Is a remodeling project on your to-do list for 2013? Start shopping now.
The key: Holiday or year-end sales. Now is a great time for discounts on major appliances, fixtures, flooring and other home improvement items.
"When many people think about holiday sales, they have visions of sale-crazed hordes trampling each other in pursuit of merchandise, claustrophobia-causing crowds, and a shopping experience that's so horrible it's not worth the savings," said Dan Fritschen, founder of Remodelormove.com. "But if you have a remodeling project in mind, you might want to conquer your fears and revise your retail plans."
Fritschen points to kitchen remodels. Appliances can account for 30 percent of a remodel's budget. A year-end discount of 10 percent or more on those appliances adds up quickly.
"Plus, at this time of year, remodeling supplies aren't as sought-after," Fritschen said. "So you'll often find that home-improvement retailers discount them that much more in order to get consumers' attention."
Fritschen's business Remodel or Move focuses on that dilemma familiar to many homeowners. He offers online design tools to help calculate the best decision.
If considering a 2013 remodel, do this first:
Make a list, check it twice. Most homeowners are shocked by how complicated remodeling actually is, Fritschen said. For example, home- owners tackling a kitchen remodel may focus on picking out appliances, cabinets and countertops but forget all about drawer knobs, paint colors, lighting, cabinet hinges, faucet types and disposals.
"Now's the time to educate yourself on everything you'll need for your remodel," he said. "Try to formulate as complete a list as possible, including photos, so that you won't accidentally miss any discounts or sales. Years of experience have taught me that autumn and winter are some of the best times to buy, since remodeling 'season' usually takes place in the spring and summer."
Shop with a strategy. Plan where and when you want to spend. Use newspaper ads as well as websites to search for year-end deals. Don't waste a lot of time or gas while trying to save money.
Read the return policies. Just in case your plans change, give yourself some flexibility. This is especially important with big-ticket items, but those smaller purchases add up, too.
"You might simply change your mind and decide that you'd like to go with a different style of light fixture," Fritschen said. "Make sure you don't accidentally lock yourself into something you'll later regret buying."
Be smart about Internet shopping. Whether buying online or in person, try to actually see an example of an item before purchase to check size, color and other factors. Remember: Online deals may look great, but consider the extras.
"Pay special attention to shipping fees and, again, return policies," he added. "If you have to send something large or heavy back and pay return shipping, it could eat up your savings and more."
Remodelormove.com offers several free resources for potential remodelers including a new app, the IdeaFile, that allows homeowners to compile photos of items and ideas they like. For more tips, advice and online tools, click on www.remodelormove.com.
Prolong the life of potted poinsettias. They love a cool window with half-day sun. Water when the soil feels dry to the touch, but don't let them get soggy.
Cyclamen, another popular gift plant, can be kept blooming inside through March. As each flower fades, remove the entire flower stalk (a sharp little tuck usually works). That prompts new flowers to emerge from its tuber. Cyclamens like a cool room (50 to 55 degrees at night, 60 to 68 degrees during day) with bright light and good air circulation. (They're great in drafty old houses.)
The tuber, which is half-buried in the soil, may rot if watered directly. Instead, place the plant in a saucer of water and let it soak up the moisture. Feed every other week with half-strength houseplant fertilizer.
Cyclamen will go dormant in late spring as the leaves die back. Place the potted tuber in a shady place in the garden, then bring back inside in fall. The change of surroundings (and warmer indoor temperatures) usually prompts a new cycle of cyclamen blooms.
If an onion sprouts in your vegetable drawer, pot it up and place it in a sunny window. The bulb will soon produce bright-green tops great for salads, baked potatoes or other uses.
Prune deciduous trees now while you can see their true shape and framework. (The exception are apricot trees, which are usually pruned in August.) Remove crossing branches and dead wood. Make cuts outside an outside bud or existing lateral branch.
Bare-root roses, fruit trees, cane berries and grapes can be planted now. Before planting, hydrate by soaking roots in water overnight.
Shield frost-tender plants such as citrus and succulents on cold nights with a cloth sheet not plastic. If a plant has already been burned by frost, leave the damage alone until spring. That brown foliage can protect the plant from further harm.