Home & Garden


Garden with birds, bees, savings in mind

Chick-a-dee-dee-don’t: Big, clean plate-glass windows are great to look through, but birds may find them deadly. (submitted photo)

Spring is here, which means it’s time to slip those green thumbs into some gardening gloves.
And if you want to feel truly good about what you grow, consider upgrading your garden to be more planet-friendly.
Here are some ideas to consider:


So, is a DIYer’s best friend the local building inspector?

Extending electrical circuits and adding new outlets was featured as a “don’t do-it-yourself” project at www.todayshomeowner.com. (submitted photos)

A new, streamlined tub sets the tone of a bathroom, but new state regulations will set the temperature.

That bathroom has needed upgrades since you moved in. Your vintage home also has that vintage “one outlet per room” wiring, which apparently was sufficient to 1913 but not 2013. You heard something recently about the energy savings of insulating a basement -- but does that mean it will trap moisture?
In the rush to get started on home-improvement projects, given our “late” spring, homeowners may be tempted to forego licensed contractors’ waiting lists and tackle the work on their own.


LEAP award-winners’ landscapes, gardens show ‘sustainable’ can still be ‘stunning’

Kids of all ages get involved in studying nature at St. Peter Catholic School’s butterfly garden in North St. Paul. The insect life the garden attracts -- especially the monarch butterfly caterpillars the students monitor through metamorphosis -- make it a multidimensional “classroom.” (submitted photos)

This shady, green retreat doesn’t look like your usual townhome complex. Lake Grove association members’ initiative changed out pavement -- that created a river of runoff -- to green plantings. Now they enjoy newfound quiet and privacy as well as new sights of birds and insects in the neighborhood.

Voilà -- the garden at L’etoile French Immersion School attracts bees, butterflies and birds -- even a wild turkey. The school’s plantings also serve fundamental purposes, stablilizing erosion on a hillside and stopping rain where it falls.

An appropriately-aged white picket fence helps contain exuberant native plants in Kathy Sidles’ garden in St. Paul. As well as pursuing native plantings, Sidles recently installed a rain garden to catch and filter runoff before it enters the stormwater system.

Now that spring has finally sprung, property owners are more than ready to leap into gardening projects.
Some have gotten a jump on them by maintaining healthy landscapes year round, using sustainable approaches that save time, labor and money.


Three reasons to have your soil tested this spring

Did you know that one pound of phosphorus from excessive fertilization can produce anywhere from 300 to 500 pounds of algae if that phosphorus reaches a lake or river?


Updates that add value — to your home and your life in it

This knotty-pine-paneled porch had seen its day, and its owners hoped to work it into a plan to create a kitchen-greatroom area. Don Hruby says his challenge was to unite a 1970s enclosed kitchen with the porch and with a raised dining room. “We had to lower the floor of the dining room 16 inches, for a start.” (photos courtesy Rossbach Construction)

The classic ‘70s kitchen, complete with a harvest-gold stove, needed major surgery to open it up so the homeowners could host friends, neighbors and a growing family of kids and grandchildren without being cut off from the action.

Believe it or not, this is the same kitchen -- note the window location and curtains. Now, the kitchen is open to the dining room and has a high counter where helpers -- or eaters -- can interact with the cook. Instead of that classic earth-tone stove, the homeowners have an Advantium combination microwave-convection-conventional oven. Hruby notes that he and Rossbach crews joined neighbors, family and friends a la “This Old House” for a luncheon to celebrate the project’s completion. “I think the owners just couldn’t wait to use that new kitchen,” he says.

The blue cabinet fronts and worn counters in this kitchen scream “dated,” as does the dark backsplash with aging grout. From any viewpoint -- homeowner enjoying working in the kitchen or buyer deciding between houses -- it was past time for a change. The challenge: there was no way to expand the room.

Yes, this is the former “blue kitchen,” with the same footprint but a welcome new look. It now has quartersawn oak cabinets with inset doors, Mission-style drawer pulls and a decorative stone backsplash that reflect its 1906 heritage. Taking the cabinets up to the ceiling offered more storage and the opportunity to add a wide transom over an expanded window space. New fixtures include a combination microwave-convection-conventional oven, quartz countertops and, of course, a farmhouse sink.

This bungalow’s front porch had been converted into living space some years ago, with the addition of non-period picture windows and without changing the entryway. The result: an oddly anachronistic look and an indoor space divided by foot traffic. “We were able to change the entryway so it made sense, in part because the bricks were falling off the front of the house,” Don Hruby of Rossbach Construction quips.

Now, the homeowners can really take advantage of the space they gained by finishing the porch. An architect’s vision called for Pella three-over-one paned windows to reflect the period and a pergola to help define the entry. Hruby had to go on a search to find matching bricks, but the new, retucked with colored mortar next to the old, look fine. Crews also redashed all the stucco.

1980s gray vinyl siding as far as the eye can see. When it’s time to replace exterior finishes, it’s good to think “outside the box” and not just exchange one monotone color for another.

Surprisingly, the pavers on the porch and walk are original to the home; Hruby had to match the siding, trim and stone treatments to them. The result: a home that says quality, permanence and welcome without saying a word.

Now, the home has the depth and richness that make for instant curb appeal. The siding is new fibercement panels that won’t dent with the next hailstorm, and the trim is a combination of wood and resins that boasts woodgrain appearances and rot resistance. The garage and front entry columns were given solid quality appeal with cultured stone facings.

Where can homeowners invest in remodeling projects that pay back the most both in dollars and enjoyment?

Kitchens, bathrooms and exteriors, say the experts.


How late is it, anyway?

According to seasonal averages, this spring is “behind” the average by about a week and a half, assistant state climatologist Pete Boulay says.

Spring 2012, on the other hand, came four weeks early.


What to do with a late spring?

Last year saw throngs flocking to garden stores the first two weeks of April.


Check the foundations, the roof -- and the radon

An estimated one in three Minnesota homes harbors high levels of radon, and the Minnesota Department of Health urges people to have radon levels checked before buying or selling a home.


'Rehab Addict' host Nicole Curtis transforms local house

This spring, viewers of “Rehab Addict” have been watching host Nicole Curtis restore this 1,264-square-foot house, which was built in 1889 on the East Side of St. Paul.

The front of the restored 381 Case Ave. house, with the woodwork on the front porch intact, is shown on a sunny day. (photo courtesy of DIY Network.)

In the 381 Case Avenue home, the ‘Rehab Addict’ team tackled ceiling and wall damage, a worn floor and an original fireplace mantel and pocket door in need of restoration. (photos courtesy of Ariel Photography)

The kitchen needed extensive work on the ceiling and floors, as well as a better-organized workspace. Nicole Curtis moved the built-in cabinet from a facing wall to a spot over the sink and added more counter space for modern cooks. (photos courtesy of Ariel Photography)

Relocating a virtual traffic jam of doors and exposing more of the chimney brickwork set the stage for a spacious, serene bedroom. (photos courtesy of Ariel Photography)

An unused nook in the dining room, just left, becomes a perfect place to display a period buffet, and repaired windows let the light shine in.(photos courtesy of Ariel Photography)

One East Side home full of memories gets brought back to life, soul intact


Q & A with Nicole Curtis of 'Rehab Addict'

Nicole Curtis (photo courtesy of DIY Network)

In the Case Ave house, a little-used porch, at top, becomes a great place for a breezy breakfast or supper. The “car siding” that adds such a warm tone to the space is now reflected by the restored plank flooring. (photos courtesy of Ariel Photography)

In the bathroom of the Case Ave house, Curtis used a couple new fixtures with old-time style, but kept the lovely claw-foot tub. To make the tub useful as a shower, it was easy to add a shower spray and curtain, but the team also had to make the wall alongside the tub waterproof. The glazed subway tile Curtis chose looks like it’s been there since the 1880s. (photos courtesy of Ariel Photography)

TV host talks about her latest project and popular show