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When temperatures drop, there’s nothing cozier than curling up inside with hot cocoa. Plus, between the holidays and winter sports, who has the energy to break out the toolbox and check off that household to-do list?
Well, give it a look, because the winter months turn out to be ideal for certain home improvement and maintenance projects—and if you’re planning for a spring or summer home sale, it’s never too early to get started with your home prep.
According to HomeLight’s Top Agent Insights Survey for Q3 2019, 91% of agents believe builders and contractors are busiest in spring and summer, while less than 8% say these professionals are busiest in the winter.
Plus, 67% of top agents say that building materials and labor for home renovations are the cheapest between October and March. All of this adds up to doing certain projects during the “offseason” because they genuinely cost less. Other upgrades are just a smart way to pass the time while you’re stuck indoors.
“You spend about 40% more time in the house in the winter than you do in the summer. So you might as well use it,” said Nick Pontarelli, a top-selling Chicago real estate agent, having sold over 70% more properties than the average agent in the area.
Here are our picks for the best winter home improvement projects that take advantage of potential savings and provide that fresh feeling buyers seek in a home on the market once spring and summer arrive.
Winter home maintenance: health, safety, and savings
1. Seal up cracks around the house
Think of your home’s outer walls, windows, doors, vents, and other openings as an envelope, advises the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Air seeps in and out of this envelope constantly. Sealing leaks and adding insulation can save homeowners an average of 15 percent on heating and cooling costs, or an average of 11% on total energy costs.
Sealing leaks alone around windows and doors, through the foundation, and in the attic can reduce this airflow by about 25%.
Saving on energy bills keeps more cash in your pocket and appeals to eco-friendly buyers. Millennials, or those born between 1980 and 1998, now comprise about 37% of home buyers, and their preference for green home features has impacted the construction industry. Companies who complete green-certified building with over 60% of their business was predicted to top 37% percent worldwide in 2018.
A home energy auditor can examine your home’s energy use room-by-room to see how much gas and electricity your house uses and identify ways to make it more efficient, starting by tackling leaks. The average cost of such an audit is $403, or about 8 cents to 50 cents per square foot, according to Home Advisor.
But you can do your own mini audit starting with these videos and tips from the U.S. Department of Energy and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory at the University of California.
Beyond feeling a draft, an easy way to see if your home has air leaks is to turn on the lights, step outside after dusk, and look for any gaps around windows and doors, Pontarelli said.
His clients have sealed such cracks with insulating spray foam, such as Loctite Tite Foam Window Door ($7.68), which seals out drafts and moisture, cures to a bright white color, and is less messy than caulk.
2. Insulate the attic, ducts, and foundation
If you live in a colder climate, you may have done this already, but if your attic isn’t insulated, you’re guaranteed to lose air and heat.
The U.S. Department of Energy recommends air sealing any areas of your home that need it before tackling insulation. An insulation contractor can determine how much and what type of insulating material your home needs, but in general, the higher the “R-value,” or thermal resistance, the more effective the insulation is. If your attic has an equivalent of R-30, your home could likely benefit by adding more.
Check out this diagram from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, for examples of where to insulate your home, from the attic to ducts and the foundation.
3. Maintain your heating system
Your heating system definitely deserves some TLC during the winter. Keep an eye on the water levels in your boiler to make sure they don’t fall too low, and check and change the heating system filters.
Most HVAC and furnace filters need to be changed at least every three months, according to the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors. Change them as often as once a month if:
- You have pets
- Someone in your household has allergies or a respiratory condition
- You smoke
- You live in a windy area
- You occasionally use a fireplace
- You have a large family (meaning more household dirt and dust)
- You run your HVAC six months a year to year-round
4. Change batteries in the smoke detector
If your smoke alarms use AA or 9-volt batteries, definitely change the batteries during the fall or winter. In fact, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), local fire departments, and even Energizer try to get people into the habit of keeping smoke alarms operational through their “change your clock, change your batteries” campaign. NFPA statistics show that 71% of smoke alarms that failed to operate had missing, disconnected, or dead batteries.
If you have a smoke alarm that has a built-in 10-year lithium-powered battery, check the date on the back and replace the entire alarm if that time has elapsed.
Projects that are cheaper in the winter
5. Give rooms, paneling, or cabinetry a fresh coat of paint
Paint is an inexpensive update for many homeowners. “Many things can be painted. Old tile can be painted. Paneling can be painted. Older-style cabinets … Just those little things can really make a difference,” Pontarelli said.
Manufacturers offer the best deals on paint during the late fall and winter. Winter also is when professional painters have fewer clients, which translates to lower prices, says Xpert Custom Painting of Cincinnati, Ohio. What’s more, there’s less moisture and humidity in the air during the winter, which means paint bonds to surfaces better and dries faster.
There’s no need to open all the windows, either. With low-VOC paints, using a fan to ventilate the room is fine. “It doesn’t need outside air; it just needs circulation,” Pontarelli said.
6. Get your lawn ready for spring
Prepping your lawn in the late fall or early winter ensures a lush yard in the spring, according to the lawn care professionals of Selmer Lawn Care of Selmer, Tennessee, who have been in business for roughly 13 years. Bermuda and bluegrass are two cool season grasses that should be fertilized before the first freeze, for instance.
Mowing the lawn before the first freeze also prevents the grass from growing too tall in winter, offering mice and other burrowing animals a warm hideout. You’ll also want to pick up any stray items—logs, toys, and even lawn furniture—before snowfall because these can create dead spots in the grass come spring.
Most landscapers in the Chicago area switch to snow removal during the winter months, so if there’s no snow on the ground, they’re available at a much cheaper cost during this season for any number of lawn care projects, Pontarelli added.
“I’ve seen landscapers out doing work in the middle of January. If the sun’s out, the temperature really doesn’t matter,” he said. “Generally, they’ll fight against each other to get the work.”
7. Remove dying trees
If you have a troublesome tree on your property, you could save money by removing it in the winter, particularly in February and March, says Urban Forest Pro of Portland, Oregon, whose arborists are certified by the International Society of Arboriculture. That’s because tree companies become busy in the late spring and summer, when winds and stormy weather necessitate emergency tree removal.
The colder ground also makes tree removal advantageous during the winter. Frozen ground can keep nearby vegetation in place, making the removal less disruptive to the surroundings (though you may need to wait until the ground thaws to complete the stump removal).
Obtain multiple bids for a tree removal company, and watch out for any estimates that are extremely low, adds Precision Landscape Tree of Little Canada, Minnesota, which has been in business for 30 years. Too low of a bid could mean the company might be skimping on proper licensing, insurance, or equipment.
Value-adding updates to do while you’re indoors
8. Paint the garage floor
A garage floor free of oil spots, grease, and rust stains looks impressive. Lowe’s has a detailed guide for removing garage floor stains, as well as sealing and painting the floor to prevent future staining, minimize concrete dust, and make sweeping a snap.
“It’s one less project you have to do in spring to get your house ready to sell,” Pontarelli said.
To paint, you’ll need to choose a water-based floor epoxy or a solvent-thinned epoxy created especially for garage floors. Try Dyco Tuff Coat Tintable Deep Base Solid Concrete Stain ($27.98), which combines stain and sealant in one product and has a low-sheen protective finish.
9. Switch to LED light bulbs
Residential LED light bulbs use at least 75% less energy and last 25 times longer than incandescent lighting, according to the Department of Energy, boosting your home’s energy-efficient appeal.
Plus, the quality of LED lighting makes a home look much cleaner, and it shows much better in person, Pontarelli said.
One caveat to LED lighting is that, like other artificial lighting, it can skew the colors of your home yellow or blue in professional real estate photos, says Kristie Barnett, a home staging educator, design and paint color expert, and author of Psychological Staging: The Home Staging Secrets of the Decorologist. Opt for natural lighting in the daytime for photographs.
10. Replace door and cabinet hardware
Replacing locksets, door handles, and cabinetry hardware is another update that you can do during the winter. You can save money by purchasing in bulk from Amazon.com, Pontarelli said.
“It’s a nice indoor project you can do a little bit at a time,” he said. “It’s relatively inexpensive, and it really makes a big difference for a sparkling the place up.”
Amazon.com has “Best of the Best” guides for such hardware, such as this Franklin Brass Kitchen or Furniture Cabinet Hardware 4-inch Drawer Handle in satin nickel ($20.99 for a pack of 10).
In taking on any of these projects, you might not hibernate as much as you’d like. But your to-do list before listing your home in the warmer months will be shorter, which might just put a spring in your step.