Saturday, May 26, 2018

keep cool and carry on

Summer’s almost upon us. That means more ice cream, fewer snowball fights and, of course, the battle to keep your house cool as the heat bears down. As it turns out, you don’t have to build your own ice cave to keep cool until fall. There are plenty of easy changes you can put into action to get a lot more out of your air conditioning budget this year.


How Air Conditioners Work
To really get to the heart of the matter, it’s important that you understand how an air conditioner works. This way, you can strategically plan ways to help it work better, rather than doing things that are counter to its function.

Room air is cooled by an air conditioning unit (or heat pump) in three basic steps:

1. The fan located inside your indoor air handler or furnace kicks on, sucking room air in through your cold air returns. The air passes through your filter, so make sure it’s clean!
2. The warm room air then moves over a set of coils that contain a refrigerant, which cools the indoor air and causes it to release water. The water drops into a pan and is removed via the condensation line. At the same time, the liquid refrigerant inside the coils absorbs the heat, changing into a warm vapor, which is then pushed outside to the condenser coil in your outdoor unit, where it releases the heat from your home.
3. Since the fan is still running on your air handler, cold air comes out the vents and more warm air is sucked across the evaporator coil (also known as the a-coil because of the inverted v shape). Meanwhile, the fan in the outdoor unit is cooling the refrigerant down until it turns back into a liquid and moves back into your home toward the evaporator coil where this whole cycle started.

It’s the cycle of life for refrigerant. That sounds more epic than it is, but hey, air conditioning is pretty great when it’s hot enough to cook an egg in your hammock.

Help Your Air Conditioner Out
Though your A/C unit is absolutely doing the best it can, it could probably do a lot better if you’d lend it a hand. As a homeowner, this benefits you in two ways: first, your house is cheaper to cool and secondly, not pushing your condenser unit as hard as it possibly can go can help prolong its life. Some of the things that can make a big impact should really be performed by a pro, but there are lots of little ways you can contribute to the health and happiness of your entire household. Try these out:

Start with the outside unit. Your condenser unit should always be free of weeds and debris, no matter what time of year it is, but it’s doubly important in the summer. The more garbage that’s plugging up the fins on the coil, the less air movement — and more effort required — for cooling the refrigerant down.


You can also help your unit by giving it a bath at least once a month. Just take a regular garden hose with a trigger sprayer and go all the way around the unit, spraying between the fins, until the water runs clear. Lots of dirt and sand could be hiding up in there, reducing your unit’s efficiency. A fin comb can also help straighten bent fins.


While you’re at it, make sure that unit has plenty of shade. Plant a tree, erect a sunshade, build a little roof over it (but allow at least two feet all around and on top for adequate air flow). The heat from the sun is yet another enemy of the refrigerant in the coil. Keep it as cool as you can with what you have to work with.


If you don't have whole-house air conditioning, try one of the many hard working portable unit - they work wonders in cooling down a room.


Or, try a portable mechanical fan. These hardworking devices move hot air around the room, providing a slight break from even the hottest days and nights. Bonus - they come in a million different styles to match your decor.


Take advantage of those ceiling fans. As the days get warmer, make it a point to set your ceiling fans to rotate in a counter-clockwise direction, pushing air down. You do double duty with this one. The proper rotation creates a chilling effect that allows the average homeowner to keep their thermostat as much as four degrees Fahrenheit higher than they would without the fans blowing. It also helps keep the cold air more evenly distributed, assuming you have ceiling fans in all or most of your rooms.


Cover the windows. Seriously. It doesn’t matter how good your windows are when the worst of the summer’s heat is beating down on them, there’s going to be a noticeable warming coming from that direction. This is when having heavy curtains, thick blinds or other heavy-duty window coverings comes in handy. During the part of the day when the sun hits your windows the hardest, cover them up to reduce heat radiating into your cool spaces. Another option for places where it stays hot a lot of the year is to add awnings over windows that are chronic sources of radiant heat.


Do hot stuff at night. Meaning your cooking, your drying, your extra hot baths — whatever produces heat that’s not really tied to any specific point in the day should be moved to the night shift. If you absolutely need to do these things during the day, keep the cooking limited to the small appliances, dry your laundry outside in the smouldering heat and maybe try a warmish shower. Remember, the more heat you add to the house, the more heat your air conditioner has to move out of your house. Don’t make it an unwinnable battle.

Monday, May 21, 2018

laying down roots

Being a homeowner means more than just cleaning, decorating and maintaining your house. It’s also your responsibility to take care of whatever land is yours. For a lot of people, this means putting their own mark with landscaping like perennials, shrubs and trees. Unfortunately for those trees, many are planted in the wrong place and end up being cut down in their prime. It’s a great loss to the neighborhood and to your yard. When you plant a tree, you’ll need to be careful about where you put it.


Three Things to Know About Trees
Planting a tree is a commitment, don’t ever think otherwise. You’re placing a sapling that has the potential to spread to enormous heights, overshadowing your house, your neighbor’s cars, and maybe even getting tangled in power lines or uprooting sidewalks. This is why it’s vital that you choose the right tree and put it in the right place the first time. So let’s talk about trees!

If you choose a tree from a nursery or home improvement center, it’s a good bet that the tree will succeed in your climate. After all, they’re not going to stock trees that will die over the summer or winter (though certainly ask if you’re not entirely confident). There are other things to pay extremely close attention to, though, like:

Size. Trees get big, even the little ones. You can expect even the smallest ornamentals, known as understory trees, to grow to be 15 to 25 feet high when they’re fully mature. In the forest, these trees are found growing on the edge of groupings of taller trees. Those bigger trees can grow to be 80 to 100 feet tall and just as wide, depending on the tree’s natural shape. Ultimately, there’s a lot of difference between the space required for a dogwood than a white oak.

Water needs. Just because a tree can theoretically survive in your area doesn’t mean that it can do it alone. During establishment (the baby years), that tree will need a lot of regular waterings to keep it going, no matter the species. Obviously, you won’t need to water on days that it’s raining, but as it starts to warm up and during the heat of the summer definitely plan to be on watering duty. Keep the tag around because you’ll need to know how to care for the tree as it ages. If it needs more water than naturally occurs, you’ll want to set up a sprinkler, drip irrigation system or get fancy and redirect gray water to it to keep it alive.

Spacing. This is where the rubber meets the road. Or rather, where the tree roots get under the sidewalk and your foundation and start breaking stuff. It says right on the tag how far to place your tree from anything else. When there’s a range, like 10 to 15 feet, go as far away as you can. This is the hardest part of tree planting, honestly, because other elements in the yard have to be considered. It’s 10 feet from the house, but only seven from the mailbox and not quite 11 from the sidewalk (weird yard, I know). Best to choose your tree, then check spacing requirements and stand out in your yard with a tape measure to ensure that tree will work where you want to put it. It’ll look a little sparse the first year or two, but you’ll be glad you took the time when it’s bigger.


Tree Roots and You
Some of the most serious issues a house or cement pad can experience are caused by tree roots. Big, glorious trees are amazing to have in your yard, they provide shade and protection for wildlife, but it comes at a cost. This is why spacing matters.

Many trees will put out roots that are as far across as their canopies. A tree with a 25 foot wide canopy has the potential to send roots out 12 ½ feet from the trunk. A tree with a 60 foot canopy is often surrounded by a 30 foot root zone.

Besides considering the above ground elements, you need to know where your gas, water and sewer lines run. Deep rooted trees can get into sewer lines, causing the line to fail or wrap around utility lines, slowly shifting them out of place. But deep roots aren’t the only issue, shallow rooted trees create a nightmare when you’re mowing, since you have to somehow deal with them as you go along. Landscaping is a good option here, but also keep in mind that a good stiff breeze may cause that shallow rooted tree to uproot.


Choosing trees is tricky, but that’s why you ask a lot of questions before you leave with your new baby. The very best trees for your home are trees that are native to the area (so they can handle the climate without extra care), grow relatively quickly to let you can start reaping the benefits of a nice tree in your yard sooner and fit in the space properly, keeping all those roots away from anything they can break.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Shopping our local farmers markets and the bags to bring it all home in


I'm loving our warmer weather, and am looking forward to shopping at our local farmers markets this summer. I'm also loving all the unique and pretty straw tote bags that are so popular now. These make great farmers market shopping bags - they are super cute and functional, as well as being eco friendly, which is perfect, as I am making a big effort on cutting down on our plastic consumption this year.

French Baskets on Etsy

The Woven Basketry on Etsy



Amazon

I think it’s so important to support small business owners because I know how much of their heart and soul they pour into their products, that's why I try to shop locally whenever I can. Even on the mega site Amazon, you can find products sold by small business owners. 

Whatever you use for your market shopping, I hope you enjoy the best our local farmers have to offer at one of these farmers market. 





SATURDAY
MAGNOLIA 10 - 2 JUNE - OCTOBER
33rd Avenue W and W McGraw Street 
UNIVERSITY DISTRICT 9 - 2 YEAR-ROUND
NE 50th and University Way

SUNDAY
BALLARD 10 - 3 YEAR-ROUND
Ballard Avenue NW - between 20th NW and 22nd NW
CAPITOL HILL 11 - 3 YEAR-ROUND
Seattle Central Community College - Broadway and Pine

WEDNESDAY
COLUMBIA CITY 3 - 7 MAY - OCTOBER
37th Ave S and S Edmunds Street
WALLINGFORD 3:30 - 7 MAY - SEPTEMBER
Meridian Avenue and N 50th Street

THURSDAY
LAKE CITY 3 - 7 JUNE - OCTOBER
NE 125th Street and 28th Avenue NE
QUEEN ANNE 3 - 7:30 JUNE - OCTOBER
W Crockett Street and Queen Anne Avenue N

FRIDAY
MADRONA 3 - 7 MAY - SEPTEMBER
Martin Luther King Blvd and E Union Street
PHINNEY 3:30 - 7:30 JUNE - SEPTEMBER
N 67th Street and Phinney Avenue N 





Until next time,

la chasse au bonheur (and bon app├ętit)





Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Gardner Report - an analysis of our local market



The following analysis of the Western Washington real estate
market is provided by Chief Economist Matthew Gardner.

ECONOMIC OVERVIEW
The Washington State economy added 96,900 new jobs over the past 12 months, representing an annual growth rate of 2.9%-still solidly above the national rate of 1.5%. Most of the employment gains were in the private sector, which rose by 3.4%. The public sector saw a more modest increase of 1.6%.

The strongest growth was in the Education & Health Services and Retail sectors, which added 17,300 and 16,700 jobs, respectively. The Construction sector added 10,900 new positions over the past 12 months.

Even with solid increases in jobs, the state unemployment rate held steady at 4.7%-a figure that has not moved since September of last year.

I expect the Washington State economy to continue adding jobs in 2018, but not at the same rate as last year given that we are nearing full employment. That said, we will still outperform the nation as a whole when it comes to job creation.
HOME SALES ACTIVITY
  • There were 14,961 home sales during the first quarter of 2018. This is a drop of 5.4% over the same period in 2017.
  • Clallam County saw sales rise the fastest relative to the first quarter of 2017, with an increase of 16.5%. In most of the other markets, the lack of available homes for sale slowed the number of closings during this period.
  • Listing inventory in the quarter was down by 17.6% when compared to the first quarter of 2017, but pending home sales rose by 2.6% over the same period, suggesting that closings in the second quarter should be fairly robust.
  • The takeaway from this data is that the lack of supply continues to put a damper on sales. I also believe that the rise in interest rates in the final quarter of 2017 likely pulled sales forward, leading to a drop in sales in the first quarter of 2018.


HOME PRICES
  • With ongoing limited inventory, it's not surprising that the growth in home prices continues to trend well above the long-term average. Year-over-year, average prices rose 14.4% to $468,312.
  • Economic vitality in the region is leading to robust housing demand that far exceeds supply. Given the relative lack of new construction homes- something that is unlikely to change any time soon-there will continue to be pressure on the resale market. As a result, home prices will continue to rise at above-average rates in the coming year.
  • When compared to the same period a year ago, price growth was strongest in Grays Harbor County at 27.5%. Ten additional counties experienced double-digit price growth.
  • Mortgage rates continued to rise during first quarter, and are expected to increase modestly in the coming months. By the end of the year, interest rates will likely land around 4.9%, which should take some of the steam out of price growth. This is actually a good thing and should help address the challenges we face with housing affordability-especially in markets near the major job centers.
DAYS ON MARKET
  • The average number of days it took to sell a home dropped by seven days when compared to the same quarter of 2017.
  • King County continues to be the tightest market in Western Washington, with homes taking an average of 24 days to sell. Every county in the region saw the length of time it took to sell a home either drop or remain essentially static relative to the same period a year ago.
  • In looking at the entire region, it took an average of 61 days to sell a home in the first quarter of this year. This is down from 68 days in the first quarter of 2017 but up by eleven days when compared to the fourth quarter of 2017.
  • Anyone expecting to see a rapid rise in the number of homes for sale in 2018 will likely be disappointed. New construction permit activity-a leading indicator-remains well below historic levels and this will continue to put increasing pressure on the resale home market.
CONCLUSIONS


This speedometer reflects the state of the region's housing market using housing inventory, price gains, home sales, interest rates, and larger economic factors. For the first quarter of 2018, I have left the needle at the same point as fourth quarter of last year. Price growth remains strong even as sales activity slowed. All things being equal, 2018 is setting itself up to be another very good year for sellers but, unfortunately, not for buyers who will still see stiff competition for the limited number of available homes for sale.
ABOUT MATTHEW GARDNER
Matthew Gardner is the Chief Economist specializing in residential market analysis, commercial/industrial market analysis, financial analysis, and land use and regional economics. He is the former Principal of Gardner Economics, and has more than 30 years of professional experience both in the U.S. and U.K.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Ivy League

There’s nothing as stately as a brick house covered in green vines. This iconic image has been portrayed on television, in movies and, sometimes, in actual neighborhoods. Little does the general public know, they are really watching a house being destroyed bit by bit.


Clinging vines are some of the worst things nature throws at your home on a regular basis, but a lot of homeowners have no idea because it’s death by a thousand cuts. Any one day isn’t probably hurting your house much, but as time passes, more and more hidden damage is taking place.

If your house has vines running up it, it’s time to figure out what you’ve got growing and start getting aggressive about either managing it or destroying it.


Telling the Good Guys From the Bad
Not all vines are the Devil — it just so happens that most of the ones people like to train up their houses are. This may be because they hang on for everything they’re worth, so a strong wind or a violent storm won’t result in a massacre. Whatever the reason, it’s led to a lot of damage to homes for hundreds of years, even if the homeowner never knew it.

Identifying damaging vines isn’t difficult, the beginner horticulturalist can spot the differences once they’ve been shown what to look for.

Elements of a Damaging Vine
Vines don’t set out to destroy your home, they’re merely doing what vines do: climb. It’s just that some of the climbing methods that vines use tend to be fairly destructive in a long term kind of way. Vines have several different methods they use to climb. Some will literally grow in a spiral form to wrap around a nearby support, others send out specially modified parts called tendrils that coil around whatever they can find.

Those two types of climbers are basically harmless, at least as far as your siding is concerned. The real killers are the vines that climb using an adhesive disk or adventitious roots. Both adhesive disks and adventitious roots are very difficult to dislodge once they’re established. You can imagine how this kind of tenacity could bust masonry, dislodge vinyl siding, pull down gutters and lift shingles from your roof.

Adhesive disk of P. Quinquefolia


Vines with adhesive disks have shoots coming off the vine tipped with roundish pads that grip tight using an adhesive that the plant produces. A common troublesome vine that uses this technique is Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus Quinquefolia). Virginia creeper is a beautiful disaster for houses pretty much everywhere. In the summer, it’s a deep green and as fall approaches, it turns to a burning red-orange. It can be hard to make a villain out of a vine like that.

Adventitious roots on brick home


Adventitious roots are a little less complicated, biologically speaking. These are just extra roots that the plant uses to grab hold of things by penetrating any available crack or nook that’s available. The plant doesn’t care if that happens to be a crack in a brick on your house or a nook in a tree somewhere. These structures look a bit like the air roots that orchids produce, or, for those of you who don’t cruise the floral department at your market, they can appear much like thick hairs and cause a centipede sort of effect on the leafless parts of the vine. English Ivy (Hedera Helix) is a champ at producing these roots and also climbing up houses.

Know Thy Enemy
The vines that could be destroying your house already aren’t some kind of plague or an unlucky hand you’ve been dealt. In almost every case, they were planted purposefully. In fact, you can get them at your nearest greenhouse or home improvement store. Neat, huh? People go in looking for a vine to train up their house, then they leave with a bag full, not knowing what they’re about to do. A few examples of the worst vine offenders include:

Wisteria

This glorious vine with hanging purple, white or pink flowers can make a dramatic statement when raised in the right spot. When it’s close to your house, however, the statement it makes is, “I’m about to destroy your siding and your roof.” There have been many cases of Wisteria getting out of control, climbing to the roof, invading the gutters and lifting shingles off of homes. It’s an amazing plant, but keep it far from your home.

Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus Quinquefolia)


The configuration of the five-part compound leaves of Virginia creeper has caused a lot of confusion for homeowners, with some believing it to actually be poison ivy. Virginia creeper is not a plant to worry about from a medical standpoint, but it does put out both adhesive pads and, as it grows, adventitious roots, making it one tough sucker to un-cling from your house.

English Ivy (Hedera Helix)


If there was an Olympic category for climbing and also plants were allowed to compete, English ivy would probably lose to a human that can move faster than it can. But, for a plant, English ivy is quite fast and strong. It’s also enormous. A single English ivy vine can grow to 80 feet in length. That makes it more than capable of climbing to the roof, consuming your television antennae and anything else that it fancies.

Climbing Hydrangea (Hydrangea Petiolaris)


Like English ivy, climbing hydrangea can be a tough number to contend with. The masses of white flowers are awesome, but the adventitious roots will invade any space they find to hold tight, allowing the plant to achieve its full potential: 80 feet of vine growth. Don’t kid yourself, this isn’t a plant to put near structures.

The Indirect Problem With Climbers on a Structure
Beyond being able to cause direct damage to your home anywhere and anywhere they can get a root in sideways, growing climbing plants on a house opens you up for all sorts of interesting problems. Remember that the environment under that mass of leaves is generally very humid, making a perfect place for mold, insects or rot to take hold.

There’s no question about it, growing a vine on a house is really a very bad idea, but I must confess - I have vines on my brick home. I just can't part with them. To ease myself to sleep, I make sure I keep the vines in check and watch closely that they are not wrecking havoc on the mortar. I make sure they don't approach the gutters or the roof. Clearly, I have flunked out of the ole' Ivy League!


Until next time,

la chasse au bonheur