Every winter we help family and friends find ways to make their home more comfortable and efficient. Here are the top five things that we check.
1. Check all windows for drafts and seal them up.
This is probably the most important thing you can do to winterize your home. My grandfather used to check for drafts using a lit cigar, watching the smoke around the windows. I do not suggest doing this, but you could use a feather, or something else that would move with a breeze. Or just feel them if it is already cold outside.
Get some good caulk to seal any gaps outside the home. These would be any gaps that do not interfere with the operation of the window itself. Under sills, around the siding etc.
Then, if you really want a good seal around loose windows, or those that just don’t shut the same way anymore, get a few of those plastic sealer kits and cover them from the outside. You can do it on the inside, but they are most effective when used outside the home.
Fact: Metal blinds are cold conductors! Yes, it is true, if you have metal blinds and a drafty window, you have a mini air conditioning unit in each window. As your warm air passes over the metal fins, it is cooled.
2. Make sure ALL of your vents in your home are OPEN.
Almost every home built in the last 60 years has a system for circulating air throughout the entire home. This system is based on forced air creating a pressure coming out of the vents and being sucked into the air returns. With some vents closed, it will actually keep the air from being returned at the most efficient rate. Keeping all the vents open all year is the best way to achieve maximum efficiency.
3. Stop touching the thermostat!
I have threatened to get a locking box to put over our thermostat at our house. The more you change the temperature of the home, the more work your furnace has to do. This is especially true for those of us with heat pumps since a heat pump is most efficient when it is able to maintain a steady temperature. Turning up the heat with a heat pump usually means the electric heat kicks on, which is much more expensive than allowing the heat pump to regulate the heat by extracting the it from the cool air outside.
In the summer it is fine to adjust the air conditioning temperature throughout the day, or use your fancy programmable thermostat, but I say in the winter leave it be unless you can program it to lower in increments at night and raise the same way in the morning.
If you live in an area that has changing season, you need to make sure your attic is insulated properly. Check the Energy Star web site for the recommended R value in your zone.
If you live in a home that has a garage as part of the structure of the house, like a tri-level for example, make sure your garage door makes a good seal and that you have a garage door that has an R value appropriate for your area. If you replace your garage door yet this year, you may be eligible for some big tax breaks. Also, make sure the space above your garage is insulated well, as this may be the floor of a bedroom in the upper part of the house.
5. Got a cold basement? Check your cold air intake at your furnace.
First make sure your vents are open in the basement. Often times people will close these in the summer, hoping to force the cold air to the upper levels of their home.
Most furnaces have a cold air intake located near the furnace itself. Often times when this is located in a basement, it is simply a pipe coming in that originates on the roof, or an outside wall. In the winter time, this can be a source of incoming cold air. This is especially important for those of us who live in a colder climate.
My solution to stop the incoming cold air, when the furnace is not running may sound crazy, but it really works. First, get yourself a 5 gallon bucket, or an old plastic garbage pail. You want to place the bucket under the pipe or intake, making sure that the opening is inside the bucket by at least 8 inches. If the pipe does not reach down toward the floor, add a hose or additional PVC extension that will bring it to about 12″ from the floor. Or, if you have room, just put a stool under it to put the bucket on.
Now, watch the magic of science as the bucket fills with the cold air and stops, yes stops, when the bucket fills with the air. The cold air is much heavier than the warmer air outside the bucket and will hold itself inside the bucket until the furnace turns on. The air will still circulate when the furnace is on, but when the furnace stops, the bucket will fill again and stop. Magic and efficient.
I hope you are able to leverage at least one of these steps and realize some savings this year!