Bob Vila’s 10 “Must Do” Projects for November
Before holiday festivities begin, get your home presentable and ready to receive guests. While you're at it, complete a few easy tasks to ensure that you're nice and warm for the winter.
For many of us, November marks the beginning of a season filled with house guests, nonstop holiday cooking, and cozy nights indoors. It’s also the last chance for cold-region dwellers to finish last-minute outdoor maintenance and garden projects. Get ready for whatever this month brings by taking on these timely tasks.
1. Prune Trees After Leaves Fall
Most gardeners recommend waiting until late fall or early spring to prune trees. Pruning earlier in fall can stimulate new growth as plants go dormant, which just leads to problems down the line. Once the leaves on the trees have dropped, it’s time to prune overgrown or damaged branches. Check the weather forecast and choose a clear day before you start trimming—wet conditions put plants at greater risk of fungal diseases. If you’re in the market for some quality equipment, see our guide to the best pruning shears we tested this year.
2. Install a Programmable Thermostat
Installing a programmable or smart thermostat puts savings on automatic—it’s another task you won’t have to remember to do yourself. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that homeowners can save about 10 percent on their heating costs by turning their thermostats down 7 to 10 degrees for eight hours a day. If you work outside the home, automatically setting your thermostat to a lower temperature while you’re gone should be a no-brainer. The Energy Star-certified Ecobee Smart Thermostat with voice control, one of the top performers in our researched guide to the best programmable thermostats, can be controlled via Siri or Alexa.
3. Add Attic Insulation
Attic insulation is your home’s first line of defense against drafts and inefficient heating. Without proper insulation, up to 25 percent of the heat you pump into your home will escape through the roof. When choosing which type of insulation is best for your attic, consider the age of your home, and the region in which you live.
An insulation’s R-value measures how well insulation keeps out the cold. For residents of the northern U.S., insulation manufacturer Johns Manville recommends that attic insulation have an R-value of at least 38; an R-value of 49 to 60 is even better.
RELATED: How Much Does Attic Insulation Cost?
4. Equip the Kitchen With a Fire Extinguisher
Americans are getting ready to put their ovens and stovetops to the test this month. Here’s an important reminder as you start your holiday prep: More cooking fires occur on Thanksgiving than on any other day of the year. Make sure you’re ready for whatever comes your way by keeping a fire extinguisher close at hand the kitchen, and letting the cooks know where it’s kept. Also check the pressure of existing fire extinguishers, and replace any old or damaged units.
RELATED: How to Put Out a Grease Fire
5. Hang the Holiday Lights
There’s some debate over the correct time to hang the Christmas lights, but many Americans waste no time and flip the switch on Thanksgiving weekend. As far as we are concerned, one of the best reasons to hanging lights in November is that the (slightly) warmer weather makes the job more comfortable. Whenever it is you choose to light up the yard, check all cords for fraying, and dispose of any damaged strings. Plug in the lights into ground fault circuit interrupter outlets (GFCIs) to reduce the risk of electrical fires, and turn off the decorations before you go to sleep. We like the idea of hanging Govee’s permanent outdoor lights, which you can leave up year-round and change the colors and patterns to suit different holidays. Our researched guide to the best outdoor Christmas lights has some other great choices, too.
6. Prep Pipes for Winter
When they are exposed to extreme temperatures, under- or non-insulated pipes—especially those that run along an exterior wall or an unheated garage—can freeze and cause major problems. To protect your pipes, first ensure that your walls are adequately insulated. You may also consider wrapping specialized heating cables or heating tape around water pipes that run along exterior walls. Heating tape can be plugged into an outlet, which will heat the water in your pipes to prevent freezing and bursting. Avoid installing heating tape inside walls, ceiling, or floors, where it can pose a fire hazard.
7. Stock Up on Firewood
Gathering the family around the fireplace is one of the good things about cold weather. Before you strike a match, make sure you have plenty of firewood on hand for the season. Seasoned hardwood, like oak or ash, is generally the best wood for burning in the fireplace.
8. Ready the Guest Room
If you’ll be playing host to friends and family this season, now’s the time to get the guest bedroom in good shape. A fresh coat of paint or new bedding can make the space more inviting and won’t break the bank. Don’t have a spare bedroom? Alternative guest bed ideas, like cots, air mattresses, or pull-out sofas, can quickly turn any room into a bedroom.
9. Insulate the Water Heater
Your water heater is probably installed in an unheated environment, like a basement or a garage. Insulating your appliance is an absolute must to prevent it from losing heat. Choose an insulating water heater blanket (like Frost King’s all-season water heater insulation blanket) that’s the right size for your tank, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for installation. This quick task could save you 4 to 9 percent in water heating costs, and pay for itself in about a year.
10. Clean Your Cooking Appliances
Your kitchen will likely be in overdrive for the Thanksgiving holiday, which is why now is the time to minimize the risk of grease fires and make sure your stovetop and drip pans are clean. Go ahead and clean the oven, too, with a nontoxic, fume-free mix of baking soda, water, and vinegar. Just don’t use the self-clean function on your oven right before the big day: Self-cleaning puts strain on your appliance and could result in a maintenance call—or worse.