Four essentials for your best-ever Super Bowl party

Ah, Super Bowl Sunday. That holiest of the holy football happenings. An event that will lead to many a hangover and heated water cooler exchange on Monday. Weather you’re a diehard Seahawks fan or a Patriot, or just a regular Joe who wants to stay up to date on current events you might check out the Super Bowl in a bar or maybe even have a couple of friends over to watch the game. Here are some tips to have on awesome Super Bowl Sunday:

 

  1. Beer. Let’s face it: beer and football go together like peanut butter and jelly, Oliver and Hardy, yin and yang… you get the picture. Make sure you have plenty of beer and other spirits on hand. Of course you should also provide sodas and/or alcohol-free beer for the designated drivers and friends who don’t like ye old ale.
  2. Speaking of things that go together, while beer and football are a match made in heaven, chips, dips, peanuts, pretzels and all sorts of finger foods and snacks are pretty much necessary for a complete football experience. Make sure you have plenty of snacks on hand and do your shopping early. You don’t want to miss the first touchdown, just because you’re stuck in an infinite line at the liquor store around the corner.
  3. An essential part of the Super Bowl experience, of course, is the TV. A true football fanatic that hasn’t score tickets to Phoenix for the 2015 Superbowl will probably want to watch the Christmas equivalent of football on the highest definition TV set with a diagonal surpassing that of many art house cinemas and a sound quality superior to NASA’s equipment. Which makes it quite likely that you’ve picked up a new television, in which case, color us jealous! If you have, be sure to add it to your renter’s insurance policy ASAP.
  4. Speaking of renter’s insurance, you might want to get one, before Sunday’s big event or update your old one. Renter’s insurance, such as Resident Shield, offers a bevy of neat features, that make your life that much easier and more care-free. Among them of course is property protection for your belongings in case of fire, theft or vandalism, personal liability protection in case of slip and fall liability claims as well as guest medical payments, which provides coverage for medical expenses, regardless of fault, for guests incurring accidental injuries at your rental residence.

Six tips for a low-cost winter

There’s one part of winter that even the biggest fans of frost and mittens hate, and that’s the foot-long heating and electricity bills that arrive in your (e)mail. Just think about all the cozy sweaters you could get with the hundreds of dollars you shell out on keeping warm. We’re craving some fluffy knitwear too, so we came up with a few tips to save on bills this winter.

  1. Have a specialist check your heating system or submit a request to your property’s management for it.  For your heating system to properly and efficiently work, the air filters need to be clean. In fact, it’s recommended to replace filters once a month to ensure maximum efficiency. But that’s not all. Contrary to what many believe, you need to keep all vents open for your system to efficiently heat your apartment. Closed vents won’t save on energy – they’ll probably hike up your bill and even contribute to your heating system breaking, since they force it to work overtime.
  2. Install a programmable thermostat. There’s loads of gadget you can get, with some even allowing you to control the temperature with your smartphone. Whether you go super-high-tech or with a basic one, a programmable thermostat will save you heaps of money. Don’t forget to add the gadget to your renter insurance plan and keep the receipt, just in case.
  3. Think of it as vintage eco-friendliness and just add some extra blankets to your bed, instead of turning your thermostat way up high. Trust us, you can sleep as comfortable in long-sleeved PJs and two or three blankets and down comforters as in your favorite college T-shirt and just one blanket.
  4. What better way to keep you home warm, than stopping the cold from getting in? Draft can be a real money pit, especially if you live in older window. The quickest way to fix it is to get some draft stoppers for your doors and windows. If you’re crafty you can even make them at home using some stylish fabric and old clothes as filling. #upcyle
  5. With all those hours of darkness, lighting pushes your bills further up. There’s a bevy of ways to minimize its impact on your budget. First off, turn the lights off when you leave the room. Second, switch classic light bulbs with energy-efficient ones. CFLs are a good option, LEDs are even better.  If you really want to go green, get some solar lights that you can leave to charge in your window during the day and use as ambient light during the evenings.
  6. Hang thick drapes. Keep them snugly closed at night to keep the cold out. Throw them open during the day to let sunlight in. You can also turn your bed into a canopy, with some drapes. They will help insulate your bed and immediate sleeping area, allowing you to further inch down your thermostat during nights. As an added bonus, canopy beds are utterly stylish.

Safely removing rooftop snow

Each year, after the winter holidays, the weather continues to ramp up in many parts of the US, as if paying a tribute to the white season. Some areas have already been conquered by the snow and ice blanket, but it doesn’t look like it will stop here; many other areas across the country will fall under the snow’s reign.

January and February are winter’s favorite months; snow and other precipitation are expected to rival last year’s record, so brace yourselves, winter will hit hard in the next period.

Heavy snowfall can be particularly dangerous and damaging for apartments. 2014 was a terrible year for many structures in Western New York where a record seven-foot snow caused almost $50 million in damage. Homes and businesses had roofs cave in from the weight of snow to such extend that the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) approved a federal disaster designation to help people get back on their feet.

Protecting buildings from heavy snow can be difficult and risky. People are killed or seriously injured while removing snow and ice from rooftops, decks and other building structures in order to prevent overloading or collapse.

It is best that you hire a professional to clean the roof of your property, as it is a dangerous task. The United States Department of Labor (USDL) has put together a guide on how to remove snow from residential and commercial buildings, trying to reduce the risk to a minimum. However, if you think you can do it yourself, be extremely careful and consider the following:

Snow removal without going on the roof

Whenever possible, avoid going up on the roof as the leading cause for most worker fatalities and injuries during rooftop snow removal are falls, according to OSHA. Instead, try to opt for one of the following:

  • Using ladders to apply de-icing materials
  • Using snow rakes or drag lines from the ground

If it’s impossible to remove the snow without going up on the roof, it’s essential to consider the load and its limit of the roof – the weight of the snow, workers and equipment used. There is no standard formula to determine how much snow a roof can withstand.

If you choose to use Aerial Lifts, make sure you do it in a safe manner with a properly trained person. Furthermore, the electrical hazards are also present through the power lines or even snow removal equipment. Remember that the minimum recommended distance from a power line is 10 feet. Exposure to cold can also be harmful to you and your helpers; it can cause frostbite and hypothermia.

Determine your insurance needs for 2015

At the beginning of each year, the natural tendency is to review, modify, and renew habits, behaviors, and needs. Throughout the course of a year many things can change, so an insurance review is also recommended. Here are some aspects you can consider that will help you figure out if you need to talk to your insurance professional about making a change to your coverage.

  1. Marriage or divorce. Marriage can bring with it a discount on your auto insurance as couples can bring two cars in the relationship from two different auto insurance companies. Take the opportunity and review your existing coverage and chose the company which offers the best combination of price and service.
  2. New baby. Birth or adoption, it is important to review your life insurance and disability income protection. A new family member will increase expenses and your life insurance. Keep in mind that if you plan to save for your child’s education, life insurance can aid that plan. Moreover, don’t forget to update the beneficiary designations to include the new member.
  3. First time driver’s license for a family member. Rather than purchasing a separate auto insurance policy for your teenager, add it to your insurance policy as it is generally cheaper. The type of the car a young person is driving has a major impact on the price of the insurance. Furthermore, most companies give discounts for getting good grades in school and for taking certified driving courses.
  4. Significant change in your income. If your income has increased, (good for you) your financial commitments might have as well. Make sure you review the life and disability insurance to confirm that is adequate to maintain them. If your income has decreased, one way to deal with expenses is to cut your life insurance premiums. If you have more than one policy, you might be able to replace both with a single policy at a lower rate having reached a ‘milestone’ amount of insurance. However, do not drop your existing life insurance before you have a new one in place.
  5. New lease. Living in a rental means that your landlord is usually responsible for insuring the structure of the building, but your possessions fall under your responsibility. More precisely you need renter’s insurance if you wish to be covered against losses from theft and catastrophes such as fire, lightning, or windstorm damages. Aside from these, renter’s insurance includes liability and this covers your responsibility to other people injured at your home and takes care of legal defense costs, should you be taken to court.

 

Guidelines for renter’s insurance research

The biggest mistake people make when it comes to renter’s insurance is not getting one. But that is not the only error they make related to it. Besides the cost, there are a few important aspects which should be researched before making the purchase.

Coverage – Items

You should know precisely which of your items are covered by the policy you purchase. Most of them cover the majority of your belongings – clothes, furniture, electronics, and artwork – with restrictions for jewelry, fur coats, and silverware; for these you can buy additional coverage.

Computer equipment is normally also included. Still, if you have a home office and work primarily from there, it may not be included. In this case, you need additional coverage for the business equipment you own.

Coverage – Perils

The typical perils covered are theft, fire, smoke, explosions and water damage from bursting pipes and overflows. However, is your dog knocks over your laptop and breaks it, it will be on your expense.

Coverage for storms is one of the grey areas – damage from wind is covered, but water oozing through the roof is not. If you don’t have a roof to worry about, meaning that you live in a ground floor or below-grade apartment, you won’t be covered in case of floods or excessive rain. The solution for such cases is to create a pathway for the water, to make sure the drains are kept clear, and that pumps are functional. A plus would be the flood insurance.

Coverage – pets 

In case your dog bites someone inside or outside of your apartment, the liability portion of your insurance normally covers this, unless your pup is one of the “aggressive” breeds. Click here for more information.

Injuries on your property

Renter’s insurance is reliable in the case when your bathtub or sink overflow and ruin your neighbor’s new floors and walls. Moreover, the liability component covers you for injuries that happen inside your apartment, such as when your babysitter trips over a toy and breaks her leg.

Roommates

Renter’s insurance will cover your spouse and immediate family members who live with you, but with roommates, things are different. Typically only two roommates can be named on a policy but not without risks: checks for damage are made for both, regardless if it’s your laptop that was destroyed and your roommate has moved out long ago. Click here for more information on a shared renter’s insurance.

Outside the apartment

Typically, renter’s insurance covers off-premises damage caused by fire, damage from burst pipes, and vandalism. Additionally, if your personal property is stolen outside your apartment, it may also be covered. It includes the bicycle you took with you to the grocery store and didn’t find it when you were done shopping and the laptop you had with you on vacation that went missing from your hotel room while visiting museums.

Simple home security tips

Follow some simple tips for home security to ensure your time away won’t turn into a break-in of theft. There are many ways to take off attention of your home when you’re away and to keep it secure when you’re at home, including simple tricks like utilizing shrubbery as a barrier or installing motion-sensor lights.

1. Alarm Systems – A study by Rutgers University showed that intruders avoid homes with professional alarm systems, without displacing burglaries to neighboring homes. Following this logic, the more houses with alarm systems on the street, the safer the neighborhood.

2. Garage Security – Avoid garage doors that have windows as burglars can see when your car is gone. The easiest way to deal with them, in case you cannot afford a new door, is to frost or cover them.

3. Security Lights – Choose to pay a little more on your electricity bill and light up the house. Moreover, scare off the uninvited with motion-sensor lights.

4. Shrubbery – Not only does it beautify the exterior of your home, but it can also keep curious eyes off your home by maintaining it tall enough to create a barrier, and low enough that an intruder can’t hide.

5. Home Security Signs – Place these around the home; announcing that the house is monitored nonstop, can deter criminals from trying to trespass.

While you’re away, fight the temptation to leave notes on the door for family members or service people. Furthermore, turn down the telephone ringer so no one hears you’re not around to answer it. Set items like lamps and radios on a timer so they give the impression that your residence isn’t vacant. Ideal would be to send a trusted friend or neighbor visit your home regularly while you’re away and collect mail, water plants, and flick on and off some lights to show some activity at your house.

Don’t, under any circumstance, leave extra keys under doormats, potted plants, or any other outdoor location. If you don’t have a trusted neighbor you can leave them to, make sure you hide them in an inconspicuous place.

Stay safe: preparing your car for winter

If you live in sunny Florida or Southern California, you probably won’t find much use in this article. But if you live in a state that knows what winter is like, or plan on visiting friends or family who live in a colder climate, the following tips could literally be life-saving. We remind you that winter is here, and your car knows it!

During the cold months it is much more difficult to get the car started and the road conditions are worse, so it’s highly important to have everything working properly before then. Vehicle trouble is never fun, but during winter problems can be deadly – just imagine that your car breaks down in a rural area when the weather is freezing and you have poor cellphone reception.

 

So, have a look at the pre-winter checks recommended to all car owners or their mechanics.

  • Winter tires – are not optional in a climate with ice on the roads. Not only do you need to change from summer to winter tires, but also to check your car’s tire tread; you can try the so-called “quarter test”. Take a standard U.S. quarter and push it in between your car’s treat at several different points. If, when you put it upside down, you see the top of George Washington’s head peeking out from between the grooves at any location, the tire has one-eighth or less an inch of tread left, and yes, that means it’s time for replacement. Moreover, you should also check the car’s tire pressure monthly, as cold weather will make the air in the tires contract.
  • Antifreeze – this is the juice that goes in your radiator and is vital for your car’s protection during winter. Your car contains a 50/50 mix of water and antifreeze. Make sure the level is full and the mixture is close to this 50/50.
  • Windshield wipers – bad wipers are the last thing you want on the roads sprinkled with salt that is kicking up onto your car’s windshield. You can test your car’s blades by the simple gesture of running them in the rain or after applying windshield-washer fluid. If they fail to clear the windshield in one pass, replace them. Keep in mind that costlier blades typically have water resistant silicone or Teflon, thus work better than the budget versions. As in everything else, you get what you pay for.
  • Windshield washer fluid – you will be using a lot of washer fluid, so make sure you have enough. Don’t fill your washer fluid reservoir with anything except washer fluid, this won’t freeze.
  • Battery – if the vehicle doesn’t start, you won’t be going anywhere; have your battery professionally tested.
  • Engine – if you’ve noticed problems like engine stalls or difficulty starting the vehicle, the time is perfect to take your car in for service. The cold weather will only make these things worse.
  • Headlights and taillights – it’s essential to see and be seen during winter’s shorter daylight hours. Check all of your car’s headlights and taillights, replace any burned-out bulbs, and clean off road grime. Furthermore, of your car is more than three years old and you notice that the headlight covers have gotten cloudy, consider “headlight restoration”
  • Brakes – it’s enough to keep in mind that the braking system is the vehicle’s most important safety item.
  • Engine Oil – be diligent about changing the oil and filter at recommended intervals. Dirty oil means trouble in winter. If you live in a cold climate, you can even consider changing to “winter weight” oil. Since you’re here, have your technician check the fuel, air, and transmission filters.
  • Emergency kit – put in your trunk or in the back of your car a blanket, a snow shovel, flashlight, matches, a bottle of water and a few protein bars, flare, and a whistle. Let’s hope you won’t need them, but better to play it safe than sorry. Exactly as with the renter’s insurance – you pay it and hope to never use it, but when you need to, you’re glad you were prepared.

Décor in a rental: limitations and possibilities

When hunting for the perfect apartment, save your time and grief by taking one extra step: do a little research before committing to signing the lease to find out how deep are you allowed to get involved in the apartment’s redecoration. Personalizing the décor ranges from repainting the walls in a different color, to replacing light fixtures, and adding or removing carpeting; be aware what the landlord approves for the apartment you wish to turn into your home.

Many landlords have a certain level of flexibility, but just as you can come across one that allows you to make significant aesthetic changes to the apartment, you can find one that doesn’t. Regardless of their reasons, financial or marketing concerns, or perhaps just the desire to keep uniformity and assert control over their apartments, find the landlord that suits best with your needs.

Once you’ve found the best place and the approval to modify it so that if feels like home, here are some suggestions that could inspire you:

  1. Give the appliances the glowing look of stainless steel by using peel-and-stick contact paper with a stainless steel finish. You’ll give them the nice façade at a fraction of the price of the real thing.
  2. Freshen up the walls with this simple trick – install new switchplate covers (the covers on light switches and electrical outlets). A basic white cover costs about $1, and is really easy to install. For the kitchen you could consider those of stainless steel, but can also hunt online for patterned and decorative covers.
  3. Check the lights in each room and make sure that the ‘light spectrum’ from the bulbs is the one appropriate for the area of the home. Opt for soft bulbs that emit a yellow/red undertone in the “chill out” areas like the living room, and for bright bulbs with blue undertones in “study” zones such as the home office or reading spot.
  4. Repaint the walls or change the wallpaper. Choose light colors if you tend to make a room look bigger.
  5. Decorate with photos and art on the walls. Accentuating the idea of making the space look bigger, consider hanging mirrors even in places that are above eye-level; this increases the light that shines through the apartment. Placing two in the same room on opposite walls will also give the impression of a larger room.
  6. The kitchen and bath rugs, as well as the doormat, are a few simple ways to put your signature over your new home.
  7. Plants don’t need a separate security deposit payment, or approval. Put plants everywhere, indoors and out, they’ll brighten up the place, regardless of the season.

Safe holidays for furry friends

The holidays bring together the five Fs: family, friends, fun, food, and Fido. In all the excitement it’s easy to forget about holiday safety, Fido’s safety. If you wish to avoid ending your holiday celebration at the veterinary emergency clinic, follow some essential guidelines.

Don’t share your food with your dog. We love to indulge in the feast, but as much as it pleases us, it can cause real pain to the dog. Rich, fatty foods can seriously upset Fido’s stomach and can even be toxic. The following foods are extremely dangerous for your dog:

  • Chocolate
  • Grapes and raisins
  • Onions (can cause anemia) and high levels of garlic
  • Bones – especially the cooked ones and ALL poultry bones
  • Everything high in fat, sodium and/or sugar
  • Alcoholic beverages

Of course, there are some types of human foods that are not harmful to give to Fido as a special treat. A small piece of cooked turkey or chicken, but without skin or bones, will do the trick as long as you keep the gravy to yourself. Raw apples and carrots in moderate amounts are a healthy snack for dogs too, as long as you stop at moderate.

Decorations. Dogs are curious by nature, they need to check out anything new that appears in the home. Then one leads to another – sniffing to chewing and later on to ingesting objects added to the décor. Make sure all electrical cords are tucked away and other decorations and holiday plants are out of reach – Poinsettia, Mistletoe, Lilies, Daffodils, Christmas Tree – all are toxic for your furry friend. Pay extra attention to dangling objects as they can be pulled down and cause injuries. You already know to not leave candles unattended. And if you have a Christmas tree, don’t let Fido drink the tree water as it can make him sick.

Holidays are all about gatherings and parties and as fun as this might be for you, your pup could sense otherwise; lots of people in the house can end up with injury or stress for your dog. If this is the case, when you have many friends over, consider keeping her in a crate or a quiet room, especially if Fido is the nervous kind. On the other hand, if your pup is comfortable around a smaller group, make sure you explain to your friends the ground rules: don’t feed the dog and keep the doors closed. Unfortunately, many pets get loose and run off during holidays; thus the importance of the collar with current identification.

You and Fido have a fun holiday season, surrounded by friends and family, and of course, all that delicious food.

Merry Holidays!

Have a very thrifty Christmas!

Ah Christmas. It’s all eggnog, chocolate, family visits, reindeer sweater and enormous credit card bills. In our chase to buy the perfect present, decorations and THE dress or suits for the office holiday party, we get carried away with our spending.   But having an amazing Christmas doesn’t have to mean shelling out all our hard earned money. There are plenty of ways to save money and enjoy the holidays. Here are few tips.

  • Ye old Yule tree. Do you really need a Christmas tree or a crazy expensive designer wreath in every room? You know you don’t. Limit yourself to one tree for your entire apartment or one sensibly proportioned wreath per room. If you’re going with the Christmas tree, you know that you don’t need the biggest one on the tree lot. You know, the one you know won’t even fit into your apartment. Get a smaller one you can display on a table. Or you can just rip off the Band-Aid and get a sensibly-priced faux tree that will last you for years to come. If you go with a faux tree, buy a safe choice. If you buy the super trendy hot pink one you’ll be the most fabulous tree this year, but you’ll end up throwing it out the next (or be super-embarrassed about it). Go with green, white, gold or maybe red. These perennially Christmas-y colors will ensure you’ll be able to use tree in coming years as well.
  • Deco. Picking up globes and tinsel officially means Christmas is coming up. But digging out previous years’ decorations could do that too.  Most people have boxes upon boxes of angels, snowmen, globes and tinsel in storage. Pick one, maybe two colors and hang only items in that color scheme on your tree. This will give it a more polished look. If you don’t have enough decorations in your chosen color scheme but have some in errant colors or some that are looking shabby, get your DIY on and revamp them. Paint, spray-paint, wrap and glue to your hearts’ content. Any other decorations you have, you can use to bring holiday cheer into your other rooms. Group them according to color or theme and hang them in your bedroom, kitchen and bathroom, so you’re reminded of the holidays wherever you are in your apartment.
  • Candles are a great way to add warmth and Christmas mood to any apartment. Feel free to pick up new ones in your Christmas theme, as you’ll probably end up using them during the holidays. If you’re feeling super thrifty you can pick up simple white ones, usually the cheapest kind, and adding a touch of paint or glitter from your chosen theme.
  • Presents. This one is a difficult place to save for many. Most of us try to gift people as lavishly as possible and it could seem unloving to save on presents. But it is possible to save money and give amazing gifts. For example, if you have a special talent (say baking, sewing, car maintenance, dancing) give people personalized gift cards. Most will appreciate a gift card for a month of home-made cupcakes or waltzing lessons. You can still give home-made gift cards even if you aren’t Martha Stewart. A card for full clean-up after the next epic party will be a much-appreciated stocking stuffer.
  • Renter’s insurance. While technically it does mean extra spending, it does save you a lot. You could say that you have to spend money to save money. And it’s really just a dime. For as little as 50 cents a day, Resident Shield offers you protection in case of fire, theft, vandalism, and personal liability, including a provision for dog bites. Now that’s a money saver!

Happy Holidays!