Winter Weatherization: Stay snug and save

By Eliza Laubach

As falling leaves signal approaching winter winds, autumn is an ideal time to “bundle up” your home. Over time, building materials shift, which forces heating and cooling systems to work harder. And since many houses were built without complete insulation or sealing, that is the best place to start when weatherizing.

Making your home more energy efficient is a hands-on approach to reducing your carbon footprint. Installing significant upgrades could lower utility bills by 15 to 30 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, and financial support is often available. Contact your utility, local community action agency or the U.S. Department of Energy and ask about rebates, grants or loan programs to retrofit your house.

Become a Leak Geek

Hazel poses with a CFL lightbulb.

Hazel Adams poses with an energy-efficient CFL lightbulb. Photo by Sarah Kellogg.

Air-sealing your home involves plugging leaks that allow outside air into your home and conditioned air to escape. A professional energy contractor can pinpoint small, subtle leaks using specialized technology while also ensuring that carbon monoxide can escape your house. But anyone can find and seal larger leaks by following these steps:

1. Tightly close all windows and doors to block airflow.

2. Use exhaust fans above the stove and in the bathroom to create lower pressure inside the house.

3. Locate areas most likely to leak air. Windows, doors and the meeting of different building materials—such as wood, metal and stone—are all suspect.

4. Hold a lit incense stick around the edges of suspected leaks. If the smoke begins to flutter, airflow is present and an air leakage is occurring.

5. Use weatherstripping tape and foam caulking to seal leaks. Always apply in dry weather and remove old caulk or strips first. Beware that some foam caulking will triple in size and can split open stone!

Insulation Station


Toby MacDermott replaces a drafty window with an insulated wall. Photo by Sarah Kellogg.

We all know heat rises, but may forget that attics are an easy escape for heat in winter. All your home’s conditioned air can leave through your attic twice an hour, according to Marcus Renner, founder of Conservation Pros, a home energy contractor in Asheville. In fact, houses built before 1978 did not require insulation. There are several ways you or a professional energy contractor can prevent your attic from becoming an energy drain, depending on how big a project you decide to tackle.

1. Air-sealing is a crucial first step. On average, insulation retains just 60 percent of its effectiveness without air-sealing.

2. Insulate the attic floor. Some hardware stores will lend customers the machine to install insulation bought from the store.

3. Seal air duct joints on your heating and cooling system, even if it is in the crawlspace. Renner does not recommend heat-resistant tape, which he says fails after a few years. Apply mastic paint to joints nearest the HVAC unit, where air pressure is highest, and cover gaps wider than one-quarter inch with sheet metal.

4. Seal the edges of the attic entrance with foam weatherstripping. Don’t forget to insulate the attic door!

Thrifty Upgrades

These simple changes offer a quick turnaround to winterize your home on a tight budget.

  • With just an afternoon and a hairdryer, you can insulate old windows with plastic as a temporary fix.
  • Lower the thermostat while gone and wear warm sweaters indoors.
  • Allow sunlight in during the day, and keep heat from escaping at night with closed heavy shades or curtains.
  • Open your oven after baking your winter squash or pumpkin pie and relish in the extra heat!
  • Reverse the direction of your ceiling fans to move warm air down when in room.
  • Insulate metal water heater pipes with foam coverings.
  • Cover bare floors with rugs to add heat retention, especially if there is little floor insulation in the house.
  • Ensure that air vents are not covered by furniture or drapes, and rearrange if necessary.

See more Home Energy Tips


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