Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Fall Landscaping Ideas: How to Prepare Your Yard for Winter

Wrapping outdoor plants for winter | Fall landscaping ideasFall landscaping preparation ideas ready your yard for a long winter and glorious spring.  Fall landscaping chores are your last chance to prepare your property for winter, and to protect that curb appeal you’ve worked so hard to create.

So pull on some gloves, grab your tools, and get ready to mulch, prune, and plant before snow and frozen ground turn the lights out on your landscaping.


Spread Mulch
Fall mulching is better for the plants than spring mulching and it helps protect roots from frost and helps retain moisture during a cold and dry winter.  Spread 2-3 inches of fresh mulch around shrubs and trees. 


Avoid using free mulch from municipal piles, which often contain disease spores; instead, buy hardwood shredded mulch from home and garden centers.  Cheap, dump mulch mainly is made from trees that have died from disease and many diseases will linger in the mulch, like leaf spot and pine bark borers. You don’t want ground-up diseased plants around your landscaping.


Remove the Dead and Dying
Fall isn’t the time to prune, because that encourages growth when healthy plants should remain dormant. But don’t shelve your shears and loppers yet. Fall is the time to neaten your landscaping before putting it to bed for the winter.

If you remove dead landscaping in fall, you don’t have to look at it all winter.
  • Remove dead annuals.  Deadhead spent blooms, and cut back dead and desiccated ornamental grasses and perennials.
  • Lightly prune dead and dying branches from shrubs and trees. Carefully remove dried blossoms from hydrangea, but don’t remove dead-looking stalks, where new buds will form in spring.
  • After the first frost, cut back tea roses to about a third of their height.
Wrap Delicate Shrubs
Heavy snow, ice, and high winds can dry and split your delicate and pricey shrubs.  To protect your landscaping from the winter elements:
  • Hide small plants under overturned plastic pots or buckets.
  • Wrap shrubs, such as boxwoods, in burlap.
  • Surround vulnerable trees with shredded leaves.
Take Advantage of Fall Sales
Early fall until the ground freezes is a good time to plant trees and shrubs. Not only do cooler weather and autumn rain put less stress on young landscaping plants, nurseries often have sales to empty their shelves before winter.

Nurseries generally pay a third of the price that you’re paying and they need to sell every plant before winter.  So don’t be afraid to offer less than the asking price. If you’re buying several things, the manager may give you a break.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

4 Simple Tasks to Do in Fall for an Awesome Lawn in Spring

Winter lawn care includes mulching leavesFall is the most crucial time for your lawn.  Although spring lawn care gets all the attention, fall lawn care is the make-it or break-it season for grass.

“I’m already thinking about next year,” says John Dillon, who takes care of New York City’s Central Park, which features 200 acres of lawn in the middle of Manhattan. “The grass I grow this fall is what will be there next spring.”

Fall lawn care is no walk in the park. It’s hard work, and Dillon guides you through the four basic steps.

#1 Aerate

Aeration gives your lawn a breather in autumn and provides room for new grass to spread without competition from spring weeds. Aeration tools pull up plugs of grass and soil, breaking up compacted turf. That allows water, oxygen, and nutrients to reach roots, and gives seeds room to sprout.
If kids frequently play on your lawn, plan to aerate twice a year — fall and spring. If your lawn is just for show, then aerate once a year — and maybe even once every other year.

A hand-aerating tool ($20), which looks like a pitchfork with hollow tines, is labor-intensive and meant for unplugging small sections of grass. Gas-powered aerating machines, which you can rent, are about the size of a big lawn mower, and are good for working entire lawns.  Bring some muscle when you pick up your rental: Aerating machines are heavy and can be hard to lift into your truck or SUV.

#2 Seed

Fall, when the soil temperature is about 55 degrees, is the best time to seed your lawn because turf roots grow vigorously in fall and winter. If you want a lush lawn, don’t cheap out on the seed.
Bags of inexpensive seed ($35 for 15 pounds) often contain hollow husks, weed seed, and annual rye grass seed, which grows until the first frost then drops dead. Splurge on the good stuff ($55 for 15 pounds of Kentucky Bluegrass seed), which resists drought, disease, and insects.

Water your new seed every day for 10 to 20 days until it germinates.

#3 Fertilize

A late fall fertilization — before the first frost — helps your grass survive a harsh winter and encourages it to grow green and lush in spring. Make your last fertilization of the year count by choosing a product high (10% to 15%) in phosphorous, which is critical for root growth, Dillon says.
Note: Some states are banning phosphorous-rich fertilizers, which are harmful to the watershed. In those places, look for nitrogen-rich fertilizers, which promote shoot and root growth. Check with your local extension service to see what regulations apply in your area.

#4 Mulch

Instead of raking leaves, run over them a couple of times with your mower to grind them into mulch. The shredded leaves protect grass from winter wind and desiccation. An added bonus — shredded leaves decompose into yummy organic matter to feed grass roots.  A mulching blade that attaches to your mower will grind the leaves even finer.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Home Upgrades with the Lowest ROI

Outdoor kitchenYou may as well just file these six upgrades under wish fulfillment, not value investment. Life is a balancing act and upgrading your home is no different. Some upgrades, like a kitchen remodel or an additional bathroom, typically add value to your home. Others, like putting in a pool, provide little dollar return on your investment.

Of course, homeowning isn’t just about building wealth; it’s also about living well and making memories -- even if that means outclassing your neighborhood or turning off future buyers.  So if any of these six upgrades is something you can’t be dissuaded from, enjoy!  But go in with your eyes wide open.  Here’s why: 

1. Outdoor Kitchen

The fantasy: You’re the man -- grilling steaks, blending margaritas, and washing highball glasses without ever leaving your pimped-out patio kitchen.
The reality: For what it costs -- on average $12,000 to $15,000 -- are you really gonna use it? Despite our penchant for eating alfresco, families spend most leisure time in front of some screen and almost no leisure time outdoors, no matter how much they spend on amenities, according to UCLA’s "Life At Home" study. And the National Association of Home Builders' 2013 "What Home Buyers Really Want" report says 35% of mid-range buyers don’t want an outdoor kitchen.
The bottom-line: Instead, buy a tricked out gas grill, which will do just fine when you need to char something. If you’re dying for an outdoor upgrade, install exterior lighting -- only 1% of buyers don’t want that.

2. In-Ground Swimming Pool

The fantasy: Floating aimlessly, sipping umbrella drinks, staying cool in the dog days of summer.
The reality: Pools are money pits that you’ll spend $17,000 to $45,000+ to install (concrete), and thousands more to insure, secure, and maintain. Plus, you won’t use them as much as you think, and when you’re ready to sell, buyers will call your pool a maintenance pain.
The bottom-line: If your idea of making it includes a backyard swimming pool, go for it. But, get real about:
  • How many days per year you’ll actually swim.
  • How much your energy bills will climb to heat the water ($760 to $1,845 depending on location and temperature).
  • What you’ll pay to clean and chemically treat the pool ($20 to $100 per month in-season if you do it yourself; $75 to $165 per month for a pool service).
  • The fact that you'll likely need to invest in a pool fence. In fact, some insurance carriers require it.

3. In-Ground Spa

The fantasy: Soothing aching muscles and sipping chardonnay with friends while being surrounded by warm water and bubbles.
The reality: In-ground spas are nearly as expensive ($15,000 to $20,000) as pools and cost about $1 a day for electricity and chemicals. You’ll have to buy a cover ($50 to $400) to keep children, pets, and leaves out. And, like in-ground pools, in-ground spas’ ROI depends solely on how much the next homeowner wants one.
The bottom-line: Unless you have a chronic condition that requires hydrotherapy, you probably won’t use your spa as much as you imagine. A portable hot tub will give you the same benefits for as little as $1,000 to $2,500, and you can take it with you when you move.

4. Elevator

Your fantasy: No more climbing stairs for you or for your parents when they move in.
The reality: Elevators top the list of features buyers don’t want in the NAHB “What Buyers Really Want” report. They cost upwards of $25,000 to install, which requires sawing through floors, laying concrete, and crafting high-precision framing. And, at sales time, elevators can turn off some families, especially those with little kids who love to push buttons.
The bottom-line: If you truly need help climbing stairs, you can install a chair lift on a rail system ($1,000 to $5,000). Best feature: It can be removed.

5. Backup Power Generator

Your fantasy: The power in your area goes kaput, but not for you. You were smart enough to install a backup power generator. While the neighbors eat cold hot dogs by a flashlight beam, you’re poaching salmon in your oven and pumping out Red Hot Chili Peppers tunes.
The reality: Power outages may seem to go on forever, but they don’t. Fifty dollars worth of batteries can power portable lights, radios, and TVs; a car adaptor will charge your cell phones and iPods; and some dry ice will keep freezer food cold for at least a couple of days.
The bottom-line: If you live in areas where power shortages are the rule, not the exception, spend the money for reliable backup power: Your still-frozen steaks, home office fax, and refrigerated medicine will thank you. But if the power goes out rarely, then installing a standby generator is overkill.

6. New Windows

The fantasy: Brand new windows that don’t stick, and slash energy bills.
The reality: A $15,000 vinyl window replacement project will return about 80% of your investment at resale, according to the "2015 Remodeling Impact Report" from the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. And if they’re Energy Star-qualified, they can save you around $300 in energy bills per year.  So, plan to live in your house about another 10 years to recoup the cost of new windows.
The bottom-line: We get it -- new windows are sturdy, pretty energy savers. But unless old window frames are thoroughly rotten, most windows can be repaired for a fraction of replacement costs. And if you spend about $1,000 to update insulation, caulking, and weather-stripping, you’ll save 10% to 20% on your energy bill.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Springtime Homecare Tips

If you live in the Northeast, there are maintenance jobs you should complete in spring or summer to prevent costly repairs and keep your home in top condition.

Certain home maintenance tasks should be completed each season to prevent structural damage, save energy and keep all your home's systems running properly. These maintenance tasks are most important for the Northeast in spring and summer. 

After a long, cold Northeastern winter, spring is an excellent time to get outside and perform a fresh inspection of the whole house.  You should give all your major exterior systems—roof, siding, gutters, drainage—a close examination to make sure they’re working properly and are in good shape.

Key Spring Maintenance Tasks to Perform:

Monitor your gutters and drainage - If debris has accumulated over the winter, you'll find out when the snow melts and spring rains arrive. Remove any blockages and look for signs of bending, damage, and areas where water has been diverted onto the roof or siding. You can usually make minor gutter repairs yourself for under $50 by adjusting or reattaching brackets, gently hammering out bent areas, and replacing damaged sections of gutter if necessary.

This is also a good time to walk around the house and make sure the soil slopes away from the foundation at a rate of at least 6 vertical inches over the first 10 feet. If you have standing water or mushy areas, consider re-grading, adding berms (raised areas), swales (contoured drainage ditches), or installing a French drain (a shallow trench that diverts water away from the house). Try to identify whether your problem is improper sloping or gutter overflow. A home inspector can help you if you're stumped; inspection services run about $80–$100 per hour.

Inspect your roof and chimney for winter damage - Shingles may need repair after a rough winter. Look for loose chimney bricks and mortar, rotting boards if you have a wooden chimney box, or rust if you have a chimney with metal parts and flashing. Inside the house, check your skylights to make sure there are no stains that indicate water leakage. If you suspect a problem, call a roofing contractor or a chimney sweep certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America for an estimate for repairs. Minor roof repairs run from $100 to $350.

Examine siding for signs of winter damage - Check for loose or rotting boards and replace; inspect the areas where siding meets windows and doors and caulk any gaps. Give your siding an annual cleaning using soap and water, a brush, and a garden hose. Also, make sure your house number hasn’t been damaged or obscured by dirt and is easily visible to emergency personnel.

Schedule your spring air conditioning service - Get ready for the air conditioning season with your spring tune-up. If your system wasn't running well last season, be sure to tell your contractor, and make sure he performs actual repairs if necessary rather than simply adding refrigerant. Follow your contractor as he works to get an idea of the maintenance checklist he uses and ask questions about what he's doing. Your contractor's checklist should include inspecting thermostats and controls, checking the refrigerant level, tightening connections, lubricating moving parts, checking the condensate drain, and cleaning the coils and blower. Expect to pay $50–$100 for a tune-up. Meanwhile, make sure your air filters are changed and vacuum out your floor registers.

If duct cleaning is part of your scheduled service, make sure you aren't charged extra for it. Some contractors may try to convince you to let them apply antifungal/antibacterial chemicals to the interior surfaces of the ducts; this isn't usually necessary and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says research has not yet confirmed its effectiveness or potential to be harmful. Any chemicals you add to your ducts will likely become airborne, so exercise caution.

Check kids' outdoor play areas - Swingsets tend to get funky over the winter.  Tighten bolts and make sure things are still properly put together and safe to use.  Make sure no sharp edges or splinters are sticking up and clean off any mold growth with a household-strength 1:9 solution of bleach and water.

Check your GFCIs - A ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) protects you from deadly electrical shocks by shutting off the power anytime even a minimal disturbance in current is detected. They are the electrical outlets with two buttons in the middle ("test" and "reset") that should be present anywhere water and electricity can mix: kitchens, bathrooms, basements, garages, and the exterior of the house. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends monthly testing, which you’re likely to remember if you incorporate it into your spring routine.

To test a GFCI, plug a small appliance (a radio, for example) into each of your GFCIs. Press the test button, which should click and shut off the radio. The reset button should pop out; when you press reset, the radio should come back on.

If the radio doesn't go off when you press the test button, either the GFCI itself has failed and should be replaced, or the outlet is wired incorrectly and should be repaired. If the reset button doesn't pop out, or if pressing it doesn’t restore power to the radio, the GFCI has failed and should be replaced. These distinctions can help you tell an electrician what the problem is—neither job is one you should attempt yourself if you don’t have ample experience with electrical repair.

Pay a visit to the attic - During a spring rain, check for visible leaks, water stains, discolored insulation, and rotting or moldy joists and roof decking. If detected, call a handyman or roofing contractor for an estimate for repairs. If you have areas of rot or mold exceeding 10 sq. ft., call an indoor air quality inspector or mold remediation company for advice. If you have an attic fan, make sure it’s running properly and that the protective screen hasn't been blocked by bird nests or debris.

Clean dirty windows - This is a good task for the end of summer, when it's still nice outside. Clean windows allow more solar energy into the house in the cooler months to come, which will help you save on your heating bill. For streak-free glass, use an eco-friendly solution of one part vinegar to eight parts water, with a few squirts of dish soap; apply to window with a sponge or soft mitt, scrubbing any tough spots. Rinse with clean water and then squeegee the surface dry.

Springtime is a great time to spend a weekend or two on maintenance to prevent costly repairs and alert you to developing problems.  Make it an annual routine! 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

4 Reasons to Buy a Home This Winter

As the temperature in many areas of the country starts to cool down, you might think that the housing market will do the same. This couldn’t be further from the truth! Here are 4 reasons you should consider buying your dream home this winter instead of waiting for spring!

1. Prices Will Continue to Rise

CoreLogic’s latest Home Price Index reports that home prices have appreciated by 6.3% over the last 12 months. The same report predicts that prices will continue to increase at a rate of 5.2% over the next year.
The bottom in home prices has come and gone. Home values will continue to appreciate for years. Waiting no longer makes sense.

2. Mortgage Interest Rates are Projected to Increase

Your monthly housing cost is as much related to the price you pay for your home as it is to the mortgage interest rate you secure.
Freddie Mac’s Primary Mortgage Market Survey shows that interest rates for a 30-year mortgage are currently at 4.08%. The Mortgage Bankers Association, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac & the National Association of Realtors are in unison, projecting that rates will increase by this time next year.
An increase in rates will impact YOUR monthly mortgage payment. A year from now, your housing expense will increase if a mortgage is necessary to buy your next home.

3. Either Way You’re Paying a Mortgage

There are some renters who have not yet purchased a home because they are uncomfortable taking on the obligation of a mortgage. Everyone should realize that, unless you are living with your parents rent free, you are paying a mortgage - either yours or your landlord’s.
As an owner, your mortgage payment is a form of ‘forced savings’ that allows you to have equity in your home that you can tap into later in life. As a renter, you guarantee your landlord is the person with that equity.
Are you ready to put your housing cost to work for you?

4. It’s Time to Move on with Your Life

The ‘cost’ of a home is determined by two major components: the price of the home and the current mortgage rate. It appears that both are on the rise.
But what if they weren’t? Would you wait?
Look at the actual reason you are buying and decide whether it is worth waiting. Whether you want to have a great place for your children to grow up, you want your family to be safer or you just want to have control over renovations, maybe now is the time to buy.

If the right thing for you and your family is to purchase a home this year, buying sooner rather than later could lead to substantial savings.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Mood-Lifting Ideas For a Cozier Home This Winter

Image result for Mood-Lifting Ideas For a Cozier Home This Winter picsBanish the winter blahs for a radically better outlook this season.

It’s been a long day at work and you just want to get home and relax on your deck. But, it’s already dark outside and that chill in the air is telling you it’s time to pull out your parka. So, you choose to stay inside. But the indoors feel more like a dank cave than a welcoming oasis.
 
You don’t have to succumb to the winter blahs. Just implement a few of these ideas, and you’ll be warm and comfy inside until winter’s worst blows over.

1. Clean Your Light Fixtures and Bulbs

Your home will appear 30% brighter — without turning on more lights.
Related: Did You Know Dirty Bulbs Are Energy Wasters?

2. Keep the Cold Air Out

It’s not just window and door leaks killing your cozy vibe. Don’t forget to plug stealthy gaps around recessed lights, electrical boxes, and wall outlets. Use a lit incense stick or scented candle to hunt down drafty spots while leaving behind a cozy scent.

3. Dig Out Your Slow Cooker

Nothing says warm and cozy like opening the door to an enticing aroma that makes your mouth water. Even better, slow cookers are more energy efficient than electric ovens, typically using less energy than a light bulb.

4. Bring Home Some Nature

Many indoor plants, like golden pothos and gerbera daisies, are particularly adept at sucking up nasty VOCs — the vapors emitted from household cleaners, paints, and dry cleaning. And since plants increase humidity levels, they help decrease household dust.

5. Vacuum With Your Thermostat Fan On

Run the fan to help filter dust that gets kicked up while cleaning. Leave it on for about 15 minutes after you finish vacuuming, and switch it back to “auto” afterward. HVAC blowers aren’t intended to run all the time.

6. Change the Furnace / AC Filter

Change your filter every couple months (monthly if you have pets) to prevent excess dust and allergens from circulating. All that bad air just gets you down.

7. Let the Sunlight In (It’ll Make You Happy)

Clean your windows. Sparkling glass not only lets more natural light into your home, it’s a feel-good task, according to a survey by the American Clean Institute. When ACI asked consumers what clean surfaces make them happy, “gleaming windows” made the top five above a “spotless sink.” Besides all that, daylighting is a great mood booster.

8. Put Your Window Screens Into Hibernation

They trap dirt and can make your home appear darker inside and out. It’s a good curb appeal booster, too.

9. Add an Interior Window

If you’ve got a dark room that’s next to a sun-drenched space, putting a window in the shared wall will let the natural light in.