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Tom's Blog

Energy Efficient Improvements: Understanding Your Tax Credits

May 1, 2012 5:50 pm

I have promoted a number of programs and tips on saving energy, cutting costs and saving the planet. But this month, the Alliance to Save Energy ( is trying to help homeowners understand which energy-efficient home improvements are eligible for federal tax credits, and which forms you’ll need to claim them. 

According to the ASE, you can get up to $500 back on your 2011 income tax return if you installed energy-efficient products in your home last year. 

To claim the non-business energy property credit the ASE advises:
• For your records, keep your receipts and manufacturer’s certifications from the energy-efficient products that you installed. You don’t have to submit copies with your tax return, but you will need them if you are audited.
• Download IRS Form 5695 and fill it out.
• Take your total number of credits at the bottom of Form 5695, and enter it into line 52 of Form 1040.
• Attach Form 5695 to Form 1040.
• Submit these forms with your 2011 taxes by April 15, 2012.

Remember, the Residential Energy Credits also include an incentive for geothermal heat pumps. This credit, called the “residential energy efficient property” credit, provides 30 percent of the cost of these systems, as well as renewable equipment like solar water heaters and small wind systems.
If you have questions on how to claim your energy-efficient home upgrades, the ASE recommends reading more about Form 5695 paying special attention to the well-written “General Instructions” on the final pages. 

If you still need help, consult a tax professional—and remember that neither the Alliance to Save Energy nor your Consumer Confidant are experts on taxes!

How-To: Deter Deer from Demolishing Your Garden

May 1, 2012 5:50 pm

(ARA)—Springtime means sunshine, blooms, birdsong - and the dreaded "deer drama" that will inevitably wreak havoc in your beautiful backyard this season. Deer are now a permanent part of our landscapes, brazenly entering our yards and eating our gorgeous gardens. They are majestic animals, and beautiful to look at—from a distance. Up close, trampling and tasting your tulips, they're just not a welcome sight.

Springtime is when deer damage is most noticeable, particularly as plants awaken from months of dormancy and prepare to bloom. Deer are the poster critters of natural adaptability. As suburbia has encroached on their wild habitat, deer have adjusted easily, finding plenty to eat in residential landscapes.

"In the early part of the 20th century, the deer population in the U.S. was less than half a million animals," says Greg Ecsedy, owner of Bobbex Inc., which manufactures deer repellent. "Today, estimates place the deer population at between 15 million and 20 million animals that cause about $1 billion a year in damage to farms, gardens, yards and timber."

"We know that deer will eat more than 500 different types of plants, so there's a good chance that something you've planted will appeal to them, and you can bet they'll eat it," Ecsedy says.

Since deer need to consume a high volume of calories to survive - bucks weighing 125 to 250 pounds need 4,000 to 6,000 calories per day - their foraging can cause significant damage to suburban landscapes. Deer seldom travel alone, so a small herd can devastate a neighborhood quickly. Deer's close proximity to people over the course of time has dulled their natural fear, so it's quite common to see multiple deer nonchalantly noshing away - right outside your window.

Deer's adaptability stems from their capacity to learn. Homeowners can defend their landscape by putting deer's natural learning ability to good use. Deterrents that convince the deer your yard is no longer a desirable dining destination can successfully protect your home environment from these foraging foes.

Several methods can be effective in deterring deer. Common solutions include:

Deer Repellent - Deer rely heavily on their sense of smell to assess the desirability of an area for feeding, and to alert them to danger. Disrupting their sense of smell can disrupt their sense of security, which is why scent-based repellents often prove effective. The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station gave Bobbex a 93 percent protection index - second only to a fence, at 100 percent, for effectiveness. The repellent uses ingredients that blend the scents of putrescent eggs, garlic, fish, clove oil and other proteins, so it smells and tastes awful to deer. It's environmentally friendly and safe for animals and your family.

Deer Deterrent Devices - Motion-activated noise makers and lights can scare deer off for a short time. Deer's movement in the yard can activate motion lights at night, scaring them away, during the day you can use motion-activated sound. It's likely, however, that deer will become acclimated to both tactics over time, and the sound and motion might not have an effect on them.

Deer Fence - Fencing is considered the only surefire way to keep deer out of a garden, but keep in mind that deer have been known to jump 10-foot fences, and many communities restrict the height of fencing. You may not be able to put up a fence high enough to keep deer away - plus, fencing might not be practical and can be costly.

Deer Resistant Flowers - Another option is to grow plants that deer don't like. A hungry deer will eat just about anything, but you may have some success by planting deer-resistant flowers and plants like catmint, hellebore, yarrow, fuzzy lamb's ear, and cleome near the plants you want to protect.


Summer Outdoor Lighting - Top Ideas for Curb Appeal and Energy Savings

May 1, 2012 5:50 pm

Now that summer is fast approaching most of us tend to push thoughts of outdoor lighting to the back of our minds. After all, who needs much lighting when the days are long and the beautiful sunlight is plentiful? Most people would agree with the writer Henry James when he said, “Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language,” and leave it at that.

But not so fast, says Lamps Plus blogger and designer Marcia Prentice. “There are actually a lot of summer outdoor lighting ideas that you can use to not only add style to your home, but also safety and energy savings.” 

Start with Porch Lights
The longer days mean that family and guests will be out and about later into the evening. Because of this, porch lights are essential for welcoming guests in style and giving them adequate light to safely navigate walkways and steps. “Porch lights also add a touch of elegance and curb appeal to just about any home,” notes Marcia. “Just remember to size the light correctly for the size of your home. Most people buy fixtures that are too small for their porch space. I like to cut out a piece of paper that’s the size of the fixture, tape it into location and then stand at the curb or in the walkway to see how it will look. The same approach can be used to size backyard patio lights.” 

Dark Sky Lighting
One option for outdoor lighting around your home is what is called Dark Sky outdoor lights. These types of lights aim light at the ground, not the sky, reducing light pollution. Many local communities have Dark Sky lighting regulations, which may specifically call for this type of lighting. “Even if you don’t need to install this type, it is still a great option for homeowners,” says Marcia. “With more light on the ground, they can actually improve visibility in walkways by reducing light glare and flares. This means you can reduce the wattage of the bulbs you use, saving energy over the long term.” 

Security Lights
Security is always an issue with outdoor lighting, notes Marcia. “Aside from style, you’ll also want to make sure that your plan offers safety and security for your summer evenings outdoors. I love using dusk to dawn lights for seating areas, porches and garden pathways.” This type of lighting uses a built-in photocell to automatically turn the light on at dusk and then off again at dawn. “You don’t have to be home for the outdoor lighting to turn on and you don’t have to remember to turn lights off after a party or family gathering,” explains Marcia. “The built-in dusk to dawn feature takes care of everything for you, which is a great security feature as well as something that will save you energy and money.” 

Energy Efficient Outdoor Lighting
For those wanting to really save on their energy bills, energy efficient outdoor lights are the way to go. “Today there are more energy efficient outdoor lighting designs on the market than ever before,” says Marcia. “Many of these use new LED technology or other design features to make them as energy-miser as possible, and they come in all styles for your home, from traditional to really ultra-modern looks.” 

Energy Star rated outdoor lights are a popular option, though designs without the rating can be just as energy efficient. Energy Star is a government program tests fixtures based on guidelines set by the EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy. “Look for the tags on products to see if they are Energy Star,” says Marcia, She also advises that consumers look at the wattage of the bulbs used by the fixture and, also very important, the lumens, or light level output, the bulbs produce. “This will really help you determine how much light a design will produce and at what cost. Outdoor lights are on a lot, so it’s important to know what your energy costs will be before you buy.” 

Add the Party Lights
What’s a summer season without a BBQ or pool party? String lights, often called party lights, are an inexpensive way to add a fun look to your summer entertaining. Many times you can string together multiple strands of lights, so you can use them to cover large decks or garden areas. They are found in a wide range of themes, from paper lanterns to flowers, with a number of child-themed options as well. “I love that you can just string them up for a party to transform the look of your space, plug them in, and then quickly take them down the next day after the party is over,” says Marcia. “And you don’t even have to hang them up. You can just bunch them together and put them in tall glass jars or wrap them around tree trunks to create really interesting effects.” 

Source: Lamps Plus

Job Hunting? Top 10 Secret Reasons a Resume Can Get Overlooked

May 1, 2012 5:50 pm

The resume is one of the most critical components in their job seekers getting the interview. Read the following top reasons that resumes may not land interviews, provided by Flex Hour Jobs. 

1. Resume is too wacky or unprofessional.
2. Screening software excludes resumes without relevant experience or pertinent keywords.
3. Extensive and unexplained work gaps indicating a possible lack of updated skills.
Lack of mobility or inability to travel or relocate.
4. Job Seeker too focused on kind of company they want to work for, rather than what they can do for the company.
5. Resumes not formatted optimally with visible attention-catching information.
Too many typos or poor grammar.
6. Resume appears mass mailed and not specific to the job.
7. Candidate over qualified, too set in their ways of doing a job the same way for years.
8. Resume appears overly embellished with experience and achievements. 

A well thought-out, targeted search for a job will allow the job seeker to focus on the exact requirements of that position and make sure that relevant job experience is clearly stated in a visible area of the resume. Most hiring managers’ minds will be made up about a candidate within 6-15 seconds of reading a resume, so the top of the resume is critical. 

Flex Hour Job founder Jacqueline Sloboda states that, “Online resume submissions should list the most eye-catching information above the fold, visible before the viewer has to scroll down.”


Word of the Day

May 1, 2012 5:50 pm

Eminent domain. The right or power of government to acquire private property for public use without the consent of the owner, provided fair compensation is provided.

Question of the Day

May 1, 2012 5:50 pm

Q: How can I finance a remodeling project?
: There are many ways to finance a remodeling project. If you have equity in your home, a good credit rating, and steady income, you can refinance your mortgage and borrow a percentage of the equity to cover remodeling costs. Refinancing is a good option if you can get a mortgage interest rate at least two percentage points below your current home loan rate. Other options include a second mortgage, a home equity loan, or an unsecured loan. Less popular options: margin loans, which are taken against securities you own, and loans from retirement plans, life insurance policies and credit cards.

8 Ways to Save Money on Airfare

April 30, 2012 5:48 pm

If summer travel is in your plans, there are a few tips to consider that may help you save a bundle on airfare, according to Joe Brancatelli, publisher of the website,

“On a single flight, there can be more than a dozen pricing categories,” Brancatelli says. He offers these tips to help you snag the best deals in the air:

• Book six weeks in advance – Data collected over four years shows that while some of the best deals may be found at other times, booking 42 days in advance of your flight will generally save you money.
• Check for morning deals – Although some airlines offer discounted tickets all day, the early morning is the best time to find discounted fares.
• Check on Tuesday afternoons – According to, many discount deals are offered online on Tuesdays at 3 p.m. Eastern time.
• Fly on Wednesdays – Flying on a Wednesday can net you airfare discounts, with Tuesdays and Saturdays not far behind. Those are the days when the most empty seats often require discounting to fill the plane.
• Fly early – While it may mean getting up well before sunrise, you will find the first flights of any morning are always the cheapest, studies show.
• Check low-cost airlines individually - Comparison sites like don't necessarily do all the work. Some low-cost airlines, like Southwest in the United States and Ryanair in Europe, don't allow their tickets to be quoted on popular comparison websites. So check them separately.
• Sign up for free alerts - Almost every major online booking site offers airfare alerts that ping you when fare prices fall. stands out from the pack.
• Build a relationship - Elite members of an airline's frequent-flyer program, or those who have a credit card tied to the airline, automatically have a leg-up on being offered lower fares. Also, credit cards tied to the airlines offer perks that were once standard, such as free checked bags, priority boarding, and seat selection, so they may be worth signing up for if you fly frequently on one airline.

Top 10 Cities for Post-Grads

April 30, 2012 5:48 pm

Are you wondering where 2012’s collegiate will be scurrying off to after graduating this May? Well now you can put your curiosity to rest; researched cities across the country and has compiled a list highlighting 10 great cities for the post-grad set based on unemployment rates, mean annual income, cost of living, and rental inventory (in no particular order): 

• Boston, Mass. – A low unemployment rate and high mean income attracts career-minded young professionals. The character of a college town makes for a smooth transition, in which nightlife options abound.
• Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minn.– The Twin Cities truly combine natural beauty with the benefits of an urban center. With an unemployment rate well below the national average, finding a job shouldn’t be a stressful task in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
• Seattle, Wash. – The perfect city for a new class of intellectuals, Seattle offers a well-educated workforce as well as plenty of outdoor adventure and foodie cuisine.
• Houston, TX – Houston is known for cost-competitive housing and a favorable cost of living. Add to that a diverse mix of jobs and commuter-friendly transportation, and Houston has a lot to offer for new grads.
• Baltimore, Md. – The Charm City is a friendly place to live and play, with a diverse cultural scene and more than 200 unique neighborhoods to call home.
• Dallas, TX – With the hospitality of Texas and the modernity of a sophisticated city, Dallas offers all of the benefits of big city living without the big city price tag – the cost of living is well below the national average.
• Kansas City, Mo. – Healthy living and an eco-friendly lifestyle are just one part of the booming downtown of Kansas City. It’s also known for barbecue and jazz – so very grown up chic, right?
• Raleigh, N.C. – People of all ages move to Raleigh for affordable housing and temperate weather. With an economy based on three local universities, post-grads looking for jobs in industries like biotech or computers will thrive in these North Carolina cities.
• Washington, DC – A favorably low unemployment rate and high mean annual income make Washington, DC a smart choice for new young professionals. The federal city also offers entertainment for everyone, from nightlife and world-class dining to cultural institutions.
• Austin, TX – A quickly growing city, Austin boasts a low cost of living and neighborhoods with character ranging from funky to serene. A thriving music scene will inspire recent grads to partake in the arts.


House-Obsessed Homeowners Get Inspired by Social Media

April 30, 2012 5:48 pm

The Internet makes it easier than ever before to find home improvement inspiration. Social networking sites have taken the place of word of mouth between neighbors, and popular sites like Houzz and Pinterest let users share ideas and opinions on home trends with a seemingly endless social network.

"It is impossible to ignore the impact of social media and digital tools on home design trends," says Jeff Kaliner, Power Home Remodeling Group’s Founding Partner. "Whether their motivation is to keep up with the Joneses or to give their home some personality, these sites spark the imagination of homeowners looking to improve their home's appearance — and the sky's the limit when it comes to inspiration." 

Below are four areas where the Internet helps homeowners turn their home improvement inspiration into reality:

• Social media – Consumers stay tuned to home improvement news and trends by following their favorite companies on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. These sites provide an opportunity for customers to build relationships with contractors and retailers, have direct access to a company's knowledge and expertise, and quickly spread the word about home improvement projects to their family and friends.
• Inspiration boards – New sites like Houzz and Pinterest are examples of the visual trend in social networking. Users cull through thousands of images with the ability to save their favorites into personalized categories called 'ideabooks' or 'pinboards.' For example, if a homeowner is in the market for a new entry door, they can visit Houzz, search for entry door inspiration and save their favorites. Later when they are meeting with a contractor, they can revisit these choices to easily communicate what they are looking for. Similarly, home improvement professionals can use the site to highlight their work as inspiration for others. The most popular content is heavily shared among users and home design trends begin to emerge.
• Virtual home remodelers and home management websites – Home improvement companies are making it easier than ever for homeowners to manage their home on the web. Popular big box retailers have designed complex home management websites to help homeowners store paint colors, product numbers and other detailed information as a way to capture consumers' attention online and cultivate customer loyalty. Similarly, Power customers are encouraged to test the look of Power products on their home's facade with the company's virtual home remodeler. The tool, which can be accessed through Power's Facebook page and website, allows homeowners to select a variety of siding, roofing, window and door styles and colors to see what their remodeled home would look like.
• Do-it-yourself and design blogs – The popularity of home improvement, design and do-it-yourself bloggers has grown exponentially in recent years. Loyal readers follow blogs for trends, ideas and inspiration by reading through the trials and tribulations of bloggers who document a variety of home-related projects.

For more information, visit


Home Buying Basics: Why You Need a Home Inspection

April 30, 2012 5:48 pm

April is National Home Inspection Month, and homeowners across the country are learning about the benefits of having a home inspection—an important step in the home buying and selling process. Whether your home is on the market or you simply want to maintain its condition, enlist the help of a trustworthy home inspector to ensure that your current or potential home is in optimal condition. 

When buying a home, a home inspection determines its structural and mechanical condition. If there are any problems, your inspector will make them known and estimate costs for repair. You can then determine if the cost of dealing with these issues is worth the listed price of the home or if more negotiation is required. 

If you are selling your home, a potential buyer is likely to enlist a home inspector, but you can arrange your own home inspection to prepare. They will help you identify any issues that need fixing, so that you can present your home as structurally and mechanically sound home. 

Even if you're not in the process of buying or selling, home inspection is important to the upkeep of your property. Prevention is more affordable than treatment—and a home inspector will help you identify issues before they become a serious problem. For example, a home inspector could identify a hole in your roof; left untreated, you may need an expensive new roof, but caught by a home inspector, you may only require an inexpensive patching service. 

A home inspector will examine your home for structural and safety issues. They will determine if your foundation has been damaged by renovations or termites, and verify the condition of support beams. They will also check for safety hazards, including rotting steps, loose railings, and faulty locks.
Your home inspector also knows to look for problems with wiring and electrical boxes, as well as plumbing issues. Water damage can be a deal-breaker in the sale of many homes, and a home inspection can identify potentially costly leaks. 

Source: AmeriSpec®


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