Winter is here… and the cold drafts that come with it. Here are some of the best ways to stay comfortable when the temperature drops.
Get an energy audit
The first thing to know about winterizing is that the more drafty or leak-prone your house happens to be, the more work you’ll have to do to get it ready for the coldest season of the year. One way to figure out whether your house needs a lot or a little bit of work is to get an energy audit.
Energy audits are often provided for free by your utility company. They involve a visit to your house from a licensed professional, who will comb over your doors, windows, heating and cooling systems, and many other parts of your house, then give you an assessment of how much energy you’re wasting (or saving) every month, in addition to a list of ways you can improve your home’s energy efficiency. So if you’re really not sure where to start when it comes to winterizing your place, asking for an energy audit and then implementing their suggestions can be a great way to get your foot in the door.
Reverse your fans
You may remember from science class that hot air tends to rise while cool air tends to sink. Believe it or not, your ceiling fans operate according to the laws of physics — when you look up at your fans in the summertime, they should be running in a counter-clockwise direction in order to correctly redistribute the cold and warm air in the room.
Ideally, you want your fans to do the opposite in the wintertime than what they do in the summer. They should be pushing the warm air that’s hovering up near your ceiling down toward the ground, where you can enjoy it. Many ceiling fans have a switch on them that you can flip to have them run clockwise in the wintertime; if you can flip this switch, now is the time to do it.
One major source of drafts and air leakage in your home is through its windows, perhaps not surprisingly. There’s a lot you can do, however, to minimize that leakage and keep your house warm and snug in the wintertime; one of the most basic fixes is simply to recaulk your windows if the caulking is cracked or peeling in places. It’s cheap and pretty easy to do yourself, and you’ll be glad you took the time when the wind starts howling at your windowpanes.
Replace weatherstripping on doors
Those little strips at the bottom, top, and edges of a door that brush against the floor when you open and close it — especially for doors that lead outside — have a name: it’s called weatherstripping, and it’s designed to keep the air from leaking out from around your door when you don’t want that air escaping. Weatherstripping usually doesn’t last nearly as long as your door does, so if you see that it’s cracked or patchy, it could be time to replace it and ensure that your door’s seal is seamless.
… Or just eliminate the drafts
Of course, you don’t necessarily need weatherstripping; there are other ways to keep the drafts from seeping around your door edges. Placing a fabric draft strip at the bottom of your door can work wonders to keep the warm air in — even a blanket or towel will work in a pinch. The disadvantage to this solution is you’ll have to keep moving the draft plugger to block the bottom of the door every time it opens, but if you’re trying to be frugal about your winterizing, it can be a decent alternative to replacing weatherstripping.
Close your fireplace flue/install doors
Not everyone has a fireplace or uses it in the wintertime, and if you aren’t using it, then the chimney is just another place where cold air can seep into your house and warm air can escape. You can put a simple stop to this by closing the flue of your fireplace to make sure that there’s no air moving out through this channel. Another option is to install glass or metal doors in front of your fireplace, leaving the flue open; the doors will block enough air exchange that your house should stay noticeably warmer, and you can still use the fireplace in the wintertime.
Add a chimney balloon if not using your chimney
A chimney balloon is exactly what it sounds like: An inflatable piece of plastic that blocks your chimney when you aren’t using it. (Do not use a chimney balloon if your fireplace will remain operational in the wintertime!) You might be surprised by how well the plastic keeps cold air out and warm air in, so if you know you won’t be lighting up the fireplace until springtime, plug it up with a chimney balloon and save some money on your heating bills.
Put up your storm windows and doors
Many older homes have storm windows or doors, which add a literal extra layer of protection to your windows and doors, making air exchange more difficult between outside and inside. If you have storm windows or doors to install, do so ASAP so that you can stay nice and warm when the temperature really drops.
… Or use plastic
Plastic sheeting doesn’t work on doors, but you’d be surprised what a thin layer of plastic over your windows can do in terms of trapping heat inside and cold air outside. You can buy kits to cover your windows at the hardware store; they’re relatively easy to install yourself, covering your windows and preventing too much air exchange in this notoriously drafty area of the house. They’re a cheap and effective way to keep your house more energy efficient in the wintertime, especially since they still let in plenty of sunlight to warm your house organically.
Change drapes and rugs for heavier versions
Years ago, it was very common to have two sets of curtains and rugs for your home: One for the summer months and one for the winter months. You can tap into the brilliance of those who lived through many winters before you were even born by taking a page out of their book and buying a second set of drapes or rugs that are thicker and heavier for the wintertime. This will help trap more heat inside and keep the cold air out in terms of the drapes, and provide more cushion and heat for your feet in terms of the rugs, so if you’re interested in seeing how much old-timers really did know about staying snug in the wintertime, give it a try.
Check your insulation
The insulation in your house could be in perfect condition, or it might need an upgrade — but you won’t know which is the case unless you have it checked. An energy audit usually also includes a look at the insulation and recommendations about how to treat it, but you can also call in an expert for a consultation and ask for an official opinion. Older homes typically have less-robust insulation, especially homes that were only used in the summertime (for example). Depending on when your home was built and when the insulation was last updated, it might be time to address it.
Insulate your pipes
Although pipes can keep a lot of the ambient heat from hot water inside of them, some of it still escapes through the walls of the pipes. This isn’t a huge deal in the summertime, but it can mean a big bump in your water heating bills in the wintertime as your heater works to keep up with your hot-water demands. Pipe insulators are like little blankets that wrap around your pipes and help keep the heat from the hot water in the water instead of leaching out the side of the pipe, saving you money and ensuring your shower, bath, or dishwashing experience is just as hot as you want it to be.
Add a blanket to your water heater
Pipes aren’t the only place in your water system where heat can escape from the water; the very walls of your water heater can also allow warmth to flee, and then the water heater has to work harder to keep the temperature of the water steady. Many manufacturers make blankets specifically designed to fit your water heater that fit over the top and keep the heat from the hot water from escaping; you usually don’t need one in the summertime, but it can really make a difference in your water heating efficiency in the wintertime.
Change your furnace filter
The longevity of your furnace filter really depends on the type of filter, the type of furnace, and other factors surrounding your house, like how many pets you have. It’s a good idea to replace your filter every month. This is an easy way to keep your furnace operating at its peak and keep you warm.
Tune your furnace
If your furnace isn’t performing to the best of its ability and you’ve already checked the filter, it’s possible that a quick tune-up might make a big difference in how well it does its job. Call in a professional and ask them to take a look at your furnace and make any necessary small adjustments to get it running in peak condition.
Get a programmable thermostat
Programmable thermostats can help you manage the temperature of your home for the times when you aren’t there during the day, or overnight when you don’t need the house to be as warm as it is when you’re awake and moving around inside. If you and the rest of your household are gone during the morning and early afternoon hours, then you can program the thermostat to drop the temperature a few degrees and slowly kick it back up just before you arrive home. And maintaining a cooler house at night can promote better sleep, so if you don’t want to adjust everything by hand, programming your thermostat to power down around the time you usually go to bed can be an easy way to manage everything automatically.
Replace inefficient windows/doors
If you’ve been dealing with drafty windows or doors for several winter seasons, it might be time to go ahead and think about replacing some of those scofflaws with newer, more tightly sealed versions that will ensure you’re not leaking all your warm air outside the house. This is definitely a more expensive fix, but new windows and doors (especially high-quality ones) can last for years, so it’s worth it if you’re tired of sealing and re-sealing those outlets to the outside and want them to stay sealed up for a change.
Shut up some rooms
Homes with a lot of rooms are lovely for many reasons, but let’s say you’re not expecting any guests this winter and you’ve got a guest room or two that’s normally open. Do you really need to heat it? Nope! Dust it out, close the doors, and let it get as cold as it’s going to get until you need it again. This can save you significant amounts of energy, not only because you’re not heating the entire house, but also because those rooms can serve as a buffer between the great outdoors and the rest of the house.
Layer your clothes
Remember when you were growing up and complained about how cold the house was in the wintertime? Did your parents turn up the thermostat … or did they tell you to just go put on a sweater? Turns out Mom and Dad were right about one thing: It’s a lot more energy-efficient for you to add some layers to your body than it is to heat an entire room, so break out the sweaters, cardigans, hoodies, and other garments that facilitate layering. You can even break out some extra blankets from the closet and put them on the couch to encourage snuggling and sharing body heat if you feel so inclined.
Use the sun
The south and west sides of your house are likely to see the most sunlight during the winter months, and you can harness some of that energy and use it to heat your own home if you’re smart. Open the blinds or curtains on those sides of the home during the day to allow the sun to seep into your house, then make sure you close them at night to trap some of the heat. Keep it up throughout the winter and your kids might not even notice that you haven’t cranked up the thermostat much!
Baking — whether you’re baking bread, pies, cakes, cookies, or something entirely different — not only smells great, but it can be a lovely way to use ambient energy to heat your home during the winter months. Obviously, you don’t want to leave the oven on 24/7, but if you’re already baking regularly, then you can open the oven door when your goods are finished to let the heat permeate through the kitchen and the rest of the house. And if you don’t already have an established baking habit, maybe it’s time to start a new hobby.
Winterizing to keep your home warm is different for every property and every homeowner, so not all of these tips are going to apply to everybody. But if you get started now, you’ll be safe and warm inside when those cold winter winds really start to blow!