Spring Home Improvements: Repair, Replace, Enjoy!

With memories of snow and cold fading (especially here in Maine), it’s time for home owners to take stock of important work to be done for themselves and potential buyers down the road. Keeping on track with seasonal maintenance will lower costs and raise property value.

Besides cleaning closets, planting flowers and cool-weather vegetables, spring should involve scrutinizing the condition of your house following the rough winter that we just had. Repairs and replacements won’t just help you enjoy your home more; they’ll also keep energy costs down as hot weather rolls in and attract more buyers – many of whom have become meticulous about inspecting roofs, appliances, and utility bills.

While most home owners need to prioritize costs, these 10 improvements are at the top of many contractors’ lists. Some of them are even more affordable than ever before, thanks to rebates from local communities, utility companies, and the federal government.

1. Replace windows

If your home felt drafty this past winter and you have single-pane windows and loose sashes, there’s a good chance those were one of the culprits. But replacing them all can be costly — $400 to $500 per window, plus $100 to $150 for installation. Whether that’s the place to spend dollars should depend on how long you plan to stay put or what houses listed in their neighborhood offer, if they’re selling. The payback for vinyl windows at 71.2 percent and for wood windows at a similar 73.3 percent! A less costly alternative can be to add storms, caulk, weather strip, or rim joists in a basement

12 Key Questions to Ask Before You Hire Home Improvement Pros

1. Can you show me proof of a license, certification, or associations you belong to?
2. Are you bonded? Are covered by Workmen’s’ Compensation Insurance?
3. Will you provide three recommendations?
4. What are your specialties — kitchens, bathrooms, or additions? Are there jobs you don’t like to tackle?
5. Will you secure any needed permits?
6. How much must I pay up front for work?
7. Do you have a regular team of subs, or assemble different members?
8. How might we resolve conflicts — will resolution be in the contract?
9. How often will you show up at the job site to check progress?
10. How might I best reach you — e-mail, phone, text?
11. What is your typical clean-up schedule — daily or weekly?
12. Will you provide a lien release when work is done?

2. Install a new heating system and change filters

If your furnace and boiler were on their last legs this past winter, it may be time to install a new one, or at least provide sellers with a credit toward new needed equipment. Any choice should carry an EnergyStar label for best results. Existing systems still in good condition should have filters checked monthly and replaced when dark and clogged – a DIY project. For great energy efficiency, installing heat exchanges (that provide both heat and air conditioning) can be less costly than a new central air system with new ducting and a new furnace. Many Native Mainers don’t have air conditioning of any kind since they are stubbornly strong willed and determined not to let the weather dictate their ‘comfort needs.” Others, are more inclined to have air conditioning because “when you need it, you’ll be more comfortable. The “dog days “ of August can be oppressive! Many of us, need a “restful good night’s sleep” when we are working the next day

3. Clean air conditioning units

Before summer temperatures rise and HVAC pros are swamped, clean coils and change filters so their system doesn’t have to work as hard. Drain lines should be cleaned, so moisture is eliminated. If you have not seriously-considered an air conditioning system of some kind, now’s the time to weigh choices of a central system, heat exchange, or room units.

4. Install more insulation

A home’s first line of defense to stop cold or hot air — depending on the season — should be the attic, according to most contractors. An energy audit can determine how much more is needed, if you already have some.  Most energy specialists suggest adding more than the minimum 8 inches required by most local codes — up to 16 inches. For cold climates, installing electric or hydronic radiant heat under bathroom and kitchen floors will provide wonderful comfort next season.

5. Switch out inefficient appliances

Sometimes older appliances are no longer smart to keep or repair. The determining factors for that should be their age and the cost of repair versus replacement. Newer appliances use far less electricity and oftentimes occasion huge savings in your utility bill!  Here, too, top choices carry an EnergyStar label. If you should replace most of their kitchen appliances, and have a limited budget or plan to move,  prioritize… and first switch out the range, followed by the refrigerator, dishwasher, and microwave — in that order.

6. Repair or replace roofs, gutters, and downspouts

Because of the tough hurricane season last fall and the winter blizzards, roofing contractors in many parts of the country have been busy. If your roof needs some attention consider architectural asphalt shingles because of their long warranties (often 50 years), affordable prices, and attractive appearances that work with many house styles. In addition, many contractors have the equipment and experience to install roofs of this material, as opposed to metal.  However, if you are not planning on moving soon, metal standing seam roofs are well worth considering since the cost is much less than it used to be and they often last for almost 100 years. Besides, they can easily increase the value and appearance of your home. Then too, what a sweet thing to hear the rain fall on a metal roof while you are sleeping! Home owners that have gutters and downspouts should clean them now so that water can flow through them; gutters should be angled away from a house to stop water pooling around a foundation and seeping into the basement. Gutter covers can be helpful but often don’t eliminate all debris.

7. Paint

Damage often shows up at this time of year, especially in climates where there’s been a lot of snow melting or winter rains…especially, here in Maine. Use this time to reassess your color choice for better curb appeal. Even changing the front door’s color can make a difference. Spend the extra money for a better exterior paint which has a primer added. More pigment equals better hiding power and longer time between repaintings.

8. Prune trees

Cutting limbs that may have been damaged during winter that might fall on a roof or allow squirrels to enter a house is smart, and it can be a cost savings later on. Called “thinning out,” this method gets excess foliage trimmed to allow more natural light into a house—and cut down on artificial illumination. “It opens the tree so you don’t have dead spots in the interior and lets the tree take advantage of air flow rather than chop off the top.”  A certified arborist will know the best ways to do this without removing too much of a canopy, which is useful for privacy and shade.

9. Mulch plantings

Along with fall, spring is a key mulch time. Mulch helps plants thrive by holding back weeds, retaining moisture so soil doesn’t dry out, and adding a tidy look. Use bark, shredded fir, leaves, straw, or grass clippings.

10. Replace light bulbs

When it comes to artificial light, most contractors recommend switching burned-out bulbs to LEDs, which last longer than incandescents, consume less energy, and have come down in price — now often just $10. In Maine the cost of bulbs is subsidized by surcharges on your utility bill payments, so the cost is often a 50 to 75% electric bill savings to power your bulbs.  Quality has improved, too, and they’re dimmable and available in colors. “Wattages” are significantly lower than those for incandescent bulbs so you can use brighter bulbs in lighting fixtures – that typically have warnings not to use bulbs having more than 60-75 watts.

One more thing: Before you hire anybody to take on work, get a written estimate. Better to be safe than sorry.

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