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9 Unexpected Energy (and Money) Savers

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​Here are a few surprising and simple ways to cut your energy bill this season.

Put lamps in the corners: Did you know you can switch to a lower wattage bulb in a lamp or lower its dimmer switch and not lose a noticeable amount of light? It’s all about placement. When a lamp is placed in a corner, the light reflects off the adjoining walls, which makes the room lighter and brighter. 

Switch to a laptop: If you’re reading this article on a laptop, you’re using 1/3 less energy than if you’re reading this on a desktop. 

Choose an LCD TV: If you’re among those considering a flat-screen upgrade from your conventional, CRT TV, choose an LCD screen for the biggest energy save. 

Give your water heater a blanket: Just like you pile on extra layers in the winter, your hot water heater can use some extra insulation too. A fiberglass insulation blanket is a simple addition that can cut heat loss and save 4% to 9% on the average water-heating bill.

Turn off the burner before you’re done cooking: When you turn off an electric burner, it doesn’t cool off immediately. Use that to your advantage by turning it off early and using the residual heat to finish up your dish. 

Add motion sensors: You might be diligent about shutting off unnecessary lights, but your kids? Not so much. Adding motion sensors to playrooms and bedrooms cost only $15 to $50 per light, and ensures you don’t pay for energy that you’re not using.

Spin laundry faster: The faster your washing machine can spin excess water out of your laundry, the less you’ll need to use your dryer. Many newer washers spin clothes so effectively, they cut drying time and energy consumption in half—which results in an equal drop in your dryer’s energy bill.

Use an ice tray: Stop using your automatic icemaker. It increases your fridge’s energy consumption by 14% to 20%. Ice trays, on the other hand, don’t increase your energy costs one iota. 

Use the dishwasher: If you think doing your dishes by hand is greener than powering up the dishwasher, you’re wrong. Dishwashers use about 1/3 as much hot water and relieve that much strain from your energy-taxing water heater. Added bonus: you don’t have to wash any dishes.

Essential Heating System Maintenance

by Oliver Marks

Getting your home's heating system professionally serviced every year will keep it running smoothly and help keep heating costs under control.

Who does the job?

The simplest way to get the work done is to hire your fuel company to do it. Oil companies and gas utilities usually provide this service, or you can hire the contractor who installed the equipment. Also, some plumbers handle heating systems.

What is involved?

The technician will clean soot and corrosion out of the combustion chamber where the fuel is burned, and check it for leaks or damage. He'll inspect the flue pipe for open seams, clogs, or corrosion that could cause carbon monoxide to backdraft into the house. He'll replace the filters on oil and forced-air systems. Finally, he'll test the exhaust from your cleaned machine and use the information to adjust the burner for maximum efficiency.

How much will it cost?

You'll pay between $100 and $180 for the service, depending largely on whether you have a gas system, which is easier to maintain, or oil, which requires a fair amount of soot removal. Usually the cost is covered by an annual maintenance contract that also provides 24-hour emergency service. While the technician is there, he should also service your water heater, assuming it has a separate oil or gas burner.

When is the best time to do the work?

Ideally, have your system tuned up in the fall so it's in top shape for the start of the heating season. Of course, that's when technicians are the busiest, so if you can't do it when you want, do it when you can—as long as your system is serviced once a year. And don't expect your provider to call to remind you that it's time. Even if you subscribe to an annual service plan, you still need to call to make an appointment. Call in the spring or summer to be sure of getting on the schedule in the fall.

Mortgage Refinance: You Have To Think Long-Term

by Barbara Eisner Bayer

 

When it comes to a mortgage refinance, it’s less about how much you’ll spend and more about how long you’ll stay.

 

Do the math

No. 2 above requires some calculation on your part. To figure it out, you’ll need to know:

  • The closing costs for a new loan. Ask potential lenders—costs usually run 3% to 6% of the loan amount. Lenders may finance these costs (that is, fold them into your loan amount), so you don’t actually have to write a check, but you’re still paying for it.
  • Your current mortgage payment.
  • Your potential new payment. Again, your lender can give you this.
  • The length of time you plan to keep your home.

To simplify these calculations, do a quick search online for various free mortgage refinance calculators, which can be found on many bank sites.

Find your breakeven point

Here’s an example of how a mortgage refinance might play out with a typical 30-year fixed-rate mortgage:

Amount refinanced $200,000
Closing costs for new loan 4%, or $8,000
Current mortgage 6%, or $1,199 per month
New mortgage 5%, or $1,074 per month
Monthly savings $125

But even though you start paying the lower rate right away, you’ve shelled out $8,000 in closing costs, and you aren’t ahead of the game on your mortgage refinance until you’ve paid that off. At $125 in monthly savings you have to stay in your home 64 months—more than five years—to make it worth it ($125 x 64 months = $8,000). Move before then, and you’ve lost on the deal.

However, if you remain for 10 years, for example, you’ll have saved $7,000.

It gets better

Although 1% is the rule-of-thumb minimum for a mortgage refinance, lower rates can make refinancing even more attractive, as the breakeven period becomes shorter. 

Consider the above mortgage refinance scenario if you could shave another half-point:

Amount refinanced $200,000
Closing costs for new loan 4%, or $8,000
Current mortgage 6%, or $1,199 per month
New mortgage 4.5%, or $1,013 per month
Monthly savings $186

You now reach the breakeven point in just over 3.5 years.

Another way to improve your position

Two additional factors can make a mortgage refinance an even better option:

  • Your credit rating has improved since your last mortgage. Go to AnnualCreditReport.comto monitor improvements.
  • You’ve started earning more money.

Both these factors make you a more desirable candidate in lenders eyes’ for a mortgage refinance, possibly allowing you to negotiate lower interest rates or lower closing costs, further shortening your breakeven period.

The bottom line is that you shouldn’t seek out a mortgage refinance just because “everyone is doing it.” It needs to make financial sense for you.

Displaying blog entries 1-3 of 3

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