Freelance Writer
The Fun’s Where the Food Is
10.19.06 | No Comments
Category: Advertorials

Published in the “Luxury Living” section of Boston Globe Magazine, September, 2006

Today’s kitchen is yesterday’s living room

Food’s a strong magnet. The smell of bread baking. A crock-pot of chili. Kabobs grilling on an open flame. Try as you might to keep them out, but the kitchen’s the hopping room of any party. Likewise, the kitchen is where family connects. So these days, people are spending more money and attention on this room. With eat-at counters, oversized islands, wine refrigerators, warming trays, inside grills and huge cabinets, the kitchen is becoming bigger, warmer and more equipped to be the centerpiece of the house. Read more..

Navigate the Financial Marketplace
03.28.06 | No Comments
Category: Advertorials

Brown and Brown segment in Worcester Business Journal’s Book of Experts

There are so many options in the financial world these days. Gone are the times when a wad of cash stuffed between the mattresses would suffice for “emergency savings” or “education funds.” It’s hard to know where to start when so many opportunities exist to channel your hard-earned money through. That’s where Brown & Brown LLP comes in with a confident hand, guiding you and your funds to achieve your financial goals.

“In today’s marketplace, people are bombarded with financial information and choices related to their personal financial needs,” says Carolyn Stall, partner, “including investments, insurance, estate planning, retirement funding, tax savings strategies, educational costs, etc. If is often difficult for them to determine what they really need.”

Most importantly, Stall says it is difficult to tell if the products or services you’re being offered are appropriate and at a fair price. Brown & Brown provides wealth management services through its affiliate, Brown & Brown Financial LLC, which is a registered investment advisor. Since Brown & Brown doesn’t directly sell any products or services, you can count on the firm to be unbiased with its advice (a markedly important attribute).

“We help people obtain the best products and services,” says Stall, “and at the appropriate price to help them reach their goals. We continue to meet with them regularly to be sure they are making progress toward their financial goals and help them fine tune their plans as changes occur in their lives and in the marketplace.”

Brown & Brown provides its services on a fee basis, which allows them to avoid any conflicts of interest. Stall and her associates, with years of experience behind them and a finger on the pulse of the financial market, remain independent and objective when dishing out advice.

Here are some of the services Brown & Brown takes care of:

Identify client’s long and short term goals and objectives
Develop a financial plan to achieve those goals and objectives
Perform an in depth review of their current net worth statement
Analyze and restructure debt
Review income tax returns and develop tax saving strategies
Evaluate current insurance needs and coverage
Develop appropriate asset allocation and assist in selection of investment managers
Assist with business succession planning and valuation services
Review estate plan and develop effective wealth transfer techniques
Ongoing investment monitoring and wealth management services

Simply put, Brown & Brown acts as a client’s advocate and works hard to ensure that they are getting the most out of their money, in more ways than one. And that, you can take to the bank.

Alternative Heating/Boston Globe Magazine
01.20.06 | No Comments
Category: Advertorials

The heat is on
Homeowners coping with the rise in home heating costs
By Charlene Arsenault

Curse words are bouncing around the gas stations these days. In the summer we could repress the oncoming burden of home heating bills. But we can feel the chill in the air, and that’ll be an even bigger chill in the pocket.

According to Beth Lindstrom, director for the Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs, the cost of home heating oil rose from $1.97 to $2.48 from last year at this time, and we’re looking at 25-30 percent increase in gas.

Consumers can be as brutal as a New England winter in their search for the best value. This year, more than ever, homeowners are looking closer at how they heat their houses. Am I using the best option for my home? If I’m not, is it worth it to convert to another form of heating? Can I improve upon what I have?

The truth is, it depends upon who you ask.

Wood you do it?

Stoves and fireplaces are making a comeback as a viable heating alternative and supplement, says John Sullivan, owner of Energy Unlimited of New England (508.358.7358, www.energyunltd.com) in Wayland.

“People are extremely concerned about what has happened to the price of oil,” says Sullivan. “Most discovered four or five weeks ago because they were given information on what the contracts would cost this year, and they were sort of startled.” Near September’s end, Sullivan said his business was up 400 percent from last year.

And the wood’s flying off the lots, too.

“I’ve never seen wood sell so quick,” says Ed Hansen of Hansen Tree Service (617.773.0634) in Quincy. “People aren’t just ordering a cord like usual. I had one lady buy ten cords. People are panicking.” Roughly speaking, Hansen says two to four cords can get you through a season, depending on your stove and how much you use it. Hansen Tree Service sells cords for $225.

Wood pellets are cylindrical, burnable piece of fuels that are sold at hardware stores. “It’s about half the price of a cord of wood,” says Sullivan. “The difference is, pellet stoves are more expensive.” The average price on a pellet stove insert into a fireplace is about $3,000. A wood-burning insert, he says, would be in the range of $1,800, including the labor and parts.

The savings, he says, makes them both worthwhile.

Ken Kelley, owner of the Woodstove, Fireplace and Patio Shop (978.486.9500, www.stoveshop.com) in Littleton, agrees. “If I punch in the cost of fuel in my local area,” says Kelley, “and wood is at $200 a cord, it still comes out on top. Right now, wood comes in first, pellets and natural gas are pretty much tied for second.” Behind that, he says, is oil, followed by propane and electric.

A gas stove, he says, is the way to go for a zone heater. “They are more efficient than a furnace,” says Kelley. “Even though you may have a high efficiency gas furnace, you can save money by having a highly efficient gas room heater.”

Since everyone’s needs are different, Kelley asks each customer to describe their house and explain their goals. “I personally have a wood stove, a gas stove and a pellet stove,” says Kelley, who raves about the HearthStone brand soapstone stove.

Stoves have gotten much cleaner, and they must all be EPA approved before installation. But there is a down side. “You need a good drafting chimney,” says Kelley. “If that doesn’t work, you’ll get smoke in the house just like with a fireplace. And there are dirt and bugs. There are ways to minimize that.”

Someone’s got to stack the wood, too.

You’re looking radiant tonight – is it the sun?

A few progressive homeowners are trying solar heat. A solar water heater, specifically, can be extremely cost saving. As for house heat, many are skeptical of the large up front investment to convert. Environmentalists, though, hope it catches on.

People such as Gary Tuthill are renovating an old camp in Boylston, making changes so major that “it’s essentially a new house.” When he bought it, he heated it with a wood stove and a few hundred gallons of oil per year. Now, the house is planned to have only a stove and passive solar space heat. “The new house is bigger, better looking and more efficient,” says Tuthill. “In other words, energy savings were a major consideration, but not the only reason for the project.” He suggests www.nesea.org for suggestions.

Steve Pitney, owner of Alternate Energy (800.DCSOLAR, www.dcsolar.cc) in Plymouth, agrees that it is probably less than one percent of the population that heats with solar. However, he’s been installing systems since ’74, and has fielded a lot more calls about it since the spring.

He’s serviced thousands that are quite happy with their solar system. Though it can cost between $15,000 and $20,000 to convert over to this type of home heating, he reminds people to see it as a long-term investment. “It will save $2,000 a year in home heating oil at these prices,” says Pitney. Solar heating systems, too, can last around 80 years.

Radiant heat is catching on, and that doesn’t come from the sun. Radiant heat operates by heating the room through water tubes installed in places such as the floor or the walls. Skeptics say that the system is so costly to install that it would take too long to even see a return on savings. Proponents argue that it’s more efficient because it hits the occupants (rather than the whole room), more quickly, so people are more apt to keep temperatures lower.

Jon Manna, operations manager at Rodenhiser Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning (800.633.7473, www.rodenhiser.com) in Holliston, has radiant heat in his own home. “It doesn’t always have to be for the rich,” says Manna. “As a matter of fact, typically the rich people aren’t interested in installing it because they don’t care what it costs to heat a home. Radiant heat is the most expensive to put in, but it’s the most comfortable. It’s economical. It runs at much lower water temperatures. I love it. It’s cheaper in the long run.”

What’s the better fuel, and is it worth switching?

There are propane providers in town, and it is becoming a competitive product. It seemed to be unanimous that electric heat is one of the more expensive ways to heat a home. No one is recommending that conversion nowadays, though many say it is remarkably efficient.

According to most of the experts (the unbiased ones), oil and gas prices tend to duke it out in price. The economy and natural disasters affect both, so switching from one to the other probably wouldn’t save you much in the long run. Lindstrom, though, says she sees a trend in natural gas. “That is taking the lead as a fuel source,” she says. “It’s cleaner. Whether people like cooking with it or heating with it, you don’t have to get into contracts with people and get deliveries.”

Michael Cofsky, whose family owns E.P. Cotter Oil Co. (781.762.0928) in Norwood, says if you’re heating with oil, for instance, stick with oil. None of his clients have stated that they’re considering switching. Like many oil companies this winter, E.P. Cotter isn’t offering a guaranteed price. “All the risk is on the fuel oil dealer,” says Cofsky, reminding us that the economy is impacting everything from the price of food to the price of sneakers – not just oil.

For postings of oil and propane price surveys, visit the Massachusetts Division of Energy Resources at www.mass.gov.doer. The site also points consumers to helpful fuel assistance programs and watchdog groups. The Massachusetts Oil Heat Association, too, offers a statewide list of member home heating dealers at www.massoilheat.org.

Don’t throw that expensive heat out the window

“Do you live in a barn?” or “I’m not heating the whole neighborhood!” packs more of a wallop nowadays. No matter what you use for fuel, it’s of the utmost importance to conserve it. Most ways to do this, though they are common sense, are ideas that should perhaps be given more attention.

“I think the name of the game is to reduce consumption,” says Larry Chretien, executive director of the Mass Energy Consumers Alliance (www.massenergy.com), which is a non-profit organization that advocates and acts in the marketplace on behalf of consumers and the environment. Mass Energy also offers green energy options and solar energy services.

“The tips fall under making sure you winterize your home,” says Lindstrom, “by adding insulation. Look at where you an add it. Look where you can use weather-stripping and caulking. Maintain your oil burner. Get your furnace tuned up. Use programmable thermostats. Close off rooms that you don’t need.”

Regulating devices can go a long way. In fact, Gary Paul of Salem Plumbing Supply (978.921.1200, www.salemplumbing.com) in Beverly is concentrating on educating contractors on the benefits of the outdoor reset control. “For every three degree drop in boiler temperature,” says Paul, “you have a one percent fuel savings. I think no matter what type of product you heat your home with, the best thing you can do for your home is to have some sort of intelligent boiler reset button.”

It might be easier to be an amphibian. But for us homo sapiens, there is no escaping the necessity of keeping warm. In the end, the best ammunition you have against the rising cost of heating fuel is to be well informed. Read up. Keep an eye on the various costs. Talk to other homeowners. Talk to experts in the fields.

But no matter what you choose, keep in mind that there is no better replacement for a good, thick sweatshirt and a pair of longjohns. Bundle up, folks. Jack Frost’s knocking.