Energy-Efficient Home Hacks to Complete Before End of Summer

By Susanne Dwyer

Editor’s Note: This was originally published on RISMedia’s blog, Housecall. See what else is cookin’ now at blog.rismedia.com:

Soaring temperatures comes with sky-high energy bills. If you’re looking to improve your home’s energy efficiency as your HVAC kicks into overdrive, consider adding these energy-efficient home hacks to your weekend warrior to-do list.

Increase Insulation
Air leakages can occur anywhere in your home, resulting in your AC unit having to work that much harder to keep your home comfortable. Adding a new layer of insulation is one of the most cost-effective ways to make a home more energy-efficient. Best of all, you can do this easy hack yourself! Before laying any new insulation, be sure to plug up any large openings and seal off small cracks, especially around attic hatches, window frames, and electrical outlets.

Smart Home Automation
It seems like almost every electronic device now has a smart alternative on the market. Though it’s easy to write off this technology as a luxury, most of these devices can actually go a long way in helping to reduce your energy usage each month. Whether it’s a thermostat that learns your family’s habits or a dishwasher that only runs during off-peak energy hours, smart home appliances and devices can go a long way in helping curb your family’s energy demands.

Close Your Blinds
Sometimes the best hacks are also the easiest—and cheapest! By simply closing your blinds, especially for south- and west-facing windows, you have the potential to save upwards of 7 percent off your energy bill, as well as lowering the ambient temperature by up to 20 degrees. Considering that almost 30 percent of unwanted humid summer heat comes in from your windows, it makes sense to drop the shades on the afternoon sun. Better yet, if it’s in your budget, replace those worn-out windows altogether. ENERGY STAR has found that most homeowners can expect to see an average 12 percent drop in their home’s energy consumption after replacing single-pane windows with ENERGY STAR-qualified alternatives.

Landscape to Lower Energy
Think of landscaping as your exterior blinds, and plant a few trees along the south side of your home to help block direct sunlight from ever making it to your windows. Ensure that any tree you plant is a leafy variety, rather than an evergreen, so that you can get exceptional shade in the summer and plenty of warming sun in the leafless winter months. Similarly, plant evergreen shrubs around your home’s foundation to add year-round insulation.

Cooking Counts
Summer is virtually synonymous with grilling, but did you ever consider just how much energy you can save by sparking up some charcoal instead of your oven? Not only will you be sparing yourself any operating costs, but you’ll also prevent your HVAC from having to combat the added heat your culinary masterpiece is likely to create.

The best way to make your home as energy-efficient as possible is to have a professional perform an energy audit. The typical audit usually only takes a couple hours of your time, but it has the potential to save you thousands of dollars in reduced energy expenses year-round. With a little planning ahead and a few upgrades, you’ll be saving energy daily!

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From: Home Spun Wisdom

    

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Winning Over Weeds

By Susanne Dwyer

Gardening can be so idyllic—pruning abundant rose bushes, harvesting ripe tomatoes, nestling colorful annuals into window boxes…then there’s weeds.

Even the most enthusiastic gardener can become overwhelmed and disgruntled by an onslaught of weeds, taking the joy out of yard work and wreaking havoc on one’s back. Here are some strategies from FineGardening.com for winning the battle with weeds, both for your peace of mind and your garden’s good health.

Don’t awaken weeds. Every inch of soil contains weed seeds, but only those closest to the surface receive enough light to grow. Don’t unwittingly promote weed growth by turning and digging soil unnecessarily.

Don’t skimp on mulch. Not only does mulch make your garden beds more attractive, it helps prevents weeds by blocking out the light. Keep in mind, however, that chunky mulch allows some light in and certain mulch is full of weed seeds, so make your selection carefully. If you’re feeling ambitious, lay down a layer of fabric or cardboard and place the mulch on top. This will ensure no light and no weed seeds infiltrate your soil.

Weed after rain. Wet weeds come out much more easily than dry ones, so be sure to head out promptly after a storm. If you’re left to tackle dry weeds, use a hoe or steak knife to slice them right below the soil line.

Plant close together. Instead of spacing your plants out, place them closer together so that they’ll form a natural light barrier as they mature. This is a long-term strategy, but will help lead to weed-free gardens in your future.

Water selectively. Don’t accidentally encourage weed growth by watering them. Instead, employ soaker hoses and watering cans to water just your plants, as opposed to wide swaths of your garden where weeds lie in wait.

Most importantly, weed often. Letting the chore go will make weeds more prolific and more difficult to pull out. Arm yourself with these strategies and put weeds in their rightful place.

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From: Home Spun Wisdom

    

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Nancy Wey
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What to Buy (and Not Buy) in September

By Susanne Dwyer

The perfect storm of Labor Day, back-to-school and end-of-summer clearance sales make September ideal for bargain-hunters. From consumer watchdog DealNews.com, here’s the scoop on what’s best to buy in September—and what purchases to put on the back burner:

Summer Apparel – No surprise here—retailers ranging from big-box outlets to designers blow out summer styles in September. Pro tip: Buy for your family now and stow it for next year.

Grills/Patio Furniture – Like summer apparel, leftover grill and patio furniture inventory goes on sale in September. Look for items stacked at the front of hardware and home stores for the best bargains.

Big-Screen TVs – The best big-screen buys in September are on mid-size models (the perfect size for apartments or dorm rooms), but larger sizes are often marked down, as well.

Mattresses – Historically, the best times to purchase a new mattress were in April or May—but Labor Day sales are becoming another contender. Pro tip: Double-down on a deal by using coupons on top of sale prices.

Laptops – Seventy-five percent of laptops are discounted considerably for back-to-school season. Big-box electronics providers are your best bet for the best deals.

Previous Generation iPhones
– There are appreciable savings to be had on older iPhones in September, when the new model typically rolls out. Rock-bottom bargains on these devices can be found on online auction sites, like eBay.

Textbooks – Both buyers and sellers of textbooks can expect deals in September, when need is highest.

DealNews.com advises shoppers to hold off on buying washers, dryers and other large appliances, as well as some electronics, in September. While the month brings decent sales on these items, Black Friday sales in November have historically yielded better savings.

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From: Consumer News and Advice

    

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Nancy Wey
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The Renter Budget: Most and Least Costly Cities

By Susanne Dwyer

Renters’ budgets are being stretched in many cities—but some more than others, according to a new study by GOBankingRates. The most costly:

  1. San Francisco, Calif.
    Median Rent (One-Bedroom Apartment): $3,395
  1. San Jose, Calif.
    Median Rent (One-Bedroom Apartment): $2,505
  1. New York
    Median Rent (One-Bedroom Apartment): $2,395
  1. Washington, D.C.
    Median Rent (One-Bedroom Apartment): $2,271
  1. Jersey City, N.J.
    Median Rent (One-Bedroom Apartment): $2,200

The least costly:

  1. El Paso, Texas
    Median Rent (One-Bedroom Apartment): $555
  1. Detroit, Mich.
    Median Rent (One-Bedroom Apartment): $600
  1. Wichita, Kan.
    Median Rent (One-Bedroom Apartment): $625
  1. Tucson, Ariz.
    Median Rent (One-Bedroom Apartment): $628
  1. Fresno, Calif.
    Median Rent (One-Bedroom Apartment): $650

Source: GOBankingRates

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From: Consumer News and Advice

    

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Nancy Wey
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5 States Where Residents Lead Richer Lives

By Susanne Dwyer

Select states have a quality of life that surpasses others in areas such as employment, housing and safety. A recent study by GOBankingRates ranks the top five:

  1. New Hampshire
    Median Household Income: $66,779
    Median Home List Price: $278,000
    Violent Crimes Per 1,000 People: 1.99
  1. Wyoming
    Median Household Income: $58,840
    Median Home List Price: $238,125
    Violent Crimes Per 1,000 People: 2.22
  1. Virginia
    Median Household Income: $65,015
    Median Home List Price: $299,950
    Violent Crimes Per 1,000 People: 1.96
  1. North Dakota
    Median Household Income: $57,181
    Median Home List Price: $201,500
    Violent Crimes Per 1,000 People: 2.39
  1. Delaware
    Median Household Income: $60,509
    Median Home List Price: $260,000
    Violent Crimes Per 1,000 People: 4.99

Source: GOBankingRates

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From: Consumer News and Advice

    

Remember I am just a phone call away to help with all of your real estate needs!

Nancy Wey
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Save Money by Converting From Oil to Gas Heating: Here’s How

By Susanne Dwyer

Editor’s Note: This was originally published on RISMedia’s blog, Housecall. See what else is cookin’ now at blog.rismedia.com:

If you have an aging, oil-fired heating system and are dreading the day you’ll need to replace or service your heating system, you may want to explore converting from oil to gas. Heating your home with a cleaner, more fuel-efficient system will shrink your energy bill in the process.

Converting from oil to gas is an increasingly common move. Here are some of the many factors to consider when deciding which heating source is best for your home:

Converting From Oil to Gas Heat Saves Money
The numbers don’t lie: Heating your home with natural gas is cheaper than heating with oil. Comparing the current market price for the various fuel sources won’t tell the whole story; after all, oil and propane are measured in gallons and gas is measured in therms.

To accurately examine the cost of fuels based on the heat content they generate, the U.S. Energy Information Administration recommends using this formula: cost per million British thermal units (BTU).

Estimated Average Residential Winter Heating Bills for 2016-17
Natural Gas – $728
Fuel Oil – $2,171
Propane – $2,176

Homeowners who heat with gas are also less vulnerable to price swings. This is at least partly because a greater percentage of natural gas used in the U.S. is produced domestically, while we remain much more dependent on petroleum-producing nations for our oil supply.

Switching from oil to gas can also produce savings because gas furnace systems generally cost less than their oil-burning counterparts. Because oil burns hotter, the furnace must be built from more robust materials to withstand the heat.

Heating With Gas Is Cleaner Than Heating With Oil
Taking steps to reduce your impact on the environment is an increasingly important consideration for many people. There are also financial savings to be realized by converting to a cleaner-burning system.

For example, because heating with oil produces more carbon build-up than gas, having the system regularly cleaned is essential for safety, as well as efficiency. Studies have shown that a build-up of 1/16 of an inch of soot can decrease overall system efficiency by 7 to 8 percent.

The need to regularly replace oil filters also adds to annual maintenance costs, which can be as much as two to three times higher than for gas heating systems.

Does Your Home Have Access to Natural Gas?
To reap the potential benefits of switching from oil to natural gas heat, you’ll need to have access to the supply. Is there a nearby gas main? If not, are there plans to expand into your area?

If you do have access, you’ll need to contact your natural gas distributor to discuss running a line from the nearest gas main to your home and installing a meter to measure your usage for billing purposes. If not, contacting your area’s natural gas provider will help you determine if there are plans to expand access to your location.

The expenses involved in getting your home connected can vary. The utility may perform this function at little or no cost for homes that are relatively close to the nearest pipeline (after all, they want your business); however, if you live at the end of a long driveway or in an area that might present excavation challenges, the charge to get you hooked up can be fairly significant.

For homes that do not currently have access to natural gas, propane can be another option that burns cleaner than oil; however, because it is a more expensive fuel source (cost per million BTU) than both gas and oil, saving money on your energy bill is not generally a motivation for making the switch to propane.

One More Good Reason for Converting to Natural Gas
One additional quality of life consideration is that heating with oil requires you to have one or more unwieldy oil tanks, usually located in your basement. These tanks deteriorate over time, potentially causing a safety hazard. Plus, they produce odor and grime.

Many homeowners find that getting rid of those bulky fuel tanks creates an opportunity to make better use of your basement space for tool shops, laundry areas or family playrooms.

When you’re considering making the switch from heating with oil to heating with gas, start by getting some expert advice from a trusted home heating contractor who can conduct a thorough analysis of your home’s existing system and thermal design, and then have an in-depth conversation about your objectives and options.

Heritage PHCE is a New Hampshire- and Massachusetts-based home heating contractor with 30 years of experience installing, repairing and maintaining both oil and gas heating systems.

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From: Home Spun Wisdom

    

Remember I am just a phone call away to help with all of your real estate needs!

Nancy Wey
281-455-2893

Nevada’s Creepy Clown Motel Is Now for Sale

By Susanne Dwyer

clown_motel_2b

Editor’s Note: This was originally published on RISMedia’s blog, Housecall. See what else is cookin’ now at blog.rismedia.com:

Located in the old gold and silver mining town of Tonopah, Nev., this Clown Motel is most certainly not the place for people suffering from coulrophobia (a.k.a., the fear of clowns). Not only is the lobby filled with hundreds of assorted clowns, from figurines and wall art to assorted trinkets, but each and every room is clown themed, as well.

Freaky enough for ya? It gets worse.

The motel shares a lot with a cemetery full of gold miners who died from a plague. The cemetery is literally right next door. It’s like a real-life horror film. Picture this: It’s after midnight and you’ve just checked into your clown-infested room when you realize: you left your phone charger in the car! No big deal—you’ll just have to leave your room, alone, at night, to run to your car that is more or less sitting in a probably-haunted cemetery full of things that go bump in the night. Not panic-inducing at all! It’s like House of 1,000 Corpses meets Stephen King’s It meets From Dusk Till Dawn. (Is it Halloween yet?)

Image Credit: Travel Nevada

The motel’s owner, Bob Perchetti, is ready to retire and move on from the creepy clown shrine he opened 20 years ago. We can only guess what kind of buyer is going to chomp at this bit—actually, we shudder to think.

The motel is for sale for $900,000, but one condition: the motel must keep its heritage.

Take a further look inside The Clown Motel in this video from Las Vegas Now.

Nick Caruso is RISMedia’s senior editor. Email him your real estate news ideas at nick@rismedia.com.

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From: Consumer News and Advice

    

Remember I am just a phone call away to help with all of your real estate needs!

Nancy Wey
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Achieving a Near Perfect Indoor Environment for Your Home

By Susanne Dwyer

Editor’s Note: This was originally published on RISMedia’s blog, Housecall. See what else is cookin’ now at blog.rismedia.com:

Achieving the ideal indoor environment involves managing quite a few elements within the home. In addition to keeping you and your family comfortable, the right indoor air system regulates circulation and can keep allergens, various pests and irritants away from you, your family and your guests.

Though many homeowners want to achieve the perfect home environment, short of living in a sterile lab, the perfect indoor environment doesn’t exist. Fortunately, there are a number of technologies available today that make it easy to achieve near perfect conditions that let you live in comfort.

What Does a Near Perfect Indoor Environment Involve?
When it comes to indoor environmental quality, there are a number of factors involved. Interior factors taken into consideration when constructing a home involve lighting, external sound or vibrations, and air quality and temperature.

Given these factors, what should homeowners ultimately expect? For one, lighting should provide the right balance of natural and artificial ambiance for desired tasks. Interior illumination has taken a major step forward by covering a wide spectrum of light ranges that work with the body’s natural daily rhythms.

Second, sound dampening insulation should not only minimize noise pollution from the outside; it should also include activities from adjacent rooms.

Finally, the central air conditioning unit should provide a level of air quality that is pure and free from harmful pollutants, toxicants and contaminants.

As homeowners and/or their family members spend most of their time at home, air quality becomes a necessity to a good home life.

The Importance of Air Quality
The importance of indoor air quality cannot be overstated, especially in the cases of people with allergies, asthma or other respiratory diseases. Poor indoor air quality can have significant negative effects on one’s health. Ozone and particulates can worsen respiratory conditions, trigger asthma attacks and cause allergic reactions.

Multiple studies reinforce the impact of air quality on health. The National Institutes for Health concluded significant causal relationships between dust mites and cat allergens and asthma, for example. A 2014 study by the World Health Organization reported 7 million premature deaths annually from poor air quality.

How Can Homeowners Improve Air Quality?
Fortunately, there are a number of appliances and technologies that can help to improve indoor environmental quality. Each of these can have a significant impact on air quality in your home.

Smart Thermostat: These programmable devices let you cool or heat your home remotely via a smartphone, tablet or desktop. These devices let you save energy and adjust the temperature while you are en route home from work, for example. Some models even can detect outdoor allergens and adjust accordingly.

Air Purifiers: By cleaning the air, a purifier helps to eliminate dust, pollen and bacteria, all of which can trigger allergies. When the purifier uses a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter, a purifier can dramatically improve air quality.

Humidifiers and Dehumidifiers: Dryer air can irritate nasal passages and the lungs while moist air can harbor bacteria and mold. Keeping the humidity levels regulated is important to keep the indoor air healthy.

By regulating your environment in the areas of sound, light and air, that near perfect indoor environment is now within reach of each and every homeowner.

Ashley Morse is manager of Operations at The Cooling Company, a provider of air conditioning, heating and plumbing repair services in the Las Vegas Valley.

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From: Home Spun Wisdom

    

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Nancy Wey
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The Best Cities for Retirees to Call Home

By Susanne Dwyer

Ask any retiree what mattered most in their search for a new home, and most will tell you location. A recent study by WalletHub ranked the top locations for soon-to-be retirees, weighing cost of living, health care, quality of life and recreation—and in a not-so-unexpected twist, the top three locations in the ranking were all within the Sunshine State:

  1. Orlando, Fla.
  2. Tampa, Fla.
  3. Miami, Fla.
  4. Scottsdale, Ariz.
  5. Atlanta, Ga.

Several other cities outside of the top five were named ideal for retirees, as well. Laredo, Texas was ranked No. 1 based on cost of in-home care and cost of living, while Plano, Texas, and Grand Prairie, Texas, were ranked No.1 and No. 3, respectively, in most employed retirees. (Many people of retirement age are simply forced to keep working due to a lack of savings, according to WalletHub.) Some sprawling metropolitan areas are suited for retirees seeking an active lifestyle; Washington, D.C., for instance, is tied for first for the most museums and senior centers per capita.

When it comes solely to weather, however, California cannot be beat: Glendale, Riverside and Bakersfield ranked in the top three for “mild weather,” followed by Scottsdale, Ariz., and Henderson, Nev.

Source: WalletHub

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From: Consumer News and Advice

    

Remember I am just a phone call away to help with all of your real estate needs!

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Improvements for Independence: Make Your Home More Accessible

By Susanne Dwyer

(Family Features)—Being safe and comfortable at home is a large part of living well. Home modifications and repairs can help everyone, especially older adults and people with disabilities, maintain an independent lifestyle and prevent accidents.

Many older adults prefer to stay at home for as long as possible, but too often don’t think about whether their homes will meet their needs as they age. Making improvements for independence before they are needed is a good way to ensure that a home is ready for aging in place. Forward-thinking improvements may also help prevent falls, which often cause the need for long-term care.

Many changes, such as adding grab bars in bathrooms, can be done without a major redesign or full-blown renovation. Depending on your circumstance, it may also make sense to consider things like widening doorways and lowering countertop heights for someone who uses a wheelchair.

Here’s how you can get started:

Home Assessment
Before making any changes, assess the entire home. This checklist can help identify areas that might need improvement. Everyone has different needs, but in general, a “no” answer may be cause for action.

  • Are exterior walkways and entrances well-lit?
  • Is there a step-free entrance to the home?
  • Are entrance doors easy to lock, unlock, open and close?
  • Does the main floor include a kitchen, bedroom and full bathroom?
  • Are doorways wide enough for someone using a wheelchair, walker or service animal?
  • Are hallways, staircases, bathrooms and the kitchen well-lit?
  • Is wall-to-wall carpeting secure and in good condition?
  • Are area rugs secured to the floor with grips?
  • Are walkways free from obstructions and hazards like cords and furniture?
  • Do stairways have sturdy handrails on both sides?
  • Can bathroom and kitchen cabinets be easily reached?
  • Is there a step-free shower entrance?
  • Are grab bars available in or near the shower and toilet?
  • Do showers have non-slip mats or adhesive strips?
  • Will smoke detectors provide visual as well as audio alerts?
  • Are telephones and emergency supplies easily accessible on all floors?

Cost and Contractors
Minor improvements can cost between $150-$2,000, and major renovation costs vary depending on the job. However, many contractors offer reduced rates or sliding scale fees based on income and ability to pay. Public and private financing options may also be available.

If hiring a professional, remember to get a written agreement with specific tasks, a timeline and cost estimate. Make sure the contractor is licensed, bonded and insured for the specific type of work.

More information about home modifications, including financial assistance, can be found at eldercare.gov.

Source: Administration for Community Living

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From: Home Spun Wisdom

    

Remember I am just a phone call away to help with all of your real estate needs!

Nancy Wey
281-455-2893