5 simple steps for protecting your home during the holidays

(BPT) - When you think of the holidays, celebrations, presents and friends likely come to mind - not crime. Unfortunately, burglaries increase at this time of year, and your home could be a target. With a few simple safety precautions, you can protect your property, your family and your valuables now and well into the new year. 

"Taking steps to protect your home during the holidays isn't radically different from what most people should be doing the rest of the year," says Thomas Leman, a retired 27-year veteran of the police force and criminal justice professor at Argosy University Online. "The problem is that most people get lured into a false sense of security and tend to let their guard down, thinking that crime won't happen to them."

Take precautions today to protect your home and deter criminals. Consider these five simple steps:

Step 1: Decorate with care
When it comes to holiday decorations, modesty is definitely the best policy, says Leman. "While you may love the look of a Christmas tree in your front window, expensive decorations on display can be a signal that there are valuables inside your home worth a criminal's time. Gifts under the tree are the most blatant of these displays and are a welcome invitation for thieves." Leaving gifts tucked away until the last possible minute is a quick and easy safety precaution. If you must display presents, make sure they are out of sight from any windows or doorways.

Step 2: Lock it up
Whether you are home, running errands or away on vacation, take care to close and lock all doors and windows. Remember to set alarms, too. "Given that most people have extra valuables and gifts in their homes during this time, it's a good idea to practice home safety whether you're there or not," says Leman. Leman adds that a simple dowel placed in a sliding glass door or window can be an inexpensive way to secure vulnerable entrance points. "Alarms or closed circuit video surveillance systems are a great and inexpensive way to protect your home," he adds. 

Step 3: Light the night
A well-lit and well-groomed home provides an important measure of safety. "The better the lighting in your home and yard, the fewer places there are for criminals to lurk," says Leman. USAA, a leading provider of banking, insurance and investment services to the military community, recommends the 3 foot/6 foot rule: trim branches to 6 feet off the ground and shrubs down to 3 feet to minimize hiding places for burglars. 

Step 4: Dispose smartly
It’s best not to alert strangers to the new 70-inch flat screen in your home by leaving the box on the curb for refuse pickup. "When it comes to big-ticket items and valuables, boxes on the curb can be an advertisement for the new valuables in your home," cautions Leman. "Take the time to break down boxes and recycle them or put them on the curb over time and inconspicuously," he says. 

Step 5: Be a tricky traveler
Be proactive about home safety if you have holiday travel plans. Never let mail or newspapers pile up at your home, as it is an instant indicator you are not there. Have a neighbor collect mail and newspapers or have your service stopped by calling the post office and newspaper provider. "Set your lights and television on timers," suggests Leman, who also advises homeowners to have a neighbor park their car in your driveway intermittently to keep up the appearance that someone is coming and going. 

For more information about Argosy University, visit argosy.edu. For more information about The Art Institutes, visit artinstitutes.edu.  

Dinnerware bursts with color for fall entertaining

(BPT) - The autumn leaves bursting into vibrant reds, lively oranges, and brilliant yellows  signal a new season for home entertaining. If you need a little inspiration, look no further than your favorite outdoor spot to update your table setting with the hottest colors for fall 2014.

“Contemporary versions of classic colors are trending in the interior design realm this fall,” says John Griffith, visual merchandiser for dinnerware retailer Replacements, Ltd. “Rich deep Pantone colors including Sangria, Aurora Red, Cognac and Misted Yellow reflect the abundance of color you see outdoors. The new Fiesta color, Poppy, is perfect for autumn. Metallic finishes are also wildly popular, such as gold and copper.”

Customers frequently ask Griffith and designer Julie Robbins for creative guidance to refresh their family heirloom pattern table settings. Pattern blending is a specialty of Robbins.

“Vintage dinnerware continues to be one of the trendiest design elements in the tabletop industry and those patterns are some of our best sellers,” says Robbins. “Why buy a reproduction when the real thing is readily available? Search your mother or grandmother’s china cabinet to find some of the great retro patterns. Add your own point of view when you mix and match contemporary designs to create a modern look. It’s really simple to add an accent plate, or a stand-out charger in this season’s colors to update your table for fall entertaining.”

Figural pieces, such as leaf shaped plates and serving pieces are very popular this fall. Many manufacturers are offering colorful accent pieces with favorites including turkey, fall leaves and pumpkin motifs.

“You can use pumpkins as a strong design element through Thanksgiving,” Griffith suggests. “Pumpkins made of glass, ceramic and lightweight resin are big sellers in the store as we head into the season. Mix with the real thing to easily create a great centerpiece.”

As the season changes, so does the way you’re entertaining. Gatherings may be more casual as friends and family get together around the television for the big game or by the fire pit on the patio.

“Appetizer size plates and individual dip bowls are great for finger foods and condiments, says Robbins. “These smaller pieces are both popular and affordable. Plus it’s fun to mix shapes, colors or motifs. Mix and match your favorite team colors for the big game or choose individual Thanksgiving themed plates for celebrations tied to turkey day.”

Still looking for more fall tabletop ideals? Help is just a click away. This team is now using Facebook to share decorating tips and solutions.

“We love partnering with our customers to solve their design dilemmas,” says Robbins. “We’re thrilled when people reach out to us and ask questions on Replacements’ Facebook page. Our team is having a lot of fun connecting with our customers and we encourage people to visit our page, ask questions, like us and share us with their friends; we get so many great design challenges this way.”

Once the team receives a question, they create multiple mix and match options, photograph these table settings then post the images online for the public to see and share.

Tips on how to prepare your windows and doors for winter and save energy

(BPT) - How much do you spend on utilities? Are you looking for ways to save? A typical American household spends about $2,100 on energy bills each year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Most of that expense comes from a home’s energy use during the winter heating season. But a quick home checkup can help you can reduce these costs, prepare for winter and enjoy energy savings.

Properly installed and maintained windows and doors can help keep your home more comfortable year-round. Save on heating costs by preparing your windows and doors for winter with these tips:

* Clear sills and moving parts of dirt and debris. Debris like sand, dirt or leaves can get caught in windowsills and moving parts of windows or doors. Clean these areas with a dry paintbrush to create a tighter seal and enhance window and door performance.

* Check weather stripping. Re-attach or replace missing or worn weather stripping around windows and doors. Loose weather stripping can let cold air in during the winter and out in the summer, reducing energy efficiency.

* Reapply caulk or sealant around windows and doors. Reseal areas around windows and doors that may have been exposed to heavy weather or extreme sunlight - creating breaks in caulk or sealant - to help reduce potential drafts and leaks.

* Installing snap-in blinds or shades. Install snap-in blinds or shades to help insulate your home from cold outdoor temperatures. Pella Designer Series windows and patio doors feature convenient between-the-glass options to add energy efficiency and privacy.

* Repair or replace damaged exterior surfaces. Cracked or deteriorated wood associated with water penetration may allow moisture or cold air to leak into your home. Look closely for signs of moisture leakage and replace damaged wood. Consult a professional to help correct any roof or drainage problems around your home.

* Install storm doors. Storm doors add an extra layer of protection and help reduce air and moisture leakage. Adding a Pella storm door to your exterior doors can reduce energy loss through the entryway by up to 45 percent.

* Replace old windows and doors with energy-efficient ones. If you have single-pane glass, clear glass, or older windows or doors, you may be paying more to heat your home in the winter and cool it in the summer. Replace old windows with energy-efficient, double or triple-pane glass versions made with insulating argon, or install new durable fiberglass doors to help save money and energy year-round.

Visit Pella Windows and Doors on Pinterest for design inspiration and Pella.com/news to connect with a Pella representative for tips on caring for your windows and doors, or choosing new replacements.