February 6, 2013 5:28 pm
The groundhog may have predicted an early spring, but winter weather doesn’t seem to have given up quite yet. With freezing temps in certain areas of the country, your pipes may be taking a hit. Insurance, a Michigan-exclusive property and casualty insurance carrier, offers a few tips to protect your home or business against two of the most significant winter risks: ice dams and frozen pipes.
Ice dams occur when heavy snow buildup melts during the day then refreezes as temperatures drop overnight. After several days of this cycle, the melted water and ice work up under the shingles entering the attic and damaging ceilings, walls and contents.
To help prevent dams from forming:
Frozen water pipes
- Keep gutters and down spouts clear of debris, snow and ice, so melting roof snow can flow
- Keep snow on your roof to a minimum. Roof rakes let you stand on the ground to safely pull the snow off the roof
- Evaluate attic insulation and ventilation. Good airflow is essential to a cool, dry attic
cause extensive damage to many homes and businesses every winter. If you think turning the heat down while you're away or on vacation will save you money, think again. If your water pipes freeze and burst, it could cause thousands of dollars in damage. Homeowners can take some simple preventive measures:
If you do discover frozen pipes:
- Locate and insulate pipes susceptible to freezing – typically near outer walls, in crawl spaces, or in the attic
- Wrap pipes with UL-approved heat tape and seal air leaks
- Disconnect garden hoses and shut off and drain water from pipes leading to outside faucets
- Drain and shut off the water supply (except indoor sprinkler systems) if you expect to be away for several days
- Have someone check regularly to ensure the heat is still on and things are okay
- Make sure you and your family knows how to shut off the water to your home
- Never try to thaw a pipe with an open flame or torch
- If pipes burst, stop the flow of water as soon as possible to minimize damage
- Be mindful of the risk of electric shock in and around standing water
- Call a plumber and contact your insurance agent right away
February 6, 2013 5:28 pm
(BPT) - Whether snuggling in for the night or just trying to catch a quick few winks, your environment plays an important role in determining if you're counting sheep or counting Zzzs. From noise reduction to lighting, there are a few easy ways you can turn your bedroom into a tranquil oasis.
"A third of the adult population suffers from insomnia from time to time, but only about 6 percent meet the criteria for an actual sleep disorder," says Dr. Christina Brown from the Florida School of Professional Psychology at Argosy University, Tampa. "In a good number of cases, getting to sleep and staying asleep is a matter of your surroundings."
Kristina Held, assistant professor of Interior Design at The Art Institute of Charlotte, a campus of South University, focuses on areas of the bedroom that you may want to re-evaluate in order to create the sleep haven you've been craving.
"Creating a bedroom that is conducive to your most restful sleep might require a bit of homework, but I think you'll find it won't take you long," Held says. "As an interior designer, I like to focus on lighting, bedding, furniture and decor."
Humans were created to be in-synch with the sun cycle. For this reason, Held recommends positioning your bed to the east so that you will be able to wake up seeing the sun rays peeking in around your curtains.
"Try several layers of curtains to block out light at night," Held says. "Sheers and heavy protective curtains can help soften the room visually, help with sound absorption, help insulate the window, and are a great opportunity to bring in some color and pattern." You can leave the sheers drawn during the day to diffuse daylight while protecting against views from the outside.
Both Brown and Held warn about electronics that provide artificial light in the bedroom. "Get rid of your phones, TVs and iPads while in bed. The artificial light will interrupt your sleep cycle and keep your brain activated, making it harder to get to sleep and keep you off the more natural sleep patterns," Brown says.
"A comfortable mattress enclosed in a hypoallergenic cover protects from dust mites and allergens such as animal dandruff and pollen," recommends Held. Try to use only natural fiber content for your bedding such as cotton, organic cotton, silk, or linen blend. Also try using hypoallergenic pillows to prevent allergies. Held also recommends placing a humidifier in your room during the winter months, and changing your air filters at least once in three months.
Furniture and decor:
"Don't use reds, it makes you awake and some say aggressive. Neutral colors, along with blues and greens, evoke calming feelings that we get when we are surrounded by nature," Held says.
Place a neutral area rug for noise reduction and decoration. If you live in a busy area, Brown recommends a white noise machine or ceiling fan to drown out the background noise. Don't forget to include some inspiring artwork that is meaningful and brings you feelings of calm.
Horizontal lines inspire calmness and are well-suited for a bedroom. Natural materials bring in a relaxing factor as well. Lastly, unclutter your bedroom as much as possible - it will clear your mind. Some horizontal book shelves may just be the trick to de-cluttering and adding the horizontal line accents.
Both Held and Brown agree that keeping your home cooler during the night will help you sleep better. Keep your thermostat at the most comfortable cool setting, as changes in your body's thermal regulation will wake you.
"In the short-term, just one sleep-deprived night can interfere with your ability to concentrate, affect your mood and even make you drowsy during the day," explains Brown. If getting healthier is part of your new year's resolution this year, make getting adequate sleep part of your goal.
February 6, 2013 5:28 pm
A: As with HUD, anyone can purchase a VA home. Qualified buyers also can receive the benefit of a VA loan – no money down – even if they are not veterans. If you are interested in purchasing a VA foreclosure, visit its web site, www.va.gov.
February 6, 2013 5:28 pm
First mortgage. Mortgage on a property that is superior to any other. It is the first to be paid in the event of foreclosure.
February 5, 2013 5:16 pm
Whether you love or loathe Valentine’s day, you have to admit that America seems smitten with the annual celebration of love. This day, dedicated to romance, has long been one of the most popular for dining out.
According to a survey by OpenTable, the world's leading provider of online restaurant reservations, restaurants are poised to be busy with diners celebrating love not only on Thursday, February 14, but on the weekend following Valentine's Day. OpenTable diners also indicated that they plan to celebrate love in a big way with a projected check average of $139, which is 63 percent more than the typical OpenTable check average of $85 per couple. The survey results also provided a peek into dating habits and trends related to the busiest holiday for dining out.
"The idea of a romantic Valentine's Day meal often conjures up images of lavish tasting menus, enchanting small plates, and prix fixe menus," says Caroline Potter , Chief Dining Officer of OpenTable. "However, our survey revealed some surprising insights into how people want to celebrate Valentine's Day and an indication of romantic trends to come. Diners prefer a la carte ordering in a classic three-course meal where they can personalize their experience."
Long Weekend of Love
- 51 percent of respondents said they plan to dine out on the Thursday, February 14, while 36 percent said they plan to celebrate Valentine's Day on Friday, February 15, or Saturday, February 16.
- 5 percent of diners said they plan to celebrate on Wednesday, February 13.
- 8 percent of respondents plan on dining out more than once for Valentine's Day.
Positive Reviews and Ambience Matter Most
Most Desirable Menus
- Respondents indicated that the top three factors in selecting a restaurant for Valentine's Day are positive reviews (34 percent), romantic ambience (27 percent) and service (16 percent).
- Less important attributes included restaurant location (14 percent), special Valentine's Day menus (8 percent) and the quality of the wine list (1 percent).
Romance and Restaurants Go Hand in Hand
- When presented with menu options, diners said they prefer A la Carte (67 percent) over Prix Fixe (33 percent) menus.
- Traditional menus came out on top with the majority of diners (56 percent) saying they would select a classic three-course meal (starter, entrée, and dessert).
- Others preferred sharing several small plates (23 percent), feasting only on entrees (13 percent) or enjoying an extensive menu (8 percent).
- 21 percent of diners said they would go on a first date on Valentine's Day, while 42 percent said that Valentine's Day dining is reserved for those dating for a month or two.
- The remaining 37 percent of respondents think that dining on the most romantic day of the year should be reserved for those who have been dating at least 3 months.
- 71 percent of diners said that only some PDA is appropriate on the most romantic day of the year, while 21 percent think Valentine's Day is all about the PDA. Still, 8 percent said that PDA in a restaurant is never appropriate.
- Put your phone away! 56 percent of women and 61 percent of men say talking and texting at the table is the biggest dining faux pas a date can commit.
- Being rude to wait staff was the second biggest no-no for 32 percent of women and 28 percent of men.
February 5, 2013 5:16 pm
When it comes to tax season, every year is a little different. Laws change, some benefits kick in while others end, and natural disasters can have an impact on your tax return.
The deadline for filing your taxes is April 15, 2013. While this is the normal deadline, there are some important new things you should know about the 2013 tax season.
Tax Season Started Late This Year
The 2013 tax season started about a week later this year due to tax law changes enacted by Congress at the beginning of January. Most people can file their individual income tax returns starting January 30, but you might have to wait until the end of February or March if you're filing certain forms, including:
- Form 5695 (Residential Energy Credits)
- Form 4562 (Depreciation and Amortization)
- Form 3800 (General Business Credit)
The IRS has a complete list of forms it will begin accepting in late February or March.
Tax Relief for Disaster Survivors
The IRS offers tax relief programs to individuals and businesses affected by disasters such as flooding, earthquakes, wildfires, and hurricanes, including last year's Hurricane Sandy. Tax relief can include some of the following help:
New Process to Apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)
- Additional time to file your taxes
- Additional time to pay your taxes
- Quick tax returns for losses related to disasters
Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers are issued to people who want to file their taxes but do not have a Social Security Number.
Starting January 1, 2013, important changes were made to the application process, including the following:
- The IRS will only accept original identification documents such as passports and birth certificates or certified copies from the agency that issued them
- Notarized copies of documents will not be accepted
- New Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs) will be valid for a period of five years
The IRS offers more information about Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs) on its website, including how to apply for one and where to get help.
Scams and Fraud
While tax seasons can vary slightly each year, there's one thing that rarely changes: scammers are always trying to steal your personal information.
Identity theft is one of the most common types of fraud. It often starts when a scammer sends out an e-mail pretending to be the IRS and asks for your personal information. It's called phishing and may also occur through other types of electronic communication such as text messages, so be careful.
The IRS does not initiate communications via e-mails and provides these tips to help you protect your personal information. They also explain what you should do if you receive a message supposedly from the IRS.
USA.gov and GobiernoUSA.gov are the U.S. Government's official web portals in English and Spanish, and part of the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA).
February 5, 2013 5:16 pm
(Family Features)—The groundhog has made his announcement! Spring is on the way. And with spring comes a sense of fresh beginnings, and for many, that includes the annual ritual of spring cleaning. A survey conducted by the American Cleaning Institute found that 62 percent of people engage in spring cleaning each year, and their top three priorities are the kitchen, bedroom and bathroom.
This year, spring cleaning doesn't have to be a long, dreaded process. Follow these quick tips to not only get your house clean in no time, but keep it clean in the long run.
Dealing with Dust
Dust buildup not only looks bad, but it can also be bad for allergies.
- Skip the feather duster -- it just spreads dust around. For fast dusting, use multi-surface cleaning wipes to pick up dust from furniture and electronics. When you dust, work from the top down.
- Cut back on dust by making sure your vacuum cleaner bags and filters are clean and in good working order. That will keep dust and debris from being blown out into the air as you vacuum.
- Change your furnace filter regularly and dust or vacuum vents to keep buildup to a minimum.
As one of the busiest rooms in the house, the kitchen gets cleaned frequently, but there are some areas that may need a little more TLC.
- Use steam to clean the inside of the microwave. Bring two cups of water to a boil in the microwave, keep the door closed and let the water sit for a few minutes. The steam loosens dried-on food particles, making it easier to wipe them away. For a fresh scent, drop a slice or two of lemon in the water before boiling. Keep it clean by using food covers to prevent food splatters.
- Keeping the sink, counters and appliances clean and sanitized is fast and easy with an antibacterial cleaning product. A quick pump onto a paper towel, rag or sponge and you can wipe away messes and kill 99.9 percent of common household bacteria in no time. The bottle is designed to stay out where you need it, and the cleaner works on a variety of hard, non-porous surfaces.
- When you clean the sink, make sure to get behind the faucet and around the seals using an old toothbrush.
- Don't forget to clean the outside of the refrigerator and freezer. Clear off the clutter of notes, coupons and photos, and then clean the doors, handles and seals.
- Keep the inside of the refrigerator smelling fresh with an open box of baking soda.
From make-up spills and toothpaste smudges to mildew and everything in-between, the bathroom needs touching-up on a daily basis.
- To keep the counter clean of little messes and smudges, use an antibacterial product. Windex also makes a Touch-Up Cleaner for the bathroom. Dab the cleaner onto a rag or tissue and wipe down the counter, faucet and any other hard, non-porous surfaces to clean and sanitize quickly.
- To get rid of soap scum, clean the tub and shower with a foaming cleanser that does most of the work for you, and simply rinse it off. Wash shower curtains and liners according to label instructions.
- To help prevent soap scum buildup in the future, try switching to a liquid shower gel. Bar soaps have binders that are a primary cause of soapy residue. You can also use a towel to quickly wipe down the tub and faucets after each shower.
- Combination mold and mildew cleaners can make fast work of those deep messes. Spray where needed, and rinse off following label instructions. Be sure the bathroom is well ventilated before spraying them on.
- To discourage mildew, use the bathroom fan during a shower and for about 30 minutes after. You can also use a dehumidifier or open the window.
You'll be amazed at how much cleaner a room will look when the floors are done right.
- If you have the time and money to rent and use a carpet cleaner, now's the time to do it. If not, target stains with a carpet cleaner and give all your carpets a good vacuuming. Sprinkle baking soda on carpets and rugs to absorb odors.
- Steam mops are a great way to quickly clean multiple flooring surfaces without a mop and bucket. You can do a whole room in just a few minutes.
- A lot of the dirt and dust in a home is brought inside on the soles of your shoes. To keep carpets and flooring clean, place doormats inside and outside each entrance and always take your shoes off when entering.
- Wiping floorboards of dust and dirt is often overlooked and makes a big difference in the appearance of your home.
Keep these items handy to make spring cleaning -- and everyday cleaning -- a breeze.
- Adhesive lint roller -- Great for quickly sprucing up fabric and upholstery. You can also use it to remove dust from lamp shades.
- Baking soda -- Helps neutralize odors in sinks, refrigerators, upholstery and carpets.
- Windex Touch-Up Cleaner -- A convenient solution to tackle the frequent messes that happen in the bathroom and kitchen.
- Multi-surface wipes -- Make it easy to freshen up any room in the house.
- Sponges -- Good for removing scuff marks and smudges from walls and furniture.
February 5, 2013 5:16 pm
Fixtures. Any personal property that has been permanently attached to real property and therefore included in the transfer of real estate. The kitchen sink
February 5, 2013 5:16 pm
A: If you have the cash or can qualify for a mortgage, you can buy a HUD home. Down payments vary depending on whether the property is eligible for FHA insurance. If so, the down payment can be lower than the 5 to 20 percent required on conventional loans.
HUD requires that all accepted offers be accompanied by an earnest money deposit equal to 5 percent of the bid price, not to exceed $2,000, but not less than $500.
Foreclosure properties are sold "as is," meaning limited repairs have been made but no structural or mechanical warranties are implied. If a HUD home needs to be fixed - and not all of them do - it can still be a bargain. HUD adjusts the asking price to reflect the fact that the buyer will have to invest money to make improvements. The agency also might offer special incentives such as an allowance to upgrade the property or a bonus for closing the sale early. And buyers can request that HUD pay all or a portion of the financing and closing costs. Contact your real estate agent for more details.
To learn more about HUD foreclosures, visit their web site at www.hud.gov
February 4, 2013 6:08 pm
(BPT) - Ideally, you'll have a few days notice to get everything in order when you're hosting guests. But everyone knows that's not always the case. Drop-ins happen and you can make a choice between panicking or embracing the spontaneity of a last-minute get-together with your friends and family. The key to being an unflappable host is having a simple process to get your home guest-ready in a hurry.
You don't have to be a neat freak or Michelin chef to make an impromptu gathering at your house a success. You simply need to prioritize what is most important to get done, and rely on some help from modern technology to speed up the process. Here's a guide for entertaining on a dime that will make unplanned visits more pleasant surprises rather than major inconveniences:
Enlist a full-time housekeeper.
Maybe you don't have the means to put someone in charge of keeping your house clean, but you can put gadgets on the job full-time. Rather than spending time to clean floors yourself, let a robot do the work for you. iRobot Mint, which features both a sweep and mop mode, can effectively handle the job of cleaning your hard floor surfaces all by itself. Mint works with cleaning cloths made by brands like Swiffer, as well as its own specifically designed microfiber cloths that can be reused hundreds of times. It automatically cleans along walls, around furniture and into corners, while avoiding stairs and carpet, so there's no need to supervise while it does its job.
Get into party mode with the touch of the play button
. Connect your home stereo system with Bluetooth-enabled technology that can allow you to cue up the tunes simply by giving the orders through your smart phone or another connected device. Curating party playlists can be a fun activity during your downtime so you can be all set to go when you get the call that guests are on the way.
Whip up delivery on speed dial
. Store a list of your go-to numbers for food delivery service on your phone so you can make the call once you know you'll be having visitors. If you're not one who likes to order out, keep a stash your favorite snacks or appetizers in the freezer for quick reheating when guests arrive. Last-minute guests won't be expecting a three-course meal, so convenience is more important than elaborately prepared meals.
Ditch the dishes
. Make things easier for you and festive for your guests by keeping decorative paper plates and napkins on hand. Storing a stash of these in a kitchen drawer is ideal for last-minute hosting since it means you don't have to worry about hurriedly washing the dishes or creating a mess that you'll need to clean up later.
Embrace quick fixes.
You wouldn't normally throw everything that's been left out in a storage room, but it won't hurt if you're just hosting company for a few hours - you can put everything in its proper space once they're gone. Keep items like stain sticks on hand for quick coverage of stains and smudges you've been meaning to get to tackle. Start by clearing the entry way, move to the living room and forget about areas your guests probably won't see.
Last-minute hosting doesn't have to be stress-inducing, especially since your guests won't be looking for the royal treatment if they're coming over on short notice.