Real Estate Corner

Featured

04/02/2013

Should I use the local realtor in my neighborhood?

You want to use the Realtor that you believe can sell your house!  Real estate is not just a local business anymore.  Real estate is regional.  You want the Realtor that will work hard and make you and your situation are a priority.  You want the Realtor that will treat the sale of your house, the way they would treat the sale of THEIR own house.  You want to make sure your home is properly marketed.  You absolutely want to make sure that they will do a fantastic job of negotiating on your behalf.  Follow your instincts and you should end up with a happy, successful closing in a few months.

 

03/08/2013

What is a Short Sale?

A short sale occurs when a homeowner owes more on their mortgage than they can sell their house for.  For example, a homeowner has a loan for $200,000 and the homes in the neighborhood are selling for $125,000.  If the homeowner has a true hardship, they can go to their lender and see if they are a candidate for a short sale.  The reason for the term short sale is because the homeowner is asking the lender to sell the home for an amount that is short of the full loan payoff amount.  Some first time buyers think a short sale refers to the timeframe for the approval.  This is not the case.  I have seen short sales take anywhere from 60 days up to 200+ days, for an approval.  If the buyer is patient, they can get a great home that is maintained, by the homeowner, until closing at a great price.

1/29/13

Why should I get a home inspection?

An inspection is your time to fully evaluate the house and to make sure everything is in proper working order. You are paying a lot of money for your home, you should spend just a little more to check out the house. I know that everything looks fine, but you never really know what is going on with a furnace, roof, the electrical or anything else. For example, the furnace could be leaking carbon monoxide, an odorless, tasteless, poisonious gas. The time to learn about such a leak is BEFORE your purchase.
It is always best to leave the home evaluation to the experts. However, if we do find a safety hazard, we want it addressed. If you are the buyer, you want to know if there are any health or safety violations.
This is going to be your home, where you and your family are going to live for many years. You want it to be safe. If you are the seller, you want to live in and give the buyer a safe house.
Does a home inspection mean you should nitpick every small item? No way, there is no such thing as a perfect house. A house is always going to have projects. If you are the buyer, you are going to pick up the project list where the current seller left off. When you sell, the next buyer is going to pick up your
project list. There is not perfect home, there is always something. By the time you get everything right, it is time to start over!

1/28/13

When I want to refinance my loan, should I pay for an appraisal or ask my agent
first?

I believe you should start with your Realtor. Just like when we pulled up the details about the properties that had recently sold, when you purchased your home, we can do the same thing again. Your lender is going to hire an appraiser and charge you several hundred dollars for a detailed appraisal. Your Realtor
with be able to give you a good price range, at no cost to you.

If you just want to refinance, to take advantage of a lower interest rate, you will need the comparable sales values to equal the amount you owe on your mortgage. For a quick example, if you owe $300,000 on your house and your neighborhood sale prices are $300,000 to $350,000. You should be ok to
refinance your loan and take advantage of a lower interest rate.
If you want to take some of your equity out of the house, you will need the comparable sales values to equal the amount of your mortgage, plus 20% of your mortgage, plus the amount that you want to take out. An example of this might be, if you owe $300,000 on your house and the neighborhood sales prices are $400,000 to $425,000. Again, you should be ok to refinance your loan and take some of the equity out of your house. In this example, the lender will probably want you to keep 20% equity or $60,000 but anything above the $360,000 you could cash out. Warning: I don’t believe taking equity out of your house is a good idea.

I meet with homeowners all the time, and almost every single one of them doesn’t even remember what they did with all of the money, and they are still paying on the loan! The equity you build in your current home is going to help you get to your next home.

Remember, every situation is unique. This is a general answer. Your lender will be able to give you more specific details for you.

1/26/13:

Does a verbal offer ever count?

A verbal offer isn’t worth the paper it isn’t printed on. Sorry, no pun intended. In today’s world of modern technology, it is very easy to submit an offer, no matter where you are in the world. For an offer to be valid, you must be 18 or over, you must be competent, and your offer MUST be in writing.
There is no way to prove anything that isn’t in writing.

We can email purchase agreements, fax them, overnight them, and even mail them through the U. S. Post Office. We are very blessed to have so many alternatives.

If you really, really want a house, put your signature where your mouth is, on an offer to purchase. If you try a verbal offer, the house you love might be sold to the purchaser that was willing to put their offer in writing. Sellers and their Realtors don’t take verbal offers seriously. We need to see your entire
offer, your earnest money deposit, and your pre-approval letter. The entire package must be evaluated.

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Organization Ideas

Featured

1/4

Whimsy Meets Function in This Pantry Redo

It’s a brand-new year — and a great time to reinvent your pantry. By: Lisa Kaplan Gordon on Houselogic.com

The redesigned pantry from 11 Magnolia LaneSince she moves often, Christy Black wanted her pantry to be functional, reversible, and whimsical. All images in this post: Christy at 11 Magnolia Lane

Our first pantry transformation comes from Christy Black, a military wife who moves every couple of years. It’s a mixed blessing that forces her to constantly edit her possessions and question each purchase with: Is this something I love, need, and want to unpack?

Frequent moves also guided the way the 11 Magnolia Lane blogger added kitchen storage by making over the pantry in the 1915 colonial revival her family recently called home. The pantry project had to be:

  • Reversible, for the next resident
  • Functional to accommodate her prized bread machine
  • Whimsical to provide little touches that makes each new rental feel like home

This is what Black’s “before” pantry looked like:

Pantry before

It was a two-door, built-in cabinet with adjustable shelves. The tallest items only halfway filled the tallest shelves (waste of space). Mounds of boxes and bags tumbled out when Black opened the doors.

“The pantry was the only storage I had for big boxes and small appliances, and nothing was deep enough or tall enough for them,” Black says. “And I hate things on the counters. I hate clutter.”

Pantry pare-down

Black started her pantry project by empting its contents onto floors and countertops.

Food on floor

Next, Black moved and removed shelves to customize the space to hold that bread machine and her favorite kitchen helper — a snacks rack her kids love and her friends covet. She snagged the rack on eBay, but you can buy one for about $37 online.

To corral half-filled pasta boxes and sloppy bags of beans, Black bought inexpensive glass canisters. She admits decanting everything into jars takes time, but jars look good, save space, and let her easily see what needs reordering. Of course, her glass canisters couldn’t hold a 25-pound of rice. So she stored bulk goods in the cellar, keeping the pantry for everyday items.

Pantry pizzazz

She glue-gunned a ½-inch wide, polka dot ribbon to the face of each shelf. If the next residents don’t like polka dots, she reasoned, they can easily remove the glue with a short blast from a hot hairdryer.

Polka dot ribbon

Black looked at the inside of the raised panel pantry doors and saw space that could answer her family’s perpetual question: What’s for dinner? She bought chalkboard contact paper ($7 for 18-in. by 6-ft. roll), and cut a panel for each door. On the left she wrote weekly menus; on the right she had a surface for her kids to doodle.

Chalkboard paint, which is easy to clean, would have worked better than paper, Black says. But paint isn’t reversible, which was a requirement for the pantry makeover.

Total cost: $50 (mostly for glass canisters)

Full height pantry

1/2

Most refrigerators are designed for condiments to go in the door shelves, but you don't have to arrange your fridge that way if you don't want to. Image: Corbis Photography/Veer

How to Organize Your Refrigerator

Leftovers gobbling up space in your refrigerator? Here are some tips for keeping things organized, efficient, and tasty.

By: Courtney Craig

Dreaming of a clean refrigerator, but not sure how to organize? We’ve got some cool ideas.

Front and center

Give prime fridge space to priority items, says professional organizer Kathi Burns, founder of Add Space to Your Life.

“If you want leftovers to be eaten, keep them front and center on the middle rack, at eye level,” says Burns. “That goes for healthy snacks, too. If you have leftovers, don’t cram them in the back.”

For large food items, slice and store in several containers, says professional organizer Abbey Claire Keusch. If your refrigerator has adjustable shelves, you can move them around for specific items. Have a plan for the food you keep.

Not everything needs chillingDid you know that ketchup, vinegar, jam, and even mayonnaise and butter don’t need to be refrigerated? If you’re tight on fridge space, these items and more can go in the pantry instead.

And if you have backyard chickens, the eggs you get from them don’t need to be refrigerated, although store-bought eggs do (American regulations require eggs to be power-washed before selling, which strips eggshells of their protective coating, so store-bought eggs have to be refrigerated to stay fresh).

The only items that really need to go in the fridge are meats, dairy products, and certain vegetables (unless you’re going to eat them right away).

Items that should never go in the refrigerator include:

  • Tomatoes (they’ll get mushy faster if they’re cold).
  • Onions (they’ll soften, plus all your other food will smell like onions).
  • Honey (it’ll get too thick).
  • Potatoes (cold temperatures turn starches into sugars, giving your taters a sweet flavor when you cook them, and not in a good way).

Go against the flowToday’s refrigerators are designed to be organized a certain way — condiments in the door, vegetables in the crisper, gallon of milk on the center rack. But it doesn’t have to be that way, Burns says.

“For busy families, I recommend a ‘lunch bin’ that you can pull out,” she says. “Keep the mayo, mustard, pickles, meat, and cheese in there, so you can just pull it out and make a sandwich. It’s easy for kids. You can create a bin for healthy snacks, too, or a breakfast bin with bagels and cream cheese.”

Pulling out one bin instead of many individual items is faster, too, so your refrigerator door doesn’t stay open as long. For smaller refrigerators that don’t have drawers, long, rectangular bins can be used for easy organizing.

“Same goes for the freezer — just use a Tupperware bin for frozen veggies, so you can pull out all the bags of veggies in one fell swoop,” Burns says. “It works really well.”

Hip to be square

Refrigerators are more efficient when they’re fuller, but that doesn’t mean you should cram as much stuff in there as possible. Square or rectangular containers are the way to go for leftovers — they’re easily stackable and fit into corners neatly.

“Stay away from round containers,” says Burns. “That’s just wasted space.”

Home Improvement Articles

Featured

1/8

Appliance Buying Guide: Water Heaters

When it’s time to replace your water heater, you’ll find a wide array of high-efficiency models offering big energy savings.

By: Joe Bousquin

Since hot water accounts for as much as 25% of your home’s energy use, when your water heater dies, the replacement you choose will have a big impact on your monthly bills. New technologies make many of today’s models far more energy efficient than that old tank you’re getting rid of. Some of the greenest options are tankless units that heat water on demand, but even conventional water heaters — the classic metal cylinders that are by far the most popular in the U.S. — have gotten less expensive to operate.

Water heater basics

Most households need a 50-gallon tank, according to Jeff Haney, a product manager at manufacturer Rheem. That’ll cost $900 to $2,000, installed, depending on which model you choose. Your plumber will put it where the old tank was, with the cold water supply pipe attached at the bottom of the tank and a hot water outlet pipe on top.

Inside the tank, a thermostat constantly assesses the water temperature and fires up a heating mechanism when it falls below the desired setting (120 degrees is standard). When you turn on a hot water tap, heated water flows from the tank and gets replaced by more cold water from the supply line below.

To do this work, water heaters use electricity, oil, or natural gas. Choosing a new water heater that uses the same fuel type as your old unit is the easiest way to keep replacement costs down, says contractor Andy Wargo of Marcellus, N.Y.

What to look for on the label

Within each fuel type, you’ll find a range of models and price points. To compare, look for these key differences, marked right on the label:

First Hour Rating is a measure of how many gallons the unit can produce in one hour (which is more than its tank capacity since it starts making more hot water as soon as you draw some out). With the average shower using 20 gallons of water, a shave using a couple more, and washing breakfast dishes another 5 to 10, a busy family might need an FHR of 60 to 70 gallons to handle the morning rush. Your plumber can help you analyze your needs.

Energy Factor tells you how efficiently the unit operates. The higher the number, the more efficient the unit, and the less it will cost to run. Federal tax credits for highly efficient water heaters expired in 2011, but you can look for state credits and local utility rebates at the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency.

Here’s a breakdown of your basic water heater options from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy:

Water Heater Type Installed Cost Yearly Energy Cost Life (years) Total Cost (over 13 Years)
Conventional gas $850 $350 13 $5,394
High-efficiency gas $1,025 $323 13 $5,220
Conventional electric $750 $463 13 $6,769
High-efficiency electric $820 $439 13 $6,528
Conventional oil $1,100 $230 8 $4,777

High-efficiency gas storage: These are just like standard gas water heaters, but with more efficient burners, better insulation, and other upgrades that make them about 7.5% more efficient, saving the average household about $30 a year. Costs for high-efficiency gas tank water heaters start around $850 (about $175 more than a conventional gas tank unit), plus around $200 for installation (the same as a conventional unit).

Gas condensing: To achieve even higher efficiency, these systems vent the exhaust from the gas burner back through a closed system of coils inside the tank, allowing the water to absorb heat that would otherwise escape up the chimney, explains Potomac, Md., contractor Jay Irwin. That makes them about a third more efficient than conventional tanks, for savings of about $100 a year for a typical household.

Gas condensing units are expensive — around $1,600. And because they produce condensation as the exhaust cools, they need a special drain to discharge the runoff, pushing installation costs up to around $400.

Electric heat pumps: Heat-pump models work like air conditioners, by pulling heat out of the surrounding air. But rather than exhausting the heat outside like an air conditioner, they concentrate it and pump it into the water tank. As a result, they use 55% less energy than traditional electric water heaters. Since these utilize ambient heat in the air, they produce the biggest year-round energy savings in hot climates.

You’ll pay around $1,400, or three times what a conventional electric unit costs, but you could save $300 a year in energy costs, meaning it will pay for itself in about three years.

12/26

How To Insulate A Garage Door

Garage door insulation cuts energy bills and street noise. Here’s how to insulate your garage door.

By: Lisa Kaplan Gordon

Garage door insulation can make your life warmer, cooler, and quieter. It lowers energy bills, acts as a barrier between you and street noise, and brightens an otherwise dreary space.

Garage door insulation is an easy DIY project; it’ll cost you about $200 to insulate two 9-foot-wide doors.

Types of insulation

Any insulation type will increase the energy efficiency of your garage door. Here are the most popular types to apply to the back of garage doors:

  • Batt insulation. This flexible insulation, often found stuffed into exterior walls, is commonly made of fiberglass. It’s usually backed by paper or foil, which act as vapor and air barriers. Insulating values are R-3 to R-4 per inch of thickness. Cost is about 30 cents per sq. ft.
  • Foam board insulation. These rigid panels, typically made from polystyrene, provide a high insulating value for relatively little thickness. Panels most often range from ½ inch thick (R-3.3) to 1 inch (R-6.5). Foam board often is faced with aluminum or vinyl. ($20 for a 4-by-8-ft. sheet that’s 1 inch thick.)
  • Reflective insulation. Rigid boards and rolls of reflective insulation have highly reflective aluminum foil applied to one or both sides of insulation materials, such as cardboard and polyethylene bubbles. This type of insulation reflects radiant heat, making it a good insulation choice for garages that heat up in summer or hot climates. Its approximate R-value is 3.5 to 6, depending on the way you apply it. (A 4-by-25-foot roll is $42).

Matching insulation to your garage door

The goal is to match your garage door to an insulation that’s easy to install and appropriate for your climate.

  • Steel garage doors. These doors can accommodate any type of insulation. Stuff the flexible insulation in the frames around the panels, with the fiberglass side touching the door. Or squeeze cut-to-fit foam board insulation into the frames.
  • Wood frame-and-panel doors. Cut and fit rigid insulation into the recesses between the door frames. For extra climate control, install two layers of foam board.
    Flat garage doors. Foam board or reflective insulation is the best fit for garage doors without panels. Glue or tape the insulation to the garage door.

    Insulation kits

    Even though buying and cutting insulation isn’t hard, garage door insulation kits make it even easier. They contain:

    • Insulation — rolls or boards — cut closer to the size of garage panels than if you bought these yourself, though you’ll still have to trim.
    • Fasteners or tape to hold insulation in place.
    • Higher-end kits throw in gloves and/or a utility knife.

    Kits to insulate a 9-ft. wide garage door cost $50-$70.

    Heads up!

    Adding insulation to a garage door adds weight. Extra weight isn’t usually a problem with 9-ft. wide doors, but can strain the opening mechanism of larger doors. Your garage door’s spring tension might have to be adjusted — a job best left to a garage door professional.

12/4

Kitchen Cabinets in Motion: Even the Jetsons Would be Impressed

By: Jan Soults Walker

Cabinets in motion obey hand signals to open doors, and touch-sensitive drawers glide out with the brush of a fingertip.

Jane Jetson pushes a few buttons and dinner pops out, but her cabinets are definitely old-school. What a great kitchen upgrade these cabinets would make for George and Jane.

Using the latest in motion-detection and touch-sensitive technology, cabinet doors and drawers glide open—and shut—in response to movement or the slightest touch. Small motors activate the doors. Motion sensors are set so that your hand must be within an inch of the sensor, which prevents doors from accidentally opening as you walk past.

Cabinets in motion integrate with other home automation technologies and can be programmed for multiple functions. For example, push a single button marked “baking” on a computer screen or wall-mounted touch pad, and doors glide open to reveal baking supplies and utensils, lights over the baking prep area brighten, and a false-front cabinet door slides away to uncover a TV screen, already set to your favorite channel.

The technology can extend to other areas of the house, such as using automated doors to create hidden storage behind paneled walls in the living room or den.

Cabinetry-in-motion features

Custom cabinet company Anvil Cabinet and Mill offers a creative approach with Anvil Motion, a luxury custom line with ultra-modern automated features that you can dress in any style.

  • Sliding doors. Motion sensors detect the wave of your hand near the cabinet you want to access and the panels comprising the door slide upward to reveal the contents. Wave your hand again and the door closes. Doors can also hide integrated top-of-the-line appliances and slide open when you need them.
  • Dynamic drawers. Simply touch the front of the drawer that you want to access, and it glides open. Touch it again and it closes.
  • Fingerprint security. You can also integrate biometric locks, which “recognize” your fingerprint and allow only authorized users access to the contents, such as prescriptions, knives, liquor, or valuables.
  • Price points. All these high-tech bells and whistles come at a cost, of course. Expect to pay 40% to 70% more for automated cabinetry than you would standard swinging door cabinets.

11/30

Get the Kitchen You Want for Less Part 2

By: Kimberly Sweet

Layered lighting

There’s more to lighting than one big overhead fixture or even multiple recessed ceiling lights. Designers like to incorporate ambient or general, task, and accent lighting. In the kitchen, this typically translates into ceiling lights (ambient), under-cabinet lighting (task), and in-cabinet or above-cabinet lighting (accent). Older homes often lack the last two layers, but you can achieve better optics simply.

Get the trend for less (in the long run):

Under-cabinet lighting options, like pucks and light strips, are plentiful, low-cost, and help you reduce the risk of chopping your fingers instead of your vegetables.

For accent lighting that adds drama, use inexpensive LED tape or strip lighting (uninstalled, it runs $10-$30 per foot) inside cabinets, says Designer Nick Lovelady. This can work equally well to illuminate a big pantry cabinet or to show off dishware in a glass-front cabinet.

If you’re willing to spend some money up front to save money in the long run, consider replacing existing can lights with long-lasting, energy-efficient LED lights. Kitchen lights account for a great deal of home energy usage, and eventually the savings cover the higher cost of LED bulbs.

Designer Judy Klein suggests looking for lamps with under 3,000 Kelvin to create a warm glow.

Space for connectivity

As the role that smartphones, tablets, and laptops play in our life grows, so too does their place in the kitchen command center — whether for doing homework, looking up a recipe, or listening to music. Some kitchens incorporate a charging center for just this reason. Heck, some appliances even come with computers: Samsung’s Wi-Fi enabled refrigerator sports a built-in 8-inch LCD touch screen tablet and plenty of cool apps.Back to reality.Get the trend for less:Install an outlet inside a cabinet to keep the countertop clear.

Switch a standard outlet to an outlet with USB ports so you can charge phones directly without an adapter.

 Color
Paint the walls. It’s much easier for you — or a potential buyer of your home — to repaint a wall than to repaint cabinets or replace a countertop.Opt for colorful vases or serve ware. Target has affordable pieces in every shade of the rainbow.Linens and fabrics make an impact, too. Klein recommends cotton, washable rugs from Dash & Albert, and Ikea also offers a large selection of attractive rugs. For placemats and table cloths, try Pier 1.

11/28

Get the Kitchen You Want for Less

By: Kimberly Sweet

1. White kitchens

White kitchens are classic and clean looking (at least in pictures). And if Pinterest is an accurate gauge, white kitchens, white cabinets, white marble counters, and white subway tile backsplashes are swooned over as much as white wedding dresses. But, there’s no need to redo the whole kitchen.

Get the trend for less:

Paint the walls white. A fresh clean coat of pristine white paint may be all you need to make your kitchen feel shiny and new. Avoid a stark “builder white” and go with a slightly warmer white instead.

Paint the cabinets white. The real question is, to DIY or not to DIY? Painting cabinets is a time-consuming job that requires a lot of prepping and priming. All the doors need to come off (where will you put them?), and you may not have the right tools or skills. Intrepid DIYers: See what’s involved in painting cabinets:

On the other hand, hiring pros can cost $100 to $200 per box, depending on the cost of labor in your area.Alabama kitchen designer Nick Lovelady, owner of Cupboards Kitchen & Bath, recommends buying new, especially with old cabinets that aren’t built well and lack interior accessories. When clients insist, though, his company does paint cabinets. Doing the job right, he says, can pay off by extending your cabinets’ finish 15 to 20 years. Lovelady recommends using a sprayer rather than a brush to avoid lines, especially on hard-grained woods.
Next: 2. Stone counters

Most show kitchens have stone counters, whether they’re made from engineered quartz, exotic granite, or a highly veined marble. But stone is expensive.

Get the trend for less:

Create a stone look by using granite tiles instead of a granite slab. At ¼ to 3/8 inch thick (instead of 2 to 3 cm), tiles cost less and make for easier carrying and installation than slabs. They can also be laid over an existing countertop. However, grout lines break up the appearance and can be tough to clean. 12 in. x 12 in. tiles roughly range from $2 to $17 per sq. ft.

Laminate counters now have more realistic patterns and patterns than before. Here’s your chance to get that white “marble” counter. (Note: They cost more than standard laminates.)

“Manufacturers are increasing their offerings and products look much better than they used to,” says Judy Klein of JK Design in Wilmette, Ill. One new option for laminate is curved edge treatments, such as bullnoses and ogees, which eliminate those telltale dark lines where edges meet, making it hard to identify a laminate counter as such.

By the way, laminate holds the U.S. countertop market share at 56%, with solid surface (12%), natural stone (9%), and engineered stone (7%) bringing up the rear, according to recent research by The Freedonia Group.

3. Minimalist kitchens

Whether driven by a desire to simplify or by simple economics, kitchens look considerably more minimalist than a decade ago. Rather than showing stuff off, we’re hiding it. In appliances, that means paneled, integrated refrigerators and dishwashers. Cabinets not only look less showy with simpler door styles and less moulding, they have more interior organization accessories to keep clutter at bay.To streamline the kitchen you already have, think low-cost kitchen storage.Get the trend for less:Rev-a Shelf offers an under-sink pullout (about $300) that makes the most of underused space.

Cookware organizers ($156 or $284) eliminate the need for a pot rack.

Modular, stackable trays make drawers manageable.

Appliance Buying Guide: Water Heaters

When it’s time to replace your water heater, you’ll find a wide array of high-efficiency models offering big energy savings.

By: Joe Bousquin

Since hot water accounts for as much as 25% of your home’s energy use, when your water heater dies, the replacement you choose will have a big impact on your monthly bills. New technologies make many of today’s models far more energy efficient than that old tank you’re getting rid of. Some of the greenest options are tankless units that heat water on demand, but even conventional water heaters — the classic metal cylinders that are by far the most popular in the U.S. — have gotten less expensive to operate.

Water heater basics

Most households need a 50-gallon tank, according to Jeff Haney, a product manager at manufacturer Rheem. That’ll cost $900 to $2,000, installed, depending on which model you choose. Your plumber will put it where the old tank was, with the cold water supply pipe attached at the bottom of the tank and a hot water outlet pipe on top.

Inside the tank, a thermostat constantly assesses the water temperature and fires up a heating mechanism when it falls below the desired setting (120 degrees is standard). When you turn on a hot water tap, heated water flows from the tank and gets replaced by more cold water from the supply line below.

To do this work, water heaters use electricity, oil, or natural gas. Choosing a new water heater that uses the same fuel type as your old unit is the easiest way to keep replacement costs down, says contractor Andy Wargo of Marcellus, N.Y.

What to look for on the label

Within each fuel type, you’ll find a range of models and price points. To compare, look for these key differences, marked right on the label:

First Hour Rating is a measure of how many gallons the unit can produce in one hour (which is more than its tank capacity since it starts making more hot water as soon as you draw some out). With the average shower using 20 gallons of water, a shave using a couple more, and washing breakfast dishes another 5 to 10, a busy family might need an FHR of 60 to 70 gallons to handle the morning rush. Your plumber can help you analyze your needs.

Energy Factor tells you how efficiently the unit operates. The higher the number, the more efficient the unit, and the less it will cost to run. Federal tax credits for highly efficient water heaters expired in 2011, but you can look for state credits and local utility rebates at the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency.

Here’s a breakdown of your basic water heater options from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy:

Water Heater Type Installed Cost Yearly Energy Cost Life (years) Total Cost (over 13 Years)
Conventional gas $850 $350 13 $5,394
High-efficiency gas $1,025 $323 13 $5,220
Conventional electric $750 $463 13 $6,769
High-efficiency electric $820 $439 13 $6,528
Conventional oil $1,100 $230 8 $4,777

High-efficiency gas storage: These are just like standard gas water heaters, but with more efficient burners, better insulation, and other upgrades that make them about 7.5% more efficient, saving the average household about $30 a year. Costs for high-efficiency gas tank water heaters start around $850 (about $175 more than a conventional gas tank unit), plus around $200 for installation (the same as a conventional unit).

Gas condensing: To achieve even higher efficiency, these systems vent the exhaust from the gas burner back through a closed system of coils inside the tank, allowing the water to absorb heat that would otherwise escape up the chimney, explains Potomac, Md., contractor Jay Irwin. That makes them about a third more efficient than conventional tanks, for savings of about $100 a year for a typical household.

Gas condensing units are expensive — around $1,600. And because they produce condensation as the exhaust cools, they need a special drain to discharge the runoff, pushing installation costs up to around $400.

Electric heat pumps: Heat-pump models work like air conditioners, by pulling heat out of the surrounding air. But rather than exhausting the heat outside like an air conditioner, they concentrate it and pump it into the water tank. As a result, they use 55% less energy than traditional electric water heaters. Since these utilize ambient heat in the air, they produce the biggest year-round energy savings in hot climates.

You’ll pay around $1,400, or three times what a conventional electric unit costs, but you could save $300 a year in energy costs, meaning it will pay for itself in about three years.

How to Care for Your Washer & Dryer

How to care for your washer & dryer By: Douglas Trattner

Anything that affects a dryer’s airflow can cause the appliance to fail and possibly create a dangerous fire hazard, warns Doug Rogers, president of the Mr. Appliance repair chain. And when it comes to washing machines, the leading cause of costly home damage is hose failure.

Here’s a list of maintenance tips to keep your washer and dryer running smoothly and safely:

  • Replace vinyl dryer exhaust ducts with metal ductwork to reduce fire hazards.
  • Before every dryer load, clean out the lint filter.
  • Every three months, wash the lint filter with detergent to remove invisible chemical residues that can restrict airflow.
  • Every month, visually inspect the dryer exhaust duct for crimps, obstructions, and unnecessary bends.
  • Yearly, remove and clean out the entire exhaust duct line from dryer to exterior.
  • Replace rubber washing machine hoses with braided-metal ones to reduce the risk of bursting. Expect to pay about $8 per hose.
  • Monthly, inspect washing machine hoses for tight fittings, bulges, cracks, and leaks. Tighten loose fittings. Replace damaged hoses.
  • Always ensure that the washing machine is level and on firm footing.
  • Always use the proper type and amount of detergent for the machine and load.
  • To prevent washing machine odor in front-load machines, always allow the interior to dry before shutting the door. Families with small children, however, should not leave the door ajar. Instead, use products specifically intended to eliminate odor-causing residues.