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By: Jeanne Huber
Accomplishments — even little ones — go a long way toward a sunny outlook. Fortunately, there are plenty of easy, quick home repair chores you can do when you’re mired in the thick of winter. For max efficiency, make a to-do list ahead of time and shop for all the tools and supplies in one trip. On your work days, put the basics in a caddy and carry it from room to room, checking off completed tasks as you speed through them.
What to Look (and Listen) For
In each room, look around and take stock of what needs fixing or improving. Focus on small, quick-hit changes, not major redos. Here are some likely suspects:
1. Sagging towel rack or wobbly toilet tissue holder. Unscrew the fixture and look for the culprit. It’s probably a wimpy, push-in type plastic drywall anchor. Pull that out (or just poke it through the wall) and replace it with something more substantial. Toggle bolts are strongest, and threaded types such as E-Z Ancor are easy to install.
2. Squeaky door hinges. Eliminate squeaks by squirting a puff of powdered graphite ($2.50 for a 3-gram tube) alongside the pin where the hinge turns. If the door sticks, plane off a bit of the wood, then touch up the paint so the surgery isn’t noticeable.
3. Creaky floor boards. They’ll shush if you fasten them down better. Anti-squeak repair kits, such as Squeeeeek No More ($23), feature specially designed screws that are easy to conceal. A low-cost alternative: Dust a little talcum powder into the seam where floorboards meet — the talcum acts as a lubricant to quiet boards that rub against each other.
4. Rusty shutoff valves. Check under sinks and behind toilets for the shutoff valves on your water supply lines. These little-used valves may slowly rust in place over time, and might not work when you need them most. Keep them operating by putting a little machine oil or WD-40 on the handle shafts. Twist the handles back and forth to work the oil into the threads. If they won’t budge, give the oil a couple of hours to penetrate, and try again.
5. Blistered paint on shower ceilings. This area gets a lot of heat and moisture that stresses paint finishes. Scrape off old paint and recoat, using a high-quality exterior-grade paint. Also, be sure everyone uses the bathroom vent when showering to help get rid of excess moisture.
6. Loose handles or hinges on furniture, cabinets, and doors. You can probably fix these with a few quick turns of a screwdriver. But if a screw just spins in place, try making the hole fit the screw better by stuffing in a toothpick coated with glue, or switching to a larger screw.
You know those routine safety checks you keep meaning to do but never have the time? Now’s the time.
7. Carbon monoxide and smoke detectors. If you don’t like waking up to the annoying chirp of smoke detector batteries as they wear down, do what many fire departments recommend and simply replace all of them at the same time once a year.
8. Ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlets. You’re supposed to test them once a month, but who does? Now’s a great time. You’ll find them around potentially wet areas — building codes specify GFCI outlets in bathrooms, kitchens, and for outdoor receptacles. Make sure the device trips and resets correctly. If you find a faulty outlet, replace it or get an electrician to do it for $75 to $100.
Another good project is to replace your GFCIs with the latest generation of protected outlets that test themselves, such as Levitron’s SmartlockPro Self-Test GFCI ($28). You won’t have to manually test ever again!
9. Exhaust filter for the kitchen stove. By washing it to remove grease, you’ll increase the efficiency of your exhaust vent; plus, if a kitchen stovetop fire breaks out, this will help keep the flames from spreading.
10. Clothes dryer vent. Pull the dryer out from the wall, disconnect the vent pipe, and vacuum lint out of the pipe and the place where it connects to the machine. Also, wipe lint off your exterior dryer vent so the flap opens and closes easily. (You’ll need to go outside for that, but it’s quick.) Remember that vents clogged with old dryer lint are a leading cause of house fires
11. Drain hoses. Inspect your clothes washer, dishwasher, and icemaker. If you see any cracks or drips, replace the hose so you don’t come home to a flood one day.
12. Electrical cords. Replace any that are brittle, cracked, or have damaged plugs. If you’re using extension cords, see if you can eliminate them — for example, by replacing that too-short lamp cord with one that’s longer. If you don’t feel up to rewiring the lamp yourself, drop it off at a repair shop as you head out to shop for your repair materials. It might not be ready by the end of the day. But, hey, one half-done repair that you can’t check off is no big deal, right?
By: Ginny Gaylor
The bungling burglars from Home Alone may have seemed like idiots for being so easily foiled by a bratty 8-year-old boy, but when it comes to home safety during the holidays, they’re much more realistic than Kevin and his swinging-paint-can defense.
That being said, according to statistics from the FBI, there were an estimated 1,729,806 burglaries in 2014. On the positive side, the U.S. Department of Justice studied the numbers too, finding that household burglary rates are surprisingly lower in winter and higher in summer.
No matter what time of year, you probably aren’t keen on leaving a kid behind to defend the old homestead. And once that sense of security is shattered, you might be prompted to make an expensive decision — such as adding your home listing to the real estate scene just to give yourself some peace of mind.
Before you take serious action, put these 10 holiday safety tips to work and make your home less of a target this holiday season — or any season.
1. Beef up security systems
Sure, you’ve set the alarm and have motion-activated lights outside, but there are some additional things you should consider doing to fortify your home. For instance, install a heavy-duty lock strike plate on your door; it’s the weakest part and where thieves may try to break in. You can also add sash pins to double-hung windows to make them more secure.
2. Look as though you live there when you’re out of town
If you live where the grass is still growing, be sure to mow it before you leave so your home looks well taken care of. Expecting a big snow? Have someone on retainer to shovel your walk and driveway for the same reason.
3. Windows + extension cords = bad
Who doesn’t love twinkly lights? But if you want to bring a touch of Clark Griswold to your home, be sure you aren’t running electrical extension cords through your windows. If they don’t close and latch, you’re sending burglars an invitation to invade.
4. Don’t fall for door-to-door solicitations
A common way to scope out what kind of goodies you have in your home is by posing as a charity asking for donations. If someone comes to your door, don’t open it, or ask for an ID that links them to the charity — and don’t let them see inside.
5. Use the latest tech
Gayla Leathers of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Ambassador Real Estate in Omaha, NE, says to take advantage of a device called FakeTV, which mimics the flickering light of a TV to make it look as though you are home. You can also buy Wi-Fi-connected plug-in devices that allow you to turn lights on and off remotely with your cellphone.
6. Do your packing out of sight
Heading over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house? Load up the sleigh in the garage or out of sight if at all possible, advises Heather Dodson, a real estate agent at Team Leung in Greensboro, NC.
7. Be smart about boxes
Hopefully, you score a lot of gifts, but don’t leave the empty boxes on the curb for everyone to see. Break down the boxes, turn them inside out, and put them in your container on the day trash is picked up. Even better? Cart those boxes to a recycling center yourself.
8. Make a record of gifts
Got some big-ticket items coming down your chimney this year? It’s a good idea to take a picture of anything pricey, and even jot down the serial number. Should the worst happen, you will have a record of what was taken — or at the very least, a handy reminder of who should get a thank-you note.
9. Don’t publicize your vacation plans
It’s hard to fight the allure of Facebook and Instagram. But it’s probably not the best idea to share your travel plans with your 500 closest friends online. Your Facebook profile might not be as private as you think — and it’s better not to take the risk.
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By: Lisa Kaplan Gordon
Take a close look at your windows, doors, and skylights to stop air leaks, foil water drips, and detect the gaps and rot that let the outside in. You can perform a quick check with a home air-pressure test, or a DIY energy audit.
Luckily, these inspections are easy to do. Here’s how to give your house a checkup:
How to Check for Air Leaks
A home air pressure test sucks outside air into the house to reveal air leaks that increase your energy bills. To inspect windows and other openings:
Seal the house by locking all doors, windows, and skylights.
Close all dampers and vents.
Turn on all kitchen and bath exhaust fans.
Pass a burning incense stick along all openings — windows, doors, fireplaces, outlets — to pinpoint air rushing in from the outside.
How to Pinpoint Window Problems
Air and water can seep into closed widows from gaps and rot in frames, deteriorating caulking, cracked glass, and closures that don’t fully close.
To stop air leaks, give your windows a thorough inspection:
Give a little shake. If they rattle, frames are not secure, so heat and air conditioning can leak out and rain can seep in. Some caulk and a few nails into surrounding framing will fix this.
Look deep. If you can see the outside from around — not just through — the window, you’ve got gaps. Seal air leaks by caulking and weather stripping around frames.
Inspect window panes for cracks.
Check locks. Make sure double-hung windows slide smoothly up and down. If not, run a knife around the frame and sash to loosen any dried paint. Tighten cranks on casement windows and check that top locks fully grab latches.
Some older windows can be repaired and save you money over new windows. However, if you think you’ll automatically gain energy savings, think carefully — there may be other, cheaper ways to cut utility bills, such as sealing air leaks.
Inspecting Doors for Leaks
Check doors for cracks that weaken their ability to stop air leaks and water seeps.
Inspect weather stripping for peels and gaps.
Make sure hinges are tight and doors fit securely in their thresholds.
Checking Out Skylights
Brown stains on walls under a skylight are telltale signs that water is invading and air is escaping. Cut a small hole in the stained drywall to check for wetness, which would indicate rot, or gaps in the skylight.
To investigate skylight leaks, carefully climb on the roof and look for the following:
Open seams between flashing or shingles.
Shingle debris that allows water to collect on roofs.
Failed and/or cracked patches of roofing cement put down the last time the skylight leaked.
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