7 Quick-and-Easy Winter Weather Preparations to Do Right Now

A tiny $2 prevention could save big bucks later.

Wintry weather is great at turning up problems you didn’t even know you had. Like that first snowy night in front of your fireplace that you thought was pure bliss — until you noticed a leak in the ceiling corner, which apparently was caused by a lack of insulation. How were you supposed to know that?

Here are seven things to do now to avoid costly wintertime mistakes:

#1 Buy a $2 Protector for Your Outdoor Faucet

The cost if you don’t: Up to $15,000 and a whole lot of grief

It’s amazing what a little frozen water can do damage-wise. An inch of water in your basement can cost up to $15,000 to pump out and dry out. And, yet, it’s so easy to prevent, especially with outdoor faucets, which are the most susceptible to freezing temps.

The simplest thing to do is to remove your garden hose from your outdoor faucet and drain it. Then add a faucet protector to keep cold air from getting into your pipes. They’re really cheap (some are under $2; the more expensive ones are still less than $10). “Get these now,” says Danny Lipford, home improvement expert and host of the “Today’s Homeowner” television and radio shows. “When the weatherman says we’ve got cold coming, they’ll sell out in minutes.”

While you’re at it, make sure any exposed pipes in an unheated basement or garage are insulated, too, or you’ll face the same pricey problem.

Wrap pipes with foam plumbing insulation — before the weather drops. It’s cheap, too, just like the faucet cover (only $1 for six feet of polyethylene insulation). And it’s an easy DIY project, as long as you can reach the pipes.

#2 Add Insulation to Prevent Ice Dams

The cost if you don’t: $500 — if you’re lucky; a lot more if you’re not

Those icicles make your home look so picturesque, you just gotta take a few pics. But you better make them quick. Those icicles can literally be a dam problem. (Yes, dam — not the curse word that sounds the same. )

Icicles are a clear sign that you’ve got an ice dam, which is exactly what it sounds like: a buildup of ice on your gutter or roof that prevents melting snow and ice from flowing through your gutters. That’s really bad news because these icy blocks can lead to expensive roofing repairs.

Depending on where you live, expect to pay at least $500 for each ice dam to be steamed off. Leave the ice and you risk long-term damage, which could ultimately cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars to your roof, depending on what type of shingles you have and the size of the damaged area.

How to prevent them? Insulation. “Ice dams, icicles, and ice buildup on the gutters is a symptom of not enough insulation in the attic,” says Chris Johnson, owner of Navarre True Value and several other stores in the Twin Cities area.

And “you need to have at least 14 inches of insulation in your attic, no matter where you live,” says Lipford. If you live in a colder climate, you’ll need more.

If you don’t have the cash to insulate, heated gutter cables, which run between $50 and $150 each, can be a less expensive alternative when temporarily affixed to areas prone to ice damming, Johnson suggests.

#3 Clean Your Gutters

The cost if you don’t:: You really don’t want to be in a position to find out

It can be so tempting to skip gutter cleanups as winter nears. It seems like as soon as you clear your gutters, they clog right back up again. So what’s the point?

Well, if it looks like you’re living inside a waterfall when it rains, water is missing your gutter system completely. It’s being directed to your foundation instead. And a water-damaged foundation is never, ever cheap to fix.

A contractor can plug foundation cracks for $1,500 to $3,000, says David Verbofsky, director of training for exterior home products manufacturer Ply Gem. But a worse problem, one that requires a foundation excavation or rebuild, can set you back (gulp$30,000 or more.

Suddenly, cleaning your gutters a few times each fall doesn’t seem so bad. A pro can do the work for anywhere between $70 and $250, depending on the size of your gutter system.

#4 Seal Up Leaks

The cost if you don’t: Nights where you never feel warm, despite sky-high heating bills

“If it were possible to take every crack on the outside of a typical home and drag them together, you’d have the equivalent of a three-by-three window open all the time,” says Lipford. Yikes.

Yet cracks can be easily and inexpensively sealed with a simple tube of caulk, and it’s available in hundreds of colors to match your window panes, outside siding, and even brick. Not sure where to caulk? Look for visible cracks around:

  • Window sills
  • Baseboards
  • Fireplace or dryer vents
  • Anywhere something inside pokes a hole to the outside

#5 Program Your Thermostat

The cost if you don’t: Money you could spend on something else besides heating

We all know we should, but we seem to have some mental block when it comes to programming our thermostats to align with our schedules. It’s not that hard, and sometimes all it takes is buying a new one that suits you. (Like maybe a Wi-Fi one that’ll give you a little money-saving thrill each time you swipe your app.)

“From a cost-savings perspective, a programmable thermostat is a great investment,” Lipford says — as much as 10% off your energy bill, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

#6 Get a Furnace Tune-Up

The cost if you don’t: A furnace that’ll die years before it should — and higher energy bills

“Forget to service your furnace and you could easily cut five years off the life of your system,” says Lipford, who added that five years is a full third of the typical unit’s life span. New units can cost around $4,000 installed, making the $125 annual maintenance charge a no-brainer.

While you’re at it, don’t forget to replace the furnace filter, which cleans the air in your home, and also keeps your furnace coils cleaner, which can shave up to 15% off your energy bill. Johnson suggests at least every three months, but possibly as often as monthly if you have allergies, pets, or smoke cigarettes at home.

#7 Get a Fireplace Inspection

The cost if you don’t: Possibly your life — and your home

“A cozy fire is great, but if you don’t maintain your chimney, a fire can cost you thousands of dollars,” says Johnson, not to mention the risk to you and your family.

Schedule your maintenance appointment as early as you can.”If you wait until the busy season, you’ll have a hard time getting them out there, you’ll pay more, and you’ll get a lower quality job,” says Lipford.

How to Prevent Freezing Pipes

You CAN prevent freezing pipes and the costly damage that goes with them.

Wicked winter weather can cause plumbing pipes to freeze and possibly burst, causing flooding and costly water damage to your home. Taking preventive measures before winter sets in can reduce and eliminate the risk of frozen pipes and other cold-weather threats.

Where the Trouble Lies

“Some pipes are more prone to freezing than others because of their location in the home,” explains Paul Abrams, spokesman for Roto-Rooter.

Pipes most at risk for freezing include:

  • Exposed pipes in unheated areas of the home.
  • Pipes located in exterior walls.
  • Any plumbing on the exterior of the home.

Preventative Measures for Outside

A frozen garden hose can cause more damage than a busted hose; it can actually burst an interior pipe. When the water in the hose freezes, it expands, increasing pressure throughout the whole plumbing system. As part of your regular seasonal maintenance, garden hoses should be disconnected, drained, and stored before the first hard freeze.

If you don’t have frost-proof spigots, close the interior shut-off valve leading to that faucet, open and drain the spigot, and install a faucet insulator. They cost only a couple bucks and are worth every penny. Don’t forget, outdoor kitchens need winterizing, too, to prevent damage.

Exposed Interior Plumbing

Exposed pipes in the basement are rarely in danger of freezing because they are in a heated portion of the home. But plumbing pipes in an unheated area, such as an attic, crawl space, and garage, are at risk of freezing.

Often, inexpensive foam pipe insulation is enough for moderately cold climates. For severe climes, opt for wrapping problem pipes with thermostatically controlled heat tape (from $50 to $200, depending on length), which will turn on at certain minimum temps.

Under-Insulated Walls

If pipes traveling in exterior walls have frozen in the past (tell-tale signs include water damage, mold, and moisture build-up), it’s probably because of inadequate or improperly installed insulation. It might well be worth the couple hundred dollars it costs to open up the wall and beef up the insulation.

“When nothing else works, say for a northern wall in a really cold climate, the last resort is to reroute a pipe,” notes Abrams. Depending on how far the pipe needs to be moved — and how much damage is caused in the process — this preventative measure costs anywhere from $700 on up. Of course, putting the room back together is extra.

Heading South for the Winter?

For folks leaving their houses for an extended period of time in winter, additional preventative measures must be taken to adequately protect the home from frozen pipes.

  • Make sure the furnace is set no lower than 55 degrees.
  • Shut off the main water supply and drain the system by opening all faucets and flushing the toilets.

In extreme situations (vacation home in a bitterly cold climate), Abrams recommends having a plumber come to inspect the system, drain the hot water heater, and perhaps replace the water in traps and drains with nontoxic antifreeze.

Keep Your Home Sale from Falling Apart

After finding a buyer, all you have to do to make it to closing is to avoid these five traps.

Finding a buyer for your home is just the first step on the homeselling path. Tread carefully in the weeks ahead because if you make one of these common seller mistakes, your deal may not close.

Mistake #1: Ignore Contingencies

If your contract requires you to do something before the sale, do it. If the buyers make the sale contingent on certain repairs, don’t do cheap patch-jobs and expect the buyers not to notice the fixes weren’t done properly.

Mistake #2: Don’t Bother to Fix Things That Break

The last thing any seller needs is for the buyers to notice on the pre-closing walk-through that the home isn’t in the same condition as when they made their offer. When things fall apart in a home about to be purchased, sellers must make the repairs. If the furnace fails, get a professional to fix it, and inform the buyers that the work was done. When you fail to maintain the home, the buyers may lose confidence in your integrity and the condition of the home and back out of the sale.

Mistake #3: Get Lax About Deadlines

Treat deadlines as sacrosanct. If you have three days to accept or reject the home inspection, make your decision within three days. If you’re selling, move out a few days early, so you can turn over the keys at closing.

Mistake #4: Refuse to Negotiate Any Further

Once you’ve negotiated a price, it’s natural to calculate how much you’ll walk away with from the closing table. However, problems uncovered during inspections will have to be fixed. The appraisal may come in at a price below what the buyers offered to pay. Be prepared to negotiate with the buyers over these bottom-line-influencing issues.

Mistake #5: Hide Liens from Buyers

Did you neglect to mention that Uncle Sam has placed a tax lien on your home or you owe six months of homeowners association fees? The title search is going to turn up any liens filed on your house. To sell your house, you have to pay off the lien (or get the borrower to agree to pay it off). If you can do that with the sales proceeds, great. If not, the sale isn’t going to close.

Should I Rent or Sell My House?

When it comes to deciding whether you should rent or sell your house, are you worried you’ll make the wrong financial moves? Here’s how to make the right call.

When your current home no longer suits you, selling it is a popular option. But in some cases, turning it into a rental home might make more sense.

There are lots of factors to consider when making the “sell vs. rent my home” decision, including:

  • Your financial situation.
  • Local market conditions for rental homes.
  • Your future housing plans.
  • Your tolerance for being a landlord.
  • State and federal income taxes.
  • Current and projected home prices.

Other factors to consider include:

Is Your Move Permanent?

Going away for a few years and planning to come back to the area? It may be cheaper to rent your house and move back in when you return, rather than paying sales commissions to sell your current home and purchase of another one when you get back.

You’re Being Transferred, But You Are Likely Coming Back

Suppose you have owned and lived in your home for two or more years but are now being transferred to a different city temporarily, after which you plan to return. You can rent your home for up to three years without losing the chance to sell it with no capital gains tax. So long as you owned and lived in the house for two of the five years prior to the sale, any capital gain on the sale can generally be excluded.

Therefore, by turning your home into a rental, you keep the option to move back in when you return, or sell it and avoid paying capital gains tax on any gain you might have.

Can You Rent Your Home for Enough to Cover the Mortgage Payment and Expenses?

If you can, keeping your house can be a smart way to help fund your retirement. Each month your tenants pay rent. You likely won’t pay tax on that income if you have enough expenses to offset it (like mortgage interest and repair costs).

When you finish paying off your mortgage or once you retire, you can sell the house and convert your equity into a lump sum, or continue renting it and collecting income during your retirement.

Do You Need More Tax Deductions?

When you rent your home instead of selling, you get to depreciate it for tax purposes. In most cases, you divide the amount you paid for the house, plus the cost of major improvements (less the value of the land) by 27.5 (that’s how many years the tax law says a house must be depreciated) to arrive at your annual depreciation.

For example, if you paid $100,000 for the house, and the portion allocated to the land is $20,000, you get to deduct $2,909 in depreciation annually ($80,000/27.5). Along with this, you can deduct other expenses, such as property taxes, repairs, and community association fees.

You Think Home Prices Are Going to Rise Over the Next Five Years

Even if your rental income doesn’t cover all your expenses (mortgage, property taxes, repairs, etc.), you might make up that loss if your home’s value rises before you sell it.

Say your home is worth $100,000 today and your expenses are $1,000 a year more than the rent you can collect. Over 10 years, you’ll lose $10,000 ($1,000 x 10 years), but if your home sale nets you more than $110,000, you’ll make money despite those annual losses. Your annual losses might be tax deductible, saving you money on your tax bill.

What’s Your Home’s Condition?

Renters, more so than buyers, can be willing to overlook outdated home fixtures because renters know they’re just passing through your home, not owning it.

If you don’t have the money to invest in improvements and your home’s fixtures scream 1970s (and not in a good, retro chic way), renting may be the better choice.

You Need the Profit From Selling Your Home to Fund Your Move-Up Home

If you need a different home and must sell your current home so you can use the equity as a downpayment, you might want to sell your home vs. renting it.

If you don’t need all the equity in your home for your downpayment, you might be able to take out a home equity loan or refinance into an investor loan and use the loan proceeds as your downpayment, and still make your home a rental.

You Freak Out About Condition and Panic Over Repairs

When someone lives in your home, they can scuff the walls, burn the countertops, and forget to water your prized shrubberies. If you can’t live with that wear and tear, sell rather than rent your home.

Becoming a landlord usually means you still have to maintain your house. You’ll get the bills when the plumbing springs a leak or the refrigerator dies. If making DIY repairs is beyond you and paying for upkeep is going to cause you to panic, opt to sell your house vs. renting it to save your sanity. You can save many of these headaches by using a property manager, but this, of course, will cost you.

Can You Evict a Tenant Who Fails to Pay?

If you wouldn’t have the heart to force out a renter who didn’t pay, you shouldn’t become a landlord — or if you do become a landlord, plan to have a pro manage your property.

7 Steps to Take Before You Buy a Home

By doing your homework before you buy, you’ll feel more content about your new home.

Most potential home buyers are a smidge daunted by the fact that they’re about to agree to a hefty mortgage that they’ll be paying for the next few decades. The best way to relieve that anxiety is to be confident you’re purchasing the best home at a price you can afford with the most favorable financing. These seven steps will help you make smart decisions about your biggest purchase.

1. Decide How Much Home You Can Afford

Generally, you can afford a home priced two to three times your gross income. Remember to consider costs every homeowner must cover: property taxes, insurance, maintenance, utilities, and community association fees, if applicable, as well as costs specific to your family, such as day care if you plan to have children.

2. Develop Your Home Wish List

Be honest about which features you must have and which you’d like to have. Handicap accessibility for an aging parent or special needs child is a must. Granite countertops and stainless steel appliances are in the bonus category. Come up with your top five must-haves and top five wants to help you focus your search and make a logical, rather than emotional, choice when home shopping.

3. Select Where You Want to Live

Make a list of your top five community priorities, such as commute time, schools, and recreational facilities. Ask a REALTOR® to help you identify three to four target neighborhoods based on your priorities.

4. Start Saving

Have you saved enough money to qualify for a mortgage and cover your down payment? Ideally, you should have 20% of the purchase price set aside for a down payment, but some lenders allow as little as 5% down. A small down payment preserves your savings for emergencies.

However, the lower your down payment, the higher the loan amount you’ll need to qualify for, and if you still qualify, the higher your monthly payment. Your down payment size can also influence your interest rate and the type of loan you can get.

Finally, if your down payment is less than 20%, you’ll be required to purchase private mortgage insurance. Depending on the size of your loan, PMI can add hundreds to your monthly payment. Check with your state and local government for mortgage and down payment assistance programs for first-time buyers.

5. Ask About All the Costs Before You Sign

A down payment is just one home buying cost. A REALTOR® can tell you what other costs buyers commonly pay in your area — including home inspections, attorneys’ fees, and transfer fees of 2% to 7% of the home price. Tally up the extras you’ll also want to buy after you move-in, such as window coverings and patio furniture for your new yard.

6. Get Your Credit in Order

A credit report details your borrowing history, including any late payments and bad debts, and typically includes a credit score. Lenders lean heavily on your credit report and credit score in determining whether, how much, and at what interest rate to lend for a home. The minimum credit score you can have to qualify for a loan depends on many factors, including the size of your down payment. Talk to a REALTOR® or lender about your particular circumstance.

You’re entitled to free copies of your credit reports annually from the major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Order and then pore over them to ensure the information is accurate, and try to correct any errors before you buy. If your credit score isn’t up to snuff, the easiest ways to improve it are to pay every bill on time and pay down high credit card debt.

7. Get Prequalified

Meet with a lender to get a prequalification letter that says how much house you’re qualified to buy. Start gathering the paperwork your lender says it needs. Most want to see W-2 forms verifying your employment and income, copies of pay stubs, and two to four months of banking statements.

If you’re self-employed, you’ll need your current profit and loss statement, a current balance sheet, and personal and business income tax returns for the previous two years.

Consider your financing options. The longer the loan, the smaller your monthly payment. Fixed-rate mortgages offer payment certainty; an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) offers a lower monthly payment. However, an adjustable-rate mortgage may adjust dramatically. Be sure to calculate your affordability at both the lowest and highest possible ARM rate.

 

Kids’ Rooms: Storage Solutions for Every Age

From babies who adore you to teens who ignore you, kids change — and so do their storage needs.

Here’s how to organize kids’ rooms from cradle to college.

Cradle Crawlers

Transformer cribs. An ordinary crib accommodates baby for two to three years — until he learns how to escape over the rail. Boost storage with a convertible crib with storage drawers ($145 to $350) that’ll convert and adapt to your toddler’s needs and beyond.

Some convertible cribs change into toddler beds, daybeds, or full-size headboards, giving you options as your youngster gets older. If you can’t find a crib with storage below, use the space between the legs for stowing bins or baskets for diapers, toys, and more.

Pimping the closet. Remove the door on the nursery closet for easy access, and install a variety of cool storage features. Drawers, bins, and shelves can round up onesies, booties, baby towels, diapers, and toiletries. A simple wire rack storage system is $90 to $350 at home improvement centers.

Install lower rods so baby, as he grows, can easily latch onto duds (and maybe even hang them up). Expandable hangers ($14 for a 3-pack) fit tiny baby clothes but open up to accommodate larger sizes when needed.

Toddlers and Elementary Age

Look ‘em in the eye. Stow books and puzzles on a low magazine rack or shelving unit so toddlers and elementary-age children can grab a good read or brain teaser on a whim. As children grow, paint the shelf to suit changing tastes and use it for teen magazines, framed photos, and school books.

Cornering the market. Young kids love nooks, so create a cozy hideaway by arranging storage units — open shelves, a desk top, and cabinets — so they (mostly) enclose one corner of your kid’s room. Bookshelves and kids’ desks range from $50 to $200.

Stock up with plenty of games, books, toys, and crafts supplies. Paint cabinet doors with blackboard paint to add an eye-level creative opportunity.

Corral the bling. Little girls often possess a cartload of hair ribbons, barrettes, and bows. Look for special organizers that keep them on display, orderly, and within easy reach. One option: Sort items into the pockets of a clear vinyl shoe holder ($10) that fits on the back of the door.

Tweens, Teens, and Beyond

A magnetic personality. A bulletin board is a great way for your tween or teen to organize and display all those photos of friends and Fido. Or, coat a vertical surface (such as a closet door) with magnetizing primer ($25/quart) and paint over the primer with a hip color. Use assorted magnets and magnetic clips and holders to display artwork, sports schedules, and homework reminders.

Making a (book)case. A bookcase headboard ($100 to $200) is a grown-up way for your teen or college student to keep reading materials organized and the tablet reader handy. Platform storage beneath the bed provides room for drawers or cubbies that can hold baskets and bins for corralling small stuff.

Explore the shallows. Commandeer space between wall studs and create a shallow storage niche outfitted with hooks, shelves, or rods for organizing jewelry and other smallish gear. Add a mirrored door to keep clutter out of sight.

Lofty ambitions. For a small bedroom, a loft-style bed offers a fun spot for snoozing and space below for bookcase storage, a futon, or a study desk. Loft beds for kids’ rooms start at $150 and range to $3,000 or more.

Keep rolling. Give your tween or teen a rolling caddy ($25 to $80) for storing personal bath supplies, jewelry, cosmetics, and hair gear. The caddy stores in the bedroom and rolls to a nearby bath and back.

 

Roofing: Repair or Replace?

Deciding whether to repair or replace roofing is largely an exercise in timing — you don’t want to re roof too soon and waste money, but you don’t want to wait too long either.

Eventually, all roofs wear out and need to be replaced. You don’t want to do it too soon, because you’ll waste money. But you also don’t want to wait too long, because then you’ll end up with leaks and expensive water damage. To get the timing right, you need to know how to assess the overall condition of your roof and identify early signs of roof failure.

The national average for a new asphalt shingle roof is about $21,500, according to Re modeling’s 2010-11 Cost vs. Value Report, of which you’ll recoup $12,800 at resale (59.5%). For high-end materials, such as standing-seam metal, the cost jumps to as much as $38,000.

If most of your roof is still in good shape, a spot repair makes sense. But if there are signs the roof is wearing out, or if it is more than 20 years old, replacing it may be the smarter choice.

Be Alert to Early Signs of a Roof Leak

If you check the condition of your roof at least once a year, you should be able to plan in advance for necessary repairs. Early signs of trouble include dark areas on ceilings, peeling paint on the underside of roof overhangs, damp spots alongside fireplaces, and water stains on pipes venting the water heater or furnace.

From the outside, you can assess your roof’s health by viewing it through binoculars. Warning signs include cracked caulk or rust spots on flashing; shingles that are buckling, curling, or blistering; and worn areas around chimneys, pipes, and skylights. If you find piles of grit from asphalt roof tiles in the gutters, that’s a bad sign, since the granules shield the roof from the sun’s damaging ultraviolet rays. Black algae stains are just cosmetic, but masses of moss and lichen could signal roofing that’s decayed underneath.

If you’re inspecting on your own and find worrisome signs, especially if the roof is old or there has been a storm with heavy wind or hail, get a professional assessment. Some roofing companies do this free; specialized roof inspectors, like those who work through the National Roof Certification and Inspection Association, charge about $175.

When Repairs Make Sense

You can usually repair a leak in a roof that is otherwise sound. The cost might range from $10 if you just need to squirt some roofing mastic into a gap alongside chimney flashing to $1,000 to fix a leak in a roof valley. If something sudden and unforeseen, such as a wind storm, causes a leak to appear, your homeowner’s insurance will probably cover the repairs. But you’re still responsible for limiting the damage, so put out buckets and try to get a local roofer to spread a tarp while you arrange for repairs. Insurance may not cover problems that stem from a worn-out roof or lack of maintenance.

The Cost of Re-Roofing

Stripping off old roofing and starting over typically costs about $3 a square foot for basic composition shingles. You may be able to leave an existing single layer and add a second layer on top of it for about $2 a square foot. If you plan to stay in the house for only a few years, this might seem like a smart way to save. But unless you’re so pressed for cash that your only other option is to risk leaks, it’s false economy. The second layer won’t last as long—only about 15 years rather than the standard 20—and you won’t get new flashing or underlayment or the opportunity to upgrade to features that make a roof stronger. Plus, when you go to sell, your re-covered roof will look a little lumpy, and potential buyers may interpret the two layers as a sign that other home improvements were also done on the cheap.

Make Sure to Factor in Hidden Costs

When you evaluate bids, don’t just look at the total. A bare-bones estimate might include a single layer of 15-pound building paper under the roofing, while a better but more expensive bid includes 30-pound paper plus self-stick rubbery material along eaves to protect against damage from ice dams. Bids might also differ in whether they include the cost of disposing of the old roofing, on hourly rates for structural repairs, and on costs related to gutters.

Once you settle on a contractor, check to make sure the company is licensed and insured. Also discuss how the crew will minimize damage to landscaping, and who will pay for any that occurs. Schedule the roof work during dry weather, if possible, so your lawn doesn’t take as much of a beating. You’ll sleep better, too, if you’re not worrying about rain coming in when the roof is half-done.

Get the Most From a New Roof

A new roof isn’t something most families buy happily. But getting multiple benefits from it makes it easier to shell out the money. As part of a new roofing project, you can incorporate many features that make your home more environmentally friendly, some of which may qualify for a federal tax credit to offset the cost. You can also choose roofing that’s more resistant to fire or damage from wind and hail, which may qualify you for a discount of 30% or more on your homeowner’s insurance policy.

What Not to Do as a New Homeowner

Avoid these easy-to-prevent mistakes that could cost you big time. You’ve finally settled into your new home. You’re hanging pictures and pinning ideas for your favorite bath.

But in all your excitement, are you missing something? Now that you’re a bonafide homeowner are there things you should know that you don’t?

Probably so. Here are six mistakes new homeowners often make, and why they’re critically important to avoid.

#1 Not Knowing Where the Main Water Shutoff Valve Is

Water from a burst or broken plumbing pipe can spew dozens of gallons into your home’s interior in a matter of minutes, soaking everything in sight — including drywall, flooring, and valuables. In fact, water damage is one of the most common of all household insurance claims.

Quick-twitch reaction is needed to stave off a major bummer. Before disaster hits, find your water shutoff valve, which will be located where a water main enters your house. Make sure everyone knows where it’s located and how to close the valve. A little penetrating oil on the valve stem makes sure it’ll work when you need it to.

#2 Not Calling 811 Before Digging a Hole

Ah, spring! You’re so ready to dig into your new yard and plant bushes and build that fence. But don’t — not until you’ve dialed 811, the national dig-safely hotline. The hotline will contact all your local utilities who will then come to your property — often within a day — to mark the location of underground pipes, cables, and wires.

This free service keeps you safe and helps avoid costly repairs. In many states, calling 811 is the law, so you’ll also avoid fines.

#3 Not Checking the Slope of Foundation Soil

The ground around your foundation should slope away from your house at least 6 inches over 10 feet. Why? To make sure that water from rain and melting snow doesn’t soak the soil around your foundation walls, building up pressure that can cause leaks and crack your foundation, leading to mega-expensive repairs.

This kind of water damage doesn’t happen overnight — it’s accumulative — so the sooner you get after it, the better (and smarter) you’ll be. While you’re at it, make sure downspouts extend at least 5 feet away from your house.

Related: How to Prevent Water Damage

#4 Not Knowing the Depth of Attic Insulation

This goes hand-in-hand with not knowing where your attic access is located, so let’s start there. Find the ceiling hatch, typically a square area framed with molding in a hallway or closet ceiling. Push the hatch cover straight up. Get a ladder and check out the depth of the insulation. If you can see the tops of joists, you definitely don’t have enough.

The recommended insulation for most attics is about R-38 or 10 to 14 inches deep, depending on the type of insulation you choose. BTW, is your hatch insulated, too? Use 4-inch-thick foam board glued to the top.

Related: Attic Air Leaks: How to Find and Seal Them

#5 Carelessly Drilling into Walls

Hanging shelves, closet systems, and artwork means drilling into your walls — but do you know what’s back there? Hidden inside your walls are plumbing pipes, ductwork, wires, and cables.

You can check for some stuff with a stud sensor — a $25 battery-operated tool that detects changes in density to sniff out studs, cables, and ducts.

But stud sensors aren’t foolproof. Protect yourself by drilling only 1¼ inches deep max — enough to clear drywall and plaster but not deep enough to reach most wires and pipes.

Household wiring runs horizontally from outlet to outlet about 8 inches to 2 feet from the floor, so that’s a no-drill zone. Stay clear of vertical locations above and below wall switches — wiring runs along studs to reach switches.

#6 Cutting Down a Tree

The risk isn’t worth it. Even small trees can fall awkwardly, damaging your house, property, or your neighbor’s property. In some locales, you have to obtain a permit first. Cutting down a tree is an art that’s best left to a professional tree service.

Plus, trees help preserve property values and provide shade that cuts energy bills. So think twice before going all Paul Bunyan.

 

Repair Walls to Give Rooms a Fresh Face

Sooner or later you’ll repair walls that make rooms look worn out. Erasing dings, dents, and scuffs is an easy fix. We’ll show you how.

Repair walls filled with dents, dings, and scuffs, and you’ll make rooms look young and fresh and maintain the value of your home. Fortunately, repairing walls is a good weekend warrior project. Here’s how to fix your home’s face in a hurry.

Patch Drywall to Smooth Walls

A putty knife, spackle, or joint compound can repair wall damage that ages a room.

Dents and dings: A quart of spackle ($11) and a putty knife can fill dozens of small wall indentations. Spackle adheres to painted walls better than joint compound, though it takes a bit longer to dry. Cut wall repair time by thoroughly wiping away excess spackle.

Fist-sized holes: Joint compound is your best bet when covering the mesh or drywall patches that cover big holes. You’ll need at least two thin coats of compound and fine grit sandpaper to blend repairs into the rest of the wall.

Nail pops: Nail pops travel in packs: Rarely do you see just one. To repair walls pocked with pops, hammer the popped nail back into the wall or pull it out with a needle-nose pliers; refasten the drywall to the nearest stud with a couple of screws, then fill dents with two or three coats of joint compound. Sand until smooth and flush with the rest of the wall, then repaint.

Remove Marks for a Clean Start

Microfiber cloths are little miracles that erase the evidence of a childhood well spent, drawing on and caroming off walls. To get rid of scuff marks and fingerprints:

  • Spray an all-purpose cleaner onto the cloth (never directly onto walls to avoid drips) and swipe the scuff. (Test a hidden spot to make sure the cleaner doesn’t take off paint with the mark.)
  • Pour a little dish soap onto a damp cloth and wipe the mark.
  • Dip a sponge into an earth-friendly and slightly abrasive paste of dish soap, baking soda, and water, and gently scrub grime.
  • To repair walls decorated with crayon marks, dab toothpaste onto a towel or toothbrush and scrub marks.
  • Use a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser ($3), the best instant wall cleaner around. Wet and wring the eraser before attacking scuffs.

Touch Up What You Can’t Wipe Out

Prepare for inevitable touch-ups by keeping leftover paint or at least recording the paint number and/or formula (paint names change). Don’t have the original? Scrape off a little and ask your paint store to match it.

For touch-ups, use the same type of brush or roller the original painter used. Feather the paint from the outside borders in.

If touch-ups stand out, paint the entire wall, making sure to paint corner to corner and avoid splatters onto the ceiling and adjacent walls.

 

Don’t Go Over Budget on a Renovation

‘Home renovations on a budget’ isn’t an oxymoron. It can be done with these 5 tips.

When Kelly Whalen demolished her built-in bookshelves as part of a living room DIY, she found it gave the room some much-needed space. Unfortunately, she also found a hidden subfloor made from asbestos(!) tiles. She hadn’t budgeted for a new subfloor — or for the removal of a toxic substance. Yikes.

And there were more surprises. “When we pulled up the tiling, we found we also had to pull out two layers of wall paneling just to get to the edges of the room,” says the Exton, Penn., native. The paneling fix led to a need for new insulation and drywall. What started as a small project quickly ballooned — and so did Whalen’s expenses.

Almost four out of 10 homeowners go over budget when doing a remodel, according to a 2014 report from home improvement site Houzz. Another stat that’ll make you think: Only one in five comes in under budget. Protect your bottom line with these five tips:

1. Reconsider DIY

DIY is cheaper, right? Not necessarily, says Philadelphia-based interior architecture and design expert Glenna Stone. Depending on the project, amateurs beware.

“If you don’t have the expertise, you could end up paying between 10% and 40% more,” Stone says.

Why? While your DIY labor is technically free, your lack of know-how can be costly.

And then there’s hiring and scheduling. A task like moving a wall could mean hiring an engineer and an architect, not to mention coordinating permits. A general contractor knows who’ll do the best work for the best price, and they’ll know when to schedule them to avoid wasting dollars on inefficient use of time.

“If the plumber comes out before you’re ready for him, they’ll charge you for that visit, and then to come out again,” says Stone.

Finally, a contractor is more likely to get it right the first time. There’s nothing like having to buy stuff twice because you messed up. Stone recommends hiring a general contractor for most medium- to large-scale jobs.

Takeaway: Don’t DIY unless you really know what you’re doing. Mistakes cost more than hiring a pro the first time.

2. Hire the Right Experts

If you decide to forgo the general contractor route and hire individual workers yourself, it’s best to get at least three quotes for each service performed. Talking to professionals isn’t just about finding the most competitive price. It’s also an opportunity to figure out what services each individual contractor includes within his fee.

In fact, the least expensive contractor may be a warning sign for inferior construction quality or subpar building materials. A bid worth reviewing should include a line item for every charge.

“‘Everything’ means every detail, from [the] exact kind of sink fixture to brand of roof shingles,” says Dean Bennett, president of Dean Bennett Design and Construction in Castle Rock, Colo. Even the color of the outlets in each room should be included in the bid, he adds.

Takeaway: The more detail that’s in the bid, the more likely you’ll come in on budget.

3. Map Out the Project Step by Step (So You Don’t Miss Anything)

So, you’re planning to put up a backsplash. What do you need to put into your budget? The tile and adhesive, right? And that’s about it?

Try again. Big project or small, the more detailed your plan, the better prepared you’ll be for both the expected and unexpected costs that can (more like will) arise.

When estimating the cost of your project, consider the large expenses, like that tile and adhesive, but also remember the little items like sales tax, delivery charges, shipping charges, the float, caulking, cleaning materials, and more. For bigger projects, you’ll need to estimate engineering costs, interest costs, permit fees, and sewer and water tap fees, says Bennett. The more you can plan to expect, the better.

Takeaway: Don’t forget the “small” costs. Like pennies, they might not seem like much at first, but they sure do add up.

4. Know Where You’re Willing to Cut Corners — and Where You’re Going to Invest

Before setting a project budget, consider what features are most important to you. When it comes to allocating funds, ancillary desires should take second place to your overall project goals.

If, for example, your primary goal is to expand your cabinet space, how vital are custom cabinets or high-end finishes to that goal? “If you’re … OK with using stock sizes, you can save about 20% to 30% on your budget,” says Stone. So if your bottom line is to increase kitchen storage space, stay on budget by sticking with stock cabinets instead of paying more for custom.

On the flip side, if your goal is to gain more glam than storage space, custom cabinets may be where you want to splurge.

Takeaway: Let your goals drive your budget decisions.

5. Pad Your Budget

“For any large renovation, you have to plan for the unexpected,” says Stone. You could open a wall and find electrical work needs to be done. You could find that your chosen tile is on back order and your second choice comes at a higher cost. Stone suggests building a 10% buffer into the budget. Some experts suggest more — up to 25% for those with older homes. According to Stone, that cash cushion is used more often than not.

When the unexpected does arise, it can pay to keep a level head. “Even if you feel pressed for time, give yourself at least 24 hours to make an unexpected decision,” says Stone. When people are reaching their threshold for how long and to what degree they’ve had their house torn apart, “they rush into a decision,” she says. “They regret it almost 100% of the time.”

Takeaway: Pad your budget for the unexpected — and don’t rush decisions.