October is here and winter is a-comin'. Believe me, I'm not kicking up my heels. In Chicago, the bone-chilling cold begins in November and lasts (yes) all the way through the end of May.
We can't stop winter, which is more certain than death, taxes, and the Chicago Cubs losing another season. But we can do something (many things, in fact) to get our homes ready for the coldest of seasons. Abiding by Green Dad's mantra — reduce our carbon footprint, save the planet, and save cash at the same time — here are eight crucial winterizing steps, along with some nifty products worth their weight in energy savings. And pass the cocoa, will ya?
For the examples below, we calculated savings based on a winter's worth of heating bills totaling $1,000. Remember: time, cash investment, and labor are involved, but these are DIY projects based on the lowest supply costs we could find. Some of these figures will change, as the strategies described below overlap — but saving $500 or more on winter heating costs? That's definitely achievable.
Weather Strip Those Windows
It took last winter's big blizzard for my wife and I to find all the places where cold air invaded our home and seal these drafts to save on heating. If you can break away from the "Glee" reruns, check out some great weather stripping tips at doityourself.com and via this U.S. Department of Energy pamphlet. This MD Building Products 5/16" 17-Foot Weather Stripping Tape Roll ($6.27 with $6.64 s&h or free in-store pickup, lowest we could find) is made for extra large gaps and can seal two windows.
Savings: Air leaks can account for up to 40% of a home's energy loss. If weather stripping tackles half of that, figure at minimum a 15% savings, worth $150.
Tackle Obvious Door Drafts
Back when Green Dad was Not-So-Green Bachelor, I used to stuff towels under my doors to keep the cold air from creeping in. The Twin Draft Guard Door Weather Strip ($8.97 with in-store pickup, a low by $5) does a much better job. This double-sided draft stopper is made of foam, and can be cut to fit the length of your front and back doors in seconds. By making a snug seal underneath the door frame, the Twin Draft Guard stops heat from escaping, and cold air from invading.
Savings: As part of your overall strategy to cut down on air leaks — and by tackling the biggest leak issue at its source — the Twin Draft Guard could easily cut your heating costs by an additional $50.Locate Hidden Leaks
A quick and easy way to find drafts in your home is to carry a lit incense to suspected problem spots near windows and doors; wherever you see the smoke blowing in a steady stream, you know there's a potential leak. The Black & Decker Thermal Leak Detector ($34.99 with free shipping, a low by $2) is a little less caveman and can pinpoint drafts throughout the house.
Savings: A home with its energy leaks properly sealed can cut winter heating costs by as much as 20%, or $200 saved.
Turn Down the Thermostat
Like the poet Pablo Neruda, I have this thing about socks: the warmer and poofier, the better. I used to buy and abandon socks by the drawer-full in quest of that Ultimate Warm and Snuggly Sock, until I found the mighty Wigwam brand. Made right here in the U.S. (in Sheboygan, Wisconsin), Wigwam and its president Bob Chesebro have a foot fetish of a different sort, as they fuss over every detail of their product. My choice: the pictured Merino Comfort Hiker ($10.89 per pair with free shipping, a low by $5), a sock so toasty and comfy I've permanently retired all my slippers, and can walk on the coldest hardwood floor without the slightest threat of Popsicle toes. Seriously, Wigwams are the only sock I wear in cold weather.
Savings: If wearing toasty socks and a sweater allows you to turn down the thermostat by two degrees all winter, you'll save 10% on heating, or $100.
Protect Those Window Panes
There are two precautions to this tip. First, if you have kids, make sure they don't pop all the bubbles before you can hang the wrap. And second, you might want to temporarily take down the wrap from dining room windows before entertaining, unless you don't mind puzzled looks from dinner guests. Minor objections aside, it turns out bubble wrap is a very cost effective insulation if you know where to find it: Furniture retailers, for example, discard rolls and rolls of the stuff every day. Or you can opt for the inexpensive Staples Standard 25-Foot Bubble Wrap Roll ($6.99 with free shipping, a low by $3).
Savings: Build It Solar projects about a $1,200 savings in energy cost over 10 years for bubble wrapped windows, which averages to $120 per year.
High-Tech Insulating Window Shades
Another thought to warm your winterizing ambitions: Window shades have gone high-tech, and can add to your energy savings. A honeycomb design reduces heat transfer at the window by up to 40%. Honeycomb shades can also more than double a window's energy efficiency. Coupled with bubble wrap, that's a pulverizing one-two punch to keep winter's worst from knocking at your window. The Duette Architella shades by Hunter Douglas (pictured) are a high end set of blinds and a dealer can help with pricing on products. Other cost-conscious and effective window shade alternatives are available at Home, with models typically starting at about $30, like this Bali Today 29x48" Singlecell Cellular Shade ($28.97 with free shipping, a low by $3).
Savings: Federal tax credits for energy-efficient products mean you can realize a 10% return on the cost, up to a maximum of $500 in total, when purchased and installed before December 31. Tack on another $200 in energy savings if you lower your bills by 20%.
Sure, you've got insulation in your home, but what kind of shape is it in, and when was the last time you checked it? You can replace old, dirty insulation with a new layer of face-down paper-backed insulation on top. While determining the proper amount of insulation is tricky, a 12" layer will provide effective cover in many instances. Consult with your local hardware store to make sure you get the right type of insulation at the right price. What's more, the U.S. Department of Energy has come out with this handy program to recommend the best type of insulation based on where you live.
Savings: Varies, but a 20% energy bill reduction will save you $200.Hot Air Rises
It might seem logical that ceiling fans, which cool off a home the summer, would only create drafts in the winter and thus shouldn't be used. But remember: Ceiling fans circulate air as opposed to cooling it. And if the air up there's warm, then they're actually distributing warmer air throughout your living spaces by taking the heat that's risen and forcing it back down to where you need it. Ceiling fans work especially well when run at a low speed in a clockwise direction, and with space heaters and other devices that don't circulate air so well. To boot, ceiling fans cost just pennies to run. This new Littleton 42" Ceiling Fan ($23.97 with $7.64 s&h, lowest price we could find ) is among the cheapest options we could find.
Savings: Ceiling fans can save cut up to 10% of heating costs, so we estimate that's about a $100 in cost savings.
Top page photo credit: How-to-keep.com