Monthly Archives: February 2015

Woman Cheats Death With Her Husband’s Volvo

Garage Doors
With the severe winter weather the Northeastern United States has been experiencing this year, it is no surprise that buildings have been collapsing under the weight of all the snow. One such building was a garage in Pepperell, Massachusetts, which recently collapsed — with its owner inside.

Jennifer Ellars was leaving her home to run errands on February 15th when she made a last minute decision to drive her husband’s Volvo instead of her minivan. She chose to drive the Volvo because it handled better in the snow than the van. No sooner had she entered the vehicle than the garage collapsed on the minivan.

“I could see the hanging ladder moving with that crack. And then ‘Bang.’ This loud ‘Bang.’ And you could feel the whole car move.I physically ducked, thinking I could get squished here flat. And then it was over,” Ellars explained. Emergency respondents speculate that Ellars would not have survived the collapse had she been in the minivan.

Ellars’ husband, Charlie, was standing a few feet away from the garage when it collapsed, but due to the loud noise of the snowblower he was operating, did not notice the building come down. It was only when his son ran toward him, shouting, that he saw the damage. Charlie Ellars approached the Volvo to find his wife unharmed, asking him to please get her out, as the back windows of the Volvo had blown out and the windshield cracked. Local firefighters were later able to extract Jennifer Ellars from the Volvo.

The Ellars’ garage was only one of 58 that occurred in Massachusetts in the past week. To prevent building collapse, try to remove snow from your roof regularly, using either a shovel or a roof rake. If you have any doubts about your ability to safely remove snow from your roof, hire an insured, experienced contractor to do it for you.

Michigan Township Mends Fences With Its Fencing Rules

Wooden fence in the coutryside
A township in Michigan is looking to mend fences with its fencing rules.

In April, Redford, MI will have a public hearing on proposed changes to the township’s rues on fencing, which include a new rule that would allow privacy fences to square off with the front of homes in some cases.

Privacy fences, as the name implies, prevent unwanted parties from spying or wandering in to a yard. They can even keep noisy neighbors from becoming distracting, because, when the materials used are sufficient, they can act as sound barriers.

In the past, any privacy fence in Redford that was four feet high could be constructed between the rear and front building lines on the side of the home “only to the extent necessary to include the side door to the home within the enclosure.”

This new, proposed rule, though, would allow citizens to line their privacy fences up with the front of buildings, so long as they’re partially concealed by plant materials, according to Nick Lomako of Wade Trim, a civil engineering consultancy that helped work on the proposed rules.

“We want landscaping to break up the mass,” said Lomako.

However, fencing laws are typically hard to enforce. Though many local areas have rather robust, restrictive regulations, nothing typically happens when a fence is too high. In fact, too-tall-fences are usually only an issue when someone complains. Even if someone were to complain, there’s no guarantee that anything would come of it.

While the rules and their changes might seem insignificant, the township has had a quarrelsome past with privacy fences. Higher enclosures become public safety issues when others aren’t able to see what’s behind them, Lomako explained, saying that the previous rules were put in place to make privacy fences “less impactful,” and avoid the “fort effect.”

Essentially, these new rule changes might seem inconsequential, but they do allow citizens to enjoy more freedom with their homes without compromising public safety.

More Money, More Problems: When Home Remodeling Doesn’t Pay Off

Remodeling bathroom

Although more than half — 53 % — of homeowners feel that now is a good time to renovate a home, you may not want to follow the crowd in this instance.

The 2015 Cost vs. Value Report, a survey published by Remodeling magazine, revealed that major home remodeling projects don’t always pay off.

As the real estate market continues to recover, home values have steadily increased while interest rates remain low, which in turn is attracting more and more potential home buyers. In return, more potential sellers are heading to the hardware store or dialing up their local contractor to get started on home improvement projects. But, their efforts may be in vain.

“A rising housing market lifts up remodeling,” said Craig Webb, editor-in-chief of Remodeling, a noted industry trade publication.

It’s no secret that kitchen and bathrooms often receive the most attention, as these are the rooms where the most time is spent, said Webb. However, before you dive head first into planning your next kitchen or bath remodeling project, know that these renovations don’t always pay off with the highest cost-to-value-ratio. For example, a $25,000 kitchen remodeling is likely to only recoup 68% of its cost once the house is sold, Webb explains. A cool $100,000-plus kitchen remodeling recoups even less, at a mere 59%.

Homeowners and potential sellers aren’t entirely helpless, however. Webb suggests keeping it simple.

“The simpler and lower cost the project, the bigger its cost-value ratio,” Webb said, noting that popular steel door entry replacements, which typically cost less than $5,000, can not only substantially improve a home’s ever-important curb appeal, but can also net a 102% recoupment in 2015. If you decide to install one prior to selling your home, you’re likely to make a profit.

Similarly, you’re likely to recoup more than 80% of the $10,000 it takes to install a wooden deck prior to selling your home, whereas installing a $16,000 composite deck is only likely to net 68%.

However, it all depends on location. In some red-hot housing markets, you may be able to recoup 100 % or more on your home remodeling investments regardless of the nature of the project. In San Francisco, for example, installing a wooden deck, which can be enjoyed year-round, could result in a whopping 147% return.

While you may not be get 100% back on your home remodeling investments, all is not lost. They not only boost your home’s resale value and general appeal, they’re also likely to reduce the amount of time your home is on market.

Increase in Winter Tourism Causes Michigan’s Muskegon State Park To Open 20 Rustic Campsites for Public Use

Night camping in the mountains.
The Midwest has experienced some of the coldest temperatures and heaviest snowfalls during the 2014-2015 winter season, but that hasn’t stopped Michigan residents from going outside and staying active. In fact, according to a recent announcement from the Muskegon State Park, about 20 campsites will remain open for public use during the remainder of the winter season.

According to MLive.com, the State Park association decided to open the campsites “after the discovery [that] there was a niche market for tourists interested in camping while hiking park trails, or skiing, skating, or luging at the Winter Sports Complex [in Muskegon].”

Three years ago, a representative from the Muskegon State Park explained, one family from Canada asked if they could stay at the park during the winter; the State Park obligated, and reportedly plowed away snow from an area so the family could vacation there.

Last year, the State Park decided to open its gates during the winter months once again — this time inviting more visitors to stay in the park — and the information traveled quickly by word of mouth.

This season, however, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources made an official announcement at the end of January 2015 that the park would be open again during the winter months, and that 20 campsites would be available for public use.

Considering that about 67% of campers prefer to stay in public parks during the warmer months, opening just 20 individual site seemed like a reasonable decision for Muskegon — and it appears that the majority of the “rustic” campsites, suitable for both tents and trailers, are snatched up quickly on any given weekend.

Winter camping certainly isn’t for everyone, and officials from the park even note that it requires “some pre-planning,” especially for any visitors planning on staying in tents.

But it might come as a surprise that winter camping is actually a fairly common, and even enjoyable outdoor winter activity for many people. As Erika Sherk has explained in the Edmonton Journal recently, that little bit of pre-planning is definitely worth an ultra-affordable weekend of winter sports and beautiful scenery. Plus, Sherk notes, there isn’t just onetype of winter camping; everything from Muskegon’s “rustic campsites” to heated lodges (with indoor plumbing!) can count as winter camping.

Winter camping certainly isn’t for everyone, but at a mere $18 per night at the Muskegon State Park — and at similar prices in public parks across the country — this activity might just be worth a shot.

Digital Billboards Draw International Controversy

Retro Showtime Sign Vector
Businesses are always looking for new ways to catch consumers’ attention. Now, thanks to advancing technology, some companies may be able to accomplish this with digital billboards, which feature moving, computer-controlled displays and messages. Research from OTX, a global consumer research and consulting firm, shows that these signs are extremely effective, with an estimated 63% of adults reporting that digital advertising catches their attention. However, cities from Indiana to Pakistan aren’t quite so impressed with these interesting advertising methods, and many are considering legislation against them. But what does this mean for businesses and consumers in both countries?The latest round of this controversy began in Indianapolis in late January, when the city’s Department of Metropolitan Development committee decided to vote on whether or not to ban digital billboards throughout Marion County. Problems surrounding the issue originally began on December 1, when councilors were given the chance to decide whether or not to lift an existing ban. Public outcry requesting at least one more hearing and time to process the proposal caused the matter to be sent back to the committee. Now, even more people are prepared to fight the bill to demand further attention be paid to the issue.

The proposal stipulates that for every digital billboard that is erected, twice as much square footage of static billboards must be dismantled. Additionally, the number of digital billboards that could be constructed over the next year and a half would be limited to 75. However, much of the conflict surrounds the original proposal, which was written by billboard companies Lamar and Clear Channel. Critics are also concerned that the proposal originated in the council before being sent to the committee, a reversal of normal protocol. As a result, dozens of organizations have spoken out against the proposal.

Meanwhile, similar controversy began brewing in Islamabad, Pakistan. On Sunday, February 8, a road safety expert appealed to city authorities to create stronger regulations regarding the use of digital billboards. In a statement, Mohammad Shahid, founder of the group Road Safety First, pointed out that many countries have banned the billboards and that unlike cell phones, drivers are unable to turn these distractions off.

According to Shahid, digital billboards typically change images every four to 10 seconds, creating a significant distraction for passing drivers. Shahid complimented local authorities on their efforts to crack down on illegal or unapproved billboards in the area, but pointed out that local traffic rules state that there should be warning signs, information signs, route signs, road markings and supplementary plates to guide drivers and pedestrians — most of which are lacking in Islamabad.

Discussing the issue, a resident of Islamabad’s Bhara Kahu neighborhood commented that few roads had even minimum traffic signs. In such a perilous driving environment, perhaps both Indianapolis and Islamabad would benefit from restricting digital billboards to pedestrian areas or limiting the number allowed in a certain area.

Inside the Pint-Sized Homes of the Tiny House Movement

Almost Complete Wooden Cabin With Window
Perhaps in response to the growing number of McMansions on the housing market, minimalist singles, couples, and even families are now embracing the tiny house movement.

Tiny houses are defined as small, sustainable houses that can measure anywhere from 80 square feet to about 700 (though they tend to average between 100 and 400 square feet). They are often structured like studio or loft apartments and have enough space to house basic amenities.

Compare this to the average-sized American home, which measures around 2,600 square feet. That’s more than double the average home size in the United States in 1973, which only measured around 1,000 square feet.

Tiny houses are gaining momentum because they have everything that most people need without giving in to excess. They contain sleeping areas, bathrooms, modern and efficient kitchens, and plenty of sitting room and tucked-away storage spots.

Some tiny houses are also built on wheels, so they can travel and go off the grid.

Many people also choose building their own homes — tiny or otherwise — to save money, and having everything new inside and outside helps to lower the costs on upgrades and maintenance.

So what are the reasons that people are looking to build these pint-sized homes?

For some, it’s about sustainability. Because the houses can be on or off the utility grid, and because of their size, they tend to consume far less energy than the average home.

Yet for other singles and families, tiny houses represent a simpler kind of life. Although most are built with aesthetically pleasing interiors that belong in a home decor magazine and have all brand new fixtures, they force inhabitants to confront the amount of clutter they keep with them.

Brittany Yunker, who lived in a 165-square foot tiny home for a while, told KBOI TV in Boise, ID, that she misses the quality of life she had when renting her small house.

“It’s not about the quantity or size of things that you own, it’s about quality,” she said of the lifestyle. “I learned that I was happier with less, and still am to this day.”

In fact, tiny homes are so popular that they even inspired a documentary, Tiny, which centers around a couple who moved from New York City into their own tiny home that they built.

Finally, price is another factor in choosing the tiny house life. On average, the houses only cost around $23,000 to build — compared to $272,000 for a full-sized home, and that’s principle alone!

Of those who live in tiny homes, 68% carry no mortgage debt, compared with only 29.3% of full-sized home owners who can make similar claims.

Kate Winslet Weighs in on the Impact Her Two Divorces Have Had on Her Children

Leadership Signpost Showing Vision Values Empowerment and Encouragement
Despite two divorces and three children by three different husbands, actress Kate Winslet claims that divorce is actually good for children, stating that “it’s very important to teach your children to struggle on some level.”The 39-year-old Oscar-winning star, who rose to fame for her role in the blockbuster movie “Titanic” had been married twice before tying the knot in 2012 with Richard Branson’s nephew, Ned Rocknroll, who was born Abel Smith.

Winslet’s children include 14-year-old Mia, from her first marriage to Jim Threapleton; 11-year-old Joe, from her second marriage, to Sam Mendes; and her toddler son, Bear, who was born shortly after her third marriage to Rocknroll.

In an interview with Harper’s Bazaar, Winslet said she wouldn’t change her family situation for anything — “even all the bad bits.”

Winslet’s two splits aren’t all that uncommon among celebrities of her stature. Famous couples seem to marry and break up faster than most people can keep track of.

Among the most ridiculous celebrity divorces were socialite Kim Kardashian and NBA player Kris Humphries, whose marriage ended after 72 days.

And Winslet’s divorces were fairly amicable compared to the messy one between actress Denise Richards and professional hot mess Charlie Sheen, with the latter claiming that his ex-wife wanted a sperm donation from him as part of the settlement. (Richards denied the accusation.)

Although high-profile celebrity divorces provide fodder for gossip rags, most divorces in the United States go without that kind of attention. It’s a good thing, too, since on average, one divorce occurs every 36 seconds in the U.S.

Winslet also spoke out in the interview against the idea that women can lose baby weight within a matter of weeks, as many celebrities appear to do.

Above all, the actress said that she is happy about her body and knows it won’t even return to its pre-baby stage — and she’s okay with that and wants other women to know that it’s all right, too.

“What is so gorgeous about being the age I am is that all the ridiculous angst I might once have felt about having a bit of cellulite, or being a bit puffy in the face, or whatever, has evaporated,” she said. “I simply can’t believe I ever spent any time wasting my life on that nonsense.”

Could HIV Cause Hearing Loss?

Hearing check-up
A recent study by San Diego State scientist Peter Torre and colleagues from Johns Hopkins University, Georgetown University, and the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) found that adults who are HIV-positive tend to have significantly more hearing loss than those who are not. The risk for hearing loss was the same, regardless of severity of infection or habits of medication.

Torre designed a procedure to screen participants for hearing loss, and researchers recruited middle-aged HIV-positive participants from previous studies. Of the 400 subjects, 105 women and 117 men had tested to be HIV-positive. Researchers collected data regarding HIV-positive participants’ habits of medication, such as how long they had been taking the medicine and how strictly they adhered to their prescriptions. Blood tests were run to analyze disease progression.

Following the initial screening, all participants were given a standard hearing test. The hearing test played a variety of tones between 250 to 8000 hertz at many different volumes. Researchers expected that HIV-positive participants would have hearing that was mostly intact, with some loss at higher frequencies, similar to hearing loss due to premature aging. What they found instead was that the participants with HIV were unable to hear tones at higher frequencies and at lower frequencies. None of the variables regarding level of infection or medication adherence could explain the cause of the hearing loss.

Researchers were unable to describe a physiological cause of hearing loss in HIV-positive people, but hypothesize that it could be a response to inflammation caused by the HIV virus itself, due to the lack of response to HIV medication or other disease. Howard Hoffman, director of epidemiology/statistics at NIDCD and study co-author, suggested that the patterns of hearing loss experienced by HIV-positive participants is similar to that found in adults with diabetes.

The researchers intend to conduct additional studies to find the reason for the unusual hearing loss.