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5 Renovations for Your Backyard Pool

April 19, 2012 7:52 pm

(ARA) - If you added a pool to your home in the past few years, or moved into a house with an existing pool, you may wonder what more you can do to enhance the value and enjoyment your pool brings to your home and family. You may even think there's not much you can do beyond keeping it clean and well maintained.

"Pools are a great investment, and the vast majority of owners say their pool is a great place to entertain," says Bill Weber, president and CEO of the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals (APSP). "Fortunately, some simple upgrades and renovations can help pool owners enjoy their investment even more."

APSP points to five renovations that can offer homeowners the most satisfaction and value for their investment. The Association suggests homeowners consult with and hire an APSP-certified professional for the best possible results from any of these renovations:

1. Resurfacing - If your in-ground pool is made from concrete, time and use can cause the surface to deteriorate and become rough or even cracked. Resurfacing can restore the beauty and comfort of the pool and extend its functional life. Choose options that provide durability, and consider multiple manufacturers' products to ensure the best selection. For pools with a vinyl interior, a host of new patterns, available for replacement liners, can transform the appearance of the pool overnight. Fiberglass pool owners also have several resurfacing options. Consult with an APSP-certified professional to determine the best product to make your fiberglass pool look like new.

2. New tile - Just as a kitchen backsplash can transform the overall look of the room, tile can set the tone for how your pool looks. Pool tile options are vast, and changing the tile is one of the most dramatic improvements you can make; it will give you the biggest bang for your buck in terms of appearance.

3. Change the look of the pool deck - The current design trend is to extend the look of interior flooring out into the pool area to create the effect of an outdoor family room. Deck choices range from man-made and natural materials to staining existing concrete. Know that old concrete does not necessarily need to be removed. Often you can fix unsightly cracks and dated concrete decks with a thick overlay and new finish.

4. Add a water feature - Installing a waterfall or fountain is a great way to bring the sound and beauty of moving water to your outdoor environment. Water features also create a strong focal point for the pool. A dramatic spillover or sheer water feature can be dynamic additions to an ordinary pool.

5. Lighting - While safety is a primary function of lights, today's pool lighting also adds touches of beauty and pizzazz. Standard incandescent and halogen pool lights are functional staples, and fiber optic lighting can add striking color to a nighttime poolscape. Fiber optics are especially great around pools and landscaping because there's no electrical current to worry about. Long-lasting LED replacement lights can typically be installed with little or no modification to the existing pool. The colored LED lights can create an entirely new mood around your pool while providing energy savings at the same time.

"Of course, there are many more renovations and improvements to consider," Weber says. "Digital controls make operating pool equipment easier than ever, allowing you to control lighting, heating and cleaning with the touch of the button. And upgrades like adding a salt chlorinator system, solar cover and heater can improve the functionality and efficiency of a pool."

Keep in mind, you don't have to do everything at once. Pool renovations can be done over several seasons, allowing you to make the improvements and fund your investment at a pace that works for you. Of course, to ensure you get the most for your money, you'll want to hire an experienced pool contractor. You can find an APSP certified building or service professional through the organization's website, www.apsp.org. APSP-certified professionals are required to demonstrate proven knowledge of design, construction and service, follow a strict code of ethics, and must engage in continuing education to maintain their certification.

"Most renovations are quite affordable, and can dramatically change the look of your backyard," Weber says. "It's important to ensure your project is performed by a certified professional who can help you turn your vision into reality safely, efficiently and cost-effectively."

Source: www.aracontent.com

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Realistic and Livable Tips for a Healthy Lifestyle

April 19, 2012 7:52 pm

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), in the past 20 years, the diets of most Americans have changed, consuming too many calories and too few nutrients. This type of diet leads to weight gain—60 percent of Americans are overweight or obese—and 9 out of 10 Americans fall short of many essential nutrients in their diets. With on-the-go lifestyles, many people find it difficult to eat right, exercise regularly and keep their diet in check. 

Dr. Melina Jampolis, author of "The Calendar Diet: A Month by Month Guide to Losing Weight While Living Your Life," knows that even small, consistent steps can lead to big changes over time. "Eating a well balanced diet, keeping to a fitness routine and maintaining one's weight are all tactics to support a healthy lifestyle. As a doctor specializing in nutrition and weight loss, I've been helping people navigate life's challenges using a motivational and simple, year-long approach." The "Calendar Diet," shows you how to maintain a healthy lifestyle month-by-month, allowing you to cut calories without depriving yourself. 

Dr. Melina shares the following recommendations: 

Eat wholesome foods
"A menu filled with seasonal fruits and vegetables will give you a big nutritional boost," suggests Dr. Melina. Vegetables, she explains, are packed with fiber and water, and are low in fat, so they decrease the calorie density of your diet, while boosting overall nutrition. 

Opt for lean protein in your diet as well, which helps control hunger, stabilize blood sugar levels, support your metabolism, as well as build and protect muscle. Add moderate amounts of "good" fats -- found in nuts, seeds, avocados and olive oil -- to keep calories under control and support the absorption of fat soluble vitamins like A, D, E and K. 

Supplement your diet
"When you reduce calories, you reduce nutrient intake. I recommend dietary supplements to my patients who are restricting calories and who want to achieve optimal health," says Dr. Melina. "When choosing supplements, it is important to go with a reputable brand such as Nature Made," says Dr. Melina, "which has rigorous quality control standards in place to ensure what is on the label is in the bottle." Dr. Melina also recommends looking for products carrying the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) Verified Dietary Supplement mark, as a way to ensure the product has met stringent quality criteria for purity and potency. 

For most of her patients, especially those who are overweight or obese, live in northern latitudes, or are at an age greater than 65, Dr. Melina recommends taking a vitamin D supplement as this key nutrient plays a supporting role in bone, heart and immune health. "To determine if you have low vitamin D levels, speak with your doctor about having your blood levels of vitamin D checked," says Dr. Melina, who recommends adults take 1000 to 2000 International Units (IU) of Vitamin D3 daily to fulfill their vitamin D requirement. 

Up your activity
Always speak with your doctor before beginning a new workout regimen. Make sure you get the recommended amount of activity into your week. "The key is to gradually increase your activity levels," says Dr. Melina. "By switching up your routine every month, you can continually challenge yourself, improve fitness levels and work major muscle groups in different ways to prevent plateaus." 

For more information, visit www.naturemade.com and www.drmelina.com.

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Is Your Pet Ready for Warm Weather Fun?

April 19, 2012 7:52 pm

Before heading outdoors, make sure your pet is ready for the season. Dr. Kemba Marshall, PetSmart veterinarian and pet care expert, knows it's important to pay extra attention to your pet when temperatures climb. 

"Pet parents can make sure their pets stay comfortable, happy and healthy by preparing for the day ahead," says Dr. Marshall. She suggests these tips for pet parents looking to include their canine companions in warm-weather activities. 

Keep pets groomed
A winter indoors often leaves pets with dry skin, tangled fur and a thick undercoat, which begins to shed when the weather warms. Take your dog to a professional grooming salon, like those found in PetSmart stores, to help keep them cool with services like a bath, brush or hair cut to remove loose hair. Have their skin and coat moisturized with a soothing conditioner and their nails trimmed. 

After grooming, brush your dog frequently and trim nails regularly to keep them clean and minimize dirt and debris collected from playing outdoors. Keep grooming tools, such as the Martha Stewart Pets Massager Brush and nail clippers, handy by hanging them behind the back door or tucking them into a basket. 

Keep pets hydrated
Pets need lots of water, especially when it's hot. Be sure to pack extra bottles of water for your dog when heading outdoors for a long hike, walk, jog or trip to the park. "Remember, if you're feeling hot, tired and thirsty, your pet likely feels the same way," says Dr. Marshall. Wet food also helps pets stay hydrated, so consider adding wet food to dry kibble, along with extra water. 

Keep pets sheltered
While the outdoors beckon pets to play, high temperatures can be dangerous. Keep your pet indoors during the hottest part of the day to help them avoid such conditions as dehydration, heatstroke and paw injuries from overheated pavement. 

Consider taking your dog to an indoor play center to keep them happy, such as a Doggie Day Camp. They'll spend the day interacting and exercising with other dogs and trained pet-loving professionals while you're at work or running errands. 

Keep pets pest-free
Pets are susceptible to a variety of bugs and pests—especially fleas and ticks. While fleas can trigger allergies and dermatitis, ticks may carry zoonotic diseases, which can be passed to humans. Purchase preventative collars and topical treatments to protect your pet. And after every outdoor trip, inspect pets carefully for ticks and other insects to ensure their safety. 

Get pets ready to hit the road
• Prepare pets for a long road trip in a crate by taking them on short drives while running errands around town. Your pet will acclimate to traveling in his crate before your vacation. Remember, however, not to leave pets in hot cars while you go into a store.
• Try using pheromone sprays and toys, which may help the pet feel calmer while inside his crate. Avoid plush toys, which can shred and be ingested.
• Dog training classes are a good way to be sure your pet is comfortable in different environments and around new faces. 

Going camping with pets.
• Protect your dog's feet with hiking booties. Come into the store with your dog so that booties can be fit properly. Always remove the booties when you reach your destination or return to the campground so paws don't get overheated.
• Avoid direct sunlight during the hottest part of the day and walk in shaded areas when possible.
• Always keep a fresh supply of drinking water on hand for your pet, and be sure to offer water at least hourly while hiking. 

Source: www.PetSmart.com.

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Word of the Day

April 19, 2012 7:52 pm

Default. Breach of a contract or failure to meet a legal obligation. Nonpayment of a mortgage beyond a certain number of payments is considered a default.

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Question of the Day

April 19, 2012 7:52 pm

Q: What is a second mortgage?

A: It is a loan against the equity in your home. Financial institutions will generally let you borrow up to 80 percent of the appraised value of your home, minus the balance on your original mortgage.

You may incur all the fees normally associated with a mortgage, including closing costs, title insurance and processing fees.

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Top Deck Trends for Summer 2012

April 18, 2012 7:52 pm

(ARA) - It's that time of year when homeowners are lured outside by the warm, sunny weather. Is your outdoor space ready to be enjoyed to the fullest? If your deck or patio needs updating, catching up on the top design innovations and trends will help you create an inviting area that will add value to your home investment.

This year's leading trends focus on blending functionality with beauty to construct a stylish and usable space that requires little maintenance. To create the best outdoor space on the block, consider these popular ideas for your home.

Post caps
A big trend in decking is beautification - taking your functional space and adding stylish elements that produce visual appeal. One easy way to incorporate this trend is by installing post caps. Mounted at the highest point on the railing, post caps are one of the most prominent features of any deck or patio. Deck and fence post caps give a polished, upscale look for your outdoor space.

Fascia corners
Corner joints can separate over time, creating unsightly gaps. If you're looking for an easy way to spruce up your current deck, consider adding decorative fascia corners. Simple and unique, decorative fascia corners are an elegant way to adorn deck skirting and cover corner joint connections. Deckorators offers two black powder-coated fascia corner designs—ridge and leaf—that install easily with screws. Fascia corners are an easy way to capture your own personal style while complementing your home's architecture.

Lighting
Incorporating lighting into your deck area is a big trend because it extends the time you are able to spend in your outdoor space. It also adds an element of safety in a visually pleasing manner. Look for solar powered lights to continue to be popular - you'll find this sun-powered option on numerous outdoor items such as string lights and fountains. Recessed deck lights are another popular lighting option—perfect for stairs because they softly illuminate steps once the sun has gone down.

Multifunctional furniture
Furnishing outdoor space is essential for creating a relaxing, comfortable environment, but it is also a big investment. That's why more people are looking for multifunctional options that provide a variety of benefits. For example an outdoor sectional can serve as a large couch or be separated for multiple sitting areas. A small table serves double duty when it opens for hidden storage. An outdoor umbrella with solar lights provides shade during the day and soft light at night for easy all-day entertaining.

Composite decking
If it's time to replace your whole deck, you might want to consider using composite lumber decking in your new design. Composite decking continues to grow in popularity due to its low maintenance and durability. Today's composite decking is much different than past options because the designs closely mimic the natural look of wood. Latitudes composite decking, for example, features a more natural-looking surface with a realistic grain pattern available in a variety of colors. Plus it's backed by a 25-year stain and fade warranty, so it's guaranteed to look great on your home for a long time, making it a wise investment.

By incorporating these top trends not only will you have a great outdoor space this year, but for many years to come.

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Automation: How Your Smartphone Can Improve Your Home

April 18, 2012 7:52 pm

As of January 2012, 46 percent of cell phone users in the U.S. have smartphones, according to the latest research from Nielsen. 

Growing smartphone and tablet usage has helped people simplify many aspects of their daily lives. Applications available to these devices can help organize your calendar, provide directions, offer information on local restaurants, and even update you with breaking news. These devices can help streamline interactions, why not use them to automate your home? From the temperature of an individual room to the amount of shade you want, modern technology has opened the doors to integrating home automation with mobility, safety and convenience. Keep in mind that not all home automation applications are made equal. Be sure to consider which mobile devices are supported by the app, and how these devices—such as an iPhone or iPad—interact with your home. Oftentimes these solutions also require additional hardware or software to install to make home automation possible. 

Home Entertainment Made Easy: In the past, controlling your music in one room, while recording a show in another room, has been a chore. Using a smartphone or tablet application to automate these systems makes the process of recording on your DVR or adjusting the volume much easier. The benefits of merging these controls to one simple location are numerous. For example, instead of spending your time searching for remotes, you can now spend it by conveniently dimming the lights for relaxation, turning up the volume on your favorite song or starting your favorite show, all with the same device! 

Beacon: Beacon turns an iOS or smartphone device into a handy, easy-to-use remote for home entertainment systems by converting Bluetooth signals from your device to the infrared commands your components are expecting. Beacon pairs your iOS device or smartphone with a Universal Remote App, putting complete control of your home entertainment center in the palm of your hand. 

Savant: Savant's latest Automation App, TrueControl, transforms the iPad®, iPod touch® or iPhone® into the ultimate remote for your SmartSystem, providing a truly comfortable and innovative experience. It can be used for a complete two-way control for your audio and video, in addition to your lighting, security and climate control. 

Automate Your Comfort: Applications can help save time, energy, and money. You will know if you left lights on, what the room temperatures are or if the garage is open. Some applications can even set alarm clocks so you can be sure your children are out of bed in time for school. Turn your home off and on all from one central location in the palm of your hand. 

TaHomA: TaHomA is an innovative solution that allows consumers to control, schedule and supervise their lighting, window covering and climate control devices using Z-Wave and RTS wireless technology. This can be done automatically or remotely from anywhere in the world. TaHomA is popular with many people who have Somfy motorized blinds. If you have motorized blinds by Somfy it is easy to add a complete home integration system that will give you remote control over your lights, air conditioning and security. 

iRule: iRule turns your iOS or Android enabled device into a universal touch-screen remote control. It has the power to control your home entertainment system as well as all lights, fireplaces, thermostats, and remote-controlled electronics. This is a popular App because it has the power to control all of your automated systems from one location. If you have the notion to control your home from the comfort of your phone, iRule is a great way to help you do this. 

Stay Secure from Anywhere: The benefits of having a remote alarm system are numerous. With a remote system you will worry less about your home's security and your family will stay safe even when you can't be with them. You can set your alarms from the comfort of your bed before sleep or on your way to work if you forgot to do it before you left your home. Home security apps have options that allow you to check whether or not your alarms are on or off. You can also check your security cameras and some programs can even turn off the oven for you! 

Mobiscope: Mobiscope is a great app because it allows video surveillance without the purchase of expensive equipment and cameras. All you need is a webcam or network camera to record everything that goes on while you are away. After you have paired the camera with your smartphone you can see live streams instantly! 

Convenience at Your Fingers:
All of the app examples provide you and your home with a convenient option for controlling your systems, but they do not necessarily help with your home design. One area often over-looked is the automation and remote control of window coverings. Apps like Somfy's TaHomA, offered by Budget Blinds, can be programmed to cater to your specific needs.. 

The benefits of having an automated home control system go beyond convenience. A remote system can save energy, which saves you money on your utility bills. Using your remote home systems allow you to use your appliances only when you need them.

Source: Budget Blinds

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Your Yard: Tips to Help Battle Drought Conditions

April 18, 2012 7:52 pm

The combination of a mild winter and dry spring has created challenging conditions for homeowners looking to maintain the health and appearance of their landscapes. 

If drought conditions persist across the country, homeowners can expect to see smaller leaf size, wilted or drooping foliage and scorching (browning) of leaves. In the case of turf grass, sustained drought conditions may lead to early dormancy which, if left unchecked, could result in insect damage, disease and potentially death of the lawn. 

For trees and shrubs, try watering under the "drip line" area where roots are most heavily concentrated. The addition of a biostimulant such as an Arborkelp® treatment will also help to stimulate fibrous root development and increase the root cells' ability to absorb water. For lawns, it's essential to get irrigation systems up and running. If possible, water infrequently for longer periods of time to achieve the best results. 

Here are some more tips to help your greenery look a bit greener in the seasons to come: 

Lawns
1. Water your lawn or garden longer and less frequently, preferably during the coolest part of the day.
2. Have your soil tested for nutrient content. Water absorption and retention increases with soil quality.
3. Utilize a slow-release fertilizer containing Nitrogen and Potassium that is activated by moisture. Apply it during drought so that nutrients are present when your lawn does receive water. 

Trees & Shrubs
1. Use a slow flowing hose at the base, allowing water to seep into soil gradually and saturate the roots. 2. Apply 2-4 inches of mulch around trees and shrubs to retain moisture and reduce weed growth.
3. Irrigate your trees within the "drip line" to heighten stress tolerance.
4. Have a professional inspect your trees and shrubs for signs of insect and disease activity. 

Source: www.savatree.com.

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5 Ways to Trim Insurance Expenses

April 18, 2012 7:52 pm

The average household now spends $50 per month more on gasoline than last year, says financial planner Rick Rodgers, author of "The New Three-Legged Stool: A Tax Efficient Approach To Retirement Planning" (www.TheNewThreeLeggedStool.com). 

Ease the pain by looking for other places to offset that extra expense. Car insurance is a good place to start. 

According to the Insurance Information Institute, the national average auto insurance premium is $850 per year. Rodgers says you can reduce that:
• Shop around regularly. Your insurance agent doesn't have a lot of incentive to reduce your premiums, so shop around yourself on the internet or get an independent insurance agent to shop for you. Contact the Independent Agents Association at (800) 221-7917. (Be sure the company you go with has a good credit rating and claims-paying history.)
• Bundle your coverage. Combining different types of policies (auto, homeowners, liability, etc.) with the same company can be rewarded with discounts on premiums. Bundled packages usually result in a 10 to 15 percent savings.
• Ask for discounts. Ask whether discounts are offered for good driving records, anti-theft devices, vehicle safety features (anti-lock brakes, air bags, automatic seatbelts), low annual mileage and insuring more than one car. Discounts are also available for buying your policy online, paying in full up front, and being a loyal customer.
• Take a defensive driving class. You can learn a lot and most insurance companies recognize the value of a refresher course. Most offer a 10 percent discount on your premium for three years. AARP offers a driver safety program online for those over age 50.
• Increase your deductible. Do your auto and homeowners policies have low deductibles? If so, you may be able to reduce your premiums 15 to 30 percent by raising the deductible on your collision and comprehensive coverage. Make sure you have an emergency fund set aside to cover the cost of repairs before you make the change. 

Certified Financial Planner Rick Rodgers is president of Rodgers & Associates, "The Retirement Specialists," in Lancaster, Pa.

For more information, visit www.rodgersspeaks.com.

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Word of the Day

April 18, 2012 7:52 pm

Deed restrictions. Provisions placed in deeds to control how future landowners may or may not use the property. Also called deed covenants.

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