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energy efficiency winter preparation

Fall is not far behind when you notice the sun hangs a little lower in the sky, trees cast shade in different places than they did last month, the sun comes up later, and nightfall comes earlier. That first refreshing nip in the air makes you want to put on a sweater. That is the time to winterize your house to reduce drafts and heat loss over winter.

You can have a specialist come and winterize your home, but much of it is DIY. After a weekend or two, you will be prepared for cold weather. Although this is called ‘winterizing’, it is just as effective at keeping hot air out in summer. Overall, it makes your house easier and less expensive to heat and cool.

Basic caulking and weatherstripping

The first thing you want to do is caulk around doors and windows inside and out. The smallest opening will let your warmed air out and cool air in. Baseboards and other trim should also be caulked. Clear caulk does not interfere with your interior paint job, and if you decide to repaint, you can go right over the caulk.

Another simple project is to weatherstrip your exterior doors. Weatherstripping wears out after a few years with the constant opening and closing of a door. Check them all. Make sure you can’t see outside. You can also hold a candle flame near the door to see if it moves. If it does, there’s a draft. You can do this with your windows, too. Sometimes you don’t need a candle – you can just feel a draft with your hand. That’s not good!

You may need a sweep at the bottom of exterior doors if the door does not fit snugly against the threshold. These are easy to install. I’ve done it myself. Also consider a storm door for added protection.

Maintain the heating system

If you have forced hot air, tune up the furnace or boiler. Your heating company will do that for you. Like tuning up a car, it makes your system work more smoothly and efficiently. A tune up in fall could help avoid a disastrous event over the winter, when you really don’t want something to go wrong. Be sure to replace the filter every year for the most efficient operation, too.

Check the ductwork for cracks and seal it. It’s also a good idea to insulate the ductwork, since much of it runs through unheated areas, such as crawl spaces, attics and basements. Consider getting the ductwork cleaned professionally if you can’t remember the last time it was done or if you have just purchased this home.

If you have a fireplace, consider a glass front with vents or an insert. Fireplace flus are notorious for leaking. They will suck the hot air out of your house and send it right outside. Clean and seal the chimney, and check for loose bricks.

If you heat with a woodstove, clean the chimney out every year. Replace gaskets to make sure it is airtight. A leak in a door will make the wood burn faster, which is a waste of money and energy.

Insulation

Heat rises, and if the insulation in your attic is thin, your money is going out the roof. I added extra insulation a few years ago, and the difference was unbelievable. I had to heat differently and sleep with different covers. The house was that much warmer!

Add insulation between the joists of the basement ceiling. Anywhere a cold area meets the warmth of your house needs insulation.

Check for drafts around light switches and sockets, too. Think of those as holes in your wall where heat can come and go. Remove the switch plate and add spray foam or use some leftover fiberglass pieces if you have them.

A few simple, inexpensive things can save you hundreds of dollars in heating (and cooling!). That means you have reduced your carbon footprint, lowered potential CO2 emissions, and increased the value of your home. Fall is the time to winterize.

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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.