5 easy holiday spruce-ups you can do now

5 easy holiday spruce-ups you can do now

With company coming for the holidays, it’s not too early to start sprucing up. Concentrate on the areas of the house that’ll be used by your company—the living room, dining room, and powder room. You can always shut the bedroom doors. Here are five easy projects that’ll wow your guests without hurting your budget.

Make your front door welcoming
Replacing or repainting your entry door is one of the easiest and most effective ways to spruce up your house. To improve your home’s curb appeal, you’ll also want to give overgrown trees and shrubbery a trim and to move any lawn ornaments or furniture to the garage or shed. You can add a wreath just before company arrives. When choosing a paint, remember that flat and satin paints can hide imperfections, but semi-gloss will add shine and make your door more of a focal point. Our top exterior semi-gloss paint is Valspar DuraMax Semi-Gloss, $ 40, sold at Lowe’s but Home Depot’s Behr Premium Plus Ultra Semi-Gloss Enamel, $ 40, was also a top paint pick.

Spiff up the powder room
It doesn’t cost much to upgrade a small bathroom. Start by adding a new mirror and faucet or add a pair of sconces on either side of your existing mirror or medicine cabinet. Replacing cabinet hardware is also an easy fix. But if you want to make a quick improvement that’ll also save you money in the long run, replace your toilet with a WaterSense model, which uses 1.28 gallons per flush or less instead of the typical 1.6. Also consider a comfort-height model, which is more than 17-inches tall. Two models from our toilet tests with both those features are the Toto Eco Drake CST744E, $ 380, and the Kohler Wellworth K-3575, $ 250. For other affordable powder room updates, read, "Bathroom remodeling costs and trends."

Paint a room or a wall
If you don’t have the time or patience to paint an entire room, try painting one or two accent walls. You can finish the job after the holidays if you end up loving the color, says Debbie Zimmer of the Paint Quality Institute.  For best results, the PQI recommends using a top-of-the-line interior latex wall paint in flat or eggshell finish, which hides irregularities better than paints with a sheen. In our interior paint tests, Clark + Kensington Satin Enamel, $ 32, sold at Ace, was great at hiding, leaving a smooth finish that resisted stains and scrubbing with little change in gloss. Our top-rated flat/matte paint is Lowe’s Valspar Signature Matte, $ 32,  which was excellent at hiding, left a very smooth finish, is self-priming, and resists stains and scrubbing. There are also good choices in both finishes from Benjamin Moore, Kliz, Glidden, and Behr, among others.

Declutter and deep clean
Can’t see your dining room buffet under that pile of bills? Turn on your favorite TV show and use the time to sort through them. You should be able to find the top of the server after two episodes of "The Voice." (And as a bonus, you’ll be ready for tax time.) It’s also the season to  deep clean your carpets, especially if you have pets. You can do some lighter cleaning later. In our vacuum cleaner tests, we found that upright vacuums did a better job than canisters at getting embedded dirt out of carpeting and found some that were also excellent at removing pet hair. Three bagged upright vacuums tied for the top spot in our Ratings including the Miele S 7210 Twist, $ 475, Kirby Sentria, $ 1,350, and the Miele S 7260 Cat & Dog, $ 715. All three excelled at both tasks.

Dust off your light fixtures and replace the bulbs
With hours of daylight waning, you may find yourself straining to read the newspaper under the dining room chandelier. You can brighten your rooms in no time with just a dust cloth and some soap and water. And since you’ll need to dismantle the fixtures to clean them, you might as well replace the lightbulbs with some new energy-saving models that cast the right light. In our lightbulb tests, we found many general purpose replacements for 40, 60, 75 and 100-watt lightbulbs. Two of our top-rated 60-watt equivalent LEDS from Samsung and Feit Electric scored 99 out of 100 and three more from Utilitech, GE, and 3M were close behind. The price of LEDs continues to drop and many homeowners prefer the light quality to that of CFLs.

For more tips on what to do before guests arrive and how to clean up after they leave, read "How to clean up common holiday messes."  

—Mary H.J. Farrell

Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2007-2013 Consumers Union of U.S.

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