Homeowners fantasize about making fabulous changes to their homes: adding rooms, beautifying the grounds and remodeling kitchens and baths. In reality, however, these dream projects may not be financially possible.
Don’t let that stop you, however, from taking good care of the home you have. By keeping up with small repairs you’ll not only save money by heading off the big expensive fixes, you’ll also maintain your home’s resale value.
Here are 17 small jobs you can do to hold down household costs:
1. Change HVAC filters
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Your furnace and air conditioner system filters trap airborne allergens and dust so you breathe cleaner air. These filters need changing every few months while you’re using the furnace or air conditioning. Changing filters regularly also can lower utility bills, since dirty filters force HVAC systems to run harder and use more energy — see “8 Air Conditioner Parts You Can’t Afford to Neglect” for details.
Changing filters is simple. Consumer Reports explains how to do it, step by step. Use your owner’s manual to find your system’s filter and remove it. Pay attention to the markings on the filter indicating which side must face the furnace so you will put the new one in correctly.
A tip from Consumer Reports:
A filter that has a plastic frame is a reusable model. That means you have clean it only periodically with a vacuum and water, ideally outdoors. Let it dry completely before reinserting.
Otherwise, take your old filter to a store for a replacement or order one online. Inspecting the filter monthly will enable you to see when dirt has built up and it needs to be changed again.
2. Fix leaky faucets
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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 a leaky faucet.
3. Caulk the tub and shower
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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 apply, but silicone caulk lasts longer. Lowe’s Caulk Buying Guide explains the pros and cons of different types of caulk. Consider using a product with a fungicide in bathrooms to discourage mold.
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.
4. Inspect the sump pump
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Sump pumps keep water out of areas like your basement or crawl space — protecting you from water damage that could cost thousands of dollars in lost possessions and cleanup.
Check and replace your pump regularly, and replace it every 10 years or sooner if it has failed to start promptly.
The National Association of Realtors’ HouseLogic website walks you through the process of choosing a replacement pump. “The best time to replace a broken sump pump is before the next big storm — not after it,” the article says.
5. Update light bulbs
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If you are annoyed by buzzing from compact fluorescent lights (CFLs), you’ve got old bulbs. “Most CFLs today — and all Energy Star-certified CFLs — use electronic ballasts, which do not buzz or hum,” the federal government’s Energy Star program website says.
Upgrade from incandescent bulbs to more energy-efficient bulbs as your budget allows. Put them first in lights you use most. Our article “5 Simple Rules for Choosing the Right Money-Saving LED Bulbs” explains how to buy and where to use them.
6. Install a programmable thermostat
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A programmable thermostat helps save money by allowing you to set and automatically maintain a comfortable temperature for when you’re home and a more conservative temperature when you’re away or asleep.
Programmable thermostats can save you up to $180 a year in energy costs, according to Consumer Reports’ Thermostat Buying Guide. For the best savings, choose a simple device you can install yourself.
The Wirecutter also has reviewed thermostats.
For more energy-saving tips like this, check out “It’s Heating Up — 17 Ways to Bring Down the Cost of Keeping Cool.”