Friday, August 29, 2014

What Does Homeowners Insurance Cover?

What Does Homeowners Insurance Cover?

By: Dona DeZube      Published: July 15, 2013
You’d be surprised at what your home insurance policy doesn’t cover. Here’s what is and isn’t covered by your insurance. What does your homeowners insurance cover? The short answer is: “A basic homeowners insurance policy (called HO-1 in insurance lingo) covers your home and possessions if they’re damaged or destroyed by these things:
  • Fire
  • Lightning
  • Windstorm (unless you live in a hurricane zone)
  • Hail (not available everywhere)
  • Explosion
  • Riots
  • Civil commotion
  • Aircraft  (and things falling from aircraft)
  • Vehicles (and things thrown from vehicles)
  • Smoke
  • Vandalism (although some policies exclude this)
  • Malicious mischief
  • Theft
  • Volcanic eruption
But many states don’t allow this basic policy to be sold. Instead, you have to buy an upgraded policy that covers more perils.
Upgraded Homeowners Insurance
That upgraded policy (called HO-2) adds protection to your home and possessions from even more perils. You get protection from everything on the HO-1 list (above) plus:
  • Falling objects
  • The weight of ice, snow, or sleet
  • Flooding from your appliances, plumbing, HVAC, or fire-protection sprinkler system
  • Damage to electrical parts caused by artificially generated electrical currents (such as a power surge not caused by lightning). But damaged electronics such as computers aren't covered.
  • Glass breakage
  • Abrupt collapse (say from termite damage)
That same list applies to the homeowners insurance you buy for a condominium or co-op (except then it’s called HO-6 instead of HO-2). With HO-1, HO-2, and HO-6, what you see is what you get. So if zombies attacked your home, your HO-1 or HO-2 wouldn’t cover the damage because zombies aren’t on the list of specific things those policies cover.
The Most Complete Homeowners Insurance
The most complete and protective form of homeowners insurance (called HO-3) covers you for all perils except some specific ones like:
  • Floods
  • Earthquakes
  • Wars
  • Nuclear accidents
  • Landslides
  • Mudslides
  • Sinkholes
With this policy, if zombies attacked, you’d be covered because zombies weren’t specifically excluded by your HO-3 policy.
What Homeowners Insurance Doesn’t CoverNo matter which basic policy you get, it’s not going to cover everything than can damage or destroy your home. Typical homeowners policies don’t cover: Bad things that happen because you failed to maintain your home (like mold)
  • Hurricanes
  • Floods
  • Earthquakes
  • Mudslides
  • Landslides
  • Sinkholes
  • War
  • Nuclear accidents
  • Sewer backups
  • Sump pump failure
  • Ground movement and holes caused by mining (known as mine subsidence insurance)
  • Pollution
You can buy additional policies to cover some but not all of those perils (a quick Google search didn’t turn up any nuclear accident coverage).
About Hurricane Insurance | Should You Get Flood Insurance? | Is Terrorism Covered by Home Insurance? | Should You Get Sinkhole Insurance? | About Earthquake Insurance
And even if insurance is available for the most common natural disaster in your area, you may not be able to buy it if your home has features that make it vulnerable. For example, a home with unrated wood shake roof shingles may be tough to insure in an area where wildfires are common.
Other Things Homeowners Insurance Covers
In addition to covering your home, homeowners insurance also covers four more things:
1. Your outbuildings, landscaping, and hardscaping. If you have outbuildings (like a barn), landscaping, or hardscaping (like fences), your homeowners policy most likely covers those for up to 10% of your policy amount (5% for plants). For example, if you have $100,000 in homeowners insurance and someone drives into your fence, the policy would cover 10%, or $10,000 in repairs.
Sometimes policies exclude damage to outbuildings, landscaping, or hardscaping caused by a particular peril (like wind).
2. Damage or loss of your personal belongings. Your homeowners policy covers your family’s belongings, even when you take them out of the house. If your child heads to college with a laptop and it’s stolen, that’s probably covered by your homeowners insurance policy. A home insurance policy covers a lot of your personal belongings, but not necessarily everything. You’ll need additional insurance if you have many expensive items like jewelry, furs, or antiques. Policies will either state that your personal belongings are insured for replacement cost or cash value. Replacement cost means that the insurance company will pay the full cost of replacing an item (such as the laptop mentioned above, or a sofa damaged in a fire) once you show a receipt. Cash value means the insurance company will issue you a check for the amount that the laptop or sofa would have been worth when it was stolen or destroyed.
3. Temporary living expenses if your home is so damaged you can’t live in it. When you can’t live in your home, your homeowners insurance covers your living expenses, including hotel bills and meals. But, you can’t live in the hotel forever and eat lobster every night on the insurance company’s tab. Your policy will have limits on how long you stay and how much you can spend.
4. Injuries or accidents at your house. Homeowners insurance coverage includes liability – meaning it covers you when you or your family members cause injuries or damage. This coverage also pays when your dog bites someone (medical payments) or someone falls and injures themselves.
Add an umbrella policy to boost your liability coverage into the millions.
Homeowners Insurance for Older Homes
There’s another kind of homeowners insurance (HO-8) used when your home is so old it would be impossible to replace. It couldn't be built like the original -- that is, new electrical code wouldn't permit the same electrical, etc. An HO-8 policy covers the same perils as the basic HO-1, but will only pay you the repair cost or market value instead of the replacement value. If your home is old, but not so old that it’s historic, you might want another homeowners insurance coverage. A “law and ordinance” policy covers the cost of rebuilding using today’s building codes. It’s good to have if the building codes have changed a lot (for example, in Florida) since your home was built.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Tips for Pet Proofing Your Home

    New puppy -

 You wouldn’t think about introducing a baby to a home without making sure you childproofed it – installing covers for your electrical outlets, padding corners on coffee and end tables, and adding gates at the top and bottom of stairways. So why would you react any differently if the baby you’re bringing home has four legs instead of two? With babies, you get a grace period before they become mobile – you can take your time preparing for them to crawl or toddle around. With a dog or cat, you don’t have that luxury. You’ve got to be proactive and pet-proof your house from the start.
In the House
Some of the tips for pet-proofing your home closely mirror steps you would take for an infant:
· Childproof latches: Keep your animals out of cabinets, especially those that might have cleaning solutions and other chemicals. 
· Trash cans: There are two options – either keep them covered or put them inside one of those latched cabinets.
· The bathroom bowl: Babies love water, and so do pets. Keep the lids down to prevent them from drowning or drinking contaminated water.
· Wiring: Gather dangling wires from lamps, televisions, and other items and secure them out of reach of pets.
· Food: Keep all food in a pantry. Some foods – chocolate, for example – can be poisonous to dogs and cats. Cats also can be put at risk by eating bread dough, ethyl alcohol, and garlic or onions. Even if a particular food isn’t dangerous, its packaging may be. Pets can choke on plastic wrapping, in particular.
· Plants: Some houseplants are dangerous to pets – dieffenbachia and philodendrons come to mind. Make sure yours aren’t harmful.
In the Garage
Again, you likely don’t plan for your cat or dog to spend time in the garage, but it could happen. Prepare for any situation:
· Out of reach: Keep fertilizer, pesticide, paint, gasoline, antifreeze, and other dangerous substances on high shelves or in locked cabinets.
· Tool box: Use your tool box for its intended purpose – store sharp tools, nails, and screws inside it.
· Cut the clutter: Do yourself a favor and clear all the junk out of the garage. It will cut down on the number of hiding places should your pet make its way there.
   Worried you missed something? Get down on all fours and try to look at each room from your pet’s perspective. Look for stuff that’s shiny, dangling, and dangerous.
Don’t Forget the Basics
   Two primary ways to ensure the safety of your animal companion don’t actually involve changes to your house, but they have great importance.

·   Spay or neuter your pet. What do these procedures have to do with safety? Plenty. Spaying and neutering reduce the instinct to roam and improve the health and well-being of pets.
    ID, please. Even if you plan for your pet to stay indoors (in the case of cats) or on a leash when outside (in the case of dogs), be sure to provide the animal with a collar, ID tags, and, in the best-case scenario, a microchip that will access your contact information when scanned at a shelter or veterinary clinic. It only takes a second for a dog to get off a leash or a cat to dart through an open door.
     Finally, if you live in an area prone to natural disasters, such as hurricanes or tornadoes, keep your pet in mind when formulating a disaster plan. Understand that most emergency shelters won’t accept even the friendliest dogs or cats, so adjust your strategy accordingly. 
    Just remember – when you’re growing your family, your babies, whether they cry, bark, or meow, depend on you to keep them safe. Don’t let them down.
Written by Arthur Murray,

Monday, August 25, 2014

Back to School Shopping Tips

Get the best deals for back-to-school shopping

Reduce the hassle of back-to-school shopping with these money-saving tips.
Every family has its own game plan for back-to-school shopping, but navigating all the sales and traffic can be a hassle. Use these tips to save money on school supplies and have a stress-free shopping experience. 
Use price comparison applications
Your smartphone can turn you into a smart shopper. Apps like SaleSorter show you what stores in the area are having major sales. You can use this app and similar technology to find the best deals on clothing and school supplies.
Another valuable app is the ShopSaavy Barcode Scanner. If you have a nagging feeling that you could get a product cheaper at a different store, this app lets you scan the barcode and will display prices at other retailers.
Take advantage of price matching
If you see a great deal advertised at Target, but Wal-Mart is closer to your house, there's no need to expend the extra gas. Wal-Mart offers price matching on any item, so bring along flyers from other stores. Staples has a similar price match guarantee. Not only will they match a lower price on an item, but they'll give you an extra 10 percent off the difference. If you patronize a different retailer, see if they have a price-matching policy. It never hurts to ask.
Shop online
If you're looking for an excuse to skip the craziness of the mall, U.S. News & World Report reported that you can find great back-to-school deals online. If you subscribe to promotional emails, there are often Internet-only deals that are just as good as the ones you'll find in stores. If you're willing to spend a little time searching, you can probably find coupon codes for free shipping or whole-purchase discounts.
Wait until school starts
In the rush to get things off the to-do list, we can sometimes jump the gun on shopping. If your child is taking five classes, why not just buy five notebooks and folders and be done with it? There are two reasons why this isn't the best approach. The first is that some teachers have specific requirements – a three-ring binder or a three-subject notebook – that you won't know until school starts. Secondly, back-to-school sales are usually the best during the first few weeks of school. While it may not be the easiest option, waiting for school to start might be the best way to save money.

Friday, August 22, 2014

6 Tips for Buying a Home in Short Sale

6 Tips for Buying a Home in a Short Sale

Published: March 19, 2010
By preparing for a real estate short sale, you can emerge with a great home at a favorable price.
When sellers need to sell their home for less than they owe on their mortgage, they’re shooting for a short sale. Short sale homes can sometimes be bargains, but only if you do your homework, stay patient, and remain unemotional during the sometimes lengthy and difficult short sale process.
Here are six tips for protecting yourself emotionally and financially when bidding on a short sale.

1. Get help from a short sale expert

A real estate agent experienced in short sales can identify which homes are being offered as short sales, help you determine a purchase price, and advise you on what to include in your offer to make the lender view it favorably. Ask agents how many buyers they've represented in short sales and, of those, how many successfully closed the transaction.

2. Build a team

Ask agents to recommend real estate attorneys knowledgeable in short sales and title experts. A title officer can do a title search to identify all the liens attached to a property you’re interested in. Because each lienholder must consent to a short sale, a property with multiple liens, like first and second mortgages, mechanic’s and condominium liens, or homeowners association liens, will be harder to purchase.

A title search may cost $250 to $300 up front, but it can help weed out less desirable properties requiring multiple approvals.

3. Know the home’s fair market value

By agreeing to a short sale, lenders are consenting to lose money on the loan they made to the sellers to purchase the home. Their goal is to keep those losses as low as possible. If your offer is dramatically less than the home’s fair market value, it may be rejected. Your agent can help you identify the price that’s good for you. The lender will determine whether approval is in its best interest.

4. Expect delays

There are two stages to a short sale. First, the sellers must consent to your purchase offer. Then they must submit it to their lender, along with documentation to convince the lender to agree to the sale.

The lender approval process can take weeks or months, even longer if the lender counteroffers. Expect bigger delays if several lienholders are involved; each can make a counteroffer or reject your offer.

5. Firm up your financing

Lenders will weigh your ability to close the transaction. If you're preapproved for a mortgage, have a large downpayment, and can close at any time, they’ll consider your offer stronger than that of a buyer whose financing is less secure.

6. Avoid contingencies

If you must sell your current home before you can close on the short-sale property, or you need to close by a firm deadline, your offer may present too many moving parts for a lender to approve it.

Also, consider ordering an inspection so you’re fully informed about the home. Keep in mind that lenders are unlikely to approve an offer seeking repairs or credits for such work. You’ll probably have to purchase the home “as is,” which means in its present condition.

This article includes general information about tax laws and consequences, but isn't intended to be relied upon by readers as tax or legal advice applicable to particular transactions or circumstances. Consult a tax professional for such advice; tax laws may vary by jurisdiction.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Local Hummingbirds - Is it Time to Migrate?

Ruby-throated male

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)

The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is by far the most common species that breeds in the eastern half of North America, although most states have sporadic Rufous sightings, and Bob and Martha Sargent have banded eight other hummingbird species as winter visitors to five southeastern states. Ruby-throats are intensely inquisitive and thus easily attracted to feeders, where males in particular typically display aggressive territoriality toward rival hummers, other birds, and even insects such as bees, butterflies, and sphinx moths. They quickly become accustomed to human presence, and will swoop down to investigate red articles of clothing, possibly as potential food sources. Feeders hung at windows attract as many visitors as ones farther from structures, and the bird that claims a feeder as its territory may spend much of the day perched nearby, guarding the food source against intruders. Many hummingbird watchers find "Hummer Warz" endlessly entertaining, although the chases are obviously serious business to the hungry birds. For a short period immediately after fledging, a female will tolerate the presence of her own young at the feeder, but they are soon treated the same as other adult birds - as rivals in pursuit of the food necessary to prepare for the fall migration.
Courtship is apparently very brief, if it exists at all, and once mated the female raises the young alone. The walnut-sized nest, built by the female, is constructed on a foundation of bud scales attached to a tree limb with spider silk; lichens camouflage the outside, and the inside is lined with dandelion, cattail, or thistle down. The nest will stretch to contain the growing nestlings, and may sometimes be reused (rebuilt) the following year.
Two white, pea-sized eggs are laid two or three days apart, which the female will incubate from 60 to 80 percent of the day for 12-16 days. Reports of the duration of the nestling phase vary from 14 to 31 days, the wide range possibly varying with the availability of food; 18-23 days is normal. when they leave the nest, the chicks are considerably larger than their mothers: they may weigh 4.5 grams, while poor Mom is down to only 2.5 g after the stress of raising them. Since the mother starts incubating the first egg as soon as it's laid, that chick will hatch and fledge earlier than its sibling; it will remain close to the nest until the other chick is ready to fly. After leaving the nest, fledglings are fed by their mother for about 10 days. It is thought that Ruby-throats live as long as 12 years, but the average is probably 3-5 years.
Physical Description
Average length: 3.5 inches (8.9 cm)
Average weight: 1/8 ounce (3.1 g)
Body temperature: 105°-108°F (40.5°-42.2°C)
Wing beats: 40-80 per second, average about 52
Respiration: 250 per minute
Heart rate: 250 beats/min resting; 1200 beats/min feeding
Flight speed: 30 mph (48 kph) normal; 50 mph (80 kph) escape; 63 mph (101 kph) dive
Adult male: Emerald green back, iridescent ruby red gorget (throat) that may appear black under some lighting conditions, gray flanks, forked tail with no white. Smaller than the female.
Adult female: Emerald green back, white breast and throat, rounded tail with white tips. Larger than the male, with longer bill.
Juveniles: Young of both sexes look like the adult female. In August and September, young males may develop some red spots in the gorget.
Molts: One complete molt per year, which may start during the fall migration and continue into March. Young males acquire full ruby gorgets during their first molt.
Gender identification is simple if the light is right: the brilliant red gorget of the male is unmistakable. More commonly, though, the shape and presence of white on the tail is a more reliable field mark.
Distribution and Migration
Ruby-throats breed throughout eastern to midwestern North America, from southern Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Most winter in Mexico, Central America, and on Caribbean islands, although a few remain in the Gulf states and the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Most researchers accept a remarkable non-stop crossing of the Gulf, taking 18-20 hours. They arrive at the coast in late February or early March, and follow the development of spring flowers northward, reaching my home in St. Louis on April 20 +/- 2 days. Males migrate earlier than females, in both directions; some adult males start south as early as JUly. Our female breeding birds leave here (St. Louis) in September, with the young of the year following; the last juveniles depart abruptly at first frost (mid-October). By mid-November the fall migration is essentially completed throughout North America.
A fanciful and amusing myth has arisen regarding hummers hitching rides on other birds.
Sources: Bob and Martha Sargent, Stokes Guide to Bird BehaviorAudubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds (Eastern Region)
For maps try:
* As a footnote: If you are actively feeding hummers at your house now, by the end of summer it has been said that you should increase the "nectar" (or sugar) to water ratio (slightly) in their food so they can fatten up for the long migration south. Watch for "over-wintering" birds as occasionally one will decide to stay no matter what.
Original credit:   2014

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Posted: 14 Aug 2014 04:00 AM PDT    on behalf of The KCM Blog

5 Reasons to Hire a Real Estate Professional | Keeping Current Matters

Whether you are buying or selling a home, it can be quite an adventurous journey. You need an experienced Real Estate Professional to lead you to your ultimate goal. In this world of instant gratification and internet searches, many sellers think that they can For Sale by Owner or FSBO. The 5 Reasons You NEED a Real Estate Professional in your corner haven’t changed, but have rather been strengthened in recent months due to the projections of higher mortgage interest rates & home prices as the market continues to recover.

1. What do you do with all this paperwork?

Each state has different regulations regarding the contracts required for a successful sale, and these regulations are constantly changing. A true Real Estate Professional is an expert in their market and can guide you through the stacks of paperwork necessary to make your dream a reality.

2. Ok, so you found your dream house, now what?

According to the Orlando Regional REALTOR Association, there are over 230 possible actions that need to take place during every successful real estate transaction. Don’t you want someone who has been there before, who knows what these actions are to make sure that you acquire your dream?

3. Are you a good negotiator?

So maybe you’re not convinced that you need an agent to sell your home. However, after looking at the list of parties that you need to be prepared to negotiate with, you’ll realize the value in selecting a Real Estate Professional. From the buyer (who wants the best deal possible), to the home inspection companies, to the appraiser, there are at least 11 different people that you will have to be knowledgeable with and answer to, during the process.

4. What is the home you’re buying/selling really worth?

It is important for your home to be priced correctly from the start to attract the right buyers and shorten the time that it’s on the market. You need someone who is not emotionally connected to your home to give you the truth as to your home’s value. According to the National Association of REALTORS, “the typical FSBO home sold for $184,000 compared to $230,000 among agent-assisted home sales.” Get the most out of your transaction by hiring a professional.

5. Do you know what’s really going on in the market?

There is so much information out there on the news and the internet about home sales, prices, mortgage rates; how do you know what’s going on specifically in your area? Who do you turn to in order to competitively price your home correctly at the beginning of the selling process? How do you know what to offer on your dream home without paying too much, or offending the seller with a low-ball offer?

Dave Ramsey, the financial guru advises:
“When getting help with money, whether it’s insurance, real estate or investments, you should always look for someone with the heart of a teacher, not the heart of a salesman.”

Hiring an agent who has their finger on the pulse of the market will make your buying/selling experience an educated one. You need someone who is going to tell you the truth, not just what they think you want to hear.

Bottom Line:

You wouldn’t hike up Mt. Everest without a Sherpa, or replace the engine in your car without a trusted mechanic. Why would you make one of your most important financial decisions of your life without hiring a Real Estate Professional?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

7 Tips for Improving Your Credit

7 Tips for Improving Your Credit

Published: February 25, 2010
Here’s how to clean up your credit so you get the least-expensive home loan possible.
Getting the loan that suits your situation at the best possible price and terms makes homebuying easier and more affordable. Here are seven ways to boost your credit score so you can do just that.

1. Know your credit score

Credit scores range from 300 to 850, and the higher, the better. They’re based on whether you’ve paid personal loans, car loans, credit cards, and other debt in full and on time in the past. You’ll need a score of at least 620 to qualify for a home loan and 740 to get the best interest rates and terms.
You’re entitled to a free copy of your credit report annually from each of the major credit-reporting bureaus, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Access all three versions of your credit report at Review them to ensure the information is accurate.

2. Correct errors on your credit report

If you find mistakes on your credit report, write a letter to the credit-reporting agency explaining why you believe there’s an error. Send documents that support your case, and ask that the error be corrected or removed. Also write to the company, or debt collector, that reported the incorrect information to dispute the information, and ask to be copied on any materials sent to credit-reporting agencies.

3. Pay every bill on time

You may be surprised at the damage even a few late payments will have on your credit score. The easiest way to make a big difference in your credit score without altering your spending habits is to diligently pay all your bills on time. You’ll also save money because you’ll keep the money you’ve been spending on late fees. Credit card or mortgage companies probably won’t report minor late payments, those less than 30 days overdue, but you’ll still have to pay late fees.

4. Use credit carefully

Another good way to boost your credit score is to pay your credit card bills in full every month. If you can’t do that, pay as much over your required minimum payment as possible to begin whittling away the debt. Stop using your credit cards to keep your balances from increasing, and transfer balances from high-interest credit cards to lower-interest cards.

5. Take care with the length of your credit

Credit rating agencies also consider the length of your credit history. If you’ve had a credit card for a long time and managed it responsibly, that works in your favor. However, opening several new credit cards at once can lower the average age of your accounts, which pushes down your score. Likewise, closing credit card accounts lowers your available credit, so keep credit cards open even if you’re not using them.

6. Don’t use all the credit you’re offered

Credit scores are also based on how much credit you use compared with how much you’re offered. Using $1,000 of available credit will give you a lower score than having $1,000 of available credit and using $100 of it. Occasionally opening new lines of credit can boost your available credit, which also affects your score positively.

7. Be patient

It can take time for your credit score to climb once you’ve begun working to improve it. Keep at it because the more distance you put between your spotty payment history and your current good payment record, the less damage you’ll do to your credit score.

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Monday, August 11, 2014

Do's and Don’ts of Homebuyer Incentives

By: G. M. Filisko     Published: September 1, 2010     HouseLogic
          Homebuyer incentives can be smart marketing or a waste of money. Find out when and how to use them. Be sure you’re sending the right message to buyers when you throw in a homebuyer incentive to encourage them to purchase your home.
          When you’re selling your home, the idea of adding a sweetener to the transaction—whether it’s a decorating allowance, a home warranty, or a big-screen TV—can be a smart use of marketing funds. To ensure it’s not a big waste, follow these do's and don’ts:
Do use homebuyer incentives to set your home apart from close competition. If all the sale properties in your neighborhood have the same patio, furnishing yours with a luxury patio set and stainless steel BBQ that stay with the buyers will make your home stand out.
Do compensate for flaws with a homebuyer incentive. If your kitchen sports outdated floral wallpaper, a $3,000 decorating allowance may help buyers cope. If your furnace is aging, a home warranty may remove the buyers’ concern that they’ll have to pay thousands of dollars to replace it right after the closing.
Don’t assume homebuyer incentives are legal. Your state may ban homebuyer incentives, or its laws may be maddeningly confusing about when the practice is legal and not. Check with your real estate agent and attorney before you offer a homebuyer incentive.
Don’t think buyers won’t see the motivation behind a homebuyer incentive. Offering a homebuyer incentive may make you seem desperate. That may lead suspicious buyers to wonder what hidden flaws exist in your home that would force you to throw a freebie at them to get it sold. It could also lead buyers to factor in your apparent anxiety and make a lowball offer.
Don’t use a homebuyer incentive to mask a too-high price. A buyer may think your expensive homebuyer incentive—like a high-end TV or a luxury car—is a gimmick to avoid lowering your sale price. Many top real estate agents will tell you to list your home at a more competitive price instead of offering a homebuyer incentive. A property that’s priced a hair below its true value will attract not only buyers but also buyers’ agents, who’ll  be giddy to show their clients a home that’s a good value and will sell quickly.
          If you’re convinced a homebuyer incentive will do the trick, choose one that adds value or neutralizes a flaw in your home. Addressing buyers’ concerns about your home will always be more effective than offering buyers an expensive toy.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Do You Really Need to Clean Your Air Ducts?

Do You Really Need to Clean Your Air Ducts?

By: Dave Toht   Originally Published: September 10, 2012   (
Contrary to popular belief, there aren’t any health benefits linked to cleaning air ducts, but having a pro remove gunk can boost the efficiency of your HVAC.
Five to seven times a day, the air in your home circulates through the air ducts of your HVAC heating and cooling system, carrying with it the dust and debris of everyday living.
Your furnace filter catches much of the stuff, but neglect, remodeling projects, or shoddy duct installation can lead to a buildup of gunk inside your ductwork that threatens the efficient functioning of your system.
Are Dirty Ducts Hazardous to Your Health?
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asserts no studies have proven that duct cleaning prevents health problems. Also, there isn’t proof that dirty ductwork increases dust levels inside homes.
But some people are more sensitive to airborne dust and pet dander than others. If your nose is getting itchy just thinking about what might lurk in your ducts, the $300 to $600 it costs to clean a 2,000-sq.-ft. home is a worthwhile investment. But before you reach for the phone, take a good look to see if your ducts are dirty.
Get the Picture
Wouldn’t it be handy if you could take an incredible journey through your ductwork to see if cleaning is needed? Using a pocket digital camera equipped with a flash, you can come close. Simply remove a floor register, reach as far as you can into the duct (don’t drop your camera!), and take a couple of shots.
If there’s gunk within a few feet of the register, take heart. It’s easy to snake a vacuum cleaner hose into the duct and remove the stuff. However, if you see a long trail of junk and a thick coat of dust beyond what your vacuum can reach, your house may be a candidate for professional cleaning.
Look for These Symptoms
  • Clogs of dust, cobwebs, and debris, or noticeable particles blowing out of supply registers.
  • Visible mold on the inside surfaces of ducts.
  • Rodent droppings and dead insects inside ducts.
In addition, recent construction inevitably creates dust you don’t want in circulation.
“We recommend cleaning after a big remodel job,” says Scott Milas of Mendel Heating and Plumbing, St. Charles, Ill. Milas adds that a new home purchase is also a good occasion -- after all, who wants to breathe someone else’s pet dander?
“People get it done after they buy a house,” he says. “It’s like getting the carpets cleaned.”
Good Reasons for Duct Cleaning
  • Cleaning removes accumulated dust so it won’t shed into the household.
  • Removing debris and cobwebs eases airflow and increases the efficiency of the system, in extreme cases as much as 40%.
  • If you have fiberglass ducting, fiberglass gathers more dust than sheet metal.
Reasons to Skip Duct Cleaning
  • Cost.
  • Health benefits are not proven.
  • Dust and debris caught on the interior of ducts isn’t circulating and therefore may not be a problem.
  • Changing furnace filters regularly often does the job, especially when combined with annual furnace cleaning.

How Ducts are Cleaned

Dislodging and removing dust and debris is done with one or more of the following methods:
  • Hand-held vacuuming: Workers use a brush attached to a large portable vacuum equipped with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter. However, the hand-held method isn’t completely reliable and may leave pockets of dust.
  • Mechanical brush: A rotating brush is fed into the ductwork. A truck-mounted vacuum sucks away debris. The rotary brush may damage older or poorly installed systems.
  • Air sweep: A truck-mounted vacuum system carries away dust and debris dislodged by a compressed-air hose fed into the ducts. Of the three, the air sweep method usually does the most effective job.
Note: Some duct cleaning companies advocate spraying the inside of your ducts with chemical biocides. However, the EPA cautions that the spray may be more hazardous than helpful, aggravating respiratory ailments and introducing moisture that encourages mold growth.
Choosing a Duct Cleaning Service
It is all too easy to set up as a duct cleaner; some fly-by-nighters do more harm than good. Ask a reputable heating contractor for recommendations, or go to National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA) to locate a certified contractor.
Be wary of unsubstantiated health claims. Resist pressure to clean annually; even cleaning every other year is overkill. Most homes needn’t be cleaned more than once every five years. Also, make sure your furnace will be cleaned as part of the HVAC maintenance service that includes checking the plenum, evaporator coil, and heat exchanger.
Related: Best Plants to Improve Indoor Air Quality