3 home safety hazards and how to prevent them

We all get complacent when it comes to safety factors in our homes, so let’s make 2018 the year we look at our sanctuaries with an eye toward making them safer.

We’ve compiled some tips on how to prevent the three most common types of home injuries.

Falls

Falls are the most common accidents that occur in the home and can cause serious injury or death. The risk increases when it comes to the very young and the elderly.

Reduce the risk of falls with these tips:

  • Use anti-slip trips on stairs
  • Install non-slip mats in the bathtub and shower
  • Older Americans should consider installing a grab-bar in the bathtub or shower.
  • Protect young children from falls by using hardware-mounted safety gates to keep them off stairs.
  • Tape or tack throw rugs to the floor.
  • The experts at WebMD suggest installing “window guards with quick-release mechanisms (in case of fire) on upper floor windows.”
  • Examine each room in the home for potential fall hazards. Look for floorboards that stick up, cords that may present a tripping hazard and loose stairway handrails.
  • Increase lighting in dark areas and place nightlights in hallways, bedrooms, bathrooms and on stairways.
  • Wipe up spills on slippery surfaces immediately.

Poisoning

The second largest cause of deadly accidents in the home is poisoning. In fact, according to USNews.com, it is the leading cause of home injury deaths for the middle-aged and young adults.

And, the leading causes of home poisonings include the unsafe storage of medications and the inadvertent and improper mixing of drugs.

“It’s kind of the Heath Ledger scenario, where people are perhaps on a prescription drug, or maybe more than one, and then they get a cold and they take a decongestant, and then maybe they add a drink to that,” the Home Safety Council’s Meri-K Appy tells USNews.com’s Luke Mullins.

Actor Heath Ledger, who suffered from insomnia and the common cold, died of combined drug intoxication.

Reduce the risk of poisoning in the home by:

  • Calling the Poison Help Hotline at 800-222-1222, before taking more than one prescription or over-the- counter remedy, or mixing prescription and OTC drugs. The hotline is staffed at all times and they can council you about specific combinations of medicines.
  • Placing the Poison Help Hotline number next to the telephone to use in emergencies.
  • Keeping all drugs out of the reach of children.
  • Storing toxic household products where children and pets can’t reach them.
  • Understanding that the fumes of certain household products may be lethal if combined (such as bleach and ammonia).
  • Not storing toxic materials in food containers.
  • Watching  your child even more closely when you are away from home, especially at a grandparent’s home where medicines are often left within a child’s reach.

Burns

When was the last time you checked the temperature on your water heater?

Since more than half of household burn and scald injuries occur in the bath, set your water heater to the temperature the water heater manufacturer recommends, or to 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

If you have small children, who are able to play with the faucets, consider installing anti-scald devices to faucets.

Here are some additional tips to prevent burns and scalds in the home:

  • Never leave anything that contains hot liquid or food where a child can reach it.
  • Turn all pot handles toward the back of the stove while cooking.
  • Unplug all heated appliances when not using them. These include steam irons, space heaters and curling irons.
  • Extinguish candles before leaving a room, the home or before going to sleep.
  • Smoke alarms and fire extinguishers save lives.

You’ll find additional tips for parents of small children at Parents.com and for older Americans at aarp.org.

Negotiating with the buyer after the home inspection

Negotiating the successful close of a home sale begins with price and contract terms and doesn’t end until the deal closes.

One of the most frequently negotiated items, after the aforementioned price and terms, has to do with the home inspection results. They’re also among the most contentious negotiations.

Very few home inspections are “clean,” meaning there’s not a thing wrong with the home. And, many of the items mentioned in the reports are minor.

Your real estate agent will counsel you on how to deal with buyer requests for repairs. But, it helps to know why he or she is making certain suggestions.

When you know how to choose your battles, and why, you’ll understand this negotiating process.

The 3 most common types of requests

When homebuyers find items in the home inspection report that they want fixed, their agents typically counsel them to submit one of the following requests:

1. Ask the seller to make the fixes

This method may delay the transaction and, depending on the extent of repairs or replacements required, and the deal the buyer made over the price, the buyer runs the risk of the request being denied.

One thing you, as the seller, should know,  is that the buyer’s lender may require certain fixes before final approval of the loan. These include issues regarding the home’s safety, structural soundness and to remedy building code violations. Expect to make all of these types of repairs.

2. Ask the seller for a credit of the funds required to make the fixes

While an adjustment to the closing date may have to be made (depending, again, on what’s require to get the home where the buyer wants it), this method is quicker than the first one.

A good buyers’ agent, however will ask the buyers if they can trust themselves to make the repairs with the cash-back at the close of escrow.

Again, as the seller, be aware that certain fixes are required by the VA and by FHA, before the close of escrow.

Also, some lenders and some types of loans forbid a cash credit at closing.

3. Ask the seller to lower the price of the home

Buyer agents will suggest to their clients that they may want to request a price reduction to compensate for the cost of needed repairs.

What you should never agree to fix

It’s amazing to me how old, ugly and scary a home inspection photo of an electrical outlet wall plate can look. Each smudge, every crack and that itty-bitty- chipped-corner, when resized to enormous proportions, makes it look like it’s ready to eat the house.

The real estate agent for the buyer that insists that the seller replace that piece of plastic or that the seller buy and install a globe lightbulb in the outlet over the front porch, should counsel her client that

the inspection report is not a repair list for the seller

Typically, repairs to rectify cosmetic issues can be safely ignored. Lender-required fixes, on the other hand, should always be performed.

Even if this particular buyer walks away, these fixes are now a disclosure item and other lenders will most likely demand them.

During a fiery sellers’ market, you are in the driver’s seat and can safely ignore most of the more trivial requests. In a buyers’ market, however, you may have to take a deep breath and carefully consider caving to the buyer’s wishes.

You don’t have to follow the buyer’s agent’s script

If the items on the buyer’s fix-list aren’t of a safety, structural soundness or building code violation nature, you are under no obligation to respond to the buyer’s preferred remediation method.

In other words, you don’t have to offer a credit, make the fixes or lower the price of the home. You have options, too. Some of these include:

Hold back personal property

If you won’t be taking your appliances with you when you move, don’t automatically include them in the sale. Hold them back to use as bargaining chips during the negotiating periods, such as over price and repairs, suggests Realtor.com.

Instead of lowering the price of the home or making non-essential repairs, offer to throw in the appliances.

Offering a home warranty

Offering a home warranty is a win-win way to address those requests for replacement of an item that, although it may be nearing the end of its functional life, still works.

An aging water heater, for instance, may concern the buyer. A home warranty might ease their anxiety and save you money in the process.

As always, consult with your real estate agent about all possible responses to a buyer’s request for repairs.

How to keep your windows from fogging up in the winter

All those gorgeous windows that allow summertime sunshine to stream through the home are useless to view the winter wonderland outside if the glass is covered in fog.

When that frosty outdoor air hits the heated glass of a window, it’s inevitable that the result will be condensation. There is a way to foil this natural process, however.

What causes window fogging?

Condensation is the result of temperature and moisture. The amount of moisture the air inside our homes can hold is limited and it depends on the temperature of the air.

When the air becomes saturated, it becomes warm and moist. When it then comes into contact with the cold glass of a window, it condenses into liquid, according to the United States Department of the Interior.

The process is similar to how your iced-tea glass begins dripping on the outside when the weather is hot.

There are solutions to foggy windows

The first solution to try is to get rid of excess humidity in the home. This is no easy task, considering even our breath adds to a home’s humidity level.

The everyday indoor activities of a family of four “can add more than 18 gallons of water a week into the air in the home”

according to the pros at Thermal Windows, Inc.

No, we aren’t suggesting that you stop breathing but there are steps you can take to reduce interior humidity:

  • Houseplants contribute to the humidity level inside the home. Consider moving them to one room during the winter.
  • Use the exhaust fan in the laundry room, in the kitchen while cooking and in the bathroom while showering or bathing. Allow it to run for about five minutes after you’ve finished.
  • Take shorter showers.
  • Open some windows for a few minutes, several times a day, or in the evening.

Then, check the crawl space and basement for moisture and use a plastic vapor barrier to keep moisture to a minimum, suggests Tom Feiza, author of “How to Operate your Home.”

The Family Handyman offers an easy-to-follow walkthrough of the installation process.

In spring, check the yard for correct grading and drainage.

If all else fails, use a dehumidifier

Excess humidity in the home does more than fog windows. It can cause paint to peel, floors to buckle, wood to rot and insulation to deteriorate. It also attracts dust mites to your clothing, rugs, carpeting and — yup — your bed.

A dehumidifier removes “between 10 pints and 50 pints of water from the air each day,” according to the experts at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Not only is this good for taking in that view outside your windows, but for your health as well, especially for those who suffer from allergies and asthma.

One of the disadvantages of using a dehumidifier is that these machines require consistent cleaning to discourage mold growth.

Also, small units may not work on a larger home, so the University of Rochester Medical Center suggests larger capacity units, rated at 50 pints a day or more.

Do I Have to Use the Builder’s Lender and Real Estate Agent?

The real estate industry does a spectacular job educating first-time homebuyers. There’s so much valuable information out there that no buyer should go through the process uninformed.

Buying a home in a new community – a brand-new home that no-one has ever lived in – is not only first-time homebuying on steroids, but the industry has left the homebuyer behind in terms of offering information and sharing knowledge about the process.

From the home loan process to choosing your real estate agent, it doesn’t have to be confusing.

Read on to learn answers to the two most common questions we receive from our clients who are considering buying a newly-constructed home.

The preferred lender

Many potential new homeowners walk away from the model home tour under the assumption that they must use the builder’s preferred lender as a condition of the purchase.

Is it any wonder?

Some builders’ representatives use carefully-chosen words to make buyers believe this

When, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

Now, the builder may require you to obtain loan pre-qualification from the preferred lender but, in the end, you can borrow money for the home from whichever lender you chose.

These lenders often offer good deals, though. They may offer to pay your closing costs or entice you with a specific amount, such as $10,000, if you obtain your mortgage from them.

Others will reduce the price of the home or throw in attractive upgrades as an inducement to use the preferred lender.

These are a bit more challenging to put into monetary terms so you may need to do some research. You’ll need a dollar figure to work with when comparing this lender’s offer to others.

Incentives, however, may turn out to mean nothing if not compared against other terms, such as the interest rate and points charged

By the way, go ahead and allow the builder’s preferred lender to pre-qualify you for a mortgage – you are in no way obligated to use their services in exchange for loan pre-approval.

You’ll be given a Loan Estimate that you can use to compare this lender’s offering against others. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau offers a sample of the form, with explanations, on its website.

My best advice to my clients is to go loan shopping before you step one foot into a new home community’s builder’s office. Have facts and figures in-hand, ready to compare to what the builder’s lender will offer.

If you don’t have this backup,  there’s a good chance you’ll get swept up in the excitement of buying a new home, perhaps falling in love with one of the model homes, and your emotions will take over.

Armed with hard facts (offers from other lenders), on the other hand, you’ll be able to react logically instead of emotionally, and that’s a good thing when making a financial decision.

About the builder’s real estate agent

Just as it’s never a good idea to use the homeowner’s real estate agent when buying an existing home, it’s unwise to use the builder’s agent, and here’s why:

The owner’s agent, whether a homeowner or a builder, has one overriding aim: to get the owner the most amount possible for the home

The buyers’ agent, on the other hand, seeks to help his or her client spend as little as possible for a home.

See how the two duties conflict?

Regardless of how congenial, knowledgeable and eager the builder’s agent is, you need your own representation.

In fact, you’ll be asked on your first visit if you’re working with a real estate agent and your answer should always be “yes”

To be safe, we recommend that you ask your agent to accompany you on the first visit. If that isn’t possible, register your agent when you sign in.

Now, instead of using an agent with divided loyalties, you have your own representative who will go to bat for you in negotiating upgrades and extras, guide you during the inspections and assist you in taking care of all those details during the transaction.

Critical winter home staging tips

Winter home sales don’t have to be as challenging as you may think. Sure, the sun isn’t always shining and you may be contending with snow and ice in your landscaping, but we’ve got some hacks to help cozy up your home, making it über-inviting to winter house hunters.

It may be winter, but curb appeal still matters

What will your potential buyer see when he or she drives up to the curb in front of your home? This is known as curb appeal and it’s one of the most important aspects of home staging.

Curb appeal is, after all, what will either encourage the buyer to get out of the car or to drive off to the next listing.

While there’s not a lot you can do if there’s snow on the ground, there are several, subtle updates you can make that will appeal to buyers.

  • Purchasing a new set of house numbers will make a big difference, especially in winter. Bigger is better so your house is easily recognizable.

 

  • Invest in new door mats. Consider a seasonal option, and you may want to have a second mat ready for showings in case the daily one looks a little worse for the wear as a result of the weather.

 

  • Ensure that the porch, driveway and walkways remain clear of snow and ice.

 

  • Paint the front door an eye-catching color. Zillow’s 2017 Paint Color Analysis finds that

“doors painted in shades of dark navy blue to slate gray sold for $1,514 more.”

  • Add life to the front porch in the form of plants in attractive pots.

 

  • Consider adding additional outdoor lighting. When they consider lighting, most sellers confine their efforts to the home’s interior. While it’s crucial to have good lighting indoors, don’t neglect your outdoor lighting strategy.

 

Home sellers tend to ignore backyard home features when readying their homes for the winter market. After all, they’re typically only used during the balmier times of the year. Don’t let winter discourage you from showing them off, though.

Create a vignette as if it were 70 degrees and the sun is shining. If it’s not snowing, scrub the grill and leave it open. Set the patio table for an outdoor barbecue. Leave the hot tub running during showings.

The entry way

If you have time to do nothing more before dashing off to work in the morning, tidy the entry way. After curb appeal, the portal to the rest of the home sets the tone for the entire visit.

It should be clean, of course, and free of clutter. Remove the keys and other items that tend to get dropped on the table, the boots that get kicked off at the door and anything else that tends to end up just inside the front door.

Run the vacuum or a mop over the floor and consider adding fresh flowers or a live plant to add a pop of life to the area.

 Maximize light

The right lighting in a home helps draw attention where you want it, creates mood and ambience, alleviates shadows and highlights textures, according to the American Lighting Association (ALA).

Even during the sunniest times of the year, real estate agents recommend that home sellers maximize the light inside the home. Typically, this involves leaving the window coverings open and turning on all the lights in the home.

Of course, you’ll want clean windows to allow what little sunlight there may be to reach the interior of the home. In winter, however, there is less sunlight, so you’ll need to get creative with your lighting.

Do an inventory of your home’s artificial light sources. Lighting professionals recommend “layered lighting,” which includes overhead, task and accent lighting. Include all three in your lighting scheme.

Aim for a higher wattage for your light fixtures. HGTV experts recommend “100 watts for each 50 square feet.”

Strategically placed mirrors will reflect nearby light so consider adding some to your decorating scheme.

Subtle accessories make a difference

Drape a throw over the arm of the sofa or the back of a chair, add a fluffy comforter to the foot of the bed and scatter richly-colored area rugs to create a cozier ambiance.

Keep in mind that excessive holiday décor will take the buyers’ focus off of the features you want them to notice, so keep it to a minimum. Some twinkly lights, vases of winter greenery and bowls of sparkly tree ornaments set the mood without distraction and without alienating buyers.

Winter doesn’t have to be a challenging time to sell a home. Think like a decorator and your home will be the belle of the winter real estate market.

4 quick and easy winter home maintenance tasks

Winter hibernation – that feeling that we should burrow our heads under the covers until spring — is typically fruitless.

Since scientists warn us to “keep moving” to release endorphins which will help us keep “winter tiredness” at bay, we’ve come up with “exercises” that offer a bonus. They’re quick, they’ll get you moving and your home will look incredible when you’re finished.

Attack the refrigerator

How’s yours looking after the Thanksgiving festivities?

More important – when was the last time you pulled it away from the wall to clean behind it?

If you have pets, especially, the coils should be cleaned at least twice a year if you hope to prolong the appliance’s life.

So, move it away from the wall to give yourself room to work and unplug it. Then, use the vacuum to clean the coils.

Depending on how much fuzz and other grime has accumulated on the coils, you may want to pre-clean them by brushing with a paintbrush. Then, use the vacuum, with the brush attachment, to get the rest.

When you’re finished, sweep and mop the floor, plug the refrigerator back in and move it to its original location.

If your refrigerator’s coils are on the bottom, you can access them through the grill cover at the bottom of the front of the refrigerator.

Appliance manufacturers are now offering refrigerators with condensers enclosed in a compressor casing so they never need cleaning (in fact, GE calls theirs NeverClean™ Condensers). This location also allows for more efficient airflow.

Dishwashers don’t clean themselves

It’s amazing that a contraption that can clean so many things (silicon oven mitts, tools, toys, makeup brushes, golf balls and more) doesn’t clean itself.

In fact, to keep it running efficiently, you should clean your dishwasher once a month, according to Bob Vila.

Unplug the dishwasher and remove the bottom dish rack. Locate the drain filter at the bottom of the tub. Unscrew the center cylinder, remove it, wash it under hot water and replace it.

The spray arms can be either unscrewed or pull off, depending on the model. You may need a toothpick to get to any small pieces of food stuck inside the holes.

If your dishwasher has a vent on the inside of the door, remove the cover and attack that awful gunk that tends to accumulate there. A stiff toothbrush dipped in vinegar and a bit of scrubbing should remove it.

Clean the showerhead

If your showers aren’t what they used to be, the showerhead may be the culprit. Scaly mineral deposits build up and eventually clog the tiny spray holes. Fortunately, there are several methods you can try to rid the showerhead of the deposits.

Let’s start with the easiest – it doesn’t require removal of the showerhead.

  • “Slip a rubber band over the top of the showerhead,” suggests Better Homes & Gardens.
  • Pour your preferred liquid cleaning solution (vinegar, CLR, etc.) in a plastic sandwich bag.
  • Place the bag over the showerhead and wrap the rubber band around the top of the plastic bag to secure it.
  • Allow the bag to remain for about an hour (or according to the product’s instructions).
  • Remove the bag and turn on the shower to flush the solution from the showerhead.

If the easy method fails, you’ll need to remove the showerhead and scrub it with an old toothbrush and the cleaning solution.

Plumbingsupply.com offers a handy walk-through of the removal process and how to guard against damaging the showerhead.

Use a small, sharp object, such as a pin or toothpick to dislodge stubborn particles. You may need to soak the showerhead in the solution overnight.

Bob Vila recommends that since you have the showerhead dismantled, you should clean the filter as well. Use the showerhead manufacturer’s instructions about how to locate and detach the filter screen.

It is typically located “near the point where the shower head attaches to the water supply pipe, according to Vila. To clean, use the toothbrush to scrub it under running water.

Clean your computer

If you use your computer as much as we do ours, you’ll agree that digital maintenance is just as necessary as home maintenance. Heavily-used machines take a beating and invariably end up with a lot more than dust to contend with.

Refer to your owner’s manual first.

Not all of them contain information on cleaning but if yours does, because it’s specific to your device, it’s the best advice to follow.

Work from the outside to the inside by cleaning the shell first. Consumer Reports recommends using a small drop of liquid dish soap in a small bowl of warm water. Dip in a sponge, wring it well and wipe down the exterior of the case and the mouse.

Keyboards are like flypaper – they attract anything that happens to float by, from dust to hair to crumbs. Consumer Reports recommends using a portable vacuum cleaner to get at the detritus. Lacking one of those, use a small brush to clean around the keys.

If you use a detached keyboard, give it a couple of gentle shakes and then turn it over and pat gently along the back of it. You may be surprised what falls out of it. Then, wipe the keys with a damp cloth. A cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol is ideal for cleaning the spaces between the keys.

Use a soft brush to wipe the dust from the computer’s vents and then spray condensed air to dislodge any stubborn debris. Consumer Reports recommends that you hold the compressed air can “at an angle so that you’re not blowing the debris deeper into the machine.”

Use care when cleaning the monitor.

Start by using a dry, micro-fiber cleaning cloth to remove as many of the smudges and other grime as possible. If it requires additional cleaning, Matt Elliott with cnet.com recommends using a soft cloth, dipped in a solution of warm water and a drop of dish soap – well-wrung – to gently wipe the screen.

Use a clean, damp cloth to remove the soapy residue and the micro-fiber cloth to dry it.

Selling a luxury home? 4 qualities to look for in a real estate agent

Selling a luxury home is unlike any other real estate transaction. The marketing is different, the potential buyers are different and the entire sales process is as well.

We hear from our luxury home clients that they found locating the right real estate agent to handle the sale the most challenging part of the process.

So, we came up with four qualities you should look for when choosing an agent to assist you in the sale of your luxury home.

Experience

Nobel Prize winner Albert Camus nailed it when he said that “You cannot create experience, you must undergo it.”

Agents experienced in the luxury home market are the only ones who understand the nuances of this market

Everyone else guesses and sadly, often miss the mark. That’s something no homeowner can afford.

When shopping for an agent, whether you plan on buying, selling or doing both, look for one that has experience with luxury homes and with high-end clients.

Marketing expertise

Cookie-cutter marketing plans don’t work with expensive real estate. While online advertising is critical to a marketing campaign, luxury home marketing sometimes requires more extensive and focused marketing.

Beautiful, full-color brochures and placing ads in certain magazines where they’ll be seen by the affluent are sometimes called for.

When selling an expensive home, look for an agent that uses all of the marketing tools at her disposal.

Marketing budget

Regardless of experience, if the agent you’re interviewing runs his business on a shoestring, it’s highly unlikely that he’ll be able to afford the extensive and expensive marketing strategies required to sell a luxury home.

Remember, attracting the affluent buyer requires more than a listing in the MLS

It may require buying advertising in high-end publications. One Silicon Valley expert we know frequently advertises in Elite Traveler, a magazine for those who own private jets.

Ad rates vary, but start at $5,000 

Other luxury agents prefer a broader audience, such as that of the Robb Report. Here, ads cost from nearly $14,000 (for 1/3 page) and more than $39,000 for a full-page ad.

Don’t be afraid to ask not only how the agent will advertise your home, but how he or she will pay for that as well.

Local experience

Another challenging aspect of listing a luxury home is setting the appropriate price. Since prices are based on the sales price of homes in the same general area, it’s vital that your agent is familiar with the market.

A good luxury home listing agent not only knows what has sold recently, but has seen the interiors of the homes personally. She is also familiar with homes currently on the market.

This familiarity is the agent’s best tool when determining a list price for your home

Don’t trust the sale of your luxury home to any agent that can’t provide details of his or her experience, marketing know-how, budget and local market familiarity.

Tips for preparing a safe holiday feast

Trying to find space in the oven for the bird and all the side dishes isn’t the most worrisome aspect of holiday cooking. Not when the CDC estimates 1.2 million cases of salmonella infection occur each year in the United States.

And, salmonella isn’t the only bacteria in our meat and poultry

The other common culprits causing food-borne illnesses are:

  • Campylobacter
  • Clostridium perfringens
  • E.coli
  • Listeria
  • Norovirus

Food handling and cooking it to the proper internal temperature are two of the most important things to think about while preparing your holiday feasts.

Use care when thawing the turkey

The USDA recommends thawing the turkey in the refrigerator. They caution that as soon as the bird begins to thaw, “any bacteria that may have been present before freezing can begin to grow again” in warmer temperatures.

Place the packaged turkey in a bag or other container to prevent the juices from landing on other foods. Ensure that the refrigerator’s temperature remains below 40 degrees Fahrenheit at all times.

Although the USDA says that a turkey needs 24 hours for each 5 pounds in weight, they offer up this handy guideline:

  • 4 to 12 pounds — 1 to 3 days
  • 12 to 16 pounds — 3 to 4 days
  • 16 to 20 pounds — 4 to 5 days
  • 20 to 24 pounds —5 to 6 days

Never leave frozen turkey on the kitchen counter to thaw

Start with a clean work surface

Avoid transferring bacteria that may be on counter tops and cutting boards to the food you’re preparing by washing all the work surfaces with hot soapy water. Rinse well and use a clean towel to wipe the surfaces dry.

Use a dedicated cutting board for meat and poultry and another for produce

Next, turn your attention to all of the tools and equipment you’ll be using in the meal’s preparation.

Knives, bowls, serving pieces and storage containers should get the same treatment as the work surfaces – wash them all in hot, soapy water or in the dishwasher.

Then, wash your hands well and wash them frequently, especially after handling raw meat or poultry.

Rinse produce

The best way to clean produce with firm skin, such as cucumbers, carrots and apples is with a clean vegetable scrubber, under running water.

Peas, lettuce and fruits with soft skins can be tossed in a colander and rinsed under running water.

Bacteria from the skin of potatoes or other vegetables you’ll be peeling can be transferred to the vegetable while peeling, so wash those too

No, it may not be done when the juices run clear

Turkeys need to be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F and “the juices rarely run clean at this temperature,” claims the experts at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. “When they do,” they continue, “the bird is often overcooked.”

The only way to determine if a turkey is cooked to a safe temperature is with a food thermometer. HHS recommends testing in three locations, the “innermost part of the thigh, the innermost part of the wing and the thickest part of the breast.”

Ensure that in each location, the thermometer reads at least 165 degrees F

Take care with leftovers

The CDC says that the second most common bacterial cause of food poisoning can be chalked up to Clostridium perfringens. “This is bacteria that “grows in cooked foods left at room temperature.” And, as expected, hospitals and doctors see most sufferers in November and December.

Never leave leftovers at room temperature longer than two hours

Additional tips

  • Never use unwashed containers or plates that held raw turkey to hold cooked food.
  • The same holds true for utensils – use clean ones for cooked food.
  • Although the USDA recommends thawing the turkey in the refrigerator, it can also be thawed in cold water or in the microwave. Follow the instructions on the USDA’s website.
  • Avoid rinsing the turkey before stuffing. “The surface of the turkey may have bacteria on it,” Diane Van, Manager of USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline told ABC News, and washing the turkey may spread the organisms around the kitchen.

For questions and concerns regarding food safety, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 888-674-6854 between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. ET. Yes, they’ll be manning the phones even on the holidays, from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. ET.

 

5 Trends to Look for in New Construction Homes in 2018

Housing trends come and go – some we’re happy to see sitting at the curb, others we decide to keep around longer. Architects, designers and builders see these trends coming long before we do and we thought it might be fun to take a look at some of what we can expect to see in 2018’s new homes.

1. Not tiny, but smaller

While Gen X is shopping for larger, move-up homes, both baby boomers and millennials are on the hunt for smaller homes.

Because of this, and despite land and labor being pricey, builders are more than happy to supply these homes in 2018.

Small, however, doesn’t mean cramped. You’ll still find the open floor plan that has been popular for the past decade.

One trend worth mentioning is that many new homes will feature “more and larger windows … and multiple skylights,” according to Petro Homes in Ohio. These not only help add natural light to the home, but make rooms appear larger.

2. Kitchen trends

Although the one-room kitchen at the back of the house became extinct over two decades ago, the open kitchen trend continues. The kitchen that opens to the family room or dining room is a trend that will continue as the focus on entertaining grows, or so says a CBS News piece.

Last year’s open-kitchen trends included appliances that blend into the adjacent living spaces. Think wood-front refrigerators.

In 2018, the open-kitchen trend continues, but with the addition of a bit of bling.

You’ll see copper, rose gold and brass in light fixtures and hardware

While granite countertops are still trendy, don’t be surprised to find quartz in high-end new homes. Unlike granite, quartz countertops don’t need to be sealed (and re-sealed).

3. Energy efficiency is trendy

Studies show that “green” homes sell quicker and for more money. Those purchasing a green home may be doing so, however, to save money while living there. Thankfully, builders are wising up and ramping up their energy efficiency programs in 2018.

One of the easiest trends any homeowner can implement this is with a touchless faucet. We’ve all needed to turn on the water with greasy hands and this faucet does away with that.

And, touchless faucets save water by only giving it to you when you need it

If you’re looking for a new home and want green features, contact us. We’re happy to show you what’s available for sale right now.

4. Smart stuff

It’s been slow to catch on but home builders say that home automation is one of the fastest growing trends in their industry.

Appliances are the most likely candidates but don’t be surprised if you find you can turn on the heater on your way home from work or open the front door, with your phone.

The new smart thermostats help homeowners combine the convenience of home automation with energy efficiency by tracking our behavior and “learning” what temperature we prefer in the home when we get up in the morning, arrive home from work and go to bed in the evening.

5. Outdoor Spaces

The trend toward outdoor living spaces started a couple of years ago and experts estimate it will be even stronger in 2018. According to a Wakefield Research survey, 56 percent of prospective homebuyers surveyed said they would give up interior square footage if it meant they’d get a larger yard.

The bonus? A nearly 60 to 71 percent return on investment when the home with outdoor living features is sold,

according to Remodeling magazine’s 2017 Cost Vs. Value report

Custom homebuilders are happy to create your oasis, and some new-home development builders are starting to add electric, gas and plumbing connections to outdoor space that they consider will be likely sites for outdoor living spaces.

Outdoor kitchens are the most popular, with a pool and spa coming in a close second. Outdoor fireplaces and pits come in third.

If 2018 is the year you’ll finally get that nobody-has-ever-lived-here-before home, get in touch with your real estate agent. It’s important to have your own representation, so you don’t have to rely on the builder’s agent.

Holiday road trip: Don’t let winter weather catch you by surprise

When Mom Nature throws wicked winter weather our way, the difference between being safe and stranded can often come down to how prepared you are.

The following tips will ensure that you’re ready for whatever happens on the wild and woolly roads, and alleviate some of the anxiety of taking to the road in winter.

Prepare your vehicle

Ensure that you’ll actually get to Gramma’s house by preparing the car for the trip.

Check the car’s antifreeze and top it off, if needed. The manual that came with your vehicle will instruct you on how to check the levels

It’s not just the level, however, that you should inspect, but the mixture as well. Inexpensive commercial testing kits are available at auto supply stores. Thoughtco.com offers a handy walk-through of the testing process.

How are the tires looking? Check the pressure and add air if necessary. Then, check the tread, using the “penny,” as suggested by justtires.com. Insert a penny into the tread “with Lincoln’s head upside down and facing you,” they suggest. “If you can see all of Lincoln’s head, your tread depth is less than 2/32 inch and it’s time to replace your tires.”

In particularly wicked winter weather you may want to consider buying winter tires before hitting the road. “In places where snow and ice prevail for several months a year, the average driver will exceed all-weather tires’ grip limits multiple times a day,” according to Mack Demere, at Edmunds.com.

The experts at dmv.org claim that mechanics recommend a thinner motor oil for cars driven in areas with sub-freezing temperatures so talk to your mechanic before you have an oil change to find out what she or he recommends.

Then, fill the windshield wiper fluid reservoir with a freeze-resistant fluid.

Finally, check the breaks, battery and heating/defrosting system.

Create an emergency kit for the car

Your vehicle emergency kit should include:

  • Blankets for each occupant
  • Ice scraper and/or liquid deice
  • Shovel
  • Bottled water
  • Non-perishable food
  • LED flashlights
  • Flares
  • Extra clothes (especially shoes or boots and socks)
  • First-aid kit
  • Basic tools
  • Jumper cables (at least 16 feet in length, according to itstactical.com)
  • Matches or lighters
  • Sand (to pour under the tires, if needed)
  • Extra phone charger
  • Battery-powered radio and extra, fresh batteries
  • Tow chain or rope
  • Fluorescent distress flag

If you get stuck

Disasters happen when folks make the wrong decisions about whether to stay put or go for help when they’re stuck on the road during a snow storm.

If you can’t see a safe location nearby, if you broke down on a road where rescue is unlikely, if you’re not dressed for the weather or you don’t have a way to call for help, pull off the highway, turn on the car’s hazard lights and stay inside the vehicle.

Run the engine and heater once an hour for about 10 minutes to keep warm. During these sessions, “open a downwind window slightly for ventilation and periodically clear snow from the exhaust pipe. This will protect you from possible carbon monoxide poisoning,” suggests the Department of Homeland Security.

If you don’t have a blanket, use whatever you can find in the car for insulation, such as seat covers, road maps and floor mats. Light exercise will also help you maintain body heat.

If, on the other hand, you are dressed for the weather (several layers of warm clothing with moisture repellant outerwear, mittens, hat and a scarf to cover your mouth), the conditions outside are relatively safe and there is a nearby source of help, leave the vehicle to seek assistance.

Additional considerations

  • Drive only if it is absolutely necessary during heavy snowstorms.
  • Always let someone know where you are going, which route you’ll be taking and your estimated time of arrival. Then, stick to the route without taking shortcuts.
  • Monitor local weather conditions.

Taking simple steps before your road trip keeps you from being at the mercy of severe winter weather.