Accent trees

Small trees are powerful design tools that anyone can use. Whether it's a white star magnolia in spring, a magenta crepe myrtle in summer or a fiery Japanese maple in the fall, small trees are always exquisite in the landscape. They are not planted for shade like the great oaks or sycamores. Small trees act like bright, beautiful arrows that point out and accentuate landmarks in your yard.

Designers call them accent trees to differentiate them from shade or screening trees. An accent tree is usually deciduous because these tend to offer the best flowers and fall leaf color. When bare in the winter, they can also become glittering nighttime beauties when strung with Christmas lights.

The accent tree is a hard worker. It plays many roles in the garden, depending on what aim you have. Their most common use is to have the tree call attention to something, utilizing the tree's flowers or autumn leaves to announce its location.

New home trends

Residential waterless urinals are a new home trend that can easily be installed in a bathroom. All that's needed is a small drain line, since water lines are not required. Waterless urinals add "green value" to the home and can be part of a complete water-saving package offered to the buyer. The payback to the homeowner? Thousands of gallons of water can be saved per year without changing the homeowner's lifestyle.

And, consider generator-ready homes. The home's electrical breaker panel is set up by the contractor to accept the additional "transfer switch" and electrical equipment needed to install a standby, private generator system. Because the special electrical panel is ready to accept the transfer switches and controls, future installation costs for the standby generator system can be cut by a sizable amount.

Window channels

Replacement window channels are aluminum pieces that are installed along the sides of the frames to provide new, snug tracks for window sashes to slide up and down. The channels tighten the windows to eliminate looseness and rattling, and the friction keeps windows open in any position. Prices start at about $30 per window.

Replacement channels are installed from inside the house, so there's no need to work from a ladder. The sashes (the frames containing the glass) must be removed from the window, and any cords or weights cut loose. The sashes are then fitted into the new channels and the entire assembly is tilted into place.