When I put up my post about our new solar power system the other day, I forgot to include some aerial images I took of the new setup. So, here they are:
This summer, Mary and I looked at and made a commitment to do something big on the house: We agreed to install a solar power system.
Solar power is getting pretty big everywhere, and here in Upstate New York is no exception. Locally, there is a group called Southern Tier Solar Works that has been promoting home solar power and they put together a very interesting proposition: A buying pool that, as more people got on board, allowed the price per watt (the typical way systems are priced) to drop because of the volume purchased. The company behind the buying pool was a longstanding renewable energy company called ETM Solar Works. Combined with the available Federal and State incentives, the cost of the system fell into a range that made a lot of financial sense for us to pursue. We signed up at the beginning of June, when the price was $4.50/watt, but eventually (as the pool passed the milestones), the cost went down to $4.25/watt. Our system was installed in October. (Click continue to read the rest of the story and see installation pictures.)
In the early summer, we supported a Kickstarter project for a really awesome idea: bringing back the “sleek suburban” mailbox. My grandparents had one of those mailboxes (pictures here), so I was pretty excited to have the chance to get one back. It’s a classic mid-century design.
At the end of September, that order came through and we got our brand new Modbox. It took a few days to get everything installed as I had to set the post (truth time: I had to do it more than once as I didn’t account for the effect of the slanted post originally) but, well, it looks awesome. Originally we had planned on getting the red\black combination, but we changed to the grey\black when ordering because the red would have been a very different shade from the brick on the exterior of the house.
I’ve been talking with Greg Kelly, the guy behind the Modbox, about an add-on: a “paper box” (we get a free local weekly newspaper here, but it can’t be placed in the mailbox itself per law.) He said I’m not the only one to ask, and he’s looking to get one designed to potentially bolt in between the post with the box sitting on top of it. I’m anxious for that, too. Thanks Greg for the work making Modbox a reality!
Here are the progress shots:
Our house has a lot of steps – to get in the front door, it’s two steps up. Same for the kitchen. Going through the garage, it’s three steps down. These aren’t very large steps, but at different points in time it’s been mentioned (when my Grandparents were here) that a railing would be good, especially on the kitchen steps. My grandmother and grandfather bickered about the need for a railing for awhile (she wanted he, he didn’t think it necessary) until one day my Grandfather hired a handyman to stick a wooden railing on the kitchen door.
It wasn’t much to look at, but it did the job:
Given all the work I was doing on the landscaping this summer, though, I wasn’t going to let a wooden railing stand that wasn’t mid-century compatible. It didn’t go with the house at all and it wasn’t exactly super expensive to add a railing that matches the black steel interior railings (and exterior lighting) around the house. One day driving this summer I saw a road sign for a local place, called Hessler Steps and Rails. A quick call and quote later I had railings on order for both the kitchen door and front door. It took about four weeks for Rudy Hessler to get it fabricated and installed (busy time of year), but they do a lot to complete the exterior of the house and tie everything together. I’m thinking next year on the kitchen steps I will resurface the treads so they have a finish similar to the recently parged foundation wall. Originally the bottom step had a concrete landing as well that was asphalted over – that will also be restored eventually too.
One other thing to note: these are welded steel railings. This is not the cheap stuff you can go pick up and bolt together from Home Depot or Lowe’s. I see a lot of those around and they really don’t hold up well at all. It costs a little more (these railings ran about $450 installed), but they will last a lifetime and are very sturdy. They also match our interior railings:
In my last post, I started a two-part story of the big summer 2014 landscaping project. This project had a lot of moving parts in it, primarily because once started, there were a bunch of related projects that “while we’re in there” may as well be taken care of.
In my previous post, I detailed the early work – tearing out the old landscaping and getting some needed foundation parging work completed while access we easy. I also rectified a problem with a gutter that could overflow in the wrong place, and reset the basement window wells. After all of that I had to make some plans for landscaping. One of the big challenges for us is that the deer in our neighborhood are particularly ravenous. This meant a lot of research and help choosing appropriate landscaping. In addition, I was particular in that the landscaping that did get put in was smaller, compact, and aside from periodic basic maintenance (raking leaves, putting in some mulch), it would not grow out of control if not continually pruned. This was a problem with the previous landscaping, as you can see in one of the “before” pictures below.
Ironically, this is nothing compared to what it looked like before the new 1997 landscaping was put in. Those shrubs were comically large by the time they were pulled out.
To finish preparing our plant beds, I had more work to do. I re-graded all of the beds, ensuring they were all sloped appropriately, building correct draining channels in the event of gutter overflows, and creating edging. I went back and forth for quite awhile over what edging to use. I originally was planning on using staked aluminum edging. While expensive, it would be very precise. In the end though, my neighbor had a large stack of bluestone he didn’t want. His house has a large bluestone retaining wall and over the years different stones had been replaced or moved. Our house already features a lot of bluestone, and I realized this would be the best edging for us. I spend a few days setting the stones across the large front planting bed and carried the edging down the side of the house – another long-term goal is to “complete” the landscaping by carrying it appropriately around the entire house, and not just the front. Doing this took care of one side, and next I will be adding a bluestone sidewalk on the other side.
Once the edging was in place, I took a swing out to a local nursery – Tioga Gardens – and talked to them about my options. They gave me a nice list of plants and shrubs that fit the bill. In the end, here are the plants we chose and why:
Hummingbird Summersweet – This is a shade loving plant that provides lots of fragrant white flowers in July. It’s right in the corner of the front of the house where it stays shaded a lot of the day. And it only grows 3-4 feet tall and about the same width. This plant is deciduous and therefore will be bare in the winter.
Tamukeyama Japanese Maple – Mary was insistent that we have a Japansese Maple in the landscaping, so this one was placed on the outside of the main planting bed. This variety of Japanese maple will grow to a height of 6-8 feet, and roughly the same width when fully grown. It can be pruned easily and shaped. It does not grow very quickly.
Wedding Ring Boxwood – Four of these in an arc form the “middle row” of the main plant bed. They are a very compact boxwood, with yellow leaf edges and green centers, giving a lot of visual interest. They only grow 2-3 feet tall and require little pruning.
Blue Fescue grass – Several of these ornamental grasses were planted last year when we were just tiding over the landscaping, but we liked them enough to keep them. As their name implies, they have a bluish green tint. Because our house is red brick, this color provides a nice contrast. They also stay low to the ground, growing only about 1-2 feet and therefore make up the front row.
Petunias – The remainder of the primary plant bed will be filled in the summer with flowers such as petunias for summer-long color.
Green Gem Boxwood – In the front of the house along the driveway we planted a pair of these boxwoods. They are an all green variety, and also keep themselves very neat and compact.
Blue Star Juniper – These were used along the driveway. Unlike the previous shrubs, these are low maintenance and keep themselves low to the ground. They will ultimately be 1-2 feet tall and 2-3 feet wide. They offer year-round blue-green color.
Blue Star Juniper on a “standard” – Mary and I saw these when browsing and were pretty excited to put them in the landscaping. The grower takes a blue star juniper and grafts it onto a straight root stalk from another plant. The juniper plant then grows into a globe. They look really cool, and we planted a pair of them alongside the kitchen door.
Astilbe – This is one of the few holdover perennials from the old landscaping. Astible produces very nice colorful flower stalks from mid to late summer. Every few years you need to dig them up, cull and separate them, but we put these into the shade corner right next to the garage.
White Mountain Shasta Daisies – We put a few of these daisy plants in the mix. They produce flowers nearly all season from spring to fall. I’m writing this at the end of October and there are still flower buds trying to come out. (the frost keeps nipping them back.) This daisy plant stays compact, is 1-2 feet tall, makes great cut flowers, and requires little maintenance.
May Night Meadow Sage – This is sage as in the same spice family. Sage produces very nice fragrant flower spikes from mid-summer through September. It has characteristics similar to the shasta daisy – it’s compact, grows 1-2 feet tall, and requires little maintenance.
Pink Sapphire Coreopsis – This plant produces nice pinkish flowers from summer into fall. It shares similar characteristics to the other two flowers.
Bearded Iris – My grandmother had tons of bearded iris in several beds. They had not been divided in many years so they weren’t flowering any longer. I have taken several dozen and placed them into the landscaping. Over the next few years they should provide a good show.
Bulb variety – We set aside some space in the landscaping – particularly at the corner of the driveway, around the lampposts, and around the new Modbox mailbox for good bulb plantings. Bulbs include Snowdrops (very, very early white flowers), Crocus (also very early), Daffodils (both early and late spring varieties), and Hyacinths (early spring flowers.) The idea for flowers is to create a variety of flowers that bloom consistently from early spring through the fall: snowdrops, crocus, daffodils, hyacinths, lilac, iris, peonies, daisies, sage, coreopsis.
By next year, I should have the new bluestone sidewalk from the driveway around the garage to the back patio completed, which will also give us another set of beds for planting and complete the landscaping “all around” the house.
Here are pictures showing the progress including before and afters:
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