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In cold climates, it’s that time of year to think about buttoning up your house to keep it and you warm. Actually, it’s been so mild in New Mexico that I haven’t given it much thought, but with a stiff wind last night, I realized a couple windows need some caulking.

The point of winterizing your house is to keep your pricey heated air in and cold air out. You want to reduce air infiltration as much as you can, especially in older houses with parts that shift. Newer homes, especially of energy efficient construction, eliminate thermal bridging, which is where the wall studs reach the outside wall. Heat will travel right through the wall and out. An exterior layer of rigid insulation between the wall and the siding takes care of that heat loss. This is a common practice in high performance building, but a very expensive way to remedy heat loss in an older home.

Caulking and weatherstripping

Two simple and inexpensive things to do are caulking and weatherstripping. Caulk around the frames of all windows and doors, inside and out. Outside, you want to protect the house from the elements as well as reduce air infiltration. Weatherstrip around door frames to make sure there is a tight seal. Since doors get so much use year round, weatherstripping is likely to wear down or get bent, which lets cold air in. Check all exterior doors and replace what’s necessary.

Attic, basement, and crawlspace inspection

Heat rises, and if the insulation in your attic is thin, you may as well open all your windows while you turn up your thermostat! Your attic space should have at least 12” of insulation. If you can see the joists at all, you need to insulate. I blew in 9” over my existing insulation, and I felt the results that very night. The house was warmer than it had ever been! You can also add batts, but be sure there is not a vapor barrier (the paper side), which will trap moisture and create condensation problems.

Insulate beneath your first floor, too, in the basement or crawl space. We build on concrete slabs here, but foam board insulation is put down first to keep heat from being drawn out and into the ground. Wherever there is a difference in temperature, there will be air movement that will cost you money by increasing your heating bill.

Ducts and furnace filters

Seal and insulate your ductwork. Most of it runs in unheated spaces, and again, the temperature difference will make your warmed air move into that cold space rapidly. Vacuum your ducts, too, for better indoor air quality. Think of the dust and dirt that has accumulated in them over the summer! That stuff will get blown into your home and could create health problems.

Clean and/or replace your furnace filter. Air needs to move through it, and if it’s clogged with dust and dirt, the furnace will not perform at its best capacity. A HEPA filter will trap small airborne particles, which will keep your indoor air cleaner than a traditional filter will. An electrostatic filter is permanent, reducing waste. It can be washed and reinstalled. It’s pricey, but will last a long time and keeps trash out of the landfill.

If you have an old furnace, it may need replacing. New furnaces use your fuel more efficiently, saving you money while you are more comfortable.

Energy efficiency outside as well as in

Clean your gutters of leaves and other debris. Ice that builds up in a gutter can melt and seep into the house quietly ruining the walls. It can also back up under your shingles and ruin your roof decking.

Get professional help

Some of these projects are DIY depending on how handy you are. You may need to hire a contractor. If so, check their references! I speak from personal experience. It can’t hurt to get an energy audit to see exactly how to improve your efficiency. Sometimes your utility will do one, or you can hire a professional auditor. A report will tell you the best way to save money and get a quick return on your investment, from caulking to installing renewable energy.

Check for tax credits, too. Your utility or city might offer credits or incentives to cut energy use. Check the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE) and Energy Star. There are financial benefits aside from saving money on your fuel bills!

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Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer has been living and building green for over 35 years. Nan’s emphasis on the BuildDirect blog is about how to make your dollar stretch further, while also moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, as well as upcoming and existing technology to help us live in an ecologically-friendly way. Nan also authors posts on the website of her seed business, sweetly seeds.