Expert Advice for Surviving Severe Weather

Brandpoint  |  2016-02-03

When power is lost to your home, a standby generator automatically turns on and can power critical systems and appliances, including lights, HVAC, refrigerators, sump pumps and even delicate electronics.

Are you prepared for harsh winter weather?

(BPT) - It’s out there - that next bout of severe weather is on its way. No matter where you live in the United States, the potential for severe weather always exists and sometimes it comes without much warning.

“None of us really knows what the weather holds,” says LT. General Russel L. Honore, U.S. Army (Ret). “That’s why it’s important to be prepared for any eventuality. You have to be able to be your own first responder if the situation calls for it.”

There are few who understand the power of severe weather and natural disasters better than Honore. The commander of Joint Task Force Katrina, Honore is now a nationally recognized emergency preparedness expert. Each day he dedicates himself to helping Americans prepare for serve weather or natural disasters in order to create a “Culture of Preparedness,” and help people be self-sufficient in instances of disaster.

Why you should be prepared

When Hurricane Katrina struck, 2.6 million people lost power, many for nearly a month. Today’s hurricanes, as well as winter ice storms and blizzards can also cause extended outages that can leave the unprepared equally trapped and powerless in their home.

Honore says it’s essential all families develop an emergency plan. This plan should include a safe place in your home where you can find shelter and a safe location if you are away from home or you are forced to evacuate. Each family member should also have a cell phone so they can communicate with each other and every home should contain an emergency kit. The kit should include a weather radio, flashlight(s), batteries, first aid kit, money, medications, heavy clothes and five days of non-perishable food and water.

The importance of power

“The number one issue you face in an emergency situation is access to reliable power,” Honore says. “When you lose power, it sets our society back at least 100 years."

In today’s world, many of the things people need to survive are tied to power. A loss of power cuts off communication, makes it difficult to attain food and water, creates sanitation issues and hinders temperature controls such as heating and air conditioning.

“Because power is so important, I recommend homeowners invest in a dependable standby generator,” Honore says.

Unlike portable generators, a standby generator automatically turns on when power is lost. A standby generator, which is permanently connected to your house like a central air conditioning unit, has the ability to power everything in your home including your heat and air conditioning systems, refrigerator, lights, computers, television and other technologies. Each of these modern-day necessities are indispensable during an emergency. And best of all, because the standby generator connects to your home’s existing fuel lines, you’ll never need to worry about refueling it to keep the power up and running.

“I’ve personally been through this process,” Honore says. “I have a Kohler standby generator connected to my home and I recommend everyone make having an automatic backup power supply part of their emergency preparedness plan.”

Next steps

To learn more about automatic standby generators, visit KohlerGenerators.com. You’ll have the chance to watch informative videos explaining standby power and how it works. Start your research today so when the next big storm arrives, you’ll be ready.

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Why Bad Science Isn't Good for Anyone

Brandpoint  |  2016-02-03

(BPT) - There is an old adage that the squeaking wheel gets the most oil. If you need proof that adage still rings true, consider where we are with food science research. Much of the time, the loudest are heard, regardless of qualifications, while the more informed and experienced are silenced.

For instance, a particular celebrity used her visibility to help lead a movement of parents denying their children the proper vaccinations needed to keep them safe and healthy, resulting in a media frenzy. Scarily enough, a measles outbreak occurred at Disneyland last year, a disease that had effectively been eliminated because of vaccinations, but has seen a rising number of outbreaks in recent years.

Similarly, a well-known food blogger, along with her online following, petitioned that Subway remove azodicarbonamide from its bread. Azodicarbonamide, or the "yoga mat chemical" as was the misnomer in the media, has been scientifically proven safe in foods at the very low levels at which it's used. Regardless of the facts, thanks to the blogger's online footprint, an Internet search of the ingredient results in two takeaways: it's used in yoga mats and it might not be safe.

So why don't popular headlines support the science? In traditional media, you can attribute part of it to the current dearth of publications with actual science writers. In social media, where there is almost no commitment to objectivity, the average food blogger has come to realize that when it comes to food, we like nothing more than a good scare. This ought to change, but you probably can't count on it.

You need only look to carrageenan as a prime example of flawed science accepted as gospel. Naturally derived from red seaweed, carrageenan is used to stabilize many of the foods and drinks we consume every day, such as dairy beverages and desserts. There have been numerous studies performed that meet every scientific standard, all of which prove carrageenan's safety. However, in today's fearful environment, flawed studies that connect carrageenan to inflammation and diabetes are cited by everyone from your favorite aunt to traditional media.

In some of these studies, carrageenan was tested on faulty cells that had considerable defects, a fact that was confirmed by the company who provided those cells. This supplier notified all affected parties of the mistake, yet neither scientists nor peer-reviewed journals that published these studies have yet to make any public clarification regarding this fundamental research flaw.

Instead, we'll continue to see these studies cited as legitimate. And we'll continue to see studies cited that have experimented with the wrong material, or studies that inject carrageenan into the foot of an animal (rather than combining it with food), and other methodology sins.

Bad science is not good for anyone. Those charged with informing us about the food sciences - either scientists themselves or the science media - are finding some audiences are now so skeptical of legitimate food science that they can only be filled with despair.

The next time you see a new version of the food pyramid displayed, you might wonder why fear isn't identified prominently as part of the modern diet.

To learn about the proven science behind our food not found in the headlines, read Myra Weiner's research paper in the peer-reviewed journal, Food and Chemical Toxicology.

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Tips for Going Green, Saving Green, With Greywater Recycling

Brandpoint  |  2016-02-03

(BPT) - Water conservation isn’t just for Californians and others who live in dry climates. Although the Golden State’s water woes grabbed headlines last summer, it’s not the only state potentially facing water shortages. Nor is it the only one where conservation-minded homeowners are turning to greywater recycling to reduce water bills and preserve the environment.

Greywater - also called gray water - is all the water that goes down the drain from bathroom sinks, showers, tubs and washing machines. While you wouldn’t want to drink it because it contains traces of dirt, hair and household cleaning products, greywater is safe to use for outdoor irrigation. By rerouting greywater outdoors, you can keep your lawn green and your vegetables growing without increasing your water bill.

“We’re seeing increasing demand for products that facilitate greywater recycling,” says Chris Peterson with Saniflo. The company specializes in above-floor plumbing, including greywater pumping systems and macerating toilet systems for residential and light-commercial applications. “Homeowners are realizing that recycling greywater is an effective way to lower their water bills, meet outdoor water needs and do something good for the environment.”

What’s more, municipalities and counties in California are blazing trails by rewarding homeowners and businesses that recycle greywater. Many are offering rebates for property owners who use greywater systems to irrigate their landscapes.

While California’s drought conditions have been prolonged and extreme, the state is not alone in being concerned about water consumption. A 2014 study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found 40 out of 50 state water managers expect shortages in at least part of their states within the next 10 years. States have begun taking a number of steps to improve how they manage water, the GAO said, including enacting conservation measures and creating drought preparedness plans.

“Homeowners who begin recycling greywater now could be well ahead of the curve if and when their states begin requiring water conservation measures,” Peterson says. “Meanwhile, they’ll decrease their water and sewer costs by irrigating with recycled water, rather than fresh.”

Greywater recycling systems can be installed in homes under construction or existing homes undergoing renovation. In fact, says Peterson, many Saniflo customers who add greywater systems to their homes do so as part of a kitchen or bathroom renovation. “The compact size of our Saniswift pump makes it easy to tuck away inside a cabinet for a kitchen or bathroom sink, a clothes or dishwasher, shower, laundry or bar sink. Like all Saniflo products, you don’t have to open the floor or break concrete to plumb the Saniswift, so it can go virtually anywhere.”

If you’re interested in greywater recycling for your home, Peterson offers some basic information:

  • Although some areas may allow you to recycle water from kitchen sinks, greywater is typically considered the water that comes from showers, bathroom sinks, dishwashers and clothes washers. Water from toilets is not greywater.

  • Experts estimate about 40 to 50 percent of the waste water generated by the typical American home qualifies as greywater and could be recycled.

  • Not all greywater is the same. The water from bathtubs, showers and bathroom sinks is relatively cleaner than the water from kitchen sinks, clothes washers and dishwashers, which may contain food scraps and cleaning products. It’s important to choose a greywater filter and pump system that’s made to handle the type of greywater produced by the utility you’re connecting it to.

  • In addition to lowering your water and sewer bill when you install a greywater recycling system, you may be eligible for a rebate. Check with your local water utility to see if it offers a rebate in your area.

For more information about water recycling, including greywater recycling, visit the EPA’s water recycling web page. To learn more about greywater pumping systems for the home, including kitchens, laundry rooms and bathrooms, visit www.saniflo.com.

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7 High-Tech Reasons You Should Finally Deal with Your Hearing Loss

Brandpoint  |  2016-02-03

(BPT) - Lifting your mood, boosting your energy, protecting your earnings, super-charging your social life - and even keeping your mind sharp: These are just some of the many spoils that come with facing and dealing with a noise-induced hearing loss that has been slowly but persistently creeping up on you.

The quality-of-life and feel-good benefits of treating even just mild hearing loss brought on by years of loud music, power tools, high-volume headphones, motor-sport engines, crowded night clubs and bars, noisy restaurants, and raucous sporting events are plenty. But in this digital age of smart phones and wearable technologies, the draw for many solution-minded consumers may be in the technology itself. Super-smart, super-sleek, super-convenient, and super-sophisticated - today’s hearing aids give you a multitude of reasons to address that hearing loss you’ve been trying so hard to ignore.

Consider these inspiring facts about today’s highly functional, high-powered hearing aids. They just may get you to finally do something about your hearing loss and make your life easier.

1. They’re cool, sleek, discreet and virtually invisible. New technologies are all about function, style, and effortless living. The latest hearing aids offer all three. The designs are incredibly attractive with smooth, modern contours. And they’re much smaller than even conventional Bluetooth earpieces. Many of the latest hearing aids are so tiny, they sit discreetly and comfortably inside the ear canal, out of sight. You might say that aesthetically, hearing aids have had a complete makeover.

2. They cut out background noise so you hear what you want to hear. Even with the best of hearing, it’s tough to hear people when it’s noisy. But many state-of-the-art hearing aids not only reduce unwanted noise, they also scan the listening environment and automatically adapt to it - even in wind. There are hearing aids that can actually “geo-tag” a location. So if it’s convenient for you to network at a certain coffee shop, your hearing aids will know when you’re there and adjust themselves accordingly. For the record, it’s not by chance that the latest state-of-the-art hearing aids are so adaptable to changing noise scenarios. Recordings of virtually every imaginable listening situation have been used to create algorithms and “train” these amazing mini-computers for your ears.

3. They capture the natural richness and variation of speech, so it’s easier to follow the conversation wherever you are. Let’s face it, one of the most pesky aspects of not hearing as well as you once did is not catching everything people are saying. New technologies not only help you decipher speech details in music and noise, but they better preserve and clarify the more subtle sounds of language - like the consonants B, S, F, T, and Z - so you can really follow what someone is saying. No faking.

4. You can hear from all directions - even when scoping out what’s in the fridge. Advanced directional microphone technology lets you hear from the back and side - something really important when driving a car. But it also makes it easier to hear voices more clearly in other everyday settings - like when your head is in the fridge and your significant other is talking at your back. Yes, that’s one great feature.

5. Digital, Bluetooth, and wireless capabilities keep you connected when it counts. Digital, wireless hearing aids are the now the norm. That means many new technologies let you stream sound directly into your hearing aids - at the perfect volume - from your smartphone, laptop, conference-room speakerphone, home entertainment system, and other Bluetooth devices. Music, phone calls, podcasts, videos, whatever you listen to through your iPhone (or iPad and iPod for that matter), you can listen to through many hearing aids. Some even let you control the volume and other personalized sound settings with an app on your smartphone. Several types of wireless accessories give you a listening boost by bridging the gap between you and the speaker, making it easier to hear in loud or large places. Using a wireless mini-microphone - with cool, contoured designs, some even looking like a pen- placed on the restaurant or conference-room table, or near anyone you want to hear, makes it feel like they’re speaking directly and clearly into your ears, no matter how noisy the setting. You adjust the volume.

6. State-of-the-art comfort and convenience mean you’ll always want to use them. Super-small, super-light, customized, functional, and ergonomically designed, hearing aids today are more comfy than ever - yet tough enough to withstand real life. For most of the newest hearing aids, there’s virtually no feedback or whistling thanks to advances in digital technologies. And most are hypoallergenic with nanotechnology coating to keep them clean and dry. Some are even fully waterproof, so you can swim and shower in them, no problem. Plus, today’s greater-than-ever audio-processing goes hand-in-hand with less battery usage. Some hearing aids are even rechargeable, eliminating the need to change batteries altogether. But the convenience and comfort don’t end there. Some brands let you set up reminders for things like appointments or taking medicine. Perhaps the most “peace-of-mind-preserving” life hack, though, is leading-edge technology that helps sooth the ringing in your ears (tinnitus) in a way that suits you.

7. There are even more disruptive hearing technologies on the horizon. Totally out-of-sight, semi-permanent hearing aids that stay in for two to three months let you shower and sleep in them, no fuss. Perhaps the most futuristic glimpse of hearing aids is tied to recent ground-breaking studies revealing a significant link between untreated hearing loss and dementia. Hearing aid manufacturers are deep in the trenches working to create future break-through technologies that will make it as easy as possible for the brain to decode speech and other sounds. Reducing cognitive load - that is, drawing fewer resources from the brain just to “hear” - is a very good thing. After all, we really do hear with our brains and not with our ears. Some hearing aids with these technologies are already available. Yes, leading-edge hearing aids are here to help you keep your mind sharp and your life easier by hearing your best at every age - starting today.

For more information on hearing loss and to take a free, quick, confidential, online hearing check to determine if you need a comprehensive hearing test by a hearing healthcare professional, visit www.BetterHearing.org. Follow BHI on Twitter @better_hearing. Like BHI on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/betterhearinginstitute.

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Picking Next Year's Work Benefits? Check To See If These 4 Innovative Offerings Are On the Table

Brandpoint  |  2016-02-03

(BPT) - The last months of the year don’t just usher in the holidays, they also herald the arrival of open enrollment for employee benefits at many American companies. While you’re rushing to fulfill your holiday gift list, it pays to take a few moments to consider what benefits you’ll choose for the coming year - and to be aware of some innovative new ones that may be available to you.

In addition to your health plan and standard offerings like dental or life insurance, your employer may make available a menu of other voluntary benefits. Here are some new offerings that may be on the table in your office:

Auto and homeowners insurance

Typically, you’re on your own when it comes to getting quotes, negotiating premiums, and securing coverage for two of the most common and important types of insurance Americans own. Some employers are now offering their workers access to these must have products.

It can be as easy as you hear on TV. Your employer may provide you with access to MetLife Auto & Home’s on-line tool that provides an accurate auto premium in about 2 minutes. Finalizing the application is fast, easy, and convenient, and you can opt to have the premiums automatically deducted from your paychecks just as you do for your health insurance premium. MetLife Auto & Home’s 2015 research showed purchasing auto through its workplace program in 2014 saved, on average, $500 per customer countrywide. Visit MetLife.com, or talk to your employer to learn more.

Legal services

Some events in life may require you to seek legal advice, yet attorneys’ fees can be costly. Your employer may offer access to free or low-cost group legal plans that provide services, such as document and contract reviews or preparation, telephone and office consultation, family and personal matters, financial matters, court appearances related to driving infractions, home and real estate matters, writing your will and planning your estate, and even civil lawsuits.

These services can be a great, low-cost way to manage common legal needs.

Well being benefits

Many employers now offer access to dental and life insurance, and, hopefully, you’re wise enough to take advantage of both, if they’re available to you. A growing number of companies have begun adding more lifestyle-focused benefits, such as full- or partially-paid gym memberships, office-sponsored support groups for a range of health issues, such as weight loss and general fitness, and company retreats to nurture mental health.

Pet health insurance

In 2014, 64 million American households had at least one pet living with them- more than half of the total number of U.S. households - according to market research firm Packaged Facts. Most pet owners will face an emergency medical expense bill of $2,000 to $4,000 at least once in their pet’s lifetime, according to one Kiplinger’s report. You love your dog or cat, but if it needed an expensive operation or type of medical treatment, would you be able to afford it?

Some employers are now offering access to pet insurance to employees - a benefit that’s relatively low cost, but which can have a major impact on your peace of mind.

The open enrollment window can be short, so be sure you know what’s available to you through your employer’s benefit offerings. Investigate your options now, so you make the most of some innovative benefits that could help save you money throughout the coming year.

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5 Reasons You're Not Sleeping

Brandpoint  |  2016-02-03

(BPT) - Tossing, turning and constantly waking - it can be maddening when you don't get the sleep your mind and body so desperately needs. If you constantly struggle to fall asleep and stay asleep, you're in good (albeit tired) company.

Millions of Americans across the country are chronically sleep deprived. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that insufficient sleep is a serious and growing public health concern. What most people don't realize is their lack of quality rest is often connected to bad sleep habits.

Are you guilty of any of these top five mistakes that reduce your body's ability to sleep all night? Learn what they are and how to make simple corrections for a more rejuvenating rest.

Mistake 1: Sleeping on an old mattress
An old, unsupportive mattress inhibits quality sleep, yet the cost and time it takes to purchase a new mattress deters people from upgrading. Fortunately, the mattress industry is evolving so it's easier than ever to get a new mattress. For example, order GhostBed at www.ghostbed.com and it's delivered in a compact box. Once open, it expands into a lush three layer, 11-inch mattress. With a 101-night free sleep trial and 20 year warranty, it's the easiest way to try out a new mattress without visiting different stores.

Mistake 2: Using electronics at bedtime
Tablets, cell phones, smartphones - digital devices make it easy to stay connected, but they mess with the brain's ability to fall asleep. Light omitting devices disrupt the body's natural circadian rhythms. That means when you're checking your phone right before bed, you're causing your brain to think it's time to wake. The best solution is to avoid digital devices for at least an hour before bed. Instead of TV or tech, take a bath, read or do some gentle yoga to get your body into sleep mode.

Mistake 3: Ignoring phantom noise pollution
Ticking clocks, beeping phones and buzzing electronics may not seem loud, but this phantom noise pollution is secretly robbing you of a good night's rest. To encourage your body to get into REM sleep, try to eliminate as much noise as possible from the bedroom. If you're left with other disruptive noises, such as a snoring partner or outside traffic, invest in a white noise machine or earplugs to block it out.

Mistake 4: Keeping the bedroom too warm
If you crank up the heat and grab an extra blanket at bedtime, you might be disrupting your sleep patterns. The National Sleep Foundation identifies temperature as a key factor to sleep, recommending a cooler sleeping environment. So turn down the thermostat, reduce blankets and rethink your mattress. GhostBed keeps sleepers cool because it is made with premium latex that allows for increased air flow, and gel memory foam instead of conventional memory foam.

Mistake 5: Allowing inconspicuous light
You flip off the light switch when it's time for shuteye, but your room is probably not completely dark. Even subtle glow from a nightlight, phone or muted TV disrupts those crucial circadian rhythms, causing your body to think dawn is near, which in return triggers you to get up. Try to remove or block all light in your room, and if there's some you just can't eliminate, an eye mask is a helpful alternative.

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New Flexible Spending Account Options Will Help You Stretch Your Money

Brandpoint  |  2016-02-03

(BPT) - As we head into the 2016 annual health care enrollment period, the benefits of different plan options may seem hard to decipher. Like many employees, you may have never considered a flexible spending account, or FSA. In fact, only about 30 percent of workers who have an FSA available to them sign up to take advantage of the program. However, a variety of benefits make health care FSA plans worth a second look.

According to a March 2015 survey conducted by Visa and WageWorks, fear of losing money at the end of the year is the number one reason employees don’t participate in health care FSA plans, despite the fact they’re leaving tax savings on the table. What you may not know is that the IRS revised options in 2013 to allow for carryover of FSA dedicated funds up to $500 — meaning, you don’t need to fear the notion of “use it or lose it.” With an increasing number of employers now providing FSA carryover options, there’s a good chance your employer is offering this benefit to you as well. In the same Visa/WageWorks survey, 60 percent of employers said they opted to offer the FSA carryover option this year.

A health care FSA with carryover helps eliminate the stress and pressure of having to spend your annual contribution by the end of the year, and allows for ease of budgeting and allocating where and when health care dollars are spent.

A convenient way for employees to access and use FSA funds in a secure way is through a Visa debit card. While individual health care needs vary, here are just a few common eligible health care expenses and scenarios that can be covered with flexible spending account dollars.

  • Copays and deductibles are generally covered out of pocket, but both are easily handled by funds allocated and available through your FSA.

  • The cost of important and routine exams, such as physicals or dermatology checkups, can quickly add up. But, with dedicated FSA funds, you can cover these costs with ease.

  • FSA monies can be used to keep your smile bright and healthy. Dental cleanings, dentures and orthodontia are all eligible FSA expenses.

  • Not only can your FSA help to keep your mind at ease about medical expenses, it can also help to keep you seeing in clear view. Annual vision exams, new glasses and LASIK services can also be covered with FSA funds.

  • Many employees may think specialty visits are ineligible expenses, but your chiropractor or acupuncturist can also be paid for with FSA funds.

  • Necessary health care equipment like blood pressure monitors or thermometers can be purchased with an FSA, as can important and potentially life-changing services, such as smoking cessation programs.

Additionally, the pre-tax salary reduction helps pave the way for employees to really stretch their hard-earned dollars. For example, the average employee who contributes $500 to their health care FSA at the start of the year will probably utilize all of those funds by the end of the plan year and by contributing that amount to an FSA will save approximately $150 in taxes, depending on his/her tax rate (the maximum contribution for an individual is $2,550, which would save an average of $765 at a 30 percent tax rate).

Using your Visa debit card for your FSA may also cut down on your paperwork. Many of the processing systems at pharmacies, grocery stores and other retailers that sell medical products are programmed to distinguish between covered items and non-covered items, making getting the care you need more simple.

As you review your options this open enrollment season, ask your employer if they offer flexible spending accounts with carryover, available on a Visa debit card. To learn more visit www.visahealthcare.com.

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