5 Ways to Improve Your Outdoor Space with Retaining Walls

Brandpoint  |  2016-02-17

(BPT) - When you picture a retaining wall, do you imagine it holding back dirt? That's the most common use for retaining walls - to address elevation changes and prevent erosion. But concrete segmental retaining wall (SRW) units are multi-purpose landscaping tools with many more uses.

Site planners, engineers, landscape architects, designers, developers and builders have long relied on SRWs to manage sloping properties, provide more usable space, or create stadium seating. Homeowners, too, have discovered retaining walls can be used to create functional outdoor features, says Scott Arnold, manager of Villa Landscapes in St. Paul, Minnesota.

"Because segmental retaining walls are both durable and beautiful, landscapers and homeowners can use them to create outdoor seating, raised patios and other features," says Arnold. "They are the perfect building block to create grill islands, outdoor kitchens and so much more."

Most SRWs are easy to install, which is an important consideration for both landscape professionals and do-it-yourselfers, Arnold said. With retaining wall systems, homeowners and landscapers can create freestanding walls, seat walls, columns, stairs, planters and other features without the need for special units.

Stunning seating

While commercial installers often use SRW units for amphitheater and stadium seating, retaining walls can also be used to create beautiful and durable outdoor seating on a smaller scale, from freestanding walls that double as seating, to two-tiered seat walls. VERSA-LOK SRWs can be used to easily create a curved "couch" seating area that works well as a solution around a patio and fire pit for fall evenings.

Ditch the deck

Raised patios built with retaining wall units are a low maintenance option to replace aging wooden decks that require continual maintenance. Villa Landscapes designed a raised deck replacement in Minnesota with SRWs from ground level to 42-inches tall to support a paving stone patio. Stairs also built with SRWs connect the patio to the home and yard.

The result was a beautiful, spacious and low-maintenance patio with the added advantage of a clear view of the backyard. Willow Creek Paving Stones pavers were used for the patio, surrounded with a contrasting course of river rock that serves as a visual and physical boundary as well as a space for potted plants.

Create curb appeal

Where the yard meets the driveway, retaining walls can be installed as a barrier to protect the lawn from damage caused by tire tracks, plowing or deicing. A tiered arrangement that addresses a slope in the yard adds space for plants and shrubs. Freestanding walls are often built along property lines on corner lots to prevent unwanted traffic from cutting across the yard.

Columns created using retaining wall units can be paired with any style home, from classic to contemporary, to add curb appeal. When the front entryway is freshened up with seat walls and other features, the space functions like an old-fashioned porch for visiting and other outdoor activities.

A place for plants

Tree rings and planters built with retaining wall units create a tidy solution around hard-to-maintain areas, such as shallow-rooted trees and other problem spots. Planters and tree rings can function as usable space for perennials, annuals, vegetables and herbs. SRWs such as VERSA-LOK can be used to create planter walls up to 4-feet tall without the need for geogrid reinforcement. VERSA-Green, a plantable wall system that mimics a hanging garden, provides a stunning living wall solution.

Build a backyard

A homeowner in Apple Valley, Minnesota, nicknamed her unmowable back yard "Billy Goat Hill" because there was no yard space and no safe way to access her garden and fire pit at the top. Plus, erosion was a continual problem.

Devine Design Landscapes of Rosemount, Minnesota, solved the problem by excavating for a small back yard and creating tiers of retaining walls with offset stairs, patio landings and seat walls. The result was a small, usable backyard space with safe access to the hilltop and ample planting space for perennials.

"With VERSA-LOK, I could use the same block to build the retaining walls, steps and seat walls," says Paul Devine, owner of Devine Design Landscapes. "The pinned system provides a high ratio of weight per square foot of wall face plus extreme flexibility in design. Back-locking lip walls are not as structurally sound as a pinned system, and hollow blocks do not provide the stability required for large tiered walls."

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10 Office Organization Tips to Boost Productivity

Brandpoint  |  2016-02-10

(BPT) - Empty boxes, piles of paper, pens strewn about - everyone is guilty of office disorganization. What most people don't realize is a messy, disheveled office space can actually dramatically reduce worker efficiency and productivity.

A staggering 98 percent of office workers say they'd be more productive at their jobs if their offices were more organized, according to a 2015 Post-it Brand Office Organization study surveying 1,000 full-time office workers. That means it's time to get organized and these 10 simple ideas will help you tidy up your work area and stay on-task for good.

Reduce and recycle
Go through drawers and get rid of paperwork and supplies you never use. Recycle paperwork and give unused supplies to coworkers or donate them to your community's schools. If you're never going to use these things, they're just taking up valuable space.

Keep supplies stocked
Ninety-four percent of office workers are less productive when they don't have all the supplies they need to work. Order necessary supplies like Post-it Notes, flags, tabs, daily planners, professional notebooks and pens. Then, put colored flags on the calendar to mark when you need to re-order supplies so you're never without the necessities.

Rethink your desktop
A clean desktop is essential to productivity, however many people are guilty of having their desk covered with unnecessary items. If you don't use it weekly, find another place for it. That means unused folders, staplers, tape dispensers, and the like can go in a drawer.

An office supply staple
Despite the rise of the digital office, Post-it Notes are still an office staple. On average, office workers use 30 Post-it Notes per week. Keep these handy note pads close by so you can easily use them to mark paperwork or write your coworker a note of encouragement.

Corral pens
Pens and other office extras like scissors, letter openers and highlighters look tidy when placed in a jar on your desk. A big jar can hold everything or use smaller jars to sort each item into its own container. Clear glass jars makes it easy to see what's inside.

Think vertically
If you're short on desktop space, think vertically. Walls provide ample opportunity for unique storage. One stylish and affordable option is to cut a peg board and place it in an open frame. This eye-catching wall hanging allows for easy access to office essentials.

Write it down
Sixty-two percent of office workers prefer to manage their to-do list on a piece of paper rather than a computer or digital device. Write your task list on a Post-it Super Sticky Note and place it somewhere you'll see it, such as the edge of your computer monitor or the front of your notebook. This visual reminder will keep you on-task throughout the day.

Don't sweat the small stuff
At a loss for how to organize paper clips, tacks and other small office items? Small tins are a great way to sort and store these office odds and ends. Place them in drawers so they are out of sight.

Systemize folders
Tackle that pile of folders in the corner and create a simple organizational system using Post-it Tabs. Color code the folders based on your work responsibilities so each tab color is tied to a specific task or status of a project.

Cut cord chaos
Are you always digging under your desk for the right cord? Black binder clips typically used to hold paperwork together are also great for organizing USB, cell phone chargers and other cables. Clip to the side of your desk and thread the chord through the metal to eliminate tangles.

Want more office organization tips? Visit Post-it.com/officeorg to tidy up and streamline productivity fast.

Survey details: The 3M Post-it Brand Office Organization survey was conducted by Wakefield Research (http://www.wakefieldresearch.com) among 1,000 full-time U.S. office workers in 2015, using an email invitation and an online survey.

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Expert Advice for Surviving Severe Weather

Brandpoint  |  2016-02-03

When power is lost to your home, a standby generator automatically turns on and can power critical systems and appliances, including lights, HVAC, refrigerators, sump pumps and even delicate electronics.

Are you prepared for harsh winter weather?

(BPT) - It’s out there - that next bout of severe weather is on its way. No matter where you live in the United States, the potential for severe weather always exists and sometimes it comes without much warning.

“None of us really knows what the weather holds,” says LT. General Russel L. Honore, U.S. Army (Ret). “That’s why it’s important to be prepared for any eventuality. You have to be able to be your own first responder if the situation calls for it.”

There are few who understand the power of severe weather and natural disasters better than Honore. The commander of Joint Task Force Katrina, Honore is now a nationally recognized emergency preparedness expert. Each day he dedicates himself to helping Americans prepare for serve weather or natural disasters in order to create a “Culture of Preparedness,” and help people be self-sufficient in instances of disaster.

Why you should be prepared

When Hurricane Katrina struck, 2.6 million people lost power, many for nearly a month. Today’s hurricanes, as well as winter ice storms and blizzards can also cause extended outages that can leave the unprepared equally trapped and powerless in their home.

Honore says it’s essential all families develop an emergency plan. This plan should include a safe place in your home where you can find shelter and a safe location if you are away from home or you are forced to evacuate. Each family member should also have a cell phone so they can communicate with each other and every home should contain an emergency kit. The kit should include a weather radio, flashlight(s), batteries, first aid kit, money, medications, heavy clothes and five days of non-perishable food and water.

The importance of power

“The number one issue you face in an emergency situation is access to reliable power,” Honore says. “When you lose power, it sets our society back at least 100 years."

In today’s world, many of the things people need to survive are tied to power. A loss of power cuts off communication, makes it difficult to attain food and water, creates sanitation issues and hinders temperature controls such as heating and air conditioning.

“Because power is so important, I recommend homeowners invest in a dependable standby generator,” Honore says.

Unlike portable generators, a standby generator automatically turns on when power is lost. A standby generator, which is permanently connected to your house like a central air conditioning unit, has the ability to power everything in your home including your heat and air conditioning systems, refrigerator, lights, computers, television and other technologies. Each of these modern-day necessities are indispensable during an emergency. And best of all, because the standby generator connects to your home’s existing fuel lines, you’ll never need to worry about refueling it to keep the power up and running.

“I’ve personally been through this process,” Honore says. “I have a Kohler standby generator connected to my home and I recommend everyone make having an automatic backup power supply part of their emergency preparedness plan.”

Next steps

To learn more about automatic standby generators, visit KohlerGenerators.com. You’ll have the chance to watch informative videos explaining standby power and how it works. Start your research today so when the next big storm arrives, you’ll be ready.

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Tips for Going Green, Saving Green, With Greywater Recycling

Brandpoint  |  2016-02-03

(BPT) - Water conservation isn’t just for Californians and others who live in dry climates. Although the Golden State’s water woes grabbed headlines last summer, it’s not the only state potentially facing water shortages. Nor is it the only one where conservation-minded homeowners are turning to greywater recycling to reduce water bills and preserve the environment.

Greywater - also called gray water - is all the water that goes down the drain from bathroom sinks, showers, tubs and washing machines. While you wouldn’t want to drink it because it contains traces of dirt, hair and household cleaning products, greywater is safe to use for outdoor irrigation. By rerouting greywater outdoors, you can keep your lawn green and your vegetables growing without increasing your water bill.

“We’re seeing increasing demand for products that facilitate greywater recycling,” says Chris Peterson with Saniflo. The company specializes in above-floor plumbing, including greywater pumping systems and macerating toilet systems for residential and light-commercial applications. “Homeowners are realizing that recycling greywater is an effective way to lower their water bills, meet outdoor water needs and do something good for the environment.”

What’s more, municipalities and counties in California are blazing trails by rewarding homeowners and businesses that recycle greywater. Many are offering rebates for property owners who use greywater systems to irrigate their landscapes.

While California’s drought conditions have been prolonged and extreme, the state is not alone in being concerned about water consumption. A 2014 study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found 40 out of 50 state water managers expect shortages in at least part of their states within the next 10 years. States have begun taking a number of steps to improve how they manage water, the GAO said, including enacting conservation measures and creating drought preparedness plans.

“Homeowners who begin recycling greywater now could be well ahead of the curve if and when their states begin requiring water conservation measures,” Peterson says. “Meanwhile, they’ll decrease their water and sewer costs by irrigating with recycled water, rather than fresh.”

Greywater recycling systems can be installed in homes under construction or existing homes undergoing renovation. In fact, says Peterson, many Saniflo customers who add greywater systems to their homes do so as part of a kitchen or bathroom renovation. “The compact size of our Saniswift pump makes it easy to tuck away inside a cabinet for a kitchen or bathroom sink, a clothes or dishwasher, shower, laundry or bar sink. Like all Saniflo products, you don’t have to open the floor or break concrete to plumb the Saniswift, so it can go virtually anywhere.”

If you’re interested in greywater recycling for your home, Peterson offers some basic information:

  • Although some areas may allow you to recycle water from kitchen sinks, greywater is typically considered the water that comes from showers, bathroom sinks, dishwashers and clothes washers. Water from toilets is not greywater.

  • Experts estimate about 40 to 50 percent of the waste water generated by the typical American home qualifies as greywater and could be recycled.

  • Not all greywater is the same. The water from bathtubs, showers and bathroom sinks is relatively cleaner than the water from kitchen sinks, clothes washers and dishwashers, which may contain food scraps and cleaning products. It’s important to choose a greywater filter and pump system that’s made to handle the type of greywater produced by the utility you’re connecting it to.

  • In addition to lowering your water and sewer bill when you install a greywater recycling system, you may be eligible for a rebate. Check with your local water utility to see if it offers a rebate in your area.

For more information about water recycling, including greywater recycling, visit the EPA’s water recycling web page. To learn more about greywater pumping systems for the home, including kitchens, laundry rooms and bathrooms, visit www.saniflo.com.

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Easy Ways to Manage Your Whole Home in Zones

Family Features  |  2016-02-02

(Family Features) You’ve been taught from childhood to turn off the lights when you leave a room to save energy and money. Now, technology is allowing homeowners to apply those years of training to managing energy consumption – and comfort – on a room-by-room basis throughout the house.

This new approach to managing your home allows you to customize nearly every aspect of a room’s environment independently from other parts of the house, in some cases, even when you’re miles away. You can adjust lighting, music and even the temperature using the right technology-enabled devices.

Options to create ambiance
Nothing sets a mood quite like music. Your home audio system may be perfect when you’re home alone, but when guests fill every room, a more custom approach is in order. For example, the volume may be louder to overcome the commotion of the kitchen, while a lower decibel provides a gentle backdrop to conversation in the living room. Where the kids are congregated, you can play a different soundtrack entirely.

Likewise, there are dozens of reasons to change the lighting from room to room. Kids shuffle from room to room and guests gravitate to different parts of the house, or you may simply want to give the appearance that someone is home when you’re on the road. These are all good reasons to explore a system that lets you adjust your home’s lighting from a single location.

Zoned climate control
The approach to heating and cooling homes has evolved dramatically through the years as well. Now, the latest technology makes it possible to combine the advantages of cooling and heating systems with the benefits of more localized climate settings. Individualized zone control allows homeowners to save money while offering the flexibility to choose which rooms they want to cool and heat.

“Cooling or heating unused areas of your home means using less energy,” said Mike Smith, senior marketing manager, residential, Mitsubishi Electric US, Inc. Cooling & Heating Division. “By creating zones, homeowners can feel confident that they are not only saving money, but living smarter and more comfortably.”

Options, such as Mitsubishi Electric’s zoned Diamond Comfort System, create efficient, whole-home cooling and heating solutions, offering year-round comfort control room-by-room. The whisper-quiet units also feature an anti-allergen filtration system to reduce allergens, dust, pollen, viruses and bacteria in the home. Learn more at MitsubishiComfort.com.

Remote management
One of the greatest advantages of the new zoned approach to home management is the ability to adjust each room remotely. Smartphones have taken that function to a whole new level, with apps that let homeowners control virtually any aspect of the home from a remote location, whether down the hall or across the country.

For example, the kumo cloud smart controls app integrates seamlessly with Mitsubishi Electric systems allowing the homeowner to control the temperature of each room in the house from anywhere. The tool takes pre-programmed thermostats to a whole new level with greater flexibility, such as the ability to boost the heat when you’re home earlier than planned. Learn more about the app, which is also compatible with other devices, at MitsubishiComfort.com.

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Source: Mitsubishi Electric

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Get Motivated to Get Organized

Family Features  |  2016-02-02

Simple Tips to Complete a Closet Makeover

(Family Features) It’s that time of year when you think about getting organized for a fresh new start. But how many times have you thought about finally clearing out your closet, decided it’s just too overwhelming, and simply shut the door only to think about it later?

“Let’s face it, most of us put cleaning out and organizing our closets at the top of our New Year’s resolutions’ list every single year,” said Barbara Reich, professional organizer. “But how many of us just think about it without actually doing it? To get serious and take action, you need a plan of attack.”

Once you make a commitment and get on board with the project, go from there with these tips from Reich.

  • Start by determining your overall goal. Are you simply organizing what you have or do you need to purge unused items? Get rid of things you don’t need or won’t wear. Remember that items in good condition can be donated to those in need.

  • Once you’ve determined just how much stuff you’ll have to organize, it’s time to consider what systems will best fit your space and needs. A do-it-yourself closet organizer product, such as ClosetMaid ShelfTrack, is affordable, easy to install and adjustable, making it simple to create a customized design. Accessories, such as drawers and shoe shelves, help personalize the space, while fabric bins are perfect for storing handbags and other smaller items.

  • Before you decide exactly which pieces you need, sketch out your plan on paper or use an online design tool. ClosetMaid’s DIY Design Tool even provides a parts list to help ensure you buy the right pieces for your design. You may also find it helpful to make a categorized list of all the items you need to store and mark them off as you identify the right storage products for your space.

  • Once you install your new system, the fun really begins. Start by hanging as much as possible; this makes it easier to see what you have. Group and place like things together by category, such as pants, skirts, tops, etc., then within each category, group by season and by color. Take advantage of prime real estate by positioning the things you wear most often in the place that is most accessible and easiest to reach.

  • Once you have everything hung and stored in its proper place, congratulate yourself on having the closet makeover checked off your list. However, to continue enjoying your newfound organization, you must be vigilant about keeping the space organized. Have a plan in mind when you purchase new things. Ask yourself if you really need the item and determine what you can discard to make room.

For more tips to help you get organized this new year, visit ClosetMaid.com, StorganizationBlog.com or call 1-800-874-0008.

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Source: ClosetMaid

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Naturally Clean for Spring

Family Features  |  2016-02-02

A Surprising Way to Make Spring Cleaning Simple

(Family Features) Wiping away the grime of winter doesn’t have to mean launching an attack with dangerous chemicals. As you tackle this year’s spring cleaning chores, take a note from Mother Nature and rely on the cleaning power of a surprisingly effective natural product: vinegar.

During the last century, vinegar has become increasingly recognized as a low cost and eco-friendly household product. From cooking and canning, to cleaning items indoors and out, homeowners are discovering that this eco-friendly, acetic liquid is as versatile as it is useful.

“Cleaning with vinegar has always been an effective way to banish dirt and grime in kitchens, bathrooms, the garage and the outdoors,” said Mike Smith, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Mizkan Americas, the makers of Four Monks Cleaning Vinegar.

Despite its strong cleaning power, vinegar does have one downfall: its distinctive odor. You can experiment with dozens of DIY recipes online to overcome this dilemma, or you can rely on a store-bought non-toxic cleaning vinegar such as Four Monks, which is made from a proprietary process that reduces the strong aroma and leaves a clean, crisp scent.

Learn how vinegar can make it easier to tackle common tasks around the house with these hacks and discover more uses for cleaning vinegar at VinegarTips.com.

In the Kitchen
Clean off the blades of a well-worn can opener with an old toothbrush soaked with vinegar to help remove dirt and grease.

Clean your ice/water dispenser by running vinegar through the system. Flush the vinegar out by running water through the system for 30-60 seconds.

Rid your dishwasher of mineral buildup by pouring half a cup of vinegar into the reservoir and running an empty cycle. You can also use vinegar in the dishwasher instead of another glass cleaner to keep your glassware sparkling.

Renew sponges and dishrags by placing them in just enough water to cover them. Then add one-fourth cup of vinegar and let them soak overnight.

Remove dark stains on an aluminum pot by boiling two cups of vinegar. For stained and smelly plastic food containers and lunchboxes, wipe them with a cloth dampened with vinegar.

To clean a grease-splattered oven door window, saturate it with vinegar. Keep the door open for 10-15 minutes before wiping with a sponge.

Deodorize the garbage disposal by pouring in half a cup of baking soda and half a cup of vinegar. Let sit for five minutes then run hot water down the disposal.

Avoid using toxic chemicals where you store food; wipe up spills in the fridge with vinegar.

In the Bathroom
Rid a faucet of lime deposits by tying a plastic bag containing one-third to one-half cup of vinegar around it and leaving it there for two or three hours. Wipe down with a sponge and scrub any remaining deposits with an old toothbrush. The same approach can be used to remove buildup on a showerhead.

The fizzing combo of vinegar and baking soda can unclog and remove odor from a tub drain. Pour half a cup of baking soda in the drain, then follow with two cups of hot vinegar. Immediately plug the drain with a rag to keep the bubbles contained for 10 minutes. Rinse by pouring a kettle of boiling hot water down the drain.

Spray shower doors with vinegar after you’ve squeegeed the glass – or before you turn on the water – to help release hard water deposits.

Clean shower door tracks by filling them with vinegar and letting it sit for a few hours. Pour hot water into the tracks and scrub away any remaining film with a toothbrush.

To make the toilet bowl sparkle, pour in a cup or more of vinegar and let it sit for several hours or overnight. Scrub well with the toilet brush and flush.

Remove old bathtub decals with vinegar heated in the microwave.

In the Laundry Room
Remove coffee and tea stains by flushing the area with vinegar, rinsing and repeating. For wine stains, saturate the spot with vinegar and allow it to stand for several minutes. Then, wash as normal. Tip: For more delicate fabrics or precaution, test on an inconspicuous part of the garment first.

Restore yellowed clothing by soaking garments overnight in a solution of 12 parts warm water and one part vinegar. Wash them the following morning.

Soak new garments in a few cups of vinegar for 10-15 minutes before washing to stop dyes from running in the wash.

If frequent ironing has left your iron plate dirty, make a paste from one part vinegar and one part salt to scrub it clean.

Remove scorch marks from an iron by rubbing it with a warm solution of equal parts vinegar and salt. If that doesn’t work, use a cloth dampened with vinegar.

Forgot that you left wet laundry in the machine and it now smells moldy? Pour a few cups of vinegar in the machine and wash the clothes in hot water. Then run a normal cycle with detergent to rinse the clothes.

Prevent lint from clinging to clothes by adding half a cup of vinegar to the wash cycle.

What Is Vinegar?
Vinegar is the acetic liquid that results when a product containing sugar is allowed to ferment. Vinegar can be created from nearly any product containing sugar; fruit and grains, such as barley and corn, are common sources of vinegar.

The ingredients in vinegar depend on the type of vinegar produced. For example, Four Monks uses distilled vinegar processed from corn, so it’s safe for your family. All vinegars are diluted with water to the preferred acidity before bottling. Four Monks has 6 percent acidity, which is 20 percent stronger than traditional vinegar, but gentle on everyday surfaces. This acetic quality is what enables vinegar to effectively clean while being safe for the body and the environment.

Photos courtesy of Getty Images

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Source: Four Monks

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