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Tom's Blog

4 New Holiday Home Design Ideas Using Faux Stone & Wood

November 22, 2011 4:38 pm

Your home's holiday decor this year can feature fast, simple but visually stunning interior redecorating by using budget-friendly faux wood, stone and brick.

“It’s amazing the huge impact an accent wall or some trim pieces can have on the entire look of a room,” says Steve Barron, president of Faux Wood Beams and Faux Panels. 

Today’s synthetic panels and beams are created from molds of genuine stone, brick and wood beams to replicate their natural beauty. Yet thanks to modern polyurethane foam, they're virtually maintenance free, highly durable, fast and easy to install, and much more affordable than their genuine stone or wood counterparts. 

Even better, they’re a DIYer’s dream. 

“If you can use basic tools like a hammer and screwdriver, you can install faux panels,” said Steve Barron. “It goes up so fast—you can do an entire wall in one to two hours.” 

Even homeowners who want to hire a contractor benefit from the quicker installation time. Less time means lower labor costs. 

Here are four small or medium projects that will add some zing to your holiday home decor just in time for Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and New Year. 

1. Accent Treatments Change the Look of an Entire Room
Less is more, especially in decorating. Rather than doing an entire room in faux stone or brick, just do a small segment, creating a focal point for the entire room. 

Covering a fireplace in faux stone or brick is a common way to change styles. Another home decorating idea is continuing the design all the way up to the ceiling—a great technique that can create the appearance of a higher ceiling. 

2. Give Those Holiday Stockings a Better Home
A new fireplace mantel is a super quick and easy way to change the look of a room during the Christmas decorating season. In addition to faux wood styles—many available in a Class A Fire Rating for additional peace of mind—genuine wood mantels are also available. 

If you like your current mantel but want to change its appearance, corbels can be added underneath as decorative support features. Even better, you'll be done in less than an hour. 

3. A Little Trim Goes a Long Way
Adding a few faux wood beam knee braces livens up porch supports, and they’re incredibly easy to install. Because they’re made of durable polyurethane, pests like termites have no interest in them and they hold up in even the most severe weather conditions—like a very snowy winter. 

Knee braces add character year round but during the holidays, a string of holiday lights or pine garland wrapped around them would add even more visual interest for Christmas curb appeal. 

4. Mail Those Holiday Letters with Style
Mix some practicality with an exterior redesign by installing a faux stone column with a mailbox near the end of your driveway or by the front door. It’s a very simple DIY project that creates a visual anchor for the front of your home—and it’s completely weather resistant. 

“People think ‘redecorating’ and assume it has to be a huge project but little changes like this can really make a big difference to the look of a room while still getting it done in time for the holidays,” said Steve Barron. 

For more information, visit and

Holiday Survival Guide: Retain Sanity through the Happiest Time of the Year

November 22, 2011 4:38 pm

The holidays can be joyous, but they can also bring acute pressures that put us in the grip of stress and anxiety. CPP, Inc. (, an industry leader in research, training, and organizational development tools including the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) assessment, offers some tips to keep the time enjoyable, beginning with what may be one of the most stressful environments of all: the holiday dinner table. 

Marvel not that this cherished time with loved ones can be a major stressor. Holiday dinner assembles people of varying personality types whose socializing preferences may differ immensely. However, knowing a bit about your own personality and those around you allows you to remove friction by flexing your own interaction style. 

People tend to get their "energy" in two ways. Those with a preference for extraversion tend to focus on the outer world of people and activity, while those with a preference for introversion tend to focus on the inner world of ideas and reflections. 

• If you're energized by the outer world, accommodate more reflective friends and family by:

o Practicing active listening skills
o Providing pauses in the conversation for others to join in when they're ready
o Respecting the need for privacy if someone isn't immediately sharing 

• If you prefer reflecting on your inner world, try accommodating externally-focused guests by:

o Acknowledging you're listening with cues: nod, smile, maintain eye contact, etc.
o Anticipating "thinking out loud," understanding these thoughts may not be 100% complete
o Focusing on discussing topics you're comfortable with and know well
o Similarly, people prefer to make decisions either by: Thinking – basing them on logic and objective analysis of cause and effect; or Feeling – basing them primarily on values and subjective consideration of how it'll affect people. 

• If you favor logic and analysis, accommodate the more values-driven decision-makers by:

o Focusing on the people involved: find out what is valued and important
o Knowing when to provide feedback gently and critique behaviors, not people
o Acknowledging others' feelings and values, not analyzing them

• If you prefer values-based decision-making, flex to your more analysis-driven loved ones by:

o Being honest and frank with your comments, as well as positive
o Not feeling threatened when someone challenges or debates
o Showing the cause-and-effect with pros and cons

For more information on CPP, visit

Extended Warranties: Are They Worth It?

November 22, 2011 4:38 pm

The continuous redesign of electronics and appliances for enhanced portability, functionality and energy efficiency has made many of today's consumer goods increasingly intricate, fragile and costly to repair or replace. At the same time, products are being manufactured with low-cost components and manufacturers are limiting warranty periods along with customer support options. 

According to the Service Contract Industry Council (SCIC), as the technology in products rapidly evolves it can prove difficult for manufacturers to keep replacement parts in stock for products utilizing yesterday's technology. Consequently, consumers whose malfunctioning product is outside of the manufacturer's warranty period and who want to repair it to keep it for the long-term may be out of luck. With an extended warranty, however, consumers can find protection; if a malfunctioning product cannot be repaired, it generally is replaced with a comparable newer one. 

Consumer Reports (August 2011) stated, "...consumer goods have become more complex and contain more electronics than they did a decade ago... when things do go wrong, they tend to go horribly wrong." The 27,404 subscribers surveyed for the Consumer Reports' story reported that 53,218 of their home products including appliances, electronics and more needed to be repaired or replaced. 

"An extended warranty is particularly relevant in uncertain economic times," said Tim Meenan, Executive Director of the SCIC. "When things do go 'horribly wrong,' the consumer is protected by law." 

Extended warranty providers are a fixed component of retailing in America because they meet a large market demand, provide an enhanced quality product, and proactively establish and enhance consumer protections—all the while greatly improving the state of the industry through self-regulation. 

Why to Buy an Extended Warranty:
A survey of consumers by Brand Keys, Inc. predicts a 10 percent increase in electronic purchases over last year. Of those consumers planning to give an electronic device, 25% are purchasing e-book readers, 19% tablets, 15% smart phones, 9% computers and 6% cameras.
o Consumer electronics are complex, increasingly mobile and expensive to repair
o Cracked screens for both eReaders and tablets can cost from $160-350 to repair/replace
o Battery upgrade/replacement $80-150
o Lines in screen $160-350
o Unit frozen/not able to connect to computer $180-500
**(higher range applies to tablets)
o 30-day free look back period – if you want to change your mind, you can!
o 100% parts and labor coverage for failures caused by:
o Normal wear and tear
o Defects in workmanship and materials
o Mechanical and electrical breakdowns
o Environmental factors
o Power surge protection (great for small businesses)
o Replaces products that require multiple repairs for the same failure.
o 24-hour, toll-free access to pre-qualified technical support and local repair person
o Time savings - no hauling products back to place of purchase, etc.
o Free transferable coverage
o Save the environment. Repair versus dump and replace products. 

When Not to buy an Extended Warranty:
o If at all pressured by a sales person to buy on the spot
o If the contract is not available for review at the time of purchase
o If the cost of the warranty is a high percentage of the overall product price; the warranty should cost between 10-20% of the overall retail price
o If you receive an automated phone sales pitch or mass mailer
o Contact your local BBB or state insurance commission with any concerns. Always read terms carefully and research provider prior to purchase.

For more information, visit

Word of the Day

November 22, 2011 4:38 pm

Real estate broker. Individual who has passed a state broker’s test and represents others in realty transactions. Anyone having his or her own office must be a broker.

Fun, Fast and Simple Tips to Give a Tired Room an Instant Makeover

November 21, 2011 6:38 pm

Here are some simple tips, courtesy of Glidden, to help do-it-yourself enthusiasts liven up any indoor space this holiday season.

1. Pick the appropriate lighting for your paint color. The trick is to create a harmonious balance between color and light. Make up for the lack of light by adding in some table lamps, wall sconces, a chandelier or a mirror and watch how it makes the room look so much bigger even if you've painted it charcoal gray.

2. Don't forget about layering texture and pattern. It gives a room personality and stops the room from looking too flat. Silk curtains, a patterned pillow, or even a nice linen wallpaper are all things that can give the room dimension and make the room more interesting.

3. Look for ways to mix and match furniture. Just because the furniture you like is available as a set doesn't mean you have to purchase it that way. Mix it up a bit. Consider going with a white lacquer bookcase and a wood coffee table in your living room or a leather sofa paired with a beautiful upholstered armchair.

Winter Heating Tips

November 21, 2011 6:38 pm

Cooler weather means the increased use of furnaces to stay warm and dry. Southern California Gas Co officials say if you haven't already, now is the time to prepare homes for an energy-efficient heating season, and to help keep gas bills low.

"With the cold and wet weather, we're seeing an increase in the use of home heaters, and that translates into higher heating bills," says Bret Lane, vice president of field services for SoCalGas. "To help keep a lid on heating costs while staying warm and dry this winter, we encourage customers to continue to practice conservation and use energy efficiently."

SoCalGas offers these tips for a warm, cozy and energy-efficient winter:

• Focus on the furnace. Home heating accounts for more than half of a typical customer's monthly gas bill;
• When using the home furnace, lower the thermostat three degrees to five degrees (health permitting) and turn it off when not at home. This can help save up to 30 percent on heating costs;
• Check furnace filters every month during the heating season and clean or replace the filter when necessary. When installing a new or cleaned filter, be sure to re-install the front panel door of the furnace properly so it fits snugly;
• Never operate the furnace without the front-panel door properly in place because doing so may create the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning;
• Don't block heating outlets or return registers with furniture or other objects;
• Repair cracks or broken seams in forced-air heating ducts;
• Install or upgrade attic insulation;
• Caulk and weather-strip drafty windows and doors;
• Open the drapes or blinds during the day and let the sun help warm the home. Close drapes or blinds at night to keep the warmth inside;
• Consider adding another blanket or two at night to stay warm; and
• Choose a higher efficiency model when shopping for a new gas furnace.

For more information, visit

Top 10 Reasons to Go 'Real' this Christmas Season

November 21, 2011 6:38 pm

As the variety of Christmas tree options continues to grow, consumers are facing the same annual question – should I go real or fake? Or, can a real Christmas tree really fit my budget and lifestyle?

As real Christmas trees arrive at local lots, the Pacific Northwest Christmas Association asked Luisa Santamaria, an assistant professor at Oregon State University's College of Agricultural Sciences, to share her thoughts on these common questions. Here are her top 10 reasons to go "real" this Christmas:

10: Wallet-friendly value. Real Christmas trees are available in a variety of species, shapes and sizes to fit any holiday tradition or budget.
9: Support the U.S. economy. Real Christmas trees are grown by individual Christmas-tree growers and farmers, often with many generations of families working on the same land, and purchases supports U.S. business.
8: Real Christmas trees are recyclable. Trees can be used as mulch along park trails, underwater habitats for fish and compost for gardens.
7: Bring a little bit of nature into the home. Extra tree branches can also be used as decorative greenery.
6: Selecting a fresh tree is easy with the “Smell and Snap” test. Give the branch a gentle crush and smell the needles to check for a clean Christmas tree fragrance. Then, bend a needle between your fingers; if it snaps, similar to a carrot, the tree is fresh.
5: Environmentally friendly. Real Christmas trees are grown on sustainable farms just like produce, nuts and other crops, and they do not threaten natural forests.
4: Easy to care for. With simple, proper care, your perfect tree can stay green and healthy throughout the holidays, minimizing clean up and maximizing the joy of your Christmas season.
3: Fun—and memories—for the whole family. Get everyone involved in the selecting a real tree by assigning fun jobs during the trip and take lots of pictures.
2: Real Christmas trees are truly a renewable product. Growers plant one or more trees to replace every tree they harvest.
1: The smell! You can’t replace the distinctive Christmas tree smell. Reach in to the middle of the tree every few days and gently crush the needles to release its fragrance.

"You just can't duplicate the many positives of a real Christmas tree," says Santamaria. "Above the wonderfully rich smell, real Christmas trees are easy to care for and environmentally friendly, which should give people peace of mind when selecting one for the holiday."

For more information, visit

Food Safety Tips for Healthy Holidays

November 21, 2011 6:38 pm

Parties, family dinners, and other gatherings where food is served are all part of the holiday cheer. But the merriment can change to misery if food makes you or others ill.

Typical symptoms of foodborne illness are vomiting, diarrhea, and flu-like symptoms, which can start anywhere from hours to days after contaminated food or drinks are consumed.

The symptoms usually are not long-lasting in healthy people—a few hours or a few days—and usually go away without medical treatment. But foodborne illness can be severe and even life-threatening to anyone, especially those most at risk:
• older adults
• infants and young children
• pregnant women
• people with HIV/AIDS, cancer, or any condition that weakens their immune system
• people who take medicines that suppress the immune system; for example, some medicines for rheumatoid arthritis 

Combating bacteria, viruses, parasites, and other contaminants in our food supply is a high priority for the Food and Drug Administration. But consumers have a role to play, too, especially when it comes to safe food-handling practices in the home.

"The good news is that practicing four basic food safety measures can help prevent foodborne illness," says Marjorie Davidson, a consumer educator at FDA. 

1. Clean:
The first rule of safe food preparation in the home is to keep everything clean.
• Wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling any food. "For children, this means the time it takes to sing 'Happy Birthday' twice," says Davidson.
• Wash food-contact surfaces (cutting boards, dishes, utensils, countertops) with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item and before going on to the next item.
• Rinse fruits and vegetables thoroughly under cool running water and use a produce brush to remove surface dirt.
• Do not rinse raw meat and poultry before cooking. "Washing these foods makes it more likely for bacteria to spread to areas around the sink and countertops," says Davidson. 

2. Separate:
Don't give bacteria the opportunity to spread from one food to another (cross-contamination).
• Keep raw eggs, meat, poultry, seafood, and their juices away from foods that won't be cooked. Take this precaution while shopping in the store, when storing in the refrigerator at home, and while preparing meals.
• Consider using one cutting board only for foods that will be cooked (such as raw meat, poultry, and seafood) and another one for those that will not (such as raw fruits and vegetables).
• Keep fruits and vegetables that will be eaten raw separate from other foods such as raw meat, poultry or seafood—and from kitchen utensils used for those products.
• Do not put cooked meat or other food that is ready to eat on an unwashed plate that has held any raw eggs, meat, poultry, seafood, or their juices. 

3. Cook:
Food is safely cooked when it reaches a high enough internal temperature to kill harmful bacteria.
• "Color is not a reliable indicator of doneness," says Davidson. Use a food thermometer to make sure meat, poultry, and fish are cooked to a safe internal temperature. To check a turkey for safety, insert a food thermometer into the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. The turkey is safe when the temperature reaches 165ºF. If the turkey is stuffed, the temperature of the stuffing should be 165ºF. (Please read on for more pointers on stuffing.)
• Bring sauces, soups, and gravies to a rolling boil when reheating.
• Cook eggs until the yolk and white are firm. When making your own eggnog or other recipe calling for raw eggs, use pasteurized shell eggs, liquid or frozen pasteurized egg products, or powdered egg whites.
• Don't eat uncooked cookie dough, which may contain raw eggs. 

4. Chill:
Refrigerate foods quickly because harmful bacteria grow rapidly at room temperature.
• Refrigerate leftovers and takeout foods—and any type of food that should be refrigerated—within two hours. That includes pumpkin pie!
• Set your refrigerator at or below 40ºF and the freezer at 0ºF. Check both periodically with an appliance thermometer.
• Never defrost food at room temperature. Food can be defrosted safely in the refrigerator, under cold running water, or in the microwave. Food thawed in cold water or in the microwave should be cooked immediately.
• Allow the correct amount of time to properly thaw food. For example, a 20-pound turkey needs four to five days to thaw completely when thawed in the refrigerator.
• Don't taste food that looks or smells questionable. Davidson says, "A good rule to follow is, when in doubt, throw it out."
• Leftovers should be used within three to four days. 

5. Use care with stuffing
In its Holiday Food Safety Success Kit, the Partnership for Food Safety Education recommends:
• Whether it is cooked inside or outside the bird, all stuffing and dressing must be cooked to a minimum temperature of 165ºF. For optimum safety, cooking your stuffing in a casserole dish is recommended.
• Stuffing should be prepared and stuffed into the turkey immediately before it's placed in the oven.
• Mix wet and dry ingredients for the stuffing separately and combine just before using.
• The turkey should be stuffed loosely, about 3/4 cup stuffing per pound of turkey.
• Any extra stuffing should be baked in a greased casserole dish. 

For more information, visit

Word of the Day

November 21, 2011 6:38 pm

Real estate. The land itself and everything extending below and above it, including all things permanently attached, whether by nature or by man.

Question of the Day

November 21, 2011 6:38 pm

Q: How can I get a low down payment loan?

A: Such loans are offered by government agencies and private lenders, including nonprofit groups and employers. In fact, there are government programs at both the federal and state level to help cash-strapped buyers. Under many state housing agency guidelines, borrowers must usually be first-time homebuyers or have a limited family income to qualify for low down payment loans.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offers several programs through the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) that require down payments of 3 to 5 percent.

Fannie Mae, the nation’s largest supplier of home mortgage funds, has a popular program for low- and moderate-income homebuyers called Community Home Buyers. Under the program, borrowers may buy with just 3 percent down—with a 2 percent gift from family members, a government program, or nonprofit group—and obtain private mortgage insurance to protect the lender against default. The program is available through participating mortgage lenders and requires that borrowers take a home-buyer education course.

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