731 W Skippack Pike
September 14, 2011 5:03 pm
Fall is the best time to get your house in order because come winter, small problems can turn into big-dollar nightmares. The October 2011 issue of ShopSmart magazine, from the publisher of Consumer Reports, highlights key household maintenance tasks for the fall that can save readers more than $20,000 in repairs.
"People need to take home repairs seriously, especially with winter just a few months away," said Lisa Lee Freeman, editor-in-chief of ShopSmart. "Now is the time to check and service any small problems before snow, ice, and freezing temperatures accentuate them."
Get some leaf relief
Fallen leaves can kill grass when they're matted down by snow. Leaf piles can also attract rodents. But using leaf bags means work and waste if they go into a landfill.
• What to do: Don't overlook your mower's mulching mode! Grinding up leaves feeds your lawn and saves money. You may need to make a few passes to slice the leaves small enough to decay.
• What you save: Along with saving the cost of leaf bags (Americans spend millions of dollars a year on them), you sidestep the stooping and bending of raking and bagging.
• Smart Pick: Time for a new mower? The $350 Toro Recycler 20332 self-propelled gas mower aced our mulching tests.
Check the roof
Leaks can eventually damage the wood sheathing and rafters below the shingles, leading to thousands of dollars in repairs.
• What to do: Use binoculars to spot cracked, curled, or missing shingles safely from the ground. Consider having a roofing pro check flashing around chimneys, skylights and roof valleys for leaks, and the rubber boots near vents for cracks that can let moisture seep in.
• What you save: At roughly $3 per square foot installed, new sheathing would total $6,900 for a 2,300 square foot house if you had to replace all of it. Figure on an additional $7,000 to $10,000 to install new shingles, plus added costs if the roof rafters need replacing.
• Smart Pick: Certain Teed Landmark asphalt shingles were top performers in our tests and deliver the layered look of cedar shakes. And at just $65 per 100 square feet, they'd save you about $7,000 on a typical home over the priciest shingle we tested.
Find air leaks
Air leaks lurking inside your home can send up to 10 percent of your home's heat out the window during the winter.
• What to do: A professional energy audit (about $300 to $800) is best; some utilities help pay for it. On a windy day you can do your own check. Close windows and doors, and shut off the furnace. Turn on bathroom and other fans that blow air outside. Then pass a lit incense stick over door and window frames and other leak sites; smoke that's blown into or out of the room signals a leak.
• What you save: Plugging leaks can slice your heating bill by 10 percent, or about $66 per year, based on the $660 average annual cost of heat per household nationwide. Those yearly savings could help pay for a new range, refrigerator, or dishwasher after 10 years. And that's if you're using natural gas. Got oil or electricity? Annual savings could exceed $200.
Close your hoses
Pipes can burst when water inside expands as it freezes, creating an expensive mess in your home.
• What to do: Shut off inside valves that control water flow to hose spigots. Then briefly open the spigots to drain any leftover water in pipes and hoses. Also drain water from supply lines for water sprinklers and pools, and shut off inside valves that control them. And help prevent freezing by insulating pipes in unheated areas.
• What you save: Thousands of dollars in plumbing repairs and water damage, especially if pipes burst and cause a flood while you're away.
For more information, visit www.ShopSmartmag.org.
September 14, 2011 5:03 pm
American homeowners know how to "Think Green." Whether choosing Energy Star appliances or selecting more energy efficient lighting, millions of people are incorporating energy efficiency into their personal habits and purchasing decisions. Now a leading energy company is encouraging its customers to take those same "green" principles and apply them to their business life as well.
MXenergy, a Constellation Company and one of the leaders in the sustainability movement, strives to educate and inform customers about energy efficiency as part of the company's continuing commitment to energy conservation.
"All across America we see people working to improve their home energy efficiency," says Marjorie Kass, MXenergy managing director of marketing. "Yet, we are not necessarily seeing those same strides on the corporate front. There are so many relatively simple changes which can have such a dramatic impact on office energy usage."
"Green Office" Tips
Power Down: Check to make sure you are maximizing your computer's energy efficiency settings. Turn off the computer at night or when not in use for long periods of time. Encourage your office to convert to more energy efficient lighting and to turn off lights when not in use.
Quit Pushing Paper: When at all possible, "go digital." Eliminate as much printed paper as possible. When it is necessary to print a hard copy, print double-sided and make sure your office is recycling ink and toner cartridges as well as purchasing recycled paper and remanufactured ink and toner.
Take A Break: The company break room can be an excellent starting point for a green campaign. If not already in place, ask for recycling containers to be made available. Switch to Fair Trade organic coffee and recyclable or reusable utensils and cups. Encourage the use of non-toxic cleaning supplies. Rather than heading out to lunch or ordering in, bring lunch from home in reusable containers. This not only reduces energy consumption but packaging waste as well.
Cut the Travel: Telecommuting, carpooling and video-conferencing are all excellent ways to reduce individual and corporate carbon footprints. According to Treehugger.com, over $8 billion in gas could be saved annually if every car in the U.S. simply added one additional passenger to its commute.
"Creating a more eco-friendly work environment doesn't have to be costly or time-intensive," says Kass.
"Something as simple as adding a desk plant to improve air quality or choosing to host a meeting via video-conferencing rather than paying for plane travel can make a difference. It isn't about the size of the change, it is simply about making the decision to start the process that is so important."
For more information visit www.mxenergy.com
September 14, 2011 5:03 pm
Q: How can Fannie Mae help homebuyers?
A: The Fannie Mae Community Home Buyers Program lets first-time buyers with little cash obtain 95 percent financing. Borrowers may put down as little as 3 percent of their own money, with a 2 percent gift from family, a government program, or nonprofit agency, and obtain private mortgage insurance to protect the lender against default.
The Fannie Mae program is administered through participating lenders, and income limits vary by state. But the income restriction is waived when borrowers participate in the Fannie Neighbors program. Fannie Neighbors also has lower income requirements for borrowers who want to buy in designated central cities.
Fannie Mae's new Start-Up Mortgage will assist buyers of all income levels with a 5 percent down payment. Applicants do not need a lot of income to qualify and can have less cash for closing than with traditional mortgages. Borrowers receive a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage with a first-year monthly payment that is lower than the standard fixed-rate loan.
Homebuyers who borrow under either program must attend a seminar on homeownership and the home buying process.
For a list of participating lenders, call Fannie Mae, the nation’s largest supplier of home mortgage funds at (800) 732-6643.
September 13, 2011 5:03 pm
Here’s a twist: Forget what the inside of your home looks like for just a bit and focus on your home's exterior.
"The exterior of your home makes a lasting and daily impression on your friends and family, along with your neighbors," says Mark Clement, professional contractor and host of MyFixItUpLife home improvement radio show. "On the exterior of the home there are three big, critical areas I recommend people evaluate every year—the roof, the windows and the entry door. Those are key areas because, along with being visual focal points of the home, they help protect a house from severe weather."
Clement offers these tips for keeping your home exterior in top shape:
1. Check your roof yearly (from a ladder or from a neighbor's home with binoculars) to determine its condition. Look for problem areas, such as missing or broken shingles, along with roofing tiles that may be "flapping" in the wind.
2. Check the sides of your roof. The southern exposure weathers significantly faster than the other sides of the roof, so make sure to carefully examine this one.
3. If you're in the market for a new roof, investigate polymer slate and shake roofing tiles in a wide variety of colors. Some tiles have a 50-year limited warranty and are ideal for all types of weather conditions, including hurricanes and hail.
4. If you can see light around your main entry door from the inside, the door is hard to close or lock, or the door itself is warped, it's time to consider a new door.
5. Switch to a high-performance fiberglass door (which has four times more insulation than wood doors).
6. If you have condensation between glass panes, the windows are hard to operate, or if there are drafts coming in, then it's time to consider replacement windows.
7. Investigate your vinyl window options and stick with a national manufacturer that can stand behind a long-term warranty. For his renovation project, Clement selected Simonton vinyl windows. The award-winning company impressed him with its 65-year history and return-on-investment with their low-maintenance ENERGY STAR® qualified windows.
8. Use stylish window and door trim to accent key home features. Lightweight and easy to install, weather-resistant synthetic mouldings, shutters and entryway surrounds from Fypon are a definite do-it-yourself project for any homeowner.
9. Wrap it up. Clement recommends using Column Wrap Kits to cover ugly steel or wooden porch posts to upgrade the look of the home.
For more home improvement tips, visit www.myfixituplife.com.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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