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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Bright ideas for night light

We spend significant money beautifying our landscapes with just the right trees, shrubs, flowers and hardscaping, but when night falls, all of that effort “goes dark.” 

As warm weather approaches and we tend to be outdoors more often later into the evenings, wouldn’t it be nice to enjoy our homes and streetscapes even as the darkness deepens?

Landscape lighting is the answer. And, besides aesthetics, mood and atmosphere, there are at least two other good reasons to brighten things up a bit: safety and security.

Like anything else, outdoor lighting can be incorporated into your landscape design along a spectrum from minimalism to maxed out. Here are some “bright” ideas for designing a landscape-lighting plan that is just right for your context.

1. Be clear about your goals, be they illuminating walkways, driveways and steps; creating an ambiance for outdoor entertaining; highlighting your home’s architectural and landscape features; or even deterring intruders.

2. Respect your neighbors and those coming and going from your home by choosing and positioning fixtures to avoid outdoor light pollution, which comes in many forms. Those intrusions include shining a light into a neighbor’s window or your guests’ eyes, washing out the night sky, or creating glare. Shields, collars and guards are among the considerations that can help.

3. Invest in LEDs. Though they cost a bit more than halogen, LEDs offer vastly longer life, are more energy-efficient and withstand shock, vibrations and inclement weather. LEDs offer nearly unlimited flexibility for dimming, brightening and creating a design plan with layers of subtlety.

4. Choose your look. Gentle, dramatic, elegant? Regardless of the look you desire, landscape lighting can provide it through a strategically placed mix of down-lighting, up-lighting and cross-lighting. Down-lighting, referred to as moon lighting, creates a romantic glow by mounting downward facing fixtures in trees. Up-lighting is positioned at ground level and creates more drama by aiming light directly at elements you wish to feature. Cross-lighting will grace the landscape with more depth by illuminating water features, specimen trees, swings and arbors from both sides while helping to eliminate shadows.

5. High wattage bulbs are too much of a good thing. They lend harshness to the landscape when a very different effect was the goal. You may be surprised at how much sophistication even 20 watts can deliver. Consider, as well, volts. Most landscape lighting today is low voltage which is safer to work with and less costly to install than 120-volt systems. A step-down transformer delivers one-tenth of the power, but the effects are, nonetheless, virtually limitless.

6. Think of the big picture. Types of outdoor lighting to consider, as with indoor lighting, include task, accent and overall achieved through fixtures like bullets (narrower beams), floods (wider beams), garden (on short posts), wash (softer and more diffuse) and well (buried in the ground). Incorporating all of these types of lighting will result in a fuller look and feel to your landscape. Timers ensure convenience and energy savings.

Through a combination of artistry, engineering and electrical know-how, you can look forward to a bit more brightness in your (night) life.

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.