Friday, February 16, 2007

Think Green: Reducing energy use saves money and the environment

  • Turn the thermostat down a few degrees to 68.
  • Turn the temperature down on your hot water heater. A reasonable level is 120 degrees.
  • Monitor your refrigerator temperature. It doesn't need to be any colder than 35 degrees in your fridge. Your freezer should be around 0. Fill up your fridge, even with empty containers, as it will run better. And make sure your fridge regularly defrosts and the coils are clean so that it runs efficiently.
  • Wash your clothes in cold water. It's easy with new cold water detergents. And dry your clothes on the line or a drying wrack when you can.
  • Close your curtains and shade at night, and open them during the day to keep your house warm. Close your southern facing shades during the summer to keep your house cool.
  • Install a programmable thermostat to turn down the heat when the house is empty. Programmed to your daily patterns, it can turn the heat back up half an hour or 45 minutes before you come home. An energy saving thermostat costs between $40-100, but it’s a sound investment. With the pre-programmed settings, the average home saves about $100 a year in energy costs, so this home improvement pays for itself. They are available at Lowes, Home Depot and online.
  • Switch to compact florescent bulbs. They use significantly less energy that regular bulbs. Regular bulbs only use 10% of the energy to create light, the other 90% goes into heat, which also can increase your air conditioning bill. One bulb keeps half a ton of greenhouse gas out of the air. CFLs can get expensive. Fortunately there are several great deals out there including: EFL, Walmart and others.
Want to take earth-friendly energy one step further? Install solar panels on the roof. A new program, through Citzere Renu, offers an affordable solution for those wanting to make the switch. The company essentially leases the equipment to homeowners. They install and maintain the panels for free, and you lock in current electric rates for up to 25 years.

If you're buying new appliances, anything from a dishwasher to a washing machine to an air conditioner, look for the Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star symbol. Especially if it's a refrigerator. A refrigerator uses 25% of the energy in most homes, the single biggest energy consuming kitchen appliance. Replacing a refrigerator bought in 1990 with a newer energy efficient model would save enough energy to light the average household for nearly four months.

The EPA estimates that consumers saved $12 billion on their energy bills in 2005 by using Energy Star appliances. Its calculator , can help you crunch the numbers on your potential savings. Energy Star rated electronics like TVs, computers, and DVD players are also available. Even better, buying some Energy Star appliances, such as windows, furnaces and boilers can qualify you for up to $500 in tax credits.

Consider doing some more serious upgrades. Putting in extra insulation is often the most cost-effective way to improve your home’s energy efficiency and comfort. How can you tell if your home isn’t properly insulated? Many air leaks and draft are easy to find because they’re easy to feel. Take the time to search out for the drafty parts of your home.

Also an easy way to see if your current insulation is enough for your home is to just look at it. If your insulation looks dirty, that’s an indication that air is moving though it. Those are the first areas you should add extra coverage.

To get the biggest savings, the easiest place to add insulation is usually the attic. In cold weather, warm air rises in your house. This air, which you have paid to heat, moves up into the attic where, if not properly insulated, it escapes. Another great place to put additional insulation is in your walls. Not only will it save energy, but it helps keep the noise level down.

If your home has single-pane windows, as almost half of US homes do, consider replacing them.

Sounds expensive right? It certainly can be, but there's help available for financing. If you already own your home, consider taking out a low-interest loan from Keystone HELP which loans money to PA homeowners for energy efficient improvements. In addition, if you are purchasing a new home, Energy Efficient Mortgages are available that allow a borrower to borrow additional funds for energy efficient upgrades. The upgrades will significantly lower energy bills, and at the end of the day you pay less out of your pocket per month for your mortgage and energy bills combined.

For an exhaustive list of further tips, go to The Rocky Mountain Institute's Web site.

Financial Planning 101: Merging money after marriage

Relationship experts cite money as the No. 1 problem newlywed couples face, and it is often the source of broken relationships. So, a little advice for the newly or soon-to-be engaged: Talk about your finances before the big day. Here's what every couple should discuss:

Are you ''financially honest'' with one another? Financial history may not be the most romantic subject, but couples should discuss and share their past with their mates. Jim Trippon, author of ''How Millionaires Stay Rich Forever,'' recommends that couples look at each other's credit reports and FICO scores. Does your partner pay bills on time? Is he or she stuck in debt? You should know these things before merging your finances and lives.

Who will manage the money once you're married? Psychotherapist Olivia Mellan says that women pay the bills and handle the budgeting 80 percent of the time, but only 12 percent of women are involved in the investment and tax planning. It's important that both partners understand the finances in a relationship and that both partners have a clear sense of how the financial work will be divided.

Is our money ''his and hers'' or ''ours''? Some couples choose to lump all their money together, while others prefer to maintain separate checking accounts for some of their money. Discuss how you will handle your money and who will be responsible for what if you opt for individual accounts.

Some couples choose to have separate accounts and a joint account for living expenses. The contribution to the joint account can be split 50/50 or worked out by percentage of total household income. This way, the individual who may make significantly less isn't overburdened. Automatic bill payments from the joint account can also eliminate fights over who didn't pay the bills.

Do you have the same attitudes about spending, saving and investing? Just because you're a saver doesn't mean your partner is, as well. Don't set yourself up for a rude awakening — discuss your attitudes about spending habits upfront. If you're a spender, remember saving at least one hour's worth of pay a day before taxes is a good idea.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Dent holding a community outreach day

In a Community Outreach Day, Dent's staff will set up a district office for a day in various communities of the 15th District (aka the Lehigh Valley), for added convenience to constituents who need help with federal matters.

Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2007, 3 p.m. to 5 p.m

Bethlehem Township Community Center, 2900 Farmersville Rd., Bethlehem

Monday, February 12, 2007

Simplify your life: Get rid of those annoying solicitations and junk mail

I am sure more than a few of you are absolutely deluged with credit card offers, junk mail and unsolicited phone calls. But there is hope! You can stop the insanity and save some trees.
  • Stop unsolicited card offers and other junk mail by calling 888-5-OPTOUT (567-8688). You will be removed for two years. You'll be asked for your personal information, including your name and Social Security number. Don't worry — it's completely confidential and safe.
  • You should also notify the three major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and Trans-Union — directly. Let them know that you don't want your name or other personal information shared with others for promotional purposes.
  • You can also opt out of direct-mail marketing from many national companies for five years by registering with the Direct Marketing Association. (Cost $1)
  • And you can stop those annoying phone calls by registering with the Do Not Call Registry or call 888-382-1222.
If all this sounds like a lot of work (kinda is) you can hire Green Dimes to do it for you for a $36 fee per year. And they will plant one tree a month in your name. Why should you use them? Green Dimes says: "Just by innocently buying a pair of shoes from a catalog, donating to a charity, or, heaven help you, moving, those junk mailers will be back on you like ants at a picnic. That's why we're a recurring service. We'll keep writing and calling so we can keep you off those lists." They will get rid of catalogs, junk mail, and credit card offers among other things.

Lots of housing development in our downtowns and affordable too!


A Bethlehem developer received unanimous approval Wednesday night from the Easton Planning Commission to add a third level of parking for a proposed 10-story, condominium high-rise downtown at the former Marquis Theatre site.

Ashley Development Corp. received permission in November to demolish the theater and turn the property into a nine-story high-rise with 169 parking spaces on two levels. The spaces would now increase by 58 to 227.

But before any construction work can start, the city's Historic District Commission must offer a recommendation to City Council for its approval. The commission meets again at 5:30 p.m. Monday.

Ashley continues working on its other $11 million, 30-unit condominium project in the downtown — the former Pomeroy's department store on Northampton Street.

The company received preliminary approval from the Planning Commission in December to build 74 townhouses at the former Lincoln Textile Products Co. site on the South Side at Philadelphia Road and St. John Street, just north of Interstate 78 in Williams Township.


Townes at Trexler Square at Walnut and Lumber streets.

Eventually, the development by Nic Zawarski & Sons of Bethlehem will consist of 63 two- to three-bedroom townhouses with oversize one-car garages in the rear of the buildings.

The builder is replacing three unused city parking lots with the new homes.

John Zawarski, director of sales and marketing for his family's company, says the project, unique for the city, should be a key to its revitalization.

''What brand new [residential housing] has been built on this scale in downtown Allentown in the last 20 years? The answer is nothing,'' he says. ''Yet there's a huge work force in downtown Allentown who likes working down there and wants to live down there.''

The first phase, which is 14 homes just west of Eighth Street, should be ready by late spring or early summer. The foundations were poured and framing has begun.

A second phase of 18 homes will be built in the 100 block of S. Eighth Street. Site work should begin later this month. That's also when sales of those units should begin.

Another 30 to 32 townhouses will be built in the 900 block of Jackson Street. Construction on the third phase will begin when the second phase is well under way.

The townhomes in phase one start at $220,000 with a number of upgrades available.

Set in a courtyard, each 1,500- to 1,900 square-foot unit will feature Colonial-style exteriors, including brick facades, with accented transom windows and dormers. Additionally, each unit will include parking for more than three vehicles and have 21/2 to 31/2 baths.

All the units will consist of three levels; the main level will have 9-foot ceilings, a family room, dinning room and kitchen.

The master bedroom will have a large walk-in closet and the master bathroom a whirlpool tub with a separate shower.

The exteriors are designed to be compatible with the surrounding neighborhood and have architectural features that give them a historic look.

While the homes are built to resemble a classic townhouse typical of cities such as Philadelphia and Allentown, they also feature modern conveniences. For example, each home is wired for high-speed Internet access.

The units will be governed by a homeowner's association that will maintain all the common areas and be responsible for snow removal and landscaping.

Options include a rooftop terrace, a den, Corian or granite countertops, upgraded kitchen cabinetry, and hardwood and tile floors.

Another advantage of the townhouses is that they are in a Keystone Opportunity Zone, a statewide program aimed at encouraging revitalization of economically depressed neighborhoods. As a result, as long as the owners live in the townhouses, they will be exempt from real estate, personal state and local income taxes until 2011. (The transfer tax on the purchase of a home is not exempt.)

Retail/Office development in Whitehall proposed to connect to rail trail

A Harleysville developer has proposed an office/retail project in Whitehall that he hopes will mesh with a section of the Ironton rail-to-trails running through the northern part of the township.

The developer, Ted Laskowski, president of 1st Patriot Realty, wants to build an 8-acre development of about 30-40 offices or retail businesses at MacArthur Road and Chestnut Street.

Located across the street from the Sheetz store, the complex would be half office and half retail, Laskowski said.

Laskowski said his company wants the development to serve as an ''oasis'' for people using that particular section of the Ironton trail, which runs through Whitehall and North Whitehall townships and Coplay.

''We have offered to build a little park area between two buildings and the little park would actually bring the trail up into the property and have a little resting area,'' he said.

Project attorney Blake Marles said that the plan is not to build a shopping mall like those found in Whitehall's southern end.

''This is very small, neighborhood-oriented retail,'' he said.

Businesses in the complex could include a dentist's office, hair salon, jewelry store, ice cream shop and restaurants. ''A bike shop would work great,'' Laskowski said.

Tom Gettings, director of the nonprofit Wildlands Conservancy, said that ''the inclusion of trails in all kinds of landscapes is a positive thing.''

''They connect our community in a way that you don't need motorized vehicles,'' he said. ''That's positive.''

Northampton County may preserve 380 acres more

Northampton County Council will be asked to approve four open space preservation projects totaling about 380 acres at a cost of about $792,000.

Council's Open Space Committee recommended last week that council approve the projects as part of its commitment to preserve natural areas. Open Space Chairman Charles Dertinger said they could be considered in April.

Council approved a 0.5-mill tax hike starting this year to pay for open space, at the recommendation of County Executive John Stoffa. The tax would provide an estimated $3.5 million this year.

All of the properties under consideration are in areas of the county targeted for land preservation based on a variety of factors such as their topography, wildlife habitats and sensitive features.

Two of the properties in Williams Township are adjacent, which makes them attractive because one goal of the program is to build large masses of connected land.

The four tracts under consideration are:

The Horth property in Williams Township. This is the largest of the four. It is in a part of the county where it has the potential to be connected to other land that already has been or could be preserved. The property possesses several springs and a tributary to the Delaware River, and has an extensive cave system that provides bat habitats.

The McBrien property. It borders the Horth property. It is entirely forested and is on a rocky hillside with views of the Delaware River and bluffs of New Jersey.

The Heindel-Kirby property. This is the smallest of the four. It also is in Williams Township, near where several other properties already have been preserved.

The Charron property. It straddles Bushkill and Plainfield townships along the Blue Mountain. It is adjacent to state game lands and includes an abandoned Lehigh-New England railroad bed that has been proposed as a trail.

More here.