There are many facets to winterizing your home or apartment, from the garden to your clothes closet. Preparing for winter can mean the difference of having or not having running water during a freeze, or it may be a matter of a lower heating bill and a more comfortable, dryer home.
In addition, a lower heating bill means a smaller carbon footprint. So even if you can afford to pay for the extra heat, there is still a good reason to improve the efficiency of your home. It is amazing how much air seeps into your house through unintentional openings, such as electrical receptacles, light switches, and light fixtures, as well as around doors and windows, to name but a few.
Experts estimate that the average American home has air leaks that equate to having a 3-foot by 3-foot hole in the wall, according to Earth Works Group.
Maintaining running water is a top priority. Most people have already sorted this problem out, since the impact of frozen pipes is so dramatic. And with global climate change afoot, expect to see more localized extremes in temperature.
If you have uninsulated water pipes that are exposed to outside temperatures, consider insulating them, since we never know what nature has in store for us. Insulate exposed pipes with a pipe insulation jacket made of foam or fiberglass pipe insulation. Using foam is much faster and easier, and less itchy.
Frozen pipes can cause major damage when they thaw, and lack of insulation and air infiltration can add up to a huge amount of lost heat. Sealing your house or apartment will allow you to quickly and efficiently heat it when it gets cold, lower your overall energy needs, and thus lowering your carbon footprint.
Stopping the air from coming into your house takes a fair bit of determination, since blocking air in one place can just increase the pressure of incoming air in another. Once you make up your mind to seal up your house, locating leaks and fixing them can be fun and very rewarding. It can also be dangerous if you are up on a ladder, so as always be safe and work within your comfort range.
On a windy day, you can find where air is coming in by holding a piece of lit incense up to receptacles, switches, and light fixtures, or anywhere you feel a draft. To seal up receptacles and switches, use foam outlet insulators called wallplate insulators. They are inexpensive and easy to install, and they do a very good job of stopping cold air from entering your house or apartment through the electrical system.
Many would think that installing wallplate insulators on exterior walls should do the trick. However, there can be a lot of air coming in through interior walls too, especially if there is a vented roof or attic space directly overhead. Since they are so easy to install, it would be a good idea to do all of the wallplates in your house. (http://www.outletinsulators.com) Once that is done, you can focus your efforts on your doors and windows.
You will probably find air coming in around doors and windows. If you find that there is air pouring in around the trim of a window or door, the best thing would be to remove the trim and fill the gap between the framing and the door or window jam with backer rod—which is like a foam rope that comes in different sizes—or expanding foam.
Taking off the trim can seem a bit intimidating, but if careful you can usually manage to remove it without any significant damage. If the trim is too hard to remove or just not worth taking off, the next best thing is to caulk both edges of the trim inside and out.
Weather-stripping doors is not too difficult. The main thing is to judge whether you have room for weather-stripping between the door and the stop, or if you need to apply weather-stripping to the face of the stop. Either way works well. There are installation instructions on the package for all the different types of weather-stripping.
Sometimes the original weather-stripping gets torn off or damaged. If the leak is a matter of weather-stripping that needs to be replaced or added, there are many options to choose from. Newer doors have standard weather-stripping, and finding it and replacing it is easy.
Windows can be a little more difficult to find the correct weather-stripping and installing it. If your windows are not too old, you might be able to contact the manufacturer and order replacement weather-stripping. It will take some research and a good hardware store to choose which option to use to weather-strip old windows. If worse comes to worse, you can tape them closed with masking tape—but don’t forget to remove it in the spring. If tape stays in place too long, it will be very hard to remove.
If you live in a house that still has the original single-pane windows and no storm windows, the best thing you can do to insulate them is to use plastic insulating film. These are purchased as a kit for a given size window and consist of a sheet of plastic that is held in place over the inside of the window pane with double-stick tape. The film is then heated with a hair dryer to shrink it tight. This works really well and reduces your heating bill, as well as your carbon footprint.
Stopping air from inside is a great place to start. However, the best pace to stop air from coming into your house is the exterior. If you have an older house that has never been well caulked, it would be worth the effort to caulk around all the windows and doors, as well as any obvious cracks or gaps that could be letting in air and water.
In a driving rain, water can be driven up and into any crack, so by caulking against wind you will be keeping out water as well. There are hundreds of caulks available these days, with each having its own characteristics. Talk to your supplier to choose one that will be the best for your type of application. Some paint suppliers can custom tint caulk to match the color of your house, so that it will blend in with the paint on your house.
Accessing the exterior of a house can be an overwhelming proposition for many people who do not own ladders or are afraid of heights. If that is the case for you, consider bartering with a friend who is comfortable with working on a ladder. You could also hire a handy man to do it. If you live in an apartment or co-op, it may be a topic to bring up with the managers or board.
If you will do it yourself, use a good quality caulk gun. It makes a big difference in the outcome, especially if you are not that experienced with one. (Professional tools do not make professional results, contrary to the advertising, but they do help the amateur achieve better results than with poor tools.)
If you have aluminum single-pane windows, consider replacing them since the aluminum transfers cold even better than the glass. Some areas have incentive programs for replacing old windows. Call 311 to see if your power company has any such programs in your area.
Gordon Elliot has over 30 years of experience in working on homes and is on a mission to arm people with the skills and confidence to do home projects they would not have otherwise attempted.
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