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.]
Good news, home improvers: Angie’s List is now offering free membership. The home reviews site, which has grown to more than 10 million subscribers, announced its Green tier earlier this month, which will allow members to access reviews free-of-charge.
The company also revealed two new premium membership tiers, Silver and Gold, which offer guarantees of services beyond the reviews. Here’s how each tier works, according to the announcement.
Green: Free, nationwide access to companies in more than 700 service categories, plus more than 10 million verified customer ratings and reviews
Silver: All Green-level features, plus Angie’s Fair Price Guarantee and Angie’s Service Quality Guarantee. Chat and email customer support are also provided, along with discounts for $24.99 a year.
Gold: All Green and Silver features, plus complaint resolution and customer support via phone for $99.99 a year.
Among the new features the company is adding each quarter are “project pricing, scheduling and financing (through partnerships), handyman chat line, a home emergency service line” and instant hiring.
Hiring a Contractor
Improving your home can add tremendous value to its resale price, which can be helpful when and if you decide to sell. However, it’s important to do your research before hiring a contractor, as the last thing you want is for him to walk off your lot without finishing the job — or to damage your property.
Home improvements and/or repairs cost serious money, so you also want to be sure that you can handle the strain on your wallet. After all, you don’t want to go into debt if it’s possible to put the project off for a few months and save the money to pay for it. (If you’re already in debt, perhaps you want to set the project aside altogether and concentrate on getting control of your finances instead.)
Owning a home is about a lot more than just making the mortgage payments, paying the property taxes and keeping it clean and tidy. It’s about maintaining your home, too. Trying to take it on all at once can feel more than daunting — it can be downright impossible. That’s why breaking down your annual upkeep tasks into seasonal projects can help. By breaking your projects down into smaller pieces, you will give yourself more time to save for repairs or pay off your credit cards so you don’t go into debt. (To see how your spending habits are affecting your credit, you can see two of your credit scores for free, updated each month, on Credit.com.)
Here are 17 things homeowners might forget to do around the house. But if you do them, it can help keep your castle in tip-top shape and may even save you money in the long run.
Everyone’s heard of spring cleaning, that effort to dust away the cobwebs and mustiness of winter and prepare your home for the warmer, sunnier days to come. But spring is also the time to repair any issues caused by Old Man Winter and make sure your home is ready to withstand any spring and summer storms.
How is the exterior of your home holding up? Do you need to do any spot painting? Repair any shingles or bricks? Are the eaves and flashing in good repair? How is your roof holding up? Are there any cracks in the foundation? Make note of any necessary fixes and add them to your warm weather to-do list.
As the winter snow begins to melt, it’s a good time to check the drainage around your home. If you have puddles standing anywhere near your foundation for more than 24 hours, it could indicate another issue.
Start by checking your gutters for stoppages, leaks or loose connections. If all’s well there, it could be a grading problem. You can try regarding or putting in French drains. If it’s really bad, you might want to consider hiring a professional to come out and assess the situation.
You’ll want to check your gutters anyway, as well. There can be all kinds of gunk up there after the fall and winter, and you’ll want a nice, clean system that can handle the spring rains.
If you have a central air conditioning system, and especially if you live in a warmer part of the country with a longer summer season, the $100 or so you’ll spend on getting it serviced annually can save you the frustration and discomfort of it going out on the hottest day of the year.
Who wants to work? The days are long and sunny, and it’s time for getting together with family and friends to enjoy cookouts and holiday celebrations. Here are some of the things you can do to enjoy the season to its fullest and make sure your home is well tended for the festivities.
This is where you’ll spend a ton of time this summer, so get it ready. Does it need a power wash? Re-staining? Just a good cleaning? If your deck has nails, are any popping out and need to be replaced? If so, consider using screws instead.
As the weather warms up, the bugs will come out to play, so if you aren’t already on a regular exterminating schedule, it might be a good time to call the inspector and have them come out and check your home for pests. Carpenter ants and termites in particular, will become more active in warmer months, and you’ll want to know about them as quickly as possible.
This is also a good time for you to check seals around doors and windows, crevices around plumbing and other areas where pests can gain access to your house. Repair or replace any seals of concern, and use an expanding foam to seal up spaces around plumbing lines.
Your dryer vent can become clogged over time. All that damp lint just builds up inside the hose and can not only make it less efficient, but could potentially cause a fire. There are special, inexpensive lint brushes available to clean the vent and hose.
We all have that neighbor who uses their garage to seemingly store everything but the kitchen sink. If you are that person, it might be time to clear out the garage. Get in there and get it clean. Throw away what you aren’t using, or have a garage sale. Clear it out, clean it out, and use that space to protect your vehicles and store your tools.
It’s a good idea to do this more often, even monthly if you don’t rinse your dishes well, but a thorough cleaning once a year, coupled with a freshening cleanse of a vinegar and baking soda, followed by boiling water down your dishwasher drain can keep your system operating smoothly.
Do you need a snow blower? If you already have one, does it need to be serviced? Do you need a new snow shovel? How about salt? It’s a good time to stock up on any winter items you might need so you have them on hand and aren’t caught off-guard when that first snow arrives.
It’s the season to bundle up with a good book and some tea in front of the fire. In order to make sure your home stays in proper working order, it’s also the time to attend to some of the small and easily overlooked issues that become annoyances if not properly maintained.
Same goes for these smaller spaces. Go ahead and go through and get rid of anything you haven’t worn in a year. Check shelves and rods to make sure none are coming lose. Do you need new hangers? What about any organizing items?
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.