Simple Home Upgrades That Will Save You Big Money


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Homeowners imagine making great changes to their homes: adding rooms, beautifying the floor, and remodeling kitchens and bathrooms. In fact, such dream projects may not be financially feasible.

Don’t let that stop you, however, from taking care of your home. By keeping up with small repairs, you’ll save money, avoid expensive repairs while maintaining your home’s resale value.

Here are some small jobs you can handle to lower your home costs.

1. Change HVAC filters

Your oven and air conditioning system filters trap airborne allergens and dust so you can breathe cleaner air. These filters need to be changed every few months while the oven or air conditioner is in use. Changing filters regularly can also lower utility bills, since dirty filters force HVAC systems to run more aggressively and use more energy.

2. Fix leaky faucets

Drip faucet means money down the drain, literally. A faucet that drips just once a minute wastes 34 gallons of water a year, according to this fun drip calculator from the USGS.

So, stop this leak ASAP.

3. Squeeze the bathtub and shower

A dam tube costs a few dollars. Replacing bathroom tiles and mold-ridden drywall can cost thousands of dollars.

To prevent water from getting on walls and floors where it can cause mold and mildew, keep seams around fixtures, sinks, and showers sealed tight with caulking.

Latex caulk is easier to apply, but silicone caulk lasts longer. Some products combine the best of both types.

Lowe’s Caulk Buying Guide explains the entrances and generalities of the different types of dam. Consider using a product that contains a fungicide in bathrooms to discourage mold.

Before you start working in your bathroom, practice applying a nice piece of caulking. It doesn’t take long to learn to use and apply the caulking gun with precision.

4. Check the drain pump

A drain pump, installed in a low location such as a basement or crawl space, keeps water out of your home. It protects your home from water damage that can cost thousands of dollars in lost property and cleaning.

Check the pump regularly and replace it if it fails to start immediately.

5. Install a programmable thermostat

The programmable (smart) thermostat helps save money by allowing you to automatically set and maintain a comfortable temperature when you are at home, and to maintain a more conservative temperature when you are away or asleep.

Programmable thermostats can save you $50 or more in energy costs per year, according to Consumer Reports’ Thermostat Buying Guide. For the best savings, choose a simple device that you can install yourself.

For more tips on saving energy, see “22 Mistakes That Lead to High Energy Bills”.

6. Check electrical outlets and wires

Electrical wiring problems pose a fire hazard. Walk around your home to check light switches, wires, and outlets.

Danger signs include:

  • bare wire
  • Split wire connected to electrical tape
  • Multiple extension cords or overloaded power strips

Have a licensed electrician check for potentially dangerous wiring problems if you’re having problems with blinking lights, fixtures, warm switches, or sometimes not working outlets.

7. Replacing smoke detector batteries

Smoke detectors save lives.

Detectors and batteries are cheap, so you just have to remember to test each detector monthly and install new batteries every six months.

8. Repair of running toilets

A running toilet wastes water, adds to your water bill and wastes a valuable resource. Fortunately, running toilets is easy to fix.

Several things can go wrong with the simple mechanism in the tank that regulates the flow of water. You can often diagnose the problem by lifting the cap off the tank, rinsing a few times and observing.

Take a picture of the interior assembly of the toilet. Take the photo and the failed part to the hardware store when shopping for replacements. Ask a store expert to help make sure you buy the right replacement part.

9. Water heater winding

Energy.gov estimates that you’ll save about 7%-16% in water heating costs by wrapping your hot water heater in an insulating blanket. Pre-cut sweaters and blankets start around $20.

You’ll find ready-made insulated water heater jackets at home improvement stores like Home Depot and on Amazon.

Newer cabinets may already be insulated, but check if the insulation is sufficient. Look for an R value of at least 24, according to Energy.gov.

10. Seal doors and windows that have leaked from water

Small cracks around windows and doors suck in expensive or hot outdoor air.

Inspect your home from the inside to check that there are no leaks. While doing this, bring with you:

  • A pen and paper to jot down the areas you’ll need to go back to
  • caulk tube to fill cracks
  • Foam sealant spray can to fill large gaps
  • Digital thermometer or candle

Use a thermometer to check for temperature differences that indicate a leak. Or hold the lit candle up, down, and around the front of windows and doors. The flash of the flame will direct you to the air leak.

Also, check for leaks where appliance openings, hoses, plumbing fixtures, and furnace pipes meet the exterior walls.

11. Wash the water heater

Sediment can accumulate at the bottom of the water heater. Keep it running smoothly by cleaning it annually. Or hire someone to do it.

12. Strengthen the attic insulation

You should have a great payoff from this job, whether from lower fuel bills or increased comfort. Attic insulation typically has the greatest potential for energy savings, according to Energystar.gov.

Tip: Make sure the air leak is closed before starting the insulation.

13. Install weather precaution

Seal air leaks around the doors by installing a weather barrier. It comes in a variety of shapes, including felt and foam. Attach door saws to the bottom edge of the door. Energy.gov’s Weather Protection Guide explains how to choose and apply products.

If you already have a weather barrier, check for cracks and brittleness, as they will sometimes need to be replaced.

14. Clothesline series

Placing a clothesline in your backyard to hang dry laundry is another way to reduce fuel consumption—and it’s good for your budget and the environment.

If you can’t run a clothesline outside, a clothesline in the basement is an alternative, such as an inexpensive, foldable drying rack that can be used indoors or out.

15. Take a tour around your home – twice

Take another look around your house, this time from the outside. In fact, do this twice. On the first run, look for plants touching the house or foundation. Clip them back and tug soil or mulch that is in contact with the surface: they can carry moisture or insects into the home.

For your next tour, wait immediately after a heavy rain. Find and repair any areas of the lawn or garden that direct water toward your home or trap it in the foundation. Fixing these areas can be as easy as grabbing a shovel and reshaping the ground a bit. Or, you may need to invest in new landscaping or sanitation repairs.

Also, have some gutters and a drainpipe direct the water away from the structures.

16. Give Your Bias Some TLC

Brighten the sides of your home and protect it from corrosion with an annual cleaning. To remove dirt, algae, leaves, and debris, HouseLogic recommends cleaning the outside of the house in warm, soapy water with ½ cup of sodium phosphate (TSP) per gallon of water, using a soft-bristled brush attached to a long handle.

Cleaning also gives you a chance to see any siding problems that need fixing, including grout holes, worn grout, mildew, cracks, and rot.

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