Don’t suffer the ugly anymore. Here’s how to give your garden a fall makeover.
Your poor, sad garden. The spent vines, stubborn weeds, and greens gone to seed are putting a pitiful spin on your backyard retreat.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are some simple tips to tidy up your garden and yard, which will also help prep them for next year.
Bury the Dead
Nothing looks sadder than leggy tomato vines, yellow zucchini leaves, and dried-up perennials that long ago displayed their last bloom. So pull and prune the dead or dying plants in your garden.
Bury spent plants in your compost pile; double-bag diseased and infested plants and place in the trash. (Empty mulch bags are great final resting places for these plants, so be sure to stockpile them in spring.)
If your tomato vines are still bearing fruit, keep staking and pruning them until the first hard frost, when they’ll likely die. And give the birds a break and leave some seed-bearing but spent blooms for them. They love sunflowers, cone flowers, berries, and black-eyed Susans.
This is the last time this season to pull weeds. Pluck them before they flower and send seeds throughout your garden that will rest in winter and sprout in spring.
If you have a mulcher, chop the weeds and throw them on your compost pile. If you want to be extra sure that weed seeds are dead, bag weeds in black plastic and place in a sunny place for a couple of months. The heat will kill the seeds. Then throw the cooked weeds on your compost pile.
One way to cut garden expenses is to harvest and store seeds. One large sunflower, for instance, can provide seeds for hundreds of plants next spring. Here are some seed guidelines.
Harvest seeds from heirloom vegetables and standard plants.
Disease can spread through seeds, so only harvest seeds from your healthiest plants.
Don’t harvest seeds from hybrid plants, which often are sterile or will look nothing like the parent plant.
Only harvest mature seeds from dry and faded blooms and pods. Mature seeds are often cream colored or brown.
After seeds are dry, store them in envelopes or glass jars in a cool, dry place.
Stack and cover metal tomato cages. Bundle wooden or bamboo stakes, and store in a dry place so they don’t rot over winter. And retrieve panty-hose vine ties that you can re-use next spring.
Instead of throwing out broken cages and stakes, repurpose them. Snip off remaining cage legs to use for pepper supports. Broken tomato steaks will support smaller plants if you whittle one end into a point, so it easily slips into the ground.
Can’t afford an entire kitchen remodel in one fell swoop? You can complete the work in 5 budget-saving stages (and still cook dinner during the down time).
Major kitchen remodels are among the most popular home improvements, but a revamped cooking and gathering space can set you back a pretty penny. According to the “2015 Remodeling Impact Report” from the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®, a complete renovation of a 210-square-foot kitchen has a national median cost of $60,000, and you’ll recover 67% of that cost come selling time.
Despite the big price tag, you’ll be glad you upgraded. In fact, homeowners polled for the “Report” gave their kitchen redo a Joy Score of 9.8 — a rating based on those who said they were happy or satisfied with their remodeling, with 10 being the highest rating and 1 the lowest.
If you can’t afford the entire remodel all at once, complete the work in these five budget-saving stages.
Stage One: Start with a Complete Design Plan
Your plan should be comprehensive and detailed — everything from the location of the refrigerator to which direction the cabinet doors will open to whether you need a spice drawer.
To save time (and money) during tear-out and construction, plan on using your existing walls and kitchen configuration. That’ll keep plumbing and electrical systems mostly intact, and you won’t have the added expense — and mess — of tearing out walls.
Joseph Feinberg, vice president of Allied Kitchen and Bath in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., recommends hiring a professional designer, such as an architect or a certified kitchen designer, who can make sure the details of your plans are complete. You’ll pay about 10% of the total project for a pro designer, but you’ll save a whole bunch of headaches that would likely cost as much — or more — to fix. Plus, a pro is likely to offer smart solutions you hadn’t thought of.
For a nominal fee, you also can get design help from a major home improvement store. However, you’ll be expected to purchase some of your cabinets and appliances from that store.
Cost: professional designer: $5,800 (10% of total)
Key strategies: Once your plans are set, you can hold onto them until you’re ready to remodel.
Time frame: 3 to 6 months
Stage Two: Order the Cabinets, Appliances, and Lighting Fixtures
Cabinets and appliances are the biggest investments in your kitchen remodeling project. If you’re remodeling in stages, you can order them any time after the plans are complete and store them in a garage (away from moisture) or in a spare room until you’re ready to pull the trigger on the installation.
Remember that it may take four to six weeks from the day you order them for your cabinets to be delivered.
If you can’t afford all new appliances, keep your old ones for now — but plan to buy either the same sizes, or choose larger sizes and design your cabinets around those larger measurements. You can replace appliances as budget permits later on.
The same goes for your lighting fixtures: If you can live with your old ones for now, you’ll save money by reusing them.
You’ll have to decide about flooring, too — one of the trickier decisions to make because it also affects how and when you install cabinets.
You’ll need to know if your old flooring runs underneath your cabinets, or if the flooring butts up against the cabinet sides and toe kicks. If the flooring runs underneath, you’ll have some leeway for new cabinet configurations — just be sure the old flooring will cover any newly exposed floor areas. Here are points to remember:
Keep old flooring for cost savings. This works if your new cabinets match your old layout, so that the new cabinets fit exactly into the old flooring configuration. If the existing flooring runs underneath your cabinets and covers all flooring area, then any new cabinet configuration will be fine.
Keep your old flooring for now and cover it or replace it later. Again, this works if your cabinet configuration is identical to the old layout.
However, if you plan to cover your old flooring or tear it out and replace it at some point in the future, remember that your new flooring might raise the height of your floor, effectively lowering your cabinet height.
For thin new floor coverings, such as vinyl and linoleum, the change is imperceptible. For thicker floorings, such as wood and tile, you might want to take into account the change in floor height by installing your new cabinets on shims.
Cost: cabinets: $16,000 (27% of total); appliances and lighting fixtures: $8,500 (15% of total); vinyl flooring: $1,000 (2% of total)
Key strategy: Keep old appliances, lighting fixtures, and flooring and use them until you can afford new ones.
Time frame: 2 to 3 weeks
Stage Three: Gut the Kitchen and Do the Electrical and Plumbing Work
Here’s where the remodel gets messy. Old cabinetry and appliances are removed, and walls may have to be opened up for new electrical circuits. Keep in close contact with your contractor during this stage so you can answer questions and clear up any problems quickly. A major kitchen remodel can take six to 10 weeks, depending on how extensive the project is.
During this stage, haul your refrigerator, microwave, and toaster oven to another room — near the laundry or the garage, for example — so you’ve got the means to cook meals. Feinberg suggests tackling this stage in the summer, when you can easily grill and eat outside. That’ll reduce the temptation to eat at restaurants, and will help keep your day-to-day costs under control.
Cost: $14,500 for tear-out and installation of new plumbing and electrical (25% of total)
Key strategies: Encourage your contractor to expedite the tear-out and installation of new systems. Plan a makeshift kitchen while the work is progressing. Schedule this work for summer when you can grill and eat outside.
Time frame: 6 to 10 weeks
Stage Four: Install Cabinets, Countertops, Appliances, Flooring, and Fixtures
If you’ve done your homework and bought key components in advance, you should roll through this phase. You’ve now got a (mostly) finished kitchen.
A high-end countertop and backsplash can be a sizable sum of money. If you can’t quite swing it, put down a temporary top, such as painted marine plywood or inexpensive laminate. Later, you can upgrade to granite, tile, solid surface, or marble.
Cost: $12,000 (21% of total)
Key strategy: Install an inexpensive countertop; upgrade when you’re able.
Time frame: 1 to 2 weeks
Final Phases: Upgrade if Necessary
Replace the inexpensive countertop, pull up the laminate flooring, and put in tile or hardwood, or buy that new refrigerator you wanted but couldn’t afford during the remodel. (Just make sure it fits in the space!)
Be sure you’re walking away with all the money you’re entitled to from the sale of your home.
When you’re ready to close on the sale of your home and move to your new home, you may be so close to the finish line that you coast, thinking there’s nothing left for you to do. Not so fast. It’s easy to waste a few dollars here and for mistakes to creep into your closing documents there, all adding up to a bundle of lost profit. Spot money-losing problems with these seven tips.
1. Take services out of your name.
Avoid a dispute with the buyers after closing over things like fees for the cable service you forgot to discontinue. Contact every utility and service provider to end or transfer service to your new address as of the closing date.
If you’re on an automatic-fill schedule for heating oil or propane, don’t pay for a pre-closing refill that provides free fuel for the new owner. Contact your insurer to terminate coverage on your old home, get coverage on your new home, and ask whether you’re entitled to a refund of prepaid premium.
2. Spread the word on your change of address.
Provide the post office with your forwarding address two to four weeks before the closing. Also notify credit card companies, publication subscription departments, friends and family, and your financial institutions of your new address.
3. Manage the movers.
Scrutinize your moving company’s estimate. If you’re making a long-distance move, which is often billed according to weight, note the weight of your property and watch so the movers don’t use excessive padding to boost the weight. Also check with your homeowners insurer about coverage for your move. Usually movers cover only what they pack.
4. Do the settlement math.
Title company employees are only human, so they can make mistakes. The day before your closing, check the math on your HUD-1 Settlement Statement.
5. Review charges on your settlement statement.
Are all mortgages being paid off, and are the payoff amounts correct? If your real estate agent promised you extras — such as a discounted commission or a home warranty policy — make sure that’s included. Also check whether your real estate agent or title company added fees that weren’t disclosed earlier. If any party suggests leaving items off the settlement statement, consult a lawyer about whether that might expose you to legal risk.
6. Search for missing credits.
Be sure the settlement company properly credited you for prepaid expenses, such as property taxes and homeowners association fees, if applicable. If you’ve prepaid taxes for the year, you’re entitled to a credit for the time you no longer own the home. Have you been credited for heating oil or propane left in the tank?
7. Don’t leave money in escrow.
End your home sale closing with nothing unresolved. Make sure the title company releases money already held in escrow for you, and avoid leaving sales proceeds in a new escrow to be dickered over later. G.M. Filisko is an attorney and award-winning writer who has survived several closings. A frequent contributor to many national publications including Bankrate.com, REALTOR® Magazine, and the American Bar Association Journal, she specializes in real estate, business, personal finance, and legal topics.
When your kids whine, “I’m borrrrrred” during school breaks, sign into plant and animal tracking websites and teach them about nature.
If you’re looking for something constructive for kids to do during school breaks and get them to help you with yardwork and gardening, turn them into junior environmental reporters by logging onto websites that track the comings and goings of plants and animals.
These tracking sites depend on participants to report when they see a particular bud blooming or hummingbird humming as a way to determine how environmental factors — temperature, rain, whatever — are changing established growing and migration patterns.
Your kids will learn how to identify creatures large and small, understand the growing stages of plants, and appreciate the inextricable link between man and nature. At the very least, you’ll recruit a grunt worker (think weeding!) and unglue them from their video games.
Here are some reporting sites to check out.
Project BudBurst: BudBurst is a national network of people who monitor plants as the seasons change and collect important ecological data based on the timing of leafing, flowering, and fruiting — called “phenophases.” Scientists use the data to learn how individual plant species are responding to climate change. You can make single reports or keep a running log of what you see.
Hummingbirds.net: Hummingbirds are Nature’s sideshow — humming, darting, dive-bombing miniatures that are a riot to watch and feed. Your kid can help track of the Ruby-throated hummingbird’s migration by contributing to the site’s map, which indicates when the little darlings show up throughout the U.S. Hummingbirds.net also tracks hummingbird festivals around the U.S., a novel family vacation destination. More: Great projects for kids that attract birds to your backyard.
Journey North: This site — and mobile app — turns your child into a field biologist who can report sighting everything from monarch butterflies to singing frogs. Your child also can viewmaps that document other sightings. What better way to learn by doing?
Project FeederWatch: Thousands of FeederWatchers count the birds that arrive at their feeders from November through April, and report the information to the tracking project, run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Participants receive the project’s annual summary publication, Winter Bird Highlights. Sign ups for the 2012-2013 season are underway now. A $12 to $15 donation is required to receive the data entry kit.
What home and garden projects have you enlisted your kids to do? How do you keep them busy during school vacations?
5 easy (really!) things you can do to put a dent in energy bills.
You know that 10 or 20 pounds that you just can’t seem to lose? You do the right thing — eat kale or log time on the StairMaster — but the weight clings. You feel powerless.
It’s like that with our energy bills, too. Eighty-nine percent of us think we’re not using as much energy as we did five years ago, and almost one-half of us think our homes are energy efficient. But 59% also say our energy bills have gone up, according to consumer research by the Shelton Group, a marketing and advertising agency that specializes in energy-efficiency issues.
Call that the Snackwell’s effect, says Shelton Group CEO Suzanne Shelton. Basically, we’re saying, “I bought these CFLs so now I can leave the lights on and not pay more. I bought a high-efficiency washer and dryer because I want to do more laundry without paying more. I ate the salad, so I can have the chocolate cake.”
Unfortunately, that disconnect has led to defeat. We feel victimized by our energy bills and powerless to the point where we’re making fewer energy-efficient improvements. In fact, Shelton’s research shows consumers made only 2.6 improvements in 2012 compared with 4.6 in 2010.
Until the day we all get energy dashboards in our home, we’re here to help you understandwhy your energy costs are where they are and how you can take back your energy bills.
Hint: You need to do four or five energy-efficient things to see a difference; one or two won’t cut it. But — good news! — they don’t cost much to do.
Why Do We Feel Victimized?
We don’t know what we’re buying. Energy is the only product we buy on a daily basis for which we have no idea how much we pay until a month later, says Cliff Majersik, executive director of the Institute for Market Transformation, a research and policy-making nonprofit focused on improving buildings’ energy efficiency.
Energy costs are going up. Inflation is mainly to blame. Your bills are projected to rise on average 2% per year through 2040, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the research arm of the energy department. Expect about 3.4% per year if the economy gets sluggish.
Other trends pushing up our energy usage:
A growing population means more homes.
New homes are getting bigger, though our families are getting smaller, according to the Census Bureau.
We’re plugging in more devices (computers, smart phones, tablets, X-boxes, plasma TVs) per household — and not unplugging them. (More on behavior later.)
In fact, for the first time, energy use for appliances, electronics, water heating, and lighting accounts for more than heating and cooling, according to EIA.
Still, overall consumption is pretty flat through 2040, thanks in part to:
Population migration to dryer, warmer climates in the South and West.
People living in multifamily rather than single-family situations.
We make assumptions.
Assumption #1. Unless a home is old — more than 30 years — we figure it was built to code, which requires a certain amount of energy efficiency. But building codes change pretty regularly, so even newer homes benefit from improvements, says Lee Ann Head, vice president of research and insights with the Shelton Group.
Assumption #2. We think utilities are out to get us: They’ll jack up prices no matter what we do. Shelton’s research shows consumers blame utilities above oil companies and the government. But keep this mind: To get rate changes, utilities must make a formal case to public utility commissions. They’re also on the hook to pay for such things as:
Infrastructure upgrades put off for years
Equipment repairs after bouts of nutty weather
Another reason rates seem stuck is because utilities bundle fuel, service, and delivery fees together.
Assumption #3. Our expectations for energy savings are out of whack. When the Shelton Group asked consumers what they would expect to recoup if they invested $4,000 in energy-efficient home improvements, they said about 75% to 80%.
Sorry, unless you invest in some kind of renewable energy source like geothermal and solar, you won’t see that kind of savings. If you do all the right things (we’ll tell you about the best five later), you could expect a 20% to 30% reduction, Head says, particularly if you don’t succumb to the Snackwell’s effect.
What does 30% translate into? $660 in savings per year or $55 per month, based on the average household energy spend of $2,200 per year, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).
Assumption #4. Many of us don’t know how to make the biggest impact on our homes. That’s why we sometimes replace our windows first, when that should probably be fifth or sixth on the list of energy-efficient improvements, Shelton says.
There’s nothing wrong with investing in new windows. They feel sturdier; look pretty; increase the value of your home; feel safer than old, crooked windows; and, yes, offer energy savings you can feel (no more draft).
But if you spend $9,000 to $12,000 on windows and save 7% to 15% on your energy bill, according to DOE data, when you could have spent around $1,000 for new insulation, caulking, and sealing, and saved 10% to 20% on your energy bill, you made the wrong choice if your only reason for the project was reducing energy costs.
The real reasons for getting new windows are “emotional rather than financial,” Shelton says.
The 5 Things You Should Do to Show Your Bills Who’s Boss
1. Caulk and seal air leaks. Buy a few cans of Great Stuff and knock yourself out over a weekend, sealing penetrations into your home from:
Savings: Up to $220 per year, says EPA
2. Hire an HVAC contractor to take a hard look at all your ductwork — are there any ducts leaking that need to be resealed? — and give you an HVAC tune-up.
Savings: Up to $330 per year, for duct sealing and tune up, says DOE
3. Program your thermostat. Shelton found that 40% of consumers in her survey admit to not programming their thermostat to energy-saving settings. She thinks it’s even higher.
Savings: Up to $180 per year, says EPA
4. Replace all your light bulbs with LEDs or CFLs. We suggest LEDs, which have fewer issues than CFLs (namely, no mercury), and although expensive are coming down in price. We’ve even seen a $10 model.
Savings: $75 per year by replacing your five most frequently-used bulbs with Energy Star-rated models, says EPA.
5. Reduce the temperature on your water heater. Set your tank heater to 120 degrees — not the 140 degrees most are set to out of the box. Dropping 20 degrees could save 6% to 10% on your annual water heating costs, which are 14% to 18% of your utility bills. Also wrap an older water heater and the hot water pipes in insulating material to save on heat loss.
Savings: $18 to $39 per year
Important note: Resist the urge to total these numbers for an annual savings. The estimated savings for each product or activity can’t be summed because of “interactive effects,” says DOE. If you first replace your central AC with a more efficient one, saving, say, 15% on energy consumption, and then seal ducts, you wouldn’t save as much total energy on duct sealing as you would have if you had first sealed them. There’s just less energy to save at that point.
But these practices can help you achieve the goal of shaving 20% to 30% of your annual bill ($440 to $660).
Energy Savings is Addictive. What Else Can We Do?
If you want to go further and spend more, especially if you’re not planning to sell your home soon:
Add insulation. Anything you can do to shore up your building envelope is good.
If major appliances like your HVAC and water heater are nearing the end of their useful life, research energy-efficient replacements and keep the info where you’ll remember. Otherwise, you’ll make a reactive purchase when the unit finally breaks.
Contact your utility about rebates for investing in improvements. Or visit DSIRE, a database of federal, state, local, and utility rebates searchable by state. Energy Star has a discount and rebate finder, too.
A Final Word: Oh, Behave!
Remember the Snackwell’s effect? If your behavior — unplugging chargeable devices from the socket when they’re done charging; putting computers, TVs, and media on smart strips and turning them off at once; reprogramming your thermostat at daylight savings time — doesn’t support your improvements, you’re letting energy, an invisible product, win.
Elfant Wissahickon welcomes REALTORS (front row, kneeling)Michael Zimney and Martha Hill(second row, left to right)Joannie Topper, Robert Stoller , Jill Doster, Lori Hershey, Kaia Letham(third row, left to right)Andon George, William Collins, Paul Walsh, Jr. and Don Pickneyto our sales force of professionals at our Chestnut Hill and Rittenhouse Square locations.
Just another weekend? Not if you take advantage with one or more of these 5 great projects you can easily pull off for under $300.
Most of the cost of these DIY weekend projects is in the materials. The labor — that’s you — is free. All you need now are the hours. But, hey, you’ve got two full days — plenty of time to be a superhero weekend warrior and grab some R&R.
Project #1: Add a Garden Arbor Entry
The setup: Install an eye-catching portal to your garden with a freestanding arbor. It’ll look great at the end of a garden path or framing a grassy area between planting beds.
Specs and cost: Garden arbors can be priced up to thousands of dollars, but you can find nice-looking kits in redwood, cedar, and vinyl at your local home improvement or garden center for $200 to $300. Typical sizes are about 7 feet high and 3 to 4 feet wide. You’ll have to assemble the kit yourself.
Tools: Screwdriver; cordless drill/driver; hammer; tape measure. Kits come pre-cut and pre-drilled for easy assembly, and usually include screws. If fasteners aren’t included, check the materials list before you leave the store.
Time: 3 to 5 hours
Project #2: Install a Window Awning
The setup: Summer is super, but too much sunlight from south- and west-facing windows can heat up your interiors and make your AC work overtime. Beat that heat and save energyby using an awning to stop harsh sunlight before it enters your house.
Specs and cost: Residential awnings come in many sizes and colors. Some are plastic or aluminum, but most are made with weatherproof fabrics. They’re engineered for wind resistance, and some are retractable. A 4-foot-wide awning with a 2.5-foot projection is $150 to $250.
Tools: Cordless drill/driver; adjustable wrench; tape measure; level. You can install an awning on any siding surface, but you’ll need a hammer drill to drill holes in brick. To prevent leaks, fill any drilled holes with silicone sealant before you install screws and bolts.
Time: 3 to 4 hours
Project #3: Screen Off Your Air Conditioner from View
The setup: Air conditioning is great, but air conditioner condensers are ugly. Up your curb appeal quotient by hiding your AC condenser or heat pump unit with a simple screen.
Specs and costs: An AC screen is typically three-sided, about 40 inches high, and freestanding — you’ll want to be able to move it easily when it comes time to service your HVAC. For about $100, you can make a screen yourself using weather-resistant cedar or pressure-treated wood to build three frames, and filling each frame with plastic or pressure-treated lattice.
Or, buy pre-made fencing panels. A 38-inch-by-38-inch plastic fencing panel is about $50.
Time: Build it yourself in four to six hours. Install pre-made fencing in one to two hours.
Project #4: Add Garage Storage
The setup: Shopping for garage storage solutions is definitely a kid-in-the-candy-store experience. There are so many cool shelves, hooks, and hangers available that you’ll need to prioritize your needs. Take stock of long-handled landscape tools, bikes, paint supplies, ladders, and odd ducks, such as that kayak. Measure your available space so you’ll have a rough idea of where everything goes.
Specs and cost: Set your under-$300 budget, grab a cart, and get shopping. Many storage systems are made to be hung on drywall, but hooks and heavy items should be fastened directly to studs. Use a stud finder ($20) to locate solid framing.
If your garage is unfinished, add strips of wood horizontally across studs so you’ll have something to fasten your storage goodies to. An 8-foot-long 2-by-4 is about $2.50.
Tools: Cordless drill/driver; hammer; level; measuring tape; screws and nails.
Time: This is a simple project, but not a fast one. Figure six to 10 hours to get everything where you want it, plus shopping. But, oh the fun in putting everything in its place!
If you want to do something really inexpensive, DIY a simple overhead bin system. All you need is plywood, plastic bins, some tools, and a weekend. See how it’s done:
Project #5: Edging Your Garden
The setup: Edging is a great way to define your planting beds, corral garden mulch, and to separate your lawn from your garden or patio.
Specs and cost: Wood and metal edging looks like tiny fencing; they’re 4 to 6 inches high. Some include spikes that hold the edging in position; other types must be partially buried. Cost is $1 to $5 per foot.
Plastic edging can be molded and colored to mimic brick, wood, and stone. About $20 for 10 feet.
Concrete edging blocks are smooth, or textured to resemble stone. $15 to $25 for 10 feet.
Real stone edging is installed flush with the surrounding grade in a shallow trench on a bed of sand, so digging is required. Stone is sold by the ton and prices vary by region. You’ll need about one-third of a ton of flagstone to make an 8-inch-wide edging 50 feet long, costing $150 to $200.
Tools: Shovel; wheelbarrow; tin snips (for cutting plastic edging); work gloves.
Time: Pre-made edging will take two to three hours for 50 feet; stone will take six to 10 hours.