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

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. You can go straight to them here, but there’s also another thing you can do that doesn’t cost a dime — and will drop your costs:

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 in 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 the state of California. Energy Star has a discount and rebate finder, too.

 

By: Christina Hoffmann for Houselogic

Torrance is a Great Family Town

Looking for a great place for a young family? Check out Torrance!

Torrance schools are rated 9 out of 10 by Great! schools!  Torrance has 48 primary and secondary schools, with Richardson Middle School in south Torrance (go Rattlesnakes!), being rated one of the highest.  According to U.S. News, Torrance High School has a 99% graduation rate, followed closely by West High with 98%, and South and North at 97%.  South, West and North have all been awarded Silver Medals.

In addition to have great schools, the city of Torrance has wonderful, broad community programs.  The summer calendar below shows just some of the line up.  Great activities for the family to enjoy together, while enjoying our great weather!

>>> PRINTABLE VERSION <<<  Perfect for your refrigerator so your family doesn’t miss a single fun activity this summer in Torrance!

To learn about all of the many programs, see the City of Torrance Summer 2017 Seasons online PDF booklet here.

Interested in what homes are available for your family?

Please call me, Lucy Garber, at (310) 293-4866 so I can talk to you and help you find the perfect house for your family to call home.

How to Beat the Heat this Summer

10 Easy Steps to Keep Your Air Conditioning Unit Running Smoothly

1. Shut off the power

2. Remove debris

3. Clean the fin

4. Straighten the fins

5. Clean area around the unit

6. Level the unit

7. Clean the evaporator coil

8. Clean a plugged evaporator drain

9. Change the blower filter

10. Turn the power back on

And Don’t Forget…

  • Have a professional HVAC company inspect your unit
  • Check refrigerant levels
  • Check your thermostat

Tip for Step 2
On the exterior condenser/compressor, remove the fan cage. Using a screwdriver or wrench, remove the fasteners and lift the cage or fan grill away from the top of the unit. By hand, or with a wet/dry vacuum, clean leaves and other debris from the interior.

Tip for Step 4
Since any reduction in air-flow through the fins can reduce efficiency, carefully straighten  bent fins using a butter knife or commercially available fin-straightening tool. be gentle so that the tubing embedded within the fins it not damaged.

How to DIY Your Taxes — and Not Miss a Single Deduction

Tips on choosing tax preparation software to help get all the homeowner benefits.

Ready or not, the tax man’s coming. Filing your taxes yourself may not be your idea of a fun night at home, but even so, it doesn’t really have to be that bad. Yes, even if you own a home. Even if you itemize your deductions. Even if you’re scared of making a mistake.

We turned to the tax pros and nailed down their top tips to make DIY tax filing as easy and painless as possible — as well as how to ensure you don’t miss any possible deductions. Here’s what they said:

Pick the Right Software

Unless you qualify for a free version (more about this below), software prices are all over the place. Still, you get what you pay for. TurboTax is pricey at almost $60 for the Deluxe version, but both our tax experts agree: If you’re going the DIY route, it’s their favorite option.

“It’s user-friendly,” says Cathy Derus, founder of Brightwater Accounting, who, despite being a CPA, admits she’s used the program herself in the past. “It offers an online questionnaire. Then, it walks you through exactly what you need to do.” That questionnaire does a good job of helping you identify possible deductions.

But it’s not fail-safe, she added. It’s only as good as the information you feed into it.

To really make sure you’re aware of all possible deductions, get a copy of Form 1040, Schedule A, (and Schedule C if you’re a sole proprietor for your own business), says Derus. Then, “scan the forms and take note of any items you think you might be eligible to take.”

If you’re a homeowner, here are some examples of deductions you can take:

Mortgage interest
Property taxes
Some costs of buying a new home
Some costs of selling a home
For a full list of your possible homeowner deductions, go here.

Free Software Can Be Ok, Too

If your adjusted gross income is below a certain threshold — typically $62,000 — you may qualify to use one of about a dozen free software options. TurboTax has a free option, but its income threshold is lower at $31,000. H&R Block, Jackson Hewitt, and TaxACT also have free versions.

Some companies also impose other restrictions, such as age and state of residence, to qualify for a free version. That’s because for some firms, the free offering is a way to find clients who might be willing to pay for other services.

Watch for extra costs:Some companies will file your federal return for free, but then charge you for the state return, to e-file, or ask questions of a live person.

Filing for an Extension Can Be a Smart Thing to Do

If you find yourself butting up against the tax filing deadline, you can always request an extension, “so you’re not stressed out,” says Derus.

Most people don’t fully understand how extensions work, and often make mistakes that cost a bundle. Here’s what you need to know:

How to file a tax extension:

File an extension anytime before or on April 15. You’ll avoid the late filing penalty, which is a whopping 5% of your outstanding balance, due for every month you’ve failed to file.
If you owe money, pay as much as you can by April 15 to avoid the late payment penalty of 0.05% interest. (A whole lot less than the late filing penalty, though!)
Make arrangements to complete your tax filing by the October 15 deadline to avoid adding extra interest payments.
Get the Benefits of E-Filing

You’ve probably already been e-filing your taxes, but are you aware of the benefits?

Why it’s better to e-file:

24 hours after you e-file, you can start checking on your return via the IRS’s “Where’s My Refund” online tool or IRS2Go app.
You’ll get any refund due to you faster.
You’re also more likely to know if you filed your forms correctly, avoiding a scary encounter with the tax man. Because if you e-file, you’ve got to use software. And these programs “run a check for questions that need to be answered, numbers that don’t add up, and missing Social Security numbers,” says Tai Stewart, accountant and owner of Saidia Financial Solutions in Houston. Those mistakes tend to flag your return for a close-up review.

You’ll also wait up to six weeks for your return if you use snail mail.

So, what are you waiting for? “Fill a pot of coffee, and get to work,” encourages Derus.

 

By: Alaina Tweddale

Are There Dangers in Your Entryway? Don’t Get Spooked!

halloween-house-dangers-entryway

Do Halloween Dangers Lurk at Your Entryway? Don’t get spooked. Take this opportunity to be sure you are Halloween safe.

Everyone loves a good scare on Halloween — as long as it’s just a trick.

To help you avoid any real-life scares — such as falls, fires, and traffic accidents — around your property this All Hallows Eve, play it safe while you’re setting up your Halloween lights and decorations.

Here are seven simple precautions recommended by John Pettibone, curator of Hammond Castle, a Gloucester, Mass., mansion that draws thousands to its renowned 20-room haunted house every Halloween season.

1. Light the Scene

Providing plenty of illumination ensures that your visitors can see where they’re walking, helping to avoid missteps and falls. Pettibone suggests using the highest wattage bulbs your outdoor lighting fixtures can safely take (check the label on the socket), and adding landscape lights every few feet along your front walk.

“We use the solar-powered kind because there’s no wiring needed,” he says. “Just push them into the ground, let them soak up the sun during the day, and they’ll light up the walk after dark.”

2. Secure the Footing

Clear your walk, steps, and stoop of any obstructions that could trip youngsters focused more on tricks and treats than watching where they’re going. That means moving potted mums and jack o’lanterns out of the way, and hammering down any nail heads protruding out of your steps.
If you have a concrete stoop, which can get slippery when wet, apply friction tape ($16 for a 60-foot roll of 1-inch-wide tape) to ensure stable footing, says Pettibone. He also stocks up on chemical ice melt ($20 for a 50-lb. bag) just in case of an early freeze.

3. Tighten the Railings

If your porch railings are wobbly or broken, family members and friends may know not to lean too heavily on them, but Halloween visitors won’t. So hire a contractor or handyman to fix the problem. It’ll make your home safer for guests all year round. Because more strangers come to your front door this night than the rest of the year combined, now is the time to take care of it.

4. Eliminate Fire Hazards

Don’t put real candles into your carved pumpkins or paper lanterns. “That’s a fire waiting to happen,” says Pettibone. Instead, pick up a bulk pack of LED-bulb faux candles, which emit a yellowish, flickering, battery-powered light that looks amazingly similar to the real thing — without the danger.

5. Secure your Property

To prevent burglaries and Halloween pranks — especially on mischief night the previous evening — make sure to keep all windows and doors (other than your main door) locked shut.

You might have an electrician add motion-sensor lights around your property, so anyone who walks down your driveway or around into the backyard will be discouraged from intruding any farther.

6. Set the Scene

In addition to spooky items like cotton cobwebs and half-buried skeletons, consider a few safety-related scene-setters. Pettibone suggests propping open the screen or storm door so it doesn’t get in the way when there’s a big group of kids congregated on your stoop. “We use yellow caution tape to tie open the door,” he says. “You can order it online and it works well with the Halloween theme.” A 1,000-ft. roll of 3-inch-wide caution tape is about $8.

You’ll also want a working doorbell, so if yours is broken, either hire an electrician or handyman to fix it — or install a wireless doorbell in its place.

7. Enhance Street Safety

Four times as many child pedestrians get killed on Halloween night than a normal night. So limit the danger as much as you can by clearing parked cars off the curb to allow better visibility and placing a reflective “watch for children sign” at the edge of the road. For for high-traffic roads in Halloween-intensive neighborhoods, consider posting an adult in the street with a hand-held traffic control light to help maintain safety.