I’ve written before that your utility bills can be one of the easiest places in your budget to find savings. This is especially true with winter right around the corner. I know, I know, the last thing you want to think about at the end of September is winter. But if you spend a little bit of time sealing up your home now, you’ll be glad when your heat bill comes in a little bit lower.
Winter-proofing is especially important if you have an older home with lots of drafts and less efficient windows. Those drafts are constantly moving warm air out of the house and cool air in, meaning your furnace has to work that much harder to keep your house warm. Making matters worse, the extra air movement makes you feel colder, meaning you’re more likely to bump your thermostat up a few notches, which in turn bumps your heat bill up.
Most of the drafts and heat loss in your house comes from your doors, windows or insulation. Doors are often a problem if they aren’t hung quite straight or don’t close tightly. In the winter, if run your hand along the edge of the door, you’ll usually be able to pinpoint where the draft is the worst. If you can see daylight peeking between the door and the frame, you’ve really got a problem. Doors can also be a problem if the door itself is poorly insulated and does a poor job of holding in the warmth.
Windows are either a problem because they don’t close tightly, or because the glass itself is not a good insulator. Again, if you can feel drafts along the edge of the window, it was poorly installed. If the entire window feels excessively cold, or forms ice on the inside, it is likely a single pane window, or a thin double pane.
If your entire house has inadequate insulation, all your walls and roofs are major sources of heat loss. Detecting insulation issues are a little harder and typically require an expert opinion. Insulation problems can often be diagnosed during a free energy audit offered by many utility companies.
Upgrading Your House- The Long Term Fix
Ideally, when you find sources of heat loss, you eliminate the problem with a permanent fix. Energy Star estimates that installing new windows will trim your heating bills by about 12%. If your current doors or windows are already high quality, you may just need them reinstalled. Adding insulation will always pay off in lower heat bills, although in older houses the rate of return will likely be higher. Typically insulation can be added in the attic or walls.
Unless you are experienced in home repair or construction, you’ll want to hire a local professional. You want to make sure you find a professional who will do quality work, however, or you will end up with the same problem you had before. You’ll want the installer to guarantee perfection and to have a reputation for taking care of customers. Don’t just make a choice off of testimonials on the installer’s website. Obviously, the installer is only going to publish 5 star testimonials. Instead, ask around your community and check with a service such as Angie’s List, which collects verified customer reviews.
While updating your home is often the ideal solution, it also requires a significant up-front investment, ranging from several hundred to several thousand dollars. And while replacing your windows or doors may very well be something that pays for itself, in most cases you shouldn’t take on extra debt to fund the project. Instead, install short term fixes and start saving for the window or door replacement.
Short Term Fixes
Even though you’ll need to reinstall most of the temporary fixes each winter or every few winters, these short term fixes are low cost solutions that will typically pay for themselves before the end of winter. Some of them, such as window film, aren’t necessarily pretty, but are effective. All these fixes are ones that you’ll be able to accomplish on your own.
An easy fix to drafty or cold windows is covering your windows with transparent shrink film. This film creates an additional pocket of air between you and the outside, drastically cutting your heat loss. While this film is transparent, it is still noticeable, so you may decide you don’t want to install it in main living areas, but might not mind it in bedrooms or storage rooms. One other word of caution- the shrink film is installed with double sided tape. Don’t use it on wood veneer, or it will strip the veneer off in the spring when you take the film down.
Thermal curtains are not quite as effective as transparent shrink film, but don’t have to be reinstalled every winter. Thermal curtains look just like regular curtains but are thicker and lined with insulating backing. Since thermal curtains can be matched with the decor of the room, they aren’t the eye-sore that shrink film can be. Also unlike shrink film, thermal curtains also allow you to open the windows on an unseasonably warm winter day.
A surprising source of drafts is from your outlets and light switches. The space in the wall that the builders left to run wires to the switches and outlets is a perfect route for drafts. Insulating the outlets with socket sealers is an easy way to help seal out these drafts. I included this under short term fixes because it’s so cheap and easy. Once installed, however, you shouldn’t ever have to reinstall in the future.
You can seal out drafts coming from doors with weather stripping. Running your hand along the edge of the door makes it easy to pinpoint the source of the draft. You’ll definitely want to weather strip if you can see daylight around the door! The weather stripping forms a seal around the door, blocking air and heat movement.
Don’t Put Off Winterizing
Winterizing your home probably doesn’t sound like a fun task for your Saturday morning, so you’ll be tempted to put it off until next week, and the week after that, until spring rolls around and you’re wondering why you put up with those drafts all winter long. Don’t settle for another winter with heating bills that were higher than they needed to be.
While I do strive to only write accurate information and dispense valuable advice, I am not a licensed financial adviser. All information is based solely on my personal experience and personal research and should be treated as such. Find out more.