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How to Enjoy Your Fireplace…Safely

by The Mike Parker Team

As we enjoy this holiday week and invite friends and families to our home, the fireplace often serves as the iconic focal point of our get-togethers. In fact, according to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), approximately one-third of Americans use fireplaces, wood stoves and other fuel-fired appliances.

My colleagues and I in the Top 5 in Real Estate Network® know how important a fireplace can be to making a house a home. But we also know the hazards they can present when proper safety precautions aren’t taken. Following are some important tips for safely enjoying your fireplace and protecting your family and home:

1. Yearly fireplace maintenance is crucial. Gas and wood-burning fireplaces require yearly maintenance in order to work effectively. If you light fires frequently, consider having this done twice a year. Chimneys should be inspected and cleared each year by a certified specialist—a professional real estate agent can recommend a good chimney sweep in the area. Burners and controls for gas fireplaces should be vacuumed and brushed at least once a year.

2. Check smoke detectors and fire alarms often to ensure they are working properly. Also, make sure you have enough in your home. The USFA recommends installing smoke alarms on every level of your home and inside and outside of sleeping areas. Test them monthly and change the batteries at least once a year. Consider installing the new long-life smoke alarms.

3. Keep the fire manageable. Small fires produce less smoke and are easier to control. Make sure your fireplace screen or cover fits securely in order to prevent any embers from escaping.

4. Monitor carbon monoxide (CO). Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless and tasteless poison produced whenever gas, oil or wood is burned. CO is controlled by proper maintenance and ventilation of fuel-burning appliances. Carbon monoxide monitors should be used in any home that has a fireplace.

5. Enable proper ventilation. Air is vital for fireplaces to function properly and for preventing CO buildup. Never cut off the air supply to the flame. Make sure that necessary vents and dampers are open, and do not shut the flue until the fire is almost out. Leaving a window open a few inches can also help circulate fresh air and prevent back drafts.

6. Only burn the proper materials. Use only seasoned hardwood, such as oak, ash or maple. Soft, moist wood accelerates creosote buildup in your chimney, which can lead to chimney fires. Lighter fluids, flammable liquids, cardboard and trash should never be used to start a fire.

7. Ensure the right conditions outdoors. Keep your roof clear of leaves, pine needles and other debris, says the USFA. A clogged chimney, cracked masonry or a blocked vent can greatly increase the chance of fire or carbon monoxide poisoning. Periodic outdoor inspections for low-hanging branches or other debris should be performed throughout the winter.

Of course, be sure to never leave your fireplace unattended. A watchful eye is often the best safety measure there is. If you would like more information on home safety, please e-mail me. And be sure to pass these important tips onto your friends and loved ones, too. Wishing you a happy and healthy New Year!

10 Maintenance Tips for New Homeowners

by The Mike Parker Team


Moving into a new home is indeed one of the most exciting times of your life. That’s why it’s important to start out on the right foot and start caring for your home—and protecting your investment—right away.

As a Member of the Top 5 in Real Estate Network®, my clients often ask me what are the most important areas of a home to consistently maintain. Here are 10 key trouble spots home maintenance experts advise you regularly check on so that they don’t turn into larger, more expensive, problems down the road:

  1. Windows and doors – Be sure to regularly check seals around all your doors and windows to keep drafts out. This simple measure can result in big savings when it comes to your heating and cooling bills.
  2. Safety devices – Check all smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and replace batteries twice a year. Also, keep small fire extinguishers in appropriate places.
  3. Roof – In early fall, check around vents, skylights and chimneys for cracks or leaks and repair or replace tiles as necessary.
  4. Gutters – Keep gutters clear of leaves and debris to prevent clogging, and always make sure they drain away from the house.
  5. Fireplace – Have a chimney sweep assess any fireplaces to check for cracks and creosote build-up that can cause chimney fires.
  6. Filters – Clean or replace furnace filters once every month or as needed. Check and clean the dryer vent, air conditioner, stove hood and room fans regularly.
  7. Air conditioner – When you cover your outdoor furniture for inclement weather, be sure to cover your air conditioning unit as well.
  8. Refrigerator – Test door seals to ensure they are airtight. If you have a coil-back fridge, the coils should be vacuumed twice a year.
  9. Faucets – Check for leaks in kitchens and bathrooms and replace washers as necessary.
  10. Siding and paint – Look for cracks or peeling areas. Repaint or replace caulk as necessary.

These are just a few home maintenance tips to be aware of. For more information, feel free to e-mail me and be sure to pass these tips along to your fellow new homeowners!

Tips for Saving on Heating and Cooling

by The Mike Parker Team

With the holiday season now in full swing, you are undoubtedly busy ... whether it's shopping for gifts, preparing for guests or gathering with friends. What you probably won't notice through the hustle and bustle of the season is your heating bills rise. Did you know that as much as half of the energy used in your home goes to heating and cooling?

As a member of the Top 5 in Real Estate Network®, I can offer you some vital information that will help you make smart decisions about your home's heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) system...all of which can have a big effect on your utility bills -- and your peace of mind.

Here are some tips from ENERGY STAR to help you increase the efficiency of your heating and cooling system:

Change your air filter regularly
Check your filter every month, especially during heavy-use months (winter and summer). If the filter looks dirty after a month, change it. At a minimum, change the filter every three months. A dirty filter will slow down air flow and make the system work harder to keep you warm or cool -- wasting energy. A clean filter will also prevent dust and dirt from building up in the system -- leading to expensive maintenance and/or early system failure.

Tune up your HVAC equipment yearly
Just as a tune-up for your car can improve your gas mileage, a yearly tune-up of your heating and cooling system can improve efficiency and comfort.

Install a programmable thermostat
A programmable thermostat is ideal for people who are away from home during set periods of time throughout the week. Through proper use of pre-programmed settings, a programmable thermostat can save you about $180 every year in energy costs.

Seal your heating and cooling ducts
Ducts that move air to and from a forced air furnace, central air conditioner or heat pump are often big energy wasters. Sealing and insulating ducts can improve the efficiency of your heating and cooling system by as much as 20% -- and sometimes much more.

Focus first on sealing ducts that run through the attic, crawlspace, unheated basement or garage. Use duct sealant (mastic) or metal-backed (foil) tape to seal the seams and connections of ducts. After sealing the ducts in those spaces, wrap them in insulation to keep them from getting hot in the summer or cold in the winter. Next, look to seal any other ducts that you can access in the heated or cooled part of the house.

Consider installing ENERGY STAR-qualified heating and cooling equipment
If your HVAC equipment is more than 10 years old or not keeping your house comfortable, have it evaluated by a professional HVAC contractor. If it is not performing efficiently or needs upgrading, consider replacing it with a unit that has earned the ENERGY STAR.

Depending on where you live, replacing your old heating and cooling equipment with ENERGY STAR-qualified equipment can cut your annual energy bill by nearly $200. But before you invest in a new HVAC system, make sure that you have addressed the big air leaks in your house and the duct system. Sometimes, these are the real sources of problems rather than your HVAC equipment.

Ask about proper installation of your new equipment
Replacing your old heating and cooling equipment with new, energy-efficient models is a great start. But to make sure that you get the best performance, the new equipment must be properly installed. In fact, improper installation can reduce system efficiency by up to 30% -- costing you more on your utility bills and possibly shortening the equipment's life.

Taking a few small steps can be all you need to save some energy and a bit of money. If you are interested in more helpful tips, such as these, please e-mail me. Also, please feel free to forward this information along to anyone you believe might be interested as well.

How to Maximize Year-end Tax Planning

by The Mike Parker Team

As another year comes to a close and we make our plans to ring in the New Year, it behooves all of us to put some time aside for important tax preparations. A few simple steps taken now can leave you in a much better position by the time April 15 rolls around.

Since I am a member of the Top 5 in Real Estate Network®, my clients often come to me for financial and tax advice, in addition to their real estate-related needs. I've worked with a great network of financial planners and attorneys over the years, who have shared many valuable tax tips. Most of these experts are expecting higher income and capital gains taxes in 2011, in addition to uncertain amendments to tax laws. That's why certain steps should be taken now so that they are "grandfatherd in" before the changes occur.

While it is essential that you consult with your own accountant and/or attorney, here are some strategies to consider for minimizing your tax burden, provided by Ken Rubinstein, a tax and asset protection attorney with New York-based Rubinstein & Rubinstein:

  1. Sell appreciated property before loss of capital gains treatment and avoid tax via Charitable Remainder Trusts and international tax planning strategies (e.g. tax advantaged foreign annuities and foreign private placement life insurance).
  2. Convert 401(k)s to Charitable Remainder Unitrust IRAs before the government taxes 401(k)s.
  3. Consider taking income in 2010, rather than deferring income to 2011 with its likely higher tax rates. As a corollary, you may wish to defer losses to 2011 to offset expected 2011 income at higher tax rates.
  4. Consider a Dynasty Trust. Such a trust allows the preservation of assets for one's immediate and remote descendants, along with offering asset protection from creditors, as well as a delay of the estate tax bite for many generations.
  5. It is also possible to minimize the tax on appreciated assets by exchanging such assets for a foreign annuity policy. The exchange of assets for an annuity policy is neither taxable nor reportable (at least until 2012). Further, capital gains within the annuity policy would not be taxable.

Again, please be sure to consult with your own tax professional before embarking on any of these suggestions. You can also e-mail me at any time for more information ... and please forward this email to your friends and colleagues. We can all use some good advice when it comes to taxes!

Displaying blog entries 1-4 of 4




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Photo of Mike Parker - CRS Real Estate
Mike Parker - CRS
HUFF Realty
60 Cavalier Blvd.
Florence KY 41042