Small home repair jobs with a big payoff

  @Money August 13, 2013: 5:07 PM ET
home repairs

You don't need a home workshop -- or even a toolbox -- to do these quick and easy repairs.

(Money Magazine)

Maintaining a home is like eating a healthy diet. Everyone knows there's a whole list of things that should be done, but nobody really wants to spend the weekend painting the guest room, snaking out a slow sink drain, or cleaning out the gutters.

Still, just as some delicious, low-carb dinners are easy to prepare, not all maintenance tasks are onerous either. Some of the smartest upkeep projects you can do require less time than it takes to grill a salmon steak.

Even if you're lucky enough to have a great handyman's number programmed into your smartphone, these jobs are just too quick and effortless to hire out. Says Gino Goe, a property manager in Santa Barbara: "The most meticulous weekend warriors don't think to do these things, yet anyone can knock them out in minutes for virtually no cost, even if you don't have a basement workshop -- or own a flannel shirt."

And they'll make your house more comfortable, efficient, and beautiful.

Increase efficiency

Whether your mechanical equipment is state of the art or aging and inefficient, you can reduce your energy costs by ensuring that it's operating at peak effectiveness.

Start by taking a leaf blower to your air conditioner's condenser (the box sitting outside) or the outfacing end of your window units to remove the muck and debris within, recommends Biddeford, Maine, plumber Jim Godbout. That move alone could knock 10% to 15% off your cooling costs, he says.

Also, slide your clothes dryer forward, pull off the vent hose, and vacuum out the built-up lint (get directions at ThisOldHouse.com). That can cut the laundry-related portion of your electric or gas bill by as much as 25% to 30%, estimates Godbout, the former president of the Maine Plumbing and Heating Contractors Association.

How to negotiate a great bargain

And if your heating system uses radiators, buy a "key" for a few cents from your favorite hardware retailer and use it to bleed the air out of the system (see FamilyHandyman.com for a step-by-step guide). That could slash next winter's heating bills by as much as 20%, Godbout says.

Make things last

A few simple moves can also prolong the life of costly-to-repair elements of your house. Windowsills are extremely prone to rot, for instance, so peek out each window to check for any cracks in the sill paint, says Castle Rock, Colo., contractor Dean Bennett.

Use a few dollar's worth of exterior caulk to seal any fissures that you find and keep rainwater out. If the paint damage is extensive, the problem has unfortunately moved beyond a quick fix: Hire a pro to scrape and repaint them or do the job yourself.

Similarly, pruning back shrubs to leave a foot of air space around your building -- checking your lawn irrigation system to ensure that the spray isn't hitting the house or garage -- will help delay your next $6,000 to $10,000 paint job.

Related: Nail your home renovation budget

To keep your garage door tracks, casement window gearboxes, and balky doorknobs working smoothly -- and without annoying creaks and groans -- simply spray them with WD-40. "It not only lubricates moving parts but also cleans them and makes them moisture-resistant," says Fran Carito, a handyman in Watertown, Mass.

Use it or lose it

Like muscles and gray matter, your home's mechanical equipment will age a lot more gracefully if you put it through its paces now and then.

"If you tend not to use your garbage disposal, for example, running it occasionally will help prevent it from freezing up when a guest or caterer -- or homebuyer -- tries to turn it on someday," says Carito.

Do the same with forgotten Jacuzzi pumps, the plumbing fixtures in a rarely used attic bathroom, and the emergency shutoffs for your water and electrical supply lines. Find the valves under your sinks, behind your showers, and on the mains in your basement, and gently turn them closed and then open them again to help ensure they will work when you really need them someday. (One caveat: If your plumbing is more than 50 years old, don't touch the valves. Hire a plumber to check and replace them, if needed; likely cost: about $100 to $200 apiece.)

Related: Get more out of your closet space

To "exercise" your circuit breakers, flip each one into the off position and then back on again. You'll have to reset all your digital clocks, but this breaks up any corrosion on the contacts, which could otherwise prevent the safety device from doing its essential job: shutting off the power if there's ever a dangerous overload on the wiring.

Maximize beauty and comfort

The persistent problems that can make a home feel outdated and unkempt needn't be such a struggle. Take, for example, that relentless black mildew that forms on your shower grout.

"The bathroom vent fan isn't powerful enough to prevent it," says Jeff May, an indoor air quality professional in Tyngsborough, Mass. "The only way to really dry things out is to direct an oscillating fan into the open shower after the morning rush to evaporate all of the moisture."

You can also increase fading shower pressure by removing the showerhead (gently turn it counterclockwise like a screw, using a Crescent wrench if necessary), then soaking it in white vinegar, which breaks up mineral buildup that clogs the holes over time, turning your once invigorating shower into a trickle.

And here's a restaurant secret that will brighten your tarnished stainless-steel sink: Barkeeper's Friend ($5 at Amazon), a specialty nonbleach cleaner, will remove water marks and stains so the sink looks new again. As with all the best maintenance jobs, no elbow grease is required. To top of page

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