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Page 27 of 28

New Improvements for the New Year

Have you thought about improvements for the New Year? It is the time for resolutions and planning what you are going to do differently from last year.  I just realized a few days ago that not only are we entering  a new year, we’re entering a new decade.  That’s like a new year times 10!

However, resolutions are for other people. Some years ago I resolved to stop making resolutions.  January 1 has never seemed to me to be a particularly propitious time to pioneer particular pastimes.  (Sorry, I just couldn’t help myself — the alliteration got away from me.)  Rather than resolutions for personal improvement, I wanted to talk about the potential for home improvement.

Some things should be planned replacements. One item that never seems to be a planned purchase is a hot water heater.  We ignore our hot water heaters right up until the time they cease to function.  I’ve decided not to wait that long this time.

There are warning signs of a water heater about to run cold. That rumbling, grumbling sound is sediment rolling around in the bottom of the tank as the water is heated.  And, it gets worse the closer to death the water heater gets.  What about the length of time it takes the hot water to get to the shower head?  Or, the shortening length of time available for your shower?  It might be time to consider replacing it.

You have choices if you have oil, natural gas or propane available. If your only source of energy is electricity, your choices are significantly more limited.   Water heaters can either be storage tank models or tank-less (aka instantaneous) models.  Operation cost is lowest for natural gas fired tank-less models, but acquisition cost is about the highest.

Consumer Energy Tax Incentives are available from the US Department of Energy. These include HOME ENERGY EFFICIENCY IMPROVEMENT TAX CREDITS that can provide 30% tax credits for certain improvements up to a total of $15oo in credits.  These tax credits are available for certain gas, oil, or propane water heaters.  Remember that credits are a direct dollar-for-dollar reduction of your taxes.  The links on the Energy Star page take you to a Directory of Certified Product Performance where you can verify the certification of water heaters you are considering.  The Energy Star page has step-by-step directions for running the query, but you really only need to remember to choose “yes” for “Tax Credit Eligible”  near the bottom of the page.

After reviewing your options and choosing what seems best your next step is to calculate the total cost to narrow the field and ensure you’re making the best choice.

Compare total costs, not just energy savings or acquisition costs.

  1. Start with the price of each water heater you’re considering, add in any accessories and the cost of installation.  That gives you the acquisition cost.
  2. Calculate the tax credit for a tank-less model with a certification from the Directory of Certified Product Performance.  This does not apply to storage tank models.  Multiply the total acquisition cost including installation by 30%.  Subtract this amount (or $1500, whichever is less from the total acquisition cost.
  3. Next, you have to calculate the energy cost.  The US Department of Energy offers a calculator for this.  (If you’re working with propane, it’s helpful to know that 1 gallon of propane = 0.918 Therms.)
  4. Calculate total life costs for each model.  A standard storage tank water heater has an average life expectancy of 13 years.  Tank-less manufacturers claim twice the life expectancy for those models, but I’m basing my calculations on a 20 year life.  Compare the models based on an equalized cost per year.

Working out the calculations for the two models I’m considering, one a storage tank and the other a tank-less, the difference was greater than I expected.  Every other time I’ve considered a tank-less model, the acquisition cost has been so high that the operational savings could barely offset the difference over the entire life cycle.  Now, with the tax credits available, the difference swings the other way.  For my example, the total life cost of a storage tank model would be about $9150 over a 20 year period, compared to a tank-less model with a total cost of $6250 for the same period.

Armed with all this information, you can truly make an informed choice. Don’t depend on my calculations, evryone’s usage is different.  Take the time to run your own calculations and see what works best for your situation.

Finally, be sure to consult your tax professional for information regarding the application of tax credits.

Let me know how you decided to proceed.  I’d also be interested in hearing about any resolutions you couldn’t resist making.

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Winter Weather and Comfort Food Go Together

This post isn’t particulary about real estate or the greater Tehachapi area.   Except that for some reason it seems to me that it is, at least peripherally about those things.  What’s the tie-in?  I think that there’s a lot to be said for the sense of “home” that one gets from eating “comfort foods.”  It also seems that for me comfort foods are most appealing in the winter time.  Since I’m currently home-bound and the weather is gray and damp with snow threatening, my thoughts turn to comfort food.

With that in mind, I was inspired today to create a new soup, Potato and Corn Chowder.  I so enjoyed making and eating it that I thought I’d share it with you.  Pretty simple to make and definitely comfort food in my book.  Give it a try and be sure to let me know what you think.

Potato and Corn Chowder

5 strips bacon, diced

1 cup onion, diced

½ cup pasilla peppers, diced

3 cups potatoes, peeled, diced

3 15.5 oz cans chicken stock

2 15.5 oz cans corn, drained

½ – ¾ cup milk

Salt and pepper to taste

Sour cream (optional)

Chives or Scallions (optional)

Pan fry bacon until crisp. Remove bacon and set aside. Add onions and pasilla peppers to bacon grease and saute on medium-high heat for several minutes until limp and beginning to brown. Add potatoes and saute for a few more minutes until edges of potatoes begin to brown. Immediately add 2 cans of chicken stock, bring to a boil and boil for several minutes. Cover pan, simmer for a few minutes, then remove from heat. Let stand for about an hour or until potatoes are very soft.

Puree potato mixture in blender or food processor. Add corn, bacon and milk. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Use remaining can of chicken stock to thin to desired consistency. Heat soup until it begins to bubble. Correct seasoning if necessary. When hot, ladle into serving dishes and garnish with sour cream and chives or scallions.

Notes:

If in a hurry, continue to simmer until potatoes are thoroughly cooked. Letting potatoes finish cooking off-heat allows more time for flavors to meld.

Soup can be prepared to this point, refrigerated and finished later.

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Water Issues in Stallion Springs

If you live in a city, how often do you think about water?  Where it comes from, how you get it, what’s it cost, etc?  For most people the answer is probably, “not often.”  For most people in Stallion Springs, I bet it’s the same answer.  I know that was true for me up until the last year or so.  I have decided that it is important to k now what’s going on in our community with respect to services provided to us.

One of the best ways to get up to speed on the complexities of managing our community is to attend Board Meetings.  Just so happens there’s one tonight at 7:00 p.m.  In fact, there is a Stallion Springs Board Meeting on the third Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. at the CSD building, 27800 Stallion Springs Drive.

Tonight’s meeting is worth attending because it addresses several water-related issues residents should be aware of.  The Board will be discussing Ordinance 141 and a separate water rate increase.

Ordinance 141 covers avoiding fees proposed by the Tehachapi Cummings County Water District (TCCWD).  Ordinance 141 will be presented and discussed at this evening’s Board Meeting, and voted on at the January 19, 2010 Board Meeting.  The General Manager’s recommendation is to approve Ordinance 141.  Following it’s approval, property owners will need to sign the “Covenant Relating to the Extraction of Ground Water.”  The Covenant will also need to be recorded.  The General Manager will arrange to meet with residents and a notary to execute the Covenant.

This pretty much seems to be a no-brainer. Property owners will execute the Covenant which gives the CSD authority to act as the property owner’s agent with respect to extracting ground water located on their property.  In effect, there is no difference to property owners water delivery pre – or – post Covenant.

The second issue addresses rate increases.   Essentially, water costs are increasing and residents are going to be asked to pay for those costs.  The District wants to implement a policy that will allow future rate increases based on the Consumer Price Index – All Urban Consumers, All Items Index, Western Cities with populations between 50,000 and 1,500,000 (CPI-U) increase for that year.  Confused?

What this boils down to is that, if the Resolution passes, the District can (but does not have to) increase water rates in a percentage no greater than the increase in the CPI-U.  So, there may be no increase, or a percentage increase smaller than or up to the amount of the CPI-U.  The Resolution also states, “Additionally, the Board may not go back in time to recapture previous CPI increases which were not captured by the Board.”  Finally, although the Resolution, if passed, will go into effect immediately, no changes in rates will appear until the May meter read bill.

Be aware that the proposed rate increase does not address replacing any aging infrastructure.  That’s yet another issue.

In my opinion, the District has addressed these issues in a fiscally responsible manner.  That begins with combining the Public Protest Hearing notice with the routine assessment notices in order to save on postage.

Be a part of the community. Get educated about the issues and be part of finding appropriate solutions.  Comments, suggestions, and ideas are welcome.

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Great reasons to live in a small town

One of the things I love about living in Stallion Springs in the small town sense of community.  This was brought home yet again while reading the latest issue of Consumer Reports magazine.    Consumer Reports conducted a survey in late September.   They asked 1125 people to rate annoyances on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the most annoying.   Hidden fees ranked the highest at 8.9, closely followed by an 8.6 score for inability to reach a human being by telephone.

I was somewhat surprised that comparatively few people were annoyed by fast drivers.  Many more found slow drivers to be an issue.  I’d have to agree with that as far as it goes, but my big annoyance is drivers who are unable to maintain their lane.  Driving is a skill and too many people view it as a chore — something to be gotten through rather than something at which to excel.

Which gets me off my soapbox and back to where I started.  One of the things that I love is that if you call the Stallion Springs Community Services District (SSCSD) office during business hours, you almost invariably get a live answer, no waiting.  As for hidden fees, we don’t have any.  Charges are clearly shown on the water / refuse bills and other fees are paid through the tax bill.  There isn’t any effort to hide anything.

In fact, the best way to stay on top of what’s going on with respect to running the SSCSD is to attend a Board meeting.  They are held the third Tuesday of every month at 7:00 p.m. in the CSD office.  Stop by and check it out and get more familiar with Stallion Springs.  See you there!

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