Brita® Back to College Giveaway!

Do you want to send your kiddo off to college with a good Brita® water habit while Back to College shopping? Yes? Good! I am giving away a $25 gift certificate. Click here to enter! The Brita® Back to College Giveaway runs from August 21 to August 29, 2014.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

9 New Habits to Keep You Warm During Winter

Welcome Weather Channel Viewers!

Today Weekend Vew on The Weather Channel interviewed me about how we keep warm when we have our thermostat set at 58 degrees (F) for their 58 Degree Challenge segment.

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Ice storms and freezing rain frequently cover the branches of the trees in ice.

I find that the best way to stay warm when the temperatures dips is to find and fix air leaks and drafts in your home. This also goes for renters and apartment dwellers.

Three major places I found cold air coming into my home besides from around the windows were:




New habits keep us warm. You can read about them here.


If you are wondering what we're going to do with the money we saved we plan on insulating the garage and the garage door Then we want to put in storage and a workbench/workshop so we can do more DIY projects.


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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Going Green: What Happens When Your Family Doesn’t Agree?

There’s been a lot of talk recently about family members having very heated arguments and strife because one person is more green or a Greenzilla than the other members of their family prompted by the recent New York Times article Therapists Report Increase in Green Disputes. Does this happen to you? How do you cope?

Maybe more understanding of differences or a compromise is order.

Husband and I have different green living hot buttons. We try to focus on the green areas where we agree - there are a lot. Although I’m sure Husband thinks I go to more extremes than he does. Once Husband chided me once for driving to the other side of the city to buy a green upholstery cleaner to clean his car when there are a slew of stores that sell cleaners closer to home. I told him that I did it for the safety of Blitzkrieg who rides in that car and then Husband was OK with it. When it comes to the well-being of our dog, we are a united front.

In other words, we’re absolutely insane about anything that has to do with Blitzkrieg's health and safety. Yes we are dog people.

It also helped that the grocery store sold the most awesome double chocolate chunk muffins and I gave him one, BTW.

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Most of Lisa’s creative reuse projects end up being stuff for me!

Husband and I try to be understanding in the areas where our hot buttons differ. In the interest of martial harmony we have a rule that one of us can't be sarcastic or yell if the other sometimes forgets or slips up in the others area of focus.


For example, if Husband forgets and puts something in the trash that goes into the recycling he appreciates a friendly reminder as I fish it out of the trash and put it in the recycling. Screaming and yelling at him doesn't work, only makes him mad at me, and the next time he forgets it might be more for spite.

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He’s hot, he wears a kilt, and he recycles. Husband was the one who suggested that we give recycling a try in our then new home because we have to take all of our recyclables to a city dumpster

Of course it probably doesn’t help that I regularly change the what to recycle/keep to reuse rules on him. I’m always on the lookout for a place that will recycle what our city program can’t or collecting something for a creative reuse project. At this point, Husband doesn’t put anything in the recycling bin in the garage anymore. He leaves it on the counter next to the door “on deck.” A bit annoying but I really can’t blame him.

We are understanding and compromise  in other areas of our marriage so why not this? He doesn't bash me for not joining him in his hobby of running (the only way I'm running is if it's to a shoe sale!) I refuse to bash him because he once in a blue moon he gets a fast food lunch at work or brings home a bottle of water from a race. Since I had a serious case of heat stroke, I'd much rather him drink water from a one use bottle when he runs out after running a 10K than refuse it end up in the hospital like I did.  Being different from each other is what makes life interesting - in the end  we support each other. I attend every one of my husband's races and cheer him on (and hold his reusable water bottle) and he was just as excited for me when I  was recently interviewed by 10TV for our energy saving efforts.


Our common areas of focus are:
  • Not wasting things in general
  • Getting a second reuse out of everything as much as possible
  • Saving money (so we have extra to spend on... see below)
  • Anything that deals with the health, safety, and well being of our one eyed rescue dog Blitzkrieg
My areas of focus are:
Husband’s areas of focus are:
“We are lucky to live in a place and time where food is plentiful”, Husband says. “It is a crime to waste food.” I make sandwiches and toast with bread heels now. I didn’t before I met him. And don’t even think about asking Husband to cut the bread crusts off your sandwich. “Waste food in front of me and starving children in India are the least of your problems. Expect a history lesson,” he warns.

Did I mention that Husband and I met as historical performers and regularly go to history museums for fun? The man knows his history. Expect a long and detailed speech. Pack a low waste lunch.

However more often than not, we work as a team. Husband brings things home from work to recycle in our bin because his office doesn't. Sometimes he brings me things because he thinks I can get a creative reuse out of it - and I do. Some girls get flowers I get garbage.

We are big researchers. Often we take point counter point arguments just for interesting dinner table discussion. Sometimes it backfires. When I wanted to turn up the heat on our hot water heater because the plumber said that it would solve some of the problems we were having with our dishwasher, I had to practically give Husband a term paper with footnotes as to why it was a good idea and that would actually save us natural gas. (My Energy Star rated dishwasher uses less water and heats the water in a shorter amount of time. The water needs to start off at a higher water temperature in order to remove all of the food and grit from the dishes and dishwasher.)

Another thing that helps keep the peace is to have more than one way to do something. When Husband forgets his reusable shopping bag, I have about 5 different things I can do with the plastic disposable bag he brings home. When I accidentally knocked the top off of the miso paste in the refrigerator and it dried out, instead of Husband getting upset at me about throwing away wasted food, we put it in our compost bin.

So what about you? Do you have any experiences with spouses, partners, or family members differing about the green living thing? What works for you? What doesn’t?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Tooltalk: Let’s Compare Screwdrivers!

Here’s a treat for you - a guest post by none other than my Dad! The man who can fix anything that’s broken, explained even the most complicated technical thing in a way I understood to my former little girl self, and encouraged me that I can do anything I put my mind to and if I can’t do it like everyone else – find another way to do it. Take it away Dad!

OK! Here's a tip for you. I know that you don't like wimpy power tools, but sometimes wimpy is good.

Let's say that you are going to replace that pesky light switch in the hallway that keep blinking on and off. You grab your trusty screwdriver and remove the switch cover. No biggy here. Next to start to remove the screws holding the switch in place. These suckers are 1½ inches long. Looks like carpal tunnel in the making! After removing the wires from the old switch and placing them onto the new one, it's installation time. Wow! The new switch has those pesky 1½ long screw too! There goes the other wrist!

You could use your trusty MEGA TORQUE cordless screw gun from Dewalt, Black & Decker, Ryobi or the likes, but with its gut wrenching torque it would either rip the switch box out of the wall or spin you around like a off center ferris wheel. Not fun!!!

Maybe Dad is referring to my super duper mega drill and screw gun nicknamed Mommy’s Little Helper? - Lisa.

Why not do what I do? Latch onto one of these small, I carry it in my pocket most of the time, screwdrivers. I like the Bosch SPS10-2 because it turns faster, alway like more speed, and comes with 2 batteries and a charger. Charge one while using the other. The downside of this tool is that it does not come with the screwdriver tips, but has a nice tool bag.
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At $10 less there is the Ryobi HP41LK. Good tool with a torque limiting clutch for the trigger happy. It comes with a tool bag and bit set. No inter-changeable battery. When its dead it's Miller Time.

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Last on the list is the Black and Decker L4000. It comes with bits and a wall hanging kit. It also has a cute little screw holder that extends out from the front for the all thumbs crowd. No tool bag or changeable battery. Maybe Miller is going for a monopoly?

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These tools are great for those little jobs, like light switches, cabinet knobs, shelves mounted on drywall and the like. They are light weight, easy to handle and fit into the flashlight holder of most tool belts.

Check them out!


Hey FTC this one’s for you: All opinions in this post are purely my father’s at the time of this writing. He nor I got any compensation or product from the companies mentioned in this post.

Further disclosure: Yes, this post was really written by my father. As you can see, we share the same sense of humor because, duh, we are related.

Even further disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase using the Amazon link in this post, I earn a small commission (really small) which will help me with my goal of making Condo Blues a self hosted blog at no additional cost to you. As for me, I'm going to borrow these tools for free from my Dad.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Keep in the Heat: Insulate Outlets and Switches

In my effort to keep my natural gas use and heating bills low I sealed all the gaps and air leaks around my windows and I put door sweeps on the outside doors. In certain areas of the house I felt a little chill. I found the culprit when I put my hand up to an outlet on an outside wall and it was cold – another air leak.

Looks like I’m not the only who has air leaking into their home from outlets and switches on outside walls. Val, Mike and Brax asked me:

“We noticed the other day there was actually frost forming on one of our electrical outlets, accompanied by a very heavy freezing cold breeze blowing out of the outlet holes! My first concern is that condensation/moisture and electricity don't typically go well together, besides the fact that it was like an AC blowing in our house. This outlet is on an exterior wall, of course. How do you fix this? Right now we just have those child proof plugs in the outlet holes!”
Condensation and electricity? Yikes! That’s something I wouldn’t want to mess with either. It sounds like there isn't enough insulation around Val, Mike and Brax’s electrical outlet box or possibly in the wall itself. The first thing I’d do is take the face plate off of the outlet and take a peek. If there is a big gap between the side of the outlet box and the wall itself and little to no insulation, you can squirt a bit of expanding spray foam to seal the air leak. You may want to turn off the electrical to those outlets before you spray around them to prevent you from getting zapped. Yes, I know from experience. Don’t be me, OK?

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The gaps between the wall and this outlet box isn't too bad. I could seal this with caulk or spray foam just to be sure. Since these gaps are fairly samll and the wall is insulated an outlet gasket will work just as well.

To seal air leaks around the light switches and outlets on the outside walls of my home, I put foam outlet gaskets around the outlets and switches. They also help insulate them from the cold. You can buy them at any home improvement store for a couple of dollars. Of course the Blues part of Condo Blues bit me while I was at Lowes’- my second home. They didn’t have enough outlet gaskets and they were out of light switch gaskets when I wanted to insulate mine.

What’s a gal to do? Make them myself of course!

How to Make Foam Light Switch and Outlet Covers (in 15 Fun Colors!)

I hopped on over to Target and bought a package of children’s fun craft foam. You can also reuse clean Styrofoam meat or vegetable trays. I didn’t have any of those because I try very hard not to buy my vegtables and meat packaged that way because I can’t recycle the packaging. As always your mileage may vary.

I took the outlet/light switch plate off of the wall, traced around it with a pencil on the fun foam, and cut it out with a pair of scissors.

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I put the foam gasket around the outlet/switch. Then I screwed the switch plate on top. No one sees it or the crazy Technicolor insulated gasket but I know it’s there because it keeps cold outside air from leaking thought the outlet/switch and into the house.

Easy! And cheap. Actually the fun foam way was much cheaper because I bought a whole package of fun foam that was more than enough to do all of the light switches and outlets in the house. Normally you only have to insulate the outlets and switches on the outside walls of your home but I had so much craft foam left over I decided to insulate everything.

This is a great kid project! They trace and cut and you deal with the putting it on the outlet part. It’s a good way to show the kids that there is more than one way to green a home and that little things like stopping air leaking from switch plate and outlets is just as important as the big expensive oh la la green home improvements. And maybe just maybe it will incite the kiddos to turn the lights off when they leave a room in order so save more electricity. However that may be wishful thinking on my part.

Since I made my own I was able to insulate the triple and quad light switches I have in every room and odd shaped outlets like those in my utility room for my washer and dryer plugs - that helped more than I realized.

I also put child proof plugs in the empty outlets we don't use to keep cold air from leaking into the house through the outlet itself. It wasn’t practical to put them in every unused outlet because they are such a pain to remove when I need to use the outlet on occasion. There are about three outlets in the house where one of the plugs doesn’t have a plastic child proof plug in it for easy access when I need to use the sweeper, plug in the Wii, etc.

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I keep everything place during the summer. That way I keep the cool air conditioned air from leaving the house through air leaks around the outlets and light switches. What do you do?

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This post is part of Something I Whipped Up Monday, Making the World Cuter Monday .

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

13 Ways to Lower Your Electricity and Natural Gas Bills

Welcome 10 TV viewers!
Today 10 TV News interviewed me and did a little house tour about how I slashed my home energy bills by 32%. My 1500 sq. ft. house now uses an average of 15 Kwh of electricity a day.




My interview was just one more way to show how real people with real budgets can save energy with some new habits, a few basic home improvements, and a little touch of humor.

If you’re visiting Condo Blues for the first time and like more information about how I keep my gas and electric use and bills low, please check out the following posts.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Wood Crate Craft Storage

I wanted my spare bedroom to be a sewing/craft/guest room when we moved in. Unfortunately it quickly turned into a place where old furniture came to die.

Fortunately I used that to my advantage. Free and repurposed craft storage? Yes please!

My craft table is an antique enamel top table. It was the kitchen table my mom used to eat at when she was a little girl. It is a dream to cut fabric on because it’s slippy when I need it to be. Slap a bath towel on it and it makes a good impromptu ironing board for small projects.

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Now to store all of those bits and bobs and stash waiting for creative reuse. Using the old “if you can’t build out build up” and a bunch of wood fruit crates a former tenant abandoned in the basement of our old rental (clearly they were insane to leave these gems behind) I stacked them on the table to use as shelving.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Could Blitzkrieg Be Bissell’s Most Valuable Pet?

I’m entering Blitzkrieg in the Bissell Most Valuable Pet (MVP) contest . Blitzkrieg LOVES to have his picture taken. When I’m taking photos for Condo Blues, Blitzkrieg runs over and barks at me until I snap a few photos of him.

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No one really cares about Lisa’s totebag.
You’d rather see my innocent come hither look wouldn’t you?

Movies? Oh yes, Blitzkrieg's an actor too. We wrote a little part for him when we competed in the 48 Hour Film Project. Here he is during his big high five scene.

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Blitzkrieg nailed it. Every. Single. Take.
Which was a lot better I did. I’m in the silver dress.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Ditching the Disposables – Furnace Filters

When we talk of ditching disposables the most people talk about ditching plastic and paper shopping bags, take out coffee cups, and replacing tissues with handkerchiefs. Have you considered ditching your disposable furnace filter for a reusable electrostatic furnace filter?

This reusable furnace filter is similar to the filter we purchased.
You can learn about it here.

This choice and purchase was Husband’s idea and it was a good one. The reusable electrostatic filters are easy to clean by vacuuming them with the hose attachment of our upright vacuum cleaner. You can rinse them off with water but ours take about a day to dry. Since our furnace won't work without a filter and it's winter and I'd rather not chip ice off of the dog after a day with no heat we don't use the water method often.

Ditching my disposable furnace filter for a reusable filter means that I’m much more likely to change/clean the furnace filter each month and keep my furnace running at maximum efficiency in order to keep our energy bills - and use - as low as I can.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Make Microwave Hand Warming Gloves

As soon as it gets cold outside, Blitzkrieg decides that no matter how badly he needs to go, it’s going to take three times as long to find the perfect potty spot to do it. Why does this happen? Especially on those snowy nights when Blitzkrieg forgets that I’m not a double coated Pekingese and I’m freezing my fingers and toes off ifyaknowwhatImean.

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Snow is fun - suck it up!

I’ve seen hand warming packs for hunters, et al. but they are disposable, which really isn’t my style. I try to stay away from disables as much as humanly possible. I like reusables. And then there’s the question of what’s in that stuff that makes the hot packs hot on demand. That’s not something I want Mr. Fluffypants find and use as a chew toy either.

But having a nice warm pack in my gloves would be a pleasant way to keep the cold from eating through my gloves and making my fingers go numb when walking the dog on a winter’s day.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

5 DIY Sleds

The recent worldwide winter snows have created a crisis of epic proportion in Germany.

Worse than the hole in the ozone layer (or is it passé to worry about that any more?)

Worse than hording Eggos during the current frozen waffle shortage (You realize you can make your own waffles and freeze them for later don’t you? Or is that something going on with waffles that taste worse than the cardboard package that I don’t know about?)

Europe is running out of sleds!

Yes, as in slide down the hill and go “whee!” type of sleds.

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Who needs a sled you have feet?

Friday, January 8, 2010

I Saved 60% Because I Sew

Husband and I and every other lunatic in the city hit the mall the day of after Christmas to see a movie. Our movie was sold out and since we went from hell and back to get a parking space we weren’t ready to quickly ditch the maul visit.

With the after Christmas sales in full swing this was the perfect time for me to drag Husband around the mauling mall and buy him the new winter coat he needed and hoped would magically appear in the closet because Husband absolutely hates to shop.

Oh, and if Husbands’ new coat could made be of a little more environmentally friendly materials that would be just peachy, thanks.

On our first stop we found some winter ski coats made from material made of recycled plastic bottles. This might be good I think. Husband tried on the coat, which given that he is on the short side for a guy and coat was puffy, made Husband look like Bib the Michelin Man. Oh? You didn’t know he had a name? Well actually Bib is short for his full name Bibendum and he’s one of the oldest advertising icons out there and the company got their start making bicycle tires (guess how I found that out? Hint: It involves a flat bike tire. )

Anyway, even though I’m sure that Bib is a lovely fellow we decided to leave his coat at the store and try another.

Husband and I thought it best to stick to a wool coat. We ended up at Macy’s which was having a 50% clearance sale. Woot.

It took a quite to find a coat we liked to fit Husband. That’s what you get when you’re a lean runner guy in an XXXL world.

We (and by we I mean me. Husband kept claiming he didn’t care and just wanted to escape the ordeal like wet cat trapped in a paper bag) decided on a black wool pea coat. I notice a button was missing on the front of the coat and of course we couldn’t find another one in his size.

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Photo courtesy of Macys because I 'm sick with a cold and this is easier than taking a  photo of the same coat.


I stuck my hand in the pocket and whaddayaknow there was the missing button! I could easily sew that back on. But because I don’t work for free I wanted a little extra money taken off the coat for my time and trouble. I asked for a discount at the register.

I got it.

The salesperson said she could only give me an extra 10% off. 10% for sewing on a button? I can do that. Yes, please.

A serious shopping score! 60% off a wool winter coat and all because I could sew.

Have you had any serious shopping scores lately?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Save Money! Find and Fix Air Leaks and Drafts

It’s a sad fact of life that every home has air leaks in its  walls, windows, foundation, and attic. Even a newly built home like mine. Of course, how much a home leaks air will vary depending upon the design and construction of the home, and practices of its occupants.

Its important to find and seal the air leaks and drafts you find in your home because if you don't, it will cost you money. Big money. Air leaks make your heating and cooling system use more energy and work harder to do the job you want it to do. In fact, experts say that if you don't seal all of the little air leaks in your home, you might as well keep a window open during the winter.

How to Find Air Leaks and Drafts Outside the House

 

The easiest way to locate air leaks on the outside of your house is to do a visual inspection. All it takes is a little walk around the outside of your home - how cheap is that?

If there is a small gap where two different building materials meet such as where the windows and siding meet,congratulations, you too have an air leak! Check to see if there are gaps in these areas on the exterior of your home:

· Exterior corners

· Areas where the siding and chimney(s) meet

· Areas where the foundation and the bottom of the exterior brick or siding meet

· Holes for exterior faucets, pipes, electric outlets, and wiring (electrical as well as cable TV, telephone, dish antenna, etc.)

· Cracks or holes in the mortar, foundation, and the siding itself

· In the exterior caulking around doors and windows

· Check that windows, exterior doors, and storm doors and storm windows seal tightly

Make a list of where you found all of your exterior air leaks because you’ll want to use some type of caulk or spray foam to fill the gaps and holes you found during your inspection.


How to Find Air Leaks and Drafts Inside the House


Again, a visual inspection is the easiest way to determine if you have drafty windows and doors. If you can see daylight around a door or window frame, then the door or window leaks. If you can rattle a closed door or window sash, that movement means you have an air leak.

The Candle or Incense Test is another way to determine if you have drafty windows and doors. On a windy day, light a candle or a stick of incense and run it along the sides of an exterior window or door. If the candle flame or smoke from the incense wavers (as mine did) Congratulations you have an air leak!

Doors and windows are not the only culprit when it comes to interior leaks and drafts. Check to see if air can flow through these places:

· Gaps along or under the baseboards of exterior walls (this is more common than you think)

· Around electrical outlets

· Around switch plates

· Fireplace dampers or Gas Fireplace inserts In the case of gas fireplaces use your hand to feel for drafts, NOT a burning candle or stick of incense unless you want to singe your eyebrows off or worse!

· Attic hatches

· Around wall- or window-mounted air conditioners

· Cracks in cement basement or utility room floors

· Look for gaps around pipes and wires, foundation seals, and mail slots in exterior walls.

· Look for gaps around furnaces ducts and dryer vents

· Check to see if the caulking and weather stripping are applied properly, leaving no gaps or cracks, and are in good condition

Make a list of where you found all of your interior air leaks because you’ll want to use either caulk, weather stripping, door sweeps, draft dodgers, foam outlet or switch plate gaskets, window film/plastic, storm windows, or insulted curtains/roman shades/window quilts to fill the gaps and seal the air leaks you found during your inspection.

Sealing all of those tiny air leaks and drafts adds up. Sealing Air leaks was the first step in reducing my home's energy use by 32% and averaging only 15 Kwh of electricity a day and with only minor and cheap home improvements.

What are your strategies?

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This article is a revised reprint  of my April 3, 2008 post How to Search for Air Leaks and Drafts.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Bottle Cap Magnets

I’m an advertising geek. I appreciate a clever ad, tag line, or product design as much as I do artwork displayed in a museum. That’s why after enjoying a couple of craft beers at home I had to make magnets out of these bottle caps because of the cheeky saying printed on the top of the cap.


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The caps say, “Great minds drink alike.”

A little glue and a round magnet from the craft store is all you need. Easy!

They are a hit with our friends, drinkers and non drinkers alike. I gave them out as a little I-was-thinking-of-you gifts

Sad thing is, I don’t remember what brand of craft beer uses these caps. Do you? Maybe some more research is in order...

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Friday, January 1, 2010

When Do You Take Down Your Christmas Decorations?

Christmas Eve Blitzkrieg and I had a lovely walk around the neighborhood looking at everyone’s decorations. I looked in childlike wonder as the bright lights popped from the background of the black night sky.

I wanted to share an especially festive row of houses with Husband and walked by those homes the day after Christmas. I was surprised that most of them were dark. Oh the lights were still on the houses but unlit.

So when are you supposed to take down your holiday decorations? Do you let your house go dark immediately after Christmas? Is there some acceptable time to keep the lights up a little longer like until after New Year’s Eve or even 12th Night?

I try to stretch out the festive décor as long as I can. I don’t take my decorations down until after New Year’s Day.

That’s not to say I think that while festive, the lights should stay up on the house until spring. If you’re in a situation that you feel that it’s too cold outside to take down “all those lights” and want to wait until summer to do it than I think you might have too many lights on your house Mr. Griswold.