Protect Yourself from Wildfire Smoke

Protect Yourself from Wildfire Smoke

As the wildfire in Santa Clarita creates a thick blanket of smoke over the West Valley many have health concerns about the quality of the air. According to the CDC it is important to stay alert and take action to protect yourself and your family from wildfire smoke.

Wildfire smoke is a mixture of fine particles and gas from burning materials. This smoke can hurt your eyes, irritate your respiratory system, and worsen chronic heart and lung diseases.

Groups at greater risk from wildfire smoke include:

  • People with heart and lung diseases
  • Older adults due to their increased risk of heart and lung diseases
  • Children are more likely to be affected by health threats from smoke.

Take precautions to decrease your risk from wildfire smoke. Check your local air quality reports to air conditions. Consult with local visibility guides that measure the amount of particles that are in the air.

Also, keep your indoor air as clean as possible – Keep your air conditioner on if you have one and keep the fresh air intake closed if you can. Keep your air conditioner filter clean to prevent outdoor smoke from getting in. You can also avoid indoor activities that increase particulates in the air like burning your fireplace, lighting candles or smoking. Even regular vacuuming can increase particulates.

Lastly, you can also purchase an indoor air purifier with a HEPA filter.  HEPA filters use glass fibers in a unique configuration arranged so air is able to pass through the filter while large contaminants such as allergens, mold or dust are captured.

While the Santa Clarita wildfires do pollute the air, there are measures we can take to prevent being adversely affected here in the West Valley.

Happy homemaking

Cool your patio by 20-30 degrees this summer with water sipping misters

With average summer temperatures hovering around 94 degrees in the West Valley, locals are always looking for smart, cost effective ways to keep cool in the summer. More and more people are installing water sipping patio misters.

I know what you are thinking, “But we are in the middle of a drought!”  Actually, modern misters use very little water per hour for the area they cool.

How much water do misters use?  Of course that depends on the area you are cooling and the number of misting heads.  For a 10’ x 20’ patio I would recommend approx. 8-12 misters.  Misters create micro droplets and 10 – 12 will use approx. ½ to 1 gallon per hour.  This means you can cool your patio at dinner time by up to 30 degrees for about 1/2 gallon to 1 gallon of water – that’s less than one toilet flush! 

How does misting cool the air?

Misters create billions of micro droplets every second. When these droplets are introduced into an outdoor area, they quickly evaporate which requires energy. This energy is taken from the air in the form of heat and the result is a temperature reduction from 20-30 degrees – depending on the ambient temperature and the relative humidity of the air.

Best of all these systems are very inexpensive!

Basic systems can be purchased at Home Depot for $25 and plugged directly into your hose – easy and cheap!

When you consider the high energy cost of cost of cooling your home, water sipping misters can be a very inexpensive way to enjoy your patio in the West Valley.

 Happy Homemaking

Get an inexpensive misting system installed now – click here!


PREVENTING CLOGS: Most people lack a fundamental understanding of how even simple clogs in their home take place. While most toilet clogs come from too much toilet paper in the flush, the vast majority of sink, shower and tub clogs come from a build up of soap scum and particulates combining into a solid mass. Every time we wash our hands, hair and bodies, soap scum is building in our pipes. This sticky residue is like a glue that holds smaller solids like hair and food particles in place.

One cheap and effective solution is to pour 1/2 cup of baking soda and 3 cups of white vinegar into your sink and let it sit for about 3 minutes. Baking soda (Sodium hydrogen carbonate ) is a terrific cleaning agent and helps get rid of foul odors. Vinegar contains acetic acid, which acts as an excellent organic solvent in removing organic buildup of crud in pipes. When you mix vinegar and baking soda you get bubbles. Why you may ask? Since vinegar is an acid and baking soda is a base, they undergo an acid-base reaction. When an acid and a base are mixed together, the result is that the acid and base neutralize each other to form water and a small amount of salt. In the case of vinegar and baking soda, the acetic acid and sodium hydrogen carbonate combine to form water, carbon dioxide (hence the bubbles), and sodium acetate – the perfect pipe cleaning solution.

Then rinse it for another 3 minutes with hot water and a little lemon juice. The hot water keeps oils moving down your pipes and the lemon juice gives your sink a fresh smell.

Lastly, and when ever possible, store oils and grease in jars and try not to put solids into your sink. I know garbage disposals promise effective waste management, but when we rely on them, we are asking for clogs. Happy home making from WestValleyHelp.

7 ways to protect your drought-landscaped property from El Niño rain

7 ways to protect your drought-landscaped property from El Niño rain

Carol Crotta

If you, like many Southern Californians, changed your landscaping substantially in light of the drought — took out lawn, put in hardscape or a large amount of decomposed granite, for example — you may have been in for a rude surprise when the El Niño-related rains started to fall this week.

Your yard may be far less receptive to water than it used to be, when the lawn soaked up rainwater like a sponge. New landscaping may have changed the way water flows across your property. If you didn’t pay enough attention to drainage when making the changes, you might find yourself scrambling to deal with standing and ponding water, muddy flows from the decomposed granite and water pooling around your foundation.


“If you went overboard with impervious surfaces, then you will get an increase in runoff,” says Pat Wood, senior civil engineer for Los Angeles County Public Works’ water resources division. The key, she continues, is to “try to protect your house and move the water toward the driveway and street” — which, she notes, is “the first link of the public flood protection system.”

Landscape architect and USC adjunct professor Robert Perry advises homeowners to assess problem areas that cropped up during the recent rains and “be alert” for the next time.

“You may have areas where water collects and creates problems,” he says. “Make some effort to enable the site to drain once limits are reached.” Pre-storm, that can include creating “intentional impoundment zones” — a series of highs and lows in the garden — “where water will collect and infiltrate.”

It also means directing water where you want it to go by placing sandbags or even digging shallow trenches to direct runoff into a desirable spot.

It may take a storm or two to determine where trouble spots lie. Serious drainage problems will require professional help.

In the moment, however, you can mitigate damage with some basic steps. Here are seven of the most common problems that might occur and temporary fixes to help you weather the storm.

1. The problem: Soil is washing off onto the sidewalk.

The solution: Position water-absorbing fiber roll or lengths of straw wattle roll to act as a catchment.

2. The problem: Overflowing rain barrel.

The solution: Make sure your barrel has an overflow outlet. Attach a long length of PVC or flexible pipe to the outlet and direct the overflow away from the house, either into flower or tree beds or toward the street.

3. The problem: The decomposed granite is turning into mud.

The solution: Place barrier material such as rolled straw wattle, sandbags or cement edgers to redirect the flow to an established drainage path or into an open bed. Use a broom to brush off as much ponding water as possible.

4. The problem: Water coursing toward the house or garage

The solution: Use sandbags or other diverters to channel the water flow away from the house. Protect foundations by making sure soil slopes away from the walls. Also lay plastic sheeting on the ground and up the wall a foot or so, securing it with sandbags. (See graphic.)

5. The problem: Water ponding (often caused by a lack of water that has left soil dry and compacted).

The solution: Dig an ample amount of compost into the soil, then top with 3 to 4 inches of mulch. Aside from adding height to a low spot, the combination will absorb and retain the moisture, allowing it to percolate into the soil.

6. The problem: Water ponding around downspouts and threatening the foundation and house structure

The solution: Invest in downspout extenders that channel the water away from the house. Spread several inches of mulch to absorb the water and gravel to curb further erosion.

7. The problem: Water flow is cutting channels into ground

The solution: Line the channel with large gravel, Wood advises: “It will take the force of the flow and the gully won’t cut any deeper.”

What you need to protect your yard, house foundation and roof from El Niño

It’s raining hard, and you need a quick yard fix. Experts recommend that you keep these materials readily available:

Sandbags (enough to create two to three layers) to redirect water flow away from your home or garage and toward the street.

Lengths of water-absorbing “straw wattle” or fiber rolls, to edge soil beds, granite paths and perimeters. (They’ll catch and contain low-level debris and mud flow.)

A shovel.

A roll of 6 mil plastic sheeting to stave off water that might otherwise pond around the foundation and exterior walls. Or to use for roof leaks.

A couple sacks of gravel. Gravel can be used to line channels and gullies created by rain pour, to help prevent further erosion.

Sacks of mulch and compost to mix into hard-pack soil when skies are clear. The result? Better rain water absorption and retention.

Gloves for safety, and to maintain a firm grip on wet tools.

Waterproof boots to maintain good footing.

28 things to do to prepare for El Niño rains this season

28 things to do to prepare for El Niño rains this season

Carol Crotta

If El Nino rainfall predictions are correct, this fall and winter could be the answer to drought-relief prayers. As with everything in life, however, be careful what you wish for. While there is a chance precipitation will be only moderate, there is also the possibility of powerful, drenching rainstorms that can quickly create trouble on many fronts. It’s time to get your head in the game. Preparing your house, your yard, your car and your insurance — now — can be the best hedge against an unpredictable season. Here are 28 tasks to consider to better position yourself against whatever challenges El Niño throws your way.


Preparing for El Nino: In the Oct. 17 Saturday section, an article about how to prepare for El Nino gave an incorrect Web address for the California Department of Water Resources. The correct address is —


1. Fix your leaks before it rains: The recent dry heat may have caused wood structures to shrink and to open up expansion joints, possibly creating leak points. Call your roofer to check for trouble spots and repair any old leaks. Most roof leaks occur at metal flashing connection points, so make sure the flashing is free of debris. Use your hose to make sure the flashing is directing water off the roof and into the gutters.

2. Clean out your gutters and downspouts — and then clean them again: Don Vandervort, founder of, an online home improvement information and instruction site, clears the debris from his gutters and downspouts before a potentially rainy season — and then does it again after the first rain. Also look for any breaks and make sure the gutters are tight against the roofline. While you’re at it, seal up any holes from cables and other wires that penetrate exterior walls. For more information go to

3. Invest in a generator: If you are in a neighborhood susceptible to power outages, consider buying a portable generator or even a permanent standby generator that immediately kicks in if the power goes out.

4. Install a sump pump: With enough rain, groundwater can invade below-grade spaces such as basements and garages even with good drainage systems in place. If you already have a sump pump, have your plumber service it.

5. Paint the exterior wood trim of your home: Cracks in paint can carry water directly into the wood and promote dry rot and termite invasion.

6. Examine your window glazing compound: The persistent hot, dry weather may have caused the glazing compound to shrink and pull away from the glass panes. Loosened panes can allow rain penetration. Check and recaulk as needed.

7. Check balcony and deck slopes: Make sure water flows away from the walls and into the drainage system.

8. Do a preemptive strike on any potential ant invasion: If wet weather in the past has sent ants or other bugs scurrying into your house, now is the time to bring in an exterminator.

9. Store emergency repair materials (sandbags, heavy plastic sheeting) in a safe dry place.

10. Is it time for new tires? To maintain contact with the road in wet weather, tires “should have at least 50% of tread life left,” notes Dave Skaien, manager of the Automobile Club of Southern California’s Approved Auto Repair Program. “Otherwise, they can’t displace water through their grooves,” and contact may be lost. They should also be correctly inflated. Underinflated tires “won’t sit properly on the ground, and you reduce traction,” he adds. “A quarter- to a half-inch of water can easily make you go into full hydroplaning mode at not very great speed.” For more information, go to

11. Pop for new wipers: A rainstorm is not the time to realize they cannot effectively clear your windshield of water.

12. Check your car lights.

13. How old is your car’s battery? At three years, have it checked by a trusted mechanic. At five years, “there’s a lot of merit in just replacing it before it fails,” Skaien says.

14. Get to know your braking system: Brakes should be checked and worn brake pads replaced, no matter the weather. Know that “cold, wet brakes do not work as well as warm, dry brakes,” Skaien says.


15. Make sure your yard drains properly. If you’ve substituted impervious hard-scape, rock and decomposed granite for lawn in the last few years, the drainage pattern in your yard may have changed. Water that used to percolate through spongy grass will now flow. Landscape architect and USC adjunct professor Bob Perry advises placing 3 to 4 inches of organic mulch in beds and areas where water will drain or collect.

If ponding becomes a problem, consider increasing the percentage of your yard that can absorb rainwater. Changes to the landscape may also have changed your property’s grading. Consulting an irrigation and drainage specialist can short-circuit any serious problems a heavy storm might cause.

16. Turn off your automatic watering system: It’s possible you won’t need it until spring.

17. Consider installing rain barrels at downspouts: Rain barrels are a relatively inexpensive way — and an easy DIY project — to capture water coming off your roof for later use. Make sure you direct any overflow from the barrels away from the house.

18. Plant winter vegetables in raised beds or elevated rows: Too much water can cause vegetables to rot.

19. Loosen compacted soil: Ground that has been allowed to dry out will repel water initially. Tilling in compost and covering with mulch will enable the ground to better absorb rain.

20. Have your trees checked: With the drought taking a toll on all trees, now is the time to bring in a certified arborist — not a simple tree cutter — to do a health check and risk assessment. “Trees weigh less now because they have less moisture in them, but they are weaker as well,” says Nick Araya, an arborist risk specialist at TreeCareLA. “A sudden onset of moisture may be too much weight for some branches to bear.” For more information, go to

21. Secure your yard: Reinforce your fencing if needed. Store or tie down anything that might blow and cause damage in high wind. Store outdoor furniture or, if it cannot be moved, place wood planks under the legs to lift them off the pavement. Cover glass-top tables with plywood secured with cord. Place potted plants in a sheltered area.

22. Have materials on hand to divert water: Sandbags, concrete edgers and straw-waddle tubing can effectively channel water away from structures to drainage areas.

23. Talk to your neighbors: If your house lies below another house, you’ll want to find out where their property drains. If they’ve changed the natural flow path, they may be liable for damage caused by storm runoff from their property onto yours.

24. Consider flood insurance even if you’re not in a high-risk area: “Twenty percent of people who file claims come from non-high-risk areas,” says Mary Simms, spokeswoman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency‘s Region IX, which includes California. Flood insurance is not generally covered by regular homeowner policies. By congressional mandate, FEMA, through its National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and along with industry partners, makes flood insurance available. For more information, to go FEMA’s site. It takes 30 days for any flood policy to become effective.

25. Secure important documents in the cloud or on a thumb drive.

26. Put together preparedness and disaster supply kits for your home and car. FEMA, the California Department of Water Resources and the Auto Club are just three of many organizations that list important things to have on hand. For more information, go to (California Department of Water Resources), (Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety “Homeowners Guide for Flood, Debris Flow and Erosion Control”), (National Weather Service) and (Automobile Club of Southern California).

27. Check out Flood Awareness Week, Oct. 19-24: The state Department of Water Resources is sponsoring a weeklong flood awareness event in partnership with the state agency California Volunteers. In addition to encouraging neighborhood groups to coordinate emergency plans, DWR offers on its new website information, search tools and a calendar of flood-preparedness events across the state.

28. Prepare now: Experts agree that the toughest time to find solutions to rain-related issues is during a rainstorm.