Cold weather energy-efficiency tips

When cold weather approaches, use this checklist of simple ways to make your home more comfortable and help you save more on your energy bills.

Check for leaks

  • Check around doors and windows for leaks and drafts. Add weather-stripping. Caulk any holes you see that allow heat to escape. Make sure doors seal properly.
  • If your windows leak badly, consider replacing them with newer, more efficient ones. Keep in mind, however, that replacing windows can be expensive.  It could take you quite a while to recover your costs from the energy savings alone.  But new windows also provide other benefits, such as improved appearance and comfort.
  • Every duct, wire or pipe that penetrates the wall, ceiling or floor has the potential to waste energy.  Plumbing vents can be especially bad because they begin below the floor and go all the way through the roof.  Seal them with caulking or weather-stripping.
  • Electric wall plugs and switches allow cold air in.  Purchase simple-to-install, pre-cut foam gaskets that fit behind the switch plate and effectively prevent leaks.
  • Don’t forget to close the damper on your fireplace.  Of course, the damper needs to be open if a fire is burning, but if the damper is open when you’re not using the fireplace, your chimney functions as a large open window that draws warm air out of the room and creates a draft.  Close that damper.  It’s an effective energy-saving tip that costs you nothing.
  • Examine your home’s heating ducts for leaks.  Think of your ductwork as huge hoses, bringing hot air instead of water into your house.  Mostly out of sight, ducts can leak for years without you knowing it.  They can become torn or crushed and flattened.  Old duct tape — the worst thing to use to seal ductwork, by the way — will dry up and fall away over time, allowing junctions and splices to open, spilling heated air into your attic or under the house. According to field research, you can save roughly 10 percent of your heating bill by sealing leaky ducts.

Check your insulation

  • Insulate your attic.  In an older home, added insulation can be the most cost-efficient way to cut home heating costs.  Before energy efficiency standards, homes were often built with little or no insulation.  As a result, large amounts of heat can be lost through walls, floors and — since heat rises — ceilings.  How much insulation should you install? Typical framed homes now being built use R-38 insulation in ceilings and R-19 for walls and floors.  (Check your local building codes for new construction guidelines.)
  • Weather-strip and insulate your attic hatch or door to prevent warm air from escaping out the top of your home.
  • Seal holes in the attic that lead down into the house, such as open wall tops and ducts, plumbing or electrical runs.  Any hole that leads from a basement or crawlspace to an attic is a big energy waster.  Cover and seal them with spray foam and rigid foam board if necessary.

Check your heating system

  • Get a routine maintenance and inspection of your heating system each autumn to make sure it is in good working order.
  • Replace your heater’s air filter as recommended by the manufacturer.  Your heating system will work more efficiently, use less energy and last longer.  Most homeowners can replace filters and do such simple tasks as cleaning and removing dust from vents or along baseboard heaters.
  • If your heating system is old, you might consider updating it with one of the more efficient new models.
  • Use your programmable thermostat.  If you have an older home, consider installing one.  A programmable thermostat allows you to automatically turn down the heat when you’re away from the house or when you’re sleeping at night.  Then, you can boost the temp to a comfortable level when you need it. Remember, it takes less energy to warm a cool home than to maintain a warm temperature all day long.
  • Reverse the switch on your ceiling fans so they blow upward, toward the ceiling. Ceiling fans are a great idea in summer, but a cooling draft in winter is not ideal.  By reversing the fan’s directions, the blades move air up in winter.  This is especially valuable in high ceiling rooms, where heat that naturally rises is forced back down into the room.
  • Make sure all heating vents are open and unblocked by furniture and other items. This will ensure air is evenly distributed throughout your home.