New Year’s Resolution #1: Contemplate New Housing

Contemplate New HousingYear end is often a time when many of us reconsider lifestyle choices. This year many Americans will be considering moving into  communities that allow them to substantially lower their monthly cost of living.  If you are one of these people, here are a few things to consider.

Price: Single-family living in the suburbs and ex-urbs of major metropolitan areas can lack the easy access to mass transit, employment centers, medical services, farmer’s markets, shopping areas and entertainment. Although it may seem less expensive to live in outlying areas, a family’s transportation budget often uses up the savings with automobile expenses.

Neighborhood: If a particular neighborhood or school district is what matters to you, don’t assume it is always better to purchase a home rather than rent.

Rent Ratio: Experts use a ‘rent ratio’ to analyze the benefits of renting or buying during a particular market. They determine this number by dividing the house price by the cost of renting the house over a year. In other words, if a home costs $300,000, and $1600 a month to rent it, the rent ratio would be 15.63%. ($300,000 divided by $19,200, which is 12 months rent.) If a home costs $500,000, and to rent it is $2200 a month, the rent ratio would be 18.94%.  According to David Leonhardt’s blog in the New York Times, these were the ratios in descending order during 2016 in the following metro areas:

 Metro Area & Ratio: East Bay (CA) 35.9, Honolulu 34.4, San Jose (CA) 32.7, San Francisco 27.9, Seattle 27.3, Charlotte, N.C. 27, Orange County (CA) 27, New York (Manhattan) 26.7, Raleigh (NC) 26.2, Portland (OR) 25.9, North-Central New Jersey 25.2, Nashville 24, Denver 22.6, San Diego 22.1, Long Island (NY) 21.4, Los Angeles 15.4, Kansas City (KAN) 15.3.

If the ratio is below 15, it is considered a good market and time to buy. Between 15 and 20, renting would probably be wiser. Above 20, renting is most practical.

Security: Apartment living and higher density housing can provide additional security, particularly for people who live alone. With neighbors who are close by and more eyes paying attention, the community benefits.

Employment Options: There are many benefits to living close to employment centers and not having to commute. Most of us think of driving to work as something we have to do, but inclement weather can make commuting very inconvenient. If a family has children in school, it can create some very difficult situations for parents too. The biggest benefit of living close in is probably the time saved between the job and home.

Our Carbon Footprint: With so many other things that concern us today, it seems like we are piling it on when we bring up climate change, but there is no getting around it. Without some radical behavior changes in all our lives, our planet is going to get sicker and so are we. Anything we can collectively do to reduce our energy use will help slow down environmental change.  Moving closer to employment and services is one way all of us can cut down our energy use.

Not moving is also another way to go. Often we think the ‘geographical cure’ is going to make our lives easier, but as we bring ourselves with us nothing really changes. If you don’t need to move, try to think  about why you want to do so. If there is a problem with your current home or rental, is it fixable? If so, it might be less expensive to stay put. Either way, happy new year!

The Science to Food Shopping

shopping at a bakeryThis is an overview of all the different factors to food shopping, and different strategies of getting more for your food expenses.

Bread can be brought forth by kneading, buying at a grocery store, or buying at a restaurant; usually with other foods added to it. Generally, the more time you spend to produce the food yourself, the more money you save. This is a universal policy with most items, but you have to also factor in the cost of equipment to make the food and its maintenance.

Making a loaf of bread with yeast, flower, and water is the cheapest way to make bread, and costs about ten cents a loaf. But then you also have to factor in the cost of the bread making machine, which costs about one hundred dollars.

Buying bread over the counter costs about 2.50 per loaf. This is a universal policy of how doing it yourself cooking saves you money in the long run, basing it on how much you spend starting from scratch. For instance, a package of ten refrigerated biscuits cost about 3.00. If you make your own biscuits from scratch with Bisquick, then it is about ten cents for ten rolls.

Saving money by cooking it yourself costs less with bacon, hamburger, steak, and almost any recipe. You also have to factor in the cost of the cooking machinery, and the cost of how much you get out of them.

A farmer could be labeled a radical for making his own foods from scratch for a cheaper price, but it is rare and they usually just go shopping normally. The grow the most bulk of food for the price, and have the lowest cost after process with providing their own cow, or their own vegetables.

There is then the mass production machinery, which is not efficient for a family just trying to feed its own, for it makes too much food. This makes it sometimes much more convenient to purchase products already manufactured, for it is such a fast process for them to do it it costs much less. They then buy the food in bulk and get a cheaper price for the food. For example, one Houston venue space for corporate events prepares “restaurant quality” meals but on a scale to be competitive even to home cooked meals but in a formal dining experience.

Eating at a restaurant is generally a lot more expensive then grocery shopping and cooking at home, but save money by cooking it is a fun experience and makes the day easier around the kitchen.

Then fast food sometimes has very similar prices because of certain designed equipment that mass produces the food and the bulk buying of the food.

This sometimes gives fast food a very competitive competition with the cost of cooking at home with grocery shopping.

It is then sometimes more convenient to cook at home to avoid traffic or weather, and not have to shuffle through people to get the food. It then is very simple to get frozen dinners and such foods like that that are not restaurant quality meals, but are very convenient and fast to prepare.

Making a lot of food and freezing it makes the week easier, having fresh home cooked food for the week with one sit down of preparation. You then have fresh meals all week that is a good recipe.

You can substitute some meals with sales, random unplanned meals which you pick up because of coupons or sales saves money as being something different then your planned meals that are normally in your shopping route.

There are then foods you prepare that are not offered at restaurants that save you money for not being restaurant quality foods, and are just good food that you have to prepare but save you a lot of money from going out, such as hamburger helper or cereal.

Shop carefully. Plan your meals from completely made from scratch to gourmet splurging going out meals based on convenience, occasion, and price. Try to take the above shopping factors in mind, and get more out of your weekly shopping budget.

Our Generation’s Moon Shot: Zero Environmental Impact

zero environmental impactNormally my Editor-in-Chief prefers that I stay on task and write something relevant to the multifamily housing sector, but today I hope she will forgive me for getting all weepy about the new leadership goals at the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA). In Washington, D.C., at the United States Green Building Council Federal Summit, Martha N. Johnson, Administrator of the GSA), made remarks that included these:

“As the largest consumer of energy in the U.S. economy, the Federal government can and should lead by example when it comes to creating innovative ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase energy efficiency, conserve water, reduce waste, and use environmentally-responsible products and technologies.”

And so I ask,

“What agency is positioned with a major responsibility for steering that consumption and those efficiencies?”

The answer: the General Services Administration. The federal government occupies nearly 500,000 buildings; operates more than 600,000 vehicles; and purchases more than $500 billion per year in goods, systems, and services. GSA plays a prominent role in that, managing over 350 million square feet of space, operating a third of those vehicles, and overseeing a vast flow of goods and services via our schedules program, contracts, credit cards, travel services, space funeral services, and more.

Zero environmental footprint is this generation’s moon shot. And so, it must be ours at GSA. It is not only the right thing to do environmentally (though it is), it is also the right thing to do from a business perspective, from a social perspective, and from a strategic perspective. Zero footprint will demand that we work harder than we have ever worked before.

We will have to find innovative ideas like never before, and take risks that are absolutely not within our current comfort range.

A zero environmental footprint goal for GSA will galvanize the work force and our partners, such as USGBC, and attract the best of the next generation’s smart, idealistic and determined talent. A zero footprint goal for GSA will pull change through our systems, and ratchet our priorities away from simply pawing and petting processes and towards solving society’s real needs.

A zero footprint goal will electrify our confidence in our future.

Although I rarely agree with any bureaucrat, this speech inspired me. Why can’t the multifamily and rental housing sector set these same goals, I thought. As the owners of approximately 20,000,000 rental housing units (including single-family), that is a lot of lobbying power.

It is also a lot of energy and water resources that could be more efficiently used and conserved.

So as we ask what our government should do and can do for us, what can we do for ourselves?

To read Johnson’s full remarks, here is a link.

The Spirit and Ethics of Re-Gifting

Spirit and Ethics of Re-GiftingProblem: Great Aunt Mignonne, an avid deer hunter, never accepted your vegetarian lifestyle. She adored you, however, and willed you her guns and a collection of 100-year-old, handmade deerskin clothing.

Solution: Your police department and/or local historical society or museum.

Problem: Your best friend loves country “kitsch”. You adore her and would not hurt her for the world, but she has given you enough wreaths, garden plaks and cutesy wall hangings to stock a boutique. With your minimalist taste you have begun to dread seeing her.

Solution: Hope she has children to whom you can re-gift these incredibly ’sentimental’ gifts.

Problem: You simply don’t need a thing and certainly don’t have room for anything either. 

Solution: Start a new tradition with your friends and family.  Rather than gift exchanges, ask them to assist you in finding a family that really needs help. Every priest, minister, rabbi or imam knows several – and some may be your neighbors. Pool your resources and anonymously lift that family up with what you would have spent on gifts.

Problem: Your office mates. There are ten of them, nobody received a raise these last few years and a third have unemployed spouses. Nobody can afford anything worth gifting, but it has been a tradition.

Solution: Insist they bring something they already have (a White Elephant gift) and make a game out of the exchange. Each person brings one wrapped gift and will pick a number out of a hat. Then going in a circle, everyone has to make up, read (or tell a real holiday story) that includes the words ‘left’ and ‘right’. (These can be prepared ahead of time or spontaneously created.) Each time either word is said, the gifts are passed in that direction. The host should end the game with driving directions from her house to the office. Guests can also trade gifts if they like.

Problem: Your mother, a flamboyant artist, again makes you something which you ungraciously shove in the closet after you drop her at the airport.  You feel completely justified as it is not your taste and you live in a cozy apartment without a lot of storage space.

Solution:  This is not okay, so knock it off and grow up. She’s your mother.

Reclaim, recycle, reuse, restore and now regift? The latter is a time-honored if often surreptitious practice. Long-term etiquette queen Emily Post, however, expresses reservations. She insists re-gifts must meet each of the following rules:

  • You’re certain that the gift is something the recipient would really like to receive.
  • The gift is brand new (no cast-offs allowed) and comes with its original box and instructions.
  • The gift isn’t one that the original giver took great care to select or make.

Sorry, Emily, but sustainability principles need to trump social etiquette.  During any time of the year ’re-gifts’ should not be restricted to wine aerators or espresso machines received as duplicate wedding or anniversary gifts naming a star.  In fact, regifting used items is one of the most important strategies we can employ to preserve our essential resources and slow climate change.

Forget identifying people by the ’shoes’ they wear. Just go right to the person’s closet or garage.  If these are overflowing, born here or not, they have become Americans.  Add in the one in ten households estimated to be renting a self-storage unit (Self Storage Demand Study – 2007 published by the SSA) and that’s a whole lotta stuff we are frankly hoarding without justification. Certainly I understand a full pantry as emergency preparedness, but tons of material goods deteriorating in attics makes no sense in today’s world.

Other than the obvious, the hidden value of re-gifting is the lightness of its carbon footprint. The intended re-gift has already been manufactured – a replacement will not use materials excavated from the ground or further deplete our forests – and it will keep waste out of landfills.  There is an enormous amount of embodied energy in manufactured goods just on the transportation side.  Looking at our electronics – which contain rare earth minerals and metals – according to Greenpeace:

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that as much as three quarters of the computers sold in the US are stockpiled in garages and closets. When thrown away, they end up in landfills or incinerators or, more recently, are exported to Asia.

E-waste is routinely exported by developed countries to developing ones, often in violation of the international law. Inspections of 18 European seaports in 2005 found as much as 47 percent of waste destined for export, including e-waste, was illegal. In the UK alone, at least 23,000 metric tonnes of undeclared or ‘grey’ market electronic waste was illegally shipped in 2003 to the Far East, India, Africa and China. In the US, it is estimated that 50-80 percent of the waste collected for recycling is being exported in this way. This practice is legal because the US has not ratified the Basel Convention.

A gift is a lovely thing, of course, but it should never come with a life sentence. A great rule of thumb is if you haven’t used it in a year, you don’t need it.

Everything Old Is New Again

Everything Old Is New AgainRecently, the batteries ran out on one of our wall clocks and I started to wonder if we shouldn’t think about investing in a couple of wind up clocks!

If we wound up the clocks, we could stop using batteries altogether and wouldn’t that be better for the environment?

In that spirit, here are few of my favorite old time substitutions:

Cloth napkins are not just for the dinner table anymore.  We also use them to cover foods in the microwave, darker colors are better for this purpose.

They do need to be laundered but they’ve never added so much to the pile that I had to wash an extra load.

Handkerchiefs are not just gentlemanly.  They, like napkins, are also more sustainable than paper products (tissues) and can be tossed into the laundry without causing the basket to overflow.

Rags can be used for cleaning instead of paper towels or (breathe deeply, ladies) toilet paper.  As a graduate of Outward Bound, I know full well how to manage my personal hygiene on the trail and now the time has come to bring those wilderness principles into the home. Learn more.

Picnic and party supplies such as paper plates and plastic cups and utensils may seem easy but they take their toll on the environment and landfills.  If you’re having a party, ask friends if they have extra dishes and silverware they are willing to donate for the evening’s festivities.

Dining poolside or alfresco and worried about breakage or weight?  Consider borrowing or buying lightweight re-usable melanine or plastic serving pieces.

Focus on Efficiency

green efficiencyI wish every green property management nerd had the opportunity to attend a seminar with Andy Padian, an impassioned, multifamily expert on energy efficiency. With 30 years of experience in the field, Andy is currently Vice President of Energy Initiatives at The Community Preservation Corporation.

At the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association’s Building Energy Conference, I had the pleasure of listening to Andy speak.

Here is a brief review of his multifamily energy efficiency recommendations:

  • Increase air sealing and fire stopping in apartments and common areas in order to reduce transport of heated or cooled air.
  • By incorporating efficient air sealing, pests, odors, smoke and conditioned air are unable to move from unit to unit, increasing the comfort of all residents.
  • Make sure heating and hot water boilers are properly sized. Do not accept “replace with same” as a standard because these systems are often oversized. Property owners and mangers should be prepared for the day the boiler fails and have a new one already specified. Be sure to choose an energy efficiency rating at or above 85%.
  • Many buildings need more efficient heating and hot water controls. If your residents are opening windows on cold days in the middle of winter, chances are good there is a problem with overheating of some units and the property needs better thermostatic controls. In addition, domestic hot water is notoriously set high. People usually like showers in the 100°F – 105°F range, so there is little reason to set the hot water temperature above 120°F.
  • Manage water better with high efficiency toilets, low flow showerheads, and aerators on all faucets. Not only are property owners paying for water, but for the energy to heat that water. Therefore, if residents use less water, less water needs to be heated and this can affect natural gas or other heating fuel bills.
  • Ventilation systems typically have a 50% leakage rate and are, therefore, not as efficient as they could be. When ventilation systems leak, smoke and odors travel throughout the building.
    Retrofit exterior, common area and interior unit lighting with compact fluorescent bulbs. If you have interior hallways use two-stage dimmable fluorescents like those from Occu-Smart Technology and we buy houses in Houston.
  • Replace appliances with Energy Star rated products. Also, maintain a list of equipment with motors and use the Department of Energy’s free MotorMaster software to help you select and manage motor-driven equipment.
  • If you are going to replace windows, specify better windows with the appropriate low-E coating and higher R-values. Phase out aluminum and vinyl and purchase fiberglass and wood windows for performance.
  • Ask for help when you need it. Get everyone together and discuss what needs to be done. There is plenty of work to be done and new ideas and incentives may spring up from the group.
  • Coordinate efforts to fund projects through existing programs at the local, state and federal level. Check here for rebates and tax incentives.

What is a sump pump

Sump PumpSump pumps are used to eliminate accumulated water that goes in to water collection area called a sump pit. These are widely found in the house basement areas. The water can easily enter through the perimeter drains present in the waterproofing arrangement of basement of a building or house.

This usually funnels inside a pit in case the basement is underneath the table level of water.

A sump pump is typically situated in a sump pit. It is a kind of hole that also consists of a gravel base. This measures about two feet or 60 centimeters in depth and eighteen inches or 45 centimeters in width. This is usually dug deep in the lowest division of basement of your house or crawlspace.

With the pit filling with water, the main duty of the pump is to turn itself on. It shifts the fluid out of the cavity all the way through pipes that scuttle away from the house towards a place where water can exhaust from the groundwork.

Pumps may be connected to the sanitary sewer in older properties. Now, this practice may be against the plumbing code or at least municipal bylaws because it can overwhelm the municipal sewage treatment system. Municipalities urge homeowners to disconnect and reroute sump pump discharge away from sanitary sewers. Fines may be imposed for noncompliance and bad Propertycare.

Many homeowners have inherited their sump pump configurations and do not realize that the pump discharges to the sewer. If the discharge is fed to a deep sink in the basement it’s likely going to the sewer.

Usually hardwired into a home’s electrical system, sump pumps may have a battery backup. The home’s pressurized water supply powers some pumps, eliminating the need for electricity. Since a sump pit may overflow if not constantly pumped, a backup system is important for cases when the main power is out for prolonged periods of time.

There are generally two types of sump pumps: pedestal and submersible. The pedestal pump’s motor is mounted above the pit, where it is more easily serviced but also more conspicuous. The submersible pump is entirely mounted inside the pit, and is specially sealed to prevent electrical short circuits.

For more information on sump pumps, watch this easy to follow video.

Which Microdermabrasion Treatments Is More Effective

Both the personal microdermabrasion and the professional microdermabrasion uses very fine crystals in abrading the skin to produce results like lightening of scars, decreasing wrinkles, eliminating age spots, etc.

Consultation before microdermabrasion treatments

To get maximized results from microdermabrasion treatment, it is advisable to gain an understanding on your skin problems or conditions before you decide on which treatment to opt for. For professional microdermabrasion, skin care doctors or dermatologists provide the skin rejuvenation procedure for you in clinics or beauty salons.

On the other hand, “common” individuals (meaning, you or any untrained person), of course, performs the personal microdermabrasion on your own.

In fact, you can do microdermabrasion at home and expect improvements in your skin problems by getting the appropriate home kits. Click here.

Positive Tips On Performing Microdermabrasion Treatments At Home

Comparison Between Professional And Personal Microdermabrasion Treatments

Even though professional and personal techniques can enhance your skin, they still differ in terms of the effectiveness of the microdermabrasion treatments. Professional microdermabrasion is able to give more significant results as compared from what you can gain from using home kits. In fact, there are many advantages of professional microdermabrasion over the personal method:

The power of noticing faster skin rejuvenation

Having microdermabrasion treatments done in clinics or spas means the utilization of more advanced machines in the procedure. These machines send out just the right amount of pressure and stream of abrasive crystals into the skin thus removing dead skin cells along the way.

Because of the advanced technology used in professional microdermabrasion, your skin comes out clearer and with a younger look, definitely better than the results you get from just relying on personal microdermabrasion kits. Besides, you can expect lesser microdermabrasion risks of getting skin infection as the crystals used in the microdermabrasion treatments have bacteria-killing characteristics.

The differences in technology

As a matter of fact, both personal microdermabrasion and professional microdermabrasion do not guarantee that you’ll see big improvements on your skin conditions after just one treatment session. However, professional microdermabrasion usually provides quicker results or effects because of two main reasons.

Firstly, microdermabrasion machine characterized by the latest technologies are used in the microdermabrasion treatments. Secondly, the doctor or dermatologist who perform the treatment know which areas of your skin to target for best results as well as the intensity level of treatment suitable for your skin.

Though microdermabrasion at home kits are designed to treat the same skin problems as professional microdermabrasion, it can’t produce the same level results due to it inferior technology.

Usually, a home kit uses crystal or diamond particles which are mixed with a face or microdermabrasion cream that is applied by hand or by rubbing onto the skin with a scrubbing applicator.

However, it may only be a little bit more effective than your ordinary facial scrub as it may take a lot of uses before you can see significant changes in your skin conditions.

The power of minimal side effects

In professional microdermabrasion, lesser side effects may be experienced as compared to the use of home kits. Greater skin redness, skin irritations or microdermabrasion side effects usually develop from performing personal microdermabrasion because of the fact that you may have the tendency to overdo it just to see the results you want, thus leading to more risks.

Furthermore, some individuals may not be able to follow the instructions in the kits which in turn causes reverse effects on the skin. With professional microdermabrasion, you need not worry about making mistakes or having the microdermabrasion treatment done a hundred times which provides harsher side effects as your dermatologist is experienced enough to decide on the appropriate treatment for you.

In fact, the main factor which is consider by most people is the microdermabrasion cost between professional microdermabrasion and personal microdermabrasion. Having professional microdermabrasion treatments usually cost you at least $100 up to $300 per session. A microdermabrasion at home kits, however, can cost as little as $15.

When deciding on the type of microdermabrasion treatments you want, you have to weigh which factor is more important to you. Do you just want to pay a small cost or are you looking at the quality of the treatment? If you have limited budget, then personal microdermabrasion may be the best choice, especially if you only have minimal skin problems.

On the other hand, if you have serious or damaged skin problems like deep scars, serious wrinkles or acne problems and you want to be assured of quality results, professional microdermabrasion treatments are what you need.