homeowners

Thinking Ahead - Landscape Design and Climate Change

During the summer, Northampton area residents are often banned from watering their lawns between 9 am and 5 pm due to drought conditions. The recent/current rains were much needed. I'm happy not to be spending countless hours watering my lawn in the sweltering heat. But it is also noticeably still humid and hot, despite the rains we have been experiencing. One can't help but think of climate change with the strange weather patterns happening around us.

It pays to think ahead when it comes to climate change and your landscaping choices. This recent article in the Daily Hampshire Gazette discusses some choices an Amherst landscape design firm has made when designing an eco-friendly garden for the Amherst Historical Society. The points made in the following article could easily be applied to homeowners as well.

Amherst designer suggests cooling gardens to prepare for climate changes

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  • By ANDY CASTILLO
@AndyCCastillo
Thursday, July 19, 2018

It’s sweltering under the bright sun beating down on the lawn of the Amherst Historical Society’s Strong House on Amity Street, but take a walk down a narrow stone path into a shaded garden area in the back and the temperature noticeably drops by a few degrees.

Over the next 30 years, New England’s climate will become hotter, making the shaded areas in the Strong House’s 1800s garden an important design element, says Andrew Kilduff, ecological designer and co-founder of TK.designlab in Amherst. His firm was hired by the Historical Society to create a conceptual eco-friendly design for the garden that takes into account projected changes to New England’s climate.

"In many respects, shrubs that grow between five, 10, and 15-feet-tall create a different environment," he said, while looking over the shady area from the front lawn one recent afternoon.

The garden features plants like globe thistles, trilliums, peach-leaved bellflowers, dictamnus plants and garden phlox, according to Denise Gagnon, a member of the Amherst Garden Club, which takes care of the public garden. Another member, Meredith Michaels said the flowers were selected based on what would have grown natively in the region when the garden was created 150 years ago.

Keeping in mind what would have been available in the 18th century, and in addition to perennials already there, she said, “We add a few annuals in spaces that have become denuded of whatever was supposed to be there.”

The area is a cut-through for commuters passing from Amity Street into the center of town, and connects to the garden at the nearby Jones Library. And, so, because the garden is such a visible spot, Kilduff and his firm say many different plant species should be included with adequate irrigation to showcase practical ways home gardeners, too, can prepare for climate change.

"As landscape designers, we thought what might be an interesting way to re-conceptualize the garden, and to play around with some ideas as to best honor the history here, and create a space that's reflective of the changing conditions, not only in the town, but in the region and the world as a whole," Kilduff said.

Hot, dry, stormy

Kilduff, who has a master’s degree in ecological design and planning from the Conway School of Landscape Design, notes the difference in temperature between the sunny spots and the garden’s shady areas is as much as 10 to 15 degrees, which will be particularly significant when the climate heats up.

He points out a stone patio connected to the house where rain barrels and catch basins can be placed. The collected rainwater could be redirected to irrigate the flower beds to reduce the amount of water and physical labor needed during prolonged dry spells, he says.

When the climate is warmer, the growing season will be longer, Kilduff says, and there will be more intense storms. Because of those changes, plant species that thrive in the area now might not be able to survive anymore, and others will become more suited to the climate.

As an example of one species that’s being affected as temperatures warm, Kilduff noted research by Smith College Biologist Jesse Bellemare that shows a steady migration of umbrella magnolia trees into New England.

And, he said, "The vegetables here will be more proliferous. You'll be able to start seeds earlier. Farmers will be able to, hypothetically, instead of reaping one or two mows a year for hay, do three, four, or perhaps even more."

While the design is intended to show what a garden in the year 2050 might look like, he noted that some elements his firm proposed already appear in contemporary gardens, such as the rain barrels and long depressions, called swales. In the Strong House Garden design, he says, a swale could be dug at the back of the property to drain rainwater from the flower beds in the event of a heavy storm.

Existing plants, such as the thistle globes and trilliums, would be bolstered by the other species that could survive in hotter conditions, with ferns like Ostrich or Cinnamon ferns planted near the house, flora that thrives in wet conditions such as Red Columbine, Blue Flag Iris and switchgrass in the swale, and hardy flowers that can withstand intense heat like umbrella magnolia in areas exposed to the sun. Kilduff said that because the designs are so preliminary, his firm hasn’t yet fully researched the exact kinds of flora that would be best adapted to future climate changes.

Another proposal included in the design is space for community gardens, and a suggestion to shade areas of the garden currently exposed to direct sunlight.

Think ahead

"Plant a tree, because it pulls up water out of the ground, it shades, and reduces the heat stress of you and your pets and the plants around you," Kilduff said, noting that, if a tree is planted now, it will become mature by the time changes have taken place.

In planning for the future, he recommends that gardeners study their plots and think about ways to efficiently maintain them in a hotter environment.

"If you're watering often, it's possible that you could have a small rain barrel, and that alone may offset those one or two trips," he said. Connecting a hose to the barrel to create a drip irrigation system would make the watering job easier.

In addition to shade trees and shrubs, add a few ground-covers in the garden, Kilduff says. “They're attractive, and have a functional purpose. They reduce the soil loss, allow other plants to be able to suck up water more easily, and you'll find yourself weeding less."

Change is coming, he said, and gardens will either suffer or thrive depending on how area gardeners prepare and adapt.

“Land is something that we interact with virtually at every waking movement of our lives,” he said. “Even when we're in our homes and offices, we're subject to the conditions present outside the envelope of the building. "

A summer heat wave in 2050 could last for weeks, he says, and shade trees outside of a house, go a long way in providing some comfort for those inside.

"If you find yourself boiling the moment you walk in the door, perhaps add shade trees or some shrubs along the side of the house," he said. The time to plan for coming changes is now, he says. “It's worth further investigation.”

Andy Castillo can be reached at acastillo@gazettenet.com.

 

 

 

Repost: What to Do in the Garden in July

Summer is in full swing! The lush beauty and color of peonies, and the intoxicating smell of lilacs are starting to feel like a distant memory. Asparagus season in ("Hadley Grass") is behind us, and we are deep into summer squash, onions, lettuce, garlic scapes, watermelon and berries! When I look around my garden, I notice the second round of colorful summer flowers making their presence known: coneflower, coreopsis, daisies, hydrangea, black eyed susan, day lillies, etc. Since our summer is so short compared to the colder months, here in the Northampton area, I thought this piece from Gardenista.com about gardening in July might come in handy.

What to Do in the Garden in July

by Michelle Slatalla

In the garden, July is a month with a split personality: We look back wistfully (at the successes of spring) and forward with trepidation (can this garden be saved, to withstand the August heat that’s ahead).

Here are a few quick garden fixes that will pay off next month (and in September).

Clean Up the Strawberry Patch

Choose the best weapon to renovate the strawberry patch: See Garden Tools: Which Trowel or Weeder is Best for You? Photograph by Mimi Giboin.
Above: Choose the best weapon to renovate the strawberry patch: See Garden Tools: Which Trowel or Weeder is Best for You? Photograph by Mimi Giboin.

After you’ve picked the last strawberry from your plants, it’s time to cut back brown or drooping leaves. Weed between plants and mulch with an inch or two of compost. Now it the time to thin or transplant strawberries; carefully dig up runners as well as roots to move a clump to a new spot.

For more growing tips, see Strawberries: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design.

Deadhead

Interplanted with fuzzy-headed grass�Pennisetum villosum,�pink cosmos Dazzler will keep blooming all summer if you cut back spent flowers. See more at In the Garden with Philippa: Brit Style with a Black Backdrop. Photograph by Jim Powell.
Above: Interplanted with fuzzy-headed grass Pennisetum villosum, pink cosmos ‘Dazzler’ will keep blooming all summer if you cut back spent flowers. See more at In the Garden with Philippa: Brit Style with a Black Backdrop. Photograph by Jim Powell.

Hone your deadheading technique: See Landscaping 101: How to Deadhead Flowers.

TLC for Tomatoes

Its not too late to corral tomatoes into cages, for their own good. Which is the best support for your tomato varieties? See 10 Easy Pieces: Tomato Cages.
Above: It’s not too late to corral tomatoes into cages, for their own good. Which is the best support for your tomato varieties? See 10 Easy Pieces: Tomato Cages.

I never met a tomato plant that didn’t perform better with a little coddling. Pinch back suckers to help them focus their fruiting efforts. Make sure tomatoes get enough water (from a drip irrigation system or a hose, every day).  See more tips at Tomatoes: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design.

Cut Back Spent Flowers

See more tips at Foxgloves: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design. Photograph by Britt Willoughby Dyer.
Above: See more tips at Foxgloves: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design. Photograph by Britt Willoughby Dyer.

Many flowering spikes—from penstemons to foxgloves to gladiolas—have finished flowering by now. Or have they? When you cut back spent blossoms, check to see if any lateral spikes are growing from the spikes. If so, leave them in place to encourage more blooms.

Add Annuals

See more at Cleome: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design. Photograph by Marie Viljoen.
Above: See more at Cleome: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design. Photograph by Marie Viljoen.

Many of our favorite flowers are annuals that cheerfully take on the job of adding color to the garden just as summer perennials start to flag in August’s heat. With bright blooms and attention-grabbing flowers, these fast growers can make you love your garden in late summer. (And many annuals will live on by resowing themselves, with seeds carried on a breeze to pop up in a new spot next year.

For more ideas, see Everything You Need to Know About Cottage Gardens and browse our curated design guides Annuals 101 for tips to grow SunflowersNasturtiums, and Zinnias.

Help Your Hydrangeas

See more of this garden in�Rhode Island Roses: A Seaside Summer Garden in New England.�Photograph by Nathan Fried Lipski of�Nate Photography.
Above: See more of this garden in Rhode Island Roses: A Seaside Summer Garden in New England. Photograph by Nathan Fried Lipski of Nate Photography.

Do you wish your pink hydrangeas were blue, or vice versa? You can take control of their color destiny by amending the soil. For tips see Hydrangeas: How to Change Color from Pink to Blue.

Keep Weeding

Photograph by Sara Barrett.
Above: Photograph by Sara Barrett.

Don’t let the weeds win. If you need a new weapon to inspire you during the doldrums of summer, see a few of our favorites in 10 Easy Pieces: Weeding Forks.

Prune Fruit Trees

A water sprout is a shoot (or cluster of shoots) that appear, unbidden, on a tree trunk as shown on this cherry tree in Jindai Botanical Gardens in Tokyo. Photograph by Takashi .M via Flickr.
Above: A water sprout is a shoot (or cluster of shoots) that appear, unbidden, on a tree trunk as shown on this cherry tree in Jindai Botanical Gardens in Tokyo. Photograph by Takashi .M via Flickr.

Prune spring-flowering fruit trees in summer when spores of silver leaf disease are dormant.

For more tips, see Everything You Need to Know About Flowering Trees.

Fill Bird Baths

Photograph by Marie Viljoen.
Above: Photograph by Marie Viljoen.

Water evaporates faster in hotter temperatures. Replenish bird baths as needed. For more ideas about designing water features, see Everything You Need to Know About Fountains.

Cut Back Wisteria

Photograph by Mimi Giboin.
Above: Photograph by Mimi Giboin.

Wisteria, if unchecked, will behave like a thug, says our friend Tim Callis, a garden designer on Cape Cod. He recommends shearing several times a year. In summer, cut back long shoots and stems to no more than six leaves.

Water if Needed

Photograph by Matthew Williams for Gardenista.
Above: Photograph by Matthew Williams for Gardenista.

Gardens like an inch of rain a week. Is yours getting enough? Use a Rainwater Calculator to figure it out, and if your plants need more irrigate accordingly.

Automate your irrigation system with Hardware 101: Smart Irrigation Controllers. And if you need to upgrade or repair your irrigation, see Drip Irrigation: Emergency Repair Kit Essentials.

Don’t Mow Low

An English boxwood hedge edges a mown path in which daisies thrive. Photograph by Britt Willoughby Dyer.
Above: An English boxwood hedge edges a mown path in which daisies thrive. Photograph by Britt Willoughby Dyer.

In hot, dry months keep your lawn looking green by allowing blades of grass to grow longer; a crew cut will create brown spots. Use the right tool for the job; see 10 Easy Pieces: Reel Lawn Mowers and 10 Easy Pieces: Riding Lawn Mowers.

Ideas and Solutions for a Small Living Space

I was recently visiting with a friend who lives in a fairly typical for Northampton MA, late 1800's farmhouse. She is a master collector of curiosities, used-yet-hip furniture, artwork, tchotchkes, etc. She manages to pack a lot of stuff into her small home - and make it look artful, cozy and inviting. In addition, everything is functional! An antique sink (not attached to a drain) decorates the mud/laundry room, and also serves as place to stack clean laundry for her children to collect and put away. Each room has a it's own color palette, giving it a separate feel to the adjoining room. Handmade plywood painted bookcases are arranged according to color family, creating an attractive backdrop to a beloved collection of Snoopy paraphernalia, etc. I immediately thought of her while reading the following article from Apartment Therapy, which is chock full of great ideas about how to create a beautiful and functional space in a small or challenging living room. It's interesting to think about the many ways we have to recreate our spaces as we live in them. Enjoy!

30 Absolutely Brilliant Ideas & Solutions for Your Small Living Room

by Cara Gibbs

Jan 17, 2018

 

Tour: A NYC Couple's Minimalist Retreat from Hectic City Life

(Image credit: Mackenzie Schieck)

Those pesky small living rooms always have us stumbling and second guessing what we should do to make the most of the floor plan. If you've ever struggled with how to arrange your furniture, how to fit in more seating, how to get in more light and beyond, here are 30 rooms—from genius teeny spaces full of inspiration to larger living rooms with plenty of ideas to borrow—showcasing the best ways to expand your square footage without any demolition.
 

(Image credit: West Elm)

Get your reflection on

Mirrors are one of the best ways to make your tiny space feel open and airy. This space from West Elm shows off the dramatic impact multiple mirrors can play, plus they reflect any and all light available in the room.

 
(Image credit: Cathy Pyle)

Fill 'er up

In a tiny space, you might be afraid of overwhelming things with too-large furniture, but oftentimes, if you go full throttle with a large sectional that hugs the walls, you'll get a room that #1 seats a ton of people and #2 feels super welcoming and cozy. Take notes from this home we toured in the UK that fits a family of four.

 

(Image credit: One Kings Lane)

Go for the wow factor

Sometimes the best way to visually increase the square footage in a space is to keep the eye constantly in motion (so you don't notice how small it is). Take a cue from entertaining expert Lulu Powers in her LA bungalow seen on One Kings Lane: pattern on pattern, bold color next to bold color—cozy perfection!

(Image credit: Design*Sponge)

Keep things linear

Try implementing varying geometric and linear prints, as seen on Design*Sponge. This gives a small space a sense of structure while also providing the illusion of additional length and width.

 

(Image credit: Livet Hemma)

Lose the legs

If you're looking to add storage/display surfaces to your living room, consider going leg-free and attaching units directly to the wall (like this Besta unit from IKEA in a room via Livet Hemma). Floating large pieces like this tricks the eye into thinking less space has been taken up because the floor area is still free (plus, you can use that newly found space for even more storage should you feel the need).

(Image credit: Alvhem)

Make the best of strange angles

A feature wall is a great way to properly weigh and focus a room with awkward angles, like in this room from Alvhem, that uses a bold floral wallpaper to pull the attention to the seating area.

(Image credit: Domino)

Invite tiny keepsakes & treasures into your space

In this charming living room via Domino, your attention is occupied and delighted by all the personal accents and accessories that draw you into each area of the little space.

(Image credit: Minette Hand)

A wall of books

To turn a small, sort of sad living space into your favorite room, consider taking an empty wall and turning it into a top-to-bottom mini library. It'll provide plenty of storage opportunities, but also makes such a statement and gives a luxe built-in effect. For an even more stylish push, pick a rich color, like the hunter green of this room, and add molding to polish off the custom look.

(Image credit: Josh Gruetzmacher for Style Me Pretty Living )

The power of the tuck

The main goal of any small living space is always to use every area as efficiently as possible. So that area under the coffee table (considering yours doesn't have shelving) can often feel a bit wasted, unless you mimic this clever space from Style Me Pretty Living that tucks additional poufs under for more usage.

(Image credit: House Beautiful)

Keep your space alive

It's no secret that plants add so much value to any room in the home, but you can really get creative with them in your living area. In a tour of her home via House Beautiful, Justina Blakeney shows off just that in her compact living room, and is smart about hanging greenery as to not take up any precious floor space.

(Image credit: The Apartment St. Kilda via Instagram)

Keep things monochromatic

In this space by The Apartment St Kilda via Instagram, the crisp white walls serve as the perfect canvas for the oversize jet black lighting fixture and delightfully worn-in furnishings and accents—you hardly notice the room's tiny footprint amidst the cohesive palette.

(Image credit: Suzy Hoodless)

Floor to ceiling draperies

Draperies are the quickest way to add instant height to any space. The trick is to hang them from right around where your wall meets your ceiling and let them slightly puddle on the ground, as seen in this Notting Hill townhouse via Suzy Hoodless.

(Image credit: SFGirlbyBay)

Behold the power of threes

Grouping items into threes like in this space on SFGirlbyBay is a great way to make a living room feel a bit bigger by adding more pieces to a space without taking up more real estate. (Not to mention you can move smaller furnishings like these around as needed.)

(Image credit: House Beautiful)

K.I.S.S.

Keep it simple, sweetie! When you don't have a ton of room to play with but you want to inject some color, it's best to keep it simple if you're a newbie. Start with a foundation of neutrals and add in one feature color and one metallic and run with it, like this space via House Beautiful which invites varying textures and finishes to add depth while remaining light and airy on the eyes.

(Image credit: Homepolish)

Fit it all in

Packing your teeny space with lots of purpose is another way to trick yourself into thinking things are bigger than they appear. In this apartment on Homepolish, the living room seamlessly connects to an office area, feeling cohesive and interesting.

(Image credit: Ashley Poskin)

Layer your lighting

This living room feels big and spacious due in large part to tall ceilings and big windows, but also of note is the layered lighting. Keeping light at multiple levels (via floor lamps, chandeliers, and task lights) creates a moody yet well-lit room.

An Industrial-Modern Apartment in Brooklyn

(Image credit: Lauren Kolyn)

Don't overlook underused spots

If you have some windows in your tiny living room, put those window sills to work holding books, plants and other decorative objects.

(Image credit: VT Wonen)

Opt for floating shelves

When floor space is at a premium but you've got tons of books and whatsits to store, you'll want to consider floating shelves. Keep them the same color as your wall for an even sleeker look (and don't be afraid to get creative with sizes, like these scattered smaller shelves in a room from VT Wonen).

(Image credit: Sherrie and Oliver )

Go big

With a rug that is. A large rug like this one in the West Village apartment of Lee Lenox makes a tiny space feel much bigger than it actually is.

 

(Image credit: Architectural Digest)

Go bold (but neutral!)

Designers Cloth & Kind opted for an impressive statement wall when it came to this petite space featured on Architectural Digest, and the mix of patterns is fresh and lively, while a subtle, neutral palette keeps things from feeling overdone. This is a genius way to inject serious personality into a small space.

(Image credit: Marie Claire Maison)

Stack storage

Spotted on Marie Claire Maison, this non-traditional "sofa" is perched atop vintage storage bins—chic and smart!

(Image credit: IKEA via Domino)

Forego traditional pieces

We're so conditioned by the living room formula sofa + coffee table, but what if you focused on doing what works for you and how you live instead? In this space from IKEA via Domino, a quarter of slipper chairs sit where a sofa might be (how modular!) while a coffee table is absent in place of a rolling cart off to the side and cushy floor rugs.

(Image credit: Domino)

Design on a tilt

The best way to shake up a space is to give it a fresh furniture layout. If you're bored of your little living room, consider angling a few key pieces to keep things interesting like this room on Domino (via Airbnb).

(Image credit: Sigmar)

Get creative with storage

Okay, so this one is reserved for homeowners who can invest in custom solutions, but how enviable is this media center designed by London-based firm Sigmar?

(Image credit: New Darlings)

Go vertical

Blankets are a must for a cozy living room experience but when you're short on space to store said blankets, you don't have many options. Sure, you can stash them in a basket, but that takes but valuable floor space. A better option? The leading ladder (as seen here in the home of shelter bloggers New Darlings).

(Image credit: Alpha Smoot for Cup of Jo)

Skip the coffee table in place of an ottoman or pouf

This space from Cup of Jo is by no means a small living room, but let's pretend for a second that it is to learn a thing or two from it. See those two poufs on the other side of the coffee table? Those could easily swap in for the actual coffee table itself in a tighter space, which gives the room's user flexibility in surfaces. Opting for ottomans or poufs over larger furnishings is a smart way to still have a spot to place a drink or remote, but be able to move things easily around as you please (and even maybe create more seating).

 

Heart & Soul in a Jewelry Designer's Providence Condo

(Image credit: Anna Spaller)

Thinking clearly

Acrylic or glass furniture has long been a designer trick for small spaces. They serve a purpose (i.e., holding drinks, etc.) while basically disappearing into the space. The result is a room with all the function you need, but without all the visual clutter.

(Image credit: One Kings Lane)

Be delicate

Similar to the above trick, choosing accent furniture with delicate frames is another way to keep down the visual noise. This tiny seating living room (the home of content strategist Cole Wilson via One Kings Lane) feels full sized thanks to the delicate gold base and glass top coffee table, thin framed accent chairs and floor lamp.

(Image credit: Better Homes & Gardens)

Be matchy-matchy

While some might tell you that all-white rooms are the key to stretching a small space, we're here to tell you that no matter what paint you go with, the effect of color is a lot more nuanced than that. A trick that always works, though, no matter what's on your wall? Matching your drapes (bonus points if they're a sheer material) to your wall. Here, from Better Homes & Gardens, off-white walls seem to go on forever as the visual line is not interrupted by different colored curtains. If you flip this and decide to go dark and moody, stick to draperies in equally dramatic tones for a super cohesive, polished look perfect for a small living room.

(Image credit: Domino)

Trompe l'oeil, FTW

Featured in Domino, the home of denim darling Nicole Najafi (founder of Industry Standard) showcases many talents, but the biggest takeaway here was her tip on a trick every small space needs to follow: "My apartment is full of eye tricks to make it look larger than it actually is. The shades, for example, are mounted a few feet above the windows to make them look taller. There's actually just wall behind them."

Time to Winterize Your Home!

Yes, it's that time of year again when your friendly neighborhood realtors remind you to make sure your home is properly winterized. Although we haven't yet seen snow in the Northampton area, history suggests we can count on it's arrival at some point in the not-too-distant future. It makes sense to have your ducks in a row before the first big snow storm and low temperatures descend upon us. To that end, I include the following article from the Realtor Association of the Pioneer Valley website. It provides a thorough laundry list of how to prepare your home for winter.

Avoid Costly Repairs With These Winter Maintenance Must-Dos

Failure to prepare your home for the upcoming winter months can have dire consequences on your wallet, as well as pose a safety hazard for others. Even those in warmer climates will want to be careful this time of year: Everyone can benefit from an annual maintenance tune-up, and even in the South a winter frost can come as a nasty surprise.

Fortunately, there are some relatively easy preventative measures you can implement in the fall months to help ensure a smooth winter. The list below provides a few of the low-cost measures you can take now that will save you from the hassles of repairs and from the cost of winter issues.

Winterize pipes and outdoor spigots. As the temperatures start to dip below freezing, any water that is exposed to the lower temperatures will freeze. When water freezes, it expands; water left in a hose has nowhere to expand to. The copper piping that feeds the water to the hose will eventually split because of this expansion.

 

The easy fix here is to remove all the hoses and make sure that there is no water left in them. Also, for more protection, you can place a foam box over the spigot.

Additionally, if you live in a place where the temperatures drop dramatically or stay cold for an extended period of time, you need to make sure the pipes inside the home are protected. This is very important if your home has a crawl space underneath the house with exposed pipes. Simple and inexpensive foam pipe covers can accomplish this.

Clean roof gutters. If your home has gutters you need to make sure that you inspect how they are attached to the roof and that they are clear of debris. You want to make sure no dams or clogs are created. The best time to check is after all the fall leaves have dropped and then again during the spring thaw. Cleaning the drains will help ensure that the drains do not get ripped off from the roof and that water will not back up, which can cause a leaky roof.

Remove foliage and potential tree hazards. Trees and foliage provide great shade for your home in the summer and help keep the heat at bay. However, you want to make sure that you do not have branches and other foliage over your roof or potentially covering electric lines, cable, gas or any other cables you may have running to your home. It is easiest to trim back or remove any potential problems in the fall. Snow on branches can weigh them down and potentially cause utility problems or even roof damage.

Inspect your furnace. Winter typically requires the use of a heater. Schedule an inspection of your furnace to make sure it is venting properly and will not be obstructed by winter weather. Check and/or replace your carbon monoxide alarms, which is a low-cost fix that may just save your life.

Dryer exhaust.  Much like your furnace, inspect your dryer vent. Make sure no lint is backing up the exhaust and that winter weather will not cause any issues. A backed-up exhaust can lead to house fires.

These few safety precautions will help ensure that the winter months pass safely and that your home is protected. Take a few minutes and make your home as safe as possible for you and your family.

Thinking About Buying vs. Renting?

The decision to buy a home is not one that is taken lightly by most. It is among the largest purchases (if not THE largest) one will make in their lifetime. Not everyone is in a position to buy vs rent. For this reason, as realtors in the Northampton area, we always suggest that a potential buyer start the process by speaking with their local bank or a mortgage broker to determine whether they can afford to buy and, if so, what purchase price is within their range.

To me, real estate has always made sense as a place to invest money. It seems less fickle than the stock market, and you have the added benefit of being able to live in and enjoy your home, while (hopefully) building equity. While the following piece from the Daily Hampshire Gazette uses the San Diego real estate market to make it's point about the benefits of home ownership - it is still a salient one. If you are in position to be able to buy a home vs. rent, it is an investment worth making. It's always a good idea to work with a knowledgeable buyer agent when purchasing a home. In this way, you are more likely to negotiate a fair price, and choose a home that has solid resale value. Read on for more about buying vs. renting.

Buy vs. rent: Can you afford to wait?

Buying a home is probably the biggest financial decision most of us will make. Dreamtime


By San Diego Tribune Staff
Thursday, November 09, 2017

Buying a home is probably the biggest financial decision most of us will make. While many variables factor into that decision, one key element is whether it makes more financial sense to buy a home rather than renting one.

According to industry experts, it depends on how long you plan on staying in a home.

“Given certain parameters, I can tell you that if you intend to be in a home for three to five years, it is almost always better to buy,” noted Matt Brady, a loan officer at Skyline Home Loans.

That’s because even though there is sizeable upfront expenditure when buying a home, you’ll be seeing the benefits after a few years.

Principal reduction is the amount paid on the cost of the home itself and not the interest. The idea is that by the time you plan on selling the home, you’ll have paid some of the cost of the house and will get more for it than you paid for, resulting in spending less over time than you would have renting a similar place.

Although home prices are high in San Diego — the median price is $535,000 for a home, $400,000 for a condo and $623,750 for new construction — area rent is also high and increasing. The median rent for a one-bedroom is currently $1,560; for a two-bedroom, it’s $2,020, according to the latest figures released by Apartment List, a national rental marketplace. That’s a 4.6 percent increase over last year.

Brady calculates the financial benefits of owning a home this way:

According to the National Association of Realtors, most people own a home for approximately nine years before selling. If a renter initially pays $2,200 for a two-bedroom home, after nine years, the rent will have increased to $3,000 at a 4 percent increase per year.

While the renter will have paid around $40,000 less in rent over those nine years than a buyer who purchased a $400,000 home, the owner’s home will have appreciated by about $200,000 in those nine years, Brady said. (And while no one can predict the future, most analysts assume that home prices will continue to rise and that San Diego will stay apace with the national average of a 4 percent annual increase).

The homeowner also will have paid down the mortgage by about $73,000 and had the added tax benefits of owning a home, which according to Brady would be about $40,000. In nine years, a buyer is ahead more than $225,000 from someone continuing to rent.

“The bottom line is unless you can rent the $400,000 house for $1,500, it makes much more sense to purchase it,” Brady said.

Buying a home is not for everyone. Renting is often less stressful and more flexible. But if you’re ready to settle into one place for a while, go over the numbers to see what works best for you.

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The Benefits of Adding Solar Power to Your Home

In our development in Florence, MA, just 2.5 miles from downtown Northampton, MA, it seems that solar panels are going up on yet another neighbor's home on a weekly basis. We started the process of interviewing local solar providers last year, but had to put the project on hold for a variety of reasons. Now we are ready to open this can of worms once again. Luckily, our neighbors have done a lot of research, which they are happy to share. The following article from Apartment Therapy does a nice job of explaining the costs and benefits associated with installing solar panels on ones' home. The good news is that buyers do seem to be willing to pay more for solar power - so you needn't stay in your home long enough to see a direct return on investment. 

Can Solar Power Pay Off? One Homeowner Crunches Real Numbers

By Julie Sprankles 

Aside from the obvious benefit of helping the planet, solar power can be pretty enticing to homeowners who are tired of paying an arm and a leg for their electric bill every month. Given that outfitting a home with solar panels comes with considerable costs upfront, though, is doing so practical from a financial standpoint? Can solar power in fact pay off?

For starters, it's worth noting that the benefits—as well as costs—of installing solar (also called photovoltaic) power systems will vary from house to house. This makes sense, right? Your house might be much larger than my house. My house may be in an area where solar power is more readily available and therefore more affordable. The variables go on and on.

In general, however, there are a few universal benefits of installing solar power: it lowers your electric bill, minimizes your carbon footprint and, depending on where you live, it can even bump up your home value.

On the flip side, you'll need to drop a pretty penny upfront in order to buy the equipment and pay for the installation. The big question, of course, is whether the potential savings will outweigh those upfront expenditures—or, more pointedly, whether you'll actually be able to save money (or make money, if the value of your house goes up considerably) should you invest in solar power.

How much does solar power cost to install?

Let's talk numbers, shall we? A solar power system for an average-sized house in the U.S. can run anywhere from $15,000 to $40,000. If those figures give you a serious case of sticker shock, don't fret just yet—many companies allow you to "lease" the equipment, which dramatically reduces your upfront costs. But should you decide to purchase outright, you may qualify for government incentives that cut the cost of the system. In all 50 states, installing a solar power system qualifies the homeowner for the Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit. This tax incentive allows you to claim a credit of 30 percent of qualified expenditures for your system and, most importantly, helps to shave down the time it would take for your savings to equal out or exceed your initial investment.

If you're the type that likes online calculators, you'll be particularly happy to learn that Google has come up with a handy little number-cruncher to give you an approximation of the costs and savings you can expect with solar in your own home. Called Project Sunroof, the tool relies on high-resolution aerial mapping to calculate your specific roof's solar energy potential. According to Google engineer Carl Elkin, the site "figures out how much sunlight hits your rooftop through the year, taking into account factors like roof orientation, shade from trees and nearby buildings, and local weather patterns."

Technology... crazy, huh?

When I plug my home's address into Project Sunroof, it spits out an aerial thermal image of my street that is, if we're being honest, pretty damn impressive in its detail. The fact that my roof is glowing bright yellow clues me into the fact that sunlight is aplenty, but the site spells it out for me, too.

By their estimate, my roof receives 1,606 hours of usable sunlight per year. Based on 3D modeling of my roof and nearby trees, the site figures I have 564 square feet of roof available to be outfitted with solar panels—and they recommend an 8-kilowatt system, which would cover 40 percent of our household electricity usage.

What does all of this mean for my bottom line and, theoretically, yours? That, yes, a solar power system can pay off.

With the system covering around 40 percent of my household electricity usage, my 20-year benefits of utilizing the system would total $37,000. If the upfront cost of a system after tax incentives amounts to $17,000 and we deduct that from the benefits, the 20-year savings comes out to $20,000. In other words, it would take nine years to pay back that initial investment.

You may be thinking, "Yeah, but this only pays off if I actually stay in the home for nine years." In which case you may be relieved to learn that research conducted by the Department of Energy in 2015 showed that buyers are happy to pay more for homes with solar power systems.

The study, which was cited by The New York Times, revealed that buyers were willing to pay a premium of $15,000 for a home with a solar power system, compared to a similar home without one. The only caveat is that these findings apply to systems that are owned, not leased.

So although there's no hard-and-fast rule for whether or not solar power systems will pay off in every unique situation, they can certainly save you money immediately on your electrical bill whether you buy or lease. And if you have the capital to make the full investment upfront, you could be looking at paying off the system in less than a decade and enjoying sizable savings and a big ROI in the long-term.