19 Tips to Winterize Your Home
Many people put off getting their home ready for winter until the last possible minute, waiting until temperatures have dropped and a few flurries have fallen. This can often lead to last minute expenses that could have been avoided by proper planning, especially if you need immediate repairs or an emergency replacement of your heating equipment, insulation, or other parts of your home that will make it ready for the coming cold. The time to start thinking about winterizing your home is actually during the summer, when you have time to plan, prepare, save, or make modifications and changes that will keep you and your family comfortably warm when winter finally arrives.
Aside from a desire to stay warm, one of the biggest reasons why people winterize their homes is to improve their energy efficiency. Not only does it help make your home more comfortable but it also helps you save money on your monthly utility bills and reduce your carbon footprint. Surprisingly enough, applying several easy winter preparation tips can actually make a visible difference in your monthly energy use. Here are 19 things you can do to create an energy-efficient and well-winterized home before the temperatures start dropping:
- Eliminate as many drafts as possible. Did you know that 5% to almost 30% of your home's energy use during the winter is due to the loss of heated air through drafts in doors, windows, and other locations? Find drafts and fix them with draft snakes, weather stripping, plastic sheeting, heavy drapes, caulk, insulation wrap, and many other inexpensive items. Some of the worst culprits for drafts include:
- Gaps in doors and windows
- Gaps and cracks around your chimney
- Plumbing and electrical pass-through areas (where the pipes or wires go through walls from the inside of your home to the outside)
- Poorly insulated attics, crawlspaces, and sub-floors
- Any location where two different types of building materials meet
- Make sure your HVAC filters are clean and replace them if necessary. A dirty filter decreases air flow, which means your heating equipment has to work harder to maintain a comfortable temperature inside your home. In addition to increasing your energy use, this also adds to the wear and tear on the equipment which can lead to the premature need for costly repairs.
- Change the direction of your ceiling fans. Warm air rises, which means you likely have large pockets of heated air hovering just below your ceiling during the winter. You can keep that air circulating through the room by changing the direction of your ceiling fan's rotation.
- Turn off outside spigots and store your water hoses for the season. Make sure you inspect the exterior foundation of your home for water leaks, too, so you can get those taken care of before they become a costly winter repair issue.
- Insulate your plumbing, especially if you have exposed pipes. Many older homes have plumbing that runs through parts of the house that are not insulated. This results in a dramatic loss of hot water as it moves toward the faucet from your water heater. By insulating your pipes, you are reducing the load on your water heater and ensuring that more hot water is reaching its destination at the desired temperature. Insulating your pipes can also prevent them from freezing and cracking.
- Remove window air conditioners. A great deal of air can escape around these units and you won't need them during the winter so it's best to store them for the season.
- Have an HVAC service technician perform a preventive maintenance inspection on your equipment. This inspection can let you know whether or not your equipment is operating at peak performance and if any repairs may be needed before winter arrives. While the technician is at your home, have him inspect your ductwork for any leaks or damage that can cause air loss.
- Install heavy drapes over your windows and open or close them accordingly to allow in the sun's natural warmth or block out the winter night's chill. You can also find thermal drapes that are designed to block drafts and reduce air loss.
- Drop the temperature on your water heater. Most water heaters are set at 140 degrees when they are installed, but they only need to be set at 120 degrees to provide an adequate supply of hot water for your family's needs.
- Make sure your ducts are not blocked by furniture, rugs, or other décor items. Inhibiting the flow of air can cause temperature variations from room to room and can also cause your heating equipment to work harder than it should to maintain your desired interior temperature.
- If you aren't ready to install storm windows just yet, you can get a "window insulation kit" at most hardware stores. This kit contains large plastic sheets that you can attach to your windows to help prevent drafts and air loss.
- Add an insulation blanket to your water heater.
- Shut off vents and ducts in rooms that aren't used or don't need to be heated. Some homes have ducts in closets, garages, mud rooms, and even on porches, yet none of these areas need to be heated or cooled on a regular basis. Closing these vents will allow a greater flow of air to be pushed to those rooms you do want heated, reducing the workload on your HVAC system.
- Make sure your dryer vent's outlet is properly sealed to prevent the backflow of cold air, and consider installing a recirculation vent for your dryer to push the heated air and humidity back into your home (do not do this if your dryer is gas powered).
- Install a programmable thermostat. A programmable thermostat gives you better control over temperature settings for your heating and cooling equipment, and they also provide a more accurate reading when compared to the older mercury switch models. By reading the temperature more accurately, the thermostat also sends on/off signals to your HVAC equipment that are more efficient.
- When using your oven for cooking, leave the door open after shutting the oven off so the heated air can add to the warmth in your home. Never use the oven strictly for heating, however.
- Add foam insulation plates to the back of your electrical outlet and light switch covers.If you have tile, hardwood, laminate, or other hard-surface floors, add some decorative rugs to your rooms. Most hard floors feel cool to bare feet and you can add some warmth with a few well-placed rugs.
- Prevent ice dams from forming in winter by keeping your gutters clear of debris and in good condition. If you deal with a large amount of debris in your gutters from roof run-off, consider installing
A few ideas for making your home more energy efficient in winter may require some planning and budgeting on your part. While they range from small costs to big expenses, these modifications are well worth the effort and expense in the long run. If you plan on staying in your current home for quite some time or you are looking for improvements that will increase your home's resale value, here are some things you can look into:
- Tankless water heater - provides hot water on demand, rather than storing water in a large tank and heating a large volume of it at one time.
- Storm windows and doors - provide better protection against UV rays, air loss, and breakage, and work great for summer cooling and winter heating.
- Insulation replacement - most homes have inadequate insulation or not enough of it, and many homeowners don't realize that insulation actually does not function as an air barrier. Insulation acts as a buffer against air loss and works to keep heat in or out (depending on the season).
- Upgrade to an ENERGYSTAR heating and cooling system - by upgrading to a highly rated and energy-efficient HVAC system, you will definitely be reducing your home's energy use, and you may even qualify for various tax credits or other benefits from the federal government
Before you do start making changes to your home in preparation for cold weather, have an energy audit performed on your home. Not only will this give you a great overview of what areas of your home are most in need of improvement, it can also provide you with some useful tips and ideas for making your home more energy efficient. Many utility companies offer free energy audits, but you may want to consider having an independent auditor conduct the inspection. Avoid choosing an auditor that works for a company that sells energy-efficient improvements, or you may find yourself being talked into paying for something you don't really need.
This list will get you started toward getting your home properly winterized before winter officially arrives, and many of these ideas are also applicable to "summer-izing" your home, too. They work great for keeping you and your family comfortable no matter what the season and they will help you cut back on your energy use and save on your utility bills. Start planning now so you won't be paying for it later, and use these tips to create an energy-efficient home that can weather the winter with ease.