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Resolutions Every Homeowner Should Consider in 2018

December 20, 2017 12:57 am

The time for New Year's resolutions is at hand. And while some are striving to eat healthier and get more exercise in 2018, there are a few resolutions everyone can make to help keep their home more safe, secure, and more efficient.

The folks at familyhandyman.com have a ton of ideas for homeowner resolutions, but among the most valuable is the suggestion to call for an energy audit. This entails inviting a specialist in to perform a series of tests that tell you the efficiency of your heating and cooling system and the overall efficiency of your home.

On the basis of the test results, auditors will likely recommend low-cost improvements to save energy, and larger upgrades that will pay you back within five to seven years. Audits take two to three hours and cost $250 to $400, but many utility companies or local and state energy offices could offer a substantial rebate.

More than a few real estate blogs urge homeowners to resolve to find a way to make extra payments on your mortgage. While paying even as little as $25 - $100 more per month may seem like it could have little impact, sources say it makes a huge difference on the total you end up paying over the course of the loan. It can also shorten the amount of time you're making payments and can have you owning your house free and clear sooner than you expected.

If you want to save more and waste less in 2018, the Natural Resources Defense Council - an organization that pushes for more intelligent management of natural resources - suggests making a resolution to stop wasting food. In 2017, Americans on average tossed out roughly 40 percent of their food.

That one behavior modification could save you roughly $1,300 per household per year - quite a chunk of change. The council suggests planning out grocery shopping, meals and other elements of consumption to bring your household into the zero-food-waste category in 2018.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Holiday Safety for your Pets

December 20, 2017 12:57 am

Holidays should be enjoyable for the whole family - your four-legged members included. But with potentially dangerous decorations, a flurry of guests and tables teeming with temptations, your furry friends may need a little added care this season. Below are a few holiday tips from Petland to make the holidays more enjoyable for families and their pets, especially those living in geographical locations where cold weather is an added concern:

No rich foods. Refrain from feeding your pet holiday table scraps. Your pet's digestive system is not receptive to rich people foods. Also make sure to keep grapes, raisins and currants (in fruitcakes) out of your pet's reach, as these are toxic to dogs and cats.

Holiday decorations out of reach of paws. When not crated, your pets should be observed often over the holidays, making sure they are not endangering themselves by chewing on Christmas paraphernalia, gifts and ribbons. Also beware of snow globes and bubble lights as the liquids inside can be toxic. Keep potpourri out of reach as well, as the smells can also be enticing to your four-legged friends.

Oh, Christmas Tree. Make sure your tree is secure, in a corner is best, especially if you have felines in your family! Keep the area around the tree clean and free from pine needles. The needles are sharp and can puncture your pet's intestinal tract if ingested. Be careful with glass bulbs, lights, tinsel and wires – these can also be harmful. Also, try to avoid popcorn or cranberry strands on the tree as they may prove tempting for your pet!

Dangerous holiday foliage. Keep pets from coming in contact with holiday plants – mistletoe, holly, and poinsettia. These traditional holiday plants can cause illness. Ingestion of these plants can be toxic to some animals. On contact with these plants, some pets may develop an irritating rash.

Rap on the car hood. A warm automobile is a hotel for outdoor cats during the winter months. Every year thousands of cats who take comfort in sleeping under the hood are injured or killed when a driver returns to his car and starts the engine. A rap on the car hood before starting the engine will awaken a sleeping cat, giving it time to escape before you rev up and go.

Keep antifreeze out of reach. This is the time of year when antifreeze is used, so be sure to store it safely out of reach. Antifreeze can smell good to pets, but it is highly toxic.

Give water not ice. Pets who live outdoors during the winter must have fresh water to drink at all times. Water, however, can freeze in a matter of hours when temperatures go below freezing. Pet owners who can not replenish their pet's dish with fresh water several times a day may need to use an electrically heated water dish.

Provide proper shelter. Having a permanent fur coat does not make your pets safe from winter's harsh blows. Cats and dogs that live outdoors must have a shelter equipped with clean, dry bedding. The shelter should be just big enough for the pet to get in and turn around. Having a larger cat or dog house is not beneficial, as the animal cannot use its natural body heat to warm the shelter area. Even pet birds housed inside need to have their cages located in places free of feather-chilling drafts.

Dry those paws. The snow and salt that accumulates in your pet's paws from daily winter romps can result in irritation, cracking and pain. Paws need to be checked daily and routinely cleaned and dried. A balm can be helpful in keeping your pet's paws soft. Your pet's coat should be dried off, too, as dampness and chilling can lead to illness.

Quell anxiety. If your pet gets anxious around extra people in the house, consider a stress-relieving oil warmer or drops to help calm your pooch. A Thundershirt or compression jacket may also be beneficial. Make sure your pet always has a quiet place to rest during noisy holiday activities.

Source: Petland

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Should I Dip Into Equity and Renovate?

December 19, 2017 12:51 am

Many homeowners will be taking advantage of winter savings on supplies and the off-season availability of contractors to use a home equity line of credit (HELOC) to finance home renovations.

According to recent research from TD Bank, more than three quarters (80 percent) of responding homeowners with existing HELOCs who said they were planning home renovations for winter also said they would consider dipping into their home equity for funding.

With an average HELOC size of more than $84,000, half (51 percent) of those surveyed stated they plan to spend at least $50,000 on renovations as winter approaches.

Using a HELOC to make renovations during the winter is smart and cost effective, says Mike Kinane, head of Consumer Lending for TD Bank, as homeowners can often take advantage of reduced materials prices during annual sales and choose from a larger pool of contractors who usually have more accessibility during the off-season.

The most popular uses for HELOC funds, according to survey respondents were: home renovations (32 percent); emergency funds (14 percent); and education expenses (12 percent).

Realtor.com offers these six tips when considering a HELOC:

Shop around. Comparison shop to get the best rate.

Ask about the margin. If you’re offered a rate that’s lower than the competition, it’s probably just an introductory rate, so ask about the lender’s margin. For example, if the introductory rate is 3.5 percent and your lender’s margin is 2 percent, your final interest rate will be 5.5 percent.

Consider a conversion clause. Some HELOCs allow you to convert a variable interest rate to a fixed rate, usually during the draw period (5-10 years).

Watch out for balloon payments. Balloon payments mean that you must pay the balance in full when the draw period is up. Do not choose this option unless you have the financial means to handle it.

Create a family plan. Decide what the money will be used for and who will handle the funds. Keep in mind, you can lose your home if the HELOC is not handled properly.Create a payback plan. Come up with a reasonable plan for how the loan will be paid back.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Homecook Help: 5 Ways to Add Spice Without Making Meals Spicy

December 19, 2017 12:51 am

Are you looking to add spice to your home cooking, but not heat? Here are five interesting flavors to try, while sparing your mouth from fire.

Cumin. With a mild, earthy flavor, cumin goes great in curries without adding any heat, and has been known to aid digestion and improve your immune system.

Coriander. Did you know coriander seeds come from the cilantro plant? This spice has a nutty, mild flavor and is great for creating rubs, adding to homemade pickles or putting in a curry.

Smoked paprika. While paprika is derived from the pepper plant, it doesn't pack the heat that its cousin cayenne does, and this smokey version can add depth to chilis and stews without firing up your mouth.

Turmeric. This bright root has a bold flavor, but no spicy zing, and is wonderful for treating inflammation - you can add it to smoothies, soups, stirfrys and more.

Sumac. Popular in middle-eastern cuisine, this spice has a bold lemony flavor. Use it to flavor rice, sprinkle on top of cooked vegetables or add to salad dressings.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Homeowner Heating Safety 101

December 19, 2017 12:51 am

Nothing is cozier than coming home to a warm home in the winter. But have you given any thought to heating safety? Michigan-based Consumers Energy offers the following reminders for keeping your home heating methods safe and secure.

- Safely removing snow and ice around meters, intake valves and chimneys can also help prevent carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Often called the "silent killer," carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless, tasteless toxic gas that can be produced when appliances are not operating or venting properly.

- Keep chimneys and vent pipes free of obstructions like leaves and nests.

- Installing a UL-listed audible carbon monoxide alarm is the only way to be warned if this dangerous gas is produced. Most carbon monoxide problems occur in the winter when doors and windows are closed and furnaces are operating.

- Never use a generator inside of your home, basement, garage or near a window.

- Never use a stove or oven to heat your home.

- Do not store paper and other flammable materials near your furnace or appliances.

- When using space heaters, keep the heater away from curtains, drapes, bedspreads and other flammable materials. Always unplug the heater before you leave the home or go to bed.

Source: www.ConsumersEnergy.com.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Don’t Let Holiday FOMO Drive You Into Debt

December 15, 2017 12:57 am

Most of us start out holiday shopping with the best of intentions. We make a list, set a budget, scope out sales and get off to a successful start.

As we get closer to the big day, however, we start making rash purchases, often driven by our kids’ FOMO - Fear of Missing Out - over not getting some of the gifts they want. This is when we hit the credit cards and the debt starts to climb.

According to Jeff Dixson (www.nwfts.net), a financial educator and author of “Winning The Retirement Game,” chronic overspending of money we don’t really have can torpedo a family budget, not to mention a retirement plan. He offers these four tips to help keep holiday shopping in line so we can stave off debt:

1. Look at the big picture. Credit card use means putting off paying for something you didn’t have the money for in the first place. So forecast what that mounting credit card bill will add to your regular monthly expenses, and let that act as a deterrent.

2. Use one card. If you must use a credit card, Dixson says, put the rest of your cards aside and use the one with the lowest interest rate. This also makes it easier to track your spending.

3. Make a real budget. While it may be too late to salvage this year’s holiday budget, put the following into effect for next year: Figure out what you can afford to spend (for example, $600 = $50 per month) and set this aside each month in order to have that money available when holiday shopping season rolls around. The trick is sticking to that amount while you’re out shopping.

4. Make it a teaching moment. The holidays are a great time to teach your kids about money, a lesson that could last a lifetime. Most families have budgets, and part of being responsible means not over-spending. “The greater good of the family is served rather than immediate gratification,” Dixson says. “They’ll learn something meaningful about money, appreciation and responsibility that will stay with them when they have families of their own.”

Published with permission from RISMedia.


5 Ways to Protect Your Home This Winter

December 15, 2017 12:57 am

Brrr! It's cold in here. When winter weather starts frosting, you're not the only one reaching for a sweater. Your home, too, needs to be protected from the chill.

Joe Todaro, director of operations of Gold Medal Service, offers these tips for homeowners so they can prepare their home for a cold winter:

Protect your outdoor unit – Your outdoor air conditioning unit needs a little help staying healthy throughout the winter. You may want to consider a cover for your unit not unlike the cover you use for a grill or a car. Covers can keep snow, ice and heavy rain from potentially damaging the unit. There are covers available on the market, or you can use a spare tarp you may have laying around in the garage. Be sure to clean any debris away from the unit before sealing it up.

Patch leaks around doors and windows – Check windows and exterior doors for any gaps or openings that would let cold air in or warm air to escape. Leakage like that may not only cause you to have cold spots in your home, but make your heating system run longer than necessary – costing you money on your energy bills. For a DIY approach, especially with older homes, there are several types of gap sealers, as well as insulation kits that can be used to shrink wrap windows and reduce heat loss. Naturally, having your heater tuned up by a professional for peak performance is a proven way of saving on energy bills as well. A well-sealed home is a warmer, more comfortable home when the temperatures get at or below freezing – and your family will appreciate the difference.

Reduce heat loss through the fireplace – If the home has a fireplace, it's a good idea to keep the damper closed when it is not in use to prevent heat loss. Close any doors leading into the room when a fire is burning.  If you have a gas fireplace, be sure that it burns cleanly, evenly, and safely.

Use sunlight to your advantage – You can naturally heat your home by opening curtains and window coverings on south-facing windows during the day. Closing curtains at night will protect your home from losing heat through those same window openings.

Prep the plumbing – As winter approaches, you'll want to make sure you don't have any water freeze-ups – those can potentially become a big headache. To eliminate that risk, drain any water from outdoor faucets, and arrange to have any in-ground sprinkler systems blown out. Drain and roll up garden hoses and store them inside, in a garage, shed, or basement, to shield them from the severest temperatures. If any pipes in the home have been prone to freezing in past winters, consider using heat tape to keep them warmer during extremely cold weather. If you do experience a burst pipe, make sure everyone in the family knows how to turn off the water at the source.

Source: Gold Medal Service

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Empowering Teens through Smart Spending

December 15, 2017 12:57 am

(Family Features)--Helping teens learn to handle money can be a tricky proposition. Mistakes can quite literally be costly, but there's really no substitute for hands-on practice when it comes to managing finances.

Children are the ultimate investment, so teach your teen to be a smart spender with these savvy tips:

Start with saving. As a first step, open a savings account for your teen and involve them in the process. Use this opportunity to teach good habits, such as putting away a percentage of every paycheck, creating an emergency fund and setting savings goals for big purchases. Visit the bank together and explore the account options. Many banks offer incentives for high-balance accounts, and while your teen likely won't qualify, it's a valuable lesson to see the incentives available to big savers.

Move on to basic checking. Although most banks still refer to their most accessible accounts as "checking" accounts, chances are that your teen is more likely to shop with a debit card or cash rather than checks. Still, knowing how to write a proper check is an important life skill - as are conducting debit transactions and understanding any fees associated with using the account.

Create safe zones. Even after teaching them the fundamentals, letting teens make their own purchasing decisions can be a frightening prospect. Fortunately, if you know where to look, there are options available that offer teens a customizable level of autonomy while still under the oversight of a parent. For example, Amazon introduced a way for teens ages 13-17 to shop using their own, independent login linked to a parent's account. In addition to product recommendations, order histories and lists tailored specifically to the teen's shopping history and interests, teens can exercise smart shopping decisions with access to customer reviews and comparison shopping tools.

Parents have the option to review and approve every purchase, or set spending limits that offer teens the freedom to place orders up to a certain dollar amount on their own. In either case, parents receive notifications for every order and shipment. Find more details at Amazon.com/forteens.

Set a budget. Part of smart spending is learning to shop within your means. Whether your teen's income is from a part-time job, allowance or a combination of the two, building a budget that defines expenses and expectations is essential. Like any budget, it should include all income sources and all expenses he or she is responsible for, including auto maintenance, gasoline, insurance and beyond. Reinforce the importance of saving by including a regular savings allocation. Putting all of these numbers to paper lets your teen see clearly where the money is going and how much is left over for extracurricular spending.

Put safety nets in place. No matter how much planning is done in advance, surprise expenses will inevitably pop up. Teens can prepare for these expenses while also guarding against mistakes and the temptation to over-spend by taking advantage of special services available through banking institutions, such as setting a per-transaction or daily spending limit and investing in overdraft coverage.

Ultimately, money management skills come with time and practice. Creating a safe environment for your teen to practice these life lessons sooner rather than later can pay dividends down the road.


Source: Amazon

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Turn Any Room into a Guest Room

December 14, 2017 12:27 am

Whether you have out-of-town visitors on the way or an unexpected guest who needs to crash for the night, don’t panic if you don’t have an official guest room - you can quickly outfit just about any area into cozy sleeping quarters with a few simple steps:

No bed? No problem! A comfortable sofa will do the trick when you make it as bed-friendly as possible. Remove the back cushions for more space, then make it up with a set of twin sheets, pillows and a comforter, and its sweet dreams in no time!

Choose an area with privacy. If you don’t have a guest room, consider your home office or finished basement. Or, section off an area of your living room or family room with a decorative screen. Anything that makes your guest feel a bit removed from the rest of the house.

Accessorize. Feeling at home in someone else’s home is often about the small touches. So make sure your guest has a few hangers and drawers or shelves to place their clothes, a small table with a lamp that can serve as a nightstand for their book, glasses, keys and other small personal items, access to an outlet for charging their devices, and a small chair where they can relax when not sleeping.

Add necessities. Nothing will make your guests feel more pampered than stocking their space with bed-and-breakfast-like accoutrements. Add a stack of fluffy towels, a set of spare slippers, bottled water and glasses, and a basket packed with shampoo, soap, sunscreen, toothpaste and a spare toothbrush.

Remember, feeling at home is not about how much space a guest has, but how welcome they feel within that space.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Deck Your Halls Safely This Holiday Season

December 14, 2017 12:27 am

Decorating your home for the holidays can be great for family bonding and exploring your creative side. However, as you decorate, you should be keeping home safety front and center. To help, Florida Realtors® offers the following tips.

- Illuminate holiday lights only when another adult is home and awake.

- Place all extension cords out of the normal traffic path and do not place furniture on the cords.

- Check electrical decorations to make sure they're in good condition. Replace any decorations that have frayed, that have exposed wires or loose connections. When buying new lights, select products approved by a testing agency, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL), which is usually indicated by the agency's symbol printed on the package.

- Use decorations made of fire-resistant materials. Artificial trees, garland and tree skirts are often made of this material, but check the package to be sure.

- If you prefer a live tree, remember to water it daily so the needles stay moist and are less likely to catch fire. There are also some plant-food products designed to extend a tree's life, which may help.

- When you open gifts, discard wrapping paper and ribbons in a metal garbage can. In the event of a household fire, excess paper will increase the speed at which the fire spreads.

- Burn candles only when an adult is present. Make sure there is plenty of space between candles and overhead cabinets, use a candle holder large enough to contain the dripping wax and move nearby items that could ignite. Carefully extinguish the flame when leaving the room and – as always – keep matches and lighters out of the reach of children.

- Make sure you have a fire extinguisher in working order, preferably one that will put out all types of fires including electrical and grease fires. Make sure family members know how to use the extinguisher and keep it in an easily accessible place.

- If your home does not have smoke detectors, now is the time to install them. If you already have smoke detectors, check the batteries and replace them if you aren't sure how old they are. Some new-home builders install electrical smoke detectors, which eliminate the need for batteries, but it doesn't protect you or your home during a power outage. Most experts recommend installing at least two battery-operated smoke detectors. You should also consider installing a carbon monoxide detector.

- Discuss escape routes with your family and choose alternate routes in case a preferred exit, such as the front door, is blocked.

Source: http://media.floridarealtors.org.

Published with permission from RISMedia.