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Appliance Safety in the Home: How to Prevent Tip-Overs

December 21, 2011 4:06 pm

In light of recent tragedies nationwide involving tipped over appliances, The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recently completed a review of various tip-over hazards that can occur in the home.

Families must be aware of leaving children unattended in the kitchen, even if the stove is turned off. Many accidents occur when children attempt to climb on top of a stove door causing the appliance to topple over. With senior citizens, the same can happen when they are leaning on it for support. If the stove is on at the time of the incident, the heat will only make injuries worse and risk of death greater. Most of the time, none of the appliances involved in these types of accidents were properly secured to the wall.

The CPSC recommends the following to prevent related tragedies in the future:

-Manufacturers should create better stability in their designs. Models should be able to support 100 pounds on an open oven door. Although this may require some major redesigns, the added safety bonus will benefit everyone.
-Manufacturers should design door hinges that lock in the open position should an oven start to tip forward.
-Install anti-tip devices that prevent an appliance from working unless they are properly installed.
-Appliances should be programmed to automatically shut off the heat should they begin to tip.

Consumers should be aware that these types of incidents can occur in their home. To prevent this from happening to you or your loved ones, be sure to secure your stove with tip restraints provided by your manufacturer. New appliances made after 1991 should have shipped with them included, but may or may not be pre-installed. The CPSC reports that it is not aware of a single injury or death caused by an appliance with tip restraints properly installed.

For more information, visit www.cpsc.gov.

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Surviving the Post-Holiday Shopping Blues

December 21, 2011 4:06 pm

Opening gifts is a ton of fun. Opening the resulting bills is not. Yet, every holiday season millions of consumers use their credit cards to buy gifts when they don't have the cash.
During the next couple of weeks, those bills will start rolling in and a strong case of post-holiday remorse will begin to set in.

When faced with the post-holiday blues, debt can seem insurmountable. To help get a handle on the situation, heed the following advice:

• Realize that there are only two legal ways out of debt - cutting expenses or increasing your income. Decide which works for you and truly commit to it.
• Create a damage sheet. List the names of your creditors, amount owed each and current interest rates, then total it all up. Update that sheet monthly and tape it wherever you will see it regularly.
• Create a budget and a repayment plan. Track your expenses for one month so that you can be sure every expense is included.
• Periodic expenses can break a budget so allocate an hour each Sunday to address your finances. Staying on top of your expenses will help you stay in budget.
• Shelve your credit cards. Take them out of your wallet and leave them at home. In fact, store them with your damage sheet to remind you of your balances. If you have to use credit, don't charge anything you can't pay off within 90 days.
• Pay off the credit cards with the highest interest rates first.
• Establish a 2010 holiday savings account so that next holiday season, relying on credit won't be necessary. Factor it in as an expense.
• Take a good hard look at your spending habits. Credit is not an extension of your income!
• If you can't make a dent in your post-holiday debt, consider credit counseling from a reputable.

Treat this year's holiday charges as a learning experience and resolve to do better next year so that in January 2013, you can focus on starting the New Year debt-free.

Source: Money Management International

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Tips for Preventing and Thawing Frozen Pipes

December 21, 2011 4:06 pm

According to State Farm Insurance, an average of a quarter-million families have their homes ruined and their lives disrupted each winter due to the freezing and bursting of pipes. Taking some simple precautions can save you the expense as well as the time of repairing burst pipes. The best way to prevent frozen pipes is to winterize your plumbing system.

To help keep frozen pipes from being a drain on your wallet, here is a series of tips for preventing or dealing with a frozen-pipe scenario.

To prevent your pipes from freezing:

• Cover faucets and exposed pipes with insulation, or wrap them with thick towels.
• Open cabinet doors. This allows heat to circulate and keeps interior pipes warm.
• Keep faucets running. A small trickle of water/constant drip is recommended.
• Secure basement doors, windows and crawl-space openings.
• Remove garden hoses from outdoor faucets.
• Open outside hose taps so water can drain.
• Apply electrically-powered heat tape. (Follow manufacturer's instructions or call a plumber.)
Homeowners should also locate the main water shut-off valve, and learn how to use it. This can come in handy if pipes freeze and burst.

To safely thaw frozen pipes:

• Turn off the water at the shut-off valve.
• Open the nearest faucet. This allows water to drain out as the ice melts.
• Heat the exterior of the pipe with a hair dryer. Apply heat slowly and don't keep heat in one spot.
• Do not attempt to thaw exposed frozen pipes with an open flame, such as an acetylene torch.
If immediate assistance or repairs are needed, it is recommended that you call a qualified plumber. By following these prevention tips, hopefully your pipes will remain unfrozen and usable throughout the entire winter season.

Source: Mr. Rooter Plumbing

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Kitchen Trends for 2012: Old World Out, Simplicity In

December 20, 2011 4:04 pm

Kitchens are where family and friends come to cook, eat and socialize. With 2012 just around the corner, kitchen design trends for the new year are an industry-wide hot topic, as experts predict where kitchen design is headed and which materials will be in vogue.

Home design experts predict that 2012 is going to be an exciting year for kitchen design because homeowners want more creativity in their homes and are becoming more thoughtful in their decision-making.

To begin a kitchen overhaul, homeowners shouldn’t be afraid to dispose of anything from the last two decades, especially Old World kitchen styles with heavy molding. Instead, homeowners should embrace new materials, like countertops made out of quartz, glass and wood, which can vary in style, shape and color. As we move into 2012, the overall trend is to keep it simple, energy-efficient, and comfort-oriented. De-clutter, go natural, lighten up and make it work for you and your household.

"Green design" will also become a standard request this year. Designers recommend homeowners choose to use energy-efficient items like compact fluorescent bulbs because they use two-thirds less energy. For those who do decide to “go green,” work with a professional lighting designer who can help introduce modern technology fixtures and more energy saving items.

For more information about home design, kitchen renovations and upgrades, follow @FaceYourKitchen on Twitter.

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Dreaming of a 'Black Christmas'?

December 20, 2011 4:04 pm

While retailers are busy trying to stimulate enough holiday sales to put them into the black financially, consumers are dreaming of a black Christmas, one that keeps them in the black on their personal ledger sheet.

Although Black Friday and Cyber Monday spending tempted millions of shoppers to part with some cash, or at least pull out the plastic, many have now not only returned to financial reality, but have also returned their purchases.

According to a November poll hosted on the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) website, 40 percent of shoppers intend to spend zero on holiday purchases, while 51 percent plan on cutting back on what they spent last year.

Here are some last-minute tips to help avoid buyer’s remorse, whether that guilt comes a few days after shopping, resulting in returning the purchases, or in January when the bills start arriving.

• Don’t make impulse purchases. Resist the temptation to buy anything just to be able to mark it off your list. A thoughtless gift isn’t worth the paper it’s wrapped in.
• Make your shopping trips short by having a shopping strategy. Know what you want, where you’re going to get it, and how much you’re going to spend. Your goal is to get in and get out of the stores, thus limiting the temptation to spend.
• While shopping, take frequent breaks and track your spending. Staying on budget equals staying in the black.
• Resist paying steep rush shipping charges. It’s better to find an alternative gift than to spend as much in shipping as you did on the gift.
• If you can’t find the right gift, know that a gift card always fits. Further, the recipient can use it during the steep after-Christmas sales and maximize the value.

Also, play it safe and inquire about the return policy before you buy. If the store offers a gift receipt, be sure to include it with the package, thus making a return much simpler.

If your holiday spending has you seeing red, visit www.DebtAdvice.org for more information.

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20 Metros Join List of Improving Housing Markets Index in December

December 20, 2011 4:04 pm

The number of improving housing markets continued to expand for a fourth consecutive month in December, rising from 30 to 41 on the latest National Association of Home Builders/First American Improving Markets Index (IMI), released recently. The December list featured 20 new additions, including several major markets such as Washington, D.C.; San Jose, Calif.; and Toledo, Ohio. Meanwhile, nine smaller markets dropped off the list, primarily due to softer house prices.

The index identifies metropolitan areas that have shown improvement from their respective troughs in housing permits, employment and house prices for at least six consecutive months.

New entrants to the list in December include the following:

Ann Arbor, Mich.
Athens, Ga.
Boulder, Colo.
Burlington, Vt.
Canton, Ohio
Charleston, W.Va.
Danville, Va.
Fort Wayne, Ind.
Grand Forks, N.D.
Jackson, Miss.
Kingsport, Tenn.
Laredo, Texas
Lincoln, Neb.
Muncie, Ind.
Muskegon, Mich.
San Jose, Calif.
Scranton, Pa.
Toledo, Ohio
Washington, D.C.
Winchester, Va.

"The increases we continue to see in the number and geographic diversity of improving metros are quite encouraging, and evidence of the fact that all housing markets are dependent on uniquely local factors," said NAHB Chairman Bob Nielsen, a home builder from Reno, Nev. He noted that as of December, a total of 21 states and the District of Columbia are represented on the improving markets list—up from14 states represented in November.

"The December IMI results are very much in keeping with the latest government housing data and our own builder surveys, which have shown modest signs of improvement in certain individual markets where employment is gaining and distressed properties are not as numerous," said NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. "These gradual improvements are now becoming evident not just in small, energy-producing metros that have previously dominated the IMI, but also in several larger markets and areas with more diverse economies."

The nine markets that dropped off the IMI in December include Alexandria, La.; Fairbanks, Alaska; Hinesville, Ga.; Houma, La.; Jonesboro, Ark.; Lima, Ohio; Pine Bluff, Ark.; Sumter, S.C. and Waco, Texas. All but two of these metros fell from the list due to softening house prices. The exceptions to the rule were Jonesboro and Waco, where declines were registered in employment and single-family housing permits, respectively.

The IMI is designed to track housing markets throughout the country that are showing signs of improving economic health. The index measures three sets of independent monthly data to get a mark on the top improving Metropolitan Statistical Areas. The three indicators that are analyzed are employment growth from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, house price appreciation from Freddie Mac, and single-family housing permit growth from the U.S. Census Bureau. NAHB uses the latest available data from these sources to generate a list of improving markets. A metro area must see improvement in all three areas for at least six months following their respective troughs before being included on the improving markets list.

For more information, visit www.nahb.org/imi.

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How to Make New Year's Fitness Resolutions Stick

December 19, 2011 10:04 pm

The time to make New Year’s resolutions is fast approaching, and upping the fitness ante can be one of the hardest to keep. After months of being relatively sedentary, jumping into an ambitious workout program often results in muscle pains and strains that can squelch enthusiasm and quickly derail fitness goals.

Here are some tips for meeting fitness goals and keeping health and fitness a top priority throughout the year:

-Walk or bike to work, or get off a stop or two early on a bus/subway trip to help jump start your metabolism and engage in a bit of functional fitness.

-Take the steps instead of the elevator. Walking up and down the stairs burns many more calories than hitting the “up” button. Of course, this applies only if there are no specific limitations placed on your joints by your MD.

-Rather than linger over brunch, lunch, or dinner, invite a friend to take a walk on the weekends instead.

-Bring your food to the office to ensure portion control and to know exactly what ingredients you are eating.

-Employ the buddy system for your workouts. You are far more likely to work out if you know someone else is relying on you.

-Cut calories without sacrificing taste by substituting sugar with healthier sweeteners when you are cooking or in coffee and tea, such as honey, maple syrup, agave, or stevia.

-Set realistic goals that will let you become your own cheerleader and continue all year long.

Remember that it is perfectly natural to allow yourself a "cheat" day and indulge in the less-than-healthy foods you crave. The key is to use that day as a reward for a well-balanced nutritional investment you abide by the rest of the week.

Source: Topical BioMedics, Inc.

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How to Choose the Right Holiday Music

December 19, 2011 10:04 pm

Choosing the perfect album to give or listen to during the holidays can be more difficult than one may initially assume. If playing this album during a Christmas party, it must have the right pace and vibe to keep the party upbeat and exciting. If giving the album as a gift, it must reflect the values and musical taste of its recipient.

Oftentimes, people fail to understand how much thought should go into choosing the right soundtrack for a party, or the right musical gift for a friend. There are some very important considerations to be made when choosing an album for a holiday get-together or when picking up a gift for someone else. Good hosts and hostesses will be wise to consider the values, in addition to the musical taste, of their guests.

Here is a list of tips to help individuals choose the perfect music this holiday season.

1. Consider the nature of a party when choosing the music. Is the party a dinner party? One that will encourage dancing? The music that is played should reflect the vibe that the party is going after.

2. Think about the theme of the party. Is it a Christmas party, general holiday party, or other kind of celebration? Make sure that the songs played reflect the kind of party that is taking place, such as Christmas music at a Christmas party and general, winter-themed music at a party meant to celebrate the season.

3. Take into account the musical tastes of party guests. The demographic is important, as guests may prefer one genre of holiday music, such as pop or R&B, over another.

4. Choose a musical gift that will represent the values of the friend or family member. If the gift is intended for someone who is Jewish, a Christmas album may not be the wisest choice.

5. Consider the musical tastes of the person receiving the gift. If they have a favorite musician or genre of music it is best to stick with their preference.

Source: Kristen Knowlens, Hovenford Records

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Investment Tips for an Unpredictable Market

December 19, 2011 10:04 pm

The news media has made no secret of the fact that U.S. stock markets have been shaky for a while now and that continued instability is almost certainly in the cards. According to a recent Wall Street Journal editorial, the “haphazard” nature of the stock market has made it difficult for anyone but the savviest investors to truly generate profit.

However, becoming a smart investor is simpler than one might think, even in trying times. Dealing with a haphazard market is doable with a little flexibility and an adapted investment strategy. Unpredictable markets don’t mean one should refrain from investing, but they do make calm, level-headed thinking more important than ever.

Keeping a cool head and remembering a long-term perspective are the foundations for these five tips.

1. Review the entire financial plan: Before investing, meet with a financial advisor and take the big picture into consideration.

2. Diversify as much as possible: Volatile markets make it especially key to spread investments between stocks, bonds and cash investments.

3. Keep emotions out of it: Don’t allow frustration or anxiety to force unwise decisions or intemperate investments.

4. Exercise self-discipline: Things like dollar-cost averaging can prove to be invaluable tools for any investor.

5. Avoid market timing: This is going to be a big temptation during volatile markets, but it is ultimately a major risk that seldom pays off.

These tips are generally solid for any market condition, but this level-headed approach is particularly integral during a shaky market or a tumultuous economy.

Source: Mitch Feinberg, Warren & Moore

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HUD Offers More Than 40 Million Dollars in Grants for Housing Counseling

December 15, 2011 3:58 pm

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently announced that more than $40 million is available for a broad range of housing counseling programs to help families find and preserve housing. These grants will be awarded competitively to hundreds of HUD-approved counseling agencies and State Housing Finance Agencies across the nation that offer a variety of services, including how to avoid foreclosure, how to avoid mortgage scams, how to purchase or rent a home, how to improve credit scores, and how to qualify for a reverse mortgage.

“The HUD-approved counseling programs this funding will support not only help families make more informed choices about buying or renting, it is crucial in helping thousands of families avoid foreclosure and remain in their homes,” said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. “We fought hard to persuade Congress to restore funding for housing counseling in HUD’s Fiscal Year 2012 budget and I’m pleased that they did so. We will now work to make these important resources available to help families as quickly as possible.”

HUD-approved counseling agencies also provide counseling as well as financial literacy education to renters and homeless individuals and families. This year HUD’s Housing Counseling Grant program will provide $36.05 million for comprehensive counseling and $4 million for Reverse Mortgage Counseling.

National and regional agencies distribute much of HUD’s housing counseling grant funding to HUD- approved community-based housing counseling organizations that provide information and guidance to low- and moderate-income families seeking to improve their housing conditions. These larger organizations help improve the quality of housing counseling services and enhance coordination among their counseling providers. In addition, HUD approved counseling agencies provide services in a variety of languages to meet to the needs of the population in the service area as well as ensuring communications and access is provided for persons with disabilities.

HUD will award grants to approximately 500 applicants. Instructions are posted on Grants.gov.

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