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.
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.
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Picking an agent is one of those critical issues that can cost or save
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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.
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
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
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
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
- 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
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
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
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.
- 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
- 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.
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.
- 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
- 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 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.
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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
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
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
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.
- 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 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.
- 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
- 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 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
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
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 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
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.
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
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
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 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.
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
- 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
- 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 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
- 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
- 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.
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
- Wash your clothes in cold water using cold water detergents whenever
- 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
- Don't over dry your clothes. If your machine has a moisture sensor,
- Clean the lint filter in the dryer after every load to improve air
- Use the cool down cycle to allow the clothes to finish drying with the
residual heat in the dryer.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
- 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.