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

Plastics Recycling Sees Increase in the U.S.

December 15, 2011 3:50 pm

A recently released study by Moore Recycling Associates Inc. found that a much larger portion of the U.S. population has ready access to recycle commonly used plastics than previously believed. Specifically the study, "Plastics Recycling Collection: National Reach Study," found that 94 percent of Americans have access to recycle plastic bottles and 40 percent of the population also can recycle other types of plastic containers, such as yogurt cups, dairy tubs and lids.

Although the study surveyed nearly 2,500 communities across the United States, it found that within the 100 largest cities, the percentage of the population with access to recycle plastic containers in addition to bottles has nearly doubled since 2008.

The study did not look at recycling film plastics—a category that includes plastic bags and many product wraps—but it is well documented that these materials are collected separately at more than 12,000 locations across the country.

Recyclers—typically small community-based businesses—rely on consumers to recover a steady supply of used plastics, such as assorted bottles, containers, bags and wraps. Recycled plastics can be made into a variety of innovative products, including soft T-shirts, durable backyard decks, storage containers, car parts, decorative moldings and other home building products, cutting boards, and even fashionable hand bags.

The study also noted that it is more effective to communicate which plastics are recycled in various communities by listing shapes (e.g., bottles, tubs, trays, lids, etc.) than by listing resin codes (numbers 1-7), which can be confusing.

Below are some tips to make it easier to recycle more of the plastics we use every day:

Bottles: For recycling purposes, a bottle is any container with a neck or an opening that's smaller than its base. Include the following wherever plastic bottles are recycled:
• Milk jugs
• Beverage bottles (e.g., water, soft drinks, juice and beer)
• Bottles from shampoo, toiletries, laundry detergent and other household cleaners
• Salad dressing, cooking oil and condiment bottles
• Food jars, such as peanut butter and mayonnaise
• Tip: Twist caps back on before placing in the recycling bin; recyclers want those, too!

Containers: Include the following wherever containers, tubs and/or lids are recycled:
• Yogurt cups
• Butter tubs
• Deli containers
• Dairy containers
• Frozen food trays
• Produce containers (hinged or lidded)
• Lids

Bags and Wraps: Clean and dry plastic bags and wraps should be returned to grocery and retail stores for recycling instead of being placed in curbside bins. Include the following wherever plastic bags are recycled:
• Grocery bags
• Retail bags (remove hard plastic or string handles)
• Newspaper bags
• Dry cleaning bags (remove paper and hangers)
• Bread bags (with crumbs shaken out)
• Produce bags
• Sealable and non-sealable food storage bags
• Product wraps from paper towels, bathroom tissue, napkins, bulk beverages, and diapers

For more information, see: http://plastics.americanchemistry.com/recycling.
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Last Call for Energy Efficiency Homeowner Tax Credits

December 15, 2011 3:50 pm

The Alliance to Save Energy urges American consumers to give themselves the gift of energy efficiency this holiday season – and reap the benefits when they file their 2011 federal tax returns – by taking advantage of tax credits for energy efficiency home improvements. The tax credits of up to $500 are set to expire on December 31 and Congress may not renew them for 2012.

"The outlook for renewal of federal energy efficiency tax incentives is uncertain at best," stated Alliance President Kateri Callahan, "so we encourage homeowners to complete those upgrades before the ball drops in Times Square at midnight on New Year's Eve.

"Making efficiency improvements this year will lower home energy bills and improve home comfort for years to come, while also reducing 2011 federal income tax bills," Callahan added.

The specific home improvements that qualify for tax credits fall into a number of categories:

Exterior windows, skylights and storm windows.
Insulation, exterior doors, roofs, storm doors and products to seal air leaks such as caulking, weather stripping and foam sealants.
Highly-efficient heating and cooling equipment, including central air conditioners, heat pumps, furnaces, boilers, water heaters and biomass (e.g. corn) stoves.

Each product category also must meet specific energy efficiency requirements, which are spelled out on the Alliance's tax credits web page.

Percentage and/or dollar limits on particular energy-efficient upgrades include:

• 10% of the cost of insulation and sealing materials, exterior doors and roofs.
• 10% of the cost, up to $200, of exterior windows or skylights.
• Up to $300 for electric heat-pump water heaters, electric heat pumps, central air conditioners, biomass stoves and natural gas, propane or oil water heaters.
• Up to $50 for advanced main-air circulating fans.
• Up to $150 for natural gas, propane or oil furnace or hot-water boilers.

For more information, visit http://ase.org/.
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Holiday Survival Guide for Busy Families

December 14, 2011 3:50 pm

Lets face it: sometimes the Holidays are stressful. With all of the parties, shopping and other obligations to tackle in a very limited time, families must somehow manage to balance it all. Here are a few tips on how to survive the holidays and enjoy yourself in the process.

Get Organized: Have the kids make their wish lists and then organize them on a master shopping list. Create a gift spreadsheet if you feel you need extra organization. A column for each recipient, rows with product name, price and ordering info for each gift. For Holiday cards, invest the time in creating a mailing address label template on your computer that you can print out and just update each year.

Shop Online: Once you have your master shopping list, do as much shopping online as possible. No hassles at the store or in traffic equals more time enjoying the season at home with your family. Buying gifts can even be relaxing if you follow this lead and online shop with your well-organized list while watching The Daily Show from bed.

Don't Over Commit: Remember it’s okay to say no, even to a business opportunity. If taking on a new project means you will be uncomfortably above capacity during the holidays, everyone will lose. Schedule new projects for start-dates after the holidays instead of turning business away.

Share the Work: Make a new tradition and get the family in on the action! Have the kids stuff, stamp and label all the holiday card envelopes. They'll be happy to be part of the process. If this is your business crunch time, plan to be a guest rather than a host. Offer to host a different holiday at another time of the year.

Stock Up On Extra Gifts: There are always those last minute gifts you forget about—whether for holiday toy drives or unanticipated reciprocation—that fail to make it onto the most organized of lists. Buy a little extra (especially when you find a great sale). If they don’t get used this year, donate them or recycle them next year. There’s nothing worse than realizing you have to enter the fray on those final days after you’ve already taken that deep breath thinking you were all done!

Set Boundaries Between Work and Family Time: For those working from home, it is a blessing and a challenge. The temptation to work all the time is always there, especially during a busy season. Work while the kids are at school and activities, complete online tasks while the kids do homework and get in some evening work after the kids go to bed.

Don't Forget To Breathe: Maintaining a calm attitude while getting through a mountain of work, for both business and holiday prep, takes less time and energy. Do one task at a time, calmly, and then move on to the next. It will all get done as it always does. Forget non-essentials like making sure the house is spotless and the beds are made. Having a relaxed attitude even if there's no time to relax can make all the difference.

Source: Susan Miller, www.shopskm.com
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New-Home Sales Rise 1.3 Percent in October

December 14, 2011 3:50 pm

Sales of newly built, single-family homes inched up 1.3 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 307,000 units in October, according to newly released data from the U.S. Commerce Department. The gain is from a downwardly revised rate in the previous month, and marks the best pace of new-home sales activity since this May.

"Builders have been seeing some marginal improvement in sales activity over the past few months, particularly in select markets where consumer confidence is higher due to improved economic conditions," said Bob Nielsen, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and a home builder from Reno, Nev. "While this trend is encouraging, overall sales activity is still well below normal due to the effects of overly tight credit conditions for builders and buyers, the continued flow of distressed properties on the market, and inaccurate appraisal values on new homes."

"Today's report is right in line with our forecast for modest and gradual improvement in sales activity through the remainder of the year," said NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. "Particularly encouraging is the fact that builders continue to hold down their inventories to match the current sales rate, with the number of new homes for sale now down to a sustainable, 6.3-month supply."

Regionally, new-home sales held unchanged in the Northeast and gained 22.2 percent in the Midwest and 14.9 percent in the West in October.

Meanwhile, the nationwide inventory of new homes for sale held at an all-time record low of just 162,000 units in October, which is a 6.3-month supply at the current sales pace.

For more information, visit www.nahb.org.
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Help for Community Associations and Homeowners

December 14, 2011 3:50 pm

With more than 60 million Americans living in 315,000 U.S. homeowners associations and condominium communities, tension, frustration and conflict are inevitable.

Associations can face a range of problems—from financial strife related to the current economic climate and housing crisis to conflict between homeowners and association leaders. Issues can involve mandatory homeowner fees, budgetary shortfalls, home foreclosures, architectural guidelines and rules enforcement related to yard signs, holiday decorations, flag poles, pets and parking.

Fortunately, there is free help and information—for homeowners, association leaders and community managers.

The nonprofit Community Associations Institute (CAI) offers free, downloadable information that can help homeowners better understand how associations should function and how to improve communities that are failing to meet resident expectations. Included are:

• An Introduction to Community Association Living—an online presentation that explains the nature, obligations and benefits of living in a common-interest community.
• Rights and Responsibilities for Better Communities—42 principles and practices to help associations promote harmony and reduce the potential for conflict.
• Community Association Governance Guidelines—12 principles that can help association boards identify and meet basic benchmarks of responsible governance.
• Model Code of Ethics for Community Association Board Members

By knowing your rights and the rules and regulations of normal homeowners associations, you can know what to expect and better your living situation.

For more information, visit www.caionline.org/help.
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Home Builders Applaud Congress for Restoring Higher FHA Loan Limits

December 13, 2011 9:50 pm

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) recently applauded Congress for reinstating for another two years the higher conforming loan limits for the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), noting that this is an important step to help mend the struggling housing market.

“We commend congressional leaders in both parties and each chamber of Congress for taking this action to boost overall mortgage liquidity in the marketplace, create jobs, and provide homeowners and homebuyers with safe and affordable financing,” said NAHB Chairman Bob Nielsen, a home builder from Reno, Nev.

“Restoring the higher FHA loan limits will help to stabilize home values, provide constancy while private investors re-enter the market, and enable millions of creditworthy consumers to get home loans with the best mortgage rates and lowest fees and down payment requirements,” he adds.

For more information, visit www.nahb.org.
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Simple Steps for Choosing Childcare

December 13, 2011 9:50 pm

Earlier this fall, an unlicensed childcare worker in Lincoln, Nebraska was charged with criminal child neglect, only one of many recent childcare and daycare employees to come under such scrutiny. These continued problems with childcare institutions have left many parents concerned. With this series of practical steps, parents can minimize the chances of placing their kids in an unsuitable facility. Basic vigilance and a little research can help parents make more informed and ultimately safer decisions.

Parents have a great deal of power with which to investigate a childcare service’s history and its true values. Doing this kind of work on the front end can ultimately minimize the risk of trouble down the road.

1. Pursue all possible avenues of research. Do not only conduct online searches, but also ask family and friends for referrals or recommendations.

2. Call the manager and inquire about general policies and practices. If possible, visit the facilities in person.

3. Interview other parents who use, or have used, a particular facility in the past. Ask why they find it to be either acceptable or not.

4. Take your child to the facility and watch how he or she interacts with other kids. If your child gives the impression that something is “off,” trust that instinct and keep looking.

5. Ensure that the childcare facility you are considering is licensed. Also make certain that it is well-staffed and that the facilities are clean.

There is no such thing as being too thorough when investigating a childcare facility. Doing the proper research in advance is ultimately what keeps parents from unwelcome surprises.

For more information, visit: thadpryorsite.org.
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The Art of Toasting: Raising a Glass with Class

December 13, 2011 9:50 pm

When you deliver your holiday toast, what words will you say? What pithy wisdom, humorous thoughts or warm expressions will you share with family and friends?

Like fine wine itself, a toast is an opportunity to savor. Over the next few weeks, countless people will stand up and say a few words at holiday meals, office parties and various New Year's festivities. Delivering a toast is a classic form of public speaking. It's an easy way to make a connection with an audience, either formally or informally. Here are a few tips to keep in mind if you are preparing to give a toast at your next social function:

Be Brief. Keep your comments short and they'll have a greater impact. Talk for more than a couple of minutes and the guests will grow antsy.

Be Bold. Step up and act confident. Speak loudly and clearly.

Be Prepared. Know what you want to say ahead of time. Your words might inspire reflection or provide some much-needed laughter, so make the most of the moment- don't wing it.

Be Fresh. Your drink shouldn't be stale and neither should your words. Clichés and platitudes mean little to listeners; be original and speak from the heart.

Be You. Don't try to be hilarious if that's not who you are. Skip the serious message if it doesn't feel right. Just be yourself.

For more information, visit www.toastmasters.org.
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Simple Tips for Real Christmas Tree Care

December 12, 2011 9:48 pm

Real Christmas trees are a wonderful way to celebrate the holidays, filling the home with a fresh evergreen scent and unmatched appearance. To maintain your tree throughout the season, follow these simple tips for proper care.

Stand Strong – Traditional reservoir-type stands are the most effective way to maintain tree freshness and minimize needle loss. As a general rule, stands should provide 1 quart of water per inch of stem diameter.

Fresh Cut – If the tree has been cut within the past 12 hours, it is not necessary to recut the trunk. If it has been more than 12 hours since harvest, remove a 1/4-inch disk of wood from the base of the trunk before placing the tree in the stand. Don’t cut the trunk at an angle or into a V-shape, which can make it far more difficult to hold in a stand and reduce the amount of water available to the tree. Avoid whittling the sides of the trunk to fit a stand. The outer layers of wood are the most efficient at taking up water and should not be removed. Drilling a hole in the base of the trunk does not improve water uptake.

Water, Water – Once home, place the tree in water as soon as possible. Don't bruise the cut surface of the trunk or get it dirty. Do not use additives in the water. Clean water is all that is needed to maintain freshness. Check the stand daily to make sure the water level does not go below the base of the tree.

Temperature Control – Keep trees away from heat sources (fireplaces, heaters, heat vents, direct sunlight). Lowering the room temperature will slow the drying process, resulting in less water consumption. The temperature of the water used to fill the stand is not important and does not affect water uptake.

Light Use
– Choose lights that produce low or no heat, such as miniature or LED lights, to reduce drying of the tree. Always inspect light sets prior to placing them on the tree. If worn, replace with a new set. Do not overload electrical circuits and always turn off tree lights when leaving the house or going to bed.

For more information, visit http://www.christmastrees-wi.org/.
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Prevent Home Fires This Holiday Season

December 12, 2011 9:48 pm

With increased activity in the kitchen and heightened energy use to combat the cold, families are at greater risk of home fires during the winter holiday season. The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) is encouraging families and communities across the country to take simple precautions to ensure that this celebratory time of year does not result in a fire-related tragedy.

National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) statistics indicate that 30 percent of all home fires and 38 percent of home fire deaths occur during the months of December, January and February. Additionally, almost two-thirds of home fire deaths result from fires that occur in homes without working smoke alarms.

Many of these simple precautions seem like common sense, but are often overlooked due to the hectic nature of the holiday season. In addition to taking preventative measures like testing smoke alarms, it is critical that families create and practice their fire escape plan to minimize tragedy if a fire does occur.

Follow these basic safety guidelines to help protect your family, guests and home from holiday home fires:

-Stay in the kitchen when food is cooking. Unattended cooking is the leading cause of home fires in the United States.

-Keep children at least three feet away from cooking appliances. Never leave a child unsupervised while cooking or when an electric or gas stove is within reach.

-Keep towels, pot holders, curtains and other flammable items away from hot surfaces.

-With greater activity in and around your home comes increased energy use. Be careful not to overburden your electrical system.

-Keep space heaters out of high-traffic and exit areas, and at least three feet away from any combustible materials.

-Do not use space heaters in rooms where children are unsupervised.

-Turn space heaters off when you go to sleep or leave the room. Never leave a space heater unattended.

-Install smoke alarms inside each bedroom, outside each sleeping area and on every level of your home. Test smoke alarms once a month to ensure they are working properly.

-Make sure everyone in your family recognizes the sound of the smoke alarm and knows what it means.

-Plan for a fire emergency before it happens. Be sure to explain your family fire escape plan to overnight houseguests and babysitters.

For more information, visit www.holidaysafety.org.
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