Stack the Deck in Mother Nature's Favor with These Green Deck-Building Tips

Brandpoint  |  2016-02-25

Enjoy a clearer view of your garden with cable railing.

(BPT) - Communing with the bounty of nature in your own backyard is one of the many advantages of having a deck. Not only does it boost home value, a deck gives you a comfortable venue for enjoying the outdoors - and what could be more environmentally friendly than spending some time with Mother Nature? But is your deck really as "green" as it could be?

Some decks are simply greener than others by virtue of the materials used in their construction. If you'll be adding a new deck to your outdoor environment this year, or refurbishing or replacing an old one, keep these eco-friendly deck-building tips in mind:

Deck board options

Wood and composites are the two primary types of boarding used for decks.

Wood is a renewable resource; more trees can grow to replace the ones harvested for your deck boards, and when your deck's usable life ends, you can recycle the wood it was made of. However, pressure-treated lumber is not recyclable. While the preservatives it's treated with make pressure-treated lumber last longer than many types of untreated wood, it's less eco-friendly in the long run because it must be disposed of instead of reused. If you prefer a wood deck, look for naturally weather- and pest-resistant wood varieties like California red wood, western red cedar or ipe.

Composite boards can also be greener. Many are made from recycled materials such as reused plastic and reclaimed or recycled wood. Composites tend to be more long-lasting than wood, and require no special treatment like staining or sealing. Their longevity can make them a greener choice, but be aware composites can't be recycled.

Greener railings

Just as wood and composites are the primary materials for deck floors, they're also commonly used for railings. However, given the railing's exposure to the elements and its importance in the safety and beauty of a deck, it's worth exploring other green alternatives.

Stainless steel cable railing, like Ultra-tec(R) by The Cable Connection, not only provides unobscured views from your deck and a sleek, attractive look, it's also 100 percent recyclable. What's more, Ultra-tec(R) is made from recycled stainless steel, meaning fabrication requires less consumption of resources like fossil fuels, less consumption of minerals through mining, and a reduced environmental impact.

Greener railings can also save you some green; you can easily install stainless steel railing yourself on a new or existing wood or composite deck. To learn more, visit


If you choose to construct your deck of composites - and add a stainless steel railing - it will require little maintenance. Stainless steel is inherently weather-resistant and will stay shiny and beautiful for years without you having to do anything to it.

If you opt to build your deck with wood, some types will require regular maintenance like sealing and staining. Rot- and pest-resistant woods may not need to be sealed, but will weather to a silver-gray color unless you stain them every year. Many stains contain a blend of agents meant to inhibit the growth of fungus or deter pest infestations, and may also contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Look for stains and sealers that rely on natural ingredients, such as hemp oil, beeswax, carnauba wax and water.

Icing on the cake

Of course, adding life to your deck is one of the greenest things you can do. It's easy to add built-in planters as you're constructing a new deck or retrofitting an existing one. Or, you can simply place flowers, vegetables and herbs in containers on the deck. Be sure to protect wood decks with a tray placed under containers to catch water runoff.

Lighting is also a great way to boost the visual appeal and usability of a deck. You can enjoy mood-making light that's also eco-friendly by using solar lights, rather than electrical ones, throughout your deck. A variety of solar deck lights are available online and in home improvement stores. You can even find solar-powered decorative post caps for deck railings.

Choosing greener deck options can help ensure you enjoy your outdoor environment throughout the year, and help preserve the environment for future generations.

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7 Steps to Allergy Relief with Spring Cleaning

Brandpoint  |  2016-02-18

(BPT) - Longing for allergy relief? To stop the endless cycle of sniffles, sneezes and wheezes, it’s time to ready your vacuum and rubber gloves. Spring cleaning helps eliminate allergens so you can relax, breathe easy and enjoy the season.

“People who suffer from allergies may not realize there’s a direct connection between cleaning your home and reducing allergy symptoms,” says allergist Bryan Martin, DO, president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI.) “The more you can rid your home of dust mites, mold, cockroaches and pet dander, the easier you’ll breathe.”

ACAAI recommends seven spring cleaning steps to remove allergens in the home and avoid accidentally letting more in.

Step 1: To sleep, perchance to dream - and breathe.

Start in the bedroom where you spend eight to 10 hours a day. Dust mites can flourish during cold, dreary months, so wash your sheets and comforter regularly. Most mites die by drowning, but if you want to use hot water (which will kill slightly more mites) don’t use water that’s over 120 F because it can scald.

Remember to also wash decorative pillows. Finish by adding allergy-proof casings to the mattress, box spring and pillows. Keep pets out of the bedroom as their dander can cause symptoms to flare.

Step 2: Gaze out, but don’t open.

Window treatments are a magnet for dust and allergens. Pull them down and dry clean, or vacuum each thoroughly. Don’t forget to vacuum blinds and windowsills as well. Tempted to open the windows to let the spring breeze in? Don’t. Unwanted pollen can enter your home and spread everywhere.

Step 3: When the dust settles, wipe it off.

Suit up to win the war on dust by wearing protective gloves and a face mask so you don’t breathe in microscopic mold spores. Next, ditch cotton cloths and feather dusters that kick up allergens, and instead use microfiber cleaning cloths which trap and remove triggers. Wipe down all surfaces including picture frames, knickknacks, plant saucers and ceiling fans.

Step 4: Nature abhors a vacuum. You shouldn’t.

Move all furniture, and vacuum the dust and dander that collects underneath. Use a cyclonic vacuum, which spins dust and dirt away from the floor, or a vacuum with a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter. Additionally, clean vents and return registers to limit dust recirculating. Consider shampooing carpets to remove deeply embedded allergens.

Step 5: Scrub-a-dub the mold.

In bathrooms, basements and tiled spaces, scrub any visible mold and mildew from surfaces with bleach, or borax mixed with water, then dry completely. The key to reducing mold is moisture control, so use bathroom fans and clean any standing water immediately. You can also help ward off mold by keeping home humidity below 50 percent.

Step 6: Change is good - for filters.

Keep the air that circulates through your home’s ventilation system clean by using filters with a MERV rating of 11 or 12. Change the filter at the change of every season, or every three months. (Set a calendar reminder to remember). Additionally, change filters in HEPA appliances. This helps eliminate allergens, and prohibits mold growth.

Step 7: Get out! And about.

Check your home’s exterior for any concerns that may have emerged due to cold weather. Chipped paint, roof damage or cracked siding can lead to mold problems. Make repairs as necessary.

These seven spring cleaning steps may take a few weekends to complete, but they’ll help reduce allergens all season long. For more information, or to find an allergist in your area, visit

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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 to tidy up and streamline productivity fast.

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

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Placer Moves Forward on Regional Homelessness Approach, Bans Open Containers

Source: Chris Gray  |  2016-02-09

Continuing to address homelessness in Placer County and improve the quality of life for residents, the board of supervisors voted unanimously today to pursue a regional approach to addressing homelessness - and approved a ban on open alcohol containers in the county’s unincorporated areas.

The county will solicit proposals from contractors to run the temporary emergency homeless shelter in North Auburn until March 2017, potentially allowing services to continue while a regional plan for longer-term solutions can be developed. Board members applauded the service currently provided by Right Hand Auburn and Volunteers of America, but wanted to have an open competition to ensure the best operation and best use of taxpayer dollars should the board elect to continue shelter operations beyond March 31, 2016.

A presentation by Volunteers of America showed that a significant portion of those using the shelter suffer from either mental health issues, substance abuse issues or both.

"We need to get to the root causes of homelessness,” said District 5 Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery. “Homelessness is caused by a lack of affordable housing, mental illness, substance abuse and domestic violence, largely. We can take on so much more of this societal problem if we address the causes of homelessness and not just the symptoms."

Community groups working with the Homeless Resource Council of the Sierras have identified a need for more low-income and workforce housing, and county staff are expected to make recommendations to the board in the coming weeks on ways to address the need.

This winter, the county solicited a list of suitably-sized properties for a possible permanent shelter in the greater Auburn area to replace the temporary shelter on the Placer County Government Center campus in North Auburn. The board directed staff today to engage in a broader site procurement process, looking at properties in the Auburn area, as well as the southern and eastern Placer County areas.

Placer County’s homeless populations cluster into three general areas: greater Roseville, greater Auburn and eastern Placer County in the Lake Tahoe region. The board directed staff to develop a plan that would provide consistent services in each of the areas before taking steps in any of them individually.

The board further directed county staff to develop a list of resources needed for the Placer County Sheriff’s Office to step up community policing in areas of North Auburn where community members have expressed concern about crime.

“We need more of a show of force in the area,” said Kirk Uhler, supervisor for district 4.

Last month, the board passed new quality of life ordinances addressing graffiti and public urination and defecation. The open container ban is intended to complement those ordinances.

If formally approved by the board at its next meeting, the open container ban would go into effect in March.

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Homebuyer Assistance Program Helps 12 Families Plant Roots in Martis Val-ley

Source: Chris Gray  |  2016-02-04

Twelve families have been able to maintain their roots in the Martis Valley region with the help of the Martis Fund Homebuyer Assistance Program. Launched less than a year ago by the Martis Fund and Placer County with initial funding of $500,000 to help working families find homes in the area, the success of the initial phase has prompted an extension of the program into 2016.

“For many looking to purchase a home in our community, down payment can be a roadblock,” said Jen Spahr of Conway Lending Team, a local lender that provided loans for four of the 12 families participating in the program. “The Martis Fund’s Homebuyer Assistance Program helps bridge the gap and gives local professionals the opportunity to enter our real estate market and plant roots for years to come. The collaborative effort between our team and Placer County’s program administrator, Cathy Donovan, ensures a smooth transaction from application through day of closing. We wholeheartedly believe in this program that has helped many families be proud new homeowners in our community!”

Loans are available for homebuyers working in Placer County east of the Donner Summit or in the Town of Truckee and seeking to buy homes in those areas. The buyer’s household income may not be more than 180 percent of the Placer County median income; this equates to roughly $137,000 for a family of four. Due to the demand for these loans, the Martis Fund recently provided an additional $200,000 for a second phase of the program.

“The homebuyer program has been a remarkable success so far and the county welcomes the additional funding as more and more families apply for support,” said Placer County District 5 Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery, who represents the region. “First responders, school teachers and young professionals face challenges in finding local housing for their families. This program is serving these working families, helping to strengthen our local communities, as well as avoid the environmental costs associated with lengthy commutes.”

Loans may be up to $50,000 or 10 percent of the purchase price, whichever is less. To reduce the day-to-day costs of homeownership, all principal and interest payments on the down payment assistance loans are deferred until the time a home is sold, refinanced or no longer owner occupied.

The program is just the latest example of how the Martis Fund is making a difference in the Martis Valley region. Last year, the Martis Fund provided the first of two installments of support for the Family Resource Center of Truckee’s community housing programs directed at keeping low income families in their homes. “With the Martis Fund’s support we will continue to assist local families with their housing challenges through education and advocacy aimed at preventing eviction, encouraging energy-saving efficiencies and promoting economic stability,” said Teresa Crimmens, Family Resource Center of Truckee executive director.

A collaboration of the DMB/Highlands Group (the developers of Martis Camp), Mountain Area Preservation and Sierra Watch, the Martis Fund was established in 2006 to conserve open space, manage and restore habitat and forest lands and promote opportunities for workforce housing in the Martis Valley region. Now entering its 10th year, the Martis Fund has made more than $6 million in grants to advance workforce housing, habitat and forest restoration and open space conservation.

Placer County is currently accepting applications for the homebuyer program. Loans will be made on a first-come, first-served basis. More information on the program as well as the county’s other housing assistance programs is available here.

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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 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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