Winterize Your House Before Winter Hits
In the Spruce Grove, Stony Plain and Parkland County region of Alberta, we know it comes every year, and we spend about half the year in winter-like conditions. Still, it always seems to catch some people by surprise.
Take these steps now to make your house winter-worthy, and save some money and the environment at the same time:
· We’ve heard this before and it still works: Turn down the heat a few degrees to save energy and money. When you’re chilly, put on a sweater, socks and slippers, and sip a hot drink, instead of cranking up the thermostat! Have you heard of the “Triple 8 Equation”? Decrease the thermostat by 8 degrees for 8 hours each day and reduce costs by 8%.
· Install a programmable thermostat and set it to raise and lower the temperature when needed. For example, set the thermostat to lower the heat while people are away through the day, and raise it a little about a half hour before the family arrives home.
· If you have a ceiling fan, you might have thought of it as a summer-only accessory. Reverse the fan to a clockwise rotation so that the warm air is pushed downward and circulates more freely.
· Let the sun in during the day.
· Cook more at home!
· It is possible to vent your electric dryer inside your home to take advantage of the heat and humidity. (But be careful with this one! Too much humidity could create a mould problem.)
· Use your dryer for consecutive loads of laundry. This conserves the energy that would be needed to heat up the dryer several times.
· Clean and vacuum heating ducts, grilles, registers and ceiling fans. Clean and replace the furnace filter in early fall and once a month during the winter months when it is in constant use. Consider upgrading to an electrostatic filter for cleaner air.
· Check your furnace’s humidifier, if it has one. Clean the filter and ensure water is turned on.
· It’s a good idea to have furnaces cleaned and tuned annually.
· Make sure your cold air returns are not blocked.
· If your furnace is more than 10 years old, it’s a safe bet that it’s not using fuel efficiently. Although initially pricey to install, a new high-efficiency furnace will pay for itself over time in lower heating bills and less harm to the environment. Added bonus: better circulation of air means fewer cold spots throughout your home, and cleaner air resulting in fewer sniffles and sneezes caused by allergies to dust and pet dander.
Fireplace and chimney:
· While your fireplace chimney may not need to be swept each year, it’s a good idea to at least have it inspected before you use your fireplace to ensure that nothing has become lodged in it.
· If you use a wood stove for heat, your chimney will need to be cleaned regularly. Not doing so can have serious consequences: fire, carbon monoxide poisoning and the like.
· When not in use, keep the chimney damper closed to keep out cold air.
Since warm air rises, a great deal of heat escapes from the top of the house. If you can see ceiling joists in your attic, you don’t have enough insulation. Besides the amount of insulation, consider insulation r value. The higher the r value, the more effective the insulation material is, both against incoming cold and movement of heat.
The most common types of insulation used in attics are fiberglass insulation in rolls, batt insulation, or blown insulation. When adding insulation, remember the following:
- Blow in insulation is most effective, but messy to install; hiring an insulation contractor is your best bet. By contrast, fiberglass batts laid sideways over existing insulation is a fast, easy DIY home project alternative. Handyman tip: Most older homes have somewhere between 3 to 6 inches of fiberglass blanket insulation, roughly equal to an r value of 9 to 19.
- When adding insulation, make sure soffit venting is not blocked.
- Check around light fixtures and along the tops of interior walls in your home for air leakage. There must be a tight air barrier to ensure warm moist air from inside your home does not get into the cold attic. This causes condensation in the winter, increasing the risk of mould.
Interior insulation can be used in a dry basement, whether finished or not. When finishing off the basement, use batt insulation in stud cavities for walls and ceiling, or extruded polystyrene insulation on the face of perimeter walls. For unfinished basements, install rolls of polyethylene-encapsulated fiberglass over the walls.
Keep in mind that insulating basement walls will help keep cold out and lower heating costs during the long winters, but there are disadvantages to consider.
· Any moist air moving through the wall may cause condensation.
· Due to the moisture barrier on the foundation wall and vapor retarder on the room side of the insulation, the wall’s drying potential will be hindered.
Never install interior insulation in a damp basement. Address moisture entry problems before insulating.
Keep the heat in
· Check for cold air entry points: areas in your house where cold air can seep in and inside heat escape out. Check external wall electrical outlets, switch-plates, gaps around windows and doors (especially sliding glass patio doors). Outside of the house, check outlets, outdoor faucets, pipes, and along foundation walls.
· Use felt door weather-stripping around the sides and tops of doors. Install a door sweep along the bottom of the door on the inside. Make sure the threshold (or saddle) is in good condition; otherwise, have it replaced.
· Replace window coverings with thermal drapes. These not only keep the heat in during the winter, but they keep the heat out in the summer.
· Although expensive, it might be worth it over time to replace the windows themselves with newer, energy-efficient models, especially if your home is more than 30 years old. If new windows are not an option, use window weather-stripping and/or purchase a window insulation kit – about $3 per window.
· To seal up cracks around windows, perimeter walls, and around wall sockets, use standard caulking. Fortify drafty wall sockets with foam pads made for that purpose. To seal exterior cracks around the perimeter of the home, use caulking appropriate for use in temperatures below minus 40 degrees. Caulking will help to keep cold air from entering the house interior. While the estimated cost of caulk runs about $10 per tube, annual energy savings total up to $100 on average.
Lighting and power
· Manually turn off lights, or better yet, put them on a timer so they turn off automatically, when everyone goes to bed.
· Invest in LED strings of lights – 95% more energy-efficient than ordinary lights and last up to 7 times longer.
Lightbulbs in lamps and light fixtures:
· Switch to smart bulbs. A 20- to 25-watt energy-saving bulb can last up to 10 times longer than a normal bulb, uses up to 75% less energy, provides as much light as a 100-watt ordinary bulb. The new 7-watt LED bulbs have an added advantage: no fire hazard because they give off no heat.
· If it’s plugged in, it’s using power. If you’re not using a piece of equipment, unplug it and/or turn off power bars.
· Try to schedule the use of washers, dryers and dishwashers during off-peak hours (after 7 PM on weeknights or on weekends) when demand is lower and the cost of electricity is less.
Water and drainage
· Drain and turn off outside taps. Drain all garden hoses and neatly store for the winter.
· Check and clean out eavestroughs and gutters and make sure the path is clear for spring run-off. Spring does eventually come!
· Check your roof while you’re at it. Missing or worn shingles not only let water seep in during the summer months, they also allow heat to escape.
· While not strictly a winter-time preparation, as long as you’re checking out various home systems, why not repair all water leaks anywhere in your home. Better still, consider switching to efficient faucets which use up to 70% less water with the same pressure as traditional faucets, low-flush toilets, and low-flow showerheads. If your water heater needs to be upgraded, consider installing a tankless water heater.
Just in case…
· Check that you have workable carbon monoxide alarms and smoke alarms (test them with an actual bit of smoke) throughout your house, and put in fresh batteries. Check your fire extinguishers also: one for the kitchen, one for the garage, one for the basement, at minimum.
· Buy indoor candles (or lanterns) and matches or lighter for use during a power outage, especially if you live in a rural area. You might even want to consider purchasing a gas-powered electric generator.
· Tape the phone numbers for your utility companies near your phone or inside your phone book.
· Buy a battery back-up to protect your computer and sensitive electronic equipment.
· Store extra bottled water and non-perishable food supplies (don’t forget your pets!), blankets and a first-aid kit in a dry and easy-to-access location.
· Prepare an evacuation plan in case of emergency.
· Before winter hits, round up all your winter gear: snow shovels and brushes, sandbags, toques, mitts, boots….