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Energy-Efficient Home Improvements

Energy-Efficient Home Improvements

Remodeling your house is not only an opportunity to visually enhance and improve the function of your home, it’s also a great way to reduce waste and lower your energy bills. Energy-efficient remodeling will help to increase the comfort of your home while helping to protect the environment. If you’re considering remodeling, it’s worth the time to find out if there are ways to improve your home’s energy efficiency. Here are a few ways that make an impact.

Energy-Efficiency Audit

Before you can improve your home’s energy efficiency, you have to first determine exactly where your house is losing energy. A home energy audit helps owners determine their energy use and how problems can be corrected. Your local government energy office may help you identify a local company or organization that performs audits. You can also contact your utility company to see if they offer free or discounted energy audits to their customers.

Seal Air Leaks

Plugging up the leaks that allow air to slip into and out of your house—and drive up your utility bills—is an important first step in creating an energy-efficient home. Such leaks are often found around doors and windows, but they also can be in your basement, crawlspaces, or attic.

Insulation

Adding insulation to your attic can help keep your home comfortable all year round. Statistics show that about half of the homes in the United States are under-insulated. Often in the attic spaces the insulation will reduce down to 3 or 4 inches over a period of years, where you are supposed to have at least 12 inches of insulation (depending on the type of insulation).

Seal Ducts

In forced-air heating and cooling systems, ducts carry hot or cold air to different parts of home. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that roughly a fifth of this air escapes through leaks. To address this costly nuisance, consumers should repair leaks in exposed ducts, such as those found in the attic and basement. In addition to sealing leaks, it’s also recommended that homeowners insulate their ducts.

Replace old windows

Replacing old, leaky windows with higher-efficiency models can save in the long rug. There are many energy-saving options available. Make sure any new windows are double-paned and glazed. Energy-efficient low-e (low emissive) and spectrally-selective coatings block out UV rays while still allowing light and heat to pass through; storm windows and solar shades can help to protect your home from solar heat gain. Adding more windows in specific locations is another option. This technique offers a way to capture natural sunlight and heat during colder months.

Replace dated heating and air conditioning units

Older, inefficient heaters and air conditioners use more energy because they have to work harder to heat and cool. Replacing an outdated HVAC system with a more energy-efficient one can lower your monthly energy bills.

Replace your energy-zapping water heater

High-efficiency water heaters can drive down home energy costs. Water heating makes up anywhere from 15 to 25 percent of the annual energy usage in a home. High-efficiency water heaters conserve energy by keeping water hot longer than traditional water heaters.

Kitchen

The real energy savers in kitchen remodels are the appliances you choose. Certified ENERGY STAR products can cut your energy bill by 40 percent since they use less power and water. Additionally, if you replace your gas or electric stove with an induction range that uses a small amount of concentrated heat, you’ll use less energy while you cook.

Bathroom

As you replace showerheads and faucets, consider low-flow products that provide water pressure that is similar to conventional items while significantly cutting down on water usage. Consider installing high-efficiency and dual-flush toilets that use approximately 1.28 to 1.6 gallons of water per flush.

Important Steps to Take Before Renovating

Important Steps to Take Before Renovating

Whether you need an extra bedroom for your growing family or much-needed counter space in your kitchen, there’s a lot to consider before embarking on a renovation project. If you’re new to renovating or have had a bad experience in the past, the thought of renovating can be a daunting task. Before jumping into your project, follow these steps to help reduce your worry, avoid getting in over your head and increase your long-term satisfaction with your renovation.

Do Your Research

Have a renovation idea but don’t know how much the project will cost or what to expect? Research your project on sites such as the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) to get an idea of the cost and return on your investment.

Look Ahead

The question, “where do you see yourself in five to ten years,” applies as much to home renovating as it does to your career. How long do you plan on living in your home? Will the size of your family change in that period of time? Answering these types of questions will help you decide if your project will still match your lifestyle in the years ahead.

Budget

Set a realistic budget that includes all labor and materials, plus a little extra for unforeseen costs. It’s best to choose all of the fixtures, materials and finishes down to the hardware before the project begins. This will give you a more accurate idea of how much the project will cost. If you’ll be using an architect, interior designer, or adding new furnishings, you’ll need to factor these costs into the budget as well.
Share your budget with your remodeler—professionals will let you know if your bottom line for the entire renovation is a feasible number.

Contractor Compatibility

Spend time on your contractor search. Choosing the right remodeler for the job is one of the most important decisions you’ll make. Ask friends and family for referrals. Have a detailed list of questions ready when you meet with prospective contractors. Ask about their background, training and experience, previous jobs, and any special skills that make them particularly suited to your project. Make sure they’re licensed and insured and that you have copies of all documentation.

Don’t Ignore the Fine Print

Get everything in writing–from fees to timeline to responsibilities and a detailed list of all materials (color, model, size and brand names) to be used. Before signing the contract, read it word-by-word.

The End Result

After all the decision making and time spent on your renovation project, the final result should be exactly what you envisioned. Before renovations get underway, clearly express what you like and don’t like about the space, and what you’d like to change. For inspiration, search design magazines and websites for current trends as well as various styles that meet your design tastes. Use images as examples to show your contractor.

Know Your Materials

When choosing materials, you need to consider quality, style and cost. In addition, you’ll need to factor in how durable and practical the materials are in relation to the room you’ll be using them. You might like the look of marble countertops in your kitchen, for example, but should know that marble is a porous stone that tends to stain. This might not be the best choice if you’re raising young children.

Be Patient and Flexible

It goes without saying, but it’s important to understand that even the best laid plans are not perfect and surprises can occur. Unforeseeable circumstances such as inclement weather or backordered materials can delay the process.

Home Improvement ContractorWhether you’re planning on building your dream home from the ground up or looking to replace your windows, finding competent and reliable professionals is the first step to a successful home improvement project. Before the foundation gets poured and the hammer starts swinging, here’s what to know when hiring a professional.

Word of mouth

With hundreds of contractors available in your area, the task of who to choose can be overwhelming. Your best bet is to ask friends, family and co-workers for recommendations on contractors they’ve used in the past that have produced quality work.

Hire the right pro for the job

Just as you wouldn’t go to a dentist to fix a broken foot, you don’t want to hire a roofer to fix your plumbing. Hire the professional with the expertise for your specific job. Ask them how many similar projects they’ve completed in the last year. This will help you determine how familiar the contractor is with your type of project.

Credential check

Before signing on the proverbial dotted line, you want to be sure the contractor is licensed and insured (even for a small job). Ask for copies–don’t just rely on their word. Contractors should have personal liability, worker’s compensation, and property damage coverage. A competent contractor will get all the necessary permits before starting work on your project. Be suspicious if the contractor asks you to get the permits. It could mean that the contractor is not licensed or registered. If subcontractors will be used for the job make sure they are all licensed and insured as well.

Follow through on references

Asking your contractor for references is common practice. However, be sure to follow-up on each of the references provided. You should talk to homeowners and visit the sites to see the work yourself. Ask homeowners lots of questions–did the workers show up when they promised? Were they easy to communicate with? Did the contractor keep you informed about the status of the project, and were there any problems along the way? Did they clean up after finishing the job?

Bids

Get several fixed bids and go over them with a fine-tooth comb. Word of caution: be careful not to automatically go with the lowest bid. Going with the lowest bid might seem appealing at first, but an unusually low bid could be a red flag. The contractor could be quoting you a price for materials that are of poor quality or might cut corners. Before deciding on a bid know exactly what’s included in the price, including types of materials to be used.

Get everything in writing — no verbal promises

Before you sign a contract, make sure it contains:

  • A detailed list of the work to be done including all materials –color, model, size and brand names.
  • An estimated start and completion date.
  • The total cost including the payment schedule.
  • How change orders will be handled. A change order is a written authorization to the contractor to make a change or addition to the work described in the original contract. It could affect the project’s cost and schedule.
  • Warranties covering materials and workmanship.
  • What the contractor will and will not do. For example, is site clean-up and trash hauling included in the price? If not, ask for it to be added.

Spring CleanupSpring has sprung and that means it’s time to get your house spruced-up and ready for the warm months ahead. In addition to planting your vegetable and flower garden, now’s the time to complete certain home maintenance tasks that help boost curb appeal, slash your utility bills, and prevent long-term damage.

De-gunk gutters

Remove any blockages and look for signs of bending, damage, and areas where water has been diverted onto the roof or siding. Make sure gutters and downspouts direct water away from the house. Installing gutter guards is an effective way to prevent blockages caused by leaves and debris. This is also a good time to walk around the house and make sure the ground around the foundation slopes away from the house (about 1 inch per foot). If you have standing water or wet areas, consider adding drainage ditches or installing a French drain (a shallow trench that diverts water away from the house).

Examine the roof and chimney

Now that the snow is gone, it’s time to inspect areas of the roof for signs of trouble. You don’t need to climb on a ladder, using a pair of binoculars will do the trick (and is safer). Look for missing, curling, or damaged shingles. Also look for mold or fungus growing on shingles, which causes discoloration. Flashing around plumbing vents, skylights and chimneys need to be checked and repaired, if necessary, by a qualified roofer.

If you have a masonry chimney, check the joints between bricks or stones. Have any fallen out? Also, look for efflorescence—a white calcium-like deposit that indicates your masonry joints are no longer repelling water but absorbing it. Consider resealing masonry with a water-resistant barrier material.

Check the deck

Because decks are exposed to the harshest elements, they require annual maintenance. Decks made of wood should be cleaned and sealed every year to protect the integrity of the wood; even decks made of composite or vinyl decking should be washed annually. The same is true for wood and composite fences, pergolas, trellises and other structures.

Also, every deck should be checked for warped, loose or splintered boards. You also want to check for rotting wood. Look for water stains where the deck ties to the house, the support posts and joists, and any areas that are regularly exposed to water.

Inspect your AC system

Just like your car, your central air conditioner system needs regular tune-ups. Scheduling annual maintenance to the outside unit (or condenser) prevents common problems such as debris clogging cooling fins, dirty coils and low coolant levels from turning into bigger problems later. Be sure to also change interior filters regularly.

Foundation Fissures

When inspecting the exterior of your home, examine the foundation from top to bottom for cracks. While hairline cracks are usually the result of the concrete curing process or minor settling and not a cause for concern, cracks that are more than a quarter-inch wide, can be a sign of something more serious. If you’re unsure if your cracks are signs of trouble, hire a structural engineer who can inspect the type of crack and suggest what should be done.

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