• Triple Digits Are Here So…It’s All About SHADE

    I am sitting here writing this on one of our first 100 degree days in 2014. Let’s just hope we don’t have too many 110 degree plus days this summer…ugh!!! If you are an outdoor enthusiast and love spending time by the pool or patio no matter what the temperature, having relief near by is always welcome. Over the years, I have built dozens of shade structures using a variety of different materials. Before we go into the numerous options, let’s talk about the many names we use to describe them and their associated meanings. Gazebos, Arbors, Ramada’s, Pergolas are the most common names, but what are the differences?

    Gazebos offer protection from both the sun and rain because they have a solid tiled roof that matches the home. These are free standing structures that usually are not attached to the house. The interior finished ceiling is either exposed framework, or the framework is covered using a tongue & groove high grade plywood. Most people install a light & ceiling fan with a switch on one of the support posts, and others go as far as installing a misting system on the perimeter for additional comfort. The support posts are built with masonry block (CMU), require a solid footing, and can be finished off with stucco & paint, or maybe a stone veneer. A good Gazebo starts at about $12,000 for a 10×10 or 12×12, but I have built others that cost $15,000 to $20,000. It all depends on how you accessorize and the materials you choose. Because Gazebo’s usually finish off at a height of 10 to 12 feet above ground level, just about all require HOA approval and a building permit. They are not hard to get, but that is the correct way to go about it. Gazebos are one of the more expensive shade options, but are extremely functional and decorative.

    Another shade option is the ramada which is attached to the house coming out the back patio door with an asphalt roof and usually finished with drywall, paint and a ceiling fan or two. A pergola or arbor offers no protection from the rain, but does offer “filtered” sunlight, as well as a very attractive decorative element. These can either be free standing structures or attached to the house. The support posts can be wood or masonry, and the top can have either one or two layers depending on how much shade you require. Two layered arbors are usually the norm. I recommend two especially if you are using wood, because the cross member building approach helps to keep the wood from twisting. I like using a “rough sawn” fir because it holds up well to Arizona weather and stains or paints beautifully. The two layered arbor top starts with a first course of main beams with dimensions of 6” x 12”. I like a “beefy” looking structure. I corbel the ends for decoration and the corners are cross woven into one another. The first course is a 3” x 6” member laid perpendicular to the first, and also has corbeled ends. The final layer is 2” x 2” and is laid perpendicular to the course below. Ends are usually too small to corbel, so I’ll straight cut them or slightly round over the ends. It’s also best that you stain or paint the wood on the ground so you can cover every inch of wood before it is assembled. It also makes staining or painting much easier when you can place them on a saw horse as opposed to working overhead. Wood still has a tendency to twist, so make sure the wood is as dry as it can be from the lumber yard.

    If you don’t want the maintenance of wood, there are companies that offer an aluminum stud wrapped with vinyl and simulates the look of wood. There are several color choices, and when dirty, can be washed off with a hose and never require any painting. Again, most structures like these require HOA approval and possibly a permit. Check with the city to see what they require. Cost for natural wood arbors or ramadas range between $5,000 and $10,000 depending on the size, the number of layers, and what type of materials you will use to accessorize. Cost for the “aluma wood” structures is about 20 percent less expensive. There is definitely a trade off between the overall look and beauty of natural wood versus the low maintenance of artificial looking wood so…pick your poison here. Being a third generation contractor and an experienced finished carpenter….well, I don’t think I have to tell you which is my personal preference. Pick the right materials, have a good design, get the proper approvals and finally choose a licensed contractor, and you can begin to enjoy this summer with a little added comfort as well as building some nice equity. If you have any questions about this or other landscape products, contact me through OutsideLivingConcepts.com

    So long for now and STAY COOL!

  • Going Green…In More Ways Than One

    Have you been driving around your neighborhood recently and suddenly noticed?… Wow…that home has a lush green lawn. It looks perfect and makes the home stand out nicely too. Well, if you take a closer look, there’s a very good chance it’s artificial. YES! The technology is available now for what the industry calls “synthetic turf”.

    When HOA’s in Ahwatukee created their CC&R’s, as long as 20 years ago in many communities, there were strict guidelines against any form of artificial turf in the front yard…and for good reason…artificial turf was more like indoor/outdoor carpet; However, not any more…today professional installers offer a wide variety of products that look so real, it fools even the most seasoned professional upon first glance. As a professional landscape designer & contractor, I see and install a lot of this turf and I am a firm believer in the value, beauty, and overall quality…for several reasons.

    First, the obvious…no water& no real maintenance. Debris can be blown off artificial turf with a conventional blower, it hoses off easily and is very pet tolerant when you buy the right turf. Most important of all, it looks green all year long, year after year. On top of that, most companies are offering a minimum 7 year warranty on their product and some even longer.

    Second, I don’t know about you, but I get frustrated when I drive by what appears to be a nice home and the lawn is not being taken care of at all. It dramatically affects the curb appeal. Unfortunately, most HOA’s have no overseed mandate, so many homes throughout Ahwatukee have dead or dormant grass in the winter months, and many homes look way below par even in summer months. If you are reading this article and fall into this category, I apologize if I’ve offended you, but you are not helping the property value of your home, nor your neighbors. Take out the grass and go with a natural xeriscape plan (low maintenance/low water/native material), or synthetic turf. Either choice would be a drastic improvement. I suppose some people have a reason for neglecting their lawns by having to tighten their financial belt with these tougher economic times. This is a place to cut costs by reducing your water bill, but again, another good reason to go synthetic, you will cut your maintenance by 95 percent, and your water bill substantially.

    Third….I’m throwing down the gauntlet here. The frustrating part is that some, (not all) HOA’s still are behind the curve when it comes to modifying their synthetic turf guidelines and allowing more homeowners to “go green” without being hassled. I recently became aware of a few communities in Ahwatukee that are looking into using synthetic turf in some of the common areas. Congratulations for thinking outside of the box! The demand for these products is surging and I advise those ARC’s reviewing plans to have more of an open mind and modify your guidelines ASAP. Wouldn’t you rather have a neighbor whose lawn looks great like these photographs, or have to live with a neighbor who could care less about what his front lawn looks like?….No brainer here!

    Homeowners should be applauded for wanting to give his/her property a “beauty makeover” and at the same time add to the overall value of their neighborhood, not to mention the savings of thousands of gallons of water a year. Many of us take water for granted here in Arizona at a time when we need to conserve, since annual rainfall levels have been below normal for nearly a decade. Don’t fight it, embrace it, and realize the technology is here for all lawns to look good 24/7.

    If you are thinking about synthetic turf for the back yard, well, that is a different story. No HOA approval is usually needed, but I caution you to always contact your HOA on every exterior improvement whether it be front or back before you do anything. Lastly, make sure your turf is made right here in the USA. There is a tremendous amount of turf being shipped in from China that does not meet quality standards, has a higher lead content and breaks down much faster, so ask your installer that all important question.

    So GO GREEN in more ways than one and think about the long term, cost effective measure of synthetic turf. Your wallet, your aching back, your kids, and your neighbors will all say thank you! Visit my website and contact me for more information at www.outsidelivingconcepts.com.

  • Outdoor Living At Its Finest…A Closer Look At Landscape, Hardscape, and Finding The Right Contractor

    Now that Arizona has nearly perfect weather and we are the envy of the country, it’s time to enjoy the outdoors. If you are considering a landscape remodel , let me remind you this is the perfect time to invest in the outside of your home.

    What’s so popular in outdoor living these days? Hardscape of course! It is a proven fact that $25,000 of great hardscape is a better return on your investment than a $25,000 pool. To build these recreational items like BBQ’s, Fireplaces, & Water Features, there are a wide variety of materials being used today. Flagstone, travertine, canterra, pavers, concrete products, saltillo tile, and a variety of faux stone are just some of the more popular materials.

    The great thing about building from scratch, on site is that no two BBQ’s, fireplaces, and especially water features are exactly the same. For example…let’s use the traditional beehive fireplace as an example. You could interview ten landscape companies to build your fireplace and ask them to show you pictures, and not one would look exactly like the other…why? The artisan who physically constructs the fireplaces has his own style which makes him unique to others. Of course there are quality differences, so make sure the company you hire has a proven track record of quality. Go see their work and do your due diligence before signing a contract with just anyone. Remember…you get what you pay for in hardscape, so make sure you have covered your bases by checking the Registrar of Contractors and the Better Business Bureau and references to name a few.

    With regards to landscape, otherwise known as “softscape” here is the other side of the coin. We have all heard how important curb appeal is to your home value, especially if you are planning on selling. What separates the men from the boys is simple…how does your home standout against others in the neighborhood? Would someone driving by take a second look because something you did caught their eye, or would they not even bother turning their head? A good landscape designer is an expert at plants, trees, and lighting. They not only know where that plant or tree should be placed, but why it should be placed there. They know how much sun or shade that plant needs, its watering requirements, growth and litter rate as well as frost tolerance to name a few. This is why it is recommended to work with a seasoned professional, because there is allot more than just digging a hole and dropping it in the ground. All these elements and more have to be considered in a quality landscape plan.

    I can almost always tell when visiting a new client whether or not their current landscape was done by a do it yourselfer or professional; however, there is also one other category of installer that needs to be brought to your attention. This would be the novice designer you called without knowing his or her true credentials. There are many landscape companies who hire people that were driving a UPS truck last week and have a business card with landscape designer on it the next, so ask allot of questions before moving forward.

    So before you sign on the dotted line with anyone, make sure the professional you hire is exactly that…a professional who knows his business, builds hardscapes and landscape with quality and value, and most of all listens to your needs while paying attention to your budget. Good Luck…and remember…it’s a buyers’ market, so don’t hesitate to start your project now. There are great deals to be had!