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Sometimes a valuable tree uproots without warning; but most often, your tree sends distress signals before it topples.
A tree will usually display warning signs before it topples over. Image: Pat Dye
A mature tree can account for as much as 10% of your assessed property value, depending on your market. With that much at stake, you sure don’t want to have to yell, “Timber!”
Here’s how to tell if one of your trees is in danger of falling over, and what you can do about it.
How to Inspect Your Trees
No one knows your trees as well as you. So after they leaf out in the spring, leaf off in the fall, and after a big storm, walk around and look at your lovelies, top to bottom, noticing changes in foliage, branches, roots, and bark.
Inspect all sides of the tree, both up close and from a distance.
Check for cuts in or peeling bark.
Use binoculars to inspect the tree’s crown for dead wood and brown leaves.
Trees usually don’t grow straight, and a little lean is normal. But when your tree starts looking like the Tower of Pisa because of poor weight distribution or anchor root damage, it’s likely unstable. This is a good time to call an arborist.
Cracked or heaving soil, especially on the side opposite the lean.
Exposed roots around the base of the tree.
Prune branches to distribute weight better.
Brace the tree trunk with cables attached to stakes on opposite sides of the tree. Make sure to pad the tree before placing cables around tender bark.
A tree with multiple trunks, or with splits in one trunk, can be unstable.
V-shaped or U-shaped multiple trunks are weak points for mature trees. The connective wood where the trunks come together may lose strength — and be more likely to split — with age and when storms occur.
Cracks that extend deeply into or through the trunk.
An arborist can stabilize split trunks by attaching cables between trunks and branches high in the tree. Cables won’t repair existing damage, but they will increase the safety, especially in strong winds, and extend the life of your tree.
This is dangerous work best left to experts, who will charge between $600 and $2,000; annual cable maintenance costs $100-$200.
Construction is tough on trees. Installing a driveway, putting on an addition, and digging up utility lines puts nearby trees under stress. Construction can damage shallow feeder roots, starving and destabilizing the tree. Construction equipment can scrape tree bark, providing a gateway set for disease and infestation.
Danger signs of construction stress (which can show up immediately or years later):
Reduced, smaller, or no foliage
Premature autumn color
Mushrooms, conks, and carpenter ants at the base of the tree are a sign of decay and rot.
Prevention is your best option. Before construction, set up a barricade around the tree; for each inch in diameter of the tree’s trunk, add a foot of protection. For example, an 8-inch-diameter tree needs a barricade with an 8-foot radius.
If you think your trees are changing, or you see any of the major warning signs above, they could be “hazard trees” — trees likely to fall and destroy what’s near them — like your house.
This is a good time to call a certified arborist. Get recommendations from friends or neighborhood list serves. Or, contact the International Society of Arboriculture, which maintains a list of certified arborists.
An arborist can help save your tree, or let you know if it’s beyond help. For example, bacteria or bugs could be harming your tree, and an arborist’s inspection ($150-$350) can diagnose which disease, trauma, or fungus is the culprit. An arborist also can determine if your tree is decaying internally, something that may not yet be obvious.
Aborists can either fix the problem, or calculate the risk of the tree falling and the likely objects it could damage. That calculation will help you decide if it’s worth spending money to keep the tree alive and upright, remove the tree, or just let nature take its course and topple the tree at will.
What About Lightning Risks?
If you live on the highest hill in the neighborhood, and own the tallest tree on the block, that’s pretty sweet. But it also increases your chances of a lightning strike.
If lightning strikes one side of a tree, your tree might close the wound and live its life. But if a bolt travels through the trunk, exploding wood and bark and damaging roots, it might be lights out.
To protect trees from lightning, an arborist can ground a tree with a copper cable system that extends from near the top of major trunks down to copper ground rods. These systems can cost $1,500, and may not be worth the money to protect a tree you could replace for $150.
Lisa Kaplan Gordon is an avid gardener, a member of the Fairfax County Master Gardeners Association, and a builder of luxury homes in McLean, Va. She’s been a Homes editor for Gannett News Service and has reviewed home improvement products for AOL. Follow Lisa on Google+.
Afraid your kitchen remodeling choices will look so 2013-ish in a few years? Relax, we know how to make your kitchen timelessly gorgeous and functional.
A white kitchen is the perfect backdrop for showcasing Fiesta ware on open shelves. Image: Kim Woodward/NewlyWoodwards.com
We see lots of kitchen trends at HouseLogic, so we know it’s easy to get swept along with what’s in vogue, only to get bummed out by your faddish design choices a few years later. Thank you — and damn you — Pinterest.
But chances are you’re only going to remodel your current kitchen once. After all, the annual Cost vs. Value Report from Remodeling Magazine pegs the average price of a major kitchen remodel at about $55,000. With that much on the line, you want to make all the right moves. If you do, you could recoup nearly 74% of your investment if you sell.
So we’re here to future-proof you from angst by naming the seven definitive kitchen features that will retain their beauty, marketability, and value — all while giving you lasting enjoyment.
#1: White is the Dominant Color
Bottom line: White is the most marketable color. You’ll always find it atop the National Kitchen and Bath Association’s annual survey of most popular kitchen colors. It simply doesn’t go out of style.
Throughout history, it’s been associated with happiness, purity (think Snow White), and new beginnings.
It’s a bright color that reflects light and makes even small kitchens feel larger.
It’s a neatnik’s dream — dirt has no place to hide.
Even better, it’s uber-tolerant of both your budget and taste: A standard color for any manufacturer, you’ll find white cabinets, tile, counters, faucets, sinks, and appliances at any price point.
Credit: RJK Construction, Inc.
It’s been our foot fetish for years. That’s especially true ever since hardwood flooring was mass-produced during the Industrial Revolution, making beautiful flooring readily available at a reasonable cost.
Today, more than half of home buyers who purchased a home without hardwood floors say they would have paid an extra $2,080 for them, according to the 2013 Home Features Survey from the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. And among buyers of any age, upwards of 80% say hardwood floors are “somewhat” or “very important.”
“It’s the one feature men and women agree on,” says Debe Robinson, NKBA treasurer and owner of Kitchen Expressions Inc. in Sheffield, Ala., who’s also worked in the flooring industry.
Why? The love of wood is in our genes. Our nesting instincts know that hardwood has warmth, personality, and makes our homes cozy and inviting. That’s why this clever chameleon pairs well with any kitchen style — from casual cottage and sleek contemporary to the most chi-chi Park Avenue traditional.
More reasons why wood flooring is the goof-proof option:
Perfect for open floor plans. It flows beautifully from the kitchen into adjoining rooms.
It’s tough. Hardwoods such as oak, ash, and maple will shrug off your kitchen’s high-traffic punishment for years. Solid hardwood flooring can be refinished 10 to 12 times during it’s typical 100-year lifespan.
Credit: Stacey Collins Design
Thank heaven for the Shakers. While they were busy reducing life to its essentials, they made cabinets with clean, simple lines that will forever be in style.
Shaker cabinets are an enduring legacy of American style and, like wood flooring, have the knack for looking good in any setting. Their simple frame-and-panel design helps reduce the amount of busyness in a kitchen, making it a soothing, friendly place to be.
“In a kitchen with a timeless look, you want the cabinets to be part of the backdrop,” says Alan Zielinski, a former president of the National Kitchen and Bath Association. “You don’t want to be overpowered. You’re looking for plain, simple, clean lines.”
Those plain, simple, clean lines are a perfect fit for transitional style — a beautiful combo of traditional and contemporary styles. In fact, the National Kitchen and Bath Association says that after creeping up on traditional for years, transitional is now the most popular kitchen style.
As our families grow more diverse, transitional style will only get more popular. It lets us personalize and blend cultural influences — Latin, Asian, Mideastern — into our homes; it’s the perfect balance of old and new, just like Shaker-style cabinets. Related: How to Choose Kitchen Cabinets for the Best Value
#4: Carrara Marble for Countertops
Credit: Jennifer Thompson
Carrara marble is a timeless classic that’s been used in homes for thousands of years. (Michelangelo’s “David” was carved from Carrara.) It’ll look as good in the next millennium as it does now.
Carrara’s lacy graining and subtle white colors look terrific in a white kitchen (or any kitchen, for that matter).
It has a whiteness you won’t find in other natural stones.
It’s readily available, making it less expensive than other high-end choices, such as quartz.
It’ll last for generations.
If you Google it, you’ll find a lot of debate about it (and marble in general) because it stains easily. But if you want something truly timeless, Carrara is the answer. And with today’s sealants, the problem of staining is almost moot if you reseal once or twice a year. Related: How to Get the Look of Marble Without the Cost
Still not sold? Or don’t have the budget? Laminate countertops are relatively inexpensive and can be upgraded to stone when you do have the budget.
#5: Subway Tile for the Backsplash
Credit: A Lo and Behold Life
Subway tile goes back to the early 1900s, when it was used to line New York’s first subway tunnels. Classic subway tiles are white, 3-by-6-inch rectangles — a look that became popular in American kitchens and baths, and has stuck around ever since. Now it’s an iconic part of the American design vernacular, destined never to go out of style.
In the kitchen, ceramic tile excels as a backsplash, where it guards against moisture, is a snap to clean, lasts forever, and always looks classy.
Sure, a backsplash can be an opportunity for a blast of color and pattern, but neutrals will always be current and blend with any look. Plus, a subway tile backsplash and a marble countertop make a dashing couple that will stand the test of time.
Adaptability and universal design features mean easy living at any age. A recent survey on kitchens from the American Institute of Architects points to the growing popularity of smart ergonomic design, a sign that kitchen adaptability will stay in vogue.
Smart ergonomics simply mean convenience — for young or old, party people or homebodies — a key factor when remodeling a kitchen that will function well, retain its value, and always feel right.
No matter you or your buyer’s current or future needs, everyone wins with these approaches:
Create different countertop heights. Standard height is 36 inches, but you can raise or lower sections of cabinets by altering the height of the base. Add color-match shim strips to the bases of countertops that don’t include sinks or appliances. You (or a new owner) can easily remove them or add to them to adjust the height.
Swap a standard range for a wall oven and a cooktop. Ranges have fixed heights. There’s no getting around the fact you have to bend to access the oven. But a wall oven conveniently installs about waist-high.
Add pull-out shelves to base cabinets. Lower cabinets with doors mean having to twist like a pretzel to see what’s inside. Pull-out shelves put everything at your fingertips.
Keep wide clearances. Kitchens attract people, and with open floor plans, you’re apt to have folks hunting for snacks, helping you cook, or just hanging out while you prep meals. Keep traffic flowing with a minimum of 42 inches between counters and islands.
Today’s families store about 47% of their kitchen stuff outside the kitchen — in laundry rooms, basements, even sheds — according to data released at the 2013 Kitchen and Bath Industry Show.
We blame it on the fact that kitchens have evolved from a tucked-away place at the back of the house into a multiple-chef, multi-tasking space that’s the hub of family life. Plus, our love of open kitchens and stocking up at warehouse stores means less wall space and more stuff, kitchen design expert Robinson says.
The solution: smart storage. Cabinet manufacturers have you covered with nearly unlimited storage options — shelves and compartments that unfold, turn, extend, and slide.
But it’s not just about having storage, it’s about designing it smartly. Follow these guidelines to make your storage timeless:
Create a primary storage zone. This is an area 30-60 inches high and within two feet on either side of your body. Store your most-used items here — your favorite work knives, measuring cups, salt and pepper for cooking, your trusty pots and pans. With one easy motion, you can grab what you use all the time.
Plan for the unknown. A truly timeless kitchen anticipates and adapts to future needs, such as:
A space that can easily convert to an office, wine storage, or a closet.
Lower cabinet spaces that can accommodate a wine cooler, under-counter refrigerator, a second dishwasher, or new must-have kitchen appliances on the horizon. (Remember when microwaves didn’t exist?)
An open space that fits a freestanding desk or favorite antique that can personalize the kitchen — no matter who owns the home.
We feel strongly about these kitchen features, but we love your strong opinions, too. So tell us what you think!
John Riha has written seven books on home improvement and hundreds of articles on home-related topics. He’s been a residential builder, the editorial director of the Black & Decker Home Improvement Library, and the executive editor of Better Homes and Gardens magazine.