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Home Allergy Solutions: Dust vs. Dirt

April 24, 2013 6:58 pm

Living in an older "historic" home, I believe that some of the dust that has settled on a few ledges and windowsills could be as old as the residence itself. So it was with some relief that the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (acaai.org) came to the defense of homeowners who are constantly fighting a seemingly losing battle against the dust bunnies.

So is a dust allergy a sign of a dirty house? The ACAAI says no - however, a dirty house can make a house-dust allergy problem worse. And since many substances in dust cannot be removed by normal cleaning procedures, rigorous cleaning methods can actually put more dust into the air making symptoms worse.

The ACAAI offers the following tips for reducing house-dust allergens:

• Measure the indoor humidity and keep it below 55 percent. Do not use vaporizers or humidifiers. You may need a dehumidifier. Use vent fans in bathrooms and when cooking to remove moisture. Repair all water leaks.
• Remove wall-to-wall carpets from the bedroom if possible. Use a central vacuum or a vacuum with a HEPA filter regularly.
• If you are allergic, wear a N95 filter mask while dusting, sweeping or vacuuming. Remember, it takes over two hours for the dust to settle back down, so if possible, clean when the allergic patient is away and don't clean the bedroom at night.
• Keep pets out of the bedroom at ALL times. Consider using a HEPA Air Cleaner in the bedroom.
• Encase mattresses and pillows with "mite-proof" covers. Wash all bed linens regularly using hot water.
• Do not leave out uncovered food at night, and dispose of food wastes in a tightly sealed garbage can. And if it is an issue, schedule regular professional pest control utilizing integrated pest management (IPM) methods.
• Install a high efficiency media filter with a MERV rating of 11 or 12 in the furnace and air-conditioning unit. Leave the fan on to create a "whole house" air filter and change the filter with the change of the seasons. Have your heating and air-conditioning units inspected and serviced every six months.

Source: http://www.epa.gov/mold

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How to Save Money by Making Your Home More Eco-Friendly

April 24, 2013 6:58 pm

For homeowners who want to reduce their environmental footprint, here are a few tips to increase home value and save money at the same time:

1. Seal gaps around doors and windows with caulking and weather-stripping to save energy.
2. Make sure the attic is properly insulated to help stabilize the indoor temperature.
3. Install low-flow sink faucets, shower heads and toilets to save water.
4. Maintain the sprinkler system to reduce water waste from leaky unadjusted spigots.
5. Use low VOC paints, carpets, and natural cleansers to improve indoor air quality.

By making these simple upgrades, collectively homeowners can have a positive impact on the environment; according to the Environmental Protection Agency, when factoring in electricity use, residential and commercial buildings emitted 35 percent of all greenhouse gases in the U.S in 2011. That's more than cars and trucks, which emitted 28 percent. Homes also use a tremendous amount of water; according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, residential homes use 29.40 billion gallons of water per day. By completing "green" upgrades, homeowners can reduce the amount of water and electricity (and associated greenhouse gases) required to run their home.

Homeowners can also save money on their water, electricity and gas bills. According to Energy.gov, the typical U.S. family spends at least $2,000 a year on home utility bills. By taking measures to increase energy efficiency and reduce water waste, homeowners can reduce these costs significantly. Homes with green certifications such as GreenPoint, EarthCraft, ENERGY STAR®, or LEED have the potential to use 20-30 percent less energy and water than homes built using conventional standards.

Eco-friendly upgrades can also increase the value of a home. A recent study by UCLA and Maastricht University, found that homes in California with a green certification label sell for an average of 9 percent more than comparable homes without a certification. The Earth Advantage Institute found similar results in Portland and Seattle.

To help homeowners pay for these upgrades, there are a variety of city, county, state and utility rebates, as well as some federal and state tax credits and loan options available. More information on various incentives available in each state can be found in the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency, or DSIRE.

Source: Redfin

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4 Tips for the Buyer of a Previously Owned Home

April 24, 2013 6:58 pm

With new construction still crawling back to pre-recession levels, inventory in the residential housing market is generally low and primarily comprised of previously owned homes. The purchase of these older homes accounted for 93 percent of all home sales in 2012 and was up another .8 percent in February 2013.

Purchasing homes with a history can present some unique issues, especially if they are not visible to the average homebuyer. Sewer-related problems are potentially one of the most expensive and least evident of those issues. When shopping for a new home, outdated or broken appliances, peeling paint or dirty carpet are a lot easier to spot than plumbing issues. And, while a standard home inspection will cover some of the basics like water damage and water heater safety, other common plumbing problems often go unseen. Potential sewage and drain issues may lurk beneath the surface, unbeknownst to the buyer.

Here are four tips for buyers:

1. If it happened once, it will happen again. It is extremely likely that a home would have an ongoing history of sewer-related issues. According to Roto-Rooter Director of Plumbing Services, Larry Rothman, “In fact, it's almost a certainty. Some customers require sewer cleaning every six months, while others need us on an annual basis or every two years. The roots from the same problem tree will continue to grow back as long as the sewer pipe has voids and loose joints that allow the roots to get inside the pipe and the problem almost always gets worse over time, requiring more frequent cleanings to keep the roots under control because pipes will shift within the soil causing misalignment
between sections.”

2. Sump pump problems may not be evident unless there has been a fair amount of rain. Not all basement homes have sump pumps, but most ought to have them to prevent basement flooding. Sump pumps are now a normal requirement in most new building codes for basement homes, but older homes were not subject to the new, stricter codes and the vast majority of older basements are at risk for some level of basement flooding if rainfall is particularly heavy and the ground around the foundation becomes saturated.

Rothman says, “An inspection of the plumbing, particularly the sump system, water heater and sewer line could potentially save a prospective home buyer a great deal of money, potentially thousands of dollars.”

3. A sewer line inspection is not included in the standard home inspection. Homebuyers regularly waive this extra inspection in the purchasing process because it requires an additional cost of anywhere from $250 to $550. Additionally, many buyers do not know that responsibility for the condition of the lateral sewer line leading from the street to the home lies with the homeowner, not a municipality. Whatever the reason for skipping a sewer line inspection, buyers should reevaluate foregoing this important step in signing a deal. If a problem exists, excavation could be required costing thousands of dollars after the home has already been purchased. “Sewer inspection camera equipment is expensive and often is only utilized by well equipped plumbing companies, but the video inspection service itself is easy to complete and well worth the extra step,” said Rothman.

4. Sellers do not have to disclose information about plumbing problems. Ask questions! Know when the home was built; if it is 25 years old or older, it is more likely to have nonplastic pipes that are at least somewhat deteriorated and more susceptible to root entry. Take note of mature trees, visible root growth and cracked concrete and ask if they are related to any persistent pipe problems.

The benefits of purchasing a previously owned home can be wonderful. However, some of the things a buyer loves most about an older home, the charm, older fixtures, the mature landscaping, can all be indicators of potentially costly problems for the plumbing system below the surface. Homebuyers may be focused on kitchen designs, interior paint or landscaping, overlooking the possibility of serious plumbing problems. In fact, about 44 percent of people purchasing homes call a plumber for one reason or another within the first year at their new residence. Simply avoid any unpleasant surprises before it is too late by being thorough in the inspection and buying phase. Ask the right questions and prevent the added cost of repairs down the road.

Source: Roto-Rooter

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Top 5 National Parks for Families

April 24, 2013 6:58 pm

With National Park Week coming up April 20-28, you may be planning to visit one of the country’s most beautiful places. Below are the top 5 national park picks for families, according to FamilyVacationCritic.com.

Yosemite National Park, California: A four-season getaway, Yosemite offers a striking and varied landscape including granite cliffs, colorful wildflowers and rushing rapids. Kids will never forget standing next to 200-ft. high sequoias in Yosemite's Mariposa Grove.

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona: To truly appreciate the Grand Canyon, families can walk the 1.5-mile South Kaibab Trail down to Cedar Ridge, with exquisite views of the inner canyon. For something different, visitors can try a mule ride down the Bright Angel Trail (but be sure to book early).

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah: For an up-close look of Bryce Canyon, stroll down the Queen's Garden Route, a dusty stone path loaded with colorful standing pinnacles called "hoodoos." For a more remote family hike, try the 4.5-mile long Sheep Creek/Swamp Canyon Loop in Bryce's backcountry.

Arches National Park, Utah: Families with small kids should take the easy walk to Sand Dune Arch as a warm-up, where a large sand pit under the arch is an ideal natural sandbox. Then try the 1.6-mile (round-trip) hike to Landscape Arch.

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado: The park is home to a wide array of wildlife, including bighorn sheep, elk, moose and marmots. A good day hike for the family is on the Colorado River Trail, where you can take in the water, trees and mountains.

Source: http://www.familyvacationcritic.com

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Clever Storage for Kids' Rooms

April 24, 2013 6:58 pm

(Family Features) To many parents, the process of keeping kids’ rooms clean never seems to end. And while a kid’s room may never look quite like the perfect rooms in magazines, a few clever solutions can make it easier to get – and keep – toys, books and clothes more organized.

Think Vertical
If your child’s room is small or doesn’t have a lot of built in storage, vertical storage may be helpful.
• Add wall hooks or a peg rack at a height your child can reach and hang up sweaters, pajamas, jackets and book bags.
• Tiered organizers that hang from a closet rod can hold small stuffed animals, clothing items, or shoes.
• Wall hangers with pockets can be hung on the back of a door to hold shoes, small toys and craft supplies.

Boxes, Baskets and Bins, Oh My

Use containers to keep toys and other items sorted and make it easy to put away. Label the outside with words or pictures to help your child know exactly where to put things.
• Home Bento boxes have internal flex dividers, which let you divide up the space within the box however you need it. Use them for small clothing items, craft supplies, small toys and games. They stack on top of each other, making it easy to maximize shelf space.
• Baskets are lightweight and often have handles, so it’s easy for a child to take them off the shelf and put them back. Basket liners let you coordinate the look to match your child’s room.
• Plastic storage bins can hold larger toys and play sets, off-season clothing and shoes. You can find bins to fit on shelves and under the bed, as well.

Make it Fun
There’s no reason something as pragmatic as storage can’t be fun, too.
• Keep pens, pencils and markers together in a plastic paint can or flower pot the kids have decorated.
• Place Velcro strips on toys and on playroom walls. Kids will enjoy sticking their toys to the wall, and you’ll enjoy a cleaner play space.
• Get an unpainted wooden crate from Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft stores, and paint, stain or decoupage it with whimsical colors and designs.

Source: Joann Fabric and Craft Stores

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CoreLogic Home Price Index Rises by 10.2 Percent Year Over Year in February

April 24, 2013 6:58 pm

CoreLogic® has released its February CoreLogic HPI® report. Home prices nationwide, including distressed sales, increased 10.2 percent on a year-over-year basis in February 2013 compared to February 2012. This change represents the biggest year-over-year increase since March 2006 and the 12th consecutive monthly increase in home prices nationally. On a month-over-month basis, including distressed sales, home prices increased by 0.5 percent in February 2013 compared to January 2013.

Excluding distressed sales, home prices increased on a year-over-year basis by 10.1 percent in February 2013 compared to February 2012. On a month-over-month basis, excluding distressed sales, home prices increased 1.5 percent in February 2013 compared to January 2013. Distressed sales include short sales and real estate owned (REO) transactions.

The CoreLogic Pending HPI indicates that March 2013 home prices, including distressed sales, are also expected to rise by 10.2 percent on a year-over-year basis from March 2012 and rise by 1.2 percent on a month-over-month basis from February 2013. Excluding distressed sales, March 2013 home prices are poised to rise 11.4 percent year over year from March 2012 and by 2.0 percent month over month from February 2013. The CoreLogic Pending HPI is a proprietary and exclusive metric that provides the most current indication of trends in home prices. It is based on Multiple Listing Service (MLS) data that measure price changes for the most recent month.

“The rebound in prices is heavily driven by western states. Eight of the top ten highest appreciating large markets are in California, with Phoenix and Las Vegas rounding out the list,” said Dr. Mark Fleming, chief economist for CoreLogic.

“Home prices continued their march upward in February. Nationally, home prices improved at the best rate since mid-2006, marking a full year of annual increases and underscoring the ongoing strengthening of market fundamentals,” said Anand Nallathambi, president and CEO of CoreLogic. “Continued home price appreciation will provide fuel needed to drive further recovery in the home purchase market.”

Highlights as of February 2013:

• Including distressed sales, the five states with the highest home price appreciation were: Nevada (+19.3 percent), Arizona (+18.6 percent), California (+15.3 percent), Hawaii (+14.6 percent) and Idaho (+13.5 percent).
• Including distressed sales, this month only three states posted home price depreciation: Delaware (-4.4 percent), Alabama (-1.5 percent) and Illinois (-1.0 percent).
• Excluding distressed sales, the five states with the highest home price appreciation were: Nevada (+18.3 percent), Arizona (+16.4 percent), Hawaii (+15.5 percent), California (+15.3 percent) and Idaho (+15.3 percent).
• Including distressed transactions, the peak-to-current change in the national HPI (from April 2006 to February 2013) was -26.3 percent. Excluding distressed transactions, the peak-to-current change in the HPI for the same period was -19.3 percent.

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Buying a New TV? Know What to Look For Before You Shop

April 19, 2013 3:10 am

Whether buying a toy for your new home or simply replacing an older model, buying a new TV can be an exciting purchase. With new technology rapidly outdating the old, some consumers may not be aware of what's available or know what to look for when the time has come. Here are a few tips and items to consider when scouting out a new television for your home.

Widescreen and HD is Where It's At: With much of today's programming being presented in widescreen format, it's best to have a TV that can properly display it. Rarely are new shows broadcasted in the old 4:3 standard aspect ratio. For the best picture display, purchase a widescreen TV and make sure it has HD capabilities. Depending on your budget, you can choose between 720p or 1080p, which refers to the number of horizontal lines of pixels displayed on the screen at any given time. For TVs 30 inches or under, you may not see a difference between the two. For larger screens, it's best to pick 1080p if your budget allows for it. Once you go HD, you'll never go back!

Decide Between a Plasma or LCD:  Knowing the difference between these types of TVs is crucial before making your decision. LCD televisions (short for liquid-crystal display televisions) utilize a technology based on polarized light, where two polarized panels are located in front of and in back of a thin layer of liquid crystal gel that is divided up into individual pixels. Plasma televisions, on the other hand, use ionized gas to form plasma (a type of gas with ionized particles) which emits units of light called photons. Thousands of cells, coated with phosphors, give off colored light when struck with these photons. This, in turn, creates the picture you see on the screen.

There are pros and cons to both technologies. Plasmas tend to have darker darks and brighter whites. If you decide on plasma, conduct some further research on contrast ratios. However, if your TV room is an area that receives a lot of sunlight, you may want to choose an LCD, as those screens will not create any glare due to incoming light. Deciding which technology you want to pursue and purchase is an important decision that must be made before you can begin looking at brands, sizes, etc.

Investigate the Back Panel: Do you have lots of video sources you'll need to plug in? Make sure to check the back panel to see what kind of inputs the TV has and if you'll be able to fully utilize all of your external devices (receivers, video game systems, Bluray players, etc.). You don't want to get your new TV home and have to juggle inputs--it never hurts to have too many.

Look for an Energy Star-compliant TV: Energy Star is a guideline imposed by the EPA and the Department of Energy to regulate energy saving measures for consumer electronics. Make sure your new TV is Energy Star compliant. It's a "green" effort that is good for the planet and one that will also save you money in the long run.

These tips only scratch the surface in terms of what you should know before making such a large purchase. However, once you narrow down your wants and needs, you can dig deeper in the quest of finding the TV of your dreams.

Sources: CNET Asia, Squidoo.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Top Ten States with Most Hail Losses

April 19, 2013 3:10 am

 Wind and hail storms remain some of the most frequent and severe causes of property damage. This year, the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety Research Center conducted the first-ever indoor hailstorm, in an effort to research building products and ways to educate consumers.

Damage caused by wind and hail cost policyholders more than $3.9 billion in 2012. The states with the most wind/hail losses include:

  • Texas—47,000 claims
  • Illinois—41,000 claims
  • New York—34,000 claims
  • Ohio—31,000 claims
  • Missouri—25,000 claims
  • Tennessee—24,000 claims
  • Indiana—23,000 claims
  • New Jersey—23,000 claims
  • Kentucky—22,000 claims
  • Colorado—16,000 claims

While hail storms most frequently impact the Great Plains and Midwest, every state in the nation is susceptible.

Heading Off Hail Damage:

  • If weather conditions are prime for hail storms, pull cars, boats, RVs, lawn and patio furniture into a covered area.
  • When building or remodeling, consider impact resistant roofing to reduce hail damage to your home. State Farm currently offers insurance premium discounts to homes with qualifying impact-resistant roofing products in 26 states and one Canadian province.

If You Experience Hail Damage:

  • Work with your insurance agent or claims adjustor to fully understand the claims process and how covered repairs will be handled. State Farm customers who have reported a loss can expect to be contacted by a claim representative who will review your policy and explain your coverage, outline the claim process, and answer questions.
  • Choose a reputable roofing contractor. Look for a licensed or bonded roofer and request references. Not all jurisdictions require licensing of roofing contractors. Ask to see certificates of insurance to be sure both liability and workers compensation insurance coverage is carried, and are in force during the time the roofing work is being done.
  • You may also contact your local Better Business Bureau or the National Roofing Contractors Association for assistance in locating a professional contractor in a specific geographic area.
  • If anyone visits your home without an appointment and professes to represent your insurer, ask for identification and contact your insurer to confirm before allowing access.

Source: State Farm

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Spring Cleaning is a Good Time for Preventive Home Maintenance

April 19, 2013 3:10 am

 As homeowners are starting spring cleaning projects, they should also give a thought to insurance too. The Pennsylvania Insurance Department recommends taking the time for minor fixes now, to save homeowner insurance claims later.

"Making sure things are in good working order this spring can make a big difference in home safety, as well as insurance matters," said Insurance Commissioner Michael Consedine.

One of the most commonly overlooked areas during spring cleaning is behind your washer and dryer. Lint can escape a poorly-connected dryer filter hose and build up against the wall, causing a fire hazard.  Household appliance fires are one of the most common reasons given for homeowner insurance claims. Other homeowner damage and claims can be prevented with these simple tips:      

Kitchen fires – The majority of fires begin in the kitchen due to food left unattended on the stove or the ignition of built-up grease. Thoroughly clean the oven and stove top.

Fireplace ashes – After cleaning out the fireplace, don't discard ashes in a combustible container and don't store them in, or around, the house or garage.  Store discarded ashes away from your home and be sure you have poured water into the container so that any remaining embers are extinguished.

Washing machine hose – Check the washing machine hoses for dry rot, cracking and tightening. Hoses should be replaced every few years. Water to the unit should be turned off when not in use.

Refrigerator ice maker line – Check lines annually since they can become pinched and start to leak, causing damage to flooring and cabinets. 

Sinks and toilet valves – As your home ages, regularly check all plumbing fixtures and connections. Look for corrosion and rust around valves. If your home is more than 20 years old, consider having a plumber check and replace all connections and hoses. 

Source: Pennsylvania Department of Insurance

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First-Quarter Economic Growth Stronger Than Expected

April 18, 2013 3:10 am

Recent data indicate that economic growth in the first quarter has accelerated to an above-trend—but likely unsustainable—pace of 3.2 percent, according to Fannie Mae’s Economic & Strategic Research Group. A significant buildup in business inventories provided a one-time boost to first quarter growth and is expected to resume a more balanced level in the second quarter. Meanwhile, several other key indicators late in the first quarter, including a downbeat March jobs report, were soft, presaging a more moderate pace for the rest of the year. The Group expects growth to come in at approximately 2.3 percent for 2013—still modest by recovery standards, but a pickup from the 2012 and 2011 pace of 1.7 percent and 2.0 percent, respectively.

“The April forecast reflects the growing realization that 2013 is off to a good start from a GDP perspective, but we expect the stronger-than-expected first quarter pace to slow somewhat in the second quarter,” said Fannie Mae Chief Economist Doug Duncan. “On the downside, tax hikes, sequestration, and the euro-zone crisis still pose significant risks to our forecast, and the fiscal tightening will likely affect consumer spending and other economic activity in coming months. However, the housing recovery continues to broaden and may be more robust than we anticipate, helping to offset fiscal headwinds.”

The continued housing recovery and rising home prices are expected to provide a cushion to growth this year and present the most likely source of upside to the forecast. Residential investment has made a positive or neutral contribution to economic growth for seven consecutive quarters, ending in 2012, with similar activity expected in 2013. Housing’s contribution to growth also continues to climb, as sales reached multi-year highs in the early stages of 2013.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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