By Rhonda Barfield
None of us would think of leaving a kitchen window wide open in the middle of a frigid winter day. Yet that’s what we do, in effect, if we fail to get our houses weatherproofed against cold weather. I’ve been there; done that, so I know it’s hard to take the time to do what’s needed. But the benefits are worth it: significant cash saved on both utility bills and emergency calls, money and effort saved later on bigger repairs, and a warmer, more comfortable house.
Even if you’re short on time, here’s a basic checklist* that can help make a difference:
- Check your heating system.
- Schedule an appointment for your furnace, and shop around for good deals. When I Googled “furnace fall tune-up St. Charles,” I found an online offer, ordinarily $193 but now $84, which includes an inspection, fall cleaning, and tune-up.
- Clean your ducts. Look for specials in newspaper flyers, or for “top-rated” companies on websites such as Angie’s List. Or clean ducts yourself with the help of your vacuum cleaner’s long extensions.
- Check the duct work in your basement and attic. If it’s coming apart, tape it up with metal foil tape (rather than duct tape!).
- Remove your vent covers and spray foam insulation to close cracks between ductwork and other surfaces.
- Consider installing a programmable thermostat. Or– cheaper, at least in the short run– add “turn down the thermostat tonight” to your daily to-do list.
- Find the air leaks around your windows. Wet your hand with water and run it along your window trim, edges of doors, and baseboards. If you feel something like air blowing through a straw, mark the spot with tape. Then caulk it later.
- Make sure your windows are closed and latched. I learned the hard way, when we moved into this house, that when I pulled the windows to the right, they often opened a small gap on the left. Now I check both, and lock them in place.
- For windows you can keep closed for some time, apply clear weather-stripping tape, which won’t damage the finish or paint, to the edges. Or cover them with window film, which comes in a package along with double-stick tape. We did this in some rooms when we lived in a 4,000-square-foot, 1860s home, and it helped lessen cold drafts.
- If your home has a basement, consider protecting its window wells by covering them with plastic shields. Though these can be pricey, Lowes sells one brand for less than $8.00 each.
- Add weather-proofing to your doors and fireplace. Close your outside door on a dollar bill and try to pull it out. If you can, easily, install stick-on rubber weatherstripping to close the gap.
- Adjust your storm door so it closes easily. Sometimes this is as simple as moving the strike plate– the metal tab with a hole that’s mounted on the jamb– a fraction of an inch. I’ve found ours hard to move or fix, but I make it a point to close the door firmly, especially at night.
- Add a door sweep. These metal or rubber extensions can be screwed or nailed to the bottom of the door to help keep out cold air. I bought one with a pre-stick coating– painless to install.
- Close the flue in your fireplace when it’s not in use. Try putting a sticky note on your refrigerator on nights you have a fire, a reminder to close the flue in the morning.
- Winterize your water systems.
- If your hot water tank’s thermostat is set at more than 120 degrees, turn it down to a comfortable level. That way, the shower’s hot water dispenses at the perfect temperature, with no need to mix it with cold, saving money.
- Drain your hoses, sprinklers, and irrigation systems and turn them off for the winter. Get your attic and roof ready.
- Seal the entrance to your attic, either with a rubber sweep at the bottom of a door, or weather-stripping around a folding ladder entrance.
- Clean gutters of leaves and sticks, and hose them down thoroughly. Install insulation.
- Add pre-cut foam gaskets, which cost about a quarter each, under your switch-plates and over the outlets or switches.
- Check the basement rim joist, which separates your house’s wood frame from the foundation. According to my source (see below), “Nailing foam board with an R-value of 2 to 3.5 to the rim joist and then spraying foam insulation at its edges is the best fix.”
- Consider adding extra insulation to the attic. This keeps warm air from creeping to your roof and causing ice dams.
So . . . will I manage to complete everything on the checklist? Probably not, and chances are you won’t, either. We can do something, though. Even small efforts will translate into saved dollars, plus– on long winter nights– a much cozier house.
*Thanks to www.bostonglobe.com for information and inspiration.
Rhonda Barfield is a professional homemaker, wife to Michael, former homeschool teacher (for 20 years) and mother of Eric (26), Christian (24), Lisa (23) and Mary (20). She’s authored five books: Real-Life Homeschooling: The Stories of 21 Families Who Teach Their Children at Home (Fireside/ Simon & Schuster) and four on saving money on groceries, including Feed Your Family for $12 a Day. She has also written more than 80 published articles. In addition, Rhonda coaches writing students for WriteAtHome.com and teaches piano