January 5, 2012 4:10 am
As cold winter weather sets in across the country, many families are using portable space heaters to keep warm. Because more than half of all fire-related deaths result from items catching fire when placed too closely to heat sources like portable space heaters, the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH) has compiled these life-saving tips for preventing house fires resulting from the use of portable space heaters.
Electric Portable Space Heaters
• Read the Labels
• Purchase a space heater with modern safety features such as an automatic shut off in the event the heater is tipped or turned over.
• Buy only electric portable space heaters that have been tested and labeled by a nationally recognized testing company such as Underwriter’s Laboratories (UL).
• Location, location, location -Keep the heater at least three feet away from drapes, furniture or other flammable materials.
• Place the heater on a level surface away from areas where someone might bump into it and knock it over. Be mindful of keeping children and pets away from the heater.
• Place electric space heaters only in areas where they can be plugged directly into the wall outlet. If an extension cord must be used, make sure it is a heavy duty cord marked with a power rating at least as high as that on the label of the heater itself.
• Keep electric heaters away from water. Never use them near a sink or in the bathroom.
• Never leave a space heater unattended or running while sleeping.
Gas-Fueled Portable Space Heaters
• Carefully follow the manufacturer’s fueling instructions using only the approved fuel. Never use gasoline. Never fuel a heater that is still hot. Do not overfill the heater; allow for the expansion of the liquid. Only use approved containers that are clearly marked for that particular fuel and store them outdoors.
• Have vented space heaters professionally inspected every year. If the heater is not vented properly, not vented at all, or if the vent is blocked, separated, rusted, or corroded, dangerous levels of carbon monoxide (CO) can enter the home causing sickness and/or death. CO also can be produced if the heater is not properly set up and adjusted for the type of fuel used and the altitude of the home in which it is installed.
For more information, visit www.flash.org.
January 5, 2012 4:10 am
U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan recently awarded $1.47 billion to renew funding to more than 7,100 local homeless programs operating across the country. The funding announced will ensure these housing and service programs remain operating in 2012 and are a critical part of the current administration’s strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness.
The funding announced is $62 million more than last year, the most homeless assistance ever awarded by the Department. HUD is renewing funding through its Continuum of Care programs to existing local programs as quickly as possible to prevent any interruption in federal assistance and will award funds to new projects in early 2012.
“The grants we’re awarding today will literally keep the doors of our shelters open and will help those on the front lines of ending homelessness do what they do best,” said Donovan. “It’s incredible that as we work to recover from the greatest economic decline since the Great Depression, the total number of homeless Americans is declining, in large part because of these funds.”
HUD previously announced its 2011 “point in time” estimate of the number of homeless persons in America. Approximately 3,000 cities and counties reported 636,000 homeless persons on a single night in January of 2011, a 2.1 percent decline from the year before. This documented reduction in homelessness was noticed among all population groups including individuals, families, and those experiencing long-term or chronic homeless. In addition, HUD’s estimate reveals a 12 percent reduction in homelessness among veterans.
HUD’s Continuum of Care grants provide permanent and transitional housing to homeless persons as well as services including job training, health care, mental health counseling, substance abuse treatment and child care. Continuum of Care grants are awarded competitively to local programs to meet the needs of their homeless clients. These grants fund a wide variety of programs from street outreach and assessment programs to transitional and permanent housing for homeless persons and families.
In addition to HUD’s annual grant awards, HUD continues to manage the $1.5 billion Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-housing (HPRP) Program. Made possible through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, this three-year grant program is intended to prevent persons from falling into homelessness or to rapidly re-house them if they do. To date, more than one million persons have been assisted through HPRP.
For more information, visit www.hud.gov.
January 4, 2012 4:10 am
After the kitchen, the most popular room in most homes is the family room. It can function as a media room, a game room, a music room, a reading room—and often a homework area too. Because this room is so lived in, there are lots of family rooms that could use a serious makeover. But where do you start?
Start by utilizing a design that reflects the interests of the family members. Use photos, children's artwork, mementos, maps, antiques and art collections to tell your family's story in this room. Consider having frames that can open to switch out kids' artwork or to showcase the latest photos from a family trip. Keep it personal, yet practical. Here are tips on how to create a family room that is both functional and attractive:
1. Comfortable seating is essential.
Sofas, sectionals and chairs for a family room should be chosen for reading and viewing comfort. Do you like to nap on the sofa? Be sure it's wide and deep enough. Chairs and sofas with an outside depth of 38 - 39 inches or more are ideal for both sitting and reclining.
2. Select furniture that's the right scale for the room.
If your room is oversized or has a cathedral ceiling, you probably need large-scale upholstered furniture that can stand up to the size of the room. Traditional sofas 72 to 78-inches wide will look diminutive in a big room. Look for large-scale sofas at least 88-92 inches wide with depth and height of about 38-39 inches for furniture with presence in a spacious room.
3. Consider sectional seating for design flexibility.
Sectional sofas with a variety of components are a good way to create more spacious seating that can be tailored to the size and shape of the room. If you want to pack more people into a tight space, your best choice is a sectional sofa. The L-shape creates a very strong line and utilizes every square inch, even the corner.
4. Vary the scale and visual weight of the furniture in the room.
For example, have large chairs, medium-size chairs and smaller slipper chairs. Incorporate ottomans and benches. Have firmer chair seats and cushier chair seats. Have a great reading chair or chaise. Be able to reconfigure the furniture and pull in extra seating for big family gatherings and parties. Furniture with a little variety creates a more interesting room than a matching suite that all appears to have come from the same source.
5. Ottomans are critical to reading and viewing comfort.
Ottomans should pull up easily to chairs or sectional components to support your legs. Will they be large enough for a long-legged spouse? Or will two people want to share one ottoman? Shop accordingly. If an ottoman will serve as both footrest and coffee table, consider a large 36" to 48" rectangular or square ottoman to serve all needs.
6. Find a fabric you love to pull out colors for pillows, window treatments, skirted tables and accessories.
If you have little ones, consider a more colorful combo for a family room as brighter colors really speak to kids. Start with the fabric, because there a million shades of paint and you can always find that later.
7. Lots of pillows are great for lounging, movie watching or support while reading.
Have pillows made in a variety of sizes and shapes--lumbar pillows to cradle your back while reading, smaller pillows to tuck under an elbow, larger pillows for napping--and even floor pillows for kids who love to lounge on the carpet.
8. Use window treatments to control glare on a television screen.
Light falling from a window onto a television screen creates sun glare. Window treatments that can be drawn, or shutters or shades that can be closed, will help to control glare and add privacy.
January 4, 2012 4:10 am
Most homeowners have a long list of things to get done around the house. However, very few are more important than making sure the residence foundation is in good shape and not threatened by issues that are easy to fix.
After the purchase of the house itself, one of the biggest expenses, especially in terms of out-of-pocket costs the homeowners may incur, is foundation repairs. Taking a pro-active approach to caring for the residence's foundation is economical, and the pay-off can be tremendous.
1. Homeowners should check the drainage around their residence by making sure gutters and spouts drain away from the foundation.
2. Plumbing leaks under the house foundation are not uncommon. The homeowner can have a plumbing pressure test done to make sure there are no leaks under the slab.
3. The ground moisture around the home's perimeter should remain as constant as possible. A periodical use of a sprinkler system and soaker hoses in the summer time is recommended, but can also be done in the winter time if the weather is dry.
If homeowners are pressed for time, they can contact any reputable foundation repair company to have an inspection conducted inside and outside the house. Most of the solutions are affordable and extremely important to the well-being of the structure.
January 4, 2012 4:10 am
Although selling in a recovering market can be a challenging task, there are still steps sellers can take to entice buyers to bite. If you've already followed the usual protocol for staging and curb appeal, try the following:
Get a professional opinion. Knowing what a professional appraiser deems your house to be worth will help you set realistic expectations for your sale. You can then compare your home to others in the same price range and discover what your property may be lacking. It will also give you a good idea of what kind of loans your buyers would need to get in order to purchase the home. At least this way, you can be confident that you are in the right ballpark on price.
A pre-inspection is a must. By getting a pre-inspection, you can find out if your home has any problem areas that need attention. This tells buyers that you care about the condition of the home and also that you have taken care of these potential issues. Don't be surprised if a buyer hires his or her own inspector, however. It's par for the course. However, with less red flags around, you have a better shot at nabbing an offer close to your asking price.
Throw in an added bonus, like a home warranty. Offering a home warranty with the sale may entice some buyers to make a bid on the house. This plan will provide assurance that if something goes wrong with any major appliance, the new buyer will not have to shell out loads of money to fix the problem.
Cover some post-moving expenses. Make the move easier for your potential buyers by offering to pay for some or all of the moving costs. Alternatively, hire a contractor to take care of the yard work or pool clean-up for the first summer. Covering some of these expenses may put you in the buyer's good graces and may just seal the deal.
By remaining flexible throughout the process, you can find the right buyer in any market who will be willing and able to make a deal that supports both of your interests.
January 3, 2012 4:10 am
Ceilings are often the forgotten “fifth wall” in a room, according to the experts at Benjamin Moore Paint. Too often, little thought is given to a ceiling’s contribution to the overall room design, and is often covered in some generic white paint.
The experts at Benjamin Moore recommend that you start looking at your ceilings from a new perspective. Color, sheen, pattern, and texture on the ceiling can transform the entire look and feel of a room. Here are a few of the paint retailer’s ceiling color tips and ideas to help transform your space:
For more ideas, visit www.benjaminmoore.com.
- Warm it up. A large room with high ceilings can feel impersonal or unbalanced when furnishings, floor coverings and accessories visually occupy the bottom half of a room, leaving the top bare. Experiment with a ceiling color in a deeper shade. For example, a rich cocoa in a soft sheen, such as eggshell or pearl, will cozy up and balance a large open space.
- Dress it up. Consider experimenting with glazes on your ceiling, including metallic and pearlescent effects. Or try a specialty plaster, which can add texture, color and dimension.
- Open it up. Make a small room or room with a low ceiling feel larger by keeping the color contrast between the walls and ceilings to a minimum. For example, a pale yellow ceiling over wheat-colored walls allows the eye to gently travel upward without the stark demarcation created by a bright white ceiling. For the best effect, choose ceiling colors in a flat sheen, which will absorb light and hide imperfections.
January 3, 2012 4:10 am
The UFA Default Risk Index for the fourth quarter of 2011 edged lower to 131 from the year’s third quarter revised 133, which suggests that residential mortgage default and prepayment risks are continuing their return to normalcy, according to a recent report by realestateeconomywatch.com.
According to a recent UFA Mortgage Report by University Financial Associates of Ann Arbor, Mich., the stage is set for a recovery in the housing market. Under current economic conditions, investors and lenders should expect defaults on loans currently being originated to be only 31 percent higher than the average of loans originated in the 1990s, due solely to the local and national economic environment.
The UFA Default Risk Index measures the risk of default on newly originated nonprime mortgages. UFA’s analysis is based on a “constant-quality” loan, that is, a loan with the same borrower, loan and collateral characteristics. The index reflects only the changes in current and expected future economic conditions, which are less favorable currently than in prior years.
Each quarter, UFA evaluates economic conditions in the United States and assesses how these conditions will impact expected future defaults, prepayments, loss recoveries and loan values for prime and nonprime loans. A number of factors affect the expected defaults on a constant-quality loan. Most important are worsening economic conditions. A recession causes an erosion of both borrower and collateral performance. Borrowers are more likely to be subjected to a financial shock such as unemployment and, if shocked, will be less able to withstand the shock. Fed easing of interest rates has the opposite effect.
January 3, 2012 4:10 am
According to home improvement retailer, Lowes, smart storage and décor solutions can make the most of space in a small bathroom. Pullout drawers, built-in niches, and well-placed hooks can help create a bathroom that lives large despite its small square footage.
Starting with a clean, uncluttered design is essential in order to give your small bathroom a larger feel. Consider classic white tiles for your walls with mosaic insets to add interest and draw the eye up, which make a bathroom appear taller. Create inset shelves on shower walls to store shampoos and soaps without infringing upon shower space.
Reconfigure your bathroom closet to create sensible storage space by including organizers such as bins, baskets, and trays. A door organizer can house small toiletries, a pullout drawer puts essentials within reach, and a pullout hamper keeps towels and clothes off the floor. Think outside the box—a spice rack intended for the kitchen can be perfect for holding small bottles and jars in your bathroom.
Any bathroom, especially a small one, can never have too much towel storage. A towel rod attached to the wall behind a door offers more hanging space.
Also be sure to choose the right vanity. While deep drawers are great, they can easily become cluttered. Add trays to separate items and keep drawers organized. Also use baskets on the lower shelves of vanities to store additional towels and bathroom essentials.
January 2, 2012 4:10 am
According to the latest Consumer Confidence Index released earlier this week by The Conference Board, consumer confidence—which had already improved in November—increased even further in December. The Index now stands at 64.5 (1985=100), up from 55.2 in November. The Present Situation Index increased to 46.7 from 38.3. The Expectations Index rose to 76.4 from 66.4.
The monthly Consumer Confidence Survey®, based on a probability-design random sample, is conducted for The Conference Board by Nielsen, a leading global provider of information and analytics around what consumers buy and watch. The cutoff date for the preliminary results was December 14.
According to Lynn Franco, director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center, "After two months of considerable gains, the Consumer Confidence Index is now back to levels seen last spring. Consumers’ assessment of current business and labor market conditions improved again. Looking ahead, consumers are more optimistic that business conditions, employment prospects, and their financial situations will continue to get better.”
Franco adds that it is too soon to determine whether or not this increase represents “a sustainable shift in attitudes."
Consumers' assessment of current conditions improved in December. Those stating business conditions are "good" increased to 16.6 percent from 13.9 percent, while those stating business conditions are "bad" declined to 33.9 percent from 38.0 percent. Consumers' assessment of the job market was also more positive. Those claiming jobs are "plentiful" increased to 6.7 percent from 5.6 percent, while those claiming jobs are "hard to get" decreased to 41.8 percent from 43.0 percent.
Consumers' short-term outlook also improved in December. The proportion of consumers expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months increased to 16.7 percent from 13.7 percent, while those expecting business conditions will worsen declined to 13.4 percent from 16.1 percent.
Consumers' outlook for the job market was also more favorable. Those anticipating more jobs in the months ahead increased to 13.3 percent from 12.4 percent, while those anticipating fewer jobs declined to 20.2 percent from 23.8 percent. The proportion of consumers expecting an increase in their incomes improved to 17.1 percent from 14.1 percent.
The next Consumer Confidence Index release is scheduled for Tuesday, January 31, 2012.
January 2, 2012 4:10 am
Five, 10 or 15 years ago, the American Dream often consisted of owning a big house, fancy cars and great clothes. However, according to Kate Raidt, author of “The Million-Dollar Parent: How to Have a Successful Career While Keeping Your Family a Top Priority,” the recent recession and housing crisis has caused many Americans to reassess what’s truly important: achieving work/life balance in order to do more things, not have more things.
Here are Raidt’s five “must-dos” in order to successfully live the new American Dream and create a successful work/life balance:
1. Live below your means. The only way to have time and energy to do the things most important to you is to spend less time at work and more time with life. Your monthly expenses might be keeping you in a job that demands too much of your time. Cutting monthly expenses reduces the amount of income needed and may allow you to choose a career that affords you more time for life.
2. Your job must be a good “vehicle.” According to Raidt, any job that sucks you dry emotionally or physically is not a good vehicle for a fulfilling life because you come home too drained to do the things you really love. Ask yourself: Am I able to leave work behind when I drive home? When I come home, am I energized to spend time with my kids? If the answers are “yes,” then you probably have a great vehicle for work/life balance – regardless of your job title or paycheck.
3. Are you in control of your career and your life? Make sure you work for an organization that allows you to stand up for your own schedule and that is willing to work with you to help you have life balance.
4. Turn off your cellphone. Emails, text messages, Facebook, YouTube, games, apps, etc. are huge culprits in the demise of the American Dream. Raidt believes that spending more than a few minutes a day with these gadgets will kill quality time with your kids, distract you from exercising and derail any goals you set for yourself.
5. Take time daily for what matters most. Carve out quality time for your priorities - i.e., your children - every day and don’t let anything get in the way of that time. Schedule everything else (including work) around your priorities. Push and shove distractions out of the way, says Raidt, or your life goals will take the hit.