10 Inspiration Drive, Scarborough ME

10 Inspiration Drive, Scarborough ME
Gorgeous Gambrel

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Homeowner Tax Deductions

Don’t Miss These Home Tax Deductions

  • Published: December 22, 2014

From mortgage interest to property tax deductions, here are the tax tips you need to get a jump on your returns.


Owning a home can pay off at tax time. 

Take advantage of these homeownership-related tax deductions and strategies to lower your tax bill:
Mortgage Interest Deduction

One of the neatest deductions itemizing homeowners can take advantage of is the mortgage interest deduction, which you claim on Schedule A. To get the mortgage interest deduction, your mortgage must be secured by your home — and your home can be a house, trailer, or boat, as long as you can sleep in it, cook in it, and it has a toilet.

Interest you pay on a mortgage of up to $1 million — or $500,000 if you’re married filing separately — is deductible when you use the loan to buy, build, or improve your home.

If you take on another mortgage (including a second mortgage, home equity loan, or home equity line of credit) to improve your home or to buy or build a second home, that counts towards the $1 million limit.

If you use loans secured by your home for other things — like sending your kid to college — you can still deduct the interest on loans up $100,000 ($50,000 for married filing separately) because your home secures the loan.

PMI and FHA Mortgage Insurance Premiums

You can deduct the cost of private mortgage insurance (PMI) as mortgage interest on Schedule A if you itemize your return. The change only applies to loans taken out in 2007 or later.

By the way, the 2014 tax season is the last for which you can claim this deduction unless Congress renews it for 2015, which may happen, but is uncertain.

What’s PMI? If you have a mortgage but didn’t put down a fairly good-sized downpayment (usually 20%), the lender requires the mortgage be insured. The premium on that insurance can be deducted, so long as your income is less than $100,000 (or $50,000 for married filing separately).

If your adjusted gross income is more than $100,000, your deduction is reduced by 10% for each $1,000 ($500 in the case of a married individual filing a separate return) that your adjusted gross income exceeds $100,000 ($50,000 in the case of a married individual filing a separate return). So, if you make $110,000 or more, you can’t claim the deduction (10% x 10 = 100%).

Besides private mortgage insurance, there’s government insurance from FHA, VA, and the Rural Housing Service. Some of those premiums are paid at closing, and deducting them is complicated. A tax adviser or tax software program can help you calculate this deduction. Also, the rules vary between the agencies.

Prepaid Interest Deduction

Prepaid interest (or points) you paid when you took out your mortgage is generally 100% deductible in the year you paid it along with other mortgage interest.

If you refinance your mortgage and use that money for home improvements, any points you pay are also deductible in the same year.

But if you refinance to get a better rate or shorten the length of your mortgage, or to use the money for something other than home improvements, such as college tuition, you’ll need to deduct the points over the life of your mortgage. Say you refi into a 10-year mortgage and pay $3,000 in points. You can deduct $300 per year for 10 years.

So what happens if you refi again down the road?

Example: Three years after your first refi, you refinance again. Using the $3,000 in points scenario above, you’ll have deducted $900 ($300 x 3 years) so far. That leaves $2,400, which you can deduct in full the year you complete your second refi. If you paid points for the new loan, the process starts again; you can deduct the points over the life of the loan. 

Home mortgage interest and points are reported on Schedule A of IRS Form 1040.

Your lender will send you a Form 1098 that lists the points you paid. If not, you should be able to find the amount listed on the HUD-1 settlement sheet you got when you closed the purchase of your home or your refinance closing.

Property Tax Deduction

You can deduct on Schedule A the real estate property taxes you pay. If you have a mortgage with an escrow account, the amount of real estate property taxes you paid shows up on your annual escrow statement.

If you bought a house this year, check your HUD-1 settlement statement to see if you paid any property taxes when you closed the purchase of your house. Those taxes are deductible on Schedule A, too.

Energy-Efficiency Upgrades

If you made your home more energy efficient in 2014, you might qualify for the residential energy tax credit.

Tax credits are especially valuable because they let you offset what you owe the IRS dollar for dollar for up to 10% of the amount you spent on certain home energy-efficiency upgrades. 

The credit carries a lifetime cap of $500 (less for some products), so if you’ve used it in years past, you’ll have to subtract prior tax credits from that $500 limit. Lucky for you, there’s no cap on how much you’ll save on utility bills thanks to your energy-efficiency upgrades.

Among the upgrades that might qualify for the credit:
To claim the credit, file IRS Form 5695 with your return.

Vacation Home Tax Deductions

The rules on tax deductions for vacation homes are complicated. Do yourself a favor and keep good records about how and when you use your vacation home.
  • If you’re the only one using your vacation home (you don’t rent it out for more than 14 days a year), you deduct mortgage interest and real estate taxes on Schedule A.
  • Rent your vacation home out for more than 14 days and use it yourself fewer than 15 days (or 10% of total rental days, whichever is greater), and it’s treated like a rental property. Your expenses are deducted on Schedule E.
  • Rent your home for part of the year and use it yourself for more than the greater of 14 days or 10% of the days you rent it and you have to keep track of income, expenses, and allocate them based on how often you used and how often you rented the house.
Homebuyer Tax Credit

This isn’t a deduction, but it’s important to keep track of if you claimed it in 2008.

There were federal first-time homebuyer tax credits in 2008, 2009, and 2010.

If you claimed the homebuyer tax credit for a purchase made after April 8, 2008, and before Jan. 1, 2009, you must repay 1/15th of the credit over 15 years, with no interest.

The IRS has a tool you can use to help figure out what you owe each year until it’s paid off. Or if the home stops being your main home, you may need to add the remaining unpaid credit amount to your income tax on your next tax return.

Generally, you don’t have to pay back the credit if you bought your home in 2009, 2010, or early 2011. The exception: You have to repay the full credit amount if you sold your house or stopped using it as primary residence within 36 months of the purchase date. Then you must repay it with your tax return for the year the home stopped being your principal residence.

The repayment rules are less rigorous for uniformed service members, Foreign Service workers, and intelligence community workers who got sent on extended duty at least 50 miles from their principal residence.

Related: A Homeowner’s Guide to Taxes

This article provides general information about tax laws and consequences, but shouldn’t be relied upon as tax or legal advice applicable to particular transactions or circumstances. Consult a tax professional for such advice; tax laws may vary by jurisdiction.

Dona-DeZube Dona DeZube has been writing about real estate for more than two decades. She lives in a suburban Baltimore Midcentury modest home on a 3-acre lot shared with possums, raccoons, foxes, a herd of deer, and her blue-tick hound. Follow Dona on Google+.


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Monday, December 15, 2014

101 Things I Love about Portland Maine






Willa Wirth Jewelry on Munjoy Hill:  unique and beautiful silver creations!  This artist has talent and flair.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Snow on Roof

How Much Snow is Too Much Snow on Your Roof?

Here’s what you need to know about snow on your roof and whether or not to remove it.


If you’ve had a big snowfall in your area and you’re wondering if your roof can stand the extra weight, don’t reach for a ladder and a shovel — reach for the telephone. Calling in a professional to remove ice and snow from your roof is the smartest — and safest — option.
When (If Ever) is it Necessary?

The critical factor in determining excessive snow loads on your roof isn’t the depth of the snow, it’s the weight, says home improvement expert Jon Eakes.

That’s because wet snow is considerably heavier than dry, fluffy snow. In fact, six inches of wet snow is equal to the weight of about 38 inches of dry snow.

The good news is that residential roofs are required by building codes to withstand the heaviest snows for that particular part of the country.

“Theoretically, if your roof is built to code, it’s built to support more than the normal load of snow and ice,” says Eakes.

You can determine the type of snow you’re getting simply by hefting a few shovelfuls — you should be able to quickly tell if the current snowfall is wet or dry. Local winter storm weather forecasts should alert you to the possibility that snow loads are becoming excessive and a threat to your roof.

How Do I Know There’s a Problem?

An indication that the accumulated snow load is becoming excessive is when doors on interior walls begin to stick. That signals there’s enough weight on the center structure of the house to distort the door frame.

Ignore doors on exterior walls but check interior doors leading to second-floor bedrooms, closets, and attics in the center of your home. Also, examine the drywall or plaster around the frames of these doors for visible cracks.

Homes that are most susceptible to roof cave-ins are those that underwent un-permitted renovations. The improper removal of interior load-bearing walls is often responsible for catastrophic roof collapses.

The Snow Load Seems Excessive, Now What?

Most home roofs aren’t readily accessible, making the job dangerous for do-it-yourselfers.

“People die every year just climbing ladders,” Eakes points out. “Add ice and snow and you’re really asking for trouble.”

Instead, call a professional snow removal contractor to safely do the job. Check to make sure they are licensed and insured — that immediately sets them apart from inexperienced competitors.

Pro crews attack snow removal with special gear, including sturdy extension ladders, properly anchored safety harnesses, and special snow and ice-removal tools. Expect to pay $250 to $500 for most jobs.

Don’t expect (or demand) a bone-dry roof at job’s end. The goal is to remove “excessive” weight as opposed to all weight. Plus, any attempt to completely remove the bottom layer of ice will almost always result in irreparable damage to your roofing.

The DIY Option

If you have a small, one-story bungalow where the roof is just off the ground, taking matters into one’s own hands may be safe — if you can work entirely from the ground and have the right tools.

Long-handled snow rakes work great on freshly fallen snow, and at $45 they are relatively affordable. Look for models with sturdy telescoping handles and built-in rollers, which keep the blade safely above the shingles.

Other versions work by releasing the snow from underneath. These models slide between the roof and snow, allowing gravity and the snow’s own weight to do most of the work. Models range from $50 to $125 or more for unique systems utilizing nylon sheeting. Again, search out models with sturdy adjustable handles.

Eakes offers a common sense word of caution about all these snow removal tools. “They tend to work their best on light, fluffy snow — the kind that probably doesn’t need to be removed in the first place.”

You’ll need to anticipate where the snow and ice will fall as you pull it off your roof — you won’t want to pull a load of heavy, wet snow down on top of yourself or any helpers.

Remember, the goal isn’t to remove all visible snow and ice, but rather just enough to relieve the excessive load on the roof.


Read more: http://www.houselogic.com/home-advice/roofing-gutters-siding/snow-removal-roof/#ixzz3LhLGQdqo
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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

101 Things I Love about Portland Maine




Vientiane Market: unassuming little restaurant/shop serving up delicious Vietnamese food like these crunchy fried spring rolls.  Also very reasonable!



Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Best Burger Deal~~ TIMBER

Fantastic juicy burger cooked to your taste with cheddar and additions and tasty fries at Timber.  Take a friend on Monday or Tuesday--second is half price!
Also all wines are $5 at 4 to 6 pm Happy Hour including their best selections!
http://timberportland.com/

Have a Safe and Happy Thanksgiving!


Tips to Clean and Prep Your House for Winter

Tips to Clean and Prep Your House for Winter


You’re about to be shut in for the season — here’s how to make sure your home is free of dust and dirt before you hunker down.


The heck with spring cleaning.

Our national obsession should be fall cleaning.
Why? We’re about to shut ourselves inside for months with all the dirt and grime our houses have gathered during those hot, dusty, open-window days of summer and fall. We’ll be living with indoor air quality that the EPA estimates could be five times more polluted than outdoor air.

But you can breathe easy — we’ve made up a checklist of must-do cleaning jobs that’ll get the dust out, spruce up your interiors for the coming holidays, and make those wintry days healthier — and safer — for you and your family.

Vacuum Dryer Vent

This little chore should definitely be on your list. It prevents lint build-up that can create a fire hazard.

Pull out the dryer as far as the vent pipe allows. Disconnect the vent pipe from the dryer, and clean the outlet hole in the back of the dryer with a shop vac or regular vacuum.

Clean the vent pipe with a dryer snake cleaning tool ($15 to $20). This is a rotary brush attached to a long cable. One end is fitted to the chuck of an electric drill that is used to rotate the cable and the brush.

1. Unscrew the exterior dryer vent cover

2. Feed the rotary brush into the vent opening, turning it on low speed

3. Feed the cable into the vent as far as it will go, then pull it back — don’t stop rotating the cable and brush

4. Repeat from the inside

5. Reconnect the vent, and turn on the dryer to flush the system of loose lint

6. Replace the exterior vent cover

Don’t use this tool on the flexible vent pipe sometimes used to connect the dryer to the vent wall outlet. Instead, remove the flexible pipe completely and use a vacuum with a narrow nozzle to clean out the pipe.

Related: How to Care for Your Washer and Dryer

Wash and Disinfect Garbage Cans and Wastebaskets
Trash cans ready to be cleanedImage: A Little Wife’s Happy Life

You’re going to be shut in all winter with these little germ havens, so now’s a good time to clean them thoroughly. Take them outside where you can blast the insides with a garden hose, then add disinfectant.

Regular bleach is an effective disinfectant (1 cup per gallon of water) but we much prefer environmentally safe undiluted hydrogen peroxide or vinegar mixed 50/50 with water. Caution! Don’t mix hydrogen peroxide with vinegar — the result is harmful peracetic acid.

Let the garbage cans sit for an hour, then pour out the contents and scrub the insides with a stiff bristle brush to remove any residue. Rinse and, if possible, let the wastebasket dry in direct sunlight, which helps eliminate bacteria.

Wash and Disinfect Toilet Brush Holders

Take the holder and the brush outside, and spray wash thoroughly with a garden hose. Immerse the holder and brush in a bucket of hot water mixed with one of these solutions:
  • 2 cups of bleach per 1 gallon of water
  • 2 to 3 cups of environmentally friendly washing soda crystals
  • A 50/50 mixture of vinegar and water
Let everything sit in the solution for a couple of hours, then rinse the holder and brush with a hose and place in direct sunlight to dry.

Turn Over Furniture and Vacuum the Bottoms
Upside down armchairImage: Jess McGurn

You might shift furniture around so you can vacuum the floor, but there’s another side to the story — the underside.

Tilt upholstered chairs and couches all the way back (much easier with two people) to expose the bottoms. The dust covers tacked underneath furniture can catch dreck and dust bunnies, so vacuum them off, being careful not to press too hard on the fabric.

Change Furnace Filters
One dirty pleated furnace filter with a clean filterImage: Liz Foreman for HouseLogic

You’ve heard it before, but change your HVAC filters! These dust-catching wonders keep particulates out of your air, making it easier on your floors, furniture, HVAC system, and lungs. Change at least every 60 days.

Air filters for furnaces are rated by level of efficiency. The higher the rating, the better the filter is at removing dirt, mold spores, and pet dander.

Filters are rated one of two ways (you’ll see the ratings on the packaging); higher numbers mean better efficiency, but there’s a point of diminishing returns — some filters with extremely high ratings also restrict air flow, making your HVAC work so hard that the system heats and cools inefficiently.
  • Minimum efficiency rating values (MERV) for filters range from 1 to 16, but 7 to 13 is typical for households (14 and up are used in hospitals)
  • Microparticle performance rating (MPR) range from 300 to 2400
Cheap filters cost about $2, but you’re better off paying $12 to $17 for a pleated filter with a 1250 MPR, or $20 to $25 for a filter rated 2400.

Clean the Tops of Doors, Trim, and Artwork
Human stepladder to clean the top of a doorframeImage: Daniela Mellen

Tables and countertops aren’t the only household items with horizontal surfaces. In fact, just about everything in your house except Rover’s tennis ball has some kind of horizontal surface where dust and dirt will nestle, often unnoticed. You’ll want to clean the top horizontal edges of:
  • Interior doors
  • Trim, including baseboards and chair rails
  • Artwork and mirrors
  • Electrical wall plates
  • Wall-mounted smoke detectors, CO detectors, and thermostats
  • Upper kitchen cabinets
  • Computer monitors
  • Books on shelves
Vacuum Behind the Fridge

If we’ve told you once…

OK, you get it. Your fridge needs to be cleaned periodically so that it operates at peak efficiency. Ignore this chore and face another $5 to $10 per month in utility costs. Worst case: a visit from an appliance repair pro who’ll charge $75 to $150 per hour!

The object is to clean the condenser coils. Here’s how:
If the condenser coils are on the bottom of the fridge, then you’ll need to clean them from the front of the unit.
  • Take off the bottom faceplate to expose the coils.
  • Clean dust using a condenser-cleaning brush ($8) or a long, thin vacuum attachment made for cleaning under refrigerators ($14).
You still should pull your refrigerator all the way out and vacuum up dirt and dust that accumulates in back of the unit. Unplug it while you work on it.

Put down a piece of cardboard so that grit under the wheels doesn’t scratch your flooring.

If the condenser coils are on the back of the refrigerator, then pull the unit out completely, and unplug it while you work on it.
  • Brush or vacuum the coils to clean them, and clean up any dirt and dust on the floor.
While you’re at it, check to make sure your freezer vents are clear. Freezers circulate air to reduce frost, but piling up too much stuff in front of the little grill-like vents inside your freezer blocks their business.

Related: How to Care for Your Fridge

Winterize Your Entry
Dachshund shaped boot scraperImage: Audrey Fish Pfeifer

Keep winter’s slush and gunk at bay
by making your entryway a dirt guardian.
  • Get a boot scraper ($19 to $35)
  • Add a chair or bench for taking off boots, and have a boot rack for wet footwear
  • Put down a tough coir outdoor doormat ($30 to $190) for cleaning footwear
Related: Cheery Ideas to Organize Your Mudroom or Entryway

Clean Windows
Washing the windows outside a houseImage: Jo @ Let’s Face the Music

By some estimates, dirty window glass cuts daylight by 20%. That’s a lot less light coming in at a time of year when you really need it to help chase away winter blues.

Clean windows inside and out with a homemade non-toxic solution:
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon eco-friendly dish detergent
  • 2 cups water
Wipe clean and polish using microfiber cloths.

Clean Ceiling Fan Blades

Those big blades on your ceiling fan are great at moving air, but when they’re idle they’re big dust magnets — dust settles on the top surfaces where you can’t see it.

Out of sight maybe, but not out of mind. Here’s an easy way to clean them: Take an old pillowcase and gently cover a blade. Pull it back slowly to remove the dust. The dust stays inside the pillowcase, which prevents dust from flying all over.

Riha has written seven books on home improvement and hundreds of articles on home-related topics. He’s been a residential builder, the editorial director of the Black & Decker Home Improvement Library, and the executive editor of Better Homes and Gardens magazine. Follow John on Google+


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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Before You List...

November 17th, 20144
In a market where home inventory is low, your sellers may think that their home will move in mere minutes—and at a price that defies even the loftiest expectations. When left untethered, these dreams of big prices and warp speed sales can spell disaster—and major disappointment—for you and your clients.
Don’t worry! You’re not doomed to this fate. With a few smart, premeditated steps you can head-off seller miseducation and common misconceptions and start your client on the path to a successful sale from the get-go. Here are six scripts and simple talking points that your sellers need to know before their home hits the market.

1. Staging matters—big time!
Every agent knows the old adage, “Homes that don’t show well don’t close well.” But still, time and time again we see sellers rail against the time and cost associated with staging a home. Afterall, if they love their home as it is, why shouldn’t everyone else? This is a situation where sometimes showing trumps telling. If you have a particularly stageing-averse client, take them on a two-home showing; one where the home is staged and one where the home is not.
Be sensitive, but firm. Their decor may be a beautiful expression of their personality, but sometimes less is more. You can also download and share Trulia’s 10 Hardcore Staging Tips for Sellers so that they can reference it before every open house.

2. The market sets the price, not the owner
t’s understandable that many home sellers think that their home is above the price that the market dictates. Sentimental value often translates into an inflated sense of the home’s worth,  but when it comes price, the winning opinion is always the market’s opinion. You know it’s impossible to effectively price a home without taking into account the competition. Unfortunately, too many sellers don’t.
First, it’s essential to determine how much the seller thinks their home is worth. If their expectation is wildly inappropriate, it may be worth taking the clients to see a home that is on the market and priced at their expectation. Then, take the seller to a comparable home that is priced similarly to where you feel their home should be priced. Take the time to both educate them on the competition and give them expert home pricing tips to help them understand your pricing strategy.
Need more resources?

Download and share Trulia’s home pricing tips handout

Send the seller their Trulia home estimate report, which uses market data to create a customize report.

3. Small renovations may mean big bucks later
In many cases, the cost of a home repair is less expensive than a potential buyer perceives the cost of the repair to be. If buyers over estimate the cost of fixing the problem, it may negatively impact the offer amount and end up costing the seller more in the long run. Be upfront with your seller clients when you spot unsightly blemishes that could cost your clients the deal.
Before you list and start marketing the property, counsel your sellers on the improvements you know will make a difference when it comes to price. If you need a starter list of simple ways to boost a home’s value and its showing potential, download our guide on the 10 ways to boost your home’s value.

4. Incentives can help close the deal faster
Offering practical incentives might not sound sexy, but those that fill legitimate buyer needs have the power to differentiate a listing from the competition and attract just the right attention needed to get the home sold for the right price.
Talk to your sellers early about how they might be prepared to sweeten the deal if the right offers don’t come rolling in. Talking incentives early and building them into the marketing plan can arm both agent and seller with the ammunition to jump potential marketing hurdles and beat out the competition for a fast sale.
If you need help deciding what incentives help sell homes check out this popular home seller handout on the Top 4 Incentives that Sell Homes.

5. Serious buyers never stop the hunt
Too many sellers see the winter months as the slow season. The reality is, there are plenty of upsides to listing and marketing a home when everyone else is taking a break.
Check out and share our free agent download 5 Unexpected Upsides to Off-Season House Hunting to show your clients that holding off on listing could ultimately make selling harder than it has to be.

6. Real estate is a local business
The last few years have turned real estate headlines into high-profile news. Home prices are on the rise. In fact, last month home prices were up 11.9% over the year past. While this is great news for the country as a whole, be sure to remind your sellers that real estate is a local industry and that asking price isn’t everything.
To do this, consider posting your own local market updates on your personal real estate blog. In addition, check out and use these tips for showing your clients the difference between asking and listing price in your local market. For many sellers, seeing the numbers is just the ammo they need to agree to the right price.
Now we want to hear from you! Tell us! What would you add to the list of seller must-knows?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

101 Things I Love about Portland Maine


Walters has an attractive bar area with good cocktails like a Cosmo and small plates like chicken salad lettuce wraps.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Efficiency Measures that Work for You

Take Back Your Energy Bills — Energy-Efficiency Measures that Work for You


You know that 10 or 20 pounds that you just can’t seem to lose? You do the right thing — eat kale or log time on the StairMaster — but the weight clings. You feel powerless.
It’s like that with our energy bills, too. Eighty-nine percent of us think we’re not using as much energy as we did five years ago, and almost one-half of us think our homes are energy efficient. But 59% also say our energy bills have gone up, according to consumer research by the Shelton Group, a marketing and advertising agency that specializes in energy-efficiency issues.
Call that the Snackwell’s effect, says Shelton Group CEO Suzanne Shelton. Basically, we’re saying, “I bought these CFLs so now I can leave the lights on and not pay more. I bought a high-efficiency washer and dryer because I want to do more laundry without paying more. I ate the salad, so I can have the chocolate cake.”
Unfortunately, that disconnect has led to defeat. We feel victimized by our energy bills and powerless to the point where we’re making fewer energy-efficient improvements. In fact, Shelton’s research shows consumers made only 2.6 improvements in 2012 compared with 4.6 in 2010.
Until the day we all get energy dashboards in our home, we’re here to help you understand why your energy costs are where they are and how you can take back your energy bills.
Hint: You need to do four or five energy-efficient things to see a difference; one or two won’t cut it. But — good news! — they don’t cost much to do.
Energy bills chart
Related: Are Smart Meters Dangerous?
Why Do We Feel Victimized?
We don’t know what we’re buying. Energy is the only product we buy on a daily basis for which we have no idea how much we pay until a month later, says Cliff Majersik, executive director of the Institute for Market Transformation, a research and policy-making nonprofit focused on improving buildings’ energy efficiency.
Energy costs are going up. Inflation is mainly to blame. Your bills are projected to rise on average 2% per year through 2040, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the research arm of the energy department. Expect about 3.4% per year if the economy gets sluggish.
Other trends pushing up our energy usage:
  • A growing population means more homes.
  • New homes are getting bigger, though our families are getting smaller, according to the Census Bureau.
  • We’re plugging in more devices (computers, smart phones, tablets, X-boxes, plasma TVs) per household — and not unplugging them. (More on behavior later.)
In fact, for the first time, energy use for appliances, electronics, water heating, and lighting accounts for more than heating and cooling, according to EIA.
Still, overall consumption is pretty flat through 2040, thanks in part to:
  • Appliance efficiencies.
  • Population migration to dryer, warmer climates in the South and West.
  • People living in multifamily rather than single-family situations.
We make assumptions.
Assumption #1. Unless a home is old — more than 30 years — we figure it was built to code, which requires a certain amount of energy efficiency. But building codes change pretty regularly, so even newer homes benefit from improvements, says Lee Ann Head, vice president of research and insights with the Shelton Group.
Assumption #2. We think utilities are out to get us: They’ll jack up prices no matter what we do. Shelton’s research shows consumers blame utilities above oil companies and the government. But keep this mind: To get rate changes, utilities must make a formal case to public utility commissions. They’re also on the hook to pay for such things as:
  • Infrastructure upgrades put off for years
  • Efficiencies
  • Equipment repairs after bouts of nutty weather
  • Consumer rebates
Another reason rates seem stuck is because utilities bundle fuel, service, and delivery fees together.
Assumption #3. Our expectations for energy savings are out of whack. When the Shelton Group asked consumers what they would expect to recoup if they invested $4,000 in energy-efficient home improvements, they said about 75% to 80%.
Sorry, unless you invest in some kind of renewable energy source like geothermal and solar, you won’t see that kind of savings. If you do all the right things (we’ll tell you about the best five later), you could expect a 20% to 30% reduction, Head says, particularly if you don’t succumb to the Snackwell’s effect.
What does 30% translate into? $660 in savings per year or $55 per month, based on the average household energy spend of $2,200 per year, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).
Assumption #4. Many of us don’t know how to make the biggest impact on our homes. That’s why we sometimes replace our windows first, when that should probably be fifth or sixth on the list of energy-efficient improvements, Shelton says.
There’s nothing wrong with investing in new windows. They feel sturdier; look pretty; increase the value of your home; feel safer than old, crooked windows; and, yes, offer energy savings you can feel (no more draft).
But if you spend $9,000 to $12,000 on windows and save 7% to 15% on your energy bill, according to DOE data, when you could have spent around $1,000 for new insulation, caulking, and sealing, and saved 10% to 20% on your energy bill, you made the wrong choice if your only reason for the project was reducing energy costs.
The real reasons for getting new windows are “emotional rather than financial,” Shelton says.
The 5 Things You Should Do to Show Your Bills Who’s Boss
1. Caulk and seal air leaks. Buy a few cans of Great Stuff and knock yourself out over a weekend, sealing penetrations into your home from:
  • Plumbing lines
  • Electricity wires
  • Recessed lighting
  • Windows
  • Crawlspaces
  • Attics
Savings: Up to $220 per year, says EPA
Related: The Biggest Air Leak in Your Home You Don’t Know About
2. Hire an HVAC contractor to take a hard look at all your ductwork — are there any ducts leaking that need to be resealed? — and give you an HVAC tune-up.
Savings: Up to $330 per year, for duct sealing and tune up, says DOE
3. Program your thermostat. Shelton found that 40% of consumers in her survey admit to not programming their thermostat to energy-saving settings. She thinks it’s even higher.
Savings: Up to $180 per year, says EPA
Related: How to Program Your Thermostat to See Real Savings
4. Replace all your light bulbs with LEDs or CFLs. We suggest LEDs, which have fewer issues than CFLs (namely, no mercury), and although expensive are coming down in price. We’ve even seen a $10 model.
Savings: $75 per year by replacing your five most frequently-used bulbs with Energy Star-rated models, says EPA.
Related: Guide to Buying Light Bulbs and Which to Use Where
5. Reduce the temperature on your water heater. Set your tank heater to 120 degrees — not the 140 degrees most are set to out of the box. Dropping 20 degrees could save 6% to 10% on your annual water heating costs, which are 14% to 18% of your utility bills. Also wrap an older water heater and the hot water pipes in insulating material to save on heat loss.
Savings: $18 to $39 per year
Important note: Resist the urge to total these numbers for an annual savings. The estimated savings for each product or activity can’t be summed because of “interactive effects,” says DOE. If you first replace your central AC with a more efficient one, saving, say, 15% on energy consumption, and then seal ducts, you wouldn’t save as much total energy on duct sealing as you would have if you had first sealed them. There’s just less energy to save at that point.
But these practices can help you achieve the goal of shaving 20% to 30% of your annual bill ($440 to $660).
Energy Savings is Addictive. What Else Can We Do?
If you want to go further and spend more, especially if you’re not planning to sell your home soon:
  • Add insulation. Anything you can do to shore up your building envelope is good.
  • If major appliances like your HVAC and water heater are nearing the end of their useful life, research energy-efficient replacements and keep the info where you’ll remember. Otherwise, you’ll make a reactive purchase when the unit finally breaks.
  • Contact your utility about rebates for investing in improvements. Or visit DSIRE, a database of federal, state, local, and utility rebates searchable by state. Energy Star has a discount and rebate finder, too.
A Final Word: Oh, Behave!
Remember the Snackwell’s effect? If your behavior — unplugging chargeable devices from the socket when they’re done charging; putting computers, TVs, and media on smart strips and turning them off at once; reprogramming your thermostat at daylight savings time — doesn’t support your improvements, you’re letting energy, an invisible product, win.
Related:
christina_hoffmann Christina Hoffmann has been an editor in the housing field for two decades — most recently as content manager for HouseLogic. She’s given her 100-year-old frame home the attention it deserves: new kitchen, siding, HVAC, windows, and doors. She’s betting the roof is next. Follow Christina on Google+ and Twitter.


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Tuesday, October 21, 2014