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Outdoor maintenance can pay for itself – especially if you get free supplies! Touch-up paint and landscaping can build curb appeal if you're looking to sell, while sealing and pest control can keep the bills down.

The Fourth of July is a time for barbecue, fireworks, and fun. But for many of us, it’s also an extra day off – so why not use the holiday to tackle some summer maintenance? You can make the house look nice before your friends come over. Or maybe wait and rope them into helping.

First, take a walk around the yard and jot down some notes on what needs a touch-up. As we said in 6 Questions to Ask Before You Do It Yourself, there are lots of tasks you can handle and save a lot of money on, including outdoor maintenance.

Here’s a bit of a checklist to get you started: Is the wood in your deck or fence drying out? Do you have concrete or pavers that need sealing? Do your lawn, plants, or flower beds need fertilizing or mulch?

How about around the house itself: Any cracks or shrinkage in window caulking? Chalky or peeling paint? Fading fascia board? Up top, are the gutters clear? Are your shingles and flashing (the sheet metal installed at corners and around pipes) in good condition?

In the video below, Money Talks News reporter Jim Robinson offers some other things to look for. Check it out, then read on for more details and ideas…

All right, let’s recap and expand on Jim’s to-do list…

1. Painting

Retouching paint is cheap and easy, but repainting an entire house isn’t. So the best way to save is obvious: Do more to touch up your existing paint, and you’ll do fewer complete repaints.

But cheap paint means doing the job more often. So go where the paint is cheapest, but don’t buy the cheapest paint. And like Jim mentioned in the video above, you may be able to get some free quality paint.

Many cities have “paint programs” that offer free paint to homeowners. Sometimes they have leftover paint from their own projects, but programs that rely on your income are more common – so if your family of four makes $56,400 or less in Kansas City or $58,500 in Roseville, Calif., you qualify for free paint. Do a search for “paint program” and the name of your city or county. I just tried and got my county’s list of phone contacts for free paint in several cities.

Other free or cheap options include The Habitat for Humanity Restore, FreecycleCraigslist, and friends or neighbors.

Obviously, the more common your paint color, the easier it’s going to be to find it cheap or free – keep that in mind next time you plan a complete repaint.

2. Gardening

Mulch works like fallen leaves in the forest – it returns nutrients to the soil, slows the growth of weeds, and helps the soil retain water. You could go buy a bag of mulch, but why not get some free ground-up plant matter?

Once again, the first place to check is your city’s public works department. The tree trimmers they employ often let residents shovel it into bags and cart it off, and some cities like Fort Lauderdale will deliver free mulch to your doorstep. Why? It saves them (and taxpayers) disposal costs.

Then there’s private tree and landscaping services. They’re doing the same job and may also prefer to give you the mulch instead of carting it to a landfill. If not, one more (less tidy) option is to make your own by mowing the grass and recycling the clippings.

3. Sealing

Cleaning and treating unpainted wood and other home surfaces will make decks, fences, and patios last longer and look better. How often you need to clean and apply stains and sealants depends on both the material and the climate, but it’s usually at least every two to three years. You can tell if wood needs sealing by dropping water on it: If it’s soaking in rather than beading up, it’s time. Lowe’s has a short how-to video on its website.

Like paint, quality is typically worth the extra money. Unlike paint, you probably can’t get it free – although it won’t hurt to call Habitat for Humanity or check Freecycle or Craigslist.

Check for local producers before you hit the hardware store, though. You may be able to buy sealants from the companies who make them at cost, instead of at a 30 percent retail markup.

4. Pest control

Mosquitoes can be a real buzzkill – so don’t leave them any breeding or play grounds in your yard. They like still, stagnant water and are attracted to non-natural scents like scented candles and garbage.

So if you have a birdbath or a pond, try surrounding them with plants mosquitoes dislike: rosemary, marigolds, and lavender. If water collects in certain parts of your yard after a rain, see if you can improve your drainage by using a shovel to level the ground or encouraging run-off away from your house.

Make sure the lid on your garbage can fits snugly or replace it. Remove scented candles or anything else that emits a perfumed smell, and if you leave a water bowl out for pets, keep it empty when they’re indoors.

For other crawlies, you can make an all-natural pesticide instead of buying expensive, harmful chemicals. Hot pepper sprays, used dishwater, or 1 teaspoon of liquid soap to a gallon of water will all do the trick. Marigolds will get rid of beetles, while mint, garlic, and chives will discourage other harmful insects.

Spending a little time and money now will save you a ton of time, money, and aggravation later – so get a little yard work done before kicking back with a beer, a burger, and some fireworks.

Stacy Johnson

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