Building Your (Perfect) Backyard Oasis

11 Ways to Cultivate Backyard Space for Relaxation

Imagine yourself sitting on the deck of an old mansion in a rocking chair, iced tea in hand, and big bunches of purple wisteria climbing the porch columns.  Now, you are outside an ocean beach house quietly watching waves and sand flow over your toes.  And now, you are at your own back door about to step into your yard.  Which one do you want to pick as your next weekend get-away?

It’s hard to imagine a regular everyday backyard as an oasis for relaxation.  But, a place of peace and beauty doesn’t have to be exotic, or expensive.  A simple change in perspective and a little ingenuity can transform your ordinary landscape into an extraordinary personal retreat.

Take a Walk

Sometimes the most dramatic renovations start with a simple change of perspective.  In order to discover relaxing space in an ordinary place, take a slow walk and a long look at your yard.  Give the entire landscape a discerning evaluation. Try to look at the overall layout like a realtor or guest would see it.  What assets or liabilities do you see? What jumps out at you? What are the first things you notice about your property?

Create Rooms

Make a list of how you want to use your space.  Start simple.  Think of creating ‘rooms’ of activity around your yard.  Even the smallest of yards can be maximized in a way that allows personal relaxation.  Yards that are low on space simply force designing homeowners to decide what matters most in life.  How do you want to live?  If pets have overrun the lawn, consider how to best ‘share’ the space and relegate messes to one place.  If you enjoy grilling out with friends, set aside some grill, deck, or table area.  Or go big and build an outdoor kitchen. Your lifestyle will determine if you need rooms for dining, playing, sitting, gardens, or pets.  Your list of rooms should reflect your lifestyle.

Know Yourself

Examine your preferences and habits.  If you enjoy a yard full of flowers because gardening is your lifestyle, then choose to add blooming space and lawn.  If weeding means de-stressing, and you have the time, go for the gardens!

However, if the thought of weeds or mowing keeps you out of the yard, design your space for minimal landscaping  work.  Skip the perennial bed and go for self-sufficient shrubs. Choose xeriscape alternatives for low watering and resource efficiency.  Or build out a large brick patio to cover more lawn area for even less maintenance issues. Or a nice wooden deck. Consult a local do-it-yourself store for low-maintenance ideas.

Design your Dream

One important aspect of outdoor space is balance.  Work with your tastes and budget to integrate your ‘rooms’ into one flowing overall environment.

Think creatively.  Create the illusion of space by installing gently curved pathways.  Or design a winding walk to a private, tucked away oasis.  A simple bench or patio rocking chair can provide a personal get-away when placed strategically.  Whatever you choose, pull it all together by following the balance of your overall plan.

Bring the Sound

Certain sounds add a sense of calm.  Wind chimes or trickling fountains bring soft ambient noise.  A birdbath also adds a splash of wildlife sound.  And, if an iPod is always in your pocket, go high tech and install stereo speakers throughout the yard. or at least bring out a small Bluetooth speaker that doesn’t even need to be “installed”.  Whether for private down time on the patio or entertaining around the pool, music adds ambiance and enhances the mood.

Play in the Space

If friends and family bring joy, design your yard with them in mind.  Use square footage wisely in order to create areas for eating or play.  And, if kids are a priority at your house, make sure their space is open for safe, fun playtimes.  Swing sets, enclosed trampolines, slides or covered sand boxes are classic and timeless favorites that earn their keep in kid-time spent outdoors instead of in front of the television.

Outdoor fun can also include a barbecue patio, or a grill on the deck.  If grilling is your game, make sure you leave space for good eats.

Bring in Nature

Do you like to see rabbits hoping along the edges of your garden or lawn space? Maybe deer eating from the trees you have on the edge of your lawn in the backyard? Or maybe squirrels and chipmunks are your thing. Brining in nature makes for a great way to enjoy all your yard has to offer. Even if you don’t have any woods or real wild places on your property, you can always help out the birds with a nice bird feeder. Or you can help out ferral cats by providing them with an insulated feral cat house for outside. Where ever you are, there really are ways to bring nature to you, unless of course that means bugs and mosquitoes!

Light the Fire

Big flames captivate and invite a gathering.  Bring magic to an evening and distract thoughts from everyday worries with a popular clay chiminea or brass fire pit on the lawn.  A fire pit is cheap and easy to construct, and if you have the time and money, you could even build a “patio” like area around your pit for even more easy living space. Fireplaces bring people together but always use caution.  Pay close attention to child safety and local fire codes.

Inhale Aromas

Let fragrance set a soothing mood.  Intentionally plant herbs and flowers for their aroma.  Sage, basil, thyme, and mint bring their own sweet smells.   Also consider adding the heavier scents of lavender, chamomile or sandalwood in your garden or even across the grass.  Or, if the garden isn’t your thing, light scented candles or essential oils to fill the air.

Put up your Feet

Backyard furniture is a must for your relaxation space.  It means the difference between sitting or standing, engaging or observing.  Look for a comfortable, quality table and chairs.  Consider a hammock for sleeping in the sunshine. Solid wood furniture like benches and swings work well on decks and between trees.   A patio glider or rocker can be placed beside the garden for a rest spot or tucked in an alcove for reading, napping or meditating.

Come Back Again

The next time an expensive retreat beckons, open your back door.   Spend the money for travel and airline tickets on a different dream and find a personal retreat to return to, right in your own backyard, every day of the week.

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Buying a House? READ This First!

Essential House Buying Tips…

Buying a house is a monumental purchasing decision that many people only make a few times or less in their lives. Fortunately, the process does not need to be complicated or filled with unpleasant surprises. Before embarking on buying a home, remember to keep these essential tips in mind.

Financial Considerations

No matter if the housing market is up or down, homes are enormously expensive. As a result, it’s no surprise that financial considerations top the list of what you should think about before buying a house. Understanding the true costs of home ownership is chief among them.

You should examine the impacts of renting versus owning. You’re probably aware that over the long term, it costs more to rent than to own. This generally holds true. However, homeowners need to be prepared to fulfill responsibilities renters are not liable for. All utility bills, maintenance, cleaning, property taxes, as well as mortgage payments are necessities managed by the homeowner.

Zooming in on the details from this list will help you get a better picture of what your prospective house may cost beyond the closing price. Asking for a full breakdown of utility bills, for instance, lets you calculate your average monthly expenses. Request a copy of last month’s utility bills from the owner, realtor, or get an estimate from local providers. You should look at gas, electric, water, and trash costs. Don’t forget additional services you may want like internet, cable, and lawn maintenance or winter care.

Property taxes should be analyzed the same way. Don’t rely on estimates from realtors or owners. A hard look at what was actually paid out last year, and preferably the last five years, shows you what the real property taxes are, and how fast they ordinarily increase.

Figuring out a home’s structural condition may save you additional money as well. Bring inspectors to look at the home‘s foundation, wiring, roof, and other vital systems. Also, make sure you get things like a mold inspection and inspections for lead paint and radon. Property solutions in Hua Hin can help you if you’re abroad, or search your local area for the country you’re in. If the owner has done recent improvements or remodeling, verify the value with an inspector, or ask to see the construction receipts. Although many sellers are honest, there always some who try to inflate their home’s market price by overstating the value of upgrades.

Getting to Know the Neighborhood

Learning about the location of a potential home is just as important as collecting information about the house itself. Remember to take a look at statistics regarding crime, demographics, and education in the area you plan to move to. Normal climate data and potential natural disasters your property could face are worth analyzing too.

You can find out about the general state of the neighborhood by talking to residents, discovering community groups, or pulling up old news stories. Serious crimes in the area will always appear in reports by police and media, while neighbors are likely to mention nuisances, or confirm pleasant features. Visit the area during the day and night to ensure there are no odd surprises that only occur after sundown, or during daylight.

Although scrutinizing a home takes a great deal of work, it saves on potential disappointment and expenditures. Putting in your research ahead of time pays dividends for as long as you live in your home.

 

4 Money Moves Before Buying a Home

Remember the days when the only thing you needed to do to buy a home was to bring some I.D. and stand in line somewhere?  The days of “E-Z Lending!” and “No Money Down!” have long given way to an era loaded with banks and lenders that actually require that potential homeowners have the ability to pay for the homes they’re trying to purchase.  If you’re in the market for a home, you need to make sure that your financials can withstand an underwriter’s scrutiny.  Check out the following four money moves that you’ll need to make before even thinking about buying a home.

Raise Your Credit Score

If you’re planning on applying for a mortgage, but your credit scores are barely there, or smudged, you’ll need to put in the work to raise them to a number that lenders are comfortable with.  Borrowers with high credit scores are rewarded with lower interest rates and less money required for down payments.  Pull your reports from all three CRA’s (credit reporting agencies).  Pay down your credit card debt.  If you’re thinking of paying off old debt or charge-offs, check with the creditor in question to make sure that once you pay, they report the debt to the CRA’s as “paid in full.”  Paid charge-offs are often reported as “new,” a notation that will result in a lower credit score.  Dispute any errors on your reports directly with the CRA’s.

Pay off Debt

If you’re carrying sizable debt, it’s going to negatively affect the amount of money that a lender is willing to lend you.  If you have a lot of revolving debt, pay as much of it off as you can.  Not only will it make you more attractive to lenders, it will save you money over time since revolving debt like credit cards carries much higher interest rates than mortgages do.  Paying off that money up front will save you thousands of dollars in interest in the long-term.

Save for (or be Gifted With) a Down Payment

If you’re going for an FHA loan, the minimum down payment required is 3.5% of the purchase price, provided you have a credit score of at least 580.  If your score is lower than that, you’ll need to put down 10% (another reason to get those scores up!).   Traditional loans can require as much as a 20% or more down payment.  Figure out how much you’ll need for a down payment and aggressively go about saving for it.

You can receive familial down payment assistance in the form of a gift, but make sure that it is accompanied by a “gift letter,” which will include the amount being given, the relationship of the person giving you the money, clarification that it’s actually a gift and not a loan, the property address, and the signatures of all involved parties.

Determine a Realistic House Budget

Everyone wants to buy a dream house, but that dream house can quickly turn into a true nightmare if you bite off more than you can chew in terms of house price.  Assess all of your monthly expenditures including your monthly take-home pay, outstanding debts, home maintenance expenses, taxes, school fees, utilities, etc.  As you can see, the list is long, so when you’re figuring out what you can afford for a monthly mortgage, include all of those other expenses in your calculations.

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How To Get Rid Of Bed Bugs At Home

Get Rid of Bedbugs Once and For All!

Discover how to get rid of bed bugs at home effectively. Get rid of bed bugs at home permanently. Learn how to prevent a re-infestation by these tiny parasites from ever occurring again.

“Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite” is not an appropriate lullaby to kiss the kids goodnight anymore, since these parasites have made a dramatic come back as recently as the mid 90’s after they were almost completely eradicated in the 40’s. At the time DDT was legally used to exterminate cockroaches and many other pests and soon after vacuum cleaners were introduced.

Bed bugs had been confined to developing countries for the time being, but recently they spread across the developed world due to a number of factors like neglect in favor of other pest treatments, resistance to insecticides, ineffective treatment methods and traveling. Bed bugs are opportunistic parasites that will gladly hitch hike in a suitcase and follow their hosts to infest new countries and their inhabitants, hence their success.

Inspecting For Bugs

Bed Bugs are also difficult to spot at first, not until the human host has already been bitten and decided to inspect his/her surrounding to find the culprit do most people even realize what is happening. Bed bugs are oval shaped and flat for easier access to crevices and nooks, usually hiding in the tufts and seams of bedding, head rests, buttons, head boards, edges of carpets and anywhere near where the host sleeps like skirting boards, bed side tables and inside chests of drawers.

They have an ability to infiltrate under wall paper, bed frame hollows, smoke detectors and generally anywhere near their source of food big enough to hide them.

Apart from human transport, bed bugs can be also carried with birds and bats and once established they congregate near their source of food. Apart from red bite rushes anywhere on the body, clues of their presence are their molting outer skeleton shells, tiny fecal droppings and eggs.

Bed bug are attracted to their victims by carbon monoxide and heat and will congregate near them but will also wander around to other rooms in search of food sources. Their flat oval shape makes them adapted for hiding in crevices, staying there in daytime to crawl out at night to feed on their hosts.

Once you’ve completed your own home inspection and their presence has been established, you can start the 2 phase elimination process described below or find out how to get rid of bed bugs at home naturally.

Phase 1 – Remove, Clean, Tidy Up, Vacuum Thoroughly!

This phase is very important in order to remove as many nymphs, eggs and organic debris as possible.

Remove all personal items including laptops, phones, teddy bears, cushions, pillows, blankets. Then vacuum them thoroughly and seal them in plastic bags for few days to check for missed bugs or newly hatched eggs.

Empty dressers, bed side tables and chest of drawers, move them from their place and deep vacuum corners and the inside of cabinets with a nozzle. Go to your sofa and mattress, remove them and vacuum with special attention to seams, tufts, skirts and under the cushions.

Check the box springs for infestation. If there is one, you may have to dispose of the mattress. Dismantle the bed frame and check in the hollow of the metal frame or between the component edges if it is a wooden frame. Vacuum and vacuum again.

Empty your wardrobe and clean it as for the chest of drawers. Since garments cannot be treated with insecticides, machine wash them at a temperature higher than 120*F because adults, nymphs and eggs are all killed within minutes above this temperature. Repeat the process for curtains.

Once you cleaned all the individual parts of the room, furniture,mattresses, textiles, fabrics and upholstery, you can move onto the rest of the room. Vacuum the carpet religiously especially along skirting boards, along the frame of furniture, rails, corners, wall cracks and all visible surfaces and crevices where the parasites may be hiding.

Do the same in all of the rooms of your house that has carpeting or fabrics like your living room. Bedbugs don’t just live in the bedroom.

Next, seal cracks in walls and wall paper with plaster, silicone or acrylic filler to prevent future infestations. In order to expose more bed bugs from their hiding places, you may want to use a flashlight. Finally, remove the vacuum bag and seal it is a plastic bag before disposal. Thorough cleaning and vacuuming is the foundation key to get rid of bed bugs at home.

Phase 2 – Life Cycle And Treatments

life cycle of a bedbugThe life cycle of bed bugs lasts up to 1 year and is divided in 6 stages. Only the last stage is the adult reproductive stage, while the others are immature stages that start with the egg stage followed by a nymph stage with 3 successive molts before the adult stage.

Adults are 4/5 mm long and all bed bugs stages are surprisingly resistant to low and high temperatures. They can survive many days in temperatures below 0* but will die if the temperature is higher than 47 Celsius or 120 F, so anything short of prolonged freezing temperatures or heat won’t kill them.

The treatments available focus on breaking the bug life cycle and are targeted at all life cycle stages repeatedly, either by killing them directly or by interfering with IGR ( Insect Growth Regulator). It’s too bad they weren’t more like a mosquito and you could just use one of the best bug zappers on them 🙁

Chemical treatments like sprays or dust should be applied at least 3 times 10 days apart to be sure of success. In fact, bed bugs feed sparingly few weeks apart, so re-treatment is necessary for complete elimination. Unlike with fleas where foggers are successful, with bed bugs such treatment produce the opposite effect, the bugs will scatter around making it even more difficult to exterminate them.

Pyrethroid, Malathion and Dichlorvos are commonly used for mattresses, sofas, cushions and upholstery, cabinets and chests with particular attention to seams and tufts, However, some bed bug populations have developed a phenomenal resistance to these agents and there is growing concern as to how to find a more effective way to kill them.

Another solution may be an IGR (Insect Growth Regulator) based treatment.

There are also mattress cases on the market that completely seal the mattress and prevent any escape from it. They must be kept for 1 year or so to make sure to break the whole life cycle of the bed bugs by starving them and stop the infestation spreading. If the infestation is severe, you may need to dispose of the mattress, but If it is not too advanced, you may decide to use sprays and dusts to kill the unwanted guests.

Prevention After The Infestation

There is a sound and chemical free way of dealing with bed bugs. If you have already experienced the trauma of an infestation you are already in a better position NOT to underestimate the resilience and adaptability of this successful bug. Wherever and whenever you travel, be wary of where you sleep and of your luggage. Here below there is a prevention check list to help you understand howto  get rid of bed bugs in Pheonix or wherever, even at home and the trauma and disruption that these tiny creatures can do to your life.

  • Always check your hotel mattress and headboards when traveling
  • Do not drop your luggage on the floor but keep it off it
  • Keep a vigilant eye on public transport seats
  • Check for bugs in new furniture delivered from warehouses
  • Avoid buying second hand furniture or bedding
  • Carry a mini flash light to inspect the bed area
  • Back home from a trip, inspect your luggage and vacuum clean it
  • You may want to use a pocket spray can for mattresses and luggage when traveling
  • Use a sticky bed bug trap

Getting Rid of BedBugs Through Cleaning

  • Vacuum the furnishings, including mattress, box spring, headboard, couch and other possible infested areas such as wooden doors and floors every other day.
  • When you are cleaning the furniture, dismantle the bed frames and other furniture so that you can be sure that you can get to all of the bugs when cleaning.
  • You should also dry-scrub the mattress and carpets with a stiff brush to dislodge any bedbugs and their eggs that may not have been suctioned with the vacuum.
  • When you’ve finished vacuuming, immediately remove the bag from the vacuum cleaner, seal it in a plastic bag and take it out to the trash can.
  • Bedbugs sometimes hide in wood piles, paper trash bins, and other areas with debris around your house, so it’s a good idea to go around the house and remove any of these possible housing sites.
  • Remove any unnecessary clutter from around the house and keep it tidy. This will reduce their hiding spaces and increase the effectiveness of the cleaning process, making getting rid of bedbugs a lot easier.
  • Sometimes, it is a good idea to throw away mattress or box springs that are heavily infested with bedbugs.
  • An alternative to throwing away mattresses that may still be in good condition is to get a bed bug proof mattress encasement, which helps protect the mattress from infestation.

Kill Bed Bugs Using Heat

small bed bugLike many living pests, you can also get rid of bedbugs and their eggs by using heat. Most bedbugs can be killed at temperatures of 97°F to 99°F, but you get better results if you heat things up to 120°F.

Here are some ways on how you can kill bedbugs with heat:

  • To get rid of bedbugs, wash your bedding and clothing in hot water and then drying them in the dryer with the hot setting.
  • The same dryer can also be used to kill bedbugs that might be hiding in toys, stuffed animals, shoes, backpacks and other items. Place the items in the dryer and then set for 10 to 20 minutes on a medium to high heat setting.
  • For large item like luggage, try PackTite, a portable electronic heat treatment device guaranteed to kill bed bugs in all its life stages. (above 120°F)
  • Similarly, you can also take items that you suspect have bedbugs and place them into a black garbage bag, leaving them outside in direct sunlight for 2 to 3 days.
  • You can also shop for a bed bug steamer or regular steam cleaner to kill bedbugs. They are quite effective in getting rid of bedbugs, however it is advisable to use one that has dry vapor steam when steaming your mattresses otherwise you may end up with other problems such as mold or mildew growing, as well as dust mites allergies.

Getting Rid of BedBugs With Chemicals

Another way to get rid of bedbugs is to use inorganic agents like silica Aerogel or Diatomaceous Earth which dehydrates and kills the bedbugs.

There are also aerosol sprays that can be used for bedbug removal. Among the more popular brands includes Bedlam Insecticide and STERI-FAB bed bug spray which effectively get rid of bedbugs with lasting residual performance.

Exterminate BedBugs With Professional Exterminators

Getting rid of bedbugs will unquestionably be a long-winded and demanding task. If you feel that you do not have the time or the energy to execute the extermination well on your own, it is advisable to hire a bed bug exterminator who have invested in the knowledge, training and equipment to do the job well and guarantee the success of the extermination operation.

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Top 10 Problems Home Inspectors Find

My Home Inspection Head Start Guide

When you get your home inspected, any problems that are found mean that you have to fix them and get another inspection, at a greater cost to you. You can prepare to avoid that second inspection by learning what home inspectors consider to be the ten problems they most frequently find.

A short prelude is to recognize that of the ten items, four relate directly to water and its damaging effects. It is then important that keeping water out should be at the forefront of the homeowner’s consideration when it comes to home maintenance and repair.

1) Surface Drainage

This problem is the most frequently cited problem that homeowners face. It is the back up or slower than standard drainage of surface water, and it is responsible for the number one household malady – water in the basement.

2) Electrical Wiring

This common problem is the result of insufficient overload protection, insufficient electrical supply and home wired connections, which are potentially dangerous to occupants.

3) Roof

This ailment is the result of degraded or damaged shingles, which causes roof leakage. Flashing that was improperly installed can also be a problem.

4) Heating

This category includes such items as a defective, non functioning thermostat, chimney blockage, and an unsafe venting of exhaust away from the home. Make sure you change your furnace filters before the inspection, and if time and finances allow, get it properly cleaned and looked over by a professional. Then include the receipt as “proof” of both maintenance and that there are no problems the new owner needs to worry about.

5) Overall Maintenance

This is where various areas of easy to repair items accumulate, such as makeshift fixes for wiring or plumbing, broken fixtures, cracked and peeling painted surfaces, wood flooring or carpeting that hasn’t been maintained and degraded masonry. Everything should look clean and sharp, so do some paint touch up if that’s what’s required.

6) Structural Issues

This category covers damage sustained by load bearing, structural components, such as the foundation, floor joists, rafters and trusses, support beams, headers around doors and windows, and much more.

7) Plumbing

Plumbing problems rank high when it comes to issues of the home. This includes the presence of old and outdated materials, defective or damaged fixtures, problems with the septic system or sewer lines, and so forth. Although the two main rooms these problems occur, the kitchen and bathroom, you still need to be looking through the entire property. Including the water pipes that come up to the house.

8) Exterior

Problems with the exterior of the home, such as for doors, windows and outer surfaces, allow atmospheric heat and humidity penetration, although they do not have much of an impact on the overall structure. Caulking and weather striping are the usual suspects when it comes to issues of the exterior.

9) Ventilation

It is frequently the case that individuals will over seal their home in an effort to have a more efficient air system. This results in the excessive build up of moisture, however, leading to rotting of structural elements. The most common areas are again, the basement and the attic. Make sure trusses are dry and there are no water damage stains or other problems.

10) Miscellaneous

This catchall category covers cosmetic issues that were not cited enough to gain its own category.

 

The results of the survey are dependent upon the age of the home and the area it is located in. Homes in the desert do not have as strict regulations on rain protection than in Chicago for example. Home inspection in Tulsa would be more strict than a smaller town like Wagoner. For the homeowner, it is important to go through the home and review various sections of the home in relation to these categories. They should avoid any self repairs if their skill level is not considered to be up to standards, especially when it comes to wiring and plumbing.

Fix what you can before the inspection, and you may avoid having to do the same procedure twice.

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