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Thomas Skiffington, CRS, GRI, CRB, ABR, ePro, CLHMS, SRES, RECS, CDPE, ECOBROKER
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Tom's Blog

Greener Homes, Greener Planet: Fire Sprinklers

May 21, 2012 6:44 pm

On Earth Day, I learned about the VISION House in INNOVENTIONS at Epcot at the Walt Disney World Resort. Inspired by Green Builder Media’s VISION House home series, guests can explore the major themes of whole-home automation, energy generation and efficiency, water conservation, indoor environmental quality and high-performance materials and durability. 

In the next couple of segments, we'll take a look at some of the most advanced systems on display at VISION House. 

The most curious collaboration has to be with the National Fire Protection Association, whose innovative exhibit showcases home fire sprinklers as an important addition to the home. Through this partnership with Green Builder Media, NFPA President Jim Shannon hopes to educate visitors on the key environmental benefits of sprinklers. 

It's a startling fact, but Shannon says greenhouse gases released by burning buildings can be reduced by 98 percent when automatic fire sprinklers are installed. 

The study, conducted for the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition (homefiresprinklers.org) also found that automatic sprinklers can make a favorable global or environmental impact because they reduce fire damage up to 97 percent; reduce water usage to fight a home fire by upwards of 90 percent; and reduce the amount of water pollution released in the environment.

The VISION House role is tied to the NFPA's coordinated effort to encourage the use of home fire sprinklers through the “Bringing Safety Home” initiative, which includes a variety of proven, effective ways that home fire sprinkler advocates can communicate the impact of sprinklers. 

Among the most important stats - the NFPA points out that:
• If you have a reported fire in your home, the risk of dying decreases by about 80 percent when sprinklers are present.
• People in homes with sprinklers are protected against significant property loss—sprinklers reduce the average property loss by about 71 percent per fire.
• Home sprinkler systems respond quickly to reduce the heat, flames, and smoke from a fire, giving families valuable time to get to safety.
• Roughly 85 percent of the time, just one sprinkler operates.
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5 Secret Habits of Wealthy People

May 21, 2012 6:44 pm

We have all heard stories about average people who made it big in one field or another and became super-rich. Finance writer Farnoosh Torabi, writing for Yahoo! Finance, interviewed a score of now-wealthy Americans to get a bead on how they went from rags to riches.

From Torabi’s research, here are five simple but telling traits and everyday habits of the very wealthy that may help you in your quest for financial independence:

1. Street smarts count – Many of today’s wealthiest Americans were not intellectually gifted or academically inclined. In fact, it is often the goof-off or the class cut-up whose active imagination and gut feeling leads to a bright idea or product that winds up making a fortune. Schooling should never be ignored, most maintain – but trusting your gut will almost always open the door to success.
2. Identify and act on opportunity – The rich are reportedly always looking around for the next big idea – like a fun gadget, or a new use for land or equipment in what is normally is ‘off-season.’ But coming up with the idea is just the beginning. True entrepreneurs, most say, will act on the idea and find a way to bring it to fruition.
3. Enjoy your money – While saving is a key habit of successful people amassing riches, many wealthy entrepreneurs recommend putting away half of each little windfall and spending the other half on something fun, like a vacation. Enjoying your money is instrumental is keeping oneself motivated to keep achieving, according to many of those surveyed.
4. Prioritize retirement saving – While putting the kids through college is a worthy goal, saving for your own retirement is primary for the wealthy. The thinking is, it’s okay to take out a loan for college, but there is no loan you can take out retirement.
5. Eliminate self-doubt – No matter how intimidated they may feel by people who are smarter or wealthier, successful people believe in themselves and have a core belief that that they have the right to be wealthy, too.

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Four Steps to Fit and Fun Summer Living

May 21, 2012 6:44 pm

(ARA) - Summer means longer days, warmer temperatures, and more time spent outdoors. The pleasant weather brings more opportunities to improve your lifestyle and start a new commitment to wellness. With a few tips, you can be on your way to fit and fun summer living.

1. Eat fresh. Summer is prime time for fresh produce, and incorporating fruits and vegetables into your daily menus is a delicious way to a fit lifestyle. Visit your local farmer’s market and stock up on fresh produce. Serve more veggies with every meal, and think cool, refreshing smoothies for snacks!

2. Move it. Getting fit doesn't need to mean hours at the gym, especially during these warmer months. Simple activities like going for a bike ride or taking your dog for a walk are great ways to get moving while also enjoying the outdoors. Swimming is a great low-impact, full-body exercise that lets you work out while cooling off. Or try another sport that you wouldn't be able to participate in during winter, such as golf, outdoor basketball, or beach volleyball. Making an activity part of your routine is a great way to keep at it, so set aside a window of time for exercise each day. Take advantage of the warm weather and get moving outdoors for a fit and fun-filled summer.

3. Relax. Summer is the perfect opportunity to unwind and treat yourself to some "me" time. Focus on doing things you enjoy, such as finishing that book you've been reading for months, learning to play tennis or how to surf, or simply basking in the sunshine. Whatever you choose, make time each week to let go and de-stress. Summer is a popular season for vacations to the beach and other outdoor destinations, but you can also find tranquility in your own backyard. Meditation and yoga are calming activities that will leave you feeling refreshed and rejuvenated, too.

4. Sleep. You can improve your lifestyle even when you're not awake. Good sleep habits are essential to physical and mental well-being, and inadequate rest can curtail your efforts to eat right and exercise. Muscles need time to repair and regenerate after working hard, making proper rest a vital component of any fitness routine. Make sure your bedroom is a comfortable temperature, adding fans or blankets as needed, and remove or turn off bright lights and electronic screens. Get into a nightly routine, and try not to eat or exercise for at least an hour prior to going to sleep. When you're well-rested and rejuvenated, the other aspects of your improved lifestyle will be even more enjoyable and effective.

With a few lifestyle adjustments, you'll be on your way to happy, healthy summer living.

Source: Vitamix

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Is Your Child Home Alone This Summer?

May 21, 2012 6:44 pm

By Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Maybe you’ve already decided that this summer, your kids will stay home by themselves while you go to work. It might be that day camp or babysitting is just too expensive. It might be that your kid thinks he’s too old for supervision. Your plan might even be that the oldest child will watch the younger ones.

If you’ve decided that this summer your kids will be home alone, then it’s probably useless to try to talk you out of that. What you need is a little advice on how to pull this off. 

1. Kids under the age of 10 need supervision, no matter what they say. While state courts do not endorse an age at which it’s okay to leave children home alone, states do tend to agree that leaving 10-year-olds home alone is not automatically an indicator of neglect. This means that your younger children must be enrolled in childcare of some sort or supervised at home by someone obviously capable of the task.

1. Kids between 10 and 16 need careful scheduling if they are home alone. Kids and teens shouldn’t have the entire day to spend however they wish. Idle hands still are the devil’s workshop, as the old saying goes, so keep your kids busy even though you’re not there. Set a time for getting out of bed each day, assign daily chores, set goals for daily reading or other study, and work with your kids to create special projects, sports participation, and other activities. Your children’s days should be packed with approved activities. 

2. Kids between 10 and 16 need explicit rules and guidelines. Make certain you and your children understand who is permitted to be in the house and yard, how far your kids may go away from home, and what to do in case of various emergencies. Tighten up the filters on the television and computer. Stock the fridge and pantry with only healthy foods. Make certain that kids include care for pets in their thinking, so that the family animals are not neglected or endangered. 

3. Kids between 10 and 16 need checking-on. Require a phone call at breakfast, again at lunch, and in the middle of the afternoon. Make yourself available to take these calls in person – they shouldn’t just go into voicemail. Keep in mind that your child may not be entirely comfortable being home alone and a quick conversation with you may be necessary to help your kid get through the day. Checking-in is not just for checking-up but supports your child’s ability to manage. 

4. Kids get into trouble, so expect it. If you’re asking your kids to manage themselves responsibly, you’re asking a great deal of brains that are not fully developed and moral perspectives that are not entirely ready to be tested. Expect that your kids will do things that are forbidden and will lie to you about it. Keep your eyes open and be ready to reteach and support your kids even more. Remember that their missteps are a result of your decision to rely on their incomplete abilities and are not entirely their fault.
 
If your summer plan hinges on an older sibling watching younger brothers and sisters, understand that the older child will need a great deal of support. Consider how hard it is for you to be a parent when kids are home on school vacation, despite your experience and authority. An older sib has little experience and may not be able control younger kids. He or she may struggle to keep the little ones fed and cared for, let alone entertained. Certainly do not attempt leaving a child under 14 in charge of younger kids, and be careful in deciding to let even high school kids manage several children. Asking this of your teen is asking a great deal.

Keep in mind that you are the parent here and even if you ask your children to be responsible for themselves during the day this summer, you are still the responsible party. It’s hard work to coordinate things when you’re not on the scene and it requires constant communication with your kids and lots of support. If you can work from home, even a couple days a week, that might be helpful to the entire family. If you can find a responsible adult who already works from home and can work from your home during the summer, which might be another way to keep your kids supervised and safe.
Whatever you decide, keep your kids’ well-being in mind. That’s the key to a happy summer.

© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. 

Source: Swparents.com
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Word of the Day

May 21, 2012 6:44 pm

Foreclosure. Legal action instigated by a lender to end all ownership rights when mortgage payments have not been kept up.
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Q: What Guidelines Should I Use to Find a Contractor?

May 21, 2012 6:44 pm

A: Chances are you will need plenty of help making those major repairs and additions. But the last thing you will need is someone who fails to complete the job or botches it up. Finding good, responsible help is imperative. 

Here’s what you can do:
• Avoid the Yellow Pages. Check with family, friends, neighbors and co-workers for recommendations.
• Deal only with licensed contractors. The state licensing board and local Better Business Bureau also can tell you if there are any outstanding complaints against the license holder.
• Interview each contractor, request free estimates, if possible, and ask for recent references.
• Ask for proof of worker's compensation insurance and get policy and insurance company phone numbers so you can verify the information. If the contractor is not covered, you could be liable for any work-related injury that takes place during the project. Also check to make sure the contractor has an umbrella general liability policy.
• Never hand over a deposit at the first meeting – you could end up losing your money.
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HOAs vs. Solar Panels: What Gives?

May 18, 2012 4:36 pm

I have visited the subject of Homeowner Associations (HOAs) in the past, but it recently became apparent that HOAs are still making headlines - this time because many are still working to prevent the installation of energy saving solar panels. This is a conflict that is perplexing, to say the least.
Even where there are state laws on the books preventing the practice, HOAs around the country are apparently still preventing the installation of solar panels, and the solar industry and individual consumers are fighting back for their right to produce their own, green energy. 

Today, about two-dozen states currently forbid or limit HOAs or local governments from banning solar panels, according to a database run by North Carolina State University. But as equipment costs trend down and governments subsidize the cost of solar panels and systems, the issue is sure to continue plaguing energy-conscious consumers who are part of HOAs. 

While California's solar rights laws date back to the late 1970s, an appellate court recently upheld a decision forcing a couple to remove solar panels from their yard - although they were permitted to keep other panels on their roof. 

Texas has also adopted a law barring homeowners associations from blocking solar panels, permitting them on roofs, in fenced-in yards or on patios. And by this time next year in Georgia any neighborhood or association that does not set a ban will be unable to restrict a homeowner from installing solar panels.
On the other hand, if you are part of a HOA looking to find a compromise to suit energy-conscious residents, take a look at some advice from Molly Foley-Healy at Winzenburg, Leff, Purvis & Payne, LLP who posts on the subject at the Colorado Homeowners Association Law blog. 

She noted that in Colorado, HOAs are permitted to adopt aesthetic provisions (commonly referred to as “architectural guidelines”) that impose reasonable restrictions on the dimensions, placement or external appearance of solar panels and that do not significantly increase the cost of the solar panels; or significantly decrease the performance or efficiency of the solar panels. 

Associations are also permitted to adopt bona fide safety requirements, required by an applicable building code or recognized electrical safety standard, for the protection of persons or property.
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Where to Find Your Retirement-Planning Confidence

May 18, 2012 4:36 pm

With the leisure and reward of retirement a few short years away, the majority of baby boomers—born between 1945 and 1966—are confident they have adequately planned and saved for their golden years. This is according to new research from investing services company Scottrade, Inc., which also found that 56 percent of baby boomers expect to fully retire between the ages of 55 and 74. 

DIY Retirement Planning
Overall, 72 percent of Americans report a strong level of confidence in their ability to plan their own retirement. That confidence comes from two actions: discussing retirement plans and savings strategies with others, and monitoring the news. Thirty-nine percent also said their self-assurance came from the fact that they preserved most of their retirement savings through the economic downturn.
"More online and in-person investment education opportunities are available to Americans than ever before," said Kim Wells, Scottrade's executive director of product development and chief marketing officer. "The availability of easy-to-use online trading and investing tools is empowering investors to build their portfolios and take charge of their financial futures themselves." 

Retirement Fund Trends
Scottrade's research found that more than half of Americans, at 55 percent, are actively planning their retirement without the help of an advisor. This do-it-yourself action plan seems to be working. The majority of Americans did not see the value of their retirement accounts decline last year, and 73 percent reported the value of their retirement accounts either increased or stayed the same. 

For Americans who saw a decline in their account value, 67 percent expect to recover those losses within 10 years. In response, a growing number of Americans are looking to save more in order to rebuild their retirement accounts, and 35 percent of Americans plan to save up to 10 percent more. 

Staying on Track
For those who are uncertain whether they're contributing enough to their retirement fund, online calculators make it easy to determine how much should be contributed annually, based on age, income and retirement plan.

Source: www.scottrade.com
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Long Hours Can Be Tough on the Eyes

May 18, 2012 4:36 pm

Americans are known for spending long hours in the office, and their eyes often pay the price.
“Many people suffer from a problem called computer vision syndrome,” says Severin B. Palydowycz, MD at Hudson Valley Ambulatory Surgery, LLC. “As a result of looking at a computer screen during hours at the office as well as at home, they can develop a combination of eyestrain, headaches, blurred vision, and dry eyes.” 

Computer vision syndrome is caused by several different factors, not just the computer screen. Poor lighting, glare, inadequate breaks, the wrong chair, improper positioning of the keyboard, and other aspects of the office environment all can contribute to eye discomfort. Dr. Palydowycz points out that unrelated and untreated common vision problems such as farsightedness and aging of the eyes can make symptoms worse. 

“The good news is that computer vision syndrome can be treated with simple changes to an office environment,” notes Dr. Palydowycz. He offers the following suggestions: 

• Adjust overhead, desk and window lighting, shades, and computer screen position to control glare.
• Position the computer screen 4 to 5 inches below eye level and about 20 to 28 inches away.
• Adjust the contrast and brightness on your screen and change font size so that type is easy to read.
• If possible, locate documents where you can see them without moving your head away from the screen.
• Consider getting glasses specifically for computer and desk work.
• Follow the 20-minute rule – for every 20 minutes of screen time, look away at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds to relax your eyes.
• Blink often.

Sources: http://www.hudsonvalleyambsurg.com , http://www.tristateeye.com
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Word of the Day

May 18, 2012 4:36 pm

First mortgage. Mortgage on a property that is superior to any other. It is the first to be paid in the event of foreclosure.
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