Protecting Your Home from the Outside In

There’s always one house in your neighborhood where the landscaping seems perfect, in fact that yard maybe yours…lush green grass, colorful exotic flowers, tall flowing trees, that perfectly manicured yard. In addition to the beauty landscaping adds to your home, thoughtful planning and careful design of landscapes can save money and energy as well solve safety and security issues.

Landscape Lighting

Landscape lighting is more than a cosmetic appeal. Landscape lighting brightens dark yards and improves safety and security.

Choosing the proper size and proportion of lighting for your yard is even more important than style and finish. As it illuminates your property, soft, natural light should imitate moonlight. Conceal light sources behind shrubs, tree branches or foliage unless your lighting is also a decorative element.

Don’t undersize your fixtures. When choosing lighting for your door or entryway, the height of your lantern or outdoor fixture should be based on the height of the door or opening. Lanterns will appear half their size from 50 feet away. To take advantage of curb appeal, visualize the front of your home as guests or neighbors will see it from the street. If you are still unsure, it is safer to purchase a larger fixture. The fixture should then be mounted slightly above eye level (on a typical door, this measures out to be 66 inches above the threshold of the door).

Consider using low voltage outdoor lighting. Low voltage systems are more appropriate in residential settings. Designed for wet locations, low voltage systems are small, allowing fixtures to be smaller and less obtrusive in the landscape as well as operate safely when exposed to moisture.

Low voltage lamps are available in low watt types and many beam spreads. This allows for a more precise lighting effect with low energy costs. Although in most cases, low voltage systems do not require an electrical contractor and can be plugged into existing outdoor receptacles, if you are unsure, it is best to consult a landscape professional or licensed electrician.

Strategic Use of Trees*

In Hawaii, trees have become more than an important design element to your landscape. Trees modify temperatures and energy by providing shade, absorbing heat, controlling winds and evaporating water from leaf surfaces. Even in or tropical climate, trees can provide a buffer of warmth from our chilly, seasonal tropical storms.

Trees also produce oxygen, reduce erosion, protect and enrich the soil as well as absorb carbon dioxide, a contributor to global warming.

  • Observe the sun’s path throughout the day. The late afternoon sun in the west produces the most heat, resulting in the highest energy consumption for cooling on hot days.
  • Determine wind patterns. Depending on whether you want to use or control the wind pattern, consider structures that will block, alter or create a particular wind pattern.
  • If they and the surrounding areas are shaded from direct sun for the entire day, the outdoor compressor/condenser units of air conditioning system can use less energy. However, be careful not to block the air flow with shrubs, hedges low trees or fences. If the warm discharge of air cannot escape, the intake air temperature will be raised, requiring more energy to cool it.
  • Always know the eventual size (height and width) as well as growth habits, strength and life expectancy of the tree. If the tree drops messy fruit, flowers, branches or leaves, this can cause maintenance problems for your landscape.
  • If power lines are in the vicinity, remember the “15-foot rule” - within 15 feet of lines, trees should not be more than 15 feet tall at maturity.
  • Find out the structure and growth habit of the roots and whether or not they are aggressive. Roots can cause damage to sidewalks, driveways, drain fields and septic tanks as well as your home’s foundation.

Landscaping Considerations for Termite Prevention

We’ve experienced those humid nights in Hawaii, where termites seem to come from nowhere and swarm around the screen door or light fixtures. We know that protecting your home’s structure is important, but preventing our landscaping from these pests can be just as important. Dead growth on shrubs and trees attract termites and are basically food for termites, so make sure to clean up any debris from shrubs and trees.

When planting and mulching, make sure to leave an 18-inch boundary from your home’s foundation. Use hard, inedible materials such as rocks or flagstones as a border around your home. This will prevent termites from seeing your home as a food source. Also, this will prevent moisture from building around your home. In addition to food, termites are also attracted to moisture. Planting and mulching too close to the foundation could make your home additionally appealing and accessible to termites.

Make sure the ground slopes away from your homes foundation. This will help in carrying off excess moisture and rainwater. If your home has received termite treatment, avoid deep digging around the foundation. If the barrier has not been disturbed, termite treatments may remain effective for 10 – 20 years.

If you are considering planting a potentially large tree, make sure not to plant closer than 20 feet. The plant’s extensive root system and tree stump will act as a roadway to your home.

Tree Safety and the Role of an Arborist

If you have existing trees on your property, it is best to have them inspected by a certified Arborist. Most landscape companies employ arborists and can be found in the yellow pages of the phone book under “Tree Service” or “Arborists”. But, what makes an arborist different from a landscape professional? Arborists specialize in the care of individual trees. Arborists have the proper equipment, skills and training to work on large trees, around power lines and at heights. Many arborists will also provide tree selection and planting recommendations as well as fertilizer application, and insect and disease control.

  • Verify that the tree company is licensed. In Hawaii, arborists should hold a C027 B license.
  • Ask if there is an International Society of Arborists (ISA) – certified arborist in the company. Certified arborists and tree workers must pass written and field tests.
  • Ask for proof of insurance. Insurance should include personal and property damage coverage as well as workers’ compensation. Hiring underinsured or uninsured workers could result in your personal responsibility for damages and injuries.
  • Request references from others who have similar work done. If possible, visit some of those sites.
  • Get more than one estimate. Check the credentials and the written specifications accompanying the bid or estimate. Determine the best combination of price, work to be done, skill, and professionalism.
  • Get everything in writing. Make sure the contract includes details specifying the work to be done and the cost as well as start and completion dates. Determine who is responsible for cleanup and disposal. Make sure the company has the proper tools and manpower to get the job done.

*Source: University of Hawaii at Manoa – College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources.

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