Laying a 1- to 3-inch layer of mulch on garden beds will quickly spruce up the area around your home’s exterior.
Mulch has other benefits. For example, it spares you from having to do a lot of weeding. Mulch smothers weeds by depriving them of oxygen and light, and it holds moisture in the soil, saving water and giving plants a consistent source of moisture.
Free or cheap sources of mulch include:
Shredded wood or bark:Electric utility companies and tree services may have cheap or free wood chips or shredded bark. Also, some cities collect leaves and branches, chipping them for use by local residents.
Grass clippings:Let them cool down before mulching.
Raked leaves:Shred first with a shredder or lawn mower so air and moisture can filter through to the soil beneath.
Cardboard:Ask recycling centers and appliance stores for free cardboard. Wet it down, cut it to fit and place it around plants, covering with soil or bark mulch. This is best in wet climates where cardboard breaks down into the soil.
The Home Depotgives you a wide variety of mulch types and colors to choose from. You can order online and pick up later, or arrange for delivery. Another idea: Search in your area for companies that will deliver mulch in bulk to your home and consider splitting a load with a neighbor.
3. Seal wood decks
If your deck is looking a little tired, it might be time to seal it, and stain or paint it. Staining or painting your wood deck will make it look like a million bucks — and you’ll only spend a tiny fraction of that amount.
The cheap way to seal a deck is do it yourself. You’ll spend a couple hundred dollars on supplies and rented tools. Do it annually or every two to three years, depending on where you live. Ignore the job long enough and you’ll need to replace the deck, at a cost of thousands of dollars.
4. Clean gutters
You may be able to do this job yourself, and at little or no cost. Rent or borrow a solid ladder tall enough to do the job safely. Enlist someone to stand on the ground and steady it while you work.
Clean gutters once or twice a year, depending on how quickly they fill with leaves and debris. While you’re cleaning, check for leaks and breaks.
5. Shine windows
Cleaning your windows is one of the cheapest ways to give your home a new sparkle. Here are three cheap, no-streak approaches:
Apply a vinegar-water solution to the glass and wipe it off with crumpled newspaper, for a more lint-free result than paper towels .
Use TSP (trisodium phosphate) — an inexpensive powder degreaser found at hardware stores — mixed in water and squeegee it off for a streak-free finish. Make sure you read the instructions for proper handling.
Many people swear by a few drops of dish soap in a bucket of warm water.
Caulking around windows helps cut heating and cooling bills by keeping indoor air in and drafts out. It’s an important preventative measure, too: Leaky window frames rot and allow water to seep into walls, causing rot and mildew.
A $5 tube of caulk goes a long way toward sealing edges and small gaps. Spray foam is better for larger openings.
7. Give the furnace TLC
Give your furnace a little attention on its summer vacation. Remove the furnace filter. If you don’t know where it is, check the instruction manual and follow directions on how to remove and replace it.
Hold the filter up to the light. If it’s dark and dirty, it’s time for a new one. Use a vacuum cleaner on openings throughout the system, including registers, ducts and vents.
8. Check for irrigation leaks
Your irrigation system and hoses can freeze and thaw in cold winters. In the summer, water pressure and UV light do damage. Leaks waste water and cost you money.
Turn on the water and inspect hoses, timers and irrigation systems for leaks, pooling water, breaks and clogged sprinkler heads. Replace hose gaskets and make repairs, or call a service company.
9. Banish pests
Warm weather gives you a chance to circle the outside of your home and remove anything that could shelter wood-boring insects, rats, mice or spiders.
Remove yard waste, tools, ladders, toys and stacked lumber. Orkin recommends storing firewood at least 5 feet from your home’s foundation and on a rack off the ground.
Trim bushes and relocate plants so that none touches the home’s siding or foundation. Clear vegetation and debris under decks and steps.
Other tips include:
Pick up fruit as soon as it drops from trees and bushes.
Give garbage cans tight-fitting lids.
Drain pools, puddles and ponds and change bird bath water frequently to discourage mosquitoes.
10. Primp the lawn
A nice lawn can make your home the envy of the neighborhood. If you want a great-looking lawn, stop scalping it. Instead, mow higher and more often.
Set mower blades at least 3 inches high. That will encourage grass to fill in bare spots and push weeds out. Grass roots will grow deeper so the lawn looks better and needs less water. Don’t collect grass clippings. Instead, let them drop on the lawn to nourish it.
11. Inspect and clean the dryer vent
Do this job for fire prevention. Although you probably clean your dryer’s lint trap after each load, lint still builds up inside the machine and duct.
Remove the lint filter and use a long-handled vent brush (ask for one at hardware stores) to clean as much of the cavity as you can. Carefully clean behind the machine without disturbing the vent attachment or gas line.
Use the vent brush or a rag to reach into the vent from outside and remove all the lint you can reach.
When finished, turn on the dryer and go outside to look at the vent. Is exhaust air coming out? If not, look for blockage in the vent or exhaust duct. If necessary, disconnect the duct from the dryer to thoroughly clean the exhaust path.
12. Insulate water pipes
Uninsulated pipes carrying hot water through a cold basement or crawl space waste heat, costing you money. It’s easy toinsulate these pipeswith pre-slit, hollow-core, flexible “sleeves” made of polyethylene or neoprene foam. Find them at hardware stores. Before shopping, learn your pipes’ diameter to get the right fit.
Kat Royer is a graduate of Virginia Tech with a Bachelor’s degree in Hospitality and Tourism Management and minor in Real Estate. She worked for 7 years in operations and sales for a major internat....
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