How to Prep Your Home for Vacation

As the holidays are upon us, you may be heading out of town and are likely packing and preparing. But have you given thought to the home you’re leaving behind? Following these tips can keep your home safe and happy while you are having fun!

Unplug appliances – Appliances continue to use energy even when the device is turned off. It is best to unplug all devices including phone chargers, computers, televisions and coffee pots. This will not only save energy, but it will prevent damage from lightning strikes and power surges.

Adjust air conditioning – The air conditioning system uses a significant amount of energy. Turn the temperature up 10 degrees higher than it is usually set, or have a professional install a programmable thermostat that can be adjusted to turn on and cool the home just before returning from vacation.

Clean garbage disposal – The waste disposal is notorious for developing unpleasant odors while the house is empty. It is wise to flush the garbage disposal out with ½ cup of white vinegar and hot water while the disposal is turned on.

Clean out the refrigerator – While you’re at it, take a peek inside your refrigerator. Freeze, eat or toss anything that will spoil while you’re gone. This is pretty self-explanatory. No one wants to come home to a fridge filled with science experiments!

Change the setting on the water heater – There is no need to heat water for an empty home. Adjust the water heater to vacation mode. If the water heater does not have a vacation mode, turn the temperature down. This will save a significant amount of money on the energy bill.

Put lights on a timer – According to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.), there are more than 2.15 million burglaries each year, with the majority occurring in the peak vacation months. If a home is dark, it is a sure sign that someone is not home. Put a couple of lamps on a timer inside the home. Set these to go on and off at different intervals. This will give the illusion that someone is home and make the home less vulnerable to burglaries.

Double check the laundry – While running around packing and cleaning the house, it’s easy to forget that last load of laundry you should put in the dryer. Remember  to turn off your water to the washer.

Stagnant water in toilet – Water left inactive in the toilet can produce a foul odor and a ring that forms around the toilet bowl. To prevent this, place ½ cup of bleach in the toilet bowl just before leaving home.

Enjoy your vacation but remember to handle the mail while away!

8 Ways to Protect Your Landscape from Wintry Weather

Be it freezing temperatures, snow or ice, wintry weather can damage, and even destroy, the landscaping on your property—no matter how resilient your plants seem.

When inclement weather is in the forecast, most people focus on stocking up on food, rock salt and other necessities, and don’t necessarily think about protecting their property and landscape investments. Plants and trees can be especially vulnerable during periods of extreme weather. A few simple steps can make a big difference when it comes to ensuring that your landscaping survives the winter and will thrive again in the spring.

Wrapping plants and smaller trees – Sub-freezing temperatures can damage many plant varieties, including roses, butterfly bushes, hydrangeas and crape myrtles. To provide plants with extra protection from the wind and cold, wrap them in burlap or a frost protection fabric and plant them along a building or fence that offers wind protection.

Inspecting newly planted trees and filling in any cracks – If you spot a crack, fill it with soil to prevent cold air from penetrating the root zone. Plant roots are slower to become dormant in the winter than stems, branches and buds, making them more vulnerable to sub-freezing temperatures.

Applying mulch around trees and shrubs – A two- to three-inch layer of mulch will help to insulate roots when the temperature drops. Contrary to popular belief, snow cover will also act as an insulator and keep soil temperatures higher, so there is no need to remove accumulated snow from around plants.

Watering heavily before the ground freezes – If the fall season was particularly dry, watering heavily can help reduce frost penetration. Because moist soil holds more heat than dry soil, watering ahead of cold weather will help to prevent frost from penetrating as deeply.

Pruning tree branches – Trimming back branches will help protect against heavy snow and ice damage. Work with a professional to identify any dead or dangerous tree limbs that should be trimmed to protect your home and property.

Preparing for windy conditions – Wind can be one of the most damaging effects of a winter storm. Secure any potted plants, outdoor furniture, awnings and other items on your property that could get damaged in high winds.

Protecting plants from salt – Rock salt used to deice sidewalks and roads can cause damage to plants. Avoid planting trees and shrubs in areas where salty runoff collects or where salt spray from passing cars could splash onto plants. Consider using burlap barriers to protect plants in vulnerable areas.

Planning your landscape with climate in mind – The best way to prevent damage to your landscape is to select plants and trees that are indigenous to your region, and therefore naturally equipped to survive in the climate. A landscape professional can help you to design a landscape for your home that will suit your lifestyle and withstand your region’s elements.

Dog vs. Yard: How to Keep Your Landscape and Your Pet Happy

Any dog owner has likely watched their beautiful new garden dug up by their four-legged family member, or their beloved new grass become Spot’s outdoor toilet.  With this in mind, here are five tips for ensuring the family yard is a place everyone can enjoy year-round.

Consider your dog’s needs
Each dog – senior, puppy, small, big, active breed or not-so-much – has different needs. Is your dog a water hound? Maybe you should include a splash pool or water fountain. Got a digger? A sand pit might work well to keep your dog entertained – and the mess contained. Does your dog love to run the perimeter of your yard? Design your yard with his path in mind. Does she have dog friends next door? Maybe an eye-level hole in the fence would keep her from barking. Jot down everything your dog needs from your family yard, then you map out your landscaping accordingly.

Keep your pet safe and sound
One of the most important pet features in your family yard is a secure fence – whether it’s made of wood, metal, vinyl or concrete. Inspect and fix your fence – or install one – so you can rest easy knowing your dog is safely within the boundary of your yard.

Consider artificial grass
Turfgrass is safe – unlike concrete, asphalt or hard ground – and offers your pet a soft, cool spot to lie down, even during the hottest conditions. It also creates a comfortable backyard playground, and provides a place to take care of business – just be sure to clean up regularly! There are many types of turfgrass that can handle “ruff-housing” from dogs and kids alike. Check your climate zone to make sure you’re selecting an appropriate grass species for where you live. (Another bonus benefit is turfgrass is very good at capturing and filtering rainwater.)

Select the right plants
You’ll want to have a balance of grass, flower plants, trees and shrubs in your family yard. Including this mix of species will not only be beautiful, it will also help support biodiversity. Remember, nature starts in your own backyard! Keeping your climate zone in mind, select appropriate landscaping for the areas you’ve identified in your yard. Around walking paths, for instance, you’ll want to include sturdy, yet soft foliage that can stand up to puppy and people traffic without scratching. Use elevated boxes and patio planters for more delicate flowering plants.

Avoid toxic plants  
One last word of important advice – there are some plants and shrubs that are poisonous to dogs. You’ll want to avoid these in your outdoor living room entirely. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has a list of toxic plants that you should refer to when shopping for your family yard.

15 Tips for Staying Safe When Returning Home After A Disaster

If you live in an area impacted by a natural disaster, you may be displaced from your home. Here are a few important Red Cross safety steps to follow when returning home afterwards:

– Keep children and pets away from hazardous sites and floodwater. If you have children, leave them with a relative or friend while you conduct your first inspection of your home after the disaster. The site may be unsafe for children, and seeing the damage firsthand may upset them even more and cause long-term effects, including nightmares.

– If power lines are down outside your home, do not step in puddles or standing water. Report them immediately to the power company.

– Check the outside of your home before you enter. Look for loose power lines, broken or damaged gas lines, foundation cracks, missing support beams or other damage.

– Damage on the outside can indicate a serious problem inside. Ask a building inspector or contractor to check the structure before you enter.

– Do not cut or walk past colored tape that was placed over doors or windows to mark damaged areas unless you have been told that it is safe to do so. If a building inspector has placed a color-coded sign on the home, do not enter it until you get more information, advice and instructions from your local authorities.

– Take pictures of home damage, both of the buildings and its contents, for insurance purposes. Make temporary repairs such as covering holes, bracing walls, and removing debris. Save all receipts.

– If power is out, use a flashlight. Do not use any open flame, including candles, to inspect for damage or serve as alternate lighting.

– Sniff for gas. If you detect natural or propane gas, or hear a hissing noise, leave the property immediately and get far away from it. Call the fire department after you reach safety.

– If you have a propane tank system, turn off all valves and contact a propane supplier to check the system out before you use it again.

– Wear protective clothing, including rubber gloves and rubber boots, and be cautious when cleaning up.

– Throw out items that absorb water and cannot be cleaned or disinfected. This includes mattresses, carpeting, cosmetics, stuffed animals and baby toys.

– Throw out all food, beverages and medicine exposed to flood waters and mud. When in doubt, throw it out. This includes canned goods, plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples and containers with food or liquid that has been sealed shut.

– If any gas or electrical appliances were flooded, don’t use them until they have been checked for safety.

– Pump out flooded basements gradually (about one-third of the water per day) to avoid structural damage. If the water is pumped out completely in a short period of time, pressure from water-saturated soil on the outside could cause basement walls to collapse.

– Is your ceiling sagging? That means it got wet – which makes it heavy and dangerous. It will have to be replaced, so you can try to knock it down. Be careful: wear eye protection and a hard hat, use a long stick, and stand away from the damaged area. Poke holes in the ceiling starting from the outside of the bulge to let any water drain out slowly. Striking the center of the damaged area may cause the whole ceiling to collapse.

– Is the floor sagging? It could collapse under your weight, so don’t walk there! Small sections that are sagging can be bridged by thick plywood panels or thick, strong boards that extend at least 8–12 inches on each side of the sagging area.

Source: redcross.org.

Know Your Easement Rights

Is your property subject to have any easements? Chances are it is. An easement is the right of another person or entity, such as a public utility or government agency, to use part of your property for a limited purpose that is usually beneficial to you; for example, utility easements over or under your property to serve the property and neighboring properties.

“Appurtenant Easements” Benefit a Neighbor’s Property

If your property has an “Appurtenant Easement” over an adjacent parcel, then that parcel is said to be burdened by your easement.  Such easements are created for specific purposes, the most common of which is ingress and egress.  In order for your title company to insure such easements, they must be recorded in the office of the County Recorder where the property is located.

“Easements in Gross” Are Usually for Utilities

If your property has overhead or underground utility lines that also serve your neighbors, you’re probably subject to an “easement in gross.” Your property (known as the “servient tenement”) is burdened by the public utility easement.

Many properties have electric, phone, water, sewer, and cable TV easements along the back or side of the parcels. Most public utility easements are created at the time the parcels are subdivided and are recorded against the title to each benefited property.

If the easement in gross was properly recorded, the property owner has no recourse and must tolerate it. However, if the homeowner’s title insurance policy did not disclose an underground easement in gross, then the title insurer could be liable for either (a) the diminished value of the property (if any) with the undisclosed easement, or (b) the cost of relocating the easement.

“Prescriptive Easements” Can Be Troublesome

A “prescriptive easement” can arise when someone, usually a neighbor, uses part of the property without the owner’s approval or consent.

Generally speaking, for a Prescriptive Easement right to arise:
The use of another’s land must be open and “notorious” (obvious);
The use must continue uninterrupted for a period of at least five years (occasional use could establish the prescriptive use right for the same frequency, e.g., on weekends);
The use must be “hostile” (i.e., not consented to), and characterized by an adverse claim of right.Prescriptive easements, after the required number of years of open, notorious, hostile and continuous use, can be perfected in a quiet-title lawsuit against the property owner.

The best way to prevent prescriptive easements from arising is to periodically inspect property boundaries to be certain a neighbor is not using part of the property without permission. If the non-permissive use is temporarily or permanently terminated, the use is no longer continuous. Or, if permission is granted, that will usually defeat a claim to the prescriptive easement because the hostility element is then lacking.

Understanding the Annual Monarch Butterfly Journey

Every year, monarch butterflies embark on a 3,000-mile migration across North America. This feat of endurance lasts eight months, spans three countries and captivates people worldwide.

These graceful pollinators rely on milkweed for feeding and reproduction, but over the last decade, a reduction of milkweed habitats has occurred along the butterflies’ flight path. The decline of any species can be a threat to natural diversity.

When the weather starts to warm each year, monarchs make their way north from Mexico to begin breeding. Upon arriving in Texas, the butterflies begin to lay eggs on milkweed. Milkweed is the sole food source for monarch larvae, more commonly known as caterpillars. As milkweed plantings have diminished, so has the monarch population.

Environmentalists and butterfly lovers have taken notice of the monarchs’ dwindling numbers. BASF, a company that serves farmers and agricultural customers, launched Living Acres in 2015. Living Acres is a research initiative designed to help farmers establish milkweed beds in non-cropland areas.

“The goal is to raise awareness about the important role milkweed plays in the monarch life cycle,” said Laura Vance, biology team lead, BASF. “We also want to make milkweed planting easier by researching the most efficient ways to raise it and then offer that knowledge to growers nationwide.”

Farmers and landowners can play an important role in helping increase monarch populations simply by starting a milkweed garden. With employee-tended monarch gardens, BASF is also sustaining butterflies at its manufacturing sites. The gardens are tended to ensure the milkweed is healthy and ready for the arrival of monarchs.

As summer approaches, caterpillars begin their metamorphoses, hatching and transforming into vivid orange and black butterflies. “If you have milkweed planted somewhere in your yard, be sure to keep an eye out for those mesmerizing monarchs,” Vance said. “You just never know when one might flutter by.”

Once mature, the monarchs continue their journey northward, passing over cool valleys and prairie-land. Monarchs look for resting places in open plains, often settling in beds of milkweed. Prime milkweed habitats include areas alongside cornfields, gardens, playgrounds and rural roadsides.

Some of the most popular flight paths include the Corn Belt and Interstate 35, a corridor that runs from Texas to Minnesota. Legislators implemented a federal plan to create habitable space along highways for monarchs by planting milkweed in ditches. This initiative offers food and shelter for weary butterflies and provides nursery sites for monarch eggs.

Monarch butterflies cover every inch of a tree in Sierra Chincua.

Monarchs then begin winging their way south to the Oyamel fir forests of Mexico. They spend their winters there, crowded together on the tree branches for warmth, which can appear to transform the trees into blazing orange clouds. When warm weather returns the following year, monarchs resume their migration northward and continue the cycle of breeding the next monarch generation.

Establishing your own milkweed habitat is a great way to get involved and make an impact on the continued reign of the monarch butterfly.

For planting tips, visit Living Acres at Facebook.com/BASFLivingAcres.

Signaling Batman! The Best Cities for SuperVillains

Shero1Have you ever wondered what it would be like if a supervillain set up shop in your city? Would a superhero be happy to patrol your city’s skyline? And just how on earth would your neighborhood bounce back after an epic clash of superhuman strength and dastardly deeds?

Wonder no more. Using neighborhood amenities data from Yelp, Trulia considered important factors like the number of tall buildings (to leap in a single bound, of course) to the wealth of banks and jewelry stores for a supervillain to plunder to find out which cities in the U.S. would be attractive to good and evil.

Do you live in a city that’s alluring to supervillains or do you live in a superhero city? Find out below!

These Cities Are a Supervillain’s Perfect Playground

1. Washington, D.C.
2. Honolulu, Hawaii
3. San Francisco, Calif.
4. Richmond, Va.
5. Virginia Beach-Norfolk, Va.

With lots of trees for blocking the view of pesky flying superheroes, scores of banks and jewelry stores to pilfer from, and plenty of innocent civilians to toy with, it’s no mystery why any self-respecting super villain would choose to settle in one of these cities. However, you might be surprised that Washington, DC, tops the list of supervillain-friendly cities and is also in the top five cities for superheroes. It’s the ultimate showdown for the forces of good and evil … and no, we’re not talking about politics.

shero3But if you’re a supervillain on a budget, you might want to look at settling down in Richmond, Va. The city ranks fourth on our list but has a far more affordable median sales price than Washington, D.C. Homes in the nation’s capital fetch a median sales price of $533,000, while homes for sale in Richmond cap out at a median sales price of just $179,000. With prices like that, a super villain could afford to buy a top-secret compound for their entire crew.

Who Is Best Prepared to Bounce Back from a Supervillain Attack?

1. Richmond, Va.
2. Denver, Colo.
3. Nashville, Tenn.
4. Austin, Texas
5. San Francisco, Calif.
6. Allentown, Pa.
7. Ventura County, Calif.
8. Colorado Springs, Colo.
9. Charlotte, N.C.
10. Washington, D.C.

shero2You know how we said Richmond would be a good place for a supervillain to buy big? Well, they might rethink settling down in Virginia after reading this. Richmond might be fourth on our list of best places for supervillains, but it’s number one on our list of cities most likely to recover from an attack.

For the most even matchup, better head to Honolulu, Hawaii. The island city is number two for its attractiveness to both superheroes and supervillains. But before you buy a home for sale in Honolulu, know this: The big island metropolis didn’t even rank on our list of cities best prepared to bounce back after a supervillain attack.