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How to Winterize Your Home

By: Allen Lyle

Not long ago I was listening to some of the questions that came in on our Homefront radio show hotline. Sometimes this can be the biggest chore because it takes so long. Other times it’s one of the most entertaining portions of my day because some of the questions are absolutely hilarious. Case in point: one lady called in and said she had a new home that had been winterized and she wanted to know, “How do I de-winterize it?” Okay, so here’s the short answer: Don’t.

Winterizing your home is just a fancy way of saying you’re making it more energy efficient. Don’t misunderstand, there are some things that you will want to remove as the warmer weather sets in, but for the most part these winterizing steps are just fine to stay in place all year long. That being said, here are my top seven suggestions that you should think about doing to help protect your home against Old Man Winter and make the colder temps more tolerable.

1. Stop Air Leaks

This means a thorough inspection of all windows and doors, HVAC registers, interior attic access openings, and any openings specifically designed for pipes or wiring. This is something that you really have to do on a yearly basis, even if you have caulked around your doors and windows in the past. Caulking has a tendency to shrink and deteriorate over time, especially if you used an economy brand. Here’s another surprise for some people. Did you know that weather stripping can actually shrink? If you’re lucky, you won’t have to replace any of this for several years, but inspect all these areas annually.
Danny Lipford insulating the pipes on a hot water heater.

2. Wrap Plumbing Pipes

Earlier this year, I was featured on a local CBS news story giving my advice for an upcoming freeze. In the course of the story I mentioned that foam pipe insulation is one of the cheapest, easiest things you can purchase and install to help protect your home against cold weather. But sometimes, something that simple can be a challenge. Especially when everybody on your block, down the street and in the entire city limits decides to purchase foam pipe insulation at the same time.

If for some reason you go to your home center and find all the pipe insulation sold out, you do have other options. These aren’t the best options, but they’ll do in a pinch. You can wrap pipes with old towels, rags and even newspaper. Just make sure you wrap all of the pipe that is exposed, and tie it off with twine, wire or the old reliable standby, duct tape.
Paddle ceiling fan

3. Reverse Ceiling Fans

When it’s time to turn on the heater, it’s time to reverse the rotation of ceiling fans. How do you know when the fan is going in the right direction at the right time of the year? Simple, stand directly under your ceiling fan and look up. In the winter, the blades should be turning clockwise. Unlike the summertime, though, you don’t want the fan motor on high. Air movement is what makes you feel cooler, so in the winter, keep your fan on the lowest setting. This will help circulate that warmer air that tends to rise back down into the living area without creating too much of a cooling breeze. Here’s the slogan I came up with (try not to point at me as you laugh): In summer, counter keeps you cool. In winter, clockwise is the rule.

4. Inspect Ductwork for Leaks

This is easier said than done, but not impossible to do as a homeowner. The last thing you want is to have all that expensive hot air spilling into your attic or crawl space. You may want to consider having a professional come in and inspect for leaks with their precision equipment. It may cost you $200 or $300, but that much money may be worth it to save you the aggravation of trying to find the leaks yourself. If you do find leaks, you can use special metallic tape and brush-on mastic to seal up the gaps.

5. Insulate Windows

If you have temporary storm windows and doors, now’s the time to put them back up. If you don’t have them or can’t afford them, you can purchase a temporary plastic film that installs on the inside of the windows. It’s not my first choice, but if you have older, single-pane windows, this could be a smart move to get you through the winter.
Setting a programmable thermostat

6. Install Programmable Thermostat

Pick one up that allows you to program the week days separate from the weekends. When you’re at work and the kids are at school, program the inside temperature to be 10° – 15° F lower than normal. Then, program the unit to kick back up to your comfort level about 30 minutes before you get home. Here’s another thought. Make your comfort level 5° cooler and wear sweaters inside. You may not like this one, but it’s amazing how much that 5° can save you on your heating bill.

7. Check Insulation

If you can see the top of your ceiling joists in the attic, you need more insulation. You can have more blown in or just roll out additional batts on top of the existing insulation. If you add batts, be sure to use the unfaced kind. If your home is on piers, make sure you have some insulation between the floor joists.

This brings up another point, especially if you have a crawl space that has air vents in the sides. Those vents are placed there to circulate air and keep moisture from building up in the crawl space. Excess moisture can lead to mold and mildew. The question is, do you close those vents in the winter? If you live down South, my advice is leave them open. Southern winters can be fairly mild and moisture/humidity levels are still a concern. North of the Mason-Dixon, however, as long as you have drier air in winter, it won’t hurt to close the vents in those colder months. However, that really won’t do you much good unless the crawl space walls are also insulated.

This is, by no means, a complete checklist, but I think they belong pretty close to the top of any list that you come up with. Certainly you can add to these items, things such as keeping your air filters changed on a regular basis and making sure any fireplace—whether wood-burning or gas—is in top-notch operating capacity.

By the way…in case you’re interested, numbers 3 and 5 SHOULD be part of your annual DE-winterization . . .

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One Comment on “How to Winterize Your Home”

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  1. Diana C Says:
    January 13th, 2011 at 9:43 am

    Glad to see “stopping air leaks” is first on your list of winterization tips. Most people don’t realize that heated air rises and is drawn through unsealed central air conditioning vents into the ductwork in the cold attic. This air is re-introduced through lower vents at a 15-20 degree difference, closing the vent does not completely block this cold air from falling into an already heated room. You can solve this problem with an AC Draftshield cover.

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