Storage ShedsPortable canopies and tents, and storage sheds and playhouses, can add entire new dimensions to your backyard and property. They provide shelter, storage space, and dozens of decorative opportunities. For parents determined to provide a safe environment for their children, they also present some unique challenges. But more importantly, they provide chances to teach your kids important lessons while enjoying their company.

Canopies and Tents in the Yard and Away

The most important fact to remember – and, not surprisingly, among the most obvious – is that canopies and tents are not toys, and they are not playground equipment. In fact, children climbing on canopy frames can seriously damage the legs and support trusses and tear the canopy material. Even canopies with weight bags, ground stakes, and other anchoring systems can capsize if a child hangs from or climbs the legs. Under no circumstances should a child sit atop the canopy cover while the canopy is deployed.

On a more upbeat note, setting up and taking down a canopy or tent is a great way to teach children the importance of caring for their possessions and to help improve their motor skills. Placing children in charge of the assembly before an event, or letting them take care of the maintenance afterwards, gives them a character-building task that’s not too complex or that requires elaborate physical exertion.

Canopies also make good central, outdoor meeting places during lawn-keeping projects or for times when too many trips indoors for glasses or water or sunscreen would eat up too much time. Just deploy the canopy in an area of the yard and use it to shelter a water cooler, towels, sun protectant, and other supplies.

Canopy Care Involves the Whole Family

CanopiesAs an ongoing practice, parents should always dismantle and store the canopy away when it’s not in use. This will protect children from possible injury but also make sure the canopy stays in top condition for as long as possible. For a complete guide to family canopy safety, click here.

Backyard Storage Sheds Bring Something for the Entire Family

One of the modern storage shed’s greatest advantage lies in its variety. Suitable for dozens of purposes, storage sheds are also available in a giant array of sizes and styles. They’re constructed from vinyl and metal as well as the traditional wood, and some wooden models feature decorative elements including cupolas, window shutters, front porches, and decorative eaves.

But for all the external variety, the storage shed isn’t necessarily just for storage. Sheds also make great centerpieces for flowerbeds and other landscaping. Families can also renovate their interiors, as well, making them display spaces for collections or for holding household items and supplies (off season holiday decorations, extra linens and clothes, et cetera) that need the extra storage space. Many storage sheds include floor kits as optional extras, making the shed more like an “outdoor closet” than a separate, exterior storage container.

Shed Safety and Preservation

A properly maintained storage shed can last as long as your house itself. And like the house, it should be kept safe from the elements. Follow all instructions in the owner’s manual, and remember to keep the interior clean and free of insects and small animals.

Proper maintenance will vary according to your shed’s particular construction. Vinyl and plastic sheds will need little more than an occasional washing and rinsing to remain in good condition. Wooden storage sheds, while more attractive, will often require more care and preventative treatment.

Storage Sheds and Family Safety

Storage ShedsEven though their low roofs may offer an irresistible climbing temptation, parents should keep their children from using the sheds as climbing or playground equipment. This is also true of the exteriors of playhouses, and even (perhaps especially) the frames and support beams of swing sets and play sets.

If sheds are used to store hazardous equipment – such as lawnmowers, power tools, and saw blades – the shed should be kept locked whenever not in use. Remember at the end of tasks to lock all entries to the shed, including any opening windows. Use a heavy-gauge padlock or combination lock, mounted high up on the doors, to prevent children from simply snapping the doors open.

Storage Shed Decoration and Renovation

Storage sheds and playhouses also present incredible opportunities to teach children about renovation, including painting and landscaping. Read about the best – and most cost-effective ways – to renovate and beautify your wooden storage shed by reading our complete guide here. For additional details on adding flowerbeds to your storage shed, read our easy how-to tutorial.

Children’s Playhouses Are Fantastic Dreams Come True

PlayhousesSimilar in size and scale to the storage shed, children’s playhouses represent probably the ultimate in children’s toys. Large enough to become a “house” of their own, they are available in many different styles and themes, from fanciful cottage to frontier schoolroom. They’re sturdy enough to last all childhood long, too, and assemble from a prefabricated kit that comes with complete instructions.

Much like storage sheds, playhouses present incredible opportunities to teach children about renovation, including painting and landscaping. For a complete guide to renovating a shed or child’s playhouse a fun project for the whole family, see our guide elsewhere on this blog.

Storage ShedsIn some ways, it’s tempting to think of the storage shed as any home’s “branch office.” A storage shed provides valuable sheltering space and can increase the beauty of your yard or property. It can also serve as recreation or entertainment space for parties and other backyard events.

With the wide variety of choices available to consumers looking to add a storage shed to their backyard landscape, it’s important to understand several areas of interest.

Storage Shed Materials and Construction

What do you picture when you imagine a storage shed?

For many, the popular image remains that of the no-frills vinyl or metal shed propped against the back of a house or barn. All the same, larger wood- and cedar storage sheds provide greater amounts of storage and recreation space while also offering powerful decorative potential.

Other varieties of storage shed include plastic, plastic resin, metal (usually aluminum), and special canopy-style sheds that use a flexible tarp stretched over a rigid – again, usually aluminum or stainless steel – frame.

Many storage shed models are listed as “wood prepped-for-vinyl,” or a similar term. This means that the shed’s walls are prepared for mounting vinyl sides across their exterior. The walls may themselves be constructed from particleboard or oriented strand board (OSB.)

Storage Sheds and Weather Protection

The materials used to make the storage shed will determine its potential resistance to the elements. Many models of shelter, regardless of their materials, will list their weather resistance certifications and qualifications as a central part of their features. Such features often play a great role in determining a shed’s cost. For example, higher snow load and wind resistance sheds and portable shelters sometimes cost more than less fortified models. This is largely because the materials used to make them are more expensive and harder to manipulate during production.

Storage Shed Functionality

Storage ShedsRegardless of their weather resistance, the functions of a storage shed are limited only by the imaginations of their owners. Many owners simply choose to employ the storage shed as a kind of “backyard closet” that holds landscaping and lawn care equipment. Others use their shelters to store additional or surplus household supplies such as clothes and linens, or extra furniture or appliances.

Storage sheds, especially those that are sealed against the elements, can provide ideal shelter and display space for collections, memorabilia, and family keepsakes. Qualified electricians can rig many models for electric light, adding to their display potential.

Choosing the Right Size

The answer to any size question remains purely subjective. Nevertheless, when shopping for a storage shed, remember to leave “room to grow.” By buying a larger shed than you need right now, you give yourself the blessing of extra space to store equipment and other goods you acquire in the future.

Wood Storage Sheds’ Decorative Potential

Storage ShedsSome wooden storage shed models include “real” house decoration features including wooden floors (either optional or standard) and glass windows and shutters. Others include gable windows, eaves and shingled roofs, and fenced or semi-enclosed porches.

Standard and optional decorative features vary – often wildly – among manufacturers but also from model to model. When deciding which storage shed to purchase, it’s important to carefully understand what comes as a basic feature to each shed and what must be ordered at additional costs.

Sunroom and Greenhouse Storage Sheds

These versatile shed models combine the horticultural advantages of greenhouses and sunrooms with the storage functionality of the basic storage shed. Several such models are available from a variety of manufacturers.

Children’s Playhouses and Cottages

Similar in shape and construction to storage sheds, children’s playhouses – also called children’s cottages – offer any child a wonderful playtime destination. They’re available in a variety of motifs and themes: cottage, schoolhouse, country church, and many others. Like storage sheds, they’ll require assembly and decoration, including painting. They also include the same range of options as many storage sheds.

How To Build The Shed: DIY vs. Contractor

Storage ShedsStorage shed kits are built for relatively quick assembly using basic carpentry tools. However, to the novice builder these instructions can appear complex and hard to understand. Local contractors and woodworking professionals (carpenters, handymen, et cetera) may be available to complete the assembly for shed owners reluctant to risk time-consuming setup mistakes. As with any construction job, an estimate of all costs should be obtained before an agreement is finalized.Shed owners should also feel free to ask for references when making their contractor selection.

Schools bells ring, baseball season winds down and football season warms up. The end of summer draws near, with autumn and winter coming right behind it. After 2012’s record setting heat wave summer, homeowners should take extra precautions when getting their backyard, patio, and lawn ready for the cold weather months.

Listed below are seven tips to help everyone make sure their yard and patio get through the snow, rain, and sleet with a minimum of hassle and damage.

Make Sure Your Storage Space Is Suitably Weather-Resistant

Storage Sheds

A plastic resin storage shed

Especially for homeowners in parts of the country with a lot of snowfall, choosing the right storage shed or portable garage or shelter is an absolute must. Learn your shed or shelter’s snow resistance level, and find out what steps you can take to augment its weather resistance.

Caring for your storage shed, no matter what its construction type, is much like performing routine maintenance on your house. Make sure the roof and foundation are in good condition, that the windows and doors do not leak, and that the entire structure is free of pests, rodents, and termites. Perform the checks in autumn, before the cold weather complicates inspection.

Cover Your Swimming Pool – And Protect Its Machinery – Against Freezing

Both in-ground and aboveground pool owners should cover their pools with manufacturer-recommended tarps. Also, lower your pool’s water level so that it is below the skimmers’ entrances. This will prevent damage if the pool water freezes.

Take precautions to protect the pool’s pumps, pipes, and other machinery against damage from freezing. Such steps can include blowing water out of pipes and draining water from the filters and wrapping the pipes with insulation. You may also want to cover exposed machinery with a weather-resistant tarp. Remember that freezing conditions can occur even in the Deep South.

Protect Your Lawn With Mowing, Over-Seeding, Aeration, and Fertilization

Greenhouses

Store fragile plants inside a greenhouse

You’ll keep a greener lawn all winter long by over-seeding it  with grass that thrives in cold weather. Experts recommend over-seeding about six weeks before the first expected hard freeze.

Mow your lawn frequently during the fall. This will shred fallen leaves, helping them feed the grass. However, rake up any excess shredded leaves as they’ll block sunlight and encourage rodent and insect growth. Try to keep your grass at about 2.5 inches in height.

A late-autumn fertilizing will help give your lawn the food it needs for a healthy hibernation. Take precautions, however, when dealing with these potentially dangerous chemicals.

Aerating involves making small holes in your lawn, the better to let in oxygen and fertilizer nutrients. The aeration process is simple and time-efficient, and the tools are available from most hardware and hardware rental stores.

Remove Dead and Dying Plants From Your Flowerbeds

The debris and decaying matter left behind as annuals and dying plants decompose can block sunlight, nutrients, and rainfall from reaching healthier and perennial plants. Though it’s tough to know when to pull the plug, some judicious culling can help nurture your hardier plants. Greenhouses can help store plants, but remember to keep them free of snow pileup and other weather hazards.

Give Your Fences, Decks, and Wood Structures A Fresh Coat of Sealant

Shade Sails

Make sure any backyard canopies are water-permeable, or take them down for the season.

Sealants (also called water proofers) protect your wood fences, decks, and structures from both weather and damage from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. To test your sealant’s effectiveness, just splash water across its surface. If the water is quickly absorbed into the wood grain, it’s time for a recoating.

Experts recommend sealing wooden decks once a year, ideally in the late summer and early fall when temperatures are relatively mild. This keeps the sealant at its freshest – and most effective – during snowfall and hard freeze months. Fences should be recoated every two to three years, as the foot traffic that wooden decks endure helps to rub off their sealants at a faster rate.

Remove all furniture or decorations, and give the wooden surface a thorough cleaning first. Allow the wood to dry for two to three days before applying the sealant.

Safely Store All Equipment and Machinery

Storage Tents

Storage tents and shelters can serve dozens of purposes.

Don’t forget that your yard and garden equipment, tools, recreational vehicles and machinery are all subject to the cruelties of Old Man Winter. Storing them in a weatherproof or weather-resistant shelter will help protect them against the elements and humidity.

For additional protection, enclose your recreational vehicles (motorcycles, four-wheelers, bicycles, et cetera) in specially designed sleeves and slipcovers.

 

Pack Away All Unused Lawn and Garden Furniture

It’s true that many lawn and garden furniture sets and pieces are engineered and treated to resist the elements. But there’s no reason not to preserve them even more by giving them additional shelter. Putting your tables, chairs, and other pieces away inside a storage shed or portable shelter, ideally wrapped inside weather-resistant covering, will help to keep them looking like new.

Before storing away your yard and garden tools, give them all a good cleaning and polishing with machine oil. This will help against rusting and other elemental damage, and work to keep them like new until you need them again in springtime.

PlayhousesA backyard playhouse is the answer to a child’s fondest wishes. But have you thought about how to make it even more special?

Just like the home, backyard, and patio, a playhouse makes a wonderful “blank canvas” on which to express your best creativity. Of course, you’ll want to give your child the most beautiful decorative plan you can imagine, but have you thought about including them in the decision making?

It’s no secret that children love to express their imagination, and psychologists have spoken for decades about the importance of allowing children to express themselves in a healthy, artistic manner. Studies show such nourishment of a child’s inner mind leads to greater self-esteem, creative thinking, and overall emotional adjustment for many years to come. Including your child in all steps of the creative process is a wonderful way to nurture those creative impulses while bonding with your child amid a fantastic, permanent undertaking.

But there’s more to playhouse renovation than just planting flowers and painting the walls. Consider the following:

Make Plans Together

There’s an old saying among carpenters and wood workers: “measure twice, cut once.” That old adage certainly applies to putting your ideas and plans down on paper, before you and your child commit to the playhouse decoration. Many children love to draw and color anyway, so the planning stage makes a great time to encourage your child to brainstorm different versions of your plans.

Once you both have several different “blueprints” of color and decoration in mind, you can agree which ones look best.

Use the Decorations to Talk About Money and Teach Saving

PlayhousesParents who have a fixed amount of money to spend on decorating the playhouse can use the opportunity to teach their kids about budgets and funding. Explaining to children that different parts of the decorative plan all come from the same amount of money will help them to understand responsible spending and saving. Simply tell the child that there is so much money to spend, and each part of the decorations will take part of that money. Parents might also wish to use visual aids to represent the “funds,” including jelly beans, figurines or other small tokens.

Save money by looking for bargains at local hardware stores and chains, especially during weekends and holiday weekends when bargains and specials are often at their best. Make sure your child comes along – they should participate in every part of the renovation process,

Plan Your Decorations in a Sensible Order

For children, sticking to a decorative plan can sometimes be challenging – it’s tough for kids to keep their abundant enthusiasm focused. That’s when parents need to help their children rein in their energy and focus on one decorating task at a time.

Ideally, the walls of the playhouse should be painted first, followed by any trim such as shutters, porch railings, eaves or other decorative elements. Following the painting, you and your child can begin landscaping and adding other trim. (Check out our guide to adding flowerbeds to your playhouse for more information on playhouse landscaping.)

Once those are complete, you may also wish to begin decorating the inside of the playhouse, too. Remember that interior decor should also come from the same decorating budget you teach your child.

How To Practice Good Renovation Safety

PlayhousesIt almost goes without saying that children shouldn’t be allowed to use lawn or painting tools without careful parental supervision. It’s important, too, to stress that parents should be very clear that children shouldn’t attempt to decorate or renovate without a parent or older sibling helping out. Sharp tools, chemical paint, and even loose soil and dirt can pose risk of injury and illness.

For older children, keeping them away from the work-in-progress likely won’t be an easy task. Parents can avoid such potentially hazardous situations by compressing the total renovation time into a single day or two.

Adding Accessories and Furniture

Besides paint and flowers, accessory furniture makes a great way to personalize and brighten the playhouse interior or front porch. Child-sized furniture works fine, of course, except that children might outgrow it in a relatively short amount of time. Using smaller-scale adult furniture makes an elegant, cost-effective compromise.

Use the Playhouse to Build Character

Once the renovations are complete, the playhouse can become a great opportunity for children to learn the value of proper care and keeping of their possessions. Explain that the playhouse’s upkeep is their responsibility, with all cleaning and watering of plants to be part of their household chores. Ideally, this discussion should take place before the renovations begin, or before the playhouse kit arrives.

While children shouldn’t be held responsible for repairs that might lead them to injure themselves, they should definitely take charge of day-to-day maintenance. In that way the playhouse becomes not just a toy but also a means of learning important lifelong character lessons.

 

West Nile Virus

In experiments, the Asian Tiger Mosquito was found to transmit West Nile Virus

Classified by the Center for Disease Control as part of the Japanese encephalitis strain of flavivirus (yellow fever) and also similar to dengue fever, West Nile Virus first came to widespread public attention in the United States following an outbreak in Queens, New York in 1999 and gained further notoriety during the epidemic of 2002. The virus is transmitted to humans principally through mosquito bites, though it can affect other mammals including horses, dogs, cats, and rabbits (among others) as well as a variety of birds including crows and robins.

Infection, Incubation, and Symptoms

Infection is humans has proven to be largely asymptomatic; the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals reports that 90% of people infected with West Nile Virus never present symptoms. Others contract West Nile Fever, a condition which includes feverishness, fatigue, sore muscles and rash.

Some extreme cases develop into one of several neuroinvasive diseases called West Nile Meningitis, West Nile Encephalitis, and West Nile Meningoencephalitis. Encephalitis is an inflammation of the brain; meningitis is an inflammation of the membrane around the brain of of the spinal cord. Meningoencephalitis is an inflammation of both.

Transmission

The virus is transmitted from mosquitoes to birds, who act as incubators and who pass the strengthened virus to mosquitoes via further bites. According to the CDC, the disease is not transmitted from human-to-human contact, although one documented case involved a mother passing it to her infant child through breast milk. People older than 50 and patients with compromised immune systems are at higher risk of becoming seriously infected.

In 2009, U.S. health officials recorded 663 confirmed cases of West Nile Virus infection among humans. Of these, less than one percent of those infected contracted one of the neuroinvasive diseases.

Prevention

Mosquito Magnets

An electronic microscope image of the West Nile Virus

The CDC recommends applying EPA-approved insect repellent to both skin and clothing, or wearing long-sleeved shirts and full-length pants (not shorts) when weather permits. Insect netting should be placed over children’s cribs and strollers.

Homeowners can reduce the presence of mosquitoes in their home and on their property by installing window and door screens to keep mosquitoes from getting into the house. As mosquitoes tend to congregate around standing water, draining all flower pots and pans, storm drains and gutters will also discourage mosquitoes from lingering around the house and yard. Finally, a variety of mosquito traps are available which act to replicate human breathing and temperatures, working to divert mosquitoes from attacking human targets.

Where to Get More Information

Additional information is available at the CDC’s West Nile Virus information page

Mosquito MagnetsIt’s sometimes said that the female of the species is deadlier than the male, and that’s certainly true of mosquitoes. Despite common knowledge, it’s only the female mosquito that bites – and only when she’s pregnant.

But mosquitoes breed often and in large amounts, so managing their population is a goal that needs constant attention. Unfortunately, many homeowners are slow and confused about what steps to take.

Every breath we take: mosquito behavior

Mosquitoes and other airborne insects are always annoying but many are sometimes dangerous: many carry potentially deadly diseases including malaria, dengue fever, West Nile virus, and several strains of encephalitis. Worse still, mosquitoes are attracted to humans by the scent of carbon dioxide. We attract mosquitoes, in other words, every time we breathe.

Bad news for the Southern United States

Mosquitoes typically congregate in low-lying areas near still water or areas prone to high humidity, the same areas that are often the sites of suburban and semi-rural housing developments. It’s not uncommon, especially in the Southern United States, for suburban residents to find themselves seemingly besieged even in their own backyard. An old joke describes the mosquito as “the state bird of Louisiana.”

Treating mosquito bites: alternate solutions

Given the mosquito’s almost universal presence, it’s no wonder that a number of folk remedies find new generations of fans every year. Some of the more common include rubbing toothpaste or vinegar on stings, while other people prefer to apply ice directly to the stung area of the body to slow swelling and numb the nerve endings.

Mosquito magnets and other defenses

Mosquito MagnetAnother solution involves installing mosquito magnets, which use propane to chemically mimic human CO2 exhalation as well as heat and moisture signals. These relatively small and lightweight machines are often electrically powered and can safely protect most backyards regardless of time of year or number of people.

Mosquito MagnetKnowing the right places to set up your mosquito magnet can make a huge difference in the comfort and safety of your backyard or other outdoor area. Mosquito magnets attract and trap mosquitoes and other flying pests anytime and wherever they’re used, but strategically placing them in certain areas can greatly boost their performance.

Get ‘Em Where They Live

Mosquitoes, black flies (sometimes called no-see-ums) and other flying pests tend to congregate in areas of standing water and thick grasses and vegetation, and out of direct sunlight – for example, around ponds and in the woods ringing most suburban developments. These pests also breed where they live, with females actively seeking blood only when they’re pregnant.

Placing a mosquito magnet in these high population-density areas will deploy its trapping capacity where it can do the most good, using its human-mimicking humidity and carbon dioxide-replicating technology to catch the most number of mosquitoes.

Keep Your Mosquito Magnet Close – But Not Too Close

Mosquito Magnets

The Anopheles albimanus mosquito

Another strategy is simply to place your mosquito magnet near wherever you and your family and friends will spend the most time outside. The backyard patio, deck, or around the family swing-set and gazebo are all potential sites, as well as the swimming pool, community baseball diamond, and tennis courts.

Simply place the mosquito magnet thirty to forty feet away from the area you plan to use, in an open area upwind of the protected site. This will help to keep the insects away from you and others, so that the insects don’t attack you instead. If possible, place the mosquito magnet in the shade, as mosquitoes tend to shun direct sunlight.

When You Should Expect Results

Most mosquito magnet models significantly reduce local mosquito and other flying insect populations within seven to ten days. In many cases, after four to six weeks the female population of the coverage area will have almost completely disappeared. Remember to regularly change its attractant cartridges, replace its power supply, and to clear out its trap container to keep your mosquito magnet operating in top condition.

A key part of mosquito magnet technology rests in its ability to mimic the carbon dioxide emissions (breathing out) that lures pregnant mosquitoes towards human beings. Mosquito magnets also use one of two chemical attractants to further lure the bugs towards their capture mechanisms.

How Attractants Work

Most mosquito magnets use one of two chemical attractants: Octenol or Lurex3. Where the mosquito magnet owner lives will largely determine the best attractant to employ. In either case, manufacturers recommend that owners replace the attractants in their mosquito magnets every three weeks.

Octenol attracts mosquitoes and black flies (no-see-ums) by mimicking human breath. Lurex3 replicates skin emanations.Though both aggressively lure mosquitoes towards their magnets, they each attract specific types of mosquitoes.

The Rules of Attraction

Asian TIger Mosquito

the Asian Tiger Mosquito

Octenol is recommended for mosquito magnet owners living in the Mid-Atlantic and Eastern Seaboard states, the Midwest, the Pacific Northwest, the California mainland and Colorado, Nevada, and Alaska.

Lurex3, which specifically targets the Asian Tiger mosquito species, is recommended for the Deep South, the Southern California coastline, Kansas, Utah, and Hawaii. Lurex3 specifically targets the Asian Tiger Mosquito, a species that in recent years has migrated and adapted to cooler climates well north of their traditional tropical habitats. However, the Tiger mosquito commonly hibernates during the cooler months in these more northerly climes.

Lurex3 is recommended for mosquito magnet owners in areas where the Asian Tiger Mosquito is the dominant pest. In other areas, such as coastal regions where the dominant pest is the salt marsh mosquito or no-see-um fly, Octenol offers better effectiveness in luring its prey for residents living up to ten miles inland.

Where and How to Buy

Both varieties of attractants are sold in packs or canisters wherever mosquito magnets are sold, distributed by a variety of manufacturers.