In this report

New Year’s resolutions for your house

Last reviewed: January 2010
Illustration of 2 houses with temperature gauge and thermometer
Illustration by Tina Healey

We all start off the new year with the best intentions for self-improvement. And if your house could talk, it might have a few resolutions of its own. The good news is that these tasks are all relatively inexpensive and easier to accomplish than, say, exercising more or losing weight.

Change the furnace filter

A well-maintained furnace runs more efficiently. During the heating season filters should be checked monthly and cleaned or replaced as needed. Better disposable filters cost $10 to $30 but will last up to three months. The 3M Filtrete 1700 and 3M Filtrete Ultra Allergen Reduction 1250 will keep your heating/cooling equipment operating efficiently and improve indoor air quality by removing suspended dust and pollen.

Check smoke and CO alarms

Batteries should be changed at least once a year. Smoke alarms usually need to be replaced every 10 years and carbon-monoxide alarms every five years. Check the alarm for its manufacture date. CO alarms should be on every level of your home, and smoke alarms should be in all bedrooms, hallways, the attic, and the basement. We recommend the $30 Kidde P12000 smoke alarm and the $60 Kidde Silhouette KN-COPF-1 CO alarm if you have a hard-wired system. For battery-powered systems, the $25 First Alert SA302CN or $23 Kidde P19000 smoke alarms and the $83 First Alert OneLink CO511B CO alarm performed well. Remember, you need both smoke and CO alarms for the best protection.

Perform a radon test

After smoking, radon is a leading cause of lung cancer. Long-term test kits give you a more accurate idea of average radon levels, because levels can vary from day to day. Winter is a good time to test because doors and windows are likely to be closed and the home's stack effect is more likely to draw radon-containing soil gasses into the living space. The $28 Accustar Long Term Alpha Track Test Kit AT-100 was accurate and reliable in our tests. Place the detector on the lowest level of your home.

Install a programmable thermostat

By automatically lowering the home's temperature by 5º to 10º F at night or when you're out, a programmable thermostat can pay for itself in less than a year. The trick is to get one that's easy to read and use. The $80 LuxSmartTemp Touch Screen TX9000TS and the $55 Hunter Set & Save 44360 were easy to use and maintained steady temperatures in our tests. They can also help save on cooling costs.

Clean your humidifier

If dry indoor air in the winter has your humidifier working overtime, remember that it needs frequent cleaning. Minerals in tap water can cause an accumulation of scale, a breeding ground for bacteria. So check the owner's manual to see which parts need to be descaled with vinegar and disinfected with bleach. Filters and wicks also require periodic replacement. Hard water can increase scale buildup.