06: Decoration — published on February 28, 2008

Increasing Your Home’s Curb Appeal

Tips on making your home look … even better.

When it comes to the value of your home, first impressions matter. The at-a-glance attractiveness that real estate people call curb appeal is becoming more important … seriously. These days, 80 percent of home buyers get their first look at a house from a picture on the Internet. If the "street" picture is unappealing, most people don’t look any further. But even homeowners who aren’t selling should still care about keeping their biggest asset in an attractive and well maintained condition. As spring approaches, here are twelve home-and-yard solutions to those little flaws you might not even notice, but everybody else does — from the curb.

1. Isn’t the driveway supposed to be, you know, black? A significant portion of what people see from the road is the driveway. If the driveway looks smooth, black and new, the whole house looks newer. So if yours is gray and weathered, recoat it with asphalt sealer. Start by thoroughly cleaning the surface with a pressure washer and letting it dry completely. Then use a sealer applicator with a squeegee on one side and a brush on the other to spread and smooth the mixture. If the original surface was deeply pitted, apply a second coat. TIP: Sealer won’t stick to oil. Use an oil spot remover before coating the driveway.

2. Has anyone seen the sidewalk lately? When walks and driveways lose their edge, it creates a look of casual (if not criminal) neglect. Time to haul out the hand edger, the power edger or a string trimmer to cut back the grass. The manicured look you get from edging a thick, green lawn provides a pleasing transition between grass and walkways. TIP: Edge when the soil is moist and easier to cut.

3. That sloping lawn is really going downhill. Maintaining a lawn on a steep incline stopped being worth it years ago. Don’t keep fighting that losing battle. Replace the grass with ground cover that stabilizes the soil in steep areas and eliminates the need for mowing altogether. Place plants in attractive arrangements and apply mulch in between. When your budget allows, purchase more plants and put them among the originals. TIP: Be patient it’s typical for most ground covers to take two or three years to fill in.

4. Is there a house behind those trees? Overgrown shrubs not only destroy the architectural features of your house, they make people wonder what you’ve got to hide. Short term, you need to do some severe pruning to get the plants back in line. For the long term, regular pruning will minimize your workload and the stress on the plantings. TIP: Once the problem plants are pruned, don’t overfertilize — lots of fertilizer means lots of growth.

5. Shade is nice. Bare dirt under the trees isn’t. Deal with collateral canopy damage by installing short retaining walls of cast concrete blocks to create planters. They also help to define flower-beds elsewhere in the yard. Concrete blocks are durable, environmentally safe, and don’t need a rigid footing installed below the frost line. Once you’ve placed all the blocks, just fill topsoil in behind them and add shade-tolerant plants. TIP: The most labor-intensive part of this job is the first course. Once these foundation blocks are level, the rest of the project moves quickly.

6. Should the planting beds sue for abandonment? But they take so much time to weed and water properly. If you want to make them easier to maintain, lay in some mulch, which holds in moisture and prevents weed growth. There are two dimensions to mulch. One is what it looks like, the other is what it does. Just about any mulch will improve the health of your plants. For a formal look, stone mulch is a good choice. For a more casual approach, organic mulch, like wood chips, is a better bet. TIP: Choose a pleasing contrast. Use light mulch around dark plants, and dark mulch around light plants.

7. Can you see Elvis in that stain beneath the gutters? To find the culprit, look no further than clogged eavestrough, which cause water to spill out and stain the siding. Remove debris — leaves, twigs, pine needles, mud, gum wrappers and dandelion fuzz — at least three times a year. Take an old drywall bucket up the ladder. Hang the bucket from the ladder using a painter’s hook. This way you can clean with both hands and make the job go better. TIP: While cleaning, check for leaking joints. If you find one, apply sealent over the seam.

8. Didn’t Robert Frost say "good fences make good neighbors"? Even better are natural privacy screens that transform wide-open spaces into outdoor living areas. There are many cultivars and shrubs that are ideal for creating privacy. Different types have different soil requirements. But generally all are planted the same way. Dig a hole twice the diameter of the root ball and deep enough so the top of the ball ends up just above the surrounding grade. Put the ball in the hole, fill the space with soil you removed, mulch around the trunk and water heavily. TIP: Don’t plant too close to the property line. You need permanent access to both sides for pruning.

9. Too bad about the lawn-pattern baldness. To thicken the turf, over-seed your lawn by planting new grass without tearing up the old. The best time to overseed is in the late summer or early fall. TIP: Choosing the proper grass seed for your area and soil is crucial. Check with the lawn expert at your local nursery.

10. Can you write "wash me" on that dingy siding? Clean away the crud with a pressure washer. Start at the bottom and work up. When you get to the top, rinse down to the bottom. These washers are standard rental items … but you could also buy one. Most machines come with a nozzle that adjusts the flow of water from an intense pencil-thin stream to a broad fan. TIP: Choose the widest (least intense) pattern that still cleans effectively. Too intense a stream can damage wood in siding, decks and fences.

11. Does everybody have to kick the front door? The grand entrance to your pleasure dome could probably use a facelift. It’s the kind of makeover that can instantly upgrade your entire home. Consider it an opportunity to improve the total look of your house, not just another maintenance item. The easiest approach is to change only the colour of the door. But, sometimes a "full frame replacement," which means a new energy-efficient door that’s prehung in new jambs is the best approach. TIP: When shopping for a new door unit, take exact measurements of the height and width and thickness of the door and the location of all the hinges.

12. Aside from those peeling spots, the paint looks good. Before touching up a patchy paint job answer a simple question: "Why is the paint failing?" The most likely reasons: moisture intrusion, broken caulking and faulty flashing. Once you’ve addressed the underlying problem, scrape off the loose paint, prime and then paint with a finish coat. If you’re using some of the original paint that you’ve kept around for just such an occasion, be prepared for a difference in sheen or colour due to weathering. TIP: For touch-ups, latex paint is a good choice because of its long-term resistance to cracking.

01: Impressions — published on February 28, 2008

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