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How to create peace and joy at home

Bring on the joy! Adding mood lighting to your home will add more happiness to your home. So will creating a quiet, peaceful environment. Consumer Reports suggests doing the following.

-- Let the sunshine in. Whether from a window, glass door or skylight, natural light helps interior spaces feel larger, and it's a known antidote to depression. In a 2016 survey of 18,000 homeowners by HomeAdvisor, an online marketplace of service professionals, roughly 75 percent of self-described happy homeowners cited the abundance of natural light in their home as an important contributor to their positive mood. And daylight helps cut down on energy costs because you're less reliant on electric lighting.

-- Make the most of mirrors. Hang an oversized mirror in the living room to reflect natural light, making the space feel larger.

-- Create layers of light. Proper lighting improves the feel and function of a home, especially as you get older. A 60-year-old needs twice as much light as his 30-year-old counterpart, according to the American Lighting Association. It recommends three layers of light. The first is ambient light for overall illumination, from a chandelier or recessed canister light. The second is task lighting, such as under-cabinet LED strips in the kitchen to make food prep easier. The third is accent lighting that introduces drama -- think picture lights over a framed painting.

-- Install dimmers. A simple swap of a wall switch can let you vary the light to suit the activity -- from bright light during meal prep to low light for entertaining.

-- Pick the proper bulb. Use the information on the Lighting Facts Label, covering features such as color temperature and lumens. LED bulbs around 2,700 K (the K is for Kelvin temperature) on the color-temperature scale cast a warm yellow light similar to outmoded incandescent bulbs, making them a good general-purpose choice. Bulbs with a temperature around 3,000 K have a whiter light that's better suited to bathrooms and laundry rooms. As for brightness, Consumer Reports says to look for bulbs with 800 lumens to get the equivalent of a 60-watt incandescent.

Cultivate Peace and Quiet

Your home should be a quiet escape from the outside world. But a combination of loud appliances, hard surfaces and open floor plans can ratchet up the racket pretty quickly. And that can take a toll on your body as well as your mind. About 48 million Americans live with some hearing loss.

"Noise-induced hearing loss is cumulative over time," says Nancy Nadler, deputy executive director of the Center for Hearing and Communication. "Whenever it's possible, turn down the volume in the home."

If you have a multifunctional kitchen, complete with homework stations, it's important to choose an ultraquiet refrigerator along with a quiet dishwasher. Elsewhere in the home, Consumer Reports suggests installing carpets and drapes to help absorb loud noises. As a general rule, keep the TV and music speakers at a volume where it's still easy to have a normal conversation.

To learn more visit, ConsumerReports.org

Time savers also add convenience

Want to save time at home while adding convenience? Choose gadgets and appliances that do more for you. Consumer Reports suggests doing the following four things.

1. Get a dishwasher that makes a difference. A creaky old dishwasher that doesn't work well is almost as bad as no dishwasher at all. If cereal bowls and dinner plates keep coming out flecked with bits of food, plastic containers never quite dry and you have to shout to make yourself heard when the machine kicks into high gear, it might be time to consider an upgrade.

2. Pump up your Wi-Fi. Is your house bigger than your Wi-Fi network? It's a common technology challenge: The signal doesn't reach your home's far recesses -- say, the basement or one of the kids' rooms. To solve it, consider one of a new generation of routers from Eero, Luma, Google and others, all of which employ mesh networking. Simply place multiple routers around the house, and the system will create a single network that extends Wi-Fi coverage without clipping bandwidth. A set of three Eeros is claimed to cover up to 4,000 square feet, well over the size of the average American house. You can buy the units individually, but if you want the benefits of a mesh network, you'll need more than one.

3. Create the perfect laundry room. If your washer and dryer are still parked in your basement, it's time to bring them out of the shadows and into your main living space. Position the laundry area near a kitchen or bathroom, and you should be able to share plumbing lines. For electric dryers, you'll need to put in an outlet with a dedicated 30-amp, three- or four-wire circuit. Gas dryers will need to be supplied with a gas connection and vented outdoors. The project might set you back a few hundred dollars, but in addition to making life much more convenient, the investment could pay for itself if and when you sell your home. In a 2016 survey of homebuyers by the National Association of Home Builders, a dedicated laundry room was No. 1 on the list of most-desired home features, considered essential or desirable by 92 percent of respondents.

Of course, a laundry room is only as good as the appliances you put into it. Consumer Reports says the mark of a top dryer is its ability to dry items without overcooking them, plus convenience features such as easy loading and unloading.

4. Banish dust bunnies. There's something cool about coming home to a spotless floor. A robotic vacuum will help create that sense of well-being by scooting throughout your home sucking up dirt and other surface debris while you're out living your life. Consumer Reports notes that you'll still need a full-sized vacuum for deep carpet cleaning, but today's top robotic vacuums are more powerful than ever and better at navigating your home than in the past.

To learn more, visit ConsumerReports.org

How to protect your privacy on your phone

Happy birthday, iPhone! Ten years ago, Apple's iPhone was born, launching a smartphone transformation that changed the way consumers use and depend on their devices.

And mobile apps can make your life a lot easier. They tap into the information stored on your smartphone to remind you about appointments, find stores and restaurants near you or tell you whether there's heavy traffic on your commute. But that convenience comes with a price: the loss of some of your privacy, according to Consumer Reports.

Information about your location, activities and accounts is being shared with the app makers' computers. It can then be used for marketing purposes, be sold to other companies or even be stolen if the app -- or the app makers' servers -- are hacked.

"Apps may request administrative privileges to your data, and those privileges could be used by the app later on, or by some malware, to steal your personal information," says Ed Cabrera, chief cybersecurity officer at TrendMicro, a digital security company.

For instance, a game may have access to your phone app so that it knows when to pause for incoming calls. But that access may also allow the app's maker to listen in.

Fortunately, there are easy ways to limit the intrusion while still getting the benefit of the app itself, Consumer Reports says. The first step is to delete any apps you no longer use, because data is still being shared with the app's maker. Then go through the remaining apps and adjust the privacy settings on each one.

As a broad rule, give the app access only to information you know it really needs. Does your calorie-counting app ask to know your location? Try shutting that off to test whether it can still function the way you want it to.

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For Facebook, Consumer Reports suggests turning off access to your phone's calendar, contacts, microphone and location data. But leave on access to the camera if you want to post your photos.

Like other social media services, Facebook also has its own unique settings for privacy and security, which can be accessed online or from inside the app. Facebook's settings include topics such as "Who can see my stuff?" and "Who can contact me?" (For more strategies, go to Consumer Reports online, at CR.org/66privacy.)

Here's how to check -- and change -- the app settings on your phone:

Android Phones

1. Go to Manage applications or Applications under Settings.

2. Make sure the All Apps tab is selected.

3. Scroll down to and click on the app you wish to change. (This menu also contains the Uninstall button, which will delete the app.)

4. Click on Permissions.

5. Switch off permissions that seem unnecessary.

iPhones

1. Open Settings.

2. Scroll down to your app.

3. Click on it to open its permissions menu.

4. Switch off permissions that seem unnecessary.

To learn more, visit ConsumerReports.org

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