Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Dam Ice!

Being a homeowner, a busy dad, and a busy business owner trying to get loose ends tied up before the Holidays, I have unfortunately missed some important winter maintenance that is easy to neglect -- Ice Dams!

Today is December 21, the Winter Solstice, and four days before the Christmas Holiday.  I can't seem to recall having over 20" of snow on the ground in recent history, by this time of year.  I know that some of the outlying areas of the Twin Cities, especially to the northwest, west, and south of us, probably have more like 24-30" on the ground already.  This is going to be a year of BIG snow.  So, please, don't forget to go out and take a few extra critical steps to help keep your home, and landscape, in good shape.

1. For those who have young evergreen trees, ornamental evergreen shrubs, upright evergreens, or evergreens in hedges (namely juniper, arborvitae, yew, pine, fir, spruce):  Please remember to do your due diligence and clear away the heavy snow that has collected on the foliage and branches!  Especially if the evergreens are starting to bow or bend under the weight of the heavy snow.  The plants might be resilient, but these heavy snow loads that are burdening these evergreens can easily cause permanent disfigurement or damage to them, and cause the look of your landscape to suffer.
Here's the idea, not so upright anymore, and now are ugly.
Those nice accent hedges won't be so "hedgy" anymore.

2. For that snow on your rooftops: Please remember to use a Roof Rake where the drifts and heavy snow loads have collected!   Try to remove at least the lower 6-10' of snow from the outer edge of your roof and up, or as needed upward past where the roof extends beyond the house along the rafter tail above the soffit.  Try to keep the gutters and downspouts open as much as possible to allow water to flow.  But that area melts the most slowly and can very easily cause ice dams to form!  If your home is prone to ice dams, consider using a heating element/cable/tape system to allow more rapid snow melt to occur along these areas.

Roof that is a good candidate for roof rake.

Roof raking in action.

Completed roof raking job, as long as the snow load on the rest of the house is not too heavy.

3.  For those dam ice dams: Please do what you can to remove them!  Be concerned, especially before the daytime temperatures approach the upper 20's, and snow melt begins to occur during the day and then freeze up again in the evenings.  In just a matter of one day of steadily melting snow, ice dams can become enormous and begin to cause the water to retreat back under your roof shingles and through your roof, into your attic, and wherever it decides to make it's way into your home from there.  Unwanted water is the home's worst enemy!

Dam Ice!  Mine looks pretty similar to this right now.  It is flirting with disaster!

If you are in the same boat as me right now and ice dams have formed in a big way over the short span of a couple of days (mine are 10" thick along the back of my house!) here is what I suggest:

First:  Roof Rake what you can from the area above the rafter tails/soffits and clear a path for the snow melt.

Second:  Either use a de-icing agent such as eco-friendly biodegradable antifreeze cut with tap water and spray along the edges and concentrate it into certain areas, or apply de-icing salts and concentrate them into abrupt ruts by filling sections of pantyhouse with deicing salts to create the ruts, or apply a heating cable along to iced dam in a strategic manner for short term rapid melting (it might fall off the roof as it melts), or chisel notches into the ice dam into sharp grooves that allow the snowmelt water to run off the roof... or maybe do a combination of the above.

Myself, I have used a a mallet and chisel to break sections and ruts into the ice, sprinlked on a light coating of de-icing salt, and then filled pantyhose tubes of deicing salts and laid them vertically along the ruts to make them more pronounced and concentrated areas for the snowmelt to run.  These tubes should extend up the roof past the area where the ice forms, beyond where the rafter tail meets meets the house and the snow melts more rapidly.  I found a successful remedy in doing this and checking on it a few times, maybe hammering away with my chisel a few additional times, as the snow melted and froze over the span of several days.  But it was a pain.  (*Disclaimer: this is just my personal experience, but it worked for me.)

THIRD:  CONSIDER HIRING A PROFESSIONAL SERVICE FOR ICE DAM REMOVAL.  ***Please call Dave or Jack at Landscape Design Studios, and we can get you set up with some professional assistance. *** 

As the temperatures fluctuate, please monitor the condition of your roof inside and out.  Check on the outside, and check on the inside of the attic and look for evidence of moisture anywhere that it is not supposed to be.

For more information, please refer to this helpful Univeristy of Minnesota Extension Publication:

More to come... best of luck!

Merry Christmas!


Thursday, December 9, 2010

ROI Research & Off-Season Thoughts

As a landscape design professional and business owner, my impetus in the "off season" is to improve my skills, review the paperwork from 2010 (clean the office), and shore up the business as Jack and I prepare for a the home and garden shows this winter and early spring.  (Note: What we in Minnesota call the "off season" means that there is a blanket of snow on the ground of about 6" deep that will not be going anywhere for quite some time, as the temperatures were -2 degrees this morning and 11 degrees for the high temperature today, and everyone is going to be thinking about nothing but the Christmas Holidays for the next 2-3 weeks.) 

Most people in the landscaping industry often do a blend of hibernation and snow plowing in most years, especially recently as the landscaping season might not have been as fruitful as in other years.  Being a landscape design professional, I hope to stay somewhat busy in finishing up some designs and keeping somewhat of an income source this winter, and focusing in on the year of 2011.  And... I am being stead-fast and optimistic!

A few things that I try to do is more research on the "market" we are residing in, how much home improvement was actually done overall in 2010, and is projected for 2011.  A couple of reports say that it is looking...well, decent!  (

I also like to get a sense for the perceived value that landscaping investments have in a cost-conscious environment.  People are inclined to think of any home improvement projects in terms of return on investment (ROI).  I would consider myself to be one of those people, to at least some degree.

Many of the HGTV shows and DIY shows now place a large emphasis on ROI, and will cost-analyse the proposed investment to the home and even seem to imply that it is equally or more important than the benefit of the need, use, and enjoyment that the family will get out of it.  After all, how do you apply a value or a price tag on that?   But in many cases, the new use and enjoyment, and even excitement, that people get from their "new" home has enormous value to their quality of life.  The new project gives them a reason to be excited and fall in love with their home again, and enables them to maximize the potential of their home.

This is especially true with landscaping.  A new landscape can give people the benefit of taking an unused or under-used space on their property and make it one of the most enjoyable places in and around their entire home.  (I have had people say that very thing to me.)  It can add a virtual square footage to their home, just like adding a new room and increasing the size of the home's footprint.  It also offers them a beautiful view to enjoy from many of the rooms in the house, as a connection to the outdoors.  Unlike remodeling a bathroom or bedroom, you can't often enjoy it's appeal through a window when sitting in your family room or at the kitchen table.  Your bedroom or bathroom remodel also does not express itself and change throughout the season, or call the birds and butterflies to your window like a landscape does.  

So, purposeful landscaping is always a bit more of intangible when it comes to "value" and ROI.

In the slightly more volatile economy that was last year (December 29, 2009) this article was published in the First Time Homebuyer Blog:  The way I look at it, 5 out of 10 of the best improvements (including #1 and #2) involve landscaping!

Here is the pasted blog, with all credit given to the My Fist Home team:

With the property market in crisis and house prices falling, it has become increasingly important for home owners to give priority to home improvements that will help add significant value to your property’s sale price.

But with so many home improvement options available, how do you know which to invest in first?

Below we have outlined the top ten ways to increase your home’s value:

1. Enhance the Curb Appeal  (=Landscaping!)
The simplest rule to follow when choosing home improvement projects is to consider what can be seen and work on those things first. Curb appeal is one of the primary determining factors for potential buyers. And while not a large factor in appraising home value, appearance is paramount in terms of sale price.

So how do you increase the curb appeal of your home? Start by reducing clutter, painting your home’s exterior and improving the landscaping; all things you can easily do yourself without investing a fortune!

2. Increase the Property’s footprint (=Landscaping!)
The size and living space of a home is one of the primary factors in both appraised value as well as the resale price a home will fetch when listed for sale.

If you have an unfinished basement or other space in your home that can be converted into finished living space, start there. Finishing a basement or attic space is far less expensive than a room addition.

To determine whether a room addition is a good investment, you need to research the neighborhood a bit. You want to know the average size of the homes in your neighborhood; if yours falls well below the average, then a room addition could be a good investment. On the other hand, if you home is larger than most homes in your neighborhood, you may not recoup your investment in a room addition.

3. Update Bathrooms
If your home has out of date bathrooms, then updating them is likely to be a good investment to increase the resale value. Most buyers are attracted to a home with modern, spacious and up to date bathrooms.

4. Update the Kitchen
As with bathrooms, updating an older kitchen will often increase the resale value of a property. You can cut costs by refinishing cabinets, installing new appliances, countertops and flooring and improving the lighting in your kitchen.

If you want to go that little bit further you could invest in handmade kitchen units or perhaps even a full bespoke kitchens. Given their custom nature, bespoke kitchens will usually make the best possible use of the available space, whilst also providing exceptional build quality and standard of finish.

5. Increase Storage Space (=Can be done with Landscaping!  Outdoor storage!)
The majority of house buyers today want plenty of room to store things like vacuum, ironing boards, bedding, toys etc. so anything you can do to increase the amount of space and functional storage capacity of your home will help add resale value and is often less expensive than major renovations, repairs or room addition projects.

6. Add a Garage (=Landscaping!)
If your home does not have a garage, adding one can be another good investment to increase resale value; especially if you live in an area where on street parking is not available or where crime rates are high.

7. Fix any major faults (=Landscaping? If it is a major fault.)
If your home has an older roof, heating and air conditioning system, water heater or other major component that is either at or past its useful life, then you almost have no choice but to replace such components.

For one thing, not replacing major components will lead to other maintenance costs down the road. For instance, if you have a leaky roof, it will lead to dry rot and other costly problems.
Secondly, when you do go to sell your home, these things will either need to be done prior to the sale or will be deducted from the potential sale price as credits to the buyer.

8. Paint and Redecorate the Interior
Be sure to use neutral colours when repainting your home’s interior. Remember that interior decoration is very personal and future owners may not like any bright shades you may have used, or the prospect of struggling to paint over them.

If you do decorate your home with bright paint, be prepared to paint over it with neutral colours prior to putting the property up for sale.

9. Increase and Improve Outdoor Living Space (=Landscaping!  Yes, Landscaping!)
As with adding a garage, the return on investment for adding outdoor living space such as a screened porch, deck or patio is largely dependent on geography

If you live in an area where people tend to spend a lot of time outdoors, then this can be a very good investment and is generally less costly than adding interior living space.

However, if the norm in your area, due to climate and weather conditions, is not conducive to spending a lot of time outdoors, then it may not make much sense to invest heavily in outdoor living space.

10. Replace Siding and/or Windows
Replacing windows can be another high-return investment. If your home has unsightly windows, or windows made from wood or aluminum, then replacing them with modern double glazed windows will increase both the exterior appeal and energy efficiency of your home.

So, in summary, why not look into a new landscape for your home this Holiday?  It makes a great "stocking stuffer!"