Top 5 Home Improvement Projects for Winter

Digital Thermostat Monitor, wall, home, interior, finger, air conditioning, 72 degreesGetty Images/Fuse
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When you spend too much time in your home, you are bound to find a home improvement project or two that can keep you busy. And that's usually what happens during the winter, when long hours inside give you time to wonder why you decided to paint the walls avocado green.

For Heydi Cribben and her boyfriend, Jesse (pictured left), who bought a fixer-upper in Minneapolis a little more than a year ago, there is always something that can be improved upon. Last winter's home improvement projects were new floors in the entryway and living room. This winter, Cribben says, "we have a lot of interior doors that need to be hung, and pocket doors that need to be replaced. It's those finishing touches that we're thinking about."

Spike Carlsen, former executive editor of Family Handyman magazine and the author of "Reader's Digest Complete Do-It-Yourself Manual" and, most recently, "A Splintered History of Wood," said it makes sense that people focus on interior home improvements during the winter.

"Especially right before the holidays, people want their houses to look their best," he said. "And any indoor project that doesn't require windows to be open or walls to be taken down are good ones to think about."

And while doors and floors fit that category, Carlsen does warn that "any door that's hung in the winter might be a bit of a tight fit in the summer," when humidity can expand the wood. "So you need to take some care with wood projects."

There are plenty of other home improvement projects that can keep you busy during the winter months. Here are Carlsen's top five suggestions for home improvement projects in winter:

1. Install a programmable thermostat

It's always a bit of a shock when you get that first utility bill in the colder months. And if you haven't already taken steps to save energy, an easy project, according to Carlsen, is installing a thermostat that allows you to automatically set the temperature for different times of the day. By having the heat programmed to go on when you get up in the morning, then off when you leave for the day, then back on when you arrive home, you can keep the temperature of your home constant. Carlsen says this type of project is an easy do-it-yourself project. "It's just a couple of low-voltage wires, so it's really something anyone can handle," he said. "And some of them cost as low as $25. It can pay for itself in a month or two."

2. Insulate the water heater

Another way to save energy is to lower the temperature of your water heater, and insulate it. "The ideal temperature is 120 degrees. It doesn't cost you anything to turn it down," said Carlsen. And by wrapping it in insulation, you can ensure that the water stays hot when it is not being used. You can buy insulation kits at your local hardware store.

3. Paint a room

"This is the greatest winter project," says Carlsen. "It's a great cure for the midwinter blues. And a $50 investment in paint can dramatically transform a room. When you are spending more time inside, you have more time to look at what needs to be refreshed. This is a quick, do-it-yourself project and a small investment can make a big difference.

4. Refinish the basement

Need a contractor for a project? Do it in the winter, advises Carlsen. "Contractors are slower in the winter, and one project that's especially popular is refinishing the basement -- you can often find someone to take this on," he says. Of course, the ever-popular bathroom and kitchen remodels, which Carlsen calls "seasonless, and sometimes endless," can also be started in winter (as long as a wall doesn't need to be knocked out).

5. Get organized

So many people resolve to get organized at the New Year and winter is a great time to actually take action on that resolution. "There are so many great modular closet-organizing systems," said Carlsen, who said a project like this is a great antidote to cabin fever. "You can clear up the clutter in a room or a closet, and make it look like you have twice the space you did to begin with."

Cribben said that she expects the next few winters will be filled with projects. "We still have our whole kitchen to gut and redo; and we want to redo the bathroom. We'll be busy for a while."
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