Ann M. Ciesielka
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Winterize Your Home to Avoid Unnecessary Insurance Claims

December 29, 2014 2:54 am

According to The Old Farmer's Almanac, one of the worst winters in years is ahead for most of the United States with below average temperatures and abnormally high snowfall. Homeowners should consider the below tips to begin to prepare their homes for the cold months ahead and to avoid unnecessary claims.

1. Avoid ice dams.

Ice dams can form at the lower edge of your sloped roof when interior heat causes the snow to melt and refreeze. Once an ice dam forms, it blocks water from draining off the roof forcing the water inside, which can cause serious damage to your home's interior.

"Ensure the attic is properly ventilated and nicely insulated to minimize the amount of heat rising through the attic," said Paul Hurd, assistant vice president, National Property Product at Grange Insurance. "Homeowners should also seal air leaks in the ceiling so that warm air doesn't leak into the attic. In this case, cooler is better. Doing so will not only prevent ice dams from forming, it will limit cold air drafts and reduce energy bills."

2. Prevent bursting pipes.

Another potential cause of water damage is bursting pipes, which can happen when water freezes in a home's pipes. Secure insulation sleeves over any exposed pipes, seal cracks and holes near water pipes, and allow slow trickles of water to flow through faucets that are connected to pipes in unheated areas. If your home will be empty during the winter months, it is best to drain your water lines.

3. Keep sidewalks and driveways clear of ice and snow.
While your homeowner policy should have liability coverage, you can avoid claims by making sure your sidewalks and driveways are clear of ice and snow to prevent injuries. Try to shovel several times, even while it's still storming, so that snow doesn't get a chance to build up and bond to surfaces. Plus, it's much easier to shovel two inches of snow than five. Get down to the pavement beneath so that sunlight can warm it up and prevent ice from forming. In addition, use sandbox sand to add traction to slippery surfaces and prevent falls.

4. Properly shut down a vacant home.

For homeowners who close up a summer vacation home or leave for an extended period of time each winter, it is important to prepare before vacating. Homeowners leaving town should give a trusted neighbor a key so they can check the house periodically to account for any unforeseen damage and discourage burglars.

It is important that homeowners turn down their heat, but do not shut it off completely. They should also shut off water, clean out the gutters and arrange for snow removal services to clear sidewalks and driveways while the home is vacated.

5. Inspect heating systems and alternative heating sources.
Homeowners should inspect any heating systems, chimneys or other supplemental heating devices this fall. Although fireplaces, space heaters and wood stoves are popular heating sources, they require proper maintenance and caution to ensure safe operation.

"It is imperative to never leave wood stoves, space heaters or fireplaces unattended to prevent house fires," said Hurd "In the event of a house fire, call the fire department immediately. Once your family is in a safe place and accounted for, contact your independent agent to report the damage. He or she will help you file a proper claim."

6. Consider policy add-ons for further protection against harsh winter weather.
As weather pattern changes continue to impact insurance claims, homeowners should consider additional policy options to make premiums more affordable.

For example, homeowners should consider coverage add-ons for valuables damaged by water during a sewer, drainage or sump-pump back-up.

"Back-up of sewers and drains coverage provides coverage for losses caused by water which backs up through sewers or drains, or water that enters into and overflows from within a sump pump or sump pump well," Hurd said. "This coverage will provide peace of mind when winter storms approach this season."

Source: www.grangeinsurance.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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From Paint to Pools - Smart Shoppers Wait for Winter Bargains

December 26, 2014 12:51 am

Never mind the holiday season – if I had just one wish this holiday season, it would be that you save all your holiday spending until at least January.

There's nothing new about post-holiday sales on just about everything. But if Businessinsider.com is any predictor - and your New Year's resolution is to spruce up your home in 2015 - January and February are the best months to shop for a number of key home improvement items.

According to the site:
  • The dead of winter is the best time to purchase warm-weather luxuries like pools and hot tubs, when prices are the lowest. Plus, it's smart to allow several months to regrow grass after it gets torn up during installation.
  • Furniture showrooms get new floor models in February and are looking to clear out the current stock of couches, saving January shoppers up to 50 percent.
  • Many linen and bedding retailers and department stores are also slashing prices on sheets and bedding in January and February to make room for all the new threads coming in the spring.
  • Businessinsider.com says most people get new carpeting before the holidays or during summer remodeling season. That means January is one of the cheaper times to look for new floor covering.
  • And since slapping on a fresh coat of paint is normally reserved for summer, the site says home improvement stores offer deeper discounts in the winter.
  • Whitson Gordon at lifehacker.com suggests saving for the dark of winter to buy your new grill. He sites a Bankrate report flagging huge off-season deals on outdoor cooking appliances - at least in the colder states.
  • Gordon also points to PC World's advice to find the deepest deals on computer monitors in January and February - in case you're looking to upgrade your home office.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Top 10 Tips for Losing Holiday Weight Gain

December 26, 2014 12:51 am

Nobody likes to pick up extra pounds during the holidays, but nearly everyone does. For those determined to lose them quickly, we all know Rule Number One: Use willpower and cut back on food!

From Glamour.com, here are nine more tips for shedding pounds without (too much) pain:

Dump the holiday leftovers – Yep, that means the leftover fudge as well as the stuffing and gravy. You can’t eat what isn’t there.

Plan ahead – Treat it like a budget and plan your daily and weekly meals ahead as much as possible. When you do that, you are much less apt to just graze all day and/or make poor last-minute meal choices.

Eat all day – Five or six small meals during the day (salads, fruits, veggies, nuts, and small portions of meat, eggs or poultry) will keep you from feeling really hungry and falling off the wagon.

Get moving
– Burning the calories you do take in is always a smart strategy. Walk during lunch hour, work out at the gym, or take a short run in the morning or evening – or just get out in your own driveway and shoot some hoops with the kids.

Hit the protein
– Start the day right with a protein-fueled breakfast to keep you full longer. Try eggs, cottage cheese, yogurt on its own or a yogurt fruit smoothie.

Cut out the white stuff – This includes less nutritious carbs like white bread, white bagels and white rice as well as extra sugar or salt. Substitute yams for white potatoes and choose whole wheat breads and cereals. Try plain yogurt instead of sour cream and mustard in place of mayo.

Veg out
– Vegetables are healthy appetite suppressors. Keep a variety of colorful veggies washed, cut up, and very handy front and center in the fridge.

Hit the bottle – Water reduces cravings, flushes out impurities, and helps keep you feeling full. Carry it with you wherever you go. Try it in a thermos with lots of ice cubes and lemon.

Be patient – Think ‘progress’ and ‘baby steps.’ Don’t try to rush it. Rejoice each time a pound drops off.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Celebrate an Eco-Friendly Christmas

December 25, 2014 12:51 am

Although many homeowners may not realize it, the holidays are a prime time of year for energy waste. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, holiday lighting consumes the equivalent electricity of 500,000 homes in just one month.

And from Thanksgiving to New Years, Americans will throw away 25 percent more trash than they typically throw out the rest of the year. Because wasted electricity and extra trash lead to higher utility bills and more environmental strain, many customers are seeking ways to celebrate a greener holiday.

Smart home solution provider Vivint recommends five tips to save energy at home this season:
  • Energy-efficient appliances—A perfect gift this Christmas, energy-efficient appliances use between 10 and 50 percent less energy than their conventional counterparts.
  • Home automation—Smart home technology allows homeowners to automatically lock and unlock their doors, control holiday lights remotely, and schedule their smart thermostats all from a smartphone. All of these features save energy, and the smart thermostat alone can save up to $180 a year in energy costs.
  • LED light bulbs—LED Christmas lights (and LED lights in general) only use 10 percent of the power needed by incandescent lights and they last as much as 10 times longer. Conveniently, Vivint's Energy Management package comes with 12 energy-efficient bulbs.
  • Recycling—Recycling holiday wrapping supplies is a small effort that can make a big difference. In fact, if every family reused just two feet of holiday ribbon, the 38,000 miles of ribbon saved could tie a bow around the entire planet.
  • Solar—Installing solar panels is one of the greenest power solutions for any homeowner—and a great green gift. Thanks to solar's growing popularity, it has also become possible to install a solar energy system with no upfront costs and see huge savings immediately.
Source: Vivint.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Giving Season: Billions of Charitable Donations and Counting

December 25, 2014 12:51 am

As expected, Americans will continue to support their favorite causes this giving season, with TD Bank Group estimating over $570 billion in time and money donated. A recent report by the organization indicates that almost 95 percent of households donate to a charity each year, while half of Americans volunteer their time for a good cause.

"Americans are generous people, and nearly everyone gives to charity each year," says Craig Alexander, SVP and chief economist, TD Bank Group. "The benefits of giving are much more than that and have lasting impacts on local communities and society as a whole."

According to the report, Americans give almost 8 billion hours of their time volunteering each year. The vast majority of volunteers say they do it to make a contribution to their community, and because charitable giving inspires others to get involved. Many Americans volunteer as part of a group project with friends or colleagues, or join family members already helping others.

Source: TD Economics

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Alleviate Holiday Hosting Duties with Dishwashing Tips

December 24, 2014 12:51 am

(Family Features) ‘Tis the season is for enjoying time with friends and family – not being trapped in the kitchen for pre- and post-party cleaning. With a little planning, you can minimize time spent on daily chores and maximize time spent creating memories with guests. Here are a few quick tips to clean and prep your home for get-togethers this holiday.

Load the dishwasher first. When you’re hosting a party, the last thing you want is to open the dishwasher and find dirty dishes. Make sure to run the dishwasher the day before your guests arrive to ensure everything is clean when you need it.

Prepare dishes for the wash cycle. To ensure dishes come out clean and dry, scrape away large pieces of food and excess leftovers before loading, and let the dishwasher take care of the rest. Make sure your silverware gets the right water coverage by loading some pointing up and some pointing down, including knives. And remember, safety first, especially if kids are helping. If you don’t plan to run the dishwasher immediately, remember to rinse foods such as mustard, mayonnaise and tomato-based products, as they may cause discoloration of plastics if allowed to sit for a long period of time.

Fill the upper and lower racks properly.
Cups, glasses, stemware, small plates and bowls are all welcome in the top rack. Make sure any plastic items go on top, too. Be sure to load open-ended items into the washer facing down for the best cleaning and draining. Save your biggest items for the edge of the lower rack. Face everything else – plates, large bowls, etc. – toward the center of the rack for a thorough clean.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Steer Clear of Family Disagreements over the Holidays

December 24, 2014 12:51 am

Do you and your family clash more than usual during December? If so, you’re not alone. It’s important to note that most holiday issues are rarely just about the holidays. They tend to be symptoms—signs of unmet needs or unresolved issues. Once you begin to realize arguments and bad feelings are signaling deeper misfires, the sooner you can start to address them together.

One reason families can feel blindsided by holiday blow-ups is that this time of year is “supposed” to be all colored lights, childlike wonder, love, and gratitude. This is, of course, a setup for failure. Depending on your holiday expectations, they can bring a unique set of pressures—forced family togetherness, ramped-up financial pressures, and jam-packed schedules, just to name a few.

To help ease the stress, consider these tips:

Be real about what you feel. This will allow you to head off recurring holiday issues. Most people can predict their relatives' problematic behaviors based on past experience. This year, instead of biting your tongue and then blowing up after the fact, speak up. Not only can you prevent the issue from occurring, you’re taking a step toward a healthier relationship.

Identify your limits. Watch out for overscheduling. Make choices about where to invest your energy and your time. Figure out which events mean the most and let some things go. Otherwise you are sure to spend all of your time stressed, resentful of your loved ones.

Look for rituals that have lost their meaning and eliminate them. Ask yourself, 'Where are we just going through the motions?' Maybe you’ve always driven across the country for the holidays because that’s where your partner’s parents live. But if you’re approaching the visit with a sense of dread rather than anticipation and joy, why not change it? You can always visit them mid-summer instead.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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5 Winter Fixes for a Warm Home

December 23, 2014 12:42 am

Financing the cost of the holidays with the cost of keeping your home warm and safe during the winter season may be more than many families' budgets can handle. But keeping your family warm doesn’t have to break the bank. Generac recommends these cost-effective fixes:

1. Top Off Your Attic Insulation

A high percentage of heat loss occurs through the roof because of poor insulation. Make sure your attic is insulated with the minimum R-value for your climate (up to R-49 for northern). Also, check the rim joist areas above the foundation walls in the basement and plug any gaps with fiberglass insulation.

2. Dial Down the Thermostat
Tried and true, because most people can live comfortably with a lower temperature around 68 degrees. Setting it lower than that when you're away or asleep will also save energy. Consider purchasing a programmable thermostat that will lower the temperature automatically during off-peak times.

3. Replace or Insulate Drafty Windows

You can literally hear your money flying out the window when a winter wind blows on old windows. Consider replacing old windows with energy-efficient ones. Another option is to put up window insulating kits. The clear plastic film can increase coziness by reducing drafts, saving energy and avoiding the costs of window replacement.

4. Fill Gaps with Caulks and Sealants
Replace old caulk joints around your window and door trim (both inside and outside) that can shrink and leak energy over time. Use a spray foam sealant to fill in the gaps left around pipes, wires, TV cables or bath and dryer vents penetrating your foundation or siding.

5. Get an Energy Audit

Most local utilities can help arrange a home energy audit to pinpoint where to focus your winterizing efforts. One essential tool is a thermal-imaging camera, which uses infrared technology to show where heat is escaping the house. In many areas, the cameras are available to rent, so try one out before winterizing to know exactly what needs to be done to lower your heating bill.

Source: Generac

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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10 Reasons to Add Life Insurance to Your Christmas List

December 23, 2014 12:42 am

(BPT) - You can't drive it around the block. You can't wear it for an evening out. You can't watch anything on it. And chances are it won’t elicit squeals of delight when opened. But of the many gifts you can give, life insurance might make the biggest difference to those you love. Here’s why.

1. It is a generous thing to do. Purchasing an insurance policy isn’t about you at all, because you won’t be around to benefit. It will, however, benefit your family, loved ones, and even organizations that are important to you.

2. Freedom from worry. Knowing that your family is prepared financially if you’re no longer around can provide an incredible sense of reassurance. It can help provide your loved ones a measure of security and stability.

3. It is a cornerstone of a sound financial strategy. Protecting yourself against risk is an important part of any financial strategy. People often underestimate the extent to which a premature death affects a family's income and assets. Life insurance helps protect your financial strategy.

4. It sets a good example. Being financially prepared for an unknown future can speak volumes to those around you—and as the old saying goes, actions speak louder than words.

5. It may assist with paying final expenses. It’s easy to underestimate the amount of money needed to pay for final expenses. A life insurance policy can help ensure those don’t burden your loved ones.

6. It may help pay off debt. Funds from a life insurance policy can alleviate debt that might be hard to pay off in the event of an unexpected death. Your loved ones can use those funds to cover credit cards, car loans and even mortgage payments.

7. It may help pay for college. Leaving a legacy for your children or spouse through the gift of education might be one of the more meaningful ways benefits could be used. Your gift could open doors for them to build a solid financial future for themselves through a life-long career.

8. It may help provide for retirement. Depending on the financial circumstances of your loved ones, life insurance benefits can be invested in different ways to provide for retirement.

9. Leave a legacy. Life insurance benefits can help more than family members or loved ones. You can use the benefits to donate to charities or causes you care about and leave a legacy of generosity.

10. It demonstrates you care about your loved ones. With each bill that is paid, with each gift to charities that were important to you, with each act of financial generosity, those you loved will be reminded of the care you took to help ensure they were left with a healthy financial situation.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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What Happens When Property Owners Don't Agree

December 23, 2014 12:42 am

So, you want to sell your real estate inheritance, and your siblings don’t. How can you compromise?

When a piece of real estate has two or more owners and one wants to sell and the others don’t, a petition to partition may be the answer. This happens frequently among families when real estate is left in a will to heirs, but it can also occur when a couple divorces. How do you divide the property? What steps should be taken?

When the petition process is started, a notification is delivered from the court and given to all owners of the property, in addition to anyone who may have a legal interest such as lien or mortgage holders. The process can be expensive and time-consuming. Many owners will retain their own lawyer—anyone who doesn’t want the petition to move forward can file with the probate court seeking to stop the process.

When a family can’t agree on the terms of the sale itself, the petition to partition can force the co-owners to sit and negotiate. Everyone involved must understand that there will be unnecessary delays and the final sale price may be considerably lower if they take too long to come to an agreement.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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