Top 10 Summer Energy-Saving Tips - Stay Cool Without Going Broke:

When temperatures rise, your utility bill doesn’t have to follow suit. Try these 10 tips to cut your summer energy use:
  • Work your thermostat. Electric thermostats can be programmed so that the A/C isn’t on when you don’t need it. Set the thermostat at 82° before you leave for work in the morning and at 77° when you get home.
  • Live off-peak. In many cities, electricity usage is calculated on a time-of-use rate. Go online and determine when your off-peak hours are and run your dishwasher, washing machine, and dryer at these times. Often, electricity rates are the lowest early in the morning, at night, and on the weekends.
  • Draft-proof. Drafts in your homes are big energy wasters. Find out where air is escaping by performing a simple air-leak test. Take a piece of tissue and go through your entire house holding the tissue near windows and door frames, electrical outlets, baseboards, and other possible leakage locations. If the tissue moves, consider sealing in these gaps with caulking and weather stripping. The materials you need are relatively inexpensive and can reduce loss energy loss by up to 10%.
  • Keep the light out. Closing your blinds and curtains during the day can naturally cool your home by blocking heat that otherwise would have come in through your windows.
  • Improve your habits. Do you let the water run when you brush your teeth? Do you keep your fridge door open for a long time while you decide what to eat? Be aware of these bad habits and try to pick up a few good ones, including: taking shorter showers, turning off the lights when you leave the room, and watering the lawn at night.
  • Reduce your phantom load. Phantom load is the electricity consumed by a device when it is turned off. For example, your television, video game console, cable box, laptop, and cell phone chargers all suck up energy even when they’re not on. Ensure that these devices are unplugged when they’re not being used. Alternatively, plug them into a power bar and turn off the bar before you go to bed and when you leave for work in the morning.
  • Wash laundry efficiently. Becoming smarter about how you do your laundry not only saves you money, but it also protects valuable fresh-water resources. Roughly 90% of your washing machine’s energy consumption comes from heating water, so wash your laundry in cold water whenever possible. Loading the washer to its capacity at all times uses up less energy than washing two medium loads. Also, set your machine to the shortest wash time, and forgo the extra rinse cycle.
  • Hang your clothes to dry. The dryer is a huge source of energy. During the summer, hang your clothes outside to dry and/or dry them on a clothes rack indoors.
  • Lighten up with energy-efficient bulbs. The electricity used over the lifetime of a single incandescent bulb costs five to 10 times the original purchase price of the bulb itself. Replace your regular light bulbs with either Light Emitting Diode (LED) or Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFL) bulbs, which are more energy-efficient and longer lasting.
  • Get informed about your energy use. Understand the options you have available for managing your energy consumption, such as home energy monitors and other applications. And take advantage of the many rebates and incentives available from your government or utility.
Source:  Centre for Urban Energy at Ryerson University

New Heating and Cooling Regulations

It’s important to know that the Department of Energy (DOE) raised the minimum efficiency standard for HVAC units to 14 SEER in most regions of the U.S. as of January 1, 2015.
What is SEER?
SEER stands for “Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio.” SEER can be compared to miles per gallon on your car. The higher the number, the more efficient the HVAC unit.

What are the new SEER regulations in the SOUTH Region? 

Heat Pumps
The standard for all split-system heat pumps has increased to the new national heat pump efficiency minimum of 14 SEER and 8.2 HSPF (Heating Seasonal Performance Factor).
Air Conditioners

The AC standard has increased to 14 SEER.

Existing systems less than 14 SEER may continue to be used as long as they can be repaired with available parts. Replacement systems less than 14 SEER may continue to be purchased and installed as long as the system was manufactured prior to January 1, 2015. 13 SEER (straight cool units) may still be installed until June 30, 2016.

More efficient systems are often larger and contain more expensive components. When you purchase a home, this is an important reason to get a one-year home warranty on the property. Most policies will protect you from potentially higher repair and replacement costs, and they will continue to install the appropriate SEER equipment for covered breakdowns. It’s always important to check contract details to understand coverage limitations. For example, making structural changes to accommodate the new larger systems will not be covered.

A significant value to consider is that when a covered breakdown occurs, the repair may require installation of more efficient equipment which could present compatibility problems with the existing system components. In these situations most home warranty companies will replace the covered components necessary to make the system compatible. Just make sure you read the policy to know what's covered and call the company to do the repairs.

For more details on the new guidelines, go to:

Student Loans - Planning for and paying for them

Not sure how you (or your kids) will pay for college? You might be planning on a combination of savings, scholarships and grants, but it doesn't hurt to understand your options for student loans too.
Where can students get a loan?
There are two main categories of student loans:
  • Federal loans -- Federal government loans with fixed interest rates. Repayment isn't required until after graduation.
  • Private loans -- From a bank or other entity, these loans often have variable rates. Repayment may begin while the student is still in school.
Federal or private -- which is best?
Experts generally recommend applying for federal loans first because they typically come with lower interest rates and more flexible repayment options. The first step is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and then to consider three types of federal loans:
  • Federal Direct Loans -- Unsubsidized loans are available to all students, regardless of financial need. These loans start accumulating interest as soon as they are received. Some students may qualify for subsidized loans, which cover the interest while the recipient is in school.
  • Federal PLUS Loans -- Geared to graduate and professional degree students, or parents of students pursuing undergraduate degrees, a PLUS loan requires a credit check.
  • Federal Perkins Loans -- These are need-based, government-funded loans administered by the college or university. The amount available to an individual student depends on how much is still available at the school, so apply early.
How to "fill in the gaps." Federal loans may not be enough to cover all education costs. In that case, a private loan may help. The school's financial aid office can help identify the available options, but they generally fall into three categories:
  • State agency loans (for residents or students enrolled at a school in the state)
  • Traditional bank loans (credit check and co-signer are typically required)
  • School loans (administered by the school, often with fixed rates)
With all of these alternatives, it may be tempting to borrow too much. Students should consider the earning potential of their major before borrowing, and take only what can be repaid within a reasonable timeframe (usually about 10 years).

That way, student loans won't end up as a burden; instead, they'll be a smart investment in the future.

Source: Sharon Floyd, Residence Lending (210) 317-8834

Tips for Choosing the Right Paint Sheen

There’s a basic rule of thumb to follow when choosing paint sheens: The higher the sheen, the higher the shine — and the higher the shine, the more durable it will be.
Flat paint has no shine; high-gloss is all shine. In between are eggshell, satin, and semi-gloss, each with its own practical and decorative job to do.

High Gloss
The most durable and easiest to clean of all paint sheens, high-gloss paint is hard, ultra-shiny, and light-reflecting. Think appliance-paint tough.
High gloss is a good choice for area that sticky fingers touch — cabinets, trim, and doors. High-gloss, however, is too much shine for interior walls. And like a Spandex dress, high gloss shows every bump and roll, so don’t skimp on prep work.
  • Practical application: kitchens, door, and window trim
  • Durability: very high
Good for rooms where moisture, drips, and grease stains challenge walls. Also great for trim work that takes a lot of abuse.
  • Practical application: kitchens, bathrooms, trim, chair rails
  • Durability: high
Has a yummy luster that, despite the name, is often described as velvety. It’s easy to clean, making it excellent for high-traffic areas. Its biggest flaw is it reveals application flaws, such as roller or brush strokes. Touch-ups later can be tricky.
  • Practical application: family rooms, foyers, hallways, kids’ bedrooms
  • Durability: high
Between satin and flat on the sheen (and durability) scale is eggshell, so named because it’s essentially a flat (no-shine) finish with little luster, like a chicken’s egg. Eggshell covers wall imperfections well and is a great finish for gathering spaces that don’t get a lot of bumps and scuffs.
  • Practical application: dining rooms, living rooms
  • Durability: medium
Flat or Matte
A friend to walls that have something to hide, flat/matte soaks up, rather than reflects, light. It has the most pigment and will provide the most coverage, which translates to time and money savings. However, it’s tough to clean without taking paint off with the grime.
  • Practical application: adults’ bedrooms and other interior rooms that won’t be roughed up by kids
  • Durability: medium-low