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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 #1193
FEATURE REPORT

Selecting a New Water Heater
Many homeowners wait until their water heater fails before shopping for a replacement.
Because they are in a hurry to regain their hot water supply, they are often unable to take the time to shop for the most energy efficient unit for their specific needs. This is unfortunate, because the cost of purchasing and operating a water heater can vary greatly, depending on the type, brand, and model selected, and on the quality of the installation.




Also This Month...
11 Things You Need to Know to Pass Your Home Inspection
According to industry experts, there are at least 33 physical problems that will come under scrutiny during a home inspection. We've identified the 11 most common of these and, if not identified and dealt with, any of these 11 items could cost you dearly in terms of repair.


 
 

Common Mistakes Made With Money and How to Avoid Them
Everybody makes mistakes with their money. The important thing is to keep them to a minimum. And one of the best ways to accomplish that is to learn from the mistakes of others. Here is our list of the top mistakes people make with their money, and what you can do to avoid these mistakes in the first place.



Quick Links
Selecting a New Water Heater
11 Things You Need to Know to Pass Your Home Inspection
Common Mistakes Made With Money and How to Avoid Them
 

 

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Selecting a New Water Heater

Many homeowners wait until their water heater fails before shopping for a replacement. Because they are in a hurry to regain their hot water supply, they are often unable to take the time to shop for the most energy-efficient unit for their specific needs. This is unfortunate, because the cost of purchasing and operating a water heater can vary greatly, depending on the type, brand, and model selected and on the quality of the installation.

To avoid this scenario, you might want to do some research now--before you are faced with an emergency purchase. Familiarize yourself today with the options that will allow you to make an informed decision when the need to buy a new water heater arises.

Types of Water Heaters Available

Within the last few years, a variety of water heaters have become available to consumers. The following types of water heaters are now on the market: conventional storage, demand, heat pump, tankless coil, indirect, and solar. It is also possible to purchase water heaters that can be connected to your home's space heating system.

Storage Water Heaters

A variety of fuel options are available for conventional storage water heaters--electricity, natural gas, oil, and propane. They range in size from 20 to 80 gallons (75.7 to 302.8 litres). A storage heater operates by releasing hot water from the top of the tank when the hot water tap is turned on. To replace that hot water, cold water enters the bottom of the tank, ensuring that the tank is always full. Because the water is constantly heated in the tank, energy can be wasted even when no faucet is on. This is called standby heat loss. Newer, more energy-efficient storage models can significantly reduce the amount of standby heat loss, making them much less expensive to operate.

Demand Water Heaters

It is possible to completely eliminate standby heat losses from the tank and reduce energy consumption 20% to 30% with demand (or instantaneous) water heaters, which do not have storage tanks. Cold water travels through a pipe into the unit, and either a gas burner or an electric element heats the water only when needed. With these systems, you never run out of hot water. But there is one potential drawback with demand water heaters--limited flow rate. Typically, demand heaters provide hot water at a rate of 2 to 4 gallons (7.6 to 15.2 litres) per minute. This flow rate might suffice if your household does not use hot water at more than one location at the same time (e.g., showering and doing laundry simultaneously). To meet hot water demand when multiple faucets are being used, demand heaters can be installed in parallel sequence. Although gas fired demand heaters tend to have higher flow rates than electric ones, they can waste energy even when no water is being heated if their pilot lights stay on. However, the amount of energy consumed by a pilot light is quite small.

Heat Pump Water Heaters

Heat pump water heaters use electricity to move heat from one place to another instead of generating heat directly. To heat water for homes, heat pump water heaters work like refrigerators in reverse. Heat pump water heaters can be purchased as integral units with builtin water storage tanks or as add ons that can be retrofitted to an existing water heater tank. These systems have a high initial cost. They also require installation in locations that remain in the 40° to 90°F (4.4° to 32.2°C) range year round and contain at least 1000 cubic feet (28.3 cubic meters) of air space around the water heaters. To operate most efficiently, they should be placed in areas having excess heat, such as furnace rooms. They will not work well in a cold space.

Tankless Coil and Indirect Water Heaters

A home's space heating system can also be used to heat water. Two types of water heaters that use this system are tankless coil and indirect. No separate storage tank is needed in the tankless coil water heater because water is heated directly inside the boiler in a hydronic (i.e., hot water) heating system. The water flows through a heat exchanger in the boiler whenever a hot water faucet is turned on. During colder months, the tankless coil works well because the heating system is used regularly. However, the system is less efficient during warmer months and in warmer climates when the boiler is used less frequently. A separate storage tank is required with an indirect water heater. Like the tankless coil, the indirect water heater circulates water through a heat exchanger in the boiler. But this heated water then flows to an insulated storage tank. Because the boiler does not need to operate frequently, this system is more efficient than the tankless coil. In fact, when an indirect water heater is used with a highly efficient boiler, the combination may provide one of the least expensive methods of water heating.

Solar Water Heaters

Through specially designed systems, energy from the sun can be used to heat water for your home. Depending on climate and water use, a properly designed, installed, and maintained solar water heater can meet from half to nearly all of a home's hot water demand. Two features, a collector and a storage tank, characterize most solar water heaters. Beyond these common features, solar water heating systems can vary significantly in design. The various system designs can be classified as passive or active and as direct (also called open loop) or indirect (also called closed loop). Passive systems operate without pumps and controls and can be more reliable, more durable, easier to maintain, longer lasting, and less expensive to operate than active systems. Active solar water heaters incorporate pumps and controls to move heat transfer fluids from the collectors to the storage tanks. Both active and passive solar water heating systems often require "conventional" water heaters as backups, or the solar systems function as pre-heaters for the conventional units. A direct solar water heating system circulates household water through collectors and is not appropriate in climates in which freezing temperatures occur. An indirect system should not experience problems with freezing because the fluid in the collectors is usually a form of antifreeze. If you are considering purchasing a solar water-heating system, you may want to compare products from different manufacturers. Just choosing a solar water heater with good ratings is not enough, though. Proper design, sizing, installation, and maintenance are also critical to ensure efficient system performance. Although the purchase and installation prices of solar water heaters are usually higher than those of conventional types, operating costs are much lower.

Criteria for Selection

As with any purchase, balance the pros and cons of the different water heaters in light of your particular needs. There are numerous factors to consider when choosing a new water heater. Some other considerations are capacity, efficiency, and cost.

Determining Capacity

Although some consumers base their purchase on the size of the storage tank, the peak hour demand capacity, referred to as the first-hour rating (FHR), is actually the more important figure. The FHR is a measure of how much hot water the heater will deliver during a busy hour. Therefore, before you shop, estimate your household’s peak hour demand and look for a unit with an FHR in that range. Gas water heaters have higher FHRs than electric water heaters of the same storage capacity. Therefore, it may be possible to meet your water-heating needs with a gas unit that has a smaller storage tank than an electric unit with the same FHR. More efficient gas water heaters use various non-conventional arrangements for combustion air intake and exhaust. These features, however, can increase installation costs.

Rating Efficiency

Once you have decided what type of water heater best suits your needs, determine which water heater in that category is the most fuel efficient. The best indicator of a heater's efficiency is its Energy Factor (EF), which is based on recovery efficiency (i.e., how efficiently the heat from the energy source is transferred to the water), standby losses (i.e., the percentage of heat lost per hour from the stored water compared to the heat content of the water), and cycling losses. The higher the EF, the more efficient the water heater. Electric resistance water heaters have an EF between 0.7 and 0.95; gas heaters have an EF between 0.5 and 0.6, with some high-efficiency models around 0.8; oil heaters range from 0.7 to 0.85; and heat pump water heaters range from 1.5 to 2.0. Product literature from manufacturers usually gives the appliance’s EF rating. If it does not, you can obtain it by contacting an appliance manufacturer association. Some other energy efficiency features to look for are tanks with at least 1.5 inches (3.8 centimeters) of foam insulation and energy efficiency ratings.

Comparing Costs

Another factor uppermost in many consumers' minds is cost, which encompasses purchase price and lifetime maintenance and operation expenses. When choosing among different models, it is wise to analyze the lifecycle cost--the total of all costs and benefits associated with a purchase during its estimated lifetime. Units with longer warranties usually have higher price tags, though. Often, the least expensive water heater to purchase is the most expensive to operate.

 

 

 

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11 Things You Need to Know to Pass Your Home Inspection


 

"According to industry experts, there are at least 33 physical problems that will come under scrutiny during a home inspection when your home is for sale. Here are 11 you should know about if you're planning to put your home up for sale."

 

Homebuyers Want to Know Your Home Inside and Out

While homebuyers are as individual as the homes they plan on purchasing, one thing they share is a desire to ensure that the home they will call their own is as good beneath the surface as it appears to be. Will the roof end up leaking? Is the wiring safe? What about the plumbing?  These, and others, are the questions that the buyers looking at your home will seek professional help to answer.

According to industry experts, there are at least 33 physical problems that will come under scrutiny during a home inspection. We've identified the 11 most common of these and, if not identified and dealt with, any of these 11 items could cost you dearly in terms of repair.

In most cases, you can make a reasonable pre-inspection yourself if you know what you’re looking for. And knowing what you’re looking for can help you prevent little problems from growing into costly and unmanageable ones.

11 Things You Need to Know to Pass Your Home Inspection

1. Defective Plumbing

Defective plumbing can manifest itself in two different ways: leaking, and clogging. A visual inspection can detect leaking, and an inspector will gauge water pressure by turning on all faucets in the highest bathroom and then flushing the toilet. If you hear the sound of running water, it indicates that the pipes are undersized. If the water appears dirty when first turned on at the faucet, this is a good indication that the pipes are rusting, which can result in severe water quality problems.

2. Damp or Wet Basement

An inspector will check your walls for a powdery white mineral deposit a few inches off the floor, and will look to see if you feel secure enough to store things right on your basement floor. A mildew odor is almost impossible to eliminate, and an inspector will certainly be conscious of it.

It could cost you $200-$1,000 to seal a crack in or around your basement foundation depending on severity and location. Adding a sump pump and pit could run you around $750 - $1,000, and complete waterproofing (of an average 3 bedroom home) could amount to $5,000-$15,000. You will have to weigh these figures into the calculation of what price you want to net on your home.

3. Inadequate Wiring & Electrical

Your home should have a minimum of 100 amps service, and this should be clearly marked. Wire should be copper or aluminum. Home inspectors will look at octopus plugs as indicative of inadequate circuits and a potential fire hazard.

4. Poor Heating & Cooling Systems

Insufficient insulation, and an inadequate or a poorly functioning heating system, are the most common causes of poor heating. While an adequately clean furnace, without rust on the heat exchanger, usually has life left in it, an inspector will be asking and checking to see if your furnace is over its typical life span of 15-25 yrs. For a forced air gas system, a heat exchanger will come under particular scrutiny since one that is cracked can emit deadly carbon monoxide into the home. These heat exchangers must be replaced if damaged -they cannot be repaired.

5. Roofing Problems

Water leakage through the roof can occur for a variety of reasons such as physical deterioration of the asphalt shingles (e.g. curling or splitting), or mechanical damage from a wind storm. When gutters leak and downspouts allow water to run down and through the exterior walls, this external problem becomes a major internal one.

6. Damp Attic Spaces

Aside from basement dampness, problems with ventilation, insulation and vapor barriers can cause water, moisture, mould and mildew to form in the attic. This can lead to premature wear of the roof, structure and building materials. The cost to fix this damage could easily run over $2,500.

7. Rotting Wood

This can occur in many places (door or window frames, trim, siding, decks and fences). The building inspector will sometimes probe the wood to see if this is present - especially when wood has been freshly painted.

8. Masonry Work

Re-bricking can be costly, but, left unattended, these repairs can cause problems with water and moisture penetration into the home which in turn could lead to a chimney being clogged by fallen bricks or even a chimney which falls onto the roof. It can be costly to rebuild a chimney or to have it repainted.

9. Unsafe or Over-fused Electrical Circuit

A fire hazard is created when more amperage is drawn on the circuit than was intended. 15 amp circuits are the most common in a typical home, with larger service for large appliances such as stoves and dryers. It can cost several hundred dollars to replace your fuse panel with a circuit panel.

10. Adequate Security Features

More than a purchased security system, an inspector will look for the basic safety features that will protect your home such as proper locks on windows and patio doors, dead bolts on the doors, smoke and even carbon monoxide detectors in every bedroom and on every level. Even though pricing will vary, these components will add to your costs. Before purchasing or installing, you should check with your local experts.

11. Structural/Foundation Problems

An inspector will certainly investigate the underlying footing and foundation of your home as structural integrity is fundamental to your home.

When you put your home on the market, you don't want any unpleasant surprises that could cost you the sale of your home. By having an understanding of these 11 problem areas as you walk through your home, you'll be arming yourself against future disappointment.

 

 

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Common Mistakes Made With Money and How to Avoid Them

Everybody makes mistakes with their money. The important thing is to keep them to a minimum. And one of the best ways to accomplish that is to learn from the mistakes of others. Here is our list of the top mistakes people make with their money, and what you can do to avoid these mistakes in the first place.

1.  Buying items you don't need...and paying extra for them in interest. Every time you have an urge to do a little "impulse buying" and you use your credit card but you don't pay in full by the due date, you could be paying interest on that purchase for months or years to come. Spending money for something you really don't need can be a big waste of your money. But you can make the matter worse, a lot worse, by putting the purchase on a credit card and paying monthly interest charges.

Research major purchases and comparison shop before you buy. Ask yourself if you really need the item. Even better, wait a day or two, or just a few hours, to think things over rather than making a quick and costly decision you may come to regret.

There are good reasons to pay for major purchases with a credit card, such as extra protections if you have problems with the items. But if you charge a purchase with a credit card instead of paying by cash, check or debit card (which automatically deducts the money from your bank account), be smart about how you repay. For example, take advantage of offers of "zero-percent interest" on credit card purchases for a certain number of months (but understand when and how interest charges could begin).

And, pay the entire balance on your credit card or as much as you can to avoid or minimize interest charges, which can add up significantly.

If you pay only the minimum amount due on your credit card, you may end up paying more in interest charges than what the item cost you to begin with. Example: If you pay only the minimum payment due on a $1,000 computer, let's say it's about $20 a month, your total cost at an Annual Percentage Rate of more than 18 percent can be close to $3,000, and it will take you nearly 19 years to pay it off.

2.  Getting too deeply in debt. Being able to borrow allows us to buy clothes or computers, take a vacation or purchase a home or a car. But taking on too much debt can be a problem, and each year millions of adults of all ages find themselves struggling to pay their loans, credit cards and other bills.

3.  Learn to be a good money manager. Also recognize the warning signs of a serious debt problem. These may include borrowing money to make payments on loans you already have, deliberately paying bills late, and putting off doctor visits or other important activities because you think you don't have enough money.

If you believe you're experiencing debt overload, take corrective measures. For example, try to pay off your highest interest rate loans (usually your credit cards) as soon as possible, even if you have higher balances on other loans. For new purchases, instead of using your credit card, try paying with cash, a check or a debit card.

There are also reliable credit counselors you can turn to for help at little or no cost. Unfortunately, you also need to be aware that there are scams masquerading as 'credit repair clinics' and other companies, such as 'debt consolidators', that may charge big fees for unfulfilled promises or services you can perform on your own.

4.  Paying bills late or otherwise tarnishing your reputation. Companies called credit bureaus prepare credit reports for use by lenders, employers, insurance companies, landlords and others who need to know someone's financial reliability, based largely on each person's track record paying bills and debts. Credit bureaus, lenders and other companies also produce "credit scores" that attempt to summarize and evaluate a person's credit record using a point system.

While one or two late payments on your loans or other regular commitments (such as rent or phone bills) over a long period may not seriously damage your credit record, making a habit of it will count against you. Over time you could be charged a higher interest rate on your credit card or a loan that you really want and need. You could be turned down for a job or an apartment. It could cost you extra when you apply for auto insurance. Your credit record will also be damaged by a bankruptcy filing or a court order to pay money as a result of a lawsuit.

So, pay your monthly bills on time. Also, periodically review your credit reports from to make sure their information accurately reflects the accounts you have.

5.  Having too many credit cards. Two to four cards (including any from department stores, oil companies and other retailers) is the right number for most adults. Why not more cards?

The more credit cards you carry, the more inclined you may be to use them for costly impulse buying. In addition, each card you own — even the ones you don't use — represents money that you could borrow up to the card's spending limit. If you apply for new credit you will be seen as someone who, in theory, could get much deeper in debt and you may only qualify for a smaller or costlier loan.

Also be aware that card companies aggressively market their products on college campuses, at concerts, ball games or other events often attended by young adults. Their offers may seem tempting and even harmless — perhaps a free T-shirt or Frisbee, or 10 percent off your first purchase if you just fill out an application for a new card — but you've got to consider the possible consequences we've just described. Don't sign up for a credit card just to get a great-looking T-shirt. You may be better off buying that shirt at the store for $14.95 and saving yourself the potential costs and troubles from that extra card.

6.  Not watching your expenses. It's very easy to overspend in some areas and take away from other priorities, including your long-term savings. Our suggestion is to try any system — ranging from a computer-based budget program to hand-written notes — that will help you keep track of your spending each month and enable you to set and stick to limits you consider appropriate. A budget doesn't have to be complicated, intimidating or painful — just something that works for you in getting a handle on your spending.

7.  Not saving for your future. We know it can be tough to scrape together enough money to pay for a place to live, a car and other expenses each month. But experts say it's also important for young people to save money for their long-term goals, too, including perhaps buying a home, owning a business or saving for your retirement (even though it may be 40 or 50 years away).

Start by "paying yourself first". That means even before you pay your bills each month you should put money into savings for your future. Often the simplest way is to arrange with your bank or employer to automatically transfer a certain amount each month to a savings account or to purchase a Savings Bond or an investment, such as a mutual fund that buys stocks and bonds.

Even if you start with just $25 or $50 a month you'll be significantly closer to your goal. The important thing is to start saving as early as you can — even saving for your retirement when that seems light-years away — so you can benefit from the effect of compound interest. Compound interest refers to when an investment earns interest, and later that combined amount earns more interest, and on and on until a much larger sum of money is the result after many years.

Banking institutions pay interest on savings accounts that they offer. However, bank deposits aren't the only way to make your money grow. Investments, which include stocks, bonds and mutual funds, can be attractive alternatives to bank deposits because they often provide a higher rate of return over long periods, but remember that there is the potential for a temporary or permanent loss in value.

8.  Paying too much in fees. Whenever possible, use your own financial institution's automated teller machines or the ATMs owned by financial institutions that don't charge fees to non-customers. You can pay $1 to $4 in fees if you get cash from an ATM that isn't owned by your financial institution or isn't part of an ATM "network" that your bank belongs to.

Try not to "bounce" checks — that is, writing checks for more money than you have in your account, which can trigger fees from your financial institution (about $15 to $30 for each check) and from merchants. The best precaution is to keep your checkbook up to date and closely monitor your balance, which is easier to do with online and telephone banking. Remember to record your debit card transactions from ATMs and merchants so that you will be sure to have enough money in your account when those withdrawals are processed by you bank.

Financial institutions also offer "overdraft protection" services that can help you avoid the embarrassment and inconvenience of having a check returned to a merchant. But be careful before signing up because these programs come with their own costs. Whenever possible, use your own financial institution's automated teller machines or the ATMs owned by institutions that don't charge fees to non-customers.

Pay off your credit card balance each month, if possible, so you can avoid or minimize interest charges. Also send in your payment on time to avoid additional fees. If you don't expect to pay your credit card bill in full most months, consider using a card with a low interest rate and a generous "grace period" (the number of days before the card company starts charging you interest on new purchases).

9.  Not taking responsibility for your finances. Do a little comparison shopping to find accounts that match your needs at the right cost. Be sure to review your bills and bank statements as soon as possible after they arrive or monitor your accounts periodically online or by telephone. You want to make sure there are no errors, unauthorized charges or indications that a thief is using your identity to commit fraud.

Keep copies of any contracts or other documents that describe your bank accounts, so you can refer to them in a dispute. Also remember that the quickest way to fix a problem usually is to work directly with your bank or other service provider.

 

 

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