Stop Throwing Dollars Out Your Drafty Windows

The weather is turning cooler and Lowes can help get your home ready for fall and winter. Enjoy the  colors of fall, find the best plants for your yard and garden, and enjoy autumn.

It also means winter isn’t far away. Take a walk around the exterior of your house and look for any small cracks or holes.  Bring out a ladder and check the roof and gutters.

Fall is a good time to do some seasonal maintenance to keep your home and yard looking good. The weather can change quickly especially if you live in a colder climate.  Here are a few fall projects that can help your home brace for the colder weather  and save you time and money.

There are many home tasks, both inside and out,  that make sense to do in the fall as you prepare for the winter months. If you’re going to spend the majority of your time over the next 3-4 months inside, lets make it comfortable and energy efficient.

ENERGY STAR qualified light bulbs. Switching to the new CFL bulbs saves about $6 a year per bulb in electricity costs and can save more than $40 a bulb over its lifetime.

Clean those gutters.  Once the leaves start falling,  remove them and other debris by hand or  scraper give them a rinse so that winter’s rain and melting snow can drain. Clogged drains form ice dams,  freezes and causes water to seep into the house.  As you’re hosing down your gutters, look for leaks and misaligned gutter drains. Make sure the downspouts are taking the water away from the house’s foundation.

Here are some Energy Star tips:

Put away patio furniture. Clean and store seasonal outdoor furniture. Remove and clean the cushions. Simply moving patio furniture into the garage over covering it for winter will add years to its life.

Seal those drafty windows and doors.  One of the best ways to winterize your home is to simply block obvious leaks around your house, both inside and out.  Its easy to find the leaks and you probably were going to do this all summer,  but put it off till now.  Look at the most common drafty areas: window and door frames and electrical outlets. Feel for drafts around the edges of windows and doors.

Unless the weather is really cold, you may have to use a lighted candle near the draft and if the flame flickers, its time to seal it. You may need to replace seals and repair caulking around window and door frames. Consider using heavier or insulated drapes and blinds for winter months.

Don’t forget to  buy new door sweeps to close spaces under exterior doors and your garage door. And drafty electrical outlet gaskets can easily be installed behind the existing covers in minutes.

It may seem like a small amount of air escapes through these little outlets, but consider the fact that you may have 2 or three outside facing wall outlets per room and it adds up. Feel for cold air especially around electrical outlets on a  home’s outside walls where cold air often enters.

Outside, seal leaks with weather-resistant caulk around windows, patio doors and basement windows.  For brick and masonary siding, use a masonry caulk or sealer, which will better stand up to freezing and thawing. Even small cracks and crevices will let air escape and cost you money.

Check the furnace.  Its a good idea to have your furnace serviced at least every two years.  An annual furnace inspection and cleaning of the burners should cost you less than $99 in most areas.  Turn your furnace on now and make sure it’s working before the cold weather begins.

A strong but short-lasting smell is natural when firing up the furnace in the fall; its simply the dust burning off from accumulating over the summer. If the smell lasts a long time, shut down the furnace and call a professional. A carbon monoxide check is usually included if you get an inspection. Now is also a good time to stock up on air filters and change them every 45 – 60 days during the winter months.

A dirty filter slows down air flow and reduces efficiency which costs you more money.  Look at reusable electrostatic or electronic furnace and air filters which can be washed and used for up to 5 years.

Buy a programmable thermostat.  If you already have one, check the temperature settings. Setting your thermostat to a lower  temperature at night and when you’re not home, can result in substantial cost savings. Programmable thermostats save energy by offering convenient programmed temperature settings that scale temperatures back when you are away and scale up when you return.

When used properly, a programmable thermostat can save as much as $150 every year in energy costs. Most programmable thermostats will cost between $60-$90.  Read our review of The Nest Thermostat  available at Lowes.

Reverse the ceiling fan. Reversing your ceiling fan is a small tip that most people don’t often think of.  Ceiling fans do not heat or cool a room, but the ceiling fan rotation allows improved air circulation which can improve your comfort. By reversing its direction from the summer, the fan will push warm air downward and recirculate, keeping you more comfortable.

Many fans now have a “reverse” or clockwise switch on them. As you look up, the blades should be turning clockwise and moving the air upward for the winter months. Remember to set it back to “forward” or downward direction for summer months.

Check Your Insulation. Inspect the insulation in your attic, basement and garage. In an older home, that can be the most cost-efficient way to cut home heating costs. Many older homes were often built with little or no insulation. Large amounts of heat can be lost through walls and floors and as the heat rises, it escapes through the ceiling or attic.  How much insulation should you install? Insulation level are specified by R-Value.

The R-Value is a measure of insulation’s ability to resist heat traveling through it. The higher the R-Value the better the performance of the insulation. Typical homes now being built must meet insulation requirements of R-38 insulation in ceilings and R-19 for walls and floors.

 Check your state requirements here.  Use Lowes weather-strip and insulate your attic door to prevent warm air from escaping out the top of your house.  If you have a door that opens to your garage ceiling, check that also for leaks and gaps.

Wrap  pipes with insulation or heat tape.  A burst pipe caused by a winter freeze is always a nightmare. However, it is very easy to prevent.  Be sure to turn off outside water faucets well before cold weather sets in.  Turn off the valve and make sure that the lines are drained by turning the faucet back on.  If the water supply is shut off, water will not come out.

You can install styrofoam protective cups with a screw attachment to help insulate spigots. Also look for pipes that aren’t insulated, or that pass through unheated spaces  such as crawlspaces, basements or garages.  Wrap them with foam rubber sleeves or fiberglass insulation.  In some situations, you may have to wrap pipes with heat tape.  This basically an electrical cord that emits a small amout of heat to keep pipes from freezing.

Service sprinklers and irrigation system. Depending on your climate, your irrigation system may need to be drained and checked.  Most sprinkler systems will need to have compressed air blown through the water lines in the fall.  This will remove all the water from the system to ensure water does not freeze the lines and cause bursting next spring. Have a professional perform any necessary repairs and also mark sprinkler heads near driveways and sidewalks.

Check smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms.  This is a great time to check and change the batteries on your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. Detectors should be replaced every 10 years. Consider installing electric smoke detectors with battery backup.

Test them with a small bit of actual smoke, and not just by pressing the “test” button. Check to see that your fire extinguisher is still where it should be, and still works.

For more information, get EPA’s Guide to Energy-Efficient Heating and Cooling  and DIY Guide to ENERGY STAR Home Sealing.

Save money and stay comfortable with the following tips:

  • Use your ceiling fan. Even in the winter your ceiling fan can help improve your comfort. This produces an updraft, which forces warm air near the ceiling down into the occupied space.
  • If you add up all the hidden air leaks in your home, it can be the size of an open window and will lead to higher energy bills causing your system to work harder to keep you comfortable.
  • Change your lights. Replacing your home’s most frequently used light bulbs to ENERGY STAR CFL lighting can save $40 in energy costs each year per bulb.
  • Look for the ENERGY STAR when purchasing new products for your home. Found on more than 50 types of products from heating and cooling equipment, appliances, electronics, and windows.  The ENERGY STAR label means you are getting the most energy-efficient product that will not only save money on energy bills, but also help protect our environment.
  • Dirt and neglect are the number one causes of heating and cooling system failure. Equipment maintenance is one of the easiest and most important steps you can take to keep your system at peak performance. Schedule a fall check-up of your heating system with a licensed contractor. Clean or change your air filter once a month.
  • Get winter equipment ready.  Service your snow blower and make sure it is ready to go, especially if you live in an unpredictable climate. Test the generator. If you have an emergency generator for power outages, give it a test, and make sure it’s in good working order. Buy extra gasoline. Keep gas on hand for use in your snow blower or generator, so you’re prepared for emergencies. Make sure you store gasoline in tanks away from fire sources and out of children’s reaches.

Properly maintaining your home also enhances its value and appeal and is less effort than managing a problem later. By taking the time to prepare and maintain your home for fall, you’ll be able to eliminate possible issues that may arise come winter.

Getting your home ready for the season is easier and less expensive than you think. When the chilly fall and winter weather approaches, you and your home will be ready and comfortable to enjoy the season.

By Victoria Stone

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