12 Energy Saving Tips For Your Home And Wallet

The ease and convenience of energy in our homes can make it difficult to remember that it’s not an unlimited resource. Each day, we make decisions to use power and energy for most of our needs. Often, we don’t think twice about the resources we’re using.

There are many ways to lower our environmental impact from the comfort of our own homes; adjusting some lifestyle habits can save energy and money. In fact, with diligence and some strategic planning, your green lifestyle choices can offset the costs associated with buying and owning your own home, all while helping reduce waste and protecting the environment.

Awareness is key to creating an energy-efficient home. Making small changes can make a huge difference. Here are nine easy ways to save energy in your home.

1. Change Your Daily Habits

You don’t always need to make sweeping changes to reduce your energy consumption. Sometimes small, 1% changes to your daily routines can make a noticeable difference. Look for quick energy-savings wins such as:

  • Turning off lights when you leave a room
  • Hanging your clothes to dry
  • Washing dishes by hand
  • Leaving the oven door closed when in use

Many of our daily routines are formed over the years, but it’s not impossible to change through repetition. As you become more conscious of actions that promote energy saving, you’ll discover even more ways to conserve.

2. Take Advantage Of The Weather

Depending on where you live, you can take advantage of the weather to heat or cool your home. Opening your curtains and blinds to let the sunlight in will help take some of the burden off your furnace. If you want to cool your house, open your windows and let the breeze fill your home. You’ll cut down on air conditioner usage and let in much-needed fresh air.

3. Turn Off Electronics

Just because you have many electronic devices doesn’t mean they always need to be plugged in all the time. If you have only occasionally used electronics, such as a Blu Ray player or toaster, only plug them in when they’re in use. What about your cell phone or tablet? Unplug them when they are done charging instead of leaving them plugged in overnight.

Electronics continue to use energy even when they aren’t in use. This is referred to as phantom energy loss. As long as appliances are plugged into an outlet, they’re using energy. Unplug devices when not in use. Another option is to purchase smart power strips, which automatically cut power to devices that aren’t being used. Or opt for standard power strips and turn off all of the plugged-in devices with one switch.

Did you know the average American household has 40 electronic devices plugged in at any given time? Look around your house to find all of your electronics that are energy vampires and start unplugging. Not only will you save energy, but you’ll also declutter your home.

4. Replace Your Light Bulbs

The average household spends 5% of its budget on lighting. One way to lower your electricity bill and save energy is by investing in new energy-efficient light bulbs. New lighting standards were put in place in 2012. Since that time, better bulbs have become more common, including LED, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and halogen incandescent bulbs.

About 90% of the energy from traditional bulbs is wasted as heat. It’s best to replace your existing bulbs with more efficient versions.

5. Install A Smart Thermostat

If you have an older thermostat, it may not be working as well as needed to heat and cool your house. One way to fix this is to invest in an Energy Star-rated smart thermostat. A smart thermostat takes programming to a whole new level. You can program several different heating and cooling schedules that automatically adjust when you leave the house or are sleeping.

Smart thermostats also give you access via Wi-Fi, meaning you can control your thermostat from almost anywhere in the world. They also feature a low-power standby mode when they aren’t active.

If you don’t want to spend money on a new thermostat, do yourself a favor and drop the temperature 7 – 10 degrees in your house for 8 hours each day. This one adjustment will save you as much as 10% on heating and cooling annually.

6. Reduce Water Heating Costs

Water heaters use the second-highest amount of energy in your house. Upgrading to an energy-efficient water heater can lead to significant savings in the long run. They also perform better and are eco-friendly.

If you don’t want to spend money on a new water heater, you can take other steps to reduce your water heating bill. You can do this easily by dropping your water heater temperature a few degrees. Another way to reduce energy spent on heating water is through the use of low-flow showerheads. Using less hot water daily will also save considerable energy in your home.

7. Dress Appropriately For The Weather

The way we dress also affects whether our house feels too cold or hot. Dressing for the season instead of adjusting your thermostat, you’ll save money. Wear layers in the fall and winter and short sleeves and shorts in the summer.

8. Have Your HVAC Checked Annually

Properly maintaining your furnace is just as important as the temperature in your home. Check your air filter monthly, especially during heavy usage. A dirty air filter slows down the airflow and makes your HVAC system work even harder. Plus, having a clean filter means less dirt and dust buildup in your system, minimizing expensive repairs and extending its life.

You should also get your HVAC equipment tuned up annually. A professional can check for underlying issues or upcoming maintenance issues. A thorough inspection and cleaning will keep your system working more efficiently, saving you money.

While you’re inspecting your equipment, see if you need to seal or insulate any air ducts. Shoring up any duct issues could save you money on your electricity bill each month.

9. Seal Up Air Leaks In Your Home

You may not realize it, but your house probably has several air leaks right now. Unwanted openings in your home let out your hot or cold air along with your money too. Buy some inexpensive caulk and patch any holes or cracks near your baseboards, windows, outlets, or doors.

Making the changes above will save on energy costs now and help your home run more efficiently to maximize savings long term. Here are three more ways to reduce energy usage that may require a more significant financial investment upfront.

10. Insulate Your Home

If you haven’t adequately insulated your home yet, now is the time to get started. Insulation keeps the heat out of your house in the summer and keeps it in during the winter.

To determine if your house is adequately insulated, have a professional check your current insulation’s R-value. R-value is the rating system for insulation’s resistance to conductive heat flow. The higher the R-value, the more effective your insulation is at doing its job. The amount in insulation you need depends on where you reside and the climate. Check out the Department of Energy’s insulation guide for an R-value map of the U.S.

11. Install Energy-Efficient Windows

Another considerable but useful expense is purchasing energy-efficient windows. Your home may lose significant amounts of heat through older single-pane windows. Americans who replace old windows with Energy Star-rated windows lower their energy bills an average of 12%.

Energy-efficient windows do more than save money. They reduce greenhouse gas emissions from your house. Windows with low-emissivity coatings cut down UV sun damage to your home’s floors, carpets, and furniture. Plus, they help keep your home’s temperature consistent by cutting down on cold drafts and overheating.

12. Replace Old Appliances

You may not realize it, but your appliances cost you more than the initial purchase price. There’s also the cost to run your appliances during its life cycle. Older appliances take more energy to operate than newer energy-efficient models. Here are some appliances you consider replacing if they are older:

  • Dishwashers
  • Refrigerators
  • Freezers
  • Clothes Washers
  • Clothes Dryers

Energy Star-certified appliances use less energy, but perform as well if not better than what you’re using now. Many newer appliances are equipped with “smart” features that save time and energy. Take inventory of your appliances and replace them with energy-efficient versions when it makes sense.

Why Conserving Energy Is The Smart Move

Making small and big changes to your routine and your home can lead to big savings, both in energy use and in your bank account. You’ll also increase your property value and shrink your carbon footprint. Do your part to make the world a better and safer place by creating an energy-efficient home. The environment will thank you, and you’ll save money.


Sustainable Commuting – Green Commuter Tips

Smaller communities, even individual neighborhoods, coming together to take on environmental issues can create a big change. Lowering the carbon footprint not only of your own home, but encouraging others around you to do the same, can be impactful. One approachable way to lower your carbon footprint is by improving your daily commute.

There are many ways to green your commute and get to the places you need to be in a sustainable, environmentally friendly way. Read on to learn whether your commute has room for improvement, the benefits of changing how you get around, and how you can green your commute and engage others in your neighborhood or community to get involved.

What Makes a Sustainable Commute?

Walking, biking, carpooling/ridesharing, and taking public transportation to commute to work are all viable, sustainable transportation options.

A sustainable commute should be easy for you and others to maintain throughout the year. Simply taking advantage of incentives that are offered during “bike to work week” or other short-lived programs won’t have the long-term effects that benefit both your personal and environmental health.

If you live a considerable distance from your place of employment or school, walking as a means of commuting is likely unsustainable — although your intentions may be good. Likewise, if you live somewhere with distinct seasons, not all alternative commute options will be available all year-round — although greening your commute for part of the year is better than not at all.

Conduct some research about the public transit available in your area. Many forms of public transportation (such as buses and subways) are evolving to utilize electric or hydrogen engines and lower their emissions. Public transit is also less likely to be weather-dependent or seasonal, giving you a year-round alternative to driving yourself.

Why Green Your Commute?

Green commuters are an important counterforce to driving trends around the world. According to a 2016 U.S. News & World Report, 76.3 percent of Americans still commute to work alone in their cars. This is catching on elsewhere: as more developing countries and cities around the world buy and drive cars, the total number of vehicles in use on the planet is projected to nearly double by 2035. Rather than utilizing a car share service, taxis, buses, or active travel (biking, walking, etc) commuters often prefer to travel by themselves in their personal automobiles.

Since green commuting is an alternative to driving, the benefits of making the switch start with diminishing the hazards of traffic, but can be as far reaching as impacting property values and improving quality of life.

Driving Is Unhealthy

Whether it is to school, work, or even your weekly grocery store run, every time you get into your car you are burning fossil fuels. This way of commuting to work has caused (and is continuing to cause) a steep increase in air pollution and traffic congestion. Traffic congestion in certain areas can be more prevalent and obvious to the public eye.

Additionally, slower moving traffic emits more pollutants to our air than traffic that is moving at freeway speeds. According to the Transportation Research Board, while you are stuck in these traffic jams, you are breathing in elevated levels of carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), hydrocarbons (HCs), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter that is being exhausted into our atmosphere by you and your neighbor’s tailpipes.

Health Benefits of Green Commuting

A sustainable commute is not only beneficial to lowering your environmental impact — it can also have incredible health benefits. By introducing active green commuting to your work days, you can reduce your risk of medical conditions associated with sedentary lifestyles. Biking or walking to work can reduce your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and other associated diseases.

Similarly, any driver that has a long commute can attest to what a source of discomfort sitting in traffic can be. It can cause people to be become irate (or in extreme cases, experience road rage), which can contribute to stress. Chronic stress will eventually take its toll on your body. Adding passengers to form a carpool or avoiding the roads entirely through alternative transportation can insulate you from this emotionally and physically toxic environment.

Raising Home and Neighborhood Property Values

Best of all, changing your own habits can help other people change theirs. The more visible green commuters become, the more normal their choices appear to be. Instigating a green commuting initiative in your community will help to establish a baseline for a healthy neighborhood and lifestyle.

When working with your neighbors to create a sustainable commuting option, make sure to mention that proximity to walking and biking trails or public transportation increases the value of homes throughout the entire neighborhood. A George Washington University School of Business study found that a growing share of both residents and businesses prefer locations near walkable and/or bikeable trails, and that access to alternative transportation is becoming a priority for future development.

This should be of interest to both buyers and sellers that may benefit from being near greener commuting options. Increasing the value of your home might be what sells your neighbor on volunteering to do local trail maintenance, or what encourages them to vote for the establishment of new bike lanes and public transit routes near your community. What’s more, low-cost transportation options can help balance household budgets by saving on auto maintenance and fuel costs.

How to Organize a Green Commuting Group

Take the initiative to start organizing a green commuting group and promoting a healthy neighborhood. You can get started by posting signs on local message boards to gain interest in learning more about sustainable commuting options. Starting a group on a social media platform, such as Facebook, can help to attract those of the millennial generation to your cause.

Once you have established some interest in your neighbors and community members, evaluate your neighborhood by investigating the following:

  • Are there established bike lanes?
  • Do you have access to public transit within walking distance?
  • Are there maintained trails and sidewalks?
  • Is there a car or bike share available in your area?
  • Who is interested in doing a rideshare?

When you’ve determined what your neighborhood is missing, start building task forces to create changes in your area. By identifying some of the strengths of your neighbors, you can further understand how to best utilize them.

Perhaps someone that lives down the street works for the city and would be interested in developing a group that petitions for wider and better bike lanes. If multiple employees of a large local company are located within close proximity to one another, that company may be persuaded to donate funding to establish new public transportation routes near their employees homes.

Once bike lanes and walking trails are established, they will provide you with means of travel for years to come, as well as increase the value of your home.

Start Making Sustainable Commuting Choices Today

Sustainability is becoming a priority for individuals, businesses, and governments around the world. Development and financial investment is increasingly tethered to accessible green spaces, and healthier modes of transportation. Fortunately, changing up your commute and getting involved in making your community more walkable, bikeable, and healthier isn’t impossible, even for the individual. By investing in the health of your neighborhood through establishing sustainable commuting methods, you are making an investment in your home and your future.  


Conservation Tips for a Sustainable Backyard

Backyards are often a source of pride and joy for many homeowners. Depending on your personal preference, your backyard may be a luscious field of grass for kids to play in; perhaps it is decorated with patio furniture and twinkly lights—or maybe you’ve filled it with garden beds for some homegrown tomatoes and herbs.

Having a well-kept yard can provide you with a pleasant outdoor space that is an extension of your home, and it can improve your curb appeal, which is especially important if you’re considering selling your home. However, before you really get into creating urban agriculture magic, explore sustainable options for conserving water and organize your backyard garden in a way that accounts for long-term garden goals.

Reduce Your Water Needs

Every year across the country, lawns consume nearly 3 trillion gallons of water. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “Outdoor water use accounts for more than 30 percent of total household water use, on average, but can be as much as 60 percent of total household water use in arid regions.” In these cases, much of the water is wasted due to inefficient irrigation systems that do not evenly disperse water and allow it to be picked up by the wind.

So, before you purchase rolls of grass to plant across your lawn, consider how you can maximize your use of space in a way that will not require an excess of water. Sustainability organizations have begun to suggest material landscaping and flower gardens as these require less water and also provide more territory for bees and other pollinators.

If you’d rather stick with natural grass while cutting back on how much water you pour into maintaining it, consider minimizing your lawn space with some aesthetically pleasing rocks, flower beds and mulch covered gardens that will help retain water. Lavender and succulents are curb appeal classics that can fill out yard space easily and require significantly less water than a standard lawn. You can also conserve water with the sod you use. UC Verde Buffalo Grass, Dune Wedge, and Native California Bentgrass are all alternatives to standard sod that require about 50 percent less water than your average grassy lawn.

When in Doubt, Choose Food

Growing your own food can be a rewarding experience. You get the satisfaction that comes from taking care of something that takes care of you, and neighborhoods with an urban agriculture presence tend to have a growing sustainability culture. For prospective home buyers who are checking out the neighborhood, this is an appealing and progressive scene that can help them connect with a home.

So if you’re not sure which direction to go with your lawn, consider going green with neatly planted garden boxes instead of grass. Adding green home features is one of the best improvements you can make to your home, especially when those features add curb appeal.

By investing in some raised garden beds you can beautify your outdoor space with some vibrant blooms when the time comes to sell your home. Planting colorful flowers in an already attractive garden space is a great spring staging tip that can leave a lasting impression on any potential home buyer.

Go Solar

If you want to delve further into sustainable practices, transitioning to solar power is another great option. Installing a small amount of solar power can help reduce your home’s electricity costs and is often high up on the list of desired amenities for future home buyers when you decide to sell your home.

In fact, a study by Berkeley Lab found that homeowner-owned solar arrays are often being viewed as upgrades like a renovated kitchen or finished basement, with home buyers paying a premium of about $15,000. Adding solar panels can also help you sell your quicker. Another study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory found that houses with solar panels sold 20 percent faster than those without.

The return on investment and benefits of green home features will vary by region, market and many other factors. But if you’re a homeowner preparing for the selling process, ensuring your yard is gorgeous and sustainable can do wonders for receiving your asking price on a home. Take the extra step to conserve resources and make a positive impact on your community and the planet with your gardening habits and your home and future home buyers will thank you for it.


The Value of Community Gardens

These days, you needn’t look to far flung rural fields or hundred-acre farms to find food growing. Chances are, there’s food growing right in your neighborhood. Community gardens have been popping up more and more as the rise of urban agriculture piques the interest of professional and novice growers alike.

So, what’s all the fuss about? Community gardens add great value to neighborhoods by bringing people together, providing food security, partnering with local schools, and increasing curb appeal that may attract future home buyers (potentially making things easier for home sellers). Let’s take a look at how community gardens work, and why they’re valuable:

How Do Community Gardens Work?

Community gardens have been around forever, but gained mainstream popularity in recent years as people become more concerned about food security and food quality.

Today’s consumers want to know where their food comes from and how it grows. And those living in food deserts (further than 10 miles from a supermarket) often turn to community gardening as a way to gather their own fresh food in the absence of nearby affordable and healthy grocery stores.

It takes a lot of work, but anyone can start a community garden, provided they have a chunk of land,  permission to grow food on it, and a few helping hands. Organization differs from project to project, but often garden managers will organize teams of helpers and volunteers to plant, harvest, and water on a set schedule so the gardens stay well-maintained.

Once the community garden is established, growers can choose if they want to expand into an operation that sells at local markets, distribute the harvest amongst those who contributed to it or donate it to a local cause. There are many different models for success, it all depends on the goals of those involved and which benefits of community gardening growers choose to focus on.

Benefits of Community Gardens

Speaking of benefits, there are many. And whether you have a green thumb or not, the positive effect of community gardens can impact you.

For starters, local urban agricultural efforts are good for your neighborhood. A study by Ioan Voicu and Vicki Been through New York University’s Furman Center found that community gardens have a positive impact on neighboring property values, especially in low-income neighborhoods.

“We find that the opening of a community garden has a statistically significant positive impact on the sales prices of properties within 1,000 feet of the garden and that the impact increases over time,” Voicu and Been write. “Higher-quality gardens have the greatest positive impact. We also find that gardens have the greatest impact in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods. Finally, a simple cost-benefit analysis suggests that the gain in tax revenue generated by community gardens in the 1,000-foot ring may be substantial.”

When comparing home values, future buyers may recognize the increased intangible value of a home that’s near a community garden and choose to buy accordingly. Millennial home buyers, especially, are likely to value the presence of local urban agriculture. It may not directly boost housing prices, but it may help attract potential buyers.

Since “going green” is one of the best home improvements an owner can make, community gardens can set one home or neighborhood apart from the rest. Any good list of home staging tips includes working on outdoor spaces and making them shine, so homeowners looking to sell can benefit from this research about community gardens, too.

Picture this: You’re a prospective homebuyer who’s attending an open house. You’ve seen five properties already, and things are beginning to blend together. What makes one home stand out from the rest?

The presence of green space overflowing with food catches your eye. You likely won’t forget a neighborhood or property with good curb appeal in a sea of listings and endless open houses.

Finding Success in the Dirt

Sometimes, community gardens turn into something bigger and positively affect not just a few  neighborhood folks, but a greater population of people.

Take the San Diego School District, for example. Students at Rosa Parks Elementary School enjoy a community garden right at their school that they can eat and learn from. They even created a school farmer’s market and often send extra produce home with students and their families, many of whom live below the poverty line and wouldn’t otherwise have access to fresh, healthy food. Students learn healthy habits, gardening skills, contribute to the food security of their community, and build connections with each other.

Whether you want to pursue a wide reach with your garden or simply try to grow food for yourself and your neighbors, these organizations offer inspiration and illustrate the power of a group of people united in growing food for health and happiness.

Bringing Permaculture to Your Local Community

Permaculture is the concept of working with systems that already exist in nature. These systems are both sustainable and self-sufficient. Permaculture doesn’t just apply to farming and gardening, it applies to culture and connections, too.

Community gardens that apply the principles of permaculture have the added benefit of creating lasting personal connections between the people involved. There’s nothing that brings people together quite like spending hours weeding a garden, or sharing a meal cooked entirely from the produce grown in a community effort.

In addition to personal connections made, community members involved in local gardening often see an increase in health because they’re eating more vegetables and developing healthier eating habits.

If you’re considering starting a community garden, there are a few things to keep in mind. Just like any home or neighborhood improvement project, it’s good to be realistic about your abilities and know when you can do it yourself and when you might need some professional help to get going.

Make sure you know your goals before you begin, and identify different ways people can contribute, from physical labor to funding the start-up costs. Whatever your model is, remember this: Communities who work together to meet a common goal are often happier and healthier. Consider investing in a community garden to reap these benefits and a harvest!

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Give Green, Get Green


Cleaning and organizing projects around the house typically includes cleaning out cramped closets, boxing up clothes and getting to that cluttered garage. Instead of sending a truckload off to a landfill, create a second life for your extra and outgrown stuff.

There’s just something satisfying about a clean closet. As you organize, you might have a lot of old or outgrown clothes you no longer need. An easy thing to do with clothing in good condition is to donate it to Goodwill or other charities. You will get a tax deduction, and the resale of the items pays for job training and other programs. Gently worn children’s and teen clothing is highly sought after. You can even make a little money by taking the items to a resale or consignment shop.

For shoes of all sizes, consider donating them to This organization gives your shoes to kids and adults around the world who need them most. You can find collection sites in hundreds of stores across the country.

Toys take up a lot of room all over the house. When you’re tired of tripping over the ones that no longer get any attention, you have options. Many local charities accept them, as do certain battered women’s shelters. Children’s hospitals generally won’t accept toys unless they’re new.

Sometimes when we do a deep clean, we stumble across old cell phones, chargers, MP3 players and other electronic devices we no longer need. or will pay you to send in your electronics. That’s a great reward for not sending that e-waste to the landfill where toxic chemicals can seep into the soil and water. If you want to get rid of a computer, a good option, again, is to drop it off at Goodwill. Workers there will wipe out any personal information and either resell it or remove the valuable parts for recycling. Some computer makers, such as Apple ( and Dell (, will also recycle equipment.

This article from Tribune Company news outlets has been republished for additional  education purposes.  Please note that this editorial content was produced by Tribune news staff who are not employed by or  by Tribune Digital Marketplaces.  This article is not affiliated with any links or products that appear on the on the same pages.  Read more about our editorial policy. 

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Recoup Your Reinvestment in Repair and Renovation

Homeowners face a dicey dynamic. With home values eroding, they need to target repair and renovation for the greatest short-term payback, should they put their houses up for sale shortly thereafter.

“Sale contracts can fall apart because of peeling paint, roof leaks, and noncompliance with local building codes.  The FHA, in particular, has stringent requirements for the condition of the houses purchased through its programs,” says Joanne Cleaver, Senior Content Producer for, the leading source of tools and support for direct sales of residential real estate.

For more about how renovations and maintenance fit into the overall market value of your home, please visit our Pricing Guide.

“Homeowners can set themselves up for success by anticipating the problems an inspector might find and fixing them now. Our Top Five Tactics help homeowners prioritize their summer to-do lists and pave the way for an easier home sale in the fall.”

Here are’s Top Five Tactics for recouping home repair and renovation reinvestment.

1. Anticipate FHA demands

Increasingly, middle-class buyers are getting loans guaranteed through the  Federal Housing Authority (FHA).

The FHA itself estimates  that it backed over 20% of all home sales.  It’s likely that share rose in this year’s spring selling season and will continue to rise, given the difficulties of other secondary mortgage lenders , such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

If buyers are counting on FHA-guaranteed loans, sellers must be sure their houses comply with the FHA’s property condition requirements. Peeling paint that might get only a raised eyebrow from a home inspector can stop an FHA loan in its tracks.

That means that homeowners are wise to use the FHA’s home condition standards as a guide  for their  summer to-do list. The FHA inspection will look at big stuff – the condition of the roof, the chances that the house will fall down – as well as factors that homeowners might not consider relevant, such as the funny noise that a  central air system makes when it kicks on.

Flagged problems must be fixed before the FHA will sign off on your buyer’s loan.

Here’s the FHA’s property condition checklist. Homeowners can go a step further by looking at the full scope of FHA requirements.

For good measure, they can review the FHA’s buyer’s guide to understand what shapes buyers’ expectations.

2. Code Do

Municipal building codes will prioritize your to-do list, too. Work that has been done on a house without the proper building permits – by the homeowner or by a shady contractor – may well be flagged by a buyer’s inspector.

While it’s true that pre-purchase inspectors are not specifically looking for code violations, they are supposed to find any kind of problem that could cause the buyer difficulties. And, many inspectors are former municipal inspectors. They know code noncompliance when they see it.

Homeowners with unpermitted improvements or repairs have a couple of options.

  • They can retroactively get a municipal inspection, fess up to the illegal work, pay the fine, and get the work OK’d.
  • Or, if the work is so bad that it probably would not pass an inspection, they can get it corrected by a licensed professional.

Either way, homeowners should document that the work meets local building codes. That will reassure a buyer and an inspector that the house is worth buying.

3. Outthink the inspector.

Deals are falling apart when inspectors come through and, properly enough, flag problems that could cost the buyers money.

It’s smart to figure out what the inspector will be looking for and prioritize repairs accordingly… leaving the inspector with nothing to find and ensuring that the deal will make it to closing.

Start with a document that usually comes into play in the middle of a home sale: The property condition report required by most states.  Property condition reports require you to disclose any known defects.  This ensures that the buyers know about the property’s flaws and problems before they complete the purchase.

A soon-to-be-selling homeowner can  always just list the problems (basement floods in heavy rain;  asbestos-wrapped pipes, and so on) and hope for the best. But today’s buyers are not interested in buying somebody else’s problem house. They will move on to a property whose problems have been fixed.

Homeowners can ask themselves these two questions to frame a to-do list from the property condition report:

  • What existing problems would be disclosed on the property condition report?
  • And of those, which most urgently need attention and are of enough concern to undermine buyers’ interest?

Tackling those problems before the house goes on the market brings another advantage: the homeowner has full control over the pricing, quality, timing and contractor that does the work l – which is not the case when the problems must be fixed in the midst of a sale.

4. Neutralize with personality.

On average, it takes several months to sell a house. Given the slow market, potential sellers should stage the house for their own comfort as well as for buyers’ perceptions.

They can accomplish that by tackling low-cost, big-impact projects first. That means painting over the screaming yellow that once seemed so avant-garde for the dining room. But that doesn’t mean have to whitewashing the  whole place as though it were a rental.

One winning tactic is to choose softer, more neutral shades of a favorite color that coordinates with existing  window treatments, furniture and accessories.  That opens the door for staging with what’s on hand.

The fictitious bright yellow dining room, that no doubt was accessorized with grass-green table linens,  could be calmed down to a glowing butter yellow. The table linens would still pop, and the homeowner could  still maintain the original reason why she painted the room yellow: to brighten a space that got little natural light.

Going monochromatic works, too.  Choose a low-key, livable shade of a favorite color and then work with layers of that color for a pleasing, calm, color scheme.

The classic monochromatic scheme is blue. Silver blue is a popular wall color these days, and easily accessorized with blue-green pillows and window shades.

When a homeowner reinterprets a look she loves through a neutral lens, she has made it and more peaceful to live in the house during a lengthened selling cycle.

5. Use energy-saving tax credit forms as a shopping list.

Uncle Sam will reimburse homeowners for qualifying  energy upgrades like insulation, new windows, new doors, or a super-efficient new furnace or air conditioning unit. Tax credits are even available for  up to 30 percent credit for the cost of installing solar panels.

But this being a government program, homeowners must fill out the paperwork, provide receipts, and have purchased preapproved materials for the correct purposes.

The best way to claim the full credit is to use the IRS requirements as a shopping list and project guide.

At the IRS web site, look for Form 5695. Additional details are here.

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Green Message Must Be Spelled Out

A newly formed company thinks the beacon that will attract homebuyers to its patch of dirt in New Lenox isn’t a clubhouse or walking paths, the extras that once drew attention to new subdivisions, but 30-foot-tall vertical-axis wind turbines.

Prairie Ridge Estates, as envisioned by local developers Jim and Phil Regan, could just possibly become the nation’s largest net-zero energy subdivision, filled with homes that produce as much energy as they use during a year.

But selling 132 lots of really green housing also could prove a formidable task for Energy Smart Home Builders, and not just because homebuilding has screeched to a halt.

Another hurdle is the education required for buyers, lenders, appraisers and even village building inspectors to make the project successful. And there is the nearby competition to contend with — traditionally built homes selling for less than $300,000, as well as some 800 other vacant lots in New Lenox waiting for homes.

In short, the buyers who invest in Prairie Ridge’s homes, which will start in the high $400,000s, will need to be energy pioneers.

Jim Regan, Energy Smart’s president, not only acknowledges the challenges but embraces them after doing his own homework.

“This is the way the world should build,” said Regan, sitting near the first of what will be up to 66 wind turbines at the subdivision. “We can build a home that renews itself.”

From the street, the homes will largely look like the other brick-clad homes mandated in New Lenox. To receive the village’s approval, Energy Smart agreed to attach photovoltaic solar panels only to the rear of the home, which means 30 to 40 homes will not have them since they need a south-facing exposure. Those homes will have wind turbines quietly operating in their yards, and other properties will have both energy-producing devices.

Inside each home, a closed loop geothermal heating and cooling system will use the earth’s stable temperature to maintain air comfort. Energy produced by the solar panels and turbines will power the home, including the Energy Star appliances and light-emitting diode lighting. A monitoring station will track energy use. Customers will be credited for excess energy generated but not used, with the idea that it will compensate for times when the home has to rely on traditional power sources.

Potential detractors from the net-zero labeling include optional fireplaces, which draw heat out of a home, and gas stoves rather than electric ones. The homeowner’s commitment to a green philosophy is also a question mark, starting with daily commuting practices: Anyone driving 80 miles round-trip to Chicago in a SUV probably loses the right to claim a green lifestyle.

“It’s hard to say how all those homes are going to turn out because the energy (savings) really depends on the people living in the home,” said Jason LaFleur, project manager at the Alliance for Environmental Sustainability. “They have the capability to be net zero. If they keep the lights on and the computers running, it won’t be net zero.”

Cutting-edge, energy-efficient homes weren’t always the plan for the site. The Regans purchased the parcel five years ago and presold lots to traditional builders. When the housing bust quashed home-construction financing, the Regans were unable to sell the lots. A trip to a building trade show opened their eyes to green building techniques.

“Once the recession hit, it was pretty obvious you weren’t going to survive if you put (up) a normal house,” said Regan, whose firm is based in Palos Heights.

The key to success, according to Regan, is to construct a highly technical home ranging from 2,600 to 6,000 square feet that doesn’t look like it fell out of “The Jetsons,” that takes advantage of federal tax credits for energy efficiency and that can be sold at a competitive price. The company went to 13 product suppliers to negotiate the same sort of bulk discounts that builders arrange for traditionally built projects.

LaFleur, who will help determine the homes’ green Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design certification, is encouraged by the resolve of developers trying to break free of how homes traditionally have been built. “There has been a vacuum in the middle-price tiers,” he said. “Production builders in general have been slow to adopt change to the industry.”

But in a down economy, will consumers be even slower to embrace change? Megan Bhatia, owner of Om Realty Group in Chicago, specializes in green listings but finds most of her clients aren’t very savvy. Those who are run the gamut from consumers who want the “bling” to the idealists. For many, the choices they make are based on what’s in their wallet.

“There’s just so much on the market right now,” she said. “They may look at a foreclosure as better than a green home, not realizing that down the road, the foreclosure may be way more expensive.”

So far, five lots are sold and two others are reserved, including Lot 44 on the subdivision’s southwest corner, chosen by Meg Barrett and Doug Smit because they want to install both solar panels and a turbine. An admitted “addict” of the Planet Green cable channel, Barrett says the most eco-friendly attribute of their 1970s Lincoln Park town home is the light bulbs.

Moving to New Lenox, she doesn’t mind waiting awhile for neighbors in the subdivision so long as the couple achieves a more sustainable lifestyle. “Eventually people are going to move in this direction and people aren’t going to be able to live like they are today, and that will make this home more attractive,” Barrett said. “I would be an ambassador for this type of technology.”

This weekend, the couple was sitting down with a loan officer at Bank of America to start drawing up the papers for an Energy Efficient Mortgage. Lenders are largely unfamiliar with green home lending, and in fact, the sale price of the home may be up to 5 percent lower than its value because of the smaller monthly expenses to operate the home, said Brian Masterson, a Bank of America senior vice president.

“There’s a lot of intricacies here,” he said. “There’s no set definition of what does green mean.”

That’s a growing concern the appraisal industry is struggling to address, both for new construction and resale since there’s not likely to be a nearby comparable home.

“Appraisers have to rethink the building process and then put numbers to it,” said Sandra Adomatis, a Punta Gorda, Fla.-based appraiser who schools other appraisers on green issues. “Buyers are buying those homes on that one big thing, what they can save a month, and appraisers have to look at it from that perspective. That’s what we do as appraisers, measure what the market is doing. Are they paying more for the home to get that payback?”

Howard Makler, president of WePower, the Aliso Viejo, Calif.-firm supplying Prairie Ridge’s wind turbines, believes the financial argument for green homes will win out. “You don’t see as many of them in the Midwest, but I really think that’s going to change.”

This story was first published on August 3, 2010 by the Chicago Tribune.

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Get Green!

Red Lodge, Montana — Matt and Marianne McClain are “going green,” renting a house outfitted with the latest in environmentally friendly upgrades. The house is for sale by owner, but a little out of their price range. Would the energy savings bring it within their reach?

Likely not. Unless the home is completely off the grid, the even the latest, greatest energy saving features will trim only 25% to 30% from monthly utility bills. Achieving full energy independence usually includes a large array of solar panels that run $9/watt. Since energy is sold by the KILOwatt, the final cost could top $100,000 for a 2200 square foot home.

High-powered green features are so expensive that they are not likely to pay for themselves. That’s partly why “green” homes are still largely seen as a luxury beyond the means of average buyers. Homes tricked out with radiant heat, multiple solar panels and extra insulation are expensive to build, and most consumers are unfamiliar with the lifestyle benefits inherent in the healthier home. Still, there’s no denying the power of green to set your house apart from traditionally equipped competitors. And if you explain the benefits of the alternative energy setup to buyers, it could be the deciding factor.

Owner Brian Betz built the home himself and listed it over a year ago on He also installs radiant heating systems for a living, and notes, “Some people are really into the green house, and some are almost afraid of it. It’s been frustrating trying to explain the value added by the upgrades. This is probably the most comfortable house in the whole town!” Betz reports that their energy bill averaged $60/month, even when the Betz family was washing cloth diapers in hot water daily.

The McClains are going through the typical green learning curve.

“The owner tried to explain to me how all of the machines in the mudroom work, but I couldn’t follow it,” admits Marianne. Sheepishly, Matt chimes in, “I accidentally turned off the heat one day. I did figure out how to get it back on, but it took four days to get the house warm again.” Going green also includes a lifestyle commitment. Walking to work, tracking local weather to ensure that the home’s heating system is primed for the weather, and making room for an organic garden in the backyard are considered amenities by environmentalists. Some buyers might call them inconveniences.

Here is a list of the pricier upgrades that Brian Betz included in his Red Lodge home.

  • Structural Insulated Panels (approx $15,000) The exterior walls of the home were custom designed with an insulation “sandwich” of panelboard and Styrofoam. Not only does it eliminate drafts, it also ensures that heat stays in during the winter. For an energy savings calculator, visit
  • Energy Recovery Ventilator ($1200) Fresh Montana air flows into the home using a ventilator that heats the air as it enters during winter, and cools it off in the summer, to ensure both superior air quality and energy efficiency.
  • Viessmann Vitodens Boiler ($6500): The top of the line wall-mounted model includes a radiant heat pump for floors and a 40 gallon water tank for hot water. It has an efficiency rating of 95%.
  • Solar Panels for heating water ($16,000): Betz removed the panels so that the new owner would be able to claim the $6000 federal tax credit for their re-installation.

If you’re selling a home with green upgrades, here are some ways to make sure that the buyers visualize the greenbacks they’ll save along with the planet

  • Verify your “Green” Rating: If your home was constructed with the approval of a third-party “green” verification organization, say so. A study in Portland, OR indicated that home buyers paid 18% more for a home with the official “green” certification. (Earth Advantage Institute, 2010) Certification can only be done on new construction, or complete retrofits. If you didn’t use a verifier, be sure to post a list of the upgrades, and the cost/benefit of each to the overall home’s value.
  • Invest in an energy audit. Some verifiers for Energy Star or LEED certification may be willing to do an energy audit, to help you document the energy saving elements of your home’s interior and exterior.
  • Show us the energy savings. Track your monthly energy bill and make sure that information is in the listing. Compare your home’s actual utilities to local or regional average costs.
  • Invest in a video tour. Many consumers may not be familiar with the brands and benefits of your energy efficient appliances. The video tour could be a tutorial on living green, and include information on how each feature improves the interior air quality and warmth of your home.
  • Market to your “green” peers. Your home is more likely to appeal to potential buyers who already care about sustainable living. Place an ad in an environmental magazine, or on green-friendly blogs and websites. And don’t forget to virally market to your friends and family!

Here’s how the owner of a tiny desert house with extreme green features sold it through ForSaleByOwner.

Helping buyers see the benefits of green takes patience but pays off.

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Shades of Green in Remodeling

Home improvement season has begun in earnest, as evidenced by the number of Dumpsters parked outside residences and major appliances waiting for the scrap truck.

Spending on home remodeling projects is expected to rise almost 5 percent this year, and that would be the first annual spending increase since 2006, according to data recently released by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies.

But since the last uptick in remodeling, it’s not just styles that have changed. It’s eco-awareness. In an era of reduce, reuse, recycle, “green” homeowners are looking for ways to discard what they don’t want without it taking up space in a landfill. And with some research, they’re finding alternatives.
“I’m getting so many calls, which is awesome,” said Deanna Davies, director of marketing and procurement at Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore in Elgin.

Habitat’s ReStores, run by various independent affiliates of the national charity, accept donations of working appliances, furniture and building materials from consumers, contractors and retailers looking to winnow their overstock. The goods are then sold in the stores to the public at substantial savings that can equate to 50 percent of retail prices. All proceeds are used to build and renovate homes for needy families.

During a recent week, the Elgin ReStore accepted drop-off donations from 53 consumers and four companies. It also made seven residential pick-ups.
ReStore volunteers also have been known to help deconstruct a kitchen to get the cabinets out intact.

But a commitment to recycling parts of a home involves some dialing, and consumers shouldn’t expect that one charity will take it all. For instance, the Elgin ReStore won’t take used toilets, but toilets are one of the biggest-selling products at the Chicago Heights ReStore.

“The porcelain part of the toilet never wears out,” said Chris Hanson, president of the board of directors for Habitat for Humanity Chicago South Suburbs. “Sinks, vanities and even light fixtures. How much does it ever wear out? You take it down and bring it here.”
Meanwhile, another volunteer-driven nonprofit called Rebuilding Together picks up donations and stores them in its warehouses with the intent of using the materials to renovate the homes of low-income homeowners. Sought-after donations include kitchen cabinets, major appliances and some plumbing fixtures.
What it doesn’t take includes doors and windows because the dimensions need to be too exact. “We love to recycle,” said Jeff Ruge of Rebuilding Together Aurora. “It’s a passion we have but it doesn’t always work out that way.”

Roofers are now getting in on the recycling action, too. Owens Corning, a shingle manufacturer, recently opened Chicago-area recycling centers in Forest View and Lemont for asphalt shingles as part of a national alliance with Heritage Environmental Services. A third recycling site will open in Chicago Heights later this month.

During Forest View’s first week of operation, 50 tons of asphalt from 16 homes was recycled into road paving materials rather than sent to a landfill.
Owens Corning plans to take the program national after research found that half of homeowners value the capability to recycle shingles and would make decisions about which roofing contractor they use based on that ability, a spokesman said.

This story was first published on June 4, 2010 by the Chicago Tribune.

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Off the Grid, On the Market, Sold!

Off Grid

Off the grid?

What grid?

The little casita in the middle of the desert is about as isolated as you can get in this century.

Solar panels power the pump that draws water from 1,000 feet below the sand. Solar panels heat that water. The toilet composts. The stove uses propane. Heat stays out and cool in – or vice versa – thanks to the double-insulated roof and strategic cross-ventilation.

For Susan Taylor, this 420-square-foot, one-bedroom house has been a respite from her two jobs (administrator and art gallery manager) in the Arizona border town of Bisbee, southeast of Tucson. When it was time to sell, to enable her to travel to see family and to sail, she was sure that its isolation and independence would be just the ticket for someone as green-minded as she.

She listed the tiny getaway with It took time – a couple years – and patience – many interested buyers overestimated their appetite for severing their connections to the outside world – internet included.

“There’s a certain amount of adventure,” says Taylor.

So that’s how she marketed it, and that’s why it sold.

The new owners, scheduled to move in by the end of 2010, ‘are even more green than I am,” says Taylor. They were taken by the space – enough to expand the house – and potential for a farm of some sort. They found the casita through

They love the place, but Taylor had to offer owner financing to seal the deal. Green features are little understood by lenders and appraisers. That, combined with the remote location and unique size and configuration, put the casita squarely outside the lending cookie-cutter.

Small price to pay, says Taylor. She is working out the contract, which might be a traditional lender financing, patterned after a bank loan, or might take the form of lease-to-own. Either way, the casita will soon have new owners. “We waited, and the universe brought them to us,” says Taylor.

More tips for marketing a house with unique green features.

Energy-efficiency comes with language of its own. Here’s how to help buyers get grip on the lingo.