Good Life

‘A case of cabin fever’: Homeowners getting busy with spring upgrades after the long, harsh winter

Norb Baier trims dead branches off a tree. A crew from Scott’s Landscaping, in Centre Hall, works on houses along Shellers Bend, in State College.
Norb Baier trims dead branches off a tree. A crew from Scott’s Landscaping, in Centre Hall, works on houses along Shellers Bend, in State College. CDT photo

Homeowners are turning to home improvements and outdoor projects with renewed vigor — thanks to a long and, in some cases, destructive winter, local business owners say.

“It was such a bad winter — the worst I have seen in 20 years,” said Brent Veronesi, vice president at Veronesi Building and Remodeling, of State College. “People are looking to get their homes more energy efficient after paying high energy bills.

“They really want to batten down the hatches.”

Homeowners are considering installing new windows and doors or adding insulation behind siding to better protect their houses for next year.

“That is the main thing,” he said. “That is where people are focusing: on energy conservation. A lot of people’s energy costs were very high. I think they are looking for ways to cut costs.”

Efficiency and space

For homeowners who want to make a change but are working with budget limitations, Veronesi said new windows typically effect the most change, because in most homes, about 70 percent of energy loss is through such openings.

Aside from sealing off escaping air, some are trying to repair damage from this winter’s storms and freezing temperatures.

“We are fairly busy with exteriors,” Veronesi said. “On the roof — a lot of people had ice dams and leaks, or they need new rain gutters.”

It’s the same story at Gilmore Construction in Bellefonte, owner Don Gilmore said.

“People are still writing checks (for heating bills) now,” he said. “You definitely want to look at insulation in the house. That is going to help with the heating bills. I have talked to a lot of people putting insulated siding on or another inch of foam on. People are concerned about it.”

The wintry weather also kept more folks inside their homes, giving them time to notice what areas could use updates, he said.

“I think it’s a case of cabin fever,” he said. “You start looking around. Maybe you need a new kitchen, fresh paint or better flooring. With tax refunds coming in, it is a good time to think about fixing your house up.”

New additions are also popular this time of year.

“We are seeing people who either want a mother-in-law room or a master bedroom or even a garage to keep their car in so they don’t have to scrape windows,” Gilmore said. “Or they can add a sun room so they can look outside and not get cold.”

Porches and decks

Springtime business is picking up at Ronald W. Johnson construction company of Centre Hall, too, Production Manager Rick Breon said.

“As soon as the first flowers push through and people are outside cleaning out yards, that is when it dawns on them — things ought to start happening around the house,” he said.

Maintenance-free investments are especially appealing this year because they withstand the seasons, Breon said.

“People are really interested in not only maintenance-free items like siding and vinyl shutters but also vinyl railing on porches and maintenance-free decks,” he said. “For people who have owned a wooden deck and want to redo it, it is always the maintenance-free. The materials have gotten better and cost has remained flat.

“It is so much more economical. We all know wood, at some point, deteriorates to where it does not look good or function well anymore.”

Yards and landscaping features may need extra attention this year, too, said landscape designer Melissa Cramer, who advises customers at Scott’s Landscaping, of Centre Hall.

“With the hard freezes this winter, there can be a lot of ground heaving,” she said. “You may see some of that. That is natural and occurs with freeze-and-thaw cycles.

“With it being so cold, the ground was frozen a lot farther (down) than what we usually see. Your yard may need a little bit of light regrading, something that can be done by hand.”

‘Outdoor living’ areas

Those eager to get outside can start with cutting back perennials or paying attention to bed edges, Cramer added.

“We are doing a lot of bed edging and mulching and spring pruning,” Cramer said. “Some of the tender shrubs may have experienced a little more winter die-back than normal, which can be fixed with some pruning.”

Others, she said, are looking to expand patios to make sure they get to fully enjoy warmer weather.

“They may have just a small concrete pad, something not quite large enough to comfortably seat four to six at a table,” she said. “It seems like people are hoping to add outdoor living space. We’ve been getting calls for patios and general landscape plantings. One of the most common is foundation enhancements.”

Providing a buffer of shrubs around foundations can anchor a home to its surroundings visually and add curb appeal, she said.

Scott’s Landscaping also operates Wheatfield Nursery, where employees have been digging trees out of fields to line up in rows, ready for landscape projects. They also are stocking up with shipments of shrubs and evergreens from growers.

A few magnolias already are starting to bud.

“In spring, crab apples, flowering cherries, red buds and dogwoods are popular because they provide early spring flowers,” Cramer said.

Adding some quick color

And homeowners are ready for the color, according to Debbi Kerstetter, owner at Kerstetter’s Market in Zion.

“The biggest trend now is hanging baskets with multiple plants,” she said. “Customers are leaning more toward combinations. I still do some with all petunias and impatiens. But now it seems like people want to see more color, so we will have baskets with purples and yellows and reds bursting out.”

After a spring cleanup — pruning or raking — green thumbs will be looking to replace any perennials that did not make it through the winter and improve or expand gardens and flower beds, she said.

“For the early flowering plants, people plant pansies and violas, because those like it more on the cold side,” Kerstetter said. “As the summer comes, a lot of people will replace those with more of the hot-weather plants, like petunias and geraniums or impatiens for shaded areas.”

Many gardeners are hoping to add native plants this year, said Holly D’Angelo, manager at Fox Hill Gardens in State College, where trilliums already are popping up in pots.

“That is the No. 1 thing I have heard requested,” she said. “We try to specialize in carrying more native plants, because there are so many advantages to using them. They are adapted to the Pennsylvania climate. They are all zone hardy and, once they are established, they require less effort, and they often provide food for birds and other wildlife.”

They can also provide vibrant colors, she said.

“Spring is pretty easy,” D’Angelo said. “There are deciduous azaleas coming out, mostly the flowering shrubs now. Those woody plants will flower earlier in the season.

“There are a lot of ephemeral flowers coming out, too — plants that are active during early spring and then go dormant. Blood root, shooting star — there are a lot of native plants that are great for springtime.”