It’s yard work season. It’s no surprise to Realtors® that beautiful landscaping improves curb appeal, which can increase home value by as much as 17%. But in the era of physical distancing, homeowner’s green space becomes an even greater asset to home values as yards become a safe way to enjoy the outdoors, destress, and contribute to well-being.
The Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI) reminds homeowners to keep safety in mind when working in their outdoor living spaces. “Before you use a mower, trimmer, blower, power washer, chainsaw, pruner, portable generator, or other piece of outdoor power equipment this season, it’s important to refresh yourself on handling and safety procedures,” said Kris Kiser, President and CEO of OPEI. “You should take the time to do basic maintenance to ensure your equipment operates safely for the season and is ready to get the job done.”
Here are tips to help:
- Read your owner’s manual. Follow all guidelines for your outdoor power equipment and familiarize yourself with the controls. If you have lost your manual, look it up online (and save a copy on your computer for future reference).
- Inspect equipment. Check the air filter, oil level and the gasoline tank. Also check loose belts and missing or damaged parts. Replace any parts if needed.
- If you have gasoline-powered equipment and didn’t empty the tank before winter storage, drain the fuel now. You should never leave fuel sitting in the gas tank of your equipment for more than 30 days. Untreated gasoline (without a fuel stabilizer) left in the system will deteriorate, which may cause starting or running problems or damage the fuel system.
- Protect your power by only using E10 or less fuel in gasoline-powered outdoor power equipment. With today’s higher ethanol content fuels, most manufacturers are recommending a fuel stabilizer be used, especially if you don’t use up all the gas purchased right away. Some gas stations may offer 15 percent ethanol (E15) gas or higher ethanol fuel blends, but any fuel containing more than 10 percent ethanol can damage – and is illegal to use in – small engine equipment not designed for it.
- Store fuel safely. Label your fuel can with the date of purchase and ethanol content of the fuel. Never put “old” gas in your outdoor power equipment. If you don’t know the date of purchase, dispose safely of the fuel in the can and buy fresh fuel. Always store fuel out of the reach of children or pets and in approved containers.
- For battery-powered equipment, recharge only with the charger specified by the manufacturer. A charger that is suitable for one type of battery pack may create a risk of fire when used with another battery pack. Follow all charging instructions and do not charge the battery pack or tool outside the temperature range specified in the instructions.
- Store batteries safely. When the battery pack is not in use, keep it away from other metal objects, like paper clips, coins, keys, nails, screws or other small metal objects, that can make a connection from one terminal to another. Shorting the battery terminals together may cause burns or a fire.
- Clean your equipment and store it in a dry place. Remove any dirt, oil or grass. Clean equipment will run more efficiently and last longer. Never store your equipment in a place that is damp or wet.
With most people sheltering in place at home, and the real estate market on pause because of the COVID-19 pandemic, now is a great time for sellers to focus on home projects that will boost curb appeal. The living landscapes at a property – the grass, trees, shrubs, flowers, the yard and other green space – play a critical role in enhancing curb appeal.
But curb appeal is about more than just the first impression a property makes. Since we’ve all been spending more time at home and in the safe space of our backyards, buyers intimately understand the value of the yard as a place for children and pets to play, an extension of the home’s living space, and a natural setting in which to de-stress. This makes the family yard more important than ever before.
Here is a checklist of items sellers can tackle now to make the most of being at home, courtesy of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI). Note: some local nurseries and garden supply centers are offering curbside pick-up and delivery. In many areas, landscaping services are considered “essential” businesses and remain open, as well.
- Spring Clean: It’s likely your yard needs a good clean-up after the winter. A leaf blower will make quick work of clearing debris from flowerbeds, yards, and mulched areas under your trees. You should also fix bare patches in the grass and add a fresh layer of mulch to create a neat-looking outdoor space.
- Mow Your Lawn: A carpet of grass is inviting for potential buyers and creates a crisp backdrop for the rest of your living landscape choices. Proper mowing helps create a more beautiful, lower-maintenance, and drought-tolerant lawn. Preferred length varies by grass type, but the general rule of thumb is to cut only the top third of the grass blades off at any given time. Taller grass blades shade the soil and keep it cooler, helping control weeds. Taller grass is also softer to walk on – important for families with little feet and paws to consider.
- Trim Bushes & Trees: Use a trimmer, chainsaw or pole pruner to cut back any shrubs, bushes, or trees that have gotten overgrown during the winter. Create a polished look by using an edger to form a clean boundary between the lawn and walkways.
- Keep Safety in Mind: Before you use your mower and any other outdoor power equipment, refresh yourself on handling and safety procedures. Follow all guidelines, and familiarize yourself with the controls. If you have lost your manual, look it up online (and save a copy on your computer for easy reference next time).
- Right Plant, Right Place: Plant colorful spring flowers in flowerbeds, along fence lines, and in patio containers, especially near the front door. Remember the “Golden Rule” of living landscapes, and put the right plants in the right place. Selecting plants that are native to your climate zone (refer to the USDA’s Plant Hardiness Zone Map) ensures you select species that are adapted to thrive in your location. Native plants require less water and less upkeep.
- Plant for Pollinators & Wildlife: Selecting native plants of different varieties that will bloom throughout the year will also attract local pollinators and wildlife to the yard and will add an extra-special touch to showings when they start back up. Our yards are an important part of the connected ecosystem providing much-needed food and shelter for pollinators, such as birds, bees, butterflies, bats, and other creatures. The Audubon Society’s database can help determine which birds will be attracted to which plants in your region so you can make good choices about what to plant.
To learn more, go to TurfMutt.com.
While adults are home teleworking, and kids are at home participating in online educational instruction (we hope), it’s even more important during these challenging times to take a moment to get out into the family yard. The TurfMutt Foundation reminds families that nature starts right outside your back door. Let the proven benefits green space give us a break from being cooped up inside. Listen to the birds. Watch the trees. Curl your toes in the grass. Work outside planting and preparing for the budding spring, or even mow the lawn.
“Numerous studies have found that people who spend more time outside with their families and pets exposed to living landscapes are happier, healthier and smarter. It’s great to know being outside is good for you,” says Kris Kiser, President and CEO of the TurfMutt Foundation.
Researchers have studied the impact of nature on human well-being for years, but recent studies have found a more direct correlation between human health, particularly related to stress, and the importance of people’s access to nature and managed landscapes.
Getting dirty is actually good for you. Soil is the new Prozac, according to Dr. Christopher Lowry, a neuroscientist at the University of Bristol in England. Mycobacterium vaccae in soil mirrors the effect on neurons that Prozac provides. The bacterium stimulates serotonin production, which explains why people who spend time gardening, doing yard work, and have direct contact with soil feel more relaxed and happier.
Living near living landscapes can improve your mental health. Researchers in England found that people moving to greener areas experienced an immediate improvement in mental health that was sustained for at least three years after they moved. The study also showed that people relocating to a more developed area suffered a drop in mental health. Greening of vacant urban areas in Philadelphia reduced feelings of depression by 41.5% and reduced poor mental health by 62.8% for those living near the vacant lots, according to a study by a research team.
Green spaces can make you healthier too. People who live within a half mile of green space were found to have a lower incidence of fifteen diseases by Dutch researchers — including depression, anxiety, heart disease, diabetes, asthma and migraines. A 2015 study found that people living on streets with more trees had a boost in heart and metabolic health. Studies show that tasks conducted under the calming influence of nature are performed better and with greater accuracy, yielding a higher quality result. Spending time in gardens, for instance, can improve memory performance and attention span by 20 percent.
Living landscapes make you smarter. Children gain attention and working memory benefits when they are exposed to greenery, says a study led by Payam Dadvand of the Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology in Barcelona. In addition, exposure to natural settings may be widely effective in reducing attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptoms in children.
This applies to adults as well. Research has also shown that being around plants helps you concentrate better at home and at work. Charlie Hall, Ellison Chair in International Floriculture believes that spending time in gardens can improve attention span and memory performance by as much as 20 percent.
A National Institutes of Health study found that adults demonstrate significant cognitive gains after going on a nature walk. In addition, a Stanford University study found that walking in nature, rather than a concrete-oriented, urban environment, resulted in decreased anxiety, rumination, and negative affect, and produced cognitive benefits, such as increased working memory performance.
Living landscapes help you heal faster. Multiple studies have discovered that plants in hospital recovery rooms or views of aesthetically-pleasing gardens help patients heal up to one day faster than those who are in more sterile or austere environments.
Physicians are now prescribing time outdoors for some patients, according to recent reports. Park Rx America is a nonprofit with a mission to encourage physicians to prescribe doses of nature.
All of these benefits reinforce the importance of maintaining our green spaces. Trees, shrubs, grass, and flowering plants are integral to human health. Not only do they provide a place for kids and pets to play, they directly contribute to our mental and physical well-being.
More information can be found by visiting www.turfmutt.com
A manicured lawn contributes to improved curb appeal which has been shown to boost home prices by as much as 17 percent. But proper maintenance is important to ensuring your clients’ mower runs strong all spring and summer long. The Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI) offers these nine tips to get a mower tuned up before spring.
Work in a well-ventilated area. Work outdoors or in an area with good ventilation that is away from sparks and flame.
Remove the spark plug. If you did not remove the spark plug when you put away your mower in the fall, you should take it out now. Install a new one when you finish tuning up your mower.
Start the season with a clean air filter. Clean the air filter if your mower has the foam type, or replace the filter if you have a paper one.
Change the oil. Remove the oil drain plug and let the dirty oil run out into a container. When it has completely drained, replace the plug and refill the crankcase. Use the type and quantity of oil recommended in your owner’s manual.
Lubricate other moving parts. Oil the wheel bearings and other moving parts, following the instructions in your owner’s manual. Wipe off excess oil.
Drain the gas tank. Most fuels today contain ethanol which can phase separate into alcohol and water and cause damage to your mower’s engine. If you did not empty your gas tank in the fall, drain it now. Follow safe handling procedures and dispose of old fuel properly.
Protect your power by adding the right fuel. Always use E10 or less fuel. It is illegal to use any fuel with more than 10 percent ethanol in any outdoor power equipment, including your lawn mower. For more information about safe fueling, go to www.LookBeforeYouPump.com.
Sharpen the blade. A dull mower blade can shred the tips of your grass. Always remove the blade from the mower for sharpening. If the blade has large nicks in the cutting edge from hitting debris, it should be replaced.
Clean the mower. Use a rag or brush to get grass clippings, leaves, and other debris off the deck and out of crevices. After you clean it, you may want to wax the deck. The wax will keep grass and dirt from sticking to it.
By following these tips before you start cutting your grass, you will protect your investment in your lawn mower and mow more effectively. For more information about the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, go to www.opei.org.
Robotic outdoor power equipment will be the hallmark of the 21st century, with technology that lets busy sellers and homeowners take a hands-off approach to lawn care. Thanks to robotic lawn mowers, the smart home is now extending to the smart lawn. The Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI) recently announced the first-ever industry standard for robotic lawn mowers, opening the door for manufacturers to offer even more products, innovations, and choices to the consumer.
OPEI offers this robotic lawn mower 4-1-1 for busy sellers and homeowners.
Maintenance is easy. Robotic lawn mowers are low-maintenance machines since there are no spark plugs to replace or gas or oil to refill. Most manufacturers recommend replacing the blades once a year to ensure optimal performance.
How it works. There are typically three components to a robotic lawn mower – the mower itself, a charging/docking station, and a boundary wire that lets the mower know where the edges of your lawn are. Setting the boundary wire is, arguably, the most time-intensive installation step, though some manufacturers are offering wire-free boundary systems.
More free time. Once a robotic mower is set up, your work is done. It mows at a scheduled time at the determined height and returns to the docking station when its work is done or the battery is low (think Roomba for the lawn). Just like a smart appliance inside the home, robotic mowers can be controlled on a smartphone via a mobile app. For active sellers this means their lawn will be ready for a showing 24/7, even if they are not at home to tackle the task.
Safety features. The mowers are designed to stop cutting and reverse direction if they encounter an object. Furthermore, the blade automatically stops running if the machine accidentally tips over or it gets picked up. Some models even have built-in anti-theft protection that keeps your robot mower safe. Even with all of the built-in safety features, as with all outdoor power equipment, it’s important to keep kids and pets inside when operating the machinery.
Lawns are healthy & green. Robot mowers work constantly, so lawns are “shaved” regularly – a gentle way to cut grass that makes for a healthy, beautiful lawn that is sure to boost curb appeal. The small clippings are returned to the soil, creating natural nutrition for a healthy and verdant lawn.
The choice is yours. Consumers have more choices in their outdoor power equipment today more than ever before – from the smart technologies we have already mentioned to various power sources. That means homeowners can choose the best equipment to fit their abilities and the job at hand, powered by a wide array of sources. There are major innovations around battery and electric equipment, propane, solar, hybrids, and more efficient gasoline-powered equipment.
To learn more about why it is important to take care of your lawn and landscape for property values and beyond, go to TurfMutt.com.