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Tips for Home Buyers

April home-maintenance checklist

Finally, it’s spring. To celebrate, do a few improvements indoors — tweaking your home’s energy efficiency and getting doors to operate smoothly — and then get outdoors to do some work that shows off your home’s exterior. Install a new screen door or repair an old one. Maintain fireplaces and gas appliances while avoiding the scammers who pop out of the woodwork like bugs this season. Repair fences. Remove stubborn stains from concrete garage floors, patios and sidewalks. And try one or all of our eight cheap and fun ways to give your home’s entrance some exciting spring sparkle.

Install a programmable thermostat

Energy is wasted when you push up the temperature when the room feels cold or turn down the heat manually when it’s too warm. You can save about $180 a year with one of these devices.

A programmable thermostat lets you set the temperature in your home, then leave it. The most useful products give you options for establishing different temperatures for day and night (62 at night, for example, and 65 during the day), weekdays and weekends (keep the house cooler while you’re away at work and warmer when you’re home) and also let you turn the heat way down during vacations without changing your daily settings.

Cut energy expenses further
While you are in the mood to reduce energy consumption, call your electric utility and/or your heating-fuel company to ask about financial incentives for installing energy-efficient appliances or improvements. Some utilities subsidize the cost of improvements: adding insulation or weather stripping, or installing that programmable thermostat, for example. Others give rebates for purchasing Energy Star appliances such as water heaters, air conditioners, dehumidifiers, heat pumps and fans. Also, remember to take the federal tax credit for such purchases. See the entire list at the Energy Star site. Senior citizens may qualify for additional subsidies.

Look for additional savings: Many states offer additional incentives.

Straighten out problem doors
Walk around the house with a can of silicone lubricant and a rag, trying each door. If a door is sticky, open it partway and pull the hinge pin out. The pin is found in the center of the hinge, in the joint between the plate on the wall and the one on the door. Lightly oil the pin and the hole into which it will fit, using the rag to stop drips. Drop the pin back in place. If a pin is stuck in a hinge, use a hammer and small screwdriver to knock it all the way out. Sand off accumulated oil, dust and rust from pin and lightly lubricate it before reinstalling. You may have to do this with both pins.

Repair or replace screen doors

Get ready for bug season by hanging screen doors. You can repair torn screens yourself:

  • Measure the screen opening. You’ll need overage, so add at least an inch to each side. Bring the measurements to a hardware store and purchase a new length of screen.
  • The screen is held in place by a flexible cord fitted into a channel that runs around the screen frame. Lift out the cord. If it is old and brittle, measure it and buy new cord at the hardware store.
  •  Place the new screen over the opening, fit it snugly in place by settling the cord in its channel around the entire opening (poke it in place with a screwdriver). Trim the excess screen with scissors or a box cutter.

If the door sags, see if you can tighten it by replacing missing or corroded hinge screws.  If that doesn’t work, or if the door is bent or battered, purchase and install a new aluminum screen door.

Install a chimney cap
You could send out an invitation to birds and squirrels to come nest in the warmth of your chimney, or you could install a cap to protect the stack from dripping rain and uninvited critters.  A cap, sometimes called a “crown,” shelters the opening while it lets smoke escape. A cap prevents wind from entering your home and helps create a good draft that feeds your fireplace or stove with oxygen. Metal chimneys usually come with caps, but if yours doesn’t have one, ask the manufacture for advice.  Caps are not appropriate for all chimneys. Ask your chimney sweep to inspect the chimney each year for damage and to advise you on whether to install a cap.

Beware chimney-sweep scams
Yes, you should have your chimney swept by a professional to remove flammable creosote that builds up inside the flue from wood smoke. (If you don’t use the stove or fireplace much, you can wait two to three years between cleanings.) But not every chimney sweep is right out of “Mary Poppins.” Door-to-door scammers prey on homeowners, dangling deliciously low prices, then pressuring owners into “repairing” expensive but fictitious problems. Protect yourself by using a chimney sweep with an established business in your town. Check a company’s track record through the Better Business Bureau and locate certified sweeps at the National Chimney Sweep Guild or the Chimney Safety Institute of America.

Have gas-burning furnaces and appliances inspected
Every year a licensed gas technician should clean out dust and debris and examine the appliance for safety, efficiency and repairs. Find a repair pro through your gas company or utility or search the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association's site.

Spiff up the front entry
Few things say "spring" like freshening up the front entrance of your home. Try any or all of these improvements:

  1. Remove the doormat and sweep and dust the entry and all the way around the door. Clean the threshold with soapy water and a rag and gently wipe down the door.
  2. Take a hard look at the flower pots, furniture, plant hangers, toys, boots, shovels, brooms and tools cluttering the entrance; remove and store or throw away all but the most essential items. Wipe down porch and patio furniture.
  3. Stand back from the entry and decide what simple steps will most improve its appearance. A fresh coat of paint for the front door? Installing new house numbers? Adding two tall pots to flank the entrance (in colors that match or contrast nicely with the door)? Also consider painting the porch ceiling — a traditional color is blue, for the sky — or floor.
  4.  Replace the doormat with a new one. Use mats inside and outside each door. They’re not just decorative; they protect your floors from damaging grit.
  5. Replace rusted or ugly exterior light fixtures. Get inspiration from this slide show: "Fix up your front entry in one weekend."
  6. As soon as the weather permits and the wood has dried, repaint front steps with deck paint or other surfacing made for heavy traffic. Ask paint store professionals for recommendations. Take care to choose a color for the steps that works well with the house color and front door.
  7. Wipe down railings; sand, prime and repaint flaked, chipped or bubbled paint.
  8. Add another note of color by planting spring annuals in pots at the door, at the top of the steps or marching down the steps.

Check the fence line, cowboy
Take a tour of your back forty to see how the fence is holding up. Wiggle supporting posts to make sure they’re solidly in the ground. Use a mallet to drive them in deeper if necessary. Look for holes made by animals burrowing under the fence. You can fill these holes with big stones or install a wire mesh barrier as deep as necessary, then fill the hole with dirt. Repair or replace broken fence posts, and sand down potentially dangerous splinters. Check wood fences for rot (soft, spongy or crumbling wood) and insect damage, holes, sawdust and weakness in boards. Repaint or restain every couple of years or when you find chips and flakes in the paint. Use a durable product intended for use on fences. Ask paint store experts for recommendations.

Rake up
Take a leaf rake and a big tarp with you as you circle the house, gathering leaves, wind-blown debris and tree branches onto the tarp. When the tarp has a pile of leaves a couple of feet high, gather the corners and empty the contents into a yard-waste bin or a compost pile. With a broom, sweep off paths, sidewalks, steps and flagstones with an eye to removing obstacles on which people could trip.

Clean stains from concrete
For patios and sidewalks stained by fallen leaves and dirt, rent a pressure washer and clean the concrete. Auto oil stains on the garage floor or driveway are tougher to remove and call for some imagination. Fresh oil is easiest to get up. Tackle it as quickly as possible, soaking up the liquid with paper towels and sprinkling cat litter on the stain, crushing the litter in with your shoe, then sweeping it up. (Call your garbage company or city waste department to ask where to take oil-soaked rags, paper and litter. Don’t put them in the garbage can.)

Next, scrub the stain with soap, warm water and a nylon (not wire) scrub brush. This may do the trick, although you might need to scrub, rinse, check your progress and scrub again several times.

For really stubborn stains, get creative. You’ve heard that there are a million crazy ways to use Coca-Cola. James and Morris Carey, at, have one more cola trick: They soak stained concrete with cola, brushing it in with a stiff broom while the pop fizzes, keeping the concrete wet. Flood the stain with clean water once the fizzing stops, then bleach the area with this mixture: one cup of liquid chlorine bleach, one cup of powdered laundry soap and a gallon of really hot water. Rinse.