Landscaping: Where to Start

A landscape is a wonderful thing, for many reasons. It beautiful, a veritable cornucopia of colors and textures with intricate flowers, bushes, trees, rocks and maybe even some unique non-organic elements that tickle your fancy. It’s dynamic, ever changing with the seasons, presenting a new face every few months. It’s functional, incorporating spaces for entertaining or playing, or even space for gardening which will (hopefully!) yield produce for consumption. It may seem like a rather simple exercise at first– I mean, trees and dirt and grass, right?– but there are many delicate factors to take into consideration that will greatly affect the design and success of your landscaping endeavors. Here are a few things to consider when beginning your landscape design that will flesh out the framework for your new beautiful, dynamic, and functional outdoor space.

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Understand your property.

The first step is assessing the land you’ll be working with. What planting zone are you in? What soil type? Does your space get mostly sun or shade? Also consider slope and possible drainage issues. Speaking from personal experience, it’s really very important to take care of any poor draining areas before you spend lots of time and money on improving your landscaping.

Consider your house.

Take a closer look at your home. Style, size, layout and indoor/outdoor relationship can all influence landscaping style and design. Home aesthethics may aid you in finding beneficial and organic outdoor living spaces and gardening areas. If you’re living in a modest-sized American colonial, chances are you’ll want to avoid a layout of oversized modern landscaping.

Think about the occupants.

What are your needs as an individual or family? Take into account your style preferences; do you prefer curved lines or straight? Would you rather have a spread-out planting design, or does a crowded, riotous flowerbed appeal to you?  Don’t forget to factor in how much time you want to spend maintaining the newly renovated landscape; if you tend to be away from your home for extended periods, you may wish to look for more hardy, low-maintenance plants.

Four Projects That Will Add Value to Your Home

Updated 09/17/2015 @ 8:30pm
One of the best reasons to work on projects that add value to your home: in the event you sell your home you have increased the resell value. ABC’s Real Money teamed up with HGTV to give you pointers on getting the most value out of your home when it is time to sell.

Looking to put your house on the market? One of the greatest worries on your mind may be about getting the most value from your home, as it is for some many embarking on the real estate journey. You may be feeling a little overwhelmed with the sheer number of projects that could be tackled in an outdated or well-lived-in home. Worry not, there are certain projects will translate to better overall impressions of your home, and ultimately lead to a higher valuation. If you’re looking to be effective with your time and money, try one of these:

curb appeal, home improvement
Update curb appeal to effectively increase your home’s instant like-ability factor.

Curb Appeal


When a visitor pulls up to your home, the first thing they see is the yard. It’s a no-brainer, right? Updating landscaping and the general appearance of the house will create a positive impression even before they step in the front door. Curb appeal is often underestimated, but can pack quite a punch. Don’t worry, these updates don’t have to be costly; a nicely trimmed yard, fresh flowers and mulch, and a clean coat of paint on fences or trim will make a world of difference.


Renovate Bathrooms


A clean and inviting bathroom is a huge selling point in the real estate world. Potential buyers are likely to be put off by grimy, outdated fixtures or questionable plumbing situations. If the space is decently designed, make sure that every surface is squeaky clean. It’s always a bonus if you can incorporate green design techniques in the remodeling process of your bathroom. Even if updating your restrooms requires a larger renovation than you’d hoped, remember that it’s a relatively small percentage of the home that will have a large impact on overall impression and the price that someone is willing to pay for your home. 


Renovate THE Kitchen


So often these days the kitchen is the center of the home. Accordingly, real estate agents and buyers alike will be expecting to see a well designed and well maintained kitchen space if you’re going to be paid top dollar for your house. Even if you can’t afford a full-scale remodel, simple things like new appliances, updating tired paint choices or refinishing cabinets will all be nods in the right direction. As with the bathroom, clean the kitchen to within an inch of it’s life to ensure visitors aren’t put off by the accumulated grime.


Upgrade HVAC


Heating and air conditioning problems can be deal breakers for many potential buyers. Let’s be honest, we enjoy our creature comforts, and HVAC systems are wonderful things, not to mention extremely necessary in many parts of the country. If the existing HVAC system is old and tired, installing an updated system will not only ensure reliability for the new owners, but may appeal to a larger group of potential buyers if you select energy efficient units that will help save on utility bills. Opting for environmentally friendly products for HVAC replacement is rarely if ever a bad choice!


Concrete Countertops: What Are They and Do I Want Them?

concrete countertops
So many possibilities with concrete countertops!

When you think about remodeling a kitchen or bathroom, invariably you’ll need to consider which type of countertop you’ll install or have installed. There are many fabulous choices for countertops available; some common but sturdy, some not-so-ordinary. Everyone has heard of the usual suspects… granite, marble, laminate. But what if you desire not only a functional and beautiful countertop, but something that will stand out and spark conversation? That will be a focal point for your kitchen or bathroom? I suggest that you spend some time researching concrete countertops. That’s right, concrete. It’s not just for driveways and patios anymore. It may sound gray and, well, boring, but I think you’ll be amazed with what they can do with plain old concrete these days.

DIY, if you wish!

How many types of countertop materials can be created and installed by a motivated DIYer? A concrete countertop is one such project worthy of a seasoned weekend warrior. There are legions of concrete countertop tutorials out on the interwebs that will detain the process from measuring to creation to installation. Depending on which method/tutorial you choose, you’ll need things such as plywood or melamine, concrete mix, concrete color, rebar, trowels and various other tools, sealer or wax, sanding implements, etc. Don’t feel like doing it all yourself? There are even kits that can be purchased that will contain materials needed to create the forms and the correct amount and type of concrete to help you whip up the perfect countertop.

Shapes and colors, oh my.

Another beauty of concrete countertops is that they are amazingly customizable. Want a color other than regular gray? Check! Interested in a formed sink, or a double basin, or a unique configuration? It’s doable! For more intense shapes or ideas it may be best to leave the construction to the professionals, but using concrete as the material for your countertop gives you practically limitless possibilities.

Seal it. Then seal it again.

Since concrete is a porous material, it’s necessary to have your countertops well sealed. If they’re not properly sealed and maintained organic debris (read: food and drink) may penetrate the concrete to leave discolorations and odors. Gross. Multiple sessions of sealant and then clockwork maintenance sealing (possibly every 6 months or so) isn’t a bad idea. This regimen may seem strict, but it’s really not that different from the care instructions of other natural countertop materials.

In conclusion.

Like any product there are pros and cons, so make sure and do your research and talk to some professionals if it’ll help you make a decision. If you go for it, you’ll get a stunning industrial feel for a fraction of the cost of real stone. Whether creating and installing yourself or hiring a company to create these masterpieces for you, do yourself a favor and give concrete countertops a try!

Things to Consider Before Hiring a Contractor


At some point in everyone’s life, home improvement becomes necessary. Whether it’s as simple as giving your bathroom a light makeover or as drastic as completely changing the layout of your home, many projects or homeowners will require the help of a contractor to complete some or all or the work. Unfortunately, not all contractors are created equal. Before you recruit your second cousin’s best friend or the first contractor listed in the phonebook, here are some important questions to ask and points to consider.

Consider the source of your referral.

I know that you love your neighbor’s new countertops, but pause before hiring based solely on their recommendation. Find out who the pros recommend! If you have a skilled laborer who you use and trust, ask them for a recommendation. It’s likely they’ve worked with many a contractor and have insider insight into their business practices and standards. It’s beneficial to make your decision based on real life observations, not just a contractor’s squeaky-clean website and snazzy marketing campaigns. As a side note, take online reviews with a grain of salt… some less than scrupulous companies may pick and choose which reviews to display, leaving out some that may raise a red flag. You can always consort the Better Business Bureau or Angie’s List to view multiple recommendations for your area.

You’ve done this before, right?

Okay, there are definitely some important things to know about any potential contractor you’re looking to hire. Is he experienced? Ask about how many years they have been in business and what type of projects they usually take on. Hiring a bathroom guy to redo your kitchen may not end up so well. A good contractor should be able to present examples of their completed work, and even references. If you’re going to talk to past clients, make sure you call more than one to get a more rounded view of their abilities and practices from a former customer’s perspective.

roof repair

Licensing can matter.

Not all states require contractors to be licensed. Just as in any area of life, there will be a plethora of good and not-so-good contractors, licensed or unlicensed. If they do have a license, check to make sure it’s current! Consider the work and studying that go into the licensing process. It may be tempting to hire an unlicensed contractor for many reasons; he’s offering a cheaper price, a faster timeline, of maybe he’s just got a great smile. Construction is a science; some contractors may not practice all the nitty-gritty details of a job that are required to maintain safety and ultimately soundness of your completed project. Do your research and be knowledgeable about what a contractor is capable of.

Insurance matters, too!

Say an accident occurs while work is being done on your project, and the contractor, licensed or unlicensed, doesn’t have and insurance? You might be liable. Not double-checking that your contractor is properly insured may saddle you with costly medical treatments or legal disputes. General liability insurance will also protect you from any accidental damage that occurs during the course of the project.

Where’s my warranty?

Did you even know that was a thing? Just like you can have a warranty on your car or a new kitchen appliance, a good contractor can give you a warranty on the work that is being completed.

Educate yourself about requirements and expectations.

How early will they be starting in the morning and what time will they finally finish up at night? Know about city laws that may restrict the hours of noisy construction. What is the projected timeline, and what are you expected to do to get things completed? This may involve being absent for certain portions of the project or even something as drastic as relocating for several days. What about city permissions? Permits may be obtained by the contractor, but not necessarily. Make sure you communicate about who is responsible for these important city-granted permissions so that construction isn’t inconveniently postponed.

Construction and remodeling can be stressful, but it doesn’t have to be a nightmare. Making sure you’ve got a knowledgeable and responsible team in charge will keep your project running smoothly, and help you weather the bumps and snags that will inevitably occur. Happy contractor hunting!