5 DIY Fall Fix-Ups

Save yourself thousands in future repair, maintenance, and energy costs by not leaving these minor problems to get out of hand.

1. Beef Up Insulation in an Unfinished Attic

WHY NOW:
Baby, it’s cold outside—or it will be soon. “So pop your head up in the attic and check insulation levels,” says Mike Rogers of GreenHomes America, which specializes in energy-efficient improvements. In addition to sealing gaps in the attic floor and framing, Rogers recommends upping insulation levels to R-49 or even as high as R-60 for most areas of the country.

HOW TO DO IT:
If insulation is level with or below the ceiling joists, add loose fiberglass or cellulose—even over existing batts—using a rented blower. Make sure the material is well distributed, with no low spots. “Even a small gap greatly undermines performance,” Rogers says.

THE PAYOFF:
Up to 10 percent savings on your utility bills.

2. Add Storm Windows

WHY NOW:
Old single-pane windows leak copious amounts of air, which makes for chilly drafts come winter. By installing triple-track storms, you can dramatically reduce air infiltration and protect those lovely wavy-glass panes from the elements.

HOW TO DO IT:
Measure carefully to determine whether you can use standard-size storms or need to custom order. When you’re ready to install, position the unit in the window opening to check fit. Clean the window’s exterior frame and trim. Apply a bead of elastomeric caulk on the back of the storm’s surrounding fins, at the top and sides. Do not caulk the bottom of the storm: Moisture needs to drain through the pre-drilled weep holes. Position the storm unit in the window frame, pushing up snug at the top, and secure with screws. Adjust the storm’s built-in bottom extender bar to rest on the sill.

THE PAYOFF:
Storms cost a fraction of replacement windows, $60 to $110 compared with $300 to $700, and yield energy savings of 13 percent (21 percent with low-e storms).

3. Button Up Interior Doors to the Basement and Garage

WHY NOW:
It’s not just the front and back doors that you need to worry about. Cold air can also enter the house through gaps around any door leading to an uninsulated space, such as a garage or basement.

HOW TO DO IT:
Weatherstrip the top and sides, and add an inexpensive door sweep to the bottom. TOH general contractor Tom Silva recommends a wood sweep that you can stain or paint to match your door and that has an attached nylon brush to follow the contours of irregular flooring or carpeting. Sweeps usually need to be cut to size, so be sure to measure the width of the door first. To insulate the top and lock-side jambs, use peel-and-stick high-density foam tape or nail-on vinyl gaskets. For the hinge-side jamb, a premium adhesive-backed strip made of EDPM rubber will retain its shape after years of use.

THE PAYOFF:
For $20 and 30 minutes of your time, reduce cold air infiltration by as much as 11 percent.

4. Seal Exhaust Vents

WHY NOW:
Exterior vents, particularly those for a clothes dryer or a whole-house fan, allow heated air to seep out of your house, while letting cold outside air in.

HOW TO DO IT:
Swap your dryer’s louvered or metal flapper-style vent for a Dryer Vent Seal (About $20; Battic Door), which consists of an elbow pipe topped with a plastic cap and shuttle. When the dryer is in use, the floating shuttle beneath the hood rises to let warm air, lint, and moisture escape. When not in use, the shuttle drops down to seal the hole and prevent drafts. For a whole-house fan, construct a simple box-shaped cover out of rigid foam insulation (use foil-type duct tape for the seams) to enclose the fan during cold months, when it’s not in use. From inside the house, fit the cover over the fan, and secure it to the frame with adhesive-backed Velcro strips. Just remember to remove the cover before you switch on the fan come spring. This kind of DIY cover can also help insulate in-wall or window air-conditioning units that are left in year-round.

THE PAYOFF:
Vent sealing can prevent 4 percent of your home’s heated air from escaping.

5. Remove Aggressive Vines

WHY NOW:
On brick or stone home facades, climbers , such as Virginia creeper, pull the lime out of the mortar, creating entry points for water. Vines also hold moisture against walls, which can wreak havoc on wood clapboards, slowing their ability to dry out after a rain and causing rot. If vines get between boards, they can push them apart.

HOW TO DO IT:
“Pull all the vines off, working from the top down; cut them at the base, and dig out the roots,” says TOH landscape contractor Roger Cook. To remove any residue left behind on wood siding, do a quick pass with an orbital sander. Come spring, paint an herbicide on any new growth.

THE PAYOFF:
You’ll avert having to spend up to $25 per square foot for professional mortar repointing. For wood houses, dodge up to $3,000 to re-side and rebuild a rotted clapboard wall.

Last modified: