This weekend saw some of the first flurries of snow making their way to the ground here in the northeast, prodding many homeowners to consider just how prepared they are for winter.  While the seasonal downturn in temperatures can be both enjoyable and annoying, there are more than a few things you can do to your home in order to properly winterize it, and mitigate any of the negative effects of the next few months' chill.

1. Be A Draft Dodger

One of the first places you can start with winterization and energy savings is a drafty doorway. While a slight chill may not feel like much of an issue at first, the U.S. Department of Energy has suggested that drafts can account for anywhere between 5% and a staggering 30% of winter energy use (hopefully you don't find yourself in the latter category!). Luckily, these are somewhat easy to deal with, using a technology that even our grandparents were acquainted with: a simple draft snake. If you don't feel the need to purchase one, you can also simply use a rolled up bath towel, but placing any kind of fabric stop against the base of a drafty doorway can translate to long-term energy savings, particularly if said draft was formerly responsible for giving your thermostat an inaccurate reading.

2. Weatherstripping Is Your Friend

While drafty doors can be a problem, the same issue often affects windows just as severely. These leaks can also be found in areas where two different building materials meet, including pipe exits, chimneys, or siding corners.  Weatherstripping can often be used to seal up window seams, but caulk is just as effective for exterior gaps. Tests to determine leaks are relatively simple, and can be conducted either by you alone or with a friend's help; one of the most effective involves holding a lit candle or stick of incense near any potential leaks.  If the smoke wavers, you've found a spot that needs your attention, before any more of your heat leaks outside.

3. Wrap Your Windows In Plastic

While weatherstripping can help seal around windows, a layer of plastic will serve to insulate the panes themselves.  Kits to achieve this are readily and cheaply available at most hardware stores, and can make a significant difference in the overall winterization of your home. In addition to improving your home's heat retention capabilities, window plastic is essentially invisible when properly installed, making it one of the least intrusive modifications you can undertake.  If you have a bit more money to spend, you can also consider paying a professional to apply a Low-E insulation film directly to the windowpanes themselves.

4. Keep An Eye On Your Thermostat

We all like to feel warm and cozy during the winter, but sometimes we need to strike a balance between comfort and heating costs, lest our bills skyrocket in February. Keeping a close eye on your thermostat can be one of the best deterrents to high energy bills, as lowering the temperature of your home by just a single degree (easily offset by wearing a sweater) can save you between 1 and 3%.  While this may not seem like much at all, programming a smart thermostat to turn down the temperature while you're away during the workday can translate into significant long-term savings (particularly if you drop the temperature by a noticable margin, like 5-10 degrees). More than half of most annual energy budgets are spent on heating and cooling, so cutting costs at the time when your home doesn't need to be heated can have a dramatic impact on your bottom line.

5. Tune Up Your Heater

Paying a little extra attention to your heating system before the onset of winter can yield dividends over the heating season. Like any mechanical system, heaters need to be periodically checked and maintained to ensure proper operation. Doing so will not only reduce your energy costs by up to 5%, but will also help to mitigate the chances of your heater suffering a failure in the dead of winter (which could prove to be a far more costly and inconvenient affair). Some heating companies offer discounted inspections around heating season, while other utilities will offer free annual checkups.  Bear in mind though that almost everyone wants their system checked at the same time, so heating and cooling professionals are often booked solid around this time of year.

6. While You're At It, Change The Filter

Even after you've had your heating system checked, lubricated, and inspected, you have to remember that it includes an air filter, which should regularly be replaced.  Most of us forget this simple bit of maintenance, which can cost us in the long run.  Though typical electrostatic filters only trap 10 to 40% of airborne debris, they can become clogged over time, which will increase energy consumption and restrict the airflow of your heater. There are a variety of other filter options on the market (including permanent ones), at varying cost levels, which can be vastly more effective at removing airborne debris.  If you're forced to stay with cheap filters, however, you can still keep your maintenance on track by marking a replacement date on your calender for each month.

7. Turn That Fan Around

Ceiling fans are hardly the first thing that comes to mind when you want to heat a home. While you may associate them with the cool breeze you experience in the summer, most fans can be reversed with the simple flip of a switch.  When set to a clockwise motion, ceiling fans will circulate air that is trapped near the ceiling back into the lower reaches of a room.  If you have high ceilings, this can be a significant improvement, as heat rises. Using this simple trick, homeowners can often cut their heating costs by up to 10%, as they move unused heat into a space where it can properly be utilized.

8. Consider More Permanent Upgrades

While most of these tricks are simple and cheap, you may want to consider more significant upgrades to your home if you have long-term heating problems. Insulated windows can often be expensive, yet they are dramatically effective for increasing the insulation of a home. Likewise, a storm door can increase energy efficiency by as much as 45%, while storm windows can have a similar impact.  Significant tax credits exist as an incentive to undertake these kinds of home improvements, and with the added savings generated by better insulation, property owners often find themselves in a win-win situation.

Home modifications can involve a significant up-front cost, however, so they may be a long-term goal in your overall financial plan. If these kind of improvements aren't in the cards for this year, the other tips presented here are sure to help you tighten your expenditures, putting more money back in your pocket while helping to keep your home properly heated, insulated, and winterized.

[ Images: Dave Ungar - Own Work via Flickr | Resized | CC BY 2.0

                Starmanseries via Flickr | Resized | CC BY 2.0 ]



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