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What Does Homeowners Insurance Cover?

by The Schnoor Team

You’d be surprised at what your home insurance policy doesn’t cover. Here’s what is and isn’t covered by your insurance.

What does your homeowners insurance cover? The short answer is: “A basic homeowners insurance policy (called HO-1 in insurance lingo) covers your home and possessions if they’re damaged or destroyed by these things:

  • Fire     
  • Lightning
  • Windstorm (unless you live in a hurricane zone)
  • Hail (not available everywhere)
  • Explosion
  • Riots
  • Civil commotion
  • Aircraft  (and things falling from aircraft)
  • Vehicles (and things thrown from vehicles)
  • Smoke
  • Vandalism (although some policies exclude this)
  • Malicious mischief
  • Theft
  • Volcanic eruption

But many states don’t allow this basic policy to be sold. Instead, you have to buy an upgraded policy that covers more perils.

Upgraded Homeowners Insurance

That upgraded policy (called HO-2) adds protection to your home and possessions from even more perils. You get protection from everything on the HO-1 list (above) plus:

  • Falling objects
  • The weight of ice, snow, or sleet
  • Flooding from your appliances, plumbing, HVAC, or fire-protection sprinkler system
  • Damage to electrical parts caused by artificially generated electrical currents (such as a power surge not caused by lightning). But damaged electronics such as computers aren't covered.
  • Glass breakage
  • Abrupt collapse (say from termite damage)

That same list applies to the homeowners insurance you buy for a condominium or co-op (except then it’s called HO-6 instead of HO-2).

With HO-1, HO-2, and HO-6, what you see is what you get. So if zombies attacked your home, your HO-1 or HO-2 wouldn’t cover the damage because zombies aren’t on the list of specific things those policies cover.

The Most Complete Homeowners Insurance

The most complete and protective form of homeowners insurance (called HO-3) covers you for all perils except some specific ones like:

  • Floods
  • Earthquakes
  • Wars
  • Nuclear accidents
  • Landslides
  • Mudslides
  • Sinkholes

With this policy, if zombies attacked, you’d be covered because zombies weren’t specifically excluded by your HO-3 policy.

What Homeowners Insurance Doesn’t Cover

No matter which basic policy you get, it’s not going to cover everything than can damage or destroy your home. Typical homeowners policies don’t cover:

  • Bad things that happen because you failed to maintain your home (like mold)
  • Hurricanes
  • Floods
  • Earthquakes
  • Mudslides
  • Landslides
  • Sinkholes
  • War
  • Nuclear accidents
  • Sewer backups
  • Sump pump failure
  • Ground movement and holes caused by mining (known as mine subsidence insurance)
  • Pollution


You can buy additional policies to cover some but not all of those perils (a quick Google search didn’t turn up any nuclear accident coverage).

And even if insurance is available for the most common natural disaster in your area, you may not be able to buy it if your home has features that make it vulnerable. For example, a home with unrated wood shake roof shingles may be tough to insure in an area where wildfires are common.

Other Things Homeowners Insurance Covers

In addition to covering your home, homeowners insurance also covers four more things:

1. Your outbuildings, landscaping, and hardscaping. If you have outbuildings (like a barn), landscaping, or hardscaping (like fences), your homeowners policy most likely covers those for up to 10% of your policy amount (5% for plants).

For example, if you have $100,000 in homeowners insurance and someone drives into your fence, the policy would cover 10%, or $10,000 in repairs.

Sometimes policies exclude damage to outbuildings, landscaping, or hardscaping caused by a particular peril (like wind).

2. Damage or loss of your personal belongings. Your homeowners policy covers your family’s belongings, even when you take them out of the house. If your child heads to college with a laptop and it’s stolen, that’s probably covered by your homeowners insurance policy.

A home insurance policy covers a lot of your personal belongings, but not necessarily everything.

You’ll need additional insurance if you have many expensive items like jewelry, furs, or antiques.

Policies will either state that your personal belongings are insured for replacement cost or cash value.

Replacement cost means that the insurance company will pay the full cost of replacing an item (such as the laptop mentioned above, or a sofa damaged in a fire) once you show a receipt. Cash value means the insurance company will issue you a check for the amount that the laptop or sofa would have been worth when it was stolen or destroyed.

3. Temporary living expenses if your home is so damaged you can’t live in it. When you can’t live in your home, your homeowners insurance covers your living expenses, including hotel bills and meals. But, you can’t live in the hotel forever and eat lobster every night on the insurance company’s tab. Your policy will have limits on how long you stay and how much you can spend.

4. Injuries or accidents at your house. Homeowners insurance coverage includes liability – meaning it covers you when you or your family members cause injuries or damage. This coverage also pays when your dog bites someone (medical payments) or someone falls and injures themselves.

Add an umbrella policy to boost your liability coverage into the millions.

Homeowners Insurance for Older Homes

There’s another kind of homeowners insurance (HO-8) used when your home is so old it would be impossible to replace. It couldn't be built like the original -- that is, new electrical code wouldn't permit the same electrical, etc.

An HO-8 policy covers the same perils as the basic HO-1, but will only pay you the repair cost or market value instead of the replacement value.

If your home is old, but not so old that it’s historic, you might want another homeowners insurance coverage. A “law and ordinance” policy covers the cost of rebuilding using today’s building codes. It’s good to have if the building codes have changed a lot (for example, in Florida) since your home was built.

Source: "What Does Homeowners Insurance Cover?"

What Not to Do as a New Homeowner

by The Schnoor Team

Avoid these easy-to-prevent mistakes that could cost you big time.

You've finally settled into your new home.

You're hanging pictures and pinning ideas for your favorite bath.

But in all your excitement, are you missing something? Now that you're a bonafide homeowner are there things you should know that you don't?

Probably so. Here are six mistakes new homeowners often make, and why they're critically important to avoid.

#1 Not Knowing Where the Main Water Shutoff Valve Is

Water from a burst or broken plumbing pipe can spew dozens of gallons into your home's interior in a matter of minutes, soaking everything in sight -- including drywall, flooring, and valuables. In fact, water damage is one of the most common of all household insurance claims.

Quick-twitch reaction is needed to stave off a major bummer. Before disaster hits, find your water shutoff valve, which will be located where a water main enters your house. Make sure everyone knows where it's located and how to close the valve. A little penetrating oil on the valve stem makes sure it'll work when you need it to.

#2 Not Calling 811 Before Digging a Hole

Ah, spring! You're so ready to dig into your new yard and plant bushes and build that fence. But don't -- not until you've dialed 811, the national dig-safely hotline. The hotline will contact all your local utilities who will then come to your property -- often within a day -- to mark the location of underground pipes, cables, and wires.

This free service keeps you safe and helps avoid costly repairs. In many states, calling 811 is the law, so you'll also avoid fines.

#3 Not Checking the Slope of Foundation Soil

The ground around your foundation should slope away from your house at least 6 inches over 10 feet. Why? To make sure that water from rain and melting snow doesn't soak the soil around your foundation walls, building up pressure that can cause leaks and crack your foundation, leading to mega-expensive repairs.

This kind of water damage doesn't happen overnight -- it's accumulative -- so the sooner you get after it, the better (and smarter) you'll be. While you're at it, make sure downspouts extend at least 5 feet away from your house.

#4 Not Knowing the Depth of Attic Insulation

This goes hand-in-hand with not knowing where your attic access is located, so let's start there. Find the ceiling hatch, typically a square area framed with molding in a hallway or closet ceiling. Push the hatch cover straight up. Get a ladder and check out the depth of the insulation. If you can see the tops of joists, you definitely don't have enough.

The recommended insulation for most attics is about R-38 or 10 to 14 inches deep, depending on the type of insulation you choose. BTW, is your hatch insulated, too? Use 4-inch-thick foam board glued to the top.

#5 Carelessly Drilling into Walls

Hanging shelves, closet systems, and artwork means drilling into your walls -- but do you know what's back there? Hidden inside your walls are plumbing pipes, ductwork, wires, and cables.

You can check for some stuff with a stud sensor -- a $25 battery-operated tool that detects changes in density to sniff out studs, cables, and ducts.

But stud sensors aren't foolproof. Protect yourself by drilling only 1¼ inches deep max -- enough to clear drywall and plaster but not deep enough to reach most wires and pipes.

Household wiring runs horizontally from outlet to outlet about 8 inches to 2 feet from the floor, so that's a no-drill zone. Stay clear of vertical locations above and below wall switches -- wiring runs along studs to reach switches.

#6 Cutting Down a Tree

The risk isn't worth it. Even small trees can fall awkwardly, damaging your house, property, or your neighbor's property. In some locales, you have to obtain a permit first. Cutting down a tree is an art that's best left to a professional tree service.

Plus, trees help preserve property values and provide shade that cuts energy bills. So think twice before going all Paul Bunyan.

Source: "What Not to Do as a New Homeowner"

 

Sharp Homeowners Know June Is the Best Time to Do These 5 Things

by The Schnoor Team

Like cleaning your siding — just be sure to start from the bottom and go up.

Could it really be summer?!

Tackle these five summer maintenance tasks during June's longer days and better weather — and save yourself time and money this winter.

#1 Update Outdoor Lighting

In June, winter nights are probably the last thing on your mind. But early summer is the perfect time to plan for those "OMG it's only 4:30, and it's already dark " moments by adding or updating landscape lighting.

The most energy-efficient, easy-to-install option is solar lighting, but it won't perform as well on dark or snowy days. For light no matter the weather, install electric.

LED bulbs last up to five times longer and also use less energy than comparable bulbs.

#2 Clean Your House's Siding

With a bit of preventative maintenance, your home's siding will stay clean and trouble-free for up to 50 years. Fifty years! Clean it this month with a soft cloth or a long-handled, soft-bristled brush to guarantee that longevity.

Start at the bottom of the house and work up, rinsing completely before it dries. That's how you avoid streaks.

#3 Focus on Your Foundation

There's no better time for inspecting your foundation than warm, dry June. Eyeball it for crumbling mortar, cracks in the stucco, or persistently damp spots (especially under faucets). Then call a pro to fix any outstanding issues now, before it becomes an emergency later.

#4 Seal Your Driveway Asphalt

Your driveway takes a daily beating. Weather, sunlight, cars, bikes, and foot traffic – all of these deteriorate the asphalt. Help it last by sealing it. Tip: The temperature must be 50 degrees or higher for the sealer to stick, making June a good month for this easy, cost-effective job.

#5 Buy Tools

Thanks to Father's Day, June is the month everyone can get a deal on tools, tool bags, and that multitool you've had your eye on. If it's time to replace a bunch of tools, or you're starting from scratch, look for package deals that offer several at once. These can pack a savings wallop, offering 30% off or more over buying the tools individually.

Source: "Sharp Homeowners Know June Is the Best Time to Do These 5 Things"

 

The Tip I Learned While House Hunting That Changed Everything

by The Schnoor Team

Nope, we weren’t ready to buy a fixer upper. Here’s how we figured that out.

Profession: He's a meter reader for an electric company, and she's a pattern maker for a swimsuit company.

When Drew Ader and his wife, Meg Dewey, decided they were ready to buy a house, they knew exactly what they wanted: a fixer-upper. After years of watching home makeovers on TV, they wanted a house they could get for a song and transform into exactly what they wanted. They'd gain the value of sweat equity and have their dream house.

Instead, they ended up buying a house that was totally move-in-ready, no hardhats needed. Here's how they went from wanting a "before" house to buying an “after" one.

So, you wanted a fixer-upper. I bet you're big HGTV fans and dreamed of Chip and Joanna Gaines-style makeovers.

Drew: Yes, we are big fans of Chip and Joanna! Who isn't? We watch all of the HGTV shows and have always talked about wanting to do our own fixer-upper so we could make our home exactly what we want. We also thought that we might be able to save some money by doing the work ourselves. We wanted to spend around $225,000 [on the home purchase, before renovations].

Have you ever done a home renovation before?

Drew: No. Neither of us has experience fixing houses, but they make it look so easy on TV that we considered giving it a try.

So tell us about the house hunt.

Drew: We looked at fixer-uppers. We looked at a lot of different houses, some that needed to be completely gutted and were considered distressed properties, and some that needed only a few rooms updated and renovated. We were trying to get a house that was around $100,000 less than the market and redo it to save money.

Did you just look at fixer-uppers?

Drew: Initially, yes. Lisa [Johnsen, their agent] was great throughout the whole process, giving us ideas on how we could fix up the houses and pointing out things we should be looking for that, as first-time homebuyers, we would have missed — like an aging septic system or mold.

But she suggested we look at some houses that were already done, too, before we decided. That way we could see what you got if you paid for a house where someone else had done the work vs. what you got if you bought [a house] that needed renovation. So we looked at some houses that had been renovated and flipped by others, and some that just didn't need a whole lot of work.

What made you decide that a fixer-upper wasn't for you? What was the a-ha moment?

Drew: After seeing the prices of the fixer-uppers vs. the ones that were done, and considering the amount of work and money we would have to put into a house to make it what we wanted, we decided looking at move-in-ready houses would be a smarter decision. It would've been too much work trying to balance working 40-plus hours a week and fixing a house. Paying more for a house was preferable for us to buying one that was cheaper and renovating it. Lisa helped us see that.

So what did you end up buying?

Drew: We ended up purchasing a turnkey home. It has four bedrooms, 2,550 square feet, plus a finished basement. It had the exact floor plan we were looking for — one large great room. It just happened to be a turnkey home and in the upper end of our price range, which was honestly the best of both worlds. There was nothing that had to be fixed before we moved in; it was all just cosmetic things to make the home feel like ours.

So no sledgehammers were involved?

Drew: No. When we moved in, the first thing we did was repaint the basement in fresh, modern paint colors. Now we have moved upstairs and are working on the main floor powder room, as well as the foyer and hallways. We haven't had to do any demo on any rooms, mostly just painting, except in the bathroom where we are repainting the vanity, installing a new vanity top, and putting up a fun Joanna Gaines wallpaper.

But, shiplap?! Any shiplap?

Drew: Nope. We're not that handy.

Do you have any advice for someone who is thinking about buying a fixer-upper?

Drew: Go for it if you're a handy person who has the time to do the renovations. With the right house, you could save money. But it's harder than it looks. Just doing little cosmetic upgrades in our house has taken a lot longer than I expected. I couldn't imagine if we had to redo an entire house. They make it look so easy [on TV], and I have a lot of respect for what they do on all of those shows.

What's your favorite thing about your house?

Drew: The pellet stove! It is so easy to use and maintain — much easier than a wood-burning fireplace, which we thought we wanted. It works so well and is a big time and money saver during the winter. We also like that we didn't have to spend a year working on our house and can sit by the stove instead.

Source: "The Tip I Learned While House Hunting That Changed Everything"


How We Bought Our First Home: Getting a Mortgage When Self-Employed

by The Schnoor Team

Two freelancers buy their first home in a sellers’ market.

After nine years in a 550-square-foot apartment, Kaitlin Wadley and Bryce Bordenkecher were ready for more space and their own place. And since Kaitlin works from home, they weren't just shopping for a house; they were shopping for a workplace, too. But they had a challenge: These creative professionals were both self-employed. Getting a mortgage can be a little harder when you're a freelancer.

Professions: She's a freelance illustrator who also runs an online vintage clothing store; he's a photo retoucher.

Home style: 103-year-old bungalow

Sale price: $249,900

Year of home purchase: 2018

City: Minneapolis

Names: Kaitlin Wadley, 30, and Bryce Bordenkecher, 32

Plus, they were in a seller's market, with houses getting multiple offers as soon as they were listed. Here's how they made it work.

You'd been in the same apartment for nearly a decade. What finally made you say, “House. Now."?

Kaitlin: I work from home. I was like, “I need out of this tiny apartment.” I was the one pushing to buy. I wanted another cat, and we needed more room for that, too.

Did you know what kind of house you wanted?

Kaitlin: We wanted something older, with architectural details. We didn't want anything built after 1950. We didn't want a 1970s house covered with carpet and paneling.

What was the first thing you looked at?

Kaitlin: A condo, because it was cheap, $150,000. It was seven blocks from where we were living, and it was in a 1915 building. We went the first week it was listed and put in an offer. It wasn't accepted. We realized we needed to be serious.

And being serious meant?

Kaitlin: Zeroing in on what we wanted. You couldn't just casually browse in that [seller’s] market. We sat with [our agent] Mike Smith and had a candid conversation about what we were looking for in a house. The style, condition, number of bedrooms, price range, and neighborhood. He took us on a first round of showings, so he could get an idea of what we wanted.

Then he set up a custom search that would email us new listings every night that fit our criteria, and we would go through those and see if there were any we wanted to look at. You had to put in an offer that minute in that market, so screening the houses helped us move faster.

How long did you shop before you found The One?

Kaitlin: Two-and-a-half weeks. But we looked at a lot of homes. We saw a three-bedroom house we liked and decided we wanted to make an offer, only to be told that the seller had accepted an offer while we were looking at it. We had to pick up the pace of things because homes were going fast.

 

How did you know that a bungalow was the house for you?

Kaitlin: The size and the architecture were right. It's Arts and Crafts, a style that goes with any type of furniture. It had two bedrooms, so we would have one to use as an office/studio space and one to sleep in. We liked the neighborhood, and there were mature trees in the yard. It didn't need a lot of work. The price was right, too.

You were in a tough market. Was it hard to get the house?

Kaitlin: There were three offers in addition to ours. One was an escalating offer. But the owner took ours because our agent has a good relationship with the seller's agent. He convinced the seller to take our offer. I don't know why, but I think it was because we were a young couple buying our first house.

Getting a mortgage when you don't have a W-2 is tougher than when you do. What was it like for a couple of self-employed creatives to get a six-figure loan?

Kaitlin: It was tricky. Bryce had two years where his income was, like, $16,000 less from one year to the next, because he had taken on fewer clients. He had to provide a couple of years [of tax returns] to show it was a one-time dip. He also had to write a letter explaining that it was because he had taken on [fewer] clients.

[The lender] didn't ask for lists of clients, and we were glad. A friend of ours who's a freelancer referred us to our broker, and I think the fact that [our broker] had worked with freelancers in the past probably worked in our favor.

What type of mortgage did you get?

Kaitlin: We went with traditional. We had enough to put 20% down without using up our savings, and we didn't want a mortgage where we had a lower down payment because it felt good to get a chunk of that house paid for.

What's your advice to first-time home buyers?

Kaitlin: Don't start looking until you have saved up your down payment. Get an agent. It's worth it to get one to help you hone your search. Know what you're willing to compromise on because the faster you can come to a consensus on a house, the better.

There's also a really scary period between when the offer is accepted and your financing is secured and when you close on the house. It's totally normal to get cold feet and worry you've made a mistake. Chances are, you haven't.

Finally, did you get that cat you wanted?

Kaitlin: Yes. We got our fourth one when we knew we were moving. It was another one of those things where I had to convince [Bryce]. Now that's his favorite cat.

Source: "How We Bought Our First Home: Getting a Mortgage When Self-Employed"

35 Money-Saving Household Habits

by The Schnoor Team

Adopt a few of these home tips to find a bit more cash each month.

Your house gives you so much: security, pride, shelter. With all that on the line, it's easy to assume the costs of keeping it up just are what they are. But wait. There are plenty of expenses you probably make to keep your home in good order that are simply a waste.

Here's how to save money each month without putting a dime of home value at risk.

#1 Clean Your Light Bulbs

What? Who does that? Well, smart people. A dirty bulb emits 30% less light than a clean one. Dust off both the bulb and fixture, and you might be able to cut back on the number or brightness of lights in each room without noticing any difference.

#2 Keep Your Fridge Full

Solid items snuggled together retain the cold better than air and help keep each other cold — requiring less energy overall. Leaving town for awhile and fridge is empty? Fill voids in the fridge or freezer with water bottles.

#3 Switch Your Bulbs to LEDs

By replacing just five of your most-used incandescent bulbs with uber-efficient light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs, you could save $75 a year on your energy bill.

And LEDs last 15-20 times longer than incandescents, so you won't have to replace them nearly as often.

#4 Use Power Strips

Appliances like coffee makers, TVs, and computers continue to suck power even when they're off — which can cost you $100 a year. And did you know the AC adapter for your laptop keeps drawing power even if the laptop isn't plugged in? Stop this slow money burn by connecting them to an easy-to-switch-off power strip.

#5 Use a Toaster Oven When Possible

Toaster ovens use 50% to 70% less energy than a full-size oven.

#6 Set Your Water Heater to 120 Degrees

Hot water heaters often come with a factory setting that's higher than you need. You'll cool your water heating costs by 3% to 5% every time you lower the temperature setting by 10 degrees.

#7 Insulate Your Water Heater

For $30 or less, an insulating jacket or blanket can shave 7% to 16% off your water heating costs for the year. Just make sure to follow the manufacturer's directions to avoid creating a fire hazard.

#8 Wash Clothes in Cold Water

Just switching from hot to warm water will cut every load's energy use in half, and you'll reap even more savings taking the temp down to cold. And don't worry: Your clothes will get just as clean from cold water, thanks to the efficiency of today's detergents (except in the case of sickness; you'll want hot water and bleach then).

#9 Use the Right Dryer Cycle

If you're using a high-heat setting for each load, you could be using more energy than you need. Almost all fabrics can be dried with a lower heat setting, such as the permanent press setting. It uses less energy and has the added bonus of extending the life of your fabrics. Save the higher heat for items such as sheets and towels.

#10 Use Homemade Cleaners

Many commercial products rely on baking soda or vinegar for their cleaning power, so why not make your own? Most homemade cleaners cost less than $1.

#11 Cut Back on Laundry Detergent

Never mind the barely visible measurement lines in the cap: You typically only need a tablespoon of detergent. And, clothes actually get cleaner when you use less, because there's no soap residue left behind.

#12 Ditch Disposable Sweeper and Mop Head

Stop throwing money away every time you clean! Refill your Swiffer Sweeper with microfiber cloths. Just cut to size and use them dry for dusting or with a little water and floor cleaner for mopping. Or switch to a microfiber mop with a washable head.

#13 Stop Buying Dryer Sheets

Another easy swap? Give up your dryer-sheet habit (about $7 for 240 loads) in favor of wool dryer balls (about $10 for six, which last more than 500 loads each). Of course, depending on your laundry preferences, you can always just go without either.

#14 Cut Scouring Pads In Half

Most clean-ups don't require a full one.

#15 Don't Rinse Dishes

Two minutes of rinsing with the faucet on full-power will consume 5 gallons of water — the same amount efficient dishwashers use during an entire cycle. Shocking, right? And it's an unnecessary step, since most newer models are equipped to remove even stubborn food debris. Just be sure to clean the dishwasher trap regularly to keep your dishwasher running efficiently.

#16 Keep a Pitcher of Water in the Fridge

You won't have to waste time and money running the faucet, waiting for it to get cold enough for a refreshing sip.

#17 Set a Timer for the Shower

The average American takes an eight-minute shower and uses about 17 gallons of water. It's easy to linger, so set a timer for five minutes. Or try this more entertaining idea: Time your shower to a song or podcast segment.

#18 Install Low-Flow Fixtures

In addition to water-conserving practices, low-flow showerheads, which cost less than $10, and other fixtures can drop your water use in the shower by 43%.

#19 Hack a Water-Hogging Toilet

If you don't have a water-conserving toilet, there are water-saving retrofitting kits that could yield about $110 in savings every year. Or place a half-gallon milk jug filled with water into the tank — in the corner and away from the flapper and ball-cock assembly. Every time you flush, you'll save.

#20 Close Closet Doors

Each closet and pantry may hold a paltry amount of square footage, but you're still heating and cooling it. Add up all the storage space, and you've got the equivalent of a small room. Shut the doors to keep the conditioned air out.

#21 Program the Thermostat

Program your thermostat to turn the heat down by 3 to 5 degrees when you're not home and at night, and set it to bump the temperature up by the same amount when the A/C is cranking. You'll save $10 to $20 a month and never feel the difference.

#22 Don't Crank the Thermostat Up or Down Too Far

Varying the setting by 10 or more degrees when you're gone for work or over the weekend is overkill. Your HVAC system will have to work overtime to get back to the ideal temperature, erasing your savings.

#23 Use Fans Year-Round

Ceiling fans can reduce your summer cooling costs and even reduce winter heating bills — but only if used correctly. Flip the switch on the base to make the blades rotate counterclockwise for a cooling effect or clockwise to help distribute heat in the winter. And in the warmer months, an attic or whole-house fan can suck hot air out and help distribute cooler air so you can give the A/C a little break.

#24 Caulk or Weatherstrip Around Doors and Windows

Caulk may not have the charisma of something like solar panels, but using it to seal air leaks around doors and windows will deliver immediate savings rather than a 14-year payback. You'll spend $3 to $30 and save 10% to 20% on energy bills.

For gaps between moving parts that can't be caulked, add weatherstripping.

#25 Add Insulation

This is a bigger weatherizing project than caulking or weatherstripping, but it could yield more than $500 in yearly savings. While your home should be properly insulated from the roof down to the foundation, prioritize the attic, under floors above unheated spaces, around walls in a heated basement and in exterior walls.

#26 Plant Shade Trees

Block the summer sun to lower cooling costs. Planting one shade tree on the west side and one on the east side of your home can shield your home from the sun during the summer months (but avoid south-side trees, which block winter sun). By the time they're 15 years old, these two trees can reduce your energy bill by 22% , while adding value to your home.

#27 Use Curtains as Insulation

Another way to practice energy-saving passive heating and cooling? Open curtains on sunny windows in the winter and close them up in the summer.

#28 Cool with a Cross Breeze

On a breezy day, open a window on the side of your house that's receiving the breeze, then open another on the opposite side of the house. Make sure the window on the receiving side is open a little less than the exhaust side to accelerate the breeze. You can also use a fan if there's no breeze outside.

#29 Check Your Mortgage's PMI

If your mortgage was for more than 80% of your home's purchase price, you could be paying more than $50 a month, and as much as $1,000 a year, for private mortgage insurance (PMI). So as soon as you have at least 20% equity in your home, contact your lender to terminate the policy — they aren't necessarily required to notify you when you reach that threshold.

Another option for ditching PMI? If your credit score or debt load has improved since securing your mortgage, look into refinancing with more favorable terms.

#30 Check Your Home Insurance for Savings

Your homeowners insurance should change as your life changes. Buying an automatic generator or installing security alarms could reduce your premium by 5% or more.

Bundling your home and auto coverage could save even more — up to 20% off both policies. But the point is to compare and do a price check to see if you can save.

Surveys have found you could be paying a lot more than what another insurer would charge for the same coverage. So you could save by going with a new company, or by using their quote to bargain with your current provider.

#31 Borrow Tools Instead of Buying

How often are you going to use that $600 demolition hammer once you remove your bathroom tile? Not so much? Rent it from a home-improvement store for a fraction of the cost. Be sure to do the math for each tool and project though; sometimes the rental price is high enough to justify buying it.

Or join a tool lending library or cooperative to borrow tools for free or much less than retail stores.

#32 Cut Back on Paper Towels

Two rolls of paper towels a week add up to about $182 every year! Instead, try machine-washable cotton shop towels. They clean up messes just as fast and cost less than $2 for five. Save paper towels for messes that need to go straight into the trash, like oil and grease.

#33 Stop Buying Plants for Curb Appeal Every Year

A pop of color in your landscaping perks up your curb appeal. But instead of wasting household funds on short-lived annuals, invest in perennials that will keep giving for years to come.

#34 Water Grass in the Morning to Save on Your Water Bill

Turning the sprinkler on midday is kinda like watering the air — especially when the mercury soars. Lose less to evaporation by watering during cooler hours (but avoid overnight watering, when too-slow evaporation can invite fungus growth).

#35 Make Your Yard Drought-Tolerant for Long-Term Savings

Save $100 or more yearly by replacing water-hogging plants and grass with drought-tolerant and native species, and beds of rock or gravel. You'll save time on maintenance, too.

Source: "35 Money-Saving Household Habits"


8 Ways New Homeowners Accidentally Trash Their Yards

by The Schnoor Team

Avoid these rookie mistakes to keep everything beautiful.

You’ve done it. You own a house with a yard. The great outdoors. Amber waves of grain. OK, maybe not grain, and ideally you want it green, not amber.

But now that you have it, how do you keep from screwing it up? By avoiding a few common gaffes that landscaping experts say new homeowners make waaay too often.

“They end up buying the wrong fertilizer, they have no clue what weed killer is, they kill their entire lawn, they kill their bushes — and then they call me,” says Dean Granat, who runs D&D Landscape & Sprinkler Services Inc. in Buffalo Grove, Ill.

Here’s what the pros say newbie homeowners often do wrong with their lawns and yards:

#1 Not Following Product Instructions

Peter and Leah Lenz, two bright, educated people (data scientist and attorney) were thrilled when they bought their Westchester County, N.Y., home — only to have their lawn undone by a little bugger known as the Japanese beetle.

“When we looked at the house originally, we weren’t even looking at the yard because it was March, and it was covered with snow,” says Peter. “But when we moved in, we noticed the previous owners had patched holes where the beetles had already hit.”

Once Peter identified the problem, he launched “full-out chemical warfare.”

Sadly, he did not read — nor heed — the instructions for his “weapons,” and the beetles won the first round.

“There are different granulated chemicals you can put down in the spring and the fall, and I discovered there are different formulations for the different seasons,” Peter says. “One of the mistakes I made the first year was using the spring formulation in the fall, and it didn’t do a damn thing.”

Today the lawn is lush and green thanks to the proper use of anti-beetle products the second time around. “I smile when I see the backyard,” Peter says.

#2 Misusing Fertilizer

The No. 1 problem new homeowners have with fertilizer, says Eric Groft of the landscaping firm Oehme van Sweden, is overdoing it.

“Instead of putting in the correct amount of fertilizer, they put in more — and more is not more.”

Too much fertilizer adversely affects plant growth, can burn and even kill grass and plants. And, if it runs off into waterways, can cause toxic algae bloom.

To avoid those awful outcomes, prep and apply fertilizer with care. Use only the amount of recommended fertilizer — or less.

And don’t skip a single prep step. Most powdered or liquid fertilizers need to be mixed with water.

Timing is important, too. Different species of grass have different needs. Warm-season grasses (Bermuda and St. Augustine) need to be fed when temperatures are warm. Late spring is usually good. Cool-season grasses (Kentucky bluegrass and tall fescue) prefer feeding in cooler temps, such as late fall, but before frost sets in.

#3 Not Watering Grass Deep Enough

Brown and dry, dehydrated grass is ugly. it invites weeds to set up squatting rights. But it’s not just about the ugly.

“If you’re thinking about a future resale, a good lawn is what gets people in the front door,” says Valerie Blake, a REALTOR® in Washington, D.C. A sad lawn just turns them away.

But novice homeowners often think watering a little bit here and a little bit there will suffice. If the grass is wet, it’s watered, right?

Not quite. It’s really a matter of how moist the soil is underneath. Ideally, you want the soil to be moist 6 inches deep.

Here’s how to make sure your lawn gets enough water:

  • Use a shovel to check that the soil is moist 6 inches deep.
  • The first time you water, check every 15 minutes.
  • Keep track of how long it takes to get moist.
  • Water that same amount of time the next time.

How often should you turn on the sprinklers? Do your homework, and, if the Joneses do in fact have a beautiful lawn, note how often they water and follow suit. (We won’t tell.)

#4 Cutting Grass Too Short

If mowing isn’t your idea of weekend fun, you might be tempted to skip a round or two by cutting the grass extra short.

And while cutting the grass shorter may save you from mowing so often, it ends up starving the plant, as sunlight is collected via the leaves. Hello, brown lawn.

“Grass should never be cut lower than two and a half to three inches,” says Granat.

#5 Overusing Weed Killer

“People will buy weed killer thinking it’s for dandelions and clover and will spray it over their whole yard,” Granat says.

“I had a customer who sprayed his whole lawn with weed killer. It killed everything and cost $8,000 to resod the lawn.”

So, only use the weed killer on small, isolated areas, OK? Non-chemical solutions work, too, such as pulling weeds out by hand or dousing them with boiling water.

But prevention is best. Smother them with mulch (add newspapers for an extra layer of protection) before they can take root.

#6 Trimming Limbs and Branches the Wrong Way

Out-of-control bushes can block windows and give insects (and burglars!) a direct path into the house. The solution? Cut them back.

But know where to cut. “Don’t saw it off in the middle of the branch,” says Groft. And don’t cut it flush with the trunk either.

You want to leave the “branch collar” — usually a small bump where the trunk and branch come together.

That bump contains special cells to help a tree or shrub recover from its wounds. Leaving the branch too long or cutting it too short prevents the branch collar from doing its job, which means instead of losing a branch or two, you could lose the entire tree or bush.

#7 Putting Plants Too Close Together

Impatience is really the culprit here. You want a lush yard fast. So you buy more plants and plant them closer together.

That’s a costly mistake. First, you’re buying plants you don’t need. And second, those plants will lose their looks really soon — or even die.

By planting bushes, shrubs, trees, annuals, or perennials closely together, you’re not giving them room to grow. And you’re forcing them to compete with each other for sunshine and nutrients in the soil. You won’t be happy with those results.

Nurseries usually include recommendations on how far apart to plant, but to give you an idea, here are a couple of guidelines:

  • Trees usually need to be planted as far apart as their mature width.
  • Perennials should be 6 to 36 inches apart, depending on their mature size.

It’s also OK to remove existing plants you don’t like. “If you have 30-year-old evergreens crowding a walkway, don’t be afraid to be subtractive,” Groft encourages.

#8 Letting Your Pet Urinate Wherever

It’s so tempting to let Fido go where and whenever he feels like it. But after awhile, you’ll notice yellow grass. Then dead grass. And that bush you planted a couple of months ago? Yeah, it’s half dead, too. They’re being burned alive by your dog’s urine. Not good.

But there are things you can do, such as training Fido to go in one special area. You could even make it a spot without any grass to kill at all.

“I’m starting to install a lot of dog runs for people. They’re all fenced in and we use some kind of stone on the surface,” Granat says.

Source: "8 Ways New Homeowners Accidentally Trash Their Yards"


The 7 Worst Habits Homeowners Need to Break Now

by The Schnoor Team

Guilty of buying cheap stuff? Pack-ratting? Here’s how to change your ways.

Bad habits are so easy to fall into. But in the end, we know they only make us miserable.

They’re “the opposite of what makes you happy. They’re what make you miserable,” says M.J. Ryan, author of “Habit Changers: 81 Game-Changing Mantras to Mindfully Realize Your Goals.” Especially when they cost you money.

Here are 7 bad habits to break now for a happier you (and a fatter bank account):

#1 Taking Long, Steamy Showers

Spending 20 minutes in the steam may be good for your pores, but it’s also great for mold and mildew. Run the exhaust fan while you’re singing in the shower, squeegee the walls afterward, and scrub that grout every few months.

“Once you let the grout go, it gets worse and worse, and harder and harder to maintain,” says Mylène Merlo, a REALTOR® in San Diego. Grungy grout is a big turnoff for buyers. And redoing it is a pain and expensive to hire out.

#2 Keeping Out the Sun

Shutting your shades on winter days might seem smart. More insulation from the chilly weather, right? Your energy bill disagrees. A sunny window can warm your home and lower your heating costs. And as a bonus, you could see a decrease in seasonal depression.

But your original idea wasn’t totally wrong. Closing those blinds at night can keep your home toasty.

#3 Compulsively Buying Bargains

Finding a deal feels so good, but cheaper isn’t always better. In fact, budget buys might cost you more in the long run. For instance, dollar paintbrushes will leave annoying streaks, requiring a costly re-do.

And when it comes to appliances, permit a little splurge — especially if selling your home is on the horizon.

“I always err with going for high-quality appliances,” Merlo says. “There is a noticeable difference between the cheapest and next-cheapest models. And buyers want to see stainless steel.”

#4 Running a Half-Full Dishwasher

You get a gold star for always remembering to start your dishwasher before bed, right? Clean dishes every morning! Go you! Yeah, about that: Your dishwasher wastes water unless it’s completely full.

Dishwashers do save more water than washing by hand (just try telling that to your mom), but most machines use the same amount of water regardless of how many plates you’ve stuffed inside, making a half-empty cycle significantly less efficient. For a household of one or two, once a day can be overkill.

#5 Mega-Mulching

A “tree volcano” might sound like a grand ol’ time, but it’s actually damaging your foliage. Too much mulch suffocates your tree, causing root rot and welcoming invasive insects. Protect your precious trees by packing mulch loosely, letting water filter properly toward the trunk.

#6 Going on a Remodeling Rampage

Don’t break out the sledgehammer for a demo three weeks after moving in unless your home needs serious, obvious work. Give yourself time to understand the home’s quirks before renovating.

“You don’t know what your needs are when you firts move into a home," says Merlo. “You should live there for at least six months to figure out the space you need. If you do too much too soon, you’ll regret it.”

For instance, you could dump $15,000 into a kitchen remodel — only to realize the original layout would have worked better for holiday parties. Or you paint a room your favorite color, Wild Plum, only to realize the natural light in the room makes it look more like Rotten Plum. Whoops.

#7 Packratting

You know clutter is bad, but you just… can’t… help it. You had to put that unused exercise bike in the spare room instead of by the road as a freebie because what if? Plus, there’s so much in there already, and decluttering seems like such an insurmountable goal — even though every jam-packed square foot is space you can’t enjoy.

If the task seems impossible, Ryan recommends starting small.

“Do one small thing,” she says. “Clean out a drawer or reorganize your counter, and then you feel the satisfaction of having done it. It becomes easier to do the next small thing.”

Just remember: Breaking habits takes time and a lot of slip-ups. “It’s important to be kind to ourselves when we blow it,” Ryan says. “When we create new habits, we’re building new wiring, but it’s not like the old wiring disappears. Don’t turn goof-ups into give-ups.”

Source: "The 7 Worst Habits Homeowners Need to Break Now

The Secret to Programming Your Thermostat the Right Way for Each Season

by The Schnoor Team

Before you get started, you’ll need to pick a programmable thermostat you’ll actually use. Here’s how.

According to a study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, nearly 90% of Americans say they’ve rarely (or never) programmed their thermostat because they’re not sure how to do it.

But it’s really not that hard, and it’s definitely worth doing because it can save at least 10% a year on heating and cooling costs.

The U.S. Department of Energy says you can achieve that 10% by turning your thermostat back 7 to 10 degrees F from it’s normal setting for 8 hours a day.

The first step is to pick the thermostat that best suits your scheduling needs so you can “set it and forget it,” an approach the Energy Department advocates to get the most savings.

Pick the Right Thermostat

There are four types of programmable thermostats, each with a distinctive scheduling style:

7-day programming. Best for individuals or families with erratic schedules, since this is the most flexible option. It lets you program a different heating/cooling schedule for each day of the week.

5-1-1 programming. One heating/cooling schedule for the week, plus you can schedule a different heating/cooling plan for Saturday and Sunday.

5-2 programming. Same as 5-1-1 programming, except Saturday and Sunday will have the same heating/cooling plan.

1-week programming. You can only set one heating/cooling plan that will be repeated daily for the entire week.

You’ll need a program for both the cooler months and the warmer months.

TIP: Before buying a programmable thermostat, identify the type of equipment used to heat and cool your home so you can check for compatibility. For example, do you have central heating and cooling, or just a furnace or baseboard heating? Otherwise, you may not reap the rewards of energy savings and may risk harming your heating and cooling equipment.

Change the Factory Settings

Most programmable thermostats have a pre-programmed setting that’s supposed to be for the typical American family. But what family is typical these days? You need to adjust the thermostat’s settings so it’s in sync with the life you and your family lead instead of some mythical family.

Programming options are based on:

  • Wake Time
  • Sleep Time
  • Leave Time
  • Return Time

The Department of Energy suggests the following settings as an energy-saving rule of thumb:

Winter months:

  • For the hours you’re home and awake, program the temp to 68°F.
  • Lower at least 10 degrees for the hours you’re asleep or out of the house.

Summer months:

  • For the hours you’re home, program air conditioning to 78°F.
  • For the days you don’t need cooling, manually shut off the AC. Keep in mind, it will kick back on if the house gets too warm.
  • Program it to be warmer than usual when you’re out of the house.

Here are a few programming timing tips that can help you create the best set-it-and-forget-it heating and cooling schedule for your home:

  • Shut down heat or air conditioning 20 to 30 minutes before you leave home each day.
  • Turn on heat or air conditioning 20 to 30 minutes before you come home each day.
  • Reduce the heating or cooling 60 minutes before you go to sleep each night.
  • Increase heating or cooling about 30 minutes before you wake up each morning.
  • Spend time tweaking your program for a few days to make sure it feels right.

TIP: With a Wi-Fi-enabled thermostat, you can control your home’s temperature while on the go. That way, you’re not wasting energy if you’re running late or forgot to create a new program before going on vacation.

FYI: A furnace does NOT have to work harder to warm a house after the temperature has been set low during the day.

Use a Wifi Thermostat to Make It Super Easy

Want something that’s simpler? Newer more high-tech models have simplified the process:

The Nest Learning Thermostat: It creates a custom heating and cooling schedule for your home based on motion detection technology. Plus since it is Wi-Fi, it can be controlled remotely. Price: Usually a bit more than $200.

Honeywell Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat: This device makes it easy to create a custom heating and cooling plan. Unlike conventional programmable thermostats, it has a large color interface that displays a simple menu that walks you through all the programming steps. It also “learns” your home and will send you personal notifications if the temperature is not right, or if there’s a power outage. Price: Usually under $200.

FYI: Thermostats made prior to 2001 may contain mercury. To see if your programmable thermostat contains mercury, check with the manufacturer. If you decide to dispose of a thermostat that contains mercury, check out how to do so safely in your area at Thermostat Recycling Corp. (Not sure why mercury is so bad? Here’s the skinny: It’s toxic and it never breaks down. When it enters the waste stream, it permanently damages the ecosystem.)

Source: "The Secret to Programming Your Thermostat the Right Way for Each Season"

6 Things Everyone Should Do When Moving Into a New House

by The Schnoor Team

Peace of mind begins with changing the locks.

When I bought my first house, my timing couldn’t have been better: The house closing was two weeks before the lease was up on my apartment. That meant I could take my time packing and moving, and I could get to know the new place before moving in.

I recruited family and friends to help me move (in exchange for a beer-and-pizza picnic on the floor) and, as a bonus, I got to pick their brains about what first-time homeowners should know.

Their help was one of the best housewarming presents I could have gotten. And thanks to their expertise and a little Googling, here’s what I learned about what to do before moving in.

1. Change the Locks

You really don’t know who else has keys to your home, so change the locks. That ensures you’re the only person who has access. Install new deadbolts yourself for as little as $10 per lock, or call a locksmith — if you supply the new locks, they typically charge about $20 to $30 per lock for labor.

2. Check for Plumbing Leaks

Your home inspector should do this for you before closing, but it never hurts to double-check. I didn’t have any plumbing leaks to fix, but when checking my kitchen sink, I did discover the sink sprayer was broken. I replaced it for under $20.

Keep an eye out for dripping faucets and running toilets, and check your water heater for signs of a leak.

Here’s a neat trick: Check your water meter at the beginning and end of a two-hour window in which no water is being used in your house. If the reading is different, you have a leak.

3. Steam Clean Carpets

Do this before you move your furniture in, and your new home life will be off to a fresh start. You can pay a professional carpet cleaning service — you’ll pay about $50 per room; most services require a minimum of about $100 before they’ll come out — or you can rent a steam cleaner for about $30 per day and do the work yourself. I was able to save some money by borrowing a steam cleaner from a friend.

4. Wipe Out Your Cabinets

Another no-brainer before you move in your dishes and bathroom supplies. Make sure to wipe inside and out, preferably with a non-toxic cleaner, and replace contact paper if necessary.

When I cleaned my kitchen cabinets, I found an unpleasant surprise: Mouse poop. Which leads me to my next tip …

5. Give Critters the Heave-Ho

That includes mice, rats, bats, termites, roaches, and any other uninvited guests. There are any number of DIY ways to get rid of pests, but if you need to bring out the big guns, an initial visit from a pest removal service will run you $100 to $300, followed by monthly or quarterly visits at about $50 each time.

For my mousy enemies, I strategically placed poison packets around the kitchen, and I haven’t found any carcasses or any more poop, so the droppings I found must have been old. I might owe a debt of gratitude to the snake that lives under my back deck, but I prefer not to think about him.

6. Introduce Yourself to Your Circuit Breaker Box and Main Water Valve

My first experience with electrical wiring was replacing a broken light fixture in a bathroom. After locating the breaker box, which is in my garage, I turned off the power to that bathroom so I wouldn’t electrocute myself.

It’s a good idea to figure out which fuses control what parts of your house and label them accordingly. This will take two people: One to stand in the room where the power is supposed to go off, the other to trip the fuses and yell, “Did that work? How about now?

You’ll want to know how to turn off your main water valve if you have a plumbing emergency, if a hurricane or tornado is headed your way, or if you’re going out of town. Just locate the valve — it could be inside or outside your house — and turn the knob until it’s off. Test it by turning on any faucet in the house; no water should come out.

Source"6 Things Everyone Should Do When Moving Into a New House"

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