It's a rough, uncertain time to be a homeowner. Plunging value, tightening credit and a soft economy mean fewer people have the funds to invest in major home-renovation projects. This trend is reflected in the slumps facing Home Depot, Lowe's and other home-improvement stores.
But there is some (green-tinged) light at the end of this dark tunnel; there are easy ways you can make quick fixes to your abode to boost its property value, without needing to refinance or inherit a fortune from a deceased uncle. Here are 5 steps that will save you money on those rising home bills, while improving your dwelling.
1. Dodge Drafts and Seal Air Leaks
Perhaps one of the easiest ways to save money around the house is to seal off drafts, which can reduce your energy bills 5 to 30 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. With today's heating and cooling prices, that amounts to real money.
Check for window drafts by carefully holding an incense stick up to each frame and watch the smoke to see if there is a leak. (Be sure to remove all curtains first to avoid a fire.) Then use caulking or weather-stripping to seal the cracks. Make sure you cover any pipe outlets or cracks in the foundation. Also roll up an old towel, or buy or make a cute 'draft snake' to put over the crack in the bottom of doors (at the 'sill' or 'saddle').
You'll find that a less drafty house will also win applause from your residents and guests, as no one wants to feel like they're getting a cold shoulder.
2. Install a Programmable Thermostat
It may not be the most thrilling piece of electronics you could buy yourself, but a programmable thermostat will pay for itself in one season, and save you time and hassle. By maintaining more constant heating and cooling levels, and always 'remembering' to turn down the heat at night, the average family will save $150 a year, according to the EPA.
That's impressive, considering that programmable thermostats can be picked up from major manufacturers for as little as $50. They don't contain mercury like the olden days, and are available at most home-improvement and hardware stores.
Installing one is usually only a matter of connecting up a few wires in the back once you remove your old one (shut off the power to the area). Generally anyone can do it with a screwdriver and the instructions. But if you have any doubt, it's a quick fix for an electrician or handyman.
Fixing Water Leaks
3. Fix Those Water Leaks
A dripping faucet or pipe joint is more than just an auditory annoyance. Besides driving you crazy, it can really add up to substantial water waste. One faulty faucet wastes 3 gallons of water per day, reports the U.S. Geological Survey.
Sometimes a leak is just a matter of a quick tighten, which almost anyone can do with pliers or a pipe wrench. Other times you get befuddled, or have a leak that is too hard to get to. In those cases it is worth calling a plumber, because not only will you see lower water bills over time, but you decrease the risk of mold, which is a serious threat both to home value and indoor air quality.
It may be a cliché, but every drop does add up.
lnstall Low Flow Shower
4. Install Low-Flow Showerheads and Toilets
You'd probably rather not spend much time thinking about toilets, but it's a fact that most older models waste large amounts of water. In fact, more than 30 percent of indoor residential water use is flushed down the porcelain throne.
Decades ago, toilets used 5 gallons per flush, but readily available low-flow models use less than a gallon, and work great. American Standard, Toto and Kohler are leaders in the field.
Also save water and money, and still have ample water pressure, with a low-flow showerhead, which can slash bathing-water consumption 50 to 70 percent. The devices are simple to install and start at around $8. Many styles and features are available, including flow-adjusting dials and a pause button.
Asko Dishwasher Hidden
5. Buy Energy Star Appliances
Energy Star was designed by the EPA to take the guesswork out of appliance buying. Look for the blue-and-white label, which means the item is at least 10 to 50 percent more efficient than standard models (depending on the class of product). That means lower energy bills and less pollution, like you'll find with this Asko 'hidden' dishwasher.
More than 18,000 products in 35 different categories are covered in the Energy Star program, and most major manufacturers participate. Energy Star is a fixture in the showrooms of most retailers coast to coast.
A home fully equipped with Energy Star products will use about 30 percent less energy than a typical house, saving $600 a year. But remember, you don't have to rush out and replace every whiz-bang you own tomorrow. Go to energystar.gov to see qualified products and learn more.