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The February home improvement checklist

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Give the gift of doing

It’s the month of roses and chocolate. But instead of forking out money for a predictable symbol of love, consider accomplishing a long-delayed honey-do project. Skip downer chores such as unclogging drains and go for something that puts you both in a cheerful mood. For example, do you need a better solution for winter coats close to your main entry? Clean out a nearby closet, install a shelf (for hats and mittens) with coat hooks underneath or get a coat tree. Is the garage workshop a mess? Invest in a cabinet to store all those little parts. To bring order to hand tools, buy a pegboard and hooks and use a marker to outline where each piece goes, as Julia Childs used to do with her kitchen tools.

Add some romance

Nothing affects the ambiance of a room like lighting. Candlelight sets a romantic mood, but so can the modern equivalent: a dimmer switch. If you’ve held off installing one because you wanted to use compact fluorescent bulbs, most of which aren’t safe on circuits with dimmers, check out the growing array of dimmable LED bulbs, including ones with narrow bases that fit candelabrum fixtures. You can also add romance to a room with strings of miniature lights or with rope lights. Not just for Christmas anymore, they’re great for highlighting an arch or a doorway or stringing around the top corners of a room as sparkly crown molding. Or maybe you just need a new or spruced-up lamp or ceiling fixture. Artisan Lamp in Washington’s Cleveland Park neighborhood (202-244-8900) and the Brass Knob in Adams Morgan (202-332-3370) specialize in antique fixtures. Artisan Lamp also carries a wide assortment of replacement shades, stocks hardware to modify existing lamps to support different kinds of shades and employs repair people who can install the parts. If modern design is more your style, there are plenty of other options, including Illuminations (202-783-4888 for the downtown showroom or 202-965-4888 for the one in Georgetown) and Vastu (202-234-8344).

Paint

February, the last month before the majority of gardening chores beckon, is a great time to tackle an indoor painting project. Not sure where to begin? Monarch Home Decorating Center has designers on staff at its Chevy Chase location (202-686-5550; www.monarchpaintdc.com) and will even send someone to your home to help you select colors — a useful feature because you’ll probably want to factor in the colors of existing furniture and flooring, as well as the kind of light in your space. Home Depot stores frequently offer free workshops about tools and techniques. The Northeast Washington store, at 901 Rhode Island Ave., has one scheduled for Saturday at 10 a.m. Find others at www.homedepot.com; set the store location to one near you and then type “workshops” in the search box. If you’re worried about disturbing lead paint as you work, read up on advice and rules at the Web site of the D.C. Department of the Environment, green.dc.gov/node/20762.

Plug those gaps

You might be dealing with lingering cold-weather issues in your house, but it’s also a great time to think ahead about areas that get too hot in the summer. A three-hour class in Arlington on Saturday will help you identify common causes of these uncomfortable situations and teach you how to correct them — usually without expensive measures such as replacing windows or adding a lot of extra insulation. The course fee is just $5. Sign up for “Fixes That Work for Home Cold and Hot Spots,” at the Arlington public schools Web site, www.arlingtonadulted.org.

If you can’t make the class, go online and download “A Do-It-Yourself Guide to Sealing and Insulating With Energy Star” from the home improvement section at www.energystar.gov. This pamphlet identifies the usual places where air leaks and shows with pictures some simple ways to fill the gaps. It will also help you decide whether you’re up to the task. If not, you’ll know what to ask contractors when you interview them.

Get credit

If you do tighten up your house, take advantage of a provision in the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, the legislation that avoidedpart of the “fiscal cliff.” This law extended a package of tax credits that had expired in 2011 for owners who make existing homes more energy-efficient. If you didn’t already claim your lifetime credit limit of $500, improvements you make through the end of 2013 now qualify (as do any you did in 2012). Homeowners who also take advantage of local and manufacturer rebates can sometimes wind up as much as $1,000 ahead — not counting their ongoing savings in annual energy bills.

If you live in Maryland, you can find contractors and financing options at www.mdhomeperformance.org. In Virginia, look to leap-va.org. In Washington, owners of single-family homes or townhouses of less than 4,000 square feet can get free home energy audits from the city Department of the Environment. There is no income limit for these. For help with the actual work, low-income homeowners can turn to the Weatherization Assistance Program run by the D.C. Department of the Environment.

Go hot and cold

Most furnace filters need to be changed every three months. So if you switched on your heating system in November, you’re probably due for a change. Clogged filters restrict airflow and force the air handler to work harder, which adds to your energy bill and makes the system noisier.

While you’re basking in the furnace’s warmth, also spend a few minutes planning for those days when the temperature is too hot. Have your air conditioner serviced now, when technicians aren’t booked up.

Have a problem in your home? Send questions to localliving@washpost.com . Put “How To” in the subject line, tell us where you live and try to include a photo.

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