6 Tips For Saving Money On Your Energy Bill

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6 Tips For Saving Money On Your Energy Bill

Yikes, the temperature is rising and so is your NES bill!

You want to save money, but aren’t ready to tear up your entire house installing the latest energy efficient innovations.

I hear you!

So I asked my friend Jennifer Tlumak and her colleagues at Urban Green Lab for some EASY & ECONOMICAL tips to reduce that energy bill and be a greener homeowner!

Set your thermostat to 78°.  Hmmm, 74° is the max summertime setting in my own home, but I’m inspired to start edging the thermostat up!  Motivation- air conditioning represents 17% of the energy bill in the average U.S. home.

Lower your thermostat 4°-8° while on vacation. This is why you have a programmable thermostat!

Switch ceiling fans to run counterclockwise in the summer and feel 3°-8°cooler. (In wintertime, run your ceiling fans clockwise to push the warm air down into living spaces.)

Plant a shade tree.  You can never have too many trees, and a strategically placed tree can reduce cooling costs up to 25%.  Planted on the east and west sides of your home, the leaves of deciduous trees will shade your house in the summer months. (In the winter, the bare branches will allow the sun’s warmth to reach your home’s walls. )

Caulk, caulk, caulk cracks in doors, windows, window casings, and vents. This one step will improve the efficiency of your heating and cooling system by as much as 20% –resulting in some serious savings.

Clean or replace your air conditioning filter regularly.  A clean filter allows your unit run more efficiently. (I never remember to do this until my filter is positively black. Note to self!)

Take a few minutes this weekend to implement one or more of the above suggestions and reap some green!


The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith a/k/a J.K. Rowling

The Silkworm by Robert GalbraithThe Silkworm by Robert Galbraith a/k/a  J.K. Rowling 

Yeah! Private investigator Cormoran Strike and his assistant Robin Ellacott are back—as I knew they would be. Galbraith’s first novel was clearly poised as the first in a series of novels in the time honored literary tradition of sleuth and sidekick.

The crime solving duo was introduced in “The Cuckoo’s Calling,” a novel set in the world of high fashion. Robin was originally hired as an office temp, but through pluck and persistence, she has become a permanent staff member. (Sidekicks are always plucky.)

The Silkworm takes place in another rarified environment, the highbrow literary world.

Cormoran and Robin are hired by Leonora Quine to find her missing husband, an author of modest talent but outsize ego.  They find Owen Quine–murdered—in an unusually ghoulish manner.

In the course of their investigation, it becomes clear that the murder is related to Quine’s latest novel, Bombyx Mori (Latin for silkworm), the inflammatory and potentially libelous manuscript which circulated around the literary community in the days prior to Quine’s disappearance.  As a result, Cormoran must read the novel and interview all those who had access to it, both thankless chores as the novel is awful as are Quine’s colleagues.

Clearly Rowling had fun composing Quine’s “novel,” excerpts from which are sprinkled throughout The Silkworm. Written in excruciatingly gothic prose, Bombyx Mori  is a road trip novel featuring a hermaphrodite hero who encounters devious women and monsters on his way to —somewhere. The characters are unappealing and possess monikers such as the Tick, Succuba, and the Cutter.  It makes for depressing reading, but I caution you to read the novel-within-a-novel carefully. I made the mistake of skimming some of the more unpleasant passages, and then had to go back as Bombyx Mori holds key clues to Quine’s murder (and not a few red herrings.)

Rowling also enjoys lampooning the literary and academic world with which she is intimately acquainted. The characters (editor, publisher, authors, colleagues, wife, mistress, assistants) are mostly despicable or pathetic —if vividly portrayed.

(It makes you wonder how Rowling feels about her own real life literary circle. I guess when you’ve written the Harry Potter series, you can satirize your community at will.)

Rowling’s other non-HP book Casual Vacancy is chock full of similarly unlikable characters, such that there isn’t one with whom the reader can identify—making it a tough read.     Fortunately in The Silkworm, we have Cormoran and Robin, flawed to be sure, but worth rooting for!

With shrewdly observed characters and clever plotting,  The Silkworm goes well beyond the formulaic detective novel.




Image LR looking toward windowWell maintained, one owner house in Poplarwood, a community of fewer than 50 homes, has updated kitchen and baths, two bonus rooms.

Wisteria draped deck overlooks lush, private backyard with raised vegetable beds and new sod. Enormous finished basement with door to lawn.

Image deck 2House Notes

Year built: 1997 Jones Co

Acres: .22

Square footage:  2877 +752 finished basement (professionally measured)

3 Bedrooms,  2 Baths, 1 Half Bath

Fireplaces: 2


Hot Water Heaters:  1

HOA: $110 per quarter

Price: $339,500

MLS #1560376

Junkyard Planet by Adam Minter

Junkyard PlanetJunkyard Planet by Adam Minter 

Do you know what happens to your old Christmas tree lights?

They  are  shipped in containers to a scrap-metal processor in southern China where using a system of extraction that is theoretically similar  to the one used by 19thC American gold prospectors,  the recovered wire is sold to copper mills and the wire insulation makes plastic slipper soles.

Who knew?

After reading Junkyard Planet by Adam Minter, you’ll know this and a host of other fun facts about the global scrap business.  Minter’s book, although fascinating, is a bit TMI.  The content is better suited for a series of New Yorker articles than a full fledged book.  But even reading a few chapters will give you an entirely new perspective on your recycling bin. Continue reading

Home Prices Up

Home Prices Up

Home sales are flat and inventory is shrinking in Davidson and Williamson Counties (see earlier post), but home prices keep going up.

"Beneath the Wooden Shutters by Gay Petach. Courtesy of Local color Gallery

“Beneath the Wooden Shutters” by Gay Petach. Courtesy of Local Color Gallery

In Davidson County, the average closing price for the first six months of this year was $264,409 vs. $239,825 at this same time last year.

In Williamson County, it is the same story. The average closing price for the first half of this year was $457,054 vs. $417,047 at this same time last year.

Advice to Buyers: Get in the market now and be prepared to hustle! Home prices will continue to increase, and by early 2015, interest rates will probably be up as well.

Advice to Sellers: It’s a good time to sell, but the flip side is that you also have to buy! But take heart! Depending on whether you are buying another type of dwelling (condo for example), a home that is more/less expensive, or in a different neighborhood than your current home, you may have more options than you think. Take your money and move on!

7 Tips for Working (Better) With Your Real Estate Agent

Playing Card - Seven of Hearts7 Tips for Working (Better) With Your Real Estate Agent

It’s three weeks into the home buying/ selling process, and you are spending more time with  your real estate agent (a/k/a your new best friend)  than your spouse, your dog, or your children!

No surprise.  Your relationship with your agent is the single most important part of the real estate transaction.

And as with any partnership, there are good days and bad.

To make sure that you and your agent continue to enjoy a positive partnership, below are my suggestions for getting along with and getting the most from your real estate agent.

If you follow these seven tips assiduously, I guarantee your house will be bought/sold more efficiently, expediently, and effortlessly. And you and your new best friend will live to work together another day!

Be Honest

  • If you hate the house, tell her
  • If you can’t afford it, tell her
  • If you think she’s crazy, tell her
  • If you change your mind, tell her
  • If you didn’t pull a permit for that master bedroom addition, tell her

Honesty saves time. Misinformation wastes  time.

Be Calm

  • The house didn’t appraise
  • The crawl space is full of mold
  • The other agent forget to leave a lockbox
  • The traffic is horrendous
  • The seller won’t budge on the price
  • Zillow says the house is worth more/less
  • The buyers won’t make the repairs
  • Your loan is delayed
  • The movers didn’t show up

OMG. Something always goes wrong. But clear heads make better decisions.

Be Demanding

  • Demand to keep looking
  • Demand to keep showing
  • Demand an explanation
  • Demand that she listen

It’s your time, money, and house, go ahead– ask for more.

Be Curious

  • Consider a condo instead of a house
  • Consider a house instead of a condo
  • Consider a new neighborhood
  • Consider other alternatives

Sometimes what you think you want  isn’t what you want at all. Be open to the possibilities.

Be Responsive

  • If she sends a document, sign it
  • If she sends a text, answer it
  • If she leaves a voice mail, call  her
  • If she needs the information, forward it

Real estate is all about paperwork (even if there is no actual “paper” involved.)   Timely processing of information means timely results.

Be Enthusiastic

  • In spite of the heat
  • In spite of the high prices
  • In spite of the tiny yard
  • In spite of the god awful decor
  • In spite of the minuscule turn out at the open house
  • In spite of the lowball offer

Real estate is a marathon, not a sprint. Keep your spirits up.

Be Appreciative

  •  Yes, it’s her job, but don’t you like to be appreciated for your work? Show some love!




Home Sales Flat

"Black Sunglasses" by Dru Anderson

“Black Sunglasses” by Dru Anderson

Sales Flat Through June

In Davidson and Williamson Counties, almost the same number of homes sold in the first six months of 2014 as in the first six months of 2013, bucking a trend of ever increasing year-over-year sales that started in 2011.

Going hand in hand with flat sales is  limited inventory.  For homes priced under $500,000, inventory is tight in Davidson, but it’s squeaky tight in Williamson at that price point.

What Does This Mean For Buyers?

For first time buyers in particular, stricter underwriting guidelines combined with the scarce inventory means it is important for you to be pre-approved and work with a savvy real estate professional who knows your market. Be willing to move fast.

What Does This Mean For Sellers?

A well priced and well maintained home listed for under $500,000 will sell quickly. But don’t get cocky– the key phrase is well priced. Buyers are better informed, banks more conservative, and appraisals tougher, so don’t start counting your money yet!

10 Do’s & Don’ts for Financing That First Home

money for a new home10 Do’s & Don’ts for Financing That First Home

It’s not all about the bonus room or the two car garage or the stainless appliances.

Finding the right home also means financing the right home.

The good news is that a little preparation greatly increases the odds of finding and closing on your perfect home.

SUZANNE REED from FirstBank Mortgage Partners shares her list of  10 do’s & don’ts for ensuring a smooth mortgage process.


1-Gather documents:

  • Last two years tax returns
  • Most recent paystubs
  • Most recent W2s


2-Check your credit score.

With a credit score of 680 or higher,  most loan programs will be available to you.

3-Correct errors on your credit score, if any.

4-Get pre-approved.

This easy process typically takes about 24 hours after the lender receives the necessary documentation, which includes an application. Once you know how much you can borrow, you can initiate a more targeted home search. A pre-approval also lets you know much cash you need to close.

5-Determine what type of property you wish to purchase, condominium, townhome, or single family as the documentation varies for each.


6-Make any big purchases while house shopping and getting pre-approved.

7-Apply for new credit – this can impact pre-approval and/or closing timeline.

8-Change jobs or make major changes in compensation structure during this time.

9-Be afraid to ask the lender questions.

10-Be offended at the numerous requests for paperwork – underwriting simply requires more documentation than in the past.

Suzanne ReedProspective home buyers benefit from Suzanne’s 20 years of experience in problem solving and creative solutions. Suzanne’s successful track record poises her to provide a unique experience in the commoditized world of mortgage lending. 

Suzanne can be reached at 615.812.3706 or  sreed@firstbankonline.com.

Suzanne is looking forward to reading: Think Like A Freak by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.

Think Like a Freak





Cooked by Michael Pollan

Cooked by Michael PollanEarlier this spring, Michael Pollan, author of the ominous  Omnivore’s Dilemma, was the featured speaker at the Salon@615 event at the  Blair School.

Having written extensively on agribusiness and the food system, Pollan turns to his own kitchen in his latest book, Cooked. In it, he argues that the solution to living a healthier life, reducing American’s dependence on processed and fast food, and combating obesity is home cooking—not exactly a radical thought, but Pollan gives it his own unique and well researched twist.

But don’t expect recipes; it’s not that kind of book.  Pollan is a journalist, not a chef, restaurateur, food critic, or nutritionist. As such, he delves into the origins of cooking, framing his research around the four classical elements—fire, water, air, earth –and how they transform nature’s bounty into something edible.  His explorations take him around the country from Ayden, NC (Fire/BBQ) to San Francisco (Air/Bread.) Along the way he meets some entertaining “characters” and learns to cook.

I haven’t read the book yet, but Pollan’s presentation was such fun that bought it despite my complete lack of foodie credentials.

In response to a question about how we can encourage more home cooking, his number one recommendation—bring back Home Economics (with a sexier, gender neutral course title!)I have been saying this for years! We have raised a  generation (or two) of children who don’t know how to select a cut of meat, shop for food, measure ingredients, read a label or distinguish between  boil, baste, or braise. Food for thought!


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