February 21, 2013

Essential Water Heating Energy Tips

Filed under: Home Owner Tips — Chuck @ 11:27 am

Especially during the deep freeze days of winter, those energy bills can really light up – and burn through your money. Don’t let higher heating bills put additional strain on the household budget just when you’re trying to figure out how to pay for those holiday expenses, set aside cash to pay your taxes, and plan expenses for yet another challenging year. Start off the New Year by investing in highly effective and proactive measures that are easy to do but have a really solid impact on your utility bills.

Blanket the Tank
Most people have a bare hot water tank, and that means that they are basically throwing money away on energy bills, no matter how much insulation they install all over their home. But if you buy an insulated blanket that was specially designed to fit your water heating unit you’ll solve one of the most expensive energy consumption problems in your household.

Think about it this way: Next time you put a saucepan of water on the stove to make pasta, pay attention to how long it takes for that water to boil. Now imagine if you were making such a big pot of pasta that you needed enough water to fill a bathtub or two. That’s what it’s like when you turn on the water to take a hot shower. If the water in the holding tank has cooled off, you have to wait for it to all heat up again. Typically you do that by turning on the water and letting it run (down the drain) until it gets hot enough for your bath. That wastes water and it also wastes heating energy in the water heating unit. Then you go to work or school. By the time you get home the water in the tank is cold again so you have to repeat the whole process.

When Convenience is Silently Costing You
But wait a second. Chances are you don’t have to wait all that long for the water to get hot when you turn on the tap. You might think your water heater is doing a great job, helping you save water, because soon after you crank the faucet open you have hot water. That’s great, and it’s convenient. But unless you have a high-tech “heat on demand” water heater (which is a fantastic product and a great idea, by the way) what is happening is that the water heater is keeping hot water ready for you all day long. Even when you are away from home, your reliable appliance is maintaining a huge tank full of hot water, ready for you to use. Each time the water in it cools to a certain temperature, the heating unit kicks on and heats it up again. But keeping it nice and toasty costs you money on your utility bill. You could go away for eight hours, eight days, or eight months – and that process will still happen, despite the fact that you are not there and don’t need a tank with 40 gallons of hot water at the ready.

Dial-Up the Savings
The solution is right under your nose – or right on the water tank. Water heaters have a dial or other mechanism that the homeowner can set. Set yours to the vacation setting, for example, and it won’t wastefully heat water while you’re away from home. If yours has a setting where you can time the appliance turn off while you’re at work, use that.
But here’s another great idea. Instead of being satisfied with the savings you earn from managing your hot water heater why not reinvest those savings to multiply them in a sustainable way? The best way to save money on hot water at home is to install one of those previously mentioned heat-on-demand style units.

Start Your Green Piggy Bank
There are tons of new “green energy” upgrades you can do around the home, but most of them are kind of expensive. One of the best is an on-demand water heater, but those are also relatively pricey. So here’s the solution. Figure out how much your new hot water management practices (like using a blanket and the water heater’s available settings) are saving you. Then set that amount aside each month in your piggy bank By the end of a year or two you’ll have a nice nest egg to use to lower the cost of upgrading to a fantastic on-demand water heater appliance that will really amp-up your energy savings while slashing your utility bills.

Homeowner Safety: Decoding De-icer Products.

Filed under: Home Owner Tips — Chuck @ 11:25 am

Ice underfoot is a serious threat, and it lasts all winter for many homeowners in the colder regions. So what are some good products for de-icing your walkways, decks, steps, and driveway? Here’s a timely overview to help save you time so you don’t have to do lots of comparison shopping research.

De-Icer Pros & Cons

Hot Water:
Some homeowners boil a kettle of water and pour that on ice to melt it, and if the ice is not too hard that can do the trick. But water in wintertime soon cools, no matter how hot it may be, and turns into ice. So you’re really just aiding the enemy and it is best to avoid this technique.

Rock Salt:
Rock salt – or rock salt mixed with course sand – is probably the most common de-icer of all. Most government highway crews use it, for example, and it is inexpensive and effective down to around 25 degrees Fahrenheit or so.

Rock salt won’t damage your concrete, either, but it can accelerate corrosion on your vehicles dramatically and damage or even kill your lawn and other plants. Meanwhile if the mercury drops past 22 degrees Fahrenheit it doesn’t melt ice any more.

Calcium Chloride Pellets:

This chemical, calcium chloride, generates its own heat. Calcium chloride melts ice nearly 10 times faster than rock salt, and keeps working for a longer period of time. You can trust it to melt ice down to about 25 below zero Fahrenheit.

It costs more than rock salt, so a more affordable way to use it is to blend it with cheaper rock salt and sand. But be aware that it can corrode your vehicle’s chassis, and if used excessively may damage vegetation.

Alfalfa meal:
Some people use alfalfa meal instead of salt, particularly in climates where ice is only moderately problematic. The main reason they use it is because it a completely safe product to use around your plants and other vegetation. While it doesn’t do a great deal to melt ice, it provides added traction underfoot. You buy it in feed stores, and although you aren’t using it to feed livestock it does contain a high percentage of nitrogen. That means that it does help you feed your lawn when you sweep it away or the ice and snow melts and carries into over into the yard.

Green Alternatives:
There are many other kinds of “unsalted” ice removal products, too, and you can probably find a few of these on the shelves of your neighborhood home improvement store. When some people hear about these ice melting products that don’t contain salt they wonder “What’s the big deal?” That’s a good question, but the answer is usually pretty compelling and convincing. They don’t damage vehicles or vegetation – and won’t hurt your carpet like corrosive, salty chemicals can when they are inadvertently carried indoors on those winter boots and shoes.

Other Issues:
But keep in mind that oftentimes your de-icer will get rid of the ice while leaving behind a wet melted surface that can still be slick. So it is not a 100 percent solution or replacement for common sense safety. You still need to proceed with caution.

That’s why it is wise to check all your handrails before the snow and ice comes, as well as stairs and walkways. Are the handrails steady and well supported, and are there any sagging stairs or bumps and cracks in walkways that could cause someone to lose their balance or trip?

Pick the right de-icer product for the job and maintain the surfaces and railings where you walk with safety in mind. That will hopefully help you prevent an accidental spill this frigid season.

February 15, 2013

Real Estate Tips: Dealing with Your Mortgage after Divorce

Filed under: Real Estate — Chuck @ 11:28 am

Going through a divorce is always difficult, and hopefully you will never have to endure the experience. But if you do – or you have a friend who is ending their marriage – it is important to understand how this might affect the mortgage.

Married homeowners whose names are both on the home loan often finalize the divorce and put it in the rearview mirror, only to wake up later and realize that they have huge troubles related to their old mortgage. If you sign legal documents with your lender agreeing to be on the mortgage then you are obliged to make sure that the loan gets repaid. That’s true whether it’s a first mortgage or a second mortgage – and it doesn’t even matter if your name is on the deed or not. Divorce does not relieve you of that serious responsibility – unless you have taken specific legal steps to remove your name from the mortgage.

Let’s say, for example, that you and your spouse bought a home and both of you are on the mortgage as borrowers. You go through a divorce, they keep the house, and you move on in life living elsewhere. Ten years later the ex who kept the house falls on hard times, gets into financial trouble, and stops making mortgage payments. Although it has been 10 years since the divorce, you are still on the hook for the balance on the loan. The mortgage company comes after you for repayment. Every month that the mortgage payment is late or delinquent your credit score takes a hit, too, and soon your credit is wrecked but you are still responsible for paying off the loan.
If you took your name off the deed as part of the divorce settlement, you have no legal right to sell the house in order to try to pay the mortgage. But you do have a legal responsibility to repay the mortgage. That may seem unfair, but that’s how it works if you signed a mortgage and made a pledge to the lender that you would repay the loan.

Oftentimes you will execute what is known as a “quitclaim deed” as part of the divorce. That designates that the property has only one owner – your ex – and is an effective way to grant ownership of a home you used to both share. But that does not impact the mortgage – only who owns the home. For that reason it is a good idea that you don’t agree to sign a quitclaim deed until you are satisfied that your name will soon be removed from the mortgage. Otherwise you don’t own any stake in the home – only in the debt.

So what can you do to prevent this from happening? As part of the divorce agreement you need to build in some safeguards. The straightforward way to solve the problem is to have your mortgage company take your name off of the loan, but it is next to impossible to get them to agree to that. Why? If one borrower defaults, the bank wants to have the option to collect the money from the other borrower. Taking one name off the loan only does one thing from the lender’s point of view – it doubles their risk. You can always ask, but it is almost certain that the lender will deny your request.

The other solution is to refinance the loan into the name of the person who is keeping the house. They’ll have to have good enough credit to qualify for the refinance, though, and that can be tough in this era when homes are often underwater and almost everyone has blemishes on their credit report. But if you are moving out of the house and your ex can do a successful refinance into a new loan with only their name on the documents, that’s the best course of action in that scenario.

Even if one or both of you is really attached to the property – and despite the fact that the housing market is slow and you might lose money on the deal – you may want to just sell. That simplifies everything. You sell, divide up whatever profits are left, and pay off the mortgage now – with no lingering obligations or worries.