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Mary Mastroeni

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Soggy Spring and Scorching Summer Add to Fall Home Maintenance Needs

September 13, 2011 5:03 pm

Thirty-three of the 48 continental states experienced above-average rainfall last spring (not to mention more rainfall in the past few weeks for much of the South and North.) An extremely warm summer followed "hot on the heels" of all that rain. The result? Many outdoor spring cleaning projects did not get marked off the homeowner's to-do list. Fall offers one more chance to get outdoor spaces and gear clean and protected before winter's arrival puts the deep freeze on outdoor projects.

• Start at the top. For a small space, clogged gutters can cause big damage, because water doesn't drain properly. Instead, it can damage everything from the foundation, wood and landscaping to the roof—and it can even find its way indoors to cause damage there. Check out tools that allow you to bypass the ladder and clean the gutters from the ground.
• Wet paint. Jeff Wilson, host of multiple programs on the DIY network and HGTV, says, "I worked for a painter who said a paint job would last twice as long if you cleaned the siding every two years. Removing dirt and killing the mold, mildew, and algae on a surface helps to eliminate some of the paint's enemies." Take the opportunity to check for bare patches of wood where the paint has blistered and peeled. Since exterior coatings like paint and stains shouldn't be applied when temperatures are over 90 degrees, fall is a good time for touchups.
• Don't Pay The Price For Snow and Ice. Wood decks and fences, as well as concrete walkways and patios, can all be damaged over the winter by water absorption and repeated freeze/thaw cycles (or wet/dry cycles), which cause cracking. (De-icing salts can also damage concrete surfaces.) Clean them, then apply a waterproofing coating to stop water absorption over the winter. (These types of products do recommend minimum temperature guidelines for application, so check the label on the product you are using.)
• Bring It On Inside: It's also a good idea to clean any outdoor furniture, cushions or hammocks that you're going to store and bring in fragile garden decor or pots. (If you want to enjoy your deck or patio over the winter, there are many great outdoor heaters that look stylish while keeping you warm.) Put your lawnmower to sleep for the winter by sharpening the blade, changing the oil, and adding a bit of fuel stabilizer to the fuel tank. Do the same for trimmers, tillers, etc. All other gardening tools should be cleaned, sharpened if necessary, and lightly oiled before putting them away, too (after you plant your bulbs!).

• Next, drain hoses. Any water left in them may freeze, expand, and burst the hose, so this is a critical step. While many newer homes will have frost-free spigots outside, older homes won't, so shut them off from the inside if possible or cover them with an insulated cover if it regularly falls below freezing (about $2 each).
• Clean-Up on Good Deals: Reward yourself and get ready to greet spring, 2012 in style. Late summer is the time retailers offer great clearance discounts on all types of outdoor furniture, cushions and accessories. Check online as well as traditional "brick and mortar" stores. 

For more information, visit http://www.thompsonswaterseal.com.

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5 Keys for Successful Work-Life Balance

September 13, 2011 5:03 pm

Five, 10 or 15 years ago the American Dream was to own a bunch of “stuff”—a big house, luxury SUVs and the finest clothes. Well, we have learned from the recent recession and mortgage crisis what overspending and living in a fantasy world has done to millions of Americans: The American Dream has turned into the American Nightmare.

So what’s the New American Dream? Dozens of nationwide surveys show that what Americans want most in life is work/life balance. True happiness and fulfillment comes from doing fun, exciting things—not having fun, exciting things.

So, how do you have your cake and eat it too? Here are 5 important “must-dos” in order to successfully live the New American Dream and have successful work/life balance: 

1. You must learn to live below your means. The only way to have time and energy to do the things most important to you (time with kids, travel, church, service, reading, exercise or just relaxing) is to spend less time at work and more time with life. The higher your monthly expenses are, the more you feel the pressure to be at the office. It’s a very simple formula, yet the majority of Americans fall into the trap of keeping up with the Joneses (or Kardashians) and never learn to live below their means.
2. Your job must be a good “vehicle.” Many people admire brain surgeons for their abilities, clout and paycheck. But saving lives and being on-call 24/7 is not a good vehicle for healthy work/life balance. Any job that sucks you dry emotionally or physically is also not a good vehicle because when you leave the office you are too drained to do the things you really love to do. So ask yourself, “Am I able to leave work behind when I drive home? Do I have a boss who builds me up and doesn’t tear me down? When I come home, am I energized to spend time with my kids?” If the answers are “Yes” then you probably have a great vehicle for work/life balance—regardless of your job title or paycheck.
3. Am I running my career and life, or is someone running it for me? It’s important to stand up for your own schedule and work with a company who is willing to work with you to help you have life balance.
4. Learn to turn off your cell phone before you walk in your front door. Emails, text messages, Facebook, YouTube, games, apps—they are now killing the New American Dream. These things are fine in small doses, but more than a few minutes a day these gadgets will kill quality time with your kids, distract you from exercising and derail any goals you set for yourself. Smart phones are creating a lot of dumb people. Don’t be one of them.
5. Carve out time (daily) for the things most important to you. If your children are your priority, then carve out quality time for them every day—and do not let anything and anyone get in the way. Schedule everything else (including work) around your priorities. Protect your priorities like an offensive lineman protects his quarterback. Push and shove distractions out of the way —or else all of your life goals will get sacked. 

For more information, visit www.swparents.com.


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Organizing Tricks for Every Season

September 13, 2011 5:03 pm

The start of fall means that it's time to clean up the house, swap out clothes in your closets, and break out the seasonal tools in the garage. The October 2011 issue of ShopSmart magazine, from the publisher of Consumer Reports, prepares readers with organizing tricks to keep everything tidy year-round.

"The change of seasons is the perfect time for people to break the cycle of their bad organizing habits," says Lisa Lee Freeman, editor-in-chief of ShopSmart.

"With our season-by-season guide, readers can make sure that they keep their belongings organized from year to year and cut down on the amount of time they have to spend re-organizing each time a new season rolls around."

Store it in the fall
1. Garden tools and pots:
Hose off dirty gardening gear and stack pots in tiers. For pots with fragile surfaces, layer newspaper between vessels to protect from scratches and chips. Outdoor garden storage benches and cabinets are also great for storing tools and pots over the winter. To find gear easily come spring, group like items together.
2. Summer Clothes: To free up precious closet real estate, measure the number of feet of hanging space your clothes take up and get a garment rack wide enough to accommodate it all. Stow in a dry basement or attic. And be sure to clean clothes before putting them away—even if they look spot-free. Stains that seem invisible can oxidize over time and be hard to get out if left untreated.
3. Beach towels, picnic blankets, outdoor linens, and tableware: Clear the linen closet of summer beach towels and outdoor tablecloths and place mats; stash in giant plastic tubs. Cradle outdoor dishes and cups on top. Park the bin in a basement or attic.

Store it in the winter
1. Garden rakes:
Hang long-handled rakes and garden tools from a pegboard. Affix the board to any garage or shed wall, leaving about an inch of space between the wall and the board to accommodate hooks.
2. Seasonal decorations: Stow jack-o-lanterns and cornucopias in opaque bins—clear bins let in light, which can damage memorabilia. In the fall, discount stores like Target sell seasonal bins, so you'll be able to tell what's for Halloween or Thanksgiving.
3. Bikes: There are many types of bike racks; some mount into studs on the wall, others mount from a track system. Check out your options and choose one that works for your space. Hang it in an empty spot on a wall in the garage.

Store it in the spring
1. Boots:
Stuff boots with boot forms to help them keep their shape. You can also use balled-up gym socks in a pinch. Lay each pair of boots flat in a plastic bin. Stack bins at the back of your closet or put under your bed.
2. Sleds and ice skates: Most sleds have holes for a steering rope; thread heavy rope through the holes, then hang sleds in the garage. Stash disc-type sleds in a large clear contractor bag. Tie a knot at the top and hang from a hood, flat against the wall of your garage.
3. Bulky coats and bedding: Wash or dry-clean throws, quilts, and duvets, then store in space bags in a linen closet. Short on closet space? Use a rolling garment rack with a zippered front closure to keep out moisture and moths. For bug protection, place cedar blocks at the bottom of the bag before putting it in the basement or attic.

Store it in the summer
1. Backpacks and lunch boxes
: Clean backpacks and wash lunch boxes, then air them out in the sun before putting away in storage tote labeled "Back to School." Store the tote in the back of an entryway closet or in the attic. If you don't have a large storage area, use your child's closet: Put the lunch box inside the backpack and hang it on a hook in the side or rear of the closet.
2. Artwork and school papers: "Condense and preserve" is your mantra for children's school papers and projects. Condense what you need to store by weeding out items your child is no longer attached to. Preserve especially important projects by asking your child to pick out five pieces she wants to save. Put the rest in a portfolio labeled with your child's name and school year. Store it at the back of her closet or in the attic.
3. Wool rugs: Roll up cleaned up and vacuumed rugs to keep them free of deep creases or bends, then wrap them in large plastic bags. Store them up high on garage shelf or in your attic. 

For more information visit www.ShopSmartmag.org.

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Question of the Day

September 13, 2011 5:03 pm

Q: What are mortgage credit certificates?

A: A mortgage credit certificate, or MCC, makes it easier for eligible buyers to qualify for a mortgage loan. Offered by many city and county governments, they allow first-time buyers to take advantage of a special federal income tax write-off.

Under MCC programs, the lender can reduce the housing expense ratio – the percentage of gross monthly income applied toward housing expenses – by the amount of the tax savings. Normally, lenders reject loans if the housing expense ratio is too high.

Program requirements for MCCs vary, although most adhere to the following guidelines:

The buyer must live in the home being purchased with an MCC-assisted mortgage.

Total household income cannot exceed certain limits.

The buyer cannot have owned a principal residence within the past three years.

This restriction may be waived if a property is purchased within a certain targeted area.

The purchase price must fall within an established limit.

More information is available by calling your local housing or redevelopment agency, or contacting your real estate agent.


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Word of the Day

September 12, 2011 8:03 pm

Grace period. Specified period of time to meet a commitment after it becomes due, without penalty or default. For example, most lenders allow a two-week grace period after the due date of the mortgage payment before a late fee is imposed.

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Question of the Day

September 12, 2011 8:03 pm

Q: Can you tell me more about FHA and VA?

A: The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) is an agency within the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Its main goal is to help provide housing opportunities for low- to moderate-income families. FHA has single-family and multi-family mortgage programs but does not generally provide mortgage funds. Instead, it insures home loans made by private lenders.

Meanwhile, the Veterans Administration (VA) guarantees home loans made available to veterans, reservists and military personnel, without any down payment. VA loans frequently offer lower interest rates than normally available with other kinds of loans, thereby making it easier for veterans to qualify for a home loan.

The maximum loan amount VA will insure varies by region. There is no restriction on the purchase price as long as the borrower has the cash to make up the difference between the loan amount and the purchase price.

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7 Tips on Finding the Right Neighborhood for You

September 12, 2011 5:03 pm

A quiet retreat or a bustling ambience? A bus ride away, or walking distance from everything? Finding the right neighborhood for you and your family can be quite a challenge—especially if you are moving into a region with which you are unfamiliar.

“Trust your real estate agent for good advice,” says Southern California REALTOR® and relocation specialist Ellen Parker. “Agents know the demographics, the pros and cons, and the price ranges in every area they serve. But it helps if you are confident—and forthcoming—about the kind of neighborhood you prefer.”

Parker suggests a family conference to narrow down the choices—and a checklist to help you help your agent find your ideal neighborhood:

• City or country – Are peace and quiet tops on your list or do you prefer being within walking distance of shops, restaurants, and nightlife?
• Schools – A sought-after school district means higher property values when you sell. If you have children, how important is the distance to schools, parks, libraries and community centers?
Commuting distance – Will you be driving, bicycling, or taking public transportation to your work site?
• Affordability – Will you be happiest in a single family home, a townhome or a condo? Can you afford the water view location you want? Think carefully before you agree to spend up to your limit. These days, it’s a good idea to keep some cash in reserve.
• Get the stats – Ask your agent for crime statistics, neighborhood associations, school ratings and locations in the areas that interest you.
• Walk the neighborhood – Once you’ve settled on the areas you like, walk a few streets both in the daytime and in the evening. Are the homes well-maintained? Are there kids and others outdoors? Is the quiet broken by unwanted noise from airports, highways or railroads?
• Talk to the neighbors – Chat briefly with the guy at the gas station or parents waiting at the school. Do they like living here? What would they change? Do they seem friendly and welcoming? First impressions are very important. If anything makes you feel uncertain, tell your agent you want to check out another neighborhood or two.

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Fall Care for Heat-Damaged Yards

September 12, 2011 5:03 pm

Extreme weather over the summer left a lot of lawns and landscapes showing signs of damage. With some time, patience and work, it's possible to get your yard back in order and ready for the winter.
"Signs of typical summer wear and tear on lawns were amplified as they were stressed by the above-normal temperatures experienced across the United States," says Ben Hamza, Ph.D., director of technical operations at TruGreen, a professional lawn care service. "Fall is the ideal time to nurture lawns and landscapes to help ensure your yard's health for spring." 

Assess
Thoroughly walk your property and inspect the lawn, trees and shrubs. Note patchy areas, where grass has thinned out or is in need of valuable nutrients and appears as light green. Also look for weed and plant pest infestations and overgrown trees and shrubs, especially those with the potential for interfering with roof and power lines. Consider a qualified expert to properly gauge your lawn and landscape needs. 

Replace
Fall is the right time to seed bare lawn areas and overseed existing grass to improve lawn thickness and density. After a detailed inspection of your lawn's trouble spots, try one of several reseeding techniques:
• Spot Seeding - fills in small areas that are thin or infested with weeds.
• Overseeding - generally used for larger areas where the turf is thin, but not bare.
• Slit Seeding - a premium service using a specialized machine to cut slits into the soil and sow turf seeds directly into the slits. 

Lightly rake an inch of surface soil to remove dead debris and properly prepare the area for seeding. Choose a grass seed that is the same type as the grass already growing in your lawn. Lightly apply seed to the soil surface and gently pack to firm the seed into the soil. Apply a light layer of straw or seeding mulch to encourage rapid seed germination. Water lightly until the seed has fully emerged. Do not apply crabgrass preventive to newly seeded areas of your lawn. 

Feed
Fall feeding gives roots of lawns, trees and shrubs the energy needed to prepare for a healthy spring green revival. Be sure to keep fertilizer on target to prevent run-off. Using a trained specialist for insect and disease control measures customized to your region will help trees and shrubs thrive. If you fertilize your own lawn, make sure you read and follow the product directions and sweep all fertilizer granules that may reach pavement back onto your lawn. 

Maintain
Throughout the fall, there are things you can do to maintain your yard's appearance and health:
• Rake and clean. Keeping leaves and debris cleared off your lawn will keep your lawn healthier.
• Continue to clear away debris that can become matted and damage your lawn.
• Inspect your landscape mulch in the fall. Clean up beds, refresh mulch and make sure that no more than two to three inches of mulch remains in the beds.
• Do not walk on frost-covered lawns. Doing so may cause brown footprints to appear later. These footprints may remain visible until spring green-up begins. 

For more information, visit www.TruGreen.com.

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Flooded Basement? Tips for Drying

September 12, 2011 5:03 pm

According to Water Damage Local.com, 98% of all basements will become flooded at some point. Homeowners up and down the East Coast and across the Southeast joined the 98% club in the last few weeks, as hurricane Irene and tropical storm Lee soaked homes and businesses with torrential rainfall and caused record flooding in many areas. 

Basements are natural targets for excess water, due to their position as the lowest point in any home and the fact that water loves to run downhill. It is always advisable to make sure the landscaping surrounding a home slopes away from the structure for a distance of no less than ten feet, but in extreme cases, once the ground has been saturated, any additional water that is added will have to go somewhere, and it is going to seek the path of least resistance. 

As with any sort of water damage in the home, it is always advisable to begin the water removal process as soon as possible. Water will continue to cause damage for as long as it is allowed to remain untreated, rotting wood, rusting metal, destroying personal items and valuables, not to mention setting the stage for mold to grow. 

All utilities should be shut off at the source. Water and electricity do not mix, and if gas is leaking as a result of the flood, then it only takes a spark to trigger some undesirable circumstances. 

Wet dry vacuum units or gas powered submersible pumps should be used to extract the water from the basement. Which type of unit used depends of course on the depth and severity of the spill. 

When pumping, it is vitally important not to pump the water out too fast. Doing so may cause a sudden change in pressure that could weaken the structural integrity of the walls, making them prone to collapse. The water should be pumped out slowly but steadily, at the rate of about a third a day. 

Once the water is out, the job is not finished. Carpeting, flooring, and drywall will still have retained a significant amount of water. Fans, blowers, and dehumidifiers will be required to remove all residual moisture from surfaces and the surrounding air, as well as reduce humidity levels in the area to ward off mold. 

Electrical appliances and outlets should not be used until the system has been checked out by a qualified electrician. The same principal should be applied to the heating and air system. 

Carpets should be salvageable if they have been submerged for less than 48 hours. They will need to be taken up, dried, cleaned, disinfected, and sanitized, possibly more than once. All damaged carpet padding will need to be thrown out and replaced. Floors should be checked for warping or cracking, and drywall inspected for the telltale swelling and discoloration that accompanies water damage. 

For more information, visit www.WaterDamageLocal.com.

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Product Alert: Radiant Floor Heat

September 12, 2011 5:03 pm

If you’re selling your home, or just looking to make a change to your heating system, an easy way to set your property apart from others or gain a luxurious, energy efficient feature is to install radiant floor heating. This system of heating involves supplying heat directly to the floor and is often simply referred to as floor heating. 

Radiant floor heating it is more efficient than traditional methods of heating, as no energy is lost through ducts and the heat is transferred directly from the floor surface to the people and objects in the room, which allows for both comfortable warmth in the air and toasty toes.

There are three different types of radiant floor heat: radiant air floors which use air as the heat-carrying medium; electric radiant floors; and hot water, or hydronic, radiant floors. 

To cover your radiant floor heating, you may use common flooring such as wood, vinyl or linoleum. However, any covering that insulates the floor from the room (such as carpet) will decrease the efficiency of your system. Ceramic tile is usually the most effective and common floor covering, as it conducts, holds and transfers heat well.

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