A Turkey Frying Safety Video With a Twist

william-shatner-fried-turkey_3x2_80dd17870c439125a0cffa7f8474907c_540x360_q85State Farm enlists staccato-speaking William Shatner to tell a ‘personal story’ about the dangers of turkey fryers.

Did you know that more cooking fires occur on Thanksgiving than any other day of the year?

State Farm knows. And in an effort to spread the word about turkey frying safety, State Farm enlisted the help of William Shatner to make this video (titled Eat, Fry, Love: A Cautionary Tale) that is quintessential Shatner:

Even if you’re not a Shatner fan, it behooves us all to pay attention. Grease and cooking-related claims more than double on Thanksgiving Day compared to an average day in November. And an astounding $15 million of Thanksgiving Day fire damage involves the ever-popular deep-frying of turkeys.

More than one-third of fires involving a fryer start in a garage or patio. Cook outdoors far from your house, trees, deck, or patio.

First fill the pot with cold oil and then lower the thawed turkey into the pot to determine how much oil to add or remove.

Shut off the fuel source or flame when you add the turkey so oil doesn’t spill over the rim and catch fire.

Never fry a frozen turkey.

Lower your thawed turkey slowly into the fryer.

Never leave a hot turkey fryer unattended.

Do not use ice or water to cool down oil or extinguish an oil fire.

Keep an extinguisher approved for cooking or grease fire nearby.

 

How do Consumers View Housing? 7 Facts We Should Consider

1611a1Fannie Mae’s National Housing Survey is among the more detailed inquiries into how everyday consumers view the U.S.’ housing market, and the Home Purchase Sentiment Index (HPSI) portion of the survey  which details how Americans view the buying and selling process  is particularly relevant to the day-in, day-out business of real estate agents.

Fannie’s latest survey, which sampled consumers in September, provided a nuanced portrait of how folks view the marketplace  and more importantly, how they view the market’s future.

Below, we have detailed seven of the survey’s biggest findings:

1.  A Relative High Note – The HPSI has been on an interesting trajectory, the last five years. After rising steadily from 2011 to the summer of 2013, the index has bounced around in a largely horizontal fashion, and has moved little the last two years. And although the index did decline 2.6 percent to a reading of 82.8, it remains far above the 60 of March 2011.
2.  A Good Time to Buy?  Even with the HPSI remaining at a high level, specific elements of the index declined in a marked fashion, most noticeably the section of the index that tracks consumer interest in home buying. According to the index, 60 percent of respondents think now is a good time to buy, down from 63 percent in August; meanwhile, the share who think it is a bad time to buy rose 2 percentage points to 31. Contrasting those two metrics  Fannie calls it the “Net Good Time” measure  comes out to 29 percent, which is tied for the lowest level in the survey’s history.
3.  A Great Time to Sell  While homebuyers are feeling pessimistic, home sellers are having the time of their lives. The share of respondents who think it a good time to sell was 53 percent, a slight dip from the summer’s 56 percent but far above the 39 percent of two years ago; amidst that rise, the share who think it a bad time to sell has fallen in equal measure, dropping from 51 percent in Sept. 2014 to 38 percent today.
4.  Home Price Expectations  The dividing line between buyers and sellers is likely one of home prices, and indeed, the HPSI found that very few consumers expect prices to decline in the coming year. Only 9 percent expect prices to fall, compared to the 43 percent who think they will continue their ascent.
5.  Mortgage Rate Armageddon  Another area contributing to the negative buyer sentiment is mortgage rates, where consumers are similarly united in their expectations. Forty-nine percent think rates will rise in the next 12 months, while only 5 percent think they will decline.
6.  A Tight Lending Environment  Although consumers expect mortgage rates to rise, a majority still think it would be relatively easy to get a mortgage, with 52 percent of respondents voicing that view (compared to 45 percent who think it would be difficult). Furthermore, consumer views towards the mortgage market have trended positive the last two years, with only one month (July 2015) seeing mortgage sentiment turn negative.
7.  Mixed Economic Messages  The HPSI also surveys consumers on their general economic sentiments, and the findings on that front were a spectacularly mixed bag. On one hand, consumers are feeling quite confident about their situation. Not only are 85 percent not concerned about losing their job, but 25 percent report a current household income that is “significantly higher” than it was 12 months ago, an increase from 22 percent during the summer. On the other hand, consumers are quite dour about both their financial situation and the state of the economy. The share of respondents who expect their finances to improve over the next year fell from 47 percent to 41 percent, while the share who think they will stay the same rose from 37 to 45 percent. Even more, the share who think the economy is on the wrong track rose from 52 to 57 percent, while the share who think it is on the right track fell from 38 to 35 percent.

Choosing Light Bulbs Based on Your Fixtures

buying-light-bulbs-store-selection-standard_1x1_87149b26781413f96266c5bde5691912_620x620_q85In the brave new world of light bulb choices, let your fixture be your guide.

Light bulb shopping used to be as simple as turning on a light switch. Today, it means weighing priorities for cost, energy efficiency, and aesthetics.

Since you’re probably replacing bulbs one fixture at a time, here are some best-bet picks for each type.

Table and Floor Lamps: Halogen Incandescent

  • Light shines in all directions, providing a warm glow.
  • Dimmable.
  • Looks most similar to the traditional incandescent.
  • Uses 25% to 30% less energy than the incandescent.

Table and floor lamps look best with omnidirectional light. “You probably don’t want a big bright spot in the middle of your lampshade,” says Jeff Harris of the nonprofit think tank Alliance to Save Energy. “You’re looking for a nice, warm glow.”

Halogen incandescents provide that, and are good with dimmers. You may be able to find a dimmable CFL, but it’s common to experience humming or flickering at low light levels.

For non-dimming lamps, CFLs are great if you can find a color temperature you like.

  • Color temperature is measured on a warmness (candlelight) and coolness (blue sky) scale. LEDs, CFLs, and halogen incandescents all come in a wide range of color temperatures.
  • Buy covered globes or A-lamps — bulbs shaped like old-fashioned incandescents — rather than spirals if you can see the bulb and aren’t a fan of the spiral look.
  • Otherwise, just go with halogen incandescents and don’t sweat the fact that CFLs are more energy-efficient than halogens. Your still saving over a traditional incandescent and the glow is pretty.

So why not LEDs? LEDs point light in a single direction, although new LED-containing A-lamps are designed to compensate for that by using prisms or special coatings. But all that extra technology makes them expensive — probably not worth it for your bedside lamp, which isn’t a big energy hog anyway.

Recessed Ceiling Lights (Kitchens, Family Rooms): LEDs

  • Energy efficiency is key in high-use areas.
  • 80% energy savings over incandescents.
  • Bulb life (up to 50,000 hours) much longer than CFLs.
  • Shine light a single direction — rather than glowing.
  • Brighter than halogens or CFLs.

Overhead recessed lighting in the kitchen or family room gets lots of use, so energy efficiency is a big consideration; plus, you need bulbs that point light in a single direction so the light actually escapes the can or fixture.

LED reflector lamps, the flat-topped bulbs typically used as floodlights or spotlights, are designed to shine light in a single direction. And that means you’ll get a brighter look with less energy output than CFLs or halogens.

New conversion kits let you put LEDs into your old can fixtures designed for screw-in bulbs.

A word of caution: LEDs don’t dim well unless they’re connected to a wall dimming switch specifically designed for them. You can get LED-compatible dimmers at big-box stores starting at around $30. Same goes for CFLs.

If you do decide on CFLs or halogen incandescents for a warmer quality of light:

  • Buy reflector-lamp style bulbs, not A-lamps or globes, so the light isn’t trapped inside the can.
  • If you have multiple cans, you can probably get away with a lower-wattage halogen incandescent reflector bulb and save energy while still having plenty of light.

Bathroom Vanity Fixture: Halogen Incandescents

  • Better for showing color and texture than CFLs or LEDs.

Lighting over the bathroom vanity is a highly personal lighting choice, especially when there are women in the house. If the light isn’t flattering to your skin tone or makes it hard to apply makeup, you’ll be dissatisfied.

That’s why halogen incandescents, with their pleasing light, are a good bet.

However, if the bathroom where you primp is a high-traffic area and you’re concerned about energy use, experiment with CFLs in a warm color temperature and get a separate lighted mirror for your beauty routine.

Stairwell Light: LEDs

  • Inconvenient fixtures are a good place to use long-lasting LEDs.

How many times are you willing to drag out a ladder and change the bulb in a tough-to-reach fixture? Take advantage of LEDs’ long life by putting them in spots you don’t want to revisit often:

  • Fixtures hanging in stairwells
  • Track lighting suspended from a cathedral ceiling
  • Cabinets
  • Ledges
  • Tray ceilings
  • Recessed areas

Outdoor Floodlight: Halogen Incandescent

  • For security and efficiency, use fixtures with daylight/occupancy sensors.
  • Since outdoor lights aren’t used often, not worth investing in LEDs.
  • CFLs don’t come on easily in cold weather.
  • CFLs don’t last as long as advertised when turned on and off frequently.

If you don’t want to get new fixtures with sensors, you can buy a sensor attachment that screws into each socket.

Rarely Used Fixtures: Low-Cost Bulbs

  • Opt for what’s easy on your wallet.
  • Use the most energy-efficient bulbs, such as LEDs, in most-used fixtures.

If the total yearly hours for the fixtures in your closets, dining room chandeliers, and the naked bulb in your attic are low, go cheap.

10 Clever Uses for Hydrogen Peroxide

uses-for-hydrogen-peroxide-counter-standard_3x2_a7033f9c00de1234519a8419eac834a6_540x360_q85Is hydrogen peroxide a non-toxic weapon in your green cleaning arsenal? It should be!

When it’s time to clean, have your trusty green cleaners at the ready — baking soda, vinegar, castile soap — plus another ultra-cheap gem: hydrogen peroxide. You can use it anywhere, and can’t beat the price: A 16-oz. bottle only costs a buck.

Here are 10 ways you can use that ubiquitous brown bottle of 3% hydrogen peroxide to your home’s advantage:

In Your Kitchen

1. Clean your cutting board and countertop. Hydrogen peroxide bubbles away any nasties left after preparing meat or fish for dinner. Add hydrogen peroxide to an opaque spray bottle — exposure to light kills its effectiveness — and spray on your surfaces. Let everything bubble for a few minutes, then scrub and rinse clean.

2. Wipe out your refrigerator and dishwasher. Because it’s non-toxic, hydrogen peroxide is great for cleaning places that store food and dishes. Just spray the appliance outside and in, let the solution sit for a few minutes, then wipe clean.

3. Clean your sponges. Soak them for 10 minutes in a 50/50 mixture of hydrogen peroxide and warm water in a shallow dish. Rinse the sponges thoroughly afterward.

4. Remove baked-on crud from pots and pans. Combine hydrogen peroxide with enough baking soda to make a paste, then rub onto the dirty pan and let it sit for a while. Come back later with a scrubby sponge and some warm water, and the baked-on stains will lift right off.

In Your Bathroom

5. Whiten bathtub grout. If excess moisture has left your tub grout dingy, first dry the tub thoroughly, then spray it liberally with hydrogen peroxide. Let it sit for a little while (it may bubble slightly), then come back and scrub the grout with an old toothbrush. You may have to repeat the process a few times, depending on how much mildew you have, but eventually your grout will be white again.

6. Clean the toilet bowl. Pour half a cup of hydrogen peroxide into the toilet bowl, let stand for 20 minutes, then scrub clean.

In Your Laundry Room

7. Remove stains from clothing, curtains, and tablecloths. Hydrogen peroxide can be used as a pre-treater for stains — just soak the stain for a little while in 3% hydrogen peroxide before tossing into the laundry. You can also add a cup of peroxide to a regular load of whites to boost brightness. It’s a green alternative to bleach, and works just as well.

Anywhere in Your House

8. Brighten dingy floors. Combine half a cup of hydrogen peroxide with one gallon of hot water, then go to town on your flooring. Because it’s so mild, it’s safe for any floor type, and there’s no need to rinse.

9. Clean kids’ toys and play areas. Hydrogen peroxide is a safe cleaner to use around kids, or anyone with respiratory problems, because it’s not a lung irritant. Fill an opaque spray bottle with hydrogen peroxide and spray toys, toy boxes, doorknobs, and anything else your kids touch on a regular basis. You could also soak a rag in peroxide to make a wipe.

Related: Homemade Cleaners That REALLY Unclog Drains and Remove Stains

Outside

10. Help out your plants. To ward off fungus, add a little hydrogen peroxide to your spray bottle the next time you’re spritzing plants. Use a 1/2 cup of hydrogen peroxide added to one gallon of water for your plants.

Mold. UGH. Soooo Gross. Here’s How to Kill It Forever

bathroom-mold-standard_1x1_41a97a27dd68c1b54a9a171c29f6db49_165x165_q85Don’t let that nasty, mildew-y stuff set up shop on your watch.

Ugh. Mold. It’s ugly. It’s tenacious. It’s the uninvited guest that keeps visiting — no matter how rude you are to it. But, unwittingly, you may be setting up the perfect conditions for mold’s return: a food source, lots of moisture, and a pleasant temperature.

“You’ve got to eliminate one of those three legs of the stool so mold won’t grow,” says Pete Duncanson, director of system development for ServiceMaster Restore. “And it’s always easier to prevent than to remediate.”

Assuming you like warm showers and a comfy thermostat setting, there’s not much you can do about the temperature mold loves. But you can get rid of mold — and permanently prevent it — by controlling the other two factors: food and moisture. Here’s how.

Starve It Out

Mold is a horror flick cliché. It’s everywhere. It’s alive. It spreads by spores floating in the air. And it can grow on any surface — porcelain, plastic, copper, silicone — as long as that surface is coated with organic matter.

“Mold doesn’t live on your shower walls or the grout or caulk; it actually lives on the deposited skin cells and soap residues (which have your skin cells in them),” Duncanson says. So. Gross. So, yes, if you want to get rid of mold you gotta break out the cleaning bucket. There’s no way around it. But the good news is that you don’t need toxic cleaners. Soap and water works just fine with some elbow grease, says Bob Justewicz, a director at the National Association of Mold Professionals. But two warnings:

  1. Don’t bleach it. Online chat rooms and myriad websites might have you believe that bleach kills mold. Both professionals say it’s not true. “Bleach or peroxide removes the stain, but they don’t kill the mold,” Duncanson says.
  2. Don’t scrape it.Remember, mold is alive (it’s ALIVE!) and reproduces through microscopic spores. “If you brush [mold spores] with your hand, they just go into the air and look for new places to colonize,” Duncanson says.

What about those daily shower sprays? Will they work? They are of some benefit, says Duncanson, in that they help push mold’s food sources down the drain. But as a solo act, no, they won’t keep your bathroom clean.

Dry It Out

How? Use your exhaust fan. “Running the fan any time the bathroom is in use is a good idea,” Duncanson says. “Then leave it on for 30 minutes after or at least as long as the shower ran.”

But make sure your fan actually exhausts outside through the roof or a side soffit and not into the attic. “If it’s going into the attic, you’re causing moisture to go into an unconditioned space, and you can cause mold growth there.”

No exhaust fan? “Any movement of air will help dry out the bathroom,” says Justewicz. “Even a desk fan on the vanity will help.”

After a shower, use a towel or squeegee to wipe down shower walls. Open the shower curtain to let it dry. Mop any water spills on the floor and counters. Avoid piling in too many shampoo and body wash bottles. They’re a perfect place for moisture and mold spores to hide.

Make It Stay Away

Here are a few more tips if your bathroom mold seems especially strong-willed:

Re-caulk.Mold adores crevices — probably because it knows you can’t reach it there. If lots of mold has built up on your caulking, it’s probably because it’s spread deep into unseen spaces behind it. If so, re-caulking may solve the problem. Just be sure to follow these tips to keep the problem from getting worse:

  1. Once you’ve removed the compromised caulk, be sure to thoroughly clean and dry the area before putting down new caulk.
  2. Use caulk labeled specifically for the bathroom, which means it will be mold resistant.
  3. Let it cure for at least 24 hours (or as long as it needs to) before taking a shower or bath. If it’s not dry, it’ll allow moisture to creep back in, undoing all your hard work.

Check everywhere for mold. If it keeps coming back, it may have a colony somewhere you haven’t found. Check behind the toilet and under the sink. Moist drywall and wallpaper are tasty treats for mold.

Install a humidity monitor. Affordable at around $10, they can let you know when moisture is building before it turns into an indoor rain forest.

Know when to get help. If it keeps coming back, or you see areas of mold the size of a quarter or bigger you want professional help. “You’re dealing with excessive moisture or a food source that needs to be controlled,” Duncanson says.

Liven Up Your Soup Selection—with Lemon!

chickensoup_headerNothing hits the spot on a cold, wintry day like a filling bowl of chicken soup. What can make it even better? When it’s homemade! Try this lemon-tinged take on the classic comfort food, which is bursting with chicken, onions, couscous, and lemon flavor—so it hits the spot!

Servings: 6-8


Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 sweet onion, peeled and sliced into thin strips
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 10 cups chicken stock
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper, crushed
  • Zest from 1 large lemon
  • 1 cup pearl couscous
  • 2 ounces feta, crumbled
  • ⅓ cup chives, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Pepper, to taste

Instructions:

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan on medium-low; sauté the onions and garlic until soft, 3-4 minutes.
  2. Add the chicken, stock, red pepper, and lemon zest. Turn heat to high, cover, and bring to a boil; then reduce heat to medium, and simmer for 5 minutes.
  3. Stir in the couscous, and add salt. Add pepper to taste. Simmer for another 5 minutes.
  4. Remove the chicken, and shred it with a fork or tongs. Place the meat back in the pan, and mix in the feta cheese and chives. Add more salt and pepper, if desired. Enjoy!

Try your hand at this recipe, and let us know what you think!

Should You Look for Your First House — Or Renew Your Lease?

buying-your-first-home-standard1_3x2_5fe13140669c7ebee84ce49d0a9f28a2_540x360_q85Consider 5 key questions in your quest to decide whether you’re ready to go for it.

Tired of working so hard just to build your landlord’s equity instead of your own? Been dreaming about paint swatches and obsessing over Pinterest projects? Making that leap from renting to owning a home comes with many perks — both financial and emotional. And even though home ownership comes with great responsibility, you might be surprised how achievable it can be.

Certainly, the best time to trade security deposits for a down payment is different for everyone. If you’re thinking about switching from renting to owning, ask yourself these five questions to decide if you’re ready to embark on the home ownership adventure.

1. Are You Financially Prepared?

Let’s not beat around the bush: Buying a home requires a substantial financial commitment.

There’s the down payment, of course. “On average, you want to have a minimum of 5% to 7% of the cost of the home you’re targeting,” says Jason Harriman, a REALTOR® with San Antonio-based Heyl Real Estate Group at Keller Williams Realty. Then, add 3% to 6% more for closing costs, which will vary based on where you live and what taxes your state and city require you to pay.

Tip: Keep in mind if you put down less than 20%, you’ll pay PMI, private mortgage insurance, which protects the lender in case of default. Usually, it’s about $50 to $200 a month. But once you reach a certain threshold on your loan to value ratio, you can cancel PMI.

A healthy credit history is also important. Most borrowers will start to qualify for a mortgage with a minimum score of 620 — but the most competitive interest rates will be offered to those with a score of 700 or above. So if you haven’t started practicing those good credit habits yet, it’s time to start developing them.

One of the trickiest hurdles for young adults, so many of whom are lugging around student loan debt, is the debt-to-income (DTI) ratio. Mortgage companies want borrowers to have a certain level of cash flow each month, and that means taking into account how much you’re paying out to other lenders. Ideally, a borrower’s debt-to-income ratio — how much you pay toward debt each month divided by your gross monthly income — should fall below 36%. (Strictly speaking, a loan is considered able to be paid if the DTI doesn’t exceed 43%.) If yours doesn’t, think about how you can get that debt needle moving in the right direction.

“The best way to do this is to pay off any unsecured debts like credit cards and personal loans, and keep them as close to a zero balance as you can,” says Harriman.

2. Are You Prepared to Make Compromises?

Kathleen Celmins, who manages the personal finance site “Stacking Benjamins,” was financially prepared to manage a mortgage. But once the house hunting began, she quickly realized she was priced out of the homes she had envisioned for herself.

“I originally wanted a single-family home with a yard and in a great neighborhood,” she says. But given her price point, the homes she could afford ended up being in, well, not the greatest neighborhoods. “At one point, we looked at a property that was directly behind a strip club,” she laughs. “We didn’t even go inside.”

After several weeks of searching, Celmins realized she needed to find a middle ground. “In my price range, I could get a not-so-great house in a not-so-great neighborhood. Or, I could get a really cute condominium with a gas range and granite countertops,” she says. “It was something I compromised on. I gave up a yard for having fancy stuff in my condo.”

3. Are You Emotionally Ready?

When it comes to renting, surprises don’t require much emotional investment. The rent goes up? You can move. The fridge is on the fritz? The landlord will send someone over. Home ownership is a bit more hands-on. If the toilet breaks, it’s time to start reading Yelp reviews. And if property taxes unexpectedly rise, it’s on you to appeal or pay up.

“My homeowners association fee doubled in the first year I owned my condominium,” says Celmins. “Then my real estate taxes were reassessed. My mortgage payment went up and I panicked. I didn’t even know that could happen.”

Of course, having the financial flexibility to cover those unexpected things is important, but don’t overlook the importance of having the mental and emotional capability of dealing with them responsibly when they arise. Everything could be peachy for months, and then three maintenance issues might spring up in the same week. Stress management and problem solving skills are home ownership biggies.

4. Will Owning Pay Off in the Long Run?

Depending on the home you choose and where you live, you may pay a lower mortgage than you paid for rent. But even if you don’t, there’s still the financial advantage of building equity in your home, instead of lining your landlord’s pockets.

5. Has Your Lifestyle Outgrown Renting?

Many people find a rental can only take them so far. When you’re ready to start a family, you’re going to want a few extra rooms, and that can get expensive with rising rental rates. A yard also provides a safe place for Junior to play or for a dog to scamper around. And speaking of Fido, the vast majority of renters have trouble finding a place that will allow for their pet. Home ownership can end that stress for good.

Then there are the renovations. If you’re itching to test out your DIY skills and personalize your space, you’re probably ready to own. Landlords who allow property renovations — especially DIY projects — are few and far between.

Buying a first home is a big change — both from a financial and an emotional perspective. Still, for many, home ownership can be one of the most rewarding life choices one can make. “Turns out it’s awesome,” said Celmins. “I love it so much.”

Ready to get started? Give us a call.

Master Closet: Organization and Layout

Master closet organization creates ample space for one or two users and includes storage features to make the space easy to arrange and maintain.

master-closet-layout-closetmaid-standard_1x1_12cb4bf1e4ccf92596cca824914b87f3_165x165_q85Remodeling a master bedroom, adding on a master suite, or building a new home all afford opportunities to create your ideal master closet — a gift to yourself that keeps on giving. Use these organization and storage ideas to develop your personalized plan of action for installing a great and practical closet.

Expect to pay $1,500-$5,000 and up to equip an 8-by-10 foot, well-outfitted walk-in closet, assuming you hire a pro to build the room as part of a master suite addition. A DIY installation costs at least $800.

Layout and Space Requirements

A walk-in master closet should be a minimum of 7-by-10 feet, and preferably 10 sq. ft. for two users. That gives you space to line two or three walls with shelves, cubbies, and poles, and the elbow room to reach them easily.

For added convenience, include about 3 sq. ft. of floor space for a chair where you can perch to put on socks and fold laundry. If possible, leave enough room in the middle for a folding luggage table or built-in storage island with countertop, so you can open your suitcase when you’re packing for a trip.

Options for Storage and Organization

You could include a dresser in your master closet, but that isn’t the best way to store clothes. You can only see what’s on top of each drawer, and trying to pull a shirt from the bottom of the pile always leads to a jumbled, wrinkled mess.

A better option is a closet-organizing system. These storage units have an array of compartments, each designed for specific pieces of your wardrobe, from individual shelves and bins for sweaters and tops to small drawers for lingerie and accessories to cubbies or racks for shoes, bags, and hats.

The components for master closet organizing systems cost $800-$5,000 or more, depending on whether you go with ready-made or custom-designed.

Home Maintenance for People with Better Things to Do

home-maintenance-list-relax-standard_66e02625e89445a596cee35ca29dd78c_3x2_jpg_518x345_q85Owning your own home shouldn’t mean an endless list of chores.

Weekends are meant for coaching a youth soccer team to victory, chopping your way through “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” or training for a 5K to help save the pandas — not working your way through a tedious, 30-item maintenance checklist. But then, taking care of the home you love is important, too.

So how do you have your fun and keep a well-maintained home?

It’s simple: Just be mindful of your home. You don’t need a rigid maintenance list. (They work best for Type A people anyway.) Instead, train your senses to warn you of these problems, and then act ASAP:

Your Dryer Seems Hotter Than Usual

If your clothes and your dryer are super, super hot or, conversely, your dryer is taking longer to dry, you could have a clogged lint vent, a leading cause of house fires. “Sometimes the dryer connection will wiggle loose going to the outside, causing all sorts of issues with lint,” says Jeff Devlin, licensed contractor and host of DIY Network’s “Stone House Revival and “I Hate My Bath.” Heat and packed lint make the perfect recipe for fire. To defuse that combination:

  • Pull out the dryer connection — this is the tube or pipe that connects the dryer to the window vent.
  • Suck out all the lint from the pipe and pipe connection with a vacuum attachment.
  • Re-attach, making sure it’s not loose or bent.

You can also hire a pro to do it.

You Smell Something Musty

Your nose knows what’s normal in your home. “If you go into a room and it smells musty, there’s something going on,” says Frank Lesh, executive director of American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI). When you smell that mildew-y smell, you know you’ve got a problem, he says. What kind of problem? Read on.

You Can See Mold or Mildew

Mold and mildew are the banners for moisture, your home’s No. 1 enemy. If you see them, you know moisture has broken through your home’s defenses and is bringing reinforcements. Find out where the water source is and eradicate it ASAP. Moisture is like cancer to a home. If you don’t catch it early, it will eat away at your home’s very structure, causing major damage to its foundation, walls, floors, and ceilings.

You Spot a Water Stain

You get it now. Water = bad. So even a faint water stain should light a fire under you. Zero in on the source before moisture can settle into your home’s bones. A water stain on the ceiling could signal a leak in your roof, or if it’s under a bathroom it could be a pipe that’s leaking. Stain under a window? Your window may need caulking.

Your Drain Is Really Slow (and It Gurgles)

Showering in water up to your ankles defeats the purpose. “A clean drain is a healthy drain,” says Devlin. If your drain makes odd noises and takes foreeeeeeever, you could be at risk of a sewer backup, which is not only a moisture issue, but one that ranks high on the stinky scale. If you’re lucky, it could be a simple clog, but either way it might be a good idea to put your plumber’s number in your cellphone’s favorites list.

You Hear Something That’s Alive

The pitter-patter of tiny rodent footsteps is enough to send shivers down your spine — and can quickly multiply into a mini stampede. One couple found out the hard way.

“We found that a squirrel had taken up residence in the attic and was chewing through electrical wires,” says David Bowers. By the time he and his partner, Sharon Bowers, (BTW, they co-authored “The Useful Book: 201 Life Skills They Used to Teach in Home Ec and Shop”) got around to calling a pro, an entire squirrel family (with more on the way!) had settled in to dine on those wires — a costly fix that was also a fire hazard.

If you hear unwanted visitors, evict them quickly, then block the entry they used. With squirrels, it might be an overgrown tree limb, which they use to jump onto your roof and then slip through a hole under roof flashing or rotting fascia, or an open window. For smaller pests, keep in mind they can come in through the tiniest of holes. (Mice can squeeze through a dime-sized opening.)

Your Gutters Create Waterfalls

You may love the smell and sound of rain, but when it’s cascading off your gutters in torrents instead of traveling neatly through them … well, remember those warnings about moisture? Cleaning the gutters is home maintenance 101 for good reason. “It can lead to exterior damage, as well as water damaging the foundations,” says Bowers. If you spot a gutter clog, clear it. You’ll be happier for it. It’s probably the best thing you can do to protect your home.

How to Make Homemade Apple Cider

applecider_headerApple cider has been enjoyed in America since the country’s inception, as colonists heavily relied on the drink as a beverage of choice (and currency) in the New World.

Today, apple cider is more of a traditional treat, especially at this time of the year, when a nice mug of cider hits the spot. Make your own to share some warmth and comfort with your family and friends on a chilly day.

Servings: 8-10


Ingredients:

  • 6 medium apples, assorted types of your choice
  • ½ orange
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon whole allspice
  • 8 cups water
  • Brown sugar, to taste

Ingredients:

  1. Wash the apples and the orange, and then cut them into quarters, keeping the peels, seeds, and stems intact.
  2. Put the fruit slices in a slow cooker, and add the cinnamon sticks, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice. Add water until the cooker is almost full, about ½-inch from the top. Cook on high heat for 3-4 hours, or on low heat for 6-8 hours.
  3. One hour before the cider is done cooking, use a potato masher to mash the fruit slices until they are soft. Continue cooking for the remaining hour.
  4. Strain out the apple cider juice into a pitcher. To get the most juice, press the apples through a cheesecloth or fine mesh strainer. Add the brown sugar to your liking, and stir until it’s dissolved. Serve immediately, or refrigerate for up to 5 days.

 

Facing Foreclosure: What to Do Right Now

foreclosureIf you’re facing foreclosure, don’t panic: Take steps right now to save your home or at least lessen the blow of its loss.

A record high 2.8 million properties were hit with foreclosure notices in 2009. That’s the bad news. The good news: About two-thirds of notices don’t result in actual foreclosures, says Doug Robinson of NeighborWorks, a nonprofit group that offers foreclosure counseling.

Many homeowners find alternatives to foreclosure by negotiating with lenders, often with the help of foreclosure counselors. If you’re facing foreclosure, call your lender right now to determine your options, which can include loan modification, forbearance, or a short sale.

Working with knowledgeable industry professionals can make a big difference in the outcome of your situation.

Foreclosure Process Takes Time

The entire foreclosure process can take anywhere from two to 12 months, depending on how fast your lender acts and where you live. legal-noticeSome states allow a nonjudicial process that’s speedier, while others require time-consuming judicial proceedings.

Once you miss at least one mortgage payment, the steps leading up to an actual foreclosure sale can include demand letters, notices of default, a recorded notice of foreclosure, publication of the debt, and the scheduling of a foreclosure auction. Even when an auction is scheduled, however, it may never occur, or it may occur but a qualified buyer doesn’t materialize.

Bottom line: Foreclosure can be a long slog, which gives you enough time to come up with an alternative. Meantime, if your goal is to salvage your home, think about keeping up with payments for homeowners insurance and property taxes. Otherwise, you could compound your problems by getting hit with an uncovered casualty loss or liability suit, or tax liens.

Read the Fine Print

Start by reviewing all correspondence you’ve received from your lender. The letters—and phone calls—probably began once you were 30 days past due. Also review your mortgage documents, which should outline what steps your lender can take. For instance, is there a “power of sale” clause that authorizes the sale of your home to pay off a mortgage after you miss payments?

Determine the specific foreclosure laws for your state. What’s the timeline? Do you have “right of redemption,” essentially a grace period in which you can reverse a foreclosure? Are deficiency judgments that hold you responsible for the difference between what your home sells for and your loan’s outstanding balance allowed? Get answers.

Lender Alternatives to Foreclosure

house-debtThere are alternatives to foreclosure that your lender might accept. The most attractive option that’ll allow you to keep your home is a loan modification that reduces your monthly payment. A modification can entail lowering the interest rate, changing a loan from an adjustable rate to a fixed rate, extending the term of a loan, or eliminating past-due balances. Another option, forbearance, can temporarily suspend payments, though the amount will likely be tacked on to the end of the loan.

If you’re unable to make even reduced payments, and assuming a conventional sale isn’t possible, then it may be best to turn your home over to your lender before a foreclosure is completed. A completed foreclosure can decimate a credit score, which will make it hard not only to purchase another home someday, but not impossible: The foreclosure disappears within 7 years or even less, especially if there are extenuating circumstances.

The more quickly you get steady employment and repair your credit score, the more quickly you’ll be eligible to buy a home again. It also may be difficult to rent a home in the short term, but working with professionals who are experienced in this specialized field should be able to help you find a place to live. There are programs like Home Partners of America who may assist you with bridging the gap for home ownership.

But you’re better off if your lender can approve a short sale, in which the proceeds are less than what’s still owed on your mortgage. A deed in lieu of foreclosure, which amounts to handing over your keys to your lender, is another good possibility.

Although a deed in lieu of foreclosure or successfully navigating the short sale process will have virtually the same effect on your credit score as a foreclosure, you will likely be able to buy another home more quickly than if you go through a foreclosure. The earlier you begin talks with your lender, the more likelihood of success.

Explore Government Programs

The federal government’s Making Home Affordable program offers two options: loan modification and refinancing. A self-assessment will indicate which option might be right for you, but you need to apply for the program through your lender. A Making Home Affordable loan modification requires a three-month trial period before it can become permanent.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have their own foreclosure-prevention programs as well. Check to determine if either Fannie or Freddie owns your mortgage. Present this information to your lender and your counselor. Fannie and Freddie also have rental programs under which former owners can remain in recently foreclosed homes on a month-to-month basis.

The federal Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives program, which takes full effect in April 2010, offers lenders financial incentives to approve short sales and deeds in lieu of foreclosure. It also provides $3,000 in relocation assistance to borrowers. Again, talk to your lender and counselor.

Red Carpet Enterprises, Inc has been assisting homeowners find solutions to their mortgage issues for almost 10 years now. Please feel free to reach out to us for a free consultation. There are many options available. Which one is right for you???

When Getting Organized Goes Wrong

how-get-organized-home-standard_1x1_455656374f281a0948f6ed1070d598df_620x620_q85Wonder why your efforts to organize never stick? Maybe you’re a victim of one of these pitfalls.

It’s time. You’re getting organized. Finally. Kudos on making the smart homeowner choice, but don’t get too self-congratulatory while you’re still in the IKEA parking lot. Organization is about giving everything the right place (sometimes the donation bin), and while that sounds straightforward, it’s pretty easy to choose the wrong places, turning your attempt at a tidier home into wasted effort.

These pros have seen it all, and they’re here to save you from making these home organization mistakes.

Trying to Do It in One Fell Swoop

Clutter is overwhelming; getting overwhelmed is a great way to make no organizing progress. The Clutter Cowgirl, professional organizer Jeni Aron, recommends decluttering and organizing one room at a time before you move on to the next. And give yourself more than the sliver of Sunday between your golf outing and dinner with each spot.

Starting Without a Plan

Tidying is tidying. Organizing is changing the way you live.

Meg Ricard of Simply Organized by Meg says having a plan is essential to transforming your tidying into organizing. “A lot of people will tidy up a space, tucking things away, and then find that two days later it’s a mess again,” says Ricard. “It takes longer to think about and implement a system, but the long-term results of organizing instead of tidying will be that you remain organized.”

A shelf allows you to tidy by getting random hoses and yard waste bags off the garage floor — until they’re used again and tossed wherever. A well-planned system, like filling those shelves with appropriately sized, easy-to-access, labeled bins, can keep your garage organized long term.

A successful organization strategy is one that fits your life. If you’re short, don’t store things you need often way up high. If you change your purse as often as your shoes, store them near the entryway — that’s where they pile up anyway, right?

Tackling The Paper Mountain First

Certain tasks can bring decluttering down to a crawl — and even a halt. Amber Kostelny, the Chicago-based certified professional organizer behind Amber’s Organizing, finds sorting out papers and mail is a surefire way to get overwhelmed fast.

“Don’t start with paper,” she says. “It will bog anyone down because it is tedious and the most frustrating.” We hear that. Save that un-fun task for when your organizing momentum is already rolling.

Trying To Buy Your Way Into Organized

Sorry, shoppers: Organization is an action, not something you can buy. Common culprits: renting storage space — which costs around $600 a year for a small unit — or sinking $400 into some deliciously chic, handwoven baskets (they’d look amazing in your living room!). When you invest big in one decluttering effort, you end up feeling super accomplished when all you’ve done is drain your bank account — and maybe put a few things in one pricey, new container.

Avoid overspending (and under-organizing) with two rules of thumb:

First, if you can live without something for months or years at a time, you likely don’t need it. Storage units are handy for moves and remodels, but in most cases, long-term use is an unnecessary budget-buster.

Second, an organized life requires very little investment. Clear plastic tubs cost $1.50 at IKEA. Plus, simple, clear containers allow you to actually see what’s inside, so you’ll never forget which $100 basket is storing your scarves again.

Failing to Donate Your Donations

Ricard often spies abandoned piles slated for the local charity shop in clients’ households. “After going through the energy of sorting things to get rid of, make sure to complete the task by actually taking them out of the house,” says Ricard. “The cleared space will be a relief!”

To avoid the build-up, don’t wait until you have a trunkful to run over to the donation center. Drop off a box after each room you organize. Hoarding items you want to give to a friend or family member? Put those things in a box by the door, and give loved ones a drop-dead date for picking them up. Don’t feel badly if they no-show. You don’t actually want it either, remember?

Buying Storage Without Measuring

Shopping is fun. Measuring things is not. But don’t even think about walking into The Container Store before you know the size, shape, and dimensions of organizers you need. Homeowners are constantly “buying things first, and getting lured in by cute containers,” says Aron. “But then they realize the stuff they have doesn’t work for the containers.”

Additionally, Kostelny recommends shopping for function over appearance. But bonus if you can find the perfect fit and function, and it’s super cute (obviously).

Ignoring Your Wall Space

Sometimes the best storage option has been right next to you all along: your walls. Forget tucking everything into a bin or taking up more precious floor space with yet another shelving unit. Wall space isn’t just available and efficient, it can make storage more accessible.

“Adding hooks to make it easy to pick up and go is important — especially for the kiddos,” says Monica Friel, the president and cofounder of Chicago-based Chaos to Order.

Sturdy mudroom hooks are just the beginning. Floating shelves, pegboards, corner shelving, built-ins — even attaching finished wooden crates or hanging a shoe organizer on the wall — can transform your everyday vertical space into an organization mecca.

What Would MacGyver Do? In an Emergency, Reach for the Duct Tape

mcgyverGet yourself out of a home repair jam with this common household item famously used by our favorite handy hero: MacGyver.

We’ve all had them: the clogged drain, the ripped vacuum hose, the unsightly hole in the wall. Home repair emergencies like these are the last thing you need when you’re running out the door, running after the kids, or fielding other household chores. Channel your inner MacGyver by taking advantage of one common household item the classic action hero made famous: a roll of duct tape.

We’ve collected some MacGyver-inspired ideas from the Internet.

What MacGyver did:
Used duct tape to seal a hole in a hot air balloon, allowing him to escape his pursuers.

What you can do:

  • Fix a slow-running toilet. Clear the clogged flush passage with wire, then empty the water tank and seal the passage hole with duct tape. Fill the tank with a quart of vinegar and leave overnight.
  • Weatherproof windows. Use strips of duct tape to make windows air tight until you can fix or replace them.
  • Make a temporary roof shingle. Wrap strips of duct tape across a ¼ inch thick piece of plywood cut to size.
  • Tie off loose wires. Wrap small, thin strips of duct tape around exposed ends.
  • Patch holes and tears in duct work, dryer vents, and a torn vacuum hoseto temporarily seal leaks.

The Best Choices for Kitchen Floors

smart-options-kitchen-flooring-standard_da1f0df10b51f3ae838ef0c17b55fb34_3x2_jpg_518x345_q85From hardwood to cork, the ideal flooring for you.

So many factors play into choosing a kitchen floor: How much do you cook? Is it an open floor plan? What’s the most durable?

We’ve taken out the guesswork and chosen four flooring types that make the most sense for kitchens, and we explain why they are ideal.

Hardwood Flooring is Ideal When:

  • You don’t want your kitchen to look dated over time.
  • You have an open floor plan.
  • You seek durability.

Hardwood flooring, with its unmatched warmth and visual appeal, is a great choice if you want to create a look that never really goes out of style, giving you a good return on investment if you ever sell your home.

Also, if you have an open floor plan, hardwood works well in both kitchens and living areas. It creates a warm and unified look.

Hardwood is also:

  • Highly durable. It can withstand decades of use.
  • Low-maintenance.
  • Moisture-resistant if you choose a prefinished type.

Hardwood flooring is made in two ways: solid wood strips or engineered wood planks.

Engineered wood is the better choice for kitchens. It has a veneer of real wood backed by layers of less expensive plywood. This construction provides dimensional stability that makes the flooring less susceptible to movement caused by changes in humidity and temperature — common in kitchens.

Cost: $3 to $12 per sq. ft.
Installation: $5 to $12 per sq. ft., depending on the complexity of the job.

Vinyl Flooring is Ideal When:

  • You cook a lot.
  • You want the easiest-to-maintain floor.
  • You are on a tight budget.

Sheet vinyl belongs to a group of flooring products called resilient flooring, which is the softest flooring option. If you cook a lot, this cushiness makes it easier on your feet while easing muscle fatigue.

Also, sheet vinyl is much more forgiving if you (or someone in your family) is a bit of klutz who tends to drop things. You’ll have less breakage.

Plus, sheet vinyl flooring is a snap to clean up; it’s completely waterproof and stain-proof.

However, depending on the size and layout of your kitchen, you may have seams. Standard width for vinyl flooring is 12 feet. If your kitchen is wider than that, you’ll definitely have seams, which can let moisture into the subfloor and trap dirt if they aren’t tightly bonded.

On the upside, sheet vinyl requires no ongoing maintenance beyond sweeping and mopping. If the softness of vinyl flooring appeals to you most, you might opt for cushioned vinyl flooring, which is backed with a layer of foam (standard sheet vinyl uses felt backing).

Sounds good, but that extra cushiness makes it hard to create seams that stay tightly bonded over time. You may end up with seams that come apart, letting in moisture and trapping dirt.

Sheet vinyl comes in many colors and patterns. Thicker vinyl can feature a textured surface, and some types do an excellent job of mimicking the appearance of ceramic tile and real stone. Textured vinyl is a wise choice because it provides traction. Vinyl can be dangerously slippery when wet.

Vinyl flooring also has a wear layer that helps resist scratches and scuff marks. But it does eventually wear off. The best brands offer guarantees on the wear layer of 10 to15 years, and good quality vinyl should last 20 years.

Cost: $1 to $5 per sq. ft.
Installation: $1 to $2 per sq. ft.

Don’t confuse vinyl with linoleum. While linoleum is a similar product, it is not as durable, nor as soft. Its upside is its eco-friendliness.

Porcelain Tile is Ideal When:

  • You want the toughest flooring.
  • You like the look of stone.
  • You want low maintenance.

Porcelain flooring tile, a version of common ceramic tile, is the durability champ. It’s fired at high temperatures that produce an extremely hard, durable, stain-resistant tile that is impervious to moisture.

In fact, it’s so tough it can be used outdoors in virtually any climate.  Like common ceramic tile, porcelain tile comes either unglazed or glazed. The unglazed versions take on the color of their clay mixture, so they have naturally earthy tones.

Glazed tiles have a glass-like coating that can be made in virtually any color, and can mimic the look and texture of real stone at a much lower cost than stone.

Make sure you choose porcelain tiles certified as slip-resistant by the Americans with Disabilities Act — the designation should be visible on product literature or packing materials.

Cost: $1 to $20 per sq. ft.
Installation: $5 to $10 per sq. ft.

Cork Flooring is Ideal When:

  • You want an eco-friendly choice.
  • You want a softer floor than wood or tile.
  • You want slip-resistance.

Cork is made from tree bark that’s harvested every eight to 10 years; it’s a sustainable material, meaning the bark grows back and can be harvested repeatedly.

Countries that produce cork are careful to regulate harvesting to ensure future supplies.

Cork has a unique cellular structure that’s waterproof and compressible, which makes it a comfortable, moisture-resistant choice. It comes in 12-inch-by-12-inch tiles and 1-foot-by-3-foot planks, each with a unique grain pattern of swirls and speckles.

The surface is naturally textured, which makes it slip-resistant.

But unlike other flooring options mentioned, cork floors need to be resealed every three to four years to help guard against scratches and prevent moisture from entering the seams between tiles.

Both natural wax and polyurethane are good sealers for cork. Choose water-based polyurethane that’s non-toxic or has low volatile organic compound content to keep it green.

Cost: $2 to $6 per sq. ft
Installation: $5 to $10 per sq. ft.

The Ultimate Sweet and Salty Cookie Experience

potatochip_headerWhen you’re hungry for a snack, do you go for chocolate or chips? Well, why not both? This recipe for potato chip chocolate chip cookies is a perfect blend of chocolate and potato chips—making these cookies a snack lover’s dream come true!

Servings: 24 cookies


Ingredients:

  • 2 cups flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 1½ cups thick potato chips, crushed

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F.  Mix together the flour and baking soda, and set aside. In a separate bowl, add the butter and sugars, and whisk until smooth.
  2. Lightly beat the eggs and egg yolk, and stir into sugar mixture with the vanilla extract until all ingredients are combined; then spoon the flour mixture into the mix. Stir in the chocolate chips and potato chip pieces.
  3. Roll the dough into 1½-inch balls, and place on a baking sheet; bake for 12-14 minutes, remove, and let cool on a wire rack.

Make these cookies for an at-home treat, or put them out at a holiday party—people will be amazed at your creativity!

Egging, Toilet Papering: How to Clean Up After Halloween Pranks

egging-toilet-papering-how-clean_1x1_553a121616d59da1469914e340c5f1c7_165x165_q85Halloween cleanup can be the scariest thing about the holiday. Here’s a tip sheet on how to remove eggs, toilet paper, wax, and other messes that go bump in the night.

Halloween can be a messy holiday. With pranksters about, you may end up with egg yolks dripping down your siding and toilet paper hanging from your trees. Inside, you might drip candle wax on your carpet, and your little ones could leave makeup stains on your furniture. Hey — it’s the price of having fun.

But when the fun is over, the cleanup begins. Here are some tips from the American Cleaning Institute and others on removing the Halloween mayhem that little tricksters leave behind.

Egg Splatters on Your House

Time is your enemy when your house has been egged, because sunbaked yolks can stain your siding. Also, micro-shards of shell can become embedded in paint or act as an abrasive when you clean off the gunk.

Instead of scrubbing, spray away the egg with your garden hose. But don’t aim the hose full blast at the yolk, which will splatter the mess. Instead, Popular Mechanics magazine suggests first wetting the siding below the egg, then gently spraying the siding above the egg; the water will fall in sheets and flush away the mess.

If you need more cleaning oomph, dip a brush into a bucket of warm water (never hot, which will bake on yolks) and dish soap, and then scrub away the mess.

Toilet Paper in Your Trees

Wet toilet paper is a beast to remove from trees. So wait until the sun evaporates dew; or, if rain is predicted, start removal right away.

Use a rake to grab and pull the TP down, a leaf blower to blast it, or a telescoping reacher/grabber to pluck it.

Start at the top and work your way down. Immediately throw paper away: Leaving it on your lawn can smother grass.

Candle Wax on the Carpets

Never try to remove hot wax from carpeting. Not only can you burn yourself, but you’ll likely spread the wax, making a bigger mess.

When the wax has cooled, break it with a dull knife or Popsicle stick. Throw away the pieces.

Cover remaining bits with a paper towel or rag, and press a warm iron to the area. Replace the towel frequently to avoid spreading the wax.

Halloween Makeup on Upholstery and Carpet

Many commercial carpet and upholstery cleaners remove makeup from unwanted places. The only tricky part is applying these cleaners.

Always test the cleaner on an inconspicuous spot. Apply a dab of cleaner on a white cloth, then hold it to the test area for about a minute. If no color is transferred to the white cloth, the cleaner is safe.

Never rub cleaner on a stain. Rather, blot the stain starting from its outer edge and work to the center.

What pranks and Halloween messes have you had to clean up? Got some good cleaning tips? Please feel free to share!

Allergies at Home

allergies-at-home-dogs-bed_477d3b7a5da1aaa414d5acd9e47f2d20_2_1x1_165x165_q85If you have allergies at home, you’re hosting allergens with specific needs. If those pollutants could write classified ads, here’s what they’d want.

PET DANDER seeks vacuum-free home where cats and dogs are rarely bathed. Prefer pets be allowed to sleep in their owners’ beds. We really can’t tolerate a household that’s cleaned and vacuumed regularly and where pets are bathed twice a week and pet beds washed monthly.

DUST MITES in need of a cozy mattress. Please, no dust mite-proof covers (we can’t hack latex mattresses or silk bedding, either). Bedding and comforters must be rarely washed. Absolutely NO water heaters set above 130 degrees — we’d be goners. Prefer natural materials for hanging out — no synthetics or air purifiers with HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters, please, as we find them inhospitable.

POLLEN wants airy home with windows and doors frequently left open. Prefer windows where mold and condensation are never cleaned from window frames and sills. Definitely prefer a location with no HVAC air filtration system so we can easily circulate to keep eyes watering and noses running. Absolutely NO small-particle or HEPA filters allowed.

MODERN ALLERGEN FAMILY (dust, pollen, pet dander, and dust mites) in need of carpeting. Thick carpet piles that are rarely shampooed or vacuumed given preference. No homes with hardwood, laminate, or vinyl flooring considered because there’s nowhere for us to hide. Also, no calls accepted from homes where surfaces are steam-cleaned or that feature low-pile carpets that are regularly vacuumed (equipped with  a HEPA filter). Washable area rugs not considered.

RESPIRATORY AILMENTS willing to trade a clean-burning gas fireplace for an old-fashioned, inefficient wood-burning model that produces plenty of smoke and gasses. Please, no wood-burning fireplace inserts. Also looking to sell our vented range hood (which really sucks the life out of us).

WANTED: Horizontal blinds where dust and pollen can settle undisturbed. Please, no natural and synthetic curtains that are regularly washed, or we’re down the drain.

DUST AND OTHER ALLERGENS seek comfy home fully furnished with upholstered goods that are never vacuumed. No leather, wood, metal, or plastic furnishings considered, as we don’t find these hospitable.

MOLD AND MILDEW need hot, humid home with no air conditioning and no dehumidifier. (A place with a dehumidifier may be considered if it’s rarely cleaned. We’ve found these make a nice home too.) Especially happy in a location with water damage: damp carpeting, a soggy basementleaky plumbing, and a clothes dryer that isn’t vented outside. Also interested in locations with non-ventilated bathrooms lined with wallpaper, and equipped with a shower, tub, mats, and curtains that are rarely cleaned. Leaky toilets considered a plus. Please, no tiled bathrooms.

CLUTTER WANTED: Dust and pollen seek a variety of knickknacks, books and magazines, dried flowers, toys (especially stuffed animals), wicker baskets, and other items to collect on. No dusting considered. Also, please don’t wash stuffed animals monthly in hot (130 degree) water as this is a killer move when it comes to us allergens! And, if you’ve heard about putting nonwashable stuffed animals in the freezer for 24 hours and then rinsing the dead dust mites off with cold water — don’t do that either.

MUST SELL: HEPA filters for heating and cooling system. Allergens can’t thrive when these filters are changed in the furnace once a month. Priced effectively.

How to Prevent Freezing Pipes

prevent-freezing-pipes_1x1_aded65c6f0299dae474c071efde5073c_165x165_q85By taking preventive measures before cold weather arrives, you can prevent freezing pipes and the costly damage that goes with them.

Wicked winter weather can cause plumbing pipes to freeze and possibly burst, causing flooding and costly water damage to your home. Taking preventive measures before winter sets in can reduce and eliminate the risk of frozen pipes and other cold-weather threats.

Where the Trouble Lies

“Some pipes are more prone to freezing than others because of their location in the home,” explains Paul Abrams, spokesman for Roto-Rooter.

Pipes most at risk for freezing include:

  • Exposed pipes in unheated areas of the home.
  • Pipes located in exterior walls.
  • Any plumbing on the exterior of the home.

Preventative Measures for Outside

A frozen garden hose can cause more damage than a busted hose; it can actually burst an interior pipe. When the water in the hose freezes, it expands, increasing pressure throughout the whole plumbing system. As part of your regular seasonal maintenance, garden hoses should be disconnected, drained, and stored before the first hard freeze.

If you don’t have frost-proof spigots, close the interior shut-off valve leading to that faucet, open and drain the spigot, and install a faucet insulator. They cost only a couple bucks and are worth every penny. Don’t forget, outdoor kitchens need winterizing, too, to prevent damage.

Exposed Interior Plumbing

Exposed pipes in the basement are rarely in danger of freezing because they are in a heated portion of the home. But plumbing pipes in an unheated area, such as an atticcrawl space, and garage, are at risk of freezing.

Often, inexpensive foam pipe insulation is enough for moderately cold climates. For severe climes, opt for wrapping problem pipes with thermostatically controlled heat tape (from $50 to $200, depending on length), which will turn on at certain minimum temps.

Under-Insulated Walls

If pipes traveling in exterior walls have frozen in the past (tell-tale signs include water damage, mold, and moisture build-up), it’s probably because of inadequate or improperly installed insulation. It might well be worth the couple hundred dollars it costs to open up the wall and beef up the insulation.

“When nothing else works, say for a northern wall in a really cold climate, the last resort is to reroute a pipe,” notes Abrams. Depending on how far the pipe needs to be moved — and how much damage is caused in the process — this preventative measure costs anywhere from $700 on up. Of course, putting the room back together is extra.

Heading South for the Winter?

For folks leaving their houses for an extended period of time in winter, additional preventative measures must be taken to adequately protect the home from frozen pipes.

  • Make sure the furnace is set no lower than 55 degrees.
  • Shut off the main water supply and drain the system by opening all faucets and flushing the toilets.

In extreme situations (vacation home in a bitterly cold climate), Abrams recommends having a plumber come to inspect the system, drain the hot water heater, and perhaps replace the water in traps and drains with nontoxic antifreeze.

Mix it UP: 3 simple, delicious dip mixes

dipmix_headerDips are an essential at most parties, as people love them as a tasty accompaniment to foods like chips, veggies, crackers, and bread. Plus, it’s really easy and affordable to whip up your own homemade dips to bring the flavor to any get-together, give as a gift, or add as a healthy home-snacking option.

The trio of dips below will allow you to satisfy any dip desire. To make these dips, you just have to mix the ingredients in a bowl, and then put the dip in the fridge for a few hours.


Dill Dip

  • dilldip11 teaspoon dill weed
  • 1 teaspoon parsley flakes
  • 1 teaspoon onion flakes
  • ¼ teaspoon seasoned salt
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • ½ cup sour cream

Cheesy Bacon Dip

  • cheesybacondip1-300x2253 tablespoons bacon bits
  • 1 tablespoon beef bouillon granules
  • 3 tablespoons dried minced onion
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • ⅛ teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1½ cups sour cream
  • ⅔ cup cheddar cheese, shredded

Tex-Mex Dip

  • texmexdip1-300x2251½ teaspoons chili powder
  • ¾ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1½ teaspoons dried minced onion
  • ¾ teaspoon dried chives
  • 1½ teaspoons dried parsley
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup sour cream or yogurt
  • ½ cup mayonnaise

These dips will add the flavor to any party or get-together. Start planning now for you upcoming holiday party.

Improve Credit Score with These Home Finance Tips

credit-scoreHow you manage your home ownership finances affects your credit score—and your ability to refinance later.

Your credit score affects how much you’ll pay for a mortgage or refinance—or even if you can get one at all. Master the six ways to manage home-related spending to keep your credit score braggingly high.

1. Postpone that refinance until your credit is squeaky clean.

Even a small blemish on a credit report can cost you at closing. Money expert Denise Winston found that out firsthand: Her husband hadn’t paid a $40 pager charge. The unpaid bill was turned over to a collection agency and ended up damaging his credit score.

Because of that one small unpaid bill, the interest rate on the couple’s mortgage was 0.25% higher than if he’d had a clean score. Put another way, that’s $13,000 over the life of the loan.

The lesson? Even small items can damage your financial position. Get your credit report beforehand to see if there’s anything damaging. If so, consider postponing a refinance or HELOC (home equity line of credit) until small but potentially costly dings fade over time.

2. Pay your mortgage—now.

Not all late payments are created equal: Almost nothing hits your credit score harder than a late mortgage payment. Payment history generally accounts for 35% of your credit score, which is bad enough, but credit score agencies consider late home payments graver than late credit card or car loan payments.

In fact, credit score agency VantageScore will knock off more than 100 points beyond what it would do for delinquent auto loans or credit cards.

But if you think you can improve your credit score with early payments, think again. Geoff Williams, co-author of Living Well with Bad Credit, says it may make a slightly positive impression on today’s risk-averse lender, but it won’t make a big difference in getting future credit.

3. Cool it on second mortgages and HELOCs.

Drawing down a second mortgage or HELOC can have a negative impact on your credit score because 30% of your credit score is based on how much you owe to creditors. However, if you pay the loan on time, it will have less of an impact, says Winston.

Also, you can mitigate the credit score damage of a HELOC by staying within 30% of the limit.

4. Protect your mortgage to protect your insurance rate.

Late payments on your mortgage may also affect your home owners and automobile insurance rates, potentially costing you hundreds of dollars a year, says Williams. Insurers may assume that if you’re strapped for cash and pay your bills late, you’re more likely to file a claim because you need the money.

5. Pay your utility bills and property taxes on time.

If you’re late on your utility bills and your account is assigned to a collection agency, that agency may report it, causing a drop in your credit score, says Winston. The good news is that utility companies often don’t bother to report late bills to credit bureaus until your delinquency becomes serious.

Interestingly, late payment of property taxes won’t affect your credit score unless you find yourself with a lien on your property. Since liens are public records, they may appear on your credit report and might cause a drop in your credit score.

6. Refinancing? Beware of taking out equity, too.

Refinancing your home generally won’t have an impact on your credit score as long as you continue to pay your loan on time, says Williams. However, if you extract equity in the deal, you could marginally affect your credit score because the amount you owe will increase.