Prepare home now for holiday guests

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

I donít mean to scare you, but Christmas is only a month and a half away. Thanksgiving is even closer.

Remember how frazzled you were last year?

Holidays bring guests, and guests ó no matter how welcome ó bring stress. But with a little preparation, you can reduce some of that holiday strain before the doorbell even rings.

No, Iím not talking about knocking back a couple of shots of Jack Daniels. Iím talking about getting your house in shape.

Nowís the time to ready the guests rooms, tackle those little maintenance lapses and make sure the house is ready to accommodate a crowd.

Beth Dodson knows how important that is. The co-founder of the home management site HomeZada (www.homezada.com) remembers one holiday when her guests kept spraying themselves accidentally with a cheap kitchen sink sprayer that had an unfortunate tendency to stick. "I had a lot of wet people at Thanksgiving that year," she said with a laugh.

Dodson offered a few suggestions for readying your home for the onslaught. Start now, and youíll have plenty of time to relax with that cocktail before the guests arrive.

But just one.

Look for the little problems. Every house has them ó loose doorknobs, toilet handles that have to be held down when youíre flushing, that sticking sink sprayer. We get used to them, so we know how to make them work and hardly even notice them. But our guests donít know our work-arounds.

Do them a favor and fix those niggling problems before the holidays, Dodson suggested. It will save your guests the embarrassment of having to ask how to work something ó or, worse yet, thinking they broke it.

Address plumbing issues. With just a few people in the house, sluggish drains are an annoyance. With a crowd, theyíre a flood in the making.

Extra people can put a strain on plumbing, so itís wise to ensure itís in good shape now, Dodson said. Make sure toilets are working properly and drains are operating effectively.

If you have a guest bath thatís rarely used, make a point of using all the plumbing fixtures there to make sure theyíre working right.

Check the garbage disposal. The garbage disposal merits extra attention, because itís prone to fail with heavy use.

"Itís the one time of year that everyone prepares a massive meal," Dodson said, and all those potato peels and turkey trimmings can spell trouble if your disposalís not up to handling the extra load. If youíre experiencing even minor problems with it now, fix it to avoid failure on the big day.

Freshen up caulk. Worn bathroom caulk is more than an eyesore. Itís an invitation to leaks.

Dodson recommended checking the state of your caulk and replacing it, if necessary. Itís a fairly easy and inexpensive do-it-yourself project that could save you the big expense of repairing water damage, while making your home more appealing to your guests.

Lighten up. Nowís the time to take a tour of your house and test all the lights. If bulbs are burned out, replace them. If switches or fixtures arenít working, get them fixed.

Dodson also recommended making sure all the hallways and bathrooms your guests will use have working night lights. You want the guests to find their way without the risk of injury.

Seal leaks. Leaks around windows and doors can produce uncomfortable drafts, and your guests may not have packed sweaters to ward off the chill. Caulking those gaps and replacing worn weather stripping and door sweeps will make your home more comfortable, Dodson said. And youíll be happy about the money youíll save on your heating bills.

Get heating equipment checked. If your furnace is due for a checkup, schedule it now, before the worst of the cold weather sets in. A breakdown is a problem anytime, of course, but itís even worse when you have a house full of guests, Dodson said.

Be ready for snow. Thanksgiving snowstorms arenít unheard of in many parts of the country, so shake off the winter denial and get yourself prepared before the flakes fall. Dodson recommended making sure you have shovels on hand or a snowblower thatís in good working order, with the gas tank filled. And stock up on deicer for slippery walkways and steps.

You might even give some thought now to where guests will park in the event of a big snowfall. Many communities impose parking bans in heavy snows, so have a backup plan in case guests canít park in the street.

Address squeaks. Most guests want to be unobtrusive. Squeaky doors and floorboards might make them feel uncomfortable moving around your house, especially at night when the house is otherwise quiet, Dodson said.

Fixing them might require just a squirt of lubricant on a hinge or a sprinkle of cornstarch between floorboards. Or it might require some higher-level do-it-yourself skills or the help of a pro to fix more complicated squeaks.

Check the linens. Are your sheets in good shape? Do your guest towels look fresh? If not, itís time to replace them, Dodson said. Youíve still got plenty of time, so keep an eye out for sales.

Clear the closets. Guest room closets tend to accumulate stuff we donít know what to do with. Nowís the time to cull through that clutter and clear space for your guestsí clothes, Dodson said.

While youíre at it, go through your coat closet too. If necessary, move out-of-season or extra coats out temporarily to make space for your guestsí outerwear.