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Don't Fall Short! 6 Home Maintenance Tasks You Should Tackle This Autumn

by Amy McLeod Group


Autumn brings pumpkins and—love 'em or hate 'em—pumpkin spice lattes, sweater weather, and spooky skeletons. But most importantly, fall brings an end to a summer of outdoor adventures—and tedious yard tasks like weeding, mowing, and watering the lawn.

But just because the weather's cooling off doesn't mean your to-do list will, too. Before busting out the cinnamon spice and mulled wine, take on a few home maintenance tasks that will put you in good standing once temperatures dip.

"It's easier to prepare for a winter emergency in the fall," says Jericho McClellan, who works in construction management.

But fear not: We've got you covered with our checklist of home maintenance chores to tackle this season. Read on for details about where to start, and whom to call if you need backup.

1. Properly store your yard equipment

Storage shed
Björn Forenius/iStock

 

One of the best parts about fall: You can usually put your lawn mower into hibernation mode until spring.

But before you forget about that pesky piece of machinery entirely, remember this: Spring will suck if you don't prep your equipment this fall. That's because gasoline reacts with the air in the tank if left long enough, causing oxidation, which creates small deposits that can affect the performance of your mower.

And it's not just gas-powered equipment that needs a fall refresh.

Lester Poole, Lowe's live-nursery specialist, recommends running pressurized air through your pressure washers to remove any remaining water in the system, which will prevent freeze damage to the pumping mechanisms.

If your winter is particularly snowy and gritty, you'll be glad to have your pressure washer on high alert.

DIY: This project is easy to do yourself—just get rid of any spare gasoline. Many cities and counties have hazardous-waste programs, or your local auto parts store might take the old gas for you, too.

2. Protect your pipes

When temps dip below freezing, unprotected pipes can burst from exposure. Guard against burst pipes by wrapping them in foam insulation, closing foundation vents (more on that below), and opening cabinet doors under sinks to allow warm air to flow around supply lines. And make sure to keep your thermostat at 60 degrees or higher overnight.

If you haven't tracked down your home's water shut-offs yet, now's the time. They might be located outside your house or in your crawl space. Once you've found them, give them a test.

"The winter is not a fun time to try to figure that out, especially should a pipe burst," McClellan says. (More on that, too, in a minute.)

Now's also a good time to drain all of your exterior water hoses to prevent an icy emergency.

DIY: If your pipes do freeze, leave the affected faucets on and turn off your water supply, says Jenny Popis, a Lowe's Home Improvement spokeswoman. Then locate the freeze point by feeling the length of frozen pipes to determine which area is coldest. You can attempt to thaw it by wrapping the frozen section in washcloths soaked in hot water—then thaw until you have full water pressure.

Call in the pros: If you can't locate the freeze point or your pipes have burst, call in a licensed plumber, which will run $150 to $600 on average(depending on the severity of the leak).

3. Clear out your crawl space

While you're winterizing your pipes, peek around your crawl space. Is your HVAC system blocked by boxes of 50-year-old Mason jars? Can you get to any leaking pipes quickly?

DIY: While it's still warm, clear out any debris from your crawl space to ensure clear passage when winter's worst happens.

Call in the pros: Creeped out by the idea of crawling around under your house? Professional crawl space cleaners charge about $500 to $4,500, depending on the size of your house and the state of the space.

4. Close your crawl space vents

During your crawl space expedition, this is a must-do: Close the vents that circle your home's perimeter.

"The vents were placed there for a functional reason, not just aesthetics," says real estate agent, broker, and construction expert Ron Humes. "The problem is that most homeowners have no idea why they are there."

Here's why: In warm, wet seasons, crawl space vents allow airflow, which prevents moisture buildup. But if you leave them open during cold, dry weather, that chilly air will cool down your floorboards—making mornings uncomfortable.

DIY: "When the temperatures drop, slide those crawl space vents closed," Humes says. "Just remember to open them again in the spring."

If one of your vents is broken, replacements range from $20 to $50.

Call in the pros: If your crawl space stays damp through the fall and winter, you might want to consider waterproofing, dehumidifying, and sealing off your crawl space to prevent wet air. This can cost $1,500 to $15,000.

5. Kick-start your composting efforts

Compost bin in the garden

fotomem/iStock

Now's the perfect time, with all those leaves and dead plants, to start a compost pile. You don't even need a fancy compost spinner; sectioning off a corner of your yard is enough.

"Put yard waste to work by piling green leaves and clippings into a pile near your garden," Poole says. Next, layer with brown materials such as soil, dead leaves, and coffee grounds. Next up: kitchen scraps.

"Through the season, turn your mound using a pitchfork to expose oxygen to all ingredients and use it in the spring for fertilizer," Poole says.

Next year's tomatoes will thank you.

DIY: If your yard lacks space for a compost corner—or you have no interest in regular pitchforking—consider a tumbling composter. 

6. Protect your trees

Not all species of trees are winter-hardy—especially thin-barked ones like beech, aspens, or cherry trees. For these varietals, "sun-warmed sap quickly freezes at night and causes bark to split," Poole says.

He recommends wrapping your tree trunks with paper tree wrap, covering the entire bark from an inch above the soil to the lowest branches. Adhere the wrapping to the tree using duct tape to keep your trees in tiptop condition.

DIY: You can find 150 feet of paper tree wrap on Amazon for $18, although you may need a few rolls depending on how many trees need winter protection.

Call in the pros: Are your trees already looking the worse for wear? A tree service can help you sort out what's wrong. Pruning costs anywhere from $75 to $1,000.

Contact The McLeod Group Network at 971.208.5093 or [email protected] for ALL your Real Estate needs! 

By: Realtor.com, Jamie Wiebe
Holly Amaya contributed to this article

6 Green Gardening Rules Every Eco-Friendly Homeowner Should Know

by Amy McLeod Group


You shun plastic straws and carry your own tote bags to the grocery store (well, most of the time). So why not continue the green theme in your garden and plant with the planet in mind?

Low-water, zero-waste, and chemical-free options abound for both flower beds and containers. And by embracing green gardening, you can help improve your yard's soil quality and attract beneficial pollinators. To get started, try some of these green gardening techniques below.

1. Use green containers


Photo by Noelle Johnson Landscape Consulting

Milk jugs, yogurt cups, and egg cartons are all reusable and free for starting seedlings.

"Just make sure you place egg cartons on a cookie sheet or something else that holds water as they're porous," notes landscaping expert Chris Lambton, host of DIY Network's "Yard Crashers" and "Lawn and Order."

He also reuses Solo cups left over from parties (poke holes in the bottom and transplant tomatoes into them as they outgrow egg cartons or other small cups).

Feeling creative? Make your own seed containers from folded newspaper (most publishers use soy ink, which is nontoxic). Newspapers are biodegradable, and the whole thing—paper, dirt, and seeds—can be planted in the ground, explains Susan Brandt, the plant pro at Blooming Secrets, an e-commerce gardening site.

Two other green containers include Mason jars (excellent as succulent planters, says Brandt) and peat pots.

"Peat cups are made from natural fibers and can be planted directly into the garden without causing root shock," reports Chris Cassell, director of sustainability at Lowe's.

2. Add a rain barrel


Photo by Scot Eckley, Inc.

Catch rain in just about any type of container, and then use it to water your garden.

"Plants benefit from rainwater as it's free of the chemicals and minerals found in tap," says Cassell. If you install rain barrels around your downspouts, you'll really save on your water bill, too.

A word of caution: Make sure rain barrels are installed correctly so they don't cause flooding around your house, and elevate them to fit your watering can under the spigot, suggests Lambton.

3. Go chemical-free

Roundup or any pesticide is a no-no in an eco garden. Instead, try neem oil (an organic pesticide extracted from the tropical neem tree) for bugs and liquid seaweed and compost for fertilizer, says Lambton.

"Neem oil has low toxicity and, when mixed with water, it can be used as an insecticide, fungicide, and miticide," says Cassell.

4. Water wisely


Photo by Willard & May

Don't just spray willy-nilly and then walk away. There's a smart (and green) way to hydrate your garden. The pros say to water early in the morning, when there's usually less wind and temperatures are lower. The result? Water is absorbed more effectively and less is evaporated.

If you can, use a drip irrigation system or soaker hoses, which are most effective at watering at soil level, says Brandt.

5. Make some DIY fertilizer


Photo by Smalls Landscaping 

Yes, you can make your own fertilizer. Cassell says to find a hidden corner of your garden where you can layer grass clippings and fallen green leaves with brown materials like dried-up leaves and even coffee grounds. Cut larger pieces into smaller ones, add water to the pile and top with garden soil.

"Turn your mound during the season to expose the ingredients to oxygen and then use it in the spring as fertilizer," he says.

Grass clippings can also be applied as mulch. Pine needles are another green mulch pick as they acidify soil, says Brandt. Try it on azaleas, which are acid-loving.

Or got a compost heap for your kitchen scraps? Compost can also be used as fertilizer—just spread it on your flower and vegetable beds to add nutrients and beneficial microbes to the soil.

So how do you know when your compost is ready?

"Check for a good earthy smell in your compost, and be sure it's dark in color and feels crumbly," notes Cassell. If it's not quite ready, give it more time (ingredients that are still decomposing can attract unwanted pests). Here's more on how to make compost.

6. Attract plant pollinators

Photo by Healy Design Inc.

Nothing is greener than a bunch of butterflies and bees circling your flowers to pollinate the plants. And don't forget hummingbirds, moths, flies, and even some beetles—they all move pollen from flower to flower, says Cassell.

Plants that'll attract these important creatures include catmint, lavender, cosmos, calendula, butterfly flower, sunflowers, sweet alyssum, and lantana.

Contact The McLeod Group Network for all your Real Estate needs! 971.208.5093 or [email protected].

By: Realtor.com, Jennifer Kelly Geddes


Looking to make your outdoor area more livable? Consider adding a hardscape feature to complement your plants and flowers. A decked-out backyard can give a big boost to your property's value, and hardscaping can be a central part of this. So what is hardscaping and how much should you budget to make it into a reality for your home? Read on.

What is hardscaping?

Your home’s outdoor spaces consist of hardscapes and softscapes.

“While softscapes are your plants and living elements, hardscaping encompasses the nonliving elements of landscaping—like a paver patio, stone wall, or a gazebo,” says Joe Raboine, director of residential hardscapes at Belgard, which makes residential and commercial products.

Hardscaping can increase the functionality of your outdoor space and can be designed to match your preferred style: traditional, modern, rustic, you name it.

“Using materials such as wood, stone, metal, and concrete, hardscapes can also add physical boundaries and dimension to your yard," says Missy Henriksen, vice president of public affairs for the National Association of Landscape Professionals.

Types of hardscaping

An outdoor kitchen is an increasingly popular type of hardscaping.
Belgard

With a nearly endless list of hardscaping features available, we asked our experts to highlight some of the most popular projects among homeowners.

Many people prefer patios and decks since they can expand a home’s living space, Henriksen says. “Fire features such as fireplaces or fire pits are also among the most common trends in outdoor living as they offer a place to gather and socialize.”

“Garden walls, planting beds, large boulders, stone edging, accent stones, pillars or columns, seat walls, and stepping stones are examples of in-demand features,” says Al Ferrante, owner of Century Building Materials, in Lindenhurst, NY.

In fact, you may even have a hardscape on your property and not even know it! Ferrante says the concrete or stone steps around your doorway could be considered hardscape.

Water hardscape features

Homeowners also like water hardscape features because they offer several advantages.

“In addition to being aesthetically appealing, they are functional for masking traffic noises and for providing additional privacy to your own space,” says Raboine. The sound of running water is also relaxing for most folks.

Some examples of water hardscape features are “waterfalls, fountains, ponds, stream bed,” Ferrante says. These can range from a simple accent to an elaborate focal point.

“The combination of dry and water hardscapes in a yard can improve the livability and beauty, such as adding the classic pairing of a pool and patio,” Henriksen explains.

Hardscaping trends

Photo by Ro | Rockett Design

If you're looking to stay on the cutting edge of design—or are considering selling your home in the near future—consider these hot hardscaping trends.

  • Mix and match: “Mixing materials, textures, and colors in a well-designed space can create eye-popping focal points and designs,” say Raboine. For example, use a different color hardscape for your patio border. This helps define the space.
  • Sleek and modern: Modern, linear designs are increasing in popularity. “Porcelain pavers, for example, are ideal for a contemporary design and are incredibly durable, frost-resistant, skid-resistant, stain-resistant, and easy to clean,” Raboine says.
  • Multipurpose walls: Retaining walls can also be used as benches for seating. Or you can build raised planters or garden beds into the walls to grow herbs and vegetables.

Approximate costs

As with any type of home improvement project, costs vary depending on the size and complexity of the hardscaping, as well as the materials used.

As a general rule, Henricksen says, you can expect to pay $7 to $22 per square foot for hardscaping.

“For example, the installation of a 10-foot flagstone patio with a natural stone gas-burner fire feature will generally cost around $6,000,” she says.

Raboine estimates the following costs for other hardscaping projects:

  • Paving a patio: $900 to $1,000
  • Retaining wall: $3,000 to $8,000
  • Patio/eating area: $1,000 to $2,000
  • Fire pit: $300 to $1,500
  • Pool deck: $3,000 to $12,000
  • Outdoor kitchen: $4,000 to $20,000

Contact The McLeod Group Network for all your real estate needs! 971.208.5093 or [email protected].

By and photo credit: Realtor.com, Terri Williams

12 Genius Yard and Garden Maintenance Hacks to Simplify Your Summer

by Amy McLeod Group


Having a lush green yard as a retreat is fantastic. But maintaining a yard? Easier said than mowed. So the question then becomes: How can you enjoy your backyard oasis with the minimum of effort on pruning, weeding, and anxiously hovering over every blade of grass?

Look no further than "Home Hacks," our weekly series on simplifying all aspects of home life. Since yard maintenance may be looming large over you right about now, here are some smart shortcuts to make the coming warm-weather months way easier.

1. Get your garden tools in good shape

After months in cold, damp storage, your gardening tools can likely use a spring cleaning. To shine rusty tools without elbow grease, soak them in white vinegar for 24 hours, then scrub with steel wool. Keep tools from rusting again by storing them in a bucket of builder's sand. (It really works!)

2. Water less for longer

"Instead of frequently watering your grass lightly, water it only two times per week for longer periods of time," says Barbara Roueche, brand manager for lawn-care equipment manufacturer Troy-Bilt.

The reason: Not only will you save water, but this promotes deeper grass-root growth, thus enabling your lawn to better tolerate drought.


Take a cue from a good rainfall to determine how much water your grass needs. About 20 minutes, twice each week, should do the trick.

3. Use old newspaper and never pull weeds again

Weeds in your flowerbeds are a time-stealing eyesore (plus weeds steal moisture from flowers, causing them to wilt). Banish weeds for the entire summer with this simple trick.

"Pull all the weeds from your beds once, and then add a layer of newspaper beneath mulch," says Roueche.

Newspaper will block new weeds from taking root, as well as help retain moisture. It is also nontoxic and will eventually decompose into the soil.

4. Kill weeds with vinegar

You can also brew up an all-natural vinegar mixture to keep weeds away, says Roueche. Not only is this hack environmentally friendly, it's also a safe option for those with pets sniffing around the yard.

Pour 1 gallon of everyday white vinegar into a bucket and add 1 cup of table salt. Stir the solution until the salt dissolves. Add 1 tablespoon of liquid dishwashing soap to help the mixture stick, and you've got a powerful weedkiller. Funnel it into a spray bottle and spray liberally on the weeds on a sunny day. Any weeds hit with this solution will die within several days.

5. Shine outdoor furniture

Clean stains on plastic outdoor furniture by rubbing marks with a dab of white toothpaste. Toothpaste's tiny granules gently clear stains that most other cleaners can't reach.

If you need to revive sun-faded colors on plastic furniture, polish with a small amount of petroleum jelly or mineral oil. Let the jelly or oil sit for an hour, then wipe it off for a refreshed shine.

6. Prevent pests with pantry items

"Instead of using harmful pesticides, repel critters by sprinkling coffee grounds or citrus peels in your garden," says Roueche.

Both are natural repellents for pests, because of their odor and acidity. Bonus: Coffee grounds also serve as a fertilizer and improve a soil's drainage, water retention, and aeration.

7. Protect your garden from animals and pets

Hate how animals (your own, or intruders) tend to munch on your garden's offerings before you can get a taste? Some plastic forks can fix that.

"Stick plastic forks point-side up around delicate plants," says Jennifer Harder, founder and CEO of Jennifer Harder Mortgage Brokers. Most animals will steer clear lest they hurt their delicate feet.

8. Keep your roses healthy with milk

Roses are susceptible to unsightly fungus, in the form of blotches on leaves. The answer is in your fridge. Take half a cup of milk and add it to a cup of water in a spray bottle.

"Then spray the watered-down milk onto your rose leaves to kill spotting fungus," says DIY expert and Liberty Mutual Insurance consultant Chip Wade.

9. Skip watering your plants

Always forgetting to water your plants? A hack using plastic water bottles can save you the trouble. Fill them with water, then use a needle or pin to poke a few holes in the cap. From there, half bury the water bottle upside down in the dirt near the plants you want to water. The holes in the cap allow for a slow trickle to keep plants hydrated for as long as a couple of weeks (depending on the size of your water bottle).

10. Mow easier

While most people mow back and forth across their lawn, turning around once they reach the sides, there is an easier way: Mow in a spiral shape, from the inside out. This reduces the amount of turning, which is tough to wrangle with a push mower and all but impossible with a ride-on mower. Here's more on how to mow a lawn.

11. Don't bother raking up lawn clippings

Hate raking up your lawn clippings? Leave them on your lawn instead. They'll help fertilize your lawn and keep it lush. Your best bet is to keep these clippings short enough that they won't clump on top of your grass, but rather fall to the earth below. A good rule of thumb to make this happen is the one-third rule: Snip just the top third of the blades of grass so they're small enough to fall through.

12. Make your lawnmower nonstick

A great way to keep cut grass from clogging up your lawnmower's cutting blades is to use cooking spray on the blades.

"This saves a lot of time on cleanup and maintenance, by keeping grass from sticking to the blades," says Harder.

Contact The McLeod Group Network for all your Real Estate needs! 971.208.5093 or [email protected]

By: Realtor.com, Margaret Heidenry 
Lisa Kaplan Gordon contributed to this post

5 Hot Hardscaping Trends Homeowners Should Try Right Now

by Amy McLeod Group


Whether you're putting your place on the market or just looking to give your crib some extra curb appeal, your property's exterior design deserves just as much attention as the interior.

But while you might've spent hours contemplating new window shutters, light fixtures, and foliage, there's a good chance one exterior improvement has fallen toward the bottom of your priority list: your hardscaping. After all, how much can you possibly change a pathway or sidewalk?

Well, a lot, apparently.

The truth is, hardscaping is one of the first—if not the first—things to consider when sprucing up your outdoor space. We're talking about the structures or materials that divide sections and provide places to walk and sit.

"Hardscaping should be the first component considered [because] it’s really the structure of the landscaping," explains Frederico Azevedo, founder and CEO of Unlimited Earth Care. "If hardscaping is left as an afterthought to the overall design, it will disrupt the flow of any property."

And, just like the plants you choose to grow in your backyard or the color you use to paint your front door, there are plenty of hardscaping trends that will help your property shine. Below are five expert-approved ways to improve your property’s walkways, sidewalks, and pathways.

1. Grass
Photo by Westover Landscape Design
 

Once upon a time, having grass sprout between your slabs of stone was considered sloppy and distasteful. Today, however, it's actually encouraged to integrate greenery into your hardscaping.

"Grass-jointed paving paths combine structured geometry, lush natural textures, and vibrant color," says landscape architect Janice Parker. "They provide an overlapping of formal and informal elements. Thoughtful stone selection, based on the architectural aesthetic of the home, ensures that the style works equally well for contemporary or traditional landscapes."

While a symmetrical and evenly spaced pathway will pair nicely with a manicured yard, it doesn't have to be perfect. Mixing different-sized and -shaped slabs will create the illusion of a naturally made pathway, which is also trending.

2. Crushed stone
Photo by Matthew Cunningham Landscape Design LLC 

Want to create a beautiful walkway but don't have the time for a big project? Consider using the ever-so-trendy crushed stone.

"It's loose, has lots of texture, and produces great sound when traversing," explains Michael McGown, senior landscape architect at KAA Design Group. "It speaks to casual informality, and lets the plantings define the path."

Not only does crushed stone look nice, it's also easy on your wallet andMother Nature. The total cost will vary based on the pathway, but a 50-pound bag of crushed stones can cost less than $40.

"It's very inexpensive, so replacing existing hardscape is probably within the means of a typical homeowner or home buyer," McGown says.

And it's eco-friendly: Crushed stones are more permeable than, say, a slab of concrete, so the water and grass underneath your pathway will still be watered and nourished, McGowan adds.

3. Reclaimed brick
Photo by The Design Build Co.

As the saying goes, one man's trash is another man's treasure—and the world of hardscaping is no exception. Specifically, McGowan says, reclaimed brick is having a moment.

"Reclaimed brick [has] color and texture," he explains. "It’s got a natural patina and looks authentic and timeless. [Bricks] blur the line between contemporary and traditional."

Don't get us wrong, we love a freshly paved sidewalk as much as the next person; however, there's something cozy and inviting about reclaimed materials.

4. Sustainable sidewalks
Hailshadow/iStock

Installing solar panels and planting trees are two obvious steps toward sustainability, but did you know you can apply the same eco-friendly ethos to your hardscaping?

“I’ve always been engaged in working sustainably, so seeing more options and materials coming forward in the past few years is really exciting,” Azevedo says. “Sustainable hardscaping materials are produced in a way that is least damaging to the environment and allow water to penetrate the ground.”

While Azevedo points to urbanite (aka repurposed concrete) and recycled granite as suitable alternatives, he encourages homeowners to think outside the cinder block.

“Crushed seashells, particularly mollusk shells, which have been a burden on landfills in recent years, make an excellent ground cover for paths, or as acidity-controlling mulch for flower beds,” he says.

5. Luxurious limestone
Photo by Hutker Architects 

All of the architectural greats feature limestone: the Pentagon, the Empire State Building, and, now, your walkway. While crushed stone and brick are suitable materials for your hardscape, they give your property a very specific look and feel. Limestone, on the other hand, is versatile enough to be a blank canvas so you can let your yard's foliage take center stage.

It "can provide elegance to either" contemporary or traditional style, McGowan explains.

And unlike brick, which has a predetermined shape, you can cut limestone any way you'd like. So whether you want a straight sidewalk or something with more curve, this is one material that can get the job done.

Contact The McLeod Group Network for all your Real Estate needs! 971.208.5093 or [email protected]

By: Realtor.com, Kelsey Mulvey

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1900 Hines St SE #220
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Fax: 971-599-5229

**Disclaimer: Amy McLeod, and her team, do not initiate, process, or service mortgages.  And provide this information only as a service.  You should confirm information here with your Licensed Mortgage Lender.