12 Cheap and Easy Summer Home Projects

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Homes take a beating on the outside, from wind, rain, sun, insects and snow. Summer gives you a chance to repair damage, protect your home and keep its face to the world looking bright.

Home maintenance is like housework, flossing and exercise: You might as well work it into your routine, because the penalties are worse than the jobs themselves.

Here’s just one example: Cleaning the gutters costs nothing if you do it yourself, and roughly $100 to $200 if you hire a service. Ignore the job, though, and a ruined roof or damaged foundation could cost you thousands or tens of thousands of dollars to repair. Here’s why:

  • Leaky or overflowing gutters can rot fascia boards (the roof edge under the gutters), soffits and rafters.
  • Water may drip onto window trim, rotting it.
  • Leaky gutters let water pool at the foundation, causing basement leaks, mold and even foundation damage.

In the video below, Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson shares his list of easy summer maintenance projects and tells how to do them as cheaply as possible. Then read on for more easy summer home projects.

1. Paint

Fresh paint doesn’t just make your home look great. It’s a protective skin against UV light and moisture.

Earth911 tells where to get free paint:

Many household hazardous waste (HHW) facilities around the country have product exchange rooms, sometimes called swap rooms or swap shops. These rooms offer safe, unopened HHW items for public consumption, keeping them out of the landfill and letting you save some money.

Call your city to ask about your local HHW facility. Other sources for cheap paint:

  • Habitat for Humanity’s ReStores (find one near you) sell “gently used” tools and supplies for home projects at low cost.
  • See EcoBusinessLinks’ national directory of recycled and surplus building materials and suppliers.
  • Search online for a city’s name and “salvaged building supplies” or “recycled building materials.”

2. Mulch

Laying a 1- to 3-inch layer of mulch on garden beds spares a lot of weeding. Mulch smothers weeds by depriving them of oxygen and light and it holds moisture in the soil, saving water and giving plants a consistent source of moisture.

Mulch includes many materials placed on the ground to prevent weeds from growing, including rocks, gravel and plastic. Leaves, grass clippings and tree bark are organic materials most often used on garden beds. Hay and straw also are used in vegetable gardens. Organic mulch breaks down into nutrients that feed plants.

Be careful in vegetable gardens to avoid mulch with pesticides, herbicides or other garden chemicals. Also, used incorrectly, mulch can damage or kill trees and ornamental plants by depriving them of oxygen, so leave a 3- to 5-inch space around stems of younger plants and give mature tree trunks eight to 12 inches. North Carolina State University’s Cooperative Extension Service explains how to safely use mulch.

Free or cheap sources of mulch:

  • Grass clippings. Let them cool down before mulching.
  • Raked leaves. Shred first with a shredder or lawn mower so air and moisture can reach the soil beneath.
  • Shredded wood or bark. Electric utility companies and tree services may have cheap or free wood chips or shredded bark. Also, some cities collect leaves and branches, chipping them for use by local residents.
  • Cardboard. Ask recycling centers and appliance stores for free cardboard. Wet it down, cut it to fit and place it around plants, covering with soil or bark mulch. This is best in wet climates where cardboard breaks down into the soil. WikiHow gives instructions on using cardboard and has more ideas for cheap mulch.

3. Seal wood decks

The cheap way to approach this job is to do it yourself. It’s not difficult, although it’s nice to have help. You’ll spend a couple hundred dollars on supplies and rented tools. Do it annually or every two to three years, depending where you live. Ignore the job long enough and you’ll need to replace the deck, at a cost of thousands of dollars.

Follow these steps:

  • Clean the deck. Scrub and hose it down. A power washer works best. Sand the wood where needed and replace rotting boards.
  • Let wood dry completely. How long that takes depends on your climate. Ask your paint store for advice. Some stores have moisture detectors for customers to use.
  • Apply a wood brightener. This optional step perks up old, dull-looking wood.
  • Stain or paint. Ask paint store staff for help finding products and for guidance on using them. Don’t go cheap on stain or sealer. Expect to spend $30 a gallon and up for a premium water-based or oil-based sealer or stain. Read labels carefully and follow instructions. Your work and money are wasted if you apply the stuff incorrectly or on damp wood.

 4. Clean gutters

You may be able to do this job yourself, and at little or no cost. Rent or borrow a solid ladder tall enough to do the job safely. Enlist someone to stand on the ground and steady it while you work.

Clean gutters once or twice a year, depending on how quickly they fill with leaves and debris. While you’re cleaning, check for leaks and breaks.

5. Shine windows

Doing your own windows isn’t difficult. Here are three cheap, no-streak approaches:

  • Apply a vinegar-water solution to the glass and wipe it off with crumpled newspaper.
  • Use TSP (trisodium phosphate), an inexpensive powder degreaser found at hardware stores, in water and squeegee it off for a streak-free finish. Make sure you read the instructions for properly handling.
  • Many people swear by a few drops of dish soap in a bucket of warm water.

For inspiration and guidance, watch YouTube videos on window washing.

Before starting, trim trees and shrubs so you can safely reach the outside of windows. Inside, remove drapes and blinds if possible. Dust window trim or wipe it with soapy water if it’s really dirty.

Some homeowners find a one-time purchase of a professional extension pole and squeegee with removable blade is worthwhile. Tip: Get a squeegee that fits your smallest windows. Supplies can be found at a professional supplier online.

6. Caulk

Caulking around windows helps cut heating and cooling bills by keeping indoor air in and drafts out. It’s an important preventative, too: Leaky window frames rot and leak water into walls, causing rot and mildew.

A $5 tube of caulk goes a long way in sealing edges and small gaps. Spray foam is better for larger openings. See “How to Lay Down a Bead” at This Old House.

7. Give the furnace TLC

Give your furnace a little attention on its summer vacation:

  • Remove the furnace filter. If you don’t know where it is, check the instruction manual and follow directions on how to remove and replace it.
  • Hold the filter up to the light. If it’s dark and dirty, it’s time for a new one.
  • Use a vacuum cleaner on openings throughout the system, including registers, ducts and vents.

 8. Check for irrigation leaks

Your irrigation system and hoses, if you leave them outdoors, freeze and thaw in cold winters. In the summer, water pressure and UV light do damage. Leaks waste water and cost you money.

Turn on the water and inspect hoses, timers and irrigation systems for leaks, pooling water, breaks and clogged sprinkler heads. Replace hose gaskets and make repairs or call a service company.

9. Banish pests

Warm weather gives you a chance to circle the outside of your home removing anything that could shelter wood-boring insects, rats, mice or spiders.

  • Remove yard waste, tools, ladders, toys and stacked lumber.
  • Orkin recommends storing firewood at least 5 feet from your home’s foundation and on a rack off the ground. Build a small rain shelter over the woodpile rather than keeping wood dry under your home’s eaves.
  • Trim bushes and relocate plants so none touch the home’s siding or foundation.
  • Clear vegetation and debris under decks and steps.
  • Pick up fruit as soon as it drops from trees and bushes.
  • Give garbage cans tight-fitting lids.
  • Drain pools, puddles and ponds and change birdbath water frequently to discourage mosquitoes.

10. Primp the lawn

If you want a great-looking lawn, stop scalping it, advises MSN Real Estate. Instead, mow higher and more often. Set mower blades at least 3 inches high. That will encourage grass to fill in bare spots and push weeds out. Grass roots will grow deeper so the lawn looks better and needs less water. Don’t collect grass clippings; let them drop on the lawn to nourish it.

11. Inspect and clean the dryer vent

Do this job for fire prevention. Clothes dryers were involved in an average of 6,000 fires each year from 2009 through 2011, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Although you probably clean your dryer’s lint trap after each load, lint still builds up inside the machine and duct.

Clean:

  • Remove the lint filter. Use a long handled vent brush (ask for one at hardware stores) to clean as much of the cavity as you can.
  • Unplug the dryer and carefully clean behind the machine without disturbing the vent attachment or gas line.
  • Use the vent brush or a rag to reach into the vent from outside and remove all the lint you can reach.

Inspect: Turn on the dryer and go outside to look at the vent. Is exhaust air coming out? If not, look for blockage in the vent or exhaust duct. If necessary, disconnect the duct from the dryer to thoroughly clean the exhaust path.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission tells how to prevent dryer fires. It recommends hiring a qualified service technician periodically to clean inside the dryer chassis.

12. Insulate water pipes

Uninsulated pipes carrying hot water through a cold basement or crawl space waste heat, costing you money. It’s easy to insulate these pipes with pre-slit, hollow-core, flexible “sleeves” made of polyethylene or neoprene foam. Find them at hardware stores. Before shopping, learn your pipes’ diameter to get the right fit.

Energy.gov, which has illustrated instructions for this easy job, estimates that spending $10 to $15 and three hours insulating pipes on a small home will save $8 to $12 a year in energy costs.

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  • Y2KJillian

    We have painted our entire house, inside and out, twice and more with free paint from Craigslist. With a big plastic container, (I don’t know what they’re called, but they’re like giant buckets of heavy plastic and often have rope handles)–I even mix my own colors, admittedly, not just anything, but a combo of the paint collected and sorted out…Our house is currently (mostly) beige inside and out; we just got a 2-gallon bucket of exterior white latex and are adding white trim to the outside…I’ve mixed greys, greens, blues, deep reds, browns, pinks…depends on what you get. And when you’re done mixing, using, and sealing back up, you can get rid of the extras by relisting on Craigslist for free giveaways, too. It’s super!t

  • Y2KJillian

    Mulch–we got a paper shredder for xmas and my husband mixes the shreds (cross-cut) in with the compost–it breaks down fast and why would it be any worse than cardboard?