Winterizing Your Home
As we near the end of October, now is the time to winterize in the DC area. In fact, whatever the season, it pays to take steps to make your home as energy efficient as possible. The following tips can help subdue the lion of winter energy costs and make your home safer too:
Check for leaks:
Replacing worn weather stripping and caulking are probably the least expensive, simplest, most effective ways to combat high electric bills. Improperly sealed homes cost homeowners 10-15% on the dollar.
Make sure doors and windows are properly sealed. If windows leak, consider replacing them with new, more energy efficient models. Though costly, new windows pay for themselves in energy savings within months. What’s more, new windows are more attractive than older models, improving your home's value as well. Don’t forget about attic and basement windows! If windows leak and replacement is out of the question, consider installing inexpensive heavy-duty, clear plastic to provide temporary relief from bitter wind and cold.
Weather stripping can also be applied around drafty doors. Inexpensive plastic, metal, or wooden draft stoppers can also be screwed or glued to the bottoms of doors. If these methods fail to prevent air leaks, consider replacing the door. Why pay to heat or cool air only to have it escape? If you can fit it into your budget, hire a contractor to perform a blower door test on your home. This test pinpoints the location and severity of air leaks.
Another way that air escapes is through electric wall plugs and switch plates. If air is escaping, purchase simple-to-install pre-cut foam gaskets that fit behind the switch plate.
Close the damper on your fireplace when not in use.
Examine your home’s heating duct system for leaks. The Department of Energy estimates that gaps, cracks, and disconnections in a home’s duct system can cost 25-40% in heating and air conditioning costs. In fact, if your home is ten years or older, you can be sure the ducts were originally sealed with duct tape, which practically guarantees they will eventually flatten or tear.
Close crawlspace vents. If your home has a crawlspace, make sure vents to it are closed during the summer and winter and left open in spring and fall.
Check your heating and air conditioning systems:
Perform regular maintenance inspections on heating and a/c units. Regular service on such devices is akin to oil changes for vehicles. If you don’t service it regularly, don’t be surprised if it breaks. Remember, it’s more cost effective to maintain than it is to repair. Professional service should include cleaning, checking, and lubricating the system, as well as changing dirty, clogged filters.
Replace your heater’s air filter monthly. If the filter is clean, the system will have to work less.
If your heating system is old, consider updating it. Modern gas furnaces achieve energy efficiency ratings of 97%. If your system was installed prior to 1977, your unit is probably only 50-60% energy efficient.
Use your setback thermostat. Houses built in California, where energy efficiency is crucial, are required to have them. A setback thermostat turns the heat or the a/c down when you are away at work or sleeping. The unit automatically sets the temperature at a more comfortable level when you are home during the day.
In winter, reverse the switch on your ceiling fans so they blow upward, toward the ceiling. In the summer, ceiling fans are ideal because they direct air downward, making the room’s temperature up to four degrees cooler. However, in the winter, the blades should move air upward to circulate heat without chilling you with a breeze.
Make sure your furnace is in good working order. Check that the furnace filter is clean. Replace it if it isn’t. Ensure that the thermostat and pilot lights work properly. Purchase a kerosene heater in case of emergency. If you live in a cold region, a generator may even be advisable.
Insulate your attic. In an older home, this is the most efficient way to reduce home heating costs.
Trim trees and remove dead branches to prevent weather-related accidents. Clean your gutters and check your chimney.
Keep snow and ice from accumulating around your garage door. This will allow it to close securely and keep it from warping.
Make sure steps and handrails are in good condition. Broken stairs and banisters become dangerous when covered with ice or snow.