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Home Care

5 Must-haves for outdoor entertaining

Open a new door – literally – and head outside to take advantage of unused deck, patio and yard space.



Gatherings and get-togethers may commonly take place inside, but giving your guests extra space takes nothing more than a little creativity and the right outdoor appliances. Open a new door – literally – and head outside to take advantage of unused deck, patio and yard space.

As a natural extension of your home, a few key pieces of lighting, heating and cooking equipment can turn your backyard into an entertaining oasis. Let your personal style shine and elevate your hosting skills with these ideas from the experts at the Propane Education & Research Council.


Flame lighting may not be every homeowner’s first consideration, but more hosts are relying on it to add upscale elegance to outdoor gatherings. Custom lanterns, modern chandeliers, pendants and tabletop units offer stylish additions to modern and classic designs alike.

No matter your tastes, propane flame lighting fixtures can be placed in multiple areas for aesthetic and practical purposes. While it’s hard to top the soothing effect of a starry night while calming flames reflect off your windows and add a glow to your patio, flame lighting also can ward off intruders or animals and help prevent tripping in the dark.

Grills and Cooking Equipment

Propane can help you bring your dream kitchen to life outdoors. First establish a budget and identify a builder then build out the features of your high-performing kitchen in the peaceful setting nature offers. Often, the centerpiece of the space are grills, which are available in a variety of sizes and styles. Some offer features like side burners for sauces and rotisseries.

Because they heat up fast and provide precise temperature control, propane-powered outdoor cooking appliances are a popular choice for homeowners who want to spend less time preparing food and more time enjoying it. With instant on-off convenience just like indoor gas ranges, outdoor propane grills, pizza ovens and ovens help home chefs create perfectly cooked meals with no coals, soot or ash to clean up. The appliances can also be built in to a straight, L-shape or U-shape bar to complete your outdoor cooking paradise.

Patio Heaters

If chilly weather brings on the blues in your region, make the most of your outdoor space with a propane-powered patio heater that allows for entertaining nearly year-round. Propane patio heaters can raise the outdoor air temperature up to 25 F while emitting a circle of radiant heat up to 25 feet in diameter. Next time you want to get outside before patio season arrives, start up a propane patio heater to enjoy cozy warmth in a clean, safe, reliable way.

Fireplaces and Fire Pits

Another option for bringing warmth to outdoor entertaining can happen with the push of a button in the form of a propane fireplace or fire pit. These smokeless solutions come without the maintenance of wood-burning fires, meaning you can enjoy the heat and ambiance of flames dancing in the night sky while skipping the fuss of soot, ash and burning logs. Plus, clean-energy propane delivers heat more efficiently with a lower carbon footprint than traditional energy sources like wood, which take a toll on the environment.

Pool Heaters

You can maximize your fun for as much of the year as possible and combat the elements with propane pool and spa heaters. Available for in-ground and above ground pools and spas, propane heaters operate at a higher efficiency than electric systems and maintain heat better in cooler weather while also operating cleanly and taking up minimal space.

To find more outdoor entertaining inspiration, visit

Home Care

7 Backyard improvements that make a difference

With more people staying home to work, relax and play, many homeowners have chosen to renovate rather than move to a new home to obtain their dream house and have it work better for their family.



The housing market always has its ups and downs, and home renovations appear to be hitting some record highs in the last few years. With more people staying home to work, relax and play, many homeowners have chosen to renovate rather than move to a new home to obtain their dream house and have it work better for their family. But what about extending those enhancements outside, into the family backyard?

According to a recent poll commissioned by the TurfMutt Foundation and conducted online by The Harris Poll, more than three-quarters of Americans who have a yard (76 percent) say the family yard space is one of the most important parts of their home. When it comes to design, it makes sense family backyards are being taken as seriously as the interior of the home.

“Backyard improvements can impact your home’s value should you decide to sell someday, but we think it’s also important to make changes that enhance your experience and enjoyment of your yard today,” says Kris Kiser, President & CEO of the TurfMutt Foundation, which encourages people to care for and utilize the green space around them, including our own backyards and community parks.

He adds, “Mulligan the TurfMutt and I are loving our newly renovated backyard as we’ve brought some of our indoor living, outdoors. It feels like we’ve added onto the house by just utilizing the outdoor space more effectively.” 

Maybe you’ve already completed the improvement projects inside your home such as adding a fresh coat of paint, putting in new flooring, or updating appliances and furniture. But how are home improvements taken to the backyard so the “outdoor living room” works better for your family and at the same time make your home feel new?

Here are seven suggestions from the TurfMutt Foundation for turning home renovations “inside out”:

1. Replace flooring inside = cleaning up the yard and improving its turfgrass.

Grass is the canvas for your outdoor living room. Improve existing turfgrass by overseeding or aerating, or start fresh with new sod. Clean out flower beds and remove debris from all parts of your yard, and then build the other elements from there. Remember, outdoor power equipment like a lawn mower, hedge trimmer, or leaf blower can help make even big jobs easier. 

2. Repaint inside = planting flowers to attract and support backyard wildlife.

A fresh coat of paint can transform a room, just like planting flowers outside does for a yard. Choose native plants that have evolved to thrive in your microclimate (they are better for the ecosystem and require less input from you). Selecting native perennials over annuals means only having to plant once to enjoy their beauty for years to come. Plus, pollinators and other backyard wildlife will thank you as these types of plants are natural habitat and food for them.

3. Replace household appliances = freshening up your cache of outdoor power equipment. 

Getting the right equipment for your lawn size and type customizes the experience of caring for your yard. Good news is there are lots of options available for all needs and tastes. Robotic mowers that act like a Roomba for the lawn and battery-powered leaf blowers that are lightweight, powerful, and portable are good choices. For larger lawns, zero-turn mowers and even a UTV might be helpful.

4. Swap out furniture inside = creating high-value spaces outside. 

Spending time outside is all about connection with nature and others. Really think about what you need for your lifestyle, and buy outdoor furniture accordingly to create spaces that support your family’s lifestyle. Things like a picnic table for backyard study sessions, an outdoor sectional for connecting with others, a hammock for swinging away stress, or even an outdoor office to strike a better work life balance are all ways you can create high-value outdoor spaces.

5. Kitchen renovation = adding an outdoor kitchen. 

The sky is the limit when adding an outdoor kitchen. You can certainly create full set-up complete with a sink, refrigerator, and built-in grill and cooktop. Or keep it simple with a beverage cart or cooler and spend a little more on a quality grill to cook meals on.

6. Add on to your home = creating a true outdoor living room. 

Go all out and add a deck, hardscaped area or screened in porch if you have the time and budget, or simply make the most of the yard you have. Create a soccer or croquet field on a grassy flat area. Add a fire pit and use string lights in trees to enhance enjoyment in the wintertime. For warm summer days, a pergola covered in colorful vines that attract butterflies might be just the ticket.

7. Add a game room inside = creating activity zones outside. 

Make your backyard the neighborhood gathering hot spot by creating activity zones that are fun for the whole family. Cornhole, soccer, bocce ball, and a giant checkers board game can help parents more easily manage their kids’ screen time. A patio or deck is a great setting for family game nights. Or go all out and add a swimming pool to lock in your backyard as the place-to-be for your kids and their friends. Involve your family in the planning and keep in mind that shrubs and hedges are a great way to distinguish the different activity zones you create in your yard.

For more information, sign up for Mutt Mail, a monthly e-newsletter with backyarding tips and all the news from the TurfMutt Foundation here.

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Home Care

How to use your hot tub all Fall and Winter

These 10 tips will help you enjoy steamy, stress-relieving water this fall and all winter.



As temperatures drop along with the leaves, pools are closing for the season; but hot tubs don’t have to close.

The tranquility of a soothing, warm soak can easily be enjoyed year-round. All it takes is a little preparation. These 10 tips will help you enjoy steamy, stress-relieving water this fall and all winter:

10 Tips to Keep Calm and Soak On

  1. Inspect the hot tub cover. It should fit tightly, with no rips or tears and withstand snow and ice.
  2. Consider a cover cap or insulation jacket. Both add a layer of protection in harsh weather. A hot tub insulation jacket provides additional insulation and maximum protection
  3. Use a floating blanket to trap heat
  4. Keep leaves and debris out and the cover on when not in use
  5. Clear snow and ice off the cover with the right tools to avoid damage
  6. Check water levels frequently – hot tub water evaporates more quickly in cold dry air than in warmer months. Don’t let the water level fall below the skimmer level – proper water circulation maintains clean, clear water
  7. Check and repair leaky pipes since they are more likely to freeze and ruin your hot tub
  8. Keep the water temperature a bit higher but never above 104F; use a hot tub thermometer to check the temperature
  9. Change your water before freezing temps-earlier is better
  10. Investigate water maintenance products that keep your water clean and clear with less maintenance, use less chlorine and allow you to go on vacation and return to crystal clean water

Not all water care products are the same. Most sanitizers are dichlor, a type of chlorine you must spoon-feed into hot tub water; it’s used up immediately and must be added after each use.

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Home Care

Tips to limit indoor exposure to COVID-19 and flu viruses



With new COVID-19 variants on the rise and flu season around the corner, Horizon Air Solutions, a locally owned HVAC company serving Houston since 2016, says homeowners should ensure their homes have the proper ventilation and purification systems in place to combat contaminated air.

“Many homeowners think the air inside their houses is healthier than the air outside, but studies have shown that isn’t always the case,” said Jorge Bassante, owner and president of Horizon Air Solutions. “Indoor air pollutants are a growing concern, especially with COVID-19 and the flu virus on the rise. Many homes aren’t ventilated properly and don’t have air purification systems installed. Many others have dirty ductwork that can blow pollutants around the home.”

In places like Houston, air quality suffers as a result of its warm, urban climate, which makes it predisposed to higher ozone levels. This can contribute to airborne illnesses such as COVID-19 and the flu. In Harris County, hospital admissions related to COVID-19 are continuing to rise on a weekly basis while they are down in the rest of Texas, according to news reports.

“(T)here’s no better time to consider improving your home’s air quality before it gets cold and we close our homes up again,” he said. “There are a number of ways you can improve your home’s air quality so your family can better protect itself from viruses like COVID and the flu.”

Bassante said these include:

  1. Changing the HVAC filter regularly. This simple solution not only helps the HVAC system run more efficiently, it also helps the system circulate cleaner air.
  2. Controlling the humidity in the home. Humid and moist air breeds mold, while drier air keeps viruses active longer. Homeowners can use humidifiers and dehumidifiers to control their home’s relative humidity. Homeowners can use a device called a hygrometer to test their home’s moisture levels. The ideal humidity in a home should be less than 60% in the summer and between 25% and 40% in the winter.
  3. Using fans in the bathrooms and kitchen. Homeowners can rid their homes of moisture and contaminants created by gas stoves or electric burners by regularly using vent fans while showering or cooking.
  4. Ventilation improvements. Although it’s generally a good idea to open windows, this isn’t always possible in extreme heat or cold. Installing an HVAC system that draws in fresh outdoor air and expels stale indoor air is one alternative.
  5. Air purification systems. Air cleaning systems use mechanical filters, activated carbon filters, UV-C lights, charged ions and other air scrubbers to keep a home’s air refreshed. A reputable HVAC company can help homeowners choose the system that will work best for their homes.
  6. Source identification and control. Identifying the source of a home’s poor IAQ is half the battle, and once it has been identified, it can be controlled. An air quality expert can examine a home to find out if the source is asbestos insulation, a gas stove, building materials or outdoor sources like radon or pesticides that are seeping into the home, and then make recommendations on how to control the problem.
  7. Cleaning dirty ductwork. Many older homes have old ductwork. Ducts can be the source of built-up dust, debris and pollutants that are blown throughout the home. Homeowners should always hire a trusted professional in their area and not rely on fly-by-night operators.

Bassante said homeowners should always consult a professional if they believe they are exposed to dangerous substances like carbon monoxide, radon or asbestos.

“This isn’t something you want to risk by leaving it in the hands of someone who isn’t certified and trained on dealing with these substances,” he said. “Make sure your HVAC contractor is licensed and insured and has the certifications necessary to operate in your state.”

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