Thursday, September 25, 2014

Update saves old treasure in Pineville

Many of us sigh when we see a historic property in our neighborhood being demolished. Others may visit a home that has the charm of a past era and dream of someday finding a special one of their own.
Thomas White has a different story. He renovated a historic home in Pineville's Cone Mills Village and saved a second from demolition. That 1,100-square-foot 1911 house is being featured by Historic Charlotte as part of its Blast from the Past annual fundraising event, on Oct. 15.
A complete update of a historic property, White says, takes vision, a willingness to wrangle through codes and permits, as well as tremendous diligence to manage costs. But these older homes can be worth the effort, if not always a quick return on investment.
“The unexpected result was the appreciation I developed for historical properties,” said White, a land surveyor who is planning a move to a third historic property in Pineville. “We will live in a very unique time capsule. Without that appreciation, you are just living in four walls.”

Learn about other preservation projects nominated this year at

Blast from the Past
The after-work event with entertainment and food by Heist Brewery will take place from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Oct. 15 at the Charlotte Museum of History, 3500 Shamrock Drive. Tickets are $25 online and $35 at the door. Details:

Karen’s blog:; on Twitter @sullivan_kms

Monday, September 22, 2014

Be careful: poisonings on the rise

Here's a way to help keep your family safe at home: Be careful what products you bring into the house.
Many of the cans, bottles and bags in your cupboards and closets can lead to poisoning or emergency room visits. It's important to mention this because the number of deaths in North Carolina has more than tripled, from 279 in 1999 to 947 in 2010, according to the Carolinas Poison Center.
More than 80,000 calls were related to animals.
A poison is anything that can cause harm if used improperly. Food, paint and even mothballs can be lethal. (Yes, mothballs. Avoid brands that include naphthalene, which can be absorbed through the skin.) But these are not the biggest problems.
Calls about children ages 5 and younger usually involve cosmetics and personal care products. Pain medicines led to the greatest number of calls. Nearly 50,000 people contacted the state’s poison center in 2010 and 2011.
One of the best ways to lower the risk for poisoning is by choosing products that are nontoxic or less toxic. Use vinegar or baking soda for cleaning instead of household chemicals.
Pay attention to packaging, too. If a potentially toxic product comes in a container that looks similar to a soft drink that you buy, stay clear of it, especially if the liquid inside the container is also the same color. While you’re at it, give a second thought to any cleaning product that resembles a beverage.

Karen’s blog:; on Twitter @sullivan_kms

Thursday, September 11, 2014

How can we get people to recycle more?

There were plenty of interesting comments on the Observer's Facebook page for the story that said Charlotteans toss an estimated 40 million cardboard tubes annually from bathroom tissue rolls.
One commenter suggested reusable tubes that we could use with the new tubeless toilet paper rolls that have hit the market. Great idea, but it turns out our recycling problem is much bigger. I learned that from an email that arrived after last week’s column was published.
Recycling at single-family homes declined locally in 2013 (to about 147 pounds per person annually) compared to 1999 (155 pounds), according to Sustain Charlotte’s 2014 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Sustainability Report Card.
Residents of apartments and condominiums hardly recycle at all, said Shannon Binns, executive director of Sustain Charlotte.
So we’re spending more than $10 million a year to send about 364,000 tons of residential waste to a landfill. “That doesn’t include the much larger costs – collection and transportation,” Binns said.
About half of that waste could be recycled for savings of $29 per ton in landfill fees, Binns said. Recycling the waste could generate almost $20 per ton.
Sustain Charlotte has offered two suggestions for boosting recycling: Make it a requirement and impose fines for those who don’t. Or we could adopt a pay-as-you-throw system. Either would surely be better than throwing money away.

Karen’s blog:; on Twitter @sullivan_kms

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Charlotteans toss out 40 million bathroom tissue tubes yearly

We're pretty disciplined about recycling at my house, but now I realize we've ignored one item. The cardboard tube inside each roll of bathroom tissue gets tossed every time.
That happens in a lot of homes – more than 40 million tubes get tossed every year, according to one estimate. That's just in Charlotte.
The national toll is more than 17 billion tubes yearly, with more than 150 tubes per household being thrown out on average. Imagine the amount of waste we’ve created over 100 years, which is how long the tubes have been around, according to a rep for Scott-brand products, which is now making tubeless rolls.
Yes, that’s how we’ve come by all of this information. The data arrived at my desk with samples of the tubeless swirls. (The centers aren’t open as much as in the picture above.)
It will take time to find out whether consumers see these as an acceptable alternative to what they’re buying now, but it’s a start. The tissue is not made from recycled material, which could make it less appealing in some households. Comments on the Scott website are mixed and it sounds like the paper hangs awkwardly when you reach the end of the roll.
Prices might be a factor. A four-pack of Scott Naturals Tube-Free sells for $2.97 at Walmart stores, according to the rep. She offered a comparison price that was less exacting: $3.40 “average retail price” for Scott Extra Soft, a premium product. Store location unknown.

Karen’s blog:; on Twitter @sullivan_kms

Thursday, August 28, 2014

We all can help replenish city's aging tree canopy

Make sure a tree is on your list as you think about plants to add to your landscape this fall. You’ll be doing a service for your neighborhood and your city, as well as yourself.
“Charlotte has a geriatric tree canopy,” says Dave Cable, executive director of Trees Charlotte, a 2-year-old organization that’s working to add more than 5,000 new plants between October and April 2015.
Cable will talk about proper tree care at the Charlotte Garden Club at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 15 at the Mint Museum, 2730 Randolph Road. Anyone can attend. Cable also will talk about programs that offer free trees to local neighborhoods.
Charlotte ranked second nationally by American Forests recently among its “10 Best Cities for Urban Forests,” but the city’s trees are aging and need to be refreshed, Cable said. Development, storms, pests and diseases also cause tree loss.
“We have an extraordinary asset,” Cable said. “If we’re not careful about expanding it and diversity, it may not be here in the year 2050.”
For diversity, look beyond willow oaks and crape myrtles. We’ve got more than enough of those. Too many of one species increases the chances for insects and diseases to wipe out or weaken the canopy.
Japanese maples, on the other hand, are fine to plant, and they’re the most popular in Trees Charlotte giveaways. “They fly off the truck,” Cable said.
Get information for caring for your trees at

Karen’s blog:; on Twitter @sullivan_kms

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Some retailers will focus on home automation for holidays

We know we'll see tinsel and bows go up in about six weeks as retailers set up for the holidays. You probably wouldn't have guessed that gadgets for home automation also would be a focus of the festivities.
Wireless and remote controls for your home ultimately are expected to be such a big market that retailers want us to think about them whenever we're focused on making the house more efficient and organized.
These are systems that let us use a smartphone, computer or tablet to turn on the lights, adjust the thermostat and unlock the doors.
Apple is said to be working on a system called HomeKit. Microsoft has Insteon for its retail locations, one of which is expanding at SouthPark mall.
Lowe's started selling Iris systems in 500 retail stores in 2012. Today you can find Iris at all 1,750 locations, said Jaclyn Pardini, a spokesperson at the company’s headquarters here. Displays are in each store to help customers understand what these systems can do.
“This is still very new to consumers,” Pardini said.
Last year the company offered Iris deals for black Friday. A whole-house water shutoff system is coming in October, the official start of the store’s holiday season. With the new product, you'll be in control if your pipes burst while you're having Thanksgiving dinner far from home.
Karen’s blog:; on Twitter @sullivan_kms

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Garden art and performers wanted for Yard Art Day

Laugh if you will about the tour that has people decorating their yards with giant storybook characters or maybe a groovy bus, but Yard Art Day is growing.
This year you could see someone singing, belly dancing or swinging a hula hoop well beyond the original neighborhoods of Plaza Midwood and the North Davidson Street arts district. Word is spreading about the free-spirited, uncomplicated spectacle through its website and Facebook page.
“This year other neighborhoods and surrounding towns are signing on,” said founder and Plaza Midwood resident Deborah Triplett.
The online guide map already has pins dropped at sites as far as Durham, Raleigh and North Myrtle Beach. Locally, look for Yard Art Day signs in SouthPark, Ballantyne, Huntersville, Mooresville, Matthews, Waxhaw and Belmont in Gaston County.
Yard Art Day is open to anyone who wants to create an art display or perform as guests arrive on foot, by bike or by car. This year businesses and gardens can sign up.
“I think we’re all born artists by nature,” Triplett said. “I sort of wanted to give permission to people to let that inner kid out to play.”
If you go, understand that Triplett had more in mind than just distraction when she started the event in 2012. “The indirect goal is to get neighbors meeting neighbors,” she said. “I don’t mean neighbors who live next door. Maybe people get out of their cars and off of their bikes and talk to the people they meet.”

Karen’s blog:; on Twitter @sullivan_kms