Stephen M Marchese
 
Stephen M Marchese

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How Landscape Design Can Boost Home Value

April 13, 2015 1:09 am

(Family Features) A recent survey conducted by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) found that sustainable, low-maintenance designs are top trends among residential landscape projects. The study, which asked landscape architects to rate the expected popularity of outdoor design elements, points to a great demand for ecologically sensitive upgrades intended to preserve the environment, conserve water and reduce landscape maintenance.

According to the study, the top five upgrades are native plantings, adapted drought plantings, food or vegetable gardens, fire pits and fireplaces and low-maintenance landscapes. If you'd like to incorporate these ideas into your outdoor space, it’s best to hire a professional. Here’s why:

1. A landscape architect is well equipped to design an outdoor living space that will add value to your home, extend your living space and allow you to enjoy all that nature has to offer in a controlled setting. From arbors to fountains, they can create a space that is both inviting and environmentally sustainable.

2. Hiring a landscape architect is a terrific investment for your home. Research from Virginia Tech shows that landscapes literally grow in value over time, while traditional home additions or remodels start to lose value the minute the dust settles.

3. Landscape architects are licensed professionals who often work with landscaping or other construction companies to install their designs. Think of the fashion designer imagining an outfit while a clothing manufacturer makes the apparel, or an artist designing a wall poster that's printed by another company.

4. Landscape architects are trained to think about landscapes as systems. They will assess your property's problem areas, as well as possibilities, and create a solid plan that addresses both the big picture and exact details of how your landscape will look. They will handle all the details, saving you time and stress.

5. Landscape architects will deliver a finished project that you will love and that will comply with regulations and codes. It will be a special place that you and your family and friends will enjoy for years to come.

Source: ASLA

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Your Complete Guide to Digital Spring Cleaning

April 13, 2015 1:09 am

In many households, spring cleaning is an annual ritual marked by cleaning top-to-bottom at home. But now is also the perfect time for a “digital” spring cleaning, say the experts at the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) and the Better Business Bureau (BBB).

The bulk of digital cleaning falls into four categories: keeping a clean machine, staying secure, cleaning up your online reputation and purging files. Use this handy guide to complete one or all of these tasks this spring.

1. Keeping a Clean Machine
Keeping all web-connected devices ‒ including PCs, mobile phones, smartphones and tablets ‒ free from malware and infections makes the Internet safer for you and more secure for everyone.
  • Keep all critical software current. Having all software current is one of the best security measures you can take. This includes security software, web browsers, document readers, operating systems and any other software you use regularly.
  • Clean up your mobile life. Most of us have apps we no longer use as well as ones that need updating. Delete unused apps and keep others current, including the operating system on your mobile device. An added benefit of deleting unused apps is more storage space and longer battery life.
2. Staying Secure
Enhancing the security of your online accounts is a fast and simple way to be safer online.
  • Get two steps ahead. Turn on two-step authentication ‒ also known as two-step verification or multi-factor authentication ‒ on accounts where available. Many of the Internet’s most popular email services, social networks, and financial institutions offer this key security step free of charge, but you must opt in to turn it on.
  • Make better passwords. If your passwords are too short or easy to guess, it’s like leaving your car unlocked in a parking lot. Longer passwords and those that combine capital and lowercase letters with numbers and symbols provide better protection.
  • Unique account, unique password. Having separate passwords ‒ at least for key accounts like email, banking, and social networking ‒ helps to thwart cybercriminals.
  • Write it down and keep it safe. Everyone can forget a password. Keep a list that’s stored in a safe, secure place away from your computer.
  • Secure your phone. Use a passcode or a finger swipe to unlock your phone.
3. Cleaning Up Your Online Reputation
Take an active role in shaping your digital footprint.
  • Own your online presence. Review the privacy and security settings on websites you use to be sure that they remain set to your comfort level for sharing. It’s fine to limit with whom you share information.
  • Clean up your social media presence. Delete old photos and comments that are embarrassing or no longer represent who you are.
  • Search for yourself online. Update information that is no longer current.
  • Update your “online self.” Is your LinkedIn profile current? Are other social media sites up to date? Review your personal information and update it where needed.
4. Purging Files
Tend to your digital records just as you do for paper files.
  • Clean up your email. Save only those emails you really need. Your inbox is likely stuffed with offers, logistical arrangements and other outdated materials. Delete what you don’t need and be sure to empty your deleted mail folders. If you must keep old messages, move them to an archive.
  • Manage subscriptions. Unsubscribe to newsletters, email alerts, and updates you no longer read.
  • Update your online photo album. Delete or back up old or less flattering photos of yourself, your family and friends. In addition to not showing your best side, they take up space.
  • Empty your recycle bin.
  • Update your online relationships. Review friends on social networks and contacts on phones and PCs and make sure everyone on those lists still belongs.
  • File upkeep. Delete or archive older files such as numerous drafts of the same document.
  • Back it up. Copy important data to a secure cloud site or to another drive where it can be safely stored. Password-protect back-up drives and keep them in a different location off the network for maximum security.
  • Dispose of electronics securely. Wiping data isn’t enough. When you dispose of old electronics, look for facilities that shred hard drives, disks and memory cards. BBB is hosting “Secure Your ID Day” paper shredding events in communities nationwide, and many of these will include electronic shredding. Some municipalities also offer this service.
Source: NCSA

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Mortgage Rates Tick Lower

April 10, 2015 1:03 am

Average fixed mortgage rates moved lower this week following a weaker than expected jobs report in March, according to Freddie Mac’s Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®). The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 3.66 percent, down from 3.70 percent the previous week. The 15-year FRM averaged 2.93 percent, down from 2.98 percent the previous week.

"Mortgage rates fell across the board following last week's disappointing employment report,” explains Len Kiefer, deputy chief economist, Freddie Mac. “The U.S. economy added 126,000 new jobs in March, well below market expectations of 247,000 jobs. We did see some uptick in wages, as average hourly earnings increased seven cents for the month, and are up 2.1 percent over the year. Meanwhile, jobless claims fell sharply to 268,000 this week, much lower than market expectations of 285,000."

The 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 2.83 percent this week, down from 2.92 percent the previous week. The 1-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 2.46 percent, unchanged from the previous week.

At this time last year, the 30-year FRM averaged 4.34 percent; the 15-year FRM averaged 3.38 percent; the 5-year ARM averaged 3.09 percent; and the 1-year ARM averaged 2.41 percent.

Source: Freddie Mac

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Solar-plus-Battery Could Power Homes in the Future

April 10, 2015 1:03 am

Over the next 10 to 15 years, grid-connected solar-plus-battery systems may become an increasingly cost-effective option for customers, according to a recent report by the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) and HOMER Energy. No matter how expensive electricity gets, customers that invest in these grid-connected systems can contain their electricity costs and see significant savings on their monthly utility bill.

“Today’s electricity system is at a metaphorical fork in the road. Down one path are pricing structures, business models and regulatory environments that favor eventual grid defection,” says Jules Kortenhorst, CEO, RMI. “Down another road, those same factors are appropriately valued as part of a transactive grid with lower system-wide costs and the foundation of a reliable, resilient, affordable and low-carbon grid of the future in which customers are empowered with choice.”

Solar-plus-battery systems will likely play a central role in the grid of the future, but exactly what role they’ll play has yet to be determined.

Source: RMI

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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5 Questions to Ask about Your Insurance

April 10, 2015 1:03 am

Spring may be the time of year for cleaning, but it is also a great time to review your insurance coverage. As your life changes, so do your insurance needs, says the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.). Instead of dusting around the corners of your insurance policies this year, take the time to ask yourself the following:

1. Is my home covered for its full rebuilding cost?
Review your policy to make sure that you have enough insurance to rebuild your home. If you have made major improvements to your home, such as adding a new room, enclosing a porch or expanding a kitchen or bathroom, you risk being underinsured if you don’t adjust your homeowners insurance coverage limits.

And if you don’t yet have a separate flood insurance policy, now would be a great time to check whether your home is in a flood risk zone at FloodSmart.gov.

2. Do I have enough coverage for expensive items?
Have you bought or received any valuable jewelry since you purchased/renewed your policy? When was the last time you had the items you owned appraised? Standard homeowners insurance has dollar limits for the theft of certain types of expensive items like jewelry, furs and silverware. This means that the insurer will only pay the amount specified in the policy – generally $1,000 to $2,000. To insure these items to their full dollar value, consider a special personal property endorsement or floater. This coverage includes “accidental disappearance,” meaning coverage if you simply lose an item, and there is no deductible.

Remember that items can go up or down in value. Floaters and endorsements are priced on the appraised value of an item or collection, so have periodic reappraisals done to make sure you are purchasing only the amount of coverage you actually need.

The best way to keep track of your belongings and make sure they are adequately insured is to create a home inventory.

3. Do I still need comprehensive/collision on my car?
If you’re driving an older car that is worth less than $1,000 – or less than 10 times the insurance premium – the optional coverage may no longer be cost-effective. Consider saving money on your premium by dropping either comprehensive or collision.

4. Do I have enough liability insurance to fully protect my assets?
Standard homeowners and auto policy liabilities pay for judgments against you and your legal fees up to a limit set in the policy. However, in our litigious society, you may want to have additional protection—that’s what an umbrella liability policy provides. An umbrella policy kicks in when you reach the limit on the underlying liability coverage in a homeowners, renters, condo or auto policy. If your assets have increased of late, you’ll have more to lose and may want to consider this extra layer of protection.

5. Should I rent out my house during the vacation period?
Whether you own a second home that you plan to lease to a tenant or want to rent out your primary residence though an online service such as Airbnb, your first step should be to call your insurance professional. Depending on the rental scenario, your standard homeowners policy may not cover losses incurred while your home is rented out, and you may require a more specialized insurance policy.

If you are taking an expensive, pre-paid vacation or an active vacation such as biking or hiking in an exotic locale, travel insurance can help protect the financial investment in your vacation.

Source: I.I.I.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Homelessness Declines Nationwide

April 9, 2015 1:00 am

According to a recent report by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, homelessness dipped 2.3 percent in 2014, thanks to an ongoing decrease in unemployment and continued economic recovery. However, the number of low-income people living in doubled-up situations with family and friends is growing, and the number of people at risk for homelessness has yet to return to pre-recession levels.

The Alliance’s report, “The State of Homelessness in America 2015,” reveals that a total of 37 states and territories showed declines in overall homelessness. The nation is in the midst of a shift toward Housing First interventions like permanent supportive housing and rapid re-housing, with rapid re-housing capacity nearly doubling from 2012 to 2013 from about 20,000 to 38,000 beds.

The report indicates that the number of renter households who must pay more than 50 percent of their income toward housing remains at a historic high.

Source: National Alliance to End Homelessness

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Consumers Anticipate Mind-Controlled Household Devices

April 9, 2015 1:00 am

Smart home technology is advancing faster than ever, but humans would much rather rely on their own brain power to operate household devices. According to a recent survey by IEEE, an organization dedicated to technological innovation, respondents expect that by 2025, devices found in the home will be controlled by the human mind.

Many aspects of the home of the future will be programmed to read individuals’ directives from their brainwaves. Survey respondents consistently noted mind-controlled applications as the preferred means of completing tasks at home such as opening the front door (35 percent), using kitchen appliances, turning off the lights or playing videogames.

The expansion of the Internet of Things (IoT) and connected devices prefaces a shift away from mobile devices as the go-to technology. Less than one-third of respondents indicated plans to use their cell phones to control their front doors, kitchen appliances and lights.

More than one-fourth of respondents still want to cook manually in 10 years. Just 8 percent of respondents would like to control lights manually.

Source: IEEE

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Avoid 5 Spring Lawn Care Fails

April 9, 2015 1:00 am

As this year's winter finally ends, homeowners will be faced with the same challenge they are faced with every single year: how does one keep a healthy, dark green lawn looking its best?

Unfortunately, many homeowners will make mistakes that set back the health of their lawn and they don't even know it.

"When it comes to having a nice lawn, ironically the lawns worst enemy is the person who thinks they are helping,” says Thomas Kelly, founder of BeeSafe Lawns. “Tinkering too much is a terrible thing when it comes to lawn care.”

With that in mind, avoids these pitfalls when caring for your lawn this spring:

1. Don't Jump the Gun

Right out of the gate, it's important to know that more isn't always better. The inclination is to load up the lawn with products that the lawn doesn't really need. Your lawn is experiencing one of its most healthy phases about two weeks after it breaks dormancy. Both roots and shoots are growing at a tremendous pace and sometimes doing too much can interfere.

2. Don’t Over-Water

One of the worst things to happen to even the best lawns is the introduction of an unlimited supply of water. The rule of thumb is that you should water three times per week for 40 minutes per zone only when rainfall is not present. Remember the saying, “April showers bring May flowers”? If it's raining, resist watering.

3. Don’t Bag Your Clippings

Your lawn wants to be fed naturally. Mulching the clippings back into the soil creates an additional source of nutrients, especially nitrogen and the goal of any lawn care program should be to reduce inputs.

4. Don’t Over-Fertilize

Your lawn needs about half as much fertilizer as the fertilizer companies lead you to believe. The more you apply, the more your lawn will require even more to stay healthy.

5. Hold Off on Seeding

The temptation is hard to resist. Those bare spots that were filled with crabgrass last year are bare again this spring. The commercials on the radio are telling you to plant seed now. The truth is, fall is the best time to seed and 90 percent of the time new seed won't make it through the summer.

Source: BeeSafe Lawns

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Upgraded Backyards Support Outdoor Living

April 8, 2015 12:54 am

Americans spend an average of 309 hours in their yard per year – close to two weeks of outdoor time, according to a recent TruGreen survey. Moreover, most Americans who have a yard consider it an important part of their lives, spending an estimated 50 hours more per year outside than those without a yard. That’s more than a weekend!

The survey also found that three out of five Americans agree their yard is their favorite place at home to spend quality time with family, particularly when hosting barbecues and cookouts (82 percent).

Despite warmer weather, longer days and greener lawns, more than half of Americans do not spend as much time outdoors as they’d like. Sixty-eight percent of respondents reported they were spending less time outside compared to five years ago.

An improved landscape may help – 46 percent of Americans surveyed said if they had a greener, more maintained and healthier lawn, they’d spend more time outside.

Source: TruGreen

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Half of Homeowners Leave Projects Unfinished

April 8, 2015 12:54 am

If you’ve procrastinated on a project at home, you’re not alone. Nearly half of homeowners have put off home projects due to a lack of reliable cost information, according to HomeAdvisor’s 2015 True Cost Report.

“More than a third of homeowners don’t know how much it will cost to hire a professional for home projects and 68 percent of homeowners are concerned about overpaying without a reliable source for cost information,” explains Chris Terrill, CEO of HomeAdvisor.

In the report, millennial homeowners outpaced every other group, either putting off a project when they don’t know how much it will cost or attempting to complete the project on their own. When asked to provide estimates for home projects, most homeowners have a tendency to estimate less than the actual cost of the project.

The report also highlighted trends in home improvement spending. The majority of homeowners paid for recent projects with available funds as opposed to financing, and homeowners plan to spend roughly the same amount on home projects this year as in the past year.

According to HomeAdvisor, the average national cost of painting a home’s exterior is $2,500, with homeowners spending anywhere from $1,500 to $3,600. The average national cost of remodeling a kitchen is $19,935, with homeowners spending between $10,957 and $30,000.

Source: HomeAdvisor

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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