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By Kerry Close
January 13, 2017
Getty Images

Winter is here, which means you’re likely to be spending a lot more time indoors. The first few months of the year are a great time to tackle some simple projects around the house that can increase your comfort, cut energy costs, and improve your family’s health.

Another plus: January and February are typically slow months for contractors, says Abbe Will, a research analyst at Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, covering the home-improvement and repair market. That said, many of the items on the following home improvement checklist are easy DIY tasks, so you can save even more money.

Health and Safety

✔︎ Upgrade your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. With the house closed up and the furnace and fireplaces going, it’s essential to have working smoke and CO detectors. For around $40, you can get a combination unit that contains both types of sensors. Better still is an interconnected system, which sets off all the alarms in the house when any single unit detects a hazardous condition ($30 to $80 per wireless unit).

✔︎ Change the furnace filter. Most filters should be replaced every couple of months, an easy DIY task. A simple flat filter costs less than $5 at a home center, but it’s worth upgrading to a high-efficiency pleated filter like 3M’s Filtrete ($20), which has increased surface area to trap mold spores, pet dander, and other allergens.

✔︎ Vacuum out dryer and kitchen vents. Now that the rush of holiday-season cooking and cleaning is over, take a look at your dryer and kitchen vents. Removing built-up lint and grease cuts down on fire risk and keeps those systems running more efficiently, which reduces energy costs. It’s a job for a pro, who has the equipment to access hard-to-reach ducts. Expect to pay around $100 to $150.

Repair and Maintenance

✔︎ Take care of the little things. Like contractors, handymen also tend to be less busy in the new year, says Faith Teel of the Handyman Plan, a repair service in Asheville, N.C. A cost-effective strategy is to gang together small projects—dripping faucets, cracked plaster, paint touch-ups—and hire someone to do them all at once. The hourly rate for handyman services on Angie’s List ranges from $50 to $100, with an average of $83.

✔︎ Beef up insulation. Adding fiberglass to your attic is one of the highest-value home projects, with a return on investment of 117%, per Remodeling magazine (average job cost: $1,268). Sealing air leaks into the attic can save you big, on both energy (up to 15% of your total annual bill) and potential repairs. In cold climates, poorly insulated attics are a chief cause of ice dams, which often lead to expensive roof damage.

High-Value Upgrades

✔︎ Install smart meters. A programmable thermostat like the one from Nest ($249) will pay for itself, saving about $180 a year in energy costs, according to Energy Star. A smart water meter, like the new Fluid ($259, available in early 2017), can help conserve water and alert you to leaking or burst pipes.

✔︎ Retrofit fireplace doors. An open firebox is notoriously inefficient, sucking warm air right up the flue. Adding glass doors ($200 to $800) doesn’t detract from the look while making the fireplace much more effective at radiating heat. Doors are also a good safety feature, keeping kids and pets from getting too close to that pretty flame.

Advertiser Disclosure

The purpose of this disclosure is to explain how we make money without charging you for our content.

Our mission is to help people at any stage of life make smart financial decisions through research, reporting, reviews, recommendations, and tools.

Earning your trust is essential to our success, and we believe transparency is critical to creating that trust. To that end, you should know that many or all of the companies featured here are partners who advertise with us.

Our content is free because our partners pay us a referral fee if you click on links or call any of the phone numbers on our site. If you choose to interact with the content on our site, we will likely receive compensation. If you don't, we will not be compensated. Ultimately the choice is yours.

Opinions are our own and our editors and staff writers are instructed to maintain editorial integrity, but compensation along with in-depth research will determine where, how, and in what order they appear on the page.

To find out more about our editorial process and how we make money, click here.

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