Here are a few simple projects a month, and you can make 2011 the year your house stays in tip-top shape
New year, fresh start. Instead of making resolutions, make a list of projects you want to complete this year, then post it somewhere that you'll see it every day. Nothing like a little guilt to motivate you. Be careful when taking down those holiday decorations. Pack and label the boxes, invest in some Christmas light reels to keep those strands tidy -- you'll thank us later -- and take some time to cull out any broken ornaments or decorations you don't care for.
You know what's romantic? Fixing that leaky toilet. Well, no, it's not, but it will be more appreciated than that $26 box of chocolates. To check for leaks, add a drop or two of food coloring in the tank at bedtime. If the water in the bowl is tinged the same color, your flapper is leaking. It's an easy fix by replacing the mechanism. And while you're in a bathroom state of mind, how about replacing those old shower heads with low-flow models? Check with your water provider for deals or discounts. A few minutes of work can save a lot of water -- and money -- throughout the year.
Can you feel it? Spring is just around the corner. Time to get the house and yard ready for the warm weather and sunshine. Start by fixing window screens, repairing sagging fences and arbors, and making sure your deck is shipshape. Now would be a good time to give the deck a good cleaning and a coat of sealer. Check for dry and rotted wood.
Consider renting a power washer to scrub the deck, siding, driveway and even your house. And here's something we often don't think about: the mailbox. Do you need a new one? Or maybe the old one needs a paint job?
A fresh coat of paint can brighten up the old homestead. Not up to painting? Then get outside and scrub that aluminum siding and wash down the stucco. While you're at it, check for damage. Fixing cracks and breaks now can prevent trouble down the road. And as long as we're in a cleaning mood, those windows can use a wash (use newspaper to wash and dry for a streak-free finish). Inside, clean your blinds, ceiling fans and heating/air conditioning vents. Schedule a checkup on your heating and cooling system.
Ah, May. Memorial Day. Backyard barbecues. Smart you, working on your deck in the spring. Now it's time to pull out the Weber and fire up the grill. But before striking a match, remove rust from the grill with a little elbow grease and a stiff brush. Freshen up the trim on your home, wash off your driveway and check for damage that may have worsened over the winter. This also would be a good time to check the foundation around your home and crawl space, looking for signs of termite damage. You also can expect to find ants out and about. Keep them out of your home by sealing cracks and putting bait traps around. Be careful using them around children and pets.
Before you hang the stars and stripes for Flag Day, check your flagpole holder to make sure it's still secure. As we reach the midway point in the year, check that list of projects you made in January. How are you doing? Rethink the list by moving some projects to the bottom, some to the top and adding a few more. Then look at all those "once a year" chores, such as cleaning behind the refrigerator and vacuuming coils, checking and replacing, if needed, the water hoses to the washing machine, checking for leaks under the sinks and dishwasher, and testing circuit breakers. If you haven't already, label the breakers so you'll know what switch controls what part of the house.
We may be cranking up the air conditioner this month, so make sure the condensation drip tube flows freely. And take the time to update your emergency kit. Don't have one? Then make one. Experts recommend a three-day supply of drinking water and food you don't have to refrigerate or cook; first aid supplies; a portable NOAA weather radio; a wrench and other basic tools; a flashlight; work gloves; emergency cooking equipment; portable lanterns; fresh batteries for each piece of equipment; clothing; blankets; baby items; prescription medications; extra car and house keys; extra eyeglasses; credit cards and cash; important documents, including insurance policies.
If you're planning a vacation this month, update your security with door and window alarms, motion-sensor lights and timers. Don't forget to stop newspaper and mail deliveries, and ask a trusted neighbor to keep an eye on things. Give them contact information in case there's an emergency. If you're planning a staycation, how about devoting a few hours to organize your gardening and household tools in your garage or shed. Sell or donate tools that you aren't using. Seriously? How many drills and rusty pruners does one person need?
Take a look at your landscape with an eye toward safety. Your trees grew this spring and summer. Are they crowding power lines or brushing against your roof? Contact a professional to trim them. Check for plants growing too close to the foundation. They can encourage insect damage, weaken the foundation or create a fire hazard. And as loath as we are to admit it, cooler weather is just around the corner. Caulk windows and doors, add weather stripping and new sweeps on doors, and check to see if you've got enough insulation in your attic or crawl spaces and that loose insulation isn't blocking vents.
Ugh, it's time to clean those gutters and downspouts. For fun, replace a downspout with a decorative "rain chain." A rain barrel or two wouldn't go amiss, either. Time to start wrapping up the house for the coming winter, and don't forget the hot water heater. If it's warm to the touch and in an unheated garage or utility room, invest in an insulating blanket. Decorators may hate those ceiling fans, but they can help move warm air around your house. Reverse the fans to blow upward in the winter, pushing warm air across the ceiling and down the walls.
You may have some unexpected company this month, and we're not talking about crazy Uncle Harry and Aunt Prudence. We're talking, gulp, mice and rats who will be looking for a home in your garage and house. Seal holes in the foundation -- especially those around pipes and wires -- and look for places where they might sneak in. An easy way is to plug holes with steel wool. Make sure doors fit at the bottom. Have your fireplace and chimney inspected and cleaned before lighting fires. Test smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, and replace batteries.
The first rule of hanging holiday lights and decorations: "Stay off the roof." Not only is it dangerous to be up there, you can damage tiles and create leaks in the roof. Don't hammer directly into the roof to secure decorations; you're only asking for problems when it starts raining. If you followed our advice in January about storing lights and decorations, you'll be thanking us now when it's much easier to work with them. But still be mindful of damaged cords and old lights that may malfunction. Consider replacing older lights with newer LED lights that are safer and more energy efficient.