Thursday, May 19, 2011

5 Water Conserving Tips for inside your home

There are lots of ways to save water in your home with just a few tips that pay off relatively quickly!  Note: In your search of appliances, you may see Tier 1 - 3 ratings, and while these ratings don't refer to the DoE Energy Star ratings, they refer to CEE or the Consortium for Energy Efficiency, and are certainly worthy of looking into.  Tier 3 is the most efficient going well beyond what energy star asks for.  I would go into more detail but the requirements change per appliance.

Tip #1: Install water efficient shower heads.
If you have a shower head that dates back to 1992 or earlier, your shower head could be using up to 5.5 gpm (that's gallons per minute)! Newer models are federally mandated to not exceed more than 2.5 gpm but personally, you can find some great looking shower heads out there that use a lot less!  My personal favorite is by Niagara Earth Massage 1.5 GPM handheld shower head.  I've been using it for about 2 years now and it's great. We live in an area with very hard water (Texas is practically world known for how hard it's water is...) and at the head it says perfectly clean and the chrome is very pretty.  Occasionally for cleaning we'll wipe it down with some vinegar to remove all of the calcium and it looks good as new again. And the great thing about it is that it uses only 1.5 GPM instead of 2.5 or more!

Cost Savings: If you have 4 people in your home with two showers and you replace both of them with this model or another 1.5 gpm model, and each person showers for 10 minutes (assuming you had a 2.5gpm model previously and your water/sewer costs is $0.0095/gal) you'll save 29,200 gallons per year which equates to $277.40 per year with only an initial cost of $38.00 (taxes and shipping included) which means it'll pay for itself in 50 days!  Not too bad!!

Tip #2: Install 0.5 GPM Low Flow Faucet Aerator
Now that your shower is using only 1.5 gpm from that clunky 2.5, lets reduce the water used while using the sink.  Currently, faucet aerators are allowed to pump out 2.2 GPM! Can you image using roughly the same amount of water that you shower with just to wash your hands?!?  I think that is way too much, so lets bring it down to 0.5 GPM.  Currently I've installed 0.5 GPM low flow faucet aerators in all of my faucets with the exception of the kitchen where I want it to flow faster to fill up those big pots and among other things.

Cost Savings: Again, lets assume you have just 2 sinks (both 2.2 GPM aerators replaced with this 0.5 GPM aerator) with 4 people in the family and each day they use the sink for about 10 minutes between washing their hands several times a day, brushing their teeth, cleaning, etc. Replacing it would save you about 49,640 gallons which is $471.58 per year and it'll pay for itself in under a week!

Tip #3: Fix leaky faucets, toilets, etc!
A leaky faucet that is dripping one drop per second results in $1.00 per month increase in your water bill. If you're handy you could probably repair that leak with that one dollar with things you have around the house.

Likewise, if you notice ripples in your toilet that it's leaking more than just one drop per second and should get fixed immediately.  An easy way to determine if your toilet is leaking is to put some food coloring dye into the basin and check to see if your water is that color 30 minutes later.  If it is, then it's leaking, otherwise you're safe.

Lastly, if your hot water heater is leaking, then it's time to replace it.  If you live in a place that doesn't have hard water, I would recommend getting an energy star tankless hot water on demand system. You'll have hot water faster, no waste from keeping water hot when it's not needed and a smaller footprint.  Likewise, if you live in a hot climate like texas or arizona, then I'd suggest thinking about installing a solar hot water tank. Let the sun do the work for you.  :-)

But no matter what you install, make sure it's energy star because it'll pay off over the lifetime of the unit and make sure you follow its maintenance schedule so it will live a longer and more efficient life.  Also keep in mind that you can lower the heating on a hot water heater. There is no need to keep it at a temperature that will scold you.

Tip #4: Appliances: Dishwasher
If you want the best water and energy conservation you'll need to go past just faucets and shower heads and actually get more energy star appliances.  If you get an energy star dishwasher, you'll end up saving even more especially if it has a booster heater (which usually pays for itself within a year).  With a booster heater you can raise the temperature of the water up to 140F, which is recommended for cleaning dishes. Although many people think they can wash dishes more efficiently than a dishwater, that's rarely the case as long as you have a dishwasher that's from 2000 or newer.  A full dishwasher can wash dishes a tremendous amount more efficiently than a person. Another benefit of energy star models is the availability of different cycles, use shorter cycles to save even more water.

Tip #5: Appliances: Washing Machine
Washing machines by their very nature, consume a lot of water. However, by purchasing an energy star, you'll have the option of saving more water than others, a tremendous variety of different options on what to run your load at and maybe even a chime when it's done, like ours. :-)   Smaller capacity washing machines typically have better efficiency ratings than larger ones. More efficient models will also make the dryer run more efficiently as well because they'll spin the cloths better and make them drier to begin with. If you're wondering what the different between front loaders and top loaders, front loaders typically run using less water than top loaders consequently, using less energy.

The best way to run a washing machine, in my opinion, is to run it with full loads and if you're only rinsing the laundry, run it with cold water, no need to do warm or hot.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Would you give money to your state to help bail them out? Personal Finances

I came across this image this afternoon and began to wonder, "Would I give $185.62, or how ever much your state is in debt per capita, to my state to help it get out of debt?"

Which really made me think, well, what would they spend my money on?

Well according to the other graphic I found which shows average state budgets, 40% of the state spending goes towards education among several other categories.  That is significant and I didn't even realize they spent that much! Certainly, the biggest chunk of my change would go back into the education system.  Is that good or bad?  Well, I think funding education is always a good move. And I don't have kids.

So all I can think of now are the countless people who would probably say "No, I wouldn't spend that money to help the state get out of debt, I have my own problems." But then I remember as a child going to school and my school having countless trash cans in the hallways collecting water from the leaks or my brother who went from K-12 completely on austerity budget.

I don't think that's a good environment for any child and I think I would pay that money even though my own debt load is high, if that meant giving the state a "2nd chance."  Of course, I wouldn't give it to them without strings. I would want for them to promise us one thing: Don't get into this mess again. Create a realistic budget, spend properly, pay back debts and look into the future so the state is never in debt again, as I plan to be as I dig my way out.

What do you think?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

MCC requirements in Texas...

While purchasing a new home I discovered a few incentives that I thought, at first, I was eligible for. Therefore, for those of you who are now in the market, I'd like to show you a few things that may put a few bucks in your pocket or keep them there! 
Mortgage Credit Certificate, or better known as the MCC program...
"Allows the homebuyer to claim a tax credit for some portion of the mortgage interest paid per year. It is a dollar for dollar reduction against their federal tax liability."
The great thing about this is that while it doesn't save you money, it does extend your salary up to $166.66 per month or $2,000 per year! Who doesn't like having an extra 2 grand in their pocket?!?
So, who's eligible? That's the tricky part, the rules aren't too complicated, but they are strict and the household has to be in a low-income bracket to begin with:
  • The household has to meet income and home purchase requirements; 
    • For Texas, it can vary by place, but frequently what I've seen the complete household has to be 80% below the statewide median income or an area of chronic economic distress.
    • To find out what the median income is go to this website: 
      • Enter the address and click on the "Get Census Demographic" on the bottom and you'll find the Median Income Family
  • Have not owned a home as primary residence in the past three (3) years;
  • Meet the qualifying requirements of the mortgage loan;
  • Will use the home as their principal/primary residence. 
    • Sadly, this wont work for those of you who wish to rent the home out. :-(
Some of the costs associated with this fee is a $75 non-refundable MCC Commitment Fee & 1% origination fee.

Granted that 1% origination fee could cost several thousand dollars, but keep in mind that this MCC credit is for the LIFE of the mortgage. In other words, it's possible that within the first year or two that you'll make that fee back and then the rest is free money from the government!  

Lastly, an important part of the MCC rate is that it varies by how much your home costs in Texas, so lets see what the limits are: 
  • 30% of the annual interest paid on mortgage loans under $115,000 
  • 25% of the annual interest paid on mortgage loans between $115,000 and $140,000
  • 20% of the annual interest paid on mortgage loans between 140,000 and $210,375

There is also a cap on the program so I highly recommend applying for it as soon as possible, so that you'll be able to receive the funding, because once it's out of funds, it's out!


Let's say you want to buy a home in the medical district of San Antonio, TX.
1. I googled apartments near the medical district of San Antonio, and found the Villas of Oak Creste. 5315 Fredericksburg Rd 78229
2.  I went to and typed in an address 5315 Fredericksburg Rd 78229 and found the MSD, Tract code, and most importantly, their demographic data:

3. I took their 2010 Est. Tract Median Family Income: $57,627 * 0.80 = $46,101.60 so everyone who lives under your new roof would have to have a combined income of less than $46,101.60 per year.
Therefore, lets say you and your wife combined make $45k, great, you've never owned a home and you're preapproved for an FHA loan. Great! You'll probably qualify for this credit!

Now how much will you get from this credit?
Lets say your mortgage is $140,000.00 with an interest rate of 4.75% (you after all have an amazing Credit Score right?), with 25% from the MCC Credit, you'll probably have an additional $1,662.50 yearly added to your salary or $138.54 per month!
Mortgage Amount:
Interest Rate:
Total Interest Paid First year:
$ 6,650.00
Mortgage Credit Certificate Rate:
X .25
Tax Credit Amount:
$2,000 (max)

The major disadvantage to this program is that it counts everyone's income. My wife who isn't even a citizen, currently working as a student on an F1 visa, her stipend counted placing us just a couple of thousand dollars over the income required. I was disappointed. 

Readers, have any of you applied for the MCC? Received it? Tell me about your experience with the MCC, I'd be glad to hear about it!