Category Archives: Home Improvement

How To Erase Ugly Scratches from Your Wood Floors

Dogs chase kids, pans drop, chairs scrape, and soon you must repair wood floors and erase scratches that make a mess of your red oak or Brazilian cherry. A professional floor refinisher will charge $1 to $4 per square foot to apply a new coat of finish. No worries. We’ve got inexpensive ways to remove wood scratches and repair deep gouges in a few easy steps.

Camouflage Scratches
Take some artistic license to hide minor scratches in wood floors by rubbing on stain-matching crayons and Sharpie pens. Wax sticks, such as Minwax Stain Markers, are great scratch busters because they include stain and urethane, which protects the floor’s finish.

Don’t be afraid to mix a couple of colors together to get a good match. And don’t sweat if the color is a little off. Real hardwoods mix several hues and tones. So long as you cover the contrasting “white” scratches, color imperfections will match perfectly.

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Homemade Polish
Mix equal parts olive oil and vinegar, which work together to remove dirt, moisturize, and shine wood. Pour a little directly onto the scratch. Let the polish soak in for 24 hours, then wipe off. Repeat until the scratch disappears.

Spot-Sand Deep Scratches
It takes time to repair wood gouges: Sand, fill, sand again, stain, and seal. Here are some tips to make the job go faster.

Sand with fine-gauge steel wool or lightweight sandpaper.
Always sand with the grain.
Use wood filler, which takes stain better than wood putty.
Use a plastic putty knife to avoid more scratches.
Seal the area with polyurethane, or whatever product was used on the floor originally.
Apply the polyurethane coat with a lambs wool applicator, which avoids air bubbles in the finish.
Fix Gaps in the Floor
Old floorboards can separate over time. Fill the gaps with colored wood putty. Or, if you have some leftover planks, rip a narrow band and glue it into the gap.

Easy Tips to Fix Common Wall and Floor Problems

We turned to three bloggers for ideas on how to tackle some little, but nagging, household wall and floor issues.

A Made-Up Drywall Repair
The problem: Concealing drywall damage is a tricky business that requires a handful of drywall tools and materials to make walls look like new. To fix coin-sized holes, many traditionalists use mesh or paper tape. But not Lesli DeVito, the DIY blogger behind My Old Country House.

The fix: Cosmetic wedges! DeVito first tried patching the two nickel-sized openings with cement board she had lying around, but the pieces didn’t fit as

Tool list:

Make-up sponges
Putty knife
How to:

Cut the wedges into pieces that are slightly larger than the holes.
Spackle the drywall and wipe off the excess.
When the spackle dries, sand the area until it’s smooth.
Add a fresh coat of paint.
Now DeVito challenges people to find where the holes were; go ahead, take a peek.

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A Seamless Way to Remove Nails from Trim and Flooring
Carefully removing nails from woodImage:

The problem: You can save some dough by using salvaged materials like trim and oak flooring. But before you can install or even safely store them, you have to pull out any old nails — without damaging the wood.

The fix: Although you might be tempted to whack the nail from the back with a hammer and then yank it, don’t. That can mar the surface. Instead, pull the nails out from the back, says Peter Fazio from the site Dadand.

Tool list:

Work gloves
Drop cloth
How to:

Put the trim or floorboard face down on a drop cloth to protect the front surface.
Using your pliers, grab the nail and gently roll onto the curved part of the tool until the nail pops out.
If the old filler used to conceal the nail on the front side pops out, it’s easy to fix. Refill the hole with color-matched wood filler (it’ll work for composite trim, too). Scrape the top of the repair gently with a putty knife to remove excess filler — otherwise you’ll leave a noticeable bump.

If you can’t find color-matched filler, repair the hole and gently sand the area smooth. Spot paint to match.

The Trick to Spiffing Up Grody Grout
Cleaning grout in your homeImage: Virginia from LiveLoveDIY

The problem: When Virginia from LiveLoveDIY painted her kitchen cabinets bright white, her dingy tile grout became a real eyesore.

Sure, cleaning agents like hydrogen peroxide can brighten discolored floors, but they won’t do much for grout. Grout is gritty and easily stains; despite scrubbing, it may never appear clean.

The fix: Using what she calls the “best product ever,” a bottle of Polyblend Grout Renew (there are other brands, too), a stain- and fade-resistant grout paint in snow white. It cost $10 for an 8-ounce bottle, which was enough to cover the all grout in her kitchen.

Tool list:

Grout paint
Rags or paper towels
How to:

Squeeze a dollop of paint on the grout and scrub it in with a toothbrush.
Wipe off the excess from tile with a paper towel.
Including a few breaks, it took her about four hours to complete the job, which she says was time well-spent. Virginia also says the grout paint is easy to keep clean.

Tips To Repair Walls to Give Rooms a Fresh Face

Repair walls filled with dents, dings, and scuffs, and you’ll make rooms look young and fresh and maintain the value of your home. Fortunately, repairing walls is a good weekend warrior project. Here’s how to fix your home’s face in a hurry.

Patch Drywall to Smooth Walls
A putty knife, spackle, or joint compound can repair wall damage that ages a room.

Dents and dings: A quart of spackle ($11) and a putty knife can fill dozens of small wall indentations. Spackle adheres to painted walls better than joint compound, though it takes a bit longer to dry. Cut wall repair time by thoroughly wiping away excess spackle.

Fist-sized holes: Joint compound is your best bet when covering the mesh or drywall patches that cover big holes. You’ll need at least two thin coats of compound and fine grit sandpaper to blend repairs into the rest of the wall.

Nail pops: Nail pops travel in packs: Rarely do you see just one. To repair walls pocked with pops, hammer the popped nail back into the wall or pull it out with a needle-nose pliers; refasten the drywall to the nearest stud with a couple of screws, then fill dents with two or three coats of joint compound. Sand until smooth and flush with the rest of the wall, then repaint.

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Remove Marks for a Clean Start
Microfiber cloths are little miracles that erase the evidence of a childhood well spent, drawing on and caroming off walls. To get rid of scuff marks and fingerprints:

Spray an all-purpose cleaner onto the cloth (never directly onto walls to avoid drips) and swipe the scuff. (Test a hidden spot to make sure the cleaner doesn’t take off paint with the mark.)
Pour a little dish soap onto a damp cloth and wipe the mark.
Dip a sponge into an earth-friendly and slightly abrasive paste of dish soap, baking soda, and water, and gently scrub grime.
To repair walls decorated with crayon marks, dab toothpaste onto a towel or toothbrush and scrub marks.
Use a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser ($3), the best instant wall cleaner around. Wet and wring the eraser before attacking scuffs.
Touch Up What You Can’t Wipe Out
Prepare for inevitable touch-ups by keeping leftover paint or at least recording the paint number and/or formula (paint names change). Don’t have the original? Scrape off a little and ask your paint store to match it.

For touch-ups, use the same type of brush or roller the original painter used. Feather the paint from the outside borders in.

If touch-ups stand out, paint the entire wall, making sure to paint corner to corner and avoid splatters onto the ceiling and adjacent walls.

Some Tips on Pool Fence Safety to Reduce Your Liability

Installing a fence around your swimming pool is a smart security measure that prevents kids from having unsupervised access. In many areas, the law and your insurance company may also require it. But how do you know what kind of fence to pick?

Here’s where things get tricky.

There Are No Standard Requirements
The U.S. does not have a federal pool fence law. Instead, pool barriers are regulated at the state and local level.

Wait, it gets more complicated.

There are exemptions built into these laws. For example, families with children over 6 years old don’t have to install a pool fence in Arizona — unless you live in Scottsdale, Glendale, and several other areas.

See what I mean? It’s confusing.

Then you have to consider that although your pool might be exempt from fencing laws, your insurance company might require it.

So, what to choose?

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Follow These Recommendations to Be Safe
Here’s a list of features every pool fence should have, based on legal requirements across the states and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission:

Height: Some areas require a 4-ft. fence; the CPSC recommendation is 4 ft. or taller.
Structure: Must be impossible for children to climb.
Type: Permanent fencing is ideal because of durability.
Gate: All states require that they open outward away from the pool area, and be self-closing and self-latching.
Materials: Structures can be made from a wide range of stuff including wood, vinyl, and aluminum. However, make sure the material you pick is not easily susceptible to damage.
The 3 Most Popular Types of Fences
Removable mesh pool fencing: Many consumers like this option because it’s an easy-to-move transparent barrier. But when it comes to safety, don’t skimp. The Association of Pool & Spa Professionals has set a standard for fences like these that is recognized worldwide. Here in the U.S., it has the approval of the American Society for Testing and Materials. So if you go with a mesh barrier, make sure it meets or exceeds the ASTM requirements. In many areas this is also mandatory by law.
Vertical bar fencing: Structures can be made from a wide range of stuff including wood, vinyl, aluminum, and wrought iron. However, make sure the material you pick is not easily susceptible to damage. In most states, the space between the vertical bars can’t be more than 4 inches wide.
Glass panel fencing: Barriers like these are very popular in California. They are durable and safe because they’re made from tempered glass. Plus, since they’re transparent, they don’t detract from your pool’s beauty.
Add Additional Protection
Keep in mind: Many states, such as New York and California, require layers of protection in addition to fencing.

Examples of additional layers of security include:

Automatic rigid pool covers
An underwater motion swimming pool alarm
Rescue equipment
But who do you contact in your area to get the skinny on swimming pool safety? Since every state and county sets up their agencies differently, try contacting the following departments in your area:

Building Code Department
Department of Health
Licensing and Regulatory Affairs
How did we find stuff? We Googled “swimming pool safety” along with the name of our county and state.

To see a wide range of security features and measures to make your pool as safe and liability-proof as possible, check out this video by the National Drowning Prevention Alliance, in conjunction with the CPSC.

Tips To Installing a Spa on Your Deck

Hot tubs and spas come in an array of shapes and sizes, and can be equipped with scores of accessories. Accordingly, they have a wide range of prices. Choosing the right spa depends on its intended use, how big your deck is, and what structural alterations will be required for your deck. In addition, you’ll need to know the cost of installation, day-to-day expenses, and how much you can expect to recoup on your investment should you sell your home.

Different Types of Spas and Their Costs
It started with that icon of laid-back living, the redwood hot tub. Before long, fiberglass versions with circulating jets appeared called “spas.” Today the terms “hot tub” and “spa” are used interchangeably, but because most units are jetted, spa is the term more commonly used. Spas range in size from two-person models costing about $2,000, to 20-foot-long swim spas costing $18,000 or more. In between are those most popular for decks: 4- to 8-person models costing from $2,500 to $10,000.

Choosing a spa can be challenging. You’ll need to select from a dazzling number of accessories, including cup holders, colored LED lights, iPod docks, stereo systems, pop-up TV screens, and even waterproof keyboards.

“The gadgetry is there to catch your eye while shopping,” cautions Erich Johanson, an experienced spa installer in Olympia, Wash. He recommends choosing established manufacturers and narrowing your choice from there. “Look at the national brands and find one you like,” he says. “Then chose a model that has the features you want.”

His top recommendation is for “full-foam” insulation—a high-density, closed-cell polyurethane foam that fills the cavity between the fiberglass tub shell and the outer cabinet and helps reduce heat loss. In addition, full-foam insulation helps reduce noise and adds stability to the entire unit.

Check installation costs as well. They’ll be dependent on the size of the spa and the ease of getting it where it needs to be. In some cases, limited access may require the use of a crane to lower the spa into place. For an 8-person spa, expect about $300 for delivery and setup.

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Adding Structural Components to Carry the Weight
The safest—and most cost-effective—location for a spa is the lower level of a deck. A deck only a few steps above ground, if built to code, should be able to support 100 lbs per sq. ft.—a filled 8 x 8 spa at 6,000 lbs. works out to about 94 lbs per sq. ft., just within limits. Check your local codes for any restrictions governing the installation of a spa on a deck.

Even better is a reinforced concrete pad, a great option if you’re planning a new deck or intend to add on to an existing deck. A 4-inch slab will safely bear 115 lbs per sq. ft.

If you want the tub on a deck more than a couple of feet above ground or on an upper level of a deck, things get more complicated. You’ll need to hire a structural engineer to provide specs for a site-specific framing structure to support the weight. Expect to pay an engineer $300 to $500 for these services. The necessary framing for a typical backyard deck may cost only a few hundred dollars, but expect to pay much more if your deck is a high-flying structure perched on a slope.

Accessing Power and Water
Spas require a nearby source of electricity. Because water is involved, any electrical hookup for a spa must include ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) protection. This nifty device shuts down the system within milliseconds if it detects the tiniest change in current flow caused by a short circuit. Some spas come with an extension cord with a GFCI built in that can be plugged into a 110-volt, 20-amp circuit.

Larger units require at least one dedicated 220-volt, 50-amp circuit. In addition, there must be an emergency shutoff within sight of the spa, but not closer than 5 feet or farther than 50 feet. A new circuit and shutoff will cost about $800.

Water access is simple; spas fill with an outdoor hose. The spa then heats and circulates the water. Insulated tub covers limit evaporation, but the tub will need occasional topping off. When it’s time to empty the unit, all spas have built-in hose bibs so you can drain the water.

Getting in and out of a spa provides opportunities for mishaps. A handrail is a good idea for older—and younger—users. A cover with a lock is must if you have children.

If you plan to build your spa into the deck, it may seem best to drop it into the deck so that the rim of the tub sits on the decking. Unfortunately, this makes it easy for people to fall in or step on the cover, and also complicates getting into the tub. The ideal arrangement is to set the spa partially into the deck so the rim is 17 to 24 inches above the decking. That way, bathers can sit on the rim, swing their feet over, and enter the water.

Hot water feels great, but needs to be indulged with caution. The Association of Pool & Spa Professionals recommends keeping the water temperature between 100°F and 102°F, with 104°F as a maximum. A safe soaking duration is 15 minutes. To keep the spa free of bacteria, you must be clean it regularly and add sanitizing chemicals.

Anticipating the Cost and Value of a Spa
It costs as little 50¢ a day to run a spa. That amount can vary according to the amount of use, your local energy costs, the quality of insulation in your spa, and the quality of the cover. Covers typically come with spas, but consider upgrading to a higher efficiency type. The additional cost is modest and the better-insulated covers are often lighter, making them easier to remove.

If you live in a region with a climate moderate enough for year-round use, a deck equipped with a spa should give you a slight edge in selling a home. John Tripp, an appraiser with Foundation Trust in San Jose, Calif., says that spas “normally are assets as long as they have been properly maintained and there is no evidence of leakage or deferred maintenance.”

In other areas of the country, don’t expect much of a return. “They don’t have the payback to meet the cost,” says Richard Koestner, an appraiser with Koestner, McGiven & Associates in Davenport, Iowa. “If they do add any value it would be in the upper price range. It could be detriment if they aren’t in the right market.”

People react differently to the prospect of purchasing a house that has a spa. Some buyers may ask that it be removed as a condition of sale. Others will hardly be able to wait for that first soothing soak.

Let’s Learn About Types of Plumbing Pipes and Their Lifespans

Nothing lasts forever, and that includes the plumbing pipes in your home. Fortunately, the majority of pipe materials perform well for decades. However, when that lifespan is reached, pipes may start to leak.

To prevent leaks, use the chart below to determine if your home’s plumbing lifespan is adequate or if water pipes are bursting for attention.

To prevent health hazards, check for lead pipes.

Know Your Pipes
Review the home inspection report you got when you bought your home to see what kind of pipes you have—or bring in a licensed plumber to do an inspection of your plumbing system. Expect to pay at least $75 for a plumber’s service call.

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If your pipes are older than these guidelines from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Residential Rehabilitation Inspection Guide, it doesn’t necessarily mean they need to be replaced. Well-maintained pipes may last longer, and poorly maintained ones or those in areas with hard water (meaning it has high mineral content), may fail sooner.

Check for Polybutylene
Polybutylene piping—a gray, plastic plumbing material used from the 1970s through the 1990s—is extremely prone to breakage. It’s commonly found in homes in the Sun Belt, the Mid-Atlantic states, and the Pacific Northwest.

If you suspect your home has polybutylene pipes, have a plumber inspect the system immediately. You can’t assess their condition with a simple visual check, as the exterior of the pipes may appear fine. Chlorinated water causes these pipes to flake from the inside out, which ultimately results in the pipes failing without warning.

Get the Lead Out
Lead pipes, used in the early 1900s, have a life expectancy of 100 years, but they can leach lead into your drinking water, a potential health hazard. Lead pipes are typically dull gray and the surface of the pipe can be easily scratched with a knife or key.

If you suspect that your home has lead water pipes, have the water tested. If results show the lead content at 15 parts per billion (15 ppb) or more, call in a professional plumber to replace your home’s lead pipes.

Know More About Should You Repair or Replace Your Septic System

When sewage backs up into the house or terrible odors overcome the backyard, you know something is wrong with your septic system. Depending on what’s causing the problem, you’ll face some big decisions about whether to repair or replace the equipment.

If it’s a broken pipe, patching it might cost just a few hundred dollars. But if the drainfield needs to be replaced, you could be out $2,000 to $10,000. Worst case: You need an alternative treatment system, for $15,000 or more.

First Steps in a Septic Emergency
Here’s how to handle problems when they arise.

If you find sewage in your house: Lift the lid of the septic tank and check the water level—or call a septic tank pumping company to do this for you. If the water is lower than the outlet, the pipe between the house and tank might be clogged. Call a plumber.

If the level is higher than the outlet, the problem is the tank or something beyond it. Have your tank pumped ($200 to $400), which gives you a little time to figure out what to do next and allows the pumper to see whether there’s an obvious problem, such as a clogged screen at the outlet.

If the drainfield is saturated because of flooding, however, wait to pump because emptying the tank may cause the tank to float, breaking the pipes. Take precautions as you clean up the mess in your house, so you don’t get sick.

If the drainfield stinks or is soggy: Keep people away from any standing water or soggy soil, which can be a biohazard. If you have young children or pets, you might need a temporary fence. Have your septic tank pumped, and cut back on water use. These steps should reduce the odor.

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Drainfield Failures
But they aren’t long-term solutions. When a drainfield fails, it’s often because the septic tank wasn’t pumped often enough. Sludge and scum layers can grow so thick that there’s little space left for wastewater to pool while ingredients separate.

This lets grease and solids get into the drainfield and clog it, resulting in stinky water bubbling up to the surface. By the time you notice, the damage is done—and the drainfield needs replacement.

A drainfield can also fail when you haven’t done anything wrong. Over time—often 30 years or so, according to Craig Mains of the National Small Flows Clearinghouse, a non-profit that advises the septic system industry—beneficial microbes in the soil around the drainfield become so abundant that they literally clog the soil so it can’t properly absorb the water.

The only alternative if you have a plugged drainfield is to abandon it and build a new one. The good news is that once you have a replacement drainfield, you’ll never have this problem again. Eventually, the bacteria at the old site will die from lack of food, and will decompose. When the second field plugs someday, you can go back to using the first.

When to Repair the Problem
Some problems can be solved relatively easily. If there’s standing water or a sewage odor between the septic tank and the drainfield, it may be nothing more than a broken pipe, a roughly $600 repair. If you have an advanced treatment system, the maintenance company might need to adjust or replace a part.

If you have an aerobic treatment unit—one that aerates the tank to help break down the waste faster—and were away for a long period, the beneficial bacteria might have died off. You may just need to use your system frugally for a few weeks while the population rebounds.

When to Replace System Components
There’s usually no repair for a drainfield that has failed. You probably need to replace some or all of your system.

There are many ways to combine treatment and drainfield alternatives, and your decisions can have a huge impact on costs as well as on how much landscaping you need to redo and how you can use your property in the future. If you want to reserve land for a future garage, for example, you might be willing to spend more on a compact system.

Even if the drainfield is kaput, you may learn that the septic tank itself is okay. Reusing the tank can save you $1,000 or more—and keeps that part of your yard intact. But if moving the tank would solve a landscaping issue or make future pumping easier, now’s the time to do it.

Getting it Fixed
Check the websites of your local health department and state environmental agency to learn what procedures you need to follow for repairing or replacing a septic system—you may even find a list of licensed repair companies.

Call a couple and schedule visits. Or, if you have an advanced treatment system with an annual maintenance contract, call the company that’s overseeing your system already.

Paying for Septic Repairs
If you need major septic work, contact your local health department or environmental agency, which may be able to help you find affordable financing or provide tax credits for the work. Some municipalities use money received through the federal Clean Water Act to help finance septic system repairs by offering low-interest loans.

Informations Cost About Replacing Plumbing Pipes

You’ll need to closely inspect your plumbing or rely on a licensed plumber to advise you whether it’s time for replacing plumbing. Replacing plumbing in a 1,500 sq. ft. home is an expensive proposition that can cost $2,000 to $15,000, depending on the complexity.

However, you can mitigate the cost and hassle of totally replacing plumbing with these strategies:

Replace What’s Exposed
For a home with plaster walls, wood paneling, or other features that make it difficult to gain access to in-wall pipes, consider at least replacing plumbing pipes that aren’t buried in the walls.

Although it’s a big job, replacing plumbing pipes that are exposed in a basement, crawlspace, or utility room is fairly straightforward because your plumber can easily get at the pipes. Depending on the configuration of your house, your plumber may be able to access the vast majority of your system this way.

For a 1,500 sq. ft., two-bathroom home, you’ll pay between $1,000 and $6,000 to replace just the exposed plumbing.

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Replace Plumbing When You Renovate
When you remodel a portion of your house, take the opportunity to inspect—and if need be, replace—plumbing lines that you expose when you open up the walls and floors. This includes replacing plumbing in the kitchen or bathroom that you’re remaking, and any pipes passing through the walls to feed upstairs bathrooms.

Because the pipes are exposed during the project and because your plumber is coming on site anyway, the added cost of replacing plumbing may be only $250 to $1,000—a bargain, considering you’ve eliminated a hard-to-get-at problem area when you have the chance.

PEX Limits Demolition
If you’re thinking of replacing plumbing that’s inside your walls, your plumber may be able to limit wall demolition by using cross-linked polyethylene tubing, also known as PEX—a flexible plastic hose.

PEX can be snaked into walls in much the way electricians feed wires behind the wallboard or plaster with relatively minimal surgery—not an option with rigid copper pipe. PEX meets building code nearly everywhere, comes with a 25-year warranty, and puts a smaller hit on your budget than copper. For comparison, 100 feet of PEX costs less than $30. 100 feet of straight copper pipe costs about $285.

PEX also may offer lower costs in terms of labor. For example, a home that requires two days of labor to re-plumb will only require a day with PEX. Still, some environmental groups worry about as-yet-unknown health risks of plastic water supply lines.

And since PEX has only been widely used in the U.S. for about a decade, it doesn’t have enough of a track record to indicate how long it will last—in other words, how long it’ll be before replacing plumbing in your home is an issue again.

Tips to Cut Your Home Energy Bill This Winter

Five strategies to beat the deep-freeze and save money on your energy bills this winter.
Tips to more energy efficient home

This year, the average Canadian will spend upward of $1,800 on natural gas and electricity bills; much of that during winter, when cold drafts entering the home can significantly jack up indoor energy use. Here are some hints on how to stay toasty warm this winter—without taking a financial hit.

– Maintain your furnace

Do-it-yourself: Check furnace filters once a month for lint buildup, and clean or replace them every three months. Clogged with dirt and dust, they can be an energy suck and won’t last as long. Regardless of age or quality, a furnace should undergo a checkup every two years (or annually, for an oil system) to prevent expensive breakdowns and maintain the manufacturer’s warranty.

Big fix: Pellet stoves heat up large spaces by burning sticks of compressed sawdust and scrap wood. They take more maintenance than gas or oil stoves but allow you to turn the thermostat down, or even off, if you’re spending a lot of time in one part of the house.

– Turn down your thermostat

Do-it-yourself: Setting your thermostat back by 4°C to 6°C for eight hours each day can shave up to 15 per cent off your heating bill. The Canadian Centre for Housing Technology finds it most efficient to keep your home at 22°C when you’re at home in the daytime and at 16°C to 18°C otherwise. Contrary to popular belief, your furnace won’t work extra hard to bring temperatures back up.

Big fix: Try a thermostat with a brain: some will track your daily home-and-away habits, set the temperature accordingly and are programmable using your smartphone. (One, called the Nest, is even designed by the minds behind your favourite Apple products.)

– Inspect your roof and gutters

Do-it-yourself: Before temperatures dip below freezing, clean your gutters and downspouts of any leaves and debris clogs—clogs mean melting ice will seep into roof shingles. If you have an operational fireplace, make sure its damper is still working and keep it closed when not in use.

Big fix: Think of insulation like the toque your roof needs to wear in winter—up to 25 per cent of a home’s heat can be lost through the roof if it’s not properly insulated.

– Seal windows

Do-it-yourself: A thrifty treatment for thin glass windows is to line them with bubble wrap: mist your windows with water and push the bubbled side of the sheet against the pane. No glue needed—simply re-mist and reattach if the plastic loses adhesion.

Big fix: Adding storm windows to existing frames is one way to boost heat retention. Replacing them entirely with Energy Star-certified windows, double- or triple-glazed and filled with insulating argon or krypton gas, keeps them sealed year-round.

– Seal doors

Do-it-yourself: Prevent cold-air leaks with a draft snake: a plush doorstopper placed in entryways to stop drafts. If you’re crafty, make your own, but something as simple as a rolled-up towel will do.

Big fix: If your front door lets in more drafts than people, consider upgrading to an airtight model with double- or triple-glazed glass, an insulated core and good-quality weatherstripping (some newer frames include a magnetic strip that seals more tightly).

Tips to Keep a Contractor From Saying No to Your Small Job

Your handyman was happy to replace the rotting wood on your exterior window sills, but he balked when you asked him to do comprehensive work on your busted bay window. So you call five general contractors about the job: Only one has promised a quote, another gives you attitude, and the rest don’t return your messages. Why? Don’t they realize there’s a hole in your house that needs to be fixed? Don’t they like money?

Convincing a general contractor to take on small, inexpensive jobs can be a challenge. After all, they have entire homes to build and kitchens to renovate — why would they waste time taking on tiny projects?

It can be maddening, but don’t lose hope. Contractors can be convinced to handle your small-scale project. You just need to use the right tactics. Here are a few to try:

1. Make It a Twofer
Replacing and trimming out one bay window might not compel a busy contractor. But tack on the installation of a water-saving toilet and that rainfall showerhead you’ve been pining after? That’s a different story.

“Try to bundle it up,” says Bryan Clayton, a former general contractor with 15 years of experience. Combining projects is a win-win for you and the contractor: You get the home you want, and they can charge enough money to make the job worth their while.

Okay, it’s a win-sort-of-win. Obviously, two jobs will cost more than one. But, then again, you’ll knock off half your honey-do list in one fell swoop. And that’s pretty sweet.

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2. Take On the Hassle of Buying the Goods
Contractors will be more tempted to take your job if their overhead is low, and the hassle is really minimal. In other words, if you take care of buying the materials and making sure they’re available when the contractor needs them.

This one is definitely a win-win, because you’ll be saving money, too. Contractors often mark up the cost of materials to cover transportation and storage costs. “If they buy the materials and have to wait 15 or 20 days to get paid, they need to get compensated for the capital risk,” Clayton says. “Cut that out and pay directly.”
For instance, the cost of installing new hardwood floors will be lower if you have the wood shipped directly to your house. It removes the contractor’s risk while saving them time and effort. “They love to hear that,” says Clayton.

[ See How Much You Can Save if You Buy-It-Yourself ]

3. Chill Out Until Winter
Assuming your project doesn’t need completion before your in-laws visit next month, it’ll benefit you greatly to wait for the off-season. Most contractors will be eager for work once temps start to dip into the freezing zone.

“Absolutely wait until winter,” Clayton says. “During that time of the year, you’ll get a better contractor at a better price.”
This applies doubly if you need any exterior work, like repairing a deck. Most homeowners don’t think to do exterior work in cold weather, but that’s when these contractors have the most availability. Yes, it might take a little bit longer, especially if the weather gets unruly, but the job will still get done — and possibly cost you way less.

4. Send a Snap
Trying to find a contractor for your small job might seem like an Olympian endeavor for one seemingly small (but endlessly frustrating) reason: You can’t get them to come out and give you a darn quote.

To be fair, their hesitance is understandable. Homeowners often get multiple quotes, so there’s a good chance the contractor’s visit won’t bring in any new business. For a job that sounds like a pittance, why would they bother?

Save them the trip and take pictures. Email or text the pics, plus basic information about your project, and the process can be expedited for both you and them.

“I can give them a quote in 20 minutes,” says Danny Ruby, a general contractor in Boston.

5. Be (Sigh) Patient
Does your project need completion today? Or can you bear waiting a few weeks to get those front porch steps replaced? Allowing a flexible timeline might encourage contractors to pick up your small job.

“The more flexible you are, the better,” says Clayton. Contractors might fit in smaller jobs during downtime for larger projects. They can pop over and work on your built-in window seat while they’re waiting for tile to arrive for a bathroom remodel they’re doing nearby.

Beware, though, Clayton says. Squeezing in bits of work might mean the job takes a long, long time. It’s fair to not let a project drag out too long, but offering flexibility can get a project started — and hopefully finished — sooner.
“Be polite and patient, but also know if you’re getting the run-around,” he says.

6. And, Finally, Don’t Act Shocked at the Cost
Contractors are different from handymen for a reason. Handymen have a wide variety of skills that lets them tackle odd jobs, like patching up holes and fixing wobbly doors. Contractors offer a deeper knowledge of construction and are typically licensed in a specific trade (like plumbing or carpentry), letting them tackle complex projects with precision.

A handyman, for instance, can hang shelves. But you’ll want someone with specialty skills for constructing new built-ins, a complex task that could go wrong in many interesting ways. Hence, the general contractor. And you should expect to pay extra for those special skills.

“Homeowners can’t expect to pay handyman costs, but have a contractor come over,” Ruby says. “They’re going to have to pay accordingly.”

Typically, contractors also provide liability insurance for your project, workers comp for their employees, and a warranty in case something goes wrong.

Not balking at those legitimately higher rates can go a long way toward convincing a contractor to take your smaller job. While pricing specifics will depend on your area or job, expect a handyman to cost roughly $25 per hour. A contractor might charge $60 or (much, much) more.

“I have no problems doing small jobs, but when I tell homeowners how much they cost, they aren’t happy,” Ruby says.