WOULD YOU LEAVE your dining room window wide open all winter? Not preparing your house for the season is the equivalent of doing just that, according to Bill Stack, the energy-efficiency spokesman for the utility company NSTAR. “People can relate to that analogy,” Stack says. Most can also relate to the Department of Energy statistic that making your home more airtight and efficient can save you up to 25 percent on utility bills. Another benefit: Winterizing can stave off later repairs, according to Angie Hicks, cofounder of the consumer website Angie’s List. “We hear this time and time again,” says Hicks, “that a lot of big emergency calls are really the result of skipping out on basic maintenance: cleaning gutters, keeping the roof in good shape, insulating, caulking. Sometimes they take a little bit of time, but they’re not typically real expensive items, and some are things you can probably do yourself if you just know what needs to be done.”
Knowing what needs to be done and doing it, of course, can be different matters. But even if you’ve neglected winterizing your home until now, there’s still time to get enough work in that it will be buttoned up for those frigid days to come.
CAULK TRIM AND BASEBOARDS
“For the typical homeowner,” says Brian Kimbel, a department supervisor in the Natick Home Depot, “just dealing with drafts you can feel will be a major improvement.” The first step? Ross Spinelli, a commercial sales specialist at Lowe’s in Woburn, recommends moistening your hand with water and running it along the edges of interior window and door trim and at the top of baseboards on exterior walls. “You’ll feel a draft like wind blowing through a straw,” he says. Caulking that space can make a significant difference. An eighth of an inch might not seem like a very big gap, but multiply it by, say, 1,000 linear feet of baseboard, and it adds up to more than 10 feet of space in your house that air can travel through. “If that’s not caulked, that’s a big, long, continuous gap,” says Steven Strickland, president of Earthworks Group, planning and design consultants in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina. “We tend to throw money at the problem in the form of heating oil, but all of that heat will just escape out of the envelope [around the house] until we start sealing the envelope.”
INSPECT YOUR DOORS
According to the US Department of Energy, as much as 35 percent of the air leakage in a home can come from small openings in doors, windows, and fireplaces. If your storm door jiggles or doesn’t close firmly, you’re losing that insulating pocket of air between it and the exterior door. Most storm doors have an adjustable strike plate — that’s the metal tab with a hole in it that’s mounted on the jamb — and simply moving it up or down a fraction of an inch can keep the door from blowing off its hinges in a sharp wind.
Door sweeps — long metal or rubber extensions that are nailed on to close the gap between the bottom of the door and the flooring — should be installed on basement and attic entries as well as on exterior doors.
Test your door for gaps, Spinelli recommends, by closing it on a dollar bill and then trying to pull the bill out. “If it slides out easily,” he says, “you’re losing money through that door.” Add stick-on rubber weatherstripping around the edges for a tighter seal.
READY THE WINDOWS
Simply locking your windows can not only discourage burglars but also keep the cold wind out. “In a huge number of the houses I visit,” says Ian Rex, owner of The Energy Hound, a certified energy auditor in Beverly, “the windows are open about 2 millimeters at the top, and the homeowners can’t see it.” Turning the latch, he says, “sucks the two panels together so they’re sealed.” If your window locks don’t align properly, check the top pane — it may just need to be pushed up a bit.
If you have older windows you never open or patio doors you don’t use, there are two ways to seal them for the season. One is by applying clear weatherstripping tape along the edges; it’s effective at keeping cold air out but doesn’t damage the finish on walls or windows when it’s removed. The second option is to cover unused egresses with window film. Frost King, 3M, and other companies make this product for a little less than $20 a package, and though it may not be beautiful, it does help keep winter outdoors, where it belongs. Apply it with the double-stick tape provided, then use a hair dryer to shrink it tight.
Remove any window-mounted air-conditioning units. If that’s not practical because of the unit’s weight or for storage issues, or if you have a wall-mounted AC, purchase a cover for it. But, cautions Rex, “just buying something that goes over it doesn’t do anything unless it’s sealed at the edges.” He prefers weatherstripping tape for the job.Continued...