Energy-Efficient Retrofits for Your Home

Make Sure Your Home is Airtight

In Canada, space heating can account for up to 60 per cent of most homeowners’ energy bills. This is especially true with older homes, which can often be drafty, lightly insulated and may still have older, less energy-efficient windows, doors and heating systems. This can add up to substantially higher home heating costs.

One of the best ways to cut down on your bills and keep your house warm in the winter and cool in the summer is by making sure your home is well sealed. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) offers the following tips on how to improve the airtightness of your home, to help you save money, reduce your environmental footprint and make your house more comfortable to live in:

Air sealing not only cuts heat losses and gains, it also improves comfort by reducing drafts, helps improve the performance of the insulation in your walls and attic by stopping cold winter wind from washing through it, and, it can help prevent moisture build-up in your walls and attic.
Finding air leaks can often be a challenge. Sometimes they are detectable by feeling for cold drafts in suspect locations. Other times, you may be able to see daylight shining in through unwanted openings. Blackened insulation is often another sign. For a more thorough assessment, consider hiring a qualified residential energy service provider to perform a “blower door” test of your house. During this test, your house is forced to leak, making it easier to find air leakage locations with smoke emitting devices or a special thermographic scanner.
A blower door test can also tell you the size of the hole all the leakage areas would add up to if they were all located on one location. This is helpful when you want to know how leaky your house is relative to other houses. If a blower door test is done before and after air sealing, you can also find out how much you have reduced the air leakage of your home.
Some of the more common air-leakage points can include ceiling pot light fixtures installed through ceilings into attic spaces, electrical boxes in ceiling and exterior walls; inside to outside wiring, plumbing and duct penetrations; bathroom exhaust fans installed in attic ceilings; older windows and doors; the joint between windows and the surrounding walls; and floor-wall joints.
Once you have located the leaks, you can use a variety of different approaches to seal them. For instance, leaky windows and doors can be sealed with gaskets or new weatherstripping. Gaps around wiring, pipes and ducts can be sealed with caulking or spray foam. Electrical boxes can be sealed with special gaskets that fit behind the box plate covers. Joints between walls and floors and around the top of your foundation may be sealed with caulking or spray foam depending on the size of the gap. To find out the right options for your home, be sure to consult a contractor with expertise in air leakage control.
If you are replacing your exterior siding, it’s a good time to add an exterior air barrier (and more insulation) that wraps your house in a draft proof cover from the basement to attic.
While air sealing is always a good idea, you might have to add mechanical ventilation in the form of a bathroom fan, a range hood, or better yet, a heat recovery ventilation system, to help maintain healthy indoor conditions. Air sealing can also adversely affect the ability of some fuel-fired furnaces, boilers and hot water tanks to safely vent combustion products so an additional source of outdoor air may be needed. Consult a qualified mechanical contractor for guidance on ventilation system options and combustion air needs for your home before you start.

http://www.cmhc.ca

Assessing a Home or Properties Long-Term Potential.

You see a home listed for sale on the market that you like. Should you buy it?

Before you make an offer, it’s a good idea to get a sense of the property’s long-term potential. After all, in terms of Edmonton real estate and St Albert real estate, a property is not just a potential home, it’s also an important investment.

Here are some things to look for when viewing homes on the market:

· Is the area’s average income increasing? (The more affluent a neighbourhood becomes, the higher the property values.)

· Are employment opportunities growing nearby? (If jobs are leaving the area, housing prices will likely decline.)

· Are there any nearby housing or community developments that will enhance the quality of life in the area?

(If a park with a quiet walking trail, or a prestigious golf course, is being built nearby, the value of the neighbourhood will likely increase.)

· Is the crime rate on the rise or decline? (This can have a significant impact on future property values.)

· Are there public transit lines located nearby? (Studies show that housing prices increase in areas where public transit is close and convenient.)

· Is the property located in a neighbourhood dominated by higher priced homes?

· Does the property have features that will always be valued by home buyers, such as a large kitchen, spacious backyard, and professionally finished basement?

· Are there short-term negatives about the area that will eventually disappear, such as loud construction projects? (Once those negatives are gone, house prices will often increase)

Alberta and the Edmonton and St Albert areas are currently among the top places to buy a home in Canada. It may be the right decision to buy a home instead of renting.

Need help to find the right home? Contact us to-day.

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Fast financial facts for first-time homebuyers

For first-time homebuyers, the road to home ownership can be a twisted and daunting one.

Knowing the state of your finances, how to save money for the down payment, how to get a mortgage, and how to best pay it off are the four main areas you need to consider before taking the leap.

Step One: Meet with a financial adviser

Before you consider buying a home, you need to know where you stand financially. This is where an industry professional — an independent financial adviser, a mortgage expert from a bank, or a mortgage broker — comes in. They will help you understand the process and figure out what you can afford.

In other words, get educated about your finances and mortgage options.

Jessy Bilodeau, mobile mortgage specialist with TD Canada Trust, says the last thing you want to do is get in over your head. “You want to make sure your finances are balanced and manageable. You have to know what your financial situation is to find out if you have the money for a down payment, and whether you even qualify for a mortgage. Sitting down with a financial expert will help you figure that out.”

Here is what an expert can help you with:

– Assess your income and debts: They’ll crunch the numbers to determine what you can afford and what you qualify for. Knowing how much you can afford will help narrow down the price range of your home.

– Develop a savings plan for the down payment.

– Develop a personal budget: You may qualify for the purchase price of $400,000, but keep in mind the hidden costs of home ownership. “This is often overlooked,” says Bilodeau. “Remember, you not only have mortgage payments, but also condo fees if buying a condo, utility bills, home insurance, and ongoing maintenance costs, as well as costs related to buying the home such as legal fees, home inspection and land transfer costs.”

Step Two: Down payment

The minimum for a down payment is five per cent. Bilodeau recommends putting down more if you can, to reduce the monthly payments. Meeting with a financial expert will help determine how much you should put down to be safe. They will also offer suggestions on how to save for the down payment:

– Get an RRSP loan. Under the federal government’s Home Buyers’ Plan, first-time buyers may qualify to withdraw funds from their RRSP to use toward the down payment. You can withdraw up to $25,000 tax free, and you must repay the RRSP over a 15-year period.

– Set up a regular automatic savings plan.

– Invest carefully to grow your home savings fund. Options can include high-interest savings accounts, GICs, Canada Savings Bonds, or short-term money market funds.

– Save any monetary gifts you receive, your tax refund, or work bonuses to put toward the down payment.

– Work out an arrangement with parents. They may be willing to help either by gifting money or letting you live rent-free (or nearly rent-free) with them while you save.

Step Three: Mortgage

Once you’ve got the down payment secured, the next step is applying for a mortgage. You can get a mortgage one of two ways: through a financial institution or through a mortgage broker.

Mortgage from a bank: If you decide to go through a bank, be prepared to do all the legwork to find the mortgage that best fits your financial situation. You’ll want to shop around to find the best rates, terms and payment options.

Mortgage broker: A mortgage broker does all the work for you and doesn’t cost you a dime. Collin Bruce of Collin Bruce Mortgage Team says his firm finds the best mortgage for homebuyers. “The advantage of using a mortgage broker is that we offer unbiased advice, and we get the best rate possible for your situation,” he says.

Pre-approved mortgage: Both Bruce and Bilodeau recommend getting a pre-approved mortgage. The advantage is that you will know how much you can afford, so you’ll only be looking at houses within that price range. Being pre-approved also means your mortgage rate is locked in against increases for 120 days.

Step Four: Paying the Mortgage

Amortization is the life of your mortgage, typically 25 years. Biloudeau says if you can, pay off the mortgage sooner than later because the longer you have your mortgage, the more interest you pay.

– Pay it off more quickly by taking advantage of various payment options:

– Make annual lump-sum payments on the principal;

– Increase the monthly payments;

– Make bi-weekly or weekly payments. Paying an extra $50 bi-weekly may be more manageable for some;

– Choose a shorter amortization period to save on interest costs.

If you are thinking about buying a home, the federal government’s Financial Consumer Agency is an excellent place to start learning about the process and mortgages.

Thinking of Buying a Former Grow Op? Think Again!

“Grow Ops” are always an interesting topic of discussion. How long is the property an issue? If it’s cleaned up, is it still a problem?

One of our awesome mortgage experts found us some really interesting information. Her email is posted below. Thanks Julie!

 

Hi Knock-Knock team!

Luke had asked me out of curiosity which lenders were financing remediated grow ops. I was sure the last traditional lender (National Bank) had recently pulled out, but I have been checking around and there is no one left except possibly a private lender (think major down payment, fees and high high interest) is lending in Alberta, that I can find.

A mortgage broker in BC wrote a good blog on grow ops you may find interesting. It sounds like credit unions in BC are willing to do them but I could find no love here. In any case, for your reading pleasure:

http://www.scottdawson.ca/former-grow-ops-mortgage-financing/

Have a great rest of the week everyone!!

 

Julie Cooper
Axiom Mortgage Solutions
www.TowerMortgage.ca

Searching for a home? Most people start on the Internet.

I’ve heard and seen various stats on where people start to look at homes for sale listings. I would say about 80-90% of people looking for a home, begin their search on the internet.

Why not. There are plenty of different sites that are dedicated to showing homes for sale in different areas.

Now, they do vary a little bit in the information given. Sometimes there won’t be many pictures, room sizes etc…  Sometimes that’s also due to the listing REALTOR® making choices on how they list the home too. (I will get into that more in a later blog post)

My recommendations for searches? I’m glad you asked.  You could go to REALTOR.ca and look at the real estate listings there. Or, even better yet you could go through this website and look at the listings.

Even though we are RE/MAX REALTORS®, all the MLS listings are available for you to search. This is because there is an agreement through our local board.

Is this the best way? I’m glad you asked again. In a word… No.

You might not like to hear this, but the best way is to contact a real estate agent like me.

The search system we use to search is completely up-to-date, with all the information you need. We can even set-up home searches so that when any new listings come on the MLS or the asking price changes, you get the information emailed directly to you.

The other sites are often many hours or could be even days behind because they are not able to have real-time access.

So, please use this website to search for a home, sign-up for extra help, or contact us so we can meet and get you the best information and service.

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Is a Home a Good Investment?

One way to look at it, is that for those wanting a steady return on their money, houses can be a fairly good option. When the baby boomers started madly  buying houses in the 1980s, suddenly real estate seemed like the path to instant wealth.

The real estate markets fluctuate constantly (they are cyclical). There have been times when house prices have gone down. However if you look at the overall price of homes in your area over the last 10 years, in most cases, (depending on your region) prices have risen.

Where is the housing market headed? Nobody can accurately predict. But even if house prices don’t rise phenomenally, a home has two strong things going for it as an investment.

First, any capital gains on your principal residence are tax-free. If your personal house appreciates by 5 per cent, you get to keep every cent of your gains. Now 5 per cent may not sound like much, but in terms of how much you end up with, you’d have to earn as much as 10 per cent on a fixed-income investment such as a GIC to match that return, after tax.

Second, you don’t have to come up with the full purchase price, meaning you’re able to harness leverage. The conventional mortgages require a down payment of 20-25 per cent of a house’s appraised value. Where as the High Ratio Mortgage, requires only 5% down payment.

For example, if you buy a $200,000 home, you need to come up with around $50,000 for a conventional mortgage. If the home’s value rises to $220,000, that’s an increase of 10 per cent. But what’s really happened is you’ve put up $50,000, and made $20,000. Your real gross return on your invested funds is around 40 per cent. But notice the word “gross”. Don’t forget that your real return will be less. (and will not be truly realized unless you sell your home)

Buying a home and having a mortgage is also a tremendously powerful forced savings program. Plus, you can also live-in and enjoy your investment.

All this above does not equal the total answer, but it does provide some food for thought.

For more info on the current Edmonton, St. Albert and Area real estate markets contact us.

 

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Avoid the “Ouch” of Closing Costs

Avoid the “Ouch” of Closing Costs

Even seasoned home buyers can make the mistake of underestimating, or even forgetting about, closing costs. These are fees and other expenses associated with the transaction that becomes due on or before closing (possession) day.

Closing costs vary from one jurisdiction to another and can include:

1. Home Inspection cost
2. Property tax adjustments,
3. Legal fees and disbursements,
4. Utilities hook-up,
5. Lender’s fees (CMHC fee),
6. Land transfer taxes
and possibly more…

As your REALTOR®, we will help you estimate the closing costs for the kind of property you plan to purchase, so you can budget accordingly.

Please don’t hesitate to call or email us with any questions.

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The Difference between Wants and Needs when Buying a Home.

I find that when you’re shopping for a new home, it’s a good idea to create a checklist of what you want and what you need. It keeps you on track to ultimately find the property that best fits your requirements and those of your family.

However, there’s a big difference between WANT and NEED, that is important to understand when house hunting. A ‘need’ refers to a feature that is an absolute must in a new home. A ‘want’, by contrast, is a ‘nice-to-have’.

Some home buyers make the mistake of choosing a ‘Want’ at the expense of a ‘Need’.

For example, say you ‘need’ four bedrooms in your new home but ‘want’ a golf course located nearby. It can be tempting to fall in love with a property that has a beautiful golf green just a couple of blocks away, even if it has only three bedrooms. You may find yourself signing the offer while dreaming of Saturday morning tee-offs, only to awake to the realization months later that the lack of an extra bedroom has become a serious inconvenience to you and your family.

So, when you’re making your house hunting checklist, be clear about what is a need-to-have and what is a nice-to-have.

Don’t forget that some features you want — like a wrap-around backyard deck, for example — which can potentially be added to your new home later.

Want more tips for getting what you need and want in a new home? Call us today.

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What is a Real Property Report? Is it important?

As a home-owner, or prospective home-owner you have a lot of information to sort through. One item is the Real Property Report (RPR). It can also be called the Survey.

The Alberta Land Surveyors’ Association defines it as: “A Real Property Report is a legal document that clearly illustrates the location of significant visible improvements relative to property boundaries.” When you are purchasing or selling a home or bareland condo you need to understand what an RPR is and how it can affect the transaction.

Basically, its a report on the location of any structures, decks, sheds, and land locations of your property. Once the report is completed by a survey company, it is sent to the city or county to make sure all of the information complies with their regulations. A current RPR is normally required in most cases for the sale of a home.

When you are looking to purchase or sell a home it’s important to talk to your REALTOR® early about the RPR, so you get advice on how to handle the situation and who to consult with further, to ensure a smooth purchase or sale. We have the experience to handle issues like the RPR.

You can find out more from the brochure at the Alberta Land Surveyors’ Association website at:

http://www.alsa.ab.ca/Portals/0/PDF/Public/Real_Property_Reports/ALSA_RPR_Brochure.pdf

 

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Homes with Attached Garages and their Indoor Air Quality

Canadians can spend an average of 90 per cent of their time indoors. Having clean indoor air is therefore critical for respiratory health.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) and others have published material on how to provide good indoor air quality (IAQ). However, there is one source of pollutants that we are just discovering: automotive pollution from attached garages. This About Your House discusses the risks of attached garages and how to keep car-based pollutants out of your house.

Attached garages are convenient, and are a common part of suburban houses. The attachment could be to the side of the house, with a room over top of the garage, or even as a part of what traditionally is the basement (see figures 1, 2 and 3).

Garage attached at the side of the house
Figure 1 — Garage attached at the side of the house
Room over top of the garage
Figure 2 — Room over top of the garage
Garage as part of the basement
Figure 3 — Garage as part of the basement

Automobiles give off pollution. Starting a car in a garage, even with the garage door wide open, can result in a higher concentration of combustion pollutants (for example, carbon monoxide) in the garage and house.

Driving a car into the garage and closing the door results in emissions of various chemicals over the next several hours as the engine and its fluids cool down. The pollutants in the garage air can be drawn into the house over time.

This is not just a theoretical problem. In a survey done by Health Canada in more than 100 houses in Windsor, Ontario, the results were very clear.

Houses with attached garages had measurable concentrations of benzene (a gasoline related pollutant) in their indoor air. Houses with no garages or detached garages had little or no benzene. This is true of a host of other airborne chemicals. The study revealed that pollutants in attached garages can find their way into the house.

There are also secondary sources of pollutants in garages, apart from car-based emissions. There are many gas-powered appliances, such as lawn mowers, chain saws and edging tools whose emission systems are not as good as those found in cars. Chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides are also sources of pollutants.

One disconcerting fact is that garage-to-house air movement is not obvious or straightforward. In the 1990s, when the first inexpensive carbon monoxide (CO) sensors became commercially available, many started going off without an evident source of carbon monoxide. Responders such as utilities and fire departments often wrote off the incidents as false alarms, prompted by over-sensitive CO detectors. However, research in Minnesota (Wilber & Klossner, 1997) showed that the time delay of CO entry to the house from the garage could be a factor. When a cold car engine starts up in the garage, even with the main garage door open, it can generate up to several hundred parts per million of carbon monoxide gas in the garage. Once the car has left and the garage door is closed, the garage may still hold a relatively high CO concentration for hours. Air leaking from the garage to the house can cause the CO level in the house to start climbing. After several hours, the house CO level is high enough to set off the CO alarm, but by then the garage is low in CO and is not recognized as a source.

How Garage Air Gets Into Your House

It can be difficult to understand how and why garage air moves into the house. After all, there is at least one layer of drywall between the house and the garage, and a significant amount of insulation. The door from the attached garage to the house typically has weatherstripping and a spring to hold the door closed. So how does air enter?

Air can move through small cracks in the walls between the house and the garage, and through the top floor ceiling. There are many tiny holes and cracks that permit this air exchange to take place and they exist in all houses. It takes a sophisticated test with specialized tools, such as a blower door and leakage detection equipment, to find infiltration and exfiltration points.

Field tests by CMHC have discovered that the walls (and perhaps ceilings) between garages and the house can be as air leaky as the rest of the house. Some houses get most of their “fresh air” through the garage. One or two of those tested had so little leakage that there was no measurable air movement through the walls between house and garage. However, most garages have some air leaks, roughly in proportion to the size of the exterior wall.

But air movement into a house requires both a hole and a pressure difference. Does a pressure difference exist? Yes. CMHC measured the pressure difference across the house-garage wall and the house pressures are often lower than garage pressures, especially in winter. This is quite common in colder weather. Having exhaust fans or vented heating appliances also creates lower pressures inside the house, and garage air is drawn in through the leaks.

Preventing Garage-to-House Transfer in New Houses

The best way to prevent garage air entry into the house is to make sure that there are no leaks between the garage and the house. In new construction, this should be easy. The builder should make the interface walls and ceilings as airtight as possible. This is more readily done if the builder knows that reducing pollution transfer from the garage is a priority.

The builder should:

  1. Ensure the airtightness of the garage ceiling and walls that are next to the house, before the insulation is installed and before installing drywall on the garage side.
  2. Check all wall-to-wall junctions or wall-to-floor junctions and seal them. If the top of the basement wall is exposed in the garage, that header space can be notoriously leaky.
  3. Diligently seal all penetrations from the house to the garage (wiring, central vacuum exhaust and so on).
  4. Keep mechanical systems (furnaces, water heaters and so on) out of the garage. While most Canadian builders would not consider putting mechanical systems in the garage, it is common practice in parts of the U.S. The few Canadian houses that CMHC has tested (in B.C.) with heating systems located in the garage showed high levels of garage pollutants in house air.

Preventing Garage-to-House Pollution Transfer in Existing Houses

It is much harder to prevent air movement from a garage to a house in an existing house. In a house already built, there will be leakage areas but they are usually hidden. They are not easy to locate and not easy to seal.

However, air-sealing the garage-to-house walls and ceilings may still prove worthwhile. If the garage side has no drywall, sealing air leaks may be simple. If the drywall is simply screwed on the wall and is otherwise unfinished, removing the drywall gives access to the interior spaces. Finishing the drywall itself with drywall compound and paint, as well as caulking all visible cracks and joints, may improve airtightness.

Another approach involves installing an exhaust fan to vent garage air outside. A good bathroom fan could be used. By operating the fan, the garage becomes depressurized relative to the house thereby preventing air movement from the garage to the house. This will not impact to any great extent on house heating costs but there will be an electrical cost to run a fan.

The use of a garage exhaust fan may lower the garage pressure enough for airflow through the holes to go from the house to the garage, rather than the garage to the house. Check the pressure difference by opening the door to the house just a crack and feeling for air movement from the house to the garage. A smouldering string can also be used to detect air movement. If air is moving into the garage, the pressure is in the right direction. This will assure that garage pollutants do not enter house air.

To avoid high electrical costs, choose an exhaust fan with low energy consumption. To further reduce fan usage, have the fan activated for a period (for example, one hour) after the garage door is used.

Continuous use of the exhaust fan is recommended if:

  • There are a lot of noxious chemicals in the garage. Better yet, consider sending them to a hazardous waste disposal site.
  • The garage is used to store or maintain older vehicles with higher emissions.
  • There is a lot of coming to and going from the garage through the main garage door.

What to do

All buyers of new houses should confirm that their builder is aware of this issue and takes measures to do a good job of sealing air leakage paths. It is the only easy time to seal the air leakage points. An effective air sealing approach is far better than installing an exhaust fan after the fact.

Owners of existing houses have harder choices. If there is evident and annoying transfer of odours and drafts from the garage to the rooms next to the garage, the leaks should be located and sealed. If that task is too onerous or expensive, the garage exhaust fan solution could be considered.

Finally, if the attached garage is not used for vehicles (as is often true) and there are no other major chemical sources in that space, garage-to-house air movement should not be a significant problem.