Gunning Daily News

Energy Efficient Improvements: Understanding Tax Credits

April 26, 2012 5:56 pm

I have promoted a number of programs and tips on saving energy, cutting costs and saving the planet. But this month, the Alliance to Save Energy (ase.org/efficiencynews) is trying to help homeowners understand which energy-efficient home improvements are eligible for federal tax credits, and which forms you’ll need to claim them. 

According to the ASE, you can get up to $500 back on your 2011 income tax return if you installed energy-efficient products in your home last year. Just use the “non-business energy property credit,” which gives back 10 percent of the cost of building envelope improvements. 

Just check the criteria because there are dollar limits for specific equipment. 

The ASE states that while you can claim the full $500 credit from improvements you made in 2011, the credit is actually cumulative, including any credits claimed since 2006. 

So what counts toward the non-business Energy Property Credit? 

The ASE says if you meet certain criteria like owning your home, and if you used eligible products to make that home more energy efficient, you may be eligible for the non-business energy property tax credit. 

Eligible products include certain energy-efficient:
• Insulation
• Roofs made of metal or asphalt
• Exterior doors
• Exterior windows, including skylights and storm windows
• HVAC and water heating systems, including central A/C, water heaters, heat pumps, furnaces and boilers

Most of these energy-efficient products reduce the heat loss or gain of your home, or heat/cool your home without using as much energy. To ensure that your product is eligible, check the manufacturer’s certification statement, which can sometimes be found in the packaging and is likely on the manufacturers’ website. 

In our next segment, we'll review the forms required to claim your energy property credit

The Reasons Your House Isn't Selling and What You Can Do About It (Part 1)

April 26, 2012 5:56 pm

Selling a home can be a daunting undertaking, and while you may be helpless to control the state of the market or the number of prospective buyers in your price range, here are a few ways to be proactive against some of sellers' most common pitfalls:

Problem: Competition. Are there too many homes for sale in your price range? If there are too many options open to buyers in your market, you may not see as many showings as you'd like.

What You Can Do: Unfortunately, the state of the market in your neighborhood or town is pretty much beyond your control. You'll need to think about how you can make your home a more attractive sale, either by lowering your price or providing attractive terms of sale.

Problem: Your asking price is too high. It's stating the obvious, but if your asking price is too high, you'll price yourself right out of a lot of potential showings. Further, even if you do manage to land a buyer at your price, his or her financing is more likely to fall through during the sale if the house will not appraise.

What You Can Do: Working with a trusted real estate agent to come up with a fair asking price is vitally important. Make sure you are educated about the market you're selling in, and price your home accordingly. Ask yourself whether you'd rather net a little less than you had hoped – or not be able to sell at all.

Problem: Your home lacks curb appeal. The condition of your home inside and out is critically important to making a sale. If your home doesn't show well, a potential buyer is going to head elsewhere. Most buyers are looking for a house they can move into without a ton of small repairs and cleanup.

What You Can Do: You've been meaning to fix that leaky faucet or repaint the fence in the front yard, so now is the time to do it! Of course, this should have been done when you decided to sell, but it's never too late… De-clutter your rooms and store all personal effects. Consider investing in some new curtains, bath towels and throw rugs. To make sure that you nail that crucial curb appeal, spruce up your yard with new plantings, trim hedges and weed flowerbeds, and keep the lawn short and neat. Those minor repairs that you have been living with will add up in the eyes of a prospective buyer.

Problem: Location. Everyone's heard that old maxim that real estate is all about "location, location, location!" But what do you do if you're trying to sell a home on a busy street, or too close to a major highway?

What You Can Do: There are actually a few things you can do to increase your chances of a sale. If your home is on a busier street, highlight any benefits on the flip side—maybe your backyard is fenced in, your taxes are low or you can walk to a school nearby. Make sure you pay extra attention to those highlights. If you are in an area where your home is very close to a major highway, consider some type of privacy hedge or fencing. If you have older windows consider replacing them - the benefit will be two fold, you will have new windows as a selling feature and those new windows will provide a little more sound buffering inside the home. Last, consider selling at a time when the foliage is in full bloom to help naturally block sound or visual effects from nearby highways. 

Kristin has been serving her community as a REALTOR® for the last eight years. She is a member of the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, MAR, NAR, MLS-PIN, Women's Council of REALTORS®, and a recipient of The President's Circle Award.

Defend Your Deck: Shading Options for Outdoor Living Spaces

April 26, 2012 5:56 pm

The summer is approaching fast bringing with it warm weather, humidity, and lots of sunshine. A deck or a patio is ideal for spending time outside and enjoying summer outdoor activities. Frontier Deck Builders, Inc. is accommodating its customers by offering several deck shading options such as pergolas, gazebos and covered pavilions. 

“Now is a great time to think about outdoor improvements to get prepared for summer cookouts with friends and family,” says Andy Merz, the owner of Frontier Deck Builders, Inc. 

According to dermatologists, sun exposure is necessary for Vitamin D production, but it should be balanced and regulated, as UV rays can cause skin cancer. Doctors recommend using sunscreens, avoiding the peak midday sun (10 a.m. – 3 p.m.), and limiting sunbathing to 10 to 15 minutes per session. 

“It’s not always possible to stay out of the sun when your deck or patio has no shading,” comments Merz. He noted that a custom-built pergola is a popular shading choice among his customers. Pergolas, or framed open-roof structures, can be built to match the style of the deck, thus seamlessly blending into the landscape. The roof can then be fully or partially covered by vines, fabric, or any other material. 

Strategically placing a gazebo or an open-wall pavilion on one’s deck or patio can also provide desired shading. “For homeowners who are concerned about maintaining a consistent look throughout their property, pergolas, gazebos, and pavilions are a better choice over canopy awnings,” points out Merz.
He explained that awnings are limiting both in design and functionality, as they attach to the side of the house, leaving little room to the choice of location and materials. Merz adds that canopies might not always fit in with one’s overall landscape, because certain features cannot be customized. 

Another effective and creative way to protect any outdoor space from excessive sunlight is by using shade sails. These large sheets of thick fabric, tensioned across several anchors, can shade decks, patios, yards, and even pools. Natural or artificial support points are required for installation. 

“Some of our customers either don’t have enough space or simply choose not to install any bulky shading constructions. In this case, we suggest using temporary portable solutions to block the dangerous rays,” mentions Merz. 

Such solutions include table umbrellas, portable tents, canopies, large plants, or trees. Trees can be strategically planted around the yard to provide necessary shade. Many plants, as well as young palm trees and some evergreens, can also be grown in planters and positioned on the deck where shade is desired. 

“Having replaced quite a few decks, I can tell you that lots of sun can harm not just people, but their outdoor structures as well,” points out Merz. Bright sun fades and dries wood, making it more likely to retain water and rot. And just like people use sunscreen, wooden decks can be protected by applying a finish with UV inhibitors. 

Source: http://www.frontierdecks.com.

Word of the Day

April 26, 2012 5:56 pm

Downpayment. Initial cash investment made as evidence of good faith when purchasing real estate. It is usually a percentage of the sale price

Question of the Day

April 26, 2012 5:56 pm

Q: What determines how adjustable-rate loans change?
A: They go up and down with interest rates, based on several esoteric money market indices that cause the cost of funds for lenders to vary. The most popular indices include Treasury Securities (T-Bills), Cost of Funds (COFI), Certificates of Deposit (CDs), and the Libor, which is the London inter-bank offering rate. 

However, the interest rate and payment adjustments do not always coincide. There is usually a lag between the two. 

A number of consumer protections have been built into these loans to keep them from fluctuating too wildly. But consumers will have to be cautious when reviewing advertising and other claims about ARMs made by lenders.

Home Safety: How to Make Your Yard Secure

April 25, 2012 5:20 pm

The garden is a place of fun and relaxation during the spring and summer, but is also highly vulnerable to damage and theft. By taking a little time to make sure things are secure, you can save your home from thieves who may use your garden or yard to enter your house. 

Shed
A shed is vital for storing expensive garden equipment, but could also attract opportunistic thieves. Check that the structure of your shed is sturdy, with two padlocked bolts fitted to the door. All windows should be also fitted with locks, while placing mesh across the inside will shield your tools and equipment from view. Larger items such as mowers and power tools can be further protected by a wall or floor anchor, but do remember that these will only be as secure as the surface they are attached to. Specialized shed alarms use either a door contact system or an infrared motion detector to warn you against intruders. If these are not an option, your home burglar alarm system could be extended to cover your yard and shed. 

Boundaries
The rear boundary of your yard is the most vulnerable part of your entire house; 22 percent of burglars enter through the back door, according to uniform crime reporting program crime clock. Tall fences may deter them, and sharp plants are a natural alternative to unsightly barbed wire and can add extra height to your boundaries. A thorny trellis of roses, pyracantha or chaenomeles should help to stop a potential burglar in his tracks. 

Lights
Garden lights are one of the best tools for night time security. Halogen floodlights can provide an attractive and subtle glow to your garden, or a passive infrared sensor can be used to trip brighter lights when motion is detected. Take care to angle the lights away from the road and neighboring houses, focusing on the entry points to your home. Sensors can also be used to switch garden lights on with sunset and off with sunrise. 

Paths
Gravel can be used as a cheap warning sign of approaching thieves, while also making it difficult for them to make a quiet exit. Gravel is now available in a wide range of colors and sizes, with many types suitable for mixing with slabs and bricks.

Source: http://www.dyno.com/

Top Tips for National Home Improvement Month

April 25, 2012 5:20 pm

Springtime has arrived and it’s time to dust off the “to do” list. But how does a homeowner decide which projects should take priority? According to Mark Clement, host of MyFixItUpLife home improvement radio show, start by selecting projects that are the most important for enhancing the functionality of the home. 

“National Home Improvement Month in May is the ideal time to shine the spotlight on annual home projects that should never be overlooked,” says Clement, a professional contractor in Pennsylvania. “Sure it’s great to work outside in the garden this time of year, but that task should take second place behind evaluating and fixing major components of the house. A home’s curb appeal is important, but working on the structural aspects of the home to safeguard a family should always take priority.” 

Clement, who is currently renovating his own 100-year-old home, understands that all products in and on the house will eventually need to be replaced. “We just replaced the original wood door on our home with a fiberglass door,” says Clement. “That old door should have been removed a decade ago because it lost its functionality and was an energy drain on our home. The new Therma-Tru fiberglass door is energy-efficient, stylish and helps secure our home.” 

According to Clement, there is a “must do” list of five items that homeowners should review every year during National Home Improvement Month. This list includes:
Check the roof. Use a ladder or binoculars from across the street to look for problem areas, such as missing or broken shingles, along with roofing tiles that may be “flapping” in the wind. These are all indications that a new roof may be in your future. If that’s the case, research the newer products on the market, such as polymer shake and slate roofing tiles. These impact-resistant tiles are man-made in a wide variety of colors. Some roofing tiles are fire- and hail-resistant. 

Clean and assess the home’s siding. Pressure-washing works well for many homes to remove dirt and algae that can grow on siding, but remember never to pressure-wash windows or their screens. The extreme high pressure could crack or destroy the caulking around the units. While cleaning the siding, make sure to check for changes in the exterior from the previous year and be alert to buckling, warping or insect damage that may need to be fixed. 

Evaluate the windows. If you find that windows in the home don’t operate easily, there’s air leaking in or out of the units, or there’s condensation between the glass panes, then it may be time to seriously consider replacement windows. 

Vinyl framed windows have the highest growth rate in the country due to their energy-efficiency, aesthetic appeal and durability. Plus, maintenance hassles are so low you’ll forget the horrors of rotting frames, scraping and repainting that come with wood windows.

Check on the gutters. Don’t underestimate the importance of the gutter system on the home. Each year homeowners should check to make sure their gutters are unclogged and remain sloped for proper drainage. Plus, make sure the water running off the roof doesn’t cause damage to the building structure, landscaping or property below the roof. 

Spend time with the main entry door. If homeowners can see light around the door from the inside, the door is hard to close or lock, or the door itself is warped, it’s time to consider a new door. Think about the weather conditions that a home’s door faces along with the energy bills. If either run to the extreme, consider replacing an entryway with a high-performance fiberglass door (which can have up to four times more insulation value than wood doors). 

For more home improvement tips, visit http://www.myfixituplife.com.

Hot Home Trends: Green Roof System

April 25, 2012 5:20 pm

A hot home trend arriving just in time for spring is a green roof system—a roof covered with a layer of lush plants. These green roofs provide sustainable benefits, extend the life of the roof, and improve storm water management. 

“A green roof acts like a natural sponge and reduces the volume and velocity of storm water runoff,” says Andy Sudbrock, plant ecologist, Southeast Green Roofs, LLC. “Green roof plants and soil also provide a protective shield for the roof itself. The roof will last much longer.”

Green roof systems also conserve energy by moderating rooftop temperatures, while supporting fragile ecosystems and lending unique beauty, especially if installed in urban spaces. Look for this eco trend popping up on the rooftops of buildings and homes across the country. 

Source: http://www.southeastgreenroofs.com

5 Tips for Creating a Stadium-Style Lawn in Your Own Backyard

April 25, 2012 5:20 pm

(ARA) - With summer on the horizon, families will be heading to backyards across the country for picnics, sports games and to simply soak up the sun. A lush green lawn is the perfect setting for these activities and will be the envy of the neighborhood. How does one achieve that well-manicured, stadium-style lawn?

Many homeowners think a professional-looking lawn requires a stringent water and fertilizer regimen. While both water and fertilizer play their part, neither is the stand-alone key to a perfect lawn. The following five tips offer homeowners simple solutions to achieving a great yard.

Know your region. Grass seed is not one size fits all. Select the right grass seed or sod based on where you live. It's also important to consider how you plan to use your lawn. Do you have children and pets that will be playing on it regularly, or will the purpose be primarily curb appeal? To determine the right grass, talk to your local garden center or contact the turf grass specialist at your state agriculture school.

Only feed as needed. According to Grass Seed USA, a coalition of American grass seed farmers, many homeowners over water their lawns, which does more harm than good. A simple trick to determine whether your lawn needs watering is to stick a screwdriver into the grass. If it enters the dirt easily, your lawn has plenty of water already. If you have trouble getting the screwdriver into the ground, it is time to give the grass a drink. It is also recommended to fertilize your lawn at least once a year. However, putting your lawn on a quarterly schedule will help achieve optimal health.

Break out the ruler. The maintenance crews for professional sports fields are meticulous about the height of their grass because it ensures a uniform look. Grass Seed USA recommends maintaining a lawn height of about 2 inches. It's important not to cut more than one-third of the grass height at a time to minimize damage, so aim to mow when your lawn is about 3 inches in height.

Arm yourself with the right tools. The proper equipment can take a lawn from looking well-manicured to professional. When selecting a mower, don't jump straight to those that pick up the grass clippings. Allowing the clippings to decompose in the lawn will add to the overall health of your yard, and when you mow often, the shavings are small and less noticeable. Adding an edger to your arsenal is another great trick for cleaning up the lines and defining your yard.

Replenish as necessary. Grass is a natural carpet that cleans and repairs itself. It's equipped to withstand a number of elements yet is impacted over time. If you've noticed that your lawn is sparse in areas, or not as full and lush as you'd like, it may be time to add more seed. The best time to plant new seed is in the fall when the temperatures are more temperate. But reseeding may be done throughout the year. The important thing is to avoid drastic temperature changes and water regularly, yet moderately, to give the seed time to absorb moisture and build roots.

Growing and maintaining a lush green lawn doesn't have to come with a backache. Basic planning and these five quick tips will have you well on your way to a backyard prime for the summer season.

Word of the Day

April 25, 2012 5:20 pm

Discount points. Added loan fee charged by a lender to make the yield on a lower-than-market-value loan competitive with higher-interest loans.