Real Estate Information Archive


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Starting Seeds

by Lowes Creative Ideas

Starting plants from seed is an easy way to grow flowers and vegetables on the cheap. For the cost of a seed packet, you can enjoy oodles of flowers and vegetables. Plus, you get to experiment with unusual plants that aren’t commonly sold in containers or cell packs. A bonus to those raising or mentoring kids: starting seeds is a great activity for children. Here’s what you need to get started:

A container: You can use a seed-starting flat, peat pots, discarded cell packs, or old containers, such as yogurt cups and egg cartons.

Seed-starting mix: A special mix that provides the right medium for seeds to set root. You can buy a prepackaged mix or make your own with equal parts peat moss, vermiculite, and perlite.

Light: Use grow lights or set your seed trays in a sunny window. Grow lights need to be placed within 8-10 inches of plants for photosynthesis.

Step 1: If you’re reusing old cell packs, scrub them with soap and water, rinse, dry, and then spray with a 10% bleach solution to kill any pathogens.

Step 2: Once the cell pack has dried, fill it with the seed-starting mix and tamp gently to remove air pockets.

Step 3: Sow seed following packet directions. Large seeds, such as beans and peas, are easily placed by hand. For tiny seeds, such as lettuce, you may wish to use a folded piece of paper and a toothpick to help distribute seed more easily.

Step 4: Irrigate with lukewarm water. Use a watering can with a gentle flow so you don’t wash the seeds out of the soil. Keep the soil moist, not wet.

Step 5: Set near a light source. You can use grow lights or a south-facing window. Be sure the area is warm. Seeds germinate best in temperatures that range from 70 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Seeds will germinate in two days to a week, depending on species.

Seedlings can be transplanted to larger containers or directly to the garden when danger of frost has passed. It’s best not to transplant seedlings until they have developed at least one set of true leaves in addition to the tender growth that originally emerged from the seed. Seed starting is so easy, and it’s a cost-effective way to grow all the plants you want.

Lowe’s Creative Ideas

Health Effects of Combustion Products in Your Home

by EPA

In addition to environmental tobacco smoke, other sources of combustion products are unvented kerosene and gas space heaters, woodstoves, fireplaces, and gas stoves.  The major pollutants released are carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and particles.  Unvented kerosene heaters may also generate acid aerosols.

Combustion gases and particles also come from chimneys and flues that are improperly installed or maintained and cracked furnace heat exchangers.  Pollutants from fireplaces and woodstoves with no dedicated outdoor air supply can be "back-drafted" from the chimney into the living space, particularly in weatherized homes.

Health Effects of Combustion Products

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that interferes with the delivery of oxygen throughout the body.  At high concentrations can cause a range of symptoms from headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, confusion, and disorientation, to fatigue in healthy people and episodes of increased chest pain in people with chronic heart disease.  The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are sometimes confused with the flu or food poisoning.  Fetuses, infants, elderly people, and people with anemia or with a history of heart or respiratory disease can be especially sensitive to carbon monoxide exposures.

Nitrogen dioxide is a reddish brown, irritating odor gas that irritates the mucous membranes in the eye, nose, and throat and causes shortness of breath after exposure to high concentrations.  There is evidence that high concentrations or continued exposure to low levels of nitrogen dioxide increases the risk of respiratory infection; there is also evidence from animals studies that repeated exposures to elevated nitrogen dioxide levels may lead, or contribute, to the development of lung disease such as emphysema.  People at particular risk from exposure to nitrogen dioxide include children and individuals with asthma and other respiratory diseases.

Particles, released when fuels are incompletely burned, can lodge in the lungs and irritate or damage lung tissue.  A number of pollutants, including radon and benzo(a)pyrene, both of which can cause cancer, attach to small particles that are inhaled and then carried deep into the lung.


Basic Information on Pollutants and Sources of Indoor Air Pollution



Reducing Exposure to Combustion Products in Homes

  • Take special precautions when operating fuel-burning unvented space heaters.

    Consider potential effects of indoor air pollution if you use an unvented kerosene or gas space heater.  Follow the manufacturer's directions, especially instructions on the proper fuel and keeping the heater properly adjusted.  A persistent yellow-tipped flame is generally an indication of maladjustment and increased pollutant emissions.  While a space heater is in use, open a door from the room where the heater is located to the rest of the house and open a window slightly.
  • Install and use exhaust fans over gas cooking stoves and ranges and keep the burners properly adjusted.

    Using a stove hood with a fan vented to the outdoors greatly reduces exposure to pollutants during cooking.  Improper adjustment, often indicated by a persistent yellow-tipped flame, causes increased pollutant emissions.  Ask your gas company to adjust the burner so that the flame tip is blue.  If you purchase a new gas stove or range, consider buying one with pilot less ignition because it does not have a pilot light that burns continuously.  Never use a gas stove to heat your home.  Always make certain the flue in your gas fireplace is open when the fireplace is in use.
  • Keep woodstove emissions to a minimum.  Choose properly sized new stoves that are certified as meeting EPA emission standards.

    Make certain that doors in old woodstoves are tight-fitting.  Use aged or cured (dried) wood only and follow the manufacturer's directions for starting, stoking, and putting out the fire in woodstoves.  Chemicals are used to pressure-treat wood; such wood should never be burned indoors.  (Because some old gaskets in woodstove doors contain asbestos, when replacing gaskets refer to the instructions in the CPSC, ALA and EPA booklet, Asbestos in Your Home -
    , to avoid creating an Asbestos problem.  New gaskets are made of fiberglass.)
  • Have central air handling systems, including furnaces, flues, and chimneys, inspected annually and properly repair cracks or damaged parts.

    Blocked, leaking, or damaged chimneys or flues release harmful combustion gases and particles and even fatal concentrations of carbon monoxide.

    Strictly follow all service and maintenance procedures recommended by the manufacturer, including those that tell you how frequently to change the filter.  If manufacturer's instructions are not readily available. change filters once every month or two during periods of use.  Proper maintenance is important even for new furnaces because they can also corrode and leak combustion gases, including carbon monoxide.


Attention Homeowners: Your New To-Do List

by Allen Norwood

If you've invested in expensive technology consider protecting your investment with regular service by a professional. Builders, inspectors and other experts say that's always wise. Don't let the contract lapse.

Follow the manufacturer's advice for care and service. Owner's manuals are online. Just check the product for a model name or number, and go to the company site. The manual should answer most questions. Many have helpful pictures, and there's usually a toll-free hotline on which an expert (if you're patient) can answer questions. Today's homes are filled with components that weren't so common years ago. They make your home more efficient and less work. You can't ignore them entirely, though. So, as you plan your chores and projects for the coming year, here are some to keep in mind.

These ancient materials are more popular than ever. Not all stones need sealing. Ask your stone pro. Buy the best sealers you can afford. Grit and acids are the biggest threats to marble and limestone. Clean surfaces with a few drops of neutral cleaner, stone soap (available at hardware stores) or a mild liquid dish detergent and warm water. Go easy on the cleaner or soap, because too much can leave a film. Rinse thoroughly and dry. Do not use abrasive cleaners, or ones with lemon, vinegar or other acids. For deep stains, try a poultice at


Treated crawl space/attic
Closed, or sealed, crawl spaces are touted as efficient - and healthy - alternatives to the traditional vented crawl spaces. They're certainly drier and cleaner and brighter, so you shouldn't mind sticking your head under your house from time to time. And you absolutely should, experts say. Don't ignore this chore. Check regularly to make sure no moisture is getting in. If there's a dehumidifier, make sure it's working. Look for condensation. And if you see standing water, you have a real problem.


Vinyl windows
Vinyl windows are tough, and extremely popular. They should get a yearly inspection.
Clean window tracks of debris. Make sure weather stripping is sound and making proper contact. Replace as needed. When cleaning, never use abrasives. That can damage the vinyl skin of the window. If you need to lubricate a track, use pure silicone spray, not WD-40. Follow the manufacturer's recommendations for caulking. When washing windows, be cautioned that bleach can discolor dark vinyl colors. And, remember, window films can void your window warranty.


HardiePlank/fiber cement siding
It won't rot. It holds paint. And it's very durable. It's the siding of choice on many new homes. Often called HardiePlank, it's almost trouble-free. Still, inspect annually. If caulking fails, water can penetrate the joint and damage the wood and framing behind the siding. If you're going to check your home's exterior less often, use caulk rated for at least 20 years, and longer is better. Choose a quality silicone or polyurethane.


Fiberglass doors
Minor dents can be filled with auto body putty. Follow the instructions on the can and, just as if you were working on a car, don't stint on the sanding. Uneven spots will show. For larger areas, cut out damaged fiberglass with a grinder. Repair with mat and resin from fiberglass repair kit. Prime, then paint. with 100 percent acrylic.


Stainless steel
Stainless steel is hot for kitchens because it looks good, resists rust and cleans easily. The biggest complaint about stainless is that the fridge shows all those little handprints.
Clean with a specialty product such as 3M Stainless Steel Cleaner and Polish. Such products create a barrier against fingerprints. Avoid products with chlorine; mild abrasives can scratch. Read labels.


Multihead showers
There are six times as many connections that can leak, six times as many shower heads that can clog. Check regularly and clean with CLR or some other solution. You can use white vinegar to clear a shower head that has been clogged with mineral deposits. Place vinegar in a plastic bag, enclose the head and secure the bag to the shower neck with a rubber band or twist tie. Let stand for at least two hours.


Composite decking
Early on, composite decking was billed as a trouble-free - and chemical-free - alternative to treated lumber. You still have to clean it. The best way to prevent stains is to sweep or hose off regularly. To wash, use a commercial composite deck cleaner. Jomax is one popular brand.
For stubborn stains, allow solution to sit for a few minutes and scrub with a bristle brush.
Be careful with power washers. Some decking manufacturers recommend against them, and using one can void your warranty. Other makers suggest smaller washers with no more than 1300 PSI, with the fan tip no closer than 8 to 10 inches from the surface. The best known maker of composite decking, Trex, recommends that you wash your deck twice a year, in spring and fall, to prevent mold and mildew.


Allen Norwood, Charlotte Observer


5 Inexpensive Home Updates to Complete before Listing Your Home

by Lisa Johnson Sevajian


There is no perfect formula for selling your home efficiently, but by following these five tips prior to listing you can increase your chances to close quickly at a higher price.

1.) Update your old garage door(s). Garage doors seem like a non-issue, but many times they make up a significant percentage of the front of a home. Because of this, they are one of the first things that buyers notice when they pull in the drive way. Replacing, or even just painting, these central fixtures will do wonders when it comes to instantly impressing perspective buyers and standing apart from your competition. The market has changed drastically since many of us purchased our homes here in town. I frequently hear buyers say that they have taken a house off their list because of the lack of curb appeal. This issue is especially important to people on busier streets, corner lots, or near a neighborhood eyesore.

2.) Replace old windows. Outdated windows age a home significantly, and you can often upgrade standard windows to vinyl for a reasonable $300 per window. The average home has 8 windows, so this upgrade doesn’t cost nearly as much as you might think and it will make a huge difference to the value perceived by prospective buyers. Key point to remember is that when buyers view a home they love, if they see it has older windows, they consider it a time consuming and costly headache. First time buyers have never replaced windows and often dramatically overestimate the cost to cure this issue. By replacing pre-listing you an actually save money. A well priced, move-in condition home will sell for far more than one with windows in need of repair.

3.) Assess your floors . If you have hardwood flooring, it’s worth the investment to have them refinished considering buyers put an extremely high value on them; you’ll get the most bang for your buck if they are refurbished. Carpets should be shampooed and replaced if they are stained or look worn. You don’t need to spend large amounts of money on the highest grade or most modern name but something inexpensive and neutral will certainly bring you a return on the investment. Even the smell of new carpet will make buyers set your home apart from the comparables.

4.) Paint the trim. If you can’t afford the daunting task of painting your entire house, painting just the trim will still make a big difference when it comes to curb appeal. Painting the whole house can be expensive, time consuming, and delayed by weather conditions; painting just the trim will give your home a fresher look. Interior trim is equally as important.

5.) Update fixtures. Keep an eye out for sales at home improvement stores and replace outdated lighting, plumbing and hardware fixtures. Simple replacing lighting fixtures and knobs in the bathroom or kitchen can update the entire look of the room. You can find many modern brand name fixtures online on contractor supply websites by just searching for terms like sale faucets, sale plumbing fixtures etc.

By Lisa Johnson Sevajian


Healthy Home, Room by Room

by Lowes Creative Ideas


Before you tackle each room, consider these overall tips to make your home healthy:

• Favor harder surfaces, which are healthier because they attract less dust and are easier to clean. Bare floors are better than carpet; leather chairs and sofas are better than upholstered furniture.

• Choose shades for window treatments. They don't gather as much dust as blinds and fabric curtains and are easier to keep clean.

• Keep your home tidy and organized. Neat homes are cleaner and healthier. Pick up messy rooms and keep items off the floor.

• Place a floor mat or rug at every door. People track in all sorts of chemicals via the dirt on their shoes. A mat helps to keep pollutants from entering your home.

• Make your home a no-smoking zone.

• Test your home for radon. This colorless, odorless gas is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. today.



Consider this: You spend a third of your life in bed. If you wake up with a runny nose or itchy throat, dust mites might be the problem.

Say "goodbye" to bed bugs: Wash sheets weekly; blankets every two weeks in hot water. Freeze non-washable stuffed animals for two or three hours. Opt for washable pillows and comforters over those made with down or feathers. Replace pillows every two years.
Laundry baskets and hampers can be a playground for germs -- don't forget to clean them regularly.

Keep a healthy level of humidity. Dust mites and mold love moisture. Keeping relative humidity around 30 to 50 percent helps keep these and other allergens under control.
Install CO detectors close to sleeping quarters. Replace after five years.

Keep closets organized and clutter at bay. Remember, tidier = healthier.

When choosing paints look for low- or no-VOC products to avoid head aches and respiratory problems.


The living room is where the whole family goes to relax, unwind and feel good. Keep it healthy and happy by following these tips.

Houseplants work as a natural air filter by adding oxygen and absorbing carbon dioxide. Some of the best houseplants for treating indoor air pollution: philodendron, English ivy, spider plant, dracaena, weeping fig, peace lily, bamboo and reed palm.

Make sure to open your windows from time to time and air out the house. Fresh air will help clear allergens from a room.

For safer fires, install a fireplace insert and check the chimney yearly. Install carbon monoxide alarms and store firewood outside the house.

Using a vacuum cleaner that has strong suction, rotating brushes, and a HEPA filter ensures that dust and dirt won't get blown back out into the room. In high traffic areas, vacuum the same spot several times. For best results, vacuum two or more times each week and clean your filter regularly according the maker's directions.

Even if routinely change furnace and air conditioner filters and vacuum regularly, you may still want the extra insurance of an air purifier, especially if members of your household have respiratory problems. When shopping for a system, look at the CADR (Clean Air Delivery Rate) number -- the higher the number, the stronger the cleaning power.

If you have pets, keep them out of the bedroom. After all, that's where we spend the majority of our time at home. Bathe your pets regularly as well, and keep them off of the furniture.



Kitchens are the hub of the home. Keep these tips in mind for a healthy kitchen.

Mopping picks up the dust that vacuuming leaves behind. New microfiber mops and dust cloths reportedly capture more dust and dirt than traditional materials and don't require any cleaning solutions whatsoever.

Filtering your water has never been easier, thanks to the variety of purification products available, including whole house water filtration systems, under the sink filters and faucet-mounted devices.

Don't forget to replace the filters on your refrigerator's water and ice maker.  Thoroughly clean and disinfect your refrigerator monthly.

Wash wooden boards in the sink with a brush and hot soapy water; non-porous boards of plastic, acrylic or glass can be tossed in the dishwasher.

The best strategy for keeping countertops and other kitchen surfaces healthy is two-fold: first, wipe away any visible messes with a paper towel. Then follow up with an anti-bacterial wipe or a diluted solution of bleach and water.

A clean home is a healthier home and cleaning with eco-friendly friendly cleaners is the healthiest.



Basements can make or break a healthy home. If they're too damp, they can become a haven for mold. Neglected furnace filters and air ducts can send allergens throughout your home. Follow these tips for a healthy basement.

Use a HEPA furnace filter and remember to change every month (or follow the manufacturer's recommendations.

Look for fragrance-free or naturally-scented laundry products.

To prevent mold from taking hold, don't let wet clothes sit in the washer for long periods of time.
A dehumidifier (and air conditioner during summer months) helps reduce indoor humidity levels and effectively controls allergens.


Article from Lowes Creative Ideas


Plaster Ceilings Peeling After Half a Century

by Alan Heavens


Question: My parents have lived in their house for 48 years. The house is about 54 years old. They have always used good-quality paint.  About three years ago the ceiling began to peel. When a representative from the paint company came to inspect the situation he said it was the plaster on the ceiling and not the paint.  They have delayed painting because the ceilings continue to peel. What might be the cause and what do you suggest they do? Seems like too long a time for this to happen.

Answer: Moisture is a likely cause, high humidity in the house, inadequate ventilation after insulating, a leaky pipe in the shower, clogged dryer vent - just about anything - might cause the plaster to be damp and make it difficult for the paint to adhere to the surface.

Much of what I see on the Internet about peeling paint on plaster ceilings has to do with much older houses that have several coats of paint including the be-very-careful-with lead-based stuff.
I'm almost sure it is a moisture issue, because that's what I have found over the years with my own older houses, much older than your parents' place. Until you solve it, you won't be able to repaint successfully, and then you'll need to prep very carefully and thoroughly before you do.
I asked Deborah Zimmer and the Paint Quality Institute about what makes paint fail. The clues, she said, can be found in the way your paint is failing.

"The evidence is right there, you just need to know how to interpret it," she said.
If your exterior paint is peeling, the culprit is probably moisture. Peeling occurs when wet wood swells underneath the paint, causing the paint film to loosen, crack, and ultimately peel.
Water can reach the wood through un-caulked joints or a leaky roof. Another possibility: water being forced underneath the roofing shingles because of clogged rain gutters.

Bubbles or blisters in your paint can eventually lead to peeling, so they can't be ignored. This problem can usually be traced to either heat or moisture.  If your house was originally painted on a very hot day in direct sunshine, for example, blistering can result, especially if a dark-color paint was applied.

Sometimes, moisture is to blame. Excess moisture from within the home can build up behind the paint and cause blisters (this is less likely with latex paint, which is vapor permeable); rain or heavy dew can also produce blisters if the surface preparation wasn't done properly or if low-quality latex paint was used.


|By Alan J. Heavens, Inquirer Real Estate Writer

Making Your Windows More Efficient

by Terri Bennett, Charlotte Observer

With all the money we spend this time of year on presents, parties, and everything else — who really can afford to let money fly right out the window? Do Your Part during these chilly months to make your windows more efficient to cut down on your utility bills.

In the winter, drafty windows can account for up to 25 percent of our heating bill.

However, there are some fixes that will make all the difference. Common choices include insulating drapes, interior storm windows, and plastic window insulation kit. Each of these solutions has its own pros and cons, but they all insulate the same way. They create an insulated air buffer between your home and the window surface.

Insulated drapes are considered the most attractive option, but experts stress the importance of proper insulation. Drapes must be flush with the wall to effectively create an air space between the window surface and the curtains. Improperly installed curtains that let air pass through the sides of the drapes can actually pull heat away from the room.

Drapes, of course, can be reused and will help reduce utilities costs in every season.

Interior storm windows can be fitted to your windows and are effective at reducing air infiltration. These units use a fitted pane that often clips into a frame. Pane materials range from the more expensive glass to polycarbonate plastic. The advantage to interior storm windows is that they can be reused for several years. Many favor interior storm windows over exterior varieties because they are easier to install will require less maintenance. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, interior storm windows can reduce heat loss by 25 to 50 percent.

Plastic insulation kits are a very economical choice. Kits include a plastic sheet that is attached to a window frame with adhesive tape and then stretched tight by applying heat with a hair dryer. The plastic film is made of vinyl, polyester or polyethylene and can technically be removed and stored for next winter's use. Most homeowners, however, find these kits to be single season items due to tears in the plastic and the milky appearance created by the aging plastic.

So which is your best choice? Go with a reusable option like interior storm windows or insulating drapes. Homeowners that want to realize long term savings should consider upgrading to Energy Star qualified windows. Energy Star-rated windows will have a substantial upfront cost but are the most efficient way to reduce home heat loss around windows.

Whether you go big or small, do your part to keep the warm air inside your home and more money in your wallet.

By Terri Bennett (c) 2010, The Charlotte Observer


Private Drinking Water Wells

by EPA

If your family gets drinking water from a private well, do you know if your water is safe to drink? What health risks could you and your family face? Where can you go for help or advice?

EPA regulates public water systems; it does not have the authority to regulate private drinking water wells. Approximately 15 percent of Americans rely on their own private drinking water supplies, and these supplies are not subject to EPA standards, although some state and local governments do set rules to protect users of these wells. Unlike public drinking water systems serving many people, they do not have experts regularly checking the water’s source and its quality before it is sent to the tap. These households must take special precautions to ensure the protection and maintenance of their drinking water supplies.

  • Basic Information - Learn about the types of drinking water wells and guidelines for proper construction.
  • Where You Live - Find information about private drinking water wells in your region or state.
  • Frequent Questions -This page answers questions you may have about your well water.
  • Human Health - Learn about health risks associated with drinking water wells.
  • Partnerships - Several organizations are working to keep private drinking water wells safe.
  • What You Can Do - Learn how to do your part in keeping your drinking water well safe.
  • Publications -Download or order copies of brochures, booklets, posters, reports, and multi-media publications.
  • Related Links - Link to web sites with additional information on private drinking water wells.
  • Glossary - Look up unfamiliar terms in EPA’s electronic glossary Delicious


Decorative Rock and Gravel are Great for Landscaping

by Stacy Downs, McClatchy Newspapers


If you're looking for solutions to landscaping challenges, decorative rock and gravel just might be the ticket.

Drainage issues? Budget-friendly alternative to a paved patio? Interesting edging for your flower beds? Check, check, check.

The dilemma for Pam Messick was that nothing grew under the linden tree in her front yard, one of those giant trees with the dramatic canopies you see lining the streets of Prairie Village, Kansas. Not grass, not ivy, not even hostas.

"My husband and I'd sit on my front porch, and it would look like a dust bowl," she says. "It wasn't pretty." Working with Sharp Landcaping this year, Messick selected cobblestone reminiscent of summers in Colorado. She wanted the spot to feel Asian, so a Japanese maple was added among the stone. Neighbors walking their dogs frequently stop and talk to Messick about her new rockscaping. "They tell me they love my rock garden," Messick says. "When the rocks get wet from the rain, they're especially beautiful. Vibrant color veins pop out. Sure, I could have added just mulch, but this is so much more interesting. It feels natural and perfect.

To make the tree-canopied spot a sitting garden, Messick plans to add another strong stone statement, a boulder bench. So far, she has chosen the decorative gravel. Jack Robinson says in recent years, interest has grown in xeriscaping, using plants and other materials that help reduce water use. "They want less maintenance," Robinson says. "Not all the mowing."

Adding rock or gravel is one of the best ways to create a permeable landscape, says Jamie Durie, the Australian designer and host of HGTV's "The Outdoor Room." "It absorbs water and melted snow rather than them running off into the street," he says. With all the benefits, using decorative rock requires thoughtful planning and requires upkeep, says Kristopher Dabner.
For example, Dabner designed a series of pea-gravel backyard patios and pathways for a Lawrence home. First it needed a level of aggregate, then breathable landscape fabric as a weed barrier before a final layer of pea gravel.

With any stonescaping project, Dabner says, you need to "stay ahead of weeds."
"Herbicide needs to be sprayed when the weeds are small. If you let them sprout for a few weeks, you'll have a huge mess on your hands." Because of the major weed patrol it would require, Dabner says people should not use decorative rock instead of mulch in most cases - especially around the perimeter of a house.

But Dabner likes rock for a dramatic, modern statement - like creating a square, circular or triangular gravel patio instead of the usual concrete rectangle. And he likes stone as a solution for drainage. He helped Nancy Addy create a dry creek bed in her sloping yard that backs up to woods. Gravel was placed on the bottom, and prettier river rocks are on top, mimicking a winding stream.

An avid gardener, Addy walked the path next to the ribbon of rocks, marveling at lush vegetation as well as snails, caterpillars and cocoons. "One thing about rock is that it attracts tiny creatures: snakes, mice and voles," she says. "They don't bother me, and I don't bother them. You also need to always be wearing the right shoes because rocks move beneath your feet." The stepping stones that weave through Addy's yard come from rocks excavated from their lot.
"The rocks are beautiful and natural," she says. "I love them."

Measure the length and width of the area. "So many people have to come back because they didn't measure; they try to use their arms and hands as estimates," says Jack Robinson. Signs typically spell out how much footage a ton of rock covers - employees can help, too.

Take pictures of the spots where you want rock. Plotting your house and yard on graph paper helps, too. "Think of rock shopping like buying furniture," Robinson says. "You want to make sure it fits size-wise and style-wise."

Go for a natural, regional look. "White rocks and red rocks are out of place here," says landscape designer Kristopher Dabner. "The super-colorful rocks you'd see in Arizona don't look at home in the Midwest."

Remember other materials. For example, say you're going to edge a flower bed with salt-and-pepper- colored, goose-egg- shaped granite river cobbles. First, you'll need two parallel strips of metal edging to outline the bed. Between the strips, fill in with landscape gravel before placing the cobbles on top.

Be mindful of environmental ethics. Jamie Durie of HGTV says rocks from Third World countries are a bad idea. "You'll see inexpensive rock from India and Indonesia that's from their rivers. Fish need those rocks for silvering. People really depend on those rocks as part of their food chain." But, he says, manmade rock "can look great."

BY Stacy Downs, McClatchy Newspapers

Bring Your Kitchen out of the Dark with Layers of Light

by Stacy Downs, McClatchy Newspapers

Lighting is often described as the jewelry of the home. But it’s more critical than that, especially in kitchens, where it’s all about slicing, dicing and reading recipes. So maybe the new catchphrase should be: “Lights are the eyes of the home.”

“Kitchen lighting is so crucial and should be one of the first things people think about when they’re designing or remodeling a kitchen, but it often gets last priority,” says lighting consultant and interior designer Lisa Duncan. “People spend tens of thousands of dollars on their kitchens, but then you can’t see the new improvements or what you’re doing if the lighting isn’t right. Then I come along, and drywall has to be ripped out.”

Instead of doing an overhaul of her decades-old kitchen, Sasha Paulsen updated the lighting in her favorite room. Her dark kitchen, with only a can light above the sink and another above the prep area, was a problem. She couldn’t always see what she had, especially in the corners under her cabinets. With Shirley Allen of the Light Shop, Paulsen rethought the types of lighting in her kitchen.

Over the sink: She swapped the can for a glass and nickel pendant that provides better illumination, which is key for washing hands and cookware (she has three racks of pots and pans). Bonus: It’s much more attractive.

Above the table: She replaced a 1960s scalloped metal fixture original to the house with a “more inspiring” metal sculptural one with white shades. The shades eliminate the glare of a bare bulb.
Under the cabinets: Lights were installed under the cabinets to illuminate the corners, making them more usable. And Paulsen sees a big difference when she’s performing prep work, such as slicing vegetables with a sharp mandolin.

“It’s changed my whole cooking and dining experience,” says Paulsen. “And the process of kneading dough and baking bread, too.” Not only do under-cabinet fixtures provide proper task lighting, they add pleasant ambience for home entertaining.

“Adding under-cabinet lighting is the No. 1 thing you could do if you want to update your kitchen and make it more functional,” says architectural and kitchen designer Billie Deatherage. Deatherage always includes dimmer switches in her remodeling and new construction plans. “They are inexpensive and can give you the control to make your kitchen go from production mode to entertainment mode quickly. And they save energy.”

Paulsen loves the difference a dimmer switch makes in her kitchen. But one of the challenges with kitchen lighting is that it adds heat. Lighting consultant George McMillen sees the problem all the time. “People will remodel their kitchen and love it in the fall and winter, but then spring and summer comes and suddenly, it’s too hot,” McMillen says.

So McMillen is using more LEDs (light-emitting diodes) — particularly under-cabinet lights versus xenon and especially halogen because LEDs don’t produce as much heat, and they’re more energy-efficient. Consumer Reports recently tested 60-watt incandescent bulbs and their energy-saving equivalents. The magazine’s conclusion: You can find a CFL or LED that will give you the brightness and light quality you like, and it will save you around $50 over the life of each CFL and anywhere from $65 to $400 over the lifetime of each LED. “The challenge with LED is the color — it can look too warm or too cool,” he says. “But the technology is getting there.” Designers and lighting consultants are steering away from the matching pendants above an island. “They’re almost like a gate,” says Allen of the Light Shop. “You want to move them out of the way so you can see what’s happening in the kitchen.”

There’s a new focal point for lighting in the kitchen: the sink. Sasha Paulsen replaced a can light with a statement fixture. “Look how beautiful kitchen sinks have become — and functional with the built-in cutting boards and colanders,” says interior designer Dianne Boren. “You can actually see to wash your hands and the dishes.” Boren has a dimmer control for her sink light and others in the kitchen. She likes how it glows.

Kitchen and architectural designer Billie Deatherage in Kansas City makes sure all her kitchen projects have under-cabinet lighting. “It’s so important for task lighting,” she says. “But it’s also a great ambient light for entertaining.” She advises installing under-cabinet lighting toward the front of the bottom of a cabinet. If it’s installed in the back, the light doesn’t distribute evenly and creates bright spots and shadows.

Geri Higgins is seeing more kitchen ceiling fixtures that have integrated exhaust fans — an alternative to the large range hood. Styles range from contemporary to crystal chandelier. Elica’s “Star” ventilation light is $4,265 at Portfolio.

If you don’t like the hot spots that recessed can ceiling fixtures make on countertops, consider frosted glass fixtures. Shirley Allen advised interior designer Dianne Boren to use them in her kitchen. Boren likes the results.

Shirley Allen advises designers and clients to install sconces above kitchen doors exit-sign style. “They act as night lights for teens getting in at night or for late-night snackers.” Interior designer Dianne Boren’s kitchen has a sconce to the door leading outside and another to a hallway. “This is an under-the-radar lighting detail, but it’s functional and pretty.”


By Stacy Downs


Displaying blog entries 1-10 of 30

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Laurel Sweeney
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