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Tips for Protecting a Home from the Ravages of Winter

January 10, 2014 12:45 am

As temperatures across the country reach dangerous levels, now is the time to make sure that your home is prepared to deal with the icy conditions. Fremont Insurance offers a few tips to help homeowners protect their homes against two of the most significant winter risks: ice dams and frozen pipes.

Ice Dams occur when heavy snow buildup melts during the day then refreezes as temperatures drop overnight. After several days of this cycle, the melted water and ice work up under the shingles entering the attic and damaging ceilings, walls and contents. To help prevent dams from forming:

• Keep gutters and down spouts clear of debris, snow and ice, so melting roof snow can flow.
• Keep snow on your roof to a minimum. Roof rakes let you stand on the ground to safely pull the snow off the roof.
• Evaluate attic insulation and ventilation. Good airflow is essential to a cool, dry attic.

Frozen Water Pipes cause extensive damage to many homes and businesses every winter. If you think turning the heat down while you're away or on vacation will save you money, think again. If your water pipes freeze and burst, it could cause thousands of dollars in damage. Homeowners can take some simple preventive measures:

• Locate and insulate pipes susceptible to freezing – typically near outer walls, in crawl spaces, or in the attic.
• Wrap pipes with UL-approved heat tape and seal air leaks.
• Disconnect garden hoses and shut off and drain water from pipes leading to outside faucets.
• Drain and shut off the water supply (except indoor sprinkler systems) if you expect to be away for several days.
• Have someone check regularly to ensure the heat is still on and things are okay.
• Make sure you and your family knows how to shut off the water to your home.

If you do discover frozen pipes:

• Never try to thaw a pipe with an open flame or torch.
• If pipes burst, stop the flow of water as soon as possible to minimize damage.
• Be mindful of the risk of electric shock in and around standing water.
• Call a plumber and contact your insurance agent right away.

Source: Fremont Insurance

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Mortgage Rates Stay Largely Unchanged

January 10, 2014 12:45 am

Freddie Mac released the results of its Primary Mortgage Market Survey®, showing average fixed mortgage rates little changed amid a week of light economic reports.

• 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 4.51 percent with an average 0.7 point for the week ending January 9, 2014, down from last week when it averaged 4.53 percent. A year ago at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 3.40 percent.

• 15-year FRM this week averaged 3.56 percent with an average 0.6 point, up from last week when it averaged 3.55 percent. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 2.66 percent.

• 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 3.15 percent this week with an average 0.4 point, up from last week when it averaged 3.05 percent. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 2.67 percent.

• 1-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 2.56 percent this week with an average 0.5 point, unchanged from last week. At this time last year, the 1-year ARM averaged 2.60 percent.

"Mortgage rates were little changed amid a week of light economic reports. Of the few releases, the private sector added an estimated 238,000 jobs in December, which exceeded the market consensus and followed an upward revision of 14,000 jobs in November, according to the ADP Research Institute,” said Frank Nothaft, vice president and chief economist, Freddie Mac. “Also, the Institute for Supply Management reported a greater slowing in growth in the non-manufacturing industry in December than the market consensus forecast."

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Tips for Eating Clean All Week Long

January 10, 2014 12:45 am

With the New Year in full swing, let’s face it: eating healthy is hard work. Sure, eating fruits and vegetables can be healthy, delicious and rewarding, but it’s also a lot of work! It takes lots of planning and shopping to set yourself and your family up for success. Here are a few things you can do on Sunday night to prepare yourself for some home cooked and healthy meals throughout the week.

Take Inventory: Before hitting the grocery store, look inside all of your cabinets, your refrigerator, and your freezer and see what you already have. What items can you make meals with? What do you need to make that happen? Plan for meals based around what you already have and save money while doing it.

Rinse and Chop: Wash fresh fruits and vegetables in bulk and get ready to chop. Using a chopper or a really good knife, chop everything you think you’ll need for the week and store them in individual Tupperware or plastic bags. Having common items like onion and garlic chopped and ready to go will save you precious time midweek and will make it a cinch to throw together quick sauté-based meals during the week. It’ll also be easier to grab fruits and veggies on the go this way and it’ll prevent you from grabbing chips or other salty snacks.

Cook in Advance: If you find yourself with free time on Sundays, pre-cook 1-3 meals in advance. Split up meals into portions using Tupperware or carefully store it for the following night’s dinner. Having a healthy veggie stirfry cooked and ready to go will help you eat healthier come Monday night. Meat eaters can simply cook or grill some lean protein whenever they’d like and add it to the already prepared meal. Cooking in advance is the best way to help you stay on track throughout the entire week.

Pro Tip: Rinse your fruits and vegetables in a solution of 10 parts water, 1 part vinegar. Using this solution will help your healthy snacks stay way longer than simply sticking them in the fridge.

Always remember that a little planning can go a long way. If you put in a little extra time on the weekends, you can be well on your way to clean eating in no time.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Keep Those Resolutions in 2014 with Almonds as a Go-To Snack

January 9, 2014 12:33 am

Happy New Year! How are those resolutions sticking? Whether your 2014 goal is to get back on a healthier lifestyle track after a decadent holiday binge, or if you are simply looking to make smarter snacking choices, keep in mind that the simplest solution is the one with crunch power: almonds help give you the nutrition and power you need for a successful year ahead.

Apart from being tasty, nutritious and satisfying, almonds pack a powerful punch, making them the ideal snack to help you tackle New Year's resolutions, whatever they might be. A one-ounce handful of almonds provide six grams of protein, four grams of hunger-fighting fiber, good fats, and important vitamins and minerals. Ounce for ounce, almonds are higher in protein, fiber, calcium, vitamin E, riboflavin and niacin than any other tree nut. What's more, almonds are endlessly versatile and 100 percent gluten free, so they're a pantry essential for those living with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.

Heart-smart, nutrient-rich almonds can help maintain weight and improve cholesterol levels. In fact, nearly two decades of research shows that almonds can help reduce the risk of heart disease. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, "Scientific evidence suggests, but does not prove, that eating 1.5 ounces per day of almonds as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease."

What's more, a recent study suggests snacking on almonds can be a weight-wise strategy. Despite consuming approximately 250 additional calories per day from almonds, 137 adult participants at increased risk for type 2 diabetes did not gain weight over the course of the four-week study. The combined positive effects of daily almond consumption seen in participants on blood glucose response, hunger and appetite control, and vitamin E and monounsaturated fat intake without any impact on body weight suggests almonds are a smart snack choice that can help support a healthy weight, although the study did not measure the long-term impact of consuming almonds and almond consumption was self-reported.

Source: California Almonds

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Toy Safety Tips

January 9, 2014 12:33 am

Roughly three billion toys are sold each year in the United States with a significant number of those toys purchased during the holidays. According to a recent annual report on toy safety guidelines, however, not all toys on the shelves are safe for children.

Paulson Coletti Trial Attorneys PC, a Portland-based personal injury law firm, shared highlights from the 28th annual "Trouble in Toyland" toy safety report on their personal injury blog. The blog post called “Toy Safety Tips - Avoid Hazards this Holiday Season” warned consumers about dangerous and toxic toys still sold in American stores despite recent progress to remove them. Created by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), the Trouble in Toyland report identifies hazards in toys and children's products that could cause acute injuries. The key findings of the 2013 report highlighted the following hazards:

Choking Hazards – toys such as small, powerful magnets pose choking hazards if swallowed.

Toxic Hazards from Chemicals – toys still sold contained high levels of toxic substances, including high lead, toxic metal anatomy, phthalates and cadmium.

Noisy Toys that Can Damage Hearing – some toys exceeded the 65 decibel limit for toys held close to the ear.

To avoid accidents, adults and parents should take immediate steps to inspect children's toys received over the holidays and recommend parents read and follow these four helpful toy inspection tips from Safe Kids Worldwide:

-Make sure there are no sharp edges or small removable parts on the toys that one's child could remove and swallow.
-Make sure the toys are age-appropriate for your child, read all the instructions included, and inspect all toys for safety.
-Avoid marbles or other toys with small parts that could pose a choking hazard.
-Despite taking preventive steps to help keep kids safe with toys, children can still be injured or sickened as a result of a faulty toy or play equipment. Parents of these children are encouraged to contact experienced product liability attorneys to find out if they have a product liability case related to a dangerous and defective toy.

Source: Paulson Coletti Trial Attorneys PC

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Tips to Support a Healthy Lifestyle

January 8, 2014 1:09 am

(Family Features) If the decadent dishes and busy schedules of the holiday season have set back your efforts towards a healthy lifestyle, fear not. With the right plan in place, it’s easy to get back on track, re-energized and refocused for the year ahead.

Shorter days and colder weather may seem to heighten the desire to indulge in comfort foods, just as much as it can lessen the motivation to take part in physical activity, like hitting the gym or taking an afternoon stroll.

Health expert, author and registered dietitian, Patricia Bannan, shares a few simple changes to help re-charge your routine and get excited, no matter what the thermometer reads outside:

Set realistic expectations
If you haven’t been running in months and plan to jump on the treadmill tomorrow, it’s important to take your new workout in stride. Having high aspirations for your health is a wonderful thing, but there’s nothing wrong with starting small. Setting achievable goals – such as jogging or walking for a certain amount of time each day – will help to keep you working toward the goal of running a10K in the long term.

Buddy up
By now you’ve likely commiserated with friends about the lapse in your health and wellness goals. This is the perfect opportunity to ask someone to partner up in your healthy pursuits. Ask friends, family, neighbors or co-workers if they are interested in joining a gym, taking a boot-camp class, or participating in a healthy cooking course.

Supply your body with quality nutrition
Beyond getting in your required fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats and whole grains through a balanced diet, taking a high-quality supplement can help bridge any nutrient gaps and help you get what your body may be lacking. Bannan recommends Adult Gummies Energy B12 from Nature Made®. Vitamin B12 supports cellular energy production by helping the body convert food into energy, and gummies offer an enjoyable way to take your vitamins.

Swap out ingredients
Healthier alternatives exist for all of your favorite dishes. If you crave a hearty bowl of chili, switch out ground beef for a leaner variety of ground turkey. Use whole-grain pasta in your favorite Italian dishes or whole-grain breads for sandwiches. These changes are small, but can have a big impact on your overall nutrition when put into practice.

Source: www.naturemade.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Low-Cost Home Projects Can Help Save Energy and Money This Winter

January 8, 2014 1:09 am

Falling winter temperatures typically raise home-heating costs—along with concerns over the impact of increased energy use on the environment. Plastics Make it Possible® offers some tips on low-cost, do-it-yourself projects to help cut down on wasted energy this winter—and all year round.

Many homes have areas that are not sealed adequately, which leads to warm air flowing out and cold air sneaking in. Taking a few moments to help inhibit leaks in these places can provide a quick and easy return on time and money invested. Here are some examples:

Attic: In the attic, the first step is to check to see if there is any missing or damaged insulation that can be readily replaced. Placing sheets of foam polystyrene plastic on top of existing insulation can be an uncomplicated way to help block unwanted airflow. If the attic door or entry hatch is not well sealed, some plastic foam weather stripping can be installed around the perimeter to help keep cold air in the attic and warm air in the living space.

Fireplace: Although designed to heat a room, the fireplace often allows cold air to enter a house. Even when the chimney flue is closed, cold air can seep in and chill the room. An innovative product known as a "chimney pillow," "fireplace plug," or "chimney balloon" can help. A tough, durable plastic bag inflates to fit snugly inside the chimney, forming a plug that can dramatically reduce airflow while the fireplace isn't in operation. After installation, the pillow's inflation tube hangs down into the fireplace as a reminder to remove it before lighting a fire.

Windows and Doors: Adding plastic caulks (such as silicone) around window and door frames—both indoors and outdoors—can help close gaps where warm air escapes. There also is a wide variety of weather stripping—most are made with plastic foam that helps trap air to provide a barrier between indoors and out. For significant gaps, a polyurethane plastic foam sealant expands to fill cracks—it's usually sold in a can with a flexible tube applicator that makes it easy to use. And plastic window film can be applied directly to the glass windowpane, helping to insulate the window while still providing a clear view.

Switches, Outlets, and Ducts: Electrical switches and outlets are less obvious areas where energy can be wasted. Placing pre-cut, inexpensive plastic foam insulation sheets behind switch and outlet plate covers can help prevent air sneaking in and out. A home's unheated areas (basement, attic, garage, outdoors) also should be checked for leaks in heating ducts, which can be a hidden culprit for air loss. These leaks can be quickly sealed with plastic caulks or polyurethane foam sealants, which are designed to fill cracks and crevices while resisting moisture and mildew.

For more information, visit plasticsmakeitpossible.com.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Your Will: The Overlooked Bucket-list Item

January 7, 2014 12:54 am

Of the trendy terms to come around in the past decade, “bucket list” remains among the most useful, says retirement planning expert Jeff Gorton.

“As a neologism, I hope it endures because it reminds us of how precious our time is – and that it’s important to plan wisely,” says Gorton, a veteran Certified Public Accountant and Certified Financial Planner™, and head of Gorton Financial Group (www.gortonfinancialgroup.com).

“Unfortunately, after some have listed their items and even checked a few things off, they forget about one important item that really counts after they’ve ‘kicked the bucket’ – their will.”

Only about 40 percent of adults in America have a will, which is probably due to people not wanting to be reminded of their own mortality and that life will go on without them, he says.

“But what’s the alternative? If you die without one, the state decides what becomes of your property, without regard to your priorities,” says Gorton, who also advocates his clients make use of a written income plan (WIP), a living document that helps organize financial priorities. “Why not enjoy the fact that a will is an instrument of power? You get to decide who gets what.”

Since so many adults don’t have a will, many don’t understand how they work. Gorton breaks down wills into four basic parts:

Executors — Most wills begin by naming an executor, the person responsible for carrying out the wishes outlined in the will. Duties include assessing the value of the estate, gathering the assets, paying inheritance tax and other debts if necessary, and distributing assets among beneficiaries. It is recommended that you name at least two executors in case your first choice is unable to fulfill the obligation.

Guardians — A will allows you to designate a guardian for your minor children. Whomever you appoint, you will want to make sure beforehand that the individual is able and willing to assume the responsibility. For many people, this is the most important part of a will since, if you die without naming a guardian, the court will decide who takes care of your children.

Gifts — This section enables you to identify people or organizations to whom you wish to give gifts of money or specific possessions, such as family heirlooms or a car. You can also specify conditional gifts, such as a sum of money to a young daughter, but only when she reaches a certain age.

Estate — Your estate encompasses everything you own, including real property, financial investments, cash and personal possessions. Once you have identified specific gifts you would like to distribute, you can apportion the rest of your estate 
in equal shares among your heirs, or you can split it into percentages. For example, you may decide to give 45 percent each to two children and the remaining 10 percent to a sibling.

“You’re not legally required to have a professional write a will for you, but I highly recommend you get certified help because these documents are often contested by people who are unhappy with the decisions you made,” he says. “After working a lifetime for your assets, you deserve to have them go where you want after you’re gone, and your family will be grateful to you for not leaving them with the headache of trying to sort out your estate.”

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Favor In-Flight Phone Access? Depends On How Old You Are

January 7, 2014 12:54 am

While 79 percent of travelers over the age of 30 are opposed to in-flight cell phone usage (now under consideration by the Federal Aviation Administration, younger travelers, 18-30 year olds, favor the new perk by 52 percent, according to a recent study.

Some 300 travelers in total were surveyed by The GO Group, LLC, an international ground transportation service provider. Of those, 33 were under 30, while the remainder were older.

Of those who added comments to the survey, most older travelers noted they would be fine if fellow passengers texted or engaged in other online activities, but not talking.

Comments one traveler: "listening to someone else's over-amped conversations in a confined area that I can't escape from - not my idea of a relaxing flight."

"Regardless of the FAA's decision, airlines need to review cell phone usage not only as a safety matter, but at how it will affect noise levels and passenger comfort," says John McCarthy, president of The GO Group.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Five Tips to Save Time in the Kitchen

January 7, 2014 12:54 am

Five to ten minutes may not seem like much, but when cooking a weeknight meal, almost half of Consumer Reports subscribers said they wished they could get those minutes back. The average difference between actual time spent and what respondents desired: eight minutes.

With that goal in mind, Consumer Reports experts set out to create the ultimate time-saving kitchen feature with top time-saving countertop appliances and expert tips from chefs, designers, organizer and others.

Five Tips to Save Eight Minutes or More in the Kitchen

1. Design for efficiency. The work triangle – connecting the sink, fridge, and cooktop – is still the baseline for maximum efficiency. But in two-cook kitchens, it often makes sense to have a second triangle, possibly designated around an island counter with a prep sink.

2. Think ahead. One of the top cooking gripes in Consumer Reports' survey was that it takes too much time to plan. A slow cooker is handy for make-ahead meals. The $250 All-Clad 99005 slow cooker turned out tasty spareribs in tests, and its nonstick interior helps with cleanup.

3. Minimize maintenance. Some materials and finishes are harder to care for than others. Stainless-steel appliances remain popular, but if fingerprints are a concern, a newer, smudge-resistant finish such as GE's Slate may be a consideration. As for flooring, vinyl held up best in Consumer Reports tests against scratches and dents.

4. Contain the clutter. In the kitchen, try to put things close at hand. For example, dishes and flatware should be kept in a cabinet next to the dishwasher; cutting boards and sharp knives belong near food-prep counter. Creating a separate landing spot, ideally just off the kitchen or along its perimeter, for mail, school papers and the like will help keep counters clear.

5. Make it a family affair. Look for ways to enlist other members of the household. If kids are present, designate a lower cabinet for everyday dishes or flatware, allowing young ones to help set the table.

Source: Consumer Reports

Published with permission from RISMedia.