Monday, January 23, 2017

Improving property values: money grows on trees in W.Va.

Trees at Ritter Park, courtesy
Money may grow on trees when it comes to property value in West Virginia.

Though their beauty may be immeasurable, the impact of trees on property is quantifiable: yards that are landscaped with large trees and yards located in neighborhoods with tree-lined streets may be valued as much as 15 percent higher than comparable properties, according to one study.

That's good news for West Virginia landowners who live where trees flourish, though an urban-forestry professional says mountaineers may have additional reasons to plant and maintain large trees.

"Tree cover will make a house more desirable and potentially increase its value, and it should help it sell faster," says Dr. Greg Dahle, a assistant professor of arboriculture and urban forestry at West Virginia University, "and West Virginia is in keeping with national studies on that account."

"But storm-water mitigation is a concern here in communities where flooding and sewerage are concerns. Trees reduce the amount of water being released into sewers and increase the amount being released slowly into the ground."

"Even a bare tree can intercept some of that water and release is slowly, and while it might seem like single tree would not achieve much, a collection of trees can certainly have a measurable impact.

Dahle also recommends landowners in West Virginia consider planting fruit trees, which have obvious economic benefits when it comes to food consumption. "I think property owners might consider including a few apple trees or pear trees. I think most Americans don't have enough fruit trees in their yard, though there's nothing as American as apple pie."

Shade trees also significantly reduce energy consumption, Dahle says. "Shade is an important component of reducing the need to cool houses in summer, and, if planted in right location, a tree can deflect winter winds that drive up heating costs."

Trees can also help remove particulate pollution from the air. "Trees capture carbon and can helps lowly mitigate the effects of global warming," he says.

In West Virginia, as in other states, national statistics that regard the value of trees appears consistent, Dahle says with regard to a list of homeowner benefits published by the National Arbor Day Foundation:

  • Larger trees in yards and as street trees can add three to fifteen percent to home values throughout neighborhoods, according to a study cited by the University of Washington.
  • Homebuilders can recover extra costs of preserving trees through higher sales prices and faster sales for houses on wooded lots, according to a study by the Georgia Forestry Commission.
  • Eighty-three percent of Realtors believe mature trees have a strong or moderate impact on the saleability of homes listed for under $150,000; on homes over $250,000, this perception increases to 98 percent, according to Arbor National Mortgage.
  • Landscaping, especially with trees, can increase property values as much as 20 percent, according to a study by the International City-County Management Association.

So, what's the economic benefit of the maple out on your front lawn or the willow down by the pond? Tree appraisers are available to help guide owners, though a National Tree Benefit Calculator has been devised to help. Simply enter the location, size, and type of tree, and the calculator will approximate the benefits of an urban, street-side planting.

Oak on property in western Monongalia County
To find out more about the value of trees, visit the National Arbor Day Foundation, which can help guide you on your way to planting, maintaining, and restoring trees to your benefit and that of your neighbors.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Log cabin researchers encounter rare construction, mysterious circumstances in eastern W.Va.

Detail of rare diamond notch on W.Va. barn
A pioneering team of scholars who are dating old log structures in West Virginia has discovered rare, previously undocumented examples of log construction and a mysterious lack of early cabins.

Ph.D. candidate Kristen de Graauw, of the Historic Timbers Project, says she and research partner Shawn Cockrell have notably found two extraordinary diamond-notched structures, of which, based on historical literature, only about 20 examples have been documented in the eastern U.S.

Beautiful as well as practical, the rare notching method may be a tradition of northern European origin -- a question consequent researchers may answer, she says, noting that few scholars have focused on West Virginia's log-building traditions.

The duo has also discovered a surprising lack of structures built before the 1780s, though settlement occurred as early as the 1740s in the eastern state, including Greenbrier, Pendleton, and Pocahontas counties, where de Graauw and Cockrell have been working.

"What happened to those early cabins we don't know. They may have been burned, weathered naturally, or their logs may have been used to build later cabins, but so far we've not found any older logs being reused," she says. "They may still be hiding out there somewhere."

Diamond notches on barn in eastern W.Va.
The discoveries are the most striking of many de Graauw and Cockrell have made in their survey of 30-or-more structures in the eastern counties, though many more are expected as they move westward.

"We're continually finding so much more than we set out to find, and I'm particularly happy that we're helping cabin owners make new discoveries along the way," said de Graauw.

Though the team is helping owners date the ages of their log structures, de Graauw initially launched the study as a means of discovering the pre-settlement history of central Appalachian forests.

By examining tree rings in core samples taken from timbers, de Graauw and Cockrell have been able to gauge the age of log structures, to the benefit of owners, though de Graauw's other goal is to learn more of the forests, of which the timbers provide one of the only records.

Scientists can gauge the age of logs by counting rings, and can gauge when the tree began growing by comparing the pattern of rings with patterns in other logs sampled. Logs sampled will feature similar ring patterns as a result of events such as droughts or cold snaps.

"The 1774 ring is one of my favorite. Under a microscope, the cells of the ring all look as if they exploded, and there was probably a really bad frost event that year which affected trees throughout central Appalachia," she said.

In addition to learning to appreciate the practical aspects of construction, de Graauw says she appreciates even more the sheer beauty of the materials and craftsmanship.

de Graauw climbs into loft in historic log barn
"It's very aesthetically pleasing," she says of the diamond-notched buildings they've documented. "I think the first thing you notice is that it's beautiful, and it's not just serving some purpose: it says something culturally about the builders and the community."

de Graauw said the Historic Timbers Project will continue to date log structures across the state and members hope to find examples of old cabins in the Ohio Valley along which many early European settlements were established.

The Historic Timbers Project may also be followed on Facebook at Historic Timbers.

Cockrell (left) at remodeled cabin with diamond notching
Do you own or know of a log building in West Virginia that needs dated or that features rare or outstanding work? Please feel free to let the team know.

de Graauw now regularly tours the state, helping owners date their properties while discovering more about their histories.

Find out about cabins for rent in West Virginia (WV).