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Mary Mastroeni

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Going Green: Laminate Flooring Is the Homeowner's Eco-Friendly Choice

June 6, 2012 6:10 pm

Among homeowners in the know, laminate flooring has long been known as an affordable solution. Now, with the green movement catching on with homeowners, laminate has earned a reputation as an inherently green one as well.

Laminate flooring is composed of a hybrid of materials fused together through a unique lamination process. Thanks to the layer of high-definition photography used to give laminate flooring its beauty, laminate creates the realistic look of a natural resource – such as wood, marble or stone – without actually using it, so fewer raw materials are used in the manufacturing process.

"The manufacture of laminate flooring doesn't involve the harvesting of old-growth hardwoods like those found in tropical rainforests," says Bill Dearing, president of the North American Laminate Flooring Association (NALFA). "Laminate provides the desired look, no matter how scarce, without depleting natural resources."

Moreover, textures that replicate saw marks, worm holes and other decorative details give laminate flooring a remarkably realistic look, but not at the expense of Mother Nature. For example, laminate's fiberboard core is typically comprised of at least 74 percent pre-consumer recycled waste, such as sawdust from mills and wood chips from log processing.

NALFA conducts independent, third-party performance tests on laminate flooring, and products that earn the NALFA Certification Seal are deemed sustainable.

"Laminate flooring has a wealth of green advantages, and products certified to NALFA's sustainability standard are being used in growing numbers because of them," Dearing says. "Consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of the importance of environmentally friendly products."

Dearing says the NALFA Certification Seal is confirmation that a laminate floor is manufactured with these earth-friendly qualities:
• It's made with recycled natural resources producing a heavy-duty, high-density core board.
• It's recyclable.
• It's free of air-damaging chemicals. Because laminate is installed without glues and adhesives, and because laminate floors can be cleaned without the use of harsh chemicals, laminate helps to prevent harmful emissions of volatile organic compounds.
• It complies with formaldehyde emissions regulations for laminate flooring core board set forth by the California Air Resources Board.
• It is comprised of recycled content that may contribute points to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards for homes and businesses.
Finally, at the end of a laminate floor's lifetime, it can be reused or recycled. Or, when dismantled, the boards can be put back into the production process, ground for agriculture use, or burned as waste-to-energy. That keeps old flooring from landing in the landfill.

Source: www.nalfa.com

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Summer Checklist: Tips to Make Sure Students End Year on a Strong Note

June 6, 2012 6:10 pm

With the end of the school year approaching, now is the ideal time for parents to start planning for summer and preparing for next year. Parents play an important role in helping their children continue to learn, says Deme Clainos, CEO or online reading program StudyDog.

“Knowing your child’s learning needs will give you something to focus on during the months ahead and will also be a great asset when school starts again in the fall,” Clainos says.

The following checklist includes a few things parents can do to help their children finish the school year and make plans for the summer months.

1. Meet with the child’s teacher

Meet with teachers before the school year ends. Ask them if the student is on grade level in the subjects they have been studying and for recommendations on how the student might catch up if they have fallen behind. Ask the teacher what they think the child’s strengths and weaknesses are and if they have any suggestions for assignments or things they should work on during the summer.

2. Talk to your child
Discuss with the child what they liked most and what they liked least about the school year. Praise them for their hard work at school and review their report card. Talk to them about their interests and let summer be an opportunity to focus on areas they want to learn more about. Summer is the perfect time to let children explore new interests.

3. Review curriculum for next year
Take time to review general curriculum plans for the next school year to get a better idea of what the child will be studying. This is helpful for identifying learning areas the child should focus on during the summer.

4. Take care of special requests or questions
If there are requests for the next school year, take care of those as soon as possible. Teachers and administrators will most likely start their own break within a few days of school ending. Special requests may include asking for a specific teacher or requesting that a student be put in separate classes from someone they didn’t get along with. This is also the best time to ask teachers about a report card while it’s fresh on their minds.

5. Stay in touch with friends
Have the child collect their friends’ phone numbers and other contact information before school ends, so they can keep in touch through the summer break. Help them make plans to get together with friends, giving them something to look forward to when school ends.

6. Plan educational activities
Make goals for learning during the summer months. Spend time studying areas that were a challenge during the school year. Set aside time each day for reading or for using an interactive program to practice reading skills. Look for educational programs students can participate in like camp or swimming lessons. Spending a few hours learning each week will help keep the child’s mind sharp and ready for school next fall.

7. Plan for down time
Summer break should be relaxing. Be sure to plan for plenty of down time between sports and other activities. The key to summer learning is to keep it from seeming like school, giving your child something to look forward to when they return next fall.

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Remodeling Your Home? Start from the Outside In

June 5, 2012 6:10 pm

The kitchen and bathroom are at the top of most home remodeling project lists. But homeowners intent on remodeling should also consider investing in the exterior of their homes - maybe even start there.
That’s the advice of Sarah Susanka, one of the nation’s leading voices for redefining the American home, and author of the Not So Big House series, a collection of nine books focusing on home design, architecture and remodeling. 

The reason for investing in the exterior is simple. The exterior should set the tone for your home’s interior look and feel. Also, first impressions really do count to the long-term value of a house, especially when it comes time to sell it. 

“I firmly believe that the experience we have in living in our homes can have a profound impact on the way we look at life,” Susanka says. “That experience begins the moment we walk, bike or drive up to it, and extends through the transitions we make as we move between the landscape, the exterior and the interior of the home.” 

The feeling of satisfaction that comes from making your house look good on the outside is experienced at many levels – from the colors and textures of your home to the quality of the materials used to build or remodel it, to the benefits of those materials in the long term, such as the character they lend, or the ease of maintenance they offer. The good news is that if you haven’t remodeled your house in a long time, there are a number of new, sustainable products that are helping homeowners create exteriors that are both beautiful and green, such as APEX siding and Integrity windows, both made with pultruded fiberglass, a tough, low-maintenance, sustainable material offering a rich selection of colors. 

“A Not So Big House is not only built better rather than bigger,” adds Susanka. “It is also designed to be a good custodian of the planet’s resources. It’s built to last. Finding green products that also make it easy for homeowners to maintain the home is a big step toward true sustainability. If a house isn’t both beautiful and practical, no matter how green the materials used, it won’t live up to its sustainability goals. People only look after what they love, and beauty is a big part of that picture.” 

If you’re thinking about remodeling in the near future, here are several more ideas to make the most of your remodeling budget: 

Create a master plan. Many homeowners cannot afford to do a complete remodeling. Most do it in stages. Before you lift a hammer, hire an architect to create a master plan for your home, which will guide your remodeling efforts for years to come. 

Connecting inside with outside. The interior and exterior of your home need to work together. They need to be integrated and harmonize with one another as you move from the surrounding landscape to the interior, or as you look out from inside your home to the garden beyond. To enhance this connection, think about the first impression you want to give a visitor. Do you want it to communicate comfort? Connectedness to the outdoors? Creativity? Or tradition? All these can be accomplished with thoughtful detailing of the home’s exterior, as well as landscaping. 

Small changes; huge impact. Small changes to the exterior, such as adding another color to the exterior palette, adding texture such as stone, brick or lap siding, or framing the windows with wider trim boards, can have a huge impact on the look of your home, and make it feel both more expressive and more inviting. 

Choose sustainable products. It’s important not only to the environment, but to the overall maintenance and longevity of your home. Consider remodeling your house with some of the new, high quality sustainable products that are entering the remodeling marketplace. 

Reduce maintenance and future repairs. Another key to remodeling is to use materials and building methods that are resistant to wear, tear and the elements (rain, sunlight), which reduce the likelihood of needing to make expensive repairs in the future, as well as reducing the amount of time spent on maintenance. Knowing that your home is well protected from the elements is an important part of the overall satisfaction with your home. 

Mix it up. Many people are afraid to use more than one color on the exterior of their home. That’s why so many houses appear dull and lifeless. Consider using two colors of siding and a third color for your trim boards to add personality and vitality to the exterior.

Invest in quality over quantity. Even with a limited budget, try to invest in high-quality products that will look good for the long haul, and will stand the tests of time, rather than buying lower-quality products that may offer the short term benefit of getting a greater share of your remodeling projects done, but which end up looking dilapidated and unattractive in short order. You’ll feel better about the integrity of your home by focusing a significant part of your budget on the bones and outer clothing of your home – the roof, siding, windows, electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems.

Source: www.apexsiding.com.

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Keep It Clean: Purify Your Water with a Filter

June 5, 2012 6:10 pm

We like to keep our homes clean, our cars clean and our desks clean. But how often do we think about our water? Across the country, contaminated tap water lurks in many faucets. Tap water that has an unpleasant taste or odor because it contains rust, chlorine, sulfur or organic material can be purified by installing a water filter with a replaceable charcoal or carbon core.

"Of course, many communities now have a water company that supplies their residential and commercial properties, but even their water supply can become smelly or nasty tasting, occasionally," says Bob Beall, president of Mr. Rooter Pittsburgh and the surrounding areas. 

"A filter is easily inserted in a water supply line--either in the main line near where it enters the house, or in a pipe attached to a major fixture, such as the cold-water faucet in the kitchen that supplies water for cooking and drinking," says Beall. 

According to several manufacturers for different name brand household purification filter systems, where you put it affects the way it is installed. For installation on a horizontal water line you can buy a kit with prefabricated parts; for the other installations (vertical line or bypass), you will have to assemble your own filter mount from standard pipes and fittings. 

According to Beall, "Whichever arrangement you use, the filter must be installed in an upright position with one or more valves isolating it from the system; the valves are needed so that the water flowing through can be shut off while the filter core is being replaced." 

The filter core lasts from six months to a year, depending on the quality of the water and the water flow--one in the main line must be replaced more frequently, notes Beall. When the core does have to be replaced, shut the water off, place a bucket under the unit, unscrew the filter body from the cap, pull out the old filter core and put in a new one. Then threat the filter body back onto the cap. 

The following tips can help:
Tip 1:
To install a filter on a horizontal water line, first shut off the water at the main valve; then cut a length out of the pipe where the filter is to go, using a template that is provided in the valve kit. Thread a valve onto each side of the filter cap and tighten them until each is in an upright position. Slide a nut and compression ring over each pipe end, fit the filter and valves over the pipe ends, and tighten the nut and compression ring onto each valve as you would for a standard compression fitting. When replacing a used filter core, shut off both valves. 

Tip 2: In a vertical pipe, shut off the water and cut a 4-inch section. Install a loop and insert the filter in its lower leg, placing valves on the inlet and outlet sides. 

Tip 3: For a bypass installation, insert a loop; then opening the top valve and closing the side valves permits the filter to be replaced without shutting off the water supply. 

Source: http://www.mrrootermedia.com

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The More You Know: The Low Down on MSG

June 5, 2012 6:10 pm

Walk into any grocery store today and it is almost impossible to pick up any kind of processed food that doesn't have some variant of MSG in it. Yet numerous studies indicate it can have ill effects on health. One HCG Diet Coach tries to increase awareness of MSG's potential dangers while helping people through the HCG Diet.

Perhaps without products like MSG on the market, Paul Johnson, long-time HCG diet coach, would have a completely different career. 

Johnson has been warning people of the dangers of ingesting MSG for years. “I look around our obese nation and can't help but think how many people would be healthy and thin if it weren't for having poisonous MSG put in so many of our foods.” 

This 2012 study  is but one of many over the last four decades that show consumption of MSG (monosodium glutamate) could be hazardous to one's health. 

In fact, (stuff we don’t like to think about alert ahead) scientists use MSG to makes their lab rats fat so the animals can be used in obesity research as seen in many studies, including this one done in 1986 by JF Lorden and A. Caudle and shown on PubMed. 

Since rats are not normally prone to being overweight, and scientists need test subjects, they had to figure out a solution. That meant using MSG to cause the rats to gain weight. By going to pubmed.com and typing in "msg obese" in the search box, over 100 related studies come up. 

And yet, looking at common food labels shows that MSG (which goes by many other names) is everywhere. Nearly any fast food chain, as well as many other kinds of restaurants, cook foods containing MSG or add MSG during the cooking process. MSG is known to be addictive and to cause people to want to eat more of the foods that contain it, so the financial reasoning for food manufacturers is clear. But at what cost to the health of this nation's inhabitants? 

Unfortunately, the FDA hasn't set any limits about how much MSG can be added to food, claiming it is safe. But MSG triples the amount of insulin produced by the pancreas, so it is no surprise diabetes is one of the top killers in the United States today. 

Originally used to enhance the flavor of field rations for soldiers in WWII, MSG soon caught on with US food manufacturers and has been going strong ever since.

Source: http://msgtruth.org

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Word of the Day

June 5, 2012 6:10 pm

Homestead protection. State and federal laws that protect against the forced sale of a person’s home by creditors. Also, upon the death of one spouse, provides the other with a home for life.


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Q: Does the Federal Government Offer Home Improvement Programs?

June 5, 2012 6:10 pm

A: Yes. Among the most popular:
• Title 1 Home Improvement Loan. HUD insures the loan up to $25,000 for a single-family home and lenders make loans for basic livability improvements – such as additions and new roofs – to eligible borrowers. 

• Section 203(k) Program. HUD helps finance the major rehabilitation and repair of one- to four-family residential properties, excluding condos. Owner-occupants may use a combination loan to purchase a fixer-upper "as is" and rehabilitate it, or refinance a property plus include in the loan the cost of making the improvements. They also may use the loan solely to finance the rehabilitation. 

• VA loans. Veterans can get loans from the Department of Veterans Affairs to buy, build, or improve a home, as well as refinance an existing loan at interest rates that are usually lower than that on conventional loans. 

• Rural Housing Repair and Rehabilitation Loans. Funded by the Agriculture Department, these low-rate loans are available to low-income rural residents who own and occupy a home in need of repairs. 

Funds are available to improve or modernize a home or to remove health and safety hazards.

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Why You Need a Lawyer When You Buy or Sell a House

June 4, 2012 6:10 pm

Buying a home will probably be the largest and most significant purchase you will make in your life. It also involves the law of real property, which is unique and raises special issues of practice, and problems not present in other transactions. A real estate lawyer is trained to deal with these problems and has the most experience to deal with them. Some states certify lawyers as "Real Property Specialists" as a result. 

In the typical home purchase, the seller enters into a brokerage contract with a real estate agent, usually in writing. When the broker finds a potential buyer, negotiations are conducted through the broker, who most often acts as an intermediary. Once an informal agreement is reached, buyer and seller enter into a formal written contract for the sale, the purchase agreement. The buyer then obtains a commitment for financing. Title is searched to satisfy the lender and the buyer. Finally, the property is transferred from the seller to the buyer, and the seller receives the purchase price bargained for in the contract. This seems simple, but without a lawyer, the consequences may be more disastrous than purchasing a car that turns out to be a lemon, or a stock investment that was unwise. 

A lawyer can help you avoid some common problems with a home purchase or sale. For example, a seller may sign a brokerage agreement that does not deal with a number of legal problems. This happens quite often; realtors often use standard forms, expecting that they will cover all circumstances or will be easily customizable for unusual circumstances. 

In the absence of an agreement to the contrary, the seller may become liable to pay a brokerage commission even if a sale does not occur, or to pay more than one brokerage commission. If the agreement allows the seller the right to negotiate on his or her own behalf, for example, you may avoid this problem. A lawyer can explain the effect of multiple listings. He or she can negotiate the realtor's rights if the seller withdraws the property from the market, or can't deliver good marketable title. 

The seller should have the advice and guidance of an attorney with respect to a brokerage agreement. Even if the agreement is a standard form, its terms should be explained to the seller and revised, if necessary. An attorney should also determine if the agreement was properly signed. 

Even if a lawyer is not needed during the course of negotiations, the buyer and seller each may have to consult with a lawyer to answer important questions, such as the tax consequences of the transaction. To a seller, the tax consequences may be of critical importance. For example, the income tax consequences of a sale, particularly if the seller makes a large profit, may be considerable. An attorney can advise whether the seller can take advantage of tax provisions allowing for exclusion of capital gains in certain circumstances. 

The purchase agreement is the single most important document in the transaction. Although standard printed forms are useful, a lawyer is helpful in explaining the form and making changes and additions to reflect the buyer's and the seller's desires. There are many issues that may need to be addressed in the purchase agreement; below are some common examples: 

• If the property has been altered or there has been an addition to the property, was it done lawfully?
• If the buyer has plans to change the property, may what is planned for the property be done lawfully?
• What happens if a buyer has an engineer or architect inspect the property and termites, asbestos, radon, or lead-based paint is found?
• What if the property is found to contain hazardous waste?
• What are the legal consequences if the closing does not take place, and what happens to the down payment? This question raises related questions: Will the down payment be held in escrow by a lawyer in accordance with appropriately worded escrow instructions? How is payment to be made? Is the closing appropriately conditioned upon the buyer obtaining financing? 

Most buyers finance a substantial portion of the purchase price for a home with a mortgage loan from a lending institution. The purchase agreement should contain a carefully worded provision that it is subject to the buyer's obtaining a commitment for financing. 

Again, it is important to remember that printed contract forms are generally inadequate to incorporate the real understanding of the buyer and seller without significant changes. In addition, there are many kinds of mortgages that may be available. Mortgage loan commitments and mortgage loan documents are complex. Lawyers can review and explain the importance of these various documents. 

After the purchase agreement is signed, it is necessary to establish the state of the seller's title to the property to the buyer's - and the finance institution's - satisfaction. Generally, a title search is ordered from an abstract or title insurance company. In some states, and in outlying areas of others, title insurance is not typical. In such cases an attorney is essential to review the status of title and render an opinion of title in lieu of a title policy. 

Assuming you are in an area where title insurance is customary, an attorney can help review the title search and explain the title exceptions as to what is not insured, and determine whether the legal description is correct and whether there are problems with adjoining owners or prior owners. He or she can also explain the effect of easements and agreements or restrictions imposed by a prior owner, and whether there are any legal restrictions which will impair your ability to sell the property. 

The title search does not tell the buyer or seller anything about existing and prospective zoning. A lawyer can explain whether zoning prohibits a two-family home, or whether planned improvements violate zoning ordinances. 

The closing is the most important event in the purchase and sale transaction. The deed and other closing papers must be prepared. Title passes from seller to buyer, who pays the balance of the purchase price. Frequently, this balance is paid in part from the proceeds of a mortgage loan. A closing statement should be prepared prior to the closing indicating the debits and credits to the buyer and seller. An attorney is helpful in explaining the nature, amount, and fairness of closing costs. The deed and mortgage instruments are signed, and an attorney can be assure that these documents are appropriately executed and explained to the various parties. 

The closing process can be confusing and complex to the buyer and seller. Those present at the closing often include the buyer and seller, their respective attorneys, the title closer (representative of the title company), an attorney for any lending institution, and the real estate broker. There may also be last minute disputes about delivering possession and personal property or the adjustment of various costs, such as fuel and taxes. If you are the only person there without a lawyer, your rights may be at risk. 

Perhaps the most important reason to be represented by an attorney is conflicting interests of the parties. Throughout the process, the buyer's and seller's interests can be at odds with each other, and even with those of professionals involved in the sale. The broker generally serves the seller, and the lender is obtained by the buyer. Both want to see the deal go through, since that is how they will get paid. Neither can provide legal counsel. The respective lawyers for the buyer and seller will serve only their own clients' best interests. Seeking the advice of a lawyer is a very good idea from the time you decide to sell or to buy a home until the actual closing. 

Source: http://realestate.findlaw.com

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Word of the Day

June 4, 2012 6:10 pm

Homeowner’s insurance policy. Packaged insurance policy for homeowners and tenants that cover property damage and public liability, such as fire, theft, and personal liability.

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Q: How Can I Finance Work Needed on a Fixer-upper?

June 4, 2012 6:10 pm

A: According to the Millennial Housing Commission created by Congress, few lenders are willing to administer home improvement loans. Most prefer to make home equity loans or unsecured consumer loans because they are easier to manage. Home improvement loans usually require inspections and irregular draws on the loan amount as work is completed, which requires regional or national lenders to find local partners to provide oversight. 

Financing repairs and improvements with home equity is okay for most homeowners, but it is difficult for many first-time buyers. They have lower-incomes, smaller savings, and have made lower down payments on their homes than first-time buyers a decade ago. So they have little equity to borrow against. Unfortunately, it is often lower cost older homes purchased by first-time buyers that need the most work. 

Unless you have a cash reserve, you will have to shop around for the best borrowing terms. In addition to the options listed above, you can ask relatives for a loan. Borrow against your whole life insurance policy. Refinance your existing mortgage. Get a second mortgage. Contact the government about home improvement programs. And – only as a last resort – borrow from a finance agency, which generally tend to charge high rates.

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