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Save Money on Home Heating Costs

by Galand Haas

Save Money on Heating Costs


From Deborah Fowles,
Your Guide to Financial Planning.
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Reduce Heating Costs With These Money Saving Tips
If you live in a region that is cold in the winter, heating costs take a big bite out of your monthly budget for 25 - 50% of the year. Due to the rapidly escalating costs of home heating oil, propane, and kerosene, you may be paying twice as much to heat your house as you did just a few years ago. You can cut your heating costs significantly by following these money-saving tips.

Do an energy audit of your house, identifying areas where heated air is leaking out. Check around doors, windows, fireplaces, and other areas that may feel drafty. Use caulk, weather stripping, door sweeps, plastic, and other appropriate means to close off these leaks. If your house is poorly insulated, adding additional insulation will pay for itself in reduced heating costs.

Minimize your use of ventilation fans such as bathroom fans and kitchen hood fans in winter. A bathroom fan can suck all the heated air out of the average house in little more than an hour. Over the course of the winter, ventilation fans can increase your heating costs by a surprising amount.

Don't heat areas of your house you don't use regularly, such as guest rooms. Close heating vents or turn back thermostats in those areas and close the doors for a painless reduction in heating costs.

Turn down the heat and use space heaters to heat the room you spend time in.

Keep your furnace, heat pump, or other heating equipment in top operating condition. Dirty filters reduce the efficiency of your furnace or heat pump. Poorly tuned units are inefficient and use more fuel. An annual maintenance agreement is well worth the money to ensure that your equipment is properly maintained and will last as long as possible.

Don't turn your thermostat up above the desired temperature. It won't heat up any more quickly and will make your furnace work harder. Also, while it makes sense to turn the heat back when you're sleeping or not at home, turning it down too low can actually cost you more because the contents of the house have to be re-heated in addition to the air. 68 to 70 degrees while you're home and awake, and 60 to 65% while you're asleep or not at home are reasonable temperatures.

Consider a programmable thermostat to raise and lower the temperature at pre-set times.

Check the temperature setting on your hot water heater. If you have a dishwasher, your water should be heated to 120%. Otherwise, it can be somewhat lower.

If your water heater is in an unheated space like an unfinished basement, wrap it in an insulation blanket available at hardware stores to prevent heat loss.

Wash clothes in cold water whenever possible.

It's tempting to stand under a hot shower on a cold morning for as long as possible, but cutting your shower time in half can save up to 33% on your hot water heating costs.

In winter, open the blinds and curtains on the sunny side of the house (the south-facing side) when the sun is shining and close them as soon as the sun goes down to retain the solar heat. Close curtains on the shady side of the house (north-facing side). If you don't have curtains, consider installing some. Curtains made from heavy fabric with lots of folds (fullness) can prevent cold air from seeping in and warm air from seeping out, which reduces your heating costs

Home Heating Tips

by Galand Haas

Checking your furnace can lower operating costs, protect your family against fire hazards and carbon monoxide poisoning and prevent your furnace from quitting at an inopportune time – such as in the middle of a dark and snowy night.

Furnace Maintenance Checklist 


Follow these steps to help your heating system operate safely and efficiently all season long.

Turn off the electricity to the furnace. A clean filter means more efficient operation. If you haven't regularly cleaned or replaced the filter or filters, do it now and check it throughout the heating season. If you have a central air conditioning system that operates with the furnace blower, count on replacing the filter more often.
Next, remove dust from the blower blades and motor body. Oil the motor and check the fan belt by lightly pressing it. If it doesn’t give about an inch, adjust it until it does. If it shows wear, replace it. To maximize efficiency, seal the filter opening with duct tape and make sure the blower cabinet door closes firmly.
Vacuum the grills and gently clean the thermostat monthly. At least once a year, remove all of the heating system's grills, including the cold air returns, and remove any obstruction from the ducts. Check ductwork for improper connections and tape the seams with duct tape if necessary.
Perform a draft hood test for combustion air. If the furnace doesn't get enough fresh air, combustion gases, including carbon monoxide, can spill out of the draft hood and into the house rather than being drawn up into the chimney. Here is how to test for combustion air:
Close all exterior and bedroom doors. Also close all of the windows and the dampers on any fireplaces or wood stoves.
Open the interior door to the basement or furnace room. Then open any interior doors standing between the furnace and the exhaust fans for the kitchen, bathrooms, clothes dryer and other vented appliances such as the water heater.
Turn on the furnace. Wait for a few minutes for the draft to stabilize, then hold a smoking kitchen match or incense stick two inches from the draft hood opening. If the smoke draws into the draft hood, the furnace is venting properly. If it blows away from the hood, combustion gases are spilling into the house and you need to call a professional heating contractor immediately. Until the contractor fixes the problem, leave a furnace room window slightly open.

National Builder Homes Sales Slip

by Galand Haas

D.R. Horton home sales slide as market slows
Portland Business Journal - 1:36 PM PST Tuesday
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D.R. Horton Inc., the largest homebuilder in the nation, announced lower-than-expected first-quarter home sales Tuesday.

The Arlington, Texas-based company, which has major housing projects in Albany, Bend, Eugene and Portland, reported first-quarter sales of $2.3 billion, dramatically lower than the $3.2 billion a year earlier. Analysts estimated sales of more than $2.7 billion, even with the slumping market.

 
The company's cancellation rate -- when would-be homebuyers back out of a contract -- declined to 33 percent from 40 percent in the fourth quarter, but still much higher than in recent years.

"We continue to experience higher-than-normal cancellation rates and an increased use of sales incentives in many of our markets," company chairman Donald R. Horton said in a news release.

D.R. Horton (NYSE: DHI) has canceled or delayed plans for some subdivisions nationwide.

D.R. Horton accounted for almost one of every eight homes sold during the first half of the year in the six-county region, the largest market share in at least a decade. The first-half figure was the most recent available.

The company will release its first-quarter earnings on Jan. 23, before the market opens.

Home Sales Forcast to Rise in '07

by Galand Haas

 

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Forecast: Steady sales to boost home prices in '07
Builders will cut construction to offset inventory surplus
Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Inman News

 
After bottoming out in the fourth quarter of 2006, existing-home sales are forecast to gradually rise through 2007 and into 2008, while new-home sales should turnaround by summer, bringing modest price increases, according to the latest forecast by the National Association of Realtors.

David Lereah, NAR's chief economist, said annual totals for existing-home sales will be fairly comparable between 2006 and 2007. "We have to keep in mind that we were still in boom conditions during the first quarter of 2006 with a high sales volume and double-digit price appreciation," he said. "We are starting 2007 from a relatively low point, so even with a gradual improvement in sales it'll be pretty much of a wash in terms of annual totals. The good news is that the steady improvement in sales will support price appreciation moving forward."

Existing-home sales for 2006 are expected to come in at 6.5 million, the third highest on record, with a total of 6.42 million seen in 2007. New-home sales in 2006 should tally 1.06 million, the fourth highest on record, with 957,000 projected this year.

The national median existing-home price for all of 2006 is expected to rise 1.1 percent to $222,100, and then gain 1.5 percent this year to $225,300. The median new-home price, after rising only 0.3 percent to $241,600 in 2006, is projected to grow 3 percent in 2007 to $248,900.

Total housing starts for 2006 are likely to be 1.81 million units, with 1.51 million forecast in 2007, which would be the lowest level in a decade. Builders are pulling back on new construction to support prices of remaining inventory.

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage will probably rise to 6.7 percent by the fourth quarter of 2007. Last week, Freddie Mac reported the 30-year fixed rate at 6.18 percent -- far below earlier consensus forecasts. "The current interest-rate environment and housing inventory levels present a window of opportunity for potential buyers," Lereah said.

"With all the wild projections by academics, Wall Street analysts and others in the media, it appears that much of the housing sector is experiencing a soft landing," Lereah said. "Despite the doomsayers, household wealth will not evaporate and the economy will not go into a recession. If you're in it for the long haul, housing is a sound investment."

The unemployment rate is likely to average 4.8 percent this year, following a rate of 4.6 percent in 2006, according to NAR. Inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index, is expected to be 2.2 percent 2007, down from 3.2 percent last year, while growth in the U.S. gross domestic product is seen at 2.5 percent in 2007, compared with 3.3 percent last year. Inflation-adjusted disposable personal income should grow 3.4 percent this year, following a rise of 2.7 percent in 2006, the survey found.

Development VS Non-Development

by Galand Haas

‘Build It, Just Not Here'
by Lew Sichelman


The majority of Americans prefer to keep land undeveloped. But they're not necessarily as altruistic as you might think.

Although nearly three out of four who participated in a recent survey said they oppose new development in their communities, they are more likely to be concerned about their own pocketbooks than the environment or even simply keeping things the way they are.

The survey by the Saint Consulting Group, a firm which specializes in land-use politics, found that twice as many Americans actively oppose development as support it.

Why? More than a third said they wanted to protect property values, while just 11 percent desired to protect the environment. Almost 29 percent said they wanted to preserve the character of their communities.

This is the second year for the survey, called the Saint Index by the Hingham, Mass.-based company. And it has started to "yield trends," says Patrick Fox, the international company's Boston-based president. The telephone survey of 1,000 randomly selected participants was taken last fall.

One trend is the importance voters place on a political candidate's position regarding new development and growth. More than nine out of ten say it is a key issue when they decide on who to vote for, and Fox says that "this forceful statistic corroborates last year's Saint Index, which yielded the same number."

Three out of four respondents gave local elected officials no better than a "C" when rating their performance with regard to development. And 66 percent indicated local government does a "fair-to-poor" job on planning and zoning issues. That's up from 61 percent in the first study.

Cynicism over the approval process also is growing. Last year, 70 percent said the relationship between local officials and developers make the permitting process unfair. This year, 75 percent said it is inequitable

"Development has become a clear political issue," Fox said.

According to the survey, though, "NIMBYism" is alive and well in America. NIMBY stands for "Not in My Backyard," and it is a popular rallying cry among developers who argue that anti-development factions want it both ways -- not here but over there.

"The very projects (people) oppose would probably be all right someplace else," Fox says.

The most dreaded forms of development are landfills, quarries and power plants, all of which drew a 75 percent of greater "no, not here" response.

Wal-Mart was opposed by 68 percent of those polled, up from 63 percent a year ago -- even though most said they enjoyed the "big-box" experience. Casinos were opposed by 67 percent.

Single-family housing is the most widely acceptable form of housing. Only 6 percent of those polled were against it. Apartments were opposed by 34 percent, down from 48 percent last year.

Grocery stores are more acceptable than office buildings and large shopping centers, though resistance to all of these forms of commercial development was less in this year's survey.

Published: January 10, 2007

National Home Market Stabilizing

by Galand Haas

Monday, January 08, 2007

By Dian Hymer
Inman News 
 

 

David Lereah, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors, recently said that the home sale market has started to stabilize and could even turn around by spring 2007. Other economists are less optimistic.

Ken Rosen, a noted real estate forecaster, predicts that it will take about three years for the San Francisco Bay Area housing market to turn around. Leslie Appleton Young, chief economist for the California Association of Realtors, thinks it will take 18 months for the California market to recover. But, in a recent survey conducted by WSJ.com, the Wall Street Journal's Web site, economists by a margin of 2 to 1 predicted that the worst was over for the housing market.

The opinions about the direction of home prices are equally diverse. Rosen sees home prices dropping by about 8 percent in the San Francisco Bay Area and 11 percent in Miami over the next few years. NAR predicts increases in home prices next year. Some think we've already hit bottom; others think we haven't hit bottom yet.

 
After this cycle is over, we'll be able to look back and pick the point at which excess inventory disappeared and home buyers were back in force. Until then it's anyone's guess as to exactly what the housing market will look like over the next few years.

Diverse opinions about the housing market are not unusual. For the last several years, many economists predicted interest rates in the 7 percent range for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages. But, that didn't materialize. In fact, lower rates fueled a hot market in which home prices rose at historic rates in many areas. This was at a time when most economists were sure that home prices had peaked.

Even though most housing experts would not recommend buying at the top of a market cycle, last years' home buyers bought with reckless abandon, confident that home prices could go nowhere but up. Now that conditions are generally better for home buyers, many are waiting on the sidelines for a clear sign that the market has bottomed out.

Most people feel more comfortable buying when there is a lot of home-buying activity. However, savvy real estate investors take a different approach. They buy when the market is soft and sell when the market is hot.

However, home buying and selling decisions are rarely based simply on whether it's the best time to buy or sell. This is because the "investor" is buying a property that will also function as a home.

Few home sellers who are happy in their current home sell just because the market is strong. On the other hand, no matter how content you are in your home, if your job moves elsewhere, you could find yourself having to sell in a soft market. Lifestyle factors impact home buying and selling decisions.

HOUSE HUNTING TIP: If you have the luxury of picking the time to buy or sell a home, you should first carefully analyze the housing market in your local area. It can be misleading to rely on a forecast that deals with the national housing market, or even a smaller regional market like the San Francisco Bay Area.

There are pockets of strength where demand is high and inventory low even in the midst of markets that are otherwise stagnant or declining. And, some markets like Utah and Washington state aren't declining at all.

THE CLOSING: When you have a grip on local market conditions, you'll be better able to decide if it makes sense to move now or to wait. But, keep in mind that waiting could cost you more if you're a buyer and yield you less if you're a seller, depending on how long you wait.

Dian Hymer is author of "House Hunting, The Take-Along Workbook for Home Buyers" and "Starting Out, The Complete Home Buyer's Guide," Chronicle Books.
 
 

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Mortgage Originations Projected to Drop Through 2008

Fewer mortgages will be written in 2007 because of higher interest rates and a slowing housing market, predicts the Mortgage Bankers Association.

MBA Chief Economist Douglas G. Duncan told the Associated Press that markets are normalizing after historically low interest rates spurred record numbers of home owners to buy and refinance.

The Washington, D.C.-based trade group says it expects the total value of new mortgages and refinanced mortgages to drop 5 percent this year to $2.39 trillion from $2.51 trillion in 2006. The association projected a further drop of 4 percent to $2.29 trillion in 2008 as fewer home owners refinance their mortgage.

Mortgage originations had already declined 17 percent in 2006 from more than $3 trillion in 2005, a near-record year.

Source: The Associated Press, Eileen Alt Powell (01/09/07)
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What to Know Before Buying a Fixer-Upper

A home in need of repair can be a good deal, especially if buyers are able to do some of the repairs themselves.

Here are three major things to think about when considering a home in need of lots of improvements:

Location, location location. Is the lot well located with good topography? Will the improvements you propose make it worth as much as — not a lot more — than other homes in the neighborhood?
How much? Calculate what the home would sell for if it were in great shape. Subtract the cost of repairs, then take off another 10 to 15 percent for unexpected problems. If you can’t get the property for that, then it's probably a bad deal.
Prepare for the mess. Get ready for renovations to take longer than expected. Know that your life will be disrupted if you can’t afford to live somewhere else while the work is being completed.

Source: Charlotte Observer, Kathy Haight (01/08/07)
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30-Year Mortgage Rates Hold, Others Mixed

The financial markets during the first week of the year were still trying to determine how much the economy is likely to slowdown, according to experts. For the second consecutive week, Freddie Mac reported 30-year fixed loans averaged 6.18 percent.

However, other rates remained mixed. Interest on 15-year, fixed mortgages rose slightly to 5.94 percent, rates on five-year adjustable-rate mortgages moved up to 6.02 percent, and one-year ARMs slipped to 5.42 percent.

"Currently, the market is waiting for a clearer signal on the direction in which the economy is headed," says Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac chief economist. Rates on 30-year loans declined over much of the second half of 2006 as the housing market continued to falter.

Source: St. Paul Pioneer Press, Martin Crutsinger (01/05/07)

© Copyright 2006 Information Inc.
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5 Tips for Selling a House in Foul Weather

Selling a home during the cold-weather months can be a challenge. Here are some tips for handling a sale in the dark winter months:

Don’t wait for spring. Point out to sellers that postponing can be the wrong choice when it means they must continue to pay the mortgage, insurance, and utility bills.

Get rid of the holiday decorations. “Holiday decor says to buyers that you aren’t prepared to move out so they can move in. It clutters and detracts from the home,” says Mark Nash, a real estate professional and author of the forthcoming book, Real Estate A-Z for Buying & Selling a Home.

Clean and light. Render the place dust-free and if necessary paint the walls with a light color. Linen tones are often the best.

Be creative. Nash, who sells homes in Chicago, had success last year selling an ordinary house quickly after he displayed poster-size photos of the home’s garden in full bloom near the windows.

Be realistic. No amount of creative marketing can overcome an overly steep price tag.

Source: Universal Press Syndicate, Ellen James Martin (01/04/07)
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 Borrowers eye benefits of FHA home loans
Product offers lower rates, better choices than subprime sector
Monday, January 08, 2007

By Jack Guttentag
Inman News 
 

 

"What type of borrower finds it advantageous to take an FHA loan?"

The answer to this question is a little different today than in 2000 when I first addressed it because FHA's market niche is smaller. This reflects developments in the conventional sector that have not been matched by FHA, including the growth in popularity of loans with no down payment, interest-only monthly payments, and option ARMs. Reflecting these developments, FHA's market share fell from about 15 percent in 2000 to about 5 percent in 2006.

The FHA Market Niche in 2006. An FHA borrower:

 

Has blemished credit acceptable to FHA, but not strong enough for prime pricing in the conventional market.


Doesn't need a loan larger than the FHA maximum, which varies by county. (In 2006, it ranged from $200,160 to $362,790 in the highest-cost counties.)


Can put 3 percent down in cash.


Doesn't want an interest-only mortgage or an option ARM.

Credit Requirements: At risk of oversimplifying, credit standards in the conventional market range from A+ to D-, and within that range, FHA would be about B- or C+.

FHA credit requirements overlap the higher levels of subprime requirements. A good illustration is the underwriting rules applicable to a prior foreclosure. With exceptions, FHA won't accept a loan applicant who has had a foreclosure within the prior three years. Subprime lenders may have a three-year rule for their best credit grade, but the period scales down by degrees and might be only one year for the lowest grade.

Similarly, the maximum ratio of total debt service to income acceptable to FHA is 41 percent, which is generally high relative to prime standards, but well below what passes in the nonprime sector.

A borrower who meets FHA credit standards will usually do better with an FHA loan than with a subprime loan, despite having to pay a mortgage insurance premium. The rate will be lower, the borrower will have access to a large menu of mortgages, and there are no prepayment penalties. Most mortgages in the subprime market are 2-year adjustables with large margins, which means a high probability of a rate increase after two years, and they have prepayment penalties, usually for three years.

Loan Limits: The loan limits on FHAs are a major deterrent. HUD has asked Congress to allow the same loan amounts on FHAs as on loans purchased by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. In 2006, this would have meant an increase to $417,000 uniform across the country.

Down Payment Requirements: In 2000, FHA's 3 percent down payment compared with 5 percent on most conventional loan programs. In 2006, however, zero-down loans were widely available in the conventional sector, while the FHA minimum of 3 percent remained unchanged. Since zero-down loans have long been available under the VA program, FHA is now the only sector that does not have them.

This disadvantage of FHA is partially offset by down-payment-assistance programs available to FHA borrowers. One form of such assistance is second mortgages at preferential rates, which is the preferred method of public agencies at the city, county or state levels. These agencies have their own eligibility rules independent of FHA.

A second form of assistance is cash contributions from nonprofit corporations. These have no repayment obligation, but the funds provided come from home sellers who take account of the contribution in setting their sales prices.

Neither type of assistance is a good substitute for a zero-down program, a bill for which was introduced in Congress in 2004. So far, however, it has not been passed.

Interest-Only Mortgages and Option ARMs. These instruments exploded in popularity after 2000, but were not available under FHA and there is little likelihood that they ever will.

Prospects For a Revival in FHA's Market Share. Congressional authorization of no-down-payment loans and a rise in loan limits would increase FHA's market share. So would an increase in public awareness that some subprime borrowers would qualify for, and do better with FHA loans.

A marked increase in FHA's market share would result from an explosion in foreclosures, which would cause a drastic restriction of lending terms in the conventional sector. This is not something I would care to see, but if it happened we will be pleased that FHA was there to help cushion the blow.

The writer is professor of finance emeritus at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Comments and questions can be left at www.mtgprofessor.com.
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What's Hot and What's Not in Home Design

Mark Nash, the Chicago-based real estate broker who penned 1,001 Tips for Buying and Selling a Home (Thomson/South-Western, 2004), has released a list of home features that remain popular among buyers and those that are no longer in vogue. His list is based on responses from more than 900 real estate professionals nationwide.

For example, practitioners surveyed reported that the inability to keep stainless steel appliances, glass-front cabinets, and vessel-style sinks clean has caused them to fall out of favor with buyers. Also, spiral staircases have become less popular, particularly among buyers with young children.

As for what's "in," Nash found buyers are increasingly looking for some of the following features in homes:

Glass bathroom and kitchen tiles.
His-and-her home offices complete with fiber-optic cables for Internet connectivity.
Wood floors — except for those made of bamboo, which is not as durable.
Extra storage space in the form of linen closets, pantries, and luggage rooms.

With a large supply of unsold homes on the market, practitioners note that buyers have become pickier and expect homes to be in move-in condition.

Source: Washington Post, Kirstin Downey (01/06/07)

© Copyright 2006 Information Inc.

Seasonal Tips for Winter Home Care

by Galand Haas

Winter Seasonal Tips

Fall
Winter
Spring
Summer

Facts on Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Winter Tips for Your Houseplants
Caring for houseplants while you're away on vacation
Keeping Your Winter Plants Safe
Protecting Your Floors from Ice Melt Compounds
Winterizing Your Window Air Conditioners
Improving Energy Efficiency in Your Home - Part One
Winterizing Your House -- Is it Too Tightly Shut Up?
Allergies Bothering You in Closed Winter House? Get Tips
Safely Thawing Frozen Pipes
Space Heater Safety
Planting Seeds Under Lights
Avoiding Falls
Does Your Family Have a Fire Plan?
Don't Forget Your Feathered Friends This Winter

Facts on Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

What is carbon monoxide (CO) and why do I need to understand it? The Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) reports that approximately 200 people per year are killed by accidental CO poisoning, with an additional 5000 people injured - more accidental poisonings than any other chemical substance. During winter, when our houses are closed up to keep warm and appliances such as heaters and furnaces are operating, the potential for carbon monoxide poisoning increases dramatically. Known as the "Silent Killer", carbon monoxide is a tasteless, odorless, colorless toxic gas that is a by-product of combustion and is virtually impossible to detect. Any fuel-burning appliance or device can produce dangerous levels of this gas and must be maintained properly to avoid the build-up of this poison in your home.

What can cause carbon monoxide poisoning in the home?

  • Fuel-fired furnaces (check for cracked furnace exchange)
  • Gas water heaters (check for corroded or disconnected water heater flue)
  • Fireplaces and wood stoves (check for dirty or clogged chimneys)
  • Gas stoves (check for proper installation)
  • Gas dryers (use outside ventilation)
  • Any gas or kerosene appliance such as portable heaters
  • Charcoal grills (don't operate inside or in an enclosed area such as garage)
  • Gas engines such as lawnmowers, blowers and other yard equipment
  • Automobile exhaust (especially dangerous in an attached garage)
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Anywhere combustion takes place

What are the medical effects of carbon monoxide and how do I recognize them?

Carbon monoxide, when inhaled, deprives your body of the oxygen it needs to survive. It does this by combining with the hemoglobin in your blood. Normally oxygen is transported by hemoglobin, but when carbon monoxide is present, it combines with the hemoglobin to form carboxyhemoglobin (COHb) instead of oxygen. This bond with carbon monoxide is 200 times stronger than the bond with oxygen, so it is difficult for your body to eliminate the CO buildup from your bloodstream. That is why carbon monoxide can cause poisoning slowly over a period of several hours, even in low concentrations.

What are the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning?

The symptoms of CO poisoning are commonly mistaken for other illnesses such as the flu or a cold. Concentration levels of CO in your bloodstream can cause:

  • 10% concentration - no apparent symptoms (heavy smokers can have as much as 9% COHb)
  • 15% concentration - mild headache
  • 25% concentration - nausea, serious headache (quick recovery after treatment with oxygen or fresh air)
  • 30% concentration - intensified headaches, nausea, dizziness, increased pulse and respiration (potential for long-term effects, especially in infants, children, the elderly, victims of heart disease and pregnant women)
  • 45% concentration - unconsciousness, possible collapse, convulsions, coma and eventually death.
  • 50%+ concentration - death

CAUTION: Carbon monoxide especially affects unborn babies, infants, people with anemia or a history of heart or respiratory disease and pregnant women.

How can I prevent carbon monoxide poisoning in my home?

Take these simple steps:

  • Make sure your fuel-burning appliances - oil and gas furnaces, gas water heaters, gas ranges and ovens, gas dryers, gas or kerosene space heaters, fireplaces and wood stoves - are installed and working according to manufacturers' instructions and local building codes.
  • Have all of your fuel-burning appliances inspected and cleaned by a professional at the beginning of every heating season.
  • Make certain that flues and chimneys are connected, unclogged and in good working condition.
  • Have only a qualified technician install or convert fuel-burning equipment from one type to another.
  • Never use ovens and gas ranges to heat your home.
  • Never use a charcoal grill inside a home, cabin, recreational vehicle or camper - even in a fireplace.
  • Never leave your car idling or a mower or blower running in a closed garage. Fumes can build up very quickly in the garage and living area of your home.
  • Make sure your furnace has an adequate intake of outside air.
  • Choose appliances that vent fumes to the outside whenever possible. If you cannot avoid using an unvented gas or kerosene space heater, follow the cautions that come with the device carefully.
  • Use the proper fuel and keep doors to the rest of the house open when using gas or kerosene space heaters. Crack a window to ensure enough air for ventilation and proper burning of fuel. Never sleep in an enclosed space with gas or kerosene space heaters.
  • Install carbon monoxide detectors with an audible alarm in your home and garage.

DON'T IGNORE SYMPTOMS, particularly if more than one person is feeling them. You could lose consciousness and die if you do nothing. Play it safe. If you DO experience symptoms that you think could be from CO poisoning:

  • Get fresh air immediately. Open doors and windows, turn off fuel-burning appliances and leave the house.
  • Go to an emergency room and tell the physician you suspect CO poisoning.
  • Be prepared to answer the following questions for the physician:
    • Do your symptoms occur only in the house?
    • Do they disappear or decrease when you leave home and reappear when you return?
    • Is anyone else in your household complaining of similar symptoms?
    • Did everyone's symptoms appear about the same time?
    • Are you using any fuel-burning appliances in the home?
    • Has anyone inspected your appliances lately? Are you certain they are working properly?

Carbon monoxide detectors

Carbon monoxide detectors can be used to help alert you of the presence of CO, but should not be used as a replacement for proper use and maintenance of your fuel-burning appliances. There are several types of detectors on the market. As the technology for these detectors is still developing, they are not considered as reliable as the smoke detectors you use in your home. Follow these guidelines when considering a carbon monoxide detector for your home:

  • Never purchase a CO detector that is not UL (Underwriters Laboratories, Inc.) approved or does not have a long-term warranty.
  • Many CO detectors tested performed well. Others failed to alarm at even high levels of CO and others alarmed at levels too low to be concerned about. Do not use a CO detector in place of proper maintenance and ventilation.
  • Research features before buying.
  • Make sure the detector you purchase is easily self-tested and reset to ensure proper functioning.
  • Don't select a detector based solely on cost.
  • Make sure you have enough detectors to cover your entire house.
  • Carefully follow manufacturers' instructions for placement, use and maintenance.
  • For maximum effectiveness during sleeping hours, place detectors as close to sleeping areas as possible.

If you have a CO detector and the alarm goes off:

  • Make sure it is your CO detector and not your smoke detector.
  • Check to see if any member of the household is experiencing symptoms of poisoning.
  • If they are, get them out of the house immediately and seek medical attention. Tell the doctor that you suspect CO poisoning.
  • If no one is feeling symptoms, ventilate the home with fresh air, turn off all potential sources of CO: your oil or gas furnace, gas water heater, gas range and oven, gas dryer, gas or kerosene space heater and any vehicle or small engine.
  • Have a qualified technician inspect your fuel-burning appliances and chimneys to make sure they are operating correctly and that there is nothing blocking the fumes from being vented out of the house.

For a complete list of links to detailed information on carbon monoxide poisoning go to: http://www.pp.okstate.edu/ehs/links/co.htm

Winter Tips for Your Houseplants:

  • Water houseplants less since they grow more slowly on short, dark days. Too much water will kill them.
  • Don't fertilize them unless they are growing under artificial lights.
  • Lining shelves or windowsills with aluminum foil reflects light and provides extra light for houseplants. Be sure there are no leaks that allow water to collect under the foil and damage sills.

Caring for houseplants while you're away on vacation

  • A week or so before your trip, turn the heat register off in a room with indirect light.
  • Monitor room temperature with a thermometer placed on the floor.
  • Check frequently to determine fluctuations of temperature. Ideally temperature should be between low-to-mid 50s during the day, falling into the upper 40s at night. At this range, your plants will survive without extra care for a few weeks.
  • Water all plants the day before you leave, whether they need it or not. Let pots drain fully.
  • Cover the floor of the room with newspapers and plastic and place all your plants together in the room.
  • Open curtains, drapes or blinds to allow optimum light to enter the room. Make sure plants aren't in drafts.
  • You can also use self-watering wicks available in most plant stores for watering.
  • If you don't have a room for the plants, try leaving them in the bathtub. After soaking them good, cover them with a sheet of plastic and they'll survive for 2 weeks or longer.
  • Shut off the heater vent in the bathroom so the room will remain cool and the heat won't dry the plants out.

Keeping Your Winter Plants Safe

Here are a few tips for keeping your outdoor plants safe during cold weather.

  • Don't worry about a light, freshly fallen snow. It's an excellent insulator if frigid weather follows.
  • Smaller, younger plants have a harder time surviving the cold than larger plants. Be sure and protect these during frigid weather.
  • If you have plants that have been attacked by insects or diseases, pay special attention to them during the winter.
  • De-icing salts can be toxic to many flowers, trees, shrubs and grasses. Be careful when de-icing the sidewalk and driveway not to get the substance too near plants or grasses.

Protecting your Floors from Ice Melt Compounds

No matter how hard you try, some of that ice melt compound that's on the bottom of your shoes is going to make it inside. The residue is unsightly on hard surface floors. On carpets, you may not see it, but the damage can be even worse. The most commonly used compound is calcium chloride in small white pellet form. It has two characteristics that are very relevant - it's alkaline and it loves water. Calcium chloride pulls moisture from the air and leaves a moist, oily film on carpets and hard surface floors. It can also cause the slip resistance of hard surface floors to be compromised.

  • Use doormats or runners at all entrance and exit areas to capture as much of the residue as possible.
  • Vacuum the mats often and clean using the wet extraction method.
  • Keep one or two replacement sets of mats for the winter season.
  • Clean carpets by vacuuming at least three times a day.
  • Clean carpets by wet extraction after each snowstorm or after each use of ice melt compound.
  • To clean the oily residue from hard surface floors, use water or FloorStar Light Duty Cleaner at 1/2 ounce per gallon. DO NOT wet mop, as the mop itself can become contaminated with significant amounts of residue and spread to the rest of your floors.
  • For professional cleaning, call 1-800 WE SERVE.

Winterizing your Window Air Conditioners

If you haven't winterized your window-unit air-conditioners, now's the time. Follow these simple steps:

  • If you leave the unit in the window, wrap it with plastic and seal it with duct tape.
  • You can buy covers for some models, if you prefer.
  • Remember to close all the vents.
  • If you take the appliance out of the window, be careful not to bend or damage the cooling fins on the back.
  • Do not store an air-conditioner on a garage floor where it might come in contact with corrosive deicing salts that can drip off car tires.

Improving Energy Efficiency in Your Home - Part One

Want to know a few ways to improve the energy efficiency in your home? Try these tips.

  • Install ceiling insulation.
  • Keep curtains closed to prevent heat loss.
  • Close off unheated areas.
  • Don't overheat your room; increasing the thermostat setting by 1 degree can increase costs by 3 percent.
  • Clean the heating filter regularly.
  • Wear warm enough clothing to help cut heating costs.
  • Choose energy-efficient appliances when making new purchases.
  • Turn off appliances when not in use.
  • Keep heaters free of dust and fluff around the fan and reflective surfaces.
  • Use compact, high-efficiency fluorescent lighting in areas where this is appropriate. It can save you up to 80 percent in costs.

We'll be providing energy efficiency tips throughout the year, so be sure to bookmark this page and check back often.

Winterizing Your House — Is it Too Tightly Shut Up?

When Is a House Too Tight?

When your house is air-tight, that's good from an energy-use point of view. But if the house is too air-tight, it can cause indoor air quality problems. There are lots of different factors to consider when trying to determine if you have proper ventilation in your home. You should take into account your climate (humid or dry), the number of occupants in the house and the number of stories in the house. We've provided some simple tips here that will help you maintain good air quality in your home.

What Causes Indoor Air Problems?

Indoor pollution sources that release gases or particles into the air are the primary cause of indoor air quality problems in homes. Inadequate ventilation can increase indoor pollutant levels by not bringing in enough outdoor air to dilute emissions from indoor sources and by not carrying indoor air pollutants out of the home. High temperature and humidity levels can also increase concentrations of some pollutants.

Pollutant Sources

There are many sources of indoor air pollution in any home including:

  • Combustion sources such as oil, gas, kerosene, coal, wood and tobacco products
  • Building materials and furnishings such as deteriorated, asbestos-containing insulation, wet or damp carpet and cabinetry or furniture made of certain pressed wood products
  • Products for household cleaning and maintenance, personal care or hobbies
  • Central heating and cooling systems and humidifying devices
  • Outdoor sources such as radon, pesticides and outdoor air pollution.

Amount of Ventilation

If too little outdoor air enters a home, pollutants can accumulate to levels that can pose health and comfort problems. Many modern homes are built to be "air-tight" for energy-saving purposes, and unless they are equipped with special mechanical means of ventilation, the best-built homes may have higher pollutant levels than older homes. However, even homes that are considered "leaky" can have a build-up of pollutants due to certain weather conditions that can drastically reduce the amount of air that enters a home.

How Does Outdoor Air Enter a House?

Outdoor air enters and leaves a house by infiltration, natural ventilation and mechanical ventilation.

  • Infiltration means that outdoor air comes into the house through openings around windows and doors, cracks and joints.
  • Natural ventilation occurs when air comes through open windows and doors.
  • Mechanical ventilation includes devices such as outdoor-vented fans that remove air from a single room, and systems that use fans and duct work to continuously remove indoor air and distribute filtered and conditioned outdoor air throughout the house.
  • Air exchange rate is the rate at which outdoor air replaces indoor air. When the air exchange rate is low, pollutant levels increase.

Health Effects of Indoor Air Pollutants

Health effects from indoor air pollutants may occur immediately after exposure or even years later.

  • Immediate effects include irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, headaches, dizziness and fatigue. These are usually short-term and treatable by removing the person from exposure to the pollutant.
  • Symptoms of long-term health problems such as asthma, hypersensitivity pneumonitis and humidifier fever may also show up soon after exposure to some indoor air pollutants.
  • Long-term health effects that may show up years after exposure include respiratory diseases, heart disease and cancer.

If you have particularly sensitive people living in your househo/march5ld or people who are considered more "at-risk" such as the elderly, pregnant women, those with pre-existing medical conditions or small children, it is especially important to ensure that your home has proper ventilation, particularly during the winter months.

Identifying Air Quality Problems

If someone in your household is experiencing symptoms of indoor air pollution, you should try and identify the source of those symptoms. Have you recently moved to a new residence, remodeled or had the home treated with pesticides? Do you have any of the sources listed above in your home? Have you recently used a certain chemical in the home? Signs that your home may not be properly ventilated include:

  • Moisture condensation on windows or walls
  • Smelly or stuffy air
  • Dirty central heating and air cooling equipment
  • Books, shoes, or other items that become moldy

Precautions You Can Take

  • Have the radon level in your house measured by a professional.
  • Identify all possible sources of indoor pollution and eliminate as many sources as possible.
  • Have all combustion sources checked by a professional.
  • Limit smoking in your home.
  • Consult your healthcare professional if you or a family member experience symptoms. Offer as much information as possible to that professional so they can help identify the source of the symptoms.
  • Improve ventilation in your home by opening windows and doors, operating window or attic fans or making certain the vent control is open on window-unit air conditioners often enough to recycle the air in your home. Exhaust fans in the kitchen and bathroom also improve ventilation.
  • Pay special attention to ventilation when involved in projects such as painting, paint-stripping, heating with kerosene heaters, cooking or working on hobbies that involve welding, soldering or sanding. Try to schedule hobby activities during a season when you can do some of the work outdoors.
  • Consider the purchase of an air-cleaning device for your home.

Weatherizing Your Home

When weatherizing your home for energy conservation, pay close attention to ensuring that your home still has proper ventilation. Installing storm windows, weather stripping, caulking and blown-in wall insulation can reduce ventilation and cause concentrations of indoor air pollutants to increase.

Number of Occupants

The more occupants that live in the house, the more fresh air is needed. If you have a large family, make certain that you are getting enough fresh air into the house to supply each family member with good quality air.

Allergies Bothering You in Closed Winter House?

One fifth of all Americans suffer from allergies affecting the sinuses and lungs. During the winter, everyone is trying hard to keep the house warm and closed off from the outside air. Unfortunately, that also seals up the indoor atmosphere where certain pollutants can irritate allergies. These pollutants include dust mites, pets and mold. The way to eliminate the irritation caused by these things is usually as simple as removing the source. The room you most need to focus on is the room you sleep in. Here are a few tips to help keep the sneezing and sniffing to a minimum this winter.

  • Keep your house properly ventilated and get fresh air on a regular basis.
  • Keep upholstered furniture to a minimum in your bedroom and vacuum it frequently.
  • Cover you mattress, pillows and box springs with an impermeable covering. Dust mites thrive in bedding.
  • Unclutter the room as much as possible to keep down dust and dust mites.
  • Vacuum and dust as frequently as you possibly can. Have someone who is NOT allergy-prone to do this, since these activities can really aggravate allergies.
  • Try to keep your bedroom uncarpeted. Dust mites love carpeting, and even vacuuming twice a week can't combat them.
  • If you can't keep your pet outdoors, at least keep them out of the bedroom, and for heaven's sake, don't let your pet sleep with you!
  • Avoid high humidity. Run humidifiers only when the heater is running.
  • Don't run humidifiers in the room with the door closed.
  • Use super-fine furnace filters and change them frequently (at least once a month).

Safely Thawing Frozen Pipes

Frozen pipes are in danger of bursting and causing a serious plumbing problem. Even if a frozen pipe is already damaged, you can save money and trouble by thawing it and turning off the water before a plumber can get there to help you. Here are some tips for safely thawing frozen pipes. Safety is a major issue, as many home fires have been started by people trying to thaw pipes with the wrong equipment.

  • Thaw the pipes as quickly as possible after you discover they are frozen.
  • Leave the main water supply valve open. Incoming water pressure will help remove loosened ice.
  • Start at the faucet when thawing and work towards the source.
  • Use one of these six safe methods to safely thaw a pipe:
    1. Electric Iron This provides the most concentrated heat to thaw a pipe. You should lash the iron to the pipe with wire (never use combustible materials such as rope or string). Move the iron down the pipe as the thawing begins. CAUTION: Be careful not to touch the heated areas of the pipe.
    2. Hair Dryer Use an electric hair dryer to blow warm air directly on the suspected frozen area.
    3. Heat Lamp Use an infrared heat lamp directly on the suspected frozen area. For added efficiency, place a piece of sheet metal or aluminum foil behind the pipe while heating.
    4. Soldering Iron A soldering iron may be useful where an electric iron won't fit. You can lash this to the pipe in the same way you would lash an iron.
    5. Heating Cable Wrap a heating cable around the pipe in the suspected frozen area.
    6. Boiling Water Pour boiling water on the pipe after wrapping rags around the suspected frozen area. This method is slow and messy and may take many gallons of water. CAUTION: Boiling water can cause serious burns. Be extremely careful when transporting and pouring boiling water.
  • CAUTION: Never use a blow torch to thaw frozen pipes. This is the cause of most home fires started when trying to accomplish this task.

Space Heater Safety

If you are using space heaters this winter, you should know that they are a major cause of fires and injuries. Follow these simple precautions to practice space heater safety this winter.

  • When purchasing a space heater, make sure that it is approved by a certified testing organization.
  • Read the manual that came with your space heater before using it
  • Keep space heaters at least 3 feet away from anything that might be flammable such as furniture, draperies or curtains, bedding, rugs or clothing.
  • Keep space heaters away from areas where water may come in contact with the heater.
  • If you intend to use a space heater in the bathroom, check the manual before purchasing to make sure it is safe to use in areas where there is water.
  • Keep children away from space heaters. Never leave a child unattended in a room where there is a space heater.
  • Don't plug a space heater into an extension cord. If you have to use an extension cord, check the manufacturer's recommendations on the cord and make sure that it is the proper wire gauge size and type.
  • Don't use space heaters in areas where flammable liquids such as gasoline or kerosene are used or stored. Space heaters have hot parts that can cause sparking and start a fire.
  • Never use a space heater to warm bedding, dry clothes, cook food or thaw pipes.
  • When you're not using a space heater, turn it off and unplug it.
  • Turn off and unplug all space heaters before going to bed.

Planting Seeds Under Lights

Sometimes the winter days can get dreary and boring. Especially if you're happier being outside in the garden or you're home all day. One way to cheer yourself up and get a jump on your neighbors in the gardening department is to start seedlings indoors under fluorescent lights. It's really the best way to grow seeds, because when a seed has just sprouted, it is at it's weakest stage and needs good light. If it doesn't get good light, the seedling will be weak and spindly and may not live. Fluorescent lights provide the right light for good growth to give seedlings enough strength to survive.

One two-tube fixture will give off about 600 foot-candles of light to an area about two feet wide by five feet long if you keep the fixture within six inches of the plants. Since these fixtures give very little heat, they won't damage plants when they are placed that close. Use Cool White tubes for growing seedlings. The expensive tubes made especially for plants aren't necessary unless you're growing plants such as African violets or orchids.

Growing your own seedlings will also give you an opportunity to experiment with some new varieties in your garden next spring - varieties that your neighbors won't have because local nurseries won't be selling bedding plants for all the unusual plants you can start as seedlings. Happy growing!

Winter Safety Tips - Avoiding Falls

When we get a little, older our thinning bones make falling one of the biggest health hazards we face. For maximum safety during the winter when icy surfaces can make your risk of falling even greater, follow these suggestions:

  • Wear thinner soled shoes if you have poor circulation or loss of feeling in your legs and feet. These will help with better traction and better sensitivity to the surface you're walking on.
  • If arthritis and sore joints are a problem, use thicker soled shoes to cushion the impact of walking and give you greater support.
  • Wear sturdy, low-heeled shoes.
  • Avoid going onto surfaces where ice may form without someone with you. You can use them as support and you won't end up falling somewhere where you can't get help quickly.
  • Be especially careful on stairways. Always use hand rails.
  • Don't get in a hurry. Falls most often occur when you're walking faster than usual.
  • Use your common sense when deciding where to walk in the winter.

Does Your Family Have a Fire Plan?

Your family needs to be prepared in case of a fire. Children especially need to fully understand what to do and should practice these rules often. Otherwise, they will naturally run and hide from a fire instead of getting out of the house safely. Get a family fire-escape plan ready and have fire drills at least once a month. You can even print out the drill and tape it to the refrigerator so the whole family is reminded often of the plan.

  • Make sure that everyone knows to ways out of every room.
  • Teach children to crawl on their hands and knees to get low under smoke.
  • Teach children how to close door behind them to slow the spread of fire and smoke.
  • Plan alternate escape routes.
  • Teach children to lay low and shout their names out if they are trapped in a smoke-filled room.
  • Plan a meeting spot outside the house, at a neighbor's or in a special place in the yard a good distance from the house.
  • Teach kids that once they get outside, they should stay outside.
  • Make a sketch of the layout of each floor of your house, including windows, doors and stairways. Mark escape routes from each room on the sketch.
  • Hold frequent fire drills, including some at night. Make sure everyone is following the plan perfectly.
  • Assign a member of the family to be responsible for the younger and older members of the family. Get a "buddy" system going so everyone is taken care of.
  • Assign a responsible adult to look after house pets in case of fire.
  • Assign someone to call 911.
  • And if there is a fire, remember, COUNT HEADS, STAY TOGETHER and DON'T GO BACK into the house for personal belongings.

Don't Forget Your Feathered Friends This Winter

During the winter months, birds often have a difficult time finding the food they need to survive. A bird feeder outside your window not only helps to keep your feathered friends warm and full during the winter months, but it can also provide you with hours of pleasure. You may even gain some permanent residents when springtime comes and they are looking for a place to build their nests! Here's some tips for keeping the birds fat and happy this winter.

What should I feed the birds?

Bird food normally means seeds. You can buy birdseed at any number of places. Even though it might be cheaper to buy large quantities, remember that birdseed may encourage insects. If you do buy large quantities, store in dry, covered containers. If you want to have a variety of birds, you need a variety of seeds. You can buy it pre-mixed or mix your own. Always include sunflower seeds as nearly all birds like those. Some birds also like suet, which gives birds the extra heat and energy they need to fly well.

What type of feeder should I use?

Different species of birds prefer different types of feeders. Among the basic types of feeders available there are:

Platform Feeders - these have a flat surface with a tray around the edge where the seed is scattered. If you live in a very windy area, these may not be practical as the seed can be blown away.

Hopper Feeders - these are the type that self-replenish the seed as it is used. Perching birds such as finches, chickadees and cardinals are fond of this type of feeder. However, so are squirrels!

Tube Feeders - these are the hard, tubular plastic feeders that are designed for hanging from trees or porches. They attract smaller perching birds like finches. The small feeding port in tube feeders discourages larger birds and squirrels.

Suet Feeders - suet feeders are good for areas where there are lots of insects, because insect-eating birds love suet but don't normally care for seed feeders. These insect-eating birds will help control the insect population in your yard.

Nectar Feeders - these are used in warmer climates and help attract hummingbirds and orioles. The solution used is one part sugar to four parts of water. If you want lots of hummingbirds, place several feeders around the yard

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Selling A Home With Open Houses

by Galand Haas

OPEN HOUSE EFFECTIVENESS

Statiscally, only 1% of the homes sold nationally each year are the result of the seller or sellers agent having the home as an Open House.  This statistic is provided by the National Association of Realtors.  Home sellers who focus their primary marketing efforts towards open houses may have poor results in today's market climate.  The effectiveness of open houses has suffered signicantly as a result of home buyers search focus now coming from the use of the internet.  The National Assocaition of Realtors statistics also show that in the year 2004 over 78% of the home buyers nationally used the internet as part of their home search process. The trend is changing quickly ias to how potential home buyers find their new home.  This is welcome news as Open Houses traditionally have presented many risks such as theft and damage. 

January-March of 2007 is a great time to sell your home

by Galand Haas

 

HOME SALES MARKET REALITY

The home market in the Eugene and Springfield, Oregon area in Janaury of 2007 is certainly not in line with what is taking place in the national market.  Statistics show that through the end of the 2006 year our area realized a home price value increase of 13.4%.  This kind of value increase is not the norm for most of the United States at this time. This is an excellent market for home sellers to think about obtaining a sale at top market value.  It is the right market for first time buyers and move up and move down buyers to take action. 

If you are thinking of putting your home on the market you can receive a FREE home value market analysis by e-mail at www.forhomesellers-nonSmartZip.com.

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Galand Haas Team
Keller Williams Realty Eugene and Springfield
2644 Suzanne Way
Eugene OR 97408
Direct: (541) 349-2620
Fax: 541-687-6411

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