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Fire Prevention Focus: Cooking Fires Pose Greatest Risk

October 24, 2012 6:06 pm

In the second segment of our “Fire Prevention Month” focus, I turned to the latest date from the National Fire Protection Association. According to the NFPA, cooking remains top cause of home structure fires - an average of 371,700 home structure fires annually between 2006 and 2010.

These fires caused an estimated average of 2,590 civilian deaths and $7.2 billion in direct property damage yearly. And based on research by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), cooking was also the number one cause of home structure fires that went unreported.

The CPSC found that in 2004-2005, for every one household cooking fire reported to the fire department, U.S. households experienced 50 cooking equipment fires that they did not report.

Forty-two percent of reported home fires started in the kitchen or cooking area. These fires were the third leading cause of home fire deaths (15 percent) and leading cause of home fire injuries (37 percent).

Other notable findings from the report include:

  • Almost two-thirds of home fire deaths resulted from fires in properties without working smoke alarms.
  • Smoking materials are the leading cause of home fire deaths followed by heating equipment and then cooking equipment.
  • One-quarter (25 percent) of all home fire deaths were caused by fires that started in the bedroom; another quarter (24 percent) resulted from fires originating in the living room, family room, or den.
  • Half of all home fire deaths result from incidents reported overnight between 11 pm and 7 am.
  • Home fires accounted for three-quarters (73 percent) of all reported structure fires between 2006 and 2010.
  • Between 2006 and 2010, on average one of every 310 households per year had a reported home fire.
  • Home structure fires peaked around the dinner hours between 5 and 8 pm.

Armed with these eye-opening stats, we’ll come back in our next segment with some targeted prevention practices to help ensure your home does not become part of next year’s NFPA statistics.

Boomers: Shifting Household Needs Create Innovative Home Designs

October 24, 2012 6:06 pm

(BPT) - Boomers expect to stay in their homes and live independently into their later years, but in the midst of change that is occurring in their households, it's easy for them to lose focus on planning for their own future housing needs.

New research by The Hartford shows that 40 percent of boomers have experienced or anticipate experiencing family member changes in and out of the home, mostly related to their children. However, 70 percent of boomers have not made design changes to their living space, perhaps due to the fact that they don't know if their children will move back home, notes Jodi Olshevski, gerontologist at The Hartford. Changes that increase your home's livability allow you to stay in your home longer and make living easy for people of all ages, sizes and abilities.

“Most of us want to stay in our homes as we age, which often requires making the design choices to help us do that,” says Olshevski. Moving, remodeling or simply redecorating, all present opportunities to incorporate design factors that make your home comfortable and safe for everyone you care about, from small children to older individuals. While a life transition might cause you to halt your plans for improvements, Olshevski recommends taking the opposite approach and using it as an opportunity to incorporate more accessible design into the home.

By following the principles of universal design - what's good for people of all ages, sizes and abilities - you can make sure your home is more livable across your lifetime, and can stand up to any life changes that come your way.

Olshevski recommends concentrating on three design elements in order to accommodate changing needs over a lifetime:

Adaptability. Is your home flexible and functional for family and friends now and in the future? For example, if you're installing a new bathroom sink, you might consider storage space in the cabinet underneath. You may also want to make sure the cabinet opening is at least 36 inches wide, which allows a wheel chair to slide in between the doors when open and makes the sink accessible to all. Or, if you're installing new kitchen countertops, think about choosing a design with multiple heights to increase flexibility and comfort for things such as standing for food preparation or sitting to check for recipes on the computer.

Ease. Any components you add to your home should be easy to use. For example, improvements like pull-out drawers for easy access in kitchens and bathrooms can help make reaching for items easier. If you're replacing door handles or faucets, opt for lever style handles that are easier to turn.

Openness. Open floor plans are becoming more the trend, but it's not just for style reasons. More open space means additional room to maneuver, eliminating obstacles for those who have mobility challenges. Improvements like rounding edges on countertops can also help eliminate sharp objects that could cause injury.

Recognizing both that people are living longer and wish to remain in their homes, and seeing the types of transitions that families have gone through over the past few years, The Hartford has dedicated a section of its website to helping people make their homes more livable across a lifetime, meeting the needs of every age and everyone. More resources for getting your home ready for the rest of your life can be found at

Word of the Day

October 24, 2012 6:06 pm

Amortize. Pay a debt in monthly or other periodic installments until the total amount, along with the interest, if any, is paid.

Q: What Is Universal Design and How Does It Relate to Remodeling?

October 24, 2012 6:06 pm

A: Universal design is an approach to design that focuses on making all products and environments as usable as possible by as many people as possible regardless of age, physical ability, or situation. In recent years, the housing industry has recognized the importance of a "universal" approach to residential design that modifies standard building elements to improve a home's accessibility and usability.

This allows for more equitable, flexible and simple use. Many books exist on the subject, including Residential Remodeling and Universal Design: Making Homes More Comfortable and Accessible, a resource guide offered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD’s guide provides technical guidance on selecting and installing universal features during home remodeling or renovation. The modifications can range from expanding doorway dimensions to replacing kitchen appliances. The guide emphasizes eliminating unintentional barriers and using designs and features that could benefit people with a broad range of needs.

Halloween, Beyond the Candy: Help Connect Your Kids

October 23, 2012 6:00 pm

To most kids, Halloween means costumes and candy. But the spooky holiday also provides the perfect opportunity for kids to get involved in the community. Use these tips to help your child channel their holiday excitement toward a greater good.

Collect donations for a cause. If your kids plan to trick-or-treat, talk to them about collecting coins for an organization that helps children in need throughout the world. For 62 years, Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF has encouraged kids to help raise funds for their peers in developing countries by going door-to-door on Halloween night or participating in other festive fundraising activities.

"Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF is a powerful way for parents to teach their children the value of helping others and for kids to learn about the world," says Caryl Stern, President and CEO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF. For the first time, the traditional Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF box has been given a new look, with six spooky new character boxes -- a monster, black cat, princess, pumpkin, vampire and a witch. Fundraising kits containing the character boxes may be ordered online with free shipping at or by calling 1-800-FOR-KIDS while supplies last.

Share some spooky treats. Most kids love to get involved in the kitchen -- especially when sweet treats are involved. This year, whip up a batch of spooky treats together to share with neighbors, teachers, patients at the local hospital, and residents at your nearest retirement home.

Get crafty with the kids. Encourage your child to use their creative talents to help spread the Halloween spirit by designing their own Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF box. "This year, we want to tap into children's imaginations by letting them bring their own creativity to the traditional Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF boxes," says Stern. The "Create-a-Character" contest allows kids to submit their Halloween character design for a chance to be selected for the Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF 2013 limited edition collection.

Make it a group activity. Encourage your child's scout troop to participate, or help your child organize a party for neighborhood kids to spend an afternoon designing characters, then enter online before Oct. 26, 2012 at Fundraising kits containing a blank collection box for design may be ordered online with free shipping or by calling 1-800-FOR-KIDS while supplies last. This year Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF has partnered with national sponsors Key Club International and MediaVest, and promotional supporters American Airlines and Coinstar, Inc.

Donate old costumes. Your kids grow quickly, so it's unlikely they'll be able to wear the same Halloween costume two years in a row. Discuss with your child the needs of other children their age and give them the opportunity to donate their gently used Halloween costumes and clothing. Be sure to explain to your children how their costumes can help make another child's Halloween extra special, and make sure they're involved in the donation process.

Host a Halloween slumber party. Encourage your child to invite their closest friends for a night of spooktacular fun and treats. Ask each child to bring a canned good to the party to donate to your local food kitchen.

With a little planning and creativity, you can use the excitement of Halloween to encourage your child to give back to their community as well.

Your Family’s Personality Can Decipher Your Dream Vacation

October 23, 2012 6:00 pm

Laid back beach holiday or wild amusement parks? Camping or resort hopping? There are so many options for a great family vacation that it can be hard to decide on where to go. One thing that will help you decide on a destination is to think about your family's vacation personality. Is your family laid back, or adventurous? Do you enjoy exploring on land or experiences at sea?

Once you know your family's vacation personality, you can plan the vacation of a lifetime. Here are a few exciting ideas to get you started on your ultimate family getaway.

Family Cruise
If fantasy, fun and the magic of the sea appeal to your family, then a cruise is for you.
Twenty-five percent of cruisers sail with children, according to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA). And today's ships offer a wide array of onboard features and programs for all ages -- not to mention exciting ports of call along the way.

When choosing a family cruise, you want to make sure that everyone, from grandparents down to the toddlers, has something they can enjoy.

For example, Disney Cruise Lines' cabins are designed with families in mind, with extra storage space and split bath design. There are plenty of family-centered shows and activities available, ranging from lively deck parties and Broadway-style stage spectaculars to water-based fun on deck with pools, waterslides and splash zones. But you don't have to do everything together:

--Younger kids will love having their own elaborately themed play areas and activities and getting to meet Disney characters.
--Teens and tweens have their own private clubs, and activities geared just for them.
--And adults don't have to miss out on the fun -- there is an adults-only pool and spa along with activities like cooking demonstrations, wine tastings, or a champagne brunch.

When choosing a cruise, make sure you look for ports of call and excursion options that fit your family, too. Alaskan cruises are great for families who enjoy the outdoors. You can go fishing for salmon, hiking on a glacier, take railroad and helicopter tours, and ride with sled dogs. If warm, golden beaches are more your family's style, a cruise to the Caribbean will let you lounge, swim and snorkel in azure waters, or shop in exotic marketplaces.

With most cruises, all your meals and most onboard entertainment and activities are included in your stateroom price. The value of cruising over a traditional land vacation is unbeatable. And with many convenient U.S. ports to sail from, such as Galveston, Texas and Miami, Fla., getting to your ship is simple.

Family Adventures
If your family is always looking for new places to explore, a family adventure vacation is just the thing.
With guided adventures, you can explore and experience places and cultures you've only dreamed about -- and you have the benefit of experts to make it enriching and easy.

When choosing a family adventure, make sure the itinerary will satisfy the energy levels and curiosity of the different age groups in your family. For example, on a trip to Peru with Adventures by Disney, you can enjoy an Andean feast, go river rafting, explore ancient ruins, and take a privately guided tour of Machu Picchu. On their trip to Greece, you can go sea kayaking and swimming, explore a volcano, enjoy wine tasting, and visit the Acropolis and Olympic Stadium where the kids can participate in their own mini marathon. Or, you can explore the American West in Wyoming by whitewater rafting down the Snake River, touring Yellowstone National Park, going horseback riding, and staying on a dude ranch.

Family adventure trips mean you can enjoy an adventure without many of the hassles of pulling it off by yourself. Guided tours such as these can also provide special access to places and experiences you can't get on your own.

If your family enjoys gorgeous beaches and a laid-back atmosphere, a destination resort should be in your vacation plans.

Many families love the advantages of all-inclusive resort packages. You get to enjoy a wide variety of activities without worrying about expenses you weren't counting on.

You can find family-friendly resorts that feature variety of water sport activities, resort amenities such as spas and lounges, and sandy beaches perfect for relaxing with a good book. Tour desks often offer excursions for an additional charge. Popular excursions include swimming with dolphins, catamaran snorkel cruises or visits to local museums or galleries. There are plenty of options for everyone.
All-inclusive resorts are convenient, but before you book, make sure you know exactly what is included and what is available for an additional cost.

Family Vacation Apps
To help you plan your ultimate family trip -- and make the most of it while you're there -- here are some apps you should consider:
--Cruise Finder: Has itineraries for all major cruise lines, lets you search for deals, and includes photos, deck plans and more. Free.
--Frommer's Travel Tools: Has a currency-exchange calculator, metric system converter, a packing list function, flashlight, travel trivia and more. Free.
--Weather Channel: When you visit a different location each day, it's helpful to keep an eye on the weather. Free.
--Pack & Go Delux: Helps you keep track of everything you need to take on your adventure. $1.99.
--GateGuru: Has information about terminals in more than 100 airports. Lets you find hotspots, ATMs, coffee shops and more. Free.
--Simply Postcards: Choose a photo and recipient, and this app will print, stamp and mail your real postcard the next day. The app and first postcard are free, then prices range from $1.99 each to $30 for 30.

Sources: ,

Keep Your Pet Safe This Halloween

October 23, 2012 6:00 pm

For families devoted to their pets, Halloween isn’t just for the kids. Many people love dressing up their pets. But in addition to picking out a costume, pet parents should keep their pet's safety in mind as well. Here are some safety tips and costume ideas to help ensure you and your pet have a safe and fun holiday.

Keep them happy. "Before having pets join in the Halloween fun, it's important to assess whether your pet will be comfortable participating, or if the festivities will cause undue stress," says Dr. Simon Starkey, Pet Care Expert at PetSmart. "If you have a young or senior pet, or one that is shy around others, it's better to give them a quiet space away from all the activity where they'll feel more comfortable."

Make sure treats are pet friendly. With so many Halloween treats about the home, you want to make sure your dog doesn't accidentally consume something that could be harmful. Chocolate is particularly tempting for pets, but it can also make them seriously ill. Instead, choose a pet friendly treat to celebrate, such as GREENIES Dental Chews, which also keep pets' teeth clean and their breath scare-free.

Keep them safe. If you plan to take your dog around the neighborhood in the evening, make sure they're properly outfitted. Reflective leashes, collars and ID tags with flashing lights are essential accessories for any pet Halloween costume.

Halloween Pet Fun
"Choosing a costume for your pet is like choosing a costume for yourself -- you want something that reflects your or your pet's personality," says author and entertainment expert Kimberly Schlegel Whitman. Here are a few favorites exclusively available at PetSmart:

Make your pet a star. If you fancy your pet a rock star, consider dressing them for the part. Check out the Bret Michaels Pets Rock wig. With blonde tresses and a bandana to top it off, your pet will be ready to rock and roll.

Classic costumes are spooktacular. For a fantastic costume that also offers safety features, check out the glow-in-the-dark Martha Stewart Pets Black Halloween Skeleton costume. Or, if you love retro, outfit your pet in the Top Paw Plush Sock Monkey costume, which is sure to evoke some "oohs" and "aahs" from witches, goblins, zombies and monsters of all ages.


Word of the Day

October 23, 2012 6:00 pm

Air rights. Right to occupy and use the open space above a parcel of land or property, such as in the leasing of air space over existing buildings or highways.

Q: What Should I Consider When Redoing My Kitchen?

October 23, 2012 6:00 pm

A: It is tempting to discard existing appliances when you build new cabinets around them. Rethink the idea. If the appliances are workable, keep them – and save yourself from $1,000 to $5,000, according to the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. Also keep the present location of major fixtures, appliances and utilities relative to the plumbing, gas and electrical outlets. Rearranging plumbing, wiring and jacks can be very expensive.

Refacing existing cabinets can reduce the cost of your kitchen remodel considerably and eliminate the need for new flooring, countertops and appliances. If you must get new cabinets, options such as spice racks and slide out wire baskets can be added later. Also, install cabinets without soffits to decrease labor cost; and avoid trim moldings, or use a simple trim. If you must have a new wood trim to match the new cabinets, order pre-finished trim to decrease labor cost; avoid having the painting or staining done on-site.

Other helpful tips: choose neutral colors for fixtures, appliances and laminates and avoid the need for a new floor by sanding and refinishing a hardwood floor that may be underneath the existing vinyl flooring.

Fire Prevention Focus: Making Sure You Are Protected

October 22, 2012 5:56 pm

Every October, Fire Prevention Month, I try to present some practical information to help protect individuals from, and in the event of fire. So in this first of a series of segments in October, we’ll tap the expertise of The Professional Insurance Agents of Connecticut Inc.

The PIAC reminds homeowners and renters to make sure your home is insured properly before an incident. Insurers generally recommend people insure their home for its full replacement cost, which means it is insured under a homeowner’s policy for 100 percent of the cost of repairing or rebuilding it at the time it becomes necessary.

Timothy G. Russell, president of PIACT says under a standard insurance policy, personal property and possessions will be insured for their actual cash value, which is its replacement cost at the time of loss, minus depreciation of its value and any deductible applying to the policy.

In order to receive full value for property, Russell says a policy should include replacement cost coverage, which also protects from both depreciation and inflation.

When it comes to fire safety, Russell believes the best way to practice fire safety is to prevent one in the first place. PIACT suggests these general tips to be more fire safe:

• Every home should have working smoke detectors. Ideally, they should be placed on every floor and in every bedroom.
• Check all electrical appliances, cords and outlets. Make sure they are in good condition without loose or frayed cords or plugs.
• Do not run electrical cords under rugs.
• Don’t let lamps and/or night-lights touch bedspreads, curtains or other fabrics.
• Don’t leave the kitchen if the stove is in use. If you must leave the area, turn off the burners.

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