7 One-and-Done Resolutions to Start the New Year Right

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Forget resolving to make lifestyle changes that you’ll abandon by February. We’ve got New Year’s resolutions for your home that you can achieve in one step.

 Resolution #1: Use less energy.

One-step solution: Install a programmable thermostat.

The bulk of your energy costs in 2013 will be spent heating and cooling your home. Put a dent in that bill with a thermostat that’ll keep your house comfortable when you’re home to enjoy it, and saves energy when you’re not. You’ll spend less than $100 for a basic model, and can save as much as $180 per year.

Resolution #2: Save water.

One-step solution: Get a rain barrel.

Irrigate your lawn for free with a rain barrel, which can save 1,300 gallons of water and lower your water bill by about $35 per month in the summer. You’ll spend $35-$200 on a commercial barrel, or you can save more money by making one yourself from castoff food-grade containers. A 55-gallon syrup drum is about $10.

Resolution #3: Decrease your chances of a home fire.

One-step solution: Schedule a chimney inspection.

Creosote, birds’ nests, and other debris can clog your chimney, causing a home fire risk, but an inspection will sweep those problems away. A level-one inspection, in which the inspector will look for damage and remove obstructions, will cost anywhere from $79-$200.

Resolution #4: Beef up your home security.

One-step solution: Install outdoor motion sensor lights.

These lights, which plug into ordinary wall outlets, provide a security boost by illuminating your home’s exterior when anything moves outside. They take minutes to install and cost anywhere from $13-$105.

Resolution #5: Make the most of your storage space.

One-step solution: Pitch everything you haven’t used in a year.

The first step in gaining storage space is decluttering. We’ve got ideas for how to responsibly get rid of hazardous materials, old technology, kids’ stuff, books, and more. Bonus: It won’t cost you a penny.

Resolution #6: Save money on your insurance premiums.

One-step solution: Assess your home owners policy.

First determine what kind of coverage you have now, then assess how much you really need. If you’re able to raise your deductible, you’ll pay a lower premium per month.

Resolution #7: Prepare your family in case of a disaster.

One-step solution: Make an evacuation and communication plan.

If disaster strikes in 2013, you’ll be ready: Document your escape routes, designate a meeting place in case family members are scattered, and assign a “communication commander” who will relay messages between loved ones. Don’t forget to include your pets!

What are your New Year’s resolutions for your home?

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8 Super-Secret Hiding Places for Holiday Presents

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After you’ve fought the crowds for the best bargains, you’ll face another dilemma: Where to hide all those presents?

Whether you’ve got a nosy spouse or a curious kid, you need a good hiding place to squirrel away those gifts until you find time to get them wrapped and under the tree. Here are some ideas we came up with:

1. Borrow a friend’s house. Swap storage spaces with a trusted friend or neighbor, and you won’t spoil any surprises. This is particularly useful if you’re buying someone a big present, like a bicycle or a car — you might talk a neighbor into letting you borrow space in their garage until Christmas morning.

2. Pop the trunk. This won’t work if you have an SUV or hatchback, but if you’ve got a car with a trunk that’s closed off from the backseat, it’s a primo place to hide gifts. Small children will never get in there.

3. Make your office work for you. If your office is a safe, secure place, squirrel some presents there. This is only an option if you work out of your home, though — home officesare prime targets for prying eyes.

4. Take stock of kitchen pots. Got a huge stock pot? Unless you’re planning to make a giant vat of soup anytime soon, the stock pot can hold a load of small gifts, and chances are your family will never think to look there.

Christmas presents under the tree5. Make use of your underwear drawer. Small presents can easily fit there. Your spouse probably won’t hesitate to look there, but your kids might stop short of rifling through your skivvies. (We hope.)

6. Crack the crawl space. If you don’t mind a little dirt and some creepy-crawlies, the crawl space can hold some sizable presents. Don’t store anything there for too long, though — unless your crawl space is insulated. Moisture and temperature changes could damage items. Plastic toys are OK to keep outside; electronics should be stored inside.

7. Rent a storage space. If you’ve got a ton of presents to hide, you’ll need to look outside your house. Some storage units offer one-month-minimum specials for as low as $25. Check the storage units in your area for deals.

8. Go for the cleaning supply closet. Worst-case scenario: Your kids might find presents there, but they’d also find the cleaning supplies, which means they might actuallyclean something. Now that would be a Christmas miracle.

Where do you hide holiday presents?

5 Holiday Hosting Disasters and How to Avoid Them

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Take a look at the most common things that can go wrong when you have guests and learn how to prevent them.

That’s just one of many hosting nightmares that can end your holiday party before it even begins. Thankfully, some of the most damaging mishaps easily can be avoided. We collected five of the most prevalent issues and give you preventative tips to keep your holiday party on track.

Problem: The oven doesn’t heat

For any holiday occasion, the oven is the most important appliance in your house. If it fails to work, the centerpiece of your meal could go from roasted beef, ham, duck, or Tofurky to Peking Duck from the local Chinese takeout joint.

How to avoid:

  • There are any number of reasons a stove can break, but one common cause of disaster is easy to prevent. Don’t self-clean your oven until AFTER the holidays. You risk blowing a fuse or a thermostat, and tracking down an oven technician around the holidays can be tough.

ImageProblem: The kitchen sink clogs

The day after Thanksgiving is the busiest of the year for plumbers. The prime cause of this clog-a-thon is the mistreatment of drains when cooking holiday feasts. We hope your Thanksgiving went well, and that you avoid clog-a-thons for the rest of the holidays.

How to avoid:

  • Fats and cooking oils can solidify in your pipes, so never dispose of them in your kitchen sink.
  • If you have a garbage disposal, make sure it’s running before anything goes in it, and never feed it any stringy, fibrous, or starchy foods like poultry skins or potato peels.
  • To fix, don’t rely on chemical drain-clearing products that can harm your pipes. Use a snake instead, available for $15 at your local hardware store. Best to keep one on hand.

Problem: The heat goes out

As the party’s host, you’re supposed to hang guests’ coats—not apologize to them for having to keep them on. A lack of heat can stop a holiday party dead in its tracks.

How to avoid:

  • The key to avoiding freezing your party to a standstill is regular maintenance of your HVAC. Every 90 days, a new one-inch pleated furnace filter should be installed. If you haven’t done it in a while, now’s a good time to replace it.
  • Also inspect insulation on refrigerant lines that are leading into your house. Replace them if they’re missing or damaged.

Problem: The toilet stops up

Toilets have a way of clogging up at the worst times, such as during parties and when you have overnight guests. This is especially true if you have a low-flow toilet from the early 1990s.

How to avoid:

  • Don’t flush anything other than sewage and toilet paper down the toilet. And there’s nothing wrong with putting up a polite note to remind your guests to do the same.

Problem: The fridge doesn’t cool

Without a properly functioning refrigerator, your meat could get contaminated, your dairy-based treats could go sour, and you may not be able to save your yummy leftovers. To avoid discovering a warm fridge after it’s too late, take these simple precautions.

How to avoid:

  • Get a thermometer for your refrigerator to make sure each shelf stays below 40 degrees and you can be aware of any temperature changes.
  • Also make sure the condenser coils located on the back of the unit or beneath it are free to breathe. Coils blocked from circulating air by cereal boxes atop the fridge, or dirtied by dust or pet hair can prevent a fridge from keeping cool.