Month: April 2014

Keeping your trees in shape


Trees add a lot to your home. They provide a place for wildlife to live. They provide shade, which helps your utility bills stay lower in the summer. They can help prevent or limit soil erosion. And there’s no better place in the world for a tire swing.

The good news is that mature trees don’t need a lot of help – usually. The bad news is that when they do, you’ll usually need to enlist the help of an arborist to save them.

While trees are perfectly nice things to have in your yard, they can also require maintenance to help them. Healthy trees will sometimes die due to pest or disease infestation; however, in a suburban setting, they are more likely to be damaged due to environmental, mechanical, or chemical stress.

  • Environmental stress – drought conditions, excess soil moisture, too little sunlight, extremely cold temperatures, poor soil quality, and soil compaction
  • Mechanical stress – damage from lawn equipment or improper pruning practices and construction damage of severed roots or trunk wounds
  • Chemical stress – over-fertilization and de-icing salt contamination

When to prune
Pruning is necessary to keep the tree safe for our sake and for its own sake because nature didn’t put them where they are; we did. So, occasionally, they need some TLC.

You should prune trees only when it is necessary for structure, health, and safety purposes.

When does your tree need care? Look for these warning signs:

  • Dead, dying or diseased branches.
  • Branches that cross one another, which rubs the bark off and makes the tree susceptible to disease entry.
  • Sprouts forming at the base of the tree’s trunk can be a sign that the tree is injured and is redirecting its energy.
  • Remove vines, turf, or competing vegetation surrounding the tree’s trunk.
  • A tight-angled V shape between the limb and the tree can indicate a weak point in the tree. Examine to see if the bark grows inward instead of outward.
  • Look for nearly vertical branches that compete to be the main trunk of the tree. If they grow large enough they can split off, which can damage the tree or anything underneath it, including your home or vehicle.
  • You’ll need to trim back any nuisance growth, which occurs when a tree interferes with sidewalks, roadways, or utility lines.

One thing you should never do is “top” a tree. Topping removes far too much food producing vegetation and leaves the tree in an extremely stressed state. The sprouts produced after topping are the tree’s attempt to produce enough sugars to overcome the stress. While the tree may continue to live for a time, it will be far more susceptible to disease.

Pruning can be dangerous, to you and the tree. Take safety precautions and make sure that you’re using the right tool for the job. If there is any question as to whether or not you’re able to complete the task safely, it’s a good idea to hire a professional.

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Common painting mistakes and how to avoid them


Painting any room in your home is a great way to give it a fresh look. Not only is it cost-effective, it’s fairly easy and can be accomplished in a weekend. Although it can be easy, there are some common mistakes that do-it-yourselfers make that can make all the hard work look less than exemplary. The good news is that these mistakes can be remedied.

Buying cheap brushes

Cheaper brushes and rollers tend to leave their mark on your wall with bristles or roller lint. Spend a few extra bucks and get the good ones.

Skipping the prep

Most D-I-Yers don’t have the skills to get straight lines and clean edges. A few minutes of prep time makes your work that much better.

Starting too soon

Make sure the spots you repaired with patching compound are completely dry before you sand and prime. Otherwise, all that patching was a waste of time.

Going for too much with a single dip of paint

Don’t let the brush or roller become too dry. Be sure to maintain a smooth line of paint. Once the paint appears to break up, it’s time to re-dip.

Letting paint dry out

For water-based paint, put a piece of clear plastic wrap on the surface of the paint, then reseal the container. For oil-based paint, add about a half-inch of water on the surface before resealing.

Not priming

Priming, as a rule, improves the results you’ll get. Not only does it give the paint a good surface to adhere to, it also brings out the true color of the paint.

Not washing the walls

Paint should have a good, clean surface to stick to. Washing your walls prior to painting will help you get better results.

Not using drop cloths

If you can’t move it out of the room, make sure it’s completely covered with a drop cloth. Tape the edges of the floor and make sure it has a drop cloth, too.

Painting the wall plates

Taking five extra minutes to remove the wall plates and taping around light switches and electrical outlets gives your room a more professional look.

Time for spring home maintenance projects


In much of the country, spring has sprung and it’s time to shake off the cold of winter and get working around the house. With the first warm, dry spell comes the best time to start thinking about getting your home ready for the rains of spring and the heat of summer.

The number of small projects to complete can be daunting. Here’s a list of 10 things you need to do sooner rather than later.

Test your AC unit

It’s always best to make sure your air conditioning unit is running properly before temperatures start to climb. Take a look to make sure nothing is blocking airflow on and around your unit. Use a brush to clean the fins behind the grate. Consider having an HVAC technician perform a diagnostic inspection and routine maintenance.

Yard tool maintenance

Check lawn equipment to make sure it is ready for summer. Clean, tuned equipment and sharp blades make yard work easier and prolongs the life of your equipment.

Clean the gutters

Any debris that has accumulated over the winter blocks the flow of water through the gutter and downspouts. After cleaning out all the leaves, etc., run a hose to clean them and check for leaks. Seal any holes with a gutter sealant.

Perform some inspections

There are a number of places you’ll need to inspect to identify any problems that may have come to light during the winter.

  • Roof – perform a ground inspection to check for loose or damaged shingles
  • Deck – check for loose supports and boards, as well as problems in the finish
  • Foundation – look for cracks and spaces where soil has been separated from concrete
  • Windows and doors – repair weather stripping and caulking

Spray for bugs

Use non-chemical pesticides, if possible, available at home and garden centers and home improvement stores.

Paint, stain, or seal wood

Whether you have wood decks, planters or fences made out of wood, giving them a new coat of paint, stain or sealant will make them look great while protecting them against the elements.

Avoiding common mistakes makes your spring cleaning more efficient

According to the calendar, spring is upon us. For many, it’s time to air out the house, get organized and give the house a thorough deep cleaning. Companies that sell cleaning products even ramp up advertising directed at this seasonal tradition.

March 21 may be the official start of spring, but that’s still a little too early to open the house and air everything out. Especially in this unseasonably cold year! But the time is just around the corner to perform the spring cleaning ritual.

There are a few common mistakes that people make when spring cleaning. Avoid these and this spring, your cleaning will be more efficient and more effective.

Not planning your attack

When you’ve got a big project with many things to do, it can seem overwhelming. Create a game plan and write it down to help you prioritize and help everyone stick to the task at hand. Keeping your supplies in a bucket and moving them with you to each different room saves yourself time and energy going back and forth to where you keep cleaning supplies. Keep your checklist in a central location so everyone involved can cross off tasks when completed.

Doing it alone

Spring cleaning is a big undertaking. Doing the work by yourself can mean a long day and sore, aching muscles by the end of the weekend. If you have kids, assign them simple tasks, such as dusting, shaking out rugs, and clearing clutter. Older kids can do the heavy lifting, like moving furniture and boxes. If you live alone and have a friend that also lives alone, arrange to help each other. It’s always good to have an objective point-of-view to help guide your efforts.

Using the same cloth too long

This is a simple mistake almost everyone makes. If you continue to use the same dirty cloth, you’re just taking the dirt and grime and putting it in another room. Streaks come from dirty cloths. Switch cloths out frequently. Microfiber cloths can be cleaned; rinse them in clean water and wring them out. While dusting, use a dry microfiber cloth, then hold it inside a garbage bag and shake it to remove the dust.

Using the wrong tools

Before starting, make sure you have what you need. Stock up on the staples, namely cleaning products and microfiber cloths. Have a step-stool or stepladder handy, or an extension wand, to help reach up into corners. And make sure you have all the attachments and accessories ready for your vacuum. Nothing stops progress and wastes time like looking for that one thingamajig you need to use to clean the upholstery.

Working harder, not smarter

Let your equipment and cleaning products do some of the work for you. That’s their purpose. Rather than using cleaning solution, dust with a microfiber cloth; it holds the dust so there’s no need to use chemicals in sprays. Apply cleaning solution to tubs and sinks, allowing it to sit for 10 minutes or so before wiping the surface. When cleaning your microwave, you can fill a bowl with water and heat the liquid on high for one minute, creating steam that will loosen stains, and remove baked on splatters.

Waiting too long to clean is a mistake nearly everyone makes. There are some simple tricks you can use to make spring cleaning easier. Put a squeegee in the shower and run it over the walls to minimize build-up. Reuse plastic shopping bags in bathroom and bedroom trashcans to reduce sticky residue. Keep clutter to a minimum by getting everyone in the house to spend a few minutes each night putting things away.