Outdoor chores that will pay you back

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Once the winter freeze-and-thaw cycle kicks in, a tiny leak in your roof can turn into a crevasse—and a $10,000-plus repair job. Clogged gutters and dribbling spigots can also do a lot of damage. So take advantage of the cooler weather to do home and yard repairs and spruce-ups. The following tips can save you thousands of dollars in repair costs.

Get some leaf relief

Fallen leaves can kill grass when they’re matted down by snow. Leaf piles can also attract rodents. But using leaf bags means work and waste if they go into a landfill.

What to do: Don’t overlook your mower’s mulching mode. Ground-up leaves feed your lawn and save money. You might need to make a few passes to slice the leaves small enough to decay. (See Consumer Reports' lawn mower Ratings and recommendations.)

What you save: Along with saving the cost of leaf bags (Americans spend millions of dollars a year on them), you sidestep the stooping and bending of raking and bagging.

--> Next: Check the roof.

Check the roof

Leaks can eventually damage the wood sheathing and rafters below the shingles, leading to thousands of dollars in repairs.

What to do: Use binoculars to spot cracked, curled, or missing shingles safely from the ground. Consider having a roofing pro check flashing around chimneys, skylights, and roof valleys for leaks, and the rubber boots near vents for cracks that can let moisture seep in.

[Is your roof in need of repair? Click here to find an expert in your area.]

What you save: At roughly $3 per square foot installed, new sheathing would total $6,900 for a 2,300-square-foot house if you had to replace all of it. Figure on an additional $7,000 to $10,000 to install new shingles, plus added costs if the roof rafters need replacing. (See Consumer Reports' roofing Ratings and recommendations.)

--> Next: Clear gutter clogs.

Clear gutter clogs

Gutters stuffed with leaves, pine needles, and other debris can let water spill over the side, pool around your home’s foundation, and seep inside. Water that freezes in gutters can force snow and ice into roof shingles, causing damage and leaks.

What to do: Consider a gutter-guard system to keep debris out and water in. Make sure that gutter drains extend 5 feet from the house—and that soil slopes away from the foundation 1 inch per foot for 6 feet or more. (See Consumer Reports' gutter-guard Ratings and recommendations.)

What you save: It cost about $300 a year for a pro to clean gutters in the fall and spring. That might be worth it rather than risking a fall off a ladder if you do the job yourself.

--> Next: Close your hoses.

Close your hoses

Pipes can burst when water inside expands as it freezes, creating an expensive mess in your home.

What to do: Shut off inside valves that control water flow to hose spigots. Then briefly open the spigots to drain any leftover water in pipes and hoses. Also drain water from supply lines for water sprinklers and pools, and shut off inside valves that control them. And help prevent freezing by insulating pipes in unheated areas.

What you save: Thousands of dollars in plumbing repairs and water damage, especially if pipes burst and cause a flood while you’re away.

Go to Consumer Reports' website to see four inside jobs that will cut your expenses.

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