How To's & Quick Tips

5 “Must Do” Projects for December

This month is all about the holidays. Whether you're decorating the house from top to bottom, inside and out, or just looking to add a little extra warmth, here are my top 5 “Must Do” Projects for December.

Planning to go on a holiday vacation? Be sure to leave your house safe and sound. Let neighbors know that you will be away so that they can keep a watchful eye, and have someone pick up your mail, plow your drive, and shovel the walk should it snow. Nothing is more indicative of an empty house than a stuffed mailbox and snow-filled driveway.

Before you leave on holiday, pick up several timers and install them for lamps throughout various rooms in the house. Have them set to go on and off at different times to make it appear as if there has been movement throughout the evening. Consider motion-detector fixtures for around the exterior of the house as well; they will announce anyone who might be wandering about.

When you depart, make sure your windows and doors are locked securely. For sliding patio doors, you can purchase a door guard or simply cut a length of wood to place in the runner. That way, even if the lock is picked, the door will be prevented from opening. If you have basement well windows, you can purchase grates to prevent anyone from breaking through.

If you have an alarm system, make sure it is set and that you notify your alarm company of the dates you will be away. If you don't already have a HVAC alert as part of your alarm service, consider adding one. There is nothing more potentially damaging than a house with no heat in the winter, holidays or not!

This is definitely the month when everyone tries to outdo the neighbors with exterior holiday lights. Who doesn't remember the scene with Chevy Chase from National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation? Be sure that the lights you hang are UL-approved for safety and, for energy savings, look into the newer LED-varieties. And remember, a house doesn't have to be wrapped in lights to set a holiday mood. Sometimes a couple of well-placed spotlights on evergreens or wreath-bearing doors and windows can be an effective way of marking the season and showing off the architectural style of your home. If you are hanging lights, you'll find some helpful tips here.

If you favor a “real tree” over an artificial one, you'll want to make sure to pick a fresh one. Because trees are often cut several weeks before appearing on the lot, they have a lot of time to dehydrate. If they aren't sprayed often with water or stored out of direct sunlight, you're likely to end up with more needles than gifts under the tree by December 25. At the lot, give your tree a good shake and watch the type of needles that fall. Brown needles are fine; these come from the center near the trunk. Fallen green needles mean that the tree has gotten dry. Once you get it home, follow these simple steps to keep it fresh for the duration of the holidays.

One of the easiest ways to add seasonal cheer to any home is to hang a natural evergreen wreath. Positioned on the outside of a door, it provides a holiday welcome to anyone who comes to visit. Inside, it brings a fresh scent of the outdoors in-no matter where you live. While there is a plentiful supply of holiday wreaths to purchase this time of year, making one of your own is a fun, easy do-it-yourself project. Even if you buy a plain pine wreath, you can still add your own personal touch, as in this step-by-step tutorial for One Wreath: Three Ways.

Even the best heating system can leave certain rooms slightly cooler than others. Rather than hike up the thermostat, consider an energy efficient portable space heater that can localize warmth where and when you need it. With advanced heating technologies, more accurate temperature controls, and auto shutoff features for safety, such units as the 10 Space Heaters We Love can really take the chill off.