Ask Brian: Winter and Holiday Home Care



Ask Brian is a weekly column by Real Estate Expert Brian Kline. If you have questions on real estate investing, DIY, home buying/selling, or other housing inquiries please email your questions to askbrian@realtybiznews.com.

This week is about holiday/winter related DIY questions.

Question.Sasha from Scottsbluff, NE writes: Brian,this might seem like a trivial question but we are showing our home for sale during the holiday season and I’d like for the Christmas tree to remain as fresh as possible until at least New Year’s Day. What do you suggest?

Answer. Sasha, your question isn’t trivial at all. I’m sure a lot of people who are not showing their home during the holidays would also like to keep their Christmas tree fresh. The first thing you want to do is select the freshest tree that you can find. Lightly bounce the tree on the ground to see if dead needles fall off. Then the most important thing to do is cut approximately 1 inch off the bottom of the bottom of the tree trunk right before you bring it into your home. This enables the tree to continue absorbing water for a week or more. Keep the bottom of the trunk submerged in water at all times. Also, try to place it away from heat sources such as a furnace duct. Finally, there are solutions that you can add to the water that help a little in preserving the tree – but honestly, I don’t think these solutions make much difference. You’ll find commercial solutions were you purchase the tree. I have no idea what might be in those. Or you can do it yourself by combining one gallon of water with one can of Sprite or 7up and 4 tablespoons of bleach. Clearly mark the container as “tree water” and keep it at room temperature. Another tip to keeping your tree in the best condition is to leave the twine bundling on the tree until you have it in the stand and located where it will stay during the holidays. Sasha, Happy Holidays and good luck with the sale of your home.

Question. David from Grand Junction, CO writes: Hi Brian, the furnace in our home is about 25 years old. While it is still working O.K., I’m thinking I want to replace it before I start having problems. Also, I’m sure there are more fuel efficient furnaces on the market. What should I be looking for?

Answer: David, you didn’t mention what type of furnace you are looking for. Centralized forced air is the most common and these typically use electricity, natural gas, or oil, for fuel. If you have a choice, natural gas is usually the most economical. However, what is most important is the Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) ratio. This ratio is the percent of heat produced for every dollar of fuel consumed. Think of it like the miles per gallon that your car gets. The higher the number, the more fuel efficient the furnace. The recommended federal minimum is an 80% AFUE rating. You will find ratings up around 97% and 98%. Of course, you can expect to pay more for the most efficient models. The most efficient models can save you hundreds of dollars a year compared to an older or less-efficient furnace. Generally, you’ll find a good balance between purchase cost and fuel costs in a furnace with a 90% or higher AFUE rating. Your old furnace is probably only 60%to 70% efficient.

A furnace with a smart motor also helps with overall efficiency. These enable variable speed airflow, which means its speed varies depending upon your home’s heating requirements. It should be so quiet that you don’t hear it running. Specifically, an Electronically Commutated Motor (ECM) saves approximately 70% of the energy, compared to a good conventional motor.

When you are replacing your furnace, there are other things to consider:

  • Can I gain more efficiency by replacing the old thermostat?
  • How many BTU’s are needed for the size and configuration of my home?
  • Is the duct (supply and return) adequate?
  • Will the venting need to be changed for the new furnace?
  • Asa homeowner, what should I do to keep my new furnace running at the highest efficiency possible?

David, be sure to speak with an energy efficiency professional from your electricity/natural gas/oil provider as well as furnace company representatives. There is always a possibility that you qualify for an energy efficiency grant, low interest loan, or other financial incentive to upgrade the efficiency of your furnace.

Please comment with their thoughts and experiences about winter and holiday home care. Our weekly Ask Brian column welcomes questions from readers of all experience levels with residential real estate. Please email your questions or inquiries to askbrian@realtybiznews.com.

Author bio: Brian Kline has been investing in real estate for more than 35 years and writing about real estate investing for 12 years. He also draws upon 30 plus years of business experience including 12 years as a manager at Boeing Aircraft Company. Brian currently lives at Lake Cushman, Washington. A vacation destination, a few short miles from a national forest. With the Pacific Ocean a couple of miles in the opposite direction.