As featured in The Washington Post
But you procrastinate and end up curling up in a fleece blanket once again when the thermometer dips.
Now is the time to look around your home, determine the spots where it may be vulnerable and take steps to fix them before the first cold snap.
Here’s how you can make your home comfortable and more efficient this winter, and save a little bit of money:
● Sealing drafts: If you added up all the air leaks, holes and gaps in a typical home’s envelope, it would be the same as having a window open every day of the year, according to EnergyStar.gov, the Environmental Protection Agency’s website. Cold air can sneak into your house through a variety of energy-hogging openings, including doors, windows, attic hatches, fireplace dampers, ceiling-to-wall joints, gaps around light fixtures, pipes leading outside and electrical outlets on exterior walls.
Sealing drafts and adding insulation are key to improving the comfort of your home and reducing your energy bill.
“If you have drafty windows and doors, and you seal those drafts, you can increase the energy efficiency of those openings by up to 70 percent, saving you real dollars on what it costs you to heat your home. You’ll be more comfortable, too,” said Lou Manfredini, Ace Hardware’s home expert.
A small investment of about $50 to $60 in products can go a long way in improving your home’s energy efficiency.
“Clay caulking rope is inexpensive and can be stuck in the gaps where window sashes meet the frame and can be removed in the spring without damaging the finish,” Manfredini said. “Removable caulking like Zip-A-Way is the modern version of this and can be applied and peeled away as well.”
Weather seals on doors can deteriorate over time. Seal gaps with weather stripping and install door sweeps along the bottom of exterior doors.
Check under sinks and in the basement for gaps around pipes. Fill them with an insulating foam sealant.
Installing foam seals around electrical outlets and switch plates is a quick and inexpensive way to block cold air as long as you take the proper safety precautions.
Poorly insulated attics are a major source of heat loss. When heat escapes from the top of your home, it never makes it into the rooms that need it.
According to EnergyStar.gov, your home might benefit from attic air sealing and insulation if it experiences any of these problems in the winter: drafty rooms, uneven temperature between rooms, high heating bills, dust, dry indoor air and ice dams, which form when water from melting snow freezes at the edge of your roofline. The water can back up under shingles and leak into your home.
“There are a lot of reasons that ice dams can occur,” Manfredini said. “Mother Nature is a huge cause. But lack of insulation in the attic, poor ventilation and roof orientation, typically the north side of the roof, will contribute to ice damming. Most of these factors can be addressed. For example, adding more insulation to an attic space will have a positive effect.”
● Windows: If new windows are not an option, make existing windows more efficient with window treatments that block heat loss. Pleated cellular shades and curtain panels with interlinings harness the warmth of the sun. Look for insulating shades that feature several layers of fiber batting and sealed edges.
Shades should be mounted close to the glass to establish a sealed air space. For greater efficiency, open south-facing shades and drapes on sunny days and close them after dusk.
Shrink-to-fit plastic wrap is an easy and effective option for reducing air leakage or infiltration.
“Plastic window kits, while not the most attractive, do an excellent job of sealing out drafts at windows and even patio doors,” Manfredini said.
● Chimney: Make sure the chimney is clean and in good repair before you fire up the wood logs. Jordan Whitt, spokesman for the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA), said homeowners should have chimneys regularly checked and cleaned by a chimney sweep certified by CSIA to reduce the risk of chimney fires. An annual inspection can identify any potential hazards inside the flue such as cracks, creosote buildup or venting problems.
● Energy audit: An energy audit can pinpoint trouble spots. Many power companies offer a free home energy assessment to give homeowners ideas on how to save money. A fee-based, professional audit goes into a more in-depth analysis of your home’s energy use.
● Help for low-income homeowners: Nationally, 20 million to 30 million families in the United States are eligible for weatherization services, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Contact your state weatherization agency to determine eligibility.
Kenley Farmer, interim associate director of the Affordability and Efficiency Division of the District’s Department of Energy and Environment, said energy audits are free for income-eligible residents.
“Maximizing the safety and comfort of low-income District homeowners is important throughout the year, but especially as temperatures begin to approach the freezing point,” she said. “The District’s Weatherization Assistance Program is continually evolving to implement innovative home-energy performance practices.”
The agency, she said, helps residents save energy and money by evaluating the structure’s shell, appliances and other systems to “improve the safety and comfort of a home.”