The keys to an affordable home automation system
As a concept, the connected home probably sounds like a wonderful idea to any tech enthusiast. As a reality, it also probably feels very unattainable to the average homeowner making the average salary.
While the benefits are appealing, the thought of installing technology that can tie together things like lighting, heating and air conditioning, and security sounds like an expensive proposition that can only be afforded by homeowners who live in the wealthiest neighborhoods.
Recent advancements have made the prospect of affordable, advanced home-automation functions much more realistic for the average homeowner.
The value of a home security system to improving safety is well-known; a five-year study by Rutgers University of Criminal Justice concluded that residential burglar alarm systems did decrease crime, says Robert Puric of home-security giant Honeywell. Homeowners are now using the same concept of connectivity to not only improves their life security but their lifestyles as well, and they’re doing it affordably, too.
Honeywell, for example, recently introduced a wireless controller that allows homeowners to control their lighting, locking, heating and air conditioning and (of course) security from a single touchscreen device. More than simplifying control, however, the device (called Tuxedo Touch) can help these systems work together. Tuxedo Touch can manage security, door locks, up to four video cameras, lighting, automated shades and temperature controls. It can be managed and controlled within the home through an iPhone, iPad, Android, BlackBerry, Internet TV or any other compatible wireless mobile device, using either Wi-Fi or Ethernet - and literally at a fraction of the cost of a typical home-automation system.
Additionally, home automation helps homeowners save even more money by cutting back on energy consumption. Automation systems can automatically reduce energy-using features like air-conditioning, heating, lighting or shades whenever the system’s security function is armed - which usually indicates the home is unoccupied. These types of features can have a significant impact on energy bills to save money.
This app-free, remote access provides homeowners with multiple lifestyle benefits, not the least of which is improved personal safety. Homeowners can:
* Manage their home’s energy efficiency. A home security system not only keeps the home’s contents and people safe, it can help control energy costs as well. These systems allow homeowners to remotely change or set programmable thermostats, lower or raise automated blinds, and turn lights on or off. Or, users can set the system to automatically reduce energy-using features like air conditioning, heating or lighting whenever the system’s security function is armed - which usually indicates the home is unoccupied.
* Access video cameras that function as part of a security system. These cameras enable homeowners to not only see who’s at their door, but also access real-time images or view video clips of what’s going on inside the home. With Honeywell Total Connect remote services, homeowners can receive an alert that a child has arrived safely home from school, keep an eye on their pet, or take note of when a package has arrived on their doorstep.
* Prevent home-damaging crisis. By placing environmental sensors in risk-prone areas like bathrooms, laundry rooms, kitchens, utility rooms or unfinished basements with exposed pipes, homeowners can monitor for leaks, floods or extreme temperature changes. Used in conjunction with a remote services product, environmental sensors can help homeowners catch potentially costly problems. Knowing right away that a pipe has burst or a leak has occurred can give homeowners the opportunity to repair the problems before they cause extensive damage.
In the past, separate keypads controlled security, heating and air conditioning, lighting and other systems, says Puric. Wi-Fi technology has made the concept of the ‘connected home’ a reality. Home security and communication in one has never been easier or more affordable to achieve.
Courtesy of BPT
Roof insulation makes your home more comfortable
If you are considering taking the plunge and having your home insulated, you may want to consider roof insulation. Just what is roof insulation? It is a product that lives up to its name, and could be called the hidden insulation, because many people do not even know that an outdoors form of it exists- they do research about the best kind of insulation for their home, and make a choice without becoming informed about roof insulation.
Roof insulation works silently to make your living space more comfortable. It has been tested and found to reduce the overall cost of heating your house by an astonishing 13%! This type of insulation can also help to keep your house a great deal cooler during the summer months. That can add up to a nice amount of money in a few years time, perhaps even enough to pay for your roof insulation and installation!
There are two types of roof insulation. One of these types goes on the outside of your home in the area between the roof’s shingles or tiles, and the sheathing used on top of the rafters as a place for the roofing. Normally, a type of foam board is stapled to the sheathing, and the roofing material is then installed on top of the foam board. This gives you a layer of protection from hot and cold air drifting into your home’s attic and then into your living space. Rigid fiberglass insulation can also be used for this purpose. It is a lot easier to install this type of insulation when you are also replacing your roof shingles or tiles, but it can definitely be used on a roof that is already in place or a flat roof as well.
It may only be necessary to place roof insulation in your attic space, which some contractors will call loft insulation. This is the more common type of roof insulation, and you will find that more people have heard of this alternative. Rafter vents are needed to keep any build up of moisture from getting the insulation wet. Once this has been accomplished, the space between the rafters can then be filled with insulation.
Spray foam insulation is one choice that the homeowner has for roof insulation in their attic space. A smaller attic, such as one you cannot stand up in, is a good candidate for this type of insulation. Professionals spray the foam into all the spaces, cracks, and crevices, and it does an excellent job of keeping out air.
Another type of attic roof insulation is that familiar pink colored roll that looks a bit like a huge roll of carpet. These are known as batts, and are usually made of fiberglass, but can also be made from rock wool. The pink batts are flexible, and it is easy to cut and fit them into the needed spaces. It is best to leave this type of installation to a professional, for fiberglass can be rather tricky to work with. It is easy to get some of the fibers embedded into your skin, or even in your eyes. As you might imagine, this is quite painful, and potentially dangerous to your eyesight. There is also the risk of breathing in the glass fibers.
The various types of roof insulation that are available will make your home a comfortable place to live, whether it is winter or summer.
by: Simon Shannon
How to spice up your home with modern bedroom furniture
One of the hottest new trends in interior design is the contemporary style. While you may be weary of redoing your entire home in modern decor, you can spice up your interior mood by investing in some modern bedroom furniture.
Before jumping in and scouring the Internet for modern bedroom furniture, it’s best to understand the basics of contemporary design. The focus is on sleek lines and simple shapes. Intricate details and carvings aren’t part of the contemporary style, so be sure to choose modern bedroom furniture that has simple lines, either gently curved or hard-edged. You’ll find while searching for modern bedroom furniture that the focus will be on clean, smooth, geometric shapes. Contemporary beds and chairs rarely have any fringe, trim, skirt, or tassels. Additionally, chairs and ottomans typically have exposed legs.
When it comes to color, the contemporary style calls for neutrals, black, and white. However, the contemporary style allows for punches of color to balance out the neutrality of the rest of the room. If you are looking for upholstered modern bedroom furniture, choose a fabric that’s neutral, black, or bright and bold. The contemporary style calls for fabrics that have a natural look-check out silk, linen, cotton, and wool upholstered modern bedroom furniture. You can choose any type of finish for your modern bedroom furniture, very light or very dark, depending on your preference.
Keep the following in mind when looking for modern bedroom furniture:
• Stay away from ruffles, intricate carving, floral prints, and other “extras.” Your modern bedroom furniture should be bare, basic, and bold.
• Go for modern bedroom furniture that makes a bold statement within otherwise bare, neutral interiors. Punch up a neutral-colored bedspread with bright and bold pillows, for example.
What are you waiting for? Use your newfound knowledge of the contemporary style and go searching for your modern bedroom furniture!
By: Parker Elixir
Why more people are installing saltwater pools
Hot summers send everyone scurrying into their pools to cool off, and the biggest new trend in swimming pools is salt water. First developed in Australia, saltwater pools offer several advantages over conventional chlorine and have become incredibly popular in the last decade.
People no longer have to tolerate the eye-burning, nose-curdling sting that comes from chlorine. Saltwater pools only have one-tenth the salt of ocean water and about one-third when compared to human tears. They are also gentler on the skin and hair than traditional chlorine pools. And pool owners don’t have to purchase, store, and handle harsh chemicals, so maintenance is easier, more convenient, and saves time and money.
More chlorine pools are being converted to salt water and today there are more than 1.4 million saltwater pools in operation nationwide. An estimated 75 percent of all new in-ground pools are salt water, compared with only 15 percent in 2002, according to data published in Pool & Spa News.
Since the Evergreen Commons senior center in Holland, Mich., converted its 65,000-gallon pool to salt water, members have been pleased with the results. “The minute you walk into the pool area you notice a big difference,” says Jodi Owczarski, the center’s community relations director. “There is no longer that chemical smell. People also tell us that the water is much softer. In the old pool, people said they sometimes had to wash twice to get all those chemicals off, but in this pool, they only have to wash once. All in all, people have been thrilled with this new system.”
In saltwater pools, chlorine is automatically produced as water passes through the generator. As the water exits the generator and enters the pool, the sanitizing chlorine reverts back to salt, and the process repeats itself, conserving salt and keeping sanitizer levels balanced.
Saltwater pools require less maintenance than traditional pools, but pool owners still should test weekly for pH and chlorine, and monthly for other water balance factors and for salt levels, which can drop due to splash-out, rain and filter back-washing. Most pool owners test their pool water themselves with test strips and periodically bring a sample in to a pool retailer for testing.
Anyone who has made the decision to move to a saltwater pool should make certain they use salt specifically designed for that use. An average 20,000 gallon pool requires 530 pounds of salt at startup; with quantities that large, even small amounts of contaminants within the salt can cause pool problems. That’s why ultra-pure salt is best for salt water pools. Salt water systems can also save money in the long run over chlorine-based alternatives.
There have also been questions about the effect of salt water on pool construction materials, decks and surrounding structures. When pools are properly constructed and normal maintenance is followed, salt water has no effect on pool finishes, equipment and decks. Most materials are suitable for salt water pool construction, and most kinds of stone and decking materials will last if treated and sealed properly and periodically rinsed off.
If you’re considering a saltwater pool, talk to a knowledgeable builder or retailer, or get some insight from other saltwater pool owners. You can also find more information at the Salt Institute website.
Courtesy of BPT
Are small businesses protecting themselves from a data breach?
A data breach can be a challenge for any business, but this is especially true for smaller businesses. Not only can it be more difficult for a smaller business to recover from a data breach, but criminals may also be more likely to target smaller firms.
When a data breach occurs at a large firm or government agency, it winds up all over the news. If one occurred at a small business down the street, those unaffected would probably never hear about it. But a recent report released by Verizon found that nearly three-quarters of data breaches analyzed last year involved businesses with 100 employees or fewer.
“Most small-business owners simply do not believe they are at risk,” says Lynn LaGram, assistant vice president of small commercial underwriting for The Hartford. “The reality is that small businesses are often more vulnerable - making them easier targets.”
LaGram says part of the reason may be that small-business owners often don’t have the time or resources that larger companies may have to assist them in protecting data. However protecting data may not be as difficult as one would think.
Steps to help prevent a breach
For a business or organization that must handle sensitive customer, patient or employee information, it’s important to take measures that decrease the likelihood of a breach. “A data breach can involve electronic or paper records,” says LaGram. She shares eight data protection “best practices” for a business:
* Lock and secure sensitive customer, patient, member or employee information.
* Restrict employee access to sensitive information.
* Shred or otherwise securely dispose of all sensitive customer, patient, member or employee information.
* Use password protection and data encryption for sensitive files.
* Update systems and software on a regular basis.
* Use firewalls to control access to sites that could compromise your security and lock out hackers.
* Ensure that remote access to your network is secure.
If a breach occurs
While it’s important to take proactive steps to help prevent a data breach from occurring, there’s no way to eliminate the risk entirely, so it is also important to have data breach insurance.
According to LaGram, a business owner should consider insurance that provides:
1. Coverage for expenses associated with responding to and recovering from a breach. “Business owners may not realize that they must comply with various notification requirements, which can be costly,” says LaGram. Additional advertising expenses to help a business restore its reputation after a breach would also fall into this category.
2. Legal expense and liability coverage. A customer or employee whose personal data is compromised may sue the business owner for damages. This insurance provides coverage for defense costs, civil awards, settlements or judgments that a business owner may be obligated to pay.
3. Access to data security experts to help the business owner navigate the various notification requirements as well as determine the cause of the breach and take steps to prevent it from happening again.
“A data breach can happen to anyone, so it’s important for business owners to be prepared,” says LaGram. For more information about protecting your business from a data breach, visit www.hartforddatabreach.com
Courtesy of BPT
Three green trends for home remodeling
For some homeowners, remodeling projects are regular occurrences to keep their homes looking fresh. Sometimes, that means smaller changes like a new coat of paint or changing a light fixture. Other times, more substantial changes are needed. Determining those changes can be a challenge, but looking at the potential return on investment is a great way to prioritize.
Bathroom remodeling offers a 68.7 percent return on investment, according to a National Association of Realtors survey. One way to add value to a bathroom remodel is to pick bathroom fixtures that are more efficient than what you currently have installed. People are going green in many areas of life, whether with more energy-efficient light bulbs, hybrid cars or by recycling more regularly. Bathroom fixtures are no different.
Here are three reasons why you should consider going green with your bathroom modeling project:
* Products may be outdated. Toilets made before 1994 use anywhere from 3.5 gallons to 8 gallons per flush (gpf), while new EPA WaterSense labeled high-efficiency toilets can work beautifully on a modest 1.28 gpf. Not sure of your toilet’s vintage? Look at the underside of the tank lid - the date of manufacture is often stamped into the porcelain. In the shower, the typical showerhead installed in California homes built after 1994 uses as much as 2.5 gallons per minute. At that rate, your eight-minute shower consumes a whopping 20 gallons of water.
* Savings to be had. Compared to 3.5 gpf toilets, TOTO’s Aquia One-Piece Dual Flush High-Efficiency Toilet has a flushing system that enables homeowners to select the level of water used each time the toilet is flushed - 1.6 gallons for bulk waste or .9 for liquid. The approach provides exceptional water savings paired with outstanding performance. A family of four can save more than $90 annually on their water bill, and $2,000 over the lifetime of the toilet.
If you replace a typical 2.5 gpm showerhead with a TOTO high-efficiency Trilogy Showerhead, you will experience the same luxurious shower, yet consume a responsible 14 gallons, saving 20 percent of the water used by older models.
Even something like a faucet can contribute to water savings. TOTO’s Silas Widespread Lavatory Faucet is a WaterSense labeled lavatory faucet that consumes a responsible 1.5 gallons per minute without sacrificing an ounce of performance. Its design has a classic contemporary elegance with a graceful, curved spout.
* Be a trendy homeowner. A whopping 68 percent of builders surveyed by the National Association of Home Builders say that energy-saving technologies and features including low-E windows, energy-efficient appliances, and LED lighting will be common along with other green features like engineered wood products, and water-saving plumbing fixtures such as dual-flush toilets and low-flow faucets by 2015. Start now and you’ll be ahead of the curve.
Courtesy of BPT
Decorating your home with chandelier lighting and other accessories
If you are planning on making some decorative changes around the home this year, there are many lighting accessories that you can choose from. From installing elegant and regal chandeliers to simple table lamps and everything in between, finding the right pieces for the best price is easy once you know where to look and what to look for. There are many sites online that offer an amazing array of products that can light up the mood in any home, but not all are created equal.
Before you are ready to shop, consider how you want your home to look once your design ideas have come to life. The last thing you need is to have a chandelier that does not fit well in the space you intended for it to go. Taking measurements, deciding on style, color and effect are all part of the planning process when it comes to finding the right lighting accessories for your home, but it is especially important to do with chandeliers.
Of course, not every lighting remodeling project is limited to chandeliers, but can include a wide range of other options to consider as well. Table lamps, wall lights and standing floor lamps all work to add their own effect in the space they are going to be used. While light is simply light, how it is reflected in the house depends on anything from the color of the lampshade to the tint of chandelier crystals. You can change one crystal to red, and end up having a red lighting effect on the entire room.
This is just one example of things to consider when deciding how to develop a lighting scheme for the home. It is not just brightness, but effect, mood, comfort and feel as well. Lighting accessories can do wonders when it comes to the way in which light beams throughout the home as well as the mood it creates.
With table lamps, the process isn’t as involved and it is pretty easy to decide what will look good and what will not. Taking a picture of some of the table lamps that interest you can help to pick the right one for your particular layout and the effect you want to create. Consider color and shade as well as the impact it has on the lighting of the entire room.
So, from easy to involved, the type of lighting you choose for your home will determine the amount of planning and visualizing that it will require. While the process is not that complicated or time consuming, skipping the preparation and research phase of any remodeling project can lead to unsatisfactory results. Making the effort now will save a lot of trouble down the line as well as ensure that you are happy with the look that you created for your home.
There are many sources online to find the best lighting accessories for your needs as well as for your budget. A good retailer will not only have a wide range of fixtures and other items available for sale, but they should also include a section for tips, suggestions and product information that will help you to make the best decision. They should also have a solid return policy as well as product guarantee in case you are unsatisfied with your purchase.
That being said, there are limitless options available online for anything from chandeliers to table lamps or red chandelier crystals, and it is easier than ever to order and have them delivered to your house. Keep in mind that you will need to wait a little while for the items to be shipped to your home, but that can be a benefit in and of itself because you can do the work necessary to prepare for installation. Whether you are ordering lighting accessories for the first time, or are a seasoned decorator, you will be amazed at the quality, selection and prices of a wide range of products found at an online chandelier store today.
by: Kathryn Dawson
Capturing outdoor travel moments: How to bring back great audio and video
A vacation full of action and adventure creates fantastic memories that many travelers want to capture “on film” to share with friends and family. But how do you bring back great audio and video footage that captivatingly transports your viewers to your destination?
Media arts educators who work with budding audio and video production students from The Art Institute of California, a college of Argosy University, weigh in with some basic tips.
Start with sound
Joe Godfrey, Audio Production academic director at The Art Institute of California, San Diego, recommends that a beginning videographer on vacation first think about sound.
“Sound can really bring you into an experience and tell a story, even without visuals,” says Godfrey. “So start by building a great narration track, then supplement it with your visual shots.”
Vacation guides and docents are great resources that can help you describe what you and your viewers are seeing. To make sure you catch all the insightful details, make the most of your camera’s built-in microphone. “Be conscious of where you stand, ideally close by the speaker,” advises Godfrey. “Then when the talking is done, feel free to get your video footage.”
Shoot at eye level - of your subjects
If you want to make that video footage memorable, think about where to put the camera, advises David Schreiber, Digital Filmmaking & Video Production academic director at The Art Institute of California, Los Angeles.
“A common mistake beginners make is to shoot at his or her own eye level,” he says. After all, it is more comfortable to make movies while standing erect. “Kneel or squat down. Show the world from the point-of-view of that duck-billed platypus you come across in your outdoor adventures. You will find that towering over your photographic subject, whether it’s an exotic animal or your adorable three-year-old, keeps the viewer at arm’s length from the action. It’s more immersive to plunge the viewer into the world of your subject, at their eye level.”
Try a variety of shots
To show your home audience the exhilaration of a more active experience like zip lining, for instance, incorporate a variety of shots. Enlist travel buddies to help you get more dynamic content. Schreiber recommends shots of your zip launch from the platform; from the ground midway through your journey and at the finish line with the camera zoomed in on your fast approach. He also suggests a medium-range shot that shows what you see as you zip along.
“If you really want to help the viewer identify with the adrenaline rush you experienced, turn the camera around 180 degrees and give us a close-up on your face,” Schreiber adds. “Nothing is as magnetic on the movie screen as the human face.”
Take it all in
Godfrey also notes that when recording sound, it is OK to just take it all in. “Natural sound is important and underrated,” he says. “Instantly recognizable, spontaneous sound like the roar of an elephant or the cheers and boos of spectators can effortlessly help you tell your story.”
Courtesy of BPT
Get biking to help stop diabetes
Biking is a very popular form of exercise and transportation for Americans. Cities continuously update and add trails, and families look for a way to cut back on gas prices, while also spending time together.
These qualities have made bicycling the second most popular outdoor activity in America, according to the 2011 Outdoor Recreation Participation Topline Report for the Outdoor Industry Association. In 2010, Americans went on 2.44 billion bicycling outings.
As the weather warms, make certain your biking equipment is ready for the season. Check brakes, grease the chain, and make certain helmets still fit properly on your children’s heads. Take a short ride around the neighborhood to ensure everything works and that the tires are sufficiently filled with air. If it’s been a couple of years since the bikes were purchased or cleaned, it might also be a good idea to take them into a pro shop to have all the gears and brakes inspected.
One fun way to get out with your family, friends or co-workers on your bicycles this summer is through the American Diabetes Association Tour de Cure, which has routes designed for all riders - from five-mile family rides to 100-mile century rides. It is a ride, not a race, so participants are encouraged to go at their own pace. Tours will take place in 44 states across the country to benefit the American Diabetes Association and its efforts to stop diabetes.
“Diabetes touches so many people’s lives. Exercise and nutrition are important components in managing diabetes,” says Chris Carmichael, national spokesperson for the Tour de Cure and founder and CEO of Carmichael Training Systems Inc. He was named the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Coach of the Year in 1999. “The American Diabetes Association’s Tour de Cure is a great combination of fun exercise and raising funds and awareness about diabetes and its impact on families.”
More than 60,000 cyclists are expected to participate in the Tour de Cure events this year. If you have diabetes, join the Red Riders. This special program recognizes riders who have diabetes the day of the ride with a red jersey. During the Tour, participants call out “Go Red Rider” to encourage and celebrate the Red Riders who are fighting to manage their diabetes and live a healthier life.
Take advantage of the biking opportunity the Tour de Cure provides, and get your family out for a 10 mile or even longer bike tour. For more information or to register for a local tour, visit www.diabetes.org/tour or call 888-DIABETES.
Courtesy of BPT
Five tips for choosing a new cellphone provider
If you’ve reached your limit with paying for unused minutes and features, overage fees, and long-term contracts, it may be time to shop around for a new provider. With cellphone service providers being as numerous and diverse as today’s phones themselves, it can be a daunting prospect. However, with a little legwork, you can find a cellphone company that works for you and your changing needs.
1. Reputation - It’s not hard to learn which companies are considered the best cellphone service providers in the country. A quick Google search for the best in the industry will provide a number of independent reviews and ratings, taking into account various features and services. Also, you can poll family and friends for recommendations on companies they’ve found to be customer-friendly and worthy of consideration.
Once you narrow down the possibilities, do some additional research to learn how long the provider has been in business and the results of its tenure. For instance, Consumer Cellular has been around for more than 15 years and has been named the No. 1 cellphone company in the country for two years in a row by the leading consumer reporting magazine.
2. Selection - While you may be able to get the latest, most expensive phone for a discounted price through a big-name carrier, you may also find that you’ll be tied into a two-year contract with severe penalties for early termination. It is possible to get a top-tier phone at a reasonable price without a long-term agreement, as many no-contract providers now offer phones from leading manufacturers.
A phone may only be as good as its plan, and it’s important to shop around for a plan that fits your anticipated needs. However, needs may change, and it’s helpful to have some flexibility to upgrade - or downgrade - your minutes, texts or phone model without penalty. Look for a provider that offers a range of plans and the ability to move between them without penalties. Don’t be surprised to find that some of the best cellphone plans could end up costing you the least.
3. Service - At some point, you’ll likely need to call upon your cellphone provider for some assistance, and companies can vary greatly in what is considered good customer service. Think about features that are important to you, such as 24/7 phone or online availability, a domestic call center to minimize miscommunication and flexibility in selecting and changing your plan. Also, consider how well a provider will help you avoid fees, such as alerting you when you may be reaching your plan’s limits.
4. Price - Cellphone charges can add up quickly, particularly when you start finding hidden charges, such as activation fees. Spend some time reviewing a company’s pricing structure and history to answer a few questions: How often does the provider raise its fees and prices? What is the least amount you’ll need to budget for each month? Are there lower cost options for casual users? How much will shared plans increase your costs? With some providers, basic services can run as little as $10 a month.
5. Coverage - Finally, consider a cellphone provider’s coverage area. If the price seems too good to be true, there may be some gaps in coverage or you may be looking at steep roaming fees. Some providers, like Consumer Cellular, use the networks of the largest cellular networks in the country, ensuring top-of-the-line coverage without the price to match.
Keep in mind these five points, and you’re sure to find a cellphone and a plan that is a perfect fit for your needs.
Courtesy of BPT
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