Your Guide to Eco-Friendly Lawn Care

Your Guide to Eco-Friendly Lawn Care

Here’s how the environmentally-minded keep their lawns trim and lush—while sparing the Earth at the same time!

This is the time of year when you look outside at your dry husk of a lawn and think, “I should really do something about that.” But before you go running out to set up a sprinkler system the size of Niagara Falls, you should really consider your lawn’s eco footprint. Thirsty lawns suck down somewhere between 30 to 60 percent of the world’s urban freshwater, amounting to hundreds of thousands of gallons a day.

Even unwatered lawns take their toll. Lawn mowers, trimmers, and other outdoor equipment dump out a staggering 242 million tons of pollutants each year, amounting to about 4 percent of the world’s annual CO2 emissions. And enterprising homeowners who manage their own lawn care wind up spilling about 17 million gallons of gasoline a year, which is about 6 million more gallons than spilled by Exxon Valdez.

As if that’s not enough shake your environmental heart to the core, lawns also damage natural ecosystems, as well. Synthetic pesticides and fertilizers used in the backyard wind up in streams and waterways as runoff. The nitrogen in such pollution in turn causes algae to proliferate, choking rivers and streams and creating so-called “dead zones,” places so clogged with excess oxygen from decaying algae, no marine life can survive there. There are now 405 identified dead zones on the planet—a huge increase from the 49 recorded zones in the 1960s.

In short, conventional lawn care is pretty bad for the Earth. However, here at Modernize, we know that having a well-kept lawn isn’t just a matter of keeping with the status quo, it’s the rule of the land. Homeowners associations and neighbors aren’t exactly thrilled about the prospect of an a maintenance-free yard—but luckily for you, there are ways to keep your next-door neighbors happy without pouring chemicals into your lawn or pumping a bunch of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Here’s how the environmentally-minded keep their lawns trim and lush—while sparing the Earth at the same time.


Plan Your Lawn to Be Waterwise
Nothing makes you more aware of our world’s water footprint than a dry summer. While you may not like the idea of a shriveled up, crunchy lawn, there are certainly ways to get around it and reduce your home’s water consumption. One idea is to simply shrink your turf area: install a patio or beds planted with native grasses and flowers, leaving less plant space requiring intensive watering. In the areas where you do have grass, make sure it’s the right kind for your lawn: warm-season grasses like Bermuda, St. Augustine and Zoysia are far less thirsty than their cool-season counterparts and more tolerant of hot, dry weather as well.


Get Your Sprinkler System in Check
Your average sprinkler head puts out one to six gallons of water per minute, so it adds up fast, especially if you’re watering too frequently or at the wrong time. Experts indicate that most lawns don’t need daily watering; about three days a week is typically fine. Always water in the morning or evening, rather than the middle of the day—that way, your water won’t evaporate before it can soak into the ground. And lastly, you may want to think about switching to an automated sprinkler system as well. These devices sync with local weather forecasts and adjust your watering schedule on the fly when there’s rain, keeping your irrigation as efficient as possible.


Mow the Energy-Efficient Way
For most of us, lawn mowing is that dreaded household chore that gets put off until the last minute. Well, good news! The longer you wait, the better off your lawn will be. Grass that’s buzzed to its roots is vulnerable to pests and drought, so it needs more frequent watering and babying to survive. Leave those grass blades long and lush and your lawn will be better off for it. And when you do mow, don’t bother raking up the clippings afterward. The cut grass feeds nitrogen right back into the soil, which means less chance of fertilizer runoff. Finally, laziness is working in your favor for once!

Elect for Electric
If you’re not fond of the gas-guzzlers, you do have other mower options. Energy-efficient mowers have come a long way from the antique push mowers of the past: you now have your option of dozens of different corded and battery-powered cordless electric mowers as well. Electric mowers work best for small, flat turf areas—and beyond reducing your lawn’s carbon footprint, they also save you money on gas, oil changes, and tune-ups. Mower batteries can handle about a third of an acre without a recharge, so if you have a larger lawn, look for a model that lets you switch out the battery with a backup so you don’t have to wait on the charger all day.

Listen to Your Weeds
A strong, robust lawn is the most energy-efficient one around, since it will naturally require less fertilizer, pesticides, and irrigation. Soil composition plays a big part in turf health, so it’s worth having your topsoil tested in order to get an idea of what may be lacking. Many local university cooperative extensions will do this for free; usually it’s a matter of completing a form and sending in a soil sample. The results will tell you the level of extractable nutrients in your yard, like phosphorous, potassium, and calcium, as well as listing the nitrogen levels and testing for potentially harmful substances, such as soluble salts and lead. But a simpler way to get a readout is to listen to what the weeds are trying to tell you. For instance, dandelions often pop up when soil acidity levels are too high, and plantains when the area has poor drainage or where there is clay soil. Learn what weeds are trying to tell you and you’ll become a turf whisperer.

Fertilize the Organic Way
To root out problems with runoff for good, you’ll need to make the switch from synthetic fertilizers to 100% organic compost. Topdressing with compost comes with a number of benefits: it helps the soil retain water and adds organic matter to your topsoil, replenishing its supply of beneficial micro-organisms. To spread all that nutrient-dense goodness to your lawn, drop shovelfuls of organic compost in small piles, eventually raking them out until they cover the entire turf area to about a quarter of an inch. As a bonus, you can even use your own kitchen scraps to make homemade compost. Not too shabby for some old coffee grinds and eggshells!

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What You Need to Know About Solar Panels

What You Need to Know About Solar Panels

Once you have decided to install solar panels, it’s important to research which solar panels are best for you, your home and your budget.

Guest post by Lauren White 

The solar panel industry has developed exponentially, in the past decade. Much of that is owed to increased demand. According to the Department of Energy, Americans use 23 times more solar energy now than we did around ten years ago.

Homeowners have more solar energy options than ever before. In order to meet demand and outshine the competition, companies are putting their resources toward research and development. They are constantly working toward creating more efficient and innovative solar energy technology.

Once you have decided to install solar panels, it’s important to research which solar panels are best for you, your home and your budget. There are generally three solar panel choices for residential homes: Thin-Film, Polycrystalline and Monocrystalline. These three panels are part of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, which means they convert the sun’s photons into electricity.

Thin-Film

Perfect for: The homeowner with a small budget, a low-to-average rate of energy consumption, and lots of area for installation.

The cells of thin-film panels are constructed by layering photovoltaic material on glass, metal or plastic. These layers can be measured in nanometers, significantly thinner than in traditional panels. Their thin construction makes them lightweight and flexible, and they have a low cost of production. As such, they come at a lower cost to consumers.

One drawback of this technology is its rate of degradation. These solar panels have an average life expectancy of 10-15 years, depending on the photovoltaic material used. Comparatively, monocrystalline solar panels have a life expectancy of 25-35 years.

Another drawback is their low efficiency rating of 7-15%. This rate doesn’t work well for homes consuming more than the national average of 11,000 kWh per year. Also, these panels must be installed over a significant amount of space, which can be a deterrent for homeowners with limited area for installation.

In recent years, technology has improved and certain thin-film technologies are pushing past 20% efficiency. With a higher efficiency rating, this technology can meet higher energy demands and become a greater competitor in the market.

Polycrystalline

Perfect for: The eco-conscious homeowner with wiggle room in their budget, an average rate of energy consumption, and perhaps a penchant for the color blue.

Polycrystalline panels are constructed by melting silicon into molds to create perfect square “wafers.’ These wafers of silicon are then installed on a grid to form the panel. The cost of making these panels is relatively low and the process produces minimal waste. This makes polycrystalline a more affordable option than the original solar panel, monocrystalline.

The efficiency rating for polycrystalline panels is typically 13-16%. They would perform best in homes with typical rates of consumption. You will still need a significant amount of installation space, for these panels, in order to achieve optimal benefits. You must also take into consideration whether or not your taste will agree with their blue tint.

Monocrystalline

Perfect for: The homeowner with less roof space for installation and/or a higher rate of energy consumption, who wants a longer-lasting product and can make a sizeable investment.

Monocrystalline panels were the first solar panels to be made available. Currently, they are some of the most expensive. Each panel is created using high-purity silicon cut into “wafers.” These silicon wafers are extremely efficient at converting photons into energy, with monocrystalline panels hovering around a 22% efficiency rating.

Since these panels can convert more energy per square foot, you won’t need as much space for installation. Greater energy conversion also means you’ll be able to power more appliances, like hot tubs, heated pools and electric cars.

Get What You Pay for—and Then Some

In most cases, homeowners surveyed by HomeAdvisor say the cost of installing solar panels is much less than their projected energy savings over a twenty year period. In fact, it’s been estimated that, in 2017, homeowners in Massachusetts and California will save double their investment in solar energy.

Calculate Your Estimated Savings

If you’re not sure of your ROI, Google has a convenient tool called Project Sunroof, which will calculate your estimated savings based on your specific home address. As for your installation cost, you can request local estimates through HomeAdvisor to get a realistic figure for budgeting.

While you’re doing your research, or when you are speaking with a professional, see what’s new and on the horizon in the industry. These technologies are developing so rapidly, there are breakthroughs on a yearly basis. In July of 2017, for example, scientists developed a solar cell with 44.5% efficiency. There is hope that this technology, and others like it, can be streamlined and integrated into the residential and commercial solar market.

What Buying a House Can Do for You:

What Buying a House Can Do for You: Investment Opportunity and Financial Security

Buying a home can be a great way to build wealth and protect your assets. Learn how home ownership can be a great investment decision for your financial security.

Some people may think of buying a home as a stressful experience that comes with an enormous commitment that can burden you for years. However, buying a home can be a great way to build wealth and protect your assets. Learn how homeownership can be a great investment decision that bolsters your financial security.

A Net Worth Boost

Research shows that on average, homeowners’ net worth is far higher than that of a renters’ net worth by up to 36%. And this wealth gap keeps widening every year. One explanation for this gap is the concept of forced savings. This is a situation where a person is essentially forced to save a certain amount of money every month for a significant expense, such as a house or a car.

Paying for a mortgage is a great example of forced savings. Paying for your mortgage month after month forces you to save a portion of your income to help pay off your property, which works towards increasing your home equity and net worth. Renters, on the other hand, increase the net worth of their landlords without building equity or assets.

04.10 buying a house - house car

Tax Benefits of Homeownership

Buying a house shouldn’t be considered fully as an expense. Homeowners enjoy a variety of tax breaks that you might not know about. Here are some of the tax breaks homeowners may qualify for:

Mortgage Interest Deductions

The monthly mortgage you must pay when you buy a house is split into two parts: one portion goes towards the actual principal amount, and the other portion pays off your interest on the mortgage. In some cases, the mortgage interest on your main and second residence is tax deductible.

To claim the mortgage interest, you must itemize your deductions on a Form 1040 Schedule A, unless you just want to just claim the standard deductions. You should get a 1098 Form from your mortgage lender at the beginning of every year showing the total amount you paid as interest for the previous year that you can claim for tax returns.

Property Taxes

City or state real estate taxes that you pay on your house may be filed as a deductible while itemizing the deductions on a Form 1040 Schedule A.

Mortgage Points

There are two types of mortgage points, and each point represents 1% of your total mortgage. Origination points, which is a fee that you pay to the borrower to compensate for their work that goes into processing a loan, are non-deductible. Discount points, which allow you to get discounted interest rates on your mortgage, are tax deductible.

Some of the interest that you pay on home equity loans are also deductible, along with interest on home improvement loan, and qualified moving expenses.

Using the Power of Leverage for Investing

One advantage of buying property for the purpose of investing is that you can borrow funds to make the purchase, as opposed to other investment opportunities such as stocks and bonds. Another advantage is that when inflation hits and prices increase, sometimes your house value will increase as well. If you borrow with a fixed rate mortgage, you will still be paying the future monthly payments with a currency that’s depreciated in value. As years go by, the equity on your property will increase, and once the principal amount is all paid off, you will have a debt-free asset that will continue to appreciate, depending on market conditions.

Compared to stacking up cash savings in your bank account and watching it lose value to inflation, investing in a property can secure your money in the long-term and act as a hedge against dollar debasement. Whether for diversification of your investment portfolio, or to secure a property where you and your family can grow and build memories, buying a home can be a timeless investment vehicle.

Winter is Coming. What Shape is Your Roof In?

Winter is Coming. What Shape is Your Roof In?

Winter is a tough season for roofs. But, it doesn’t have to be with these tips from Sunrun!

Guest post from Sunrun, a leading home solar energy & solar panel company

Winter is a tough season for roofs. In snowy areas, snow and ice add a lot of weight to the roof, and excess water can cause leaks. In areas where there’s a big winter temperature swing between day and night, those temperature variations cause the roof material to expand and contract, putting stress on the materials. Few roofs last longer than 25 years – with most having an average useful life of roughly 20-50 years, depending on materials, maintenance, local weather and other factors.

Before winter arrives in full force, it’s a good idea to perform a roof inspection. The good news is that they don’t take very long.

Sunrun_1

How Do I Know If I Need A New Roof?
Inspect it! Luckily, if you have an attic, doing an inspection on your own is fairly easy. According to GAF, North America’s largest roofing manufacturer, there are four key things to look for while doing an inspection of your roof from the attic:

1. Water leaks
2. Ventilation – make sure vents are clear.
3. Animal damage
4. Structural problems

If you don’t have an attic, an outdoor visual inspection is the next best thing. You can do this from the safety of your yard without the risk of going up on a ladder.

Which Roof Type Is Best?
If you need a new roof, how do you choose which type of roofing material to use? Asphalt shingles are by far the most common in the U.S. There’s also tile, wood, stone, and metal, each offering their own pros and cons. Realtor.com has a pretty detailed overview here.

If you’ve been considering home solar, note that most solar companies won’t install on certain roof types. Why? Usually it’s because either the roofing material is too fragile (in the case of clay tile for example) or the material is too difficult to seal up properly after the solar installation. The most common roof type – asphalt shingle – is ideal for solar installations. Sunrun offers an overview of our qualification process here.

sunrun_2

I’ve Been Considering Home Solar – How Should I Factor That In?
If you’ve ever thought about adding solar to your home, you’ll first need a healthy, stable roof as a foundation. For that reason, it’s a great idea for homeowners who are considering a roof replacement to consider going solar during that process. In fact, a great home solar company will actually work with your roofing contractor on your behalf to make sure your new roof is solar-ready. Sunrun has a strategic partnership with Power Home Remodeling, one of the fastest growing home remodeling companies in the U.S. Together, we offer a streamlined process for Power’s roofing customers that decide to go solar with Sunrun. Power Home Remodeling has also been designated a Master Elite® Dealer by GAF, a recognition only given to companies with a track record of quality and professionalism.

Weather Proof Your Roof: Five Must Ask Questions for Your Contractor

Weather Proof Your Roof: Five Must Ask Questions for Your Contractor

It may still be early in the fall but it’s never too early to start preparing your home for the winter months.

Guest Post by David Baur, Product Manager, GCP Applied Technologies

It may still be early in the fall but it’s never too early to start preparing your home for the winter months. While you may not be ready for the arrival of snow and ice, the bigger concern is your roof prepared? With the recent uptick in severe weather, it is important to know how to keep a home protected from Mother Nature. The good news is that with the right contractor and the right products your home will stand up against winter’s extreme weather.

Here in the United States and beyond, extreme weather is the new normal, so the usual repairs are no longer an option. Every home must be constructed to withstand wind-driven rain, snow, ice and everything else that Mother Nature brings. Therefore, it is critical to make sure your home is waterproofed properly to prevent future damage and costly repairs. Selecting an educated contractor and the proper construction materials now will make a big difference in the future of your home and bring you peace of mind.

So, how do you ensure you have hired the right pro and that your roof will stand up to this winter? Ask your contractor these five questions about snow and ice dam protection before they tackle your roof repairs:

1. If they are re-roofing, will they be using roofing underlayments?

The complete roof system consists of multiple layers – not just the shingles. Shingles are the exterior layer and they are not enough to keep the water out. What makes the difference and protects your roof from water damage caused by ice dams is the roofing underlayment, which is installed underneath the shingles. Roofing underlayments perform many functions in a roofing assembly, but first and foremost, they serve as the last line of defense between homeowners and the damaging effects of water infiltration. Be sure your contractor uses quality waterproofing underlayments.  While use of an underlayment is required by building code, there are multiple product types that can be used.

2. What type of underlayment will they use?

The answer you want to hear is that your contractor is using self-adhered underlayments, especially at the eaves and at all critical detail areas. Self-adhered membranes come in a roll form and consist of a layer of adhesive and a surface material, usually either a non-skid film or a granular surface. Not all self-adhered underlayments are the same. There is a wide variation in quality and performance. Premium performance self-adhered underlayments, such as Grace Ice & Water Shield®, seal around the fasteners used to attach the shingles, which helps prevent the water behind an ice dam from leaking into your house. These high-quality self-adhered underlayments stick to the roof deck so that water may not travel under the underlayment and enter the house via a vulnerable roof deck joint. Lastly, best in class self-adhered underlayments seal at overlap areas. Water cannot flow or be blown under un-adhered laps. As a result, self-adhered underlayments provide real waterproofing protection that mechanically-attached alternatives cannot match.

3. What type of self-adhered underlayment will be used on your roof: Granular or Film-Surfaced?

While granular-surfaced membranes usually cost less, the film-surfaced varieties are considered the higher performing product. In addition to forming better laps, shingles installed over a film-surfaced underlayment will not adhere to the underlayment surface.  This means future roofing projects can be completed more easily and less costly.

4. On what parts of the roof are they planning to use the self-adhered membrane?

In cold weather regions they should certainly apply the membrane along the eaves and in all valleys on the roof.  This is a basic requirement of the building code. Additionally, you can help your roofer protect other potential trouble spots by pointing out areas, where leaks have occurred in the past and where snow and ice loads were especially high this past winter.  Roof wall intersections, chimneys, and skylights are frequently problem spots.

5. Can I install a self-adhered underlayment over the entire roof to avoid future leaks?

If the attic space is well ventilated, it is possible to cover the entire roof with self-adhered membrane. Your contractor will be able to advise if a full coverage with self-adhered membrane is a good choice for your home.

With these answers you will ensure your roofer is using the best materials at the right places to prevent leaks from future ice dams. Most of us re-roof one to two times in our lives, so if you do it right the first time, you will have guaranteed protection.

David Baur is Product Manager at GCP Applied Technologies, formerly known as Grace Construction Products. He has step-by-step tips for homeowners, contractors and builders on building homes for extreme weather. For more tips and information please visit: www.gcpat.com.

Winter Tips for Patio Furniture

The winter in Massachusetts can be a time of snow accumulation, biting cold, and whipping winds. So when the season changes in December, many homeowners choose to pack up their patios for the winter and go into “hibernation.” However, if you do a few maintenance tasks to get your patio prepared for the upcoming harsh winter months, you might actually be able to use it every now and again. Here are a few outdoor patio ideas that will make transitioning to the winter season more bearable, and maybe even encourage you to step outside for your morning cup of coffee.

Remove Your Patio Furniture

The first task to take care of before winter arrives is clearing your patio of all large items. Remove any and all chairs, tables, plants, and backyard tools. Give each furniture item a quick shower with a hose to remove debris, and allow it to dry in the sun. Take the umbrella from your outdoor patio table and wipe it down to remove any dust or dirt that has accumulated over the summer. Cover each item with a large trash bag and store them neatly in the garage, a tool shed, or beneath a large tarp. The goal here is to remove them from exposure to the elements so that they will be fresh and ready to use next spring. It’s also easier to shovel snow and clear pathways on your patio when it’s not full of furniture. If you don’t have room to store your patio furniture, simply remove the cushions and stack them neatly into a corner, out of the way.

Barbecue Grill - Flickr/Steven Depolo

Image Source: Flickr/Steven Depolo

Clean the Barbecue Grill

Many people don’t take the time to thoroughly clean their barbecue grill before the winter arrives, which is why it looks like a disaster in the spring. If you have a charcoal grill, get rid of the old coals and ash. Scrub the grill down with a degreasing agent and give it a good rinse down with your hose. If it’s a gas grill, make sure to safely shut off and unscrew the gas lines, then store the tank in a cool, dry location or return it to your local retailer. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for proper storage or disposal.

Tidy Up

If your patio is located near trees, take the time to sweep up leaves and debris before they have a chance to get covered up by snow in the winter. Use a high-powered nozzle with a patio and driveway cleaning solution to wash the bricks or cement surface thoroughly. Give your patio a fresh start, so that when spring rolls around again it will be clean and ready to be arranged.

Bench and Lights

If you plan to spend any amount of time outside on your patio this winter, you’re going to need weatherproof seating that is easy to move around. Get yourself a lightweight plastic bench made entirely of recycled materials. These benches are usually easy to lift, attractive, and can accommodate multiple people. If you don’t want to purchase a new bench, you can also leave two patio chairs outside and cover them with a heavy duty, weather resistant furniture cover. Also, remember that in the fall and winter it gets dark outside earlier, so add additional outdoor lighting to your patio so that it will be more welcoming. Try mini holiday lights or landscape lightingsystems.

Bench - Flickr/US Fish and Wildlife Service

Image Source: Flickr/US Fish and Wildlife Service – Recovery Act Team

These outdoor patio ideas make it possible to enjoy your back or front yard even during colder winter months.

Main Image Source: Flickr/Lee Haywood

5 Ideas That Will Make Your Front Porch Shine

Up your curb appeal game with these simple front porch ideas.

http://stevefaye.cbintouch.com/

With fall in full swing, your front porch needs to transition to attract buyers. Luckily it’s easy to make a few changes so it blends in for the season. Here are five front porch design ideas to make your home stand out:

via  Tiger’s Testing ServiceDesignMine

#1 Clean out debris with a power washer.

The first step is cleaning out the debris from summer. You could use old-fashioned equipment like a broom, mop, washcloth and elbow grease or hire a professional pressure washing service to clean away stubborn debris so your porch looks like new. Dirt and grime in the floor and on the siding can be dusted off quickly by a pressure washer, which will save you time and effort otherwise spent hand washing your porch.

#2 Add a new coat of paint.

A new coat of paint is a great way to revitalize the front porch, whether it’s touching up the trim, railings and banisters, or repainting the front door. It is also an opportunity to add a bright new color as part of your front porch design. Painting is a good DIY project on the weekend, or if you intend to do a complete overhaul, you might need to get a painter to help. Make sure the color will complement the rest of the house. You could always paint the porch a neutral tone and then cover the door in a bright color so it stands out as buyers walk up.

#3 Revitalize the front door.

Once you start getting the porch fixed up, it’s time to turn your focus to the door as it will be the first area buyers see. If the door is scratched, scraped or muddy, it won’t seem welcoming to potential homebuyers. Start by cleaning off any dirt and grime with the power washer or with a washcloth covered in vinegar and water. Then you can add on decorations like wreaths, a new door knob made of brass or steel, window dressings and more. That way it will look brand new without having to install a new door for hundreds of dollars.

#4 Imbue the porch with the natural landscape.

To make your porch blend in with the landscape, consider adding potted plants with seasonal flowers. They are inexpensive, add a splash of color and can be either standing or hanging in baskets throughout your porch. They will also help to create a welcoming atmosphere on the front porch. You should coordinate the colors of the plants to match the front door or the landscape so they stand out against the porch and blend with the yard.

#5 Brighten the porch with fixtures and new decor.

If the house numbers and mailbox are showing signs of age, you might need to spend a few hours or hire a handyman to revitalize them. You should also install light fixtures to make those house numbers easy to see at night or on rainy days. Light fixtures are also good for illuminating front porch decor like chairs, rockers, swings, dining chairs and tables. If you have night showings at your home, they will be useful for giving the porch a warm feel at all hours.

Get in touch with a local expert!    http://stevefaye.cbintouch.com/