Deaths from fires and burns are the third-leading cause of fatal home injuries, and Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner Michael Consedine has offered five simple ways to prevent home fires.
“Often victims in house fires die from smoke or toxic gases, rather than burns,” Consedine said. “We can all take certain precautions to help prevent these types of tragedies, particularly now as we prepare for colder weather.”
Tip 1 – Give heaters their space
In colder months, heating can be a concern. Portable, electric space heaters need three feet of clear space in all directions. Keep heaters away from draperies, furniture, bedspreads, people and pets. Also, homeowners should have their central heating equipment professionally inspected and serviced each heating season. And if you regularly have logs burning in your fireplace, have your chimney inspected and cleaned annually.
Tip 2 – Stand by your pan
Cooking, particularly stove-top cooking, is the leading cause of home fires. Many such fires happen after residents put something on the stove, but become distracted and forget about it. If you have to leave the kitchen while cooking, turn the heat off the burner.
Tip 3 – Don’t smoke in bed
House fires can occur as smokers lose track of their still-smoldering butts, which then come in contact with flammable surfaces such as couch cushions. Also cigarettes should be doused with water before they are thrown away to make sure they are completely extinguished.
Tip 4 – Check electrical cords and don’t overload your fuse box
Faulty or worn electrical cords are another top cause of home fires. Cords that become frayed or cracked can send sparks to flammable surfaces and start a fire. Check all of your electrical cords to see they are in good shape, and replace those that have deteriorated.
Also, do not overload your circuits. Stick with one plug per receptacle/outlet. Another potential hazard occurs when numerous outlets are wired to a single circuit. You may find that all of the outlets in an entire room are connected to a single circuit. This means that you don’t necessarily have to overload a single outlet to cause a fire.
Tip 5 – Check your smoke alarms
All households should have at least one smoke alarm on each floor and preferably one in every bedroom. New smoke alarms should be installed every ten years. Test the alarm and replace the battery yearly.
Source: Pennsylvania Insurance Department
With great opportunities abounding in the housing market and historically-low interest rates still intact, consumers can secure record-breaking values on a home purchase, according to New York-based real estate attorney Adam Leitman Bailey.
“Incredible deals are on the market and ready to be made, but only for those buyers who know how to seize them,” says Leitman Bailey, author of the New York Times best-selling book, “Finding The Uncommon Deal” (Jon Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2010). “You can buy your dream home at the price you want if you are just willing to take the necessary steps that will give you an uncommon advantage.”
To help buy a home at the best possible price, Bailey offers his top 5 home buying tips:
- Do a Credit Check—On Yourself: Check your credit report long before you start shopping for a home, as it may take several months to resolve any mistakes or complications. Challenge negative remarks in your credit report, even if they are debatably true. Under federal law, if the company placing the negative remark on your report does not respond within 30 days, the remark must be removed.
- Know Your Total Budget: Don’t Home Shop Without It: Your budget includes the total purchase price of your new home, moving costs and your total monthly and annual expenses. Don’t forget to include real estate and local taxes and the policies that affect potential changes in local taxes. Once you know your budget, call lenders to shop for a loan and also learn about the different products available to finance your home.
- Visit the Neighborhood, Not Just the Home: Everyone and everything in town can potentially provide insight into your prospective neighborhood’s character. It’s always worth spending time and money in local coffee shops and restaurants, and participating in events and entertainment to learn more about the area. Read the community newspapers and supermarket bulletin board postings to gain further understanding of the neighborhood. Be sure to consider factors such as local community crime rates, access to medical facilities, religious venues, and any other considerations that are applicable to your personal preferences.
- Don’t Be Afraid to Negotiate: Ask the owners of your potential new home for the minimum price they would accept to close the deal. You may be pleasantly surprised by the answer and a deal may not be far off, especially if the property has been sitting on the market. Some items are easier to negotiate than others. If both sides are stuck on the purchase price, ask the seller to include furniture or cosmetic improvements at a certain price. For newly constructed condominiums, ask the seller to pay any taxes involved in the transfer.
- Hire—and Accompany—the Inspector: Ask for referrals from people who have experienced a satisfactory home inspection or who are intimately involved in the home-buying or -selling process. Cross out waivers and any limitation of liability when signing a contract with an inspector or engineer. Your inspector should be held responsible for missing any major repair items during the inspection. Also, be sure to accompany the inspector on the site visit. You will learn about your potential new home and its structure, as well as important information about the lifespan of its systems and major components. Also, make sure your inspector or engineer checks the big ticket items, which can include the boiler, the roof, and the elevators, if applicable.
Between spring cleaning and summer inspiration, it’s not uncommon to be bitten by the remodeling bug this time of year. From home improvement expert and author Dan Fritschen, here are great reasons why you should consider a home-improvement project this summer:
It can happen while you’re gone. If you’re one of the many families who go to the beach, mountains, or Grandma’s house for a week or so during the summer, Fritschen suggests scheduling your remodel to coincide so that you’ll be out of the house while the job is done. The workers will have more space, you won’t have to worry about safety hazards and staying out of their way, and you’ll be able to come home to a new and improved house.
Long days equals faster completion. Everybody loves long, warm summer evenings. And remodelers have another reason to be thankful for more daylight hours and warm weather: longer working days.
You can eat al fresco. Summer is a wonderful time to remodel kitchens in particular because you don’t have to use them in order to eat well. While your kitchen is transformed, fire up the outdoor grill and eat on your patio furniture. “You could even spread a quilt in the yard andhave a good old-fashioned picnic!” Fritschen suggests.
If exposure is necessary, it’ll be friendly. The fact is, you can expose your house to the elements more safely in summer. Whether you have an open wall because you’re adding on to your house, are replacing windows, or just want to open the windows and doors so the new-paint smell isn’t overwhelming, summer is the ideal time.
You’re more likely to be inspired. For a variety of reasons, your creative inspiration mightpeak in summer. It’s a happy, colorful season that leaves many people feeling extra-energized and motivated.
It’s easier to maintain neighborly relations. Even if you and your neighbors are the best of friends, loud, noisy construction in the neighborhood can be frustrating—not to mention having to deal with extra vehicles and (depending on the nature of the project) blocked-off sections of road. According to Fritschen, these annoyances are most likely to have minimal effect during the summer when people are less likely to be homebound.
You can go underground to beat the heat. If you’ve been wanting to work on your basement, do it now…especially if heat is an issue for you. Your basement will be cool but not freezing, which will definitely be the case if you wait till later in the year.
Summer time means plenty of play time, so why not play with your food? Finding creative ways to enjoy healthy foods like watermelon is a great way to encourage the whole family to eat well—and have fun while doing it.
Here are three ways you can get the whole family in on some fun and healthy eating:
• The wetter, the better – Playing hard on a hot summer day can take a lot out of you. In addition to drinking plenty of water, look for foods that can help you keep hydrated. Watermelon is 92 percent water — so keep some slices or cubes in the refrigerator for a handy, hydrating snack. For a fun, kid-friendly twist, use cookie cutters to cut watermelon into fun shapes.
• Get colorful – For a real nutritional boost, serve plenty of colorful, deeply pigmented produce. For example, red peppers, carrots, broccoli and grapes are packed with minerals, vitamins and antioxidants. In addition to vitamins A and C, watermelon has a higher level of the antioxidant lycopene than any other fresh fruit or vegetable. Let the kids use an ice cream scooper or melon-baller to scoop out watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew to make a colorful and nutritious dessert.
• Think outside the recipe box — Look for fun and unusual ways to serve healthy foods.
• Healthy eating doesn’t have to be boring at all – it just takes a little creative thinking to get everyone in the family playing with their food.
For Great Recipes Visit my Recipe Blog – http://www.SourdoughUSA.com
Summer creates many great photo opportunities, but also picture-taking challenges. The following tips can help you avoid common photo-taking challenges, such as lighting, blurriness, candid photography, and more.
• Photography Dos & Don’ts - Although it’s often said the only rule to photography is there are really no rules, there are still some helpful guidelines to better enhance even the simplest snapshots.
Rule of thirds – envision an imaginary grid – 9 equal squares – now align your subject on one of the two vertical gridlines, adding balance and interest to your snapshot.
Viewpoint - try shooting your subject from above, far away, or very close up to create a major impact.
Framing – use trees and other natural elements to frame your photo and isolate the subject.
Shutter speed - never be afraid to experiment with shutter speed to convey motion. Slow creates blurry, and Fast creates stop-action clear.
• Don’t be afraid of the dark – During summer, some of the best photo opportunities happen at night at campfires and 4th of July fireworks. However, photographing at night creates challenges.
Take advantage of the night sky - use the street and moonlight to help light up your subject. Turn off the flash on your camera to enhance the natural light.
Embrace the blur - experiment with moving cars and flickering candles, but try to stabilize your camera, and/or use a one-touch-timer button. Use water to reflect light.
• Take advantage of candid action – Everyone takes fantastic posed photos but this summer, work on your action shots. Whether it’s a summer time baseball games or a swim meet competition, here are tips on capturing candid shots.
Make a point to catch people in action – some of the best pictures are when subjects are unaware of the camera.
Do not use flash – it can take away from the natural background and make the image look less candid and more posed.
Take your camera or camera phone with you everywhere this summer – keep your camera/phone chargers with you at all times.
Zoom options - when zooming you lose the quality of the subject. Take your photo with minimum zoom, and then use the zooming and cropping function inside Mixbook’s photo book editor to enhance.
Experiment with your shots - don’t be afraid to take too many photos — rule of thumb: take 3-5 photos of each subject.
• Bring summer vacations photos to life - Don’t lose track of all those great photos, keep them organized with photo books.
Upload hard copy photos - scan and upload copies to your free Mixbook account
Fill an entire photo book with just one click - using Mixbook AutoMix magic wand tool.
Choose from a wide variety of summer-themed photo books – including camping, summer days, cruise, and destination styles photo books.
Cooking can be so much more than simply getting dinner on the table. When you cook with your kids, it can lead to better relationships with food and with each other.
Getting kids involved in the kitchen gives them life skills they’ll need, teaches them about new foods and healthy eating, and it can be a great way to have fun and bond together.
Kids of any age can play a role in cooking up a good meal, even the youngest ones:
• Scrub fruits and vegetables
• Tear salad greens
• Snap fresh beans
• Wipe tables
• Pour liquids into batter
• Spread peanut butter or butter on bread
• Mix muffin batter
• Shake ingredients together
Four- and five-year olds can
• Mash soft fruits and vegetables
• Measure ingredients
• Juice citrus
• Beat eggs
Older children can help with more complex tasks, including slicing ingredients for a meal and cooking parts of it themselves.
Q: Does the government offer assistance with home improvements?
A: Yes. Two very popular programs offered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) include the Title 1 Home Improvement Loan and the Section 203(k) Program. In the first program, HUD insures the loan up to $25,000 for a single-family house to cover alterations, repairs, and site improvements. The latter program, which also insures mortgage loans, is HUD’s primary program for the rehabilitation and repair of single-family homes. Loans are also available from the Department of Veteran Affairs to buy, build, or improve a home, as well as refinance an existing loan at interest rates that are usually lower than that on conventional loans. The Rural Housing Repair and Rehabilitation Loan program, funded by the Agriculture Department, offers low-rate loans to low-income rural residents who own and occupy a home in need of repairs. Funds are also available to improve or modernize a home or to remove health and safety hazards. The federal government isn’t alone in its efforts to provide assistance. Local and state governments offer special home improvement programs. Contact your governor or mayor’s office for more details.
It’s time to tackle the annual home cleaning. But just because you’re thoroughly washing, scrubbing and disinfecting your home, doesn’t mean you need to turn to cleansers with harsh ingredients and chemicals. In fact, you can easily clean using inexpensive products already in your kitchen, such as vinegar, baking soda and lemon juice. Use these tips to clean your home naturally.
Start seeing clearly: After months of winter weather, windows are often coated with a layer of grime. A solution of 2 teaspoons of white vinegar and 1 liter of warm water can be used to gently remove dust or dirt from all glass surfaces including windows and mirrors.
Freshen up the fridge: In addition to food spills, your refrigerator takes on odors from all the different foods stored throughout the year. Discard old items and be sure you are regularly cleaning out the fridge. Help reduce odors year-round by keeping a box of ARM & HAMMER Baking Soda in the fridge at all times, replacing it every 30 days for best results.
Reawaken your wardrobe: Start the season feeling good in clothes that smell fresh. Even when carefully stored, clothing can still be exposed to dust, and may require a good washing before wearing. Add 1 cup of baking soda to your next wash to naturally boost the power of your detergent. The combination will help balance PH levels to leave clothing cleaner and fresher. You can also freshen non-washable items like gym shoes, bags and sports equipment by sprinkling baking soda inside.
Renew the everyday rooms: Avoid the fumes of harsh kitchen and bathroom cleaners by naturally cleaning surfaces with baking soda. A sprinkle of baking soda on a damp sponge will clean counters, stainless steel sinks, microwaves, ovens and much more without scratching. For tough grease, mix vinegar and lemon juice to leave your surfaces like new.
Bet on a BBQ: After the inside of your home is looking spic and span, prepare for warmer weather and outdoor entertaining. Get your grill ready to prevent bad tasting hot dogs and hamburgers from ruining your next BBQ. Sprinkle baking soda on a damp brush, then scrub away any residue and rinse clean. For really difficult stains, make a paste with 3 parts baking soda to 1 part warm water and use a wire-bristled brush to work away at grime and grease stains.
By Barbara Pronin, RISMedia Columnist
Yes, vegetable gardens can be a chore to maintain, and yes, the price of tomatoes does go down in summer anyway—but most people agree there is nothing better than the taste of home-grown veggies.
To minimize care and make best use of small spaces, the garden editors at Sunset Magazine suggest growing vegetables in pots. Here’s how:
• Begin by choosing a few generous size pots, some good potting soil, and a space on the deck, patio or back yard that gets at least six hours of sun daily.
• Fill the pots with a high-quality potting soil containing peat moss and perlite. Blend in a complete fertilizer, either a dry organic product―such as one containing alfalfa meal, bone meal, kelp meal, or other natural nutrients― or a controlled-release type that supplies nutrients over a three- to six-month period. If you plan to water pots by hand, add soil polymers such as Broadleaf P4 (available at most garden centers.
• Plant seeds or seedling plants of favorite summer veggies such as tomatoes, peppers or eggplants. Cucumbers and squash require space for trailing vines.
• Water frequently enough to keep the soil moist. Drip irrigation is a preferred method, but if you water by hand, do so often enough to keep the soil moist at all times.
• Feed regularly. If you use an organic fertilizer at planting time, supplement it with weekly applications of fish emulsion or reapply dry organic fertilizer according to package directions. If you use controlled-release fertilizer, give vegetables a boost by applying fish emulsion every two to three weeks.
• Control pests, such as aphids, mites, or whiteflies, by spraying them with insecticidal soap or horticultural oil. Handpick and destroy tomato worms.
• Harvest when crops are ripe, tomatoes when fully colored, peppers when fully grown and green, eggplants when skin is shiny, cucumbers and squash before they get too big and seedy.
Freddie Mac (OTC: FMCC) recently released its U.S. Economic and Housing Market Outlook for March showing signs the housing market is awakening from its depression-like condition of the past few years and beginning, though slowly, to make a nascent recovery.
The report showed that a stronger economic growth this year will translate into a further reduction in the unemployment rate below 8.3 percent.
With stronger economic growth, home sales and originations forecasts have been revised upward and we can expect 30-year fixed-rate mortgages to gradually increase throughout the year to about 4.5 percent.
New rental construction for 2012 is likely to be the highest since 2005 if the current pace is maintained, and even with a 1 percent dip in new and existing homes sales in February, median sales prices moved up 0.3 percent on a year-over-year basis—a hint that home values may be stabilizing in more markets around the nation.
“The housing market continues to struggle amid strong economic headwinds,” says Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac, vice president and chief economist. “However, a variety of encouraging indicators suggest that the housing market may be feeling a nascent recovery, and more neighborhoods may see a stabilization in overall demand and housing values this spring.”
Click here to view the complete March 2012 U.S. Economic and Housing Market Outlook.
For more information, visit www.freddiemac.com.