How to Protect your Investment

The Outdoor Dreams Journey

How ToProtectYourInvestment

Though your Outdoor Dreams Journey has come to an end, your Outdoor Enjoyment Journey is just getting started. Your new outdoor living space will provide you with a new, unique room to engage nature, gather with loved ones and create lasting memories.

Like so many remodeling projects, outdoor living spaces are a great investment in your home, but they differ in one major way: maintenance. Unlike indoor projects, your outdoor space must withstand everything Mother Nature can throw at it. Additionally, the landscaping portion of your space is composed of materials that are actually living organisms. This space requires a much different type of maintenance than the dusting and vacuuming done indoors.

Your Outdoor Dreams’ space is structurally built to last, but failing to properly maintain it will leave the area looking rundown and drab. Just like a messy indoor room, an unkempt outdoor space is not inviting or truly enjoyable. Without proper maintenance, your outdoor space will also become a liability to your home’s value, instead of an asset. To set you up for success, Outdoor Dreams has put together this packet of helpful recommendations for the maintenance of your space.

Protect Your Investment: Hardscape

General day-to-day maintenance

The general day-to-day maintenance of your hardscape is minimal, but important. For comparison, it is very similar to dusting or vacuuming around the house. By doing these little things on a regular basis, you can postpone the need for other, more involved maintenance practices. CLEAR LEAVES & DEBRIS: The easiest and most effective way to maintain your hardscape is to regularly sweep or blow it clean. Leaves and organic debris that are allowed to decompose on the hardscape will cause stains and mold. For obvious reasons, you may have to do this more regularly in the Autumn. Once it has been swept or blown, use a garden hose to wash off any remaining debris that may adhere to your new hardscape.

ORGANIC STAINS: After sweeping or blowing the hardscape, check the surfaces for organic stains and mold. Look closely against walls, around furniture, kitchen countertops and any tight corners/nooks; leaves and debris get caught in these areas, making them more likely to be stained. Before moving on to specialty cleaners or power washing, try cleaning with a stiff bristle broom/brush and a small amount of dish detergent diluted with water.

SPECIFIC STAIN REMOVAL: As a rule, stains should be treated as soon as possible, otherwise they will penetrate deeper and become harder to remove. Fortunately, there are specialty hardscape cleaners available for every type of stain. We suggest having these products on hand so that you are prepared for quick removal when stairs occur. If you don’t have the specific cleaner, here are a few tips:

  • Oil: Use boiling water to loosen and lift the stain, then cover with paper towels to soak up the oil; repeat until the stain lightens or disappears.
  • Food, beverage and grease: Soak the paver or brick with liquid dish detergent for half an hour, then scrub and rinse with very hot water.
  • Gum: Yes, this happens. Apply an ice cube to harden the gum, scrape what you can and then use mineral spirits to remove the rest. Clean with dish detergent and rinse with very hot water.

EFFLORECENCE: This is a natural occurring process in all concrete products which sometimes appears in the form of a white powdery film on the pavement surface. Efflorescence is more noticeable on in darker colors as there is a higher level of contrast than with other blended colors. Although it cannot be prevented, it will wash off over time or can be cleaned with efflorescence cleaner and a stiff-bristle brush.

Washing your hardscape

At Outdoor Dreams, we recommend a thorough, overall cleaning of your hardscape every year or two. Before your thorough washing, be sure to follow the general maintenance tasks first. Once tougher stains are taken care of, you can do an overall cleaning of the hardscape. This can be done with stiff bristle broom and elbow grease or a pressure washer.

CLEANING PRODUCTS: If washing with a broom, consider using a cleaning product like Gator Clean Shampoo from Alliance to get the most out of your efforts. Although a pressure washer can be used without additives, including a cleaning agent can also improve the results. If you choose to use a cleaning product, be sure to read through and follow the instructions carefully.

PRESSURE WASHING TIPS: Before getting started, make sure you have the right equipment. If you do not own a pressure washer, you can rent one from a local home and garden store or specialty rental center. A pressure washer with about 3 gpm and 3000 psi is ideal for most hardscape cleaning jobs. Choose the tip with the widest angle that still gets the job done to prevent degrading the surface of the hardscape.

Pressure washing can be harmful to the paving if done incorrectly, so start at low pressure and work your way up. Starting at one end of the hardscape, hold the tip about 12″ from the surface and use an even and consistent sweeping motion. Keep the spray at a slight angle to direct the cleaning across the surface and prevent the force from degrading the surface. As you move across the area, try to direct the run off to a pervious area or drain.

Resetting the polymer sand

The polymeric sand used between paver joints does not last forever. Though newer products say they can last 15 years, the longevity of polymeric sand depends completely on the site conditions. When it’s time to replace the polymeric sand, Outdoor Dreams recommends that you call a professional. Improper installation of polymeric sand will not only negate its effectiveness, it could also ruin your patio.

If you are interested in doing it yourself, here is a link to an instructional video on proper installation. This video will either teach you proper installation practices or convince you to call a professional.

Sealing your hardscape

While natural stone and Techo-Bloc products have long lasting surfaces that don’t require sealing, many homeowners choose to add a sealer for color enhancement and stain protection.

Always thoroughly read and follow the instructions listed on your chosen sealant. In general, all sealants should be applied when the surface has been cleaned and allowed to dry. The temperature should be between 50 and 80 degrees, with no forecast of rain in the next 24 hours. Sprinklers that may spray the surface should also be shut off.

Here is a link to an instructional video on sealers and their application. Longevity of sealants (typically 2-10 years) may vary based on the use, climate and quality of the sealer. Even when sealed it is still important to perform regular maintenance.

Protect Your Investment: Deck and Carpentry

All decks and carpentry require maintenance

No matter what materials you choose, all of your carpentry will require some level of maintenance to preserve its beauty and value. It is important to remember that low maintenance does not mean NO maintenance. Here are a few general tips to consider for all carpentry.

DON’T TRAP DIRT: If you have flower planters on your deck or other carpentry, raise them with pot feet to prevent the planters from trapping dirt or moisture on the wood’s surface.

CATCH THE GREASE: If you have your grill on your deck, always use a grease catcher – grease stains are typically some of the most difficult to remove.

SWEEP IT UP: Sweep or blow off your carpentry work on a regular basis to prevent accumulations of dirt or leaves that can stain.

SHOVEL IT OFF: Remove snow as soon as possible so that moisture does not sit longer than it must. This will help to prevent rot, mold and mildew issues with your materials. This is especially important for natural wood structures.

Pressure treated wood

Outdoor wooden structures, especially decks, take a lot of abuse from foot traffic and mother nature. Though it requires maintenance, it’s worth the time and money to protect the natural beauty of wood and the investment you made in your home.

SPECIAL STEPS FOR YOUR NEW DECK: If your deck is new, have it professionally cleaned to kill any mildew spores in the wood and to remove any surface impurities that may prevent deck sealing products from penetrating. Then have it sealed with a waterproof sealer. But be sure to wait at least 60 days after a wooden deck is built to have it cleaned and stained; wood has to “age” first.

CLEAN AND SEAL: Even pressure treated wood needs to be sealed. Pressure treated wood alone does nothing to protect your deck against weather. In fact, pressure treated wood without sealant applied is even more porous and vulnerable to the weather. Have your deck and wood carpentry professionally cleaned and sealed at least every 2 to 3 years to protect it against the rain and sun. If you opt to do it yourself, you’ll probably need to clean and seal the deck once a year, so in the long run, professional work pays for itself.

DON’T JUST CLEAN: No matter the age, always make sure your carpentry is sealed. Seal your deck and other wood carpentry to protect it against moisture from rain and dew, which will cause the wood to swell. Sealing also protects against the sun, which can shrink and dry the wood.

SEALERS AND STAINS: Deck finishes fall into two categories: sealers and stains. Sealers are clear finishes while stains are available in different “tones” or colors. Both sealers and stains penetrate the wood, stand up to foot traffic and protect from the elements. Take into consideration the location of your deck (does it get sun all day or shade?), what type of wood it is and how you want the finished, treated deck to look. Paint, clear finish, semi-transparent or opaque stain are all possible finishes. Select a finish that will repel water, preserve the wood (with a mildew inhibitor) and screen out UV rays – the label should list all 3 features.

SEALERS VS STAINS: While clear deck finishes allow the natural grain of the wood to show through, they are not as effective as pigmented finishes at blocking UV rays. The best UV protection is found in a combination of pigments (color) and chemical inhibitors, but even these must be re-applied every year. Typically, clear finishes are best suited for newer decks that haven’t undergone much weathering.

MAKE REPAIRS AS SOON AS POSSIBLE: Replace any rotted boards as needed to avoid having to replace the whole structure. Regular maintenance should also include tightening loose boards or railings.

HEAVILY SHADED AREAS: Heavily shaded wood structures are prone to mildew. After the initial cleaning and finishing, apply a wood cleaner containing a mildew inhibitor on an annual basis.

Protect Your Investment: Landscaping

Your landscape is composed of living materials

Unlike your hardscape and carpentry elements, it is important to remember that your landscape is alive and it needs your help to thrive. That said, it is also important to remember that, even with your best efforts, it is possible that some plant material will not survive. A few of the things that will cause this to happen are: cat/dog urine or spray, severe weather (dry winds, lack of snow cover, excessive rain or lack of rain, extremely cold winters, extended or truncated seasons), fungus, insects, and disease. These factors cannot be anticipated, and sometimes they cannot be controlled.

A landscape is a work of art, and always a work-in-progress. There are too many factors beyond the gardener’s control for complete success to happen often. The plant that absolutely exceeded your wildest expectations this year may not come back next year. Losses are to be expected, even to the most attentive and knowledgeable gardener.

That said, your personal attention and care will make a big difference in how your garden grows. Enjoy the items in your landscape that prosper, forget (or re-plant) the items that don’t. Try something new. Keep what exceeds your expectations, and learn from what doesn’t satisfy.

Your landscape is capable of flourishing and bringing you much personal enjoyment. As for proper care: you can do it and the following information will help!

Your plants require water

In most cases, you can guarantee success with your landscape if you get the watering correct.

CHECK DAILY: For the first 2-4 weeks after installation, you should check plants daily to be sure the ground around them has adequate moisture. Pull back the mulch from the base of the plant and feel the top of the root ball. If the soil is dry, give the plant water and if it’s wet, hold off for a while. If you are having trouble deciphering, give the plant ¼ – ½ the amount you normally would.

PERENNIALS: Most newly installed perennials will only have roots in the first 3″-8″ of soil after they are planted. You won’t have to water long in each location, but you may have that top few inches of soil and mulch dry out quickly depending on conditions. With small plants, you may need to water more frequently if it is hot and dry. After the first 2-4 weeks, perennials should be on a schedule providing 1″ of water every week (either by rain or you). During dry and/or windy spells, you may have to water every other day. Let the soil and the plants be your guide.

TREES AND SHRUBS: Newly planted trees and shrubs should be watered immediately after planting. For the next 2 weeks at least, be sure your new material gets a minimum of 1″ of water every other day. After the first 2-4 weeks, you will need to supplement its water schedule for the first year. Using 1-2″ of water every 4 to 7 days should be adequate, again either by rainfall or hand watering.

THE BEST WAY TO WATER TREES: The best way to water your trees and shrubs is the slow-soak method. Although the big stream may be the most personally satisfying, a deep watering over an extended period is the best way. This will allow the moisture to go deep to the bottom of the roots.

If you have or are planning an irrigation system, consider drip line irrigation for all your trees and shrubs. If you are watering manually, adjust the water pressure so that only a slow trickle is being released. Then place the hose at the base of the plant and allow it to trickle for an extended period of time. For trees, it can be helpful to adjust the hose position to ensure even water distribution throughout the root-ball. Watering times will vary depending on the water pressure and the size of the tree/shrub.

SOD: Water new sod immediately upon installation and continue watering daily for 10 to 14 days after installation. For the first 7-10 days, water sod thoroughly so that you cannot walk on it without sinking in. The corners and edges of sod strips dry out quickly, so pay special attention to make sure they stay damp. After sod has been established (when it does not pull up when gently tugged) a good watering once or twice a week is preferred over light sprinklings daily.

Your plants require oxygen

It is fairly common knowledge that plants need water, but very few people understand that they require oxygen as well. Failing to get oxygen to the roots can kill a plant just as easily as failing to water them. Luckily, properly providing a plant with both water and oxygen is the same process.

OVER-WATERING DEPRIVES OXYGEN: Plants fail to get oxygen when they are overwatered. When the soil around the plant becomes oversaturated, the excavated hole fills with water, depriving the roots of oxygen and causing the plant to drown.

WATERING GAPS: Even once your plants have settled in, it is important to include builtin gaps in your watering schedule. Always remember that your plants need water, but they also need days off to get oxygen.

DIFFERENT WATER SCHEDULES: The deeper the root system of the plant, the bigger the gaps in watering should be. This means that larger plants, like trees, should be watered less often than shrubs and perennials. Please note that less often does not mean less water; larger plants should be watered less often, but for longer lengths of time. If you install a customized irrigation system, it is ideal to have different plant types (trees, shrubs and perennials) on separate zones and schedules.

Your plants require nutrients in the soil

Plants, like animals, need nutrients to survive. Though established and native landscapes create self-sustaining ecosystems, plant material in young, residential landscapes (like yours) need help.

NO ADDITIONAL FERTILIZER FOR THE FIRST YEAR: Every plant installed by Outdoor Dreams is given Biotone Starter Plus fertilizer and Leafgro soil conditioner. This is all the fertilization your plants need for the first year. Over fertilizing in the first year can stress you plants by causing more growth than the root system can sustain.

N-P-K FORMULA: The first thing to understand about fertilizer is the formula, typically represented by three numbers, such as the common 5-10-5. The first number represents nitrogen, which promotes lawn blade and foliage growth; the second number stands for phosphorus, which helps root growth; and the third for potassium, which promotes cell function and absorption of trace elements.

CLAY SOILS: Fertilizing is important in yards with predominantly clay soils. In the last 10-15 years, it has become common practice for home builders to strip and sell the quality topsoil layer from lots, replacing it with clay, fill dirt. This practice leaves most newly constructed homes with lots composed entirely of clay soils devoid of nutrients. Because of this, fertilizing plant material on these lots is of the utmost importance for the success of the landscape.

OVER FERTILIZATION: Many university studies have concluded that most homeowners overfertilize their lawns and gardens. Too much nitrogen can be as damaging to plants as too little. Flower or vegetable gardens can thrive with fewer fertilizer applications than once believed, especially if they are properly amended with compost and other natural organic materials.

FALL FERTILIZATION: Most gardens do very well with one feeding as the growing season concludes in the Fall, late October to early November. When choosing a fertilizer, look for one with a high phosphorus number that will promote root growth. Next spring you’ll have stronger plants with more flowers and foliage.

Proper pruning techniques and timing are important

A few minutes spent pruning is one of the best things you can do for the plants in your yard, but it’s one of the most neglected tasks of homeowning. Pruning isn’t difficult and what you get in return is thicker foliage, more flowers, and healthier plants.

PRUNING FLOWERING SHRUBS: Young shrubs should be pruned lightly to make them grow fuller and bushier. With hand pruners, trim long, unbranched stems by cutting just above a healthy bud. This type of pruning, called heading, encourages lower side branches to develop and enhances the shrub’s natural form. When selecting a bud tip to trim to, keep in mind that the new branch will grow out in the direction of the bud.

As a shrub develops, thin out old, weak, rubbing, or wayward branches where they merge with another branch. This opens up the middle of the plant to more sunlight, which keeps interior branches healthy, stimulates growth, increases flowering and help maintain the plant’s natural shape.

PRUNING YOUNG FLOWERING TREES: Avoid pruning a young or newly planted tree — it needs as many leaves as possible to produce the food required for good root growth. Remove only dead, broken, or injured branches, as well as those that cross or rub each other. And always prune back to a healthy stem or branch without leaving stubs. This eliminates hiding places for pests and diseases, and looks better. Never cut back the plant’s leader — the top-most growing point of the tree — which is vital to letting the tree develop its natural form.

PRUNING OLDER FLOWERING TREES: Once the tree is a few years old, shape it gradually over the course of several years to maximize foliage and flowering. The tree’s branches should be well-spaced up the trunk and spiraling around it. As a guideline, prune no more than one-fourth of the tree’s total leaf area in a single year. To raise the tree’s crown or create clearance beneath it, remove the lowest branches. Also target branches that are spaced too closely together or that join the trunk at a narrow angle — 45 degrees or less. These form weak limb attachments and will break easily in wind or under the weight of snow and ice.

Mature trees require only occasional pruning to maintain their structure and appearance. Never make the mistake of cutting off the top of a tree’s canopy to reduce its size. Topping typically leaves the tree much less attractive and much more prone to weak growth and pests.

REMOVING AN ENTIRE TREE BRANCH: Cut as close to the branch collar — the swollen ring of bark where the limb meets the main stem or trunk — as possible without cutting into it. When cutting branches more than 1 inch in diameter, avoid tearing or stripping bark by using a pruning saw and the three-cut method shown below. A good pruning cut will heal quickly and naturally without the use of dressings or poultices.

PRUNING CONIFERS: Needle-leafed evergreens fall into two basic groups: random branching and whorled branching. Each requires a different pruning technique.

  • Evergreens with random-branching patterns — arborvitae, hemlock, juniper, and yew — should be pruned in the same manner as a flowering tree or shrub. Use heading cuts to encourage dense growth and thinning cuts made close to the trunk to maintain the tree’s shape. One important difference: Heading cuts will only sprout new branches if the remaining branch still has needles growing on it.
  • Whorled-branching evergreens — fir, spruce, and pine — are quite different. These plants have pale growth buds, called candles, that develop at the branch tips in the spring. Instead of making heading cuts, use your thumb and forefinger to pinch off the new, light-colored growths while they’re still soft. This will maintain plant size and produce denser growth. You won’t want to make thinning cuts to whorledbranching evergreens — they will produce a dead snag, not new growth. The only exception is spruce trees: They have side buds that will sprout if trimmed back to the previous year’s growth.

WHEN TO PRUNE: There is important pruning that can be done anytime — namely, the removal of dead, weak, damaged, or crossing branches. But poorly timed pruning, like that done in the fall or early winter, can injure a plant and stunt or even eliminate its foliage and flower production.

  • Late Winter/Early Spring: Prune summer-flowering plants, which will flower on the coming season’s new growth, while they are still dormant. Their bare limbs make it easy to see the plant’s structure, and the flush of spring growth will quickly heal wounds. Prune random-branching conifers once new growth is visible.
    • Shrubs: Beautyberry, butterfly bush, gardenia, barberry, spiraea, nandina, privet, knock out roses, drift roses, rose of Sharon, and summersweet
    • Trees: Crape myrtle, sweet olive, sweet bay magnolia, arborvitae, cypress, juniper, hemlock, yew and cedar
  • Late Spring/Early Summer: Prune spring-flowering plants immediately after their blossoms fade. Because they produce flowers only on old growth from the previous season, pruning soon after bloom will maximize flower production the next year.
    • Shrubs: Azaleas, rhododendron, hydrangea, lilacs, spirea, flowering quince, forsythia, pieris and weigela
    • Trees: Flowering almond, flowering cherry, fringe tree, flowering pear, redbud, saucer magnolia, serviceberry, star magnolia, witch hazel, pine and spruce
  • Midsummer: Prune “bleeding” trees — those with exceptionally heavy spring sap flow — after their leaves have fully developed.
    • Trees: Birch, Dogwoods and Maples.

Benefits of mulch upkeep

Mulch is more than just an attractive finish to your landscape. The benefits of mulch include reduced water evaporation, weed prevention, protection from winter freeze and thaw cycles, and it improves soil health (increases microbial activity, nutrient- and water-holding capacity, soil pore spaces, and air penetration) as it decomposes.

CLAY SOILS: Mulch serves as a sponge that prevents runoff around plants growing in heavy clay soils or on sloped sites.

PROPER AMOUNT: Mulch with 2-4″ of composted organic matter, such as mushroom compost, leaf mold or shredded bark mulch. Keep the mulch away from the trunk or stem of the plant as this can cause rot.

BEWARE OF TOO MUCH MULCH: When applied too thick, mulch can prevent movement of rain or irrigation water into the root ball of newly planted trees and shrubs. In landscapes with poorly drained clay soils, excessive mulch will keep soils wet, causing root suffocation and rot. Additionally, thick mulch piled around trunks and stems may lead to bark decay.

Snow storm precautions

BE CAREFUL WITH DEICING SALTS: If you use salt during the winter, beware! Salt residue can severely damage groundcovers, grass, perennials, and shrubs. Salt will bind up your plants’ ability to absorb water, which is already at a premium during the winter months. Salt can also travel, no matter how carefully it’s placed.

SNOW PILES: When shoveling the driveway, walkways, deck and patio, be careful not to pile the snow on top of plants. Piling on excessive weight could break branches and do irreputable damage.

When in doubt, search the internet

We live in an amazing time when the answer to any question can be found in seconds. If you have any questions or want more specific tips, your answers are a quick internet search away. For tutorials, YouTube is full of helpful videos that can assist you with every garden task imaginable.

Protect Your Investment: Fire Features

Before long, one of your favorite pastimes will be spending time next to a warm and cozy fire feature. Here are a few tips and guidelines for proper use of your new fire pit or fireplace.

Expansion and contraction

It is natural and common knowledge that heat causes materials like metal, soil, glass, wood, stone and concrete to expand, contract, warp, melt, change shape, etc. If your fire pit or outdoor fireplace expands and contracts, it can cause hairline cracks in the exterior veneer that are cosmetic and not structural failures of the feature. Expansion cracks most commonly appear in the mortar joints, normally in the area that endures the highest heat and is closest to where the fire burns.

Effect of moisture

Concrete/stone, moisture and heat do not work well together. Heat and moisture create steam and steam has the ability to move the concrete/stone and an overabundance can cause damage. Concrete and stone from your fire pit or outdoor fireplace will absorb moisture from rain, snow, human watering and even moist, humid air. It is recommended that you wait 28 days after construction to use your fire pit or fireplace, allowing the mortar joints and exterior veneer ample time to cure. If your fire pit or outdoor fireplace is going to be used after being exposed to moisture, start a small fire and heat the appliance up slowly and avoid large fires until the unit has had ample opportunity to dry from the inside out. This may take several hours depending on the amount of moisture the unit has been exposed to; plan accordingly when you intend to use your feature.

Thermal cycling

Thermal cycling is a process of alternatively cooling and heating material. This enhances the strength and performance of materials thereby improving the longevity and stress bearing qualities. This process induces what is known as molecular reorganization, optimizing a material’s molecular structure and making it denser and more uniform. The process involves heating the part repeatedly and then allowing it to return to ambient temperature. In short, your fire pit or outdoor fireplace will gain strength with every use, but it’s important to start carefully with small, shorter length burns. The ground breaking of your feature should NOT be a large, grand fire that your run for hours. If you are planning a christening party for your outdoor living space, be sure to have a few small, short fires in the days leading up to your gathering.

Effects of cold temperatures

When the ambient temperature of your fire pit or outdoor fireplace is 40 degrees and below, special consideration should be taken. Heating a concrete or stone appliance too quickly no matter what the ambient temperature can cause damage, but is much more likely when the feature is below 40 degrees. The colder the ambient temperature, the more cautious you should be when building a fire. This is not to say that you cannot use your fire pit or outdoor fireplace in cold temperatures. It is recommended that you build a small fire in the beginning and heat the appliance slowly until it reaches normal operating temperatures. Be sure to plan accordingly because this may take hours, depending on the temperature.

Over firing, accelerants and extinguishing

Even though fire pits and outdoor fireplaces are made of heat tolerant refractory materials, they can be damaged from over firing. All materials have their limitations on the amount of heat they can endure and can be damaged if they are operated beyond those limitations. Always burn a fire in the center of the feature on a log grate and away from the walls. Do not let logs lean against the walls of your feature; the intense heat could cause cracking while in use or during the cooling process. To prevent over firing, never burn more wood at one time than the log grate is capable of holding. USE COMMON SENSE. Never use accelerants like gasoline, alcohol, oil or any liquid to light or enhance the size of a fire. This could severely damage the fire feature and also creates the risk of an explosion and bodily harm. NEVER extinguish a fire using water, liquid or any suppressant that would create an immediate temperature contrast; this can and will cause cracking of stone, mortar and concrete.

Additional safety precautions

A fire pit or outdoor fireplace can bring many hours of enjoyment, comfort and warmth if operated and maintained properly. Certain safety precautions must be observed to eliminate the dangers associated with fire and provide a satisfactory, smoke free fire.

  1. When burning wood, use solid, seasoned wood only. Do not use scrap wood, artificial wax-based logs, treated wood, coal or woods dipped in pine tar or pitch.
  2. Never use gasoline or other combustible liquids when starting a fire.
  3. Keep combustible furniture, pillows, blankets etc. at least four feet from the opening.
  4. Never leave unattended.

Be extremely careful when adding wood and handling fireplace tools. Never throw, kick or by any other means force wood into the firebox as this could damage the firebrick and walls, resulting in permanent damage and void the warranty. Stress cracks created from thermal cycling are normal.

Selection of wood

USE CURED WOOD LOGS: Use cured wood logs only. Scrap wood produces sparks. Treated wood, coal or woods dipped in pine tar should not be used because they may leave a combustible residue in the fireplace and chimney. Use of seasoned wood is preferred.

SOFTWOOD VS. HARDWOOD: Wood is divided into two classes, hard and soft woods. Each has a use in a fireplace and each has advantages and disadvantages.The hardwood category includes such woods as oak, walnut, birch, elm and maple. Softwoods include pine, fir, cedar and spruce.

Selection of wood depends on the type of fire you want. Softwoods are good to offset a morning chill because the fire develops faster. Hardwoods are preferable for a slower burning and uniform heat output.

Softwoods contain a highly flammable resin that will leave creosote soot in the chimney flu. This often results in sparking. Burning softwood exclusively will require more frequent inspection and cleaning of the chimney.

Experienced fire builders will often use small amounts of softwood kindling and newspaper when starting a split hardwood log fire.

SEASONED WOOD: Most freshly cut “green” wood will not burn well and will smoke. The pressure of moisture and resin inside green wood will build under heat and explode as sparks. Therefore, it is recommended that only seasoned wood be used in your fireplace.

Most wood requires 9-12 months of seasoning and drying to reduce the moisture content enough to produce good steady fires. Make sure that you buy only seasoned wood, or if you buy green wood (usually cheaper), store it properly to aid in the seasoning process. The following steps will assist in the seasoning process.

  1. Stack wood loosely to permit maximum air circulation.
  2. Do not stack wood on the ground. Use a wood rack or stack on scrap lumber. Storage on the ground will cause rotting and insect infiltration.
  3. Cover wood stacks with a tarp so that it is not excessively exposed to the elements such as snow and rain.
  4. Do not stack wood against the walls of your home.

Building a fire

  1. Use a log grate with your fire pit or outdoor fireplace when burning wood. This will contribute to good air circulation around the wood and keep the wood out of the ash.
  2. Remove any excess ash from the fire pit or outdoor fireplace. Excessive ash may reduce airflow. Some owners prefer to leave a small layer to insulate the cold refractory below the grade, helping fire starting.
  3. Center the log grate in the firebox.
  4. Crumble several newspapers across the fire area underneath the grate. Criss-cross kindling wood on top of the grate, above the newspaper.
  5. Lay three logs on the grate; two side by side and the third in pyramid fashion on top. Split longs will start faster. Make sure there is space between the logs for air circulation. As the air is heated, it is drawn upwards through the space between the logs, creating more combustion.
  6. Light the paper at both sides of the firebox.
  7. Make sure the fire remains centered in the firebox. Don’t let it move to the front or sides. Move it back with a poker.
  8. Add more wood to the fire as necessary.

Protect Your Investment: Water Features

Pay attention to your water level

Water features with recirculating pumps are prone to evaporation. As the water level decreases, it forces the pump to work harder, resulting in quicker wear. Hence, during summer months, you should expect to add water once a week. In cooler seasons, expect to replenish the water every 14 days.

Cleaning your water feature

Switch off the pump and drain the water completely. Use white vinegar to clean the insides thoroughly. Rinse well to remove all traces of vinegar. If there is scale buildup, use a cleaning product that acts on it. This can be done once a year. This also is a good time to clean the pump and ensure it is working optimally.

Pump maintenance

Be sure you remove the debris, dead leaves and other contaminants from the water regularly to prevent the pump from getting clogged.

Keep the water feature running

While it can be tempting to switch off the pump now and then, it is the worst thing you can do. This will reduce the life of the pump. Running the pump constantly actually enhances its life. Additionally, constantly running your feature will help to ensure your water stays clean, as stagnant water tends to get dirty quicker and also prone to algae growth.

Winterizing your water feature

REMOVE PLANTS: First remove any plants you might have. Tropical plants will have to be potted in buckets of water inside to keep warm over the winter. Hardy plants can be kept in the water feature if you keep it filled, but should be potted at the deepest spot in the pond. If the plants do not survive, repot in the spring.

REMOVE THE PUMP: After removing plants you can unplug your pump and drain your fountain, waterfall, or pond. When you remove the pump from the pond clean the exterior and interior of the pump thoroughly with a hand towel. Store the pump in a bucket of warm water indoors to keep the seals from drying and the pump from
freezing.

THE POND ITSELF: To finish winterizing your feature, drain the water with an external pump. After draining, clean the bottom using a wet vacuum, or by hand, making sure to get all the debris. If you have algae build up you can apply Green Clean, a contact algaecide, which is activated by water. When using this or any other cleaning agent, make sure to follow the directions printed on the bottle.

Fountains should be kept drained for the full winter season while in-ground, liner features should be refilled. If water is kept in fountains, the expansion from freezing can damage them. If in-ground liner features are not refilled, uneven freezing can cause them to be misshapen. If you’re keeping plants in the pond, consider getting a floating de-icer to keep near the plants.

YOU’VE DECIDED TO KEEP THE WATERFALL RUNNING: Though Outdoor Dreams recommends removing the pump for the winter, many people leave their features going during mild winters. If you’ve decided to keeping the waterfall running, be sure to check the feature daily to ensure an ice dam does not form and cause the water to spill over. This advice is also important to remember for early cold snaps before you get around to winterizing your water feature.

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Thomas Welker

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