Everything You Need to Know About Storm Windows

All across the US, it’s starting to get cold for real. And not thin-crust-of-frost-on-your-car-windshield cold. We’re talking serious, bone chilling frigidity. But if your home’s windows are starting to fail, you’ll be hard pressed to find comfort in the warmth of the indoors. But modern replacement windows can cost thousands of dollars when all is said and done, which just may not be in the budget, especially this time of year.

Storm windows offer a middle ground between freezing all winter long and purchasing brand new windows. A sort of “window for your windows,” storm windows can provide protection, better energy efficiency and improved comfort for older windows—at a fraction of the cost of replacements. Here’s what you need to know about them.

snowy home in the woods

What Are Storm Windows Anyhow?

The term “storm windows” actually covers a broad range of window coverings—from reusable low emissivity glass to temporary plastic films. But all of these options have the same basic goals: protecting your home from bad weather and improving the insulation of your existing windows.

Interior Vs. Exterior Windows

One of the biggest decisions you’ll need to make when you install your storm windows is whether you need interior or exterior storm windows. The difference between them is fairly self-explanatory: one is hung on the outside of your home, while the other sits inside. Most homeowners prefer interior windows to exterior—they’re easier to put on and remove. And they sit just inside the primary window, so they’re typically a little bit more energy efficient, as well. However, if you’re looking to protect your home from extreme weather, you may find that exterior is the way to go, since these units are often much sturdier than interior storm windows. Keep in mind that exterior storm windows are a lot more expensive, however. It may be worth your time to compare the costs to the price of new windows at this point.

What Types of Windows Are There?

Just like regular windows, storm windows consist of an outer frame that holds a sheet of insulating material. Frames may be made out of:

  • Vinyl
  • Aluminum
  • Wood

There are benefits—and drawbacks—to each material. Wood, for example, offers better insulation, but may warp over time. Aluminum is extremely durable, but won’t do a lot for your home’s insulation. Vinyl is fairly sturdy and more insulating than aluminum, but may fade or otherwise deteriorate in appearance after a while. Essentially, it all comes down to what you consider important in a window.

Likewise, storm window panes can be made out of plastic or glass. Glass, as you’d guess, is much more durable, but is also heavy and difficult to manage. Glass offers better visibility, but it’s fragile, too, meaning it can shatter in extreme weather. Again, it’s about your situation and what’s best for your home.

What Other Special Features Do They Have?

Storm window manufacturers produce specialized units that can be used to protect against a number of hazards. These inc:

  • Polycarbonate plastic or laminated glass. Both of these are resist shattering, making them a good option for security or for extra protection and during extreme weather.
  • Energy efficient coatings. Low-emissivity glass can improve your home’s energy profile and are often less expensive than new windows with the same energy ratings.

Other Things to Look For

To get your money’s worth, you’ll also want to make sure you windows have the following features:

  • Multiple positioning stops. This way you can control the amount of air you let into your home.
  • Quality weatherstripping. Weatherstripping around the windows reduces heat loss, which can lower your energy bills.
  • Predrilled holes. These make installation easier and protect the glass during the process.
  • Removable half-pane glass and half-screens. These are significantly easier to clean than non-removable counterparts.

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8 Easy Eyesore Disguises for a Picture Perfect Home

No matter how much you love your house, there are probably one or two blemishes on your otherwise impeccable decor: ugly spots like tangled cords, trash bins and cat boxes and the like. While you can exactly live without them, you can hide unsightly devices, appliances and other areas, especially if you use one of the clever disguises described below!

beautiful, blemish-free home

Hang Cafe Curtains to Hide a Window AC Unit

Your window unit may feel like a godsend on a hot day. But with its big, boxy frame, it’s certainly not going to win any design awards any time soon. We’ve got the perfect solution: hang a short, quaint cafe curtain over the window. Curtains made with sheer material won’t block the cool air, so you’ll get maximum chill with minimal cringe. Learn how to DIY a set here.

Install a Drawer Pullout for Your Trash and Recycling Bins

Ugh, trash bins. No matter how careful you are with your garbage, they’re not exactly what you want to see when you walk in the kitchen. Give your eyes a break with one of these pull-out trash cans. They fit right in the cabinet for easy refuse concealment.

Create a Popcorn Ceiling Disguise

One thing’s for sure: whoever decided that popcorn-textured ceilings looked good was definitely not thinking too far into future. This ubiquitous surface definitely had its heyday back in the 50s, but now it’s pretty much synonymous with outdated decor. Luckily, you’re not stuck with a ceiling you hate. You can remove or cover the surfaces for a whole new take on decor. Before you do anything, though, have the walls tested for asbestos—older popcorn ceilings were often made with this toxic substance. Once you get a clean bill of health, you can either have the ceiling scraped and resurfaced, or cover it with stylish wood planks or new drywall!

DIY a Charging Station in a Desk Drawer

Empty desk drawer or discrete charging station? Why not both! This handy hidey-hole keeps your devices powered without the clutter of fifteen different cords. And you can build one in any existing drawer—this helpful tutorial teaches you how!

Mask Unsightly Concrete Foundation with a Stone Veneer

No matter how great the outside of your home looks, dingy, grubby concrete foundation will cast a serious pallor on the whole motif. Concrete is a lightning rod for water stains, rust, moss and dirt, and often comes in a dull gray color, giving homes a rough, unfinished look. Instead, we love the idea of building a more attractive stone covering around your home’s exterior. Stone panels are easy to install by yourself and will provide an elegant finish from top to bottom!

Make a Custom Cover to Camouflage Cords and Routers

As much as we appreciate the marvels of modern technology, routers, cords and other internet paraphernalia are definitely built with efficiency in mind, not design. Thankfully, there are some clever ways to hide routers from sight, however. Turn them into a pleasing stack of books or pop them into a customized decorative box for a much more polished living room!

Build a Crafty Litter Box Cabinet from Scratch

We wouldn’t trade our cats for anything, but their litter? Well, that we could do without. If you’re tired of unsightly litter boxes in your bathroom, try this convenient kitty litter cabinet project. The tutorial teaches you how to build a handmade box from MDF board and glue, which you can then use to give the cat some privacy for his or her business. It even masks some of the odor, as well, a feature that’s more than welcome in any cat-dominated household.

Design a Discrete Storage Box to Hide Just About Anything You Want!

Whatever needs hiding, this box has got your back! It’s essentially the same concept as the router box above, except it stands upright so no one will have any idea that you have anything to hide. And that means you can cover up any number of household eyesores. And that’s just about as perfect as home decor is going to get!

Turkey Day Scramble: How to Clean Up Fast Before the Big Day

This is it: your last weekend to clean up before boatloads of relatives begin squeezing themselves into your kitchen, setting platters on every available inch of countertop and using enough toilet paper to cover a small army.

In essence, you’re going to need to clean house before the horde descends. After all, you have enough to worry about without Aunt Edna’s cracks about your housekeeping techniques. Here’s what you need to do to get your home in hosting shape—pronto.

Thanksgiving place setting

Speed Clean the Spare Bedroom

Is your spare bedroom more of a spare junk room? Then it’s going to need a cleanup, stat. Unfortunately, there’s no better way to do this than to put on your sweats and get down to it. But a little music will help you get into the groove—and of course, the looming pressure of Thanksgiving, which is drawing nearer every minute! To get yourself going, start with the stuff you know you’re going to toss and get rid of it. Be ruthless. It’s the only way you’ll make it through Thanksgiving with a few minutes to yourself.

Toss Anything You Don’t Need in the Fridge

It’s time for your refrigerator to go on a serious diet—otherwise, you’ll never be able to find a spot for all those leftovers! This is any everything-must-go situation, so seriously, unless it’s going in your belly next week, it needs to get gone pronto. Afterwards, give the shelves a quick wipe with a rag dunked in a mixture of vinegar and water. Make sure to swipe the bottoms of any condiment bottles and jars before replacing them as well.

Scrub the Guest Bathroom

We get that you’re on a tight schedule here—but if there’s anywhere you can afford to take your time, it’s in the restrooms. Besides the normal sweeping and scrubbing, try wiping counters and tiles with a microfiber cloth to pick up extra germs and dirt. For an extra-clean toilet, use damp pumice stone or scouring stick to remove scale and soap scum from the sides. And use cleaners to your advantage: spray them and let them sit for a few minutes before you start sponging off surfaces. It will save time scrubbing.

Wrangle the Coat Closet

Unless you’re a “lay coats on the bed” kind of household, you’re going to need some room in your shared closet space. This probably means tossing some junk you’ve been keeping in there for too long. But if you’re anything like we are, the process of deciding what stays and what goes can take a while—too long when you’re pressed for time. Instead, get rid of whatever you can now: outerwear the kids have outgrown, that broken vacuum cleaner. Cart everything else up to the attic or garage so you can deal with it later.

Quick Clean the Living Room

In short order, a lot of people are going to be hanging out in your living room, which means it’s got to be spic and span. Take all the clutter and throw it into a laundry basket for sorting at a later point (probably the next time you need to do the laundry). Use a microfiber cloth and dry broom to dust and sweep the floors with minimal effort, and then vacuum the couch and fluff the pillows. Make sure you have enough coasters to keep your furniture protected, too! Now, if only you could find a way to speed-roast a turkey!

Project Thanksgiving: 6 Tips to Get Yourself Ready for Turkey Day Guests

Can you believe Thanksgiving is already just around the corner? Pretty soon your home will be infiltrated with guests, relatives and that one aunt who always has something to say about how you keep house!

And there’s plenty to do before then. Besides food shopping and turning out dinner for 15, you’ll have to make sure the house is in great shape—and maybe even clean enough to give Aunt Ruth a reason to bite her tongue! Here’s what you can do now for a peaceful Thanksgiving day.

Thanksgiving feast

Turn Down the Guestroom Bed

If you have guests staying in the spare bedroom, you’ll want to make sure they’ll have everything they need for a comfortable visit. Wash bedding, towels and washcloths, remaking the bed when you’re finished. Spritz the sheets with linen spray and stock the guest bathroom with soap, toilet paper, toothpaste and any other necessities you think your visitors might want.

Sharpen Kitchen Knives

Your cutlery is going to be seeing a lot of use soon, and dull blades can be dangerous—especially when cutting through tough vegetables like sweet potatoes. Sharpen your knives using a whetstone, diamond stone or honing rod for a smooth, safer cut.

Clean Silverware and Plates

If you’re using a special set of dishes for the evening, make sure to wash them thoroughly before the big day. If you have silver cutlery, give them a good shine beforehand with baking soda and aluminum foil. It sounds weird, but it really works!

Childproof the House

There’s nothing like the sound of children’s laughter for the holidays, which is why, if you have little ones coming over, you’ll want to do everything to make your home safe and comfortable for guests of all ages. Buy gates to keep kids off stairs and plug covers to keep little hands from wandering where they shouldn’t.

Clean out the Coat Closet

The hallway coat closet can get jammed with day-to-day storage like vacuum cleaners, extra coats and the like. But you’re going to need that space when guests come, so move it to the garage or a bedroom temporarily. Or purchase a freestanding coat rack if you need a little extra room.

Get Your Drains in Check

Animal fat, potato peels and more can easily clog your garbage disposal and make for an unhappy cleanup after the evening meal. So if your sink is already draining a little slow, it may not be a bad idea to schedule a plumber to come snake it out. Same thing for your bathroom sinks and toilets too. After all, the holidays are stressful enough! No need to leave anything up to chance!

Get Winter-Ready in 7 Easy Steps

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow. Whoever wrote those lyrics obviously wasn’t a homeowner! Winter snows may be picturesque, but they can do a number on your roof, sprinklers, and heating bills—at least if you’re not prepared, that is! Luckily, you aren’t powerless in the face of nature. These seven steps will get you ready for the snowy days ahead—no matter how frightful the weather gets!

snowy house

Inspect Your Roof

Roof leaks are unfortunate in any kind of weather, but in winter ice and snow, homes are at a particularly high risk for water damage. That’s why it will pay now to inspect your roof for missing, cracked or warped shingles and rusted flashing. Or just hire one of the pros to have a look. Roofers can safely check over your roof—and know how to spot the telltale signs of a problem before it begins.

Prep Your Sprinkler System

Water sitting in your sprinklers is a recipe for disaster—dealing with a burst pipe is no one’s idea of a good time. To prepare your irrigation system for the weather ahead, disconnect your hoses from faucets to let the water there drain out. Then drain and wind the hoses for winter storage. Next, hit up the sprinklers. Shut off the water at the main valve and turn off the automatic controller. Remove the drain valves to get rid of an excess water. Then disconnect the sprinkler heads and shake out any remaining water. Put them back on and let the weather do its worst!

Clean and Repair Your Gutters

Late fall is the perfect time to get your gutters cleaned and working in tip-top order, for several reasons: they’re likely brimming with leaves and debris this time of year and you’re going to need your drainage system clear and working when winter precipitation heads your way. Inspect your system to ensure that all gutters and downspouts are connected, without any apparent damage. Then hop on a ladder and use one of these quick techniques to get rid of collected leaves and sludge fast.

Tune Up Your Heating System

Few things are worse than waking up on a cold day to find out your heater’s stopped working. Prevent this kind of chilly surprise by giving your heating system a tune up now, before the worst of the cold weather hits. First off, change your furnace filters—it can make a big difference on your unit performance. Next, hire an HVAC professional to check your system levels, electrical connections and generally ensure that no looming issues are right around the corner. Worry-free heating? How cozy does that sound!

Seal Around Windows and Doors

Even a very small crack in window and door seals can have a big impact on your home’s energy bills—and your overall comfort, too! If you find any gaps large enough to fit your fingernail in, you might just need to re-caulk and reseal. Luckily, this is easy to do. Scrape out the existing caulk and reseal it with a bead of smoothed-down silicone sealant. For extra comfort, apply foam tape around the moving parts of all windows and doors, and add a sweep to your door for maximum comfort. Voilà! Instant improvement!

Trim Trees and Bushes

Tree branches loaded with snow and ice are at risk of falling—and when your home is in their path, it can spell trouble for your roof. Take care to trim tree branches and bushes now, after the growing season has ended. Hire an arborist or tree trimming service to do the high-up work, or to handle anything around power lines. You just might skirt disaster!

Stock Up on Winter Supplies

Don’t siege the store with the rest of the pre-storm shoppers for winter supplies like shovels, salt, or wood for the stove. Get these items ahead of time and save yourself the headache when storm predictions hit your area. With your supply cabinet stocked up, you’ll be able to handle anything the winter dishes out. Let it snow, indeed!

3 Projects to Modernize Your Historical Home

Historical homes are a whole different animal when it comes to home maintenance. On one hand, if your older home has been properly cared for, many antique materials and fixtures may last much longer than those in modern homes. On the other hand, they may be in desperate need of repair, replacement or updating in order to meet modern standards of living. Here are three areas that will bring your older home up-to-date fast.

Attic Insulation and Air Sealing

Older homes are definitely prone to phantom drafts. Whereas many homes today contain tight seals, many historical homes do not. In some cases, this was purposeful: the gaps allowed for better ventilation. But as often as not, it was because building and insulation technology just wasn’t as advanced then as it is today.

One of the best things you can do to improve the energy efficiency of your older home is to inspect the insulation and floor sealing of your attic. Attics should ideally have blown-in fiberglass insulation or cut batts between the floor joists. The boards below should be sealed to keep heating and cooling from leaking into unconditioned attics.

Some aging homes may even have older insulation materials, like slag mineral wools or cellulose—as known as newspaper. Or they may contain harmful insulation materials, such as asbestos and urea-formaldehyde. Of particular concern are homes with Zonolite vermiculite insulation [LINK TO: https://www.thespruce.com/how-to-identify-dangerous-asbestos-insulation-4119906] installed in attic floors. This brand of vermiculite insulation was sometimes contaminated with asbestos, making it a health hazard. Zonolite can often be identified by the naked eye—it lies flat, unlike mineral, cellulose or fiberglass loose fill insulation. It also has a distinct color—gray-brown or silver-gold—which makes it easy to identify.

If you’re not certain, you can purchase a DIY asbestos testing kit or have a professional tester out to visit. Professionals can also give you advice on asbestos removal, which is helpful, since asbestos in the wall cavities may be difficult or impossible to remove.

If your attic has no insulation at all, there’s no time like the present! Installation typically costs around $1,500 for a standard attic space, but it’s well worth it. In fact, it’s one of the most effective ways to improve your home’s energy efficiency—it may save you as much as $600 a year on your energy bills. Not bad for a little insulation!

old stone house

Chimney Updates

An antique fireplace and chimney is a thing of beauty. These splendid masonry works exemplify everything you want in a historical home: quality craftsmanship, unique decorative elements and coziness galore! But for all that atmosphere, they often lack some of the construction that makes modern fireplaces safer and more energy efficient.

At the most basic level, it may have been a while since your chimney was swept and the structure inspected. Gaps and cracks in the masonry and flashing can contribute to drafts, making it pretty darn uncomfortable in your home. A professional chimney sweeping and inspection can address these kinds of potential issues, and create a plan for repairing and restoring your chimney.

Frequently, historical chimneys lack liners and dampers. They may also smoke when you use them. The mortar around the chimney may be cracked or the flashing rusted. In worst case scenarios, this can make the fireplace quite dangerous to use—cracks in the mortar can leak deadly carbon monoxide into the living room.

Luckily, many of these repairs can be made without a total chimney replacement—allowing you to keep the feel and ambiance of the original chimney. For particularly damaged chimneys, restoration professionals are often able to make them usable again with a technique called a “cast in place liner.” This involves pouring and setting a cement chimney flue without disturbing the original brick. Then your expert can make external repairs to the masonry and flashing without too much fuss at all. Pretty soon, you’ll be gathered round a crackling fire, reading the paper and warming your toes—just like in the golden days!

old log cabin

Restore Your Windows

Most windows in older homes are made from wood frames, which can warp over time if not treated. That, in turn, creates gaps and cracks that contribute to air infiltration and heat loss—and a high heating bill to go along with it!

Meanwhile, the glass in your windows may not be all that insulating, as well. Older windows were often single-pane affairs. Modern dual pane windows are typically insulated with gas that protects your interiors and keeps out drafts and moisture.

But windows contribute vastly to the original character of your home, so you don’t necessarily want to go pulling them out willy nilly. Instead, consult with a restoration professional who can replace warped or rotting frames and improve the glass performance. That may mean installing new insulated panes in the frames. Or it may mean you install storm windows with Low-E glass over the existing windows—ones that complement your home’s historical flair, naturally!

Maintaining a historical home may take a little bit more effort—but you’re more than up to the challenge. After all, you’re basically preserving history here!

6 Household Items You Should Never Throw Away

There’s nothing like cleaning your garage or that “junk” room in your house. Suddenly you have enough space to park your car again, and you can finally see the bed in the spare bedroom!

But as you clean out garages, junk drawers or utility rooms, you’re bound to come across some items that shouldn’t go right in the garbage bin. Some things, like used electronics, can be recycled and reclaimed; whereas other stuff—half-empty cans of paint, old gasoline and many others—are more properly disposed of in other locations. Here’s what to pitch, what to recycle—and how to do it, so you can get busy rolling around on that newly cleaned bed!

old paint cans

Batteries

Batteries are not all made equal when it comes to your trash. Some may be safe for curbside pickup, but many are not. Here’s what you need to know to make sure you’re putting yours in the right place.

  • Dry cell batteries

    Older dry cell batteries—your standard AAAs, AAs, and other lettered types—contained harmful chemicals, like mercury, lead, cadmium, and nickel, which should never be thrown in the trash. While the majority of manufacturers now make household batteries with safer alternative metals, many municipal areas do not allow batteries to be thrown out with the rest of your garbage. Either way, you can find local places to recycle batteries on Earth 911, which has a comprehensive search tool for household recycling.

  • Rechargeable batteries

    Now if we’re talking rechargeable batteries, that’s another story. Rechargeable batteries are all made with nickel and cadmium, which can leach into nearby soil and water supplies. The back of the package should have instructions for mailback programs, or you can take them to a local Call2Recycle drop off center. Luckily, you should get about 1,000 uses out of those batteries before you’ll have to take them anywhere!

  • Lead acid batteries (aka used car batteries)

    Lead and acid are both incredibly dangerous when incinerated, so they shouldn’t go anywhere near your household trash. Again, use the locator on Earth 911 to find a nearby battery recycling center.

Electronics

It may seem like computer and cell phones work like magic—but they’re actually composed of lots of harmful compounds, like mercury, lead, cadmium, beryllium, chromium, and chemical flame retardants. When those chemicals and metals get into our soil and water, they result is not pretty. And used computers and other electronics often contain rare metals like gold, silver and copper—plus plastics and aluminum—that can be recovered and used for new products.

If your electronics are still working, wipe the hard drive or set the device back to factory settings, then donate them to a nearby Goodwill or other donation center. Many retailers like Sprint, Best Buy, Office Depot and Staples also participate in buyback programs and will give you money or store credit for used electronics.

If they’re not working, however, your options may be more limited. Take them to a local recycling center for materials recovery—again, you can find one on Earth 911.

Paints and Stains

Let’s face it, you’re never going to need that can of chartreuse paint again. But whatever you do, don’t dump it down the drain. Paint contains harmful chemicals that are toxic to the environment, so you should do your best to make sure as little of it goes down the sink as possible. PaintCare Inc. has a great list of local places to drop off used paints and stains. Lowe’s also says that you can dispose of latex paint safely by mixing it with equal parts clay kitty litter and allowing it to dry, then tossing it in the trash.

Expired Medicines

Finally cleaning out the bathroom medicine cabinet once and for all? Don’t chuck those old prescription meds in the trash! Mixing the medicines with used coffee grinds, sawdust or dirt ensures that they don’t get into the wrong hands (or paws, in the case of curious wildlife!). Place them in a baggy filled with one of these options—then and only then are they suitable for the trash.

Old Gasoline

Whether it’s contaminated or just sitting around in your garage too long, old gasoline is not the ideal thing to use to power your mower. Gasoline degrades after some time, which means it may not generate enough combustion to start your car or lawnmower. You can either dilute it with new gas for more power, or if it’s contaminated, take it right away to a hazardous waste disposal center in your area.

Light Bulbs

Proper disposal for light bulbs depends on the type of bulb you have. While many homeowners have moved away from CFLs and fluorescent lights, these bulbs do still exist. But because they contain mercury, they should never be thrown directly into the garbage. Look on Earth 911 for a drop off point near your location.

Look at you—running a clean home and looking out for the environment at the same time? You deserve a round of applause!

3 Plumbing Projects You Can Do By Yourself

Plumbing can make you feel like a very accomplished DIYer indeed. After all, there’s nothing more satisfying that finally fixing that running toilet. That said, with plumbing projects, it’s easy to get in over your head. A few wrong turns of the wrench and you may need a raft to get out of the house.

But plumbers are expensive—and of course, notoriously bad at arriving when they say they will. So if you can avoid the hassle of finding a reliable plumber and waiting around all day for them to show, it’s usually worth it. Here are three projects you can comfortably manage on your own, without calling in the pros.

black kitchen faucet

Replacing a Shower Head

A brand-new shower head can be a bathroom game changer—so long, weak water pressure! And making a direct replacement is no big thing, really. To do this project yourself, you don’t really want to mess around too much with the shower head style. That is, if you want a rain-style shower head, you’ll probably need a pro’s help. But if you’re just putting in a new single-head sprayer, it’s easy enough to do.

Start by shutting off the water to your bathroom. Then grab a pair of adjustable channel-locking pliers and affix them around the shower head. Gently turn the shower head counter clockwise until it’s loose enough to pull off.

Apply Teflon tape counter clockwise around the base of the shower arm. Thread the new shower head onto the base by turning it clockwise with your hands. Once it becomes too difficult to turn with your bare hands, use your pliers to tighten it into place. Turn the water back on and check for leaks—nothing to it!

Replacing a Kitchen Faucet

Nothing adds more swank to your home than a shiny new faucet. Changing it out lets you to stay on top of interior design trends and is a simple fix for a leaky, aging faucet. Swapping out faucets is a little more complicated than changing the shower head, though, particularly if you come across problems like corroded pipes or hard-to-reach nuts. But it’s still well within the reach of novice home repairers.

First, you want to locate the hot and cold water shutoff valves on your kitchen faucet. Typically, these are located in the cabinet directly beneath the kitchen sink. Turn them to the off position, and then reach up to you faucet and push the handle up to relieve pressure. Move back down below the sink and use an adjustable wrench and channel-locking pliers to disconnect both the hot and cold water lines from the faucet.

Next, switch to a basin wrench or a socket wrench and use it to unscrew the nut holding the faucet tailpiece in place. Now you’re ready to pull the old faucet out and put the new one in—at which point, it’s merely a matter of following the instructions that came with it.

Fixing a Running Toilet

Nothing is more annoying than a running toilet—not to mention the extra money tacked onto your water bill each month! Luckily, this is a pretty swift repair that even moderately handy homeowners can tackle on their own.

Most running toilets are due to a flapper that doesn’t seal properly, which means you need a new one. To replace it, shut off the valve to your toilet’s water supply. Then flush the toilet to drain the water out of the basin. Unhook the flapper, clean it off, and take it with you to the hardware store to buy a replacement piece—that way, you know you’ll get one that fits.

Install the flapper by carefully following the instructions on the package. Altogether, it should take you less than an hour or two, depending on how close you are to the nearest home improvement store. Running toilets: 0, you: 1

There you go! All you need to go from homeowner naif to pro in no time. Looking for more DIY projects? Check out our latest articles for more improvement ideas!

4 Neglected Parts of Your Home That Could Use Some TLC This Weekend

Owning a home is a bit of a mystery, when you think about it. You have all these hidden systems working to keep you clean, safe, and comfortable—half of which you don’t really think about until they go out.

It’s those hidden heroes we’re here to talk about today. Your sump pump, quietly lying in wait until your basement floods. Your range filter, sucking up soot, grease and grime every time you cook—and never asking for anything back in return except a dip in a bucket of soapy water every now and again.

Learning about these unsung home systems will help you lower your electrical bills, keep a cleaning and happier home, and improve the longevity of your equipment and appliances—without more than a few hours of effort on your part. Here are four frequently-ignored parts of your home that deserve a little recognition today.

a cup sitting in an old window

Your Windows

You probably look out of the windows in your home all the time. But when was the last time you looked at the windows themselves? First, take a moment to examine the caulk around your windows. If it looks dry, cracked, or missing altogether, it’s time for some TLC! These caulking gaps can cause energy losses, driving up your bills and causing drafts.

Start by scraping out all the old caulk. Use a razor so that you can really get into the nooks and crannies. Clean out any dust with a cloth, then apply new silicone caulk in a straight bead and smooth it down to create a good seal. Instant energy improvement.

Then give your windows a treat by washing the glass. Use a strip applicator and squeegee for an extra sparkly sheen. As a bonus, it makes the whole job a lot easier.

Your Kitchen Range Filter

Smoke, oil, food particles, dust—the buildup on range filters is a particularly toxic brew. It’s easy to ignore your hood range, but a greasy, dirty filter will make itself known eventually. Contaminated filters attract pests and can cause your smoke detector to go off more frequently. Plus, eventually they start getting a pretty nasty smell.

Clean the filter by dunking it in a bucket filled with soapy water and a ½ cup of baking soda. Allow the filter to sit for at least 10 minutes, then remove it and scrub it gently with a non-abrasive scrub brush. Give it a rinse and dry it with a towel. Enjoy your grease-free cooking!

Your Chimney

Anything that handles smoke and soot for a living is going to need some attention eventually. In addition to that, neglected chimneys can cause air infiltration, which you and I know by its common name: drafts. Meanwhile, soot and wood-burning byproducts contribute to creosote buildup, a highly combustible chemical compound that could lead to a house fire if you’re not careful.

A chimney sweep can take care of cleaning the chimney, as well as the smoke ducts, flue pipes and fireplaces. Many chimney experts offer inspection services too, which means verifying that the liners, smoke chamber, chimney exterior and firebox are all crack-free and working as expected. Chimney sweeps can point out masonry leaks that should be addressed, increasing the lifespan of your heating equipment—and making those winter days by the hearth a whole lot cheerier. If you use your chimney regularly, have it swept out about once a year to keep your fireplace working at peak operation.

a light shining on a basement pipe

Your Sump Pump

A sump pump is one of those things you never really think about until you need it—and by that time, you’re usually ankle-deep in water. That’s exactly why you want to test your sump pump regularly—in fact, if you live in a very wet area, you may want to take a look as often as every month or so.

To test it, find the two cords and unplug both. Then plug in just the pump cord. The pump should turn on right away. If it doesn’t, now’s a good time to start looking for a good plumber, because you’re going to need a new pump. To double check, plug both cords back into place, lift the lid and pour some water into the crock below, just enough to raise the float. The pump should kick on right away. If not, call the plumber—you don’t want to wait until the next time it rains to get this problem fixed!

Cleaning, repairing and testing these frequently-overlooked parts of your home may mean getting a little dirty this weekend. But it will be worth it to avoid a nasty little surprise in your home-owning future.

How to Recognize 6 Common Contractor Scams—Before You Get Ripped Off

It’s hard enough settling on the right tile for the bathroom remodel or reaching a compromise with your significant other on the new cabinets for your kitchen. You don’t need to throw a shady contractor in the mix.

While many contractors are honest, hardworking, upstanding citizens like you and me, the industry isn’t without its bad apples. If you’re not careful, you could fall prey to one of these scammers and schemers—and wind up holding the bag for thousands of dollars of repairs.

That said, there are some telltale signs that you have a nefarious contractor in your midst. Here are a six tip offs that you may be on the receiving end of a scam.

woman meeting with contractors

They Ask for a Large Payment Upfront

It’s not uncommon for a contractor to ask for a payment before they begin a job. Shelling out a small percentage of your quoted costs is kind of like putting a down payment on a house or a car. However, the key word here is “small.” Any contractor who requires you to pay 100% of their estimated price could be planning to cut and run before the ink on the check is dry. Ten percent—or $1000 for a smaller project—is a more realistic amount. If your contractor asks for anything more, you could have a scammer on your hands.

They Offer to Pay Your Deductible

This one is most frequently seen with roofers. The scam runs like this: a roofer tells you to file a roof repair claim with your insurance company for storm-related damage. Don’t worry, though, they say—they’ll refund your deductible once the money comes in, or they offer to waive the cost entirely. If that sounds too good to be true, rest assured, it is. Scams like these constitute insurance fraud, and if discovered, could get you blacklisted from purchasing homeowners’ insurance for years. Take a word from the wise and and avoid any roofer that promotes a scam like this.

They Quote You a Price That’s Way Below Other Bids

A cutthroat price on a home project might seem like a dream come true—but if a contractor comes in way below competing bids, that should raise a big red flag. Scammers often use a super low quote to lure you into accepting their bid, then suddenly raise the price once the contract is signed. They might tell you the market cost for materials has gone up, or that an unforeseen issue has come up. It’s a bait-and-switch tactic that contractors use to squeeze more money out of unsuspecting homeowners. Always get at least three bids before settling on a contractor—and if one of the prices seems way off, ask that contractor to explain why the price is so low.

They Tell You “No License/Insurance/Permit Necessary”

A contractor who offers a discount for unlicensed or uninsured work is just a disaster waiting to happen. If anything goes wrong, you’ll be the one left on the line for damage. Same thing goes for permits. A very small project may not require a permit, but most do, especially the job includes demolition, electrical work, or plumbing. Skip the permit and you could be looking at a fine. Also, it’s a pretty fair assumption that your contractor is using unqualified labor to make their repairs. Check licenses and proof of insurance before work begins—and make sure your contractor pulls any necessary permits well in advance.

They Come to You

Be wary of any contractor who goes door-to-door looking for work. In this scam, contractors show up at your doorstep, telling you they can get you a scandalously low rate on driveway paving, siding replacement, fencing or a new roof. Why the low price? Well, they just finished a job down the street and happen to have some extra materials. They noticed that you need a new driveway/siding/fence/roof/whatever and wondered if you might be interested. If you hear this, all the alarms should start going off. Usually it means they have recalled, stolen or low-grade materials they’re trying to offload. And they’re planning to install them as quickly as possible and leave you holding the bag for their poor workmanship. Don’t fall victim to these scammers. Tell any contractor who comes to your door to amscray.

Something Just Feels Off
You can’t put your finger on exactly what it is, but something about your contractor just strikes you as… not right. Maybe they seemed a little rushed when they handed you the contract. Maybe they looked nervous when you first met, or they’re way too hard to get a hold of these days. Whatever it is, trust your instincts. If something feels off, it probably is. It’s fine to look for another contractor if you need to—after all, it’s your home!