'Cool design' for your first apartment

As if creating a space you love weren't hard enough, try adding the challenges of tiny rooms, limited funds and elements you're stuck with, such as ugly bathroom tile and worn kitchen cabinets.

Welcome to decorating your first apartment.

Kyle Schuneman has your back. Schuneman, the 27-year-old founder of Live Well Designs and one of House Beautiful's "Next Wave of Top 20 Designers," helps renters decorate their first digs in "The First Apartment Book: Cool Design for Small Spaces."

Schuneman puts his inventiveness and artistic eye to work on 10 apartments, including his own. He shares floor plans, tips and creative ideas for turning compact quarters into functional, comfortable living spaces, using fresh designs that play off the tenants' personalities and the vibe of the cities where they live.

"The First Apartment Book" is published by Clarkson Potter and sells for $24.99 in softcover.

A new smoke and fire alarm promises to screen out nuisance alarms caused by sources such as cooking smoke and steam from the shower.

The IoPhic alarm from Universal Security Instruments Inc. quickly detects fast-flaming and smoldering fires and uses smart technology to distinguish them from nonthreatening sources, the company says. That makes it less likely that someone would disable the device because of annoying false alarms and leave a home unprotected.

The alarm is available in both battery-operated and hard-wired versions.

The alarm is available at www.universalsecurity.com and www.homedepot.com. Prices start around $19.96 on the Home Depot website and $24.99 on the Universal site.

Q: Can I compost my cat litter?

A: Composting pet waste is possible, but doing so safely at home is complicated and time-consuming, said Fred Michel, an associate professor of biosystems engineering and a composting specialist at Ohio State University's Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center.

Cat and dog waste contain pathogens that can harm humans — in dogs, large roundworms; in cats, the organism that causes toxoplasmosis, a disease linked to birth defects. In a typical home compost pile, it can take up to a year of active decomposition to kill those pathogens, Michel said. And that doesn't include winter, when composition slows or even stops.

To make sure those pathogens are eliminated, you can't add any fresh animal waste to the compost pile during that decomposition time, Michel said. That means you'd need to maintain multiple piles, one that you add to regularly and another one or more piles that are maturing.

You also need to be careful about the kind of cat litter you choose. Most litters are made of clay, sand or crystalline-based materials, which can't be used in compost piles, he said. Only litters made from biodegradable sources can be composted, such as sawdust, pine or recycled paper.

Michel said another complication is that animal waste by itself will compost poorly, with a bad odor and a poor structure. He said animal waste should make up no more than 10 percent of the compost pile, with the rest comprising other organic matter such as leaves, food waste, brush and finished compost. Many homeowners wouldn't have enough of the other organic materials to mix with the animal waste, he said.

Even with all those precautions, he suggested using compost containing pet waste only on ornamental plants or grass, not on food crops.

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