Anthony Noland
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Maintain Your Fireplace and Keep It Safe

November 1, 2011 9:12 pm

Homeowners are now getting ready to put their fireplaces to good use. Heed the following safety tips to help aid in the prevention of chimney fires and carbon monoxide intrusion, and to help keep heating appliances and fireplaces functioning properly.

1. Get an annual chimney check. Have chimneys inspected annually, and cleaned as necessary, by a qualified professional chimney service technician. This reduces the risk of fires and carbon monoxide poisonings due to creosote buildup or obstructions in the chimneys.

2. Keep it clear. Keep tree branches and leaves at least 15 feet away from the top of the chimney.

3. Install a chimney cap to keep debris and animals out of the chimney.

4. Choose the right fuel. For burning firewood in wood stoves or fireplaces, choose well seasoned wood that has been split for a minimum of six months to one year and stored in a covered and elevated location. Never burn Christmas trees or treated wood in your fireplace or wood stove.

5. Build it right. Place firewood or firelogs at the rear of the fireplace on a supporting grate. To start the fire, use kindling or a commercial firelighter. Never use flammable liquids.

6. Keep the hearth area clear. Combustible material too close to the fireplace, or to a wood stove, could easily catch fire. Keep furniture at least 36” away from the hearth.

7. Use a fireplace screen. Use metal mesh or a screen in front of the fireplace to catch flying sparks that could ignite or burn holes in the carpet or flooring.

8. Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Place detectors throughout the house and check batteries in the spring and fall. When you change your clocks for Daylight Savings Time, remember to check your batteries.

9. Never leave a fire unattended. Before heading to bed, be sure that the fire is fully extinguished. Supervise children and pets closely around wood stoves and fireplaces.

For more information, visit


Five Tips for a Show-stopping Fall Landscape

November 1, 2011 9:12 pm

Kids are back at school, football games have kicked off and in some parts of the country leaves are falling. Even with brisk temperatures on their way, anyone can create a beautiful fall landscape by giving show-stopping plants center stage in the garden. Landscape designers from around the country offer these tips to create a show-stopping fall garden you will enjoy for years to come.

1. Consider Your Space
There is never a dull moment in the fall landscape. Consider what shapes and colors currently exist in your garden. "Although we may lose some of the plant material framework in the garden during the autumn months, we gain fall foliage color, sculptural shapes of the deciduous trees and shrubs, and the architectural details become the focal point. If a garden is pleasing to look at or walk through in autumn or winter it is usually because of the use of space--patterns created by paths or walls, shapes of plant material and the silhouettes of tree trunks and branches," says landscape designer Suzanne Arca.

2. Do Your Homework
Visit your local garden center and make a list of your favorite plants and color combinations. The colors and combinations of plants can give you inspiration and highlight what is available.

3. Plant Trees and Shrubs Now

Plant now to give plants plenty of time to establish roots before summer. Planting in the fall lets your plants have months to settle in before the heat of summer.

4. Try Something New
Laura Kuhn, a professional landscape designer in Arlington, Massachusetts reflects on fall landscapes with a unique perspective. “Interest can be created by what you don’t do rather than what you do, so think about implementing a low-maintenance plan for garden care: leave seed heads and stems on the plants to create instant ornamental appeal,” says Kuhn.

5. Avoid Common Mistakes
Avoid common mistakes that can work against your hard work in the garden. Mulch pushed up against a tree trunk ensures that a moist environment will ensue, thus providing the perfect environment for diseases and pests. Instead, create a saucer with the mulch to trap water and give the tree some breathing room.

For more information and for help finding a professional landscaper, visit


Do's and Don'ts of Black Friday Shopping

November 1, 2011 9:12 pm

It's been predicted that more people than ever will be out shopping on Black Friday this year, and those shoppers will be looking for better deals than ever due to the shaky economy. Although many Black Friday sales will attempt to point shoppers in the right direction of the best deals, buyers are urged to really compare prices when shopping for the right gifts.

Don't assume that a Black Friday deal is the best find out there. Here are a few tips to help you while shopping on one of the busiest days of the year:

-Don't automatically assume that everything in a Black Friday ad is a genuinely good deal. You'll even see items advertised in ads that are at the store's "everyday low price." Do your homework and go after the cream of the crop when it comes to deals.

-Do try to order as much online before leaving the house. Many retailers will put their Black Friday sale online starting as early as Wednesday night. The more you can buy online, the more room you'll have in your trunk for other purchases.

-Don't assume that you'll be able to price match Black Friday ad items at your favorite store. Each store has its own policy, which can sometimes change for Black Friday. Call ahead and speak to a manager to find out exactly what you are allowed to do.

-Do shop with others if possible. Split up purchases between your group into different parts of the store to maximize your chances of getting what you want and minimize the time spent in the crowded store.

For more do's and don'ts, and further tips, visit


Easy Tips for Staying Warm and Saving Money

October 31, 2011 9:12 pm

With Winter creeping up earlier than expected for some parts of our country, homeowners are already on a quest to find options that keep their houses warm without emptying their wallets. There are many easy steps you can take to ensure that your energy bills remain low throughout the season, starting with an annual assessment to ensure that your heating system is operating properly and efficiently before the harsh winter weather hits.

To combat winter weather, homeowners should have their heating systems inspected annually by a Heating, Ventilation, Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration (HVACR) professional. Be sure to shop around to find the highest qualified inspector and the best prices. Check to see if technicians are NATE certified (North American Technician Excellence). With your system running at its highest efficiency, consider the following to keep costs low:

Check heating filters every couple of weeks and change them at least twice in the season.

Check and maintain your insulation. Improperly insulated walls, floors, attics, basements and crawlspaces drain away heat and can lead to moisture imbalance.

Turn down your thermostat. Keeping your thermostat five degrees cooler can lower your heating bills without affecting your home's comfort.

Install a programmable thermostat and adjust the settings to reduce the temperature when you're not at home.

Clean the furnace area. Don't keep chemicals or cleaning products near your heater, and don't store anything next to it that could impede ventilation.

Install a humidifier. Humidity in summer makes you feel hotter, and the same is true in winter since dry air feels cooler than moist air. A simple humidifier may make the home feel five degrees warmer than a home with dry air.

By properly maintaining your heating and cooling system, you can ensure maximum efficiency to keep your family comfortable throughout the long and frigid season.

For more information, visit


Home Buyers Need Better Representation During Tough Economic Times

October 31, 2011 9:12 pm

Due to the state of our current U.S. economy, having a buyer's agent in your corner is becoming increasingly important for home buyers. Home buyers should avoid situations where the agent is representing both buyer and seller. This often occurs when a prospective buyer finds a home listed on the Internet and contacts the selling agent directly. Since there are laws that require real estate agents to protect their client's interest, the duty of the selling agent is with the seller, not the buyer. As a result, the sales contract may not favor the buyer.

"As people go online and educate themselves about buying a house they realize that they need someone to represent them," says David Kent, president of the National Buyer's Agent Alliance.

When working with an exclusive buyer's agent, home buyers know their real estate agent is committed to hammering out the best agreement possible on their behalf. In fact, buyer's agents have helped to negotiate better deals for their clients. Buyers can be assured that their buyer's agent will concentrate on finding a property that best met their needs. Also, the agent's knowledge of the local real estate market and legal requirements was a critical success factor.

There are two types of buyer's agents: exclusive and non-exclusive. An exclusive buyer's agent works for a real estate agency whose sole purpose is to represent home buyers in their real estate transaction to purchase a home. Although they are licensed real estate agents, they do not list or sell houses. On the other hand, a non-exclusive buyer's agent is a licensed real estate agent who works with a company that is able to represent both buyers and sellers, and therefore, may not be able to represent the buyer in all transactions. The fiduciary duty of an exclusive buyer's agent always remains with the home buyer.

Finding the right buyer's agent can be a difficult and time-consuming process. This is compounded if you happen to be relocating to an unfamiliar city. You need to do your homework to make sure the buyer's agent you hire has a good track record for getting the best terms for his or her clients. In the current market, having a buyer's agent on their side has helped many home buyers close transactions that otherwise might not have closed.

For more information about the benefits of having a buyer's agent, visit


Energy Efficiency Funding Can Create 1 Million Jobs

October 31, 2011 9:12 pm

A recently-released report outlines ways to finance $150 billion per year in energy efficiency projects that yield double-digit financial returns.

“Energy Efficiency Financing: Models and Strategies” by Capital-E and partner organizations says that within 10 years, investment at this level would save U.S. businesses and households $200 billion annually and would create more than 1 million new full-time jobs. This level of funding represents a more than five-fold increase from current levels of about $20 billion per year and would cost-effectively make the American economy more competitive, enhance national security and help slow the impacts of climate change, according to the findings.

“This important report reflects our commitment to providing insight into market trends and to supporting the appraisal industry’s critical role in valuing the impact of all property features, including ‘green’ and energy efficient buildings,” says Appraisal Institute President Joseph C. Magdziarz, MAI, SRA. “As the real estate valuation industry’s leader, the Appraisal Institute is in the forefront of preparing appraisers to analyze energy efficient buildings.”

With the end of the 2011 fiscal year, some $40 billion in public stimulus funding for energy efficiency and clean energy is rapidly winding down, leaving a huge financing gap that only the private sector can fill, according to the report. “Energy Efficiency Financing: Models and Strategies” details how the private sector can rapidly and cost-effectively expand private investment in energy efficiency.

The Appraisal Institute was among the major real estate and industry organizations that helped develop the report by Capital-E, which also partnered with five of the 10 largest U.S. banks.

For more information, visit


Halloween Safety: Last-Minute Reminders Before Trick or Treating

October 28, 2011 9:08 pm

By Nick Caruso

With kids everywhere excited to don grandiose costumes and prowl around the neighborhood in search of candy and other treats, safety is as important to your family as ever. When you or your children finally hit the streets, there are a few last-minute reminders to keep in mind so that everyone can have a safe and enjoyable Halloween evening.

-Regardless of whether you accompany your children or not, don't forget to arm them with flashlights. Flashlights will help them guide their way down long and dark driveways, and also help prevent accidents from occurring. Be sure to replace the batteries before sending them on their way so that the flashlight will be effective and able to last for hours at a time.

-Always carry a cell phone or make sure your kids do as well. Accidents can happen everywhere and in the event of an emergency, you want your kids to be able to have instant contact to you. In less severe cases, you want to make sure you can contact your child if he or she runs late or simply to check in.

-Plan a time to meet back at home. If your children are going out on their own, plan a time for them to return. If you allow them to tackle a street or two on their own, plan a spot in the neighborhood to meet them at a designated time. Knowing where to find each other at all times is even more important on Halloween.

-Instruct little ones not to eat candy before you can check it. You can never be too careful. Check your children's candy before letting them dive in.

Don't let safety be sacrificed in the hustle-bustle and excitement of the night. Keep these last minute reminders in mind to keep everyone in your party safe.


Safety Reminders for Your Teen Driver

October 28, 2011 9:08 pm

With an average of eight teens a day killed in car crashes, traffic fatalities have become the leading cause of death for teenagers in America. Due to the following statistics, teaching teens the importance of driving safely has never been more critical.

• Most crashes happen during the first year a teenager has his or her license.
• The risk of being involved in a crash increases when teens drive with other teens in the car.
• Most fatal car crashes, for all ages, occur at night.
• Drivers aged 15 to 20 are three times as likely to get into fatal crashes as all other drivers.

If your child will be driving soon, be a responsible role model. Teenagers will model adult driving habits. It’s also important to choose a reliable driving school that provides the classroom and on-the-road training a young driver needs. Parents should also practice driving with their teens. Give them plenty of practice driving at different times of days, on different roads and with different weather conditions. The more time they drive, the better drivers they will be.

In addition, understand that your teen may not be ready to drive. Consider whether your teen is responsible enough to drive before allowing him or her to obtain a driver’s permit or driver’s license. If not, wait a few months before reconsidering. Once your teen gets his or her license, be sure to set firm rules about their driving. Restrict the number of passengers they can have in their car, especially while they are novice drivers. Set curfews to get them off the roads by 9 or 10 p.m., to reduce the risk of late-night crashes.

“Research shows which behaviors contribute to teen-related crashes: Inexperience and immaturity combined with speed, drinking and driving, not wearing seat belts, distracted driving (such as cell phone use, loud music or other teen passengers), drowsy driving, nighttime driving and other drug use aggravate this problem,” according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) website.

The NHTSA and the CDC also offer these safe driving tips:

• Always wear a seatbelt to prevent death or serious injury.
• Never text while driving. Avoid other distractions, including talking on cell phones, eating or playing with the radio while behind the wheel.
• Do not use alcohol or drugs if you will be driving.
• Follow all traffic laws. Stick to the speed limit. Don’t tailgate.
• Be aware of road and traffic conditions. Drive defensively.

For more driving safety information, visit or


Home Décor Color Forecast for the 2012-2013 Season

October 28, 2011 9:08 pm

Is repainting the interior of your home on your to-do list for the new year? For the 2012-2013 season, homeowners are predicted to take the leap into deep and vivid hues this year, according to PPG Porter Paints' Insider's Color Guide. They'll go for colors that stir the senses and set them in motion. Their choices will be the vibrant, optimistic colors that pack a punch and can't be ignored. Their spaces will be full of strong contrasts – heavy and weightless, shadow and light, hot and cold. Bold colors that help them stand out in a crowd and showcase their individual personality.

If you're shopping for paint to update your home décor, one of these four new color palettes may just fit your taste and lifestyle:

Local Revival
This trend is about unplugging from a complicated life and living more simply and in harmony with one's community. Materials are strong and honest classics: leather, wood, aged metal. Design forms are simple and familiar; antique-industrial and retro-mechanical. Folkloric patterns tell the stories of generations. The palette is a mix of red berries, stone gray and solid brown refreshed by a creamy white.

Beauty Queen

This palette speaks to the unapologetically confident. It's the return of glam with a disco sophistication. It's high-intensity color that can turn light and airy on a dime. Lush and mysterious, soft and fresh – the built-in contrasts sensation-seekers want. Ultra-slick surfaces like Lucite and mirrors capture the best spirit of the 70s. Sharp fuchsia pink and juicy purple are softened with cosmetic pink and freshened with this year's brighter teal and white.

Quiet Tech
It's impossible to unplug without a place to escape to, so minimalism is the foundation of this trend. Rooms have visual interest without complication. Details and embellishments are kept to a minimum. Pale and mid-tone wood tones don't overpower the space. Shapes are rounded and tactile to keep rooms from feeling barren or cold. In the palette, ink blues play with earthy and calming neutrals.

Deco Candy
Bringing together vibrant colors and fun design, Deco Candy transforms a home into an intensely joyful playground. A vivid harmony of citrus accented by this year's bright blue, clean green and tangerine, the color scheme is irresistibly optimistic. Stripes and color-blocking bring a sense of organization to what could otherwise be too boisterous a spectrum of hues.

For more information about choosing the right color scheme for your home, visit


Is Your Loan Modification Stuck?

October 27, 2011 9:08 pm

If you’re on the verge of losing your home, or you know someone who is, then you also know about the long, bureaucratic process involved in applying for a loan modification from a lender. The most common approach is to apply under the new Home Affordability Mortgage Program (HAMP), but lenders also accept modifications from mortgage holders because lenders really don’t want to take the house – they just want their money.

In many cases, however, the approval process takes longer than many homeowners can afford. But one expert believes it doesn’t have to be that way, and that there are solutions for homeowners whose applications seem stuck in the mud.

“Applying for a loan modification can be an extremely stressful process,” said Stephfan Nurse, CEO of Consumer Education. “Even if you send in your documents and your lender tells you everything is okay, you may still have a great amount of anxiety because you have no idea what the lender is doing with your file. You may not know what the next step is and how long it takes to move through each step in the process. Your lender may tell you what the next step is, but you may not understand why it will take so long. There are reasons, however, why the process can get stuck, and there are ways to move that process along, if you understand what goes on behind the scenes.”

Nurse’s tips for making the process smoother include:

Account Numbers
– It often happens that when you fax your paperwork to your lender, the lender either says they lost your paperwork or they just didn’t receive it all. This isn’t because they are incompetent. It’s because they receive thousands of faxes each day, and they use an image scanning technology to capture them all and place them in the appropriate file. In that system, a cover sheet that has your account number on it will get placed correctly, but the following sheets that lack your account number can be easily misplaced. The solution is to put your account number on every page of your paperwork, so they have a better chance of placing all your paperwork in your file.

Complete the Paperwork – When your file gets assigned to a document manager, typically about 30 days after you first applied for the modification, the document manager’s job is to check to make sure all your required documents are ready to be submitted to the negotiator/specialist for review. If you have an incomplete file, even if you’re missing just one single required document, the document manager will note your account as having an incomplete file and move on to the next file to review. At this point, a generic letter is automatically mailed to your home requesting the additional information your file lacks. This letter can take up to two weeks to get to you, and then another two to four weeks before they look at your updated information. The key is to never send an incomplete package to your lender. It can lead to a delay or even a flat out denial.

Follow Up – Finally, follow up every week with your lender to make sure all the documents they have are up to date. Don’t worry about being a pest. After all, it’s your house on the line if things get stuck in neutral. If you do this consistently, you will avoid getting caught in the delay cycle.

“The process is like any other, and it can be rife with mistakes and bureaucratic snafus,” Nurse added. “But if you take the steps to reduce the opportunities for error, your application can move through the process much faster and you’ll have a much better chance at being approved.”