How to Purchase/Lease Solar Panels for My Home

When deciding on going solar there are many different options and scenarios you need to understand before making any final decisions. Therefore, learning all you can about how solar contracts work, as well as their associated issues, will help you make an educated decision about which solar option is best for your particular situation. If you don’t, you could end up making a long-term commitment that doesn’t fit with your long-term goals costing you a significant amount of money in the long run.

Here are the different areas of the solar arena you need to consider before signing on the dotted line.

Solar Company Warranties

There are three common types of warranties that might be offered with a solar PV system.

1. Product Warranty

The product warranty covers the panels and some of the other components of your system. Most manufacturers offer a 25-year warranty on their panels which means if anything happens to them, the affected part(s) will be replaced at no charge.  However, most solar panels will last much longer, even as many as 40+ years.  One caveat to this is the inverter and other power optimizers which generally carry a shorter warranty period. For lower grade inverters, the warranty is generally about two years. And for higher grade inverters the warranty is usually between 10-15 years.

2. Workmanship Warranty

The workmanship warranty covers any labor and installation related issues. Workmanship warranties will vary greatly depending on the company. However, most workmanship warranties will range between two and ten years with 10 years being the most common.

3. Performance Warranty

A performance warranty is for the solar panels energy production, which is based on an average number of years. For example,  a common performance warranty will generally guarantee 90% production for 10 years, and 80% production for 25 years. All solar panels lose a small amount of production each year, so this is not uncommon.

Solar Payment Options

Understanding the different types of solar payment options and their associated contracts is one of the most important aspects of deciding on which one is right for you. Therefore, you should spend a significant amount of time learning about your options before making any decisions. And always make sure every detail discussed is clearly written in your contract.

Outright Purchase, Finance Option or Energy Efficient Mortgage

An outright purchase is a solar PV system you pay for with cash or via a home equity loan, etc. and is always your best bet. However, if you don’t want to go that route, a third-party solar loan is another option to consider. Many solar companies work with preferred lenders who are familiar with the green energy sector and are willing to offer financing for such services. However, some solar companies don’t, in which case you would have to acquire your own financing. Or, you could check into getting an energy efficient mortgage to finance your solar panels.

Solar Lease or Power Purchase Agreements (PPA’s)

Solar leases and PPA’s are very similar. These work much like renting anything else. The solar company owns the equipment and you rent it to receive the monthly benefits which amount to a reduced utility rate. These are very popular because oftentimes they don’t require any money down and there are no associated upkeep or maintenance costs.

A word of caution though, opting for a solar lease is something you need to thoroughly understand before deciding on which route to go. Many people have been duped into a solar lease because they didn’t really understand what they were getting into. So please take heed and do your homework prior to signing a contract. However, with that being said, a solar lease/PPA is the perfect option for some, so please don’t take this warning as a non-recommendation for choosing a solar lease.

  • Solar Lease. With a solar lease, you will receive a fixed monthly rate (rent) or lease payment. This rate is based on the estimated amount of electricity your system is anticipated to produce in exchange for using the solar company’s system.
  • Power Purchase Agreement (PPA). A power purchase agreement is slightly different from a lease because instead of paying to rent/lease the PV system, instead, you agree to purchase the power that’s generated by the solar company’s system based on a set per-kWh price.

Important Factors Regarding a Lease/PPA Option

Most lease/PPA options don’t require any money down, have no installation costs and don’t require the homeowner to perform any maintenance. Therefore, you can’t have a solar PV system installed and start saving immediately. Additionally, when you choose a lease/PPA option the company who installed the system is the one who retains all incentives and rebates. This is how they are able to offer you a system at no cost.

Solar energy rates can be between 20-30% lower than traditional utility electricity costs. However, the price paid for solar electricity generally increases annually at a pre-determined rate; therefore, you’ll have to factor this into your savings equation while making sure this pre-determined rate is clearly stated in your contract.

In some leases, if you put money down, usually between $1,000 and $3,000 you will receive a lower monthly payment, a lower per kWh, and avoid any annual increases.  Additionally, at the end of the lease, which is usually either 20 or 25 years, you could be offered the option of extending your contract or having the panels removed at no cost to you.

Tax Credits and Rebates

The tax credits and rebates on solar PV systems vary significantly from state to state with some states not offering much of anything at all for installing a solar PV system on your home. However, in several states, the tax credits and rebates are so significant that they will, in many cases, pay for the majority of your system making it much more affordable than you might think. Therefore, you will need to check into what the state incentives are for any given state for more details. However, California has some very generous solar incentives available.

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Other Things to Consider

Here are a few more things to consider when trying to decide whether or not a solar PV system is right for you.

Solar Equipment Monitoring

Most solar PV systems come with one or more monitoring options. Online monitoring is the preferred option as it allows you and the solar company to monitor your system’s energy production and usage online from your Smartphone, tablet or PC. But not all solar companies offer both production and usage monitoring options; therefore, you will need to confirm this with your chosen solar company.

System monitoring is also important in the event of any malfunctions because if there is any type of error, the solar company will be notified immediately and be able to repair the problem before you lose too much money and energy savings due to long periods of downtime. The only issue with monitoring is who pays for it. Therefore, be sure you inquire about who pays for the monitoring before you make any final decisions.

Moving Options and Issues

It’s important to find out who pays the moving costs should you need to have your panels moved to replace your roof. Not all solar companies offer this service. If they don’t, you’ll have to find a qualified electrician or builder who is experienced in moving solar panels. And, in this case, if any of the panels are damaged during the move, they will generally not be covered by the manufacturer’s warranty.

Are the Warranties Transferable?

You should always ask the solar company you’ve chosen if their warranties are transferable to the new owner should you decide to sell your home. Just keep in mind the new owner will have to qualify for that solar system just like you did.

Damages

Another issue you should get in writing is who pays for any damages done to your roof, home and/or property during installation should they occur. Especially if the solar company doesn’t use an in-house technician and/or roofer to assist with the install.

Solar Contractors

When signing (up to) a 25-year contract, you want to make sure the solar contractor you’ve chosen will be around long enough to honor their warranty and to handle any repairs, etc. Therefore, you should inquire about how long they’ve been in business and check their Better Business Bureau rating. This will give you a sense of their reputability and how they handle any customer service or repair issues. Additionally, many solar installers are certified, and the company accredited, by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) which is helpful, but not a requirement.

For more tips on improving your home’s energy efficiency, check out the Green Living section on our blog.

How Much Does it Cost to Replace My Home’s Windows?

If you own a home, you know that repairs and replacements are part of the equation. And since a home is one of the biggest investments many people will make in their lifetime, it’s important to be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to a home’s repairs and replacements. That means having a well thought out preventive home maintenance plan in place. And, being a homeowner who performs enough research into their home’s functions so they can properly identify the signs of wear and tear and contact a professional for a probable replacement when needed, and that includes the windows.

How Long Do Windows Last?

The average lifespan of a window will vary depending on the quality and components used. However, most windows will last between 10 and 20 years, but cheap windows that sell for $150 to $200 might only last for three to five years. Additionally, some manufacturers claim their windows will last for 50 years to a lifetime. However, many of those manufacturers don’t provide any documentation to back up their claims. Therefore, you should always perform your own due diligence before making any final decisions about your window purchase.

Six Signs Your Windows Need to Be Replaced

Sometimes how well your windows are performing is not readily apparent. Therefore, there are some red flags you can look for that will help determine whether or not your windows need to be replaced.

  • Your windows are drafty.
  • You have single pane windows (they don’t have an insulating layer of gas between two panes which makes them less efficient).
  • Cracked or warped frames, especially on wood windows.
  • Inoperable windows or cracked glass.
  • Broken seals (you will see fog or condensation which indicates your windows have lost their insulating properties).
  • Increased utility bills.

The Benefits of Replacing Your Windows

There are plenty of benefits that come with replacing your windows. With energy-efficient windows, you will enjoy substantially lower heating and cooling costs, regardless of the climate where you live. New windows will also provide you with improved comfort levels in your home due to eliminating drafts, reducing direct sunlight and the ability new windows have for maintaining the temperature level in a room.

Additionally, new windows that have been properly installed will eliminate frost, condensation, and the impact that fluctuating temperatures and humidity have on your home. You will also experience the increased light new windows provide, as well as reduced fading on your carpet, furniture, and other decor.

Different Window Options From Which to Choose

Since there are so many different window options from which to choose, it’s best to determine what your particular needs are before you begin your search. Do you need lots of natural light? Do you want a traditional or a more modern style window, etc? Once you’ve determined your needs, you have plenty of window options to choose from such as:

  • Double-hung windows (least energy efficient windows on the market).
  • Casement windows (best for light and air entrance).
  • Awning windows (best for maximum light and privacy).
  • Picture windows (best for bathroom type settings).
  • Transom windows (these are commonly used over a door and are often segmented).
  • Slider windows (best for framing a view or to brighten a room).
  • Bay or bow windows (best for allowing light to enter from different angles).
  • Jalousie windows (these are inexpensive and best for warm weather areas).
  • Hopper windows (these are most commonly used for basements).

The Average Cost of Replacing Your Windows

The average cost to replace your windows is between $600 and $1000 per window if you opt for a quality window. However, this amount can vary depending on the type and style of materials used, and your local installation costs for the labor.

Other Things to Consider

1. Window Company Reputation

Before making any final hiring decisions make sure you thoroughly research the reputation of any given company prior to signing the contract.

2. Warranty Fine Print

You should also read the fine print for any warranties being offered. Many window companies offer a so-called “Lifetime Warranty,” which is misleading because “lifetime” in the fine print often states that it’s for the lifetime of the window, not the homeowner. Therefore, this type of warranty is oftentimes misleading.

3. Frame Choice

Another thing to watch out for is your choice of frames. There are a wide variety of frames on the market and sometimes the frames that a window company will recommend is the one that’s best for their bottom line, not yours. Unfortunately, to go into all the different types of available frames is outside the scope of this article. However, there are pros and cons of each type of frame, so make sure you have all the facts before you decide on which type of frame is best for your particular situation.

4. Energy Efficiency and U-Factor

Energy efficiency is another area to pay close attention to if you want to get the best performance possible out of your windows. The first thing to look for is the Energy Star label, but keep in mind that just because it has an Energy Star label, doesn’t necessarily mean that window meets the .30/.30 requirement to qualify for a tax credit. And, the .30 is just a minimum requirement so you might be better served to look for a window with a lower U-factor than the .30 needed to qualify for a tax credit. The lower the U-factor, the more energy-efficient the window will be. The U-factor of a window can be quickly checked on the NFRC website.

The Bottom Line

The best thing you can do as a homeowner is to take the time to educate yourself about proactive ways to maintain your home. This will help you make more informed decisions about what you actually need, don’t need, and how you should proceed when an issue arises, now and going forward.

5 DIY Ideas for Renovating Your Living Room

Do you want to renovate your living room, but have held off because of budget? While full-scale remodels can be costly—according to Pro Referral, the average price to remodel is $1,649, and that price goes up exponentially with expensive renovations like lighting and flooring installation—the great news is you can make significant changes to your living room without spending thousands of dollars. Even better: you don’t need to hire a contractor.

Take renovations into your own hands with these simple DIY tips and ideas. You’ll quickly find that small changes go a long way.

Repaint or Redecorate Your Walls

Adding a little color or redoing your current color scheme can bring new life to the living room. A can of paint costs about $30, making this a budget-friendly way to give this gathering space the facelift you’re looking for. Do it right with a paint roller, taping off the walls and protecting the floor with a paint cover or tarp. To make give your paint job a little flair, layer colors for a more textured look or use distressing techniques to give that trendy, vintage vibe.

You can also change the look and feel of your living room by adding artwork to your walls. Check local thrift stores and consignment shops for less-expensive pieces or add some mirrors for extra light and shimmer. Bonus: well-placed mirrors make the room look bigger, according to Get The Most From Your Square Footage.

Install Glass Doors on Your Fireplace

As the centerpiece of your room, the fireplace is one of the best ways to update the look and feel without putting in a lot of time and money. Start by replacing your old, dirty screen or ceramic fireplace doors with prefabricated glass doors. These add elegance and style to your living room, giving the space a chic, modern look.

Glass doors are easy to install if you follow the correct procedure. Experts at BrickAnew explain the DIY process:

  • Step 1: Remove your old fireplace doors so you can see the amount of space you have for your new doors.
  • Step 2: Measure your fireplace so you know the exact dimensions.
  • Step 3: Determine the make and model of your fireplace, so you can find the right doors for your particular unit.
  • Step 4: Order new doors and install following manufacturer instructions. In most cases, all you need is a screwdriver.

New glass doors typically start around $200. If that’s not within your budget, you can also repaint the brick or refresh decorations on the mantle. Replace old items with new candles, Pinterest-worthy decorative pieces, fresh flowers, etc.

Upgrade Your Floor

There are a number of ways to update your living room floor. If you want an entirely new look, install wood floors and try a new layout like a parquet or herringbone design. Replacing wood floors costs $4,430, on average, according to Home Advisor and is best done by a professional.

The next best option is to re-stain it to add a bright, newly finished look, which is much less expensive.

If you prefer carpet in your living room, change the color or style. Better yet, use inexpensive accent rugs that are both budget friendly and versatile.

Change Your Furniture

While buying a whole new furniture set can be expensive, you can find nice pieces at thrift shops or estate sales. Remember: you don’t need to replace every piece of furniture in the living room. Adding one new piece can bring new life to a stale space. Think: new coffee table, interesting bookshelf or set of unique lamps. If you want to make the most out of a small space, try using furniture pieces that do double duty, like a trunk. This gives you more storage space and a new coffee table.

You can also rearrange your current furniture; a new furniture layout can change the entire look and feel of your living room. Check out these living room arrangement ideas from Better Homes and Gardens for inspiration.

Get Crafty

Use your own creativity to add new items to your living room. Paint a picture for your wall (or ask a friend), mold a bowl for the coffee table, do your own real or fake flower arrangements, or sew a blanket or pillow for the couch. Do you collect anything like vintage plates or antique spoons? Find an inexpensive cabinet to put these items on display.

Save your money and renovate your living room yourself. Try one or a few of these ideas to give your living room a whole new look without spending more than you can afford.


About the Author

Jessica Thiefels has been writing and editing for more than 10 years and is now a professional freelancer and consultant. She’s worked with a variety of real estate clients, and has written for Forbes, Inman, House Hunt Network, Homes.com and more. Follow her on Twitter @Jlsander07.

[INFOGRAPHIC] What You Need To Know When You’re Buying A Fence

Whether you’re looking to add curb appeal or privacy to your backyard, you have a lot of options available when you’re in the market for a new fence. In fact, there are so many options, it would be easy to get overwhelmed — this is why you need to know what to look for, and why.

When you’re armed with information, you’ll have an easier time narrowing the options for fencing and fencing providers. To help you make the best choice for a fence at your property, here are some things to keep in mind.

Preliminary Research
What’s your goal in adding a fence? Do you want to protect your pets, or are you most concerned about adding privacy from nosy neighbors? When you know why you want a fence, you’ll be better prepared to pick the right one to suit your needs.

Likewise, research your fencing company. Ask lots of questions. Learn about a fence’s manufacturer and origin. Ask how long the contractor has been in business, and find out if it’s a member of the Better Business Bureau. By doing your due diligence, you should feel more confidence in your choice.

Fence Shopping
After determining your goals and locating reputable providers, it’s time to examine the fencing options. Do you go with a certain type of wood or a galvanized chain-link option? The best selection will depend on your preferences and needs. Once you’ve made a decision, be sure to get a written, detailed contract from the fencing installer — and ask for references beforehand.

To learn more about tips for buying a fence for your home or business, check out the infographic below.

Infographic brought to you by Peerless Fence

How Much Does it Cost to Replace My Home’s Siding?

Thinking about replacing your home’s siding? Whether it’s just time for a little maintenance or you need a complete replacement, it’s always best to understand the general costs upfront.

On average, you are looking to pay over $7,500 to replace 1500 square feet of vinyl siding. If you are attempting to upgrade to a really nice stone veneer, you could end up paying close to $100K for the same amount of siding. Is it time to replace your home’s siding, and if so, with what?

Types of Siding

The number one piece of advice when putting up siding is to avoid putting it on top of your old siding. It’s a way to cut corners and save money but you’ll pay for it in the long run. If you don’t pay to have your old siding removed, your new siding will not adhere properly. Even if it sticks now, inclement weather will easily strip it away.

Many homeowners make the mistake of doing this with vinyl because it is most affordable. The cost to strip it can add a couple hundred dollars to the total costs of replacing your home’s siding, if not more.

There are a lot of different kinds of siding from the popular vinyl siding to fancy stone veneers. Keep in mind that you can cut costs and still have high grade stone veneers if you mix and match materials.

Standard and Liquid Vinyl Siding

Vinyl is the standard in home siding. For one reason, it doesn’t flake or peel. Bugs do not burrow in it and you won’t experience rot like you can with wood. It comes in many varieties to resemble expensive grades of siding and it can be maintained with a simple power washing.

On the downside, hurricane and tornado strength winds can rip vinyl siding right off of the walls. If you live through a drought and heatwave, those high temps can warp vinyl siding. And if you don’t wash it regularly, it can get moldy.

Standard vinyl siding costs anywhere from between $2 and $7 per square foot. You could opt for liquid vinyl to cover your existing siding for $3 to $6 per square foot which should hold up for a few years. Best of all, you can coat your house in different colors that won’t fade. However, liquid vinyl cannot be used on wood or else it could cause mold and mildew to grow.

Natural and Engineered Wood Siding

Wood is an old school siding choice that is making a comeback for its eco-friendly properties. For one, wood siding is cheaper to install and can be painted, unlike most vinyl. Moreover, wood siding can be designed and engineered aesthetically and for sustainability.

Wood siding costs anywhere from $3 per square foot up to $10. The problem with wood siding is that insects do like to burrow in it. You could get termites, mold, and other wood rot and fungi using wood siding.

People opting for engineered wood go for plywood because it is only $1 per square foot. Other types of engineered wood can cost over $5 per square foot.

Aluminum and Steel Siding

When it comes to metal siding, aluminum is by far the most popular because it is most affordable and it is durable; able to withstand extreme weather and is repellant to insects. Aluminum siding ranges in price from $4.75 up to $7.15 per unit when you factor in the cost for installation sheathing to protect against water damage.

Steel is another metal option but with it, your siding is vulnerable to rusting over time and cannot be painted, just like aluminum. Steel costs anywhere from $4 per square foot up to around $8.

Brick and Cement Siding

Finally, there are a variety of brick, stone, and cement siding options. The biggest drawback to using brick, stone, or cement is that you have to pay extra to have it professionally installed. If you buy by the weight (which is standard), because these materials are so heavy, you are looking to pay a lot more.

Cement for example is mixed with wood fibers and sand to create sturdier siding that can withstand wind and rain. What’s nice about cement siding is that it is fire resistant, can be easily maintained, and it can last for decades.

Similarly, brick is highly durable, fire resistant, and an added bonus; brick and stone siding beautify a house. For that reason veneers can run you anywhere from $11 up to $30 per square foot and brick can cost up to $12 per unit.

General Cost of Installation

In addition to the cost of materials, be sure to factor in installation and removal of the old siding. If you plan on mounting siding on top of old siding, it is wise to spend the $70 bucks or so to have it cleaned first. Also, installing vinyl, metal, and wood siding often requires insulation which can add to the overall cost of the job.


If you are currently evaluating the costs for other home upgrades, check out more articles from our ongoing series “How much does it cost to…”

 

How Much Does it Cost to Replace a Refrigerator?

With good maintenance and care, your refrigerator can have an average lifespan of 14-17 years. That’s not too shabby! But, all good things must come to an end —even our trusty refrigerators.

When it comes time to replace your refrigerator, there are a number of things to consider and some important must-have features to look for. Remember, it’s going to be with you for a while, so it only makes sense to do your research, choose wisely and take great care to prolong its life.

With that said, here’s how much it costs to replace a refrigerator and some of those must-have features you should watch out for. Plus, we’ve included a little advice on knowing when to replace your fridge so you’re not left hanging with a bunch of melted ice cream on a hot summer day.

Is Your Refrigerator Dying?

Knowing that your fridge can last between 14 and 17 years is a great way to start planning ahead and budgeting for a new one, but you also need to be proactive and watch for the signs so you’re not stuck with a fridge full of spoiled food.

Some of the symptoms of a dying fridge include:

  • Excessive condensation — If you notice that your fridge is “sweating” more than usual, this could be a sign of inaccurate temperature control.
  • A hot motor — It’s normal to feel a bit of heat coming from behind your fridge, but if it’s getting really hot it might mean the coils are going bad.
  • You can hear it running — If you’re hearing your fridge running during the day, it’s likely that it’s having to work too hard to keep cool.
  • Frost buildup — If you notice a lot of frost buildup in the freezer, this can also be a sign that the coils are going bad. Defrost the fridge and wait to see if it happens again.

If your refrigerator exhibits any of these signs, it might be time to have a technician come out to do an inspection. Sometimes things like coils can be replaced for a fraction of the cost of replacing the entire refrigerator. On average, the cost to repair a refrigerator ranges from $292 to $413  —depending on model, repair and supplies.

Things to Look for When Replacing a Refrigerator

The best refrigerator for your home is the one that suits your family’s needs, offers enough space, and works with your current kitchen setup. In addition, consider these following tips when replacing your refrigerator:

Style #1: Top Freezer (Priced from $500+)

This is the traditional style of refrigerator that we all grew up with. The freezer compartment is at the top, with the refrigerated section below.

Why you’ll love it:

  • This no-frills refrigerator often offers more usable space than those with features like in-door water/ice, which takes up space.
  • If you have a slim space, these are often the best bet. Typical widths are 30-33 inches.
  • They use 10% to 25% less energy than bottom-freezer and side-by-side door models.
  • They’re usually the least expensive.

Style #2: Bottom Freezer (Priced from $700+)

Flipping the traditional style, refrigerators with the freezer on the bottom are popular for their convenience —putting the refrigerated compartment at eye-level where things are easy to see and reach. They can also accommodate wider trays of food.

Why you’ll love it:

  • Everything is easily reachable with little bending to get things in and out.
  • Those with double doors (french) are more energy efficient, as only one door is being opened and it minimizes the amount of cold air that escapes.
  • French door models don’t require as much room for the doors to swing open as other models.

Style #3: Side-by-Side (Priced from $900+)

Side-by-side models offer an equal balance between freezer and refrigerator space, which is popular with families who eat a great mix of frozen and fresh foods.

Why you’ll love it:

  • These allow for easy access and viewing of food in both compartments.
  • Perfect for family members with disabilities who need to access food without bending or a stepstool.
  • Typical widths are 32 to 26 inches, but keep in mind the divider between fridge and freezer means there’s some unusable space.

Style #4: Cabinet- and Counter-Depth (Priced from $2000+)

These models provide a custom look if overlayed with cabinet faces and are offered in shorter depths so they don’t stick out past cabinets and counters.

Why you’ll love it:

  • These models create a clean, custom look that can be the finishing touch in a luxury kitchen.
  • They often come in various sizes and configurations, such as under-the-counter beverage refrigerators or under-the-counter produce drawers.
  • Various depths and widths are available to create a truly custom kitchen.

Other Costs and Features to Consider

There have been a lot of advances in refrigerator technology over the past decade. If you haven’t purchased a fridge in the last few years, some of these options and features might surprise you. Keep these in mind as you shop:

Smudge-Free Stainless — Stainless appliances are all the rage, but the fingerprints left behind aren’t! Some manufacturers have developed smudge-free stainless options. Just remember that finishes vary from brand to brand and might not be a perfect match to your other appliances.

Smart Refrigerators — Believe it or not, your refrigerator can tell you what groceries you’re running low on. For $5,000, you can buy (Spring ‘17) the Samsung Family Hub refrigerator, which you’ll be able to digitally access from your phone while in the grocery store to see what you’re missing.

Water and Ice — In-door water and ice has been a must-have feature for a number of years, particularly with families that use water/ice often. Just keep in mind that this option takes up a lot of interior space, is susceptible to problems and can be messy. It also increases the cost of the fridge.

Installation and Removal — As with any new appliance, also factor in the cost of installation and the removal of your old refrigerator. Installation and removal charges vary by vendor and location, so always ask ahead of time. If your fridge is still in good working order, you should consider donating it to a local charity, which might pick it up for free.  

More on Replacing Appliances …

If you’re looking for more information regarding how much it costs to replace other household appliances, please don’t hesitate to consult our blog. Our team offers an ongoing series on this topic, so you have all the tools you need to maintain your home.

5 Must-Know Tips for Buying Home Appliances

While they may not do much for the charm or ambiance in your home, major appliances have a critical effect on your comfort and convenience. A new refrigerator is not nearly as exciting as a new car, but it is arguably more important in terms of making your daily life more convenient and healthy.

Maintaining and replacing appliances is a part of home ownership, so educating yourself on those topics is a smart move that will save you money in the long run.  For most homeowners, it’s good practice to learn some basics about kitchen, laundry, and HVAC equipment before the day comes when they must be replaced.

#1. Budget

You can always get a better deal if you have little time to look around. Give yourself that luxury by checking out appliance deals before you need them. Check the owner’s manual for your equipment to be aware of the expected lifespan for each appliance, and then plan to replace most of them at or before that time.

Keep in mind that there is usually some wiggle-room in appliance pricing, so don’t hesitate to haggle a bit. Base your bargaining on an understanding of the average price ranges, and you could save yourself $100 or so.

#2. Timing

Finding the best deal on the appliance you want can be a matter of timing.

The best time to buy most major appliances is during the months of September and October. During these two months, manufacturers unveil their latest models, so the previous models are discounted.

Refrigerators are the exception. Those new models are rolled out in May, so spring is the best time to shop for a refrigerator.  Another special consideration is air conditioning systems, which can be found at a discount in the winter months.

When inventory lingers into January, discounts can be even deeper, although you won’t have as many models to choose from.

Holiday weekends and the end of the month can also be good times to check appliance prices. Black Friday can be a great day to pick up a new appliance, and many merchants have sales on holidays like Memorial Day and Labor Day.

#3. Options to Consider

The number of features and options available in appliances keeps growing, and sorting them out can be a little overwhelming. Count on perennial experts, like  HGTV, Bob Vila, or CNET for unbiased reviews and important details. Consumer Reports is also a fantastic resource, with lots of free information online. A subscription will get you access to a wealth of additional informative reports on topics like appliance brands most prone to need repairs.

Refrigerator

The fridge often seems like the center of the home, and there are a wide range of styles and options from which to select. Styles include top freezer, bottom freezer, French door, side-by-side, built-in, and mini.  Other important factors to consider are capacity and energy efficiency. 

Some desirable features to consider:

  • In-door ice and water
  • Door-in-door storage
  • Air purifiers/evaporators
  • Zoned temperature controls
  • Flexible shelf and drawer design

Range

A major consideration here is whether you’ll buy gas or electric. If you’re replacing your old range, you’ll save money by sticking with your existing power source. Freestanding units also tend to be more cost-effective than built-ins.

Features:

  • Control lock-out
  • Double ovens
  • Expandable stovetop elements
  • Convection option
  • Time/Delayed start

Dishwasher

Using a dishwasher can actually be more energy efficient and use less water than washing by hand. According to Energy Star, newer models use less than half the energy of hand washing, and can save up to 5000 gallons of water per year.

Dishwashers with an Energy Star designation are, on average, 12 percent more energy efficient and 30 percent more water efficient than standard models, so they can potentially save you hundreds of dollars over the life of the appliance.

Features:

  • Adjustable or extra racks
  • Soil sensors
  • Rinse and hold
  • Self-cleaning filter
  • Stainless steel tub
  • Hidden touchpad controls
  • Quiet operation

Washer       

Clothes washers are available as top or front-loading. Click the link to read what Consumer Reports says about the advantages of the different types.

Features:

  • Automatic detergent dispenser
  • Automatic temperature control
  • Extra rinse cycle
  • Stainless steel tub

Dryer

Here again, you face the choice between gas or electric models.

Features:

  • Moisture sensor
  • Auto-dry cycles
  • Extended tumble
  • End of cycle signal

Furnace

For home heating, gas is generally the most economical power source, while electric systems can be lower in initial cost.

Home heating units have seen tremendous improvement in recent years, both in terms of efficiency and effectiveness. According to Consumer Reports: “… today’s more-efficient gas furnaces can save you up to $40 for every $100 you spend on fuel compared with older models. They are also, on average, less likely to need repairs, according to our survey of subscribers, who told us about 21,132 furnaces they bought between 2008 and early 2014.”

Features:

  • Zoned heating
  • Dual air exchangers
  • Variable speed blower
  • Air filtration

Air Conditioning Units

90 percent of new homes in the U.S. are equipped with central air conditioning. Whether you’re looking at a new installation or replacing an aging unit, similar factors should be considered.

Maintenance is critical for keeping your AC running efficiently, and many installation companies offer the option to include some regular maintenance in the installation cost.

#4. Installation costs

For the average homeowner, installing major appliances is best left up to a pro, so the cost of installation, to include removing and disposing of the old unit, must be factored into cost.

A good way to save on installation costs is to use existing utility connections and locations. Stick with the current power source (usually electric or gas) to avoid expensive reconfiguration.

#5. Measure your space

When you’re replacing an existing appliance, double-check the space to ensure that the new model will fit your existing site. Remember that they have to fit in the door. Here are the most common sizes for home appliances:

  • Refrigerator –This measurement can vary depending on capacity, but the most common width is 36 inches. Be sure to allow room for the refrigerator’s doors to swing open, and for a one-inch clearance around sides and back for adequate airflow.
  • Range – Most electric and gas ranges are 30 inches wide, while some pro-style units measure 36 inches.
  • Dishwasher -Most conventional dishwashers are intended for a cavity measuring 24 by 24 inches.
  • Washer/Dryer– Most laundry appliances measure 27 inches wide, but some models with bigger capacities measure two or three inches wider.

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Does It Cost More to Maintain Your Home or Your Car?

While you’ve most likely spent considerably more to buy your home than your car, you may be surprised at how much less expensive –proportionally- it is to maintain your home.

This is great news, considering that your home is likely your biggest investment, and one that you could very well be looking to sell at some point in the future. A key difference to remember when we’re looking at cost of ownership is the fact that cars depreciate over time, while home values appreciate. Let’s compare.

Cars

The Kelley Blue Book tells us that the average price of a car in the U.S. is now $33,000. The Wall Street Journal tells us that Americans bought a record-breaking 17.5 million cars and light trucks last year. Cars are considered essential, and worth the cost of ownership.

But beyond the cost of financing and fuel, how expensive is it to maintain a car? There are several contributing factors, as you well know:

  • Tires
  • Maintenance and repairs
  • Taxes, license and registration fees
  • Insurance premiums
  • Depreciation

The American Automobile Association (AAA) published a study last year that laid out the costs associated with each of these. They note that costs do vary depending upon the type of vehicle, with SUVs costing more than 50 percent more to maintain than small sedans.

Our purpose here is to compare the cost of caring for your car to that of maintaining a house. To get an idea of what maintenance will cost for a car, we can look at the average costs related to these areas:

  • Taxes and Fees $665
  • Maintenance and Repairs $767
  • Tires $147

These considerations will cost an average of $1579 annually. This cost does not take into account the average annual cost for fuel ($1682), and is in addition to any loan or insurance payments you may or may not have. It doesn’t factor in depreciation, with its messy calculations (although AAA estimates around $2500 annually!).  It’s the cost of taking care of your car.

Home Appreciation

Your home, on the other hand is all but certain to increase in value over time. That’s what makes real estate such a great investment. Bay Area home prices have come back strong from the crisis of 2008, at a rate far ahead of national numbers.

According to the Federal Housing Finance Agency home price indexes for the Pacific region have increased by more than 54 points over the last 5 years, well ahead of the national average of just over 29 points for the same time period.

Specifically in San Francisco, home prices rose by over 11 percent in the year between October 2014 and October 2015. In dollars and cents, that means that a home valued at $200,000 at 2014 would have gained over $22,000 in value in just one year.

The cost of maintaining your home varies, naturally. It depends on these variables, according to The Balance:

  •      Age – the maintenance costs tend to rise as the home ages
  •      Weather – extreme climates boost maintenance costs
  •      Condition – a home that’s been neglected will cost more to maintain
  •      Location – this can make a home more vulnerable to water damage and other factors
  •      Single-Family vs. Attached – the single-family home will cost more to maintain

Do the Math…

So let’s see: if the average car costs $33,000, and we can expect to spend just over $1500 to care for the car, that means we will be putting right at 4.5 percent of the car’s value back into it each year for maintenance. This line of thinking ignores the fact that the value of your car actually drops over time.

For your home, which as we’ve seen, gains value over time, experts generally recommend that you budget about 1 – 3% percent of your home’s purchase price for maintenance and repairs. So for a home priced at $700,000: budget $7000 annually for maintenance and repairs.

These numbers make one thing very clear: home maintenance is a bargain compared with caring for a car. We all expect to pay a price for using our car all year, but there’s a tendency to avoid spending money on home maintenance until something goes wrong.

That’s a key phrase, because good preventative maintenance can greatly reduce your overall costs by keeping the need for repair and replacement to a minimum. Keeping your systems in top working order increases their lifespan and helps you avoid costly breakdowns.

Want some help with that? Glasshouse Service Providers will oversee the care of your home at an annual premium of just $396.

How Much Does it Cost to Replace a Washer?

If you’re reading this article your washer is probably operating for now, but you’re wondering if it might be time to replace it. This can be a tough call, especially if your existing appliance is clicking along okay or may be in need of a minor repair.  The question comes into play: Would I be better off to just replace the machine now?

Experts recommend this rule of thumb: If fixing the appliance costs 50 percent or more of the original purchase price then you should replace it. This is a helpful starting point, but there are other things to consider.

Warranty?

In weighing your decision, consider whether the machine is out of warranty. If you’re not sure about this, examine manuals, receipts and other documents that came with the washer; look through them to find warranty terms. If you can’t find the paperwork, go to manufacturer’s site or contact them directly.

If an appliance is still relatively new yet no longer covered under warranty and has broken down a lot, you may be better off getting rid of it.

Keep in mind that some credit cards offer an extended warranty on purchases. If you used your card to buy the washer, it might be worth looking into that possibility.

Age?

A new washer’s average life expectancy is 11 years. Consumer Reports recommends replacing any appliance that’s more than eight years old. This is because newer models are more efficient, so these washers save water and energy and clean your clothes better. The savings you’ll see from increased efficiency will help cover the cost of the new machine.

When repair makes sense

Of course there are times when you should repair a good machine rather than buy a new one. Many of the parts for washers –things like the, seals, pump, and the belts and pulleys can be fairly inexpensive to replace. You could potentially install those parts yourself. The trouble has to be diagnosed first, of course, and for most of us that means calling a repair service.

Another point to consider when there’s a breakdown is whether your washer has been involved in a manufacturer recall. Write down the model and serial number of your appliance, then check at www.recalls.gov for information on current recalls that might help determine what the problem is.

If you’ve decided it’s necessary to replace your washer, expect to spend around $1000, depending on the features you choose. Here are some things to keep in mind when you’re choosing the one that suits you best.

Energy savings

Some models of washer are designed to use less water and energy. Energy Star certified washers will use 10 to 50 percent less; this can represent considerable savings over time.

Top- or Front-Loading?

There are top-loading machines with or without an agitator. Agitator models cost less and are faster than top-loading washing machines without an agitator, known as high-efficiency (HE) washing machines. Most HE washers are better at cleaning, gentler on fabrics, use less water, and have larger capacities.

While they cost more, the best front-loaders clean better and are gentler than the best HE top-loading washing machines, and they also use less water. Front-loaders take longer to complete a cycle than HE top-loaders, but they spin faster, extracting more water and trimming dryer time.

Space

Before you choose a new washer, measure your available space. The typical washer is 27 inches wide, but some with bigger capacities can be two or three inches. Measure the space you have to work with and allow at least 6 inches behind the washing machine for water hookups, and about an inch between the washer and dryer. And, if you have overhanging cabinets, be sure to measure the space between the cabinet and the washer.

It’s a good idea to measure the doors to your home to make sure a new washing machine can fit through them, too.

Capacity

The size of the load that your washer will need to handle depends on your household size. It’s a personal decision. The largest home washers have a capacity of 6.2 cubic feet, and will hold 28 full-size bath towels. The smallest are  3.3 cubic feet and will hold 14 to 17 bath towels.

Popular Features

  • Stainless steel tubs – these can handle faster spin cycles, which pull out more water and cut drying time.
  • Automatic dispensers – These are designed to dispense detergent, bleach, and fabric softener at the right time in the wash cycle. Some washing machines can even hold up to several months’ worth of detergent.
  • Extra rinse cycle – a handy feature for finishing heavy loads and clearing everything from pet hair to detergent residue.
  • End of cycle signal – a tone or beep alerts you when clothes are ready to move on to the dryer or clothesline.
  • Automatic temperature control – adjusts the water to the optimal temperature for the setting selected, rather than just mixing hot and cold water together.

Learn more about “How much it costs” to replace various items around your house on our blog. Some of our most popular articles are linked below for you convenience.

How Much Does it Cost to Replace a Dryer?

How Much Does it Cost to Replace a Dishwasher?

How Much Does it Cost to Replace a Water Heater?

[INFOGRAPHIC] How Much Do Utilities Really Cost?

Your monthly utility bills make up a significant portion of your housing costs. In fact, they can represent nearly half of a household’s monthly bills, according to a recent study by Trulia and partners Utility Score. They call utilities “the hidden cost of housing,” and they point out that costs can vary pretty widely depending on where in the country your home is located.

So a location with bargain home prices may not turn out to be such a bargain in the long term. Here are some of the significant findings:

  • Nationally, people in single-family homes spend $2,715 annually on utilities. ($1.68 per square foot, or 1.4% of the median single-family home value).
  • Of the largest 100 metro areas, Atlanta has the most expensive median annual utilities by dollar amount at $4,353.
  • The least expensive utilities are found in El Paso, Texas, where you can expect to pay $1,818 annually on average.

Based on the Atlanta figures, it’s tempting to conclude that a warm climate equals high utility costs, but the low costs in El Paso blow that theory out of the water. Apparently, climate is not a good predictor for how much median utilities are, at the zip-code or metro level, and nor is the value of local homes.

Markets like Detroit and Pittsburgh, which have relatively low home values, can be paying just as much for utilities on average as they do for their mortgage or rent payments. For residents in the most expensive metros like San Francisco or Honolulu on the other hand, utilities are just as high in dollar amounts, but look trivial after getting past monthly housing costs.

A good example of a city where home prices are high but utilities are fairly reasonable is Oakland. There, energy costs are a bit higher than the national average, but depending on the neighborhood, can stay under $300 per month.  Pittsburgh, on the other hand, has much more affordable home prices, but similar utility costs to Oakland’s, so energy consumption takes a bigger bite out of the budget.

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3 Ways to Lower Your Utility Bills

No matter where your home’s located, there are plenty of ways that you can minimize your cost for utilities. Some major changes might be adding solar panels –this carries some upfront expense, but will produce major savings down the road, or replacing old windows with a more energy-efficient product.  There are also small changes that you can make to have a big impact.

#1. Select efficient appliances

If your appliances are starting to show their age, you can likely save a good deal of energy by replacing them. The government awards an Energy Star to appliances that meet high standards for efficiency, so it’s a great idea to shop with that in mind.

#2. Add insulation

One relatively easy and inexpensive way to lower energy bills is to add insulation to your home. Keeping warm air inside in winter and outside in summer lets your HVAC system take it easy, resulting in lower monthly costs.

There are other benefits to increased insulation as well, like reduced noise from outside, better humidity control, and less pollen and dust from outdoors getting in. So you save as much as 10% on energy costs and have a more comfortable home. Win win.

#3. Practice preventative maintenance

A sure way to make sure your systems are running at top efficiency is to keep up with regular maintenance. This is an inexpensive way to buy some peace of mind, and it also keeps your utility bills under control.

Here are some important maintenance tasks to keep on top of:

Maintaining Your HVAC

  • Heating and cooling systems account for more than half of the energy costs in a typical U.S. home, so keeping yours properly maintained can yield big savings. Here are some general tips for HVAC care:
  • Check the system twice a year, as the seasons are changing. Replace the air filters at least that often.
  • The outdoor unit should be checked for adequate refrigerant levels, and any wear or damage. Accumulated leaves, dirt, and debris should be removed, and the drains checked for any obstructions.
  • Inside, the unit should be carefully inspected for gas leaks, loose connections, and clogged drain lines. The blower, burner assembly, and evaporator coils should be checked and cleaned.

For a more extensive look at how to maintain your HVAC, check out our recent blog.

Maintaining Your Laundry

Your laundry contributes greatly to a smooth-running household, so take some time to make sure that it’s running efficiently. This can be a simple matter of adjusting your habits.

  • Dryer: remove lint after each load; regularly inspect the vent. This will also prevent your dryer from suffering an early death. Here’s how much it costs to replace a dryer.
  • Washer: ensure that the machine is level; inspect the hose for loose fittings, bulges or cracks, don’t leave wet clothes inside to develop mold.

Maintaining Your Weatherproofing  

Another way to save on heating and cooling is to ensure that your home is as weatherproof as possible. As we noted above, insulation —particularly in the attic—  is a critical piece of this, but there are other things to keep in mind as well.

At least annually, check windows and doors to ensure that weather stripping s in place and in good condition. Inspect caulk around doors and windows. Depending on the severity of your climate, it might be wise to consider applying plastic over some windows as well.

Making it Easier: Home Maintenance with Glasshouse

This maintenance list can seem a bit overwhelming, and it’s true that most of us need professional help for many of these tasks. At Glasshouse, we specialize in carefully scheduled maintenance by proven, reliable professionals. Our clients save on their energy costs and gain peace of mind, knowing that we’ve got them covered.

It’s modern home care for today’s busy homeowners. Learn more about Glasshouse here.