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Mary Mastroeni

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Question of the Day

May 3, 2012 5:22 pm

Q: Where can you find fixer-uppers?

A: They are literally everywhere, even in wealthy enclaves. What sets them apart is price. They have lower market value than other houses in the immediate area because they have either been poorly maintained or abandoned.
To determine if a property that interests you is a wise investment will require a lot of work. You will need to figure out what the average home in the area sells for, as well as the cost of the most desirable ones.

Experts suggest that novices avoid run-down properties needing extensive work. Instead, they recommend starting with a property that only needs minor cosmetic work – one that can be completely refurbished with paint, wallpaper, new floor and window coverings, landscaping, and new appliances.

Also, keep in mind that a home price that looks too good to be true probably is. Find out why before pouring your hard-earned money into it.
When looking for a fixer-upper, some experts suggest you follow this basis strategy: find the least desirable home in the most desirable neighborhood. Then decide if the expense that is needed to repair the property is within your budget.

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Finding the Right Tutor for Your Child

May 2, 2012 5:22 pm

As a parent, you want your child to get the best grades possible—and sometimes, that means finding a tutor if you believe your child is falling behind.

Basically, there are three options for choosing a tutor, notes Pennsylvania education writer Tristan Andrews. Since the child’s cooperation is critical in order for any tutoring to be effective, the wise parent will consider how comfortable the child seems with a specific tutor as well as the tutor’s teaching proficiency:

• Learning centers – National and local tutoring centers, such as Sylvan, employ many tutors specializing in various subjects. Rates are generally standardized and the tutoring is usually accomplished at the learning center rather than at home. The best thing about such a program is that you can take the child to the studio to meet several possible tutors—and trust your child’s sense that he or she can relate to one in particular.
• Private tutors – Parents who prefer to find an independent or home tutor will find that many retired teachers choose to do some tutoring in order to supplement their income. Some advertise in local papers or post flyers at local schools or libraries. Others rely strictly on word of mouth, so check with friends and neighbors about the tutors they employ. Scheduling for private tutors is flexible, they will almost always come to your home, and prices may be more competitive than those at learning centers.
• College students – College students, too, often rely on tutoring jobs to help supplement their income. Youth and enthusiasm for their studies may make them good role models as well as good tutors with whom your child can relate. Here again, scheduling is flexible and pricing may be the most reasonable of all. Find student tutors by checking with the employment office or Student Union at colleges in your area—and, as always, set the stage for success by choosing a tutor with whom your child feels comfortable

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Homeowners, Help Protect Your Family and Property from a Flood

May 2, 2012 5:22 pm

With heavy spring rain comes the potential for flooding. When water enters a home, it can cause damage to your property and belongings. Below are some practical steps, provided by Hiscox, to help prevent water entering your property, minimize any damage, and keep your family safe.

• Move anything of value including furniture, electrical equipment and valuables (including photographs and sentimental items) to upper floors
• Prepare an emergency kit in case you are trapped or need to evacuate - this should include blankets, torches, waterproof clothing, food, water, a shovel and a first aid kit
• If you don't know, find out how to turn off the electricity supply (in the dark if necessary)
• Prepare a list of important emergency phone numbers, including emergency helplines for your local water company and insurance company.
• Make copies of all your important documents and store them in a dry safe place which is easily accessible
• If there is a known or recurring problem, prepare for flooding by placing sandbags around the perimeter of your house, especially doorways and places where water can easily seep in
• Relocate your cars to safer areas

Source: www.Hiscox.co.uk

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Saving the Bacon Tip: How to Find a Slab Leak Early to Avoid Costly Repairs

May 2, 2012 5:22 pm

For homeowners without a basement, a slab leak—or a leak directly under the home’s foundation—can cause extreme damage. Shifting soils stress homes from the ground up including the pipes under your home. By listening to your home, you may be able to find a slab leak early on.

Why is a slab leak a concern? Water accumulation under your home can damage your foundation. According to the Guidelines for Pipe Bursting TTC Technical Report, prepared for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, leaks under slabs will cause localized ground displacement or heaving around the leak. This can cause cracking in the slab, as well as tiles, walls and floors. In addition to possibly having to pay for repairs and seeing an increase in your water bill, you may have to deal with the sanitary issues that increased moisture causes, such as mold and mildew.

Many events and conditions cause slab leaks. Here are a few:
• Bad pipes
• Poorly assembled fittings and pipes
• Electrolysis causing pinhole leaks
• Rust
• Ground movement from expanding or contracting soils
• Roots
• Commercial waste pipe cleaners that actually eat through pipes 

Homeowners’ insurance may help offset the cost of repairs, but why go there when you can take preventative measures? Early leak detection can minimize repair costs and prevent the need to file claims.

Luckily, there is a six point check list on how to find an under slab leak:
• Check for water noises under the concrete slab.
• Check your water bill for any unexplained increases is usage.
• Check floors for increased humidity or wet spots.
• Check floors for warm spots (warm water pipes leaking).
• Check floors for cold spots (cold water pipes leaking).
• Check for cracks in floor, bubbles in linoleum, cracks in walls and baseboards.

If you think that you have a leak, try shutting all water use off in your house. Then read your water meter. Write down the time, date and usage. In an hour, re-read your meter. You may have a leak if there is a difference in the numbers. Keep in mind leaking sprinklers, toilets and faucets also mean you are using water.

Finding a leak in a water line is a science. Do you think you have one? Consider calling a plumber in at this point.

Source: http://www.halshallplumbing.com.

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What Every Homeowner Should Know about Ceiling Fans

May 2, 2012 5:22 pm

(ARA)—Ceiling fans are the jacks-of-many-trades, useful in nearly every home space and in virtually every decor. They are also a necessary element for homeowners looking to cut utility bills. If you need a new ceiling fan, it's easy to get lost in the many available options, which is why some tips from lighting professionals can be helpful.

The American Lighting Association offers the following tips about how to use ceiling fans, integrate them into a decorating scheme, and size them specifically for your rooms.

The many uses of ceiling fans
Ceiling fans serve three primary purposes; the first is, of course, air movement. "In summer, ceiling fans create a 'wind chill' effect that makes the room feel 6 to 8 degrees cooler than the actual ambient temperature," says Joseph Rey-Barreau, AIA, IES, associate professor in the College of Design at the University of Kentucky. "In winter, the direction of the blade movement can be set to a counter-clockwise direction, which will help to move the hotter air at the ceiling toward the edges of the room and then downward. This helps to distribute the heated air more efficiently."

That is key to consumers' interest in—and need for—ceiling fans. "That air movement can help reduce heating and air conditioning bills in homes," says Maria Scutaro, president of Murray Feiss Lighting/Monte Carlo Fan Company.

Manufacturers have also adapted ceiling fans to fit the smallest of spaces - even in closets - with a single blade and minimal motor that leaves the ceiling fan able to hug the ceiling. In addition, ceiling fans are a decorative element and focal point for the interior design - a big change from the 1990s.

"There is an unlimited range of fan styles and designs ... as well as fans that are part of a 'family' of lighting fixtures," says Rey-Barreau.

Finally, as a light source, ceiling fans "can range from a night light to ambient light to a fully directed light source," says Scutaro. "LED technology is bringing light and additional energy efficiency to fans."

The energy efficiency of ceiling fans
Much like the Energy Star label gives homeowners guidance about appliances that will save on utilities, ceiling fans can also be rated Energy Star compliant. To do that, those ceiling fans must use efficient motors and advanced blade design to meet or exceed minimum requirements for airflow efficiency set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Energy Star ceiling fans also carry three warranties: a minimum 30-year on the motor, a one-year on other components, and two-year on lighting. "Lighting for Energy Star-qualified fans also uses efficient compact fluorescent sources that use two-thirds less energy and produce 70 percent less heat than incandescent bulbs," says Rey-Barreau.

The three location ratings of ceiling fans
Ceiling fans used indoors in protected spaces differ from those used in semi-protected or exterior spaces. An "indoor use" rating means a fan can be used only indoors; those rated "damp use" can be used outdoors if in a covered spot, such as a porch. An "outdoor use" rating means the fan can be used in a location where it will be exposed directly to water, such as over a patio that is located underneath a deck.

A common mistake made with ceiling fans
"The better quality fans do not cost much more than the most inexpensive fans," says Rey-Barreau. "A consumer should purchase a fan that has a good motor, and that is energy efficient. Buying a very inexpensive fan can be problematic in terms of performance." Be sure to purchase your fans from an ALA-member retailer. They carry high quality lighting and fan products, and have professionally trained staff available to help you select the best products for your home.

Ceiling fan sizing basics
In order for a ceiling fan to effectively heat and cool a space, it must be sized for the square footage of the room. Use these measurements as guidelines:

Room size
Less than 50 square feet - 29-inch fan
75 square feet - 36-inch fan
100 square feet - 42-inch fan
225 square feet - 52-inch fan
300 square feet - 56-inch fan
More than 300 square feet - a 60-inch fan or two 56-inch or 52-inch fans

Source: www.americanlightingassoc.com.

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Word of the Day

May 2, 2012 5:22 pm

Encroachment. A building or other improvement that extends beyond its boundary and intrudes upon the property of another.

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Question of the Day

May 2, 2012 5:22 pm

Q: When is the best time to sell a home?
A:
The best time to sell is when you are ready, or when you must. That is, when you have outgrown the space in your current home, or you prefer to trade down to something smaller. Perhaps your marital status has changed, which necessitates a move, or you need to relocate for a job.

Market conditions also play a role, as do seasonal conditions. For example, your chances of getting top dollar for your home are more likely in a seller’s market, when demand outweighs supply, than in a buyer’s market.

Local and national economic factors also may dictate when to sell. If a major employer in your area is laying off workers, it may not be a good time to put your home up for sale. People will be cautious about buying when the future seems so unpredictable or bleak.

Most agents agree the best time to sell is in the spring. This is when the largest number of potential buyers hit the market. Your home is likely to sell faster and at a higher price, although sales begin to pick up as early as February and start to slack off in July, the slowest month for real estate transactions.

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Energy Efficient Improvements: Understanding Your Tax Credits

May 1, 2012 5:16 pm

I have promoted a number of programs and tips on saving energy, cutting costs and saving the planet. But this month, the Alliance to Save Energy (ase.org/efficiencynews) is trying to help homeowners understand which energy-efficient home improvements are eligible for federal tax credits, and which forms you’ll need to claim them. 

According to the ASE, you can get up to $500 back on your 2011 income tax return if you installed energy-efficient products in your home last year. 

To claim the non-business energy property credit the ASE advises:
• For your records, keep your receipts and manufacturer’s certifications from the energy-efficient products that you installed. You don’t have to submit copies with your tax return, but you will need them if you are audited.
• Download IRS Form 5695 and fill it out.
• Take your total number of credits at the bottom of Form 5695, and enter it into line 52 of Form 1040.
• Attach Form 5695 to Form 1040.
• Submit these forms with your 2011 taxes by April 15, 2012.

Remember, the Residential Energy Credits also include an incentive for geothermal heat pumps. This credit, called the “residential energy efficient property” credit, provides 30 percent of the cost of these systems, as well as renewable equipment like solar water heaters and small wind systems.
If you have questions on how to claim your energy-efficient home upgrades, the ASE recommends reading more about Form 5695 paying special attention to the well-written “General Instructions” on the final pages. 

If you still need help, consult a tax professional—and remember that neither the Alliance to Save Energy nor your Consumer Confidant are experts on taxes!

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How-To: Deter Deer from Demolishing Your Garden

May 1, 2012 5:16 pm

(ARA)—Springtime means sunshine, blooms, birdsong - and the dreaded "deer drama" that will inevitably wreak havoc in your beautiful backyard this season. Deer are now a permanent part of our landscapes, brazenly entering our yards and eating our gorgeous gardens. They are majestic animals, and beautiful to look at—from a distance. Up close, trampling and tasting your tulips, they're just not a welcome sight.

Springtime is when deer damage is most noticeable, particularly as plants awaken from months of dormancy and prepare to bloom. Deer are the poster critters of natural adaptability. As suburbia has encroached on their wild habitat, deer have adjusted easily, finding plenty to eat in residential landscapes.

"In the early part of the 20th century, the deer population in the U.S. was less than half a million animals," says Greg Ecsedy, owner of Bobbex Inc., which manufactures deer repellent. "Today, estimates place the deer population at between 15 million and 20 million animals that cause about $1 billion a year in damage to farms, gardens, yards and timber."

"We know that deer will eat more than 500 different types of plants, so there's a good chance that something you've planted will appeal to them, and you can bet they'll eat it," Ecsedy says.

Since deer need to consume a high volume of calories to survive - bucks weighing 125 to 250 pounds need 4,000 to 6,000 calories per day - their foraging can cause significant damage to suburban landscapes. Deer seldom travel alone, so a small herd can devastate a neighborhood quickly. Deer's close proximity to people over the course of time has dulled their natural fear, so it's quite common to see multiple deer nonchalantly noshing away - right outside your window.

Deer's adaptability stems from their capacity to learn. Homeowners can defend their landscape by putting deer's natural learning ability to good use. Deterrents that convince the deer your yard is no longer a desirable dining destination can successfully protect your home environment from these foraging foes.

Several methods can be effective in deterring deer. Common solutions include:

Deer Repellent - Deer rely heavily on their sense of smell to assess the desirability of an area for feeding, and to alert them to danger. Disrupting their sense of smell can disrupt their sense of security, which is why scent-based repellents often prove effective. The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station gave Bobbex a 93 percent protection index - second only to a fence, at 100 percent, for effectiveness. The repellent uses ingredients that blend the scents of putrescent eggs, garlic, fish, clove oil and other proteins, so it smells and tastes awful to deer. It's environmentally friendly and safe for animals and your family.

Deer Deterrent Devices - Motion-activated noise makers and lights can scare deer off for a short time. Deer's movement in the yard can activate motion lights at night, scaring them away, during the day you can use motion-activated sound. It's likely, however, that deer will become acclimated to both tactics over time, and the sound and motion might not have an effect on them.

Deer Fence - Fencing is considered the only surefire way to keep deer out of a garden, but keep in mind that deer have been known to jump 10-foot fences, and many communities restrict the height of fencing. You may not be able to put up a fence high enough to keep deer away - plus, fencing might not be practical and can be costly.

Deer Resistant Flowers - Another option is to grow plants that deer don't like. A hungry deer will eat just about anything, but you may have some success by planting deer-resistant flowers and plants like catmint, hellebore, yarrow, fuzzy lamb's ear, and cleome near the plants you want to protect.

Source: www.bobbex.com.

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Summer Outdoor Lighting - Top Ideas for Curb Appeal and Energy Savings

May 1, 2012 5:16 pm

Now that summer is fast approaching most of us tend to push thoughts of outdoor lighting to the back of our minds. After all, who needs much lighting when the days are long and the beautiful sunlight is plentiful? Most people would agree with the writer Henry James when he said, “Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language,” and leave it at that.

But not so fast, says Lamps Plus blogger and designer Marcia Prentice. “There are actually a lot of summer outdoor lighting ideas that you can use to not only add style to your home, but also safety and energy savings.” 

Start with Porch Lights
The longer days mean that family and guests will be out and about later into the evening. Because of this, porch lights are essential for welcoming guests in style and giving them adequate light to safely navigate walkways and steps. “Porch lights also add a touch of elegance and curb appeal to just about any home,” notes Marcia. “Just remember to size the light correctly for the size of your home. Most people buy fixtures that are too small for their porch space. I like to cut out a piece of paper that’s the size of the fixture, tape it into location and then stand at the curb or in the walkway to see how it will look. The same approach can be used to size backyard patio lights.” 

Dark Sky Lighting
One option for outdoor lighting around your home is what is called Dark Sky outdoor lights. These types of lights aim light at the ground, not the sky, reducing light pollution. Many local communities have Dark Sky lighting regulations, which may specifically call for this type of lighting. “Even if you don’t need to install this type, it is still a great option for homeowners,” says Marcia. “With more light on the ground, they can actually improve visibility in walkways by reducing light glare and flares. This means you can reduce the wattage of the bulbs you use, saving energy over the long term.” 

Security Lights
Security is always an issue with outdoor lighting, notes Marcia. “Aside from style, you’ll also want to make sure that your plan offers safety and security for your summer evenings outdoors. I love using dusk to dawn lights for seating areas, porches and garden pathways.” This type of lighting uses a built-in photocell to automatically turn the light on at dusk and then off again at dawn. “You don’t have to be home for the outdoor lighting to turn on and you don’t have to remember to turn lights off after a party or family gathering,” explains Marcia. “The built-in dusk to dawn feature takes care of everything for you, which is a great security feature as well as something that will save you energy and money.” 

Energy Efficient Outdoor Lighting
For those wanting to really save on their energy bills, energy efficient outdoor lights are the way to go. “Today there are more energy efficient outdoor lighting designs on the market than ever before,” says Marcia. “Many of these use new LED technology or other design features to make them as energy-miser as possible, and they come in all styles for your home, from traditional to really ultra-modern looks.” 

Energy Star rated outdoor lights are a popular option, though designs without the rating can be just as energy efficient. Energy Star is a government program tests fixtures based on guidelines set by the EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy. “Look for the tags on products to see if they are Energy Star,” says Marcia, She also advises that consumers look at the wattage of the bulbs used by the fixture and, also very important, the lumens, or light level output, the bulbs produce. “This will really help you determine how much light a design will produce and at what cost. Outdoor lights are on a lot, so it’s important to know what your energy costs will be before you buy.” 

Add the Party Lights
What’s a summer season without a BBQ or pool party? String lights, often called party lights, are an inexpensive way to add a fun look to your summer entertaining. Many times you can string together multiple strands of lights, so you can use them to cover large decks or garden areas. They are found in a wide range of themes, from paper lanterns to flowers, with a number of child-themed options as well. “I love that you can just string them up for a party to transform the look of your space, plug them in, and then quickly take them down the next day after the party is over,” says Marcia. “And you don’t even have to hang them up. You can just bunch them together and put them in tall glass jars or wrap them around tree trunks to create really interesting effects.” 

Source: Lamps Plus

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