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Featured Articles

Chimney caps, yes or no?

Our home inspector recommended that we install a chimney cap on the older home that we are buying.

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Q Our home inspector recommended that we install a chimney cap on the older home that we are buying. The chimney has not had a cap in it’s 60 plus year life, so why put one on now?

A In my practice as a home inspector, I always recommend the installation of chimney caps. Chimney caps serve a variety of purposes. They keep animals such as birds, squirrels and rodents from entering the chimney and in some cases the crawl space. A 60 year old home may have had an oil-fired furnace in the crawl space or basement which would have been vented through the chimney. The vent pipe opening provides direct access for critters. It is not unusual for rodents to crawl down through the chimney into the crawlspace seeking a warm place to nest. Chimney caps also keep out rain and debris such as leaves that can collect in the flu. Chimney caps also serve as spark arresters. Most caps are not expensive, and your local chimney sweep can recommend the one that is best for your chimney.

Pet Friendly Home

Making your Home and Yard Perfect for your Pet!

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For many, bringing a pet home is the same as bringing home new family. Pets easily find their way in our hearts with their playful antics and friendly companionship. When you first bring a new pet into your home it is imperative that you are willing to make some adjustments to your living space. This article is aimed at giving hints for all who have pets or will have pets in their home. Preparing your home and yard for your new pet is important to their well being and your ease of mind. The focus will be discussing animals that are out most of the time, like cats and dogs, that are more likely to get into some mischievous fun. However, many of these tips and hints will work for most of the four legged friends we bring into our home. Most of the tips will seem like common sense, however, when the new pet is roaming around it may slip our mind to check for common place hazards. Many times we take for granted that things are safe or wouldn't interest animals. However the puppy running down the hall with a roll of toilet paper would beg to differ!

So let's get your home and yard ready so it is safe for your pets (and also not a free going playground waiting for destruction and mayhem)!

Part I: Preparing Your Home

When bringing a new pet to the home the last thing anyone wants to think about is cleaning and proofing their home. However, taking a little time to do so will prevent headaches and possible heartaches. It will keep your pet, prized possessions and your sanity intact. This is true whether you are bringing home a new pet or adjusting an older one to a new home. Or, perhaps, you find your self in the unfortunate situation of losing possessions to a pet who has never had boundaries set up in your home. Whatever your reason, these tips will help proof your home for the new, old and mischievous pets in your life.

Think Below the Knees 
Get down on all fours and look around at the same level as your pet. There is a whole other world down at their viewpoint!

  • Think low! Remove objects on low shelves, coffee tables, and anywhere else that is easy access. Anything destructible, such as paper, books, anything made of cloth (i.e. laundry). It is much easier to 'chew train' a pet if they do not learn a bad habit of "where to look" for destructible goodies when you aren't looking.
  • Also think about food and snacks. Don't leave pop cans, candy wrappers, crumbs or anything else on a low counter. Leaving out these delicious tidbits can easily lead to "counter surfing".
  • Since kittens and ferrets may actually have the ability to walk on your counters, make certain to keep an eye on them when cooking. You may have food on the counter and the stove burners on - both can be dangerous. If you are a messy chef you may have a very happy kitty, but it could be dangerous if you don't keep an eye on them!
  • Speaking of food and snacks, make sure if you have smaller pets, like mice, that they are out of reach to your new puppy or kitten. Don't forget your fish - sometimes the idea that the aquarium is invincible can be tested.
  • Smokers - do not leave cigarette butts where pets may reach them. If eaten it can lead to nicotine poisoning and the filters aren't good on the digestive system.
  • Children's toys can be great fun for pets too! Make sure your kids realize they may loose their toy if it is left out and unattended. Also many toys may have small parts or can be easily broken into small parts by your pet which can be dangerous.
  • Overall keep you place picked up of daily messes. For example: Newspaper whether read or not is still fun to shred and eat. (Same goes for the mail!) Just got home from shopping? Put away the bags! Plastic bags can be either chewed and swallowed (pups) or can suffocate some pets accidentally (kittens & ferrets).
  • Sometimes pets will eat something that will require surgery to remove. Small objects to watch out for include rubber bands, balloons, beads, buttons, Q-tips, sewing needles, thread, staples, string, pantyhose and coins - to name a few!
  • Medication should never be left around the house. Make sure it is secure - just like with children!
  • Keep heating vents covered. Many pets love to snuggle up to these and you don't want your pet falling in.
  • Smaller pets like ferrets should be blocked off from holes and other hideaways - you don't want them to find a comfy spot and not come out! Also be certain to check under recliners before moving them as your pet may find it a nice place to hide out.
  • Plants should be moved to higher ground or blocked. Watch out for vine plants that your pet might grab and bring the whole thing down. * Some household plants are poisonous to pets. Here are a few: aloe vera, amaryllis, caladium, holly berries, lilies, mistletoe, mums, and poinsettias. For a complete listing check out the Poisonous Plants resource links.

Playtime!
Unless they are sleeping, or eating, they are playing!! Some tips to make this non-stop action fun and safe for both of you!

  • Keep an eye on your pet at play with certain toys. Some toys don't hold up to your pets hunting prowess and become shredded in no time. Toys with squeakers are fun but many pets will work hard to remove them if your not watching. Just keep in mind if you are in the other room, you may never see them devour their cut up prey! A solution would be have toys for when you can see them and more durable toys for when they are in the yard, other room, or you are not at home.
  • Also watch older toys. If they don't fall apart they may actually be warn into sharp edges, don't let your pet play with damaged toys, they can cut themselves easily. Look before you step when playing with all our small pets. Try this pattern "Turn, Look, Step"
  • Some small animals such as rabbits are chewers and it normal to give them various chew toys such as: Cardboard boxes, empty oatmeal containers, bird toys, cardboard paper towel rolls, things to shred. Try to keep them away from your wooden furniture - they love wood! Instead wood sticks are available at pet stores.

Road Blocks
If they can't reach it, they can't eat it, scratch it, or all out destroy it!

  • Don't forget the garbage! Take the garbage outside or make sure you can close it away in a closet/room where pets cannot reach it. Not only will they make a mess rifling through all the goodies they can also hurt themselves if there are any rough objects they rifle through.
  • Keep some rooms closed. It is perfectly reasonable for there to be certain rooms that pets may not visit unless supervised. One obvious choice would be the bathroom (remember that puppy running down the hall with toilet paper - cute - but after the 20th time said pup turns from cutie to lil'-demon). If you don't have a door to a particular area look into getting a child gate or blocking it off with other materials. If you have a mixture of pets you may not want them to be able to access certain areas of each others space. A prime example is keeping kitty litter from dogs, some seem to find the "deposits" tasty snacks. In this instance you can set up a roadblock for the dog that the cat can still easily climb over.
  • If your pet is especially good with its nose or paws you may want to get childproof latches. They will work well to keep them out of lower cabinets in your home.
  • Keep the lid down on the toilet, especially if you use strong cleaners. Small, curious pets may fall in and pets taking a drink can be poisoned by cleaners - some of them even contain anti-freeze!
  • Speaking of cleaners, here are some examples of cleaners that are really dangerous to your pets (to name a few!): ammonia, bleach, disinfectants, drain cleaner, oven cleaner, paint, rat/bug poison.
  • Keep electric cords out of reach or secure them to baseboards. When first home keep an eye on where your pet is at all times. Some may try chewing on the cords. You can deter this with a taste deterrent like "Bitter Apple", a mix of vinegar and water, or hot sauce. Or even better, block access to them altogether.
  • Speaking of cords, watch those drapery cords as well. Tie them up so all your window treatments aren't pulled to the ground.
  • Many animals are attracted to fire. The light of a candle or the heat of a fireplace will peak their interest. Make sure candles are never left unattended. For the fireplace make sure Fluffy knows just how close they are allowed to get for a good snooze - warm is good, singed is bad.
  • Keep the upstairs windows and any cellar doors shut. Young pets are just like children with their curiosity but can easily misstep and fall.
  • Be careful when working in the garage. It is best to keep them out and make sure you clean up thoroughly! Such toxins like anti-freeze are very lethal to pets - a drop the size of a dime can be lethal! (You hear a lot about anti-freeze, not only is a small amount incredibly lethal, anti-freeze is also sweet smelling and tasting to pets - they will seek it out!!)
  • Watch our for open dresser drawers, closets and other nice dark places, kittens are especially curious and many are drawn to these make-shift dens. Have you heard about the kitten jumping in the dryer? Its not a urban legend, be alert and check before you shut the door.
  • Another warm place kittens like to snuggle is on a car engine. If your kitten has access to your car (or the neighborhood cat for that matter) it may help pound on the hood of your car and honk you horn. If you don't want to do this every day try to limit access to your car.
  • One of my favorite words of advice when watching out for the sleeping kitten: "Locate your kitten before you sit down on the sofa or use the recliner." (Of course, depending on your house rules, that may go for your other pets too!)

Table Manners
Don't feed table scraps to your pets. Many times people don't realize that some foods okay for us can be toxic or hard on the system for animals.

Some foods to be aware of: Alcohol, Chicken & Turkey Bones, Nutmeg, Apples (stems & seeds), Chocolate, Onion Apricots (seeds), Coffee (grinds & beans), Peaches (seeds),  Avocados, Dairy Products (large amounts), Pears, Baking Powder, Fatty Foods, Plums,  Baking Soda, Garlic, Potatoes (peelings & green,) Broccoli (large amounts, )Grapes, Raisins, Cherries (stems & seeds), Macadamia Nuts, Yeast, **Tobacco, although not a food, ingestion can be poisonous

Holiday Playground
The holidays are fun for everyone - including your pets!

  • Decorations should be up high or in rooms that pets have limited access.
  • Any holiday lights should be treated the same as other electrical cords. Get it out of the way or secured so your pets don't accidentally trip over them. Also keep a lookout and make sure they do not chew on them; again a taste deterrent like "Bitter Apple" will work.
  • Other holiday items to keep from you pets include: metal ornament hooks, popcorn strands, tinsel, angel hair (it is spun glass), and decorative artificial snow or tree flocking - to name a few.
  • Don't forget that holiday plants like holly berries, mistletoe, and poinsettias are poisonous!
  • Fourth of July fireworks are fun for us but many pets find all the racket frightening. One suggestion is to have treats nearby and give them treats whenever there is "Boom!" so they associate the noise with happier things (mostly used for dogs). Another thing to keep in mind if you are leaving for the festivities, don't leave pets alone out in the backyard. They may panic and do things they normally wouldn't do like digging their way out!
  • Many holidays include house guests that are not familiar with your pet or household rules. After introducing your guest to your pet, make certain you let your guests know not to leave doors open, feed table scraps or any other important household rules. If there are a lot of guests you may want to arrange a quiet place for your pet to retreat.

Home Alone
What do they do when you leave the home? Preferably it doesn't involve eating the couch!

  • Before you leave for a long day at work it is important your pet is calm. For dogs a good walk in the morning may be necessary. For cats a little play time will help with bonus energy. Teach your pet tricks and have them perform for you before you head out. Our pets sleep more then we do and getting rid of morning energy will help them settle for a nap while your out earning money to spend on them.
  • If you have a really active breed you may want to look into a dog daycare or walking service for a couple days out of the week. Taking your dog to a pet daycare is like taking them to camp. They get to romp with other dogs and usually come home tired and ready for a good night sleep. Many find that a few days out of the week is enough to hold them over on the days in-between.
  • Crates can be lifesaver when you are gone. If you have pet that is still undergoing training and is not sure of all the rules, a crate or restricted room is a must.

Cautionary tale on the restricted room - we placed one of our pups in a room in our house as we went out to get a bite to eat. There was no furniture in the room except for her crate with her toys. When we came back she had climbed the crate and chewed the metal blinds on the window and also proceeded to dig up part of the carpet!

Part II: Preparing

Your yard is fun place for you and your pet to enjoy the outdoors. Maintaining your yard for your pet is relatively easy. There are some hazards that you will want to watch for and prevent. Not all of your pets may enjoy your yard to its fullest, some may stay in pens or restricted kennel/runs. The tips below address pets that have more freedom. These pets roam a fenced backyard or around the perimeter of your house (i.e. Dogs & Cats). In addition to proofing tips we offer some ideas about making your yard more enjoyable. Sometimes you may have a small space or areas you really don't want Fido to excavate. Read on for a checklist of ways to make your yard safe and entertaining for your pets.

Yard Maintenance
When maintaining your yard you want to keep your pets in mind.

  • When working on the yard keep pets indoors. Our dogs like to chase the lawnmower - bad idea - so they now watch from inside. Some pets may be just the opposite and try either to attack the mower or try to escape in a panic - equally bad idea. Besides the lawnmowers, trimmers, leaf blowers, chainsaws, and other loud tools should not be used when pets are around.
  • Be careful with other tools such as shovels, rakes, spades, etc. Some pets may try to "help" you do the yard work and can inadvertently be struck by these items.
  • Review the chemicals you use on your yard. Weed killers, bug killers/bait and other chemicals can be poisonous to your pets as well. Some you may still be able to use, however, you may need to let the yard sit for x amount of hours before letting your pets back out. Symptoms of poisoning usually include: vomiting, diarrhea and sometimes convulsions or unconsciousness.
  • Keep your yard clean of waste. Especially with puppies, they can get in the habit of eating their waste. Besides, you will both enjoy your yard much better if it is not covered in poo mines! For cats you should have an outdoor litter box. This will be easier to clean and prevent the cat from laying waste to your (or your neighbor's) flowerbeds.
  • Remove any ladders, tools or stacked piles (i.e. wood), etc. that young pets may try to climb or knock over. If you do keep the stacks in your yard, check that they are secure and cannot roll onto your pet. Consider carefully what you plant in your yard. Plants that can cause complications include: Rhododendron, Japanese Yew, Lilly of the Valley, Peach and Cherry Trees (pits) to name a few. See our links to Poisonous Plants for more details.
  • You may want to try to keep your yard clear of the bee family by getting rid of nests on your property. Your dog cannot escape bees flying through the yard, but cutting down their numbers may help. All dogs are naturally allergic to bee stings. Depending on the location of the sting they may have to visit the vet for medication. If it is on the mouth/head it can lead to swelling and difficulty breathing.

The Kingdom 
Your pets will make your yard into their own domain. Make sure their kingdom is safe and enjoyable. 

  • Check the fence of the yard for holes or gaps that may be an easy escape. Make sure your gates are locked and secured and guests and children know to do so as well.
  • It is best not to have any young pets around water unattended. If you have a pool or pond make sure to watch them around this area carefully. Some trainers even suggest teaching pets how to get out of the pool or pond early on, sort of a "Swimming 101" for the pet in case they get into trouble when your back is turned. If your pet does get into a pool, make sure they get a bath so none of the harsh chemicals can effect their skin and coat.
  • Most pets are sun lovers. If your pet likes to "sunbathe" keep an eye that they don't get too hot. Signs of heat exhaustion include: restlessness, panting excessively and drooling. The worst case scenario is the pet collapsing and eventually falling into a coma. To counter it, wrap them in a damp cool (not cold) towel and go to your vet or animal hospital. In hot weather keep plenty of water. Refresh and refill it often. If you keep food outside as well make sure it does not sit too long. The heat may cause it to spoil and flies may contaminate it.
  • Make sure you have shade in your yard. You may even want to add a structure such as a doghouse for your pup to rest
  • Ask your vet to recommend a flea & tick prevention plan right for your pet. Depending on how much your pet is outside, where it goes, etc. you may need more preventive tools. It is imperative you ask your vet as many medicinal solutions are measured by your pets size, weight, age, etc.
  • Your pet may like to make or find a burrow to rest in. Block off crawl spaces under sheds or decks. You don't want them to get trapped or hurt by any debris you cannot see underneath.

Ideas for your Pet Friendly
Yard Below are just a few ideas of things you may do to improve your yard for your pet.

  • Placing markers around your yard for your dog to potty on or for your cat to scratch on can help save some of your other trees. Start by blocking the trees you want to save and place toys or treats by the markers you want them to use. Eventually you can train you pet to have a habitual like for that particular log(s)!
  • Prepare digging spots for your pets. For your dog it can be a small area of dirt and sand where you keep toys to encourage him to be there. For cats you can have one container/pot with catnip or another enticement. By keeping them interested in their designated digging spot they will learn to have fun there and leave the rest of your yard alone (most of the time!).
  • If you don't want your dog in your flower bed try a wooden or stone fence. Some dogs will learn to stay out of the area due to the road block, however you may need to supplement the roadblocks with additional training.
  • Dogs are going to do their rounds around "their" territory. This will leave worn paths in the grass. You may want to lay a nice stone path on their route to beautify it.
  • Continuing with a dogs tendency to make paths, for smaller yards you can make a maze path for them. Using placing flowerbeds and other structures you can create a winding route for them for their territorial routine.

Conclusion

Pets are a wonderful addition to the family and home. Taking time to proof your house and yard will make both of your lives a lot easier. It may seem daunting at first that there are so many things to do for or keep away from your pets. However, after a while your pets will learn the house rules. You may even be able to reclaim certain areas of the house as your pet matures and understands not to destroy your things. For example, our dogs don't touch the laundry anymore and we can leave books on low shelves without them getting even a sniff of interest. You will find many of the hazards you watch for you will begin to do so naturally. Eventually you won't even realize your new habits. It is simply part of the lifestyle change that happens as it is always an adjustment to bring animals into our home. Just know that you can be pro-active, you'll have far fewer headaches in the long run and in the end you will have great company and lots of fun!

Bankruptcy Law 101

This is the article that no one hopes to need and we would prefer not to write.

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As of December 2007, bankruptcy filings are up 28% from last year and are expected to increase in 2008 due to the combined factors of high household debt and rising mortgage costs. American Bankruptcy Institute

This is the article that no one hopes to need and we would prefer not to write. The word 'bankruptcy' is weighed down by such doomsday words as failure, defeat, impoverishment...well, you're getting the depressing idea. However, it is not 'the end of the world' to declare bankruptcy. Instead of running away from this topic, it is time to demystify bankruptcy with a little 'Bankruptcy 101.'

What is bankruptcy?

For most people, bankruptcy is a way to get a fresh start after acquiring too much debt. Most individuals who file for bankruptcy will file under Chapter 7 or Chapter 13. Depending on which is filed, one may get most of their debt erased or work out a workable solution with lenders to pay off existing debt.

Are bankruptcy laws determined by Federal or State government?

Bankruptcy laws are made by the Federal government. States can pass laws that protect the "lender and debtor relationship" but they cannot regulate how a bankruptcy is processed or if it is to be granted.

Can all debts be erased?

No. Whichever type of bankruptcy is filed, there are certain debts that cannot be erased at all. These include alimony, child support, most student loans and legal judgments against fraud or criminal negligence such as a drunk driving accident. Some taxes may be erased, but not all. In fact, taxes have their own set of bankruptcy rules.

Do I need a lawyer?

When filing for bankruptcy it is important to find a bankruptcy lawyer who can help you navigate the process. Bankruptcy lawyers specialize in this area of law and are familiar with the distinct differences and effects of the process; they can be your greatest ally in a tough, seemingly bureaucratic system.

How long will bankruptcy effect my credit?

Bankruptcy will stay on your credit report for 10 years. There are ways to improve your credit rating and make yourself more appealing to lenders. For more information on this, check out this useful website: www.lifeafterbankruptcy.com. It is not an easy road back and those filing for bankruptcy should have a realistic expectation to work hard at their future spending practices.

Do I have to do debt counseling?

Yes. Under the new bankruptcy act passed in October 2005, it is now required that all persons applying for bankruptcy meet with a government qualified debt counselor first. After one has successfully filed for bankruptcy, the debtor must again meet with a counselor before the bankruptcy file will be closed.

What is Chapter 7 bankruptcy? (In a nutshell)

Chapter 7 bankruptcy is also known as a "liquidation of debt." A person can file for Chapter 7 every 8 years. This usually involves the liquidation of property to pay back debts. An appointed trustee sells all secured, non-exempt property for the debtor and distributes money raised among the lenders. Unsecured debts, such as credit card bills and most medical bills can be erased. This may mean the loss of secure debts such as a home. However, most states do have protections for debtors in place to insure they may keep life necessities such as clothing and some furniture. Retirement funds such as IRA's are also protected and debtors may keep these as well. After the changes to bankruptcy law in October 2005, many debtors may not get approved for Chapter 7 and be required instead to apply for Chapter 13. In short, if you still have an income and make more than the median for a household of your size in your state you may have to file for Chapter 13. To find out if you should be filing for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13, you can use a mean calculator like the one at legalconsumer.com. Again, this is where consulting a lawyer becomes very important.

What is Chapter 13 bankruptcy? (In a nutshell)

Chapter 13 bankruptcy is also known as a "reorganization of debt" or the "wage earners' plan." One can file for Chapter 13 more often as long as any previous filings are already closed. This is the bankruptcy for those trying to a find a way to get out of debt but still expect to pay off some of their debt. Generally speaking, if you still have a source of income and could make payments, just not the high ones you have now, you can be restructured into a debt payment plan under Chapter 13. This is the most likely to be used to try to stop a mortgage foreclosure. In this scenario, you can keep the house, car and more than you could under Chapter 7. There are limits to the amount of debt that can be restructured. If one is above those limits they would file under Chapter 11, however, the average American Joe/Jane is not in this category.

More Resources
US Department of Justice - US Trustee Program
www.usdoj.gov/ust/
A complete listing of approved credit counseling agencies is available through links on this Web page. [Listed by state.] www.usdoj.gov/ust/eo/bapcpa/ccde/cc_approved.htm
A complete listing of approved providers of financial management instructional courses is available through links on this Web page. [Listed by state.] www.usdoj.gov/ust/eo/bapcpa/ccde/de_approved.htm

American Bankruptcy Institute
www.abiworld.org
The American Bankruptcy Institute is the largest multi-disciplinary, non-partisan organization dedicated to research and education on matters related to insolvency. ABI was founded in 1982 to provide Congress and the public with unbiased analysis of bankruptcy issues.

Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005
www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=s109-256

Bankruptcy Action
www.bankruptcyaction.com
The objective of this website is to provide the person, thinking about filing bankruptcy, the information he or she needs to make an informed decision.

Lawyers Listings
www.lawyerslistings.com/about.shtm
Our mission is to present to the Internet community an easy-to-use site in which to search for law firms and individual lawyers.

Life After Bankruptcy
www.lifeafterbankruptcy.com
On this website you'll discover everything I did to recover so quickly...and many other bankruptcy recovery and credit repair strategies you'll find nowhere else.

NOLO Bankruptcy Library
www.nolo.com
Nolo is your legal companion, empowering you and saving you money whenever the law touches your work, life or finances.

US Courts - Bankruptcy Basics
www.uscourts.gov/bankruptcycourts/bankruptcybasics.html 
Bankruptcy Basics provides basic information to debtors, creditors, court personnel, the media, and the general public on different aspects of the federal bankruptcy laws.

What can you do to prevent Bankruptcy?

  1. Continue to take care of essential bills first: mortgage/rent, taxes, child support, and utility bills.
  2. Eliminate frivolous expenditures. No more department store credit cards, cable TV, magazine and newspaper subscriptions, etc. Be honest about what you can live without with for a while. 
  3. If you own your home, consider a home equity loan to get rid of high rate debts such as credit cards.
  4. Watch your credit report. Close unused accounts, check for errors and resolve any questions with lenders immediately.
  5. Know the warning signs: -Are you using credit cards to pay off bills or credit cards? -Are you borrowing against unprotected debt? i.e. Are you borrowing from a credit card to pay the mortgage? When you see you are bouncing debt around and not making any headway, it is a good time to look at credit counseling.
  6. Warning about credit counseling: If you choose to do debt consolidation recognize that it will effect your credit score. Also, make sure you understand how the payments will work and if you can really make the payment - sometimes they are set too high!
  7. Avoid aggressive lenders. If you begin to get offers for loans that sound too good to be true - they are! There has been a big push to penalize aggressive lenders who only help people acquire more debt. However, they are still out there and you should be a careful shopper of any loans you take.

Home Security

Keeping your family and possessions safe.

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According to the FBI, burglaries occur every 15.4 seconds in the United States (Crime Doctor). Home security is important as not only is our home one of our biggest investments but having good home security provides peace of mind about protecting our family and possessions. As the popular show on the Discovery Channel, It Takes a Thief, illustrates, many of us take our security for granted. Many times the families on the show believe their current security is all they need. There is a belief that burglaries happen to "someone else." Or, if one is robbed, it is just the result of "chance" and there is little that can be done about it. This show provides an entertaining wakeup call about home security. The threat to our inner sanctum and lifetime of possessions is very real. This article will take a look at the ways you can protect your home. We should note that one of the most common answers is a security system. A standard security system comes with a control panel (with panic button), 3-4 sensor zones, a siren and 24 hour monitoring. These systems can be hardwired (usually when the home is being constructed) or wireless. Some of these systems are so advanced you can even monitor your home when on vacation through the internet! The cost and amount of "bells and whistles" you get will depend on the size of your home, neighborhood, entry points and other varying factors. For a real idea of a professional security system that is right for you, check with professionals in your area. For this article we will be concentrating on some of the common sense and easy to add options you can do to protect your home. Some professional security providers are listed in the links that follow the article but will play a relatively small role in the article itself. Before we begin to look at what measures we can take, let us look at some statistics from the FBI about home burglary:

  • Burglary is the unlawful entry of a structure to commit a felony or a theft. A person can be convicted of burglary even if nothing was actually stolen.
  • A burglary occurs approximately every 15 seconds in the United States.
  • On average, a burglary results in a dollar loss of about $1,600.
  • About 30 percent of all burglaries are classified as "unlawful entry," meaning the burglar was able to gain entry without using force — often through an unlocked door or window.
  • Nearly 66 percent of all burglaries are residential, and of those, 62 percent occur during the daytime. Most burglaries occur between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., when no one is likely to be at home.
  • Renters are more likely to be the victims of property crime than homeowners.
  • Only 13 percent of reported burglaries are solved, or "cleared," by the police.
  • Only about 15 percent of property stolen in burglaries is recovered by the police.
  • Nearly 85 percent of all burglaries occur in large metropolitan areas.
  • Almost half of the nation's reported burglaries occur in the South: 45 percent, as opposed to the Northeast's 11, the Midwest's 20 and the West's 24.
  • The highest percentage of burglaries occur during the summer months of July and August, when many people are away from their homes on vacation, or have left windows open for ventilation.
  • Arrest records reported to the FBI indicate that approximately 70 percent of all burglary arrestees are white and 86 percent are male.
  • About 30 percent of private homes have security systems. Homes without security systems are two to three times more likely to be broken into.

Summarized by It Takes a Thief Site (more recent summary at FBI site http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/cius_04/documents/CIUS2004.pdf)

Now that we have your attention, let's look at some ways you can improve your home security; let's start by examining the exterior of the home.

Part I: The Exterior

There is a beautiful home sitting at the end of a long drive. There is only one front light on. All appears quiet and unoccupied. Large bushes cover the view of the side of the home from the road. The neighbor's house behind is equally dark and barely viewed between the fence, bushes and trees. I think you are getting the idea. This example house almost provides a written invitation to would be burglars. The exterior of your home can tell a potential thief a lot. Many times, just by observing from the outside, they can see if the home is occupied, find weak entry points and determine if they can use hidden nooks to work unnoticed. Sometimes our desire for privacy creates little pockets like this for the thief to work. There are many things you can do to the exterior of your home to make it more foreboding and hard to crack for would be burglars. Make certain the exterior of your home is well lit and consider monitoring it by video or surveillance. One of the most vulnerable homes, is the dark ones. An easy and inexpensive deterrent is to add motion sensor lights to your driveway and doors. Keep all entrances well lit, both front and back. You may want to keep the back on a sensor light, which is a fine alternative to having a light on all night. As lighting should be considered for any exit from your home, this includes the garage. Make sure your garage light switch is on the inside of the house. You never want to have to enter a dark garage to turn a light on! After you have the lighting arranged you may also want to consider extra video surveillance. This is especially the case if you have a large property, very private property or are gone often. Make sure the central recording device is locked up so thieves cannot take it with them! Many of the surveillance systems these days will let you view the outside of your home easily so you may also use them to see who is at the door when you are at home. You may also choose to have sound notification of someone approaching your home. A wireless annunciator notifies you whenever someone comes within up to 50 feet of your driveway or entranceway. This additional light and surveillance will help keep the perimeter of your home safer.

Make sure your home is not helpful to the burglar either as many times our conveniences can also be theirs. Unsecured tools such as ladders can help burglars break into your home! Your garage should be secure and tools locked. This means deadbolts on any garage doorways. The garage is a favorite entry point so you should consider keeping your car locked with the alarm on, even when in the garage. And if you park your car outside of your garage, never leave the garage door opener in the car! Again, our desire for privacy may also create hidden nooks for burglars to hide and work. Make sure to trim plants so they do not completely cover windows and doors. In fact you may even want to consider planting really thorny and prickly plants next to windows as they can act as an additional deterrent. Any signs/plaques you put on your home should also be considered. It is a great idea to have reflective numbers on your home for easy spotting during an emergency. However, do not have your name displayed as it is helpful for a burglar to look you up in the directory and call your house to see if anyone is home. Also, don't give burglars an idea of what is in your home. Whenever you make a large purchase don't advertise it to the neighborhood. For example if you buy a new computer don't leave the empty boxes on the curbside for disposal. Instead break the boxes down to keep what was inside a mystery. You should also use window treatments or keep expensive items out of view from the window. You don't want to have curtains closed all the time as this only gives the impression of the home being unoccupied (and not to mention downright dreary). But curtain sheers and strategic placement of objects in the room can minimize what people can see from the outside. Finally, never leave keys in hidden places around the house as this is just an easy invitation to burglars. Either leave a spare key with a neighbor or purchase a combination lock that holds your key safely for you. Combination keyless entry locks are also becoming more popular; if you forget your keys a lot, forget to lock the door, or have so many family members/roommates going in and out, this may be a great solution. These are just a few ways to help prevent easy access to your home.

So now Mr. Burglar has dodged your motion cameras and surveillance and brought his own nifty tools - what can you do? You should have strong doors and windows that will continue to work against the burglar. Make sure your exterior doors are solid-core. If you have glass doors they should be double paned with heavy duty laminate. If you do not have a double pane, a security grill will help. Locks are important, you should have locks on all the windows and double locks on all entry doors. Deadbolts (with removable key for fire) are a must. You can also have a chain lock added if you don't have a peep hole. However, these are not fullproof and a peephole is a much better investment. You may also use wooden dowels in glass sliding doors and windows that have broken locks. This should only be a temporary fix - replace these locks or install locks as soon as your able. Also, always keep your doors locked, even when you are home. Do not keep the back patio or balcony doors unlocked and open. This is a favorite entry point for would be thieves! Make sure your windows are secure and replace any broken windows as soon as possible. You should have security bars placed over basement windows as these are easily kicked in. Also place bars over removable air conditioning units setting outside of your windows as these can be weak points as well. Another possible cheap help for your windows is window film. It makes windows more shatter resistant and can prevent easy "window shopping" by burglars. Finally, when purchasing a new home or renting a new place replace the locks or request that the locks are replaced. It is not that the previous owners are bad people. You just can't be sure if they ever lost a key, lent it to someone and never got it back, etc. In these ways you can make all your entry points, both doors and windows, difficult to open. These are just some of the many ways you can help protect your home. Installing exterior lights and surveillance will help deter burglars from approaching. Making sure you do not leave helpful tools, hiding places, personal information, easy view of possessions or spare keys lying around will make life for the burglar more difficult. And if you make sure all your doors and window are in good repair and locked he may just give up and walk further down the street. But what happens if they do get in your home? There are many more security measures you can take for the interior of your home as well.

Part II: The Interior

Once a burglar has entered your home they usually have the privacy to search for and take what they want. They will still want to be in and out of your house as quick as possible, so the more secure your valuables are, the more likely they will leave them and move on. Remember, they have breached into the inner sanctum of your home and everything you leave out and accessible is theirs for the taking! What follows are some more ways to deter burglars and prevent them from walking off with all of your possessions. There various interior alarm systems that may still help to scare the burglar off. A wireless or hardwired alarm system can be a great way to alert a monitor if a doorway is breached or a window opened. Many systems can also detect if someone over a certain weight is moving about the home when the system is on. Turning on the alarm system is the greatest problem for most users. But once it becomes a habit the security it provides is priceless. To invest in a home alarm system in this way can be very beneficial but should not be taken lightly as these are often extended contracts. If you do decide on contracting with a security company, make sure to do your research. Some items you should know are: how long they have been around; are they licensed, bonded and insured; do they do background checks on their employees; where do they monitor the house from - is it local; is the equipment leased or purchased outright; what is the warranty and coverage; what are the monthly monitoring costs and are they at a fixed rate? Finally, dogs are a "natural alarm" whose gruff bark can scare off some would be thieves, but they are not full proof. Many dogs become nervous in the event of a break in and may not respond the way they would if you were at home. Guard dog training is usually available in your area, but these programs stress, and we must stress, that the training should be a major commitment - your dog needs to listen to you and only be aggressive on command! If they get past the security system then you want to be sure your possessions are safe. Keeping your possessions safe can be easily done with the use of secured safes and lock boxes. Homes should have a safe or you should have a safety deposit box to keep important documents safe. Any safe should be bolted down to the floor and have a fire resistant rating equivalent to the heat of a fire expected for a home your size (Examples of UL (Underwriters Laboratories) ratings are: Class C will keep paper documents safe up to 1 hour up to 1700°F, Class B will keep them safe up to 2 hours at 1850°F and Class A will keep them safe up to 4 hours at 2000°F). Do make certain your safe is bolted to the structure of your home. Otherwise burglars will just take the whole thing with them to break into later. What should the safe contain? Keep all important documents such as birth certificates, passports, marriage certificates, legal papers, receipts for large purchases, loans, investment documents, deeds and titles, to name a few. You should also keep unused credit cards locked away. This should include statement information so a thief does not try to open a new account with a stolen statement. Finally, any jewelry, watches or small expensive items should be locked away. Now that you have everything in the safe do not forget to lock it! Surprisingly many people who own safes will leave them open for easy access - this rather defeats the purpose if your home is burglarized! Finally consider a small wall safe for your car and spare house keys. If you leave your spare keys lying around the house, don't be supervised if the burglar takes your car as well! Keep anything that would be difficult or impossible to replace locked up.

Finally, give some consideration as to what to do if, after your best efforts, possessions are taken from your home. Large items such as stereos and TVs can be marked by you for identification purposes. However, never engrave you SSN in expensive items. Instead, engrave these possessions with your Driver's Licence Number or consider marking them with an invisible pen. In the event of a burglary (or fire) you should have a clear idea of what was lost. Keep a compiled list of your possessions in a lock box or fire proof safe. It will make the list even stronger if you supplement it with photos, videos and serial numbers of the possessions. Any family heirlooms should be appraised, photographed and included on this list. Make sure the insurance company is aware of everything on this list so you are covered for the full worth of your loss. The FDIC recommends updating a detailed list of possessions in each room once every 6 months. Understand that once items are stolen, it may not be possible for the police to recover them, even if the burglars are caught. So make every effort to keep these items locked up! Once a burglar is inside your home you want to make sure they do not have an easy time taking away your possessions. Having a monitored alarm system of some type will help deter the burglars from staying. Dogs might even help convince intruders to leave. Make sure your possessions are locked up. This is everything from jewelry and car keys to important documents. If items are taken make sure you have a detailed list of what you owned so insurance can cover the financial lost. Also this will give you a better chance of tracking down the stolen items. Marking large items may help with this as well. Overall, make sure you secure what you cannot replace!

Conclusion

Everyone thinks burglary will not happen to them, or it is only determined by chance or one's neighborhood. But that is not the case and taking time to review your home's security is a good investment. There are many great ways you can protect your home and property from burglars. Tactics from installing exterior lights and surveillance to making sure you do not leave helpful tools, hiding places, etc. will make life for the burglar more difficult. Keep your doors and windows locked and alarm system armed. If they do get in your home make sure you have your valuables locked in a safe or lock box. Keep a list of your valuables and mark them if you can so you may have a better chance of getting items returned. Below are additional links for information on the web about home security and general home safety.

Do not wait for it to happen, take some time today to take a few small steps to better home security. Quick checklist of items to check around the home.

Emergency Preparedness:

Update your emergency contact lists. Numbers change! Make sure to have an out of state contact set up in case of natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes. - Review emergency plans with everyone in your home. Make sure everyone knows what to do if there is a fire, break in, earthquake, major storm or other emergency. If you do not have emergency plans make it your New Year's resolution to make them! - Examine your emergency kits. Make sure first aid products are still good and stocked. Check extra stores of food and water for replacement. If you do not have emergency kits, make a point to create or buy them.

Household Papers/Records: 
Update your protected files. You'll be doing taxes anyway, so it is a good time to review which documents you are keeping and which need to be shredded. Here are some suggested documents to keep and how long to keept them: 
- Keep in Safe Deposit Box/Fireproof Safe: Birth certificates, marriage certificates, divorce legal papers, adoption papers, citizenship records, and other documents that are government or court related. A copy of a will, although your attorney will keep the original. Investment and business papers, government bonds, deeds, titles and copyrights to name a few more. General rule is, "Put it in if you can't replace it or if it would be costly or troublesome to replace." 
- Taxes: IRS can audit up to 6 years back. However, you can get rid of pay stubs if you have your W2. Cancelled checks you will want to keep if they are related to anything you claimed on your tax return. - Medical Bills: Keep at least 3 years. - Household Inventory: You should have a comprehensive list for each room and what of importance is in there. This will help you claim losses in event of burglary or fire. The details of this list should be shared with your insurance carrier to make sure of coverage. It is recommended that you review this list once every 6 months. - Deposit, ATM, Credit Card and Debit Card Receipts: Save them until the transaction appears on your statement and you've verified that the information is accurate. Then they may be shredded. - Credit Card Statements: If there are not purchases related to taxes you may shred them once every year. However, if you have larger purchases on the card you may want to keep hold of these older statements. Special Note: Credit Card Agreements should be kept as long as the card is active! - Loan Agreements: Keep as long as the loan is active. - Documentation of Stocks, Bonds nd Other Investments: Keep while you own the investment and then 7 years after that. Household Health & Safety: - Determine if homes built at the same time or are in the same condition as yours are susceptible to lead, radon, asbestos, mold or carbon monoxide problems. If so consider it a New Year's resolution to get your home tested. - Review your medications and vitamins/supplements. Properly dispose of any expired items. Many of these items have such a long shelf life that we often forget to throw them away when we should! Also, make sure they are properly stored and out of reach of children. House Maintenance: - Change the batteries in your fire alarm and CO alarms. Test both. (In reality they should be tested once a month!) If you don't have a CO alarm, now is the time to get one; there should be one in a central location outside each sleeping area. - Check all outdoor lighting. Get bulbs replaced - we all can forget about the garage sidelight. - If you are in a snow area you should be checking your dryer, furnace, stove and fireplaces to make sure any vents are clear of snow. - Check inspection dates. Do you know the last time your furnace, water heater, fireplace or other major appliance was inspected? - Take inventory of any major appliances that are not working properly or at all. It is time to look ahead at the year and budget for their repair or take them to the dump. For example, that extra freezer that doesn't work - it's a safety hazard! Get it fixed or look at paying for it to be properly disposed. - Review your garage for hazardous materials such as paints, oils and gasoline. Make sure these items are properly stored. If they are old or the cans are damaged look into getting them disposed of properly. A lot of times items we used for spring, summer and fall projects get forgotten in the winter months. If they weren't put away properly they can become potential hazards. - Check for leaky faucets and get them fixed if needed. You don't want a small leak to become a BIG problem. Once the spring thaw begins make sure to check outside faucets for leaks as well. - Unclog gutters - if the weather permits. Otherwise add this to a list of spring cleaning to be done as soon as possible. - Clean off the roof (or get someone to do it) if weather permits. Another item to add to spring cleaning if it cannot be done.

Back to School Basics

Tips and Tricks to Save $$

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In our area, the made-up snow days at the end of the school year made this past year seem long. Therefore, it's a bit jarring to be thinking about back to school supplies already. However, planning ahead can help prevent a lot of the headache in back to school shopping. Many times the quest for new supplies and clothes can seem like an endless scavenger hunt that quickly eats through money in the bank! Below we have compiled a few tips on how to keep the costs low, as well as things to consider when deciding on which supplies will best fit your student's needs. We have also taken a look at a few of the activities you can still be doing the final days of summer to keep your child's mind sharp and ready to jump into the next grade. Students on average lose a month of learning during summer vacation and can lose over two months of learning for harder subjects.* Luckily, there are ways to battle the summer brain drain while still having fun! *"Summer Vacation Slide" by Barbara Pytel

Back to School Supplies Armed with a supply list provided by the school, it is time to begin the scavenger hunt. As you look for supplies for your children, below are a couple items to keep in mind.

  • Waste Not, Want Not Take a look through left over supplies from last school year. Did older children leave something the younger ones can use? Where certain supplies never used or still have some life left in them? Do some supplies just need new batteries, lead, erases or other refills? Also, check older items that may be spruced up a bit with stickers, photos, etc. - it makes for a fun project for the younger kids and can help get them excited about going back for the next year.
  • School Supply Closet If you don't already have one, set up a supply closet/space where you can keep old and new supplies all year round. Here you can keep packets of pencils and stacks of paper or notebooks that you know will be used throughout the year. Buy commonly used items in bulk and you will save in the long run.
  • Collect Year Round Now that you have a School Supply Closet set up in your home, you can more easily take advantage of deals as they arise during the year. With a place to neatly keep school items you will have a better idea of what you need more of as you shop. Although Back to School sales can be good, you may find even greater bargains at the end of the season or during clearance sales.
  • "Ouch! My back!" Backpacks are often overloaded with school supplies and can cause back pain and muscle soreness for students of all ages. A backpack should only be 10-20% of the student's weight. If a smaller student is expected to carry a lot, then you may consider getting a rolling backpack.
  • "But everyone else has one..." The plaintive cry of so many children around the country. But be strong - get only what your child really needs for school. Get supplies that are basic and therefore timeless. Fancy cartoon or pop-icon covered supplies are short lived. If you do get them, only get a few that you are certain your child will use before they become "unfashionable."
  • Quality is still #1 You can shop cheap without going so generic all you get is poor quality. You don't want to buy supplies that will break, leak, rip, or fall apart before the end of the first week. (I still remember a black glued notebook I had in high school that literally just fell apart at the seems with paper scattered about the floor - not fun!) Make sure there is some quality in the products you buy. Keep in mind how roughly binders may be handled, how pens may be shoved at the bottom of a backpack and how that same backpack will be tossed, dropped, kicked, lugged, shoved and zipped/unzipped more times than worth counting.
  • Batteries not Included Avoid gimmicky and flashy supplies that twirl and light up. Teachers find these are very distracting in the classroom. If you do get a fun item like this, keep it at home where it can make the homework blahs a bit more fun.
  • Accounting 101 As your children get older, include them in the budget planning. Working together on budgeting for supplies will teach your students how to prepare and why all the flashy supplies may not be worth it. You will soon find your child will learn to appreciate the cheaper supplies so they may budget for one or two more fancy items.
  • Organization 101 Along the same lines as Accounting 101, sit down with your older children and take the time to recall what worked or didn't work last year for their learning. Did they find note cards useful and need more this year? Did color coding subjects help or would an all in one binder be more useful? Are they still struggling and need to try something new?
  • Munch a Lunch Increasingly, online access allows parents not only to review the menu but to check their child's account and upload more funds when necessary. Many schools are also adopting healthier menus. If you don't have a picky eater, this may be the most convenient option. However, if you do have a picky eater in the house or if your child has any food allergies or dietary restrictions, then packing a lunch is the better way to go. Buying food and snacks in bulk has decreased the grocery bills of many households. With a bit of pre-planning, you may actually save money if packing lunches with items you know your children will eat. For growing teenagers with insatiable appetites, giving them as many snacks as possible can help curb the fast food purchases and the extra expense of impulse hunger-buys. Packing Get a good, strong lunch bag. Brown paper bags don't hold up well and are not environmentally friendly. A good lunch bag will protect other items from spills and with a small ice pack can keep food at a safe temperature until eaten. Free Tupperware is good (i.e. sandwich meat containers) however they only have so long to live after being tossed around in a lunch bag. Good containers is a worthwhile investment as they will be used 5 days a week to pack a healthy and full meal! Munchies Include your children in planning lunches for the week. Do this on a regular basis as they may have been all about bananas the last two weeks but are now sick and want a different fruit or veggie. Find out if lunches are satisfying - are they still hungry or brining extra home? If they are brining a lot home, find out if they are preferring a food/snack served in the cafeteria. If you are trying to save money by buying in bulk, you may be able to buy this favorite to pack in their lunch or find a healthier alternative instead.
  • Free Shipping Shopping for school supplies online is not out of the ordinary anymore. Many office supply stores and their competitors are allowing parents to shop from the computer. Compare shipping rates - you might even get free shipping with purchases at a specified total.

Back to School Clothes Most kids grow out of their clothes and shoes at an amazing rate. Keep their closets full with basics and not the trendy fashion of the day. Keep clothes practical and you won't break the bank!

  • Basics, Basics, Basics Keep the clothes to the basics as much as possible. Going for trends and fads will only hurt the checkbook when your child refuses to wear them again. This doesn't mean you can't get trendy clothes if it fits your budget. One way to make this easier is to get your child involved in the budget process. Let them know how much is budgeted for the season and then shop together for some basic items while saving for a few "gotta have" fun items.
  • Playground Attire (At Every Age) Can you run, jump, play and have fun in those clothes? Make sure your kids try moving around in the clothes they want to buy. Oddly cut pants are no fun for young kids to play in and skinny jeans will not be as appealing to that middle school student once they try to sit in a chair hour after hour of class. Make sure your children on aware of the functionality of their clothing choices. Finally, make sure you check out what is allowed at the school. Funky, trendy, or skimpy may not be practical and they may get your child sent home too! Take care to read slogans on t-shirts, ambiguous language or even blatant references to questionable or illegal subjects (i.e. drugs/alcohol) may not be allowed as well.
  • Hand-Me-Downs (Even with the Neighbors!) If you have more then one kid, hand-me-downs can be great. Especially if you stay with the basic and timeless classics, it will be easier for the younger kids to use what their older siblings can no longer wear. With how quickly they grow through clothes, most of the clothes will be in great condition and you can't beat the price! If you don't have older siblings, consider roving the local garage sales. Or talk with parents at the school, some parents plan exchange nights where they all bring clothes their kids can no longer wear and exchange with each other - again, you can't beat the price of a good barter in kind!
  • Consignment & Charitable Stores Both consignment and charitable stores can offer a great way to fill your kids closet. Get your children involved. At the consignment store they can make their "own" money by turning in old clothes for cash or store credit. Going to charitable stores, children can learn early how to stretch their dollar. Especially when shopping for items they know they will not be using often - so they need a white dress shirt for choir but will only wear it one season - a charitable or consignment store is a great fit. For the really creative kids, this can be a great way to mix and match and create their own style for cheap.
  • Shop In and Out of Season Without a doubt the department stores and outlet stores will run great deals and back to school sales. But also keep a look out for seasonal closeouts. Items you may not use this year might be used the next - just be aware you may have to do some good guessing on future sizes! Again, when shopping seasonal or end of the year sales, make certain to go for basic and timeless styles - the trendy may be a good bargain, but may not be worn by a stubborn teen next year.

Back to School Learning As mentioned in the intro above, research has shown that children lose about a months worth of knowledge over a 3 month summer vacation. For more difficult subjects this loss may be even more. There are ways to keep your kids mind sharp and even learn new things over the summer while keeping it fun and relaxed.

  • Homework Hour Okay, I know we just said to keep it fun and relaxed...it still can be with a scheduled time at night for quiet "study" time. Try to leave an hour open twice a week (or more) for a homework hour where you and your kids play a challenging game, watch a documentary, quietly read, or they can play an educational computer game - there are many online covering everything from dinosaurs to foreign languages. It will help keep you child's mind sharp and attuned to concentrating on one task like they will have to when real homework starts again in the fall. Of course this is generally for the older student, younger kids wouldn't need to do a whole hour - something more comparable to what they do in a school activity. The idea is not to sit them down with a chart to fill in or tables to review. Instead, get them to apply some of their learned knowledge in an activity.
  • Summer Reading If not done during homework hour, summer reading can be done daily. Read to the younger kids, read along with the older ones and read quietly next to the tweens and teens. The idea is to again make the environment conducive to some reading time. Take a trip to the library once every two weeks to stock up on books. Perhaps an older kid might be interested in entering one of the many reading contests that happen every summer. Read the same book as a family and compare opinions. Read books related to an upcoming summer vacation. Read books with a movie fast approaching and compare them to each other. Read non-fiction books as well. Simply put - read!
  • Inquiring Minds Want to Know Consider making national pastimes a chance to learn - How do fireworks work? What creates a thunderstorm? Why do we celebrate July 4th? Which constellation is that? How does a camera work - perhaps put it on manual and figure what different apertures and shutter speeds can do. Or turn a family road trip into a chance to learn a bit more - stop at a national park or try a different cuisine from what you get around home. Challenge yourself to look at items we take for granted as possibilities for learning and experimenting.
  • Did we say Experiments? What better time then summer to make a mess in the backyard. Make a homemade volcano, your own play dough, or put together a model car/airplane/ship/dollhouse. Get your kids involved in projects - perhaps you are doing a home improvement, although you child may be too young to help with the tools, they might be able to help you figure the square footage as you plan your project. Need help in the garden? Don't make them the "weed puller" - instead let them help you tend soil, plants, discover bugs, create a sculpture or taste some ripe berries off the vine.

The Cleaner Home

Make your home environmentally green

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The old days of harsh bleach and chemicals used to clean around the house are slowly fading out. Along with this trend is a desire of many consumers to adopt more environmentally friendly products for their home. This can be anything from the new countertops and floors to the groceries bought at the local supermarket. In addition to what you bring in (and take out) of your home, the maintenance of your home can is a way to become more green. According to the energysavers.gov website, "Americans spend more than $160 billion a year to heat, cool, light, and live" in their homes. Everyone may not try every option or may find their budget does not allow for all of the products available. However, a few home improvements and informed purchases can not only save you money in the long run, but these changes can also provide a healthier home for your family and the planet. Initially, all the options to create a greener home can be overwhelming. But some tasks are good home maintenance and a few only need to be done once. The headings below is just one way to break down some of the improvements and updates you may make to your home which will effect its impact and performance. Did we say performance? You bet! Making sure your home is running efficiently and smoothly is the number one way to helping the environment! How efficient is your home? Making your home work efficiently to keep you warm, cool and provide you with creature comforts is the perfect way to help other creatures of the world. Taking time to keep your home updated will help reduce the amount of energy you need and ultimately be easier on your wallet as well. Lighting: You can cut electricity costs by taking advantage of natural lighting and choosing carefully the lighting you purchase. Natural light is a great way to improve your home's efficiency. Skylights and easy to open window treatments can help you better regulate where you get your light during the day. Windows facing north and south can offer a great source of natural light and heat. West and east windows will offer light but may produce too much glare as the sun rises and sets. Choose your artificial lights carefully. Selecting a few accent lights and then a concentrated task light for an activity such as reading is a better alternative to lighting up every square inch of the room with florescent bulbs! Using environmentally efficient light bulbs can help reduce energy costs. However, research the bulbs you buy. Some may not work as well for task lighting. Others may not work with your older lamps and you may be better buying a new lighting fixture at the same time. Keep your artificial lights working at their best. Even the simple task of keeping your lamp shades free of dust can improve the light quality in your home. Windows: The windows of your home can be a great ally. Getting the right type of window treatments can help regulate your home temperatures. Drapes: Drawn closed in the winter, these window treatments can help prevent heat from escaping by as much as 10%! Drapes can also help decrease heat coming into the home if closed against direct sunlight in the summer. Blinds or Shades: These can help reduce the amount of heat coming through the window because of direct sunlight. Dual shades can be very useful. Use the light side to help reflect and keep out the warming sun in the summer and the dark side can be used in the winter to draw in more heat. Shutters: Both exterior and interior shutters can be used to keep heat out in the summer. They do not work as well at keeping heat in during the winter. Another perk of having exterior shutters is that they can provide extra security for your home as well. Window Panel: Similar to a shutter, a window panel is a product that pops into the window frame and provides extra insulation in the winter. An inexpensive addition, this may be ideal for windows not used for their light in the winter. Screens: Although these don't really keep any heat in place, using screens on your windows allows for better cooling and airing of your home in the summer. Screens allow you to keep windows and doors open encouraging a natural movement of the air. Using open windows well in the morning and evening can drastically reduce your air conditioning bill. Thankfully this can be done without letting in all the bugs and critters! Awnings: Window awnings can help keep the house cooler in the summer by reducing the amount of heat that is adsorbed. Air Leaks: Get rid of air leaks! Insulation works to improve both the heating and cooling of your home. Check around your doors and windows first. Many leaks escape through these portals the most. Replace weather stripping and caulk where needed. Besides the doors and windows, also check for air leaks around vents, fans, phone and cable lines, and electrical lines. Depending on the materials used in your home, you may also need to check any brick, stucco or cement construction for needed repairs. Not sure if you have a leak? One option is to use an incense stick. The smoke will show any movement caused by air leaks. Another method is to have someone stand on the other side of the possible leak source while you shine a flashlight at the edges. If they can see the light on the other side then some updates should be made. Insulation: Updating or adding insulation to your home, especially an older one, can help reduce costs associated with heating and cooling your home. The attic, crawl space, basement, exterior walls and space around service ducts are the areas that will need the most attention or improvement. Reduce Water Usage: There are many ways to reduce your water consumption around the home. The hot water heater can be an energy hog. Try insulating it if it does not already have at least R-24 insulation. You can also lower the temperature of the water from 140°F to 120°F to save on cost. Make certain to fix any leaky pipes or faucets. Over time these will not only consume water but will also cause damage to the surrounding area. To get better use of water for your money, consider installing low-flow water faucets and showerheads. You may also consider a water (and energy) efficient clothes washer. What do you bring into your home? Whether building a new home or shopping for the weekly groceries, the products you choose to bring home have a great impact on the environment. Taking some time to consider your choices before you buy is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint. Renewable Construction: If building or remodeling a home, consider renewable sources for some of your construction needs. You do not have to use all or any of them, however, if you take the time to research some of these options, you may be surprised and find a good fit. Hardwood floors are great in that they keep allergies as bay and are easier on the environment then synthetic carpet manufacture. However, a renewable wood is key here. Renewable floors such as bamboo or cork are much easier to replenish. Another option that has gained in popularity is reclaimed wood. This product is taken from demolition sites - everything from an old house to an old gymnasium floor. Research the product's history as some sealants and paints used on the wood may be toxic. There are more renewable sources available. From recycled glass used as tile to recycled jeans used as insulation. Take a look at our links to the right for more information about these items and possible vendors in your area. Buy Local: There has been a lot of encouragement for consumers to buy local recently. Buying locally should help cut down on shipping and packaging costs. Doing so can also help local farmers and businesses. Not always the cheaper option, trying to purposely buy some items locally can help the economy and ultimately the environment. In fact, some believe buying groceries from local sources provides fresher produce that ultimately could be better for your health. Quality of Product: Being a savvy consumer who expects the best quality in their products is helpful to the environment as well as your pocketbook. Move away from cheaply made items; instead research your purchases and get ones that will perform well for a long time to come. Check Labels: On anything you buy, take time to check the labels and be aware of any impact it may have on your environment - including at home. Consider carefully your choice in chemicals used for cleaning. When working on home improvement projects consider the options you have for glues, paints and other possible hazardous materials. THERMOSTAT: Lower your thermostat by a few degrees. Get a controller where you can specify different temperatures for day and night. LIGHTS: Turn off incandescent lights when not in use. Turn off florescent lights if you will be gone for more than 15 minutes. Optimize your use of natural light with work or reading places near northern or southern windows away from eastern and western sun glare. ELECTRONICS: Turn off power strips if nothing on the strip is in use. Unplug unused electronics. COMPUTERS: Turn off your computer monitor if you will be gone for more than 20 minutes. Turn off both your computer and computer monitor if you will be gone for more than 2 hours. Use the sleep mode if your computer has one. ENERGY: Consider purchasing green energy from your power company such as solar power, wind power, biomass power, geothermal energy or hydropower. If your power company does not have one of these options available, you may still be able to invest in future programs. LAUNDRY: Wash your clothes in cold water when possible. Clothesline dry your laundry on sunny days. Shop for detergents that list which toxic chemicals are not in the product. A generic statement such as "non-toxic" may be gimmick so read the label carefully. GROCERIES: Shop locally. Use a cloth reusable bag for groceries. COOKING: Use cookware that cooks at lower temperatures such as cast iron or clay. Save your baking for cooler hours. DISHES: Only run the dishwasher when it is full. Run the dishwasher at night. GARDEN GREEN: Check out our article on environmentally green gardening. Or see our article about pet safe gardening.