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It happens every winter. The temperatures drop, the wind picks up in front of that snowstorm and before you know it, that door you could swear you fixed last year is letting in enough cold air to turn your house into a refrigerator. Do you have to fight against all those drafts again this year?

Of course, the surefire route to ending drafts would be door and window replacement. But with home heating bills on the rise and the holidays coming up, now might not be the best time to jump into an expensive home improvement project. That leaves a little do-it-yourself work to get you through until spring.

Finding the sneaky gaps in your home heating envelope

When cooler air starts sneaking around your house, pay attention to where it gets in. This can be done very easily with the candle trick. First, turn off all fans, heaters and the like in your home. This helps to ensure that the only air moving is the drafts coming into your house. Then light a candle with a tall wick and carefully walk through your home, pausing at windows and doors. If the flame holds steady, there isn’t much air disturbance. If the flame flickers, you have just found a draft.

The two secrets to keeping drafts out

Now that you know where the drafts are, what can you do about them? There are two easy, quick fixes that can make your home cozier, and they don’t cost nearly as much as you might be thinking.

1. Weather stripping.

Available at any home improvement store and many discount stores, inexpensive foam weatherstripping can show an immediate difference in reducing drafts. Most weather stripping of this type has an adhesive side that sticks readily to the places where doors and windows meet the frames, thus cutting off the small gaps that allow air to flow through. This type of weather stripping helps but doesn’t last very long, so it might be a good idea to stock up on extra rolls.

2. Caulk.

For those areas where weather stripping won’t do, caulk will. Oil or resin-based caulk is often the most inexpensive caulk but also the least durable, so go with this if you are planning on replacing your windows within a few years. Caulk carefully around the joints, such as where frames and windowsills meet siding, or anywhere there is an opening, such as holes for pipes or ducts. This can help seal out drafts and optimize home heating where using weatherstripping isn’t a feasible option.

Consider window replacement

Keep in mind that these are temporary fixes. They work quite well for the short term, but don’t expect long-term results. Get through this winter with these solutions, and consider new sets of replacement windows and doors in the spring as an investment not only in your comfort, but in your bottom line and home resale value.

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Shannon Dauphin Lee

Shannon Dauphin Lee is a journalist and occasional novelist with a serious weakness for real estate. When she's not writing, she and her husband are taking road trips to explore covered bridges, little wineries and quaint bed-and-breakfast inns in their beloved Pennsylvania.