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Published: Thursday, 10/23/2003

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A fireplace may take the chill out of those first frosty days of autumn in cold weather climates, but it may not really be effective in reducing your overall energy bill.

A properly functioning fireplace flue will not only draw out smoke but also about 20 percent of the heated air in the room each hour. Moreover, you are most likely only receiving 15 percent of potential heat produced by each burning log because much of the combustible material in the wood is lost as gas without burning or producing heat.

This doesn't mean you should give up your dream of cozy nights by the fire. A few simple modifications can increase the energy efficiency of your fireplace. A heating grate made of hollow tubing that wraps around logs and extends over their tops, can recirculate heat produced by the fireplace into the room. Certain models are equipped with electric blowers that direct hot air into the room instead of up the chimney.

Fireplace covers also increase heating efficiency. Steel covers with fire-resistant glass enable you to watch the fire while receiving radiant heat through the glass. But be sure to leave your damper open when the fire is burning or the coals are still glowing.

A cover should be placed over the opening of the fireplace at the end of the evening when the fire is nearly extinguished, but hot enough to require an open damper to release smoke. Make certain the cover is tight-fitting around the edges so that room heat does not escape.

New technology can improve the efficiency of an existing open fireplace. Open fireplaces exhaust large quantities of air up the flue, resulting in drafts that pull heat out of the home. Thus, a open fireplace only has an energy efficiency of about 5 to 6 percent. Homeowners can boost the efficiency of an existing open fireplace by installing a gas-fueled or woodburning fireplace insert. Inserts fill the existing fireplace opening and connect to the existing flue. These inserts, which use a catalytic combustion system, ensure clean burning and provide a 78- percent efficiency. A fan provides natural convection heating and a thermostat ensures steady, even heat.

The type of wood burned also can affect fireplace efficiency. Harder woods such as birch, oak and maple burn more slowly and give more evenly distributed heat. Softer woods such as pine burn faster and more unevenly. Beware of green, unseasoned wood which is difficult to burn and produces an great deal of smoke.

The damper should be kept closed whenever the fireplace is not in use, unless you are using natural ventilation to cool your home. Otherwise, you may find that it could pull expensive heated or cooled air from your house, which adds to your energy bill. To be sure the damper closes tightly, hold a hand mirror inside the chimney base to check for lightleaks.

As a safety precaution, it's also a good idea to have your chimney swept each year to remove debris and to check for obstructions. Installing a fireplace also adds to the value of your home. According to statistics compiled by Remodeling Magazine, a fireplace can return as much as 140 percent of the homeowner's investment.

The Toledo Board/Association of REALTORS is one of more than 1,800 local boards and associations of Realtors nationwide that comprise the National Association of Realtors. As the nation's largest trade association NAR is "The Voice for Real Estate," representing nearly 750,000 members involved in all aspects of the real estate industry.

By: The Toledo REALTORS

Negotiating a purchase agreement is perhaps the trickiest aspect of any real estate transaction. Most home buyers and home sellers want to arrive at a win-win agreement, but that's not to say either side would regret getting a bigger "win" than the other.

Successful negotiating is more than a matter of luck or natural talent. It also encompasses the learned ability to use certain skills and techniques to bring about those coveted win-win results. Here are six tips and suggestions to turn negotiation into agreement:

1. Start with a fair price and a fair offer. There's no question that significantly overpricing your home will turn off potential buyers. Likewise, making an offer that's far lower than the asking price is practically guaranteed to alienate the sellers. Asking and offering prices should be based on recent sales prices of comparable homes.

2. Respect the other side's priorities. Knowing what's most important to the person on the other side of the negotiating table can help you avoid pushing too hard on hot or sensitive issues. For example, a seller whowon't budge on the sales price, might be willing to pay more of the transaction costs or make more repairs to the home. On the other hand, a buyer with an urgent movein date might be willing to pay a higher ortion of the transaction costs or forgo some major repairs.

3. Be prepared to compromise. "Win-win" doesn't mean both the buyer and the seller will get everything they want. It means both sides will win some and give some. Rather than approaching negotiations from an adversarial winner-take-all perspective, focus on your top priorities and don't let your emotions overrule your better judgment.

4. Meet in the middle. Can't decide who will pay the recording fee? Can't agree on a close-of-escrow date? Arguing over cosmetic repairs? Splitting the difference is a time-honored and often successful negotiation strategy. Pay half the fee. Count off half the days. Fix half the blemishes.

5. Leave it aside. Politicians and corporate executives are famous for their "for future discussion" agreements. If you have a major sticking point that's not material to the overall contract (e.g., the purchase of furniture or fixtures), finish the main agreement, then resolve the other difficulties in a side agreement or amendment. This technique allows both sides to recognize and solidify basic areas of agreement, then move ahead toward a fair compromise on other terms and conditions. Summarizing the points of agreement in writing is another helpful strategy.

6. Ask for advice. Successful REALTORS tend to be experienced negotiators. They've seen what works and what doesn't in countless real estate transactions, and they've established a track-record of bringing buyers and sellers together. Consult a real estate professional - a REALTOR - with the Toledo Board of REALTORS about negotiating strategies, win-win compromises and creative alternatives.



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