Tips for choosing an energy-efficient, eco-friendly HVAC system

March 21st, 2017 by Emil No comments »

(BPT) – The majority of Americans (74 percent) care about the environment, according to Pew Research. If you recycle regularly and have a programmable thermostat, you’re already doing something positive for the environment. But when it comes time to replace your heating, ventilation and cooling system, will you know how to make choices that protect your wallet and the environment?

Your home’s HVAC system accounts for about half of all the energy your home uses, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. You can lower your utility bills by choosing an efficient HVAC system that uses less energy. A more efficient system can also reduce your home’s environmental impact. NPR reports that heating a home with natural gas produces about 6,400 pounds of carbon dioxide and about 4,700 pounds if you heat with electricity. Air conditioning can produce up to 6,600 pounds of CO2 if you live in a warm climate.

Many factors can affect how efficient your HVAC system is, and how it affects the environment both inside and outside your home. An inefficient system or an older one that’s no longer functioning at its best can cause uneven heating and cooling, make loud noise, create humidity and run in frequent stops and starts. All these factors can affect your home’s comfort level. If you’re experiencing these problems, it’s likely time to replace your furnace, air conditioner or possibly both.

The HVAC professionals at YORK Heating and Cooling offer some guidance on how to choose an energy-efficient system that’s also kind to the environment:

Learn about rating systems

Rating systems are intended to help consumers better understand what they’re getting when they make a purchase, and make more informed decisions about what to buy. When you’re evaluating the energy efficiency of an HVAC system, it’s important to understand these ratings and what they mean:

* SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) – SEER speaks to the efficiency of a system’s air-conditioning unit by measuring performance over a hypothetical cooling season. The ratio compares the amount of cooling provided by the AC unit (measured in British thermal units, or BTUs) with the amount of energy the central system consumes (measured in watts per hour). The size and installation of the equipment, and your energy use patterns, will determine the unit’s actual efficiency, but SEER can give you an idea of probable performance.

* AFUE (Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency) – AFUE measures heating efficiency for furnaces, boilers and water heaters. Manufacturers use AFUE to help them complete the federally required EnergyGuide label you’ll see on these appliances. The label gives an idea of how much energy the equipment will use, compares it to similar products, and approximates the annual operating costs. AFUE is also a factor in equipment qualifying for ENERGY STAR certification, which requires manufacturers to demonstrate their products are energy efficient.

* HSPF (Heating Seasonal Performance Factor) – For electric heat pumps, energy efficiency is measured a bit differently. HSPF uses BTU information to calculate heat output divided by the total electricity the heat pump consumes during a heating season.

“For all three rating systems, the higher the number, the more energy efficient the equipment will be,” says Steve Hoffins, director of marketing with YORK Heating and Cooling. “Our newest home comfort system is our most efficient to date, largely in part due to its 20 SEER rating, which can reduce energy costs as much as 50 percent.”

Interested in winning one of YORK’s newest, most efficient home comfort systems to date? Effective March 21, 2017 to May 29, 2017, homeowners can enter to win a YORK Affinity Variable Capacity Residential System. Visit www.YORKGiveaway.com/AmericanQualityContest for more information about the contest.

Right-sizing your system

Many homeowners have no problem understanding a system that’s too small for their home won’t function efficiently or do its job well. However, purchasing a system that’s too large for your home can be just as bad. Systems that are too large waste energy and boost utility bills, create uneven temperatures, are poor at controlling humidity and can develop maintenance problems over time.

If you’ve never purchased an HVAC system component before, it can be difficult to know exactly how much power you need in a unit. Your local YORK contractor can help you decide the size and type of unit that’s right for your home and needs. Visit www.YORK.com to learn more about residential heating and cooling, and to find a local YORK contractor. You can also follow the company on Twitter at @YORKHVAC.

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Small nest egg, big dreams? Tips for buying your retirement home

March 20th, 2017 by Emil No comments »

(BPT) – Planning for retirement means making a lot of decisions, including when you’ll stop working, how much you’ll withdraw from your savings each year, and where you’ll live. Many Americans view retirement as an opportunity to move into a house they’ll love and live in for all their golden years. In fact, 64 percent of retirees either have moved or plan to move, according to a Merrill Lynch survey.

Some retirees move to be closer to children or grandchildren, to down-size into a more manageable home, live in a warmer locale, or to secure a more luxurious home where they can easily age in place.

“The decision of where to live in retirement is important and can directly affect quality of life in your golden years,” says Geoff Lewis, President of RE/MAX, LLC. “Research by Trulia shows that in virtually all areas of the country, it makes better financial sense for retirees to buy a home, rather than rent. In fact, buying is nearly 42 percent cheaper than renting for seniors across the country.”

With offices in more countries than any other real estate brand, RE/MAX agents have helped millions, including retirees, find the home of their dreams. Lewis and the RE/MAX team offer some advice for buying your retirement home:

Have a plan

Ideally, you should think about where you want to live long before retirement, but it’s never too late to think about your priorities. Do you want to be close to family or health care resources? Do you desire a home in the mountains or somewhere you’ll never see snow again?

Trulia’s research shows that some of the cities most popular for retirees are also ones where buying a home can save you the most money over renting. Desirable, warm-weather locations in Florida and Arizona offer significant value, even in regions where average home prices are higher.

Make a list of what you want in a home location so you’ll have a starting point for your search.

Don’t delay

If possible, don’t wait until poor health or declining finances force you to move somewhere that’s not your ideal location. Move while you’re still young enough to enjoy your dream retirement home.

Get professional financial advice

It’s important to protect your nest egg and keep it growing throughout retirement. A professional financial planner can help you understand what size mortgage is right for you, so your dream home doesn’t strain your finances.

Be mindful of amenities

When choosing a location and a home, in addition to your personal priorities, it’s important to keep in mind accessibility to amenities important to seniors. Community features such as good transportation, quality of roads, safe neighborhoods, and access to health care, socialization opportunities, shopping and cultural venues are all options to consider.

Rely on real estate pros

Once you know where you want to be, it’s time to find a real estate agent. Well-versed on local real estate trends, RE/MAX agents can help retirees sell their current home so they can make the purchase of their dream retirement home a reality. Visit www.remax.com to search for an agent.

Focus on must-haves

Make a list of must-have features and those you would like your retirement home to have. Share the list with your agent to help him or her focus on properties that meet your criteria. Your list of must-haves and desirables will likely be very different from the list you made when you bought your first home. Now, a single-level house with large bathrooms and a level lot may be more desirable than a two-story with lots of bedrooms and a big backyard.

Finally, says Lewis, keep in mind whether you plan to age in place. “More Americans are looking for homes that will allow them to stay independent and living on their own throughout their retirement years,” he says. “If that’s your plan, look for home features that will help facilitate that, like wider doors, few or no exterior stairs, and good lighting.”

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Spring home improvements you can do in 24 hours or less

March 19th, 2017 by Emil No comments »

(BPT) – For most of us, the idea of spring cleaning probably sounds refreshing after a winter of bundling up against the cold. Now that spring has arrived, it’s finally time to get started! Sprucing up your home doesn’t have to take lots of time, and is a great way to leave you feeling reinvigorated after a long winter.

To help you spring into warm weather home improvement, here are 24 simple projects that take 24 hours or less to accomplish:

  1. Put a fresh coat of paint on the front door. Standard paints can take a long time to dry, especially if you live in a humid climate. SnapDry(R) from Sherwin-Williams(R) dries in as little as one hour, and you’ll be able to close the door without it sticking. The paint can be used inside or outside the home and it resists dirt, fingerprints, UV rays and weathering.
  2. Update kitchen cabinets. Recently, homeowners are changing the facades of their kitchen cabinets and painting them instead of staining them—a trend that has grown tremendously. Add new knobs to complete the look for an easy, inexpensive way to give your cabinets a facelift.
  3. Swap pillows and throws. You can’t change your couch every time the season changes, but switching out pillows and throws is a great way to give seasonal flare to your living room decor.
  4. Create a statement wall. Installing graphic wallpaper or wood planking on one wall, or simply painting one wall or the ceiling a contrasting color, can add drama to any room in the house.
  5. Spruce up the deck for summer enjoyment. A refinished deck looks great, and doesn’t have to be a lot of work. SuperDeck(R) from Sherwin-Williams goes on fast and easy, and protects the integrity of your wood deck. It can even reduce the surface temperature of the wood, making the deck barefoot-friendly on a hot summer day.
  6. Add wow factor to your entryway. Large planters with hardy, bright blooms add curb appeal when positioned on either side of the front door.
  7. Update your lighting. Modern light fixtures in kitchens and bathrooms shed a whole new light and look on the room. Consider installing a dimmer so you can create the right mood, any time of the day. While you’re upgrading lighting, be sure to replace old-style incandescent bulbs with energy-efficient ones that will last longer and cost less to operate.
  8. Create a gallery wall. Hang multiple family photos and/or chic prints in varying frame styles and sizes on one wall of the living room.
  9. Rearrange your furniture. Talk about a no-cost way to get a totally different look. Experiment with different furniture configurations, and don’t be afraid to move pieces from room to room.
  10. Create a recharging drawer in your kitchen. Clean out that junk drawer, add dividers and a power strip and you have the perfect place for recharging your family’s electronic devices.
  11. Install a ceiling fan. Nothing says spring and summer like a ceiling fan wafting gentle breeze through a room. Choose the style and size that’s right for your space. Bonus: ceiling fans can help reduce energy bills by cheaply supplementing air-conditioning and heating.
  12. Organize your mudroom. Whether it’s a formal mudroom or a corner of the entryway, every house has a spot where shoes, backpacks and other personal items collect. Organize that area with hooks for hanging and cubbies or shoe racks for storage.
  13. Add a display shelf above a doorway. A wooden shelf above a doorway is a great place to feature collectibles.
  14. Add vintage class to a powder room. Replace the ordinary doorknob on your powder room door with a vintage or replica glass knob.
  15. Install decorative house numbers. You can purchase decorative tile or glass numerals from a variety of sources.
  16. Stencil some fun. Add animal or character stencils to the walls of a child’s room, staircase or kitchen, or patio table for a quick, artsy take.
  17. Add a ceiling medallion. Draw attention to a light fixture by installing a decorative ceiling medallion that has a slightly different color than the ceiling.
  18. Replace a kitchen faucet. A new kitchen faucet can be practical and decorative, but can also control water flow, saving money.
  19. Pressure wash siding and walkways. Power washing exterior home areas makes siding and walkways look fresh.
  20. Hang a new mirror in the bathroom. A decorative framed mirror in place of a standard bathroom mirror adds interest, elegance and even light to the space.
  21. Put a decorative decal in the laundry room. Create some fun in the laundry area by adding a decal with a humorous saying, such as “Life is too short to fold fitted sheets!”
  22. Upgrade bathroom towel storage. Replace those builder-issue towel bars and rings with decorative options that add pizzazz.
  23. Make your own art with a shower curtain. Love large-scale artwork but have a smaller scale budget? Use wood to frame a decorative shower curtain and turn it into wall art.
  24. Wash windows! What’s the one spring DIY task that will make all the others in your home look even better? Wash windows to allow spring and summer sunlight into your home.

Trying just a few of these easy home-improvement tasks is a fast way to perk up your home for spring and summer.

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7 home improvements to tackle before you move in

March 13th, 2017 by Emil No comments »

(BPT) – You found the perfect home, so it’s not surprising that you want to move in as quickly as possible. However, there are some projects that are best done when the house is still empty.

So, consider completing the following seven items before the moving trucks arrive.

* Painting. A fresh coat of paint can instantly update a room, and it’s common to buy a home knowing you will need to paint several rooms or the entire house after the sale. However, painting is best done while every wall is accessible and there are no worries about getting paint on furniture or rugs.

* Changing locks. Now is the time to change the locks on your new home to eliminate the risk of any former keyholders accessing your new space. Do this even if you know the former keyholders because you never know who they shared keys with. This fix is quick, inexpensive and it provides you with peace of mind.

* Flooring updates. Redoing a floor is always easier when the floor is empty. Whether you’re choosing to redo wood floors or lay tile before you move in, tackling this process now also allows you to keep wood and tile dust off of furniture and collectables.

* Roof repairs. Roof repairs are a must. If the home inspection revealed any damage to the roof, make the necessary repairs before moving in. Choose a contractor experienced with the type of shingles your home requires. Several of the largest shingle manufacturers have programs for contractors who meet certain qualifications, like TAMKO Building Products’ Pro Certified Contractor program. Homeowners can easily locate a TAMKO Pro at www.TAMKO.com/find-a-pro to get their project started.

* Removing popcorn ceilings. No one likes these. We’re not sure anyone ever did, but alas, they are a common sight, especially in older homes. Popcorn ceilings (and walls) are easy to remove, but messy. Use a spray bottle to moisten an area, then scrape the texture off with a towel. Clean-up will be much easier if you complete this project before introducing your furniture to the space.

* Fix leaks. If left untreated, water leaks can do serious damage to furniture, rugs, flooring and other valuables. Leaks can also lead to secondary problems like rotting wood, mold and mildew. And let’s be honest, no one wants to live in a house where you can’t use the water, so address plumbing issues before you move in.

* Child and pet proofing. Careful child and pet proofing can protect your babies (furry or otherwise). Gates at the top and bottom of stairs, outlet covers and locks on cabinets, drawers and any other place chemicals or medicines are kept, can help make your new home a safer place.

As difficult as it can be, sometimes delaying your move-in by a few weeks can save months of frustration in the long run. So don’t wait, because the sooner you start, the sooner you can start your new life in your new home.

To learn more about how you can use TAMKO building products in your next home project, visit TAMKO.com.

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The lowdown on low down payment mortgage

March 13th, 2017 by Emil No comments »

(BPT) – You would like to buy, but you can’t manage that 20 percent down payment. Does this sound familiar?

The down payment is the biggest impediment to buying a home according to surveys, but in reality many individuals can qualify for a mortgage with as little as 3 percent down.

It is important to compare loans and do the math. Consider your closing costs (the cash you need in-hand), the monthly mortgage payment, and if that payment will go down or up in a few years. Paying a few more dollars each month in the beginning can sometimes save borrowers money in the long term.

For this exercise, we compare a $234,900 home purchase (the national median home price as of December 2016), with a 5 percent down payment and a 720 FICO score. And because calculators and loan terms vary, consider these costs as examples only. A mortgage professional can provide you with specific estimates.

Conventional loan with PMI

A conventional loan is a traditional mortgage from a lender that is not insured by a government agency. With a 5 percent down payment, the borrower finances the remaining 95 percent over 30 years with a 4 percent interest rate. Private mortgage insurance (PMI) is required because of the low down payment and is $78 of the monthly bill, making the total monthly mortgage payment $1,143.

Pros: A borrower can get a conventional loan with PMI with as little as 3 percent down. PMI can be cancelled once 20 percent equity in the home value is reached, which means your monthly bill decreases.

Cons: For some borrowers, a 5 percent versus 3 percent down payment may be a better deal as costs may be lower. However, for many prospective homebuyers looking to lock in low interest rates, build equity and home appreciation faster, an option to get into a home with the lower down payment may be better.

A combo loan (aka piggyback mortgage)

A piggyback involves two separate loans simultaneously. In this scenario, the first “primary” mortgage covers 80 percent of the loan with a 30-year fixed interest rate of 4 percent; the second loan is for 15 percent with 10-year fixed interest rate of 5 percent; and the remaining 5 percent is the down payment. The total monthly mortgage payment would be $1,271.

Pros: The borrower will not pay PMI.

Cons: It may be a more expensive as the borrower will pay closing costs on two loans. And unlike PMI, the piggyback loan doesn’t cancel, but will be paid off over the term of the mortgage. The second loan often comes with higher interest rates too.

FHA loans

FHA loans are mortgages insured by the government through the Federal Housing Administration. The limits for FHA loans typically are lower than conventional mortgages. However, FHA mortgage insurance cannot be cancelled and must be paid for the life of the loan. FHA has other specific requirements, like the condition of the home. In this scenario, the mortgage is set at 95 percent of the home’s value with a 30 year fixed interest rate of 3.75 percent. The total monthly mortgage payment would be $1,199.08.

Pros: A borrower can get a FHA loan with as little as 3.5 percent down and a FICO score as low as 600 may qualify.

Cons: FHA mortgage insurance cannot be canceled, so your monthly bill won’t be reduced the way it is with a conventional loan with PMI. Also, FHA loans are subject to an upfront fee of 1.75 percent that is financed over the life of the loan.

No matter what you choose, do the math and compare so you can make an informed decision. If the conventional option sounds appealing, LowDownPaymentFacts.com provides more information.

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