Considering a Backyard Fire Pit? Here’s What You Should Know

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Puffy Lux

Many of today’s homeowners are looking for more than a traditional wood deck with a grill in their backyards. These days, accessorizing means amenities like ponds, vegetable gardens, outdoor kitchens and fire pits. Because styles, sizes and materials abound, your choices should be based on your space at hand, budget and, of course, local ordinances. (Some municipalities ban open burning of any kind.)

Before you start dreaming of moonlit nights and toasted marshmallows, here’s what else to consider about planning a fire pit:

How Much Does It Cost to Build a Backyard Fire Pit?

Costs can be as low as $100 if you go with something simple, according to Houzz. You can purchase a simple kit at a hardware store. Or, if you’re up for a DIY project, you can create your own backyard fire pit. But costs certainly can also go up to several thousand dollars, especially when seating is added, says Angie’s List.

Permanent vs. Portable Fire Pits

As you begin planning, you may want to think in terms of permanence. Do you want a fire pit that is built in — a focal point in the yard — or something that’s lightweight and potentially portable, so you can take it where you want your gathering?

Permanent Fire Pits

For a permanent fire pit, choose something that coordinates with the color, style, shape and materials you have in your yard already, says Houzz. You can assemble a fire pit yourself with a premade kit from a hardware store that comes with everything you need. Or, you can go fully custom and have a landscape professional or contractor design and build it.

Portable Fire Pits

Portable fire pits offer a lot of different options. Fire bowls are typically made of copper, steel or cast iron, according to HGTV. Fire tables typically use propane or natural gas and have an area around the fire where you can put food and drinks, according to the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association. Freestanding fire pits called chimineas feature a chimney-style vent, says HGTV.

Regardless of which style you choose, you need to use proper stones and materials (something that shouldn’t splinter when the fire heats up). Make it proportional to the size of your yard, and be sure you have room for seating and circulation, says Houzz.

Wood-fired vs. Gas Fire Pits

Wood, propane or natural gas are most common choices to fuel an outdoor fire pit, according to Houzz. Those who favor the sound of a crackling fire may prefer burning real logs, says Houzz. This will require a steady supply of firewood.

Some fire pits use natural gas or propane for an instant fire — though you don’t get the same crackle and smoke as a wood fire. A propane fire pit will have an attached tank, while a natural gas fire pit will require a gas line that runs from your house to the fire pit.

Where to Set a Portable Fire Pit

It’s best to set a portable fire pit atop a fire-resistant surface such as metal, pavers or bricks, says HGTV. Putting it directly on a wood deck or grass can be dangerous if embers fly.

Where to Safely Place a Fire Pit

Many communities require a minimum of a 10-foot distance from your house and neighbors’ yards, according to the Seattle Fire Department. Some don’t require a permit if the fire pit fits within set size requirements, while others require a site inspection from local fire officials to help make sure your proposed location is safe (away from fences, structures, overhanging branches, etc.). Some communities may also have restrictions on wood burning fires, says Houzz. Check with local officials before you purchase or start planning a fire pit.

Seating and Lighting Around a Fire Pit

Provide enough light for people to walk around the yard safely but keep it subtle enough to avoid destroying the camp-fire mood, says The Family Handyman. Consider light posts or overhead string lights (but don’t hang them directly over the fire pit). Energy-efficient LED lighting can also be plugged into a nearby outlet without requiring you to call an electrician.

When adding seating, HGTV recommends keeping it far enough away from the fire for people to get up and move around safely. Built-in seating and heavier chairs may help keep people from moving too close to the fire pit.

Backyard Fire Pit Safety Tips

A fire of any kind demands serious attention to safety. The National Fire Protection Association and ReadyWV offer the following fire pit safety advice:

  • Check wind direction before lighting a fire.
  • Don’t use flammable fluids (gasoline, lighter fluid, etc.) to light or relight fires.
  • Don’t wear flammable clothing (like nylon) or any loose-fitting clothing.
  • Keep children and pets at least 3 feet away from the fire.
  • Avoid using soft woods like pine or cedar, because they can “pop” and throw sparks.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher, garden hose or bucket of water nearby.

It’s also important that you know how to safely dispose of the ashes when you’re done with the fire for the night. Once the ashes have cooled, Portland Fire and Rescue recommends putting them in a metal container and pouring water on them.

In some parts of the country — areas prone to wildfires, for instance — disclosing your fire pit may be a requirement of your homeowners insurance policy. It may also be a good idea to check in with your insurance agent to understand how having a backyard fire pit may affect your coverage.

Originally published on March 1, 2017.

Getting Your Car Ready for the School Year

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Back-to-school season can be a very busy time for students and parents alike. One item you may want to put on the to-do list is car maintenance. Whether you’re driving the kids back and forth to school or your college student is taking a car to campus, follow these tips to help get your car ready to go back to school.

Check Under the Hood

Keeping up with basic maintenance may help prevent potentially costly repairs down the road. Before school starts, either you or a mechanic should pop the hood to ensure fluids are at the correct levels. Popular Mechanics recommends checking fluid levels for the:

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Top off fluids that are low and, if necessary, have any leaks fixed.

While you’re under the hood, it’s also a good time to check your car’s battery. Make sure the connections are tight, and clean any corrosion off the terminals with a battery brush, says Consumer Reports. If the battery is more than two years old, you may also want to have it tested to see how much charge is left. You can often have this done at an auto parts store or have your mechanic test it.

Check the Tires

Tires that are not inflated properly can negatively affect the car’s handling as well as the gas mileage, according to Cars.com. Before you start carting kids to and from school and activities again, check the tire pressure and look for uneven tread wear, nails or other potential hazards. Use a tire gauge to check the pressure on each tire, including the spare tire. If needed, inflate the tires to the vehicle manufacturer’s suggested pressure. This information is typically listed on a sticker inside the driver’s door and inside the owner’s manual, says Cars.com. You may also want to have your tires rotated to help prevent uneven wear.

Check the Lights

Your vehicle’s lights help you to see the road ahead and alert other drivers to your next move. So, it’s a good idea to do a visual inspection of your car’s lighting system, says the Humble Mechanic — even on newer cars, because the monitoring system doesn’t always include every light on the vehicle.

You can often tell if a turn signal light is out, because the indicator on the dashboard will typically flash quicker than usual if a bulb needs to be replaced, says the Humble Mechanic. To complete a full inspection, have someone walk around the car while you turn on the various lights, including headlights, fog lights, turn signals and emergency hazard lights. Since some vehicles use the same bulbs for multiple functions, the Humble Mechanic recommends checking each function separately instead of turning on all the lights at once.

Have the other person check the brake lights while you press the brake pedal. Also, keep your foot on the brake pedal and shift into reverse so he can see if the reverse lights are working properly.

After completing the inspection, be sure to replace any bulbs that are not working properly. If a light still doesn’t work after a bulb is changed, the Humble Mechanic says it could be a fuse, wiring or computer issue. Check with your local auto parts store or mechanic if you need assistance.

Taking a little time for basic car maintenance may help minimize maintenance issues and get your student on the road to what will hopefully be a fantastic school year. If you have any concerns after your own inspection, talk to a qualified mechanic who can help with any necessary repairs.

Originally published on August 24, 2011.

The Pros and Cons of Private Student Loans

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For some people, college is the best time of their life. It’s a chance to make lifelong friends, get an education and help shape the future. But it can also be a big financial burden. With tuition, books, and room and board, the cost can add up quickly, and many people have to take out student loans to get the college experience.

The Office of Federal Student Aid suggests looking for applicable federal student loans before resorting to private ones, because federal loans tend to offer benefits that you may not find with private loans — such as, fixed interest rates and potential subsidies. But, if your child doesn’t qualify for financial aid from the federal government, private loans for college can be another option.

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What Are Private Student Loans?

Private loans for college, sometimes referred to as alternative student loans, are those in which a private lender offers funding. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) states that there are three common types of private student loans:

  1. School Loans: Your school’s financial aid office may be able to offer loan programs, and they generally have fixed rates.
  2. State Agency Loans: Some states sponsor alternative student loans for those attending a state school.
  3. Bank Loans: Many commercial banks or credit unions have loan programs, but they usually require a co-signer.

According to Sallie Mae, the applicant’s credit history is one factor in whether a private loan is approved. For this reason, if you decide your child needs private student loan help, it’s a good idea to shop around and compare rates, terms and conditions from multiple lenders before signing any paperwork.

Pros of Private Student Loans

Getting private loans for college can enable your child to get an education. In addition to that, the other pros of getting private loans, according to the CFPB, are:

  • If your child needs it, you can sometimes get larger amounts than you could with a federal loan.
  • If you can be a co-signer and have good credit, you may be able to get lower interest rates initially (though not necessarily over the life of the loan).

Cons of Private Student Loans

While getting a private student loan can mean the difference between attending college and not, alternative student loans have some potential drawbacks you should take into consideration. The Office of Federal Student Aid lists the following disadvantages of private student loans:

  • Private loans generally have a higher cost than federal loans, and payments are often required while your child is in school.
  • These loans may require a co-signer, which means someone else has to promise to pay if the student can’t.
  • There may be fewer repayment options for a private loan.
  • The applicant’s credit score is one of the factors in determining the cost, which could mean a more expensive loan or the loan application being declined.
  • Private loans can have variable rates, meaning interest could increase over the life of the loan.
  • Interest on private student loans is not tax-deductible.

When deciding which student loans to apply for, it helps to think long term and consider both the positives and negatives. If you know what you are getting into ahead of time, it may help you make the right choice for both you and your child — and your financial futures.

Originally published on January 29, 2015.

Unusual Traffic Laws in the United States

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From stopping at red lights to signaling when changing lanes, traffic laws help keep us, our passengers and other vehicles safe on the road. There are some local and state rules and regulations, however, that you may find surprising. Here are a few unique traffic laws you’ll find in the U.S.

Don’t Honk If You’re Thirsty

Stopping for a late night snack or a refreshing soda? Better not honk your horn, at least not while you’re in Little Rock, Arkansas. After 9 p.m. it’s against the law to sound your car horn at any place that sells cold drinks or sandwiches, according to Trip Savvy.

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A Little Warning, Please

Utah drivers must signal at least two seconds before turning. If you’re driving in Utah, keep your eyes on the vehicles nearby. Also, think about starting that turn signal earlier to give the driver behind you a heads-up.

Shut Your Doors

You may find yourself in trouble if you leave your car doors open too long while you’re in Oregon. It is a traffic offense to leave a vehicle door open longer than it takes to load and unload passengers or cargo. You also need to avoid opening a car door unless it is “reasonably safe to do so.” While these regulations seem unusual, the intention is good — to help prevent an accident with passing traffic and to help protect pedestrians and bicyclists on the sidewalk.

Mountain Safety … In a State Without Mountains

Drivers in Nebraska are required to stay in the right-hand lane on mountain highways. They also must honk (or provide other audible warning) to alert other drivers within 200 feet of approaching a curved area with an obstructed view. The odd part of this law is that Nebraska doesn’t have any mountains, according to WorldAtlas.com. To be fair, Nebraska does have elevated, hilly areas where this law could help make driving safer.

Fuel Up

If you’re heading through Youngstown, Ohio, you may want to top off the gas tank. If you run out of gas within Youngstown’s “congested district,” you may be guilty of a misdemeanor. If it happens more than once within a year, the degree of misdemeanor charges will increase. Most likely this is a way of avoiding a traffic jam, but it’s definitely a unique law.

While some of these traffic laws may be a little unusual, it’s a good idea to mind your manners and follow the rules of the road. Wherever you’re driving, adhere to local traffic rules and make your trip a safe one.

Originally published on November 20, 2012.

Keeping Resale Value in Mind When Buying a Car

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Puffy Lux

If you’re in the market for a new car, you may be thinking about comfort, features and price. One thing you may also want to consider is the vehicle’s potential resale value. Here are a few things to keep in mind about your next car and its resale value.

Why Resale Value Matters

If you eventually plan to sell your car or trade it in when you buy a new vehicle, its resale value will be a big factor in how much money you can get for it, says AutoGuide.com.

Also, if your car is totaled, your auto insurance provider would pay you the actual cash value of the car at the time of the accident (depending on your coverage). Actual cash value is determined using factors such as the typical resale value of the car at the time of the accident, previous damage and depreciation. So even if you don’t think you’ll be selling your car, you may want to consider how well it retains its value over time.

Consider What’s Popular

AutoGuide.com states simple supply and demand come into play with resale value. Sometimes certain vehicles are more popular than others. For instance, you may like a smaller coupe or a family sedan, but maybe SUVs and trucks have been in higher demand for a few years. If you get a car that’s too niche or simply not in high demand, it may be harder to sell it in the future.

It may be helpful to do some research on websites like Kelley Blue Book (KBB) or Edmunds to get an idea of which makes and models consistently have high resale value, too.

Go for a Standard Color

Simply put, neutral colors are more likely to help boost your car’s resale value. Sticking to colors such as silver, white, gray and black tend to be a safe bet, according to KBB. If you buy a car that’s an unusual, such as green or purple, fewer people might be interested when you go to sell it in a few years.

Choose Automatic Transmission

Roughly 2 percent of new cars sold have a manual transmission, says CARFAX. Most drivers are looking for a car with an automatic transmission, so you may want to avoid purchasing a new car with a stick shift.

Maintaining the Resale Value of Your Car

car’s value drops about 20 percent in the first year of ownership, according to CARFAX. Here are a few things you can do to help maintain its resale value.

Mind the Mileage

If a car has either higher or lower mileage, it can affect its value, according to Cars.com. (CARFAX says around 10,000 miles per year is typical.) If a car has high mileage, it may not have as much life left as a similar car with lower mileage. However, Cars.com notes that a car with very low mileage may have problems from not being driven regularly or indicate it wasn’t driven much due to problems. You may want to limit the miles you add to your vehicle so the resale value doesn’t drop, but also make sure you use it regularly to help avoid mechanical issues.

Keep Up with Maintenance

Routine maintenance and making repairs when necessary go a long way toward keeping a car in good shape. CARFAX states that routine oil changes and replacing worn out parts can help keep a car from depreciating in value. Similarly, Cars.com says it’s also important to keep the car looking good — so make sure it’s fixed properly after an accident and that you keep the interior clean and fresh.

Keep the Warranty

Warranties often transfer over to the new buyer, says Auto Trader. If your vehicle still has a warranty, you may want to sell the car before the contract runs out. That’s something buyers may find appealing, and you may be able to get a little more money for a car with a warranty. Check with the warranty provider to be sure it will transfer, but it could be a good selling point if it does.

If you’re looking for a new car, you may want to consider its future resale value as you shop. Choosing a car that will appeal to buyers down the road and keeping it in good shape may help you get the most for it when you’re ready to sell or trade it in.

Originally published on August 25, 2015.

Tips to Help You Stay Safe While Riding a Scooter

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Using a scooter can be a great way to get around town. But, as with any other means of transportation, safety should come first. Whether you commute to work on a scooter, or simply use it for joy rides, here are some scooter safety tips to keep in mind.

Wear a Helmet

Wearing a helmet can help protect your head if you get into an accident. However, not every state requires you to wear one. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, motorcycle and scooter helmet laws vary by state. Some states have no helmet laws, while others only address certain segments of riders (such as those under 18 years old). Some states have laws that make helmets mandatory for all riders. Helmet laws may also vary based on the size and power of your scooter’s engine. Whether or not it’s required by your state, it’s a good idea to wear a helmet at all times.

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When purchasing a helmet, make sure it meets the Department of Transportation (DOT) safety ratings. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) states that helmets meeting these standards will have a “DOT” sticker on the back. You should also wear a helmet that fits properly, says the NHTSA. Helmets come in different shapes and sizes to help riders find the appropriate fit, so be sure to measure your head and choose one that’s the proper size and shape for you.

Buy Protective Gear and Clothing

Unlike cars, scooters do not have a metal cage that can provide you with an added layer of protection in a crash. Consider wearing protective gear in case you’re involved in an accident, says Consumer Reports. Make sure to have a protective jacket, gloves and nonslip boots to help protect your body. If the weather will be hot, you may be able to find a specialty jacket that provides protection while helping to keep you cool. You should also consider buying brightly-colored or reflective gear, as this may help other drivers easily spot you on the road, adds Consumer Reports.

Watch for Hazards on the Road

Look out for and avoid safety hazards such as potholes, gravel and oil slicks, says the National Safety Council. You should also take caution when approaching railroad tracks and be sure to cross over them at the proper angle, recommends Consumer Reports.

The correct way to cross railroad tracks is at a perpendicular (or 90-degree) angle, or as close to that as possible, says CycleWorld.com. Slowing down before you cross the tracks, and pressing back on the gas just before you go over them, may also help you maintain steering control.

Pay Attention to the Weather

Rain can diminish visibility and reduce how well tires grip to the road, says Consumer Reports. Be sure to check the forecast before heading out on your scooter, and think twice if there is a chance for rain or thunderstorms. If you do need to ride in the rain, avoid making sudden maneuvers and be gentle while braking, suggests Consumer Reports. If it’s windy, try riding your scooter on the side of the lane where the wind direction is coming from. That way, you have some extra cushion in the lane if a strong gust of wind hits and your scooter moves.

Lock Up Your Scooter

Like any bike, your scooter could be stolen if it’s not locked up properly. According to Motorcycle Cruiser, many scooters and motorcycles have steering locks that make the scooter hard to maneuver when activated. Steering locks that are separate from the ignition are a plus, as that means thieves would need to break through two locks to steal your scooter.

You may also want to invest in a lock that secures your scooter to something solid, such as a U-lock or cable lock. Whatever kind of lock you choose, Motorcycle Cruiser says to keep it from touching the ground when in place, as this may give thieves leverage to break it off.

Purchase Insurance

Insurance helps protect you and your scooter in case of an accident. Consult with your insurance agent to see if your state requires you to buy insurance for your scooter. Some coverages that may be available include liability, collision, comprehensive and uninsured motorist. Depending on the coverages you select, your scooter insurance policy may help pay to repair or replace your scooter after an accident, and may help cover medical bills.

Commuting on a scooter can be a fun way to get around town, but it’s important to practice safety first. Following these tips can help you learn how to safely ride a scooter and be prepared for the fun outings ahead.

Originally published on August 31, 2015. 

How to Stay Safe When a Flood Is Threatening Your Home

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Puffy Lux

When a flood is predicted, you may want to take some steps to help prepare yourself and your home. Here are some things to consider if your area is at risk of flooding.

Emergency Notifications

If a flood threatens your area, it’s important to stay informed. In addition to keeping up with weather and safety news from local media outlets, there are a number of ways you can receive emergency alerts, according to Ready.gov:

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  • Community notifications. Some local municipalities offer an alert system, so you can register and receive text alerts on your cellphone when local emergencies are in effect.
  • Wireless emergency alerts. The federal government has an emergency alert system that local officials can use to send cellphone alerts, even if you haven’t subscribed.
  • NOAA weather radio. A NOAA weather radio broadcasts weather forecasts, along with watches and warnings, from the National Weather Service 24 hours a day.

Flood Watches vs. Warnings

As you monitor local information, it’s important that you understand the difference between a flood watch and a flood warning. According to the American Red Cross, a flood watch means that conditions are favorable for a flood or flash flood, while a flood warning means a flood, or a flash flood, is either happening or about to happen.

Protecting Your Home From a Flood

If you learn that a flood is possible or imminent, there are some important steps you can take to help protect your family and home:

Gather Emergency Supplies

According to Ready.gov, a basic emergency kit should include several key items, such as a three-day supply of water (one gallon per person per day), nonperishable food, a battery-operated or hand-cranked radio, first aid supplies, a flashlight and batteries.

Prepare Your Home

Before floodwaters reach your area, the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety suggests taking the following steps to help protect your home:

  • Clear gutters and downspouts of debris, so water can run freely.
  • Elevate furniture and electronics; set appliances on concrete blocks.
  • Inspect your sump pump and back-up batteries to make sure they’re operational.
  • Shut off utilities if the breaker panel could end up underwater.

You might also want to consider sandbagging if there’s enough time before water reaches your area, says the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Take Safety Precautions

If your area floods, consider the National Weather Service’s advice on keeping everyone in your home safe:

  • Avoid electrical hazards. Don’t enter the basement, or any room where floodwaters cover electrical cords or outlets.
  • Obey local evacuation orders.
  • Stay out of floodwaters. Don’t walk or drive through them.

Floods can happen anywhere, so it’s important to also consider whether you may need flood insurance — because homeowners insurance doesn’t typically cover flood damage. Contact a local insurance agent to discuss the risks in your area and the coverage you may need.

Pack Your Bags for These Last-Minute Summer Vacations

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With the end of summer just around the corner, your thoughts may be centered around how to enjoy the last of the warm weather while relaxing on a mini vacation. With an abundance of options that include sightseeing, biking and even staying at home to explore local landmarks, there are a lot of great choices. If you’re ready to take a quick road trip but just need a little help, then keep these ideas in mind.

Hit the Road and Discover New Interests

Fall is on the horizon, so now is a perfect time to hit the road and explore your interests while also taking scenic routes to different destinations. But where should you go? If you want to plan a road trip around a specific interest or two, then take a look at the websites of official state tourism boards. For example, Wisconsin Department of Tourism helps visitors find cheese factories in the state, while New Hampshire’s Division of Travel and Tourism Development provides a foliage tracker for those who love taking in the beautiful fall colors. Whether you plan to splurge on a few purchases or take in the views, a road trip might be a fun and affordable getaway.

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Expand Your Knowledge of History

It’s one thing to read books about a specific battle or a historical figure, but it’s another to explore the site in person. History buffs looking for a quick vacation destination can search the National Park Service site for notable parks and landmarks that pique their interest. You can look for a specific landmark or park, or explore the historic landmarks within your own state. These options allow you to plan a multi-day trip where you can visit several parks and landmarks, or plan a day trip where you focus on only one or two destinations. For example, you could spend a weekend in Springfield, Illinois, to visit the Lincoln Home or take a trip to California to see Yosemite National Park, Alcatraz Island and more.

Plan an Outdoor Adventure

From camping, biking and hiking to horseback riding and climbing, late summer is a great time to try a new outdoor activity or spend more time on a hobby you enjoy. Explore what’s available in your area through a travel website like Recreation.gov. Visitors to the website can search by destination or zip code for a perfect spot for outdoor activities. IIf you’re pressed for time, check with your local park district or forest preserve to find where you can enjoy activities like riding your bike or even renting a kayak.

Explore Your Hometown

You don’t have to travel hundreds of miles to explore museums and art galleries. There’s a good chance you can find some great local options for a fun staycation. You can soak up the local culture by checking out a new restaurant, taking in a concert that features local musicians, hearing a lecture in your local library, or browsing shops, all without making travel arrangements or paying for a hotel. Forest preserves, guided walking tours, amusement parks and scenic roads are all options to check out as well. If you’re unsure of what to do in your town on your staycation, consider traveling without using your own vehicle. You can walk, bike or use public transportation to explore places close to home.

Secure Your Home Before You Leave

There’s more to planning a quick trip than booking a perfect hotel. Remember to take time to keep your house as secure regardless of how long you’ll be gone. While you know to keep your vacation plans off social media, there’s more you can do to keep your valuables safe while you’re away. Homeadvisor.com recommends checking that all doors and windows are locked before you leave and using timers on lights throughout your home. Having a trusted friend or neighbor stop by to maintain your lawn may also give your home a lived-in appearance, according to Homeadvisor.com. You can also arrange for the United States Postal Service to hold your mail if you plan to be out-of-town for three or more days.

Planning a quick getaway can be as simple as hitting the local water park or a detailed tour of great historic spots. With a little bit of research, you can plan a fun, last minute adventure.

Originally posted on August 19, 2015.

How to Know If Your Home Is in a Flood Zone

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Puffy Lux

No matter where you live, you’re at some risk for flooding, but certain areas are more likely to experience a flood than others. Here are some ways you can start to assess the risk in your area.

Do I Live in a Flood Zone?

Technically, everyone lives in a flood zone. That’s because a flood can happen anywhere, at any given time. All 50 states experience flooding, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

What you’re probably trying to determine, though, is whether your property is located in an area that’s considered higher risk of flooding.

A good way to figure that out is on a FEMA flood map. The map shows each community’s risk of flooding, including specific flood zones and their boundaries. Simply enter your address on the flood map to pull up a record of your area. Flood maps may also be available from local government offices, courthouses and libraries, according to the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH).

How to Read a Flood Map

If your home is in an area that’s considered low risk for flooding, for instance, the map will likely spell that out with an “Area of Minimal Flood Hazard” notation across the geographic area. Locations with a high risk for flooding are marked as “Special Flood Hazard Area.”

FEMA also groups communities into specific flood zones, each represented by a different letter of the alphabet. For example, higher-risk areas are typically labeled with codes that begin with the letters A and V, FEMA says, while moderate- and lower-risk areas have zones beginning with B, C or X.

Do I Need Flood Insurance?

Depending on which flood zone you live in, you may be required by your mortgage lender to have flood insurance (a homeowners policy typically doesn’t protect you against flooding).

But even if you’re not required to buy flood insurance, you may still want to consider a policy because, according to FloodSmart.gov, more than 20 percent of flood claims come from properties that are not in high-risk flood zones.

Keep in mind that flood maps can change over time. It can be helpful to stay in touch with your insurance agent and stay aware of any proposed changes to the FEMA flood map in your community. Development, wildfires and other forces may change how water drains in your community. These changes may affect the risk of flooding in your area, and can change your need or requirement for flood insurance.

By staying informed about your area’s flood risk and taking precautions, such as purchasing flood insurance, you may be better prepared if a flood ever does threaten your area.

How to Help Protect Your Home Against Flooding

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Puffy Lux

As a homeowner, you can take steps — both big and small — to help protect your home in the event a flood threatens your area.

Before you decide what steps to take, it may help to know your property’s flood risk. You can find information on your property’s exposure to flooding by searching your address on the flood maps provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). These maps call out areas that are prone to flooding and identify high-risk, moderate-risk and low-risk spots.

Once you’ve determined your property’s threat level, you may want to tailor a plan to address those needs.

Basic Flood Protection Steps

Even if you’re in a low-risk area, there are some relatively simple things you can do to help reduce the chance of future flood damage, says FEMA:

  • Keep gutters clear: Keep gutters and storm drains clear of debris to allow for a free flow of water.
  • Elevate utilities: Set your furnace, water heater, electric panel and other critical equipment on pedestals, relocate them to higher floors or, if you have an outdoor fuel tank, anchor it to a concrete slab.
  • Seal the foundation: Patch foundation cracks (use mortar and masonry caulk or hydraulic cement) and then apply a waterproofing sealer to basement walls.
  • Install a sump pump: Use basement sump pumps with a battery backup, so the system still works during a power failure.

If you need assistance with any of these asks, consult a professional.

Major Flood Protection Steps

If you’re in a high-risk area, you may want to take more substantial measures.

If you’re building a new home, the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH) suggests inspecting your home’s site to determine the base flood elevation for the property, which is the height that floodwaters are predicted to rise during a flood that has just a 1 percent chance of happening in any given year. The key is to make sure your builder meets or exceeds those elevation levels (which may also reduce your flood insurance rates, according to FEMA).

While it’s possible to elevate an existing home above flood levels, that isn’t always practical. FEMA says there are still important measures you can take to retrofit your home:

  • Improve landscaping: Adjust the slope of the lot or design a swale (a shallow, sloping ditch) to carry water away.
  • Wet floodproof your property: Install openings in a crawlspace or basement that allow floodwaters to enter and exit freely. These openings may help reduce pressure that sometimes causes a home’s walls to cave in.
  • Dry floodproof your property: Add a waterproof coating to exterior walls to help prevent floodwater from passing through. You may also want to consider buying waterproof shields to cover openings, such as doorways.
  • Construct a floodwall: Build a water-tight brick or concrete floodwall to help prevent water from entering an outside window well or stairwell, or to surround and protect utilities indoors.

Retrofitting your home can be a big job, so you may want to hire a professional to do the work.

While these measures can help reduce future flood damage, they simply can’t eliminate all risk, says FEMA. That’s why flood insurance can be an important part of your mitigation strategy. A local insurance agent can help you purchase flood insurance, which helps pay to repair your home or belongings if, despite your best prevention efforts, they are damaged by floodwater.