Archive for April 2013

Spring has sprung and home improvement is on the minds of many Americans who – according to a Harvard University Joint Center for Housing Study — are spending more on home improvement.

Indeed, 72% of homeowners have at least one home improvement project on their to-do list this year, expecting to spend an average of $4,000, according to an Echo Research survey conducted on behalf of American Express.

So, how can you get the most bang for your home improvement buck? Here are six tricks of the trade from

1. Think of your home like a car. Give it regular maintenance before costly repairs sneak up.

2. Consider used tools instead of new. You can often snag them at yard sales and at auctions. Farm auctions are an amazing source for mowers. has a calendar of upcoming events.

3. In some cases you can save hundreds – even thousands – of dollars by renting versus buying tools like power paint sprayers, scaffolding and platforms.

4. Invariably theres a screw or two left over after every project. Keep things like nails and screws organized in a plastic bag or mason jar, so you can find them fast next go-around without having to purchase dozens when you only need one or two.

5. There are probably some places you dont need to be real picky about paint. If so, consider the oops bin, where custom colors someone didnt end up buying may be. Local municipalities and waste management departments may have paint theyd love for you to take off their hands for free. And, go for as few coats as possible.

6. Lastly, keep things dry. Moisture is a real culprit in prompting pricey fixes. Make sure your heating and air conditioning system is well maintained. And consider investing in a dehumidifier.

When all is said and done, what kind of return can you expect on your home improvement investment?

In their annual Cost vs. Value reports, Remodeling magazine and the National Association of Realtors estimate improvement projects on average return nearly 61% of the cost in terms of higher home values. So, you wont get it all back, but its a decent return on investment if the repairs fit your budget.

Regina Lewis is a national television contributor and host of USA TODAYs Money Quick Tips videos. Follow her on Twitter: @ReginaLewis.

Previous Money Quick Tips videos:

Five sketchy money habits to avoid

Secrets behind the best hidden online prices

Taxes: Six tax dos and donts

Save on food costs even after grocery shopping

Use your 401(k) to maximize retirement savings

How to spot potentially fake online reviews

Now may be the best time to refinance

Make telecommuting work for you

Job loss, finances and marriage

Is online shopping about to get more expensive?

Coping with higher taxes

Five trends affecting your 2013 buying power

Financial pros and cons of getting remarried

Improving your credit score

Talking to teens about money

The costs of life insurance

Be aware of pricing psychology

Should you stay put or sell the house when retiring?

Six job tips in ninety seconds

When is the best time to start a small business

Can you afford to live to 100?

Exploring work at home opportunities

Saving enough for retirement so you dont run short

Best days of the week to shop and score deals

Housing trend favors adding more bedrooms

Cutting your auto repair costs

Five steps to becoming a saver

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Home Hardware Announces Store of the Year – Canadas Largest Independent Home Improvement Retailer Honours Top Store

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Gale Banks, a Southern California automotive aftermarket legend, next to a Humvee at his headquarters in Azusa. Banks is using his expertise to rev up the horsepower on the Armys underpowered Humvees.
(Mel Melcon, Los Angeles Times / February 18, 2013)

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The pace of spending on home improvement projects is a good indicator of the housing recoverys strength and this measure is showing persistent gains.

Spending by homeowners on improvement projects is expected to accelerate in coming months, with some moderation in the pace by the end of the year, according to new data from the Remodeling Futures Program at the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University.

In addition to the nearly 10 percent growth in 2012, the programs Leading Indicator of Remodeling Activity, or LIRA, sees that a projected gain of 20 percent by the fourth quarter of 2013 could only be constrained by lack of skilled labor and high-cost building materials the same issues confronting home builders facing high demand.

The LIRA projects that homeowner improvement spending will jump from $125 billion in the first quarter of 2013 to $150.1 billion in the fourth quarter of 2013.

“The strong growth that we’ve seen recently is putting pressure on the current capacity of the home improvement industry,” said Kermit Baker, director of the Remodeling Futures Program at the Joint Center.  “Contractors and subcontractors are having more difficulty finding skilled labor, and building materials costs are unusually volatile for this stage of a recovery.”

Click here for larger image of chart below.

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As part of the on-going delivery and to support the continuous improvement of the initiative, EKOS, an economic and social development consultancy have been commissioned to undertake an evaluation on behalf of the main funder Scottish Funding Council.

As part of the evaluation, we are interested in seeking the views and experiences of companies in the food and drink sector with respect to innovation and collaboration with academia. The companies directly supported by the Interface food and Drink team (through funding, common interest activities and collaboration)will receive a specific email to complete a survey over the next few days. But we are keen to capture the views of as many businesses as possible and would be pleased if you could complete this survey to tell us your experiences if any ofinnovation and collaboration with academia.

Click here to access the survey.

This survey should take no longer than 10 mins to complete, and all responses will be treated in confidence by EKOS and findings aggregated so as not to be able to identify individual responses.

Should you have any queries please contact Nicola Graham at EKOS on 0141 353 8328 or , or alternatively contact a member of the IFamp;D team on 0131 6514019. Deadline for responses 19th April.

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Money Quick Tips: 6 ways to make home improvement pay off

USA TODAY contributor Regina Lewis explains how to cut costs and make sure home improvements pays off.

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Seattle, Washinton (PRWEB) April 11, 2013

For the second year in a row, Microsoft employees in Redmond, Wash., can recycle their personal old laptops and desktops for charitable reuse on Earth Day. The partnership between and Microsoft will help hundreds of low-income families and nonprofits nationwide.

Reusable equipment will get refurbished, which includes secure data wiping, at InterConnection’s Computer Reuse Center in Seattle. Non-functional equipment will get properly recycled according to the highest environmental standards.

“InterConnection has done a great job in providing companies with professional IT Asset Disposition and we are happy to be able to offer our employees a sustainable and charitable option for recycling their personal computers and electronics while helping nonprofits locally as well as nationwide,” said Rob Symington, Manager, Environmental Sustainability, Microsoft.

Last year, donations from Microsoft employees benefited 94 low-income families, students and nonprofits and on top of that, the reuse and recycling saved enough electricity to power 1,000 homes for a full year.

“Microsoft is a leader, not only when it comes to software and hardware, but also in aligning their environmental goals with charitable giving. We are proud to work with them and excited that more and more companies choose to reuse,” said Rasmus Mortensen, Donation and Marketing Manager at InterConnection, hoping that more companies will follow Microsoft’s lead and provide a way for their employees to donate used computers to charitable reuse.

InterConnection provides refurbished computers and technology support to nonprofit organizations across the US, in developing countries and to many low-income individuals and students in the Puget Sound area. In 2012, 828 nonprofits and 1236 low-income families or students benefited from InterConnection’s reuse programs.

InterConnection is the only non-profit in the US that holds the leading certifications in the electronics recycling industry – Responsible Recycling (R2) and ISO14001:2004. The certifications ensure that no e-waste is exported, that all data is destroyed and protect donors from the environmental, business and legal risks that are inherent with disposing of old IT equipment.

Businesses and individuals that can’t participate in the event can always drop off at one of their nine drop off locations.

Businesses can call (206) 633-1517 for a free pick-up.

Visit to learn more.

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When manufacturing automotive electronic and power systems, mistakes delay time-to-market and can cost thousands in rework, especially if discovered late in the production process. If mistakes are not discovered until after vehicles have reached the consumer market, manufacturers may face substantial damage claims and even lawsuits. That’s why it’s critical to consider the benefits and follow recommended design guidelines of automation-ready, solder-free compliant pin technology.

Prevalent throughout the automotive industry, compliant pin terminals and connectors have performed well in both power and signal contacts for nearly four decades. As pins that store elastic energy to form reliable, solder-less and press-fit electrical connections with substrates, compliant pin terminals and connectors are also commonly deployed in commercial products, transportation, and other industries.

Parts like this CMC 154-circuit header in compliant pin mount offer robust, sealed, wire-to-board connection for high-conductivity, high-vibration powertrain applications.

Within the automotive industry, press-fit technologies have become mainstays for designing economical, durable and demanding electronic and power applications:

  • Body Electronics
  • Engine compartments
  • Powertrain
  • Transmissions
  • Automotive telematics
  • Anti-Lock Braking Systems
  • Infotainment
  • Passenger occupancy detection sensors
  • Airbag control modules
  • Crash and rollover sensors

From a quality perspective, critical faults in pins from leading manufacturers are rarely reported, which is a testament to the durability of the technology.

The Popular and Reliable Eye of the Needle Interface
A popular and highly-reliable compliant pin configuration is the economical “Eye of the Needle” (EON) interface, which has been used successfully for almost 10 years in the automotive industry. A compliant pin interface (CPI) with vertical and right angle headers can utilize an EON design, handle up to 8.0A current for signal contacts, and is ideal in blind-mate and press-fit applications when soldering boards is inconvenient or costly.

Mini-Fit Compliant Pin Interface (CPI) vertical headers utilize a highly reliable eye-of-the-needle contact design, handle up to 8.0A current and are ideal in blind-mate and press-fit networking applications.

The headers also can be pressed into boards with thicknesses of 1.57mm (.062″), which is key because pressing CPI terminals into the board makes reliable connections. Headers from leading manufacturers also feature flanges for blind-mating applications. For higher current applications, other proven press-fit interconnects are available with higher amperage capacity.

Press-fit pins and terminals also offer superior current capacity in PCB applications, where bulkier power interconnects result in a less-than-secure mating. On fine-pitch SMT boards, compliant pins simplify design challenges and eliminate expenses inherent in soldering small connections.

In some cases, compliant pins can be inserted directly into PCBs to eliminate the need for molded connectors. As with standard connectors, compliant pin technology can achieve the right balance between pin insertion/retention force and low electrical resistance.

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It#x2019;s so easy, once you#x2019;re in the clutches of home improvement, to keep improving.

The new paint makes the cabinets look bad. The new cabinets make the appliances look bad. The new appliances make the floor look bad. The new kitchen makes the bathroom seem dated, and pretty soon you#x2019;re fixing up the neighbor#x2019;s house.

Home improvement, like plastic surgery, is a slippery slope. Not enough can backfire. And so can too much.

I contemplated all this as I fixed up my parents#x2019; 50-year-old-and-looked-it house to get it ready to sell. My goal was to hit that happy intersection of spend the least and net the most.

Thankfully, I was working with a good friend. Bill Wood is a real estate agent who knows houses, knows sellers, knows me (so he can protect me from myself) and knows where to draw the line.

He knows that the improvements you make when you#x2019;re fixing to sell #x2013; not dwell — involve a very different calculus.

For instance, if you#x2019;re staying put, you might spring for slightly higher-end finishes, and take more time deciding. Heck, last time I chose tile for a home I owned and lived in, it me took three days, five trips to the tile store and a pint of Haagen-Dazs. This time I chose in under three minutes.

That#x2019;s because when you#x2019;re fixing to sell, you must stay focused on the four filters: Nice, New, Neutral and Necessary.

Last week, I told you about the improvements we made at the old homestead. We scraped the shell, and chose new paint, flooring and finishes to give the house a warm but neutral background for a new owner to build on.

As important is what we didn#x2019;t do — and why. Besides getting Wood#x2019;s thoughts, I canvassed another fix-and-flip friend, Susan Beane, of Denver. I folded her advice in with Wood#x2019;s and mine for this list of improvements you can skip.

Don#x2019;t over improve for the neighborhood: If everyone on the block has a gourmet kitchen and a Jacuzzi, you may need to step up those areas, but if most don#x2019;t, don#x2019;t add them. I chose fixtures in keeping with the home#x2019;s roots — modest and practical.

Don#x2019;t replace what doesn#x2019;t matter: Focus on entries and main areas. Don#x2019;t fret about secondary areas like garages and laundry room. #x201C;If the entry tile looks bad, I replace it,#x201D; Beane said. #x201C;If the laundry room tile looks bad, I give it a good cleaning.#x201D; In the garage, don#x2019;t bother putting in built-ins or epoxy on the floor: Buyers won#x2019;t care.

Don#x2019;t replace what can be cleaned: The home#x2019;s old shower enclosures were spotted and rickety with calcification. But new enclosures would be expensive. Wood thought a power clean would get rid of the build-up, restore the shine and make the doors slide like new. He was right. Super cleaning dirty grout on tiled areas can also bring sparkle back to an old surface.

Don#x2019;t replace what can be embellished: Rather than tear out old baseboards or trim, just beef them up, Beane said. Adding more molding to what exists and painting it often gets the results you want for less.

Don#x2019;t replace what you can paint: An ugly brick fireplace is a great example. Same with dated wood paneling. Even old tile can be painted with tile paint.

Don#x2019;t replace what can be repaired: Enough said.

Don#x2019;t replace what can be staged: If a kitchen backsplash is in good shape, but not special, stage it with plants and a raised cookbook display.

Don#x2019;t replace what buyers don#x2019;t notice: Replacing this home#x2019;s hollow doors with solid ones — a subtle improvement — would not have been worth it.

Don#x2019;t add what#x2019;s best omitted: Remove old drapery and leave windows uncovered, or cover them with plain vanilla blinds. Similarly, don#x2019;t feel compelled to extensively stage an empty home.

Don#x2019;t replace what the new owner would rather buy: The stovetop in this home looked OK, but didn#x2019;t work well. Since it didn#x2019;t detract, rather than pay to replace it or have it fixed, we decided we#x2019;d let the new owner replace it with gas or electric, which is a personal preference best left to them.

Don#x2019;t overachieve: Save the Italian marble for your dream house, which this isn#x2019;t, remember.


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The memories of the nights when the family would gather to grill hamburgers on the patio, or play board games in the living room, still loom beneath the shady oaks surrounding the burned-out structure. Ashcroft, 46, can barely stand the thought of no longer having such moments.

You never think about what its like having to pick up the pieces of your life, she said. So when it happens, youre so devastated and hurt you just go numb.

Ashcroft was the last member of her family to see their rental home standing on March 21. She left about 11:30 am to mail packages to customers of her online exotic plant business and to visit friends. She returned shortly after 2 pm to see the 5-acre property covered in thick smoke and fire trucks parked around the home. The blaze, which investigators determined was started by faulty wiring in an appliance, had destroyed the three-bedroom mobile home. The familys two Shih Tzus, Adam and Eve, and their cat Tobias didnt survive.

Although the home was insured by the landlord, the Ashcrofts didnt have renters insurance. Since then, theyve struggled to regain a semblance of a normal life. Fortunately, friends and neighbors and others in the community have stepped up to help. The Red Cross provided the family with temporary lodging and money to buy food and clothes. Neighbors came by to help the family sift through their belongings, trying to salvage what they could.

Last week, Dixie Lopez, a co-worker of Ron Ashcrofts at Accuform Signs, south of Brooksville, organized a fundraising party at the Locomo Skate-Dance-Party in Spring Hill. Lopez is working on plans for another event in the next few weeks.

Ron and his family are such wonderful people, Lopez said. Everyone who knows them feels for them right now. Were trying to do whatever we can to help them get their lives back to normal.

Since the tragedy, the Ashcrofts have hung on to any glimmers of positivity that have come their way. Ruslans orange tabby, Shoeshine, which the family thought had died in the blaze along with their other pets, reappeared a couple of days after the fire. Although severely burned on his legs and head, he continues to improve each day, Aurika Ashcroft said.

Seeing Shoeshine come back meant the world to my son, Ashcroft said. It gave him much hope.

The family hasnt decided where they will eventually live. For now, they are contented to stay in a small rented mobile home owned by a neighbor, and are saving up so they will be ready to move when a suitable permanent home is available.

Despite their setbacks, Ashcroft said her familys spirits remain intact.

Were most thankful that were all still together, she said. I dont even want to think what might have happened if we had all been home that day. Those are the blessings that you count on.

Logan Neill can be reached at or (352) 848-1435.

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