Safe Footing in the Dark

Path Lighting

Outdoor living isn’t confined to daytime anymore because you can use the high power of low voltage lighting to extend the use of your yard into the evening. While low voltage lighting began as security lighting, it has evolved into an attractive enhancement that complements the exterior of a home.

A low voltage system is made of a transformer, low voltage cable and fixtures. The transformer plugs into an outdoor receptacle and reduces standard line voltage into safe-to-handle low voltage used by the lights. The cable runs from the transformer into the yard and can be easily concealed beneath mulch or planting material. The cables connect a series of fixtures together throughout the landscape. Each fixture has a lead cable, which passes through a fitting that you install in a stake with a screwdriver.

Your yard is your stage so consider all the possibilities. Start with a rough sketch with dimensions of your yard and pinpoint where you’d like to add lighting. Give family members a flashlight and experiment by walking around your yard at dusk and then later in the evening when it’s completely dark. Look for ways to enhance the landscape by adding a light in the garden beds to highlight a showy shrubbery or tree, or showcase an architectural feature of your house. As you walk around your yard consider where light is needed for safety and deter intruders. Take the weather and seasonal changes into account, too. Don’t install lighting where a snow shovel might damage it or where heavy rain falls.

Don’t overdo it – too much outdoor lighting is not a good thing. You’re not trying to replicate daylight, the goal is to create a subtle effect. When in doubt, use less rather than more fixtures. For example, a walkway can look like a runway with too many even spaced fixtures, instead place them staggered or randomly.

Once you’ve decided the location of light fixtures and how many are needed, bring out a long garden hose to simulate the cable. Lay out the run of the cable route working it away from the transformer to see how much you’ll need.

Bring your sketch and notes when you shop for low voltage fixtures, which you’ll find at home and lawn centers and hardware stores. The systems and fixtures, also called lanterns, are sold individually and as kits. A typical low voltage landscape lighting kit, available for about $100, includes 6-8 fixtures, low-voltage cable and a transformer. The fixtures are made of plastic, aluminum or metal and come in a variety of styles and finishes. There are also surface-mount systems designed for installing on a deck.

You’ll also find solar-powered lights that rely on sunlight to operate, which you simply place in the ground and motion-activated units that turn on automatically when someone walks near your home, and turns off when they leave the area. Choose a style that compliments your home and one that has components sold separately so you have flexibility in your lighting design in the future.

Here’s more information Cost of Outdoor Lighting Fixtures.

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Lay a Stone Path in Your Garden

If you need a walkway through your garden or yard, a stepping stone path can be a practical solution as well as a compliment to the landscape. You can lay it out as a straight walkway or as a winding path that meanders around trees and flowerbeds. Use a base material like gravel or sand to secure the stones and help drain rainwater. For ideas and inspiration, pick up a copy of “Patio and Stone, a Sunset Design Guide.” It’s a new book about creating outdoor living spaces and it includes landscape design software.

Home and lawn centers sell a variety of stone, and they usually will deliver the material as well. This is money well spent unless you have a heavy vehicle and the strength and stamina to move the stone yourself. If you pay for delivery, have the stone stacked near the path so you don’t have to move it.

A landscape contractor will charge $1,437 to lay a 3-foot wide, 40-foot long stone path. This includes labor and material. You can buy the material, including stone, sand and landscape cloth, for $635 and do it yourself, saving 55 percent.

You will need a wheelbarrow, shovel, rake, carpenter’s level, push broom and some string and sticks to lay out the path. Dig out the sod or soil so it’s about 4-inches deep and level. Then lay landscape fabric and sand to provide a weed-free base for the stones. As you lay them, position the stones so they fit together nicely and spread sand between them.

When you’re planning a stone path, don’t think you have to limit the design to one kind of stone. Add some interest by designing a path with large stones in the center that’s edged on both sides with smaller stones of a different shade and shape.

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11 Items for Your Home in August


If you’re like us you may be headed out on vacation, but before you go, take a look at this rundown of 11 items. You’ll see they include mostly  inspecting and cleaning jobs, which don’t require a lot of time but they are important things to keep your house orderly and its systems working.  If you can tackle them before you leave you’ll feel good when you return knowing your house and everything in it are working.


**Replace air conditioner filter
**Inspect for open joints around windows and caulk
**Inspect for gaps around doors and thresholds and weatherstrip
**Vacuum coils of refrigerator condenser
**Turn mattresses and upholstered furniture cushions
**Sharpen blades of garbage disposer with ice cubes and refreshen with lemon
**Clean pet area and accessories
**Make calls to have furnace tune up and heating ducts cleaned
**Flush whirlpool pump to remove bacteria and mineral build-up
**Sharpen lawn mower blade

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Homeowner Checklist of 11 Simple Chores for July

Diy362aThe beginning of July always starts with a bang and fireworks and often involve vacation time with family and friends. The tasks listed here are more about inspection and maintenance so they’re not time consuming. But these chores are important so put them on your to do list for the month and follow up on any repairs that need to be completed.

* Replace air conditioner filter
* Look for and cure mildew and moisture problems
* Replace loose caulk and grout around bathtubs, showers and sinks
* Label shut-off valves at sinks and toilets
* Inspect and clean track of sliding patio and closet doors and lubricate rollers
* Inspect air conditioner condenser for a free flow of air
* Inspect fence and posts and remove vegetation
* Examine drainage field of septic system for soil firmness
* Inspect water softener system for level of brine
* Clean out and organize shed or outbuilding
* Maintain lawn and garden beds by watering, mowing and weeding

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Fly Old Glory with a Flagpole in Your Yard

To see Old Glory waving in the wind always brings a sense of pride. If you’re considering adding a flagpole to your yard, a good choice is a telescoping pole with aluminum sections that slide up and down and snap in place.

A contractor will charge $960 to install a 25-foot pole in concrete, which includes the labor and material. You can buy a flagpole kit for $550 and install it yourself. The kit includes a 25-foot pole with installation sleeve and gold ball top, a 3-foot-by-5-foot flag and swivel rings and harness that allows the flag to fly freely. Another cost is $25 for concrete mix and gravel for its foundation.

To install a pole, dig a round hole approximately 28-inches deep by 12-inches round, and place 6-inches of small gravel for drainage in the bottom of the hole. Insert the bolt in the sleeve and fill in the area around it with concrete. Use a carpenter’s level to make sure it is level.

When choosing a flag pole you should know about the wind in your area. Really. The wind load or expected wind at an elevation of 30-feet above the ground is used to determine the appropriate size of a flag pole. Don’t worry you won’t have to figure it out because flag and flag pole retailers use a reference map – it’s the same one for highway and transportation signs.

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Be prepared, plan and stay informed with Basic Disaster Supplies

FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, knows more than a thing or two disasters. Take the time to look at their list of basic disaster supplies to have on hand when there’s a threat of major weather damage where you live. And have a discussion about where family members and your pets can meet if they are forced to leave their homes. And don’t forget that cell phones (chargers included) play a major part in keeping everyone informed.

FEMA Basic Disaster Supplies Kit 

A basic emergency supply kit could include the following recommended items:

*Water, one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation
*Food, at least a three-day supply
*Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert and extra batteries for both
*Flashlight and extra batteries
*First aid kit
*Whistle to signal for help
*Dust mask to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place
*Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
*Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
*Manual can opener for food
*Local maps
*Cell phone with chargers, inverter or solar charger

Once you have gathered the supplies for a basic emergency kit, you may want to consider adding the following items:

*Prescription medications and glasses
*Infant formula and diapers
*Pet food and extra water for your pet
*Cash or traveler’s checks and change
*Important family documents such as copies of insurance policies, identification and bank account records in a waterproof, portable container
*Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person. Consider additional bedding if you live in a cold-weather climate.
*Complete change of clothing including a long sleeved shirt

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Living in a Handyman Special

Is living under construction worth the hassles and inconveniences? Only you can decide, but it’s always worked for us through various stages of our lives, whether we were a young married couple teaching school, self-employed writers and entrepreneurs, employees of a large corporation, or a couple phasing into semi-retirement.

Our first properties were small, and we learned by doing, either tackling home improvement projects ourselves or looking over the shoulder of the plumber or electrician that we hired. When we had stopped teaching and were working on houses full-time, our permanent residence was usually in the process of being renovated, and we usually had a project house under way. Yes, this could get very complicated and unsettling at times, but as long as we had a few rooms that were complete and livable, we seemed to take it in stride.

In retrospect, we were often more concerned about the condition and storage of our tools and equipment, which became considerable when we started working on houses full time. A garage became a key feature when we looked at houses to occupy, because we needed a safe, dry storage space for the tools and gear we were accumulating.

Kids Are a Real Concern

Living with children in a house that is under construction is another issue completely. It can be daunting and even dangerous to have little ones scampering around unfinished floors and playing in less-than-ideal circumstances. And, of course, there are real dangers of lead poisoning and asbestos in an older houses that is being remodeled.

The Environmental Protection Agency has a pamphlet called “Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home” and others available through the National Lead Information Center (800-424-LEAD). The agency’s Web site,, includes information about lead, asbestos, and mold in the home, where it may be found, and what should be done about it. If you’re considering a major rehab and you have children, do some research before you make a decision.

All children and most adults appreciate structure in their lives, and the unpredictable nature of rehabbing can be very stressful. If rehabbing takes you from one house to another, consider the effects on kids changing schools – this can be unsettling. Many families get around this by narrowing their scope of investment properties to houses within a particular school district so that their kids don’t have to change schools.

A Second Job

We think of a house that we are living in and working on as a second job that costs us money in the short term, but in the long run generates a substantial profit. It provides a place for us to hang our hats (and store our tools), and at the same time requires either our time or our money or both. But if we choose the property wisely and improve it with care, our investment will pay off. That’s true for a single owner or two married wage earners who have full time jobs that can support the cost of improvements when they are required. If you’re considering buying a house to renovate but are strapped for time, consider buying the house with a long term plan and letting the value of the property rise over time. When writing about home improvements led us to building an online business, we stayed where we were and turned all our time and energy to the business instead of completing the house and buying another one. We converted bedrooms to workstations and worked at home until we found an office, all the while letting the home slowly grow in value. If the economy is strong, that’s a strategy that works. But if the real estate market cools off as all markets eventually do and, during this time your job forces you to move, you’re vulnerable – not a good position to be in. Experience has taught us that you’re in control if you don’t have to sell and can wait out adverse conditions so that you can take advantage of a seller’s market that will eventually return.

Excerpt from Fix It and Flip It by Gene and Katie Hamilton, McGraw-Hill

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