Winter is coming, and experts are predicting another teeth-chattering cold one for much of the country. With that in mind, we want to take a moment to review a whole house approach to weather proofing and insulation.
Insulating your home is the first defenses to protecting it. We cannot stress the importance of attic insulation- heat rises, after all. But even the best insulation can be thwarted by drafty windows and doors.
Here are a few simple things you can do to make sure you and your family stay toasty this season:
- Clean those Gutters Wet leaves are heavy. When they are left to freeze the added weight and volume can water to back up against the house, damaging roofing, siding and wood trim — plus cause leaks and ice dams. Leaks = wasted heat = wasted money.
- Block those Leaks Weatherstripping and caulking is probably the least expensive, simplest, most effective way to cut down on energy waste in the winter. Improperly sealed homes can waste 10 to 15 percent of the homeowner’s heating dollars. Electric wall plugs and switches can allow cold air in. You can purchase Simple-to-install, pre-cut foam gaskets that fit behind the switch plate and effectively prevent leaks.
- Insulate your Attic. Heat rises! In an older home, attic insulation can be the most cost-efficient way to cut home heating costs. Before energy efficiency standards, homes were often built with little or no insulation. As a result, large amounts of heat can be lost through walls, floors and especially ceilings.
- Block Rodents Access Points – We aren’t the only ones that want to escape the cold in the winter. Rodents can wreak havoc, burrowing through exterior walls and insulation to make their nests. A mouse can access your home through a very small hole. Check for access points near roof vents, utility lines, pipes, door and window cases and where different building materials meet.
- Check the Furnace Most homeowners can replace filters and do such simple tasks as cleaning and removing dust from vents or along baseboard heaters. You can do a test run before the really cold weather hits: Turn the thermostat to heat mode and set it to 80 degrees just for testing. You should hear the furnace turn on and warm air should blow within a few minutes. If it’s running OK, turn it back to its normal setting. If it’s not running properly, you can act quickly and minimize the chance of waiting for repairs during the coldest days of the year. Routine maintenance and inspection of your heating system each autumn ensures your heating system will work properly, use less energy and last longer as a result.
- Get Your Ducts in a Row– Think of your duct work as huge hoses, bringing hot air instead of water into your house. Mostly out of sight, ducts can leak for years without you knowing it. They can become torn or crushed and flattened. Old duct tape will dry up and fall away over time, allowing junctions and splices to open, spilling heated air into your attic or under the house. It’s wasteful. If you have a forced-air heating system, look for ducts running through unheated parts of the house, like the garage and attic. Keeping the hot air in the ducts (and in your home) keeps you toasty warm and saves you as much as 10% on your bill.
- Don’t forget the Chimney Before you burn the Yule log, make sure your fireplace (or any heating appliance burning gas, oil, wood or coal), chimney and vents are clean and in good repair. That will prevent chimney fires and prevent carbon monoxide from creeping into your home. Don’t forget to close the damper on your fireplace. Of course the damper needs to be open if a fire is burning; but if the damper is open when you’re not using the fireplace, your chimney functions as a large open window that draws warm air out of the room and creates a draft. Close that damper – it’s an effective energy-saving tip that costs you nothing!
- Reverse that Fan Energy Star says the fan will produce an updraft and push down into the room heated air from the ceiling (remember, hot air rises).Reverse the switch on your ceiling fans so they blow upward, toward the ceiling. Ceiling fans are a great idea in the summer, when air blowing downward can improve circulation and make a room feel four degrees cooler. A cooling draft is a poor idea when it’s cold, however. By reversing the fan’s direction, the blades move air upward in winter. This is especially valuable in high ceiling rooms, where heat that naturally rises is forced back down into the room.
- Wrap those Pipes. Every duct, wire or pipe that penetrates the wall or ceiling or floor has the potential to waste energy. Plumbing vents can be especially bad, since they begin below the floor and go all the way through the roof. Seal them all with caulking or weather-stripping. If you have any exposed water or drain piping at all in un-insulated spaces such as in a crawlspace, attic, outside walls, etc., make sure to insulate them with foam insulation at a minimum. Ideally you should wrap them with electrical heating tape first, then insulate them. And once you insulate, the heat stays in the pipes longer, so the hot water heater doesn’t need to work as hard.
Taking care of these crucial tasks can help you save money on utility bills in the long run. Prepare for winter now, and you’ll be glad you did when cold weather settles in.