Strange times these have been, indeed. My work life has been fairly "normal," in a way—I am still taking phone calls and talking with clients; I am still working at my office (where it's easy to practice social distancing, given that it's only me, Mary, and Austin); and I am still checking in on our active job sites, which are going strong and are currently scheduled through the end of July.
But I've noticed how quiet it is out of the house. Roads are nowhere near as busy as they once were, and many of my favorite restaurants are closed. When I call a business, the person on the line sometimes apologizes for the screaming kids in the background, to which I suggest tying them up to a tree outside (just kidding).
I can only assume that many folks are practicing "stay home and work safe" in their own way. So, that got me thinking, if we are spending so much time at home, what are a few things we can do around the house as spring draws to a close and summer begins? This newsletter is all about that. As always, do not hesitate to reach out if you have any questions about your home or need a recommendation for a local company!
Our next newsletter will be about creating that backyard oasis given how much time we are spending at home and probably looking for extra space. Till then, I hope you are all healthy, safe, positive, and in as good as spirits as one can be.
James Hardie Fiber Cement Siding is ‘purdy’, as I like to say. But just as all you good looking people still need to comb your hair and floss your teeth, so, too, does Fiber Cement Siding need a little TLC every now and then. We certainly advertise it as “maintenance free,” and that is why so many of you have had Sideco install JH Fiber Cement Siding on your homes. It will literally last, both materially and in color, for a couple decades, if not longer. But you’ll still need to wash it at least every 1-2 years in my experience. My son sent me a photo of his siding recently and sarcastically noted that it really isn’t maintenance free if he has to clean it. I told him to stop being lazy and to take more pride in his home. He then asked me when was the last time I cleaned my own siding, to which I said, “You are right, but your mom gladly does it.” Truth be told, it isn’t that hard to make James Hardie Fiber Cement Siding look ‘spick-and-span’, just like the day we installed it. There are a couple tricks we recommend.
1. First, simply take a broom and brush the siding.
2. Second, in your dirtier spots (normally along the trim near windows or light fixtures that attract a lot of insects), useWindex and paper towels and put some elbow grease in it. 3. Third, if sections are still dirty, take a hose—ideally a pressure washer—and spray the siding. 4. Fourth, if none of the above suit you, hire a neighborhood kid or a handyman to spend a few hours cleaning your siding really well!
If you have gutters on your home, I can promise you that leaves from last winter didn’t only fall on the ground, but have also clogged your gutter systems. Cleaning gutters is one of those things we tend to downplay, not knowing how damaging it can be to the structural integrity of your home. Water will flow down, no matter what. With gutters, the water wants to flow down the downspouts. But if those gutters are clogged, the water will overflow until it reaches the rim of the gutter, at which point it will run off between your fascia and the gutter itself.
Why do we have gutters anyways? Same reason why Sideco flashes all right angles on your house: to move water—the most damaging and costly environmental force your home will face—away from your house. If we do not clean your gutters, we defeat the purpose of having them.
Despite how advanced and efficient our air conditioners are today, it is paramount that homeowners maintain them so that they work as efficiently as possible every summer, saving you money with your monthly energy bills and extending the life of the air conditioner itself. Virtually all unexpected failures of air conditioners could have been avoided through preventive maintenance, in my opinion, but for some reason, we tend to forget that A/Cs (and heaters, for that matter) even need maintenance. But think about it this way—if you drove your car every day, 18 hours a day, for 5 months a year and then parked it in a garage in preparation for the next year, would you not air up and rotate the tires, change the oil, wash the car, etc. before putting it through such an extreme challenge again? A proper A/C tune-up includes several items, including cleaning the condenser coils, leveling off the coolant, calibrating the thermostat, inspecting your home’s ductwork for possible leaks, inspecting electrical connections, checking the condition of the blower motor and belt, and (just as important as anything else) changing the filters throughout your house. Unless you are an avid DIYer, we recommend hiring a professional A/C company to perform a tune-up. Note that, if you have a home warranty, your policy may include an annual A/C tune-up. But if you don’t, you can expect to pay something in the $100 range, give or take $50. If that may seem like a lot of money to cough up, just consider how it may save you the headache (and higher cost!) of placing an emergency call to fix an A/C that went out at the start of a week with all seven days projected to be 100 degrees plus! As always, if you go to tune up your A/C, we recommend finding a company with a solid reputation and a craftsman that you like and trust.
One of my favorite sayings from an ole friend of mine is that “The best time to plant a tree is yesterday.” It dovetails well with my trying to explain one of my favorite authors, Zig Ziglar, to my children: “Good things come to those who prepare and then wait.” Yes, there are in fact ideal times in the year to plant trees (late fall, winter, and early spring), but what I am also suggesting is that planting a tree is one of the perfect metaphors for life—we gotta stop making excuses and just go outside and do it, but even after it is planted, we gotta manage our expectations because the fruit of our labor will take a while to manifest. And that’s okay, I would tell my kids. That’s just the way of the world! If you have a local nursery nearby, I highly recommend visiting and asking for their advice on what kind of tree to plant. Not only are you supporting a local business, but I find that these local nurseries tend to have very knowledgeable green thumbs. But before you go, think about what you want the purpose of the tree to be and where it will be located. Do you want a fast-growing shade tree or an ornamental tree? Do you want a tree that will produce edible fruit, or do you want a slow-growing but resilient hardwood that will last for decades, if not longer? Is where you will plant it a naturally moist and wet area, or will you have to vigilantly water the area, and how does that affect your choice? I visited my son’s house recently and he showed off three citrus trees he and the family had planted last year—two oranges and one lemon, both hardy down to 15 degrees or so Fahrenheit. They were still tiny, just about 3 feet tall, but he spoke of how maybe in “just” 3 or 4 more years, they would be producing enough fruit that they could invite over friends and have a freshly squeezed orange juice and mimosa party. Now it sure is hard to imagine a better use of one’s yard than that, especially during times like these! As you prep to plant your tree, here are a few short tips we’ve adopted at our house when planting new trees: 1. First and foremost, remove all the grass around the planting area, especially if it is Bermuda grass. Unfortunately, the only way to do it is with a shovel, removing the roots as much as possible. Try for a 2-3 foot radius around the stem of the new tree.
2. Dig a hole twice as wide as the root ball of your tree from the nursery, and maybe about 1.25 times deeper. Take some of the dirt you dug up and mix it with composted manure and sprinkle some on the bottom of the hole. 3. Before setting the root ball, be sure to cut the roots so that they won’t continue to grow into each other in a circle; you want the roots projecting outward and downward away from each other. 4. Take the remaining dirt/manure mixture you’ve created and fill in around and on top of the root ball, which should be level with the ground. 5. I then recommend fertilizing the dirt area with some a product conducive to whatever tree it is that you have planted, and then water it with some fish fertilizer mixed in. If the watering causes the dirt to collapse a bit, add more dirt. 6. Lastly, mulch the dirt area to retain moisture and prevent weeds. If you are still worried about weeds and want to make it truly maintenance free for a while, put down a ground cloth cover beneath the mulch. 7. Repeat the fertilizer steps mid summer and mid fall before letting the tree rest during the winter.