5 Things That REALLY Will Put a Serious Dent in Your Energy Bills

Stop sending so much money to your utility company with these simple strategies.

Finger flipping off a light switch illustration
Image: Diego Schtutman/Shutterstock
  • Your Mexican beach vacation was great, but, man, those margaritas sure can put on the pounds. It’s been two months, and you’re still carrying around an extra tenner — despite a new running routine and a lot of #&*&@$ kale. So why isn’t your weight dropping?

It can be like that with energy bills, too. Almost half (47%) of the respondents surveyed by the Shelton Group, a marketing agency specializing in energy efficiency, claimed they made between one and three energy efficiency improvements to their home. But 89% of them said their energy bills didn’t go down.  

So, what’s up? We’re rationalizing, says Suzanne Shelton, CEO of the Shelton Group. “We think, ‘I bought these [LEDs], so now I can leave the lights on and not pay more. I ate the salad, so I can have the chocolate cake.’” Denial much?

It looks like we’re giving in to higher utility bills. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

You just need to know what improvements will make the biggest difference in lowering your bills. There are five, and the good news is they’re seriously cheap. You can go straight to them here, but there’s another thing you can do that doesn’t cost a dime — and will drop your costs:

Be Mindful About Your Relationship With Energy

Think about it. Energy is the only product we buy on a daily basis without knowing how much it costs until a month later, says Cliff Majersik, executive director of the Institute for Market Transformation, a research and policy-making nonprofit focused on improving buildings’ energy efficiency. 

With other services you get a choice of whether to buy based on price. With energy you don’t get that choice — unless you intentionally decide not to buy. You can take control by making yourself aware that you’re spending money on something you don’t need each time you leave home with the AC on high, lights and ceiling fans on, and your computer wide awake.

Related: Did You Know You Should Never Leave a Ceiling Fan on When You Leave a Room? 

That mindfulness is important, because your relationship with energy is intensifying. You (and practically every other person on the planet) are plugging in more and more. Used to be that heating and cooling were the biggest energy hogs, but now appliances, electronics, water heating, and lighting together have that dubious honor, according to Lawrence Berkeley National Labs, based on data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the research arm of the Department of Energy.

Energy is the only product we buy on a daily basis without knowing how much it costs until a month later.

— Cliff Majersik, executive director of the Institute for Market Transformation

Being mindful means it’s also time to banish four assumptions that are sabotaging your energy-efficiency efforts:

1. Newer homes (less than 30 years old) are already energy efficient because they were built to code. Don’t bank on it. Building codes change pretty regularly, so even newer homes benefit from improvements, says Susannah Enkema, vice president of research and insights with the Shelton Group.

2. Utilities are out to get us: They’ll jack up prices no matter what we do. It might feel cathartic to blame them. (Shelton’s research shows consumers blame utilities above oil companies and the government.) But to get any rate changes, utilities must make a formal case to public utility commissions.

3. An energy-efficient home is a healthier home, and people will pay more for that. Sixty percent of consumers surveyed by the Shelton Group said that telling someone that an energy-efficient home is a healthier home is an effective way to get people to spend $1,500 on efficient home features. Energy efficient features are associated with health benefits, but expecting a specific return is unrealistic.

4. Expensive improvements will have the biggest impact. That’s why homeowners often choose pricey projects like replacing windows, which should probably be fifth or sixth on the list of energy-efficient improvements, Shelton says.

There’s nothing wrong with investing in new windows. They feel sturdier; look pretty, can increase the value of your home, feel safer than old, crooked windows, and, yes, offer energy savings you can feel (no more draft).

But new windows are the wrong choice if your only reason for the project was reducing energy costs. You could replace double-pane windows with new efficient ones for about $9,000 to $12,000 and save $27 to $111 a year on your energy bill, according to EnergyStar. (The savings are higher if you replace single-pane windows.)  Or you could spend around $1,000 for new insulation, caulking, and sealing, and save 11% on your energy bill, or $227.

The 5 Things That Really Work to Cut Energy Costs

1. Caulk and seal air leaks. Buy a few cans of Great Stuff and knock yourself out over a weekend to seal around:

  • Plumbing lines
  • Electric wires
  • Recessed lighting
  • Windows
  • Crawlspaces
  • Attics

Savings: Up to $227 a year — even more if you add or upgrade your insulation.

Related: Lots of Homes Also Have This HUGE Air Leak 

2. Hire a pro to seal ductwork and give your HVAC a tune-up. Leaky ducts are a common energy-waster. 

Savings: Up to $412 a year.

3. Program your thermostat. Shelton says 40% of consumers in her survey admit they don’t program their thermostat for energy savings. She thinks it’s even higher.

Savings: Up to $180 a year.

4. Replace all your light bulbs with LEDs. They’re coming down in price, making them even more cost effective. 

Savings: $75 a year or more by replacing your five most frequently used bulbs with Energy Star-rated models.

Related: LED Bulbs Are Confusing, But Here’s a Guide to Help

5. Reduce the temperature on your water heater. Set your tank heater to 120 degrees — not the 140 degrees most are set to out of the box. Also wrap an older water heater and the hot water pipes in insulating material to save on heat loss.

Savings: $12 to $30 a year for each 10-degree reduction in temp.

NOTE: Resist the urge to total these five numbers for annual savings. The estimated savings for each product or activity can’t be summed because of “interactive effects,” says the DOE. If you first replace your central AC with a more efficient one, saving, say, 15% on energy consumption, and then seal ducts, you wouldn’t save as much total energy on duct sealing as you would have if you had first sealed them. There’s just less energy to save at that point.

Bonus Tip for More Savings

Your utility may have funds available to help pay for energy improvement. Contact them directly, or visit DSIRE, a database of federal, state, local, and utility rebates searchable by state. Energy Star has a discount and rebate finder, too.

“Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this.  Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

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Sharp Homeowners Know June Is the Best Time to Do These 5 Things

Like cleaning your siding — just be sure to start from the bottom and go up.

cell phone reminder of home maintenance tasks to complete now in june with a background of pink and yellow tulips
Image: Maggie Stuart for HouseLogic
  • Could it really be summer?!

Tackle these five summer maintenance tasks during June’s longer days and better weather — and save yourself time and money this winter.

#1 Update Outdoor Lighting

Outdoor stone steps lit with pathway lighting
Image: Rosann M. Kelley, photo/ Outdoor Artisan, Inc., design
  • In June, winter nights are probably the last thing on your mind. But early summer is the perfect time to plan for those “OMG, it’s only 4:30, and it’s already dark ” moments by adding or updating landscape lighting.

The most energy-efficient, easy-to-install option is solar lighting, but it won’t perform as well on dark or snowy days. For light no matter the weather, install electric.

#2 Clean Your House’s Siding

Home with bright green painted siding
Image: Kristin Diehl
  • With a bit of preventive maintenance, your home’s siding will stay clean and trouble-free for up to 50 years. Fifty years! Clean it this month with a soft cloth or a long-handled, soft-bristle brush to guarantee that longevity.

Start at the bottom of the house and work up, rinsing completely before it dries. That’s how you avoid streaks.

Related: How to Clean the Siding on Your House

#3 Focus on Your Foundation

Brick exterior wall with damage
Image: Martb/Getty
  • There’s no better time for inspecting your foundation than warm, dry June. Eyeball it for crumbling mortar, cracks in the stucco, or persistently damp spots (especially under faucets). Then call a pro to fix any outstanding issues now, before they become an emergency later.

#4 Seal Your Driveway Asphalt

Sealed asphalt driveway at pink house
Image: Cveltri/Getty
  • Your driveway takes a daily beating. Weather, sunlight, cars, bikes, and foot traffic — all of these damage the asphalt. Help it last by sealing it. Tip: The temperature must be 50 degrees or higher for the sealer to stick, making June a good month for this easy, cost-effective job.

#5 Buy Tools

Lawn tools hanging in a garage
Image: Jo Facer, The Edible Flower
  • Thanks to Father’s Day, June is the month everyone can get a deal on tools, tool bags, and that multitool you’ve had your eye on. If it’s time to replace a bunch of tools or you’re starting from scratch, look for package deals that offer several at once. These can pack a savings wallop, offering 30% off or more over buying the tools individually.

“Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this.  Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

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8 Ways Your Old Stuff Can Become Creative Storage

Vintage spice cans to be recycled for storage
Image: Chris Tincher

Wait until you see what you can do with old tin cans.

  • Don’t let your old stuff freeload! Put it to work. Use that old suitcase, file cabinet, magazine rack — even items you might ordinarily pitch — to help organize your home. You’ll save money, and your family will benefit from unique storage solutions that fit your lifestyle.

Here are some ideas to help unpack some creativity.

#1 Tin Cans Become Winter Gear Storage

Upcycled tin cans into mudroom storage
Image: Clare Fauke, Projectophile.net
  • Hats and gloves and boots, oh my. With three young children and a small entryway, Clare Fauke gets desperate to see her floor each winter. “I needed a way to contain things in a spot everyone could reach,” she says. While cooking chili one day, she had an aha moment. “Those 28-ounce cans of diced tomatoes were the perfect size to [use for stowing] a couple of baby gloves,” says Fauke who lives with her family in Chicago.
  • She washed out the cans and made sure there was no torn metal around the edges. Then she screwed the cans to a piece of scrap wood and attached the whole thing to the wall by the door. “It really helps discourage the kids from throwing their things everywhere,” Fauke says. And the cost is minimal if you wait until those tomatoes are on sale.
  • Related: Storing Winter Gear Is a Pain. These 8 Ideas Will Make It EasierMost Popular in Storage Ideas & Hacks

#2 Old Strawberry Containers Become Organizers

Berry-lover Mickey Mansfield of suburban Charlotte, N.C., found himself knee-deep in plastic strawberry boxes. He decided to use an empty one as a first aid kit in the garage. Like berry vines, the idea grew.

Strawberry containers reused to hold supplies
Image: Mickey Mansfield
  • Now, he uses them to store crayons, markers, and craft supplies. “They’re ‘free’ (just the cost of the strawberries), easily replaceable, and see-through,” Mansfield says. “The kids can see exactly what they’re grabbing.” He finds they can hold up for years. They’re stackable and strong enough to store store batteries and Matchbox cars, he says.
  • “I even leave the cars in the container, which has holes, and dunk the whole thing in a bucket filled with a solution of water and bleach to disinfect them,” he says. “Then I just tip them over to drain and dry.”

#3 Old Suitcase Becomes a Charging Station

Suitcase repurposed as a charger station
Image: Brenda McDevitt
  • Even chargers deserve a nice home. With four kids ages 7 to 17, Brenda McDevitt was finding chargers, tablets, cords, and cell phones all over her suburban Pittsburgh home. She wanted a centrally located storage center and looked no further than the perfect-size container that happened to already be in her home: a vintage suitcase she was using in a decorative display.
  • “I’ve always loved the look of them,” says McDevitt, who admits to collecting old suitcases from mostly roadsides. “I’ve never paid for one, and I always have a couple of suitcases laying around for things like magazine storage. Or I’ll put them under a bench or on top of a cabinet.”
  • McDevitt relined this vintage case with a cheery fabric to make the inside of the charging station as chic as the outside. She then drilled some holes in the back for the cords to exit and left a power cord inside so everyone can plug in their devices out of sight.Popular Reads

#4 Plastic Magazine Racks Become Freezer Organizers

Anyone who has ever had something fall out of the freezer onto their toes knows the dangers of rifling through bags of frozen vegetables, packages of meat, breads, and leftovers. The fix is so simple — plastic magazine racks. (If you don’t have some lying around, you can find them at an office supply store for $6 or less.) Slide them in your fridge and fill them up. Your toes will thank you.

Related: How to Organize Your Fridge

#5 Window Frame Becomes … Hanging Bathroom Storage

Who says a window can’t be a door? Erica Hebel wanted to create a rustic-looking storage cupboard for her “itty bitty powder room that is ridiculously shaped and hard to get into” in suburban Chicago. She began with a $3 wood window purchased at a barn sale. “A bit worn, but that adds to its character,” she says.

DIY storage cabinet in bathroom made from window frame
Image: Erica Hebel of OnBlissStreet.com
  • Hebel cleaned the wood and the glass panes. Then she built a cabinet box with three pine boards for shelves, plywood for the back, and a few small hinges using a brad nailer, a stud detector, and a Kreg jig.
  • Related: Under-Sink Bathroom Storage Ideas

#6 Stool Becomes a Gift Wrap Organizer

Gift wrap organizer created from a wooden stool
Image: Sadie Seasongoods
  • When the cardboard box housing Sarah Ramberg’s wrapping paper finally gave out, she remembered a photo she had seen of an upside-down stool used to corral fabric bolts. That led her to an idea.
  • The Greenville, S.C., “biologist by day” spray-painted an old stool, slathered on a coat of sealant, and put four casters on the seat so she can “wrap and roll from room to room.” Ramberg cut a “crazy print” thrift store pillow case in half to create catch-all pouches to attach to the side. “It’s a ‘low sew’ project,” she says. And low-cost, too: The stool was from a Habitat for Humanity ReStore, and four swivel casters cost as little as $6.

#7 Filing Cabinet Becomes a Garage Workbench

Garage workbench made from a filing cabinet
Image: C Renee at thegardenfrog.me
  • Yay! Renee Fuller of Midlothian, Va., got a chain saw for Mother’s Day. Where to put it? When she saw how expensive a new tool storage solution would be to buy, she thought of an old lateral filing cabinet stuffed with junk sitting in her garage.
  • Fuller spray-painted the cabinet with grey Rust-Oleum and made two rectangles in chalkboard spray paint for drawer labels. Then, she put inexpensive wheels on the bottom. The top is a laminated countertop a neighbor had thrown away. Fuller attached it with SPAX multi-material screws. Total cost of the project: $35.

#8 Kitchen Cabinets Become Dining Room Storage

Who knew unwanted oak kitchen cabinets plus old fence wood could equal a built-in dining room buffet? Pulled from a kitchen Connie Harper’s husband was helping a friend remodel, the cabinets fit perfectly along the wall in the Harpers’ Tyler, Texas, dining room.

The cabinets were in good condition, so the Harpers lightly sanded the doors, painted the interior and exterior with white satin paint, and bought new, bronze-finished metal hardware and hinges. The top is old pine fence board from a fence they’d taken down. They laid the pieces side by side, sanded them lightly, and sealed the top with a coat of polyurethane.

“It gives me satisfaction to see something that’s headed to the dumpster, bring it home, and give it new life,” Harper says. The project took about two days and cost $25 for the hardware.

“Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this.  Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

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4 Drawbacks of Home Equity Loans

Taking out a home equity loan against the value of your property can backfire if you fail to avoid these common pitfalls in the borrowing process.

Red brick wall with four bricks missing | Home Equity Loans
Image: Anke Wittkowski/EyeEm/Getty
  • When you need a quick source of funds, a home equity loan or home equity line of credit (known as a HELOC) can be tempting. Done wisely, you can use the lower-interest debt secured by your house to pay off debts with high interest rates, like credit cards, to save in the long run.

Even better, use it for value-adding home improvements, like remodeling your kitchen. If you use the loan that way, you may be able to deduct it on your federal taxes. (You’ll have to itemize to get the deduction, though).

Consider carefully before you cash in home equity to spend on consumer goods like clothing, furniture, or vacations. Home equity loans aren’t always the best choice for accessing cash. 

That’s because you’re staking your home against your ability to pay off the debt — and that’s just the beginning of the potential pitfalls of home equity loans.

Drawback #1: Money Doesn’t Come Cheap

A home equity loan is a second mortgage on your house. Interest rates are usually much lower for a home equity loan than for unsecured debt like personal loans and credit cards. But transaction and closing costs, similar to those for primary mortgages, make home equity loans a pricey — and imprudent — way to finance something you may want but don’t absolutely need, like a fur coat, exotic vacation, or Ferrari.

The average closing costs on a $200,000 mortgage are $4,070. To compare offers on competing home equity loans, use a calculator that compares fees, interest rates, and how long you’ll take to pay back the loan. Ask your current mortgage lender if it offers any discounts if you get a second mortgage from the same company.Popular Reads

Drawback #2: Early Payoff Can Be Costly

Home equity loans almost always have fixed interest rates, so you know your monthly payment won’t rise. Do check to see if there’s a pre-payment penalty — a fee the lender will charge if you pay back the loan early because you sell your house, or you just want to get rid of the monthly payment.

Such early-termination fees are typically a percentage of the outstanding balance, such as 2%, or a certain number of months’ worth of interest, such as six months. They’re triggered if you pay off part or all of a loan within a certain time frame, typically three years. Despite the penalty, it may be worthwhile to refinance if you can lower interest rates sufficiently.

If you want to be able to borrow money periodically, it may make sense to go for a home equity line of credit instead of a lump-sum second mortgage. Although more lenders are charging stiff prepayment penalties for HELOCs too, these are triggered when the line is closed within a certain period, such as three years, not when the balance is paid off. Bear in mind that interest rates on most HELOCs are variable.

The big advantage to a credit line is that you can borrow whatever amount you need as you need money. The big drawback is that the lender can shut off the line of credit if the value of your home falls, your credit goes south, or just because it no longer wants to offer you credit.

Drawback #3: Beware Predatory Lenders

Some lenders don’t act in your best interest. Theoretically, lenders are supposed to follow underwriting guidelines on appropriate debt and income levels to keep you from spending more than you can afford on a loan. But in practice, some unscrupulous lenders bend or ignore these rules.

Always shop around.Most Popular in Homebuying

Drawback #4: Your House Is at Stake

A home equity loan is a lien on your house that usually takes second place to the primary mortgage. As such, home equity lenders can be left with nothing if a house sells for less than what’s owed on the first mortgage. To recoup losses, second-mortgage lenders will sometimes refuse to sign off on short sales unless they’re paid all or part of what they’re owed.

Moreover, even though the lender loses its secured interest in the house should it go to foreclosure, in some states, it can send debt collectors after you for the balance, and report the loss to credit agencies. This black mark on your credit score can hurt your ability to borrow for years to come.

There are benefits to home equity loans. Often you can write off the interest you pay on the loan. Consult a tax adviser to see if that’s the case for you. And the rates can be lower than what you’d pay for an unsecured, personal loan or if you used a credit card to make your purchase.

“Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this.  Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

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Who Represents You in a Real Estate Transaction?

Knowing which type of relationship you have with your agent, and his broker, will help you negotiate the best possible deal, whether you’re a buyer or a seller.

A for sale sign in front of a house
Image: Liz Foreman for HouseLogic
  • When you hire a real estate agent, it’s important to understand whose side she’s on as you select a home to buy (or list your current home for sale) and head towards closing, where the actual transfer of ownership happens. There are a lot of ways agents may represent clients. Yours might represent:

By knowing where your agent’s loyalties lie, you’ll know what you can tell her and what you can’t. (If, for example, you’re dealing with an agent who doesn’t represent you but is representing the sellers of a home you want to buy, you won’t want to tell her how high you’re willing to go on the price.) In some states, your agent has to explain the type of representation (also called agency) she’s offering you and ask you to sign a contract identifying who the agent and her broker represent. If an agent doesn’t bring up the subject or ask you to sign a contract, ask about it so you know whom she’s representing.

No matter what form of representation you agree to, watch out for your own interests and understand the six ways brokers and agents represent clients below.

1. Buyer’s Agency

Want the agent to represent you and only you when you buy a home so that all the information you share with her is confidential? Opt for an exclusive buyer’s agent.

Who pays the buyer’s agent? Surprisingly, even if you hire a buyer’s agent, you can still ask the sellers to pay his fee. You can pay your buyer’s agent yourself, or ask the seller (or the seller’s agent) to pay your agent a share of their sales commission.Popular Reads

2. Seller’s or Listing Agency

An exclusive seller’s agent represents only the sellers, not the buyers. If your exclusive seller’s agent finds a buyer for your home, he may have another agent — maybe even a co-worker from the same brokerage — represent the buyer in your transaction. In some cases the buyer may have no agent at all. Your exclusive seller’s agent is loyal only to you, so it’s OK to discuss strategy with him.

Who pays the seller’s agent? The seller pays a commission to the seller’s agent from the proceeds of the sale. The seller’s agent may, and often does, share the commission with the homebuyer’s agent.

3. Subagency or Cooperating Agency

Let’s say you find a home online. You call the real estate brokerage that’s offering the home and an agent who answers the phone offers to show you the home right now. You think, “Great, she’s showing me the home, she must work for me.” But unless you’ve hired her as your buyer’s agent, she’s working for the sellers.

The same thing can happen if you go to see a home with an agent whose brokerage doesn’t hold the listing. That agent is assisting you, but she’s not your agent; she’s cooperating with the sellers to get you to buy their home.

In some states, that agent may also be a subagent (think subcontractor) of the seller’s agent. Some states allow subagents, some don’t.

Bottom line: Always ask any agent showing you a home whom she represents. Never tell a subagent anything you don’t want the sellers to know.

Who pays the subagent? The seller’s agent shares her commission with the subagent.

4. Dual Agency

In many states, agents can represent both the buyer and seller. These dual agents seek to bring both sides together. They can’t do something that’s only good for you and not for the other side.

A dual agent situation often arises when one agent represents the buyers and the sellers of the same home. The agent must disclose the relationship and, in many states, you must agree in writing to such dual representation because of the potential for conflicts of interest. While dual agents have an obligation not to share any confidential information of a client without their permission, be sure to inform the agent that the information is confidential and know that any non-confidential information may be shared with the people on the other side of the transaction.

Who pays the dual agent? Usually the seller pays the commission.

5. Designated or Appointed Agency

What happens when the buyer’s agent and the seller’s agent both work for the same broker?

To make sure both sides of the home sale are treated fairly in this situation, some brokers designate an agent in their company to represent only the buyers and another to represent only the sellers. A designated agent or appointed agent will be loyal to you and only you. The strategy helps avoid a dual agency situation.

Who pays the designated agents? The sellers pay the commission and the designated agents share it.

6. Nonagency or Transaction Brokerage

In some states, you can work with an agent who acts as a facilitator. By doing so, you set up a nonagency, transactional, or facilitator relationship with the “agent” even though that person is technically not your agent under the law. Typically, nonagents owe you fewer obligations and duties than those who are actually agents. For instance, they would still be required to treat you fairly, but wouldn’t necessarily owe you confidentiality.

Nonagent responsibilities vary from state to state. To find out what those services entail in your state, ask the broker and agent.

Who pays the nonagent? You, as the seller, might agree to pay a flat fee or a commission, which would be stipulated in the listing agreement.

A REALTOR® can help you sell faster, get a better price, and guide you through what can be a complex process. So you’ll want to find an agent who suits your needs. Knowing which type of relationship you have with your agent, and his broker, will help you negotiate the best possible deal, whether you’re a buyer or a seller.

“Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this.  Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

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Building a Deck? 5 Questions to Ask Before You DIY

Find out if DIY or hiring a pro is right for your deck project.

Image: Philippe Gerber/Getty
  • Building a deck expands your livable outdoor space so you can do more of what you love — entertaining, dining, or relaxing under the stars. But large projects like adding a new deck or repairing an existing one can be daunting, even for a savvy DIYer.

Safety is a big consideration when creating any kind of structure. Deck collapses can not only ruin a great party, but more important, endanger your guests. Since many of the decks that fail are built incorrectly or haven’t been properly maintained, asking the right questions is critical. That way, you can build a deck that puts safety first.

Whether you’re planning to build a deck or give some love to your existing deck, these five questions will help you decide if you have the skills and resources to DIY or the job should be left to a pro.

#1 How Complex Is Your Deck Plan?

Image: Philippe Gerber/Getty
  • The size and scope of your deck build will determine how much it costs, how long it will take to complete, and whether you need pro help. As you assess your project, think about key questions like:
  • Will the deck attach to the house or be freestanding?
  • What width will the deck be and what height from the ground up?
  • How will foot traffic flow from inside to outside?
  • Will your deck need stairs and/or railings?
  • What’s your timeline for completion?

If your dream deck is large or complex, or you’re operating on a quick timeline, hiring a contractor may be worth the extra money. But smaller, less complicated decks with no deadline could be a good opportunity to DIY.

#2 What’s Your Budget for Deck Construction?

Image: Chris Rogers/Getty
  • If your goal with a DIY is to save cash, do the math first to see if the savings are worth it.

Decking options include redwood, at $6 to $36 per square foot, and vinyl, at $10 to $18 per square foot. Basic pressure-treated wood is less expensive, at around $2.15 to $5.50 per square foot. You’ll also need to order concrete, hardware, railings (if applicable), and any tools you don’t own.

Hiring a pro for deck construction costs $15 to $35 per square foot for an average-size deck but could increase depending on the size of the deck, the material you choose, and your location. If you’re on the fence about whether to hire someone, ask several reputable contractors for a quote. Not sure who to contact? Your real estate agent can likely make recommendations.

HouseLogic tip: As you plan your budget, factor in the cost of ongoing deck care and maintenance. Depending on the material you choose, repairs and upkeep may cost more.

Get More Out of Your Investment

Seasonal cleaning and regular maintenance can keep your deck looking good and extend its lifespan. That means you’ll get more seasons out of your investment.Read More InDeck Maintenance Schedule & Tips

#3 What’s Your DIY Skill Level?

Image: Philippe Gerber/Getty
  • Even an experienced DIYer may not have all the skills required to take on a large exterior project like building a deck. Skills include the ability to:
  • Design a deck structure that suits your home’s style
  • Appropriately scope the project and order the correct amount of materials
  • Precisely measure and cut lumber
  • Work with power and hand tools
  • Manage the project to completion in a timely way

If any of these skills raise a red flag, your money and time could be better spent turning the project over to a contractor.

#4 Is Your Deck’s Building Site Level?

Image: Philippe Gerber/Getty
  • If the site of your deck is perfectly level, the build will be more straightforward and better suited to DIYers. As the ground slopes, you’ll need to account for its steepness during construction. Slight to moderate slopes can be managed by increasing the depth of deck footings, but a grade of 45 degrees or more may need an engineer’s eye.

You’ll also want to assess how water settles in the area you plan to build your deck. If you’re concerned about water pooling under the deck, you may need to install a drainage system. A yard with a complex drainage problem could pose problems for a DIY deck build. But a contractor may be able to quickly address any issues.

#5 Will Your Deck Require a Permit?

Building codes and restrictions vary by local area and neighborhood (if an HOA oversees yours). For example, decks of a certain height, size, and location may trigger the need for project pre-approval or a building permit.

You can apply for permits on your own through the appropriate local government offices. But keep in mind you may need to provide construction plans and site plans that can challenge you if you’re a first timer. An established contractor should be able to quickly navigate the permit process if required.

Building Your Deck: DIY or Contractor?

Image: Philippe Gerber/Getty
  • Your answers to these questions will tell you if you can tackle building a deck or should consider spending money to hire a pro.

Building your deck on your own will save money on labor, but could take longer. You also risk a lower-quality project if you’re an inexperienced builder.

An experienced deck builder will likely finish the job faster and with higher quality. But a contractor will bill labor fees, material fees, and possibly other charges depending on the project’s size and scope.

“Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this.  Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

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What Is an Egress Window?

These escape hatches also add natural light and ventilation to basements.

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  • An egress window looks like a regular window but opens fully to allow a person to escape a building in an emergency — for example, a house fire. In fact, these windows are essentially escape hatches. Most local building codes require them to be installed in finished basements, especially if the upgraded space will include a bedroom.   

In addition to providing an escape, egress windows can increase natural light and ventilation in your basement. And the ones with attractive interior trim can make your basement living space look more appealing. 

What Is a Window Well?

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  • A window well is a hole dug into the ground outside a basement egress window to give a person room to crawl out. Without a window well, these windows can’t work. The term “window well” also refers to a shield typically made of galvanized steel or polyurethane that lines the hole in the ground outside the egress window. It attaches to your home’s foundation to protect the basement from rocks, dirt, and moisture, and keep the hole from collapsing.

Types of Egress Window

Different types of windows can serve as egress windows as long as they meet requirements for size and clearance dictated by local building codes and by the International Residential Code. Note: Costs are for windows only, not installation. 


Casement egress windows are the most common type. They are hinged and swing in and out or like a door, sometimes using a hand crank. They have one pane of glass. These windows can improve ventilation and airflow in a basement and provide a small but effective escape outlet.  

  • Cost per window: $200 to $500
  • Best for: Smaller areas in a basement or basements that don’t have much wall space


Single-hung egress windows have two panes of glass, and the bottom sash moves up and down while the top sash is immobile. They can be the most affordable option. 

  • Cost per window: $100 to $500
  • Best for: Basements with a lot of wall space and homeowners on a budget


Double-hung egress windows have two panes of glass, and both the top and bottom sashes move up and down. This lets more air into a basement for circulation. They need to be relatively large – nearly 5 feet tall and 5 feet wide – to meet code requirements.   

  • Cost per window: $250 to $500
  • Best for: Larger spaces and warmer climates where you want to throw the windows up and let the mild air into the basement 

Horizontal sliding

Horizontal or sliding egress windows open like a sliding glass door but are typically smaller than a door, around 4 feet by 4 feet.  

  • Cost per window: $150 to $700
  • Best for: Basements with a lot of wall space or narrow window wells


In-swing egress windows open inward and are a good choice for older basements or those with small window openings. You can use a smaller window well with them because the glass panel swings inward. 

  • Cost per window: $350 to $700
  • Best for: Older basement spaces with small openings
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  • Building Code Requirements for Egress Windows

Check your local building code office to get specific requirements for basement egress windows. The windows must adhere to code for you to legally use your basement as a bedroom.  

If you finish your basement and don’t install proper egress windows, not only will your living space be unsafe, but you also won’t recoup the cost of your remodel when you sell your house.    

Generally, these windows need to meet requirements regarding: 

  • Minimum clearance: The height of the open window should be large enough for an outfitted firefighter to climb through. 
  • Window well size: The recessed area outside the window should be large enough for a person to climb out of so they can move away from the building. 
  • Maximum height above the floor: The bottom of the window must be no more than 44 inches above the finished floor.  
  • Window barriers and opening ability: The windows must allow for easy and intuitive opening. A person should be able to exit the window without tools, keys, or unnecessary barriers. 

Egress Window Installation Costs

Installing these windows takes skill and experience — and may also require a permit. You can expect to pay around $40 to $50 an hour for labor to install them. For egress windows above ground, expect to pay $500 to $1,000 per window. For windows below ground, you’ll need to excavate the area, which will require a lot more time and labor costs. Expect to pay $2,400 to $4,000 for a subfloor egress window installation.  

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  • How to Calculate Egress Window Cost

To calculate the cost of egress windows, answer these questions: 

  1. What kind of windows do I want? 
  2. Do I need to change the existing wall to accommodate the window?
  3. Should I make adjustments to the window well?
  4. Do I need to dig a window well? 
  5. Will I need additional materials (paint, insulation, etc.) for this project?

Also, consider the value that windows add to your home and possible savings from replacing old ones with new, more energy-efficient versions.  

Egress Window Installation: DIY or Contractor?

Installing new egress windows isn’t a simple job. It may involve cutting a large opening into a masonry wall in your basement and adding a window that meets building code requirements. In many places, you’ll need a building permit to add a new egress window. 

If you do it wrong, you’ll have a leaky window below ground level and possible structural damage to your house. It’s best to call a contractor to install new egress windows or replace existing ones. 

The smartest, safest way to save money on your basement remodel is to DIY another part of the project, like painting walls, laying flooring, or demo-ing old cabinets or non-load-bearing walls. Leave the installation of egress windows to the pros. 

“Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this.  Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

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HVAC Maintenance Checklist

Here’s an easy, doable preventive maintenance checklist to keep your heating and cooling system in top shape.

  • It’s a good idea to hire an HVAC company to inspect and do maintenance on your system every fall and spring. They’ll do things like inspect and clean the wiring and mechanisms of the air conditioner and furnace, which are a bit more challenging for the average homeowner.

But you can prolong the life and increase the efficiency of your system if you follow this simple HVAC maintenance plan:

HVAC checklist for homeowners
Image: HouseLogic
  • Some things you should do immediately; other tasks only need to be done seasonally or once a year.

10 Steps That’ll Prolong Your HVAC’s Life

1. Buy a better filter if you haven’t already. The new high-efficiency pleated filters have an electrostatic charge that works like a magnet to grab the tiniest particles — even those that carry bacteria.

2. Replace the filter at least every 90 days. But check it monthly. If it looks dark and clogged, go ahead and change it. If you have pets, you’ll probably need to change it monthly.

3. Make sure there’s at least two feet of clearance around outdoor air-conditioning units and heat pumps.

4. Remove debris, such as leaves, pollen, and twigs weekly during spring, summer, and fall from top and sides of outdoor air-conditioning units and heat pumps. Don’t allow the lawn mower to discharge grass clippings onto the unit.

5. Monthly, inspect insulation on refrigerant lines leading into the house. Replace lines if missing or damaged.

6. Make sure unit is level. Annually, ensure that outdoor air-conditioning units and heat pumps are on firm and level ground or pads.

7. Stave off clogs. Annually, pour a cup of bleach mixed with water down the air-conditioner condensate drain to prevent buildup of mold and algae, which can cause a clog.

8. Shut off the water supply to the furnace humidifier in summer. In fall (or when you anticipate turning on the heat), replace the humidifier wick filter, set the humidistat to between 35% and 40% relative humidity, and turn on the water supply.

9. Never close more than 20% of a home’s registers to avoid placing unnecessary strain on the HVAC system.

10. Replace the battery in your home’s carbon monoxide detector annually.

“Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this.  Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

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Attic Cleaning: What You Can’t See Can Hurt You

Cleaning your attic removes allergens and respiratory irritants that can make your family sick.

Boy wearing gas mask in cloud of multi-color smoke
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Attic cleaning probably isn’t your idea of a good time. But the dust, dander, and mold in that often-neglected room could be irritating your family’s lungs and kicking up allergies. Plus, a clean attic will enable you to put your great attic ideas into action.

“No one thinks about their attic, but it’s a problem area,” says Mike Tringale of the Consumer Healthcare Products Association.

Attic allergens and irritants constantly seep into your living area through ceiling hatches, doors, recessed lights, and heating and cooling systems (especially if they’re located in your attic).

Attic Cleaning Basics

  • Dust walls, window frames, and rafters with an electrostatically charged cloth (think Swiffer) or duster, which grabs twice as much dust as cotton cloths. Don’t forget to dust exposed roof trusses, attic fan blades, light bulbs, fixtures, hatches, and door frames.
  • Vacuum with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter vacuum cleaner, which channels all vacuumed air through a filter designed to remove even microscopic particles. A less expensive choice: Install a top-quality, high-efficiency filter bag in your vacuum.
  • Line shop vacuums with a plastic bag, which traps irritants and makes debris disposal easy.
  • Wear a National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health mask, which filters a high percentage of airborne particles.
  • If you suffer from allergies — 50 million people in the U.S. do, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology — hire a professional to remove the debris. Prices for pro attic cleaning vary depending on region and nature of the cleanup. Get an estimate before hiring a cleaning contractor.

Keeping Irritants Out of Your Attic

Preventing mold growth and sealing out insects and vermin help reduce irritants in your attic.

Mold: Small roof leaks and old, cracked caulking can let in moisture, which may lead to mold damage. Once a year, and after each big storm, walk around your home to inspect your roof from all angles. Repair any loose, missing, or broken shingles. Check windows for missing caulking or cracked panes.

Don’t bother buying a home mold test kit, which may register mold spores that are constantly in the air anyway. If you suspect mold or can see a mold-covered area that’s larger than about 10 square feet, call a certified indoor air quality professional to evaluate your situation.

Dust: Many of those tiny dust mites you see floating around are really dust mite particles, roach parts, and vermin dander made of dried saliva, urine, and feces.

These dust proteins can trigger allergic reactions, so search for tiny cracks and openings in your roof, walls, and windows where vermin and insects can enter. Seal attic air leaks with caulk and polyurethane foam, and repair any holes in attic ventilation screens that are under the eaves and in gable ends.

“Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this.  Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

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