Woman testing smoke detector on ceiling

Check to make sure smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors are working properly. (Getty Images)

The new year is a good time to get serious about your home’s maintenance.

“We tend to think of the snow-blowing and the shoveling” when it comes to winter maintenance tasks, says Angi Orbann, vice president of personal insurance product at Travelers Insurance. However, there are other chores that should be done ASAP.

[Read: How to Guard Against 9 Winter Home Hazards.]

Start 2018 off right by checking these 12 items off your to-do list.

1. Clean out gutters. If you live someplace like Erie, Pennsylvania – which saw more than 5 feet of snowfall in two days over the holidays – you’ll need to wait to do this chore. However, if you don’t have any snow accumulation, it’s time to clean out the gutters.

“While cleaning your gutters is often thought of as a fall project, showing them some love again over the winter is a smart idea,” says Tim Manni, mortgage expert with personal finance website NerdWallet. “Plenty more leaves could have fallen since the last time you cleaned them.”

In snowy climates, ice dams are the main hazard associated with clogged gutters. “Frozen water goes up under shingles and leaks into the house,” says Frank Lesh, executive director of the American Society of Home Inspectors. However, keeping gutters free of dirt and debris should help you avoid the problem.

2. Change the furnace filter. This isn’t an annual task, but one that should occur every couple months during the heating season. “As dirt accumulates across the filter, it makes the furnace run harder,” Lesh says. That means less efficient heating, higher utility bills and potential health hazards due to air pollution.

3. Clean the heat pump. In warmer climates, houses might be equipped with a heat pump. Like furnaces, these have filters that need to be replaced regularly. Plus, outdoor coils should be cleaned to remove leaves, pet hair or other debris that has accumulated.


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4. Test GFCI outlets. Kitchens, bathrooms and other areas that may be exposed to moisture should be equipped with ground-fault circuit-interrupter outlets. These outlets are designed to avoid electrical shocks and minimize the possibility of fires by shutting off the flow of electricity when a ground fault occurs.

Homeowners should test the outlets regularly to ensure they are working properly. The easiest way to do this is to plug in a radio, turn it on and push the test button on the outlet. If the radio shuts off, the outlet is working as it should. If not, it should be replaced.

To restore power to the outlet after testing it, push the reset button.

5. Add insulation. Orbann says insulation is important not only for comfort but also for protecting the integrity of your home. “Insulation is important to avoid a couple losses,” she says. It can prevent ice dams and pipes from freezing and may protect against fires.

However, be careful not to add too much insulation. Lesh notes that people naturally create moisture in a house through cooking, cleaning and bathing. “If an attic has too much insulation and not enough ventilation, the moisture can’t get out,” he says. If that happens, a wet attic could lead to mold growth.

[Read: 7 Ways You're Making Your Furnace Work Too Hard.]

6. Protect pipes. Water pipes in crawl spaces, attics or basements may be prone to freezing in the winter. Adding insulation to a house is one way to prevent that from happening. Other ways to prevent freezing include plugging drafty cracks or holes in walls near pipes or wrapping them with foam or another insulating substance.

7. Touch-up interior paint. Manni says now is the perfect time to complete indoor painting projects. “Not only is the weather not a factor, your heat can make the drying process go a lot quicker,” he explains. Just be sure to properly ventilate the room and wait for a sunny day or set up extra lighting to ensure you don’t miss any spots in dark corners.

8. Winterize windows. Drafty windows can make living spaces uncomfortable and lead to expensive heating bills. The ideal solution is to replace them. If that’s not possible, caulking or weatherstripping can be an inexpensive way to temporarily fix the problem.

“Some people might not like it, but the clear film that goes over windows is relatively effective,” Lesh says.

9. Clean out dryer vents. While dryers have lint filters, some material might still make its way to the dryer vent. Over time, lint can accumulate and even ignite.

“According to our data, fire claims tend to be more prevalent in the winter,” Orbann says. Cleaning out dryer vents is one way to reduce the risk of fire during cold months.

10. Update alarm and alert systems. Although they won’t prevent a fire, alarm systems can minimize damage and save lives in the event of one. Homes should have a smoke alarm outside every bedroom and on every level of the house. Lesh recommends photoelectric alarms since they are best at detecting smoldering fires that can fill a home with carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. “The way people get hurt isn’t roaring flames,” he says. “They die from carbon monoxide poisoning.”

Now is also a time to ensure carbon monoxide detectors are in working condition, and Orbann says households may want to look into smart systems that will send phone alerts in the event a fire or a carbon monoxide or water leak is detected.

[See: 8 Potential Headaches to Be Aware of Before Becoming a Homeowner.]

11. Look for tripping hazards. Since your family is likely spending more time inside during the winter, check for potential tripping hazards. This is particularly important if you have seniors in the house frequently. “Falls are the No. 1 cause of death and injury in homes,” Lesh says. Removing area rugs or taping down edges can help remove the danger.

12. Review insurance coverage. Not all home maintenance chores involve manual labor. “From an insurance perspective, it’s a good time to think about your coverage,” Orbann says. If you’ve made improvements in the past year, make sure those will be adequately covered and consider shopping around for a better deal if you haven’t compared insurance costs recently.


8 Cold-Weather Hacks for Keeping a Cozy Home

Embrace the hygge at home.

(Getty Images)

As cold nights set in and the days get shorter, the promise of a warm, comfortable spot to cuddle up at home can make that additional time spent inside far more appealing. But aside from driving up heating bills, how can you achieve the perfect level of coziness? Hygge, the Danish concept of being cozy and content, has been a particularly popular trend over the last year, as it lends to many consumers’ efforts to make their home feel as welcoming and comfortable as possible. With a mixture of do-it-yourself projects to help keep the heat inside and simple decorating tasks, you won’t find yourself getting cabin fever anytime soon.

Keep the heat in.

Keep the heat in.

Icicles and Snowstorm

(Getty Images)

First and foremost, the best way to keep your indoors feeling toasty when temperatures begin to drop is to make sure your home is well-insulated and that warm air isn’t escaping outdoors. Gary Parsons, a fellow at Dow Building Solutions, which makes products for both new construction and existing buildings, says the spots where heat is able to escape can be costlier than you’d imagine: “We’ve seen cases where it can be half the energy loss in a building.”

Find and seal problem spots.

Find and seal problem spots.

Sealing the air leaks around plumbing penetrations underneath a home with an insulating expandable foam sealant.

(Getty Images)

A simple DIY project Parsons recommends involves a foam sealant found at big-box stores, such as Dow’s Great Stuff Gaps & Cracks Insulating Foam Sealant or a similar product like the one made by Loctite. Apply it around the exterior walls of your home. Anywhere plumbing or ducts may go into a wall, make sure there’s no extra space in the hole in the wall. “You do the really simple things that everyone knows about,” he says. By doing the same in the basement or crawl space – paying particular attention to any cavities along the rim joist that makes up the perimeter of the floor above – Parsons says you could cut energy loss by as much as a third.

Layer rugs.

Layer rugs.

Selective focus image of Persian silk rugs

(Getty Images)

Unless you’ve invested in heated floors, direct contact with a hard floor will likely keep your toes feeling chilly when you’re at home. Minimize the cold surfaces by overlapping rugs. You’re not only reducing the exposed floor surface, but you're incorporating more textiles to make it look like the entire room is blanketed. Sites like Wayfair and Overstock sell a variety of rugs, and customer reviews will often assess whether the thickness of a rug works in a range of layering situations.

Work on weatherstripping.

Work on weatherstripping.

Hands Applying Weather Seal Caulk to Window Frame

(Getty Images)

A classic home-insulating project to prepare for cold weather is applying weatherstripping to your doors and windows, which blocks gaps in the working parts of the window and door and cuts down on drafts. If you've already added weatherstripping and still feel cold air drifting in, and you’re willing and handy enough to take on a larger project, Parsons recommends removing the exterior trim of your window as well and applying a window- and door-specific sealant foam, which is spongier than other sealants. Even places just beyond your usual visibility in your home can have gaps where heat can escape.

Bring the furniture inward.

Bring the furniture inward.

Shot of a mature woman sitting on her sofa drinking tea while wrapped in a blanket

(Getty Images)

You may normally keep your couch and chair along the perimeter of the room, but as the outside turns cold, pull the furniture away from the colder exterior and toward a fireplace or the center of the room. The closer seating arrangement will make time spent drinking cocoa or hot toddies with friends and family more intimate, while keeping you clear of any drafty windows.

Dim the lights.

Dim the lights.

Smiling woman using digital tablet in resort

(Getty Images)

The right lighting can help a room feel warm, rather than casting an overly bright, almost blue hue that can feel cold. Opt for lightbulbs that will give off a warmer light, typically labeled as below 3,000 Kelvins. U.S. News Pocket Listing contributor Tori Toth recommends adding more light in general when decorating for winter: “Add a few more table or floor lamps in dark corners, turn on the fireplace, light candles (real or fake) and add string lights to your decor to set the scene with just enough light to sit back and relax in a warm atmosphere.”

Snuggle up next to a fire.

Snuggle up next to a fire.

(Getty Images)

It’s hard to not think about warming yourself by the fire when nightly frost sets in, but that’s not so easy when your home doesn’t have a fireplace. Fortunately, there are now a number of ventless fireplaces or fireplace-styled space heaters that allow you to get the warm hearth feel without having to seek an old mountain cottage. HearthCabinet specializes in ventless fireplaces, which can be built into a home or added without construction and start around $2,900 for smaller models. You can also opt for a space heater that looks like a wood-burning stove, which Duraflame offers starting as low as $60 through QVC.

Make bundling up easy.

Make bundling up easy.

Christmas or new year decoration at Living room interior and holiday home decor concept. Calm image of blanket on a vintage sofa with tree and gifts. Selective focus.

(Getty Images)

If you’re not cranking the heat, it certainly helps to snuggle under a blanket or two, so why not have them ready? Keep throw blankets on or near couches and chairs, so you don't have to drag them from room to room. Draping quilts or throws on the furniture, rather than having them folded along the back or in a cabinet, can additionally help encourage their use as people sit down. Plus, it makes leaving a room far easier when you don’t have to struggle to fold up a 6-foot-by-8-foot blanket on your way out.

Read More

Corrected on Jan. 2, 2018: A previous version of this story misstated a type of poisoning that can occur in a home. It is carbon monoxide poisoning.

Tags: real estate, housing, heating, home improvements, money


Maryalene LaPonsie has been writing for U.S. News & World Report since 2015 and covers topics including retirement, personal finance and Social Security. Ms. LaPonsie is also a regular contributor to Money Talks News and co-founder of Lowell’s First Look, a micro-news site for her local community.

With more than a decade of reporting experience, Ms. LaPonsie’s work has been featured on MSN, CBS MoneyWatch, Yahoo Finance, NerdWallet and numerous other sites on the web. She has been a guest of Consumer Talk with Michael Finney and The Steve Pomeranz Show.

A native of Michigan, Ms. LaPonsie received her bachelor’s degree from Western Michigan University. You can follow her on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.

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