A seismic retrofit can help protect homes during earthquakes

May 6, 2011

Strengthening a residence through a home earthquake retrofit is as simple as ABC: anchor, brace and connect.

Most homes built in the past 30 years or so do not need a retrofit to hold steady in earthquakes, but older homes may need some foundation tune-ups. If the foundation is not secured to the rest of the structure, major damage can result from the ground shaking.

The earthquake in Japan — plus major temblors in New Zealand, Chile and Haiti in the past year — has renewed the focus on seismic safety at home.

“When the earth starts shaking sideways, the foundation moves with the earth,” Sound Seismic co-owner Leif Jackson said. “This big, massive object is not going to immediately move with the foundation. It’s going to kind of lag behind, and it’s going to lag behind when that foundation oscillates back in the opposite direction. So, the house and the foundation get out of synch, and it can get jolted off of the foundation.”

Though most homeowners can take some small steps to reduce earthquake risks, older homes make for the likeliest candidates for a seismic retrofit, due to the adoption of modern building codes from the mid-1970s onward.

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Easy solutions to the most common garden problems

May 6, 2011

Do you have a problem? Do you find it difficult to grow the plants you love because of hungry beasts that ravage your roses down to stubs?

Perhaps the endless rainy winters have left an unexpected pond in your backyard where you wanted a cactus. Or maybe it is your neighbor’s small forest of evergreen conifers casting deep, dry shade on your side of the fence.

Let’s take a look at a few solutions for some of our area’s most common gardening challenges.


There are a lot of hungry deer in Newcastle. They will eat practically any plant, or at least try it once. And if you plant any of their favorites, such as hostas, roses or tulips, you might as well put out a neon “All You Can Eat Buffet” sign.

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As pretty as they are tasty

May 6, 2011

Be bold! Be brave! Be bountiful!

Fruits, vegetables and herbs don’t have to be relegated to a rectangular bed in the backyard. Consider integrating these beautiful plants that grace us with food into your traditional landscape. Expand your edible palette with the following plants that exhibit great ornamental appeal.



Apple, pear, plum, cherry or the more exotic persimmon, quince and fig. Dwarf forms are available as well as grafted combinations. Apple, pear and fig lend themselves to espalier (trained horizontally) to grow against a fence, side of the house or a garage. Sweet bay (laurus nobilis) evergreen is a perfect accent as a small topiary tree and also as a shrub form for hedging.

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The cold is coming, the cold is coming!

November 5, 2010

Tips to keep your home warm in colder weather

Cold weather shouldn’t scare you if your house is adequately prepared for fall and winter. However, many homes aren’t prepared, and leaks can make the interior lose heat quickly when the mercury drops outside.

Department of Energy A technician checks the readings from a door blower. The house is sealed and the blower sucks out air, revealing any leaks elsewhere in the home.

Northwest Homecrafters Inc. owner Wayne Apostolik said the key to plugging leaks and keeping your house warm is sealing first and insulating second.

Apostolik has worked in construction for 18 years, specializing in home remodeling. His company is based in Seattle, but is a member of the Newcastle Chamber of Commerce and had a booth at the Earth Day celebration in Lake Boren Park in April.

He said it is crucial to seal a home before insulating, and he used an analogy of a sweater and a windbreaker.

Adding insulation is like putting on a sweater, he said; the wind will blow right through it. However, sealing is like putting on a windbreaker. Together, the combination is effective and helps keep a person warm. However, without sealing, the insulation acts as nothing more than a filter.

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Learn to appreciate gray in winter

November 5, 2010

They, whoever they are, are telling us that the winter will be wetter and cooler than usual. Most of us feel we paid our dues when we skipped summer. If this is global warming or La Niña, I don’t like either one.

Every winter, the gray colors seem to cover us like a shroud. All the gardeners I know like flowers, the brighter the better, so winter hits us especially hard.

I noticed that no colors are bright in winter except for maybe school buses and some Volkswagens. Most colorful objects reflect the low light, creating glare as opposed to color. The next time you’re driving, notice how monochromatic all of the cars are. Even the red ones are mostly gray. The shinier they are, the grayer they appear, because they shine with the color of the road, the sky and the surroundings.

Also, wet surfaces shine, and boy do we have wet surfaces. Water can make the ground, streets, sidewalks, decks and patios turn gray like the sky. It’s my hope that we keep our gardeners here, and that they learn to see the beauty of the gray winter landscape.

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Tips for winterizing summer cottages and vacation homes

November 5, 2010

It’s getting to be that time of year. Amica Insurance reminds everyone to make sure cottages and vacation homes are secured properly and offers some tips if you are leaving your summer home.

Here are a few tips for preparing your property:

  • Unplug all appliances.
  • Drain the water system to prevent pipes from freezing.
  • Inspect your property for openings and remove all food to keep out rodents.
  • Adjust the thermostat. In colder climates, thermostats set at 55 degrees will help to prevent pipes from freezing. In warmer climates, air conditioning should be turned on to prevent humidity damage.
  • Clean gutters and downspouts and trim dead tree limbs.

It’s also important to make your home look lived in, Melton said. Empty houses are often targeted by thieves and vandals. To help make your house appear occupied:

  • Put interior and exterior lights on time sensors.
  • Suspend mail and newspaper service.
  • Hire someone to clear snow from your driveway.

The Institute for Business & Home Safety also offers additional tips for protecting your home at DisasterSafety.org.

Keep your garden growing with winter herbs

November 5, 2010

Shakespeare wrote “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.” May I humbly add that it is also very good with roasted chicken and in a savory pot pie?

Summer’s end does not have to mean the end of the simple joy of plucking a branch of rosemary, a stem of fresh thyme, parsley, or a few aromatic bay or sage leaves.

Varieties of four garden herbs available at Newcastle Fruit & Produce include Italian parsley, golden sage, Tuscan blue rosemary and lemon thyme. By Greg Farrar

Many favorite herbs can be potted and grown in a sunny spot near a patio or porch door, and whisked inside for a day or two when the temperature dips below 32 degrees. It is best to remove saucers outdoors during the winter to help prevent root rot.

Another handy method is to place potted herbs on sunny windowsills. Grown inside or out, a minimum six hours of sun — when it shines — is required.

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Keep your deck looking like new this spring and summer

May 7, 2010

As the weather gets warmer, most people search for more outdoor activities in which to take part. Some go to the pool and some head to the mountains, but some just head to the back porch to relax.

No matter what kind of deck you have, there are a few easy steps you can take to keep your deck looking good for the spring and summer. The first thing to do is clean your deck, said Ron Spillers, president of West Coast Decks in Issaquah.

“Probably the easiest way will be using deck detergent, which you can find at any home improvement store,” he said.

Of course, if you have not cleaned your deck in some time, mold or algae may have started to grow, especially given the often-soggy conditions in the Pacific Northwest.

Craig Koelling, an owner of Evergreen Wood Restoration based out of Mercer Island, said that using a light bleach solution is the easiest way to wash away mold and algae.

“Err on the weak side,” Koelling said. “If it’s strong enough to work, it’s strong enough to hurt.”

He said he recommends using a 10-1 ratio of water to bleach in a solution with a little dish soap, and he said about once a year he gets a call from someone who badly damaged his or her deck by applying pure bleach to it.

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Try plants that work hard for the money

May 7, 2010

We work hard for our money, so why shouldn’t the plants we buy? Some plants are annuals that bloom nonstop all summer but must be replanted each year. Others are perennials that may be long lived, but only bloom for a few weeks or sometimes only a few days.

Smaller yards and tighter budgets have created a need for plants that have a longer season of interest. Evergreen foliage, colorful bark in winter, and perennials and shrubs that have long blooming seasons can help stretch our gardening dollars. Some plants may be gorgeous in photos, but turn out to be a big disappointment once planted in a homeowner’s yard.

In short, we want Donna Summers, not prima donnas. Some plants are difficult unless you give them exactly what they want. Good perennials and shrubs prosper without much help from the gardener, thriving without crowding out their neighbors. Read more

Do you know when you need a building permit?

May 7, 2010

Many residents are not sure if they need a building permit for a given project. The International Building Codes, to which the city adheres, specifies conditions when building permits are not required.

Permits are not required for these residential projects:

  • One-story detached accessory structures used as storage space or for playhouses. The structure cannot exceed 120 square feet, and it must be within the building setback line, typically 5 feet from side property lines and 20 feet from the rear property line.
  • Fences less than 6 feet tall.
  • Rockeries and retaining walls that are not more than 4 feet tall, unless they are supporting a surcharge. Retaining walls more than 30 feet tall are now allowed in setbacks.
  • Sidewalks and driveways less than 2 1/2 feet above grade and not over any basement or story below, and which are not part of an accessible route.
  • Painting, papering, tiling, carpeting, cabinets, countertops and other similar finish work.
  • Temporary theater stage sets and scenery.
  • Residential window awnings supported by exterior walls that do not protrude more than 4 1/2 feet and do not require additional support.
  • Prefabricated swimming pools with walls that are entirely above grade and less than two feet deep. The capacity of the pool must be less than 5,000 gallons. Read more

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