Landscape Architecture and Design

This can vary from city to city. Generally, if you are building a structure such as a swimming pool, spa, arbor, patio cover, or deck, you will be required to meet specific setback or size requirements as dictated by city planning ordinances. Some cities also have very restrictive ordinances regarding the amount of paving you can install in proportion to your lot’s square footage. In such cases, plans may need to be submitted to the city’s planning department for review. Your architect or designer should consider all of these issues when designing your yard, and the drawings that are developed should be suitable for the city’s review.

In addition to a planning review, you most likely will require a building review and permits if you are doing any type of plumbing, 120-volt electrical work, or are building structures that require engineering of foundations.

If your project consists of planting, irrigation, and soil preparation only and is of a relatively small scale, permits generally are not required.

How much should I spend on landscaping?

This is always a difficult and personal question. Some real estate professionals recommend spending 10 percent of the value of your home and property on site improvements. Depending upon the location of your house and its neighborhood, this may not make economic sense. Some people place a great deal of pride in their yards and gain a great amount of satisfaction and relaxation from them, which can’t really be measured in terms of a dollar amount. Rather than solely considering the resale value of a property, you should consider the amount of use you will gain from the improvements, how long you will benefit from their use, and the emotional and functional value of the improvements.

How can I control the costs?

Before starting the actual construction of a project, whether with an architect, contractor, or on your own, determine a set budget for the project. A good landscape architect will provide cost estimates throughout the design process so that you have a general cost range. During this time you will be able to react to the bottom line costs and request design modifications to suit your budget. A contractor should give you either a fixed price for the project or a range that can only be added to upon justification and your approval. It should be clear that no additional work or additional costs can be implemented without your written approval.

What about maintenance costs for the landscaping?

It is important that you clarify your maintenance desires during the design phase of the project. If your yard is currently barren dirt, obviously there will be increased maintenance costs. As with a house, which needs to be periodically reroofed, painted, etc., there are ongoing maintenance costs associated with a yard. Whether you hire a gardener or not, you will incur costs related to fertilizer, water, pruning, seasonal cleanup, repainting of any outdoor structures, etc. The best way to find out what possible maintenance costs might be is to talk to neighbors and obtain rough quotes from their maintenance contractors.

What is the difference between a landscape architect and a landscape designer?

There are some broad generalizations about these two alternatives, and in all cases, there are more capable and less capable individuals in each profession. Here are some of the basic differences:

A landscape architect is generally a licensed (through the state Department of Consumer Affairs) professional with a minimum of six years of education or professional experience. Most landscape architects have a degree from an accredited college or university. Because of their educational background, landscape architects may have a stronger design sense when it comes to spatial relationships and overall site planning concepts than designers have.

Landscape architects also have been trained to document design concepts and plans on paper as a visual, graphic means of communicating their designs. This issue becomes important when one is pursuing larger projects that require permitting through city planning or building departments. They may also be more experienced in the design of "hardscape" features such as swimming pools, arbors, fountains, retaining walls, and other engineered nonstructural elements.

Landscape architects should represent the homeowner’s best interests, acting as a third-party go-between between the contractor and the owner. Without any financial ties to the contractor, a landscape architect will dictate and support the quality of work that is in the owner’s best interest..

In most cases, landscape architects are providing professional services rather than products, and therefore base their fees on the time expended. Generally, a landscape architect’s fees will be higher than a designer’s and could range from seven to 15 percent of the cost of construction.

A landscape designer is often times associated or affiliated with a nursery or construction company, although there also are landscape designers who work independently. Generally, a landscape designer has a college degree in ornamental horticulture, a related study, or experience based on working for a nursery or contractor.

Some landscape designers are very well versed in plant materials and are very capable planting designers. Their ability to document information for permitting or bidding purposes may be limited. A designer’s fees are often based on a lump sum amount or are worked into the nursery or contractor’s cost of plant materials or construction. It is therefore sometimes difficult to pinpoint their exact costs.

If a designer is tied to a construction company, it is often difficult to obtain competitive bid prices for the work to be done. As a result, the owner has no basis for comparison. Construction documents prepared by a designer may also be less thorough than those prepared by a landscape architect. This could result in some "in the field" decisions that may not be in the owner’s best financial interest.

Whether you hire a landscape architect or designer, it is the industry opinion that a good design is a value worth more than the fees. As has often been said, it can cost just as much to install a bad design as it does to install a good one, and the installation cost is usually 90% of the project cost.

To find the right person for your project, consider the following when interviewing the firm or person: find out how they operate (their design process), their general impressions of your yard and its potential, how they base their fees, and their time schedule. Also ask for photos or samples of past projects and a list of past projects and references. If all of these items are equal between two or more people, make your final decision based on an overall feeling you have about which person you’ll be able to work with best.

Also, don’t be surprised if there is a consultation fee for an initial meeting. If you are serious about pursuing professional assistance, this initial fee will be a minor investment.

How long does it take to complete a project?

Generally speaking, very rarely are projects designed and completed in less than two months, and an average time may be nine to eleven months. It’s always a good idea to begin the planning process well in advance, and the planning time will vary depending upon the complexity of your project. Processing through a city can take up to a month or two. Bidding and arranging for a contractor can take up to a month. And, of course, there are the variables of availability of the designer or architect’s schedule, the contractor’s schedule, and weather conditions.

Is a new swimming pool a wise investment?

As with any type of landscaping, a $20,000 to $40,000 investment in a swimming pool may or may not increase the value of your property by the same amount. A well-designed pool on an extensive property will undoubtedly add to the overall value. However, a large pool that dominates a small yard may detract from a potential buyer’s yard space and lower the home’s value. Still, if you’re going to use a pool a great deal and you live at the property for an extended period of time, it may be a worthwhile investment.

Steven T. Kikuchi is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) and has been a practicing licensed landscape architect in the San Francisco Bay Area for many years. He has more than 25 years of experience in the field and maintains his own firm in Half Moon Bay, Kikuchi & Associates, specializing in custom residential and recreational and resort planning.

Top Exterior House Color Schemes

If you’re considering selling your home or are ready to improve your curb appeal, there’s plenty you can do to make your home beautiful. A major change could be changing the color of your home.

However, it’s not a decision you’ll want to make lightly. An exterior paint job is an investment that can change the entire look of your home for good. Choosing the right colors can sometimes be the most difficult part of any paint project. To help, here are a few suggestions on the best exterior house colors.

Home Exterior Elements

Exterior Paint Elements

While you may see your home as one whole item, when it comes to painting, there are many separate items to be considered. If it was all painted one color, your home would look very dull. It’s a good idea to have a house color and an accent color or two to make it stand out. Here are a few elements to consider:

  • Siding: Should be your main color focal point.
  • Window & Door Trim: Neutral accent colors work best here.
  • Front Door: Make your front door pop with color.
  • Railings & Spindles: Another area you can play with an accent color or neutral.
  • Shutters: While neutral accents work best, some homeowners like to coordinate with their door or trim color here.

Gray Home Exterior

1. Gray

Trending both inside and out is gray in all shades. Depending on what you choose for your siding, it can be complimented by different accent colors. A light gray home looks great with black and white accents, making it a look that will never go out of style. While dark gray really pops with white accents on your trim and shutters, with a yellow or blue front door. This is a hot color scheme that will be in style for a long time.

Beige Home Exterior

2. Beige

If you’re looking to stay neutral, beige is a great exterior home color. This can be paired with white accents along the trim, shutters and front door for a clean look. It’s a look that will never go out of style and is great if you’re looking to sell your home.

However, if you’d like to add a little color to your home’s exterior, red makes a great accent color for the front door, railings and more.

Brown Home Exterior

3. Brown

Dark brown is often associated with a rustic home look. It’s warm and inviting, with the right colors. Against a dark brown, a tan or light brown works well as an accent neutral. For an accent hue, dark green or deep red make great choices here as well. However, stained wood front doors, railings and other exterior elements will really help complete this rustic look.

White Home Exterior

4. White

Some homeowners tend to shy away from white as an exterior home color because it can get dirty. However, it actually gives off a clean and elegant style for your home. Accent colors can be fun to play with here because white makes for the perfect canvas for anything to stand out. Black and white are always a combination that will go together but, have you considered a black, white and gray home?

On a white home, the color of your front door will really stand out from the rest. So, if you like to play with color, this could be the perfect color for your exterior siding.

Sage Green Home Exterior

5. Green

Light, sage green is the new up-and-coming color for home exteriors. If you’re looking for a non-neutral but not ready to take a bold step into one of the brighter hues, this is the color for you. Paired with gray and white, it’s a great color scheme to introduce to your home.

Navy Blue Home Exterior

6. Navy Blue

Another bold color look that’s becoming more popular is navy blue. Paired with a white accent and for a bit of a bolder look, a red front door, it is sure to make your home stand out in a wonderful way on your block.

7. Red

For homeowners who want a bold look, red is the way to go. Of course, it should be complimented by plenty of accent neutrals to even out the look. White and dark gray perfectly compliment a red home to make it warm and welcoming.

Home Exterior Costs

Cost To Paint A House

If you’ve found your color scheme and are ready to get started on your exterior paint job, it’s a good idea to budget for the project before purchasing all the paint. Much of the costs will be based on the size of your home and what you’ll be painting. If you’ll only be updating the color of your trim or shutters, the costs could be less than painting the exterior siding of your home. The average cost to paint a home exterior is $2,490, with most homeowners spending between $1,926 and $2,837.


The choice of exterior house paint is one that can change the curb appeal of your home. While it should express your individual style, you should also take into account the ROI you will see when it comes time to sell. Keep an eye on current exterior paint color trends to see what the best fit might be for your home.

5 Simple Landscaping Tips For Earth Day

Many homeowners assume that if they skip a lawn mowing session, they can just cut their lawn shorter next time. In fact, this is one of the most common landscaping mistakes. Do not cut your lawn short. In fact, mowing high is much better for your lawn and the earth. Mowing high makes sure your lawn can go through the necessary photosynthesis process to produce a healthy and green lawn. Set your mower at 2.5-3".

In order to cut your lawn efficiently, you need to make sure your mower is operating at a high level. Therefore, make sure your blades are sharp. This allows your plants to heal quickly and avoid plant viruses, molds or insect infestations. While you’re checking your lawn mower for Earth Day, make sure it doesn’t leak gas or oil onto your lawn. These substances can easily kill your lawn, the very thing we are trying to prevent on Earth Day.

Do Not Waste Water

Most lawns only need 1” of water each week. One of the primary goals of Earth Day is to educate homeowners on conserving water. One of the best ways to save water is to not over-wet your lawn. You can tell this by simply walking across your lawn. If you leave footprints, it’s time to water. You may think more water is good for your lawn, but in fact, it can prevent the growing process.

Another way to save water is by making sure your sprinkler system is not wasting any water. If your sprinklers are hitting the side of your house, the sidewalk, street or driveway, adjust them so they only hit the lawn. Additionally, make sure you have a rain shut-off device to eliminate unnecessary watering. For more tips, check out our sprinkler system repair cost guide.

Plant With A Strategy

Plant With A Strategy

As spring rolls around, many homeowners choose to lively up their lawn with new plants or pavers. That is great news, but before you get down and dirty, make sure you have a strategic plan in place.

Planting drought-resistant plants or using drought-resistant grasses can significantly reduce your watering needs during the warmer months of the year. They also require less maintenance in subsequent months. Furthermore, you should plant flowers and shrubs in strategic positions to reduce run-off so that you won’t waste water during spring lawn care. Use natural substances when you can to control both diseases and pests, as organic lawn care practices may increase your lawn’s longevity, and may even influence your watering needs.

Give Composting A Try

Recycling organic matter into soil conditioning, fertilization and enrichment material requires a process that is known as composting. It’s a technique that uses living organisms to enrich the soil that plants need in order to grow and stay healthy. Believe it or not, you have all those living organisms in your yards that can easily be converted into soil or fertilizer. Leaves and grass clippings make excellent ingredients for a compost pile, which provides nutrient-rich fertilizer for gardens.

Composting is a great and inexpensive way to help the environment and cut down on the need for fertilizers and pesticides. It’s also an activity that both adults and children can participate in. To get the best out of composting, it’s necessary to understand how it’s done and what’s needed to make it happen.

Show Your Lawns Some Love

Finally, I want to push our loyal readers to give their lawns and watering systems more attention this year. Set a schedule for mowing and watering your lawn. Make sure your kids remember to turn off the faucets. Encourage them to take shorter showers. All in all, just give our earth the attention it deserves. 


The only way to create a healthier earth is by taking care of what is in our control. We control how much water we use. We control what our lawn looks like. We control what flowers to plant. We control it all. Now that you know these basic Earth Day tips, go out and find other ways to preserve a better world for our children and grandchildren.  

DIY Tips for How to Build a Brick-on-Sand Patio

While it’s natural to put a patio right behind your house, consider some other areas. Is there a large tree where grass refuses to grow or always looks scruffy? How about a corner of your garden that could become your special private retreat?

On graph paper, make a scale drawing of your yard, using ¼ inch for each foot. Put in the house, trees, walkways, garden-everything. Then think about how you want to use it: mostly for your family, for entertaining, or just sitting out there enjoying the view. If you have hot afternoon summer sun, plan for some shade. Even consider having two or three smaller patios linked by a wide, curving brick walkway.


The patio can be any outline you like. In fact, the more you avoid the ordinary square, the more visually intriguing your patio. Think round, octagon, hexagonal, curving or irregular. Draw the patio layout on your graph paper, fitting it into the overall design and layout of your yard.

The outline might reflect the shape of another building, such as surrounding an octagonal gazebo with a wide octagonal patio. Or if you have a simple shop or storage shed in the backyard, add an irregular patio to enhance it.

Walkways, which are constructed just like patios, can be laid out with two hoses. Just drag them around in curving patterns, at different widths, until you find what suits you. Walkways should be at least 3 feet wide, and 4 feet is better.

If you are putting the patio in a wet spot, or next to a downspout on the house, dig a ditch through the patio area first and install a flexible drain line in a gravel bed. Connect it directly to the downspout and carry it to a natural drainage area or make a French drain for it.


To calculate your patio’s size in square feet, multiply its length times width. If it is irregular, divide it into sections, calculate each one, and then total them. Or just count the number of squares on your graph paper plan. Here are some other formulas:

  • Circle patio: Find the area by squaring the radius and multiplying it by 3.1416 
  • Hexagonal patio: Find the area by squaring the short diameter and multiplying it by .866 
  • Octagonal patio: Find the area by squaring the short diameter and multiplying it by .828

(Forgetting your seventh grade math? Square a number by multiplying it by itself.)

Plan on five bricks per square foot. Multiply your square foot total by five to see how many bricks you will need.

Selecting Bricks and Sand

Local home improvement centers carry an assortment of bricks or paving blocks. The cheapest bricks, called paving bricks, are made from concrete. The most expensive are usually used bricks that still have some plaster or mortar on them to lend character. A nice alternative for patios is building bricks, which are rougher than the paving bricks and come in different shades of red and brown.

Bricks are heavy-about 500 to a ton. Since you will only be able to transport a few dozen at a time in the trunk of your car, ask the brick supplier to deliver.

Be sure to wear gloves while setting the bricks. They will quickly wear a blister on your fingers otherwise.

The other part of this patio equation is sand. You can buy packaged sand and haul it home, but for a project of any size, it takes a lot. Have it delivered from a sand and gravel yard, or go there and have them fill the back of a pickup.

How much sand will you need? It’s difficult to provide close estimates as with bricks because commercial sand is always sold wet and weighs much more than dry sand. But you are going to need enough to cover the patio site 2 inches deep. A 12-foot square patio will need about a ton of sand.

Brick Patterns

There are a wonderful array of brick patterns to choose from. To experiment, buy a few dozen bricks of your choice and lay them out in different patterns for your patio or walkway. This allows you to adjust the width and length of the edging in advance so the bricks fit precisely. You also minimize cutting.

Some patterns will not require any cutting, others some. The diagonal herringbone requires the most cutting, but is particularly attractive.

Cutting Bricks

Experienced brick masons can cut a brick quite precisely with a single blow of their trowel, but we lesser mortals use a circular saw with an abrasive blade. This results in neat, clean cuts. Buy several blades because they wear quickly.

Without fail, wear safety glasses while cutting brick.

An essential part of a brick-on-sand patio is the edging. That’s what holds the bricks snugly in place. Without it, bricks work loose and sand dribbles away.

In planning your edging, decide if you want it flush with the ground so you can run a mower over it and any adjoining grass, or if you want it raised.

Here are some different edging types to consider:

  • Treated lumber: Because the edging will be in the ground, use treated lumber or naturally decay resistant wood such as redwood or cedar. Old railroad ties also make excellent edging. To stabilize raised wood edging such as railroad ties, drill a 1/2-inch hole about a foot from each end and then drive a 2-foot-long piece of 1/2-inch diameter reinforcing bar through it into the ground. 

  • Bender board: This material, usually about 6 inches wide and a 1/4-inch thick, is perfect for curved areas. Put four or five of them together to beef up the edging. They are also good forms for raised concrete edging. 

  • Bricks on end: Dig a trench, set the bricks on end, and tamp the dirt around them. 

  • Concrete: You can dig a ditch in the ground as wide as you want the edging to be and at least 6 inches deep, then fill it with concrete and trowel the top smooth. When you dig away the dirt inside the perimeter, the exposed concrete becomes the border. 

  • Aluminum: Some home supply centers sell lengths of preformed aluminum edging that is held in place with steel pegs.


Once the edging is in place, excavate the interior of the patio or walkway to a depth of 5 inches. Use a flat-bottomed shovel to keep the base of the excavated area smooth and level.

Next, and importantly, put down a layer of special cloth available at most nurseries that allows water to seep through but prevents weeds from growing into your patio.

Lay down approximately 2 inches of sand over the entire area then walk on it and tamp it firmly. A length of 4-by-4 post makes an excellent tamper.

Leveling the Sand

The packed sand is then leveled with a screed. This is made from a straight 2-by-6 up to 8 feet long. If you have a narrow patio or sidewalk, the screed to fit just across that area. On each end, cut a notch about 3 inches long and 3 1/2-inches deep, or the depth of a brick.

Rest one end of the notched screed board on the edging and the other end on a temporary edging board. This temporary board must be parallel to the edging and the same height. Use a level on your screed board to check it.

Pull and work the screed board across the sand with the "ears" of the screed resting on the edging boards. As you drag, the screed will smooth and level the sand to a depth of 3 1/2-inches, about the thickness of a brick. If a low spot is left behind, add more sand and run the screed over it again.

When you have completed that section, you can start laying bricks even though you have not screeded the whole area.

Laying the Bricks

Fit the first brick snugly against the edging and then place each successive brick tightly against each other. Place each brick without sliding it or you will push a little ridge of sand between the bricks. You don’t want any spaces between the bricks.

After you place each brick, push it down firmly or give it a rap with a rubber mallet or piece of wood to set it in the sand. Check that all the bricks are level as you proceed.

Continue laying your pattern over the screeded area. When you have to kneel on the recently placed bricks, use a scrap of plywood to distribute your weight more uniformly.

When the bricks reach the temporary screed board, move it over the same distance and screed the next section, with one end of the screed now resting on the newly placed bricks. Check again that everything is level.

Finishing the Patio

When all the bricks are down and even, sprinkle the surface with a generous layer of clean dry sand. The particles will fill the brick joints like little wedges and lock them in place. Here is a good place to use sacks of dry sand from the lumberyard. Or if you only have wet sand, spread it on the patio to dry for a day or two. Wet sand will not work its way between the bricks.

Once the sand is dry, sweep it back and forth. Sweep a lot! Let the sand remain on the bricks for a couple of days while you continue to walk on it and sweep. It takes awhile for the sand to fully settle into the joints.

Finally, sweep the bricks clean and admire your handiwork. Enjoy!

How To Find A Good Electrician

Whether for new construction or for taking care of some long overdue electrical repairs, finding the right electrician for the job can make all the difference in work quality and meeting deadlines. Because faulty wiring could easily lead to a disaster, homeowners should not wait long before taking care of an electrical problem in the house. With some basic search strategies, homeowners can quickly find a dependable professional electrician.

What Constitutes A Professional Electrician?

Electricians must hold a state license in electrical work. Beyond simple state licensure, there are a few other designations that help ensure an electrician is qualified to keep electrical circuits safe from shorts and other worries. Homeowners beginning a search for an electrician should keep in mind the following designations for electricians: 

Local electricians must also acquire a permit from the local building department and have their work reviewed by an inspector, so homeowners can enjoy one more layer of protection built into the system when looking for an electrician.

What Is the Electrician’s Specialization?

Homeowners should also make sure that their search for an electrician focuses on their needs such as whether their home is a new construction house, an older building with more intricate wiring or even a hybrid of old and new wiring. Looking for an electrician with the right experience can help make the project go smoothly when it finally gets started.

Word of Mouth Approach

Sometimes, finding a good electrician is as simple as talking to family members and friends about who does electrical work in their homes. Asking sources about their electrician’s license, permits and specialties can easily streamline the process to get an electrician on the job sooner.

Word of Mouth Works

Consulting Other Local Building Professionals

Homeowners who frequently need repairs or who have made a recent home improvement with the help of a trusted general contractor should ask about their contractors’ recommendations for local electricians. General contractors often need to call on their list of reliable electricians, so they should be able to provide a few names of electricians who are ideal for a homeowner’s needs. Homeowners can also check in with their local home builders’ association and electrical supplies stores for recommendations. 

Online Professional Listings

There are several online websites where homeowners can search to find contact information for local electricians. They will also find customer reviews and recommendations. This is an efficient and effective approach to finding an electrician as long as homeowners proceed to make all the same verifications they would otherwise.

Check References & Make the Move

Whether found through a friend, contractor or a directory website, homeowners should be sure to confirm whether their electrician carries liability insurance to protect everyone involved. Once a homeowner has checked the electrician’s references and verified all the critical licensure and insurance, it’s a good time to build a new relationship with the electrician of choice.


Like any other home remodeling project, make sure you talk to your friends and family, check their credentials and then take a leap of faith in hiring your next electrician. 

Do You Make These 3 Landscaping Mistakes?

Landscaping is easily one of the most popular DIY projects. The simplicity and short time commitment make it a common DIY undertaking, but as always, there’re a few mistakes many homeowners make on a daily basis. If you are tackling you’re landscaping maintenance yourself, make sure you avoid the following three mistakes.

Don’t Over-Water Your Lawn

Everyone does it. When we forget to water our lawn this week, that just means we can over-water it next week. Sadly, watering a lawn is not like other construction projects. If a contractor misses a day of work on a bathroom remodeling project, most of the time, they’ll just put in a few extra hours the next day. The same can’t be said of watering or maintaining your lawn.

As our friends at HomeAdvisor point out, most lawns only need 1" of water each week, and for most climates, keeping it damp during the middle of the day in the summer is usually all it needs.

Landscape Mistake - Cut Lawn Too Short

Don’t Cut Your Lawn Too Short 

Many DIY landscapers love mowing their lawn. It can give you piece of mind and provide a relaxing activity on a cool, spring night. On other hand, many Americans consider this the most hated chore and skip it all together. Well, much like watering a lawn, just because you miss a scheduled lawn cutting, it doesn’t mean you should trim more grass the following session.

As part of photosynthesis (remember learning this in 5th grade?), your lawn needs to produce sugar and allow sensitive roots to be exposed to sunlight. This is the only way your lawn will grow and keep its shiny, green exterior. Cutting your lawn too short ruins and shocks your lawn system. As a result, the clippings will be too thick to cut and brown patches will start to show because the plants are unable to produce extra shoots. Once this happens, homeowners start to water their lawns more than needed. As you read above, this is another common mistake to DIY landscaping.

Landscape Mistake: Over-Water

Skip High Maintenance Landscaping Projects

Whether you’re an experienced DIY landscaper or just starting out because you want to save a few bucks, you know how much time and effort you’re going to put into your yard. Just like working out and getting in shape, you know how much effort is needed to lose those extra pounds before your wedding. You wouldn’t have a goal of losing 100 Ibs. if you knew you only had time to lose 20 Ibs. The same goes for landscaping. Do not bite off more than you can chew.

High maintenance landscaping projects, like tree landscaping, require a lot of time and energy. Neglect will not be an option. Instead of being blinded by that gorgeous pond or bed of colorful flowers around it, focus on planting other species common to your area. Better yet, focus on species that require the amount of time you are willing to put in. Believe it or not, you can still have a beautiful yard with low maintenance designs and plants. 


Make sure you don’t make these three DIY landscaping mistakes. Over-watering or cutting your lawn too short is never the right solution for negligence. Likewise, never take on high maintenance landscaping projects if you know you don’t have the necessary time to care for it. If you avoid these three landscaping mistakes, your lawn will look great and you will be proud to call yourself a DIY landscaper.

5 Maintenance Items Deck Owners Must Know

All decks must be cleaned regularly, especially wooden decks (mot popular). First, spray your deck with a hose, removing any minor dirt. Then, mix your cleaning solution (can purchase at local hardware store) with water and fully coat your deck. If your deck is near a flower bed, clean carefully to limit the amount of solution that gets on nearby plants. Finally, scrub your deck as your cleaning partner continues to spray with water. The dirt and algae should come right off.

Note: Many deck cleaners will have specific instructions. Be sure to follow those instructions.

Seal Your Deck Annually

Wooden decks need to be sealed at least once a year in order to prevent damage to the wood and protect against the climate change. 

The kind of deck you have in place can help determine which kind of sealant is best for you. There are two major options to choose from: oil-based sealants and water-based sealants. Water-based options do not last as long, but they are better for the environment. You can also choose to have professionals apply clear sealants to allow for natural greying over time, toners for a slight color change or a solid paint that hides the grain and the natural color of the wood.

Sealing a deck requires a lot of labor and it can take as many as two full days to complete the task. Expect to pay anywhere from $960 to $1,345 to have your deck professionally sealed. 

Maintaing A Deck

Inspect for Loose Boards and Nails

Now that we have covered the appearance of your deck, it’s time to jump into deck safety. Given that many homeowners install a deck to host family get-togethers, it’s imperative that you regularly check for loose boards and nails. If a board is loose or you can see it go down as you step on it, you should repair it immediately. As long as you have extra wood or find the same type as the original, many DIYers can replace the board themselves. With loose nails, all you need is a hammer to stick it back into place.

Fixing loose boards may be a bigger job than you can handle. If you’re looking to hire a pro, expect to pay approximately $1,000. To see the costs in your area, be sure to view our deck restore and repair cost guide.

Inspect Deck Surroundings

While we would like to stay on top of our cleaning schedules, often times, we just forget. Well, if you have neglected your deck for some time, it’s very important that you inspect around your deck for mold or dry rot. There are numerous items you can monitor. As our friends at HomeAdvisor say, look for plumbing leaks in and outside the home. Inspect your gutter system for proper alignment. Check your eaves to see if they are correctly installed. Examine the grading of your yard so water won’t collect at the home’s foundation. Also, look to see if your sprinkler system is in the right spot.

This is perhaps the easiest item to accomplish when it comes to maintaining your deck. Do not skip it.

Replace Rotted Wood

If you’ve failed to maintain and clean your deck, dry rot could creep up. Dry rot is a fungus which can cause mildew, mold, staining or decay in wood. Sadly, a minimal amount of heat and moisture is all it needs. Additionally, dry rot is a very prevalent issue when it comes to wood decks. When you spot it, you must remove it ASAP. If it isn’t detected and removed immediately, it could spread quickly and create additional damage (more $$$).

Since you are dealing with mold and mildew, we highly recommend working with a professional contractor to replace the rotted wood.


You put your deck in for reason and chances are, it was to host the next 4th of July party or increase your resale value. Both items will be ruined if you don’t regularly maintain and inspect your deck. If you neglect to do so, chances are, no one will be attending your next summer BBQ.

Curb Appeal Improvements That Don’t Cost A Fortune

Whether you’re selling your home or just looking to make a few changes to your exterior, evaluating your curb appeal is a great place to start. Most homeowners can easily find a few areas where they can improve to make their home look it’s best.

Though there are plenty of major projects you can complete to improve the exterior of your home, not everyone has the budget for a complete overhaul. That’s OK! Here are a few budget-friendly ideas you can use to boost your curb appeal.

What Is Curb Appeal

What Is Curb Appeal?

You may have heard the term thrown around before, but do you know what curb appeal is? Think of it as a first impression of your home. Neighbors, visitors and even potential buyers can get a sense of your style and the upkeep of your home. For many who are trying to sell their home, curb appeal plays a large factor in a buyer’s decision. If a buyer doesn’t like the way it looks from the street, it’s likely they will pass your home up, even if you have the latest and greatest inside.

“Curb appeal, or that initial feeling that homeowners get when looking at the exterior of a home, is important when selecting a house to buy,” Ben Hamza, director of technical operations at TruGreen, said. “In fact, 71% of homeowners surveyed in the TruGreen Home Features Report said curb appeal was important in choosing their home. Seventy-one percent of the homeowners asked reported purchasing a home with a healthy, green lawn and 72% reported buying a home with well-maintained landscaping.”

If your home needs some work, don’t get overwhelmed. There are plenty of improvements you can make on a budget. Here are some areas to focus on that will really make a difference:

  • Landscaping
  • Cleaning Walkway & Siding
  • Sprucing Up the Front Door
  • Updating Light Fixtures
  • Front Porch Décor
  • Upgrading the Mailbox

Curb Appeal Ideas

Curb Appeal Landscaping Projects

Improving your landscaping is one of the most important things you can do to boost your curb appeal. While you might have the best looking front porch on the block, a yard that is undermaintained and lacks color can take away from all of your other efforts.

Here are some projects that Hamza suggests for those sticking to a budget of under $100:

  • Clean up the yard. Put away unused items, like lawn furniture. Clear leaves and branches out from under shrubs, other plants and the house foundation. Make sure the lawn is free from debris and that grass clippings are not left on the driveway or sidewalk. Borrow or rent a power washer to clean off the driveway, steps, sidewalk and porch.
  • Trim, prune and split where appropriate. Overgrown plants can block light from getting inside the house, and they make the house and yard look unkempt. Trim shrubs, making sure to remove dead branches. Get rid of dead or diseased plants in the landscape.
  • Add new mulch. Mulch not only helps your plants, but it also gives garden beds a neat and tidy finish. Wood mulch comes in different colors, but to showcase your plants the most, consider a dark brown mulch. It resembles fresh, healthy soil, so your eyes are drawn toward the plant and not the mulch itself.

Front Door Decor Curb Appeal

Front Door Décor

Does your front door stand out when looking at your home? As a welcoming entryway, it should! A great way to spruce up your front door is with a fresh coat of paint. Even a neutral color will make it look new again. But those who want their door to stand out should choose a bold color, such as red, yellow or blue.

To further improve the look of your door, try dressing it up with a wreath. There are many DIY options you can try if you’re decorating on a budget! For some inspiration, read Year-Round Wreath Ideas For Your Home.

Boost Curb Appeal

Update Your Lighting

A simple lighting update can make all the difference and depending on the style you choose, can easily fit into your budget. Landscape lighting can really help highlight features in your yard as well as the exterior of your home. Of course, you can keep it simple by choosing a few upgrades for your front porch lights.

Install New House Numbers

New House Numbers

It’s a small detail that you may not notice at first, but the way you display your house number is often one of the first ways people see and identify your house. So, old and cracked house numbers should be replaced. Depending on the style you choose, it could cost as little as $20, especially if you install them yourself.

Sleek steel house numbers are trendy right now. If you’re looking to add a pop of color, try painting plain colored house numbers to add a small detail that stands out.

Curb Appeal Pressure Wash Walkway

Pressure Wash Your Walkway

A simple maintenance task that often gets forgotten about is cleaning your walkway. Stained and dirty concrete or brick can end up making your home look older than it really is. Pressure washing your walkway is a great way to make your brick or concrete look new again!

Upgrade Your Mailbox

If you have a mailbox that’s near the curb, it’s certainly a factor when looking to boost your curb appeal. Adding a fresh coat of paint to a mailbox or investing in a new one can significantly improve your curb appeal. However, before making any decorative changes to your mailbox, it’s a good idea to check the USPS guidelines on mailboxes.

Upgrade Your Mailbox Curb Appeal


Curb appeal is an important factor if you’re selling your home, or if you’re trying to make a good first impression. But, you don’t have to spend a fortune to make your house look fabulous. Try a few of these tricks to spruce up your home’s exterior.

5 Small Yard Landscaping Ideas

Whether you’re decorating your apartment porch or small front yard, plenty of flowers with different colors can certainly invigorate any home exterior. Because you’re working with a smaller space, you need flashy elements that really pop. While your neighbor may have a bigger yard, they may not be able to plant different types of flowers due to the different maintenance schedules. Since you have a small yard, it won’t be nearly as much work.

Additionally, given your modest area, each flower will shine bright and get the recognition it deserves.

Nonetheless, be careful to not go too overboard with your flowers. You don’t want your small yard turning into a high maintenance project. After all, that is one of the three most common landscaping mistakes.

Water Your Lawn Often

This may not apply to apartment owners, but for those who have small front or backyards, you absolutely need to water your lawn on a regular basis. Given its size, a brown patch or dead grass with stand out like ugly weeds or poor siding.

Make sure you water your lawn early or mid morning so you don’t let fungus and other germs infiltrate the beautiful landscape you’re working so hard to maintain. Most lawns only need 1" of water each week, and for most climates, keeping it damp during the day in the summer is usually all it needs.

Apartment Landscaping

Grow Some Vegetables

A terrific way to really utilize your small yard or apartment porch is by growing vegetables. Not only will you save money when you go to the grocery store, but you’ll also be adding a fun element to your yard, something your neighbors will surely notice.

Planting vegetables does require a more concrete landscaping schedule, but it’s not as hard as you think. A raised bed system can eliminate extra digging and cut down on your small yard landscaping.

Patrick Rodysill, of Star Apple Edible Gardens in San Francisco, says eager landscapers should plant smaller edibles in front and longer-season vegies in back.

On top of having an attractive front yard or porch, a vegetable garden is a great conversation starter. Don’t be surprised if your kids want to get involved or other neighbors stop by for a question or two.

Head over to Burpee for more tips on growing your own vegetable garden.

Plant Wisely

When it comes to small yard landscaping, location can play a vital role. With less room to work, you need to move freely about as you plant new tomatoes or water those white lilies.

Small yard landscapers should plant flowers and shrubs in strategic positions to reduce run-off and wasted water. Use natural substances when you can to control both diseases and pests, as organic lawn care practices may increase your lawn’s longevity and influence your watering needs.

Plant Wisely

Curb Your Front Yard

Curbing is not just designed for large front yards. Curbing adds precision and definition to all landscapes, no matter their size. Better yet, depending on the materials you choose, curbing can be an easy and fun DIY project. 

If you simply want to border an area of your lawn with decorative brick or paver stones, then go at it yourself. Such materials can be adjusted as much as needed. If you decide to update the area later on, there won’t be any major expenses.

Concrete, on the other hand, will be a little more complicated. Unless you’re an advanced DIY landscaper, we highly recommend hiring a professional, which, according to our curbing cost estimator, runs most homeowners $1,196.


Don’t let your small yard or apartment deter you from creating a dynamic and beautiful landscape. If you follow these simple tips, your yard or porch will not get lost in the neighborhood clutter and you can be proud to call yourself a small yard landscaper.

The Best Lighting For Your Kitchen

The kitchen is one of the most important areas of the home. It’s where families meet and gather after a long day. It can also be the center of attention during a party, where all the great food is made. In order to show off your kitchen and make sure that food is cooked to perfection, you’ll need the perfect lighting.

There are many choices when it comes to kitchen lighting. You’ll often need more than one source to highlight specific areas of the room. Here are a few ideas to help you choose the best lighting for your kitchen.

Kitchen Lighting Ideas

One of the most important areas of the home to be sure you have the right lighting is in the kitchen. So much goes on in the heart of the home that you not only want a light that looks great, but is functional too.

“Not only is it important to be able to see what you’re doing in the kitchen while preparing a meal, but it’s also important to be able to see what’s in your kitchen cabinets,” Emily Hoefler, kitchen and bath specialist at Renovations Group Inc., said. “No one likes digging around in their cabinets trying to find the right leftover container or utensil. Proper lighting makes it easier to find what you need."

To get the look you want with the all-important functionality of kitchen lighting, Hoefler suggests adding not just one light to the kitchen but a mix of various types of lights.

“Recessed cans would be your task lights, the lights that illuminate what you’re doing in the kitchen,” she said. “Decorative lighting would be pendants, surface mounted, as well as semi-flush mounted fixtures, the fixtures that pull together the design style. Making sure both types of lighting are using LED’s is a great way to not only save energy, but get the right color and light output.”

To get the right mix of kitchen lighting, here are some places to consider a fixture installation:

  • Kitchen Ceiling Lights
  • Kitchen Recessed Lights
  • Kitchen Table Lights
  • Under Cabinet Lights
  • Kitchen Night Lights

Kitchen Lighting Trends

As you may have already guessed, popular kitchen light fixtures can change. The good news is that it is an affordable switch to make. The average cost to install a single light fixture is between $42 and $112, making it a budget-friendly upgrade that will make a difference. Hoefler said she is seeing two big kitchen lighting trends right now.

“Any sort of decorative pendants are popular right now,” she said. “Outdated surface mounted fixtures have given way to a multitude of can lights with pendants acting as the statement piece. The other trend I’m seeing right now is lighting inside of cabinets. I’m seeing glass cabinet doors with LED lights inside illuminating statement pieces or even just a set of dishes. It really makes the cabinetry pop.”

Kitchen Ceiling Lights

When it comes to your kitchen ceiling, statement lighting is in. If you have a kitchen island, you’ll want to be sure that your light fixture helps illuminate that area as well as drawing in the eye to the center of the room. Stay away from long flush lighting and opt for a pendant or semi-flush mount lighting.

Kitchen Recessed Lighting

As Hoefler mentioned, recessed lighting is what helps you achieve your cooking, cleaning and other kitchen tasks. It helps to focus the light to one specific area without being too obtrusive. The average cost of recessed can lighting per light is between $20 and $150

Kitchen Table Lighting

When you’re done cooking, you’ll be moving over to the kitchen table to enjoy your meal. The lighting here should be softer than other areas because you won’t be doing any cooking. Depending on the size of your kitchen table, you can play with various light fixture ideas here, from small chandeliers to track lighting. Regardless of style, you should make it versatile.

“The kitchen is a very work-focused room of the house, but it’s also a gather space,” Hoefler said. “Having a mixture of task lighting and decorative lighting that are on different switches and dimmers can help you achieve the correct lighting for the correct time.”

Undercabinet Kitchen Lighting

If you’re a home chef, you’ll need undercabinet lighting to correctly cut, chop and dice everything you need to complete a tasty recipe. Hoefler emphasized the importance of this type of kitchen lighting.

“I think even lighting across the whole kitchen is important, but wherever you spend the most time preparing meals or doing various tasks should be the best lit,” she said. “Getting better lighting in work areas can be easily achieved through undercabinet lighting. This maintains even lighting throughout the room but adds a little extra where it really counts.”

While some undercabinet lighting is done with a new cabinet installation, it’s also a project you can do yourself with existing cabinets. There are many LED options that you can self-install and are the perfect way to light up your countertops.

Kitchen Night Light

How often do you wake up to grab a glass of water? For safety reasons, you may want to find a spare outlet to plug in a nightlight. While most nightlights are plain, I’d suggest finding one that best matches your kitchen style. It’s often looked over as a way to update your kitchen lighting, but yet, it could be one of the most important lights in the middle of the night!


As you can see, the type of light you have in your kitchen can make a big difference. It’s also an easy way to upgrade your home. Take a look at what kitchen lights you may need to add for both function and style and you’ll see your room in a whole new light!