December is a tough month to focus on home maintenance. There’s so much holiday cheer to hang up and drink down that doing routine chores seems like a wet blanket over the Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Festivus spirit. But you can give yourself an early holiday present by doing just a few maintenance tasks before cold weather truly sets in.
We’ve created a handy checklist of home maintenance tasks that need to be completed this month, plus tips for how to do them faster and easier—or with the help of a pro.
Check these to-do items off your list, then sit back with a few mugs of eggnog and enjoy the rest of the year. (Tip: Don’t drink while operating a snowblower. You’ll thank us later!)
1. Snow removal
Task: Clear snow and ice from walkways.
Shortcut: To use a snowblower and avoid constantly having to adjust the chute, start in the middle of the driveway and blow the snow to one side, then make a U-turn and blow the snow to the other side. (Yep, it’s that simple.) Just make sure to fuel and oil up your snowblower now, in case it’s suddenly needed.]
If you’re using a shovel, clear the snow after every 2 or 3 inches of snowfall, which is significantly better for your back, heart, and general disposition than trying to lift a foot or more of snow.
Call in the pros: Hiring a neighborhood kid will probably cost you $25 and a cup of hot chocolate. Hiring a professional will cost $40 to $65, depending on the length of your driveway and the depth of the snow. It’s best to contract with a snow-removal service at the beginning of the snowy season (read: now) and pin down a price. The last thing you want is to beg a plow driver to clear your driveway after a blizzard, when he’s the most in demand.
2. Prevent ice damming
Task: Prevent ice dams in your gutter and on your roof, which can push water into your home.
Shortcut: If you live in a frigid or snowy climate, you can install heating cables along the edge of your roof to keep snow runoff from freezing. Fifty feet of cable costs about $230.
Call in the pros: A roofing company will install heating cables on your roof for, on average, $817. If your roof is particularly steep or big, you’ll pay more.
3. Beef up insulation
Task: Check attic insulation to make sure it hasn’t deteriorated or flattened, which will reduce its efficiency.
Shortcut: Look across your attic, and see if the insulation is level with the attic floor joists, or if it’s packed below—which indicates you need more. (If it’s packed down below the top of the joists, then it loses some of its insulation power.) The cheapest way to beef up insulation is to lay down fiberglass batts, which cost about $100 to $500 for an 800-square-foot open attic.
Call in the pros: Putting down insulation is labor-intensive and can be messy. You can hire a company to insulate an 800-square-foot attic for $400 to $1,800, depending on the type and insulating value of the material you choose.
4. Put up/take down holiday decorations
Task: Before you hang decorations, make sure to replace your old, incandescent lightbulbs with LED lights, which stay cooler and decrease fire risk.
Shortcut: If you hang lights in the same place each year, install permanent hangers, which will save time every year thereafter. When you take down the lights, keep them from tangling by winding them around a cord holder or heavy cardboard, or threading them in and around an old Pringles can.
Call in the pros: The cost of hiring pros to light up your home like the Griswolds’ will vary from place to place and depend on the size of the project. For instance, this San Antonio, TX, company charges $149 to $1,399 to hang lights you own. Take-down prices range from $99 to $299.
5. Get your home ready for guests
Shortcut: You can buy brand-new bedding—comforter, sheets, pillowcases—for less than $50, which will give rooms a new look and feel. Fill a basket with bottles of water, bags of nuts, and tiny tubes of shampoo and conditioner you’ve taken from hotels (c’mon, we know we’re not the only ones doing it).
Call in the pros: Hire a cleaning service to help out. A one-time cleaning of a 1,300-square-foot, single-story home runs $95 to $300.
6. Clean the chimney
Task: This is a must-do, regardless of whether you are burning wood logs or have a gas fireplace. If you haven’t gotten a chimney sweep yet this year, now’s the time to get on it before you fire that baby up—dirty chimneys are a leading cause of house fires. (Pro tip: To keep things clean year-round, remove fireplace ash after each blaze. If you have a compost pile, throw ashes there, which will help make luscious soil.)
Shortcut: You can clean the chimney yourself, but it isn’t for the faint of heart. You’ll need plastic sheeting and tape, several types of chimney brushes, safety gear, and a reliable ladder—plus a willing desire to climb on top of your roof. Does this sound like you?
Call in the pros: We recommend this route to make sure your chimney has gotten the full work-up before you set a Yuletide log ablaze. The standard chimney inspection costs about $100 to $250, depending on roof accessibility and the type of chimney you have.
7. Prevent icy hazards
Task: Take steps to deal with any home issues that could prove dangerous in icy weather. Turn off water to exterior spigots, drain them, and leave them open throughout the winter to minimize chances of frozen, burst pipes. Make sure outdoor stair railings aren’t wobbly, which could cause someone to slip and fall on iced-over steps. Wrap exposed piping in your basement and garage with heat tape, which will keep water flowing freely in cold snaps. Trim overhanging branches that could cause roof damage if they snap under the weight of snow or ice.
Shortcut: If branches aren’t too large or hard to reach, use a pole saw or pruner. Just don’t venture onto the roof to get the job done.
Call in the pros: Tree limb removal costs vary, but it’s usually between $50 and $75.
8. Get rid of critters
Task: We mentioned this one last month, but it bears repeating during these frigid months. Squirrels, rats, and raccoons will crawl through any hole or crack in your toasty attic to stay warm. If you hear the patter of little feet overhead, or notice that the instant ramen in your pantry has mysteriously been invaded, you’ll have to set traps or lay poison.
Shortcut: It’s so much easier to keep pests out than to chase them away. Inspect your home’s exterior to make sure vents are covered, holes are patched, and cracks are sealed.
Call in the pros: Most animal removal companies will get rid of pests for you, but for a hefty price. If you have squirrels, for example, you’ll pay $300 to $1,500 for a professional to inspect, set traps, remove said squirrels, and seal entry points. Now, go enjoy the holidays already!