May is the month to prepare your house and garden for the dog days of summer. Start at the top-in the attic-working your way out, with a stop in the kitchen, before addressing the yard and your outdoor living areas.
1. PREPARE TO BEAT THE HEAT
While it's been a cold and rainy spring for most of the country, you can be sure that hot weather is just around the corner. That means the familiar hum of air conditioners and the unwelcome accompanying rise in energy bills. In preparing for the months ahead, think about what you can do to maintain a comfortable indoor temperature without breaking the bank.
Attic insulation. Just as they do in the heating season, insulation and ventilation in the attic help your HVAC system perform efficiently during the summer, when the air conditioner is in use, not the furnace. Also, if you don't have one already, think about installing an attic fan to usher out superheated air, reducing its considerable burden on your cooling appliance.
Whole-house fans. If you mainly run your air conditioner overnight, a whole-house fan can probably save you a sizable chunk of change. How does it work? By drawing in cool night air through open windows on lower floors and cycling it through the house. A professional can assist you in determining whether it's the right solution for you, but generally speaking, whole-house fans work best in regions with low humidity, where the temperature drops at least five degrees after sunset.
Ceiling fans. Since they cool by circulating air, ceiling fans should be installed in those rooms where you spend the most time (e.g., the kitchen, family room, or bedroom). They cost pennies to operate; even using them occasionally instead of the AC will make a positive difference in your utility bill.
Window air conditioners. Before you pull your window air conditioner out of storage, ask yourself how old it is. Efficiency has improved so much that purchasing a new energy-smart unit may in fact be cheaper than relying on your old clunker for yet another summer. No matter its age, be sure to maintain your AC by cleaning or replacing its filter. And for safety's sake, make certain the installation is secure and won't budge!
Awnings and solar blinds. Awnings are great for mitigating heat gain, as they shield windows from direct sunshine. Many fixed or retractable options exist in materials ranging from canvas to aluminum. Also, consider solar blinds and solar screens, either of which can be found in interior or exterior styles. Both work to absorb heat and block solar rays without obstructing your view to the outdoors.
2. UPDATE YOUR KITCHEN
Your kitchen makeover doesn't have to be a total gut job. If you're looking for a way to infuse color and pattern, why not re-tile the backsplash? It's an easy project to tackle over a long weekend, even if you're not a seasoned handyman. Want to go a step further? Re-face your cabinets. A new wood veneer or a bright coat of paint on cabinet doors and drawer fronts can really be transforming, effectively making your old kitchen look brand-new. Best of all, the price is right.
3. IMPROVE YOUR YARD AND GARDEN
This month is the perfect time to make improvements to your landscaping. Try a distinctive edging that will define your garden walkway or planting beds. Another idea: Use containers to bring flowers and greenery to the front porch or the backyard deck or patio. Looking to have a little fun? Experiment with creating your own pots out of everyday household materials; see 10 Inspired DIY Planters.
4. RID YOURSELF OF SUMMER PESTS
While there are numerous ways to deal with bees, wasps, mice and the critters, the best approach to pest control is the natural one. Did you know that mice find the smell of peppermint unbearable, or that cockroaches won't tolerate Tabasco sauce? For bed bugs, the answer is a treatment of diatomaceous earth! Find details and additional tips in The Complete Natural Guide to Apartment Pest Control and Prevention.
5. READY THE DECK, PATIO & GRILL
Since this is the month many of us will start spending more time in the backyard, sweep your outdoor living space clean and make any necessary repairs to deck or patio surfaces. If your gas grill been idle for several months, check the burner jets for obstructions and secure all hose connections snugly. (And don't forget to refill the propane tank!) Meanwhile, charcoal grill owners are wise clean off ashes and grease residue-a good habit to keep up over the course of the season. Read plenty more in How To: Care for Your Grill-and bon appetit!