Maintaining Our Homes

Blooming flowers, greening trees, warmer temperatures, longer days… The change in weather and a new season brings spring cleaning to mind. Continued upkeep and maintenance is vital to extending the life of our homes – one more stride towards sustainability. We are always on the lookout for green products and protocols. This month, we’re sharing tips to ensure that your home stays healthy, happy and strong throughout the years.

HOME INSPECTION

Spring is the perfect time to consider seasonal checks and updates. For example, after a long winter, does the exterior need to be repainted? Does metalwork need to undergo rust removal? Do high-traffic areas like door thresholds need to be re-stained? Check power and communications lines and satellite dishes for winter damage. The roof, attic and crawlspace should be inspected for water intrusion or pests. Windows should be inspected for winter leaks and screens checked for tearing.

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The breakfast room in our Contemporary Classical residence in Beverly Hills. At the end of a rainy winter, we suggest inspecting windows for leaks. Photo: Sam Frost

SPRING CLEANING

Spring is a great time to deep-clean carpets and remove rugs for cleaning. Many professionals can do this – or you might try the historic method of hanging, beating and sweeping them outdoors. Once the rugs are up, wood floors can be cleaned with a cloth dampened with water only. Tile and stone floors can be professionally cleaned and re-sealed for protection. Be sure to use non-toxic sealers like Seal It Green. Windows and shower glass can also be washed with vinegar and newsprint instead of commercial cleaners and paper towels.

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Girl’s bathroom within our historic Craftsman Chalet residence in Santa Monica. Spring is an ideal time to clean and reseal tile floors. Photo: Laure Joliet

CHOOSING PRODUCTS FOR THE FUTURE

How do we know if cleaning products are tested and useful, and are healthy and safe to use for our homes? We recommend sourcing non-toxic options wherever possible. Just a few of these include:

  • Grove Collaborative offers a multitude of household and personal care products, from multi-surface cleaners to pet stain removers, and also offers carbon-neutral shipping.
  • Thrive Market is a destination marketplace and membership-based service, carrying affordable eco-friendly brands like Seventh Generation, Truce and Dr. Bronner’s. They are also carbon neutral by purchasing carbon credits and matching 100% of their facilities’ electricity use with renewable energy certificates.
  • Dropps released its laundry detergent pods back in 2005 before Tide came out with its pods. Today, these green cleaning products are made with only eco-friendly, mineral-based ingredients and packaged in compostable packaging. Dropps’ products have even won the EPA’s Safer Choice Products of the Year.
  • Blueland products are water-free and low-waste, with refillable packaging you can use again and again, and climate-neutral shipping.
  • ECOS has been family-owned-and-operated for more than 50 years. The company’s facilities are powered by 100 percent renewable energy and use carbon- and water-neutral practices. The team even offsets employees’ commutes, minimizing carbon emissions between sites.

GARDENING TIME

It is time to plant! Consider soil amendment, nitrogen and/or composting; adding native and non-genetically modified plants; and bringing worms and praying mantis to increase nutrients and control pests. In edible gardens, be sure to avoid insecticides with these ingredients: Imidacloprid, Thiamethoxam Bifenthrin, Chlorpyrifos, Lindane, Malathion, Permethrin, Pirimicarb, Pirimiphos-methyl, Rotenone, Tar oils and Tar acids. Reading the fine print today may protect you and your pets in the future. See more tips here.

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The homeowners of our Santa Monica Contemporary Lodge renovation are avid gardeners. In the backyard, we designed this new gardening shed alongside a sunken vegetable garden – nourished by an underground greywater tank. Photo: Joe Schmelzer

LONG LIFE

At the completion of each project, we leave our homeowners with a maintenance almanac that ensures the long-term sustainability of their new or renovated home – including regular inspections, repairs, replacement and upgrades. Examples of these may include:

  • Tankless water heaters should be flushed every year.
  • HVAC filters should be cleaned or changed twice a year. Sometimes these can be cleaned in the shower or outdoors.
  • Gutters should be cleaned in the fall, or more frequently, depending on how many trees surround your property and hang over your roof. The leaves make great compost. Also, this is a good time to check for damage. 
  • Exterior light sconces and other light fixtures? Clean them once a year – at least.
  • Bookcases and the space under beds harbor more than just dust bunnies. These areas should be vacuumed at least twice a year.
  • Does your home have a pot rack? Clean anything that hangs in the kitchen quarterly.
  • Check your smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detectors every year.
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Wondering how often to clean bookcases, like these built-ins within our Brentwood Spanish Colonial addition project? At least twice a year! Photo: Karyn Millet

In addition to the whole home, we also advise how to extend the life of appliances:

  • Dishwasher filters should be cleaned quarterly.
  • Clothes washer filters should be cleaned quarterly
  • Clothes dryer vents should be vacuumed twice a year.
  • Refrigerators compressors should be vacuumed twice a year.
  • Point-of-use water filter? Change it once a year – at least.
  • Range exhaust vents should be cleaned twice a year. Range vent grilles can often be washed in the dishwasher.
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The laundry room of our Urban Farmhouse in Venice. Remember to keep up maintenance and cleaning of home appliances, too! Photo: Roger Davies

LESSONS FROM THE PAST

We continually adapt architecture – to changing climates, materials, climate change and building strategies. Yet if a solution fails, we are able to learn from it. Here are a few examples:

  • Aluminum siding: Re-siding homes with aluminum was once preferred, due to its low cost and weight, ease to install and recyclability and modern looks. While this marvel of mass production was the popular choice throughout the mid-1900s, today, it is generally not recommended. It is prone to dents and scratches, quickly fades in the sun, is noisy and lacks energy efficiency. It is also prone to leaks and often traps moisture underneath, leading to mildew and mold.
  • Repointing brick with Portland cement: Original lime-based mortar flexes to accommodate brick’s slight expansion and contraction. In the 1930s, cement mortar became popular as it is stronger and cures quickly. It also traps moisture inside the brick. In winter, waterlogged walls freeze and crack, allowing still more water to penetrate. In summer, as the brick tries to expand, its protective fire-skin pops off.
  • Fluorescent lighting: The mercury and phosphorus inside fluorescent bulbs is hazardous. If a fluorescent lamp is broken, a small amount of toxic mercury can be released as a gas, contaminating the surrounding environment. Fluorescent lamps also age significantly if they’re installed in an area where they are frequently turned on and off, or in extreme conditions. The UV radiation emitted by fluorescent lights has led to an increase in eye diseases, most notably cataracts. And disposing of the phosphor, and more importantly, the toxic mercury in fluorescent lamps is an environmental issue. 

We hope that spring inspires healthy, enduring practices in your home. The possibilities are extensive and ever-changing – so prioritizing what is most important to you is the right place to start. Interested in discovering more about how we design strong homes for now and for years to come? See our design process here.