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.
Selecting a New Water Heater
Many homeowners wait until their water heater fails before shopping for a
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...
Don't Pay Another Cent in Rent To Your Landlord
It doesn't matter how long you've been
renting, or how insurmountable your
financial situation may seem. The truth is, there are some little known facts
that can help you get over the hump, and transfer your status from renter to
homeowner. With this information, you will begin to see how you really can. "
can make the process easier.
Important Tips To Keep Your Home Safe
It's much more than a physical structure. It's the place where memories are made, where dreams
are shared, where lives are lived. And many of your home's contents--the video of your baby's first steps,
grandmother's brooch or old family photos, for instance--simply cannot be replaced. That's why it makes
good sense to do everything you can to protect your home.
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.
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 householdâ€™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.
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 applianceâ€™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.
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.
Don't Pay Another Cent in Rent To Your Landlord
"If you're like most renters, you feel trapped
within the walls of a house or apartment that doesn't feel like yours."
It's a dream we all have - to own our own home and stop paying rent.
But if you're like most renters, you feel trapped within the walls of a
house or apartment that doesn't feel like yours. How could it when you're
not even permitted to bang in a nail or two without a hassle. You feel like
you're stuck in the renter's rut with no way of rising up out of it and
owning your own home.
Don't Feel Trapped Anymore
It doesn't matter how long you've been renting, or how insurmountable
your financial situation may seem. The truth is, there are some little known
facts that can help you get over the hump, and transfer your status from
renter to homeowner. With this information, you will begin to see how you
save for a down payment
stop lining your landlord's pockets, and
- stop wasting thousands of dollars on rent.
6 Little Known Facts That Can Help You Buy Your First Home
The problem that most renters face isn't your ability to meet a monthly
payment. Goodness knows that you must meet this monthly obligation every 30
days already. The problem is accumulating enough capital to make a down
payment on something more permanent.
But saving for this lump sum doesn't have to be as difficult as you might
think. Consider the following 6 important points:
1. You can buy a home with much less down than you think
There are some local or federal government programs (such as 1st time
buyer programs) to help people get into the housing market. You can qualify
as a first time buyer even if your spouse has owned a home before as long as
your name was not registered. Ensure your real estate agent is informed and
knowledgeable in this important area and can offer programs to help you with
2. You may be able to get your lender to help you with your down payment
and closing costs
Even if you do not have enough cash for a downpayment, if you are
debt-free, and own an asset free and clear (such as a car for example), your
lending institution may be able to lend you the downpayment for your home
by securing it against this asset.
3. You may be able to find a seller to help you buy and finance your
Some sellers may be willing to hold a second mortgage for you as a
'seller take-back'. In this case, the seller becomes your lending
institution. Instead of paying this seller a lump-sum full amount for his or
her home, you would pay monthly mortgage installments.
4. You may be able to create a cash down payment without actually going
By borrowing money for certain investments to a specified level, you may
be able to generate a significant tax refund for yourself that you can use
as a downpayment. While the money borrowed for these investments is
technically a loan, the monthly amount paid can be small, and the money
invested in both home and investment will be yours in the end.
5. You can buy a home even if you have problems with your credit rating
If you can come up with more than the
minimum down-payment, or can secure the loan with other equity, many lending institutions will consider you for
a mortgage. Alternatively, a seller take-back mortgage could also help you
in this situation.
6. You can, and should, get pre-approved for a home loan before you go
looking for a home
Pre-approval is easy, and can give you complete peace-of-mind when
shopping for your home. Mortgage experts can obtain written pre-approval
for you at no cost and no obligation, and it can all be done quite easily
over-the-phone. More than just a verbal approval from your lending
institution, a written preapproval is as good as money in the bank. It
entails a completed credit application, and a certificate which guarantees
you a mortgage to the specified level when you find the home you're looking
for. Consider dealing only with a professional who specializes in mortgages.
Enlisting their services can make the difference between obtaining a
mortgage, and being stuck in the renter's rut forever. Typically there is
no cost or obligation to enquire.
There are many important issues you should be aware of that affect you
as a renter. Why on earth would you continue to lose thousands by throwing
it away on rent when with your agent you could take a few minutes to discuss
your specific needs so that you can stop renting and start owning.
This conversation costs you nothing. And, of course, you shouldn't
have to feel obligated to buy a home at the time you review this. But by
taking the time to explore your options, and learn about the ways you can
afford to buy a home, think how prepared and relaxed you'll be when you are
ready to make this important step.
Important Tips To Keep Your Home Safe
It's much more than a physical structure. It's the place where memories are
made, where dreams are shared, where lives are lived. And many of your home's
contents--the video of your baby's first steps, grandmother's brooch or old
family photos, for instance--simply cannot be replaced. That's why it makes good
sense to do everything you can to protect your home from fire and theft.
Most fires are preventable. First, let's look at the top causes of home fires.
- Cooking fires. Cooking fires pose a serious hazard. Always stay
near the stove when cooking. Avoid wearing loose sleeves while cooking; they
can be ignited by a burner or a grease splatter. You'll also want to keep
curtains and other flammable materials well away from the range or oven. And
never put water on a grease fire, which can cause the hot grease to splatter,
burning you or spreading the fire. Instead, smother it with a lid or another
pan, then turn off the burner. Leave the lid in place until it has cooled off
- Portable and space-heating equipment. Wood-burning, kerosene,
propane and electric heaters can ignite draperies, clothing and other
flammable items. Keep anything that can burn at least 3 feet away from all
heating equipment. Shut off a heater before you leave the room or go to bed.
When you purchase a heater, make sure it's been tested and approved by a
- Careless smoking. Cigarettes are the leading cause of fire deaths.
Never smoke in bed or in a place where you may fall asleep. Also, use deep
ashtrays so a lit cigarette won't roll out and fall onto rugs or furniture.
It's also a good idea to run water over an ashtray before emptying it into the
trash. A smoldering cigarette butt could set the trash on fire.
- Electrical wiring. You can't see wires hidden inside walls and
ceilings, but there are some warning signs of electrical problems. If lights
dim or flicker, fuses blow frequently or sparks shoot from receptacles when
items are plugged in or unplugged, consult an electrician. Faulty electrical
cords can also spark a fire or cause an electrical shock. Never run cords
under rugs or heavy furniture. Pressure can crack insulation and break the
wires. Don't overload outlets.
- Children with matches. Children playing with matches or lighters
are the leading cause of fire deaths for children 5 and under. Keep these
items up high, preferably in a locked cabinet, out of the sight and reach of
small children. Teach older ones how to handle matches responsibly.
- Holiday hazards. Decorations and candles are a special concern
during the holidays. If you buy a live Christmas tree, choose a fresh one and
water it daily. With an artificial tree, make sure it's made of
flame-retardant materials. Keep candles well away from anything that can burn
and blow them out when you leave the room or go to bed. Fireworks also deserve
special mention. They endanger life, limb and property. Avoid amateurs who set
off fireworks. Instead, attend public displays conducted by trained
pyrotechnicians. Even sparklers are hazardous; they burn at 1200
There are some other simple, common sense precautions you can take to
decrease your chances of a home fire:
- Never store or use gasoline in the home. Gasoline is a motor fuel only.
Keep small quantities in an approved container designed to store gasoline, and
store outside, preferably in a locked, detached shed. Wipe up spills
immediately and never refuel motors near heat sources, sparks or
- Don't overload electrical receptacles.
- Don't use light bulbs with greater wattages than a fixture can
- Don't let combustible materials such as newspapers and rags pile up in
basements and garages.
- Leave plenty of air space around appliances and television sets; they can
overheat and catch fire.
- Use outdoor gas and charcoal grills with caution. Keep them away from
structures, particularly when in use. Never add materials to the fire.
If your home has one or more fireplaces, special precautions can help to keep
home fires burning safely:
- Never burn charcoal or use a hibachi in your fireplace. Both produce
deadly carbon monoxide.
- Protect against sparks by enclosing a fireplace's opening with glass doors
or a sturdy screen.
- Never close the flue while a fire is still smoldering. Carbon monoxide
could build up.
- Never use gasoline, kerosene or lighter fluid to start a fire. Burn only
dry, seasoned hardwood. For extra safety, light fires with long-stemmed
- Have your fireplace and chimney inspected annually. They should be
properly vented and free of blockages. Have them cleaned as needed.
- Protect the top of your chimney with a guard that keeps out birds and
small animals and keeps in sparks that could ignite your roof.
- Keep flammables such as newspapers, magazines, rugs and carpeting well
away from the fireplace.
- Remove holiday decorations from the fireplace and mantle before building a
fire to avoid having the decorations ignite.
- Teach children to stay back from the fireplace.
- Never leave a fire unattended.
- Keep a fire extinguisher handy.
If Fire Breaks Out
Smoke detectors greatly increase the likelihood you'll survive a fire. Place
at least one on each floor of your home and outside each sleeping area. Install
detectors inside bedrooms for added protection. Mount detectors on the ceiling,
at least 4 inches away from the wall. Test detectors monthly and replace
batteries once a year. To help you remember, plan to install new batteries on an
annual event, such as the Fourth of July. Replace smoke detectors after 10
If a fire does break out, take immediate action. Smoke and flames spread
rapidly. Get out of the house right away, then call the fire department from a
neighbor's house or a cellular phone. Fumes overcome most victims long before
flames reach them. Use your safest exit. If you must escape through smoke, get
down and crawl low under the smoke, keeping your head about 12-24 inches off the
If you haven't gotten around to conducting a family fire drill, now's the
time to do it. And visit your local hardware store or home center to invest in a
few fire extinguishers. Extinguishers are classified according to the type of
fire they will put out, and you'll find the classification displayed on an
extinguisher. A Class ABC extinguisher is multi-purpose and works well against
any small, self-contained fire. Keep one in the kitchen, extras in the basement
or garage. Contact your fire department to ask about training. Don't attempt to
fight a fire unless you know you have the right extinguisher to handle that type
of fire, and be sure to keep your back to a safe exit.
Fire Safety Checklist
Take this quick quiz to help you assess your family's fire safety plan:
- Do you follow the fire prevention practices outlined above? Pay special
attention to safety tips on cooking, smoking, use of heating equipment, proper
storage of flammables and precautions regarding children and matches.
- Are your smoke detectors working? There should be at least one on every
floor of your home. Test each detector monthly, and replace batteries
- Do you hold regular fire drills? Several times a year, have your family
practice exiting your home safely and quickly in the event of an emergency.
Designate a meeting place for all family members to gather once they are out
of the house.
- Have you taught your children to "stop, drop and roll"? In the event their
clothing catches fire, kids (and adults) should stop, drop to the floor, cover
their faces and roll over and over or back and forth to put out the fire. Keep
rolling until the fire goes out.
- Have you planned an alternate escape route? It's important to have at
least two escape routes from each room in your home, often a door and a
window. Practice using them now to be sure you could get out in an
- Can you safely exit from the second floor? A chain ladder or other easily
accessible ladder can help you escape from the upper stories of your home in
the event of a fire.
- Do you know how to use your fire extinguishers? Know where your fire
extinguishers are kept, and read the instructions for use before you need
- Do you know the phone number for your local fire department and the
location of the nearest phone outside your house? In case of fire, always
evacuate your home first, then call for help from a cellular or other nearby
Every year, burglars hit more than five million households, stealing more
than $4 billion worth of property. Determined thieves can break into just about
any home, but you can take steps to make entry a lot more difficult for
- Invest in a quality door. Door security begins not with a good lock but
with the door itself and the frame it fits into. Weak door assemblies can be
broken with a single kick, popped open with a jimmy bar or even pried
out-frame and all-from the wall. Strong exterior doors have solid, not hollow,
cores; doors that are sheathed in metal are even better.
- Install deadbolts. Deadbolt locks provide the best protection for the
least amount of money. Ordinary spring-operated locks can be defeated with a
credit card. Intruders can't slip a deadbolt lock because it has a solid metal
bar that fits into the door jamb. To be effective, a deadbolt lock should have
at least a one-inch throw (meaning the metal bolt extends at least an inch
past the edge of the door). Doors with glass panes present a special security
problem because a thief can break the pane, reach inside and unlock the door.
If local laws permit, the solution is a double-cylinder lock-one that
must be opened with a key from inside as well as out. But don't defeat the
purpose by getting into the habit of leaving the key in the lock on the
inside. To exit quickly in case of a fire, keep the key near the door but in a
spot that can't be reached from outside. You might want to hang it on a nail
near the floor where you can find it easily if fire breaks out.
- Don't forget windows. Windows and sliding glass doors also should be
secured. Look for locks specifically made for different window styles at your
local hardware store or home center. You also can secure a sliding glass door
with a broomstick or piece of 1" x 2" lumber laid in the door track when the
door is closed.
- Light up. Outside flood lighting reduces your risk of burglary by
highlighting the exterior of your home at night. You can choose from lights
that remain on all night or motion-sensitive lights that come on only when
someone approaches your home. Motion-sensitive lights save energy and could
catch a would-be thief by surprise. Timers on inside as well as outside lights
give the impression that someone is home, even if you're on vacation, out to
dinner or visiting the neighbors.
Sounding an Alarm
For greater peace of mind, consider investing in a professionally installed
alarm system. Alarm systems come in many shapes and sizes, at prices that range
from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. Many installers also charge
monthly monitoring fees, which should be taken into account when you shop for a
system. A home alarm system includes some combination of the following
- Perimeter sensors. These consist of photo cells or magnetic contacts on
doors and windows that sound an alarm when an intruder tries to get inside.
Perimeter sensors are mounted on two points, such as the door jamb and the
door itself. Photo cell sensors are activated when something passes through a
beam of light projected between the two points, while magnetic sensors are
activated when contact is broken between the two magnetized points.
- Heat and motion sensors. You can use heat and motion detectors to protect
specific spaces in or outside your home-a bedroom hallway, for instance, or
your backyard. Heat detectors respond to body temperatures. Motion sensors
- Glass break detectors. These devices recognize the sound of breaking
glass. They activate the alarm when they sense breaking glass in a window or
- Keypad. One or more keypads allow you to turn the system on and
- Audible alarm. A piercing alarm alerts neighbors and the police. And it
lets the burglar know he's been detected, meaning he'll probably leave your
house in a hurry.
Keep in mind that false alarms can be a problem. In addition to annoying the
neighbors and taking the police away from real emergencies, some communities now
assess fines for excessive false alarms. The National Burglar & Fire Alarm
Association reports that nearly 80 percent of false alarms are caused by user
error. Steps to prevent false alarms include regular system maintenance and
ensuring that whoever has a key to your house also knows the codes to activate
and deactivate your system. Local police are a good source of information and
recommendations regarding security systems. They work with the security services
in your area and can tell you what types of break-ins are most common in your
After you've determined which alarm system is best for you, ask your
insurance agent, family or friends for referrals. Get written quotes from at
least three companies. Before you obtain an alarm system, investigate a security
service's reputation and how long it has been in business. Also ask about
warranties and what they cover.
Insuring Against Loss
Homeowners or renters insurance provides money to replace possessions after a
fire or theft. Remember to keep a good inventory of your property, including
serial numbers. A quick way to do this is with snapshots or a camcorder. Store
your inventory in a safe-deposit box or other location outside your home, and
update it every year.
While you're making an inventory of your valuables, consider engraving them
with your name. This makes it easier to trace the goods back to you if they're
stolen. Many local police departments will loan etching tools.
Most insurers recommend that you insure your property at replacement cost.
This reimburses you for what it would cost to replace items today, instead of
paying only for their current, depreciated value. You'll pay a little more in
premiums for this extra peace of mind, so shop around for the best policy and
the best price. Consider only reputable companies and agents. Get at least three
quotes. Some companies provide lower rates if you have more than one type of
coverage with them, such as auto and home. Review your insurance coverage