Archives July 2015

Do Energy-Efficient Home Improvements Really Pay for Themselves?

Using a tape measure

For years, one of the best reasons for homeowners to splurge on energy-efficient remodeling projects has been the knowledge that these improvements will pay for themselves in the long run, thanks to the amount of money they will save on energy bills.

However, a recent University of Chicago study has found this might not be as true as we think.

According to a July 5 Construction Dive article, the study found that expensive, energy-saving home remodels such as new windows or an energy-efficient heating and cooling systems might noticeably reduce one’s energy bills — but these savings won’t allow these remodels to pay themselves off in the long run.

The study examined 30,000 low-income households throughout Michigan, all of which had participated in a U.S. Department of Energy weatherization program to boost their energy efficiency. Like many other state governments, Michigan offers to repay the full cost of weatherization and other energy-efficient measures to low-income households. But while high-efficiency home products were able to save households about 20% on their energy bills, these savings weren’t nearly enough to repay the cost of these products over time.

That’s bad news, both for the low-income families and for the state government itself. According to the Pacific Standard, Michigan’s program costs the state about $4,143 per family. At the same time, participating families only save about $2,400 with their new, upgraded appliances. Basically, the state government is spending more than its beneficiaries are ultimately saving.

In addition to undermining state government’s’ efforts to fund energy-efficient home improvements, the study’s findings could make it more difficult for builders to sell “green” homes, as these homes don’t save quite as much energy as originally believed.

The study’s results go against prior Department of Energy findings. The DOE had previously stated that energy-efficient home improvements could allow a family to save as much as 30% on energy bills per year.

Still, there’s no denying the fact that even a small amount of energy savings is better than none at all.

Man Wins Lottery Using His High School Locker Combination


A Mableton, Georgia man has unlocked a fortune. Using the combination for his high school locker from 1970, 63-year-old Henry “Calvin” Nash won $1 million from matching the first five winning numbers of a Mega Millions drawing at the beginning of June.

“Numbers stick in my head,” the new millionaire explained.

The Mega Millions annuity is paid out as one immediate payment followed by 29 annual payments — each one being 5% bigger than the previous one. Nash and his wife of 40 years, Brenda — who is also his high school sweetheart — plan to use the money to continue taking trips on their Harley-Davidson motorcycles and enjoying their life together.

While it may seem like an odd way to play the lottery, picking your own numbers is the smarter way to play, according to Richard Lustig, seven-time lottery grand prize winner and author of Learn How To Increase Your Chances of Winning The Lottery.

The odds of winning are, as most people are more than aware of, astronomical. If you play the Mega Millions, you have a one in 176 million shot at winning a fortune. In other words, you’re more likely to have identical quadruplets (one in 15 million), becoming president (one in 10 million), winning an Olympic gold medal (one in 662,000), finding out your child is a genius (one in 250), or even dating a millionaire (just one in 215, actually).

In order to overcome such odds, Lustig says a player is guaranteed to increase his or her odds by picking his or her own numbers rather than using the “quick pick” option, in which a computer randomly generates lotto numbers for a player.

“The lazy way out is to buy quick-picks. The computer picks out the numbers,” Lustig told CBS. “Don’t play quick-picks. Quick-picks are the worst thing you can do, you are playing with the worst odds.”

In other words, it could pay to have a set of lucky numbers like Nash’s, even if they haven’t won yet.

More Businesses Are Thinking Inside the Box When It Comes to Web Design


If you’ve gone to one of your favorite news sites or blogs recently, you may have noticed a change in the layout if you’re seeing squares and rectangles.

These boxes, known as cards, are the hot new trend in web design, according to They are typically designed to organize content, so the image, headline, main text and call-to-action (like a share button) are all in one place.

Container-style web design isn’t really anything new, but it’s something that is beginning to translate to websites from another place: the desktop.

When Microsoft introduced its Windows 8 OS, it was made with the same formatting that Windows Phones had carried since a couple of years prior. On both operating systems, apps and other programs are separated into colorful blocks to make it easy to sort and select from.

But this isn’t necessarily something new on the web, either. For several years now, social media giant Pinterest has popularized the container format on its pinboards, where users can select inspirational images and organize them as they see fit.

And that usability is something that more web designer companies are taking into account. The grid format is clickable and easy to navigate on many websites, so sites ranging from The Guardian, a U.K.-based news source, to any number of blogs, are thinking, well, inside the box.

Grids can either be uniform in size, says, or vary in size. For instance, some sites keep larger cards to the left while displaying related or recommended links in cards to the right; this is referred to as “magazine style.”

Pins (like those on Pinterest), metro or flat design (as with Windows 8’s start menu) and grid or masonry format are the other types of cards seen across the web.

Part of this design is also geared towards keeping web users on the page. Although some researchers estimate that users can spend up to 15 seconds on a webpage before deciding whether or not to stay, others state that it takes 50 milliseconds (0.05 seconds) or less for a user to form an opinion on a website.

Google can take this figure — known as the bounce rate — into account if too many users aren’t staying on a website for a long period of time. names some of the biggest signs of an outdated website, which can contribute to that bounce rate, pointing out flaws in the font and graphics, especially.

In other words, just plain awful fonts like Comic Sans or busy graphics (including bad stock photography) are especially lethal for businesses trying to make an impression with customers.

The worst offense, however, is not having a mobile-friendly website, as more than half of all internet searches today are done from mobile devices like tablets and smartphones.

CDC Releases Shocking Report About What’s Really Swimming in America’s Pools


Baseball may be America’s favorite pastime, but the classic American way to beat the summertime heat is to head for a dip in the pool. However, a newly released report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may have Americans thinking twice before they dive in. In fact, the water seems to be anything but fine.

The CDC published a report late last month highlighting the increasing number of nationwide illnesses that have been linked to the bacteria, chemicals, viruses, and even parasites lurking in chlorinated pool water. Also contained in the report was a number of disturbing revelations.

For example, the all-too-familiar chlorine odor you smell when visiting a public pool isn’t really chlorine at all; it’s an indication that there’s feces, sweat and urine in the water, and the stronger the chlorine odor, the more body fluid is present. The chlorine-like odor is actually chloramines, which is an irritant that’s produced when chlorine and human body fluids combine. According to the CDC, those suffering from asthma or those who have chemical sensitivities should steer clear of public pools for this very reason, as chloramines have been known to aggravate asthma and may irritate eyes and skin.

As for the growing number of pool-related illnesses, the CDC classified them as outbreaks in the report. The CDC considers an illness an outbreak when two or more people exhibit gastrointestinal distress — any symptoms from gas and diarrhea — after being in the same location at the same time.

The CDC found that in 2011 and 2012, the last years for which this data is available, 32 states in addition to Puerto Rico reported 90 pool water-associated outbreaks which resulted in 1,788 cases, 95 hospitalizations, and one death.

Although chlorine is effective in killing off harmful pathogens such as E. coli in minutes, chemically treated pools aren’t much safer to swim in than beaches, lakes, or ponds where many water-borne illnesses are contracted. Chlorine-resistant bacteria was found to have caused the majority of the nation’s pool outbreaks, with the bacteria Cryptosporidium being named as the main culprit. Those who come into contact with Cryptosporidium can suffer from stomach cramps, diarrhea, fever, and vomiting for up to two weeks.

As terrifying as their report may seem, the CDC still maintains that swimming pools are safe enough to enjoy when used correctly. In addition to rinsing off with cold water before and after diving in, the CDC also recommends getting out of the water on a regular basis to use the bathroom, re-hydrate, and reapply sunscreen. Last but not least, the CDC advises pool-goers to avoid swallowing the water for obvious reasons.

In addition, residential or private pool owners are encouraged to run their pool pumps round the clock during the peak of pool season. While this may seem like a lot of energy, variable speed pumps allow pool owners to save upwards of 90% on annual energy costs compared to single speed pumps. Similarly, it’s common for community or public pools to run their pumps 24 hours a day throughout the pool season.

Will the Queen Be Forced Out of Buckingham Palace?

buckingham palace

God Save the Queen… and her 300-year-old palace in London.

Mashable and the New York Daily News are reporting that Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, will likely have to relocate to Windsor Castle while their permanent home, Buckingham Palace, is being renovated and repaired.

The Palace desperately needs a home improvement facelift, the New York Daily News reports, including new wiring and plumbing throughout the building, patching on the roof, and asbestos cleanup.

Decorators might even be called in to spruce up the place, since it’s been about 50 years since the interior was redecorated.

There are currently no details about how the Queen might choose to redecorate, but we recommend going with some practical improvements; something like a steel door replacement could yield a 98% return on investment (with all due respect, it’s worth noting that Her Highness isn’t getting any younger and Kate Middleton’s decor preferences are still a mystery).

Regardless of the specific improvements, the Daily News reports that the royal family is intent on preserving the historic landmark during the renovations. The Palace was acquired by King George III in 1761, has been housing the British royal family since 1837, and has about 775 rooms. All of the renovations will require special attention by historical preservationists, and it’s reported that the entire project could cost about £150 million ($240 million).

The cost of the project, however, goes beyond being able to preserve a special historical landmark. The Guardian reports that a campaign group called Republic has been “[calling] on the Queen to permanently move out of the palace, so it can be turned into a museum and art gallery.”

Graham Smith, the chief executive of Republic, explained to the Guardian that the group is asking the royal family to move out of the Palace and into one of the Queen’s (many) other estates across the country.

“If the taxpayer is footing the bill, the taxpayer should reap the reward,” Smith stated. “Buckingham Palace already houses one of the world’s greatest art collections – so let’s see it handed back to the people…[The Palace] is national property, treated like a private home occupied by a rogue tenant. Years of failure on the part of the royals have left the buildings in desperate need of repair.”

So will the Queen decide to listen to Smith and his peers? HRH already spends about one-third of the year hosting events at other locations, and she certainly has plenty of other properties where she can move.

Then again, she isn’t the only one using up taxpayer money for building repairs; the Parliament has already been heavily criticized for its £3 billion renovation of Westminster.

One can only hope that the London Bridge doesn’t follow suit and fall down too.

After Supreme Court’s Ruling on Same-Sex Marriage, Couples Get Right to Divorce, Too

Gavel, symbol of judicial decisions and justice

Last week, millions of Americans celebrated the Supreme Court’s 5-to-4 decision to uphold same-sex marriage. Instead of allowing states to make their own laws regarding the unions, couples can now have their marriages recognized by the federal government in all 50 states.

With marriage and the rights it affords — from filing joint income taxes to transferring property if one spouse dies — also comes the right to divorce. This is good news for same-sex couples who were married in one state but lived in another and were then subject to a legal gray area when it came to splitting up.

As a result, some couples are celebrating the right to marry by hiring a divorce attorney.

One couple in Dayton, OH, has split after just under five years of marriage. Ohio had previously had a statewide ban on same-sex marriage before the ruling.

In Clarksville, TN, a former town resident named Taramarie Gulledge has filed what the town believes to be the first paperwork in Tennessee to seek a divorce from her partner on Friday just before the courthouse closed.

The couples had legally married in Shelbyville, IN, last June, but because they were residents in Tennessee, where same-sex marriage was banned, they could not legally divorce.

Prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling, at least one partner would have had to move to a state that recognized same-sex marriage and establish residency. That process can take at least six months and would have greatly slowed down the divorce proceedings, whereas a heterosexual couple is automatically granted the right to divorce.

Like heterosexual couples, same-sex couples can decide they want a divorce for a number of reasons. Among straight married couples surveyed, for instance, the most common reason for a split was “lack of commitment,” cited as a major factor in 73% of all divorces.

It also allows couples to split if one partner feels unsafe. That was Gulledge’s claim when she talked to lawyers about getting a divorce.

Now Gulledge, and other Americans in same-sex unions, have the right to marry and divorce in any state. This not only saves time but also money, as couples no longer have to deal with restrictions depending on their state’s laws.

Gulledge, who lived with her wife and two-year-old in Clarksville up until May, also has the ability to argue for child custody, if necessary.

Tennessee residents, like those in many other states, still have to meet the six-month residency requirement in order to divorce, no matter whom they are married to.