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Housing is one of the basic resources that families need to survive. Secure and stable housing comes in many forms — a house, an apartment, a rented room, etc. No matter if you own or rent your home, the dollars you spend on housing probably account for a large percentage of your monthly expenses. It's important that you protect that resource, know your rights, and that it stays a place that you are happy to call "home."

The following will help you secure stable housing, with resources for renters, property managers, and homeowners.

Does turning off the lights save money?

Rosemary K. Heins, Extension Educator — Family Resource Management

October 2013

How many households have someone always saying ‘turn off the lights, it costs us money’? Does it really help save money? According to information from the Department of Energy, the short answer is ‘it depends’. It depends on the type of lights and the price of electricity.

All light bulbs have a rated operating life, which is affected by how many times they are switched on and off. Incandescent bulbs should be turned off whenever they are not needed, because they are the least efficient type of lighting. 90% of the energy they use is given off as heat and only 10% results in light.

Halogens are more efficient than incandescent bulbs but are far less efficient than CFL’s or LED’s so it it’s best to turn them off when not needed.

CFL lighting is efficient so the general rule of thumb for switching on or off is: if you will be out of a room for 15 minutes or less, leave on; more than 15 minutes, turn them off. The operating life of a CFL is more affected by the number of times they are switched on and off.

If you are using fluorescent lights, turning them off for more than five seconds will save more energy than will be consumed by turning them back on again. In the case of LED lights, their life is not affected by switching on and off.

Turning off the lights isn’t a bad idea unless it causes family members to frequently stumble in the dark. Medical bills would probably be more costly. If turning off the lights is done regularly, it becomes a habit that saves money. Seek out more energy saving ideas from the US Department of Energy’s website which is briefly named Everyone likes saving money.


Minnesota Cold Weather Rule

Rosemary K. Heins, Extension Educator — Family Resource Management

October 2013

Minnesota is known for cold winters and that means utility bills for heating go up. What’s a household to do if they are struggling with heating bills?  The Minnesota Cold Weather Rule is available to help but the help must be asked for by October 15.

Some people think that heat cannot be disconnected in the winter. Yes, it can be. You must make and keep a payment plan arrangement with your utility to receive Cold Weather Rule protection. If you make and keep a cold weather rule plan, you are protected until April 15. 

To apply you need to contact your utility or utilities to request a payment arrangement. All natural gas and electric utilities must follow some level of the rule. If you need electricity to keep your heat on you can get this protection with your electric company. Delivered fuels, such as fuel oil, propane and wood, are not covered by this rule.

If the combined income from all household members is below 50 percent of the state median, you are not required to pay more than ten percent of your household income. Currently, for a household of four that is $43,642 or for the last three month’s income of $10,910. If your income is higher you can still make payment arrangements with your utility.

Contact your utility or utilities for more information and application. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission website has information as well. Winter means cold weather; stay warm by being prepared for paying the higher energy use cost.

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Avoiding Home Improvement Scams

Rosemary K. Heins, Extension Educator — Family Resource Management

July 2013

There is a saying “my home is my castle.” Whether your ‘castle’ is a log cabin, or a newer 2,200 square foot ranch style home, a time may come when you think “a new porch or deck or kitchen remodeling would be nice.” There may be a temptation to have someone do the work at a ‘too good to be true’ price for the job. What are tip-offs that a con artist may be trying to lure you in?

The Minnesota Attorney General’s Office publication “Citizens Guide to Home Building and Remodeling” provides guidelines for selecting a contractor and writing a home improvement contract. It includes information on Minnesota’s mechanic’s lien law which is designed to protect you.

Here are the publications’ tip-offs to fly-by-night home improvement scams. Be wary of working with contractors who do the following:

  • Arrive in an unmarked truck or van.
  • Claim “we’ve just done a job nearby and have material left over so we can do the job for half price.”
  • Can only provide a post office box address, with no street address, or a telephone number that is just an answering service. Even a street address should be checked to see if it exists.
  • Use high pressure sales tactics.
  • Refuse to give you a written estimate or contract.
  • Request that you obtain any necessary permits.
  • Refuse to give their license number. Information on who is required to be licensed is in the handbook, too.
  • A final tip-off for a scam is requiring full or substantial payment before work begins. A down payment to cover some of the material costs is standard but you should not pay the whole cost upfront.

Keep these tip-offs in mind to protect yourself while improving your "castle". It will save you time and money in the long run.


Office of Minnesota Attorney General, Citizen’s Guide to Home Building and Remodeling, retrieved from

Contract for Deed Home Buying

Rosemary K. Heins, Extension Educator — Family Resource Management

July 2013

There has been a recent resurgence in contract for deed home purchase financing in Minnesota. Contract for deed is an alternative financing agreement in which the seller finances the sale of property rather than a lender. Both buyers and sellers should exercise caution when considering using this financing. There can be great risks to both parties.

Advantages of contract for deed agreements for the buyer includes: low down payment, homesteading and mortgage interest deduction tax benefits, less stringent financing standards, lower transaction costs, a path to homeownership and the potential to improve the buyer’s credit score.

However, the list of disadvantages for buyers is a little longer. It includes no protection under Minnesota foreclosure laws, financing a balloon payment, the seller retaining title to the property, lack of consumer protections, a sale or transfer may bring a new investor with less flexibility, ineligibility for most first-time homebuyer programs, repair and maintenance issues and property tax and insurance responsibilities.

There are advantages and disadvantages for sellers, too. Both buyers and sellers can put themselves at risk.

The first question buyers should ask themselves before purchasing a home with a contract for deed is “Am I ready for home ownership?” The Minnesota Home Ownership Center and their website,, has a publication entitled “Contract for Deed: What Homebuyers and Sellers Need to Know to Achieve a Successful Outcome.” It includes information on best practices and tips on how to properly use contract for deed to ensure a successful outcome for both parties.


Greater Minnesota Housing Fund, Family Housing Fund, Minnesota Homeownership Center, Minnesota Foreclosure Partners Council, & Minnesota Association of Realtors. (2012). Contract for deed: What homebuyers and sellers need to know to achieve a successful outcome. Retrieved from the Minnesota Homeownership Center website.

Are You Ready to Buy a Home?

Rosemary K. Heins, Extension Educator — Family Resource Management

Reviewed June 2013 by the author.

Buying a home is a major decision that requires a lot of commitment. Before you buy a home you need to understand what is involved and how to navigate through the process from beginning to end.

How much space is needed for your family members and their activities? Where do you want to live with respect to your family’s work, school, and recreational activities? How much money do you have for housing? Renting is sometimes a better option than buying, depending on your needs and circumstances.

One of the most important things about buying a home is figuring out how much you can afford. There a many things to consider besides the monthly mortgage payment. You need to estimate what the costs of home ownership will be. Planning your spending and keeping records can help you decide whether you are ready for homeownership. People sometimes spend so much time thinking about saving enough money to get into a house that they forget about the extra expenses of home ownership that they don’t have when they are renting.

Where can you go for help in finding answers to these questions? Here are two suggestions. First of all, check out the Minnesota Home Ownership Center website ( for information on finding a First Time Homebuyer Education class. These are offered at sites all over Minnesota; taking the class may make you eligible for special loan programs if you are a first time home buyer.

The second resource is the website which is great for online learners. It leads people to many website publications providing information to that help make sound home buying decisions.

RentWise — A unique and practical program helps you (and the families you assist) be a successful renter.

Renter 101 Online Course — This free online course helps renters better navigate the rental process. Take-and-teach resources are included to adapt the course to an in-person setting.

Are You Ready to Buy a Home? — Purchasing a home is usually a long-term investment of resources — is the time right for you? Transcript and audio (1:55)

Housing Options for Seniors — Reviews different housing alternatives for seniors and their families to consider.

Designing Accessible Housing — Simple design elements can help homes accommodate individuals with diverse abilities.

Communication, Compromise, and Consideration: The 3 C's of Getting Along With Roommates (133 K PDF) — This tips sheet gives practical advice for those learning to live with roommates.

Home Maintenance Checklist (79 K PDF) — Quick tips for maintaining your home.

Energy Actions to Save $ and Increase Comfort for Renters (62 K PDF) — Conserve energy in your home to lower utility bill and increase comfort.

Does turning off the lights save money? — Find out which type of light makes more sense to turn off or even leave on. Transcript and audio (1:58)

Avoiding Home Improvement Scams — Keep these tips to mind to protect yourself while making improvements to your home. Transcript and audio (2:01)

Contract for Deed Home Buying — Contract for deed is an alternative financing agreement; know the pros and cons before proceeding with this option. Transcript and audio (2:02)

Minnesota Cold Weather Rule — Understand how to protect yourself from having your heat turned off. Transcript and audio (1:51)

Other Recommended Resources

Ways to Lower Homeowners Insurance — The price you pay for homeowners insurance can vary by hundreds of dollars, depending on the insurance company you choose. Transcript and audio (1:56)

Keeping a Roof Overhead — When family income drops, careful planning can help you avoid eviction from your rental unit or the loss of your house.

Using Home Equity as a Long Term Care Financing Option — This checklist will help you explore if home equity is a realistic financing option for your long term care needs.

Use Your Home to Stay at HomeNational Council on Aging — This is the official reverse mortgage consumer booklet approved by the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development.

Recovery After Disaster: The Family Financial Toolkit — Award-winning toolkit discusses long-term strategies and provides tools that can help you move along the road of financial recovery. Includes units that help homeowners and renters assess where to live after a disaster.

Recover From Floods: Housing — Resources to help you deal with home damage after a flood.

Managing Your College Life: Your Money Your Housing Your Time — Online resources that help students better manage their first years of college.

Housing Technology — Extension resources to improve buildings' quality, efficiency, environmental health, and durability.

Building Awareness of Culture & Resources — Take-and-teach curriculum to expand family-serving professionals' capacity and broaden their perceptions of culture and resources. Includes resources on housing; available as free downloads.

HousingLink — Search rental housing listings in Minnesota.

Minnesota Housing Finance Agency — Online resource center for homebuyers, homeowners, renters, and more.

Minnesota Homeownership Center — Offers programs and service to buy a home, keep a home, and become a better homeowner.

Home Equity Conversion Mortgages for Seniors United States Department of Housing and Urban Development — Reviews the facts about Home Equity Conversion mortgages (HECM) and other reverse mortgages.

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