Getting Ready for Canning Season

Pressure canner and canning equipment
Pressure canner with jars, lids, rings, funnel, jar lifter and assorted spices – Photo: mrgeiger

Spring has arrived and it won’t be long before seeds or plants will find their way into the garden.  And that means that canning season is just around the corner so it’s time to get ready!  Having equipment ready and recipes selected before the fresh produce arrives helps to assure a successful canning season.

Recipes

Choose recipes that have been developed specifically for canning and come from research-based sources like the USDA Complete Guide to Canning (2015), the National Center for Home Food Preservation, So Easy to Preserve, or Extension resources from your land-grant university.  Recipes should be followed as written; canning is a science, not an art.  Therefore, modifications to the recipes should not be made unless they tested and accepted as outlined in Play It Safe. Safe Substitutions to Tested Canning Recipes. To learn more about the risks associated with modifying canning recipes with regards to swapping ingredients, adding ingredients, or increasing or decreasing ingredients, check out Modifying Canning Recipes by South Dakota State University Extension.   Penn State Extension also has an excellent article on Ingredients Used in Home Preservation, which describes ingredients and their function in canned goods.

Equipment

Safe canning methods include the boiling water bath method, the atmospheric steam canner method, and the pressure canner method. Each method uses a different type of canner. Electric, multi-cooker appliances should not be used for canning. Water bath and atmospheric steam canners require little maintenance and are used for canning high acid foods, pickles, fruit spreads, and most tomato products. (Atmospheric steam canners can be used in place of water bath canners as long as the canning process time is 45 minutes or less.)  Water bath canners have fitted lids and removable perforated or shaped-wire racks. The canner must be deep enough that at least 1 to 2 inches of briskly boiling water covers the tops of jars during processing.  All canners should be checked for signs of wear and corrosion on the body and lid. 

Pressure canners, used for low-acid foods (vegetables), some tomato products, and meats, require deeper inspection. Pressure canners have a weighted gauge, a dial gauge, or both for indicating and regulating the pressure. The lid gaskets along with the gauges, petcocks, vents, and safety valves should be inspected. Penn State Extension has a helpful inspection check list as a guide.  Pressure canners with dial gauges must be tested annually for accuracy. Gauges that read high cause under-processing and may result in unsafe food. Clostridium botulinum bacteria are the main reason why low-acid foods must be pressure canned to be safe. Home-canned foods are responsible for over 90% of all cases of food-borne botulism. Low readings cause over-processing. Your local extension office personal may have the equipment to test the accuracy of most dial-gauge canner brands such as Presto, National, Maid of Honor, and Magic Seal. National Presto Industries will also test gauges for free. (See University Minnesota Extension for more information.) All-American brand gauges cannot be tested at extension offices; contact the Wisconsin Aluminum Foundry, 920-682-8627 for help.* Burpee pressure canners can no longer be tested; the company is out of business and parts are no longer available for the Aristocrat; it is probably best to set these vintage canners aside as an heirloom or collectable. Dial gauges that are off more than two pounds of pressure should be sent to the manufacturer for repair or replacement. To learn more about canner gauge testing, watch Maintaining Your Canning Equipment by K-State Research and Extension. Iowa and Minnesota residents may call AnswerLine to find out where to go for testing.  Weighted or rocker-type pressure regulators do not require annual testing; the weights are not adjustable and usually maintain accuracy. 

It is also important to inventory canning jars, lids, and ring bands. Mason-type jars specifically designed to withstand the heat necessary for home canning should be used. Check jars for rim nicks, blemishes and hairline scratches or cracks.  Jars exhibiting any issues should not be used for canning; instead they can be recycled for dry food or pantry storage. Jar size plays a role in process time so the jar size called for in the recipe must be used. Two-piece lids are needed to seal the jars; the flat lid can only be used once while the ring band may be re-used unless it is rusty or dented.  For best results, use recently manufactured flat lids from reputable manufacturers.

Other essential canning equipment to locate and check for safe use include funnel(s) for large- and narrow-mouth jars, jar lifter, racks, food mill, jelly bags, bubble popper tool, and headspace gauge.  Make sure that everyday kitchen items like tongs, ladles, strainers, colanders, cheese cloth, long handled spoons, and a slotted spoon are conveniently located.  Also be aware that some canners cannot be used on glass stovetops and that a newly acquired electric range (since 2019) with coil burners may not allow consistent heat due UL858(60A) standards.1  A portable burner may be a suitable option provided NCHFP guidelines are considered.

Canning your own garden produce or farmer’s market produce can be rewarding and a great way to save your food for later use. Be ready by planning and preparing now.

Newer model of All American
pressure canner weighted and
dial gauge. Photo Source:
K-State Research and Extension
with permission.
Older model of All American
pressure canner with dial gauge.
Photo: K-State Research and
Extension with permission.

*Newer models of the All American canner have both regulator weights (weighted gauge and dial gauge). [Picture 1.]  If the weight begins to rock at the desired pressure and the gauge is off by more than 2 psi the company recommends replacing the gauge. The gauge is now used as a reference to know when the unit is at 0 psi and can safely be removed.  The petcock on older All American Canners [Picture 2] can be replaced with a weighted gauge. Contact Wisconsin Aluminum Foundry for more information. 

1New Regulations for Electric Ranges.

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Getting the Oven Ready for Holiday Roasting and Baking

Woman cleaning inside of an oven
Woman cleaning inside of an oven.

Baking for the holidays is about more than sugar cravings. It’s about passing along family traditions, singing or listening to holiday music as you mix, roasting nuts and special meats, and delivering fresh-baked cheer to family, friends and neighbors.

Whether this is your first time for holiday baking and roasting or you’re a pro with the butter-stained recipe cards to prove it, it is a best practice to have your oven ready for what you have planned for it. Because some of us despise the chore of oven cleaning, ovens often become a culinary crime scene!  So before whipping out the ingredients, get that oven in tip-top shape.

Just as preparing your oven is crucial for holiday baking, ensuring your boiler is ready for the winter season is equally important. Whether you’re a novice or a seasoned home cook, the warmth from your Worcester Bosch Greenstar 8000 boiler adds an extra layer of comfort during festive gatherings. As you gather ingredients and make preparations for holiday feasts, don’t overlook the significance of maintaining your boiler system. Neglecting boiler maintenance can lead to inefficiencies and potential breakdowns when you need reliable heating the most.

Manufacturers recommend that ovens be cleaned every three to six months depending upon how much they are used and spiffed up in between when spillovers of food or grease occur.  Regular oven cleaning improves the quality of the food prepared in it; the aromas of old grease and spilled food can taint the flavor of what is being baked or roasted.

When it comes to maintaining the heart of your kitchen, professional oven repair services stand as the beacon of culinary salvation. Whether confronted with a temperamental thermostat, erratic heating elements, or stubborn malfunctions, the expertise of skilled technicians is indispensable. Neglecting the signs of oven distress not only jeopardizes the integrity of your culinary creations but also disrupts the harmony of your kitchen sanctuary. With swift and efficient repair services at your disposal, the daunting prospect of oven woes transforms into a mere blip on the culinary radar.

A well-maintained oven guarantees that each holiday dish is infused with the flavors you intended. While few look forward to the chore, with the right knowledge and a little elbow grease, oven cleaning needn’t be an overwhelming chore.  Depending upon how the oven will be cleaned a few tools may be necessary—gloves, eye protection, newspaper, paper towels or old towels, cleaning clothes, synthetic scouring pad, sponges with scratch pads and a large garbage bag.

Oven Interior

There are three primary ways to clean the oven interior—self-cleaning, chemical oven cleaners, and DIY with baking soda, vinegar, and water.

Self Cleaning.  If you have a self-cleaning oven, check and follow your owner’s manual for detailed instructions. Make sure to wipe up any spillovers or liquid grease to avoid excessive smoking during the cycle and setting off your smoke alarm. Remove any oven accessories and the racks before starting the cycle. The self-clean cycle takes about two hours (exact time varies by oven type) during which the temperature reaches 800-1000 degrees F. Because the extreme heat has the potential to destroy the shiny chrome finish on the racks, it is recommended that they be cleaned outside of the oven (instructions follow).  The oven gives off a tremendous amount of heat during the cycle as well as some toxic fumes. You should stay at home while the oven is self-cleaning just in case anything goes awry but you and your pets should stay out of the kitchen and vent the room as much as possible. When it’s over, you’ll see a white ash on the oven bottom that you’ll need to wipe out once the oven cools. 

Chemical Oven Cleaners.  This is the easiest, fastest process and will remove serious amounts of grease and grime. The caveat is that oven cleaners can be quite caustic, so if you’re sensitive to harsh chemicals or prefer an all-natural approach this is not for you.  There are low- or no-fume products on the market that do work quite well. Carefully follow the directions on the product and be sure to protect the area around the oven with newspaper, paper towels, or old towels.  Remove the racks for cleaning (instructions follow) as well as any other items in the oven.  Spray the entire interior being careful to not get spray on the heating elements of an electric oven or the gas inlet of a gas oven.  Lift the heating element and spray under it. Gloves and eye protection should be worn when using oven spray cleaners. Also be aware that it is possible that using an oven cleaner could affect the surface of the oven; you may experience white or grey discoloration of the surface. Also, due to the porous nature of the oven surface, some of the product may be left behind after the cleaning process and fumes will be detected the first time the oven is turned on.

DIY.  While this may not be the fastest way to clean the oven, it is by far the safest and is appropriate for any oven type.  Begin by removing everything from your oven and protecting the floor beneath your oven with newspapers, paper towels, or old towels.  Mix 1/2 cup of baking soda with 2 to 3 tablespoons of water to make a spreadable paste.  Spread the paste around the inside of the oven using fingers, spatula, or brush covering the entire interior including crevices. Keep the paste away from the heating element of an electric oven and away from the gas inlet of a gas oven. It is also possible to lightly mist the paste with white vinegar in a spray bottle which will cause the paste to bubble and foam.  Close the oven and allow the paste to sit for 30 minutes to 10 – 12 hours, or overnight depending upon the depth of cleaning needed.

After time has elapsed, glove up and begin to rub the surfaces with a synthetic scrubbing pad dipped in vinegar or a plastic scraper to loosen baked on grime.  Wipe down all surfaces with a damp cleaning cloth. If the paste is dry, spray with vinegar to soften and remove.  After all of the paste and grime has been wiped away, spray the oven with vinegar and wipe dry.

A DIY recipe shared by an AnswerLine client is another option. Mix 2 oz of Dawn detergent, 4 oz bottle lemon juice, 8 oz white vinegar, and 10 oz water in a spray bottle. Spray the oven walls, top and bottoms. Let sit overnight or longer. Wipe clean with wet clothes to remove the residue.

Racks

Racks can be cleaned with either chemical oven sprays, ammonia, or with baking soda and vinegar.  If oven sprays or ammonia are used, the work should be done outdoors with rubber gloves and eye protection.  Once the racks are cleaned, washed, rinsed and dried, replace them in the clean oven.

Chemical Oven Sprays.  Lay the racks on a garbage bag that has been cut open, spray the racks with the cleaner, cover, and tuck the bag tightly around the racks and let them sit overnight.  Spray wash them with a garden hose to remove the chemical residue and then wash them with dish detergent in either the kitchen sink or bathtub scrubbing as necessary. Discard the bag used by placing inside of another bag and putting in the trash.

Ammonia. This is the most dangerous method but one that is frequently used.  Place the racks in a large trash bag. Add 2 cups ammonia to the bag. Tightly tie or seal off the bag so that the ammonia cannot leak out and let them sit overnight lying flat. The racks do not have to be coated in the ammonia because the fumes will circulate and do the job. The next day, open the trash bag being cautious of the ammonia and the fumes.  (Avoid inhaling the fumes.)  Spray the racks with a garden hose and then wash with dish detergent followed by a rinse.  Dispose of the ammonia by mixing with water and pouring down the kitchen sink or toilet.  If you have a septic system, the ammonia should be neutralized with baking soda, cat litter, and sand and disposed in the outside trash.  The bag should be sprayed with the garden hose, bagged, and also put in the outside trash.

Baking Soda, Vinegar, and Hot Water.  Place the racks in the bathtub. Plug the tub and sprinkle baking soda on the racks and then pour vinegar on top creating a foam. When the foaming stops, run hot water until the racks are fully covered.  Allow the racks to sit in the water for 10-12 hrs or overnight. Remove racks from the water and scrub with a cleaning cloth, pumice, or synthetic scrubber until all grease and grime is gone.

Pat yourself on the back when the job is done. You might want to reward yourself with a holiday gift by investing about $10 in an easy-to-clean non-stick oven liner (example) that catches spillovers and crumbs and helps prevent the fore mentioned ‘culinary crime scene’.  Be sure to use the liner correctly in your oven.

Lastly, give yourself a break and don’t stress if the oven doesn’t turn out spotless.  The object is to get it clean enough that the grime doesn’t taint anything that is baked or roasted in the oven and the aromas coming from the kitchen are pleasant.  After all, ‘tis the season for a little fun, too!

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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“Joy of Cooking” – New Edition

A new edition of America’s favorite, classic cookbook, Joy of Cooking, rolled off the press on November 2019. This edition was nine years in the making under the guide of John Becker and wife, Megan Scott. John Becker is the great grandson of Irma Rombauer, the original author of Joy of Cooking.

The cookbook began eighty-eight years ago when Irma Rombauer, a German immigrant and recent widow, needed a means to support her family during the Great Depression. To do so, she compiled her favorite recipes, wrote a cookbook, and self-published it in November 1931. She enlisted the help of a St Louis, MO company that printed labels for shoe companies and Listerine mouthwash to print her book, a first for the company. She paid $3000 to print 3000 copies of the Joy of Cooking: A compilation of Reliable Recipes for a Casual Culinary Chat. The book was illustrated by Rombauer’s daughter, Marion Rombauer Becker.

As the 3000 copies began to dwindle, a commercial printer was sought and with it came, a second edition in 1936. This edition expanded to 640 pages and set a new style for writing recipes—a conversational style, later known as the “action method.” Instead of listing ingredients and following with instructions, ingredients were interspersed with directions appearing as they were needed. This edition became popular quickly prompting six printings and selling 52, 151 copies by 1942.

A third edition was rolled out in 1943 and included a collection of recipes that could be prepared in less than 30 minutes using canned and frozen foods. This edition also included information intended to help readers deal with wartime rationing. Once again sales were phenomenal with nearly 620,000 copies sold by 1946. As the WWII came to an end, an update was made to the 1943 edition in 1946 with the elimination of the rationing information and the addition of more quick recipes.

The newly released edition is the 9th edition of the cookbook and marks the first update in 13 years. Joy has remained a family project passing from Irma to her daughter Marion, to Marion’s son, Ethan Becker, and now to Ethan’s son, John and his wife, Megan Scott. Through the various editions, Joy has remained a mainstay of American home cooking by adapting and evolving to the popular tastes and trends of Americans yet remaining basic. Marketing of the 2019 edition touted ingredients from the wider world and chapters on sous vide, fermentation, and cooking with both traditional and electric pressure cookers. John and Megan developed more than 600 new recipes for this edition with a focus on international, vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free recipes and tweaked many of the classics of former cookbooks. Lastly, this edition includes information about food history and science making it more than a collection of recipes.

Updated 4/2024 mg.

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Care for stone countertops

In the last two years, several of the AnswerLine staff members have remodeled their kitchens and bathrooms. During the remodeling process, a big topic is always what sort of countertops are the best for my situation and what kind of maintenance will the countertops require. I have done a bit of research on several of the existing options.

Granite counters are very popular right now. They do not require a lot of maintenance but it is a good idea to wash the counters regularly with a soapy cloth to prevent stains. Blotting spills with paper towels eliminates the possibility that you will spread a stain while swiping it with a cloth. Acidic cleaners like lemon juice, ammonia, and window cleaner may damage granite counters. Instead, you can make your own cleaner with three parts of dish detergent and one part rubbing alcohol.

Granite countertops need to be sealed several times a year. Test yours to see if the previous seal has worn away. Place a few drops of water on the countertop and check for beading. If the water beads up, the counter does not need to be resealed. If it does not bead up, then seal the counter with a granite stone sealer. Follow the directions on the package. If you are sealing kitchen countertops, be sure that the sealing compound is non-toxic. Apply sealer to clean countertops and allow it to rest for a half hour or so. Sealing the countertop will not eliminate the chance of staining but it will help the granite be more resistant to staining.

Kitchen countertops are not just functional elements but also contribute greatly to the aesthetic appeal of the kitchen. Choosing the right material and design can elevate the entire look of the kitchen. Besides granite, there are many other options such as quartz, marble, and even custom butcher blocks that can give your kitchen a unique and personalized touch. When selecting a countertop material, it is important to consider factors like durability, maintenance, and budget. Whether you opt for granite or custom butcher blocks, taking care of your kitchen countertops is essential to ensure their longevity and beauty.

When it comes to kitchen countertops, each material brings its own set of advantages and considerations. Quartz countertops, for instance, offer a remarkable blend of durability and aesthetic appeal. Unlike natural stone options like granite and marble, quartz countertops are engineered to be non-porous, making them highly resistant to stains, scratches, and bacterial growth. This quality not only simplifies maintenance but also ensures a long-lasting investment in your kitchen’s functionality and beauty. Additionally, with advancements in technology and design, quartz countertops come in a wide range of colors and patterns, allowing homeowners to find the perfect match for their kitchen’s style and ambiance.

For homeowners in Long Island, NY, seeking the ideal solution for their kitchen countertops, considering Quartz Countertop Installation & Fabrication Long Island NY is essential. Professional installation and fabrication services tailored to quartz countertops ensure precise fitting and flawless integration into your kitchen space. From precise measurements to expert craftsmanship, entrusting your quartz countertop project to experienced professionals can guarantee a seamless installation process and superior results that enhance both the functionality and visual appeal of your kitchen. Whether you prioritize durability, aesthetics, or both, quartz countertops offer a versatile solution that elevates the heart of your home to new heights of sophistication and practicality.

Quartz countertops are also very popular right now. I chose them for my kitchen because they do not require sealing. Quartz is actually a manufactured product, made of quartz stone and a synthetic polymer. They are very easy to care for and do not require polishing. I clean my countertops with a warm, wet dishcloth. Clean spills and sticky foods as soon as the spill occurs to avoid stains. Glass and surface cleaners will not damage quartz surfaces. However, avoid bleach and harsh, acidic cleaners on quartz as well as granite surfaces. In addition, hot pans set directly on the quartz countertops can cause damage.

Marble countertops are not quite as popular as granite and quartz. Marble is a porous surface even though it is very durable. Remember to use only mild dish soap and warm water to clean marble. Test your marble counter top every couple of months to see if the marble needs to be resealed. Test marble in the same manner you test granite. If needed, apply the sealer over clean countertops and let it sit on the countertop for about 30 minutes.

Soapstone is another choice for stone countertops. This stone is very durable and hard to scratch or etch. Soapstone is a non-porous surface that is hard to stain and is tolerant of hot pans. Remember that soapstone can be damaged by dropping heavy objects on it. Soapstone is more likely to dent than scratch or chip. Soapstone does not need to be sealed, but like a butcher block counter, it does need to regular oiling. Oil the counter by spreading some mineral oil on the surface. Use a towel to rub the oil into the stone. Leave for 30 minutes and the remove excess oil. Not oiling the surface will result in dark spots showing on the surface of the stone—over time. Again, harsh or acidic cleaners are not recommended.

We are lucky to have so many different choices for countertops these days. Stone countertops do not require much more care than my old Formica countertops and I do enjoy the look of stone.

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Transitioning from Incandescent and CFL bulbs to LEDs

Like many consumers today, my family has gradually been changing from incandescent and compact fluorescent (CFLs) bulbs to light emitting diode (LED) lights.  For many reasons, LEDs lighting is preferable to incandescent and CFL lighting:  LED’s light up very quickly achieving full brightness in milliseconds, are dimmable, radiate very little heat, use less energy, have a long life, contain no toxic materials, give off zero UV emissions, and operate in extreme hot or cold temperatures.  But gone are the days when buying lightbulbs used to be a cinch. When a 60-watt incandescent bulb burnt out in by-gone days, you purchased another pack of 60-walt bulbs, reinstalled, and that was the end.  Since 2012, incandescents have gradually been phased out, replaced temporarily by CFLs, and now the LEDs.

With the evolving landscape of lighting options, choosing the perfect bulbs for home interior lamps has become a nuanced endeavor. For those seeking both functionality and aesthetic appeal, exploring a Dutch light fixture store could provide a delightful solution. The Dutch are renowned for their design sensibilities, and a Dutch light fixture store brings a blend of functionality and style to illuminate your living spaces. It caters to complement the warm ambiance of LED lighting or to find fixtures that harmonize with the evolving trends in home decor, offering a curated selection to illuminate homes with both efficiency and style.

Light bulb display at retail outlet
Light bulb display at retail outlet – Photo: mgeiger

Energy star symbol on packaging
Energy star symbol on packaging – Photo: mgeiger

As we began the transition, we found there are more lighting choices than ever before and that we had much to learn in order to get the right bulb.  A good place to start is by looking for the ENERGY STAR label and checking out the chart: ENERGY  STAR Light Bulb Purchasing Guide as a guide to finding the right bulb for your light fixture.   (ENERGY STAR is the government-backed symbol for energy efficiency helping consumers save money and protect the environment through energy-efficient products and practices.)  Since all LED bulbs are not created equal, LED bulbs that have earned the ENERGY STAR have met the highest standards for quality and performance.

Lighting facts found on packaging
Lighting facts on packaging – Photo: mgeiger

The next step was learning the jargon:

Lumens.  For brightness, look for lumens, not watts as used by incandescent bulbs.  Lumens indicate the light output whereas watts indicate energy consumed.  Certified LED bulbs provide the same brightness (lumens) with less energy (watts).  The Purchasing Guide provides a chart to determine how many lumens are need to match the brightness of an incandescent bulb (i.e. 800 lumens = 60 watts).

Color Temperature.  LED bulbs are available in a wide range of colors matching a temperature on the Kelvin Scale (K).  Lower K values mean a warmer, yellowish light while high K values equate to cooler, bluer light.  There is a small illustration of this in the Purchasing Guide.  For a larger, more colorful and easy-to-read chart, check out the chart provided by Westinghouse.

Color Rendering Index (CRI).  This information is not always on the box but sometimes can be found in the lighting displays at the store.  CRI tells how accurately colors appear under the bulb’s light, ranging from 0-100.  The old incandescent bulbs have a CRI of 100.  Consumer Reports recommends a CRI of 80 for interior lights.

Although there are many advantages to using LEDs, they are still a bit more expensive than alternatives.  Due to their extremely low power requirements, LEDs ultimately save money over their life and will pay for themselves in energy savings.  In some communities, that savings can come within six months of installation.  Further, to help consumers, some power companies and city utilities offer energy savings programs or rebates for purchasing LED bulbs and/or LED light fixtures. From January 1, 2017, through December 31, 2017, participating Iowa electric utilities are helping residents make the simple switch to energy-efficient lighting by offering special pricing on ENERGY STAR® qualified LED bulb purchases of 12 or less. If you want to see the real value of switching to LED’s, visit bulbs.com and check out the Energy Savings Calculator.

Ceiling light fixture
Ceiling light fixture – Photo: mgeiger

A couple of other factors that entered into our replacement equation was the need to make some fixture changes or adjustments.  Even though the LED bulbs are supposed to be exactly the same in size as the incandescents, we found otherwise.  Therefore, it was a good idea to bring our incandescent bulb along and measure everything carefully beginning with the length of the base.  The biggest surprise for me was that contrary to popular belief, LEDs do generate heat and that they need to be in a non-enclosed fixture to allow heat to dissipate from the heat sink.  Without the ability to vent, they can overheat and fail early.  A sales person at Lowes showed me how the new bulb-type fixtures provide for heat dissipation with a nearly inconspicuous small venting system in the glass of the fixture.  Further, he advised that if the LED bulbs are put into existing, enclosed fixtures, the fixture might still be usable by lengthening the stem of the fixture so that there is a small space between the top of the glass and the fixture base.  There are also bulbs specifically designed to be placed in enclosed fixtures.  If you purchase a fixture that already has LED lights incorporated into it, the heat dissipation will have been taken care of by the manufacturer, but you may need to remove some insulation in your attic surrounding the location of the fixture.

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Choosing a Home Air Filter

Recently AnswerLine received a call about furnace filters.  The caller wanted to know the tradeoffs of the various kinds of filters with regard to efficiency and air quality.  And further, how often did an air filter really need to be changed.  Great questions!  However, I didn’t have all the answers and requested time to do some research and get back to the caller.  In doing so, I learned a lot.

In by-gone days, there was only one thing to know when purchasing a filter for your heating/AC system (HVAC)—the dimensions.  It certainly is a different story today.  The wide range of dehumidifier options, numbers, and prices can be overwhelming and confusing.

The original purpose of the HVAC filter was to do one thing:  protect the equipment.  Since then, a second function has been added as an option:  reduce indoor air pollution.  Therefore, the filter’s real job is to reduce the amount of dust, dirt, and debris that is in the air so that it does not accumulate on components inside the HVAC system; and as an option, prevent those inside the home or building from inhaling dust, allergens, and other irritants.

Changing or cleaning the air filter when appropriate increases the efficiency and life span of the system and decreases energy costs. Dirty, clogged filters block airflow and cause the system to run longer; further, they also allow the dirty air to get past the filter and make its way into the fan motor, coils, and other parts of the system along with the home environment and into the lungs of humans and pets.

Air filters are either mechanical or electrical.  Mechanical filters capture airborne pollutants on a filter medium; their effectiveness is dependent on both media and design.  Information provided by University of Illinois Extension shows that fiberglass filters remove up to 2%, washable/reusable filters remove up to 6%, thin pleated filters remove up to 11%, deep pleated filters remove up to 25%, and pleated electrostatic filters remove up to 49% of sub-micron particles.  Electronic filters use an electric field to capture debris like a magnet and remove up to 94% of sub-micron particles; ultraviolet or HEPA filters may be built into or added onto an electronic filter.  Most homes use a mechanical filter due to cost unless additional filtration is needed for health reasons.

Filter rating systems devised by individual companies make it hard to compare filters and should be avoided as there is no standard.    Rather consumers should look for the Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) which sets a standard for rating the overall effectiveness of air filters by measuring the filter’s ability to trap particles ranging in size from 3.0 microns to 10.0 microns. Every filter has a MERV rating.  (If it is not on the packaging, contact the manufacturer.)  A residential filter commonly has a MERV rating of 1  to 12.  A higher MERV rating means finer filtration with fewer dust particles and other airborne contaminates passing through the filter.   Here in lies the caveat.  A filter with a higher MERV rating will also restrict airflow more than a filter with a lower MERV rating and will likely increase your systems running time and energy use.  Remember, the filter only needs to keep the coils and blower free of dust and debris.  All HVAC systems are designed for a specific CFM (cubic feet per minute) airflow rating. If the airflow is restricted by say 10%, that could equate to a 10% loss in efficiency, and 10% higher energy consumption along with longer heat up or cool down cycles; or in worst case, if the system is struggling with the CFM due to restriction, the blower motor may eventually over-spin and burn out.

Most home systems require modifications for filters greater than MERV 8.  Studies show that medium-efficiency filters strike the best balance between allergen removal and filter cost.  Flat, disposable, spun fiberglass filters (MERV 1-4) protect the HVAC system from large particles but cannot block the microscopic particles that are most irritating for allergy and asthma prone humans and pets.  Medium efficiency pleated filters made of polyester or cotton paper offer a MERV rating of 5-12 due to the larger and denser surface area thereby allowing them to capture smaller and greater numbers of particles without impeding air flow to the unit. High efficiency pleated filters have MERV ratings of 13-16. Electronic filters do not have a MERV rating.

Most experts recommend that consumers use a filter recommended by the furnace manufacturer.  If a manual for the unit does not exist, call the manufacturer or the HVAC dealer.  Should additional filtration be needed beyond that designed for the unit, consult the manufacturer or dealer for technical assistance.   A flat, fiberglass filter will serve the basic need of protecting the system.  If additional air filtration is needed, a flat, pleated filter that fits into the HVAC systems’ slot with a MERV rating of 7 or less is an acceptable filter for most systems; the pleats provide a greater surface area to trap particles thereby protecting the system and improving air quality.

In the realm of electrical service like AC repair, partnering with trusted professionals like Leolec ensures expert attention to your system’s needs. Whether it’s routine maintenance, troubleshooting, or addressing complex issues, relying on seasoned professionals can mitigate risks and optimize system performance. Leolec’s expertise in electrical services and AC repair equips them to handle various challenges efficiently, safeguarding your comfort and investment. By entrusting your system to experts, you gain peace of mind knowing that skilled technicians are dedicated to maintaining the integrity and functionality of your HVAC system, promoting longevity and sustained performance.

Lastly, no manufacturer can predict how long its filters will last because none of them know the dust conditions in individual homes.  Checking the filter often is advised with the rule of thumb being, “if it looks dirty, it is dirty.”  A general guideline is to change filters at least every three months to maintain maximum efficiency but monthly checks are encouraged.

For more in-depth information consult:

EPA technical document, “Residential Air Cleaners:  A Summary of Available Information”
American Lung Association, “Health House Furnace Filters: Tips about Your Furnace Filter”
University of Illinois Extension, “Healthy Indoor Air”

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Oven Cleaning

Dirty oven      clean oven

Tis the season for Spring cleaning! For many of us that includes the oven. It is suggested to clean your oven monthly and wipe down the oven door weekly. Dirty ovens are less efficient at reaching temperatures and crusty buildup can impact the taste of food or even cause a fire.

AnswerLine’s recommended way to clean an electric oven is to preheat the oven for 20 minutes. Turn the oven off and place a bowl of boiling water on the bottom shelf and a bowl of ammonia (about ½ cup ) on the top shelf. Close the oven door and let set overnight. Wipe down and scrub with a nonabrasive scrubber if necessary the next day. This procedure is not recommended for gas ovens with pilot lights for safety reasons. For gas ovens place a bowl of water in the oven and turn the oven on high for 20 minutes. Turn off the oven and allow the steam to loosen dried on food and grease overnight.

If spills do happen, sprinkle salt on the spills when warm and scrub with 3 tablespoons washing soda (which can be purchased at the grocery store) mixed into 1 quart warm water.

The next blog will address the recommended way to clean oven racks.

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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Tips for Maintaining Your Garbage Disposal

One of my favorite conveniences in my kitchen is my garbage disposal. I wanted one for many years and my husband finally installed one two disposalyears ago.  I have learned that a garbage disposal requires regular maintenance to run well.

Maintaining and cleaning your garbage disposal is essential to keeping it in good working condition. However, sometimes the disposal can become clogged or malfunction due to improper use or build-up of debris. In such cases, it may be necessary to dispose of the waste in a dumpster. If you are in need of reliable and affordable dumpster rentals in the Appleton area, consider checking out Appleton dumpster rentals. With a variety of sizes to choose from, you can find the perfect dumpster for your waste disposal needs. By properly disposing of your waste, you can not only keep your garbage disposal running smoothly but also contribute to a cleaner and healthier environment. Follow these tips to keep your garbage disposal working like new.

If you’re a resident in Seminole Heights, facing such a situation, consider exploring Dumpster Rental in Seminole Heights, FL for reliable and convenient waste management solutions. Whether dealing with a clogged disposal or excess waste accumulation, having access to dumpster rental services ensures a practical approach to handling such situations effectively. With these measures in place, maintaining the functionality of garbage disposals becomes not only a matter of personal convenience but also a collective effort towards sustainable waste management practices.

Furthermore, efficient waste management extends beyond residential areas, encompassing various industrial and commercial sectors. In densely populated regions like Eaton County, Michigan, where urban activities generate significant waste, the necessity for streamlined waste disposal solutions is paramount. Dumpster Rental Services In Eaton County, Michigan also provide a vital resource for businesses and communities alike, offering scalable options to manage waste efficiently. Embracing such services not only enhances the cleanliness and aesthetics of urban areas but also contributes to the broader objective of promoting sustainability and environmental responsibility within communities.

Indeed, effective waste management is imperative not only for residential areas but also for commercial sectors to maintain cleanliness and environmental responsibility. Commercial businesses can greatly benefit from initiatives like trade waste bins, which provide tailored solutions for managing waste generated in various industries. Just as residential areas rely on streamlined waste disposal solutions, commercial businesses also play a vital role in fostering cleaner and more sustainable communities through responsible waste management practices facilitated by initiatives like waste bins.

Daily Care:  Flush the disposal with hot soapy water once daily.  Fill the sink with hot soapy water.  Turn the disposal on and empty the sink.  Remove the rubber gasket and scrub.

Monthly Care: Deep cleaning on a semi-regular schedule will keep build up down and help sharpen the blades.  Flush the disposal to remove any small food particles.  Grind some ice cubes to clean the blades.

For a more thorough cleaning, pour ½ cup baking soda into the disposal. Slowly add 1 cup of vinegar to the soda.  Let this mixture fizz in the disposal for 10 minutes; heat a large pan of water to a boil.  Carefully and slowly pour the water into the disposal.  Remove the gasket and scrub it in hot soapy water.  If you want a fresh smell, grind some citrus peels.

Removing Blockages: If you are careful this will be an infrequent occurrence. Be very careful when removing blockages.

Start by turning off the fuse to the disposal. Double check by trying to turn the disposal on, if power is shut off properly it should NOT run.  Next, remove the rubber gasket and using a flashlight look for the blockage.  Use a pliers or tongs to remove the object or block.  Be cautious around the disposal blades; try not to damage them or your hands.  Once the blockage has been removed, replace the gasket and turn the power back on.

I have not yet had to remove a blockage from my disposal but I do follow the daily and monthly care routines. My disposal runs like new.

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Spring Cleaning Your Grill

Once the weather gets warmer we use our grill about every day.  Cleaning it before you start to heavily use it is always a good idea.  Here are some cleaning tips that will keep your grill working well for years to come.

Cleaning grill grate with a brush – Photo: Canva.com

  • Start off by washing the outside with warm soapy water. Rinse well after washing.
  • If you have a stainless steel burner on the side of your grill you can use a mild stainless steel cleaner. Use a non- lint cloth to clean and polish.
  • Next move to the inside. If on the lid of your grill you have deposits that look like peeling paint it is carbonized grease. Use a stainless steel grill brush to remove them then wash with warm soapy water and rinse.
  • Brush the grates with a stainless steel brush and then wipe them clean with a rag and soapy water, then rinse.
  • To clean the burners and tubes use a stainless steel grill brush. Brush them sideways not lengthways to avoid moving debris from one hole to the next.
  • Be sure and clean the bottom of the grill. If the grease is excessive use a spatula or putty knife to scrape it off into the bottom tray. Clean the tray and the drip tray.

Just like cleaning your oven, maintaining your grill will keep it working for a long time.  Your food will cook more evenly and you will enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Beth Marrs

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Adult Home Economics Education. I love to cook and entertain and spend time with my family.

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Preventing and Thawing Frozen Pipes

Here in the upper Midwest plumbers have been busy with the recent cold snap. When the temperature plummets, the risk of pipes freezing goes up. In fact frozen pipes are one of the most common causes of property damage during frigid weather and can cause thousands of dollars in water damage for the home or business owner, according to the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety.  Pipes that freeze most frequently are those in unheated interior spaces such as basement, attics, and garages.  But pipes that run through your cabinets or that are against an exterior wall are also at risk. Here’s some advice from the American Red Cross on how to prevent your pipes from freezing as well as how to thaw them if they do.

FREEZING PIPE PREVENTIONIMG_1412

During the cold weather months, take measures inside to keep your pipes warm and water running. Some may conflict with your desire to conserve water and heat, but the extra expense is nothing compared to a hefty repair bill.  Here’s what to do.

  • Keep garage doors closed if there are water supply lines in the garage.
  • Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing. (If you have small children, be sure to remove any harmful cleaners and household chemicals.)
  • Let the cold water drip from a faucet served by exposed pipes. Running water through the pipe-even at a trickle-helps prevent pipes from freezing.
  • Keep the thermostat set to the same temperature both during the day and at night.
  • If you plan to be away during cold weather, leave the heat on in your home, set to a temperature no lower than 55 ⁰ F.
  • For the long term, add insulation to attics, basements and crawl spaces. Insulation will maintain higher temperatures in those areas.

THAWING FROZEN PIPES

If you turn on a faucet and only a trickle comes out, you probably have a frozen pipe.  Likely places for frozen pipes include those against exterior walls or where your water service enters your home through the foundation.  If the water is still running, you can take the following steps but if you suspect a more serious problem, call a plumber. Plumbing professionals not only possess the expertise to identify and address frozen pipe issues promptly but can also provide invaluable services like Leak Detection Services in Reno, NV and beyond. By leveraging advanced technology and specialized equipment, these services enable early detection of leaks and potential pipe damage, helping homeowners mitigate risks and ensure the integrity of their plumbing systems.

While thawing a frozen pipe can be a DIY project, it’s important to remember that it can also be dangerous and cause further damage to your pipes if not done correctly. For a safe and effective solution, it’s recommended to seek the help of expert plumbing services. They can offer affordable plumbing solutions, including specialized tools and equipment to properly thaw your frozen pipes without causing any damage. Moreover, they can also assess your plumbing system to identify any underlying issues that may have caused the frozen pipes in the first place, ensuring that the problem doesn’t reoccur in the future.

  • Keep the faucet open. As you treat the frozen pipe and the frozen area begins to melt, water will begin to flow through the frozen area. Running water through the pipe will help melt ice in the pipe.
  • Apply heat to the section of pipe using an electric heating pad wrapped around the pipe, an electric hair dryer, a portable space heater (kept away from flammable materials), or by wrapping pipes with towels soaked in hot water. Do not use a blowtorch, kerosene or propane heater, charcoal stove, or other open flame device.
  • Apply heat until full water pressure is restored. Check all other faucets in your home to find out if you have additional frozen pipes. If one pipe freezes, chances are others are frozen too.
  • If you are unable to locate the frozen area, if the frozen section is not accessible, or if you cannot thaw the pipe, call a licensed plumber.

If you need supplemental heat, you can add a space heater to a room where pipes may be at risk.

Beth Marrs

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Adult Home Economics Education. I love to cook and entertain and spend time with my family.

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