Blog :: 04-2014

Asheville Gardens: What I Learned

Posted in Real Gardens by rlentz | From:

The darkest of winter is my favorite time to pore through photos of lush gardens I've visited and find inspiration for changes to my own garden.  So here are my most inspiring images from the gardens of Asheville, North Carolina, which I visited last May.

The first four photos are of the most gorgeous little inn I've ever seen, just blocks from downtown.  The innkeepers told me they maintain this small but plant-packed garden themselves, which I can't imagine having time to do PLUS run a business.  My group (75 garden writers from across the U.S.) couldn't get enough of their creation.  There are more photos on the inn's website.

An abundance of conifers means this garden looks great every day of the year.

Next, a large private garden miles from the city, where the orange blooms of deciduous native azaleas stand out in a sea of green.

One tip I took away from this garden was to plant climbing hydrangea in a sunny spot and then let it do its thing.  Another is to plant bamboo (which I've never grown) and to use its aggressiveness as an excuse to buy a fabulous blue pot to put it in.

Another idea to find a small but up-close space to create an awesome collection of groundcovers, like this one along a walkway.  Another is to combine a sun-loving Sedum, like the chartreuse 'Angelina' below, with a plant I'd usually confine to a shade garden - Heuchera.  What a great color combo!

From the same garden, the succulent-filled metal planter below is something I replicated (sorta) as soon as I got home.  It's a great way to avoid the extra watering required by growing plants in containers (where they dry out faster than in the ground).  These plants probably don't need any supplemental watering at all.

Below is the curbside garden in front of a bank in downtown Asheville that I stopped to admire.  This professionally designed gem is packed with smart plant choices and design details we can try at home.  Note the tough but gorgeous plants like Skypencil  hollies, Osmanthus, spireas, junipers and daylilies.  And great boulders, of course.

Another attraction in downtown Asheville are the many garden-type murals adorning so many otherwise ugly blank walls.  Paint and other non-plant materials can be cheap, fast and charming in a garden.

Finally, I took away one idea from the vastness of the Biltmore Estate gardens, and that's the use of big, dramatic tropical plants, like the bananas and cannas below.  Even in my tiny new garden I'll be growing a few of these guys next year.

A lesson I WISH I could use in my own garden is to use views to their best advantage.   So, if my garden overlooked the Blue Ridge Mountains I'd create an opening in the trees just like this one, to maximize that view.

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Earth Day: Asheville Leads America's Greenest Dining Destinations



By: Jeff Biggers

While restaurants in western North Carolina have long been in the forefront of the local foods "farm to table" movement, a unique collaboration between the Blue Ridge Sustainability Institute (BRSI) and the Asheville Independent Restaurant (AIR) Association places North Carolina's popular mountain town into the front ranks of "America's Greenest Dining Destinations."

"The community spirit and commitment to collaboration among these restaurateurs is remarkable," noted Tim Ballard, BRSI's Green Restaurant project manager.

Going beyond light bulbs and good intentions on this year's upcoming Earth Day, April 22, an extraordinary array of restaurants has taken a huge step and signed on to a "comprehensive green restaurant certification program," dealing with larger issues of waste management, energy efficiency and chemical reductions to water. With a focus on sustainability, participants are also taking part in a "buddy system" on local suppliers, green ideas and clean energy developments.

"The Asheville restaurants understand going green is the right thing to do," said Randy Talley, co-owner of the Green Sage and founding Chair of the AIR Green Team. "It's good for the community, good for the planet, and good for our bottom line."

Using seed money from both the North Carolina Green Business Council Fund and the federal American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, the private/public initiative seeks to significantly shift operations toward clean energy sources and stands to reduce annual energy consumption by an estimated 3 billion BTUs.

Earlier this spring, in fact, local protests targeted a deadly coal-fired plant serving Asheville and western North Carolina, which has been singled out for toxic coal ash issues and reliance on coal stripmined from mountaintop removal operations.

"We know that it takes a community working together to create positive change," said Erika Schneider, Outreach Coordinator for the solar installer Sundance Power Systems. "The green restaurant project is the perfect example."

As part of a "true collaboration" across the region, according to nationally acclaimed Asheville filmmaker Adams Wood, the restaurants "opened their doors and roof hatches for our cameras and shared their passion." Along with fellow award-winning filmmaker Rod Murphy, their Industrious Productions company put this together "Dine Green, Asheville" video sampler. Murphy noted: "We were struck by the energy and enthusiasm of BRSI and AIR. We realized that there was a genuine sense of community empowerment -- we wanted to help them get that story out to a larger audience, mainly because we think it can serve as a model for other communities."

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Practical Passive Solar Examples in Asheville and More..

By Leigha Dickens



The MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR is on its way to my lovely little mountain (Asheville, NC) town this very weekend. (If you're going to be there, you can catch my workshop on Net-Zero home design on Sunday afternoon!) In preparation, I was tasked by our marketing department to look through some of the various green homes we've built in the area and pull together the highlights of their green features. As usual, I wanted to list all kind of nerdy exciting details of heat transfer coefficients and Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratings...and was told, with my marketing department's usual patience, to cut a bit for simplicity and clarity. In doing that, one thing really stood out me. All these homes had one salient feature in common, one aspect to their design that really augmented their claim to green fame.


That feature is passive solar design.


Blogs and articles abound about passive solar design principles. If you're a regular MOTHER EARTH NEWS reader, I'm sure you've heard of it. My aim today then, is not to explain it, but to celebrate it. It's darn neat to see how many of our houses have put passive solar design into practice! Especially here, in a southeastern climate, where cooling is just as important a consideration as heating, and high humidity can be a concern.


A Quiet Mountain Retreat


Passive solar home in the mountains of North Carolina


This home, located here in Asheville in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, still has to contend with some hot summer days. Being built on a densely wooded lot helps greatly with the cooling side of things, as does the metal shingle roof, which is an Energy Star cool roofs product whose low emissivity helps keep the sun's heat that it's pelted with all day, out of the attic.


Yet the house is shaded by deciduous trees, which lose their leaves in winter. Following classic passive solar design principles, we made sure that the open living, kitchen, and dining area faced south, and we put an appropriate amount of window glass in that living room, three Marvin Integrity wood-ultrex windows at 6 foot wide and 4 feet tall, with a 2 foot deep overhang to shade them in summer but keep them un-shaded in winter. We used Marvin's "Low-E 180" glass coating that lets in 57 percent of the sun's heat, as opposed to only 20 percent to 30 percent as is common with standard Low-E coatings. We made sure all that incoming solar heat was put to good use with an acid-stained concrete floor to act as a thermal battery. I remember standing in front of those windows on a 20 degree day in winter, after the house had been insulating but before the heating system had been installed, and feeling so comfortable.


A Coastal Bungalow


Sun-tempered home in coastal NC


This home, in warm and humid yet still occasionally chilly coastal North Carolina, uses "sun-tempered" design--what I like to think of as Passive Solar Lite. Sun-tempered design features some south facing glass and appropriate shading overhangs, but does not incorporate thermal mass. It can be a practical design strategy for those who want some passive heating benefit but do not want to have a concrete floor or use other interior thermal mass designs.


Pictured here with snow on the ground, this homeowner had to design for heating and cooling concerns alike. Expansive south-facing windows--deemed essential by the homeowner t to capture their view--were shaded with a nearly 4-feet deep overhang, keeping the ratio of un-shaded winter south-facing glass to floor area at 6 percent, the maximum that is recommended in a design that does not incorporate additional thermal mass. East and west facing windows, which can let in a considerable amount of low angle sun, were used sparingly, and shaded, when use at all, by deep covered porches. Energy Star certified windows, 2x6 thick walls and a layer exterior insulation helped this home far exceed the insulation values required by energy code for the area, holding heat inside in winter while keeping it out in summer. A high efficiency heat pump and air conditioning system, properly designed and commissioned, rounded out this home's practical energy design.


A Solar House


A solar house in the Virginia Blue Ridge


This home was designed for solar in every way. Passive solar, of course, with the usual contingent of south-facing glass, overhang shading, extra insulation, and thermal mass - but it was designed for active solar too, with a solar water and space heating system, and solar electric system. To hit their goals of being nearly net-zero in their energy use, these homeowners did all of this, tucked away in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, without installing an air-conditioning system. To passively keep the house cool use of light colored finishes, very minimal east or west facing windows, combined with a fan system designed to exhaust warm air at night through a high attic fan.


Crucial in all of these home designs was avoiding the overuse of glass on the south side. I have been far too many beautiful, well-intentioned passive solar homes in this area whose living areas became unbearable in spring, fall, and even winter, because of the large amount of glass used. Passive solar design techniques originally came out of the desert southwest--with high day/night temperature swings--and out of cold climates, with an intense focus on heating. It is a design principle that can work great here in the southeast; too, it just takes a little bit of different thought.

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12 Home Deductions to Help Shrink Your Tax Bill


As tax time is quickly approaching, you may be doing the last-minute scramble to pull together all your receipts, deductions, and income statements.  But in the rush, you may be overlooking significant tax savings that homeownership can bring if you're planning to itemize your deductions this year.  Already done with your taxes? The good news is that these are 12 tax saving tips you can plan ahead for -- and utilize next year, too!

Mortgage Deduction The tax code allows homeowners to deduct the mortgage interest from their tax obligations. For many people, this is a huge deduction since interest payments can be the largest component of your mortgage payment in the early years of owning a home.

Some Closing Cost Deductions The first year you buy your home, you're able to claim the points (also called origination fees) on your loan, whether they're paid by you or by the seller. And because origination fees of 1 percent or more are common, the savings are considerable.

Property Tax Is Deductible Real estate property taxes paid on your primary residence and a vacation home are fully deductible for income tax purposes.

Tax Deductions on Home Equity Lines In addition to your mortgage interest, you can deduct the interest you pay on a home equity loan (or line of credit). This allows you to shift your credit card debts to your home equity loan, pay a lower interest rate than the horrendously exorbitant credit card interest rates, and get a deduction on the interest as well.

Refinancing costs This one's tricky, but it can lead to big savings.  If you paid points for a refi, that amount is tax deductible. But remember, you have to spread that cost out over the term of the loan - and only take a credit for the adjusted amount each year.

Home Sweet Second Home You can also claim a mortgage interest deduction on a second home.  Don't forget to adhere to this guideline: You can only write off the interest of the total mortgage debt of BOTH your first and second homes up to $1.1 million.  Property taxes are also deductible.

Plan a Short Rental If you rent out your second home for less than 14 days, that income is all yours and not taxable.  And even if you go for the big bucks -- renting for $5,000 or $10,000 a week -- it still stays in your pocket.  But if those guests want to stay past 14 days or you rent for more than 14 days total during the year, all that rental income is now taxable.

You Get A Capital Gains Exclusion If you buy a home as your primary residence to live in for more than two years, then you will qualify. When you sell, you can keep profits up to $250,000 if you're single, or $500,000 if you're married, and not owe any capital gains taxes. It may sound ridiculous that your house could be worth more now than when you purchased it, considering these past few years of falling prices, but if you purchased your home any time prior to 2003, chances are it has appreciated in value, and this tax benefit will come in very handy.

Didn't See That Coming If you sell in less than two years but move more than 50 miles away because of work relocation, health reasons, or certain unforeseen circumstances, you can pro-rate the taxes on your profit. That means you can keep 25, 50, or 75 percent of your profit, tax-free, depending on how long you have owned your house -- as long as it has been your primary residence.

Improving For Your Health You can deduct the cost of home improvements required for medical care for you, your spouse, or dependents.   For example, these are some items that qualify: entrance ramps, installing railings, adjusting the height of electrical fixtures to accommodate wheelchairs, and sometimes, even adding a Jacuzzi tub, if it's recommend by a doctor.

The Home Office Just Got Simpler Do you have a room or a specific area of your home that is designated exclusively for your home office? One that would qualify as your primary place of business or serve as the location where you see patient or clients? In the past, this deduction was cumbersome to calculate. But under the new tax rules, you simply deduct $5 per square foot of designated home office space -- that's up to 300 square feet. Do the math, and you'll find the rules allow you to deduct up to $1,500.

Going Green Saves You Green New energy-efficient improvements can save you two ways.  Not only are you knocking down your utility bills, but Uncle Sam gives you thumbs up in the form of a tax deduction. If you make any significant improvements to your home that contribute to higher energy efficiency,  like installing new double-paned windows, attic insulation, a new roof, or new exterior doors, you can deduct up to 10% of the cost (up to a maximum of $500). If you upgrade to any energy-efficient equipment, you get a credit of 30% of the cost. Think big ticket items like solar panels, geothermal heat pumps, solar water heaters, and wind-energy systems.  You may also want to check locally to see if you can get some additional state tax breaks a well!


By: Michael Corbett

Affordable Ways to Green Your Renovation Project

Click for Image Source

Greening your home renovation doesn't have to be an expensive undertaking. Many energy-saving upgrades will pay for themselves over the life of the home. Additionally, when it comes to recouping your expenses at the sale of the property, eco-friendly features give you a competitive edge, which you can possibly turn into a net gain at closing. Check out these key ways to keep your renovation project on the environmental up and up and maybe save some cash in the process.

Insulation and weather stripping

When choosing insulation, opt for the highest R-rating appropriate for your area. R-ratings are the industry measurement for insulation thickness. The higher the R-rating, the thicker the insulation and the better job it does regulating temperatures throughout your home. If you aren't ready to replace old doors and windows, consider shoring up leaks with some inexpensive weather-stripping.

Energy-efficient appliances

The U.S. Department of Energy gives an ENERGY STAR-rating to home appliances that are energy efficient. When you're shopping for new appliances, look for the ENERGY STAR logo and compare estimated annual operating costs.

Water-conserving fixtures

Low-flow doesn't necessarily mean low-pressure. Modern water-efficient fixtures offer comfort and conservation. Look for low-flow faucets, showerheads and toilets or add aerators to existing fixtures to save on your annual water costs.

On-site energy generation

Solar panels and residential wind turbines are definitely on the high end of energy-saving upgrades. If you've already made your home as efficient as possible and are looking for ways to consume even less, on-site generation may be the solution for you. Look for regional, state and federal incentive programs to help with financing or tax breaks on the cost of your generation system. If your utility offers a net metering program you can even get paid for the energy you feed back into the grid. The greatest advantage to generating your own electricity is in having a reliable alternative power source for when the grid goes down.

Green-scape your space

Planting native vegetation in your yard is not only eco-friendly, it can save you time and money on maintenance. Native plants can thrive with little help from you. You can save money on watering, fertilizing and even seasonal replanting. Bonus: Planting native shade trees near your home can help keep your living space cooler in the summer months and save you money on your electric bill.

Low- or no-VOC products

VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, are toxic chemicals often found in household paints, primers, lacquers and even some types of carpeting and upholstery. As these compounds break down, they off-gas toxins into the air inside your home. Inhaling these toxins can wreak havoc on your lungs. Choosing low- or no-VOC products helps keep the air inside your home clean and breathable.

Save money while saving the planet

While environmentally responsible renovations may cost more than their standard counterparts, these measures can save you lots of money on home-energy costs over the years, help you breathe easier or even rest easier knowing you've helped conserve precious natural resources. The 2%-4% more that you spend upfront for eco-friendly options can save you more than double that on the back end. Energy-efficient upgrades can save you anywhere from 5%-50% on home energy costs. Reducing the amount of energy you use saves money without sacrificing your family's comfort. When it comes to increasing your home's value, eco-friendly upgrades can be a big help. Explore the U.S. Department of Energy's ENERGY STAR home ratings or LEED certification for a whole-home renovation to see if your home could qualify for one of these green endorsements. LEED-certified homes have been reported to have a 9% higher sale price than non-LEED certified homes. The University of California study estimates that a $10,000 investment in green upgrades can raise the resale value of a home an average of $34,800. That ROI is huge, especially when you compare it to an average reported loss of 38% on traditional mid-range projects in 2011-12.

By Tara Copeland From:

Top 10 Cities to Visit for Earth Day in 2014 -Asheville on the list!

If you're looking for the ultimate Earth Day celebration this year, you've come to the right place. has scoured the country in search for the best cities to visit this year for Earth Day. When it comes to celebrating all that's green, these cities are going above and beyond all the rest.


1. Austin, TX Austin is known for being an all-around green city so it should come as no surprise that the city does it up right for Earth Day. The free Austin Earth Day Festival, which takes place April 26, will have more than 75 booths, a handful of environmental speakers, sustainable demonstrations, countless kids' activities and entertainment including Bollywood and Flamenco dancers.

Even Austin businesses take part in Earth Day celebrations. On April 22, dozens of business will contribute to the Give 5% To Mother Earth campaign. Participating business will donate 5 percent of their profits on Earth Day to seven environmental nonprofits in the area.

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2. St. Louis, MO St. Louis offer's one of the nation's largest Earth Day events, with 30,000 to 40,000 attendees each year. The city kicks off the party April 26 with food and live music. And on April 27 the celebration continues with a festival, which features sustainable products from local businesses as well as local musicians and performance artists. Part of the event's draw is its recycling program, dubbed REX. Through the program, attendees can bring their hard-to-recycle items, such as bicycles, household fixtures and mattresses to recycle for free.


3. Philadelphia, PA Philly will be teeming with Earth Day events for you to attend. The city's largest Earth Day activity, the 5K for Clean Air, will take place April 19. The Penn Institute for Urban Research will host a free lecture "Mapping Our Global Future" on Earth Day. And the National Constitution Center will host its own Earth Day celebration. Eco-friendly organizations will be at the event to teach attendees about locally grown foods, preserving the park systems, protecting homes from toxins and what being green has to do with the Constitution.


4. Houston, TX Houston isn't waiting for Earth Day to start celebrating the planet. The city will host its Earth Day Houston festival on April 12 this year. The free event, sponsored by Waste Management, will focus on entertaining and educating families on the importance of sustainable living. Activities for children and adults will revolve around environmental awareness highlighting healthy living, wildlife, habitat, air, land, water and sustainability.


5. Asheville, NC This small city, tucked in the mountainous region of North Carolina, is always a fun place for eco-enthusiasts to hang out. Not only does Asheville offer an abundance of outdoor activities, from hiking to kayaking, the city is vegetarian-friendly and places significance on carbon reduction. So it should come as no surprise that the city stretches its Earth Day activities over an entire week.

Asheville Earth Week is a 10-day event with a number of activities designed to promote sustainability, green living and environmental awareness. The festivities begin April 12 with a River Clean Up hosted by Sierra Nevada Brewing Company and a number of earth-friendly activities will continue throughout the week. The city's annual festival will take place April 19, complete with music, crafts and food vendors.

By: Brittany Williams


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Written by Blanche Evans



A lot of sellers don't listen to their real estate agents, so we'll tell you what your agent wants to say, but can't say to you and this is it - your agent can't get you the price you want unless your home is in pristine move-in condition.


That means no sticking drawers in the kitchen. No leaning fences. No rust-stained plumbing fixtures. We could go on, but maybe we need to make it clear. If you have even one of following "turn-offs," your home won't sell.


Buyers can get instantly turned off. Here are their five biggest turn-offs:


1. Overpricing for the market



2. Smells

3. Clutter

4. Deferred maintenance

5. Dark, dated décor

Edmonton Home Staging Example of Bad Decor

Click the images above for more information on each "turn-off" and for ways to improve.


Overpricing your home


Overpricing your home is like trying to crash the country club without a membership. You'll be found out and escorted out.


If you ignored your agent's advice and listed at a higher price than recommended, you're going to get some negative feedback from buyers. The worst feedback, of course, is silence. That could include no showings and no offers.


The problem with overpricing your home is that the buyers who are qualified to buy your home won't see it because they're shopping in a lower price range. The buyers who do it will quickly realize that there are other homes in the same price range that offer more value.




Smells can come from a number of sources - pets, lack of cleanliness, stale air, water damage, and much more. You may not even notice it, but your real estate agent may have hinted to you that something needs to be done.


There's not a buyer in the world that will buy a home that smells unless they're investors looking for a bargain. Even so, they'll get a forensic inspection to find out the source of the smells. If they find anything like undisclosed water damage, or pet urine under the "new" carpet, then they will either severely discount their offer or walk away.




If your tables are full to the edges with photos, figurines, mail, and drinking glasses, buyers' attention is going to more focused on running the gauntlet of your living room without breaking any Hummels than in considering your home for purchase.


Too much furniture confuses the eye - it makes it really difficult for buyers to see the proportions of rooms. If they can't see what they need to know, they move on to the next home.


Deferred maintenance


Deferred maintenance is a polite euphemism for letting your home fall apart. Just like people age due to the effects of the sun, wind and gravity, so do structures like your home. Things wear out, break and weather, and it's your job as a homeowner to keep your home repaired.


Your buyers really want a home that's been well-maintained. They don't want to wonder what needs to fixed next or how much it will cost.


Dated décor


The reason people are looking at your home instead of buying brand new is because of cost and location. They want your neighborhood, but that doesn't mean they want a dated-looking home. Just like they want a home in good repair, they want a home that looks updated, even if it's from a different era.


Harvest gold and avocado green from the seventies; soft blues and mauves from the eighties, jewel tones from the nineties, and onyx and pewter from the oughts are all colorways that can date your home. Textures like popcorn ceilings, shag or berber carpet, and flocked wallpaper can also date your home.


When you're behind the times, buyers don't want to join you. They want to be perceived as savvy and cool.


In conclusion, the market is a brutal mirror. if you're guilty of not putting money into your home because you believe it's an investment that others should pay you to profit, you're in for a rude awakening. You'll be stuck with an asset that isn't selling.


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