As I write this, the back side of my house is mostly exposed to the studs with loose fiberglass hanging out in the area where landscaping will be someday. That's right: Some crazy people choose to do remodeling projects in the middle of the coldest part of winter. Which doesn't make a lot of sense, considering this article is about winterizing your home. Having one wall with very little insulation during sub-zero temperatures is not winterizing.
The (expensive) changes we're making this year are supposed to pay off in lower heating costs in the years to come. And they are expensive. All-new windows, spray-foam insulation in the basement and outer walls, and some new siding all add up to one pricey, pricey project. But it wasn't always this way. We have lived in our drafty house for almost seven years. The windows are old and allow for plenty of ventilation (which isn't what you want when, baby, it's cold outside). However, windows are expensive, so we've spent the last seven years limping along while still winterizing our home as cheaply as possible.
Cool down your heating bill
Most of our changes have been small. But enough small changes added together did make a difference on our heating bill.
1. Run fans clockwise. I had no idea you could change the blade direction on ceiling fans, let alone that it made a difference to your heating bill. But my husband taught me this. In the winter, just turn the blades clockwise to bring the warmer air (hot air rises, of course) down.
2. Use storm windows. Our windows are so old, we use storm windows in the winter…usually. I say “usually” because it's a huge pain to lug the windows down from the upstairs of the garage, but it's worth it. That was never more evident than when we experienced the early January cold snap that hit most of the U.S. We hadn't actually put all the storm windows on our 11-window sunroom. Every window without a storm window was iced over until we put those storm windows on. Within an hour or so, all the ice was melted. (Note to self: It's much easier to put the storm windows in when it's 40 degrees than -10 degrees.)
3. Put plastic over the windows. If your windows are drafty like ours, putting plastic over the windows can make a big difference. You can purchase this at a hardware store.
4. Caulk openings, if possible. Our basement windows were just like the rest — drafty. Since we didn't have storm windows for these and didn't open them often, we just caulked them. Unfortunately, this meant we could no longer open the windows. Even more unfortunately, our sewer system backed up into our basement after these windows were caulked closed. (“Backed up” is really a laid-back term. “Spewed” is more accurate.) But hey, we saved on our heating bill!
5. Drop your thermostat setting. Obviously, it costs less to heat a home to 72 degrees than it does to 76. Before we had kids, I left the oven door open after it was turned off to allow its leftover heat to warm up a room, and I also left hot bath water in the bathtub to exude a little warmth. Frequently, I will drink hot water and layer my clothing to stay comfortable. We also drop the setting even more at night and pile more blankets and comforters on the beds. I have heard stories from elderly relatives that they woke up in mornings to see their breath in the brisk air — in their bedrooms. We don't come close to that at all, but it amazes me.
6. Fix under-the-door drafts. Depending on the room, we roll up towels or rugs to block drafts coming under the doors. It looks crazy, but it works. Our doors are just as pretty and drafty as the old windows.
7. Don't use all your rooms. Our house has electric heat, which happens to be one of the more inefficient methods of heating a house. But one advantage is that each room has its own thermostat and register. This makes it easy to cut the heat to parts of the house we don't use as much in the winter.
8. Use alternate heat sources. A few years ago, we purchased a wood-burning stove to supplement our electric heat. We find people who need trees cut down. We provide the labor, and we are “paid” with the wood. So far, using this arrangement, we haven't paid for wood. But almost constant wood stove use has cut $200 or $300 off our heating bill each month during the winter months.
9. The not-so-insulated curtains. While we don't have insulated curtains, we have put heavy blankets over windows to try to repel the cold air.
10. Move to a warmer climate. So that's probably not a cheap, or feasible, option, but it's definitely tempting!
Heating our house is expensive, but it's not a convenience I want to live without. Several years ago, we lost power for four days during an ice storm. We lugged our mattress in front of the fireplace and slept there. A generator kept us (and our pipes!) from freezing, but none of the other methods listed here made a comfortable difference when it was close to freezing in our house. So I am grateful for heat in the winter — I just don't want to pay too much for it!
If you don't want your heating costs to go through the roof, there are certainly options. Do you try to cut your heating costs? If so, which methods do you use?
Lisa Aberle is a college professor by day and a freelance writer by night. Always an aspiring writer with an interest in money, she once ironically misspelled “mortgage” during a spelling bee. Most of her current adventures take place on the four-acre mini-farm she shares with her husband in the rural Midwest (where she writes with gel pens whenever possible).