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5 Home Improvements to Make This Spring

Jun 10, 2013

It’s time to prep your house and yard for warmer weather. Target these trouble spots and DIY upgrade opportunities to slash utility bills, boost curb appeal, and up your comfort all year long.

Tidy Up the AC Compressor/Condenser

1Why Now: Seasonal debris, such as leaves, grass clippings, dust, and even nests, can reduce efficiency. By coupling maintenance with a new enclosure for the unit, you can also turn an eyesore on the side of your house into something eye-catching.

How to Do It: Start by trimming any bushes or overhanging branches that may impede airflow. Next, turn off the power and carefully brush out debris from the fins. Hose down the unit from top to bottom. Straighten any bent fins with a special tool called a fin comb. Consult your owner’s manual about where to put lubricating oil. Last, hide the unit behind decorative lattice if you wish.

The Payoff: You’ll save about $100 to $250 a year in professional cleaning services and up to 40 percent in energy costs.

Prevent Erosion with a New Wall

2Why Now: Head off mini mudslides by terracing a slope, such as along a driveway, with a retaining wall. A small one (3 feet high, max) made from interlocking concrete blocks doesn’t require you to hire a mason or rent an excavator.

How to Do It: Dig into the slope about 2 feet back from where your new wall will go, and line with landscape fabric. For the footing, create an 8-inch trench along the base of the wall and fill with tamped, crushed stone topped with stone dust. Stagger courses of the blocks, starting with half of the first course below grade. The blocks fit together like a puzzle, with construction adhesive applied between courses. As you build, backfill with crushed stone to keep water from building up behind the wall. Finish with capstones across the top.

The Payoff: A better-looking yard and driveway, plus a savings of about $30 to $60 per square foot by building the wall yourself rather than hiring a pro.

Seal Your Vents

3Why Now: For most birds, breeding season begins as early as mid-March and lasts through August, and any opening, such as a dryer vent or bathroom-fan vent, is a potential nesting site. Seal these up to deter birds and other unwanted critters that can set up house or sneak into your living spaces.

How to Do It: Replace builder-grade aluminum vent caps with a vent seal that remains closed when the appliance is not in use. Designs range from a floating shuttle (about $10) and a double-door model (about $12) for the dryer to a roof-mount steel hood with a built-in backdraft damper and bird screen (about $30) for bathroom and
kitchen fans.

The Payoff: Avoid shelling out hundreds in pest-removal costs. And prevent up to 4 percent of your home’s conditioned air from leaking out.

Put in a Screen Door

4Why now: There’s nothing lovelier than a gentle breeze wafting through the house on a balmy day. And by choosing an aluminum door with an interchangeable storm window, you can also save on heating costs come winter, especially if you have an older, uninsulated entry door.

How to do it: Measure your entry-door opening, noting which side the hinges are on, and choose a corresponding screen door. Check the fit before installing; you’ll likely need a hacksaw to trim the base of the door’s aluminum side pieces, called Z-bars, to match the slope of your existing sill. Secure the hinge-side bar to the screen door with the supplied screws, and steady the assembly in the opening. Push the bar against the jamb and secure with screws. Next, secure the top and latch-side bars to the jamb, and install the automatic closer and the door handle. Attach the safety chain, and seal around the screen-door frame with silicone caulk.

The Payoff: Electricity-free ventilation in warm weather, plus a decrease in air leakage during cold months—up to 11 percent—when you swap the screen for a storm window.

Install a Sconce on the Garage

5Why Now: A new fixture not only creates a welcome glow outside what may be your home’s busiest entry point but also improves safety.

How to Do It: Shut off power to the receptacle box (have an electrician install a box if you don’t have one). To ensure a weather-tight fit, use a rigid-foam mounting block that fits inside the sconce’s base and bridges the gap between the fixture and the garage siding. Caulk the top and sides of the block’s back and press it against the siding. Leave the bottom uncaulked so that any moisture that seeps in can escape. Pull the wires through from the receptacle box, connect them to the sconce, and secure the fixture. Finally, caulk around the sides and top of the sconce base where it meets the block and the sides and top of the block where it meets the siding. Twist in a bulb, restore power, and flip the switch.

The Payoff: The garage takes up one-third of the average home’s street-side facade, so even a small improvement makes a big impact. And by wiring the sconce yourself instead of calling an electrician, you’ll save about $150 to $200.

From an article by Laura Fisher Kaiser, This Old House Magazine