Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Smart Home Era: Can Intelligent Living Secure Us?

Based on a 2015 survey conducted by The Harris Poll, 78% of Americans anticipate homes to be reinforced with must-have smart home products in the next five years. These hi-tech and Internet-enabled devices, which are estimated to reach 45 million by 2018, range from home security products to automated vacuum cleaners. Are you ready for the future?

Although there’s no question that we want to secure and maintain our homes with the best technology available, many are still left in the dark as to the practicality and sustainability of intelligent living. As we have yet to fully adapt to this fast-developing reality, many are grappling with a good understanding of the challenges and benefits of maintaining a smart home. Some even fear that smart technology can be too smart for our own good, a fear which is generously illustrated in popular culture and blockbuster movies with images of robots and computers taking over us.

But we are obliged by the times to adapt despite the concerns surrounding new technology and intelligent living. That many aspects of our lives are now linked to the Internet is one reminder of the of the influence of new technology on how we live. So instead of hopelessly avoiding or fearing new technology, the question that should be asked is: How prepared are you in incorporating intelligent living in your smart home? It’s valid to feel concerned about intelligent living, but knowing more about it means you are proactive in mastering new technology instead of letting it controlling you.

Home Security and the Face of Intelligent Living



Robot building


The importance of security in intelligent living is becoming less science fiction and more concrete reality. With today’s high crime rate, it is vital to reinforce home safety with devices that can effectively deter burglars and other criminals. Consider the recent statistics from the FBI, which reports that 1.7 million burglaries occurred in 2014 in the US alone. The alarming figure provides justification for new technology developers to come up with much-needed home security solutions.

As a major component of intelligent living, advances in home security are concrete proofs of this growing industry. It is determined to reach new heights in terms of coming up with newer smart devices. To date, consumers can already optimize smart home products such as home alarm monitoring, automatic locks, smart thermostats, wireless speakers, and various intelligent sensors that can be controlled with a smartphone. With the Internet-of-Things becoming a trend, a new breed of devices are overtaking the market. Just last year, smartwatches have begun to ingrain itself in the consciousness and lifestyle of many people.

In addition to providing digitally-controlled and -monitored home security, intelligent living is making sustainable homes an exciting reality. Current home automation systems are demonstrating that it’s possible for homeowners to enjoy an efficient, eco-friendly, secure, and comfortable living space. Devices include smart thermostats that can adjust temperature while you’re asleep or send you alerts when you’re away. Basic yet necessary capabilities such as automatic indoor and outdoor lighting can help you save energy costs and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The Challenge: Keeping Up with Smart Home Development



Evolution of light


While property crimes like burglaries are rampant, investments in home security system is quite low at present. According to statistics, only 17% of homes in the US have home security, a small amount considering that a burglary is estimated to occur every 13 seconds and that two-thirds of burglars abandon their misdeed in the presence of home security system. There is clearly a disconnect between the necessity of home security and the preventive measures (or lack thereof) implemented by homeowners. What could be the reasons behind this?

A number of studies and articles provide explanations to the challenges involving smart homes and consumer response. For smart homes, the challenge consists of bolstering protection against hackers and cyber criminals. Smart homes may prove effective against home invasions, yet its Internet-based feature is vulnerable to digital security threats. On the part of consumers, the challenge largely relates to the rapidly increasing—and potentially confusing—number of devices. This challenge is compounded by the lack of a coherent system that can unite all existing smart home devices. As it happens, the best IoT devices for the connected home have different functionalities and application requirements. Devices “speak” different languages at the moment, which signals disjoint rather than unity.

A case can also be made with regard to the limited functionalities of current smart home devices. This can be restrictive for consumers who, armed with tips for achieving a sustainable home, are clamoring for devices to make many aspects of their lives easier and safer. For example, while basic items like security cameras, smart bulbs and electronic locks are available, smart refrigerators and cookers are not yet in existence. The growing demand of modern life expose the need for many other home items to be made smarter.

Despite the challenges, the reality and necessity of creating a smart home are encouraging both consumers and developers to think and create better ways of improving intelligent living. In fact, progress is already happening. A good example is the increasing affordability of home alarm monitoring. Month-to-month security systems monitoring can be efficiently sustained for as low as $8.95, making intelligent living more accessible than you might think.

Off to the Future: Looking Forward with Optimism



MIT Museum: Kismet the AI robot smiles at you


The challenges surrounding intelligent living serve as a guide to better achieving a sustainable home in the future. A good indication of the development involves the evolution of smart home security. Before, home security simply meant locking doors and windows. Now, it is fast evolving into something which involves surveillance cameras and devices like sensors which can be controlled and monitored remotely. Indeed, we are fast realizing that change is necessary and inevitable. Remember that before the Internet became common, life was different in that it was less mediated by technology. Life is now inconceivable without the Internet, and so is our future without it. It is worth mentioning that the United Nations now asserts that Internet access is a basic human right.

It’s also becoming clear that IoT and smart homes are logical extensions of the modern life. The promise of new technology is to create more devices that can potentially improve home safety and raise the standards of quality living. We are still at the early stages of intelligent living, which makes it all the more necessary that we remain vigilant.

The fast-approaching golden era of smart and sustainable homes carry the compelling features of convenience, sustainability, and security. Alarm security system companies and manufacturers are orienting consumers to the idea of better designing their lives with the existence of smart devices. As a proper response to the inevitable rise of smart homes, consumers must continue in their active participation in directing the course of new technology. After all, the future can only be truly bright and promising if new technology and intelligent living remain under the control of users rather than passively accepted as an inescapable reality.


Written by John Anderson

Friday, March 25, 2016

Doomsday Preparations: Required Items for Your time Of Need

Whether it's winter, summer or any other season of the year, each carries with it plenty of reason to prepare ahead of time for the unexpected to happen. Taking the basic, emergency preparedness steps necessary to avoid the usually unexpected and unpleasant from coming against you, let's begin with our food and water supply.

Food and Water Supply

Unless you can get ready for a long-lasting event, a basic food and water supply normally should be stocked for two weeks in the warmer seasons, and from three to six months at least during the winter.

Bits of Advice

Canned goods, preserve jars and dehydrated and/or freeze-dried food are good options. Make certain it's nutritious food and not junk food. Make allowance for nutritious family favorites such as nuts and chocolate bars. Don’t forget baby food, pet food and any special food for the elderly or for those with special health issues such as diabetes. Don’t forget a manual can opener.

Over the Counter, Prescription Medications

Any preparation plan needs a supply of vital, prescriptions or over-the-counter (OTC) medications. An improvised first aid kit, supplies for possible use of life-support equipment and an emergency back-up plan to the nearest health facility can be crucial in any emergency. Likewise, keep on hand the phone numbers of nearby clinics, hospitals, 911 and ambulance dispatchers.

Gas-Powered or Propane Gas Generators/Fireplace/Cooking Fuel

During winter or summer storm seasons, is when power outages primarily are most likely to occur. Preparing for these seasons by having gas-powered or propane gas-run generators up and ready, becomes not only necessary, but a matter of common sense as well. Remembering that even propane gas tanks need to have their pressure and efficiency maintained, make certain to have propane tank heating blankets, like those available from Powerblanket, on hand for frigid weather. They'll also eliminate having to go out for unnecessary cylinder refills once the cold weather hits. An easy way to keep the tanks warm, they're also UL rated, easily washable and produce even heat displacement. They’re flexible, so they fold up and store easily almost anywhere.

Moreover, the outdoor barbecue grill, solar-powered rechargeable batteries for electronic devices, and even the old, reliable Sterno fuel cans are great for providing not only light, but also for heating up food. By all means, always think in terms of being without power and making provision for it ahead of time--while you can do so. That being said, there's nothing like having a supply of fuel and wood piling for that beautiful but unused fireplace.

No matter what season of the year you find yourself in, it's good sense to prepare for the unexpected--as much as possible. Taking precautions may help lessen the impact of events from affecting both you and your loved ones during an emergency.


Written by Rachelle Wilber

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Family Prep: Tips to Improve Your Personal Security

Personal safety is a key concern for homeowners and families who may be forced to deal with burglars and dangerous trespassers. Homes and private property can be protected with fences, hedges, security doors, reinforced windows, locks, and home security systems. The responsibility to protect family members is a serious obligation that will require special efforts such as identifying potential threats and then blocking those threats. If a prowler has been blocked by several barriers, they will be discouraged from entering a home, so use these tips to get them away from your home.

Fences and Hedges

A thief or an intruder is usually attracted by items that are not protected. Homeowners should conceal bicycles and gas grills inside a garage. Privacy fences and hedges can be used to conceal patio furniture and also as a barrier to stop intruders who could easily enter the property. Use sheer curtains on windows to conceal furniture, kitchen appliances, and electronic equipment as well. The sheer curtains will permit light to enter the rooms and will also block the view of any intruder who is outside the house.

Doors and Windows

Some doors and windows may not be suitable for all locations. A burglar can easily break weak windows and enter from an unguarded part of the exterior. Barriers should be used to stop burglars who could quickly enter a house or a garage. There are many different styles of doors and windows that can be used to deter intruders. For example, Solar Shield Windows offer a line of impact windows and doors that are more difficult to break.

Locks

The style of a lock families choose is also important. Some have a flip lever on the inside section of the lock which can easily be turned by a burglar. A more secure lock will have a key for the inside section and for the outside. Homeowners can continue to use the same doorknob by installing a new deadbolt lock above or below the doorknob. Technological advances have also made it possible to secure locks from a smartphone through an automated system. This makes it possible for you to control locks, shields and gates from wherever you are.

Barriers

You can easily add more barriers for stopping burglars and dangerous intruders. Privacy fences and hedges will block the path of an intruder and will control the level of visibility. Metal strips on windows and on doors can also be used to stop a burglar. Make sure you don’t have places where someone could hide and use lights and illumination to make even your darkest parts of the yard visible.

Thieves are often discouraged when homeowners have several layers of protection. Use these protection ideas to get started on securing your home today.


Brooke Chaplan is a freelance writer and recent graduate of the University of New Mexico. She writes for many online publications and blogs about home improvements, family, and health. She is an avid hiker, biker and runner. Contact her via twitter @BrookeChaplan.

Monday, March 14, 2016

4 Keys to Surviving in a Wet Environment

Surviving a wet environment is not as life-threatening as survival in desert or sub-zero conditions, but brings a number of other dangers and problems. Excessive mud and high water levels limit mobility and pose safety hazards. Under humid conditions insects, bacteria, and other vermin thrive. Here are four basic tips to help those stranded in wet environments.

  1. Be Prepared

    Find a small knapsack or book-bag that will keep contents dry—or use a trash bag as a lining. Add a plastic tarp or sheet, and consider including the following items: salt, anti-diarrhea tablets, anti-infection tablets, antiseptic, water-purification tablets, insect repellent, anti-fungicide, eye ointment, water-proof adhesive tape, a few bullion cubes, and a wire saw. You should also pack a good pocket-knife, a water-tight container of matches, empty trash bags, and a coil of nylon rope.

  2. Proper Clothing

    If you're heading for a wet environment, you'll want rain gear. But water-proof shoes and preferably rubber boots from places like Central Farm and Garden are essential; your feet can suffer skin damage and infections if they're constantly soaked. If you must, put plastic bags over your socks to keep your feet dry. Don't wear wet socks too long or risk trench foot.

  3. Shelter

    You can go for days without food, and collect rainwater for drinking. But a dry place to recoup and store your things is import; your tarp makes a handy tent against the rain. Avoid sitting or sleeping on wet ground. A hammock is ideal; but a platform of branches can keep you from the wet—pad it with a layer of the driest possible leaves or soft branches you can find.

  4. Fire

    At some point, you'll get soaked. Making a fire under wet conditions is not difficult if you've got shelter and you've kept your matches dry. You can find drier tinder in the form of dead leaves and twigs wherever they're sheltered from the rain—under dense bushes, large logs, stones, etc. You can also get a good start by peeling off tree bark; use your knife to scrape of the dry insides or shavings from the wood underneath. Once you get flames started, add successively heavier fuel so the lighter fuel helps dry heavier wood. Store extra firewood under your tarp to keep it dry.

If you can't stay dry, you'll need some means to dry out. If there's two things you should focus on, it's fire and shelter. And protect your feet—otherwise you're almost helpless.


About the author: A recent college graduate from University of San Francisco, Anica loves dogs, the ocean, and anything outdoor-related. She was raised in a big family, so she's used to putting things to a vote. Also, cartwheels are her specialty. You can connect with Anica here.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

How Hardscaping Your Home Can Prevent Flooding

No matter where you live, your home is at risk of flooding.

This may sound alarmist, but it is true. Your home doesn’t have to be sitting two feet from a river or ocean to see flood damage. Arid environments are at risk of flash floods that occur when the dry ground can’t absorb precipitation fast enough. Cold environments see floods when the still-frozen ground cannot absorb the melting snow and ice. Tropical storms can cause torrential rainfall hundreds of miles inland.

How would your property stand up to a flood? If your land is in need of a drainage overhaul, make sure you put hardscaping at the top of your list. For those asking “why” and “how,” here’s a crash course on the benefits of hardscaping.

Hardscaping Options

So what is hardscaping? Consider it any non-living part of your landscape. Grass, flowers, shrubs and trees are not hardscaping. Driveways, walkways, patios, fencing and lighting are hardscaping.

While fencing and lighting are important elements for your property, they don’t lend much when it comes to flood prevention. Driveways, walkways, patios and other surfaces are where you want to concentrate your flood-prevention upgrades.

There are two main types of surfaces to consider: permeable and non-permeable. Simply put, permeable paving elements allow water to drain between or through. Non-permeable do not. Popular options such as poured concrete and blacktop are non-permeable. Water runs off them, but it does not drain through.

Permeable elements may include permeable pavers that allow water to drain down the seams between pavers or pervious pavers that allow water to soak directly through the paver itself.

Both permeable and non-permeable systems can help prevent flooding. Non-permeable systems will rely more heavily on grading to ensure runoff slopes away from the home’s foundation. While permeable systems can be more effective, homes that are at risk for more extreme flooding scenarios may require a complex system that combines permeable and non-permeable materials, grading, drain systems such as a French drain or curtain drain, or even a detention pond. An emergency supply of sandbags can provide an extra layer of protection.

How Permeable Systems Work

Permeable systems are gaining popularity and acclaim as they reduce flooding and runoff by helping water to drain directly where it falls. Permeable systems combine permeable or pervious pavers with an underground drainage aggregate.

The water sinks through or around the pavers into the aggregate, where it is temporarily held until it can absorb fully into the ground or drain out through sewer or other drainage lines. With less reliance on grading and surface runoff, permeable systems reduce issues commonly found with impermeable systems, such as erosion.

Benefits for the Homeowner

As flooding is the most common natural disaster in the U.S., the main benefit of permeable hardscaping systems should be obvious. However, permeable systems offer several other side benefits for homeowners.

Homeowners used to dealing with ice and snow are aware of the liabilities of icy walkways. Ice and snow that melt on traditional sealed or non-permeable walkways form a puddle on the surface, and whatever does not evaporate refreezes each night. Snow and ice that melt on permeable surfaces drain through, significantly reducing the risk of ice-related falls.

Permeable systems are modular, which means they are easier to repair. Homeowners only need to remove and replace the affected pieces, not the whole surface. Permeable pavers are also easy to maintain, often requiring as little as a shopvac or a broom to keep them clean.

Want to reduce your water bill? Installing a non-permeable liner below your pavers allows you to direct the absorbed rainwater toward trees or other plant life for irrigation purposes. Liners and drains could also direct rainwater or snowmelt toward tanks for future reuse.

How to Get Started

Hardscaping isn’t a beginner-level DIY task, so be sure to research and weigh your options before deciding whether you will hire a professional or undertake the work yourself.

If you do plan to DIY, be aware you will require more than just pavers, stone dust and a lot of elbow grease. Equipment needs will range. Simple stakes and levels determine slope and a material processor helps break up trees or other plants that require removal.

Bottom line: Whether you hire it out or do it yourself, upgrading or adding hardscaping is a critical investment in the fight to protect your home from flood damage.


Megan Wild is a home improvement specialist who loves learning new ways to improve her home and keep it safe. She can typically be found in her workshop, upcycling her latest find into something new and bright. When she’s not doing that, she’s cataloging her ideas and advice on her blog, Your Wild Home.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Self-Sufficiency Master? Five Ways to Help Others Get Prepping

If you have mastered the elements of prepping for a natural disaster, you might have others who have not yet educated themselves. Prep work for the day of disaster ensures that you will live better when trouble arises. What are some of the ways that you can help others to prepare for a disaster?

Educate Them

No matter how little money you might have, having a vast store of knowledge can help you to be rich and useful to your friends and family. Knowing the basics of the Heimlich Maneuver gives greater safety to your friends and family. Education can go a long way in your future survival efforts, and teaching others can be a great method of teaching yourself. Some of the useful skills for prepping include:

Human Anatomy

Paramedic Skills

Solar Energy Guides

Homesteading

Composting

Tell Them to Stockpile

To stockpile, you can buy the cheaper items that will last. For example, buy an extra bag of rice or dried beans. You can also buy powdered milk, oats or legumes. For just a couple extra bucks, you can start a stockpile that builds up slowly. However, make sure that they have bought products that will last over the long term. You can prepare for this in the wrong way if you are hoarding everything but the essential items.

You may also want to consider the benefits of sanitary inline strainers because they can remove harmful particles from your water. The easy to clean strainer will also increase your production, whether you need it for beverages, pharmaceutical applications, or food.

Water

Hands down, one of the most important things to tell your friends and family is to stockpile some water. You cannot survive more than a few days without it, and a water storage unit ensures that if you do not have running water, you will still have a viable backup. This can even be helpful if a main water line breaks.

Self Defense

True self-sufficiency in the time of disaster means having a weapon that will defend you. You can help others to practice assembling and disassembling a gun. Teaching others about gun safety and issues regarding guns can be exceptionally helpful.

Finally, teach others to keep it simple and thrifty so that it will be sustainable. A good prep plan should be simple enough to understand so that other people will have no problem with continuing to carry it out. Another method of helping others is to teach them survivalist techniques and topics such as bush craft.


Written by Rachelle Wilber

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