The Billings Outpost

Bison meeting canceled

Fish, Wildlife and Parks

State wildlife officials canceled a planned discussion that was to take place in Lewistown last week on a bison conservation and management plan for Montana.

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks had invited a diverse group of interests and a number of state and community leaders to continue to participate in a facilitated public discussion in Lewistown on April 15-16. That gathering, which would have been the second since September, was canceled.

“We worked to gather a large group of fundamentally different interests and constituencies, but there remained serious questions about intent and representation that are difficult to resolve,” said Jeff Hagener, director of FWP in Helena. “The gathering was designed to review issues and possible alternatives for bison conservation and management, but at this point it would be counterproductive to proceed with the discussion.”

The discussion group included conservation and agricultural representatives.

, state and federal agencies, county commissioners, and state legislators and members of the Montana Fish & Wildlife Commission.

Hagener thanked the citizens who agreed to participate in the planned conversation and said FWP will attempt to reconsider existing and emerging concerns on Montana’s bison management alternatives.

Last Updated on Thursday, 17 April 2014 16:25

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Prescribed burns slated

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s Billings Field Office is planning several prescribed burning operations on BLM-managed land in Yellowstone County during the upcoming spring months.

The prescribed burns will reduce hazardous fuel levels under controlled and prescriptive conditions. This proactive approach during cool, wet spring conditions will help reduce the threat of wildfire spreading from public lands onto private property, a news release said.

Burning will occur at Pompeys Pillar National Monument, located 25 miles east of Billings, and at the Sundance Lodge Recreation Area, about two miles southeast of Laurel. Burning is also scheduled for the Mill Creek area located approximately 17 miles north of Pompeys Pillar.

During prescribed burn activity, visitors need to use caution accessing these areas for their safety, as well as the safety of the firefighters conducting operations. Some smoke maybe visible in the areas. All prescribed burns depend on weather and fuels conditions that will be monitored closely by firefighters.

For more information about prescribed burning or to get advice about maintaining defensible space in wildland-urban areas, call the Billings Interagency Dispatch Center at (406) 896-2900.

Last Updated on Thursday, 17 April 2014 16:23

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3 myths about senior living communities

By DWAYNE J. CLARK

It’s difficult to overcome stereotypes of senior living communities. Despite the fact that the level of available care and amenities, and the choice and type of facilities, have evolved significantly over the past several decades, people still tend to think of senior housing as the “old folks’ homes” of the past: antiseptic, white-walled, linoleum-lined institutions with cold nurses, hot temperatures, and nasty food. It’s no wonder then that the majority of people continue to buy into three myths about senior living institutions that are not only flat-out wrong but can actually be detrimental to the well-being of their aging loved ones. The three myths of senior living communities are:

1. All senior housing options are the same. The reality is that today’s senior living industry is similar to the hotel industry with a range of choices for every lifestyle, need and budget. You can find low-end chains that offer only the very basic in care and amenities, similar to a Motel 6. There are family-run operations, set up in residential homes, not unlike bed-and-breakfasts. And then there are high-end luxury options, comparable to a Four Seasons hotel. Too often, family members and seniors avoid even considering senior living options out of fear of the unknown and a misunderstanding of what present-day senior communities are all about. They are, unfortunately, relying on outdated childhood memories of when a grandparent or a great-aunt went off to a nursing home and never came back.

This does not have to be the case. At the higher end, senior living communities can provide lifestyle activity coordinators instead of program directors, and employ chefs instead of dieticians. They can offer on-site spas and appropriately equipped gyms, massage therapy services, manicures and pedicures, movie theaters, outdoor gardens, and gourmet dinners with wine on the menu. One new site even has a “man cave,” complete with pool tables and beer taps.

2. Entering a senior living community actually hastens the end of someone’s life. Assuming that a senior is better off “aging at home” can result in unnecessary suffering and even tragedy. Many seniors who could benefit from just a little added care are often found living alone, far away from family, largely isolated and devoid of much human interaction, and typically at high risk of physical falls, malnourishment, and depression. These seniors are perfect candidates for an assisted living community because, once they are living in a place where they have access to medical care, personal assistance, medication management, good nutrition, opportunities for mental and physical activity, and a chance to make friends and socialize, they truly thrive. In fact, several new studies show that not only does a move to an assisted living community not hasten a resident’s demise but, in fact, it can actually ensure a greater quantity — and a better quality — of life.

At many senior living communities there are residents who have renewed their childhood hobbies, or taken up new ones like writing, painting or billiards. There are residents who always have a dinner or coffee companion. They can enjoy on-site book groups and religious services. They can play checkers or Wii. Residents often enjoy unexpected romances and, in some cases, marriages. Family members, freed from the worry and guilt of seeing their loved ones in less-than-ideal circumstances, tend to visit more often, strengthening long-worn family ties through new opportunities for quality time and stress-free activities. 

3. Only the very wealthy, and the very poor, can afford to live in a senior living community. The fact is that retirement and assisted living communities have been consciously created by senior housing developers to be very affordable for middle-class consumers. The monthly cost of assisted living varies, but the average for a more upscale residence is between $4,200 and $6,200 a month. At first glance, that sounds like a lot of money, and many a family member immediately thinks, “There is no way my mother can afford that.”

But the cost of assisted living needs to be carefully compared with the total cost of living at home. Ongoing expenses of seniors staying in their houses might include rent or mortgage payments; property taxes and homeowners insurance; utilities, such as electricity, heating oil or propane, water, trash pickup, cable, phone and Internet service; home maintenance costs, including lawn care, snow removal, tree care; routine and major repairs to the home (and appliances and other needed home equipment like an air conditioner or furnace); car maintenance; and food and cleaning supplies.

Additionally, as a parent or sibling ages, there are likely to be new costs including outside help with laundry, housekeeping, home upkeep and meal preparation; real-time monitoring devices and medical equipment; home health care; and transportation for medical appointments and other necessities. Those expenses, when taken in their entirety, are likely to be almost as much as or equal to the flat-fee monthly cost of an assisted living community. And most people are surprised when they realize that not only can their parents afford to live at one of these communities, but they actually have leftover funds.

Some seniors, of course, won’t have quite enough monthly income to pay the total or to pay for incidentals and will have to begin to tap their financial assets, whether that means selling their home, pulling funds out of an IRA or 401K or beginning to pay down their life savings. In other cases, children or siblings will help pay for the difference. And there are other options as well. Couples can share a unit, making for a discounted overall rate. Many communities offer smaller studio apartments and two residents can share a two-bedroom suite, which helps cut the monthly cost.

What most aging seniors need is some oversight by professionals who understand their unique needs. They need to be treated with kindness and dignity, like any other person whether they’re still sharp or are prone to forgetfulness, and whether they remain physically strong or are in need of a walker. Seniors will find all of that in abundance at today’s retirement and assisted living communities. For new residents, living away from the life they’ve always known is an adjustment, but—more often than not—they quickly realize that it’s a change for the better. And their family members and other loved ones soon realize that the three myths about senior living communities are just that.

Dwayne J. Clark is the founder and CEO of Aegis Living, currently with 28 senior living communities in Washington, California, and Nevada, and the author of “My Mother, My Son.” Visit him online at www.mymothermyson.com.

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 27 March 2014 13:20

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Ways to make those retirement savings last

Presented by - RANDY SITZMAN - First Financial Equity Corp.

As you retire, there are variables you can’t control; investment performance and fate are certainly toward the top of the list. Your approach to withdrawing and preserving your retirement savings, however, may give you more control over your financial life. 

Drawing retirement income without draining your savings is a challenge, and the response to it varies per individual. Today’s retirees will likely need to be more flexible and look at different withdrawal methods and tax and lifestyle factors.

Should you go by the 4% rule? For decades, retirees were cautioned to withdraw no more than 4% of their retirement balances annually (adjusted north for inflation as the years went by). This “rule” still has merit (although sometimes the percentage must be increased out of necessity). T. Rowe Price has estimated that someone retiring with a typical 60 percent/40 percent stock/bond ratio in their portfolio has just a 13 percent chance of depleting retirement assets across 30 years if he or she abides by the 4 percent rule. A 7 percent initial withdrawal rate invites an 81 percent chance of outliving your retirement assets in 30 years (individual.troweprice.com/staticFiles/Retail/Shared/PDFs/retPlanGuide.pdf).

That sounds like a pretty good argument for the 4 percent rule in itself. However, while the 4 percent rule regulates your withdrawals, it doesn’t regulate portfolio performance. If the markets don’t do well, your portfolio may earn less than 4 percent, and if your investments repeatedly can’t make back the equivalent of what you withdraw, you will risk depleting your nest egg over time.

Or perhaps the portfolio percentage method? Some retirees elect to withdraw X percent of their portfolio in a year, adjusting the percentage based on how well or poorly their investments perform. As this can produce greatly varying annual income even with responsive adjustments, some retirees take a second step and set upper and lower limits on the dollar amount they withdraw annually. This approach is more flexible than the 4 percent rule, and in theory you will never outlive your money.

Or maybe the spending floor approach? That’s another approach that has its fans. You estimate the amount of money you will need to spend in a year and then arrange your portfolio to generate it. This implies a laddered income strategy, with the portfolio heavily weighted towards bonds and away from stocks. This is a more conservative approach than the two methods above: with a low equity allocation in your portfolio, only a minority of those assets are exposed to stock market volatility, and yet they can still capture some upside with a foot in the market.

Attention has to be paid to tax efficiency. Many people have amassed sizable retirement savings, yet give little thought as to the order of their withdrawals. Generally speaking, there is wisdom in taking money out of taxable accounts first, then tax-deferred accounts and lastly tax-exempt accounts. This withdrawal order gives the assets in the tax-deferred and tax-exempt accounts some additional time to grow. A smartly conceived withdrawal sequence may help your retirement savings to last several years longer than they would in its absence(online.wsj.com, March 7, 2011).

Keeping healthy might help you save more in two ways. Increasingly, people want to work until age 70, or longer. Many assume they can, but their assumption may be flawed. The 2012 Retirement Confidence Survey from the Employee Benefit Research Institute found that 50 percent of current retirees had left the workforce earlier than they planned, with personal or spousal health concerns a major factor (www.dailyfinance.com, Sept. 3, 2012).

When you eat right, exercise consistently and see a doctor regularly, you may be bolstering your earning potential as well as your constitution. Health problems can hurt your income stream and reduce your chances to get a job, and medical treatments can eat up time that you could use in other ways. Good health can mean fewer ER visits, fewer treatments and fewer hospital stays, all saving you money that might otherwise come out of your retirement fund.

Fidelity figures that a couple retiring now at age 65 will spend $240,000 (in 2012 dollars) on retirement health expenses across their remaining years. That $240,000 doesn’t even include dental, over-the-counter drug and long term care costs (and as a reminder, many eye, ear and dental care costs are not even covered under Medicare or by Medigap policies). Every year you work may mean another year of health insurance coverage as well as income (www.marketwatch.com, Dec. 6, 2012).

Randy Sitzman may be reached at 294-2811 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , www.ffec.com/billings. This material was prepared by MarketingLibrary.Net Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. Please note - investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

Last Updated on Thursday, 27 March 2014 13:15

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In today’s world, you can’t be too careful

Q: This question came from Dave in Bozeman:

My 72-year-old mother was almost a victim to a foreign inheritance scam. She could hardly believe her luck when an attorney in London emailed her, claiming to be relieved to have finally located her, because he was administering the will of someone who was distantly related to her and very wealthy. He said the deceased had left her a vast amount of money. After exchanging a few emails, he eventually called her at 4 in the morning asking her if she was “ready to receive the money?” He instructed her to go to Western Union and wire him $350 for the transfer fee. Fortunately she balked because she just didn’t have the money. When she told me about the incident, I had to convince her that this was a scam and she was lucky she didn’t lose any money. After she finally believed me, she was ashamed of herself. How can people protect themselves these days from unscrupulous scam artists?

A: Your mother shouldn’t be ashamed, because she is hardly alone. An estimated 10 to 15 percent of the U.S. population falls for one kind of scam or another each year, according to FTC research. Studies show that the average fraud victim is between 55 and 65 years old.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission estimates that foreign-based inheritance and lottery fraud alone bilks Americans out of literally billions of dollars a year. Moreover, the FTC estimates that more than 90 percent of lottery scams go unreported because the victims are too ashamed to file a complaint.

Elderly people are often the target of scams because they tend to be more vulnerable. Con artists know that they are generally on fixed incomes and the offer of money makes for pretty good “bait” to lure them into a scam.

To spot and avoid scams of all types, including fraudulent lotteries, “business opportunities” and Ponzi schemes, here are 10 tips from Doug Shadel, a leading expert and author on fraudulent schemes and Senior State Director of AARP Washington:

1. If anybody ever asks you to pay a fee to collect a “prize” you have won, they are trying to scam you.

2. If anybody ever invites you to play a foreign-based lottery – or tells you that you have won such a lottery – they are trying to scam you. How do we know this? Because foreign lotteries are illegal in the U.S.

3. Fraudsters will try to get you whipped into an emotional state of excitement. It doesn’t matter if the emotion is thrill, grief, guilt or anger – getting you into the emotional state is the goal. When you are in that state, you literally cannot access the rational part of your brain.

4. Do not engage in personal conversation with people attempting to sell you an investment opportunity or “process your winnings.” They will collect personal details they can use to push you into the emotional state they need you in.

5. With investment opportunities, make sure the person trying to sell you the investment product is properly licensed and registered. In the State of Montana, you can call the Commissioner of Insurance and Securities at 1-800-332-6148 to make sure the agent is properly licensed and the  product is properly registered. Also, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) offers a Broker Check Database at BrokerCheck.FINRA.org.

Finally, beware of investments sold by friends or members of an affinity group to which you belong.

6. Before investing, investigate and fully understand what the company does to earn the return it is promising. If you don’t know how the company makes its money, it may be a Ponzi scheme.

7. All that glitters is not gold. Never buy coins (or other investment opportunities) from a telemarketer, and never put an excessive amount of your investments in one type of vehicle – like gold.

8. Even if you meet these salespeople in person and find yourself impressed with their offices and marketing materials, it could still be a scam. If you’re bilking people out of millions of dollars, you can afford to put a pretty glossy façade on it all.

9. Learn more about how scam artists work their black magic. Read “Outsmarting the Scam Artists: How to Protect Yourself from the Most Clever Cons,” a book by AARP’s Washington State director, Doug Shadel.

10. Log onto the AARP Consumer Protection Resource Center for the latest scams and schemes at http://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/

The old adage still applies today: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Do you have a question for AARP Montana? Send your question to “Ask AARP Montana” at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 30 W 14th St., Helena, MT 59601 or call our toll-free hotline at 1-866-295-7278. As we receive questions, we will consult with both internal and external experts to provide timely and valuable advice.

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 27 March 2014 13:13

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Share medical history

(StatePoint) Do your relatives know the facts about your personal medical history? What about your family history and their risk for disease?

A recent survey found that 96 percent of Americans believe it’s important to know their family medical history, yet only a third actually gather specifics, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

This has public health officials concerned, as a number of diseases, such as diabetes, cancer and depression, have been known to run in families. 

Family medical histories can be collected at family reunions and holidays.  Explain that you’re creating a record the whole family can use to receive better health care. Remember to speak less and listen more.

• Provide multiple choices. Some people may be more willing to share health information in face-to-face conversations, others by phone or e-mail. Let them choose.

• Speak less, listen more. Keep your questions short and neutral. Medical diseases are not moral failings, but feeling judged is likely to get your relatives to clam up. So listen without comment.

• Respect privacy. Just because this information is to be shared, there’s no need to make Uncle Jim’s prostate problems the focus of discussion at the next family barbeque.

You can keep your family medical history current by using free Web services such as the government’s Family Health Portrait Tool, available at http://familyhistory.hhs.gov. After information is collected about grandparents, parents, siblings, children, aunts, uncles and cousins, it organizes it into a diagram for health care professionals to better individualize diagnosis, treatment and prevention plans. 

To find out more about how your family history can affect your risk for diseases such as prostate cancer, visit www.pcf.org. 

Then take the opportunity to collect a family history the next time your family is together. It might just save a life.

Last Updated on Thursday, 27 March 2014 13:11

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MetraPark hosts show

By Rimrock Promotions

Rimrock Promotions will hold the 31st anniversary Spring Home Improvement Show this weekend at the Expo Center and Montana Pavilion at MetraPark.

The show is free to the public and will open Friday, March 7, at noon and run through Sunday, March 9, at 5 p.m.

More than 650 exhibits were exposed to more than 30,000 people who attended the 2013 Show, making it the largest attended home show in a five-state area.

More than $30,000 has been allocated in advertising and promoting the show, along with innovative grand prizes.

When the show first started 30 years ago in the corridors of Rimrock Mall, it was typical for exhibitors to come only hours before the show to set up their displays. As the show has grown over the years and the complexity of the displays has increased, some exhibits start setting up as early as 10 days prior to the event.

The show was located at Rimrock Mall for its first two years and consisted of 92 exhibits. In the third year, the show moved to the Holiday Inn Trade Center. The Trade center was a brand new building and gave the show the ability to grow to 175 exhibits.

After five years the show expanded to two buildings – The Trade Center and the Ramada Inn Convention Center, allowing for 250 exhibits.  After seven more years at these two buildings, the Expo Center at MetraPark was built. The show moved over to the newly built Expo Center which gave the show the opportunity to expand to 450 exhibits.

Over the past four years the Spring Home Improvement Show has expanded to encompass both the Expo Center and Montana Pavilion at MetraPark and is bursting at the seams with over 650 exhibit spaces.

The Spring Home Improvement Show is considered the largest trade show of any kind in a five-state area and the fall show is the largest fall trade show in the state.

In an era of national economic recovery, the major expansion of the show, and the large waiting list of businesses trying to get in the show, truly indicates the economy in and around Billings is thriving.

Rimrock Promotions has been a family owned and operated business since its inception 30 years ago and continues to be today, three generations later. The show is currently developed and managed by Mark Hedin, Rhonda Hedin, Beau Hedin and Devon Hedin.

Last Updated on Thursday, 06 March 2014 11:48

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What homeowners should know about mold and windows

(StatePoint) What’s growing on your windows? If you have wood windows, or even dirty window sills, the answer could be mold.

“When materials in the home, such as wood window frames or wood window sills, come in contact with moisture for an extended period of time, mold can grow,” says John Stark, marketing manager for Simonton Windows. “The key is the presence of an organic food source.”

And mold growth can be hazardous to your health, causing respiratory problems and allergic reactions. So how do you reduce your home’s risk for mold?

• You may see your windows “sweat” during the winter or summer months because of varying humidity levels inside the home. Without proper ventilation, moisture can accumulate on windows and walls from daily household activities such as hot showers, boiling water and opening dishwashers after a cleaning cycle. Use ventilation fans and dehumidifiers to minimize condensation and help reduce humidity in the home.

• If your windows have major air leaks, don’t close properly or are failing to act as a solid barrier to the environment, then it’s time to replace them. Opt for vinyl window frames, such as those from Simonton Windows, which won’t provide an organic food source for mold. More information can be found at www.Simonton.com.

• Keep window frame surfaces clean. Even if tiny particles of organic debris are found on or around the surfaces of a vinyl window in a moisture-rich area, you could potentially find mold growth. What makes up this debris? It can be anything from fragments of pollen to animal dander to insect pieces to normal household dust.

• Reduce the chance of condensation in your home. Use ceiling fans, particularly in the kitchen and bathroom to increase ventilation. Leave interior room and closet doors open. Consider reducing the number of house plants.

• If your blinds or window coverings are closed all the time, condensation can get “trapped” in between the window treatments and the windows, creating a damp environment that may encourage mold growth. Routinely open window coverings to increase ventilation near windows. Additionally, ensure air vent deflectors are placed on floor vents to reroute air into the room rather than straight up against a window.

While installing vinyl windows in the home is a smart start, homeowners also have to do their part – keep the home well ventilated and clean during all seasons to reduce mold.

Last Updated on Thursday, 06 March 2014 11:46

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Keep safe in backyard

(StatePoint) Your backyard is a space where you enjoy quality time with your family all year long. But accidents can happen anywhere - even in the oasis of your backyard. For parents, taking extra safety precautions out back should be just as important as childproofing done indoors.

To prep and maintain your yard for outdoor safe play and relaxation, here are several important steps:

Lawn: Remove tree stumps and level concrete footings to avoid tripping. Lawn debris such as rocks could become projectiles when cutting the grass. So be sure to clear the yard. Additionally, children should never be nearby while you’re using motorized equipment. Store potentially dangerous tools, equipment and chemicals completely out of the reach of children, such as in a locked shed or garage.

Fencing: A yard without a fence is like a house without walls. Fences help protect children from danger, keeping toddlers out of swimming pools, hot tubs, ponds, or away from traffic or strangers. Fences can also improve pet safety, keeping your pets in your yard and other animals out, and can reduce your liability by preventing injuries to uninvited guests on your property.

With that in mind, be sure your fences and gates are functional and free of rust that can render them useless or dangerous.

“Rusty metal gate hardware that no longer functions properly or becomes a threat to children is a top homeowner concern, according to our research,” says Jim Paterson, senior vice president of D&D Technologies, which manufactures gate latches and hinges made of ultra-strong engineering polymers.

Eliminate this worry by installing high-quality fencing impervious to seasonal weather, ground settling and other factors that can cause gates to become misaligned over time. Opt for gate hardware that can be easily adjusted to function properly over the long-term. For example, some models of TruClose self-closing tension adjustable hinges are vertically and horizontally adjustable.

Additionally, be sure to install pool barrier access gates with adjustable self-closing hinges like TruClose and self-latching gates where the latches are out of the reach of children, such as the Magnalatch Safety Gate Latch. Both products carry lifetime warranties and are adjustable both vertically and horizontally for easy adjustments.

Homeowners can peruse a bevy of rust-free gate hardware and child safety latches online at www.ddtechglobal.com or in person under the Stanley Hardware brand available through most Lowe’s stores.

Sun Protection: When the sun is bearing down, skin can be susceptible to burns and permanent damage year-round. And children’s skin can be even more sensitive to harmful UV rays. Your yard should have plenty of shady areas to seek respite. Plant trees and watch them grow. Install a canopy. Adorn patio furniture with an umbrella.

Your backyard can be one of the most exciting places for your children to play through the entire year. A little prevention along the way will keep it safe and fun.

Last Updated on Thursday, 06 March 2014 11:45

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Keep up: Worn houses lose 10 percent a year

(StatePoint) After a busy work week, it can be hard to get motivated to complete chores and tasks around the house. And knowing what tasks to do and when to do them may not come intuitively for everyone. But neglecting home maintenance is a mistake, say experts.

“Regular home maintenance can benefit your family’s health, safety and pocketbook,” says Elizabeth Dodson, Co-Founder of HomeZada, a digital hub to store pertinent information about your home. “Consider creating a home maintenance schedule to stay organized and motivated.”

With this in mind, here are several examples of how to maintain your home and why it’s important:

Avoiding replacements

• Mineral deposit build-up in your refrigerator’s ice maker can eventually cause a leak that could damage the refrigerator and its contents. Annually clean water lines to prevent the need for a major appliance replacement.

• Lubricate your garage door for smooth operation and to delay the need for parts replacement.

Improving safety

• Lint build-up in dryer ducts is flammable and a common cause of house fires. An annual cleaning eliminates this dangerous situation. You should also regularly clean your dryer’s lint filter after every couple of loads. Likewise, you can prevent fires with checks on electrical and gas equipment and fireplaces.

• Maintain the air quality of your home by replacing or cleaning the filters on your home’s heating system quarterly, or as needed.

• A regular schedule of battery replacement in your home’s smoke and carbon monoxide detectors could be life-saving.

Reducing utility bills

• Periodically ensuring that your home is properly sealed and insulated can lower utility bills. Use weatherstripping to close gaps around windows and doors.

• On an annual basis, inspect heating and cooling equipment to ensure it’s running optimally.

• Ensure your fireplace damper closes and opens properly. When your fireplace is not in use, keep the damper closed to maximize your climate controlled environment.

Improving value

A house in worn condition can lose 10 percent of its previous appraised value, whereas proactive maintenance can increase the appraised value each year by 1 percent, according to the National Association of Realtors.

And you don’t have to invest a ton to improve your home’s value. Plenty of projects offer great returns on investment. This becomes especially important if your home is on the market. From replacing elements of your home’s exterior to updating your kitchen, your realtor can offer suggestions for updates that can help you sell.

Consider new tools to help you track home improvement projects in one place. For example, by signing up for HomeZada, you will automatically receive comprehensive home maintenance checklists, as well as automated alerts and reminders when it’s time to complete a task, so you never miss anything important.

Additionally, the site provides how-to videos and other free resources for do-it-yourselfers. For more information, visit www.HomeZada.com.

Don’t let key maintenance tasks fall by the wayside. Let new tools help you keep your home safe and up-to-date.

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 06 March 2014 11:44

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Exterior bold colors gain favor

(StatePoint) One of the simplest ways to make a big impact on your home’s exterior is with your front door. But if you are tired of the old standards colors, you’re not alone – experts predict bolder trends this year.

“Exuberant hues will be popular this year as a way for homeowners to show the world their energy,” says Kate Smith, a color trend forecaster and president of Sensational Color. “For those going for a classic feel, colors that are vibrant, yet at the same time, offer comfort, warmth and reliability will reign.”

For homeowners looking to express their “colorful selves,” consider selecting a paintable fiberglass door with a smooth finish. For example, those from Therma-Tru Classic-Craft Canvas Collection and Pulse, feature clean lines, crisp angles and attractive glass configuration options, and are ideal for adding personal expression to a home.

According to Smith, the top five door colors for the “exuberant homeowner” in 2014 include:

• Capri: A tropical blue that wakes up natural woods and neutral surroundings, this hue adds a splash of energy.

• Raucous Orange: This color demands attention with its energetic tone and makes the perfect punctuation point for homes with a modern look.

• Dynamo: This flirty violet hue instantly updates traditional color schemes for a trendier home front.

• Relic Bronze: A deep, almost brown mustard color, “Relic Bronze” reflects aged beauty.

• Quixotic Plum: This sophisticated deep purple is where trendy meets timeless.

The top five door colors for those following the more classic trend of comfort, as identified by Smith include:

• Georgian Bay: Brighter than dark navy, this step-above reserved blue is a trusted color when it comes to the welcoming message it sends to family and friends.

• Show Stopper: Like classic red at dusk, “Show Stopper” adds a touch of mystery to this bright hue. A slight spin on traditional red, this color warmly welcomes people to a home.

• Polished Mahogany: The deep, rich shade of brown has a staying power that traverses trends and captures a solid feeling for homeowners.

• Classic French Grey: Stepping out of the shadows to stand on its own, this cool, neutral grey will continue to rule the palette in 2014.

• Gulfstream: This bright, modern blue has an of-the-moment appeal. At the same time, it still feels rooted in something familiar and nostalgic for homeowners.

Whether you follow new trends or stick to tradition, don’t forget to take your entire home’s exterior into consideration. From roof to door, a “top down” approach can help you pick color combinations that are eye-pleasing and flow naturally to create curb appeal.

Last Updated on Thursday, 06 March 2014 11:43

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Check for credit

BOZEMAN – Are you a Montanan who is 62 or older as of Dec. 31? If so, then check to see whether you qualify for Montana’s elderly homeowner/renter tax credit for 2013.

If you can answer yes to all of the following questions, then you may be eligible for the credit:

• Were you 62 or older as of Dec. 31, 2013?

• Did you occupy a Montana residence(s) as an owner or renter for 6 months or more during 2013?

• Did you reside in Montana for nine months or more during 2013?

• Was your total gross household income less than $45,000 in 2013? Form 2EC contains instructions for determining total gross household income.

To determine eligibility, complete “Form 2EC,” which can be found at your local office of the Montana Department of Revenue, library or post office.

Last Updated on Thursday, 06 March 2014 11:42

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Prepare for warm weather

(StatePoint) Warmer weather is just around the corner, which means higher temperatures. But does it have to mean higher energy bills too?  The answer is no. There are numerous ways to keep your home cool and bills low this summer.

After a few months off, it is vital to check that your air conditioning system is still working in an efficient and optimal manner.  If you have a central air conditioning system, for peace of mind, you might want to have your system checked by an HVACR professional.  In order to save, be sure to shop around for special deals, which are not difficult to find for seasonal preventive maintenance. Understand however, that the proficiency of HVACR technicians differs greatly.

When searching for the right HVACR technicians for your home, one way to make certain that the job will be done properly and effectively is by hiring a professional certified by North American Technician Excellence (NATE), the nation’s largest independent, non-profit certification body for HVACR technicians. NATE-certified technicians are qualified to properly install and service equipment, which means maximum home comfort and energy savings.

Once a NATE certified HVACR technician has inspected your system for efficiency, there are a number of things you can do to keep energy bills low:

• Clean your air filters. Check them every couple of weeks and change them at least twice in the season, or as directed by the manufacturer.

• Don’t obstruct airflow around air conditioner units – keep them clear of plants and debris.

• Raise the thermostat about five degrees, because each degree you raise the thermostat will save you a percentage off your cooling energy bill.

• Compare energy bills from last year.  If your costs have significantly increased, simply contact a qualified HVACR technician - they can help determine the source of the problem.

Remember, just because you have an energy-approved, eco-friendly, high-efficiency product, it does not mean automatic money and energy savings. For substantive results, proper installation, service and maintenance are important too.  So do yourself a favor - request the service of a NATE-certified technician. In order to locate a contractor that employs certified technicians, look for the NATE logo or go to www.HVACRAdvice.com.

By taking preventive measures, you can rest assured that this season you will be cool while saving money and energy.

Last Updated on Thursday, 06 March 2014 11:39

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In Costa Rica, elections matter, or maybe don’t

By T.J. GILLES - For The Outpost

SAN VITO, Costa Rica – Election day in this former banana republic is like flag day – not the red, white, and blue tricolor stripes of the national emblem but the varied banners of the 13 (!) political parties with dogs, however small, in the fight.

Folks wear their party’s T-shirt and cars, pickups and farm trucks prowl the winding streets of this mountain town with flags a-flying: The green and white of the perpetual powerhouse PLN (National Liberation Party), the yellow and red of the PAC (Citizens’ Action Party), the blue and red of Social Democrats, the yellow (red lettering) of Frente Amplio (Broad Front).

Youthful enthusiasts beat drums, blow horns, chant slogans and blow kisses. The street leading down to the school polling place in San Vito, founded by Italians following World War II, is lined with brightly colored campaign tents. Volunteers offer to explain issues or candidates, or show the proper place to mark an “X.”

Vendors sell cool refreshments, food, or lottery tickets. Taxis arrive. Buses jammed with voters from distant rural areas disgorge the party faithful. All that’s lacking are jugglers and clowns dressed in party colors – which they do have in the nation’s capital, San Jose.

Costa Rica has its elections in February, one of a couple of months of dry season in a nation known for its bad roads and abundant rainfall – more than 10 feet a year. “Summer,” they call it, as streams and lakes dry up, leaves on some tree species turn brown or yellow and fall to the ground. The heat is on.

Voting is mandatory in Costa Rica. There´s a (never levied) fine, but about 30 percent of Ticos eschewed suffrage this time around. This 70 percent turnout compares to Montana’s 72 percent (of those who bothered to register) in the most recent election, and the Treasure State has a reputation for being one of the higher states in participation.

My landlord, Francisco Herrera, voted once when he was 18 but never went back. About 40 years ago, his man won and turned out to be a scoundrel, even worse than the rank-and-file Latin American politicians.

“They´re all crooks. They´re all liars!” Mr. Herrera says, echoing millions of Americans disenchanted with their imbedded two-party system.

Mr. Herrera has never been levied a fine despite decades of electoral abstinence and constantly dealing with government entities for taxes, restaurant and bar licenses, inspections and certification for his new “canopy” zip line where customers fly on a cable through the air among the treetops and over a lake that these days is more of a mud flat.

On the other side of the political spectrum is the Pittier family of San Vito. Gizelle and Pedro footed the bill for their daughters’ eight-hour bus ride from San Jose, where they attend college, to vote for the second-place candidate, Johnny Araya Monge, because “this election is so important.”

I have never been to a Costa Rican Jaycee meeting, but I imagine part of the Jaycee Creed says, “We are a nation of scofflaws, not men,” in a world of unhelmeted motorcyclists, unlicensed and uninspected taxis and restaurants, illegal hunting (all hunting is illegal), gold-mining and shark finning.

Despite a perception of corruption, bribes and chicanery throughout the spectrum of Costa Rican society, elections seem relatively clean – and tame.

A few issues are off the table. It’s hard to brand anyone a “socialist” in a country that has had universal health care for 65 years. And nobody – or everybody – is “soft on defense” when the 10,000 colones ($20) bill features a silhouette of President Jose Figueres Ferrer in 1949 symbolically taking a pickaxe to the walls of the old fort in San Jose and abolishing the military. Pre-dating Joni Mitchell´s “Woodstock” song, he actually turned the fort into a butterfly (and history) museum.

And despite all the multi-colored flags, Costa Ricans often seem to believe they are offered neither choice nor echo.

Sure, La Nacion (the country´s largest newspaper and so-called “maker of presidents”) branded the Broad Front candidate, Jose Maria Villarta, a “chavista.” comparing him to the late Venezuelan demagogue Hugo Chavez.

I suspect the real threat posed by Mr. Villarta was his perpetually scruffy beard and the fact that he was the only candidate (of the top five) to appear at the televised debates … without a necktie! He got third.

And sure, some friends up north informally slung a little mud on social media regarding the National Libertarian candidate, Otto (no relation to Che) Guevara.

His family was compared to the Kennedys. The Guevaras are into everything in the far-flung province of Puntarenas, and there was a listing of the family’s thousands of hectares of prime finca, beach-front hotels, factories and other enterprises – and pointing out that Mr. Guevara has never done a lick of work in his life. He got fourth.

Even a week or so prior to the elections, some of the more obvious also-rans already were “mothering up” to the front-runners on who – and at what price — they might be supporting in the second round, where the two top vote-getters square off again on April 6.

There is no majority party in Costa Rica, so all are members of a loyal – and shifting – opposition.

The 67-member Legislative Assembly has only two parties with double-digit membership. The National Liberationists – of the pick-swinging Mr. Figueres, current president Laura Chinchilla and current hopeful and former San Jose mayor of Mr. Araya – has 18. The Citizen´s Action Party (PAC) of the top vote-getter, Jose Guillermo, Solis has 13.

So there may be some strange bedfellows in this country of 4.5 million, which promises to be carbon-neutral by 2020. Laws will be passed – and largely ignored. Taxis and restaurants will continue to operate outside the law and under the table. Hunting and cockfighting will continue to be both illegal and wildly popular. Logging with neither a government permit – nor the landowner´s permission – and gold mining in national parks and other protected areas will continue to support families, as they have for generations.

Maybe the election abstainers have a point.

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 20 February 2014 22:00

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MATE Show expected to draw thousands

The 38th annual MATE Show and Home & Health Expo kicks off Thursday, Feb. 20, at MetraPark in Billings, running through Saturday, Feb. 22. Doors are open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday with Saturday offering open doors from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

More than 400 exhibitors will be on hand displaying products in more than 700 booths encompassing 100,000 square feet, making this the largest show of its kind in Montana.

The longstanding MATE Show is the flagship component of the event featuring the latest in farming and ranching equipment, products and services. This year’s spotlight feature item will be zero turn lawn mowers, displayed throughout the show in the demonstration area.

Stop by the MATE Theatre daily to gain valuable information on a number of topics specific to rural living from ATV safety to weed control and heating your home to local insect control. Other outstanding features of the event are the Bull Pen Preview presented by the Northern Ag Network with a great lineup of bulls from some of Montana’s best seedstock operations.

The MATE Show is also a chance to win the grand prize of a John Deere CX Gator, donated by area John Deere dealers and who doesn’t dream of winning the Sunshine Infrared Sauna being given away at the Home & Health Expo. There is something for everyone at this year’s MATE Show and Home & Health Expo.

CPR Saturday will once again be featured during this year’s event offering attendees an opportunity to brush up on their CPR training or get certified, Feb. 22. Registration must be done in advance via cprsaturday.com or by calling 255-8410.

Free tickets are available at the NILE Office, or First Interstate Bank locations. Also, tickets can be found at all MATE Show Exhibitors. For a complete list of events, vendors and map of the 2014 MATE Show and Home & Health Expo, go to www.themateshow.com.

Last Updated on Thursday, 20 February 2014 21:58

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