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Two of the most popular buzz phrases these days are “green” and “energy efficiency.” In fact, they have become so much a part of our everyday lives that we, as a community, have become immune to them. Everyone and everything are “going green” and becoming “more energy efficient.” You see it on hybrid buses, billboards, and even in pet food stores.
Personally, I think it is commendable that we, as a society, are becoming more environmentally conscious – that we want to conserve resources for future generations (and preserve our wallets, too). However, when talking energy efficiency in your home, you need to use some common sense. There are many products and services out there that will indeed make your home more energy efficient. But you need to ask yourself: Does it make sense right now? And will my return on investment truly be seen by me?
Common (dollars and) cents with a home energy audit
A home energy audit is the first step any homeowner should take to evaluate how much energy your home consumes and what steps you can take to make your home more efficient. The home energy audit will show you problems that may, when corrected, save you significant amounts of money over time. The audit pinpoints where your house is losing energy, and what measures you can take to correct those problems.
The audit also determines the efficiency of your heating and cooling systems, and may also show you ways to conserve hot water and electricity. You can perform the audit yourself, although I recommend you invest in a professional audit for this one reason alone: When completed by a professional, you’ll receive a report showing you exactly where you can make the most cost-effective improvement to your home.
A professional home auditor uses a variety of technologies to verify the home’s energy efficiency. Auditors use blower doors and infrared cameras to determine leaks in the home’s envelope and in hard-to-detect areas where insulation is missing.
Common (dollars and) cents with home remodeling and additions
For those homeowners who are entertaining the idea of remodeling or building an addition to their homes, there are now several government tax credits available for home improvements in 2009. These tax credits come from the stimulus bill (The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009), signed into law by President Obama in February. Here is a summary:
- Must be “placed in service” from January 1, 2009, through December 31, 2010. The IRS defines “placed in service” as when the property is ready for use.
- Must be for taxpayer’s principal residence.
- The maximum total amount that can be claimed for all products placed in service in 2009 and 2010 for most home improvements is $1,500, EXCEPT for geothermal heat pumps, solar water heaters, solar panels, fuel cells, and wind turbines, which are not subject to this cap. Credits for these improvements are in effect through 2016.
- Must have a Manufacturer Certification Statement to qualify, and for record keeping, save your receipts.
- Improvements made in 2009 must be claimed on your 2009 taxes.
As an aside, if you are building a new home, you can qualify for the tax credit for geothermal heat pumps, photovoltaics, solar water heaters, small wind systems, and fuel cells, but not the tax credits for windows, doors, insulation, roofs, HVAC, or non-solar water heaters.
While making your home energy efficient is a commendable goal, it is important to realize the return on investment of each improvement you consider. When you take the results of your professional home energy audit and the available tax credits into account, you’ll be able to make excellent decisions that will Increase the comfort of your home and decrease the amount of money (and energy) going out the door.
NOTE: This article first appears in R&A Magazine, Spring 2009 issue. Download a PDF of this article.
When Dawn and Ken Zipko looked at their 80 year-old ranch house, they viewed it from two perspectives. First, their house held 22 years of memories and was located in a neighborhood they loved. But secondly, their home no longer fit their needs. The laundry facility was in the basement, and their one daughter’s bedroom was crammed between two other bedrooms and didn’t have a window. The home was also in need of repair. “The door seals were rotten because of water damage,” said Ken. “The house was livable, but it was also run-down.”
The Zipkos aren’t alone. According to the National Association of Home Builders, two of the top ten reasons homeowners decide to remodel are: 1) to repair and 2) to modernize the home so it is more comfortable and functional.
The Solution: The Decision to Remodel
Because they loved their neighborhood and didn’t want to move, Dawn and Ken decided that remodeling their home was the right solution. They asked friends for referrals and contacted some area contractors. After meeting with a few, they immediately knew that Wheatland Custom Homes was the contractor they felt most comfortable with. “[Rick Martin] was very personable and understood what we were looking for. He also knew we had a tight budget,” said Ken.
Additional space was a major need for this family of five. Rick, Ken and Dawn worked together to develop a floor-plan to maximize the functionality of the space they had. Instead of an addition, they elected to build up¾to add a second story that included a bedroom for their daughter, an unfinished bonus room, and a welcomed second bathroom to the home.
The project also called for moving the laundry room to the first floor, replacing the crumbling front stoop with an expanded covered porch, and making some needed home repairs.
Staying Put. The Zipkos remained in their home during the remodeling project. Since they were adding a second floor, this meant removing the roof. Dawn recalled Rick calling them to say, “Hold onto your hats, guys! We’re going to start this week!”
“It was very scary to come home that first day,” said Dawn. “Ken was out of town on business, and all summer, we’d experienced a rainstorm every few days.”
The rain held off, and Dawn was amazed at how quickly the Wheatland crew got to work. “They took the roof off in two days; they framed it and had us back under roof in another two days.”
The entire family had to live quite minimally while remodeling, living without a lot of furniture and other comforts of home. There were a few discoveries during the demolition phase of the project¾uncovering an extra chimney hidden behind a wall, and a wall that bowed out the wrong direction. But those finds are all part of the excitement of remodeling a home.
In total, the house remodel only took two-and-a-half months. “The entire process was pretty fluid,” said Ken. “We were amazed at how quickly things were done.”
The Results: Enjoyment
Dawn is ecstatic about not lugging laundry up and down basement steps anymore, and she couldn’t wait to get her rocking chair out on her new front porch to sit in the sun and chat with the neighbors as they strolled by.
Ken said, “It is a nice feeling being able to give our daughter a comfortable space to relax and spread out.” The entire family is also enjoying having a second bathroom.
“Everyone at Wheatland¾Rick, Michelle, and Dave¾was more than helpful with any questions or concerns we had,” Ken continued. “We never felt pressured to do more than what this project entailed. They always took into consideration our ideas. If I had to do it over again, I’d do it exactly the same way.“
Zipkos’ 3 Tips for Remodeling Success
- Have a plan. Before Ken and Dawn started interviewing contractors, they had a plan of what improvements they wanted to make to their home.
- Have a budget. Know how much you are comfortable spending on your remodeling project.
- Be flexible. Realize that there will be problems that come up during a remodel, but the right contractor will smooth them out quickly, quietly, and efficiently.
So you decided that you want to build a custom home for your family. Is it because you found a lot in just the right location? Or you’ve been looking at existing homes for sale and are not finding one that has the features you need? Or want a home that is uniquely your own? Well, a custom built home may indeed be the answer. The good news is that you get to select the features you need, you get to build it on a lot of your choice, you get to select your building team. In short, you get to pick stuff. But the bad news is the same as the good news; you have to pick stuff, you have to select a lot, you have to select a plan with the features you need. So where do you start?
Budget, Plan/features, Lot; the most difficult items. The budget is the overriding issue. Everyone has to work within a budget, large or small. So the sooner you establish a realistic budget, the better. Run the budget by a mortgage lender to make sure you can afford the payments. Run the budget by a builder to make sure you can get the plan and features you need (and some of the features you want). Then you can calculate what you can afford for a lot. Lots have several decision points; location, cost, construction complications. A long driveway costs more to install, and more to maintain than a shorter one. A 3 acre lot will cost more to seed, landscape and mow than a .5 acre lot. All these variables should be considered when deciding on a lot. By the way, one more consideration, there is an unlimited number of plans and features available for a home. Wheatland Custom Homes and Remodeling can build a small or a larger home, modern or traditional, stone or siding; a wide variety of sizes, styles, features. But there is only a limited number of lots available, land is just not being made anymore.
For help in this decision making process, to talk about lots, home plans and budgets, contact Rick@WheatlandHomes.com .
Wheatland Custom Homes and Remodeling has been building fine homes, additions and restorations in south central Pennsylvania for over 20 years.
Your home, your castle. If you live in an extreme weather zone, how do you protect yourself from the weather? How do you protect the citizenry from the potential weather? Is the answer Government mandates for safe construction? Or is the answer market driven? In the wake of the weather disaster(s) in Oklahoma, the debate heats up.
Since in south central Pennsylvania (Harrisburg, York, Lancaster) we are not in a high wind (tornado or hurricane) zone, our new home construction building codes do not need to be concerned about extreme weather. But it does bring to mind another issue, that of man caused home disaster. In some areas, there is concern about fire and personal security in our castles. And there is a solution, providing home security by construction of a “safe” room in your new house. A safe room is used for personal safety in times of emergency, as well as for fire protection of valuables. The room is constructed of reinforced concrete, with a vault door. Fort Knox sales a vault door, we build the safe room, and they bring the door out and install it. In talking to the Fort Knox dealer about a current project, they have also been supplying them for safe rooms that are being built in existing homes. While installation during construction in a new home is more convenient; if there is access to the existing basement, installation as a remodel project can be economically completed by the Wheatland Custom Homes and Remodeling team. For more information, contact Rick@WheatlandHomes.com
Conventional wisdom is usually correct, you need to realize that it became conventional because after all, it worked in the past. But although conventional thinking usually eliminates mistakes, it also prevents the “outside the lines” thinking that is necessary for truly GREAT ideas.
Let’s look at an example: Wheatland Custom Homes and Remodeling was asked to design a home on a corner lot with building envelope and slope challenges. There is the existing street on the narrow side, new street on the wide side. The lot slopes the wrong way, because of the building envelope and storm water inlet, the garage needs to go on the low side. And it is an infill lot between newer homes and older classic style homes.
Conventional wisdom says that the house needs to be part of the new home community, with the front door facing the new street. And design some kind of basement garage, a bilevel would be perfect! But really, a bilevel? This is 2013, not 1970. Hold on, this is about custom home designing, so why must the front door face the wide side of the lot, why can’t it face the narrow side, the existing street? Why can’t the new house imitate the character of the existing classic homes? The driveway will enter off the new street, with the garage dropping a couple steps to follow the grade. And since a couple more steps would be helpful, let’s design a stepped down family room between the house and garage. Wow, this might just work!! And oh yeah, the cost is critical. How about the total package of $235,000? Might just work in Susquehanna Township!
For creative solutions to your home building or remodeling needs in south central Pennsylvania, contact rick@WheatlandHomes.com