Green Living – Homeowners Insurance Tips and News Fri, 28 Jun 2013 15:01:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Saving Money & Energy Fri, 04 May 2012 18:16:31 +0000 Waste accounts for a huge fraction of most residential electricity and water bills. In some cases, nearly 50 percent of all the electricity use in a residence can be accounted for by inefficient appliances, power-hogging standby modes, and other wasteful circumstances. Since electricity is expensive, conservation can lead directly to some pretty substantial savings. However, precious nonrenewable resources are also saved whenever you successfully cut back on energy usage. Unless your home runs exclusively on wind, solar, and hydroelectric power, wasting energy is the same as needlessly burning fossil fuels.

It’s vital to conserve water for many of the same reasons, and most homes waste just as much water as electricity. The bathroom is the biggest culprit, and about 75 percent of all residential water usage is accounted for by flushing the toilet and taking either showers or baths. Conserving water is especially important in rural areas because flushing excess water into a septic system can cause it to overflow. The same is true of municipal sewer systems, and excess sewage is sometimes dumped directly into rivers, lakes, and other bodies of water.

No-cost Ways to Save Energy

Some of the most effective energy-saving measures won’t cost you any money at all. In fact, you’ll actually save money when your next electricity bill arrives. One easy way to reduce your residential power consumption is to simply shut off the lights whenever you leave a room. Depending on factors like the number of lights you have and the local cost of electricity, shutting off unused lights might save you a few dollars each day.

Another easy way to save energy is to use your heating and cooling systems more efficiently. Replacing old windows can result in a huge savings, but simply covering inefficient windows with heavy drapes can help keep the heat in. If you have some mastic laying around, you can also reduce your heating and cooling costs by sealing up the joints of your heating ducts. Landscaping can also play a role in energy efficiency, and planting the right bushes and shrubs around your house will lead to a reduction in heating and cooling costs.

The biggest energy savings may come from shutting off appliances and electronics that have standby modes. When you shut off most modern electronics, they don’t actually turn all the way off. If a red light turns on when you shut an appliance down, it’s a pretty safe bet that it has entered into a standby mode. You may find more than 40 different appliances around your house that use some type of standby mode, and that can account for 10 percent of all the electricity used in your home. If you install power strips that allow you to cut off electricity to those items, you can avoid paying for all that wasted energy.

Low-cost Ways to Save Energy

If you make a small initial investment, it’s possible to decrease your energy bills even further. The cheapest way to reduce your energy usage is to switch from incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescent bulbs. CFL bulbs cost more than regular incandescent bulbs, but they last about 10 times longer. That means you’ll reduce landfill waste in addition to saving money on energy.

You can also save both money and water by installing low-flow shower heads. These fixtures use about half the water that regular shower heads do, and that can dramatically reduce your water bill. If you like to take hot showers, less heated water also means lower electricity or gas bills. While you’re at it, you can also check to see if your water heater is properly insulated. It takes a great deal of energy to heat such a large volume of water, so improper insulation leads to energy inefficiency.

Another way to save a great deal of energy is to switch to energy star appliances. These appliances are typically around 30 percent more efficient than regular appliances, but the cost of upgrading can be daunting. Since energy star appliances will save you money in the long run, it’s a good idea to focus on buying them when your old units break. If you can’t afford to retrofit your entire household, just make sure that you don’t purchase any more inefficient units.

Installing an energy star compliant heater or air conditioning unit is a great way to save money, but it’s also important to make sure your heating and cooling system is properly maintained. If your heating or air conditioning filter gets clogged up, the efficiency of the system will drop. You can also use a lot of unnecessary energy if your house isn’t properly insulated. The biggest cause of heat loss is a poorly insulated attic, but you can also check the crawl space and the sill plates of your entry doors. If you can feel a draft at your sill plates, you’re wasting money every time you heat or cool your home.

Money-saving Checklist

If you want to eliminate your personal electricity waste, you can:

  • Weatherize and insulate your house.
  • Replace single-pane windows with double-pane windows.
  • Seal the joints in your heating ducts.
  • Maintain your heating and cooling systems.
  • Tailor your landscaping to reduce heating and cooling costs.
  • Consider a whole-house fan instead of central A/C.
  • Install a programmable setback thermostat.
  • Turn off the lights when you leave a room.
  • Use power strips to eliminate appliance standby modes.
  • Replace indoor lightbulbs with CFL bulbs.
  • Replace outdoor lighting with energy efficient LEDs.
  • Purchase energy star appliances.
  • Switch some appliances from electricity to natural gas.
  • Install faucet aerators and low-flow shower heads.
  • Wash clothes in cold water.

Adding It All Up

The specific amount you save will depend on the number of appliances you have, where you live, and how much electricity costs in your area, but every act of electricity conservation you engage in will result in a monthly savings on your electric bill. If you shut off appliances and electronics with power strips, that can save you 10 percent right off the top of your monthly bill. Switching over to energy star appliances can save you another 30 percent, and properly insulating your house might save you over $200 every year. A programmable setback thermostat can save you about $120 each year, and washing your clothes in cold water will net you about $50 in yearly savings. You will have to spend some money to see the highest level of savings, but there are often federal and local government incentive programs that can help defray the costs.

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How to Heat Your Home Safely Fri, 29 Oct 2010 18:56:44 +0000

The cold winter months are fast approaching, and many families are concerned about keeping safe and warm. We know there are hazards involved with space heaters, but natural gas and other fuels can also be dangerous. To keep yourself and your loved ones safe this winter, follow a few basic tips on safely heating your home.

  • Carbon monoxide. Many heaters release dangerous carbon monoxide gasses, which has no smell but can cause harm to humans, including death. Make sure you have carbon monoxide detectors installed throughout your home and replace the batteries regularly.
  • Check your smoke alarms. Heating appliances can sometimes cause fires. Always be sure you have working smoke detectors on every level of the house, and check the batteries once a month to make sure they’re in good working order.
  • Space heaters. Always read the manufacturer’s instructions before using a space heater, and keep clothing, bedding, and other fabrics at least three feet away from the heater while in use. Unplug space heaters when not in use, and check the electrical cords for damage. Never place furniture or other heavy objects on top of electrical cords, as this can cause them to break or fray. Use space heaters only under close adult supervision, and never leave a space heater running unattended.
  • Chimney sweep. It isn’t just for Mary Poppins fans. Hire a chimney sweep to clean and inspect your chimney every fall. A sweep will fix any cracks, blockages and leaks in your chimney and clean out any build-up that could start a fire.
  • Professional inspection. Did you know you can hire a professional to inspect your furnace, fireplace, and other heating appliances? To make sure they’re all in good working order and don’t pose any health risks, engage a certified professional to inspect your heating system. If you have trouble finding one, contact your homeowners insurance company for a referral.
  • Fireplaces. Be sure you have a sturdy screen or glass doors to cover your fireplace and block any embers that could pop out and start a fire. Train your children to respect fire, and never use your fireplace to burn papers or other household items.
  • Insulate. One of the best tips for heating your home safely is to use less energy. Burning fuels always comes with risk, but you can reduce your fuel consumption – as well as your energy bills – by properly insulating your home.
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How to Weatherproof Your Home for Winter Tue, 26 Oct 2010 18:42:33 +0000

Whether you’re the environmental type, or just looking to save some money on your heating bills this winter, weatherproofing your home is always a good idea. Most often, the money you put into the materials and labor will come back to you in energy savings over time. There are several basic things every homeowner should do to weatherproof the house for winter.

  • Get familiar with a caulking gun. Find one you like and that you are comfortable using, then get to work. Look for gaps between door frames and the adjacent wall. Fill in any major gaps with weatherstripping, and smaller gaps with caulk. Do the same for windows.
  • Check for drafts. One simple way to check for drafts in your home is turn of the furnace and air vents, then light a stick of incense. Take the burning stick around to potential trouble spots, and watch to see where the smoke goes. If it’s being sucked out of your home, so is your heat. Another method involves shining a flashlight around the edges of windows and doors. Have a person on the other side tell you if they can detect the light. This method is good for locating major gaps, but may not be as helpful for finding small slits.
  • Install storm doors and windows. Cover screens with storm windows, and go the extra distance by applying plastic sheeting. These create insulating pockets of air that will help keep the cold air out.
  • Insulate. Does your attic have enough insulation? What about the rest of your house? Now is the time to find out. You can hire a professional to assess your home’s insulation and give you an estimate. The work may not be cheap, but the energy savings will make up for it in just a few short years.
  • Use draft protectors. Remember those funky little “snakes” that used to run under Grandma’s door in the winter months? Many outside doors are notorious for letting in drafts of cold air. Buy a draft snake or make your own to give it that personal touch. This is a great project to do with kids, and can be done very inexpensively.
  • Hire a professional. Have a home energy audit performed by a qualified technician. You can usually find one in your local phone book or ask your homeowners insurance company for a referral to a qualified specialist.

The government provides hefty tax credits for most weatherizing projects around the home, making the savings even that much greater. If you’re willing to do a little extra work, your home will be cozier all winter long.

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Eco-Friendly Insurance Offers Green Rebuilding Options Mon, 18 Oct 2010 15:32:22 +0000

The eco-friendly building market is booming, despite the housing crisis. In fact, Fast Company reports that the “green” building market will balloon to $173.5 billion by 2015. That’s billion with a “b”. That could be partly because the business sector has been increasingly turning to eco-friendly building methods as a way of both saving money long term and shoring up their image with the public. Additionally, there are government incentives for building with earth-friendly materials and retrofitting older buildings with energy savings in mind.

As a private citizen, you can also make a commitment to earth-friendly building materials and energy efficient appliances, and your homeowners insurance policy may be just one way you can do that.

  • Fireman’s Fund has been a recognized leader in the green insurance market, and has been offering its Green Homeowners policy since 2008. According to a fact sheet available from its website, Green Homeowners Insurance “offers coverage to policyholders who have green homes or who want to upgrade their residences with green features after a loss using environmental safety and efficiency standards. Homeowners with residences that are already green are granted a five percent discount.”
  • AIG member company Lexington Insurance Co. announced in 2007 its Upgrade to Green Residential insurance policy, which “was developed to help insureds rebuild their homes in an environmentally responsible way that reduces greenhouse gases and non-recyclable waste,” according to David Valzania, Lexington’s Vice President of Personal Lines. The policy covers both partial and total losses, and allows homeowners to choose Energy Star or equivalent energy-saving appliances, windows, heating and cooling systems, and more. In the case of total loss, rebuilt homes could enjoy the government-backed Energy Star label, and could benefit not only from energy savings but tax breaks as well.
  • Lexington Insurance Co. also announced its LexElite Eco-Homeowner insurance for customers who generate their own power using geothermal, solar or wind systems in 2008. The LexElite Eco-Homeowner is available as an upgrade to the LexElite policy, and provides coverage for eco-landscaping, damage to the utility company’s electrical distribution system, loss of income when homeowners aren’t able to sell surplus energy back to the grid and the additional expenses incurred when they have to buy “replacement electricity.”

With green rebuilding options for destroyed or damaged homes, consumers have the chance to get one thing they’ve never gotten from an insurance company before: something better than they already had.

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Is Solar Power Really Taking America by Storm? Fri, 23 Apr 2010 15:23:43 +0000 While there’s an awful lot of buzz out there about alternative energy sources, and while experts and pundits are constantly talking about the advantages of using power sources such as solar power, the fact remains that this technology just isn’t being accepted as rapidly as we’d like to think. In fact, less than one percent of the energy in this country comes from solar power.

Why is this, exactly? After all, elected officials have talked for decades about investing more in solar, and those in the market have worked hard to get their products out there. Some insurance companies even offer a “green discount” on your homeowners insurance policy if you go solar. There are federal tax incentives, as well as many state incentives for adopting solar technologies.

Still, while things have been slow to change, some experts suggest that the future still looks bright. Governmental incentives and regulations have never been as good as they are today, making it more attractive than ever. One of the chances that was made to tax policy during the response to the recent recession was to end the tax deduction cap of $2,000 for installing residential solar power.

In itself, that move may have doubled the residential solar industry in a single year. That’s right, doubled. On top of that new business, it also helped to create new jobs, to the tune of around 17,000.

It’s not just in the residential area that solar adoption is increasing. In the commercial solar industry, there was a 37 percent increase in the energy produced for power installations from solar sources.

It takes about $4 billion in investment and 46,000 employees at the current stage to keep the solar power industry going. Investors have their doubts, however. The largest publically traded residential solar power investment company’s stock dropped around 8 percent last year, although it is expected to rise this year. Perhaps more important and relevant will be what happens when some of the largest private solar companies go public, as they are expected to do some time this year.

Photo via mjmonty

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