Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Friday, November 18, 2011

What are some guidelines for a backyard playground?

Here are 18 ways to build or add on to your kids’ at-home playground in a way that will entice them to move from the couch in front of the TV to the great outdoors where they can exercise and socialize.

1. Add the unexpected, like rock walls, rope ladders and tunnels.

2. Go a little high-tech. Trick out a play set with everything from an intercom to solar panels to a telescopes.

3. Give them shelter. A structure with a roof or canvas awning allows kids to play outside even during a light rainfall. Stock the shelter with chalkboards and games so there’s plenty to do. Add solar-powered or low-voltage lighting, and the play house will be usable in the evenings, too.

4. Cover up. Likewise, placing an awning or a shade sail over the swing set and jungle gym will protect your children from sunburn. Even a big umbrella offers kids a place to cool off and get out of the sun for a while.

5. Revise the slide. Look for sliding boards with waves, scoops and spirals for an updated take on the original.

6. Consider the age of the children who will use your homemade playground. Toddlers love slides, while older kids like more challenging equipment, like monkey bars. Avoid equipment with openings that are just big enough for your child to squeeze through but might be difficult to escape, or with moving parts that could catch a child’s little fingers.

7. Mix it up. Including a variety of equipment, from slides to see-saws to ladders to open spaces for ball games, will keep kids engaged as they get older.

8. Don’t skimp on cost. The cheapest playground equipment probably won’t be the most durable or the safest. Play sets made from lightweight materials, smaller bolts and cheap accessories won’t endure constant use or the added weight your kids naturally put on as they get older.

9. Consider chemical-free. Redwood, for example, naturally resists insects and rot.


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Thursday, November 10, 2011

What is xeriscaping?

Xeriscaping is water conservation through creative landscaping. It involves combining low-water plants with hard surfaces around your lawn, and encourages water-smart design and maintenance of your property.

Here are Xeriscaping’s seven basic principles:

1. Design your yard with water conservation in mind. Work with a landscaper on a plan that locates a shaded patio, ground cover and even a few higher-water plants close to the house, where they can help cool and shade it. The farther from the house a plant is, the more drought-tolerant it should be.

2. Choose low-water plants. Arizona abounds with native, drought-tolerant plants that are hardy and colorful. A landscaper can help you select the right ones for your yard’s soil condition and exposure.

3. Limit your lawn. Grass needs lots of watering, so plant as little of it as you can stand. Limit it to your children’s play area and a pet run, and use ground covers and hard surfaces over the rest of the yard.

4. Irrigate efficiently. Replace your whirly-bird sprinkler—the one that waters your sidewalks and house as well as your lawn—with an inexpensive drip irrigator, which drips water only on the plant that needs watering. Rig your sprinklers to timers. Invest in an irrigator with a controller that automatically senses when your plants need water and doesn’t turn itself on if they don’t.


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Thursday, November 3, 2011

How can I update my concrete patio’s look?

Do-it-yourselfers and contractors are dressing up concrete patios with acid stains in every color, with overlays that mimic the look of flagstone and other more expensive, natural materials, and with stamps that can be as unique as the homeowner who picks them out.

Some of the most popular ways to turn a drab slab into something fancy underfoot include:

  • Stamped concrete. Patterns and textures are pressed into newly poured concrete before it’s fully dry. Combined with stains that add realistic color, stamped concrete can imitate the look of brick, cobblestones, flagstone, wood, pebbles or even seashells—at a fraction of the price. Plan to pay around $6 to $8 per square foot for stamped concrete with a single pattern and color, or more for elaborate designs. This is more a job for a contractor than a do-it-yourselfer.

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