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How to prepare and plan the perfect backyard for your clients – even if you’re not a landscaper

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How to prepare and plan the perfect backyard for your clients – even if you’re not a landscaper

Most contractors find backyard makeovers a “a pain in the butt,” says Toronto-based landscape designer Fausto Presta, so when clients ask for planning help, you’re best to at least develop a friendly relationship with a landscaper. Working with one is cost-effective, since some things are easier and cheaper to put in early, like gas and electric lines for BBQs, kitchens, outdoor lighting, or water features.

A lot depends on the client, though, says TV show host and landscape designer Carson Arthurs. He breaks down by generation: Baby boomers who like to garden and want someone to create the structure, but not the planting; hard-working Gen Xers happy to pay for someone to do the work; and “Millennials who have greater debt than the other two generations combined, and are very careful how they spend.”

However this plays out, you’ll want to have some working knowledge of basic backyard principles as well as a few of the latest trends.

Start at the beginning

Arthurs directs clients to sites like Houzz, so they can build a dream file to share with the contractor. “Often homeowners don’t know what they want until they see it,” he says. He finds they also need help with furniture and feature sizes, especially in small urban yards where space is a premium. He usually recommends they find the furniture and appliances first before designing the yard, and plan the yard around those elements.

He also recommends figuring out the privacy angles in the yard. Take a chair and sit in spots you have in mind for seating and look around. “You’d be surprised what you see – and more importantly who can see you – from that perspective.” This helps plan where the privacy hedge or fence should go.

For vegetable gardens, raised beds are the way to go. It’s easier to control the nutrients and moisture levels, plus they’re accessible for older clients.

Raised beds

If your clients are big into vegetable gardening, raised beds are the way to go. It’s easier to control the soil, nutrients, and moisture levels, plus they’re accessible for older clients. Soil in most back yards isn’t all that good and usually needs amending – raised beds offer the containment to make a good healthy soil mix.

You’ll want to site the bed where it gets at least six hours sunlight a day. Arthurs has a neat trick for determining the light levels – place a solar-powered dancing toy from the dollar store where the bed will go. Keep track of how long the toy dances to know hours of sunlight.

When it comes to building the bed, you can use pretty much anything – stone, corrugated metal, wood – as long as it works with the yard’s existing materials, says Arthurs. “But don’t forget that some materials negatively impact the soil, like railway ties, which leave toxic residue in the soil that nourishes the veg that end up on your dinner table.”

There are kits from big box stores but most landscape designers don’t like to use them because they look, well, a little kit-like. Consider instead well-placed large planters – terracotta or corten steel are two popular materials, come in any shape, and add visual interest to the yard.

Dimensions are important, Arthurs adds. “Up to eight feet long but no wider than four, because no matter how much yoga you do, that’s too big an expanse to bend over.”

Arthurs’s best tip? Line the bottom with flattened cardboard boxes. “In Canada, they’re soy-based so there’s no leeching of harmful chemicals, plus it prevents weeds from coming up through the soil below.”

Audio systems

Nothing like a little music wafting out over the deck on a lazy summer day as you’re snoozing in the hammock. Technology has made this very simple to do – just connect an app like Sonos, Spotify, or Amazon to a wireless system like Bose. Otherwise you’re into some serious wiring.

The environmental client

An environmental garden generally functions at a micro level of design – that is, it’s the kind of plants chosen – but some elements can be put in place to make that happen.

The two essentials to a sustainable garden are reducing water and pesticide use, says Presta. “Getting rid of the lawn is a start, and then choose drought-resistant plants that don’t need much water.”

Contractors can install sustainable watering systems, Presta says. “Those that spray mist use less water, and can be timed to come on at 3 am when the water will sink in the soil rather than evaporate like it does midday.”

Even greener practices include water retention systems. “An up and coming thing is taking water from the roof,” he says. “You dig a pit for a cistern then run the downspout into it. Then it needs a pump to circulate the water into the garden.”

Arthurs isn’t a fan of rain barrels, however, because homeowners tend to forget about them, because it’s difficult to circulate the water for the garden or washing the car and the water stagnates. Not a wise choice, with the reality of West Nile.

He is a fan of bee houses, though. These are manufactured for mason bees, which “don’t sting, are non-aggressive, solitary, and only lay their eggs there. But they’re great pollinators and you’re creating valuable habitat.”

The bees lay their eggs in tubes and seal the holes – the longer the tube the farther back they can push the eggs so birds can’t get at them.

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Siding options go way beyond aluminum and vinyl

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Siding options go way beyond aluminum and vinyl

For years siding choices were restricted to wood, aluminum, or vinyl, but thanks to advancements in chemical coatings, polymer materials, and printing technology, homeowners can now choose from a wide array of attractive siding materials to finish off their home. With so much to choose from, there is now a trend toward combining materials to achieve a unique look. That might mean combining natural stone sections with composite wood panels, or using cedar shakes to create an accent area in combination with stone, brick, or traditional siding. It might also mean incorporating materials more commonly seen in industrial and commercial cladding applications, such as steel, aluminum, and concrete panels.

Aluminum composite panels

If it’s a modern, commercial exterior look the homeowner is after, Samia Canada’s aluminum composite panels are an unconventional option. These rigid, lightweight panels feature a plastic composite core covered with a durable, bendable aluminum facing. Common in commercial and institutional applications, aluminum composite panels come in a variety of colours with a brushed, matte, or glossy finish that provides a contemporary look for the entire exterior or as an accent piece. The panels are also available with a printed wood grain or marble finish.

samia-canada.com

Stone veneer

Natural stone has long been a staple material for home exteriors, but modern materials and installation methods have taken much of the expense and effort out of achieving the pricey stone finish. Products such as Cultured Stone’s Pro-Fit Ledgestone veneer is made from a concrete and aggregate mix that weighs just one quarter as much as real stone. The precisionfitted veneer panels go up much like wood siding, eliminating the need for costly masonry work. Once up, the manufactured veneer looks just like the real thing and doesn’t require painting, coating, or sealing.

culturedstone.com

Manufactured stone

If manufactured stone panels are just too far from the real thing, you can also opt for a manufactured cladding product that looks and feels like individual stone but is applied to the substrate using adhesives instead of mortar. Cambridge, Ont.- based Arriscraft manufactures a range of stone cladding products that utilize natural materials and pigments in a patented process that mimics the aesthetics and durability of quarried stone. The process allows the company to produce consistent building stones of various sizes that can be stacked to create a look that is natural as well as contemporary.

arriscraft.com

Fibre cement panels

Fibre cement siding has been a staple exterior cladding material since the 1980s. Made from a combination of cellulose fibres, Portland cement, sand, and water, fibre cement will not burn, is resistant to water and insects, and will not crack, swell, or warp like wood. For homeowners looking for something other than typical siding though, James Hardie offers HardiFlex, which comes in smooth, flat sheets up to 300-by-120 centimetres, which gives a modern, seamless, almost industrial look to the exterior.

jameshardie.com

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Reno Expert

Planning for the future – Five long-lasting exterior products to use in your projects now

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Planning for the future – Five long-lasting exterior products to use in your projects now

by Jim Caruk

It’s amazing how often the saying that “you get what you pay for” rings true. With almost any home improvement project, if you’re willing to pay a bit more upfront for good quality materials, the long-term payback will more than make up the difference. Here are five durable options to consider for your next exterior project.

Photography: bigstock.com
Photography: bigstock.com

Metal roofing

Your home’s roof takes a beating, from the baking summer sun and pounding rain to the weight of snow and ice in the winter. Metal roofing is one of the most durable options out there, and manufacturers are willing to back that claim up with warranties lasting as long as 50 years.

One common criticism is that metal roofs look too commercial or barn-like. But today’s metal roofs come in options that mimic asphalt, cedar, and slate so your roof will blend in with the streetscape. It will just last decades longer than your neighbours’ roofs will.

Composite decking

Natural wood is wonderful for a lot of things, but a long lifespan on outdoor structures is not one of them. Without regular maintenance, cedar or pressure-treated lumber will eventually weather, fade, and start to chip and warp, turning a $10,000 deck into an eyesore in a matter of years.

Composite decking is a durable alternative made from wood fibres and plastic, with the latter often being recycled material. Composite deck boards are both insect- and rot-resistant, and available in a variety of colours and patterns, all without any foot-jabbing splinters to deal with.

Brick and stone veneers

Has the cheap vinyl or aluminum siding on your house seen better days? Some longer-lasting alternatives to consider are the various brick and stone veneer products on the market today. While offering the durability of brick or stone, thin veneers don’t require the skills of a trained mason to install. In fact, some brands are marketed for competent DIYers to install themselves.

Glass railings

The cheap and cheerless way to build a deck railing is to nail some wooden pickets to the frame and top them off with some lumber. Glass railings mounted in aluminum frames offer an attractive, low-maintenance, weather-resistant finish that provides an unspoiled view across your property. The glass is also tempered so if there is an accident and a panel gets damaged, there’s no risk of injury from jagged pieces. The railings are available in a number of different colours and profiles, some so slim that on first glance you don’t even notice they’re there.

Natural stone

When it comes to durability, it’s hard to argue that anything will likely last longer than pieces of granite, slate, or other natural stone that are already millions of years old. There are cheaper options out there for stairs, retaining walls, patios, and other landscaping projects, but for a timeless look that will last to the end of time, I’d always at least consider natural stone.

Photography courtesy of Margaret Mulligan
Photography courtesy of Margaret Mulligan
Jim Caruk, Renovation Editor

We look forward to hearing from you and welcome your feedback. Do you have a reno or decor question for our team of experts?

Email editorial@renoanddecor.com


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Reno Expert: Take It Outside

Reno Expert: Take It Outside

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Reno Expert: Take It Outside

by Jim Caruk

Photography: Bigstock.com

Elder aids that facilitate outdoor living

When planning or renovating a home to make it senior-friendly, most people tend to focus on the kitchen and bathrooms. But there are a few exterior projects that need to be considered as well.

First and foremost is to have a sturdy railing along the front stairs. The building code requires a railing, but if you walk through any neighbourhood you’ll see a number of homes that don’t have one.

If someone in the house is using a wheelchair or walker, you may need to install a ramp so they can enter and exit. There are very specific requirements in the building code regarding the width, slope, and dimensions of a ramp. If the pitch is too steep, you’ll have to build in switchbacks, including landings big enough for a chair to spin around on. Unfortunately, many homes just don’t have enough space at the front to accommodate the size of the footprint required. In that case, you might have to consider an exterior elevator, or a platform lift as they’re formally called (see Jim’s pick).

As I’m writing this, the snow is still on the ground. If you (or your elderly parents) aren’t able to clear the sidewalk and walkway safely, you really should consider hiring someone to do it for you. The expense of paying for snow removal is definitely worth avoiding breaking your hip—or your neck! Of course, if you have a limitless budget, I’ve worked on high-end homes where the owners have installed heating cables below the driveway that automatically melt all the snow.

In summer, in-ground irrigation systems to water the lawn and gardens eliminate the chore —and potential trip hazard—of hauling around a hose.

LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION

As on the inside, lighting is one of the most important considerations for senior-friendly design. I recommend exterior lights with motion-sensors on the building. I also recommend lining walkways with guide lights.

It’s a good idea to have a roof or some sort of canopy over the entranceway so people don’t have fiddle for their keys while standing in the rain or snow.

That said, even turning the key to lock or unlock the door may prove difficult for some people. A number of companies now have programmable keypads to unlock the door. There are even so-called “smart” locks that link to your cellphone. Your phone communicates with the lock so all you have to do is touch it to open or close it.

For safety and peace of mind, you should also consider having a video-monitoring system. I particularly like the Ring doorbell (Ring.com) that has a motion-activated camera that streams a live video to your smartphone so you can see who’s there before you even get to the door. It’s also a handy way to avoid missing deliveries even if you’re not home: “I can’t come to the door right now, please leave it on the porch.”

Finally, install an automatic garage door opener so elderly drivers don’t need to risk slipping on snow and ice to open it.

Jim Caruk, Renovation Editor

We look forward to hearing from you and welcome your feedback. Do you have a reno or decor question for our team of experts?

Email editorial@renoanddecor.com


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