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Thomas Skiffington, CRS, GRI, CRB, ABR, ePro, CLHMS, SRES, RECS, CDPE, ECOBROKER
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Tom's Blog

Greenest of the Green: Top Efficiency-Boosting Home Improvements

April 8, 2013 6:08 pm

(BPT)—Forget wondering who's the fairest; when it comes to choosing home improvements that make your home look good—from the curb and to potential buyers—it may make more sense to ask "Who's the greenest of them all." Sustainable home improvements not only help reduce utility costs and boost owner satisfaction with their homes, they also make a house more appealing to potential buyers.

In fact, buyers are willing to shell out up to 10 percent more for new homes certified green, according to a January real estate report by Harvard University. Return on investment for certain types of green improvements - such as replacing older, less efficient doors and windows - also tends to be high, meaning sellers recoup much of the initial cost of the improvement when they sell the home.

If you're looking for eco-friendly home improvements, these five are among the greenest you can make:

1. Switch to a solar water heater - Switching to solar power for heating water can be a huge energy and money-saver. Solar hot water systems rely on free energy from the sun to heat a home's hot water. A typical system can use 50 to 80 percent less energy than traditional heating systems, according to Velux America, marketers of solar-powered hot water systems. That reduction can help a typical household trim its annual energy costs by 10 to 15 percent.

"While the initial cost of installing a solar-powered system is often higher than installing a traditional water heater, most homeowners find the energy savings allows them to recoup that cost in just a few years," says Jim Cika of solar system manufacturer Heliodyne. "What's more, homeowners may qualify for a federal tax credit of up to 30 percent of the cost to buy and install a residential solar water heating system."

2. Eliminate incandescents -
You'll have to do it soon anyway, so it may pay to start the process now and phase incandescent light bulbs from your home. Federal law banning incandescent light bulbs means that by the end of 2014, you probably won't be able to find one of the old-fashioned power-guzzlers on store shelves anymore. Instead, more energy-efficient bulbs such as LEDs and compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) will dominate the marketplace.

3. Add or upgrade a skylight
- Installing a skylight, or replacing an older model skylight with a new Energy Star-qualified one, can help reduce utility costs. The natural light from a skylight can help reduce the need for artificial light sources, thereby paring down electricity costs. When you pair no leak solar-powered fresh air skylights equipped with automatic rain sensors and efficiency-enhancing, energy saving accessories like designer solar powered blinds, you gain a new source of fresh air while improving energy efficiency by up to 37 percent, according to skylight manufacturer Velux.

And, in addition to long-term savings, the cost of solar powered skylights and blinds, as well as installation costs, are eligible for a 30 percent federal tax credit as a green home improvement.

And, if you would like to see exactly how skylights would look in your home, there's an app there that allows you to take pictures inside your home and superimpose skylights and blinds on the image of your ceiling.

Sunlight entering the home through a skylight can help reduce winter heating bills. EnergyStar.gov says installing an EnergyStar-qualified skylight, windows and doors can trim a home energy bill by 7 to 15 percent over non-qualified products. Visit www.EnergyStar.gov to learn more.

4. Replace an old HVAC system
- In the typical American home, up to half of total energy consumption goes to heat and cool the house, EnergyStar says. Replacing old, inefficient heating, ventilation and cooling systems with newer, more efficient models can dramatically reduce a home's heating and cooling costs.

5. Upgrade old windows and doors -
A home can lose a tremendous amount of air - hot in the winter, cool in the summer - through poorly sealed doors and windows. Older units, obviously, tend to be less energy efficient than newer ones. Upgrading from drafty windows and doors to more air-tight models can result in significant savings on your heating and cooling costs.

What's more, replacing windows and doors are among the home improvements that deliver significant ROI at the time of resale. Replacing old windows with new vinyl ones can recoup more than 71 percent of the cost when you sell; 73 percent for wooden replacement windows, according to Remodeling Magazine's Cost vs. Value Report. And installing a new front door earns you back nearly 66 percent for a fiberglass door and a whopping 85.6 percent for a steel door.

Source: www.veluxusa.com.
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Spring Decorating, Eco-Style

April 8, 2013 6:08 pm

(BPT)—As spring blossoms, so does our desire to lighten up - in life and at home. Simple eco-friendly changes to home decor can set the tone for a much fresher and brighter outlook.

Here are five tips to get you started:

Get a color lift


Color has long been credited for its mood-changing qualities. "Color can really change the energy in a space," says C. Michael Kleeman, program coordinator of design at The Art Institute of Atlanta. Choose the season's hottest color - orange - or seasonal citrus green, turquoise or sunny yellow, in paint, botanical fabrics and accessories.

A new coat of paint - even on one wall - can immediately set an upbeat mood. Use Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) free paints to protect the environment. "These paints don't emit toxic fumes and are completely odorless," says Kleeman. "They make it possible to paint a bedroom today and sleep in it tonight."

Lighten up the mood

Give your home an eco-friendly dose of spring with updated lighting, new furniture arrangements and removal of heavy draperies and rugs.

Rachel Simmons, a member of the interior design faculty at The Art Institute of Jacksonville, a branch of Miami International University of Art & Design, suggests converting task lighting to compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs), which are now available in dimmable versions. The reduction in energy consumption translates into a lower monthly electric bill and an overall reduction in the carbon footprint.

Try creating a more flexible floor plan with your furniture. Move a piece or two from one room to another. Angle a sofa or reorient the seating to take advantage of a view or a natural breeze through an open window. Shifting pieces can give a room the appearance of more space, making it feel less cluttered.

For instant brightening, remove heavy draperies and roll up the rug. You can place lightweight panels, preferably organic cotton or linen, on the windows, or leave them uncovered if you don't need draperies for privacy. Leave hardwood floors bare or invest in an inexpensive natural fiber seagrass or jute floor cover for the summer.

Delight in de-cluttering

Spring brings the inspiration to cleanse and purge items no longer needed. In addition to sorting through closets and cupboards, give your home an airier look. Replace heavy accents like wood and ceramics with lighter pieces like baskets or glassware filled with flowers or fruit. Kleeman suggests storing a collection of carefully edited accessories to pull from for each season. Reposition artwork and add mirrors on walls, mantels or even bookshelves to open up a room and give the illusion of more space.

Shop and swap

For an eco-friendly seasonal update, Simmons recommends reusing or repurposing items you already have. A simple piece of furniture like a dresser or chair can be painted in a bright color to liven up a room. Or you might swap items that no longer fit your space with a group of friends or look for bargains in thrift stores or consignment shops. If you do need to purchase new items, look for selections using renewable or organic resources like bamboo, organic cotton or recycled glass.

Bring the outside in

Bring the natural goodness of the outdoors in by adding potted flowers and plants or window boxes. Simmons recommends visiting the local farmers market to find your favorite plants or flowers and place them in locations where you spend time daily. Plants not only add oxygen, but also brighten the indoor environment.

The key to smart decorating for hotter weather is not to overpower the existing elements. "Small changes can make a dramatic difference in the personality of a room," says Kleeman.
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Choosing the Best Air Mattress for You

April 8, 2013 6:08 pm

Health experts agree the average mattress should be replaced after 10-15 years. But traditional mattress types have given way to new breeds. If you are in the market for a new mattress, which type is best for you?


“The only way to choose the right mattress is to lie on it for at least 20 minutes,” said Omaha mattress store manager Joe Paginolo. “Don’t let anyone rush you. Get comfy in the position you usually sleep in—and try it out for at least that long.”

Paginolo points out some of the pros and cons of four basic mattress types:

Innerspring

  • Pros: They range in firmness, price and fluffiness of the pillow top to satisfy nearly everyone’s preference and budget.
  • Cons – The cheapest may not have enough springs and cushioning to offer proper support. Be sure the mattress you choose has at least 390 coils. Firmer versions are best for the overweight and people with chronic back pain.

Memory foam


  • Pros: By molding to the shape of your body as your weight shifts through the night, memory foam reduces pressure points and relieves pain. Memory foam also absorbs movement, so if you sleep with a partner, you're not likely to be disturbed by his tossing and turning.
  • Cons - Because they are temperature sensitive, they soften and mold with body heat, so they can make you feel hot during the night. Also, some memory foam mattresses have been known to emit an unpleasant chemical smell.

Latex

  • Pros – Made from either natural or synthetic rubber, they provide a very firm, bouncy support that is uniform throughout the bed. They are supportive but comfortable for most sleepers.
  • Cons - If you don't like the feel of a firm mattress, latex is probably not the right choice for you.

Air mattresses – (Unlike the blow-up kind you use for overnight guests, the high-end types known as ‘sleep number’ beds use air-filled chambers instead of coils, and are covered by a foam layer on top.)

  • Pros – The firmness of each side can be altered, so they are a good choice for couples who have different firmness preferences.
  • Cons – They can tend to pop up on one side when you sit on the other. Be sure your choice has multiple chambers, so this does not occur.
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Word of the Day

April 8, 2013 6:08 pm

Market price. Actual selling price of a property.
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Q: What Are Closing Costs?

April 8, 2013 6:08 pm

A: Closing, or settlement, costs are expenses over and above the price of the property. Both the buyer and seller incur some of these expenses when transferring ownership of a property. Who actually pays, however, often depends on local custom and what the buyer or seller negotiates. Closing costs normally include title insurance, loan points, escrow or closing day charges, property taxes, and document fees. The lender provides an estimate of closing costs for prospective homebuyers.
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Get Kids Outdoors No Matter the Weather

April 5, 2013 5:56 pm

(Family Features)- Parents often keep a running list of rainy day activities, crafts and games to keep kids indoors when the forecast is soggy. But if your kids have never dodged rain drops, built a snowman or enjoyed a lazy summer afternoon outside, they're missing out on something wonderful.

Weather was cited as the biggest barrier to getting kids outdoors by 61 percent of parents recently surveyed by the National Wildlife Federation. But the outdoor activities kids love, such as running, jumping, climbing, playing games with friends and taking nature walks, are a great strategy for keeping children healthy and happy.

"Children are safe to play outside in most kinds of weather barring the extremes," said Lindsay Legendre, manager of the National Wildlife Federation's Be Out There http://ctt.marketwire.com/?release=1003523&id=2820115&type=1&url=http%3a%2f%2fwww.nwf.org%2fbeoutthere movement. "Regular outdoor play is so important to kids' healthy development and a little rain shouldn't stop them from being out there. Parents might enjoy puddle jumping again themselves."

Bring on the Rain. Rain can sometimes be blamed for causing children to catch colds or flu, particularly when their hair or feet get wet. However, rain cannot make you sick. Dress children in waterproof hats, boots and raincoats to keep kids from getting too soggy. If storm conditions develop, get out of any body of water and seek shelter in a nearby building. Prepare for mud and splashes in advance by keeping a heavy mat and dry towels by the front door.

How Hot Is too Hot? When temperatures climb, make sure to have plenty of water available and take precautions, such as applying sunscreen and wearing loose clothing that is light in color. Try to schedule outdoor time during the early morning and evening, which are often the coolest part of the day.

Allergies. In many areas, seasonal allergies are another challenge for parents to contend with in regard to outdoor play. Experts say, in addition to any allergy medications recommended by your pediatrician, there are steps you can take to help allergic kids enjoy the outdoors. Encourage kids to go outside in the early morning and evening when pollen counts are lower. Cool shades or sunglasses can prevent allergens from entering their eyes. Have them shower and wash their hair once they come back in.

Baby, It's Cold Outside. Many moms and dads are reluctant to send kids outside when temperatures drop. The American Academy of Pediatrics urges parents to dress kids in several thin layers to keep them dry and warm, including warm coats, boots, gloves and hats. It's also important to set reasonable time limits on outdoor play and have children come inside periodically to warm up. And don't forget the sunscreen, as sunlight, especially reflecting off snow, can cause burns.

"Kids should get at least 60 minutes of exercise every day, and it's great if they can do so outside for the fresh air and more room to play," says Dr. Jennifer Shu, a pediatrician and author of Heading Home with Your Newborn.

Source: www.BeOutThere.org
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How to Snack Smarter

April 5, 2013 5:56 pm

(Family Features)—Did you ever find yourself skipping a meal so you could enjoy a snack? Well you're not alone. In fact, according to a national survey commissioned by Dole Banana Dippers and conducted by Wakefield Research, nearly 60 percent of women have skipped a meal so they could enjoy a snack without feeling guilty.

With so many hours in a day, it's nearly impossible to just eat three meals. Everyone needs a snack to keep them feeling satisfied throughout the day. However, it's important to make smart choices when you reach for that mid-day pick-me-up. Next time you are considering skipping lunch, keep these tips in mind so you can have your snack and eat your meal, too.

Manage Your Sweet Tooth: Every once in a while it's okay to give into your sweet tooth. Depriving yourself won't make your body or your mind happy. So next time you're craving a sweet treat, reach for something that won't leave you feeling guilty, like fruit or dark chocolate.

Enhance What's in Your Eyesight: You are more likely to eat a healthy snack if it's within reach. So, keep a bowl of fruit on your counter to reach for when you are feeling hungry. And if you find yourself overindulging at work, keep a container of mixed nuts on your desk; they will fill you up quickly and give you extra energy to help get you through the day.

Bring Out the Bowl: It can be hard to stop reaching for potato chips once you start; before you know it, the whole bag is gone. To help keep track of just how many servings you are eating, purchase snacks packaged in individual serving sized containers. If you are a club shopper, or if you just prefer to purchase the whole bag, remember that snacking out of the bag will make you more likely to overindulge. To avoid this, put your snack on a plate or in a bowl; it will help you realize just how much you're eating.

Slow It Down: Do you tend to wait until you are extremely hungry to have a snack? Before you inhale your treats, take a breath and remember that when you eat your snack too quickly, you don't give your body time to digest and process whether or not you are satisfied. Eat slowly and savor every bite. You will feel as if you are eating more than you actually are, and your body will have time to decide if it is full or not.

So next time that 3:00 p.m. grumble rolls around, remember these tips to help you snack smart.

Source: www.Dole.com
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Top 10 Ways to Get Yourself Fired

April 5, 2013 5:56 pm

Short of a company shut-down, most workers believe they won’t be fired unless they are either grossly incompetent or they’ve taken cash out of the till. But the fact is, there are many kinds of workplace behavior that could land you out on the street.

Human Relations specialists at a college Career Day in California listed 10 workplace mistakes to avoid if you want to keep your hard-earned job:

  1. Lying on your resume – Truth matters, and most employers will do educational and background checks to corroborate the information you’ve provided. False claims about your degree or achievements will almost always lead to dismissal.
  2. Too much web surfing – Workplace computers can be monitored. Spending too many work hours surfing in cyberspace is a good way to find yourself unemployed.
  3. Indiscreet job hunting – Again, computers may be monitored, and that includes instant messages. If you’re in the job market, don’t send resumes or job applications to other employers from your workplace computer.
  4. Gossiping – Sometimes the walls really do have ears. Stay away from the rumor mill if you want to keep your job.
  5. Too many personal calls – There’s no such thing as privacy in the workplace. Employers frown on taking or making too many personal calls.
  6. Alienating co-workers – It’s the old ‘works and plays well with others.’ Don’t get yourself a rep for being detached or unpleasant around other employees.
  7. Forgetting to check your work – Double-check your facts and figures every single time. Too many mistakes will likely get you fired.
  8. Not taking responsibility – Pointing fingers never gets you points. When mistakes happen, take responsibility for any error that may have been yours.
  9. Getting involved with the boss – Whether it’s romantic involvement or providing too much sympathetic ear, the result is often somebody leaving the company – and it’s more likely to be you than the boss.
  10. Drinking or drugs on the job – It should be obvious: Sobriety on any job is mandatory.
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Word of the Day

April 5, 2013 5:56 pm

Nonconforming use. Use of property that is permitted to continue after a zoning ordinance prohibiting it has been passed.
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Q: What Does a Home Inspector Do?

April 5, 2013 5:56 pm

A: A home inspector is a paid professional – often a contractor or an engineer – who checks the safety of a home. Home inspectors search for defects or other problems that could become your worst nightmare later on. They focus particularly on the home’s structure, construction, and mechanical systems.

It is not the inspector’s job to determine whether you are getting good value for your money. He does not establish value, only whether the home might collapse in a storm or if the roof might cave in.

A home inspection typically takes place after a purchase contract between the buyer and seller has been signed.
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