Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Easy Ways to Cut Summer Energy Costs

With summer officially upon us, many homeowners will be confronted with rising electric bills as fans and air conditioners kick into high gear in an effort to keep cool. Demand for electricity can also increase if you have house guests or children home for the summer. As a member of the Top 5 in Real Estate Network®, I have access to lots of great ideas for planning ahead to control energy costs this summer. The following tips are from the experts at Public Service Electric and Gas Company (PSE&G):

  • Use ceiling fans in the counter-clockwise direction to create a wind-chill effect, making you feel cooler. Also, whole-house fans that bring in cooler night-time air can pre-cool a house and reduce energy use in the daytime if heat is kept out by closing windows and shades.
    Install a programmable thermostat. If health conditions permit, raise the setting from 73 to 78 degrees. You can save 3-5% on your air conditioning costs for each degree you raise the thermostat.

  • Close doors leading to uncooled parts of your home. If you have central air conditioning, close off vents to unused rooms and be sure to keep filters clean.
    Plant shade trees close to the house on the South and West sides.
    Seal holes and cracks around doors and windows. Eliminate air leaks between window air conditioners and windows with foam insulation or weather-stripping.

  • Turn off power sources. TVs, computers and other electronic devices draw power when they are in standby mode or turned off but still plugged in. Plug electronics into power strips and turn off the power switch when the items are not in use.

  • Switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), which use 75% less electricity and burn more coolly than incandescent bulbs. Keep in mind that CFLs are especially handy in hard-to-reach fixtures and won't need to be replaced for about five years.

  • Use timers and motion detectors on indoor and outdoor lighting.

  • Delay heat-producing tasks such as laundry until later in the day. Wash full loads, using cold water whenever possible.

  • Run the dishwasher at night, using the shortest cycle that will get the dishes clean. If manufacturers' directions permit, turn the dishwasher off before the dry cycle or use the air dry feature if your machine has one.

  • Take short showers as they use less hot water than a bath.

  • Replace old appliances with new energy efficient Energy Star appliances.

  • Unplug the extra refrigerator in your garage or basement and use it only when necessary. Refrigerators that are only 10 years old can use twice as much electricity as new Energy Star labeled models.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Income Properties - Double Trouble or Two Times the Success?

As you know, buying or selling a house is one of the biggest financial decisions most people will ever make. Getting the best bargain in the purchase or making the most profit on the sale give buyers and sellers so much to think about that many may never stop to consider keeping that old house – or buying another – as an income-generating property. But the rewards, in savings, profits and problem-solving, can be high.

One option for buyers who otherwise might consider home prices beyond their reach is the property that pays for itself: a house you live in part of and rent the rest of. This offers not only an obvious balance of cost and income, but perhaps lesser-known benefits in taxes and mortgage. The rental units can be depreciated over time; considered to offset the rental income, this can lower your taxes on that income. At the same time, the rent's addition to your finances helps you qualify for a larger mortgage. Of course you'll want to decide if the demands of being a live-in landlord are for you (and find out if rent-control laws in your area might limit the return on your investment).

If being an offsite landlord is more appealing, you could always keep your current home as a rental after you move into the new one. Your long-tern familiarity with the home's features and condition could lend a certain confidence both to yourself and your potential tenants. As with any investment property, you'll first want to calculate whether the rental income will cover the current expenses. Of course being a long-distance landlord has its headaches too, so you have to enjoy the challenge and be ready to meet the needs.

Owning an income-generating property is not for everyone, but – from younger buyers offsetting their purchase costs, to seniors easing the expenses of their retirement years – it can be for all kinds of people. I would be happy to talk to you about whether or not a rental property would be double trouble or two times the success.