Homeowners fantasize about making fabulous changes to their homes: adding rooms, beautifying the grounds, and remodeling kitchens and baths. In reality, however, these dream jobs may not be financially possible.
Don’t let that stop you, however, from taking good care of the home you have.
In the video below, Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson shows how to keep up with small repairs in order to maintain your home’s resale value and save money by heading off expensive repairs. After watching, come back here for more tips on preventive maintenance for your home.
Here are 15 small jobs that let you invest in your home and hold down household costs:
1. Change HVAC filters
Your furnace and air conditioner filters trap airborne allergens and dust so you breathe clean air. These filters need changing on a regular basis while you’re using your furnace or air conditioning.
Angie’s List says 60 percent of furnace and air conditioner service calls are because of dirty filters. Those tiny particles of dirt can hurt your furnace’s heating coil and fan. Changing filters regularly also can lower utility bills $100 a year, because dirty filters force HVAC systems to run harder and use more energy.
Changing filters is a simple, important homeowner skill. Filters can be simple or higher-tech, as BobVila.com explains:
Basic furnace filters are designed to trap dust, dirt, and airborne particulates before they can get into the system and potentially damage the fan or the heating coil. More expensive filters perform the same role, plus they can enhance the air quality in your home by trapping bacteria, pollen, and mildew and mold spores.
Consult your owner’s manual to locate your system’s filter. Inspect filters regularly and install new ones every month or two, or even more often. That depends on how dirty the filter is (BobVila.com shows examples of dirty and clean filters).
2. Fix leaky faucets
A dripping faucet means money down the drain, literally. A faucet that drips just once a minute wastes 34 gallons of water a year, according to this fun drip calculator from the U.S. Geological Survey. This Old House shows how to fix or replace a leaky faucet.
3. Caulk the tub and shower
A tube of caulk costs a few dollars. Replacing mold-infested bathroom tile and drywall can cost thousands of dollars. To prevent water from reaching walls and floors where it can cause mold and rot, keep the seams around fixtures, tubs and showers tightly sealed.
Latex caulk is easier to use, but silicone caulk lasts longer. Lowe’s buying guide tells the pros and cons of latex caulk vs. silicone caulk.
Before you start to work on your bathroom, practice applying a nice bead of caulk. It doesn’t take long to learn to use a caulk gun and apply caulk neatly. Consider using a product with a fungicide in bathrooms to discourage mold. Corvus Construction in Seattle offers video tips on applying silicone caulk, and TheRealTimJones shows how to cut and prime a tube of caulk.
4. Inspect the sump pump
Sump pumps keep water out of your basement or crawl space. Check and replace your pump batteries regularly and replace a pump every 10 years or sooner if it has failed to start promptly.
HouseLogic reviews the pros, cons and costs of various types of pumps. “The best time to replace a broken sump pump is before the next big storm — not after it,” the article says. Your sump pump protects you from a basement flood that could cost you thousands of dollars in lost possessions and cleanup costs.
5. Update light bulbs
If you are annoyed by buzzing from CFL lights, you’ve got old bulbs. “Most CFLs today — and all Energy Star-qualified CFLs — use electronic ballasts, which do not buzz or hum,” Energy Star says.
Upgrade from incandescent bulbs to more energy-efficient bulbs as your budget allows. Put them first in lights you use most.
Consumer Reports’ study of halogens, LEDs and CFLs recommends the spiral Great Value 14W 60W soft white CFL, which uses about 75 percent less energy than a 60-watt incandescent bulb and casts a similar warm glow. It costs $1.25 at Walmart and saves “about $60 in energy costs over the bulb’s claimed life of nine years (10,000 hours).” CR says you’ll still save significantly if the bulb doesn’t last that long.
Here is Energy Star’s guide to the new bulbs.
6. Install a programmable thermostat
You can save money on heating and cooling costs by avoiding continually turning your thermostat’s temperature up and down. A programmable thermostat helps you save by programming a comfortable temperature for when you’re home and a less comfortable temperature when you’re away or asleep.
Programmable thermostats can save a home about $180 a year in energy costs, according to Consumer Reports. For the most savings, choose a simple device.
Top Ten Reviews rates 10 products here.
7. Inspect electrical outlets and cords
Electrical wiring problems pose a fire hazard. Tour your home to inspect light switches, cords and outlets. Angie’s List advises looking “for signs of distortion, discoloration or cracks in the insulation.” Making cheap replacements now allows you to head off expensive repairs later.
Make sure electric appliances and equipment are plugged into grounded outlets. Install surge protectors (different from power strips) to protect electronic equipment. Portland General Electric tells how to shop for surge protectors.
If you have problems with lights flickering, warm fixtures or switches, and outlets that sometimes don’t work, it’s time to hire a licensed electrician to inspect for potentially hazardous wiring problems.
8. Replace smoke detectors’ batteries
Smoke detectors save lives. Detectors and batteries are cheap, so it’s just a matter of remembering to clean and test each detector monthly and install new batteries every six months, as the American Red Cross recommends.
“Your home needs a smoke detector outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home, even the basement,” the Red Cross says.
9. Fix running toilets
A running toilet wastes water, adding to your water bill and squandering a precious resource. Several things can go wrong with the simple mechanism in the tank that regulates water flow. Calcium deposits may build up or old parts fail, preventing a valve from closing or the tank flap from closing tightly. You can easily diagnose the problem by taking the lid off the tank, flushing a few times and watching.
Don’t bother fixing one component. Just replace the entire assembly. If one part is old, others may soon fail, too. A kit that replaces the entire assembly costs around $15 and is easy to install. Ask hardware sales people to help you select a kit and answer your questions about installation.
10. Wrap the water heater
Energy.gov estimates you’ll save $20 to $45 a year, or 4 to 9 percent of your water heating costs, by wrapping the hot water heater in an insulating blanket. The project costs about $30 and takes about an hour and a half.
Newer tanks may already be insulated, but you still should check whether the insulation is sufficient. An R-value of at least 24 is best. You’ll find ready-made insulating water heater jackets in hardware stores.
11. Seal leaky doors and windows
The biggest sources of leaking air from your home are small cracks around windows and doors. These leaks suck your pricey heated or cooled air into the great outdoors.
Take an inspection tour of your home’s interior to check for leaks. Bring along a pencil and paper (to note areas you’ll need to return to), a tube of caulk for filling cracks, a can of spray insulating foam sealer for filling larger leaks, and a digital thermometer or a candle.
Use the thermometer to check for temperature differences that signal a leak. Or hold the lighted candle up and down and around the front of windows and doors. The flame’s flicker will point you to air leaks. Also check for leaks where appliance vents, hoses, plumbing fixtures and furnace ducts meet outside walls.
12. Beef up attic insulation
“If you’ve got an unfinished attic, giving it proper insulation is one of the simplest ways to keep a lid on your heating bill this season,” This Old House says. It’s a “moderately difficult” job for DIYers.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates the typical household can save 20 percent on heating and cooling costs, and as much as 10 percent of its annual energy costs, “by air sealing their homes and adding insulation in attics, floors over crawl spaces, and accessible basement rim joists.” Just remember to seal air leaks in the attic before you start insulating.
Here’s how to tell if you need to add attic insulation: If you can see any part of the floor joists, you need more. Also, make sure the insulation is evenly distributed, without mounds and low spaces. This Old House tells which types of insulation to use where and how to apply it. Did you know you can mix loose and flexible insulation that comes in rolls? You can.
Download the Department of Energy’s guide to learn more. Check the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency for rebates and other local, state, federal and utility company programs that might help you pay for the job.
One bit of bad news: You’ll have to give up using the attic for storage, because the insulation must fluff up above the joists. This Old House says that if you’re thinking of using the attic as a climate-controlled storage or living space, “it’s worth changing tactics to insulate between the rafters and wall joists instead of the floor.”
13. Install weatherstripping
Seal air leaks around doors with weatherstripping. It comes in a variety of forms. Use felt and foam strips to fill gaps around doors. Attach metal door sweeps to the lower edge of a door. Michigan State University’s Extension Service reviews weatherstripping alternatives and rates them. If you have weatherstripping now, check it for cracks and brittleness. It may need replacing.
14. String a clothesline
Putting a clothesline up in your backyard is a good thing for your budget and for the environment. You stand to save at least $40 a year if you have a gas dryer and $100 a year if your dryer is electric. If you can’t run a clothesline outdoors, don’t despair: A basement clothesline is a good alternative, as is an inexpensive collapsible drying rack that can be used indoors or out.
15. Tour your home’s perimeter, twice
Take one more look around your home, this time on the outside. In fact, do this twice. On the first round, look for plants touching or brushing against the house or foundation. Trim them back and pull back soil or mulch that touches the siding. It could carry moisture or insects into the house.
For your next tour, wait until immediately after a heavy rain. Walk around again, this time to find and fix any areas that are channeling water toward your home or that trap it at the foundation. Fixing these areas may be as easy as grabbing a shovel and reshaping the ground a bit. Or, you may need to invest in landscaping repairs or new drainage.
Also, make certain gutters and downspouts direct water away from structures.
What household repairs and maintenance jobs help save you money? Tell us by posting a comment below or on Money Talks News’ Facebook page.