Spaces for life: Top 5 fall house projects for under $500


By Lance McCarthy

Lance McCarthy
Lance McCarthy

Did you see what I saw yesterday? I was driving down 63rd Street, window open, and there it was: the first leaf of fall. A tree full of green, and there on the edge, a little golden brown.For those of us who don’t look good in shorts, it is a welcome sight! For those of us with old air conditioners, it is a welcome temperature!

With fall in mind, I want to give you five home improvements that could all be done for less than $500, and will pay off big time.

1. Make the grade
About half the houses I visit have areas around the foundation that are not properly graded. This lets rain water hang out around the house too much. Water is to foundations as milk is to graham crackers. They become mushy. The goal is to get the rain away from the foundation as fast as possible.

Action: Walk around the house. 8’ away the ground should be 8” lower that it is against the house. If not, call Johnson County Building Materials and order a yard of dirt (or steal some from around your neighbor’s house when he’s sleeping… just kidding).

Cost: $44 per cubic yard if legit (but free if stolen from neighbor! Again… don’t actually do this. Please.)

2. Weatherstrip
Winter is just around the corner, and the best way to keep a house toasty and the utility bills skinny is to keep the hot side hot and the cool side cool. A caulk gun and some insulation will do more than you can imagine.

Action: To find the leaks: 1. Turn off all gas burning appliances  2. Close all the windows and doors 3. Turn on all your vent fans (in the bathrooms, oven, attic) 4. Use an incense stick near openings and watch for a draft.

Cost: $50 buys a lot of insulation and caulk

Checking paint around window sills and exterior woodwork can help ensure your house isn't prone to woodrot.
Checking paint around window sills and exterior woodwork can help ensure your house isn’t prone to woodrot.

3. Mind the gap
The worst season by far for the outside of your house is winter. Check the exterior paint to make sure it will last. The best way to tell is on window sills. If the caulk lines show cracks, it is time to act. Touching up this paint or repainting the house is much, much, much cheaper than repairing the woodrot that will inevitably follow. Proof: A recent project included $3,000 for painting the house, but over $10,000 in woodrot repair!

Cost: $100 for a gallon of paint and five tubes of good caulk

4. Get your mind (and your leaves) out of the gutter!
Remember the grading? Water = Bad. I believe gutter cleaning is the single most powerful regular improvement you can make to your house. Their job is to take the water from the roof and move it far, far away from the house. We get heavy rains, and the gutters have to be ready, or you might as well just pull them off.

Action: You know what to do. Just get those gutters clean. While you are up there, look for dark vertical streaks on the gutter face. This means water is overloading the gutters, and they might need to be bigger.

Cost: Free if you clean them yourself, $200ish if you hire someone

5. Seal the deal
All the hard surfaces (driveway, sidewalk, patio) get brutalized in the winter by the freeze-thaw cycle. Water gets inside concrete, and when it freezes and expands, it does bad things. The best remedy is to regularly seal the concrete. This will last for three to five years and is really easy to install

Cost: $155 for one gallon (which covers 2,000-4,000 square feet).

ReTouch is hosting a tent at this weekend’s Shawnee Great Grillers State Championship Barbeque competition. Please stop by and say hello!

This weekly sponsored column is written by Lance McCarthy of ReTouch, a full-service, client-based contractor specializing in home remodels. For more information about their services, or to view samples of their work, visit their website.