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Tom's Blog

Get Active & Save Big Bucks with a Passive House

March 20, 2013 5:42 pm

I like to think of one's home as a pretty active environment. But recently, designer Jamie Wolf of Wolfworks in Avon, Conn. ( provided a little lesson about the Passive House movement.

Tens of thousands have been built over the past two decades in Europe, establishing an impressive and dependable performance record. And Wolf notes that more international governments are establishing Passive House standards as a key element of their policies to reduce energy use for the long term.

Wolf recently completed the first home in Connecticut certified to the international Passive House standard based on principles originating in the US in the '70s and perfected in Germany in the 1990s

The secret to how Wolf's Passive home is the application of several critical design principles:

  • Super Insulation: insulation tuned to the local climate level to assure a stable, draft-free interior
  • Thermal Bridge Free Construction: detailing that assures energy isn’t transferred through building materials
  • Air-Tight Construction: rigorous attention to sealing all potential air leakage sources
  • Net-Gain High Performance Windows: triple glazed, tilt-turn windows tuned to gain more energy than they lose
  • Balanced Ventilation: system recovers heat from steady balanced air flow, “the house literally breathes”
  • Lighting and Plug Loads: LED and CFL light sources in nearly all fixtures and the best Energy Star appliances

Generally, construction of a Passive House is about five percent more costly than typical construction, however, savings start immediately. Based on analysis done by Home Energy Rater, Wolf says the Connecticut Passive house is predicted to produce income of $380 year, with a predicted annual savings of $5,652 over a code built home.

And the Net Present Value of the energy savings (with inflation) over 30 years discounted at the after-tax mortgage interest cost is estimated to be $199,087.

You can also learn more about whether a passive house may be right for you, by visiting

An Easy Way to Save Energy and Money

March 20, 2013 5:42 pm

(Family Features)—As the cost of energy continues to rise, homeowners everywhere are looking for ways to cut back on their usage and exercise energy efficiency in their homes. Lighting your house is no minor expense, with recent data from the U.S. Department of Energy showing that an average household dedicates 10 percent of its energy budget to lighting and spends approximately $1,900 per year in total on utility bills.

Remember you can make a difference and green your lifestyle with a simple step that will also save you money. Changing your traditional incandescent light bulbs or CFLs (compact fluorescent lamps often recognized by their spiral design) to LED light bulbs will save not only energy but also dollars off your electricity bill. The bulbs feature longer life spans than traditional light bulbs, while still emitting warm tones to make your home cozy with illuminating, comfortable light. And because LED bulbs consume far fewer watts to deliver the same level of brightness as traditional bulbs, they can save you money daily by reducing that light's energy use by up to 85 percent according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Making the switch to LED bulbs in your home is easier than you think. Quality LED lighting products such as the new line of bulbs from Samsung now available at retail stores, offer average life spans between 15,000 and 40,000 hours depending on the bulb. This can amount to an approximate average of 25 times longer than traditional bulbs.

Samsung is well-recognized in the LED industry because it has experience making nearly all of the components in LED bulbs. They offer consumers high-quality, reliable products, an important fact to consider when investing in LED light bulbs that will power your home and fixture lighting for decades to come. Both energy and cost-effective, these bulbs are the perfect solution when transitioning from traditional bulbs to the highest-quality, affordable and long-term lighting.

Five Reasons to Switch to LED Lighting Now:

1. Energy Savings:
Samsung's LED bulbs use 75 to 85 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs, which means savings for your energy bill and extra cash in your pocket. In fact, Samsung's new A19 lamp -- a replacement for a traditional 40-watt screw-in light bulb -- only uses about $1.20 in electricity over the course of an entire year.

2. Convenience: Long-lasting life spans of 22 to 36 years means you will only have to change the bulbs a few times in your lifetime -- this means you won't be bothered to replace a dimming bulb for decades at a time.

3. Versatility: LEDs come in all different shapes and sizes to fit any room or fixture in your home. The bulbs create a warm, natural illuminating light that set a comfortable ambience of your choosing inside, and many can be controlled by a dimmer to cascade any amount of light within your rooms.

4. Save Money: According to the U.S. Department of Energy, replacing just 15 bulbs in your home with more energy efficient versions can save an average of $50 off your energy bill annually -- or up to $1,800 on your energy bill over the course of your LED bulb's lifetime.

5. Instant Lighting: Instead of waiting seconds or minutes for your lights to reach full brightness, LED lamps light up immediately to full brightness to illuminate your space.


Word of the Day

March 20, 2013 5:42 pm

Principal. The amount of money borrowed; the amount of money still owed.

Q: What Guidelines Should I Follow to Find a Contractor?

March 20, 2013 5:42 pm

A: Always exercise caution and be comfortable and confident about your final decision. This means selecting a competent and reliable contractor with a track record who can complete the job without hassles or negative consequences. What you can do:

  • Get word-of-mouth referrals. Ask friends, family, co-workers and neighbors for the names of established, local contractors in your area; avoid the telephone book.
  • Call trade groups. When all else fails, contact local trade organizations, such as the local builder association or the Remodelors Council, an arm of the National Association of Home Builders, for the names of reputable members in your area.
  • Associate with licensed contractors. Many states require contractors to be licensed and bonded. Contact your state or local licensing board to ensure the contractor meets all requirements and has a decent record. The Better Business Bureau and the local Consumer Affairs Office can also tell you if any complaints have been filed against the contractor and how they were resolved.
  • Conduct interviews. Talk with each contractor, request free estimates, and ask for recent references. When dealing with several different contractors, make sure they’re bidding on similar project specifications and quality of work. Remember, the lowest bid isn’t always the best.
  • Check insurance information. Most states require a contractor to have workers’ compensation, property damage, and personal liability insurance. Ask for proof of this insurance and get the name of the insurance company to verify the information and to ensure that all minimum insurance requirements are met. You could be held liable for any work-related injury if the contractor is not covered.


Heating with Gas? Mind These Late-Winter Safety Tips

March 19, 2013 5:42 pm

In the last segment, we looked at tips for those heating with oil. So in consideration of equal time, now we'll focus on the growing number of gas heating consumers across the nation.

According to New England based YankeeGas utility, snow and ice can easily damage natural gas meters or appliance vents, causing them to malfunction. The company suggests these simple tips to learn how to stay safe until warm weather arrives:

1. Keep outdoor appliance vents clear of snow and ice.

  • All outdoor appliance vents should be cleared of snow and ice.
  • A clogged vent may cause your appliance to shut down or malfunction and create a hazardous situation, such as a buildup of carbon monoxide.

2. Keep natural gas meters clear of snow and ice.

  • Gently brush away any snow or ice that has accumulated around the meter, regulator vent and any other outdoor piping, using a hand or broom, not a shovel.
  • When plowing, snow blowing or shoveling, do not push or pile snow around your meter or outside vents.
  • Clear a path to your meter so gas company employees and emergency responders can access it in an emergency.

3. Watch for falling snow or ice near your natural gas meter.

  • Falling snow and ice can cause serious damage to your natural gas meter or regulator, which may cause a gas leak.
  • Be aware of the locations of utility meters when removing snow and ice from your roof or contact a qualified roofing contractor to perform this work for you.
  • And most importantly, anytime you smell a natural gas odor, leave the area immediately and call 911 your local gas company's emergency response number.

Easy Fixes for 7 Common Household Glitches

March 19, 2013 5:42 pm

Little household annoyances, like a window that sticks, can ruin your sense of peace and quiet. From California handyman Jim Peterson come these seven easy fixes for banishing some minor but common problems around the house:

Stained tub - Combine equal amounts of cream of tartar and baking soda with enough lemon juice to make a paste. Rub the mixture into the stain with your fingers or a soft cloth. Let sit for a half hour, then rinse well with water.

Stuck sliding windows – A little silicone spray lubricant (sold at hardware stores) will grease the skids. Spray it onto a rag, then wipe along the tracks, whether they’re metal, wood, or plastic.

Furniture imprints in the carpet - Remove ‘carpet craters’ left behind by heavy furniture by placing an ice cube on top of the imprint and letting it set for a while. As the ice melts, the moistened carpet strands float back to their original stand-up positions.

Drafty doors and windows – Install weather stripping around the edges of the door and window frames to stop drafts from coming in and improve energy efficiency by keeping the warm air inside.

Remove kitchen odors – If the odor of last night’s dinner is lingering in your kitchen, boil a pot of water with lemons, apples and/or a stick or two of cinnamon. As steam forms from the boiling water, the good smells travel upward and throughout your home.

Stubborn lock and key – If your key sticks in the front door lock, solve the problem by rubbing the key with dry soap or graphite.

Dusty artificial trees or flower arrangements – Get them looking new again by blowing them clean using the cold setting of a hair dryer.

Make Your Yard Picture Perfect

March 19, 2013 5:42 pm

(Family Features)—It takes more than just mowing the lawn to get a great looking yard. In addition to making sure you have healthy, well-cut grass, there are some finishing touches you should add so that your yard goes from so-so to something you can be proud of.

Trimming and Edging the Lawn

The lawn mower can't reach every place that grass grows. So after mowing, you're often left with long grass sticking up around trees and flower beds, as well as along sidewalks, patios and driveways. When you trim, you leave your lawn neat and tidy.

Trimming is cutting the edges of your lawn horizontally. It levels unmowed grass so it's even with the rest of the lawn. String trimmers are effective tools for this job. A battery powered trimmer, such as the 36 volt Lithium High Performance String Trimmer with Power Command® controls from Black & Decker, is a lightweight option for many homeowners. Its battery holds a charge 5 times longer while idle compared to HPB18 NiCad battery packs, and it requires no gas to operate.

To trim properly, keep a few things in mind:
  • Make sure the area you're going to trim is free of debris.
  • Slowly move the trimmer from side to side, letting the tip of the line do the cutting.
  • Keep the head two to three inches off the ground so you don't scalp the lawn and damage it.
  • Cut thick or tall grass in smaller sections so you don't clog the trimmer.
  • Don't let the line cut into trees and shrubs. This can damage them and make them more vulnerable to disease or hurt their growth.
  • When you're finished, remove clippings and debris from the trimmer.
  • Plan on trimming every mowing to maintain a neat appearance.

When you edge a lawn, you're making vertical cuts to remove grass growing over sidewalks or patio edges. Some trimmers require a separate attachment for edging or will not convert to an edger, while many can simply be rotated to operate vertically.

Edging and Trimming Safely
To help protect yourself from debris:
  • Wear protective safety glasses.
  • Wear long pants.
  • Wear closed shoes.
  • Wear gloves. Keep others away from any debris or objects which may be hit by the line.
  • Always follow your instruction manual.
Trimming Hedges
Properly pruned hedges not only improve the look of the plants, but their health, too. Formal hedges are typically made up of shrubs with small leaves that get sheared into a smooth and uniform-looking surface. Informal hedges are more casual in appearance, and are usually made up of plants that bear flowers or fruit, and have wider leaves.

Using a hedge trimmer such as the 36 volt 24-inch Lithium Hedge Trimmer from Black & Decker can make this task easy. The lithium-ion battery holds a charge up to 18 months. The 24-inch dual-action blade cuts branches quickly and has less vibration compared to a single action blade.

Here are few tips for trimming a formal hedge:

  • Deciduous hedges should be trimmed in late winter, while evergreens can be trimmed in mid-spring.
  • Sloping the hedge so that the base is broader than the top lets sunlight reach lower leaves.
  • To help you trim hedges evenly, use stakes and string to set up guidelines for height and width.
  • Cut slowly, and use a smooth, up and down sweeping motion. If you apply too much pressure, the blades can tear branches instead of cutting them neatly.
  • Cut the sides of a hedge first.
  • Use a ladder to reach the tops of tall hedges.
  • Keep trimmer blades sharp and clean.

Hedge Trimming Safely
To help protect yourself from debris:
  • Wear protective safety glasses.
  • Wear long pants.
  • Wear closed shoes.
  • Wear gloves and keep both hands on the trimmer.
  • Always follow your instruction manual.
  • Keep others away from any debris as it falls.
Yard Clean-Up
Do a periodic yard check to take stock of what needs to be picked up or removed.
  • Remove twigs and branches.
  • Pick up and store outdoor toys.
  • Make sure pet items such as shelters, bowls and toys are clean and well-maintained.
  • Remove dead plants from flower beds, planters and window boxes.
  • Rake leaves and debris from flower beds, shrubs and around trees.
More Easy Finishing Touches
  • Add decorative edging to flower beds. You can use hardscape materials such as brick, stone, plastic or steel, or you can plant living edging with attractive ground cover plantings.
  • Mulch around trees, shrubs and flower beds. Not only does mulch keep weeds in check, but it can give those areas a neater appearance. Look for natural materials such as wood chips or cocoa hulls. While there are a variety of colored mulch options, keep in mind that dark, earth-colored mulch will put the spotlight on your plants, while brighter colored mulch will draw attention to itself.
  • Keep hoses neatly stored with hose reels. You can find wall-mounted reels, covered boxes, or even attractive pots to keep hoses from cluttering up your yard.

Word of the Day

March 19, 2013 5:42 pm

Point. Fee charged by a lender to get additional revenue over the interest rate. A point is equal to one percent of the loan amount.

Q: Should the Architect and Contractor I Work with Have a “Vested” Interest in One Another?

March 19, 2013 5:42 pm

A: It does not hurt to have a situation where the architect and contractor already have an existing working relationship. In fact, such an association could benefit a project by ensuring the smooth integration between the design and implementation. In a residential project, there is sometimes a triangle of tension between the architect, the contractor and the homeowner in terms of finger pointing and assigning blame. There is greater coordination of efforts, and generally less stress, with a design/build firm where the architects and contractors are accustomed to working together and are knowledgeable about construction costs and can fit design plans and specifications to your budget.

Heating with Oil? Mind ECC's Late Winter Safety Tips

March 18, 2013 5:40 pm

March 20 may be the first day of spring, but many parts of the country continue to face winter's wrath.

So as we look tentatively toward spring and the warmer weather it promises, the heating oil industry’s Energy Communications Council (ECC) wants homeowners remember a few important points to help stay warm and safe during extreme weather.

With that in mind, the ECC presents the following tips:
1. Make sure you have an adequate heating oil supply in case roads may be inaccessible for delivery. Consider automatic delivery, which allows retailers to use computerized systems signaling them when tank volumes are low and need to be refilled.
2. If consumers have an in-ground tank, ensure that fill pipes are clearly marked and readily accessible for oil heat delivery drivers. A thin wire stake with a colored flag inserted into the ground next to fill pipes can work well. The marker should be higher than the average snow cover depth for your area.
3. Keep heating vents clear and make sure carbon monoxide and smoke detectors are installed in your home. If a vent is obstructed, an appliance may malfunction and create a dangerous buildup of carbon monoxide.
4. If oil heat tanks are located behind a home or business, consumers should ensure that fence gates can be opened and there is a clear path for deliveries. A hundred foot heating oil hose can weigh more than 100 pounds.
5. For above-ground outdoor tanks, large amounts of debris, snow or ice sliding from roofs have the potential to damage heating fuel lines. Consumers should try to safely clear and debris, snow or ice buildup from the areas above their fuel lines, before damage occurs.
6. For a permanent solution to potential winter weather hazards, many oil heat dealers sell weatherproof enclosures for outdoor tanks.
7. After a storm passes and it is safe to do so, check the entire area for any damage to an outdoor oil heat tank. Immediately call your local heating oil dealer if you suspect that any hazards exist. Do not attempt repairs yourself.

More information is available at

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Tom Skiffington - RE/MAX 440 - PERKASIE

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