Safety reminders for your home office

(NC) As many of us continue to work remotely, having a functioning home office is essential. From lighting to storage to décor, there are several factors to consider, so it’s easy to overlook safety. Here are some key steps to help ensure your new workspace is safe as well as productive.

Safeguard your computer. With hackers exploiting the increase in remote working, it is critical to keep operating and anti-virus packages up to date. Perform frequent updates to help prevent malicious software from invading your computer and network. Change your passwords regularly and back up your files.

Avoid overloading outlets. Each year, electrical malfunctions account for 35,000 home fires, according to the Electrical Safety Foundation International. Make sure your outlets contain arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs), which can prevent fires caused by damaged or overheated wiring or electrical devices. In case of an emergency, keep the easy-to-use First Alert EZ Fire Spray in your home office to quickly defuse small electrical fires. The light aerosol can design makes it easy to hold, use and store.

Set up a clutter-free space. Keep your work area organized to prevent potential hazards. Avoid injuries by keeping scissors, staplers and all sharp or heavy office tools away from edges of the desk, especially if you have children or pets. Secure all phone lines and electrical cords along a wall or under a desk to keep them away from heat sources and high-traffic areas.

Install and maintain alarms. Beyond the office, installing smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) alarms will help protect your entire home. For optimal protection, install working smoke and CO alarms on each level of the home, inside every bedroom and outside each sleeping area. To properly maintain your alarms, test them regularly, change the batteries every six months and replace the units every 10 years.

Find more home fire safety tips at firstalert.ca.

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Watch for pandemic cyber scammers targeting Canadians

(NC) Many of us are spending a lot more time online as we adopt new ways of tackling everyday tasks – be it working, staying connected, shopping or banking. Amid a general rise in fraud and cybercrimes associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, RBC Direct Investing offers a few simple guidelines to help you stay safe.

Be aware of unsolicited calls, emails and texts

Emails or texts can sometimes appear to be from a legitimate source, but contain infected attachments or malicious links. Some red flags are threatening or urgent tones, spelling errors, unknown senders or callers.

Tip: Keep your computer anti-virus and anti-malware programs up to date to help keep files from being corrupted or lost due to a virus.

Watch out for fake websites

Fake websites can spread misinformation or attempt to scam individuals. Red flags to be on the lookout for include spelling errors in web addresses or a missing security symbol in the address bar.

Tips: Look for a lock symbol or an “s” at the end of the “http” in the address bar, which can confirm a site’s security. Don’t enter login information or credit card details unless you are certain a site is legitimate.

Use strong, unique passwords

Strong passwords can help ensure you’re protecting your devices and information. Avoid using the same password for multiple applications or services, and don’t opt for obvious passwords like family or pet names, birthdays and street names.

Tips: Use a combination of letters, numbers and special characters with a minimum of eight characters, change passwords regularly and create a new password for every application or service you use.

Keep software and browsers up to date

The operating systems on your devices have built-in security features, but they need to be kept up to date to help avoid breaches of your personal information. The browser you use to search the internet also has its own security settings and requires updating. Though they may be bothersome, don’t ignore prompts to update your operating system or browser.

Tip: Consider enabling automatic updates or try setting a reminder to update your device when you won’t be using it.

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Protecting yourself from fraud during COVID-19

(NC) Safeguarding against scams can be a challenge. This is especially true during difficult periods like we are experiencing now. The COVID-19 pandemic is creating a lot of uncertainty and worry – the very things that fraudsters thrive on.

Scams can include phone calls, emails and texts that seem to be from financial institutions asking for personal or financial information. If you receive this kind of request, be cautious. Financial institutions will never ask for personal information, login credentials or account information by email or text message. 

If you are suspicious about information you receive related to your banking, contact the financial institution directly before taking any action.

Here are a few more tips to help you be vigilant during this unprecedented time:

  • Never click on links or attachments in unsolicited or suspicious emails.
  • Never give out your personal or financial information by email or text.
  • When banking online, enter your financial institution’s website address in your browser yourself.
  • Beware of questionable offers related to relief measures or quick fixes. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

In the unfortunate event that you do experience financial fraud, it’s important to inform your financial institution immediately. You should also report the incident to your local police and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre by calling its toll-free line at 1-888-495-8501 or completing an online report.

Find more information on identity theft, types of fraud, and other threats or scams at canada.ca/money.

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April showers may bring water damage

(NC) Water damage is a real concern for Canadian homeowners at this time of year. Get ahead of the risk by taking the3 following steps to prevent flooding in your home this spring.

Inspect your roof. Once your roof is clear of snow, make sure you inspect it for any loose or missing shingles. If you’re not comfortable on a ladder, use binoculars to check from ground level. If you do spot damage, call your roofing company to replace shingles as soon as possible to avoid leaks.

Allow for drainage. Proper drainage is essential in order to redirect water from your home. Make sure your eavestroughs are clear of debris and downspouts are pointed away from your home. Also, ensure storm drains surrounding your property are unblocked. Even though you may not be responsible for cleaning them, you will be responsible for any water damage they could cause to your home.

Make sure you have a firm foundation. A firm foundation is the key to success in any situation, including water damage prevention. Make sure you check your foundation for any cracks or holes that could allow water to seep into your basement. Contact a building foundation expert for any major concerns.

Smooth out sloping lawns. A sloping lawn can result in an unwanted outdoor and indoor pool. Check to make sure there are no depressions causing water to pool near the foundation. Use compacted soil to level it out. When it comes to any major issues, work with a landscaping company to install a better drainage system.

Check your insurance. Finally, make sure your insurance policy has     protection against water damage. Ensuring your policy has the right kind of coverage against water issues in your area will help if the above measures fail. Connect with a broker at PC insurance to make sure your policy measures up.

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Is Your Family at Risk for Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

(NC) Carbon monoxide is an odourless, tasteless, invisible gas that can cause health problems before you even notice that it’s quietly lurking in your home somewhere.

CO can only be detected with a carbon monoxide alarm, so make sure at least one is installed in your home. Carefully follow the manufacturer’s suggestions for installation, testing, use and replacement. 

Contact your municipal or provincial government office for more information on the use and installation of carbon monoxide alarms in your area. Your local fire department may also be able to assist you. 

Additional steps you can take to protect yourself include: 

  • Make sure appliances are well maintained and inspected by a professional at least once a year. This includes furnaces, fireplaces, gas stoves and water heaters. 
  • Never use gas-powered machines (trimmers, generators, lawnmowers, snow blowers, barbecues or portable fuel-burning camping equipment) in the garage, even when the door is open. This includes idling your car. 
  • Never use a barbecue or portable fuel-burning camping equipment inside your home, vehicle, camper or tent. 
  • Finally, never use kerosene or oil space heaters and lamps in enclosed areas unless they’re specifically designed for indoor use. 

Find more information at canada.ca/healthy-home.      

3 things you need to know for RRSP season

(NC) A Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) is one of today’s most commonly used savings vehicles, in large part because contributions are tax-deductible and the product is designed specifically for retirement.

You’ll have until March 2, 2020 to contribute to your RRSP and claim the amount on your 2019 tax return. Any contributions made after this deadline will count towards the 2020 tax year.

RRSP season is a great opportunity to review your finances and decide if you want to make any adjustments or set up automatic contributions for the upcoming year.

With the 2019 deadline fast approaching, here are some tips from TD:

New year, new rules: Every year, there are new contribution limits, deadlines and other changes. For example, in 2020, first-time homebuyers can now withdraw up to $35,000 (or $70,000 per couple) from an RRSP to finance a down payment on a home, subject to eligibility and conditions. This withdrawal is tax-free but must be repaid into the RRSP within 15 years. Before taking out any money, speak to an advisor or financial planner to see if this program is appropriate for you.

Contribute carefully: Understanding how much to contribute can be confusing. In 2019, each Canadian has a personal RRSP contribution limit of up to 18 per cent of their earned income, up to a maximum of $26,500 plus any unused contribution room from past years. However, those belonging and contributing to an employer’s pension plan may have reduced limits for their RRSP. It’s important to keep track of all your contributions to ensure you stay within your annual limit.

Withdraw wisely: RRSPs are typically set up to support long-term savings and retirement. Since RRSPs are designed for long-term saving, withdrawals are subject to tax. However, under the Home Buyers’ Plan, first-time homebuyers can withdraw up to $35,000 (or $70,000 for a couple) to finance a down payment, subject to eligibility and conditions. The withdrawal is tax-free but must be paid back into your RRSP within 15 years. Speak with an advisor or financial planner before withdrawing any funds to ensure you understand the implications.

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Set your home up for a cozy winter

Add layers of lighting. Our winters can be long and cold, so take steps to make sure your refuge is toasty warm and inviting. Swap out cool, white lightbulbs for warm ones and place plenty of light fixtures at various heights throughout your home. Think reading lamps, wall sconces and pendant lights. If you have a fireplace, make sure it’s clean and safe to use for natural lighting and warmth. You can also pepper your home with candles in comforting seasonal scents like fresh pine or cinnamon.

Create cozy nooks. Whether it’s in your bedroom, living room or study, set up spaces that make you want to curl up for a relaxing evening. Try making a little reading nook in your bay window where you can dive into a good read while pausing to watch the snow fall. If you love board games or puzzles, set up a dedicated table on the side of your living or family room, and you can leave them out so you can return whenever you like without worrying about tidying up.

Warm up with textiles. What’s better at this time of year than snuggling up with a fluffy pillow and blanket? Down isn’t just for the bed anymore, and there are lots of stylish (and Canadian) options that are a great addition to warm up any room in your household. For the most warmth and best insulation, choose high-quality down products that keep warmth in and cold out. Look for the Downmark label, which certifies a product is Canadian made and ethically sourced, an important feature for today’s savvy consumer.

Find more information at downmark.org.

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Putting Your Lawn to Bed Before Winter

(NC) Just like all living things, plants need food. This includes your lawn. Turf fed three to four times a year develops a deep root system to resist heat, drought and wear. It also develops thick, green top-growth to naturally resist weeds, disease and insects.

Preparing lawn for winter

It’s important to remember that plant roots tend to go dormant in the driest parts of summer and in winter, when the ground is frozen. So, it’s important to focus on fertilizing in the spring and fall when plants need nutrients the most, and avoid applying fertilizer if heavy rain is expected or the ground is frozen.

Look for a fertilizer with higher nitrogen (N) and potassium (K), the first and last numbers on the bag. These are the nutrients that help promote a stronger root structure, disease resistance and hardiness that will help your lawn during the hot summer days. These nutrients provide grass with the ability to withstand drought in hotter summer temperatures and to survive the winter and bounce back in spring.

After you are done fertilizing your lawn, store any leftover fertilizer sealed in its original container in a dry place for use next season or share by giving it to a neighbour or relative or donating it to a community group.

You can find more helpful information about the right way to fertilize your lawn before winter at greenerworld.ca.

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Dead Trees Around the Property?

Be Creative! You can add whimsical visuals to your yard with literally, next to no cost by using recyclables which you probably have laying around your garage!

With two sadly dying trees I had on my property (and I hate to see a tree go) but besides planting a new seedling elsewhere, I can have fun creating these useful and charming items from the stump left behind (as long as you don’t cut it off to short)!

Visitors get a kick out of our tree-house, with an old metal roof, wooden door and window, mail box and stone sidewalk, not to mention the window box (a metal tin my wife had kicking around)! She painted the door and mailbox as well as curtains inside the window.

The time-out chair doesn’t get used often (thanks to our well-behaved grand kids) but it has become another conversation piece, a novelty item which brings many chuckles…and sometimes threats of things to come if they don’t behave! Nestled in the children’s play area…a gentle reminder to “play nice.”

Stay Cosy For Less This Fall!

(NC) Zipping up jackets, putting on thick sweaters, shorter days and longer nights mean that it’s a great time to stay cozy at home. Fall is great for preparing for winter and taking some steps to make sure you and your family stay comfortable. Here are some tips:

Inspect and seal. You can save up to 25 per cent on your heating bill by installing weather-stripping around windows, doors and air ducts. This is one of the most efficient ways to manage your heating costs.

Turn on the fan. Turn your ceiling fan to revolve clockwise to push down warm air that has risen. You can also use curtains and window dressings to keep the warm air in and prevent any drafts.

Be flexible. Setting a higher temperature on the thermostat won’t heat your home faster. Remember to cool down at night when you’re going to bed and to increase the temperature during the day. Better still, use a programmable thermostat so you can set it and forget it.

Change it up. Cozy can mean temperature, but also lighting. Switch out old bulbs for Energy Star LED lightbulbs labelled warm white or soft white. They have a traditional warmer light that works well for living rooms.

If these all seem like great ideas but energy-saving upgrades are out of your budget, you may qualify for assistance from the AffordAbility Fund. See what free upgrades you may qualify for at affordabilityfund.org.

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