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Each month, we publish a series of articles of interest to homeowners -- money-saving tips, household safety checklists, home improvement advice, real estate insider secrets, etc. Whether you currently are in the market for a new home, or not, we hope that this information is of value to you. Please feel free to pass these articles on to your family and friends.


ISSUE #1208
FEATURE REPORT

Cooling Your Home Naturally
Keeping cool indoors when it is hot outdoors is a problem. The sun beating down on our homes causes indoor temperatures to rise to uncomfortable levels. Air conditioning provides some relief. But the initial costs of installing an air conditioner and the electricity costs to run it can be high. In addition, conventional air conditioners use refrigerants made of chlorine compounds, suspected contributors to the depletion of the ozone layer and global warming. But there are alternatives to air conditioning. This information provides some common sense suggestions and low-cost retrofit options to help you "keep your cool"- and save electricity.




Also This Month...
Why It Is So Important That Your Home Is Correctly Priced and Marketed Properly
While many agents may promise to sell your home for the money you want, the reality of the real estate market today is that this simply doesn't always happen. The fact of the matter is, the majority of homes sell for a price which falls short of what sellers may have been lead to believe.


 
 

Important Tips To Keep Your Home Safe
It's much more than a physical structure. It's the place where memories are made, where dreams are shared, where lives are lived. And many of your home's contents--the video of your baby's first steps, grandmother's brooch or old family photos, for instance--simply cannot be replaced. That's why it makes good sense to do everything you can to protect your home.



Quick Links
Cooling Your Home Naturally
Why It Is So Important That Your Home Is Correctly Priced and Marketed Properly
Important Tips To Keep Your Home Safe
 

 

Top>>

Cooling Your Home Naturally

Keeping cool indoors when it is hot outdoors is a problem. The sun beating down on our homes causes indoor temperatures to rise to uncomfortable levels. Air conditioning provides some relief. But the initial costs of installing an air conditioner and the electricity costs to run it can be high. In addition, conventional air conditioners use refrigerants made of chlorine compounds, suspected contributors to the depletion of the ozone layer and global warming. But there are alternatives to air conditioning. This information provides some common sense suggestions and low-cost retrofit options to help you "keep your cool"- and save electricity.

Staying Cool

An alternative way to maintain a cool house or reduce air conditioning use is natural (or passive) cooling. Passive cooling uses non-mechanical methods to maintain a comfortable indoor temperature.

The most effective method to cool your home is to keep the heat from building up in the first place. The primary source of heat buildup (i.e., gain) is sunlight absorbed by your house through the roof, walls, and windows. Secondary sources are heat generating appliances in the home and air leakage. Specific methods to prevent heat gain include reflecting heat (i.e., sunlight) away from your house, blocking the heat, removing built up heat, and reducing or eliminating heat generating sources in your home.

Reflecting Heat Away

The most effective method to cool your home is to keep the heat from building up in the first place. Dull, dark colored home exteriors absorb 70% to 90% of the radiant energy from the sun that strikes the home's surfaces. Some of this absorbed energy is then transferred into your home by way of conduction, resulting in heat gain. In contrast, light colored surfaces effectively reflect most of the heat away from your home.

Installing a radiant barrier

Radiant barriers are easy to install. It does not matter which way the shiny surface faces - up or down. But you must install it on the underside of your roof - not horizontally over the ceiling, and the barrier must face an airspace.

For your own comfort while in the attic, install the radiant barrier on a cool, cloudy day. Use plywood walk boards or wooden planks over the ceiling joists for support. Caution: Do not step between the ceiling joists, or you may fall through the ceiling.

Staple the foil to the bottom or side of the rafters, draping it from rafter to rafter. Do not worry about a tight fit or small tears in the fabric; radiant transfer is not affected by air movement. The staples should be no more than 2 to 3 inches (5 to 8 centimeters) apart to prevent air circulation from loosening or detaching the radiant barrier. Use a caulking gun to apply a thin bead of construction adhesive to the rafters along the seams of the foil barrier. This will make the installation permanent.

Roofs

About a third of the unwanted heat that builds up in your home comes in through the roof. This is hard to control with traditional roofing materials. For example, unlike most light colored surfaces, even white asphalt and fiberglass shingles absorb 70% of the solar radiation. One good solution is to apply a reflective coating to your existing roof. Two standard roofing coatings are available at your local hardware store or lumberyard. They have both waterproof and reflective properties and are marketed primarily for mobile homes and recreational vehicles. One coating is white latex that you can apply over many common roofing materials, such as asphalt and fiberglass shingles, tar paper, and metal.

A second coating is asphalt based and contains glass fibers and aluminum particles. You can apply it to most metal and asphalt roofs. Because it has a tacky surface, it attracts dust, which reduces its reflective somewhat.

Another way to reflect heat is to install a radiant barrier on the underside of your roof. A radiant barrier is simply a sheet of aluminum foil with a paper backing. When installed correctly, a radiant barrier can reduce heat gains through your ceiling by about 25%. (see box for information on installing a radiant barrier.)

Radiant barrier materials cost between $0.13 per square foot ($1.44 per square meter) for a single-layer product with a kraft-paper backing and $0.30 per square foot ($3.33 per square meter) for a vented multiflora product with a fiber-reinforced backing. The latter product doubles as insulation.

Walls

Wall color is not as important as roof color, but does affect heat gain somewhat. White exterior walls absorb less heat than dark walls, and light, bright walls increase the longevity of siding, particularly on the east, west, and south sides of the house.

Windows

Roughly 40% of the unwanted heat that builds up in your home comes in through windows. Reflective window coatings are one way to reflect heat away from your home. These coatings are plastic sheets treated with dyes or thin layers of metal. Besides keeping your house cooler, these reflective coatings cut glare and reduce fading of furniture, draperies, and carpeting.

Two main types of coatings include sun-control films and combination films. Sun-control films are best for warmer climates because they can reflect as much as 80% of the incoming sunlight. Many of these films are tinted, however, and tend to reduce light transmission as much as they reduce heat, thereby darkening the room.

Combination films allow some light into a room but they also let some heat in and prevent interior heat from escaping. These films are best for climates that have both hot and cold seasons. Investigate the different film options carefully to select the film that best meets your needs. Note: do not place reflective coatings on south facing windows if you want to take advantage of heat gain during the winter. The coatings are applied to the interior surface of the window. Although you can apply the films yourself, it is a good idea to have a professional install the coatings, particularly if you have several large windows. This will ensure a more durable installation and a more aesthetically pleasing look.

Blocking the Heat

Two excellent methods to block heat are insulation and shading. Insulation helps keep your home comfortable and saves money on mechanical cooling systems such as air conditioners and electric fans. Shading devices block the sun's rays and absorb or reflect the solar heat.

Insulation

Weatherization measures - such as insulating, weather stripping, and caulking - help seal and protect your house against the summer heat in addition to keeping out the winter cold. The attic is a good place to start insulating because it is a major source of heat gain. Adequately insulating the attic protects the upper floors of a house. Recommended attic insulation levels depend on where you live and the type of heating system you use. For most climates, you want a minimum of R-30. In climates with extremely cold winters, you may want as much as R-49.

Wall insulation is not as important for cooling as attic insulation because outdoor temperatures are not as hot as attic temperatures. Also, floor insulation has little or no effect on cooling.

Although unintentional infiltration of outside air is not a major contributor to inside temperature, it is still a good idea to keep it out. Outside air can infiltrate your home around poorly sealed doors, windows, electrical outlets, and through openings in foundations and exterior walls. Thorough caulking and weather stripping will control most of these air leaks.

Shading

Shading your home can reduce indoor temperatures by as much as 20°F (11°C). Effective shading can be provided by trees and other vegetation and exterior or interior shades.

Landscaping

Landscaping is a natural and beautiful way to shade your home and block the sun. A well placed tree, bush, or vine can deliver effective shade and add to the aesthetic value of your property. When designing your landscaping, use plants native to your area that survive with minimal care. Trees that lose their leaves in the fall (i.e., deciduous) help cut cooling energy costs the most. When selectively placed around a house, they provide excellent protection from the summer sun and permit winter sunlight to reach and warm your house. The height, growth rate, branch spread, and shape are all factors to consider in choosing a tree. Vines are a quick way to provide shading and cooling. Grown on trellises, vines can shade windows or the whole side of a house. Ask your local nursery which vine is best suited to your climate and needs.

Besides providing shade, trees and vines create a cool microclimate that dramatically reduces the temperature (by as much as (9°F [5°C]) in the surrounding area. During photosynthesis, large amounts of water vapor escape through the leaves, cooling the passing air. and the generally dark and coarse leaves absorb solar radiation. You might also consider low ground cover such as grass, small plants, and bushes. A grass-covered lawn is usually 10°F (6°C) cooler than bare ground in the summer. If you are in an arid or semiarid climate, consider native ground covers that require little water.

Planning Your Planting

Placement of vegetation is important when landscaping your home. The following are suggestions to help you gain the most from vegetation.

  • Plant trees on the northeast-southeast and the northwest-southwest sides of your house. Unless you live in a climate where it is hot year round, do not plant trees directly to the south. Even the bare branches of mature deciduous trees can significantly reduce the amount of sun reaching your house in the winter.
  • Plant trees and shrubs so they can direct breezes. Do not place a dense line of evergreen trees where they will block the flow of cool air around or through them.
  • Set trellises away from your house to allow air to circulate and keep the vines from attaching to your house's facade and damaging its exterior. Placing vegetation too close to your house can trap heat and make the air around your house even warmer.
  • Do not plant trees or large bushes where their roots can damage septic tanks, sewer lines, underground wires, or your house's foundation.
  • Make sure the plants you choose can withstand local weather extremes.

Shading Devices

Both exterior and interior shades control heat gain. Exterior shades are generally more effective than interior shades because they block sunlight before it enters windows. When deciding which devices to use and where to use them, consider whether you are willing to open and close them daily or just put them up for the hottest season. You also want to know how they will affect ventilation.

Exterior shading devices include awnings, lovers, shutters, rolling shutters and shades, and solar screens. Awnings are very effective because the block direct sunlight. They are usually made of fabric or metal and are attached above the window and extend down and out. A properly installed awning can reduce heat gain up to 65% on southern windows and 77% on eastern windows. A light colored awning does double duty by also reflecting sunlight.

Maintaining a gap between the top of the awning and the side of the house helps vent accumulated heat from under a solid- surface awning. If you live in a climate with cold winters, you will want to remove awnings for winter storage, or by retractable ones, to take advantage of winter heat gain.

The amount of drop (how far down the awing comes) depends on which side of your house the window is on. An east or west window needs a drop of 65% to 75% of the window height. A south-facing window only needs a drop of 45% to 60% for the same amount of shade. A pleasing angle to the eye for mounting and awning is 45°. Make sure the awning does not project into the path of foot traffic unless it is at least 6 feet 8 inches (2 meters) from the ground.

One disadvantage of awnings is that they can block views, particularly on the east and west sides. However, slatted awnings do allow limited viewing through the top parts of windows.

Louvers are attractive because their adjustable slats control the level of sunlight slats control the level of sunlight entering your home and, depending on the design, can be adjusted from inside or outside your house. The slats can be vertical or horizontal. Louvers remain fixed and are attached to the exteriors of window frames.

Shutters are movable wooden or metal covering that, when closed, keep sunlight out. Shutters are either solid or slatted with fixed or adjustable slats. Besides reducing heat gain, they can provide privacy and security. Some shutters help insulate windows when it is cold outside.

Rolling shutters have a series of horizontal slats that run down along a track. Rolling shades use a fabric. These are the most expensive shading options, but the work well and can provide security. Many exterior rolling shutters or shades can be conveniently controlled from the inside. One disadvantage is that when fully extended, the block all light.

Solar screens resemble standard window screens except they keep direct sunlight from entering the window, cut glare, and block light without blocking the view or elimination air flow. They also provide privacy by restricting the view of the interior from outside your house. Solar screens come in a variety of colors and screening materials to compliment any home. Although do-it-yourself kits are available, these screens will not last as long as professionally built screens.

Although interior shading is not as effective as exterior shading, it is worthwhile if none of the previously mentioned techniques are possible. There are several ways to block the sun's heat from inside your house.

Draperies and curtains made of tightly woven, light-colored, opaque fabrics reflect more of the sun's rays than they let through. The tighter the curtain is against the wall around the window, the better it will prevent heat gain. Two layers of draperies improve the effectiveness of the draperies' insulation when it is either hot or cold outside.

Venetian blinds, although not as effective as draperies, can be adjusted to let in some light and air while reflecting the sun's heat. Some newer blinds are coated with reflective finishes. To be effective, the reflective surfaces must face the outdoors. Some interior cellular (honeycombed) shades also come with reflective mylar coatings. But they block natural light and restrict air flow.

Opaque roller shades are effective when fully drawn but also block light and restrict air flow.

Removing Built-Up Heat

Nothing feels better on a hot day than a cool breeze. Encouraging cool air to enter your house forces warm air out, keeping your house comfortably cool. However, this strategy only works when the inside temperature is higher than the outside temperature.

Natural ventilation maintains indoor temperatures close to outdoor temperatures close to outdoor temperatures and helps remove heat from your home. But only ventilated during the coolest parts of the day or night, and seal off your house from the hot sun and air during the hottest parts of the day. The climate you live in determines the best ventilation strategy. In areas with cool nights and very hot days, let the night air in to cool your house. By the time the interior heats up, and the outside air should be cooler and can be allowed indoors.

In climates with day time breezes, open windows on the side from where the breeze is coming and on the opposite side of the house. Keep interior doors open to encourage whole house ventilation. If your location lacks consistent breezes, create them by opening the windows at the lowest and highest points in your house. This natural "thermo siphoning," or "chimney," effect can be taken a step further by adding a clerestory or a vented skylight.

In hot, humid climates where temperature swings between day and night are mall, ventilate when humidity is not excessive. Ventilating your attic greatly reduces the amount of accumulated heat, which eventually works its way into the main part of your house. Ventilated attics are about 30°F (16°C) cooler than unventilated attics. Properly sized and placed louvers and roof vents help prevent moisture buildup and overheating in your attic.

Reducing Heat-Generating Sources

Often overlooked sources of interior heat gain are lights and household appliances, such as ovens, dishwashers, and dryers. Because most of the energy that incandescent lamps use is given off as heat, use them only when necessary. Take advantage of daylight to illuminate your house, and consider switching to compact fluorescent lamps. These use about 75% less energy than incandescent lamps, and emit 90% less heat for the same amount of light.

New, energy efficient appliances generate less heat and use less energy.

Many household appliances generate a lot of heat. When possible, use them in the morning or late evening when you can better tolerate the extra heat. Consider cooking on an outside barbecue grill or use a microwave oven, which does not generate as much heat and uses less energy than a gas or electric range.

Washers, dryers, dishwashers, and water heaters also generate large amounts of heat and humidity. To gain the most benefit, seal off your laundry room and water heater from the rest of the house.

New, energy efficient appliances generate less heat and use less energy. When it is time to purchase new appliances, make sure the are energy efficient. All refrigerators, dishwashers, and dryers display an energy guide label indicating the annual estimated cost for operating the appliance or a standardized energy efficiency ratio. Compare appliances and buy the most efficient models for your needs.

Saving Energy

Using any or all of these strategies will help keep you cool. Even if you use air conditioning, many of these strategies, may not be enough. Sometimes you need to supplement natural cooling with mechanical devices. Fans and evaporative coolers can supplement your cooling strategies and cost less to install and run than air conditioners.

Ceiling fans make you feel cooler. Their effect is equivalent to lowering the air temperature by about 4°F (2°C). Evaporative coolers use about one-fourth the energy of conventional air conditioners.

Many utility companies offer rebates and other cost incentives when you purchase or install energy saving products, such as insulation and energy efficient lighting and appliances. Contact your local utility company to see what it offers in the way of incentives.

Cooling Strategies Checklist

Cooling strategies to consider:

  • lighten roof and exterior wall color
  • replace/coat roof with bright white or shiny material
  • install a radiant barrier
  • add reflective coatings to windows
  • insulate attic and walls
  • caulk and weather strip to seal air leaks
  • add shade trees, bushes, or vines
  • add exterior awnings and shades
  • add interior drapes and shades
  • ventilate attic
  • increase natural ventilation
  • isolate heat-generating appliances
  • replace heat-generating appliances
  • replace light bulbs with energy-efficient fluorescent's

 

 

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Why It Is So Important That Your Home Is Correctly Priced and Marketed Properly


"...you need to beware of agents who set the list price on homes at unrealistically high levels simply to get listings..."


While many agents may promise to sell your home for the money you want, the reality of the real estate market today is that this simply doesn't always happen. The fact of the matter is, the majority of homes sell for a price which falls short of what sellers may have been lead to believe.

There are two factors at play here. On the one hand, you need to beware of agents who set the list price on homes at unrealistically high levels simply to get listings. This is really unfair because it can set homeowners up for disappointment and failure.

On the other hand, you have homes that are priced correctly, but are marketed ineffectively. Without a proper marketing program in place to ensure a home is exposed to the highest number of qualified buyers, many homesellers feel forced to accept a lower offer.

There's nothing worse to a homeseller than to have their home sit unsold for many months because of improper pricing and/or marketing techniques. Needless to say, either of these situations is highly frustrating to any homeseller. But more than that, it can be financially crushing if you're counting on the full proceeds of the sale of your home to fulfill some other obligation.

To prevent this scenario when selling your home here are some points to consider before choosing the agent you want to represent you.

Deciding Upon an Agent

A good agent knows the market and has information on past sales, current listings, a marketing plan, and will provide their background and references. Evaluate each candidate carefully on the basis of their experience and qualifications.

Are they pricing your home correctly?

Home prices are determined by the marketplace not by your emotional attachment or by what you feel your home is worth. You should work closely with an agent who will suggest establishing a realistic price for your home. They will help you to objectively compare the price, features and condition of all similar homes in both your neighborhood and other similar ones which have sold in recent months. It is also important to be familiar with the terms of each potential sale. Terms are often as important as price in today's market.

Do they set themselves apart from the others by offering innovative marketing plans to sell your home fast and for top dollar?

Will they set up an aggressive marketing program to ensure your home is exposed to hundreds of qualified buyers? How much money does this agent spend in advertising the homes s/he lists versus other agents. In what media do they advertise, (newspaper, magazine, TV. etc.) Do they use a 24 hour hotline, "For Sale" signs, lock boxes, a Tour of Homes program, and Talking House signs and transmitters? What does this agent know about the effectiveness of one medium over the other?

 

 

 

Top>>

Important Tips To Keep Your Home Safe

It's much more than a physical structure. It's the place where memories are made, where dreams are shared, where lives are lived. And many of your home's contents--the video of your baby's first steps, grandmother's brooch or old family photos, for instance--simply cannot be replaced. That's why it makes good sense to do everything you can to protect your home from fire and theft.

Preventing Fires

Most fires are preventable. First, let's look at the top causes of home fires.

  • Cooking fires. Cooking fires pose a serious hazard. Always stay near the stove when cooking. Avoid wearing loose sleeves while cooking; they can be ignited by a burner or a grease splatter. You'll also want to keep curtains and other flammable materials well away from the range or oven. And never put water on a grease fire, which can cause the hot grease to splatter, burning you or spreading the fire. Instead, smother it with a lid or another pan, then turn off the burner. Leave the lid in place until it has cooled off completely.

  • Portable and space-heating equipment. Wood-burning, kerosene, propane and electric heaters can ignite draperies, clothing and other flammable items. Keep anything that can burn at least 3 feet away from all heating equipment. Shut off a heater before you leave the room or go to bed. When you purchase a heater, make sure it's been tested and approved by a reputable organization.

  • Careless smoking. Cigarettes are the leading cause of fire deaths. Never smoke in bed or in a place where you may fall asleep. Also, use deep ashtrays so a lit cigarette won't roll out and fall onto rugs or furniture. It's also a good idea to run water over an ashtray before emptying it into the trash. A smoldering cigarette butt could set the trash on fire.

  • Electrical wiring. You can't see wires hidden inside walls and ceilings, but there are some warning signs of electrical problems. If lights dim or flicker, fuses blow frequently or sparks shoot from receptacles when items are plugged in or unplugged, consult an electrician. Faulty electrical cords can also spark a fire or cause an electrical shock. Never run cords under rugs or heavy furniture. Pressure can crack insulation and break the wires. Don't overload outlets.

  • Children with matches. Children playing with matches or lighters are the leading cause of fire deaths for children 5 and under. Keep these items up high, preferably in a locked cabinet, out of the sight and reach of small children. Teach older ones how to handle matches responsibly.

  • Holiday hazards. Decorations and candles are a special concern during the holidays. If you buy a live Christmas tree, choose a fresh one and water it daily. With an artificial tree, make sure it's made of flame-retardant materials. Keep candles well away from anything that can burn and blow them out when you leave the room or go to bed. Fireworks also deserve special mention. They endanger life, limb and property. Avoid amateurs who set off fireworks. Instead, attend public displays conducted by trained pyrotechnicians. Even sparklers are hazardous; they burn at 1200 F.

There are some other simple, common sense precautions you can take to decrease your chances of a home fire:

  • Never store or use gasoline in the home. Gasoline is a motor fuel only. Keep small quantities in an approved container designed to store gasoline, and store outside, preferably in a locked, detached shed. Wipe up spills immediately and never refuel motors near heat sources, sparks or cigarettes.

  • Don't overload electrical receptacles.

  • Don't use light bulbs with greater wattages than a fixture can handle.

  • Don't let combustible materials such as newspapers and rags pile up in basements and garages.

  • Leave plenty of air space around appliances and television sets; they can overheat and catch fire.

  • Use outdoor gas and charcoal grills with caution. Keep them away from structures, particularly when in use. Never add materials to the fire.

Fireplace Safety

If your home has one or more fireplaces, special precautions can help to keep home fires burning safely:

  • Never burn charcoal or use a hibachi in your fireplace. Both produce deadly carbon monoxide.

  • Protect against sparks by enclosing a fireplace's opening with glass doors or a sturdy screen.

  • Never close the flue while a fire is still smoldering. Carbon monoxide could build up.

  • Never use gasoline, kerosene or lighter fluid to start a fire. Burn only dry, seasoned hardwood. For extra safety, light fires with long-stemmed matches.

  • Have your fireplace and chimney inspected annually. They should be properly vented and free of blockages. Have them cleaned as needed.

  • Protect the top of your chimney with a guard that keeps out birds and small animals and keeps in sparks that could ignite your roof.

  • Keep flammables such as newspapers, magazines, rugs and carpeting well away from the fireplace.

  • Remove holiday decorations from the fireplace and mantle before building a fire to avoid having the decorations ignite.

  • Teach children to stay back from the fireplace.

  • Never leave a fire unattended.

  • Keep a fire extinguisher handy.

If Fire Breaks Out

Smoke detectors greatly increase the likelihood you'll survive a fire. Place at least one on each floor of your home and outside each sleeping area. Install detectors inside bedrooms for added protection. Mount detectors on the ceiling, at least 4 inches away from the wall. Test detectors monthly and replace batteries once a year. To help you remember, plan to install new batteries on an annual event, such as the Fourth of July. Replace smoke detectors after 10 years.

If a fire does break out, take immediate action. Smoke and flames spread rapidly. Get out of the house right away, then call the fire department from a neighbor's house or a cellular phone. Fumes overcome most victims long before flames reach them. Use your safest exit. If you must escape through smoke, get down and crawl low under the smoke, keeping your head about 12-24 inches off the floor.

If you haven't gotten around to conducting a family fire drill, now's the time to do it. And visit your local hardware store or home center to invest in a few fire extinguishers. Extinguishers are classified according to the type of fire they will put out, and you'll find the classification displayed on an extinguisher. A Class ABC extinguisher is multi-purpose and works well against any small, self-contained fire. Keep one in the kitchen, extras in the basement or garage. Contact your fire department to ask about training. Don't attempt to fight a fire unless you know you have the right extinguisher to handle that type of fire, and be sure to keep your back to a safe exit.

Fire Safety Checklist

Take this quick quiz to help you assess your family's fire safety plan:

  • Do you follow the fire prevention practices outlined above? Pay special attention to safety tips on cooking, smoking, use of heating equipment, proper storage of flammables and precautions regarding children and matches.

  • Are your smoke detectors working? There should be at least one on every floor of your home. Test each detector monthly, and replace batteries annually.

  • Do you hold regular fire drills? Several times a year, have your family practice exiting your home safely and quickly in the event of an emergency. Designate a meeting place for all family members to gather once they are out of the house.

  • Have you taught your children to "stop, drop and roll"? In the event their clothing catches fire, kids (and adults) should stop, drop to the floor, cover their faces and roll over and over or back and forth to put out the fire. Keep rolling until the fire goes out.

  • Have you planned an alternate escape route? It's important to have at least two escape routes from each room in your home, often a door and a window. Practice using them now to be sure you could get out in an emergency.

  • Can you safely exit from the second floor? A chain ladder or other easily accessible ladder can help you escape from the upper stories of your home in the event of a fire.

  • Do you know how to use your fire extinguishers? Know where your fire extinguishers are kept, and read the instructions for use before you need them.

  • Do you know the phone number for your local fire department and the location of the nearest phone outside your house? In case of fire, always evacuate your home first, then call for help from a cellular or other nearby phone.

Preventing Theft

Every year, burglars hit more than five million households, stealing more than $4 billion worth of property. Determined thieves can break into just about any home, but you can take steps to make entry a lot more difficult for them.

  • Invest in a quality door. Door security begins not with a good lock but with the door itself and the frame it fits into. Weak door assemblies can be broken with a single kick, popped open with a jimmy bar or even pried out-frame and all-from the wall. Strong exterior doors have solid, not hollow, cores; doors that are sheathed in metal are even better.

  • Install deadbolts. Deadbolt locks provide the best protection for the least amount of money. Ordinary spring-operated locks can be defeated with a credit card. Intruders can't slip a deadbolt lock because it has a solid metal bar that fits into the door jamb. To be effective, a deadbolt lock should have at least a one-inch throw (meaning the metal bolt extends at least an inch past the edge of the door). Doors with glass panes present a special security problem because a thief can break the pane, reach inside and unlock the door. If local laws permit, the solution is a double-cylinder lock-one that must be opened with a key from inside as well as out. But don't defeat the purpose by getting into the habit of leaving the key in the lock on the inside. To exit quickly in case of a fire, keep the key near the door but in a spot that can't be reached from outside. You might want to hang it on a nail near the floor where you can find it easily if fire breaks out.

  • Don't forget windows. Windows and sliding glass doors also should be secured. Look for locks specifically made for different window styles at your local hardware store or home center. You also can secure a sliding glass door with a broomstick or piece of 1" x 2" lumber laid in the door track when the door is closed.

  • Light up. Outside flood lighting reduces your risk of burglary by highlighting the exterior of your home at night. You can choose from lights that remain on all night or motion-sensitive lights that come on only when someone approaches your home. Motion-sensitive lights save energy and could catch a would-be thief by surprise. Timers on inside as well as outside lights give the impression that someone is home, even if you're on vacation, out to dinner or visiting the neighbors.

Sounding an Alarm

For greater peace of mind, consider investing in a professionally installed alarm system. Alarm systems come in many shapes and sizes, at prices that range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. Many installers also charge monthly monitoring fees, which should be taken into account when you shop for a system. A home alarm system includes some combination of the following components:

  • Perimeter sensors. These consist of photo cells or magnetic contacts on doors and windows that sound an alarm when an intruder tries to get inside. Perimeter sensors are mounted on two points, such as the door jamb and the door itself. Photo cell sensors are activated when something passes through a beam of light projected between the two points, while magnetic sensors are activated when contact is broken between the two magnetized points.

  • Heat and motion sensors. You can use heat and motion detectors to protect specific spaces in or outside your home-a bedroom hallway, for instance, or your backyard. Heat detectors respond to body temperatures. Motion sensors detect movement.

  • Glass break detectors. These devices recognize the sound of breaking glass. They activate the alarm when they sense breaking glass in a window or door.

  • Keypad. One or more keypads allow you to turn the system on and off.

  • Audible alarm. A piercing alarm alerts neighbors and the police. And it lets the burglar know he's been detected, meaning he'll probably leave your house in a hurry.

Keep in mind that false alarms can be a problem. In addition to annoying the neighbors and taking the police away from real emergencies, some communities now assess fines for excessive false alarms. The National Burglar & Fire Alarm Association reports that nearly 80 percent of false alarms are caused by user error. Steps to prevent false alarms include regular system maintenance and ensuring that whoever has a key to your house also knows the codes to activate and deactivate your system. Local police are a good source of information and recommendations regarding security systems. They work with the security services in your area and can tell you what types of break-ins are most common in your community.

After you've determined which alarm system is best for you, ask your insurance agent, family or friends for referrals. Get written quotes from at least three companies. Before you obtain an alarm system, investigate a security service's reputation and how long it has been in business. Also ask about warranties and what they cover.

Insuring Against Loss

Homeowners or renters insurance provides money to replace possessions after a fire or theft. Remember to keep a good inventory of your property, including serial numbers. A quick way to do this is with snapshots or a camcorder. Store your inventory in a safe-deposit box or other location outside your home, and update it every year.

While you're making an inventory of your valuables, consider engraving them with your name. This makes it easier to trace the goods back to you if they're stolen. Many local police departments will loan etching tools.

Most insurers recommend that you insure your property at replacement cost. This reimburses you for what it would cost to replace items today, instead of paying only for their current, depreciated value. You'll pay a little more in premiums for this extra peace of mind, so shop around for the best policy and the best price. Consider only reputable companies and agents. Get at least three quotes. Some companies provide lower rates if you have more than one type of coverage with them, such as auto and home. Review your insurance coverage annually.

 

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Mark and Trudy Metcalf
RE/MAX Professionals 13940 W. Meeker Blvd. #119 Sun City West, AZ 85375
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MarkandTrudy@themetcalfteam.com