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10 Tips to Ensure Your Air Conditioner is Ready and Reliable for Next Year

September 10, 2012 3:20 am

With the nearing end of the summer season and coming winter how do families protect their cooling system and make sure it is ready for next year? With the rising costs of fuel and the uncharacteristically hot summers throughout the U.S. it is more important than ever to extend the life of your home’s air conditioning unit. A high-quality heating ventilation and air conditioning system can last up to 20 years if properly installed and maintained. However, the cheapest models or poorly maintained systems can fail in as little as five. Here are 10 tips to make sure your air conditioner is ready for next year.

1. Make sure all weather stripping around doors and windows is properly sealed. As time goes by, the caulking and weather stripping become compromised with use and temperature changes and the loss of the conditioned air can cause the air conditioner and heater to work longer to achieve the desired temperature.

2. Screening AC installers for professional credentials, experience and proper training is extremely important. If the unit has been installed improperly, the system may have leaky ducts or low air flow. Often, the level of refrigerant does not match the manufacturer’s specifications, which can affect efficiency and performance. Improper installation can lower a system’s efficiency by up to 30 percent.

3. Changing or cleaning the air filter is one of the most important maintenance tasks. Clogged, filthy filters obstruct air flow and can even impair the evaporator coil’s ability to absorb heat. Filters should be attended to every month or two, depending on how much dust or pet fur a home has. A good contractor will show homeowners how to do this simple task themselves.

4. It is important to keep an eye out for warning signs of a failing system, such as: loud or strange noises, a system that turns on and off a lot, longer run times, strange smells emanating from the unit, or higher than normal energy bills.

5. Installing and using a programmable thermostat is a great way to improve the longevity of central air. This enables homeowners to pre-program the unit to turn off while they are away from the home or increase in temperature. Energy Star studies say a programmable thermostat can save homeowners about $180 a year in energy costs.

6. Sealing and insulating ducts can improve a cooling system’s efficiency by 20 percent or more. Often ducts that run through attic crawl spaces, basements and garages become extremely hot during the day, which causes the air conditioner to work harder to cool these surfaces. Also, poorly sealed ducts can leak cool air outside of the home and waste energy.

7. Buying high-performance AC units with Energy Star labels and high SEER numbers will not only ensure greater longevity for the system, but can also decrease cooling costs by nearly $500 a year. Upfront cost should not be the only consideration in choosing a system for the home.

8. Getting adequate airflow through the outdoor condenser coils is important as well. Homeowners should periodically check outside to ensure there are no weeds, shrubs or other obstructions. One can also turn off the circuit breaker to the unit, remove the outdoor cabinet and clean out debris that has accumulated inside. Many people hose down the unit after every lawn mowing to keep grass clippings out.

9. Keep pets away from the condenser. It may sound crazy, but it’s not at all uncommon for a system to fail in five years due to a pet using the bathroom on the unit and corroding the cooling coil fins’ metal.

10. Annual maintenance scheduled regularly is the best way to ensure the whole system is operating properly. A technician will top off fluids, check electrical connections for safety, clean and lubricate all moving parts, change the filter, adjust blower components for comfort, and inspect the system for signs of wear and tear. Many families fail to have routine maintenance and as a result have to replace systems or parts that can cost in the thousands of dollars.

Source: Air Depot

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Home for Sale? Stage it Right for Autumn

September 7, 2012 3:16 am

The transition from summer to fall means more than the beginning of football season and sending the kids back to school. For a homeowner wanting to sell a home, it means staging it right with fall in mind to make it more appealing to buyers.

Here are seven ways to bump up your home’s seasonal appeal:

Start with curb appeal – Keep the lawn free of falling leaves and debris and cut back dead or dying perennials. Replace them with fall blooms, like mums, and/or add a few fall blooms in pots to the front porch.

Add fall décor – Use neutral fall décor outside, such as pumpkins, leafy wreaths or small hay bales that appeal to adult sensibilities. But keep it to a tasteful minimum. The idea is to add a few homey touches but keep the focus on the home itself.

Use seasonal scents – Nothing conjures up warm memories more than the sweet, spicy scents of fall. Bring them to mind with a pot of simmering cider on the stove or the aroma of freshly baked bread or cookies. But try to keep it natural. Scented candles or aerosol sprays can irritate some buyers.

Make the kitchen sparkle – Keep it very clean and remove all cleaning supplies from view. Take the notes and photos off the refrigerator and keep the counters clear – except, perhaps, for an attractive cookbook and a bottle of wine or olive oil, or a handsome arrangement of fall produce in a pretty bowl or basket.

Let the light in – Keep drapes and blinds open during the day, and turn on the lights if your home is dark or the weather outside is gray.

Make the fireplace a focal point – Can you make it seem cozier with an armchair or rocking chair facing it, draped with a shawl or afghan? Will a few small pumpkins or gourds add a homey touch to the mantel? Can you rearrange the furniture to make the fireplace the focus of the room?

Set the dining room table – Using fall foliage and candles as a centerpiece, set the table with your best cloth, glassware and china – or dramatize a polished wood table with a showy bowl or basket full of autumn’s finest fruits and foliage.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Clean Your House Naturally and Avoid Toxic Cleansers

September 7, 2012 3:16 am

It's time to tackle the annual home cleaning. But just because you're thoroughly washing, scrubbing and disinfecting your home, it doesn't mean you need to turn to cleansers with harsh ingredients and chemicals. In fact, you can easily clean using inexpensive products already in your kitchen, such as vinegar, baking soda and lemon juice. Use these tips to clean your home naturally.

Start seeing clearly: Are your windows coated with a layer of grime? A solution of two teaspoons of white vinegar and one liter of warm water can be used to gently remove dust or dirt from all glass surfaces including windows and mirrors.

Freshen up the fridge: In addition to food spills, your refrigerator takes on odors from all the different foods stored throughout the year. Discard old items and be sure you are regularly cleaning out the fridge. Help reduce odors year-round by keeping a box of baking soda in the fridge at all times, replacing it every 30 days for best results.

Reawaken your wardrobe: Start the season feeling good in clothes that smell fresh. Even when carefully stored, clothing can still be exposed to dust, and may require a good washing before wearing. Add a cup of baking soda to your next wash to naturally boost the power of your detergent. The combination will help balance PH levels to leave clothing cleaner and fresher. You can also freshen non-washable items like gym shoes, bags and sports equipment by sprinkling baking soda inside.

Renew the everyday rooms: Avoid the fumes of harsh kitchen and bathroom cleaners by naturally cleaning surfaces with baking soda. A sprinkle of baking soda on a damp sponge will clean counters, stainless steel sinks, microwaves, ovens and much more without scratching. For tough grease, mix vinegar and lemon juice to leave your surfaces like new.

Bet on a BBQ: After the inside of your home is looking spic-and-span, get your grill ready to prevent bad tasting hot dogs and hamburgers from ruining your next BBQ. Sprinkle baking soda on a damp brush, then scrub away any residue and rinse clean. For really difficult stains, make a paste with three parts baking soda to one part warm water and use a wire-bristled brush to work away at grime and grease stains.


Published with permission from RISMedia.


Protect Your Pets from Pests

September 7, 2012 3:16 am

For pet owners, summer and fall are great times to enjoy the great outdoors with their furry loved ones. But it also brings the risk of flea and tick infestation. Veterinarians across the country are expecting an abundance of fleas and ticks this year, due in part to last winter's warmer temperatures in some areas of the nation.

Fleas and ticks are more than simple nuisances for your pets. They can cause your pet discomfort, and in the case of ticks, put your pets and your family at risk for a variety of diseases. One adult female flea can lay up to 50 eggs per day. If your pet has 10 fleas, your problem suddenly multiplies to 15,000 fleas in a month.

Prevention is the best course of action. Making your yard unfriendly to pests is a good place to start.

Don't give fleas and ticks a welcoming environment. Mow regularly, keep shrubs trimmed, and rake up leaves. Keep the garbage covered so it won't attract rodents - that means fleas and ticks won't have any help getting close to your house.

You can spray your yard to kill adult fleas and ticks. Outdoor sprays can be used on lawns, flowers, trees and shrubs. They kill and repel fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, ants, crickets and other insects. Spray wherever your pet frequents the most. Allow it to dry before letting pets or people onto the treated area.

Preventive maintenance should be a regular part of your pet care routine. Whenever you groom your dog or cat, check for fleas and ticks. Signs of fleas include redness and scratching, as well as what's known as flea dirt - black flea droppings left on your pet's coat. Ticks are most commonly found around the neck, in the ears, in the folds between the legs and body, and in between the toes. Cats may also have them around the neck and face.

Shampoos clean your pet by eliminating adult fleas, ticks and flea dirt. The active ingredients must come in contact with the pests for a certain period of time in order to be effective. Results are immediate. However, because shampoos have no long-lasting effects, it's a good idea to follow the shampoo with a dip or maintenance product. Mists are used to kill fleas, ticks and mosquitoes on dogs and cats instantly. Flea eggs and larvae will be prevented for one to two months.


Published with permission from RISMedia.


Tips for Living Comfortably When You're on the Road

September 6, 2012 3:16 am

Traveling can leave you craving the comforts of home, especially when you're on the road for more than a day or two. Making life comfortable while you are away starts with choosing the right hotel and finding ways to keep your real-life routines rolling, so being miles from where you live still feels close to how you live.

Here are a few tips for making life on the road feel more like home:

Do Like the Locals Do
Find a local farmers market or local gourmet grocery store. Buy yourself flowers there -- a pot of your favorite violets on the counter or by the window will add color and life to your hotel room. Or, even just having a freshly-baked baguette or some fresh yogurt to snack on in your room can make you feel more cozy and at home. Take time out to go for a walk and explore the neighborhood.

Get Exercise
Ironically, travel can be sedentary, so make sure to move your body. Look for hotels with 24-hour gyms or spacious suites, which provide the perfect setup to work out with your favorite DVD or get in your morning Pilates or yoga routine. Keeping your workout consistent, even while on the road, will help keep you energized throughout the day.

Sip and Enjoy
Bring your favorite tea bags or coffee grounds. Whether you crave espresso or chai, one sip of your favorite coffee or tea will evoke memories of home and start your day off on the right foot. Find a hotel with an in-room coffee/tea maker so you can enjoy your morning drink while getting ready for your day.


Published with permission from RISMedia.


Make the Best Choice When Seeking Home Help

September 6, 2012 3:16 am

Families looking for caregivers to provide help at home for their loved ones got a scare recently with a study published in the July 2012 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The study, conducted by Northwestern University, examined the hiring and screening practices of 180 responding homecare agencies, and concluded that families need to be cautious that the agency is not misrepresenting their caregivers’ skills and their agencies’ training and supervision.

The reality is that not every homecare agency offers the help a family may need. Some agencies may not provide adequate screening or training or put effort into finding the right fit between the caregiver and the client. The situation is often made even more challenging because it may be an unplanned need, making it both more important and harder to be selective in evaluating an agency and an individual caregiver.

To make sure that families get qualified help, families should ask agencies the following questions to ensure they find a right match:

1. How does your agency recruit caregivers, and what are the hiring requirements?

2. What types of screening and background checks are performed on caregivers before they are hired? Make sure that the agency has checked the caregivers’ background through legitimate records databases, not through an unverifiable agency.

3. Is the agency bonded and insured, and licensed if that is required?

4. What kind of health-related training, if any, do caregivers have?

5. Does the agency provide specialized and continuing education for caregivers?

6. What competencies will the caregiver have (e.g., lifting and transfers, homemaking skills, personal care skills including bathing, dressing and toileting, training in behavioral management, cognitive support)? Not every situation will require a caregiver with all of these skills, but it is important to know what a caregiver is able to do.

7. How does the agency assess what the caregiver is capable of doing?

8. What is the policy on providing a substitute caregiver in the event a regular caregiver cannot provide the contracted services?

9. If there is dissatisfaction with a particular caregiver, can he or she be replaced “without cause”?

10. How long has the agency been in business?

11. How does the agency stay abreast of new techniques and research in home care? Franchise agencies usually have a strong network of ongoing skills training to draw on, but every agency should be taking part in local network and education opportunities to ensure they are providing the most current care modalities.

12. Can the family meet the caregiver before the person starts work? Inviting someone into your home to provide care can be scary. Being able to meet and approve the proposed caregiver before hiring can be very important, and it’s one of the things a good agency will offer.

Source: Visiting Angels

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Tips for Parenting Teenagers

September 6, 2012 3:16 am

There is an old school saying that parents grow as their kids grow up. Raising teenagers is perhaps the most difficult phase of a parent’s life. There is simply too much that happens all the time. There are too many factors that have to be considered. A teenager is likely to develop the most physically, mentally and emotionally in these years and when so many aspects develop together, it is bound to get complicated. Whether or not your teen is going off your preferred path for him or her, tackling every little aspect is still a major challenge.

Keep the following in mind when parenting your teenage son or daughter:

-Independence is of prime importance for teenagers. They have always been confided in your arms and it is time they would spread their wings to see life as they want to see it. Liberty is what you should be offering them. That is freedom with some restrictions. The restrictions should never appear to be overbearing as that could just lead to more troubles. Give them their space but let them know where to draw the line.

-Talking things out is the most advisable parenting tip. Regardless of what the situation is and how grave the problem may be at hand, talking always helps. Speak with your child about the risks of what he or she may be doing, show them what is right and what is not, prevent them from taking risky moves and try to create an understanding that is more than just communicating disciplinary teachings.

-Be welcoming of the world your teen is presently in. Not everything will be mutually agreeable, hence, try to win on the graver issues and let go on the minor ones. Drug addiction or bad company is a red sign, but playing an hour more on the computer or curling her silky straight hair does not pose any threat.

Parents who have troubled teenagers or those that have indulged in unacceptable habits and activities need not shy away from a teen treatment center, and opting for one sooner than later is the wisest decision you can make.

Source: Eagle Ranch Academy

Published with permission from RISMedia.


The Importance of Taking Home Inventories

September 5, 2012 3:16 am

How much do you like your widescreen plasma TV, ultra-fast computer, designer clothes, high-count Egyptian cotton sheets and tweaked out ride-on lawn mower? How would it change your life if you had to downgrade to a 24" TV, slower computer, discount retail clothes and linens, and a push mower?

If the unthinkable happened tomorrow and your home was severely damaged or destroyed in a fire or hurricane, you'd be understandably devastated. Once you got over the initial shock, you'd have to begin the long and difficult task of recovering or replacing everything that you lost.

If you don't have a home inventory, the chances are good that you will be doing some major downgrading.

Discovery One: You Have a lot More Responsibility Than You Think You Do

The first thing you're going to do is call the insurance company, who is going to ask for a detailed list and description of everything you lost and need to replace. All you need to do is provide the make, model and serial number of your electronics and appliances and substantial proof that your clothes were from Talbot's, your sheets were 600-count and your mower was a high-end John Deere. Easy, right?

Most people can't even remember where they bought many of their belongings, never mind the model and serial number. Receipts? What receipts? Appraisals? Lost in the fire. It's not unheard of to find people digging around in the soggy ashes of their once-home desperately looking for evidence to show insurance adjusters. If only they had been more proactive.

Discovery Two: You Don't Remember as Much as You Think

How big are your grandmother's heirloom pearls? How many are on the string? How long is the strand? Not sure? What about that pocket watch your great-grandfather brought here when he emigrated from Europe? Can you describe it in detail? When is the last time you really looked at it?

If they were stolen, could you describe them to the police? Do you have any pictures?

A comprehensive home inventory can help ensure that you have the right amount of insurance coverage, provide proof of ownership to your insurance company, maximize your insurance recovery payments, and improve your chances of recovering irreplaceable treasures if they're stolen.

A complete inventory, including photos, may be one of the most valuable investments for peace of mind anyone can make for themselves and their families. If something happens to damage homes and property, an inventory will eliminate the need to piece that information together in the aftermath.

A home inventory service can document and catalog all your possessions and requires no preparation. Services can be tailored to your needs and budget. You'll sleep better -- and enjoy relaxing in front of that widescreen TV much more -- knowing you're ready to maintain your family's quality of life if disaster strikes.


Published with permission from RISMedia.


Tips on How to Avoid Common Locksmith Scams

September 5, 2012 3:16 am

There are several things that homeowners and drivers can do to ensure the locksmith they employ is legitimate so that they don’t fall prey to a scammer.

When a consumer calls a locksmith, the first thing to notice is how the call is answered. If the person answering the phone says something general such as "locksmith services," hang up. A legitimate locksmith will identify the name of their company. The reputable locksmith will discuss the services needed, provide a quote over the phone and will stand by the quote once the work is completed with a receipt showing all charges. Beware of the "too good to be true" low price scammers will offer - it usually is.

Also, check the yellow pages of the phone book. Local locksmiths will usually have an ad that contains information about services they offer, a local phone number/address, and professional organizations they belong to such as the Better Business Bureau or Associated Locksmiths of America. If there’s no ad, check for a listing that has a local address.

While doing research online, go to sites such as Angie’s List, Yelp and Service Magic. These sites offer real reviews by real people. Companies are not allowed to review themselves on these sites or buy advertising. Also, go to for listings in your area.

When ordering service from a locksmith, notice the vehicle they arrive in and how the locksmith is dressed. Scammers will arrive in unmarked vehicles and not in any kind of uniform. A reputable company will have clearly marked vehicles and uniforms with identification.

When it comes to finding a reputable locksmith, always remember these tips and trust your instincts.

Source: Pop-A-Lock

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Over-sharing in the Office: When More is Too Much

September 5, 2012 3:16 am

For a variety of reasons, people are sharing more in the workplace; sometimes over-sharing. For many, the office has become a second home and a new relationship. People want to make this relationship comfortable, and that means communicating and sharing personal information. But you can talk a relationship to death. For those who are over-sharing in the office, they may be putting their careers or jobs at risk.

There is a variety of contributing factors to this: People are becoming more comfortable airing personal details thanks to social media; younger generations suffer from an "overblown sense of self worth" and believe everything they do should be shared; people are searching for a sense of connection.

We seem to be doing an over-correction of transparency. Companies often used to foster secrecy but because of many cultural shifts, some people are showing complete transparency instead and as a result, it's lead to over-sharing.

Employees should consider how their proclivities will affect their relationships at work. In an effort to connect and be comfortable on the job, they may actually be doing more harm than good. Showing a little more caution about airing dirty laundry is always beneficial and workers are encouraged to ask themselves the following questions before becoming too vocal:

-Who's listening to me? Telling something to a close friend at work is different than broadcasting it to the office, or airing dirty laundry in earshot of a boss.

-Why am I sharing? Oftentimes people are motivated to over-share in order to get people to pay attention to them, not because they really want to share their story.

-Does what I'm sharing further my career? Drunken exploits, drug habits, relationship issues, and so forth can turn people off.

Over-sharing can have a detrimental effect on your professional future. Keep this in mind whenever you're in the office and really consider how your public discourse could affect your career.

Source: Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil

Published with permission from RISMedia.