Spring cleaning: Clean up your curb-appeal act

Even though the weather of late might make us think otherwise, spring is here and with its arrival comes the urge to “spring clean.” But let’s not think only in terms of scrubbing and dusting, but also cleaning up your act in terms of curb appeal.

It has been said that “first impressions last.” So regardless of whether you are selling your home or planning on living in it for years to come, a clean, fresh, cared-for appearance from the street will attract buyers. It also makes coming home a more pleasant experience.

Curb appeal encompasses everything that can be seen from the curb: your driveway, landscaping, walkway and facade, including the front entrance. Even your roof. To help you be more objective, snap a photo of your house from the street and study it to determine what could be spiffed up. That ladder that you’ve been meaning to put away is hard to ignore in a digital image, but easy to walk past with an “I’ll get to that tomorrow.” Be sure to take a look during the day and in the evening, as different aspects will stand out, depending on lighting conditions.

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As you analyze your photos, use this 10-step curb-appeal checklist:

1. Clean any surface that looks dirty, dingy, discolored or streaked. Sweep away cobwebs and all of the debris that gets caught in them. Pressure washing makes surfaces sparkle. And make sure your gutters aren’t growing gardens of their own.

2. Add some polish. Repaint trim that is chipped, peeling or discolored, consider changing the color of your front door, and add a nice, unfaded welcome mat.

3. Repair and replace anything that isn’t in ship-shape condition: shingles that are missing from the roof, louvers that are missing from shutters, pickets that are missing from fences and more.

4. Declutter. Relocate old flower pots, ladders and even bicycles strewn about the front porch and lawn.

5. Change out house numbers, mailboxes, planters, front-door hardware and even bigger ticket items, like garage doors, that aren’t stylish and attractive. Maybe add wooden trim details under the peaks of your roofline. Is your home contemporary, traditional or transitional? Choose styles that create either pleasing cohesion or contrast. And be sure the scale is right for your home; if too small, the additions look more like cheap clutter than substantial statements.

6. Repair your driveway or sidewalk if cracked. This can be expensive, but can make all the difference in ridding your home of an unkempt appearance. If you don’t mind spending the money, consider changing out your ho-hum walkway for one made of stone or brick to add style and charm.

7. Spruce up your planting beds with fresh mulch for crisp and clean contrast, and be sure to plant for year-round interest. But don’t add needed color with artificial plants; they look, well, artificial. Prune overgrown trees and shrubs, and replace any plants that aren’t performing well.

8. Replace any dead plants in containers and flower boxes. Nothing says, “I don’t care” quite like scraggly potted plants or empty pots. If you don’t have flower boxes, consider adding them in a style compatible with your home. Not all flower boxes are “cottage-y.”

9. Treat your windows to window treatments that create a neat and tidy look from the exterior.They need not be identical, but they should look balanced.

10. Replace any broken or missing outdoor lighting fixtures in the landscape or on the house. If they are outdated, switch them out for something that’s more current and correctly scaled to add interest, depth and even drama. If they are leaning this way or that, straighten them so they’ll look uniform.

So there you have my checklist. Share your “top 10” curb-appeal ideas with me at chris@vbhomesliving.com.

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Entryway tips for putting your best facade forward

An attractive front entrance to your home creates a first impression not unlike a smile: It is welcoming and revealing of what’s inside.

Sometimes, small, DIY-type solutions are all that are needed to spiff up this focal point of your home’s facade, but sometimes a more involved, contractor-driven solution is desired. Here we offer a few tips on both, as well as considerations for the front door itself.

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Entryways: providing the big picture

1. One of the quickest and simplest ways to punch up your front entry is with a color that contrasts with siding and trim. You can go bold with, say, orange or simply go with something unexpected like a springy green. But if you aren’t one for color, a glossy black can create a similar pop.

2. Walkways – concrete, pavers, stepping stones and so on – lead visitors to your front door and should ideally be about 3 to 4 feet wide and kept clear of overgrown plantings so that they can accommodate two people side-by-side. Most important, though, is their aesthetic compatibility with the colors, materials, style and visual weight of your front entrance. A substantial or grand front entryway, for instance, would overwhelm petite stepping stones.

3. Potted plants add personality and softness or structure, depending on the type of pots and plants selected, while just the right welcome mat – or rug on a covered entry – is like wearing the perfect piece of jewelry with an outfit.

4. While potted plants are fun and easy to layer, change and move, avoid overlooking the surrounding hardscaping. Given the cost of higher-end pots and plants nowadays, sometimes addressing steps and other architectural features is not substantially more expensive. Interesting tiles on the step risers or the addition of style-compatible brackets, railings, moldings, columns, awnings, and trim can pack a lot of design punch. If they can repeat an element from elsewhere on your home’s facade, all the better to establish a harmonious look.

5. Speaking of jewelry, house numbers, doorknobs/knockers, light fixtures, and mailboxes (if you aren’t required to mount yours at the curb) easily provide the polish that many entryways need. A wide range of styles and materials is available, so choose one that is perfect for your home’s vibe.

Entryways: focusing on the front door

When it comes to style, it probably goes without saying that the front door and the overall style of your home’s architecture should be compatible. Yet one of the mistakes homeowners make, in an understandable attempt to dress up the appearance of their house, is to choose a door that is too formal for the style of their architecture – for example, dark, rich wood tones and etched glass on a simple brick ranch. The unfortunate result is akin to being overdressed for a function: It looks out of place and inappropriate. And there’s no need to go wrong given the dizzying array of styles available today.

But there is much more to choosing a front door than issues of style. Also consider function, durability and safety, as doors take a beating from the elements of sun, wind and rain, not to mention from would-be intruders.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind if you opt for a new door, which can be a substantial, worthwhile investment:

1. Doors nowadays generally come pre-hung (with hinges and framing) in one of three materials: wood, metal, fiberglass-composite or a combination, each with its own set of pros and cons.

2. Wood looks rich and historic, yet it can warp, crack and, if laminated, delaminate. And wood doors are fairly pricey. On the plus side, they can be planed or cut if needed to fit an existing opening, unlike metal or fiberglass.

3. Wood doors, often a hardwood veneer over an engineered wood core, are sold in a range of types of hardwoods or paint-grade softwoods. If you choose a veneer, avoid one thinner than 1/16 inch. Glossy polyurethane-coated wood doors are thought to offer the most protection against moisture absorption, but be sure top and bottom edges are also coated.

4. Steel doors are both durable and secure. Cracking and warping are not issues, and an auto body repair kit will solve dent and ding issues.

5. With inner frames made of wood or steel, steel doors are filled with high-density foam insulation.

6. A range of finishes offers varying degrees of durability, but keep in mind that heat buildup between an aluminum storm door and a steel entry door can cause some finishes to peel.

7. Insulated aluminum doors have a baked-on enamel finish – smooth or woodgrain – that won’t rust, doesn’t require repainting, and allows manufacturers to offer 20-year warranties.

8. Fiberglass-composite doors and frames are a smart choice for our humid and other harsh climates. With wooden stiles and rails and polyurethane-foam insulation, they typically come with long warranties. And their embossed woodgrain pattern is quite convincing, provided, as with steel doors, you make sure that the patterns run vertically on the stiles (vertical members) and horizontally on the rails (horizontal members).

Carefully selecting your front door for decades of lowered maintenance and improved safety, security, energy efficiency, and appearance pays off big over time, while an all-round enhanced entryway offers a boost in curb appeal for your neighborhood and a more gracious welcome for you, your family and friends.

Chris Ettel is founding partner of VB Homes. He serves on the Tidewater Builders Association board of directors, serves as past chairman of the TBA Remodelers Council and is a longtime board member of the Virginia Beach Public Schools Education Foundation. For more information, go to www.vbhomesliving.com and reach Chris at chris@vbhomesliving.com.