These inexpensive DIY fixes can also save you money
by Jeff Yeager, AARP, October 8, 2013
Decorative Electrical Plate Covers
It may be a small detail, but replacing the covers on a room’s electrical switches and outlets with new decorative covers can add pizazz. You can shop online for a huge selection of plate covers in all types of materials, styles and designs. High-end ceramic switch covers, for example, cost about $20 apiece. Installation is usually simple: Just be sure to turn off the electricity for safety. Bonus tip: Write the brand and color of the room’s latest paint job on the back of the switch plate as a handy reminder for when you repaint or touch up.
Washing Machine Hoses
If your washer is hooked up to hot and cold water spigots with old-fashioned black rubber hoses, take a few minutes to shut off the faucets and replace them with super-strong and long-lasting braided stainless steel hoses, which cost about $10 to $15 each. Otherwise, if a washer hose bursts, your laundry room could quickly become an indoor swimming pool and suffer major damage.
Magnetic Kitchen Appliance Covers
Wish you had stainless steel kitchen appliances instead of plain old white ones? Before spending thousands on new appliances, consider magnetic covers for refrigerators, dishwashers and other appliances. They work just like tiny refrigerator magnets, except they cover the entire surface. They also come in many colors and graphic designs, and cost about $50 to $100 apiece, depending on the appliance and design.
Inflatable Chimney Damper
This ingenious device, which you can find online and in some home improvement stores for around $50 (depending on chimney size), inflates like a balloon inside the chimney of your fireplace to reduce heat loss and downward drafts. You inflate and deflate it from inside the house.
Water Heater Insulation Blanket
It may not be the sexiest indoor home improvement project, but it is one of the most cost effective. Fiberglass-filled insulation blankets can reduce energy loss from your home’s older water heater by 25 to 45 percent, according to the Iowa Energy Center. At a cost of about $25, they’re widely available at home improvement stores and require only a tape measure, a utility knife and about 30 minutes to install.
Decorative Window Film
To add visual interest or privacy, self-clinging vinyl or adhesive window films are easy to apply to the interior surface of window panes. A $100 budget will likely let you transform more than one large window into faux etched glass or other designs. If you get tired of the design, no worries; they’re easy to remove. Many window films can also be applied to the outside surface of shower doors.
Kool-Aid in the Toilets
It’s possible that your toilet is slowly leaking water — literally sending your money down the drain — without your even knowing it. To check for leaks, pour a package of grape Kool-Aid into the toilet tank and see if the water in the toilet bowl gradually turns purple without flushing. If it does, your toilet has a slow leak. Installing a new rubber flapper or even a whole new “toilet kit” to fix the problem is a pretty easy DIY project for about $25.
Sure, everyone knows that routinely cleaning or replacing furnace filters during the heating season conserves energy and improves air quality, but it’s easy to forget. Here’s the tip: You probably get a reminder every month in the mail that it’s time to change the filter … it’s called your monthly heating bill. Although it varies depending on the furnace and other conditions, in many instances changing filters every month is spot on.
Fabric Wall Coverings
To change the entire look and feel of a room without repainting or wallpapering, cover one or more walls with fabric. Just nail carpet tacking strips (about 20 cents per linear foot) around the perimeter of the wall — nailing only every foot or two is fine — and then stretch and attach fabric swaths to the tacking strips, with the edge of the fabric doubled back over. Best of all, you can change fabrics easily and even seasonally.
Windows in basements and garages are rarely energy efficient. To inexpensively add insulation to windows that you don’t often gaze through, simply mist the inside of the windowpane with water, then apply a properly sized piece of plastic bubble wrap to the glass (bubble side against the pane). The bubble wrap will magically cling to the dampened pane for months, and it peels off clean and easily when you want to remove it. It’s a true cheapskate miracle.