Fact: Even rock can be damaged.
Marble, quartz, travertine, soapstone, and limestone can all be stained. Regular household cleaners can dull their surfaces over time. And marble is maddeningly fragile — it's the prima donna of stone.
It's easy to scratch. It's easy to stain. Here's the worst part: Mildly acidic substances like soda, coffee, lemon juice, even hard water will eat into marble, creating a cloudy, dull spot in a process known as etching.
"Spill a glass of wine on a marble counter and go to bed without cleaning it, the next morning you'll have a problem," says Louwrens Mulder, owner of Superior Stone in Knoxville, Tenn.
And while stone counters won't crack under a hot pot, such direct heat can discolor quartz or marble, says Mulder. So be nice to your counters, no matter what they're made of. And note that the best rock for your buck is granite. "It doesn't stain or scratch. It's tough because it's volcanic rock," Mulder says. Which means it can stand up to all the merlot and barbecue sauce you can spill on it.
Fact: While wanting to use natural cleaners is admirable, all of them will damage your disposal and pipes over time.
The lemon's acidic juice will corrode the metal parts of your disposal. The mixture of salt and ice contains metal-eating acid, too. The coffee grounds are abrasive enough to clean the gunk off the blades and make it smell like a cup of americano, but they'll accumulate in pipes and clog them.
The best natural cleaner for your disposal is good old baking soda. It's mildly abrasive so it will clean the blades, but it's a base, not an acid, and won't damage the metal. Best of all, a box with enough baking soda big enough to clean your disposal twice costs less than a buck.
Fact: Good contractors have more than just your buddy to vouch for them.
Your neighbor's rec is a good start, but talk to a couple of sources before you hire anyone. Check the contractor's reviews on Angie's List or other online rating sites.
Ask a local building inspector which contractors meet code on the properties they inspect. Ask the contractor for the names of past clients you can talk to, how many other projects they have going, how long they've worked with their subcontractors, and if they routinely do projects the size of yours.
Look at this as a job interview where the contractor is an applicant and you're the hiring manager. Make them show you they're the guy or gal for the work.
You can buy one now for as low as $3. And replacing one incandescent bulb with a CFL will save nearly $60 a year for the lifetime of the bulb, says Consumer Reports. CFLs last an average of 5 years, so one bulb can save $300. A houseful of them, say 20, will save $600 each year.
And CFLs are a safe option. They actually lower your exposure to mercury indirectly, because they use 70 percent less electricity than incandescent bulbs. That means the coal-fired power plants that spew 340 million pounds of mercury into the air each year won't have to run as long to keep our houses lit. Fewer toxins, lower power bills. What's not to love?