Cold Weather Concreting

When it’s cold outside, placing, finishing and curing concrete calls for extra care.  In cold weather, concrete sets up more slowly.  Worst of all, there’s a risk that the fresh concrete will freeze—and if it does, the damage done by ice formation can reduce its final compressive strength by as much as 50 percent.


When the water in fresh concrete freezes, the ice takes up more space than water.  Ice crystal growth causes an overall volume expansion of the concrete.  This expansion weakens the concrete by creating void spaces and disrupting the bond between the cement paste and the aggregate.  Later, when the concrete thaws, voids left by melting ice makes the concrete porous and can cut concrete’s 28-day compressive strength in half.

Before you place concrete in cold weather, you need to make sure your forms and subgrade are ready.  Otherwise, the subgrade will likely thaw unevenly, resulting in uneven settlement.  Thaw the subgrade out first.

Never place concrete on snow and ice.  Clear the ice and snow from both forms and subgrade before you pour.  The subgrade should be at least 35 degrees F before you place the concrete.

Place concrete in the late afternoon, after the sun has heated the subgrade and forms.

If your concrete freezes, it can be disastrous—the strength loss may be unacceptable, and tearing out concrete and doing it over is not light work.

In addition to thawing the substrate and pouring the concrete at the right temperature, in cold weather it’s important to protect fresh concrete from freezing.  The most common and easiest way to protect it is by insulating.  During the first three days after placement, the chemical reaction between cement and water generates heat, called the “heat of hydration.”  If you can keep that heat in, you often won’t need to supply extra heat.

Six inches of straw held in place with tarps or polyethylene sheeting will keep heat from escaping.  But straw has disadvantages:  It’s bulky, it’s flammable, and if it gets wet, it loses its insulating value.  For light construction, insulating or curing blankets are the most practical way to maintain heat and moisture during cold weather.

Your goal should be to keep the concrete from freezing until it reaches a strength of 500 psi and most of the water is gone.  This takes longer if the concrete gets cold.  To be on the safe side, protect all fresh concrete from freezing for three days.  After that, protect it from rain, snow or any other source of water for a few days before exposing it to freezing temperatures.

Whether you insulate or tent out, do not allow the concrete to cool too fast at the end of the protection period.  Sudden drops in temperature will cause thermal shrinkage cracking.  Remove the protection in a way that lets the concrete cool gradually—no faster than a 50 degree drop in 24 hours.

Value-Added Remodeling Projects

Before you undertake a home remodeling project, there are a few things to consider.

How long do you plan to remain in your home?  How will your remodeling project affect the resale value if you plan to move within the next few years?  The remodeling project that seems wonderful to you may not be considered a value-added project for potential buyers.

Keep within the bounds of your neighborhood.  For example, a $50,000 home theatre is neat to have, but if you live in a $100K-$200K neighborhood, this will not add much to your resale value, as you are outpacing and outpricing the area in which you live.

Similarly, game rooms, saunas, pool and bars generally have much lower resale values, since these aren’t every homeowner’s cup of tea.  If you plan to remain in your home for years to come and want to enjoy such amenities, they can be a great add-on.  If, however, you anticipate moving within two or three years or your career might easily take you to another city, these won’t be great investments.

Home offices, screened porches and refurbished basements are somewhat better choices, but experts advise using caution when undertaking projects such as these.  The return on investment is higher; some of these are partially tax deductible, and trends indicate a greater appeal for these items.  However, the general rule is to stick with the traditional; check with local furniture stores or even local realtors before adding something avant garde or unique.

Decks, fences and bathrooms are better value-added remodeling projects, increasing your home’s appeal and averaging an 80-90% return on investment.  Some of these are costlier undertakings, but compensate by increasing a property’s functionality.

Kitchens and bathrooms are considered the absolute top-of-the-line upgrades, with a return on investment somewhere around the 100-110% level.  Though again, analysts recommend caution.  Don’t outprice your home by installing appliances or high-end materials that far outstrip other homes in the area if there’s a good chance you won’t be staying there long enough to take full advantage of them.

Bottom line, of course, is to go with what your heart desires and what your pocketbook can tolerate.  But it’s always a good idea to proceed with caution and only after having done some careful research.


Upgrade Your Property With an Attractive Fence

One of the best value-for-dollar investments is a property line fence.  A well-designed and professionally installed fence will upgrade your house and property, as well as provide security at the same time.  The fencing materials that are available today can be combined in any number of ways to create an attractive one-of-a-kind feature, or installed without frills for a straightforward security fence.  By working with a professional fence contractor, you’ll be able to determine the type of fence that best serves your needs, as well as learning whether this is a good opportunity to improve the appearance of your property.

There are numerous types of fencing materials, from redwood to cedar, to wrought iron and vinyl fencing that require no painting.  Redwood and cedar can be installed in the standard full-height configuration, or accented with a top band of diamond lattice to add architectural appeal to an otherwise mundane wood fence.  In addition, single and double gates can be installed at a driveway entrance and side yard access areas.  A professional fence contractor can be enlisted to fabricate custom gates in any design, or to incorporate prefabricated gates of your choosing into the installation.

Combining different types of fence and masonry materials is another way to add architectural appeal to a property.  Stone or brick pilasters, with wood spanning from one to the next, is a popular design concept that will add value and appeal to your property.  Large stone pilasters can be used as gate columns, with smaller pilasters along the property line, and wood fence panels incorporated into the layout.  Other designs, such as those for horse properties, would call for typical fence rails.

Professional fence contractors employ the latest design and estimating software that makes the new fence experience exciting in terms of viable options.  Your particular property can be digitally enchanced with any number of design images and concept to determine the ideal fence.  From that point, the materials and labor are incorporated into a bottom-line cost that works for your budget.  The fence installation is then coordinated with other trades that might be involved, such as electrical or paving contractors, and the installation is scheduled to meet your convenience.

Some property owners and building contractors prefer to select and purchase fence materials from outside sources, then enlist an installer for the project.  Depending on the situation, this approach may be cost-effective.


Reasons To Consider Aluminum For Your Next Fence

aluminum-fencingThe type of fence you select to surround your home and yard should enhance the look of your property, rather than detract from a deliberate style you’ve worked hard to create. Additionally, you want a type of fence that will stand up well against the elements and that can maintain its look over time, with a minimum of attention and repair. For these reasons, it’s worth considering the idea of constructing aluminum fencing to show off your place to its best advantage.

Aluminum fences are available in an increasing variety of styles and forms; they require less ongoing care and maintenance than the more traditional types of fencing.

From “traditional pickets” to “colonial” style, aluminum can be fashioned to complement, rather than work at odds with the design of your home and yard.

Aluminum is especially appealing because it offers a variety of additional features, things such as self-closing gates and arched accent pieces. Other accessories include finials, ball caps and scrolls; these can be nice touches that give your yard a unique and distinctive appearance.

Even milder climates can take a toll on fences. Exposed to the elements, wooden fencing will require repainting or re-staining. Brick and stone walls are at the mercy of extreme cold and heat, as well.

Aluminum fencing is sturdy, durable and can “match” the look of wood but with an extended lifespan that gives it economic appeal, besides. It’s available in an increasing variety of colors, which accounts for its increased popularity and use.

Whether you are considering replacing an existing fence or installing a brand-new one, it’s worth doing a bit of research, either online or by consulting a customer service rep at your local home improvement store to see if the aluminum style might be just what you are looking for.

Courtesy of

(with information provided by Jeff Schuman)

The Best Time to Care for Your Lawn

fall-lawnThe end of summer does not mean the end of your lawn’s need for extra nurturing. In fact, fall is a good time to provide your lawn with much needed fertilizer supplement and weed control solutions. The leaves on your trees and shrubs may start turning brown, but this doesn’t mean you let the course of nature take over passively.

Giving sufficient amounts of lawn fertilizer during the fall increases the chances of having your grass in full bloom, come the following spring and summer. It’s a good idea to feed your lawn a fertilizer in both early spring and before the first cold snap in fall. Fertilizers are high in nitrogen and potassium, both of which are important for the recovery and nourishment of grass after the scorching summer heat. You may want to use a slow-release fertilizer to avoid nitrogen seepage, which can occur following significant rainfall. Horticultural studies are now allotting much of their energy in formulating fertilizers that are less hazardous to the environment.

Cooler temperatures should not fool you in terms of the watering needs of trees, shrubs, and your lawn. Water and fertilizers should always work together. Proper mixing of these two helps in the propagation of roots in plants. In fact, root growth is quite active during the fall, even if you don’t see a lot of activity up top. Water also helps control the concentration of weed killers you may have applied to your lawn.

Fall is also the season for weed growth, specifically, broad leaf, dandelion, and clover. These weeds are in the process of building up nutrients and starches during autumn in preparation for the coming colder months. This also means that they are at the peak of absorbing nutrients from the ground, making them are more susceptible to weed killers at this time.

Depending on what area of the country in which you live, autumn can also bring a particular group of pests that can wreak havoc on your landscape. Florida and other southern states experience attacks of chinch bugs, grubs, mole crickets, and other things. An over-population of these insects can destroy your whole grass area in a day.

However, many insects are beneficial to your plants and lawn. Ants and the occasional earthworm should not immediately send you running to grab your pesticide sprayer. Lawn care service companies should best handle infestations because misuse of insecticides and pesticides can ruin everything it touches, including the grass. Both residential and commercial services are provided by most lawn care companies. Pests are not only hazardous to your lawn, but possibly to you and your family. You can first check with your state or county Cooperative Extension Services so you have an idea of what to expect (or ask for) from the lawn care company.

And, of course, whenever insecticides or pesticides are being used, be mindful of both pets and children who might come into contact with these things on your grass, the moment your back is turned!

Just keep in mind that even though to all outward appearances, your lawn goes dormant in the winter months, much is happening below the earth’s surface that will affect the appearance of your yard, come springtime.

Courtesy of

The Importance Of Proper Tree Care

The importance of proper tree careYour property’s biggest natural asset may be its trees. By using professional tree trimming services, you can keep their value and maintain good neighbor relations. Neglected trees, especially those near property lines or streets can be a major source of neighbor conflicts. You can steer clear of such conflicts by maintaining healthy and well-trimmed trees.

Although trees can provide much sought after shade in the summer months, they can also be especially damaging to roofs. Your neighbor may hold you responsible for any damage caused by your tree. Although your neighbor has a right to trim the tree from her side of the property, it is in your best interest to hire a professional to do the tree trimming for you. The last thing you need is for your neighbor or you to fall attempting to trim back the branches of your tree.

Privacy is great, but trees overhanging the fence are not. This is one of the most common neighbor complaints. As most fences are a shared cost, neighbors are quick to be concerned about the effect of an overgrown tree branches resting near or on the fence. When the tree is trimmed, it is important not to have more weight on one side of the tree than the other.

Overgrown trees can also block sunlight that your lawn and gardens need to be healthy. Make sure the trimming is done correctly because over time, such an off-kilter tree may fall over or even uproot itself. One way to ensure this doesn’t happen is to hire a professional and get permission from your neighbor to access their yard. If you have been diligent in maintaining your trees along the fence line, when it comes time to replace the fence you are likely to have a very cooperative neighbor.

Professional tree trimmers not only keep you safe but advise you on how to keep your trees healthy. Before the storm season, it is also a good idea to have your trees assessed for potential risks. Tree trimmers have been trained to recognize which limbs pose a risk of breaking. Fallen tree limbs can cause major damage to cars, roofs, windows and even injury to people or pets.

Although no one likes to sacrifice a tree, there are times that tree removal is required. An older tree with deep and invasive roots may be causing damage to your or your neighbor’s plumbing or foundation. Or perhaps you have a diseased tree. Whatever the case, you may be faced with the decision of tree removal.

In extreme cases, you may need emergency service, so be sure to discuss the reasons and process for the removal of the tree with your neighbor. This will help ensure smooth relations and make the tree removal process easier. Removing a tree, especially a large tree, is no easy feat and a small miscalculation can result in property damage or injury and even death. This job is definitely best left to the professionals.

Outdoor Rug Buying Guide

outdoor-rugsRugs can do for outdoors spaces what they’ve been doing for indoor spaces for years—define an area and add color, style and texture. Today’s outdoor rugs are so good-looking, durable and affordable that many of them look great as indoor rugs, too.

Here’s a handful of tips to keep in mind when buying or replacing an outdoor rug:

  • Some are more durable than others, but you can expect to replace an outdoor rug every couple of years if you leave it exposed to the elements year round. They will last longer if you put them in a covered area.
  • Sometimes a good shake and spot clean is all an outdoor rug needs. You can also vacuum it. But for a good cleaning, hang it up, hose it off, and let it dry completely before putting it back.
  • When buying, look for a label that says 100 percent polypropylene. The tag should also say that the rug is UV-stabilized to resist fading, mold and mildew.
  • Because outdoor rugs are made of synthetic, durable, all-weather materials, they’re a good option for indoors, too, especially in high-traffic areas and mudrooms.
  • If you are trying to decide between a hand-made or a machine-made rug, consider this: Machine-made rugs are lighter, they dry faster, and they are better for exposed areas. Handmade may have a higher pile and feel softer, but they hold water and will stay soggy longer.
  • Add a mesh pad under the rug if it’s slipping. A pad will also make it look thicker.
  • When picking an outdoor rug, determine the size. In a seating area, at least all front legs of furniture should be on the rug. In a dining area, all legs should be on the rug even when chairs are scooted out.
  • Current popular designs include bold colors and patterns, particularly florals, botanicals, and geometrics.

Decorative Gardening Items You DON’T Have To Water

backyard items you don't have to waterGardening relieves you of accumulated stress and brings relaxation to mind. It is an art, and you can gather knowledge from various sources to attain mastery in the field. And when the earth-tilling, planting and weeding are done, here are some ways you can sit back and enjoy the “fruits” of your efforts:

Backyard benches

Benches and swings are a great way to add delight to your garden set-up. Situated within the natural environment, these provide solace, a great view, and a good way to simply sit back and take in the results of your hard work.

You’ll want to consider the climactic conditions of your region before selecting the bench that works best for you, however. Wooden garden benches fit nicely into the natural garden set-up, but bad weather will take its toll on outdoor furniture. People living in extreme weather conditions may opt for cast aluminum benches which come in a wide variety of styles and can provide enjoyment for many years. They are available with cushioned seating and luxurious finishing that are comfortable and fit nicely with the garden surroundings.

Garden swings

These swings aren’t just for kids anymore! Adults can find equal delight in the ability to sway back and forth gently in natural surroundings. There are many varieties of ready-made swings available in the market, both wooden and metal. You can also consider swinging benches, which are a little more controlled and subdued, but still provide a pleasant rocking sensation.

Additional decorating ideas

And don’t stop there. What type of garden do you have in mind? A rock garden? A Japanese style layout? Various stone sculptures and water wheels can add to the overall effect. Also consider fountains, small pools, fencing ideas and birdhouses, which can add an entirely new element of charm to your backyard haven.

Proper attention and a wide imagination can transform your back yard in any number of charming ways, and most can be achieved on a modest budget. A quick trip to your local nursery or a gardening outlet will bring a wealth of ideas you can carry home and implement on your own.

The Art Of Landscape And Garden Edging

Garden edging for your gardenThere are a variety of reasons for incorporating landscape edging into your yard’s design.  Consider it for something as simple as cutting down on the amount of mowing you’ll have to do, to prevent weed and grass “migration,” or as an easy and quick way to add visual interest to your yard.

There are a variety of edging options available to you, depending on your taste, the layout of your property, and the overall look you want to achieve.

Plastic edging is a popular choice because it’s inexpensive, flexible and easy to install.  However, this type rests partially above ground and is easily damaged by a lawn mower or trimmer.  Also plastic edging is susceptible to frost and often requires readjustment after cold seasons.

Steel edging is durable and low-maintenance.  It’s also flexible and installed in the same way as plastic edging.  It holds up well in cold weather, but is more expensive than plastic edging.

Brick concrete pavers or natural stone come in a wide variety of colors, shapes and styles and requires little maintenance, as well.  Brick and paver edgings can function as a mowing strip, simplifying cutting grass.  However, they require more space and more work to install:  You’ll need to put down landscape fabric first as well as an inch or so of coarse sand to create a level surface.

If you are using edging to create a separate flower bed, make a scale drawing first.  Experiment with different types of plants to see what works best in your designated space, taking into consideration size, amount of sunlight/shade and moisture.  Don’t forget the plan for the additional space plants will need when they reach their mature size.

Narrow your planting selection to a few complementary species and repeat those plants in groups of three-five, seven or more. When it comes to design, odd numbers are more aesthetically pleasing.

Consider types of mulch, as well.  Mulch helps to protect plants and limit weeds in a landscape bed.  Chipped mulch consists of bark and wood chips, but won’t hold together well on slopes.  Shredded mulch holds together, but is more expensive and needs replenishing more often.  Stone mulch is low-maintenance, but can become hot and even burn plants during warm seasons.  Also consider winter mulch such as straw or hay.  It will insulate plans during cold seasons and prevents thawing and refreezing, as well as winter dying.

Edging—whether simply to keep your grass or weeds from spreading, or as a design element to partition off flowerbeds—is attractive, tidy and helps to define your yard and gardens.

How To Keep Your Yard and Garden Primed Throughout The Growing Season

spring flower gardenEven though spring is upon us, there are still a variety of things you can do to keep your garden and yard primed for the growing season and into the summer. Your house isn’t the only place that needs a good spring cleaning; the exterior of your home could use it as well. Grab a notepad and take a walk through the vicinity, making notes here and there. Not only is this a great way to organize your “attack” on the ground, but it’s an opportunity to get out in the fresh air, get a little exercise, and anticipate the summer days ahead.

Here are some things you can tackle right now:

Shrubs and Trees

Prune off broken or cracked branches damaged in winter. You can tackle damaged twigs with pruners, but those branches that are 2 inches in diameter or larger need to be removed in sections so that the weight doesn’t tear the bark as they fall.


Dig up and divide perennials that were getting too large last year. Signs that these had “outgrown” their livings space include reduced flowering, pale, off-color leaves, or smaller, puny stems. Break apart root-clumps using a knife or shovel blade and then replant smaller, healthy sections. If these are spring bloomers (tulips, iris, etc.), wait until they’ve finished flowering. Late summer bloomers can be divided and replanted by April.

Seed Heads

Snip the stalks and dried seed heads from plants left from last autumn. Remove these and dead leaves so that overwintering insects and disease aren’t a problem. Clip the stalks about two inches above the sleeping foliage.


Rose bushes are a class unto themselves, and they aren’t “one size fits all.”  All need pruning, but know your rose-types. Keep in mind that the timing is crucial, because trimming will stimulate new growth, leaving the plants vulnerable to subsequent frosts. If your rose flowers just once a year, then it’s best to wait until the blooming is done to do your pruning. Clip the branches at a 30- to 45-degree angle, and do so a quarter of an inch above a live bud.

Ornamental Grasses

Use caution when cutting these down. Wear eye protection, long sleeves and gloves. Most ornamental grass leaves are finely toothed and readily able to cut unprotected hands and fingers. A good technique for trimming is to wrap a bungee cords tightly around the grass so that it lifts the leaves up high, resembling a sheaf of wheat. Then prune by lopping the grasses about six inches from the ground. Hand pruners or a small saw will work well for this.


Corn gluten can be an effective pre-emergent weed killer and also serves as a nitrogen fertilizer for your grass. Apply this two to four weeks ahead of  the typical weed-emergent dates in your area. Use a core aerator to punch 3-inch deep holes in the lawn to fill in bare spots in the grass and reduce thatch, then use a drop spreader to spread grass seed immeidately after the aerating. Sprinkle your lawn with water every day for several weeks until the seeds sprout.

These are a few handy tips for “pre-preparing” your yard and garden for the spading, tilling and planting that will follow, and will make those steps of the process easier for having paved the way with some organized spring cleaning first. And of course, if yardwork and gardening isn’t exactly your thing, keep in mind your local Handyman Matters location. We’re happy to help out.