Ann M. Ciesielka
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Keep Winter Energy Bills in Check

October 9, 2014 1:32 am

(Family Features) As winter temperatures drop, the potential for higher utility bills goes up. Taking steps ahead of the cold season can help you trim costs and make your home more energy efficient, keeping those utility bills in check even as the winter weather rages.

"Many homeowners just assume the winter season means their bills will go up as systems work harder to keep their home regulated," said Francois Lebrasseur, marketing manager of water products for GE Appliances. "In reality, there are many steps one can take to improve energy efficiency and minimize the added expense that comes with extreme winter temperatures."

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, electricity costs are on the rise. Before winter weather sets in for your part of the country, take some time to assess your home for potential problem areas and improvements that can help lower your energy costs.

Lighting. Though turning off unneeded lights is a smart strategy any time of year, it's especially helpful during the winter months when utility expenses can add up. New technology lets you manage your lights away from home – handy if you're gone for the day and realize lights were left on, or if you’re away from home for an extended period. If you replace a 60-watt incandescent light bulb with a 12-watt GE Link LED bulb, you would save $132 over the life of the bulb at an electricity rate of $0.11 per kWh.

Water heaters. Heat isn't the only system that gets an extra workout come winter. Cooler house temperatures may require water heaters to work harder, so ensuring you have a model well-suited to your family's year-round needs is key. In fact, heating water is the second source of energy use in the residential home after space heating and cooling, with standard electric water heaters costing the average homeowner $585 every year to operate. One energy-efficient option is a hybrid electric water heater, which can save the average household $365 every year (using 1514 kWh per year and national average electricity rate of 12 cents per kWh).

Thermostat. A programmable thermostat is easy to install and saves energy (and money) by automatically adjusting to pre-determined temperature settings. This allows you to drop the temperature during the day when no one is home, but have a comfortable environment ready when you arrive home from work each day. Depending on the model you choose, you can select numerous settings to adjust your indoor climate for various days to fit your lifestyle patterns. According to ENERGY STAR®, when used properly, a programmable thermostat can save as much as $150 a year in energy costs.

Air leaks. An airtight house is critical to managing your heat-related expenses. You take time to close windows and doors to prevent heat from escaping, but that's only half the battle. Sealing cracks around those windows and doors, and other leak-prone areas such as the basement and attic, will help keep heat inside and costs down.

Source: GE Lighting

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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U.S. Consumer Housing Optimism Rebounds

October 9, 2014 1:32 am

Following a recent dip in consumer housing optimism, most indicators have rebounded to the modestly positive trend seen throughout 2014, according to results from Fannie Mae's September 2014 National Housing Survey. Turbulent geo-political factors likely weighed on Americans' attitudes toward the housing market during the past couple of months. In September, the share of consumers who say now is a good time to buy a home is back up to 68 percent, a four-percentage-point increase from August. Additionally, the share saying they would prefer to buy a home on their next move ticked back up to 66 percent after a three-point drop. The results also show a notable jump in consumers’ views toward the economy, with 40 percent of those surveyed saying it is now on the right track – a five percentage point increase from last month.

"The September National Housing Survey shows a slight recovery in consumer housing sentiment after a two-month setback, bringing us back to the modestly positive trend we've seen over the last year," said Doug Duncan, senior vice president and chief economist at Fannie Mae.

Key findings include:
  • The average 12-month home price change expectation rose to 2.2 percent.
  • The share of respondents who say home prices will go up in the next 12 months rose to 45 percent. The share who say home prices will go down decreased to 8 percent.
  • The share of respondents who say mortgage rates will go up in the next 12 months fell by five percentage points to 45 percent.
  • Those who say it is a good time to buy a house rose to 68 percent. Those who say it is a good time to sell also increased—to 39 percent.
  • The average 12-month rental price change expectation fell to 3.2 percent.
  • The percentage of respondents who expect home rental prices to go up in the next 12 months increased to 55 percent.
  • The share of respondents who think it would be difficult to get a home mortgage today decreased by one percentage point.
  • The share who say they would buy if they were going to move rose to 66 percent, while the share who would rent decreased to 28 percent.
  • The share of respondents who say the economy is on the right track jumped by five percentage points from last month to 40 percent.
  • The percentage of respondents who expect their personal financial situation to get better over the next 12 months fell to 41 percent.
  • The share of respondents who say their household income is significantly higher than it was 12 months ago increased by two percentage points to 25 percent.
  • The share of respondents who say their household expenses are significantly higher than they were 12 months ago increased slightly to 37 percent.
Source: Fannie Mae

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Halloween Safety Tips for Trick-or-Treaters

October 9, 2014 1:32 am

More than 40 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 hit the trick-or-treat trails on Halloween. The nation's emergency physicians advise parents to review these safety guidelines with their children to avoid injury.

1. If possible, have children trick-or-treat at organized Halloween festivities, such as local churches, shopping malls or schools.

2. Make sure your child stays on the sidewalks as much as possible (off streets) and obeys all traffic signals.

3. Discuss the importance of staying together in a group. Require at least one adult to serve as chaperone during trick-or-treat gatherings.

4. Make sure your child knows the potential dangers from strangers. Make sure they know never to accept rides from strangers or visit unfamiliar homes or areas.

5. Avoid costumes that could cause children to trip, such as baggy pants, long hems, high heels and oversized shoes.

6. Avoid costumes that obstruct your child's sight or vision.

7. Avoid masks if possible. If your child must wear one, make sure it is well ventilated.

8. Make sure costume fabric, wigs and beards areas made of flame-resistant materials, such as nylon or polyester.

9. Keep candlelit Jack-O-Lanterns away from children so they can't get burned or set on fire.

10. Make sure costumes are visible at night: avoid dark colors. Add reflective tape to costumes so your child is more visible to motor vehicles.

11. Make sure you see all the candy before your child eats it. Avoid candy not wrapped in its original wrapper, as well as all fruit.

12. Take a flashlight while trick-or-treating as visibility decreases long before it gets really dark.

13. Check accessories such as swords, knives, wands and other pointed objects. Make sure they are made from flexible materials and have dulled edges.

Source: ACEP

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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U.S. Halloween Spending to Set Records

October 8, 2014 1:32 am

More costumes than ever will be flying off the shelves as Americans gear up to celebrate the spookiest holiday of the year, according to the National Retail Federation’s Halloween Consumer Spending Survey. More than two-thirds of celebrants will buy Halloween costumes for the holiday, the most in the survey’s 11-year history. The average person will spend $77.52 this Halloween, compared to $75.03 last year. Total spending on Halloween this year will reach $7.4 billion, with $2.8 billion being spent on costumes alone.

“As one of the fastest-growing consumer holidays, Halloween has retailers of all shapes and sizes preparing their stores and websites for the busy fall shopping season,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “There’s no question that the variety of adult, child and even pet costumes now available has driven the demand and popularity of Halloween among consumers of all ages. And, with the holiday falling on a Friday this year, we fully expect there will be a record number of consumers taking to the streets, visiting haunted houses and throwing unforgettable celebrations.”

Celebrants are set to shell out $1.1 billion on children’s costumes and $1.4 billion on adult costumes. It is clear Fido and Fluffy will not be forgotten: Americans will spend $350 million on costumes for their furry friends.

Consumers will celebrate the holiday in many different ways, but topping the list of planned activities:
  • Handing out candy (71.1 percent)
  • Decorating their homes and yards (46.7 percent)
  • Dressing in costume (45.8 percent)
  • Throw or attend a party (33.4 percent)
For some consumers, the U.S. economy is still top-of-mind. According to the survey, 18.8 percent say the state of the U.S. economy will impact their Halloween spending plans. Specifically, nearly two in five of those impacted will utilize their creative skills and make their own costumes rather than buying a new one this Halloween.

Source: National Retail Federation

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Personalize Your Front Door in 2015

October 8, 2014 1:32 am

Do you know what your front door says about you? According to Kate Smith of Sensational Color, the color of the front door reflects highly on the personality of the homeowner. Smith recommends showcasing your personality with one of the exterior colors trending in 2015. Which hue is right for you?

1. Bronze or warm sand
– You’re practical and strong-willed, with a natural desire to organize your home.

2. Turquoise – You’re a charismatic host, creating memorable get-togethers at home.

3. Misty or grey blue – You pick up new skills with ease, and your home is your oasis.

4. Soft green
– You’re an adventurer, and you enjoy planning activities in and out of the home with family and friends.

5. Espresso brown – You’re a deep thinker who purposes your home as a space for learning.

Source: Consumer Reports

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Homeowners: Make the Switch to Energy-Efficient Lighting

October 8, 2014 1:32 am

At the start of 2014, manufacturers of 40- and 60-watt incandescent light bulbs ceased operations in a nationwide bid to support energy-efficient alternatives. As a result, homeowners seeking new bulbs can only purchase LED (light-emitting diode) or other comparable lighting.

"LEDs use about 80 percent less energy than traditional bulbs and the average homeowner would use about 25 incandescent bulbs before just one LED bulb burned out," says Lou Manfredini, Ace Home Expert. "Though the upfront cost might be more than you are used to paying, LEDs save money over time on both replacement and energy costs.”

Manfredini suggests that homeowners upgrade lighting fixtures in all areas of their homes. He recommends following these guidelines.
  • Upgrade your bulbs in phases. Replace hard-to-reach bulbs first – like those in vaulted ceilings – along with the bulbs you use the most. It could be decades before you have to borrow your neighbor's ladder to change a light bulb again and you'll see the most immediate energy savings by swapping out the fixtures that are turned on for the longest period of time each day.
  • Choose the right light. Be sure to consider the fixture when choosing the proper LED bulb. Omni-directional lighting provides the widest range of light distribution and is the best choice for any main fixture like vanities, pendants, table lamps, ceiling lights and chandeliers. Non-omni-directional bulbs are best for areas like closets or stairwells where you want a spotlight effect.
  • Decide on a soft or bright light. LED bulbs are extremely efficient and will be a part of your home décor for 15-30 years, so you want to create the right ambiance. For rooms that are used primarily for entertaining or relaxing, warm bulbs are a great choice. Their amber tint will give off a cozy, soft white light. Bulbs resembling daylight are perfect for crafting or reading rooms, as they make whites brighter and help if you are concentrating on details. When in doubt, 800 lumens is a good, all-purpose brightness level for most spaces.
  • Get the best look and longest life from your LED light bulbs. Be sure to get dimmable or 3-way bulbs for fixtures and lamps on these types of switches. And, if you have traditional dimmer switches, you'll need to update to a universal dimmer switch. The upgrade is usually quick and easy and will regulate the currents to the electronic circuits in an LED bulb so it won't flicker, hum or burn out prematurely.
Source: Ace Hardware

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Fall Allergy Sufferers Advised to Reduce Indoor Allergens

October 7, 2014 1:32 am

Fall is often a miserable time for people suffering from allergies and asthma due to high levels of ragweed pollen, outdoor mold and other triggers. For individuals dealing with allergy issues this year, Mike Tringale, senior vice president at AAFA, offers a few tips:

1. Consult a board-certified allergy specialist in your area. The AAFA website includes a list of local and regional clinics that specialize in allergy and asthma treatment and education.

2. Understand your diagnosis and reduce exposure to those specific triggers. While it is very difficult to completely remove household allergens, with the proper measures, allergens can be reduced to manageable level.

3. Place Certified allergen-barrier bedding on your mattresses and pillows. Wash your bedding at least once a week in 130+ degree hot water to kill mites and their eggs.

4. Frequently dust hard surfaces with moist cloths or dry dusters that trap allergens.

5. Use high-filtration bags in the vacuum and clean the carpet frequently.

According to Tringale, Americans spend more than $10 billion each year on non-medical products that they hope will help reduce their exposure to asthma and allergy triggers at home.

Source: Protect-A-Bed

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Stay Productive with Smart Home Office Design

October 7, 2014 1:32 am

(BPT) - Whoever first said, "You can't go home again," probably wasn't considering the 38 million home-based businesses in the United States, or the approximately 37 million households that have active home offices. More workers are plying their trade from home, as employers recognize the value of flexibility for their work force and more employees decide to enter the ranks of American entrepreneurship.

It's not just small business owners or lucky full-time employees who are working from home, either; the Bureau of Labor Statistics says 24 percent of people employed outside the home work at home at least some of the time. If you're poised to become home-based, here are some things to consider as you're putting your home office in order:

Location is key


Without the need to fight rush-hour traffic during a twice-daily commute, you may think the location of your home office isn't that important. Actually, it is. Where your office is located in your home can affect your productivity and even your personal life.

Choose a room that's in your home's heavy traffic lanes, and you could face frequent interruptions. Park your desk in the game room over the garage and you may feel isolated from the rest of the house. Try to stuff a desk in a corner of your bedroom and you'll spend most of your life stuck in the same room - you may even feel less inclined to sleep there if you're always working in your bedroom.

You'll need to balance personal and professional priorities in order to decide which room in the house makes the most sense for your home office.

Good lighting sets the stage for success

The harshness of artificial lighting is a common complaint among people working in offices outside the home. A window in one's office has long been a sign of prestige in cities across the country, and having abundant natural light in a home office is one of the many advantages of working from home. Natural lighting has a mood-boosting impact that's been well-documented, making office workers feel happier, healthier and more productive. What's more, use of natural light can help reduce reliance on artificial lighting and trim utility bills accordingly.

Furnishings create a foundation

Considering how much time you'll spend in your home office, it's important to invest in furnishings that will be functional, comfortable, inspiring and in step with your lifestyle.

If you prefer to sit while you work on a computer, the comfort of your office chair will be key. Prefer to get in a bit of healthful exercise while you work? Consider an ergonomic desk that allows you to stand while you type. Many versions of standing desks also can be lowered for use while seated.

Desks should incorporate storage and easy access to electronic components. Be sure your furniture choices not only fit your needs, but the room's, too. A huge desk may make you feel like a Wall Street CEO, but your enjoyment will evaporate if you don't have space to walk around the desk in a small office. It's important to keep office furniture appropriate to the scale of the room you'll be working in.

Ensuring your home office is set up to inspire can help you achieve greater productivity and satisfaction as you work from home.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Most Manufactured-Housing Borrowers Have Costly Loans

October 7, 2014 1:32 am

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recently released a report which found that manufactured-home owners typically pay higher interest rates for their loans than borrowers whose homes were built onsite. The report also found that manufactured-home owners are more likely to be older, live in a rural area, or have lower net worth.

“Manufactured housing is a critical source of affordable housing for some consumers,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “These consumers may be more financially vulnerable.”

Manufactured homes are commonly referred to as “mobile homes” or “trailers.” They are a specific type of factory-built housing. After the homes are built in a factory, they are then transported on their framework to a retail center or the placement site if they have been purchased. Manufactured homes are required to be built and installed in accordance with standards set by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The report concluded:
  • One out of seven homes outside of a metropolitan area is a manufactured home. Manufactured homes account for only about 6 percent of all occupied U.S. housing. Outside metropolitan areas, however, one out of every seven homes is a manufactured home. These homes are more prevalent in the southeastern and western states. South Carolina has the highest prevalence of manufactured housing in the country, followed by New Mexico.
  • Manufactured-home owners are more likely to be older: Nearly one out of five families that live in manufactured homes do not have children in the home and are headed by someone aged 55 or older—compared with less than 15 percent of families that live in site-built homes.
  • Manufactured-home owners are more likely to have lower net worth. Bureau research has found that manufactured home residents tend to have lower net worth than other families. The 2004–2010 Surveys of Consumer Finances indicate that the median net worth among households that lived in manufactured housing was just about one-quarter the median net worth of families living in all other types of housing.
One of the main differences between a manufactured home and a home built onsite is that manufactured homes may be titled as either real estate property or personal property. A home built onsite is almost always titled as real estate property. For a manufactured home to be titled as real estate property, the home generally must be set on a permanent foundation on land that is owned by the home’s owner. If a manufactured home is titled as personal property, it generally must be financed through a personal property loan, also known as a chattel loan.

Source: CFPB

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Organic Foods Best Option for American Families

October 6, 2014 1:31 am

Refuting prior claims to the contrary, conclusive evidence has been found that organic crops, and the food made from them, are nutritionally superior to their conventional counterparts.

A recent study by The Organic Center (TOC), a non-profit associated with the Organic Trade Association, serves to dispel consumer confusion about the benefits of organic. A 2012 Stanford University study claimed that organic foods were no healthier than non-organic, setting off a heated debate on the nutritional value of organic products.

“The nutritional differences between conventional and organic crops have always been a much debated topic,” said Dr. Jessica Shade, Director of Science Programs for TOC. “This significant study reevaluates the issue from a more inclusive, statistically accurate standpoint and strongly shows that organic fruits and vegetables have definite health benefits to conventionally grown products.”

Key findings from the study include:
  • Organic crops and crop-based foods are up to 60 percent higher in a number of key antioxidants than conventionally grown crops. Antioxidants have been linked to a reduced risk of serious chronic diseases.
  • For the millions of health-minded individuals watching their caloric intake, the amount of extra antioxidants one would consume each day by eating the recommended five servings of organic fruits and vegetables would be equal to one to two additional servings of conventionally grown produce.
  • Conventional foods are four times more likely to contain pesticide residues than organic foods. Exposure to pesticides has been found to affect brain development, especially in young children, and pose a greater risk for pregnant women and men and women of reproductive age.
  • On average, organic crops had 48 percent lower cadmium levels than conventional crops. Cadmium is a highly toxic metal that can cause kidney failure, bone softening and liver damage. It can accumulate in the body, so chronic exposure is dangerous even at low levels.
These findings present a positive update for U.S. families – another recent survey from the Organic Trade Association revealed that eight out of ten now purchase organic products, and nearly half of those families do so out of concern for their children’s health.

Source: OTA

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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