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.
Creating an Energy-Efficient Home
Did you know that the average family spends approximately $2,000 annually on home utility bills? Shockingly, a substantial amount of that energy goes to waste. Maximizing energy efficiency not only saves you money in the long run but also benefits the environment. In this guide, we'll explore practical tips and strategies to create a home that not only suits your lifestyle but also keeps utility bills in check.
Heating and Cooling
The heating and cooling systems in your home consume a substantial amount of energy and represent a significant portion of your energy expenses. Regardless of the type of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system you have, cost-effective measures can be implemented to enhance efficiency and comfort. A combination of proper insulation, weatherization, equipment maintenance, upgrades, and thermostat adjustments can lead to a substantial reduction in both energy bills and environmental impact.
Begin by ensuring proper insulation throughout your home, focusing on walls, attic, floors, and crawl spaces. Utilize higher density insulation, like rigid foam boards, especially in cathedral ceilings and exterior walls. Regularly check and upgrade insulation in your attic to significantly reduce the need for heating and cooling.
Address air leaks by caulking, sealing, and weatherstripping seams, cracks, and openings to prevent warm air from escaping in winter and cool air from infiltrating in summer. Identify and rectify sources of air leaks, such as around windows, doors, electrical outlets, and ducts.
Maintain your HVAC systems by regularly cleaning or replacing air filters, ensuring that warm air registers, baseboard heaters, and radiators remain unobstructed. Schedule professional maintenance for your HVAC system to keep it running efficiently.
Upgrade to energy-efficient equipment by replacing old and inefficient heating and cooling systems with newer models, looking for the Energy Star label for higher efficiency. Explore alternative methods like heat pumps, especially in moderate climates, and passive solar design to harness natural sunlight and warmth.
Invest in smart technologies such as thermostats and home automation systems to optimize heating and cooling based on your preferences and occupancy patterns. Consider zoning systems for independent temperature control in specific areas. Upgrade windows and doors to energy-efficient options, preventing drafts and improving insulation.
Manage your thermostat by setting it as low as comfortable in winter and as high as comfortable in summer. Consider installing a programmable thermostat for automated temperature adjustments based on your schedule. Leverage natural heating and cooling by strategically using sunlight, keeping shades open during the day, and closing them at night. Close off unoccupied rooms to reduce the space requiring heating or cooling.
To enhance energy efficiency and minimize costs related to household appliances, adopting the following tips can make a significant impact. When acquiring new appliances, prioritize those bearing the Energy Star label or other energy-efficient certifications, designed to deliver equivalent performance while consuming less energy. Upgrading old appliances with newer, more energy-efficient models, often equipped with advanced features contributing to energy savings, is another effective strategy. It's crucial to uphold regular maintenance practices by adhering to manufacturer guidelines, incorporating activities such as routine cleaning, filter checks, and ensuring proper ventilation to optimize performance and energy efficiency.
Furthermore, consider unplugging appliances not in use to prevent standby power consumption, as many continue to draw power even when turned off. Adjusting settings on appliances to maximize energy efficiency, such as using eco-friendly or energy-saving modes, can significantly impact overall consumption. Properly loading dishwashers and washing machines to avoid multiple cycles ensures optimal energy efficiency.
Additionally, integrating energy-efficient lighting, such as LED bulbs, into appliances like refrigerators and ovens can reduce energy consumption. Investing in smart appliances allows for remote monitoring and control, enabling programming during off-peak energy hours for optimized consumption. Efficient usage of refrigerators and freezers, choosing air-dry over heat-dry options in dishwashers, and adopting cooking practices that include using lids on pots and pans contribute further to energy conservation.
By combining these strategies, you can create a more energy-efficient home, reduce utility bills, and contribute to a sustainable living environment. A home energy audit can help identify specific improvement areas tailored to your home's unique needs.
13 Extra Costs to be Aware of Before Buying a Home
"The last thing you need are unbudgeted financial obligations cropping up hours before you take possession of your new home."
Whether you're looking to buy your first home, or trading up to a larger one, there are many costs - on top of the purchase price - that you must figure into your calculation of affordability. These extra fees, such as taxes and other additional costs, could surprise you with an unwanted financial nightmare on closing day if you're not informed and prepared.
Some of these costs are one-time fixed payments, while others represent an ongoing monthly or yearly commitment. Not all of these costs will apply in every situation, however it's better to know about them ahead of time so you can budget properly.
Remember, buying a home is a major milestone. Whether it's your first, second or tenth home, there are many important details to address, during the process. The last thing you need are unbudgeted financial obligations cropping up hours before you take possession of your new home.
Read through the following checklist to make sure you're budgeting properly for your next move.
1. Appraisal Fee
Your lending institution may request an appraisal of the property which would be your responsibility to pay for. Appraisals can vary in price from approximately $175 -$ 300.
2. Property Taxes
Depending on your down payment, your lending institution may decide to include your property taxes in your monthly mortgage payments. If your property taxes are not added to your monthly payments, your lending institution may require annual proof that your taxes have been paid.
3. Survey Fee
When the home you purchase is a resale (vs. a new home), your lending institution may ask for an updated property survey. The cost for this survey can vary between $700- $1,000.
4. Property Insurance
Home insurance covers the replacement value of your home (structure and contents). Your lending institution will request proof that you are insured as it protects their investment on the loan.
5. Service Charges
Any new utility that services your hook up, such as telephone or cable, may require an installation fee.
6. Legal Fees
Even the simplest of home purchases should have a lawyer involved to review all paperwork. Shop around, as rates vary greatly depending on the complexity of the issues and the experience of the lawyer.
7. Mortgage Loan Insurance Fee
Depending upon the equity in your home, some mortgages require mortgage loan insurance. This type of insurance will cost you between 0.5% -3.5% of the total amount of the mortgage. Usually payments are made monthly in addition to your mortgage and tax payment.
8. Mortgage Brokers Fee
A mortgage broker is entitled to charge you a fee in order to source a lender and organize the financing. However, it pays to shop around because many mortgage brokers will provide their services free to you by having the lending institution absorb the cost.
9. Moving Costs
The cost for a professional mover can cost you in the range of:
10. Maintenance Fees
Condos charge monthly fees for common area maintenance such as grounds keeping and carpet cleaning in hallways. Costs will vary depending on the building.
11. Water Quality and Quantity Certification
If the home you purchased is serviced by a well, you should consider having your water checked by your local experts. Depending upon where you live, determines whether or not a fee is charged, to certify the quantity and quality of the water.
12. Local Improvements
If the town you live in has made local improvements (such as the addition of sewers or sidewalks), this could impact a property's taxes by thousands of dollars.
13. Land Transfer Tax
This tax is applied whenever property changes hands and the amount that is applied can vary.
10 Questions To Ask When Choosing A Financial Planner
When meeting with a financial planner, asking the right questions is crucial to understanding their qualifications, approach, and how well they can meet your financial needs. Here are some questions to consider.
1. What experience do you have?
Find out how long the planner has been in practice and the number and types of companies with which they have been associated. Ask the planner to briefly describe their work experience and how it relates to their current practice. An advisor with a longer track record may have more exposure to different financial situations and market conditions.
2. What are your qualifications?
Look for financial planners who hold relevant credentials such as Certified Financial Planner (CFP), Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA), or Personal Financial Specialist (PFS). These designations often indicate a certain level of expertise and commitment to ethical standards.
3. What services do you offer?
The services a financial planner offers depend on a number of factors including credentials, licenses and areas of expertise. Financial planners cannot sell insurance or securities products such as mutual funds or stocks without the proper licenses, or give investment advice unless registered with state or Federal authorities. Some planners offer financial planning advice on a range of topics but do not sell financial products. Others may provide advice only in specific areas such as estate planning or on tax matters. Some financial planners specialize in specific areas like retirement planning, estate planning, or tax planning. Choose a planner whose expertise aligns with your specific needs and goals.
4. What is your approach to financial planning?
Ask the financial planner to explain their investment philosophy and how they assess and understand a client's financial situation and goals. Make sure the planner's viewpoint on investing is not too cautious or overly aggressive for you. Some planners require you to have a certain net worth before offering services. Find out if the planner will carry out the financial recommendations developed for you or refer you to others who will do so.
5. Will you be the only person working with me?
The financial planner may work with you themself or have others in the office assist them. You may want to meet everyone who will be working with you. If the planner works with professionals outside their own practice (such as attorneys, insurance agents or tax specialists) to develop or carry out financial planning recommendations, get a list of their names to check on their backgrounds.
6. How will I pay for your services?
Understand how the financial planner charges for their services. Some work on a fee-only basis, charging a flat fee or a percentage of assets under management. Others may earn commissions from financial products they sell. Choose a compensation structure that aligns with your preferences.
7. How much do you typically charge?
While the amount you pay the planner will depend on your particular needs, the financial planner should be able to provide you with an estimate of possible costs based on the work to be performed. Such costs would include the planner's hourly rates or flat fees or the percentage they would receive as commission on products you may purchase as part of the financial planning recommendations.
8. How do you handle potential conflicts of interest in your practice?
Some business relationships or partnerships that a planner has could affect their professional judgment while working with you, inhibiting the planner from acting in your best interest. Ask the planner if they receive any compensation from third parties for recommending specific products. For example, financial planners who sell insurance policies, securities or mutual funds have a business relationship with the companies that provide these financial products. The planner may also have relationships or partnerships that should be disclosed to you, such as business they receive for referring you to an insurance agent, accountant or attorney for implementation of planning suggestions.
9. Can you provide information about any disciplinary history
Several government and professional regulatory organizations keep records on the disciplinary history of financial planners and advisers. Ask what organizations the planner is regulated by, and contact these groups to conduct a background check.
10. What tools and technology do you use?
Ask the planner which tools or technology they use to assist clients in their financial planning and how they ensure the security and privacy of client information.