Monday, December 7, 2009
It's tough to be green when money is tight.
Lots of big environmentally friendly changes look good in theory, like buying solar panels or switching to a hybrid car. The trouble is, many of those fixes take years to make back their cost -- and most people can't afford that luxury in these tough economic times.
The good news: There are plenty of energy-saving changes you can make that will recoup their cost fast. Some are cheap and simple, like replacing the air filters on your central air conditioning. Others are costlier and more complicated -- such as insulating your attic -- but they're so effective they'll pay for themselves quickly.
We've chosen 10 changes and laid out how much they'll cost you and how much they'll save, as well as the payback time. In most cases, it's less than a year or two.
Programmable thermostats make it easy to preset a week's worth of temperatures -- and give you much greater control over energy bills. For instance, you could program the gadget to lower the temperature when everyone's asleep, something you might forget to do on a nightly basis.
COST: $50 to $150.
PAYBACK: About a year, assuming the thermostat controls both heating and cooling.
How'd we arrive at that figure? We turned to a calculator on the Web site for the Department of Energy's EnergyStar program. The tool shows you how much these advanced thermostats will save you. (One caveat: The estimates assume you have natural-gas heat and electric central cooling.)
Let's use the calculator to look at two cities -- Fargo, N.D., where electricity rates are low but where lots of heat is needed in the winter, and Las Vegas, which has higher rates and needs lots of cooling in the summer. And let's say you use the thermostat to make modest temperature changes at night, lowering it to 62 from 70 in cold months, and raising it to 82 from 78 when the weather's warm.
In Fargo, the thermostat would save you about $115 on heating and cooling annually -- so you'd make back the cost within a year if you spent $100. In Las Vegas, you'd save about $75 and make your money back in a little over a year.
What's more, some utilities will install the thermostats free in exchange for letting them scale back your central air-conditioning use remotely on hot summer days. Many utilities also offer rebates on these devices.
Smarter Water Heating
Drain-water heat-recovery systems warm up water for your shower by capturing the heat from waste water as it travels down your drain. (You can also get the systems for dishwashers and other appliances.)
COST: $500 to $700, plus $100 or so for installation.
PAYBACK: Around five years, assuming you heat your water with natural gas and pay fairly high rates. If you use electricity, payback can be under three years. And if your utility offers a rebate for installation, as many do, that payback time can be less than a year in some cases.
These systems can save 183 cubic meters of natural gas a year -- assuming your household takes four showers a day that last seven minutes each, and uses standard shower heads.
In New York, where natural-gas rates are fairly high, you'd save about $120 per year. In five years, you'd save about $600 -- enough to cover a $500 system and $100 installation. In states with lower rates, the annual savings might be lower, and the payback longer.
Households that have electric water heating can save 1,478 kilowatt-hours per year with these systems. In New York, that translates into about $225 a year -- or a payback of a little more than 2½ years.
And, of course, rebates can cut down that time. For example, Minnesota Power, a division of Allete Inc., is offering a $400 rebate through the end of February for customers with electric water heaters who buy a system.
Sealing Air Leaks
Filling in the gaps around windows and doors, and sealing up ducts, can be a simple way to cut energy bills.
COST: Weatherstripping that goes under and around external doors runs $20 a door. With windows, you insert caulk between the frame and siding, wherever the air is going through, at a cost of about $10 a window. Then there's an often-overlooked source of air leaks: the electrical outlets on exterior walls. These can be fixed with outlet sealers, which cost under $10 for a pack of six.
You can do all those fixes yourself. But you often need to hire someone to seal heating and cooling ducts. The job will usually run from $300 to $1,000, depending on the size of your house.
PAYBACK: About two to three years -- but there are lots of variables.
The Environmental Protection Agency doesn't estimate energy savings from individual sealing fixes. If you do them all -- plus add insulation in some spots -- the agency estimates you will save up to 20% on your heating and cooling, or up to 10% of your total energy bill. That figure assumes a three-bedroom house with insulation in the walls and attic, among other variables.
Let's say you pay about $1,000 for a soup-to-nuts weatherproofing job. In Springfield, Mont., where homes need lots of heat in the winter, you would save about $325 a year, covering your cost in a little under three years. In Tallahassee, Fla., where homes take lots of air conditioning, you would save about $520, for a two-year payback.
One more caveat: Those figures, based on a study by Memphis Light, Gas & Water, assume you use 1,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity and 20,000 cubic feet of natural gas a month. And some utilities and states offer rebates and tax incentives for these fixes. Austin Energy, for instance, offers to cover 20% of the cost of weatherization, as well as energy-efficient appliances and other purchases.
Low-flow showerheads and faucets limit the volume of water you can get out of the fixtures, reducing the amount you spend on water -- and on electricity or gas to heat the water. Although the technology is improving, you'll still feel a difference in water pressure.
COST: Low-flow showerheads start at around $30, while faucet aerators cost $2 and up. Both are simple to install.
PAYBACK: For aerators, almost immediate. For showerheads, a few months.
Using the Department of Energy online calculator to compare standard fixtures with low-flow models that pump out 1.5 gallons per minute. In Baltimore, which has high utility rates, investing a few dollars in a new faucet would save you about $50 a year on your gas and water bills (or $65 if you had electric water heating). New showerheads would save you about $115 total with gas heating or $160 with electric -- for a payback of several months.
In Chicago, which has below-average gas rates, a new faucet would save about $40 a year with gas heating and $65 with electric -- an immediate payback. New showerheads would save about $90 with gas heating and $165 with electric, recouping your cost in several months.
In addition, several utilities offer rebates for buying low-flow fixtures.
Leasing Solar Panels
Buying and installing a set of solar panels can cost tens of thousands of dollars. But leasing the same system can be a cost-effective alternative.
Several companies—most of them in California and a handful of other states—will install solar panels on your property, then charge you for the power the panels generate. Essentially, the company owns the panels, and you "rent" them by paying the cost of the power. That rate is often lower than your regular utility rate. (In Oregon, the rate's the same, but people often choose the panels for environmental reasons, according to Lyndon Rive, chief executive of solar leasing company SolarCity.) You'll also have to pay your utility for power when the panels aren't generating any electricity, such as nighttime. But you'll be paying much less than you ordinarily would.
COST: Sometimes nothing. Many companies don't charge an upfront fee for the panels, and their plans promise to reduce your total electric bill immediately by about 11%. Consider a typical plan for condominium owners from Applied Solar LLC. The company says its arrangement delivers savings of $15 per month on a total electricity bill, or $180 a year, for an owner in San Diego Gas & Electric territory who used to pay $135 per month and is buying solar from a 2-kilowatt system.
However, some companies do charge an upfront fee, often $2,000 to $5,000. In some cases, that fee is considered a prepayment on the solar-power portion of your bills -- so you end up paying less for that power every month. In other cases, the fee doesn't lower your monthly bill; it's simply a down payment.
PAYBACK: Immediate, if you pay no upfront fee. If you pay a fee that lowers your rates, payback can take a while. Let's say you prepay $2,000, which some solar companies say can save you an extra 10% a month on your payments for panel-generated power. In a typical case, that translates into saving $25 a month on your total electric bill, or $300 a year -- for a payback of seven years.
If your upfront fee is just a down payment, though, the payback time is much longer -- because you don't get any extra discount on your bill. Assuming you save $180 a year with the panels, your payback time on a $2,000 down payment would be about 11 years.
When the air filter in your cooling system or air-conditioning unit gets dirty, the system has to work harder to get the air through, using up more energy. In warmer climates, the filter should be changed three times per year.
COST: New filters cost about $10 each for central systems. Window-unit filters can simply be wiped clean.
PAYBACK: Less than a year in warm climates for central units. Immediately in all climates for window units.
Keeping the air filter clean saves about 7% in electricity costs a year So, let's say you're in a warm climate like Texas and you spend $30 changing your central-air filters every year. According to the Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration, the average cooling bill in Texas is about $620. Figuring a 7% savings, you'd slash your electric bill by about $45 -- covering the cost of the filters in less than a year. (Cleaning the filter on a window unit, meanwhile, would cost nothing and save about $20 a year.)
However, in cooler climates, more frequent filter changing won't save enough money to make it worthwhile. In New York, with an average annual cooling bill of $250, the savings would only be about $15 a year.
Compact Fluorescent Lights
These advanced bulbs use up to 75% less energy than regular bulbs, and they last about six to 12 times longer. Experts say that replacing regular lights with CFLs can be the cheapest, most effective way to get big savings on energy bills.
COST: About $3 a bulb.
PAYBACK: Three to 7½ months.
We used an online EnergyStar calculator to figure savings for one 13-watt CFL that replaces a 60-watt incandescent light, used about four hours a day. In New York, a state with relatively high electric rates, the bulb would save about $1 in energy costs per month, covering the cost of a $3 bulb in about three months. In Nebraska, a state that has one of the cheapest rates in the nation, that same CFL would save about 40 cents a month, covering the cost in about 7½ months.
Lighting Motion Sensors
Although they're more common in commercial buildings, motion sensors that automatically turn off lights when a room isn't occupied can offer big energy savings in a home. They're particularly useful when installed on outdoor lights, which are often left on all night.
COST: Many porch lights have built-in sensors and cost about $50 to $60.
PAYBACK: Under a year. Assuming the light would have been left on for 12 hours through the night and is now off all that time -- except for brief moments when someone approaches the door -- a sensor will save about 1.8 kilowatt-hours over the 12-hour period and 54 kilowatt-hours in a month. In an expensive state like New York, that would come to about $10 a month in electricity costs, making the payback time a little over five months. In a cheaper state like Nebraska, the motion sensor would save about $5 a month, making the payback time just over 11 months.
Blinds, shades or curtains do more than decorate -- they can also cut cooling bills in summer and heating bills in winter. If you have lots of windows that face south and west, even inexpensive curtains or shades can help block sunlight and reduce the need for air conditioning. Hanging somewhat more expensive shades on all windows can provide even more insulation against outside temperatures in both winter and summer.
COST: Inexpensive pull-down blinds that provide summer shade run $5 to $10; curtains that promise greater insulation typically sell for as little as $30 and can run as high as $150.
PAYBACK: From just under a year to almost four years, depending on a host of variables.
Putting shades on southerly or westerly facing windows can reduce your cooling costs by 6%. For an average 2,000-square-foot house with 12 windows, covering the six south- and west-facing windows will cost about $45. So, in New York -- with an average cooling bill of about $250 -- you'll save about $15 with inexpensive shades, for a payback of about three years. In a warmer climate like Texas, you'll save about $40 and recoup your costs in a little over a year.
Insulated curtains, meanwhile, curb losses from air conditioning and heating. Let's say you spend about $50 each on the curtains for all 12 windows, for a total of $600. Using figures from the Energy Information Administration and the nonprofit Alliance to Save Energy, we figured you'd save about $170 a year in New York, with a payback of 3½ years. A similar home in Texas would see a slightly longer payback period.
It's well known that insulating attics can reduce the amount of heat escaping through the roof. But many attics, especially in older homes, still have too little insulation -- or none at all.
COST: About $500 to nearly $700 for an average 2,000-square-foot house; less if the attic already has some insulation. That doesn't include installation costs, which can vary widely.
PAYBACK: A year and a half, but it can vary depending on the climate, cost of insulation and other factors. Installation costs can also boost the payback time.
Properly insulating a house can save up to 25% on heating and cooling costs, according to numerous experts. An average household in New York will spend about $1,700 on heating and cooling a year. Insulation -- which is pricey in New York -- will bring a savings of about $425, with a payback of about a year and a half.
In Texas, the heating and cooling bill runs about $1,280 and insulation -- which is on the cheaper side there -- will save about $320. Again, a payback of about a year and a half.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Just got chosen by Equinox to put nationally on their site! Very cool!
"'It’s not fitness, it’s life' is truly my motto now"
When both of my parents died, I realized that I might one day face the challenges of several genetic diseases, like Diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and a variety of heart conditions. Genetically, I knew I had every disease under the sun running through my blood and was indeed pre-Diabetic. I believed my only option was to control my diet and fitness regime, in hopes of postponing or even avoiding such health problems. I, therefore, decided to join Equinox and began battling any future problems.
Thanks to Equinox and a team of professional and supportive trainers, including Jeff Howard, Jon Gestl, Andrea Rubenstein and Michael Wollpert, I have lost 70 lbs and have changed my entire physique. I’ve managed to keep all the weight off for the last 1.5 years and have no trace of Diabetes. I continue to eat healthy and workout 6 days a week – taking Spinning, Advanced Step, Cardio Kickboxing, Kettle Bell training, Cardio Core Ball, and much more. “It’s not fitness, it’s life” is truly my motto now!
Monday, November 23, 2009
TAX CREDIT EXTENSION A POSITIVE STEP
The National Association of Realtors® commended the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives for passing a bill that includes an extension and expansion of the current home buyer tax credit as an important step in ensuring a real estate and economic recovery.
“Realtors® appreciate the swift action by Congress to extend the home buyer tax credit and expand it to some current homeowners,” said NAR President Charles McMillan, a broker with Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate in Dallas-Fort Worth.
NAR economists estimate that the current tax credit has contributed approximately $22 billion to the general economy, and approximately 2 million people will take advantage of the tax credit this year.
“The substantial rise in home sales we’ve seen over the past few months proves that the tax credit is working and is being used by buyers who were waiting for the right opportunity to get into the market,” McMillan said. “This important incentive is helping to stabilize the housing market, stimulate the economy and create new jobs in communities all across our great nation. Extending and expanding the home buyer tax credit will enable even more families to take advantage of current low interest rates and affordable prices to invest in their future through homeownership.”
The bill extends the present $8,000 tax credit for first-time home buyers through April 30, 2010. Current homeowners are eligible for a $6,500 tax credit through April 30, provided they have lived in the home they are selling, or have sold, as principal residence for five consecutive years in the past eight years. If potential home buyers have a binding contract on or before that date, they will have until July 1 to close the transaction.
Income limits for eligible home buyers are expanded to $125,000 for single buyers and $225,000 for couples. The purchase price of the home cannot exceed $800,000. To help guard against fraud, buyers are required to attach documentation of purchase to their tax return.
Monday, November 9, 2009
Experience, Passion, and Committment
Refind Interiors is a Chicago-area residential interior design and interior construction project management firm. Founded by Jill Weinberg more than 30 years ago, Refind Interiors excels at renovating existing space.
Refind Interiors provides affordable, yet original design, along with interior construction project management capabilities to home owners and property managers.
Refind Interiors also advises clients of real estate professionals looking to maximize the value and aesthetics of their new property.
Friday, October 23, 2009
Thursday, October 8, 2009
Carpe Diem...Getting the Feds to Modify your mortgage
Rates can fall to 2%--if you know how to play the game.
If your income slumped along with the economy, you've got plenty of company these days. So much so that the government has a program meant to help you out by cutting your mortgage payments to 31% of your gross income. But it turns out that qualifying for this benefit will probably take some fancy footwork, a sympathetic partner and a little luck. Here are some pointers for navigating the terrain.
Get to Know the Program
The program in question is the Obama administration's $75 billion Making Home Affordable program.
It applies to mortgages held by Fannie Mae ( FNM - news - people ) and Freddie Mac ( FRE - news - people ), the two giant mortgage holders that the government took control of a year ago. Under the government's auspices, Fannie and Freddie are now cutting interest rates on mortgages they own to as little as 2%, with the aim of lowering payments to no more than 31% of a homeowner's gross income.
How do you know if Fannie or Freddie own your mortgage? The simplest way is to visit each of the lender's Web sites and type in the information requested about you and your residence. Remember: The giant home financing organizations buy loans that were originated by commercial banks and own a significant portion the nation's entire home loan assets. That means you may have taken out your mortgage through Bank of America ( BAC - news - people ), Wells Fargo ( WFC - news - people ) or another private lender, and they may still be servicing your account, while ownership has actually been transferred to Fannie or Freddie (if not, you may be out of luck. A list of other lenders participating in the Making Home Affordable program can be found here).
Estimate Whether You Qualify
If you do have a Fannie or Freddie loan, then figure out what portion of your gross monthly income your housing payment consumes. In this case, your "housing payment" means not only your mortgage costs but your PITI (principal, interest, taxes and insurance). Since you first took out your mortgage, it may have zoomed way up as a percentage of your household income, either because you and your spouse's income has fallen or because the adjustable rate of interest on the loan has ratcheted up. In either case, you should consider applying.
Navigating the Process
Even when Fannie and Freddie own loans, they don't handle homeowner paperwork themselves. Instead, they rely on banks to service their loans and to decide who qualifies for the Making Home Affordable program. The banks have been both stingy about granting approvals and overwhelmed by the sheer volume of applications.
The key to receiving a modification seems to be convincing the bank that you're in its modification "sweet spot." That means you're in dire enough financial straits to need help but not so deeply in trouble as to be hopeless. After all, the point of the program is to modify loans in a way that borrowers will be able to keep up.
What might disqualify you? Savings, for one thing. We spoke with nearly a dozen homeowners who applied for modifications. Several were turned down because of their hefty savings accounts.
On the other hand, if you have no savings and no job or income, you'll likely be turned down for a modification too. The program requires that applicants show proof of current income and that the income is likely to continue for at least nine months. Since in most cases unemployment benefits are part of a six-month program, they're unlikely to qualify you.
Other variables that can influence the odds of getting approved include your other debts (credit cards and car loans) and fixed costs. Once again, banks are looking for modifications that borrowers can live with. If you're seeking to have your housing payment cut to 31% of your income but are spending another 60% on private school tuition and health club memberships, the bank is unlikely to be convinced that you're a viable candidate.
Showing Just Enough Distress
It isn't pretty, but to go to the top of the list in your bank's loan modification department, it might help to miss a mortgage payment or two. "It feels terrible to say it, but go delinquent" if you have no real choice, says Ron Morgan, chief executive of Sterling Home Retention Services. Morgan's firm specializes in home-loan workouts, and many banks are outsourcing their problem loans to firms like his.
If you need help with the application process, it's probably available. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has a network of debt counselors, many available to work with you free of charge.
Tools on the Internet may also help you improve your chances at getting a modification. The owner of Homeowner's Toolbox is a former California mortgage broker who says he has consulted with the banks he used to source loans for and has a sense of each bank's modification "sweet spot." Homeowner's Toolbox is free to users and claims to estimate the probability that a homeowner will be approved for a modification.
The last thing you want to do is make your financial problems worse. That means avoiding any for-profit outfit that "promises" to get you a modification or that insists on a large payment upfront.
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Periodic energy audits can save you money. So can a few simple adjustments in your home. Here are a few to get you started in the right direction.
* Vacuum the condenser coil of your refrigerator often and check the door seal to make sure it doesn't leak.
* Try to run your dishwasher only once a day and choose the water-saving cycle.
* Toilet handles that stick should be replaced.
* Only wash full loads of clothing and pre-soak when possible. If you must wash a partial load, adjust the water level. Did you know most clothes are just as clean when you wash them in cold water?
* Clean the lint filter in your dryer after every use and wash occasionally to remove the coating left by dryer sheets.
* Lower the temperature on your water heater to 120 degrees and use an insulation wrap. It only costs about $20 and helps hold the heat inside.
* Turn off whatever is not being used - lights, fans, TVs, etc.
* Fix dripping faucets to reduce water usage.
* Replace your most used light bulbs with ENERGY STAR compact fluorescent bulbs. You'll keep your home cooler in the summer and save money in energy costs.
* Check and replace filters each month on your heating and air conditioning units.
* Replace single pane windows with low e-coated or ENERGY STAR windows. Storm windows will also conserve energy.
* When it's time to replace appliances or mechanicals in your home, look for items that contain the ENERGY STAR label. It's the government's rating program that shows you which items are more efficient.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Market Leaders Unite to Form Prudential Rubloff Properties
Prudential Preferred Properties and Rubloff today announced the merger of Rubloff Residential Properties with Prudential Preferred Properties.
The combined company will operate as Prudential Rubloff Properties, an independently owned and operated firm with 17 offices and nearly 900 sales professionals and staff. Prudential Rubloff has a formidable presence in Chicago’s high-end markets of Cook and Lake counties, and in Michigan’s exclusive Harbor Country. The two firms closed more than $2 billion in real estate sales in 2008; both outpace any major brokerage in Cook and Lake counties for highest average list and sales price.
The merger bonds two of Chicago’s most respected firms whose distinguished roots trace back nearly 80 years. Principals Chris Eigel and Michael Pierson, longtime veterans of Chicagoland real estate, will lead the new company as chief executive officer and president/chairman. Rubloff principals Howard Weinstein and Tom Horwich complete the Prudential Rubloff leadership team and will continue with the firm focusing on future growth in the metropolitan market.
“Rubloff is a revered Chicagoland company – part of Chicago’s cultural fabric for philanthropy, civic development and distinguished real estate services,” said Pierson. “Of course, Prudential is recognized globally for strength, integrity and innovation since 1875.”
Weinstein, who with Horwich acquired Rubloff Residential Properties in 1996, said the company’s strong, local ownership will respond quickly to Chicagoland market opportunities and challenges. “Both firms have similar business philosophies, market segments and corporate cultures, making the union an ideal fit,” he explained. “Rubloff’s nearly 80-year history of excellence continues, as the firm expands onto Chicago’s coveted North Shore to fulfill one of founder Arthur Rubloff’s dreams.”
Added Horwich: “Prudential Rubloff changes the landscape of Chicagoland real estate. The company is now a powerhouse of agent and client services that establishes a new level of service throughout Chicagoland.”
As real estate technology leaders, the merging companies bring to the union a full array of online resources and proprietary lead-generation tools. Both companies are known for their technology and marketing innovation. Prudential Rubloff will use the award-winning Rubloff.com website, integrating technology and online tools from both organizations.
“Together the two firms will boast Chicagoland’s finest team of sales professionals and managers,” said Eigel. “When other real estate companies are cutting back, Prudential Rubloff is doubling efforts.”
Earl Lee, president of Prudential Real Estate and Relocation Services, added: “Two fine organizations join forces and instantly jump to the forefront of Chicagoland real estate. We are ecstatic to broaden our brand in these key markets as Prudential Rubloff.”
Prudential Real Estate and Relocation Services, Inc. is Prudential’s integrated real estate brokerage franchise and relocation services business. Prudential Real Estate franchises are independently owned and operated.
Companies are selected based upon outstanding performance records, high levels of customer service and shared business values with those of Prudential.
Prudential Real Estate provides franchises with business strategies using Operation Reviews as well as numerous benefits, including access to Prudential Real Estate’s Online Seller AdvantageSM program designed to provide real-time information to sellers with the touch of a keystroke. Prudential Real Estate is one of the largest real estate brokerage franchise networks in North America, with approximately 1,940 franchise offices and 62,000 sales professionals in the franchise Network as of June 30, 2009.
Prudential Financial, Inc. (NYSE: PRU), a financial services leader with approximately $580 billion of assets under management as of June 30, 2009, has operations in the United States, Asia, Europe, and Latin America.
Leveraging its heritage of life insurance and asset management expertise, Prudential is focused on helping approximately 50 million individual and institutional customers grow and protect their wealth. The Company’s well-known Rock symbol is an icon of strength, stability, expertise and innovation that has stood the test of time. Prudential's businesses offer a variety of products and services, including life insurance, annuities, retirement-related services, mutual funds, investment management, and real estate services. For more information, please visit http://www.news.prudential.com/.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
A GREEN IDEA
Trash gets no respect! But that is already changing. Production has started to create a movable power generator that will be fueled by waste products using everything from walnut shells to discarded tires. And did you know that the excessive methane gas produced by landfills can be used as energy as well?
Up till now solar and wind energy have been the best sources of renewable energies. One new plan calls for utilization of biomass materials, including agricultural wastes, cardboard, paper and sawdust. With this unit, a wood mill could incinerate sawdust and other waste creating enough power to run its machines rather than depend on diesel power.
Here's how it works. The multi piece unit has a large feed hopper and a high temperature incinerator that vaporizes the biomass as it enters. The resulting heat can turn a turbine, making up to 300 kilowatts of electricity. The unit is transportable, so everything is done on site. Instead of taking the trash to a location for burying or burning, you dispose of it at the source and create energy for use.
The output is a fraction of the capacity of an industrial power plant but because it can be transported and set up in a matter of days, it can be brought to remote areas. It's been tested on a wide range of materials, including corn cobs and husks, sugar cane residue and non-recyclable plastics. It's 75 percent efficient and has met very stringent emissions requirements.
In addition to the movable power generator, harnessing the methane naturally produced by waste breaking down in landfills is another green energy option. Methane is a primary constituent of landfill gas (LFG) and a potent greenhouse gas when released to the atmosphere. Reducing methane emissions by capturing LFG and using it as an energy source can yield substantial energy, economic, and environmental benefits. The implementation of landfill gas energy (LFGE) projects reduces greenhouse gases and air pollutants, leading to improved local air quality and reduced possible health risks. LFG projects also improve energy independence, produce cost savings, create jobs, and help local economies.
Monday, August 10, 2009
Check out website@..http://956wdickens.rubloff.com/
Carpe Diem. Sleek 1890's rowhouse with updated kitchen and baths. Tons of light from skylights...Redone oak floors. Chef's kitchen with stainless steel appliances and double oven. Serene back yard for summer grilling.
MLS #: 07283412
Living Room: 14X12
Dining Room: 10X14
Family Room: 17X12
Master Bedroom: 17X18
Bedroom 2: 10X12
Bedroom 3: 09X09
Bedroom 4: 11X09
Approx. Sq. Ft: N/A
Lot Dimensions: 18 X 100
Lot Size: N/A
Parking Space: N/A
Thursday, August 6, 2009
If you’ve ever driven a Toyota Prius hybrid, you know the car’s dashboard includes a monitor that displays which power source is operating and how many miles per gallon you’re getting. The functionality has spawned a practice called “hypermiling,” in which drivers squeeze every little bit of fuel efficiency out of their cars by making adjustments to the way they drive.
Now homeowners can do the same thing. An array of manufacturers offer residential energy monitoring and management systems that serve much the same purpose. These “dashboards” give feedback that homeowners can use to maximize a house’s energy and resource efficiency, and help your homes live up to their performance expectations. And some manufacturers are adding even more advanced features that will help them monitor and control the sources and use of resources.
At the most basic level, energy monitors provide a simple readout of the total amount of energy the home is using, often by attaching a sensor to the electric meter that sends a wireless signal to the in-home display. The monitors may show the dollar cost of the electricity based on electric rates that the user enters or may let users monitor energy usage by day or time.
Research has shown that even such basic feedback can lead to savings. In a 2006 paper “The Effectiveness of Feedback on Energy Consumption” for the University of Oxford, Sarah Darby says the literature demonstrates “that instantaneous, direct feedback in combination with frequent, accurate billing is needed as a basis for sustained demand reduction.” She adds that the norm for energy savings from direct feedback is 5% to 15%, and studies using a table-top interactive cost and power display unit have shown savings as high as 20%.
“If you can see it on a display, people then take a real interest in lowering [energy] demand,” says Keith Davis, president of Residential Technologies, a Charlotte, N.C.–based electrical and electronic systems contractor. “Having knowledge allows them to control energy use within their budget and financial means and within their lifestyle.”
No matter how carefully you plan for the operation of your homes, the occupants’ lifestyles and habits determine the buildings’ ultimate performance. Energy management systems can help customers achieve the energy efficiency they thought they would get from a green home.
Beyond basic whole-house monitors, installers can turn to packaged monitoring systems that offer more detailed feedback or to control systems that let homeowners automate energy-saving tasks.
While simple, whole-house monitoring can lead to proven energy savings, builders and remodelers can help homeowners fine-tune their homes further with energy management systems, such as Agilewaves or EcoView, that give feedback on individual systems or resources like gas and water. Agilewaves, for instance, has a resource monitor that can track individual electric loads, rooms, or floors of the home, or alternative power generation, in addition to gas and water.
For example, one Agilewaves customer installed a powerful solar array and discovered his inverter was failing at peak production—data he most likely never would have seen otherwise, says company chief technical officer David Brock.
Adding to the options are home control systems and intelligent HVAC controllers that not only monitor the energy a system uses, but also control settings based on occupancy, temperatures, or the cost of energy at a given time. Such systems, including Control4 and Crestron, are better known for their home theater and “smart home” controls, but some are now set up to integrate energy monitoring features, and at a more reasonable cost than luxury systems of the past, acccording to Bill Ablondi, director of home systems for research firm Parks Associates.
These systems build off such useful but underused technologies as programmable thermostats and lighting controls to also monitor the energy used by the products they control and provide feedback. In short, they make it easier to operate the home at peak performance. While they face many of the same challenges as home automation systems—builders may be unwilling to add to the home’s initial cost, and the systems might intimidate less tech-savvy homeowners—they can be a differentiator.
Homeowners can now operate and manage control and monitoring systems in a variety of formats, from the traditional wall-mounted touchscreen to a Web application to mobile phones or devices. Many of the companies offer e-mail or text alerts when certain energy or carbon footprint thresholds are met and can automatically take action, such as setting back the temperature, to decrease the load.
The systems vary in how they monitor usage. Some use individual load sensors that track the electrical draw of a device—a more accurate but more expensive method. Others simply calculate predicted energy use based on runtime and settings for a device.
Proving a return on investment is still an obstacle. At $500 for an entry-point controller and several thousand dollars for a full home control system, payback at current energy prices is six to eight years, says Eric Smith, chief technology officer of Control4, though he adds the company is working on a basic package that would cost less than $250. Agilewaves’ typical whole-house gas and electric monitoring system with details on seven circuits retails for $7,500, and prices can range higher or lower depending on capabilities.
Home energy hypermilers also will ask about the systems’ own energy use, which varies depending on the device. Brock says Agilewaves has been conscious about the resource monitor’s energy draw, and that the system pulls up to 30 watts at maximum.
Friday, July 31, 2009
Carpe Diem. Sleek 1890's rowhouse with updated kitchen and baths. Tons of light from skylights...Redone oak floors. Chef's kitchen with stainless steel appliances and double oven. Serene back yard for summer grilling.
Monday, July 13, 2009
Condo loan frustrations? short sale/foreclosure blues? Invest in yourself(wealth management)..2-4 flats..
Condo loan frustrations? short sale/foreclosure blues? Invest in yourself(wealth management)..2-4 flats..Chicagos loaded w.them. Motivated sellers..I can help you find
Do you wish to become wealthier within a short span of time? If the answer is yes then this article is the right way towards it.
Generally, very few first time investors have excess money before getting started. So to gain a foothold in this field, they initially buy single-family homes and then hope to progress ahead from there.
Does not this seem interesting? Maybe yes, but this is not right from the investment point of view; one should invest in smaller multi family homes or even apartment buildings as this offers a better way to start, provided you know the niche.
It is quite magical handling money of other people for your benefit.
1. Enhanced cash flow and multiple income generating source- If you sit and analyze the rent flow with regards to the fixed expenses on the invested properties, then you would think investing in multi units is a highly profitable and a wise decision, as the tenants pay for all their expenses such as the electricity as well as the maintenance of the building. The most beneficial thing in multi unit investment is that your property value keeps increasing year after year.
2. Generate cash flow shortly after the investment- If you buy a multi unit for example a building that does not require much renovation then you can have your tenants soon. That is not possible with single house investment, as well as you dont earn anything from single houses until you sell them.
3. Earn more for your expenses- If you own a single house with five tenants in one location then you only have to maintain one place, whereas if you own and rent out five different single houses then you have to maintain five different properties.
4. Multi-units are easier to sell as compared to single houses-Investors see them as highly positive sources of cash flow and not as mere investments that need to be maintained and sold. Hence, people lineup to invest in the profitable multi unit deals, even if the real estate market is low because they find it highly profitable. You can use the time period between purchase and sale to locate other investments as well as reap the benefits of your property. Isn't this a high positive leverage of your money and time?
5. Less competition- There is very less competition as compared to the single-family houses? The reason being that there is no one teaching you out there how to invest, where as the estate gurus who are flipping the single houses make the same procedure sound as easy as chewing gum in the dark. Smart investors think of both investments.
6. Easy management- As you gain high cash flow, it is easier to hire management companies to manage the tenants in your absence and thus it eliminates the hassle in your absence and you can enjoy hassle free profit.
You must have heard or seen investors earning profit by flipping single-family houses, but if you analyze their history then you can calculate the profit and identify the investors who have invested in multi units as the ones who have earned massive profits as compared to the single house owners.
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Gardening this memorial day weekend?.Xeriscaping refers to the conservation of water through creative landscaping
Xeriscaping refers to the conservation of water through creative landscaping.
Originally developed for drought-afflicted areas, the principles of xeriscape today have an ever broadening appeal. With water now considered an expensive and limited resource, all landscaping projects, residential or commercial, can benefit from this alternative.
Xeriscapes do not have a single look - almost any landscaping style can be achieved. The principles can be applied to all or part of a yard, in any geographic region of North America.
Saves Water. For most of North America, over 50% of residential water used is applied to landscape and lawns. Xeriscape can reduce landscape water use by 50 - 75%.
Less Maintenance. Aside from occasional pruning and weeding, maintenance is minimal. Watering requirements are low, and can be met with simple irrigation systems.
No Fertilizers or Pesticides. Using plants native to your area will eliminate the need for chemical supplements. Sufficient nutrients are provided by healthy organic soil.
Improves Property Value. A good Xeriscape can raise property values which more than offset the cost of installation. Protect your landscaping investment by drought-proofing it.
Pollution Free. Fossil fuel consumption from gas mowers is minimized or eliminated with minimal turf areas. Small turf areas can be maintained with a reel mower.
Provides Wildlife Habitat. Use of native plants, shrubs and trees offer a familiar and varied habitat for local wildlife.
The 7 Principles of Xeriscaping
1. The fundamental element of Xeriscape design is water conservation. Landscape designers constantly look for ways to reduce the amount of applied water and to maximize the use of natural precipitation.
Before setting pencil to paper, familiarize yourself with the 7 Principles of Xeriscaping and take a tour of your local nurseries to see what drought-resistant plantings are available locally. Using graph paper, draw an aerial view of your property and begin your plan with the following considerations:
~ orient the plot by marking down north, south, east and west. Include any limiting features such as trees, fences, walkways or structures. Note areas of sun and shade, which will help you establish zones of differing water needs. You'll want to group plants with similar watering needs for most efficient water use.
~ study the natural contours and drainage patterns of the land. These countours can be easily developed into terraces, which add visual interest and help reduce soil loss and erosion due to rain or irrigation. Terraces can be as little as 3" and still offer visual appeal; terraces over 12" will require considerable support, such as rock walls or timbers reinforced with steel stakes.
~ consider the planned use of each area within the plot. Areas for seating, walkways, visual barriers, dining or play should be defined and incorporated into your plan.
~ areas to be left as turf should be designed to be easily mowed. Curved swaths are usually better than straight runs with sharp turns. Narrow swaths can be difficult to water with conventional sprinklers.
~ larger plantings, such as shrubs and trees, can be positioned to provide natural heating and cooling opportunities for adjacent buildings.
2. Soil Improvement
The ideal soil in a water-conserving landscape does two things simultaneously: it drains quickly and stores water at the same time. This is achieved by increasing the amount of organic material in your soil and keeping it well aerated. Compost is the ideal organic additive, unless your xeriscape contains many succulents and cacti. These species prefer lean soil.
It may be worthwhile to have your soil tested at a garden center or by using a home test kit. Most Western soils tend to be alkaline (high pH) and low in phosphorous. Adding bonemeal and rock phosphate will help.
3. Create Limited Turf Areas
Reduce the size of turf areas as much as possible, while retaining some turf for open space, functionality and visual appeal. When planting new turf, or reseeding existing lawns, ask at your garden center for water-saving species adapted to your area.
4. Use Appropriate Plants
For best results, select plants that are native to your region.
~ use drought-resistant plants. In general, these plants have leaves which are small, thick, glossy, silver-grey or fuzzy - all characteristics which help them save water.
~ select plants for their ultimate size. This reduces pruning maintenance.
~ for hot, dry areas with south and west exposure, use plants which need only a minimum of water. Along north and east-facing slopes and walls, choose plants that like more moisture. Most importantly, don't mix plants with high- and low-watering needs in the same planting area.
~ trees help to reduce evaporation by blocking wind and shading the soil.
Cover the soil's surface around plants with a mulch, such as leaves, coarse compost, pine needles, wood chips, bark or gravel. Mulch helps retain soil moisture and temperature, prevent erosion and block out competing weeds. Organic mulch will slowly incorporate with the soil, and will need more applied, "top-dressed", from time to time. To be effective, mulch needs to be several inches thick. There should be no areas of bare soil.
Water conservation is the goal, so avoid overwatering. Soaker hoses and drip-irrigation systems offer the easiest and most efficient watering for xeriscapes because they deliver water directly to the base of the plant. This reduces moisture loss from evaporation. They also deliver the water at a slow rate which encourages root absorption and reduces pooling and erosion. In general, it's best to water deeply and less frequently.
7. Maintain your landscape
Low-maintenance is one of the benefits of xeriscape. Keeping the weeds from growing up through the mulch may require some attention. Thickening the layer of mulch will help. Turf areas should not be cut too short - taller grass is a natural mulch which shades the roots and helps retain moisture. Avoid overfertilizing.
Here are some popular xeriscape plantings; this listing is by no means complete. Consult with your local garden center for recommended local (native) varieties.
Blue pineleaf beardtongue
Texas hummingbird mint
Tulips and crocuses
Yellow Black-eyed Susan
Pentas New Look
Red Plume Blanket
Before planting flowers, improve the soil to foster root growth. Most perennials and annuals require full sun; only a few will flower in partial shade. Most flowers do poorly in heavy clay, due to lack of oxygen to their roots. Sandy soils may have poor water-holding capacity and be low in available minerals. If either extreme is true in your yard, do not plant perennial flowers the first year or two. Improve the soil with sphagnum peat or compost until the soil is easily worked and does not compact. Perennial flowers may then be planted.
Shrubs and Trees
Japanese black pine
Common Pater Mulberry
Succulents (leaf color)
Aconium arborium - green
Cotyledon orbiculata -gray- green, red-edged
Crassula argentea - 'Sunset', yellow, tinged red
C. 'Campfire' - green, turns orange-red with maturity
Dudleya brittonii - chalky blue
Echeveria agavoides 'RubyLips'
- green, tips reddish brown
Kalanchoe pumila - lavender
Sedum adolphii - orange,bronze
S. rubrotinctum 'Aurora' - pink to bronze
Sempervivum tectorum - gray green, tipped reddish brown Senecio serpens - blue-gray
S. mandraliscae - blue-gray Succulents (flower color)
Aconium floribundum - yellow
Aloe aristata - orange-red
A.saponaria - orange to pink
A. vera - yellow
Bulbine cuulescens - lemon
Crassula falcata - deep red
C. multicava - pink
Delosperma cooperi - purple
D. nubigenum - golden yellow
Echeveria elegans - pink
E. imbricata - orange-red
E. pulvinata - red
E. Set-oliver - red and yellow
Kalanchoe pumila - lavender
Lampranthus productus - purple
L. aurantiacus - orange
L. spectabilis - pink, red, purple
Tips for Growing Succulents:
• Provide good drainage. Well-aerated, unscreened gritty soil works best for succulents.
• Water more often in hot weather. Although succulents can tolerate neglect, they will look better when well-watered during the hottest weather.
• Choose plants which match your climate. Consult your local garden center for plants which favor your growing environment; damp coastal, cooler mountain or hotter desert climates.
• Use fertilizers sparingly. Fertilizing once or twice a year is usually adequate.
Ornamental grasses are drought-resistant and low maintenance. When choosing ornamental grasses for your yard, consider the characteristics of each variety. They are categorized as:
Cool-season grasses grow best at temperatures ranging from 15 to 24 degrees centigrade ( 59 to 75 degrees farenheit ). New growth starts as soon as temperatures rise above freezing in spring, in temperate climate zones. Growth slows and flowers bloom by early summer.
Warm-season grasses prefer temperatures ranging from 26 to 35 degrees C ( 78 to 95 degrees F). New growth begins after the soil warms up to 16 degreesC. Growth slows and flowers starrt to bloom by mid-summer, and continuing through fall.
Running-growth habit: Ranging from slow creepers to agressive spreaders, running grasses are useful for erosion control on slopes or as ground cover.
Clumping-growth habit: These grasses grow in tufts. They make fine specimens and are also effective planted in groups or masses. Most ornamental grasses commonly used in gardens today are clump-forming.
Tips for Growing Ornamental Grasses:
• Sunny spot. Most grasses prefer a sunny area, especially the more brightly colored varieties.
• Water new plantings. Drought-resistant grasses still require watering while getting established.
• Space generously. When planting, allow room between clumps for movement.
• Trim. Clump grasses can be cut back with a shears each spring to allow for fresh new growth. Grasses which turn brown in winter (deciduous) can be cut back to a few inches of the ground. Evergreen grasses, however, should not be cut back too drastically.
• Divide. Clump grasses may need to be divided if they get too big or have die-back in the center of the clump. Use a pointed spade (or a hand trowel for smaller clumps) to cut larger divisions; pull apart by hand into smaller sections. Be sure to water replanted divisions.
* Check your local ordinances for landscape bylaws before starting. Some communities also have restrictions on turf grass plantings.
* For best results with drought-resistant plantings, use regionally-specific, native plants. Exotic species can be extremely invasive and can spread into natural ecosystems by birds and other wildlife.
* Find out what the annual natural precipitation is for your region, and how that precipitation is spread throughout the year. This will help you select plantings.
* Windbreaks help keep the plants and soil from blowing dry. Use trees, hedges, shrubs or tall ornamental grasses as natural windbreaks.
* Avoid watering during the hottest, windiest time of day. Early morning is usually best.
* How much to water? Your plants should begin to wilt during the hottest part of the day, yet perk up as soon as it starts to cool.
* Minimize the number of young plants. New plants need water more often than mature plants, which have deeper root systems. They also require more pruning.
* Keep faded flowers picked or clipped off to prolong blooming time.
* Practice "cycle" irrigation on turf areas. This refers to watering just to the point of seeing runoff, then pausing to allow the turf to absorb the water. Resume watering when needed.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Here are some tips for staging your yard for sale:
* Baby the lawn. Find a high-quality weed killer with lots of micronutrients as well as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium with pre-emergent herbicides (organic ones use corn gluten) to kill growth before it starts. Send your soil to your county or state's extension service, an agricultural resource center that you can find through the USDA's Web site, to have its pH levels tested; spread lime on your lawn if the pH level is below 6.0, or an acidifying agent like gardener's sulfur if it is above 7.0. And set your mower high (about three inches) to reduce the grasses' stress and cut down on the need for water.
* Trim the overgrowth. Prune any branches that touch the house, cover a window or block a path. To reduce mold growth, keep plant material at least a foot away from siding.
* Splurge on mulch. The new mulches that retain color throughout the season cost about a dollar a bag more than traditional mulch, but good first impressions are worth it. Although I normally use chipped mulches because they last longer, I plan to use a finely shredded texture this spring for its superior visual appeal.
* Edge your flowerbeds. There's no easier way to make your yard look neat and groomed. Don't bother with the plastic edging; simply tie a string between two sticks and follow the line with a sharp, flat-ended spade pushed about four-to-six inches into the soil.
* Powerwash everything. Cobwebs, mold and dirt accumulate on decks, patios, fences, trellises, eaves, windows and siding over the winter, but can be blasted away in an afternoon with a power washer. Just be sure not to get the water under the siding courses or in soffit vents, where the moisture can cause damage.
* Plant annuals. Perennials are wonderful if you're building a long-term garden, but they are expensive and tend to have short blooming seasons. For color and impact, place low-care annuals like impatiens, petunias and geraniums in beds. Potted flowers and hanging baskets can brighten dull spots in your yard, draw attention to features you want to emphasize or flank an entrance—and you can take them with you when you move.
* Plant a garden. If you have a sunny corner, a small raised bed with decorative veggies such as rainbow-stemmed Swiss chard and bush beans, or fragrant herbs like sage and rosemary, can suggest your yard is useful as well as pretty. (And hey, the Obamas did it.) But stay away from plants, like corn, that suggest a barnyard, or are prickly and prone to spilling out of bounds, like summer squash and pumpkins. If you must have tomatoes, choose pretty, bush-style cherry tomatoes rather than the regular vining varieties which need to be caged and are prone to unattractive wilts and fungal attacks.
* String a hammock. Nothing suggests that the living is easy (and your yard is low-maintenance) as much as a hammock. If you don't have two trees close enough to string one between them, spring for a hammock stand.
* Create conversation areas. To draw attention to a birdhouse, sculpture or other attractive feature in your yard, arrange two colorful side chairs and an end table facing it. When you have an open house, place a book and a small glass of water with yellow food coloring on it to suggest lemonade (don't use the real thing, or you'll attract bees).
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Real Estate Tips
Radon >Reducing Indoor Air Pollution
Air pollution is a fact of life in the 21st century. Reducing our use of pollutants will improve the environment and the health of those who live on our planet. But what about indoor air pollutants? The air quality inside your home affects you too, especially since most people spend more time indoors than outdoors.
Indoor air pollutants include elemental particles and gases produced by wood smoke and propane gas ranges. Some building materials, home furnishings and cleaning products emit toxic organic chemicals like formaldehyde that can contribute to poor indoor air quality. Outdoor pollutants such as radon gas from the soil under your home, carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide from the vehicles that drive by or pesticides from your neighbor's orchard can also seep inside your house.
How can you reduce the risk of negative health effects from indoor air pollution? First, check the contents of the household products you use, and always open the windows if there are warnings about fumes. You can buy a relatively inexpensive detector for indoor toxic emissions at your local hardware store. If air exchange is poor inside your home, consider installing a mechanical ventilation system that will maintain a healthy flow of air and filter out pollutants.
Thursday, April 2, 2009
Talk about someone who believes their high-end real estate will retain its value! Check out the video below featuring Rubloff agent Ron Goldstein and his interview with Dennis Rodkin from Deal Estate.
They are offering a hedge against this home’s value by putting real money in escrow to guarantee the value.
Talk about someone who believes their high-end real estate will retain its value! Check out the video below featuring Rubloff agent Ron Goldstein and his interview with Dennis Rodkin from Deal Estate.
They are offering a hedge against this home’s value by putting real money in escrow to guarantee the value.
Thursday, March 5, 2009
H.R. 1, the “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009,” passed the House on February 13, 2009, by a vote of 246 - 184. Later that day, the Senate also passed the bill by a vote of 60 - 38. The President signed the bill on February 17, 2009. The bill is a $780 billion package, with roughly 35% of the package devoted to tax cuts (mostly for 2009) and the rest to spending intended to occur in 2009 and 2010.
The mix of provisions of interest to REALTORS® changed frequently throughout the legislative process, with changes continuing to be made just hours before the measure was released prior to the vote. In the end, the elements of NAR’s housing agenda were included. Congress and the President have announced that a finance and housing package (including tax provisions) will be the next “big” initiative, so Congress has by no means finished its work as it affects the housing industry and REALTORS®.
The bill includes the following provisions:
Homebuyer Tax Credit
FHA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac Loan Limits
Commercial Real Estate
Rural Housing Service
Low Income-Housing Grants
Tax Exempt Housing Bonds
Energy Efficient Housing Tax Credits & Grants
Homebuyer Tax Credit – The bill provides for a $8,000 tax credit that would be available to first-time home buyers for the purchase of a principal residence on or after January 1, 2009 and before December 1, 2009. The credit does not require repayment. Most of the mechanics of the credit will be the same as under the 2008 rules: the credit will be claimed on a tax return to reduce the purchaser's income tax liability. If any credit amount remains unused, then the unused amount will be refunded as a check to the purchaser.
Frequently Asked Questions
FHA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac Loan Limits -The bill reinstates last year's 2008 loan limits for FHA, Freddie Mac, and Fannie Mae loans. These limits were equal to the greater of 125% of the 2008 local area median home price or $271,050 for FHA and $417,000 for Fannie and Freddie, with an overall maximum cap of $729,750. For the few areas where the 2009 limits were higher, the higher limits will apply. In addition, the bill includes language providing the HUD Secretary with the discretion, if warranted, to increase the loan limit for any “sub-area”, i.e.an area smaller than a county. The Secretary's discretion is again limited by the $729,750 cap. These 2009 limits will expire December 31, 2009.
The inclusion of these loan limit provisions in the final bill is a victory for homeowners, buyers and Realtors. While these new limits were included in version of the original stimulus bill approved by the House, the bill first approved by the Senate did not. NAR's Call for Action to both the House and the Senate prior to the final vote advocated strongly for the provisions which were then included in the final bill approved by both Chambers.
Estimated 2009 FHA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac Loan Limits> (PDF: 1.3M)
Neighborhood Stabilization – Division A, Title XII of the bill provides $2,000,000,000 in additional funding for the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP). The NSP was created by the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 (Public Law 110–289) to provide grants through the Community Development Block Grant program (CDBG) to states and localities to address the problems that can be created when whole neighborhoods are decimated by foreclosures. The funds can be used to purchase, manage, repair and resell foreclosed and abandoned properties. In addition, the funds can also be used by states and localities to establish financing methods for the purchase and redevelopment of foreclosed properties. After purchase the homes must be used to assist individuals and families with incomes at or below 120% of area median income. Twenty-five percent of funds must be used for households with incomes at or below 50% of area median income. By leveraging their expertise in partnership with others from both the public and private sector, Realtors® in many communities have been making important contributions to their local communities’ neighborhood stabilization programs.
Commercial Real Estate - Commercial real estate is impacted primarily through those provisions of the bill focused on green building and energy efficiency as well as business tax incentives. H.R. 1 provides significant funds for state energy programs, which could be used to support commerical property owners' investment in energy efficiency upgrades while commercial property owners seeking to invest in alternative energy systems for onsite power generation would benefit from the Department of Energy Renewable Energy Loan Guarantees Program. Of particular benefit to small businesses would be certain provisions of the bill that provide tax relief in the area of bonus depreciation and capital expenditures, as well as the 5-Year carryback of net operating losses for small businesses.
Rural Housing Service – The bill provides an additional $500 million to existing USDA Rural Housing programs. The RHS provides both a guaranteed loan program and a direct housing loan program for those meeting the program’s eligibility criteria. The direct loan program will receive $270 million while $230 million will be allocated for unsubsidized guaranteed loans. It has been reported that this level of funding would provide for an additional 192,000 homeowners.
Low Income Housing Grants - Allow states to trade in a portion of their 2009 low-income housing tax credits for Treasury grants to finance the construction or acquisition and rehabilitation of low-income housing, including those with or without tax credit allocations.
Tax-Exempt Housing Bonds - Tax-exempt interest earned on specified state and local bonds issued during 2009 and 2010 will not be subject to the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT). In addition, financial institutions will have greater capacity to purchase tax-exempt state and local bonds.
Energy Efficient Housing Tax Credits & Grants - To promote green jobs and energy independence, ARRA invests significantly in efforts to make homes and buildings more energy efficient. The bill provides state and local governments with $6 billion in energy efficiency and conservation grants for energy audits, retrofits and financial incentives. Through 2010, homeowners will be able to claim a 30% tax credit (up from 10%) for purchases of new furnaces, windows and insulation. Another $5 billion will be available to modernize the nation’s electricity grid and install smart meters on homes that help to save consumers money. There is also $5 billion for weatherization assistance for low income households and $2 billion for federally assisted housing (section 8) efficiency efforts.
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Transportation Investments - The bill provides $46.7 billion to states and localities for capital investment for surface transportation projects including highways, bridges, transit, and rail projects. NAR policy supports increased spending on the types of transportation infrastructure addressed in the bill with the exception of Amtrak and high-speed inter-city rail where NAR has no policy. These investments will tend to moderate traffic congestion and support a variety of transportation alternatives which will improve the quality of life of American communities and bolster the value of real estate.
Broadband Deployment - The bill creates $7.2 billion in grants to promote broadband deployment in unserved and underserved areas and for mapping the availability of broadband service in the U.S. Any entity is eligible to apply for a grant including municipalities, public/private partnerships and private companies as long as they comply with the grant conditions. The grants are subject to “network neutrality” requirements to ensure that broadband networks be free of restrictions on content, sites, or platforms, on the kinds of equipment that may be attached, and on the modes of communication allowed.
The bill also charges the FCC is with developing a national broadband plan that shall seek to ensure that all Americans have access to broadband capability and shall establish benchmarks for meeting that goal.
These provisions are important victories for REALTORS because increased broadband access promotes economic growth and expands opportunities for home sales. A 2006 Commerce Department report determined that property values are 6% higher in communities where broadband is available.
Monday, March 2, 2009
Technology Snapshot & Benefits:
Energy-efficient mortgages are one of the most beneficial and under-utilized programs the consumer can find and capitalize upon in today's real estate market. An energy-efficient mortgage can add an additional 15% of a home's appraised value to the principal of a new loan or a refinance, often at no additional cost, no compromise in the loan-to-value ratio for the borrower, and sometimes at a better rate. Yes, one pays a bit more in principal and interest, at today's rates, roughly $30-50 dollars per month, over the course of the loan. However, when this extra principal is used to install energy efficiency measures, it is not uncommon for the property owner to realize $75-100 per month in energy cost savings. When working with a lender who offers and understands the energy-efficient mortgage programs available, the steps for the borrower are very straightforward.
Estimated Cost Savings:
There are no additional costs associated with many energy efficient mortgage options, other than the cost of the additional $15,000 in amortized principal and interest (PI). By definition, the savings created by the energy efficiency measures are greater than the additional PI. This provides the assurance lenders need to conclude loans of this nature are good business.
In fact, the attractiveness of the energy efficient mortgage options also extends to lenders. What happens is that as the borrowers make the stated energy efficiency improvements and create monthly utility bill and other savings, their monthly cash-flow improves. This improvement in monthly cash-flow makes the borrower an even more stable and reliable customer, less likely to present the prospect of default.
Most energy-efficient financing programs require that the borrower has an energy rating on their existing or new home. A rating typically involves an inspection by a professional energy rater who is certified under a nationally or state accredited home energy rating system (HERS). The Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) provides a database of Certified Home Energy Raters by state.
Energy-efficient mortgages and other financing options for energy efficiency improvements are available throughout the U.S. and internationally.
Installation (Getting it Done):
The first easy step is to talk to a few lenders, such as the affiliates here on the site, and then prepare to have a certified energy rater come and conduct the analysis of your property. Your lender will also have suggestions as to energy raters who work with them on energy efficient mortgages, just as your lender has an appraiser with whom he/she works to conduct appraisals.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Energy management systems can put you back in the drivers seat and save you $$$
Check out: http://www.ecohomemagazine.com/home-technology/real-time-feedback.aspx
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Indoor Air Quality
People spend a large portion of their time inside homes and offices. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that most people spend 90 to 95 percent of their time indoors. This makes indoor air quality very important to health. Harmful gasses and particles can compromise indoor air quality. Ensuring that combustion sources and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning equipment are working properly is a great place to start. Ensuring that new furnishings, carpets, and cabinetry contain safe, low-emitting materials helps protect the quality of air in homes and commercial buildings. Taking a careful look at cleaning and maintenance products also helps reduce the likelihood of unintentionally compromising indoor air quality.
Improving ventilation (increasing the amount of outdoor air coming in) can significantly reduce the concentration of indoor air pollutants. Air cleaners can remove particles from air, but may not be equipped to reduce the amount of gaseous pollutants in air. Another method for improving the quality of indoor air is source control, removing individual sources of pollutants. There are a variety of means to help improve indoor air quality.
Estimated Cost Savings & Benefits:
Typically the most cost-effective option for improving indoor air quality is source control. Any new combustion sources, materials, furnishings, or cleaning products in the home or in a building are potential sources of indoor air pollution. Careful analysis of products prior to purchase can help. The operating myth is that improving home and/or building ventilation systems can actually increase energy costs. Proper sizing and cleaning of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems can actually save money on energy costs and improve indoor air quality. Even simple filter cleaning and/or replacement helps HVAC systems operate more efficiently and improves indoor air quality.
The benefits of protecting indoor air quality are significant. Improved indoor air quality can have positive effects on human health, productivity, and comfort. Canadian researchers have measured the relationships between employee productivity and indoor air quality and found that reduced indoor pollutant levels resulted in reductions in absenteeism.
Improving indoor air quality in an apartment building can be more challenging if the building owner or manager is the only person who can address sources of indoor air pollution. The first step is to alert management, in written form, of any potential issues with indoor air quality and encourage building management to follow EPA's IAQ Building Education and Assessment Model (I-BEAM). It is sometimes possible to help building owners and their managers see the financial benefits of improving indoor air quality in the form of increased tenant retention and lease rates, reduced liabilities, and improved resale value.
As people spend a significant portion of their day in office buildings, IAQ is an issue in these environments as well. Office buildings can have significant air quality issues. If you or others in your office are experiencing problems with health and/or comfort and you suspect poor indoor air quality is the cause, EPA recommends that you talk to your supervisor, your personal physician, and/or the state or local health department.
The good news is that sometimes solving indoor air quality problems is possible and not always unreasonably expensive. With proper analysis of HVAC systems and other sources of indoor pollutants, building managers can sometimes turn "sick" buildings into relatively healthier environments.
In cooler climates, outdoor temperatures can make it more challenging to improve ventilation by simply opening a few windows in your home or in commercial buildings. Mechanical ventilation systems, proper cleaning, source control, and air cleaners may be good options.
In warmer, humid climates, high temperatures and humidity levels can increase the concentration of some pollutants. There are some additional climate-related challenges with respect to windows and mechanical systems.
Installation (Getting It Done):
A range of professionals address indoor air quality issues. Selected HVAC contractors are capable of helping homeowners and building owners make decisions that can result in improved indoor air quality. Selected interior designers are now more cognizant of the types of design decisions that contribute to indoor air pollution or to healthier homes and buildings. As with any design, construction, and/or maintenance decision, it is a good idea to get two or three bids from different contractors. Even though this may be a bit more time-consuming, the end result is usually a more cost-effective and informed decision. There are no guarantees with indoor air quality, but informed decision-making can result in substantial improvements to health and productivity.
More Information On This Topic:
U.S. Department of Energy's Building Technologies Program: Indoor Air Quality Research and Development
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: An Introduction to Indoor Air Quality
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Indoor Air Quality in Large Buildings
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: The Inside Story: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Technology Snapshot & Benefits:
Significant economic savings can come from modern windows. Unless recently upgraded, your windows are likely a major source of heat loss. In cold climates, windows transfer heating energy out of the building through both conduction and radiation. Additionally, depending upon how weather-tight the frame and seals, windows may transfer energy by convection as well. This situation is reversed in hot climates, with windows allowing heat into a building and forcing expensive cooling systems to work overtime.
Typical walls in homes are insulated to a level of R-11 to R-19, yet a single pane of standard glass has an insulating value of about R-1. In other words, heat can leak out of, or into, a building about 11 to 19 times more easily through glass than through the wall. This is why your grandparents insisted on installing �storm� windows for the winter in northern climates � to boost window-insulating value to R-2, or perhaps R-2.5 with a good seal and tightly trapped air between the panes.
Modern windows using specially developed E-glass are much more effective at keeping heat and cold where you want them. Most progressive window manufacturers offer several lines of energy efficient glass with �R� values in excess of R-4. New designs still in laboratory development promise R-values of 10 or more.
Since glass is a fixed part of the building envelope, it performs 24 hours each and every day. With energy efficient glass, less fuel is required for a given level of comfort with corresponding cost savings and pollution savings.
Estimated Cost Savings:
Assuming the same or greater level of comfort that you are used to, you can save a lot of energy and money by eliminating heat loss or gain through windows. It is common in Northern climates to save 30-40% of annual heating costs with super-efficient windows. With a monthly heating bill of $200 dollars, this equates to an estimated savings of $60-80 per month. Some large homes cost as much as $600 per month to heat, and the savings for these homes could approach $240 per month.
The value of new windows depends upon how much glass area you have in your home and upon local climate. The National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) provides an historical record of departures of average daily temperatures from a reference temperature of 65 degrees F. This information is available as �Heating Degree-Days per Year� and provides a very useful estimate of how much energy can leak through windows.
For new homes, getting efficient glass is simply a matter of working with a builder or architect to specify performance glass. With older homes, the choice of retrofit is a little more problematic. It is unlikely that the glass in your house will suddenly �conk out� or reach the end of its useful life like a failed furnace or hot water heater. Therefore, you will be faced with the prospect of switching out older intact glass panels for newer glass panels. Nonetheless, this can improve comfort and lower operating expenses. Capital costs can be $5,000 to $10,000 or more, and still make sound economic sense when combined with a program of debt consolidation and/or refinancing.
Selection of glass may depend on local climates. Windows can be �tuned� by the manufacturer for southern or northern exposures and for different climates. Be sure that you get the right glass for you.
Installation (Getting It Done):
In addition to considering new windows throughout, also consider supplementary performance windows that can be treated as storm windows, in addition to your existing glass. Particularly if your house has period architecture, this option allows you to retain the original glazing and sash while enjoying economic savings and the enhanced comfort of performance windows. Be sure to get bids from two or three (or more) window manufacturers, installers and/or glazing contractors to gain immediate perspective on the true costs of windows and installation in your area.