Home Maintenance: 8 Money-Saving Projects for Spring

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Afternoon project: learning how to wield a caulk gun (with help from YouTube).
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When we talk about money-saving home maintenance projects, we often focus on winter. After all, heating a home is expensive, and we'll do whatever we can to reduce the winter bills. But many projects better suited for warmer weather can save you money, too. Here are eight projects to tackle this spring:

1. Clean the refrigerator and air conditioner coils. Your fridge and air conditioner work in nearly the same way –- by exchanging heat through a system of coils. When those coils are dirty and dusty, they can't exchange heat as efficiently, so the system has to run harder and longer to have the same cooling effect. Luckily,%VIRTUAL-pullquote-As you think about landscaping this spring, consider planting a new tree or two. Mother Nature will certainly thank you, and your heating and cooling bills might, too. % cleaning these coils is simple. Just take a vacuum hose to the coils on the back of your fridge. For an outside air conditioner unit, you'll need to disassemble the casing (making sure the power to the unit is off first), and clean using canned air and/or a stiff brush and spray bottle.

2. Schedule routine heating, ventilation and air conditioning maintenance. Yes, it costs money to get an HVAC professional to look over your system. But routine maintenance costs much less than major fixes down the road. So call and schedule your HVAC maintenance now. To save even more, check websites such as Groupon, Amazon Local and Angie's List for deals with local HVAC companies.

3. Inspect and repair your roof. Spring is the time to get out on the roof to check for ice, hail or water damage from winter. Repairing minor damage can be a quick do-it-yourself fix, and staying on top of your roof's condition (no pun intended) can save you money by avoiding water damage later on.

4. Clean gutters. This can be a Saturday-long spring chore for many, but it's important, especially if you live in an area with April showers. Water doesn't properly pass through clogged gutters. And that means more water gets near the foundation of your home. This may not cause immediate problems, but over time, too much water near the foundation can cause damage and weakening, which are expensive problems to fix later.

5. Clean the dryer vent. Just like your refrigerator doesn't work properly with dusty coils, your dryer is less efficient with a lint-filled vent. Even if you clean the lint trap before every load of laundry, you'll still get some lint in the vent hose, which builds up over time. To clean the vent, just remove the vent hose from the back of the dryer and vacuum it well. Then, remove the vent cover on the outside of your home, and vacuum it from that side, too.

6. Check the washing machine hoses. Over time, washing machine hoses can crack, which can cause leaks. Sometimes, these inconspicuous leaks go on for weeks or months unnoticed, usually because the washer is pushed back into a corner. This can cause mold problems, water damage and more. So while you've got the dryer pulled out to clean the vent, pull out the washer, too. Check that the hoses are still flexible, and they show no signs of cracking. If they do look worn or cracked, just replace them. It's an easy fix!

7. Re-caulk windows and doors. You might have caulked your doors and windows before the winter chill set in. Unfortunately, even the best caulk can harden, crack and shrink when it's cold outside.
So check your windows and doors, and replace as needed. Keeping the hot air out during the summer is just as important as keeping it in during the winter.

8. Plant trees in strategic locations. As you think about landscaping this spring, consider planting a new tree or two. Mother Nature will certainly thank you, and your heating and cooling bills might, too. If your house gets hit with a lot of sun during the day -- which causes the inside to heat up -– plant a fast-growing deciduous tree or two on the west, east or northwest side of your home for cooling shade. And if you noticed wind whistling through the cracks of your home over the winter, an evergreen windbreak on the windiest side of your home might do the trick and block the wind.

Before you plant, make sure you understand how large a tree will grow when it reaches maturity, so you avoid potential costly issues from a tree planted too close to your home.

More about home improvement:
Retractable-Roof Pergolas: Made for the Sun and Shade
Stylish Backyards Are Now Among the Most-Desired Home Features
Experts' Top Home Improvement Projects for a Booming Housing Market

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Home Maintenance: 8 Money-Saving Projects for Spring

For about $75 to $200, a technician will tune up your cooling system to manufacturer-rated efficiency -- and you won't sweat the first hot weekend with an out-of-commission air conditioner.

Look for a heating and air conditioning contractor that belongs to the Air Conditioning Contractors of America, employs technicians certified by the North American Technician Excellence (NATE) program and follows the protocol for the ACCA's national standard for residential maintenance. Call your electric utility to see whether it offers incentives.

Note: Dirty filters make your air conditioner work harder, increasing energy costs and possibly damaging your equipment. Check them monthly and replace as needed, or at least every three months.

Air conditioners draw moisture from interior air, called condensate, which must run off outside. If sediment and algae clog the drains, water may back up, making your home more humid or creating water damage. Technicians will check the drains during a tune-up; if they clean them out, it could cost up to $100.

If you live in a humid climate, you may want to check and clean the drains yourself periodically. For an oddly riveting demonstration, watch this YouTube clip as the video's star suctions gobs of algae from a drain with a wet vac.

Energy Star says that for an initial investment of $50 to $150 for a programmable thermostat, you can save about $180 annually on cooling and heating bills -- if you can live with higher indoor temperatures in summer (and cooler temperatures in winter). Set the "hold" or "vacation" feature for a constant, efficient temperature when you're away for the weekend or on vacation.

In summer, you can make those settings more tolerable if you install ceiling fans. Just remember that a ceiling fan cools people, not a room, so turn it off when you leave the room.

Before you heft units to the window sills, check out this YouTube video for practical tips that will help you maximize energy efficiency -- and keep out burglars and bugs, too.

Also, take a moment to clean them. Remove a unit's front grill, then its air filter, and clean dust and dirt from the filter. Check the filter periodically throughout the cooling season.

If you live in a hot, dry climate and cool your home with an evaporative, or "swamp," cooler, you must drain and clean the cooler seasonally to remove built-up sediment and minerals.

Energysavers.gov says that the more a cooler runs, the more maintenance it will need, requiring that you look at the pads, filters, reservoir and pump at least monthly. For more information on evaporative coolers, visit www.h2ouse.org.

Photo by Nooccar, Flickr.com

If the gap around a door or window is wider than a nickel, you need to reapply exterior caulk, says Bill Richardson, past president of the American Society of Home Inspectors. Check window-glazing putty, too, which seals glass into the window frame.

Add weatherstripping around doors, making sure that you can't see any daylight from inside your home. You'll save money on air conditioning and you won't have to repeat this task in the fall.

Nature's detritus -- decomposed leaves, twigs, and spring petals and seeds (think maple-tree "helicopters") -- may be worse in spring than in fall. Gutter cleaning generally costs $90 to $225 for a 2,000-square-foot home (with about 180 linear feet of gutter).

Add extensions to downspouts to carry water at least 3 to 4 feet away from your home's foundation. You can use 4-inch corrugated plastic pipe (about $7 for 10 feet).

An easy way to inspect the roof to find damaged, loose or missing shingles without risking life and limb is to use a pair of binoculars. If need be, hire a handyman to repair a few shingles ($95 to $125 for asphalt shingles, according to www.costhelper.com). If the damaged section is more extensive, you'll need a roofer (who will charge $100 to $350 to replace a 10-by-10-square-foot area). Check and repair breaks in the flashing seals around vent stacks and chimneys, too.

If your home has a flat roof with a parapet (a short wall around the perimeter), look for wear and tear in the roof surface. Check the flashing that seals the joint between the parapet and roof. Heavy snow can split the flashing, resulting in leaks. If you need repairs, look for a roofer at the Web site of the National Roofing Contractors Association.

Clean out any roof drains or scuppers (openings in the parapet that allow water to drain) to avoid ponding, which could damage your roof and cause leaks below. A "roof repair" or "sewer and pipe cleaning" company can help.

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