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The Indoor Allergen That Might Surprise You

April 23, 2014 3:57 am

While many welcome the arrival of warmer temperatures with open arms, people with seasonal allergies and asthma may be bracing themselves with boxes of tissues and asthma medications this season. According to a study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, about 45 percent of people over the age of six and 36 percent of children under the age of six have tested positive for at least one allergen.

Outdoor allergens are prevalent again, but families staying inside on a hot day also have indoor allergens to think about. One of the most forgotten indoor allergy triggers is cockroaches.

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), 63 percent of American homes contain allergens from cockroaches. This includes droppings, saliva and dead bugs, and children can be especially sensitive. In addition, cockroaches are known to spread a number of serious diseases including Salmonella and E. coli.

The National Pest Management Association (NPMA) has the following tips for homeowners to help reduce allergens in the home so families can breathe more easily and stay healthy:

Vacuum Regularly. Running the vacuum at least once a week using a unit with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate) filter can clean up crumbs and help remove allergens from carpeting and furniture.
Store Food Properly. Keep food stored in sealed containers, particularly in the kitchen.
Inspect Groceries and Deliveries. Sometimes, cockroaches and other pests can be brought in with deliveries or groceries from the store. Carefully inspect items as you put them away, and promptly remove cardboard boxes once unpacked.
Keep a Spotless Kitchen. Clean dishes and wipe down counter tops, appliances and other surfaces daily to remove crumbs and spills that can attract pests.
Take Out the Trash. Dispose of garbage regularly, and be sure curbside containers or dumpsters are properly sealed.
Stay on Top of Home Repairs. Seal cracks and holes around the exterior of the home, paying special attention to entry points for utilities and pipes. Also, check for leaks under appliances and sinks to avoid moisture buildup.
Work with a Pro. If you suspect an infestation, contact a qualified pest professional to properly identify your pest problem and recommend a course of treatment.

Source: National Pest Management Association

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Poll Respondents More Embarrassed to Admit Credit Card Balance and Credit Score than Age or Weight

April 23, 2014 3:57 am

According to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling™ (NFCC) recent online poll, when asked what they would be most embarrassed to admit, the highest number of respondents, 37 percent, indicated it was their credit card debt.

People were given five categories from which to choose. In addition to credit card debt, the options included age, weight, bank balance, credit score or none. Coming in a strong second, 30 percent of respondents indicated they would be embarrassed to admit their credit score. Since debt and credit scores can be related, it is not surprising that these two concerns earned the unenviable top two spots in the poll. Consider the following:

* Excessive credit card debt should be seen as a warning sign that a person is in the financial danger zone. Although credit cards may appear to be the solution to a financial shortfall, charging beyond what can be repaid each month can quickly get out of control. Debts that cannot be responsibly managed may lead to late payments resulting in fees being added onto the balance and can sometimes take years to repay. Such activity is likely to negatively impact a person's credit report and potentially result in a lower credit score.

* Typically one of the highest-weighted elements of a credit scoring model is the credit utilization ratio, which considers how much a person owes versus his or her available line of credit. Although lenders each have their own criteria for evaluating credit worthiness, it is smart to not utilize more than 30 percent of available credit.

"Since consumers revealed that the two facts they'd be most embarrassed to admit are related to credit, it is obvious that they are not comfortable with how they are currently managing their money," said Gail Cunningham, spokesperson for the NFCC. "The good news is that there are solutions available for those who want to take charge of their financial future. Since April is Financial Literacy Month, now is the ideal time for people to address their financial concerns."

For help overcoming your most embarrassing financial moments, reach out to an NFCC member agency and inquire about the three-step Sharpen Your Financial Focus program. To be automatically connected to the agency closest to you, dial (855) 374-2773, or visit www.SharpenToday.org or www.agudicehoy.org.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Energy Efficiency through Insulation Key to Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions

April 22, 2014 3:45 am

With today marking the 44th anniversary of Earth Day, the North American Insulation Manufacturers Association (NAIMA) reminds the public about the key role of fiber glass and mineral wool insulation in achieving greater energy efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. "Buildings account for 40 percent of energy use worldwide," NAIMA Interim President and CEO Angus Crane said. "Reducing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions are global priorities and among the easiest, most impactful ways to do that is ensuring all buildings are energy efficient. Properly insulating and air sealing buildings is critical to optimizing energy efficiency and reducing costs to building owners."

This winter, which saw many states break decades-long records for cold temperatures, reminded many homeowners of the costs of under-insulated homes: high energy bills. NAIMA estimates that some 40 million U.S. homes are under insulated and adding insulation is a relatively simple, low-cost home improvement that offers benefits that are friendly to the pocketbook and the planet. Additional insulation can reduce utility costs by as much as 30 percent and overall energy use by 50 percent when compared with an uninsulated building.

"Earth Day also provides an opportunity to acknowledge the efforts of businesses, industries and governments in educating the public about global sustainability and climate change," Crane said. "NAIMA applauds the many organizations that promote energy-efficient policies to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and improve the future of the planet."

Notwithstanding the significant environmental benefits of insulation, there are many other advantages, including insulation's role in improving public health. A 2004 study conducted by Harvard University School of Public Health found that adequate levels of insulation improved public health by limiting the effects of outdoor pollutants on the population. In addition, properly insulated buildings also offer better acoustical control. Homeowners may also take advantage of financial incentives and tax credits offered by a number of jurisdictions and entities throughout the United States to make homes more energy-efficient by doing such things as adding insulation.

"It is not an overstatement to say that we can insulate our way to a brighter future and at the same time, control our increasing energy costs," said Scott Miller, chairman of NAIMA's Sustainability Subcommittee. "Insulation is a simple solution to a weighty global challenge -- reducing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions -- but it clearly offers a myriad of benefits."

Source: naima.org

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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What Says Vacation in Any Language? A Perfectly Packed Suitcase

April 22, 2014 3:45 am

Summer is around the corner and many across the country will be jet-setting off on wonderful and warm adventures. But what should you bring and what can you do without? Here are a few steps travelers can take to make packing perfect.

Step one: Weight, size…
Understand limitations. Traveling by car, with an empty trunk to fill? In this case, the more the merrier! But for those traveling by air, it is worth looking into weight and size restrictions to eliminate those last minute surprises when checking it at the airport. Most airlines enforce a 50 pound weight restriction for checked bags. Find out what the maximum weight is for your chosen airline and pack accordingly.

Step two: The essentials
Make a master list of everything needed, every day. This list can include all the basics, like a toothbrush and toothpaste, and all personal must-haves, like special face cream or hair straightener. Keep this list and re-use it for the next trip!

Step three: Mix and match
Forget total outfits. First, consult the local weather forecast. Then, choose a basic color theme and stick with it – blacks or navies, whites or creams – so that you can pack a set of mix and match basics. Pack familiar items – now is not the time to experiment with new pieces. Leave behind articles which wrinkle too much or show wear too easily. And take multifunctional pieces like a blazer or cardigan to coordinate with pants or a dress. With the space saved, there is room for one or two extravagant items – or for souvenirs picked up along the way!

Step four: Shoes, shoes, and more shoes!
Oh, the agony! Again, sticking to a color theme will make decisions so much easier. Take a comfortable pair of shoes, as traveling always involves a lot of walking. Then take one pair that can dress anything up for the evening. And finally, wear the biggest pair while travelling. As for purses, the same rules apply – take one for the day, which can possibly double as a second carry-on bag, and a little bag for the evening, which can easily slip into the suitcase.

Step five: Toiletries
Searching for a little piece of home away from home? For many people, that comes in the shape of toiletries and cosmetics. Always remember the 100 ml rule – anything larger than 100 mls can only be packed in checked luggage. And collect samples of favorite brands to use during the trip. This will drastically reduce the volume of toiletries required.

Step six: Accessories
If there is one area people can pack a few outstanding items in, this is it! Pack all the basics, and sneak in a few extras just in case. Those sparkly earrings? Check. A bangle bracelet? Why not?

Step seven: Packing vs. unpacking
One last rule? The less you pack, the less you have to unpack!

Source: DELSEY

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Most Americans Incorrectly Believe Wind Speed Determines Hurricane Evacuation

April 21, 2014 3:33 am

A national Harris Interactive Survey commissioned by the nonprofit Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH)® has revealed some frightening perceptions regarding hurricane evacuation. The survey found that a vast majority of Americans, 84 percent, mistakenly base their life or death evacuation decisions on the hurricane category and/or wind speed. In fact, hurricane evacuation boundaries are based on the threat of water, not wind, and nearly all evacuation orders are issued due to threat of inland flooding and storm surge.

"Most people think of wind with a hurricane, but in recent years, water from storm surge and inland flooding has done the most damage and killed the most people," said Rick Knabb, Ph.D., Director of NOAA's National Hurricane Center (NHC). "Families need to find out if they live in an evacuation zone today, have a plan in place and immediately follow evacuation orders when issued."

Tropical storms, Category 1 and 2 hurricanes, post-tropical cyclones and even Nor'easters can all cause life-threatening storm surge. In 2008, Hurricane Ike made landfall as a Category 2 hurricane, bringing storm surge of 15 to 20 feet above normal tide levels. In 2012, Tropical Storm Debby produced storm surge of seven feet in the Florida Panhandle. Often, heavy rains from hurricanes and tropical storms cause flooding well inland from the initial strike zone.

"People underestimate the force and power of water," said FLASH President and CEO Leslie Chapman-Henderson. "During Superstorm Sandy, the Sochacki family of Union Beach, N.J., lost their home when it was broken apart and swept out to sea. In the middle of the storm, they were forced to take shelter in an elevated, concrete home next door."

New evacuation resources available
Beginning this hurricane season, the NHC will issue an experimental Potential Storm Surge Flooding Map for areas along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts of the United States that are at risk of storm surge from a tropical cyclone. These real-time maps will show areas where storm surge could occur and how high above ground the water could reach in those areas. The interactive map will be available at www.hurricanes.gov when hurricane or, in some cases, tropical storm, watches or warnings are in effect.

Additionally, FLASH has compiled available online resources on evacuation zones and storm surge mapping for the 222 coastal counties, parishes, and regions from Texas to Maine to help families determine if they reside in an evacuation zone.

Other myths revealed
The annual Harris Interactive survey tests homeowners' hurricane beliefs regarding safety and property protection. Some of the other widely held myths included:

MYTH: It costs more than $10K to make a home stronger against hurricanes
FINDING: 69 percent of Americans believe this to be true
FACT: There are affordable methods and products that minimize damage and the need for costly repairs, including:
• Garage doors are often the most vulnerable opening on a home in a hurricane, but they can be braced for as little as $150.
• Windows and sliding glass doors can be protected from flying debris with temporary plywood shutters for $275 to $750 or with corrugated steel or aluminum shutters from $7 to $15 per foot.
• Roof uplift resistance is critical in high wind and it may be tripled by applying a 1/4 inch bead of APA AFG-01 certified wood adhesive along the intersection of the roof deck and roof rafter or truss chord on both sides of the beam.
• Water intrusion through the roof deck joints is a common source of damage; however, peel and stick water barrier can be applied during re-roofing for as little as $750.

MYTH: Taping windows helps prevent hurricane damage
FINDING: 54 percent of Americans believe this to be true
FACT: Taping windows wastes preparation time, does not stop windows from breaking in a hurricane, and does not make clean-up easier. In fact, taping windows may create larger shards of glass that could cause serious injuries. Masking tape, duct tape, window film and specially marketed "hurricane tape" are insufficient and potentially dangerous. Use tested and approved hurricane shutters or other opening protection instead.

Source: Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH)

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Keys to a Healthy Home on a Budget

April 21, 2014 3:33 am

The Healthy House Institute (HHI) has released Keys to a Healthy Home on a Budget, designed to inform both professionals and consumers alike about how to upkeep a healthy home on a budget.

"Most healthy-home factors involve a prevention or 'removal' strategy hence are inexpensive or free to apply if addressed early," said Allen Rathey, president of The Healthy House Institute (HHI). "While the steps to a healthful home are basic and well-known, they are frequently neglected, prompting us to reinforce awareness and application of cost-effective, simple measures."

Keep It Dry

Keeping homes dry helps prevent the growth of mold, other microbes, and related health problems. Mold and bacteria need moisture to survive and thrive. Lowering a home's relative humidity through proper exhaust ventilation (e.g., running bathroom and shower fans for 30 minutes after showering or bathing), controlled mechanical ventilation (often as simple as installing a box fan facing outward in one open window and opening another window elsewhere in the house), and dehumidification in basements and where excess moisture occurs (dehumidifiers are available from big box retailers for less than $200), while sealing up unintentional airflows (i.e., drafts and air leaks) using caulking and sealants; go a long way toward promoting dryer, healthier home environments.

Keep It Clean, Contaminant-Free

Floor mats are inexpensive 'cleaning tools' -- placing one inside and outside a home's main entrance helps reduce indoor contaminants such as moisture, pesticide dust, heavy metals from industrial processes, and other pollutants. Often, the larger the mat, the more soil is removed.

Also, mild soap or detergent, and water, are thrifty but effective ways to remove soil and germs without resorting to expensive commercial products. Microfiber cloths and mops often clean well with just water.

Removal of germs is as important (or perhaps more so) than poisoning them: For example, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says, "Disinfectant/detergent formulations registered by EPA are used for environmental surface cleaning, but the actual physical removal of microorganisms and soil by wiping or scrubbing is probably as important, if not more so, than any antimicrobial effect of the cleaning agent used."

Still, there is a time and place for disinfectants, and non-chemical interventions such as steam vapor or UV wands may be helpful.

10 Healthy Cleaning Principles
1. Remove, do not add contaminants.
2. Remove, do not add or stir dust.
3. Remove, do not routinely poison germs.
4. Remove, do not add allergens.
5. Minimize chemistry, maximize results.
6. Disinfect touch points daily.
7. Use ergonomic tools.
8. Use fragrance-free products.
9. Use residue-free products and processes.
10. Use non-toxic methods.

Keep It Pest-Free

Keeping homes clean, dry and well-sealed prevents pests from finding harborage. This is part of Integrated Pest Management or IPM. According to NSF International, IPM "is an environmentally friendly pest management approach that emphasizes multiple methods of non-chemical pest control and prevention." Don't be afraid to call for professional assistance from companies with a strong IPM policy, but you can do a lot yourself by keeping kitchens and homes clean and dry, and not leaving dirty dishes around the home.

Keep It Ventilated

Fresh air is your friend, so be sure your home gets enough. Be sure every bathroom, shower, toilet, and utility area has a working exhaust fan to pull damp and/or unhealthy air out, and fresher air in. Use the exhaust fan over the stove to remove cooking smells and related airborne contaminants (e.g., natural gas stoves release carbon monoxide, so are especially important to vent well). Controlled mechanical ventilation can be as simple as using a box fan in a window, or as complicated as installing a Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV), which exhausts stale air as it brings in fresh air, but saves energy by transferring heat or cooling from one airstream to the other using a heat exchanger.

Keep It Safe, Maintained

Remember to have your home inspected by a qualified expert every few years to find problem areas. Ask visitors to give your home a "sniff test" to detect mold, airborne contaminants, or general staleness. Visitors not acclimated to a home's "normal smells" can be more objective when detecting unwanted odors. This is not a substitute for professional inspection, but can help.

Be sure your bathtub has hand railings for elderly loved ones, and areas inside and outside your home are well-lit. Outdoor lighting is a deterrent to crime, and LED bulbs can stay 'On' all night without running up electric bills.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Will You Use Your Tax Refund on a Dream Vacation Like Many Americans?

April 21, 2014 3:33 am

To get the biggest bang for your buck, here are some strategies you can use to turn even a lean refund into your dream vacation.

1. House Rules
Book a vacation house over a hotel to make your vacation bucks go the furthest. Houses typically hold more people with fewer fees. Living like a local in a unique vacation house can often be a priceless experience.

2. Do Not Seek Peak

Avoid peak season dates to save hundreds if not thousands. Peak season varies tremendously by location, so be sure to closely study rate lists.

3. Mom Was Right - It Is Best to Share
Even though it’s fun to make friends jealous by posting your sunny vacation pictures on Instagram, it’s much savvier to bring your friends along and split the tab. Sharing a house can double the fun and halve the cost. For the biggest savings, organize a beach getaway for the girls or a golf trip for the guys so that you end up with many friends staying together in a larger vacation house. Splitting with couples or another family is also a win-win.

4. Dine In, Not Out
Look for a full kitchen, dining area with plenty of seating and nice outside patio grilling area. Make sure there’s a grocery store nearby and also a variety of reasonable takeout options. Assign everyone a day to provide easy buffet-style meals or treat the group to inexpensive takeout.

5. Be Greedy about Freebies
Why pay sky-high fees for Internet, parking and resort amenities at hotels when most vacation houses offer numerous amenities for free? Look for vacation houses that include beach access, private pools, WIFI, parking, premium cable channels and welcome gifts at no cost. When you find an attractive vacation house scoring high reviews with loads of freebies, book it fast!

Source: Beach Bound Escapes

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Creating a Positive First Impression - 4 Tips You Can't Ignore

April 11, 2014 2:30 pm

When a prospective buyer pulls up to a property with a For Sale sign in the front yard, the exterior of the home can either make or break a positive first impression. While sellers often spend a lot of time and money making sure their home’s curb appeal is up to par, one area they often overlook is the driveway/walkway. And real estate professionals tend to agree that a well-maintained asphalt blacktop and clean and clear walkway can set the mood for a positive house showing.

Here are four tips to help you make your driveway and walkway send the right message to a prospective homebuyer.

1. No Parking. When someone comes to see your home and they can’t even pull into the driveway because it looks like a parking lot, that’s a bad start. You don’t want to force them to park on the street, so make sure all cars at the property are gone before any showing. The goal here is to let prospective buyers imagine they are pulling into the driveway of their future home.

2. Cracking Up. Repaving the driveway is one of the least expensive home repairs you can invest in. If yours is looking shabby—and has a lot of cracks—a nice, fresh layer of asphalt may be just the thing you need to attract a buyer. For cracks in the walkway, concrete paint can usually do the job.

3. A Clear Path. A walkway is designed to get you from the driveway to the front door, yet some homeowners treat them more like obstacle courses with lots of things blocking a clear path. Take some time to remove all toys, acorns, leaves or gardening equipment that may be in the way of a safe walk inside. Driveways should also be free of clutter and debris. Most driveways have garbage cans sitting at the end, but even if they’re clean, you should make sure they’re out of sight. The same holds true for hoses. Put them away neatly, as they could inadvertently trip someone, or if they’re old and tangled, they may do more harm than good when it comes to leaving a good impression.

4. A Green Thumb. Once the walkway is clear, be sure to pull up any grass or weeds that are growing in the cracks. There are some great sprays that can help with this as well. It’s also a good idea to take the time to hose down walkways to remove all dirt and grime.

For more tips on creating a positive first impression, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Flood Insurance Bill to Positively Affect Home Sales Moving Forward

April 11, 2014 2:30 pm

One of the most talked about issues within the real estate industry as of late concerns the flood insurance premium increases that were granted following the passage of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012, which first went into effect last October.

With major storms like Hurricane Sandy wreaking havoc on many parts of the country, these increases have gone even higher and have had a negative effect on home sales.

According to data by the National Association of REALTORS®, from October 2013 to January 2014, over 40,000 home sales were either delayed or canceled because of increases and confusion over flood insurance rates.

Thankfully, that’s all about to change, as President Barack Obama signed a new bill in March that states that homes in flood-prone areas will no longer be subject to sharp increases in flood insurance premiums when they are sold or when a new flood map places them in a higher-risk area.

“The Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act, S. 1926 is the timeout REALTORS® first advocated when dramatic flood insurance premium increases went into effect on October 1, 2013,” Steve Brown, president of NAR, said in a statement at the time of the passage of the bill. “This legislation will help homeowners nationwide who are experiencing financial hardship as a result of extreme flood insurance rates that are the unintended consequence of the Biggert-Waters reforms to the National Flood Insurance Program.”

The new law caps flood insurance premium increases and allows below-market insurance rates to be passed on to people buying homes in flood zones with taxpayer-subsidized policies.

Still, it’s not good news for everyone. People designated as living in older homes who enjoy subsidized flood insurance rates could still see annual increases in their premiums of up to 18 percent. Furthermore, homes in high-risk areas (labeled with codes starting with A or V on flood maps) will need to pay a new premium surcharge of either $25 or $250 per year to help offset the cost of the new bill. The surcharge applies to all properties that have national flood insurance, even those paying the full-risk rate.

Brown believes this is the first step in what he hopes is a retooling of the way Congress looks at the flood law and expects it to help with home sales going forward.

FEMA classifies flood risk as something unique to each structure and looks at factors such as the elevation of the property relative to predicted flood levels, the construction style of the building, and the flood risk zone. It also publishes flood hazard maps that show predicted flood levels and flood risk zones based on historical climate information and the best available science. Some common examples of Special Flood Hazard Areas include coastal floodplains, floodplains along major rivers, and areas subject to flooding from ponding in low-lying areas.

To learn more about flood insurance, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Keep Emotions at Bay as Moving Day Approaches

April 11, 2014 2:30 pm

Selling your home can be an exciting time in your life, however, once the sold sign is placed in the front yard, a lot of emotions are likely to come into play. While you’ll most likely be happy that you’re entering a new chapter in your life and moving on to a new house—possibly in a new town or state—it’s not always easy saying goodbye to those you’ll leave behind.

It’s a good bet that you’ve made some close friends in your neighborhood, and perhaps you’ve even served on the school’s PTA, were part of a book club, helped coach your child’s soccer team or were a regular at a local coffee shop or restaurant. It might not hit you right away, but many of these familiar faces will be gone from your life, leaving a hole you might not recognize at first.

Before you pack up your belongings and get on your way, make sure you take the time to say goodbye to everyone you’ve become close with. One simple way to bring everyone together is to host a neighborhood potluck party. Even if there are neighbors you haven’t spoken to in a while, a potluck party is the perfect opportunity to get together and share some memories, reflecting on all the great times you’ve had.

You’ll also want to head to your favorite restaurants for one last meal so that you can order everything you enjoy most. When you get to your new home, you may find that you’ll never have as good a pasta dish or homemade cupcake again, so you’ll want to savor the food one last time.

If you have children, organize a farewell picnic with all the families you and your children are close with so that the youngsters can have one last fun time together and you can say goodbye to the parents. Even if you aren’t too close, it’s a good bet that you went through a lot with these people in watching the kids grow up, so it will be nice to say goodbye.

Take a walk around your neighborhood and town and take photos of some of the places and faces you know best. Each member of the family should tell their favorite stories as you visit the different locales and you can make a fun scrapbook to take with you.

Remember, it’s always exciting to move to a new home, but don’t take for granted what you’re leaving behind. Make sure you take the time to say goodbye to everyone that’s important to you, as it’ll make the parting that much easier.

For more information about preparing for a move, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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