Month-by-Month Home Improvement Plan

Closet, bedroom closet, master bedroom closet,
Here's how to update your home, inside and out--one inspirational project a month.

12 Months of Home Improvement Projects

Looking to improve your home? With today's economy, it makes sense to do careful planning in advance or to do some of the work yourself. That's why we've put together this list of easy home improvement projects for inspiration. Many of them are tied to a particular season, but others can be scheduled to your budget, your timeline, your weather, and your life.

January: Organize the Pantry

Kill two New Year's resolutions with one stone when you organize your kitchen pantry—and restock it with healthier foods. Designate an area for each of your most commonly used food groups, with the healthiest in easy reach. Label each area:

• Healthful Snacks
• Baking Supplies (dry ingredients in airtight containers, mixes, frostings, pie filling)
• Easy Weeknight Meals (a week's worth of dinner fixings in sturdy bins, divided by meal with a focus on healthful ingredients)
• General Food Storage (group food by type, such as canned goods, and arrange in rows on shelves)
• Lunch on the Run (lunch items, utensils, food storage bags, napkins, and lunch bags or boxes)
• Quick Breakfasts (breads, cereals, fruit, peanut butter, jelly) • Simple Entertaining (fast-fix appetizers, napkins, toothpicks, and serving trays)

February: Update Your Bathroom

You spend time every morning and evening in the bathroom. Why not make it look as stylish as the rest of your house? As long as the layout works, upgrading the surfaces and replacing fixtures can take the room to a whole new level. Here are some suggestions, including a few that are low-cost but high-impact:

• Paint the walls with mold- and mildew-proof primers and paints.
• Install new cabinet hardware for an instant visual impact.
• Replace faucets and fixtures on the sink, tub, and shower. Choose stylish models in a popular finish such as satin nickel.
• Upgrade towel bars, the toilet paper holder, and lighting fixtures to match.
• Add a pop of color with towels, soaps, and candles.

March: Install a Laminate Floor

Tired of looking at a scuffed-up floor? Cover that dull vinyl surface with glueless laminate planks. They're durable, budget-friendly, and easy to install by clicking them together. Plus, a new floor can be walked on the same day it's installed. Things to think about:

• Laminate planks look like hardwood but are actually medium-density fiberboard (MDF) sandwiched between plastic laminate.
• Glueless laminate planks are held together by tongue-and-groove construction. It's so easy to install that you and a helper can do a whole room in less than a day.
• The assembled floor is glued together at the edges and floats on a thin foam pad—on top of the original floor.
• Laminate is scratch- and stain-resistant but could be damaged if water seeps below the surface. You should check specific product information before choosing laminate for a bath.

April: Wash Your Windows

Your windows should be washed twice a year: spring (to remove grime left by winter weather) and fall (to wash away summer's pollen, insects, and more). Pick a cool, overcast day for best results. Here are some more tips to make your windows sparkle:

• Dust the insides of the windows and hose down the outsides before starting.
• Use a sponge to wash the glass with warm water and dishwashing liquid.
• Wipe the panes clean with lint-free cloths, crumpled newspapers, or clean coffee filters.
• Wipe the edges and windowsills with a clean towel.
• Remember to clean storm windows and screens.

May: Prep Your Deck for Entertaining

Memorial Day marks the unofficial beginning of the grilling season, which means you'll be spending lots of quality time outside. Start now to get your deck ready for a summer filled with fun outdoor meals and entertaining. Here are some tips for creating a party-worthy space:

• Clean, repair, and stain your deck if it needs it.
• Use furniture and accessories to create separate zones for grilling, dining, and lounging.
• Make your deck feel more private by adding a water feature to drown out background noise.
• Build a pergola to create shade and add interest.
• Give your deck a warm glow with inexpensive hanging lights.
• Add container gardens filled with colorful flowers.

June: Refresh a Room with Paint

Late spring is a great time to paint inside because you can leave windows and doors open for ventilation. If you're planning to put your house on the market, use neutrals. If not, think about experimenting with color (remembering that paint often dries darker or brighter than the swatches). And remember: Prep is everything. Here are some tips:

• Wash walls with a low-phosphate household cleaner to remove grime, grease, and dust. This step will help the paint adhere better.
• If painting woodwork, lightly sand it to create a better surface for holding paint.
• Repair any cracks or holes. Sand the repairs smooth and then prime.
• Use a stain-blocking primer to hide water stains or marks on old drywall or plaster.
• Remove any door and window hardware you can; tape off any hardware that remains.
• Move furniture out of the room if you can.
• Cover remaining furniture and the floor with tarps or plastic.

July: Organize Your Garage

Whether you need to clear out a corner or revamp the entire garage, it's time to organize the space your car calls home. Here's how to get started.

• Set your priorities. Are you creating room to park a second car, store your outdoor gear, or add a workshop? Your end goal determines what you need to do.
• Sort through your stuff. Just as you would do with a closet, decide what you want to keep, what you can give away, and what should be recycled or discarded.
• Store items in zones based on your interests (e.g., gardening tools and supplies). Cabinets, shelves, pegboard, hooks, and labels will help you keep items organized and easy to find.
• Get rid of the junk. Make sure that items that should not go in the landfill (e.g., chemicals, tires) are disposed of in an appropriate manner.

August: Paint Your Home Exterior

Take advantage of August's warm, dry days to paint the outside of your house. The average exterior paint job lasts 10 years, but you have to do it right. The key to a quality exterior paint job is in the prep. Here are some tips:

• Give the exterior of your house a good cleaning to remove loose paint and dirt.
• Use a paint scraper, putty knife, or wire brush to remove peeling paint.
• Replace rotten wood.
• Prime any bare wood with a stain-blocking exterior primer.
• Fill cracks with high-quality, exterior, paintable caulk. Let dry.
• Apply two coats of high-quality, exterior latex paint.

September: Get Your Home Ready for Winter

Home maintenance is a year-round job. But getting ready for cold weather needs to happen at exactly the right time: after you've turned off the air conditioner but before you're living with freezing temperatures. Here are some items for your to-do list:

• Inspect your furnace. Replace dirty filters, and clean registers and grilles.
• Use caulk, spray foam, and weather stripping to plug leaks around windows and doors.
• Plug up holes where pipes, vents, or electrical conduits run through walls, ceilings, and floors.
• Add fiberglass insulation to the attic floor and house walls.
• Wrap your water heater with an insulation blanket (check with your owner's manual or the store first) and cover any exposed pipes with ready-made pipe jackets.
• Clean gutters and downspouts to avoid ice dams that can push water under the shingles.
• Make sure chimney and venting systems are working properly.

October: Install a Tile Backsplash

Give your kitchen a stylish focal point by installing a tile backsplash. (Begin the project soon and you'll easily be done before Thanksgiving.) Here's how to get started:

• Figure out how much of the wall the new backsplash will cover. Take the dimensions with you when shopping for tile.
• Visit a tile showroom or home center to view samples. Four-inch-square tiles are the most common choice, but you may want to consider rectangular subway tiles or mosaic tiles.
• Choose colors that go with semipermanent components (e.g,. cabinets) rather than something that is easily changed (such as curtains).
• Decide on a design. Keep your backsplash dimensions in mind since some patterns will fit better than others.
• Buy more tile than you think you'll need to account for waste and mistakes.
• Decide whether you'll install the backsplash yourself or hire someone to do it. The more complex the design, the more sense it makes to bring in a pro.

November: Add Character

Whether you live in a suburban split level or a Queen Anne Victorian, architectural trim helps define a room's style. Adding new trim (also known as molding) or painting what you've already got is relatively fast and inexpensive. Here are some options:

• Paint all the trim throughout the house the same color to create a unified look.
• Within a room, paint all of the trim the same color unless you want to emphasize an element (such as an antique fireplace mantel).
• Replace builder-grade base molding with taller custom-looking base trim.
• Add crown molding in the living room for an elegant, high-end look.
• Install wainscoting or a chair rail in a dining room, formal living room, or foyer.

December: Clean Out Your Closets

Late winter is the perfect time to clean out your closets and other storage spaces. That way you can donate clothing and other items to get year-end tax deductions. Here are some tips for successful decluttering:

• Work on one closet at a time or the task will get overwhelming.
• Divide all items into four categories: keep, donate, recycle, and toss.
• Keep clothing only if it fits, you've worn it in the last year, and the style is current or timeless.
• Keep other items only if you love them (e.g., photos or collectibles), you've used them in the past year, and they're worth the space they take up in your house.

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