Tag Archives: home technology

I’ll be right back. How to protect your energy during Zoom meetings

 

I’ll be right back. How to protect your energy during Zoom meetings
[Photo: Prostock-Studio/iStock]

I knew that working from home would be a massive shift, especially as spouses and kids became new “coworkers” for many individuals.

A problem I didn’t anticipate, which is coming up frequently for my time management clients with heavy meeting schedules, is Zoom fatigue.

Individuals that could make it through a day of in-person meetings with minimal issues have found themselves incredibly drained by a full docket of video calls. Many of us have been problem-solving for solutions to reduce the fatigue  that can hit hard at the end of the day. Here are some of the most common culprits of the remote-work energy drain, as well as ways you can combat it.

A “ZERO BREAK” SCHEDULE

Even if it felt like you had no breaks between meetings before the coronavirus—you did. In order to get from one room to another, you had at least a few minutes of physical movement and a quick mental break. Now, with videoconferencing, you literally have no time between meetings and to go from one call to the next.

This marginless schedule saps your mental batteries. To avoid this issue, schedule your meetings with some short gaps in between, or make it a rule to wrap up one call 5-10 minutes before the next one begins. This gives your brain a short span of time to process the meeting’s substance, make note of next steps, and prepare for the next conversation.

ONE POSITION FOR ONE SCREEN

Another reason that video calls can be exceptionally tiring is that you need to physically hold yourself in one position. In an in-person meeting, you’d likely shift from side to side, tilt back in your chair, swivel from looking one way to another depending on who is speaking, and lean over to take notes. Unfortunately in a video call, you’re stuck in one place trying to stay in the center of the screen, and moving in any other direction can cause your face to become awkwardly cropped. Furthermore, if you move backward and have a virtual background on Zoom, your face will literally disappear into the ether.

There aren’t a whole lot of ways you can overcome this challenge during your calls unless you shut off your camera for a while. But you can work on intentionally moving your body more. One small shift is to alternate between standing and sitting during your video calls. You can do this using a standing desk or simply place your computer on a bureau to elevate it. Also in between calls, walk around and do some gentle stretching of your back, neck, shoulders, and arms. This will get your blood flowing and reduce mental fatigue caused by the physical fatigue of your muscles.

EYESTRAIN INCREASE

With the shift to virtual, you’re all of a sudden receiving a double dose of time in front of the computer. Not only are your work meetings shifted to all virtual meetings, but your personal time may be filled with video calls, as well.

Research says we blink half as often when we watch things on screens as we normally would with face-to-face interactions. This means our eyes have a higher probability of getting dry, irritated, and tired. A few suggestions seem to help. One is to practice the “20-20-20” rule where every 20 minutes you take 20 seconds to look at something 20 feet away. Another recommended tip is to take a break every two hours for 15 minutes so your eyes can have a rest.

VISUAL OVERLOAD FROM CONSTANT STARING (EVEN AT YOURSELF)

Unless you’re watching a panel discussion, it’s usually impossible to look at everyone in a group during in-person interactions. Typically, your gaze rests on the one main speaker and then everyone else is in the periphery or even behind you. But thanks to the glories (and more concerning attributes) of Zoom, you can see everyone all at once, along with one person you never usually observe—yourself.

This creates visual overload because when we look at a screen, whether it’s a computer or a TV screen, our minds are accustomed to processing what is in front of us as a unified whole. But a Zoom meeting in gallery view isn’t one unified whole. It’s the equivalent of trying to watch 5, 10, 20, or more different TV shows, side-by-side, meanwhile checking a mirror to see how you look. This is incredibly exhausting.

To overcome this visual fatigue, you can start by putting your Zoom into speaker view instead of gallery view. That way you’ll have the more “natural” sensation of having your focus on one main person at a time.

Another step you can take, depending on the meeting and your role within in it, is to stop your video camera for part or all of the call. This can give you the ability to change position in your chair like you normally would in a meeting and reduce the visual overload from looking in a tiny mirror throughout the call.

Finally, if it’s possible, do a phone call. When you’re looking to connect, video calls help a great deal. But when you just need to work through some practical items, oftentimes a phone call suffices and takes much less energy. With a phone call, you automatically eliminate three of these four issues. You’re not stuck in one place; instead you can at least shift in your chair or at times walk around the room while you talk. You don’t need to look at a screen. Most importantly, you don’t need to take in anything visually.

Until we can go back to in-person interactions, the increased fatigue from video calls won’t be fully eliminated. But by paying attention to these top drains to our reserves and appropriately addressing them, you can end your day on a higher, more productive energy level.

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Free apps to take with you when you buy your next (or first) home

Buying a house can be daunting, but there some free apps out there that can make the  process a bit more welcoming, helping you with everything from figuring out mortgage rates to jargon to post-close decorating decisions.

Whether you are a first-time homebuyer, relocating or simply want to renegotiate, mortgages don’t exactly lay down a welcome mat. Now that warmer weather is in the forecast and home-buying season is getting into full swing, Josh McConnell reviews some of the free mobile applications that can help you make sense of the complicated mortgage process so you can get on with the fun part of buying a home.

The Canadian Mortgage App

Platforms iOS, Android, BlackBerry

Developer Bendigi Tech Inc.

At a glance This is the app everyone loves to talk about when it comes to mortgages. When asked, both homebuyers and mortgage specialists alike wholeheartedly recommend it. The developer says it has been used more than 2.1 million times with more than 3,000 five-star reviews in the various app stores. Impressive.

What to expect The interface is incredibly easy to use and slick — from the way numbers are inputted to the slider bars to the side menu. But, most importantly, it is loaded with information and rates to help you calculate exactly what you need, whether that’s a variable rate, fixed rate, weekly vs. bi-weekly payments, factoring in income from a tenant, or numerous other variables. Additionally, based on location, it can also calculate first-time homebuyer rebates and land transfer taxes.

Bonuses There is a database of local experts for you to search, which is convenient if you want an all-in-one solution. The app also has some nice extras like graphs, an affordability calculator and the option to expand your amortization schedule.

But… The list of local experts seems to be the developer’s own database, which the experts pay to be in (a source of revenue for the company). It would be nice to have it linked to other databases or even real estate listings for a truly complete solution.

 

Ready Set Home

Platforms iOS, Android, BlackBerry

Developer Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC)

At a glance A helpful mobile app offered by the CMHC, which provides mortgage loan insurance, to help you “make informed choices” when buying a home. The app doesn’t just help you figure out what you can afford, but it also explains the terminology, which can sometimes be confusing.

What to expect Whether on a phone or tablet, the app is very straightforward. You build a profile by answering questions — everything from “Is homeownership right for you?” to “Are you financially ready to buy a home?” — and then the app tells you what you can afford, or whether you can afford a home at all.

Bonuses More than a simple mortgage calculator, the app offers some next-steps advice once you’re a homeowner. The app also offers a very handy glossary of terms to help you make sense of everything. Finally, if you are a professional, CMHC also has a Mobile Kit app that works with Ready Set Home.

But… In terms of design, Ready Set Home is pretty bare bones and certainly nothing fancy to look at. It also needs an Internet connection to reference the various articles and glossary. That said, the app does what it needs to do quite well.

Simple Canadian Mortgage Calculator

Platforms iOS

Developer Richard Roschuk

At a glance Sometimes you just want something that does one job without the clutter. This developer says his app takes the complexity out of estimating mortgage payments, and it’s hard to argue with him: There is no branding or advertisements, just calculations.

What to expect The app is very minimalistic in its layout, but colourful and aesthetically pleasing at the same time. The developer says it performs all calculations according to Canadian mortgage regulations using Bank of Canada rates, so you just input figures and quickly get an answer.

Bonuses In addition to calculating interest semi-annually and not in advance, the other option is to switch over to annual compounding, which is an American standard.

But… There really isn’t much else here. The app is essentially a calculator offering approximate payment information stripped of the fees or costs a bank might price in.

The banks

Platforms Varies

Developer Various

At a glance If you just want a basic mortgage calculator, there is a very good chance your bank offers some sort of solution. Some have mobile applications, while others simply use your computer’s web browser for an easy option.

What to expect Bank of Montreal’s My Home app offers a mortgage calculator, direct line to its in-house specialists and ways to keep track of properties. Meanwhile, Bank of Nova Scotia’s app is more for property-finding than anything else, though it still includes Scotiabank’s in-house mortgage tools.

Bonuses Most other major banks, including Royal Bank of Canada and TD Canada Trust, offer some sort of online mortgage calculator through their website. If that is all you need, then it could very well be the better option since a web-interface should work on most devices.

But… Though it can be handy having a tool offered by the financial institution you already do business with, be aware that the bank’s tool will generally point you in the direction of its own products. You could very well be missing out on something from competitors if you don’t take the time to look around.

Home Decorating

Platforms Varies

Developer Various

At a glance Okay, so these aren’t about mortgages, but instead about what happens after you lock in. You have a new house and now you need to decorate it. Some companies offer fun applications that let you shop furniture and décor by digitally placing items around your home.

What to expect Ikea offers a Living Room 3D app (plus apps for other rooms such as the bedroom or bathroom) that lets you create your own room using their products, while also sharing them with a community of other users to compare ideas. There is also Houzz Interior Design Ideas, which lets you take photos of your own home and insert items from a digital catalogue from various companies.

Bonuses Even if there aren’t any products that you like the app’s listings, the decorating exercise is enough to stimulate creativity. At the very least, you can walk away with some great ideas for what types of items you want for each room and then it is just a matter of finding something similar.

But… Most of the time, the app wants you to create an account to use its full functionality. Plus, free apps are generally used to push products (which is how they make money) instead of truly fostering the design process, so it might not have all the features of the expensive design-focused apps you see in various digital stores.

 

Source: Josh McConnell, Special to Financial Post | March 22, 2016

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Conrad Black selling $21.8-million, nine-bedroom family mansion in Toronto

Conrad Black is putting his Toronto estate up for sale.

TORONTO — Former press baron Conrad Black is looking to sell his 23,000-square-foot home in Toronto’s exclusive Bridle Path neighbourhood.

Nestled on a 6.6-acre lot, the nine-bedroom property that includes a caretaker suite and a converted coach house will hit the auction block on March 8.

It has an estimated value of $21.8 million, according to an online listing.

Black’s house was built and renovated by New York architect Thierry Despont, who has also designed and built homes for Calvin Klein, Bill Gates and the late Greek shipping tycoon Stavros Niarchos.

The building features two, two-storey libraries, an indoor swimming pool with skylight, a carved granite Jacuzzi and a copper-domed chapel consecrated by two cardinals.

Toronto real estate agent Barry Cohen is handling the sale in partnership with New York-based Concierge Auctions.

Source: The Canadian Press | February 4, 2016

Conrad Black is putting his Toronto estate up for sale.

 

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Cable companies mum on pick-and-pay and cheaper ‘skinny’ TV packages

TV providers will be offering a new 'skinny' basic package and pick-and-pay options come March. But many details remain secret for now.

In less than a month, big changes are coming that will usher in a new era of pick-and-pay television. But it appears none of the major cable and satellite TV companies wants to talk about it.

CBC News examined many of the big TV provider websites — from Rogers to Bell to Shaw to Telus. We couldn’t find any information about the low-cost, “skinny” basic TV package or added pick-and-pay channel deals they must offer by March 1.

The silence is frustrating some customers who are eager to learn more.

“You’d think because they’re coming soon that they would have these options available to be seen,” says cable customer Chris Mooney, who’s shopping around for a better deal.

Some industry watchers believe customers could be kept in the dark until the March deadline. They suspect TV providers don’t want to spread the word about a basic, low-cost TV package — until they have to.

“It’s a seismic shift that they don’t really want people to know about,” says Daniel Bader, a columnist with the tech site MobileSyrup.com.

“Of course, if it was in their best interest, they would be advertising it,” he adds. “They have absolutely no incentive to tell people there’s a cheaper option.”

The skinny on changes

Last year, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission announced new rules to give viewers more options. The regulations were sparked by viewer complaints that they were forced to buy big bundles of channels at high prices just to get the handful they wanted.

By March 1, TV providers must offer a so-called “skinny” basic package priced at $25 or less. It has to include mandatory local and regional stations, as well as public interest Canadian channels such as APTN.

Providers can also add selected U.S. networks like NBC and PBS — but the price can’t go up.

Companies must also let customers top up their “skinny” package with pick-and-pay channels. They can offer them either individually or in “reasonably priced” small bundles. Come December, companies must offer both.

In the dark

Cable customer Mooney recently downgraded his current TV package to save money, but he had to give up a favourite sports channel — TSN. He’s anxious to know whether the new offerings will let him get all the channels he wants at a decent price.

So he went online to check out Cogeco and Bell — two TV providers serving Oakville, Ont., where he lives. To his surprise, he couldn’t find any information about the upcoming deals.

“It would be nice to know what they’re going to be so I know what my options are,” he says. “It’s very frustrating.”

There are no rules forcing the cable and satellite companies to advertise early. The CRTC has only mandated that TV providers must promote the “skinny” package by the March 1 deadline “so that customers are aware of its availability, price and content.”

Tech analyst Bader believes that even when providers start promoting the new deal, they won’t go all out, because it’s not in their best interest.

“They’re only going to do the minimum amount required to appease the CRTC,” he says.

Stay tuned

In recent days, CBC News contacted many of the big providers to find out what deals they will be offering come March. Not one shared any details. We also asked the companies why they haven’t posted any information yet.

Bell told CBC News in an email that it hasn’t announced anything yet, because “we’re still more than a month out from March 1.”

Rogers said, “We’ll have more to say about this soon.”

Eastlink stated it will be sharing details on March 1 and to “please feel free to circle back at that time.”

Shaw said it will be spreading the news “in the coming weeks.”

Cogeco stated: “It is too early for us to disclose any information. We will publicly announce our new offerings in due time.”

Telus never responded.

Small player tells all

At least one provider is already offering details. VMedia is a small internet-based TV service with just 18,000 subscribers.

The Toronto-based company has a new Skinny Basic Package already available for purchase, which it boldly promotes on its site. The package costs $17.95 and includes the mandatory Canadian channels plus five American networks.

Co-founder George Burger said that as a newer competitor, his company was eager to offer its deal early and stand out from the competition.

“We were champing at the bit,” he said. “We try to establish ourselves as people who are in favour of choice and flexibility, so as soon as the CRTC gave the green light for this, we went ahead.”

Burger added he understands why other companies would keep their plans quiet for now. He believes they may not want to tip off the competition.

Or, like Bader, he said providers may not be eager to tip off customers about a cheaper, smaller plan.

“They may not want the public to know very much about the fact that the ‘skinny’ option exists, because that’s not very helpful to the business model,” he said.

Whatever their motive, the silence is golden for VMedia, Burger said. “We might as well take a little bit of the spotlight.”

Source: Sophia Harris, CBC News Posted: Feb 02, 2016

TV providers will be offering a new 'skinny' basic package and pick-and-pay options come March. But many details remain secret for now.

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Solar Roof Tiles are the Future of Eco Homes and Friends to Home Budget

Solar roof tiles are new invention that can help a lot in saving energy and lowering the electricity bills. The solar energy is what can provide so much for your home heat without too many costs. There are many alternative energy solutions that are more and more attractive lately but solar energy is maybe something that is endless and easiest one.

Having a warm home and water is a big problem that needs a serious solution. With the great earth pollution and heating materials that do harm to the planet we are done. We should consider about other ways of bringing heat in our home instead of cutting trees and ruining the natural eco system.

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In the past this solar systems were so expensive and not everyone could afford it to buy and install it for their home. But, trough the years it became not so expensive and people can install it to their homes using it trough every season of the year. It is important to have a sunny day so the water of the system will be hotter. If not, there is always an alternative way to heat the water or the home interior.

solar-architecture-admirers-04

This solar photovoltaic tiles are very nice looking and are way better than the old panels on the roof of the houses. Those panels can go and retired because this is new innovative solution that works fabulous! The tiles are made of natural clay or slate slabs that have small solar panels inserted on the flat surface that should be exposed to the sun. Installing of those panels is very easy because of their shape and double function – tiles. They have so high energy yield although they are so small and flexible.

solar-architecture-admirers-05

There are also transparent solar tiles with highest aesthetical look. Those tiles are also very resistant to all weather conditions although are made of Plexiglas or PMMA. This material is even way better because it allows the sun come in trough the roof. They allow 90% of the natural light to come in your home.

Source: http://www.ArchitectureAdmirers.com

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When Is Daylight SavingTime 2015?

alarm clock

So, when is Daylight Saving Time for 2015 (often called Daylight Savings Time) in the USA? On Sunday, November 1, 2015 at 2:00 a.m., set your clocks back one hour … or you could just turn your clocks back before you go to sleep in order to save yourself the hassle. Don’t worry about your cell phones because they reset themselves. If you’re out still partying for Halloween, many bars and restaurants are staying open that extra hour, which means another hour of fun, but you’ll have to check with your local establishments.

Sunrise will now be an hour earlier and Patch.com reports sunset will be at 4:53 p.m. now.

There are several states and areas that do not follow Daylight Saving Time and those include Arizona, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the US Virgin Islands. The state of Arizona (except for the Navajo Nation in the northern part of Arizona), unlike most of the rest of the United States, doesn’t observe Daylight Savings Time, and hasn’t for about 40 years.

So, where does Daylight Saving Time originate from? CNN reported:

The U.S. government started moving into and out of “Daylight Saving Time” during World War I to copy the Germans, who said they were doing it to save fuel. When the war ended, the U.S. government wisely repealed the law since it proved unpopular. During WWII, it came back — again with the notion that it would somehow conserve resources. After the second war, the U.S. converted factories from making bombs to making cars and consumer products. The GIs came home. But Daylight Saving Time just stuck around.

Even so, there are reports that versions of Daylight Saving Time started back in the 1800s:

New Zealander George Vernon Hudson proposed the modern idea of daylight saving in 1895. Germany and Austria-Hungary organized the first implementation, starting on 30 April 1916. Many countries have used it at various times since then, particularly since the energy crisis of the 1970s.

If you go to bed before 2:00 a.m., don’t forget to fix your clocks to avoid confusion when you wake.

Source: Published 9:46 pm EDT, October 30, 2015

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Consumers find they need help making the best choice for their home. To facilitate this process, we’ve come up with 10 consumer-friendly tips for selecting the ideal fireplace.

  • Decide on the fireplace’s main purpose: Is it heat-efficiency, aesthetics or a combination of both? By communicating this information to the sales person, your options will narrow and your selection process will become much easier.
  • Avoid choosing a fireplace with the intention of heating more than one room. Trying to save on heating costs in this way will result in an overheated main room, forcing you to keep the gas fireplace off much of the time.
  • If you are looking for heating efficiency, consider a thermostat-controlled, self-modulated fireplace. This way, the fireplace will automatically turn up and down while regulating the room to the temperature you desire.
  • Research the trim options to determine which would best suit your décor. Once you have decided on a specific fireplace insert, ask the sales person to review the trim designs that are available. Often the brochure will feature options not seen in the showroom.
  • View the fireplace while the flames are inactive—not just when they are turned on. Since the fireplace won’t be running 24 hours a day all year long, it’s important that you are sure you like how the unit looks when it’s not fired up.
  • Avoid choosing a heating insert that relies on a fan to push the hot air out into the room. The best fireplaces are efficient without a fan. Using one does help with circulation but will only marginally improve the heat output and there will always be some noise. If you do have a fan, make sure you have a separate control for it so you can turn it up, down or off, as needed.
  • When choosing a decorative log set, choose one that easily fits into the fireplace area and leaves some breathing room. Having ample space around the log set looks better and ensures that the valve will not overheat.
  • Determine how you want to operate your gas fireplace. There are a number of options available, including wall switches, remote controls and thermostats. You can also operate many fireplaces manually.
  • If a gas fireplace is not an option, consider an electric fireplace. Electric ones are now available in a variety of sizes and styles with lots of different trim options. They require no venting, so you can install them anywhere in the home.
  • Find a fireplace retailer who will arrange to have a licensed and insured HVAC contractor take care of the installation. How the fireplace is installed can impact its overall efficiency operation and durability.

Source: Reader’s Digest – By Steve Maxwell

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Your Home’s Fall Checklist – It’s time to prepare your home to withstand winter’s frosty bite.

Fall is the perfect time to take care of the little things that can make a big difference for you and your home. Most of the tasks listed below are well with-in the average person’s ability. But even if you choose to have a professional handle them, it’s worth the expense. You’ll save money — and maybe even your life.

Here’s the checklist at a glance. See the following pages for more detailed guidance.

  • Get your mind in the gutters. Inspect and clean gutters and downspouts.
  • Button up your overcoat. Seal gaps and cracks around windows and doors with weather-stripping and caulk.
  • Get on top of roof problems. Inspect your roof for damaged or curled shingles, corroded flashing, or leaky vents.
  • Walks the walks (and drives). Take steps to repair damaged sidewalks, driveways, and steps.
  • Chill out. Drain and winterize outdoor faucets and irrigation systems.
  • Freshen your filter. Clean or replace dirty furnace filters.
  • Give your furnace a physical. Have a professional inspect your heating system.
  • Gather round the hearth. Check fireplaces for soot or creosote build-up. Better yet, schedule a visit from a reputable chimney sweep.
  • Keep the humidifier humming. Clean the plates or pads to ensure efficient operation.
  • Head-off gas problems. If you have a gas-fired room heater, have it inspected by a pro. Also, perform any routine maintenance recommended by the maker.
  • Keep the wood fires burning brightly. Wood stoves are making a comeback. To avoid a deadly situation, be sure to inspect yours before firing it up.
  • Keep your family safe at home. A home safety check should be an annual ritual in every household. Test smoke and CO monitors, inspect (or install) fire extinguishers, review fire escape plans, and rid your home of old newspapers and other fire hazards.
 

Get your mind in the gutters. Your roof’s drainage system annually diverts thousands of gallons of water from your house’s exterior and foundation walls. That’s why it is so important to keep this system flowing smoothly. Clogged gutters can lead to damaged exterior surfaces and to water in your basement. They are also more prone to rust and corrosion. Before the leaves fly this fall, have your gutters cleaned, then covered with mesh guards to keep debris from returning.

Button up your overcoat. A home with air leaks around windows and doors is like a coat left unbuttoned. Gaps in caulk and weather-stripping can account for a 10% of your heating bills, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Weather-stripping is easily the most cost-effective way to rein in heating and cooling costs. This humble material also reduces drafts and keeps your home more comfortable year-round. Because weather stripping can deteriorate over time, it is important to inspect it periodically.

If you suspect a problem with weather stripping, you have several options for checking. Close a door or window on a strip of paper; if the paper slides easily, your weatherstripping isn’t doing its job. Or, close the door or window and hold a lighted candle near the frame. (Don’t let the flame get near anything flammable!) If the flame flickers at any spot along the frame, you have an air leak.

While you’re at it, also check for missing or damaged caulk around windows, doors, and entry points for electrical, cable, phone, gas, and so. Seal any gaps with a suitable caulk.

Easy instructions for weatherizing your home

Get on top of roof problems. Few homeowner problems are more vexing than a leaky roof. Once the dripping starts, finding the source of the problem can be time-consuming. Stop problems this fall before ice and winter winds turn them from annoyances into disasters.

Here’s how: Inspect your roof from top to bottom, using binoculars if necessary. Check ridge shingles for cracks and wind damage. Look for damage to metal flashing in valleys and around vents and chimneys. Scan the entire roof for missing, curled, or damaged shingles. Look in your gutters for large accumulations of granules, a sign that your roof is losing its coating; expect problems soon. Finally, make sure your gutters are flowing freely.

Note: Roof-mounted television antennas, even if they aren’t in use, may have guy wires holding them in place. Look for loose or missing guy wires. If you see some, and your antenna is no longer being used, consider having it removed altogether.

Walk the walks (and drives). Damaged walkways, drives, and steps are a hazard year round, but their dangers are compounded when the weather turns icy. Fixing problems in the fall is also critical to preventing little problems from becoming expensive headaches.

Look for cracks more than 1/8-inch wide, uneven sections, and loose railings on steps. Check for disintegration of asphalt, or washed-out materials on loose-fill paths.

Most small jobs are well within the ability of a do-it-yourselver, but save major repairs for experienced hands.

Chill out. If you live in an area with freezing weather, take steps to ensure that outside faucets (also called sill cocks) and inground irrigation systems don’t freeze and burst.

Here’s how: Close any shut-off valves serving outside faucets, then open the outside faucet to drain the line. (There may be a small cap on the faucet you can loosen to facilitate this draining.) If you don’t have shut-off valves, and your faucets are not “freezeproof ” types, you may benefit from styrofoam faucet covers sold at home centers.

To freezeproof an inground irrigation system, follow the manufacturer’s procedure for draining it and protecting it from winter damage.

Freshen your filter. Furnace filters trap dust that would otherwise be deposited on your furniture, woodwork, and so on. Clogged filters make it harded to keep your home at a comfortable temperature, and can serious increase your utility bills. A simple monthly cleaning is all it takes to keep these filters breathing free and clear.

Here’s how: Disposable filters can be vaccumed once before replacement. Foam filters can also be vaccumed, but they don’t need to be replaced unless they are damaged. Use a soft brush on a vacuum cleaner. If the filter is metal or electrostatic, remove and wash it with a firm water spray.

Give your furnace a physical. Once a year, it’s a good idea to have your heating system inspected by a professional. To avoid the last-minute rush, consider scheduling this task in early fall, before the heating season begins.

Here are signs that you should have an inspection performed sooner:

Noisy belts. Unusual screeches or whines may be a signal that belts connected to the blower motor are worn or damaged.

Poor performance. A heating system that doesn’t seem to work as well as it once did could be a sign of various problems. Your heating ducts might be blocked, the burners might be misadjusted, or the blower motor could be on its last legs. One check you should be sure to conduct: Make sure your furnace filter is clean.

Erratic behavior. This could be caused by a faulty thermostat or a misadjusted furnace.

Gather round the hearth. Even if you use your fireplace only occasionally, you should check it annually for damage and hazards.

Inspect your flue for creosote. Creosote is a flammable by-product of burning wood. If it accumulates in a flue or chimney, the result can be a devastating fire. Have your chimney inspected annually for creosote buildup. If you use a fireplace or wood stove frequently, have the flue inspected after each cord of wood burned.

For most people, the best option is to have your entire chimney system inspected by a chimney sweep. Once you know what to look for, you can perform the inspection by shining a bright flashlight up the flue, looking for any deposits approaching 1/8 inch thick. These deposits should be cleaned by an experienced chimney sweep.

Look for flue blockages. Birds love to nest at the top of an unprotected flue. A chimney cap can prevent this from happening. If you don’t have a cap, look up the flu to ensure that there are no obstructions.

Exercise the damper. The damper is the metal plate that opens and closes the flu just above the firebox. Move it to the open and closed positions to ensure that it is working properly.

Check your chimney for damage. Make certain that the flue cap (the screen or baffle covering the top of the chimney) is in place. Inspect brick chimneys for loose or broken joints. If access is a problem, use binoculars.

Keep the humidifier humming. You may know that bone dry winter air is bad for your health, but did you also know it can make fine wood more prone to cracking? You and your home will feel more comfortable if you keep your central humidifier in tip-top shape during the months it is running.

Here’s how: First, inspect the plates or pads, and if necessary, clean them in a strong laundry detergent solution. Rinse and scrape off mineral deposits with a wire brush or steel wool.

Head-off gas problems. Keeping a gas heater in good shape is both a safety and a cost issue. An improperly maintained heater can spew poisons into the air of your home, or it may simply be costing you more to operate. Have a professional check these devices annually. There are also some maintenance items you should address.

Here’s how: First, shut off the heater. Then check the air-shutter openings and exhaust vents for dirt and dust. If they are dirty, vacuum the air passages to the burner and clean the burner of lint and dirt. Follow the manufacturer’s advice for any other needed maintenance.

Keep the wood fires burning brightly. Woodburning stoves are a great way to add atmosphere and warmth to your home. But regular inspections are needed to ensure that these devices don’t become a safety hazard. Here’s how to check them.

Inspect stovepipes. Cracks in stovepipes attached to wood stoves can release toxic fumes into your home. Throughout the heating season, you should check for corrosion, holes, or loose joints. Clean the stovepipe, and then look for signs of deterioration or looseness. Replace stovepipe if necessary.

Look for corrosion and cracks. Check for signs of rust or cracking in the stove’s body or legs.

Check safety features. Make sure that any required wall protection is installed according to the manufacturer’s specifications and that the unit sits on an approved floor material. If you have young children, be sure to fence off the stove when it is in operation.

At least once a year, do a top-to-bottom review of your home’s safety features. This is also a good time to get the family together for a review of your fire evacuation plan. Here’s how to do this:

Smoke and CO detectors. Replace the batteries in each smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) detector, then vacuum them with a soft brush attachment. Test the detectors by pressing the test button or holding a smoke source (like a blown-out candle) near the unit. If you haven’t already, install a smoke detector on every floor of your home, including the basement.

Fire extinguishers. Every home should have at least one fire extinguisher rated for all fire types (look for an A-B-C rating on the label). At a minimum, keep one near the kitchen; having one per floor isn’t a bad idea. Annually, check the indicator on the pressure gauge to make sure the extinguisher is charged. Make certain that the lock pin is intact and firmly in place, and check that the discharge nozzle is not clogged. Clean the extinguisher and check it for dents, scratches, and corrosion. Replace if the damage seems severe. Note: Fire extinguishers that are more than six years old should be replaced. Mark the date of purchase on the new unit with a permanent marker.

Fire escape plans. Every bedroom, including basement bedrooms, should have two exit paths. Make sure windows aren’t blocked by furniture or other items. Ideally, each upper-floor bedroom should have a rope ladder near the window for emergency exits. Review what to do in case of fire, and arrange a safe meeting place for everyone away from the house.

General cleanup. Rid your home of accumulations of old newspapers and leftover hazardous household chemicals. (Check with your state or local Environmental Protection Agency about the proper way to discard dangerous chemicals.) Store flammable materials and poisons in approved, clearly labeled containers. Keep a clear space around heaters, furnaces, and other heat-producing appliances.

Source: Better Homes and Gardens

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Toppled TVs causing serious injuries – and deaths – in young kids: study

There’s an often unrecognized hazard lurking in most Canadian homes that poses a potentially deadly threat to young children — the big-screen TV.

Those top-heavy, flat-screen televisions can topple over onto children, crush their tiny bodies and in the worst-case scenario, fatally cave in their skulls, researchers say.

“The kids who are at the biggest risk are toddlers, so one- to three-year-olds,” said Dr. Michael Cusimano, a neurosurgeon at St. Michael’s Hospital.

“They’re occurring in older kids as well, but these injuries can be extremely severe in the younger kids — and they can be fatal.”

In a review of 29 studies from seven countries published Tuesday in the Journal of Neurosurgery: Pediatrics, Cusimano and co-author Nadine Parker found that tens of thousands of children have been harmed by falling TVs, an occurrence that is becoming increasingly common.

In the U.S., for instance, the Consumer Product Safety Commission reported 19,200 TV-related injuries from 2008 to 2010, up from 16,500 between 2006 and 2008.

The Toronto researchers determined that about 85 per cent of these injuries occurred in the home and more than three-quarters were not witnessed by a parent or caregiver.

“TVs are often placed on unstable bases, placed on high furniture like dressers, which aren’t designed for TVs, or (are) not properly secured to the wall,” said Cusimano.

“Meanwhile, parents are getting busier and busier and don’t have as much time to supervise children, so it’s not surprising that these injuries are getting reported more often.”

He said accidents often happen when toddlers climb up on a piece of furniture that holds the TV. Somewhat older children may run into the furniture while horsing around and cause the television to fall on them.

“They’re not being secured properly, they’re not being used on the proper furniture,” Cusimano said of big-screen TVs, which have become increasingly larger and less expensive over time.

“I heard of one case where (the family) had it on top of an aquarium, and the TV came down and crushed the child,” he said. “The child died.”

A 2005 study led by pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. James Drake at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto showed 18 children, aged 12 months to 10 years old, had been treated for a range of injuries due to falling TVs between 1992 and 2005. Sixteen of them had skull fractures.

Some of the children were left with short- and long-term symptoms, from neurological deficits causing severe disability to hearing loss and facial paralysis.

One two-year-old, who was treated at Sick Kids following submission of the study to the Journal of Neurosurgery: Pediatrics, died after an 81-centimetre (32-inch) TV fell off its stand and fractured the child’s skull.

“It’s often like a crush injury,” Drake said in an interview Monday. “So it’s not what we would call a high-velocity head injury like you would have in a car accident. This is relatively low-velocity, but the TVs are very heavy, so they sort of crush the skull.

“So that causes these fractures and often injures the nerves at the base of the skull that control the face and the eyes and the hearing. Many recover, but some of them are left with a permanent deficit.”

According to the Canadian Hospitals Injury Reporting and Prevention Program (CHIRPP), Sick Kids treated 33 children who had been injured by falling TVs between 2011 and 2013. Twelve of the children were admitted, 16 had head injuries and 18 had fractures, including skull fractures.

For privacy reasons, the hospital does not reveal the number of deaths, but a spokeswoman said there were “under five.”

“It’s a totally preventable trauma,” agreed Drake,” and families need to be vigilant and tether their TVs so they can’t possibly fall over. And children watching TV do need to be monitored.”

Cusimano said parents, grandparents and other caregivers can take steps to prevent this needless injury:

— Avoid placing toys or remotes on top of the TV.

— Create a restricted play area around the television.

— Use a proper TV stand or console; don’t place it on top of a high piece of furniture.

— Position the TV back from the edge of where it’s placed.

— Attach the TV to the wall to prevent it from falling.

Source: 680 News  SHERYL UBELACKER, THE CANADIAN PRESS

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