7 Easy Steps to Winterize Your House

Get Ready to Weather the Cold, and Save Energy and Money

Properly winterizing your abode may only take a few minutes, and can save you some serious money in heating costs.© ecotec-systems.com

As you’ve no doubt noticed, winter is right around the corner. So it’s a good idea to make sure your home is buttoned down and ready to face the cold ahead.

Properly winterizing your abode may only take a few minutes, and can save you some serious money in heating costs, as well as protection of your investment. These days, we’re guessing that sounds pretty good.

Here are some tips to get you started:

1. Put Up Your Storm Doors and Windows

It may seem like a pain to haul them out of the attic or basement, but if you have storm doors and windows don’t forget to install them. If you don’t have them, it might be worth getting an estimate, because the simple act of installing a storm door can decrease energy loss through the opening by 45%.

Look for Energy Star-certified models if you are buying new. And don’t forget to make sure your storm windows are securely fastened—they don’t do much good if you accidentally leave them in the "up" position. It can also help to put plastic film over windows on the inside of your house. The kits are cheap, easy to install, and may surprise you with how invisible the plastic becomes after going over it with a hair dryer (as directed).

2. Dodge the Drafts

One of the most important things you can do when getting ready for winter is to make sure you seal up your home as tightly as possible (at this point, don’t worry about sealing indoor air pollutants in with you—it’s much better to seal up tight, and later judiciously vent by opening a window or turning on a fan). According to the U.S. Department of Energy, drafts can waste 5% to 30% of your energy use, and that can add up quick.

And drafty rooms are uncomfortable, too. Get draft snakes for leaky doors or windows, or—better yet—install weatherstripping. Caulk up any cracks, holes or worn seals. Use the incense test: carefully move a lit stick along walls; where the smoke wavers, you have air sneaking in.

3. Install a Smart Programmable Thermostat

Most households spend a whopping 50% to 70% of their energy budgets on heating and cooling, so minding the thermostat is one of the fastest ways to save. For every degree you turn the heat down, you’ll save between 1% and 3% off your heating bill.

A programmable thermostat makes this effortless, and you can save even more by customizing the program to your lifestyle. They’re easier than programming a VCR, and the average family saves $180 a year with one—yet they only cost around $50 and are a quick to install.

4. Check Those Filters

Most manufacturers suggest changing or cleaning furnace filters once a month during heating season, so mark that on your calendar. Dirty filters restrict airflow and increase energy use.

Unfortunately, most people don’t know that those disposable fiberglass filters you get at hardware or drugstores trap a measly 10% to 40% of debris. Much better are electronic filters, which trap around 88%, or even higher. The good news is discount models start as low as $50.

5. Give Your Heating System a Tune-Up

Just as cars need periodic tune-ups, so does HVAC equipment. Save up to 5% on heating costs with a properly cleaned and maintained system.

Many utilities offer free annual checkups—if you request them before peak heating time. Your heating contractor or manufacturer may offer a service plan as well.

6. Winterize Your A/C and Water Lines

The last thing you want to do is leave water in your cooling systems or hoses to freeze. So drain them, and make sure you don’t have excess water pooled in equipment. If you have box air conditioners, take them out of windows and store them away. If your central A/C has a water shut-off valve, go ahead and turn that off. If you are in any doubt about what to do, consult with your equipment’s manual, or on the company website, or call a representative.

Similarly, make sure any garden hoses are drained and stowed away. Turn off exterior water spigots and address any leaks.

7. Boost Insulation

If you want to save more money on heating this year, see if you can boost your insulation. You may be able to insulate exposed hot water pipes, for example, or get a jacket for your water heater (you can also save money by turning that down). Make sure the floor of your attic is insulated, and the ceiling of your basement.

If you’re feeling ambitious, check behind power outlets to see if there’s any insulation in your walls. If you want to invest in saving money later, it may be worth it to get an estimate to have insulation blown in by a pro.

BRIAN CLARK HOWARD is the Home and Eco-Tips Editor of The Daily Green.