Ah, January. The time of new beginnings, new resolutions, and, in most of the country, a seemingly endless stretch of cold and gloom. We get it: You just want to hibernate, catch up on "The Crown," and scroll Instagram. But before you take up permanent residence on the couch (or treadmill, if you're on that kick), take heed: This is the absolute worst time to have a major home maintenance problem.
"Catastrophic issues tend to happen in the winter—and when those occur, nine times out of 10 it's due to failing to plan," says Janet O'Dea, owner of Powers Plumbing in San Diego. "Taking some time to anticipate and be ahead of maintenance issues throughout the year takes a lot of pressure off."
We couldn't agree more. And that's why we've done the heavy lifting for you, season by season, so you can avoid the pain (and expense) of costly home repairs. Now that's a resolution we can get behind!
1. Get ready for (more) winter storms
In most parts of the country, 'tis the season for freezing rain, sleet, and blizzards. Ensure you're ready for the next big storm before it strands you.
DIY: First, make sure you have a working generator, and keep a stash of batteries for flashlights and lanterns at the ready.
"Heavy snows and ice can take down power lines and leave you in the cold and dark," says Krystal Rogers-Nelson of home safety and security company SafeWise.
Also a must-have: a solar-powered or battery-operated radio to keep you up to date on news in case cellphone reception goes out. Check the condition of your snow shovels, gloves, and window scrapers, and store snowy weather supplies near the door where you can access them easily.
We also love this novel tip from home maintenance expert Laura Gaskill: Mark the sides of your driveway and other key places with reflective poles, to help snow plowers see where to go.
Finally, a buildup of heavy snow on tree limbs can make them more prone to breaking, Gaskill notes, so brush snow off tree limbs after each big snowfall, using a broom to extend your reach.
Call in the pros: If a limb is buckling, have it removed as soon as the weather permits—expect to spend $75 to $150, depending on how much of the tree you lost.
2. Clean your oven
"Homemade food can really contribute to winter coziness at home, but unfortunately, the oven and its vents can easily turn into the dirtiest feature in the kitchen because they collect a lot of grime and grease," says Jasmine Hobbs of London Cleaning Team.
And over time, built-up grease can cause your appliance to use more power while turned on.
DIY: To clean your hood filters, fill a sink or a bucket with boiling water; add a quarter-cup baking soda and some liquid dish soap. Mix well and submerge the filters. Let them soak for a couple of minutes and rinse thoroughly. If your oven has a self-cleaning function, use it at least once a month. If not, apply a paste of baking soda and water, then scrub.
Call in the pros: If you never clean your oven and the thought of all that stuck-on grease is putting you in panic mode, you can call a reputable cleaning service. Most pro cleaners will charge a flat rate for whole-house cleaning and will include the oven; you'll spend between $115 and $236 for the whole kit and caboodle, depending on where you live and your home's grime level.
3. Inspect the property
Yes, it's cold and the last thing you probably want to do this time of year is walk around outside. But trust us, it's time well-spent.
"Home issues that are more susceptible in the winter—such as frozen pipes, window and door drafts, and the condition of a home’s gutters—can be easily detected during this time of year," says Patrick Knight of WIN Home Inspection.
DIY: Most big inspection issues are best left to a pro, but while you're taking stock, check off this easy to-do: Change the batteries in your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. You should be doing this regularly, but it's even more important in the winter months, when windows tend to be closed and heaters are running overtime.
Call in the pros: Consider spending some of that Christmas cash on a professional inspection, especially if it's been a while. Strong winter winds and cold temps help inspectors detect drafts and insulation failures. Plus, winter gives inspectors a better idea of how the home structure and roof holds with the extra weight of snow and ice. And fireplaces and heating systems are more active during the winter months, making identifying problems easier.
It's also a great time to check out crawl spaces and attics, which can easily reach temperatures of 120 degrees Fahrenheit or more in the summer months, making safe inspections nearly impossible.
Winter can wreak major havoc on wood floors: Rock salt can stain wood (and its rough crystals can scratch floors), while indoor heaters can dry it out, causing problems like shrinkage and cracked floorboards.
DIY: Avoid using vinegar to remove stains, advises Dave Murphy of N-Hance Wood Refinishing. Instead, place rugs and mats in the highest-traffic areas. To lock moisture in the air and prevent heat-related damage to your floorboards, run a humidifier. And, of course, engage in routine sweeping, dusting, and mopping.
"This will also prevent particle and salt buildup," Murphy says. "And remember to mop with the boards, and not against the grain."
Call in the pros: In the end, winter's effects may be too harsh to manage on your own. Consider professional refinishing, which averages between $1.50 and $4 per square foot.
5. Block drafts
With temperatures down and indoor heaters working overtime, you'll know if your weatherstripping isn't up to par. And over time, all that unwanted cold air can increase your energy bill in a major way.
DIY: If the cold air is getting in under a door, pick up a door sweep at a local home improvement store. This doodad is typically made of hard plastic and attaches to the bottom of your door, sealing any gaps.
Call in the pros: Feel like you're wasting way too much energy during the winter months? Conduct an energy audit. A trained auditor can assess your home’s current energy efficiency and give you a list of recommended improvements. You can also find instructions for a DIY energy audit at Energy.gov.
6. Alleviate allergens
An estimated 50 million Americans live with allergies, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, and many of their conditions are exacerbated by indoor allergens such as dust mites and animal dander.
The main sources of indoor allergens? Pets top the list, of course, but other culprits include wall-to-wall carpet, soft furniture, stuffed toys, bedding, damp areas, indoor plants, mattresses that aren't in allergen-resistant covers, and pillows and bedding that can't be washed in hot water.
DIY: Clean dust from your blinds and ceiling fans using your vacuum's attachment kit, and make it a regular practice to vacuum all upholstery and carpets.
Once a week, wash your bedding in hot water (at a temperature hotter than 130 degrees), and consider investing in an air purifier with a HEPA filter, which can filter almost 98% of allergen particles in the air, according to the AAFA.
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