Help save on heating costs and prevent damage to your home this winter with these helpful home winterization tips. Photo by JamesDeMers
Whether you live in an area where the cold and snowy days of winter are a way of life, or if you live in a more southern state where winters have historically been mild, these days it seems no one is safe from the more frequent and extreme storms brought on by our changing climate.
Sudden changes in temperatures across the country are becoming more common, and they can wreak havoc on our nation’s power grids and to our homes. We never know what part of the country could be suddenly and unexpectedly affected by sudden winter storms and drops in temperature, just look what happened in Texas in 2021!
The best time to prepare your home from Old Man Winter is before the winter season begins. Help prevent damage and lower the energy costs of your home with these helpful home winterization tips.
Inspect the Outside of Your Home
Clean your home’s gutters and downspouts and make sure they are not clogged with leaves and other debris. Rain gutters that are clogged will allow water to overflow back into your walls and ceilings, or freeze inside the gutters, creating ice dams. After you clean them, consider installing mesh screens over your gutters to prevent debris from accumulating again. And while you’re up there, inspect your roof to make sure all of your roofing shingles are intact, and replace any missing or damaged shingles.
• Weatherstrip and Caulk Exterior Doors and Windows
Prevent drafts by weather-stripping and/or caulking around all drafty exterior windows and doors. Inspect your door thresholds, and add or replace door sweeps and door seals to keep the cold air outside and the warn air in. Also, check and tighten the screws on the door hinges, they can loosen over time.
If your home has any energy inefficient single pane windows, installing new storm windows is a cost effective way to upgrade the old windows. Storm windows are easy to install and cost a fraction of replacement windows. A low-emissivity (low-e) storm window over a single pane window could reduce your utility bill about the same as it would if you replaced the window with a newer energy code-level window.
For much less, you can also install a window insulation kit. This easy to apply insulated film can improve a window’s insulating performance by up to 44% with a traditional window film, and as much as 92% with the newer, higher performance window films. You can also add thermal curtains and blinds for a short-term, winter solution for drafty windows.
• Inspect Outdoor Steps, Railings, Porches
Check all outside steps, handrails and decking for any loose boards or fixtures, and have a suitable and safe deicing material ready to go. To prevent ice from forming on wood steps apply calcium chloride ice melt, sand, or even cat litter before the rain or snow fall and freezes.
If you have concrete steps or a concrete patio, independent tests have shown that calcium chloride ice melt is the least harmful commercially available ice melt for concrete. Avoid using rock salt (sodium chloride), ammonium nitrate a or ammonium sulphate, they will damage concrete. Also, keep a snow shovel near the main entrances of your home so you’ll be ready when the snow comes.
• Trim Overhanging Branches / Secure Outdoor Furniture
Walk around the perimeter of your home and check for and trim any overhanging branches that could fall onto your home. Winter rains will turn into accumulating heavy ice and snow, and strong winds can knock down tree limbs and cause a lot of damage. And while you’re out there, put away or cover and secure any outside furniture that can be blown around during winter weather.
• Insulate Crawl Spaces and Attic
If your home has a crawl space, insulate it. As much as 50% of the air inside the first floor of your home comes from the crawl space beneath your floors, and with no insulation both warm and cool are lost through your floors. The proper insulation reduces energy costs and helps maintain the air quality inside your home.
Determine the R-Value (the insulation’s ability to resist heat) for your region, the higher number of the R-Value equates to better thermal performance of the insulation. Make sure your attic and basements have enough insulation to help counteract heat loss.
Inspect/Prepare the Inside of Your Home
• Inspect Your Furnace
Inspect your home’s furnace for leaks and test for carbon monoxide. Your furnace and all its components, including the chimney and vents, should be cleaned thoroughly, and all electrical connections should be inspected. While it’s best to have your furnace inspected annually by a licensed HVAC professional there are some things that you can check yourself.
Check all the rooms around your house and make sure all the supply registers are open and not blocked, and test your furnace by setting a desired temperature on the thermostat and fire up the furnace normally. It should continue to run without shutting off until the temperature is reached.
Find a Licensed HVAC Technician Near You
• Replace Filters
Replace the filter to your furnace. A dirty HVAC filter will make your furnace work harder, thereby shortening its working lifespan, and decrease the airflow. Generally, you should change your furnace filter once every 90 days at a minimum. For times when the system is in constant use, like during the winter, you can change the filter every month to ensure your furnace is running efficiently and to help keep dust out. Furnace filters are mostly located behind a return-air vent, or on the furnace itself.
If your home has an oil furnace, it should be professionally serviced at least once a year. This includes changing the fuel filters and oil burner nozzle, vacuuming all heating surfaces and cleaning all the burner parts (electrodes, burner head, and chamber), and inspecting the flue pipe and chimney.
As outside temperatures in the winter your heater works day and night to keep your house warm. You should also install a carbon monoxide detector on each level of your home, 5 to 20 feet away from your furnace, fireplace or water heater, and near sleeping areas (along with smoke alarms). Winter is the peak time for carbon monoxide poisoning inside homes.
• Insulate the Water Pipes
Protect exposed water pipes from freezing by covering them with pipe insulation. Frozen water pipes will burst (usually in the middle of the night) and will cause massive damage to your home. Exposed pipes that are in your home’s basement, crawl spaces, attic or garage are the most susceptible to freezing and bursting, so wrap these pipes with pipe insulation, heat tape or thermostatically controlled heat cables. With pipe insulation, the more protection you have, the better.
Also seal or caulk any place where pipes are coming into the house, such as water pipes, dryer vents or electrical wiring conduits. Don’t forget to disconnect the garden hoses, and turn off the water valves leading to any outside faucets, irrigation or and sprinkler systems, and drain them for the winter.
*Tip – If cold weather catches you off-guard and the temperature starts to plummet, run a small drip of hot and cold water in the sinks in the kitchen and bath faucets inside your home, just a small water drip will keep water moving through the pipes and help prevent them from freezing. You can also open the kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors under the sinks to let warm air reach the plumbing (remove any harmful chemicals from the cabinets if you leave these doors open).
• Seal Interior Wood Trim
Caulk around any baseboard or crown molding trim if you can feel drafts coming in from them. Also check around all of the electrical outlets in your home, tighten if loose and add weather sealing gaskets underneath the coverplate if necessary.
• Prepare an Emergency Kit
For when the power goes out, and it always does, be sure to have a home emergency kit readily available with enough supplies to last at least three days for every member of your household. An emergency preparedness kit should include a first aid kit, candles (with plenty of matches/lighters), flashlights with plenty of fresh batteries, a battery operated FM or NOAA weather radio, blankets and any necessary prescriptions and over-the-counter medications as well as an ample supply of water (at least one gallon of water per person per day) and non-perishable food.
Get Help Paying for Your Home Energy Upgrades
Thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act homeowners can now receive rebates or tax credits for making their hoes more energy efficient. Check with your local electrical utility company and schedule a home energy audit to find see where you could save the most money on energy in your home.
Beginning in January of 2023, the 10-year High-Efficiency Electric Home Rebate Act (HEEHRA) will help low to middle income families save money on their energy bills by providing point of sale rebates for purchasing efficient electric appliances. These rebates will occur at the time of sale as a discount when the purchase is made, look for more information in stores beginning in late 2022. Other home energy improvements, like upgrading the home’s electric wiring, also qualifies for HEEHRA.
For low income households, this program will cover 100 percent of the project costs (up to $14,000) and 50 percent of the costs (up to $14,000) for middle income homes. Households will have to earn 150% or less of their area’s median income to qualify for HEEHRA rebates.
Qualifying appliance and energy efficient upgrades and their rebates include:
• $8,000 – Heat pump (for heating and cooling)
• $4,000 – Electric load center upgrade/circuit panels
• $2,500 – Electrical wiring upgrade
• $1,750 – Heat pump water heater
• $1,600 – Insulation/sealing/ventilation
• $840 – Energy efficient electrical appliances including stoves/ovens/cooktops/clothes dryer
Individual states will be announcing their own Inflation Reduction Act associated policies with different availability and scheduling, check with your state to find what incentives are available for help with your house.