Jeff Shauger, Associate Broker, ABR, CDPE, CRS, ePRO, GRI , SRES, SRS
Jeff Shauger, Associate Broker, ABR, CDPE, CRS, ePRO, GRI , SRES, SRS

Jeff's Blog

8 Tips to Find the Best Web Host

September 11, 2012 3:26 am

Many folks get an idea for a great website, they get excited and they’re ready to go. Now what? They need a good web hosting provider to host their new site. Seems like a simple task, right? Choosing a web host can be a little tricky for new site-owners. Make sure you have all the information you need to make an informed choice for the best web host for you. Here are 8 criteria to make choosing a web host an easy decision.

1. Determine the platform.
Consult a web designer to determine what platform the new site needs to be hosted on. Usually this means choosing between a Linux or Windows server. Generally speaking, Linux servers deliver much faster performance. Either format works just fine for static websites but dynamic sites with special database requirements often find Windows servers are better. This is because a Windows server allows developers to use popular database coding languages like Structured Query Language (SQL). Online stores need e-commerce functionality so it’s important to choose a host offering a shopping cart and secure transactions.

2. Uptime Percentage
The most important aspect of web hosting is Uptime Percentage. It’s also the part that should go unnoticed. In short, uptime means the time that a website is online. It’s absolutely vital to select a web host that is as close to 100% uptime as possible. All web servers have downtime, but you really want to minimize it as much as possible. Downtime is the equivalent to having a sign on your business door that says ‘Closed.’ Hosts that offer 99.9% uptime or better are highly recommended.

3. Technical Support
Another way a business can be shut down is if their website doesn't work properly. Unforeseen problems do occur, threatening any online business. Sometimes the problem is something the website operator accidentally causes. That’s why it is so important to choose a web hosting provider that can respond with helpful solutions quickly and efficiently.

Technical support has come a long way. Just a few years ago, most hosts had limited technical support compared to what is available now. Some hosts were only available by email, or by support tickets, and they were only accessible during business hours. Thankfully, most of the good web hosts currently realize that the Internet is open 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. Select a web host that provides quick and helpful support 24 hours a day.

4. Storage Space
Storage space is also a consideration, and generally speaking, most hosts offer plenty of space. Most basic sites, even with large databases of products or downloadable documents, are less than a few hundred megabytes in size. It’s a good idea to get a few gigabytes in storage, an easy task in today’s hosting marketplace. The exception would be sites containing a high volume of videos, a streaming live video feed, or thousands of high-resolution images. Obviously, then it’s important to find a host offering more gigabytes in their basic package.

5. Bandwidth / Data Transfer.
Bandwidth is the amount of data that a website is capable of transferring to their visitors. Similarly, data transfer is the actual amount of data that a website really does transfer to the users who access it. Bandwidth and data transfer are usually not a concern to most sites, unless they have a huge database of video or high-resolution images.

6. E-commerce
Online stores require hosts with e-commerce capabilities. The larger hosts offer many tools such as shopping cart software, payment and e-commerce tools, secure servers and database builders to name a few. Stick with the larger hosts who offer more tools that help businesses.

7. Number of Domains / Domain Pointers
Most new site operators realize early on the need for additional domains. It’s a smart business decision to protect the company brand by securing other top-level domains such as the .net and .org version of a domain and point it to the main .com site. Some site owners want to increase or diversify their marketshare with additional websites in their space. In any event, it's nice to have the option for numerous, or even unlimited domains in a hosting package.

8. Email and FTP accounts.
Make sure to get enough email accounts for each staff member and department. Perhaps different people will be working on the website, making it a security concern to have unique FTP accounts. This allows for access to different sections of a site (general, blog, forum, products), while keeping more sensitive information private.


Published with permission from RISMedia.


Tankless Water Heaters - Are They For You?

September 10, 2012 3:20 am

Tankless water heaters, also called on-demand water heaters, do not retain water, but rather heat the water as it flows through the device. Tankless heaters are often installed throughout a household at more than one point-of-use (POU) or larger models may be used to provide all the hot water requirements for an entire house.

The chief advantages of tankless water heaters are a continuous flow of hot water and energy savings as compared to continuously heating hot water from conventional tank water heaters. Point of use tankless heaters save hot water because they are located right where the water is being used. They save more energy than centrally installed heaters because no hot water is left in the pipes after the water is shut off.

Tankless water heaters can be divided into two categories: "full on/full off" and "modulated." Full on/full off units do not have a variable power output level; the unit is either on or off. Modulated tankless water heaters base the heat output on the flow of water running through the unit.

The most cost effective configuration is to use a central tankless water heater for most of the house, and install a point of use heater at any distant faucets

By and large, the advantages of tankless water heaters (an endless supply of hot water, and lower energy profile) outweigh the disadvantages. However, consider these points before choosing between the different styles:

Installing a tankless system comes at increased cost, particularly in retro-fit applications. If a storage water heater is being replaced with a tankless one, the size of the electrical wiring or gas pipeline may have to be increased to handle the load and the existing vent pipe may have to be replaced, possibly adding expense to the retrofit installation.

There is a slightly longer wait to obtain hot water. A tankless heater only heats water upon demand (one of it's primary advantages), so all idle water in the piping starts at room temperature and there is a more apparent "flow delay."

Unlike with a tank heater, the hot water temperature from a tankless heater is inversely proportional to the rate of the water flow -- the faster the flow, the less time the water spends in the heating element being heated. Mixing hot and cold water to the "right" temperature from a single-lever faucet (say, when taking a shower) may take some practice.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


A Guide to the Health Benefits of Home Steam Baths and Saunas

September 10, 2012 3:20 am

For centuries, people all around the world have been using steam baths and saunas to promote physical health and social bonding. Thousands of years of folk wisdom and a whole lot of modern scientific data agree: regularly exposing oneself to the hot, humid conditions of a steam bath or sauna is good for the body in a myriad of ways, and is also a great way to help relieve stress.

Here is a guide to steam bath and sauna to educate the consumers on the advantages and explain why it is worth the cost of installing one at home.

1. Good For the Body
Both saunas and steam baths work by heating a relatively small, enclosed space, raising the ambient temperature of the room and, by extension, anyone inside it. In both, one is meant to sit on a small bench or seat, close the eyes, and unwind. Body temperature rises in a comfortable, warm-blankety sort of way, and a few things happen. First, the heart rate increases slightly, improving circulation throughout the body and increasing blood flow to the surface of the skin, invigorating it. The rise in temperature also causes the body to start producing all kinds of good, disease fighting stuff, the way it would if one had a fever, from elevating white blood cells to helping kill off bad microbes. Muscles relax, joint pain eases up, metabolism speeds up and pores open, helping to rid the body of toxins. Also, sweating is the best way to flush toxins out of the body - especially from the lymphatic system - and it also helps rejuvenate and revitalize the skin.

2. Good For the Mind
In addition to the stress relieving properties of heat offered by steam baths and saunas, both have a variety of additional mood-elevating secondary features. Both saunas and steam baths typically have built in chromatherapy functionality - built in LED lights that emit a range of colors medically proven to affect mood in a variety of ways, from relaxing to energizing. Both saunas and steam baths also frequently come with built in waterproof sound systems, so one can dock an iPod or other mp3 player outside and listen to the favorite music while bathing. Steam baths (though not typically saunas) also often contain an aromatherapy option. Aromatherapy steam baths add a few drops of mood-enhancing essential oils to the steam (like lavender for relaxation, citrus for energy and alertness, and so on) to do double duty.

3. Better Than A Long Soak Or A Hot Shower
When designing a dream bathroom, design shows will nudge one in the direction of a huge soaking tub and a custom shower big enough to fit the whole family. But while both are enjoyable to use, they often don't get fully enjoyed. It takes a long time to fill a big tub, and it uses a lot of water - and so does a shower equipped with half a dozen shower heads and body sprayers. That can mean installing a bigger water heater and more sophisticated drainage system just to have them. But a simple steam bath uses less than a gallon of water every 20 minutes, and a sauna uses none at all. Plus, because both are capable of heating up in a matter of minutes, it's a luxury one can enjoy at any time, for as much or little time as desired - even if it's just for five minutes before the morning shower.

4. A Sauna...
The primary difference between a sauna and a steam bath is the inclusion of moisture. A sauna is typically made with a single sauna heater located inside the sauna space and often covered in rocks which are heated by electric coils or with an infrared heater. This produces a dry heat, and can help elevate the body to a higher temperature more comfortably than a steam bath. In most saunas, water can be poured over the heated rocks to produce brief bursts of steam and raise the humidity level inside the sauna, but overall it will be much less humid than a steam bath. Because of that, saunas are typically built as a separate structure, rather than as part of a shower, and are often made of wood rather than tile or glass. In fact, many of them come as pre-cut sauna rooms that can be simply assembled and placed anywhere in a home that has access to an outlet. While steam baths built inside a shower may contain one or two seats, larger saunas are often built with long benches instead of individual seats, which makes it easier to either seat more people, or to recline.

5. Or a Steam Bath
Steam baths, on the other hand, are all about the moisture. Using about a gallon of water every 20 minutes, an average steam generator can fill a large shower enclosure with thick, enveloping steam in a matter of minutes. The temperature won't get as high in a steam bath like as it will in a sauna because the humidity intensifies the feeling of heat at a lower temperature, but all the same health benefits apply equally to both. For a major bathroom remodel, steam baths can be somewhat more practical, as they can be integrated with a shower, which also makes it easier to wash up once the steam bath is finished. Plus, steam generators are much smaller than sauna heaters, and can be installed up to 25 feet away from the steam enclosure, offering more flexible installation options.

Whichever one is preferable, though, the health benefits are definitely worth considering - not to mention the relaxation and peace of mind that comes from taking just a few relaxing minutes a day to unwind.


Published with permission from RISMedia.


10 Tips to Ensure Your Air Conditioner is Ready and Reliable for Next Year

September 10, 2012 3:20 am

With the nearing end of the summer season and coming winter how do families protect their cooling system and make sure it is ready for next year? With the rising costs of fuel and the uncharacteristically hot summers throughout the U.S. it is more important than ever to extend the life of your home’s air conditioning unit. A high-quality heating ventilation and air conditioning system can last up to 20 years if properly installed and maintained. However, the cheapest models or poorly maintained systems can fail in as little as five. Here are 10 tips to make sure your air conditioner is ready for next year.

1. Make sure all weather stripping around doors and windows is properly sealed. As time goes by, the caulking and weather stripping become compromised with use and temperature changes and the loss of the conditioned air can cause the air conditioner and heater to work longer to achieve the desired temperature.

2. Screening AC installers for professional credentials, experience and proper training is extremely important. If the unit has been installed improperly, the system may have leaky ducts or low air flow. Often, the level of refrigerant does not match the manufacturer’s specifications, which can affect efficiency and performance. Improper installation can lower a system’s efficiency by up to 30 percent.

3. Changing or cleaning the air filter is one of the most important maintenance tasks. Clogged, filthy filters obstruct air flow and can even impair the evaporator coil’s ability to absorb heat. Filters should be attended to every month or two, depending on how much dust or pet fur a home has. A good contractor will show homeowners how to do this simple task themselves.

4. It is important to keep an eye out for warning signs of a failing system, such as: loud or strange noises, a system that turns on and off a lot, longer run times, strange smells emanating from the unit, or higher than normal energy bills.

5. Installing and using a programmable thermostat is a great way to improve the longevity of central air. This enables homeowners to pre-program the unit to turn off while they are away from the home or increase in temperature. Energy Star studies say a programmable thermostat can save homeowners about $180 a year in energy costs.

6. Sealing and insulating ducts can improve a cooling system’s efficiency by 20 percent or more. Often ducts that run through attic crawl spaces, basements and garages become extremely hot during the day, which causes the air conditioner to work harder to cool these surfaces. Also, poorly sealed ducts can leak cool air outside of the home and waste energy.

7. Buying high-performance AC units with Energy Star labels and high SEER numbers will not only ensure greater longevity for the system, but can also decrease cooling costs by nearly $500 a year. Upfront cost should not be the only consideration in choosing a system for the home.

8. Getting adequate airflow through the outdoor condenser coils is important as well. Homeowners should periodically check outside to ensure there are no weeds, shrubs or other obstructions. One can also turn off the circuit breaker to the unit, remove the outdoor cabinet and clean out debris that has accumulated inside. Many people hose down the unit after every lawn mowing to keep grass clippings out.

9. Keep pets away from the condenser. It may sound crazy, but it’s not at all uncommon for a system to fail in five years due to a pet using the bathroom on the unit and corroding the cooling coil fins’ metal.

10. Annual maintenance scheduled regularly is the best way to ensure the whole system is operating properly. A technician will top off fluids, check electrical connections for safety, clean and lubricate all moving parts, change the filter, adjust blower components for comfort, and inspect the system for signs of wear and tear. Many families fail to have routine maintenance and as a result have to replace systems or parts that can cost in the thousands of dollars.

Source: Air Depot

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Home for Sale? Stage it Right for Autumn

September 7, 2012 3:16 am

The transition from summer to fall means more than the beginning of football season and sending the kids back to school. For a homeowner wanting to sell a home, it means staging it right with fall in mind to make it more appealing to buyers.

Here are seven ways to bump up your home’s seasonal appeal:

Start with curb appeal – Keep the lawn free of falling leaves and debris and cut back dead or dying perennials. Replace them with fall blooms, like mums, and/or add a few fall blooms in pots to the front porch.

Add fall décor – Use neutral fall décor outside, such as pumpkins, leafy wreaths or small hay bales that appeal to adult sensibilities. But keep it to a tasteful minimum. The idea is to add a few homey touches but keep the focus on the home itself.

Use seasonal scents – Nothing conjures up warm memories more than the sweet, spicy scents of fall. Bring them to mind with a pot of simmering cider on the stove or the aroma of freshly baked bread or cookies. But try to keep it natural. Scented candles or aerosol sprays can irritate some buyers.

Make the kitchen sparkle – Keep it very clean and remove all cleaning supplies from view. Take the notes and photos off the refrigerator and keep the counters clear – except, perhaps, for an attractive cookbook and a bottle of wine or olive oil, or a handsome arrangement of fall produce in a pretty bowl or basket.

Let the light in – Keep drapes and blinds open during the day, and turn on the lights if your home is dark or the weather outside is gray.

Make the fireplace a focal point – Can you make it seem cozier with an armchair or rocking chair facing it, draped with a shawl or afghan? Will a few small pumpkins or gourds add a homey touch to the mantel? Can you rearrange the furniture to make the fireplace the focus of the room?

Set the dining room table – Using fall foliage and candles as a centerpiece, set the table with your best cloth, glassware and china – or dramatize a polished wood table with a showy bowl or basket full of autumn’s finest fruits and foliage.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Clean Your House Naturally and Avoid Toxic Cleansers

September 7, 2012 3:16 am

It's time to tackle the annual home cleaning. But just because you're thoroughly washing, scrubbing and disinfecting your home, it doesn't mean you need to turn to cleansers with harsh ingredients and chemicals. In fact, you can easily clean using inexpensive products already in your kitchen, such as vinegar, baking soda and lemon juice. Use these tips to clean your home naturally.

Start seeing clearly: Are your windows coated with a layer of grime? A solution of two teaspoons of white vinegar and one liter of warm water can be used to gently remove dust or dirt from all glass surfaces including windows and mirrors.

Freshen up the fridge: In addition to food spills, your refrigerator takes on odors from all the different foods stored throughout the year. Discard old items and be sure you are regularly cleaning out the fridge. Help reduce odors year-round by keeping a box of baking soda in the fridge at all times, replacing it every 30 days for best results.

Reawaken your wardrobe: Start the season feeling good in clothes that smell fresh. Even when carefully stored, clothing can still be exposed to dust, and may require a good washing before wearing. Add a cup of baking soda to your next wash to naturally boost the power of your detergent. The combination will help balance PH levels to leave clothing cleaner and fresher. You can also freshen non-washable items like gym shoes, bags and sports equipment by sprinkling baking soda inside.

Renew the everyday rooms: Avoid the fumes of harsh kitchen and bathroom cleaners by naturally cleaning surfaces with baking soda. A sprinkle of baking soda on a damp sponge will clean counters, stainless steel sinks, microwaves, ovens and much more without scratching. For tough grease, mix vinegar and lemon juice to leave your surfaces like new.

Bet on a BBQ: After the inside of your home is looking spic-and-span, get your grill ready to prevent bad tasting hot dogs and hamburgers from ruining your next BBQ. Sprinkle baking soda on a damp brush, then scrub away any residue and rinse clean. For really difficult stains, make a paste with three parts baking soda to one part warm water and use a wire-bristled brush to work away at grime and grease stains.


Published with permission from RISMedia.


Protect Your Pets from Pests

September 7, 2012 3:16 am

For pet owners, summer and fall are great times to enjoy the great outdoors with their furry loved ones. But it also brings the risk of flea and tick infestation. Veterinarians across the country are expecting an abundance of fleas and ticks this year, due in part to last winter's warmer temperatures in some areas of the nation.

Fleas and ticks are more than simple nuisances for your pets. They can cause your pet discomfort, and in the case of ticks, put your pets and your family at risk for a variety of diseases. One adult female flea can lay up to 50 eggs per day. If your pet has 10 fleas, your problem suddenly multiplies to 15,000 fleas in a month.

Prevention is the best course of action. Making your yard unfriendly to pests is a good place to start.

Don't give fleas and ticks a welcoming environment. Mow regularly, keep shrubs trimmed, and rake up leaves. Keep the garbage covered so it won't attract rodents - that means fleas and ticks won't have any help getting close to your house.

You can spray your yard to kill adult fleas and ticks. Outdoor sprays can be used on lawns, flowers, trees and shrubs. They kill and repel fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, ants, crickets and other insects. Spray wherever your pet frequents the most. Allow it to dry before letting pets or people onto the treated area.

Preventive maintenance should be a regular part of your pet care routine. Whenever you groom your dog or cat, check for fleas and ticks. Signs of fleas include redness and scratching, as well as what's known as flea dirt - black flea droppings left on your pet's coat. Ticks are most commonly found around the neck, in the ears, in the folds between the legs and body, and in between the toes. Cats may also have them around the neck and face.

Shampoos clean your pet by eliminating adult fleas, ticks and flea dirt. The active ingredients must come in contact with the pests for a certain period of time in order to be effective. Results are immediate. However, because shampoos have no long-lasting effects, it's a good idea to follow the shampoo with a dip or maintenance product. Mists are used to kill fleas, ticks and mosquitoes on dogs and cats instantly. Flea eggs and larvae will be prevented for one to two months.


Published with permission from RISMedia.


Tips for Living Comfortably When You're on the Road

September 6, 2012 3:16 am

Traveling can leave you craving the comforts of home, especially when you're on the road for more than a day or two. Making life comfortable while you are away starts with choosing the right hotel and finding ways to keep your real-life routines rolling, so being miles from where you live still feels close to how you live.

Here are a few tips for making life on the road feel more like home:

Do Like the Locals Do
Find a local farmers market or local gourmet grocery store. Buy yourself flowers there -- a pot of your favorite violets on the counter or by the window will add color and life to your hotel room. Or, even just having a freshly-baked baguette or some fresh yogurt to snack on in your room can make you feel more cozy and at home. Take time out to go for a walk and explore the neighborhood.

Get Exercise
Ironically, travel can be sedentary, so make sure to move your body. Look for hotels with 24-hour gyms or spacious suites, which provide the perfect setup to work out with your favorite DVD or get in your morning Pilates or yoga routine. Keeping your workout consistent, even while on the road, will help keep you energized throughout the day.

Sip and Enjoy
Bring your favorite tea bags or coffee grounds. Whether you crave espresso or chai, one sip of your favorite coffee or tea will evoke memories of home and start your day off on the right foot. Find a hotel with an in-room coffee/tea maker so you can enjoy your morning drink while getting ready for your day.


Published with permission from RISMedia.


Make the Best Choice When Seeking Home Help

September 6, 2012 3:16 am

Families looking for caregivers to provide help at home for their loved ones got a scare recently with a study published in the July 2012 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The study, conducted by Northwestern University, examined the hiring and screening practices of 180 responding homecare agencies, and concluded that families need to be cautious that the agency is not misrepresenting their caregivers’ skills and their agencies’ training and supervision.

The reality is that not every homecare agency offers the help a family may need. Some agencies may not provide adequate screening or training or put effort into finding the right fit between the caregiver and the client. The situation is often made even more challenging because it may be an unplanned need, making it both more important and harder to be selective in evaluating an agency and an individual caregiver.

To make sure that families get qualified help, families should ask agencies the following questions to ensure they find a right match:

1. How does your agency recruit caregivers, and what are the hiring requirements?

2. What types of screening and background checks are performed on caregivers before they are hired? Make sure that the agency has checked the caregivers’ background through legitimate records databases, not through an unverifiable agency.

3. Is the agency bonded and insured, and licensed if that is required?

4. What kind of health-related training, if any, do caregivers have?

5. Does the agency provide specialized and continuing education for caregivers?

6. What competencies will the caregiver have (e.g., lifting and transfers, homemaking skills, personal care skills including bathing, dressing and toileting, training in behavioral management, cognitive support)? Not every situation will require a caregiver with all of these skills, but it is important to know what a caregiver is able to do.

7. How does the agency assess what the caregiver is capable of doing?

8. What is the policy on providing a substitute caregiver in the event a regular caregiver cannot provide the contracted services?

9. If there is dissatisfaction with a particular caregiver, can he or she be replaced “without cause”?

10. How long has the agency been in business?

11. How does the agency stay abreast of new techniques and research in home care? Franchise agencies usually have a strong network of ongoing skills training to draw on, but every agency should be taking part in local network and education opportunities to ensure they are providing the most current care modalities.

12. Can the family meet the caregiver before the person starts work? Inviting someone into your home to provide care can be scary. Being able to meet and approve the proposed caregiver before hiring can be very important, and it’s one of the things a good agency will offer.

Source: Visiting Angels

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Tips for Parenting Teenagers

September 6, 2012 3:16 am

There is an old school saying that parents grow as their kids grow up. Raising teenagers is perhaps the most difficult phase of a parent’s life. There is simply too much that happens all the time. There are too many factors that have to be considered. A teenager is likely to develop the most physically, mentally and emotionally in these years and when so many aspects develop together, it is bound to get complicated. Whether or not your teen is going off your preferred path for him or her, tackling every little aspect is still a major challenge.

Keep the following in mind when parenting your teenage son or daughter:

-Independence is of prime importance for teenagers. They have always been confided in your arms and it is time they would spread their wings to see life as they want to see it. Liberty is what you should be offering them. That is freedom with some restrictions. The restrictions should never appear to be overbearing as that could just lead to more troubles. Give them their space but let them know where to draw the line.

-Talking things out is the most advisable parenting tip. Regardless of what the situation is and how grave the problem may be at hand, talking always helps. Speak with your child about the risks of what he or she may be doing, show them what is right and what is not, prevent them from taking risky moves and try to create an understanding that is more than just communicating disciplinary teachings.

-Be welcoming of the world your teen is presently in. Not everything will be mutually agreeable, hence, try to win on the graver issues and let go on the minor ones. Drug addiction or bad company is a red sign, but playing an hour more on the computer or curling her silky straight hair does not pose any threat.

Parents who have troubled teenagers or those that have indulged in unacceptable habits and activities need not shy away from a teen treatment center, and opting for one sooner than later is the wisest decision you can make.

Source: Eagle Ranch Academy

Published with permission from RISMedia.