Winter is coming whether you like it not. Before the temperatures drop any further, follow these steps to keep the cold out of your house, and the heat in, while saving money on your energy bill.
If you’re an apartment dweller, you might be able to tackle some of the simpler projects without risking your security deposit. Check with your landlord first. Contact your leasing office or landlord for major winterizing issues and request maintenance work if needed.
Keep in mind that during cold-weather months, the Chicago Heat Ordinance mandates landlords supply adequate heat to rental units. From Sept. 15 through June 1, the temperature inside a rental residence must be at least 68 degrees from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., and at least 66 degrees from 10:30 p.m. to 8:30 a.m.
Fill the gaps. Tom Silva, a general contractor who stars on PBS’ “This Old House” and its companion series, “Ask This Old House,” says sealing cracks and holes is a huge factor in preventing air infiltration. The potential energy savings from reducing drafts and other energy inefficiencies in a home can range from 10 to 20 percent per year, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
If you have small cracks, acrylic or latex caulking provides a simple fix. Use spray-foam insulation to fill larger holes.
Install a door sweep to seal the gap between the bottom of your door and the threshold to prevent cold air from coming in and warm air from escaping. Decorative door draft stoppers placed at the base of a door also can keep cold air from sneaking in.
Energystar.gov recommends you make sure connections at vents and registers are well-sealed where they meet the floors, walls and ceiling. Also ensure all vents are clear of any furniture or rugs to improve airflow and comfort.
Cold air also can enter through electrical outlets. You can buy precut fire-retardant foam gaskets to insulate outlets or switch plates. To avoid potentially shocking yourself, be sure to turn off the circuit breaker attached to each outlet before applying gaskets.
Weatherproof windows. Rattling windows and visible gaps around windows are signs of air leaks. It might seem pretty basic, but Silva believes one of the biggest mistakes people make in the winter is forgetting to lock their windows after they close them.
“That lock is meant to do two things,” he says. “It’s meant to push the window down and up against the window sill and the head jamb. It’s also meant to adhere the two sashes at the center of the window together, and that tightens up the window on the top, bottom and middle. A little crack makes a big difference.”
Applying plastic over windows and patio doors is an easy, effective solution to preventing unwanted drafts. Window insulation kits include a clear window wrap and adhesive. You simply size the film, leaving a few inches on either side. Clean the window frame before applying the film. Apply the adhesive and the film, using a hair dryer to tighten the film.
“For windows that aren’t as important to you, wrapping them up with good old-fashioned bubble wrap is just as efficient and might even do a better job than those kits,” Silva says. “Wet the windows down with a spray bottle of water, and press the plastic in place. Then cut it to size, and tape around it to lock it into position all winter long. Insulation tape is best, but basic masking tape will probably succeed in keeping it from moving as well.”
Inspect drafty exhaust fans. You may already know where most air leakage occurs in your home, but vents or exhaust fans often have gaps around them that are less obvious. You’ll need to find these gaps to properly seal them.
Silva recommends you make sure vents from a kitchen stove, microwave, bathroom fan or clothes dryer to the outside are in good condition.
“You want to make sure they are not stuck open so when you shut that hood fan or bathroom fan off, the cold air won’t blow in the open louvres,” he says. “If you have one that is damaged or broken, you should have it replaced. You don’t want that backlash of air coming in. If you go in the bathroom, for example, and you’re wondering why it is so cold, it could be the louvre outside is stuck open.” Air from outside could be blowing “down the fan and into the bathroom.”
Insulate the attic. Heating costs going through the roof? The culprit might be a poorly insulated attic. By adding insulation in the attic, you can maintain the desired temperature throughout your home much better. This project can also help to reduce the formation of ice dams on the edge of your roof.
“If you’re in bed at night and the room is cold, what do you do?” says Silva. “You put another blanket on. It keeps the heat inside the bed. That’s what insulation does in the house. It keeps the heat in the house by adding more blanket insulation.”
If you have 6 inches of insulation in your attic, Silva says you could have a contractor blow another 10 or 12 inches on top of it. If you’re a do-it-yourselfer, you could add fiberglass batts over the loose-fill insulation. Silva cautions that you make sure the fiberglass batt is unfaced, meaning it does not have a paper backing or vapor barrier.
Reduce fireplace heat loss. If you have a wood-burning fireplace, keep the damper closed when it’s not in use to prevent drafts and heat loss throughout the rest of your home. Because hot air rises, Silva says the chimney will continue to draw warm air from other heating sources such as radiators or ductwork. Insulated glass doors make a fireplace more efficient because the glass allows heat from the fire to radiate into a room.
Get a furnace tune-up. Have your furnace serviced before winter to make sure the heat will click on when you want it to. Check the filter to ensure it is not clogged with dirt or debris. Filters get dirty much more quickly from allergens like dust, pollen, mold, pet dander and tobacco smoke.
“You want the air to flow free,” Silva says, adding: “Clean filters mean lower energy bills and extended furnace life.”
Reverse ceiling fan direction. When it’s 30 degrees outside, the last thing you’re probably thinking about is your ceiling fan. But it can help you stay warm too.
Look for a small switch next to the motor of your ceiling fan that changes the blades’ direction. In the winter, set the blades to run in reverse to circulate warm air from the ceiling down into the room.
Throughout the year, Silva’s ceiling fans run continuously on low speed. In the winter, the warm air that is being pushed up from the radiators or the hot-air furnace is pushed back down. “I don’t want the fan to cool the air, I want it to move the air,” Silva explains.
These winterizing steps are worth the savings in heating costs and comfort. As Silva points out: “If there’s a draft and you’re uncomfortable, what are you going to do? You’re going to turn your thermostat up, and it’s going to cost you money.”
This article is written by Brenda Richardson from Chicago Tribune and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.