Before too many autumn leaves have fallen and winter’s chill arrives, it’s time to tend to those little annoyances that’ve been dogging you all summer and will make you even crazier once you’re indoors for the duration. Take a weekend now to tackle the following five easy fixes, and you’ll enjoy comfort, peace of mind and lower energy bills all winter long.
1. Stop that toilet from leaking and running. While toilets themselves never wear out, that’s not true of their moving parts. In fact, one leaky toilet can waste 78,000 gallons of water in one year -- enough to fill a backyard swimming pool! Do a leak check by opening the tank and pouring a little food coloring inside. Then head back and peek into the bowl 20 minutes later -- if the dye shows up, you probably need a new flush valve, a part that costs just a few dollars and is easy to install yourself. And if your toilet seems to run all the time and never fill up, the fill valve may need replacement, another easy home improvement repair.
2. Fix those nail pops. While the prospect of nails backing out of your walls might seem a bit frightening, nail “pops,” as they’re called, are a common and typically harmless cosmetic flaw caused by expansion and contraction of bulging materials. An easy way to fix nail pops is by either removing the popping drywall nail or driving a new nail in on top of the existing one. Repair cracks by applying fiberglass wall tape followed by a few topcoats of spackle applied and smoothed with progressively wider spackle knives.
3. Silence a squeaky floor. While sometimes useful as a low-tech alarm system to signal that your teenager has arrived home past curfew, squeaky floors are an annoyance you don’t have to live with. Floors squeak because the floorboards are loose, and the sound you hear is made by the friction of those boards rubbing together or the nails used to attach them being pulled in and out of the floor joists or subfloor. Either way, the solution is the same: the floor needs to be re-secured to the structure of your home. If the squeak happens to be coming from underneath a carpeted area, remove the carpet and re-attach the subfloor to the floor joists with case-hardened screws. A short-term fix that doesn’t require removal of the carpet is to use a stud finder to locate the floor joist in the area of the squeak and then re-nail right through the carpet using a hot-dipped galvanized finish nail (the edges are rough and bumpy), driving it in at an angle to prevent future loosening and accompanying it with a few other adjacent nails. Finish by grabbing the carpet by the nap or pile, and pull it up until the head of the finish nail passes through it.
4. Add attic insulation. All of that wonderful winter warmth your heating system generates will be sent right through the roof without proper attic insulation. Take the opportunity to make a home improvement addition that’ll lead to conservation throughout the heating season. When correctly installed, every type of insulation contributes to comfort and energy savings. Insulation performance is rated in R-value, the ability to resist heat flow; the higher the R-value, the stronger the insulating power. R-value requirements vary by home and climate, so check out the EnergyStar Insulation Recommendations for more details.
5. Install a setback thermostat. Go the next step in both climate and energy cost control by adding a setback thermostat to your heating and cooling system. Today’s models are smarter than ever and very easy to use, with large backlit screens and one-button programming that help you maximize your system for comfort on work days, weekends, vacations, and when holiday guests start to overstay their welcome. For more efficiency and lower heating and cooling bills, make the most of this feature by setting your thermostat to kick back by a maximum of 10 degrees overnight, warm the house again about an hour before you wake, and then dial temperatures down while you’re away from the house during the day.