Buying into HOA? Read this first

When buying property in a common interest development (“HOA”), one automatically becomes a member. Here are 14 items to consider before closing escrow:

  1. Read the CC&Rs. CC&Rs (Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions) are an agreement between all association members, binding each when they take ownership. Read this document before taking ownership, not after. Look for restrictions regarding how your property is used. Are there pet limits? Can you park RVs in driveways? In a multistory building, are there restrictions against hard floors? You need to know first, not later.

2. Review the reserves disclosures. Prudent associations set aside money each month to offset the ongoing deterioration of major capital components (roofs, asphalt, paint, etc). Associations with little money saved in reserves may require imposition of special assessments against the members to fund major refurbishments. Underfunded reserve accounts are a form of hidden debt not reflected on the balance sheet.

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14 ways to slash your energy costs while staying home

2. Be aware of ‘vampire energy’ consumption. 

Even when appliances are not in use, they continue to consume electricity. Phone chargers are particularly bad, consuming 0.26 watts every hour they are left idle, according to the  Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, while fully charged phones that are still connected can account for more than 2 watts per hour. Best to switch off all devices at the power point – and potentially save more than $200 a year.

Appliance/modeAverage power consumption (W)
Mobile phone charger
On, charged2.24
On, charging3.68
Power supply only0.26
LCD monitor
Laptop computer
Fully on, charged29.48
Fully on, charging44.28
Power supply only4.42
Inkjet printer
On, not playing33.99
On, playing39.16
Game console
Garage door opener
Microwave oven
Ready, door closed3.08
Ready, door open25.79

6. Use energy out of peak times.

Under some contracts, energy can cost you less if you use it outside the peak times – usually from 10pm to 7am, says the NSW government’s Energy Saver website. Put everything – such as washing machines, dishwashers and pool pumps – on timers to make everything work more efficiently, and cheaply, off-peak, advises Kelly.

7. Close doors and windows to keep heat in.

Using door snakes and rugs and closing the curtains or putting down blinds earlier at night can cut out draughts and make a room feel warmer, says Baker.

9. Check older appliances. 

They consume more energy than newer models and so it might be worthwhile replacing them with better energy-star-rated ones. For example, Baker says, a TV with a seven-star label of 213 kilowatt-hours a year on a rate of 28.55 cents can cost about $61 a year to run, while a three-star label could set households back $148 annually. Fridges and freezers can also be run on temperatures slightly warmer than usual when the weather is cool.

12. Invest in solar.

There are a lot of Federal Government solar incentives on offer at the moment, and solar itself is getting cheaper and cheaper, says Chris Williams of Natural Solar. “You can see a return on your investment as quickly as two to three years, while the average is four to five,” he says. “There are also sizeable rebates on batteries in Victoria and South Australia so you can store and use solar power at other times of the day, and interest-free loans in NSW. The goal is to get your electricity bills as close to zero as possible.”

13. Check windows and doors.

If they don’t fit well or are of lower glazing quality, it might be worthwhile considering replacing your windows and doors. Windowline, for instance, says it chooses its products for durability, wind load, thermal efficiency and acoustic performance. 

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Ditching your lawn doesn’t have to mean your xeriscape looks like the surface of the moon

Lawn, ecologically, is dead space,” said Doug Tallamy, an entomologist at the University of Delaware and author of “Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard.”

The solution, he says, is ultimately less lawn. He recommends people aim to cut the amount of turf grass in their yard in half. But getting there, he says,will take a shift in culture that goes far beyond just using an electric mower.

America’s infatuation with grassy expanses dates back to the Founding Fathers. Thomas Jefferson cultivated a lawn — previously a fixture of the European aristocracy — at his Monticello estate. By the second half of the 20th century, as the middle class grew, bought houses and spread into the suburbs, lawns had become a staple of Americana.

But, Tallamy insists, change is possible. “You can be an important part of conservation,” he said. “You aren’t powerless.”

Laying down mulch is one place to start. It quickly kills grass and offers a blank canvas for planting.

“If you have lawn under a mature tree, convert it to a mulched area,” suggested Kathy Connolly, a Connecticut-based landscape designer who recommends about six inches of raw, arborist, wood chips for the job. Connolly also recommends converting some of your lawn into paths, rock gardens or other features. “Ecologically, though,” she said, “the best thing to do is plant native trees and shrubs.”

Invasive plants, Tallamy said, “are ecologically castrating the land around us.” Native plants, on the other hand, often have deep root structures, making them good for storing water or providing drainage. They have also co-evolved for local conditions.

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