En español | Winter is coming — and so is the cold, wind and snow that can wreak havoc on your home
Ensuring your home stays cozy, especially since COVID-19 and cold weather are driving people indoors, can conserve energy and save big bucks — upwards of $1,000 a year, according to some estimates. The typical American household spends $2,200 a year on utility bills, estimates the U.S. Department of Energy.
Even new homes can benefit from some winter TLC. Wayne Turett, who lives in a 2-year-old energy-efficient house he designed in Greenport, New York, says he will prepare for winter by changing filters, checking for air leaks and clearing his yard.
"In the Northeast, it gets colder than freezing,” says the 65-year-old architect. “You have to pay attention to your house."
Winterizing your home doesn't have to cost a fortune, and there are many DIY projects that are easy to accomplish. Here are six simple winterizing steps:
1. Take your temperature. Schedule a furnace and chimney inspection at least once a year to ensure they're working safely and efficiently. For similar reasons, homeowners should change their HVAC filters every three months. Set your thermostat to 68°F during the day and lower when you're sleeping or away from home. You can save 10 percent in heating and cooling costs by lowering your thermostat by 10°F for eight hours a day. Smart thermostats, which let you program temperature settings ahead of time, are even more efficient.
2. Get an energy audit. Start by looking at your utility bill, suggests Jeff Rogers, president of the Energy Audit Institute in New Jersey, which trains and certifies energy auditors.
"Many utility companies show your energy usage relative to other people in your area, and if your usage is high, it might be a good idea to get an energy audit,” Rogers says. An audit typically will identify where air leaks are in a home and the plug load — the total energy usage by all appliances and electronics plugged into outlets — he adds.
Contact your utility company, because many offer home energy assessments, sometimes for free. You can also perform a DIY audit to determine where your home may be leaking energy. Check if the exterior caulking around doors and windows is cracked and make sure doors and windows seal tightly when shut, Rogers suggests. People can also perform an air leak test by turning on the dryer or kitchen fan exhaust and then walking around the interior with a smoke pump, holding it by the edges of doors and windows, Rogers says. If the smoke moves, air is coming in. Consider replacing old energy-sucking appliances and incandescent lightbulbs.
3. Add insulation. Insulating walls, the attic floor, basement ceiling and even your water heater and pipes (to prevent freezing and raise the water temperature 2-4°F) is one of the most important steps in keeping your home warm this winter, says Richard Reina, product training director at online superstore TOOLSiD.com.
"The first thing homeowners think about is keeping themselves warm,” he says. “What people lose sight of is the energy loss. You may ignore a small draft because it's in a back room you don't use much,” but it forces your heating source to work harder to keep your home warm.
4. Block air leaks. Seal or caulk cracks around doors, ducts, windows and chimneys to stop cold air from seeping inside. Install or replace weatherstripping around doors, windows and window air conditioners. Each measure costs less than $30, but caulking can save 10-20 percent in energy costs and weather stripping may save 5-10 percent.
5. Upgrade windows. Replace old aluminum windows with vinyl windows, which insulate better, or install storm windows to reduce heat loss. Newer, low-emissivity storm windows are coated with a thin layer of metal that reflects heat back into a home. Low-e windows cost $60-$200 each but can save $120–$330 on a $1,000 annual heating and cooling tab. On a budget? Cover your window frames with clear plastic sheets to reduce heat loss.
6. Outside. Clean gutters to prevent water from building up and leaking inside or causing an ice dam, which can cause water to pool on your roof, leak into your home and damage walls, ceilings and other areas. Consider installing gutter guards to keep out debris. Drain outside water lines, hoses and irrigation systems to prevent freezing.
The U.S. Department of Energy provides many energy-saving ideas, including information on their cost and the energy savings they produce. “Be aware that you may have a limited time to get these things done,” says TOOLSiD's Reina. “In the New York/New Jersey area, it was 75 degrees the other day, and frankly I'm not thinking about insulation. However, a week from now it could be 40 degrees."