Happy New Year! January is the month to take stock and plan ahead. That's why my five "must do" projects for January include everything from adopting some home-focused resolutions to storing holiday decorations and getting snow-ready.
1. Make "Energy Savings" a Resolution to Keep
This year, as you make your New Year's resolution to spend less, go on a diet, join a gym, learn a new skill or perhaps find more time for yourself, consider adding another goal for 2013—putting your house on an energy diet.
Just like taxes and death, you can be sure that energy and utility costs will continue to take a bite out of your home operating budget. How big of a bite is within your control. That's why it pays to do everything you can to keep your home as trim and fit as possible. After all, sometimes even a seemingly modest change in your home (or change in your personal habits) can make a dramatic difference over time.
For example, there's been plenty written about energy-efficient light bulbs, but have you put that information into practice? If not, make it a goal this year. If every American home replaced just one incandescent light bulb with an ENERGY STAR-certified variety, we would conserve enough energy to light three million homes for a year, save about $600 million in annual energy costs, and prevent nine billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions per year (equivalent to the amount produced by about 800,000 cars), according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
And if you've turned a deaf ear to that dripping faucet or runny toilet, you can be sure that your water company hasn't. If you know that there's a leak, fix it. It may require something as simple as tightening a valve or replacing a worn washer or ineffective flapper, all simple repairs you can take care of yourself. If the leak requires replacing the faucet or toilet altogether, call in a professional and choose a fixture bearing the WaterSense label. And the next time you flush, consider this: If everyone in the US flushed the toilet just one time less per day, we could save the equivalent of a lake full of water about one square mile and four feet deep every day, according to Green Living Ideas.
Looking for more ways to conserve and save this year? Seal those drafts, make sure your home is well-insulated, install low-flow shower heads and change furnace filters. You can find out more—and take the Bob Vila 2013 Energy Diet Pledge—here. One simple change will make a big difference for you and all of us!
2. Pack up the holiday decorations
As fun as it is to unearth boxes of holiday decorations in November, there is nothing enjoyable about packing them all away again in January. Big box stores will be happy to sell you bins and containers geared specifically toward holiday-realated storage, but with a little planning and ingenuity, you can create your own DIY solutions that will work just as well. A piece of cardboard with slots at both ends is ideal for wrapping string lights, while those inexpensive, six-ounce plastic party cups are the perfect individual holders for fragile ornaments. And if you have a real tree, consider bringing it to a treecycling location, where it will be chipped into mulch for beneficial use.
3. Get snow-ready—before the snowfall
If you live in parts of the country where snow is likely, take time now to make sure you are prepared for its arrival. Snow shovels, snow blowers, salt or sand should all be at the ready. If you haven't fired up your snow blower since last winter, you might want to do so now. Consider some routine maintenance like changing the oil; replacing frayed or cracked belts; tightening nuts, bolts, and screws; and lubricating drive and chassis. Also, watch for the formation of icicles along the eaves as snow begins to melt. They can create ice dams and serious damage to the roof if left unattended. A roof rake is a great way to pull the snow from the eaves to lessen the problem.
4. Employ some countertop TLC
Perhaps never before have there been so many enticing countertop options to fit every budget, decor, and culinary need. But all countertops are not created equal. So what's the best way to keep yours in peak condition? You can start with some pretty basic "do's and don'ts," such as cleaning often with a sponge or soft cloth and mild, non-abrasive detergent, or by practicing caution when using sharp knives and hot cookware. If you have granite or marble, be sure to use a good sealer, which will help prolong the life of the stone and provide a barrier of protection against staining. Wood countertops should be rubbed with tung, linseed, or mineral oil anywhere from monthly to quarterly, depending on usage. The same mineral oil can be applied to soapstone to provide a protective coat and rich, dark color. For stained laminate, try a homemade paste of baking soda and water. For tips on caring for concrete, stainless steel, quartz, solid surfaces and ceramic tile, visit Countertop Care 101.
5. Make a better fire
While many of today's homeowners opt for the convenience of a gas fireplace, the traditionalists among us may always prefer the smokey smell, crackling sound, and tactile ritual of fire building. While there is an art to making a fire, it all begins with the right choice of wood. Every species has its own set of burning characteristics. Some species—oak, for example—offer a very slow burn and hot fire, while other species like fir provide medium heat with less ash. You'll also want to make sure the wood you use is properly seasoned and stored in a well-ventilated outdoor area, protected from the elements.