Winterizing Tips for Your Home

By Rickie Harvey
As published in The West Roxbury Transcript
Thursday, November 19, 2009

As the cold weather moves in, many of us in West Roxbury, particularly those living in older houses, once again try to ignore the frigid drafts we feel when sitting near a window or the way the floor just inside our front doors always feels significantly chillier than elsewhere. We also start to worry about how our utility bills skyrocket over the winter months.

According to the Department of Energy, on average, approximately 43 percent of household energy costs go toward heating (and cooling, if you have AC) our homes. In our older houses and with the New England climate, it is likely that for many of us it is well above 50 percent.

What does this mean for your house? Well, it helps to have an understanding of where your house uses and loses energy. In a two-story house with a basement and attic, you want to keep heat in the occupied areas; this means sealing between the basement and first floor, between the second floor and attic, and at windows and doors. It means taking advantage of the energy you do use.

You can take action on your own to better seal and insulate your home against the cold. If you keep heat from escaping and cold from seeping in, you won’t be expending unneeded energy, and you can watch your energy bills go down. For those who weren’t able to attend our Winterizing Workshop earlier in the month, here are a few of the simple ways we illustrated to help you save energy and save money. You can find a more complete list is at our website, www.westroxburysavesenergy.org.

Chimneys: If you leave your chimney flue open when you don’t have a fire (or smoldering embers), warm air escapes 24 hours a day and the effect is similar to leaving a window wide open in the winter. If the flue is closed but not tightly, warm air still rises through it. Also, when you are using your fireplace, be sure to re-open the flue and to turn down your thermostat so you aren’t doing double duty heating your home.

Windows: Close and latch tightly all windows. Often, if windows are just closed but not locked, they leave a slim opening at the top through which cold air seeps. Close storm windows. If you don’t have storms, King Shade on Centre Street can help you decide what will work best for your home; many options exist. Finally, remove and store window air conditioners and fans in the winter months. If you can’t do this, cover them to minimize leakage.

Doors: If your doors to the outside don’t already have a “sweep” at the bottom, you can install them to eliminate the draft. Sweeps come in wood and metal; just cut them to fit and screw in place. If you don’t like the way these look, you can always just tuck a heavy towel or blanket at the base of your door at night or even make or buy one of the stuffed fabric “snakes” available that act as draft-stoppers when extended along the bottom of the door.

Exterior wall outlets: Outlets and switches that are on exterior walls are sometimes the source of the worst air leakage. You can purchase gaskets designed to fit inside the covers of the outlets and switches to stop such leakage. Remove the switch plate or outlet cover and fit the gasket by pressing it into place. Replace the plate or cover.

Caulking: Caulk cracks around all leaky windows and exterior doors that you never open. If you aren’t sure how to use caulk, check online for “how-to” videos, or ask Al Meranda and his staff at the Atlas True Value hardware store on Centre Street to give you some tips.

Weather stripping: Around movable areas such as windows and doors, you can install weather stripping, which comes in various depths and widths, as well as materials (again, check with Al so you choose the right kind). The general idea is to fill any gaps between the sash and the window jamb.

If you take these steps you will save energy and save money. Happy sealing!

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