- General, Home Improvement, Slider

How to Protect Your Home from the Elements

Even before Hurricane Harvey began its rampage through the Caribbean and southern US states, federal climate experts agreed that 2017 is going to be a bad year for climate catastrophes in America. According to NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), it is the tenth weather-related event that caused more than $1bn of damage. These events include flooding in California, Missouri and Arkansas, hailstorms in Colorado and Minnesota, and a sudden spring freeze that devastated crops across South Carolina and Georgia.
Costly catastrophes

Such weather incidents are becoming the norm, resulting in huge spikes in property damage insurance claims. In 2016, insured losses due to natural disasters amounted to $23.6 billion, 60% of which was attributed to violent thunderstorms. Moreover, non-disastrous conditions like prolonged temperature extremes can damage your home. We cannot control the weather but we can minimize the impact to our properties. And while there is no complete protection against the elements, these tips will help you control weather-related repair and maintenance costs.
Repair damaged brickwork

Temperature extremes cause building materials to expand and contract, cracking rendering and damaging masonry. A crack that allows damp to settle in will expand once the moisture freezes, giving way to more damp penetration. However, if you use the different mortar mix, it will trap and damp instead allowing it to breathe.

Which mortar to use?

Masonry of older homes can be repaired through brick repointing. It is a process where an inch of old mortar is removed and replaced with new mortar. However, an inexperienced mason may use Portland cement which is very hard and can cause irreparable damage to their structure. Repointing mixture needs to be softer than the existing mortar, so use less Portland cement and more sand and lime.
Fix roof issues

As the part of a house that is most exposed to the weather conditions, the roof is a place where you shouldn’t cut corners. Replace damaged or missing tiles as they won’t just let water in, but also allow the wind to get under and lift remaining tiles. Inspect your gable wall, which is the triangular end of your house. If it is not firmly connected to the roof trusses, even mini tornados can force it to collapse.
Balance insulation and ventilation

Cavity wall insulation is one of the best ways of improving the thermal efficiency of your home. However, a double wall is like a double-edged sword. Your house structure needs to be in perfect condition. Otherwise, heavy rains may lead to water seeping into your wall cavity, where it is trapped by the insulation which acts as a giant sponge. As it wraps your house all around, the insulation can cause even more condensation and eventual water damage. While not all properties are suitable for cavity wall insulation, people still underestimate the importance of ventilation.

Make it earthquake proof

Scientists predict that the number of small magnitude earthquakes in California will decrease. Unfortunately, they also predict that the chance of a major earthquake, stronger than 8.0 will increase. Earthquakes aren’t limited exclusively to California and Alaska. The truth is that anyone living west of the Rockies is in the ‘quake zone’.
Property owners in risky areas are required by local councils to reinforce their homes, so many people became interested in seismic retrofit financing offered within PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) program. It is a financing option that allows property owners to undertake energy efficiency and renewable upgrades, and in certain areas, water conservation and storm protection and seismic upgrades. It is incorporated into property taxes and repaid over the long term. With PACE, landlords can access financing for no money upfront, and spread out the cost of a seismic retrofit over decades.
The combination of global climate change and people spreading into vulnerable areas contributes to increased property damage in the last decade. While we cannot prevent disastrous weather systems, and extreme temperatures, we can do a lot to make our homes safer and more resistant to nature’s fury.

- Gardening, Slider

3 Ways Raising Grandchildren is Like Gardening

If you had to choose between gardening and your grandchildren, which one would you pick? Just kidding… we’d never make you choose between what are probably two of the greatest joys in your life. (We’re not heartless!) However, that does bring us to our next point: gardening and raising grandkids have quite a few similarities! Just like the way those lessons you learned in kindergarten can be applied to your horticulture hobby, the things you’ve experienced as a grandparent are also very reminiscent of being a gardener.
3 Ways Raising Grandchildren is Just Like Gardening

1. It’s just so much fun!
There’s truly nothing like hanging out with your little granddaughter or grandson. Grandkids are full of imagination and never leave you with a dull moment; they always make you feel young again. Just like you’re always keeping up with your grandchildren, your garden definitely has its own way of keeping you on your toes. Whether it’s a new blossom that has bloomed or a pesky pest that’s moved in, there is always something for you to do. It’s safe to say your garden can be just about as unpredictable as your adorable grandkids coming up with new things everyday.

2. It takes time and patience
Speaking of those grandchildren always keeping you on your toes… Surely you’ve noticed that patience is key when dealing with a little one that bounces from one corner of the room to another. Every now and then, you need to remind yourself that these little humans take time to grow and will not always do exactly what you want them to. As with those stubborn seeds in your garden you hoped would be sprouting by now, it’s important to remember that patience is the best policy. Just keep doing the right thing, and the rewards will come; in the form of a mature and beautiful garden, or wonderful sweet human beings.

3. The rewards are beautiful
Some grandparents might argue that they like their grandkids more than their own kids! (Don’t worry, we won’t tell!) There is something so truly special about raising a family member a couple generations younger than you—and the delight it brings is almost indescribable. When you’re patient, the rewards are tenfold, just like in gardening. Though there may be ups and down in life and in the garden, you can always be reminded about the beauty surrounding you when you take one look at your happy grandchild and happy plants. Everything else just fades away.
If you’ve been nodding your head the whole time while reading this, we’ve got an idea for you: why not bring your garden and grandchild together? There are plenty of ways to introduce your kin to the hobby; just check out these 10 plants your grandchildren will love helping with.
Kids can learn a lot from gardening especially when you teach them how to plant their first garden. Plus, you get to enjoy both of your favorite things at the same time! It’s a win for everyone (including the garden, which gets even more TLC).
Ready for more fun reads and resources about your beloved weekend hobby? Join Rozanne’s Inner Circle, and you’ll never miss a beat!

- General, Slider, Technology

Are you in the race for faster internet speeds?

34 million Americans don’t have access to high-speed internet service.
A federal court ruled in June that broadband is considered a utility that can be regulated by the FCC.
Fixed broadband download speeds have improved 42 percent in the U.S. over the last year.
It’s easy to take fast internet speed for granted and leaves us wondering how we ever survived without it. Unfortunately, there are many Americans who don’t have easy access to the web, let alone at high speeds.

The upside is there’s still plenty of room for the industry to grow, which may be beneficial for investors. Let’s look at what’s happening in the industry today.

Millions of Americans can’t access high-speed internet

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released a 2016 Broadband Progress Report earlier this year that revealed there are 34 million Americans who lack access to high speed internet service, defined as 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload or greater. That’s equivalent to 10 percent of Americans who are located in rural areas, on tribal lands or in U.S. territories.[1]

While 34 million Americans is certainly a large number, it’s an improvement from the previous year, when 55 million Americans didn’t have access to high speed internet. Unfortunately, about 47 percent of U.S. students today still don’t have access to the FCC’s short-term goal of 100 Mbps per 1,000 students in schools, however. This accessibility gap puts many students at a disadvantage as assignments and studying are assigned with the assumption that students have internet access at home.[2]

So what’s being done about the gaps in the market? Competition continues between Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to provide faster speeds to more customers and the government is also trying to step in.

Net neutrality is making headway

Net neutrality, also known as open internet, is a principle backed by the government, many tech companies, startups and consumers that would require ISPs to provide all lawful content to consumers without blocking or throttling.

Net neutrality would prevent ISPs from creating fast lanes and slow lanes for one source of content over another. For example, without net neutrality an ISP could push its own video content to consumers at super fast speeds and restrict Netflix or Youtube content to stream at a snail’s pace.[3]

Without net neutrality, ISPs could control how fast or slow content is delivered to customers based on the source. Source: BitsNBytes

The Obama Administration passed the Open Internet Act passed in early 2015 which re-classified broadband providers as common carriers. Since common carriers fall under government supervision, it wasn’t a surprise that the U.S. Telecom Association and ISPs such as AT&T filed a lawsuit against the FCC shortly thereafter to try and block the regulatory changes.[4]

The U.S. Court of Appeals’ District of Columbia Circuit rejected the telco industry’s claims this June. Now high-speed internet service on both fixed and mobile networks is defined as a utility, making it as essential and no longer allowing a luxury service exempt from government supervision.

Opponents including AT&T plan to appeal the ruling. Meanwhile, politicians are actively trying to cut the FCC’s funding by $69 million and prohibit the agency from enforcing net neutrality rules until all legal challenges and appeals are resolved. [5]

Just how fast is the internet in the U.S.?

A recent study released by Ookla reports sizeable improvements in both fixed broadband and mobile internet speeds in the U.S. Here are some notable stats from their August 3rd Speedtest Market Report.[6]

Average fixed broadband download speeds surpassed 50 Mbps for the first time in 1H 2016, an improvement of 42 percent since July 2015.
Upload speeds for fixed broadband improved 51 percent over the last year, reaching 18.88 Mbps.
The fastest ISP for download speeds was Comcast’s XFINITY at 125.53 Mbps. Cox Communications came in a close second at 117.85 Mbps
Verizon Fios was the fastest ISP for upload speeds at 97.71 Mbps. Spectrum ranked in second place at a much slower 23.37 Mbps.
Mobile download speeds increased to an average 19.27 Mbps, an increase of more than 30 percent since last year.
Verizon Wireless, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint are competing aggressively for the fastest download speeds and pricing to grow their subscriber base.
The fastest U.S. Mobile carriers were Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile with download speeds above 21 Mbps and T-Mobile for upload speeds over 11 Mbps.

While these improvements may appear impressive, the U.S. still lags behind on an international benchmark. The U.S ranks the 20th country in fixed broadband speeds and 42nd in mobile internet performance.

The top 10 countries for average internet connection speed in Q1 2016 according to Statisa were South Korea, Norway, Sweden, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Latvia, Japan, the Netherlands, Czech Republic and Finland.[7]