Dear EarthTalk: With colder weather on the way, what are some cheap and easy ways to winterize my house that will save energy?
—Millie D., Sarasota, FL
If your home is cold and drafty in the winter, you owe it to yourself and your family to do something about it. And by making a few small upgrades—some of which you can do yourself — you’ll also save energy and money.
The first line of defense against the cold coming in is to check for drafts around windows, doors and any other openings. When you find drafts, seal them with weatherstripping or caulk. Place door sweeps or draft stoppers at the bottom of exterior doors to prevent cold air from seeping in. If you have single-pane windows, consider using window film or adding insulating window panels. Even heavy curtains can help.
Another important element of keeping your home warm and cozy in winter is insulation. The North American Insulation Manufacturers Association (NAIMA) estimates that some 90 percent of U.S. homes are under-insulated, wasting energy and money and decreasing our comfort.
“If all U.S. homes were fitted with insulation based on the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC),” says Boston University environmental health researcher Jonathan Levy, “residential electricity use nationwide would drop by about five percent and natural gas use by more than 10 percent,”
It’s hard to know how much insulation coats your house—and where it is in your walls and roof—if you didn’t build it. But certain telltale signs may mean you need more. If you feel drafts even through windows and doors that are well sealed, the cold air may be coming through the walls in spots where there is little or no insulation. Another sign of too little or inadequate insulation is when different rooms in the house are colder than others. Getting an inspection from a local reputable insulation installer is a great way to get started taking care of this common and easily fixed problem. While you’re at it, get a look at your roof to make sure you aren’t missing any roof tiles, which can also let cold air in and heated air out. If you can’t climb up there yourself easily, get a roofing contractor to give you a free inspection, and make sure they take pictures to back up their reporting to you.
Another way to boost the heat and efficiency of your heating system, whether you have an oil or gas burning furnace, electric baseboard or anything in between, is to get it serviced by a HVAC professional who can fine tune it and alert you to any problems in the system.
There are lots of other ways to warm things up in your home this winter without breaking the bank. If you have ceiling fans, switch them to the reverse (clockwise) direction to help circulate warm air that rises to the ceiling. If you don’t already have one, get a programmable thermostat and use it to lower the temperature when you’re not at home or overnight when you’re asleep.
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