Tertiary Walks for Gardens and Greenery

Beautiful Garden Walkway
© lamart1971 / Adobe Stock

Unlike the main walkways running to your house, the tertiary walks found in gardens and other more natural places have a much greater leeway in terms of size and composition.

These allow your garden paths to look natural or eloquent, be wide or narrow, and use crafted or organic materials.

Tertiary Walks Using Pavers

Man Building Walkway with Pavers
© Evgenia Tiplyashina / Adobe Stock

Pavers are a popular material for walkways. Consisting of brick, cut stone, or precast concrete, pavers have high durability compared to most other materials. They function well for more formal walkways and paths leading away from a patio or garden shed.

Differences from Major Walkways

When building a tertiary walk, the focus is on aesthetics more than function. To this end, a tertiary walk is rarely designed for moving heavy or wheeled objects.

Alternative Materials

Gravel Garden Walkway
© Barbara Helgason / Adobe Stock

Due to the less strict requirements of tertiary walkways, a wide array of materials are considered suitable that are impossible for a primary or secondary walkway. Many of these are very natural and add an aesthetic appeal that is perfect for dense gardens and nature-oriented landscaping.

Flagstones

Flagstones, while usable in primary walkways, really shine in a tertiary walk. The most common use is to spread them apart so that one may comfortably step from one to another. The gaps my then be filled with gravel, mulch, or a ground cover such as moss or baby’s breath.

While some weeding is required compared to a solid flagstone walk, the appearance is more rustic, and certain ground covers will release a pleasant aroma when stepped on.

The process for making a stepping-stone pattern for flagstone begins with the same base and setting bed as with a regular masonry-based walk.

Once laid, you will need to pour approximately one inch of sand where each flagstone will be placed and install the stone, working it until it is stable. You may then add the filler, being careful not to dislodge the flagstones.

Gravel Walkways

Gravel walkways are designed similarly to paver walks, although the base is more shallow. The base should be excavated to a depth of three to four inches, and line it with geotextile fabric.

Fill the trench with one and one half inches of crushed gravel or another base material. While you may use a hand tamper or vibrating plate compactor to tamp the base, a drum roller is often easier to use on narrow paths.

Once the base is completed, add your top coat and use a garden rake to gently smooth it, being careful not to disturb the base. Smaller gravel may be tamped down in the same way as the base, although larger gravel sizes such as pebbles should not be tamped.

Note that gravel tends to remain loose and can be easily dislodged, so it is best to have some form of barrier along the edges, such as medium-sized stones or brick.

Pine Needles

Pine needles are a surprisingly soft and springy material which makes for an excellent garden path. Being organic, the needles will degrade over time, requiring more to be added.

One advantage to using pine needles is the fact that they knit together naturally, forming a barrier that makes it harder for weeds to grow. They also have a pleasant scent that is released as you step on them.

Creating a pine needle path is very easy. Begin by creating a base as you would for a gravel path. Then, simply pour the pine needles onto the base and rake smooth, being careful not to disturb the base material.

You may choose to place cardboard layer on top of the base with a 2 to 3 inch overlap to further deter weeds, but this is an optional step. The edging may then be hidden by stones, plants, or a variety of other means.

Wood Mulch, Chips, and Nuggets

These three materials are often associated with gardens as a form of weed deterrent, but make for a wonderful path. As with pine needles, the material is organic and will break down in time. The three types of wood product vary as follows:

  • Mulch – Primarily shredded wood or bark, with generic mulch containing approximately 70 percent of the named wood and quality mulch containing at least 85 percent of the named wood.
  • Nuggets – Chunks of bark removed from mature trees and graded according to their size.
  • Wood Chips – Waste wood that has been run through a chipper and most commonly the size of a quarter; pine and other resinous woods should be avoided for paths.

The base for a mulch path is the same as for a gravel walk. You will want your edgers to be slightly higher than the final level of the mulch to avoid scattering debris into the plants or lawn. Adding stones over the edger will make for a more natural look, although surrounding ground cover will usually be enough to hide the edgers.

Some home gardeners will also add cardboard between the base and mulch layers with a 2 to 3 inch overlap to further deter weeds.

It should be noted that bark-based mulches degrade slower than pulp-based mulch. Furthermore, bark nuggets are not as comfortable to walk on as mulch or chips, but works well as a transition material if the surrounding area also uses mulch.

Having a different type of mulch on the path than connecting garden beds will also set a nice contrast that helps separate the path. Finally, shredded or small-particle mulches also have a tendency of intertwining over time, forming less loose debris than larger mulch types.

Ground Covers as Filler

Garden Path with Ground Cover Filler
© wittybear / Adobe Stock

There are a wide array of ground covers that make for colorful and aromatic fillers between stones. These tend to be small grasses, moss, and some creeping plants.

Be wary of plants which grow too quickly or have different watering requirements than nearby garden plants for easier maintenance.

The following are just a few popular types of ground cover used for walks:

Baby’s Breath

This popular ground cover features clusters of small, aromatic flowers ranging from pink to white. It requires a more alkaline setting and sunlight to thrive. Stepping on baby’s breath releases the scent, making it a very pleasant covering for garden paths.

Bellflower

Also known as campanula, this popular plant includes a wide variety of species which have small blue or white star-shaped flowers. They can be used for walls, ground cover, and as potted plants with equal ease. Well-drained and sunny to partial shade locations work best for this plant, which blooms throughout summer.

Moss

Moss is a simple ground cover that adds a very natural green to any flagstone walk. It can appear on its, own, but you may choose to make a mixture to speed up its propagation.

Begin by dissolving a fist-sized lump of porcelain clay in three cups of water. This will produce a thick sludge. Add one cup each of moss and undiluted fish fertilizer. The mixture may then be thickly painted in any spot you wish for the moss to grow.

Sweet Alyssum

One of the best plants to use for edging, sweet alyssum is low-growing with small clusters of fragrant flowers. This compact plant thrives in sunny, average soil and blooms throughout summer. For the best effect, cut after the first blooms begin to fade to encourage fresh buds.

Verbena

This popular ground cover has clusters of small, aromatic flowers. While the leaves of this creeping plant are fairly well-divided, the flower clusters may grow as much as three inches across.

These flowers may be seen throughout summer and autumn. It requires a sunny, well drained environment and may be uprooted and stored during cold winters to avoid re-seeding.

Posted on Categories Yard

Building and Maintaining Masonry Walkways

Stone Walkway in Garden
© Bruce Shippee / Adobe Stock

You may have heard stories or seen old photos of life in the last century where the roads and sidewalks were brick or cobblestone. For some lucky areas, these features may even still exist in places.

The good news is that you can create sidewalks with these traditional materials for your own home, and may even be permitted to use them along municipal roads.

The Pros and Cons of Masonry Walks

Stone Pathway
© Kunchit / Adobe Stock

Sidewalks made of brick, stone, or even precast concrete have a lot of qualities that can make them both beneficial and problematic. This means you may wish to consider how your walk will be used before deciding to use masonry as the material.

You will also want to check the local codes if building along a public road, as there may be restrictions. It should also be noted that there is a difference between paver bricks and wall bricks, the latter being a poor choice for walkways.

Advantages

Masonry walks come in a wide variety of stone types, leading to a range of shapes and colors which can make your walk stand out. Damaged sections are usually easy to repair due to the modular design.

They also tend to be relatively cheap to construct, depending upon the materials you choose. Precast concrete pavers are designed to be more resistant to erosion than hand-cast concrete.

Brick pavers also have many advantages over traditional wall bricks. They are designed to be more crush-resistant and don’t fade over time. Pavers also have a higher resistance to water, salt, chemicals, and pressure from ice. The chamfered edges help hide any subtle variations in height.

Disadvantages

Due to the way in which masonry walks are constructed, they are rarely completely flat, making it more difficult to move heavy wheeled objects.

They can also be more difficult to keep clear of dirt and snow. Another problem is the natural susceptibility towards weeds taking root in the filler between individual stones or bricks.

Building a Brick or Stone Paver Walk

Red Brick Walkway
© augustcindy / Adobe Stock

There are a wide variety of pavers to choose from, and you don’t have to settle for just one. You may decide to mix two different shapes or colors of paver to create a mosaic pattern, use a different shape of paver for the walk’s borders, or mix pavers to serve as a transition from one walk to another.

Brick pavers come in two main types. Bonded brick pavers measure four-by-eight inches and can be installed without mortar. Modular bricks, conversely, measure three and five-eighths by seven and five-eighths and are designed to have three-eighths inch mortar joints.

Either is available in both one and three-eighths inch and two and one-quarter inch thicknesses. It may be possible to buy brick pavers in other shapes and sizes, depending on your supplier.

Step 1: Gathering Supplies

Having the right supplies can make laying your new walk a lot easier. You can buy or rent most of the supplies needed. The actual cost will vary depending on the size, shape, and type of pavers you use.

  • 1-inch pipes
  • Concrete sand
  • Geotextile fabric
  • Hand or mechanical tamper
  • Mechanical compactor (for pavers)
  • Non-toxic paint
  • Pavers (brick, concrete, and/or cut stone)
  • Pin flags
  • Rake
  • String or twine
  • Trowel
  • Utility stone (such as gravel)
  • Wooden stakes

Step 2: Preparation

Prior to excavation, you will need to clear out any potential obstructions and mark the path clearly. The most common method for marking out the path is to use paint. The latter may be brushed or sprayed, and different colors allow for marking close lines more clearly.

Stakes and string may also be used, while a chalk snap line is best reserved for straight paths.

Step 3: Excavation

The majority of your sidewalk is located beneath the surface in a deep base designed to aid in drainage and create minimal settling. Dig to a depth of 8 to 12 inches, with the latter being preferred for poor drainage conditions.

While the walk will generally match any natural grades, it is best to ensure slopes always point downward away from the home to prevent flooding. This may require some minor landscaping along the walkway to blend everything together.

Small retaining walls and steps are also useful alternatives, but may make it more difficult for wheeled objects. A final option is to install small drains running perpendicular to the walk so that any water flowing down towards your home will be diverted.

Step 4: Adding the Base

Before filling the base, you will want to tamp the ground to ensure minimal settling later on. Tamping is performed in small increments, known as “lifts”. When using a hand tamper, the lifts will be only one to two inches, while mechanical tampers can achieve three to four inches.

Be sure when tamping that you begin at one end and overlap each section and pass by a few inches. Always hold a hand tamper vertically so that it lands evenly.

Line the trench with geotextile fabric, overlapping seams by two feet to avoid seepage. Dampen your utility stone and pour it into the lined trench, leaving approximately two to four inches for the upper layers.

You can test the dampness of your base material by squeezing a handful. If it clumps without releasing excess water, you have a good ratio. Once poured, rake the material to ensure it is evenly laid, then tamp it down.

Step 5: The Setting Bed

Dry-laid walks require an extra layer to ensure stability. Known as a setting bed, this may be made of either stone dust or sand. It is generally recommended that concrete sand be used, as it has superior drainage qualities.

As setting beds extend beyond the walk, you will need to re-establish your marker lines and add pin flags to ensure you can locate these lines once covered.

Lay one-inch pipes atop the base, tapping them down with a hammer if the pitch needs to be adjusted. You may check the pitch by placing a spirit level on top of each pipe. These screeding pipes will ensure the bed is of uniform thickness.

Once set, you may simply pour the bed material and remove the excess (screeding) so that the bed is level with the top of the pipes. Setting beds do not need to be tamped.

Step 6. Fitting Your Pavers

When working with pavers, it is always best to find the middle and work your way out. Lay the first few rows and check for any errors, as this could save time and effort later.

A large number of patterns are possible, especially if you are mixing shapes, so it is best to work from a sketch or photo when placing more complicated designs.

In the event you need to cut some pavers to a certain shape or size, there are a wide variety of tools available for purchase or rent that can do the job, including diamond-bladed cut-off saws and specialty tools.

Step 7: Borders and Edge Restraints

Edge restraints are a vital addition to any dry-fit walkway. Once your pavers have been installed, gently scrape away any excess sand from the edges to expose your base. Drive the spikes which came with your edge restraints directly into the base, creating a secure hold.

You may choose to also add a border for your walk at this point, using either different materials or the same. A border not only adds aesthetic value, but can help the edge restraints hold the new walk in place.

Step 8: Compacting

You will need to use a mechanical compactor to properly compact pavers. As you work, the machine will force sand up between the individual stones, which helps to lock them into position.

By sweeping the surface and laying a thin layer of bedding sand, you can help prevent abrasion marks while you work. The compactor should be set to have a high vibration and low amplitude to avoid stressing the pavers.

Step 9: Filling

The three most common types of filler are concrete sand, stone dust, and polymeric sand. Loose joints may be filled with stone dust, but tight joints, such as on brick or stone pavers, should be filled with sand. Simply pour, dampen, and sweep clean.

Using polymeric sand is a little more complicated. This mix of polymeric additive and mason-grade sand forms a stronger bond than concrete sand and is less likely to wash away. It is also resistant to weeds and can be color-matched to your pavers.

The downside is that this sand adheres to damp surfaces and will bond to any debris, so be sure your walk is clean and completely dry before using. You will also want to ensure there are no grains on top of the pavers before wetting.

Special Rules for a Cobblestone or Flagstone Walk

Cobblestone Walkway in Garden
© visuall2 / Adobe Stock

Both cobblestone and flagstone walks are more complicated because the stones are of various sizes and shapes. This can pose major problems down the road if certain modifications aren’t made to accommodate these variations.

The Base and Setting Bed

Flagstones vary and may be up to three inches thick. As the setting bed must be one inch thick beneath the deepest-sitting flagstone, you will need to adjust the height of your base to accommodate for the thickest of your stones.

The setting bed itself will vary in height between one and three inches, as needed to fit the individual stones.

Fitting Stones

The starting point for irregular stones isn’t as important as shaped stone. However, if you are going to be connecting to a corner or wall, it is usually best to start there.

It will take time to match up stones, especially if you are attempting a tight fit. You will also wish to check the alignment of each stone as you lay it, due to the varying heights.

Compacting and Filling

Most large irregular stones can be compacted into place simply by stepping on them firmly. A rubber mallet or iron rod attached to a wood block can also be used. Smaller cobbles may require a bit more precision, but will settle in without too much difficulty.

Stone dust is generally preferred for irregular stone, but sand may also be used. Another popular variation for garden walkways where the stones are spaced further apart is to plant moss or baby’s breath between the stones. This will require a bit more planning, but leads to a visually pleasing path upon completion.

Posted on Categories Yard

Building and Maintaining Concrete Walks

Concrete Walkway Lined With Bushes
© yongyut / Adobe Stock

Poured concrete is one of the most common materials for sidewalk construction. These walks have the advantage of being flat, durable, and attractive. While not as easy to repair as other materials, a concrete walkway will provide years of low-maintenance enjoyment.

There are three ways to install concrete. Precast concrete functions very similar to brick and other forms of masonry walkway, and shall be covered here.

Concrete slab walks are found serving as sidewalks to municipal roads and as other primary walkways or secondary walkways. They are at once the most durable and most difficult to repair. A third option is to pour concrete into molds, casting shapes on-site to have a similar after-effect as precast concrete.

The Pros and Cons of Concrete

Concrete Pathway in Grass
© Francisco Rama / Adobe Stock

Concrete is one of the most popular building materials for primary and secondary walkways. Pouring concrete slab walks is not a job for amateur DIYers due to the complexity, but is feasible if you have some experience. Below are the main advantages and disadvantages of choosing poured concrete over other forms of sidewalk.

Advantages

Poured concrete is well-loved for its high durability and resistance to erosion. A properly installed concrete slab may last several decades before requiring replacement or repair. There is a high degree of flexibility in materials used for the concrete mixture, as well as the ability to add inlays, texturing, and many other bits of detail as the slab dries.

It also conforms more easily to turns in the walkway without the need to cut or shape the materials first.

Price-wise, concrete slab walks are cost-efficient, with the initial investment averaging between $8 and $10 per square foot and the final product lasting for decades with only minor maintenance needed.

Disadvantages

The single biggest problem with concrete occurs when repairs are necessary. Concrete slabs are large, heavy, and prone to cracking or shifting over time. It can also be difficult to build a poured concrete walk, and drying is a slow process that will make the walkway unusable for several days during construction.

Building a Concrete Slab Walk

Creating a Concrete Walkway
© bildlove / Adobe Stock

Laying a sturdy poured concrete walkway takes time and planning. You will want to set aside several days to allow for construction and drying, as well as having temporary alternative paths to any structures being connected.

Step 1: Gathering Materials

You will need a variety of tools and supplies to complete your new walkway, many of which can be borrowed or rented. The amount and types of materials needed may vary based on your particular project and type of utility stone used to make the concrete.

  • 1x4x4 wooden boards
  • 2×4 board longer than the planned walk’s width
  • Broom
  • Concrete float
  • Concrete mixture
  • Edging trowel
  • Geotextile fabric
  • Gravel
  • Groove trowel
  • Paint
  • Rake
  • Tamper (hand or mechanical)
  • Thick string or twine
  • Trowel
  • Wooden stakes

Step 2:  Preparation

Begin by moving any potential obstructions along the planned excavation, such as overhanging hedges or plants. Using wooden stakes and string, plot out the path your new walkway will take.

Next, spray or brush lines using non-toxic paint to mark the edges for your excavation, using different colors for plotting close lines. This allows you to differentiate alternative layouts, edging lines, or other variations in the project. Straight walks may also be marked by snapping chalk lines.

Step 3: Excavation

Now you will need to excavate the path. In warmer climates where the soil has decent drainage, nine inches is generally deep enough. However, in an area where the soil doesn’t drain well or freezing is common, a depth of one foot is recommended.

The walkway will generally follow any changes in gradient, although any slopes should always point downward away from the home to aid in drainage.

You can always check the current grade height using either a builder’s level or stakes and string set in undisturbed ground alongside the excavation area.

In some cases, you may choose to make the slabs level and build small retaining walls and steps at intervals, or create some other differentiation between the walk and adjacent ground.

Such modifications are aesthetically pleasing but best left to a professional in most circumstances due to the added difficulty. When adding a border of brick or pre-cut stone, remember to include these in your excavation.

Step 4: Creating the Base

The first step after an excavation is to tamp the ground until it’s firm and flat. Once this is done, you will want to line the trench with geotextile fabric. This material will help prevent organic material or small dirt particles from interfering with your base.

Use it to line the bottom and sides of the trench, creating a two foot overlap at any seams. Excess material at the top may be trimmed off once the work is completed.

Next, pour dampened gravel or a similarly fine-ground utility stone into the trench to a depth of 6-10 inches, leaving 2-4 inches for the actual walk. Measuring the correct amount of water to mix into the gravel may be done by squeezing a handful.

A mixture that is too dry will crumble, while too much moisture will cause seepage under pressure. The correct amount should be damp enough to hold its form after squeezing without shedding excess water.

Step 5: Tamping in Lifts

Whether you are tamping by hand or using a machine, this step must be done in small increments, known as “lifts”. These are merely a measurement of depth to which you compact the base material.

Begin by raking the base material, so it’s more evenly distributed. When tamping by hand, each lift will be about one to two inches, whereas using a mechanical compactor allows for three to four inch lifts.

Work up and down down the length of the walk, overlapping each section and pass by a few inches to ensure even compacting. Make sure to hold a hand tamper vertically so that the entire bottom surface hits the gravel. Even a slight angle may compromise the base.

Step 6: Building a Form

Drive wooden stakes into the ground at four foot intervals just outside of the walk’s planned edges. Screw 1x4x4 boards onto these stakes on the inside edge to create a form for the concrete. As you do this, make sure the tops of the stakes are slightly below the upper edge of your form to make smoothing easier.

You will also want to ensure the boards are plumb and level to avoid problems during pouring and smoothing.

Step 7: Pouring the Concrete

Unless you are renting a mixing truck, you will want to carefully follow the manufacturer’s instructions when mixing the concrete. The finished mix may be transported in buckets or wheelbarrows.

Locate the lowest point of your walkway (or pick one end, if there is no gradient) and begin pouring the concrete. Work your way to the highest point (or other end), and use the back of a garden rake to gently smooth as you go.

Once the form is filled, take a 2×4 and lay it across the walk at your starting point. Drag it along the form to screed, or smooth and level out the concrete. Note that having an extra pair of hands is very useful for this phase. Finish off with concrete floats, dragging them at a slight angle to further smooth the concrete surface.

Step 8: Finishing Touches

After letting the concrete set for an hour or so, take an edging trowel and run it along the form to create a smooth edge and allow for removal of the wood later. Measure and mark every four feet down the length of the walk and place your 2×4 at each of these points, running a groove trowel along the board to create expansion joints.

Finally, gently graze the surface with a broom to add anti-slip texturing.

At this point, you may wish to create inlays, add permanent decorations such as cobbles, or make any other aesthetic touches. Covering the walkway with plastic or tarp will help the concrete cure more evenly and help prevent cracking. After 48 hours, the tarp and form may be removed, and any edging (such as brick borders) may be installed.

Building a Patterned Concrete Walk

Wheelbarrow with Mixed Concrete
© zlikovec / Adobe Stock

You my wish to create a poured concrete walkway that resembles cobblestone, flagstone, or brick. Thankfully, this is no more difficult than creating concrete slabs, and in some cases may even be easier.

Step 1: Beginning the Project

Creating a patterned walkway requires most of the materials used for poured concrete, although it will also require the use of pattern forms. Pavermaker is a popular cobblestone form, while brick and block shapes may be created using a variety of objects or premade forms. You may choose to use dye to tint the concrete, which will dry to a very pale grey, or add color afterwards to the surface.

Note that the cement is easier to work with if it’s a little wetter than normal.

Step 2-6: Variations in the Base

To a large extent, you will perform the same steps as with a regular poured concrete walkway, with a few exceptions:

  1. You may choose to have the formed concrete above ground level. This means excavating only deep enough for the base material.
  2. When using a form, you will need to avoid building a frame along curves. This may also mean excavating the curve into a corner to allow for better form placement if the finished walk will be flush with the surrounding ground.

Step 7: Adding the Concrete

Line up the form with the lowest corner of your walkway. Shovel the concrete mixture into the form and smooth the top using your shovel. Once smoothed, gently lift the form away and set it next to the finished blocks to continue your pattern.

Turning the form will allow for variations in the cobbles or brick pattern. You can use a trowel to curve the cobble edges, although many DIYers prefer to use their finger for more control and speed.

Edges are a little more difficult to work with if you are building a cobblestone walk flush with its surroundings. This official Pavermaker video describes how to work around this dilemma using the forms.

Step 8: Finishing Touches

To get a natural stone appearance, you may choose to gently dry brush a small amount of paint onto the surface once it has been sitting for a short time. This not only adds some texture, but creates a more unique appearance between individual concrete cobbles. Allow the concrete to dry for 48 hours under plastic or tarp.

Once dry, pour some jointing sand over the cobbles to fill in the spaces. Be sure to brush the sand completely off your cobbles before misting it down to create a solid seal.

Maintaining Your Concrete Walkways

Concrete Walk with Snow
© slayer87 / Adobe Stock

Concrete may be durable and cheap, but poor maintenance can shorten its lifespan over time. The following maintenance routines will help keep your sidewalk in top shape for years to come.

Basic Upkeep

While removing snow and ice is important for safety, it may be less obvious that keeping your walks clear of snow or dirt can actually help keep your sidewalk healthy. Salting the walk in winter can erode the concrete over time, but it is preferable to the damage caused by ice expansion. Dirt covering the walk can also trap moisture, which will begin to slowly wear away the concrete.

Cracks

Even small cracks in a concrete walk can spell trouble. Water will seep into these cracks and erode the concrete from within. Repairing cracks or resealing patterned walks every 2-3 years will slow the erosion process significantly.

Posted on Categories Yard

Single Stage vs. Two Stage Furnaces

HVAC Technician Looking at Gas Furnace
© indyedge / Adobe Stock

An energy efficient furnace keeps you comfortable without running up high heating bills. Because the number of stages your furnace can operate in affects both its efficiency and its performance, it’s an important factor to consider when upgrading your heating equipment.

A basic single-stage furnace is a reasonable choice if you’re on a budget, especially if you live in a mild climate. If you’re in a cold-winter climate and want to keep your heating costs down, a two-stage furnace might be a better way to go.

Single-Stage Furnaces: Low-Cost Equipment for Basic Home Heating

In furnace terminology, “stages” refers to the levels of heat output a furnace can provide. A single-stage furnace, the most basic design available, has a fixed gas valve and a single-speed blower fan motor. This furnace has only two settings: off and high. As soon as the furnace turns on, it starts running at full blast. Whether it’s a mildly chilly fall evening or a bitter cold winter night, the furnace runs at the same setting.

If your furnace was manufactured before 1992, there’s a good chance it’s a single-stage model. While these furnaces perform the basic job of heating your house, they leave something to be desired.

Pros

Low purchase price – Single-stage furnaces are the least expensive models available. If your existing furnace fails suddenly and you can’t wait to save up for a more advanced model, a single-stage model is an acceptable replacement.

Improvements over old technology – Single-stage furnaces are among the least energy efficient models manufactured today, but a modern single-stage furnace is still more efficient than one built 20 years ago. If your furnace is decades old, but a high-efficiency upgrade isn’t in your budget, you can still lower your energy bills by investing in a new single-stage furnace.

Cons

Wasted energy – If you live in a mild climate, for most of the year, you don’t need to run your furnace at full capacity. In fact, the gas valve and blower fan’s maximum capacities are designed to make sure they can keep you warm in your area’s coldest winter temperatures.

Throughout much of the late fall and early spring, a lower, energy-saving setting would be more than enough to maintain a comfortable temperature in your home.

Because a single-stage furnace has no other option, though, it spends a lot of time burning energy unnecessarily. These furnaces also cycle frequently, so the motor also has less time to reach its optimally efficient speed, similar to a car in stop-and-go traffic.

Inconsistent temperatures – In mildly cold weather, a single-stage furnace will kick on, quickly push out a large amount of warm air, then shut off. These sudden blasts contribute to fluctuating temperatures as well as hot and cold spots in your home.

Two-Stage Furnaces: Heating That Adjusts to Your Needs

Two-stage furnaces, also known as dual-stage furnaces, can run at two different settings. These furnaces have a two-stage gas valve and a variable-speed blower motor. Instead of being either open or closed, the gas valve can also be partly open. The blower fan can adjust its speed to meet your heating needs efficiency.

These two factors allow your furnace to operate at full capacity when you need a lot of heat, and at around 60 to 65 percent capacity when you need just a little heat.

Pros

Energy savings – In most climates, a two-stage furnace runs on the lower setting around 75 percent of the time. During those times, it uses less energy compared to a furnace that doesn’t have the option of a lower setting. Keep in mind, though, that this doesn’t change the furnace’s annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE), which tells you how fuel efficient the furnace is over the year.

A 95 percent AFUE furnace is 95 percent efficient throughout the year regardless of what setting it runs at. Likewise, a 95 percent AFUE single-stage furnace is more efficient than a 90 percent AFUE two-stage furnace.

More stable temperatures – When running at its lower setting, a two-stage furnace provides a lower volume of warm air over a longer period. You’ll get a gentle, steady flow instead of intermittent blasts. This keeps your indoor temperature more stable and allows the warm furnace air to mix with the cold room air for more even heating. It’s especially beneficial in small houses where temperature fluctuations are more noticeable.

Improved indoor air quality – Because these furnaces run for longer periods than single-stage models, they circulate your home’s air through the air filter more often. This helps the filter remove more airborne contaminants, such as pet hair, pollen, and mold spores, from your air.

Reduced noise – When the blower fan runs at a lower speed, it makes less noise. These furnaces don’t do much to cut down on noise from air moving through the ducts, though.

Cons

Higher upfront costs – Two-stage furnaces are more expensive to buy than single-stage models. You’ll save on monthly heating bills, but unless you live in a cold climate, you might not recoup your investment as fast as you hope.

Possible maintenance concerns – Two-stage furnaces have a reputation for being more prone to breakdowns, but evidence is inconclusive. While they run for longer periods than single-stage models, which puts a certain amount of extra wear and tear on the motor, they also cycle less frequently, which protects the motor from the wear caused by frequent starting and stopping. When parts do fail, replacements are often harder to find and install, so repairs are more expensive.

Whether a single-stage or two-stage furnace is right for you depends on your climate, your home’s size and floorplan, your personal preferences, and your budget.

Before you decide, talk with an HVAC professional who can give you a personalized recommendation. Get the right furnace model, have it sized and installed correctly, and you’ll enjoy reliable comfort for a reasonable price.

Before you decide, talk with an HVAC professional who can give you a personalized recommendation. Get the right furnace model, have it sized and installed correctly, and you’ll enjoy reliable comfort for a reasonable price.

Posted on Categories HVAC

Should You Dye Your Carpet?

Colorful Carpet Samples
© Photogalia / Adobe Stock

A sad-looking old carpet can make the whole room look dated, but a replacement isn’t the only way to get the floor back into shape. Dye can breathe new life into a carpet and save you both money and time compared to a replacement. It’s an especially practical choice if your carpet’s pile is still in good condition, but the surface is faded or stained.

Consider Your Options

For all its benefits, dyeing a carpet still takes a fair amount of work, and it’s irreversible. Before you start picking out dyes, make sure re-coloring is really the best solution to your problem.

If your carpet has stubborn stains, ask a professional about deep cleaning. If you have just a few stains on new carpet, it might be easier to cut out the stained sections and patch them with carpet remnants.

If you do decide to dye, you’ll need to choose between spot dyeing to re-color stained or faded areas and dyeing the whole carpet to change the color.

Think Through the Pros and Cons

Dye is a relatively fast and inexpensive way to rejuvenate a carpet and a skilled application can give you beautiful results. It can’t always produce the color you want, though, and depending on the dye used, you might find it fading faster than you hoped.

Pros: Like-New Carpet for Less

Restored beauty – Especially with kids and pets in the house, carpets can quickly pick up stains that even deep cleaning can’t remove. In sunny rooms, the carpet can fade within just a few years.

In both these situations, the pile might still be perfectly fine, so replacement isn’t really necessary. Dye can restore your carpet’s beauty, so you’re not stuck looking at a splotchy floor. 

A fresh new color – Maybe your carpet isn’t faded or stained, but you’re tired of the color. Dyeing lets you get a new, on-trend color without the cost and waste of tearing out your existing carpet and buying a new one.

Cost savings – Dyeing a carpet costs between 20 to 60 percent less than replacing it, including the cost of labor. If you’re willing to do the job yourself, you’ll save even more. Your only costs will be the relatively inexpensive dye and rental of a sprayer.

Dye is also a cost-effective option if you’re planning to sell your house and want the interior in top form, but you don’t want to invest in brand new carpet.

Less odorNew carpet has a distinct odor that typically comes from the compound 4-phenylcyclohexene (4-PC). It not only smells bad, but can also irritate your eyes and respiratory tract.

You can reduce your exposure by choosing a low-VOC carpet, but even then, you’ll want to stay out of the room for a day or two after installation. Dye produces less odor, and you can use the room the same day. Some dye manufacturers even claim their products are entirely odor free.

Cons: Fewer Color Choices and Potential for Wear

Doesn’t work on all carpets – Dyeing works best on nylon, wool, and silk carpets, but fortunately, most modern carpets are nylon or wool. Acrylic, polyester, and polypropylene fibers don’t absorb dye well and can end up unevenly colored. Some stain-resistant and high-pile carpets, such as shag carpets, don’t dye well, either.

Older, worn carpeting might have to be replaced soon even with dyeing. If you’re unsure, take a sample to a carpet store or have a professional visit your home and help you choose a coloring method.

Limited color choice – A carpet can only be dyed darker, not lighter. The darker the stains you want to hide, the darker the dye you’ll need, and that color might not be exactly what you want. If you have a beige carpet, dyeing it light tan might not be enough to hide all the stains.

Takes some effort – Dyeing a carpet is cheaper than replacing it, but it’s not a quick and easy job. First, there’s the time it takes to find the right color to hide any stains. Then, for the dyeing work, you’ll need to spray the dye onto the carpet with a pressure sprayer and scrub it into the fibers by hand. On the plus side, most dyes dry within an hour.

Potential for staining – Some homeowners find the dye transfers to their socks when they walk on the carpet the first few weeks after dyeing. That also means dye can end up on your pet’s paws and the hands of any small children who play in the room. While most residential carpet dye is non-toxic, the idea of it getting onto your kids and pets can be unsettling.
 
Unpredictable longevity – How long your newly dyed carpet stays looking good depends on the quality of dye, the application, and the condition of the carpet.

Even if the dye is formulated to last for years, if it’s applied incorrectly, you might start seeing stains or uneven coloring show through after just one year. A high-quality dye applied by a knowledgeable professional can last 10 years or longer.

DIY Dyeing Versus Hiring a Pro

Dyeing your carpet yourself is doable, but you’ll need to approach the job carefully. First, make sure your carpet can be dyed and choose the right type of dye for the carpet. For example, if you have a stain blocker carpet, look for a dye formulated to work on these carpets.  

Before you get to work, you’ll need to move the furniture out of the room and cover the baseboards and at least 6 inches of the walls above them to protect them from dye.

During the application itself, there’s a risk of getting an uneven or oversaturated color. This is even more likely if you use a basic, consumer-grade pressure sprayer, which won’t offer the same level of control as a commercial-grade model.

Spot dyeing is even trickier because it takes a good eye for color, an understanding of how to use dye to counteract stain colors, and skill at blending dyes.

 A professional can get attractive results within one to six hours, depending on the room size. They’ll clean the carpet, remove stain blocking agents as needed, then perform a dye patch test. After applying the dye, they’ll reapply the stain blocker and dry the carpet.

A skilled dye job can restore your stained or faded carpet to the beautiful floor covering it once was. As long as you don’t mind having a darker carpet and you can tolerate some risk of dye transfer or early fading, you’ll save both money and time.

You can do the job yourself if you’re on a budget, but for flawless, long-lasting results, consider hiring a professional

Posted on Categories Flooring

Home Window Tinting 101

Installing Home Window Film
© bignai / Adobe Stock

Your windows might give you a great view, but they also let in summer heat, glare, and damaging UV rays and give would-be thieves a chance to browse your valuables. With window tinting film, you can enjoy your view without the downsides.

While window tinting can keep you cooler and protect your privacy, not every tinting film works the same way or is suitable for every home. To get the results you want, take some time to learn how residential window tinting works.

Pros: Lower Cooling Bills and Improved Home Security

Model House Bathed in Sunlight
© tomertu / Adobe Stock

Tinted windows let you enjoy you home more in summer, discourage burglars, and help your furniture last longer.

Cooler summer temperatures – Home window tinting can block up to half the sun’s heat in summer, potentially reducing your summer utility bills by as much as 30 percent. Tinting is an easy, inexpensive alternative to replacing your existing windows with low emissivity (low-E) or triple-pane models.

In certain locations, such as California and Arizona, some utility companies offer rebates to customers who install home window tinting.

Less glare – In addition to holding back the heat, window tinting also tones down the light that enters. You can keep your curtains open without irritating bright sun in your eyes.

Better home security and safety – Dark home window tinting obscures the view into your home so potential burglars can’t easily see your valuables as they walk around casing the neighborhood. You can keep your curtains open to enjoy the daylight and the view, but still feel safe.

Tinted security film adds another layer of protection by preventing broken glass from shattering. A potential burglar would need to tear their way through the film, rather than quickly stepping through the broken window. It also keeps you safer in an accident and after storm damage.

Protection for carpets and furniture – By blocking 99 percent of the sun’s UV rays, solar window tinting protects your carpets, walls, soft furniture, and other surfaces from fading and early deterioration. This is especially helpful if you have dark furniture, which tends to show fading quickly. You won’t end up with a bleached out spot on the carpet just because you didn’t close the curtains on summer days.

Cons: Visible Wear and Less Winter Warmth

Model House Covered in Snow
© zoomingfoto1712 / Adobe Stock

In a cold-winter climate, you might not always appreciate the reduced sunlight. Getting window film installation right is tricky, and a small error during a DIY installation job can mean failed film.

Fewer benefits in cooler climates – In a cool climate, solar film can reduce the amount of winter sunlight and warmth coming through the windows so much that you’ll need to raise your thermostat to compensate. That can counteract any savings you might have gained in summer.

No extra privacy at night – If you’re considering window tinting for security reasons, remember they offer much less protection after sunset. Even with tinting, if you have your lights on and curtains open at night, passers-by can still see into your home.

Installation difficulties  – Installation is more difficult on windows with multiple small lites (panes of glass). Thick window frames and protruding latches can also interfere with installation. On windows like these, the film is more likely to crease or bubble.

Maintenance and wear – Home window tinting typically lasts for at least 10 years, but can often keep doing its job for up to 30 years. Within the first five years, though, it often develops minor creases and bubbles. These flaws don’t impair the tint’s function, but they can look unsightly. Even if the film is installed correctly and well maintained, you’ll eventually need to replace it.

Risk of thermal breakage – Window film increases thermal stress on the window. If the film is installed incorrectly or the window has a slight crack or another flaw, the glass can crack. Even a barely visible fracture puts your window at risk, so if your windows are older, inspect them thoroughly before you apply a film.

What’s more, some windows and films just aren’t compatible. Solar film isn’t recommended for single pane windows larger than 100 square feet, and not all films can be applied to metal-frame windows.

Depending on your window manufacturer, applying window film could void the warranty. Some tinting manufacturers offer to match the window manufacturer’s warranty, though, so you’ll still be covered.

Potential fire hazard – Highly reflective window film can create glare that can annoy your neighbors and produce concentrated heat that can burn their lawns and damage their property. Some evidence suggests these windows can even start fires.

Choosing the Right Tint for Your Needs

Window Film on Home Office Windows
Window Film on Left Hand Side Windows
Photo Credit: Mackenzie Kosut

Before you start shopping around for home window tinting, get clear on your goals. Many window films can do multiple jobs, but they don’t all work the same way.

The most basic window tinting film reduces sunlight and glare, but does nothing else. If you want to control both the light and heat coming in, look for solar or low-E film. Want to let visible light in, but keep UV rays out? A spectrally selective film lets you do that. This film is even available in completely clear designs that won’t dim your view at all.

If you’re aiming to improve your light and heat control, look for a film that carries the NFRC (National Fenestration Rating Council) label. The NFRC is an independent, non-profit organization that tests and certified window products for energy efficiency.

On home window tinting products, the NFRC label tells you about the product’s energy efficiency based on its solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC) and visible transmittance, which indicate how well the film blocks heat and light respectively.

If strengthening and shatter-proofing your windows is one of your goals, you’ll need security film. Unlike ordinary window tinting film, this film is designed to resist impact and tearing. Combined solar and security film isn’t uncommon.

If you’d like more privacy and want to add visual interest to your room, look for a decorative window film with a frosted or stained glass pattern.

Correct Installation Matters

Window Film Being Installed
© Missyphoto / Adobe Stock

You can install window film yourself, but the job requires close attention to detail. First, you’ll need to thoroughly clean the window. A mixture of 1 qt. water and 1 tsp. baby shampoo is ideal for cleaning because it dries clear. You might also need to scrub the window and clean dirt from the frames. Any traces of dust, grease or cleaning products on the window can prevent the film from adhering correctly.

Wet the clean window with the water and soap mixture, apply the film from the top of the glass downward and the liner outward. Once the film is on, remove the liner while spraying it down to prevent static. Then carefully squeegee the window from the center outward to remove the water and air bubbles.

Finally, use a razor blade to trim the film to fit the window, leaving a 1/16th inch gap between the film and window frame.

Follow the application instructions precisely, or you’ll end up with dust specks and air bubbles, which are unsightly and, in more severe cases, can cause your film to fail early. If you want a flawless application without the hassle, talk with a window film or residential glass specialist.

With the right home window tinting, you can enjoy your home’s view without uncomfortable summertime heat buildup or glare in your eyes. Solar films with security features help reduce the risk of break-ins, too. Before you buy, though, do your research to make sure you get the film that performs the way you want.

Posted on Categories Windows