Each month, we publish a series of articles of interest to homeowners -- money-saving tips, household safety checklists, home improvement advice, real estate insider secrets, etc. Whether you currently are in the market for a new home, or not, we hope that this information is of value to you. Please feel free to pass these articles on to your family and friends.


ISSUE #1105
FEATURE REPORT

Did you know that the average family spends close to $1300 a year on their home's utility bills? Unfortunately, a large portion of that energy is wasted. By using a few inexpensive energy efficient measures, you can reduce your energy bills by 10% to 50%.
This information shows you how easy it is to reduce your home energy use. It is a guide to easy, practical solutions for saving energy throughout your home, from the insulating system that surrounds it to the appliances and lights inside. These valuable tips will save you energy and money and, in many cases, help the environment by reducing pollution and conserving our natural resources.



 
 

Also This Month...

Picking an agent is one of those critical issues that can cost or save you thousands of dollars. There are very specific questions you should be asking to ensure that you get the best representation for your needs.


 
 


Be aware that buying a great used car requires navigating through a few special steps to ensure that you will get the most reliable and safe car. Follow these tips and you'll be rolling down the highway with confidence.

 

Quick Links
Tips on Saving Energy and Money at Home
Ten Things You Need to Know Before You Hire an Agent
Buying a Great Used Car
 

 

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Tips on Saving Energy and Money at Home

Did you know that the average family spends close to $1300 a year on their home's utility bills? Unfortunately, a large portion of that energy is wasted. By using a few inexpensive energy efficient measures, you can reduce your energy bills by 10% to 50% and, at the same time, help reduce air pollution.

The key to achieving these savings is a whole house energy efficiency plan. To take a whole house approach, view your home as an energy system with interdependent parts. For example, your heating system is not just a furnace, it's a heat delivery system that starts at the furnace and delivers heat throughout your home using a network of ducts. You may have a top-of-the-line, energy efficient furnace, but if the ducts leak and are uninsulated, and your walls, attic, windows, and doors are uninsulated, your energy bills will remain high. Taking a whole house approach to saving energy ensures that dollars you invest in energy efficiency are wisely spent.

This information shows you how easy it is to reduce your home energy use. It is a guide to easy, practical solutions for saving energy throughout your home, from the insulating system that surrounds it to the appliances and lights inside. These valuable tips will save you energy and money and, in many cases, help the environment by reducing pollution and conserving our natural resources.

The first step to taking a whole house energy efficiency approach is to find out which parts of your house use the most energy. A home energy audit will show you where these are and suggest the most effective measures for reducing your energy costs. You can conduct a simple home energy audit yourself, you can contact your local utility, or you can call an independent energy auditor for a more comprehensive examination.

Energy Auditing Tips

  • Check the level of insulation in your exterior and basement walls, ceilings, attic, floors, and crawl spaces.
  • Check for holes or cracks around your walls, ceilings, windows, doors, light and plumbing fixtures, switches, and electrical outlets that can leak air into or out of your home.
  • Check for open fireplace dampers.
  • Make sure your appliances and heating and cooling systems are properly maintained.
  • Study your family's lighting needs and use patterns, paying special attention to high use areas such as the living room, kitchen, and exterior lighting. Look for ways to use daylight, reduce the time the lights are on, and replace incandescent bulbs and fixtures with compact fluorescent lamps or standard fluorescent lamps.

Formulating Your Plan

After you have identified places where your home is losing energy, assign priorities to your energy needs by asking yourself a few important questions:

How much money do you spend on energy?
Where are your greatest energy losses?
How long will it take for an investment in energy efficiency to pay for itself in energy savings?
Can you do the job yourself, or will you need to hire a contractor?
What is your budget and how much time do you have to spend on maintenance and repair?

Once you assign priorities to your energy needs, you can form a whole house efficiency plan. Your plan will provide you with a strategy for making smart purchases and home improvements that maximize energy efficiency and save the most money.

Another option is to get the advice of a professional. Many utilities conduct energy audits for free or for a nominal charge. For a fee, a professional contractor will analyze how your home's energy systems work together as a system and compare the analysis against your utility bills. He or she will use a variety of equipment such as blower doors, infrared cameras, and surface thermometers to find inefficiencies that cannot be detected by a visual inspection. Finally, they will give you a list of recommendations for cost effective energy improvements and enhanced comfort and safety.

Insulation

Checking your home's insulating system is one of the fastest and most cost efficient ways to use a whole house approach to reduce energy waste and maximize your energy dollars. A good insulating system includes a combination of products and construction techniques that provide a home with thermal performance, protect it against air infiltration, and control moisture. You can increase the comfort of your home while reducing your heating and cooling needs by up to 30% by investing just a few hundred dollars in proper insulation and weatherization products.

Insulation Tips

  • Consider factors such as your climate, building design, and budget when selecting insulation R-value for your home.
  • Use higher density insulation, such as rigid foam boards, in cathedral ceilings and on exterior walls.
  • Ventilation plays a large role in providing moisture control and reducing summer cooling bills. Install attic vents to help make sure that there is one inch of ventilation space between the insulation and roof shingles. Attic vents can be installed along the entire ceiling cavity to help ensure proper airflow from the soffit to the attic, helping to make a home more comfortable and energy efficient.
  • Do not block vents with insulation, and keep insulation at least 3 inches away from recessed lighting fixtures or other heat producing equipment unless it is marked "I.C." - designed for direct insulation contact.
  • The easiest and most cost effective way to insulate your home is to add insulation in the attic. To find out if you have enough attic insulation, measure the thickness of insulation. If there is less than R-19 (6 inches of fiber glass or rock wool or 5 inches of cellulose) you could probably benefit by adding more. Most homes should have between R-19 and R-49 insulation in the attic.
  • If your attic has ample insulation and your home still feels drafty and cold in the winter or too warm in the summer, chances are you need to add insulation to the exterior walls as well. This is a more expensive measure that usually requires a contractor, but it may be worth the cost if you live in a very hot or cold climate.

Weatherization

Warm air leaking into your home during the summer and out of your home during the winter can waste a substantial portion of your energy dollars. One of the quickest dollar-saving tasks you can do is caulk, seal, and weather strip all seams, cracks, and openings to the outside. You can save 10% or more on your energy bill by reducing the air leaks in your home.

Sources of Air Leaks in Your Home

1. Dropped Ceiling 9. Chimney penetration
2. Recessed light 10. Warm air register
3. Attic entrance 11. Window sashes & frames
4. Electric wires & box 12. Baseboards, coves, interior trim
5. Plumbing utilities & penetration    13. Plumbing access panel
6. Water & furnace flues 14. Electrical outlets & switches
7. All ducts 15. Light fixtures
8. Door sashes & frames  

Heating and Cooling

Heating and cooling your home uses more energy and drains more energy dollars than any other system in your home. No matter what kind of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system you have in your house, you can save money and increase comfort by properly maintaining and upgrading your equipment. By combining proper equipment maintenance and upgrades with appropriate insulation, weatherization, and thermostat settings, you can cut your energy bills and your pollution output in half.

Heating Tips

  • Set your thermostat as low as is comfortable.
  • Clean or replace filters on furnaces once a month or as needed.
  • Clean warm air registers, baseboard heaters, and radiators as needed; make sure they're not blocked by furniture, carpeting, or drapes.
  • Bleed trapped air from hot water radiators once or twice a season; if in doubt about how to perform this task, call a professional.
  • Place heat resistant radiator reflectors between exterior walls and the radiators.
  • Use kitchen, bath, and other ventilating fans wisely; in just 1 hour, these fans can pull out a houseful of warmed or cooled air. Turn fans off as soon as they have done the job.
  • Keep draperies and shades open on south facing windows during the heating season to allow sunlight to enter your home; close them at night to reduce the chill you may feel from cold windows.
  • Close an unoccupied room that is isolated from the rest of the house, such as in a corner, and turn down the thermostat or turn off the heating for that room or zone. However, do not turn the heating off if it adversely affects the rest of your system. For example, if you heat your house with a heat pump, do not close the vents - closing the vents could harm the heat pump.
  • Select energy efficient equipment when you buy new heating equipment. Your contractor should be able to give you energy fact sheets for different types, models, and designs to help you compare energy usage.

Heat Pumps

Heat pumps are the most efficient form of electric heating in moderate climates, providing three times more heating than the equivalent amount of energy they consume in electricity. There are three types of heat pumps: air-to-air, water source, and ground source. They collect heat from the air, water, or ground outside your home and concentrate it for use inside. Heat pumps do double duty as a central air conditioner. They can also cool your home by collecting the heat inside your house and effectively pumping it outside. A heat pump can trim the amount of electricity you use for heating as much as 30% to 40%.

Heat Pump Tips
  • Do not set back the heat pump's thermostat manually if it causes the electric resistance heating to come on. This type of heating, which is often used as a backup to the heat pump, is more expensive.
  • Clean or change filters once a month or as needed, and maintain the system according to manufacturer's instructions.

Solar Heating

Using the sun to heat your home through passive solar design can be both environmentally friendly and cost effective. In many cases, you can cut your heating costs by more than 50% compared to the cost of heating the same house that does not include passive solar design. Passive solar design techniques include placing larger, insulated windows on south facing walls and locating thermal mass, such as a concrete slab floor or a heat absorbing wall, close to the windows. However, a passive solar house requires careful design, best done by an architect for new construction or major remodeling.

Solar Tips
  • Keep all south facing glass clean.
  • Make sure that objects do not block the sunlight shining on concrete slab floors or heat-absorbing walls.
  • Consider using insulating curtains to reduce excessive heat loss from large windows at night.

Fireplaces

When you cozy up next to a crackling fire on a cold winter day, you probably don't realize that your fireplace is one of the most inefficient heat sources you can possibly use. It literally sends your energy dollars right up the chimney along with volumes of warm air. A roaring fire can exhaust as much as 24,000 cubic feet of air per hour to the outside, which must be replaced by cold air coming into the house from the outside. Your heating system must warm up this air, which is then exhausted through your chimney. If you use your conventional fireplace while your central heating system is on, these tips can help reduce energy losses.

Fireplace Tips
  • If you never use your fireplace, plug and seal the chimney flue.
  • Keep your fireplace damper closed unless a fire is going. Keeping the damper open is like keeping a 48-inch window wide open during the winter; it allows warm air to go right up the chimney.
  • When you use the fireplace, reduce heat loss by opening dampers in the bottom of the firebox (if provided) or open the nearest window slightly, approximately 1 inch, and close doors leading into the room. Lower the thermostat setting to between 50 and 55F.
  • Install tempered glass doors and a heat air exchange system that blows warmed air back into the room.
  • Check the seal on the flue damper and make it as snug as possible.
  • Add caulking around the fireplace hearth.
  • Use grates made of C-shaped metal tubes to draw cool room air into the fireplace and circulate warm air back into the room.

Air Conditioners

It might surprise you to know that buying a bigger room air conditioning unit won't necessarily make you feel more comfortable during the hot summer months. In fact, a room air conditioner that's too big for the area it is supposed to cool will perform less efficiently and less effectively than a smaller, properly sized unit. This is because room units work better if they run for relatively long periods of time than if they are continually, switching off and on. Longer run times allow air conditioners to maintain a more constant room temperature. Running longer also allows them to remove a larger amount of moisture from the air, which lowers humidity and, more importantly, makes you feel more comfortable.

Sizing is equally important for central air conditioning systems, which need to be sized by professionals. If you have a central air system in your home, set the fan to shut off at the same time as the cooling unit (compressor). In other words, don't use the system's central fan to provide circulation, but instead use circulating fans in individual rooms.

Cooling Tips

  • Whole house fans help cool your home by pulling cool air through the house and exhausting warm air through the attic. They are effective when operated at night and when the outside air is cooler than the inside.
  • Set your thermostat as high as comfortably possible in the summer. The less difference between the indoor and outdoor temperatures, the lower your overall cooling bill will be.
  • Don't set your thermostat at a colder setting than normal when you turn on your air conditioner. It will not cool your home any faster and could result in excessive cooling and, therefore, unnecessary expense.
  • Set the fan speed on high except in very humid weather. When it's humid, set the fan speed on low. You'll get better cooling, and slower air movement through the cooling equipment allows it to remove more moisture from the air, resulting in greater comfort.
  • Consider using an interior fan in conjunction with your window air conditioner to spread the cooled air more effectively through your home without greatly increasing your power use.
  • Don't place lamps or TV sets near your air conditioning thermostat. The thermostat senses heat from these appliances, which can cause the air conditioner to run longer than necessary.
  • Plant trees or shrubs to shade air conditioning units but not to block the airflow. A unit operating in the shade uses as much as 10% less electricity than the same one operating in the sun.

Programmable Thermostats

You can save as much as 10% a year on your heating and cooling bills by simply turning your thermostat back 10% to 15% for 8 hours. You can do this automatically without sacrificing comfort by installing an automatic setback or programmable thermostat.

Using a programmable thermostat, you can adjust the times you turn on the heating or air conditioning according to a preset schedule. As a result, you don't operate the equipment as much when you are asleep or when the house or part of the house is not occupied. (These thermostats are not meant to be used with heat pumps.) Programmable thermostats can store and repeat multiple daily settings (six or more temperature settings a day) that you can manually override without affecting the rest of the daily or weekly program

Ducts

Your home's duct system is one of the most important systems in your home, and may be wasting a lot of your energy dollars. It is a branching network of tubes in the walls, floors, and ceilings, carries the air from your home's furnace and central air conditioner to each room.

Unfortunately, many duct systems are poorly insulated or not insulated properly. Ducts that leak heated air into unheated spaces can add hundreds of dollars a year to your heating and cooling bills. Insulating ducts that are in unconditioned spaces is usually very cost effective. If you are buying a new duct system, consider one that comes with insulation already installed.

Sealing your ducts to prevent leaks is even more important if the ducts are located in an unconditioned area such as an attic or vented crawl space. If the supply ducts are leaking, heated or cooled air can be forced out unsealed joints and lost.

Although minor duct repairs are easy to accomplish, ducts in unconditioned spaces should be sealed and insulated by qualified professionals using the appropriate sealing materials. Here are a few simple tips to help with minor duct repairs.

Duct Tips
  • Check your ducts for air leaks. First look for sections that should be joined but have separated and then look for obvious holes.
  • If you use duct tape to repair and seal your ducts, look for tape with the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) logo to avoid tape that degrades, cracks, and loses its bond with age.
  • Remember that insulating ducts in the basement will make the basement colder. If both the ducts and the basement walls are un-insulated, consider insulating the basement walls and the ducts.
  • If your basement has been converted to a living area, install both supply and return registers in the basement rooms.
  • Be sure a well sealed vapor barrier exists on the outside of the insulation on cooling ducts to prevent moisture build up.
  • Get a professional to help you insulate and repair all ducts.

Water Heating

Water heating is the third largest energy expense in your home. It typically accounts for about 14% of your utility bill.

There are four ways to cut your water heating bills: use less hot water, turn down the thermostat on your water heater, insulate your water heater, and buy a new, more efficient water heater. A family of four, each showering for 5 minutes a day, uses 700 gallons of water a week; this is enough for a 3-year supply of drinking water for one person. You can cut that amount in half simply by using low-flow showerheads and faucets.

Water Heating Tips
  • Repair leaky faucets promptly; a leaky faucet wastes gallons of water in a short period.
  • Insulate your electric hot water storage tank and pipes, but be careful not to cover the thermostat.
  • Insulate your gas or oil hot water storage tank and pipes, but be careful not to cover the water heater's floor, top, thermostat, or burner compartment; when in doubt, get professional help.
  • Install aerators in faucets and low flow showerheads.
  • Buy a new water heater with a thick, insulating shell; while it may cost more initially than one without insulation, the energy savings will continue during the lifetime of the appliance.
  • Although most water heaters last 10-15 years, it's best to start shopping for a new one if yours is more than 7 years old. Doing some research before your heater fails will enable you to select one that most appropriately meets your needs.
  • Lower the thermostat on your water heater; water heaters at a setting of 115įF provide comfortable hot water for most uses.

Water Heater

  • Insulate your water heater to save energy and money.
  • Drain a quart of water from your water tank every 3 months to remove sediment that impedes heat transfer and lowers the efficiency of your heater.
  • Take more showers than baths. Bathing uses the most hot water in the average household. You use 15≠25 gallons of hot water for a bath, but less than 10 gallons during a 5-minute shower.
  • If you heat with electricity and live in a warm and sunny climate, consider installing a solar water heater. The solar units are environmentally friendly and can now be installed on your roof to blend with the architecture of your house.
Solar Water Heaters

If you heat with electricity and you have a non-shaded, south-facing location (such as a roof) on your property, consider installing a solar water heater. Solar water heating systems are also good for the environment. Solar water heaters avoid the harmful greenhouse gas emissions associated with electricity production. During a 20 year period, one solar water heater can avoid over 50 tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

Windows

Windows can be one of your home's most attractive features. Windows provide views, daylight, ventilation, and solar heating in the winter. Unfortunately, they can also account for 10% to 25% of your heating bill. During the summer, sunny windows make your air conditioner work two to three times harder. If you live in the Sun Belt, look into new solar control spectrally selective windows, which can cut the cooling load by more than half.

If your home has single pane windows, as almost half of homes do, consider replacing them. New double pane windows with high performance glass (e.g., low-e or spectrally selective) are available on the market. In colder climates, select windows that are gas filled with low emissivity ( low-e) coatings on the glass to reduce heat loss. In warmer climates, select windows with spectrally selective coatings to reduce heat gain. If you are building a new home, you can offset some of the cost of installing more efficient windows because doing so allows you to buy smaller, less expensive heating and cooling equipment.

Cold-Climate Window Tips
  • Install exterior or interior storm windows; storm windows can reduce your heat loss through the windows by 25% to 50%. Storm windows should have weather stripping at all moveable joints; be made of strong, durable materials; and have interlocking or overlapping joints. Low-e storm windows save even more energy.
  • Install tight fitting, insulating window shades on windows that feel drafty after weatherizing.
  • Close your curtains and shades at night; open them during the day.
  • Keep windows on the south side of your house clean to maximize solar gain.
Warm-Climate Window Tips
  • Install white window shades, drapes, or blinds to reflect heat away from the house.
  • Close curtains on south and west facing windows.
  • Install awnings on south and west facing windows.
  • Apply sun control or other reflective films on south-facing windows to reduce solar gain.

Landscaping

Landscaping is a natural and beautiful way to keep your home more comfortable and reduce your energy bills. In addition to adding aesthetic value and environmental quality to your home, a well placed tree, shrub, or vine can deliver effective shade, act as a windbreak, and reduce overall energy bills.

Carefully positioned trees can save up to 25% of a typical household's energy for heating and cooling. Properly placed trees around the house, can save an average household between $100 and $250 in heating and cooling energy costs annually.

During the summer months, the most effective way to keep your home cool is to prevent the heat from building up in the first place. A primary source of heat buildup is sunlight absorbed by your home's roof, walls, and windows. Dark colored home exteriors absorb 70% to 90% of the radiant energy from the sun that strikes the home's surfaces. Some of this absorbed energy is then transferred into your home by way of conduction, resulting in heat gain inside the house. In contrast, light colored surfaces effectively reflect most of the heat away from your home. Landscaping can also help block and absorb the sun's energy to help decrease heat build up in your home by providing shade and evaporative cooling.

Lighting

Increasing your lighting efficiency is one of the fastest ways to decrease your energy bills. If you replace 25% of your lights in high use areas with fluorescents, you can save about 50% of your lighting energy bill.

Indoor Lighting

Use linear fluorescent and energy efficient compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) in fixtures throughout your home to provide high quality and high efficiency lighting. Fluorescent lamps are much more efficient than incandescent bulbs and last 6 to 10 times longer.

Indoor Lighting Tips
  • Turn off the lights in any room you're not using, or consider installing timers, photo cells, or occupancy sensors to reduce the amount of time your lights are on.
  • Use task lighting; instead of brightly lighting an entire room, focus the light where you need it. For example, use fluorescent under cabinet lighting for kitchen sinks and countertops under cabinets.
  • Consider three way lamps; they make it easier to keep lighting levels low when brighter light is not necessary.
  • Use 4-foot fluorescent fixtures with reflective backing and electronic ballasts for your workroom, garage, and laundry areas.
  • Consider using 4 watt mini fluorescent or electro luminescent night lights. Both lights are much more efficient than their incandescent counterparts. The luminescent lights are cool to the touch.
  • Use CFLs in all the portable table and floor lamps in your home.
  • For spot lighting, consider CFLs with reflectors. The lamps range in wattage from 13 watt to 32 watt and provide a very directed light using a reflector and lens system.
  • Take advantage of daylight by using light colored, loose weave curtains on your windows to allow daylight to penetrate the room while preserving privacy. Also, decorate with lighter colors that reflect daylight.

Outdoor Lighting

Many homeowners use outdoor lighting for decoration and security. When shopping for outdoor lights, you will find a variety of products, from low-voltage pathway lighting to high sodium motion detector floodlights. Some stores also carry lights powered by small photovoltaic (PV) modules that convert sunlight directly into electricity; consider PV-powered lights for areas that are not close to an existing power supply line.

Outdoor Lighting Tips
  • Use outdoor lights with a photocell unit or a timer so they will turn off during the day.
  • Turn off decorative outdoor gas lamps; just eight gas lamps burning year round use as much natural gas as it takes to heat an average size home during an entire winter.
  • Exterior lighting is one of the best places to use CFLs because of their long life. If you live in a cold climate, be sure to buy a lamp with a cold-weather ballast.

Appliances

Appliances account for about 20% of your household's energy consumption, with refrigerators and clothes dryers at the top of the consumption list.

When you're shopping for appliances, you can think of two price tags. The first one covers the purchase price - think of it as a down payment. The second price tag is the cost of operating the appliance during its lifetime. You'll be paying on that second price tag every month with your utility bill for the next 10 to 20 years, depending on the appliance. Refrigerators last an average of 20 years; room air conditioners and dishwashers, about 10 years each; clothes washers, about 14 years.

Dishwashers

Most of the energy used by a dishwasher is for water heating. The Energy Guide label estimates how much power is needed per year to run the appliance and to heat the water based on the yearly cost of gas and electric water heating.

Dishwasher Tips
  • Check the manual that came with your dishwasher for the manufacturer's recommendations on water temperature; many have internal heating elements that allow you to set the water heater to a lower temperature.
  • Scrape, don't rinse, off large food pieces and bones. Soaking or prewashing is generally only recommended in cases of burned on or dried on food.
  • Be sure your dishwasher is full, but not overloaded.
  • Don't use the "rinse hold" on your machine for just a few soiled dishes. It uses 3 to 7 gallons of hot water each time you use it.
  • Let your dishes air dry; if you don't have an automatic air dry switch, turn off the control knob after the final rinse and prop the door open a little so the dishes will dry faster.
  • Remember that dishwashers use less water than washing dishes by hand, about 6 gallons less per load; dishwashers also use hotter water than you would use if you were washing the dishes by hand, so they can do a better job of killing germs.

Refrigerators

Refrigerator Choices

Refrigerators with the freezer on top are more efficient than those with freezers on the side.

The Energy Guide label on new refrigerators will tell you how much electricity in kilowatt hours (kWh) a particular model uses in one year. The smaller the number, the less energy the refrigerator uses and the less it will cost you to operate.

Refrigerator/Freezer Energy Tips
  • Look for a refrigerator with automatic moisture control. Models with this feature have been engineered to prevent moisture accumulation on the cabinet exterior without the addition of a heater. This is not the same thing as an "anti sweat" heater. Models with an anti sweat heater will consume 5% to 10% more energy than models without this feature.
  • Don't keep your refrigerator or freezer too cold. Recommended temperatures are 37į to 40įF for the fresh food compartment of the refrigerator and 5įF for the freezer section. If you have a separate freezer for long term storage, it should be kept at 0įF.
  • To check refrigerator temperature, place an appliance thermometer in a glass of water in the center of the refrigerator. Read it after 24 hours. To check the freezer temperature, place a thermometer between frozen packages. Read it after 24 hours.
  • Regularly defrost manual defrost refrigerators and freezers; frost build up increases the amount of energy needed to keep the motor running. Don't allow frost to build up more than one quarter of an inch.
  • Make sure your refrigerator door seals are airtight. Test them by closing the door over a piece of paper or a dollar bill so it is half in and half out of the refrigerator. If you can pull the paper or bill out easily, the latch may need adjustment or the seal may need replacing.
  • Cover liquids and wrap foods stored in the refrigerator. Uncovered foods release moisture and make the compressor work harder.
  • Move your refrigerator out from the wall and vacuum its condenser coils once a year unless you have a no clean condenser model. Your refrigerator will run for shorter periods with clean coils.

Other Energy-Saving Kitchen Tips

  • Be sure to place the faucet lever on the kitchen sink in the cold position when using small amounts of water; placing the lever in the hot position uses energy to heat the water even though it never reaches the faucet.
  • If you need to purchase a gas oven or range, look for one with an automatic, electric ignition system. An electric ignition saves gas - typically 41% in the oven and 53% on the top burners - because a pilot light is not burning continuously.
  • In gas appliances, look for blue flames; yellow flames indicate the gas is burning inefficiently and an adjustment may be needed.
  • Keep range top burners and reflectors clean; they will reflect the heat better, and you will save energy.
  • Use a covered kettle or pan to boil water; it's faster and it uses less energy.
  • Match the size of the pan to the heating element.
  • If you cook with electricity, turn the stovetop burners off several minutes before the allotted cooking time. The heating element will stay hot long enough to finish the cooking without using more electricity. The same principle applies to oven cooking.
  • Use small electric pans or toaster ovens for small meals rather than your large stove or oven. A toaster oven uses a third to half as much energy as a full-sized oven.
  • Use pressure cookers and microwave ovens whenever it is convenient to do so. They can save energy by significantly reducing cooking time.

Laundry

About 80% to 85% of the energy used for washing clothes is for heating the water. There are two ways to reduce the amount of energy used for washing clothes - use less water and use cooler water. Unless you're dealing with oily stains, the warm or cold water setting on your machine will generally do a good job of cleaning your clothes. Switching your temperature setting from hot to warm can cut a load's energy use in half.

When shopping for a new washer, look for a front loading (horizontal axis) machine. This machine may cost more to buy but uses about a third of the energy and less water than a top loading machine. With a front loader, you'll also save more on clothes drying, because they remove more water from your clothes during the spin cycle.

When shopping for a new clothes dryer, look for one with a moisture sensor that automatically shuts off the machine when your clothes are dry. Not only will this save energy, it will save wear and tear on your clothes caused by over drying. Keep in mind that gas dryers are less expensive to operate than electric dryers. The cost of drying a typical load of laundry in an electric dryer is 30 to 40 cents compared to 15 to 25 cents in a gas dryer.

Laundry Tips

  • Wash your clothes in cold water using cold water detergents whenever possible.
  • Wash and dry full loads. If you are washing a small load, use the appropriate water-level setting.
  • Dry towels and heavier cottons in a separate load from lighter weight clothes.
  • Don't over dry your clothes. If your machine has a moisture sensor, use it.
  • Clean the lint filter in the dryer after every load to improve air circulation.
  • Use the cool down cycle to allow the clothes to finish drying with the residual heat in the dryer.

 

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Ten Things You Need to Know Before You Hire an Agent


"Itís critical that you make the right decision about who will handle what is probably the single largest financial investment you will ever make."


Not all real estate agents are the same. If you decide to seek the help of an agent when selling or buying your home, you need some good information before you make any moves.

An agent can cost or save you thousands of dollars

Picking an agent is one of those critical issues that can cost or save you thousands of dollars. There are very specific questions you should be asking to ensure that you get the best representation for your needs. Some agents may prefer that you donít ask these questions, because the knowledge youíll gain from their honest answers will give you a very good idea about what outcome you can expect from using this agent. And letís face it - in real estate, as in life - not all things are created equal.

Hiring a real estate agent is just like any hiring process - with you on the bossís side of the desk. Itís critical that you make the right decision about who will handle what is probably the single largest financial investment you will ever make.

1. What makes you different? Why should I list my home with you?

Itís a much tougher real estate market than it was a decade ago. What unique marketing plans and programs does this agent have in place to make sure that your home stands out favorably versus other competing homes? What things does this agent offer you that others donít to help you sell your home in the least amount of time with the least amount of hassle and for the most amount of money?

2. What is your companyís track record and reputation in the market place?

It may seem like everywhere you look, real estate agents are boasting about being #1 for this or that, or quoting you the number of homes theyíve sold. If youíre like many homeowners, youíve probably become immune to much of this information. After all, you ask, "Why should I care about how many homes one agent sold over another. The only thing I care about is whether they can sell my home quickly for the most amount of money."

Well, because you want your home sold fast and for top dollar, you should be asking the agents you interview how many homes they have sold. Iím sure you will agree that success in real estate is selling homes. If one agent is selling a lot of homes where another is selling only a handful, ask yourself why this might be? What things are these two agents doing differently?

You may be surprised to know that many agents sell fewer than 10 homes a year. This volume makes it difficult for them to do full impact marketing on your home, because they canít raise the money it takes to afford the advertising and special programs to give your home a high profile. Also, at this low level, they probably canít afford to hire an assistant, which means that theyíre running around trying to do all the components of the job themselves, which means service may suffer.

3. What are your marketing plans for my home?

How much money does this agent spend in advertising the homes s/he lists versus the other agents you are interviewing? In what media (newspaper, magazine, TV etc.) does this agent advertise? What does s/he know about the effectiveness of one medium over the other?

4. What has your company sold in my area?

Agents should bring you a complete listing of both their own, and other comparable sales in your area.

5. Does your Broker control your advertising or do you?

If your agent is not in control of their own advertising, then your home will be competing for advertising space not only with this agentís other listings, but also with the listings of every other agent in the brokerage.

6. On average, when your listings sell, how close is the selling price to the asking price?

This information is available from the Real Estate Board. Is this agentís performance higher or lower than the board average? Their performance on this measurement will help you predict how high a price you will get for the sale of your home.

7. On average, how long does it take for your listings to sell?

This information is also available from the Real Estate Board. Does this agent tend to sell faster or slower than the board average? Their performance on this measurement will help you predict how long your home will be on the market before it sells.

8. How many Buyers are you currently working with?

Obviously, the more buyers your agent is working with, the better your chances are of selling your home quickly. It will also impact price because an agent with many buyers can set up an auction-like atmosphere where many buyers bid on your home at the same time. Ask them to describe the system they have for attracting buyers.

9. Do you have a reference list of clients I could contact?

Ask to see this list, and then proceed to spot check some of the names.

10. What happens if Iím not happy with the job you are doing to get my home sold?

Can I cancel my listing contract? Be wary of agents that lock you into a lengthy listing contract which they can get out of (by ceasing to effectively market your home) but you canít. There are usually penalties and broker protection periods which safeguard the agentís interests, but not yours. How confident is your agent in the service s/he will provide you? Will s/he allow you to cancel your contract without penalty if youíre not satisfied with the service provided?

Evaluate each agentís responses to these 10 questions carefully and objectively. Who will do the best job for you? These questions will help you decide.

 

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Buying a Great Used Car

So, you need a new set of wheels but you can't afford to shell out more than $20,000 - the average cost of a new car. And you don't want to drive around in an unreliable "old bomb" either. What are your options? The good news is that there are lots of great deals available on "previously owned" cars. But be aware that buying a great used car requires navigating through a few special steps to ensure that you will get the most reliable and safe car. Follow these tips and you'll be rolling down the highway with confidence.

Get the Facts

Figure out which car best suits your needs and how much you are able to spend. Use the internet to do your homework. Go online to find out the value of a particular model, scan online classified ads, and search car finance loans, among other things. Each car buying site has a certain area of expertise.

Of course, you can do your research the old fashioned way - at your local library. Look through popular consumer publications such as Consumer Reports for reliability and repair ratings, as well as general advice on the used car buying process.

Places to look for used cars include: new car dealerships, used car dealers, private individuals, and auctions. Unless you plan to pay cash, get quotes from at least two financing institutions, so that you know what payment and interest rate options exist before you talk to dealers.

Avoiding Problems and Pitfalls

Try to find out as much as possible about the history of the vehicle. Ask the seller to provide you with copies of the repair records, if available. In addition, get a vehicle history report. The report includes such important information as to whether the car has ever been issued a salvage title (from being in an accident), a flood title, or a junked title, and if the odometer has been tampered with.

Depending upon the mileage and prior maintenance performed, a used car could require more repairs sooner after you purchase it than a new car would. There are several additional steps you can take before you buy to insure that you are not buying a car in poor condition. Consider paying a mechanic to look the car over first. This might cost up to $100, but if you are serious about the car, this should be money well spent to insure that you are buying one that's reliable and safe. Take the car for a test drive and check out the braking, steering, shifting, acceleration, engine noise, and how well the accessories work.

A Word About Certified Used Cars

Since the mid-1990s, dealers have been selling a special type of used car - the "certified" used car. Cars which have been leased or traded-in are evaluated to see if they qualify for certification. Vehicles that qualify are usually in very good condition, with low mileage. The dealers have their mechanics perform a detailed inspection and they offer various warranties. Certification can mean different things to different car manufacturers, so it's important to check with each dealer to get the details of their certification program. Review the warranties carefully to see which repairs are covered and which are not. You can check the websites for car manufacturers or contact dealers for information on their certification programs.

Buying a certified used car is a way to pay much less than you would for a new car, and still get recent models and features. The warranties should offer greater peace of mind because the dealers have taken the guesswork out of what condition the vehicle is in.

Check for Car Safety Features

One of the most important considerations when looking for a car is what safety features they have. You should be able to understand what they are and what they are worth to you. If you haven't bought a car in many years, you may not be familiar with some of the newest safety features. Some features are mandatory and some are optional. Safety features on many recent models include:

  • Front and side air bags.
  • Head injury protection such as head air bags (shield you from impact with the upper interior of the car).
  • Anti-lock brake systems (ABS).
  • 4-wheel drive with traction control (usually with ABS).
  • Automatic dimming rear-view mirrors (to reduce glare).
  • Daytime running lights.
  • New child seat attachment systems.
  • Built-in child safety seats.
Dealing with Dealers and Private Sellers

Once you have done your homework, know which car you want, and how much you want to spend, it's time to start bargaining with the sellers.

Finding private sellers is as easy as checking the newspaper classifieds or going online to the electronic "classifieds" at websites such as AutoTrader. Don't forget to check with your family and acquaintances to see if anyone is selling their car. When you buy from private sellers, you usually pay less than you would if purchasing from a dealer. However, you may not have as many legal protections. Therefore, although you pay less initially, you run the risk of getting lower quality as well.

When talking to car dealers, remember that it is very difficult to get out of a contract once you sign on the dotted line. Therefore, do not commit to buying or sign anything the first time you go in. Since you did your homework, take the information you gathered and show the dealer you are an informed person, so you can make the deal on your terms instead of theirs. Negotiate based upon the selling price - not payment plans - and be sure to get full disclosure of every charge involved. Don't take their word on promises made - get any proposal in writing.

Finally, follow your instincts - if you feel pressured or powerless when dealing with any seller or you sense they are playing games with you, LEAVE. There is always another good deal waiting for you around the block.

Tips for Negotiating a Good Deal
  • Regardless of who you are dealing with, a good strategy is to let them know you have "cash in hand" or pre-arranged financing.
  • If you have done your homework, you should be able to tell if they are asking for too much money for their vehicle. Let them know you have checked the prices at other sources and ask them to lower the price.
  • Notice the condition of the body, paint, and tires. If it needs work, this is a reason to ask the seller to lower the price.
  • If you have had the car inspected and found it needs mechanical repairs, inform them that the price should be lowered accordingly.
  • Try to find a balance between appearing uninterested and being too anxious to buy. If you seem indecisive and hesitant, the seller might respond by lowering the price. But, be careful because this could backfire. If you seem too hesitant, someone else might be close by with cash in hand to buy the car.

 

 

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Martel Manalo Real Estate
Century 21 Atria, 1550 Sixteenth Avenue, 200, Building C, Richmond Hill, ON L4B 3K9
(905) 883-1988 (24 hours)
 info@MartelRealEstate.ca