Engage Kid’s Love Of Nature

Engage kids’ love of nature through bird feeding, ditch their devices and get them outdoor

A mother and child hanging birdfeeder

l feeder, and its open shape makes it quick and easy for kids to fill with any type of feed and clean. Giving children the task of filling and cleaning feeders can teach them responsibility and basic life skills, plus they’ll take ownership of the feeder and nurturing backyard birds.

Is it difficult to pry your kids away from their electronic devices to get them outdoors? From tots to teens, today’s kids love their electronics. After all, where could you find anything to compete with the bright sights and sounds of their favorite video game? The answer may be no farther than your backyard and the brightly colored songbirds visiting during warm weather.

Interacting with nature helps kids in many ways, from helping them understand science concepts and care for the environment, to lifelong physical and mental health benefits. One of the easiest, most enjoyable ways for children to interact with nature is to feed wild birds right in their backyard.

“Feeding birds, planting gardens, anything you do with children that’s nature-oriented helps them understand their connection to the natural world,” says Elaine Cole, president of Cole’s Wild Bird Products. Cole learned her own love of wild birds by feeding them with her father, company founder and birding expert, Richard Cole.

Cole’s offers some tips to help engage kids’ love of nature through bird feeding:

Get kids off the couch, ditch their devices and introduce them to their backyard! Tell children what type of location is best for a birdfeeder, then let them hunt for the spot. Choose a location where a feeder can be seen from indoors (so they can enjoy watching their feathered friends), yet is safe from predators. Let math and critical thinking skills come into play by measuring the distance from the door to the feeder and from the feeder to the nearest shrubs where predators could hide and trees where birds can shelter.

Take the opportunity to teach the importance of good nutrition – for the child and the bird! Explain how good nutrition helps living creatures stay healthy and energized. Help them understand the nutritional value of food they eat by explaining what birds like to eat and how birds need a healthy diet of nutritious food options like Cole’s Wild Bird Feed to support their health and well-being.

Help kids understand wild birds have food preferences just as they do. Talk about how some birds like to eat bugs, grubs and worms, while others prefer berries and some like seed.

The feeder you choose will influence the kind of birds that visit. Many types of birds will visit a bowfeeder, and its open shape makes it quick and easy for kids to fill with any type of feed and clean. Giving children the task of filling and cleaning feeders can teach them responsibility and basic life skills, plus they’ll take ownership of the feeder and nurturing backyard birds.

You can also use bird feeding to help kids understand concepts of finance, including spending their money wisely. Try an experiment with them; buy a bag of cheap birdseed, fill the feeder and watch what happens. Fewer birds will visit and a mound of waste – the filler in cheap feed – will pile up under the feeder. Then replace the cheap feed with a Cole’s seed mix and observe results. Kids will see plenty more birds visiting and less waste under the feeder. The experiment can help teach kids that not everything low priced is a good deal.Ultimately, feeding wild birds should be fun for families. Here are some types of bird feed that should appeal to children’s interests:

Suet – While today’s high-energy suet comes in different, convenient forms, like Cole’s Nutberry Suet, and Suet Kibbles, kids will love the idea of serving up a big hunk of fat in the form of a Suet cake. Kids can stick it directly on tree bark and branches, which they’ll find fun!

Seeds – Many songbirds prefer seeds. Serving high-quality seed, like black oil sunflower, can help attract songbirds. Learn more about seed mixes and birds who love them.

Dried mealworms – The early bird may get the worm, but birds, such as bluebirds, flickers and nuthatches, prefer a tasty treat like dried mealworms. Kids will get a kick out of filling up feeders with something yucky-looking for their feathered friends.

“My dad got me hooked on bird feeding by challenging me to identify as many birds at the feeder as possible,” Cole says. “I did the same thing with my kids. My dad recently gave my 10-year-old daughter a birding journal. She loves to identify all the birds she knows and anything interesting about them.

“Kids taking part in attracting birds to their backyard is great fun; they’ll love getting out of the house, taking charge of their new feathered friends and they’ll learn a lot of good lessons through the process.” (BPT)


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Home Inspection Solutions has been providing Home Inspection, Mold Test, Foundation Inspection, Grading & Drainage Inspection, Roof Covering Materials Inspection, Roof Structure & Attic Inspection, Walls (interior & Exterior) Inspection, Ceilings & Floors Inspection, Doors Inspection and Windows Inspection to home buyers and home sellers in the following areas of Dallas and Fort Worth since 2011.

 

 

Check out this year’s top 3 trends in vegetable gardening

 

tomato plant with fruits

 

Whether you go to a restaurant or stay home and dine in, you want what you eat to be fresh and full of flavor. This movement toward tasty, locally grown food is illustrated by the rise in farmers markets, food subscription boxes, and a renewed joy in growing vegetables at home. As the spring gardening season gets underway, here are three of the top trends you can take advantage of in your own vegetable garden that can help you reach a new foodie level in 2017.

 

Trend number 1: Garden size doesn’t matter

 

You don’t need massive outdoor space to enjoy the benefits of growing your own food. In fact, today’s garden veggies make it possible to achieve that fresh-from-the-garden taste even if you only have a small sunny patch or balcony. With Take 2 Tomato Combos from Burpee you combine a delicious slicer tomato with a sweet cherry in one container. They ripen at the same time for a steady supply of great-tasting tomatoes, like BushSteak and Baby Boomer. Next to your hardworking container, plant complementary herbs, peppers or lettuces, which also grow well in smaller spaces.

 

Trend number 2: Explore fresh, unique tastes

 

Unleash your inner gourmet by selecting vegetables for your garden that create a unique flavor story or experience. Cupcake Summer Squash offers a new twist on a familiar favorite. Its edible zucchini-like skin is shaped perfectly for savory stuffing. The presentation is sure to impress dinner guests, while it’s petite enough to enjoy solo. Continue to experiment and be on the lookout for other unique vegetables and herbs with color, texture and global flavor. Your garden can be a culinary adventure.

 

Trend number 3: Grow something amazing

 

We’re all a bit of a showoff when it comes to growing vegetables. The satisfaction of success is even sweeter when you can impress your friends and neighbors – either over the garden wall or on social media. So why not grow the biggest, the earliest or the best? SteakHouse is one of the world’s largest beefsteaks. This tomato routinely tips the scale at three pounds or more. Loaded with tomato flavor and fragrance, it will get them saying, “Wow!” and get you excited for dinnertime. Up your social currency with other amazing selections like the season’s first tomato, the best herbs for recipes all season, high-yielding peppers and more.

 

Like many other aspects of your life, the 2017 trends in vegetable gardening are all about maximizing your time, space and abilities to create an experience that’s uniquely yours. Use these ideas in your garden as your next step to fresh and flavorful food.

 

Visit BurpeeHomeGardens.com to start your shopping list of Foodie Fresh, Space Savers, and Amazing Veggies vegetables and herbs. Get timely garden tips and recipes from Burpee experts in their weekly blog. -(BPT)

 

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Improvements That Can Help Sell Your Home

5 Green Home Improvements That Can Help Sell Your Home For More

Demand remains high for energy-efficient, eco-friendly home features, according to a survey by the National Association of Home Builders. In fact, the majority of builders now put energy-efficient windows, heating and cooling systems, thermostats and appliances in their construction, the survey says. If you’re selling your home and hope to compete with new construction – as well as set your house apart from other resales – making green improvements could significantly pay off.

“Updating your home with green features can attract more buyers and even increase your home’s sale price,” says Geoff Lewis, president of RE/MAX, LLC. “Buyers are not only looking for cosmetic upgrades, they also want improvements that will help save them money for as long as they live in the home.”

Some green projects you can easily accomplish yourself, like replacing less efficient light bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs or LEDs throughout the house, or installing a programmable thermostat. Other improvements may require professional expertise but can result in even bigger payoffs.

Here are five popular green home improvements that could help boost your home’s resale value, and save you money until you’re ready to sell:

Windows: Replacing older windows with ENERGY STAR-rated high-efficiency windows could lower your annual energy bill as much as 12 percent, according to the United States Department of Energy. What’s more, ENERGY STAR-rated windows may qualify for a tax credit of 10 percent off the cost of the windows.

Insulation: Most homes in the U.S. don’t have enough insulation, according to energystar.gov. Adding insulation and sealing air leaks could reduce annual energy bills by 10 percent. At the time of resale, adding fiberglass insulation in the attic could recoup 107 percent of the cost, according to Remodeling Magazine’s Cost vs. Value report.

Front door: It’s a key part of your home’s curb appeal and the last exterior feature homebuyers see before entering your house. However, a front door needs to do more than look good. Replacing an older, wooden door with an energy-efficient, secure steel door recoups more than 90 percent of its cost when you sell your home, according to the Cost vs. Value report.

Landscaping: With warm weather approaching, it’s a great time to think about landscaping that has green value as well as cosmetic appeal. Adding trees in addition to flowers can provide shade that will help keep the home’s interior cooler in summer months. In fact, according to the National Association of Landscape professionals, planting five shade trees can return up to 100 percent of the project cost when you sell your home.

Water: Most water heaters last about 10 years, so if your home is older, a new water heater could be a big selling point. A tankless water heater could be even more appealing; because they only heat water when it’s needed, rather than consume energy to hold gallons of water at a set temperature for hours, tankless water heaters use far less energy. ENERGY STAR says a tankless water heater could save you up to $1,800 over its usable life – which is twice as long as the lifespan of traditional tank water heaters.

When you’re thinking of selling your home, you’ll probably invest a lot of time and energy into staging. Consider saving some additional budget for energy-efficient home improvements that may help boost your home’s value. A knowledgeable real estate agent can advise you on which green home improvements can get you the biggest return on investment. Visit www.remax.com to find a real estate agent near you. -(BPT)

 

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Big-impact ideas for small patio spaces

 

Do you have a small patio? Do you think you can’t do much with the space due to its size? There’s probably a lot more potential than you think.

From the influx of urban dwellers, empty-nesters in transition and even the tiny-home movement, the trend of downsizing continues across the United States. Contrary to popular belief, you can have an impressive patio even if you have a smaller abode.

Here are a few design ideas to help bring your limited patio area to life while maximizing the space:

Rugs

Add visual interest under foot with a patterned rug. A rug properly placed under a table can break up a smaller floor, giving the illusion of more square footage. Colored rugs are readily available in a variety of designs. Pick your favorite striped, chevron or paisley variety and see what a difference it makes.

Water features

The natural elegance, gentle gurgle and sparkle of a flowing water feature can add a sense of peacefulness to any patio. For smaller spaces, easily turn a decorative waterproof container or planter into a beckoning water feature by simply adding water and a smartpond Low Water Shut-off Fountain Pump. This smart pump automatically shuts off if the water becomes too low, preventing pump burnout. It’s also a great replacement pump option to revive a decorative premade fountain that has quit working. Learn more at www.smart-pond.com.

Think vertical

To get the most out of a limited space, think upward instead of outward. Hanging plants are a classic option, but vertical wall gardens are a top trend that’s sure to be a conversation starter. You’ll enjoy plenty of greenery but also open floor space for your furniture, water feature and entertaining to ensure a welcoming area for hosting summer parties.

Built-ins

To get the most out of every inch of your petite patio, look for furniture and features that multitask to help save space while maximizing functionality. An easy solution is to opt for a table that opens to become a cooler for beverages or a bench to hold blankets and other patio extras. Just remember to keep scale in mind so you don’t overwhelm your space with massive furniture.

Mixing materials

Matching is out for 2017, so forget about perfectly paired combos and explore a variety of decor. A great way to try this trend is to add visual interest by experimenting with different materials. Inject your own personality through various finishes. One example: consider setting black resin pots next to a handwoven wicker for an eclectic blend of textures.

Vibrant colors

Don’t make the mistake of thinking a small space must have muted colors. Vibrant hues inject energy and style, often making a small patio feel larger than it is in real life. From ocean blues to ferocious fuchsia, an accent pillow here and a throw blanket there will transform your space dramatically.

From DIY water features to vertical gardens, a small patio doesn’t have to be short on style or functionality. Let these top trends guide you to create a space you’ll enjoy all year long. -(BPT)

 

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5 spring cleaning projects to take on immediately

Home Inspector Doing VacuumSpring cleaning is a seasonal tradition. You’ve been setting house projects aside all winter, and now’s the perfect time to make sure the warm weather season starts with a cleaner, happier home. So open the windows, turn on your favorite song, and start your spring cleaning with these five to-dos.

 

Clear the clutter. Removing excess clutter is a great cleaning tip any time of year, but finishing this task when the weather was colder may not have been as tempting. Tackle your home room by room and analyze the items you find. If you haven’t used something in a year or more, it’s time for it to go.

 

Freshen up the floors. After a season of tracking dirt, snow and mud, your floors could use some attention. If the damage is minor, a thorough vacuuming will do the trick. If the wear and tear is more significant, you may need a more comprehensive solution. If you have carpet, renting a carpet cleaner allows you to tackle the job yourself, saving you money over hiring a professional or purchasing your own machine. And if you have hardwood or tile floors, rent a floor buffer. It’s the easiest way to give your floors back their shine in no time.

 

Pretty it up with paint. The windows are open and a gentle breeze is moving air through your home. This is the right time to cross that painting project off your to-do list. Small painting projects can be handled with a single can and a brush, but for your larger painting endeavors, rent a paint sprayer. It’s the best way to get an even, professional coat in a short amount of time so you’re finished before the breeze dies down.

 

Better the baseboards. Baseboards provide a stylish accent to any room in your home, but when they’re dirty, they stand out for all the wrong reasons. To clean them, start by vacuuming your baseboards and scrubbing each with a mixture of dish soap and warm water. Dry each with a towel before wiping them with a dryer sheet. This last step will help repel dust from landing on your baseboards. Plus, it’ll give your home a fresh scent.

 

Vet the vents. One of the joys of warmer weather is the increase in fresh air that flows through your home – as long as that air is clean. To improve the air quality in your home immediately, clean the vents. Dirt, hair, pollen and other debris collect there, so vacuum the vents out to remove particles from your air for good. Rent a wearable vacuum and you’ll make your reaching points easier without the complications of lugging a traditional model.

 

Apply some care and focus to these five spring cleaning tasks, and you’ll be happier with your home in the pleasant months ahead. To learn more about renting the tools you need for your spring cleaning projects, visit RentalHQ.com. -(BPT)

 

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Gather the family in the kitchen for a magical Mother’s Day

home made pizza gourmet

She’s your biggest fan and the one you call whenever you need advice.Moms should be celebrated every day of the year, but there’s no better time to show her you care than on Mother’s Day!

This year, rather than going with the tried-and-true gift of flowers and chocolate, surprise Mom with a day of activities she’s sure to remember for years to come. Esteemed celebrity chef and Iron Chef America judge Donatella Arpaia says to make Mom smile, turn to the kitchen for food, fun and a dash of love, and follow these five tips to create new Mother’s Day traditions:

 

Tip 1: Find activities for the entire family to actively partake in.

“Start Mother’s Day off right with breakfast in bed,” says Arpaia. “Try something new this year that the entire family can indulge in together – my ‘Green Eggs & Ham Breakfast Pizza’! It’s absolutely delish and you can personalize it to reflect Mom’s favorite ingredients. Also, don’t forget her favorite coffee and fresh squeezed orange juice. It’s all about the details for Mom’s special day!”

 

Tip 2: Create divine dishes by stocking up on delicious ingredients and storing them correctly.

“If you have little helpers assisting with the preparation of Mom’s breakfast pizza, assemble ingredients ahead of time and store them in the LG InstaView Refrigerator’s Door-in-Door compartment, which makes them easily accessible without having to open the entire fridge,” says Arpaia. “You can also knock twice on the glass InstaView panel and it lights up, letting you see what’s inside without having to open the door and helping you keep your prized cooking ingredients front and center. Go the extra mile and write simple recipe instructions on Post-it notes for your little ones. This will make them feel so proud knowing that they made breakfast themselves … with a little help from Dad.”

 

Tip 3: Make sure your kitchen is well-equipped.

The right tools – including your appliances – not only make cooking more fun, but also allow novice chefs to cook like professionals in their own homes. “Make technology work hardest for you, even in the kitchen,” says Arpaia. “Think like a chef and choose appliances that make every meal unforgettable. I am loving LG’s ProBake Convection ovens because the heating element can be found on the back wall versus the bottom, guaranteeing even cooking on every rack, every time. Your breakfast pizza will definitely come out crispy and delicious when baked using ProBake Convection technology!”

 

Tip 4: Relax, enjoy a slice and give the gift of time.

“As a busy, working mom, what I treasure most is a day without cooking and cleaning – and simply being present with my family,” says Arpaia. “After making breakfast pizza for Mom, give her the gift of your time and engage in your favorite family activity. Keep technology at bay – unless it’s in the kitchen working for you! Go for a hike, play a board game, relax and enjoy! It’s essential to slow down and savor those sweet moments with your whole family.”

 

Tip 5: Give her a gourmet experience with a celebrity chef-approved recipe.

To really wow Mom, Arpaia developed a Green Eggs & Ham Breakfast Pizza recipe you can bake at home. Given her success with the Prova Pizzabar restaurant in NYC, Mom is certain to be impressed.

 

Donatella Arpaia’s Green Eggs & Ham Breakfast Pizza

Ingredients:

 

1 pound pizza dough, at room temperature (store bought or recipe for dough attached)
1/4 cup prepared pesto
1 cup (8 ounces) shredded mozzarella cheese
1 cup cherry tomatoes halved, tossed with extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper
1/4 cup thick chunks of ham
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 eggs
Parmesan cheese, to taste

 

Directions:

About 30 minutes before baking the pizza, preheat the oven to 500 F and place a large, rimless baking sheet in the lower third of the oven; for the most even cooking and optimal heat distribution, use an LG ProBake Convection oven. Place a large sheet of parchment paper on a work surface and dust the parchment lightly with flour.

Stretch dough using hands or rolling pin. Pierce the dough firmly all over with the tines of a fork.

Slide pizza with parchment onto a baking sheet, then slide it onto the hot rimless baking sheet in the oven.

When the dough is slightly puffed, at about 7 minutes, take out of oven and spread on pesto mixture, top with mozzarella cheese, cherry tomatoes, Parmesan and ham. Be sure to keep your toppings stored in a secure compartment separate from the main refrigerator, like the LG InstaView refrigerator’s Door-in-Door; this provides easy access to your ingredients without having to open the entire fridge and ensures they stay fresh while prepping. Place back in oven for another 3 minutes until cheese is melted. Slide pizza out, crack four eggs (one on each quarter of pizza), place back in oven and broil for about 4 minutes or until egg cooks to over easy (LG ProBake Convection will ensure consistent heating on the top and bottom of the pizza pan).

Grab the edge of the parchment and transfer the pizza from the oven to a cutting board, again using a rimless baking sheet or back of a rimmed pan to facilitate moving it. Drop ricotta cheese by rounded teaspoonful over top, cut and serve. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

 

Donatella’s Homemade Pizza Dough

 

Ingredients:

2 3/4 teaspoons fresh yeast or active dry yeast
4 1/8 cups fresh water
2 3/4 tablespoons sea salt
12 1/3 cups type “00” flour
Olive oil

 

Directions:

Sprinkle the yeast over the water and let stand until the yeast is creamy, about 1 minute. Stir until the yeast dissolves. In a large bowl, add the sea salt, yeast mixture and the flour; stir until a soft dough forms.

Transfer the dough ball to a lightly floured surface and knead, adding more flour if necessary, until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Lightly coat another large bowl with olive oil. Place the dough in the bowl,turning it to oil the top. Cover with plastic wrap and store someplace warm; let rise until it doubles in size, about 6 hours.

Shape the dough into a 20-ounce ball. Place the ball on a nonstick surface or parchment paper, and then cover with plastic wrap, allowing room for the dough to expand. Let the dough rise until doubled, 8-12 hours.

Rest the dough in the LG InstaView refrigerator’s Door-in-Door compartment for 2-4 hours. Knock twice on the refrigerator’s glass panel to keep tabs on its progress without opening the fridge door, reducing cold air loss to keep the dough fresh. Your homemade dough is now ready to be baked. Remove dough and allow it to come to temperature for 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to as high as it can go for 15 minutes. Take sheet pan tray and spread thin layer of oil all over. Put some flour on your hand and stretch dough on table, then transfer into tray and press the dough further into shape of pan. Drizzle dough with about 2 tablespoons olive oil. – (BPT)

 

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5 ways to take your summer grilling to a whole new level

Family grilling

The bright, sunny days of summer are your favorite time of year and when the season arrives, you spend much of your time outdoors. Your yard becomes your living room and you move your cooking to the grill.

Summer is grilling season and there is nowhere you’d rather be than standing in front of your favorite grill for every game day, holiday and weekend cookout. These events are when some of your best memories are made, and now is the perfect time to make this grilling season your best yet. To do just that, here are five ways you can up your grilling game in 2017.

Switch to lump charcoal. The number one reason people grill with lump charcoal is due to the enhanced wood-fire flavor it imparts. When most think of charcoal, they inherently think of it as briquettes, and miss out on the natural advantages of its alternative – lump charcoal. Lump charcoal accounts for only 7 percent of the market, but the figure is growing steadily as more grill masters recognize the improved flavor. When you grill with lump charcoal, you’ll enjoy a quick, hot burn with less ash production. Lump charcoal is also natural and widely available in an array of varieties, allowing you to find the perfect charcoal to match your menu.

Use a Smarter Starter fluid. Lighter fluid is a mainstay around the grill when you want to get cooking quickly; however, the chemical taste it leaves behind poses a serious drawback. The reason you get that petrochemical taste is because the chemical vapor from the fluid gets into the food. You can gain the benefits of a quick burn without the chemical taste by using Smarter Starter Fluid. Made from recycled restaurant cooking oil, Smarter Starter Fluid doesn’t smell like traditional petroleum-based alternatives and you’ll never have to worry about it corrupting the taste of your food. Smarter Starter Fluid, being made from recycled cooking oil, makes it safe for use around kids and pets. The result is 87 percent less greenhouse gas emissions, so you can feel as good about your environmental impact as you do your grilling. And, it’s perfectly suited for use on lump charcoal.

Customize the smoke flavor. Lump charcoal already lends itself a natural smoke flavor when compared to briquettes, but to really customize that flavor in your food, you can complement your lump charcoal with wood chips or chunks. Chips are smaller and more readily available in most stores, but they burn faster. Chunks burn slower and give you a better chance to lock in that unique smoke flavor. And once you pick a wood size, it’s time to pick a flavor. Apple, cherry, oak, mesquite and hickory are just a few of your options, so don’t be afraid to explore several. Whatever you’re planning to smoke, there’s a chip or chunk out there that offers the perfect flavor complement.

Take control of your temperature. In the hands of an experienced grill master, the uneven heat offered by charcoal grills is a benefit, not a drawback. Creating two zones on your grill will give you the strong, searing heat of the fire on one side, and indirect heat on the other side to cook your meat all the way through. To accomplish this, pour charcoal into one half of the grill – this will be your direct heat source – and leave the other half empty as your indirect heating zone. Heartier meats like steak can then be cooked for two minutes on each side in the direct zone and allowed to finish cooking in the indirect zone where you’ll lock in all of the flavor without burning your meat.

Targeting the topmost temperature. To be sure your food is cooked to perfection, a temperature thermometer is a must. Dark meat chicken or turkey should be cooked to 175 degrees, while white meat should be cooked to 165. Beef and lamb should be cooked to 130 degrees (for a rare result) all the way to 170 degrees or higher for well done. And if your menu calls for brisket, keep the meat cooking until it reaches 185-205 degrees.

You look forward to the summer grilling season all year. Now that it’s here, don’t let a single opportunity pass you by. Apply the tips above and you’ll take your time-honored pastime to a whole new level in 2017. To learn more about Smarter Starter Fluid, visit escogo.com/smarterstarterfluid. -(BPT)scvefh5y

Security in an insecure world

The year 2016 was devastating for some safe deposit box holders. In New York, thieves cut holes in the roofs of three banks and brazenly emptied hundreds of safe deposit boxes, leaving the victims’ pillaged boxes on the roof and strewn around the vault.

A stealthier thief in Florida picked safe deposit boxes in several banks, emptying the contents without damaging the box or leaving any visible sign of the theft.

These are not isolated incidents. On average, there are between 15-18 robberies or burglaries involving bank vaults every year according to the FBI. Millions of dollars of jewelry, cash, gold and family heirlooms are stolen, leaving devastated box holders dealing with unrecoverable losses.

Still the safest

Despite these occurrences, law enforcement agencies, FEMA, the American Red Cross and AARP all recommend safe deposit boxes to store valuable items, heirlooms and documents. A safe deposit box in a vault is superior to home storage even with a safe. Why? Because a residence is almost 20 times more likely to be robbed than a safe deposit box in a bank. And with rental costs starting at around $30 a year, safe deposit boxes remain one of the best values offered by a financial institution.

Required step

Today, most people who rent a safe deposit box assume the bank or a federal agency insures the contents. This is not true, and unfortunately, too many people learn this the hard way.

A standard homeowners policy provides limited coverage for some items in a box, but excludes losses from flood and other risks. They may also have a high deductible.

Specialty insurance designed to cover and protect everything inside of a safe deposit box – including cash, gold and important papers such as wills, titles, deeds, photos and digital backups, is now available. There is no deductible, and risks such as terrorist attacks, hurricanes and earthquakes are covered.

And because you do not need to identify what is stored inside the box to obtain coverage, you can maintain your privacy.

Protect yourself

Clearly, there are events that no vault or safe deposit box can protect against. However, there are steps you should take. Safe Deposit Box Insurance, LLC (SDBIC), the leader in protecting valuable assets in secure boxes, has developed a secure storage quiz on secure storage options.

So, despite there being some high-profile break-ins, a safe deposit box is still the best place to store your documents, family heirlooms and other valuables. But because nothing is 100 percent foolproof, it’s important to do your research, select the right bank and insure the contents of your box through SDBIC. (BPT)

Home Inspection Solutions has been providing Home Inspection, Mold Test, Foundation Inspection, Grading & Drainage Inspection, Roof Covering Materials Inspection, Roof Structure & Attic Inspection, Walls (interior & Exterior) Inspection, Ceilings & Floors Inspection, Doors Inspection and Windows Inspection to home buyers and home sellers in the following areas of Dallas and Fort Worth since 2011.

Where to find rebates, tax credits and rewards for energy-efficient home improvements

If you’re planning to make some home improvements this year, you’re probably thinking about energy-efficient options, knowing they can save you money in the long run. However, many eco-friendly home improvements that help lower your energy bills can also pay off right away in the form of rebates and tax credits.

Whether you’re considering installing an energy-efficient tankless water heater, putting solar panels on your house, or adding a skylight, chances are you can find a program that will put cash back in your pocket for improving your home’s energy efficiency. Here is where to look for rebates, tax credits and rewards for your energy-efficient home improvements:

Qualifying improvements

When you think of energy efficiency, insulation and appliances probably come to mind. But a number of improvements can help reduce your home’s energy consumption, and many of them qualify for tax credits, rebates and incentives from a variety of sources. The kind of improvements that can make your home more efficient and get you some cash back typically include:

* Solar energy systems (such as solar panels)

* Tankless water heaters

* Solar-powered appliances

* Energy-efficient windows and doors

* Skylights and solar-powered blinds

* Wood or wood-pellet stoves

* Home wind turbines

Manufacturer rebates and incentives

Makers of energy-efficient products and appliances often offer their own rebates to homeowners for making eco-friendly upgrades. If you’re considering an energy-efficient upgrade such as installing new windows, HVAC system or tankless water heater, be sure to ask the retailer or installer about any available manufacturer’s rebates.

For example, now through at least Feb. 15, 2017, you can get up to a $650 rebate on select tankless water heaters from Noritz. The average American household spends nearly 18 percent of its energy use on heating water, at a cost of $200-$600 per year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Tankless water heaters are more energy-efficient because they only heat water when you need it, rather than constantly consuming fuel to keep water hot in a tank. To learn more about tankless water heaters and the rebate, visit www.noritz.com.

Federal tax credits

Although many tax credits for energy-efficient home improvements expired at the end of 2016, some are still available. The federal government offers a tax credit of up to 30 percent for home solar energy systems through Dec. 31, 2019, and there’s no upper limit on the credit, according to EnergyStar.gov.

If you’ll be making energy-efficient home improvements, be sure to talk to your professional tax preparer about any credits or deductions that may be available to you from the federal government.

State-level programs

In addition to federal programs, a number of states offer their own incentives to encourage homeowners to make energy-efficient improvements. For example, Alabama allows homeowners to deduct 100 percent of the purchase price and installation costs of a wood-burning heating system. In Minnesota, homeowners can borrow up to $20,000 at 4.99 percent interest to make energy-efficient improvements such as water heaters, lighting, furnaces, air conditioners, insulation, windows, tankless water heaters and more.

You can find a searchable Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency at www.dsireusa.org.

Utility company incentives

Many utility companies also offer programs designed to help homeowners reduce energy consumption and save money. Typical programs include free LED or CFL bulbs to replace incandescent bulbs in a home, and rebates or discounts for installing energy-efficient HVAC equipment or programmable thermostats.

The best way to find out what programs your local utility offers is to check out their website or give them a call. You can also find state-specific lists of programs at www.dsireusa.org.

Energy-efficient home improvements pay off over the long-term by reducing your home’s energy consumption and utility bills. With a little bit of planning and legwork, you can also find rebates, tax credits and incentive programs that will also repay your eco-friendly investment right away. To learn more, visit Noritz.com, www.direusa.org, energy.gov, energystar.gov and irs.gov. (BPT)

Home Inspection Solutions has been providing Home Inspection, Mold Test, Foundation Inspection, Grading & Drainage Inspection, Roof Covering Materials Inspection, Roof Structure & Attic Inspection, Walls (interior & Exterior) Inspection, Ceilings & Floors Inspection, Doors Inspection and Windows Inspection to home buyers and home sellers in the following areas of Dallas and Fort Worth since 2011.

Six factors driving the cost of your new HVAC system

More than half of homes in the U.S were built before 1980, according to U.S. Census figures. With most home heating and ventilation systems lasting around 20 years, millions of American homeowners will be looking at replacing their HVAC systems this year. If you’ll be among them, understanding the factors that influence the cost of a system could help save you money in the long run.

“The cost of HVAC systems can vary widely, and most people who face replacing a system have never gone through the process before,” says Steve Hoffins, director of marketing, Luxaire, a heating and cooling systems manufacturer. “Sorting through your options can be challenging. However, finding the right system for your home can greatly influence energy efficiency, your home’s comfort and its resale value.”

Here are six factors that affect the cost of installing a new heating and cooling system, and what you should know about each:

The size of your home

You can probably guess that the larger the home, the bigger the system you’ll need to adequately heat and cool it. If a system is too small for the home, it will work harder, be less energy efficient and possibly wear out sooner.

However, too big isn’t better, either. In fact, says Hoffins, “Most homes have heating and cooling systems larger than they actually need.” A system that’s too large for a home can create uneven temperatures, poor humidity control, maintenance problems and a loss of efficiency.

Research can help you identify the size HVAC system that’s just right for your home. You can also ask your product dealer to provide a load calculation and energy analysis for your home.

Energy efficiency

Replacing an HVAC system affords you the chance to improve your home’s energy efficiency and save money over the long term. A quality, energy-efficient HVAC system may cost more than a less efficient one, but you can anticipate recouping the expense, plus additional savings over the lifetime of the system.

System type

From gas furnaces and split system air conditioners to heat pumps and packaged heating and cooling units, there are multiple ways to heat and cool your home. Most people replacing all or part of an HVAC system will opt to stick with the same type of system they’re replacing. However, you may find a different option will work better.

Different types of systems come with different product and installation costs. Before deciding what’s right for your home, research your options and talk to a qualified dealer about benefits and costs of each.

Ductwork

When you’re installing a new HVAC system, it’s important the ductwork in your home works with the type of system you’ve chosen, and that it’s been properly installed and maintained. Improper ductwork can create hot or cold spots in a home, reduce system efficiency and even allow the growth of mold from condensation. An HVAC professional can help you assess if your ductwork is in good shape before you invest in a new heating and cooling system.

Accessories

Certain types of accessories can make your new HVAC function more efficiently and provide you with greater ease of use. If your furnace is 20 years old, chances are good your thermostat is the same age, so you’ll want to replace that, too. Programmable thermostats can be reasonably priced and help enhance the energy efficiency of your HVAC system. Other accessories such as an electronic air cleaner can help enhance the air quality inside your home. You’ll want to carefully consider the accessories you’ll be adding, and factor them into the total anticipated cost of your new HVAC system.

How you’ll pay for it

Replacing an HVAC system costs thousands of dollars. If you don’t have enough cash saved to cover the cost, you may choose to finance all or part of the expense. You could use a credit card, but high interest rates mean you could end up paying thousands more in interest for your HVAC system. Manufacturer or dealer financing may be a lower-cost option. For example, select participating Luxaire contractors offer financing with appealing terms such as deferred interest, no interest with equal monthly payments and convenient monthly payment options.

To learn more about Luxaire home comfort systems, visit www.luxaire.com or follow @LuxaireHVAC on Twitter. (BPT)

Home Inspection Solutions has been providing Home Inspection, Mold Test, Foundation Inspection, Grading & Drainage Inspection, Roof Covering Materials Inspection, Roof Structure & Attic Inspection, Walls (interior & Exterior) Inspection, Ceilings & Floors Inspection, Doors Inspection and Windows Inspection to home buyers and home sellers in the following areas of Dallas and Fort Worth since 2011.