10 home-improvement things to do before the holidays


About this series:

Each month, Nicole Villalpando tackles a different home improvement subject in Your Home. You can find past stories at austin360.com/yourhome.

For this month’s Your Home, Nicole Villalpando gets ready for the holiday baking season by cleaning out the pantry. Watch her video of tips at austin360.com/yourhome.

Attention, planners: We are 13½ weeks from Thanksgiving and the start of the holiday season. Start your home-improvement engines.

Today for Your Home, we suggest 10 things you could do in a few hours on a weekend — or by calling in the pros as needed — to get ready for the holiday season and the guests who might be traipsing through your doorway.

1. Have your heat pump or furnace inspected. Yes, we realize it’s 95-plus degrees out right now, but you don’t want to be caught at the first cold snap without reliable heat. Most heat pumps last about eight to 12 years. Furnaces last 10 to 15 years. Most people change out their heat pumps and furnaces with their air conditioners — which last only 10-13 years in Texas — because the systems have to be matched. In heat pumps, the compressors tend to go out; in gas furnaces, it’s the igniter. Do the maintenance on your system to extend the life as long as possible.

2. While you’re at it, check the water heater. Imagine your guests are ready for a hot shower only to find out that their hostess has been limping along with lukewarm water for a while. Most water heaters last 10-12 years. New water heater standards that went into practice this year mean that new water heaters save more energy, but are larger and might not fit in your standard water heater closet. See if your water heater might be on it’s way out, so you can make the change and possibly remodel before you have no hot water.

3. Evaluate appliances. Has the refrigerator been losing its cool? Is the oven heating unevenly? Call a repair service before it’s Thanksgiving Day. If your bigger appliances are getting up in age, you might want to schedule a checkup as well. Refrigerators last eight-15 years, dishwashers seven-15 years, ovens 10-15 years, washers eight-10 years and dryers 10-15 years.

4. Get the chimney inspected and cleaned.

When we did our fireplace story last year, Charles Fisk of Area Wide Chimney Sweep gave this guideline for when to get a chimney cleaned: Every 50 fires or every cord of wood for a wood-burning fireplace. A chimney sweep removes the creosote that clings to the chimney and inspects it to make sure there hasn’t been a chimney fire and that there are no cracks or animals taking up residence. Most fireplaces last about 20-30 years before cracks start to appear. Shifts in the foundation also might add to cracking.

A gas-burning fireplace should be cleaned every five to 10 years. There are sprays to squirt on the logs to remove the soot and keep them looking good in the meantime. Embers also will need to be replaced every three to four years because of the soot.

Chimney sweeps also clean dryer vents, which you need done once a year. When you call for the chimney cleaning, add the dryer vent, too.

5. Clean out the pantry. We know you’re going to want to make your famous pecan pie. Is the half-empty corn syrup bottle from two years ago still sitting on a shelf? How old are your essential holiday spices, such as nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon? Could you even find those spices in the cave that is the back of your pantry?

It’s time to throw out the old, make a list of what you will need and reorganize the pantry. If you have very deep shelves, think about adding clear bins that will allow you to group similar items together, as well as see what is in each bin.

Organize the pantry based on how you use those items: Put things you use almost every day on low shelves and in the front; things you use once a week, put on the middle shelves; things you use once a month or for special occasions, put on the high shelves. Get rid of the things you never use.

If you have kids, put healthy snacks at levels they can reach. Put the once-in-a-blue-moon or parent-only items on high shelves and in the back. Yes, it’s OK to hide the Godiva chocolate from the kids. You deserve it.

6. Clean out the guest room and the guest bath. Are your latest craft projects or yet-unpacked vacation bags still taking up space on the guest room bed, dresser and floor? Finish the projects and unpack the bags. Organize the closet and the dresser and make sure to leave drawers and hangers for guests. Evaluate the bedroom linens and pick up some new ones if yours have seen better days.

Also, think like a guest. What do I need to have a pleasant stay? Make sure to have tissues and bottles of water for the nightstand and maybe even a selection of books or magazines.

In the bathroom, make sure to provide toothpaste, toothbrush, razor, soap, and shampoo and conditioner to your guests. Antacids, pain reliever and extra tampons are nice as well. Make sure to have extra toilet paper, a trash can near the toilet and a plunger. You don’t want your guests to be embarrassed to ask for something. Get some nice-but-usable towels, too.

7. Do a floor-to-ceiling deep scrubbing. Clean the baseboards, walls, windows, window sills, ceiling fans, and blinds and drapery. Dust settles and we forget to address it. Clear out the cobwebs. Clean the grout around tile. Steam clean carpets or polish floors. Lift any stains you might have overlooked.

8. Evaluate the holiday decorations. It’s a perfect time to untangle the lights. Plug them in to make sure they still work. Throw out any broken ornaments. Don’t forget to wash the stockings before you need to hang them. Make a list of things you need to buy and keep it with you. You never know when a good deal could happen.

9. Get your holiday shopping list ready. Start brainstorming ideas for each person on your list and don’t forget to think about teachers, coaches, household help and employees. Keep the list with you. You never know when you might find something on sale. Make a note of what you found for each person, so you don’t double-buy for someone.

10. Plant trees. Fall and winter are the best times to plant trees to give them time to work on establishing roots to make it through the summer. Local landscape designer Diana C. Kirby reminds us that the hole you dig should be two to three times the size of the rootball, and the soil around the sides of the hole should be broken up. Water evenly without overwatering to get the tree roots established the first year.

Here are some of the recommended trees for Central Texas:

  • Lacebark elm
  • Texas mountain laurel
  • Yaupon holly
  • Flameleaf sumac
  • Crape myrtle
  • Kidneywood
  • Bur oak
  • American smoke tree
  • Texas red oak
  • Pecan
  • Anacacho orchid
  • Desert willow
  • Pomegranate
  • Loquat
  • Texas persimmon
  • Mexican redbud
  • Mexican bird of paradise
  • Possumhaw holly
  • Chinkapin oak



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