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Assess Your Home’s Efficiency with an Energy Audit

You may be wondering how to save money on your energy bills this year. Conducting a do-it-yourself home energy audit is a fast, relatively simple way to assess how much energy your home consumes and determine what you can do to make your home more energy efficient.

caulking

A home energy audit will show you where your home is losing energy, how efficient your heating and cooling systems are, and ways to conserve electricity. All it takes is a thorough inspection of the areas listed here and keeping a checklist of the problems you found.

Air Leaks

Stopping or minimizing drafts can save on annual energy costs. Some places to inspect where air commonly seeps from homes include gaps around baseboards, wall and ceiling junctures, electrical outlets, switch plates, window frames, weather stripping, fireplace dampers, attic doors, window-mounted air conditioners and foundation seals.

On your home’s exterior, look at the areas where two different building materials meet, such as corners and areas where siding or brick come together with chimneys or the foundation. If you can rattle windows or see daylight around door or window frames, you likely are losing air.

Once you’ve identified the leaks, seal them with caulk, weather stripping or the same material as the original seal. You can also attach plastic sheets around your windows.

Insulation

In older homes especially, you may have insufficient insulation in the ceiling and walls. Your attic door should be insulated and close tightly. Openings around pipes, ductwork and chimneys should be sealed. Look for a vapor barrier — tarpaper or a plastic sheet — under the attic insulation. To check your walls, make a small hole in a closet or other out-of-the-way place and probe into the wall with a long stick or screwdriver. If it’s an outside wall, the area should be completely filled with an insulating material.

Fill the gaps in any openings with expanding foam. Flexible caulk should be used to seal any electrical boxes in the ceiling. If your home lacks a vapor barrier, consider painting interior ceilings with vapor barrier paint. This reduces the amount of water vapor that can pass through the ceiling, which reduces your insulation’s effectiveness.

Heating and Cooling Equipment

Inspect your heating and cooling equipment. See if ducts and pipes located in unheated spaces and your water heater and hot water pipes are insulated. Dirt streaks around your ductwork, especially near the seams, are evidence of leaks.

Have your equipment checked and cleaned by a professional annually. If you have a forced-air furnace, replace your filters as soon as they are dirty. Even if they aren’t, replace them every 30 to 60 days.

Lighting

Look at the bulbs in your home and determine if a lower-watt bulb would work just as well for your needs. For lights that will be used more than two hours each day, replace your incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs and you can save up to 75% of the energy used for lighting.

A home audit is a great way to find out your home’s energy deficiencies and make simple improvements that will save you time and money in the long run.

 

For more tips on home ownership visit https://www.nahb.org/en/consumers/

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Creating a Home Office that Works for You

 

Home offices are becoming less of a luxury and more of a necessity with more people telecommuting or running their own businesses from their homes. It is estimated that one in five Americans work from home. And with the fluctuating cost of gas and increased traffic causing longer commutes, that number is likely to grow even more every year.

Work space is no longer relegated just to the kitchen table or a corner of the guest bedroom; it has been promoted to a room of its own in the home. If you are looking to create a home office, or revamp an existing one, keep the following points in mind:

Separate Your Space

Although you are physically working in the house, it is important to set up your home office so that the lines between your home life and your work life do not get blurred. By creating a barrier, you will be less tempted to take a television break in the middle of your work day or work on spreadsheets when you are supposed to be “home from the office.”

Design Your Office to Match Your Work Style

When choosing the furniture and layout of your office, make sure if fits the way you choose to work. For example, if you believe in “a place for everything and everything in its place,” be sure to allot enough space for adequate storage and file cabinets. If you work on several different projects, set up separate, smaller work stations dedicated to each task.

Show Off Your Style

There is no such thing as “one design fits all.”  While one person may prefer the look of dark woods and rich colors, someone else may favor a more whimsical look with bright colors and clean lines. This is your chance to bring in designs and items that best reflect your personality and interests. Don’t be restricted by what you think a home office should look like. Make it your own since you will be the one spending the most time there.

Make It Comfortable

When choosing the furniture and amenities for your office, make sure that you are physically comfortable and that your work space is conducive to productivity.

  • Your chair should be adjustable with adequate seat cushioning.
  • Add a couch or armchair to allow for additional seating for guests or to provide a place to read away from your desk.
  • Install recessed lighting which is less harsh on your eyes.
  • Buy smaller desktop lights focused on task areas that are used for reading and writing to reduce eye strain.

For more tips on home ownership visit https://www.nahb.org/en/consumers/

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Beware Foreclosure Rescue Scams

Scammers are targeting people having trouble paying their mortgages. These so-called foreclosure rescue companies promise to stop foreclosure. But they’re out to make a quick buck, and can turn a home owner’s distress into disaster.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency, has resources in English and Spanish to help home owners learn the signs of a foreclosure rescue scam and where to get FREE help.

FTC Web Site

Access the FTC’s “Money Matters” website at: ftc.gov/moneymatters

Home owners can find out where to get FREE foreclosure help at HopeNow.com or by calling 888-995-HOPE (4673).

Tell Your Community

The FTC also encourages home owners, business owners, home builders’ associations and others to share these resources with their communities by downloading and putting on websites the English and Spanish-language video and Web banners.

Download “A Note to Homeowners,” the FTC’s flyer about foreclosure rescue scams, in English or Spanish.

For more tips on home ownership visit https://www.nahb.org/en/consumers/

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Add Value, Pleasure To Your Home With a Well-Tended Yard

home with lush, green lawn

Do you and your family have fun in your yard — or is it just unused space that means you have a long list of chores every weekend?

A well-planned yard gives you extra room to enjoy without adding a tremendous amount of upkeep. If your yard could use a little love, it’s time to make a master plan to add enjoyment and value to your home.

Step 1: Take Inventory

First, walk around your property. Note how your house sits on the lot, where your garage, tool shed, deck, pool or other structure is and what plants you have now.

Think about what you would like to have a year from now. Is it more trees for shade, more grass to play in, a flower or herb garden for cutting, or just reworking an area that takes too much time to maintain?

Once you know what you want, it’s time to start thinking about the plants you will need.

Step 2: Select the Right Plants

A healthy, lush and vibrant lawn or garden starts with your choice of plants. Choose trees, flowers, shrubs and other plants that grow well in your area. This may sound limiting, but by choosing plants that are native or tested to be tolerant of the weather in your area, your yard will require less work and give you better results.

Visit your local garden center, arboretum or botanical garden for advice and ideas. Look for sections that are like your yard, and choose plants that grow well there whether you want brilliant flowers, ground cover, shrubbery or herbs.

Step 3: Get to Know Your Yard

It is very important to monitor the cycles of light and moisture in your yard. Late summer is a good time to note where the sun is at different times of the day and to record how much water is available naturally. Watch for areas of day-long shade, and do not put sun-loving plants in those spots.

Likewise, don’t put shade plants where they get full sun all day. In addition, take a sample of the dirt in your yard to a county extension agent or garden center, and ask them to determine the pH and chemical composition of your soil. Your soil’s characteristics will have a significant impact on what you will be able to grow successfully.

While you are at the garden center or arboretum, listen for tips such as planting a low water-demand plant at higher elevation. Excess moisture from rain or watering will trickle down from the low water-demand plant to the thirstier plant nearby. In general, selecting disease-resistant, drought-tolerant plants makes sense no matter what you plan to do in your yard.

Step 4: Add Shape and Texture

Two key elements of a beautiful garden are shape and texture. Think of your landscape as a photograph or painting framed by plants. Larger trees and plants belong in the back of your yard, medium-sized shrubs and flowers go in the middle of the visual field and short, smaller plants go in the front.

To give shape to your garden, select a variety of plants with different shapes and sizes.

Texture comes from plants with a variety of leaves — shiny hosta, fuzzy herbs, dull azalea, prickly yucca or aloe. Also, keep architectural details in mind when you choose plants. Rough, textured plants will highlight stucco walls, but a picket fence will look better with soft flowers and gentle vines.

Don’t forget to look at your yard from all angles, including noticing what you’ll see when you look through the windows from inside your home.

By taking the time to think through what you want your yard to look like, and noting what your limitations are, you’ll have greater success with your efforts. In addition, you’ll spend more time enjoying your yard instead of working in it, and you’ll see an added benefit when you sell your home: A well-planned landscape adds value to any piece of property.

For more tips on home ownership visit https://www.nahb.org/en/consumers/

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Make Your Home Safe for All Ages

Make Your Home Safe for All Ages

Your 80-year-old aunt is coming to stay for a few days. You’re looking forward to the visit, but realize your home may not be entirely “older-generation” friendly. To help enhance the safety and comfort of your visitor, especially one who may have some of the physical challenges that come with aging, here are a few quick and inexpensive things you can do to make the time less stressful for you and more comfortable for your guest:

Consider pathways in the house. Clear obstacles, and maybe even move furniture that a person usually has to maneuver around. Move any electrical cords that are where a person might walk – perhaps taping them to a wall or using a hook. Clear stairs of any objects—shoes, books, and other personal items that tend to collect on the lower treads. Also check that railings on stairs inside and out are secure, and make repairs where needed.

Lighting is crucial. Put night lights in bathrooms, the guest bedroom, any hallways near the guest bedroom, and perhaps in the kitchen. Make sure there is a lamp or light switch within easy reach of the guest bed so that your visitor can keep a light on until safely tucked in. Well-lit outdoor walkways and entrances are also key for coming or going when it is dark.

Be sure the shower your guest will use has a non-slip floor. To enhance the traction, apply non-slip strips or a suction-attached non-slip mat, both readily available at home improvement stores.

Secure or, preferably, remove any throw rugs, including bathroom mats. Edges of rugs can be a tripping hazard, and even a slight scoot can affect a person’s balance. If there are rugs you want to secure rather than remove, non-slip pads can help, but safer still would be to apply double-sided carpet tape or even caulk to attach the rug to the floor. If you choose one of these methods, be mindful that you don’t mar the floor underneath.

soft couch

Identify seating in your gathering rooms that is appropriately firm, high in the seat, and preferably that has arms to help a person easily sit down and get up. A chair that is too soft or too low to the ground can strand a person awkwardly. If in doubt about the available seating in the room, bring a dining chair with arms into the room as an alternative.

If you are considering other more long-term home modifications for aging in place, be sure to consult a remodeler or contractor who is a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist. Find one in your area using the CAPS directory.

For more tips on home ownership visit https://www.nahb.org/en/consumers/

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Home Storage Tips and Tricks

Home Storage Tips and Tricks

custom closet with shelves and baskets

When you first move into your new home, you wonder how you are going to fill up the large, empty space. Pretty soon life takes over — and before you know it, you are wondering where all of that space went.

If you find yourself struggling to find room to store everything you’ve accumulated over the years, see if these storage options might work for you.

Do An Audit

Before you invest a lot of time deciding where things should go, look through your closet, files and drawers to determine what can be thrown or given away. For clothes, it is a good rule of thumb to get rid of items that you have not worn in more than 12 months.

A lot of your household financial documents and papers may be available online through the provider company’s website. If that is the case, discard old financial statements or bills that you can more easily access electronically. Invest in a paper shredder for these documents to protect your identity and accounts.

It is very easy to allow cabinets and drawers to become cluttered over time, especially when you have to do a quick cleaning of your home when you have surprise visitors. De-clutter those drawers periodically to keep from accumulating outdated flyers, menus, magazines and newspapers. This will open them up so you can store more day-to-day items that you need to quickly reach.

Buy Furniture That Doubles as Storage

If you are looking to replace old, worn-out furniture in your home, buy pieces that also can serve as storage. Consider a coffee table that has drawers or an ottoman that can open up and double as a spot to store your blankets.

Make Use of Wasted Square Footage

In closets and in the kitchen, use all of the space that is available to you. Often home owners are giving up valuable square footage if they don’t install cabinets or shelves that go up to the ceiling.  Store items that are either out of season or that are rarely accessed — such as holiday decorations — on the higher shelves where they are out of the way. This will free up the lower shelves to allow you to get to the things that you use on a regular basis.

Bed Risers

By simply raising the height of your bed a few more inches, you can gain a lot more storage space that is also hidden away. Bed risers can be found in home design and improvement stores in different shapes, styles, textures and colors to complement your current bedroom furniture. They are inexpensive and not only give you added storage space, but will also give your bedroom a new look.

For more home ownership tips visit  https://www.nahb.org/en/consumers/

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Update Your Home Safely with a Lead-Safe Certified Remodeler

You’ve made the decision to finally remodel the outdated kitchen and living room of your home. But if you live in a house built before 1978, a federal law regulating the removal of lead paint will affect your home remodeling project if you hire a professional remodeler.

In 1978, the use of lead paint was officially banned from residential construction. Before that, however, lead paint was used in more than 38 million homes, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Since 2010, contractors performing renovation, repair and painting projects that disturb lead-based paint in homes built before 1978 have been required to be trained and then certified by EPA and must follow specific work practices to prevent lead contamination. Make sure your home is tested for the presence of lead-based paint before you begin any work – and don’t take chances by hiring a contractor who says that testing isn’t necessary and skipping the required practices can cut you a break on costs. That contractor is breaking the law.

 

The Dangers of Lead Paint

During a renovation or remodel, lead-paint dust can fill the air and be inhaled. Small children could ingest lead paint chips that fall from the wall. For young children, lead poisoning can cause learning disabilities, hearing loss and behavior problems. In adults, lead poisoning can lead to hypertension and high blood pressure. Pregnant women run the risk of passing the poison on to their unborn child.

 

What are Lead-Safe Work Practices?

EPA has a free brochure on its website called “Renovate Right” that provides guidance to home owners and contractors about the safe removal of lead paint. An EPA-certified contractor will follow these specific work practices:

Contain the work area so that dust and debris do not escape. Warning signs will be put up, and heavy-duty plastic and tape will seal off doors and heating and cooling system vents, and also cover the floors and any furniture that cannot be moved.

Minimize dust. There is no way to eliminate dust, but some paint removal methods create less dust than others. Some examples include using water to mist areas before sanding or scraping, scoring paint before separating components, and prying and pulling apart components instead of breaking them. Methods that generate large amounts of dust and therefore should not be used include open flame burning or torching, sanding, grinding, planing, needle gunning, blasting with power tools and equipment not equipped with a shroud and high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter vacuum attachment, or using a heat gun at temperatures greater than 1100°F.

Clean up thoroughly. When all the work is done, and before taking down any plastic that isolates the work area from the rest of the home, the area should be sanitized using special cleaning methods. These methods include using a HEPA vacuum to clean up dust and debris on all surfaces, followed by wet mopping with plenty of water.

 

How Do I Find a Certified Remodeler?

To become certified, a firm and a contractor within that firm must submit an application to the EPA and complete a federal or state-administered eight-hour class with two hours of hands-on training.

To find a lead-safe certified contractor or firm near you, visit www.epa.gov/lead.

 

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When in Life Do Most People Achieve Ownership?

The average consumer’s life is filled with financial milestones, and buying a home is a major one. But when do most people reach the milestone of homeownership? Researchers at Comet Financial Intelligence, a student loan refinancing resource, surveyed 1,200 Americans on how long it took them to complete their financial “rites of passage” with homeownership and other savings hurdles. Among their findings:

  • The millennial respondents surveyed say they expect to purchase their first home three years before paying off their student loans. As such, millennials may be prioritizing paying down their student loans before buying a home, and that may explain some of their delay into homeownership compared to previous generations, the survey says.
  • The average age at which people buy their first home is 29.1 years old. Regardless of which generation they belong to, most Americans will be homeowners by age 35.
  • Three-quarters of millennials surveyed do not yet own homes, and they will be 34.4 years old, on average, by the time they take out their first mortgages.

When consumers do become homeowners, they tend to feel a happy sentiment toward homeownership. Female homeowners surveyed showed greater feelings of excitement about a place to call their own. However, men surveyed expressed pride in their homes more often, the survey found. Recent studies have shown single women are buying homes at a faster pace than single men.

Source: “The Typical American Financial Life,” Comet (February 2018)

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The Not-So-Obvious Benefits of Buying a New Home

The Not-So-Obvious Benefits of Buying a New Home

 

Home buyers have the choice of two types of houses on the market: resale or new.

Home buyers planning to buy a brand-new house or condominium often cite energy efficiency, open layout, a warranty, and being able to select appliances, flooring, paint colors and other design elements as factors driving their choice.

But builders say that buyers can be drawn to a new house for reasons that aren’t so obvious. Here are a few more benefits of a brand-new home that you may not see in the sales brochure.

Building a Community Together

A brand-new community is one of the built-in benefits of many new homes. When families move in to a subdivision at the same time, they often form lasting bonds of friendship and neighborliness right away. Nobody is the “new kid on the block,” and many home builders host community parties in new developments to help owners meet and connect.

Popular amenities like pools, walking trails and tennis and basketball courts offer additional opportunities for interaction among neighbors of all ages. Often new communities are comprised of home owners in the same stage of life, such as young families or active retirees, so neighbors can get to know each other through carpools, PTA meetings, tennis matches or golf games.

Entertaining

Throwing a party in an older home can be a challenge because smaller, distinct rooms make it difficult to entertain guests in one large space. Today, new home layouts feature more open spaces and rooms that flow into each other more easily. While you are preparing dinner, you can still interact with guests enjoying conversation without feeling closed off. The feeling of spaciousness in today’s new-home layouts often is enhanced with higher ceilings and additional windows that bring in more light than you would find in an older home.

A Clean Slate

or some buyers, parking the car in a sparkling-clean garage or being the first to cook a dinner in a brand-new kitchen is part of the appeal of new construction. In addition, you won’t have to spend time stripping dated wallpaper or repainting to suit your own sense of style — creating your own home décor from the get-go!

The advantages of being the first owner extend to the outdoors. Instead of inheriting inconveniently or precariously placed trees, or having to tear up overgrown shrubs, you can design and plant the lawn and garden you want.

Outlets, Outlets Everywhere

Homes built in the 1960’s and earlier were wired much differently than houses today. Builders had no way of anticipating the invention of high-definition televisions, DVRs and computers that we enjoy today — and the very different electrical requirements they would introduce. New homes can accommodate advanced technologies like structured wiring, security systems and sophisticated lighting plans, and can be tailored to meet the individual home owner’s needs.

Anyone who has ever lived in an older home can also attest to the fact that there are never enough outlets, inside or out! Today, home builders plan for the increased number and type of electronics and appliances used by today’s families, so you can safely operate a wine cooler, Christmas lights and your laptop — and more.