Condo Blues: March 2010

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Why Use Cast Iron Griddle?

Husband and I had a Teflon coated griddle an old roommate left behind after moving out. Of course using what you have, especially if it is second hand, is green and saves money. However, neither of us were too crazy about the nonstick coating on the griddle. Especially now that the coating is starting to flake off.

April’s One Small Green Change is replacing the last of our Teflon coated pans with a round cast iron griddle. I’m pretty happy with the shape because it fits on the stove burners better than the old square griddle – no cold spots on the cooking surface anymore. My cast iron griddle came preseasoned and started life with nonstick qualities, cast iron retains heat more evenly, and even though it's Calaphon, it wasn’t very expensive at all. In fact, I bought our new cast iron griddle at Target. The more I use it, the more I fall in love with cast iron.

The only drawback is that I can’t put the cast iron griddle in the dishwasher. Since the rest of our pots and pans are stainless steel and can go in the dishwasher, I can live with cleaning cast iron by hand  even though I hate hand washing dishes.

The thing makes a darn fine pumpkin pancake too.

Why Not Use Teflon?

Monday, March 29, 2010

Modern with a Vintage Touch Bathroom Remodel

My half bathroom was white, builder bland and boring. I wanted to do something old timey to honor the porcelain pieces that my Grandmother painted and a place put some old family photographs but with a bit of a modern twist because I'm not completely an old fashioned girl. The trapeze mirror, shelf, toilet paper holder, and towel ring are all Umbra that I got on sale and each a different store. It’s like the universe wanted this bathroom design to come together!

My pretty privvy

The inspiration for the wallpaper came from a stack of books I was going to donate to charity. I flipped through the yellowed pages of a paperback reference book and thought it would be a great wall color. Being that the book was out of date, I doubted it would actually sell at the bookstore and thought, "Hey, why don't I use it as wallpaper instead?"

Even on bad hair days, I get a thumbs up whenever I look into the mirror

I went to the thrift store to get more books to use as wallpaper. I didn't want a story, just random interesting pages. I used watered down white glue as a DIY Modge Podge to paste the book pages to the wall. I used a combination of orphaned encyclopedia volume, a New York city travel guide, 2 almanacs (one from the year we were married, the other from the year we bought the house), a Portuguese soccer book, and a movie listings book, among others. After pasting the pages to the walls, I tea stained them with old tea bags and coffee grounds to age the pages from the newer books. A coat of clear glaze protects everything from moisture. It cost a grand total of $20 to do the walls because I had a gallon of white glue and glaze left over from another project.

Black fabric trim adds a little interest to the trimwork and might hide a few paint mishaps

The shelving is a wicker shelf from my old house painted black. The wall switches are the original white ones that came with the house and repainted black as well as the base boards. I got a deal on the paint because the can was dented and the put it on clearance.

I installed this myself! Black cording is used as molding where the wall meets the ceiling

There are CFLs in the new light fixture I installed. Husband admired a similar one in another store so when this little beauty was on sale at HomeGoods I snatched it up and installed it.

My first plumbing project!

I replaced the boring builder's sink and vanity with a vessel sink and black granite topped vanity. I did all of the work myself - this was my first plumbing project ever! I use a porcelain bowl my Grandmother painted as a soap dish. It holds a bar of homemade soap I bought at a craft show.

Stylish storage

All of my cleaning supplies are discretely tucked away in a trunk that held TV promotion information for a syndicated TV show. I got it when I worked in the promotion department of a local television station.

Method featured my bathroom on their blog and said “Lisa's a 2010 gal with a 1950’s soul.” I suppose it’s true. How did they know I’m pining for the next season of Mad Men to start?

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This is an entry for PartSelect’s $5000 GE Giveaway contest


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Spring Cleaning Leads to Pampering on the Cheap!

I didn’t realize how many little bottles, tubes, and envelopes of travel and trial size shampoo, liquid soap, conditioner, and toothpaste, etc. I had until I pawed through the linen closet looking for the backup bottle of liquid castile soap for the shower. This was in addition to the stash of travel toiletries I keep with our suitcases for easy packing.

I grabbed most of this stuff from hotels when we travel. Some hotels donate unused toiletries or leave them in the room for the next guest. Other hotels toss out the unused stuff after guests leave so I make it a point to take it home with me. Check with the hotel if you are concerned.

In order to use up those toiletries during travel as I planned I’d have to take a multimonth transcontinental vacation. That doesn’t sound bad after the rough winter we’ve had but not very feasible due to that silly little thing called work. Do you realize that they actually want you to show up and work for weeks on end in order to get a paycheck? Wacky, no?

The unopened items I could easily donate to a women’s shelter but mine were mostly opened. The few items that weren’t open I wanted to try.

I had a crazy thought. What if I used these travel toiletries in my bathroom instead of letting them collect largely unused in my closet?

I can’t pamper myself with a multimonth vacation, but I can pamper myself by using a different shampoo or whatever every other day if I want at no extra cost. I can make every day spa day and I’m totally OK with that.

I’ll keep a few of the nicer bottles to refill with my own toiletries for our guest bathroom and for travel. The rest will go into my recycling bin. True, that in the short term I will have more items going my recycling bin than normal but it’s better than letting a bunch of clutter sit around unloved and unused. (Yes, I watch Horders. The show makes me so sad and a little grossed out that I’m on a clutter clearing rampage.)

I will turn in the hard plastic caps to Aveda for their plastic cap recycling program. If the store isn’t busy, they often give you a free cup of tea and a hand massage as a thank you for recycling your plastic bottle caps. I wish every recycling program gave free massages!

I’ll find a good reuse for any item with some not so friendly ingredients (or just make my hair go all wonky like those combination shampoo and conditioner products) I find in my stash. I’ll talk about those reuse ideas in a future post.

What about you? Do you pack rat sample and travel toiletries or do you use them up right away after you get them?

Updated 3/25/10 11:55 PM: I took Blitzkrieg outside for a potty and it's starting to hail. The weather guy said it's going to snow this weekend after having 60 degree days last week. I think I could use the pampering vacation after all. Somewhere warm. I'll bring my own toiletries. I promise.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Bleach Free Way to Kill Bathroom Mold and Mildew

My new house came with a brand new shower and bathroom exhaust fan. Pristine white without any sign of mold, mildew, or ick in sight. Even after dutifully running the bathroom exhaust fan before, during, and after using the shower, mold and mildew began to form. Ew! Ick! Ick!

I didn’t want to use chlorine bleach to kill the mold and mildew as some folks recommended. I’m really not a fan because chlorine bleaches are hazardous if they are ingested or inhaled. Not to mention I have a curious little doggie running around the house; I don’t want him to get into that stuff either.

Anything good in here?

Two Bleach Free Mold and Mildew Cleaners

I tried to kill bathroom mold and mildew by scrubbing the grout with:

1. A squirt of straight vinegar and giving it a scrub with an old toothbrush.
2. Covering the stains with a paste of water and oxygen bleach (much safer because oxygen bleach is made with hydrogen peroxide), let it sit for awhile, and rinsed it away with water.

Both methods removed the bathroom mold and mildew but it came back quickly. The final straw was the day I dried my hands on the fresh hand towel I put in the bathroom the day before during another daily heavy duty cleaning session. It already smelled like a locker room. I threw my head and hands up in frustration and screamed, “Whyyyyyyy!”

Then I found the culprit.

Please ignore the dust on the fan. Thank you.

My bathroom exhaust vent fan.

Building codes require every bathroom to have some form of ventilation, either a window or an exhaust vent fan. As long as you have either one or both it meets the building code.

What the building code doesn’t stipulate is how well that window or an exhaust fan works to ventilate the room. And that my friends is my problem. My bathroom exhaust fan was too small the remove all of the moisture from the bathroom. The excess moisture and warm air was the perfect breeding ground for mold and mildew to grow in the bathroom.

How to Test a Bathroom Exhaust Fan

You can do a crude fan power test by turning on the bathroom exhaust fan, holding a tissue above your head, and letting go of the tissue. If the fan sucks the tissue to the fan – congratulations you have the correct size and strength fan exhaust vent fan for your bathroom! If not, it’s time to replace your fan with a more powerful model.

My fan didn’t suck.

Time to replace the ceiling fan.

How to Buy the Correct Size Bathroom Exhaust Vent Fan

To determine the size and power of the exhaust fan I needed for my master bathroom, I turned to my favorite DIY book. According to Home Improvement 1-2-3, I need to buy a bathroom exhaust vent fan that’s rated at least 5 CFM (cubic feet per minute ) higher than the square footage of my bathroom.

I also wanted a less noisy fan which is measured in SONEs.  The lower the SONE rating, on a scale of 1 to 7, the quieter the fan.

Husband and I hopped on down to store to buy a replacement bathroom exhaust fan. Being one who is obsessed with saving electricity, my first choice was to buy an Energy Star rated fan. I was more than disappointed because every Energy Star rated bathroom exhaust fan the store had came with a lot of extra bells and whistles I didn’t need like ceiling lights and heat lamps. I would have loved the heat lamp feature, I had one in an old apartment and it was heaven, but I didn’t want to run the extra circuit and switch it required (as I got into the project this turned out to be a very good thing because the wiring space I was working with was tiny!)

This makes me question whether that Energy Star rated fan would actually save me anything in electrical use. Sure, the exhaust vent fan might but the extra gizmos could encourage me to use as more electricity than the plain nonEnergy Star rated exhaust vent fan I eventually bought.

Prevent Mold and Mildew by Installing an Exhaust Vent Fan

On the way home from the store Husband quizzed me on whether I could install the new fan myself since his running injury prevented him from helping me like he wanted to. I said it should be pretty easy because I can climb into the attic and replace the old exhaust vent fan with the new fan from above the ceiling (the preferred one person method) instead of from underneath the ceiling (the doable but pain in the butt more than one person method)

When will I learn to never, EVER say “easy” “simple” “no problem” when talking about a home improvement project?

*Enter The Condo Blues Whammy*

I climbed up into the attic and realized that I couldn’t get to the area above the master bathroom because of roofline and pitched ceiling in the bedroom. *sigh* I had to install the fan from underneath the ceiling - the doable but pain in the butt more than one person method.

But on the bright side, I confirmed how much insulation we had in the attic – bonus!

I decided to call in reinforcements – Father in Law.

Everybody say hi to Father in Law!

And with Father in Law came his rotozip tool. It was so much easier to enlarge the hole in the ceiling with his electric rotozip than with my manual dry wall saw.

See all that drywall dust in the air? It was about this time when I realized that we should have worn dust masks.

Father in Law and I switched off tasks because my little hands came in handy when it came to reaching in from behind the fan and making some of the connections in the tight spaces. His big man hands came in handy when we had to coax (as in shove) the fan box into the hole in the ceiling. Thank goodness we both wore our glasses to help protect our eyes from tiny falling debris.

I got the honor of installing the fan cover after we made all of the connections.

Father in Law grabbed the camera and took a picture to commemorate the event. “You can put this on your blog!” he said excitedly.

So I did.

Husband and I donated the old bathroom exhaust fan to the Habitat Restore.

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This post is part of the Get the Junk Out! Carnival where the topic is antibacterial soap/bleach hosted by Kitchen Stewardship.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Make an Orthopedic Dog Crate Pad

One of Blitzkrieg’s dog beds is a crate. We leave the door open at all times and he can go in or out at his leisure. It’s his little doggie man cave. When he first came to live with us, I wanted to make sure that Blitzkrieg knew that his crate was his safe spot as part of his rehabilitation from his abusive past.

PhotobucketLike most dog crates, it didn’t come with a cushion or crate pad. The crate lives in our bedroom where our pack sleeps. His humans have a soft bed and my boy desired something soft and cushy to sleep on in his little condo within our condo.

Blitzkrieg required surgery to fix a hernia from being beaten and abused, I wanted to get him an orthopedic dog crate pad. I prices those suckers and ouch! $30 for a thin piece of egg crate foam covered in cheap fabric? Forget it. I’ll make my own for $5.00 and with much nicer fabric thankyouverymuch.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Decorative Terra Cotta Rain Barrels

I’ve been looking at rain barrels on and off for awhile.

There's a corner of the house where the soil is eroding from under one of our downspouts and at the next door neighbor’s house. We’ve been going round and round with the property manager of our Homeowner Association (HOA) on whose responsibility it is to fix the problem.

Legally the HOA is responsible because it involves compacted soil blocking the French drain buried in the soil between the two homes. However, it’s easier for our property manager to only quote half of any HOA rule that supports her position and say no. Because if she approves the change, she has to take 10 minutes out of her day to fill out a form and mail it to us and schedule someone to come out and make the repair. Grrrrr!

That’s the bad part about condo living. When I’m in these situations, I try to remind myself how my HOA plows our neighborhood streets when it snows because the city of Columbus doesn’t plow residential streets after snow storms. *sigh*

A rain barrel would be one way we can stop the soil from eroding from the underneath the downspout that doesn’t evolve us renting a backhoe and tearing up the yard or taking our fight up the food chain of the HOA and lots of drama.

Husband also likes that if we use a rain barrel to collect rain water from that wonky downspout we can use that free water from the sky to water our plants and lawn or to wash our cars.

That is, if I actually had plants in our front yard to water. Landscaping is on the this year’s DIY list. Pinky swear and everything!

According to Healthy landscapes
• “ Rain barrels conserve water and help lower costs (a rain barrel can save approximately 1,300 gallons of water during peak summer months).
• Rain barrels reduce water pollution by reducing storm water runoff, which can contain pollutants like sediment, oil, grease, bacteria and nutrients.”
Good reasons all the way around to consider getting a rain barrel.

If we go the rain barrel route, I think we’ll have a better chance of it getting approved by our HOA if we find something that’s a little more decorative. Husband and I saw this mosaic terra cotta rain barrel made from what looks like a piece of pipe at the home and garden show.


Nice. Different. And might survive being whacked with a lawn mower. The HOA lawn mowing crew is less than careful when they mow our lawns in the summer. Remember the private snow plow. Remember the private snow plow. Remember the private snow plow…*sigh*

What do you think? Rain barrels – love ‘em or hate ‘em? Decorative or functional? Discuss.

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If you’re visiting from Tales of Blogeritavilla Thrifty Thursday welcome!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

What Do You Do with St Patrick’s Day Plastic Beads?

For St. Patrick’s Day Husband surprised me with a six pack of a traditional Irish drink – Guinness. Husband knows I like a beer that drinks like a meal.


There was a little green doodad in the six pack carton. It was a green Mardi Gras bead necklace Guinness put in as a St. Patrick’s Day gift with purchase.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

His and His Embroidered Towels

One of our best couple friends bought a house. We have so much in common, love of good food, wine, travel, and Blitzkrieg. In fact, The Boys often invite Blitzkrieg over to their house for dinner. Sometimes they let Husband and I drive Blitzkrieg over to their house, because they are kind.

I wanted to give them something uniquely us as a housewarming gift

Think, think, thinkity, think.

I got it!

I purchased a set of plushy towels, grabbed a needle and embroidery floss and went to work.


I made them His and His towels!

They were the hit of the party.

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If you are joining us from DIY Day, Today's Creative Blog,, The Girl Creative - welcome!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

A New Way to Save on Name Brand Green Cleaners

How do you get around the budget vs. green clash?

One way is to use what I call the Sliding Budget. I buy an inexpensive green cleaner that I can use for a lot of cleaning chores like vinegar and put the difference towards buying another green cleaner that I can’t make, doesn’t go on sale, or offers a coupon.


However, it would be nice to use a coupon or discount on those green products I like when I like. Seventh Generation is good about having printable coupons on their website. Sometimes Method does too but I’m not very good about remembering to look for printable coupons before I shop for cleaners, my bad.

I found another way to save on name brand cleaners that works for me. One day husband and I were in Bed, Bath, and Beyond to buy a steam floor cleaner. I dutifully grabbed a couple of the BB and B coupons I got in the mail to use for the purchase. I love their couponing frequency because Bed, Bath, and Beyond  sends out $5 and 20% off coupons so often it’s like feeding stray cats.

We get to the store and see that the steam cleaner I picked out on line wasn’t available in the store. We decide to browse around for the sake of browsing around. I notice that Bed,  Bath, and Beyond sells laundry detergent, and other household cleaners. We were almost out of the Vaska liquid nonchlorine bleach I ordered from Alice and I took a look to see what BB and B had.

Well lookie here! My Bed,Bath, and Beyond carries products from Method, Seventh Generation, and Mrs. Meyers among others. I only thought the big BB andB store in New York did that. Granted my store’s selection is much smaller, but there were green products sharing the same shelf space as the conventional cleaning products but I bypassed a thousand times before.

Duh moment.

I like and use products from Method and Seventh Generation. I’ve heard good things about Mrs. Meyers but when I compare the price to the other green cleaners on the store shelf, my internal Cheapo Meter goes off, and I end up buying a less expensive green cleaner or detergent, which more often than not isn’t all that less expensive.

In this case, I grabbed a bottle of Seventh Generation liquid nonchlorine bleach. I like how the liquid nonchlorine bleach works just as well with my homemade HE laundry detergent  as powdered oxygen bleach. However, the liquid gives me the option of using liquid HE laundry detergent in my machine if I want because I have to put the detergent and bleach in the same dispensing compartment.

Now I use that endless stream of Bed, Bath, and Beyond coupons to buy my green cleaning products. A small bottle of a green cleaning product that normally sells for $14.99 isn’t so much of a financial hit when I buy it with a $5.00 or 20% off coupon. Plus I can be as brand loyal or try out something new or discounted was much as I want.

Do you have any tips on how to buy the green products you love and save money doing it? Share you secrets!

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FTC pain in the rear disclosure notice: The companies in this post didn’t pay me to blog about them. However, they did cheerfully accept my money when I wanted to shop in at store or buy their products because they are businesses that like to sell things to the public.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Are Low VOC Paints Long Lasting?

My builder used the cheapest paint possible to paint the interior of my house. Based on the touch up paint they left for us, they most likely watered it down too. Whenever I try to clean a mark from the wall with nothing put a damp sponge paint and sometimes drywall end up on my sponge.


Not all of my touch up paint is thin and runny. Some of it is so thick it looks like cottage cheese and broke the stir stick.

I have several rooms that desperately need priming and painting.

Now that low and no VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) paints are more readily available I did some research.

“VOCs are solvents that get released into the air as the paint dries. (Other products emit solvents, including adhesives, cleaning supplies, and even some home furnishings.) VOCs can cause acute symptoms, including headaches and dizziness. The long-term effects are less certain, but according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, some VOCs are suspected carcinogens.”
In my experience, VOCs are also what make things like paint or wood glue stink.


Since I get migraine headaches from time to time, using a low VOC paint may be in my best interest.

Several years ago I read an article in the New York Times Home and Garden section that reports that while most paint and home design professionals like that manufacturers are developing low VOC paints, in their experience, a low VOC paint job doesn’t last as long and their clients often demand a new paint job within a year or two because of signs of wear and tear.

Have you used low VOC paint? Is this true?

While I’m willing to invest more money in a quality paint that may not harm my friends and family who visit, I really don’t want to be in the same situation I’m currently in after spending up to $45 a gallon for low VOC paint to repaint my guest room, living room, kitchen, and hallway a year or two later.

If low VOC paint doesn’t live up to normal wear and tear, it doesn’t seem sustainable to me. I’d consider it expensive and wasteful since I’d have to buy new paint and supplies every couple of years.

Not to mention I don’t like to paint. Yes, I know it's the easiest and cheapest way to transform a room but that doesn't make the task any more likable. I’d like to do this job once and keep that way for several years to come. And by several, I mean more than two.

However, this article was written two years ago. With time comes change in techniques and technology. There are many more brands and types of low VOC paint to choose from now than when this article was written. Lack of durability might be a moot point by now.

Do you know? Have you ever used low VOC paint? Did you like it? More importantly, did your paint job last?

And if you are happy with the performance of low VOC paint, what brand was it?