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Starting your smart home transformation

Converting to a smart home may seem like an intimidating task at first, but if you break the process into manageable steps you’ll find it’s not so hard to choose and install the best smart devices for your home and lifestyle. You can begin turning your house into a smart home by following these three simple steps.

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With the aid of modern technology, it’s now possible to convert virtually any ordinary house into a smart home filled with features that make daily tasks more convenient. These technologies allow for greener living, customization of your living space to personal tastes and the peace of mind that you can control key home systems with your smartphone.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images House

Photo courtesy of Getty Images House

Converting to a smart home may seem like an intimidating task at first, but if you break the process into manageable steps you’ll find it’s not so hard to choose and install the best smart devices for your home and lifestyle. You can begin turning your house into a smart home by following these three simple steps.

Set a budget.
All of the technology and gadgetry that comprise today’s smart homes were once viewed as luxury, reserved for the rich and famous and those whose lives played out on the big screen. What once seemed impractical for the average homeowner is now quite attainable. When you consider that some smart devices, such as light bulbs, have a life span of up to 25 years, in the end you may end up even saving money.

How much money you’ll ultimately spend to create your smart home depends on numerous factors: the size of your home, number of systems and appliances you wish to automate and the level of integration you desire are significant considerations. Assuming that your home is already wired for a high-performance broadband connection, you can get into the smart home game for under $100 with a thermostat that you can manage remotely. On the other hand, adding smart-home technology throughout the whole house will likely cost in the thousands.

Pay attention to the levels of integration various products offer. Purchasing products from brands that partner with many other smart-home device makers will help ensure the products you add in the future will work with those you install now. Selecting highly integrated products will save you time during the installation process, help you avoid unnecessary expenses down the road and improve your overall smart-home experience.

Brainstorm ideas for each room.
Once you’re past the nuts and bolts of practical considerations, it’s time to start imagining. The key about designing the perfect smart home for you is to remember that the very essence of smart devices is their ability to make your life more convenient. Choosing the products and how you connect them is all about you and your lifestyle – there’s more than just one way to build your smart home.

Go room to room in your home and think about the activities that occur in each space. Consider which of these can become easier or more enjoyable with the support of smart technology. The living room, where you likely have a host of entertainment and audio equipment, offers plenty of obvious benefits, but also look at the kitchen, for example. Did you forget to start the dishwasher on your way out the door? Initiating a wash cycle remotely will let you come home to dishes clean and ready for dinner.

Prioritize what you install.
When it’s time to begin the actual transition to a smart home, it’s a good idea to start with the most important products first. For most homeowners, those are the devices that you use every day.

Opening and closing the garage door is so much a part of your daily routine that it is often hard to remember if you closed it on the way out. Products such as the Chamberlain MyQ Garage upgrade kit, or Chamberlain garage door openers with built-in MyQ technology, put peace of mind in the palm of your hand. This technology allows you to control and check the status of your garage door from anywhere, at any time, so you know if your garage was left open or if it’s being opened while you’re not there.

With the all-important lead-in to your home covered, you can turn attention to devices that help manage your home’s operation and efficiency. Thermostats that auto adjust to designated climate settings are a popular option for many homeowners because they bring immediate returns in reducing your overall energy usage. Irrigation systems and power management products are also wise investments when it comes to optimizing your home’s use of natural resources.

Stepping across the threshold to a smart home may feel like a big step, but once you get settled and experience the convenience and control, you’ll likely find yourself exploring ways to incorporate smart technology every place you can.

Smart Devices for Every Room
The number of devices that can be integrated into a smart home is growing at an accelerated rate, but not all are complex gadgets and gizmos. Some of the simpler options for every room in your home include:

Living Room: Outlet Adapters
Walk into your home late at night and flip on the lights, the TV or both without searching in the dark for a switch or remote. After your smart outlet adapter is plugged into the wall, appliances can be plugged into the adapter and controlled from a smartphone.

Bedroom: Motorized Drapes
Adding motorized drapes to your bedroom allows for an easy way to adjust lighting and privacy – all without leaving the comfort of your bed. Properly adjusting drapes, which is easy to do with smartphone control, can also help manage energy consumption by regulating solar heat.

Kitchen: Coffee Maker
Wake up to your favorite morning beverage without drowsily scooping and pouring. A smart coffee maker can make the right amount of coffee at just the right time through simple settings on your smartphone.

Garage: Remote Garage Door Access
With remote access to one of the main entry points to your home, you can ensure the garage door is shut when you’re out or ready to open when you return.

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NewsMakers

5 Tips when buying life insurance for the first time

A knowledgeable and professional insurance agent can offer trusted guidance when it comes to finding the right life insurance protection at the right price.

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Photo by Vlad Deep from Unsplash.com

Major life changes like getting married, starting a family or buying a house are often when people start thinking about buying life insurance. Now, more than ever, people are more concerned with their financial security. Buying a life policy can be a process that sounds intimidating or confusing – but it’s also very important.

During this Life Insurance Awareness Month, Erie Insurance shares five points to discuss with your agent when buying life insurance for the first time.

  1. Understand who (or what) you are protecting. While anyone experiencing a significant life event like getting married or starting a family often recognizes the need for life insurance, others may not realize they could benefit from it as well. For instance, stay-at-home parents and student loan cosigners could have a definite need for life insurance.
  2. Only buy the life insurance plan you can afford. Many people are surprised at how much life insurance they really need to protect the people and things they love most – but they are also surprised at how affordable it can be. If you cannot find a policy that fits in your budget, it’s a mistake to forgo any coverage at all. Something is definitely better than nothing.
  3. Think through your beneficiaries. A life insurance beneficiary is the person or entity you name in your life policy to receive funds in the event of your passing. Your beneficiary can be a person, business, trust, charity or even your church. And you can have more than one. It’s important to make sure you think through who your beneficiaries are and if any proceeds meant to benefit a minor should be held in a trust.
  4. Buy from a financially sound company. You want the backing of a financially strong insurer if you or someone you love needs to call on the life insurance policy. A.M. Best, the largest and longest-established company devoted to issuing in-depth reports and financial strength ratings about insurance organizations, gave Erie Family Life Insurance Company a rating of A (Excellent).
  5. Consider current and future needs. Don’t just consider your current lifestyle, keep in mind your future needs and what those could include for your spouse, children or business (think college expenses, weddings, etc.). By taking in these considerations today, you’re investing in the security of your future. Life insurance is less expensive than most people think—and that’s especially true when you’re younger. 

A knowledgeable and professional insurance agent can offer trusted guidance when it comes to finding the right life insurance protection at the right price. Life insurance with Erie Family Life offers you the right coverage with flexible options, helping you to build a policy now that is adaptable later.

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NewsMakers

Online menus should put healthy food first

Women who see healthy food at the top of an online menu are 30 to 40 percent more likely to order it, a Flinders University study has found, with the authors saying menu placement could play a role in encouraging healthier eating.

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Photo by Drahomír Posteby-Mach from Unsplash.com

Women who see healthy food at the top of an online menu are 30 to 40 percent more likely to order it, a Flinders University study has found, with the authors saying menu placement could play a role in encouraging healthier eating.

Published in the journal Appetite and led by Flinders University PhD Candidate Indah Gynell, the team investigated where on a menu healthy items should be placed to best encourage people to choose them.

“Previous research has explored menu placement before, but the studies were inconsistent, with some finding placing food items at the top and bottom of a menu increased their popularity, while others suggested that the middle is best,” said Ms Gynell from Flinders’ College of Education, Psychology and Social Work.

“In our study we compared three locations on both printed and online menus, with online being an important addition in the age of food ordering platforms, such as UberEats and Menulog, especially during the pandemic.”

The researchers created menus containing eight unhealthy items and four healthy items, arranged in three rows of four on the physical printed menu and in one column of 12 on the digital menu. In one study, the physical menu was tested on 172 female participants, while in the second study, the digital menu was tested on 182 female participants.

Female participants were chosen as previous research has found that dieting behaviours – likely to impact menu choice – are consistently more prevalent in women.

Participants then chose an item from one of the experimental menus before completing a psychological test that identified their ‘dietary restraint status’; that is whether or not they were actively choosing to restrict their eating habits for the purpose of health or weight loss.

“We found that neither the order of food items, nor participants’ dietary restraint status, impacted whether or not healthy food was chosen in the physical menus,” says Ms Gynell.

“However, for the online menus, we found that participants who saw healthy items at the top of an online menu were 30-40% more likely to choose a healthy item than those who viewed them further down the menu.”

The authors say the finding is important because if added up over time, consistent healthy choices could result in general health benefits at a population level, highlighting why such an intervention could be worth implementing.

“Diet-related illnesses and disease are more common now than ever before, and with a rise in online food ordering it’s important we uncover cost-effective and simple public health initiatives,” says Ms Gynell.

“Changing the order of a menu, which doesn’t require the addition or removal of items, is unlikely to impact profits as consumers are guided towards healthier options without being discouraged from purchasing altogether.

“This means it’s more likely to be accepted by food purveyors and, despite being a somewhat simple solution, has the potential to shape real-world healthy eating interventions.”

The effect of item placement on snack food choices from physical and online menus by Indah Gynell, Eva Kemps, Ivanka Prichard and Marika Tiggemann is published in the journal Appetite.

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Serving larger portions of veggies may increase young kids’ veggie consumption

The researchers found that while the larger portions of vegetables were associated with greater intake, the addition of butter and salt was not. The children also reported liking both versions — seasoned and unseasoned — about the same. About 76% of kids rated the vegetables as “yummy” or “just ok.”

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Photo by Nadine Primeau from Unsplash.com

It can be difficult to get young kids to eat enough vegetables, but a new Penn State study found that simply adding more veggies to their plates resulted in children consuming more vegetables at the meal.

The researchers found that when they doubled the amount of corn and broccoli served at a meal — from 60 to 120 grams — the children ate 68% more of the veggies, or an additional 21 grams. Seasoning the vegetables with butter and salt, however, did not affect consumption.

The daily recommended amount of vegetables for kids is about 1.5 cups a day, according to the official Dietary Guidelines for Americans as set by the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services.

“The increase we observed is equal to about one third of a serving or 12% of the daily recommended intake for young children,” said Hanim Diktas, graduate student in nutritional sciences. “Using this strategy may be useful to parents, caregivers and teachers who are trying to encourage kids to eat the recommended amount of vegetables throughout the day.”

Barbara Rolls, Helen A. Guthrie Chair and director of the Laboratory for the Study of Human Ingestive Behavior at Penn State, said the findings — recently published in the journal Appetite — support the MyPlate guidance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which recommends meals high in fruits and vegetables.

“It’s important to serve your kids a lot of vegetables, but it’s also important to serve them ones they like because they have to compete with the other foods on the plate,” Rolls said. “Parents can ease into this by gradually exposing kids to new vegetables, cooking them in a way their child enjoys, and experimenting with different flavors and seasonings as you familiarize them.”

According to the researchers, the majority of children in the U.S. don’t eat the recommended daily amount of vegetables, which could possibly be explained by children having a low preference for them. And while serving larger portions has been found to increase the amount of food children eat — called the “portion size effect” — kids tend to eat smaller amounts of vegetables in response to bigger portions compared to other foods.

For this study, the researchers were curious if increasing just the amount of vegetables while keeping the portions of other foods the same would help increase veggie consumption in kids. They also wanted to experiment with whether adding light butter and salt to the vegetables would increase their palatability and also affect consumption.

For the study, the researchers recruited 67 children between the ages of three and five. Once a week for four weeks, the participants were served lunch with one of four different preparations of vegetables: a regular-sized serving of plain corn and broccoli, a regular-sized serving with added butter and salt, a doubled serving of plain corn and broccoli, and a doubled serving with added butter and salt.

During each meal, the vegetables were served alongside fish sticks, rice, applesauce and milk. Foods were weighed before and after the meal to measure consumption.

“We chose foods that were generally well-liked but also not the kids’ favorite foods,” Rolls said. “If you offer vegetables alongside, say, chicken nuggets you might be disappointed. Food pairings are something you need to be conscious of, because how palpable the vegetables are compared to the other foods on the plate is going to affect the response to portion size. You need to make sure your vegetables taste pretty good compared to the other foods.”

After analyzing the results, the researchers found that while the larger portions of vegetables were associated with greater intake, the addition of butter and salt was not. The children also reported liking both versions — seasoned and unseasoned — about the same. About 76% of kids rated the vegetables as “yummy” or “just ok.”

“We were surprised that the butter and salt weren’t needed to improve intake, but the vegetables we served were corn and broccoli, which may have been already familiar to and well-liked by the kids,” Diktas said. “So for less familiar vegetables, it’s possible some extra flavoring might help to increase intake.”

Diktas said that while serving larger portions may increase vegetable consumption, it also has the potential to increase waste if kids don’t eat all of the food that is served.

“We’re working on additional research that looks into substituting vegetables for other food instead of just adding more vegetables,” Diktas said. “In the future, we may be able to give recommendations about portion size and substituting vegetables for other foods, so we can both limit waste and promote veggie intake in children.”

Liane Roe, research nutritionist; Kathleen Keller, associate professor of nutritional sciences; and Christine Sanchez, lab manager at the Laboratory for the Study of Human Ingestive Behavior, also participated in this work.

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