11 Quick Fall Fix-Ups for Your Home

If you're pressed for time to tune up your home before winter, focus on these weekend projects to help it look better and last longer while saving you money.

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1. Touch Up Paint

    No time for a full-blown exterior painting project? Hit the trouble spots: the cut ends of all boards, especially fascia boards, where paint peels first. If you have a little more time, apply a coat to all trim pieces.

2. Clean Your Carpets

    If your wall-to-wall carpeting harbors dirt and musty smells, throw open the windows to let it dry before the weather gets too cold. You can rent a steam cleaner for about $25 per day.

3. Manage Drainage

    If you live in an area that gets more rain than snow during the winter, dig a French drain to prevent a downspout-fed lake from forming in your yard. A hole that's 4 feet deep and 4 feet wide should do the trick. Dig it under your downspout, line it with heavy plastic sheeting (or whatever your local building code requires), and fill it with gravel.

    You can add plants on top of the French drain, but cover the gravel with landscape fabric before adding dirt. Another option is a trench-type French drain, which will move water away from your house rather than directing it deep into the ground.

4. Lighten Up

    Yes, it's still true: replacing even some of your incandescent lightbulbs with high-efficiency compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) saves you money and, depending on where you live, earns you a utility rebate.

5. Scrub Up

    Washing your home's exterior, including the windows, makes it look better and helps prevent growth of mold and mildew that feed on dirt. All you need is a pressure washer, which you can rent at a hardware store for $50-$100 per day.

    A word of warning though: Find out how much pressure the washer will exert and whether the surface you plan to wash can withstand it. Avoid pressure-washing vinyl because it can bend and let water behind it. Research pressure-washing before you get the machine, and don't be afraid to ask a knowledgeable store employee about appropriate nozzles.

6. Mind the Gaps

    Look for one of the biggest energy-wasters: air leaks. Inspect the caulking and seals around windows and add or replace the weather stripping around your exterior doors to prevent heat-sucking drafts. Check for leaks around outlets and switches, and add easy-to-install outlets or switch gaskets as needed. Even floor registers can leak air from a cold crawlspace or basement into ground-floor rooms; ask your local home center representative for an insulation kit designed for a fix.

7. Tune Your Furnace

    A finely tuned furnace is almost like a musical instrument, humming along as efficiently as possible while keeping your family warm. This is a job for a professional.

8. Replace a Window

    If you have a problem window or two, replace them with more energy-efficient models. What makes a window energy-efficient? Look for low-E glass, multiple glass panes, warm-edge spacers between the panes, and gas fills such as argon or krypton.

9. Repair Your Roof

    Check your roof for leaks. If you know one exists, fix it before the snow starts to fall.

    A word to the wise: If the leak is located at a ridge, a valley, or underneath the roofing, leave it to the pros.

10. Get with the Program

    Switch out your old manual thermostat for a programmable one, which will be more convenient and accurate. Programmable thermostats contain no mercury and are better for the environment because using less energy reduces greenhouse-gas emissions associated with energy production. Because the thermostat will do the thinking for you and never forget, it will save you money on your utility bills--to the tune of about $150 per year--when used properly.

11. Hold in the Heat

    Add insulation to your attic and watch your heating bill drop. Check your current insulation level by looking across the span of your attic. If the insulation is just level with or below your floor joists, you should add more--enough to bring your attic to an insulation R-value of 38, or about 10-14 inches, depending on insulation type. When adding insulation, you don't have to use the same type that currently exists in your attic.

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