Consumer Information    

Where Do Your Energy Dollars Go?

Where Do Your Energy Dollars Go?

In New York State, keeping our homes warm is typically our highest energy cost and hot water heating is usually the second highest cost in our homes.

What can you do to reduce heating costs in your home?

Lower your thermostat settings when the house is empty or when people are asleep. Research indicates that it is less expensive to reheat a cooler house than it is to keep the heat at a higher temperature 24 hours a day. One degree means a one percent savings in your bill; lowering the temperature from 72 to 68 degrees can result in a four percent savings. There are exceptions. Some households must keep their house warmer because of the medical conditions of family members and these always take priority.

How do programmable thermostats work?

Programmable thermostats are available at hardware stores everywhere and pay for themselves in a matter of weeks. If you are shopping for a thermostat, check to be sure that they have certain key features: they can be programmed to warm up the house before you or your family gets home or wakes up; they can be overridden if you change your schedule; they have separate programs for weekends and that they can be used for both central heating and central air conditioning. Ones with larger visual displays can be easier to read.

Programmable thermostats can be installed by a person in your household or by the contractor who services the heating system during routine maintenance. If you can program a VCR, you should be able to program the thermostat.

What other steps can you take to reduce your costs?

Insulation and air sealing are the second most important actions that you can take to reduce your heating bill. To find where your home is leaking air, hold a lit incense stick near the commonly found drafty areas on a windy day.

You can do a lot on your own to reduce drafts by caulking interior cracks, making sure windows are latched securely, weather-stripping or rope caulking drafty windows, installing plastic sheeting on windows, installing sweeps or weather-stripping on doors, and closing off the fireplace flue when it isn’t in use.

Even a rolled up rug or bathmat placed at the bottom of a door can block a draft. Rearrange your furniture away from windows or outside walls to improve your comfort level during winter.

Debt Settlement Companies

Debt Settlement Companies: Can They Help To Manage Your Debt?

Advertising for debt settlement companies bombards us constantly on the Internet, radio and television. If you are one of millions who are desperate for a solution to your financial problems, the claims of a debt settlement company can be very appealing.

What does a debt settlement company actually do?

These companies charge a percentage of your total debt as a fee for negotiating with your creditors on a settlement plan. They work with you to save money in an escrow account that pays down your debt.

Are there drawbacks to working with a debt settlement companies?

When you sign on to work with a debt settlement company, you will likely agree to pay them some hefty fees for their services. While they set up the escrow account for you to save money in order to pay the creditors, the company will have access to that account and will be withdrawing their fees up front.

How those fees are calculated can be difficult to figure. Some charge a percentage of the total debt; others charge a percentage of the debt savings.

There is usually a sign on fee and even a monthly service charge. Some companies not only have access to the escrow account, they will ask you to sign over power of attorney.

Debt settlement can damage your credit. If you are already behind on payments, your credit will suffer less than if you have kept up with paying on time and avoided credit charge-offs.

The creditors will not necessarily stop calling you. Even if you let your creditors know that you are working with a debt settlement company, they will continue to try to get you to pay them. In fact, the creditors could sue you for the full amount you owe. If that should happen, your recourse is to pay in full.

If you settle your debts for less than you owe, the money you “saved” is taxable. Any forgiven balance that exceeds $600 is deemed taxable income. This means that instead of owing the creditors, you can owe the Internal Revenue Service more in taxes.

Finally, in New York State, for-profit debt settlement companies are illegal. Even if such a company is located in another state, it is against the law for them to contact you and work with you as a resident of New York.

Are there other alternatives to solving a personal debt problem?

Although a debt settlement company can seem like a lifeline when you feel crushed by the weight of your debt, you can often do the work yourself. You can make arrangements with creditors; create your own savings account to pay off debt. It takes organization and persistence but it can be done.

Dehumidifers: An Appliance to Keep Your Home Dry

Dehumidifiers: A Good Appliance to Keep Your Home Dry

Why do people have dehumidifiers?

This appliance can take that sticky feeling out of damp basements and other steamy spots in your home. They are especially useful for basements where condensation, not seepage or leakage, is the cause of moisture. Because a dehumidifier does not cool the air, it is used in situations where the temperature does not need correcting but the air is too damp.

How does it work?

Dehumidifiers dry air by passing it over chilled coils, where the moisture condenses and drips into a tank.

What do they cost?

Plan to spend at least $150 for a dehumidifier and probably more. It is a good idea to buy the largest capacity one that you can afford because they will work more quickly and more efficiently and be able to handle a greater range of humidity levels with little added noise.

Like a hot water heater or refrigerator, dehumidifiers can operate continuously adding a significant cost to your electric bill. Yet, the expense can be justified when balanced against the possible moisture damage to the house and the people in it.

What should you look for when you shop?

First, you need to determine the dimensions of the area where it will be used and estimate the dampness conditions. That will give you information on the size of the appliance that you need. Large-capacity dehumidifiers tend to remove more water for every kilowatt-hour used.

Consider where the appliance will be placed in your house. Noise is a concern in living space. Models with the smallest capacity tend to be quieter.
Look for models with an Energy Star seal, which are 10 to 20% more efficient than non-Energy Star models. While dehumidifiers aren’t a big sale item, there are deals out there. New models appear in late spring and early summer, and most sales and in-store promotions occur from June through August. You might find closeout deals in the fall and early winter.

Other features that can make a difference are user friendly controls and a frost sensor that turns off when frost forms on the coils. Make sure it is easy to empty.

Castors can make it easier to move; a timer can help you to program the appliance and a washable air filter will keep it working at peak efficiency.
What can you do to fix the existing problems in your house?

Even the best dehumidifier may not alleviate an overload of house moisture. Begin by checking that gutters aren’t clogged and that downspouts are directing rainwater at least 3 feet away from the house.
Grade your property so that rainwater flows away from the foundation. Vent your dryer and exhaust fans properly.

In the basement, check the plumbing for leaks and condensation. For a damp rather than leaky basement, applying a waterproof coating (when walls are dry) may help. More extensive problems may require a sump pump, excavating and waterproofing exterior foundation walls, and installing drains outside.

Detecting a Deadly Poison

Detecting a Deadly Poison

Did you know that carbon monoxide poisoning is the number one cause of poisoning deaths in the United States?

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas so people who are exposed do not usually know it. The initial symptoms of poisoning include: headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea and dizziness. It can feel like the beginnings of flu.

When the poison levels are high, the symptoms become more severe with mental confusion, vomiting, and loss of muscle coordination. Loss of consciousness and death can be the final results. This gas kills in minutes or hours depending on the level s in the air.

How is carbon monoxide produced?

When any type of fuel is burned, including gasoline, charcoal, propane, natural gas, kerosene, oil, wood or coal, carbon monoxide is a product when the flammable material burns incompletely. Carbon monoxide is also a product of combustion which means it can be released into your home from a cracked heat exchanger in a furnace or boiler.

A new state law requires carbon monoxide detectors. In February 2010 a new law requires carbon monoxide detectors in all New York residences. The law is being called Amanda’s law in memory of sixteen year old Amanda Hansen of West Seneca who was killed by carbon monoxide poisoning due to a defective boiler in the home where she was spending the night with a friend.

Since all residences in our state with combustion appliances capable of emitting carbon monoxide must have the detector, the law covers virtually everyone. Examples of such appliances include: fuel fired heating and cooking appliances, and solid fuel burning applicances such as wood, coal, pellet stoves and fireplaces.

Residential structures built on or after January 1, 2008 must have an alarm hard wired into the home’s electrical system. The law specifies placement of the carbon monoxide detectors on each story of a residence with a sleeping area and/or within each unit where a source of the gas is located. Where more than one alarm is required in a dwelling, the alarms are to be interconnected so that they activate each other.

When a contractor replaces a combustion appliance like a furnace, boiler or domestic water heater in a home without an alarm, the contractor must install a carbon monoxide detector.

What do they cost?

A basic carbon monoxide detector costs between $20 and $30. Models with more features can cost much more. They are available at any hardware or big box store.

What other precautions can you take?

Test or replace your alarms according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Have your heating systems, vents, chimneys and flues tested and inspected each year. Never use a gas oven to heat a home and only use your grills outside. Never run a vehicle or generator indoors, even if your garage doors are open.

Thanks to Mark Pierce of Cornell University for the information in this article.

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