Winter can be brutal for a homeowner. Ghostly drafts seep through the floor, around windows and doors, and even through power outlets, causing your furnace to constantly run and rack up an enormous power bill. It doesn’t have to be that way, though. Here are eight easy and inexpensive projects the average homeowner can do to winterize your home, cutting both drafts and bills.
1. Tune Up Your Heating System
Before the icy grip of winter takes hold in your neck of the woods, take the time to have your heating system serviced. Call in your favorite HVAC tech, ask friends for a recommendation, or visit sites like Angie’s List and Home Advisor to find a reputable service company. Have them come in to clean and lubricate your system and make sure the ductwork is adequate. Doing this in advance can save up to 5 percent in energy costs.
2. Eliminate Door Drafts
Drafts are the number one reason for a cold house and high energy bills. The U.S. Department of Energy says that drafts around exterior doors increase energy use from 5 to 30 percent. But there are two easy and inexpensive ways to stop the breeze.
The first is by placing a draft stopper along the bottom of exterior facing doors. These are long, thick tubes of fabric, sometimes filled with insulation, that block windy drafts from seeping in. Draft stoppers can be purchased for as little as $10 or you can just roll up a fluffy towel lengthwise for the same effect.
An alternative is to add or replace the door sweep on exterior doors. Sweeps are easy to install — just screw the plate onto the inside of your exterior facing doors. Typically they cost under $10.
3. Seal All the Outlets
Outlets can be inlets. Try this little trick: Light a candle, then blow the flame out so that it continues to smoke. Hold the candle in front of an electrical outlet or wall plate located on an exterior facing wall. Chances are you’ll see the smoke of the candle blowing in the light breeze – meaning there’s a draft.
The simple solution is to seal them with foam insulation covers (also called insulation gaskets). These are thin pieces of foam shaped to fit your wall switches and outlets with the holes cut out. Simply remove the outlet or wall plate, place the foam underneath, and put the cover back on. You can find packs of seven covers for less than $2.
4. Insulate Those Windows
Windows are another major source of drafts. In the past, people would tack thick sheets of translucent Visqueen plastic over their windows. From the inside looking out, it felt like you were living in a greenhouse.
Covering your windows is still a good idea. Today, there are window insulation kits that make installation much easier and cut drafts while allowing you to see clearly outside.
Kits cost less than $20 and again, are easy enough for the average homeowner to install. They come in all standard window sizes so cutting is minimal. Just stick the clear sheets to the window frame with the enclosed double-sided tape (don’t worry, the tape is easily removed when the season is over). Next, pull the material tight. Then use a blow dryer to heat-shrink the material tight.
5. Weather Strip Windows and Doors
Another quick, easy, and inexpensive fix for drafty windows and doors is to install weather stripping. Weather stripping is a rubber strip that is either self-adhesive or has a tacky backing. Cut it to length and attach it to the underside of windows, around window panes, or around door jambs. A 10-foot roll usually costs less than $5.
You should also check the caulking around windows by doing the candle trick you used for the outlets. If the smoke blows in the breeze, you need to replace the caulking around the window.
6. Insulate the Attic Floor
Re-insulating your attic is a little bit more expensive than the other tips in this list, but shows the biggest reduction in cold air permeating your home. Insulation tends to settle and lose its thickness and effectiveness as it ages. Hot air rises — which means your furnace is pumping out heat that’s rising through an under-insulated layer and seeping out the roof.
You can either use batten insulation, which are large roll-out insulation sheets, or use the blow-in type where you can rent a machine from your local hardware store, purchase bags of insulating material, and blow the insulation between joists.
Visit your local home improvement store. They can get you started and help you calculate how much insulation you need and let you know how much it will cost. The U.S. Department of Energy has a useful website that shows you key areas in your home that should be insulated.
7. Remove or Tarp Window Air Conditioners
If you have a window air conditioner, remove it and close the window. If it’s built-in, wrap it in a tarp to cut off any cold air that may seep through cracks.
8. Cover the Hot Water Heater
By covering the water heater with an insulating cover, you can save up to 16 percent annually in power bills.
Having a better-insulated home will save you money this winter. Know how else you can save money? By refinancing or getting a low-fee mortgage with highly-competitive rates.