Where there's smoke, there's furniture: Fabrics that flame faster

Flammable furniture I'm a former New Yorker who used to pay big rent for a tiny apartment. So I should have recoiled in horror watching the city's fire department torch 20 perfectly good homes on Governors Island in the harbor. But I didn't -- because it's money well spent. The fire department is called "New York's Bravest" ever since the 9/11 terrorist attack killed hundreds of their brothers who rushed into the World Trade Center to save lives. And in trying to figure out a way to save more lives, including their own, they stuffed those 20 homes with plastic-filled furniture, probably like the kind which decorates your house, and set them ablaze to see how hot they would burn and the best way to cool them down. Hell breaks loose I decided to take a quick trip to a furniture store where I learned that almost every couch, chair and bed was stuffed with petroleum-based compounds like polyurethane and covered with other compounds such as rayon and polyester. This is why mattresses spring back to shape, and couch cushions recover even after a hefty person sits on them. While at the store, I lifted up the cushions. The labels confirmed that… (continue reading......)

Are insurers contributing to the foreclosure crisis?

foreclosure2 If I offered to take away your current homeowners insurance policy and replace it with one costing three times as much, you'd say "no." But what if I did it anyway? And, what if you didn't find out about it until you got the bill? This is a position in which thousands of homeowners find themselves. They've been saddled with costly property insurance policies at a time when they can least afford it. These annual premiums, often totaling thousands of dollars, could force them into foreclosure and precipitate the loss of their homes. I find it ironic that at a time when insurers are competing aggressively to offer you car insurance at lower rates, a small sliver of somewhat obscure insurers are racking up huge profits right under the noses of supposedly vigilant regulators. It's a result of an incestuous relationship between these insurers and the banks or lending institutions with which they deal, coupled with the financial weakness of their victims. Unfortunately, it lets them gang up and prey on homeowners. Name change shouldn't mean game change This type of insurance is called force-placed, but the insurers prefer to call it lender-placed so they won't look like bullies. Here's… (continue reading......)

The hurricane name game

alphabet Hurricane season starts on June 1, and it's time we the people took control -- of naming them. Almost every year, these bad boys and girls have been storming up and down our coastlines, leveling Florida homes, tearing open New Orleans levees, floating Vermont pickup trucks and generally causing havoc. So what can we do about them? Well, we can't stop 'urricanes from 'appening, to paraphrase Eliza Doolittle; they have international passports. Hurricanes often form as dust clouds in the African Sahara, soak in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, and then languish on exotic Caribbean islands before crashing onto our shores like texting drivers. So if we can't beat 'em, can we at least name 'em? Banish Beulah The World Meteorological Organization began naming hurricanes in 1950. The tradition is relatively recent considering that the first recorded howler was "the Great Tempest of 1609," which struck the Chesapeake Bay. And the worst hurricane to hit the United States -- which killed up to 12,000 people and washed away 3,600 homes in Galveston, Texas, in 1900 -- was never named. Enter the meteorologists, who haven't done a very good job. This is no surprise, since their forecasting hasn't… (continue reading......)

Under construction: Mother Nature widening Tornado Alley?

Tornado Victims The tornadoes that tore through the Dallas area in early April may have seemed unusual for the area - but were they? New research from CoreLogic, a Santa Ana, Calif.-based analytics company, says historical data shows tornado risk is more widespread than commonly believed. Rather than being confined to the Midwest, the risk extends to most of the eastern half of the United States, according to the firm's report, "Tornado and Hail Risk Beyond Tornado Alley." In fact, among the top 10 states with the most tornadoes from 1980 to 2009, only three -- Kansas, Oklahoma and Illinois -- are actually in Tornado Alley. At least 26 states have some area facing extreme tornado risk, and almost every state east of the Rocky Mountains faces at least moderate risk for hail damage. Last year's storms were notable for their severity -- more than 100 people died and hundreds of others were injured in Joplin alone -- and for the places they hit. The so-called Tornado Alley includes the Great Plains states and surrounding areas -- Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota and Illinois. But last year, tornadoes spun from Texas to New York, wreaking havoc in Alabama,… (continue reading......)

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