Three Home Tips from Eagles’ Nests

I’ve spent hours over the past week peering into the nest of two bald eagles named Mr. President and First Lady. I’ve seen two eaglets hatch. I’ve watched feedings, seen the little guys peck at each other (playfully, I hope), and wondered at how the parents can sit on top of the eaglets for hours without hurting them.

But the most fascinating thing has been the domesticity of it all. Based on my observations, and a (very) little research, here are three tips for our homes that we humans can take from our white-headed, feathered friends:

(1) Location, Location, Location. Eagles are very selective about where they build their nests. Ideally, they want to be close to water, where they can find fish for meals. We humans should be mindful of our community as well. Shopping, activities, schools, parks – – all add to your home’s value and your quality of life. You can read more about the importance of location in Houses Stand Alone; Homes Exist in Communities.

(2) Build Together. Both the male and female eagles work on the nest. Likewise, if you’re sharing your home with others, you’ll want their buy-in on major decorating and remodeling decisions. This is so important that many remodeling contractors won’t meet with just one member of a couple. Experience tells them things are likely to fall apart, or at best they’re in for a difficult experience, when the person who didn’t participate in the planning sees something during construction they don’t like.  Get everyone’s input in the planning stages, before that first hammer is swung.

(3) Never Stop Improving. This week, once the babies were hatched, I noticed First Lady constantly fussing with the nest in between feedings. She’d rearrange the soft straw layer around herself, probably for warmth. Legend has it that eagles build the outer layer of the nest with pointy sticks oriented inward, then line it with softer material. As the eaglets grow, the parents gradually remove the softer layers, so that the nest is eventually uncomfortable and the eaglets want to leave.  Lessons for us? Keep your home current and comfortable, but consider turning Junior’s bedroom into your sitting room or library if he’s approaching 30 and still living at home!

You can watch Mr. President, First Lady, and their two eaglets on the 24/7 National Arboretum live eaglecam.

Now, go forth and feather your nest!

Image courtesy of Gualberto107 at


Give Your Home Some Luck o’ the Irish

What do you think of on St. Patrick’s Day? Green beer, corned beef, leprechauns? Here at HomeWise, we’re put in mind of “going green” to save energy and money.

Here’s are 5 things you can do to keep a little of your hard-earned “green.”

  1. Switch to Energy Star-Rated Light Bulbs. Sure, they cost a little more than standard bulbs, but they’ll last 10 times longer so you’ll not have to buy them nearly as often. These bulbs consume 75% less energy too and could knock up to $30 off your energy bill over each bulb’s lifetime.
  1. Stop Energy Leaks. Most homeowners can undertake small energy- and money-saving fixes themselves or with the help of a licensed handyman for relatively little cost. Examples include elimination of drafts by caulking or weather stripping around window frames, electrical outlets, switch plates and baseboards, or fixing ill-fitting chimney flues.
  1. Beef Up Insulation. There are different types of insulation – – fiber glass and spray foam are two – – and different places where adding it can be of particular benefit – – most notably attics and crawl spaces. Proper insulation can improve your home’s energy usage by as much as 30%.
  1. Snuggie-Up Your Water Heater. Wrapping an insulation blanket around that big tank could lower the cost of running it by as much as 9%.
  1. Give Your House the Old Once-Over. “Audit” is an ugly word, conjuring up visions of payments and penalties, especially as we enter tax season. However, an energy audit of your home is a different sort of audit altogether. It could actually reveal where to best spend your home improvement dollars for future energy and money savings. The field of energy auditing is relatively new so homeowners should watch out for fly-by-night companies. Make sure the professional you work with has undergone a training and certification program like those offered by the Building Performance Institute (BPI) and the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET). We know properly trained folks in this field here at HomeWise and would be glad to help you.

Wise homeowners save some green with energy-efficient fixes. Now, go forth and consume wisely!

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Spring Home Checklist

Spring is here! What do you need to do to make sure your home is ready? Here’s a quick list of things to consider:

  • Clean Gutters. Spring is always rainy. If your gutters and downspouts are clogged, water will back up and cause roof damage or problems with your walls and ceilings inside the house.
  • Tune Up Your Sump Pump. Consult a waterproofing expert if you don’t already have a system to keep the basement dry during the rainy season. If you have a sump pump, make sure there is battery back-up so it doesn’t stop working during a power outage.
  • Wash Windows. Yes, you’ll want to wait until the worst of the rainy season is over, but get estimates and book your window washers now. They’ll be getting busy very quickly.
  • Powerwash Deck. Often, the same company that washes your windows can expertly powerwash your deck too. You might as well be ready for outdoor entertaining now that the weather has turned nice.
  • Prepare Your Lawn. If you did your fall lawn maintenance properly (see here), your grass should be coming up green and gorgeous in no time. Check for soil compaction (will a gardening fork sink two inches with little effort?) and aerate and dethatch if necessary. Wait for the rain to stop and the lawn to dry out then rake gently to remove any leaves or debris leftover from fall and winter. Put down some pre-emergent weed control and plan for a second application in the summer, about three months later. Get your mower tuned up so it’s ready for its heavy working season.
  • Begin Planning for Remodels. If you want to wow your holiday guests with a new kitchen or bath, now’s the time to plan. It could take a good deal of time to find the right contractor, get a design, and choose your products. After that, you’ll need to wait for products to come in (cabinets take at least six weeks) and permits to be pulled (you’re at the mercy of your county or city on the permitting timeline). The installation alone could take four weeks or more, depending on the size of your job.

Wise homeowners plan for the changes every season brings. Now, go forth and spring into action!

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Is it a DIY Project or a Contractor Job? Some Guidelines . . .

As we go into spring, and you begin to consider all the repair projects you’d like to do around the house, how do you know what you can do yourself and what you need a pro for? Here’s the advice we provided in a blog from 2013, and it’s just as timely today:

Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, right? For instance, if you need someone to play piano, or balance your checkbook, I’m your gal (I’m pretty good at both those things.) But, I am absolutely the last person you should contact if you want a dress hemmed or your hair braided (on this last one, just ask my daughters.)

Recognizing when you need help, therefore, is important. In the case of home improvement, getting it wrong could be, at least, expensive and, at most, dangerous.

So, in the interest of making sure we all make wise choices about our home maintenance and repairs, here is a list of situations in which you’re better off hiring a contractor than trying to do the work yourself:

  1. Electrical Work. Pretty much “any and all”. Yeah, I know. People routinely switch out their own light fixtures. But did you know that homes older than about 30 years may be wired such that, if you replace a hanging or mounted fixture that is not flush-mounted with one that is flush-mounted, you create a fire hazard? Likewise, were you aware that installing the wrong type of canister lights in a space with insulation in the ceiling may lead to overheating and fire? Yeah, I didn’t know either until I nearly burned the house down a couple of times. But, do you know who does know that stuff? Licensed electricians.  Bottom line: don’t mess with electricity. Let the experts handle it. The money you think you’re saving by doing it yourself will, quite literally, go up in smoke if you make a mistake because you don’t know what you don’t know.
  2. Anything having to do with gas appliances. Examples: gas water heaters, gas dryers, gas stoves, gas fireplaces, gas furnaces. Here, the reasoning is pretty much the same as with the electrical work. Leaking gas lines can kill you. Period. If what you plan to do includes a step that looks anything like this – “Then, you turn off the gas feed” . . . common sense needs to prevail. Let a licensed gasfitter take care of that for you. It’s called a “master license” for a reason.
  3. Anything structural. As tempting as it may be to take a sledge hammer to that wall that blocks your view from the kitchen to the family room – – DON’T DO IT!!! You probably can’t tell whether it is load bearing and there may be electrical, plumbing or ductwork running through it that you do not want to smash. Similarly, resist the temptation to do any project where you think you might have to cut into trusses or joists (found in attics holding up the roof and in basements holding up the floor above.) Even a small cut can compromise integrity and lead to sinking floors, weak spots in the roof or worse.
  4. Work on gutters and roofs. There are really two issues here. The first is safety. Working at heights is dangerous. If you live alone, are old enough to be on AARP’s mailing list (I’m very nearly there myself), are pregnant, or have issues with balance or vertigo, be safe and hire someone to clean your gutters or inspect your roof. The second issue is one of expertise, just like in numbers 1 – 3 above. Power washing the green slime off your roof is not only dangerous (green slime = slippery), but you can do structural damage if you spray too hard. Likewise, any repairs you do to roofs and gutters, especially if you’re swinging a hammer, need to be accomplished with the right sorts of nails and other products to make sure you don’t get moisture in the holes later.
  5. Any project you’ve been “meaning to do” for six months or more.  Face it: you’re not going to do it. What’s the cost of a good handyman or carpenter compared to the daily buildup of stress caused by having to trip over the same warped floorboard, or look at that cracked and peeling trim paint, for another year?

I’m certain this list isn’t exhaustive, but it gives you enough information to see the issues.  Any project that requires expertise, puts you or your home in danger of injury, or isn’t something you’re likely to get to (your spouse’s nagging notwithstanding), needs an expert.

Now, go forth and be wise!

Four Little-Known Tax Deductions for Homeowners

April 15 is fewer than two months away, and you could use all the tax advantages homeownership has to offer, right? To that end, here is a list of four easily-overlooked deductions available to homeowners.

First, a disclaimer: We at HomeWise are in no way tax experts. Please consult a professional tax preparer to be sure you are applying deductions accurately.

  1. Home Office Deduction

If part of your property is dedicated to the regular operation of your trade or business, storage of business inventory, operation of a daycare, or rental use, you can take a deduction based on the total expenses of the home multiplied by the percentage of space used for business or based on a flat $5 per square foot of dedicated business space. For instructions on this deduction, see IRS Publication 587.

  1. Home Improvements for Medical Reasons

The cost of renovations to accommodate the disabled or chronically ill could qualify as a medical expense deduction to the extent that they, together with all your medical expenses, exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income (7.5% if you or your spouse are 65 or older). For a fuller explanation, see IRS Publication 502.

  1. Home Mortgage Points – Even if the Seller Paid Them

Yup. That’s right. If you purchased a home, points paid at closing are likely deductible by you, the buyer, regardless of whether you or the seller paid them. Whether you can deduct them all in the same year or have to spread them over the life of the loan depends on whether you meet certain criteria. You can similarly deduct points paid for home improvement loans. Refinance loan points may only be deducted over the life of the loan. IRS Publication 936 explains it more fully.

  1. Mortgage Insurance Premiums

If you purchased a home with less than 20% down, you probably are paying for private mortgage insurance (the lender’s hedge against you defaulting on the loan.) [As an aside, if you can demonstrate that your current loan principal is less than 80% of the property value, you can petition your lender to get the PMI removed.] Congress has extended through the end of 2016 the deduction for qualified mortgage insurance premiums (including mortgage insurance premiums on reverse mortgages in certain situations), as long as your adjusted gross income doesn’t exceed $109,000 (and your deduction is phased down for every $1000 of income between $100,000 and $109,000). The Mortgage Insurance Deduction is also explained in IRS Publication 936, referenced above.

Wise homeowners pay all the taxes they owe, but none that they don’t. Now, go forth and deduct fully!

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

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