As America’s 76 million baby boomers approach retirement age, their home’s accessibility and ease of use becomes just as important as its aesthetic. New products and smart designs are making it easier for the forever-young generation to improve their homes for convenient use, intuitive functionality and comfort—all while maintaining their own sense of style.
When making aging in place updates to your home, here are some considerations to make:
If you’ve ever cut raw chicken or shaped hamburger patties in your hands, you know how inconvenient it is to turn the knobs or levers to your kitchen sink with messy fingers. Thankfully, manufacturers are introducing touchless kitchen sinks to streamline and simplify cooking and cleaning tasks.
Good lighting is critical, especially in the kitchen and bathroom where insufficient lighting can result in accidents. In these spaces, task lighting is key, whether it’s above the vanity in the master bath or where the majority of food prep takes place in the kitchen. Consider swapping standard toggle switches out for paddle switches—the wider surface area provides a simpler way to turn the lights on and off.
The floor can make a huge difference in both comfort and safety. Slip-resistant surfaces are of utmost importance. If new flooring is a part of your home update, be sure to find out the slip-resistance rating for the surface you’re considering. Keep the following in mind: honed stone provides significantly more traction than polished. And for even more traction, consider a smaller tile size—especially in the bathroom. More grout equals more slip-resistance.
Use color and materials to mark the transition from room to room, inside to outside, to make moving throughout the home safer. A floor with a color similar to carpet in an adjacent room could be a tripping hazard, so reduce risk by using different colors to transition from room to room.
Color contrast is one of the easiest updates to do. Paint a band of contrasting color at the edge of a transition in the floor.
As we age, it becomes more difficult to get in and out of low seating — the toilet is no different. Toilets with a height comparable to standard chairs makes it easier for all of us to sit down or stand up.
Whether your age-in-place update simply includes swapping out your kitchen faucet or embarking on a sizeable renovation, incorporating these smart changes will help you live safely and stylishly in the place you love to call home.
–Info courtesy Kohler Co.
Six Levels of Senior Housing in Vermont
• Independent Housing: private residential units with kitchen and dining areas, bedroom(s), bathroom(s), and living areas; barrier-free with emergency call features, housing management and maintenance services, geared toward independently functioning people. No regular meals, housekeeping, or home health services.
• Congregate Housing: private apartments in a complex that contains central dining and other common areas for those who want or need some supportive services including dining, housekeeping, home health and other assistance.
• Assisted Living: private living units and bathing facilities in a complex; common dining and activity areas; geared toward those who have difficulty functioning independently and who require oversight; provide an array of services, including 24-hour staff, meal plans, transportation services, nursing assessment, care planning/oversight, medication management, organized activities.
• Shared Homes: private bedrooms and either private or shared bathrooms, with common living, dining, and kitchen areas for those wanting a home-like setting; support services such as daily meals, service coordination, and light housekeeping. Residents can bring in hospice care, but these homes are not designed for those with intensive medical needs.
• Residential Care Homes (RCHs): two categories in Vermont – Level III and Level IV; not required to be barrier-free or to offer private accommodations and baths, although many do. Both levels of licensure provide general supervision, personal care assistance, organized activities and transportation services up to three times per month. Level III RCHs also provide nursing oversight, medication management and 24-hour staffing. Level IV RCHs do not.
• Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs): combine independent housing, congregate housing, and assisted living with the availability of nursing home care; require a significant upfront investment, and monthly fees; offer individual residents the benefit of remaining in their community as care-level needs increase.
Compiled by Don Manders with help from Veda Lyon, Manager of the Community Development Unit for the Vermont Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living
By Phyl Newbeck
Flowers, trees and vegetables will always be the cornerstone of any outdoor space, but with the constraints of a Vermont climate, there are other ways to spruce up your yard, ensuring that your garden is just as enjoyable in mud or stick season as it is in the middle of summer. In the Green Mountain state, hardscapes – defined as structures that are incorporated into a landscape to accentuate the natural elements such as fountains, benches and gazebos – are increasing in popularity.
Charlotte landscape designer Ashley J. Robinson is also pleased Vermonters are becoming as interested in the use of particular plants as they are in their ornamental features. In conjunction with this trend, homeowners are using stone, wood, concrete, gravel, woodchips and mulch to help highlight the fact that plants serve a purpose. Robinson is seeing the installation of pathways and stone walls to promote circulation through gardens, in contrast to previous preferences for big lawns with no structure. She enjoys combining different elements such as perching a wood rail fence on top of a short stone wall or using wood chips to create a natural looking walkway.
“Accessibility oriented gardening is a big trend,” says Nate Carr of Church Hill Landscaping in Charlotte. “The goal is to get more and more people outside and allow them to do light gardening chores.”
Marie Limoge of Landshapes, a landscape design and installation firm based in Richmond, agrees. Limoge said many people are installing big stone stairs to reach less accessible areas on their property, as well as establishing pathways. In addition to traditional stone walkways, Limoge said many people are opting for concrete pavers, which come in many sizes and shapes and are more environmentally friendly because they are permeable.
Carr said he is also seeing many requests for outdoor kitchen features. His company makes permanent grills which are inserted into a stone wall with a countertop surface. These grills are often installed near the main kitchen, but sometimes they are designed for an area of the yard that has the potential to be a gathering place. “We find that people really enjoy being outside and having a permanent cooking area instead of a roll-around grill,” he said. “At indoor parties, people congregate in the kitchen, so this is a way of moving the party outdoors into a healthy environment.”
Carr said many customers are also requesting simple outdoor fire pits or more elaborate outdoor fireplaces. He said those features ranked high on a survey recent survey by the American Society of Landscape Architects. “It’s a wholesome experience,” he said. “You’ve got kids sitting around a campfire. You can stay out a little bit longer and enjoy the sunset with a bit of additional heat.”
Limoge said her company has also been installing fire pits and patios, but another trend she sees is natural swimming ponds. Landshapes installs ponds which incorporate a bog to cycle water through native plants, eliminating the need for chemicals. Limoge has also installed landscape lighting in a number of locations. “Your yard becomes an extension of your home,” she said. As skin cancer becomes more and more of a concern, Limoge said her company has begun installing shades which can stand alone or connect to an existing structure. The shades come in a variety of sizes, colors and shapes and provide an alternative to awnings.
At Gardener’s Supply, Maree Gaetani notes five distinct trends — color, whimsy, elegance, nightscaping and use of water.
Last year, the company introduced a line of poppy sways which proved so popular that two additional colors — yellow and purple — have been added to the line. Last year’s “rainbow bottle trees” are still strong sellers and this year the company is selling additional bottles since customers complained that the wine bottles they added to the array weren’t sufficiently colorful. Often, people will design their gardens around these artificial features, planting fragrant roses, hollyhocks and larkspur surrounding the sculptures.
Gaetani said Vermonters are doing more with perennial gardens and native plants, which often tend to be less showy than annuals. Unpredictable weather and drought can further drain color and life from a garden so Green Mountain State natives are purchasing whimsical items to liven up their landscapes. “Whimsy is back,” Gaetani said, noting that some items are used by parents as a way to get small children interested in gardening. Gaetani pointed to a funky chicken whirligig, musical frogs, and an anthropomorphic resting rabbit as examples.
On the other side of the scale, there is a movement toward more traditional English cottage gardens. The Jardin line of trellises, antique plant pot stakes and a bronze-leaf bird bath are popular items in that category.
Gaetani said water features and other liquid elements are always in high demand. Although these items are pricier, a natural-looking fountain made from an artful pile of river stones, a more traditional solar pineapple pedestal fountain and a deep blue two-tier pedestal fountain are best sellers. Gaetani also sees a trend toward what she calls “nightscaping” — the use of solar lights to highlight the garden. These include solar string lights, lights shaped like morning glories and simple spotlights which shine on a particular plant or tree.
Q: We are spending this season working on my late aunt’s country cottage (makes us feel warm imagining the summer). It’s a very plain little house, so our first idea was to make it all white. Nice and clean-looking, but not very interesting. We’ve already bought white (or off-white) furniture. What’s your advice about adding color — where and how?
A: My advice is, do it! Anywhere and any color you introduce into an all-white scheme will have major impact on the attitude and energy in the room.
The KISS syndrome also applies: Keep It Simple, keeping with the basic cottage nature of your house. Look what a genius stroke of apple green does for the all-neutral country-home living room we show here.
Folk artist and author Terry John Woods devotes his new book, “Summer House,” to romancing a cabin in the woods, a house by the beach, the kind of quiet, simple retreats where childhoods are spent and adults’ memories are laid down.
In the neutral living room of his southern Maine house, (see photo on page 9) Woods demonstrates the power of one perfect color. On an antiquing expedition, he found the old green door in a salvage shop and, he writes, “I just had to have it.” Merely propped against the wall, the door made the all-white room spring to life, abetted by the bright green print on the chair cushions.
That green, by the way, is destined to take on more yellow undertones, according to the latest “Color Pulse” predictions from Benjamin Moore, the giant paint company that keeps close watch on the latest color trends. Here are a few highlights from the “Color Pulse” report presented recently at the New York International Gift Fair:
Turquoise lies ahead on the color charts.
Red is going orangey — more of yellow’s overall influence on the 2013 palette.
Ditto for yellow itself, as it takes on warm red-based overtones.
Dusty roses and mauves are back on the scene.
Metallics are keeping their gleam but not their shine: look for more eggshell finishes.
Wood, one of the world’s oldest materials, is new and important again. Watch for textures inspired by tree bark, for mixes of light and dark woods and for woods deliberately left unfinished and natural.
Coffee — the grounds, not the color — is another natural material that’s making decorative news. Not the same old grind by any means: watch for objects like decorative bowls fashioned from coffee grounds.
Other ordinary materials showing up in unexpected places include man-made decking layered on as wall covering, plumber’s plungers used as table legs and packing materials repurposed into light fixtures. What a bright idea! - CNS
Rose Bennett Gilbert is the co-author of “Manhattan Style” and six other books on interior design.
Homebuilders should offer more than starter homes and condos
By Mark J. Donovan
As my wife and I were out walking today, we discussed our future home requirements and desires. With two out of three of our children out of college, we’re thinking of downsizing our home in the not-too-distant future. We’d like to buy something smaller than our existing home, but we don’t want to buy a starter home or a condo. Unfortunately, at least in our area of the country, those seem to be the only two options for empty nesters who are looking for new home construction.
As we commiserated on this fact, we came to the conclusion that there has to be a market for high-end smaller homes for older adults. With the population aging and the baby boomer generation just starting to get to retirement age, it seems inevitable that smaller homes will be in high demand. My wife and I are hard pressed to believe that most “under-70” baby boomers will seriously consider downsizing into small condo units, the equivalent of what we once called an apartment complex, or into smaller homes with contractor grade flooring, lighting, and appliances. Yet those seem to be the only two choices available today for older adults, unless they choose to buy a small home and completely remodel it themselves.
Homebuilders should seriously take note of the country’s aging population and begin to design and build more new high end smaller homes for this demographic. Effectively, this group of homebuyers will be looking for the “Porsche’d-out” home, both in size and features.
This market opportunity offers several benefits to the builder, real estate agent and municipality. First, it offers a high-margin product to a large population with deep pockets. Second, though I’m not a fan of cluster zoning, due to the smaller footprint associated with a compact home, more homes can be built per square acre. This translates into more revenue for the builder, real estate agent and even for the municipality. Most towns or cities would bend over backward to have more positive cash flow residential property within their borders. With today’s sky-high cost per pupil expenditures for public education, just one child in a home can easily create a negative tax cash flow to the municipality. As a result, just as municipalities have offered tax breaks to builders for constructing 50+ age condo unit complexes, they should do the same for builders constructing high-end smaller homes for older adults in 50-plus cluster zones.
With a housing market that has been in decline for about six years now, building higher-end smaller homes for older adults may be just the ticket for turning the market around. Another benefit to this concept is that the same smaller home designs and floor plans could also be used for the younger and/or less wealthy market segments. To lower the costs for these populations, some of the high-end internal features could be reduced to “builder’s-grade.” The only difference would be that these homes would not be eligible for tax breaks because of the fact that they would more than likely have children in them and as a result be negative tax flows for the community.
Building smaller homes also offers a couple of “green” advantages. Energy demands associated with smaller homes are less, and the effective “carbon footprint” for each occupant living in these smaller homes is reduced. Ultimately, this translates into annual energy cost savings for the occupants and a better environment for everyone.
By Pat Logan
ear Pat: My house has just an average-size kitchen, and I am totally remodeling it. Do you have any guidelines for selecting or designing kitchen cabinets or counter areas for the most usable space?
— Jennifer F.
Dear Jennifer: Your question is an interesting one because the storage in 95 percent of new and remodeled kitchens is very poorly designed. The cabinets and drawers may be of high quality and well-made, but the storage basics are just not well-thought-out.
A typical example is having a knife drawer or a compartment in a kitchen drawer for knives, forks, spoons, etc. This might sound like a wise plan because you always know where the knives are, at least until your children put them in the wrong place.
Actually, a much better way to store cooking utensils is by their specific function and where they are used more often. If you use a paring knife most often by the sink and the bread knife on another countertop, store each closer to where it usually is used. The paring knife can be stored in a slot in the countertop, and the bread knife can be stored in the breadbox.
This one item might save only a few steps and a few extra motions, but when you add up all these extra motions for a large meal preparation, the time saved can be significant. It is not unlike how an industrial engineer lays out a workspace for a worker in a factory. The goal is to minimize the extra motions that just waste time.
Before you buy any of the base cabinets (under the countertop) and upper cabinets (on the walls over the countertop), make a list of the items you want to store in them. Categorize them by how often they are used and where they are used in the kitchen.
For example, there really is no need to store all your spices in the same location. You may have some spices that you use almost every time you cook and others you seldom use. Store the frequently used ones near the front at eye level in prime storage area. The others can be put in a harder-to-reach location.
Many seldom-used items can be stored on top shelves in the backs of the cabinets to free up the more easily accessible areas. In most kitchens, the backs of many of the upper cabinets never are used, and the front areas are cluttered with these items.
Next, subcategorize the items by their height, because this will determine the required heights of the drawers and cabinet shelves. Some short items can be placed on tilted (staircase) racks inside a drawer to reduce the drawer height. One-inch clearance above the items is all that is required. With this planning, you can have the cabinets designed with drawers and shelves of proper heights.
Keep in mind that the easy-access zone for most people is a height from the floor of about 22 to 55 inches. This area is easy to reach and see without bending or stretching. For handicapped or elderly people in wheelchairs, the upper range for easy access is about 46 inches. Another storage tip to consider is to store larger plates vertically in racks in the upper cabinets. When they are stacked one on top of another, the top one may be difficult to reach.
Saving energy with low-E glass
By Mark J. Donovan
All window glass panes are not the same. Just because a new window is double-pane, doesn’t mean you’re necessarily buying the most energy-efficient window. Yes, because of increased insulation performance, a double-pane window is a step-up in saving energy and keeping your home more comfortable during the cold winter months. However, by itself, a double-pane window doesn’t help to keep your home cooler during the summer. By selecting windows with energy savings, such as low-E glass, which are also double-pane, you can ensure year-round energy-efficient windows.
Low-E glass, or low-emissivity glass, is a special type of glass that has spectrally selective coatings applied to it. The thin-film coating is specifically designed to allow only certain wavelengths of the solar spectrum to pass through the glass and enter the home, while restricting others. More specifically, it prevents solar ultraviolet wavelength energy from entering the home. The ultraviolet light is what actually warms the surface of the objects that it comes in contact with. Ultraviolet light also causes furniture fabric, carpeting and wood floors to fade over time.
Low-E glass is unlike the dark-shaded glass that was produced decades ago. The energy-saving low-E glass of today has so fine a film coating on it, that it is nearly imperceptible to the naked eye. It effectively appears clear, thus not reducing the amount of natural light into your home. Moreover, today’s low-E glass film coatings are specially designed and applied so they help keep homes cooler during the summer months and warmer during the winter months. As a result, when combined with double-pane window technology, it provides the maximum in energy savings.
When purchasing energy-saving low-E glass windows, make sure to select those appropriate for your climate region. Not all of them are the same. There are several types of spectrally selective low-E film coatings, and none are ideal for all climate regions. For example, there are some types that are more appropriate for the southwestern United States, while there are others that are more appropriate for the Northeast. As a matter of fact, the Energy Star program identifies four unique climate zones in the United States. With each climate zone, they recommend a specific type of low-E glass to be used in the windows. As a result, for those homeowners and builders participating in the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program to build energy-efficient rated homes, they must use the specific type for their region, as recommended by the government.
For example, the Energy Star program recommends homes built in the Northern and Central regions of the United States to use “Moderate Solar Gain Low-E Glass Windows.” These types of windows are specially designed to screen out a high percentage of the sun’s ultraviolet light during the summer months and a lower percentage during the winter months, when the added solar heating is desired. In the Southwest portion of the country, however, the government’s Energy Star program recommends using “Low Solar Gain Low-E Windows.” These windows let in even less ultraviolet sunlight and heat during the summer months.
To learn more about spectrally selective low-E glass and other ways to make your home more energy efficient, visit EnergyStar.gov.
Yardscapes offer new dimension to home ownership
By Adam White
The smell of a roasting chicken wafts from the oven. A piano concerto twinkles from the stereo speakers. An open bottle of vintage Bordeaux is left to breathe on the coffee table in front of the plush, overstuffed sofa – both of which sit upon a floor of richly colored stone.
The best part? The 360-degree, panoramic view of the surrounding natural world – with no walls in the way.
Thanks to the expanding possibilities of outdoor yardscapes, more people than ever are replicating the comforts of their favorite room outside the confines of their typical, four-walled world.
“Over the last few years, I’ve seen a real focus on exterior space, on this idea of creating another room outside,” said Ashley Robinson, who operates a namesake landscape design business in Charlotte. “I think people are realizing the benefit of what it can do for their living space to add an outdoor dimension to it.”
From creative landscaping with flowering plants and trees to patios to structural additions such as decks, pergolas and outbuildings, the possibilities for yardscapes are almost endless. Robinson thinks that having such a wide array of possibilities benefits those on both sides of a project.
“It’s so individual,” she said. “There’s a lot of variance, and that allows local craftspeople to really do what they do well.”
Nowhere is that expansive palette more prevalent than in the patio industry. David Pariser, owner of Vermont Stone LLC in Williston, said that patios run the gamut from traditional red brick to more naturalistic bluestone and far more exotic materials, with design touches only limited by the imagination.
“You can start mixing materials, and incorporating things like patterns, circles and borders,” Pariser said. “People get really fancy. I’ve seen names and family crests used in patios; if you’re a boater, you might want something like an anchor imbedded in the design.”
Pariser said that a project’s price tag typically grows along with its complexity, but customers with deep enough pockets could end up with their very own yellow brick road.
“I’ll lay a patio of gold bullion if someone wants it,” he said with a laugh.
More realistically, a customer will want a functional and aesthetically pleasing space that meshes with the existing characteristics of their home and property. The initial step toward that is assessing the “envelope” that the new patio will fit into.
“The first things we look at are the gradation of the yard – hills, drop-off, pitch – and how we’re going to handle water,” Pariser said. “Another factor is proximity to the home; if people have a favorite tree in their yard, they might want a patio next to it that connects to the home with a path.”
Pariser said that while concrete patio stones are gaining in appeal due to their vast array of shapes, colors and textures, stone remains one of the most popular choices for homeowners. It doesn’t degrade or rot over time, and it can boost the resale appeal of a property down the road.
“A stone patio is a permanent addition that definitely adds value to a home,” Pariser said.
Playing with a full deck
Another way to use yardscapes to bolster a real estate investment is to add a deck or porch onto a home. According to owner David Cone of DC Construction in Burlington, homeowners often start with something modest – he cited a simple, 10-foot-square deck as an example – and graduate to larger and more elaborate projects in the future.
“We’ve been doing this for 23 years, and we’ve had a lot of our former customers come back and tell us that a porch or deck we built helped them sell their house,” Cone said.
Cone said while family size helps determine the right size deck for a customer, budget is the single biggest factor. Once the potential cost is ironed out, Cone’s next challenge is to help develop a design that works with the existing structure.
“The most important thing is to make it look like it belongs,” Cone said. “People will fall in love with a design that looks great in a magazine, but just wouldn’t work on their house.”
Once the deck is built, Vermont’s severe winters can pose some issues. Cone said the Green Mountain State’s 100-degree annual temperature change can “wreak havoc on wood,” making synthetic decking materials a wise choice. His company also uses tapered footings beneath the deck’s supports, to combat problems with ground frost.
A new set of walls
Homeowners sometimes want to add an entire additional structure to their yardscape. Andre Plouffe’s family business in Colchester, Little House By Andre, has spent the past three decades building and selling gazebos, pergolas and other outdoor structures to enhance people’s property.
Plouffe thinks that the economy has played a role in the proliferation of the yardscape industry.
“Everybody’s staying home these days, so they want to turn their back yard into a resort,” he said.
Little House By Andre sells all manner of outbuildings, and not just for human enjoyment; the company’s website touts a “K9 Castle” that provides the best in combined indoor/outdoor living for the family pet. But Plouffe said that his top-selling structure remains the “classic, screened-in gazebo,” especially with advancements such as composite floors and other synthetic materials.
“When it gets dirty, you basically just hose it off,” Plouffe said. “Other than that, it’s more or less maintenance-free; people joke that their gazebo is going to last longer than they are.”
Little House By Andre also builds playhouses for children. Plouffe pointed out that these structures serve multiple purposes for grandparents, as they can be used as extra storage space once the children head back home from a visit.
The joy of ‘eating out’
While an additional closet might be useful, the room that many homeowners want duplicated outside is the kitchen. Great-outdoors gourmets have long existed in places like the American southwest, but advancements in outdoor appliance technology and more creativity from forward-thinking designers and contractors have helped bring that trend to New England as well.
“When you get an experienced builder who knows what they are doing, and it’s done right, you can create a pretty nice outdoor kitchen in Vermont,” said Sloane Carbonel of Cocoplum Appliance in Essex Junction. “But the weather here is definitely a factor in how you’re going to design it.”
Carbonel said that the outdoor versions of high-end kitchen appliances typically eschew plastic and painted metal surfaces in favor of stainless steel, which stands up better to the rigors of the changing seasons. He said that outdoor kitchen configurations tend to involve as much under-counter placement of appliances as possible, to afford them additional protection from the elements.
“You see a lot of stone being used, because it stands up to rain and snow well,” Carbonel said.
Geography also plays a role in how the outdoor kitchen as a whole is shielded from Mother Nature.“If you live in a place like Arizona where it never rains, why would you want to put a roof over your outdoor kitchen?” Carbonel said. “But if you like to barbecue in the wintertime here in Vermont, you might leave [the kitchen] open – but you’ll need to have a roof over it.”
Even with a roof overhead, homeowners in the Green Mountain State are discovering a whole new dimension of living through yardscapes. The only pity is how quickly Mother Nature has a tendency to drive them back inside.
“I think outdoor living is popular because people want to enjoy the nice weather – especially with the short summers we have in Vermont,” Cone said.
Reprinted from Vermont Maturity 2011.
By Rose Bennett Gilbert
Q: I am intriqued about decorating with Moroccan style. I’ve always loved it when there were a lot of different patterns used together (Matisse is my favorite artist). But I’m afraid to try it in my own home. Are there guidelines that would make it easier to put a lot of designs together?
A: There are only three rules you need master to create a successful mix of patterns, Western-style. 1. All the patterns must have a common color denominator. 2. There should be a discernible difference in the scale of the patterns: large, medium, small. 3. A successful mix includes both geometrics and florals.
But that’s talking pattern mixes, Western-style. When it comes to the Moroccan way of layering patterns, the rules are slightly different because you’re mostly dealing with geometrics. You also have more surfaces to decorate. As author/designer Maryam Montague points out in her colorful, new book (“Marrakesh by Design”), Moroccan floors often wear wall-to-wall patterns.
Often, the pattern is on the ceramic tiles, for which the region is famous. However, in the bedroom we show here, borrowed from her book, the cement floor has been stencil-painted (by the author herself). The interlocking design underscores the other patterns in the room, including the red carpet that speaks to the red in the overall floral pattern on the bed throw.
Here, the walls and ceiling are plainly painted. Other rooms in Maryam’s vibrant book have lively tiled walls — especially wainscot-high — and dramatic ceilings, often stencil-painted in exotic colors.
Q: My sister-in-law has a theory that you shouldn’t paint your rooms certain colors because they make people look ugly. I am about to do my bath over in chartreuse (with navy accents). What about it?
A: Chartreuse and navy — so smart together — anywhere but in a bathroom.
Your sister-in-law has a point worth discussing. It’s all about physics. Color bounces. Surround yourself with chartreuse walls and you’ll end up looking greenish yourself. Not what you want to see first thing in the morning.
The good news is, once you understand this phenomenon, you can harness its power and use it to good advantage. So go paint your dining room red, your bedroom a warm rose and enjoy basking in these warm colors’ reflected glory. —CNS
By Phyl Newbeck
When you think of a beautiful garden, the first thing that comes to mind is the lovely blooms; the reds, yellows, pinks and purples. But let’s face it, the growing season in Vermont can be a short and fickle one. Sometimes you need to add a built element to your garden to ensure that it’s beautiful even when it consists of nothing but brown stalks. Gardens can include hardscapes like patios and walkways, built elements like fountains, and whimsical artwork to catch the eye, even out of season.
When you look at some of the national trends in garden art, Vermont gardeners and craftspeople seem to be on the cutting edge. Fire pits, repossessed material, small spaces and items with a weathered and aged look are all current trends according to Home and Garden Magazine, and all are reflected in the offerings of local retailers and landscape architects.
Maree Gaetani of Gardener’s Supply said the company has several new items in their lawn art division for 2012, many of which fit the trend of working in small spaces. Gaetani stressed that for those working in really small areas, these accents can be placed in containers or mounted to a deck. A whimsical item known as a Psychedelic Snail Stake (shown at left) is particularly suited for containers. Another popular addition is the Poppy Sways — a set of five bright red or copper-coated steel saucers which sway in the wind and collect water for birds and butterflies. Gaetani said movable items including a variety of spinning products have been selling well. Last year, spinners which resembled dahlias were highly sought after, and this year the company has added a spinner which looks like swallows playfully chasing one another. Gaetani is partial to the swaying silver wind stalks which are thin reeds adorned with small silver balls.
Gaetani said customers tend to buy garden accents in the spring while waiting for their gardens to grow and then again in late summer as some of the plants are turning brown and dying back. “People want to add some color to their garden,” she said. Gaetani also highlighted the popularity of solar items, which provide color during the day and glow at night. Gardener’s Supply sells solar butterflies, dragonflies and mosaic globes, as well as border lights to put around containers or walkways.
At Mr. Twitters in Rutland, owner Becky Rizzi said customers favor practical items like sundials, birdhouses and trellises for climbing plants. In conjunction with Home and Garden’s predilection for weathered materials, the trellises have a functional, rather than fancy look and are generally made of rusty metal or wood. The birdhouses range from hollowed out gourds to funky offerings like one that looks like a cat with the opening in the shape of an open mouth. “The birds don’t care what it looks like,” she said. Rizzi likes birdhouses with a “funky, country look” and prefers those that can be cleaned without being taken apart. Rizzi also recommends the fanciful mobiles that Mr. Twitters has in stock, including one that features a crow wearing a top hat.
Repossessed material is on display in Underhill. Under the name Roaring Brook Artists, Janice Solek Tefft and Kenneth Tefft of Underhill create what they call “classy glass” lawn ornaments out of recycled dishes. “We started making them two years ago,” said Janice “as a fluke.”
The couple had old dishware that had been passed down for generations and wanted to find a constructive way to use them. “We figured out we could make beautiful lawn ornaments,” Janice said. The ornaments can’t stay out through the winter, but Kenneth designed them so the dishware can be removed and then re-used for its intended purpose. The Teffts have designed pieces for specific gardens on request from customers, including a construction for a woman who loved blue glass, which sits at her gravesite. Other customers have brought their favorite old plates to be crafted into garden art.
Marie Limoge, a landscape designer for Landshapes in Richmond, said ‘hardscapes’ or paved areas are very popular. Landshapes often creates patios and walkways out of blue stone giving customers the option of either a natural, irregular look or a pattern, working with small spaces as well as larger ones. Concrete pavers are also popular and slightly less expensive. They come in a variety of shapes and colors including some that are permeable to cut down on garden run-off. Concrete pavers allow the option of creating an inlay pattern within the hardscape.
Limoge said water features are also very popular. While waterfalls or ponds can be a bit more expensive, fountains can be built at a low cost with recycled water. The company often incorporates boulders in their design and sometimes creates fountains within the boulders by drilling.
A functional hardscape element favored by many residential customers in Vermont is a fire pit, which can be used year-round. Limoge disagreed with Home and Garden’s contention that fire pits are no longer in style, saying they are popular in Vermont.
Master Gardener Charlie Seigchrist of Barber Farm Landscape Design has one cautionary word about garden art. While Seigchrist often uses natural stones to create walls, patios and walkways, he warns clients not to get too carried away with extraneous pieces. “Art in the garden should be an exclamation point,” he said. “Just as in prose there should be only one to the page, there should be only one in the garden.”
By Phyl Newbeck
Taxes and mortgages are the biggest expenses we associate with home ownership, but energy costs can rank right up there. It doesn’t have to be that way. There are a variety of steps – some little and some large – that homeowners can take to cut down on their energy consumption and lower their electric bills.
Kelly Lucci of Efficiency Vermont (EVT) offers remodeling tips in three categories: no cost, low cost, and investments. Some no cost improvements just require a little bit of housecleaning. For instance, clothes dryers are more energy efficient if they are cleaned of lint after each use. In addition (and in the low cost category), smooth metal ducts are more energy efficient than flexible hoses on these machines, although the most energy efficient way to dry clothes is to string up a clothesline outdoors. Refrigerators will also be more energy efficient with a bit of spring cleaning. Dust accumulating around and under a refrigerator can reduce its efficiency, as can food products blocking the fan vents. Likewise, your outside vents should be clean of any leaves, dirt or even cobwebs.
In the low cost area, Lucci said many homeowners start with some basic changes such as installing compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) and plugging multiple pieces of equipment into a power strip which can be turned off. Energy Star, a program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, estimates that a single CFL can save a homeowner $40 or more off his or her electric bill for the life of the bulb.
Lucci said one result of making even minor changes is that it raises a homeowner’s awareness. Many appliances use power even when they aren’t on, a phenomenon known as “phantom watts.”
“Thinking about which appliances are running that don’t need to be is a big step towards unplugging them,” she said.
EVT has a number of watt meters which can be borrowed by individuals. The meters allow people to measure how much electricity various appliances are using, ranging from larger units like refrigerators and home entertainment centers to space heaters and electric alarm clocks. Meters are mailed in a postage-paid box for easy return and can be kept for up to three weeks. Andrew Albright of Jericho found the meter easy to use. “You just plug the appliance into the meter, plug the meter into the wall, set a couple of parameters and then leave it to do its job,” he said. “You can even enter your utility’s rate into the meter and figure out what it costs to run the appliance.”
For those willing to make a larger investment, Lucci recommends a home energy audit which can run between $350 and $500. These audits reveal sections of the house where energy is lost. Homeowners who follow through on the audit recommendations can get up to $2,500 in rebates from Efficiency Vermont. Hillary Hunter, Executive Director of Building for Social Responsibility (BSR), said rebates are also available from Vermont Gas and Burlington Electric Company.
Low-income seniors may also qualify for the state’s Weatherization Assistance Program which is offered through the five regional Community Action Agencies. Under the program, professionals do a home energy audit and follow up on some of the needed alterations.
After audits, homeowners can take steps to reduce energy loss, often by sealing and insulating the external shell of their homes. Insulation comes in a variety of forms including spray foam, fiberglass and rigid foam board. One way to learn about proper insulation is to attend one of EVT’s free Button Up Workshops. Certified contractors lead these Powerpoint presentations and provide workshop-goers with written material to help them get started. Often, communities request EVT’s DIY (Do It Yourself) workshop afterward for those interested in implementing some of the Button Up recommendations themselves.
BSR’s Hunter cautions that each house has its own challenges and those working on sealing their homes to prevent heat loss must ensure they are not sacrificing air quality. “The most important thing is to have your house looked at by a professional,” she said “and to understand where there are problems and why.”
Hunter noted that although it can be expensive to retrofit a house, the advantage is that it can be done in stages rather than one major expenditure.
James Martelle of Green Mountain Zerodraft said most customers requesting retrofit work for energy efficiency start in the attic or the basement. “Typically, you want to hit the areas that are unfinished,” he said “since that’s also where the biggest pressure gradients are. Hot air leaves from the top and cold air comes in through the bottom.”
Martelle said his company typically starts with the attic, but cautions that areas with slanted ceilings are the most difficult and least cost-effective to seal. On older structures, Green Mountain Zerodraft will also insulate around windows and doors, but newer structures tend to need less work in that area.
Another way to save on energy costs is to replace old appliances with those that have the Energy Star rating. EVT estimates that energy efficient appliances can cut 30 percent off your electricity bill. Although this requires a significant investment, the savings are well worth the initial outlay.
On a grander scheme, an organization called SunCommon is working to provide roof-mounted solar panels in Chittenden and Washington counties. Homeowners pay no upfront costs and sign a 20-year lease with monthly payments designed to match their current electric bills. Dan Conant of SunCommon estimates that 60 percent of the roofs in these two counties are suitable for solar. Those that face due east/west, are flat, or made of slate are the only ones which would not qualify. Conant said solar power can provide seniors with protection against electricity bill inflation since they will know in advance what they will be paying on a monthly basis.
So whether you start with some simple spring cleaning or jump right ahead to solar, there are many ways to reduce your costs. You can spend nothing, a little, or a lot, but any way you approach it, you’ll cut down on your electric bills.
For more information:
- Building for Social Responsibility – www.bsr-vt.org
- Efficiency Vermont – www.efficiencyvermont.com
- Green Mountain Zerodraft – greenmountainzerodraft.com
- SunCommon – www.suncommon.com