Gunning Daily News

The Heat is On – But Energy Efficiency Can Curb Summer Energy Bills

July 26, 2011 4:57 pm

While the “Dog Days” of summer may have you down while your energy bills are up, the Alliance to Save Energy advises consumers to take energy efficiency steps around the home that will keep you cooler and more comfortable, while cutting your energy bills.

“Energy efficiency is the quickest, cheapest, cleanest way to reduce energy costs and extend our nation’s energy supplies,” says Alliance President Kateri Callahan. “Consumers can use smart energy practices and energy-efficient technologies to save significantly on their energy bills—and be more comfortable in their homes.”

The Alliance has projected the average U.S. household will spend around $2,200 on home energy this year, so using these “no sweat” tips can help you beat the heat:

Keeping Your Cool
• Make sure your AC equipment is in top running order, since cooling puts the greatest stress on your summer energy bills. A professional “tune-up” could save you the cost and misery of a breakdown on the hottest days.
• A programmable thermostat automatically coordinates temperatures in your home with your daily and weekend patterns. This can reduce your bills by up to10% by raising the temperature while your house is empty. And the device “remembers” to turn the air conditioning down when you won’t be home and back up, so you return to a cool, comfortable house.
• Using ceiling fans to circulate air will make you feel cooler and can allow you to raise the temperature setting on your AC thermostat by a few degrees. But be sure to turn the fan off when you leave the room, because fans cool people, not rooms. Replacing your 12+-year-old central air conditioning system (CAC) with an ENERGY STAR-qualified model could cut your cooling costs by 30%, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). And while these products can have a higher purchase price, the cost difference will be paid back over time through lower energy bills, EPA adds.
• Having properly sized CAC systems or window units will ensure optimum performance. EPA says a system that’s too large will not keep your home comfortable due to frequent “on/off” cycling.
• Purchase an AC unit with the highest Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) that you can afford—the higher the SEER level, the more energy efficient the equipment. Current federal appliance standards require a SEER rating of at least 13 on CAC systems.
• Clean or replace CAC system filters monthly —and do the same for window unit filters even more frequently.

Keeping the Heat Outside
• Plug energy leaks with weather stripping and caulking, and be sure your house is properly insulated, to save up to 20% on energy bills.
• Consider investing in energy-efficient windows to save money and increase indoor comfort.
• Curtains and shades on the sunny sides of your home will provide additional relief.
• Chose energy-efficient lighting, since inefficient incandescent light bulbs emit 90% of their energy as heat instead of light. So instead of heating your home with bulbs, buy CFLs and LEDs, which are 75% more energy-efficient than traditional incandescents, saving you money and energy.

Clever in the Kitchen
• Keep the coils clean on your refrigerator to reduce energy bills and extend the life of the appliance. Your fridge runs 24/7 and accounts for almost 10% of your total home electricity bill, so checking the coils located behind or underneath the fridge can save you money.
• Replacing your old fridge from the 1980s with an ENERGY STAR model can save you more than $100 each year. Replacing a 1970s fridge with an ENERGY STAR model can save nearly $200 each year! Use the ENERGY STAR Savings Calculator to find out how much you can save by replacing an old refrigerator.
• Shift energy-intensive household chores to off-peak hours—nights, mornings and weekends—when there is less strain on the power grid. Plus, operating dishwashers and washing machines at these times with full loads will get you the most for your energy dollars.
• ENERGY STAR-certified dishwashers and clothes washers will save water and energy. Choose clothes dryers with moisture sensors that reduce drying time. 

For more information, please visit www.ase.org.

Stress-Relieving Tips for Families Living with a Serious Medical Condition

July 26, 2011 4:57 pm

A chronic or rare illness can harm more than a person's health—it can also affect the strongest of relationships. Because the ill partner isn't feeling well, he or she may be prone to significant mood swings. If the caregiver is not able to adjust to these shifts in demeanor, the relationship can be strained and both parties can find themselves in a state of depression. 

At the same time, keeping a strong relationship is critical for those facing a serious medical condition. According to an article published in the Journal PLoS Medicine, people with rich and fulfilling relationships have a 50 percent greater likelihood of achieving a positive outcome with their health than those who lack meaningful companionship. 

Here are three tips to help families facing a rare and serious medical condition handle stress: 

Tip 1: Keep Lines of Communication Open
A lack of communication in a relationship can lead to distance and a lack of intimacy, which could ultimately harm the sick partner's ability to get well. According to the American Psychological Association, discussing challenging issues related to a partner's illness allows families to work through difficulties more effectively than if the issues are ignored. 

Lynne Doebber is one person who has benefited from open lines of communication with family members. Lynne has common variable immunodeficiency (CVID), a type of primary immunodeficiency (PI) in which her immune system functions inadequately, leaving her with greater susceptibility to infection. 

"I am fortunate to have a strong support system in my family," Lynne says. “By keeping an open dialogue with them, I am able to navigate through difficult times associated with PI, a rare and serious medical condition." 

Tip 2: Schedule Your Treatment around Your Life
Treatment regimens and doctors appointments can disrupt a family's routine and take time from shared activities and interests. It is important for patients to speak with their doctors about available treatment options and the best therapy to fit their needs. 

Tip 3: Look Out for the Caregiver's Well-Being —It's a Two Way Street
While the ill partner is generally the center of attention, caregivers need to focus on their own physical and emotional health as well. The website Caring.com reports 1 in 4 caregivers say they experience depression, significantly higher than the national average documented in a study last year by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Because of this, it is essential for the well-being of the caregiver that his or her needs are also being met. 

Chronic illness can challenge the strongest of relationships, so it is essential that families support each other and work together to manage the disorder. 

For more information, visit www.cslbehring.com.

Smart Drivers Roll with Fuel Efficiency

July 26, 2011 4:57 pm

With the summer driving season in full swing and thousands of motorists getting set to hit the highway this long weekend, drivers are reminded they can save at the pumps by ensuring their tires are properly inflated.
Why does an under-inflated tire burn more fuel? A tire that is under-inflated does not roll as smoothly or as easily as it was intended. The result is increased rolling resistance, which causes the vehicle to consume more fuel than necessary. 

According to the Rubber Association of Canada (RAC), which represents tire makers, the average motorist who drives 20,000 kilometers per year can save more than $100 dollars at the pumps if their tires are properly inflated. For drivers who spend considerably more time behind the wheel, the annual fuel savings can add up to hundreds of dollars. 

Despite these obvious benefits, too many drivers ignore tire inflation. According to a recent study commissioned by the RAC, one third of Canada's 21 million vehicles have at least one under-inflated tire, and only 30% of drivers measure their tire pressures monthly. 

The study also revealed major knowledge gaps about tire inflation. For example, only 52% of drivers knew how to locate the vehicle manufacturer's recommended tire pressure (owner's manual or vehicle placard) and 26% wrongly believed that the pressure stamped on the sidewall, which refers to the maximum pressure a tire can contain under maximum load, was the recommended inflation level. 

As well, 59% of drivers interviewed made the serious mistake of relying on a visual inspection to tell them if their tire pressures should be measured. In fact, a tire can be under-or over inflated by 20% or more and look normal. 

"Properly inflated tires deliver the fuel efficiency and exceptional performance that tire makers want every driver to have," says Glenn Maidment, president of the RAC. "Drivers need to know that improperly inflated tires waste fuel, increase stopping distance, and hamper performance by lessening vehicle stability —particularly when cornering. All it takes to get the outstanding fuel economy and performance your tires were designed to deliver is to use a reliable tire gauge each month to measure and, if necessary, adjust your tire pressures." 

Shortened tire life should also be of concern to motorists who want to save their money and help the environment. According the RAC, under-inflation can carve as much as 15,000 kilometers off the service life of a tire, adding to tire-related vehicle costs and the number of scrap tires.

Tire Inflation Tips
Here are some tire inflation tips for motorists who want the best performance and fuel efficiency from their tires
• Invest in a reliable tire gauge. The most accurate way to know if your tires need to be inflated or deflated is by measuring their pressure with a reliable gauge monthly. Too many drivers make the mistake of thinking a visual check will tell them if their tire pressures are correct. A tire can be under or over inflated by 20 percent or more and not be noticeable.
• Always inflate your tires to the vehicle manufacturer's recommendation. The right tire pressure by wheel position is listed on the vehicle placard, which is located on one of the vehicle's inside door posts, or inside the glove compartment or fuel door. Never use the tire pressure stamped on the sidewall. That pressure refers to the maximum pressure a tire can contain under maximum load. If you experience difficulty locating your vehicle placard, consult your vehicle's owner's manual for its location. 

Tire makers recommend an easy, four-step approach to proper tire inflation:
Step One
- Find the recommended inflation pressure for your tires on the vehicle placard. Check the owner's manual for its exact location.
Step Two
- Remember to only measure pressure when the tires are cold. If you have been driving, wait three hours before measuring tire pressure.
Step Three
- Use a tire gauge when measuring pressure. Remove the cap from the valve stem, press the tire gauge onto the valve and take the pressure reading.
Step Four
- Add air until the recommended air pressure is achieved. If you overfill the tire, release air by pushing on the metal stem in the centre of the valve, then re-check the pressure. 

Learn more, visit www.betiresmart.ca.

Word of the Day

July 26, 2011 4:57 pm

Conventional loan. Real estate loan that is not insured by the FHA or guaranteed by the VA.

Question of the Day

July 26, 2011 4:57 pm

Q: What determines how adjustable-rate loans change?

A: They go up and down with interest rates, based on several esoteric money market indices that cause the cost of funds for lenders to vary. The most popular indices include Treasury Securities (T-Bills), Cost of Funds (COFI), Certificates of Deposit (CDs), and the Libor, which is the London inter-bank offering rate.

However, the interest rate and payment adjustments do not always coincide. There is usually a lag between the two.

A number of consumer protections have been built into these loans to keep them from fluctuating too wildly. But consumers will have to be cautious when reviewing advertising and other claims about ARMs made by lenders.

The Best Apps to Help with House Hunting

July 25, 2011 4:57 pm

The days of driving around in endless circles trying to find and see all the homes you may want to buy is quickly becoming an activity of the past, thanks to several Smartphone programs and apps that I learned about this month from REALTOR® Barry Twynam (barrytwynam.com).

In the first of two segments on the subject, we’ll look at the apps to consider if you are in the market for a home. Twynam says many of these apps are available free for all types of smartphones, just check with your app store.

If you are shopping for homes, Twynam says Google Maps and Google Earth for mobile can show you where homes are located, and give you a feel for the neighborhood, the quality of other housing, accessibility, distance from busy streets and more.

Yelp Mobile with its reviews of businesses can give you some idea about what a neighborhood has to offer (shopping, restaurants, gas stations, etc.).

Zoocasa can search for properties based on your current location and receive full descriptions of properties. This app also allows users to email listings from within the app.

Home Tracker keeps track of all the details of the homes you visit with your REALTOR®. HomeTracker helps you to document each property in detail as you visit it. Properties are grouped into a tour, which is a set of homes you visited with your real estate agent, or homes in a specific area. In addition to storing property information, HomeTracker can easily take photos, map a property, e-mail property information, and perform a Google search, according to Twynam.

In the next segment we’ll look at Twynam’s bright ideas about mortgage apps.

Reducing Fever in Children: Safe Use of Acetaminophen

July 25, 2011 4:57 pm

You’re in the drug store, looking for a fever-reducing medicine for your children. They range in age from 6 months to 7 years, and you want to buy one product you can use for all of them. So you buy liquid acetaminophen in concentrated drops for infants, figuring you can use the dropper for the baby and a teaspoon for the oldest. 

This could be a dangerous mistake. 

This use of concentrated drops in much larger amounts—as would be given with a teaspoon—can cause fatal overdoses, says Sandra Kweder, M.D., deputy director of the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of New Drugs. 

You can’t just give an older child more of an infant’s medicine, adds Kweder. “Improper dosing is one of the biggest problems in giving acetaminophen to children.” 

Confusion about dosing is partly caused by the availability of different formulas, strengths, and dosage instructions for different ages of children. 

Sold as a single active ingredient under such brand names as Tylenol, acetaminophen is commonly used to reduce fever and relieve pain. It is also used in combination with other ingredients in products to relieve multiple symptoms, such as cough and cold medicines. Acetaminophen can be found in more than 600 over-the-counter (OTC, or non-prescription) and prescription medicines. 

Acetaminophen is generally safe and effective if you follow the directions on the package, but if you give a child even a little more than directed or give more than one medicine that contains acetaminophen, it can cause nausea and vomiting, says Kweder. 

In some cases—in both adults and children—it can cause liver failure and death. In fact, acetaminophen poisoning is a leading cause of liver failure in the U.S. 

Advice from Outside Experts
An FDA Advisory Panel of outside experts met May 17-18, 2011, to discuss how to minimize medication errors and make children’s OTC medicines that contain acetaminophen safer to use. 

The panel recommended: 
• That liquid, chewable, and tablet forms be made in just one strength. Currently, there are seven strengths available for these forms combined.
• That dosing instructions to reduce fever be developed for children as young as 6 months. Current instructions apply to children ages 2 to 12 years and for those under 2, only state “consult a doctor.”
• That dosing instructions be based on weight, not just age.
• Setting standards for dosing devices, such as spoons and cups, for children’s medicines. Currently, some use milliliters (mL) while others use cubic centimeters (cc) or teaspoons (tsp). 

“FDA is considering these recommendations,” says Kweder, and for those that the agency adopts, “we will work with manufacturers to try to get them in place on a voluntary basis.” The process of getting a regulation finalized could take several years, she adds, so having the drug industry act voluntarily would help make acetaminophen safer sooner. 

Drug makers have already agreed to phase out the concentrated infant drops to reduce confusion for parents who try to use them for older children. On May 4, 2011, the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, a trade group representing the makers of OTC medicines, announced plans to convert liquid acetaminophen products for children to just one strength (160 mg/5 mL). In addition, the industry is voluntarily standardizing the unit of measurement “mL” on dosing devices for these products. 

Tips for Giving Acetaminophen to Children
• Never give your child more than one medicine containing acetaminophen at a time. To find out if an OTC medicine contains acetaminophen, look for “acetaminophen” on the Drug Facts label under the section called “Active Ingredient.” For prescription pain relievers, ask the pharmacist if the medicine contains acetaminophen. 

• Choose the right OTC medicine based on your child’s weight and age. The “Directions” section of the Drug Facts label tells you if the medicine is right for your child and how much to give. If a dose for your child’s weight or age is not listed on the label or you can’t tell how much to give, ask your pharmacist or doctor what to do. 

• Never give more of an acetaminophen-containing medicine than directed. If the medicine doesn’t help your child feel better, talk to your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist. 

• If the medicine is a liquid, use the measuring tool that comes with the medicine—not a kitchen spoon.
• Keep a daily record of the medicines you give to your child. Share this information with anyone who is helping care for your child. 

• If your child swallows too much acetaminophen, get medical help right away, even if your child doesn’t feel sick. For immediate help, call the 24-hour Poison Control Center at 800-222-1222, or call 911.

This article appears on FDA's Consumer Updates page, which features the latest on all FDA-regulated products.

For more information, please visit www.fda.gov.

Almost Half of Americans Do Not Track Their Spending against a Monthly Budget

July 25, 2011 4:57 pm

A study released recently by Bankrate.com found that only 58% of Americans track their spending against a monthly budget. Bankrate's overall Financial Security Index fell from 97.8 in June to 95.6 in July, the lowest reading since April. Confidence in job security and savings dropped to 2011 lows. 

The new study was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International and can be seen in its entirety here: LinK: http://www.bankrate.com/finance/consumer-index/july-2011-financial-security-poll.aspx
Among the findings:
• Those with college degrees (66%) and those that are parents (65%) are highly likely to track spending against a budget.
• Least likely to track spending against a budget are those with a high school diploma or less (52%) and households with less than $30,000 in annual income (53%).
• Geographically, those in the Northeast (53%) are less likely to track spending against a budget than their counterparts in other parts of the country.
• 26% of Americans reported higher net worth than one year ago, whereas 25% reported lower net worth.

"A significant portion of the U.S. population would benefit from better budgeting habits," explains Greg McBride, CFA, senior financial analyst for Bankrate.com. "For example, we recently found that only 24% of Americans have adequate emergency savings. Consumers who create a monthly budget and stick to it are much more likely to be prepared for unexpected emergencies and more routine goals. Regardless of one's income level, it's critical to manage monthly cash flow and to properly assign funds to specific buckets such as a rainy-day fund, groceries and retirement. It's not good enough to wait until the end of the month and see what happens." 

For more information, please visit www.bankrate.com.

Word of the Day

July 25, 2011 4:57 pm

Contractor. One who contracts to do something for another. For example, in construction, a specialist who enters into a formal construction contract to build a real estate structure or handle renovations, improvements, and additions to an existing structure.

Question of the Day

July 25, 2011 4:57 pm

Q: Should I avoid an adjustable rate mortgage? 

A: Because adjustable rate mortgages, or ARMs, fluctuate with the market, they offer less stability than fixed-rate loans. If an ARM is adjusted upward, monthly payments will increase, and for a lot of people that can be too big a risk to take. On the other hand, should rates drop dramatically, homeowners can reap the benefits of lower rates without refinancing, thereby saving thousands of dollars. 

Lenders first introduced ARMs in the 1980s when interest rates soared into the double digits, forcing many people out of the home buying market. They tied the rate to a variable national index, such as U.S. Treasury bills. 

Today, many first-time buyers who have difficulty qualifying for a home loan, still settle for adjustable rate loans because the initial, “teaser” interest rate of the mortgage is normally two or three points lower than a fixed rate loan. ARMs are particularly attractive if you plan to be in your home a short time. They tend to adjust yearly or every three years, usually within certain limits, or caps, that prohibit the interest rate from shooting up too high. Make sure terms such as these are spelled out in any ARM agreement you choose.