Gunning Daily News

Best of Countertop Options for Your Kitchen

September 19, 2011 5:39 pm

If a little updating is in your kitchen’s future, one of the most important choices you will need to make involves your kitchen countertop. These days, there are many choices and more than a few differences in wearability, longevity and cost.

From home store kitchen consultant Jeff Wittenberg, here are the pros and cons about today’s most popular countertop materials:

• Granite – A good choice for looks, durability and elegance, granite stands up to heat, requires little maintenance, and will likely last a lifetime. It’s expensive, but coming down in price, and is available in a variety of colors and natural patterns. Cutting directly on them won’t harm this super-hard surface but will dull knives.
• Engineered stone – Composed of 93% quartz particles, these countertop options are expensive but are nonporous, resistant to scratches and stains, and require little to no maintenance.
• Marble – beautiful, water- and heat proof, marble is expensive and vulnerable to stains and scratches. Requires a lot of care.
• Solid surface – These custom engineered countertops are seamless and stain resistant and come in a rainbow of colors – but they are vulnerable to hot pans and stains and are moderately expensive.
• Ceramic tile – Durable, inexpensive and easy to clean, ceramic tile can take the heat and is easy to clean. But tiles can chip or crack over time and grout lines can become stained.
• Laminates – these plastic coated synthetics are durable and inexpensive. They are easy to clean, and available in many colors, but cracks and chips are impossible to repair.
• Wood or butcher block – Beautiful and easy to clean, hardwood countertops can be sanded and resealed as needed—but they can be damaged over time by water and stains, and scratches must be oiled or sealed.

New Online Guides Teach Consumers How Building Codes Make Homes More Energy Efficient

September 19, 2011 5:39 pm

Thanks to the new partnership between the Building Codes Assistance Project (BCAP) and Consumers Union, user-friendly, interactive online guides and downloadable publications are helping homeowners and buyers save energy and money by teaching them the potential of building energy codes to address and improve home energy performance.

“Everyone should have the right to an energy-efficient home that meets national standards,” saysCosimina Panetti, advocacy director of BCAP. “Energy codes—minimum requirements for efficient design and construction—offer a cost-effective way to reduce energy use and monthly bills, while also lowering carbon emissions. It’s a win-win-win.”

Energy Codes: A Consumer Issue

A 2011 Consumers Union survey found that 86% of homeowners want to know a home’s energy operating costs before they buy or rent; 82% of homeowners believe they have a right to homes that meet national standards; and 77% of homeowners think that homebuilders should not construct less efficient homes at the consumer’s expense.

“Energy codes affect the majority of the population, but are often overlooked as a consumer issue,” says Stacy Weisfeld, energy campaign organizer for Consumers Union. “Strong energy codes help not only people moving into new homes, but also future buyers and the community as a whole.”

The average U.S. homeowner will spend about $2,175 on home energy costs this year, or about $180 a month. An energy-efficient home that complies with the 2009 national energy code can save homeowners $235 or more each year compared to an average new home that does not meet the 2009 code.

Energy Code Resources

The new tools provide information about energy codes and checklists homeowners and buyers can use to identify whether construction meets building energy code requirements.

The interactive tools and downloadable publications are hosted on both the BCAP website and the Consumer Reports Greener Choices site.

The resources include:

• Energy Code Guides
Learn how to increase home energy performance through in-depth guides.

• Energy Code Printable Checklists
The checklists help determine if a new home meets national energy code standards, and teach consumers how to read the Energy Code Certificate that builders post in new or substantially renovated homes.

• Energy Codes Location Guide
This step-by-step guide provides building energy codes based on location and information on whether or not the code is being effectively enforced.

Documents That Explain What Energy Codes Are
Fact sheets and a PowerPoint presentation provide basic information about building energy codes and explain why they are important.

Select State Guides and Checklists
BCAP has partnered with state energy offices in Alabama, Kentucky, Missouri and Nebraska to create customized energy code resources for consumers in each state.

“We want to empower consumers to shop assertively for energy efficiency when they buy or renovate a home, just as they have learned to do when they shop for refrigerators and air conditioners,” Weisfeld says. “Consumers who use these new energy codes toolkits will know exactly what to look for, and which questions to ask builders, sellers and home inspectors when shopping for a home.”

BCAP and Consumers Union are also inviting consumers to become more active in state-based campaigns to educate consumers and strengthen adoption and enforcement of energy codes. Current campaigns are underway in Maine, New Hampshire, Ohio and Michigan.

For more information, visit http://www.ase.org/.

Spike in Home Remodeling to Continue through 2012

September 19, 2011 5:39 pm

The remodeling of older homes is shaping up to be the next big trend in green building. Dr. David Crowe, Chief Economist of the National Association of Home Builders, predicts U.S. home remodeling expenditures will increase by at least 20 percent by the end of 2011. 

Crowe says, "Due to the housing market, homeowners will choose to stay in their homes and invest in updates rather than upgrade by moving." 

That trend apparently is fueling another development in the remodeling industry—the increasing number of products being targeted to the do-it-yourselfer, says Dan Kahn of Floors to Your Home. "With products, such as flooring, becoming more technologically advanced and accessible to the homeowner, remodeling is easier and more cost effective," he says. 

"Due to the economy, homeowners are choosing to add on to their existing homes and manufacturers are helping them with these products that are much easier to install than they were in the past," Kahn says. "Manufacturers are creating products specifically with the do-it-yourselfer in mind." 

He also said that remodeling is popular because "small updates to the home can dramatically change the look and feel of a home, while boosting its value. For example, laminate flooring can make a home look more modern—at a much cheaper rate than a major renovation." 

Real estate statistics also show that homes with hardwood flooring—real or not—often get a higher price than those with carpet. In an effort to make the house more "sellable," homeowners are opting to make those smaller renovations before selling. 

Studies show that in the next five years, the focus of remodeling spending will shift from upper-end discretionary projects to replacements and systems upgrades. Kahn says, "Homeowners should look to do-it-yourself projects, such as laying a floating floor that can go above their existing floor. This way they can still refinish their home, but do it in such a way that it will be cost effective."

For more information, visit www.floorstoyourhome.com.

Keeping Families Healthy and Happy with Minimal Chaos

September 19, 2011 5:39 pm

Daily routines for many families are filled with commitments that lead to chaotic schedules. Calendars are jam-packed with carpools, sports practice and other activities, so keeping the family happy and healthy with balanced meals and fitness can become a challenging priority. 

Organization and meal planning is key, says Kathy Kaehler, Snapware® brand partner and creator of the Sunday Set-Up™ Club. "As a mom, nothing feels better than being organized; it makes my day manageable." Kaehler recommends the following tips to help keep family health and happiness top-of-mind while minimizing the daily chaos of being over-scheduled:
Get a Jump Start on Tomorrow. Pack school bags, including nutritious lunches the night before. 

Set Up a Snack Station. Stay ahead of the bell by setting out containers of after-school snacks on the kitchen counter, so that kids have easy access to healthy snacks as soon as they arrive home. Kaehler recommends filling containers with nutritious snack combinations like carrot sticks with hummus, celery sticks with peanut butter, frozen grapes or frozen banana chips dipped in dark chocolate. 

Stay Active. Schedule a family bike ride, walk, or a soccer game on the lawn. It's important to set an example for your kids when it comes to exercise, and having these activities as part of their daily schedule allows exercise to be a part of their weekly routine. 

Prepare Healthy Dinner Options. Make sure kids get the very best nutrition from family dinners by preparing lean meat meals with lots of fruits and vegetables. To save time and reduce cost, cook once but eat twice by preparing double the portions needed for dinner and refrigerating the leftovers in leak-proof storage containers. A balanced portion of leftovers can then be served on a subsequent day. 

A little organization can go a long way toward making afternoons and evenings less chaotic and more enjoyable for the whole family. For more information on where to find affordable, BPA-free storage solutions visit www.snapware.com. 

This and other food and lifestyle content can be found at www.editors.familyfeatures.com.

Word of the Day

September 19, 2011 5:39 pm

Homeowner’s insurance policy. Packaged insurance policy for homeowners and tenants that cover property damage and public liability, such as fire, theft, and personal liability.

Question of the Day

September 19, 2011 5:39 pm

Q: Is private mortgage insurance always required on low-down payment loans?
A:
Lenders require private mortgage insurance (PMI) on most loans with less than a 20 percent down payment. They believe there is a correlation between borrower equity and default. They have found that the less money borrowers put down, the more likely they are to default on a loan. PMI guarantees the lender will not lose money if this happens and a foreclosure is necessary.
A growing number of private lenders, however, are loosening up their requirements for low-down payment loans. In fact, the Homeowners Protection Act states that PMI must be dropped on any loan originated after July 29, 1999. Borrowers can request that PMI be canceled when they pay down the principal balance on their mortgage loans to 80 percent of the purchase price. Lenders must automatically cancel PMI when the balance hits 78 percent.

5 Cheap Fixes to Improve Your Home Security

September 16, 2011 5:09 pm

In some residential areas, a monitored home security system may be more a necessity than a luxury. But such systems can be expensive, concedes security advisor Bill Wilson, whose career has spanned the gamut from increasing protection from unwanted entry into residences, retail businesses and commercial buildings.

“Professional alarm systems and closed circuit TV are the surest way to increase any building security,” Wilson says. “But there are quick fixes homeowners can choose to lessen the chances of home intrusion.”

Wilson offers five inexpensive ways to increase home security:

1. Improve the lighting – Turn on garden and porch lights every evening, and install extra lights on a timer near all entry points and walkways—enough light to make any would-be burglar feel exposed. When you are away, a timer on several interior lamps can mask the fact that the home is unoccupied.
2. Trim the trees – Tree limbs near the roof can be an invitation to an intruder. Keep trees and shrubbery well-trimmed all around the house.
3. Check the locks – A good deadbolt is better protection from unwanted entry than a simple door handle lock. Also, if your sliding glass doors do not have built-in locks, cut wood or metal rods to size and drop them in the tracks to prevent the doors from opening more than an inch.
4. Don’t tempt fate – Protect small valuables such as cash or jewelry by storing them in a home safe. Don’t display expensive electronics near the windows. When you unpack newly purchased equipment, don’t advertise it at the curb. Cut up the packing boxes and put them into a trash container or drop them at a recycling center.
5. Look for inexpensive alarm protection –Any tripped alarm will deter a would-be intruder. If you can’t afford a monitored system, look for an economical unmonitored system or check local papers and online ads for used alarm system components.

How to Make Your Party Eco Friendly

September 16, 2011 5:09 pm

Having backyard get togethers is a great way to reconnect and spend quality time with friends and family while enjoying delicious food. Please keep the environment in mind while planning a get together. Below are some steps to tread lighter on Mother Earth while enjoying your party.
1. Consider sending an e-vite rather than a paper invitation. This saves time, money and the environment. Evite.com and mypunchbowl.com are some favorites for their unique e-vites.
2. While preparing for the big (or small and intimate) bash, think about what you can use from your home and/or garden to decorate. Take a cue from Martha Stewart by using fresh cut flowers from your garden, an empty vase full of lemons and limes, rocks or pine cones as a centerpiece.
3. Instead of buying disposable plates, cutlery and cups, consider using your own from your cupboards. Not only does this look more elegant, it saves many disposables from going to the landfill. Also, consider using cloth napkins (in bright, fun colors preferably). If you cannot even contemplate doing the dishes after your soirée, please use compostable/biodegradable or recyclable items. www.ecowise.com. Don’t forget to put out a bin so people recycle the recyclables!
4. When deciding the menu for the party, keep the season in mind and what is available locally. Check out your local Farmer’s Markets or www.localharvest.org to get delicious, in season produce that is sure to wow your loved ones.
5. Consider buying your meat from a local source who raises and slaughters their animals humanely. Grilling meat is quite toxic and produces carcinogens. If you want to learn how to make your meat less toxic while grilling, check out this article:http://www.wikihow.com/Make-Outdoor-Grilling-Healthier
6. Let’s not forget the drinks! For adult parties, Sangria is a delectable option especially if using local, organic fruit and even possibly local, organic wine. (http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/classic-spanish-sangria/Detail.aspx)
7. Consider having your backyard bash during the day to take advantage of the natural light. If the evening is the best time for your get together, using natural soy candles to light the way would be an eco-friendly option.
Following the above suggestions will help you reduce your carbon footprint while throwing your fun-filled bash. Sharing food with loved ones can be a source of great pleasure, an expression of caring for others, and a way to slow down the sometimes frenetic pace of our lives. Sharing food is a tangible way to express our desire for community and our willingness to nurture others and be nurtured in turn. Because food is closely connected to our cultural heritage, sharing also allows us to celebrate and experience diverse culinary traditions. Enjoy your eco-friendly soirées!

Tara Fisher is the Founder of Vida Green Consulting and is an environmental educator, health conscious cook and a busy mother of two.

For more information, visit www.swparents.com.

Retirement Planning: 4 Tips for Late Bloomers

September 16, 2011 5:09 pm

Increasingly, Americans are entering the age of retirement without enough savings to do so comfortably. However, it is never too late to focus on life stage retirement planning to make the golden years glisten much more.

Here are some tips to help from retiremenplanning.net:

1. Saving should be a top priority. Some people may have procrastinated while others hit some bumps in the road. Either way, the closer a person gets to retiring, the less working years they have and less time to save. One should look at finances, consider needs and wants, and reprioritize.

2. Delay retiring, especially if you started saving late in life. This is beneficially for Social Security and health insurance purposes. Social Security income is adjusted for inflation, tax efficient and guaranteed by the federal government. Every month a worker is able to put money toward this benefit, up to the age of 70, the more savings will accumulate. If an employer-sponsored health care plan is superior, depending on their situation, one can save a great deal. When retirement planning, people often forget that Medicare does not cover every needed item, which can be very expensive.

3. Reconsider investments. Whether to invest aggressively or conservatively is a tough decision at any age, but especially for someone who is creating a financial plan later in life. One may invest aggressively to make up for lost time while another may shy away from risk because they don't want to lose what little they have saved. Risky speculation and eroding inflation are heavy considerations. The sound advice from a professional in the retirement planning field should be considered to make the right calls.

4. Take advantage of tax-efficient plans. Taxes can quickly chip away at savings. People entering an age to retire should especially consider as many tax efficient plans as possible, such as a 401k, Roth IRA and traditional IRAs.

For Your College Student: Ways to Stay Ahead of Fellow College Graduates in the Job Search

September 16, 2011 5:09 pm

As college students dive into the fall semester, they are met with conflicting news about the future job market upon graduation. Given the uncertainty of job availability facing college graduates in years to come, Aerotek, a leading staffing provider, conducted a survey of 1,000 U.S. adults ages 25 – 54 to uncover ways to better position college graduates in a competitive job market.

Fifty-seven percent of those surveyed responded they would encourage college students to participate in internship programs to make getting a job easier. The survey found that those who participated in an internship benefit from the value of networking and its affect on finding a job.

"Although the job market seems to be slightly improving for college graduates, there are still a lot of obstacles making it more difficult to secure a job offer after graduation," says Todd Gardner, VP of Marketing & Communications, Aerotek. "Based on our survey results, we believe college students can get a leg up in the job search process by taking advantage of the networking opportunities that exist in internships and through the use of social sites."

Aerotek offers the following tips for college students:

• Choosing your degree – For students entering college, take note of jobs and skill sets in high demand. Engineering, business/finance, health and computer science appear to offer the most opportunities for future job growth.
• Internships – Securing an internship can help a resume stand out and provide the ability to gain important professional and job-related skills. Interns also have a head start on developing a professional network. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, paid internships may give a job seeker a slight advantage over those who took unpaid internships, because of the type of work a paid intern might do versus the unpaid intern.
• Networking – Fifty-five percent of those who held internships found their current job through networking, according to the Aerotek survey. If you don't have current contacts in your desired industry consider joining local professional groups and industry associations.
• Partner with a staffing firm – The job market is always changing and can be very difficult to navigate alone. Working with a staffing firm can offer job seekers an opportunity to engage with a recruiter who specializes in locating jobs that match a person's skills and expertise.

It is never too early to set yourself up for success after graduating from college. The decisions you make now can greatly impact your long-term commitment to enhancing your career—in whatever field you choose.

For more information, visit http://www.aerotek.com/.