Easy and inexpensive resolutions for your home

After the hustle-and-bustle and decorating frenzy of the holidays, it seems like our homes feel a little emptier in January. Cold weather has us spending more time indoors, and the grey days and long nights can zap our motivation.

Instead of turning into couch potatoes, experts note that we can use the time for some quick fix-ups and pick-me-ups around the house — even if your new year’s budget is tight. Whether you’re thinking of maintenance or sprucing up your décor, here are some items to add to your to-do list.

Check the alarms. Your life may depend on them, so take a few minutes to test your fire alarms, smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. Change the batteries if needed (they should be changed once a year), and give the devices a vacuum if you notice dust and spider webs. While you’re at it, check the locations and dates on your fire extinguishers too.

Change or replace your furnace filters. Haven’t changed or cleaned your filter in a while? Experts recommend cleaning or replacing filters once a month during the winter to ensure your furnace is running efficiently. Also, give your ventilation system a check every other month.

Clean your humidifier. Build-up of mineral scale can affect how well your humidifier runs — and it provides a nice home for bacteria. How often should you clean your humidifier? At least three times during the winter season, if not more. Keep an eye out for build-up and check the manufacturer’s manual for cleaning and filter change instructions.

Install a programmable thermostat. There’s still time to do something about high heating bills. These gadgets are inexpensive (many cost under $100) and will often pay for themselves within a year.

Check indoor air quality. We spend a lot of time indoors this season, usually without open windows or doors to provide fresh air. If you’ve been feeling under the weather, perfumes, household products, mould and other chemical or biological pollutants could be to blame. An air quality test isn’t usually necessary — you can often spot and deal with the sources yourself. (Visit The Lung Association’s section on Pollution and Air Quality for more advice.)

Perform a radon test. You can’t see or smell this naturally-occurring gas, but it can seep into your home through the soil and increase your risk for lung cancer. Health Canada notes that radon in homes isn’t a widespread problem in Canada, but experts recommend testing your home if you’re concerned. At-home test kits cost around $50, or you can hire a professional. (For more information, visit The Lung Association’s Radon webpage.)

Plug the leaks. The chillier and windier the day, the more the cold will want to move indoors. Now’s the time to “feel” the leaks and drafts that are affecting your home energy costs. If you can’t do something about them now — like weather-strip the windows or put up plastic sheeting — then take notes on what repairs you’ll need to do in the spring.

Watch for unwanted water. While you’re playing home detective, look for frost, ice or condensation — on your windows, in your attic and around vents and fixtures. It could signal air leaks, and warn you of mould or damage that could build up over the months. Any drips or water coming in from outside could become a problem when the spring thaw and rains hit.

Hunt for safety hazards. Loose rugs, squeaky steps, clutter and untamed cords can lead to household accidents. Look for hazards inside and outside your home and do something about them, like securing rugs and keeping your entranceways clear of boots. (For more tips, see Simple ways to make your home safer.)

Ditch the toxic trash. Got some new electronic gadgets for Christmas, or want to stop living alongside toxic trash? Plan a trip to your local hazardous waste facility to get rid of old electronics, old paint cans, cleaning products, expired medications and batteries. (See Get rid of your toxic garbage — safely for more tips.)

De-clutter a room. Free up some space and even earn a little cash for your RRSP or TFSA. Designate an area to tackle, whether it’s an entire room, a closet or even a bin, and clear out items you aren’t using. (Need some help? See Pitch, pile or file? for de-cluttering tips, and Ten ways to sell your stuff to earn some cash with your cast-offs.)

Lighten up. The right lighting can not only make your home safer, it can add some ambiance too. When the sun sets, look for areas that are poorly lit (especially high-traffic areas and around stairs) and consider installing motion-sensor and emergency lights (a simple night light will also do the trick).

Need a little boost? Consider daylight bulbs or lights that provide a more natural spectrum of light than fluorescent or incandescent bulbs. These bulbs can be pricey, but they can provide better lighting for your favourite hobbies.

Change or add one accessory. A new shower curtain can do wonders for a bathroom, and a well-placed mirror can brighten up a room — but neither requires a major investment of cash. Many home and décor items are on sale this season, so keep an eye on the discounts. (See Add romance to your home for more suggestions.)

If you’re missing Christmas lights, consider a lighting decoration for the window or a dark corner. Look for stars and snowflakes that have a wintery (rather than Christmas) feel, and you can still use them next holiday season.

Tackle a sewing project. It’s the wrong season for a coat of paint, but you can freshen up your décor with a splash of colour. Hit the fabric and craft sales and pick up some material to make an easy project — like cushion covers or a table runner. Watch for printed panels to make a quick wall hanging, or inexpensive fabrics to make a table cloth or new curtains.

Organize the essential stuff. Last — but certainly not least — make it a point to organize your home-related paperwork and bills. Are your receipts and warranties easy to find? Could someone step in and pay your bills if you were indisposed? Do you know — and are you happy with — your level of insurance coverage? Do you have a method for tracking household expenses? Are you paying too much?

Even if you can’t tackle major projects that require ventilation, winter doesn’t have to mean a loss of momentum when it comes to maintaining and updating your home. Make any necessary repairs, update with an accessory or simply make your home a nicer place in which to spend time.

– The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s Home Maintenance Schedule includes a checklist for winter.
– Listen to Consumer Reports’ podcast on House Resolutions.

Photo ©iStockphoto.com/ Wendell Franks

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