If you own a home, chances are you’ve got a long list of renovations and upgrades you’d like to do on it. (From painting to refinishing floors, it never ends!) When it comes to saving money and preserving the value of your home, however, some home improvements are more urgent than others. Here are three high-priority improvements you should consider doing as soon as possible.
First, let’s get this out of the way: these projects aren’t sexy or even fun. After you do them, you probably won’t be inviting friends over to marvel at the upgrades. They are, however, improvements that will save you the most money in the long run, just in terms of resale value and keeping your home from falling apart. (Because what’s the point of new granite countertops if your roof is leaking over them?) Once you’ve tackled these basic improvements, you can focus on the more fun kinds of upgrades like redoing the kitchen or adding on a bathroom.
Project 1: Get Rid of Drafts
Usually experts recommend insulating your home and sealing windows and doors as preparation for winter, but no matter when you take on these tasks, they’ll always pay off. By getting a good seal on your windows and doors (or replacing them with more insulated ones) and adding insulation in key areas like your attic, you’ll not only keep heat in when it’s cold out, but also keep your house cool during the other seasons. You’ll want to seal all the air leaks, both obvious and less obvious (like outlets and switches) for both a money-saving and a comfort upgrade. Photo by Energy.gov
Cost: Caulking and weatherstripping are two of the easiest projects, taking just 1-2 hours of your time and costing between $3 and $30 per window or door, according to Energy.gov. Plus, they also say that these improvements could save you 30% on your energy bill. (Americans, on average, spend about $2,000 a year on home energy costs.) Adding insulation is a project you can either do yourself or hire someone else to do (the average cost for insulation projects is $1,571, according to Home Advisor), but either way, the upgrade will pay for itself in just a few years.
If you change the entry door and replace windows, you’ll not only likely see energy improvements, you’ll also improve the look of your home and recoup much of the cost when it comes time to sell the house. Remodeling Magazine’s 2013 report says that changing the entry door has an 86% return on investment and replacing vinyl windows has a 71% return on investment. Not bad for both a cosmetic and energy-efficiency upgrade.
Keep in mind also many utilities will offer a free energy audit to help you identify where you can save money, and Energy Star also offers personalized energy-saving recommendations. You can even get tax credits for upgrading your insulation, windows and doors, air conditioning, and more.
Project 2: Update Your High-Energy Appliances
In a similar vein, you’ll get the most bang for your home improvement buck if you upgrade inefficient appliances in your home. The top energy suckers in the home are: heating systems, air conditioning, hot water heaters, dehumidifiers, and refrigerators, according to Energy.gov.Photo by Energy Star
There are easy ways to adjust the energy usage of these appliances, such as installing a programmable thermostat and running appliances at night. At some point, though, you’ll have to decide between repairing (or hacking) your home appliance or replacing it. Here’s our guide on which appliances are worth upgrading and when.
Cost: Varies, depending on which appliances you need to replace.
Project 3: Clean Your Gutters and Look for Structural Problems
Water is often the cause of the most expensive home repairs, so while the snow is melting and the rainy season is approaching, it’s time to stop the leaks and control the water around our homes. Photo by Wayne Truong
A few leaves and twigs in your gutter don’t sound that dangerous, but gutters are the first line of defense against: water problems in your basement, cracked foundations, rotten wood fascia, leaking roofs, wood-destroying insects, and other serious problems. So, first, clear the gutters or have a handyperson do it for you, and install gutter guards to prevent future water damage.
Now’s the time to also take a walk around your home and look for any foundation cracks, mold or mildew in the basement or other areas, loose shingles or other roof issues (a binocular helps), any other signs of water damage, and pest issues (like termites).
Cost: Professional gutter cleaning costs $182, on average, while repairing gutters and downspouts is $396. If you need your foundation repaired, the average national cost is $4,337. Repairing a roof costs $828 on average, but installing a roof is $6,774. (All figures from Home Advisor.)
Water-based problems are often costly to repair, but maintenance/prevention can be do-it-yourself cheap. DIY gutter cleaning, for example, costs only your time and comfort getting on a ladder.
If you’d like reminders for these essential tasks (and others), we’ve previously posted a home maintenance calendar you can import to your own Google Calendar.
These projects are mostly about regular inspections and upkeep—the stuff of homeownership. If your home doesn’t have drafts, your appliances are in tip-top shape, and you don’t have to worry about water issues or pests, you can next focus on other home improvement projects that will make your home more enjoyable to live in and/or sell. Going by Remodeling’s 2013 report, that includes a wood deck addition, minor kitchen remodel, attic bedroom addition, and basement remodel…but that’s up to you.