Do-It-Yourself Home Improvement Outdoor Project Ideas

Sprucing up your deck, patio, or yard just got an inspirational boost, thanks to these practical projects you can do yourself. They are all small and simple and all are worthwhile to make the outdoors more livable and lively come spring or summer.

Pallets in a Perky Palette

Wooden pallets are easy to come by on the cheap; many businesses will even give them away. They are the building blocks of a coffee table so low-maintenance, it can stay outside year-round. Stack two pallets together for height and feature a window box-style planter as a centerpiece.

Double Duty

Boost the function of a store-bought potting bench, which doubles as an outdoor serving station. Cut sections of lattice to fit the sides and back, paint them to match, such as saucy hot-pink, and fasten the lattice with screws. Use S-hooks or screw eyes to hang garden tools, gloves, buckets, or other necessities so they’re always within reach.

Flaming Centerpiece

Conjure up a festive mood with an outdoor fire bowl. Start with a fireproof container, such as a galvanized bowl primed and coated with outdoor paint in a cheery hue. Fill the bowl with recycled tempered glass chips, and tuck in a can of alcohol-free gel fuel. With a click of a lighter, the flame will dance and enchant for hours.

A Table that Rocks

Create an outdoor cocktail table both rustic and glamorous with just a few supplies. Five feet of heavy-duty metal hairpin fencing forms a wire cylinder, and use additional wire and pliers to secure the cylinder shape. Clip the bottom to a finished edge so there are no jagged spots. Set the cylinder near a cozy seating arrangement and fill the wire frame with river rocks, arranging them so that flat stones sit flush to the interior walls of the cylinder and so that the top tier of stones sits below the top edge. That way, a tempered glass tabletop can crown the whole assembly.

From Fins to Feather Bird House and Home Address

An old bait box can be outfitted as a birdhouse so it beckons to feathered friends. Drill an entrance hole into the door, and smooth the edges with a metal file. Position a doorknob plate an inch below the door, and secure with quick-setting epoxy. Clip off the metal points of brass house numbers, and adhere them a few inches below the door with dabs of epoxy to give this birdhouse an address. To hang, thread rope through the bait box’s loop and a vintage spring, and knot onto a sturdy branch near the home entrance.

Attempting to Slash Your Home Energy Bills

The squeeze on today’s homeowners shows no signs of easing. Heating-oil prices will rise 12 percent this winter, and your electric bill will likely jump again by the next year. There were a lot of rate freezes in the past 5 to 10 years, and many have now ended because utility companies are playing catch-up. That leaves homeowners wondering whether to invest in energy-saving improvements, even though federal tax credits have ended for upgrading insulation, windows, and heating and cooling equipment. Just one home in five built before 1980 started out with adequate insulation, reports the U.S. Department of Energy.

Adding fresh insulation to walls, ceilings, attics, and basements would bring immediate energy savings of 10 to 20 percent according to the National Energy Assistance Directors Association, which works with state and federal officials on energy-saving programs for low-income families. But your house probably doesn’t need a complete overhaul. Cheap and simple tweaks can quickly pay for themselves. To start with, the best bang for your buck is to seal up and insulate your house.

Plug wall openings

Save up to $150 a year.

About 15 percent of air leakage in the average home occurs through wall openings. Spray insulating foam sealant ($4 a can) around holes for outdoor faucets and wiring, and install foam gaskets ($3 for a package of 10) around indoor electric outlets and light switches.

Weatherize windows and doors

Save up to $200 a year.

A few $5 tubes of water-based acrylic caulk can seal tiny leaks around windows and doors. For another $40 to $70, apply weather stripping to door frames. Another $15 will buy you enough plastic shrink film to cover 10 older, single-pane windows.

Update your thermostat

Save up to $200 a year.

Do you like your house to stay nippy at night but feel toasty when you wake up? A programmable thermostat such as one that you set to adjust temperatures automatically can cut 20 percent from heating and cooling bills.

Blanket your water heater

Save up to $200 a year.

Your water heater eats about 20 percent of your energy. Insulating exposed hot-water pipes with foam or fiberglass sleeves can raise water temps at the tap 2 to 4 degrees, allowing you to lower your water heater’s thermostat and shave roughly 1 percent off your total energy costs. An insulating blanket around the heater tank can chop another 9 percent. Pipe sleeves start at $2 for 12 feet; blankets run about $20.

Seal and wrap ductwork

Save up to $400 a year.

As much as 30 percent of the air from the furnace or air-conditioner escapes through ductwork, which expands and shrinks as temperatures change. If ducts are accessible, seal joints with brush-on mastic waterproof flexible sealant and wrap ductwork with HVAC insulation. A gallon of mastic costs about $30 and will close up to 40 joints. HVAC insulation wrap, a self-adhesive foam with foil backing, costs about $1 per foot.

Getting Rid of Those Pesky Ants from Your Home

Don’t you hate it when you’re eating and suddenly several ants attempt to crawl on your plate. Or you pick up the garbage can and it’s full of crawling critters feeding on your trash. How worse can it get? You’re watching TV and suddenly a cockroach runs past. Shades of eew and yuck. Check out these expert tips for ridding your house of ants and other insects.

Spray vinegar and water on trails

Disrupt the ant trail so more ants won’t follow going inside the house. Mix vinegar and water, then spray it where you’ve seen ants to cover the ant scent.

Bait ants with sweets

Ants and other insects just love sweets. Try out brown sugar, peanut butter, honey, and other sweets to bait ants and other insects to congregate. You can then use insect poison or insect spray to kill them off.

Set out insect and ant traps.

Make it easy for ants to reach poison. Place liquid ant bait stations in areas where you’ve seen ants, like under the sink and along walls, to make it as easy as possible for the ants to take the toxic bait back to the nest.

Locate nests in water damaged areas

Spray nests with indoor insecticide. Look for water-damaged areas in the house and places where water has recently leaked to find the ant nest. Spray the nest with an indoor insecticide.

Spray indoor insect poison along entry points and common routes

Spray an indoor insect killer in places where ants can enter, including windows and doors, holes in exterior walls and cracks in the foundation.

Spray outdoor poison below lap siding

Spray outdoor insecticide on the foundation walls, and on and under the first course of lap siding to keep ants from entering the house.

Locate nests in nook and crannies

Check grout lines and cracks. Look for ant nests or tunnels in the foundation or siding. Spray the area with an insecticide to kill the ants.

Apply insecticide to lawn and shrubs

Spray a lawn and garden insect killer on the grass within one day of mowing. Also spray on trees and shrubs. Don’t spray on a windy day to prevent drift.

Be careful with fire ants.

Fire ants are dangerous and require special bait. Apply fire ant bait using a broadcast spreader. Fill the spreader over the driveway or a tarp to catch the granules that fall through the spreader.

Eliminate entry bridges

Trim back trees, shrubs, and plants so they’re at least 6 inches from the house, roof and deck. This eliminates bridges for ants to reach your home.