Sometimes you have to spend money to save money.
This is especially true when it comes to your home. If the thought of spending money to repair that dripping shower or crack in the ceiling makes you grimace, remember that a few cheap fixes today could prevent you from shelling out hundreds or thousands of dollars tomorrow. Home improvement experts Cindy Dole and Eric Stromer, co-hosts of the “Home Wizards” radio show, share some easy home fixes that could prevent disasters or lead to significant savings.
Adding insulation in your attic or exterior walls can reduce your energy consumption and subsequently your heating and cooling bills. “That would be a very wise thing to do for savings, especially as it’s compounded over time with the soaring costs of energy,” Stromer says. The U.S. Department of Energy offers a calculation to determine when you'd see a payback on insulation costs.
Cost: About $500 (if you do it yourself)
Upgrade your irrigation system.
If you don't already have one, install a timer for your sprinklers. Also changing your system to low-flow irrigation will maximize your water use while lowering your water bill. Stromer, who lives in California, says this is especially useful for people on the West Coast. “We’ve got such a terrible drought, and I still see people with huge lawns just spraying water all over the cement,” he says. “It’s not even trained on the areas where there’s growth and plants.”
Cost: About $300 to $400 for a 2,200-square-foot home
Replace moist or moldy drywall.
See a yellow or gray stain running along your ceiling? Or the bathroom walls feel moist when it’s been a while since you’ve taken a shower? You might have an interior leak. Luckily, it’s an easy fix. Replacing the drywall and repairing the leak will prevent “some kind of disaster down the road,” Stromer says. Let this go, and you might need to build an ark just to get out of your bathroom.
Cost: About $300
Hire a plumber for inspection.
Speaking of floods, it’s a smart idea to have a plumber inspect your home every three to five years. You might think all your faucets and pipes are running fine, but a plumber with a trained eye might spot a “time bomb waiting to happen,” Stromer says. “Have a plumber come do a once-over and look at all the different areas in your house – including your bathroom, sink, kitchen, laundry washer and dryer area.” Considering all the potential plumbing issues, Dole says a plumber who catches a problem could save you thousands.
Cost: About $100 per hour (a full home inspection could take two to three hours)
Install a hot water heater catch basin.
Older homes may not have this tray, which prevents the hot water heater from leaking, because it didn’t used to be required. (New homes must have them.) Speaking from an unfortunate experience, Stromer says you definitely want one. “You’re out of town, for example, and you come back and your whole house has flooded because the hot water heater is just gushing hundreds of gallons of water, flooding the house and ruining hardwood floors,” he says. “That little item literally prevents disaster.”
Cost: About $15
Attach a standpipe to your washing machine.
Behind your washing machine is an area where water drains out from a hose after the cycle is complete. “A lot of times, that hose can come free from the wall and just start spraying water behind the washing machine,” Stromer says. But one of these plastic wall inserts will ensure the hose is secured and won’t come undone to wreck havoc. “That could save thousands of dollars on the back end,” Stromer says.
Cost: $7 to $15
Prevent windowsill rot.
Does the wood around your windowsill look like it’s rotting? Rainwater seeping through the frame might be the culprit. Fixing this might require an entire window replacement, but exterior caulk can save you from spending thousands on replacements over time. The caulk will seal any fissures you find and keep rainwater out, Dole explains. “The challenge is windowsills are naturally very prone to rot, so look at each window, and hunt for cracks in the sill paint,” she says.
Cost: $3 to $5
Clean your AC unit.
Here’s another home energy saver: Take your leaf blower (or borrow a neighbor’s) and use it to flush out your air-conditioning unit outside. “The air will remove any gunk, dirt or debris inside quickly, and as a result will help your AC work more smoothly while saving you on your utility bill month after month,” Dole says. A debris-free unit could save you as much as 15 percent on your energy costs, she estimates. Better yet, this simple improvement has no upfront cost.
Reset circuit breakers.
This easy trick prevents electrical problems, not to mention a dangerous overload on wiring, Dole says. All you have to do is flip all your circuit breaker switches from the “on” to “off” position. Wait for 10 seconds. Then switch them back to “on.” “This small step will break down any corrosion on the circuit breaker contacts, which you don’t want, because it could lead to a bad breaker,” Dole says. “That could cost you $500 to be replaced along with an electrician cost.” On the other hand, flipping won’t cost you anything – just be prepared to reset all your clocks after.