Thursday, June 26, 2008

Deck Innovations

One of the easiest, and the most inexpensive, ways to gain living space for you home is building a deck. Because unlike a patio a deck usually has a wood frame and can be placed at ground level, flush with your second-story bedroom or as high as the roof-line of your home. It can be a small, useful space for your enjoyment or a massive testament to style and recreation. And an already-existing deck can be enlarged, resurfaced or re-colored with a weekend's contribution of time because it's just wood.

A deck is also one of the very few builds or renovations that can be accomplished within a budget. If the ground is stable a contractor can usually come in at a definite price because the material prices and labor costs are fairly stable. In other words if the deck estimate is $3600 you can pretty well be assured that the final cost will be the same. This is because there are very few variables to move the price around.

However, before building you dream deck there are a few considerations you might want to address:

The amount of money you can afford directly affects the size and scope of your deck. If there is a lot of preparation work to be done – old deck torn out, ground leveled – then this will affect the price. But if it is just a regular square deck built within 4' of the ground, the rule-of-thumb is: Take the cost of materials and double it. So if you go down to the store and price out the materials for deck and they come to $1200 then, with labor and other considerations, the deck will most likely come out to around $2400. This is also a good number to keep in your head when contractors give you estimates.

Shape, Size and Levels
This is actually a very important consideration because the shape affects both the usage and the cost. For example, a rectangular deck in front of the home with diamond-shape end pieces will require extra cutting and shaping to get the right effect. A good carpenter will take more time to make sure that the shape and angles are right and this will cost more.

Now, add to this the levels. Many decks are built into spectacular structures of two or three levels with grilling and cooking stations as well as spas. Fireplaces with large chimneys are finding their way out to the decks allowing a great deck life even when the weather gets cold. To fill this space homeowners are adding posh, waterproof furniture and TV screens just like in the den.

If you live in an area that is very hot in the summer a misting system, fine water drops propelled by a fan, can take the heat away.

Railings and Posts
Decks have railings mainly for safety. But just like window trim and shrubs set off the front of the home, railings and posts define what is otherwise a flat, boring platform. Railings are the functional supports and the balusters, although providing protection, are structural decorations. In older-style homes the posts are a 4” X 4”carved, Victorian style column with matching carved balusters whereas a modern deck may have tempered-glass panels between the posts. The former is more for decoration but the glass, although modernistic, is protection from the wind.

One of the breakthroughs in railing design is the type of materials. Rather than the high-maintenance that wood railings require, these long guard-rails are now being made from powder-coated aluminum, composites and vinyl. In addition, these railings can come in 4' and 8' assembled panels that can easily be attached to posts bolted into the decking. These are more expensive but you can recoup most of the price from the labor savings over the installation of wooden posts and balusters. And then there is the saving in time and money you would have had to invest in painting.

Below Decks
One of the newest movements in deck building is to provide a usable space underneath the deck. This means instead of a dead space where water trickles down between the decking boards the area is used for storage. Of course, to make this area functional the surface of the deck would have be at least 6’ high ,or 4' if you don't mind bending over.

The decking is covered with a waterproofing to divert the water into a small gutter system and away from the home. In many cases the deckwood can be used as a platform for fiberglass sheeting which is then saturated with the epoxy to make it a hard surface. Then this surface is painted with non-stick paint or covered with an outdoor carpet. For a more realistic deck waterproofing is stretched over the joists and then vinyl or composite decking is placed down over that with a sealing solution on the bottom sides.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Keep Your Lawn Healthy...

Keep your lawn healthy using good maintenance practices. Grow a healthy lawn by using correct fertilizing, liming, aeration, mowing, topdressing, overseeding and irrigation practices.


-Mow high when it's dry.
-Grass cut at a height of 6 to 8 cm (2 ½ to 3 inches) will develop a deep, extensive root system and grow thicker. Grass this height helps the soil to retain its moisture better.
-Sharpen your mower blade in the spring and keep it sharp.
-Grass recovers more quickly and easily from a clean cut than when it's torn.
-Leave the lawn clippings on your lawn after mowing.
-Lawn clippings compost, slowly releasing nitrogen for the grass.
-Under wet spring conditions, remove thick layers of clippings (over 0.5 cm thick) to avoid smothering your grass.


-Water deeply and infrequently.
-Apply at least 2.5 cm (1 inch) of water. Put a container on your lawn to measure how much -you've watered it.
-Water when your lawn needs it rather than on a set schedule.
-Excessive watering can lead to poor growing conditions and disease problems.
-Consider the soil type and surface features. Grass growing on compacted, fine soil or on slopes requires more frequent light watering.
-Early morning is the ideal time for watering.
-This minimizes water lost through evaporation and wind.
-Watering in the evening leaves the grass wet for longer, increasing the risk of disease.
-Grass growing near large trees may need to be watered more frequently because the tree roots absorb much of the soil's water.
-A healthy lawn can survive several weeks in a dormant state.
-In extended hot dry periods, a lawn may wilt, turn brown and become dormant. Common grass varieties like Kentucky bluegrass and fine fescues will turn green again when regular moisture conditions return.
-Check the lawn regularly to detect any pests or other problems early.
-It may be more difficult to detect or differentiate insect damage in a dormant lawn.


-Compost is a great fertilizer that supplies your lawn with nutrients needed for plant growth.
-Apply at any time of the season.
-Mix it into the soil before seeding or laying sod, or spread it in a thin layer raked over the existing lawn.
-Commercial fertilizers usually contain the three major nutrients:
-nitrogen (N) to promote leaf growth
-phosphorus (P) for root growth
-potassium (K), which is essential for stress resistance
-The three numbers on the packaging represent the proportions of these nutrients, for example: 21-7-7 formulation contains 21% nitrogen, and 7% of each of phosphorus and potassium.
-Fertilizers with a slow-release form of nitrogen are preferred because they release nutrients uniformly and there is less risk that excess fertilizer will leach away from the root zone.
-All purpose turf fertilizers usually have an N-P-K ratio of 4-1-2 .
-Rates and timing of fertilization can vary with the type of soil, the type of grass, and site and weather conditions.
-A lower rate is generally used in spring and early summer than in early and late fall.
-Organic fertilizers release more nutrients as the temperature and moisture levels increase, so you shouldn't fertilize when conditions are likely to be hot or dry, usually from mid-June to early August.
-Have your soil analyzed every few years by a professional laboratory. This will tell you more specifically what type of fertilizer you will need and how much to use. It will also indicate if the pH of your soil is right for growing grass.
-Combination products containing a herbicide and a fertilizer (weed and feed type) should only be considered if your lawn has a widespread weed problem and a nutrient deficiency. Use these combination products according to the label directions.

Overseeding and Replacing Sod

-Most healthy lawns recover from damage. Depending on the type of grass, vigorously growing lawns will fill in areas that have been thinned by insects or other types of damage.
-If bare patches do not fill in quickly, weeds may set in.


-Regularly spreading grass seed on your lawn will ensure that it remains dense.
-Overseeding is best done in late summer to early fall.
-Topdressing with compost or topsoil can be done at the same time.
-Using the proper type of grass seed is very important for lawns in shady areas.

Replacing Sod

To replace sod:
-Cut out the dead or damaged area to about 2 cm deep.
-Rake the soil and add some fertilizer.
-Lay down the new piece of sod.
-Step on it or roll it to ensure good contact with the soil.
-Keep the new seed and sod well-watered until the new grass is established.


-Aerating your lawn allows a better flow of water, air and vital nutrients to the plant roots, making it easier for them to grow. This does not, however, apply to soil types containing clay.
-Aeration is best done in late summer in conjunction with overseeding and/or topdressing.

Signs that you need to aerate your lawn:
-ground is hard and compacted
-thatch is building up
-water does not penetrate well
-weeds such as prostrate knotweed and clover are present.

There are two types of mechanical aerators:
-solid-tined machine that drives spikes into the ground
-core machine that removes small plugs of thatch and soil
-Sandals or shoes with 6 cm (2 ½ inch) spikes can be used for small lawns.

-Do not roll your lawn in spring as this may increase compaction problems.


-Thatch is a tough mixture of dead grass and roots that accumulates above the soil surface.
-In a healthy lawn, insects, earthworms, beneficial fungi and other
microorganisms break down thatch and aerate the soil.Excessive watering, over fertilizing with nitrogen and heavy use of insecticides and fungicides may decrease the populations of soil organisms required to keep thatch levels down.
-Thatch that is more than 1 cm (½ inch) thick can prevent water, air and nutrients from getting to the roots. Too much thatch can also harbour harmful insects and diseases.
-Remove excess thatch with a heavy rake or de-thatching equipment.