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Is Buying An Energy-Efficient Home A Top Priority

As you compare different features when looking for the perfect property, you have a lot to consider:  Is energy efficiency on your list?

From price and location to square footage and architectural style, your new home's features will affect your everyday life, so it's important to make the right decision for you. Some factors will affect your comfort, others will affect your home's function, and others will affect your budget. However, one plays a big role in all three: your home's energy efficiency.

Here are some of the most valuable reasons to prioritize homes with energy-efficient features.

  1. Efficient HVAC Systems Could Cut Future Energy Bills in Half
    Programmable thermostats make it much easier to develop efficient heating and cooling habits, but it all comes down to your HVAC system. Inefficient systems can double a home's energy use because they have to work overtime to stabilize indoor temperatures. Because older units are less efficient and may need to be replaced in the near future, it's important to know the age and maintenance history of every HVAC appliance. However, only an energy audit can reveal the efficiency of the whole system. If you're in the process of buying a house, make sure your inspection also includes an energy audit from a certified home energy rater, who will evaluate the ductwork, seals, and other factors that affect how much energy it takes to heat or cool your whole home.

  2. Low-Flow Plumbing & Plants Lower Your Water Bills
    The average household wastes a lot of water on everyday tasks like flushing toilets, brushing teeth, and watering lawns. While you need water, you don't need to pay for water that runs down the drain or feeds plants that don't belong in your climate. Whether you care about saving the planet or reducing your monthly payouts to the water company, it's time to consider indoor and outdoor ways to minimize water waste. Low-flow, dual-flush toilets use only as much water as they need, while drought-resistant landscaping choices reduce your outdoor irrigation needs. Look for homes with tankless water heaters, water-saving sink faucets, and rainwater irrigation systems too.

  3. Extra Insulation Keeps Your Home Comfortable All Year
    Newer windows and roofs should always stand out when you're buying a house, and not just because they won't need to be replaced any time soon. Today's options are more insulated, sun-resistant, durable, and efficient than ever, with materials specifically designed to reduce indoor-outdoor temperature transfer and withstand the elements better. For example, insulated glass units (IGUs) are windows with two or three glass panes, which have moisture-absorbing spacers between them for even more insulation. Reflective shingles keep roofs significantly cooler, preventing hotbox effects in the attic and reducing the strain on the HVAC system. As you look for your next home, look for newer features that increase insulation and prevent huge seasonal fluctuations in your HVAC usage.

  4. Energy Star Appliances & Lights Have Exciting New Features
    Buying a house with greener features isn't all about sacrifice. Energy Star makes it easy to tell which appliances meet recommended efficiency standards, but you'll probably find that these efficient fixtures are more fun, too. For example, LED light bulbs prevent heat gain and use far less electricity, but some also come with innovative features like mobile connectivity and changing colors that respond to music. Energy Star appliances often make cooking and cleaning easier too, so look for that label.

As you weigh different priorities and consider homes with different types of appliances, windows, and more, it's important to make sure energy efficiency is always on your mind.


6 Eco-friendly Updates for Your Home

Wouldn't it be nice to boost the energy efficiency of your home, improve your comfort, and benefit the environment in the process? Eco-friendly home improvement projects offer all of those benefits and more. Whether you're aiming to add value and increase buyer interest for an eventual sale or you're looking for home improvement projects to improve your own enjoyment of the home, eco-friendly upgrades are a great place to focus. Get started with our guide to 6 eco-friendly updates for your home that can help you save money and make your home more energy-efficient.

  • Replace Regular Light Bulbs with Energy Efficient LED Bulbs
    Replacing them with efficient LED bulbs is such a simple home improvement project and one that can save you real money in the long run. LED bulbs provide excellent lighting for a much lower energy cost, and can usually be purchased wherever you get your regular bulbs.
  • Opt for Energy Star Approved Appliances
    Planning a big home improvement project for your kitchen or laundry room? Consider upgrading to efficient, Energy Star approved appliances for those rooms. With an Energy Star approved appliance, you can be confident that your purchase will be eco-friendly and save money on energy costs. Just look for the Energy Star logo, which is displayed prominently on approved appliances, whenever you shop.
  • Make Sure Your Attic and Home Are Properly Insulated
    If you want to make the biggest eco-friendly impact with your next home improvement project and only choose one item from our list, make it proper insulation. This is especially true if your attic is lacking in insulation, or has old, lower quality insulation. An energy audit can help you determine your insulation needs, and the cost of having new insulation installed is made up quickly with the money saved by improved energy efficiency.
  • Use a Programmable Thermostat to Keep Your Home Comfortable and Efficient
    With your home properly insulated, adding a programmable thermostat is an affordable home improvement project that can help you save even more on heating and cooling costs while ensuring that your home is always just the right temperature. Keep your home comfortable while you're there, and avoid wasting money on unnecessary heating/cooling while you're out of the house.
  • Install Faucet Aerators and Low-Flow Showerheads
    Even if you're careful about water use, regular shower heads and faucets often waste significant amounts of water. So why not opt for something a little greener? Faucet aerators cost only a few dollars, can be installed DIY, and significantly reduce water use without sacrificing water pressure. Low-flow showerheads are also a great option to help minimize water waste and make your shower more comfortable.
  • Update Your Garage Door with an Energy-Efficient Model
    While it may not be the first thing you think of when it comes to saving money on energy, an old, poorly insulated garage door can lead to significant energy waste, increased heating/cooling costs, and higher energy bills. The up-front cost of updating your garage door with a newer model can largely be recouped simply by the money that you'll save on energy bills. For the ultimate eco-friendly garage door home improvement solution, opt for a model that has been built with recycled materials.

Whether you're thinking big or planning to start small, every eco-friendly home improvement update helps to improve the energy efficiency of your home while saving on energy costs. Eco-friendly updates offer some of the best ROI of any home improvement project and can add significant value to your home.


6 Ways to Seal Windows & Air Leaks Around Your Home

You pay to heat your home during winter, but air leaks can let this warmed air leak outside and allow cold air to make its way inside your home. This raises your power bill and makes your home more uncomfortable.

For a relatively small investment of time and money, you can tackle this home improvement project, seal these air leaks and reap benefits in the winter as well as in the summer.

The following are six ways to seal windows and air leaks around your home:

  1. Weatherstrip around the attic door
    If your pull-down attic stairs or attic hatch have a gap around them, cold air from your attic can make its way into your home, and warm, heated air can escape to the attic. Seal the gap by caulking between the frame and the opening or install weather stripping around the opening.
  2. Tighten up windows and doors
    Drafts from windows and doors can make your living areas uncomfortable. Caulking around windows and adding new weather stripping can help make them tighter. This also works on doors. If there's a gap between the bottom of the door and the door sweep, you can install a new sweep.
  3. Seal your fireplace flue when it's not in use
    Fireplace flues can warp or break over time and let warm air escape. Buy a plastic inflatable chimney balloon and place it beneath the flue when you're not using your fireplace. It can be reused countless times. Even if you forget it's there, it will simply deflate quickly when the heat from the fire reaches it.
  4. Fix leaks in the attic
    Since warm air rises, the attic is a prime source for air leaks. Before climbing up into the attic to fix any leaks, move all your needed home improvement materials up with you, so you don't have to keep making trips up and down the stairs. Bring a droplight so you can see well, plus pieces of plywood to help support you as you work. Wearing gloves and a mask, pull back the insulation and look for places where leaks are likely to occur. These usually include spots where electrical and plumbing lines, as well as chimneys, enter and pass through the attic. When you find these areas, use caulk or spray foam to fill the gaps.
  5. Tackle the basement and crawl space
    Sealing air leaks in the basement and crawl space can help keep your floors from feeling cold. In the basement, use caulk or spray foam to seal openings in the walls, ceiling, or floor. Also, seal the area where cement walls meet the wood frame at each end of the house. Check for openings around ducts, wiring, and utility lines that pass to the outside of your house and seal these too.
  6. Seal switches and outlets
    Cold air can make its way inside your home this winter through switches or outlets. These locations can also allow warm, moist air to get inside your walls, causing wood rot or damaging your exterior paint. Fix the leaks quickly and inexpensively by unscrewing the cover plate, putting a foam gasket in place, and screwing the plate back on.

Locating and fixing air leaks is a relatively easy home improvement task and can lower your energy bills month after month while making your home more comfortable. If you need help identifying places that need attention, many utility companies offer free energy audits to their customers to help locate any problem spots.


5 Reasons to Buy Instead of Rent

While renting a home is a rite of passage for most people, there comes a time when most of us get tired of stroking a check to the landlord every month. If you've started thinking about joining the 65 percent of Americans who own their own homes, you'll be glad to know that now is a great time to do it! 

Not sure if you're ready to take the leap into homeownership? Check out these five huge advantages of buying a house over renting.  

  1. It's a Great Long-Term Investment
    It's true that buying a home adds some expenses you won't have as a renter. You'll have to pay for things like closing costs on the mortgage, taxes, insurance, and maintenance expenses. However, when you're paying down your own mortgage instead of paying monthly rent, you're investing in your future.  Buying a house allows you to build equity that you can later pull out if you need it. Owning a home also gives you an asset that you can sell when you get older or pass onto your loved ones. 
  2. You May Qualify for Tax Benefits
    Although tax laws are complicated, many homeowners are able to take deductions for the mortgage interest they pay. This gives those who buy a home a clear advantage over those who continue to rent. 
  3. Buying a House Give You More Control
    When you sign a rental lease, there are usually a ton of stipulations you'll need to follow. You may not get to decide what color to paint the living room or whether you'll add a dog to your family. Want to put a pool in the backyard or add an extra bathroom? If you rent, you're out of luck. Buying your own home gives you the power to make all of these decisions and more. You can control the landscaping and all of your home's interior and exterior features. You also get to decide who stays in your home with you, and for how long. 
  4. Homeownership Gives You More Security
    As long as you make your mortgage and property tax payments on time, no one can throw you out of a home you own. As a renter, however, there's always a chance that the property owner will decide to sell the property, and you'll have to move. When this happens, it's almost never at a time that's convenient for you.

    There's also the chance that your landlord will eventually raise your rent as the cost of living continues to rise. Homeowners who have locked in a fixed mortgage payment are creating extra stability in their lives. While your homeowner's insurance, utility expenses, and property taxes will likely rise, you'll at least have the peace of mind in knowing that your mortgage payment will never go up. Even better, once you pay off the mortgage, you can eliminate that expense from your budget. As a renter, you'll never have that opportunity. 
  5. You'll Feel a Huge Sense of Accomplishment
    For many people, buying a house is one of the biggest accomplishments of their lifetime. You'll be able to feel proud of what you've done, and know that you've done what it takes to make your dream of owning a home a reality! 

Buying a House with a Pool

In-Ground vs. Above-Ground Pools

A swimming pool can be a major perk when you're shopping for a new home, allowing you to maximize the use of outdoor space and providing plenty of warm-weather family fun just outside your door. Whether you're shopping for a new home or adding a pool to your current home, it's important to consider your options. Both in-ground and above-ground pools come with their own unique advantages and drawbacks. Choosing the right option depends on your budget, space, future plans, how you will use the pool, and a variety of other factors. Consider the most important factors to find the right fit:

  • Space
    How much room do you have in your potential home's back yard, and how much of that space are you willing to give up to accommodate a pool? While in-ground pools often offer more swimming area and take up more space, that's not always the case. A large above-ground pool can offer the same swimming space as an in-ground pool, and cover about the same amount of area in your yard. So if you have room for one type of pool, then you probably have room for the other.
  • Longevity
    Do you want a pool that may last decades or one with an average lifespan of 8 to 15 years? Above-ground pools cost less to install but tend to need replacement after a maximum of 15 years. In-ground pools are often last longer, especially if they are made from fiberglass. If you want a pool that will last for the long haul when buying a house, then in-ground has the edge. But above-ground pools still offer a fairly substantial lifespan.
  • Cost
    While you won't have to worry about installation costs if you're buying a house that already has a pool, the cost of the pool may factor into the price of the home. An above-ground pool typically costs less to install, even if you're also installing decking around the whole pool. In-ground pools cost more to install, and the difference can be significant. If keeping costs down is a primary concern, then above-ground may be the way to go.
  • Maintenance
    No matter which type of pool you choose, maintenance will be required – whether you handle it or you find a local pool company to do the job. The good news is that routine maintenance costs really don't differ too strongly between the two types of pools. However, in-ground pool systems are often more complex, which can lead to higher repair costs when something does break.
  • Variety
    While above-ground pools offer many of the same perks of their in-ground cousins, there's no doubt that in-ground pools ultimately offer more variety. Whether you're talking about the shape, depth, look, or construction of the pool, there are simply more options with an in-ground pool. If you're buying a house and looking for a pool with a deep end or a unique shape, then the payoff of an in-ground pool may be worth the cost.

In the end, the right option for you depends upon personal factors. An in-ground pool is more expensive to maintain, but also longer lasting. An above-ground pool may be more affordable to operate but doesn't always offer the same longevity or variety. Fortunately, both options offer plenty of potential for outdoor fun.


Buying a House That's Energy Efficient

Buying a house that's energy efficient is important to most of us these days. We're all so much more aware of the impact that we have on our environment, and how important it is to minimize our environmental footprint as much as we can. Energy-efficiency can also have a significant impact – for the better – on the costs of owning a home, reducing the amount of money that must be budgeted to cover those monthly utility bills. So what do you need to know about buying an energy-efficient home?

Key features to look for when buying a house that's energy efficient

If your goal is to buy an energy-efficient home, features you should look for include:

  • Good Insulation – An energy-efficient home will have well-insulated walls, floors, attic spaces and crawlspaces. Sellers should be able to provide an R-value for the home's insulation, and the Department of Energy offers guidelines on appropriate R-values according to the region.
  • Good windows – Drafty windows are huge energy wasters, causing heat loss in cold weather and heat gain in the summer. Look for newer, double-pane windows when you're home shopping, preferably windows that have earned the Energy Star seal.
  • Efficient appliances – Look for appliances that are Energy Star certified, which means that they are more energy efficient than average appliances. Appliances that can carry that seal include heating and air conditioning systems, washers and dryers, dishwashers, refrigerators, water heaters, among others.
  • A solid, energy efficient roof – You will, of course, want to be sure the roof of any home you're considering is in good shape. For maximum energy-efficiency, also look for one that uses Energy Star certified roofing materials, which reflect more of the sun's rays away to reduce heat gain – and therefore the amount of energy needed for summer cooling.
  • Low flow plumbing fixtures – Low flow toilets, faucets, and showerheads conserve water, of course, but they can also add to the energy-efficiency of your home. Reduced water flow when you turn on hot water faucets means less energy used by your water heater.

Energy-efficiency claims: Verify for your piece of mind

Energy-efficiency is a big selling point in today's market, so home sellers are generally eager to hit the right "green" talking points when they're listing their homes. While most people are quite honest in their descriptions, any buyer would be remiss if they did not do a little due diligence to verify the sellers energy-efficiency claims. Good ways of double-checking include:

  • Review utility bills for the home – Ask to see utility costs from the past year, then contact the local utility company to find out how those costs compare to the average bills of other, similarly-sized homes in the area. An energy-efficient home should have lower than average energy usage and costs.
  • Request an energy audit – A home energy audit, done by a licensed professional, evaluates energy usage in the home to give you a very accurate idea of just how efficient it is overall.
  • Ask about certifications – If the home you're interested in is a newly constructed one, ask the seller if it is LEED or Energy Star certified. Either of these certifications ensures that the home has been built for energy-efficiency.

Taking these steps to ensure that you're buying a house that's energy efficient may add a little time and expense to the home shopping process. However, if you are planning to live in that new home for a while, shopping carefully will pay off in the long run with a smaller environmental footprint and lower energy bills.


7 Tips for Single Women Buying a Home

Buying a home is a worthy objective for a single woman. It is also a significant accomplishment that involves planning, saving, and achieving a good credit score. It takes a bit more effort when you are the only source of income, so here are seven tips for the single woman interested in buying her first home.

  1. Check Your Credit Report
    Checking your credit report is the first step towards homeownership. Not only will you see your credit score, but you will also look at all accounts you have had over the years including credit cards, student loans, and auto loans. You will also see late and on time payments towards those accounts and accounts in collections (if you have any).
  2. Fix Problem Accounts
    Problem accounts will typically be in a separate section of the report so that you can find them easily. If you haven't previously reviewed your report, you may be surprised by what could be there. Try to get any accounts up-to-date if they are legitimate and work to have incorrect information removed before applying for a mortgage.
  3. Determine a Budget
    Determining your budget is a crucial financial decision. You may pay less for a mortgage than your rental payment. However, you will also have property taxes, homeowners insurance, and potential repairs. Be realistic and work those costs into your budget before buying a home.
  4. Get Pre-approved
    After saving for your down payment, work with a mortgage company to get pre-approved for a loan. You will be better prepared to make an offer when you find your dream home. The sellers will also view your offer as more sincere and workable.
  5. Research Real Estate Agents and Neighborhoods
    Finding a real estate agent with extensive knowledge about the neighborhoods in which you are interested is essential.  You want to move to a safe neighborhood that is also affordable, and you want to have an experienced, reliable real estate agent to help you. Determine in advance the type of neighborhood you want. Are you looking for an area with an active singles scene? Or are you looking for someplace close to work?

    Check with family and friends for referrals to real estate agents. Look for one that has experience working with first-time single home buyers. You should also make it a priority to find an agent with the patience to answer all of your questions and will show you homes within your budget.
  6. Check Everything Twice Before Closing
    Once your offer has been accepted, you and your real estate agent will prepare for closing the transaction. You will need a home inspection before closing. Read this report carefully and look for any potential issues that could lead to repairs. If you find any, you can ask through your agent that the sellers repair them as a condition to closing.

    Also, read your loan agreements closely. Be sure you understand every provision and ask the agent or loan officer to clarify anything that may confuse you. Now is the time to get answers to any lingering questions.
  7. Enjoy Your New Home
    The last tip is the best. Enjoy your accomplishment and your new home. 

Want a Worry-Free Winter?

Winter is well on its way, and let's face it, there are some home improvement projects that no one wants to tackle when the weather is frigid. Whether you're an optimistic do-it-yourself champion or prefer leaving the work to pros, these home improvement ventures can make a big difference in your home's comfort, efficiency, and safety.

  1. Revamp Your Roof
    If you've noticed missing or damaged shingles or any other visible signs of extreme wear on your roof, now's the time to take care of the problem, and a small leak when it rains only means there is a problem overhead which will get much worse over time. You may not need to replace your entire roof, and addressing damaged areas now will ensure that the added weight of ice and snow this winter won't compound the problem.

  2. Check Your Deck
    Just like your roof, your deck is under pressure to perform, especially when winter weather strikes. Areas that are already distressed or beginning to warp or rot are super susceptible to further damage and can be a real safety concern during the winter. Even if your deck is in good structural condition, it may have a buildup from several seasons of weather which could leave the surface slick and unsafe. Cleaning, treating, and painting it now will help avoid accidents this winter.

  3. Be Greedy With Your Heat
    It's bad enough that your electric and gas bills increase during the winter as you turn up the thermostat to keep your home cozy.  What's worse is some of that precious heat may be escaping from your home. One of the most important home improvement projects is to make your home more airtight and energy efficient. Check your windows now for damaged seals, cracks and drafts. Replacement windows are a relatively inexpensive way to boost your home's efficiency. Weatherstripping around doors can make a dramatic difference in keeping your home comfortable, and sealing leaky ductwork connected to your heating system will save you in energy costs.

  4. Schedule a Heating System Checkup
    Whether you heat with electric or gas, all home heating systems require regular maintenance. A heating professional can perform a maintenance check quickly, make necessary repairs, and offer suggestions for improved efficiency. Don't forget to change your furnace filters every month during the heating season to get the most out of your heating system.

  5. Avoid Plumbing Woes
    No one wants the headache and expense of frozen or burst pipes during the winter. Before the cold arrives, make sure any pipes that are exposed or prone to freezing are insulated. Outdoor spigots should be turned off, and the line leading to it drained. Also, drain and store garden hoses so they'll be in top shape next spring.

  6. Added Insulation
    To increase your home's warmth and ease the strain of heating bills on your wallet, consider adding insulation in a few places throughout your home. Putting insulation in the attic helps keep those winter drafts at bay and makes your furnace run less frequently. Insulating your water heater is an easy way to make it operate more efficiently especially when it is in the basement or crawlspace where it tends to be cooler.

All of these simple home improvement ideas will make it much easier to remain worry-free throughout the winter months ahead.


6 Easy DIY Insulation Projects

Winter is on its way, and with temperatures creeping a little lower every day, many homeowners are turning their attention to their home's insulation. Boosting your home's insulation is a great way to keep the cold from creeping in. It's also a home improvement that helps energy efficiency and can significantly lower your heating bills. 

If you're wondering whether that might be easier said than done, we have some good news. These simple DIY insulation projects can have a significant impact on your home's efficiency and require only a modest amount of time and effort. Get started today, and enjoy a more well-insulated house this winter!

  1. Get a Door Snake
    Here's a test. Hold your hand near the crack at the bottom of your door on a cold day. Feel a draft? If so, it is costing you. Placing a door snake at the foot of your door is quick, easy, cheap, and an incredibly effective way to insulate drafty doors. A rolled-up blanket or towel will do in a pinch. 

  2. Hang Heavy Curtains
    Light, flowy curtains might look nice in summer, but winter requires something different. Hanging curtains made of a heavier material helps insulate your windows, keeping precious heat inside where you want it.

  3. Seal Up Your Windows
    A lot of cold air can seep into your house through tiny gaps and cracks around windows. Seal these gaps with weather stripping – narrow pieces of vinyl, rubber, foam or metal – and be sure to check around door frames as well. And of course, while your attention is on your windows, it's always a good idea to put install storm windows in fall to provide an extra layer of insulation.

  4. Caulk Around Dryer and Bathroom Vents
    The place where dryer and bathroom vents enter your house is an often-overlooked air leak. These vents often go years without being properly sealed, which can cost you a lot on your heating bills in the long run. Checking your vents for a proper seal is an easy DIY home improvement job, and make sure you have a tube of caulk on hand to make that seal a little more secure. 

  5. Add Attic Insulation
    In many homes, the attic is the number one place where heat escapes, so it's essential it be well insulated. Adding insulation is a surprisingly simple job, whether you plan to install rolled insulation or spread around some loose paper insulation. One key to remember is that the floor of your attic must be well insulated to prevent heat from rising and only warming the attic. If you have a door on your ceiling that leads to the attic, you can buy and easily install an insulating insert to keep all your heat from seeping through that door. 

  6. Insulate Your Water Heater
    Your water heater could be another major source of energy loss, especially if it's an older model, or if it isn't insulated properly. Adding an insulation blanket to your water heater can cut your heating bill by as much as 16%. Just be sure you know whether you have a gas water heater or electric; the insulation will need to be installed differently depending on the type. 

Picking the Best Windows for Your Climate

When it comes to home improvement projects, window replacement offers a variety of advantages. From increased efficiency and comfort to the added home value and enhanced curb appeal, you simply can't go wrong.

Considering the vast number of options on the market today, it's understandable how picking the best windows for your climate can be a bit overwhelming. 

So when it's time to replace your windows, it's important to carefully consider a number of factors in order to make the best choice for you and your family.  Here's what you should know about choosing the right windows for your home and climate. 

Glass Considerations 

For homes in average climates with cold winters and hot summers, consider a low-E coating. This will help to reflect the sun and reduce glare, providing you with better climate control for your home year round. 

If you live in a warmer climate that's mostly sunny, choosing a glass that has a very low SHG coefficiency will help to reduce the amount of solar heat gain. Adding a low-E coating can help you to further reflect the sun and maintain maximum efficiency for your home. 

For homes in colder climates, a single or double-glaze for your glass can help reduce utility costs by as much as half! You'll also want to look for glass options with a higher SHG to utilize the heat from the sun. 

Material Choices

As technology and science advances, new window frame material choices offer a number of additional advantages for homeowners. For relatively warm and sunny climates, vinyl makes the best choice. Vinyl windows can be insulated to keep heat from entering your home and require little to no maintenance. 

For low-moisture climates, wood and vinyl-clad wood windows are great for home improvement projects. It's important to note that these types of window frames can have a higher cost and requires a moderate amount of upkeep.

Fiberglass and vinyl-clad windows are best suited for colder climates that experience ice and/or snow. These materials offer superior insulation and thermal performance during winter storms. 

Final Considerations

Regardless of what type of climate you live in, it's highly recommended to choose a double or triple pane window. This will provide your home with the best climate control and help to keep your home and family comfortable year round. It's important to note that poor installation can render your windows useless, regardless of the quality of your materials. As with any home improvement project, quality workmanship and professional installation services are essential to getting the best performance and efficiency from your new windows. 



Home Utilities: Do Your Homework Before You Buy

Buying a house comes with a sense of pride and accomplishment, and it can also bring a few surprises. One of the most common mistakes of first-time home buyers is forgetting to factor in the cost of utilities when searching for and purchasing their new house. The cost of homeownership involves much more than making a monthly mortgage payment, and planning for utility costs as a part of your overall budget makes finding the right home a lot less frustrating.

Hidden Costs Can Sack Your Budget

It's important to look at the big picture once you decide you are ready to become a homeowner. You've likely already thought about how much you can afford to spend on a mortgage payment, and you may have even obtained a pre-approval from your bank. However, there are additional factors that will affect what you have to spend each month once you close on your new home. Some home buyers take utility costs for granted assuming that the costs will be similar to what they currently pay.

If the home you are considering is larger than your current home or apartment, keep in mind that more square footage will likely mean higher bills for heating and cooling. Buying a house in a city or town could come with a water bill if the property accesses the local water system instead of a private well and sewer system. Natural gas or propane availability for heating and cooking should be considered when figuring a budget to purchase a home. The last thing you want as a homeowner is the surprise of utility bills you cannot afford after you've settled into your new house.

Be a Smart Shopper

Your real estate agent is your biggest ally while searching for your perfect home. Be open and honest about your budget, and ask plenty of questions regarding utility costs for any home that catches your attention. Your agent can help you obtain utility costs from the seller for the past year to give you an idea of what you can expect regarding monthly expenses. You may need to adjust the figure according to personal factors such as the size of your family and the way you will use your home, but a the very least, you have a starting point to help you plan your budget.

Once you find a home that you are seriously considering, you might find ways to make the home more energy efficient to save you money on utilities for years to come. A home inspection is one of the best ways to pinpoint its areas that could be improved to make it more comfortable for your family and your budget. Windows, doors, and insulation are all areas that can make a huge difference in energy costs. Major systems in the home such as the heating and cooling system and water heater should be considered for efficiency and a possible upgrade if necessary. If your budget will allow it, addressing these repairs early on makes way for ongoing savings.


Ceiling Fans: Keeping Cool Makes Cents

When you come home, you expect your castle to provide a cool welcome. That's what AC is for, but your energy bill keeps rising when the temperature gets out of control. Ceiling fans are an inexpensive home improvement fix for when the weather is hot but not too hot. They won't give your home an Arctic chill, but they lower the cost of staying cool, and that makes cent$. If you've only thought of ceiling fans as stylish vintage decor, it's time for a second look. 

Ceiling Fans Save Dollars and Cents
An overhead fan should keep you comfortable enough to lower your summer thermostat setting by about 4°. The lower setting can reduce your climate control costs by about 8%. The little daily savings quickly add up to dollars.

They Cool Your Body, Not Rooms
Fans perform a minor cooling miracle. When your ceiling fan circulates air, it feels like a gentle breeze blowing through the room. As suggests, fans " people, not rooms…" Those swirling blades move the air around enough to evaporate the perspiration from your skin. That might be all you need to keep cool. 

Energy-Star Rated Ceiling Fans Save Even More
If you plan to install a ceiling fan as part of your next home improvement project, you should shop for a fan with the Energy Star logo. That means they're certified to be 40% more energy efficient than non-certified fans. When you operate your fan, you'll use less energy, and that means saving more green. If you want to estimate your energy use for a fan or other appliance, check out the ES Appliance Energy Calculator.

The Bigger the Blade, the Bigger the Breeze
Bigger blades circulate more air. You can run your bigger fan at a slower speed and get the same cooling effect as running a smaller fan at a faster speed. If you go big, make sure it fits the room. You wouldn't want a huge fan overpowering the decor in your tiny bathroom. explains the recommended fan size based on room dimensions. 

Save Cents in Winter Too
Fans have a directional motor switch. Turn it one way, and the blades circulate air to supplement your AC system. Flip it the other way during the winter, and it reverses direction. The change pulls heated air away from the ceiling and disperses it into the room. 

Optional Fan Upgrades
Some ceiling fans have a center light fixture with LED and other light source options. You can operate the fan and light at the same time or separately. If your fan doesn't have a built-in light, you can buy a kit and do the upgrade yourself. If you want to save on your energy, a ceiling fan remote gives you push-button feature control.  

Three Blades Will Do
If your home improvement fan project calls for a sleek three-blade model, that's just fine. Fans with fewer blades look more modern and generate less noise. three-blade fans also operate more efficiently, so your energy savings keep adding up.  

They're Affordable
A ceiling fan installation is a cost-efficient way to reduce your energy bills. They're economical too. You'll find plenty of ceiling fans beginning at around $100. If your home improvement plan calls for a high-end model, you'll find luxury fans around $2,000 and up. Of course, it will take you a while longer to recoup your costs. 


Six Simple Tips to Save on Electricity Bills

No matter the location or time of year, saving money on your electricity bill never goes out of style.

But with costs rising every year, what's the best way to save on energy bills? The good news is that you don't necessarily need to make major changes to save. In fact, there are plenty of simple changes that you can make to save on electricity, and every bit of savings adds up in the long run. Let's take a closer look at six home improvement tips for lowering your electricity bill.

Whether you're looking at big upgrades like purchasing new appliances or simple home improvement changes like using energy-efficient light bulbs, there's plenty that you can start doing to lower your home's energy costs:

  1. Turn Electronics All the Way Off
    Many popular home electronics like TVs, Blu-Ray players, computers, gaming systems, and even appliances continue to consume electricity even when they're not in use. On a monthly basis, electronics often use more energy when turned off than when turned on. So rather than simply pressing the "power" switch on each device, plug key electronics into a power strip and turn it off when they're not in use.

  2. Switch to LED Lights
    If you haven't yet made the switch to LED lights around the house, now is a great time to make it happen. LED light bulbs are available at any home improvement store and cost less than ever. In addition to using less energy, they're also brighter than traditional bulbs.

  3. Efficient Insulation
    While it's not as simple as flipping a switch or replacing light bulbs, making sure your home is properly insulated will go a long way toward lowering your electricity bill. Choose the right type of insulation for your home, while also making sure all windows, doors, vents, and light fixtures are properly sealed. If you're feeling a draft, it's always best to find the source and seal it.

  4. A Smart Thermostat and HVAC Maintenance
    Most homeowners spend significant time away from home each day, and it's very easy to forget to set your thermostat to the right temperature before you leave. Purchasing a smart, programmable thermostat will allow you to waste less energy on heating and cooling when you're out, and still have your home feeling cozy by the time you get back.

  5. Lower Your Water Heater Temperature
    The water heater is often one of the biggest energy drains in any home, so lowering the temperature on your heater can be a great way to save. By lowering the temperature to around 120 degrees, your water heater will use less energy, while still providing warm, comfortable water.

  6. Blinds and Curtains
    There are times throughout the year when it's great to open the curtains and let the sunlight in, but it's also important to be able to block out the sunlight when it's causing high electricity bills. Purchasing blinds and curtains for windows will help you keep the heat out in the summer, while still allowing you to enjoy the sunlight during cooler seasons.

The best way to start saving on your electricity bills is to be conscious of your energy use. Start small with simple changes to your daily routine to see your savings add up. A more significant home improvement investment like a new HVAC system or appliances may also pay off in the long run with lower electricity bills.


10 Secrets of People with Low Energy Bills

Heating costs drive utility bills through the roof in wintertime, but there are a few ways you can take control of your home's energy consumption this season. Lots of people keep their energy bills low in winter – here's how they do it.

  1. Seal the gaps. Cracks and gaps around windows and doors are like robbers that steal your warm air. Eliminate drafts by sealing these gaps with caulk, weather stripping or spray foam.

  2. Program your thermostat. Setting your thermostat 7 to 10 degrees lower can save you up to 10 percent on heating costs over the course of a year. You can also use your programmable thermostat to set a heating schedule that heats your home more when you're home, and less while you're away (or asleep) to avoid precious heating dollars going to waste.

  3. Turn down your water heater. Many households keep their water heater set way higher than they need to be. Anything higher than 120 degrees Fahrenheit is unnecessary, and every 10-degree reduction can trim your bill by up to 5 percent.

  4. Reverse your fan. Ceiling fans rotate clockwise in summer, which creates a cooling breeze. But in winter, you should set your ceiling fans to spin counter-clockwise (most models have a switch that reverses the rotation) to push heated air from up near the ceiling down into your living space.

  5. Change furnace filters. The filters in your furnace should be changed every one to three months, or whenever they get dirty. Clogged filters reduce the efficiency of your heating system by forcing your furnace to work extra-hard to push air through.

  6. Insulate your water heater. Use an insulating jacket to keep heat from escaping your water heater. You can also use insulated pipe sleeves to prevent heat loss as hot water travels through your plumbing system.

  7. Use the sun. On sunny days, opening up all the curtains and blinds in your house will create a "greenhouse" effect that warms your house no matter how cold it is outside. At night, do the opposite – close up all the blinds to help keep the heat sealed inside.

  8. Insulate attics and basements. These rooms are often the most poorly-insulated areas in the home and are responsible for a lot of heat loss. Improve efficiency by adding insulation to your basement and attic.

  9. Close up the fireplace. There's nothing more comforting in winter than a warm, crackling fire, but fireplaces are actually very inefficient, sucking heated air up through the chimney and allowing cold air to enter in the opposite direction. Always keep the damper closed when the fireplace is not in use, and turn down the thermostat by a few degrees when you do have a fire.

  10. Bundle up. It might seem obvious, but humans have been bundling up to keep warm for thousands of years because it works. Throw on a sweater and a pair of slippers, and you might be able to set your thermostat 5 degrees cooler and not even notice.

Just because it's cold outside doesn't mean you have to spend a fortune to keep your house warm. Use these energy-saving secrets to keep your energy costs under control this year.


10 Ways to Cut Your Heating Bill This Winter

Just because winter weather is coming, it doesn't have to mean the arrival of supersized heating bills.  Use these ten tips to reduce your heating bills during cold weather months.

  1. Replace weather stripping
    Get your home ready for winter by sealing leaks around doors and windows with weather stripping.  Some weatherstripping will need to be replaced periodically due to normal wear and tear.  
  2. Let the sun shine in
    Keep shades and curtains open on your home's south-facing windows during the day so sunlight can provide additional heat.  As night falls, lower your shades and close your curtains to keep the heat in.
  3. Turn down the thermostat
    When it's cold outside, the last thing you want to do is turn down the thermostat. Remember, for every degree you lower the thermostat during cold weather months, you'll save between one and three percent on your heating bill. Try our recommendations for other ways to stay warm while turning down the thermostat:
    - Use a space heater in the room you're in turning it off before you leave
    - Wear extra layers
    - Use your fireplace
    - Pull out a cozy blank when relaxing on the couch
  4. Give your furnace a tune-up
    Part of your household budget should include an annual inspection of your furnace by a licensed professional.  In addition, make sure to change your furnace filter regularly to keep it running efficiently.
  5. Cover windows and patio doors with plastic film
    Use clear plastic film to cover windows and patio doors to reduce heat loss. The film is relatively inexpensive and easy to install.  If you install it correctly, you'll barely notice it.  The plastic is easily removable in the spring.
  6. Invest in a programmable thermostat
    Today's programmable thermostats allow you to pre-set temperatures in your home throughout the day.  Some of the newest models of programmable thermostats allow you to control the heat of our home from a smartphone.
  7. Stop warm air from escaping up the chimney
    There are pros and cons to using a fireplace in your home.  When in use, your fireplace is a heat source.  When you're not using it, warm air can escape through the chimney.  Remember to close the damper when you're not using your fireplace to prevent cold air from entering your home.  If your fireplace draws cold air from the outside, invest in a pair of airtight doors for your fireplace insert.
  8. Keep heating registers clear
    The warm air blowing from your registers needs an unobstructed path to heat your rooms correctly.  Move any furniture blocking vents so your home is heated more efficiently.
  9. Close vents in rooms not being used
    Close vents and doors to rooms that are empty in your home.  You will cut square footage from your energy footprint.
  10. Lock doors and windows
    Locking your doors and windows during winter months can make a difference in your heating bill because they are pressed more tightly against weather stripping.  A word of advice:  Lock your windows early in the season.  If they freeze in their current position, they might freeze and won't move without a lot of work.

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