Mary Mastroeni
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Mary Mastroeni

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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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Word of the Day

September 9, 2011 2:03 pm

Gentrification. Process whereby private or government-sponsored development of certain aging neighborhoods results in the displacement of low- or moderate-income families by the more affluent and leads to an increase in property values.

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FDA Goal: Quickly Tracing Tainted Foods

September 9, 2011 2:03 pm

In the past five years, consumers have faced widespread outbreaks of food borne illnesses tied to foods—such as spinach, peanut butter and eggs—that are staples of the American diet.

The Food and Drug Administration is taking steps to prevent or shorten these outbreaks by developing the tools needed to rapidly track down foods that may be contaminated.

Two pilot projects—one for processed foods and the other for produce—will be conducted to explore how FDA and the food industry can quickly trace foods back to the common source of contamination that led to an outbreak of food borne illnesses. These pilots must include at least three different types of foods that were the subject of significant outbreaks in the five years preceding the January 2011 enactment of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

The Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) will carry out the pilots, at FDA’s direction, under an existing contract with the agency. IFT is a Chicago-based nonprofit scientific society focused on food science and technology and has previously worked with FDA on product-tracing studies.

These pilots are mandated by the landmark food safety law that requires FDA to implement a system that is based on science and addresses food safety hazards from farm to table.

“We can prevent illnesses and reduce the economic impact to the food industry if we can more quickly discover what food may be causing an outbreak and what foods can be eliminated from consideration,” says Michael R. Taylor, FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods.

What happens next
A product tracing system involves documenting the production and distribution chain so that a product can be traced back to a common source or forward through distribution channels if there’s evidence of contaminated food. The actions that follow may include removing the product from the marketplace and alerting the public if it has already been distributed.

“What we’re looking for is a system that is practical, feasible, and rapid,” says Sherri McGarry, senior advisor in FDA’s Office of Foods. “Our No. 1 priority is protecting public health.”

McGarry explained that IFT will work with the key groups that have a stake in this endeavor—food industry, state and federal government agencies, and consumers—in developing the pilot programs. The goal is to include industries that represent the food supply chain, including farms, restaurants, and grocery stores.

“We recognize the importance of engaging stakeholders throughout the process and will consider what is practical for facilities of varying sizes and capabilities,” says Taylor.

The pilot programs will evaluate the types of data that are most needed for tracing, ways to connect the points in the food supply chain, and how quickly data can be made available to FDA. A key goal in the pilot projects will be to explore methods to track food and identify a common source or supplier starting at multiple points of sale.

“We’re looking for a system that will allow FDA to quickly connect the dots along the food supply chain,” says McGarry.

After the pilots
After the pilot programs are completed and the additional data gathered, FDA will further facilitate tracing by establishing record-keeping requirements for foods that may pose a high public-health risk.

As part of that process—as mandated by FSMA—the agency will define what foods are high risk based on factors such as their safety history and the likely severity of an illness attributed to that food. The record-keeping requirements ultimately established under this law will apply only to these high-risk foods.

“The goal is to rapidly track these products, remove them from the food supply, and keep consumers from getting sick,” says McGarry.

For more information, visit www.fda.gov.

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September Is Mold Awareness Month

September 9, 2011 2:03 pm

Through recent storms, exceptionally rainy weather and, of course, Hurricane Irene many homes throughout the country have been exposed to excess moisture and water—which could lead to mold growth if not handled properly.

Some types of mold can be a detriment to a healthy home, leading to eye irritation, wheezing and nasal congestion. To help raise awareness, the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) dedicates the month of September as National Indoor Mold Awareness Month.

To help homeowners ensure a healthy home, CertainTeed Corporation—one of North America’s largest building product manufacturer—offers the following tips:
Fix leaks. Homeowners should check for leaky roofs, foundations, faucets and pipes on a regular basis, making sure they aren’t allowing extra moisture to accumulate in these areas. Leaks should be fixed as soon as they are found.
Keep humidity under control. The ideal humidity for a home is between 30 and 50 percent. Relative humidity can be measured with an inexpensive moisture or humidity meter, available at most hardware stores.
Plan your foundation. Homeowners should make sure that the ground slopes away from the building foundation, so that water cannot collect around or enter the foundation.
Keep it dry. Homeowners should clean and dry any damp furnishings within 24 to 48 hours to prevent mold growth.
Check for odors. If you have had a leak, then the first sign of mold may be musty or moldy odors in the vicinity of the leak. Keep in mind you do not want to sniff for mold, or touch for mold—if you suspect a mold problem contact a certified mold inspector.
Watch for ground water. Checking the exterior of homes regularly will help avoid the accumulation of ground water, which can cause mold. If found, homeowners should route water away using downspouts and re-grade to slope water away from the home.
For more information, visit http://www.certainteed.com.

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25 Ways to Save on Monthly Bills

September 9, 2011 2:03 pm

There are many ways people can save money today, and some just require a slight change in day-to-day habits. Turning off a light when you leave a room; turning off the water when you brush your teeth. Here is a list of 25 ideas for saving money:

1. Turn off all lights when you leave a room. Train and reward your children to do the same—they are the worst about leaving lights on
2. Cancel gym memberships and others you are not using
3. Drink the free coffee at work or make coffee at home. Skip Starbucks. If you buy a $4 coffee 5 days per week, that’s $80 per month just in coffee!
4. Towel dry your hair instead of using a blow dryer
5. Stop smoking
6. Buy a less expensive home—this alone will reduce your monthly spending by hundreds (or thousands) of dollars
7. Buy less expensive cars
8. Do everything you can to increase your credit score. You will save tens of thousands of dollars in interest from any loans you have simply by having a better credit score.
9. Call your credit card companies and ask for a lower interest rate
10. Call every company you have monthly bills with and ask exactly what you are paying for each month. You will be surprised how many hidden fees are mysteriously added to your bills. You will never know this unless you ask.
11. Use energy saving light bulbs
12. Minimize your consumption of alcohol
13. Pack your lunch for work every day—avoid eating in restaurants
14. Get a job with a short commute
15. Did you know that if you pay any interest-bearing loans in 2 payments each month instead of one big payment, you knock thousands of dollars of interest off your total bill. So instead of paying a $1,200 mortgage payment all on the 1st of the month, set it up with your bank to pay $600 on the 1st and $600 on the 15th of each month. It’s easier to manage AND you save a ton of money!
16. Use fans instead of air conditioning (unless you live in 107 summer heat in Texas—you are excused!)
17. Hang dry your laundry
18. Hand wash your dirty dishes
19. Don’t leave the water running while brushing your teeth
20. Don’t leave the water running while scrubbing/shaving in the shower
21. Catch rain water you can use to water plants
22. Walk or ride a bike instead of using your car
23. Reduce your cable bill. Do you really need 200 channels and 3 DVR boxes?
24. Buy anything and everything you can from second-hand stores or yard sales. You will save thousands of dollars per year shopping smarter.
25. Use natural sunlight instead of electricity

Two things to NEVER cancel or reduce financially:

1. Always invest in high-quality foods for you and your family. Buying cheap foods will cost you a fortune (now and later) in medical bills, emotional and mental well-being.
2. Never cancel or reduce anything that will pay you or protect you later: 401K, retirement plans, insurance policies (health, life, disability, auto, etc.)

For more information, visit www.swparents.com.

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The Top 10 Mistakes Sellers Make

September 9, 2011 2:03 pm

It’s a tough time for selling a home, admits real estate entrepreneur Barbara Corcoran, a savvy business woman and a regular investor on television’s Shark Tank.

“But,” says Corcoran, sellers can improve their chances in today’s competitive market by following some basic but often ignored advice.

Here are Corcoran’s top ten tips for getting your home sold faster:
1. Don’t underestimate clean-up – Nothing turns off a potential buyer faster than an unkempt home. Be sure your home is seen at its neat and sparkling best.
2. Little things matter – Don’t ignore that leaky faucet or squeaky back door. They’re easy to fix and improve your chances of impressing finicky buyers.
3. Clear the canvas – Buyers need to visualize how they would make the space their own. Keep it neutral by clearing out family photos, personal collections, and items that clutter up a room.
4. Let the light in – Clean the windows, up the wattage of the light bulbs, and open the blinds or curtains and turn on the lights before every showing.
5. Don’t hang around – It’s tempting to trail behind them as buyers and agents tour your home. But doing so makes people uncomfortable. If you must stay home, wait on the porch or back yard and volunteer information only when asked.
6. Board the pets – Pets are a no-no at open houses. Even pet lovers are turned off by a smelly litter box or a puppy dogging their heels. Board pets or leave them with a neighbor—or take them with you before an open house.
7. Make showings available – Many of today’s buyers are busy young professionals. Increase chances for a sale by allowing showings at a buyer’s convenience even if after regular business hours.
8. Cool the open houses – They are a great way to being buyers when you list your home—but they lose appeal and suggest desperation if you schedule them too often.
9. Consider the first offer – Unless it is absolutely unacceptable, don’t be too quick to turn down the first offer. It may be the best one you will get—especially if the home lingers for many months on the market.
10. Negotiate wisely – Don’t take a low bid as an insult. Treat every bid as interest from a potential buyer, and make a counter offer.

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Question of the Day

September 9, 2011 2:03 pm

Q: What else should I take into account when buying a new home?

A: You can find out more about an existing property and neighborhood before you buy than you can a new home in a newly developed community.

When the home is on the outskirts of town, ask the developer about future access to public transit, entertainment venues, shopping centers, churches, and schools. Also review local zoning ordinances. A remote area can quickly turn into a fast food haven.

You want to ensure the neighborhood will not spiral out of control and lose its residential appeal.
Other things to consider:
• Ask homeowners already living in a development about the builder. If none currently live there, find out where the builder has previously built and speak to those owners to find out if the builder followed through on promises and needed repairs.
• Ability to make changes. Most homes in a development resemble each other. But the developer may impose restrictions on house color, landscaping, renovations, and other items that a homeowner may want to alter.
• Do not buy into the highfalutin images created by marketing experts. Form your own opinions about a property and only buy where you feel comfortable. After all, you are the one who will be living there.

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Word of the Day

September 9, 2011 2:03 pm

Freddie Mac. Common name for the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, which buys and sells loans in the secondary mortgage market.

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