Winterize Your Home Before it’s Too Late – Checklist and Costs
It’s not the most glamorous remodeling idea in the world, but winterizing your home is a project definitely worth undertaking. And if it’s glamour your after think about what you could do with the money you’ll save in the medium to long term!
In this RenoCompare guide we walk you through the 10 best ways to winterize your home before it’s too late. Even if you only get a couple of these tips achieved between now and winter you’ll be well on your way to creating a energy efficient home for you and your family. Our checklist is in-depth explaining how to winterize and we provide useful links to relevant resources, everything you need to get the job done right. So let’s begin…
Regularly Change the Furnace Filter
A furnace filter clogged with dust will make your furnace work harder than it should, wasting expensive energy, and might lead to mechanical trouble. If you can’t see through your filter, it needs to be changed. To simplify the issue of how often the filter should be changed, HVAC professionals recommend replacing or washing your filter every four weeks in cold climates and up to eight weeks in moderate climates.
Your local home improvement store has several options for replacement filters:
- Disposable fiberglass: These are the cheapest and least effective filters. The spun fiberglass filters large particles, but pollen and smaller dust particles get through. The cost is $2 to $5 per filter.
- Disposable pleated: Using polyester or cotton materials, these filters range from $5 to $10 and trap particles in the medium to large range.
- Disposable electrostatic: The material traps even small dust and smoke particles and pollen spores. The cost is $8 to $14 per filter.
- Permanent electrostatic: These filters cost $30 and up, but they last about five years. They aren’t an option in all furnaces. When you’d normally change the filter, first vacuum the electrostatic filter very thoroughly and then wash it with by saturating it with an all-purpose cleaner and rinsing it completely. Make sure it is dry before re-installing it.
This video discusses when an electrostatic filter can be used.
The dimensions for your furnace filter are listed on the side of the old filter and can also be found in your furnace owner’s manual. Follow the directions on the packaging to install the new filter, so that it faces the correct way as air flows through it. If the filter has an arrow on it, the arrow should be pointing toward the blower motor. The air is filtered before it enters the furnace from the return ducts.
Install Foam Insulation Behind Light Switch and Outlet Covers
Cold air might be flowing through wiring holes drilled in the framing of your house, and it can find its way into your living space. Stopping those drafts will reduce energy use and make your home more comfortable. Most hardware and home improvement stores carry packs of foam insulation gaskets cut specifically for use behind light switch and outlet covers. The cost is 20 to 30 cents per gasket, so this is a home improvement that pays for itself quickly.
These light switch and outlet insulation sheets are easy to install. Remove the cover plate screw with a small screwdriver, and fit the gasket over the light switch or outlet. Use a pair of small scissors to trim the gasket to fit better, if necessary. Simply be careful to keep the scissors out of the electrical box itself in order to prevent electrical shock. Replace the cover, and you’ve made your home more energy efficient!
Testing has shown that up to 30 percent of the heat created by an HVAC system leaks out of the ductwork before it gets into living space. You can imagine how leaky ducts will raise your energy bill and negatively affect the indoor climate of your home! The key is to seal the ducts, so that warm air in winter and cool air in summer get into the intended space.
There are several clues you might have leaky ducts:
- Your energy bills are higher than expected
- Rooms furthest from the HVAC system are cooler in winter and warmer in summer than the rest of the house
- You can hear leaking air whistling through gaps in ducts in the basement or attic
While leaks in ducts located in wall cavities are difficult to stop, holes and gaps in exposed ductwork can be repaired quickly and affordably. The most common locations for air leaks in ducts are places where ductwork is fitted together or where air runs are created by covering two or more floor joists with sheet metal.
The materials you need for this home winterization idea can be purchased at any hardware or home improvement store. Here are three approaches to sealing ductwork leaks:
- Good: Wrap all joints and seams with aluminum foil HVAC tape ($5 to $15 per roll)
- Better: Cover all ducts joints and seams with mastic ($20 to $30 per gallon)
- Best: Cover all ductwork joints and seams with mastic and then wrap all exposed ductwork with duct insulation ($0.50 to $1 per square foot)
Insulate your Water Pipes and Water Heater
Standby heat loss is the term given to the heat that radiates from heated water as it sits in your water heater or hot water pipes. These facts show how important it is to conserve that heat:
- Water heaters account for 20 to 35 percent of a home’s energy use
- The average water heater heats up three times a day when no hot water is being used
- Up to 25 percent of the energy used to heat water is wasted
The good news is that the waste can be dramatically reduced through inexpensive insulation.
Winterizing your house by using pipe insulation tubes on your exposed water lines is straight forward. It makes sense to insulate the cold water lines too, as this prevents condensation that can drip in basements. Pre-fab pipe insulation tubes snuggly fit over water pipes and stay in place. The cost is $1 to $1.50 per linear foot.
Insulation jackets are made for most water heater sizes. They wrap around the heater and might need to be trimmed for a perfect fit. Use foil tape to keep the jacket in place. They reduce standby heat loss up to 45 percent. Jackets cost $20 to $40 depending on their size and thickness.
Some utility companies offer them at a discount or for free and might offer rebates too, so check with the utility before you tackle this job.
Use Caulking and Weatherstripping
Air leaks are common around windows, doors and their frames. The loss of heated air and the infiltration of cold air from outside can be reduced or prevented with caulk and weatherstripping.
The caulk is for the frames of window and doors; weatherstripping is applied to the windows and doors themselves.
Exterior caulk costs $2 to $5 per tube, and each tube contains enough caulk for several window frames or one or two door frames and caulk guns cost as little as $5 making this one of the cheaper projects on our winterizing your home checklist.
Before you add new caulk, loose caulk should be removed with the help of a putty knife or similar tool. Once done, use a utility knife to cut about one-half inch off the tube nozzle. Make the cut on a 45-degree angle. Pull back the plunger on the gun, and insert the tube of caulk. Be sure the plunger is engaged, so that each pull of the trigger forces it into the tube to push caulk out.
Fill gaps between exterior walls and frames with a bead of caulk about half the diameter of toothpaste. It is important to use your finger or a very small putty knife to push the caulk into the crack.
The most commonly used weatherstripping is made of foam with adhesive backing covered by wax paper. It is designed to be applied where windows and doors meet their frames, preventing heat loss in winter and heat gain in summer. Simply pull off the backing, press the weatherstripping into place, and cut the length to fit.
This type of weatherstripping costs about $2 per linear foot. The savings it produces will pay for the material in one to two years.
This video shows you how to apply caulk and weatherstripping properly. It also discusses additional equipment that can be added to doors to prevent air leaks.
Add a Layer of Insulation to the Attic
Inadequate insulation in your attic wastes a tremendous amount of energy throughout the year. In winter, heat rises through the roof and is lost. In summer, the air in the attic heats up and the heat is transferred into the home. A hot house is harder to cool, and the AC to works harder than necessary. Increasing the insulation in your attic is fairly affordable, and the energy savings will be apparent immediately.
Rolled batt insulation is the most common type for attics, but loose-fill insulation can be used to winterize too. If you choose batts and there is already insulation in the attic, use non-faced rolls, i.e., batt insulation that does not have a foil backing. For both batt and loose-fill insulation, DIY installation is an option.
- Rolls of batt insulation: Roll out the insulation between ceiling joists or over the top of existing insulation
- Loose-fill insulation: This type can be added by hand, or you can rent a blower machine from a large home improvement store
When you’re in the attic, be sure to step only on the ceiling joists or on boards laid across them. This will prevent damage to the ceiling drywall beneath. Also, do not cover soffit vents with insulation. The vents aren’t over heated space, so insulation there isn’t necessary, and they perform the crucial function of allowing moisture to escape the attic. This is essential, because excess moisture causes mold and rot.
When adding insulation to your attic, wear protective clothing such as a long-sleeve shirt, gloves, dust mask and goggles. Fiberglass insulation can be irritating to the skin, eyes and nose.
This page from the US Department of Energy shows all of the places a home should be insulated and what type of insulation is best for each location.
Install a Programmable Thermostat
Energy conservation experts highly recommend controlling your heating and cooling system with a programmable thermostat. The device can be set to turn down the heat and save money while you’re snug in your bed or away for the day at work, automatically turning the heat back up in time for you to get up for breakfast or arrive to a comfy home at the end of the day.
Choosing a model that is also Wi-Fi connected adds convenience and maximizes efficiency. If you’re not returning home at your regular time, simply use your smart phone and the thermostat app to turn up the heat sooner or later.
All of the top HVAC equipment manufacturers (Carrier, Bryant, Trane, American Standard, Lennox, Armstrong, Maytag, Tappan, York, etc.) produce programmable and Wi-Fi thermostats that are available from dealers. Other top wireless thermostats include the Google Nest, Ecobee, Lux, Sensi, Honeywell and Ekon, and they’re available at home improvement stores and online retailers. Some Wi-Fi thermostats deliver the forecast for the week too!
If you enjoy DIY projects and have basic skills, you might be able to install the programmable thermostat without the help of a professional. The key is to follow the color-coded diagram precisely. It might also help to label wires coming out of the wall before you disconnect the old thermostat. Label them with “AC”, “heat”, “fan”, etc.
Unless you’re comfortable with this kind of DIY installation we recommend calling in a local professional.
Install Storm Doors and Windows
This is a fairly expensive energy-efficiency solution so might need some planning before making it onto your winterizing checklist, but the rewards can be quite substantial in the long-term. Storm doors and windows create a pocket of air between the warm indoor air and the cold outdoor air. The pocket is a barrier to heat transfer and a proven way to reduce heat loss and energy bills.
Some window and door manufacturers such as Pella, Andersen and Jeld-Wen produce these insulating products. If your window’s manufacturer does not, you might have to have them custom made. Call a local dealer to measure your windows, answer your questions and give you a storm doors and windows price estimate.
According to the US Department of Energy, storm windows can reduce heating costs by $350 per year on the average home. Given the price of the windows, it would take 10 years or more of lower energy bills to make up the expense. If you’re planning on moving before the next decade passes, this won’t be a cost-effective solution for you.
Upgrade to an Efficient Furnace
Winterizing your home with a furnace upgrade is expensive, but still a great idea if your furnace needs to be replaced anyway, you plan to be in your home for more than five years to recoup the cost through lower energy bills or having an ecofriendly home is a top priority for you. As you prepare to replace your old system with a high efficiency model, check the estimated furnace replacement cost at www.
Replacing your furnace is not a DIY project. Working with gas is best left to the pros. In addition, poor installation of even the best furnace will mean that it won’t run as efficiently or as durably as it should. Contact several furnace contractors in your area, and let them know they’re competing for the job. You’ll get the lowest new furnace estimates that way. Also, be sure to choose an installer with a good track record of excellence.
Make Use of Energy Tax Credits and Utility Company Rebates
The US government is offering Federal tax credits through 2016 for the installation of geothermal heat pumps, residential wind turbines and solar energy systems. The tax credit is 30% of the total cost with no cap. So, for example, if you install a geothermal heat pump for $15,000, your tax credit will be 30% of that, or $4,500.
This is not a deduction – it’s a lot better in this regard: it doesn’t reduce your taxable income; it takes the credit right off the top of the tax you owe. For example, if your tax bill were $5,000, it would be reduced to $500 after the credit. If your bill were $4,000, you’d receive a return of $500!
Talk to the contractor you select for your geothermal, solar or wind turbine project. They will have all of the information you need to obtain the credit including the specifications required for systems to qualify. This page from the US Department of Energy gives details too.
If you’re planning to install an air-source heat pump or gas furnace, then you should see if your utility company is offering a rebate. Many across the country are. You can find out with a simple call to your utility. The website DsireUSA.org also lists local utility company rebates for installing energy efficient HVAC equipment. For example, 55 residential rebate programs are listed for the State of Illinois including programs from most of the state’s largest utilities. In addition to rebates for equipment, there are rebates available for weatherization of your home, net metering and other energy-saving home improvements.
So now you know how to winterize a house you’d best get going…winter’s coming!