The Homeowner's Guide to the New Year

The New Year is here and it's time review and make improvements for 2016. Here are some tips and helpful guides to make the new year a great year for homeowners.

Large Brick Style Home with Front Lawn

Photo by: iStock

Owning a home isn’t easy. Whether inside or outside, there’s always something that needs doing. But, thanks to home warranties and quick access to good information on repairs and maintenance, there’s never been a better time to be a homeowner.

Consider this guide our New Year’s gift to you. We hope it will make your life a little easier and make tending to your home a true labor of love.

Smoke Detector Batteries



January is all about new beginnings and getting you and your home back in shape.

• Create a monthly maintenance calendar and hang it in a high-traffic area in your house. Include reminders for important safety tasks, such as testing smoke alarms monthly, as well as maintenance items, such as changing furnace filters.

• A "Job Jar" adds a little spontaneity to the work at hand and is great for families and teaching junior homeowners good habits. Appoint the kids as “inspectors,” take a tour of your home inside and outside and then sit down as a family to brainstorm things that need to be done. Write ’em down, and put ’em in the jar. Once a month, pull a project out and tackle it. Everyone helps until the job’s complete. Put fun stuff in there, too. You’re more likely to use the Job Jar if it includes “Lay in the hammock and toss acorns at squirrels” along with “Tighten doorknobs.”

• Is your “I.C.E.” up to date? Review your home’s “In Case of Emergency” contact list and make sure all phone numbers are valid. In addition to next of kin, close friends and neighbors, your list might include doctors, the veterinarian, pest control, poison control center, the power company and non-emergency police contact number. Print and post the list on the side of the refrigerator or anywhere it’s easily visible.

• Speaking of refrigerators, yours probably got a workout during the holidays. Vacuum refrigerator coils (if they’re accessible) at least twice a year to keep them clean and keep the motor running more efficiently. Check the seal by closing the door on a dollar bill. If you can easily pull out the bill, the refrigerator door may not be sealing properly. The latch may need to be adjusted or the seal replaced.

• Check the furnace filter. Test the smoke detector.

cleaning kitchen



Cold weather has you stuck indoors? Got cabin fever? Roll with it!

• Grab a screwdriver and go room to room checking doorknobs, cabinet and drawer handles and anything else that might need tightening.

• It’s cold and flu season. Go on a germ hunt. Arm yourself with a sponge and a spray bottle to clean fingerprints, handprints and smudges off switch plates, doors, doorknobs, doorjambs, walls and cabinets.

• Behold! The hidden mysteries of the junk drawer! You may discover lost treasures, locate your missing keys or save your house from burning down because a 9-volt battery made contact with a paperclip and started a fire. Seriously. Buy or construct a battery organizer so they’re not rolling around in the drawer. Toss the ones that show signs of corrosion or leaking. Cover the posts of 9-volt batteries with electrical or masking tape or cardboard.

• Go through closets and pull clothes and belongings—all the stuff you never wear/don’t use. Set out three boxes: “Keep,” “Donate” and “Toss,” and start sorting.

• And hey, how about that furnace filter? Need a change? How’s that smoke detector working?

Clean Gutters



Winter is on its way out. Time to enjoy some time outside.

• Get serious about your gear. Drag out hoses and sprinklers. Sharpen blades of loppers and pruners. Inspect all cords, especially extension cords, for wear and exposed wires. Oil saws and check the oil in lawn mowers and chainsaws.

• Rake leaves and debris from the yard.

• Rake and remove mulch from around plants.

• If you live in a warmer region, you can go ahead and mow. The first cut of the year should be well above the turf, leaving grass at least 3 inches high. Don’t rake the clippings; leave them on the lawn.

• If you’re the weed-and-feed sort, it’s time to begin the process of killing crabgrass and spreading fertilizer.

• Clean gutters and make sure downspouts are cleared out. If you have a basement, check window wells and remove any litter and debris.

• March also means Daylight Saving Time. Change your clocks, and change the batteries in your smoke detectors and the CO2 alarm.

• If you didn't check the furnace filter last month, look at it now. If you see enough fuzz and hair to knit yourself another pet, it might be time for a change.

Related: 5 Ways to Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions




Spring is the perfect time for clearing out and cleaning up, both inside and outside your home.

• Shut off the furnace and open windows and doors to give the house a good airing out. Dust everything. Be ruthless. Wipe down every horizontal surface, including bookshelves and under beds. Your home's been shut up for months. It’s time to let it—and you—breathe.

• Take a notepad and pen and head outside. Inspect the roof and exterior of the house, and look for weather-related damage or wear. Make note of holes, chipped paint and cracks that need fixing. Check window screens for tears or holes.

• Tree limbs and power lines are never a good mix. Carefully consider whether you can cut limbs back or if you need to call in a professional. When it comes to electricity, err on the side of caution and live to prune another day.

• Smoke detector. Check. Furnace filter. Check.

Preparing yard



May is the perfect time to start preparing your home and yard for summer.

• Show your air conditioner some love. A “make ready” visit by a qualified technician isn’t that expensive, and it may save you a lot of money (and sweat) in the long run.

• Keep an eye on the weather for late freezes, but if you haven’t already done so, move potted plants back outside.

• It’s planting time! Most vegetables and flowers can go into the ground.

• It’s furnace filter time, too! And test those smoke detectors while you’re at it.

Preparing yard



Just like the song says, June is bustin' out all over.

• Keep an eye on the plants and trees that are growing too close to the house. Some ivies—including poison ivy—will take advantage of cracks or holes in bricks or siding and push their way into your home.

• Heading into hot temps, it’s important to water your plants and lawn, but it’s even more important to know when to water. Stick a finger in the soil, up to the second knuckle. If it feels cool, you probably don’t need to water. Many parts of the United States are threatened by serious drought. Find out the watering restrictions for your area.

• Take time for water heater maintenance. Test the pressure relief valve and drain the tank to remove sediment. If you’re not comfortable doing this on your own, call in a professional.

• Don’t become a handyman’s favorite anecdote or a firefighter’s nightmare. Change that dirty furnace filter, and test all smoke detectors.

painting home



Summertime. The heat is on, and it’s not going away anytime soon.

• Water early in the day or after the sun goes down. Any later than 10AM, the water will evaporate before the plants can soak it up. Remember to check the watering restrictions for your community to avoid paying unnecessary fines.

• Now is the time of year to paint or put in new carpet. Warm temps are great for helping dry paint faster. With fans on and windows open, paint fumes and that strong chemical “new carpet” smell will be gone sooner.

• If you’re waiting for paint to dry, go outside. Pull a few weeds, check for signs of disease or pests and take time to enjoy your garden. You’ve worked hard; you deserve it.

• Except no slacking allowed on the furnace filter issue. Your air conditioner is working overtime. Make sure the unit isn’t struggling with a clogged filter.

• Oh, and check the smoke detectors.

clean dryer vent



Summer keeps on bringing the heat. Still, it’s time to start thinking ahead to fall.

• Time to plant winter vegetables, including cabbage, broccoli, turnips, collards, beans and peas.

• Check windows and doors for needed maintenance, especially the garage door. Press the button, and then move a board or broom (never a body part) between the photo-electric sensors to make sure the auto-reverse is working properly.

• Vacuum time! Get ready to clean the refrigerator coils again. Then clear out lint from the dryer vent, air conditioning vents and cold air returns. If anyone in your home suffers from severe allergies, asthma or other breathing issues, consider bringing in a professional to thoroughly clean the ductwork throughout your home.

• While we’re on the subject of dust, open up the furnace and check the filter. Your air conditioner will thank you in dollars and cents.

caulking walls



The kids are back in school. Summer heat and summer heat rash are fading.

• Checking for drafts around doors, windows, electrical sockets, the attic access and plumbing/pipe vents. If you can see daylight around a door, there’s a leak.

• Hire a professional to perform a “blower door test,” or test for drafts yourself using a stick of incense. On a windy day, shut off the furnace, stove and any other sources of combustion. Turn off fans, the dryer and anything else that pushes air. Light a stick of incense and carefully move around your home, towards areas where you suspect leakage. Wherever the incense smoke begins to move back and forth, there’s a draft. Fill in cracks and holes with caulk or foam (on walls and things that are stationary) or weather-stripping (for doors and windows and things that move).

• No, the trees aren’t finished dumping leaves on your roof. Still, it’s a good time to put on some gloves, drag out the ladder and clean gutters.

• What’s in the air that’s making your eyes itch and nose run? Your furnace filter knows.

Related: 12 New Year’s Resolutions to Maintain Your Home in 2015

smoke detector



October is “National Fire Prevention Month.” Take this time to focus on making your home and your family as safe as possible.

• Test batteries in smoke detectors and your CO2 alarm.

• Have a fire extinguisher? Make sure it’s up to date. More importantly, make sure you understand how to use your fire extinguisher.

• Make sure gasoline and other flammables are stored away from ignition sources such as pilot lights (water heaters, stoves, heaters, etc.).

• Chimney checkup! Call a professional to inspect the chimney and make sure it’s safe, working properly and structurally sound.

• Review your escape plan. Don’t have one? Make one. Knowing where to go and how to get there can save lives.

Daylight savings



Daylight Saving Time ends. Time to get serious about winterizing your home and yard.

• Change the clocks, and change the batteries in smoke detectors and CO2 alarms.

• For in-ground plants, apply mulch. Water thoroughly at the roots before a frost, as wet soil traps heat better than dry soil. Don’t water before or after a hard freeze.

• Cover tender plants overnight with plastic, tarp or old blankets. Remove covering during the day so plants get air and light.

• Bring potted plants inside and place near windows but away from vents that might dry them out.

• Protect outdoor faucets with insulated covers, and drain and store hoses. If you don’t have faucet covers, wrap pipes in old towels or thick layers of newspapers and secure with duct tape.

• Keep stacked firewood away from the house, unless you mean to invite in all those spiders, termites and other insects that potentially live in the wood.

• By the way, “Black Friday” should not apply to the color of the furnace filter.


christmas lights



For most of us, there’s only one thing on our minds this month: “How long until the holidays are over?” It is hard to focus on anything else, but, unfortunately, there are things in and around the home that require attention.

• Check potted plants and make sure they’re watered and not touching the window glass, where they might freeze.

• The kids are out of school, so put them to work. Use that free labor to haul out the Christmas decorations, check for broken light bulbs and non-working strands and inspect all electrical cords for exposed wires and wear.

• Rake any remaining leaves and mulch or toss them in the compost pile.

• Your kitchen sink’s disposal may be the most important tool in your home during the holidays. To keep it working and keep kitchen drains clog-free, follow this checklist:
- Never pour grease or oil down the drain.
- Run cold water with the disposal to solidify residual grease or oil on food, so it can be chopped up before it hits the drain.
- Turn on the disposal and toss in some ice cubes. Eggshells also produce an abrasive cleaning action to help clean the blades.
- Never cram food into a disposal. Cut it into smaller pieces. Note that “expansive” foods like pasta and rice can cause jams and clogs, and the starch in potato skins can cause disposal blades to stick.
- Never toss tough, fibrous items such as onionskins, artichokes, broccoli stalks, corn husks into the disposal.
- Never put non-food items into a disposal, not even paper.

• And hey, change the furnace filter.

Furnace filter

In conclusion, a few more words on furnace filters. For health reasons, as well as the upkeep of a vital and very expensive part of your home, it really is important to change the filters in your furnace.

• Change filters on the same day of every month. Pick a number that’s easy to remember, maybe a birthday, anniversary or a lucky number. Mom’s birthday is the 13th? Put in a new filter on the 13th day of every month. She’ll be honored and so proud of you.

• Buy ahead. Buying filters all at once is extremely helpful, especially if you prefer using three-month filters. Store them in a garbage bag or resealable plastic tub to keep them clean. Use a marker to write a month on the side of each filter to help remind you when it’s time to switch them out.

• Your home may be super clean and you may be using a three-month filter, but you still need to check the filter every four to six weeks to make sure it’s not clogged. This is especially true for pet owners, anyone who suffers from allergies or breathing disorders and those who live in areas with a lot of dust.

AHS Spring Checklist
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Next > A Guide To Homemade Gift Giving


AHS assumes no responsibility, and specifically disclaims all liability, for your use of any and all information contained herein.

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