Spring has officially sprung, which means plenty of house hunters and home sellers are ’tis-ing the season. But if you’re settled in your humble abode, the warm weather can serve as a different inspiration. Yup, it’s the home improvement season, too.
Of course, major renovations aren’t in everyone’s budget and it’s best not to go into debt if your home doesn’t actually need repairs. (That’ll just hurt your bank account and your credit — you can see how your scores are doing for free on Credit.com.)
Still, homeowners hankering to get handy will be happy to hear there are a few simple projects that can actually save them some money — at least in the long run. Here are three projects you might want to put on your to-do list.
1. Go Green
Going green and becoming more eco-friendly is great for those interested in reducing their carbon footprint, sure, but, you can also benefit financially from making your home more energy-efficient.
Yes, you’ll have to have to make an initial investment, but green upgrades tend to pay for themselves by lowering your monthly utility bills. Plus, by incorporating eco-friendly solutions into your home improvement plans, you may also be eligible for tax rebates on the local, state or federal level next year. You can check with an accountant to determine if you can save on your taxes by going green with renovations. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the top suggestions for making your home more energy-efficient are:
Insulated windows using low-emissivity coatings
Energy efficient refrigerators using advanced compressor technology or magnetic refrigeration
Water heaters using electric heat pumps
Loose-fill fiberglass insulation
2. Spring Clean
Sure, it’s cliche, but checking some tasks off your annual homeowner to-do list (get yours right here) can prevent a major repair and save you money down the line. As part of a deep spring clean, be sure to check your drains and gutters, service your A/C (which can keep it from breaking on the hottest day of the year), replace any window screens you removed during the winter and repair any shingles or bricks that came loose due to bad weather.
Of course, this also a good time to clean our your closets, cabinets and crawl spaces. Fewer things means less stuff to worry about. Plus, you may be able to make a buck or two selling your wares online.
3. Smarten Up Your Home
The idea of programming your home and all of its appliances to answer your every verbal command is certainly not one the average homeowner is going to entertain. However, there are some simple ways to smarten up your home that won’t break the bank — and, in fact, can save you in the long run.
For instance, you could look into installing smart thermostats, which can be programmed or learn to change the temperature in your house throughout the day. They’re designed to ensure you don’t heat or cool your house unnecessarily and, thus, can wind up saving you on utilities. Similarly, consider changing out all your incandescent light bulbs for Smart (and energy-efficient!) LEDs. You’ll have to put out some cash to do this, as LEDs bulbs cost much more than your regular old light bulb, but the swap should pay off in the long run because they also last longer and use less energy.
Q. What is the proper wait time to give the insurance to answer your rain damage to your home? — Insured
A. It sounds as though water from a storm has entered and damaged your home and/or property.
We’re sorry to hear you’ve got a mess to clean up. The timing answer isn’t simple because it depends on what’s happened and where you already are in the process.
Determining if You’re Covered
The most frequent type of loss reported in the insurance industry is from water damage, said George Kiraly, a certified financial planner with LodeStar Advisory Group in Short Hills, New Jersey, via email.
“Whether the damage to your home will be covered depends on if the leak was caused by a ‘covered peril’ under your policy,” Kiraly said. “Most standard homeowners policies provide coverage if the cause is ‘sudden and accidental’ and will deny coverage if the cause is ‘maintenance-related.’”
If your particular loss is covered, the policy will reimburse you up to the maximum coverage, less your deductible, Kiraly said.
He offered this example: Let’s say that during a heavy rainstorm, water leaked through your roof. The roof is damaged, as are some fixtures in your home. Are you covered?
Yes and no, Kiraly said.
“You’re probably not going to be reimbursed for roof repairs because that’s a house ‘maintenance’ issue,” he said. “But the water damage to your home is covered.”
He said damage to your fixtures is also probably covered if you have a standard HO-3 home insurance policy — the most commonly purchased policy because it is the minimum coverage required by mortgage providers.
Figuring Out What to Do After Damage
Once a water loss has occurred, the single most important thing you need to do is mitigate the damage, Kiraly said.
“Do whatever you can safely do to prevent more water from entering the affected area and/or reduce ongoing damage,” he said. “For example, if you need to patch up or cover a section of damaged roof or have an area of your home pumped out, do so immediately and keep track of the cost so your insurer can reimburse you.”
Kiraly said if the damage is significant and you decide to file a claim, notify your insurance company as soon as possible. After you file the claim, you should hear from your insurance company within a day or two.
“The company should tell you about its claims process and any responsibilities you have,” he said. “Your insurance company will assign a claim adjuster to inspect the damages and determine coverage.”
He said you should cooperate with the adjuster and keep written notes about conversations regarding your claim.
The company should provide you with a copy of the damage estimate, he said.
If you need a contractor, your insurance company will probably be able to provide you with one who will do the work at the estimated price, Kiraly said.
“You are not required to use the company’s recommended contractor,” he said. “If all or part of the loss is not covered, the company must explain how coverage is excluded under your policy.”
You may only want to file a claim if the damage to your home is significant.
“There have been cases where some insurers have refused to renew the policies of homeowners who’ve made multiple water damage claims. These claims can mean high administrative costs for the insurance company,” he said. “Also, insurers worry that water damage can lead to mold problems, which can be very expensive to remedy.”
To avoid having your policy canceled for repetitive small claims, take the highest deductible on your policy that you can afford, Kiraly said. This will lower your premiums and also discourage you from filing small claims.
“Even if the damage is slightly above your deductible, it’s worth handling it yourself to avoid the possibility of it affecting your policy,” he said. “The question you should ask yourself when considering whether to report an event, would be, ‘Is the damage to my home and property significant?’ If not, don’t report it.”
[Editor’s note: In some states, insurers check homeowners’ credit standing when determining their premiums. Having a good credit standing can help you avoid paying a higher insurance premium, and you can keep track of where you stand by getting your free credit report summary every 14 days on Credit.com.]
Fresh paint doesn’t just make your home look great — it’s also a protective skin against UV light and moisture.
Earth911 reveals 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.”
Laying a 1- to 3-inch layer of mulch on garden beds will quickly spruce up the area around your home’s exterior.
Mulch has other benefits. For example, it spares you from having to do 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.
Free or cheap sources of mulch include:
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.
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.
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.
3. Seal Wood Decks
If your deck is looking a little tired, it might be time to seal it, and stain or paint it. Staining or painting your wood deck will make it look like a million bucks — and you’ll only spend a tiny fraction of that amount.
The cheap way to seal a deck is do it yourself. You’ll spend a couple hundred dollars on supplies and rented tools. Do it annually or every two to three years, depending on where you live. Ignore the job long enough and you’ll need to replace the deck, at a cost of thousands of dollars.
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
Cleaning your windows is one of the cheapest ways to give your home a new sparkle. 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, mixed in water and squeegee it off for a streak-free finish. Make sure you read the instructions for proper handling.
Many people swear by a few drops of dish soap in a bucket of warm water.
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 allow water to seep 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.
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 can 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 and remove 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.
Trim bushes and relocate plants so that none touches the home’s siding or foundation. Clear vegetation and debris under decks and steps.
Other tips include:
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 bird bath water frequently to discourage mosquitoes.
10. Primp the Lawn
A nice lawn can make your home the envy of the neighborhood. If you want a great-looking lawn, stop scalping it. 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. Although you probably clean your dryer’s lint trap after each load, lint still builds up inside the machine and duct.
Remove the lint filter and use a long-handled vent brush (ask for one at hardware stores) to clean as much of the cavity as you can. 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.
When finished, 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.
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.
As you start to plan your home improvements, it’s helpful to set a budget so you don’t overspend. If you can avoid going into debt to make necessary repairs and wanted improvements, all the better. Carrying a high amount of debt on your credit cards — relative to your credit limit — can have a negative impact on your credit scores. However, if you do access credit for your home improvement projects, be sure to come up with a plan to pay it off (and follow it). You can see how your debt is affecting your credit by getting your free credit report summary on Credit.com, and you can calculate how long it will take to pay off your credit card debt using this free calculator.