Before the weather outside grows truly frightful, here are some tips on how you can protect your home from the harsh winter days and nights and save money in the process.
Keeping the cold air out
“A few hours of your time can make a big difference in your monthly utility bills,” declares REALTOR® Sara Greenfield, Principal Broker for Charlottesville Fine Homes and Properties and a Certified Home Performance Specialist.
Take time to check the insulation in your attic to keep heat from escaping. If you have a whole-house fan, lay a lightweight batten of insulation over it. A “door” that many people overlook is attic access and Greenfield says she used rigid foam board insulation to protect her removable panel. If the access is pull-down folding stairs, it’s a little more complicated, but the Internet provides some good directions for insulating that space.
Doors and windows also have great potential to let cold air in, Greenfield says, so she uses a candle to check for leaks—watching for flickering flame. You can also have someone outside move a bright light around the sides of windows and doors while you watch from inside. Putty caulk and rope caulk are easy to use to seal cracks.
Weather stripping is your next step. It comes in a variety of easy-to-install styles from foam with sticky backing to traditional bronze. A “sweep” that attaches to the bottom of your door will deflect cold air sneaking in. “I love the door sweep on the basement door,” Greenfield says. “It was a huge game changer.”
Remember, the sun is your ally in winter. When it’s not shining in your window, close your blinds or drapes to keep the warm air inside. In particularly cold weather, temporarily tack up a heavy beach towel or small blanket. Insulating blinds are not cheap, but consider supplying one room at a time until your house is completely furnished.
For single-pane windows, plastic film can provide inexpensive—if not durable insulation. It comes in kits, can be applied with tape or in some cases a hair dryer to shrink into place, and can be removed after cold weather. Because you can’t reach the window once the film is installed, be sure it is sealed and locked securely before you start. Insulated window coverings can be opened during the day to let in the sun’s warmth and closed at night to keep the cold out.
“I clean all my registers and change all the air filters twice a year at minimum,” says Greenfield. It’s also good to check that registers haven’t become blocked by rugs, furniture, or toys.
It’s a good idea to have your heating system serviced annually. If it’s more than 15 years old, you might want to consider upgrading to more efficient equipment or a different fuel source. In our area, heat pumps are effective except in the very coldest weather. Installation of some systems such as geothermal heat pumps may qualify for a Federal tax credit of as much as 30 percent.
You’ll see ads for duct cleaning, but they don’t make much difference in efficient heating. On the other hand, duct sealing can be an excellent way to save. As much as 25 – 40 percent of heated air in winter (and cooled air in summer) is lost from ducts before reaching its destination. Securing ducts can make a big difference.
If you use a woodstove or pellet stove as your main heat source or for auxiliary heat, lay in a good supply of fuel, being sure any wood is well seasoned. And be sure to call a chimney sweep to clean and inspect your chimney.
Keeping yourself warm can also reduce your heating bill. And sometimes it can just be an illusion. Toss a woolly afghan or fleecy throw over the backs of sofas and chairs. Cover the bare floor with throw rugs. Bake or cook first thing in the morning to use the heat of the oven and stove and add the aroma of good things to the house.
Keep your home’s humidity between 25-40 percent. When it’s drier, you’ll feel the chill more. Use a folding rack to dry items after washing. The evaporation will add humidity. If you have a wood or pellet stove, have a kettle of water on top to add humidity (and make your tea.)
Finally warm yourself. Use flannel bedding. Wear a sweater or a fleece vest. Keep your feet comfy with a pair of truly toasty slippers. Warm a bag of rice in the microwave for a surprisingly effective foot warmer.
The bottom line is all about the bottom line. Winterizing can help lower your utility bills now and if you list your house, showing low utility bills can be a great selling point.
Marilyn Pribus and her husband live near Charlottesville in Albemarle County. They’re ready for winter with a seasoned woodpile, a big pot for making soup, and SmartWool® socks.