Five Gifts To Lower Your Utility Bill

Five Gifts To Lower Your Utility Bill

1. Black & Decker’s Thermal Leak Detector $35

Black & Decker’s Thermal Leak Detector helps you reduce your energy costs by finding temperature differences caused by air leaks or insulation missing from inside your walls.

Use it to identify problem areas around drafty windows and doors and uncover hidden leaks and insulation “soft spots” around electrical outlets, recessed lights and along floor molding.

The Thermal Leak Detector shines a light on your wall. When the wall temperature changes by 1, 5 or 10 degrees F (user adjustable), the light changes to red or blue to indicate a hot or cold spot. Plugging the leaks and drafts in your home can save up to 20 percent off your heating and cooling energy costs.

2. EverSense Touch-Screen Thermostat $399

The EverSense Touch-Screen Thermostat manages your home’s temperature and energy usage based on how far you and other family members are from home. When you head out, the EverSense adjusts the environment in your home. Stuck in traffic? Your EverSense will know and will keep your heating or air conditioning from turning on until you’re close enough to home to make it likely you’ll come back inside.

It also has built-in speakers for streaming your favorite music from your smartphone and a weather application with animated radar.

3. Cree 75-Watt LED bulb $125 (for six)

Cree’s new 75-Watt equivalent LED bulbs, available at Home Depot, use 82 percent less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs, are dimmable and can last up to 20 years if they’re on three hours a day.

Buy enough bulbs to replace all your hard-to-reach high ceiling light fixtures and you might not have to climb up there again until 2034.

The shatterproof glass bulbs look and light like traditional Edison-style bulbs. You can also use the Cree in your outdoor fixtures.

Keep the proof of purchase from the package and your register receipt, you’ll need them to get a refund if the bulb doesn’t last 10 years.

4. Presto 01241 4-Quart Aluminum Pressure Cooker $31

A pressure cooker cooks your food faster so you save energy by not using your stove as long. You can use it to tenderize tough cuts of meat, quickly cook dried beans and make delicious one-pot meals.

A pressure cooker won’t heat up the kitchen, making it a good choice if you live in a tropical climate.

5. Belkin Power Conserve Switch $33 (for six)

This six pack of power switches let you turn off the power to appliances that use standby power, like cable boxes and televisions. The average household spends about $100 a year on standby power so being able to turn off the power with the flick of a switch can save you real money.

Have a daughter that forgets to turn off the flat iron or a son that leaves his game station on? Opt for Bekin’s Conserve Socket F7C009q, which has an automatic shut off you can set for 30 minutes, 3 hours or 6 hours.

There is a catch: Your child will have to push a button on top of the outlet to start power flowing to their device.

Six Ways To Trim Your 2013 Taxes

Six Ways To Trim Your 2013 Taxes

No one wants to pay more taxes than they have to, so use these six strategies to lower the size of the check you send Uncle Sam next April:

1. Pay Bills Early
If you itemize, pay bills early to increase your deductions. Pay your January 2014 mortgage payment and your 2014 property taxes in December 2013. If you’re a joint filer and don’t have $12,200 in qualifying expenses ($6,100 for single filers) to make itemizing deductions worthwhile, don’t prepay your expenses. Save your payments until 2014 when you may be able to take the deductions.

Before you make any early payments, use the Internal Revenue Service’s Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) Assistant to make sure you’re not subject to AMT. If you’re subject to AMT, you can lose some deductions, so you wouldn’t benefit from paying items early.

2. Make Home Energy-Efficiency Upgrades
Pay for home energy-efficiency upgrades before Dec. 31 to take advantage of a federal tax credit for projects like installing insulation and energy-saving furnaces or air conditioners. This tax credit disappears when 2013 ends, so don’t delay.

3. Recycle When You Remodel 

When you remodel, do it in a way that keeps intact the fixtures and house parts you remove including cabinets, bathtubs, wood floors, windows and doors. Donate them to a salvage store, like Habitat for Humanity’s Restore to earn a tax deduction.

4. Spend FSA Funds On Home Improvements

Have funds left in your Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA)? You can spend them to make medically necessary home improvements, such as a hand rail in your bathroom. Get a letter from your doctor supporting your medical need for the improvements. Many employers have adopted grace periods giving you until March 15, 2014 to spend your FSA funds.

5. Deduct Property Taxes Paid At Closing
If you bought your home in 2013, check your HUD-1 settlement statement (lines 106 and 107) to see if you reimbursed the sellers for property taxes they paid. You won’t get a 1098 from your lender showing those taxes because you paid them at settlement not from your escrow account.

6.  Take The Home Office Deduction
If you have a home office, but haven’t taken the home office deduction because it’s too complicated or you’re worried it would cause you to be audited, go ahead and take it on your 2013 taxes.

Starting this year, you can take a new home office standard deduction of $5 per square foot (up to 300 square feet) if you itemize deductions. You won’t have a home depreciation deduction or later recapture of depreciation for the years you use this simplified option.

Perk Up Your Home With Paint

paint2Nothing makes you look at your home more critically than having holiday visitors on the horizon. Not to worry, says Paint Quality Institute expert Debbie Zimmer, for less than $100 a room, you can dramatically upgrade your d?cor in a weekend or even a day with interior paint.
What’s especially nice about painting just prior to the holidays is that you can choose colors that are just right for the seaso

n, as long as you’ll still love them when the day is done, she says.

At Thanksgiving, go with fall colors like harvest gold, ochre, brown, beige or rust, Zimmer suggests. Or, create a cozy and inviting Christmas or New Year’s dinner by decking your dining room out in a deep shade of red or green paint.

Assuming that your pre-holiday painting is focused on rooms that will be filled with people, keep in mind that paints with higher levels of sheen will be more stain-resistant and easier to clean.

Certainly the woodwork, but even the walls, in gathering spots like the kitchen, kids’ playroom, and rec room should be done with semi-gloss paint, she says.

To make cleaning even easier, be sure to use 100 percent acrylic latex interior paint.

Opting for a low-VOC (VOCs are volatile organic compounds) is an excellent environmental choice.

Before You Pick Up A Hammer …

  1. Invest in modern updates in high-traffic areas. Update the core rooms of your home such as the kitchen and bathroom. This can be as simple as changing door knobs, resurfacing cabinets or replacing fixtures and countertops.
  2. Don’t underestimate the value of inexpensive updates. A fresh coat of paint, modern lighting fixtures, light landscaping or gardening or upgraded door handles can give your home an updated look and feel.
  3. Consider energy-efficient renovations that have a high return relative to cost. Energy-efficient renovations are considered one of the highest paybacks relative to cost. Energy efficiency translates into reduced operating costs over time.home improvement screwdriver calculator-001
  4. Be careful about over improvement. Consider your neighborhood and the expectations of buyers in your area when planning your next renovation project. Attend a few open houses at nearby homes for sale to see what’s on the market now. If you over improve, you won’t recoup what you spent on the project.
  5. Think about your personal needs. How much you spend on improvements will depend on how long you plan to live in your home. If you you’re thinking shorter-term, smaller and less expensive improvements may be your best bet.
  6. Be sure to get a building permit. Take the time to obtain the proper building permits from your municipality or appropriate authority. This is a good step to ensuring that the renovation work complies with the building codes.
  7. Hire a designer, architect or contractor. Talk to a professional when you start planning your renovation project. They can help you draw up a plan, provide renovation advice or assist in the construction. This will add to the quality of the renovation and go a long way in preventing cost overruns.
  8. Choose improvements with long life expectancy. Roofing, energy-efficient heating and cooling systems and added insulation can keep you warm and dry for as long as 10 to 15 years. But remember, regular maintenance is as important as the initial investment.
  9. Consider unique features with care. Unique designs or improvements that are uncommon for a particular market may make it harder to sell your home when you’re ready to move.