Monday, January 18, 2021 / by Teresa DiPeso
The long, dark days of winter are upon us, and with COVID-19 still keeping us closer to home, we're keenly aware of all the maintenance tasks we've put off or let slip through the cracks.
And we hate to break it to you, but it's time to get to work.
We know you're wondering if you can get out of this. Must you really hit pause on your "Bridgerton" binge session and do, ugh, chores?
Well, no. You don't have to do anything. But if you do, we guarantee you'll save some money—and maybe even your sanity—down the line. A modicum of maintenance now will prevent astronomical repair costs in the future.
So we asked a few experts for a list of things we should do while we hole up at home. Some of the tasks are things you can tackle yourself, and some might be better suited for a professional—following COVID-19 safety precautions, of course. But don't worry: We've outlined how you can get them all done—as quickly as possible, of course, so that you can get back to your precious spot on the sofa.
1. Get an energy audit for your attic
We marvel at the beauty of the occasional sparkly icicles that hang from the eaves—but they could also mean your attic isn't adequately insulated.
"These primarily occur when there's heat being lost from the interior living space of your home that leaks into your attic space," says Joe Palumbo, president of Ice Dam Guys. "When that heat [from the roof] 'interacts' with the frozen snow on the outside, it can create an unnatural melting cycle that doesn't actually allow for the melting snow to leave the roof."
If you don't resolve the fluctuating temperatures in the attic, these ice dams can cause water accumulation to back up into your attic, causing damage to the roof and ceiling of your home.
DIY: If you're feeling ambitious, you can inspect your attic yourself—just follow the steps in this DIY energy audit.
Call in the pros: If you're not sure where the leaks might be, call in the experts. Home audits typically cost 8 to 50 cents per square foot with a minimum cost of $100 to $200.
2. Check for cracks
Bundle up and head outside to take a closer look at the foundation. Walk around the whole perimeter, and check for leaks or cracks where water can enter your home.
"Even though there might not be a leak at the moment due to the freezing temperatures, look for areas that are compromised that could lead to melting snow or new rain seeping into your home," says Aaron Goucher, general manager of Olshan Foundation Repair.
DIY: Hairline cracks up to an eighth of an inch are common as expansion and contraction occur due to temperature fluctuations. You can fill them with caulk suitable for concrete.
Call in the pros: If you spot anything bigger than a half-inch, call a structural engineer for an assessment. It'll cost you about $350 to $1,000—we know, that's a lot. But larger horizontal cracks could mean the structural integrity is compromised.
3. Get a jump-start on spring painting
With the double whammy of COVID-19 and winter, we're spending even more time in the house, looking at the same faded colors of peeling and marred paint on the walls. But you don't have to dream about the hot new color you'll paint your living room and wait for months to roll it on.
In fact, here's why you should do it now: The air is drier in the winter, and with the warm temperatures inside, the paint dries faster, says Matt Kunz, president of Five Star Painting, a Neighborly company.
And with the right materials, you don't have to open windows and freeze to avoid the stinky fumes while you paint.
"Low-VOC latex paint is less toxic and has fewer odors so that windows can remain shut," Kunz says.
Call in the pros: If you're comfortable with their COVID-19 safety precautions, you can hire painters and likely get it done faster for around $3.50 per square foot.
Plus, scheduling a painter in winter might be quicker and easier to coordinate, says Kunz. You might even get a discount because winter is traditionally the slow season for painting.
4. Swap out your outdoor dryer vent covers
There are myriad reasons to upgrade these things: Once the temperatures take a nosedive, your old dryer vent can become a toasty nest for mice and an invitation into your house. Snow can pile up on top of old hooded vents and prevent them from opening, raising the risk of carbon monoxide buildup in the house. And vents with flimsy louvers can get clogged and not open and close properly—which can cause lint to back up, creating dryer failure, or worse, a fire hazard.
"Regardless of the season, you want to use a vent cover with the best airflow efficiency, [that] meets code, and is pest/rodent-resistant," says Scott Thomas, senior director of franchise affairs at Dryer Vent Wizard, a Neighborly company.
DIY: This is a job you can absolutely tackle on your own. Just grab your new vent cover and a screwdriver, and follow these steps.
Call in the pros: If the thought of heading outside makes you shiver, a handyman should be able to tackle this for you. Small jobs like this one may cost $60 to $250 for one to two hours of work.
5. Upgrade to a smart thermostat
Stop us if this sounds familiar: Every winter, you turn down your thermostat when you leave the house or before going to bed. You turn it down on sunny winter days and back up when it's windy and cloudy. Then there are the times you leave for a few days and agonize over whether you remembered to turn the heat down to save money.
This winter, Kevin Busch, vice president of operations at Mr. Handyman, a Neighborly Company, recommends installing a smart programmable thermostat.
"This one change will make your entire home more energy-efficient," says Busch. "Just lowering the heat 8 degrees while you're at work or sleeping can save an average of $180 each year."
DIY: You can tackle this job yourself, but don't forget to turn off the power before you get started.
Call in the pros: Most electricians can install a thermostat in two hours or less for under $200. But don't forget to factor in the cost of the device itself, which can run you $300 or more.
6. Install hardwired smoke detectors
If you're over going room to room checking the batteries on your smoke detectors, there's no better time than now to upgrade to hardwired versions, says Sean Dion, president at Mr. Electric of Queensbury, a Neighborly company. After all, there are more house fires in winter than any other time of year, according to the American Red Cross.
The added benefit of hardwired smoke and carbon monoxide detectors is that they interconnect. "If any one detector is activated, it triggers the rest of them and notifies everyone in the home," says Dion.
DIY: Install your new hardwired detectors using this handy guide from the Home Depot.
Call in the pros: An electrician can install three hardwired detectors with a new base for around $270.
7. Give your portable generator a checkup
A portable generator will be a lifesaver if you lose power during a winter storm—now's the time to make sure yours will fire up and generate power when you most need it. (Be sure to avoid these dangerous mistakes if you're firing up a portable generator for the first time.)
DIY: If you haven't already, you'll want to service the engine's oil and add fuel stabilizer for winter storage, recommends Jake Thomas, portable-generator safety expert and director of global service operations at Generac Power Systems.
"You should also remember to start and run the engine for 10 to 15 minutes to circulate the stabilizer," he says.
And think about where you're going to keep the portable generator before finding yourself in crisis mode to restore power. Shield generators from snow and rain, place them at least 25 feet away from doors and windows, and be sure you have a safe, clearable path to access it.
Call in the pros: If your generator is throwing up red flags, call a pro in to repair it right away. It might cost you up to $300, but you'll be grateful you shelled out the dough when you don't have to bundle up during the next ice storm.