Winter is coming and it's time to prepare your home for the coming chill. There are a few things you can do to help take the bite out of what lies ahead. Sealing leaks in windows and doors and checking your furnace, water heater and chimney will help to make your home more energy efficient, keep your family comfortable and hopefully lower those heating bills.
Step 1: Seal the Inside from the Outside
Look for any cracks or openings in your foundation, exterior walls and around pipes. Seal them with exterior caulk or foam insulation. Clear away leaves and other debris from the foundation to make sure you haven't overlooked any cracks. Check the roof for problems such as broken tiles and shingles that could become a problem when snow comes. Clean out gutters and downspouts and make sure they're working properly.
Home insulation usually lasts up to 50 years, but weatherstripping often wears out after just a few. Replacing the weatherstripping on outside-facing doorframes and windows can help you save money and energy in the months ahead. Inspect door and window frames for gaps and holes that may need sealing. Remove any previous weatherstripping and clean the area with mild detergent and water. Always remove old weatherstripping and any adhesive before installing new weatherstripping.
Foam tape weatherstripping installs easily and usually comes with peel-off backing. Use a utility knife to cut the foam to the correct length. Peel off the backing and press the stripping against the doorstop just behind the latch area.
Step 2: Inspect Chimney and Fireplace
For safety reasons, you should examine your chimney each fall. Make sure it is clear of any bird or animal nests. Check to see that the flue opens and closes fully and that it can be locked in either position. You should also check to see if the chimney drafts properly by lighting a small fire and watching the smoke rise up and out. If you have an obstruction, clean your chimney using special rods and brushes designed for this purpose.
If your fireplace leaks air you can cut a piece of fiberglass insulation and place it behind the fireplace doors. Just remember to remove it before building a fire. Additionally, check the fire brick in the fireplace for any open mortar joints. Have any open joints repaired immediately; fire can spread through open joints into the wall.
Step 3: Install Storm Windows
Windows are a common culprit of wintertime heat loss. If you have single-pane windows, remove screens and install double- or triple-pane storm windows before winter. Be sure to pull down both the top and bottom storms to help prevent heat loss. If they're stuck or hard to pull down, a shot of WD-40 will do the trick.
Step 4: Tune Up Your Furnace
Check the condition of your furnace in late fall. Turn off the electricity and gas, and then use a wet/dry vacuum to clean the entire burner area. Clean the thermocouple with a cloth and use a precision duster with compressed air to clean the pilot light. Replace any disposable air filters and clean washable ones with mild detergent and water. Clean fan blades with a brush and lubricate the fan shaft. If the motor has oiling ports, apply a few drops of heavy-duty electric motor oil. Don't over-oil your furnace and never use automotive motor oil or 3-in-1 household oil.
Clean furnace ducts thoroughly using a high-powered vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter. The HEPA filter will prevent large amounts of dust from scattering throughout your house. If your home has a forced-air furnace, have the ducts vacuumed regularly. For a furnace with a built-in humidifier, clean the humidifier with a de-scaler to make sure it's working properly.
Patch any leaks in your ductwork to make your heating system more efficient. To seal joints, wipe dust, oily film and grease from the ducts with a clean cloth. Apply foam sealant using a natural-bristle paintbrush at least 1" on each side of the joint. Wrap ducts with pipe insulation.
Installing a programmable thermostat will help you save energy during the winter.
Because your furnace is always running during the winter, use high-efficiency pleated air filters. These filters allow your furnace to pump cleaner air into your home. Their pleated design increases the filter's surface area, capturing more lint, dust, pollen, mold and mildew. And pleated filters only need to be replaced every three months compared to every month for regular filters.
Step 5: Winterize Your Water Heater
Because water heaters can be inefficient, it is important to insulate your hot water tank with a water heater blanket. Also, check the water temperature of your water heater. A good energy-efficient temperature is around 120 degrees.
Many people believe that if you're leaving home for an extended period of time, that you should shut down your water heater and drain it. However, it's never a good idea to turn off your water heater completely. Just turn it down. Turn the water heater's thermostat to the "vacation" setting or a similar low setting. The pilot light will remain lit, maintaining a slightly warm water temperature within the unit until you return.
Step 6: Insulate Exposed Piping
Using a pipe insulation kit to add insulation around accessible water pipes will save you energy, lower your heating bills and prevent pipes from freezing during the winter months.
Look for water pipes that pass through spaces where cold drafts are likely, such as crawl spaces, garages and attics. Check the pipe leading directly from the hot water heater and don't ignore hot water lines. Though slower to freeze they are more likely to burst than cold-water lines.
Before insulating, you must measure the length of each section of pipe. Total the lengths for each section and add about 10 percent more for waste. This is how much insulation you will need. Measuring the diameter is a bit more tricky. One way is to take two short boards and place them across each side of the pipe. Adjust the boards until they are parallel to each other, then measure the gap between them. Another method for measuring diameter is to measure the pipe's circumference with a retractable tape measure and divide the number by 3.14 (pi).
Make sure the pipe insulation kit you choose includes adhesive tape or contact cement for sealing. The most common pipe insulation is a tubular foam sleeve slit lengthwise. Tubes without slits are designed for installation over new piping, but they can easily be slit with a sharp utility knife.
Open the pipe insulation along the slit, press it onto the pipe, and seal it with an adhesive tape or contact cement to prevent summertime condensation.
When using adhesive to bond seams, don't insulate pipes while they are hot. Wait 36 hours after sealing the insulation before circulating hot water through the pipes.
After insulating the straight sections of the pipe, you'll need to insulate the valves too. Preformed valve covers are the easiest and most effective option. Simply fit the two halves over the valves and seal the edges with adhesive tape. For hard-to-cover valves, you can use strips of foam or fiberglass designed to wrap around pipes or fittings.
To provide maximum protection for pipes that are very vulnerable to freezing, you can add electrical pipe heating cable. Prior to adding foam insulation, the cable is attached straight along the pipe or wrapped around it. Once it's connected to the power supply, the cable generates just enough heat to keep the water running through your pipes all winter.
If using electrical pipe heating cable, make sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions for safe and proper installation.
Step 7: Easy Ways to Warm
There are more easy ways to make and keep your home warm in the winter. By simply reversing the spin of your ceiling fans and setting them on low speed, you'll send warm air down into your living space. In winter, your fans should spin in a counter-clockwise direction. Most fans have a small switch to set the spin direction. If yours doesn't, you may want to upgrade to a new energy-efficient ceiling fan. Using your ceiling fans to circulate warm air in the winter saves money and keeps your furnace from having to work as hard.
Keeping blinds and curtains open on sunny days will naturally warm up any room. Closing them at night will help keep the heat in and the chill out. Save costs and concentrate warmth in your home by only heating rooms you use. If your heating system has vents, close the ones in unused areas of your home. Use a humidifier — just adding moisture to the air will make your home feel warmer. And as an added bonus, humidifiers also cut down on carpet shocks from dry static electricity.
Alright! You’re done. Your house is now ready for the cold season.
Project Shopping List
Here’s what you’ll need to complete this project successfully.
- Exterior caulk
- Foam insulation
- Foam tape weatherstripping
- Mild detergent
- Utility knife
- Fiberglass insulation
- Storm windows
- Wet/Dry vacuum
- Clean cloths
- Precision duster
- Furnace filters
- Heavy-duty electric motor oil
- Protective goggles
- Dust mask
- High-powered vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter
- Foam sealant
- Natural bristle brush
- Pipe insulation
- Pipe insulation kit
- Programmable thermostat (optional)
- Water heater blanket
- Tape measure
- Two short boards
- Retractable tape measure (optional)
- Preformed valve covers
- Adhesive tape or contact cement
- Electrical pipe heating cable (optional)