Jeff Shauger, Associate Broker, ABR, CDPE, CRS, ePRO, GRI , SRES, SRS
 
Jeff Shauger, Associate Broker, ABR, CDPE, CRS, ePRO, GRI , SRES, SRS

Jeff's Blog

New Online Guides Teach Consumers How Building Codes Make Homes More Energy Efficient

September 30, 2011 8:57 pm

Thanks to the new partnership between the Building Codes Assistance Project (BCAP) and Consumers Union, user-friendly, interactive online guides and downloadable publications are helping homeowners and buyers save energy and money by teaching them the potential of building energy codes to address and improve home energy performance.

“Everyone should have the right to an energy-efficient home that meets national standards,” says Cosimina Panetti, advocacy director of BCAP. “Energy codes—minimum requirements for efficient design and construction—offer a cost-effective way to reduce energy use and monthly bills, while also lowering carbon emissions. It’s a win-win-win.”

A 2011 Consumers Union survey found that 86% of homeowners want to know a home’s energy operating costs before they buy or rent; 82% of homeowners believe they have a right to homes that meet national standards; and 77% of homeowners think that home builders should not construct less efficient homes at the consumer’s expense.

“Energy codes affect the majority of the population, but are often overlooked as a consumer issue,” says Stacy Weisfeld, energy campaign organizer for Consumers Union. “Strong energy codes help not only people moving into new homes, but also future buyers and the community as a whole.”

The average U.S. homeowner will spend about $2,175 on home energy costs this year, or about $180 a month. An energy-efficient home that complies with the 2009 national energy code can save homeowners $235 or more each year compared to an average new home that does not meet the 2009 code.

Energy Code Resources
The new tools provide information about energy codes and checklists homeowners and buyers can use to identify whether construction meets building energy-code requirements. The interactive tools and downloadable publications are hosted on both the BCAP website and the Consumer Reports Greener Choices site.

The resources include:

• Energy Code Guides

Learn how to increase home-energy performance through in-depth guides.

• Energy Code Printable Checklists


The checklists help determine if a new home meets national energy code standards, and teach consumers how to read the Energy Code Certificate that builders post in new or substantially renovated homes.

• Energy Codes Location Guide


This step-by-step guide provides building energy codes based on location and information on whether or not the code is being effectively enforced.

Documents That Explain What Energy Codes Are

Fact sheets and a PowerPoint presentation provide basic information about building energy codes and explain why they are important.

Select State Guides and Checklists


BCAP has partnered with state energy offices in Alabama, Kentucky, Missouri and Nebraska to create customized energy code resources for consumers in each state.

“We want to empower consumers to shop assertively for energy efficiency when they buy or renovate a home, just as they have learned to do when they shop for refrigerators and air conditioners,” Weisfeld says. “Consumers who use these new energy codes toolkits will know exactly what to look for, and which questions to ask builders, sellers and home inspectors when shopping for a home.”

For more information, visit http://www.ase.org/.
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Winterize Your Yard and Garden

September 30, 2011 8:57 pm

As the days become shorter and the leaves begin to change color, now is the time to prepare your yard and garden for winter. There are a number of simple tasks that will not only protect plants and lawn from the cold, but will make for an easier spring.

"Tending to your lawn and garden in fall can ensure that it has every chance to develop through the colder months," says Heidi Ketvertis, director of marketing communications for a power tools manufacturing company. "Also, winterizing your equipment will make for a better spring start."

Evaluate. Before you start your preparations, take a moment to review what worked and did not work in the garden over the past season and jot down notes in a garden journal so you remember a year or two from now. Fall is the best time to move plants because roots are given ample time to establish.

Clean up. Removing leaves and debris reduces the likelihood of future problems since they can harbor pests and diseases. Using a leaf blower can save time and effort.

Repair damage. Fall is the best time to reseed a lawn that's been damaged by summer heat. Top-dressing the seed with up to one-quarter inch compost or soil will help it take root.

Don't put away the hose. Continue to water plants and lawns in the fall, as the rainfall tends to slow down. Plants need to stay hydrated to properly retreat to their winter states. However, as soon as freezing temperatures hit, make sure to drain garden hoses and store them in a sheltered place where they will not freeze and crack.

Fertilize. Despite what many people might think, autumn – not spring – is the most crucial time to fertilize lawns and gardens. Renewing the mulch in flower beds, especially the top two or three inches, will protect many plants from harmful freezes.

Go easy on pruning. Pruning promotes growth. It's important to prepare plants to go dormant during the winter rather than growing.

Think spring. Some spring bulbs, such as crocus and grape hyacinth, should be planted in the fall. Larger bulbs, such as tulips and daffodils, should be planted in the fall but won't bloom until spring. Many vegetable plants, like beets, broccoli and cabbage grow best in the winter.

Cover plots. Covering a garden bed with burlap keeps weeds at bay. Another option is to plant a nitrogen-rich cover crop, like clover, which can be easily turned under when spring arrives.

Tune-up tools. After completing all preparations, clean, oil and sharpen tools, and then store them in a dry place to prevent rusting.

Winterize your power equipment. Make sure to drain the gas from your lawn mower and other gas-powered equipment after you've finished using them for the season to keep the engine running smoothly next year.

Know when to stop. When frost is in the forecast or the temperature drops below 40 degrees consistently, usually around late October or November, it's time to close down the garden.

Although it may seem like a hassle, winterizing your garden will make for less work come springtime. Consider these practical ways that will protect and care for your yard and garden so they can survive the winter and thrive for seasons to come.

For more information, visit www.troybilt.com.
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Think "FRESH" When Selecting Roof Colors

September 30, 2011 8:57 pm

Thinking about a new roof for your home? Then think "FRESH." That's the advice national color expert Kate Smith recommends for homeowners considering a new roof.

"The acronym FRESH stands for fixed features, regional colors, environment, style of home and historic colors," says Smith."Considering these five elements can help you select the perfect roof color."

Fixed Features – These are the permanent design elements of the home that need to be considered a constant feature of the house, such as the foundation, partial stone or brick facades, pathways and retaining walls. Each feature may be of a different material, but they usually will have a common color or color cast. Once you identify that common color, you can find a roof tile with a similar color or undertone that will work well for the overall home.

Regional Colors – Each region of the country has prevalent colors based on the housing styles, available materials, natural surroundings and the quality of light. Determine the colors in your area and base your decision off of them.

Environment and Surroundings – Is your home in a rural setting or a downtown? Are you near the waterfront, a desert or a mountain? Temper the colors to complement your surroundings and the natural colors around you. The goal is to stand out while still fitting in.

Style of the Home – Remember that colors support the home's style and architecture, not the other way around. Determine your home's style (are you a Ranch? Tudor? Art Deco? Greek Revival?) and then research to determine what colors are most associated with your style of home. For example, consider a natural looking shake roof in Weathered Gray or New Cedar for a Craftsman style home.

Historic Colors – If you live in a historic district, check for local guidelines and/or restrictions on adding colors to your home. More traditional colors, such as whites, browns, and shades of blue and green, work well on historical homes.

For more information, visit www.davinciroofscapes.com.
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Care for Your Valuable Trees This Fall, Enjoy Gorgeous Foliage in Spring

September 29, 2011 8:57 pm

Now is the time of year to ensure that the beautiful trees in your yard will remain healthy and produce a vibrant, green canopy come springtime by treating them against insects, fungus and diseases. If trees are not cared for, these pests can cause your trees to look sick and possibly die next year. The removal and replacement of a mature tree is an expensive proposition for homeowners, easily costing over $1,000 per tree.

Consider this: the Emerald Ash Borer beetle has destroyed over 30 million ash trees to date in the United States and Canada. The larvae from these pests cause the most damage to ash trees from August to October, when they are the most active and voracious. Pine Bark Beetles have multiple generations and can kill a tree within weeks. In 2010 alone, the Southern Pine Beetle, a bark beetle smaller than a grain of rice, killed 14,000 acres of pines in New Jersey. Spiraling Whitefly is causing visible damage to trees and property—especially car paint and outdoor furniture-- throughout Southern Florida due to the sticky honeydew it produces. Unsightly black sooty mold later grows on the honeydew, causing further annoyance to homeowners. Fungal diseases like Oak Wilt and malnutrition weaken a tree, reducing its chances of winter survival.

Tree treatment options are plentiful, but not all are suited to fall's cool, wet conditions. Tree trunk injection is proven effective to protect trees in autumn from destructive insects, diseases and malnutrition that are wreaking havoc across the country. The appropriate treatment formulation is injected directly into a tree's vascular system and is effective within a few short weeks. Unlike bark spraying and soil drenching, nothing is released into the air or soil during treatment when tree trunk injections are used. The active ingredient keeps working through the tree's vascular system into the spring, providing continued protection as trees begin to produce leaves. There is even one injectible treatment available that protects trees against insects for up to two years and can stop damage even if a tree is currently under attack.

Choosing to save trees by treating them is something financially and environmentally responsible that homeowners can consider right away. Professionally applied tree trunk injection treatments cost a fraction of the cost of tree removal and replacement, typically less than a month of cable television service. In addition healthy, mature trees provide shade, which helps reduce air conditioning costs.
In addition to treating trees, removing dropped fruit, dead branches and leaves from around your trees in the fall will help further protect them from pests.

To learn more about tree trunk injections please visit www.arborjet.com.
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Tips for Reducing Allergens in the Bedroom

September 29, 2011 8:57 pm

Simmons Bedding Company and environmental lifestyle expert Danny Seo have joined forces to help the millions of Americans who suffer from sleep disturbances as a result of allergies. Although most people equate allergies with hay fever and outdoor triggers such as pollen, indoor allergens are also a major problem. Indoor allergens’ effect on sleep is profound - allergy sufferers may experience insomnia or difficulty breathing during the night; plus, allergies can increase the tendency to snore.

“A good night’s sleep is an important element of overall health, and many individuals may be experiencing diminished sleep quality due to allergens in their mattresses, pillows or drapes. Eliminating symptom-triggering items and replacing them with products that naturally resist allergens may help a person obtain more restful sleep,” says Seo.

For homeowners looking to create a more hypoallergenic bedroom, Simmons and Seo have the following suggestions:


-Bed basics. Look for mattresses that contain natural materials, such as natural latex or foams made with plant-based sources.
-Freshen the pillows. Natural latex or synthetic pillows will naturally resist dust mites but should still be replaced every two years. To maintain healthy pillows in between purchases, freeze them overnight to kill dust mites.
-Dress the bed properly. Choose a cotton mattress pad to protect your mattress. Opt for organic cotton or natural fiber sheets, particularly those made with sustainable practices, which may also help with allergies and chemical sensitivities.
-Clean the air. Some air purifiers may emit ozone, a pollutant that can aggravate allergies, back into the air. Instead, use houseplants to naturally clean the air. Pick plants that thrive on neglect, like spider plants or ivy, and boost their natural metabolizing properties with a plant purifier.
-Pick your paint. Select paint with zero volatile organic compound, or VOC, emissions. Among other symptoms, the U.S. EPA advises that VOCs may cause nose and throat irritations, headaches and allergic skin reactions.
-Keep it natural. Avoid fragrant sheet sprays, candles and air fresheners that ‘mask’ odors by coating the inside of your nose with a chemical. Try room sprays made from essential oils instead.

"Buying old furniture at a flea market or yard sale can be a great way to go green, but mattresses are one item that should not be reused,” adds Seo. “By purchasing a mattress made with new, more natural materials, consumers can feel confident that they are making a healthy and environmentally responsible choice.”

For more information, visit www.simmons.com.
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Fewer Homeowners Opting to Refinance

September 29, 2011 8:57 pm

The number of consumers across the country who filed applications for new home loans recently fell considerably as fewer borrowers sought to refinance their existing mortgages. Informa Research Services, a subsidiary of Informa plc (LSE: INF), suggests that consumers review online rate tables to find the best rates with which to refinance a current home loan.

The overall mortgage market slumped 9.6% during the week ending August 26, driven largely by a 12.2% drop in the number of refinance applications, according to the latest weekly statistics from the Mortgage Bankers Association. Meanwhile, the number of purchases actually ticked up 0.9%, but remains near historically low levels.

The refinance share of the mortgage market fell to 77.8% from the previous week's 79.8%, the report said.

Consumers who refinance their current home loan with a rate that is significantly lower than their current rate can reduce their monthly mortgage payments by as much as a few hundred dollars. The most efficient way to locate the lowest local mortgage rates in your area is to check online rate tables such as those featured on ERATE.com.

"Refinance application volume declined for a second week from recent highs, despite rates staying near a 10-month low," says Mike Fratantoni, the MBA's vice president of research and economics.

For more information, visit www.informars.com.
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7 Ways to Rethink Your Approach to the Daily Grind

September 28, 2011 8:57 pm

In a perfect world, “work” and “home” would balance out neatly. We’d work from 8 to 5 each day, take an hour-long lunch, and then come home and spend uninterrupted time with our families. But for those of us here in the wake of the Great Recession, firmly entrenched in an “always on” society, this notion seems hopelessly outdated. Most of us are working longer, more stressful hours, and work is spilling over into evenings and weekends. No wonder a recent survey of North American employees found that 87% of respondents say their work/life balance (or lack thereof) is negatively affecting their health.

With so many people suffering from this problem, you would think the natural solution would be to encourage businesses to help their stressed-out employees find more balance in their lives. Not so, says best-selling author Jon Gordon.

“Work/life balance, at least in the sense that most of us think about it, is a myth,” says Gordon, whose new book is The Seed: Finding Purpose and Happiness in Life and Work. “It does not exist. For many people, it never has. Personally, I have never been able to balance the scales of work and life on a day-to-day basis. Rather, I’ve come to realize that the dance between work and life is more about rhythm than balance.”

Here is Gordon’s advice on rethinking the concept of work/life balance and finding passion and purpose in both arenas:

First, let go of the work/life balance notion. Instead, think “purpose and passion.” It’s true that work/life balance is a topic that seems to be on many minds, says Gordon, citing a recent NPR segment titled “In America, Too Much ‘All Work, No Play’?” But in many ways, he insists, a perfectly balanced life is a perfectly tepid life. How much balance do you think Bono has when U2 is on tour? What about an Olympic athlete preparing for a competition? Or the leadership team at Facebook? Probably not much, but their passion and purpose fuel them to work harder and longer with more joy and satisfaction in both work and life.

Identify the “seasons” in your company’s work flow. In nature there’s a season for everything. Spring (planting season) and fall (harvest) are times of extreme work. But there’s a slow down in the summer when plants are growing, and, of course, winter. Most industries/companies work this way, too. They have busy seasons (when they’re getting ready for major industry events or peak sales times, for instance) and not-so-busy seasons. It might be easy for you to plan your work/home life flow around these times. Not just in terms of when you plan vacations, but also in terms of daily work hours. During the slow time, it’s okay to leave a little earlier each day if you know you’re going to be working long hours once busy season arrives.

Keep in mind your family’s “seasons” too. Of course, you can’t base everything on work schedules. There are times your family needs you more than others: birth of a new baby, when a child starts school, or when an older parent is having a crisis and needs you to care for him/her.

Build up a “hard work” bank account with your company. When the company needs you to really push, push hard and do it cheerfully. This way, when you need to slow down the pace or take time off, they’ll be willing to work with you. Gordon suggests you think of it as making deposits into a bank account.

When you’re at work, really engage. Fully commit to whatever you’re doing at work. Don’t complain—positivity goes a long way. And don’t feel guilty that you are not at home. Feeling guilty is a recipe for misery and poor performance on the job and unhappiness at home. Commit fully to your season of hard work while planning for your season of rest and recharging.

When you’re at home, really be at home. Throw yourself into those precious family relationships. Don’t spend family time thinking about work or zoning out in front of the TV or computer. It’s not about the amount of time we spend with our families, says Gordon. It’s about how engaged we are during the time we do have with them.

“Understanding your rhythms and planning and committing to the seasons of your life may not help you achieve perfect work/life balance, but you will create a life that is more passionate, more productive, and happier in every way.”

For more information, visit www.JonGordon.com.
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Will Google+ Take a Huge Cut Out of Facebook?

September 28, 2011 8:57 pm

Over the last year, Google had the velvet ropes out, only allowing in a limited number of people as they continued to beta-test their circle system and refine their social network. With the red carpet now rolled up, Google has extended the invite to everyone, making Google+ poised to take a huge cut out of Facebook.

Facebook is too large to falter though, right? Wrong.

Jay Correia, owner of the nationally recognized web design company, DreamCo Design, and many others in the technical arena are beginning to think otherwise.

It was just a few years ago that MySpace was the social network of choice. What caused the shift then? Facebook made many gains by learning from its predecessor’s mistakes. It also dug its hands into the Internet by offering up development tools to webmasters, allowing site visitors to log in or check in to various websites using their existing Facebook accounts, thus bolstering a huge user convenience factor.

With Google+ now hitting the shelves, it looks like the tides are about to turn. Fox News has also reported that Google appears to be working on rolling out a built-in voice feature that will allow members to communicate directly with one another via phone. Recent trends data also displays a huge increase in traffic for Google+ and a buzz about the web with the network receiving a huge influx of searches.

With an estimated 50 million people already signed up since launch, Google+ seems well on its way to taking a chunk out of Facebook.

Google+ has ramped up privacy and security, two gaping holes many users of Facebook have always been concerned with. It also offers up superior social networking functions with the circle system, allowing users to organize their social network like never before. Google also has the ability to eventually tie in Google Search, YouTube, Gmail, and many of its other pre-existing products into the network.
Google has even teamed up with search rivals Yahoo and Microsoft by allowing users to easily import contacts to invite to a user’s Google+ account, thus making the network grow that much faster.

The most important element involving the shift involves Google’s ability to self promote. Owning the most visited URL in the world certainly makes it easy to expose millions of people to anything you offer on the cheap.
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New PSAs to Prompt Homeowners Facing Mortgage Trouble to Reach Out for Help

September 28, 2011 8:57 pm

The Ad Council, in partnership with the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), have joined together to launch a new phase of their Foreclosure Prevention Assistance Public Service Advertising (PSA) Campaign. The campaign aims to increase awareness of the Making Home Affordable® Program’s free resources and assistance for homeowners who are struggling with their mortgage payments.

One in 11 homeowners nationwide has missed two or more mortgage payments. Many struggling homeowners delay conversations about their mortgage concerns and enter foreclosure without ever reaching out for assistance. The new PSAs notify homeowners facing mortgage trouble that options other than foreclosure are available, and the sooner they act, the more options they have for the best possible outcome.

The Foreclosure Prevention Assistance campaign encourages homeowners to call 888-995-HOPE (4673) to speak one-on-one with a HUD-approved housing expert to discuss the solutions that are available based on their individual circumstances. In addition, the program website, MakingHomeAffordable.gov, serves as an online resource for struggling homeowners to learn about options other than foreclosure.

Created pro bono by Schafer Condon Carter, a Chicago-based advertising agency, the new television, radio, print, out-of-home, and online PSAs have been created in English and Spanish. The PSAs aim to inspire homeowners who are unsure of where to turn to reach out for help as soon as possible.

“The Making Home Affordable Program has already assisted over a million homeowners," says HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. "Housing counselors are ready to continue their work with homeowners to discuss specific solutions for their mortgage problems. Struggling homeowners do not need to work through their concerns alone. The key is encouraging homeowners to pick up the phone now to explore their options.”

“We are proud to continue our partnership with Treasury and HUD on this critical issue of home foreclosures that affects so many Americans,” says Peggy Conlon, president and CEO, the Ad Council. “We are confident that these new PSAs will resonate with homeowners struggling with their mortgages and encourage them to call 888-995-HOPE or visit the website to learn what they can do to prevent foreclosure.”

The Ad Council will distribute the new PSAs to more than 33,000 media outlets nationwide. The new advertisements build on the successful nationwide campaign first launched between Treasury, HUD and the Ad Council in the summer of 2010. The PSAs will air in advertising space donated by the media.
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Termite Terror: Prevent Them from Taking A Bite Out of Your Budget

September 27, 2011 8:57 pm

Drywood termite swarming season is about to begin and homeowners everywhere are preparing to open their wallets to protect their houses from structural damage.

“I have seen termite swarm eruptions in grocery store parking lots, the middle of a huge lawn and of course in nearly 18,000 homes,” says Michael Allen, owner of Century Termite Control and author of the book Top Secrets of the Termite Industry; What Termite Companies Don’t Want You to Know, That You Should Know.

The cost of tenting an American home to get rid of termites ranges from $1,300 to over $3,000 depending on the size of the home and the pest control company you choose. Allen says if homeowners know what signs to look for they shouldn’t have to pay a penny to professionals.

“These chemical companies are multi-million dollar machines. They push their products to pest control companies that are supposed to push it to homeowners. The price keeps going up and there is just no reason for it. Termite companies aren’t helping homeowners do anything they can’t do by themselves.”

Here are four ways to protect your home from termites, according to Allen:

1. Stop the pheromones and you’ve stopped the termites. All termites line the tunnels they dig with pheromones, a scent that the bugs follow to get to and from your home. It’s a way of communicating to the other termites to follow the scent and find food. “All you need to do is break that line of pheromones with store-bought orange oil or a home made mixture and the termites won’t know how to get to your house anymore,” says Allen. “It will be as if they’ve lost the map and put up an electric fence.”

2. The north side of your home is especially vulnerable. Because the north side of your home gets the least amount of sun, more moisture can accumulate in the wood (cellulose), softening it up for the termites to eat. Try to keep the north side as dry as possible by turning away sprinklers and trimming back trees and overgrown vegetation that are blocking the sun. Other than swarming these insects never leave the infected wood for water. They rely only on the trapped moisture in the cellulose for a complete life cycle.

3. Decorative finishes create easy access points for termites. Termites can enter where the brick or decorative finish material touches the ground. They crawl up between the gaps to get to the wood. This happens at the mudsill line. Get familiar with and measure your home’s mudsill line.

4. Bait stations lead termites to your home. Many unscrupulous pest control companies recommend putting bait stations in your home, but bait stations don’t work. The smell from the bait attracts termites and encourages them to build underground roads and highways close to your home. While some may take the bait and die, most of the insects will never get as far as the queen. There are millions of termites in an infected home. Killing even thousands a day will not make a dent. The remaining termites will just wind up feasting on what’s close to the bait station—your home. Any pest control company that wants to put a bait station in your house is not as interested in solving your termite problem as they are in forcing you to be a return customer.

“You can pay the pest control guys several thousand dollars,” says Allen, “or you can put in a little elbow grease to get rid of the pests by yourself and keep those few thousand dollars in your own bank account.”
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