Wednesday, August 30, 2006

More Energy Saving Tips: Lighting

Use fluorescent bulbs!

Best bang for the buck: change out the garage, attic, storage, and closet light bulbs first. Believe it or not, they use the most energy! Why? Because they are typically large wattages, and easily to forget to turn off-so they burn through a lot of electricity when this happens.

Next, the living areas in this order: bathroom, kitchen , living/dining/family rooms. Bedrooms last. This is the typical ranking of usage in a typical household.

Turn your computer off! Modern computers are designed to be turned off/on thousands of times-this includes hard drives. If you want faster booting, then use 'hibernation'; offers similar power savings as OFF, with a shorter boot time. Anything you have been told about 'hard drive wearing out' due to off/on cycles is rubbish.

TV sets: If you are gone for more than a day or so, turn it OFF, and unplug it. Most modern sets will remember all the settings, and will still consume small amounts of power when OFF. Pulling the plug shuts it completely off. Same thing for receivers, recorders, cell phone charges, VCRs, etc.

Spas: If you are willing to spend a few bucks, get a gas heater for the spa. You wonÂ’t have to run it very often, and it will heat up 10+ degrees in less than 15 minutes. The electric heaters require a long time to heat, so they are on frequently. In the long run, you'll save money. Pool heaters are nearly always gas-you couldn't heat it fast enough with electric to overcome the heat loss!

All of the above items can be surveyed, and recommended by the SDG&E Energy teams. For more info:


You will also find many free programs that can do some/all of the above work and NO cost if you qualify. At the very least, they will survey your home, and make recommendations specific to your situation. It takes about 1 hour, and is FREE.

Thanks to Scott B. for this article!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Gas Prices Going in the Right Direction!

Since last Tuesday, gas prices have dropped about 8 cents. And, it seems that the best prices can be found towards the end of the week as they continue to drop.

Visit UCAN's website for an up-to-date listing of local gas prices.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Heating and Cooling Savings Tips

Here are more energy saving tips. This time for heating/cooling systems...

1) Use whole house fans, which pull cool night air into house through open windows. This save a lot on your AC bill. Attic vent fans, and cooling of the attic is essentially a waste of time. The attic does have to be properly vented with soffit, gable and/or ridge vents, but these are all passive i.e. no cost to run. Adding a fan to 'cool' the attic will not generate any savings--- PG&E has proven this. The only way this can work is by directly insulating the roof, which requires special, expensive insulation-not the pink fiberglass. Payback on this would be decade or more, if any.

2) Attic insulation: R30 or better! This translates to >12 inches of pink fiberglass or blown in.

3) HVAC plumbing/ductwork: Duct tape-that grey, fabric, sticky stuff is worthless, and is no longer code. What to use: Aluminum tape-it is like thick aluminum foil, with seriously sticky glue on back. If your house is > 7-10 years, then you could remove ALL the duct tape, and replace with the aluminum tape. This will stop leaks permanently!

4) HVAC vents into rooms: Use gaskets similar to the electrical outlet ones. And MOST important: Do NOT close any ducts! This significantly compromises the proper flow of heated/cooled air, makes you HVAC less efficient, and will make things worse if you have hot/cold spots or rooms. If you do have a room that is always too hot/cool, then have a HVAC contractor check the valves located in the ductwork. They can make adjustments there, where the system has been designed for adjustment.

5) In summer, close the blinds, especially on the sunward side! In the winter, open the blinds, especially on the sunward side! Radiant heating and cooling through windows can account for >10% or your costs! Those with double pane, reflectively coated windows will have a far lesser effect from this, but every little bit helps.

6) Water heater blankets: most model less than 5 years old don't need them; in fact, using one may void the warranty! Check you water heater labels carefully before adding.

7) Insulating hot water pipes: If you can get to those in attics, crawlspaces, and garages, that will help. Please note: on gas heaters, that short section of pipe (usually about 18-24 inches long) next to the vent pipe should NOT be insulated! This is a code violation is some locales, as the insulation required to make any difference will be too close to vent creating a potential fire hazard. In other words, don't bother with this section unless you have an electric water heater. This short section has such a small contribution to heat loss it almost isn’t worth doing unless you can do most of the piping.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Stopping Air Leaks to Save Energy

I've been posting several tips on saving energy lately since many of us Southern California residents have seen very high utility bills. The recent hot weather means more A/C use which translates into high bills. One of our readers sent me some additional tips that I'll post over the next several days. (Thanks, SB!).

In order of most to least:

1) Install double pane windows/doors

2) Install new weather-stripping around doors/windows. This includes interior doors to furnaces and A/C units. If you have a furnace/ac in a closet by itself, then the door needs to be weather-stripped. This is because the furnace/ac draws air into it, and it will draw air that has already been heated or cooled, and will send this up the vent and out of the house. This work requires an assessment by an Energy Partner or HVAC contractor to make sure the appliance is operating correctly, and has sufficient combustion air. (Combustion air is drawn via vent(s) from attic, crawlspaces, outdoors).

3) Door jambs! If worn, replace. Especially the sill plate.

4) Look under your sinks! The place where water and drains enter/exit the walls is a significant source of drafts. For small holes, seal with caulking. Larger holes should be properly repaired with wire mesh or plates and caulked.

5) Electrical outlets: switches, outlets, cover plates for lamps and so forth. You can get little gaskets from home supply store that fit under the cover plates for all of these-very inexpensive.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Get $125 off the purchase price of a new High Efficiency washer!

The Residential High-Efficiency Clothes Washer (HEW) Voucher Program provides a point-of-purchase discount of $125 off the cost of a new qualifying HEW. These machines use 60% less water and 55% less energy per load than standard top-loading machines. The Program is sponsored by the San Diego County Water Authority, and its participating member agencies. Call the Voucher Processing Center at (800) 986-4538 or visit the Web at for more information.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Replace Not Just The Battery, But The Smoke Detector Itself!

Have you replaced your smoke detector(s) in the last 10 years? A working smoke detector can reduce your risk of dying in a house fire by nearly 50 percent. Most of us know to replace the battery annually. But did you know that, according to the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA), smoke detectors should be replaced every 10 years? Smoke detectors are very inexpensive and the current building code calls for one in each bedroom.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Interest Rates Overview

Great rates this week!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Finding Out About Schools BEFORE Buying Your Home

If you're shopping for a home and you have or will soon have school-age kids, you should become familiar with the local school districts. You may want to know, for example, how far the school is to your new home, how do the schools score, class sizes, special programs, etc. Keep in mind that district boundaries frequently change and homes on the same street could be assigned different schools.

You can do most of the research yourself online. District maps are frequently published, but to be safe you should call the school directly and ask if the home you are planning to buy is served by that particular school.

Here are two local school district sites that let you enter a home address to get the schools serving that home:

Poway Unified School District

San Diego City Schools

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

New Search Code for Yahoo Real Estate

Yahoo! and Prudential are working together and have introduced special search codes enabling visitors to bypass many levels of webpages and instead jump directly to the desired home.

For Prudential Realtors who choose to use this feature, they would simply assign a code to a particular listing. When someone is interested in that house, they would simply enter the published code into any Yahoo! search window (you don't have to be in the real estate section of Yahoo!).

For example, here's a 2 bedroom I have for sale in Rancho Bernardo. Go ahead and enter the search code PRU5N5W6 in any Yahoo! search window and learn more about it!

Click Photo to View Virtual Tour

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Ductwork Efficiency

Improving the efficiency of ductwork is the single most important energy measure for most affordable homes. Poor ductwork can waste hundreds of dollars each year and cause serious health and safety problems. It is best to locate ducts inside the living area-not in attics or crawl spaces. Do not use building cavities, such as closet returns, as part of the duct system. Make sure all joints in the ductwork are sealed permanently with mastic; duct tape and insulation do not provide an effective seal. After ducts are sealed, ensure that they have adequate insulation. The Model Energy Code sets minimum requirements, but higher levels are often cost effective.

Excess air leakage in homes can increase heating and cooling bills by 30 percent. Although windows, doors, and outside walls contribute to air leakage, the biggest holes are usually hidden from view and connect the house to the attic, crawl space, or basement. Reducing air leakage typically costs less than $200 for the average home.

A family of four can spend more for hot water than heating or cooling. Simple conservation measures, such as low-flow showerheads, tank insulation jackets, and convection traps in hot and cold water lines, pay back quickly.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Did You Know? Internet Home Buyers

Based on findings of the California Association of Realtors' 2006 Internet Versus Traditional Buyer Survey:

70 percent of buyers use the Internet as an integral part of the home-buying process. This number has nearly doubled since 2001.

More than nine out of 10 Internet buyers said that the Internet helped them better understand the process of buying a home.

Internet buyers are accustomed to receiving more frequent communication and faster response times from their REALTORS®

Internet buyers spend an average of 5.8 weeks considering buying a home before contacting a REALTOR®, while traditional buyers spend 2 weeks.

Internet buyers spend 2.2 weeks looking for the home they ultimately purchase, compared with 7.1 weeks for traditional buyers.

Friday, August 11, 2006

This Week's Interest Rates

Here are this week's home loan rates

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Zillow Goes Mobile

Zillow has been often criticized and at the same time hailed for providing a service on their website where homeowners may get an instant estimate of value for any home. Simply by providing an address and zip code, the website returns a dollar amount along with an aerial map of the property in question.

The criticism comes from the fact that zillow uses a statistical method based on public sales numbers on recently sold homes. This can often result in wildly inaccurate estimates of value. Published sales statistics work better when a home is surrounded by similar homes. It does not work well with custom or unique homes. Zillow won't know whether a home has been renovated or upgraded so you won't get that in the price prediction.

Zillow makes it clear that this is not an appraisal. Only a certified appraiser can do the footwork and dig beneath the published sales data. Realtors also have more local information including knowledge about amenities, upgrades, buying trends, etc.

Still, Zillow provides a cool service. And now you can drive up to any home and get a text message showing you Zillow's estimate of value. Use Zillow's Mobile service. Here's how:

1) Create a text message using your cell phone addressed to:
2) In the subject line, enter the home's street address and zip code. For example, 123 Broadway, 92101
3) Send the message. A few minutes later you'll get a reply message from Zillow!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Circus is in Town!

From today until the 13th, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus excites the crowds with three rings of non-stop action! The show goes on at the San Diego Sports Arena. For tickets, call 619-220-TIXS. Performance times: 619-224-4171

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Federal funds rate stays put at 5.25%

The Federal Reserve on Tuesday ended two years of 17 consecutive increases in the federal funds rate, letting it stay put at 5.25 percent.

The Federal Open Market Committee may not be done raising interest rates to keep inflation in check, saying "some inflation risks remain." But unemployment in July rose from 4.6 percent to 4.8 percent and economic growth slowed to 2.5 percent this spring, off by nearly half from the pace of the first three months of the year.

"Economic growth has moderated from its quite strong pace earlier this year, partly reflecting a gradual cooling of the housing market and the lagged effects of increases in interest rates and energy prices," the committee said in a statement. Inflation risks remain, and "The extent and timing of any additional firming that may be needed to address these risks will depend on the evolution of the outlook for both inflation and economic growth, as implied by incoming information."

The decision to take a break from interest-rate hikes was widely expected, and long term mortgage rates had already fallen to four-month lows in anticipation of the move. The 30-year fixed-rate average sank to 6.07 percent overnight, and the 15-year rate dipped to 5.78 percent, according to figures compiled by Bankrate. Source: Inman News, August 8, 2006

Monday, August 07, 2006

Increasing Your Home's Value

Your home is probably your single largest investment. While the value of your home is largely determined by such things as location, size, condition and amenities, there are still steps you can take to maximize its worth.

First, you need to evaluate your plans carefully if you're improving your home to put it on the market. Cutting corners could hurt rather than help your prospects, but you don't want to go overboard either. Your home's value should be no more than 20% above the average. That means a $10,000 kitchen improvement project might be a better idea than a $10,000 hot tub, especially if no other homes in your area have hot tubs.

In other words, it's best to keep changes simple.

Here's a list of remodeled projects that buyers are likely to find valuable:

Add a bedroom: Three- and four-bedroom homes are most desirable.

Install a master bathroom: When a bedroom has a bathroom, it means extra value.

Install a new shower: A new shower says a modern home.

Change your fixtures: Get a faucet that adds a decorative element to the bathroom.

Re-grout the tile: If the tiles are in good shape a new grouting does wonders.

Install new kitchen cabinets: Even just a paint job and some new handles will give your cabinets a fresh look.

Improve functionality: If you've got the space, an island is the way to go. New appliances make a difference too.

Expose the floors: Remove old carpet and show off the original floor. If you don't have hardwood floors, consider new carpeting.

Install new doors: Doors set off a room and make a great difference.

Paint the interior: A new paint job speaks volumes. Good colors to use are white, off-white, and a light yellow.

Add new light fixtures: Replace any that are damaged or out-of-style.

Add a fireplace: Even if you don't plan on using it much, it adds great value.

Take advantage of unused or underused space: If you can convert a basement or attic into a useful room, do it.

Landscape: A few strategically located plants and a neat-looking yard will impress.

Add a deck: It's a great use of exterior space because it increases your total entertainment area.

Dress up your porch and entrance: A freshly painted door with a new door handle can bake a great first impression.

Replace the windows: New windows not only give your home a new look, they can also lower your energy bill.

Remember, when it comes to your home, it's important to keep pace with your neighbors. Don't let your home become the most expensive on the block - but don't fall behind either. This is a case where it's best to be right in the middle!

Friday, August 04, 2006

Interest Rates Have Dropped This Week!

These are some of the best interest rates we've seen for months!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Cooling a House and Saving Money

Over the past several weeks, the A/C has been running and running. My power bill is twice as much as it would normally be.

I've been looking around for ways to keep my home cool and to save money. There are several options available; bulking up on the insulation to keep the hot air out, upgrading the A/C units to modern energy efficient models, use more ceiling fans, or perhaps just leave the house and head out to the mall!

While surfing around the Lowes website, I came across what seems to be a relatively cheap way to keep a home cool. Its an attic fan that runs off of solar power so it doesn't use electricity. The fan moves the hot attic air out and keeps your home cooler. The price on their website is $277 and the item number is 41125. This may be worth trying as a weekend DIY project!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Using Colors in Your Home

The use of specific colors in decorating can really define the mood and purpose of a room. Below are some colors and how they influence a room.

Red - Increases circulation & muscular activity.
Orange - Signifies optimism & enthusiasm.
Yellow - Represents creativity & joy.
Green - Symbolizes balance & nature.
Blue - Represents inspiration & truth.
Violet - Suggests humility & spirituality.
White - Signifies purity & innocence.
Black - Suggests strength & restores energy.

When I feng shui a home to make it ready for sale, I'm careful to look at the home's colors and will make changes to help it sell faster.

So think before you choose your color scheme. It could change the entire mood of the finished room.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Security and Wireless Networks At Home

As a Realtor, I visit many homes every week. Frequently I'll have my HP tablet PC with me so that I can take notes or have contracts available for clients that I meet. It never ceases to amaze me that I can walk into a home, turn on my computer and 1 out of 3 times have immediate access to the internet. This is not supposed to happen. Your wireless network should be secure... only you should be able to access it, not me, not your neighbor, not some dude driving down the street scoping out free internet connections.

It's really weird when several neighbors all unknowningly have unsecured wireless overlapping each other. The people in one house may be using their neighbor's wireless internet thinking that they were in fact using their own. I was in a house once where the homeowner was telling me that he was in the process of moving his wireless box to another room so it was temporarily disconnected. He said that he was surprised his internet was still working fine and assumed that the wireless box did not have to be plugged in to work. Of course it doesn't have to be plugged in if you are stealing your neighbor's wireless connection!

You've heard about those new wireless video cams. Some people install them all over the house so from many miles away they can keep an eye on the baby's room, the pets, the garden, the entry doors. If someone can get access to your wireless network, it becomes all the easier for them to access your cameras and see whats going on in your own home. This could go on for months and you may never know it.

The solution is to secure your wireless system as soon as you install it in your home. The wireless box has 1 or 2 little antennas on it and its called a wireless access point or sometimes a wireless router. Making it secure is not difficult, but you need to follow the step-by-step instructions that came with the unit. Most people only do step one which is to plug the unit in. If you keep reading, you'll see a section that describes how to set up a secure password. Look for the initials WEP or Data Encryption and that should be checked on. You'll have to store a password for each wireless computer in your home. Its not hard to do and you'll have less reasons to worry about strangers having access to your home network.