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Each month, we publish a series of articles of interest to homeowners -- money-saving tips, household safety checklists, home improvement advice, real estate insider secrets, etc. Whether you currently are in the market for a new home, or not, we hope that this information is of value to you. Please feel free to pass these articles on to your family and friends.

ISSUE #1235
FEATURE REPORT

Selecting a New Water Heater
Many homeowners wait until their water heater fails before shopping for a replacement.
Because they are in a hurry to regain their hot water supply, they are often unable to take the time to shop for the most energy efficient unit for their specific needs. This is unfortunate, because the cost of purchasing and operating a water heater can vary greatly, depending on the type, brand, and model selected, and on the quality of the installation.




Also This Month...
Don't Pay Another Cent in Rent To Your Landlord
It doesn't matter how long you've been renting, or how insurmountable your financial situation may seem. The truth is, there are some little known facts that can help you get over the hump, and transfer your status from renter to homeowner. With this information, you will begin to see how you really can. " can make the process easier.


 
 

Important Tips To Keep Your Home Safe
It's much more than a physical structure. It's the place where memories are made, where dreams are shared, where lives are lived. And many of your home's contents--the video of your baby's first steps, grandmother's brooch or old family photos, for instance--simply cannot be replaced. That's why it makes good sense to do everything you can to protect your home.



Quick Links
Selecting a New Water Heater
Don't Pay Another Cent in Rent To Your Landlord
Important Tips To Keep Your Home Safe
 

 

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Selecting a New Water Heater

Many homeowners wait until their water heater fails before shopping for a replacement. Because they are in a hurry to regain their hot water supply, they are often unable to take the time to shop for the most energy-efficient unit for their specific needs. This is unfortunate, because the cost of purchasing and operating a water heater can vary greatly, depending on the type, brand, and model selected and on the quality of the installation.

To avoid this scenario, you might want to do some research now--before you are faced with an emergency purchase. Familiarize yourself today with the options that will allow you to make an informed decision when the need to buy a new water heater arises.

Types of Water Heaters Available

Within the last few years, a variety of water heaters have become available to consumers. The following types of water heaters are now on the market: conventional storage, demand, heat pump, tankless coil, indirect, and solar. It is also possible to purchase water heaters that can be connected to your home's space heating system.

Storage Water Heaters

A variety of fuel options are available for conventional storage water heaters--electricity, natural gas, oil, and propane. They range in size from 20 to 80 gallons (75.7 to 302.8 litres). A storage heater operates by releasing hot water from the top of the tank when the hot water tap is turned on. To replace that hot water, cold water enters the bottom of the tank, ensuring that the tank is always full. Because the water is constantly heated in the tank, energy can be wasted even when no faucet is on. This is called standby heat loss. Newer, more energy-efficient storage models can significantly reduce the amount of standby heat loss, making them much less expensive to operate.

Demand Water Heaters

It is possible to completely eliminate standby heat losses from the tank and reduce energy consumption 20% to 30% with demand (or instantaneous) water heaters, which do not have storage tanks. Cold water travels through a pipe into the unit, and either a gas burner or an electric element heats the water only when needed. With these systems, you never run out of hot water. But there is one potential drawback with demand water heaters--limited flow rate. Typically, demand heaters provide hot water at a rate of 2 to 4 gallons (7.6 to 15.2 litres) per minute. This flow rate might suffice if your household does not use hot water at more than one location at the same time (e.g., showering and doing laundry simultaneously). To meet hot water demand when multiple faucets are being used, demand heaters can be installed in parallel sequence. Although gas fired demand heaters tend to have higher flow rates than electric ones, they can waste energy even when no water is being heated if their pilot lights stay on. However, the amount of energy consumed by a pilot light is quite small.

Heat Pump Water Heaters

Heat pump water heaters use electricity to move heat from one place to another instead of generating heat directly. To heat water for homes, heat pump water heaters work like refrigerators in reverse. Heat pump water heaters can be purchased as integral units with builtin water storage tanks or as add ons that can be retrofitted to an existing water heater tank. These systems have a high initial cost. They also require installation in locations that remain in the 40° to 90°F (4.4° to 32.2°C) range year round and contain at least 1000 cubic feet (28.3 cubic meters) of air space around the water heaters. To operate most efficiently, they should be placed in areas having excess heat, such as furnace rooms. They will not work well in a cold space.

Tankless Coil and Indirect Water Heaters

A home's space heating system can also be used to heat water. Two types of water heaters that use this system are tankless coil and indirect. No separate storage tank is needed in the tankless coil water heater because water is heated directly inside the boiler in a hydronic (i.e., hot water) heating system. The water flows through a heat exchanger in the boiler whenever a hot water faucet is turned on. During colder months, the tankless coil works well because the heating system is used regularly. However, the system is less efficient during warmer months and in warmer climates when the boiler is used less frequently. A separate storage tank is required with an indirect water heater. Like the tankless coil, the indirect water heater circulates water through a heat exchanger in the boiler. But this heated water then flows to an insulated storage tank. Because the boiler does not need to operate frequently, this system is more efficient than the tankless coil. In fact, when an indirect water heater is used with a highly efficient boiler, the combination may provide one of the least expensive methods of water heating.

Solar Water Heaters

Through specially designed systems, energy from the sun can be used to heat water for your home. Depending on climate and water use, a properly designed, installed, and maintained solar water heater can meet from half to nearly all of a home's hot water demand. Two features, a collector and a storage tank, characterize most solar water heaters. Beyond these common features, solar water heating systems can vary significantly in design. The various system designs can be classified as passive or active and as direct (also called open loop) or indirect (also called closed loop). Passive systems operate without pumps and controls and can be more reliable, more durable, easier to maintain, longer lasting, and less expensive to operate than active systems. Active solar water heaters incorporate pumps and controls to move heat transfer fluids from the collectors to the storage tanks. Both active and passive solar water heating systems often require "conventional" water heaters as backups, or the solar systems function as pre-heaters for the conventional units. A direct solar water heating system circulates household water through collectors and is not appropriate in climates in which freezing temperatures occur. An indirect system should not experience problems with freezing because the fluid in the collectors is usually a form of antifreeze. If you are considering purchasing a solar water-heating system, you may want to compare products from different manufacturers. Just choosing a solar water heater with good ratings is not enough, though. Proper design, sizing, installation, and maintenance are also critical to ensure efficient system performance. Although the purchase and installation prices of solar water heaters are usually higher than those of conventional types, operating costs are much lower.

Criteria for Selection

As with any purchase, balance the pros and cons of the different water heaters in light of your particular needs. There are numerous factors to consider when choosing a new water heater. Some other considerations are capacity, efficiency, and cost.

Determining Capacity

Although some consumers base their purchase on the size of the storage tank, the peak hour demand capacity, referred to as the first-hour rating (FHR), is actually the more important figure. The FHR is a measure of how much hot water the heater will deliver during a busy hour. Therefore, before you shop, estimate your household’s peak hour demand and look for a unit with an FHR in that range. Gas water heaters have higher FHRs than electric water heaters of the same storage capacity. Therefore, it may be possible to meet your water-heating needs with a gas unit that has a smaller storage tank than an electric unit with the same FHR. More efficient gas water heaters use various non-conventional arrangements for combustion air intake and exhaust. These features, however, can increase installation costs.

Rating Efficiency

Once you have decided what type of water heater best suits your needs, determine which water heater in that category is the most fuel efficient. The best indicator of a heater's efficiency is its Energy Factor (EF), which is based on recovery efficiency (i.e., how efficiently the heat from the energy source is transferred to the water), standby losses (i.e., the percentage of heat lost per hour from the stored water compared to the heat content of the water), and cycling losses. The higher the EF, the more efficient the water heater. Electric resistance water heaters have an EF between 0.7 and 0.95; gas heaters have an EF between 0.5 and 0.6, with some high-efficiency models around 0.8; oil heaters range from 0.7 to 0.85; and heat pump water heaters range from 1.5 to 2.0. Product literature from manufacturers usually gives the appliance’s EF rating. If it does not, you can obtain it by contacting an appliance manufacturer association. Some other energy efficiency features to look for are tanks with at least 1.5 inches (3.8 centimeters) of foam insulation and energy efficiency ratings.

Comparing Costs

Another factor uppermost in many consumers' minds is cost, which encompasses purchase price and lifetime maintenance and operation expenses. When choosing among different models, it is wise to analyze the lifecycle cost--the total of all costs and benefits associated with a purchase during its estimated lifetime. Units with longer warranties usually have higher price tags, though. Often, the least expensive water heater to purchase is the most expensive to operate.

 

 

 

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Don't Pay Another Cent in Rent To Your Landlord


"If you're like most renters, you feel trapped within the walls of a house or apartment that doesn't feel like yours."


It's a dream we all have - to own our own home and stop paying rent. But if you're like most renters, you feel trapped within the walls of a house or apartment that doesn't feel like yours. How could it when you're not even permitted to bang in a nail or two without a hassle. You feel like you're stuck in the renter's rut with no way of rising up out of it and owning your own home.

Don't Feel Trapped Anymore

It doesn't matter how long you've been renting, or how insurmountable your financial situation may seem. The truth is, there are some little known facts that can help you get over the hump, and transfer your status from renter to homeowner. With this information, you will begin to see how you really can:

  • save for a down payment
  • stop lining your landlord's pockets, and
  • stop wasting thousands of dollars on rent.
6 Little Known Facts That Can Help You Buy Your First Home

The problem that most renters face isn't your ability to meet a monthly payment. Goodness knows that you must meet this monthly obligation every 30 days already. The problem is accumulating enough capital to make a down payment on something more permanent.

But saving for this lump sum doesn't have to be as difficult as you might think. Consider the following 6 important points:

1. You can buy a home with much less down than you think

There are some local or federal government programs (such as 1st time buyer programs) to help people get into the housing market. You can qualify as a first time buyer even if your spouse has owned a home before as long as your name was not registered. Ensure your real estate agent is informed and knowledgeable in this important area and can offer programs to help you with your options.

2. You may be able to get your lender to help you with your down payment and closing costs

Even if you do not have enough cash for a downpayment, if you are debt-free, and own an asset free and clear (such as a car for example), your lending institution may be able to lend you the downpayment for your home by securing it against this asset.

3. You may be able to find a seller to help you buy and finance your home

Some sellers may be willing to hold a second mortgage for you as a 'seller take-back'. In this case, the seller becomes your lending institution. Instead of paying this seller a lump-sum full amount for his or her home, you would pay monthly mortgage installments.

4. You may be able to create a cash down payment without actually going into debt

By borrowing money for certain investments to a specified level, you may be able to generate a significant tax refund for yourself that you can use as a downpayment. While the money borrowed for these investments is technically a loan, the monthly amount paid can be small, and the money invested in both home and investment will be yours in the end.

5. You can buy a home even if you have problems with your credit rating

If you can come up with more than the minimum down-payment, or can secure the loan with other equity, many lending institutions will consider you for a mortgage. Alternatively, a seller take-back mortgage could also help you in this situation.

6. You can, and should, get pre-approved for a home loan before you go looking for a home

Pre-approval is easy, and can give you complete peace-of-mind when shopping for your home. Mortgage experts can obtain written pre-approval for you at no cost and no obligation, and it can all be done quite easily over-the-phone. More than just a verbal approval from your lending institution, a written preapproval is as good as money in the bank. It entails a completed credit application, and a certificate which guarantees you a mortgage to the specified level when you find the home you're looking for. Consider dealing only with a professional who specializes in mortgages. Enlisting their services can make the difference between obtaining a mortgage, and being stuck in the renter's rut forever. Typically there is no cost or obligation to enquire.

There are many important issues you should be aware of that affect you as a renter. Why on earth would you continue to lose thousands by throwing it away on rent when with your agent you could take a few minutes to discuss your specific needs so that you can stop renting and start owning.

This conversation costs you nothing. And, of course, you shouldn't have to feel obligated to buy a home at the time you review this. But by taking the time to explore your options, and learn about the ways you can afford to buy a home, think how prepared and relaxed you'll be when you are ready to make this important step.

 

 

 

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Important Tips To Keep Your Home Safe

It's much more than a physical structure. It's the place where memories are made, where dreams are shared, where lives are lived. And many of your home's contents--the video of your baby's first steps, grandmother's brooch or old family photos, for instance--simply cannot be replaced. That's why it makes good sense to do everything you can to protect your home from fire and theft.

Preventing Fires

Most fires are preventable. First, let's look at the top causes of home fires.

  • Cooking fires. Cooking fires pose a serious hazard. Always stay near the stove when cooking. Avoid wearing loose sleeves while cooking; they can be ignited by a burner or a grease splatter. You'll also want to keep curtains and other flammable materials well away from the range or oven. And never put water on a grease fire, which can cause the hot grease to splatter, burning you or spreading the fire. Instead, smother it with a lid or another pan, then turn off the burner. Leave the lid in place until it has cooled off completely.

  • Portable and space-heating equipment. Wood-burning, kerosene, propane and electric heaters can ignite draperies, clothing and other flammable items. Keep anything that can burn at least 3 feet away from all heating equipment. Shut off a heater before you leave the room or go to bed. When you purchase a heater, make sure it's been tested and approved by a reputable organization.

  • Careless smoking. Cigarettes are the leading cause of fire deaths. Never smoke in bed or in a place where you may fall asleep. Also, use deep ashtrays so a lit cigarette won't roll out and fall onto rugs or furniture. It's also a good idea to run water over an ashtray before emptying it into the trash. A smoldering cigarette butt could set the trash on fire.

  • Electrical wiring. You can't see wires hidden inside walls and ceilings, but there are some warning signs of electrical problems. If lights dim or flicker, fuses blow frequently or sparks shoot from receptacles when items are plugged in or unplugged, consult an electrician. Faulty electrical cords can also spark a fire or cause an electrical shock. Never run cords under rugs or heavy furniture. Pressure can crack insulation and break the wires. Don't overload outlets.

  • Children with matches. Children playing with matches or lighters are the leading cause of fire deaths for children 5 and under. Keep these items up high, preferably in a locked cabinet, out of the sight and reach of small children. Teach older ones how to handle matches responsibly.

  • Holiday hazards. Decorations and candles are a special concern during the holidays. If you buy a live Christmas tree, choose a fresh one and water it daily. With an artificial tree, make sure it's made of flame-retardant materials. Keep candles well away from anything that can burn and blow them out when you leave the room or go to bed. Fireworks also deserve special mention. They endanger life, limb and property. Avoid amateurs who set off fireworks. Instead, attend public displays conducted by trained pyrotechnicians. Even sparklers are hazardous; they burn at 1200 F.

There are some other simple, common sense precautions you can take to decrease your chances of a home fire:

  • Never store or use gasoline in the home. Gasoline is a motor fuel only. Keep small quantities in an approved container designed to store gasoline, and store outside, preferably in a locked, detached shed. Wipe up spills immediately and never refuel motors near heat sources, sparks or cigarettes.

  • Don't overload electrical receptacles.

  • Don't use light bulbs with greater wattages than a fixture can handle.

  • Don't let combustible materials such as newspapers and rags pile up in basements and garages.

  • Leave plenty of air space around appliances and television sets; they can overheat and catch fire.

  • Use outdoor gas and charcoal grills with caution. Keep them away from structures, particularly when in use. Never add materials to the fire.

Fireplace Safety

If your home has one or more fireplaces, special precautions can help to keep home fires burning safely:

  • Never burn charcoal or use a hibachi in your fireplace. Both produce deadly carbon monoxide.

  • Protect against sparks by enclosing a fireplace's opening with glass doors or a sturdy screen.

  • Never close the flue while a fire is still smoldering. Carbon monoxide could build up.

  • Never use gasoline, kerosene or lighter fluid to start a fire. Burn only dry, seasoned hardwood. For extra safety, light fires with long-stemmed matches.

  • Have your fireplace and chimney inspected annually. They should be properly vented and free of blockages. Have them cleaned as needed.

  • Protect the top of your chimney with a guard that keeps out birds and small animals and keeps in sparks that could ignite your roof.

  • Keep flammables such as newspapers, magazines, rugs and carpeting well away from the fireplace.

  • Remove holiday decorations from the fireplace and mantle before building a fire to avoid having the decorations ignite.

  • Teach children to stay back from the fireplace.

  • Never leave a fire unattended.

  • Keep a fire extinguisher handy.

If Fire Breaks Out

Smoke detectors greatly increase the likelihood you'll survive a fire. Place at least one on each floor of your home and outside each sleeping area. Install detectors inside bedrooms for added protection. Mount detectors on the ceiling, at least 4 inches away from the wall. Test detectors monthly and replace batteries once a year. To help you remember, plan to install new batteries on an annual event, such as the Fourth of July. Replace smoke detectors after 10 years.

If a fire does break out, take immediate action. Smoke and flames spread rapidly. Get out of the house right away, then call the fire department from a neighbor's house or a cellular phone. Fumes overcome most victims long before flames reach them. Use your safest exit. If you must escape through smoke, get down and crawl low under the smoke, keeping your head about 12-24 inches off the floor.

If you haven't gotten around to conducting a family fire drill, now's the time to do it. And visit your local hardware store or home center to invest in a few fire extinguishers. Extinguishers are classified according to the type of fire they will put out, and you'll find the classification displayed on an extinguisher. A Class ABC extinguisher is multi-purpose and works well against any small, self-contained fire. Keep one in the kitchen, extras in the basement or garage. Contact your fire department to ask about training. Don't attempt to fight a fire unless you know you have the right extinguisher to handle that type of fire, and be sure to keep your back to a safe exit.

Fire Safety Checklist

Take this quick quiz to help you assess your family's fire safety plan:

  • Do you follow the fire prevention practices outlined above? Pay special attention to safety tips on cooking, smoking, use of heating equipment, proper storage of flammables and precautions regarding children and matches.

  • Are your smoke detectors working? There should be at least one on every floor of your home. Test each detector monthly, and replace batteries annually.

  • Do you hold regular fire drills? Several times a year, have your family practice exiting your home safely and quickly in the event of an emergency. Designate a meeting place for all family members to gather once they are out of the house.

  • Have you taught your children to "stop, drop and roll"? In the event their clothing catches fire, kids (and adults) should stop, drop to the floor, cover their faces and roll over and over or back and forth to put out the fire. Keep rolling until the fire goes out.

  • Have you planned an alternate escape route? It's important to have at least two escape routes from each room in your home, often a door and a window. Practice using them now to be sure you could get out in an emergency.

  • Can you safely exit from the second floor? A chain ladder or other easily accessible ladder can help you escape from the upper stories of your home in the event of a fire.

  • Do you know how to use your fire extinguishers? Know where your fire extinguishers are kept, and read the instructions for use before you need them.

  • Do you know the phone number for your local fire department and the location of the nearest phone outside your house? In case of fire, always evacuate your home first, then call for help from a cellular or other nearby phone.

Preventing Theft

Every year, burglars hit more than five million households, stealing more than $4 billion worth of property. Determined thieves can break into just about any home, but you can take steps to make entry a lot more difficult for them.

  • Invest in a quality door. Door security begins not with a good lock but with the door itself and the frame it fits into. Weak door assemblies can be broken with a single kick, popped open with a jimmy bar or even pried out-frame and all-from the wall. Strong exterior doors have solid, not hollow, cores; doors that are sheathed in metal are even better.

  • Install deadbolts. Deadbolt locks provide the best protection for the least amount of money. Ordinary spring-operated locks can be defeated with a credit card. Intruders can't slip a deadbolt lock because it has a solid metal bar that fits into the door jamb. To be effective, a deadbolt lock should have at least a one-inch throw (meaning the metal bolt extends at least an inch past the edge of the door). Doors with glass panes present a special security problem because a thief can break the pane, reach inside and unlock the door. If local laws permit, the solution is a double-cylinder lock-one that must be opened with a key from inside as well as out. But don't defeat the purpose by getting into the habit of leaving the key in the lock on the inside. To exit quickly in case of a fire, keep the key near the door but in a spot that can't be reached from outside. You might want to hang it on a nail near the floor where you can find it easily if fire breaks out.

  • Don't forget windows. Windows and sliding glass doors also should be secured. Look for locks specifically made for different window styles at your local hardware store or home center. You also can secure a sliding glass door with a broomstick or piece of 1" x 2" lumber laid in the door track when the door is closed.

  • Light up. Outside flood lighting reduces your risk of burglary by highlighting the exterior of your home at night. You can choose from lights that remain on all night or motion-sensitive lights that come on only when someone approaches your home. Motion-sensitive lights save energy and could catch a would-be thief by surprise. Timers on inside as well as outside lights give the impression that someone is home, even if you're on vacation, out to dinner or visiting the neighbors.

Sounding an Alarm

For greater peace of mind, consider investing in a professionally installed alarm system. Alarm systems come in many shapes and sizes, at prices that range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. Many installers also charge monthly monitoring fees, which should be taken into account when you shop for a system. A home alarm system includes some combination of the following components:

  • Perimeter sensors. These consist of photo cells or magnetic contacts on doors and windows that sound an alarm when an intruder tries to get inside. Perimeter sensors are mounted on two points, such as the door jamb and the door itself. Photo cell sensors are activated when something passes through a beam of light projected between the two points, while magnetic sensors are activated when contact is broken between the two magnetized points.

  • Heat and motion sensors. You can use heat and motion detectors to protect specific spaces in or outside your home-a bedroom hallway, for instance, or your backyard. Heat detectors respond to body temperatures. Motion sensors detect movement.

  • Glass break detectors. These devices recognize the sound of breaking glass. They activate the alarm when they sense breaking glass in a window or door.

  • Keypad. One or more keypads allow you to turn the system on and off.

  • Audible alarm. A piercing alarm alerts neighbors and the police. And it lets the burglar know he's been detected, meaning he'll probably leave your house in a hurry.

Keep in mind that false alarms can be a problem. In addition to annoying the neighbors and taking the police away from real emergencies, some communities now assess fines for excessive false alarms. The National Burglar & Fire Alarm Association reports that nearly 80 percent of false alarms are caused by user error. Steps to prevent false alarms include regular system maintenance and ensuring that whoever has a key to your house also knows the codes to activate and deactivate your system. Local police are a good source of information and recommendations regarding security systems. They work with the security services in your area and can tell you what types of break-ins are most common in your community.

After you've determined which alarm system is best for you, ask your insurance agent, family or friends for referrals. Get written quotes from at least three companies. Before you obtain an alarm system, investigate a security service's reputation and how long it has been in business. Also ask about warranties and what they cover.

Insuring Against Loss

Homeowners or renters insurance provides money to replace possessions after a fire or theft. Remember to keep a good inventory of your property, including serial numbers. A quick way to do this is with snapshots or a camcorder. Store your inventory in a safe-deposit box or other location outside your home, and update it every year.

While you're making an inventory of your valuables, consider engraving them with your name. This makes it easier to trace the goods back to you if they're stolen. Many local police departments will loan etching tools.

Most insurers recommend that you insure your property at replacement cost. This reimburses you for what it would cost to replace items today, instead of paying only for their current, depreciated value. You'll pay a little more in premiums for this extra peace of mind, so shop around for the best policy and the best price. Consider only reputable companies and agents. Get at least three quotes. Some companies provide lower rates if you have more than one type of coverage with them, such as auto and home. Review your insurance coverage annually.

 

 

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