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How to Save Energy in Your Home

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Winter is the time when keeping our homes warm is a top priority. Knowing your home is not losing energy is a relief when you spend your hard earned dollars keeping your home warm or cool.

Saving energy in your home is not a difficult process. There are many easy free and low-cost ways to save energy and money on your heating and cooling bills. Listed below are some steps you can take in your home to help conserve energy and save yourself some
money in the process:

Install A Programmable Thermostat:
Heating and cooling your home uses more energy and costs you more money than any other area or system in your home. Heating and cooling makes up almost half of your utility bill, so knowing how to eliminate energy waste when it comes to heating and cooling will save you money each month. By installing a programmable thermostat you help to automatically adjust your home’s temperature to when you’ve programmed, which helps it stay warm (or cool) when you need it to be.

Seal Air Leaks:
A home is rarely air tight, and checking for air leaks is a great way of determining where warm or cool air could be escaping and adding money on to your energy bill. There are a number of areas where air escapes: windows, doors, electrical boxes, ceiling fixtures, attics and more. You can help reduce or eliminate leaks by caulking and/or weather-stripping doors and windows, installing foam gaskets behind outlets and switch plates, or using foam sealant on larger gaps around windows and baseboards. Taking the time to find air
leaks and fix them will help save you money and keep your home warm or cool.

Improve Insulation:
Heating and cooling make up the majority of your energy bill, over 50 percent, so knowing your home is insulated properly can help keep your home warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Checking the insulation in your home’s attic, walls, floors, and ceilings will tell you how much air is flowing between the inside and outside of your home and help you determine the best way of controlling the temperature inside. One important place to look for insulation is your attic – a well-insulated attic can help slash your heating and cooling bills in both the winter and summer months by helping to maintain indoor temperatures and seal air leaks through your roof.

Install Efficient Windows:
Window glass is not known for being very thick, and single-pane windows are notorious energy loss culprits. One option is to replace current windows with storm windows. Storm windows “reduce temperature loss by sealing leaks and creating a dead airspace between
window panes” (motherearthnews.com). Storm windows can be expensive, but their return on investment is about 10 years, which is relatively short. Another option, if installing new windows is not feasible, is to cover windows with transparent material to help improve insulation.

Conserve Water:
Using less water benefits you, your water bill and the environment. When you use less water, you also use less energy needed to heat the water. The Department of Energy lists water heating as the third most energy consuming function in a home. To help conserve
water, you can take shorter showers and be conscious of the water used when washing dishes, food and clothes. When running the dishwasher or the washing machine, make sure the machine is filled to capacity to save water and energy on extra washes. You can
also save energy by lowering the temperature on your hot water heater. The Department of Energy says 120 degrees is sufficient for most household uses. You can also save water and money by installing water-efficient fixtures and appliances throughout your home.

Turn Off Electronic Devices:
Do you leave your coffee maker plugged in when not using it? According to the US Department of Energy, “In an average home, 75% of the electricity used to power home electronics is consumed while the products are turned off.” This is called a “phantom load,” or the energy appliances or electronics use when not turned on. You can minimize phantom loads and save on your energy bill by unplugging appliances and electronics when not in use, or plugging them into a power strip and turning the strip off when not using the appliances or electronics.

Change Out Light Bulbs:
One cost-effective technique for saving energy and money is replacing the traditional incandescent light bulbs in your home. There are a number of options available that will help you save energy, and some offer longer life and greater savings than others. From halogen incandescent bulbs, to compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), to light-emitting diodes (LEDs), each bulb has its benefits. Halogen incandescent bulbs are energy-efficient incandescent bulbs and can last up to three times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs. CFLs last up to 10 times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs and are extremely affordable. LEDs are becoming more and more popular and their prices have significantly dropped in recent years. LEDs use 20%-25% of the energy traditional incandescent bulbs use, and LEDS can last up to 25 times longer, some even being touted to last up to 25 years.

You also have the option of performing a home energy audit. An energy audit, also known as a home energy assessment, assesses how much energy your home consumes and helps you evaluate the best measures you can take to make your home more energy efficient. There are a number of options for home energy audits, from Do-It-Yourself audits, to professional audits that include blower door tests, thermographic inspections and PFT air infiltration measurements. Find an option that best suits your needs, wants and wallet and discover how you can make your home more energy efficient and save yourself some money.

A Townhouse vs. a Detached House

townhouseWhen choosing between a townhouse or detached home, take your lifestyle, family size, where you work and your stage of life into consideration. Buy a home that fits your current and future needs. The type of home you decide on plays a significant role in your quality of life.

Definition

Townhouses are homes joined by a common wall, usually with access to the outside and a small yard area that may be share by the unit’s residents or by the entire townhome community. The homeowner may own the land on which a townhouse sits, but more than likely must share ownership of that land as part of a condominium or homeowner’s association. Detached houses are homes built on their own lots. Traditionally, a detached home offers more privacy than a townhouse and may have fewer restrictions, depending on its location. The home owner may also own the land the home sits on independent of others in the development.

Prices

Detached townhomes may have higher price tags than townhouses because they are not connected to another home. Townhouses can be located in communities that may or may not offer amenities, generally these homes have a more affordable price tag.  Townhouse owners may have less control over property usage. This also may be true of detached homes located in homeowners’ associations.

Maintenance

It goes without saying that a smaller yard requires less maintenance. If a townhouse is part of a condominium or homeowner’s association, the association provides maintenance services – so you can give up your lawn mower and shovels! However, townhouse owners pay a fee for maintenance that must be factored into monthly housing costs. Townhouse owners also may not have the flexibility to make major improvements that alter the home’s exterior. Detached homes, as a rule, require more time and money to maintain. With detached homes, owners have more flexibility make major improvements that can increase property values.

Accessibility

Because of the space required to build them, detached houses are usually located away from downtown areas. Townhouses, on the other hand, have the advantage of fitting onto smaller plots or vacant pieces of land, making such housing options more accessible to busy commercial areas. If your lifestyle or job centers around such areas, a townhouse may work for you. On the other hand, if sharing a common wall with your neighbor or having a small backyard do no suit your lifestyle, a detached house may better serve your needs.

Minnesota Residential Fire Sprinklers

1 fire headStarting in January 2015, a new law takes effect that mandates all new homes 4,500-square-feet (whether all the square footage is finished or not) and larger are required to have residential fire sprinklers. All new homes will also be affected by other new energy code changes such as air exchangers and insulation changes. It is estimated that these changes could drive up prices of new homes by more than $10,000 when you factor in the sprinklers. If you are able to purchase a new home before these changes come, it will save you some money.

Minnesota homeowners and their families will benefit from this new law: residential fire sprinklers save lives and can minimize the damage caused by a house fire. In addition, most insurance companies offer a discount from 5 to 15% for homes with fire sprinklers.

Reverse Mortgages

A reverse mortgage is a loan available to people over 62 years of age that enables a borrower to convert part of the equity in their home into cash.

reverse mtgReverse mortgages were conceived to help people in or near retirement and with limited income use the money they have put into their home to pay off debts (including traditional mortgages), cover basic monthly living expenses or pay for health care. There is no restriction on how a borrower may use their reverse mortgage proceeds.

The loan is called a reverse mortgage because the traditional mortgage payback is reversed. Instead of making monthly payments to a lender (as with a traditional mortgage), the lender makes payments to the borrower.

The borrower is not required to pay back the loan until the home is sold or otherwise vacated. As long as the owner lives in the home, they are not required to make any monthly payments towards the loan balance, but must remain current on tax and insurance payments.

With a reverse mortgage, the homeowner always retain title to or ownership of the home. The lender never, at any point, owns the home even after the last surviving spouse permanently vacates the property.

The homeowner is responsible for paying their property taxes, homeowners insurance, condo fees and other financial charges. Any lapse in these policies can trigger a default on the loan. To help reduce future defaults, HUD requires lenders to conduct a financial assessment of all prospective borrowers as of January 13, 2014.

Loan fees can be paid out of the loan proceeds. This means a borrower incurs very little out-of-pocket expense to get a reverse mortgage. The only out-of-pocket expense is the appraisal fee, usually a few hundred dollars.

The loan balance is composed of the amount borrowed plus fees and closing costs plus interest. The loan balance grows as the borrower continues to live in the home. In other words, when the borrower sells or leaves the house, he or she will owe more than originally borrowed. If the owner dies, the estate has approximately 6 months to repay the balance of the reverse mortgage or sell the home to pay off the balance. All remaining equity is inherited by the estate. The estate is not personally liable if the home sells for less than the balance of the reverse mortgage.

Still confused? Think of it this way: a traditional mortgage is a balloon full of air that loses some air and gets smaller each time a payment is made… A reverse mortgage is an empty balloon that grows larger as time passes.