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.

Have more questions about storm windows? Connect with us on Facebook or Twitter and let us know!

Basic Home Repairs You Can Master in Minutes

When you think about it, we live in a golden age of DIY. Almost any questions you have can be answered in a matter of seconds, with a little help of Professor Google. Want to know how to screw in a light bulb? Yep, there’s a video for that. Never learned to use a hammer? Hit up YouTube, and you’ll be pounding nails like a pro in no time.

Even so, there’s something to be said for having a little general knowledge. Get a handle on your basic repairs, and you’ll gain the confidence you need to take on new projects. Plus it will help you tell when some good old fashioned ingenuity will suffice or when it’s time to call in the pros. Read on to learn about several easy-to-manage repairs that can be completed with little-to-no home improvement know-how.

making home repairs

Fixing a Leaking Faucet

Nothing is more annoying than that constant drip…drip…drip of a leaky faucet. It’s enough to make you twitchy—and for good reason! The EPA estimates that leaking faucets waste about 1 trillion gallons of water annually. And guess who pays the price? Yep, you guessed it: you, in the form of skyrocketing water bills.

A leaky faucet is nothing to get all worked up about, though, especially once you know your way around the pipes. Most faucet leaks are caused by worn out or dirty seals—something you can fix pretty easily using one of these detailed guides from This Old House. Essentially, you unscrew the handle and replace the old washer or O-ring. Of course, for certain types, you’re better off just replacing the whole faucet. Luckily, that’s not too hard either.

Voilà—you’re now 10 times smarter than you were two minutes ago!

Patching a Hole in the Drywall

You know the drill: all you want is to play a few video games with the kids, when suddenly you’ve got a controller-sized hole in your wall. Relax. Patching a drywall hole is actually a lot easier than it seems.

Lowe’s has a helpful step-by-step for all kinds of drywall defects which you can use when you begin your project. At a high level, though, patching a hole involves a mesh screen that you position over the hole, then cover with joint compound. Once that’s dry, you sand down the rough edges and paint. It’s so easy, you can even get your kids to help. And that should encourage them never to throw another controller again!

Unclogging the Toilet

Ugh, toilet clogs. This is one plumbing project that even the handiest homeowners don’t cherish. Unfortunately, until they invent something better than the flush toilet, clogs are an unavoidable part of life.

For most stopped up toilets, a good plunger and a little elbow grease are all you need. But for a really stuck commode, you may need to go commando. For these you can use an auger, a plumbing tool that looks like a long wire with a handle at one end. You snake the auger down the toilet, turning the handle until it stops. Then you work it around until you either hook the clog or loosen the gunk—whichever comes first!

Caulking Around Windows, Floors and Tubs

You don’t know it yet, but this fix is going to quickly become your best friend. Silicone caulk is kind of like the duct tape of home improvement, in that it can be used in a number of projects around your house. More specifically, it helps seal joints and stop leaks, like between your tub and the floor or your window glass and the frame. And that last fix can even help lower your energy costs! Woo hoo!

All you need to know is how to load the caulk gun. From there, it’s just a matter of laying a straight bead of sealant and smoothing it down! Easy peasy!

Now the only thing left to do is decide what to do with all the money you’re saving on household repairs!

5 Signs Your Hot Water Heater Is On Its Last Legs

Nothing is worse than running out of hot water mid-shower. If you have a household full of teens, you know where that water went. If not? The culprit may lie in your hot water heater itself. Heaters only last into their teenage years themselves, so if you haven’t bought a new one since your kids were in diapers, it may be time you started looking around for a new one.

Of course, age isn’t the only indicator. A handful of tell-tale signs will reveal if your hot water is approaching the end of its life, like if there’s less hot water, or if you notice banging noises and a funny taste in the water. Want to know more? Here’s the skinny on hot water heater failures—and how to tell if your unit is toast.

woman showering

It’s Getting Up There in Years

The lifespan on a hot water heater is typically only about 10 to 15 years, tops. So if yours qualifies as a senior citizen in water heater years, it’s probably time to replace. Not sure of its age? Look at the serial number. The first three digits actually contain a coded date. The month is expressed as a letter of the alphabet at the beginning of the serial number (A for January, B for February and so forth), and the year is indicated next by the two digits that follows (15 equals 2015, for instance). That way, you can identify exactly when your unit came off the line.

Your Hot Water Has a Rusty, Metallic Taste, Color or Odor

A lot of different issues can cause rusty water. But if it only happens when you turn on the hot water tap, it’s usually an indicator that your water heater is going. Why? It means that the inside of the tank is corroded—and that leaks are imminent. But you don’t need to panic quite yet. First, give it a few days. Occasionally, incidents with the public water supply can cause temporary discolorations that go away on their own. Next, try flushing the water heater (something you should do about once a year anyway). Family Handyman has a helpful video with instructions how to do just that. After that, if you’re still having issues, it may be time to start shopping around for a new unit.

It Keeps Making Weird Noises

Either you have a monster in your basement or your hot water heater is going. Either way, some sort of intervention is inevitable. Strange rumbling, banging, cracks and pops coming from inside the heater usually comes from build up around the bottom of the tank. Your water contains traces of mineral sediment that collect over there time. The heating and reheating of this sediment eventually hardens it into a thick, unyielding coat of gunk, meaning your heater has to work harder to do its job—and of course, leaks and other issues are only a short way away.

It Just Doesn’t Work Like It Used To

Sediment buildup doesn’t just effect your water heater’s acoustics, of course. It also impacts its performance. You might notice temperature fluctuations, or maybe it seems like the water doesn’t stay hot as long as it used to. Or in some cases, the hot water might go out altogether—although you should check the pilot light and the circuit breaker first. Of course, all of that rigamarole adds up to higher energy bills,. So if yours have recently skyrocketed, that might be another sign as well.

It’s Leaking

If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a hot water heater failure before it progresses into a leak. But unfortunately, for many homeowners, the first tip off occurs when it starts to spill water all over the basement floor. Fortunately, most leaks start small, with a manageable pool of water around the heater itself. In this case, there’s often a small fracture in the water heater tank. When the water becomes heated, the metal expands—and the crack along with it—causing water to drip through the fracture. Once the water cools, the crack shrinks again and often, the water stops leaking. Of course, the water could be coming from loose connections, too, so check those first before you decide it’s time to buy a new tank.

Want your new unit to last just a little bit longer? Make sure to perform some regular maintenance, then, such as regularly flushing the tank, checking the connections and pilot light, and testing the pressure valve. Other things you can do to extend its lifespan? Change the anode rod every five years and install a water softener to reduce wear and tear. Do that, and your next tank should last you for ages—or at least until the kids are out of college!

Do You Really Need to Change Your Fridge Water Filter?

Ah, the fridge water filter. One of those pesky little nuisances that every homeowner—or at least every homeowner with a modern fridge—just has to deal with. Every four to six months, there it is, burning like a red, painful reminder of what you had planned for that $40 you now have to spend on filters. But you’re a good homeowner, so you change it.

A couple of months go by—the blink of an eye really—and the indicator light of doom goes on again. Great, another $40 down the drain. But do you really, really need to change it? What happens if you just. stop. doing. it?

We all know what the manufacturers have to say about the matter. Samsung tells its customers that the filter needs to be changed when the indicator light turns red, which happens every six months. Whirlpool is a little more lenient, allowing a generous six to nine months before your fridge becomes a clogged wasteland.

But check out the number of results that pop up when you Google “do i really need to change the water filter in my refrigerator.” Judging by the sheer amount of queries out there, it’s clear that people have some questions. And that’s where this post comes in. Today, we’ll answer the big filter question once and for all, so you can rest easy, knowing your hard-earned money isn’t going to waste.

lemon water in the window sill

To Change or Not to Change, That Is the Question

When it comes to changing your water filter, the lines are pretty fiercely drawn between those who’d do nearly anything to feel like their water was purer and cleaner, and those that think manufacturers are just trying to lure you into spending your hard-earned money on yet another contraption you don’t really need.

Those who fall into the latter camp often claim to have been instructed by a pro who told them filters are really a scam. Or they’re people who’ve noticed that if they open and shut the filter door, the light shuts off, leading them to wonder if those little indicators even really mean anything. And then there are folks who think, “okay but my local water treatment plant already filters the water. Do I really need to filter it twice?”

Appliance dealers and repair specialists mostly advise that you stick with the manufacturer’s’ recommendations here and replace the filters every six months or so. The reason has less to do with the quality of the water or how “clean” it is—although that’s a part of it. It’s because eventually, the filter will collect sediment, first clogging it and then jamming up the ice maker and water dispenser. And that can mean an expensive fridge repair. In fact, if you have really hard water, you may want to change it a little more often, just to keep yourself in the clear.

Buy Filters in Bulk to Save Money

Okay, so you’re pretty much going to have to buy filters if you want to keep your fridge happy. But you don’t have to spend a fortune on them. Refrigerator water filters can be purchased online in bulk packages, which will save you tons of dough in the long run.

For instance, this three-pack of Samsung filters will run you about $120 on Amazon, where as a single filter costs $44.99. Sure, it’s not exactly a steal, but it’s better than paying full price!

Or Bypass the Water Filter Line Altogether

But maybe you don’t care about highly-filtered water at all. Maybe you’re just fine drinking straight from the tap, but you prefer the ice-cold temperature of nicely chilled water. You’ll probably be thrilled to learn that you don’t have to use the filter function in your fridge. In fact, you can install a filter bypass that will keep your water from ever touching the filter.

As you might have guessed from the name, essentially what this does is connect the water dispenser to the water line, thus bypassing the filter. Of course, you’ll have to find a model that will work with your fridge—and drink the unfiltered water afterwards. But you’ll save yourself $80 to $120 a year, which isn’t a bad haul.

So, to recap what we’ve learned: yes, you need to change the fridge filter unless you plan on doing a little work to get around it. But you can also score cheaper filters by doing a little browsing online. And while you’re at it, check out the Offers section in your HomeBit app to see if you can score some more sweet bargains to go along with it. Now there’s some refreshing news!

9 Essentials You Need in Your Home Repair Toolkit

Putting together your first toolkit is virtually a rite of passage, but it’s also a pretty smart way to cut back on costs around the home. With the right tool for the job, many small repairs can be handled with aplomb, saving you money on contractors.

Most people acquire their tools piecemeal, adding a wrench or a screwdriver as life calls for it. But there are a couple of problems with this approach. First, it’s not going to ensure that you have what you need on hand to make a quick emergency adjustment. And it’s certainly not fun to have to run to the home improvement store every time you want to start a project. Of course, on the other hand, you don’t necessarily need to buy out the Home Depot, either. Some of your more specialized tools you can get as-needed for projects—that way, you won’t spend a wad of cash on products you may or may not ever need.

Either way, there’s no denying that a few essentials can come in handy to manage your basic repairs and keep your home in working order. Here are nine of our favorites to add to your beginner’s toolbox.

assorted tools

A Screwdriver Set

Every household should have a selection of flat- and Phillips-head screwdrivers on hand. These useful tools can help you with a range of jobs, like removing an outlet cover or prying a can of paint open. So if you don’t have a couple lying around, you should really make the investment. Kits typically include several screwdrivers in different sizes, or you can opt for a multipurpose screwdriver with interchangeable heads. The bits in these can swapped out on a single handle, keeping storage at a minimum. Whatever you do, don’t go cheap. It’s worth the extra expense to not have a tool break on you at a pivotal moment. Look for brands that have extended warranties or lifetime guarantees, or just go with one of these sets recommended by Business Insider.

A Claw Hammer

Even if you don’t plan on doing a lot of carpentry, claw hammers are a useful piece of equipment to have around the house. They’re good for taking care of everything from a popped porch nail to hanging a picture, and are absolutely essential for many DIY projects. Here again, quality counts. Seek out trusted, well-reviewed brands—even if you wind up spending a little bit more than the economy model, it’s worth it. Choose a “smooth face” hammer with a steel or fiberglass handle and a straight rip claw for a good, general-purpose tool that will handle most any project you can throw at it.

An Electric Drill

Sooner or later, most homeowners need to drill a hole in the wall or fix a loose screw. A quality electric drill in your toolkit will help you handle these jobs—but with the right bits and attachments you can also sand, grind and mix paints and finishes, along with many other functions. That makes your drill one of the most versatile pieces in your toolkit. When selecting one, you’ll need to decide whether you want to go corded or not. Cordless drills offer the obvious convenience of working untethered, but these models are sometimes less powerful than corded drills, and obviously have to be charged before they can be used. For the best results, look for a model ranging between 12 and 18 volts, which is more than enough power for most repair jobs.

A Tape Measure

We understand if you’re not crazy about power tools, but there’s no excuse for not having one of these somewhere in your house. Tape measures are necessary for everything from cutting wood for projects to hanging blinds to measuring whether that new sofa you have your eye on will fit in your living room. Pick one that measures about ¾-inch by 16 feet, which is a good standard size.

A Hacksaw

Whether you’ve got an overgrown tree branch on your hands or a too-tall Christmas tree, a hacksaw is your go-to tool for cutting it down to size. While more advanced DIYers may want to look into a full-service power saw, a hacksaw is good for home repair one-offs and those random odd jobs that pop up every once and awhile. Go for one that has at least a two-foot-long blade that can be replaced after it dulls.

A Set of Pliers

Pliers are amazing little hand tools, able to twist wires, cut fasteners and grip and clamp metal pieces in awkward, difficult spaces. There are tons of different types, but all you really need are three basic pairs to get your toolkit started: a set of 8-inch needle-nose pliers, a set of 10-inch groove-joint pliers and a pair of locking pliers. The needle-nose pliers are useful for twisting and cutting small wires and cables, as well as drawing out nails and screws in hard-to-reach spaces. Groove-joint pliers will help you turn nuts and bolts and get enough torque to loosen pipes and connections. The locking pliers act as a handheld vice, which makes them handy for removing frozen or broken screws, nuts, bolts, staples, nails pins—basically if you need to get it loose, these guys can help.

Pipe Wrenches

Need to put in a new sink? Fix a leaky faucet? Then these wrenches will be your best friend. They have a curved head that helps turn pipes and fittings. You can buy them in a three- or four-piece set, which should get you squared away for most small plumbing repairs around the home. Look for a set made from aluminum for a super-sturdy long-lasting addition to your toolkit.

A Staple Gun

Staple guns are great for everything from hanging Christmas decorations to repairing upholstery and everything in between. Regardless of how apt you are at home repairs, you’ll no doubt find plenty of uses for one of these in your life as a homeowner. Opt for an all-purpose manual carton stapler, and try the trigger before you settle on it. You want a staple gun that you can operate without too much effort—a sore hand is not a good look for any home handyperson!

A Utility Knife

A good utility knife has tons of uses—cutting into packaging, undoing plastic zip ties, and breaking down boxes, just to name a few—so it’s safe to say every homeowner could use one of these in their toolbox. Ideally, your utility knife should have replaceable blades, plus safety features like a nonslip handle and a retractable tip. Get enough blades and you can basically survive a zombie apocalypse!

If you want to go for extra credit or have several DIY projects in your future, you may also want to add a level, a hand sander, an adjustable wrench, a chisel, a putty knife, and a handsaw—or any other extras you think you might need along the way. Now, congratulate yourself! You’ve just leveled up your homeownership!