Green is key at this year’s builders’ show

The 2010 International Builders Show took place at the end of January in Las Vegas.  Four energy-efficient homes were on display that focused on using less energy, less water, and having cleaner indoor air.  I love this quote by Kevin Morrow, The National Association of Home Builder’s senior program manager of green building standards:

If these trends continue, “Keeping up with the Joneses” could take on a different spin as neighbors compete for the lowest power bill on the block!”

So what’s going to be new and more green?  Here’s some featured items:

Panasonic’s ventilation fan, the WhisperGreen FV-13VKM2.  It features dual motors, an energy-efficient motor to improve air quality. 

Rainwater Collection Solutions Inc. has the Original Rainwater Pillow.  This is designed to collect rainwater and is stored horizontally, such as under a deck or porch.

Hoping to reduce energy costs, BaySystemsTM is combining an HVAC system with spray foam insulation installed by an energywise Preferred Contractor to keep your utility bills lower.

EcoStar® has a premium line of synthetic slate and shake roofing tiles manufactured with 80% post-industrial recycled materials.

Sommer USA happily showcases their garage door opener, the quietest in the world.  It’s stronger than a chain but quieter than a belt drive.

I’ve talked about low VOC paint before, great for people with allergies.  Sherwin-Williams was on hand to promote their zero-VOC, low-odor paint. 

Here is a list of even more products that were featured this year: CLICK HERE.

More information on the show can be found here and here.  I’d love to know what new energy-efficient products you’d like to see in the future.  Please visit me online or leave me a comment below.

Energy conscious homeowners get rewarded

You may all remember the famous Cash for Clunkers program offered by the government last year.  Well, Obama wants to do for homeowners what he did for car owners and that is offer a similar program called Cash for Caulkers.  He’s proposing a bill where homeowners can earn tax credits and receive money back for purchasing energy-efficient appliances.  Up to $12,000 per home!

Congress is currently working on drafting a bill that would be twofold.  First, homeowners would receive reimbursement for energy-efficient equipment and insulation.  Second, the government would reward small businesses and companies.

Included would be appliances such as refrigerators, washing machines, dryers, and even air conditioning, heaters, windows, and insulation.  They’re currently looking at reimbursing homeowners 50% of the purchase price PLUS installation.  So without an income cap, you could spend up to $24,000 to get $12,000 back.  Congress is still working out the kinks as to how the money would get returned.  It’s possible that it would come in the form of a tax credit (there is a current tax credit for energy-efficient appliances already, but not this much) or they might set it up where you can fill out information for a rebate and receive a check.  The government is looking at a cost of about $10 billion to fund this.

They’re trying to model it similar to New York State’s energy efficiency program.  How that program works is homeowner’s contact a contractor who is licensed to perform an energy audit from the State’s Web site of a toll free number.  The contractor arrives to determine how much energy is wasted in that specific home.  It costs the homeowner several hundred dollars.  When the contractor generates a list of what could be replaced, the cost, and how much energy could be saved, the homeowner chooses what he wants done and negotiates a price.  The contractor gets paid directly, submits paperwork to the state, and the homeowner receives about 10% back in the form of a check.

So do you think it is another program that could invite fraud?  Will homeowners take advantage of it?  Is the government wasting $10 billion that could be spent elsewhere?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Please leave me a comment or visit me online.

More information on the program can be found here, here, and here.

Up and coming design trends

Happy New Year, everyone!!  Can’t believe the first decade of the 21st Century is already behind us.  How time flies.  Since I wrote last week on some 2010 predictions for the year in real estate, I thought it would be interesting to write about some new trends in home design.  What do experts expect to see going forward?

For those of you who bought your home insisting on stainless steel appliances, you might be shocked to find out that big name appliances companies like Amana and Viking are introducing color.  And no, this is not your avocado green oven anymore, folks.  They’re looking at bold, bright colors like royal blue, deep purple, even orange.  Expect to see a lot of bright colors in kitchens moving forward.  Think about what a statement these would make with white walls, dark granite counters and wood floors.  Can we expect to see patterns next?  Can you imagine zebra print or leopard print refrigerators??  Experts also say that more comfortable seating in the kitchen like benches and sofas could be the next trend for sitting around a table.

Home builders will definitely be building more “green.”  What’s interesting is that now in our local MLS, there are options to include what design features, fixtures, and appliances are considered “green.”  Appliance companies will start to phase out those that used up a ton of electricity and water.  Imagine shower heads with less water flow.  Maybe we’ll see appliances that auto shut off when not in use to conserve energy.  And think of the tax savings!

Also this year, the stats show that 1 in 4 homeowners will be aged 55 and older.  Easy-to-use products will be more readily available to make life easier.  Designers have created touchless faucets, pullout drawers, and even non-slip bathroom floors.  And those ugly grab bars will get a makeover, too, to match the rest of the decor. 

What new design features would you like to see?  I’d love to hear your comments.  For other expert opinions, read this article.  Please be sure to visit my Web site.

Keep your home warm and your energy bills low

With some very cool temperatures in the Chicago area this week, I know most people aren’t ready to start worrying about snow and shoveling and below freezing temperatures.  Unfortunately, it seems like summer is over and those 30-40 degree temperatures are here to stay.  In order to save money on your electric and heating bills this fall/winter, here are some tips to keep your house warm without costing a fortune:

winterizedhome1. Check for air leaks and drafts around all windows and doors.  One poorly sealed window can cost you hundreds of dollars this winter in extra heating bills.  You can purchase inexpensive insulation kits at all major home improvement stores, as well as Walmart and Target.  The plastic makes sure that all windows are sealed to prevent any extra air from escaping in.  Also, take advantage of those sunny days.  Even if it’s chilly outside, if there is a day with a lot of sunlight, open your drapes to get the solar energy to warm the room for you.

2. Check for leaks and drafts everywhere else.  You don’t want to forget to close your damper on your fireplace when not in use.  Please remember to keep it open if you are burning a fire.  Wall plates, plugs, and switches can allow cold air in.  You can purchase pre-cut foam to place under the switchplate to keep that closed.  And check your duct work.  Duct tape can fall off or bunch up over the years.  Make sure there’s no open holes bringing cool air in.

3. Give your furnace a yearly physical.  Replace its air filter to get the most energy efficiency out of it.  Clogged filters can cost you a lot of extra money since the furnace is working extra hard to get the heat through those clogs.  Have it inspected by a licensed and bonded HVAC technician yearly.  This can save you money in the long run to prevent any broken furnace in the middle of the winter. 

4. Invest in a programmable thermostat.  This way you can keep the heat lower when you’re at work so it’s not as warm when you’re not home.  You can set it to start warming up just before you get home at the end of the day.  Or if you’re on vacation, you won’t have to worry about your pipes freezing (it does happen!) because your heat is completely off.  These thermostats are so reasonably priced now.  They can be purchased for as low as $20.

5. Consider running your appliances (dishwasher, washer, dryer) in the morning and evening when you’re home.  It will help to heat the house as its running.  While you’re at it, make sure that dryer lint vents are cleaned after every load and that you’re only running full loads of laundry and dishes.

More great tips for the winter can be found here and here. Make sure you read the tips on attic insulation, too.

Visit my Web site if you have any real estate needs or questions.


What men and women like best in a home

It’s probably no surprise that when it comes to buying a home in most couples, it’s the women who ultimately make the decision.  They’re the ones that determine what house best suits their lifestyle.  They want the best floor plan for them. 

A recent Chicago Tribune article discusses what’s most important to both men and women when it comes to making the choice for the perfect home.  Linda Reimer is president of Design Basics, a company in Omaha that specializes in selling “woman-centric” house plans.  She highlights some of the important features for women:

1. An open floor plan for entertaining.  So they want to make access from the kitchen to the dining room easy.  They don’t want huge walls with separate rooms as part of the home.  They want it as open as possible.

2. Designs that reduce stress.  An example of this is a mudroom that is in the back of the house or off the garage so that everyone can put their coats, shoes, and other miscellaneous clutter in the room without bringing it all the way into the house.  This might also be a room to store pet food and cages.

3. Plenty of storage.  You’re going to need more than just the garage, attic, or basement to store everything.  Women want this in places around the house.  That’s why they prefer big walk-in closets in the master bedroom, as well as large or walk-in pantries in the kitchen. 

menandwomenMen, on the other hand, prefer rooms that are big enough for their large-screen TV or for a theater room.  They also like high-end gadgets and products that enhance energy efficiency to save money on utility bills.  Some men prefer the basement as their space.  That’s when they can make a room for the big TV or even add a mini golfing range.  Orren Pickell Builders, based out of Lincolnshire, says they’ve built homes with basements that have swimming pools, basketball courts, and even shooting ranges.

North Shore architect and custom builder and architect Charles Page says that men oftentimes want an office in their home.  He also noted that women he worked with prefer gourmet kitchens with upscale countertops and cabinets.  Since most families spend most of their time in the kitchen, this makes perfect sense.  It acts as a gathering space for a large family.  Page also notes that women prefer a laundry room on the first or second floor, rather than in the basement.  It makes their lives easier when they have to go up and down stairs. 

So home builders now are focusing on what men and women want in a home, rather than just building for shelter.  A lot of them are making sure there’s plenty of closet space.  If they don’t finish basements, then the laundry room goes on the main or upper level of the house. 

What’s important to you in a home?  I’d love to hear about it and help you find the perfect one.  Please visit me online.

Once a year cleaning? Okay!

cleaningIf you’re anything like me, you are not a big fan of cleaning.  It takes time and effort that you’d rather use doing something enjoyable.  Well, I have some good news.  Better Homes & Gardens released a list of seven chores that they only recommend you do once a year.  Even that’s doable in my book!  Here’s their recommended list:

1. Wash windows.  To make it easier on yourself, make sure you do this on a day that the sun isn’t beating down or else you’ll be left with streaks after the cleaning solution dries.  For a make it yourself cleaning solution to save money, combine half a cup of sudsy ammonia, one pint of rubbing alcohol, one teaspoon of dishwashing liquid, and one gallon of water.  BHG also has a trick to determine if your streaks are on the outside or the inside of the window.  When you’re wiping them down, use vertical strokes on one side and horizontal on the other.

2. Scrub and vacuum sliding glass door tracks.  You’ll often find dust, hair, dirt and even tiny bugs caught in these tracks.  If something is in there that’s just plain stuck, they recommend using an old toothbrush to loosen it, then vacuum the track, and then wipe clean with a wet sponge.

3. Wash baseboards, door frames, and walls.  A bucket of warm water with a squeeze of dishwashing detergent should do the trick.  You can either use a sponge or a rag to clean these surfaces.  If you have fingerprints or scuffs that won’t come out, they recommend the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser.  It will remove the toughest scuffs with just a little water.

4. Deep clean rugs and carpets.  Donna Smallin, author of Cleaning Plain & Simple says that you may need to have your carpet professionally cleaned every 12 to 18 months in order to protect its warranty if you have one.  To do it yourself, your best bet is to rent a deep cleaner.  Most home improvement stores let you rent these to avoid the huge cost of purchasing one on your own.

5. Clean furniture.  Here’s a great homemade polish for wood.  Mix a half teaspoon of olive oil and half cup of vinegar or lemon juice in a plastic spray bottle, shake well, and spray onto a microfiber cloth.

6. Freshen window treatments.  If they’re dirty enough, you might want to throw them in the washing machine and iron out when they’re dry.  If not, you can just use the upholstery attachment on your vacuum.  To make them smell fresh, a regular room spray should do the trick.

7. Dust light bulbs, ceiling fans, and light fixtures.  Swiffer makes an extension duster so you don’t have to drag out your ladder to reach.  If you have an extremely grimy bulb, a little vinegar on a cloth will clean it right up.

Do you have other cleaning tips for my readers?  Leave me a comment or visit me online.

Save energy with these gadgets

Well, I wanted to finish off Earth Week with some more “green” tips.  I hope that you’re getting good information from what I’ve posted earlier this week.  Today I am going to focus on some gadgets and appliances that will help to save you energy and keep your utility bills lower.

shower-head-lg1. Check out this great low-flow shower head at Greater Goods. And it’s only $8!  Using it allows water to flow at 1.75 gallons per minute.  On average, a regular shower head flows at 6 gallons per minute. 

2. Purchase a laptop instead of a desktop.  Who knew that it uses 5x less energy?  Plus, it’s portable so you can take it anywhere.

3. Keep burglars at bay with a motion sensor light.  It will save you money in electric bills by only going off when it senses motion rather than staying on all night. 

4.  High efficiency appliances.  You can purchase refrigerators, dishwashers, washers and dryers this way.  Washers that are high efficiency use a concentrated detergent to give you more bang for your buck.  Purchasing a front-load washer will help you save even more money.  You’re also apt to save money in taxes too!  Make sure you look for the Energy Star label before purchasing, or ask the salesman at the store.  This will help you save up to 30% more energy a month.

5. It may be hard to think about warming up for the winter (especially for those of us in the Chicago area), but it may be worth it next winter to invest in a space heater.  If you’re cold in one room, I first suggest putting on a sweater, but use a space heater to heat the room rather than turning on the heat for the whole house. 

6. One of the best investments you can make is purchasing a programmable thermostat.  You can program it to turn on right before you come home from work and to take the temperature down while you’re sleeping saving energy.  You can purchase these for as low as $25!

7. “If every household replaced just one incandescent bulb with a fluorescent bulb, the U.S. would conserve enough energy to light seven million homes,” says Ronnie Kweller of the Alliance to Save Energy.  Imagine how much you’ll save by replacing all your bulbs with fluorescents.  As a great bonus, they last longer than regular light bulbs so you have to replace them a lot less often.

I hope that my blogs this week inspired you to change at least one thing to help save the environment as well as your utility bills.  Please visit me online with any questions.