Alternative Energy and Your Home

 We all appreciate electricity — each one of us uses it in some capacity every day. Heating and cooling our homes is one of our top priorities, not only for our comfort but also for our safety. In recent years more and more information about alternative and green energies has become available to consumers. Green or alternative energy is energy that is produced from renewable resources: wind, water, or sunlight. Here are some of the most-readily available options for alternative energy systems offered to home buyers right now:

Solar Power

Solar power is “the power obtained by harnessing the energy of the sun’s rays.” This is done through solar panels and photo voltaic cells on the panels, which convert the sunlight into usable energy. Solar power is the most common and popular option for homeowners looking to take the first step toward alternative energy. Solar uses the power of the sun, so this option is best for homes or properties located in areas where sunlight is strong year-round. There are three types of solar panel systems: On-Grid Battery Systems, which are connected to the grid but also contain batteries that can store excess energy; On-Grid Systems without batteries – these are more simple and easier to install, but if the power goes out in the area the system will shut off; and Off-Grid Systems, which are not tied to the electricity grid and generate all their power independently.

At the current moment, solar power accounts for three-tenths of one percent of the total energy consumed in the U.S. (instituteforenergyresearch.org/). For those who live in year-round sunny climates – California, Arizona, Hawaii, etc. – a solar panel system can pay for itself in as little as three years (judithcurry.com).

Wind Power

Another popular alternative energy option that has been seen throughout the U.S. is wind power. Wind power is the “power obtained by harnessing the energy of the wind.” Modern wind power uses wind turbines to harness wind’s kinetic energy, which is then turned into electricity. There are different types of wind power: Utility-scale, which are the large wind turbines seen on the side of hills– these are larger than 100 kilowatts and deliver electricity directly to the power grid; Distributed, which are smaller turbines, 100 kilowatts or less, and these deliver electricity directly to a home or small business. There are also offshore wind turbines, but these are mostly found outside the U.S. At the current moment, the U.S. receives about 4.1 percent of its electricity from wind power (www.awea.org/).

Wind power is an excellent option for those who live in areas where there is a good source of wind all year long. Initially, wind power systems can be expensive, and the turbine prices vary depending on the type, manufacturer and the area you live in. Many people look to the advantages of wind power over the initial investment – utility bills are cut and the homeowner has control of knowing how his/her energy is generated, and there are generally federal tax credits available to those who buy a wind power system.

Geothermal Power

Geothermal power is “the heat from the Earth.” Geothermal power takes advantage of the earth’s natural heat. Geothermal energy is harnessed in two ways: tapping extremely hot temperatures via steam at great depths, or the use of moderate temperatures at shallow depths (http://instituteforenergyresearch.org/). In almost all parts of the U.S., the shallow ground (upper 10 feet of the Earth’s surface) maintains a nearly constant temperature of 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. To use this naturally occurring heat, consumers can install a geothermal heat pump. The pump utilizes air or antifreeze liquid in pipes. The liquid or air is pumped through the pipes, which are buried underground, and comes back into the building. In summer, when the temperatures are hotter above ground, the liquid or air moves heat from the building into the ground; in the winter, when temperatures are colder, the pipes pump pre-warmed air or liquid into the building. Geothermal power is also a renewable energy that can supply continuous power (www.ucsusa.org/)

Geothermal systems can be expensive to set up, with estimates into the low $40,000s. There are tax credits available, which can cover 30% of the total cost of a new geothermal system. Geothermal systems last about 20 years before needing new parts, and over the course of a 20 year lifespan, these systems can save homeowners upwards of $60,000 in electricity costs (www.esquire.com/).

 

The U.S. relies heavily upon fossil fuels for its energy sources. Currently, 82 percent of U.S. energy demand is met by fossil fuels (coal, petroleum (oil) and natural gas) while the other 18 percent is met by renewable energy and nuclear energy (instituteforenergyresearch.org/). Electricity is a vital part of the U.S. economy, and it helps a household run every day. Homeowners have options in every facet of their lives, and energy is no different. Fossil fuels are a finite resource – exploring other options available to homeowners not only opens up access to other technologies and ideas, but it also helps the Earth. Alternative energy also presents more reliable and efficient energy sources. When a homeowner or consumer gets more reliance and efficient energy, more money is saved in the long run, making for a happy, safe and sustainable home.

End of Year Market Recap

New Year’s greetings from your RE/MAX real estate specialist! I wanted to share with everyone my End-of-Year Market Recap for the Berks County Real Estate Market.

Overall the market in Berks County was steady and active in 2014. Although off to a slow start in January and February, closed and pending sales were up 5% and 7% respectively from this time last year. Interest rates are still amazing. Not sure how the market will react once interest rates actually rise.

● Pending sales in 2014 were 4,046, up 7%. Fairly decent numbers
● Closed sales in 2014 were 3,930. Up 5% from 3,730 in 2013
● Days on the market was down to 93. Slightly better than 2013
● We are at 8.2 months of inventory. This is the best it’s been in a few years…
● Currently 2,624 homes for sale in Berks County. Down from 2,752 this time in 2013

I often hear the question, ‘why aren’t Berks County homes appreciating like some areas?’. In 2014 the first-time buyers just weren’t there. I believe that continues to slow the ‘move up’ market. The forecast is that the first-time buyers will show up in 2015! We will keep an eye on it.

New Year To Dos for Your Home

With the start of a new year, it’s always a good idea to assess your home and its needs. Taking stock of appliances, home systems, and other items that make a house a home will help guide you to home improvements needed, appliances that may be near the end of their lives, and any other updates that can help to boost your home’s worth. Listed below are major home systems to evaluate in the new year to help give you peace of mind.

Cleaning inside heating floor vent with Vacuum CleanerHVAC

In the winter and summer months a home’s HVAC (heating, ventilating, and air conditioning) systems are put to good use. January is the perfect month to replace disposable filters or wash permanent ones in your home’s HVAC or humidifier systems. Filters should be regularly replaced or washed when use is high or during peak seasons.

The start of a new year is an excellent time to vacuum all heat vents, especially those that are located on the floor. The vents are overly susceptible to dust, dirt, pet hairs, and other particles that float through the air. Vacuuming heat ducts helps clean your home’s HVAC system and can help with any problems brought on by indoor pollutants, mold, pollen or anything else that finds its way into an air duct. Vacuuming has also been known to help with any heating or cooling issues related to clogged air ducts. January is also a good time to check for any leaks in your home’s forced air heat ducts. If any are found, seal the leaks with duct tape.

Smoke Alarms and Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors save lives. Checking alarms and Smoke and a carbon monoxide alarmdetectors is especially important when cold temperatures in the winter leave homes closed up. This month inspect, clean and test your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors, and be sure to replace any that are faulty, no longer working or old.

Fire ExtinguisherFire Extinguishers

Very few homeowners actually have to use a fire extinguisher; many times these important tools get overlooked for maintenance. January is a great time to inspect and charge any working fire extinguishers you may have in your home. Fire extinguishers should also be placed in all accessible areas of the home where fires are more likely to occur: kitchens, garages or areas that house furnaces, boilers, fireplaces and stoves.

Fire Evacuation Plan

Do you have a plan in place in case of a fire in your home? January is the perfect Clipboard with Emergency Evacuation Plan beside Exit Doortime to form a fire evacuation plan. Go over the plan with anyone who might live with you, and if you have kids dedicate a time to have a practice fire drill. Should your home’s bedrooms be on a second or third floor, invest in a fire escape ladder, many of which can be found at your local hardware store.

Leaking Windows and Electrical Outlets

With winter setting in, finding the weak points in your home will not only help keep your home warm, but it will also help cut down on heating bills. Identify any windows that may have broken seals by looking for condensation on the inside of the window. Examine electrical outlets throughout your home for any drafts, and insulate those that may be letting in cold air.

Check and Test GFCI Outlets

Ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI) are a must have in your home. These Ground fault receptaclespecial outlets protect people from electric shock by monitoring the amount of current flowing through the outlet. If there is an imbalance of current, the outlet trips the circuit of the appliance, cutting off the electricity. You can test GFCI outlets with a circuit tester that has its own GFCI test button. GFCIs do wear out, and their lifespan is about 10 years. Replace GFCIs that no longer function properly — these outlets save thousands of lives each year.

Many homeowners have home safety and preparedness at the top of their priority list, and the New Year stands as the perfect time to discover what improvements and fixes your home will need in the coming months. Other items to look at in a new year:

  • If you’re in an area that is known to have inclement weather, make sure you have proper snow removal equipment and have alternative energy options in case of power outages
  • January is also a great month for reviewing warranties and product information on a furnace, large appliances, and any other big ticket items in the home

Preventative maintenance will not only save you money and keep your home safe, but houses that do not keep up with maintenance have been known to lose up to 10% to 12% off their appraised value. The US Census has estimated that annual maintenance can cost between 1% and 3% of a home’s initial costs dependent upon the geographic location of the home. With the New Year, getting a head start on yearly to dos, and anticipating yearly maintenance, will put you ahead of the issues and have you prepared for any upcoming and unforseen fixes.

 

Why does RBAR need a Government Affairs Director?

Should a local Realtor association have a Government Affairs Director (GAD)? First of all, what is a GAD and what has RBAR’s experience been so far with our own GAD? A government affairs director is someone hired by a local Realtor association to coordinate its efforts with regards to legislative issues, meaningful elections, Political Action Committee fundraising and campaign contributions.

Back in 2007, RBAR updated its strategic plan, and one of the things that came from that was to take steps to be more politically active in the community and explore the possibility of having a GAD on our own. The leaders of our association at the time felt that it was a good idea and that we could fit the associated costs into the budget. For RBAR the rest is history. We hired Chuck Liedike and never looked back.

Some of the reasons a Realtor association might want to have its own GAD are: to get help to coordinate the legislative committee’s focus and efforts, to help coordinate our local RPAC committee’s focus and help with fundraising, to keep us informed of legislative items that mean a lot to agents and our surrounding communities, to form partnerships with local cities, counties and municipalities to get our voices heard above the crowd, and to keep us informed and connected with what is happening at the state and federal levels of our association.

Let’s face it: we are being bombarded from all angles with municipalities that are requiring more and more things from us as Realtors to navigate our buyers and sellers through. These issues are not always the best thing for the homeowner. With the help of our GAD we are able to pressure West Reading to change the way it was handling its residential inspections. We were able to stop the sprinkler ordinance from being enacted. We were able to, and continue to, let the city know that raising the Realty Transfer Tax would be devastating to our already tepid real estate market. These are just a few of the items for which we have been fighting over the last few years. Bear in mind that these items are not selfishly motivated. Our GAD and our committees have made these items a priority based on what they feel is best for everyone. Also, the issues that the GAD are the committees tackle are non-partisan. We all have our leanings but the GAD provides guidance towards outcomes that are best for you, the membership and the public, and not which party it may benefit.

NAR and PAR have a very clear idea on whether or not we as agents should be politically active. The answer is a resounding yes! If you attend the PAR business meetings in Harrisburg and the Realtor Party Convention in Washington DC, you will get a very clean understanding of how politically active our parent organization are concerning politics, political fundraising and monitoring ongoing legislation. The amount of legislation that is currently being watched is amazing. Some of it will not go anywhere, but a GAD can help you keep your finger on the pulse and help us to take action when necessary.

Based on our mission statement of encouraging homeownership and private property rights, it makes sense that being at the forefront of the ever-changing political area and non-stop pressure from governments, both local and beyond, is a prime objective. Without a GAD this would fall to us as individuals/volunteers to manage and disseminate. We’re all supposed to be out there helping people buy and sell homes. Having a GAD, in my opinion, makes very good sense. It we can afford the cost of the salary, etc., there are far more reasons to have one than not. Did you know that we get assistance to offset the cost of having a GAD from PAR and TREND?

The work that Chuck Liedike has done for us is invaluable and represents money well spent. Many local associations throughout Pennsylvania simply do not have the ability to hire their own GAD. I consider RBAR to be fortunate to be in this position. PAR considers this effort to the vitally important. To indicate this importance, PAR just started a pilot program to assist the many associations to be more active in the political and legislative arenas.

Having a dedicated Government Affairs Director benefits the agents and the property owners alike, and that, after all is a large part of our mission.

Home Danger Zones

Everyone wants their home to be safe and free from dangers. Some of the most common items and appliances in a home can be harbingers of hazards, and knowing what to be wary of will help you prevent any unforeseen issues down the road. Listed below are the top areas in a home that can potentially lead to problems, and what you can do to prevent them from occurring.

Cooktops

Statistics show that 40 percent of fires start in the kitchen (redcross.org), and many of those are a result of the cooktop or stovetop. Prevent issues and fires in the kitchen by storing combustibles away from the gas or electric burners (paper towels, pot holders, etc.). Also, it’s always a good idea not to leave burners unattended when in use, especially when boiling water or heating oils.

Dryers

Dryers also have the potential to start fires in the home. Lint can build up inside the dryer cabinet, where the heating element is housed, creating a fire hazard. Clean the lint trap each time you use the dryer, and brush or vacuum buildup around the lint filter every couple of months. Dryer maintenance is also important – have the cabinet cleaned out every two years to prevent potential buildups that could cause a fire.

Washing Machines

Old hoses have the capability of bursting, which can result in a torrent of water gushing into your laundry room or area, and any low placed electrical outlets could be impacted by water leaks. Replace any old hoses with braided steel hoses, which can be found at any home improvement store or website. Also, check hoses regularly for any leaks or loose connections.

Pipes

In the fall and winter when temperatures drop, pipes can freeze and crack. A pipe with an 1/8 of an inch crack can leak up to 250 gallons of water per day (thisoldhouse.com). Pipes should be insulated to prevent cracking, and before the temperature drops turn off the water supply to outdoor spigots and leave taps open to relieve any internal pressure buildups that could wreak havoc on your home.

Smoke Detectors

We’ve all heard the very annoying chirp of a dying smoke detector. Dead, dying or missing batteries are the top reasons for smoke detector malfunctions. Batteries should be changed at least once a year, and older models that are over 10 years old should be replaced. Some detectors are also equipped with a test mode, so testing your smoke detector throughout the year will also help indicate if any maintenance needs to take place.


Fireplaces

Fireplaces are more prone for use in the winter months in those regions where the cold temperatures set in. Creosote buildup can cause chimney fires, where sparks fly out and ignite rugs and furniture. For avid chimney users, have your chimney swept once a year, and remember to keep the screen closed when not using the fireplace. It’s also important to have your chimney damper or flue open before lighting a fire and when it’s in use.

 

Electrical Wiring

Bad wiring in a home can short out and potentially start a fire, and a lot of times you won’t be able to see direct issues with electrical wires. Signs to look for are frequent blown fuses, flickering lights, or feeling a tingling sensation when a wall switch or appliance is touched. If you have a home that is more than 40 years old, consider replacing the wiring and updating the electrical systems.

Roofs

Roofs are known for providing excellent space for snow and ice buildup. A roof that is too warm will cause snow to melt. When this happens, runoff freezes in gutters, which forms into ice, creating a dam that forces water below the shingles. To help prevent issues, make sure your roof is properly insulated by adding attic insulation and vents, which will help keep the roof cool and prevent snow melt.

Gutters

In the fall and winter months, gutters have the tendency to become clogged and backed up by rogue leaves and debris. When gutters become clogged, they can overflow, which allows water to pool around home foundations, potentially leading to basement leaks or water underneath the house. If you live in an area with lots of trees, clean gutters regularly during the fall months to help prevent clogs and potential problems, and clean then again in the Spring.

A Moving Experience

Moving is often a stressful experience, even when it goes well. While you may never have a great time boxing up your possessions and moving them to a new place, there are certainly steps you can take to make the experience as easy as possible. Here are a few tips from styleathome.com that can help you save time and reduce your stress when moving.

Choose Wisely: You will want to make sure whatever transportation you choose has enough room for all of your things, especially if the move is far enough that you only want to make one trip. Generally, the contents of a one-bedroom apartment will fit in a 16-foot cube truck, while two or three bedrooms usually fit in a 24- or 26-foot truck. If you’re moving a full house, you can also use a 24- to 26-foot truck, but if you have a lot of possessions, it might require two trips.

Make A Plan: Before you put anything in a box or contact movers, create an itemized list of everything that should be done and follow it as you go. This will make the move easier for yourself and others who are helping you. If you’re using movers, you should also make an inventory as you pack, and check it when you unpack to make sure none of your items were lost.

Communicate: Once you have a plan, make sure your movers are aware of your requirements. The more information they have about the situation, the less time they will require and the more prepared they will be. If you’re moving into a condo or apartment, ask your landlord or building supervisor if there is anything you should know about moving into a building. For examples, condos often have service elevators you can reserve for the move.

 

Information received from CRS, The Council of Residential Specialists

How to Save Energy in Your Home

Fall is upon us and in the months generally known for colder weather, keeping our homes warm is a top priority. Even in those geographic regions where the mercury doesn’t drop below 50, knowing your home is not losing energy is a relief when you spend your hard earned dollars keeping your home warm or cool.

Saving energy in your home is not a difficult process. There are many easy free and low-cost ways to save energy and money on your heating and cooling bills. Listed below are some steps you can take in your home to help conserve energy and save yourself some money in the process:

Install A Programmable Thermostat:

Heating and cooling your home uses more energy and costs you more money than any other area or system in your home. Heating and cooling makes up almost half of your utility bill, so knowing how to eliminate energy waste when it comes to heating and cooling will save you money each month. By installing a programmable thermostat you help to automatically adjust your home’s temperature to when you’ve programmed, which helps it stay warm (or cool) when you need it to be.

Seal Air Leaks:

A home is rarely air tight, and checking for air leaks is a great way of determining where warm or cool air could be escaping and adding money on to your energy bill. There are a number of areas where air escapes: windows, doors, electrical boxes, ceiling fixtures, attics and more. You can help reduce or eliminate leaks by caulking and/or weather-stripping doors and windows, installing foam gaskets behind outlets and switch plates, or using foam sealant on larger gaps around windows and baseboards. Taking the time to find air leaks and fix them will help save you money and keep your home warm or cool.

Improve Insulation:

Heating and cooling make up the majority of your energy bill, over 50 percent, so knowing your home is insulated properly can help keep your home warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Checking the insulation in your home’s attic, walls, floors, and ceilings will tell you how much air is flowing between the inside and outside of your home and help you determine the best way of controlling the temperature inside. One important place to look for insulation is your attic – a well-insulated attic can help slash your heating and cooling bills in both the winter and summer months by helping to maintain indoor temperatures and seal air leaks through your roof.

Install Efficient Windows:

Window glass is not known for being very thick, and single-pane windows are notorious energy loss culprits. One option is to replace current windows with storm windows. Storm windows “reduce temperature loss by sealing leaks and creating a dead airspace between window panes” (motherearthnews.com). Storm windows can be expensive, but their return on investment is about 10 years, which is relatively short. Another option, if installing new windows is not feasible, is to cover windows with transparent material to help improve insulation. This site has great techniques on conserving energy in your home by implementing winter window treatments.

Conserve Water:

Using less water benefits you, your water bill and the environment. When you use less water, you also use less energy needed to heat the water. The Department of Energy lists water heating as the third most energy consuming function in a home. To help conserve water, you can take shorter showers and be conscious of the water used when washing dishes, food and clothes. When running the dishwasher or the washing machine, make sure the machine is filled to capacity to save water and energy on extra washes. You can also save energy by lowering the temperature on your hot water heater. The Department of Energy says 120 degrees is sufficient for most household uses. You can also save water and money by installing water-efficient fixtures and appliances throughout your home.

Turn Off Electronic Devices:

Do you leave your coffee maker plugged in when not using it? According to the US Department of Energy, “In an average home, 75 perfect of the electricity used to power home electronics is consumed while the products are turned off.” This is called a “phantom load,” or the energy appliances or electronics use when not turned on. You can minimize phantom loads and save on your energy bill by unplugging appliances and electronics when not in use, or plugging them into a power strip and turning the strip off when not using the appliances or electronics

Change Out Light Bulbs:

One cost-effective technique for saving energy and money is replacing the traditional incandescent light bulbs in your home. There are a number of options available that will help you save energy, and some offer longer life and greater savings than others. From halogen incandescent bulbs, to compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), to light-emitting diodes (LEDs), each bulb has its benefits. Halogen incandescent bulbs are energy-efficient incandescent bulbs and can last up to three times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs. CFLs last up to 10 times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs and are extremely affordable. LEDs are becoming more and more popular and their prices have significantly dropped in recent years. LEDs use 20%-25% of the energy traditional incandescent bulbs use, and LEDS can last up to 25 times longer, some even being touted to last up to 25 years.

You also have the option of performing a home energy audit. An energy audit, also known as a home energy assessment, assesses how much energy your home consumes and helps you evaluate the best measures you can take to make your home more energy efficient. There are a number of options for home energy audits, from Do-It-Yourself audits, to professional audits that include blower door tests, thermographic inspections and PFT air infiltration measurements. Find an option that best suits your needs, wants and wallet and discover how you can make your home more energy efficient and save yourself some money.

If you’d like more tips on saving money and conserving energy throughout your home, here are some helpful links for more information: