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About Real Estate: ‘Bubble wrap’ can help cut home-utility costs

Those bubble-filled sheets of plastic that are commonly used to protect fragile items can protect against high energy bills, too.

DEAR MR MYERS: Have you ever heard of using “bubble wrap” that’s used to wrap fragile items on windows instead, in order to save on energy costs? If so, does it really work?

ANSWER: Yes, most energy-saving experts say that bubble wrap — those sheets of plastic packing material covered with small air cushions to protect easily breakable goods — can help to slash a homeowner’s monthly heating bills.

The catch is that the windows have to be selected carefully, and the bubble wrap has to be applied appropriately.

Bubble wraps are practical only in lesser-used areas, such as windows in an attic, basement or garage. After all, you wouldn’t want to look out of your kitchen or living-room window on a sunny day and see nothing but a sheet of pimpled plastic.

Clean the window first. Then mist it with water and put the wrap on the pane, with the bubble side against the glass. The air bubbles help to block cold air from coming inside, cutting the heat loss from an uninsulated window in half.

Because there’s no glue involved, you can simply peel the plastic off when the weather warms.

Poorly insulated windows are among the biggest energy-wasting items in a home, experts say, even though many homeowners don’t even know that they have such a problem.

To test your windows, place a lit incense stick near the glass. If smoke from the stick moves, you have a leak. Seal it with an inexpensive tube of caulking.

Rarely-used fireplaces also are often-overlooked energy goblins, because a sizable portion of the warm air generated by a home’s furnace disappears up the chimney. If you have a fireplace that you don’t use very often, you can buy a small “chimney balloon” that keeps the furnace’s warm air from escaping.

The reusable balloons take just a few minutes to install. They’re available at many home-improvement stores and online: Most cost about $40, but your energy savings will quickly offset the price by slashing the heat loss more than by simply closing the damper.

REAL ESTATE TRIVIA: Homeowners in Connecticut pay an average of $410 each month for their utilities, the highest in the nation, a comprehensive survey by WalletHub.com says. The lowest: Washington, D.C., where monthly utility bills average $223.

DEAR MR. MYERS: We filed for bankruptcy in August. How long will it stay on our credit record?

ANSWER: It depends on the type of bankruptcy that you filed.

Most folks file under Chapter 7 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. It usually wipes out unsecured debt, like a sweater or even a refrigerator that was put on a credit card. But it doesn’t relieve a homeowner’s monthly mortgage payment, because the home loan is secured by the property itself.

The bank can foreclose on the property if the monthly payments don’t continue to be paid, and then sell it to the highest bidder.

Assuming that you filed for Chapter 7 “protection,” it will stay on your credit report for 10 years.

Some cash-strapped individuals instead choose to file under Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code, which allows them to repay some or all of the money that is owed to creditors over an extended period of time. A Chapter 13 stays on a credit report for seven years.

DEAR MR. MYERS: You wrote that every buyer should make their proposed purchase contingent on the house passing the inspection of a professional home-inspection company. But is that really necessary for someone like me, who is looking for a newly built home in a brand-new housing tract?

ANSWER: Yes. All buyers should always make their purchase contingent on a satisfactory report from an independent home inspector, even if the home is brand new.

It’s true that developers can’t put a new subdivision up for sale until each home has received a passing grade from local building inspectors. However, most government inspectors look only for violations of local housing codes. They aren’t authorized to render an opinion on the quality of a home’s workmanship, or to check whether the builder has kept all the promises that were made in its marketing brochures or boilerplate sales contracts.

Only a private-sector inspection company can make those types of judgments. The $400 or so fee it will charge pales in comparison to the risk you would take if you didn’t have a professional check out the house before you buy it.

David W. Myers’ column is distributed by Cowles Syndicate Inc.

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