Landscaping with tanbark or mulch? Use caution!

Some Silicon Valley homeowners spruce up their yards and gardens in spring and summer with tanbark or mulch. While this is a very common practice, and often encouraged as a drought-friendly gardening option, it can be a bad idea if it is too close to the structure, especially the home’s foundation.

Tanbark is simply small bits of wood, and most common mulch is often no more than shredded wood. Why is that bad? Wood is food for termites and piles of tanbark or mulch can invite and hide them as well!

 

Tanbark or Mulch?

Beware Tanbark or Mulch by the foundation!Mulch is the more widely used term and it can cover a broad scope of materials, but the most common type you will find in stores (and in Bay Area gardens) is the woodchip mulch. If you ask for mulch at a hardware store, this is most likely what they will show you. In the local vernacular, we often refer to mulch as the fine, thin, or decomposed stuff – we have a different name for the larger bark and wood chips.

I learned only recently that tanbark is something of a local term that people from other parts of the state or country may not be familiar with. Here in the Bay Area we call the stuff you commonly see underfoot at playgrounds or piled thick on the planted berms around a shopping mall parking lot by the name of tanbark. Some people may reserve the name for the large chunky bark chips while others will call just about any wood chip substrate by that name. So tanbark is, in fact, a mulch.

Homeowners and sellers wanting their home to make a good first impression are often tempted to apply mulch or tanbark in otherwise bare patches around their yard, but you can wind up with far bigger (and more costly) problems if it’s too close to the foundation!

What Was That About Termites & tanbark or mulch?

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Selling Your Silicon Valley Home? Make Sure Your Front Door Gives a Great First Impression!

Twelve Silicon Valley Doors, shown as black & white (photos by Mary Pope-Handy)

Thinking of selling your Silicon Valley home?  When your house or condo is for sale, curb appeal is crucial because if buyers don’t like what they see on the outside, they will not bother to see what’s on the inside!

It’s hackneyed but true:  “You never get a second chance to make a first impression“.

This is no where more true than with front doors! Staging begins on the front porch.

In my real estate practice, I usually see at least 10 or 15 San Jose, Los Gatos or Saratoga area homes per week – usually many more than that too.  A good, clean front door with nice paint or varnish, no dust, clear glass and sparkling hardware gives a good welcome to your home’s visitors, whether they are coming as prospective buyers or simply as guests.  Amazingly, though, not every home seller gets this basic principle quite right. Very often, front doors are dusty, dirty, in need of paint or perhaps even in need of replacement.

And we’re just scratching the surface!

Exterior home doors found all over Silicon Valley

A home’s front door sends a message. What message does yours give off? Photos by Mary Pope-Handy

Here (to the right) are some doors I’ve encountered in my work as a Silicon Valley Realtor. What do you think of each of these?

Some homes have a “security screen door” in front of the regular front door, which is mostly obscured.  What message does this kind of strong grill give?  If it’s the only one on the street, it might imply that one person nearby has concerns about safety. But if there are several doors like this on the same street or nearby, it can give buyers concerns about the safety of the area.

The black door with the white trim in the center is a typical or average San Jose or Santa Clara County door.  It has a painted exterior and a fan light window on top, which allows some light into the home.  It’s a little more inviting than something without any windows, but there’s no cover for rain or an inviting front porch, either.  This type of door is not super expensive, but it does come across as at least fine, if not “good”.

Some of these doors are not the front door. I once viewed a listing which had access through a scratched up door facing the backyard, and when I shared the photo several people asked if it was a short sale or bank owned property. To everyone’s amazement, no, it’s a “regular sale!”  This kind of introduction to the property, is anything but regular and left far from a good first impression!  It is a discredit to the agent and the seller to put a home on the market with such a terrible first exposure to a property.
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What Is Cellulose Debris (in a pest or termite report)?

Cellulose debris samples - newspaper, mail, parchment, paper ticketIf you read a termite or pest report, you may bump into the phrase “cellulose debris.” What does it mean?

Cellulose Debris

Usually cellulose debris means that there are scraps of wood, sawdust, or bits of wood (possibly paper). It’s any kind of material made of wood.  It could be old form board left in when the foundation was made. Most often, cellulose debris is mentioned as found in the crawl space of a home.  Sometimes it’s infected (meaning there is a wood destroying organism such as termites present), other times it’s simply an invitation for “wood borers” such as termites to come and feast on the wood members that are laid out as a buffet for them. Wait long enough and it might get infected.

Where do you see cellulose debris in a pest inspection?

In our Silicon Valley area, pest reports are normally “separated” into Section 1 and Section 2 findings.  If the cellulose debris is called out as Section 1, that means that there’s an infestation of termites or other wood-destroying organisms present.  If it’s Section 2, that means that it’s not yet infected but is an invitation to trouble and you should get rid of it to prevent future problems.

Pest control operators will suggest that cellulose debris be removed so that termites and other wood eating organisms aren’t attracted to the crawl space or other areas of the home.  It’s possibly a nuisance to get rid of it, but much better to dodge a problem upfront than to wait and have to solve it later.

 

Related articles:

How Often Should You Get A Termite Inspection?

How to prepare for a home inspection in Silicon Valley 

What do you want from your home inspections?

Watch for Dampwood Termites in Silicon Valley!

How is buying a home in Silicon Valley different from in other parts of the country? (Move2SiliconValley relocation site)

 

 

How is that wood siding working out?

Damaged wood sidingWood siding is extremely common in the San Jose area and Silicon Valley as a whole, both on condominiums & townhouses and also on houses.  (We do not see a lot of vinyl siding here, as we might in other parts of the country.) Water is the #1 enemy of houses – even more than termites!  It is necessary to control water intruding into the wood, because if it gets in, fungus and rot can get a start on your home.

How do you prevent  water damage, fungus, and dry rot on wood siding?

Exterior wood needs to be painted about every five years or it can crack, peel, and otherwise allow moisture intrusion. If the wood is kept sealed, it can do very well against water. Another big cause of expensive wood repairs outdoors is earth to wood contact.  If you have ever built a fence, or had one made for you, you’ve probably seen that the best practice is to put the wooden posts into concrete rather than directly into the dirt.  The reason is simple: soil gets damp and the wood will wick up the moisture, whether it’s fence boards, posts, part of a wooden deck, or the siding on your home.  If the siding or other wood comes near the soil, the recommendation is to separate them one way or the other. In the photo I’ve included with this article, the siding of this townhome complex was allowed to touch the earth.  You can see the results: expensive repairs needed! The old saying goes that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of curse”.  It’s especially true with caring for wood siding and other times of wood on the outside of your home or in your yard.   If you can remember to do a walk-around every few months, at least twice a year, you are more likely to find the beginnings of issues before they become thousands of dollars.  Keep a schedule for painting and make sure you do it before it looks like it’s needed.  If you wait until there’s chipping and cracking, you may already have trouble!  Watch for earth to wood contact, and rake away the soil or take other measures to protect your siding. This is true for owners of townhomes too.  It seems like decades ago, home owner associations were often responsible for siding, but in the last few years I’ve been finding more and more HOAs make that the owner’s responsibility, even if the HOA is in charge of the painting schedule.    Make sure that you have a look at your siding regularly so that you can stop fungus and dry rot in their tracks and prevent a small headache from becoming extremely costly. Finally, it’s a good idea to have a pest inspection (termite inspection) every 3 to 5 years to nip any issues in the bud. Related reading: What Is Cellulose Debris (in a pest or termite report)?