Friday, October 19, 2012

Simple ways to Go green and Save Green

Most people think going green has to be synonymous with spending green. But before you go and drop big bucks on those organic cotton sheets, check out these tips for how to be environmentally conscious and save money at the same time.

1. Install native plants
-You will save money on installation & maintenance.
-Native plants usually cost less because they are easier to come by
-Native plants require less time and water for maintenance since they are already adapted to the climate

2. Use alternate systems for irrigation
-1 sq. foot of yard requires a little over .6 gallons of water to be covered by 1" of water. To cover a typical lawn of 100' x 100' requires 6200 gallons of water!
You get charged both for using the water and the sewage that it produces so costs can add up quickly.
-Alternate methods include installing a rain cistern or barrel, and using rain water for irrigation purposes, you could also use a drip irrigation system or avoid watering your grass at all!
-For drainage, rain gardens are an inexpensive solution

3. Simple weatherproofing
-For a few dollars you can by weatherproof tape and door stops to install on doors that lead to the outside to prevent drafts and heat loss.
-Install thermal curtains ($20-$80 a set) According to the Department of Energy (DOE), 25% of the energy used to heat and cool homes goes right out the window. These curtains will help you save $4-$8 per window per year
-Wrap your water heater with an insulation blanket (about $40) and save about $100/ year on energy costs.

4.Green Clean
Vinegar makes a great non-toxic environmentally friendly cleaning product. It disinfects and leaves a nice shine. Use it on everything from glass to silk plants. Add a few drops of essential oils if you are not keen on the smell.

5. Make a few simple changes around the home:
-Energy efficient light bulbs. (will save you about $35/year over 5 years)
-Reduce your thermostat by 2 degrees in the winter and increase it 2 degrees in the summer
-Replace shower heads with slightly lower flow versions
-Buy a pack of rags for cleaning rather than using disposable wipes
-Clean the vents for appliances (refrigerator, microwave, dryer, HVAC) things will run more efficiently saving money and energy.

What are your tips for going green and saving money?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

"Top" o' the tree to you.

Have you heard of the term "topping"

Some customers request that a large tree be "topped" to reduce its size, but we NEVER recommend topping and in fact, licensed companies can lose their tree expert license for topping trees.

Here's why:

What is topping?
According to the ISA (International Society for Arboriculture) "Topping is the indiscriminate cutting of tree branches to stubs or lateral branches that are not large enough to assume the terminal role." In other words, basically just chopping off the top of a tree to mere stubs.

Why is topping bad?
1. It puts stress on the tree:
Topping can remove over half of the leaf-bearing crown of the tree that provides it with food. This puts the tree in a starvation/survival mode and puts out a large batch of shoots right below the cut. This is the tree's way of rapidly making leaves to produce food. If the tree does not have adequate storage of nutrients, it will be seriously weakened and may die.

2. It causes decay:
The cuts made by topping create wounds that the tree may not be able to heal. These wounds are susceptible to decay. Normally a tree quarantines the decaying section and isolates it. But with multiple cuts made by topping the tree may not be able to defend against the decay.

3. Topping is hazardous:
As mentioned before, the process of topping creates a lot of stress on the tree. The new shoots that are created are more superficial and less stable. This means that the new shoots are more prone to breakage and can cause damage to you our your property.

4. It's UGLY:
Topping disrupts the normal growth of a tree. After first being topped, the tree can look bare and harsh, like the limbs have been untimely amputated.  When the tree starts to grow again, the shoots sprout in a shape akin to a witches broom. The natural beauty and elegance of the tree is lost.

5. It's Expensive:
Once the tree is topped, trimming will be required again as many shoots sprout up. In addition, the shoots are not as strong and will break easily causing damage to property or requiring clean-up. While a well-maintained tree can add to the value of a property a disfigured, topped tree is more of an expense an liability.

What are some alternatives:
-Responsible pruning by a licensed tree expert. If a branch must be shortened, it should be cut back to a lateral that is large enough to assume the terminal role.
-Responsible tree removal by a licensed tree expert

Friday, August 31, 2012

Deck vs. Patio

As you know from my last post, we recently replaced our deck with a patio, that got me thinking about what is better-- deck or patio. Here's a run down of the pros and cons of each:

Price: Overall, patios are usually less expensive. Patios range from $10-$25/sqf depending on material and features while decks are usually $25-$50/sqf. Decks also have the added requirement of permits. Most counties require permits for decks which are additional costs and additional time.

Material: Decks are generally made with pressure treated wood or a composite material like TREX. TREX comes with a 20-25 year warranty while pressure treated wood has no warranty but will generally last approx. 15-20 years. Patios that are built with pavers usually carry a lifetime warranty. In general paver patios require little maintenance and if installed correctly, will not need to be replaced. Concrete patios generally do not have a warranty and will usually crack within the first five years because concrete is stiff and does not move with the variations of the earth.
WINNER: Patio (paver)

Versatility: Patios require a level surface to be installed so grading or retaining walls may be necessary if your yard is on a slope. Decks accommodate slopes and are suitable for high elevations. However, decks may not hold up in areas that experience extreme weather.

Style: This is up to you. Both patio pavers and composite come in a variety of colors and styles to match your design aesthetic. You can also use stamped concrete for patios or stain pressure treated wood decks. Both come with a variety of features that can be added on such as built in lighting, fire pits, pergolas, outdoor kitchens, etc.

So patio or deck? If you are just looking to add an outdoor area to your backyard, I recommend a patio. It lasts longer, has a better warranty and requires less maintenance. However, if you need an elevated outdoor space, a deck is really your only option. Both decks and patios have their appropriate uses, its up to you to take the pros and cons into consideration and choose what works best for your home and family.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

My Patio Story

The shoemaker's kids may have to go barefoot, but the landscaper's family WILL have a beautifully landscaped yard.

It's been over a year since we bought our house, but we are just beginning to tackle the outdoor projects that we had intended to from the start. I wanted to share our experiences with you because I think a lot of people buy a home and then get overwhelmed with all the expenses and unexpected projects that pop up.

For us, the main issue was mold in the basement. We had the mold remediation done before we closed on the house and shortly thereafter, we replaced the drywall and the carpeting. 3 months later, the mold was back. Although, the realtor had described our basement as "the best man cave ever," in the ad, the mold issue made it seem more like a regular old cave, complete with crickets and cobwebs.

Our experience told us that if the mold came back we probably had a drainage issue in our yard and most likely a crack in our foundation. The solution? Waterproofing.

Waterproofing is a process where we excavate the dirt by the side of the house about 8 ft. or to the bottom of the foundation. Any cracks or holes in the foundation are patched and then we apply hydrostatic tar and rubber membrane. You can also install a drainage system to make the waterproofing more effective. It's also important to compact the soil on top of the waterproofed area, since excavated soil will sink over time. Just as we had expected we found several holes in our foundation once we excavated.

Unfortunately, in our case, the side of the house with the mold was also the side that had a deck right above it so in order to waterproof, we would have to completely remove the deck. The deck itself was tinted green from built up algae with peeling paint and rotting wood. So- not a huge loss, but it did leave us without and outdoor space to enjoy.

Our next step was to build a patio. We decided on a paver patio because the pavers have a lifetime warranty and are very durable compared to a wood deck or a slab of concrete. They also have a sophisticated look. Although we didn't use permeable pavers because of the larger price tag, (even though we are in the business, we still have to pay for materials!) we did use recycled pavers. We also installed a French drain, to help prevent erosion, run-off and water pooling (we live at the bottom of a hill).

You may have read my post about how to "pimp your patio," well we took my advice. We installed a sitting wall, covered our grill in stone, put in a fire pit.

While we still need to fix the interior. I can tell you the outside portion of our home looks a lot better and it makes me feel so much better to finally eradicate the cause of the mold.

The other cool thing about this process is that I get to be the customer for once. It definitely gives me a different perspective of our company. But I will say, that unlike other customers, I didn't have to shop around or worry whether or not the workers would do a good job. I am completely confident in our crew. I know that this is what we do and we do it well. I hope you can take confidence in our company too.

If you have any questions about what the process is like, what to expect etc. feel free to ask me. It is always a big decision to have work done on your home, but if it is done right, you will feel so much better about where you live.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

It's not easy being Green

It's nice to have ideals, it's nice to have values, it's nice to stick to them 100% of the time but sometimes it's not always realistic.

Take "going green," for example. There are some people that go to extremes: buying only organic produce, walking or biking everywhere, using "green" toilet bowl cleaner (I mean really?). It's these type of people that have turned "going green" into a dogma that must be strictly followed. I mean, god forbid you should throw away that banana peel instead of composting it.

When I got pregnant, I had lofty ideas of cleaning up my act and being more "green." I bought cloth diapers, switched to organic produce and even bought a few "green" cleaning products. The reality is that now that my baby is here, cloth diapers lead to 50% shorter naps (he wakes up when he's wet), organic produce is not always affordable, and I still haven't found the time to clean.

But I've made compromises. I try to use cloth diapers a couple of times a day (not before naps!), I eat organic when I can, and, ok, I still haven't found much time to clean green or not green.

The same applies to your yard. You don't have to choose the "sustainable choice" 100% of the time, but making a conscious effort to be more environmentally friendly when you can does have an impact (however small it may be).

Lawn: The trade off: You want a green lawn but you know its not sustainable to water your yard. Solution:
Cut back on watering. A 10' x 10' area requires 62.3 gallons a water a week to water the recommended amount of 1" of water but many people use more. You can also adjust your sprinklers to make sure they aren't watering your driveway or the sidewalk. Also, make sure you are watering your grass early in the morning or in the evening to prevent rapid evaporation. Installing rain barrels or cisterns are also a good option to cut back on water use.

Landscape: The trade off: You want a beautifully landscaped yard, but know that things like using fertilizer and invasive species is not good for the earth. The solution: Plant native plants. They require less maintenance and fertilizer since they are already adapted to the climate. If you can't give up fertilizer, try using an organic brand. Use mulch from a recycled source.

Hardscapes: The trade off: You want to create an outdoor oasis with a patio or deck but you know that impermeable hardscapes cause erosion, run-off and limit the amount of green space. The solution: Permeable pavers and pervious concrete are a great option to help prevent erosion, while still providing the look and functionality of  a traditional hardscape. If you can't spring for these more expensive materials, try adding a separate drainage system that incorporates into the hardscape (generally less expensive). Use a low SRI material (lighter in color) to prevent the "heat island effect" and add plants or built-in planters to incorporate green space.

I hope these simple tips help you understand that even if you can't be 100% green, you can make a conscious effort to do what's right for the environment on a smaller scale. Every little thing helps!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Tree Service Insurance Claims

With the recent storm, we have been spending a lot of time removing damaged trees and restoring damaged property. Most of our work has been covered by the home owners’ insurance policies, which is great when it comes to avoiding a huge unexpected expense.  However, an emergency situation is never the best time to have to figure out your insurance’s coverage and procedures. Below is a simple guide to some of the most frequent questions we receive from homeowners:

  1. If your neighbor’s tree falls in your yard, whose responsibility is it? The short answer is that it is YOUR responsibility. If their tree falls on your property, it is considered an act of God, and will be covered by your insurance policy unless you can prove that they knew the tree was a hazard before it fell and that they could have prevented the damage.  BE PROACTIVE If you notice that a neighbor’s tree looks like it poses a hazard, have a chat with your neighbor about getting it removed. If they are not receptive to the idea, get a letter from a certified company stating that the tree is a hazard and should be removed. That way, you will be prepared if it does cause any damages to your property.
  2. What will my insurance company cover? Most policies cover removal of trees and debris that cause damage to your property (i.e. house, deck, fence, shed etc.) Insurance usually does not cover a tree (or portion of a tree) that is still standing or a tree that has fallen on the ground, but has not damaged any of your property.
  3. There is a tree on my roof, do I have to wait for a claims adjuster? In case of emergency you usually do not need to wait for your insurance to give you a quote to remove the tree from your roof and cover any holes with a tarp. A tree sitting on your roof is liable to cause more damage while you wait! However, do make sure that you document the damages and save invoices and receipts to make sure that you are reimbursed. Also note that for repairs (such as damage to your roof) you may need to wait for a claim adjuster.
  4. How much is going to come out of my pocket? You will only have to pay for your insurance policy’s deductible. In an emergency, don’t worry about shopping around for the lowest quote. You insurance company will handle payment for the tree service. This is why it is important to use a company that is knowledgeable about tree service and certified to handle tree removal. Using an unreliable, unlicensed and uninsured  service company could end up costing you more in the long run.
  5. What can I do to prevent damage in the first place? Be proactive. Even if your insurance company covers damage and repairs, it’s better not to risk it. Storm related tree damage can cause severe property damage, injury and even death. Get hazardous trees and limbs removed. Contact a licensed tree expert or arborist for a tree assessment.

We hope this advice helps demystify things for you. Please contact us (301-603-1080) if you have any questions or if you would like a tree assessment. Also, insurance policies differ, while our advice applies to *MOST* policies, be sure to check with your agent to make sure you know the facts.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Enjoy your yard more!

Ever stepped into your backyard and thought "Ugh this place is a mess: weeds, mosquitoes, grass as high as my knees and when did that ditch in the middle of my yard turn into a swap." Yes, keeping your yard up is a lot of work, and unless you love gardening, heading out in the scorching summer heat to mow, weed and fertilize after a long day at work is NOT exactly what I'd call "enjoying your yard."

That's why I've come up with these simple tips to help you start enjoying your own personal outdoor space more.

1. Hire Professionals: Think about how much your time is worth. Do you really want to spend your beautiful sunny Saturday afternoon hunched over a patch of dirt? Our lawn maintenance packages are affordable, and you can't beat the feeling of coming home to a gorgeous yard full of green grass and beautiful flowers. Plus, professionals know what they are doing and can arguably do a better job than you could on your own. Look for an all inclusive package that includes a spring and fall clean-up, fertilizer applications, core aeration and leaf clean-up in the fall. Soon you'll have more free time to spend with family and friends!

2. Get the Edge: Edging helps create a defined and finished look to your mulched trees and flowerbeds. For a long lasting, and more refined looking edge, we often create small retaining walls using interlocking concrete blocks.

3. Install a Patio or Deck: Creating a defined place to enjoy gatherings with family and friends will give you a new reason to celebrate. And if you read our post on how to "Pimp your Patio" you can create an outdoor oasis.

4. Plant some Trees: It is officially summer and you know that means 100 degree days under the blazing sun. Forget expensive awnings! There is no better or greener way to give your yard the shade you crave than by planting trees. As a bonus, large trees shading your house can help you to cut your A/C bills in the summer.

5. Solve Drainage Issues: Hate Mosquitoes? Mosquitoes love water and water pools when you have drainage issues. We can solve your drainage issues with waterproofing, french drains, pop-up emitters and swales. Less standing water means less places for bugs to breed. It also means more yard to enjoy and less swamp!

Try implementing some of these ideas and let me know if you are able to better enjoy your yard. This is the first official weekend in summer so there is no better time to start enjoying your yard than now!

P.S. If your kids are home for the summer, a great backyard is a wonderful way to kill some time and burn off some energy!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Pimp my Patio

Summer is just around the corner so its time to start thinking about enjoying warm summer nights lounging outdoors in your yard. How can you create a spectacular outdoor space? Here are some tips:

Whether you have a DECK or PATIO use these techniques to enhance the look and enjoyment of your outdoor space

  • Make a pattern: use different colored composite, wood stains or pavers to create a cool looking design on your deck or patio.
  • Fire pit: Who doesn't like roasted marshmallows? Fire pits can be added to decks or patios to create a fun and functional centerpiece
  • Outdoor Kitchen: Be the envy of your neighborhood with a built in outdoor kitchen. Granite counter tops and built in stone or concrete block storage will make your yard a luxurious extension of your house. Great for entertaining.
  • Pergola: For that fantasy magic garden effect, a pergola can transform your patio or deck from ordinary to extraordinary.
  • Built in Seating: A sitting wall or built in benches can be a great addition to any deck or patio. The extra seating is sure to come in handy for larger get togethers
  • Lighting: Everyone knows that lighting is a great way to create a certain mood. Use built in lighting to make your patio or deck more romantic and easier to use at night.
With these simple features, you can create an outdoor space that is sure to impress. Contact us if you are interested in installing any of the features listed. 301-603-1080

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

How does your Garden grow?

Do you like vegetables?

As a kid I hated them. I vividly remember spitting them out into napkins, surreptitiously scooping them into the trash, or using any other number of tactics to avoid eating them.

As an adult, I have learned that there are some vegetables that are not so abominable, dare I say even delicious.

Recently I have been reading a lot of recipe blogs. One of the roles I have tried to take on as a new mom is making delicious and healthy meals and what could be healthier than home grown organic vegetables. (Sure, my baby hasn't started solids yet, but all this practice can't hurt.)

If you have ever thought about making a vegetable garden, we can help with that. We can even put a nifty concrete block border around it to give it a sophisticated look and help prevent the erosion of the soil.

And what should you plant?

The possibilities are endless. Tomatoes, herbs, squash, and peppers are all pretty easy to grow.

Once you've got your garden going try using the vegetables in some healthy recipes.
Here is one of my favorite: ZACUSCA

This is my healthier take on a traditional Romanian dish (which is usually loaded with oil):

1 large eggplant
2 red peppers
1 large red onion
1 can of stewed tomatoes, drained (or tomato paste)
2 cloves of garlic
1tablespoon of oil
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Peel eggplant.
2. Chop all vegetables in to small cubes and place in a glass (9x13) pan.
3. Mince garlic and add it to the pan
4. Add stewed tomatoes and drizzle oil on top
5. Bake at 375 for 25 min. then stir
6. Bake at 375 for another 20-30 min.
7. Let cool, then blend in a food processor or blender (consistency should be chunky like salsa)
8. Add salt and pepper to taste
9. Enjoy!

You can use the zacusca as a spread, side dish and sometimes I even eat it as my main dish.
Try it and let me know if you enjoy it!

Monday, June 4, 2012

The truth about Concrete

Yes, I'll admit it. We DO install regular concrete and we do a great job of it. We are even certified to install decorative stamped concrete. But in spite of all this, it is usually our last recommendation to clients. Why, you ask... well here are a list of pros and cons:

Cost- one of the least expensive materials for hardscaping
Versatility- can be used for many different types of projects (walkways, retaining walls, driveways, flooring, etc.
Recyclable- Can be recylced

Cracks!- Concrete is bound to crack within a few years of installation. Why? Concrete is porous and as a result small beads of water can infiltrate it and create cracks when frozen.  Also, since concrete is generally poured in large rigid sections, it does not accommodate changes in the earth and thus cracks more easily.
Non-sustainable- Concrete covers the earth not only reducing the square footage of green area, but also preventing proper drainage since it is impervious. This can lead to run-off and erosion
No Warranty- Regular concrete, the material, almost never comes with a warranty, because it will crack over time. Materials like pavers come with a lifetime warranty so overall they are a better value.
Aesthetics- Concrete tends to look cold, hard and unappealing. Use pavers or natural stone for a more upscale look.

So what do we recommend for things like patios, walkways, retaining walls? Interlocking blocks and permeable pavers if possible. Yes they are slightly more expensive, but in the long run they are a much better value. They come with a lifetime warranty, look more attractive and are better for the environment.

Find out more about our services at
or CALL US 301-603-1080

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Sustainable Tree Service

"OK," you say, "that's a good one. Now you are trying to make cutting down trees green, yeah right."

Well hold on skeptic! While visions of the Lorax may dance in your head and with Earth day and Arbor day just behind us, you may be thinking that cutting down trees is the antithesis of "green." But think again, my Dr. Seuss loving friend, its necessary to trim and even cut trees down at some point. I mean, you don't want dead trees and limbs falling on your house during a storm, do you?

While its important to find a contractor who knows how to safely remove trees, wouldn't it be great if tree service could be done in an Eco-concious way too? Well since a lot of our business comes from tree service, we've tried to implement sustainable tree removal policies. Here are some simple ways we have found to do this:

1. To Trim or Remove: Contact an expert to find out if the tree needs to be removed or if it only needs to be trimmed. You may be able to improve the safety and health of a tree by trimming it instead of removing the whole tree.

2. Make sure trimming is done right: Improper trimming can result in the death of your trees. Avoid topping! Make sure a trained expert is doing the trimming and that the company carries the proper licenses or certifications. In our state, Maryland, the contractor must be a Licensed MD Tree Expert.

3. Recycle: Use a company that recycles wood. Either by donating spare wood to a local lumber yard, using it for firewood or reusing the wood chips as mulch.

4. Don't be afraid to remove dead or diseased trees: If your tree is truly dead or diseased beyond treatment, don't be afraid to remove it! A dead tree is a safety hazard to you, your family and your neighbors.Tree diseases can spread between trees and result in more death and disease. Removal of a diseased tree by a professional, will prevent the unnecessary death of surrounding trees.

5. Re-plant: If you are forced to remove a tree, you can always plant a new tree or two in its place! Many local governments actually require that residents replace trees that they remove. Be an over achiever and replace trees even if it is not required by your jurisdiction.

Click to learn more about our tree service or request an estimate

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Green Moms

You may have noticed I haven't posted in a while, I have taking a brief hiatus from blogging with the pregnancy and birth of my first son but I am back now with a little less sleep but a little more inspiration. Being a mom has made me see the world and sustainability with new eyes.

Back when I was growing up, I did a lot of babysitting. While watching different kids I noticed a trend in the way mid-upper class families were raising their kids. There was a new focus on organic food, natural cleaning products, high efficiency products and sustainability in general. I jokingly referred to the parents of these children as "Soy moms," because their refrigerators always seemed to be stocked with a plethora of soy products: tofu "ice cream" sandwiches, tempeh, soy milk, etc. This almost became a joke between me and my sister who would try to raid the refrigerators after the kids had gone to sleep but were too turned off by the sound of "tofu cookies" to even take a bite.

Now that I am a mom, I get it. We want to do anything that will give our children a better chance at life. That includes offering them the nutrition of organic soy as well as protecting the environment that they will one day grow up into.

The new reality is that by the time our kids grow up we may have used up our oil sources, Global warming may create huge natural disasters and that's a scary thought. We don't just want our kids to grow up like we did, with clean air and water and gas prices that don't break the bank every time you fuel up. We want them to have better. Our lifestyle of using cars to go somewhere 2 blocks away, turning on the air conditioning as soon as the weather goes above 70 degrees F, and eating unsustainable produce and meat has contributed to the declining health and obesity epidemic of our nation. For the first time in years, kids may have shorter life expectancies than their parents.

As moms we want to step in to protect our kids and protect their future. As spring approaches, and people are looking to do more projects on their house and yard, I would encourage you to try to make sustainable decisions as you move forward with these projects. Try to water your grass less, use organic fertilizer or install a drainage system that helps prevent run off and erosion. Choose FSC wood for construction projects and look into permeable pavers and concrete for hardscaping. The more we all try to change, the better future we leave for the next generation.