3 Money-Saving Spring Fix-Ups

Target these trouble spots and DIY upgrade opportunities to slash utility bills, boost curb appeal, and up your comfort all year long
Why Now: Sunlight degrades the lignin that bonds wood fibers, allowing water to penetrate and causing the surface to gray. A semitransparent stain fortified with UV blockers can halt damage while giving pressure-treated pine a warm tone that mimics pricey hardwood.
How to Do It: Knock debris and flakes off the wood with a broom. Brush on a nontoxic deck cleaner, then rinse and let dry. Use a landscape pump sprayer to evenly apply a penetrating stain, such as Penofin Verde (about $56 per gallon; decksdirect.com). This high-tech finish, made from Brazilian rosewood oil, comes in 18 colors, offers 99 percent UV protection, and has zero VOCs, so it's safe for you and the environment.
The Payoff: Extend the life of your fence, and get the look of cedar for about half the price.
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Why Now: Awnings reduce solar heat gain, glare, and UV damage to your furniture without blocking airflow or views. They come in designs to match house styles ranging from Cape Cod to Queen Anne, and new fabrics and motorized rollers make them more durable and easier to maintain than awnings of yore.
How To Do It: Choose between stationary hood- or dome-type awnings mounted on a fixed aluminum frame and designed for seasonal removal, or retractable Venetian-style sideless ones, which roll up into a protective housing mounted above the window and can be left up year-round. Hoods and domes tend to block more sunlight because they have sides, but retractable ones give you more flexibility, allowing you to extend or roll up the awnings as the angle of the sun changes. Both types start at about $200 for a 36-inch window. In either case, look for dyed-acrylic or polyvinyl-laminate fabrics, which repel water and resist mildew and fading.
The Payoff: Reduce solar heat gain by up to 65 percent on south-facing windows and 77 percent on west-facing ones, which can slash cooling costs by as much as 25 percent.
RELATED: How to Do a DIY Energy Audit and Shrink Your Bills> http://ow.ly/tr920
Why Now: For most birds, breeding season begins as early as mid-March and lasts through August, and any opening, such as a dryer vent or bathroom-fan vent, is a potential nesting site. Seal these up to deter birds and other unwanted critters that can set up house or sneak into your living spaces.
How To Do It: Replace builder-grade aluminum vent caps with a vent seal that remains closed when the appliance is not in use. Designs range from a floating shuttle (Lambro 289W Vent Closure, about $10; amazon.com) and a double-door model (P-tec Products Inc. No-Pest Vent, about $12; sears.com) for the dryer to a roof-mount steel hood with a built-in backdraft damper and bird screen (Broan Steel Roof Cap, about $30; lowes.com) for bathroom and
kitchen fans.
The Payoff: Avoid shelling out hundreds in pest-removal costs. And prevent up to 4 percent of your home's conditioned air from leaking out.
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