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(StatePoint) Will your house be warm enough this winter? With shifts in climate making winter weather harder to predict, it's important to prepare your home for extreme winter temperatures as soon as possible. Here are a few key ways to make your home comfortable and energy efficient.
Supplemental Heating
     Consider reducing energy bills substantially by supplementing whole house heat in the zones of your house used most. For example, why heat the unoccupied foyer to the same degree as the living room where your family spends their time? Focusing your energy use where it is most needed will allow you to lower the thermostat for the central furnace.
     Known as “zone heating,” this practice saves dollars and energy.
Wood Stove
      A wood stove is a great choice for a supplemental heating product that focuses on specific rooms of the home. Not only does a wood stove create a cozy atmosphere, but new models are redefining this classic technology to be greener, safer and easier to operate.
     For example, the Quadra-Fire Adventure II, an EPA-certified appliance, features Smart Burn Technology, which delivers controllable, efficient heat. It’s the only stove equipped with a programmable wall thermostat that maintains the temperature of your room, helping reduce heating bills up to 50 percent. It also alerts you when it’s time to add more wood, taking guesswork out of the equation.
  Another option that can help you reduce your heating bill is the Encore FlexBurn from Vermont Castings, which can be burned with a catalyst to increase efficiency by more than 15 percent on the longest burn settings and lowering emissions to ensure you get the most out of each load of wood.
      For those who want to green their home, wood is a good fuel choice, as it’s a renewable energy source that is carbon neutral.
Regular Maintenance
    Your heating system, supplemental heating products and insulation all require regular maintenance to operate at their highest capacity and keep your home warm at a reasonable cost. Certain tasks you can perform yourself include changing HVAC filters, sealing drafts and ductwork, and weatherstripping windows and doors. You may want to have your central furnace serviced professionally, however. A handy checklist is available at energystar.gov.
    For a comfortable and affordable winter, take smart steps to warm your home wisely.




(StatePoint) If you're in the market to buy a home, your down payment is probably top of mind. However, it’s important to understand all your options, particularly if you’ve heard the rule of thumb that you shouldn't pursue homeownership unless you can put 20 percent down.
     “In today’s market, misconceptions about down payments are some of the most common, unfortunately” says Danny Gardner, Freddie Mac vice president of Affordable Lending. “And this discourages many prospective buyers from even leaving the starting gate.”
     Gardner points out that a growing number of homebuyers are putting down between five and 10 percent, and even as little as three percent through products like Freddie Mac's Home Possible Advantage. This is important to keep in mind when determining how much home you can afford.
     Prospective homebuyers concerned about down payments should also be aware that there are nearly 2,500 homeownership programs across the country that can help with down payment and closing costs, and an estimated 87 percent of U.S. homes are eligible for one or more of these programs, according to research by DownPayment Resource. The down payment program benefit most frequently found is about $10,000, making researching these options and discussing them with your lender and real estate agent a worthwhile step. To determine your eligibility and learn more about down payment assistance, visit downpaymentresource.com/are-you-eligible.
     Of course, home buyers should not forget that there are benefits to putting more down initially -- this will lower your monthly mortgage payment and reduce the amount you will owe the bank. Additionally, those who put down at least 20 percent don’t have to pay Primary Mortgage Insurance (PMI), an added insurance policy that protects the lender if you are unable to pay your mortgage. However, if putting 20 percent down will deplete all of your savings and leave you with no financial reserves, it's probably not in your best interest. What’s more, you can cancel your PMI once you’ve built equity of 20 percent in your home.
      Don’t assume the dream of homeownership is beyond your reach. Get savvy! There are numerous programs and products available that can help you afford your down payment and beyond.

Home heating tips to 
save energy and money
Buying a home:  What to know about down payments
Real Estate