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Trust Your Neighbors - It's Good for You

September 6, 2011 4:57 pm

Here’s an easy way to improve your health: trust your neighbors. A new study from the University of Missouri shows that increasing trust in neighbors is associated with better self-reported health.
Eileen Bjornstrom, an assistant professor of sociology in the MU College of Arts and Science, found that people reported better health when they trusted their neighbors.

“I examined the idea of ‘relative position,’ or where one fits into the income distribution in their local community, as it applies to both trust of neighbors and self-rated health,” explains Bjornstrom. “Because human beings engage in interpersonal comparisons in order to gauge individual characteristics, it has been suggested that a low relative position, or feeling that you are below another person financially, leads to stress and negative emotions such as shame, hostility and distrust, and that health suffers as a consequence. While most people aren’t aware of how trust impacts them, results indicated that trust was a factor in a person’s overall health.”

In the study, Bjornstrom examined the 2001 Los Angeles Family and Neighborhood Survey. Contrary to expectations, she found that respondents with a higher income, relative to their community, were more likely to be distrustful of their neighbors. Simultaneously, while taking into account factors such as level of education, income, and age, people who reported that “their neighbors can be trusted” also reported better health on average.

“I was surprised about the direction in which relative position was linked to distrust. If affluent individuals are less likely to trust their poorer neighbors, it could be beneficial to attempt to overcome some of the distrust that leads to poor health,” Bjornstrom advises. “It is possible that shared community resources that promote interaction, such as sidewalks and parks, could help bridge the neighborhood trust gap, and also promote health and well-being. Residents of all economic statuses might then benefit if community cohesion was increased. Additional research can address those questions.”

Bjornstrom believes that further study needs to occur in different contexts to provide greater insights, such as research on relative position in the workplace or among social networks.

Bjornstrom’s study, “The Neighborhood Context of Relative Position, Trust and Self-Rated Health,” appears in the journal Social Science & Medicine.

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10 Tips for Rebuilding after Storm Damage

September 6, 2011 4:57 pm

With increasingly harsh weather events taking place across the country, more and more homeowners are faced with the need to rebuild. Whether it’s replacing a few roof shingles or something far more serious, follow these tips for repairing your home post-storm and, in the process, creating a more storm-resistant home for the future:
1. Take pictures of your damaged home immediately after the storm and contact your insurance company. Leave your home “as is” until your insurance representative visits and assesses the damage. They’ll tell you when you can start cleaning up and rebuilding.
2. Get contractor references and written job quotes before selecting your contractor. While the temptation to “get back to normal quickly” may be great, do not jump at the first contractor who offers his or her services. Make sure the contractor you hire is licensed in your state and has a staggered payment plan for services so that you don’t complete payment until the project is done.
3. Check your local building codes. Even if your home is just a few years old, codes can change rapidly. The window or roof that was in your home just a few weeks ago may no longer meet current codes when rebuilding. It’s not simply a matter of reconstructing the home you had. The law requires you and your contractor to abide by current codes when rebuilding after a storm. Visit www.statelocalgov.net for more information.
4. Research impact-resistant building products. Take this opportunity to “upgrade” the building products in your home to help secure it from future storms. Investigate building products that offer protection from storms, such as impact-resistant windows and doors that can help withstand hurricane-force winds. Using these enhanced products may even lower your insurance rates in the future.
5. Plan for future storms by requesting your contractor use additional foundation reinforcements. Wall framing-to-floor systems should include anchor bolts or connectors tying the wall framing to the foundation. These connections will help the walls resist wind uplift forces as well as wind shear forces that try to push the walls over.
6. Select exterior products that withstand the elements. For example, urethane moulding, millwork, door and entrance trim all resist salt air, humidity, sea spray, termites, warping and rotting. These products will long outlast wood trim on a home and require minimal upkeep.
7. Choose energy-efficient products that can save on your long-term heating and cooling bills. Look for building products that meet ENERGY STAR® guidelines in your area. Select windows framed in vinyl, which is an excellent insulator and/or windows with dual-pane insulating glass units featuring Argon-filled Low E glass.
8. Build a safe room. Use your rebuilding opportunity to create a “safe room” inside the home that is specially reinforced to withstand severe weather and serve as a safe haven during storms. Consult Taking Shelter from the Storm: Building a Safe Room Inside Your Home, published by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) www.fema.gov.
9. Pay special attention to the roof, windows, doors and garage doors you select. These are the four critical areas of your home that can receive the most damage during severe storms. Once penetrated, these areas can cause wind to enter the home and collapse the structure.
10. Ask questions and save paperwork. Don’t rush through any building decisions. Check out all products carefully and inspect warranties. Save receipts, product information and warranties in a secure location for the future.
Source: Simonton Windows®

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Maintaining a Healthy and Balanced Diet

August 31, 2011 4:57 pm

Many have heard the saying, "You are what you eat," but knowing what to eat can be confusing. There's so much nutritional information out there that it's easy to get overwhelmed. In fact, when the American Dietetic Association (ADA) surveyed people about why they don't do more to eat a healthy and balanced diet, 41% of respondents said they don't know or understand the guidelines set forth for diet and nutrition.

For those who have been confused or frustrated while trying to sort out nutritional information, take note. The following nutrient basics and dietary tips can help you start eating better today.

Nutrient Knowledge
Nutrients are necessary for the body to function properly, maintain energy and structure, and manufacture certain compounds necessary for good health, such as hormones and enzymes. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) found that many adults and children fall short of some key nutrients including vitamin D, calcium, potassium and dietary fiber.

Dietary guidelines for Americans encourage people to follow a nutrient-dense, plant-based diet. A nutrient-dense food is one that has a substantial amount of vitamins and minerals relative to calories—it gives you more nutritional bang for each bite. One of the simplest ways to get more nutrients into your diet is to eat soy foods, particularly soy foods in their whole form or made with whole soybeans. Whole soy provides a number of important nutrients, including potassium, magnesium, fiber, antioxidants and calcium, which tend to be shortfall nutrients among the U.S. population.

Making Sense of Soy
All soy comes from soybeans, which are naturally grown beans similar in size to a pea. Soybeans have more protein than any other bean and are the only plant-based protein source that contain all nine essential amino acids, making them a source of high-quality, complete protein. Foods made from whole soy are minimally processed to keep soy's naturally occurring nutrients intact. Soybeans are also a rich source of potassium, which is associated with lower blood pressure.

For more information, visit www.familyfeatures.com.

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Space Secrets: How to Maximize a Small Room's Potential

August 31, 2011 4:57 pm

By Keith Loria

People looking at houses almost always want space, so when you have a home on the market with a little living room or tiny bedroom or even a small kitchen, it could be seen as a negative. Luckily, there are some tricks of the trade that can help maximize the look and feel of small spaces.

“Just because a room is small, doesn’t mean that it can’t be attractive and eye-catching to a prospective buyer,” says Julia Snyder, a home stager in Kentucky. “There are a number of things you can do to ‘create’ space and give the appearance that it is bigger than it really is.”

An important thing to keep in mind is to create a focal point in the room, such as hanging one large painting rather than a group of small ones. If there’s too much going on, clamoring for attention, it can make a room feel busy and crowded.

Choose furniture that will draw the eye. In the dining room, the focal point should be the table, in the bedroom, the bed. Arrange the furniture so that focus is drawn to that area, and keep the décor in the rest of the room to a minimum.

Snyder recommends using natural light in small rooms to its greatest potential, as it often helps a room look bigger than it really is.

“To take advantage of light from the window, consider using complimentary curtains. Blinds are often heavy, but curtains add a frame to your natural picture,” she says. “For non natural light, really have fun with your lamp designs. Consider modern chandelier fixtures, retro shades and sleek and modern recessed lighting.”

Also good in diminutive rooms is the use of bright colors. Cream colors and icy blues are believed to be the best color combinations that can open up a tiny room into a bigger living area. Meanwhile, heavy, dark colors absorb light and can make a small space seem even smaller.

“It is all about illusion,” Snyder says. “Light colors make your room look bigger and brighter. Light and brightly colored walls are more reflective, making a space feel open and airy, which will help.”

Consider adding mirrors or glass to a room to also help with size. Mirrors are popular additions to furniture these days and can really give the impression that a room is larger than it really is.

When it comes to a small kitchen, keep things organized in cabinets and not laying around on the counters. Smaller chairs or stools are also better, as is a round table instead of a square one. Again, focus on natural light and color.

Clutter is especially important to avoid in small rooms, as things will look messy much quicker in tiny spaces.

A small space doesn’t have to be a bad thing. With the right design, furniture and color, you can make a small room leave a big impression.

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Mortgage Rates Move Higher

August 31, 2011 4:57 pm

Freddie Mac recently released the results of its Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®), showing mortgage rates moving higher from the previous week's record lows as Treasury bond yields moved higher and other housing data showed improvement. However, the five-year ARM did decline to 3.07% thereby setting a new all-time record low.

Data shows that the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 4.22% with an average 0.7 point for the week ending August 25, 2011, up from last week when it averaged 4.15%. Last year at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 4.36%.

Additionally, 15-year FRM this week averaged 3.44% with an average 0.6 point, up from last week when it averaged 3.36%. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 3.86%.

Five year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 3.07% this week, with an average 0.5 point, down from last week when it averaged 3.08%. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 3.56%.

The numbers show that the 1-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 2.93% this week with an average 0.5 point, up from last week when it averaged 2.86%. At this time last year, the 1-year ARM averaged 3.52%.

"Fixed mortgage rates followed Treasury bond yields higher this week while data reports suggest an improvement in the housing market,” says Frank Nothaft, vice president and chief economist, Freddie Mac. “The Federal Housing Finance Agency national House Price Index rose for the third straight month in June bolstered by a 3.3% gain in the East North Central Census Division. In addition, the Mortgage Bankers Association reported that the serious delinquency rate (90 days or more plus foreclosures) on mortgages outstanding fell for the sixth consecutive quarter at the end of June to 7.85%."

For more information, visit www.FreddieMac.com.

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In-Home Fire Sprinklers: An Important Consideration for Homeowners

August 31, 2011 4:57 pm

By John Voket

When it comes to fire safety, I make it top priority. It’s always a good time to touch upon important safety features homeowners might consider—whether building from the foundation up, or retrofitting an existing home.

As someone who ‘got the message’ about the advantages of in-home sprinklers almost 20 years ago, and had them installed in key locations throughout the house, it is an important consideration for homeowners.

According to data from the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), in 2007, 414,000 residential fires resulted in 2,895 deaths, 14,000 injuries, and caused $7.5 billion in property damage.

Shortly after that report was issued, the Institute for Business and Home Safety (www.disastersafety.org) noted the IBHS Building Code Committee, which is comprised of represen¬tatives from a number of IBHS member insurance companies, unanimously recommended the inclusion of fire sprinkler requirements in residential building codes.

An IBHS investigation on the subject affirms that while the life safety benefits of sprinklers are undisputed, con¬cerns continue to be raised about cost, maintenance and poten¬tial losses to property caused by failures or inadvertent activa¬tion of sprinklers.

It is primarily the cost increase that has motivated some groups, mostly home builders, to actively oppose implementation of the new International Code Coun¬cil (ICC) requirements regarding in home sprinklers. And since this is the lead agency supporting such code changes, it is unclear whether or not we will ever see any requirements mandating this inclusion.

So the decision falls on the homeowner. When weighing the option, perhaps a lesson can be taken from Prince George’s County, Maryland, which enacted an ordinance man¬dating the installation of automatic fire sprinkler systems in new one- and two-family structures in 1992.

A study of the impact of the Prince George’s ordinance by the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition found from 1992-2007 that there were 13,494 fires involv¬ing single-family homes and town houses resulting in 101 fire-related deaths and 328 injuries in cases where fire sprinklers were not installed. However, no fire deaths and only six injuries occurred in fires involving these same types of residences where fire sprinklers were in place.

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Utilization Ratios: Why They Are Imperative to Credit Lines

August 31, 2011 4:57 pm

Some spenders may view their credit as a maximum spending limit they can achieve before being penalized or declined. What most don’t know is that credit scores place a large emphasis on the credit utilization ratio, that is, how much of your credit is used every month. Your credit score takes a plunge whenever that number climbs high.

Credit scores do not distinguish between balances you are paying off, it only looks at the new charges you are racking up. If you want to keep your credit score high, it is of dire importance that you keep those balances low.

To calculate your utilization ratio, add up last month’s balances and divide that by the total of all your credit limits on open accounts. The two-digit number after the decimal point is your utilization rate. Do the same for each individual card as well—FICO scoring looks at how much of your total limit you’re using, along with each card individually, says Bankrate. Utilization is a significant portion of your scoring—30%. It is recommended that you try to achieve the lowest score possible. Those with the highest credit scores, 760 or above, usually have a utilization of approximately 7%.

Know the Difference between Charge Cards and Credit Cards
The main difference between charge cards is that they require you to pay the balance in full every month. They also aren’t included in your utilization rate, according to the most recent versions of the FICO scoring system. If you have a card and are unsure if it’s a charge card or credit card, call the issuer or check your latest credit report. Notations indicating “revolving” mean it’s a credit card; notations stating “open” means it’s a charge card.

Experts say that worrying about utilization rates or credit scores is unnecessary, but it can pay off to look more closely if you are a year or less away from purchasing a home or car, have unexplained card problems such as declining credit scores, or if you have a new card and want to see its impact on your credit score.

Understanding your credit can be extremely important, especially in situations when you need to rely on a good, solid credit score. By keeping your balances low and properly managing your credit card usage, you will hopefully never be financially limited by a poor credit score.

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New-Home Sales: Still Struggling but Holding Steady

August 31, 2011 4:57 pm

Sales of newly built, single-family homes held virtually unchanged in July with a 0.7% dip from the previous month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 298,000 units, according to newly released data from the U.S. Commerce Department.

"The fact that new-home sales fell by less than one percent in July is an indication of how little conditions have changed in the housing market," says Bob Nielsen, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and a home builder from Reno, Nev. "While new-home inventories are exceptionally thin, home builders are still competing with large numbers of foreclosed and distressed homes on the market and a climate of uncertainty in which consumers are reluctant to go forward with a major purchase for fear of what economic news tomorrow might bring."

"The sales pace of newly built, single-family homes in July was in line with what it has been over the last year, and this is in keeping with our forecast," says NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. "While we expect to see some marginal gains in sales activity through the rest of 2011, we do not foresee any major advances until economic growth helps boost home buyers' confidence."

Regionally, new-home sales recorded declines of 7.4% in the South and 5.9% in the West, but rose 2.4% in the Midwest and actually doubled (100% increase) in the Northeast from a record low number in the previous month.

The inventory of new homes for sale in July fell to a 48-year record low of just 165,000 units, which represents a 6.6-month supply at the current sales pace. Putting this situation into perspective, says Crowe, "The current nationwide inventory of completed new homes ready for occupancy–at 61,000 units–is in keeping with what a single major metropolitan area such as Atlanta might sell in a typical year."

For more information visit www.nahb.org.

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New Labels for 'Most Efficient' Appliances Hit the Market

August 31, 2011 4:57 pm

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy (DOE), a new label is being produced for appliances deemed "most efficient." The EPA and DOE jointly run Energy Star. These latest efforts are being made with hopes of differentiating the many products that already have the Energy Star logo attached to them.

The Most Efficient program will begin on a trial basis throughout the rest of the year. The top five percent of energy-efficient products will be the only ones to receive the "Most Efficient" status. These products must “demonstrate efficiency performance that is truly exceptional, inspirational or leading-edge—consistent with the interests of environmentally motivated consumers and early adopters," according to the EPA.

Consumers can look for the newly designated appliances starting now, most of which will include clothes washers, heating and cooling systems, televisions, and refrigerator-freezers.

For a list of appliances that are currently available, visit energystar.gov/mostefficient.

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50 Percent of Americans Now Using Social Media

August 31, 2011 4:57 pm

Further proving the staying power of social networks such as Facebook, Twittter and LinkedIn, 50% of Americans are now reported to be members of various social media sites, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center.

This statistic is not just those who say they are online, rather, 50% of all Americans. In a study conducted nearly six years ago by the Pew Research Center, only five percent of all adults said they used social media.

The survey also found that the rates of participation are higher as well among adults who are online: 65%, up from last year's 61%.

This new data is a true sign of how pervasive social media has become in our society, transforming the way companies sell their products, how governments run, and more importantly, how people communicate.

These results are not to say that social media isn't more popular among younger people: 83% of those surveyed between the ages of 18-29 say they use social networking sites, compared to 51% of those in the 50-64 age bracket. Younger Americans are twice as likely to use these sites every day.

In addition, women 18-29 have been described as "the power users" of social media, with 89% using social networking sites, and 69% of them using them every day.

For more information, visit http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2011/Social-Networking-Sites.aspx or www.nytimes.com.

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