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Keep your foundation firm with good soil drainage

As Californians, we love this time of year. The warm weather is perfect for planting fresh herbs, vegetables (tomatoes and zucchini are our favorites) and an array of beautiful flowers.

Rich, black soil properly prepared usually produces cantaloupe-sized tomatoes and herbs that can be "nose detected" from the other side of our back yard. We hope that your garden, too, is bountiful and that you will enjoy this planting season as much as we will.

But don't compromise your home's structural integrity by being an overzealous green thumb. Proper drainage and soil configuration can save you some headaches.

Here are some precautions to take:


Soil preparation -- including tilling -- can be very important to the health of your vegetable garden or flower bed. Tilling helps to oxygenate the earth and enriches the planting bed by allowing a free flow of nutrients and water.

However, tilling soil can raise the grade (height of the soil) and change the way surface water sheds or drains. Both conditions need to be carefully managed to ensure that neither one becomes problematic or an outright disaster.


When preparing soil for planting - especially near the foundation of your home - it is extremely important to prevent trapping water. Water must flow freely away from the home without ponding. Although ponding is bad anywhere in the yard, puddles next to the foundation that can hydrate the soil and cause it to radically expand can be particularly damaging. The result can be that foundation and floor supports shift, causing several more noticeable problems including:

-- Cracks in exterior plaster and interior wallboard.

-- Windows and doors that grab and bind or that wont properly close.

-- Air leaks at exterior doors and windows.

-- Floor squeaks.

-- Uneven floors.

Use this rule of thumb: To ensure and-or maintain proper water shed at the planting areas adjacent to your foundation, the soil height should drop at least 1/4-inch per foot of horizontal distance. It's called the "1/4-inch per foot" rule.

Wet soil can be a problem even when the surface has been properly graded. Overwatering can result in flooding and dampness that can cause rot and attract termites. And one thing you don't want is termites.


Termites love wet soil. Even better, they love it when the soil surrounding the foundation comes into contact with any part of the wooden structure of your home. Wood, paper and other cellulose-based materials are premium fodder for feeding termites. The bad thing about piling soil up against the house is that the termite population can travel, undetected, into their favorite food source -- your wood frame.

Reduce the onslaught of termites by:

-- Grading soil so that surface water sheds away from your home.

-- Reducing watering so that water doesn't pond or soak the soil.

-- Keeping soil at least 6 inches away from any of the wood parts of your home.

You may not be able to see the wood that resides behind a plaster wall. So, to be sure, keep soil at least 6 inches away from the bottom edge of the plaster. If you aren't sure, ask someone who knows - a termite contractor, a home inspector or a local building official.

Use caution when working with the soil in your garden and not only will your plants love you, but your home will too.

How To Quiet Your Home

Noise used to be a problem that primarily affected people living in apartments, condos or other attached housing—think creaking floors, thumps on walls, loud music and thundering exercise equipment. And while noise persists for the condo crowd, it’s also screaming its way into more densely populated suburbs.

Ironically, a large amount of the unwanted noise in today’s homes originates IN today’s homes—the earsplitting sound of our children’s music, or the earth-shaking rumbles produced by surround-sound systems.

Some state-of-the-art products can help with this problem, but first, a look at the classics:

  • Drywall and/or insulation: Homeowners can add a layer of drywall or some insulation to the wall cavity. Both of these are easy and relatively inexpensive, but unfortunately, the difference is barely noticeable to the human ear.
  • Party walls: A better way to reduce noise is with staggered studs or even a double-stud wall. This alternative is reserved for major remodels or new construction where new walls are to be built. It requires more material and labor, and you’re going to lose several inches of floor space to the thicker wall.
  • Resilient channels: Metal channels are attached to wall framing, and wallboard is then attached to the metal channels. The idea here is to “float” the wall, so sound is isolated. It’s not a practical solution for existing construction, but it can deliver good results if everything is installed perfectly—small mistakes can ruin the added soundproofing.

These systems are still used, but they appear rather archaic when compared to new products that reduce sound that would otherwise penetrate windows, doors, ceilings, floors and walls.

Certain-Teed, for example, manufactures a light-density fiberglass insulation batt that is installed between studs. Georgia Pacific makes a low-density product that is installed between studs and drywall. Temple-Inland makes a sound-deadening fiberboard. And Owens Corning produces a fabric system to envelop rooms.

Quiet Solution has developed some of the simplest and most cost-effective products. For example, they make a wallboard called QuietRock that looks and is used like regular drywall, but includes a viscoelastic polymer—what they call their “special sauce.” Simply stated, this treatment converts acoustic energy or “noise” to heat energy, which people can’t hear.

Viscoelastic what? Sounds pretty intimidating, but Quiet Solution CEO Kevin Surace puts it simply.

“It’s a revolutionary, high-tech, sound-damping product masquerading as just another building material,” he says. “It’s not fancy. It doesn’t call attention to itself. It just works.”

What makes this product so exciting is that it can be applied directly over existing wallboard without the need to tear down existing walls. For example, a standard sheet of 5/8-inch gypsum board added to a typical drywall-and-stud wall reduces sound coming through the wall by about 2 decibels—barely enough to be noticeable. But one sheet of QuietRock added to a typical wall reduces the sound coming through by about 20 decibels—a 75 percent reduction in sound.

If you’re remodeling a bedroom or home theater, all you need to do is screw on a layer of QuietRock and use an acoustic sealant around the perimeter. In new construction, one sheet of 5/8-inch QuietRock has the same noise reduction effect of eight sheets of standard drywall.

For the really noise challenged, Quiet Solution also manufactures floor and ceiling systems and windows—good news for the condo crowd. Visit for more information on how to quiet your home.

Go Green, Go Natural, Go Redwood!

How so? Start with the fact that redwood is a renewable resource. Today’s redwood comes from sustainably managed forests along California’s North Coast. The vast majority of lumber-producing redwood forests are independently certified as well managed and sustainable.

Plus, redwood is energy efficient. That’s right. Not only are most redwood sawmills powered by clean biomass energy, but the energy to grow redwood comes from the sun. The energy to produce concrete and plastics come from burning fossil fuels. That can spew literally tons of greenhouse gases into the air.

Fortunately, choosing redwood is a great way to remove those greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. Managed redwood forests are among the most efficient scrubbers of greenhouse gases anywhere.

As trees grow, they absorb the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide and release oxygen. Since redwood is a very fast growing tree, it is very good at “eating” carbon. Redwood lumber keeps that carbon out of the air. In fact, the typical redwood deck safely stores more than a half-ton of carbon and looks great doing it!

Who knew that lowering your carbon footprint could go hand-in-hand with fabulous outdoor entertaining?

Distinctive Finishes

Classic redwood decks come in all shapes and sizes, and a wide array of colors. Left alone, redwood heartwood takes on a weathered gray look as distinguished as the family and friends who help your deck become the place memories are made. Even with virtually no maintenance (you will want to sweep debris off your deck), redwood will maintain its structural integrity for years.

Keeping your redwood deck looking new, with its unique heartwood tones and natural elegance setting the tone for outdoor gatherings takes a little effort, but  A) not too much, and  B) it’s well worth it. Simply applying a lightly pigmented water-repellent finish every couple of years is relatively quick and easy work, and is all you’ll need to keep your redwood, well, red.

Here are some guidelines to consider before finishing your redwood deck:

  1. Apply finish to clean dry surfaces on windless days. Temperature should be between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. New structures built with unseasoned wood should air-dry one month before finishing.
  3. When preparing the surface, use stiff bristle brushes, not wire brushes or steel wool.
  4. Follow manufacturer’s directions and read warnings on toxicity. Don’t mix incompatible materials.
  5. To avoid nail stains, use stainless steel, aluminum or top quality, hot-dipped galvanized nails.
  6. Keep your deck free of dirt and other debris. Periodic rinsing with a garden hose can prevent grime and dirt build-up.

Remember, grease and other stains can be removed from your redwood deck just by using Simple Green or other household cleansers.

Free help online

While your local lumber retailer is generally a great source of information on how to build and maintain redwood decks, you can also find a wealth of information online. From project plans to tips on selecting the right grade of redwood for exactly the look you want, you can find just about everything you need at the California Redwood Association’s website.

For details on finishing redwood decks, deck construction tips and redwood project plans visit

KAREL’S KORNER: Optimize Your Body!

Oxygen combines with glycogen (blood sugar) to form ATP. This is our energy currency and makes it possible for us to move and breathe and everything else. The problem lies within the mitochondria, the small energy factories within each cell. During the conversion process, which is about 40 to 60% efficient, the unburned parts turn into free radicals. Free radicals can damage the cell’s structure, and ultimately damage your DNA.

Its easy to understand if you compare your car to your body. Your car is about 20% efficient in converting gasoline into propulsion. That means for every 5 gallons you buy, 1 is used to move your car, the rest is waste materials and heat. Your body is a miraculous machine, much more efficient than any man made machine, so it makes sense to run your body with optimum efficiency.

I often see people spending hours, waxing their vehicles and buying the most expensive oils and gadgets. Then they drive their shiny-well-taken-care-of vehicles to a fast food restaurant to eat absolute junk, Why is that?

There is a solution: Exercise, along with loads of fruits and veggies, have a powerful effect on neutralizing these free radicals. The combination can help minimize the damage to your 10 trillion or more cells.

We do have control over what happens to us. The question is, are we strong enough to change our behavior?

For more fitness tips and to order a copy of my ‘Living Proof’ DVD, go to

Skylights improve light, ventilation and safety

For up to 30 percent more natural light that will both brighten your home and your life, think skylights.

Today more than ever, skylights of all shapes, types and sizes are being included in planning for both residential remodeling and new home construction. Skylights are now a serious consideration for virtually any room in the home and are even being used to enhance and brighten many other adjacent structures, including garages, workshops and barns.

But while skylights are a desirable amenity in all areas of the home, they are particularly popular in bathrooms and kitchens. In a recent industry survey, American homeowners said if they had a choice of accessories for the ultimate dream bathroom, the No. 1 option would be "a skylight to bathe the room with more natural light."

Skylights can be traced back to ancient architects including those who devised openings and shafts hundreds of feet long to channel natural light deep into the inner chambers of the great pyramids of Egypt.

Centuries later, skylights took hold in major cities throughout Europe when they were introduced and perfected as a make-sense means to successfully light and ventilate from overhead tightly grouped homes and apartments in densely populated urban areas.

Ironically, skylights are only a relatively new phenomenon for homeowners in the United States, although for the last 25 or 30 years their popularity has soared, year after year.

Today, in many homes skylights are no longer only an option: They are standard equipment, even in many production-built homes.

The reasons behind the increasing demand for skylights and their surge in popularity and usage are twofold:

-- 1. Leading manufacturers have put to rest conclusively the No. 1 fear and question expressed by homeowners: "Will it leak?"

Today's skylights are engineered and manufactured to the highest standards. They are paired with watertight flashing systems, which are custom-tailored and designed specifically for various roofing materials (shingles, tile or metal) from leading manufacturers.

With proper installation, high-quality products are impervious to leaks. Extensive and rigorous air, water and pressure-testing performed before the products are brought to market ensures that they are 100 percent watertight when correctly installed.

-- 2. Aside from the obvious aesthetic appeal of skylights, study after study also indicates there are many distinct and undeniable health benefits to be gained from bringing in more natural light.

These range from psychological benefits, such as reducing the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) - which is scientifically and directly linked to insufficient daylight - to improving visibility for the elderly by providing brighter illumination, among many other gains. Simply put, more natural light keeps us feeling bright and offers better sight for all as we age.

Summarizing other advantages:

-- Bringing in more natural daylight also reduces energy bills. Improved lighting increases safety, too.

-- An operable skylight or "roof window" can improve ventilation by discharging otherwise stagnant air associated with "tight home syndrome."

-- A roof window can also prevent mold and mildew associated with excess moisture and condensation from bathing, cooking, clothes washing and other household activities.

Government information on window and skylight energy efficiency is available on the Web at:

Additional independent agency information is available at: or