A Paycheck is a Paycheck is a Paycheck, Right? Wrong!

Ok so you get a paycheck. It is delivered to you, sent by email or handed to you by your arch-nemesis (your supervisor). Or maybe you are the person handing them out. Either way, the scenario is the same. You have in your hand or inbox a document showing you what you were paid. And to some, quite mysteriously, there is money taken out of your earnings and given to the government, or whoever, and it reduces the amount that you have to shop, save, or pay bills with. It could happen to you every week, every other week or each month. And you take that money that is left over and do with it whatever you chose. So why should you care where the extra money goes? It's gone, right?

But here is the thing …. where did it go? Did it go in the right amount? How does it affect you? Your spending habits, your budget, and the way you save for the future? It's gone, right? So who cares where it went, it's not coming to you, right? WRONG!

I'm not going to be one of these people to tell you that you can not afford things, or will ring bells and make funny noises to indicate that something to do with your finances should be important to you. But I will tell you this – it's your money and you need to know where it goes and why.

Now, most of us are savvier about money than say our mothers. (Sorry Mom!) Or we think we are. I was recently working with my mother going through her financial paperwork and was surprised about the things I took for granted as common knowledge that she was not aware of. She is a smart woman, so I was a little surprised. So we might be ahead of our mother's generation in terms of being more financially independent, but ask yourself, where does the money that comes out of your paycheck go? Do you know? Do you know what all of those fancy little acronyms mean? And why should you care?

First: the paycheck. And yes, we are going to go through it line by line. But I promise it will not be torture. We'll make it quick and then talk about why you should look at this every pay period and how it affects you.

So, what should you look at when you receive your pay stub? You may not like my answer, but the answer is everything. Let me ask you a question. If you lost $ 141.63 from your wallet would you care? Would you look for that money? Be honest with yourself, would you panic? Now I am not saying that you have lost this $ 141.63 from your pay, but if you do not know what it is or where it goes, it is as good as lost.

So now for the fun! Let's go through this pay stub line by line so that you can understand what you are being paid and where those deductions end up.

The first box is Emp #. This is your employee number that is assigned through payroll. This one does not have relevance without your HR department requests you to supply this to them as a routine part of how they identify you before speaking with you about a problem or question with your pay.

The next box is Company Name. It is important for you to know what the legal name of the company you work for is if you have an issue or a problem. An example of an issue or a problem that would be affected by you knowing your company's legal name would be if you needed to apply for Worker's Compensation or Unemployment. Again, why? Because these agencies refer to the company you work for by their legal name. If you do the same you will avoid confusion when dealing with them.

The next box is Period End date. This box is important to check because it states the period for which you are being paid. You may ask yourself, who cares? The answer is -you should. Does the amount being paid agree with the period that you worked for? In our scenario we have a salaried individual but if you were being paid by the hour, how can you know that you have been paid for the hours you worked without you know what period your employer is paying those hours for?

The next box is Dept #. Even I will admit that this one is not too important unless your employer deducts things from your pay for working in a specific department. For instance, in restaurants employers may deduct an amount from your pay for uniform maintenance or you might have a deduction from your pay if a department in that restaurant is allowed to eat lunch while working and the employee deductions a flat amount for food costs.

Our next box is the mystery box! It says FW = M 01. Is it an algebraic formula? Is it something Einstein invented? No, this is actually an important box! The FW stands for Federal Withholding. The M stands for Married and the 01 is the number of dependents that is being claimed on form W4. This box drives what comes out of your pay for Federal Withholding and can determine the all important game of whether or not you receive a refund after filing your annual tax return or whatever you will have to send money into the IRS.

What is important to know about this is that the Federal Withholding taken from your pay each pay period is based on a tax table. So the way this calculates is any payroll system will look at your gross pay, the frequency you are paid (weekly, every two weeks, etc.), and what you claimed on your W4 to see how much tax to take from your check.

The tax table calculates based first on whether you are claiming the status of Single or Married and then on the number of allowances you have claimed, in our case 01. The general rule of thumb is that Single claiming 00 allowances takes the maximum tax and Married with more allowances takes less and less tax. We will get further into this in why you should care a portion of this article.

Our next box SS # xxx-xx-0123 again looks something we learned in high school algebra. It's not. It is your social security number. What do you need to know about this? You need to know that this is the way it should look on your check stub. Or it could look like: *** – ** – 0123. Or it could be all exes or all * s. What you should NEVER see on your check stub is your full social security number printed out.

Our next box is your name and address. This one is only of concern to make sure that it is correct. Sounds simple. Make sure it stays simple. Your company may have different policies of how they get information to you. Most will mail at least your W2 form directly to you at the end of each year. So make sure your information is current so that there is no disruption to you receiving important tax information. If you move, alert the appropriate person in your company as soon as possible so that they can get your salary records updated.

Under your name and address are two boxes: check # and net pay. The check number is not something that you need to look at. It is the check number assigned by your company. If you misplace a check or need to speak to someone regarding your check they can look up the information they need in their records. The net pay is the amount of pay that you will take home after taxes and payments have been taken from your pay.

Our next box is the earnings box. Stay with me here we are getting to the good stuff! This box tells you how much you are being paid before taxes and other items are deducted from your pay. In this pay stub we have a salary amount (Sal1). However, if you are paid by the hour, you will want to make sure the hours you told your employer you worked and the hours on your pay stub match. Mistakes can happen in processing payroll, they are not intentional. It is your responsibility to check your pay stub and let your employer know if there was an error in reporting your hours to the payroll company.

Other types of earnings may include commissions, bonuses, and even reimbursements for telephone usage, mileage or office supplies purchased.

The next box is labeled taxes. We are going to go through each item in this box to explain the different payroll taxes.

– FWH = Federal Withholding. Weave the example of this above when looking at the SS # box. This is your Federal Income Tax being withheld from your pay each payroll period.
– FICA = This tax is the Federal Insurance Contribution Act tax. It is taken at a flat percentage of 6.2% up to an annual earnings cap. These taxes are taken to provide a variety of benefits to qualifying workers and their families through the program known as social security.
– MEDFICA = This tax falls under the Federal Insurance Contribution Act and allows an additional 1.45% of your pay to be withheld for Medicare, which provides health insurance for qualifying disabled workers and people 65 years of age and older. There is no earnings cap with this tax.
– ST = State Withholding. Here in Pennsylvania this is a flat percentage tax. However, in many states the withholding works much like the Federal Withholding tax. It is based on what you claim on your state W4 form. Again the principle is the same, the tax table calculates based first on whether you are claiming the status of Single or Married and then on the number of allowances you have claimed, in our case 01. The general rule of thumb is that Single claiming 00 allowances takes the maximum tax and Married with more allowances takes less and less tax.
– WCHPA = This is the local tax where my company in this example is located. In Pennsylvania there are thousands of local taxes. They range from.5% to the Philadelphia wage tax that exemced 3%. The tax is based on where you are employed and not where you live. The next state close to Pennsylvania in the number of local taxes is Ohio. Many from this area would have surprised to know that many states have no local taxes.
– PA UNEM = This tax is the Pennsylvania employee share of unemployment. This tax can come and go. In times of high unemployment percentages the State deducts this tax from employees to help offset the cost of the payment of unemployment to those who do not have work. Other states have similar taxes and some also have employees contribute to disability and state paid health care.

Next is our discounts box. There are two discounts here as an example of what you could expect to see.

The first deduction is labeled MED125. Med125 refers to medical insurance premiums that are deducted from your pay and that are run through a Section 125 plan as defined by the IRS. What does this mean to you? If you have a health insurance premium deducted from your pay there are two ways to do it. One is a standard deduction that comes out of your pay after all of the taxes have been deducted. The other is through a Section 125 plan. If your company has an established 125 plan then your health insurance deduction comes out of your pay before taxes and is not subject to payroll taxes. If you are not sure what your company offers ask someone in your HR department. Using a Section 125 plan saves employees the cost of paying taxes on their health insurance contribution deductions.

The next deduction is labeled LST. This is the Local Services Tax for Pennsylvania. The local services tax is a tax that is deducted from your pay up to a maximum of $ 52.00 per year. It is collected on a pro-rata basis that is determined by the number of payroll periods established by an employer for a calendar year. This tax is used to help offset the cost of emergency services and also is used to reduce property taxes through homestead acts in certain municipalities.

Our final pay check stub box is Year to Date. Ok, we are almost done here! This is just a total of what has been paid to you and what has been deducted from your pay for the year.

So, now the all important part of this exercise. Why should you care about all of this and how does it affect you?

Well, to start this is your money. And yes it is important to know where it goes. This is really not the day and age where a woman is kept in the dark and her husband takes care of all of the financial responsibilities while the woman takes care of the house and children. Most families are made up of two working parents. For most it is a necessity to meet the rising cost of food, fuel and health insurance and it is not an option for many mothers to stay at home. It is also unfortunate that the divorce rate in our country continues to rise but it also means that women, like it or not, are almost forced to be financially savvy. So let's get started on the importance of understand how your money comes and goes through a paycheck and why you should care.

You earn an amount from your employer. You submit a time sheet or some type of data to your employer letting them know what work you have accomplished or the hours that you have worked. They take that data and process it through payroll. You then receive a net amount and it is direct deposited in your bank or you take a check to the bank and deposit it each pay day. We have established that there are taxes and deductions taken from your pay and you get what is left over. Now here is why it matters.

Unlike the popular thought that taxes and deductions are taken from your pay and there is not much you can do about it, there are portions of your pay that you can directly control to put more money in your pocket now!

We are going to reference back to those pay check boxes again and go through the portions of those taxes and allowances that you have control over. I know what you are thinking! Not the boxes again, but bear with me. There will be strategies to help you put money into your family's hands. It will be up to you to decide what strategies to use and what your comfort level will be with their affect.

So let's get started.

Ok, the first thing you should take a serious look at is your Federal Withholding. Let me ask you a question; are you one of those folks that get a huge refund when you send in your Federal tax return? If you are, you might want to think about what you are doing. By allowing the federal government the use of your money through the year you are missing opportunities. Do you have credit card debt? Is the credit card company charging you interest on your outstanding balance? Then why "loan" the IRS your earnings when you have debt to pay? Yes you get a big refund at tax time, but what if you had use of that money through the year? What would you do with it? Could you pay down debt? Invest it? If you invest this money, even in a money market account you could be earning money with these funds instead of allowing the federal government to use it and then pay it back to you later.

You have to be careful with this one. Think about your comfort level. Are you comfortable using that money through the year or do you have a need to get this all in one lump sum? If you are not a disciplined saver then that lump sum return of your money may be attractive to you. You also have to make sure that if you decide to take that money now that you check with your accountant or with an online paycheck calculator at the very least to make sure you do not reduce your Federal Withholding too much and end up owed money at the end of the year. That will certainly not help you achieve your personal financial goals, not to mention the IRS frowns upon you owed them money. Ironic, is not it?

There is another item on your paycheck that is important and can keep money in your pocket – it is your social security number. When we went through the individual boxes on our check stub I stated that you should NEVER see your entire social security number on your check stub. Instead, the number should be masked by stars or exes. Why? Because identity theft is a real threat in our society. So if your paycheck is lost in the mail, that is bad enough, but if your social security number is on it you are just asking for trouble. Check your latest check stub. If you see your social security number on your check contact your payroll administrator right away and they can have that number masked. It should be standard practice with payroll providers, but some are not paying attention to those trends that can affect the end user, namely, you.

Another item that can save you considering money is that MED125 deduction. A lot of companies have their employees pay a portion of the cost of health insurance. With the increasing cost of health premiums it has become a necessity for most companies. But how can you pay towards your health insurance save you money? Remember this health insurance deduction is taken from your pay and is not taxed.

You can not assume that if you have a health insurance deduction that it falls under a Section 125 plan. You have to ask your employer if they have this plan. If they do not you could ask them to research one. In the past it was a headache for companies to maintain a 125 plan. But now a plan that only contains health insurance premiums or a premium only plan has little administrative headache to it if your part of a company with under 99 employees.

Also, another way to save money through payroll is to ask your HR or payroll contact if your company has a Full Flex Plan as part of their 125 plan. What does this mean? A Full Flex Plan or A Flexible Spending Account as a part of a 125 plan gives you a great opportunity to save money. It allows you to have a predetermined amount withheld from your pay each year to pay for various medical needs. If you are having electrical surgery, it could be run through the Flex account at your work, so you do not pay tax on that amount. Many Flex accounts have a list of items that you could put this money toward, such as, contact solution, certain over the counter medications, and even nicotine patches are reimbursable. The thing to watch with Flexible Spending Accounts is that they are what is called "use them or lose them". So if you have $ 2000.00 deducted from your pay each year, but only submit reimbursements for $ 200.00 then you lose the $ 1800.00 you contributed. Check with your HR or payroll administrator to find out the rules to your company's Flexible Spending Account.

Another expense that you could be running through payroll using your company's Section 125 plan is Dependent Care. So if you have children that go to a day care facility during the week the amount that you pay to the day care could be run through your pay check and be deducted from you untaxed.

So to summarize this Section 125 plan, when these items are run through your paycheck on a pre-tax basis (meaning the amounts deducted from you are not taxable) you in effect save approximately an automatic 12-15% on health insurance, medical necessities , and child care. Really think about that statement. If you child's day care asked you if you wanted to save 15% on their fees, would you look into? If a pharmacy offered you savings of 15% off of all purchases would you go to there? This is like an automatic paycheck coupon to save your family money.

My final suggestion is what is missing from our check stub. There is no 401 (k) or Simple IRA deduction on our stub. These are savings for retirement accounts that are taken from your pay and are not subject to Federal Withholding. If your company offers one of these options look into it. 401 (k) plans are run according to the way your company sets them up, so the rules are not standardized. However, many companies offer what is called an employer match for discounts that you make into this type of retirement account. If your company does offer a match then this is instant earnings on your contributions. Simple IRA plans require an employer match so you are guaranteed to have an immediate return on your investment.

Consider carefully before you decide that you are not going to participate in one of these plans. If you put aside even a small amount I would venture to say that you are not going to miss that money on a pay pay basis and it will go to securing you financial freedom when you retire.

So now your paycheck should not just be a piece of paper to you. The mystery of what is taken out and why has been explained. I would challenge you to think about some of these strategies for putting money back into your pocket to see how you can save your family money through payroll. Of course, everyone's financial situation is different, so review these strategies with your financial professional before implementing them.

I would also challenge you to look at your pay stub each pay period. The more you look at it the more familiar you become with it and you will start to know what to expect. When you know what to expect then you will get a feel for what you are paid, when you are paid and how you are paid. Knowledge is one of the first steps towards becoming more financially savvy.

Zen Tea Tea Room in Bacolod City Offers Affordable Green Tea Based Beverages for the People

Zen Tea is a tea station found in various cities nationwide like in Nuciti Central Batangas in front of Robinson Supermarket. A franchise branch of Zen Tea here in Bacolod City is located at La Salle Avenue. It is part of the many business and food establishments of Main Strip Alley found near the University Courtyard and in front of the second entrance gate of University of St. Louis. La Salle Bacolod. The tea station opened on March 1, 2011 and created its Facebook page on April 13, 2011. Since then, Zen Tea has provided one of the best iced tea mixes in the city and has been given a two thumbs up by its costumers every day . Surely, a tea enthusiast in Bacolod should never miss this tea haven.

The franchise branch here in Bacolod has a small space allocation and provides only four to five tables for its customers. Neverheless, the place is usually packed with students from all age groups. Whether it be elementary, high school, or college students they all share the same sentiments about the superb taste of Zen Tea beverages. Even students from nearby schools such as St. Louis Scholastica's Academy, St. John's Institute, and San Agustin Bacolod visit the place to have a refreshing beverage after a long stressful day at school.

One of the secrets of the tea station's popularity among different age groups and different kinds of people is that it offers a wide range of green tea based beverages that suit a wide range of taste among the populace. The categories of Zen Tea available at its Bacolod Branch include Classic Milk Teas, Green Tea Iced Tea, Personalitea Mix, and Tea Creations. All of their teas are available in two sizes, Large and Extra Large. The prices vary depending on the four categories. Green Iced Tea and Personaliteas are more affordable than the other two categories. The large size beverage is worth 45 pesos and the Extra large is worth 50 pesos. Large sized classic milk tea prices range from 55-75 pesos and extra large sizes range from 60-80 pesos. Tea creation is the most expensive category where prices vary from 75-80 pesos. Add-ons such as pearl, black jello, pudding, and nata are also available with an extra charge of 10 pesos. Green Apple, Nai Cha, and Taro are among the best sellers in these categories.

With so many tea mixes to choose from, it suits whatever mood and circumstance you have for the day. A trip to this place can brighten up a bad mood or it can perk up an already elated feeling. Definitely, Zen Tea is the place to go.

Wheelchair Scale

A wheelchair scale is used to measure the weight of a person while it is located on a wheelchair. The scale weighs people who can not stand on a regular weighing scale. This scale will give the user a correct and correct reading of his weight. The wheelchair scale gives out readings in a medical beam type of measurement or in the form of a digital readout. They are frequently used in doctor's clinics, hospitals, nursing homes, retirement homes, and of course, in a patient's home.

This type of a scale is very easy to use. The person on the wheelchair is pushed up on the scale and the machine will show the weight of both, the wheelchair and the one sitting in it. Subtract the weight of the wheelchair and you can get the weight of the person.

This is a very simple weigh to measure a wheelchair user and saves him the trouble and pain of being lifted up to a regular weighing scale. It also helps to avoid any sort of injury to the staff assisting the patient. The chances of the handicapped person falling off while stepping on to the regular weighing scale is eliminated with the use of this scale. The wheelchair scale gives the reading quickly, hence saves time.

We must also mention here that people who do not use wheelchairs but have weak knees or wounded legs can use this scale conveniently. Stepping on to the regular may be uncomfortable and painful for them. There is a small ramp in the wheelchair scale, which makes it easier for people with these problems.

There are many types of wheelchair scales available at medical shops and in the online market. Majority of these scales are designed to suit standard sized wheelchairs, however, the weight capacity of each scale may be different. Some of the scales come fully assembled and poses no trouble to the buyer for installing it. A non-skid variety is available that protects the user against slips and falls.

Some of these scales are portable, have wheels on them, and can be shifted to any location. Some other portable models are foldable, which makes these models popular with doctors going for home visits to their patients.

For men and women who can not stand up quickly by themselves, this scale is the ultimate solution to all their worries and miseries. The scale provides a painless remedy to people who wish to check their weight but can not depart from their wheelchair. The fact that he can be wheeled over to the scale smoothly for a perfect reading of his weight is the major factor leading to the growing demand for this scale.

Hybrid Diamonds Or Diamond Stimulants – Which is Better?

Diamond stimulants have been around for many years. In fact, the common simulated diamonds have been available in the market today for many years now. In 1998, a more brilliant diamond was introduced. It is hard like the diamonds since it can also cut glass but still, mined diamonds are the best.

Hybrid diamonds came into the industry several years ago and since the, it has gained worldwide acceptance. The hybrid variety consist of small diamond crystals which were aligned to form one diamond. Such creation became the flawless diamond simulant and with modern technological advances, jewelry lovers craved for more. Most simulated diamonds were off-white in color while the hybrid versions can be easily created to have the same color as the mined diamonds. Aside from that, hybrid diamonds are more affordable since the production cost is quite low. The hybrid variety is FG graded, durable, good quality, and possesses almost the same color as the mined ones.

With the combination of non-precious cores and man made crystals, diamond hybrids feel and look like real diamonds. A patented process is used to manufacture diamond hybrids. The infused layer will not disconnect or peel and so the diamonds are of good quality. Throughout the FCVA-Ion Jet Beam Diamond Seeding, crystal seeds are implanted. A real diamond layer will grow inside the core. The patented process is not expensive and so the hybrids are more affordable. It would be best to purchase diamond hybrids that were cut in Israel since diamond cutters there are well known for their skills. By choosing diamond hybrids sold in quality settings, you can witness the diamond's unmatched brilliance. If you want, you can also get the colored varieties like blue, cognac, lavender, purple, gold, yellow, and pink.

So, are you going for the hybrid variety or will you choose the other diamond simulants? Simulated diamonds are bright and shiny but they are nothing compared to mined diamonds. Their specific gravity, refractive index, hardness, and weight are not even close to real diamonds. True diamonds came from carbon which was subjected to extreme pressure and suffocating heat deep down the Earth. Later on, it became diamond crystals.

Most of today's simulated diamonds came from synthetic, minerals, and glass; they are marketed in various names like white corundum, yttrium aluminum garnet, rhinestones, strontium titanate, and gadolinium gallium garnet. Fine quality simulated diamond jewelries are usually sold in attractive settings. They are sold in different price ranges under $ 100 to about $ 500 per carat. Today, many couples choose simulated diamonds for their special occasions because it is much affordable and with proper care, the jewelries can last for a long time.

Whether you go for the hybrid diamonds or the diamond simulants, you can still get great value for your money. It's now up to you to choose the design and setting of the diamond jewelries. If the simulated varieties are still expensive for you, you can always choose the hybrid diamonds. Search for the perfect diamond jewelry online or in local stores.

5 Ways To Build A Health Care Brand That Calls To Moms

In order to build a healthcare brand in this day and age, medical professionals have had to undergo a massive realignment to the way they do business. The old business model no longer works, and in order to survive the business of medicine, medicine has had to evolve with the changing times.

However, one thing that medical professionals have always had to do is make the right connection with their customer / patient. When it comes to appealing to mothers, the medical profession has been keenly aware of how important this segment of the population is to medicine. In terms of building a nursing health brand, moms are at the top of the list when it comes to building a brand that also grows. Ways to appeal to mothers include the following:

Base Your Approach with Kids in Mind – Today's family dynamic is different than in years past. Children are being given a chance to be influential in the decisions that surround their lives. A healthcare brand that keeps kids in the loop and a major focus stands a greater chance of being seen as evolved and patient-centric.

Be Mindful of Your Online Presence – The modern parent tends to be tuned in to their technology now more than ever. Any healthcare brand that wants to succeed with moms these days needs to be able to appeal to this "techie" side of things and have a solid website & social media presence. By being able to digest patient reviews, a list of services and amenities, and even make appointments online, a healthcare brand becomes accessible to the go-go mom of today in a way that was not possible just a few years ago.

Better Communication via 21st Century Means – At one point in time, a phone call with a human on the other end of the line was all we wanted in terms of customer service. Today, though, more and more moms are skewing toward engaging with their doctor in ways that are more personable while still maintaining use of the technology with which they are comfortable. Being able to send emails directly to their doctor can be appealing. Offices that send out messages regarding scheduling changes through social media (brand-specific Twitter and Facebook accounts) ties into activities that can engage the modern mom.

Better Rapport with Patients – Believe it or not, even the modern mom appreciates a good bedside manner. More often than not, medical professionals are seen as somewhat removed, rushed due to over-scheduling, and distanced from their patients with many complaining that their attending physician does not even look them in the eye during a visit. By taking the time to address scheduling issues & addressing the in-house staff on better interpersonal skills, a healthcare brand stands to win because word-of-mouth references are the gold standard of a business establishing itself in the community.

Keep It Simple – Sometimes the simplest approach is the best. Yes, a nice website & organized social media presence can be beneficial, but be sure the information you present is easy to digest. Certainly appealing to the modern parent that wants a fully online experience, but never shy away from the parent that still wanted to hear the calming effect of a human voice on the line. It can be easy to create a healthcare brand that is shiny and technologically fitted for the foreseeable future, but medicine is about people.

In the end, a successful healthcare brand is one that appeals to more than just moms; it appeals to the community at large. Success includes an evolved view at how society has changed while always maintaining a foothold on the purpose of medicine – to heal.

How to Wallpaper Over a Brick or Cement Block Wall

The problems of concealing grouting and rough surfaces are easily overcome. Lining paper, if properly applied, will stretch over and hide the rough patches and the effect can be completed by using a heavy or embossed wallpaper.

This technique also applies to walls built of cement blocks. If you are building with brick or cement block and know that you want to wallpaper certain walls, ask your builders to apply the mortar so that you have a nice flat surface, rather than raking out the joints. With existing walls, the secret is in preparing the raw surface.

These are the tools you’ll need:-

A long table or bench, a trough, sponge or foam paste applicator, scissors, soft brush for smoothing wallpaper on to wall, a ruler, plumb line, razor for cutting.

A paint sealer is applied to dry any moisture from the wall, then a latex based wallpaper liquid size. A well soaked pre-pasted wallpaper lining will be just sufficient to soften the size and bond the lining firmly to the wall so that when wallpaper is pasted over, it won’t weaken in any way.

The same principle can even be applied if you are papering over rough-caste walls (walls that have been plastered and raked or scrolled upon when wet). If your brick wall has an extremely rough and raised surface it will have to be plastered over prior to wall-papering.

Here is how it’s done:-

1. Prior to start working on an absorbent raw wall, you’re first step is to seal and size the wall. Coat it with a paint sealer and leave to dry overnight. Next apply a latex based wallpaper liquid size; this is especially good on absorbent surfaces. This takes about an hour to dry. If time is short you can apply two coats leaving an hour between coats, instead of the over- night sealer.

2. Apply pre-pasted lining paper. Soak it in a trough to soften and roll out to arm’s length. Fold over and back half-way, forming pleats to the end of the roll.

3. Holding the top piece of paper in one hand, and pleats in the other, stretch the first pleat along the wall and flatten out with sponge. Stretch next fold and flatten and so on to the end of the roll.

4. To paper around a corner, leave 25 mm (one inch) overlap and “butt” the adjacent strip of paper on to it.

5. Repeat soaking and folding procedure and bring next roll of paper lining overlapping approximately 6 mm (quarter of an inch) onto the first. By having paper on paper you will prevent the joins from edging into the grooves between bricks.

6. Leave lining paper to dry overnight. As it does so it will tighten and stretch out over grooves and rough patches on the wall surface.

7. Before applying wallpaper, coat again with the latex based wallpaper liquid size as added insurance that the lining paper has sealed properly and tightened on to the wall

8. The type of wallpaper used is important. It should be embossed or a heavy natural weave to ensure that the imprint of the design is not lost when pasted on.

9. Hang your selected wallpaper vertically in the normal way.

Sit back and admire your masterpiece.

The Benefits of Limestone Fireplaces in Your Home and Work

Limestone fireplaces are a popular option for your home or work, when you have decided to build a fireplace. They not only can help on your heating bills when properly built, but the majestic looks of a large fireplace made of limestone is a focal point of any room, no matter where it is located. There are many design schemes that can be totally transformed with the addition of limestone fireplaces. Whether you are considering Modern, Victorian, Georgian or Edwardian period decors, the addition of a fireplace made from limestone is the perfect way to complete the decorating scheme.

The artistic craftsmanship that goes into custom carved limestone is a factor you might want to consider when choosing the materials for your fireplace. While there are those that like the elegant and luxurious appeal of marble fireplaces and there are those that like a brick fireplace because they are a more colonial design element, the possibilities that are available with a fireplace made from limestone can be endless. You can get the traditional look of natural stones or you can get slabs of limestone that resemble marble and have interesting grains that flow throughout the stone pieces.

For those that want a fireplace surround made of limestone, it is interesting to know that many pieces of limestone can replicate the finest granite marble, but they are much cheaper. When making a fireplace surround of limestone marble, the cuts are made in minimum pieces to make sure that the grain of the stone flows properly throughout the fireplace, which gives it a marbleized appearance. Because the price is much more affordable than other stone or fireplaces, it is a popular choice that is perfect for your home or office. In fact, there are many cases where the price of basic limestone fireplaces can be almost half the price of other materials, which is why they are one of the most popular fireplaces, whether they are a wood-burning fireplace, gas fireplace or an electric fireplace.

There are those that like the appearance of limestone in the cut stone facades that look more rustic, yet have a majestic air about them because of the sheer monumental qualities of the cut stones. Because there are craftsmen that will carefully carve the stones to have the beveled edges that some limestone might display, there are a number of things that make fireplaces made from these stones a unique choice. The price savings benefit can be complimented by the character of the stone and the design element that it adds to the decor of the room. Because limestone is affordable and versatile, it is able to fit easily into many fireplace design schemes.

When you are contemplating a fireplace for your home, it is helpful to know that you can expect to recoup almost all of your investment in a fireplace and maybe more. Because a fireplace of limestone has universal appeal, it is a design element that adds prestige and comfort to your office and can add value to your home. If you are selling your home, it can add buyer appeal that enhances the marketability of your home, as well.

How to Care For Life Jackets

Wearing a Coast Guard approved life jacket is one of the best safety moves you can make for yourself and your loved ones when you are on or near water. Knowing that your life protection gear has been properly maintained and cared for will greatly enhance your feeling of security.

A life jacket that has not been properly cleaned and stored between uses, and especially between seasons, can lose its buoyancy. A flotation jacket with less than optimal buoyancy will not float as high in the water and will not support the amount of weight it was initially designed for. Following these seven simple guidelines will insure that your life preservers will be in the best possible condition to save a life in a water emergency.

1. Inspect for rips, tears, mold, mildew and worn areas. Discard any life vest that is not in good condition. When under stress what may appear to be a slight tear or worn area can give way, putting the wearer's life at risk. If you are discarding worn out flotation devices, cut them up so that no one else may be tempted to use an unsafe item.

2. Rinse your life jackets at the end of the day. Salt and sea spray left on a flotation device will attract moisture, which in turn attracts mildew and rot. Removing salt will help keep them dry in storage. Even life preservers that have been worn only in fresh water, or have not been in the water at all, will collect salt from your skin. Rinse them well when you are done wearing them for the day.

3. If a vest needs more than a quick rinse, use a mild detergent to wash it down, and then rinse thoroughly. Never use strong cleaning products and never dry clean a life jacket. These chemicals can weaken the fabric and reduce buoyancy.

4. Air dry all flotation gear thoroughly before storing them away. Never dry them in direct sunlight or in front of a radiator, stove, or other source of direct heat. Excessive heat can weak or destroy the outer fabric and break down the inner flotation material.

5. When clean and dry, store your life jackets in a cool, dry, well-ventilated place. Many people store their flotation devices in cubbies or storage cupboards aboard their boats. During the boating season these storage areas work well if they are dry and well-ventilated. During the "off-season," all life preservers should have been removed and stored on shore away from moisture.

6. Never place heavy objects on top of a life jacket. Unrelieved pressure on a flotation device can compress the air pockets in the flotation material. Avoid using them as boat bumpers, seat cushions or pillows, as well.

7. Be prepared to immediately replace any child's life vest that has grown too small. Your child will be reluctant to wear a life jacket that is too tight or has grown uncomfortable. A too-small flotation device will not properly support excess weight in the water. A life vest that is not worn, or that does not float high enough in the water, is a life vest that can not properly do it's life-saving job.

Follow these seven simple guidelines to caring for your life jackets and other flotation devices and they will give you many years of service and peace of mind in, on, and near the water.

Brick Paver Patio Maintenance Tips

Brick paver walks and patios are becoming more and more popular each year. Our customers like the appearance, texture and charm of the many styles and colors offered in brick.

As with almost everything, brick pavers do require some maintenance to stay looking nice. Each year we suggest our customers sand the joints in their brick. Sanding the joints will help prevent erosion between bricks. Erosion between joints exposures the compacted base material and can lead to settling. Without sufficient joint sand, they can and will settle over time. The expansion of ice and snow as it freezes during a Michigan winter is enough to cause movement in brick pavers. Remember, moisture and water can be detrimental to a brick paver walk or patio. If you keep the joints surely sanded you can help prevent brick movement and settling.

If settling does occur in your brick pavers – do not get overly concerned. They are designed to be reset and re-leveled as necessary. This is why bricks were so popular in road building years ago. If you do not want to tackle a project like re-leveling, we suggest you get serviced by a professional.

There are a few different types of brick sand on the market. Standard sweep sand is the most popular. All you need to do is pour the dry sand over your pavers and sweep it in place. If you are going to seal the brick, be sure to sweep any remaining sand off the brick faces.

Another sand that was very popular for a few years is called polysand or polymeric sand. Polysand has a binding agent (polymer) in it that helps keep it in place and offers resistance to moisture. As a quality control manager for a landscaping company, polysand can be a great product if it is properly installed. If improperly installed, it can leave a haze or film on the pavers. Polysanded bricks must be gently flooded with water to thoroughly hydrate the joints and to rinse the fine powder off of the brick faces. It is very important to remove any hazing before the brick is sealed.

Brick paver sealer or joint stabilizing brick sealer is highly recommended on all brick paver applications. A quality brick sealer will protect the brick from weathering and help retain its color longer. Brick sealer comes in gloss and matte finishes. Joint stabilizing sealer will seal and protect the brick while hardening standard sweep sand between the joints, locking the bricks in place.

Hamsters Will Rule the World

Is the end nigh? How will the world end? Are we all doomed? Ever since the dawn of time, we have been fascinated by the end of the world. Giant flaming meteorites seems to be the most common theory, but i think the answer lies where we do not expect. I think it lies with hamsters. Yes, those cute little fluff balls that some of us keep as pets. Sniffling away, going 'eek'. Or are they?

When you are sleep, the hamsters head under the earths surface, into a giant lair. Full of them, debating the end of the world. Or rather, how they will ever take over the world. You see, I have a strong belief that they are engineering a super-hamster in the dark depths of the earths crust. Building super-hamsters that will one day crush us, and conquer the world.

Of course, people are not going to be scared of these little creatures, trying to nibble off their small toe. They are clearer than you think. These super hamsters are in actual fact over 10 feet high, with huge sharp teeth, a viscous streak that dwarfs the killer rabbit from the holy grail, and a really mean attitude that even a super hamster can not get elected of the united states.

Lock down the hatches, secure the windows, bolt the doors, the hamsters are going to get us soon.

You see, when the time is right, these super hamsters will rise up out of the ground, laser eyes vaporizing people, giant knife like claws tearing up cars and buildings. Once everyone has turned into classic horrific b-movie victims, its then the real terror will begin. The rest of the hamster army will scurry from their lairs, forcing the human population into the oceans, where the cycle of evolution will begin again. The hamsters shall rule the earth.

Demolition and Site Clearance: The Importance of Planning for an Efficient Site Clearance Project

A site clearance project involves the machinery removal from a cleared site and the leveling and preparation of land for building or landscaping. Some materials such as the soil, stones and bricks can be recycled and reused in the new construction on the site. Others that can not be reused such as vegetation are removed from site.

So Why Is Site Clearance Planning Important?

1. Proper site clearance planning will ensure that the safety of workers and other people in and around the site is assured. Exit routes and the supervision processes need to be made well in advance. An expert and his foreman should supervise the machinery removal process at all times.

2. During site clearance planning, the nature of debris and the abundance and nature of contamination is established. Importance of the targeted site to the surrounding community will determine the level of safety precautionary measures to be instituted before the project is undertaken and also the decontamination that will take place in order to secure the residents that everything is safe and the site is ready for development .

3. The time to be taken for site clearance can be estimated and this is important when applying for clearance from the local community. Clearance is important especially if the project is going to render some public roads impassable or may interfere with some utilities like clean water supply, electricity supply and sewerage disposal. The surrounding community is generally more accommodating when the project is estimated to take a shorter time.

4. Ensures restoration of the area amenities like water and electricity are managed effectively.

5. It is essential for safe machinery removal and specialized handling of any waste that is contaminated. Showing competency in your ability to properly dispose of waste and decontamination procedures will assure the public and holders of the usability of the land reclaimed.

6. Planning also enables you to take into account any legal procedures required in the disposition of debris. If the legal requirements are ignored or are unknown or are not followed, the whole project may end up being delayed and even stopped. When the debris disposal plan has been made, it will be approved by the required authorities.

7. By planning site clearance, you establish the amount of work involved so that you can organize what needs to be done first. The site clearance is then undertaken in phrases where where one section of the site is cleared the debris is cleared to another location where further sorting of the debris is established to establish what is usable and what is to be disposed.

8. All equipment and machines for machinery removal of debris to be used in the project is established; land reclamation machinery and vehicles to be used in debris relocation is identified and put on the ready to minimizeize undue delays. Debris should be quickly removed from the site so as not to endanger the workers or any other persons on the site.

9. The costs involved in the project can be estimated with proper planning. This is essential for quotation purposes where a site clearance contractor will be able to determine how much to charge the client. Costs are established by looking at the nature of debris, amount of labor required, type of machinery to be used and estimated time the project will take as well as general difficulty of the job.

Post And Beam Home Plans – Shear and Shear Failure

Shear failure with post and beam home plans is much more difficult to envision than bending failure. In fact, with light frame construction, shear failure seldom comes into play, whereas it is an important consideration for heavy timber framing, particularly with a very heavy load such as an earth roof or a steam train.

One good way of explaining shear is to think of it as a combination of compression and tension stresses. Remember that the top surface of a beam is in compression, the bottom surface is in tension, and the centroid (middle part of the beam) is neutral (so also called the neutral axis.)

Some authors, without explaining the relationship between shear and tension and
compression stresses, describe shear as the tension for all of the wood fibers of the beam to "shear off," particularly at the edge of the post or wall support. While not complete, the analogy is true enough for our purposes, and may be easier to
understand than lots of stress analysis.

However – and this is the strange and interesting part – the structure at the top is actually stronger on shear. The effect of the sliding feature of the wood fibers over the neutral axis is increased, because the compression stresses on the top surfaces of the two spans are causing a tremendous tensile stress at the top of the rafter directly above the girder.

Think of it: If the two spans in the post and beam home plans are each trying to pull away from each other, because of the load on each span, those wood fibers at the top of the rafter (over the center) are working really hard not to break on tension.

All of this translates to lower shear strength at this location. In the top picture, shear stresses over the supports are clearly the same at all four shear locations, expressed by the fractions l / 2 in each case. But, in the bottom picture, the shear stresses are expressed as% at the walls at the right and left but increase to Ys where the long rafter is supported by the girder in the middle.

The upshot is that shear strength is gained by using two ten-footers instead of a single zo-footer supported in the middle. It is also true, as we have said, that bending strength is slightly diminished in the former example, and deflection is increased – but if the weak point in the engineering happens to be in shear, the former example may be better.

This situation may work in our favor, when you consider that two ten-footers are much easier
to handle – and certainly less expensive – than a single twenty-footer.

Deflection

Deflection is similar to bending … But different. Bending concerns us most when it translates into bending failure, which is a bad thing. With deflection, we can tolerate certain amounts of it in certain circumstances. Springiness – or stiffness – in a floor is a characteristic of deflection. When dealing with post and beam home plans know that cracking plaster on a ceiling, or separation of covered sheetrock joints, is an indication of excessive deflection.

Curtains – Choosing the Right Color Scheme

Curtains, Blinds & Other Soft Furnishings

Help Choosing the Right Curtains for Your Property

When you see other people's homes and think that their choices of curtains and blinds look good it's important that you take into consideration the style of their room, compared to your own.

Design Fashion Magazines should be used as a guide for inspiration for your curtains and blinds and not to imitate, as often if we imitate we only take one element from the magazine image and this single imitation alone will result in disappointing results as the rest of your room, your natural light and your existing furniture will have been overlooked.

Its common to see fabrics for curtains, blinds and other soft furnishings and choose them because they are what we want and love – then the entire décor of the room has to be changed so that we can use it.

It is important to look at the space that we have to work with and consider the following factors:

• The age of the house
• The style of the decoration in the surrounding rooms, does this room flow into others, will the curtains be seen from other spaces?
• Who will be using the space? If children are around white fabrics for your curtains will probably not be advisable
• What type of furniture and upholstery, bedding, flooring etc.

It is easy to see why we often lack the confidence to make a decision

A Recent Question from One of My Clients, Prior To My Visit

Here is a recent question asked by a client before we met at her home, she wanted to have a vision before we arrived to ensure that her selection of fabric was easy once I had shown her our samples.

This is what she said

We have a single color, textured wool carpet throughout the whole house, which is a kind of taupe color. mahogany .We have various white ceramic lamps with taupe lampshades.

We need curtains for the living room and this space can be viewed from most other areas except the bedrooms and bathrooms. What fabrics do we select and what style of curtain? "

This is the advice I have given her to our meeting

I immediately think of texture, one color, no pattern, even though we could get away with using a pattern it would turn the curtains into the main focal point and that is not required; we are looking for a harmonious color and textured curtain to blend into the rest of the décor.

My choice would be to:
• Black wrought iron rods with simple ball ends
• Two-Tone, tab top curtains. Taupe for the tabs and heading and the rest of the fabric white linen, lined to add depth and weight.
• No holds or tie backs as the room is plain and symmetrical therefore to allow the curtains to fall naturally would continue the geometrics of the room.

Using the two tone effects, the tabs and heading in taupe and the white heavy linen for the main body of the curtains, we are bringing in the existing colors of the room together in a natural way and are not detracting from the overall look.

When selecting colors remember this golden rule

A safe way to select a fabric for your curtains, if you have a single colored room, is to take a tone either side of that color. You can not go wrong. Then you can add more excitation into the room with cushions, throws, rugs etc.

Also remember that the darker the color of the fabric the more sunlight it joins, speeding up the fading process.

Patterns can be fun with curtains!

So do not be afraid of selecting a pattern for your curtains

A child's room can tolerate pattern more than an adults room, adults often use a space to unwind so this needs to be taken into consideration when selecting a pattern, too much swirl, color and busyness in an adults bedroom can often detract you from unwinding.

So when you look at pattern take notice of how you feel. If you feel calm and relaxed for example, then this would be a good fabric for your bedroom curtains, if you feel uplifted and energized then this would be good in a work space.

A general rule for pattern is to not let it overwhelm the space. Your curtains can be a focal point of a room but ensure that there is a balance.

With all this said, selecting fabrics may seem a little overwhelming so that's why we are here …..

Cotton Vs Synthetic Towels – Which is Better?

There are a lot of opinions surrounding the relative merits of cotton vs. synthetic towels. Both of them are really fine to use. And whether toweling off after a swim during your stay at a hotel or after a bath at home, it really all boils down to personal preference. Since both have their own pros and cons, you might find that one is better suited to your tastes than the other. Your choice is just that – your choice – no better or worse than what other people prefer. But there are differences.

Recently, the use of cotton towels by many hotels and health spas has declined. This is probably because synthetic towels are generally less expensive and dry faster than 100% cotton. Generally, cotton towels are very good at absorbing moisture. This is the reason why bathrobes are most often made of real cotton. They are able to absorb the water from your body in no time at all so you can avoid feeling cold when you step out of the pool or jacuzzi.

However, this strength of cotton towels is also its weakness. Although cotton towels are very good at absorbing moisture, it also takes a lot of time before they dry out. This means that they are pretty much useless once they are soaked with water. Even if you wring them out completely, you still will not be able to rid them of moisture to make them usable again in the short term. This is why you'll find that swimmers often use some cotton towels when they are training. It gives the used towels a chance to dry up completely.

Synthetic towels, on the other hand, are free from this particular flaw of cotton towels. When absorption ability is the main issue, there is no doubt that that cotton towels will win hands down. However, synthetic towels are able to get rid of absorbed water completely even with a simple wringing. It's reliably easy to remove the moisture completely and you do not have to use so many towels. A synthetic towel is reusable in this way, and relieves you off the burden of having a pile of towels to wash frequently all at once. You can use them for longer periods of time between laundry.

The other disadvantage of using cotton is that the cotton towels are softer and often less durable than synthetics. After you have used them several times, surviving the wash becomes more of a challenge and they tend to get threadbare quicker. Unlike synthetic towels that are able to go through many more washings and stay intact, cotton towels are more prone to damage with regular use. Synthetic towels are also good for use in more demanding jobs like spills. However, when absorption quality is concerned, cotton towels are still better.

The common wisdom says that cotton is more luxurious than synthetic. But since both of them have their pros and cons, you can just choose the one you think is best suited for your taste or particular use, although many people purchase towels as an afterthought and cost and / or impulse become the overriding purchasing factor.

Win Your Next Property Tax Appeal in Texas – 10 Basic Steps

First – Learn the Facts

You are most likely to succeed with your property tax appeal if you find factual errors in your property tax record, also known as an “appraisal card”. Mistakes in real estate appraisals, such as errors about the age of improvements or incorrect square footage measurements are not uncommon.

After you file a Notice of Protest, the appraisal district will schedule an informal conference with one of their staff appraisers. Bring any proof for your case to the appointment in the form of photos or other documentation supporting your claims. The appraisal district will need to keep your evidence for their file, so remember to bring extra copies.

Understand How Your Home Has Been Appraised

Harris County Appraisal District [HCAD] has over a million single-family residential properties to appraise. Montgomery Central Appraisal District [MCAD] has responsibility for valuing about 250,000 homes. The daunting reality is that there are not enough well-trained staff appraisers to go around.

In the real world, appraisal district employees sometimes are not able to inspect much beyond new construction or additions. Even when properties are inspected, the examination may be hardly more than a drive-by. It is more common now for appraisal districts to rely on aerial pictometry for various aspects of property inspection. The level of technological resources now available to most appraisal districts is impressive.

Given the overwhelming number of properties that must be re-valued, these appraisal districts are dependent on computer mass appraisal models. The mass appraisal models that counties use are inevitably imperfect, although some are better than others. Your quest will be to determine the ways and the degree to which your property and your neighborhood have not altogether fit the model.

You may ask a real estate agent to help you find some comparable homes and their actual sales prices. Most good agents don’t mind helping you, because you may work with them later. Remember you want to be able to prove that your house is in a lesser condition than the comparable sales. Try to compare your home to the best ones in your neighborhood. If you can find information on better homes that sold below your assessed value during the prior year, you may have the grounds for a reduction.

Research the Value of Your Neighbors’ Homes

The easiest way for most homeowners to develop an appeal is to use the sales comparison approach to market value in their appeal, however the sales do not always favor your case. Another angle you can try is to determine if your home has been appraised in a “uniform & equal” manner to other similar properties in the same neighborhood.

Check if the appraisal district’s value of your house is at, or below, the median of the tax appraisal value of other homes in your neighborhood. Texas appraisal districts will have this information available online through their websites.

Obtain the Appraisal District’s Evidence

Along with your “Notice of Protest”, submit a request in writing for all the evidence the appraisal district used to value your home and intends to present at an Appraisal Review Board [ARB] hearing. It is also referred to as the House Bill 201 [HB 201] packet. Review this information to ascertain how the appraisal district determined the value of your home. You may find that this uncovers shortcomings the appraisal district’s case.

Don’t Lose Hope – You Have a Few Chances to Get It Right

If you are unable to settle your case one-on-one with a staff appraiser in an informal conference, the next level of administrative appeal is a formal Appraisal Review Board [ARB] hearing. Montgomery Central Appraisal District [MCAD] will have your formal hearing the same day. They immediately escort you down the hall and show you to the waiting area to present your case. Harris County Appraisal District [HCAD] will reschedule you to return to their office on another day to have a formal hearing. You will almost always wait two weeks.

The ARB hearing will be like a minor courtroom setting in which you make the presentation of your case. An experienced senior appraiser will represent the case on behalf of the appraisal district. A panel of at least three, supposedly impartial, appraisal review board members will hear the case and render a final decision. Important Warning: The ARB has the authority to actually RAISE your property value, so consider this risk. Also, do not forget to bring extra copies of all your evidence ( five altogether ) for the appraisal district and the ARB panel.

If your formal ARB hearing does not have a satisfactory outcome, you may still have two additional options available. For residential properties valued below $1-million, you can file an application for binding arbitration through the office of the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts. There are fees of $250 or $500, depending on the level of involvement of your case. The other option is to file a law suit in district court against the appraisal district. As both of these procedures are time consuming and costly, you will need to decide if they are practical in your case.

Get Started – 10 Action Steps

1. Get a copy of your property tax record, or “appraisal card”. Texas appraisal districts will have this information online through their websites. If you cannot find it, call the appraisal district office for assistance.

2. Review the appraisal record for errors in your favor.

3. Find out if you are eligible for any special exemptions and apply for them. Examples are the Texas general homestead, over 65, disabled, or veterans exemptions.

4. File a “Notice of Protest” before the statutory deadline. This is usually May 31st or within 30 days of sending your “Notice of Appraised Value”.

5. Study the appraisal district’s evidence, the HB 201 packet.

6. Try to get help from a real estate agent to identify the details about good comparable sales (… and remember who helped you whenever you have a real estate transaction that pays ).

7. Take photos of your home and the other properties you are using for comparison. If you do not have a good camera, borrow one; or ask a friend to help you.

8. Make detailed written notes about precisely what you think should be the right value and the reasons for the reduction. Prepare your presentation and be able to show the proof to support your claim. This needs to consist of factual evidence such as dated photos, documentation of recent sales, and neighbors’ appraisal values.

9. Be kind and respectful to the other appraisal district staff and ARB members. Never forget they are also human and have feelings, like you. Remember the time tested expression, “You can catch more with honey than with vinegar.”

10. If you think it stands in your best interest, appeal your case to a formal ARB hearing. This may be a roll of the dice though. Depending on the make-up of the panel and their state of mind on the particular day of your hearing, your ordeal could be more favorable or it could become even worse.

If all this seems like a good deal of effort, there is yet another way to help ensure you get the best possible outcome. You can have a property tax consultant prepare and present your case, providing professional representation for you at appraisal district hearings. You can get the benefits of this service on a contingency basis, so it will cost you nothing unless you actually save money — that you would have paid in taxes.