Are You Ready for Glow-in-the-Dark Trees?

They’re no longer science fiction. A team of California biologists has already created glowing plants, and now they’re working on glowing trees.

We’re big proponents of trees as energy savers — they create shade and wind breaks for your home. So how would you like a tree that actually illuminates your landscaping at night for free?

Glow-in-the-dark trees are more than a glimmer now that a California biologist, Antony Evans, and his colleagues have inserted genes from bioluminescent bacteria into plants. They’ve found that the bioengineered flora grows and glows. It’s the first step to growing glowing trees that can light streets and your front yard, and save energy.

Backers loved the idea of glow-in-the-dark plants. Evans had hoped to raise $65,000 through a Kickstarter campaign. But the Kickstarters pledged over $484,000.

What does this mean to homeowners who want to substitute a glowing tree or rosebush for their porch light? Nothing, yet. Trees take a long time to grow and to demonstrate which bioengineering techniques work and which fizzle. So don’t expect a glowing elm anytime soon.

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Luxury Living in South Texas: This Week's Featured Listing from our Office

Your Backyard View
 This exclusively designed Mediterranean style home is perfect for entertaining and an active waterfront lifestyle. From the double boat house to the private pool, the guest casita to the veranda. This 4,100 sq ft, 4 Bedroom 4 ½ bath home is incredible. You'll love the recessed custom lighting, twelve foot vaulted ceilings, graceful arches and warm granite counters. If the price is right at $1,250,00 is right for you, this home could be yours

Spring Cleaning Tips for your Computer

It's that time of year again. Time for spring cleaning, but don't overlook your computer. Performing regular maintenance on your computer may not give you the same satisfaction as cleaning out your closet, but the time you spend optimizing your computer's performance can reduce stress and may even boost your productivity.

Don't know where to begin? Here's a start to get your PC or Mac running smoothly again.

PC Clean-up  101

Visit to view step-by-step instructions for your specific version of Windows.
  1. Run Check Disk: Each time your computer crashes, it can create hard drive errors that will slow it down. The Check Disk program is a tool that comes with your operating system. It will fix those errors and speed things up.

  2. Run Disk Cleanup: As you surf the web, your computer creates temporary files that can bog down your system over time. Windows Disk Cleanup will delete these files for you.

  3. De-fragment Your Hard Drive: Ever wonder what it really means to have a fragmented file? Your computer stores bits and pieces of files in different sectors on your hard drive. De-fragmenting puts those pieces back in the proper order, allowing your software applications to run faster.

  4. Security and Software Updates: Hopefully you have your PC set up to automatically install or run updates. If not, be sure to manually install all updates on a regular basis to ensure optimal performance. If you skip this step, you may leave gaping security holes that could make your system vulnerable to viruses and other types of malware.

  5. Back Up Your Computer: Whether you are using a third party back-up provider or your own external hard drive, be sure to back up your data regularly.
Most of these functions can be found in the Control Panel, under the Performance, System, or Security areas. Each version of Windows is a bit different, so after accessing the Control Panel from the Start button, you may need to do a bit of hunting to find what you need. You can also use the Search feature to help locate the actions you would like to perform.

Mac Clean-up

  1. Run Disk Utility: This free Mac tool built into OS X ensures your disks are organized and performing well.

    • Click "Verify Disk Permissions."
    • When that is complete, click "Repair Disk Permissions."
    • Disk Utility may take some time (depending on how often you run it), so it's best to do this task when you don't need to use your computer for a while.

  2. Security and Software Updates: Hopefully you have your Mac set up to automatically install or run updates. If not, be sure to manually install all updates on a regular basis to ensure optimal performance.

  3. Back Up Your Computer: Whether you are using a third party back-up provider or your own external hard drive, be sure to back up your data regularly.
Taking these simple steps monthly may help keep your computer running more efficiently and reduce the calls to tech support.

Luxury Living in South Texas - This Week's Featured Listing From our Office

Gorgeous contemporary home on .4 acres on a cul-de-sac. This home has plenty of space for everyone. 5 bedrooms, 5 full baths and 2 half baths, 4 car oversize garage. Open floorplan with tons of light.

Special bonus features include a 10x10 exercise room, 12x10 loft, true gourmet kitchen with a huge granite counter island and a refreshing pool. The master bedroom is on first floor with 3 other bedrooms down. Second level includes the guest bedroom, bath and a gameroom. up.

This expansive home of 4600+ sq.ft. home could be yours for a mere $879,000

4 Ways to Avoid Foundation Problems

Until it cracks or leaks, most of us don’t think about our home’s foundation. That’s our first mistake.
When cracks and leaks show up, you’ve already created or ignored problems that damage foundations, says Stan Gatland, manager of CertainTeed’s building science technology department.

Here are mistakes that can cause foundation woes and, if unresolved, can make matters worse.

1. Grading gaffes

Poor soil excavation can direct water toward the base of your house and through foundation walls. Make sure your yard is graded at least 6 inches in 10 feet so soil slopes away from your house.

You may have to build up a berm, dig a trench, or install a French drain to funnel rainwater and runoff away from your home. Also, be careful when you apply mulch on foundation plants. Make sure that slopes away from your home, too.

2. Downspout downer

Downspouts should direct rain and roof runoff away from your house. But if you don’t extend the downspout 5 to 10 feet away from the house, you’ll dump water on your foundation. You can buy extenders from plain ($15) to fancy ($30). Or bury a long downspout diverter underground and drain the water to the curb, a storm drain, or to a spot in your yard where the water will percolate into the soil.

3. Water woes

Avoid letting the soil around your house completely dry out and shrink during a long dry spell. The next big rain could soak the soil, making it expand dramatically and putting stress on your foundation walls. In drought, run a soaker hose around your house at least 6 inches from the foundation and 3 inches under the soil. That should help quiet soil contraction and expansion.

4. Root riotsTree and shrub roots can compete with your soil for moisture during drought, causing your foundation to settle and sink unevenly. When that happens, drywall can crack and windows and doors will stick in their frames.

To prevent a war for water, plant deep-rooted trees and shrubs away from the house. If the branches touch the house, the tree is too close.

Source: 4 Ways to Avoid Foundation Problems by Lisa Kaplan Gordon
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Luxury Living in South Texas - This Week's Featured Listing From our Office

The circular driveway leads you into this lovely, custom built, one story rock home. This gem includes 4 bedrooms, 4 baths, plus exercise room and a private study or office. Upgrades include bamboo wood, tile and cork flooring. Grand entry welcomes guests into 4100+ square feet. The gourmet kitchen includes stainless steel appliances, double convection ovens, built-in refrigerator, 5 burners’ gas cook top and granite counters.
If that's not enough, the community where this home is located also features walking trails, sports court, tennis court, football field, club house and a community pool.

If a spacious single story meets your needs, this picture of elegance could be for yours for a mere $699,000.

Identifying Foundation Problems

Foundation problems may mean expensive repairs. Here’s what to look for to keep small concerns from becoming big headaches. Knowing the early warning signs of foundation troubles can head off problems that ultimately could cost tens of thousands of dollars to fix. The sooner you identify potential problems, the easier — and less expensive — it is to fix them.

The 4 Basic Indoor Warning Signs

Houses settle over time, and a little unevenness isn’t cause for panic. At the same time, you’ll want to be alert to these warning signs that more dramatic changes are taking place:

1. A door begins to jam or fails to latch.

2. Cracks appear in walls, especially over doorways, windows, or where walls meet ceilings.

3. Cracks open in vinyl or ceramic tile over a concrete floor.

4. Windows that used to open and close easily suddenly begin to stick or won’t close completely.

Check the Outside

Moving outside, check to see if your foundation is straight by sighting down the length of your foundation wall from each corner. The walls should be basically straight, both up and down and from side to side. Check for leaning walls with a level.

A bulge or curve in either a block foundation or a poured concrete wall could signal that the foundation has shifted, or that the soil around your foundation may be expanding and contracting, putting pressure on walls.

Probe Concrete for Weakness

If your house has a poured perimeter foundation and the concrete appears to be chipping and flaking, poke it in a few places with a sturdy screwdriver. The concrete should be so hard that you can’t damage it.

If you manage to chip it or break a piece off, the concrete could be deteriorating because the mix contained dirty or salty sand, or too much water. This problem, common in homes built in the early 1900s in some parts of the country, has no remedy short of a new foundation.

Checking Structural ComponentsFoundation systems have other members besides the perimeter foundation wall. In your basement or crawl space, look for posts and concrete supports, or piers. Posts should stand straight and be firmly planted underneath the beams they support. Bottoms of posts should rest firmly on concrete piers.

You shouldn’t find puddles or see framing that’s wet. Check for rot by probing wood posts with a screwdriver or awl.

Puddles and other signs of moisture in a crawl space may indicate poor drainage around the perimeter foundation. Be sure that gutters aren’t plugged, and that soil slopes away from the foundation at the rate of 6 inches for every 10 horizontal feet.

Reading Foundation CracksAs concrete cures, it shrinks slightly. Where the concrete can’t shrink evenly, it tends to crack. Concrete and block foundations usually have at least a few cracks. The trick is recognizing which are insignificant and which are serious. Here’s a list from least to most serious:

Hairline cracks in the mortar between concrete blocks are rarely worth worrying about.

Cracks at an L-shape section, such as where a foundation steps down to follow a hillside, are probably shrinkage cracks, especially if they meander and taper down to a hairline. These aren’t a structural issue, though you might need to plug them to keep the basement or crawl space dry.

Stair-step cracks in masonry joints are a bigger concern, especially if the wall is bulging or the crack is wider than ¼ inch. A plugged gutter or other moisture problem outside is probably exerting pressure on that part of the wall.
Horizontal cracks are most serious. It may be that water-saturated soil froze and expanded, pushing in and breaking the foundation. Or, you may have soil that expands when damp and shrinks when dry. The bad news: You probably need a whole new foundation.

Getting a Professional Opinion

A structural engineer can determine whether any of these warning signs point to normal settling or to structural damage. Expect to pay $500-$700 for a structural engineer to inspect your foundation and provide an evaluation, and as much as $2,000 for a full set of drawings for an engineered solution.

What Does Fixing a Foundation Cost?

These are several methods for fixing foundation wall problems, including:
  • Bolting on steel braces ($500-$70 each, spaced about 6 feet apart along the wall) or using epoxy to glue on straps of carbon-fiber mesh ($350-$450 each, similarly spaced).
  • Underpinning the foundation with helical screws or concrete piers. Installation costs $1,200-$1,500 per pier, with one every 6 to 8 feet.
  • A whole new foundation, which can run up to $40,000.
If you find small cracks (less than 1/16-inch wide), paint over them with a concrete waterproofing paint (about $25/gallon). Then check periodically to see whether the paint has cracked, which means the gap is opening up under pressure.
Source: Identifying Foundation Problems by Jeanne Huber
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Luxury Living in South Texas - This Week's Featured Listing From My Office

If you love living near the water with access for all your water sports activities or merely enjoy watching the sunset over the water, this is the home for you. There is one ramp for small boats or toys, second bay boat lift and mooring for up to a 75' sportfisher with full shore power and water.

Home features 6 bedrooms, two of which are master suites, 7 full bathrooms,stunning gourmet kitchen, open living areas for entertaining with a whole home sound system plus a resort pool. If you've got the green, this blue water setting could be for you. $2,895,000