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DIY Home Maintenance for February

On Groundhog Day, Punxsutawney Phil, a rodent of unusual celebrity, predicted six more weeks of winter.  This means there could be extended opportunity to remain cooped up at home and continue with our household organization projects that we started in January.  If you refer to last month’s article DIY Home Maintenance for January, you can revisit those organizational tips and check your progress.

House Interior


This month’s article focuses on what you can do to document your belongings once you know what you have and where it is.  Compiling a home inventory or updating one you already have can help you in cases of theft, fire, or natural disaster.  While nobody likes to think about the potential for these unpleasant events to occur, a little preparation can go a long way to making the process of dealing with your insurance company easier should there be a loss.


Check out February’s Homeowner’s Insurance workshop at Community Homeworks to find out about the types of coverage and how home maintenance can affect your rates.   Learn about theft and fire prevention in our Home Safety and Security workshop scheduled for March.

This is a project you can do one room or area at a time so you don’t get overwhelmed by the process.  Schedule a weekend or several to get it all done. A little bit of work will provide substantial peace of mind. The following list of steps was taken from Todayshomeowner.com. They say that to prepare a home inventory you’ll need a computer spreadsheet or paper notebook, camera and/or camcorder, and a tape measure.  Ready, set, go!

  1. Outside: Take a video of all sides of the outside of your home, including patios, landscaping, hardscaping, and sheds. Follow this up with photos from each angle. Take close-up photos of specific items, such as rockwork, outdoor kitchens, water features, and lighting to show detail. Record measurements, model and serial numbers, purchase price, and any other information that could help you determine the replacement value of the object.
  2. Rooms: Next, move through your house room by room with a camcorder to video the interior. Slowly pan the room, starting at the upper left area from where you’re standing and moving toward the right, then down and back to the left across the lower half of the room. Repeat the process by taking wide-angle still photos of the room from each corner.
  3. Individual Items: Now focus your camera on individual items of value. TVs, stereos, furnishings and rugs, equipment and tools, anything that would be important to replace in the event of loss. As you take photos, record on your spreadsheet each item’s name and image file number, along with as much information as possible. Record brands, model and serial numbers, measurements, and descriptive features.
  4. Document Ownership: Finally, you’ll need to compile information to prove your ownership of each item. Record purchase dates and sources on your spreadsheet, and attach receipts and any appraisal statements to the inventory. Or, you can scan relevant document and attach them digitally to your inventory spreadsheet.
  5. Secure File: If you compiled the inventory on paper, organize all documents neatly in a three-ring binder. If your inventory is in digital format, organize the digital files and copy them to flash drive, CD, or DVD. Make three copies of your inventory: one to keep at home, one to keep in your safety deposit box, and one to store in a remote location, such as with your insurance agent or a family member.

DIY Home Maintenance for January

The hustle and bustle of the holidays can zap our energy.  And, with Mother Nature’s snow machine cranked up, you might favor just hunkering down and waiting for January to go away.  But since it is here in all its winter glory, and we are sequestered anyway, January provides a good opportunity to organize our households.  That’s why this month’s projects focus on clearing the clutter and filing.  Though not particularly glamorous, these projects can provide a measure of satisfaction in knowing you can find and store things quickly and easily.

Once you know what you have and where it is, you can compile a home inventory or update the one you already have. That can be next month’s project – so check back here in February for tips on how to document your belongings and why it is important to do so.

But first, some tips about winter safety around the house!

=> Safety outside your home:

  • Use a roof rake to clear the eaves of snow, which helps reduce icicles and ice dams that can force water back into your home. Avoid any electrical connection to your home.  Do not climb onto the roof. Do not break or knock off icicles.
  • Be kind to your neighbors, pedestrians, and the postal person by keeping sidewalks clear of snow and ice. This might even be an ordinance in your community. Bundle up, and shovel with care.
  • Consider helping a neighbor by shoveling for him if he is not able to do so.

=> Safety inside your home:

  • Make sure you have smoke and carbon monoxide detectors that are properly installed and have fresh batteries.
  • Burn only hardwood that has been cut dried for 6-12 months.
  • Use a fire screen in front of fireplaces.
  • Keep combustible materials (newspapers, drapes, furniture, etc.) away from fireplaces and space heaters.
  • You should also have an easily accessible ABC rated fire extinguisher.

Project #1: Clear the Clutter

ClutterIt’s human nature to collect stuff.  Over time, closets, drawers, basements, and garages fill with all sorts of things that may or may not belong in those locations.  Oh for a place for everything and everything in its place! So as not to be overwhelmed with the task of removing clutter, start small. Pick one closet or one drawer or a basement corner.  Once you have tackled that area, you have some momentum and maybe even some enthusiasm and strategies for doing more. As you evaluate each item in an area that you want to organize, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I use it?
  • When did I use it last?
  • Would I use it if I could find it?
  • Could someone else use it instead?
  • Have I outgrown it?
  • Is it out of style, obsolete, broken?
  • Is it sentimental?
  • Is it important?

The answers to these questions should help you decide what “pile” an item goes in: keep, give away, discard. For the things you have decided to keep, the challenge then becomes space for keeping.  Examine the desired location to see how you can best use the space. You can dramatically increase storage space with shelving, hanger bars, baskets, and bins.  Things that can stack make best use of vertical space. Measure and plan what you need before hitting the stores.  Shoe boxes, a few drawer dividers or trays, zip-close baggies, maybe an accordion file, might work just fine!  Tip: Put the most frequently used items in front or on top. Stow the seasonal or lesser used things in back or up in those harder to reach places.

Note: If your community has a hazardous waste program, please look into what they accept in case some of your discards can be dropped off and disposed of properly.  The list could include old electronics, certain paints, various chemical products, and batteries.  Post the list and designate a collection box in your home so you can continue this environmentally friendly habit throughout the year. (Here is what the Kalamazoo County Household Hazardous Waste Center accepts.)

Now, after all your good work, practice good storage habits to prevent further clutter!

Project #2: Filing

Pile of PapersWhile you are going through your stuff, you might just find those appliance manuals, product warranties, home improvement receipts, even various important documents (insurance papers, house deed, property tax receipts, etc.) that are scattered about.  This presents an opportunity to collect these papers, discard those for things you no longer own, and keep the rest in an easily accessible file, binder, or envelope.

Review those warranties and product manuals to check on recommended maintenance for furnaces, equipment, appliances, and tools.  Mark your calendar to track scheduled upkeep, service, monthly filter changes, water heater maintenance, etc.

For more tips on organizing your important papers, visit Time Management Ninja or Good Housekeeping.

DIY Home Repairs for December

If you haven’t completed November’s DIY projects, it’s not too late! Check out last month’s “to-do” list if you’re not sure!

12641243174_e30e498862_zREMEMBER:  Winter precipitation is impossible to escape (unless you go on vacation), but with a little preparation you can keep your home safe from its byproducts:  ice dams, icicles, heat loss, roof damage, foundation damage, slip-and-falls, and more!  Always keep your walkways shoveled and salted to protect our postal workers.  Do this especially if you have an elderly loved one.

To-Do #1: Replace Furnace Air Filter

The air filter on your HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) system needs to be replaced every 1-3 months to keep the air in your home clean and flowing freely. A high quality air filter is the best choice to remove mold, pollen, and other microscopic particles from the air (but use caution if it is chemically treated).

The air filter is usually found behind the air return grate mounted on a wall or in the floor. The filter may also be located in or near the air handler.

To replace an air filter:

  1. Turn the heating system off, and wait until it stops running.
  2. Remove the cover on the air return and take out the old air filter.
  3. Before installing the new filter, write the date on it!
  4. Insert the new air filter in the return, making sure the arrow on the edge of the filter is facing in the direction of air flow.
  5. Put the cover back on the air return and turn the heating system back on.
  6. To make it easier to replace next time, put a sticker on or near the return with the size filter you need to buy and when to replace it.

To-Do #2: Check Attic Insulation

As the weather gets colder, it’s a good idea to check your attic to make sure you have enough insulation and add more if you don’t.

In most cases you can add another layer of insulation on top of what’s already there, using rolls or batts of unfaced insulation or by blowing or spreading loose insulation. If your existing insulation is water damaged or moldy, it will need to be removed and replaced.

If your home currently doesn’t have attic insulation, the easiest DIY method is to install batts or rolls of insulation between the ceiling joists. To learn now, click here.

To-Do #3: Insulate Drop Down Attic Stairs

While you’re in the attic, don’t forget the attic stairs! Drop down attic stairs are notorious for leaking precious heated air into the attic and reducing the energy efficiency of your home. Attic stair access covers are made of thin plywood, and the construction isn’t very tight, allowing heated air to escape.

There are several ways to insulate attic stairs in your home:

  • Seal Cracks
  • Install Weatherstripping
  • Build an Insulating Stair Cover
  • Install a Ready Made Insulating Stair Cover

For more details about these projects, visit www.todayshomeowner.com

DIY Home Repairs for November

We’ve already seen our first snowflakes here – signs of the upcoming season! So now’s the time to get ready for winter – here are some key things to review:

Say No to Water and Ice Build-up:

  • Drain and disconnect outdoor hoses, store indoors
  • Make sure you have snow shovels and/or snow blower on-hand
  • Clean gutters and downspouts
  • If you have a sump-pump in your basement or crawl space, make sure it is functioning properly.  While you’re down there, look for signs of water, pest, or dry-rot damage.  Inspect basement walls for seepage.
  • Insulate outdoor pipes, spigots and faucets. For more tips on avoiding frozen pipes, click here.

Prepare for Storms and Power Outages:

  • Prune any tree limbs that touch the house or might cause damage during storms
  • Replace batteries in your flashlights in case a storm knocks the power out
  • Replace outdoor light bulbs

losing-heat-to-draftsImprove Heat Efficiency and Stay Warm

  • Flush your water heater to remove collected sediment to improve efficiency.  Simply open the drain valve at the bottom of your water heater and empty in to a bucket.  Use caution!  The water may be very hot!
  • If you have ceiling fans, flip the switch so they turn in a clockwise motion.
  • Replace the filters in your heating system if you didn’t do this in October.
  • Add window insulation film to windows
  • Check for drafts and seal them up!  Tip:  light a match and hold close to window and door frames.  If the fire doesn’t budge you are good to go! Seal windows with plastic film and outside siding cracks with caulk.  Use weather stripping tape along edges of windows and doors.
  • Install draft guards on the bottom of home entry doors.  You can buy these or make them yourself if you have a good sewing thumb.
  • If you have a wood-burning fireplace or stove, stock up on firewood.
  • Pack fiberglass insulation around basement doors, windows in unused rooms, attic floors, and window AC units. Wear gloves!
  • Look in to a programmable thermostat or get in to the habit of lowering the temperature a few degrees each night.


DIY Home Repairs for October

Fall is here! Get your home ready for the changing weather with a few easy steps.

  • Get your furnace ready for cold weather. Schedule an appointment to have it tuned up if you haven’t already, and stock up on furnace filters now to make sure you have enough to change them every month this fall and winter.pumpkins
  • Inventory your winter supplies. Restock the de-icer and replace broken snow shovels. Plan to get what you need before you’re buried in snow and the hardware stores are out of stock. Put together an emergency kit in case of a major snowstorm or power outage.
  • Get your yard ready for winter, prepare your garden tools for storage, and plant some colorful bulbs to enjoy in early springtime. Now that the weather is colder, trees and shrubs have become dormant, and you can transplant them safely until the ground freezes. Make sure you store your lawn mower and other gas-powered appliances with the gas tank empty, or else add a gasoline stabilizer to prevent the fuel from freezing and damaging the machine.


Project of the Month: Beyond Window Plastic

window with snow

As the weather cools down and our furnaces come on, many of us look to save money on our heating bills by covering up our windows with clear plastic. This is a good idea, but it’s far from the only thing you can do to keep heat from escaping, and it misses a lot of important places where heat can get out.  Installing and repairing weatherstripping and door sweeps, applying calk around windows and doors, and adding foam gaskets to your electrical outlets are some simple tasks that can add up to comfort in your home and savings in your heating bills.

DIY Home Repairs for September

Fall is in the air! As kids head back to school and the weather cools down, here are some simple things you can do to keep your home in shape for the season:

  • Clean your gutters and downspouts. This should be done twice a year—in the spring, to clean out any leftover debris, and in the fall after leaves have begun to accumulate. This will prevent the gutters from filling with ice once the weather is colder. If you live in a one-story or two-story home, you can probably do this work yourself; if your house is taller, you should consider hiring a service to clean your gutters.
  • Prepare your lawn and garden for the winter.  Now is a good time to pull up and compost any dead plants and plant any bulbs you want to sprout next spring. autumn-201414_640
  • Take care of your seasonal tools. Get your snow blower tuned up before winter starts to avoid the long waits as other homeowners get their own appliances serviced. Tune up your lawnmower if you haven’t done so already this year, and don’t refill it all the way with gas if it runs out—you’ll need to store it with the gas tank empty this winter, or else add a stabilizer to prevent the gas from freezing.
  • Buy any seasonal tools and supplies you may need—both summer and winter ones. Summer tools such as lawn mowers may be on sale as the season winds to a close. Winter supplies such as snow shovels, snow blowers and salt for sidewalks may be in short supply as people begin buying them more frequently, so take stock of what you have and plan to buy any needed items before the weather gets cold.

Project of the Month: Winterize your Home


Many of Kalamazoo’s beautiful historic homes are over a century old. While these iconic buildings provide a sense of character in our neighborhoods, one downside is that many of them lack the sort of energy-saving features present in more modern homes. Even newer houses can lose a lot of heat during the winter. Fortunately, there are some simple energy-saving measures any homeowner can take to save on heating costs this winter.

As with other seasonal supplies, it’s best to buy weatherization items early before the weather gets cold and other homeowners rush to purchase them. A small upfront investment in window plastic, rope caulk, foam pads for electrical outlets, and other easy-to-install supplies can save money in heating costs this winter. More labor-intensive tasks, such as installing insulation in walls and attic floors, can be more expensive initially, but will continue saving you money for years to come.

DIY Home Repairs for August

August is a good time to catch up on miscellaneous home tasks that get put off when summer months are too hot.

  • Show your floors some love. In addition to sweeping and mopping tile floors on a regular basis, you can keep them looking great by cleaning the grout lines periodically. If any of the tiles are broken, replacing them is a relatively simple process. Try waxing or refinishing wood and linoleum floors that are showing signs of wear.
  • Clean your refrigerator coils. Do this safely to save money by allowing the refrigerator to run more efficiently.
  • Repair and repaint your porch and steps. Their paint jobs are often damaged during the winter, and painting will help protect the wood.


Project of the Month: Ventilation Check-Up


It is easy to take our home ventilation systems for granted. Many of the problems that occur with these systems are not necessarily the result of a single instance of damage, but instead can result from long-term deferred maintenance. Taking a few simple steps a few times a year can aid healthy  air circulation, help avoid problems such as excess moisture, and save money by reducing energy use and preventing costly repairs.

To ensure that moisture doesn’t build up in your home, check that the ventilation fans in your kitchen and bathrooms are working. To do this, turn on the fan and hold a piece of paper towel or toilet paper up to the fan vent. If the fan holds the paper up under its own power, it is working properly; if the paper does not stick, the fan is not generating enough air pressure to ventilate your room. Good ventilation is necessary to prevent mold and other moisture-related problems in your home. Try cleaning your exhaust fan. If the fan still doesn’t pass the paper test after being cleaned, you may need to replace the motor or buy a new fan.

It’s also a good idea to clean your air conditioner at least once a year, whether it’s a window unit, central air, or any other sort of system.

DIY Home Repairs for July

Summer is here! Here are some simple things you can do to care for your home this month:

  • Schedule a furnace tuneup with a furnace technician before the weather starts to get cold. This service, which should be done yearly, costs around $100-$125, but it will save you money on heating costs and prevent problems that are much more expensive to fix.


Project of the Month: Common Door Repairs

Fairy_door_at_Red_Shoes_Ann_Arbor_MichiganIt’s easy to overlook a sticking or warped door when you have more pressing maintenance problems. Often we grow used to a door’s problems over time, and don’t realize that a few minutes of maintenance can make the door much easier to use and prevent future problems. It’s especially important to make sure exterior doors are working well, both for security and to prevent heat from escaping in the winter.

Inspect and tighten hinges, door hardware, and locks.  Install extra long screws to secure strike plates and latches to increase their ability to provide security.  Realign and insure proper operation of storm doors.  Inspect and replace weatherstripping.


DIY for June – No More Water Issues

PlumberWater, water everywhere it’s not supposed to be!

Perhaps the biggest threat to a home’s integrity is water where it doesn’t belong.  From roof to basement, the keys to staying dry and damage free are preventing exterior moister from seeping in, reducing interior moisture, and making sure all water conveyances remain leak free.

Water in the wrong places can cause wood rot (porches, eaves, soffits, floorboards, supports), water stains on ceilings and under cabinets, and mold. Damp wood invites termites and carpenter ants. Left unchecked or unnoticed (hidden), moisture can cause damage over time that can become a serious and expensive repair and even an unsafe situation. Keep an eye on your monthly water bill. A sudden or significant increase could indicate there is a leak somewhere.

Below are some tips for preventing the most common issues that can contribute to water damage. Additional detail can be found in this handy, printable brochure.


Your roof is your first line of defense. Inspect it annually for loose or damaged shingles and flashing around the chimney, vent pipes, skylights, and any other roof penetrations.  Check the condition of chimney caps and the brick mortar. Check inside the attic for signs of water damage.  Make any necessary repairs.

A clogged gutter can send water spilling into your home’s foundation, through the roof, or down to your basement.  Keep your gutters clear, repair them if they are sagging, and extend downspouts at least 10 feet away from your house.


Prevent water from backing into your home and basement by diverting it away. Grade the land away from your foundation to increase proper drainage. Trim back trees and bushes so that moisture can evaporate, rather than damage your siding or window trim.


For windows and doors, repair or replace caulk, weather stripping, window glazing and seals, and door seals. Examine your exterior siding and replace any missing or damaged fasteners or screws. Repair or replace punctured or broken siding. Seal around protrusions such as faucets and furnace and water heater vents.


High humidity can cause condensation on surfaces due to insufficient venting. Use exhaust fans in bathrooms and kitchens to remove moisture to the outside. Vent your clothes dryer to the outside. If you hang wet laundry in your basement, offset that by using a dehumidifier.

Increase air circulation by using fans and by moving furniture from wall corners to promote air and heat circulation and keep doors open between rooms. Open your drapes and window shades to let window condensation evaporate.


Flush your water heater tank to remove sediment at the bottom of the tank. A rusted bottom could lead to leaks or failure.

Caulk the tub surround and on the outside where the tub meets walls and floor. Always tuck in your shower curtain.

If your toilet rocks or there is water at its base, replace the wax ring.  Make sure the tank’s inner workings function and the flap seals.

Check faucets and under-cabinet plumbing for leaks and have them repaired.  Dark pots, stains, mold, calcifications, and spongy wood are some signs of leaks.

Don’t pour cooking grease down your sink.  It will solidify and clog your pipes, which could cause backups.  Best to pour your grease into an empty can and let it sit. Once it hardens you can toss it in the trash.

Know where the main water shutoffs are. Install water shutoff valves on water lines under sinks and toilets and water lines leading to outside faucets.  These will help you react quickly to a situation and isolate the shutoff rather than having to stop the flow to the entire house.


Your appliances that use water can cause damage due to ruptured or leaky hoses or improper connections. Inspect condition of hoses and connections to your washing machine, refrigerator, and dishwasher.

In-window air conditioners are prone to condensation and drips.

Don’t run your appliances while you are away.

DIY for May – Tiny Gardens, Big Results

Have you heard the news, it’s all over town.  If you haven’t heard it, well, you better sit down.  Grab a hold of something, hold on tight.  Container gardening is outta sight!

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could put food from your own “farm” on your table? You would have fresh, better tasting food, in season and with higher nutrients. Well, you don’t have to live on 40 acres to be able to grow your own edibles.  Container gardening and raised bed gardens could be a way for you to have fresh food at your fingertips.

Small spaces are also good for planting for flowers and even attracting beneficial creatures or discouraging harmful ones.

IMG_2447Community Homeworks presented a workshop on Grow it Yourself Day at People’s Food Co-op in Kalamazoo.  Participants learned ways to take advantage of whatever space they have for growing edibles and flowers.  Hands-on demonstrations showed how to build a raised bed and even reuse materials for container plantings.  As a result, folks came away with skills and knowledge they could immediately put to use as well as a garden-ready bucket!

Here is how to build a container that takes the guesswork out of watering. These instructions are courtesy of Trybal Revival Garden.  Check them out, as well as the gardening community Common Ground for additional information and resources.Bucket


Here are some upcoming free workshop offerings in the Kalamazoo area that can help you get started.

Common Ground          Wenke Greenhouses          MSU Extension

Your local garden centers and greenhouses are good resources. Some offer free workshops on a variety of gardening topics that help you grow-it-yourself. These places can provide help on herbs, fruits, vegetables, pest-resistant plants, pest control, seasonal foods, and fertilizers.  Co-ops and garden networks are also good sources of information and skill building.  And, there might even be ways to get involved in community gardens that have the capacity to grow on a larger scale. They provide opportunities to socialize, contribute to the vitality of neighborhoods, and share what is produced.