Category Archives: Real Estate

Small improvements indicate Americans taking steps toward better credit


When you’re struggling with thousands of dollars of debt, saving a few bucks here or there may seem like a drop in the bucket. Yet in financial terms, those drops add up, and can ultimately create a more positive overall picture. That seems to be the case for the country, as evidenced by a recent report on credit scores and credit habits among American consumers.

Experian’s third annual State of Credit report, which analyzes the average VantageScore (an industry-leading consumer credit risk score with scores ranging from 501 to 990, with higher scores representing a lower likelihood of risk), debt levels and credit use of people living in more than 100 U.S. cities, found that in the past year:

* Americans’ average credit scores edged upward for the second consecutive year.

* Average debt decreased slightly.

* Income rose by nearly one and a quarter percent.

* Foreclosures fell by 12.59 percent.

* Among the 10 cities with the highest credit scores, eight had improved average scores over last year. Among the 10 cities with the lowest average scores, seven also improved their credit scores.

The cities with the highest average credit scores were: Minneapolis (787); Madison, Wis. (786); Wausau, Wis. (785); Sioux Falls, S.D. (784); Cedar Rapids, Iowa (783); San Francisco (783); Green Bay, Wis. (781); La Crosse, Wis. (779); Boston (778) and Duluth, Minn. (777).

The lowest average scores were found in Harlingen, Texas (688); Jackson, Miss. (702); Corpus Christi, Texas (706); Shreveport, La. (708); Monroe, La. (709); Augusta, Ga. (710); El Paso, Texas (710); Myrtle Beach, S.C. (710); Memphis (711) and Savannah (713).

While many of these indicators point toward a renewed focus by Americans on wise credit habits, there are also signs that consumers still have room for improvement, says Maxine Sweet, vice president of public education for Experian. In uncertain economic times, credit and debt management is often viewed as an indicator of Americans’ overall financial well-being. As our nation and individual consumers struggle to emerge from recession, establishing and maintaining good credit has never been more important.

Sweet offers consumers some basic credit information:

If you haven’t already done so, check your credit score and report so that you have a benchmark for improvement. It’s important to understand the financial behaviors that influence the information in your credit report. Once you understand how your financial behaviors affect your credit report, you’ll be able to take steps to improve your credit history and, subsequently, improve your scores. Factors that affect your credit score include:

* Bill payment history – Paying bills on time is the single most important contributor to good credit. Late payments negatively affect your ability to get credit since they indicate a stronger likelihood that you will make late payments again or will be unable to pay your debts in the future. Even if the debt you owe is a small amount, it is crucial that you make payments on time.

* Credit card balances and other revolving credit – If you max out your credit card or charge balances that are very close to your limit, you will increase your balance to limit ratio, or utilization ratio. A high utilization ratio may indicate that you are tempted to charge more than you can pay and therefore, negatively affect your credit score.

* Length of credit history – How long you’ve had certain accounts matters for your credit history. What’s more, if you have negative information on your credit report, time is your ally in improving your credit score. While steps like catching up on late payments and paying down debts can help improve your score, there is no overnight fix for a low credit score. Improving your score will require time and discipline.

To learn more about building and maintaining a strong credit history, visit LiveCreditSmart.com.

Cool new concepts for gardening


One of the driving forces in gardening is many American’s pursuit of healthier eating and greener living. This means that the new face of gardening has begun to change considerably in recent years. Today’s gardeners are younger and more urban than traditional gardeners, therefore, making unique impressions on the green world.

So, what’s cool about gardening?

From growing vegetables in the front yard to creating an edible wall of green on the balcony, gardening is not limited to just a half-acre plot in the country anymore. Now, gardeners use any space available for a garden, no matter how urban or small. The key is adding individuality or personality to the garden in the form of handmade sculptures, water features, bird feeders or even the variety of unique heirloom plants that are used. Sustainability is also very important. Plants that serve a dual purpose – like low-growing thyme used as a ground cover in a small area or a cucumber plant that has been trained to grow up a trellis as a green screen – are excellent examples of how many gardeners have transformed traditional ideas of gardening. Looking at gardening and plants in new ways can lead to some great discoveries – and may even increase the productivity of a green space.

How can you join in the gardening movement? Here are some helpful tips to get started.

Maximize space:

Even if you only have a window, and no outdoor space, you can have a garden. An herb garden, like the Miracle-Gro Culinary Herb Kit, can be grown on a window ledge in the kitchen. No ledge? No problem. Just hang a hook from the ceiling and grow your plants in a hanging basket. For those with little outdoor space, try container gardening on the patio or use an outside fence or railing to grow a vertical garden. Simply hang pots on hooks or create your own “living wall” using chicken wire, coconut fiber lining and a quality potting mix. Then, plant trailing produce or flowers and watch your wall grow. If you have a sunny space in the yard, create a small garden using the new Miracle-Gro Ultimate Raised Garden Bed. This easy-to-use kit snaps together and can easily be customized to fit in nearly any space. Simply add nutrient-enriched soil, like Miracle-Gro Expand N Gro or Potting Mix, and plant the garden on a patio, deck, rooftop or balcony.

Redefine terms:

Produce plants are for vegetable gardens and landscaping plants are for the front yard … right? Not necessarily. The great thing about gardening is that the only necessary rules are the ones Mother Nature created: plants need sunlight, water, food and soil with good drainage. Other than that, do not be afraid to mix it up. Plant vegetables in the front yard, use strawberries in a hanging basket or plant an herb for groundcover along a path. Tomatoes will grow beautifully next to marigolds and sage will add a nice contrast when grown in a container alongside yellow daisies. Grow what you like that will thrive in your climate, even if it is not what your neighbors are growing.

Stay true to yourself:

If your favorite color is blue, then plant blue flowers. If you love salsa, then plant a “salsa garden” by using tomatoes, cilantro, onions and jalapenos. Add your own touch and make it personal. The materials used can represent your style and add interest in the garden as effectively as what is planted. With adequate drainage, even an old toolbox can come to life with some potting soil and impatiens. Collect stones and small objects with kids to make garden sculptures or bird feeders that the whole family can enjoy. Green plastic bottle caps can be turned into ornamental “trees” and grandma’s cracked tea cup could become a bird feeder with a little imagination. If you have extra produce, make sure to share it. Friends, neighbors, family and even many local food pantries will take donations of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Experiment:

Although gardening can be seen as a science, it should also be looked as an art. Gardeners should feel free to experiment and express themselves through their gardens. Let your green space reflect your home, your interests and your individuality. Make it a tradition to try at least one new thing every year and you may be surprised how much you learn along the way.

Increase garage sale profits with some marketing basics


As the weather warms up, garage sales begin appearing all over the U.S. Garage sales are a great way to clean out clutter while making some extra dollars for home improvements, bills, vacations or even “retail therapy.”

Marcela Iannini, department chair of Advertising and Design & Media Management at Miami International University of Art & Design, says, “Garage sales are great opportunity to employ basic marketing principles in a fun way; a little innovation and creativity go a long way to maximize sales.” 

“It’s important to start with the basics of marketing – the four P’s – price, product, promotion and place. In garage sales it works best to think of the product as the garage sale itself and the items to be sold as product lines or brands of that product,” adds Cheryl Pilchik, Advertising faculty at The Art Institute of Philadelphia.

Dr. Larry Stultz, department chair of Advertising and Web Design & Interactive Media at The Art Institute of Atlanta-Decatur, a branch of The Art Institute of Atlanta, agrees. “It is imperative to use the same thinking retailers use to maximize the visibility and sales opportunities for a garage sale.” 

 
Below are some helpful suggestions from Iannini, Pilchik and Stultz on making the best of your garage sale:

 
* Product and price: Product mix is important in retailing. You can either focus on one type of product (kids’ toys or garden tools, for instance) or a broad mix of products. Study sales in your neighborhood to see what works best. Check out the prices, too. You should consider not only the original cost, but also what others charge at sales like yours. Rather than use a lot of time individually pricing each item, consider grouping like items together on large tables, posting the same price for all items on that table – like retailers do. 

 
* Place (scheduling/location): Think about a high-traffic area – retailers pay a premium for high-traffic locations. Perhaps you can team up with several neighbors and choose the house that has the most street visibility. Knowing your target market is paramount in timing your sale. Consider scheduling with other activities in your neighborhood – art shows or community events will help draw additional traffic.  

 
* Promotion (advertising/marketing): A successful garage sale requires careful planning and promotion using proven advertising strategies to make your sale stand out. One successful strategy is choosing a theme related to the items to be sold and carrying out the theme in all aspects of the sale. For example, if most of the items to be sold are from the 1980s, you’d play 80s music, have everyone working at the sale dress in 80s style and use 80s elements in your flyers. 

 
Whatever your theme, consider the following to promote your sale: 
1. Neighborhood signs and flyers, placed on local business, PTA and school/church bulletin boards – and where permitted, on street corners or in yards.
2. Local newspaper listings and online listings like craigslist.org.
3. A social networking fan page with an event for the garage sale inviting friends and family.  
4. Your own Facebook and Twitter pages to inform your “friends” and “followers” about your event.
5. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest on the day of the sale to distribute special offers, share photos of items for sale or offer incentives for referring fans or customers.

 
Give your garage sale a facelift to keep it fresh and appealing. Borrowing effective strategies and tactics used in the merchandising and advertising industries to engage the customer and communicate with them on their terms will help to ensure your success. 

 
To learn more about The Art Institutes schools, visit www.artinstitutes.edu.

Remodeling for aging in place today will help sell your home tomorrow

Only one in 10 adults believes
this is a good time to sell a home. If you’re on hold in the real estate market, now is the time to get your house in order – literally. Make the right changes today, and you’ll get a better price tomorrow.

But before you invest in a home-improvement project, consider your potential buyers with this fact in mind: More than 3.5 million baby boomers turn 55 each year, according to the U.S. Census. Since people aged 45 to 64 make up more than a quarter of today’s U.S. population, there’s a good chance you’ll be selling to someone in this age group. Will your home appeal to them?

Your chances will be better if your home has “aging in place” design features that make it easier for older adults to live on their own longer. These modifications are the fastest-growing segment of the home remodeling industry, says the National Association of Home Builders. Because they range from simple fixes to full-scale renovations, making aging-in-place changes can suit any budget.

Best of all, this type of project not only improves a home’s resale value for the future, it also increases its safety and comfort for all residents right now.

Add a bath where none exists

Adding a bathroom on the main living level is a smart strategy to appeal to older adults, says national home safety expert Meri-K Appy. “Falls are the leading cause of home injury deaths, and older adults are at greatest risk for them,” she says.  “Eliminating the need to use stairs and reducing the distance to a bathroom can be a great safety advantage.”

A new bath is also a sound investment. This one improvement was shown to return more than 53 percent of its cost at resale in the Remodeling Magazine Cost vs. Value Report.

A macerating toilet system is a good way to lower the cost of adding a bath, says Otis Dardy, owner of Dardy Construction in Conyers, Ga. Dardy recently used macerating, or up flush, technology to install a full bathroom in a home that lacked below-floor plumbing drainage. With conventional plumbing fixtures, Dardy would have had to dig through the concrete, creating a costly and time-consuming mess. Instead, he used up flush technology, which allows you to add plumbing to any room in your home, even the basement, without having to break up the floor.

Macerating plumbing systems pump waste and water from a toilet – as well as a sink, shower, wet bar, even a washing machine – upward through small diameter piping.

Before Dardy knew about macerating plumbing systems, many of his customers who wanted a bathroom couldn’t afford the cost of creating new drainage. “I can save them a ton of money now,” he says. “It will also work if you want to convert a walk-in closet into a powder room.”

Looking for more ways to update a bathroom with aging adults in mind? Put a telephone line in the bathroom. You may also want to install grab bars in and near tubs and showers while adding a hand-held showerhead. It not only makes bathing easier, but it also helps when it’s time to wash a pet or clean the tub. Use low, open shelving, and place nightlights in hallways and bathrooms to improve illumination and reduce falls.

Universal improvements

If you’re doing a kitchen remodel, consider using nonslip flooring. Some designers recommend cork tiles, which have the added advantage of being environmentally friendly.

To make your kitchen workspace more user-friendly, vary the height of your countertop areas to accommodate both standing and seated cooks, and don’t forget to install bright task lighting. Always choose appliances with controls that are easy to read and easy to use.

Push/pull levers are a must for kitchen faucets, and installing thermostatic and anti-scald devices can reduce hot-water burn injuries.

If you’re replacing windows, make sure the hardware is easy to operate. Installing a new entry door? Choose a low-maintenance alternative to wood. All stairways inside and out should have two handrails and bright overhead lighting.

Less-expensive improvements include replacing doorknobs with handles that are easier to open and putting D-shaped pulls on drawers and cabinets. Replace any dim bulbs with bright overhead lighting.

Common outdoor lighting mistakes and their solutions


Upgrading your home’s exterior lighting is a surefire way to increase your home’s curb appeal and resell value. And a well-lit front lawn can also deter would-be burglars. Most of  the outdoor lighting of one’s home adds a welcoming touch for family and guests. Here you can learn about outdoor lighting trends, common lighting problems and their solutions, and things to consider when selecting outdoor lighting fixtures.

First and foremost, it’s important to give a considerable amount of thought to the placement of your outdoor lights. Just as you would not place several lighting fixtures like table lamps or wall sconces in a single area of your living room, you don’t want to place exterior fixtures too close together either. This is a common problem when integrating pathlights into your outdoor lighting solution. Too many pathlights, too close together can make your walkway look more like the runway at an airport. Instead of placing the lights directly opposite one another on either end, try a staggered approach. The light will flow less harshly.

Another common mistake in selecting outdoor lights is in finding the proper lighting direction, or limiting “light pollution”. Outdoor lights should not obstruct one’s vision or interfere with one being able to see the entire landscape of a yard or area clearly. On a similar note, the lights should not shine directly into the road or a neighboring yard either. To avoid such issues, look for spotlights with glare guards.

Just as it would be boring to find the same exact lamp in every room of one’s home, it’s boring to see the same outdoor lighting fixture repeated throughout the yard. It can make the home appear institutional as opposed to personal. Use a wide variety of fixtures to light your yard; it will enhance the character and charm of your home.

Be sure to balance your home’s exterior lighting. Another common mistake in outdoor lighting placement, is to inadvertently divide the yard by placing too many lights in one area and too little in another. You want to evenly distribute light throughout the canvas of your home. You don’t want your yard looking like a parking lot.

Finally, like most things in home d├ęcor, less is more. Outdoor lighting should call attention to the beautiful and unique features of your home. It should not be intrusive. Proper outdoor lighting calls attention to various parts of your home’s exterior, not the entire surface area. Over illumination is never attractive indoor or outdoor.

by: Melinda Cayetano 
http://www.articlecity.com/articles/home_improvement/article_7064.shtml 

Turn over a new leaf this season with a home energy makeover


(BPT) – As the seasons change, turn over a new leaf and give your home an energy makeover. You can improve your home’s comfort while helping the environment by making your home more energy efficient, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In addition, a variety of compatible technologies are available to help manage your home’s comfort systems more efficiently and economically. Here are some tips to get you started.


  • Schedule an overall home energy audit: How does your energy use at home measure up? Annual analysis of home energy efficiency can save you money in the long run and ensure your home runs smoothly. A certified energy auditor will complete an energy analysis of your home by measuring windows and checking insulation, ductwork and building materials. You can identify local certified professional energy assessment services through Residential Energy Services Network. Taking five minutes with energy bills at hand, you can also input your information online at Home Energy Yardstick by Energy Star to receive a topline home energy analysis.

  • Improve comfort while staying efficient: Up to 72 trillion allergens find their way into your home every day. Not only can dirty air make your family less comfortable, but it can also pose problems for how efficiently your systems continue to work. By installing a reliable indoor air cleaner, you can remove irritating particles such as dust, pollen, pet hair and dander, dust mites, mildew, lint, fungus and bacteria, which can slow the performance of your overall heating and cooling system. For example, an energy-efficient model, such as the AccuClean from American Standard Heating & Air Conditioning, an Ingersoll Rand brand, removes up to 99.98 percent of allergens down to 0.1 micron in size, making it 100 times more effective than a standard one-inch throwaway filter.

  • Adjust your thermostat: Another way to manage home energy is to simply adjust your thermostat. For every degree you raise your thermostat in the summer, you can cut cooling costs up to 6 percent, and for every degree you lower your thermostat in the winter, you can save about 3 percent. (Potential energy savings may vary, depending on such factors as your lifestyle, system settings, equipment maintenance, local climate, equipment and duct systems.) A programmable thermostat is loaded with a multitude of built-in sensors, reminders and alerts, and it allows you to program as many as four energy-saving schedules for every day of the week, to reduce energy consumption up to 15 percent.

  • Manage energy efficiency from anywhere, even while you’re away: For the ultimate in convenience, you can even monitor and adjust your home’s ecosystem from anywhere using most Web-enabled mobile devices. For instance, Nexia Home Intelligence, also a brand of Ingersoll Rand, combines wireless technology with simple Web access. You can use it to reduce energy consumption and costs by putting your heating and cooling system into an energy savings mode while you’re not there, plus control numerous other functions to manage the comfort, safety and efficiency of your home while you’re away.

  • Choose energy efficient products: If you’re looking for new energy-efficient products such as doors, heating and cooling systems and windows, ensure they are labeled with the Energy Star designation. The EPA’s Energy Star program was created to reduce the nation’s energy consumption. For more information on reducing energy use, visit www.epa.gov/greenhomes/ReduceEnergy.htm.


By taking steps to give your home an energy makeover, you’ll not only keep your family more comfortable, but you’ll also save money by streamlining home operations – so you can spend more time enjoying the seasons.

Kitchen remodeling 101: Making the space your own



Here are five creative, thrifty and helpful tips from Summer Baltzer, interior designer and former host of HGTV’s Design on a Dime, to send you well on your way to a kitchen design that not only looks great in the long term, but also reflects you.

Tip one: Know your style.

Design your kitchen around colors and objects that make you feel great. This is the room you probably spend most of your time in whether you’re cooking, entertaining or just doing homework with the kids. Loving the look is important. Make your design meaningful and something you’ll want to see every day. Look for inspiration from a pottery collection, a piece of artwork, or even the food you love.

Tip two: Get creative on a budget.

A great way to save money is to repurpose found items for your accents where you can. Frame pictures from favorite recipes, use inexpensive flower pots or mason jars to store utensils and cutlery, repurpose an old console table as a center island. You might even want to spray-paint the old dining table and give it a new life. Look for salvaged floors, pallets or pottery to create new furniture pieces or accents. This approach not only saves you money, but also makes your kitchen enviably unique.

Tip three: Develop your vision.

Keep your ideas on track by collecting loose drawings; they can become your own personal design board. They don’t have to be professional or even exactly like the finished product – just enough to make your point and start to envision what the finished product will look like. Seeing your ideas come together before taking a sledgehammer to your old tile not only gets you excited about your project, but can also save you from making design decisions that don’t fit your vision. If you’re hiring a professional, plans for the kitchen should be included in the cost. Make sure that they fit your vision and that you’re getting everything you need from your new space before demo and installation begin.

Tip four: Create timeless beauty.

When focusing on your large installed items, don’t just concentrate on what’s popular now. Instead, take a look at the items that have been relevant for more than a decade. If you’re designing a kitchen for a home you plan on living in for the next 20 years, by all means, go crazy and embrace colors and patterns that make you happy. But if you don’t plan on staying there forever, give yourself room to grow. Look to classic color combinations like white, black or gray cabinets; stone countertops with white or walnut cabinets; or butcher block with just about any cabinet color you can imagine. Wilsonart’s Calcutta Marble and new Old Mill Oak and Truss Maple are affordable laminate options that look real but are made from recycled wood fibers. They have finishes that withstand daily wear and tear, and are a fraction of the cost of traditional stone countertops. Look to lasting styles and materials, rather than what’s simply trendy at the moment, to create a timelessly beautiful kitchen. Learn more at www.wilsonart.com.

Tip five: Start with simplicity.

Keep the lines of your installed, more permanent items clean and simple. To add style and versatility, get creative with your accents. For instance, try going Shaker with your cabinets. Traditional cup pull handles will move them in a more classic and traditional direction and linear pull handles will take you down a modern road. By keeping your appliances and more permanent items simple, and using your accents to create a sense of style, you’ll open up tons of design doors for yourself, creating a kitchen that transitions easily, keeps up with your style and has staying power.

With this timeless know-how and creative inspiration, you’re ready to create a kitchen you’ll love both now and a decade down the road.

Ponds & waterfalls – water living


We can’t live without it. Water is the very source of life. That is why we are so strongly attracted to it. Maybe because we cannot live more than a few days without water, we want to have it close by. Most people would like to live next to it, whether in the form of a stream, river, lake or ocean.

Unfortunately, there aren’t enough bodies of water to go around for everybody, even for those who can afford living near them. The price of beach front property reflects the fact that it is scarce and in high demand. Even for those fortunate enough to own such property, there is a major trade-off and a good share of disadvantages.

Who wouldn’t like to have a water garden on their property, or a flower and vegetable garden, or even a wonderful orchard with oranges, apples, plums, peaches, lemons and avocado? Maybe a corral with a horse or two. So much for thinking about a garden with most ocean front property. You’re lucky if you have enough land to be able to walk between the houses!

We can now see why water gardens with waterfalls and ponds are becoming so popular. If you can’t take your home to the water, just bring the water to your home!

Why is it so peaceful, yet still invigorating at the beach? Is it the sight or sound of the ocean waves, the smell of the salt water? You may be surprised to discover that the actual feelings of peace, relaxation, stress, and anxiety release has little to do with the sight or sounds or smell of the ocean. Extensive research has shown that moving water puts additional negative ions into the air. Breathing this supercharged air has an extremely positive effect on our body. The ocean creates the greatest quantity of negative ions of all moving water.

Therefore, it has the most beneficial effects on our moods while drawing the largest crowds. For the same reason, waterfalls create such pleasant and relaxing environments. You have probably noticed how wonderful the air smells and feels just prior to, during and after a rain storm – again negative ions.

For a fraction of the cost of ocean or lake front living, almost every homeowner can reap the benefits of a waterfall and pond in their back yard. Ranging from an atmosphere of intimacy to one of grandeur, it’s whatever the budget can endure. Virtually everyone can own a portion of the best that nature has to offer. There are as many different varieties, shapes and sizes of waterfalls as there are rocks. Consequently, with a pond design of your choice, no two ever look the same and they provide a natural individuality for each homeowner.

Waterfalls can cascade into koi ponds, a stream, swimming pool, spa or simply spill through a rock-covered grate into a subterranean catch basin, from where it gets pumped and re-circulated. This type of backyard pond design is great for someone with small children, since it eliminates the need for a hazardous pond. It’s also perfect for someone with a very small yard or for those looking for little or no maintenance.

The soil removed in excavating a pond can be utilized to create a mound or berm to provide elevation for a cascade. A waterfall can pass through terraced retaining walls on its way down to a pond at ground level. By passing through rather than over the top, it will give the impression that the waterfall always existed and the retaining wall was constructed later on either side.

A backyard pond not only provides allure and charm to your property, it is as though you own a part of nature. The pond’s occupants provide a never-ending and forever changing source of entertainment and education. From the antics of a pair of acrobatic turtles to the male crayfish, claws clashing and gnashing over the prize of a fair lady, each day becomes a new chapter in the life of your pond. Are you the type that might say, “I don’t ever want to own fish!” and then eventually end up with several, even giving them all names? I’ve seen this happen over and over again, because pond owners become personally attached to the inhabitants of their water garden pond as if they were family members or pets.

At night a well-designed backyard pond becomes a whole new adventure, especially if you have built-in lighting. The cascading, splashing water against the lights create an amazing symphony of light and sound. Dancing light reflected on the surrounding rocks, plants, fence or house becomes hypnotic and mesmerizing. Most people only experience this atmosphere at expensive hotels or resorts. Now you can own the same experience in your own back yard..

If you are considering a water feature as an investment in your property, may I add several words of caution. Down the road, these may save you the heartache, sorrow and aggravation of dirty, murky, green, smelly water, sick or dead fish, leaky pond or waterfall, or high maintenance and energy costs.

1. Take your time.

2. Plan it out.

3. Research the subject thoroughly.

4. Seek out an expert in the field. A few years of experience are important.

5. Make sure the expert is licensed and bonded.

6. Accept only concrete and steel rebar construction. Never use a pond liner. Proponents of pond liners will claim there is a 40 or 50 year warranty on the liner. Not true! It’s only true if you leave the pond liner in the box. It would work only in a perfect world – where there were no gophers, squirrels, chipmunks, rats, tree roots, sharp rocks, pebbles or other such objects. Once you have a hole, it is impossible to find. Even a pin-hole will allow 5 gallons of water per day to pass.

7. Do not use submersible pumps. They are inefficient and expensive to operate and are difficult to maintain. Debris collects in them, requiring frequent cleaning. Submersibles can leak oil that may kill the pond inhabitants or, worse, short out and create a shock hazard.

8. Use a biological filter to help eliminate nitrates and nitrites from the water. (I recommend a pressurized back-flushable filter, not a gravity flow.)

9. Install a skimmer for removal of surface leaves and debris.

10. Use two anti-vortex drains on the bottom of the pond for suction line to prevent whirlpools and fish or turtles from being sucked into the drain.

11. Make sure your pond is a minimum of three feet deep to regulate water temperature in the summer months and to discourage herons and raccoons from dining out.

12. Build caves and ledges for turtles and fish to hide in.

13. Install an ultraviolet light to kill bacteria that cause smells and pathogens that kill fish and algae spores that create green water.

14. Do not use mechanical auto-fill valves; only use an electronic one like the AquaFill System. It does not stick or malfunction – thus preventing pond overflow and dead fish from chlorine poisoning.

15. Use plenty of water plants in the falls and pond. They provide extra oxygen and food for the fish and act as natural filters, utilizing the nitrate nitrogen in the water.

16. Use a high-efficiency, out-of-pond pump that conserves energy. By operating it 24 hours a day, a high-quality biofilter (such as one made by Aqua Ultra Violet) will receive a continuous flow of oxygenated water, which the anaerobic bacteria require in order to live. The bacteria are essential for breaking down hydrocarbons, nitrates and nitrites in the water.

17. Make sure you have proper drainage around the pond and waterfall so run-off from the rain storms does not enter the pond and contaminate it with silt, fertilizer, pesticides, etc.

18. Learn basic pond maintenance. (An ounce of prevention is worth a [pond] cure.)

When I say “everyone should have a waterfall,” I’m not simply promoting my life’s passion. Considering how much enjoyment a water garden and waterfall can give you, dollar for dollar, cubic foot for cubic foot, hour for hour, it is your best buy for many long, healthy and happy years to come.

From my experience with hundreds of pond owners in San Diego, I have discovered that the money spent on a well designed garden pond and waterfall will surely bring you more long term pleasure and joy than anything you ever purchased in your life.

Living is not truly living without water.

 by: Douglas Hoover 

http://www.articlecity.com/articles/home_improvement/article_7218.shtml 

Top technical accessories for your car


Whether it’s traveling during the holidays or commuting to and from work, Americans spend a lot of time in their vehicles – almost 540 hours a year according to a Roland Berger study. With so much time spent behind the wheel, it’s worth it to invest in the top gadgets to make your ride safer and more comfortable.

These accessories provide you with some of the latest safety features and allow you to bring all the comforts of home along with you on your ride.

Safety first:

Back-up cameras are a simple installation that can save lives. About 34 percent of all non-traffic car fatalities for children under five are caused by back-overs, according to KidsandCars.org. PEAK Automotive Back-Up Camera Systems allow you to place the viewer on your windshield or install it into your rear-view mirror. Then install the water-resistant camera to the rear license plate of your car, truck, RV or camper so you can see what is behind your vehicle as you back up.

Convenient help:

A dead battery at any time of the year can be a real downer, especially if you are unable to find a person willing to give you a jump start. PEAK Jump-Starters allow you to restart car batteries without the need of another car. This rechargeable and portable system features a low charge alert that sounds when the battery life is getting low. Just plug the system into the wall or your car’s cigarette lighter outlet to recharge. Keep it in your car so it’s always available in time of emergency.

A handy charging station:

Cellphones, tablets, video games and even laptop computers are all portable and popular accessories for passengers when traveling, but all require charging stations. And everyone knows that road trips with dead video game or e-reader batteries are not fun. The PEAK 150 Watt Cup Inverter is perfect for recharging electronics in the car. It fits into the cup holder, so you won’t have bulky items in the front of the car, and two AC outlets and one USB plug-in are available for charging multiple electronics at once.

Wi-Fi on the road:

Once you have the mobile charger, put your electronics to use with a Mobile Internet Router. Passengers can surf the Internet, check emails and play on-line games with a simple plug-in. The coverage area is wide enough to supply a connection to the entire family.

Tailgating supplies:

If you’re driving over to the stadium for a picnic before the game, or are in the middle of the mountains and ready for a bite to eat while admiring the scenery, chilling drinks or warming up meals at the drop of a dime is a real benefit. The PEAK 12 volt Can Cooler/Warmer is just the gadget to help you enjoy your tailgating party with minimal fuss. It cools soda cans and sandwiches, or heats up leftovers like soup and chili, and plugs directly into the car’s cigarette lighter socket for your meal on-the-go.

These and other products can be found nationwide at retailers such as AutoZone, Advance Auto Parts, Pep Boys, and O’Reilly Auto Parts. A lot of time is spent on the road, and these accessories can make your trip safer and more comfortable. Visit PeakAuto.com for more information on the products you need to power your life.

Cook up a whole new look for your kitchen


We spend hours in the kitchen socializing, keeping the family organized, and, of course, cooking and eating. As the center of the home’s activities, the kitchen should be as fun as it is functional. With just a few supplies and a free weekend, you can cook up a whole new look for your kitchen. 

 
Warm up the walls
Changing the color and texture of walls is an easy way to add some spice to any kitchen. Paint the walls a deep red or blue for a dramatic look, or make your space feel light and airy with a coat of sunny yellow or subtle taupe. Feel free to experiment with decorative painting techniques, such as stripes, geometric patterns or textured finishes.

 
After you’ve freshened up the color and texture of your walls, express your personal style through a few new accessories. An antique clock, a picture collage or shelves with colorful canisters are decorative, as well as functional.

 
Change up the cabinets
Liven up basic cupboards by switching the hardware – it’s a simple way to give your existing cabinets a whole new look. Use crystal knobs for a vintage touch, or add stainless steel handles for an ultra-modern, sleek appearance.
And, don’t forget about the functional aspect of your cupboards – install shelf liner to ensure cabinets stay clean and well-maintained. Shelf liner protects cabinet shelves and drawers from wear and tear, prevents scratches and keeps spills or drips from damp dishes from causing damage to surfaces.

 
“I recommend using shelf liner in any kitchen renovation project,” says Danny Lipford, home improvement expert and host of the Today’s Homeowner with Danny Lipford television series. “It’s simple for any homeowner to install and can be easily cleaned with a damp cloth or thrown in the washing machine. My favorite is Easy Liner from Duck brand – it offers an array of non-adhesive and adhesive shelf liners that are stylish and practical for use in any kitchen.”

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The most popular variety, Smooth Top Easy Liner has a smooth surface that catches messes and spills as they happen, making clean-up a breeze, while the non-slip, gripped underside keeps the liner firmly in place.

 
Transform your table
Create a delightful dining space with a few changes to your kitchen table. Use a staple gun and a bright fabric to recover your chairs, making items you already own look like new additions to your home. You can even create a new tablecloth using the leftover fabric. Then, design your very own placemats using Smooth Top Easy Liner for a decorative touch that’s easy to wipe clean as well as replace. 

 
Make sure to add a chic centerpiece – a vase of fresh flowers, a glass bowl filled with fruit or a collection of candlesticks – to transform your existing tabletop and create a focal point for guests as they enter the room.

 
Brighten the basics
Adding color from floor to ceiling is a great way to improve the overall feel of your kitchen. To start, try adding accessories to areas of your kitchen that feel blase. Bring in color at the highest points of the kitchen by adding faux plants or interesting knickknacks to the space above cabinets. Then, look low and consider the floor. Placing a colorful area rug beneath the table can bring additional interest and color to the kitchen, while also protecting the floor against scratches.

 
Window treatments are another effective, eye-catching way to make any kitchen pop, whether you’re adding new valances, cornices or even long panels. When choosing fabrics, make a statement with bright colors, or choose an unexpected, bold pattern for a contemporary approach. Sophisticated stripes, pretty plaids or fun florals are also a nice choice for kitchens. Follow these tips to make your kitchen as chic as your dinner is delicious – you’ll create a flavorful design that will look good enough to eat.