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 #1188
FEATURE REPORT

Cooling Your Home Naturally
Keeping cool indoors when it is hot outdoors is a problem. The sun beating down on our homes causes indoor temperatures to rise to uncomfortable levels. Air conditioning provides some relief. But the initial costs of installing an air conditioner and the electricity costs to run it can be high. In addition, conventional air conditioners use refrigerants made of chlorine compounds, suspected contributors to the depletion of the ozone layer and global warming. But there are alternatives to air conditioning. This information provides some common sense suggestions and low-cost retrofit options to help you "keep your cool"- and save electricity.




Also This Month...
11 Things You Must Know When Finding a Home
Once you've decided to buy a home, there's a number of issues that need to be considered. Because buying a home will be one of the biggest purchases you make in your life, learning the "11 Things You Must Know When Finding a Home" can make the process easier.


 
 

Tips on Selecting a Contractor For Home Improvement
Home repairs can cost thousands of dollars and are the subject of frequent complaints. Here is a list of things to consider when selecting a contractor.



Quick Links
Cooling Your Home Naturally
11 Things You Must Know When Finding a Home
Tips on Selecting a Contractor For Home Improvement
 

 

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Cooling Your Home Naturally

Keeping cool indoors when it is hot outdoors is a problem. The sun beating down on our homes causes indoor temperatures to rise to uncomfortable levels. Air conditioning provides some relief. But the initial costs of installing an air conditioner and the electricity costs to run it can be high. In addition, conventional air conditioners use refrigerants made of chlorine compounds, suspected contributors to the depletion of the ozone layer and global warming. But there are alternatives to air conditioning. This information provides some common sense suggestions and low-cost retrofit options to help you "keep your cool"- and save electricity.

Staying Cool

An alternative way to maintain a cool house or reduce air conditioning use is natural (or passive) cooling. Passive cooling uses non-mechanical methods to maintain a comfortable indoor temperature.

The most effective method to cool your home is to keep the heat from building up in the first place. The primary source of heat buildup (i.e., gain) is sunlight absorbed by your house through the roof, walls, and windows. Secondary sources are heat generating appliances in the home and air leakage. Specific methods to prevent heat gain include reflecting heat (i.e., sunlight) away from your house, blocking the heat, removing built up heat, and reducing or eliminating heat generating sources in your home.

Reflecting Heat Away

The most effective method to cool your home is to keep the heat from building up in the first place. Dull, dark colored home exteriors absorb 70% to 90% of the radiant energy from the sun that strikes the home's surfaces. Some of this absorbed energy is then transferred into your home by way of conduction, resulting in heat gain. In contrast, light colored surfaces effectively reflect most of the heat away from your home.

Installing a radiant barrier

Radiant barriers are easy to install. It does not matter which way the shiny surface faces - up or down. But you must install it on the underside of your roof - not horizontally over the ceiling, and the barrier must face an airspace.

For your own comfort while in the attic, install the radiant barrier on a cool, cloudy day. Use plywood walk boards or wooden planks over the ceiling joists for support. Caution: Do not step between the ceiling joists, or you may fall through the ceiling.

Staple the foil to the bottom or side of the rafters, draping it from rafter to rafter. Do not worry about a tight fit or small tears in the fabric; radiant transfer is not affected by air movement. The staples should be no more than 2 to 3 inches (5 to 8 centimeters) apart to prevent air circulation from loosening or detaching the radiant barrier. Use a caulking gun to apply a thin bead of construction adhesive to the rafters along the seams of the foil barrier. This will make the installation permanent.

Roofs

About a third of the unwanted heat that builds up in your home comes in through the roof. This is hard to control with traditional roofing materials. For example, unlike most light colored surfaces, even white asphalt and fiberglass shingles absorb 70% of the solar radiation. One good solution is to apply a reflective coating to your existing roof. Two standard roofing coatings are available at your local hardware store or lumberyard. They have both waterproof and reflective properties and are marketed primarily for mobile homes and recreational vehicles. One coating is white latex that you can apply over many common roofing materials, such as asphalt and fiberglass shingles, tar paper, and metal.

A second coating is asphalt based and contains glass fibers and aluminum particles. You can apply it to most metal and asphalt roofs. Because it has a tacky surface, it attracts dust, which reduces its reflective somewhat.

Another way to reflect heat is to install a radiant barrier on the underside of your roof. A radiant barrier is simply a sheet of aluminum foil with a paper backing. When installed correctly, a radiant barrier can reduce heat gains through your ceiling by about 25%. (see box for information on installing a radiant barrier.)

Radiant barrier materials cost between $0.13 per square foot ($1.44 per square meter) for a single-layer product with a kraft-paper backing and $0.30 per square foot ($3.33 per square meter) for a vented multiflora product with a fiber-reinforced backing. The latter product doubles as insulation.

Walls

Wall color is not as important as roof color, but does affect heat gain somewhat. White exterior walls absorb less heat than dark walls, and light, bright walls increase the longevity of siding, particularly on the east, west, and south sides of the house.

Windows

Roughly 40% of the unwanted heat that builds up in your home comes in through windows. Reflective window coatings are one way to reflect heat away from your home. These coatings are plastic sheets treated with dyes or thin layers of metal. Besides keeping your house cooler, these reflective coatings cut glare and reduce fading of furniture, draperies, and carpeting.

Two main types of coatings include sun-control films and combination films. Sun-control films are best for warmer climates because they can reflect as much as 80% of the incoming sunlight. Many of these films are tinted, however, and tend to reduce light transmission as much as they reduce heat, thereby darkening the room.

Combination films allow some light into a room but they also let some heat in and prevent interior heat from escaping. These films are best for climates that have both hot and cold seasons. Investigate the different film options carefully to select the film that best meets your needs. Note: do not place reflective coatings on south facing windows if you want to take advantage of heat gain during the winter. The coatings are applied to the interior surface of the window. Although you can apply the films yourself, it is a good idea to have a professional install the coatings, particularly if you have several large windows. This will ensure a more durable installation and a more aesthetically pleasing look.

Blocking the Heat

Two excellent methods to block heat are insulation and shading. Insulation helps keep your home comfortable and saves money on mechanical cooling systems such as air conditioners and electric fans. Shading devices block the sun's rays and absorb or reflect the solar heat.

Insulation

Weatherization measures - such as insulating, weather stripping, and caulking - help seal and protect your house against the summer heat in addition to keeping out the winter cold. The attic is a good place to start insulating because it is a major source of heat gain. Adequately insulating the attic protects the upper floors of a house. Recommended attic insulation levels depend on where you live and the type of heating system you use. For most climates, you want a minimum of R-30. In climates with extremely cold winters, you may want as much as R-49.

Wall insulation is not as important for cooling as attic insulation because outdoor temperatures are not as hot as attic temperatures. Also, floor insulation has little or no effect on cooling.

Although unintentional infiltration of outside air is not a major contributor to inside temperature, it is still a good idea to keep it out. Outside air can infiltrate your home around poorly sealed doors, windows, electrical outlets, and through openings in foundations and exterior walls. Thorough caulking and weather stripping will control most of these air leaks.

Shading

Shading your home can reduce indoor temperatures by as much as 20°F (11°C). Effective shading can be provided by trees and other vegetation and exterior or interior shades.

Landscaping

Landscaping is a natural and beautiful way to shade your home and block the sun. A well placed tree, bush, or vine can deliver effective shade and add to the aesthetic value of your property. When designing your landscaping, use plants native to your area that survive with minimal care. Trees that lose their leaves in the fall (i.e., deciduous) help cut cooling energy costs the most. When selectively placed around a house, they provide excellent protection from the summer sun and permit winter sunlight to reach and warm your house. The height, growth rate, branch spread, and shape are all factors to consider in choosing a tree. Vines are a quick way to provide shading and cooling. Grown on trellises, vines can shade windows or the whole side of a house. Ask your local nursery which vine is best suited to your climate and needs.

Besides providing shade, trees and vines create a cool microclimate that dramatically reduces the temperature (by as much as (9°F [5°C]) in the surrounding area. During photosynthesis, large amounts of water vapor escape through the leaves, cooling the passing air. and the generally dark and coarse leaves absorb solar radiation. You might also consider low ground cover such as grass, small plants, and bushes. A grass-covered lawn is usually 10°F (6°C) cooler than bare ground in the summer. If you are in an arid or semiarid climate, consider native ground covers that require little water.

Planning Your Planting

Placement of vegetation is important when landscaping your home. The following are suggestions to help you gain the most from vegetation.

  • Plant trees on the northeast-southeast and the northwest-southwest sides of your house. Unless you live in a climate where it is hot year round, do not plant trees directly to the south. Even the bare branches of mature deciduous trees can significantly reduce the amount of sun reaching your house in the winter.
  • Plant trees and shrubs so they can direct breezes. Do not place a dense line of evergreen trees where they will block the flow of cool air around or through them.
  • Set trellises away from your house to allow air to circulate and keep the vines from attaching to your house's facade and damaging its exterior. Placing vegetation too close to your house can trap heat and make the air around your house even warmer.
  • Do not plant trees or large bushes where their roots can damage septic tanks, sewer lines, underground wires, or your house's foundation.
  • Make sure the plants you choose can withstand local weather extremes.

Shading Devices

Both exterior and interior shades control heat gain. Exterior shades are generally more effective than interior shades because they block sunlight before it enters windows. When deciding which devices to use and where to use them, consider whether you are willing to open and close them daily or just put them up for the hottest season. You also want to know how they will affect ventilation.

Exterior shading devices include awnings, lovers, shutters, rolling shutters and shades, and solar screens. Awnings are very effective because the block direct sunlight. They are usually made of fabric or metal and are attached above the window and extend down and out. A properly installed awning can reduce heat gain up to 65% on southern windows and 77% on eastern windows. A light colored awning does double duty by also reflecting sunlight.

Maintaining a gap between the top of the awning and the side of the house helps vent accumulated heat from under a solid- surface awning. If you live in a climate with cold winters, you will want to remove awnings for winter storage, or by retractable ones, to take advantage of winter heat gain.

The amount of drop (how far down the awing comes) depends on which side of your house the window is on. An east or west window needs a drop of 65% to 75% of the window height. A south-facing window only needs a drop of 45% to 60% for the same amount of shade. A pleasing angle to the eye for mounting and awning is 45°. Make sure the awning does not project into the path of foot traffic unless it is at least 6 feet 8 inches (2 meters) from the ground.

One disadvantage of awnings is that they can block views, particularly on the east and west sides. However, slatted awnings do allow limited viewing through the top parts of windows.

Louvers are attractive because their adjustable slats control the level of sunlight slats control the level of sunlight entering your home and, depending on the design, can be adjusted from inside or outside your house. The slats can be vertical or horizontal. Louvers remain fixed and are attached to the exteriors of window frames.

Shutters are movable wooden or metal covering that, when closed, keep sunlight out. Shutters are either solid or slatted with fixed or adjustable slats. Besides reducing heat gain, they can provide privacy and security. Some shutters help insulate windows when it is cold outside.

Rolling shutters have a series of horizontal slats that run down along a track. Rolling shades use a fabric. These are the most expensive shading options, but the work well and can provide security. Many exterior rolling shutters or shades can be conveniently controlled from the inside. One disadvantage is that when fully extended, the block all light.

Solar screens resemble standard window screens except they keep direct sunlight from entering the window, cut glare, and block light without blocking the view or elimination air flow. They also provide privacy by restricting the view of the interior from outside your house. Solar screens come in a variety of colors and screening materials to compliment any home. Although do-it-yourself kits are available, these screens will not last as long as professionally built screens.

Although interior shading is not as effective as exterior shading, it is worthwhile if none of the previously mentioned techniques are possible. There are several ways to block the sun's heat from inside your house.

Draperies and curtains made of tightly woven, light-colored, opaque fabrics reflect more of the sun's rays than they let through. The tighter the curtain is against the wall around the window, the better it will prevent heat gain. Two layers of draperies improve the effectiveness of the draperies' insulation when it is either hot or cold outside.

Venetian blinds, although not as effective as draperies, can be adjusted to let in some light and air while reflecting the sun's heat. Some newer blinds are coated with reflective finishes. To be effective, the reflective surfaces must face the outdoors. Some interior cellular (honeycombed) shades also come with reflective mylar coatings. But they block natural light and restrict air flow.

Opaque roller shades are effective when fully drawn but also block light and restrict air flow.

Removing Built-Up Heat

Nothing feels better on a hot day than a cool breeze. Encouraging cool air to enter your house forces warm air out, keeping your house comfortably cool. However, this strategy only works when the inside temperature is higher than the outside temperature.

Natural ventilation maintains indoor temperatures close to outdoor temperatures close to outdoor temperatures and helps remove heat from your home. But only ventilated during the coolest parts of the day or night, and seal off your house from the hot sun and air during the hottest parts of the day. The climate you live in determines the best ventilation strategy. In areas with cool nights and very hot days, let the night air in to cool your house. By the time the interior heats up, and the outside air should be cooler and can be allowed indoors.

In climates with day time breezes, open windows on the side from where the breeze is coming and on the opposite side of the house. Keep interior doors open to encourage whole house ventilation. If your location lacks consistent breezes, create them by opening the windows at the lowest and highest points in your house. This natural "thermo siphoning," or "chimney," effect can be taken a step further by adding a clerestory or a vented skylight.

In hot, humid climates where temperature swings between day and night are mall, ventilate when humidity is not excessive. Ventilating your attic greatly reduces the amount of accumulated heat, which eventually works its way into the main part of your house. Ventilated attics are about 30°F (16°C) cooler than unventilated attics. Properly sized and placed louvers and roof vents help prevent moisture buildup and overheating in your attic.

Reducing Heat-Generating Sources

Often overlooked sources of interior heat gain are lights and household appliances, such as ovens, dishwashers, and dryers. Because most of the energy that incandescent lamps use is given off as heat, use them only when necessary. Take advantage of daylight to illuminate your house, and consider switching to compact fluorescent lamps. These use about 75% less energy than incandescent lamps, and emit 90% less heat for the same amount of light.

New, energy efficient appliances generate less heat and use less energy.

Many household appliances generate a lot of heat. When possible, use them in the morning or late evening when you can better tolerate the extra heat. Consider cooking on an outside barbecue grill or use a microwave oven, which does not generate as much heat and uses less energy than a gas or electric range.

Washers, dryers, dishwashers, and water heaters also generate large amounts of heat and humidity. To gain the most benefit, seal off your laundry room and water heater from the rest of the house.

New, energy efficient appliances generate less heat and use less energy. When it is time to purchase new appliances, make sure the are energy efficient. All refrigerators, dishwashers, and dryers display an energy guide label indicating the annual estimated cost for operating the appliance or a standardized energy efficiency ratio. Compare appliances and buy the most efficient models for your needs.

Saving Energy

Using any or all of these strategies will help keep you cool. Even if you use air conditioning, many of these strategies, may not be enough. Sometimes you need to supplement natural cooling with mechanical devices. Fans and evaporative coolers can supplement your cooling strategies and cost less to install and run than air conditioners.

Ceiling fans make you feel cooler. Their effect is equivalent to lowering the air temperature by about 4°F (2°C). Evaporative coolers use about one-fourth the energy of conventional air conditioners.

Many utility companies offer rebates and other cost incentives when you purchase or install energy saving products, such as insulation and energy efficient lighting and appliances. Contact your local utility company to see what it offers in the way of incentives.

Cooling Strategies Checklist

Cooling strategies to consider:

  • lighten roof and exterior wall color
  • replace/coat roof with bright white or shiny material
  • install a radiant barrier
  • add reflective coatings to windows
  • insulate attic and walls
  • caulk and weather strip to seal air leaks
  • add shade trees, bushes, or vines
  • add exterior awnings and shades
  • add interior drapes and shades
  • ventilate attic
  • increase natural ventilation
  • isolate heat-generating appliances
  • replace heat-generating appliances
  • replace light bulbs with energy-efficient fluorescent's

 

 

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11 Things You Must Know When Finding a Home


Once you've decided to buy a home, there's a number of issues that need to be considered.  Because buying a home will be one of the biggest purchases you make in your life, learning the "11 Things You Must Know When Finding a Home" can make the process easier.

In this report, we outline 11 Questions and Answers to help you make informed choices when purchasing a home.

1. What Should I Look For When Deciding On A Community?

Select a community that will allow you to best live your daily life. Many people choose communities based on schools. Do you want access to shopping and public transportation? Is access to local facilities like libraries and museums important to you? Or do you prefer the peace and quiet of a rural community? When you find places that you like, talk to people that live there. They know the most about the area and will be your future neighbors. More than anything, you want a neighborhood where you feel comfortable in.

2. How Can I Find Out About Local Schools?

You can get information about school systems by contacting the city or local school board or the local schools. Your real estate agent may also be knowledgeable about schools in the area.

3. How Can I Find Out About Community Resources?

Contact the local chamber of commerce for promotional literature or talk to your real estate agent about welcome kits, maps, and other information. You may also want to visit the local library. It can be an excellent source for information on local events and resources, and the librarians will probably be able to answer many of the questions you have.

4. How Can I Find Out How Much Homes Are Selling For In Certain Communities and Neighborhoods?

Your real estate agent can give you a ballpark figure by showing you comparable listings. If you are working with a REALTOR®, they may have access to comparable sales maintained on a database.

5. How Can I Find Information On The Property Tax Liability?

The total amount of the previous year's property taxes is usually included in the listing information. If it's not, ask the seller for a tax receipt or contact the local assessor's office. Tax rates can change from year to year, so these figures maybe approximate.

6. What Other Tax Issues Should I Take Into Consideration?

Keep in mind that your mortgage interest and real estate taxes will be deductible (USA residents). A qualified real estate professional can give you more details on other tax benefits and liabilities.

7. Is An Older Home A Better Value Than A New One?

There isn't a definitive answer to this question. You should look at each home for its individual characteristics. Generally, older homes may be in more established neighborhoods, offer more ambiance, and have lower property tax rates. People who buy older homes, however, shouldn't mind maintaining their home and making some repairs. Newer homes tend to use more modern architecture and systems, are usually easier to maintain, and may be more energy-efficient. People who buy new homes often don't want to worry initially about upkeep and repairs.

8. What Should I Look For When Walking Through A Home?

In addition to comparing the home to your minimum requirement and wish lists, consider the following:

  • Is there enough room for both the present and the future?
  • Are there enough bedrooms and bathrooms?
  • Is the house structurally sound?
  • Do the mechanical systems and appliances work?
  • Is the yard big enough?
  • Do you like the floor plan?
  • Will your furniture fit in the space? Is there enough storage space? (Bring a tape measure to better answer these questions)
  • Does anything need to be repaired or replaced? Will the seller repair or replace the items?
  • Imagine the house in good weather and bad, and in each season. Will you be happy with it year 'round?

Take your time and think carefully about each house you see. Ask your real estate agent to point out the pros and cons of each home from a professional standpoint.

9. What Questions Should I Ask When Looking At Homes?

Many of your questions should focus on potential problems and maintenance issues. Does anything need to be replaced? What things require ongoing maintenance (e.g., paint, roof, HVAC, appliances, carpet)? Also ask about the house and neighborhood, focusing on quality of life issues. Be sure the seller's or real estate agent's answers are clear and complete. Ask questions until you understand all of the information they've given. Making a list of questions ahead of time will help you organize your thoughts and arrange all of the information you receive.

10. How Can I Keep Track Of All The Homes I See?

If possible, take photographs of each house: the outside, the major rooms, the yard, and extra features that you like or ones you see as potential problems. And don't hesitate to return for a second look. You may also wish to find out if the home is available online. Photos of the property may already be up on a website for you to review.

11. How Many Homes Should I Consider Before Choosing One?

There isn't a set number of houses you should see before you decide. Visit as many as it takes to find the one you want. On average, homebuyers see 15 houses before choosing one. Just be sure to communicate often with your real estate agent about everything you're looking for. It will help avoid wasting your time.

 


 

 

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Tips on Selecting a Contractor For Home Improvement

Home repairs can cost thousands of dollars and are the subject of frequent complaints.  Here is a list of things to consider when selecting a contractor:

  1. Get recommendations and references. Talk to friends, family and other people for whom the contractor has done similar work.
  2. Get at least three written estimates from contractors who have come to your home to evaluate what needs to be done. Be sure the estimates are based on the same work so that you can make meaningful comparisons.
  3. Make sure the contractor meets licensing and registration requirements with your local consumer agency. Some areas require licensees to pass tests for competency and scrutinize licensees for financial solvency. They may also have a fund to cover some financial losses that result from problems with licensed contractors.
  4. Check to see if local laws limit the amount by which the final bill can exceed the estimate, unless you have approved the increase.
  5. Check contractor complaint records with the Better Business Bureau or similar agency.
  6. Get the names of suppliers and ask if the contractor makes timely payments.
  7. Contact your local building inspection department to check for permit and inspection requirements. Be wary if the contractor asks you to get the permit. It could mean the firm is not licensed.
  8. Be sure your contractor has the required personal liability, property damage and worker's compensation insurance for his/her workers and subcontractors. Also check with your insurance company to find out if you are covered for any injury or damage that might occur.
  9. Insist on a complete written contract. Know exactly what work will be done, the quality of materials that will be used, warranties, timetables, the names of any subcontractors, the total price of the job, and the schedule of payments.
  10. Try to limit your down payment. Local law may specify that only a certain percentage of the total cost may be made as a down payment.
  11. Understand your payment options. Compare the cost of getting your own loan versus contractor financing.
  12. Don't make final payment or sign an affidavit of final release until you are satisfied with the work and know that subcontractors and suppliers have been paid. Local lien laws may allow unpaid subcontractors and/or unpaid suppliers to attach your home.
  13. Pay by credit card when you can. This may allow you the right to withhold payment to the credit card company until problems are corrected.
  14. Be especially cautious if the contractor:
  • comes door-to-door or seeks you out;
  • just happens to have material left over from a recent job;
  • tells you your job will be a "demonstration";
  • offers you discounts for finding other customers;
  • quotes a price that's out of line with other estimates;
  • pressures you for an immediate decision;
  • offers exceptionally long guarantees;
  • can only be reached by leaving messages with an answering service;
  • drives an unmarked van or has out-of-area plates on his/her vehicles; or
  • asks you to pay for the entire job up front.

 

 

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