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NEW MEXICO FILM TRAILS

by The Schnoor Team

Visit your favorite Film Locations

With over 360 days of sunshine and a stunning, diverse topography, New Mexico is not new to Hollywood. New Mexico film history spans over 100 years and includes more than 600 productions. Film has reached every corner of the State from “Transformers” on location in the dunes of White Sands National Monument to “Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade” along the Cumbres Toltec Railroad outside of Chama.

Since 2003 alone, over 205 major productions have shot all over New Mexico. Visit New Mexico State Film Office’s Filmography to see the gamut of storylines filmed right here, statewide, featuring a host of celebrities from Faye Dunaway to Johnny Depp. Now you can visit many of these film locations by downloading movie maps provided under each region listed below.

Tour New Mexico in true style: eat at the restaurants and stay at the hotels of your favorite stars or featured in your favorite shows. It’s an exciting way to experience New Mexico and another way to make New Mexico a True Adventure.

Source: "NEW MEXICO FILM TRAILS"

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"

Mouth-Watering Outdoor Kitchens (And Surprise! Their ROI Is Great)

by The Schnoor Team

What they typically cost, and tips for getting the most return on your investment.

Building an outdoor kitchen is more than an indulgence: These backyard beauties can improve your home's value. Outdoor kitchens typically get a 71% return on investment, according to the "Remodeling Impact Report" from the National Association of REALTORS® — and that's on top of your own outdoor-cooking joy.

The investment can be a little — or a lot. These five outdoor kitchen ideas fit a range of budgets and homes.

#1 A Tiny Outdoor Kitchen for Limited Spaces

If you boil down an outdoor kitchen to the basics, what more do you need than a grill, a little oven, cupboard space, and a cozy place to sit? This setup does it all efficiently, for as little as a few hundred dollars if you already have outdoor electricity. An electrician will add to the cost.

#2 An Outdoor Kitchen From a Kit

Modular kits, like this one from WWOO (starting around $1,500), can be customized to suit your backyard. Some companies even offer design help for additional cost.

The galley-inspired layout here also does double duty by adding privacy. (Keep in mind the cool outdoor sink requires additional plumbing, which will increase the cost.)

#3 An Outdoor Kitchen Made of Concrete & Steel

DIY-savvy homeowners used concrete and cement board to create this L-shaped outdoor kitchen that mimics today's indoor layouts. Guests relax at the counter while the host flips burgers — it's open-concept living in the great wide-open.

No, this isn't DIY 101, but if you've got the skill set you can do it for the cost of materials — and concrete is cheap. If you hire a pro, though, the typical cost is about $14,000 for a kitchen that includes an inset grill, steel drawers, ice chest, sink, and concrete countertop, according to the "Remodeling Impact Report."

#4 An Outdoor Kitchen With Personal Style

Your outdoor kitchen doesn't have to look like everyone else's. But it should match your home's style if you want to get a return on your investment. This DIY kitchen fits the home's rustic style and comes with enough storage any indoor cook would envy.

#5 An Outdoor Kitchen That Says "Sit a Spell"

Your outdoor kitchen can play the same role in your yard that your kitchen inside does: as the heartbeat of every gathering where guests will want to stay awhile. And bonus: The added deck and pergola could also kick up your home value a couple of notches.

Source: "Mouth-Watering Outdoor Kitchens (And Surprise! Their ROI Is Great)"

 

9 Essential Things Every New Homeowner Should Have

by The Schnoor Team

These must-haves will make things a lot easier in the first few weeks.

When Lauren Hunter and her husband moved into their first home in Hilliard, Ohio, the previous homeowner had left behind a ladder. "It turned out to be awesome," Hunter says. "You don't realize how many situations where ladders make things easier. Hanging pictures is one thing, but try hanging curtains in a two-story great room."

Whether it's the need to hang a clock just a few feet higher or the realization that you really can't hold a flashlight and get that nut loosened under the sink, there's always something catching you by surprise as a homeowner.

With the right items on hand, however, you can be prepared for every scenario -- just like Hunter was, thanks to that ladder. When her family moved to a larger home, they paid it forward by leaving the ladder behind for the new owners.

Do yourself a favor by stocking your home with the following items, and you'll be ready for every home ownership challenge.

#1 Wet-Dry Vacuum

You're gonna be spilling stuff. Look for a wet-dry vacuum that can handle everything from paint to nails and small stones. "We inherited one of those with our first house, and it was an awesome thing to have for vacuuming the car and cleaning the garage," Hunter says. Unlike the ladder, "we kept that Shop-Vac when we moved."

#2 (The Right) Fire Extinguisher

"Whenever anyone I know moves, I give them a fire extinguisher as a housewarming gift," says Nina Patel, a Silver Spring, Md., homeowner who, years ago, accidentally set her apartment on fire with a homemade candle. "I was able to put out the fire with a pan of water, but it was a panicked moment. I've had my own fire extinguisher ever since."

But before going out and buying the first extinguisher you see, check out the U.S. Fire Administration's guide. There are five different types of fire extinguishers with different uses, from extinguishing cooking oils to wood and paper. Choose the best type or types for your home.

#3 Extension Cord Organizer

Home ownership seems to breed extension cords that grow into a tangled nest. Save yourself time and hassle, and splurge on one of several cord management devices. Or make your own with a pegboard, hooks, and velcro straps to keep each cord loop secure. Either way, your cords will be knot-free and easy to find. And be sure to include a heavy-duty extension cord in your organizer that's outdoor-worthy. You don't want to really have to use that fire extinguisher.

#4 Big-Kid Tools

Odds are you already own a bunch of the basics: drill, screwdriver, hammer, level, tape measure, wrench, pliers, staple gun, utility knife, etc. But home ownership may require a few new ones you might not have needed before, including a:

  • Stud finder. You can make as many holes in the walls as you want now. Use the stud finder to figure out where to hang those heavy shelves so they're safely anchored.
  • Hand saw. Much easier (and cheaper!) than a power saw, you can get a good cross-cut saw for smooth edges on small DIY projects.
  • Ratchet set. Every bolt in your new house belongs to you, so you'd better be able to loosen and tighten them when needed. Crank that ratchet to get to spots where you can't turn a wrench all the way around. Great for when you're stuck in a corner.
  • Pry bar. Get one with a clawed end to pull nails and a flat end to separate drywall, remove trim or molding, and separate tile.

#5 Tool Kit

You'll need something to carry all those tools around from project to project. Create a tool carrier using a tool bucket liner and an old 5-gallon bucket. Or invest in a handyman belt filled with the basics to keep on hand in the kitchen.

#6 Headlamp

Take that flashlight out of your mouth and work hands-free. From switching out a faucet to figuring out what's making that clicking noise behind the washer, there are plenty of homeowner tasks that require both hands and a little artificial light.

#7 Emergency Preparedness Kit

FEMA has a great list of supplies you should have in your kit, including cash, food, water, infant formula and diapers, medications, a flashlight, batteries, first aid kit, matches, sleeping bags, and a change of clothing. The agency recommends you stock enough for every member of your household, including pets, for at least 72 hours.

#8 Ladder(s!)

But not just any old ladder. Consider:    

  • How high you need to go. If you use an extension ladder for a sky-high job, school yourself on safety tips, such as not standing above the support point.
  • Where you'll use it. Make sure all four legs on a stepladder rest safely on a flat area. A straight ladder must be set up at a safe angle, so if a ceiling is too low, it might be too long for the room.
  • How heavy-duty it is. Check the ladder's duty rating so you know how much weight (you, your tools, paint cans, etc.) it'll support.

And don't forget about the all-important escape ladder. The Red Cross recommends them for sleeping areas in multistory homes.

#9 Confidence

“Especially for first-time home buyers. You're inheriting the responsibilities a landlord would have if you were renting," says Hunter. "Mowing isn't a big deal, but maybe fixing a shingle or changing a faucet is." But with a little self-confidence — and some YouTube tutorials — there's (almost) no DIY project you can't master.

Source: "9 Essential Things Every New Homeowner Should Have"

 

7 Painting Hacks to Get the Look of a Pro — Without the Pro Price

by The Schnoor Team

Like this easy hack: coat paint brushes in fabric softener to keep bristles soft.

A DIY painting job doesn’t have to equal crooked lines, besmirched floors, and ceramic sinks speckled with robin’s egg blue.

Use these easy painting hacks, to make the process faster and less messy — and ensure a fresh, modern look for your home.

#1 Soak Brushes in Fabric Softener to Keep Brushes Soft

Every DIY painter has been privy to the horrors of a day-old brush with stiff bristles that makes round two nearly impossible. Try this painting hack instead:

To keep paint brushes soft:

  1. Rinse thoroughly (no soap).
  2. Mix half a cup of fabric softener with a gallon of warm water
  3. Swish brushes in the mixture for 10 seconds or so.
  4. Lay them flat or hang them on a peg for overnight storage.

“That way, the bristles won’t develop a bend and will retain their usefulness for your next painting adventure,” says Artem Filikov, vice president of marketing and product development for home improvement website HomeYou.

Also, there’s no need to rinse before using. The softener actually helps distribute paint more smoothly.Sweet!

#2 Use Plastic Wrap to Prevent Mishaps

When painting around a large, awkward item you want to keep clean, like a toilet or a standalone sink, use this painting trick from the pros: surround it with plastic wrap to keep drips from destroying its finish.

For an extra tight wrap, choose a wrap with an adhesive backing — your hardware store will even carry special painter’s plastic wrap, if you really want to go all out — which will help it stick to the surface and prevent the odd drop from inching its way in. Once you’ve finished the job, just unwrap for a paint-free finish.

#3 Use Vanilla and Lemon Extracts to Reduce Paint Odor

Paint’s intense odor can get really old really fast. Overpower it with a little bit of vanilla.

Although there are vanilla-scented products specifically designed to use with paint, you can get the same effect with what’s in your kitchen cabinet.

For darker paints, add a couple drops of vanilla extract (artificial is fine) per gallon to reduce the nasty smell and keep your room smelling sweet for weeks to come.

Because you don’t want the tint of vanilla to ruin the color of your paint, swap it with lemon extract for light-colored paints.

#4 Repurpose Old T-Shirts as Rags to Reduce Waste

Painting’s a messy job, but using roll after roll of paper towels is neither efficient nor environmentally-friendly.

And while you could pick up a mega-pack of plain cotton towels to keep paint from splattering, why not use something you can find stuffed at the back of a drawer?

Geoff Sharp, the owner of Sharper Impressions Painting Co., recommends cutting up old T-shirts to use as rags, saving money and resources (not to mention a trip to Goodwill).

“If paint runs down your roller or brush, it gets really messy, really quick,” he says. “Always have a rag in your pocket so you and your brush or roller stay clean.”

#5 Keep Q-tips Handy for Mistakes

Oh no! A drop of Naples Sunset just splashed on your white window frame. You’ve only got a few minutes to clean up the mess before your mistake is sealed for eternity.

That’s where Q-tips come in handy. Just stash some in your pocket for these types of emergencies.

Here’s another use for that pile of cotton swabs tucked in your jeans pocket: Use them to touch up imperfections on newly-painted walls without dirtying an entire paintbrush.

#6 Put Petroleum Jelly on Small Spots You Don't Want Painted

A little bit of Vaseline can go a long way toward keeping your paint job clean.

Using a Q-tip (another reason to keep them handy), go over all the bits and pieces you don’t want painted, like screws or hinges. With the petroleum jelly applied, even an accidental slip won’t leave you heartbroken.

Here’s another tip for a hassle-free paint job: “Run petroleum jelly along the seals of your doors and windows to prevent them from sticking,” Sharp says.

#7 Use a Hair Dryer on Painter's Tape for Easy Removal

Painter’s tape is supposed to make your paint job easier and stress-free.

But when strips of perfect paint peel off along with the adhesive — or you just can’t get the darn tape to come off at all — you might feel like you wasted your effort.

To help stubborn painter’s tape get a move on, turn a hair dryer (low heat only) toward your handiwork.

Holding it about three inches from the wall will help soften the adhesive and ensure an even line, making removal a stress-free affair — and ensuring you keep that dreamy, crisp paint line.

Source: "7 Painting Hacks to Get the Look of a Pro — Without the Pro Price"


Closer To Wild

by The Schnoor Team

Whether you crave a week of camping in a backcountry wilderness area, a day of singletrack mountain biking, a weekend rafting trip, hitting the links for a round of 18, or discovering where the Rockies begin, the Land of Enchantment has you covered. Adventurers and explorers, welcome to the Southwest’s best outdoor recreation.

AT A GLANCE:

  • New Mexico is the fifth largest state by land mass and 37th in population.
  • The state is home to five national forests, 17 national parks and monuments, 35 state parks (20 of which have lakes), and 25 wilderness areas.
  • Wheeler Peak, near Taos, is New Mexico’s highest peak 13,161 feet.
  • Elephant Butte Lake State Park, near Truth or Consequences, is home to the state’s largest lake.
  • The Rio Grande, which ribbons through the state from north to south, is the fourth longest river in the U.S.
  • With over 300 days of sunshine, any season is golf season in the Land of Enchantment.
  • New Mexico's ski resorts are exceptionally family friendly, with affordable skiing and lodging packages to suit any budget.

​​Source: "Closer To Wild"

 

Fiestas de Albuquerque

by The Schnoor Team

Presented By: City of Albuquerque, Cultural Services
Dates: April 6, 2019
Location: Historic Old Town
Address: 200 N Plaza St. NW, Albuquerque, NM 87104
Phone: 505-768-3556
Time: 12:00 PM to 5:00 PM
Price: Free

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrate Albuquerque's birthday and enjoy the history and traditions of our city with free children's activities, live artist demonstrations, local food, shopping, and fun for the whole family. Fiestas de Albuquerque will feature live entertainment performed by a variety of local talent including headliner, Gonzalo.

Source: "Fiestas de Albuquerque"

5 Things That REALLY Will Put a Serious Dent in Your Energy Bills

by The Schnoor Team

Stop sending so much money to your utility company with these simple strategies.

Your Mexican beach vacation was great, but, man, those margaritas sure can put on the pounds. It’s been two months, and you’re still carrying around an extra tenner — despite a new running routine and a lot of #&*&@$ kale. So why isn’t your weight dropping?

It’s like that with energy bills, too. Eighty-nine percent of us believe we’re doing the right things to lower energy costs, and almost half of us think our homes already are energy efficient. Yet, 59% of us say our bills are going up, not down, despite our efforts to economize.

Suzanne Shelton, CEO of the Shelton Group, a marketing agency that specializes in energy efficiency and that did this research, says we’re rationalizing: “I bought these [LEDs] so now I can leave the lights on and not pay more. I ate the salad, so I can have the chocolate cake.” Denial much?

Her research also shows consumers, on average, made fewer than three energy-efficient improvements in 2012 compared with almost five in 2010. It looks like we’re giving in to higher utility bills. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

You just need to know what improvements really will make the biggest difference to lower your bills. There are five, and the good news is that they’re really (seriously) cheap.

Be Mindful About Your Relationship With Energy

Think about it. Energy is the only product we buy on a daily basis without knowing how much it costs 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.

With other services you get a choice of whether to buy based on price. With energy you don’t get that choice — unless you intentionally decide not to buy. You can take control by making yourself aware that you’re spending money on something you don’t need each time you leave home with the AC on high, lights and ceiling fans on, and your computer wide awake.

That mindfulness is important because your relationship with energy is getting more intense. You (and practically every other person on the planet) are plugging in more and more. Used to be that heating and cooling were the biggest energy hogs, but now appliances, electronics, water heating, and lighting together have that dubious honor, according to Lawrence Berkeley National Labs, based on data from U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the research arm of the Department of Energy (DOE).

Being mindful means it’s also time to banish four assumptions that are sabotaging your energy-efficiency efforts:

1. Newer homes (less than 30 years old) are already energy efficient because they were built to code. Don’t bank on it. 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.

2. Utilities are out to get us: They’ll jack up prices no matter what we do. It might feel cathartic to blame them (Shelton’s research shows consumers blame utilities above oil companies and the government), but to get any rate changes, utilities must make a formal case to public utility commissions.

3. Energy improvements should pay for themselves. Nice wish, but it doesn’t work that way. 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%.

Unless you invest in some kind of renewable energy source like geothermal and solar, you won’t see that kind of savings. (Sorry.) Even if you do all the right things, the most you should expect is a 20% to 30% reduction annually, says Head, which is still significant over the long term.

What does 30% translate into? $618 in savings per year or $52 per month, based on the average household energy spend of $2,060 per year, according to Lawrence Berkeley and EIA.

4. Expensive improvements will have the biggest impact. That’s why homeowners often choose pricey projects like replacing windows, which should probably be fifth or sixth on the list of energy-efficient improvements, Shelton says.

There’s nothing wrong with investing new windows. They feel sturdier; look pretty; can increase the value of your home; feel safer than old, crooked windows; and, yes, offer energy savings you can feel (no more draft).

But new windows are the wrong choice if your only reason for the project was reducing energy costs. You could replace double-pane windows with new efficient ones for about $9,000 to $12,000 and save $27 to $111 a year on your energy bill, according to EnergyStar. (The savings are higher if you replace single-pane windows.)  Or you could spend around $1,000 for new insulation, caulking, and sealing, and save 11% on your energy bill, or $227.

The 5 Things That Really Work to Cut Energy Costs

1. Caulk and seal air leaks. Buy a few cans of Great Stuff and knock yourself out over a weekend to seal around:

  • Plumbing lines
  • Electric wires
  • Recessed lighting
  • Windows
  • Crawlspaces
  • Attics

Savings: Up to $227 a year — even more if you add or upgrade your insulation.

2. Hire a pro to seal ductwork and give your HVAC a tune-up. Leaky ducts are a common energy-waster.

Savings: Up to $412 a year.

3. Program your thermostat. Shelton says 40% of consumers in her survey admit they don’t program their thermostat for energy savings. She thinks it’s even higher.

Savings: Up to $180 a year.

4. Replace all your light bulbs with LEDs. They’re coming down in price, making them even more cost effective.

Savings: $75 a year or more by replacing your five most frequently used bulbs with Energy Star-rated models.

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. Also wrap an older water heater and the hot water pipes in insulating material to save on heat loss.

Savings: $12 to $30 a year for each 10-degree reduction in temp.

NOTE: Resist the urge to total these five numbers for 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.

Bonus Tip for More Savings

Your utility may have funds available to help pay for energy improvement. Contact them directly, or visit DSIRE, a database of federal, state, local, and utility rebates searchable by state. Energy Star has a discount and rebate finder, too.

Source: "5 Things That REALLY Will Put a Serious Dent in Your Energy Bills"

 

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