Winter Storm Preparedness Guide

It’s 24 hours before the big storm is supposed to strike—is your home ready for the weather? Winter storms can bring extended power outages, and of course, may keep you homebound for a few days. And naturally, wind and ice pose a threat to your home and physical safety as well. Here’s what you need to do when ice, snow and sleet are in the forecast to make sure you’re covered before the first snowflake falls.

a lonely house covered with snow

Make Sure You Have the Necessary Supplies

If you live in an area where snow is commonplace, then you probably already have a lot of these in your garage or shed. But for those of us who are new to this whole snow thing, a freak storm can seriously catch you offguard. At a minimum, you’ll need the following:

  • A snow shovel for digging out your car and your sidewalks.
  • Rock salt and sand for walkways and stairs. Make sure it’s petsafe if you have critters or young kiddos running around!
  • An ice scraper for your car windshield. (Don’t be like this guy!)

You also might want to have a few things to keep yourself comfortable in case the power goes out or in the event that you’re trapped at home for a few days. That means:

  • Non-perishable food
  • Firewood or another independent heat source
  • Flashlights
  • Candles and matches
  • Warm clothing and blankets
  • Bottled water

snowy houses in the sunshine

Get Your Home Ready

Okay, now that you’ve braved the lines at the grocery store, it’s time to get your house ready for the deep freeze ahead. A couple of tasks you might want to consider:

  • Install storm windows outside or place insulating plastic film over the interiors of windows.
  • Trim dead branches that could pose a hazard in the wind.
  • Wind up hoses and bring in outdoor chairs and toys.
  • Cover your houseplants or bring them inside.
  • Turn your faucets to a slow drip to prevent your pipes from bursting.
  • Make sure pets are inside before precipitation starts to fall.
  • Park your car in the garage if hail or sleet may be an issue.

It’s not a bad idea to have your roof and heating system inspected this time of year, as well. This will help you avoid leaks and heating loss during extreme weather events. If you have time, clean your gutters, as well, since they provide vital leak protection by funneling runoff and snow melt off your roof and down to the ground.

cozy slippered feet by the fire

Stay Safe During the Storm

A lot of these suggestions seem obvious, but it never hurts to repeat them, since every year someone ignores common sense and gets themselves into serious trouble. For one thing, stay off the roads if they’re not safe to travel on. The local news can help you stay updated on road conditions in your area, but if you can avoid leaving home, do it.

Also remember not to overdo it when you’re outside shoveling. Clearing snow by hand is exhausting, draining work, especially when the weather outside is frightful, and it can be easy to overexert yourself or hurt your back. So go easy with the shoveling. Do it in shifts if you have to.

When you do go outside, make sure to wear several layers of warm, dry clothing, including mittens or gloves and a water-repellent outer layer.

For more tips on winter storm safety, Ready.gov has a huge checklist of safety guidelines. Stay warm and keep safe everyone!

Winter Pest Removal the Humane Way

The internet has really changed how we view our fellow critters. After all, once you’ve seen a mouse having a tea party or shed real, honest-to-goodness tears over the story of these battle-scarred ants, you just can’t really treat them as hostile foes any more.

Of course, you can’t exactly invite them into your home for dinner, either. Mice, for instance, can chew holes through cords, wood and insulation—and the sound of those little feet going pitter patter all night will drive you crazy. And insects and other wildlife can spread diseases, create messes, get into your food, and just generally aren’t the best roommates.

But you don’t necessarily want to treat these little invaders with poison—for all the cuteness reasons mentioned above, and because poison is sometimes just as harmful to your family and your pets as it is to the pests it’s targeting. Well, maybe not just as harmful. But some evidence shows that using indoor pesticides can affect your health. On the more benign side of the equation, it can cause dizziness, headaches, or cause asthma flare ups. In more extreme cases? Kidney damage, liver problems, and issues with the endocrine and nervous systems! Yikes!

Those findings make an awful strong case for humane, pesticide-free treatments. Presented below are some of the safest remedies—so you won’t have to feel guilty next time you enjoy an adorable meme like this.

a mouse nibbling on peanuts

Mice and Rats

Mice and rats don’t appear out of thin air. They get in through holes in your walls and foundation. So the first order of business is seeking out their entryways and sealing them up. Then you need to take care of any rodents that are still stuck in your house. Use a non-lethal plastic or metal box trap to catch and release any stragglers. Or just do the easy thing and get a really aggressive house cat!

Ants

Everybody’s kitchen gets a little messy every now and then. The first way to approach ant control is to clean up your kitchen, pantry, and anywhere else there might be loose food hanging around. If that doesn’t fix the issue, try sprinkling cream of tartar, cinnamon, coffee grinds, chili pepper, paprika, cloves, or dried peppermint leaves near the ants’ entryway. You’ll get them right at the source!

Roaches

Finding even a single cockroach in your home is enough to give you a serious case of the creepy crawlies. And besides being gross, a roach infestation can be a frustrating uphill battle—especially if you want to go the humane route. However, there are some things you can try before calling the exterminator. For instance, clean your kitchen, cabinets, stove and pantry and make sure all food sources are eliminated. Put loose food bags and boxes in airtight plastic containers, and treat any pipe leaks that may be attracting the roaches. Just remember: you can beat those roaches at their game!

Fruit Flies

Okay, we know flies don’t live that long anyway, but in case you don’t want any fruit fly blood on your hands, you can make a humane fly trap by cutting a small hole in a plastic container and placing a straw through the top. Place a slice of fruit inside the container and put the lid on. The flies will be lured into the container by the smell of the fruit, but won’t be able to get out afterwards. Then you can just take them outside and let them out. No fruit flies harmed in the process!

5 Important Water Heater Maintenance Steps You Might Have Missed

We all do a little bit better with some love and attention—and your water heater is no different! Water heaters perform a lot better with regular maintenance, but there may be some steps you’ve been overlooking. For instance, did you know you can reduce corrosion in your pipes just by turning the water temperature down a few degrees? For more information on that—and other money-saving water heater projects—keep reading below!

Turn the Water Temperature Down

Accidentally scalded yourself in the shower? You may need to adjust the temperature on your hot water heater! Most manufacturers set the default temperature on their products to 140 degrees—which is way hotter than it needs to be. The Department of Energy says a temperature of 120 degrees Fahrenheit is safe to use in your home and can knock up to $400 off your annual energy bills. And it will extend the lifespan of your water pipes, as well. Learn how to adjust yours with this video from the Department of Energy.

Give Your Water Heater Some Space

Water heaters prefer their personal space—it’s one of their most relatable qualities, actually. But tucked away in your basement or utility room, it’s easy to accidentally pile all kinds of clutter up around them. Unfortunately, that’s a potential fire hazard. And it can reduce gas-powered heater’s efficiency, too, by reducing the flow of oxygen. Not to mention, you’re a lot less likely to catch a leak in time. So take a moment to clear out the junk around yours today.

Test the T&P Valve

The temperature and pressure, or T&P valve, is one of the most important parts of your unit. The reason? This valve is a critical safety feature that senses built-up pressure and opens to slowly let it out. That function can help you avoid a water heater explosion, so it’s a pretty important little valve. That’s why manufacturers recommend testing the T&P valve once a year. Find out how to do it here, with this video from RotoRooter.

Drain the Tank at Least Once a Year

Another important spot to familiarize yourself with is the drain valve. Once a year, locate the valve and drain a few gallons out into a bucket. Check the water that you drain—if it’s dark or full of sediment, you may need a full flush, which you can learn how to do here, courtesy of Rheem. Otherwise, you should be all set for another year!

Add Insulation

Want to really improve your water heater’s performance? Consider getting it insulated. Adding an insulating blanket to the hot water tank can save you between 7%-16% annually on your energy bills, and it’s not too difficult to do—this video from the DOE will teach you how. For extra savings, consider adding foam insulation to the hot water pipes as well.

And that’s all you need to keep yourself in hot water for another year!

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.