Most of us tend to think of air pollution as something that occurs outdoors where car exhaust and factory fumes proliferate, but there’s such a thing as indoor air pollution, too. Since the 1950s, the number of synthetic chemicals used in products for the home has increased drastically, while at the same time, homes have become much tighter and better insulated. As a result, the EPA estimates that indoor pollutants today are anywhere from five to 70 times higher than pollutants in outside air.
Luckily, there are many ways to reduce indoor air pollution. We all know that buying organic and natural home materials and cleaning supplies can improve the air quality in our homes, but there are several other measures you can take as well.
How pollutants get into our homes
Potentially toxic ingredients are found in many materials throughout the home, and they leach out into the air as Volatile Organic Compounds or VOCs. If you open a can of paint, you can probably smell those VOCs. The “new car smell” is another example of this. The smell seems to dissipate after a while, but VOCs can actually “off-gas” for a long time, even after a noticeable smell is gone.
We all know to use paint and glue in a well-ventilated room, but there are many other materials that don’t come with that warning. For instance, there are chemicals, such as formaldehyde, in the resin used to make most cabinets and plywood particle board. It’s also in wall paneling and closet shelves, and in certain wood finishes used on cabinets and furniture. The problems aren’t just with wood, either. Fabrics—everything from draperies to upholstery, bedding, and carpets—are a potent source of VOCs.
The good news about VOCs is that they do dissipate with time. For that reason, the highest levels of VOCs are usually found in new homes or remodels. If you are concerned about VOCs, there are several products you can buy that are either low- or no-VOC. You can also have your home professionally tested.
How to reduce VOCs in your home
Make smart choices in building materials.
- For floors, use tile or solid wood—hardwood, bamboo, or cork – instead of composites.
- Instead of using pressed particle board or indoor plywood, choose solid wood or outdoor-quality plywood that uses a less toxic form of formaldehyde.
- Choose low-VOC or VOC-free paints and finishes.
Purify the air that’s there.
- Make sure your rooms have adequate ventilation, and air out newly renovated or refurnished areas for at least a week, if possible.
- Clean ductwork and furnace filters regularly.
- Install air cleaners if needed.
- Use only environmentally responsible cleaning chemicals.
- Plants can help clean the air: good nonpoisonous options include bamboo palm, lady palm, parlor palm, and moth orchids.
- Air out freshly dry-cleaned clothes or choose a “green” cleaner.
Fight the carpet demons.
- Choose “Green Label” carpeting or a natural fiber such as wool or sisal.
- Use nails instead of glue to secure carpet.
- Install carpet LAST after completing painting projects, wall coverings, and other high-VOC processes.
- Air out newly carpeted areas before using.
- Use a HEPA vacuum or a central vac system that vents outdoors.
- Clean up water leaks fast.
- Use dehumidifiers, if necessary, to keep humidity below 60 percent.
- Don’t carpet rooms that stay damp.
- Insulate pipes, crawl spaces, and windows to eliminate condensation.
- Kill mold before it gets a grip with one-half cup of bleach per gallon of water.
I hope this information is helpful. If you would like to learn more about VOCs and indoor air quality, please visit http://www.epa.gov/iaq/.
Investing in real estate is one of the world’s most venerable pathways to building wealth. When properly managed, income from renting or real estate investment trusts can provide you with the financial security to plan out the rest of your life. The conclusion is easy to envision, but knowing where to begin can be overwhelming, particularly for anyone who has never previously owned a home.
At Windermere our goal is always to improve and support our communities, so we’ve put together a few key things to keep in mind as you enter the world of real estate investment.
Know the right type of investment for you
Investing in real estate needn’t commit you to being a landlord. A Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) is a low-maintenance way to get involved in real estate with next to none of the day-to-day monitoring required of direct property management. REITs are trusts that typically own multiple properties, and investors may purchase shares within the REIT. Typically, as the value of the property rises, so too do the values of your shares. If you’d like to dip a toe into real estate investing before diving in fully, a REIT is a great place to start.
Start with your own home
Owning the roof over your head is a basic step towards investing success. Even better, when you plan to live in the home you’re buying (rather than renting it out), you will likely benefit from lower mortgage rates and a cheaper down payment. The reasoning is straightforward – lenders see a loan to people purchasing the home they live in as an investment in people highly committed to the property.
Once you’ve owned your own house for a few years, you can look to purchase a new home to move into. By purchasing the new home with the intent to move in, you’ll be eligible to receive more favorable financing once again. After you’ve secured your new home, your first home is primed to be transformed into a rental property, and you can continue to see a return on your investment. If you’re seeking further support with buying a first, second, or third home, our website and our agents are full of information.
Cast a wide net
The best investment opportunity isn’t always going to be right underneath your nose. While there are logistical benefits to focusing locally with your investment, you may miss more profitable opportunities in another burgeoning market. Real estate is a long game, and patience tends to be rewarded. There’s no cause to rush a decision of this magnitude, so investigating other states and regions to find the property that best fits your situation is a process worth considering.
For many house hunters, a dream home isn’t complete without being a good fit for the family dog. Some might see the fenced in yard, and consider the box checked. However, if you are looking for your next home, you may want to look a little deeper to be sure the fit is right before signing on the dotted line.
It’s worth taking a little extra time to consider your pooch in a little more depth. Here is a quick checklist of considerations to be sure you find the right fit for your canine companion:
What’s in a Yard?
A fenced yard is, of course, ideal for many dog owners. It gives you the ability for off-leash play, a must for meeting the exercise needs of active breeds such as Border Collies or Labradors. But not all yards are the same. Here’s a quick checklist of what to look for:
- Check the fencing to be sure it is secure. Factor in any repair costs into the cost of the home since they will need to be addressed right away.
- Are there flower beds with potentially toxic plants that will need to be moved outside of the fenced area? Examples include many spring bulb favorites such as daffodils, tulips, and crocus, as well as some bushes such as azaleas.
- Is there a nice shady spot so your pooch can find shelter from the heat on a hot summer day?
- Is there access to water for an outdoor bath?
- Will delivery people be able to access your main entrance when the dog is outside without entering the fenced part of your yard? It is easy to overlook, but this can become a major annoyance if you do a lot of online shopping.
Indoor Space Considerations
It won’t always be a beautiful sunny day, even in your dream home. Make sure your new home will have enough space for a little indoor play on rainy days and during colder winter months. A long hallway can make a great runway for a game of fetch when getting outside just isn’t practical.
Likewise, consider the needs of aging or injured dogs. Does the layout of the home require going up and down stairs to get to the most used areas of the home? This can be a major problem for some special needs dogs, and a deal breaker for some pet owners.
Finally, most dog trainers recommend that every dog has a little space to call their own during times of stress. This may be as simple as a corner of the living room with a comfy dog bed or crate. If you have a puppy, however, a space that can be puppy-proofed and cordoned off (with appropriate flooring for potential accidents during potty training) is in order.
Go for a Walk
It may be impractical to include a dog walk for every home you look at while searching for your dream house. However, once you are down to a short list, it is time to actually take your dog on what is likely to be the daily walk route. Make sure this is a walk you would feel comfortable making every day, or even letting the kids take.
Be on the lookout for hazards: A dangerous intersection, a portion of the walk that requires walking in the road, or a neighbor who lets their dog run right up to the curb with invisible fencing (a recipe for territorial fights with leashed dogs passing by). A drive through is unlikely to reveal these walk spoiling annoyances. In addition, look for evidence of good lighting for evening or early morning walks.
Nearby Canine Amenities
If you are moving to a new part of town or relocating to a new state altogether, it is worth doing some research to find out where the pet services are located. Depending on the services you tend to use, it can make a big difference in your quality of life to be able to take advantage of nearby conveniences.
Think about what services you are likely to use most, and check on Google Maps to locate:
- Dog boutiques (particularly important if you buy specialty food)
- Grooming services
- Doggy daycare and boarding
- Pet sitting and dog walking services
- Dog-friendly restaurants (BringFido.comis a great research tool for this)
- Dog parks and dog-friendly paths for long walks
Although luxurious hardwood flooring adds a great deal of ambiance to a home, it will have the opposite effect if it gets scratched up from the nails of a rambunctious canine. Large and even medium sized dogs can easily create unsightly scars in hardwood floors that can only be fixed by a professional who will need to sand away the wood then stain and refinish it. It’s a costly fix!
Modern carpets can generally hold up to doggy traffic. However, think about where you will be coming in and out of the house with your pooch to be sure you have a place to wipe muddy paws first on rainy days. A mudroom or garage entrance can easily stow a few extra towels for the job.
Tile and high-quality laminate flooring are the most durable as both will resist scratching and are easy to clean.
Consider Pet-Friendly Condos and Planned Communities
If you have a truly pampered pooch, one way to go the extra mile is to ask your realtor about dog-friendly communities in your area. Many condominium complexes, for example, have pet services right on site. Pet grooming, pet-sitting, dog walking services, and even a fenced in dog park and/or pool is available in some areas.
Work with a Knowledgeable Realtor
Make sure to let your agent know upfront that you have a canine member of your family to consider during the house hunt. If there are certain “musts” such as a fenced yard, or proximity to veterinary services, be sure to put that on the table upfront to help your realtor find a home that works for you and your furry friend.
Sharon is the lead author at wileypup.com. She received her M.S. in Science & Technology Studies from Virginia Tech and has worked as a professional dog trainer for over 10 years.
What a year it has been for both for the U.S. economy and the national housing market. After several years of above-average economic and home price growth, 2018 marked the start of a slowdown in the residential real estate market. As the year comes to a close, it’s time for me to dust off my crystal ball to see what we can expect in 2019.
The U.S. Economy
Despite the turbulence that the ongoing trade wars with China are causing, I still expect the U.S. economy to have one more year of relatively solid growth before we likely enter a recession in 2020. Yes, it’s the dreaded “R” word, but before you panic, there are some things to bear in mind.
Firstly, any cyclical downturn will not be driven by housing. Although it is almost impossible to predict exactly what will be the “straw that breaks the camel’s back”, I believe it will likely be caused by one of the following three things: an ongoing trade war, the Federal Reserve raising interest rates too quickly, or excessive corporate debt levels. That said, we still have another year of solid growth ahead of us, so I think it’s more important to focus on 2019 for now.
The U.S. Housing Market
Existing Home Sales
This paper is being written well before the year-end numbers come out, but I expect 2018 home sales will be about 3.5% lower than the prior year. Sales started to slow last spring as we breached affordability limits and more homes came on the market. In 2019, I anticipate that home sales will rebound modestly and rise by 1.9% to a little over 5.4 million units.
Existing Home Prices
We will likely end 2018 with a median home price of about $260,000 – up 5.4% from 2017. In 2019 I expect prices to continue rising, but at a slower rate as we move toward a more balanced housing market. I’m forecasting the median home price to increase by 4.4% as rising mortgage rates continue to act as a headwind to home price growth.
New Home Sales
In a somewhat similar manner to existing home sales, new home sales started to slow in the spring of 2018, but the overall trend has been positive since 2011. I expect that to continue in 2019 with sales increasing by 6.9% to 695,000 units – the highest level seen since 2007.
That being said, the level of new construction remains well below the long-term average. Builders continue to struggle with land, labor, and material costs, and this is an issue that is not likely to be solved in 2019. Furthermore, these constraints are forcing developers to primarily build higher-priced homes, which does little to meet the substantial demand by first-time buyers.
In last year’s forecast I suggested that 5% interest rates would be a 2019 story, not a 2018 story. This prediction has proven accurate with the average 30-year conforming rates measured at 4.87% in November, and highly unlikely to breach the 5% barrier before the end of the year.
In 2019, I expect interest rates to continue trending higher, but we may see periods of modest contraction or levelling. We will likely end the year with the 30-year fixed rate at around 5.7%, which means that 6% interest rates are more apt to be a 2020 story.
I also believe that non-conforming (or jumbo) rates will remain remarkably competitive. Banks appear to be comfortable with the risk and ultimately, the return, that this product offers, so expect jumbo loan yields to track conforming loans quite closely.
There are still voices out there that seem to suggest the housing market is headed for calamity and that another housing bubble is forming, or in some cases, is already deflating. In all the data that I review, I just don’t see this happening. Credit quality for new mortgage holders remains very high and the median down payment (as a percentage of home price) is at its highest level since 2004.
That is not to say that there aren’t several markets around the country that are overpriced, but just because a market is overvalued, does not mean that a bubble is in place. It simply means that forward price growth in these markets will be lower to allow income levels to rise sufficiently.
Finally, if there is a big story for 2019, I believe it will be the ongoing resurgence of first-time buyers. While these buyers face challenges regarding student debt and the ability to save for a down payment, they are definitely on the comeback and likely to purchase more homes next year than any other buyer demographic.
Originally published on Inman News.
Mr. Gardner is the Chief Economist for Windermere Real Estate, specializing in residential market analysis, commercial/industrial market analysis, financial analysis, and land use and regional economics. He is the former Principal of Gardner Economics, and has more than 30 years of professional experience both in the U.S. and U.K.