March 9, 2012 5:00 pm
Keeping your home and family safe is a high priority. If home fires, break-ins or weather-related disasters have you worried, here are some simple steps you can take to make your home a safer place.
Every home should have smoke detectors and carbon monoxide monitors, but they require some minor maintenance and don't last forever. According to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), a working smoke alarm significantly increases your chances of surviving a home fire.
• Make sure you have smoke alarms installed on every level of your home, including the basement. The USFA recommends installing them inside and outside of sleeping areas.
• Replace your batteries regularly. While having a working smoke detector more than doubles your chance of survival, it's estimated that one third of smoke alarms are not working, often due to worn out batteries. Many people use the time change each spring and fall as a reminder to change batteries.
• Replace old smoke alarms. According to the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), smoke alarms should be replaced every 10 years. It is also recommended that homes have both ionization and photoelectric smoke alarms, or dual sensor smoke alarms which have both types of sensors. (Ionization alarms sound more quickly in a flaming, fast-moving fire. Photoelectric alarms are faster at sensing smoldering, smoky fires.) When the time comes to replace your detectors, consider a First Alert product. You can find affordable options with both types of sensors.
Taking precautions to protect your home extend to home security, as well. According to the Bureau of Justice, many home burglaries occur simply by a thief walking through the front door.
• Protect yourself and your family through the use of deadbolts on doors and locks on windows.
• Installing motion-sensor lights on walkways or driveways can potentially deter a thief.
• Many home security kits are available in a "do it yourself" complete package, allowing you to customize sirens, entry points and more.
• If installing an entire security system seems too much, something simple like a keyless entry system provides peace of mind and easy installation. A garage door keyless entry using fingerprint identity ensures that only the right people gain access to your home.
Weather the Storm
Protecting your home from inclement weather is an essential part of ensuring your family's safety.
• The first step is having a family discussion about safe rooms in the house and a plan in case of dangerous weather.
• According to FEMA, a weather radio with NOAA technology allows as much as eight minutes lead time before public alarms sound to move family and pets to a safe room or secure location.
• Make sure you have a weather safety kit that contains a flashlight, portable power for your electronics, an emergency radio, walkie talkies, bottled water and dry goods. Let each child choose 1 to 2 items to put in the weather prep toolkit, such as a toy, game or personal item to help keep them occupied and calm in the case you have to take shelter for a long period of time. Additional alkaline batteries are always good to have on hand in case of emergency.
March 9, 2012 5:00 pm
Spring is here, and that means the rainy season may very well be upon us. With rain comes water damage and with water damage comes every homeowner’s worst nightmare: mold. Okay, that might be a bit extreme, but mold is a pesky problem.
Mold is the single most common byproduct of water damage, appearing in as little as 72 hours following a water damage event (sooner if the water is sewage based), and proving extremely difficult to remediate. Even worse, mold can be the cause of all kinds of health problems, ranging from mild allergic reactions and skin irritation to more serious neurological disorders and respiratory problems.
RestorationLocal.com, a provider of water damage restoration and mold removal services, has come up with the following tips on how to best remove minor mold growths from walls and ceilings in your home and office.
• Start at the top of the wall and work your way down. This will prevent any contamination of clean areas with drips or runs as you move down the wall.
• Wear proper protective gear. Long pants, sleeves, rubber gloves, and a filtration mask are necessary items in order to prevent exposure to mold spores.
• Don’t even try to clean porous surfaces. You will not be successful. Mold gets down inside the surface and cannot be reached. Porous surfaces affected by mold will need to be cut away and replaced.
• Make sure all cleaned surfaces are properly dried out. Moisture is the single most important factor in mold growth.
• Removing mold is never just as easy as killing off the growth. The environment must be properly treated to make sure the problem doesn’t return. This involves disinfecting, sanitizing, improving the ventilation, and reducing humidity and moisture levels. Appropriate humidity levels in any residence of business should be maintained at 40-45 degrees.
March 9, 2012 5:00 pm
Half of all employees who say that they do not feel valued at work report that they intend to look for a new job in the next year, according to a survey by the American Psychological Association (APA).
Conducted online among 1,714 adults between January 12 and 19, 2012 on behalf of the APA by Harris Interactive, the survey found that employees who feel valued are more likely to report better physical and mental health, as well as higher levels of engagement, satisfaction and motivation, compared to those who do not feel valued by their employers.
Almost all employees (93 percent) who reported feeling valued said that they are motivated to do their best at work and 88 percent reported feeling engaged. This compares to just 33 percent and 38 percent, respectively, of those who said they do not feel valued. Among employees who feel valued, just one in five (21 percent) said they intend to look for a new job in the next year (vs. 50 percent of those who said that they do not feel valued).
A variety of factors were linked to feeling undervalued at work, including having fewer opportunities for involvement in decision making (24 percent vs. 84 percent), being less satisfied with the potential for growth and advancement (9 percent vs. 70 percent), having fewer opportunities to use flexible work arrangements (20 percent vs. 59 percent) and being less likely to say they are receiving adequate monetary compensation (18 percent vs. 69 percent) and non-monetary rewards (16 percent vs. 65 percent). Overall, more than one in five (21 percent) working Americans said they do not feel valued by their employers.
Stress at Work
Many Americans continue to report chronic work stress, with two out of five (41 percent) employees reporting that they typically feel tense or stressed out during the workday. Commonly cited causes of work stress include low salaries (46 percent), lack of opportunities for growth or advancement (41 percent), too heavy a workload (41 percent), long hours (37 percent) and unclear job expectations (35 percent).
3 Quick Ways to De-stress:
If you’re feeling stressed at work, try the following calming methods.
Walk it out. Walk away from your office or desk for 5 minutes. Deep breathe and take a lap around the building. When you come back, you will feel more centered.
List it. Write a list of what needs to be done in order of importance. See if you can delegate any tasks to other employees or place low-priority projects on the back burner.
Keep a Smile File. Keep a file on your computer of inspiring images, photos of family and friends, funny jokes or any material that will bring a smile to your face. Open the file when you need a quick pick-me-up.
Sources: http://www.apa.org, http://www.phwa.org
March 9, 2012 5:00 pm
Every year thousands of Americans fall prey to scammers, with the elderly and disabled being the most vulnerable to their schemes. Luckily, there are safeguards in place to protect you, and to provide crucial guidance for spotting scams that could be targeting your family.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), founded by Benjamin Franklin, is the oldest law enforcement agency in the country. It works every day to stop these criminals from the millions of attempts they make to scam Americans.
During National Consumer Protection Week, which ends March 12, USPIS is making an extra effort to help you protect yourself. One of the most prevalent scams around is the Foreign Lottery Fraud, from as far away as Australia and Europe.
Scam operators target U.S. consumers by phone, Internet and direct mail to buy into high-stakes foreign lotteries. This is not only illegal, it also robs millions of Americans of billions of dollars. Lottery hustlers use victims' bank account numbers to make unauthorized withdrawals or their credit card numbers to run up additional charges.
Tips and warning signs to protect yourself from foreign lottery fraud
Use these tips to ensure you and your family are protected against fraud. Remember to inform family members to look out for the following signs.
There are two main techniques used in a foreign lottery scam:
• They tell you that you've won and only need to send a few hundred dollars to claim your prize.
• They ask you to buy tickets to enter a foreign lottery, where the odds are better.
Either way you can't win.
If you are a caretaker to someone with diminished mental capacity, keep a close eye on warning signs that they have fallen prey to scammers. According to the USPIS these criminals are "deliberately targeting victims with dementia."
• Checks written or money wired internationally
• A telephone that rings constantly
• A stack of lottery or sweepstakes entries
• Calls from foreign countries, especially if they're calling your elderly family members
Scammers are constantly updating their methods:
Criminals are increasingly using new technology like VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) and Caller-ID "spoofing," making it seem like the call is coming from the U.S. or even a government agency.
For more information visit www.deliveringtrust.com and postalinspectors.uspis.gov.
March 9, 2012 5:00 pm
Buyer’s market. Describes an excess supply of homes for sale, in which there are few buyers and many sellers. In such a market, the buyer can typically negotiate more favorable prices and terms.
March 8, 2012 7:54 pm
After the recent rise in tornadoes across the country, many homeowners are left stranded with costly repairs—even homeowners who thought they were covered by tornado insurance.
FindLaw senior writer Andrew Chow recently addressed this topic on FindLaw.com.
“Most homeowner, business, and auto insurance policies include tornadoes as part of standard coverage for wind damage and severe weather, according to the Insurance Information Institute. In general, homeowner's and renter's insurance covers property damage from tornadoes,” wrote Chow.
He then went on to note that what the insurance company covers is very much based on the type of insurance policy and the amount of insurance purchased.
What is more shocking is that 64 percent U.S. homes are undervalued for insurance purposes, according to a 2008 study cited in USA Today, which greatly affects their coverage.
Without adequate insurance coverage, many homeowners will find themselves unable to rebuild their homes after a tornado. “While housing values have declined in the past five years, building costs have shot up in most areas, insurance experts told USA Today,” wrote Chow, who went on to point out that renters may be especially hard-hit, since only 43 percent have renter’s insurance, according to the Insurance Research Council.
Property insurance, including tornado insurance, is on the rise, possibly due to damage from deadly tornado outbreaks in 2011, which resulted in huge losses for insurance companies. Still, protecting your home should be a top priority. Look into your policy to see exactly what is covered.
March 8, 2012 7:54 pm
Nutritionist Heather Bauer, RD, CDN, author of the newly released book "Bread is the Devil" from St. Martin's Press, offers tips for people who are trying to change their eating routines to drop the pounds in celebration of National Nutrition Month this March. Bauer notes that it's important not to skimp on the calcium when watching what you eat. Females fall short on calcium by at least 20 percent, getting only 500-700 mg per day—that's significantly less than the recommended amount—putting them at risk of osteoporosis.
To decrease your chance of osteoporosis, Heather Bauer suggests:
1. Think of your bones as living, breathing tissue. They can be built up and broken down with certain determining factors. These factors include daily intake of at least 1,000mg of calcium supplemented with Vitamin D for optimal absorption and weight-bearing exercise.
2. By the time we hit our 30s, we stop naturally building bone mass and start losing it. Counteract this with anything that forces your body to defy gravity. Activities include dancing, jogging, tennis, even stair climbing. Make sure to avoid escalators and elevators!
3. Lifting weights at the gym gives you muscle tone, right? Well, calcium acts in the same way to keep your blood vessels toned. Calcium rich foods like milk, cheese, sardines, figs, and dark leafy greens like spinach can be tough to eat a lot of, so consider a calcium supplement if you're not meeting the recommended daily value.
According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, 10 million Americans are estimated to have osteoporosis and almost 34 million more are estimated to have low bone density, increasing their risk of osteoporosis and broken bones. National Nutrition Month is a nutrition education and information campaign sponsored annually by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. National Nutrition Month focuses on the importance of developing healthy eating and physical activity habits, including meeting daily calcium requirements and performing various exercises to build strong bones, which is imperative in the fight against osteoporosis.
March 8, 2012 7:54 pm
Want to redesign your kitchen but can’t afford to remodel? The following tips, offered by Whirlpool, can help you redefine your space without breaking the bank.
• Do a Deep Clean – Often times all a space needs is a bit of TLC. Gather your family and do a deep clean to the baseboards, cabinets, trim and appliances. Your kitchen will look shiny and new without ever spending a dime.
• Refresh Your Color – A new coat of paint can brighten up an entire room. Choose a light color for the kitchen that won't show all those food stains and finger prints.
• Organize Your Cabinets – According to a Harris Interactive survey conducted on behalf of Whirlpool, 27 percent of consumers will shove things in without worrying about organization. Spend a morning throwing out expired products and organizing boxes and cans by use. Your kitchen will feel more open and be much easier to navigate.
March 8, 2012 7:54 pm
With no end in sight to rising gas prices, consumers who modify their driving habits and properly maintain their vehicles will get more miles per gallon. The Car Care Council recommends the following ways to drive smart and save gas money:
• Observe the speed limit. Gas mileage decreases rapidly above 60 mph.
• Avoid excessive idling. Idling gets zero miles per gallon. Warming up the vehicle for one or two minutes is sufficient.
• Avoid quick starts and stops. Aggressive driving can lower gas mileage by 33 percent on the highway and 5 percent in the city.
• Consolidate trips. Several short trips taken from a cold start can use twice as much gas as one longer multi-purpose trip.
• Don't haul unneeded items in the trunk. An extra 100 pounds in the trunk reduces fuel economy by 1 to 2 percent.
• Check the gas cap. Damaged, loose or missing gas caps allow gas to vaporize into the air.
• Replace dirty or clogged air filters on older vehicles to improve gas mileage by as much as 14 percent.
• Replace dirty spark plugs, which can reduce mileage by two miles per gallon.
• Change oil regularly and gain another mile per gallon.
• Keep your car properly tuned to improve gas mileage by an average of 4 percent.
• Keep tires properly inflated and improve gas mileage by 3 percent.
"Some motorists think they are saving money when they put off needed vehicle maintenance. What they don't realize is that neglecting routine maintenance can end up costing a lot more," said Rich White, executive director, Car Care Council. "Keeping your car running efficiently and adjusting your driving behavior are the best ways to improve your vehicle's fuel economy and keep more money in your pocket."
March 8, 2012 7:54 pm
Q: Can I contest my property taxes?
A: Many people do, mainly because determining value can often be tricky. This is especially true in a changing market when local prices either take off dramatically or plunge precipitously, like during the Texas oil bust of the 1980s.
While it is up to a professional assessor to evaluate property value for tax purposes, property owners are usually allowed to contest their assessment until a certain date after they are made public.
Once you contest, you will have to prove why you think your property is worth less – few homeowners contest hoping to pay more taxes! The two most popular ways for determining value are an appraisal and a comparative market analysis. With an appraisal, a professional estimates the property's market value based on recent sales of comparable properties. A comparative market analysis is an informal estimate of market value performed by a real estate agent based on similar sales and property attributes. Most agents will offer free analyses to win your business.
Contact your local tax assessor's office for procedures on appealing your property tax assessment.