- - Thursday, January 19, 2012

January, the month of resolutions. It’s the time of year many people commit to a fitness or financial goal, but it also should be a time to make a list of home-maintenance resolutions.

“This time of year is a great time to do a true assessment of your home and its condition,” said Angie Hicks, co-founder of Angie’s List, a 1-million-member group that provides tips and consumer reviews on contractors and other businesses.

“Take a look at your house as if you were buying it and write down everything that you need to do or want to do, regardless of your budget,” she said. “Then you can take care of all the inexpensive items and make decisions about what big items to fix next.”

Many basic home-maintenance tasks that homeowners can accomplish themselves or with the help of a handyman can not only improve the appearance of your home, but also can save you money by reducing your energy needs, saving water or simply avoiding expensive repairs necessitated by neglect.

Here are the top 10 home repairs you can do that also can save you money:

Caulk. A caulk gun can be a homeowner’s best tool both indoors and outside. Steve Owen, a consultant and client-service associate with Case Design/Remodeling in Bethesda, said, “Most homeowners can dig out and replace the caulk around their windows, doors and other openings themselves, which will stop the heat from seeping out during the winter. At the same time, they should inspect and replace the weatherstripping around their doors and windows because if it is loose or damaged, it can let cold air in.”

Mrs. Hicks recommends checking the caulk inside around any place where you have water, including the kitchen and bathroom faucets, tubs and showers, to prevent leaks and costly repair bills. She also said caulking windows and doors can reduce your heating and cooling bill.

“If you hold a candle to your window and it flickers, you know you have a draft and need some caulk to stop it,” she said.

Clean your gutters. Clearing your gutters of debris can prevent expensive water damage to your home.

“Ninety percent of basement moisture comes from water that hasn’t been directed away from the foundation of the home,” said David Lupberger, a home improvement expert with ServiceMagic. “When you clean your gutters, you also should check to make sure you have a gutter extender that drives the water at least three feet away from your foundation. Check your foundation, too, for low spots that need to be filled in with dirt.”

Mr. Owen said most homeowners can add mortar or caulk to fill small holes in the home’s foundation and joints. Not only does filling the holes keep insects out of the house, but it can prevent potentially costly water damage and reduce drafts.

Fix leaky faucets.

“A leaky faucet can waste as much as 10,000 gallons per year,” Mrs. Hicks said. “This is not only bad for the environment, but it’s also expensive. A handy homeowner can fix a leak themselves, but you can also call in a plumber and have it fixed in one hour or so. Have a list of two or three items ready to go for the plumber to make the most of that hour.”

Change your air filters. One of the simplest yet most often forgotten tasks is changing or cleaning the filter in your furnace.

“HVAC contractors tell us that 60 percent of service calls are because the system has dirty filters,” Mrs. Hicks said. “Changing your filter helps your system run more efficiently, which, in turn, reduces your utility bill. Your HVAC system generates about 40 percent of your monthly utility bill.”

Mr. Lupberger and Mr. Owen suggest changing the filter at least every three months, although every month is ideal, particularly if you have pets, a lot of dust or allergies.

Have your furnace serviced. Mr. Lupberger recommends having your HVAC system serviced, at a cost of $100 to $125, at least every two years. Not only can this avoid a costly repair, but the system also will run more efficiently and can provide savings on your utility bill.

Mrs. Hicks suggested using a programmable thermostat, which can cost as little as $20, so that you avoiding heating and cooling your home when no one is there.

“You can save as much as 10 percent on heating costs by keeping your thermostat set at 65 degrees at least eight hours per day,” Mrs. Hicks said.

Check your insulation. Mr. Lupberger said you need about 12 inches of insulation in the attic to keep your home warmer in winter and cooler in summer. Depending on the location of your insulation, this can be a do-it-yourself job.

Maintain your water heater.

“Your water heater generates about 12 percent of your utility bill,” Mrs. Hicks said. “To keep it working efficiently, drain about a quart of water from the base about once per quarter. This removes the sediment that can build up and keeps it working efficiently.”

Check your sump pump. Mr. Owen recommends testing your sump pump to make sure it’s working and suggests adding a battery backup to the pump so it continues to work even if the power goes out during a storm.

Take care of your fireplace.

“Homeowners should have their fireplace professionally cleaned at least once every three years because creosote builds up inside and causes fires,” Mr. Lupberger said. “If you use it often, you should probably have it cleaned more often, too.”

Mr. Lupberger said homeowners should, of course, make sure they close their fireplace flue when it’s not in use, but he also suggests installing a glass enclosure or door to eliminate drafts and save on energy costs. A set of doors can be installed by handy homeowners at a cost of about $200 or $250, he said.

Clean your dryer vent. Not only should you clean your interior lint trap every time you dry clothes, you also should have your dryer vent cleaned from the outside.

“If you have to run your towels through the dryer twice, this is a good indication that your dryer isn’t running efficiently,” Mrs. Hicks said. “If you pay someone $75 or so to professionally clean your vent, it’s likely to pay for itself in a year. Plus this is a safety issue to prevent a fire.”

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