New Year’s Resolutions for Your Home
Easy tasks that will make you happier, healthier and even wealthier!
Prevent Bathroom Mold
No matter where you live, the high moisture level in your bathroom can cause mold and mildew. Eliminating bathroom dampness is the key to keeping mold from growing. To do that, follow these steps:
- First, after a bath or a shower, squeegee water off the shower walls. That eliminates at least three-fourths of the moisture that supports mold and mildew growth.
- Second, run your bath fans during your bath or shower and for a half-hour after to flush out moisture. Or add a timer switch to make this step automatic.
- Third, if you have tile, seal the grout lines annually with a standard grout sealer to waterproof them.
To get rid of the current mold, scrub with detergent and water, then let the surface dry completely. Or use a solution of 10 percent bleach and 90 percent water (a stronger bleach solution will not give better results). Spray or brush on the solution, let it sit 10 minutes, then rinse it off and let dry.
If the fans aren’t clearing out most of the moisture in your bathrooms after five to 10 minutes, your fans may not be moving enough air. Fans are certified by the volume (cfm, or cubic feet per minute) of air ‘exhausted’ out of the room. To find the recommended fan capacity for your bathroom, simply multiply the bathroom square footage by 1.1 (assuming an 8-ft. ceiling; for a 9-ft. ceiling, multiply by 1.5).
Restore Free Flow to Your Showerhead
If the flow from your showerhead is growing weaker, the cause is probably mineral buildup. Many manufacturers recommend that you remove the showerhead and soak it in a half-and-half mixture of warm water and vinegar (any type). But there’s really no need to remove the head. Just pour the mix into a heavy-duty plastic bag and attach it to the shower arm with a rubber band. The acid in the vinegar dissolves minerals, but prolonged contact can harm some plastics and metal finishes, so remove the bag every 15 minutes and check the shower flow.
Clean Out Dryer Lint
If you notice that it takes longer than normal for loads to dry in your clothes dryer, it may be time to clean out the vent. First detach the duct from behind the unit and then push a plumbing snake through your dryer vent from outside. Tie a rag securely to the snake end. Pull the cloth and snake through a couple of times and your clean vent will not only save energy but possibly prevent a fire as well.
Add a cup of vinegar to your empty dishwasher and let it run a full cycle once a month or so. Your kitchen may smell a bit like a pickle jar for a few hours, but hard-water lime buildup will be rinsed away, making your spray arm and other dishwasher parts work flawlessly.
Check Your Gutters
A 1,000-sq.-ft. roof will shed about 620 gallons of water during a 1-in. rainfall, or about 103 gallons per downspout if you have six downspouts. That’s a lot of water dumped right next to your basement. Although it may seem obvious, clean and properly functioning gutters with downspouts that empty away from the foundation are key to avoiding major and expensive home repairs.
So before you leave for a vacation, take a walk around the house and check your gutters. Check to see if leaves, sticks or other debris are blocking the inlet of the downspout and preventing water from flowing down the spout. Also make sure your downspout extensions are discharging the water far enough from the foundation and that you always reattach them after you mow your lawn.
Avoid a Scalding by Setting Your Water Heater to 120 Degrees
Plain old tapwater can be dangerous. Water heaters set too high send thousands (mostly children) to hospitals each year with burns. Most safety experts recommend a setting of 120 degrees F. But finding that setting on the dial isn’t easy—most dials aren’t labeled with numbers.
If the stickers on the water heater don’t tell you how to set the temperature and you can’t find the owner’s manual, use this method: Run hot water at the tap closest to the water heater for at least three minutes. Then fill a glass and check the temperature. If the water is above 120 degrees, adjust the dial, wait about three hours and check again. Repeat until you get 120-degree water. For a final test, check the temperature the following morning, before anyone uses hot water.
Test Your Sump Pump
Sump pump systems help keep groundwater out of your basement. Before a vacation, test your sump pump by filling the sump pit with water and making sure the pump is actually pumping out the water.
If it doesn’t, be sure the sump pump is plugged in (a surprisingly common oversight) and check the breaker as well. Also make sure the outlet pipe isn’t frozen or clogged and that it directs water away from your home. Clean the hole in the discharge line and check that the motor is running smoothly. Also consider adding a backup battery to your sump pump so that it functions during power outages, which seem to go hand-in-hand with heavy rainstorms.
Scum-Proof Your Shower Doors
To prevent soap scum buildup, stop using real soap and start using a synthetic. Chemically speaking, any soap in liquid or gel form is actually synthetic soap and much less likely to leave a tough film in your sink, shower or tub.
Seal a Drafty Window
Weather stripping often becomes loose, worn or distorted when the sash drags or when the strip gets sticky and attaches itself to the frame, then pulls loose when the sash is opened. Windows have weather strip on the sash, frame or both. Regardless of its location, the steps for removing and replacing it are the same. Weather stripping is available from your window manufacturer or online. The window brand and glass manufacturer date are etched in the corner of the glass or in the aluminum spacer between the glass panes. You’ll also need the height and width of your sash (take these measurements yourself).
If the weather strip is in good shape and loose in only a few places, like the corners, apply a dab of polyurethane sealant to the groove and press the weather strip into place. Otherwise, replace the entire weather strip. First remove the sash and set it on a work surface so you can access all four sides. If the weather strip is one continuous piece, cut it apart at the corners with a utility knife.
Starting at a corner, pull the weather strip loose from the sash. If the spline tears off and remains stuck in the groove, make a hook from stiff wire to dig it out.
Work the new weather strip into the groove, starting at a corner. You’ll hear it click as the strip slides into the groove.
Once a Year, Inspect Your Foundation for Termites
Pull out your flashlight and walk around your home, examining the foundation, both inside and out, to inspect for termite tunnels. Much of the damage termites do is invisible, inside walls and floors. Take the time to look for telltale sawdust and tunnels, because termites can do major damage before you even know they’re there. If you spot signs of termites, call in a professional exterminator.
With a bare floor, you can eliminate floor squeaks the easiest, most effective way: by driving screws into the floor joists. Existing nails or screws tell you where the joists are. Walk around the room, pencil in hand, and mark squeaky spots. Drive screws 6 in. apart and add more screws if needed until the squeak is gone. In most cases, 2-in. screws are best; for subfloors thicker than 3/4 in., use 2-1/2-in. screws. If you want to prevent squeaks from developing, add screws along all the floor joists.
Pick-Proof Your Dead Bolt
Reinforce Your Entry Door Strike Plate
Reinforcing your door’s weak spot, the jamb, with a heavy-duty strike plate and extra-long screws gives it the added strength needed to withstand a burglar trying to kick in your door. If your dead bolt was installed within the last 10 years, it’s probably already reinforced. To check, simply remove the strike plate. If it’s heavy steel with at least 3-in. screws or has a heavy reinforcing plate, you can rest easy. If not, buy strike plate-reinforcing hardware.
To install, remove the old strike plate, then hold the new one in place and deeply score around it. Chisel out space for the new plate, then mount it by driving 3-in. screws through predrilled holes.
Add Inexpensive Door and Window Alarms
Attach the alarm to the door or window (with a screw or double-sided tape) alongside the magnetic contact strip (they don’t have to be touching, but within 1/2 in.). When the door or window opens, breaking magnetic contact, the alarm shrieks (these little units have a piercing alarm). The door alarm has a delay feature, giving you time to set the alarm and leave, then open the door and deactivate the unit when you come home, without setting it off. The window unit has an on/off switch. The alarms will work on any door or window, and the batteries last two to three years.
Beef Up Your Wooden Garage Entry Door
Cut the plywood to fit over the door’s center section (make sure it covers the windows but doesn’t cover the door handle). Fasten it to the door with drywall screws.
Test-fit a bracket and 2×4 against the door. Measure how far the bracket is from the wall, then cut filler strips that distance and install them. Fasten the brackets in place by drilling 1/4-in. pilot holes and inserting 3/8 x 3-in. lag screws. Place the 2x4s in the brackets.
Install a Small Safe
Install the wall safe or cylinder floor safe by bolting it to the floor (most safes have holes inside for just that purpose). Hide it in the corner of a closet or other inconspicuous area. Or mount the wall safe inside a wall and cover it with a picture. Or chip out a hole in your concrete slab and stick in the floor safe, then pour new concrete around it.
Put Motion Detector Lighting Anywhere
Put motion detector lighting anywhere. Motion detector lights are a proven crime deterrent, and standard hard-wired models cost as little as $15. If running a power supply would be difficult, buy ones that run on solar power. The downside is the cost. You can find the Heath Zenith solar model shown here online. Next, learn how to build an inexpensive home security system yourself that will make ADT jealous.
Removing Radon, the Silent Killer
Radon is a radioactive gas that moves through spaces in the soil and can enter a house through any opening, such as cracks in the foundation or the concrete slab. At elevated levels over long periods of time, radon can cause lung cancer and is the second leading cause of lung cancer behind smoking. Radon is estimated to cause 21,000 deaths annually in the United States. It’s colorless, odorless and tasteless, and often called ‘the silent killer.’
Even if your neighbor’s house has a high level of radon, that doesn’t mean yours does. Each house is different, and age doesn’t matter and can be found in new homes. Radon test kits are available at home centers and hardware stores for about $10. They usually involve setting a collector in your home for a week or so and then sending it to a lab for analysis. You’ll get results in about a week. (One manufacturer is Pro-Lab and charges $40; includes a postage-paid envelope.) Conduct the test in the lowest livable area.
If two tests give a high reading, consult a radon mitigation contractor (from a list provided by your state health department). These contractors can professionally test the house and install a mitigation system for reducing radon to a harmless level. The most effective system is a vent pipe placed in the sump pit or a hole made under your concrete floor slab. The vent runs up through the house and out the roof, or out the side of the house and up to the eaves. A special in-line fan for radon is placed in the attic or outside the house to suck air through the vent. Any openings in the slab or foundation are sealed to keep out radon. Pros usually charge up to $2,000 for installation.
Install Surge Protectors to Protect your Microprocessors
Computer chips are sensitive and highly vulnerable to momentary power surges, especially powerful ones induced by lightning. Losing a $1,000 computer is bad enough, but losing photos, music and other irreplaceable stuff on your hard drive is often much worse. Insulate your valuable microprocessors from this danger by plugging them into a surge protector. Better surge protectors will have the following ratings printed somewhere on the box: meets UL 1449 or IEEE 587; clamps at 330 volts or lower; can absorb at least 100 joules of energy or more; and handles telephone lines and video cables as well.
Gone for a While? Shut Off Water Supply Valves
Always shut off the water before going on vacation. If you can’t shut off the main water supply because you have an automatic sprinkler system or someone watering the plants while you’re gone, shut off the valves to the most common sources of water damage such as dishwashers, icemakers and washing machines, in case a hose cracks or lets go. Individual shutoff valves or “stops” are installed on the supply lines leading to most appliances as well as to toilets and faucets. Typical supply stops have a small round or oval handle that you turn clockwise to shut off the flow of water.
The shutoff to your refrigerator’s icemaker might be located under the sink or in the basement.
Mount a Simple Plug-in Surge Suppressor at the Electronic Device
This is the bare minimum. This gives good protection from surges generated within your home wiring system and fair protection from large surges from outside, like lightning. You’ll find a wide range of plug-in surge suppressors at electronics stores and on the Internet.
Here’s what to look for:
- Choose a surge suppressor that will handle both the electrical plug and any coaxial (TV) and data (telephone) lines that serve the component. We show one that has both electrical power and coaxial cable protection.
- Check the technical specifications for these minimum features: 330 volts (or less) clamping voltage, 5 nanoseconds (or less) clamping speed and 500 joules (or more) energy dissipation. The packaging on the surge suppressor usually lists these figures. If in doubt, ask a store clerk for help. Generally, the lower the clamping voltage, the faster it responds to the power surge; and the higher the joule rating, the better the suppressor and the higher the price.
Note: The biggest hassle of installing a wall-mounted TV is hiding the wires. Running wires to new outlets behind the TV is one way to handle this, but the wall bracket that you buy for the TV must allow enough space for the surge suppressor.
Shred Papers to Protect Your Identity
Identity theft is on the rise, and you may not even know you’ve been victimized until you apply for a loan and find out your credit has been ruined. One way to protect your identity is to shred your personal papers, including credit card offers, bank statements and bills. Shredders start at $20 at office supply stores. More-expensive models shred credit cards, CDs and multiple sheets of paper. Some even ‘micro-shred’ documents for added security.
Get an Energy Audit
An energy audit entails a series of tests, including the blower door pressure test (shown), that tell you the efficiency of your heating and cooling system and the overall efficiency of your home. On the basis of the test results, the auditor will recommend low-cost improvements to save energy and larger upgrades that will pay you back within five to seven years. Audits take two to three hours and cost $250 to $400, but if you set one up through your utility company, you may be eligible for a rebate.
A basic part of an energy audit is the blower door test. The auditor closes all the doors and windows and then places a blower fan in a front or back door. This blower door test measures the ‘tightness,’ or air infiltration rate. The pressure and flow gauge shows the difference between the inside and the outside airflow so the auditor can calculate the air leakage rate.
Service Your Air Conditioner and Save up to $65 a Year
Roughly half of an average home’s annual energy bill (gas and electric), about $1,000, is spent on heating and cooling. Air conditioners placed in direct sunlight use up to 10 percent more electricity. If yours sits in the sun, plant tall shrubs or shade trees nearby—but don’t enclose the unit or impede the airflow. Place window units on the north side of the house or install an awning over them.
Keep your window or central air conditioner tuned up so it runs at peak efficiency (to do it yourself, see Cleaning Air Conditioners in the Spring). Every two or three years, call in a pro to check the electrical parts and the refrigerant (expect to pay $150).
If your central air conditioner is more than 12 years old, replacing it with an Energy Star model can cut your cooling costs by 30 percent and save maintenance costs. The payback for replacing a 12-year-old system is typically about eight years. An air conditioner’s efficiency level is measured by the seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER). The higher the number, the more efficient the unit. A 13 or 14 SEER rating is considered high efficiency.
Weatherstrip Hatches and Doors
After sealing the attic bypasses, push the insulation back into place with an old broom handle or a stick as you back out of the attic. Then finish up by sealing the access hatch with self-sticking foam weatherstrip. You may have to add new wood stops to provide a better surface for the weatherstrip and enough room for hook-and-eye fasteners. Position the screw eyes so that you slightly compress the weatherstrip when you latch the hatch. Use a similar procedure if you have a hinged door that leads to the attic.
Clean Out the Lint for Dryer Efficiency and Save up to $25 a Year
A clogged lint screen or dryer duct drastically reduces the efficiency of your dryer, whether it’s gas or electric. Clean the lint screen after each load and clean the exhaust duct once a year. The Linteater (shown) has an auger brush that attaches to a drill to clean out the ducts.
Electric dryers use about $85 of electricity annually. A dirty lint screen can cause the dryer to use up to 30 percent more electricity, according to the Consumer Energy Center. Lint buildup is also a common cause of fires.
Dry loads of laundry back-to-back so the dryer doesn’t cool down between loads (a warm dryer uses less energy). And only run the dryer until the clothes are dry. Overdrying damages your clothes and runs up your electric bill. If you’re in the market for a new dryer and already have a gas line in the house, go with a gas dryer. A gas dryer is more efficient.
Change Furnace Filter and Save up to $60 a Year
Change the filter every month of the heating season (or year-round if the filter is also used for A/C). Be sure you insert the new one so it faces the right way. The filter protects the blower and its motor; a clogged filter makes the motor work harder and use more power.