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What if you took all the money you plan to spend on individual gifts for your family and spent the whole chunk of change on something for the home that everyone can enjoy. After all, how many sweaters or portable devices do you need? Installing a stationary generator to get you through the next blackout or central air conditioning to survive another hot summer will improve not only your quality of life but the value of your home as well. So will a fresh paint job. Here are some suggestions from the experts at Consumer Reports.
While portable generators cost a lot less, owners of stationary generators are more satisfied with their equipment. That’s because when the power goes out the standby generator switches on. There’s no fussing with gas cans or starting a balky machine that you have to haul out of the garage. After Hurricane Sandy, homeowners expressed interest in larger generators that can power more things so Consumer Reports tested some bigger units and two made our list of top generator picks.
In our generator tests, the Kohler 14RESAL, $3,700, was top-notch at delivering ample, especially smooth power. Kohler claims it offers 12,000 watts using natural gas and another 2,000 if you use propane. It was among the quietest of the models we tested and includes a low-oil shutoff with a warning indicator. The Generac 6241, $3,500, was also a champ at providing ample, smooth power with consistent voltage. Generac claims the unit supplies 13,000 watts using natural gas and another 1,000 using propane. Of course, if you pipe gas to the generator, it can run indefinitely. Both generators come with a transfer switch, needed for safe operation. Keep in mind that the price of the generator does not include the cost of installation.
Central air conditioning
While Consumer Reports does not test whole-house central air conditioning systems, we do ask our readers to weigh in on the systems they’ve installed to let us know which are most reliable and which are most repair-prone. Based on our most recent survey of more than 40,000 readers, you may want to give Amana, Goodman, and York the cold shoulder. All three brands logged the most repairs in our latest reliability survey. American Standard, Rheem, and Trane were a better bet. The good news is that newer central air systems are much more energy efficient than systems of the past. That means you’ll also get the gift of lower utility bills. According to Homeadvisor.com, which polls its members on the cost of home improvements, homeowners reported spending $4,534 to $6,222 installing a central air conditioning system.
A good paint job
This one may not have your kids jumping for joy, but a new paint job is one of the easiest ways to boost curb appeal and resale value. But even if you plan to stay in your home, you’ll appreciate the new, clean look. According to Homeadvisor.com, its member homeowners reported spending $2,426 to $3,376 for an exterior paint job and $1,761 to $2,333 for an interior paint job. Of course, prices vary by region and whether or not you use a contractor. If you schedule your paint job for the off-season, you may get a better deal.
Whatever you do, make sure to choose the right paint—one that does well in Consumer Reports' paint tests. Behr, which is sold at Home Depot, has been a good performer in our exterior paint tests and is recommended in all three finishes (flat, satin and semi-gloss). But paints from California Paints, Sherwin-Williams, Glidden and Valspar also made our list of top exterior paints. To earn that rating, the paints must do well in our accelerated weathering tests, which measure the finish at the equivalent of three, six and nine years.
Clark + Kensington is our top interior paint in satin/eggshell and semi-gloss finishes and Valspar and Behr were the best choices for flat/matte. Our interior paint tests gauge not only how well the paints cover but how they stand up to scrubbing and resist mildew, among other things. Also on our list of top interior paint picks are paints from Benjamin Moore, Kilz, Olympic, and Ace.
None of these gifts fit under the tree, of course, but you and your home and family will benefit from any one of them for years to come. Then next year you can buy another ugly sweater.
—Mary H.J. Farrell