Category Archives: Seasonal Home Tips

Tips For Your Spring Landscaping Project

Pittsburgh custom homesWith spring finally here, you can now get to work in your yard. Here are a few tips to create long-lasting curb appeal and beauty on your property.

Going Professional

Before you start any landscaping project, decide whether you want to hire a professional or do it yourself. If you enjoy outdoor work and don’t mind investing in the tools, building beds and planting shrubs and perennials can be done successfully with some advice from the nursery or a gardening or home improvement book or website. If you are looking to install hardscaping along with plantings, or you aren’t sure how to design your landscaping to best complement your house and property, you might want to find a professional.

Analyze Your Site

Whether you have hired a professional or not, you’ll need to sketch out the basic shape of your property and see what you have to work with in terms of topography, soil, sunlight, drainage, and existing trees and other features you’ll need to work around. Don’t forget to consider sight lines for any plantings you’ll be putting in, from inside your home as well as from the deck or patio.

Growth and Maintenance

It’s easy to get excited by photos of established landscapes in magazines or online. When you get to the point where you are shopping for plants and shrubs for your landscaping project, make sure that they will work for your region’s hardiness zone. You don’t want to lose a chunk of your landscaping investment over the winter because the plants weren’t able to withstand freezing temperatures. Pay attention to each shrub’s listed size at full growth, and space the planting accordingly so they have room to fill out. If you want a landscape that will look great with minimal pruning and other maintenance, also take note of each plant’s care requirements.

Extend the Season

Look beyond greenery and color, and think ahead to how your landscape will look in the fall and winter months. If you want to screen out a particular view, look for evergreen trees or shrubs. Incorporating large stones, arbors, or other sculptural elements can also extend the enjoyment of your landscape over the winter months.

Owning a home means you can be as creative with your landscaping as you are with your interior decor. Think about your lifestyle, and design garden space and landscape features for entertaining, relaxing,  or growing herbs for cooking.  With a well-thought-out plan, landscaping really adds to the value of your new home investment.



Prep Your Kitchen for the Holidays

Pittsburgh Custom Home BuilderEven if you have a spacious new kitchen,  you might need to do a little inventory and organizing this week and heading into December. If you are hosting Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday, you probably have all of your ducks in a row, so to speak. If you are traveling for your turkey dinner, you can still keep these tips in mind to help make meal prep and clean-up go smoothly for the next round of holiday feasting. Continue reading

Things to Consider Before Setting Up an Outdoor Firepit

Outdoor-Firepit-Paragon-Homes-BlogIt is easy to understand why outdoor firepits are gaining increasing popularity. There is something soothing about sitting around the fire while you socialize with family and friends. Many great memories can be made around a fire with some marshmallows, and a ghost story or two.

Given how popular firepits are you probably know someone with one. You may have spent some time enjoying a firepit at someone else’s house or at a restaurant and now you want one of your own. Before you rush out and start digging a hole in your yard, there are certain things you should keep in mind and regulations you will probably need to follow. In this article, we will take a look at things you should consider before setting up your outdoor firepit.

The Four Types of Fire Pits

To begin with, there are four different types of fire pits. Which is the right type for you will depend on a variety of factors. You will want to consider the setting, the design of the firepit, the type of fuel you want to use, safety issues and any local regulations or county regulations you might need to follow.

1. Wood Burning Fire Pits

There is nothing like the smell of the smoke and the snap and crackle of the wood. The red glow of the logs as they burn adds to the ambiance. The drawback is that you will have to constantly chop wood or buy wood to keep it going. You will also have to have a storage area for the wood to keep it dry enough to burn. The wood, in turn, always attracts insects, so you will have to be prepared for that.

If you choose to have a wood burning fire pit you have a few design options including a wood burning grill for cooking. You can also choose an outdoor fireplace design that is similar to an indoor fireplace made of brick or stone. Finally, you could make a pit of brick or stone. That is the easiest design option and many people build their own.

2. Propane Fire Pits

Propane fire pits are extremely convenient. There is no need to worry about constantly replenishing wood or gel. Propane lends itself to large firepits with dramatic designs the use materials like faux wood, rock pebbles and glass. The potential drawbacks are the price of purchasing propane and the possibility of the propane running out while you are entertaining. Also, many people find that propane is inferior when it comes to cooking. It doesn’t add the kind of flavor that wood grilling does.

Propane fire pits come in portable designs that can be easily moved anywhere in the yard. They also come in elegant copper bowl designs. Copper’s high melting point ensures they are durable, but they can be expensive. Firepit table designs mimic tables with the fire in the center. They come handy ledges around the edge that provide a safe distance from the flames and a place to rest a drink or plate of food.

3. Gel Fuel Fire Pits

Gel fuel fire pits are an option that many people find attractive because they burn without scent or smoke. They are versatile and can be moved. The drawbacks to gel is that it can be hard to find in stores and many people find it easier to buy it online. It also doesn’t give off as much heat.

Gel fuel comes in two designs. It can be purchased as gel fuel logs. The clever design creates the look of a wood fire while concealing the gel fuel holders. The logs can be used in any fire pit design. Tabletop fireplaces allow you to have a small, portable fire indoors or outdoors.

4. Natural Gas Fire Pits

Natural gas fire pits burn clean and you never need to worry about running out of fuel. It can also be a less expensive fuel option. The drawback is that you must run a separate gas line which can be very expensive to install. It also becomes a permanent fixture, which means you can’t move the firepit.

Natural gas fire pits have a couple of designs they can be incorporated into. Sunken designs are dramatic and add to the look of a patio or yard. They present a bit of a safety risk because they are an open flame design. Square, round and tabletop designs are raised above the ground and have elegant designs that are made of stone, brick or copper.


A firepit can be a great addition to your backyard. Keep in mind, however, that they can be a fire risk. Along with the other elements of design, you should consider safety when you create your firepit. Pick a location where it is safe to have an open fire, use care when managing open flames, and follow all local regulations to make your firepit safe and enjoyable for you, your family, guests, and neighbors.

7 Secrets to Successfully Creating an Outdoor Cooking Space

Each year when the weather turns warm the thoughts of many homeowners turn to all things outdoors. There are beautiful plants to maintain, pools to enjoy, lawns that need to be manicured, and outdoor sports to watch and compete in. Then there is one of the most pleasurable outdoor pursuits- cooking. With so many fresh fruits and vegetables in season and so many wonderful recipes to try out it is one of the best things about summer. Just as homeowners want the best in landscaping, pools, and lawn furniture to show off, they also want the best in outdoor cooking spaces to enjoy summer’s bounty.

1. Climate drives the choice of outdoor materials.

The first consideration when designing your dream outdoor cooking space must always be the climate that you live in. It is the driving force behind many of the elements in your design. First, it must dictate the materials you choose for your cooking space. Given the cost and the effort involved in installing the wood and brick that typically provides the foundation of an outdoor cooking area, it is extremely important to choose materials and designs that will stand up to the climate you live in. This is true whether you are living in a climate with harsh winters and hot summers, like New England, or a climate with long months heat and humidity, like the southern states or a climate with dry, arid heat, such as the desert southwest.

2. Let the natural space dictate design.

Look around at the natural beauty of your surroundings. Any outdoor cooking space should reflect and enhance the natural surroundings. When making choices about the materials used, the furniture and appliances, and decorative accents you should consider how they work with the natural surroundings. The good thing about designing an outdoor cooking space as opposed to an indoor kitchen is that you already have a backdrop for your design. Nature provides you with a palette of colors and a design motif to work with. You get to use that when you dream up your perfect outdoor looking space.

3. Use the light.

When you have an outdoor area for cooking and eating you have planned for variations in light and temperature. There are a variety of options when it comes to lighting. You should look at where you are creating natural spots for both cooking and gathering to eat when choosing the placement of light sources. The type of lighting you choose should work with the over design. The same is true of shade. You can choose from many different attractive ways to create shade for cooking and eating. For variations in temperature, there are a variety of fans that can circulate the air. Attractive fire pits and large grills create warmth in cooler weather.

4. Go small.

When you are designing an outdoor cooking space you should plan for the amount of food you will be storing and cooking. You will find that you might not need full-sized appliances. Smaller appliances such as mini-fridges can work for you. Since you most likely will only need to store and cook enough food for one meal smaller appliances can be a good solution. They are less expensive and take up less space, leaving more money and space for the more decorative aspects of your outdoor cooking space!

5. Go big- but not too big.

It is easy to get caught up in the excitement of designing your own personal outdoor cooking space. You want it to have all the impressive gadgets and for the furniture and appliances to have all the latest features. Let your imagination run free but then consider reigning it in a bit. If you take a moment to step back and analyze your lifestyle and the cooking you will be doing outside you might find that there are some gadgets and features you don’t really need. You don’t have to shell out money and make room for something you probably aren’t even going to use. Be deliberate in what you choose to include in your outdoor cooking space.

6. Just add water.

One of the most important features you should consider adding to your outdoor cooking space is a good sink. While the plumbing involved might be a little tricky it can be totally worth it to have a sink outside. Having a sink makes both food prep and clean-up easier and faster. It also makes it easy for people to wash their hands before eating. Think about including a sink in your plans.

7. The devil is in the details.

Time to get real. There is, after all, a difference between looking at pictures of perfectly manicured outdoor eating spaces with pristine furniture and the latest appliances and making it happen in your own backyard. To begin with, start with a design and a budget that is right for you. Don’t rush that first step. Then you should carefully vet any contractors you use. Make sure they are reliable and have a reputation for quality work. Before you begin any work check in at town hall and make sure you are following town regulations and ordinances and that you have any permits you need. Following those steps will make the process smoother and give you the outdoor cooking space of your dreams!

Winterize Your Home

Home Winterizing TipsSimple Ways to Prepare

If you haven’t already done so, it’s a good time to run through a quick winter checklist for your house. If you live in a newer home, you may not need to replace caulking or weather stripping around windows and doors, but it’s worth checking if you feel that a room is colder than it should be. Here are some other simple ways to be ready for bad weather. Continue reading

Back to School Tips and Information from Paragon Homes

Back to school tips from Paragon Homes Custom BuilderMost of us are back into the school routine by now – up early and scrambling to get breakfast, pack lunches and organize the day.

If you are moving into a Paragon new home neighborhood, here is some background information on school districts in areas where we build. And no matter where your kids go to school, read on for ways to organize and structure your home to help save time and reduce the clutter.

South Fayette Township School District – A growing school district that recently built a new primary school building for grades K-2, South Fayette serves only residents of the township. The primary, intermediate, middle and high school buildings are located on the same campus. South Fayette has been nationally recognized for its educational initiatives in science and technology.

Chartiers Valley School District – Chartiers Valley School District serves families in Bridgeville, Collier Township, Scott Township and Heidelberg. The district has started construction of a new middle school on the existing campus of the middle and high school buildings in Collier. A primary school for grades K-2 is also in Collier, and the intermediate school is located in Scott Township. Chartiers Valley was recognized in 2015 as having one of the top 10 STEM programs in the country.

Montour School District – Students who live in Robinson and Kennedy townships, Ingram and Thornburg boroughs and Pennsbury Village attend Montour School District schools. The district is building a new, consolidated elementary school for grades K-4 near the high school in Robinson. The middle school is located in Kennedy. Montour High School opened a Virtual Immersion lab – the first of its kind in the state – in 2015.

Upper St. Clair School District – “Newsweek” ranked Upper St. Clair High School #113 in the nation among public high schools last year, and the school district has also been nationally recognized for its music education program. The district serves Upper St. Clair Township with three elementary schools and two middle schools along with the high school.

Peters Township School District – Serving families in Peters Township and the towns of McMurray and Venetia, Peters Township School District earned a 14th place ranking statewide from the “Pittsburgh Business Times” in its 2016 Guide to Western PA Schools. The district operates three elementary schools, one middle school and the high school.

North Allegheny School District – Consistently ranked by “Newsweek” in the top 6% of public high schools nationwide, North Allegheny is the largest suburban school district in Allegheny County. Children who live in Bradford Woods and Franklin Park boroughs, Marshall Township and the Town of McCandless attend one of North Allegheny’s 7 elementary schools, 3 middle schools and 2 high schools (an intermediate high school serves students in grade 9 and 10).

Settling in to the school year can take some time, and your children’s storage and space needs will change as they grow. Here are some ways to optimize your home for a smooth school year.

Entryway Storage

A custom closet or a row of locker-style cubbies near the door will make everyone’s life a little easier on school mornings. The key is training everyone in the family to use their designated hook or space for storing backpacks, lunchboxes and shoes. Try to customize each section and if everyone has his or her own space it will be easy to remember who sits where. Baskets near the doorway you use most often can also help corral umbrellas, sports gear and gloves and hats once the weather turns cold.

Desk Space

Whether your child likes to work in peace and quiet or in the middle of the action, he or she needs a desk or table space for homework. It’s always helpful to set up a routine. Maybe homework in the kitchen during dinner prep is the best time, or farther away from family distractions in their own room right after school. Kids who are involved in activities often end up doing homework “on the road”, but that isn’t an option for larger projects that involve a lot of research. If you have your own “homework” to do in the evenings for work, make it a family routine to keep everyone on track.

Command Center

In the first weeks of school, especially, half of the papers your kids bring home are for you. Designate one spot – a folder, basket, file drawer, etc. — for school-related paperwork. An open spot in the house, like the kitchen or family room, is a great place to set up a “command center” with a calendar and wipe-off memo board to keep track of everyone’s activities and appointments. Lots of people rely on electronic calendars, but there’s something to be said for a large scale, visual “aid” to keep important dates front and center in a high-traffic room in your house.

It’s not too late to ramp up your house’s organization and daily routines, even if you’ve been back to school for a few weeks. Even some small changes can free up more time for family activities that aren’t school or work related.

Paragon Homes Presents: Tips for Fall Yard Care and Autumn Leaf Removal

fall leaves

It’s that time of year where everything is slowly changing: leaves falling, plants shriveling, grass fading. Although some wildlife advocates suggest NOT raking your leaves, we’re sure that many of your neighbors would appreciate the aesthetics of you continuing to do so, Here are some tips for fall lawn care, for you to consider this autumn and into the winter.

Paragon Homes Presents: Tips for Fall Yard Care:

  • If you are new to the neighborhood, ask a neighbor about leaf-raking and leaf-collection etiquette and procedures.
  • If you are unable to rake, consider paying a neighborhood teen to do so for you. Or, if you really want to splurge, hire a lawn care or leaf-removal company to do the trick.
  • If you live where there is a Homeowners’ Association, be sure to check with them regarding rules of leaf removal or other yard specifics.
  • Check out your township, borough, county, or neighborhood websites to see when leaf pick-up days are. Usually there is a special day dedicated to the  collection of bagged leaves.
  • Consider using a leaf-blower, but be considerate: do not blow your dried leaves into your neighbor’s yard.
  • Don’t neglect the yard and the outside of your home just because gloomier months are upon us. Your outdoor space is still an important part of your home, and the curb appeal of your house and property can really give a specific first impression to new friends and passersby alike.
  • Consider some hardy mums or a nice fall wreath on the front door to add a pop of color to the yard.

What other tips can you think of for maintaining your lawn in the fall and winter months?



Paragon Homes has been building custom homes in the Pittsburgh area for nearly 25 years.  In that time they have come to be recognized as one of the premier custom home builders in Western Pa.  In fact they have been honored to receive over 25 Housing Excellence Awards from the Builders and Realtors Associations of Metropolitan Pittsburgh and the Washington County Builders Association including several for New Custom Home of the Year designations. You can reach Paragon Homes at 412-787-8807, or visit us online at

Ashley Boynes-Shuck is a well-known blogger, published author, and social media professional from Pittsburgh, PA. She was voted Best Blogger in Pittsburgh and Who to Follow on Twitter 2010, one of Pittsburgh’s Top 40 Under 40 for 2011, a 2012 Woman of the Year and Athena Young Professional awards candidate, one of Pittsburgh’s Most Influential Twitter Users by the Pittsburgh Business Times, and happily lives in a suburb of Pittsburgh with her husband, dogs, frogs, and cats!  In her free time she focuses on advocacy and volunteer work, as well as rooting on the Pittsburgh sports teams!

Warm Up to Pittsburgh Winters in an Energy-Efficient Paragon Home!


Pittsburgh has faced some exceptionally cold temperatures as of late. Here in Western Pennsylvania, we are no stranger to cold winter weather.

Pittsburgh weather can be unpredictable, but one thing that’s a sure thing is that you will stay warm and cozy in your energy-efficient Paragon home. With energy-efficient appliances and heating, coupled with the very best building practices, you’ll never again have to worry about cool drafts on chilly winter evenings.

In fact, at Paragon Homes, our most recent ENERGYSTAR home was even rated at 15% more efficient than typical ENERGYSTAR standards, meaning that ours was more than 30% more efficient than other homes in their class.

Since Paragon Homes helps you to custom-build your dream home, you can also opt to install a fireplace (or a few) for those blustery winter nights and frigid temps.

After all, what would be better than relaxing in front of a fireplace with your family and a cup of hot cocoa on a wintry Pittsburgh night, and not having to worry about your heating bills or wasting energy or warm air? Month over month, you’ll save big on your energy bills, because when you pay for Paragon, you pay for quality.

So cozy up, fill up your hot chocolate, and worry not this winter— we’ll keep you warm.


Paragon Homes has been building custom homes in the Pittsburgh area for nearly 25 years.  In that time they have come to be recognized as one of the premier custom home builders in Western Pa.  In fact they have been honored to receive over 25 Housing Excellence Awards from the Builders and Realtors Associations of Metropolitan Pittsburgh and the Washington County Builders Association including several for New Custom Home of the Year designations. You can reach Paragon Homes at 412-787-8807, or visit us online at

Ashley Boynes-Shuck is a well-known blogger, author, and social media pro from Pittsburgh, PA. She was voted Best Blogger in Pittsburgh and Who to Follow on Twitter 2010, one of Pittsburgh’s Top 40 Under 40 for 2011, a 2012 Woman of the Year and Athena Young Professional awards candidate, one of Pittsburgh’s Most Influential Twitter Users by the Pittsburgh Business Times, and happily lives in a suburb of Pittsburgh with her husband, dogs, frogs, and cats!  In her free time she focuses on advocacy and volunteer work, as well as rooting on the Pittsburgh sports teams!