By Lisa Gordon
We’re not gonna lie: Taking care of home maintenance tasks isn’t going to be any easier in January than it was during the holiday bustle of December. You’ve buttoned up the house against the cold, and you’re in the dead of winter without even a glimpse of spring in sight.
Still, homes must be maintained, even in January. Why? It’s always easier and cheaper to maintain a house than to repair it—sometimes to the tune of thousands of dollars.
Since we’re all about saving you time and money, 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. So take a deep breath and dive into those chores. The good news? Many are inside chores, so you have no “It’s too cold!” excuses.
1. Handle holiday cleanup
Task: You’ve had the fun, and now it’s time to get rid of the evidence. Take down holiday lights and wrap them around a hanger to prevent tangling; set the oven on self-clean, then wipe the interior with a vinegar-soaked cloth; chip your Christmas tree and throw it in the compost pile, or scatter it around garden beds and shrubs for a midwinter mulching.
Shortcut: Instead of pitching holiday cards or tucking them away never to be seen again, recycle them into gift tags for next year. Find a pretty part of the card that has no writing on the back, cut it into a small square, and punch a hole in the corner.
Call in the pros: If you’ve ever considered a cleaning crew, now’s the time. Figure on paying $200 to $300 for a one-time cleaning. Ask friends who have a regular cleaning person to share the name for a one-off.
2. Protect the pipes
Task: Prevent exposed pipes from freezing as temperatures drop. A frozen pipe can crack or burst, flooding your home. If you’re planning a winter vacation, don’t forget to wrap pipes with heat tape you can control with a thermostat. And if you haven’t turned off water to outdoor spigots yet, consider yourself lucky—if they haven’t yet burst, shut off water valves and open spigots to drain existing water.
Shortcut: To thaw a frozen pipe, wrap it with a heating pad or turn a hairdryer on it.
Call in the pros: If a pipe bursts, shut off the main water valve to your home and call a plumber, which will run you anywhere from $45 to $150 an hour. If everything’s drenched, a water remediation or restoration company can perform cleanup —cart away damaged material, replace ceilings and walls, paint, and reinstall plumbing fixtures—for $23 a square foot.
3. Check for storm damage
Task: After winter storms, inspect your home’s roof, siding, gutters, and yard for wind, snow, or ice damage.
Shortcut: Instead of climbing on the roof to look for missing shingles, use binoculars to search for damage. Better yet, buy a drone that can fly over your house and spot damaged areas.
Call in the pros: A little storm damage can become a big problem if you don’t make immediate repairs. A roofing company can inspect and replace a few shingles for $95 to $127; a handyman can reattach hanging gutters for $171 to $492; and an arborist can remove cracked tree limbs and prune trees for $375 to $525.
4. Seek and destroy hidden dirt
Task: Clean those filthy places that people don’t see but you know are there. They include the range hood and grilles, refrigerator coils, tops of ceiling fans, dusty light fixtures and bulbs (make sure lights are off before dusting), and HVAC vents.
Shortcut: Let your dishwasher clean metal parts such as vent grilles and range hood filters. You can pop dirty sponges and dishrags in the dishwasher, too.
Call in the pros: This deep cleaning is above and beyond the tasks that cleaning crews normally perform. If you want a crew to do this type of cleaning, negotiate the surcharge up front.
5. Give hardware some love
A lot of hands probably touched that door handle, so go head and wipe it down.
Task: Shine and tighten doorknobs and hinges; tighten loose cabinet pulls and nobs; and level cabinet doors.
Shortcut: To clean metal hardware, wash with soapy water, then shine with a microfiber cloth dipped in vinegar or lemon juice. Brass polish will remove tarnish from solid brass hardware. Not sure it’s brass? If a magnet sticks, it’s most likely metal, not solid brass.
Call in the pros: If you’re going to take off hinges and locks, hire a handyman (those doors are heavy). Prices vary widely, and some handyman services charge $125 an hour for skilled jobs. Cleaning hardware is more tedious than skillful, so don’t pay more than $30 to $60 an hour.
6. Do a deep declutter
Task: Banish piles, clean out closets and drawers, and tackle the basement if you can stand it. Channel your inner Marie Kondo: If you haven’t touched something in a year or don’t love it, then you should toss, donate, or recycle it.
Shortcut: If you can’t face a total house declutter, do little bits over a few days. Pick one room or a corner of the room to organize. Or, every time you walk into a room, put/throw one thing away.
Call in the pros: Professional organizers take no prisoners when decluttering your home and setting up systems to keep things nice and tidy. But this tough love doesn’t come cheap. A professional organizer costs $30 to $80 an hour, and the average room takes 8 to 12 hours to organize.
7. Think green
Task: If you can’t deal with the January gloom, you can always look ahead to spring. Grab those seed, bulb, and bare-root plant catalogs, and start planning your flower and vegetable gardens. If you’re starting seeds inside, plant them about six weeks before the last frost in your area.
Shortcut: You’d be amazed by how much produce you can grow in raised-bed or container gardens. There’s no hoeing, raking, or digging. Create your own weed-free soil by mixing one-third vermiculite, one-third peat moss, and one-third varied compost.
Call in the pros: What, and miss all the fun? A professional landscape designer, who designs gardens and suggest plants, costs $50 to $100 an hour. Some garden centers will give you free design advice if you buy plants there. Also, seed catalogs often have free garden plans.