Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Programmable thermostat cuts energy costs

4 models to fit your lifestyle
By Paul Bianchina
Inman News®
April 25, 2012
What if I told you it would be possible to slip an extra $180 in your pocket this year -- and every year after that -- and have a more comfortable home at the same time? That should be worth a trip to the home center, right?

A savings of $180 a year is what the U.S. Department of Energy estimates the average homeowner can achieve by installing and maintaining the settings on a programmable thermostat. And the great thing is, once the settings are programmed in, you can forget about them, so your house stays more comfortable, day and night, all year long.
Programmable thermostats are simple to understand. They control your home's heating and/or cooling systems by adjusting them to specific preset temperatures at specific preset times. No more fiddling with temperatures or forgetting to turn the heat down when you go to bed or leave for work. Just set it and forget it.

The four different modes

Programmable thermostats have four different time and temperature modes programmed in, and that's what makes them so convenient and easy to use:

Wake: This mode is used to select the time that you normally get up in the morning, and what temperature you want the house to be at that time.

Day: If you leave for work at a specific time, this setting will lower the heat down to a specific temperature and hold it there while you're away. For air conditioning, it will raise the temperature setting and hold it there.

Evening: This setting is for when you return from work in the evening, and the thermostat will bring the temperature in the house back up to a comfortable level (or, in the case of air conditioning, down) before you get home.

Sleep: Set this time for when you normally go to bed. The thermostat will set the temperature down (or up for AC) to whatever level you set and hold it there until the Wake cycle kicks in again the following morning.

In addition to these four basic modes, there are overrides as well. You can tell the thermostat to temporarily override the program and raise or lower the heat or the air conditioning until the next cycle starts, for those times when you're home and you want it a little warmer or cooler. There's also a "hold temperature" mode for use when you're on vacation, so you can set a higher- or lower-than-normal temperature while you're gone and the thermostat will hold that indefinitely, regardless of the four different cycle

Four different models fit your lifestyle

There are four basic types of programmable thermostats available, depending on the needs of your particular lifestyle:
7-day: The 7-day model allows you to program the four modes individually for each day of the week, and often with different settings within each of the modes. These models allow you the most flexibility, and are the best choice if you work odd hours, multiple shifts, have children at home at different hours, or otherwise keep a schedule that's not really consistent. As you might imagine, 7-day thermostats are the most complicated to program initially, and are typically the most expensive of the four types of thermostats.
5-1-1-day: A 5-1-1 thermostat is for people who keep a pretty consistent schedule during the week, but want some flexibility on the weekends. The thermostat can be set up for five days all the same, typically Monday through Friday, and then Saturday and Sunday can each be set up with individual programs.
5-2-day: These thermostats provide for one set of program settings for the five weekdays, and a second set of program settings for the weekend.
1-week: These thermostats are the least flexible, so consequently they're the easiest to program and typically the least expensive to purchase. They have all four modes, but utilize the same time and temperature settings for all seven days of the week. They're a great choice if you're retired, or for anyone who's home most of the time.

Cost and installation

Programmable thermostats are available in both low-voltage and line-voltage models, and range in price from around $35 to more than $300. In addition to the features described above, there are other bells and whistles, including wireless operation, exterior temperature connections, dirty-filter warnings, low-battery warnings, and more.

Many of these thermostats are designed for do-it-yourself installation, with clear instructions and only basic tool requirements. Most require that you simply remove wires from the existing thermostat and reconnect them to the new thermostat. However, some of the more sophisticated thermostats can have multiple wire connections and complicated settings, and require professional installation. If you have any questions or concerns, discuss them with the dealer where you purchase the thermostat or with a licensed HVAC contractor prior to beginning the installation

Remodeling and repair questions? Email Paul at All product reviews are based on the author's actual testing of free review samples provided by the manufacturers.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Edible Gardens


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

10 Ways to Update Your Home

1) Open up your kitchen

2) Modernize your kitchen

3) Make over your bathrooms

4) Add a bathroom

5) Find storage space

6) Finish your basement

7) Add outdoor living space

8)Put a studio or an office in an outbuilding

9)Create built-in storage

10) Add a dormer

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Mortgage rates may have struck bottom at last.....

.......Loan, refinance bargains wane as economy improves

By Todd Wallack
Globe Staff / April 1, 2012

Homeowners and home buyers still waiting for mortgage rates to reach bottom may have already missed it.

The average rate for 30-year mortgages, which hit record lows in February, briefly rose above 4 percent last month for the first time since October, and many economists predict rates will continue to rise gradually as the economy and housing market recover. Freddie Mac, the government-backed mortgage company, forecasts 30-year rates will hit 4.5 percent by the end of 2012 and 5 percent by late next year, up from an average of just under 4 percent last week.

The higher rates will mean higher monthly payments for both homeowners who refinance their existing mortgages and home buyers taking out new ones.

In theory, rising mortgage rates could dampen demand for homes and slow the recovery of the long-suffering housing market. Higher rates also reduce the amount of cash homeowners have to spend on clothes, restaurants, and other expenses.

But economists and mortgage executives say the booming stock market, falling unemployment, and rising consumer confidence should encourage people to buy homes and spend money, muting the impact of higher mortgage costs.

“Things are feeling better,’’ said Frank Nothaft, chief economist of Freddie Mac. “Higher rates will have a little bit of an impact on housing demand, but that will more than be offset by the strengthening economy.’’

And despite the recent rise, lenders noted that rates still remain extraordinarily low by historical standards. Rates have averaged closer to 7 percent over the past two decades.

“Rates are still extremely low,’’ said Matt Vernon, a mortgage executive with Bank of America Corp., one of the nation’s largest lenders and the biggest bank in Massachusetts.

Mortgage rates have started climbing largely because they are linked to US Treasury bonds, which rise and fall with the economy and world markets. The interest the US government pays on the bonds that it sells to borrow money plummeted four years ago as the financial crisis drove investors to pour money into Treasuries and accept ultra-low interest rates to park their money in what is considered a safe haven.

But as US and European economies recover, investors are shifting their money to riskier investments with better returns. That means the US government has to offer higher rates on Treasuries to entice investors, which in turn drives up rates for mortgage and other loans linked to government bonds.

As a result, average mortgage rates have ticked up since hitting a record low of 3.87 percent in February. Freddie Mac reported that average 30-year rates rose to 4.08 percent in late March before settling at 3.99 percent last week.

Even this small increase may have already deterred some homeowners from refinancing existing mortgages. Refinancing volume has fa“When rates go up, refinancing volume goes down,’’ said Michael Fratantoni, vice president of research and economics for the Mortgage Bankers Association. “Many people no longer have the same incentive or interest in refinancing.’’

Some homeowners have decided to wait to refinance in the hope that rates decline further, said Ron Peck, senior vice president of the mortgage division at Salem Five Cents Savings Bank. Mortgage rates, like financial markets, fluctuate day to day, so some bankers said they could fall again before resuming their upward march.

One person opting to wait is Peg Rollins, who owns a home and auto insurance agency in Carlisle. She said Salem Five recently offered her a rate of 3.875 percent - a point lower that her current rate - but she decided to hold off.

“I hope it will drop to 3.5 percent,’’ said Rollins, 61, who owns a ranch home with a barn and horses in Carlisle.

Wayne Wong decided not to wait. Two weeks ago, he completed the refinancing of his four-bedroom Colonial in Westwood, cutting his rate from 5.5 percent to 4 percent and trimming his payments by about $100 a month. The mortgage company covered all the closing costs, so he did not have to shell out any cash upfront. And he cut the length of the loan from 30 years to 20.

“It was a win-win-win,’’ said Wong, a 43-year-old product manager for a software company. “It just made sense financially.’’

Despite the latest rise, lenders say it could still make sense for many homeowners to refinance. The average homeowner paid an effective mortgage rate of 5.18 percent in the fourth quarter last year, according to the Department of Commerce, more than a full percentage point above the best rates available today. The difference between a mortgage at 4 percent and 5 percent translates into an extra $178 per month for a $300,000, 30-year mortgage.

So far, there is no indication that the rising interest rates have deterred home buyers. Mortgage applications to purchase homes remained relatively stable nationwide, according to Fratantoni at the Mortgage Bankers Association. And many local bankers say purchase applications have surged with the spring home selling season, with buyers more interested in getting a good price than rock-bottom interest rates.