Archives: June 2016

DIY Wish List: Function Trumps Form

Posted on: June 30, 2016


By: Lisa Kaplan Gordon @

Published: August 1, 2013

A new study examines which outdoor projects DIYers would love to do . . . but probably won’t.

When it comes to picking outdoor DIY projects, we found it interesting that homeowners opt for functionality over form — and even finances, according to a new survey of U.S. homeowners. That’s music to our pragmatic ears.

By a wide margin, homeowners say they prefer functional projects (57%) over those that just look good (28.3%) or have financial value (14.7%).

But just because DIYers desire a project, that doesn’t mean they’re going to strap on a tool belt and actually do it. The survey also reveals the most-wanted projects a DIYer is least likely to do: High-skill/high-effort projects, like building a deck or privacy fence, probably will never make it off the DIYer’s wish list.

The most-desirable projects promise to make outdoor time more fun; but the ones homeowners probably will do are the easiest, like planting a garden or spreading around some landscaping pebbles.

Take a look at these numbers crunched by the Home Projects Council, a group of home improvement experts that sponsored the online survey of 1,278 homeowners planning outdoor home improvement projects in 2013.

Top-5 Desirable Outdoor Projects

1. Plant a garden (49.1%): Anyone with a shovel and some seeds can try this project, though it’ll take some experience to grow temperamental veggies, like tomatoes.

2. Landscaping with pebbles, stones, or rocks (28.3%): Attractive landscaping adds value to your home by boosting curb appeal. And it doesn’t take much effort to spread pea gravel in garden paths to add color and texture. 

Tip: Edge your path to keep the gravel from spreading.

3. Build a deck (22.8%): A deck is a great way to create outdoor living space, especially when your yard is sloped. Deck maintenance is easy, too: A coat of sealer will keep it looking good.

4. Create a fire or BBQ pit (20.5%): This retro project evokes 1950s dads flipping burgers over a handmade brick pit. Today, you’re more likely to install a gas grill in the pit, which makes the stainless steel seem less industrial and more homey.

5. Build a patio or walkway with pavers or bricks (19.2%): These stone hardscapes are elegant, functional, and long-lasting.

Top 5 Projects DIYers Wouldn’t Do on a Bet

Hey, a guy can dream, and then hire a pro to:

  • Build an outdoor kitchen.
  • Pour concrete slabs for patios, steps, or sidewalks.
  • Install a garden pond.
  • Resurface a concrete driveway, sidewalk, or patio.
  • Build a deck.


How to Keep Your House Cool Without AC

Posted on: June 24, 2016


By: Lisa Kaplan Gordon

Want summer comfort but hate the AC? Follow these tips on how to keep your house cool without frosty air conditioning.

You don’t have to switch on the air conditioner to get a big chill this summer. These tips will help you keep your house cool without AC, which will save energy (and avoid AC wars with your family).

Block that Sun!

When sunlight enters your house, it turns into heat. You’ll keep your house cooler if you reduce solar heat gain by keeping sunlight out.

  • Close the drapes: Line them with light-colored fabric that reflects the sun, and close them during the hottest part of the day. Let them pillow onto the floor to block air movement.
  • Add awnings: Install them on south- and west-facing windows to reduce solar heat gain by up to 77%, says the U.S. Department of Energy. Make your own by tacking up sheets outside your windows and draping the ends over a railing or lawn chair.
  • Install shutters: Interior and exterior shutters not only reduce heat gain and loss, but they also add security and protect against bad weather. Interior shutters with adjustable slats let you control how much sun you let in.
  • Apply high-reflectivity window film: Install energy-saving window films on east- and west-facing windows, which will keep you cool in summer, but let in warming sun in the winter. Mirror-like films are more effective than colored transparent films.

Here’s more information about energy-efficient window coverings.

Open Those Windows

Be sure to open windows when the outside temperature is lower than the inside. Cool air helps lower the temps of everything — walls, floors, furniture — that will absorb heat as temps rise, helping inside air say cooler longer.

To create cross-ventilation, open windows on opposite sides of the house. Good ventilation helps reduce VOCs and prevents mold.

Fire Up Fans

  • Portable fans: At night, place fans in open windows to move cool air. In the day, put fans where you feel their cooling breezes (moving air evaporates perspiration and lowers your body temperature). To get extra cool, place glasses or bowls of ice water in front of fans, which will chill the moving air.
  • Ceiling fans: For maximum cooling effect, make sure ceiling fans spin in the direction that pushes air down, rather than sucks it up. Be sure to turn off fans when you’re not in the room, because fan motors give off heat, too.
  • Whole house fans: A whole-house fan ($1,000 to $1,600, including install) exhausts hot inside air out through roof vents. Make sure your windows are open when you run a whole-house fan.

Power Down Appliances

You’ll save money and reduce heat output by turning off appliances you’re not using, particularly your computer and television. Powering down multiple appliances is easier if you connect them to the same power strip.

Don’t use heat- and steam-generating appliances — ranges, ovens, washers, dryers — during the hottest part of the day. In fact, take advantage of the heat by drying clothes outside on a line.

Plant Trees and Vines

These green house-coolers shade your home’s exterior and keep sunlight out of windows. Plant them by west-facing walls, where the sun is strongest.

Deciduous trees, which leaf out in spring and drop leaves in fall, are best because they provide shade in summer, then let in sun when temperatures drop in autumn. Select trees that are native to your area, which have a better chance of surviving. When planting, determine the height, canopy width, and root spread of the mature tree and plant accordingly.

Climbing vines, such as ivy and Virginia creeper, also are good outside insulators. To prevent vine rootlets or tendrils from compromising your siding, grow them on trellises or wires about 6 inches away from the house.

Speaking of shade, here are smart, inexpensive ideas for shading your patio.

Want more tips for staying cool this summer? Substitute CFL and LED bulbs for hotter incandescent lights.

Also, try insulating your garage door to prevent heat buildup.

Elfant Wissahickon names new president, partner

Posted on: June 15, 2016

Elfant Wissahickon founder Bob Elfant (left) with new president, Paul Walsh.

Elfant Wissahickon c0-founder Bob Elfant (left) with new president, Paul Walsh.

Elfant Wissahickon Realtors named its newest president, managing partner Paul Walsh, to replace firm co-founder president Bob Elfant. Asher Kahn, sales manager of the Rittenhouse Square office, has also been named partner.

Walsh, a Germantown native, joined Elfant Wissahickon EWR 20 years ago, became a partner in 2004 and was made managing partner of the organization in 2007. Walsh was instrumental in the growth of EWR from about 45 agents to nearly 100 agents.

“He has provided unparalleled leadership, is universally respected by his peers, and beloved by our agents and staff. There was no question in the owner’s minds that he represent our company as president,” Elfant said.

Although Elfant will remain a founding partner, he stepped down from the presidency in order to spend more time with his family.

EWR moved its headquarters to Chestnut Hill in 2010. Through Walsh’s efforts, the company has become part of the fabric of the Avenue.

Walsh most recently served as president of the Chestnut Hill Business Association and is currently vice president of the Chestnut Hill Business Improvement District.

“I have large shoes to fill in following Bob,” Walsh said. “I am confident that our company, with our amazing agents and staff, will continue to grow as one of the top real estate firms in the country.

Asher Kahn, formerly the sales manager of the Rittenhouse Square office, has been credited with growing the firm’s presence in center city and is currently working to expand their services into New Jersey. He joins Louise D’Alessandro, Larry DiFranco, Bob Elfant and Paul Walsh as an EWR partner.

“Asher brings 15 years of varied real estate experience and has had a significant impact on penetration of the center city marketplace,” Elfant said. “He provides wonderful support and training to our agents, companywide. I am thrilled to have Asher on board.

“It is very special to love what you do and also love the people you are surrounded with, and I am truly grateful to have that at Elfant Wissahickon,” Kahn said.

How to Grow Your Best Tomatoes Ever

Posted on: June 7, 2016


By: Lisa Kaplan Gordon from

This popular garden veggie can be a challenge to grow. We’ll fix that.

Tomatoes are like Goldilocks — they want everything to be just right. Mess up soil, sun, and water conditions just a little, and your tomatoes succumb to rot, spots, and wilt.

Soil Prep is a Must

Tomatoes thrive in well-drained soil, so fix your soil before planting. Both sandy soil (drains too quickly) and clay soil (drains too slowly) can become tomato-friendly soil by adding decayed organic matter — dried leaves, grass clippings, compost from your pile — and by turning cover crops, such as annual ryegrass — into the soil 2-3 weeks before planting.

Tomatoes thrive in slightly acidic soil — pH 6.0 to 6.8. Test your soil and if it’s too acidic, add pulverized lime; if it’s too alkaline, add a sulfur acidifier (follow application directions on the package). These additives will burn young plants, so fix the chemical composition of your soil 6-12 months before planting.

If you haven’t done that, and your soil needs to be more acidic, fertilize with a nitrogen-rich fertilizer, animal manure, or fresh, diluted human urine (10 parts water: 1 part urine). Then remember to fix your soil next fall.

Here’s why you should use an expert to test your soil.

Here’s how to fix your soil.

Location, Location, Location

Tomatoes are sun worshipers and require full sunlight, at least 6 hours per day; more is better. The south side of your property is a likely candidate for maximum sunshine.

Plants also like protection from strong wind and plenty of space to grow. A tomato plant easily can reach 6 ft. high and 4 ft. wide, so make sure you have a large, open space in your garden to devote to tomatoes. Depending on the variety, space seeds or seedlings between 1 ft. (dwarf varieties) and 4 ft. (big boys) apart.

Planting Pointers

Plant tomato seedlings as soon as your garden soil reaches 65-70 degrees F. (check with a soil thermometer, $10-$25). If you have a long growing season, stagger your planting over 4-6 weeks, which will reduce bug and blight issues and will allow you to harvest fruit throughout the summer.

Dig a hole deep enough to cover roots and stems up to the lowest leaves. Add to the hole 1 cup of kelp meal and 1 cup of bone meal, which act as slow-release fertilizers that aid blossom and fruit growth.

Staking Well Done

There’s no one correct way to stake a tomato plant. Some folks love to tie drooping branches to wood or bamboo stakes (green alternative). Other options: steel tomato towers ($25 for a steel tower 53 inches high); or DIY tomato cages from low-cost fence wire or concrete reinforcing wire.

Remember the goal is to keep branches and fruit from dragging on the ground, where they are vulnerable to disease and infestation. If you use ties, tie them loosely around branches, which will prevent cutting tender stems.

Water Wisely

Like most garden plants, tomatoes need about 1 inch of water per week to grow strong and tall. But these are not feast-or-famine growers; if you make the rookie mistake of letting the soil dry out and then flooding it with water, fruit will likely split.

Instead, tomatoes want soil to be dependably moist. They love drip hoses and ollas that supply steady water to roots; they don’t like pulsating sprays that smack tender stalks and wet foliage, making it more prone to fungus.

Here are three DIY watering systems you can make yourself.

Tried and True Tomato Tips

  • Cut old pantyhose into strips to use as stake ties. They won’t cut into tender stalks, are easy to tie, and will last more than one season.
  • To prevent blossom rot — ugly brown patches on the bottom of fruit that result from a calcium deficiency — mix ground eggshells into the soil, or place an antacid tablet in your planting hole.
  • Rotate the location of your tomato crop each year, which will cut down on pest and disease problems and allow soil to replenish nutrients.
  • Even if you buy tomato seedlings from an outdoor nursery, take about a week to harden off (acclimate) the plants before putting them in the ground. Increase daylight exposure by 2 hours per day, gradually moving the plants from shade to full sun.
  • Transplant seedlings on cloudy days, when they are less likely to dehydrate.