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RE/MAX 440
Susan Langenstein
423 North Main Street
Doylestown  PA 18901
 Phone: 267-446-6201
Office Phone: 215-348-7100
Toll Free: 800-360-7100
Cell: 267-446-6201
Fax: 267-354-6816 
susanlangenstein@comcast.net
Susan Langenstein

My Blog

A Step-by-Step Guide to Green-Building a Deck

March 28, 2016 1:48 am

(BPT)—There are plenty of ways to go green at home—but one of the most impactful methods is outside: green-building a deck.

Whether you plan to install new or refurbish an existing structure, utilizing sustainable materials (and conducting eco-friendly maintenance after the fact) can green your deck, ensuring long-term enjoyment for the members of your household.

To begin green-building your deck, consider your board options. Generally, there are two types of boarding: wood and composite. Wood is a renewable resource; more trees can grow to replace the ones harvested for boards, and when your deck's usable life ends, you can recycle the wood it was made of.

However, pressure-treated lumber is not recyclable. While the preservatives it's treated with make it last longer than many types of untreated wood, it's less eco-friendly in the long run because it must be disposed of, instead of reused. If you prefer a wood deck, look for naturally weather- and pest-resistant wood varieties, like California red wood, western red cedar or ipe.

Composite boards are green, as well, in that many are made from recycled materials, such as reused plastic and reclaimed or recycled wood. Composites tend to last longer than wood, and require no special treatment like staining or sealing. Their longevity can make them a greener choice—but they can't be recycled.

Wood and composites are also commonly used for railings, but they may not be the most environmentally-friendly option, given the railings’ greater exposure to the elements. Stainless steel cable railing is 100 percent recyclable, and can offer un-obscured views.

If you choose to construct your deck of composites—and add a stainless steel railing—it will require little maintenance. Stainless steel is inherently weather-resistant.

If you opt to build your deck with wood, some types will require regular sealing and staining. Rot- and pest-resistant woods may not need to be sealed, but will weather to a silver-gray color unless you stain them every year.

Bear in mind many stains contain a blend of agents meant to inhibit the growth of fungus or deter pest infestations, and may also contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Look for stains and sealers that rely on natural ingredients, such as hemp oil, beeswax, carnauba wax and water.

Source: The Cable Connection

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Crafting Shelter for Birds, Spaces for Spring Singers – Pt. 2

March 28, 2016 1:48 am

In Part 1 of this series, we chirped about how easy it is to create better places and spaces for songbirds. In this segment, we'll zero in on getting more birds to flock to your yard.

According to the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology (birds.cornell.edu), "birdscaping” your yard with native vegetation is an excellent way to attract more birds. Birdscaping involves growing plants with birds in mind. Growing a variety of native plants that provide food, shelter, and potential nest sites will attract the greatest diversity of bird species.

Some plants to consider include perennials, such as black-eyed Susans; annuals, such as sunflowers for their seeds; tubular-shaped nectar-producing flowers for hummingbirds; small trees and fruiting shrubs, such as crab apple, dogwoods, viburnums and service berries; and conifers, such as pines and spruces that provide cover, seeds and nesting sites.

Be careful about possibly harming your songbird families, the Cornell lab advises. A number of bird diseases affect wild birds, and some could potentially be spread when birds congregate at feeders.

Birds can also become ill from leftover bits of seeds and seed hulls that grow molds and bacteria.

To maintain a healthy feeding garden:

• Clean your feeders every two weeks—many feeders are dishwasher-safe.

• If your feeders are not dishwasher-safe, wash them thoroughly in soapy water, then soak or rinse in a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water.

• Dry your feeders before refilling so that the food remains dry.

• Be sure to clean hummingbird feeders at least once a week.

• Rake the ground below your feeders to limit accumulation of waste.

To encourage more “audible” activity, the Cornell lab recommends providing adequate cover for songbirds in your yard, such as dense shrubs or piles of brush, where they can escape from predators.

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How Effective Is Your Security Lighting?

March 25, 2016 1:48 am

A recent social network interaction prompted a question about whether constant all-night floodlight illumination is safer and more intimidating to vandals or burglars than the sudden bright light from a motion activated system.

That subject is addressed by the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department Crime Prevention Unit. That law enforcement agency recommends single family homeowners light up the perimeter of your home during the night, including entrances, rear doors, and dark areas.

Lighting is a deterrent for someone who is tempted to commit a crime, according to the sheriff agency.
Besides suggesting the best place for outside lighting as under eaves, illuminating walls, and by gates and driveways, the San Diego sheriffs say that motion sensors are not as effective as dusk-to-dawn lighting as they can be set off easily and frequently by animals, thus desensitizing the residents to their activation.

Install a timer or photoelectric cell (sensor) on outdoor light fixtures so that they turn on automatically at dusk and go off at dawn, or simply convert your wall switch to an electric timer.

Also, ensure that surrounding landscaping does not obscure the lighting.

The Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA) recommends the following home security lighting tips:

• Place two lights on either side of the main entry. Not only will this help homeowners locate keys and locks easier when coming and going, but it will also help you identify people through your peephole.

• Don’t use overhead lights at entrances and exits. Overhead lights will create a silhouette or cover the visitor’s face with shadows. The ideal situation is to have lower wattage lights on each side of the door at about eye level.

• For energy efficiency, use a motion-sensor and photocell combination device. This will ensure the lights only turn on at night when someone approaches your doorway. The motion sensor can also serve to alert you that someone is at your door.

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A Foolproof Home Organizer Checklist

March 25, 2016 1:48 am

If you've decided to keep a tidier, more organized household, use this checklist keep you on target:

Engage the family by assigning daily and weekly chores to everyone who is at least five years old. Post your checklist where everyone can read it, and offer a weekly treat – perhaps a special dessert, a family outing, or a family movie in with popcorn – if everything on the list is accomplished:

Daily Chores – Completing these six basic tasks every day will help keep chaos at bay. Make the beds. Put away clutter. Sort the mail. Clean up as you cook. Wipe up spills while they’re fresh. Sweep the kitchen floor.

Weekly Routine – Doing these six chores once a week will keep your home neat, clean, and functioning. Empty trash cans. Change and launder bed linens and towels. Empty the hampers and do the family laundry. Clean tub, shower, toilets and sinks. Mop or vacuum every room. Wipe mirrors and dust light fixtures. Wipe all kitchen surfaces, including inside of microwave and toaster oven.

Every Four to Six weeks – Clean out the refrigerator and freezer, dumping any foods or beverages past their prime and wiping down the shelves. Organize the pantry, tossing out expired items, especially flour and cereals. Clean the oven and the inside of the fridge.

Seasonal Chores – Four times a year, as the seasons change, you will feel like a champion housekeeper if you can remember to complete these tasks. Turn the mattresses, launder the pillows, and vacuum the mattress and box springs. Replace the baking soda that is keeping your fridge and freezer odor-free. Run a dust mop over the walls and ceilings. Sweep out the fireplace if need be.

Once Yearly – If you’ve pretty much been diligent for most of the year, the annual spring cleaning should be minimal. Dust hard-to-reach places like ceiling fans and window casings. Wash or dry clean curtains, window blinds, or drapes. Vacuum all upholstered furniture. Deep clean the rugs, carpets and floors.

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How Many Subs Will It Take to Build Your New Home?

March 25, 2016 1:48 am

While many folks planning for building a new home deal directly with their primary contractor, I was intrigued to learn about how much of responsibility - and project costs - are shifted to subcontractors on a typical new home project.

A recent report from the National Association of Home Builders (nahb.org) sought to remind the public of how much the construction of a typical home relies on subcontracting.

The latest survey shows builders often employ 20 or more different subcontractors on a single-family project - subcontracting out over 75 percent of their construction costs!

The NAHB survey also asked builders how often they subcontract 23 different jobs. In every case, the job was always subcontracted by at least two-thirds of the builders.

At the low end of the scale, “only” 68 percent of builders said they always subcontract finished carpentry. But over 90 percent of builders said they always subcontracted concrete flatwork, masonry, drywall, foundations fireplaces, technology, plumbing, electrical wiring, HVAC, carpeting and security systems.

Even when builders don’t subcontract these jobs all the time, it’s common to subcontract them at least part of the time the survey analysis states.

Working with subcontractors, maintaining relationships with them, and being able to schedule a relatively large number of them to complete projects on time while maintaining control over quality takes time to master and is an important part of being a successful home builder, the NAHB analysis states.

This should lead homeowners mounting a building project in 2016 to look for more than proven hands-on construction skills to determine how successfully (and on budget) their contractor or builder will complete the work.  It seems to make sense since anywhere between half and two-thirds of your finished home is in their hands.

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Easter By the Numbers

March 24, 2016 1:48 am

Easter may be arriving early this year, but that won’t curb holiday spending.

According to a report by the National Retail Federation (NRF), Easter spending this year is expected to reach $17.3 billion—a record high—with Americans spending an average of $146 each on everything from food to flowers. The breakdown is as follows:

• Food ($5.5 billion)
• Clothing ($3 billion)
• Gifts ($2.7 billion)
• Candy ($2.4 billion)
• Flowers ($1.2 billion)

And this year, celebrants will spend the day in a variety of ways. The most popular activities:

• Visiting Family and Friends
• Cooking a Holiday Meal
• Going to Church
• Going to a Restaurant
• Having an Easter Egg Hunt
• Opening Gifts

“Easter is a traditional holiday that consumers of all ages and on all budget levels celebrate with family and friends,” says Pam Goodfellow, principal analyst at Prosper Insights & Analytics, which contributed to NRF’s report. “Consumers have long lists of items they need to get their spring off to a good start.”

Source: NRF

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Frustrated by a Furniture Retailer? You're Not Alone

March 24, 2016 1:48 am

Consumers rely on a range of industries and services when it comes to owning a home—but one service tends to leave little to be desired, according to a report by the Better Business Bureau (BBB).

The BBB, which facilitates consumer grievances with various industries, reports that more consumers are submitting complaints about furniture retailers, citing a 12.9 percent spike in complaints in the last year alone.

“The furniture industry saw 5 percent growth in 2015, so that explains part of the increase,” says Rubens Pessanha, director of Market Research and Insights for the Council of Better Business Bureaus. “More than half of the complaints to BBB had to do with the products themselves: the quality, delivery, guarantees, and refunds and exchanges.

“The good news,” Pessanha adds, “is that the industry has a respectable rate of settling BBB complaints…85 percent. That’s better than the overall average of 79 percent across all industries.”

The BBB also reported an increase in inquiries related to home maintenance services, though these inquiries do not necessarily reflect complaints on the part of consumers.

Source: BBB

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Crafting Shelter for Birds, Spaces for Spring Singers – Pt. 1

March 24, 2016 1:48 am

The quintessential sign that spring has sprung is the boisterous singing of backyard birds. Sure, there's always a crow's caw or sparrow's chirp around the backyard in winter, but we're talking about singers!

According to Audubon New York, protecting birds is a critical environmental mission—and who wouldn't like attracting a few more springtime song birds to their yards?

Whether your yard is large or small, you can use it to help birds, according to the organization's website, by providing food, water, shelter and potential nesting places, you can help birds thrive and survive.

And with a few simple steps, you can create a haven for both migratory and resident birds. For attracting birds, Audubon New York advises:

• Take inventory of what you already have and consider ways you can supplement what’s already there with native plants that help mimic natural habitats;

• Incorporate plants that offer shelter, food, nesting material and even a singing perch;

• Add a bird bath and additional foods, such as sunflower and suet, to help round out your offerings.

And if you're already equipped to welcome song birds back, it's time to clean feeders and diversify:

• Hang hummingbird feeders in April or May, and orange halves to attract orioles.

• Remove last year’s nests from nest boxes, install new ones as needed and provide short lengths of string, wool and other materials for nest-building.

• Plan your plantings. Native species provide the best year-round shelter and food resources.

The National Wildlife Federation (nwf.org) also offers some great advice on reinforcing or establishing a songbird-friendly yard: birds often seek protected places to roost or sleep. Dense vegetation found in thickets or the interior branches of evergreens serve as a windbreak and conceal the birds from night-prowling predators.

In winter, a few species of songbirds—the ones that nest in tree cavities or birdhouses in spring—will also use roost boxes to stay warm. Among them: bluebirds, chickadees, titmice, screech owls and some woodpeckers.

In Part 2 of this segment, we'll focus on other environmental factors to keep songbirds thriving on your property.

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Own an ASUS Router? FTC Says 12,000 Users Were Hacked!

March 23, 2016 1:48 am

To borrow from a popular commercial tag line: what's in your router? We recently learned, along with 12,000 consumers, what wasn't included with their ASUS brand Internet router: appropriate security infrastructure.

Recently, the Taiwan-based computer hardware maker ASUSTeK Computer, Inc. agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission (FTC) charges that critical security flaws in its routers put the home networks of hundreds of thousands of consumers at risk.

The administrative complaint also charges that the routers’ insecure cloud services led to the compromise of thousands of consumers’ connected storage devices, exposing their sensitive personal information on the Internet.

The proposed consent order will require ASUS to establish and maintain a comprehensive security program subject to independent audits for the next 20 years.

With millions of consumers connecting smart devices to their home networks, Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, says routers play a key role in securing home networks.

ASUS marketed its routers as including numerous security features that the company claimed could “protect computers from any unauthorized access, hacking, and virus attacks” and “protect [the] local network against attacks from hackers.” Despite these claims, the FTC’s complaint alleges that ASUS didn’t take reasonable steps to secure the software on its routers.

An FTC release states that in 2014, hackers used readily available tools to locate vulnerable ASUS routers and exploited these security flaws to gain unauthorized access to over 12,900 consumers’ connected storage devices. According to the complaint, hackers could exploit pervasive security bugs in the router’s Web-based control panel to change any of the router’s security settings without the consumer’s knowledge.

In addition, ASUS’ routers also featured services called AiCloud and AiDisk that allowed consumers to plug a USB hard drive into the router to create their own cloud storage accessible from any of their devices. While ASUS advertised these services as a “private personal cloud for selective file sharing” and a way to “safely secure and access your treasured data through your router,” the FTC’s complaint alleges that the services had serious security flaws.

Keep up to date on loads of important consumer topics right here and at consumer.ftc.gov.

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The Ins and Outs of Credit Reports and Scores

March 23, 2016 1:48 am

From buying a car to buying a home, the information contained in your credit report will determine your financial capability—or culpability. Thoroughly understanding your credit report is essential, says Steve Trumble, president and CEO of American Consumer Credit Counseling (ACCC), a non-profit organization.

“Consumers are often unaware of the direct impact their credit report and score can have on their financial well-being,” says Trumble. “It can have a significant impact on a whole host of major life events, such as getting a job, buying a car, purchasing a home, or even renting an apartment.”

Your credit report outlines a detailed account of your financial history, which informs your credit score. Lenders, landlords and more use these scores to understand a person’s level of risk when it comes to meeting their financial obligations, such as paying back loans. Both credit reports and credit scores can affect a person’s ability to get credit, as well as the terms and rates of that credit.

The most common scoring system is the FICO score. The credit score ranges anywhere from 300 to 850. Based on this scoring system, the higher the score, the lower the risk, and vice versa. If you have a lower FICO score, then you may have a higher interest rate, which would lead to higher monthly payments.

You’re entitled to one free credit report each year from each reporting agency: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. The credit report will contain identifying information, such as your Social Security number and date of birth, trade lines, credit inquiries and public records and collections.

When buying a home, the mortgage lender will review all of your credit reports and credit scores. Ordinarily, your credit score should be anywhere above 700 in order to receive a standard mortgage interest rate.

When renting an apartment, the landlords or rental agency will review your credit report for negative information, such as missed payments. Those with bad credit may be required to get a co-signer on the lease. 

When seeking insurance, the insurer may request to go through your credit report and credit score in order to determine terms and rates. With this information, the insurer can calculate your insurance risk. The higher the insurance risk score, the better the insurance rates.

When purchasing a car, most auto dealers will rely on your credit score to offer loan terms that match your credit profile. Those with high credit scores will receive the best auto loan rates available; those with low credit scores may receive an excessively high interest rate.

When applying for a credit card, the company will review your credit report and score to decide if you qualify. Keep in mind credit card companies can also review the scores of existing customers and adjust rates accordingly.

Whichever form of credit you apply for, it pays to know your score, as well as the information contained in your report. Having that information can help pave the path toward a successful financial future.

Source: ACCC

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