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So, who's afraid of the big, bad Home Inspection?

No matter whom you talk to that is involved in a home sale transaction, whether it be the owner, buyer or real estate agent, everyone has a certain amount of reservation concerning a home inspection or “termite” inspection.

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No matter whom you talk to that is involved in a home sale transaction, whether it be the owner, buyer or real estate agent, everyone has a certain amount of reservation concerning a home inspection or “termite” inspection. But why, all that it entails is basically a visual inspection of the home and a short written report, right? So, who’s afraid of the big, bad home inspection? Everyone it seems!

Let me start by making an obvious observation. For most all of us, the single biggest investment we will make in our lifetime is the purchase of our own home. Not only is it an investment that we can’t have go sour, but we must make a comfortable, safe place out of the dwelling to protect and grow our families that we can live in happily and call “home”. And when we’ve outgrown or want a new/different home, we need to realize the equity we have built up in the property to help us purchase our next “home”. “OK”, you say, “I know all of this. What has this got to do with being afraid of home inspections?” Everything, actually, because it is well known that buying or selling a home is probably the second biggest stress we will encounter in our life. All the uncertainty and suspicions begin to “bubble to the surface” as the home sale process grinds on which skews our thinking, and sometimes our common sense. So, let’s look logically at what a home inspection has to offer for each participant in the home sale process. I want to start with the home owner who is thinking about moving and about to list his/her property for sale, because usually they are the ones that think they have nothing to gain from, and everything to loose from a home inspection. Nothing could be further from the truth.

No matter what “shape” the owner feels his/her property is in (good, bad or in between), the smartest thing they can do is spend the few dollars necessary for an accurate home inspection and “termite” inspection. Spending these few dollars in the beginning will save you major dollars and stress in the end. Possessing this information prior to listing your home for sale not only enables you to plan, but to price your property accurately. The information gleaned from the reports allows you to take care of any repairs that you feel you want to on your time schedule, and to obtain bids from various contractors for repairs you don’t want to tackle yourself, which could save you a lot of money in the process. When you do list your property for sale, you do so empowered with the knowledge that you know of, or have taken care of any repairs, and, you can go into negotiations with the buyer straight on because you have a “heads-up” on what the condition of your home is. This negotiating strength will allow you to realize as much of your equity as possible to be used to purchase your new home. Most real estate agents will appreciate this situation also because it takes most all the uncertainty and stress out of the equation, because, normally the inspection results are revealed shortly before escrow is to close and there is no time for obtaining bids or alternative actions, which can result in a “blown” deal with everyone unhappy.

Most everyone thinks that a home inspection and “termite” inspection are only for the “protection” of the buyer. That is only partly true. Sure the inspections are ordered to reveal any unknown/undisclosed issues. But, the buyer didn’t order and pay for the inspections to make the property out as garbage! The buyer likes and wants to spend and invest their hard earned money on the property and want to make it their “home”. As a prospective purchaser of a home and property, you want the inspection(s) to validate your decision to purchase that piece of property. You want to know what you are buying. You, of course, want to know what the big issues are, if any, but you also want to know the little things that will be an irritation or money drain before you sign the contract of sale. You want to make up your own mind as to what is acceptable as is, and what is not and needs to be negotiated with the seller. And just about as important, the home inspection is actually your first in depth “get acquainted” look at your new home because it covers information on so many of the homes’ components, systems, utilities and their locations. But even that is not all, if your home inspector is like most concerned inspectors’, he is your source for information you can turn to long after the close of escrow when everyone else involved in the deal has disappeared.

OK, I’m to the real estate agent and what the home inspection and “termite” inspection has to offer them. How about peace of mind? How about the good feeling inside that you have put together a home sale in which both the buyer and seller are happy and there is not going to be a bad case of “buyers remorse” now that escrow is closed? How about the fact that you are looked up to as an agent that demands full disclosure and still can close the deal BECAUSE EVERY BODY KNOWS WHERE THEY STAND AND WHAT THEY CAN EXPECT OUT OF THE DEAL! In the years I have been involved in inspecting homes, I can’t tell you how many times I have seen buyers follow through and close a sale of a home with major issues because they not only like the home, but because they are fully aware of its’ short comings and are mentally prepared to take it on. With truth and knowledge everyone comes out ahead. As I’ve been preaching for years, your buyer today is your seller tomorrow.

So in closing, there is absolutely nothing to fear from a home inspection or “termite” inspection except fear itself. These are “tools” to be used in a positive way to bring about a positive home sale experience, if you choose to use them in that way.
Ron Ringen owns and operates Ringen’s Unbiased Inspections, which is located in Sonora, California. Ringen’s Unbiased Inspections serves the beautiful gold country of California that includes the foothills and Sierra Mountains in the counties of Tuolumne, Calaveras and Amadore. Ron has been involved with the Structural Pest Control business for 43 years and has been a licensed Structural Pest Inspector in California since 1968. Ron is a licensed General Contractor (B) in California and has been since 1977. Ron is certified with the American Institute of Inspectors as a Home Inspector, Manufactured/Modular Home Inspector and a Pool and Spa Inspector.

Pest Control

Reclaim Your Home From Pests!

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Bugs are a part of life and rodents often come wandering through. These animals are part of the environment and serve their purpose in the great chain of things. However, they can become a nuisance and may even be dangerous if they take over our homes. They are then more aptly called 'pests' and need to be dealt with. This quick article will give you some preventive tips about how to battle common pests. You may adjust many of these tips to various bug and critter problems.

ANTS

Seeing ants around a home is usually taken for granted; however, an ant colony in your home can become a serious issue and should not be ignored. Identifying the species will be important to identifying the type of problem you have. A black ant may be something you can live with when moderated but a carpenter ant is just as dangerous to your home as termites. So what attracts these pests? Food scraps, crumbs, sugar spills or pet food are just a few examples of the type of foodstuffs that will attract many ants. Also, leaky pipes and other sources of water will also help keep the ants happy. Some ants, like carpenter ants, will go for rotting wood. How do you know if you have ants? Well, in most cases you will see them. Soldier ants will make not secret of their presence as they march through your kitchen looking for goodies. In a large indoor infestation you may also see the swarming of winged ants as they search for a new place to colonize in spring/summer. In cold winter months, if you see ants indoors, they are probably in your home rather than coming from outdoors. Finally, how do you get rid of them? First step is to follow their trail to their home. This may lead you to breaks in the baseboard, window, etc. showing you how they are approaching from an outside nest. In this instance, simply seal up entry points. If you find their nest is in your home or you cannot locate it for certain, then baiting is the best option. Ant colonies can sometimes be hard to locate and spraying may just encourage them to pack up and move to another corner of your home. Instead, baiting lets them take poison back to the colony themselves. Baiting is also considered less toxic than spraying. However, make sure it is out of the way or ignored by curious children and pets.

BEES/HORNETS/WASPS

Bees are essential to the eco system, helping plants spread pollen. Wasps, although they look similar to bees (have a thinner waistline), actually survive both on eating nectar and other insects which make them just as beneficial to the ecosystem. Although bees and wasps look the same on the outside they have many behavioral differences. However, one thing that does remain certain is that they all should be handled with caution. When both move too close to our home they can become a problem. So what attracts these pests? Both are attracted to areas that do not receive abundant traffic. This is why you may discover them on your property in areas used less often such as near sheds or side storage awnings. Bees and wasps may build their colonies in the ground, old tree trunks, cracks/openings in buildings and generally other quiet, out of the way places. Paper wasps make the nests in limbs, under eaves of houses and other high places. A good source of food and water and bit of piece and quite offer ideal conditions. How do you know if you have a bee problem? With bees you may not know until your at the area with a hive in the ground. Nests of paper wasps and hornets you can usually spot up in a high corner or nook. Again, bees, hornets and wasps can be beneficial to the ecosystem around your home and if they are not causing a danger may be left alone to work their magic for the summer. However, if they are in structures of your home or too close to where the family may stumble on their territory you should seriously consider getting rid of them. Finally, how do you get rid of them? Be very, very careful when going after any of these groups. Especially in the case of underground hives you may not know how large the hive could be. The biggest threat will be swarming. To protect yourself, make sure to cover you body as much as possible; use gloves, hat, scarf, etc. Also, try to get the nest at dusk or later when most wasps/hornets are back at the nest. There are many specialized chemical sprays on the market that can help eradicate these nests. Again, just make certain to proceed with caution or contact a professional if in doubt.

COCKROACHES

Cockroaches are notorious household pests. These bugs colonize rapidly and can contaminate everything they touch with diseases and allergens. They can spread sickness and irritate those with allergies. Not to mention they can overtake an area with a colony and cause physical damage to your home. So what attracts these pests? Cockroaches are attracted to damp and unsanitary places; sewers, drains, kitchens, bathrooms and storage areas to name a few. How do you know if you have a cockroach problem? If you don't see the cockroach directly, you can usually find signs of their damage and fecal matter. If you suspect cockroaches, setting up traps where you think they are active will help get an idea if they are in your home. Finally, how do you get rid of them? Sanitation is going to be the first key step. Getting messy, mildew ridden places clean will help minimize their romping grounds. Another step is to set up traps so you may better pinpoint their home(s). You will then need to set up a monitored program that may include baits, dusts, sprays and more traps. Keep track of your progress, if the problem persists you should enlist professional help. Also, the extermination program may vary depending on the species of cockroach in you home. A professional will know how to identify the species, find the colony (or colonies) and set a program to fully eliminate the intruders.

FLEAS

Fleas are usually a pest pet owners are the most aware of. These insects live off mammals, biting them and laying their eggs on them. The eggs eventually drop off onto sleeping areas and other areas frequented by the pet and continue their development there. Some animals and people are allergic to their bites, most however, just find them annoying. So what attracts these pests? You do, and your animals too. These pests survive off eating blood from mammals. Pets that are inside and outside will be the likely carriers of this pest into your home. They will bring them in and usually the fleas will concentrate in their dog/cat beds and other areas they sleep. How do you know if you have a flea problem? Usually targeting pets the most, you'll notice if they are itching and scratching a lot. You'll also may come to notice bites of your own. If allergic you will see red welts develop. Finally, how do you get rid of them? To get rid of fleas many times you will have to exterminate them in the yard as well as your home. Fleas spend most of their time on your pet or other animals. They lay eggs there as well, but these usually fall off into the surrounding area, such as your carpet! This is why when you eradicate your home of these pests you need to first clean these areas. Concentrate on where you pet sleeps and spends the most time indoors. Also vacuum, clean any pet bedding, rugs, blankets and anything else the pet has been near. From here you may then use over the counter insecticide to treat these areas to kill off as much as possible. You will need to apply these more than once as any flea pupae are immune to these sprays when in their protected cocoon. At the same time, any pets should also be treated. You can use flea baths in conjunction with various flea medications or collars. Be certain to read directions carefully as many of these are species specific (i.e. for cat or dog only) or also weight specific; ask your vet for recommendations. Finally, for your yard, there are pesticides you may spray on, again, concentrating on pet kennels, dog houses, runs and other areas they use the most. As with all these pests, you may also hire a professional if in doubt or if a severe infestation arises.

MICE & RATS

Mice are much smaller than rats. However, they are similar in that they have poor eyesight and find their way into your home through cracks and openings, following their nose. These openings may be in the foundation, roof, floor (if unfinished) or anywhere else that has an opening 1/4-1/2" in size. So what attracts these pests? Food and shelter are big draws. Many times it is stored food that you may not directly associate as a problem. An example would be stored seeds or camping supplies. Don't consider your items stored in the attic are any safer, roof rats got their name for a reason! How do you know if you have a mouse or rat problem? If you don't see these pests directly you will hear them and often see their damage. There may be gnawing on holes or entry points in walls or cabinets and gnawing on food boxes and similar items as well. You may also find droppings in the home. Most likely if you see these pests you will see them at night or when it is more quiet in the home. Finally, how do you get rid of them? First eliminate how they are entering your home. Any holes should be closed off with tough metal mesh or sheets. The harder the material the better as these pests can work their way through anything soft, like wood! Remove the temptations like stored food or piled garbage or clutter. For stored foods consider moving items into plastic or glass containers instead of cardboard (depending on how accessible these items are). Next you may use traps or poison or a combination of the two. Most poisons are taken by the mouse or rat back to their burrow, so you may end up a with a dead mouse/rat in the wall of your home - this will not smell good! Also, mouse/rat poison will make pets and humans very sick if ingested, make sure to keep it away from pets and children. Check with a professional if you have a large infestation or are uncomfortable using traps and poisons on your own.

MOSQUITOES

Mosquitoes are annoying! They buzz in your ear and inflict bites that itch and seem to appear out of nowhere. It has always been known that some mosquitoes can transmit diseases. They have received more attention in the news lately due to their carrying the West Nile Virus. It is important that you keep repellent on you when camping and enjoying the outdoors. Here is some additional information about what do you do when they become a pest in your yard and home. So what attracts these pests? These pests lay their eggs in standing water. This can be a pond, a rain barrel, old tire or a tin can (to name a few). As long as there is a bit of water or moisture many species of mosquito can survive. Some will even lay eggs in low vegetation/ground cover that is damp and secluded. What attracts them to you and your pets is your blood supply. However, this is only the females as the male mosquito eats nectar from plants instead. How do you know if you have a mosquito problem? You will know if they are pestering you! Also, if you have standing water or a pond you can sometimes see their activity in the water. Finally, how do you get rid of them? You can start by eliminating standing water on your property. However, this may not rid you of the pest entirely as they can travel distances and may be breeding somewhere away from your home. Next you can get various repellents for your yard and home. However, keep in mind that it will be an ongoing treatment since this pest may be coming from outside your property. Oftentimes, personal protection such as sprays for the skin are your best defense against these pests.

SCORPIONS

These pests are more of an issue in southern states but do inhabit some northern states. They have two large pinchers and a stinger bulb at the end of their tail. Usually they will leave you alone unless provoked. However, if they are hiding in your home you may run into more problems than if they were only living outside. So what attracts these pests? They usually can come into the home like many other pests, through cracks and other openings. The are usually looking for bugs, moisture and dark places to hide. Directly outside the home they may be in wood piles or under rocks. How do you know if you have a scorpion problem? You will most likely see these pests at night when they are out hunting. It is also possible, if they are in your home, that you will find them in closets, bathrooms and other dark and/or damp areas where they are comfy. Seeing one does not mean you have an infestation, however, it does mean that they are getting into the house somehow and you should do an inspection of your perimeter to make sure you can keep others out. Finally, how do you get rid of them? Remove firewood, rocks and debris too close to the home which may offer them their first hideaway. If you have areas of your home prone to moisture problems, then get these areas fixed and dry them out. Regular bug control will help as well as you will be removing their food source. There are chemicals on the market, but you will want to rid your home of hiding places before using these. Seek professional help if you are uncertain. Also, make sure to wear protective clothing when searching them out such as gloves and boots. Most scorpions are not lethal to humans, but their sting will hurt like a wasp or large honey bee.

SPIDERS

Spiders are a part of home life. They can be good friends in combating unwanted insects and aid in pest control. For example, big colorful garden spiders may look intimidating, but they can prove a valuable ally in getting bugs out of your yard. However, all spiders can become pests themselves when they become too abundant or invade your home. So what attracts these pests? Most spiders are attracted to an area with many bugs to feed on. They usually want a high or low corner where they can remain undisturbed. Spiders that build webs, will do so where it can remain undisturbed but will also trap bugs as they wander about. Some spiders, such as wolf spiders, do not build webs but instead go out on potrol hunting for bugs. These spiders will hide out during the day and come out when it is quieter. How do you know if you have a spider problem? You may notice too many webs and in some cases, molted shells within the webs. You may also find egg sacs that are full of tousands of eggs that you will want to dispose of carefully. To squeeze one of these too hard is not a pleasant experience! Also, you may notice spider bites. These small bites will let you know that they are too abundant. Finally, how do you get rid of them? Like many of our other pests mentioned, getting rid of debris around and inside the house will help. Also, getting rid of their food supply - if you keep you other bugs out they won't have food to find in your home. Make sure you identify a spider before acting. If it is a poisonous spider, such as a hobo or brown recluse, you may want to get professional extermination. If it is a garden spider you may want to just trap them and put them outside in your garden where they will become a very good ally.

TERMITES

The most common pests that like to devour your home are termites. These pests alone are estimated to cause $5 billion a year in damages!* These pests will literally eat you out of house and home if left unchecked. Like many pest issues, the damage they can do to your home is devastating and unfortunately not covered by homeowners insurance. Therefore it is important when buying a home to get a inspection for bug problems. So what attracts these pests? Moisture is a big draw and they like to keep the humidity levels up. Keep the foundation of your home dry by ensuring all your drainage is working properly; make a point to check for moist spots so you may correct the drainage ahead of time. It is a good idea to keep a gap between any wood and dense plants and the soil around your home. Along these same lines, you should make sure gutters are kept clean of debris. If they become clogged these too will attract termites to your home. Keep firewood stored elevated off the ground and away from your home. You should not let unused firewood just sit and rot as this will become a termite haven. If building a new deck, fence, etc. make sure to use treated wood and seal it from water. Also, using sand around posts, under decks and other areas will make it more difficult for most termites to tunnel their way in. How do you know if you have termites? If you begin to see flying termites in your home and wings discarded in window sills, doorways, spider webs, etc. this may be a good indication that there is a colony in your home. One of the tell tale signs is pencil sized "mud-tubes" that are part of the network termites build. These tunnels in wood are soft and can easily be crumbled with a knife. Finally, how do you get rid of termites? There are three types of treatments a professional inspector can offer: soil treatment which uses a diluted poison placed in the soil to protect the perimeter and serves for long term protection from termites (this is usually used in cooperation with one of the next two treatments); wood treatment which treats the wood directly effected and surrounding area with poison, and finally bait treatment which draws the termites out which gather the poison and take it back to the colony. Whichever of these you choose, it is highly recommended that you consult a professional to get this type of job done correctly. One item you may want to ask a professional you hire concerns the chemicals they will use. Many of these are toxic well after applied. Make sure they are aware of children and pets in your home and might be able to offer alternatives if necessary.

Don't break the bank!

Recession survival tips for the household budget

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Now is the time of New Year's resolutions and an artificial restart for many of us.  This is a time taken to reflect on what goals we may want to achieve in the year ahead.  In many cases, financial security will be a primary objective for individual households as the recession continues through 2010.  Many people are grateful for the beginning of a gradual stabilization and cautiously hopeful for the recovery of the economy.  Although the majority of us do not have direct influence on the big companies and banks, we do control how we run our individual households, and many of us will be tightening our spending budgets and looking for ways to save.  Below we have provided some online resources for everything from keeping a balanced budget to finding ways to shop a bit smarter.

Know your budget: Before you can adjust your household budget to save, pay off debt or get ahead in your payments, you have to have a realistic look at what you owe and what you earn.

  • Bankrate: This site offers numerous online calculators from home budgets to which saving options will give the best returns. You can also begin to look at whether a home equity line of credit would be a good way to get rid of your debts or if now would be a good time to refinance under a lower mortgage rate. http://www.bankrate.com/brm/rate/calc_home.asp
  • BBB Develop a Working Budget: A printable worksheet that comes with other details to consider when calculating and understanding your budget. http://www.bbb.org/alerts/article.asp?id=709
  • Kiplinger.com Budget: An online budget form that will help you get started figuring out where you stand for the current month. http://www.kiplinger.com/tools/budget/
  • Microsoft Budget Templates: If you already use Microsoft Office, consider downloading one of their free budget templates. One of these Excel worksheets can help you keep track of your monthly expenses and be altered to fit your specific needs. http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/templates/CT101172321033.aspx

Revisit your grocery list: Reconsider how you buy groceries and what you buy.

  • Always shop with a list - Some suggest a list for any shopping trip you take. Always have a clear idea of what you need. This will help you find the best deals and not get distracted by impulse buys.
  • Buy generic brands - When you compare ingredient labels you may be surprised how similar or exact the name brands are with the generic. Try a couple taste tests, not everything generic will be ideal for your pallet, but some may surprise you, and savings could sweeten their flavor all the more!
  • Buy in bulk - Many stores now offer you the option to save by buying in bulk. Never use enough of it in time? Consider teaming up with family or neighbors and splitting your purchases. Maybe you don't need 10lbs of chicken, but 5lbs at $2 less per pound is savings to the bank.
  • Pack more snacks - When shopping, look for items you can easily put in the car, at the office or anywhere you might get the munchies. This way you can curb you hunger before you decide to hit the fast food on the way home.
  • Home Ec 101: Bake and Cook - Take on the personal challenge to become a better chef. Don't have the time? The internet is full of quick and easy casseroles, muffins, and other recipes that can help you get through your day. You will save money in the 15 minutes it takes to make these meals and you may find them more satisfying than microwave dinners.
  • Home brewed coffee - If you are addicted to your caffeine, then it is time to invest in a coffee pot with a clock and timer. You can still grab the coffee on the way out the door without being slowed down. Need it at work? Consider a French press where you can brew coffee conveniently at your desk without any machines, filters or mess.
  • Find your green thumb - If you have the property consider making a garden with your favorite greens. Fresh tasting rewards combined with natural stress relief. Don't have the property? Consider a container garden (or even an indoor container like the Aero Garden) for some of your basics. Maybe get to know you neighbors and join in a community plot.

Coupons, discounts and closeouts: Many sites online now offer ways to compare the best deals by product or store. Whether looking for new electronics or ready to head to the grocery store, check out these sites before you buy. Also take time to review the forums with customer input and reviews. A bit rough around the edges, the customer reviews on these sites are often short and to the point.

  • The Bargainist: This site lists both sales and coupons. Easy to use search - just type in the product you are looking for and it will check for any deals currently available. http://www.bargainist.com/
  • Cool Savings.com: A membership is required. If you don't mind printing your own coupons, this site is ideal for the busy shopper who knows what they want but does not want to sift through mailers, the newspaper and magazines to find a good deal. http://www.coolsavings.com/
  • Coupon Mom: A list of coupons, free offers and much more. A great way to search out grocery coupons. There is a membership but as with similar sites, this is free. http://www.couponmom.com/
  • Deal Catcher: Coupons, sales and rebates galore. Review sales by stores as well as by item rather than brand. http://www.dealcatcher.com/
  • Fat Wallet: The savings here can be found in the online forums. Savvy consumers share information and special deals. There is also the plethora of coupons and discounts listed by store or category. http://www.fatwallet.com/
  • RetailMeNot: A twist to the coupon frenzy, this site offers the coupons for online retailers. Many online retailers or stores with online shopping offer discounts or special deals with certain coupon codes or key words. RetailMeNot searches for these codes for you so you can use them on your next purchase. http://www.retailmenot.com/
  • SlickDeals.net: Mostly user driven, this site helps to create a community where bargain hunters can congregate and share what they have found. The latest deals page can be fun to review but you can also search for products by name. http://slickdeals.net/  

Be an educated consumer: Be more particular about the products you buy. Taking time to read reviews and learn the pros and cons others have experienced before you buy will help you choose better products that will last longer.

  • Buzzillions.com: After compiling reviews from customers that are sent to major retailers in response to the products they sell, Buzzillions then puts all those reviews together into an easy to read snapshot with an overall rating. You can then read the individual reviews from other consumers like you. http://www.buzzillions.com/
  • Epinions: This site is user driven with opinions on everything from products to entertainment. Perhaps you want to know more about a book, video game, movie or iPod? Most likely someone has given their two cents about it here. http://www0.epinions.com/
  • PriceGrabber.com: This site helps the consumer compare prices between online retailers. Many popular products also come with reviews and ratings. The price comparison also includes some of the used markets such as Amazon Marketplace. http://www.pricegrabber.com/

Rack up rewards: There are many programs out there to reward shoppers. Take the time research them and find one that works for your shopping style. If you shop online there are shopping portals that offer rewards. If you shop a little bit everywhere, consider a credit card with flexible reward points. If you shop at one store the most, get a rewards card with them. *A thing to remember with reward credit cards is that they usually come with a higher APR. It is better if you can charge and then pay immediately and not rollover this debt. That way you can get the rewards without the extra interest.

  • CreditCards.com: If you use credit wisely, then you might consider a credit card rewards program. This site offers an easy glance through some of the programs available. Also consider looking at individual card company sites. http://www.creditcards.com/reward.php
  • Ebates: An online shopping portal that received favorable reviews from some bigwigs like Good Housekeeping and CNN. Not only do you get a discount when shopping, but you can get bonuses as well. http://www.ebates.com/

Buy and barter used: Flea markets and garage sales can be great if you have the time and the weather to get one going. Maybe you don't have either? Then how about trying the same bartering and selling online? Besides the already popular eBay, you may be surprised at how many sites there are that will allow you to exchange, sell and buy cheap!

  • BarterBee.com: A site specifically geared towards recycling CDs, DVDs and computer or consol games between households. Once you sign up for a membership you list your used items for sale. Sell items to get points. You can then use those points to buy other CDs, DVDs or games that you want to try out. Of course you wouldn't use this site to make cash - points are used for like items. http://www.barterbee.com/
  • Craigslist: An online mismatch of services, used goods and announcements by city location. Here you may be able to find used items cheap. It can be the ordinary like used furniture to the not so common. For example, I once found someone who had new pavers left over from a patio project that they are willing to sell at a discount just to get them off their lawn. You may also be able to find cheap services such as yard work. However, users beware, there are no regulations on this site and you should take precautions when working with anyone on this list. This site definitely has a mixed history of great successes and terrible wrongs. Be careful. http://www.craigslist.org/about/sites
  • eBAY: One of the most popular and well known online auction stops, eBay has been around since 1995. Users have the ability to rank other users for the ease of trade transactions. Probably the biggest garage sale on the internet. http://www.ebay.com/
  • SwapThing: This site allows for consumers to trade and barter items or services. There is also the option to do flat out sales. Unlike an auction site, you can barter privately and do not have to list items for auction. You enter what you want and it will match you with others who have it available. http://www.swapthing.com/home/index.jsp

Get it FREE: There are some sites that will help you sift through the spam to get free items. Be warned that some of the free items still come with many "free" emails.

  • Coupon Mom: Already mentioned above, this site also lists ways to get free samples of many products. http://www.couponmom.com/
  • Free Shipping.org: This site lists all the free shipping deals and codes. If a site offers a free shipping offer, they have it listed. If you need a code to get free shipping, they have most of those too. http://www.freeshipping.org/
  • Hey, It's Free: This blog website run by Goob works to find out the real freebies on the internet. Goob goes out there and finds out if a site is just spamming or if there really is something for free at the end of all the forms. That wisdom is then passed on to the readers of this sarcastic but informative blog. http://www.heyitsfree.net/

Compare Insurance Carriers: It is true, if you have been accident/incident free for a while you may be able to save by switching to another insurance carrier. Every company may offer something different in incentives, but take a look and see if a switch can't save you some money this year.

  • InsWeb: Recognized by sites like Kiplinger and Forbes, this online insurance comparison site will help you by getting quotes from agents after you supply your information. http://www.insweb.com/
  • NetQuote: An insurance comparison website. You fill in the information and the agents work out your rate with their company. http://www.netquote.com/

Be your own travel agent: Consider your vacation plans carefully in advance. When shopping for tickets, shop around to more than one vendor. It is not unusual for some airlines to give better deals then the online travel agencies. If you are a spur of the moment type of traveler, you might consider researching a couple major cities before tempted by last minute weekend travel deals. Like consumer reports, travel blogs are a great way to get more information before you go. Did you know you could see an opera in Vienna for $5? Well, now you do…

  • Budget Travel: In print and online magazine from Frommer's Travel, the site also offers free articles on featured destinations, trip ideas and advice from other travelers. http://www.budgettravel.com/
  • Kayak.com: This travel search engine is different in that it does not sell you the deals, it just works to find them for you. This is one of the easiest ways to search online travel agencies (i.e. Expedia) and the travel companies (i.e. airlines). http://www.kayak.com/
  • Lonely Planet: Supplementary to the printed books, this website offers information about popular travel destinations as well as tips from other like-minded travelers. http://www.lonelyplanet.com/
  • USA.gov: Want to stay close to home but still get away? Check out the official state travel sites for the 50 United States and U.S. territories. http://www.usa.gov/Citizen/Topics/Travel_Tourism/State_Tourism.shtml

Charity 101

How to choose the best & avoid scams.

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Giving to others in need seems to be a natural impulse the world over. Many of us enjoy giving to causes, programs or research that we agree with and believe in; however, sometimes we are caught unaware and are asked to give by volunteers. We may love the idea of the cause but know little about the organization. Or we may like the idea, but prefer it were handled differently. So where do you go to find the best fitting charity and how do you determine if they are legitimate? Below we have compiled some things to consider when choosing a charity, such as when to give, how to avoid scams, and other ways to give to the community rather than a cash donation.

Before you Give

What Touches You? - It may sound simple (and it is) but one of the best gauges for which charity to choose should be what you are passionate about. What causes mean the most to you? What charities benefit research, education or programs you believe in? This should be your first consideration when choosing a charity. It will help narrow your choices and there is nothing better than having pride about the organization you choose. Who knows, that initial donation could lead to volunteering and becoming actively involved in something you really care about.

Take Control - Be proactive about the charities you choose to support. Don't wait for someone to come knocking at your door or spend money on reminders in the mail. Instead, take the first step by actively searching for charities that give to the causes you believe in. To begin your search, check out some of these sites: Charity Navigator | Guide Star | IRS Search

Money 101 - Find out where your donation goes and how it is spent. Most organizations offer easy charts and/or percentages detailing how much money goes to the cause, administration, events, publications, etc. Although you may like the ideas behind an organization, you may not agree with how they choose to spend the money. The only way to know is to check them out and if you can't find the information, practice our next point and ask questions!

Ask Questions - Don't be afraid to ask questions! Perhaps how they spend money on fundraising events is worded ambiguously to you. Or you are not certain if the funds will stay local or move nationally. Any questions you have are okay to ask. Sometimes people don't want to ask as they think they are pestering the volunteers and wasting their time - that is not the case! By thoroughly answering your questions, volunteers know they are ensuring your continued loyalty, confidence and support for their organization. If they don't want to answer, then consider someone else - there are plenty of charities to choose from.

Reputation - Find out about the charity's reputation. Have there been complaints about your charity? Are there accolades for your charity? Take some time to see what others are saying about the charity of your choice. Better Business Bureau | Charity Navigator

The Quick List - If you don't want to spend the time researching the charities out there, take a look at some of these lists to see how they are already ranked by organizations. American Institute of Philanthropy | Charity Navigator

When You Give

Dust Off the Checkbook - It is best to donate by check rather than cash or credit card. This way you can specify the money only goes to the organization. Always write the check - don't give any information directly to your bank account. Credit card is okay online if you really know the source is reliable. But be very cautious!

Guard Your Information - As with your bank account information, keep most of your information private. As you will read in the 'Signs of a Scam' section below, caution is unfortunately the best practice when donating money.

Ask if Your Gift is Tax Deductable - Not all charities actually count as a tax deductable donation. Although we realize this is not usually the impetuous behind giving to a charity, it is something to keep in mind if you do plan to claim it on your taxes - especially if it is a sizable donation. The charities won't be offended, just ask.

Get a Receipt - Even if your donation is not tax deductable, get a receipt. This will help you track your records and if you are ever unfortunately caught in a scam, it might help in developing a case against the criminal.

Think Ahead - Consider giving to the charities of your choice once a year or up to a certain amount every year. This will make it easier to choose a charity that you know rather than off the cuff impulse. Also, it will make it that much easier to say no to those who solicit your donations if you know you have already given as much as you want/can for the year.

Signs of a Scam

Appearance is Not Enough - Charity scams can be everything from a person with a jar asking for a particular cause to elaborate schemes that include personnel, office space, logos and image branding - all the signals of a legitimate operation. Thus, we say it again, it is important to do your homework before you give.

Know the Name - Many charity scams are set up using names very similar to bigger and better moderated charities. Be careful and take the time to double check that the organization you are donating to is the one you are really thinking of.

The Copycat - Unfortunately, even knowing the correct name of the charity may not be enough. Some scammers (especially in person) will claim to be from an organization they are not. The best option is to check with the charity to see if they are running a drive in your area before you donate.

Opportunity Knocks - The primary means for charity scams to get your money is by approaching you in person (i.e. at the grocery stores or going door to door), spam emails, and even telemarketing. To be safe, take the information about the charity down but wait to give until you have had a chance to check them out. If they turn on the high pressure "sale" when you mention researching them more, simply walk away. Instead, a legitimate charity will be happy to give you the information about their organization and where to find out more. As for emails, donating to unsolicited emails is never a good idea. Email is only a good option if it is from an organization with which you already have a relationship (usually a reminder to come donate again) or someone you personally know (i.e. participant fundraising for a benefit walk/run/etc.).

Too Much Pressure - Yes we just wrote it above, but it is worth mentioning again - high pressure "sales" from charities is a huge no-no. If they turn up the sob story, guilt trip, or state the need is now or never - be wary and just walk away. Most legitimate charities avoid high pressure tactics and have guidelines for volunteers against such tactics as they are just as glad to have raised the awareness if not always the cash.

Registration Please - It is good practice to ask a charity if it is registered and has a registration number. You can then use this number to look it up with the Better Business Bureau.

Misery Loves Company - Be very careful when giving after a large natural disaster or another event which rocks the community. At these times it is usually best to give through charities that have a standing reputation for helping. But again, make sure to check the name is not a quasi copycat. Be careful how you give the money - even when memorial charities are set up for a local family, you can donate through a bank with an established trust. Try not to let the headlines in the news sway you to give to the wrong person!

Allocation of Funds - Although this is not necessarily a scam item, some donators feel scammed when they find out so little of their money actually goes to the cause of their choice. To avoid this, research the charity to see how they allocate their funds. As we stated above, every charity is different in how it will choose allocate the funds raised. Some charities have high administrative costs and use fundraising to pay staff salaries. Others spend a great deal on advertising campaigns. Although neither is illegal, you may want to see if you agree with the amounts spent. You can find details on the individual charity websites or directories, such as Charity Navigator and Guide Star.

And the Winner Is - Another scam to look out for is the offer of a entry for a prize with your donation. This can usually be related to a scam, but also some legitimate organizations use this tactic. In this instance you may want to consider how much of your donation is going to fundraising gimmicks rather than to the cause at hand.

Other Ways to Give

Your Time is Worth Money - Don't have a lot of cash to give? A little of your time can help just as much or even more for some charities. Many organizations need voluntary workers to make their goals a reality. Most Americans consider donating around November and December when the image of helping out the local soup kitchen is etched in our minds. However, many organizations need help the rest of the year. Contact the charity you are passionate about and ask when you can be the most helpful. Have time but don't know where to participate? Try some sites like these to find volunteer opportunities in your area. Many of these sites let you search by interest - if volunteers get to share the love of one of their hobbies they are more likely to enjoy the experience and spend more time helping. www.idealist.org | www.volunteermatch.org | www.1-800-volunteer.org | www.getinvolved.gov

Take a Volunteer Vacation - Some college students have made headlines by taking volunteer vacations during spring break instead of heading to a party hot spot. But these vacations are not just for college students! Many seasoned travelers find these vacations a great way to learn more intimately about other cultures and give a little back in the process. Whether your passion is people, the environment, culture, language, or all the above, this might be the next vacation for you. www.globalvolunteers.org | www.volunteerabroad.com | www.globeaware.org | www.earthwatch.org

Play on the Web - Some online stores and searches will donate to charities if you use their interface. So why not take them up on the free offer? Do Great Good | The Hunger, Breast Cancer, Child Health, Literacy, Rainforest & Animal Rescue Sites | www.searchkindly.org

Consider Giving a Loan - A different way of 'giving' may be to actually lend capitol to the working poor. A new idea in micro financing gives funds to poor families who need a small loan to make their business ideas work. Loans can be as low as $25 and are actually paid back (unlike email schemes). The forerunner in this area is Kiva.org who started in 2005 primarily connecting lenders with 3rd world entrepreneurs. To find out more, visit their website www.kiva.org. This year, Kiva partnered with ACCION USA and the Opportunity Fund to offer micro loans here in the United States as well. For more on this option, please visit www.accionusa.org or www.opportunityfund.org.

Summer Safety Tips

The summer has a pull for us, no matter our age.

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The summer has a pull for us, no matter our age. It is a time to take a few days off work, barbeque in the backyard, go for a picnic, a hike, a swim, a bike ride or go out on the water on our boat. It is also a time to mow and weed the lawn, plant flowers and finish countless chores around the home that have been put off until the weather "cooperated." Needless to say, summer is a busy time when we do more activities and chores and can very easily overexert ourselves. That is why this month we are focusing on some tips that can help you have a fun and safe summer. Part of having fun is being aware of what precautions you should take and how you should plan ahead for whatever you choose to do. But we know you are busy, so here is the quick list for a safe summer!

Barbeque and Food Safety:

Always check your grill before using it after a long seasonal break. If propane is used make sure to check all the connections! Check your individual user manual for your grill; all of these will have a checklist of items to review that are specific to your make/model.

Grills are for outdoor use only. NEVER bring a grill indoors to cook. Carbon monoxide will accumulate and can be fatal.

Always set up the grill away from the home (at least 5 feet or more).

If using a charcoal grill, use a charcoal lighting fluid instead of gasoline. Make sure to let the fluid be absorbed by the coals before lighting. Move the lighter fluid away from the grill before lighting. Once you light the fire, stay with the grill, never leave a cooking grill unattended.

That goes for all of you - NEVER leave a cooking grill unattended! Have baking soda handy for a grease fire and a fire extinguisher on hand as well.

For safest results, always grill with a meat thermometer. See the recommended meat temperatures to the right.

Before cooking or preparing anything - wash your hands! In between working with different dishes - wash your hands!

Invest in some long cooking utensils for the grill - this will help prevent burns!

For best grilling results, thaw frozen meats before cooking them on the barbeque. The safest way to thaw foods is slowly in the refrigerator.

If you use the microwave to defrost meats, then make sure you are grilling them shortly afterwards and not storing them again before cooking.

If marinating food then do so in the refrigerator - not on the counter! If you want to have extra marinade to use as a sauce later, make sure to separate a portion ahead of time. Never reuse marinating sauces!

Use one plate for taking meats to the barbeque and another clean plate to take cooked items to the serving area. Never use the same plate. The raw juices can contaminate your cooked meats and side dishes.

When hosting a barbeque, make sure to supply plenty of clean plates and utensils. Encourage guests to get a new plate if theirs has been sitting out in the sun and became a playground for flies, ants, etc. as they waited between helpings.

That evil mayo - did you know according to the Department of Health, it is not really the mayo that is making that potato salad a dangerous game of chance. Instead it is the fact that when making salads usually the ingredients are mixed together when still warm creating a breeding ground for bacteria. Instead, chill all your ingredients separately before mixing them together.

Refrigerate any left over food within 2 hours of its initial serving. If the temperatures are higher, then 1 hour or earlier. Meat should be be kept hot for serving (140°F) and unused meat should be refrigerated immediately as it cools. If you have too much left over meat, make sure to freeze whatever you won't eat within the next 2 days.

When you shut off the grill make sure to shut off the propane as well.

For a charcoal grill, let coals burn out completely. The ashes should sit 48 hours before being disposed of in aluminum foil in a noncombustible container.

Food Safety on the Road:

Wash all fruits and vegetables. Even those with tough outer skins that you do not eat. When slicing these the knife may pick up bacteria from the outer skin.

Pack drinks and food in separate containers. The drink cooler is opened more often changing the internal temperature. This way the food container is disturbed less often and can remain colder.

Once at your destination, keep the cooler(s) out of the direct sun. Keep them in the shade, covered with a blanket. If on the beach, burry it partially in the sand in a shady spot or under an umbrella.

If grilling at the park and you need to dispose of ashes, make sure to place them in heavy duty aluminum foil and soak them in water before placing them in a noncombustible container.

If you use a recreational vehicle such as a camper, always review any canned foods that may have been left there. If temperature fluctuated and cans were frozen and thawed then they need to be discarded. Make sure to thoroughly clean the refrigerator out before using it this travel season.

Bug Prevention:

The best insect repellents contain DEET. However, they should not be used on children under 2 months of age. Also, bug repellent should be applied once per day. Do not get a sunscreen/bug repellent combo as you will need to reapply the sunscreen every two hours.

Avoid using scented soaps and perfumes. Also be careful with bright colored clothes as they attract certain bugs as well. Be extra careful around stagnate pools of water, heavily flowered areas and unused areas as these are more likely to be nesting areas or feeding areas for bugs.

Wear hats and long sleeves in the woods. Make sure to examine clothing and scalp for ticks. If you find a tick gently pull it out with tweezers. Do not use your fingers as you may squeeze it too hard. The methods of burning ticks with matches or suffocating the tick with nail polish don't work for removing ticks from the skin. If you live in a wooded area, try to keep your yard well maintained, ticks do not like direct sun and are looking for overgrowth areas.

Lawn Mower Safety:

Nearly 75,000 Americans are seriously injured in lawn mower accidents each year. About 10,000 of those injuries involve children. Data from University of Michigan

Always read and review your owner's manual at the start of the mowing season. There will be specific checks you will need to perform.

If you can, get a mower with an easy kill switch, a double handle that stops the motor when dropped is a good design to have.

Keep children and pets indoors or well away from the lawn mower at all times. Don't let children ride on the mower for "fun" and it is recommended that children not operate mowers until 16 years of age.

Pick up debris before mowing the lawn.

Wearing protective eye gear is also recommended.

Wear sturdy shoes when mowing. Never move the mower back towards your feet, always go forward.

Sun Safety:

The harshest time to be out in the sun is between 10:00am-4:00p.m. This includes cloudy days as the sun still penetrates the clouds although you may not feel it. During these hours of the day you should have a sunscreen of 15SPF or higher. Sunscreen should be applied 30 minutes before going outside and reapplied every two hours. During really hot hours, stay indoors as much as possible.

Sunglasses that protect you from at least 90% of UV sunlight should be worn.

Dress for the heat. Wear light colored clothes of a breathable fabric, such as cotton. Wear a hat or use an umbrella if in direct sun for long periods of time.

Drink plenty of water, drink water even if you do not feel thirsty as you need to keep your body hydrated. Avoid drinks with caffeine or alcohol as these will only aid dehydration.

Eat smaller meals more often. Eat less protein to reduce metabolic heat.

Avoid strenuous activity. If you are going to be doing really strenuous work or sports, do them early or late in the day. Take breaks often!

Need to know "HEAT" definitions:
Heat definitions from www.redcross.org

  • Heat Wave: More than 48 hours of high heat (90°F or higher) and high humidity (80 percent relative humidity or higher) are expected.
  • Heat Index: A number in degrees Fahrenheit that tells how hot it really feels with the heat and humidity. Exposure to full sunshine can increase the heat index by 15°F. Heat cramps:
  • Heat cramps are muscular pains and spasms due to heavy exertion. They usually involve the abdominal muscles or the legs. It is generally thought that the loss of water and salt from heavy sweating causes the cramps.
  • Heat Exhaustion: Heat exhaustion is less dangerous than heat stroke. It typically occurs when people exercise heavily or work in a warm, humid place where body fluids are lost through heavy sweating. Fluid loss causes blood flow to decrease in the vital organs, resulting in a form of shock. With heat exhaustion, sweat does not evaporate as it should, possibly because of high humidity or too many layers of clothing. As a result, the body is not cooled properly. Signals include cool, moist, pale, flushed or red skin; heavy sweating; headache; nausea or vomiting; dizziness; and exhaustion. Body temperature will be near normal.
  • Heat Stroke: Also known as sunstroke, heat stroke is life-threatening. The victim's temperature control system, which produces sweating to cool the body, stops working. The body temperature can rise so high that brain damage and death may result if the body is not cooled quickly. Signals include hot, red and dry skin; changes in consciousness; rapid, weak pulse; and rapid, shallow breathing. Body temperature can be very high--sometimes as high as 105°F. Call 911 or your local EMS number. Move the person to a cooler place. Quickly cool the body by wrapping wet sheets around the body and fan it. If you have ice packs or cold packs, place them on each of the victim's wrists and ankles, in the armpits and on the neck to cool the large blood vessels. Watch for signals of breathing problems and make sure the airway is clear. Keep the person lying down

Sun Safety for your Pet:

Dogs and cats don't sweat to lose excess heat, instead they pant. Most of our pets know better and will not over exert themselves in high heat. However, if chained in the sun or locked in a car, there is little they can do to avoid it. Never leave you dog unattended in a car. Although it is only 75°F outside, in the car it can reach up to a 100°F in one half hour. If you return to your car and your pet is agitated, wide-eyed and panting rapidly they may have heat stroke.

Always provide shade and water for your pet on hot days. If there are heat wave warnings bring them inside with you.

Animals have a natural higher temperature than humans (100°-102°F for both cats and dogs). However, anything 105°F is a sign of heat stroke. Other signs of heat stroke in animals include rapid panting, wide eyes, salivating, pale and dry gums, staggering and weakness. They may even become unconscious.

The best way to treat heat stroke is to get them wrapped in wet towels and fan them as you would a human. Some suggest immersing them in cold water, but depending on the severity this may be too much too quickly. Also run cold water in their mouth. Keep track of their temperature, get them down to 103°F. Call your vet or animal hospital immediately.

Hiking Safety:

Plan ahead for any hiking trip. Take a look at the route and consider what equipment and skills you may need. Discuss emergency plans with your group before heading out. Know where the nearest ranger station is from where you start. Also, leave a detailed itinerary with someone back home. Let them know what car you are taking, where you will be starting and how long you expect to be.

Always hike with at least one other person. In more remote areas it is suggested that you hike with at least four people in your group. This way you will have one to stay with an injured person and two to go for help.

If a trail is marked as closed DO NOT go there. If an area requires special permits - DO NOT go there unless you have already obtained them.

Be prepared for bad weather and extreme weather changes. You should have enough supplies to get you through a night if needed.

Always assume the water from streams and rivers is NOT safe for drinking.

A Hiking Backpack Checklist:
Info from www.redcross.org

  • Candle and matches
  • Cell phone
  • Clothing (always bring something warm, extra socks and rain gear)
  • Compass
  • First aid kit Food (bring extra)
  • Flashlight
  • Foil (to use as a cup or signaling device)
  • Hat
  • Insect repellent
  • Map
  • Nylon filament
  • Pocket knife
  • Pocket mirror (to use as a signaling device)
  • Prescription glasses (an extra pair)
  • Prescription medications for ongoing medical conditions
  • Radio with batteries
  • Space blanket or a piece of plastic (to use for warmth or shelter)
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Trash bag (makes an adequate poncho)
  • Water Waterproof matches or matches in a waterproof tin
  • Water purification tablets
  • Whistle (to scare off animals or to use as a signaling device)

Survival Pack - one pack should be carried by EACH person in your group and should include: a pocket knife, compass, whistle, space blanket, nylon filament, water purification tablets, matches and candle in a waterproof container.

Bicycle, Skateboard & Scooter Safety:

Always wear a helmet when bicycling. If on a scooter or skateboard, wear the proper protective gear such as knee and elbow pads and a helmet.

Only ride a bike that is properly fitted for you. If not fitted correctly you may hurt your knees, back, arms and will not be able to maneuver or stop as well as you should be able.

When entering the roadway from the driveway - always look! This is a high accident area as many cars do not see those coming out of driveways on bikes, skateboards and scooters.

If traveling on the road, make sure to follow all the road signs and lights. Bicyclists should follow the same rules as cars and use standard hand signals. Skateboard and scooter users should be extra carful on roads as well. HOWEVER, it is strongly suggested that scooters users stay on sidewalks and skateboarders stay well away from roads, preferably skate at the skate park.

Be predictable. Do not weave in and out of the roadway or cars. If you come to an obstruction in your path, stop and look around and behind you before going around it. A sudden swerve out into the road will not be anticipated by automobiles that are traveling much faster than you are.

Pay attention at all times. Obstructions such as wet leaves or loose gravel may come upon you quick if you are not paying attention. Also be careful around parked cars, you may not see someone opening the car door until you are right on top of it.

Try to avoid being out on the road at night or in bad weather. If you are out, be extra careful; imagine the cars cannot see you and ride defensively. You should have bright colored clothing and reflectors or battery operated lights as well.

All skateboarders should learn out to fall. Considering fractures and breaks from falls are the most common skateboard injuries, knowing how to brace yourself is important. If starting out in the sport, start small, skateboarding is just like any other sport, it takes practice and time to develop the skill.

When riding on the trails always give pedestrians the right of way. If passing from behind let them know by using a bell or stating "on your left," before passing. Keep a controlled speed on trails as you do not always know who is there around the bend. If the trail is shared with horses, slow down and give them a wide space when passing. Again, let them know you are coming by stating "on your left."

Water Safety:

Learn to swim! This is a skill everyone should take time to learn. Even the basic knowledge can help!

Children and inexperienced swimmers should use an approved floatation device/life jacket when in or, in the case of children, near the water.

Never leave a child alone around water. Make sure someone is watching them at all times!

Never swim alone. Always swim with a friend or in a supervised area. Never snorkel alone. Never surf alone.

Read and OBEY all posted signs. Do not dive in the water unless the area is clearly marked as safe. Even when marked, make sure to check for any person or debris below before diving. If the area is not marked, always enter feet first.

If swimming in lakes, rivers, or the ocean, be familiar with these bodies of water. Make sure you are aware of risks such as debris, under tows, and currents. Also, always be aware of your energy level; you need enough energy to make it back to shore!

Pay attention to your surroundings. Pay attention to the weather. At the first sign of bad weather, leave the water!

If pulled out by an ocean current do not swim against it. Instead swim parallel to it gradually moving towards the shore. You have to move out of the current by swimming across it before you can head back inland. Think of an arc instead of a straight line.

Check surf conditions before entering the water. Keep away from piers and pilings when in the water. Watch out for wildlife and have some basic knowledge of what animals and plants are in the water. Know what you need to avoid and leave wildlife alone!

Do NOT mix alcohol and swimming activities - they do not mix!

If you own your own pool, make sure it is supplied with emergency equipment and first aid. Keep a phone nearby and have instructions for emergencies posted. Have CPR instructions and make sure to take lessons in CPR. Every adult responsible for watching kids around the pool should have CPR training.

Take lessons before attempting SCUBA diving. Never dive alone. Only dive for areas you are trained for. Be familiar with your equipment and check it often.

Boating & Watercraft Safety:

Always have on life jackets. Make sure they properly fit everyone on your boat - especially children!

Learn to swim! Also, take a boating class, learn everything from navigation rules to information about your particular boat.

Do NOT mix alcohol and boating activities - they do not mix!

Let someone on shore know how long you will be gone and where you are going.

When using jet skis or other personal watercraft make sure to know the rules of the water body you are on and obey these rules. Be courteous to others and look out for swimmers, skiers in the water, etc.

Do not water ski at night. Always have someone in the boat to watch and aid the skier. Always approach a skier in the water with the engine off.

If fishing, scale, gut and clean the fish as soon as they are caught. Wrap fish separately in plastic and keep on ice. It is recommended that fish be cooked and eaten within 2 days or frozen. Frozen fish can last up to 6 months. Shellfish should be kept alive until cooked. Lobsters and crabs should be cooked the same day they were caught. Oysters, mussels and clams should be cooked within 5 days.

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.