Desert Companion

Ready, prep, go!

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Home Prep
Brent Holmes

Summer’s just around the corner. We tapped local experts for tips on getting your car, pool, patio and more in shape for the hot months ahead 

Yard: a sprinkle of prevention

In the summertime, even a small patch of lush grass beneath your toes can be worth all the effort that maintaining a sprinkler system in the desert requires. But our hard water and wildly fluctuating temperatures wreak havoc on our irrigation systems, explains Joseph Carpenter of Vegas Sprinkler Specialists. He suggests a slate of preseason troubleshooting.

Look before you leak. First, open your valve boxes to check for water and rusting of corroding of wiring. Next, manually test sprinklers, watching them go on and off as each station is running. Look for puddling or pooling. Every couple of months — before an outrageous water bill shows up in your box — check for leaks by inspecting the main meter to the house. It’s in the sidewalk at the front of your yard. Use a set of needle-nose pliers to open the box and peek at the micro-meter. If the red (or white) triangle in the center of the dial is spinning, and your water isn’t running, you’ve got yourself a leak.

Damage control. If you’re the handy sort, you might be tempted to tackle any necessary repairs yourself. Fine, but just be aware that sprinkler parts are super-finicky. “When you take a valve apart, it has to go back together in a very precise way,” says Carpenter. In fact, he credits much of his business to the damage caused by homeowners or inexperienced landscapers; he usually gets called when the problem goes from bad to worse. “I have to fix all the stuff they break,” he says.

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Know who and when. Whatever you do, though, don’t call a plumber. Plumbers don’t do irrigation, just like irrigation specialists don’t do toilets. (By the way, it’ll cost you upwards of around $70 to have a pro do your preseason checkup. More if things get complicated.) Finally, don’t water at night, when grass will mold, or in the middle of the day, when plants will boil and grass will burn. Carpenter suggests two 30-minute dousings per day, just before sunrise and sunset.

Grill: Scour hour

Nothing says summer like the smell of backyard barbecue. Whether it’s burgers or ribs or a colorful medley fresh from the garden, the grill is a favorite summer gathering spot. For the best eats, Fred Chase of Back 2 New, The BBQ Cleaner recommends a thorough grill scouring every six months, to avoid serving up a platter full of carcinogens that develop from charred food built-up on your barbecue grates. (To give grills a total makeover, Chase — who is more than happy to do the rigorous elbow work for you — likes to paint the interior covers with a 1200-degree paint.)

Skrill that grill. Throughout the season, keep a wire brush handy to routinely scrub heated grates. And clean the drip tray (which slides in and out just like the crumb tray in your toaster) once a month, to avoid dangerous and carcinogenic grease fires that can damage the grill, as well as your health.    

Tastemakers. Your grandpa was wrong when he told you that a dirty grill makes for a more savory meat. Better to rely on ceramic briquettes, lava rocks or flavor bars, all of which are designed to enhance taste by catching grease droppings and redistributing flavor. (That said, the scorched remnants of various varmints that like to hide out beneath barbecue burners can add a certain tang to your dishes. Chase has come across everything from rabbits and rats to snakes and scorpions, some warm-bodied and feisty, others fried to a crisp, in the more than 400 grills he’s cleaned.)

All shined and wired up. Of course, you’ll want to shine things up with a stainless steel polish before party time. And maybe pick up the latest gadget that takes the guesswork out of grilling, like a smartphone app that connects to a digital meat thermostat, alerting you when it’s time to put down your beer and pick up those tongs.

   

Car: Getting level-headed

Whatever direction you road-trip this summer, you don’t want to break down in the heat of the desert. Nor do you want to waste your vacation budget on inflated emergency car servicing from an auto mechanic you don’t know and can’t trust. That’s why it’s important to do a pre-road inspection, says Mauricio Buritica of CARS Compete Automotive Repair Specialists. Do it in the morning, while the vehicle is still cold, to avoid being dangerously burned by the coolant system.

Liquid assets. With the car off, open the hood and check the oil. Check the power steering. Check the coolant — when you open the expansion cap, do it slowly to allow any residual pressure to escape slowly. Check the belt for hairline cracks, discoloration or missing pieces. “And make sure your battery connections aren’t growing any scientific experiments,” he says. Batteries can get corroded; also maintenance batteries (versus maintenance-free batteries) should be kept hydrated by adding distilled water occasionally. Whatever you do, don’t put the wrong fuel in your car. Seems obvious, but Buritica is seeing more and more of this. “Putting diesel fuel in a gas car or putting gas in a diesel car — because it’s new to everybody, since many of the manufacturers are coming out with their own turbo diesel injection cars.”

Under pressure. Checking tire pressure regularly is imperative, too, for gas mileage and for safety on the freeway. It’s also important to check your air conditioning system annually — this is something people tend to overlook, but, as with the units that cool our homes, Nevada’s extreme temps are demanding on the AC systems in our cars.

Clinic hours. If all of this feels a bit overwhelming, Buritica suggests you find a clinic, like the one his shop offers, to help customers familiarize themselves with their vehicles. 

Or, “A day or two before you go on a road trip, stop by and we can look at the vehicle and tell you exactly what’s going on, before you get stranded in the middle of Death Valley.” Yikes!

Pool: School of hard water

Before the family suits up for splishing and splashing this summer, it’s important to make sure the pool is ready for you.

A solid approach. You might want to drain the pool. According to Bill Sawdey of Personalized Pool Service, your water should be changed every three to five years, simply because Vegas water is so hard and, over time, pool water only gets harder. “As the water evaporates, the solids stay behind, thus the solids climb, and you tend to use more chemicals,” he explains. He likes to drain his clients’ pools when they reach 3,000 (solid) parts per million. Once it’s drained, hose down the plasters to remove any residual solids, before refilling and sending the kids in.

Chemical calendar. To best manage chemicals, Sawdey recommends you choose a certain day each week for testing and adding. “If you bounce around, you’ll never get a good balance and you’ll end up using too much in chemicals,” he says.

Cover charge. Of course, a solar cover is important to reduce evaporation and curb your water bill, but it’s also crucial to let your pool breathe — three to four days per week is optimal, according to Sawdey. “A lot of people put the cover on and turn their back on the pool, and the water can heat up to a point where, if you don’t maintain the chems, you’ll pull the cover off at party time, only to be embarrassed by algae.” 

Getting salty. There’s a reason that saltwater pools are the latest rage. A saltwater generator virtually eliminates all the tiresome business of maintaining a pool. No more tablets, liquid or shocking. “Every 90 days, you merely dip your salt cell into a solution of muriatic acid and water, brush it off, put it back in and you’re good to go,” says Sawdey. The system generates its own chlorine from the added salt, so all you have to maintain is the proper pH. Already about 15 percent of Sawdey’s clients have made the switch, which, at around $3,000 installed, is admittedly expensive. But if you’ve got room in the family budget, it’s well worth it. He says, “You will both feel and smell the difference.”

Patio: Prep, preen and party

With your mind on pools, parties and plumbing, you might not think much about the ground beneath your feet. But you should. Think of your patio as the runway to great backyard memories.

Lay it on. Overlay some stamped concrete over your exiting patio to create a whole new vibe, says Matthew Lane of Proficient Patios Backyard Designs, a family-owned business that sells everything from loungers to grills to stamped concrete and the hands to lay it. Pavers are really popular, too, this year, because of their fairly maintenance-free application, particularly porcelain pavers, which lend backyards a shiny finish and the contemporary look that is becoming so popular. Earthy, natural stone products are also trending in landscapes and hardscapes.

Acting shady. Just the right tree in just the right place can give you the perfect seating area to enjoy an afternoon cocktail. There are all sorts of shade structures to consider: Today’s biggest seller, according to Lane, is Alumawood, low-maintenance, weather-resistant aluminum structures that come in a variety of contemporary styles. Or maybe you’re the rum, beer tap and tiki hut sort — what’s most important in designing your patio is to make it fit your lifestyle.

Light up your life. Whether you opt for an outdoor kitchen or not, you’ll want to consider accent lighting. RGB (red, green, blue) color-changing LEDs, including remote color wheels, are becoming increasingly popular to light everything backyard, from landscape to hardscape and even water and fire features. “You could have 14,000 colors on this one color option, so you can even have mood colors,” says Lane. Although a complete RGB LED landscape package could cost up to $10,000, lighting can be done cost-effectively, too. To create a backyard paradise on a more moderate budget, Lane suggests a patio overlay, an Alumawood patio structure and maybe some artificial grass applications. “These are easy things to do without going way over budget,” he says.

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