Comprehensive NAR Report on the Tax Cut Bill and Homeowners

Source: NAR

The National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) worked throughout the tax reform process to preserve the existing tax benefits of homeownership and real estate investment, as well to ensure as many real estate professionals as possible would benefit from proposed tax cuts. Many of the changes reflected in the final bill were the result of the engagement of NAR and its members, not only in the last three months, but over several years.

Introduction

While NAR remains concerned that the overall structure of the final bill diminishes the tax benefits of homeownership and will cause adverse impacts in some markets, the advocacy of NAR members, as well as consumers, helped NAR to gain some important improvements throughout the legislative process. The final legislation will benefit many homeowners, homebuyers, real estate investors, and NAR members as a result.

The final bill includes some big successes. NAR efforts helped save the exclusion for capital gains on the sale of a home and preserved the like-kind exchange for real property. Many agents and brokers who earn income as independent contractors or from pass-through businesses will see a significant deduction on that business income.

As a result of the changes made throughout the legislative process, NAR is now projecting slower growth in home prices of 1-3% in 2018 as low inventories continue to spur price gains. However, some local markets, particularly in high cost, higher tax areas, will likely see price declines as a result of the legislation’s new restrictions on mortgage interest and state and local taxes.

The following is a summary of provisions of interest to NAR and its members. NAR will be providing ongoing updates and guidance to members in the coming weeks, as well as working with Congress and the Administration to address additional concerns through future legislation and rulemaking. Lawmakers have already signaled a desire to fine tune elements of The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act as well as address additional tax provisions not included in this legislation in 2018, and REALTORS® will need to continue to be engaged in the process.

The examples provided are for illustrative purposes and based on a preliminary reading of the final legislation as of December 20, 2017. Individuals should consult a tax professional about their own personal situation.

All individual provisions are generally effective after December 31, 2017 for the 2018 tax filing year and expire on December 31, 2025 unless otherwise noted. The provisions do not affect tax filings for 2017 unless noted.

Major Provisions Affecting Current and Prospective Homeowners

Tax Rate Reductions

  • The new law provides generally lower tax rates for all individual tax filers. While this does not mean that every American will pay lower taxes under these changes, many will. The total size of the tax cut from the rate reductions equals more than $1.2 trillion over ten years.
  • The tax rate schedule retains seven brackets with slightly lower marginal rates of 10%, 12%, 22%, 24%, 32%, 35%, and 37%.
  • The final bill retains the current-law maximum rates on net capital gains (generally, 15% maximum rate but 20% for those in the highest tax bracket; 25% rate on “recapture” of depreciation from real property).

Tax Brackets for Ordinary Income Under Current Law and the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (2018 Tax Year) Single Filer

Current Law Tax Cuts and Jobs Act
10% $0-$9,525 10% $0 – $9,525
15% $9,525 – $38,700 12% $9,525 – $38,700
25% $38,700 – $93,700 22% $38,700 – $82,500
28% $93,700 – $195,450 24% $82,500 – $157,500
33% $195,450 – $424,950 32% $157,500 – $200,000
35% $424,950 – $426,700 35% $200,000 – $500,000
39.6% $426,700+ 37% $500,000

Tax Brackets for Ordinary Income Under Current Law and the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (2018 Tax Year) Married Filing Jointly

Current Law Tax Cuts and Jobs Act
10% $0 – $19,050 10% $0 – $19,050
15% $19,050 – $77,400 12% $19,050 – $77,400
25% $77,400 – $156,150 22% $77,400 – $165,000
28% $156,150 – $237,950 24% $165,000 – $315,000
33% $237,950 – $424,950 32% $315,000 – $400,000
35% $424,950 – $480,050 35% $400,000 – $600,000
39.6% $480,050+ 37% $600,000+

Exclusion of Gain on Sale of a Principal Residence

  • The final bill retains current law. A significant victory in the final bill that NAR achieved.
  • The Senate-passed bill would have changed the amount of time a homeowner must live in their home to qualify for the capital gains exclusion from 2 out of the past 5 years to 5 out of the past 8 years. The House bill would have made this same change as well as phased out the exclusion for taxpayers with incomes above $250,000 single/$500,000 married.

Mortgage Interest Deduction

  • The final bill reduces the limit on deductible mortgage debt to $750,000 for new loans taken out after 12/14/17. Current loans of up to $1 million are grandfathered and are not subject to the new $750,000 cap. Neither limit is indexed for inflation.
  • Homeowners may refinance mortgage debts existing on 12/14/17 up to $1 million and still deduct the interest, so long as the new loan does not exceed the amount of the mortgage being refinanced.
  • The final bill repeals the deduction for interest paid on home equity debt through 12/31/25. Interest is still deductible on home equity loans (or second mortgages) if the proceeds are used to substantially improve the residence.
  • Interest remains deductible on second homes, but subject to the $1 million / $750,000 limits.
  • The House-passed bill would have capped the mortgage interest limit at $500,000 and eliminated the deduction for second homes.

Deduction for State and Local Taxes

  • The final bill allows an itemized deduction of up to $10,000 for the total of state and local property taxes and income or sales taxes. This $10,000 limit applies for both single and married filers and is not indexed for inflation.
  • The final bill also specifically precludes the deduction of 2018 state and local income taxes prepaid in 2017.
  • When House and Senate bills were first introduced, the deduction for state and local taxes would have been completely eliminated. The House and Senate passed bills would have allowed property taxes to be deducted up to $10,000. The final bill, while less beneficial than current law, represents a significant improvement over the original proposals.

Standard Deduction

  • The final bill provides a standard deduction of $12,000 for single individuals and $24,000 for joint returns. The new standard deduction is indexed for inflation.
  • By doubling the standard deduction, Congress has greatly reduced the value of the mortgage interest and property tax deductions as tax incentives for homeownership.Congressional estimates indicate that only 5-8% of filers will now be eligible to claim these deductions by itemizing, meaning there will be no tax differential between renting and owning for more than 90% of taxpayers.

Repeal of Personal Exemptions

  • Under the prior law, tax filers could deduct $4,150 in 2018 for the filer and his or her spouse, if any, and for each dependent. These exemptions have been repealed in the new law.
  • This change alone greatly mitigates (and in some cases entirely eliminates) the positive aspects of the higher standard deduction.

To illustrate how the above-listed changes can affect the tax incentives of owning a home for a first-time buyer and a middle-income family of five, please see these examples:

Mortgage Credit Certificates (MCCs)

  • The final bill retains current law.
  • The House-passed legislation would have repealed MCCs.

Deduction for Medical Expenses

  • The final bill retains the deduction for medical expenses (including decreasing the 10% floor to 7.5% floor for 2018).
  • The House bill would have eliminated the deduction for medical expenses.

Child Credit

  • The final bill increases the child tax credit to $2,000 from $1,000 and keeps the age limit at 16 and younger. The income phase-out to claim the child credit was increased significantly from ($55,000 single/$110,000 married) under current law to $500,000 for all filers in the final bill.

Student Loan Interest Deduction

  • The final bill retains current law, allowing deductibility of student loan debt up to $2,500, subject to income phase-outs.
  • The House bill would have eliminated the deduction for interest on student loans.

Deduction for Casualty Losses

  • The final bill provides a deduction only if a loss is attributable to a presidentially-declared disaster.
  • The House bill would have eliminated the deduction for casualty losses with limited exceptions.

Moving Expenses

  • The final bill repeals moving expense deduction and exclusion, except for members of the Armed Forces.
  • The House-introduced bill would have eliminated the moving expense deduction for all filers, including military.
  • (Taxpayers) or $315,000 (for couples filing jointly), then the personal service restriction will not apply.
  • Above this level of income, the benefit of the 20% deduction is phased out over an income range of $50,000 for singles and an income range of $100,000 for couples[2].
  • For those with non-personal service income above these thresholds, the bill provides a second exception that may still allow a full or limited 20% deduction. This second exception (the wage and capital limit exception)places a limit on the deduction of the greater of:
    • 50% of the W-2 wages paid by the business, or
    • The total of 25% of the W-2 wages paid by the business plus 2.5% of the cost basis of the tangible depreciable property of the business at the end of the year.

Examples of How The New Law Will Affect the Tax Incentives of Owning a Home

Example 1 – First-Time Homebuyer. To illustrate how the changes to the standard deduction, repeal of personal exemptions, mortgage interest and state and local taxes might affect a first-time homebuyer, consider the example of Barbara Buyer. Barbara, an accountant making $58,000 per year, is single and currently rents an apartment. She also pays state income tax of $2,900 and makes charitable contributions of $2,088, but the total of these is lower than the standard deduction, so she claims the standard.

Barbara’s tax liability for 2018 under the prior law is as follows:

Salary income $58,000
Standard deduction ($ 6,500)
Personal exemption ($ 4,150)
Taxable income $47,350
Tax $ 7,491

Under the new law, Barbara would get a tax cut, computed as follows:

Salary income $58,000
Standard deduction ($12,000)
Personal exemption ($ – 0 -)
Taxable income $46,000
Tax $ 6,060

Tax Difference Under New Law. Even though Barbara would not get the benefit of the personal exemption under the new law, her higher standard deduction would more than make up for the loss. In addition, the lower tax rates of the new law would help deliver the total tax cut of $1,431 ($7,491 – $6,060) as compared with the prior law.

However, let’s take a look at what happens to Barbara if she were to purchase the condo that she likes costing $205,000. She takes out a 30-year fixed rate mortgage at 4% interest, putting down 3.5%. Assuming she buys early in 2018, her first-year mortgage interest would total $7,856 and she would pay real property taxes of $2,050.

As a first-time homeowner, her tax liability under the prior law would be computed as follows:

Salary income $58,000
Mortgage interest $ 7,856
Real property tax (1%) $ 2,050
State income tax (5%) $ 2,900
Charitable contributions (3.6% of income) $ 2,088
Total itemized deductions ($14,894)
Personal exemption ($ 4,150)
Taxable income $38,956
Tax $ 5,393

Note. Under the prior law, Barbara would lower her tax liability for 2018 by $2,098 ($7,491 – $5,393) by purchasing the condo. This is the financial effect of the prior law’s tax benefits of buying a home. This amount effectively lowers her monthly mortgage payment by $175 per month.

Now, let’s take a look at what her tax situation would be under the new law as a first-time homebuyer:

Salary income $58,000
Mortgage interest $ 7,856
Real property tax (1%) $ 2,050
State income tax (5%) $ 2,900
Charitable contributions (3.6% of income) $ 2,088
Total itemized deductions ($14,894)
Personal exemption ($ – 0 -)
Taxable income $43,106
Tax $ 5,423

Tax Difference Under New Law. Even though Barbara would still be able to claim all of her itemized deductions under the new law, she would lose the benefit of her personal exemption. This would mean that her taxes would actually go up under the new law by $30 ($5,393 – $5,423). But far worse, look at the tax differential between renting and owning a home. This difference, which was $2,098 under the prior law, has now shrunk to just $637 ($6,060 – $5,423), or $53 per month. In other words, under the prior law, Barbara was given a strong incentive to move into the ranks of those who own their home. The new law still offers her an incentive, but it is a shadow of what it was, and is unlikely to be very compelling.

Example 2 – Middle-Income Family of Five:

To illustrate how the changes to the standard deduction, repeal of personal exemptions, mortgage interest and state and local tax deductions, and increase in the child credit might affect middle-income family of five, consider the example of Steve and Melinda. Steve is a store manager making $55,000 per year, while Melinda is a school principal, earning $65,000. They have three children, ages 17, 14, and 9. Steve and Melinda recently relocated from another city, and while they are getting to know their new community, they are leasing a home. But they would like to purchase as soon as they identify which area is the best fit for their family. As renters, they pay state income tax on their salaries, totaling $6,000, and also make some charitable contributions equaling $3,120. Since these itemized deductions do not reach the level of the standard deduction, they do not itemize, but they expect to do so when they purchase their home.

Here is a look at Steve and Melinda’s tax liability for 2018, computed under the prior law:

Salary income $120,000
Standard deduction ($ 13,000)
Personal exemptions (5 x $4,150) ($ 20,750)
Taxable income $ 86,250
Tax before credits $ 12,870
Child tax credits (2 x $1,000 less $500 phase-out) ($  1,500)
Net Tax $ 11,370

Under the new law, Steve and Melinda, as renters, would get a tax cut, computed as follows:

Salary income $120,000
Standard deduction ($ 24,000)
Personal exemption ($ – 0 -)
Taxable income $ 96,000
Tax before credits $ 12,999
Child tax credits (2 x $2,000) ($   4,000)
Net Tax $ 8,999

Tax Difference Under New Law As Renters. Steve and Melinda lose the big benefit of the personal and dependency exemptions for the two adults and three children. And the increase in the standard deduction is not enough to make up for this loss. However, the big increase in the child credit for the two younger children and the lower tax rate are enough to deliver them a tax cut of $2,371 ($11,370 – $8,999) as compared with the prior law.

Let’s now consider how Steve and Melinda’s tax situation changes if they were homeowners, rather than renters. Assume they find an ideal home in a nice neighborhood that costs $425,000, and after offering a 10% down payment, Steve and Melinda take out a 30-year fixed mortgage at a 4% rate. Let’s say that their real property tax for the year totals $4,250, which is just 1% of the home’s value.

Here is how their 2018 tax liability would be computed as homeowners, under the prior law:

Salary income $120,000
Mortgage interest $ 15,189
Real property tax (1%) $  4,250
State income tax (5%) $  6,000
Charitable contributions (2.6% of income) $  3,120
Total itemized deductions ($ 28,559)
Personal exemptions (5 x $4,150) ($ 20,750)
Taxable income $ 70,691
Tax before credits $  9,651
Child tax credits (2 x $1,000 less $500 phase-out) ($  1,500)
Net Tax $  8,151

Note. Under the prior law, Steve and Melinda would lower their tax liability for 2018 by $3,219 ($11,370 – $8,151) by purchasing their home instead of renting. This is the financial effect of the prior law’s tax benefits of buying a home. This amount effectively lowers their monthly mortgage payment by over $268 per month.

Now, let’s take a look at what her tax situation would be under the new law as a home-owning family instead of renters:

Salary income $120,000
Mortgage interest $ 15,189
Real property tax (1%) $   4,250
State income tax (5%) (limited by $10,000 cap) $   5,750
Charitable contributions (2.6% of income) $   3,120
Total itemized deductions ($ 28,309)
Personal exemptions ($ – 0 -)
Taxable income $ 91,691
Tax before credits $ 12,051
Child tax credits (2 x $2,000) ($  4,000)
Net Tax $  8,051

Tax Difference Under New Law As Homeowners. For Steve and Melinda, most of their itemized deductions from the prior law are preserved by the new law. They are limited slightly ($250) by the $10,000 limit on the deduction of state and local taxes. However, they lose big by the repeal of the personal and dependency exemptions, which equal $20,750 for this family. Even so, Steve and Melinda receive a small tax cut of $100 ($8,151 – $8,050) under the new law, thanks to the much larger child credit and lower tax rate. But as renters, they received a tax cut of almost $2,400. Thus, buying a home becomes a net tax change of almost $2,300.

What happened? What happened is that the new law is taking away most of the tax benefits of owning a home. Under the prior law, this benefit was $3,219 for Steve and Melinda. But under the new law, they enjoy only a benefit of $948 ($8,999 – $8,051). This gives them a benefit of just $79 per month, which is obviously a far weaker incentive to own.

[1] Meaning one does not have to itemize deductions in order to claim it.

[2] This means that for single individuals, the benefit of the deduction would be fully phased out for taxable income levels above $207,500 and for married couples filing joint returns, the benefit of the deduction would be fully phased out for taxable income levels above $415,000.

[3] With the exception of some restrictions on the deductibility of entertainment expenses, the normal business expenses of real estate professionals were not changed by the bill.

[4] The new law provides single individuals with a $12,000 standard deduction.

[5] The prior law provided a tax credit of $1,000 for each child.

[6] The new law increases the standard deduction for married taxpayers filing a joint return to $24,000. Since this is higher than Andy and Emma’s itemized deductions, they will claim the higher standard deduction.

[7] The new law doubles the child tax credit to $2,000 per child.

[8] At this income level, Bobbie and Emil’s personal exemptions would be phased out.

[9] At this income level, Bobbie and Emil’s itemized deductions are reduced by 3% of the excess of their AGI ($445,000) over the 2018 phaseout threshold of $320,000, or by $3,750. $28,000 – $3,750 = $24,250.

[10] The new law repeals the itemized deduction phaseout (so-called “Pease” provision).

[11] These are made up of mortgage interest, state and local taxes, and charitable contributions.

[12] At this income level, David and Valerie’s personal exemptions would be phased out.

[13] At this income level, David and Valerie’s itemized deductions are reduced by 3% of the excess of their AGI ($450,000) over the 2018 phaseout threshold of $320,000, or by $3,900. $35,000 – $3,900 = $31,100.

[14] The new law repeals the itemized deduction phaseout (so-called “Pease” provision).

For more information AND the entire article:  nar.realtor

9 Updates Your Home Needs Every 10 Years

Approaching your 10th home-iversary? Congrats! It’s probably time for a little maintenance.

No matter how much you love and care for your home, things are bound to wear out and need fixing — especially when you hit the 10-year mark.

To keep your house in tiptop condition, consider making these updates every 10 years or so.

Get new carpet
The average medium-grade carpet has a life expectancy of approximately 10 years. Of course, that depends on several factors, including the number of people and pets.

Signs that you need to replace your carpet: rips, tears or stains, and odors that remain even after a good cleaning. And even without any of those, you carpet might just look old and worn out. An update wouldn’t hurt.

Replace hot water tank
A water heater may not show many symptoms before it leaks or fails, so it’s important to know its age. If the manufacture date isn’t shown, then it may be embedded in the serial number on the tank.

A good rule of thumb: Any tank that’s been around for 10 years or more is a candidate for replacement.

Update ceiling fans
A midrange ceiling fan should last about 10 years, if it’s running frequently. A common sign that it might be time for a new one: the lightbulbs seem to burn out more quickly than usual.

And since a ceiling fan is about style as well as function, you may just want a more modern model.

Buy a new dishwasher
Like your water heater, consider replacing your dishwasher if it’s 10 years old. You’ll likely get a more energy-efficient model that’ll pay for itself over time.

Signs that you should replace your dishwasher sooner rather than later are an unresponsive control board, poorly cleaned dishes and cracks in the tub.

Replace garbage disposal
You’ll know you need a new garbage disposal when it doesn’t work as well as it used to. This is because the blades dull over time.

The average garbage disposal should last about 10-12 years with regular use, so if yours is around that age, consider replacing it.

Replace washer and dryer
The average lifespan of both appliances is about eight years. So, if your set is 10+ years old and running without any issues, consider yourself fortunate! That said, think about replacing them before you have any real problems or leaks.

Repaint inside and outside
There’s no hard and fast rule about when to repaint your home. It depends on where you live, humidity and many other factors.

People often repaint certain areas, such as a heavily used living room, every three to five years. But if some areas of the home haven’t been repainted in 10 years or more, now’s definitely the time to do it.

Re-caulk showers, bathtubs and sinks
Few jobs offer as much bang for your buck as re-caulking. Whether you just haven’t gotten around to it yet or you’re moving into a 10-year-old home, go ahead and re-caulk the tub, shower and sinks. You can easily do this yourself, and it makes everything look so much brighter.

Re-glaze windows
Re-glazing old windows is easier and more cost-effective than replacing them. And generally speaking, re-glazing should be done about every 10 years or so.

But check your windows every year before the cold weather arrives to make sure you don’t have any leaks or cracks.

Source: zillow.com ~ By: SEE JANE DRILL

Do You Really Need to Rake? 8 Steps for Autumn Yard Cleanup

Your fall chore list might be lighter than you think. Check out these 8 steps for autumn yard cleanup.

Bad news: It’s time to get your act together and clean up your garden before winter makes the task more difficult. But the good news is, fall garden chores don’t have to be a pain. You might find you enjoy picking up branches or raking leaves in the brisk autumn air.

Whether you love or hate fall chores, here is a checklist of tasks and ways to make them easier.

Make a compost bin

Composting sounds like a lot of hard work, but it’s actually a perfect solution for lazy gardeners. Have a bunch of weeds, grass clippings and branches to get rid of? Don’t bother bagging it up and hauling it to the curb — just throw it in a pile and mix it up every month or so. Then surround the pile with landscape timbers or chicken wire to keep everything from blowing all over the place.

While you can make composting as complicated as you want, it doesn’t have to be.

Rake leaves — or don’t

That’s right, raking the leaves isn’t always necessary. But before you proudly share this news with your significant other to try getting out of your chores, here’s the full story.

shutterstock_232950250

Leaves in the front lawn are not desirable, especially when they blow into neighboring lawns. Leaves in the garden, on the other hand, are totally desirable, and act as free mulch to protect roots and conserve moisture.

Another caveat: The soil around rose bushes and other plants that are sensitive to diseases like powdery mildew should be kept clean to prevent infection.

Collect fallen debris

We’ve all had a so-called ‘trash tree’ at some point. You know, the Bradford pear that drops branches at the drop of a hat — or the Osage orange that bombs unsuspecting passersby with rock-hard fruits.

If you’re one of the unfortunate souls with a messy tree, now is the time to collect all that debris for the year. Collect sticks and twigs, too, but once you’ve gathered them, leave them in the garden to serve as perches and homes for wildlife.

Mow the lawn

Cut the grass one last time, and mow it short to prevent diseases from spreading. Collect the grass clippings and add them to your compost pile.

Now is also a good time to complete your edging and string-trimming chores.

When you’re done mowing, winterize your mower and other outdoor power tools by draining the gasoline so it doesn’t become stale and gunk up your equipment for next year.shutterstock_203668357

Prune damaged branches

Fall is about using the anvil pruners rather than the hedge trimmers. Prune out any branches that are diseased, damaged or dead so they won’t succumb to winds or the weight of snow and ice.

If any arm-width branches meet those criteria, use a saw. If any large limbs or trees look as if they’ll break when loaded with ice, call a tree surgeon.

Look at it this way: If there’s anything that you think might fall to the ground on its own accord over the winter, remove it now.

Pull weeds

The last thing you want is a bunch of weeds spreading their seeds and taking over your garden in spring. Pull weeds on a pleasant day when it’s above freezing and the soil is a little moist so the weeds will come up more easily.

Since weeds have a tendency to shed their progeny all over the place, throw them on the compost pile or put them in trash bags.

Collect dead leaves

When cleaning and picking up indoors, you’d ideally leave things spotless. This is not the case in the garden, however, since seedpods, flowerheads and fruits add winter interest and provide food and shelter for wildlife.

Still, any dead leaves or other less-useful debris can be collected and composted.

Mulch beds

Mulching isn’t necessarily a cleanup task, but it is necessary nonetheless because it protects the plants’ roots over the winter and conserves moisture.

All of those raked leaves you saved will make an excellent mulch for your flowerbeds, or you can purchase the bagged stuff. Use a 1-  to 2-inch-deep layer of mulch, and resist the temptation to use landscaping fabric. Doing so might prevent weeds, but it will also prevent the soil around your plants from accessing rainfall or beneficial organisms.

Source: zillow.com ~ By: STEVE ASBELL

Reduce Your Homeownership Expenses With These Tips

Homes cost money.

Not just the mortgage and the taxes, or even the down payment, but all the myriad things—from the heating to the gutters—that sap your savings.

Aside from careful money management, how can you reduce your daily home expenses?

Think big

Your biggest regular expense is likely your mortgage. You may be able to shrink it, with and without the bank’s help.

  • Refinance to take advantage of low interest rates
  • Cut the time left on your mortgage. Consider taking on a 15-year option. You’ll save on interest over the long term.
  • Pay half of your monthly mortgage every two weeks. Doing so will also help you save on interest.
  • Reduce your private mortgage insurance. If you made only a small down payment, you may be able to drop some (or all) of the insurance after you pay down your mortgage to about 80%  of the principal, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Save on utilities

Your parents might have nagged you to turn off the lights when you weren’t using them. Now that you’re paying the bills, you get it. You don’t have to replace every appliance in your home to cut the bill, though—a few simple steps can help.

  • Keep the thermostat level, and make sure it works properly. If your house feels cold but you’ve jacked up the thermostat, you’ll want to figure out why quickly.
  • Set the thermostat no higher than 68 degrees in winter and no lower than 78 in summer.
  • Consider high-tech solutions. Some thermostats can be programmed to lower during times when no one is home. Set your lights on timers.
  • Close blinds in summer, and weatherproof windows in winter.
  • Monitor your fridge—keep your freezer full and clean the appliance’s coils regularly.
  • Run loads back-to-back in your clothes dryer so that the dryer will remain warm from the previous cycle.

Save on water

  • Bathroom: Fix any leaking toilets or faucets and install flow-restricting showerheads.
  • Kitchen: Run full loads in your dishwasher and let the dishes air-dry.
  • Laundry: Wash full loads as they use less water than multiple small loads.

Elsewhere, lower the temperature of your water heater to 120 degrees. While most are factory-set to 140 degrees, you could lower the setting on yours and save up to 5% on your electricity bill.

Learn to DIY

Many large hardware stores, including chains such as Home Depot and Lowe’s, offer free home improvement courses such as repairing drywall or updating a dimmer switch—projects that would typically cost $50 an hour if done by a pro.

Some other projects you could learn to do yourself:

  • Curtains: They’re simple to sew if their design involves straight lines.
  • Cabinets: If you aren’t looking to replace your cabinets but want a simple update, try refinishing or repainting them yourself.
  • Gutters: If your gutters are easy to reach, it takes only a small amount of time to clear them of debris. Do this regularly, and you could spare yourself a significant headache down the road.

When times become flush for you, you could hire professionals to tackle these chores. But if your priority is keeping costs down, investing a little time now can pay off in the long run.

Source: Realtor.com ~ By: Anne Miller

Pool Care Basics

To keep your pool’s water sparkling clean, a few basic maintenance steps are required. Find information on the usage of products, care and how to test your water for easy pool maintenance in this section.

The Role of the Pump

The center of the circulation system is the pump. It moves water from the pool and sends it through the filter for removal of any dust, dirt and debris prior to sending it back to the pool.

How long should you run your pump? Piping size, pool size, swimmer load and the actual pump size all play a role in determining how long you should run your pump. For the proper time consult your pool professional. They can determine, based upon your specific pool, the proper amount of time required to keep your pool clear and clean. A good rule of thumb is to run your pump about 1 hour for every 10º of temperature.

If your pump is not running, the water from your pool is not being properly circulated or filtered. Running the pump and circulating the water is the best way to help prevent problems.

The Filtration System

The job of the filtration system is to remove any undissolved dirt and debris from the pool water. While the skimmer basket and the hair and lint basket in the pump all play a role in the filtering of the pool water, the primary element of the system is the filter itself. If you backwash sand or DE filters too often, the filter cannot reach its cleaning potential and you are wasting water. Most filters require back washing when the pressure gauge rises 8-10 psi from clean. Consult your pool professional to understand the role that the skimmer and pump basket play in keeping your pool clean. Always consult your owner’s manual for specifics related to the type of filter you have.

Filter Types

There are three types of filters that are used in swimming pools to remove dirt and debris that enter the water through swimmers and the environment.

  1. Sand Filters – Dirt is removed from a sand filter by “backwashing” or reversing the water flow. The filter should be backwashed when the pressure gauge indicates a 7-10 lbs. increase over normal operating pressure. This is the pressure indicated on the pressure gauge when the filter is completely clean. Sand filters are more efficient when they are slightly dirty; consequently they should only be backwashed when required by the increase in pressure. Sand filters should be cleaned at least every season with a filter cleaner.
  2. Cartridge Filters – Dirt needs to be removed from a cartridge filter when the pressure gauge indicates an increase of 7-10 lbs. over normal operation pressure. Remove the cartridge(s) from the filter and hose off all loose dirt and debris. Then soak the element(s) in filter cleaner for at least 12 hours. This will remove all oils and greases imbedded in the filter element. After soaking, remove the cartridge(s) and rinse thoroughly with fresh water. Peak filter efficiency is achieved if you allow the filter element(s) to dry prior to reinstalling in the filter. To avoid any “down time” for the circulation or filtration systems, it is advisable to purchase a second set of cartridge elements so they may be interchanged on a regular basis with the first set.
  3. Diatomaceous Earth Filters – Like sand, the DE filter is cleaned by backwashing the filter when pressure increases 7-10 lbs. However, once the filter has been backwashed, new DE must be added to coat the grids in the filter. This is accomplished by pouring DE through the skimmer. To cut oils and other natural oil build-up, DE filter grids should be cleaned at least once every season using filter cleaner.  Also, at least once a year the entire DE filter should be disassembled and cleaned thoroughly as well as being inspected for tears or rips in the grids.

Testing Your Pool

Testing your pool 2-3 times a week during the summer and once a week during the winter is important to maintain adequate water balance and sanitizer levels plus to insure swimmer comfort. Test strips are a quick way to test the pool for adequate sanitizer levels as well as pH and total alkalinity. Proper testing also ensures that calcium levels are maintained and that there are no metals present in the pool water. These tests can be completed by you or your pool professional. In order to prevent scaling or corrosive action and to achieve maximum swimmer comfort, the pool water should be balanced to the following levels:

Balancing pH

pH is the measure of acid and base in the pool water. The pH of the pool should be tested and adjusted, if necessary, on a weekly basis. If the pH of the pool water drifts to the acid side of the scale, corrosion of pool surfaces and equipment can occur. If the pH of the pool water drifts to the base side – scaling, deposits, and cloudy water can occur. Use a pH increaser to increase the pH of the pool. At 8.5, chlorine is only about 10% active. At 7.0, chlorine is about 73% active. If you maintain pH around 7.5, the chlorine will be 50-60% active. Keeping the pH in check will allow you to use the full potential of the chlorine that is already in the pool. To lower the pH of the pool, use a pH decreaser. Follow the label directions for the proper amount of the products to add based upon test results and pool size. Take a sample of water to your pool professional dealer every 2-3 weeks for complete test and analysis.

NOTE: Always follow label directions when adding any pool maintenance products to the pool. Never mix products together. If unsure how products are to be used, contact your local pool professional.

Calcium Hardness

Calcium Hardness is the amount of dissolved calcium in the pool water. Low calcium hardness levels can cause plaster finish etching and shorten the life of vinyl liners. High calcium levels can result in calcium deposits on the pool surfaces as well as equipment. The proper range for calcium hardness in pool water is 200- 250 ppm (parts per million) for concrete pools and 175-225 ppm for vinyl pools. Your pool professional can advise you of the best method for treating your pool if you encounter high calcium hardness. If tests indicate that you have extremely high calcium levels in your pool, take a sample of your fill water (water used to fill the pool) to your pool professional for analysis as well.

Total Alkalinity

To prevent the pH varying up and down, the proper amount of acid buffers, or total alkalinity, must be maintained in the pool. The pool should be tested weekly with a total alkalinity of 1 20-150 ppm (parts per million) maintained. Low total alkalinity can not only result in pH bounce and fluctuations, but corrosiveness and the possibility of staining increase. High total alkalinity also can cause the pH to fluctuate as well as cause cloudy pools along with possible scaling. To lower total alkalinity, follow the directions from your pool professional. To raise total alkalinity, an alkalinity booster is recommended.

Metals

There should not be any metals present in your swimming pool water. Metals can cause staining in the pool and cause the pool to turn colors. The most common types of metals that appear in pool water are copper, iron, and manganese. If metals are present in the pool, a stain and scale remover should be used on a regular basis to prevent staining. You should determine the source of the metals and remove if possible.

Sanitize with Chlorine

Stabilized chlorine products sanitize your pool water and kill bacteria. Stabilized chlorine products are protected from sun light degradation and are an ideal means to keep your pool clear and clean. Most stabilized chlorine products are available in a variety of forms:

  • Chlorinated Tablets 3”
  • Chlorinated Tablets 1”
  • Skimmer Sticks
  • Multi-functional Chlorinating Granules

Your pool professional can determine the best form and type of sanitization program for your particular needs. A free chlorine level of 1-3 ppm should be maintained in the pool at all times.

NOTE: You will get more out of chemicals if you add them after the sun has set.

Sanitize with Bromine

You may want to use bromine instead of chlorine to sanitize your pool. Bromine tablets provide a reliable method for killing bacteria and keeping your pool clear and clean. To utilize bromine effectively, an automatic brominator should be installed in your pool.

Shock

Shocking the pool on a regular basis is an important element in keeping the pool clear and clean. Swimmers and the environment add waste to the pool that must be eliminated on a regular basis in order to prevent problems such as algae and cloudy water.

Algaecide

Preventing algae is the key to an enjoyable pool. Algaecides act as a backup to your normal sanitization program and prevent algae from starting and growing in the pool. Algaecide should be added after every shock treatment.

Source: swimmingpool.com ~ Toll Free Number: 888.476.7665