midwest/Middle East Coast

If you live in Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana or Ohio, you’re no stranger to heavy snowfall in winter. Because of the harsh weather, if you weren’t finished planting by early fall, you may have to put some of your gardening plans on hold.

While you may not be sowing any new seeds during the winter months, you’ll need to protect what you have so that it can reach its full potential in the coming year. We recommend draping insulated blankets over crops to keep them safe from snow and ice. If you’d like to take your methods to the next level, you can buy a cold frame—or, if you’re handy, you can DIY one!

Northern Great Plains/North-Central/Great Lakes/New England

In short, see above! With even harsher weather than the Midwest, keeping your garden safe is the name of the game if you live in the New England or Great Lakes area. Temperatures can drop to as low as negative 40 degrees Fahrenheit, so any protection devices you utilize will need to be able to withstand them.

Because snow can blanket every outdoor surface for weeks or even months on end in this region, you may need to make a habit of brushing it off your gardening protection. This keeps your plants from getting crushed and it lets some much-needed light in so your garden can thrive.

Pacific Northwest

If you reside in the Pacific Northwest, you may find yourself mostly limited to planning. But if you’re anxious to get started, try starting seeds indoors. Vegetables and herbs, like peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, and basil are perfect for indoors.

Depending on the temperatures, you may also be able to plant pansies, snapdragons and other cool-season annuals. We recommend waiting till winter is winding up since these species tend to survive best in temperatures 35 degrees Fahrenheit and above.

Call NPI for Your Home Inspection Needs

Any time you need a home inspection, call NPI. We have the knowledge and expertise to inspect the exterior of your home as well as any sheds or outbuildings, ensuring that your property is in peak shape for spring and summer gardening. Call us today.

DIY Countertop Repair for Scratches and Scuffs

Granite and tile countertop repair

If you cook a lot, chances are your countertops have seen better days. Every scratch and chip tells a story, from that pan you dropped to the knife that slipped. The good news is that there are some simple countertop repairs you can do yourself to make your counters look like new and save some money in the process.


Granite countertops are known for their durability, but even granite can show signs of wear like scratches, chips and cracks with regular use. Granite is also one of the most expensive options when it comes to counters, so it’s lucky that there are inexpensive options to repair it.

To repair an unsightly crack or scratch in granite, you’ll need to gather a few materials: acetone or nail polish remover, an epoxy resin granite repair kit (you’ll find this at your local home improvement store), a scrub sponge, a razor blade, paper towels and a hairdryer.

Acetone works wonders for cutting through grease or any other residue to make your granite surface really clean. Wet a paper towel with it and wipe over your countertop (if you’re using nail polish remover, do a spot test first to make sure it doesn’t discolor your surface). Use your scrub sponge to further loosen any deposits, then wipe the granite down with another paper towel to make sure the surface is dry (hit it with the hairdryer for a few minutes on low to be sure).

Now you’re ready for the epoxy kit. Epoxy resin can be colored to match the dominant color of your granite for an undetectable repair. Mix the epoxy according to the manufacturer’s directions, then apply it to the crack with the stir stick included in the kit. Since the epoxy will settle a little as it cures, apply epoxy above the level of the crack. Put a piece of tape over the epoxy (this helps the surface flatten as it dries).


Repairing tile countertops can be easy if you have extra matching tiles saved. Identify the cracked tile that needs replacing, then use a grout saw to cut around and loosen the tile. Next, use a hammer to break the tile into pieces. Add a chisel to the equation to remove all the broken tile pieces, then vacuum up whatever’s left in terms of loose debris. Once you have a clean surface to work with, take your new tile and apply mortar to the back, pressing it into place. Once the mortar is dry, regrout around the tile and you’re done!

If you don’t have extra tile, you still have some options. First, you can use fine-grit sandpaper to fade scratches (just make sure you don’t rub too hard, otherwise you’ll end up with an irregular surface). For deeper scratches, nicks or chips, you can use an acrylic repair kit, available at any home improvement store, that’s colored to match your tile.

Butcher Block Counters

If you’ve been using your butcher block counter as a cutting board and want to breathe some life back into it, first you’ll have to thoroughly clean it.

  • For any stuck-on food residue, remove it with the edge of a metal spatula, taking care not to gouge the wood
  • Next, use hot water, a scrub sponge and some mild dish soap to scrub the counter. Rinse well with a clean dishcloth and more hot water.
  • After the countertop dries completely, you can move on to the next step, sanding.

Preferably you want to use an orbital sander for this, using fine-grit sandpaper and applying light pressure over the entire surface of the counter for an even finish. This helps remove light scratches and scuffs. For deeper scratches and gouges in the wood, you can fill them with wood putty that matches the color of your counter. Roll the putty between your fingers and pack it tightly into any deeper scratches. Once it dries and hardens, you can sand the putty down to a smooth surface. Finish by conditioning your butcher block counter with a light coat or two of mineral oil.

Repairing your countertops is an easy way to add value to your home once it’s time to sell. National Property Inspections is here to help you make the most of your biggest investment, so call us today and make an appointment.

How to Remove Static from Your Home

It’s that time of year again. . .you can’t walk across a room without feeling an irritating little zap. Today, we have a few easy solutions for how to remove static from your home and your person.

What is static electricity?

Static electricity occurs when electric charges build up on an object’s surface. To understand what causes static, we have to get a little technical. Materials are typically considered neutral because they have an even number of positive and negative charges. When two materials come into contact, electrons can move from one surface to another, causing an imbalance of positive and negative charges—an excess charge on one surface and a negative charge on the other. The imbalance of electric charges will remain on the surface of the object or material until it finds a way to be neutralized, usually through contact with another object.

Why is static worse in winter?

Static grows significantly worse in winter because the air is drier. In the summer, when humidity tends to be higher, the moisture in the air helps dissipate electrons and keeps static electricity at bay. With almost no humidity in the brisk winter air, static electricity has a chance to build up on a variety of surfaces. And the fuzzy knitted sweaters we tend to pile on when it gets cold definitely don’t help! Add dry skin and hair to the equation and it’s no surprise that we become static magnets.

How to Remove Static from Your Home

To keep static electricity to a minimum in your home, you need to put moisture back in the air:

Boil a pot of water on the stove. You might think of this method as a short-term DIY humidifier. Boiling a pot of water on the stove for a couple hours a day a few days a week can help combat static in the air. Just be sure to keep an eye on it and don’t over-rely on this method since it can lead to damage to both your pot and stove.

Use a humidifier. Humidifiers can run for several hours a day, making them a great solution for winter static. If you have a newer furnace, you may even have a humidifier built right into your HVAC system!

Treat carpets. Commercial-grade liquid anti-static treatments are available for carpets in a wide price range for your home’s needs. Be sure to spray them in high-traffic areas where static is most likely to generate, hitting entryways, hallways and common routes through your home.

Rub upholstery with dryer sheets. Besides leaving your clothes smelling extra fresh, a primary purpose of dryer sheets is to add a little moisture to them while they tumble dry, reducing static electricity. It makes sense that they would do the same for any furniture that’s particularly susceptible to static.

Get houseplants. Leafy plants help add moisture to the air and improve overall air quality. Plus, they’re lovely to look at, especially when the weather gets bleak.

How to Remove Static from Your Body

Getting rid of the static in your home will drastically improve things, but here are a few more ways to really safeguard yourself against annoying shocks:

Reduce friction. The key to keeping annoying static shocks away from your person is to cause as little friction as possible. This mostly means you’ll need to be mindful of what you wear, especially on your feet. A key source of friction is carpet. When we shuffle along the carpet, in, say, a pair of thick, fluffy socks, friction tends to build up. It’ll come as no surprise that the best way to avoid friction, and therefore, static electricity buildup from carpet, is to go barefoot.

Wear natural fiber clothes.
Synthetic fibers like polyester and nylon are the worst offenders when it comes to static electricity. It’s not because they create more static electricity. It’s actually because they tend to retain more static electricity. Natural fibers, on the other hand, tend to absorb more humidity from the air. We recommend sticking with cozy cotton.

Moisturize skin regularly.
Static charges occur on dry skin for the same reasons they occur in the air—lack of moisture. Since static loves dry skin, the best way to avoid shocks is to add moisture. It’s a good idea to apply a body lotion right after a shower when your skin is still damp. The moisture will improve overall absorption and create a longer-lasting effect.

Use a leave-in conditioner. If your hair is starting to look like a science experiment from all the static, the name of the game is still moisture. Wetting your brush is a quick fix, but once you step outside, all that moisture will get zapped and you’ll be back to square one. Instead, try a leave-in conditioner to lock in long-term hydration. Available in super convenient sprays you can spritz on damp or dry hair, a few quick passes over your head before styling can help keep static at bay all day.

Call NPI for Your Home Inspection Needs

For your home or commercial property inspection needs, call National Property Inspections. Our inspectors have the knowledge to keep you and your home safe and healthy.

Add Value to Your Home with These Improvements

You probably have a long list of remodeling projects you want to get around to, and sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. Of course you want to remodel your home based on your personal tastes, but if you’re looking to move soon, it’s better to look at renovations and improvements that will add value to your home. We’ve compiled the four best home upgrades that will put the most money in your pocket when it comes time to sell.

1. A New Front Door

Nothing beats a new steel front door when it comes to recouping your investment. A new steel front door boosts curb appeal, rejuvenating your home’s appearance to make a great first impression for homebuyers. You can have a professional install your new door (for give or take $2000), in which case you’ll recover about 75% of the cost, or you can DIY this project (for around $250) and recoup up to a whopping 600%.

If you go the DIY route, make sure to get acquainted with the parts of the door you’re installing before you start in. If it’s your first time, you can expect to spend a bit more time on this project (don’t be surprised if it takes you six or eight hours). Oh, and enlist a friend to help—it’s a lot easier with two people, trust us.

2. New Hardwood Floors

Buyers love hardwood floors, and they’ll pay to get them (to the tune of about $5000 at closing). If you install those hardwood floors yourself, you can potentially make a 282% profit. It might be a multi-day affair if you haven’t worked with flooring before, but don’t worry—the techniques aren’t hard to master and it’s worth rolling up your sleeves to pocket the extra savings. Even if you hire a professional, though, this improvement will just about pay for itself.

If you have hardwood floors already and just want to give them a facelift, you can do that with a simple sand-and-refinish job. Floor sanders and other supplies are available to rent at most home improvement stores to make the process easy and affordable.

3. A Bathroom Update

We’re not talking about demolition down to the studs, but a mid-range bathroom update will definitely add value to your home and improve your return on investment. Replacing your bathroom’s essentials (meaning the tub, tile surround and floor, toilet, sink, fixtures and vanity) will run you somewhere in the range of $10,500, while you’ll average a tidy $10,700 back at closing. Of course if you do the update yourself instead of hiring out, you’ll pocket even more.

4. Fiberglass Attic Insulation

Attic insulation is one of those things you never pay attention to, but you sure know if it’s not there. Having adequate insulation is the best way to keep comfortable in both hot and cold weather while keeping your energy bills low, but up to an astounding 90 percent of homes don’t have enough. If you can see the floor joists in your attic, you have at most 6-7 inches of insulation, only half of what the U.S. Department of Energy recommends. Depending on where you live, you could need even more.

The good news is that insulation is easy to add yourself, and it’s also one of the most inexpensive and worthwhile upgrades on our list, costing you only about $700 to add $1500 of value when you sell.

National Property Inspections Helps You Improve Your Home

From home energy audits to full inspections, NPI has you covered when you want to find ways to add value to your home. Call us today to schedule an appointment.

5 New Ways to Save Energy

So you have your thermostat set to the perfect temperature and you’ve checked and re-checked your windows and doors for drafts. . .and you’re still cold. It may just be time to think outside the box. Here are five more ways to save energy and keep a warmer home through the coldest months of the year.

1. Move furniture away from radiators

You might be tempted to move your sofas and chairs as close to the fireplace, woodstove or registers as possible. But upholstered furniture can actually absorb heat, leaving the rest of yoether home in the cold. It’s best to move all furniture away from your home’s radiators to keep the warm air circulating freely. This goes for curtains as well when possible, though the right kind can go a long way toward keeping in warm air.

2. Trade in your curtains

Speaking of curtains. . .winter might be a good time to upgrade. Switching to curtains made from a heavier material can help keep warm air from escaping through drafty windows. Insulated, or thermal curtains are available for this express purpose in stylish colors and prints so that you won’t have to drastically change the vibe of your living area.

3. Reverse the direction of your ceiling fans

Most of us don’t even think about our ceiling fans in winter—they’re typically reserved for cooling things off and circulating air only. In warmer months, the blades of ceiling fans spin at a slight angle counterclockwise to utilize the wind chill effect. But we all know that warm air rises while cooler air sinks. Therefore, ceiling fans are actually perfect for taking the work your furnace is doing and kicking it up a notch. By switching your blades to clockwise during the colder months, cool air is drawn upwards while warm air is forced down into your living space. You’ll be able to turn down the thermostat and save a little cash by keeping all that cozy warm air low.

4. Put down extra rugs

If you have hardwood floors, you’re no stranger to icy feet. Putting down extra rugs can help provide additional insulation for any room, whether wood, tiled or carpeted. To up the warmth factor and protect against slips, simply place a grippy pad underneath.

5. Switch to flannel sheets

Did you remember to switch your cotton sheets for a flannel set? This quick, inexpensive change can make a big difference in your nighttime comfort, not to mention your heating bill. While flannel sheets had a bad rep at one time for being uncomfortably warm, the flannel-cotton blends available now help strike the perfect balance. You can even invest in a flannel duvet cover to see even more substantial savings over time.

For even more energy-saving tips, call us today. Our inspectors can evaluate your residential or commercial property to determine the efficiency of your HVAC system, insulation, window seals and other infamous energy drainers.

Your Crash Course in Dryer Vent Cleaning

It’s hard to believe that your home’s dryer vent is also one of its most dangerous fire hazards. In fact, more than 2,900 residential fires originate in dryer vents every year. Besides the fire risk, a clogged dryer vent mixed with the warm, humid air of your dryer can lead to mold problems, too. Luckily, preventing safety issues is easy as long as you keep the area free of debris. Keep reading to learn how to spot a dicey venting situation as well as the best dryer vent cleaning methods.

First, let’s break down how a clothes dryer actually works and why it needs a vent in the first place. Dryers help evaporate water by blowing hot air past clothes as they tumble in a drum. Depending on the size of the load and type of garments, dryers can eliminate up to a gallon of water.

If it weren’t for your external dryer vent, all that moisture, not to mention a good amount of lint and fuzz would wind up back in your home. This probably goes without saying, but all that moisture and lint is terrible for your indoor air quality, plus it makes for quite a mess (think a thick coating of gray dust. . .everywhere).

Here’s how to know if you’re facing a clogged dryer vent:

  • A burnt smell emanates from the laundry room whenever you turn the dryer on
  • Your clothes are hotter than normal at the end of the dryer’s normal cycle
  • Your clothes are taking forever to dry or aren’t fully dry after one cycle
  • The outside of your dryer is unusually hot
  • Your laundry room is hot and humid

How to Clean a Clogged Dryer Vent

If your dryer vent is less than three feet long and vents directly outside without any twists or turns, you can probably clean it yourself using these steps:

  1. Empty the lint screen like you normally would after a load of laundry.
  2. Unplug the dryer, then move it away from the wall to access the vent.
  3. You’ll notice a tube leading from the back of your dryer to a hole in the wall—this is the vent, and the tubing will have to be detached from the back of the dryer in order to clean it. It’s generally attached to your dryer with a set of four screws, which can be removed with a normal flat or Philips head screwdriver.
  4. Using the nozzle attachment on your vacuum cleaner, vacuum as much lint as you can, as far as you can down the tube and into the vent.
  5. Hook everything back up.
  6. Going outside, locate the escape vent and make sure it’s also clear of visible debris. Once the vent is clear, run the dryer and make sure hot air is flowing freely to the outside.
  7. You’re done!

If your dryer vent is long and doesn’t vent directly outside (say if your laundry room isn’t adjacent to an exterior wall), it’s time to call in the professionals. A professional dryer vent cleaning service can run anywhere from $89 to $179 depending on your area, but it’s well worth it to prevent a house fire.

How to Prevent a Clogged Dryer Vent

The best way by far to keep your dryer vent as clear of lint as possible is to clean the lint trap after every load of laundry. This captures the vast majority of lint before it can make its way into the actual vent. Even if you clean the trap every time, though, a little bit of lint will still make its way through. If you have the kind of tubing that’s made of flexible ribbed material, lint can build up over time in the ribbing and cause problems. You can replace your ribbed dryer hose with a smooth-walled metal one, which will go a long way to keep lint from building up.

National Property Inspections Keeps Your Home Safe

Your NPI inspector is here to keep your family safe and healthy in your home. We can identify potential issues before they become big problems, so call us today today to schedule an appointment!

How to Remove Caulk the Right Way

We’re not going to beat around the bush—removing old caulk takes time and patience . . . in spades. But today we’re sharing a few tips that will make the job much easier in the long-run.

Step 1: Apply a caulk remover and walk away

For most caulk removers, the recommended wait time after application is two to three hours before you start prying up the old stuff. But in reality, the longer you wait, the easier it is to remove the caulk. Try waiting 12 hours (or overnight), and up to 24 hours if there are multiple layers to contend with. See, we told you it takes patience!

Step 2: Use the right tool for the job

Do not attempt to use a utility blade or knife. We repeat: do not attempt to use a utility blade or knife. Sure, you might see professionals use this sort of tool, but as a DIYer, you risk damaging the wall, not to mention yourself. Instead, use a caulk remover tool. These tools feature an easy-to-grip plastic handle and a shape that’s designed to align perfectly with old caulk. And don’t worry about cost. At approximately five to ten dollars each, caulk remover tools won’t break the bank.

Step 3: Use short back and forth motions to pry up caulk

Now that you’ve done all your waiting around and you’ve got your caulk remover tool in hand, it’s time to actually start prying. Place the hooked end of the tool into the seam and start using choppy, back-and-forth movements to loosen up the caulk. It should come up somewhat easily in long strips once you’ve gotten started. You might notice a fair bit of residue being left behind, but we’ll take care of that in a moment.

Step 4: Go back for the rest with a putty knife

Your caulk remover tool may be too large to get down in especially hard-to-reach areas, but a putty knife, or even a toothbrush can take care of the rest. Use the putty knife to gently pry up small, stubborn areas of caulk and the toothbrush to scrub away any excess. This is the part of the job that can get truly time-consuming, but totally worth it. Doing the job right is something to feel good about, after all.

Step 5: Clean your caulk-free surface

To make sure your newly cleaned surface is truly caulk and residue free, you’ll need to swab it with rubbing alcohol. Because mold is almost always a concern with old caulk, you’ll also want to create a cleaning solution that with eliminate mold and mildew. Mix together 1/3 cup of bleach with one gallon water, dip in a rag and wipe down the entire area, allowing it to air-dry completely. Before you go in with new caulk, you’ll need to make sure that you deep-clean all tile since soap scrum and other grime can affect the caulk’s ability to stick.

Call National Property Inspections today to have all your important home maintenance questions answered. Our expertly trained inspectors are knowledgeable about the ins and outs of both residential and commercial property and they have the skills to help you make the best decision for your home.

March 2018: Advice for the Home

Ask the Inspector

Advice for the home

How to Remove Caulk the Right Way

We’re not going to beat around the bush – removing old caulk takes time and patience . . . in spades. But today we’re sharing a few tips that will make the job much easier in the long-run. Learn More

Your Crash Course in Dryer Vent Cleaning

It’s hard to believe that your home’s dryer vent is also one of its most dangerous fire hazards. Luckily, preventing safety issues is easy as long as you keep the area free of debris. Learn More

5 New Ways to Save Energy

So you have your thermostat set to the perfect temperature and you’ve checked and re-checked your windows and doors for drafts. . .and you’re still cold. It may just be time to think outside the box. Here are five more ways to save energy and keep a warmer home through the coldest months of the year. Learn More

Expert Advice

Spend Your Gift Card on These Home Improvement Tools

If you still have a gift card from the holidays burning a hole in your wallet, we’re here to give you some ideas to spend it on. Here are some of the best home improvement tools you wouldn’t think to buy for yourself, but won’t know how you lived without. Learn More

How to Remove Static from Your Home

It’s that time of year again. . .you can’t walk across a room without feeling an irritating little zap.  Read on to learn about a few easy solutions for removing static from your home and your person. Learn More

Snapshots From The Field

Our inspectors are always coming across interesting finds in the field. Here’s one of the latest.

We’re all familiar with that age-old question, “What came first, the chicken or the egg?” This case is similar, only here, we’re left wondering, “Who installed first, the electrician or the plumber?”

Probably the electrician. Water and electricity never, ever mix and installing a toilet so close to an electrical panel presents a major fire hazard. While there doesn’t appear to be a sink or shower present in the space, even the small amount of water in the toilet bowl could be dangerous for anyone called on to inspect the electrical panel (it being in such close proximity as to necessitate leaning over it), or even anyone using the toilet in the event of a leak. We would advise removing the toilet to be on the safe side.

Maintenance Matters

DIY Countertop Repair for Scratches and Scuffs

If you cook a lot, chances are your countertops have seen better days. Every scratch and chip tells a story, from that pan you dropped to the knife that slipped. The good news is that there are some simple countertop repairs you can do yourself to make your counters look like new and save some money in the process. Learn More

Your Quick Guide to Winter Gardening

While you might consider your garden a dormant part of your yard until spring, there are still plenty of ways to give it some much-needed attention in winter. How you go about winter gardening will depend largely on the climate and weather in your region, but here are a few ideas to get you started. Learn More

Monthly Trivia Question

How many house fires a year are caused by clogged dryer vents?

A. 2,900
B. 500
C. 10,000
D. 1,500

Be the first to answer correctly and win a $10 Starbucks’s gift card. Submit your answer to find out if you’ve won.