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Outdoor jobs to tackle now (and ways to save)

While most folks are spring-cleaning the inside of their house, I'm spring-fixing the outside -- and saving a ton of money.

By Stacy Johnson Jun 1, 2011 2:07PM

This post comes from Stacy Johnson at partner site Money Talks News.


Memorial Day marked the start of summer -- the season for fun, sun, and outdoor home repairs and maintenance.


So put down the barbecue tools and pick up your tool bag. Start with a stroll around the yard with pencil and pad and take a few notes about what needs to be done. As we said in "Know when to do it yourself and when to pay a pro," there are many DIY tasks that can save a ton of money, and outdoor maintenance is definitely one.


Check out Money Talks News reporter Jim Robinson's story on ways to save on outdoor repairs, then meet me on the other side for more.

Start at one corner of your yard and take a slow walk around. Examine things like decks and fences: Is the wood drying out? If you have concrete or pavers, do they need to be sealed? Take a look at your lawn, plants, and flower beds. Does the lawn need fertilizer? Is it time for mulch?


Now the house: Examine the caulking around your windows, looking for shrinkage or cracks. Is the paint looking chalky or starting to peel? Now look up. Is your fascia board fading? Climb up on the roof and make sure your gutters are clear. And while you're up there, check the condition of your shingles and flashing -- the sheet metal installed at corners and around pipes and such sticking out of the roof -- to make sure everything still looks watertight.


Here's a closer look at some of the repairs Jim discussed, and a tip or two from my own experience as a longtime do-it-youselfer:



Touching up existing paint is cheap and easy. Painting an entire house is expensive and hard. Do more to touch up your existing paint, and you'll do fewer complete repaintings.


Cheap paint means fewer years between painting, so when it's time to shop, go where the paint is cheapest, but don't buy the cheapest paint. However, depending on where you live, the paint might be free.


Many cities have programs that offer free paint to homeowners. Sometimes they have leftover paint from their own projects, but more common are programs that rely on your income. For instance, if your family of four makes $56,400 or less in Kansas City, Mo., or $58,500 in Roseville, Calif., you qualify for free paint.


Another place for inexpensive paint is a place where you can also donate your unused paint: the Habitat for Humanity Restore. Here's where you can find the one closest to you. Other places for free or cheap paint: Freecycle, Craigslist, or your friends and neighbors.


Obviously, the more common your paint color, the easier it's going to be to find it cheap or free -- something to keep in mind next time you decide on a new color.



Mulch mimics leaves on a forest floor. It's simply organic matter that returns nutrients to the soil, suppresses weed growth, and promotes moisture retention. One way to get mulch is to go to the home supply store and buy it by the bag.


Better yet, check with your town's public works department. When tree trimmers grind up branches and leaves, they'll often allow residents to bring a shovel and bags to grab the stuff. I did a Web search for "free mulch," along with the name of my city, and found they'll actually deliver a truckload of free mulch right to my doorstep.


You might also check with tree services. Like the city, they may prefer giving you the mulch than trucking it to a landfill. Craigslist and Freecycle are also options.


Finally, while not the most attractive idea, the most plentiful and simplest mulch is the grass clippings you create every time you mow the yard. Create your own compost pile.



Cleaning and treating the unpainted wood and other surfaces of your home will make decks, fences, and patios last longer and look better. How often you need to clean and apply stains and sealants depends on the material and the climate, but count on doing this at least every two to three years. One way to tell if it's time to seal wood is drop water on it: If it's soaking in rather than beading up, it's time. 


As with paint, quality sealants are typically worth the extra money. It's tough to find cheap or free wood sealants, although it might be worth a call to the Habitat for Humanity store or a visit to Freecycle or Craigslist. Otherwise, you might have to bite the bullet and go to the local hardware or home improvement store.


Before you do that, however, check your area for local companies that produce this stuff. While shopping for driveway sealer last month, I noticed the company on the can had a local address. I went home and looked them up. Although they were inconveniently located in a warehouse district, they were happy to sell to me directly at prices about 30% less than the retail store was charging.


Bottom line? The expression "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" definitely applies to home improvement. Spending a little time and money now will save you a ton of time, money, and aggravation later. Make maintenance a summer ritual. It's important and not hard to do.


More on Money Talks News and MSN Money:



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