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With winter finally gone, it’s time to usher in spring — the time of year when flowers begin to blossom and trees regain some semblance of life. If you’ve been thinking about selling your home, perhaps now is the best time to get down to business. Spring tends to bring out the most home buyers as buyers time their move with the school year.

Home improvement is big business, with the industry roughly worth $394 billion. Curb appeal improvements are just as important to consider as interior repairs — and in some cases, they're even more so. Think of your curb appeal as your home’s first impression to potential buyers. Making curb appeal improvements is a great way to ensure your home receives the best offer and often proves a high return on investment.

Even though most auto shops are still open in the midst of the coronavirus lockdown, more and more car enthusiasts are finding ways to fill their extra free time. In fact, British automotive publisher Haynes has seen a stark increase in the number of car manual sales since the kingdom adopted social distancing measures to stop the spread of coronavirus. Sales have surged by over 54% as more people begin to work on their own vehicles. While similar reports have yet to be seen in the United States, there's no doubt that DIY car enthusiasts are going to work on their pet projects under COVID-19 procedures.

Are you trying to learn how to fix your own car? Rely on these tips to stay safe and feel more productive.

"Car crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens, and teenage boys are twice as likely to die as teenage girls," according to The Washington Post and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

With such grim statistics, it is no wonder that parents fret over teaching their teenagers to drive. With some care and planning, parents can teach kids how to drive and do it with confidence. Follow these tips from the experts for peace of mind.

The coronavirus pandemic has hit home for millions as it has evolved into serious business over the past few weeks in North America.

The virus known as COVID-19 has forced the world indoors, with individuals and families scrambling to adjust to what’s become our new normal. Federal and international guidelines broadcast over social media can read like a mother’s list of commands: "Wash your hands! Don’t touch your face! Stay indoors and work at home!" Businesses of all sizes are bracing for losses, with schools, houses of worship, and sports leagues closing down overnight. What has become an international crisis seems far beyond our control, unlike so much of our technologically-driven society.

Speaking of technology: cars have become the final frontier -- the last thing standing between people and the outside world. With the uncertainty surrounding the virus and knowing that anyone is at risk of transmitting it, retreating to your car while you look for food or essential supplies allows you to practice social distancing and (if it’s clean enough) maintain a controlled zone that keeps you and others safe. Over the last decade, technological advancements in vehicles -- including Bluetooth, streaming services, and Wi-Fi can help make your car feel like home.

Bluetooth

This wireless tool has been a staple of electronic communications since the 2000s and has been the catalyst for both public events and private time. This technology exists in cars, especially those built in the last decade-plus, and has quickly replaced the AUX cord as the remote connection device of the time period. With smartphones becoming the telecommunications standard, and with state laws prohibiting distracted driving, it’s become paramount to create safe and comfortable environments to still use your phone while behind the wheel.

Bluetooth allows for the driver to connect remotely with their phone and perform a number of tasks, such as play music, run a GPS, and make phone calls. While many newer cars have the technology pre-installed and simply require a connection with an existing phone, older vehicles may need inexpensive add-ons, such as universal Bluetooth kits or car adapters.

Streaming Services

Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and newly launched Disney+ have become ubiquitous as the video-on-demand experience has evolved from DVD and Blu-ray players in minivans to backseat passengers keeping themselves busy with hours’ worth of entertainment at their fingertips.

If you have children, quarantining can be more challenging – considering how school and work schedules have evaporated and with the pandemic’s full extent still unknown. As you would at home, a smart idea for making your car-ride experience more enjoyable is providing your children with portable, on-demand devices such as tablets and smartphones equipped with the streaming services (and potential child restrictions) of your choice.

In addition, you can use Bluetooth to amplify the sound and turn your car into a movie theater. With the right sound coming from the speaker, your child can have an all-encompassing experience that will add more value to an inevitable car ride to the nearest store that still has hand sanitizer or toilet paper.

Wi-Fi

In newer cars, Wi-Fi hotspots have emerged as a way to use the internet without spending valuable amounts of data. General Motors, for example, has made it standard amongst its brands. However, if this is not the case for your car, consider utilizing a Wi-Fi hotspot on your phone, which could open up options for further internet connection.

Using Wi-Fi in your car opens up the other two aforementioned technologies while providing a steady connection in your vehicle. If you have children, this wireless connection can keep them company during long breaks. If you’re single or have a partner who's along for the ride, in-car Wi-Fi gives your bank account a break by allowing you to alleviate unnecessary data usage.

Considering how much technology has affected society, car Wi-Fi can also make for a more creative way to stay “indoors” while outside the house. If you’re willing, turn on the car and use Wi-Fi to have a movie night -- battery permitting. The way cars have worked throughout history, it’s not surprising that people would want a respite from the deluge of horrific pandemic updates. Using car Wi-Fi to have a movie night is relatively safe, provided everyone is healthy.

The ‘Internet of Things’

As the internet becomes more essential to our existence, so have the capabilities to connect to the internet. The Internet of Things (IoT) is defined as the various ways our devices connect to the internet. Items such as phones, computers, and televisions are good examples, but more advanced options include wireless headphones, wearable fitness devices, remote monitors, and more.

As it applies to vehicles, IoT has major capabilities. Most new cars are equipped to be IoT-friendly. This has implications for using Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and other digital technologies. And as our society adjusts to our new wired future, our most universal devices are stepping up to the plate. By the end of 2020, IoT capabilities will be present in more than 250 million vehicles.

Some other examples of this breakthrough include automotive IoT, which aims to make driving a more perfect endeavor with features such as automotive cameras (which aid the driver when they are reversing the car, for example), radar, and in-car GPS. Many utilize traffic patterns through internet technologies, whether from your phone or from outside sources, to ensure the driver has a safe ride.

Bonus: Cleanliness

The coronavirus pandemic has created inconveniences for everyone, from billion-dollar corporations to everyday workers and their loved ones. With our cars becoming more of a safe harbor than usual due to the outbreak, it’s imperative to remain vigilant and be one step ahead of the spread.

HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) air purifiers can come in handy in combating airborne particles, especially considering how the COVID-19 virus can remain in the air for up to three hours. Trust in name-brand purifiers used by major companies like Toyota (Plasmacluster from Sharp is a good example). Devices such as HEPA are CDC-approved for a minimum defense mechanism against coronaviruses.

Other car companies such as Jaguar and Yanfeng have adapted ultraviolet light to kill various airborne germs. These should be used with caution, however, especially considering the effects of UV and UV-C rays on the human body. Car disinfectants and odor eliminators, while more traditional, can at least mitigate the risks. That said, they cannot be guaranteed to actually kill the major flu viruses -- but they do help maintain a safer and cleaner car experience.

With the virus reaching its most powerful form in North America, people can maintain their cars as a viable safe space for quarantining. Technological improvements and advances such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, streaming services, and cleanliness measures can make your method of transportation a safe haven. With these advancements, you can take care of your health and well-being along the way.

Pictured top: Apple CarPlay

Monday, March 16 2020 15:41

Flu/Cold Prevention for Families

According to the CDC, 22 million school days are lost annually in the United States because of the common cold. Besides being miserable, colds spread easily through the air and surfaces, and although we think of them as inconvenient, they can lead to much more serious conditions like pneumonia. Similarly, the flu can be serious as well, killing around 56,000 people annually. Sometimes the prevalence of these diseases makes it seem inevitable that you and your family can't escape the same illnesses that hit everyone every year. But in reality, there are many things you can do to protect yourself and your family from sickness.

Neither colds nor the flu is entirely preventable. However, there are lots of simple ways you can decrease your risk. You can also lessen the severity and length of your illness when you do fall ill. Many of the methods for protecting yourself are simple lifestyle changes that can have a huge impact on your overall wellness. Read on for some of the top tips for preventing colds and flu in your family.

Get Your Flu Vaccine

Many people skip out on their annual flu vaccine. Some people hear that the vaccine is not 100% effective and decide that means it’s not worth the trouble to get vaccinated. This is absolutely not true. First, the flu vaccine reduces your chance of illness by between 40-60% percent depending on the year. The reason its effectiveness varies from year to year is that, like the common cold, the flu virus mutates every year, producing a slightly new strain that is just different enough to reinfect someone that has had it before. Either way, having the vaccine greatly reduces the likelihood you will develop the flu.

Further, even if you get the flu after taking the vaccine, this doesn’t mean getting the vaccine was a waste. On the contrary, you will likely develop a much milder form of the flu and your chances of recovery are much higher thanks to the vaccine you received. This is especially true for children, who are significantly less likely to be hospitalized for flu if they have received the vaccine before becoming ill.

Another common fear is that the flu vaccine can cause people to develop the flu. This is not true. The flu virus cannot cause you to develop the flu because it is made from an inactivated virus. This means that a flu virus is grown in a lab, killed, and then used to make the vaccine. Because the vaccine is made of dead flu germs, it cannot cause disease. While the virus can cause mild fatigue, fever, pain at the injection site, or body aches, this does not mean that you have the flu, and these symptoms are much less severe than the actual flu itself.

Eat Nutritious And Varied Foods

One of the most important steps for staying healthy is to eat a balanced diet. For one thing, eating 10 or more servings of fruits and veggies per day has been shown to reduce your risk of heart disease by 24%, your risk of stroke by 33%, your risk of cardiovascular disease by 28%, and your risk of cancer by 13%. Chronic, preventable diseases wear down your immune system, so preventing these conditions is an important step to fighting other illnesses like the common cold and flu. Healthy food also provides more energy to power your immune system.

Varying the kinds of fruits and veggies you eat adds an extra bonus to your healthy eating. Try to choose fresh produce from across the color spectrum because foods of different colors tend to contain different nutrients. By eating lots of different colored foods, you are more likely to get a wide range of vitamins and minerals, decreasing your chance of a deficiency.

Beyond fruits and veggies, some other foods can also help boost your immune system. Foods like green tea can lower your blood pressure, making your body run more efficiently. Other foods like berries that are naturally high in antioxidants help fight unnecessary inflammation in your body. And foods high in zinc—such as meat, fish, and nuts—can help your immune system remain stronger. Zinc can even help you recover faster from some illnesses like the common cold.

Get Enough Sleep

You’ve heard this before, probably many times. But sleep really is one of the most important ways to reduce your risk of contracting a cold or the flu. During sleep, our body repairs small amounts of damage it sustained during the day. Without these repairs, our body becomes weaker at fighting germs.

Beyond keeping us healthy, getting sleep actually aids our bodies in recovering from illness as well. When our bodies fight illness, they release proteins called cytokines. These cytokines help cells communicate, coordinating our immune system’s response to germs. But lack of sleep suppresses the release of cytokines, meaning different parts of our immune system don’t communicate as well as they could.

Although getting the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep per night is important, researchers say another important factor is getting good quality sleep. When you don’t get good quality sleep, your body may not go through its complete sleep cycle, meaning your body doesn’t reap the full benefits of sleep. Sticking to a regular sleep schedule (even on weekends), introducing a soothing bedtime routine, and keeping your bedroom a comfortable temperature are all things that can improve your quality of sleep, helping you resist illness or improve more quickly when you do become ill.

Exercise Regularly

Many people underestimate the role that exercise plays in keeping their bodies fighting fit against germs, but regular exercise has a huge impact on a person’s overall health. Not only does exercise help prevent many common diseases that can weaken a person’s overall well being, but it may actually help expel bacteria and viruses from the body. For instance, heavy breathing from working out aids in flushing the airways, and an increase in body temperature exercise can slow or prevent the growth of some bacteria. Regular, moderate exercise is enough to help regulate the immune system, making your body more resistant to both cold and flu.

Kick Unhealthy Habits

Unhealthy habits can wreak havoc on your immune system. Smoking, for instance, introduces unhealthy chemicals into the body that suppress its natural immune response. Additionally, smoking damages the small hairs in your nose that filter out pollen dust, and germs. Without these hairs, more of those contaminants will enter your body, making it easier for germs to enter the body.

Smoking is not the only habit that can weaken your immune system. Drinking too much alcohol can damage some of the cells that power the immune system, leaving your body less able to fight off bacteria and viruses that find their way inside. In fact, the effect of alcohol on the immune system is so strong that some studies show that vaccines are less effective in heavy drinkers .

Some studies suggest that over-indulging in sugar can have a negative effect on the immune system’s ability to fight off infection. When bacteria or viruses enter the body, the immune system releases phagocytes, a type of cell that “cleans up” the body by removing damaged cells and waste. The phagocytes also destroy germs, too. However, immediately after consuming sugar, the body’s phagocytes become less able to perform their job. While this effect does wear off, consuming large amounts of sugar over time can leave your body more prone to infection, as well as more prone to diabetes, heart disease, and other conditions that leave your body more vulnerable to the cold and flu.

Practice Hygiene And Cleaning Habits That Remove Germs

Good personal hygiene can go a long way toward keeping your body healthy. Bathing or showering daily helps remove bacteria and viruses from your body, but even simply washing your hands can make a huge difference in your likelihood of catching that bug that everyone else has. Always use soap and (when possible) warm water. Lather and rinse your hands for a total of 20 seconds, or for approximately the length of the “happy birthday” song. Soap helps removes the natural oils on your hands that provide a nice home for bacteria, and good old fashioned soap and water are actually much more effective than hand sanitizer.

Another part of healthy hygiene habits is wearing clean clothes daily and washing clothes in laundry detergent. Wearing the same clothes for multiple days may reintroduce your body to the same bacteria and viruses over and over, increasing the chances they will find their way inside your body. But using soap specifically designed to clean clothes will not only remove bad germs but also your body oils that harbor bacteria just like on your hands.

When in public, practice habits that will help keep other people healthy, too. If you must sneeze or cough, use disposable tissues or your elbow to prevent germs from spreading. You can also excuse yourself from heavily-peopled rooms. At home, clean hard surfaces regularly. White vinegar diluted with tap water is known to kill both bacteria and viruses while being safe for pets and children, but many common cleaners work well, too. Another way to keep your home healthy is to use an air cleaner with a HEPA that can reduce or eliminate infectious agents in the air.

Don’t forget to carry these cleaning habits over to other areas of your life, too. Over half of American workers eat lunch and snack at their desk, yet the typical desk has 100 times more germs than the average kitchen table. Often employees don’t even think about the cleanliness of their office environment, but as most adults spend the majority of their waking day at work, this is also often where they encounter the largest number of germs.

Take Wounds And Injuries Seriously From The Start

The body’s first line of defense against illness is actually its skin. Unbroken skin keeps out most of the germs we come in contact with throughout the day, which is why any breaks in the skin should be treated seriously. This means cleaning the wound with soap and water, treating it with antibacterial ointment, and covering it until healing begins. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends removing old bandages and checking for signs of infection every 24 hours. By following these steps, you can limit the number of germs that enter the body and tax your immune system.

You Can Improve Your Resistance To Colds And Flu

By taking simple steps to be healthy and maintain your immune system, you can decrease your chance of developing a cold or the flu. Following through on healthy habits and caring for your body in practical ways go far in making your body better at fighting off infections and recovering more quickly when you do fall ill. Much of it simply comes down to awareness and establishing good habits.

Friday, March 13 2020 13:42

Cars or Trucks: Which One is Safer?

When it comes to choosing between a car or a truck, safety concerns are often at the forefront of buyer’s minds. However, is one safer than the other and which is better for families? To help make this decision simpler here is what you need to know about the differences between cars and trucks.

Comparing Safety Features

Over 15.5 million trucks operate on roads daily, when combined with cars, the combined number of vehicles on the roads can reach 115 million every day in the United States. With so many other drivers to share the road with, having a safe vehicle can help give you peace of mind while driving. However, when trying to decide between a car or truck there are a couple of key points to consider.

Trucks:

Trucks have a couple of significant pros that bear mention. Firstly, in a study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, it was found that heavier vehicles tend to push lighter ones during impact. This results in a lower amount of force being put on the occupants in the heavier vehicle. Because trucks tend to be larger and heavier than cars, this is a point to their side. Additionally, trucks now benefit from many of the same safety features that cars do such as automatic braking, crumple zones, and improved airbags.

Size is also something that can benefit trucks. In the event of a side impact with a car, only the lower bumper will make contact with the truck’s frame. This is opposed to a truck colliding with a car in which the higher bumper could hit nearly halfway up the door. Depending on the force of the impact, this could be devastating for the car’s passengers.

Cars:

Small cars are the fastest-growing category in the U.S. auto industry. When it comes to front end collisions, where windshields provide nearly 45% of the structural integrity of the cabin — and in a rollover up to 60% — small cars rank high. This, in addition to the improved front end and side airbags, helps to make small cars some of the safest vehicles on the road. In the newest IIHS Top Safety Picks for 2020, four cars made the cut for Top Safety Pick+ while 14 made the cut for Top Safety Pick. As of now, no trucks have been added to their lists.

Also, cars are also much less likely to flip or rollover, making them more ideal in single-vehicle accidents. It’s only when they’re faced with a much larger vehicle that their safety level decreases.

Weight and Size

While the 2019 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 features a widened truck bed, it weighs nearly 450 pounds less than previous models. This has helped to boost the Silverado’s fuel efficiency, making it more appealing to money-conscious buyers. Generally, the rule of thumb is that lighter vehicles will get better gas mileage. While this is certainly a plus for more lightweight cars, Chevrolet proves that trucks can be just as efficient. Furthermore, lighter vehicles tend to be easier to maneuver away from collisions or during inclement weather. The major trade-off here is that lightweight vehicles also tend to have increased noise and vibration. This is because there is less weight to dampen the sounds and movement that would otherwise have been hidden.

On the other hand, heavy vehicles, as mentioned above, can be beneficial during accidents; however, the trade-off here is maneuverability and gas mileage. Unless you’re planning on using a truck for hauling large trailers, it’s probably best to spring for a lighter weight alternative.

Families vs Individuals

So, now that we’ve seen the pros and cons of safety, weight, and size, let’s consider which vehicles are best for families and individuals. While the ultimate choice will be up to personal taste, both cars and trucks can make excellent family vehicles.

Trucks today are quite spacious with many seating up to five people comfortably. While cars also have standard seating for five, trucks can be beneficial for families that enjoy driving vacations and day trips. They can also be used for hauling all of your kid’s dirty sports gear without worrying about it getting all over the interior. While we usually wouldn’t think of them as family vehicles they certainly can pull their weight in that area.

On the other hand, cars can have similar benefits for families, and allow for slightly easier maneuvering if you’re not familiar with larger vehicles. Most have ample trunk space for school bags and sports gear, while still allowing passengers enough space to be comfortable.

On an individual level, whether you decide to buy a car or truck will come down to what you are looking to get out of your vehicle. If you need a heavy-duty vehicle for work or if you enjoy outdoor excursions, trucks may be something to consider. However, if you’re looking to a simple, yet reliable vehicle for driving around town, cars are always a safe bet.

Furthermore, cars tend to be more prevalent in urban areas, whereas trucks seen more frequently in rural areas. Where you live could also play a factor in which vehicle you decide is right for you.

Shop Around

While investing in a safe vehicle is important, what’s even more important is investing in a vehicle that you’ll love. If you enjoy driving trucks, take time to speak with different dealers and shop different truck brands before resigning to buy a car. Both cars and trucks have their pros and cons, both can make great family vehicles, and both can help keep you safe on the roads in different ways. While some features might be a must-have, make sure to explore every avenue before making a final decision.

At the end of the day, both cars and trucks can be fun to drive safe choices. If you’re currently in the market for a new vehicle, take a moment to shop around your local area and test drive both to see which one you enjoy most. You may even end up falling in love with a vehicle that you ever would have considered otherwise.

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