3 Backyard Projects You Can Tackle In A Weekend

man doing backyard projectNow that warmer weather has finally arrived, you want to be outside to enjoy it. Your backyard could be the perfect place to bask in the sun, entertain friends or indulge in your hobbies. It just needs a little sprucing up, and the right projects can help.

Best of all, many of these projects are quick and easy. To get you started, here are three projects you can accomplish in a spring weekend — and enjoy all summer long.

Forging a fire pit

Whether it’s an afternoon gathering or an evening under the stars, adding a fire pit to your backyard is a great way to make an enjoyable get-together last even longer. And building one is easier than you think.

Start by marking the center of your pit in the ground. Spray a circle around the center, outlining your pit’s desired circumference — say 5 feet. Dig this space to a depth of 6 inches. In your newfound pit, make a similar circle 12 inches in from your outer circle to make the inner wall of your pit.

Fill this area with small stones to serve as the foundation, and lay wet concrete on the ground to solidify and build that foundation. If you do not have the tools you need to successfully make concrete, you can always rent them to eliminate the need for a one-time purchase.

Once the foundation is ready, apply mortar and stones around the ring. Build up the fire pit wall with additional mortar and stones. After the pit has been built to a height of your choosing, use a brush to remove excess mortar from the inside. You may also spray the inside with a can of spray paint to give your pit’s interior a uniform look.

Planning the planters

If you’ve always wanted to add a pop of color to your backyard, planter boxes can be just the ticket. They are relatively simple to build yourself.

Start by choosing a wood, like cedar, for your project. Cut four strips with two half the length of your other two, but sharing the same height. These strips will form the foundation of your rectangular planter. If you lack a saw to cut them with, you can always rent one.

Once your strips are cut, butt the ends together and apply wood glue at the joints to secure the fit. Drill a screw into each end to solidify the fit. Next, attach the bottom panels with glue and drill a screw through the ends of the bottom panels into the sides for a more secure fit.

Finish by lightly sanding any rough or unseemly spaces on the foundations. Add a touch of paint or stain to improve the planter’s appearance and offer long-term protection.

Shedding new light on the shed

If you’re going to spend more time in your backyard this year, it’s time to finally do something about that old shed you’ve been ignoring for years. Fortunately, something as small as a new coat of paint can have a large impact on your shed’s appearance.

Before applying a drop of paint, inspect the shed to be sure no structural maintenance is needed. Then it’s time to clean it. Rent a pressure washer for a quick clean that will free the building of dirt, debris and cobwebs.

Once the shed is clean and dry, apply an oil-based primer, which will help protect the building from the elements and make it easier to paint.

Finally, it’s time to paint. A long-nap roller works well for this project, but you can also rent a paint sprayer. Choose a color to your liking and be sure to select a paint designed for outdoor projects.

Each of these three projects can be tackled in a single weekend, and each can have a lasting effect on your outdoor space. So, what are you waiting for? Get started on your outdoor DIY project today. To find a rental tool provider near you, visit RentalHQ.com.  –  (BPT)

 

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Gather The Family In The Kitchen For A Magical Mother’s Day

Ham Breakfast Pizza RecipeShe’s your biggest fan and the one you call whenever you need advice. Moms should be celebrated every day of the year, but there’s no better time to show her you care than on Mother’s Day!

This year, rather than going with the tried-and-true gift of flowers and chocolate, surprise Mom with a day of activities she’s sure to remember for years to come. Esteemed celebrity chef and Iron Chef America judge Donatella Arpaia says to make Mom smile, turn to the kitchen for food, fun and a dash of love, and follow these five tips to create new Mother’s Day traditions:

Tip 1: Find activities for the entire family to actively partake in.

“Start Mother’s Day off right with breakfast in bed,” says Arpaia. “Try something new this year that the entire family can indulge in together — my ‘Green Eggs & Ham Breakfast Pizza’! It’s absolutely delish and you can personalize it to reflect Mom’s favorite ingredients. Also, don’t forget her favorite coffee and fresh squeezed orange juice. It’s all about the details for Mom’s special day!”

Tip 2: Create divine dishes by stocking up on delicious ingredients and storing them correctly.

“If you have little helpers assisting with the preparation of Mom’s breakfast pizza, assemble ingredients ahead of time and store them in the LG InstaView Refrigerator’s Door-in-Door compartment, which makes them easily accessible without having to open the entire fridge,” says Arpaia. “You can also knock twice on the glass InstaView panel and it lights up, letting you see what’s inside without having to open the door and helping you keep your prized cooking ingredients front and center. Go the extra mile and write simple recipe instructions on Post-it notes for your little ones. This will make them feel so proud knowing that they made breakfast themselves … with a little help from Dad.”

Tip 3: Make sure your kitchen is well-equipped.

The right tools — including your appliances — not only make cooking more fun, but also allow novice chefs to cook like professionals in their own homes. “Make technology work hardest for you, even in the kitchen,” says Arpaia. “Think like a chef and choose appliances that make every meal unforgettable. I am loving LG’s ProBake Convection ovens because the heating element can be found on the back wall versus the bottom, guaranteeing even cooking on every rack, every time. Your breakfast pizza will definitely come out crispy and delicious when baked using ProBake Convection technology!”

Tip 4: Relax, enjoy a slice and give the gift of time.

“As a busy, working mom, what I treasure most is a day without cooking and cleaning — and simply being present with my family,” says Arpaia. “After making breakfast pizza for Mom, give her the gift of your time and engage in your favorite family activity. Keep technology at bay — unless it’s in the kitchen working for you! Go for a hike, play a board game, relax and enjoy! It’s essential to slow down and savor those sweet moments with your whole family.”

Tip 5: Give her a gourmet experience with a celebrity chef-approved recipe.

To really wow Mom, Arpaia developed a Green Eggs & Ham Breakfast Pizza recipe you can bake at home. Given her success with the Prova Pizzabar restaurant in NYC, Mom is certain to be impressed.

Donatella Arpaia’s Green Eggs & Ham Breakfast Pizza

Ingredients:

1 pound pizza dough, at room temperature (store bought or recipe for dough attached)
1/4 cup prepared pesto
1 cup (8 ounces) shredded mozzarella cheese
1 cup cherry tomatoes halved, tossed with extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper
1/4 cup thick chunks of ham
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 eggs
Parmesan cheese, to taste

Directions:

About 30 minutes before baking the pizza, preheat the oven to 500 F and place a large, rimless baking sheet in the lower third of the oven; for the most even cooking and optimal heat distribution, use an LG ProBake Convection oven. Place a large sheet of parchment paper on a work surface and dust the parchment lightly with flour.

Stretch dough using hands or rolling pin. Pierce the dough firmly all over with the tines of a fork.

Slide pizza with parchment onto a baking sheet, then slide it onto the hot rimless baking sheet in the oven.

When the dough is slightly puffed, at about 7 minutes, take out of oven and spread on pesto mixture, top with mozzarella cheese, cherry tomatoes, Parmesan and ham. Be sure to keep your toppings stored in a secure compartment separate from the main refrigerator, like the LG InstaView refrigerator’s Door-in-Door; this provides easy access to your ingredients without having to open the entire fridge and ensures they stay fresh while prepping. Place back in oven for another 3 minutes until cheese is melted. Slide pizza out, crack four eggs (one on each quarter of pizza), place back in oven and broil for about 4 minutes or until egg cooks to over easy (LG ProBake Convection will ensure consistent heating on the top and bottom of the pizza pan).

Grab the edge of the parchment and transfer the pizza from the oven to a cutting board, again using a rimless baking sheet or back of a rimmed pan to facilitate moving it. Drop ricotta cheese by rounded teaspoonful over top, cut and serve. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Donatella’s Homemade Pizza Dough

Ingredients:

2 3/4 teaspoons fresh yeast or active dry yeast
4 1/8 cups fresh water
2 3/4 tablespoons sea salt
12 1/3 cups type “00” flour
Olive oil

Directions:

Sprinkle the yeast over the water and let stand until the yeast is creamy, about 1 minute. Stir until the yeast dissolves. In a large bowl, add the sea salt, yeast mixture and the flour; stir until a soft dough forms.

Transfer the dough ball to a lightly floured surface and knead, adding more flour if necessary, until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Lightly coat another large bowl with olive oil. Place the dough in the bowl, turning it to oil the top. Cover with plastic wrap and store someplace warm; let rise until it doubles in size, about 6 hours.

Shape the dough into a 20-ounce ball. Place the ball on a nonstick surface or parchment paper, and then cover with plastic wrap, allowing room for the dough to expand. Let the dough rise until doubled, 8-12 hours.

Rest the dough in the LG InstaView refrigerator’s Door-in-Door compartment for 2-4 hours. Knock twice on the refrigerator’s glass panel to keep tabs on its progress without opening the fridge door, reducing cold air loss to keep the dough fresh. Your homemade dough is now ready to be baked. Remove dough and allow it to come to temperature for 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to as high as it can go for 15 minutes. Take sheet pan tray and spread thin layer of oil all over. Put some flour on your hand and stretch dough on table, then transfer into tray and press the dough further into shape of pan. Drizzle dough with about 2 tablespoons olive oil.  – (BPT)

 

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Reducing Risks While Taking Care Of Business: Tips To Avoid Distracted Driving

using phone while drivingThe pace of business never seems to stop, and thanks to the convenience of cell phones, many people work on the go, even while they’re driving. Yet cell phone use is one of the most common type of distracted driving, and it claims thousands of lives and causes thousands more injuries every year.

More than a quarter of all car crashes involve cell phone use, both hand sets and hands-free, the National Safety Council (NSC) reports. In 13 percent of fatal crashes, the drivers were using cellphones, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says. The actual number of cell phone-related accidents is likely much higher, since many states don’t yet compile and report data on cell phone use following a crash.

Employers take up the issue

Recognizing the ethical and liability issues that arise when employees drive while distracted, employers across the country have begun implementing distracted driving policies. Typically, these policies prohibit employees from using cellphones while driving on company time.

In January 2017, the NSC reported that Cargill was the largest privately held company to prohibit the use of mobile devices, including hands-free technology, while an employee is driving on behalf of the company. The ban also covers work related calls while commuting to and from work, even if employees are driving their own vehicles.

“There is a time and place for doing business, and it’s not while you’re driving,” says Melanie Burke, director of health and safety at Cargill, a Minnesota-based privately held company with 150,000 employees around the world.

Even Cargill’s Chairman and CEO David MacLennan is subject to the ban. In announcing the policy to employees in late 2016, MacLennan noted he was 138 days into cell-phone free motoring. “It’s been liberating,” he told employees.

NSC data shows about 20 percent of Fortune 500 companies have instituted cell phone bans, and of those, just 1 percent believe the ban affected productivity.

Replace risk, keep productivity

Taking care of business doesn’t mean you have to risk a crash. Here are six ways to keep up with the pace of business without using your cell phone in the car:

* Use an automated response app to let callers know you’re driving and can’t take their call at the moment. These free apps allow you to personalize the response and set your phone to automatically reply with a text message to incoming calls or texts.

* If you’re driving a vehicle outfitted with communication technology, use its “do not disturb” feature to unplug from calls and texts while behind the wheel.

* Use shared calendars to block off times when you’ll be on the road and unable to answer a call. The calendar item will help alert coworkers and anyone else connected to your calendar when you’ll be out of touch and when they might be able to reach you again.

* Remove temptation. A study by AT&T found 62 percent of drivers keep their phones within reach in the car. Put yours away where you can’t see or reach it. You can place it in your purse, briefcase or messenger bag, and place the bag in the back seat. Further reduce distraction and temptation by turning your device off before stowing it.

* If you absolutely must take a call while on the road, pull over in a safe location. If a call comes in while you’re driving, allow it to go to voicemail until you’re safely pulled over, then return the call.

* Be aware of other dangerously distracting behaviors, such as putting on makeup, tying a necktie or eating while driving. Do all your dressing and personal grooming before you leave home, and if you must snack while driving, choose food that is easy to manage, like a granola bar (unwrap it when you’re stopped), rather than something messy like a burger with all the fixings.

“Before we had cellphones, if you had to take a business call while on the road, you would pull over and find a pay phone,” says Burke. “Productivity was fine and business got done. When it comes to time behind the wheel, safety is everyone’s most important job.” – (BPT)

 

5 Tips to Avoid Distracted Driving

 

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5 Easy Ways To ‘Charge Up’ Your Recycling Habits

recycling batteriesAmericans generate about 254 million tons of trash annually, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) most recent figures, and only about one-third of that waste is recycled. For many, one of the main barriers to recycling is not knowing how or where to recycle certain items.

For instance, many household cordless products we use every day are powered by rechargeable batteries. These batteries are not only recyclable, but contain materials that are potentially harmful to the environment if thrown in the trash. In fact, at least 20 percent of people are holding on to their used batteries because they know they shouldn’t be tossed out — but they don’t know where to dispose of them.

You can be part of the solution to reduce waste by learning how to properly recycle the products you use every day. Celebrate America Recycles Day — Tuesday, Nov. 15 — by incorporating the following into your recycling routine.

Check household “recyclable” items.

Aluminum cans and plastic bottles are the most commonly recycled items, but lots of other items found around the house can be recycled, as well. Start recycling plastic bags and paper towels right in your curbside bin. Pin a sign in the kitchen to remind kids they can throw napkins and sandwich baggies in, too.

Designate a separate container for rechargeable batteries from old cordless products and look up the nearest participating collection site so you know exactly where to go when the container is full.

Dump your stash.

Are you a battery hoarder? Do you have a drawer in the house filled with dead batteries? You aren’t alone. Establish a monthly routine when you sort through the junk drawer and gather up old electronics and used batteries to drop off while running other errands.

A study commissioned by Call2Recycle, Inc. found that an estimated 6.7 billion batteries were sold into U.S. markets in 2014. Of that number, 30 percent were rechargeable batteries available to be recycled. The Call2Recycle program makes it easy to be a responsible battery user with its network of more than 30,000 drop-off locations including retail stores in your own community that you may already visit regularly, like Best Buy, Lowe’s, Sears, Staples, The Home Depot and more. Find a battery collection site near you by visiting www.call2recycle.org/locator.

Buy recycled products.

Recycling gives new life to old products by turning them into new ones. By using recycled materials in their products, manufacturers conserve energy and natural resources and reduce waste in landfills. Checking the labels for products that are recycled and eco-friendly when making a purchase is the easiest way to be a responsible consumer.

Participate in a local community recycling event — or create your own.

Thousands of events are organized nationwide on America Recycles Day to raise awareness about the benefits of recycling and buying products made from recycled materials. Get involved!

Host your own battery-specific recycling drive and invite your community to contribute their battery “hoards.” Your neighbors will thank you.

Take the #BeRecycled pledge.

Take the “I Will Recycle” pledge and commit to incorporating more green activities into your everyday routine. Start by selecting a specific item you use frequently and pledge to recycle more of that item in the future. By starting small, there is a greater chance you’ll continue throughout the year. Your efforts can inspire your family and friends to take the pledge and join you in incorporating environmentally-friendly behavior into their everyday lives.

These eco-friendly activities are simple and easy to incorporate and can help you lead a greener lifestyle, not just on America Recycles Day, but all year. By including one new item into your recycling routine — such as batteries — you can make a positive impact. Not only does this keep batteries out of landfills, but when recycled, valuable materials can be recovered and used in new stainless steel products, such as golf clubs, batteries and other products. – (BPT)

 

Top Ten Tips for Recycling

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Self-employed? Tips To Help You Navigate The Mortgage Process

Sponsored ad content by Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance, Inc.

When you’re self-employed, you often work harder than anyone else you know. That’s what it takes to be your own boss. While rewarding, it comes with a lot of added responsibility. This is especially true when applying for a mortgage.

“Self-employment can complicate the mortgage process for one very simple but critically important reason,” says Eric Hamilton, president of Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance. “Lenders need to know you will have the income to afford a loan payment. This sometimes requires people who are self-employed to provide more detailed information and paperwork than those who are traditionally employed.”

Proof of income

It’s not only good business sense for lenders to know a borrower can afford a mortgage before they make a loan, federal law also requires they do so. The evaluation process typically requires fewer steps for people who aren’t self-employed – those who get a salary for working for another person or company. The lender will review the applicant’s total income, existing debt, credit history and score, as well as other factors, and base the decision on that information.

However, when you’re self-employed, proving your income can be more complex. About 10 percent of people working in America are self-employed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). If you’re among those 15 million people, it can be more difficult for you to document your income and prove you can afford to pay back the amount you’re asking to borrow.

“Lenders may ask self-employed applicants to complete a 4506T form, which allows the lender to look at the applicant’s tax documents, including recent income filings,” Hamilton says. “They will also likely request a professionally prepared profit-and-loss statement and balance sheet for the business to show you have steady income throughout the year between tax-filing times.”

Improving your chances of approval

Fortunately, if you’re self-employed, you can take steps to be better prepared when beginning the mortgage application process. Hamilton and the team at Vanderbilt, which specializes in financing mortgages for manufactured homes, offer some tips:

* Before you apply for a loan, pay off as much debt as possible. Mortgage lenders will consider your debt-to-income ratio, which compares your total income to the total amount you owe.

* Save up a substantial down payment.

* Work to improve your credit score by paying all bills on time and reducing your debt. Payment history and credit-utilization ratio (the total credit you have available compared to the amount you’re actually using) are important factors in determining your credit scores.

“Being prepared before you start a mortgage application and getting your finances in order can help make the mortgage process go much smoother,” Hamilton says. “The mortgage application process is just one step on your journey to home ownership, but it’s an important one.”

To learn more about mortgages for manufactured homes, visit www.VMF.com.

All loans subject to credit approval.

Sponsored ad content by Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance, Inc.

NMLS Disclosure

Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance, Inc., 500 Alcoa Trail, Maryville, TN 37804, 865-380-3000, NMLS #1561, (http://www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org/), AZ Lic. #BK-0902616, Loans made or arranged pursuant to a California Finance Lenders Law license, GA Residential Mortgage (Lic. #6911), Illinois Residential Mortgage Licensee, Licensed by the NH Banking Department, MT Lic. #1561, Licensed by PA Dept. of Banking. – (BPT)

 

8 Easy Steps to Understand the Mortgage Process!

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5 Tips To Protect Your Devices From Cybercrime

Your smartphone, your tablet, your computer – they are some of your most important and most used possessions. They are the daily tools you use for research, to connect with others and make purchases. You take them everywhere and fill them with your important, personal information.

And all of that makes them the perfect targets for a cyberattack.

The number of cybercrime incidents in the United States grows each year, and as Americans move into an increasingly digital society – thanks to smart phones, smart cars and smart in-home technologies – cybercrime is expected to grow in frequency again in 2017. Protecting yourself, your family and the vital information on your devices means increasing your focus on your own cybersecurity. That starts with these five tips.

* Recognize you’re not immune. Cyberattacks increase in frequency and severity every year, so don’t make the mistake of believing it can’t happen to you. “It’s important to protect yourself by taking personal responsibility for your data; we can’t expect banks or other institutions to do it for us,” said Jim Karagiannes, Ph.D., professor in DeVry University’s College of Engineering & Information Services. “We lock our doors and take other security measures to protect our home and car. We need to also take precautions with our personal security and information.”

* Don’t store your username, password or credit card information with a website. The convenience makes it tempting, but websites are a popular target for cybercriminals because a successful hack gives them access to hundreds or thousands of files, including yours. Even storing this information on your own computer can expose it in a cyberattack, and if your credit card information is captured, criminals can use it to gather your social security number. That exposes you to identify theft. Keep this information off your devices and, instead, create complex passwords and write down all of your usernames and passwords on a piece of paper that you keep in a safe place, such as a deposit box.

* Use only a credit card, not a debit card, when making online purchases. Using your credit card instead of your debit card allows you to keep better track of the purchases you have made. It also limits the effects of any possible theft to just the one card instead of several. If you have no choice but to use a debit card for an online purchase, do not use your pin number online.

* If it feels like a trick, it probably is. Cybercriminals often engage in “social engineering” or other non-electronic methods to try and trick you into surrendering your data. If you get a phone call about a banking or credit card issue or if your computer tells you to call a number because it just caught a virus, be cautious. Do not divulge any personal history or credit card details. Hang up or ignore the computer-generated notices and call the customer service number of the institution’s website with any questions.

* Replace your existing credit cards with chip cards as soon as possible. Chip cards are becoming the new normal these days, and if your current credit card does not have a silver square chip on its front, consider replacing it quickly. Popularized in Europe, chip cards possess the necessary encrypted information to eliminate delays in the transaction process. Doing so closes the window criminals need to steal your personal information, thus protecting you from identity theft.

You have no intention of abandoning your devices, of course, so protect them. Following the tips above will help better secure your technology and personal information from the threats of cybercrime so you can enjoy your devices with greater peace of mind. – (BPT)

 

Protect Your Devices From Hackers – Don’t Get ‘0wned’

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Hosting Guests? 9 Easy Steps To Prep Your Home

Fast tips to protect your home when hosting guests

dining and living room area preparationHosting friends and family at your home is a guaranteed way to make long-lasting memories.

Not only will your guests be reminiscing about the wonderful chats and laughs you shared, but thanks to some quick tips from Minwax(R) spokesperson, Bruce Johnson, they’ll remember how great your home looked, too.

To prepare your home for guests, no matter how long they plan to stay, consider these 9 easy tips:

Mats and rugs: The sand and dirt on the bottom of guests’ shoes act like 60-grit sandpaper, wearing away your floor’s finish as they move from room to room. Protect your floors with fresh doormats and colorful rugs on each side of your doors. Plus, new rugs add a welcoming touch while instantly refreshing your space.

Fill furniture nicks: Make furniture look new again by filling in marks and scratches the easy way with Minwax(R) Stain Markers(TM). Available in a wide range of wood tone colors, Minwax Stain Markers have a convenient felt tip that delivers stain precisely where you need it, making your worn furniture look virtually new again.

Move fragile objects: Hosting can mean extra activity throughout a home and accidents can easily happen. Rather than a friend accidentally bumping into your grandma’s heirloom porcelain vase, opt to store it for a while. Breakables are best put away when guests are over, especially when hosting large parties.

Clean hardwood floors Keep your floors looking great for company with Minwax(R) Hardwood Floor Cleaner. It’s an easy to use cleaner that will gently remove dirt and grime, without leaving a soapy film behind.

Protect finishes: A great way to preserve and protect the finish on any of your wooden furniture is with a coat of Minwax(R) Paste Finishing Wax, in either natural or special dark. Rub it on, let it begin to dry, then buff with a soft cloth to a semi-gloss sheen.

Directions: Finicky furnace? Touchy toilet? Microwave with a mind of its own? Ease guests’ stay by posting a small note card with directions for anything that might not be obvious. You’ll make them feel at home!

Set out guest towels: Overnight guests will need to shower and prepare for the day. Set out extra towels and washrags for their use either by the guest bathroom sink or on their bed. Not only is this convenient, but it also encourages guests to wipe up wet messes which will eliminate future mold and mildew growth.

Protect tabletops: To avoid unintended white rings and water spots on wooden surface, apply a coat of Minwax(R) Wipe-On Poly a few days before your guests arrive. Then, set out coasters and trivets for easy use so guests stow drinks safely throughout your home.

Quick Cleanup: No need for a full cleanup after an event, but basic steps can help avoid long-lasting damage. Make sure to visit each room and pick up plates, cups, napkins and glasses. These often have moisture or food under them which can damage furniture (and smell) if left overnight. – (BPT)

 

Preparing for Guests on a Budget!

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Where To Find Rebates, Tax Credits And Rewards For Energy-Efficient Home Improvements

If you’re planning to make some home improvements this year, you’re probably thinking about energy-efficient options, knowing they can save you money in the long run. However, many eco-friendly home improvements that help lower your energy bills can also pay off right away in the form of rebates and tax credits.

Whether you’re considering installing an energy-efficient tankless water heater, putting solar panels on your house, or adding a skylight, chances are you can find a program that will put cash back in your pocket for improving your home’s energy efficiency. Here is where to look for rebates, tax credits and rewards for your energy-efficient home improvements:

Qualifying improvements

When you think of energy efficiency, insulation and appliances probably come to mind. But a number of improvements can help reduce your home’s energy consumption, and many of them qualify for tax credits, rebates and incentives from a variety of sources. The kind of improvements that can make your home more efficient and get you some cash back typically include:

* Solar energy systems (such as solar panels)

* Tankless water heaters

* Solar-powered appliances

* Energy-efficient windows and doors

* Skylights and solar-powered blinds

* Wood or wood-pellet stoves

* Home wind turbines

Manufacturer rebates and incentives

Makers of energy-efficient products and appliances often offer their own rebates to homeowners for making eco-friendly upgrades. If you’re considering an energy-efficient upgrade such as installing new windows, HVAC system or tankless water heater, be sure to ask the retailer or installer about any available manufacturer’s rebates.

For example, now through at least Feb. 15, 2017, you can get up to a $650 rebate on select tankless water heaters from Noritz. The average American household spends nearly 18 percent of its energy use on heating water, at a cost of $200-$600 per year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Tankless water heaters are more energy-efficient because they only heat water when you need it, rather than constantly consuming fuel to keep water hot in a tank. To learn more about tankless water heaters and the rebate, visit www.noritz.com.

Federal tax credits

Although many tax credits for energy-efficient home improvements expired at the end of 2016, some are still available. The federal government offers a tax credit of up to 30 percent for home solar energy systems through Dec. 31, 2019, and there’s no upper limit on the credit, according to EnergyStar.gov.

If you’ll be making energy-efficient home improvements, be sure to talk to your professional tax preparer about any credits or deductions that may be available to you from the federal government.

State-level programs

In addition to federal programs, a number of states offer their own incentives to encourage homeowners to make energy-efficient improvements. For example, Alabama allows homeowners to deduct 100 percent of the purchase price and installation costs of a wood-burning heating system. In Minnesota, homeowners can borrow up to $20,000 at 4.99 percent interest to make energy-efficient improvements such as water heaters, lighting, furnaces, air conditioners, insulation, windows, tankless water heaters and more.

You can find a searchable Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency at www.dsireusa.org.

Utility company incentives

Many utility companies also offer programs designed to help homeowners reduce energy consumption and save money. Typical programs include free LED or CFL bulbs to replace incandescent bulbs in a home, and rebates or discounts for installing energy-efficient HVAC equipment or programmable thermostats.

The best way to find out what programs your local utility offers is to check out their website or give them a call. You can also find state-specific lists of programs at www.dsireusa.org.

Energy-efficient home improvements pay off over the long-term by reducing your home’s energy consumption and utility bills. With a little bit of planning and legwork, you can also find rebates, tax credits and incentive programs that will also repay your eco-friendly investment right away. To learn more, visit Noritz.com, www.direusa.org, energy.gov, energystar.gov and irs.gov. – (BPT)

 

How to Make a House Energy Efficient

A.C.F. Home Inspections has been providing Home Inspections, 4 Point Inspections, Wind Mitigation, Home Owners Network, Monthly home tips news, Water Quality Testing, Radon Testing, Lead Paint Testing and Mold Inspection to home buyers and home sellers in the following areas of Metro Orlando, Orange, Seminole, Osceola, Lake Country Polk, Sumter, Volusia, Brevard and all areas in between since 2001.

Six Factors Driving The Cost Of Your New HVAC System

More than half of homes in the U.S were built before 1980, according to U.S. Census figures. With most home heating and ventilation systems lasting around 20 years, millions of American homeowners will be looking at replacing their HVAC systems this year. If you’ll be among them, understanding the factors that influence the cost of a system could help save you money in the long run.

“The cost of HVAC systems can vary widely, and most people who face replacing a system have never gone through the process before,” says Steve Hoffins, director of marketing, Luxaire, a heating and cooling systems manufacturer. “Sorting through your options can be challenging. However, finding the right system for your home can greatly influence energy efficiency, your home’s comfort and its resale value.”

Here are six factors that affect the cost of installing a new heating and cooling system, and what you should know about each:

The size of your home

You can probably guess that the larger the home, the bigger the system you’ll need to adequately heat and cool it. If a system is too small for the home, it will work harder, be less energy efficient and possibly wear out sooner.

However, too big isn’t better, either. In fact, says Hoffins, “Most homes have heating and cooling systems larger than they actually need.” A system that’s too large for a home can create uneven temperatures, poor humidity control, maintenance problems and a loss of efficiency.

Research can help you identify the size HVAC system that’s just right for your home. You can also ask your product dealer to provide a load calculation and energy analysis for your home.

Energy efficiency

Replacing an HVAC system affords you the chance to improve your home’s energy efficiency and save money over the long term. A quality, energy-efficient HVAC system may cost more than a less efficient one, but you can anticipate recouping the expense, plus additional savings over the lifetime of the system.

System type

From gas furnaces and split system air conditioners to heat pumps and packaged heating and cooling units, there are multiple ways to heat and cool your home. Most people replacing all or part of an HVAC system will opt to stick with the same type of system they’re replacing. However, you may find a different option will work better.

Different types of systems come with different product and installation costs. Before deciding what’s right for your home, research your options and talk to a qualified dealer about benefits and costs of each.

Ductwork

When you’re installing a new HVAC system, it’s important the ductwork in your home works with the type of system you’ve chosen, and that it’s been properly installed and maintained. Improper ductwork can create hot or cold spots in a home, reduce system efficiency and even allow the growth of mold from condensation. An HVAC professional can help you assess if your ductwork is in good shape before you invest in a new heating and cooling system.

Accessories

Certain types of accessories can make your new HVAC function more efficiently and provide you with greater ease of use. If your furnace is 20 years old, chances are good your thermostat is the same age, so you’ll want to replace that, too. Programmable thermostats can be reasonably priced and help enhance the energy efficiency of your HVAC system. Other accessories such as an electronic air cleaner can help enhance the air quality inside your home. You’ll want to carefully consider the accessories you’ll be adding, and factor them into the total anticipated cost of your new HVAC system.

How you’ll pay for it

Replacing an HVAC system costs thousands of dollars. If you don’t have enough cash saved to cover the cost, you may choose to finance all or part of the expense. You could use a credit card, but high interest rates mean you could end up paying thousands more in interest for your HVAC system. Manufacturer or dealer financing may be a lower-cost option. For example, select participating Luxaire contractors offer financing with appealing terms such as deferred interest, no interest with equal monthly payments and convenient monthly payment options.

To learn more about Luxaire home comfort systems, visit www.luxaire.com or follow @LuxaireHVAC on Twitter. – (BPT)

 

How Much does an HVAC System Cost?

A.C.F. Home Inspections has been providing Home Inspections, 4 Point Inspections, Wind Mitigation, Home Owners Network, Monthly home tips news, Water Quality Testing, Radon Testing, Lead Paint Testing and Mold Inspection to home buyers and home sellers in the following areas of Metro Orlando, Orange, Seminole, Osceola, Lake Country Polk, Sumter, Volusia, Brevard and all areas in between since 2001.

5 Easy Ways To Keep Your Family Comfortable During A Power Outage

Losing power at home is inconvenient. When it happens, the worst part is not knowing if the outage will last for a couple hours, or if it will stretch on for days. But if you take a little time to get organized and round up a few items today, you will be ready to keep your family comfortable when the lights go out.

“This time of year, a variety of causes can lead to a power outage and affect the length of the outage, as well,” says Ed Del Grande, a home improvement TV host, author and syndicated columnist. “Ice storms, high winds and other winter weather can damage transmission equipment and cause an outage. A little preparation can help you get through it safely and comfortably.”

Experts like Del Grande recommend grabbing an oversized plastic bin and loading it with the essentials so you’re ready when the lights go out.

Ready-to-eat foods

Pull together some non-perishable, ready-to-eat foods. A couple jars of peanut butter and some boxes of crackers can go a long way in keeping your family happy and fed. Also, include some canned goods, like meat, fruits and veggies, along with instant hot cocoa and coffee. Include energy-dense foods like protein bars, dried fruit, peanuts and nuts. Finally, don’t forget the goodies, like fun-size candy bars and chips and salsa. Keep your camp stove or grill in a place where you can easily pull it out, but remember, do your cooking outdoors.

Good lighting

Make sure you have the right supplies to get you through those long nights and brief days of winter, safely. Round up all the flashlights in your home, pull out that battery-operated camping lantern from the garage and get them into one convenient place. Then, the next time you’re at the store, pick up extra batteries so you can keep those lights going throughout the duration of a power outage.

Warm things

Keep a stack of quilts, old comforters, woolen blankets and even sleeping bags handy so you can all snuggle in. Along with these, gloves, scarves, sweaters, fleece and stocking caps can also ward off the chill that will creep in.

Electronics and entertainment

It’s the immutable law of the power outage: It always hits when your device has less than 20 percent battery power. Pick up a couple of rechargeable power banks to keep smartphones and other electronic devices powered up. And don’t get rid of older devices such as MP3 players and personal compact disc players. Use them to play music or an audio book when the lights — and the Wi-Fi — are knocked out. Finally, have some low-tech entertainment at the ready. Books, board games and even a deck of playing cards can help pass the time and maybe even help with family bonding.

Consider investing in a standby generator

A great way to ensure you have safe, reliable backup power in the event of an outage is to invest in an automatic standby generator like those from Kohler. These generators are installed right outside your home, much like a central air conditioner. Once the power cuts out from your utility provider, a standby generator kicks in within seconds, even if you’re not home. That’s because standby generators connect to your existing fuel lines, whether it’s natural gas or propane. So the next time the outage hits, your family won’t be without the furnace, water heater, refrigerator, stove, or anything that runs on electricity, including smartphones and computers.

If you’re interested in learning more about standby generators, KohlerGenerators.com has several resources to help you explore the many options, including videos and sizing calculators, so you can find one that’s right for your home. For additional tips on how to prepare your home for a power outage, visit the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes at FLASH.org. – (BPT)

 

Creative Solution to A Power Outage

A.C.F. Home Inspections has been providing Home Inspections, 4 Point Inspections, Wind Mitigation, Home Owners Network, Monthly home tips news, Water Quality Testing, Radon Testing, Lead Paint Testing and Mold Inspection to home buyers and home sellers in the following areas of Metro Orlando, Orange, Seminole, Osceola, Lake Country Polk, Sumter, Volusia, Brevard and all areas in between since 2001.