New Year, Same Maintenance!

January is the month for new beginnings. With the holiday rush over and the weather frigid in many parts of the country, it’s a great time to attend to some of the tasks that are easy to put off but oh-so-satisfying once they’re done — such as making or updating an inventory of what’s in your home. You might never need it, but if something goes wrong, having one can save some grief. Here are 8 tasks for your January home-maintenance checklist!

Schedule a ‘fix-it’ weekend

Set aside one weekend day this month to do minor repairs that take less than a day. Ahead of time, go from room to room and note things such as cracked switch plates, burned-out bulbs, loose screws, missing pads on chair legs and squeaky hinges that need lubrication.

Make a list of materials and tools you’ll need, and shop for whatever you don’t have in a single trip. On the appointed day, put the tools and supplies in a tote (the homeowner version of a carpenter’s steps-saving tool belt) and get to work. As you proceed, test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and check off the items from your list.

Get organized

Struggling to find a place for all the holiday gifts your family received? You’re not alone. Home-improvement stores consider January the “storage season,” which means you can probably find an unusually good selection of plastic bins, closet organizers and the like for great prices. Before you buy, though, get rid of what you no longer need. If you can make outflow equal inflow, you’ll probably have all the storage systems you’ll need.

If you decide to buy plastic bins, go for clear ones with straight sides. Tapered sides waste a surprising amount of shelf space. If boxes will go on shelves, get ones sized to make efficient use of shelf depths and widths. Or skip plastic bins and instead get a supply of free extra-sturdy cardboard boxes from a discount store such as Costco. Boxes with interlocking tabs and slots stack efficiently. Bin-style boxes are great for storing balls and other sports equipment, because you can just reach in and grab what you need.

Create/update your home inventory

While you’re paring down and organizing, make a quick inventory of what you have, or update an inventory you might have created in the past. If you ever need to file an insurance claim, having a list of the contents of your home will help you get your claim settled faster — and for the correct amount. Cellphones can simplify the process: Snap pictures or record short, narrated videos explaining what’s on each shelf or in each drawer. Apps such as Sortly can help organize your inventory into categories or rooms. The Insurance Information Institute offers other tips about creating an inventory on its website,

Plan for upcoming projects

If you’re contemplating making major repairs when the weather warms, create a plan, and line up a contractor now. The National Association of Home Builders has a checklist for hiring a builder or remodeler on its website, A good contractor should be able to advise you about other planning you need to do. Do you need an architect? Permits from your local building department? A financing plan? Given the unsteady supply chain, ask about lead times for ordering key materials, so your project doesn’t stall midway.

Wipe down kitchen cabinets

After all the holiday cooking, kitchen cabinets can be left quite grimy, especially near knobs and handles. Regular cleaning prevents buildup that can compromise the finish. Skip fancy cleaners. Just mix a few drops of clear hand-dishwashing detergent such as Dawn into a bowl of warm water. Moisten a clean cloth or sponge, wring it out well and wipe down the cabinet surfaces. (Moist, not wet, is key.) Do not soak the cabinets. If areas around knobs or handles are especially dirty, use a bit more soap. After wiping one cabinet door or drawer, go over it again with a different clean cloth and plain water. Rinse a second time if you used more soap. Buff dry with a clean cloth.

Add lighting

The right light fixture can make all the difference. Although daylight is increasing a bit each day this month, there are still plenty of dark afternoons and evenings to assess whether you have enough indoor lighting. Rooms are most pleasant to be in when there is a mixture of lighting types: overhead (for general lighting), accent (such as floor lamps or sconces to light artwork) and task (such as a lamp on a small table next to a chair, so someone can sit there and read comfortably). If your dining area has a ceiling fixture centered in the space but not centered where the table is — a common problem — a fixture with a swag chain lets you center the light where you want. But make sure that the fixture isn’t too heavy and that you install the hooks with toggle-type fasteners unless they screw into ceiling joists.

Replace water filters

Let the icy weather outside remind you to get on a schedule for replacing water filters you might have for your kitchen sink or for the ice maker in your refrigerator. Because filters should be replaced every six months, doing it in January means you’ll be on target to do it again in June, just as the summer heat builds. If you’re not sure how to change the filter in your fridge, look at the manual or find it online by searching for your brand and model. In general: Turn off the water supply, remove the old filter, install the new filter, reset the water filter sensor, then run water through the filter to clean it before you start using the filtered water. The amount of water you should run through varies by manufacturer.

Watch the snow and ice

If you live where it snows, go out after the next storm to check whether there are places on the roof where the snow is melting especially quickly — a sign that insulation is thin or missing. Sometimes these point to huge air gaps, such as spaces above upper cabinets that the builders left open to the attic. Sealing these gaps will make your house less drafty and will save on heating bills.

If you see icicles forming along the edge of the roof, you could have an ice dam — a barrier of frozen snow close to the edge of the roof that forces melting snow water from higher up on the roof to collect in a puddle just above the dam. That water can leak into your home and damage walls, ceilings and insulation, all expensive to fix. Travelers insurance company suggests knocking off icicles when they form — as long as you can stand well back of where they will fall — or hiring a contractor to do this. If water is trapped uphill of the icicles, a roof rake and nylon stockings stuffed with a calcium chloride ice melt product can help remove the ice dam, according to a tip sheet from Travelers. It warns not to use rock salt or sodium chloride, which can damage roofing. Attempt this yourself only if you have safe access to the roof. Otherwise, hire a roofer or a weatherization expert.

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