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Mary Mastroeni

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Now is the Time for Carpenter Ants

June 30, 2011 2:27 pm

In Steven Spielberg’s classic horror film, Poltergeist, little Carol Anne—while watching TV static—ominously announces to her family, “They’re here.” With July upon us, Cowleys Termite and Pest Control is giving the same reminder to homeowners—not for the pending arrival of malevolent spirits—but for something almost as creepy: carpenter ants that are poised to invade homes.

In the northern states, carpenter ants become active in May and slow down in October. But July is the month of peak activity. 

This warning is especially important for those with homes built in wooded areas. Carpenter ants are known to forage up to 100 yards to search for food and establish satellite colonies. And these foragers often wind up around or inside our homes. It is important for homeowners to not only monitor the inside of their house for carpenter ant activity, but the surrounding trees and other wood sources around the house as well.
New Jersey hosts eight carpenter ant species of different sizes and colors. The most common and largest of these ants is the black carpenter ant that has a uniform dull black color. Carpenter ants take their name from what they do best: chewing and tunneling through wood in order to create passageways (called “galleries”) for building and expanding their nesting sites. 

Carpenter ants, unlike termites, do not eat or digest wood for food, preferring a more traditional insect diet. However, carpenter ants are nothing to ignore. They cause significant cosmetic damage that, if left untreated year after year, can be extensive. Also, once a carpenter ant colony is established, they do not simply “go away.” 

In all likelihood, if a home has a carpenter ant problem, it usually has a water-related problem as well that has caused decaying or mold-infested wood. Nests are commonly found: 

• Behind bathroom tiles
• Around tubs, sinks, showers, and dishwashers
• Under roofing
• In attic beams
• Under subfloor insulation
• In foam insulation 

The only effective, long-term way to control carpenter ants is to locate and destroy the nest, replace damaged or decayed wood, and eliminate moisture problems. 

Although it may “feel good” to kill a few of the pesky ants, spraying a home-use insecticide on surfaces where ants travel or congregate such as along baseboards or in holes or cracks in the walls and floors has little long-term effect. It may reduce the frequency and number of ants that you see, but it does nothing to eliminate the nest. 

Homeowners can do the most good in dealing with carpenter ant infestations through prevention.
• Replace any moisture-damaged wood in your home.
• Keep any wood or lumber that is stored in a garage or near the house dry and, if possible, elevated to allow air circulation.
• Store firewood as far from buildings as possible.
• Remove tree and shrub stumps and roots; leaving them to rot is an open invitation for these pests.
• Trim branches that overhang the home or touch electrical wires connected to the house.
• Seal cracks or small openings near the base of your home.
• Remove water/moisture sources in and around your home (roofing and plumbing leaks are the most common). 

By being proactive in caring for one’s home and surrounding property, homeowners can significantly reduce the likelihood of a carpenter ant infestation. But if there is a carpenter ant infestation, contact a pest control professional immediately. Otherwise, the colony will continue to expand and cause even more damage.

For more information visit http://www.cowleys.com/

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Travel Tips for Gardeners on the Go

June 30, 2011 2:27 pm

While you’re enjoying that well-deserved summer vacation, don’t forget your garden will be home working hard. Here are some simple tips from Preen.com to keep your garden going while you’re on the go.

A Good Soak – Give flower and vegetable gardens a good final soak before flying the coop. This is especially important if rainfall has been inadequate, or sparse precipitation is predicted. The good news is that further watering may not be a worry no matter what the weather. Established annuals can last for ten days without supplemental water. Most perennials can weather two weeks of dry conditions. Trees and shrubs won’t feel the pinch for about a month. Lawns are the camels of the garden. A healthy lawn can go six weeks without extra water.
Don’t Feed and Leave – Don’t fertilize plants before leaving. Slower growth is what you want while you are away.
Protect Containers – Container plants need water more often than border plants. If you ask a friend for a watering favor, group containers in a protected area with indirect sun, but access to rainfall. This makes it easier to water and harder to miss a pot. This lessens stress on plants and your watering chum.
Harvest Produce – Harvest produce before you leave. If you can’t take it with you, or just have too much, donate to a food pantry or share with friends or family. If you’ll be gone for more than two weeks, ask a friend to harvest produce. If you stop harvesting vegetables some stop producing. 

For more information, visit the garden tips section of http://www.preen.com.

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10 Reasons Not to “Top†Your Trees

June 30, 2011 2:27 pm

In case you missed it, the U. S. Forest Service says residential trees can raise the value of a lot compared to the same lot without trees by as much as 20 percent.

On average, trees add between 5 and 7 percent to the value of a residential lot— and any property with trees invariably sells faster, too.

In this segment, we’ll take a look at a tree pruning practice that can actually reverse the benefits of having trees—ironically, this practice called “topping,” can decrease your property’s resale value!

My friends at the Tree Foundation of Kern, California (urbanforest.org) identify topping as the practice of cutting back large diameter branches of a mature tree to stubs. Unfortunately, many people believe topping is a proper way to prune trees, and the destructive practice is prevalent in some communities.

Check out these 10 Good Reasons Not to “Top”:
1. No Shade! Topping harvests the leaf crop that gives us the comfort of shade in our arid climate.
2. Starvation - Topping removes so much of the tree’s leafy crown that it reduces the ability to sustain life.
3. Shock - Once the leafy crown is removed, bark is exposed to direct sunlight and can cause scalding and death.
4. Insects and disease - Topped branches can’t isolate the wound. The exposed ends provide entry to insects and fungus.
5. Weak limbs - New growth from topped branches is weakly attached and more liable to break in a storm.
6. Rapid new growth - Topping has the opposite of its intended effect. New branches are more numerous and often grow taller than before.
7. Death - Some species can’t tolerate major branch loss and survive.
8. Butt ugly - A topped tree is a disfigured tree. It will never regain its grace and character.
9. Hidden Costs - Lower property values, higher energy costs, removal and replacement in the event of death or disease, corrective pruning to restore the canopy, degraded air quality.
10. Degraded wildlife habitat - Birds can’t nest in topped trees.

The folks in Kern advise anyone looking to promote good tree maintenance to consult an arborist member of the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), the National Arborist Association (NAA) or the American Society of Consulting Arborists (ASCA).


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Question of the Day

June 30, 2011 2:27 pm

Q: Is a reverse mortgage good for elderly homeowners? 

A:
A reverse mortgage is an increasingly popular option for older Americans to convert home equity into cash. Money can then be used to cover home repairs, everyday living expenses, and medical bills.
Instead of making monthly payments to a lender, the lender makes payments to the homeowner, who continues to own the home and hold title to it. 

According to the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association, the money given by the lender is tax-free and does not affect Social Security or Medicare benefits, although it may affect the homeowners’ eligibility for certain kinds of government assistance, including Medicaid. 

Homeowners must be at least 62 and own their own homes to get a reverse mortgage. No income or medical requirements are necessary to qualify, and they may be eligible even if they still owe money on a first or second mortgage. In fact, many seniors get reverse mortgages to pay off the original loan. 

A reverse mortgage is repaid when the property is sold or the owner moves. Should the owner die before the property is sold, the estate repays the loan, plus any interest that has accrued.

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Word of the Day

June 30, 2011 2:27 pm

Capital gain. Profit earned from the sale of an asset.

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What Are the Most Attractive Retirement Cities?

June 30, 2011 2:27 pm

Portfolio.com, a national business news site for small and mid-sized business (SMB) executives revealed its latest “U.S. Uncovered” study, ranking the most popular and desired cities for retirement. The study, which used a six-part formula to rank 157 metropolitan and micropolitan markets with at least 40,000 seniors, named Bradenton-Sarasota, Florida as the number one choice for seniors’ post-retirement plans.

“Beginning next year, an unprecedented three million Americans will turn 65. While most of these seniors are expected to stay in their current homes, a significant number will decide to seek new places to live in other parts of the country,” says J. Jennings Moss, editor of Portfolio.com. “In addition to warm cities, we’ve also noticed that seniors are attracted to communities that already have a significant population of retirees. This demonstrates that seniors will go to places that already have a comfortable infrastructure in place.”

Already thought to be the classic retirement destination, the state of Florida is home to eight of the top 10 cities in the survey, with Bradenton-Sarasota taking the top spot. Senior citizens represent 26.81 percent of the city’s population, which is more than double the national average of 12.9 percent. With a population of 688,126, Bradenton-Sarasota is the largest city among the top 10, while Homosassa Springs, Fla. (No. 7) is the smallest with a population of 140,357. More than 95 percent of seniors residing in Bradenton-Sarasota were born out of state compared to only 53 percent of the elderly residents of a typical U.S. market who were born out of state.

The 10 most popular retirement cities:
1. Bradenton-Sarasota, Fla.
2. Prescott, Ariz.
3. Lake Havasu City, Ariz.
4. Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Fla.
5. Naples, Fla.
6. Palm Bay-Melbourne, Fla.
7. Homosassa Springs, Fla.
8. Ocala, Fla.
9. Punta Gorda, Fla.
10. Port St. Lucie, Fla.

Two cities from Arizona earned a place in the top 10. Prescott, Ariz. ranked No. 2 in the study with 23.6 percent of its population comprised of seniors. Lake Havasu City, Ariz. followed directly behind taking the No. 3 spot. The rest of the top 10 are occupied by Florida cities including Cape Carol-Fort Myers, Naples, Palm Bay-Melbourne, Homosassa Springs, Ocala, Punta Gorda and Port St. Lucie.

“The study explores a wide variety of markets, both in terms of size and geography. The markets that ranked the highest in the study were areas where the population of seniors is already substantial and growing rapidly,” says G. Scott Thomas, a nationally-recognized demographer who created the analysis for Portfolio.com. “While not surprising that many cities in the top 30 were from the southeast and southwest, there are several cities that have broken the stereotype of beach retirement communities including Seaford, Del. ( No. 13), Barnstable, Mass. (No. 14) and Eugene, Ore. (No. 29) from the north.”

For more information, visit www.portfolio.com.

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10 Tips to Conserve Water

June 30, 2011 2:27 pm

Soon, summer will be on its way out and the rains may even slow. Still, it's more important than ever to conserve water. From checking the kitchen faucet to watching your laundry loads, there's plenty we can all do to save water.

Here are some tips from Pennsylvania American Water on how you can conserve water and reduce the environmental impact of water consumption both indoors and outside the home:

1. Water your lawn only when it needs it. An easy test to tell if your lawn needs water is to simply walk across the grass. If you leave footprints, it's time to water. (An added benefit of watering less often is that fewer, deep-soaking waterings encourage deep root growth and stronger turf.)

2. Water in the early morning. As much as 30 percent of water can be lost to evaporation by watering during midday.

3. Set your lawn mower one notch higher to make your lawn more drought-tolerant.

4. Use drip irrigation hoses to water plants, and water in the early morning or evening.

5. Use a broom instead of a hose to clean your sidewalk, driveway, or patio.

6. Forego the hose and wash your car with a bucket and sponge instead. According to EPA WaterSense, a hose left running can waste as much as six gallons per minute while a bucket and sponge uses only a few gallons to do the job.

7. Keep a bottle of cold tap water in the refrigerator. You'll avoid the cost and environmental impact of bottled water and you'll have cold water available in the summer without running the faucet.

8. Run dishwashers and clothes washers only when they are full. If you have a water-saver cycle, use it.

9. Adjust the water level of your clothes washer, so that it matches your load size.

10. Regularly check your toilet, faucets and pipes for leaks and have them fixed promptly. An easy test for toilet leaks from EPA WaterSense: Place a drop of food coloring in the tank. If the color tints the water in the bowl without flushing, there's a leak. Check your water meter before and after a two-hour period when no water is being used. If the meter changes at all, you probably have a leak.

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Summer Landscaping Design Ideas: 6 Popular Garden Styles Revealed

June 30, 2011 2:27 pm

Gardens come in all shapes and sizes, and the landscaping design ideas that go into them are truly one-of-a-kind. Online landscaping design resource, landscapingNetwork.com, reveals today’s top six leading garden styles from across the country. Offering a multitude of design ideas, consumers can easily gain inspiration for new summer garden projects. 

Gardens at home have long been a staple for homeowners who want to enjoy the outdoors by creating inviting and relaxing spaces perfect for reading the morning paper or enjoying a glass of wine with friends. They are often a representation of self, and take on a lot of character. 

These are today’s most popular garden styles that seem to be popping up in yards across the country:
1. Modern gardens that include contemporary paving and furniture.
2. Japanese gardens designed for peaceful contemplation.
3. Mexican gardens that center around socialization and entertaining.
4. English cottage gardens providing a cozy, romantic atmosphere.
5. Desert gardens built for functionality and low maintenance.
6. Tropical gardens lush with tropical plants and bold colors. 

Whatever the style may be, these gardens offer consumers a multitude of design ideas and options for creating the perfect garden at home. The rules of design are open for interpretation. 

For more information on garden styles and design, please visit PacificHorticulture.org.

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Wood Floor or Carpet?

June 30, 2011 2:27 pm

Six Factors Can Determine Your Choice

Contrary to what many homeowners believe at the outset, there may be scant difference in the price of installing hardwood flooring versus carpeting.

“Carpeting—unless you choose the most expensive high-end product—will generally cost less than hardwood flooring,” says home store flooring consultant Leonard Rangle. “But wood floors can also vary widely in price, so if cost is your primary consideration, be sure to get estimates on installing hardwood and carpeting of equal quality.”

Other factors should be taken into consideration before making your final choice, notes Rangle, who suggests weighing these six factors before making your final choice: 

• Noise – Carpet is quiet, while wood flooring absorbs no sound at all. If you have young children, or if TV and/or music is a constant in your home, carpeting may be the better choice.
• Warmth – Carpeting is warmer to walk on, especially in colder climates. If you live in a warm climate, you may appreciate the coolness of wood flooring under your feet.
• Liquid spills – Liquids may stain carpet, although today’s cleaning products do a good job of minimizing damage. But a build-up of dampness can lead to underlying mold or mildew. Wood is resistant to stains and absorption, although prolonged exposure to moisture can cause discoloration or warping.
• Cleaning – Carpeting needs to be regularly vacuumed and shampooed, and even then, dust particles can penetrate under the weave. Hardwood floors are easily cleaned with vacuuming and a damp mop.
• Lifecycle – Carpeting can be expected to last 10 to 15 years depending upon wear and maintenance. Wood flooring, barring water damage, can be expected to last a lifetime.
• Health factors – Hardwood flooring is a better option if there are allergies in your family. Carpets, in addition to trapping dust particles, emit gases—like the ones you smell when you enter a carpet store—for much of the life of the carpet.

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Question of the Day

June 29, 2011 5:27 pm

Q: Are fees and assessments owed a homeowner’s association deductible?

A:
Generally not because they are considered personal living expenses. But if an association has a special assessment to make capital improvements, condo owners may be able to add the expense to their cost basis when the property is sold. Another exception may apply if you rent your condo – the monthly condo fee is deductible every year as a rental expense.

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