Gunning Daily News

U.S. Maple Syrup Industry at Risk; How You Can Help

February 22, 2012 4:46 pm

As winter begins to wane, the maple sugaring season begins in the Northeast and the Midwest. The centuries-old tradition of tapping maple trees for sap to make syrup is threatened by the spread of the Asian longhorned beetle (ALB), which kills maple trees and travels on infested firewood. Because these beetles are not native to this continent, they have no effective natural predators, and native trees have no resistance to their tunneling and chewing.

ALB infestations have occurred in several maple syrup-producing states. The most recent infestation, which threatens the Midwest, was found in June 2011 near Cincinnati, Ohio. Eradication efforts are underway, including the tragic but necessary removal of many mature maple trees. The infestation of ALB discovered in the Worcester, Mass. area in August 2008 poses a particularly serious threat to New England's maples, because of the large area the beetles had infested before being discovered. Earlier infestations of the beetle were found in both New York and New Jersey, but the beetle is believed to be under control in those two states. Throughout the region, state officials are vigilant for new infestations.
"Because some people don't realize that moving firewood can spread this tree-killing beetle, more infestations may be discovered in other cities and towns in maple-producing areas," says Leigh Greenwood, Don't Move Firewood campaign manager, The Nature Conservancy. "Once an infestation occurs, the only way to stop the Asian longhorned beetle's spread is to cut down all the infested and host trees – impacting property owners and local communities and posing a huge threat to the maple syrup industry."

While these pests cannot move far on their own, when people move firewood that harbors them, they unwittingly enable these pests to start an infestation far from their current range. A visual inspection cannot easily detect these pests since they can be hidden in the layers of wood beneath the bark.

"It might seem like a good idea to obtain some firewood from another area, or to take along firewood when going camping, but just one log can start a new infestation of the Asian longhorned beetle or other tree-killing pests," says Greenwood. "By buying locally harvested wood, people can help protect their trees by not risking the accidental movement of insects and diseases that can affect entire forests."

Following are tips from the Don't Move Firewood campaign:

• Obtain firewood near the location where you will burn it – that means the wood was cut in a nearby forest, in the same county, or a maximum of 50 miles from where you'll have your fire.
• Don't be tempted to bring firewood home just because the wood looks clean and healthy. It could still harbor tiny insect eggs or microscopic fungal spores that could start a new and deadly infestation of forest pests.
• Aged or seasoned wood is not considered safe to move, but commercially kiln-dried wood is a good option if you must transport firewood.
• If you have already moved firewood, and you need to dispose of it safely, burn it soon and completely. Make sure to rake the storage area carefully and also burn the debris. In the future, buy from a local source.
• Take care to respect all state and local regulations on firewood movement – some areas are subject to serious fines for violations. For more information, visit your state agricultural department's web site: http://www.rma.usda.gov/other/stateag.html.
• Tell your friends and others about the risks of moving firewood – no one wants to be responsible for starting a new pest infestation.

For more information, visit www.dontmovefirewood.org and www.nature.org.

Word of the Day

February 22, 2012 4:46 pm

Assessed value. A value placed on a property by an agency of the government for taxation and other purposes.

Question of the Day

February 22, 2012 4:46 pm

Q: What are jumbo loans?

A: If you borrow at or below the conventional loan limit for non-government mortgages, you have what is known as a "conforming" loan. If the amount surpasses the loan limit that is set by both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac –now $333,700 for a single-family home – you would then have a "jumbo" loan and pay a somewhat higher rate because lenders believe these larger loans carry more risk.
There are also loan limits on FHA and VA loans. Veterans who live in high-cost areas or who wish to buy or refinance a home loan above $240,000 can now use their VA status to do so. In instances where the new loan amount exceeds that price, the VA will allow the new loan amount to go up to $333,700 – if the veteran either puts down 25 percent of any amount over the $240,000 or has sufficient equity in the property to cover that amount.

Calculating Solar Costs

February 22, 2012 4:46 pm

In our last segment, I began exploring how to size your home up to install solar electrical generating panels. Picking up from there, the folks from residentialsolarpanels.org suggest you calculate up-front costs vs. the long-term savings you could enjoy.

For nearly everyone, the upfront cost of a photovoltaic solar system will be a major factor. However, with the yearly utility savings and the government incentives, it can be well worth the initial investment.

Considering a single solar panel can generate 21.294 kWh/month, if your electricity company charges an average of 20 cents per kWh, you would save about $512 per year. If that system costs $20,000, solar Government rebates / Tax Credits could cut that cost as much as 50 percent, so you’ll have to pay back $10,000.

That means it will take you about 19.5 years for 10 x 2 m² solar panels to pay off the system and begin truly saving. And if you consume 1,000 Kw /Month it will reduce your typical energy bill by about half.

Finally, if all the numbers work out— it's time to plan your photovoltaic system placement. A good rule of thumb to use when determining the correct tilt of solar panels is to find out the approximate latitude of your area and set the panels at an angle equal to that latitude.

This should maximize the amount of solar radiation absorbed all year. If the southward facing roof on which the panels will be installed is slanted beyond the angle of your area’s latitude, then the panels should be lifted at the bottom edges, in order to achieve the best radiation angle, whenever possible.

For flat roofs, any of the four sides can be elevated to match the latitude angle.

Finally, to start a power purchase agreement with your local utility, you will have to start filling out paperwork to get approved. One of the first things that you will have to submit is your current electric bills.

This is to show what your normal consumption is. If you get approved, you could get some solar renewable energy credits for every megawatt hour you are producing.

If your state offers money for these credits, it could add up to some nice pay for you, according to the folks at residentialsolarpanels.org.

What Homeowners Want From Their Roofs

February 22, 2012 4:46 pm

Your roof is your home’s largest investment, which could explain why homeowners have some pretty specific roofing expectations. In the 2011 DaVinci Roofscapes’ Homeowners Exterior Preferences Study, more than 1,000 homeowners overwhelming indicated that durability and longevity were the two key aspects that will influence the type of roof they purchase for their homes in the future.

Results of the nationwide consumer study, conducted by Harris Interactive©, show that 88 percent of the respondents indicate that the durability of a roofing product will have “a lot of influence” on the product they select when it comes time to purchase a new roof.

“Extreme weather events have increased in frequency and severity in the past decade and that has changed the way people think about their roofs,” says Ray Rosewall, CEO and president of DaVinci Roofscapes. “It used to be that if you lived in the southern states, winter weather was mild. Now those same states routinely experience the damaging winds and hail that were only seen in the warmer months in the past.

“These weather events are increasing in frequency and severity and are now occurring in almost every state. With the dramatic weather changes we’ve experienced recently it’s no wonder homeowners name durability as their number one influencer when considering the purchase of a new roof.”

When do homeowners plan to replace their roofs and what influences that decision? In the same study, 65 percent of homeowners indicated they would be prompted to replace their roof if it became damaged from severe weather. Another 23 percent reported that their current roof is old and will soon need to be replaced, with an additional 13 percent indicating that their roof is near the end of its warranty and needs to be replaced.

Top 10 Influencers


Homeowners ranked the following factors as having “a lot of influence” in the decision-making process for the type of new roof to purchase:

88 percent – Durability
83 percent – Longevity/Built to Last
72 percent – Low/No Maintenance
71 percent – Resistant to Severe Weather
69 percent – Has a Warranty
57 percent – Fire Resistancy
55 percent – Material Roof is Made Out of
50 percent – Price
41 percent – Colors Available
24 percent – Complements the Neighborhood Setting

“Everyone is cost conscious but it’s interesting to see that homeowners are putting more value on the inherent quality and durability of the alternatives when looking at the cost of a new roof,” says Rosewall. “We believe this truly reflects the thought process of the homeowner that a roof is an investment in their home, and as such, they will get more value from a quality roof versus a lower cost bargain-basement priced roof.

Source: http://www.davinciroofscapes.com.

From Bankruptcy to an 820 Credit Score

February 22, 2012 4:46 pm

That bad credit decision you made in college can haunt you for the rest of your life. However, if you’re smart about it, you can restore your good credit and make things like applying for a loan to purchase a home an easier task.

Writer Kate Raidt of www.SWparents.com knows all about restoring her good credit. Raidt filed for bankruptcy in 2001, and 10 years later has not only officially removed it from her credit score, but she now has a credit score of an impressive 820! Read on as Raidt lets us in on how she went from one of the worst credit histories a human being can possibly have to one of the top 1 percent of credit scores in America.

First, here are the facts about credit scores:
• A credit score is primarily based on credit report information, typically from one of the three major credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. Income is not considered by the major credit bureaus when calculating a credit score.
• The most common score comes from FICO and can range from a score of 300-850
• In 2010, the average FICO credit score in America was 723
• Less than 1 percent of Americans have a credit score over 800
• In 2009, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts determined that there were 1,412,838 non-business bankruptcy filings in America that year

Here are the steps Raidt took to re-build her credit and earn a credit score over 800, as written on SWparents.com

1. I had a big “Come to Jesus” wake-up talk with myself. The day I walked into bankruptcy court I swore to myself this will never happen again. Ever. Ever. I had to admit to myself that I was living way beyond my means and my credit card debt was nobody’s fault but my own.

2. I had to completely change my spending habits. Cash only. I had to live by the old rule If you can’t pay cash for it, you can’t afford it! Boy, ain’t that the truth? Every time I walked in a store, I had to ask myself “Do I really need that? Why do I want to buy that? To fill an emotional void? Keep up with the Joneses? Walk away, Kate. Walk away. YOU DON’T NEED THAT.” Today, if it’s not me having this conversation with myself, it’s my husband.

3. I had heard horror stories about people who had filed for bankruptcy who couldn’t get a car or even an apartment to live in. About a year after I filed for bankruptcy, my car was stolen and I had to purchase a new one. The credit manager said my interest rates would be a little higher, but other than this I had no problems buying a car. Years later, I became a homeowner – no problem at all. The lender didn’t even mention my bankruptcy! Why? This takes me to my next step…

4. I was a ninja at repairing my credit. I paid ALL bills on time. I got copies of all three credit reports and found mistakes on all of them that were costing me points. I wrote letters to all three credit bureaus and asked for these mistakes to be removed. Unfortunately, in this country, you have to have debt to have positive credit history. I applied for ONE credit card with a very low limit of only $1,000 and I started playing the credit game: Put very small purchases on a credit card (gas, groceries) and pay it in full every month. If you do this over and over (and never get close to your credit limit), then you will be declared a person who can manage a credit card responsibly and your credit score will fly in a positive direction. If you start to play the credit card game and you see yourself falling into old habits, destroy your credit card immediately and stop the game. The majority of people I know who have filed for bankruptcy end up in even bigger debt 7-10 years later. Why? Because they never learned how to control their spending habits.

5. My final biggest step? I married a man who is a ninja about finances (thank you, Daniel!). He is tougher on me than I am on myself. He never spends what we can’t afford and is a big believer of living below our means (he doesn’t care about the Joneses). Another trap for people trying to get out of debt is that they have a spouse who is a big spender. What if dad was in recovery for alcohol abuse, but mom kept the fridge stocked with Budweiser? How successful do you think dad’s recovery will be? Same rule applies to money. If you are trying to hunker down and get your finances in order, but others around you are sinking your ship, then BOTH of you need a Come to Jesus talk, a Dave Ramsey course or a slap in the rear by Suze Orman.

To read the original article, click here.

Word of the Day

February 22, 2012 4:46 pm

As is. Said of property offered for sale in its present condition with no guarantees as to quality and no promise of repair or fix-up by the seller; property is purchased in exactly the condition in which it is found.

Question of the Day

February 22, 2012 4:46 pm

Q: How do growing equity mortgages work?

A: Also called GEMs, these fixed-rate mortgages have monthly payments that increase in increments of 3 percent or more to reduce the principal loan amount. They are often written by the lender at a below-market interest rate and have shorter terms.

A GEM lets you pay off the mortgage earlier, save tens of thousands of dollars in interest payments, and build equity quickly. A 30-year GEM, depending on the interest rate, can normally be paid off in 15 to 20 years.

What You Need to Know About Buying a Home Security System

February 21, 2012 3:28 pm

Everyone wants to protect their home, their property, and most of all, their families. In fact, market research suggests the home security business is growing at a rate of about 9 percent a year. But home security systems are not all alike.

Some systems can not only warn you of intruders, but can also notify authorities, monitor smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and/or include video surveillance. Mot security alarm installers can provide services that include equipment plus installation and monitoring service.

If you are thinking about buying a home security system, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) suggests that you:
• Get references from friends, neighbors or relatives.
• Check out companies online and check the Better Business Bureau for complaints.
• Verify that the contractor’s license is in good standing via the National Association of State Contractors Licensing Agencies.
• Get written estimates from several companies.
• Read the fine print regarding costs, installation timeline, warranty, and an explanation of your right to cancel within three days of signing a contract.
• Ask lots of questions:
• Who will perform the installation and monitor the system? Some companies subcontract this work to a third party.
• What is the contract period for monitoring? One year? More? Are there penalties for early termination? What happens if you move before the contract term is up?
• How much does the monitoring cost? How often will you be billed?
• Does the company call you before notifying the police?
• How soon after the alarm sounds will you be notified?
• What happens if the alarm company can't reach you when the alarm is sounding? Is the alarm reset? Are the police called? Are alternate numbers called?
• What happens if the power goes out? Is there a back-up battery system?
• What does the warranty cover, and for how long? Is it from the manufacturer or their installer?
• Who is responsible for repairs or upgrades to the system?
• Does the company offer interactive services like smoke and fire detection, remote control, video surveillance, email notifications and special apps for smartphones?

Ban Texting, Facebook, In-Car Dialing, Feds Say

February 21, 2012 3:28 pm

Guess what has caught the eye of the U.S. Transportation Department (DOT)? Distracted driving. The agency is calling for automakers to step up and restrict or ban texting, Facebook, Internet browsing, and other electronics in cars.

This news comes as many new vehicles are being built with a variety of electronic options installed in their dashboard. These hands-free devices are often popular additions to vehicles and attractive options for car-buyers.

But these options can become fatal as distracted driving can lead to car accidents. Individuals who take their eyes off the road—even for a split second—could wind up hurt.

According to the NHTSA, there were 3,092 individuals involved in car accidents related to distracted driving in 2010. This accounts for 9.4 percent of fatalities on the road.

And it's possible that with more gadgets in cars, the number will only increase. In fact, there are 29 percent more new cars this year with smartphone and embedded-connectivity units in North America.
For now, the DOT is only urging for voluntary compliance. They believe this will net a faster impact compared with a compulsory rule, according to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

The rules will limit users' ability to key in addresses into navigation systems, input phone numbers, or "visual manual" text message unless the car is stopped, reports USA Today.

The NHTSA is fielding comments and input about their new regulations. The agency will be holding hearings nationwide.

One can only hope the new stance taken by the DOT will reduce distracted driving. However, it remains to be seen whether or not automakers will comply with the voluntary guidelines.

Source: www.findlaw.com