Weatherize for Winter

by Shawn Dell Joyce

The chill of fall is upon us and creeping into our homes. But before you turn up the thermostat, consider winterizing your home to use the heat more efficiently.

“Efficiency is our largest untapped natural resource,” according to efficiency guru Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute. It’s much cheaper to buy efficiency than energy.

Most homes have tiny cracks and gaps around windows and outlets that leak cold air. If you were to put all these little holes and cracks together, you would have about a 3-foot gaping hole in your wall. It would be like leaving a window open year-round. Use a caulk gun and a roll of duct tape to patch any holes you find in the walls, windows, baseboards and ductwork.

“A typical homeowner may invest $1,000 on his home’s building envelope, but he can save up to $300 on energy bills each year,” states one of the Rocky Mountain Institute’s home energy briefs.

If you haven’t already, change all your incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescent light bulbs, or CFLs, which use two-thirds less energy and last 10 times longer. Brighten a room with lighter-colored carpet, wall coverings and window treatments. Using daylight is the most energy-efficient way to light a room, so capitalize on it. Light-emitting diode, or LED, lighting is more cost-effective than even CFLs, as the bulbs last longer. Put certain lights on timers and sensors so that they shut themselves off when they no longer are needed.

“Lighting a whole room so you can see what you’re doing is similar to refrigerating a whole house to preserve perishable food,” Lovins notes.

Insulation should be installed by professionals to achieve the maximum benefits, but it can be done by a knowledgeable homeowner. The cost of insulating will be returned to you as savings on your home energy bills. It is especially important to insulate attic floors and basement ceilings. If you have crawl spaces, basement doors and attic stairs, you can insulate these yourself using rigid foam panels.

“The insulation doesn’t typically stop all of the air infiltration,” George Del Valle, an insulation contractor, recently said on DIY Network.
“So you want to do everything you can to stop that air from coming in.”

If you were to take an infrared photo of your home, you would see heat leaking out your windows and around your doors. Tight weatherstripping around doors eliminates much of that heat loss. Try this test: Put a piece of paper on the threshold of your door, and close it. If you can pull this paper out from under your door without tearing it, you are losing money and energy. Weatherstrip that door.

Also, replacing single-pane windows with efficient double-pane windows is ideal, but if that isn’t in your budget right now, consider sealing the windows with sheet plastic. You can tape the plastic to the molding around the window, creating a dead-air space that insulates against heat transfer. Doing this one thing will make your home feel much warmer and save you considerably more money than the cost of the plastic.

If you have forced-air heating and cooling systems, then you have ducts throughout your house. “In a typical house … about 20 percent of the air that moves through the duct system is lost due to leaks and poorly sealed connections,” according to Energy Star.

Leaky ductwork means that the house feels uncomfortable regardless of the thermostat setting and that your utility bills are always high. Exposed ducts in attics, basements, crawl spaces and garages can be repaired easily by sealing the leaks with duct sealant (duct mastic) or sometimes with just duct tape. Also, insulating ducts that run through un-insulated spaces (such as attics, garages and crawl spaces) can save you big bucks.

Energy Star estimates that knowledgeable homeowners or skilled contractors can save up to 20 percent on heating and cooling costs — or up to 10 percent on their total annual energy bills — just by sealing and insulating. If your total energy bills are $250 per month, that would equal $25 per month in savings, or $300 per year. While this advice can’t replace a home energy audit, it can help you save money and energy in the coming winter.


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