Designing a Wild Home

Fortify Your Garage to Prevent Theft

Megan WildForget the front door. The vast majority of homeowners who have an attached garage use that as their main entrance to their house . It is practical and safe and especially convenient when it's raining outside. Garages are also the prime storage spot for a homesteader or farmer. This is where all the things we don't use on a regular basis get stored, such as power tools, farm equipment, and other expensive machinery.

Sadly, burglars know this, too. That's probably why they will attempt to go through the garage to get into your house. Of course, they might just stop there and swipe all your valuable equipment. Thankfully, there are ways to reinforce your garage door. These tips apply to your home's garage as well as your workshop.

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Source: Pexels

Bring Your Remote Inside

Consider this scenario: You have two cars. Each has a garage door remote. You head off on a shopping trip, leaving one car parked outside. A robber creeps up, gets into your car, and uses the garage remote to gain entry. He'll be in and out with your things in a flash.

Solution? Shrink your remote. You don't need a huge clicker anymore; instead, get a small fob for your keychain that you can carry with you. There are also smartphone apps that let you open the door with your cell . Very smart.

Add More Lights

Like cockroaches scurrying away in the kitchen, most thieves will dash off if they're blasted with lights — we're talking really bright lights on motion sensors. As an added bonus, these lights flashing on can also act as a deterrent to uninvited, four-legged guests.

Keep the Windows Covered

Windows on garages or workshops are great for ventilation and natural light, but that doesn't mean you have to show the world your business 24/7. Just as in your home, those windows should have blinds or shades. A translucent film applied to the glass provides the same kind of blockage. A robber who can't see something valuable is less inclined to go through the effort of trying to get it.

With that in mind, be sure to break down any boxes from new electronics or tools. Don't just put them on the curb for trash pickup; if you do, everyone who comes by will know exactly what you just got.

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Source: Unsplash

Reinforce Damaged Panels

Have you or someone you love backed into your garage door, causing a dent in a panel? It happens. However, it also becomes a potentially compromised spot that a burglar could exploit, especially if left unattended. Most people shy away from this repair because they think they will have to replace the entire door, which is expensive.

What most homeowners don’t realize is that you can replace panels in your garage door without replacing the whole thing. You could take this on as a DIY project, or leave it for the pros. Either way, be sure to get that panel fixed ASAP. The longer the damage lingers, the more tempting a target your garage can be.

Install Window Bars

A few strategically-placed metal bars on your garage and/or workshop windows will go a long way toward being a theft deterrent. Instead of putting the bars on the outside and ruining your curb appeal, you could place them on the inside. Once fortified, you'll forget they're up!

Lock Down and Unplug When Traveling

There are many home security preventive measures you should take whenever you a travel. Along with putting lights on timers and stopping the mail, you should also ready your garage. Unplug the garage door opener, and padlock the latch from the inside. That door won't be moving at all.

Add a Timer

The moment we get into our cars, the distractions begin. This issue is compounded if you leave home while talking on the phone, so it's easy to forget to close the garage door after you. A quick fix is installing a timer for your door. Once added, this device will automatically roll down the garage door after a preset amount of time. You'll never have to ask, "Did I close the garage door?" again.

A little preventive maintenance will go a long way toward keeping your property and equipment safe. Do you really want to make that call to your insurance company after a break-in? Of course not. Fortify your garage and enjoy that peace of mind.

Easy Fall Improvements for Your Barn

Megan WildHow great was the barn-raising scene in the classic Harrison Ford flick, Witness? Aside from being a wonderful glimpse into this community, it was fun to watch that structure go up in a day — but then they tore it back down once filming was completed.

You likely aren’t going to be tearing your barn down anytime soon, so fall can be the perfect time to make some improvements to it. Before the weather gets too cold, here are some ways to improve your barn:

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Source: Unsplash

Take out the Clutter

It is too easy for a barn to become another storage unit for your family. Even with animals, there always seems to be an empty stall or hay loft that becomes a drop-off zone for all the unwanted clutter from your home.

Before you make any significant improvements on the barn, you should get rid of all that clutter. Keep what you need, but trash the rest. Whatever is leftover should be neatly organized in storage bins and up on shelves. Not only will this look better, but it will also reduce fire risk.

Put up Solar Panels

A barn roof is the perfect place to install solar panels. The power you generate from this installation won't just be going to power the barn, either — it will go to your entire property.

You could even reach the point where you get to sell back power to the power company; they'll be writing you a check for a change!

Install a Bathroom With Hot Water

A bathroom in a barn can be a huge asset, especially if that barn is already far from the home. Besides, do you really want to keep tracking mud through the house every time you need a bathroom break?

Keep in mind that you don't necessarily have to install a bathroom with a separate septic system or that ties into your sewer line. You could always set up a composting toilet. Don’t worry — this is not the outhouse of days gone by. Your toilet can be odor-free!

As for the hot water, you could put up a small heater that runs on inexpensive propane, or use all that great solar power!

Put up an Owl or Bat House

Time to think about the circle of life as it applies to bugs, rats, mice, and gophers. Those are scourges to your barn. They're also dinner for owls and bats.

By setting up a place for bats and owls to go, you're providing those flyers with a buffet. That’s much better than hiring an exterminator.

Plan for an Emergency

An active barn invites a lot of traffic — workers you might hire, visitors who might be touring the facility, or someone renting out a stall for their horse. As such, you should be prepared for all types of emergencies. That starts with a well-stocked first aid kit that can help both humans and horses — or other animals you may have in your barn.

Posting an emergency contact sheet in a visible spot is also a good idea for all that traffic. Not only should the contact sheet have all the appropriate emergency numbers, but also the exact address for the property. You might not always be around when an accident occurs, but your barn should be ready just in case.

Speaking of emergencies, fall is the perfect time to replace your smoke alarm batteries. Those alarms should be wired to set off an alarm inside your home as well as in the barn. If not, then it's time for an upgrade. Plus, be sure you have your fire extinguishers serviced — you do have fire extinguishers in the barn, right?

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Source: Unsplash

Apply a Fresh Coat of Paint

If your barn is looking a bit shabby, then it is time for a fresh coat of paint. This is important, especially if you are opening up your property for visitors. The "distressed" look will only go so far.

To get this job accomplished in short order, you might want to rent an air compressor. It will be a breeze to paint your entire barn with this tool. You might even be able to get it done in a day — just like raising a barn!

Improve Ventilation

You should think about how your barn is ventilated. Even without animals, a barn can become incredibly stuffy.

Ensuring you have proper ventilation will make your barn a more pleasant place to be, but it can also make the air a bit healthier.

Improve Your Electric Currents

Does your barn have a lightning rod? Are your circuit breakers up to code? Are all your wires protected with rodent-proof materials? A "no" answer to any one of those questions should make you ready to jump into action to get those things fixed.

Your barn is a great multi-purpose location. Try these tips to make some improvements, and your barn will be an ideal place to be as the seasons change.

How to Repair a Burst Pipe

Megan WildDoes the thought of a burst pipe have you cowering in fear and thinking you'll turn into Curly from The Three Stooges? It shouldn't. Yes, a broken pipe is going to cause a bit of a mess. In fact, a huge mess, but that doesn't mean you can’t put on your handyman hat and take care of the situation.

First step: Don't panic.

Second step: Turn off the main water to stop the flow. (It helps to know where the main water line is for your house!)

Once the water has stopped and you've cleaned up whatever flood surrounds the broken pipe, you're ready to get to work. How you'll repair the pipe depends on the nature, size, and location of the fracture.

Here are some examples of how to repair a burst pipe:

A Split-Pipe Fix

A split-pipe is just that — a split-pipe. Think of a peapod breaking open. The perfect way to replace a split-pipe is to use a cut-and-paste coupling. By using pieces of pipe that have already been cut and fitted with a coupling at either end, a coupling allows you to mend the break.

You have to find the right size pipe for your repair. You'll want to leave an inch on either side of the split in order to fit your new pipe piece into the slot — that is the size of the actual pipe replacement you'll need.

Use a hacksaw or tubing cutter to cut out the damaged piece of pipe. Once removed, sand the pipe ends to remove rough edges. Then place the ferrule (or ring) and nut from each end of the replacement coupling onto the ends of the cut pipe.

Slip your pipe piece in between the ends and tighten with a wrench. Turn the water back on and check for leaks. The best thing about this type of replacement is that is can be done without soldering.

A Pinhole Fix

Before the big switch to copper plumbing, galvanized steel pipes were placed in homes. You might be living in one of those galvanized domiciles, which could mean the chances of springing a leak from corrosion increase. Again, there’s an easy fix which starts with shutting off the water, assessing the damage, and heading off to your nearest hardware store.

In the plumbing section of the hardware store, purchase a stainless-steel pipe repair clamp. At home, clear away the rust and accumulated gunk from the pinhole leak. Then open the clamp and slip it onto the pipe. Maneuver the rubber seal around the leak. Pinch the clamp closed, and tighten the bolt that is located between the prongs of the iron lug. Turn on the water and check for leaks.

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Source: Pexels

Stop a Burst Pipe Before It Bursts

A little preventive maintenance will go a long way toward keeping your pipes from bursting. This is especially true if you live in an area that is prone to freezing temperatures. Make sure your home is shielded from outdoor elements. Properly weather strip your windows and doors, as well as the entry points for your pipes. There shouldn't be any gaps that let in cold air.

If your exposed pipes in your basement lead to the rest of the house, you might consider insulating them for added protection. There are many protective materials available for this purpose. As long as you're insulating, you should consider adding a layer of protection to your water heater. Insulating "blankets" specifically designed for this task are easy to wrap around your tank.

Imagine leaving for a winter vacation, only to return to a flooded home. Avoid this scenario! Before taking your trip, set the thermostat to make sure the house won't dip below 60 degrees, and consider shutting off the main valve. Finally, ask a neighbor or friend to check on your house during your trip.

When to Call the Plumber

Proactive steps can go a long way toward keeping your water flowing, but there could come a time when a call to a professional plumber is required. You might have to call a plumber after you attempt a fix, but there’s nothing to be embarrassed about if the leak persists. Have it handled professionally ASAP, and all will be well.

Should I Switch My Heat Source?

Megan WildIt’s that time of year again — winter is coming, and it’s time to take a look at your home’s heating system and determine if it’s in need of repairs or replacement. It’s also a good time to decide if you should switch your home’s heating source. What’s the best way to choose what kind of heat source would be great for your home? Is one type of heat source better than the others? Let’s find out.

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Types of Heat Sources

Before choosing your home’s heat source, it’s important to know what the different options are. The most common fuel sources are:

• Natural gas
• LP (propane)
• Electric
• Fuel oil

The type of fuel that’s available for your home-heating needs will largely depend on the type of climate you live in and what’s available in the area. Homes in the Northeast, for example, may still rely on fuel oil, while other homes may have been converted to electric.

Overall, the most popular type of home heating is natural gas, equipped in more than 50% of the country’s homes. By comparison, around 34% use electricity, 8% rely on fuel oil, and a mere 6% still use propane.

If you’re in one of those percentages that still uses something other than natural gas, such as fuel oil, the best and most cost-effective option is often converting your heating system to something that burns natural gas instead.

Cost of Conversion

First, keep in mind that these figures are examples that use the conversion of a fuel oil heating system to a natural gas one. Switching from propane or electric heating might incur different costs.

Overall, though, natural gas equipment is quite a bit less expensive than some of the alternatives. A standard natural gas system — which includes a furnace for home heating and a boiler for hot water — will usually cost between $1,500 and $3,000. By way of comparison, a fuel oil system could cost as much as $8,000!

On top of the cost of the equipment, you have to consider the cost of fuel. A supply of fuel oil sufficient to heat your home throughout the winter season will cost around $2,500, according to reports from the Energy Information Administration. Natural gas, on the other hand, will cost homeowners around $730 for that same winter season.

Convenience

One of the biggest reasons to convert to natural gas is convenience. While fuel oil works well for harsh climates, the oil has to be delivered to your home by truck, and if you run out during a particularly cold night then you’re going to be left shivering until a delivery truck can make it to your home.

Natural gas, on the other hand, is piped directly into your house. As long as there are no problems with the pipes, you’ll have heat throughout all the coldest nights.

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Carbon Footprint

One of the biggest reasons to switch from fuel oil to natural gas is that it’s one of the easiest ways to reduce your home’s carbon footprint. Fuel oil used for heating homes generates 161.3 pounds of carbon dioxide per million BTUs emitted. While that doesn’t seem like much, with 8% of homes still using fuel oil, that CO2 adds up quick.

On the flip side, natural gas emits 117 pounds of CO2 for the same amount of heat. When it comes to fuel choices, natural gas is the friendliest option for the environment.

Additionally, natural gas heating systems are much more efficient than their fuel oil counterparts. Oil furnaces are between 80 and 90% efficient, while natural gas heaters have a 98% maximum efficiency. That means natural gas heaters burn 98% of their fuel, with only a 2% fuel loss, where fuel oil systems can lose up to 20% of their fuel as waste.

If you have the means to upgrade to a natural gas system, it may be the best investment you ever make for your home. Not only does it offer higher heating efficiency and less fuel waste, but it’s also better for the environment and will allow you to heat your home all winter without breaking the bank.

Tree-Trimming Tips for a Safe Winter

Megan WildWinter is coming. That means big changes for the citizens of Westeros — Game of Thrones shout out! — and for your home. As a homeowner, you should have a winter preparation checklist. Along with inspecting your furnace, replacing your air filters, and cleaning out the rain gutters, you should also consider tree trimming. All it will take is one ice storm or heavy rain to turn a docile maple tree into a fierce, destructive force. Before that can happen, you should trim.

Trimming vs. Pruning

Is trimming pruning and is pruning trimming? A good way to think about the difference is that pruning is meant to protect the tree, while trimming is meant to protect your property. You can always prune dead branches, but if you're looking to reshape a tree by pruning, then you should wait until after fall. That is the time of year when the "wounding" takes a bit longer to heal. Your tree is already going through a lot by shedding all those leaves. It might be best to give it a break. As for trimming overgrowth, that can be done any time of year, but is best before the temperature drops.

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Source: Unsplash

Survey the Situation

Before you start trimming, you need to do a thorough survey of the tree and surrounding areas. Are power lines close or running through the tree? What is the weather like on your workday? If there is any chance of rain, strong winds, or other weather issues, it would be best to postpone the trimming. You should also step back from the tree to see how your trimming might impact the aesthetic. If you're protecting your roof or a power line, how your tree will look post-trimming might not be a primary concern. You should still consider the shape you're going to leave behind with any trimming project.

Protect the Drop Zone

As you climb up to trim a tree, you won't necessarily be keeping an eye on the ground. In fact, you shouldn't. That is why it is important to cordon off your drop zone. This is the area where your falling branches will land. A curious child could walk right up underneath where you're cutting. They can be stopped if you have traffic cones or tape surrounding your drop zone.

Work With a Trimming Buddy

If elevation is involved in your tree trimming, then you would be well advised to work with a tree-trimming buddy. This is someone who can stay on the ground while you're making the cuts up above. They can keep the area clear and help steady a ladder. They will also be a huge benefit in the event something goes awry.

Pick the Right "Elevator"

A ladder is an obvious choice for tree trimming, but it might not always be the best choice. A scissor lift can provide a lot more stability for the procedure, and it can handle up to about 1,500 pounds. You'll be able to make your cuts without wobbling on a ladder. The scissor lift will also come in handy lowering those branches down to the ground.

Don't Climb With Tools

If you are climbing up the tree, you should never climb with tools in your hand. You need to focus on getting up the ladder, not juggling a chainsaw. Just tie a rope to the tool and pull it up once you get into position.

Wear Gloves and Goggles

You'll never see a professional tree trimmer without gloves and goggles. Wood chip blow-back can not only cause eye irritation, but it can also make you lose your balance. If you're going with the chainsaw, you'll also want to wear earplugs.

Trim Before Bringing Down the Entire Tree

If you're bringing down the entire tree, you should still trim the branches to minimize the impact. Despite how easy it looks on TV, you need to be 100-percent clear as to which direction your tree is going to fall before you start cutting. That also includes positioning your ladder. You should never cut below your ladder. That's just asking for trouble.

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When in Doubt, Bring in the Power Company

A tree growing close to a power line might be the reason why you're busting out the chainsaw. Can you guarantee that your trimming won't bring down that power line you're trying to protect? You should consider reaching out to your power company. They will actually come out and do the trimming for you. That might just be the safest trimming option of all!

How to Protect Your Farm

Megan WildWhether you’re brand new to homesteading or an old farmhand with years of experience, protecting your investment is a big deal. Once you’ve invested in the right piece of land, livestock, and equipment to turn your property into a self-sufficient homestead or profitable farming business, you can’t afford to lose all that hard work to theft.

To protect what’s yours from criminals who target rural areas, and to avoid falling victim to farm crime, try these important tips to keep your homestead secure:

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Source: Unsplash

Keep Clear Records of Your Belongings – Including Animals

To help provide accurate information to law enforcement and your insurance company, it’s crucial to keep up-to-date records of your belongings. Take pictures of your farm equipment and record the VIN and any license and registration information. You’ll also need to keep track of your livestock. Tagging is important for large animals — especially those that roam to graze — but you’ll also want to get in the habit of making a headcount for the most accurate record of your property.

Take Nighttime Precautions

You may have fallen in love with that starry country sky, but the lack of lighting on rural roads can also have its downsides. With lots of darkness to hide in, thieves can make their way onto your property unprotected, especially during a new moon or under cloud cover. Make their job harder by getting motion-detecting lights or a trusty guard dog with a loud bark, and you’ll scare away many nogoodniks before they get anywhere near your house or barn.

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Add Fencing as a Theft Deterrent

A good fence won’t just keep your animals in — it will also keep criminals out. Deterring crimes of convenience by making it difficult for thieves to get at your valuables is a good strategy. You can consider high fencing around pasture to protect livestock or around your whole perimeter for added protection. When choosing a fence, be sure to research a custom gate fit to your farm’s needs as well.

Go High-Tech

Modern technology provides a few more ways to outsmart potential thieves on your farm. You can consider adding surveillance cameras in a visible location on your farm, such as entrances and exits, plus any less-obvious gates. These cameras will act as a deterrent to make crooks think twice, and they’ll also provide valuable information to the police in the event that you do get robbed. They just might help you recover your stolen items.

Be Unpredictable

Keeping lights around your farm on variable timers can help it look like your homestead is more active than it really is. Instead of feeding your animals at the exact same time every day, vary your routine so you don’t give clever criminals a chance to track and predict your movements. Having lights in the barn, workshop, and house click on and off at different times each day will also help keep thieves guessing.

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Hide the Good Stuff

It’s important to remember that what you consider most valuable might not be what criminals are most interested in, so take a look around your homestead from a different point of view. Many thieves are looking to strip copper fittings for their high value, so replace copper pipes or keep your materials out of sight. Still, others are looking for fertilizers or other chemicals like anhydrous ammonia to cook meth.

Though it’s unlike to occur to small homesteaders, some farms are vulnerable to protesters looking to destroy GMO seed or chemical fertilizer to take an environmental stand. If you own any of these items, take extra care to keep them under lock and key at all times, and keep them out of view.

Cooperate With Police

The trouble with owning a large piece of property is that it may take time before you notice a breach in the perimeter or missing valuables or animals. If you do suspect you’ve been robbed, call the police right away, and do your best to present all the evidence, supporting photographs, and paperwork you can. You’ll also need to refrain from altering the crime scene at all, so work to corral animals elsewhere and limit access until the police arrive to help.

If you put these seven precautions into place, you’ll greatly diminish the odds of falling victim to farm crime. Life in the country is mostly peaceful and satisfying, but sometimes trouble does occur. By being aware of potential problems and working to proactively prevent them, your homestead will be a much safer place.

How To Go Green On Your Farm

Megan WildIf you follow the latest developments in homesteading and farming, you're certainly familiar with the booming popularity of eco-friendly operations and other greening trends. According to studies from the National Agricultural Statistics Service, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, organic farms have increased their sales by 72% between 2008 and 2014.

These numbers provide a rather convincing argument in support of green and organic farming across the United States, but there are a number of factors to consider before making the conversion for yourself.

Pest Control

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Source: Pixabay

The issue of pest control is a huge concern when planning an eco-friendly farm or homestead. Pesky critters were once regulated through toxic chemicals, some of which are equally as poisonous to the environment and ourselves as they are to the pests they’re meant to control. Green farmers and homesteaders are left to seek alternative forms of pest control.

Fortunately, plenty of organic solutions are readily available. Various types of eco-friendly soap, dormant oil, and herbs can help with insect control within a green farming operation, as can some petroleum-based products. Additionally, certain insect extracts, ground crustacean shells, and even sulfur can be used to keep pests in check naturally.

Organic pest control helps the environment in a number of ways. You can effectively divert more chemicals from the land, water, and your crops if you reduce the amount of chemical pesticides needed for your farming operation.

In some cases, however, organic pesticides simply aren't enough, especially when serious or repeat infestations are involved. As such, you might resort to a chemical pesticide or a synthetic relative after all. A number of synthetic pesticides are permitted by the USDA for use in organic farming operations.

Wastewater Diversion and Processing

According to some reports, landscaping irrigation comprises nearly half of all water consumption within the United States. The Environmental Protection Agency has recently indicated the presence of animal waste — a result of large-scale animal farming — in more than 35,000 miles of rivers throughout 22 states.

Most organic farms include their own systems for diverting, processing and storing wastewater. Also known as greywater, this can be diverted from your home's sinks, bathrooms, or laundry room for reuse on your farm. It was once a laborious task that was reserved for large businesses and industries, but now strategies in green building are used in residential homes, farms, and homesteads.

There are a number of environmental benefits to recycling and reusing wastewater. Apart from lowering your overall utility bills, you can divert water from nearby lakes and streams and help decrease the overall water consumption of our country.

Grants and Funding

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Another benefit to green farming is the availability of certain grants and funding opportunities. Various federal loans are available through the USDA Farm Service Agency, as well as a number of other governmental sources. The USDA's own Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, or SARE, has already made more than 5,000 different investments in eco-friendly farming since the 1980s.  

If you’re pursuing third-party funding for your farm or homestead, it's important to understand the terms and conditions of the monies you will receive. Grants will typically be available to you with no obligation to repay, but loans are an entirely different story.

It's critical to make the distinction between a farming grant and a farming loan. If you’re pursuing a loan, it's equally important to understand interest rates, deadlines, and other nuances associated with the contract.

The benefits of government grants and loans are obvious. They provide you with a quick and easy way of establishing your green farm or homestead. But your future is at stake. You should always read any contracts in their entirety and avoid those that include high-interest rates, unreasonable payment deadlines, or other stringent regulations.

Maintaining Your Greening Effort Over a Long-Term Basis

The process of converting a traditional farm or homestead into a self-sustainable and eco-friendly operation isn't one that should be taken lightly. But with the proper framework in place, a little bit of knowledge, and a whole lot of determination, you can upgrade your property, and meet organic farming standards, and contribute to the current environmental rebirth.