|Sweltering August can sometimes feel like the cruelest month of all. But you can turn “cruel” to “cool” by creating a tech-smart home, a backyard water park, custom landscape edging and a super-efficient, small-size garden. If you’re looking to get even cooler, check out these nine top-rated window air conditioners.
No. 1: Get home-smart
Whole-home wiring systems — or “smart home” systems — have been around for decades, but it’s only since the proliferation of wireless that the advantages of being totally connected to your home have become so beneficial.
The term “home integration” finally fulfills its promise: From a single console in the kitchen, by your bed, or on your phone or tablet, you can control your music collection, set the scene with lighting, control the temperature and see who’s at the front door. Multi-room audio, lighting, intercom, thermostat and camera systems can even be integrated into one home system.
If whole-house integration is not something within your reach, there are enough self-programing, voice-activated and mobile app-operated appliances and devices on the market to let you easily improve your home’s tech IQ. For example:
Your refrigerator can now do more than just keep your food cool. Once Wi-Fi-enabled, you can access your apps on the LCD screen, check the weather, browse the Web for recipes and even maintain a grocery list to view on your phone when shopping.
TV is no longer just about viewing your favorite shows and movies. New smart models allow you to navigate seamlessly from movies to games to apps, and even help you stay connected with friends and family through Facebook, Twitter, and Skype.
Even your front door can get a quick “smart” update with door locks that can be controlled from your mobile phone or tablet, and a video/audio doorbell that allows you to see and communicate with any visitor, without leaving the comfort of your easy chair.
For more ideas for updating your home, consider these 11 ways to turn your house into a smart home.
No. 2: Create a water park — at home
Everyone knows the best way to beat the summer heat is to get wet! The good news is you don’t have to hit the beach or the pool to cool off; there are many fun and inventive ways to add water amusements to your own backyard. A heavy vinyl runner and garden hose is all you need to create a homemade slip ‘n slide. Water balloons suspended from a swing set or monkey bars can serve as water-drenching piñatas. Use those same water-filled balloons for some kid-friendly dodgeball, or create water bombs out of ordinary kitchen sponges. To find more ideas — and how-tos — check out these 10 ways to turn your backyard into a water park.
No. 3: Garden by the square foot
Somewhat overwhelmed by the thought of maintaining a full-size garden? Consider the benefits of gardening by the square foot. Popularized by author and PBS personality Mel Bartholomew, Square Foot Gardening centers around a 4-foot-square raised bed, divided into a grid of 16 squares, in which vegetables, herbs and flowers are densely planted. The smaller bed-size means that a gardener can easily reach plants from all sides, without stepping on and compacting the soil. It’s also super-efficient and ideal for those with space limitations: Gardeners can grow 100 percent of their crop in 20 percent of the space. The densely planted crops create a “living mulch” of sorts, preventing weeds from germinating or getting firmly established. And, like any raised bed, these small-size squares enable you to control soil nutrients, drainage and erosion.
No. 4: Check that air conditioner
If you are finding it hard to stay cool, even with air conditioning, it may be time to see if your unit needs to be serviced — or replaced. While the cost of replacement may seem daunting, the payback in reduced energy costs and improved comfort will definitely be worth the investment. If your central air conditioning unit is more than 12 years old, replacing it with an Energy Star-qualified model could cut your cooling costs by 30 percent. Room air conditioners with the same rating will use about 10 percent less energy than conventional models. If you are in the market for a room air conditioner, here are nine of the best rated.
No. 5: Create your own landscape edging
You will find many landscape-edging products at your local home store and garden center, but if you have the time and desire, you can easily make your own. With some concrete mix, plywood (to create straight forms) or flexible hardboard (if you want to make a curved border), and some basic tools, you can create garden edging that will last for years. Follow this how-to guide to get started.