Winter weather can be a blessing and a curse. Most of us love the snowy scenery, the twinkling holiday lights and toasty fires. But, when that blast of arctic air invades our homes, it can be a real problem – for our comfort and our bank accounts.
Fortunately, there are lots of simple – and mostly inexpensive – things we can do to prepare our homes for the cold days ahead. Here are 10 tips to keep your home comfortable and energy-efficient this season.
- Leave It to the Pros – Some things are best left to the professionals, and this is one of them. Have professionals service your HVAC unit, furnace, fireplace and chimney before cold weather arrives. It’s best to schedule these services in the off-season when everyone isn’t scrambling for appointments after they discover their heater isn’t working. But, hey, better late than never. As for maintenance, you can do this one yourself. Install a high-quality air filter in your central heating system; and replace the filter every one to three months to keep the system operating efficiently and to maintain a healthy indoor environment.
- Feeling Inadequate? – Ensuring your home has adequate insulation is one of the most important things you can do to keep it comfortable and running efficiently. Without sufficient insulation, as much as 40 percent of household heat is lost through the attic and roof. Depending where you live and the type of insulation, your attic should have from 12 to 18 inches of insulation (R30 to R60). If your attic is in need of more insulation, install unfaced rolls or batts over the existing insulation, or rent a blower from a home center to blow loose fill insulation into the space.
- Leaky Duct – Some homeowners aren’t comfortable finding and sealing ducts on their own, and if that’s the case, have an HVAC professional inspect your ductwork. But, it’s very doable if you know what to look for – or, more accurately, feel If you feel air escaping from the HVAC ducts in the attic, turn off the fan and apply foil duct tape over the gaps. Then, use a brush to apply duct mastic over the foil tape and joints. Don’t use standard duct tape, as the adhesive will come loose over time.
- Stairway to Heat Loss – Even if your attic is well insulated, the folding stairs that provide access can be a major source of heat loss. After all, only a thin piece of plywood separates the attic from the living space. First, check to see if the attic stairway closes tightly. Then apply self-adhesive foam weather stripping around the perimeter where the plywood door meets the frame. Another step you can take is adding an attic stairway cover that acts like a tent to block drafts from the attic and help maintain the room temperature.
- Seal the Envelope – Exterior cracks in your home allow the warm inside air out and the cold outside air in. Seal small cracks and holes with quality, exterior-grade caulking; and choose a paintable caulk if the area will be painted. Fill larger cracks and holes using expandable spray foam. Here’s something you should note: Be careful not to fill weep holes in brick exteriors or vinyl siding. These holes are designed to allow any moisture that gets behind the siding to drain or evaporate.
- Avoiding the Draft – Caulking can shrink and deteriorate over time, so even if you’ve caulked around windows and doors in the past, it may be time to re-caulk those areas. The same goes for weather stripping, which can take a lot of wear and tear from families and pets. So, replace any worn-out weather stripping and door thresholds. Here’s something you might not think about. Did you know electrical sockets, particularly on the perimeter walls of your home, can be sources of drafts? There’s a product called socket sealers designed specifically for blocking these drafts.
- What a Pane – Not all of us have modern homes with double-paned windows, and it isn’t always cost-efficient to replace all the windows in your home. If you have older, single-paned windows, apply window insulation film to provide an added barrier between outside temperatures and your home. The film can easily be removed once the weather warms back up. If it’s in the budget, consider installing storm doors and windows. Don’t forget to close your curtains or blinds on windows and glass doors at night and when they are in the shade; open them when the sun is shining on them to allow the sun to heat your home.
- Regularly Scheduled Programming – Home automation is big in home improvement these days. Programmable thermostats, however, have been around for quite a while; and they are amazingly effective at making your home comfortable and efficient. By setting your thermostat to fit your daily routine, you can be sure your home is warm when you want it to be, and not when you are away from home.
- Counter When It’s Hot; Clockwise When It’s Not – This tip is simple and effective. Remember, hot air rises. So, switch your fans to rotate clockwise on low to gently circulate hot air that is trapped near the ceiling. Unlike the summertime, you don’t want the fan motor on high. Air movement is what makes you feel cooler, so in the winter, keep your fan on the lowest setting.
- Protect Your Pipes – Technically, this won’t keep your home warm; but it’s a critical winterization step, so it makes the list. Prevent frozen pipes by insulating them in the crawlspace, basement or attic with foam pipe insulation. Disconnect garden hoses, and turn off and drain outdoor faucets or cover them with insulated foam covers. When the mercury drops below freezing, let kitchen and bathroom faucets drip, and open cabinets doors with exposed pipes to allow warm air to circulate.
Find more winteraztion tips and other home improvement advice at www.todayshomeowner.com