Monthly Archives: January 2015

7 things to ask your contractor before starting a new home project

A big saltwater pool with a diving board; a custom-made play set for your kids; a multi-tiered outdoor kitchen complete with a patio dining table, an outdoor pizza oven, and plenty of outdoor sofas. When it comes to backyard renovation projects, the sky is quite literally the limit. There are so many fun and fabulous ways to make your yard an extension of your home, and planning the new additions is exciting. Undertaking a new building project is a big deal, though. It produces a lot of pollution and waste, requires one (or more) permits and usually involves the helping hands of a half a dozen people. Luckily, there's someone who can help with organize the messy logistics of a major home renovation: a contractor. Before you break ground on a new project, here are a few questions you should whip out in the preliminary discussion:

How long will this take?
Some backyard remodels, like installing an above-ground wooden porch, won't take too long, but some, such as building a brand-new in-ground pool, complete with a hot tub and water slide, can take months. Before you get started on a new project, it's a good idea to understand what the schedule is going to look like. After all, a full construction crew toiling away in your yard can be tiring for everyone involved.

Who would my main contact be?
A major home renovation project will usually involve more than one person, so it's a good idea to know who you should direct all your questions and concerns toward as the building commences.

Are you a member of a professional organization?
Belonging to a professional organization is impressive on the part of the contractor, but it also signifies that he or she has the proper professional licensing and is participating in some kind of continuing education program. It's not a bad idea to find a professional organization like this first and then find a builder who's a member – it eliminates the need to ask this question entirely.

Who will be here?
When you have a larger crew working in your backyard, it's a good idea to know how many people you can expect day-to-day and become familiar with those faces. Ask whoever is in charge to let you know when someone new will be joining in, and if something looks suspicious, don't be afraid to call your contact to verify they're working on the project.

Do you provide guarantees?
It's always good to know that the project is going to hold up the way it should and that if it doesn't, the contractor will fix the problem. The last thing you want is to build a brand-new kitchen only to find the outdoor oven doesn't work and the contractor isn't going to fix it.

Will you take care of the permits?
Almost any backyard renovation you start will need some kind of building permit, and your contractor will usually take care of securing it. It always pays to be sure, however. If you need to take care of the permits, you need to know.

Does this project seem realistic?
When you're working with an experienced contractor, remember one thing: They know best. Some of your initial plans or sketches for the renovation might not be feasible, and that's OK; by collaborating with the contractor, you should be able to come up with a plan that's both functional and fun.

Picking the right contractor often means the difference between a nightmare and a dream come true when it comes to home renovations. Selecting the perfect one might seem tricky, but it certainly doesn't have to be. 

Landscape design tips for a stunning yard

You may have a difficult time visualizing a lush landscape in your yard now that the weather has cooled down, but that shouldn't stop you from dreaming up the perfect space. Plan your landscaping this winter so you'll be ready to plant come spring. If you've never designed an outdoor space before, you may need a few tips. Here are strategies and ideas for putting together landscaping elements to create a relaxing and beautiful retreat:

Make a scale drawing of your space
You won't know if you have enough room for an outdoor dining set and kitchen along with a row of bushes if you don't know the dimensions of your yard. Step one is drawing a scale image of your space as it is. To scale means that though your drawing is smaller, the things you add take up the same amount of space on the page as they would in real life. For instance, a yard outside could equal an inch on the paper. Whatever scale you settle on, the drawing should fit on a single page and be consistent. 

See if you have the original blueprints of your home – those will make drawing easier. In fact, if you have the blueprints, you won't need to create the scale! If you don't have blueprints, pull out your measuring tape, pencil and paper. Have someone help you measure your yard and everything in it. 

Make copies
Once you have your scale drawing, make a bunch of copies. That way, you can free-hand draw ideas on them without ruining your original image. Place the drawing in a folder where you can find it if you need to make more copies, and avoid writing on this paper.

Dream away
You and your spouse should use your copied images to draw all of your dream backyard features. From a border of tall trees to outdoor furniture sets or a garden, feel free to go nuts. This is the inspiration part of your design, and you'll hone it later. 

Set a budget and look for items
You'll eventually have to reign in your ideas by creating a budget. What can you afford to spend come spring, and what features do you want to spend that money on? Once you have a set budget, start shopping. Make note of how much certain plants, decorations, patio pieces and structural elements (such as a deck or paving stones) cost. You can reduce price by picking less expensive materials and greenery. 

As you shop for things to put in your yard, see if you can get measurements. That's easy for things like outdoor sectionals, but for plants, you'll have to do some research. Most likely, you'll only find the average size of plants. You'll need these measurements to sketch a final landscape design. 

Create the last document
Once you've decided what you'll place in your yard and all those feature's specs, draw the items in scale onto your yard. You may have to redraw the space without existing plants instead of simply drawing over it. 

Benefits of a building a patio cover

Patio covers might just be the greatest thing to happen to outdoor entertaining since patio furniture. Perfect for porch parties and backyard barbecues, they create a space on your patio that's safe from the elements, fun to decorate and impervious to the changing seasons. That's not all, though. Check out the many other reasons why building a patio cover might be the perfect winter renovation project:

They offer protection from the elements
Having a roof means that you can use your patio even when it's raining. A bonus: watching a summer thunderstorm from your outdoor sofa is pretty darn cool when you've got a roof over your head.

You can do more outdoor entertaining
If you host a lot of parties or dinners, a covered patio becomes truly priceless. It's a great place to concentrate your outdoor seating and functions more like another room of your home than a portion of your backyard. 

Your outdoor furniture is safe, even in the winter
One unfortunate thing about winter: You have to cover your outdoor furniture and bring your accessories inside so that they don't incur any damage from snow and ice. We spend a surprising amount of time in our backyards throughout the winter, from building snowmen to sledding with our kids, and it can be nice to have a place to sit. When your patio is covered, you can kick back in your outdoor chairs all year-round.

There are more climate control options
Solid patio covers also allow for accessories like space lamps, overhead heaters and misters, making your patio even more conducive to entertaining and enjoying year-round. The shade and proximity to your house alone can make a 10-degree difference in both the winter and summer.

Two words: outdoor kitchen
You could build a bar under a covered patio as well. Heck – you could build both.

They offer great lighting
You can attach outdoor lighting to the exterior of your house sans cover, but incorporating a roof gives you an inexhaustible list of new options. Chandeliers, lanterns, lamps and string lights are just a few examples of lighting that looks great in a covered patio.

They make a seamless transition between the interior and the exterior of your home
In essence, they are just as much a room of your house as a part of your backyard. You can add sound systems, outdoor TVs, beverage coolers and fireplaces. The protective cover means that decorations are safe, allowing you to play with color and design schemes that would usually be limited to your living room.

Patios can be covered in a multitude of materials, from asphalt to wood to metal. Depending on how seamless you'd like the transition from your house to your patio to be, you can even match your current roof to it exactly. What's better: They increase the value of your home. Need we say more?

Backyard branches: The best trees for your patio

Picking trees for an outdoor living area is tough – you want one large enough to provide some shade, but you don't want it to be so massive that it completely takes over your yard. It should be pretty without needing constant cleanup (think falling fruit) and hardy enough that it will make it through the winter without growing a root system so convoluted that it cracks your pavers or pokes up through the holes in your wood.

Fernleaf full moon maple
This is a tree that's almost candy-apple green in the summer and a deep, rich quilt of red, orange and yellow in the fall. The leaves are intricate and textured, and the tree itself will grow big without becoming monstrous.

Paperback maple
This tree has many qualities that make it porch-worthy, but most notable is easily its peel-back brownish-red bark. The resulting look is eye-catching yet refined, and you'd be surprised how few leaves it litters.

Crepe myrtle
This tree is native to the Southern United States and produces gorgeous magenta or stark white flowers in the summer. The base of the tree is made of multiple twisting trunks and can grow to be 20 feet tall, although most varieties are smaller. This tree is actually very resistant to cold in the winter, meaning you'll be able to enjoy its beautiful blooms time and time again.

Japanese maple
This elegant tree stretches up and out, boasting colorful leaves during both the spring and fall. Its fanning leaves give it impressive shading power for such a small structure – Japanese maples rarely grow to be taller than 25 feet. The common green-leaf variety will tolerate the most heat, making it a better choice for warmer climates, but fancier variations will hold up just fine in northern regions.

Dogwood
Dogwood trees are unique for many reasons, but perhaps the most notable is their fall coloring: The usual deep reds of autumn foliage mix with bold, dark purple that makes it truly distinct. They bloom in a multitude of colors and are relatively resistant to bugs and disease.

Stewartias
Japanese and Korean stewartias are small trees with mottled bark and bright, tear-shaped leaves. They won't grow higher than 25 feet, meaning they won't get so large that branches bang into your upper-floor windows.

Regardless of what trees you choose to perfect your patio, make sure you keep an eye on your outdoor furniture. Any tree is easily inhabited by birds and bugs, meaning that your outdoor sofa can get doused in bird dropping, falling leaves and bark debris. In the fall, this might mean you move your outdoor furniture out from underneath your trees or cover them up once it's too cold for use. If you reside in a warmer state (lucky you!), then you don't need to take too many precautions – just make sure you clean your cushions regularly!