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5 Ways to Curb Energy Costs This Summer

June 1, 2016 12:43 am

Our utility bills seem to rise along with the thermometer come summer. Certain steps and upgrades can help cut down on cooling costs and other seasonal home expenses.

One minor task that has major impact is cleaning the HVAC filter, says Ameeta Jain, co-founder of Homeselfe. Regardless of the unit you own, cleaning the filter on a regular basis is important. When the filter is dirty, the system consumes more energy. With a clean filter, the system can cool your home more efficiently.

Another task to consider is mulching your garden, Jain says. Mulch lessens the amount of watering needed for plants, reducing expense and consumption. Mulch works to prevent evaporation so plants have more time to absorb water.

Jain recommends using a rain barrel to collect water, as well. Harvested rainwater can be recycled in the garden, saving even more money on water bills.

Energy-smart upgrades are also a consideration, Jain says. Apply window film to your windows to block heat from entering the home (while preserving the view!), resulting in less use of the A/C. The best part? Window films on the market these days are easy to DIY-apply.

Consider installing a programmable thermostat, too, says Jain. Newer models allow you to set different temperatures for various times throughout the day. You may, for example, want to set your thermostat to turn off while you’re at work and then cool down right around the time you’re on your way home.

Though these tips are seasonally-related, they can be applied year-round, Jain adds: “It’s always a good time to reduce your energy consumption and save on utility bills!”

Source: Homeselfe

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Rebuilding Your Rocky Credit Score One Piece at a Time

May 31, 2016 12:43 am

A credit score is mainly based on your history of managing debts, such as whether you tend to make payments on time. It plays a significant role in your everyday life because the next time you apply for a loan or a credit card—or perhaps a new apartment or insurance—your score could affect the final decision, including your costs.

For the many consumers with damaged credit scores and those with no credit record, here are some ways to improve your credit scores from the FDIC:

Consult with a reputable credit counseling service to help develop a customized plan to improve your credit score, which can help you prioritize your spending choices. Counseling services are available to help consumers budget money, pay bills and develop a plan to improve their credit histories.

Bear in mind, however, that not all counselors are looking out for the consumer's best interests. Be cautious of counseling services that advise you to stop making payments to your creditors or to make your payments to the counselors instead. These programs can be costly, may result in your credit score becoming even worse, and they could be scams. For suggestions on finding a reputable counseling service, visit the Federal Trade Commission's website at FTC.gov.

Understand what information is most likely to influence your credit score. In general, the most significant factor affecting your score is whether you repay debts on time, and how much you currently owe on each account compared to its original loan amount or credit limit.

Additional factors include how long you have had your current loans and credit cards, and the types of credit accounts you have.

To obtain and review a free copy of your credit report, visit www.AnnualCreditReport.com or call toll-free 1-877-322-8228.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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7 Easy Ways to Dress Up an Entryway

May 31, 2016 12:43 am

The entryway or foyer of your home conveys an important first impression to your guests. For homeowners bent on making it a great first impression, designers at ElleDecor.com suggest seven easy ways to make an entryway look larger, brighter, and more welcoming:

Use the Power of Mirrors – A well-placed mirror can instantly open up a space and add a luxurious feel. Splurge on a good one, framed or not as you wish, to grace your entryway for the long haul.

Keep Fresh Flowers on Hand – Nothing freshens up a room quite like a vase full of fresh flowers. They are aesthetically pleasing and will keep your entryway smelling wonderful. Using long-lasting silk flowers will hold down monthly costs, but think about replacing them with fresh flowers before a dinner party or other event.

Play with Patterns and Colors – Your entryway should reflect your personal style. Add a jolt of color, especially in a light, bright foyer, or bring in an unexpected wallpaper pattern to turn the space into something special.

Rethink the Lighting Fixtures – Swap out the lighting fixtures that came with the house for something you really love. The right overhead chandelier or well-detailed wall sconces can add drama and grace to any entry.

Add a Statement Piece – It may be a patterned rug, a tufted bench, a console table or a pair of smaller tables. There should be some element in your entryway that serves as a centerpiece and sets the tone for the rest of your home.

Do Use Some Artwork – Art brings a level of elegance to a room. A well placed piece of art, or a gallery wall of smaller pieces, can be the perfect finishing touch for an entryway that reflects your taste and style.

Don’t Overcrowd the Space – If you're blessed with an entryway big enough for several pieces of furniture, by all means, go for it. But if the area is on the small side, skip the console table because the area will look better with just a few small pieces. A plant stand and a mirror may be all that is needed to dress up a small entry.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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How to Properly Store the American Flag

May 31, 2016 12:43 am

Aging flags often become heirlooms and keepsakes that need to be stored carefully, says Richard R. Gideon, a flag historian. “There is a pretty large body of flag collectors out there,” he says.

The fabric used to make flags often becomes fragile over time. The key to successful storage is finding a place where your flag won’t be exposed to dirt or damaging ultraviolet light. Ultraviolet light.If you don’t have a storage room in your home.

If you don’t have storage room in your home, a self-storage unit can be an ideal place to keep a special flag. Here are four tips on how to properly store the American flag.

1. Keep Dust and Dirt Off Your Flag. If your flag is dirty, avoid dry-cleaning it. Before you put a flag into storage, Gideon recommends cleaning it with a low-pressure vacuum and covering it with acid-free paper, which can be found at art supply stores. If your flag needs additional cleaning, Gideon suggests asking a local museum to refer you to an expert in textile conservation.

2. Keep Your Flag in a Dark Place. Never store a flag where it can be exposed to sunlight, says Philip Kauppinen, owner of Grand New Flag. Like a color photograph left in the sun, your flag gradually will begin to fade.

“If it is very old, it is going to be delicate,” he says. “You don’t want to store it in direct sunlight, because that will make it fade and brittle.”

For long-term storage, experts do not recommend folding an American flag.

3. Store Your Flag Flat. There’s a military tradition of folding American flags in the shape of a triangle, with the stars on the outside, but that’s not part of the Flag Code adopted by Congress, according to Gideon. “That is a military tradition,” he says.

On its website, Heritage Preservation, a public policy group, points out that prolonged storage in a folded condition leads to permanent creases in flags.

If you’re using a self-storage unit that is too crowded to accommodate a flat table, carefully roll the flag around a mailing tube that’s been wrapped in acid-free paper.

4. Avoid Swings in Temperature and Humidity. This means keeping flags out of attics, where summer temperatures can soar, or basements, where mold may occur, unless those rooms are temperature-controlled.

If you decide to put your flag in a self-storage unit, choose one with air conditioning and humidity control.

Choose a temperature range that would be comfortable for living conditions. Regardless of their materials, flags do best at 55 percent to 75 percent relative humidity, Gideon says.

5. Respect the Flag. Handing a flag requires proper etiquette.Tom Piazze, first vice president of the Military Officers Association of America, says you should always show respect for an American flag, even when it is in storage. The flag is a symbol of America’s courage, strength and compassion, he says, and it also has come to symbolize democracy.

“The U.S. flag is an emblem of our nation, our country,” Piazze says. “It represents our beliefs, our way of life around the world.”

Here are some guidelines for handling a U.S. flag:

- The flag should never be used as a drapery or as a decoration.

- The flag should not bear any drawing, mark, insignia, word, number or figure.

- The flag should not touch the ground.

- Never throw away a U.S. flag. The flag should be destroyed by burning it in a dignified manner. Contact your local American Legion, VFW or Boy Scout chapter for information about flag retirement ceremonies.

Source: SpareFoot.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Memorial Day Travelers Approach 40 Million

May 28, 2016 12:43 am

On the road this Memorial Day weekend? You and millions more!

A near record-breaking 38 million travelers will trek to destinations all over the country this weekend, AAA projects—the highest travel volume since before the recession, and the second-highest ever. The top five destinations this year are:

1. Orlando, Fla.
2. Myrtle Beach, S.C.
3. Washington, D.C.
4. New York, N.Y.
5. Miami, Fla.

Low gas prices will motivate many travelers to take to the roads this weekend, AAA forecasts. A gallon of gasoline averages $2.26—45 cents lower than last year.

“Americans are eagerly awaiting the start of summer and are ready to travel in numbers not seen in more than a decade,” says Marshall Doney, president and CEO of AAA. “The great American road trip is officially back thanks to low gas prices, and millions of people from coast to coast are ready to kick off summer with a Memorial Day getaway.”

Source: AAA

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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The Future Is Calling! Homebuilding Innovations to Watch

May 28, 2016 12:43 am

(BPT)—Technology’s evolving at a rapid pace, no more so than in our homes—and in fact, there are innovations pioneering the next phase of advanced homebuilding as we speak. Three of the most exciting:

Bio Concrete – Concrete is the world’s most common building material—but that doesn’t mean it’s the most durable. Chemicals, shifting Earth, temperature fluctuations and weather-related wear and tear all contribute to cracks and deterioration.

Several years ago, scientists in the Netherlands developed bio concrete, a type of concrete that can repair itself if cracked. The material is laden with limestone-creating bacteria that work to "heal" cracks, similar to the way bones heal themselves when broken.

Cross-Laminated Timber – An alternative to concrete, cross-laminated timber (CLT) is produced from small bits of timber glued into large slabs. CLT is as strong (and fireproof!) as steel. It is cut via a robotic router, which shapes the slabs based on dimensions fed to it by a computer. The pieces are then assembled much like IKEA furniture, cutting down construction time significantly.

Sound-Dampening Drywall – In a household where several devices may be running at any given moment, finding quiet can be a challenge. A new development in drywall reduces noise between rooms, blocking the amount of sound carried through walls and ceilings.

Which innovation are you most excited about? These may become the norm sooner than you think!

Source: CertainTeed

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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VA Loans: What They Are and How They Work

May 28, 2016 12:43 am

Most active-duty service members and veterans and some National Guard members and reservists can seek out home-related loans through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

VA home loan programs may be used to finance the purchase of homes, condominiums or manufactured homes, refinance an existing home loan, or install energy-saving improvements. The three main types of guaranteed home loan benefits are:

• Purchase Loans
• Cash-Out Refinance Loans
• Interest Rate Reduction Refinance Loans

Qualified vets need suitable credit, sufficient income and a valid Certificate of Eligibility (COE) to be eligible for a VA-guaranteed home loan. Private lenders underwrite and fund VA home loans according to VA standards. VA’s partial guaranty for these loans means that nearly 90 percent of all VA-guaranteed home loans are made with no down payment required.

If a VA-guaranteed loan becomes delinquent, the VA will work with the borrower to avoid foreclosure, including providing financial counseling and, in some cases, direct intervention with a mortgage loan servicer on the borrower’s behalf.

Any veteran or service member having difficulty making mortgage payments should call (877) 827-3702 to speak with a VA Loan Technician. More information about avoiding foreclosure can be found at: benefits.va.gov/HOMELOANS/resources_payments.asp.

Native American veterans who want to live on Federal Trust land can seek assistance through the VA’s Native American Direct Loan (NADL) program, which provides direct loans to eligible Native American veterans for the purchase, construction or improvement of a home.

The VA also offers grants to veterans with certain service-connected disabilities to build an adapted home or make modifications to an existing home. Three types of grants exist: Specially Adapted Housing, Special Housing Adaptation, and Temporary Residence Adaptation.

Homeless veterans, or those at imminent risk of becoming homeless, are urged to contact their local VA medical center, call (877) 424-3838, or visit va.gov/homeless.

Consult your real estate professional to learn more about the VA’s home-related services, or visit explore.va.gov/home-loans-and-housing.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Know Your Power Options When Hurricanes Hit

May 26, 2016 12:43 am

June 1 to November 30 is high time for hurricanes in many coastal regions. Stay ahead of whatever the season may bring by preparing your household with a communication plan and emergency kit, as well as assessing your home’s power needs.

“Being prepared going into hurricane season is the best way to stay safe and comfortable should a storm of any size result in a power outage,” says Dan Roche of Briggs & Stratton. “Having backup power is one way homeowners can comfortably ride out the effects of that storm from the comforts of home until utility crews can restore electricity.”

Two backup power options— portable generators and standby generator systems—prevent power interruption to a home.

These two types of generators help in different ways. Portable generators are ideal for those needing to power select appliances during an outage, or those who anticipate needing to power tools to clear away storm debris. Some portable generators can even be attached to a transfer switch coupled with step-by-step startup, shutdown and storage instructions.

Portable generators, however, present risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. As such, they must be used appropriately at all times. For safety tips, visit www.TakeYourGeneratorOutside.com.

Standby generators, on the other hand, are permanently installed outside the home and automatically keep the power on when the primary power source goes out. Fueled by propane or natural gas, standbys run appliances like air conditioners, refrigerators, washers and dryers.

Standby generators require a professional install, so be sure to call a technician well in advance of a storm if you’re planning to use one.

Source: Briggs & Stratton Corporation

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Lawn Care Tips That Lessen Your Carbon Footprint

May 26, 2016 12:43 am

Did you know the average gas-powered lawn mower emits over four tons of carbon and other pollutants each year?

That’s according to MowGreen, a carbon neutral company focused on sustainable lawn care. That four tons of carbon, MowGreen founder Dan Delventhal says, is equivalent to the emissions of a car driven 10,000 miles!

Delventhal recommends nixing the gas-guzzling machine in favor of a push mower, which not only lessens the user’s carbon footprint, but has health benefits, as well. Every 1,000 acres mowed without gas-powered equipment offsets four million auto mile-equivalent emissions, Delventhal says.

Aside from the switch to a push mower, homeowners may also want to overhaul their lawn care program, particularly weed control.

Corn gluten, Delventhal explains, is effective for weed control, but must be managed with proper timing. It is reputed to be 90 percent effective for weed control when applied in spring, fall and spring again. It suppresses new weed growth in spring and fall by desiccation, shunting new seed germination, as well as through a protein-type reaction that inhibits the growth of broad-leaf weeds.

Corn gluten is also a nitrogen fertilizer, and, when combined with weed control application, can replace fertilizing entirely, says Delventhal.

Use certified non-GMO, organic corn gluten, if available. Delventhal’s own corn gluten costs $75 for a 50-pound bag, which covers about 2,500 square feet. The price comes down as the quantity increases.

Want to learn more? Visit MowGreen.us for tips.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Owning in Retirement: 3 Options for Senior Homeowners

May 26, 2016 12:43 am

(BPT)—Research estimates more than 50 percent of households lack enough retirement funds to maintain their pre-retirement standard of living—even if they work until 65.

The good news? If you’re a homeowner, you have options:

Reverse Mortgage – A reverse mortgage is a loan that homeowners aged 62 or older can use to convert part of the equity in their home into a usable asset, without giving up title or ownership of the house.

“The reverse mortgage option should be viewed as a method for responsible retirees to create liquidity from an otherwise illiquid asset,” says Wade Pfau, professor at The American College.

Reverse mortgages require no monthly payment and do not have to be paid off until the last borrower permanently leaves the home. You have the option of taking the loan proceeds as a lump sum, a fixed monthly or tenured payment, or as a line of credit.

Reverse mortgages also feature a non-recourse provision that protects you from ever owing the lender more than the value of your home, even if the house is "underwater" when you are ready to sell.

You are still responsible for paying your property taxes, homeowner's insurance and upkeep expenses, or risk the loan being called due and payable.

Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) – A HELOC establishes a line of credit based on a percentage of the value of your home. You can access this credit during a predetermined amount of time called a "draw period," usually 10 years. During the draw period, you can borrow up to the designated amount while making monthly interest payments, and, if you choose to pay back on the principal, you can draw out again, much like a credit card.

After the draw period, you are responsible for repaying the principal and interest either immediately or over a set period of time, depending on the terms of the loan. You should be aware that if your home value depreciates, or if your financial circumstances change, the lender has the right to freeze your credit or even cancel your loan.

Cash-Out Refinancing – Cash-out refinancing allows you to refinance an existing home loan—hopefully at a lower interest rate—and also refinance the home for a dollar value higher than the remaining principal. This loan allows you to keep the money above the principal as liquid cash that can be used to pay down other expenses or fund your retirement.

Like your original forward mortgage, if you miss a monthly payment due to unanticipated expenses from a health care emergency or other life disruption, your loan could be called due and payable, and the lender could move to foreclose on your property.

While all three plans have their benefits, new consumer safeguards for reverse mortgages are fueling their popularity among seniors who want the benefit of no monthly payment, a loan that can't be canceled or reset, and the option of a line of credit that increases over time.

Source: ReverseMortgage.org

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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