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This month rings in a season of spending time with friends and family, shopping, gift-giving, decorating, baking, and cooking. Safe Electricity offers tips to help ensure that this busy and festive time remains a safe one.
Holiday entertaining often involves cooking for family and friends. According to the National Fire Protection Association, Thanksgiving is the peak day for home cooking fires, followed by Christmas Day and Christmas Eve. Past studies have shown that cooking equipment was the leading cause of home structure fires, and unattended cooking was by far the leading factor in these fires:
- Stay focused and attentive to baking, brewing, and simmering foods.
- Keep cooking areas clean and clear of grease.
- Never plug more than one high-wattage appliance into a single outlet.
- Make sure outlets near sinks are equipped with properly tested ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs). GFCIs cut off power instantly if there is an electrical problem, saving you from a dangerous shock.
- Always have a working fire extinguisher on hand, and know how to operate it.
Your home may see increased traffic over the holidays, including children and pets. Make sure all electric cords are out of high-traffic pathways and areas. Do not run cords through doorways; staple, nail, or tack them to the wall; or hide them under rugs or carpets. Do not let children or pets play with light strands or electrical decorations.
One way that many kick off the holiday season is with decorating the home. When decorating indoors:
- Inspect all the lights you plan on using before you start decorating. Make sure the wires are in good condition–not cracked, brittle, or frayed. The sockets should not be damaged, and no light bulbs should be missing.
- Replace damaged strings, and be sure to unplug the lights before replacing a bulb.
- Use only holiday lights that have been safety tested and certified by an approved laboratory.
- Do not overload extension cords or outlets. Electric overloads can cause shocks and start fires.
- Always turn off or unplug lights before going to bed or leaving your home. A timer can help you make sure this happens.
For your safety follow these additional precautions:
- Do not hang lights when it is windy, raining, or snowing.
- Use properly tested GFCI outlets or extension cords to prevent shocks.
- Use only lights that are certified by an approved laboratory and rated for outdoor use.
With cold weather slated for the months ahead, homeowners everywhere are seeking ways to cut down on energy costs. Black Hills Energy recommends homeowners implement cost-effective fixes – many costing less than $20 – to eliminate sources of energy waste.
“Nearly half of all energy use during the colder weather months is dedicated to heating homes, according to the Environmental Protection Agency,” said Jill Linck, Energy Services Division for Black Hills Energy. “We want to arm consumers with simple ways to increase heating efficiency in their homes, as well as to check other, less obvious sources of energy waste, including appliance use.”
In honor of Energy Awareness Month, the experts at Black Hills Energy recommend checking these energy consumers for cost-saving solutions.
- Air leakage: Air leakage occurs when cold outside air enters and warm air escapes through cracks and openings, increasing the cost of keeping a home at a consistently comfortable temperature. Feel for leaks by floating your hand around the perimeters of doors and windows, electrical outlets, and even cable and telephone line entry points, then seal any problem spots using caulk and a $5 caulking gun. Adding weatherstripping to doors and windows is another low-cost way to keep the winter chill out and the warm air in.
- Dirty air filters: Dirty furnace air filters can clog and cause higher resistance of air flow, particularly during high-usage months. Diligent cleaning of air filters each month for about $20 with filter spray and oil, and replacing them about every three months keeps warm, clean air flowing throughout a home.
- Kitchen culprits: It’s hard to resist opening the oven door to check on baking cookies or a Thanksgiving turkey, but did you know the temperature inside an oven drops 25 degrees every time the door is opened while in use? This increases cook time and wastes energy. Instead, turn on the oven light for a peek inside. When using the stovetop, use the right sized pot or pan for each burner – for example, a six-inch pan atop an eight-inch burner wastes 40 percent of the burner’s energy.
- Duct leaks from the furnace to the vent: HVAC ducts that leak conditioned air into unheated spaces can add hundreds of dollars a year to heating and cooling bills. Sealing seams with duct mastic means a furnace doesn’t have to work overtime to keep your family cozy. Duct mastic is available for under $15 per gallon, and can be applied with an inexpensive paint brush.
- Thermostat control: According to the U.S. Department of Energy, adjusting a thermostat down 5 degrees to 10 degrees while you’re asleep or while you’re out of the house can help you save on heating and cooling bills. Utilize programmable thermostats for when you’re typically out of the house, too. A good rule of thumb is to keep the thermostat set to 68 degrees.
Consumers have leveraged the changing of the clocks to remember important but infrequent tasks like replacing smoke alarm batteries. AAA suggests motorists also use this event, taking place at 2:00 a.m. on November 2, as a reminder to check their vehicle for winter readiness.
“The end of daylight savings time means that winter weather is on the way, which can be rough on your car,” says AAA’s director of Automotive Engineering, Greg Brannon. “This is a good time to have vehicle systems checked and perform important maintenance to ensure your car is in peak condition.”
Harsh winter conditions make your vehicle work harder, particularly the charging and starting system, headlights, tires and windshield wipers. AAA recommends that motorists:
- Clean any corrosion from battery posts and cable connections and wash all surfaces with battery terminal cleaner or a solution of baking soda and water. Have the battery checked by a professional to ensure it is strong enough to face cold weather.
- Have any engine drivability problems corrected at a good repair shop. Symptoms like hard starts, rough idling, stalling or diminished power could signal a problem that would be exacerbated by cold weather.
- Replace worn windshield-wiper blades. If your climate is harsh, purchase one-piece beam-type or rubber-clad “winter” blades to fight snow and ice build-up. Use cold-weather windshield washer solvent and carry an ice-scraper.
- Inspect all lights and bulbs and replace burned out bulbs. Clean road grime or clouding from all lenses.
- Have your mechanic check the exhaust system for leaks and look for any holes in the trunk and floorboards.
- Examine tires for tread depth, uneven wearing and cupping. Check tire pressures once a month when tires are cold before driving for any distance. In extreme climates, a set of winter snow tires may be a wise investment.
By Keith Loria
Having trouble selling your home? Looking to give it that extra something to attract a wide range of prospective buyers? Then it might be time to hire a stager.
Once you’ve made the decision to bring in a stager, you must find the right person for you. Not every stager is the same, and you’ll want to make sure the person you choose has a vision you can get behind.
The first thing you should do when deciding among stagers is look at their portfolios and see what they have done for other homes. If you don’t like their previous work, it’s a good bet that you might not like what they do for you.
Even if you’re not pleased with what you see, a conversation about their thoughts and vision is warranted. Remember that a stager is an artist, and they may have ideas for your home that aren’t showcased in their book or even on their website. Be sure to tell them your ideas, listen to theirs, and see if you can come up with a happy medium.
When choosing a stager, it’s also a good idea to get references and ask about their experience staging in your local area. Remember, a stager is a professional who is trained to know exactly what house hunters are looking for, so even if it’s not your cup of tea, if they have had success getting homes sold in your neighborhood, you might want to trust in their opinion.
You’ll also want to ensure that the stager you choose isn’t making your home look like every other home they have previously staged. Remember, the whole reason for hiring someone is to make your home stand out. If they’re bringing in the same furniture and colors that they use in countless other homes, it might not be making the statement you want.
The cost of a stager should also play a role in your decision. You don’t want to be paying more than you can afford, even if it does mean having your home look exquisite while on the market, so make sure you choose a stager who’s within your budget.
One thing many sellers don’t think about when hiring a stager is insurance, however, this is a key area that can’t be overlooked. Be sure the stager you ultimately pick is insured just in case an unforeseen accident happens while in your home, or a piece of antique furniture they bring in breaks.
Finally, choose someone who you can talk with and work with favorably. You don’t want to be butting heads with the person who’s trying to help you sell your home. Find someone whose talent you admire, is open to dialogue and has experienced success. Once you do, your home stager will help you and your home on the way to a sale.
To learn more about hiring a stager, contact us today.Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2014. All rights reserved.
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About CENTURY 21® New Millennium
CENTURY 21 New Millennium, www.c21nm.com, is a full service real estate brokerage company specializing in residential and luxury properties. In addition to the Capitol Hill location in Washington, D.C., the Virginia locations are in Alexandria, Centreville, Culpeper, Fredericksburg, Gainesville, Loudoun, McLean, Stafford, and Woodbridge. The Maryland offices are located in Annapolis, Columbia, Dunkirk, La Plata, Lexington Park, Lusby and Waldorf. Its core services include: mortgage financing, investing, settlement, property management, property insurance, global relocation assistance, and commercial real estate.