Why to Winterize: Tips and Tracks for Making Your Home More Energy Efficient

Amber Plante for Zondits, October 18, 2015. Image credit: jill111

The forecasts for winter are in, and there’s good news and bad news. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), this winter will be lighter on our wallets than the past 2 years in terms of energy and heating costs due in part to lower consumption and costs of fuel. Conversely, the Farmer’s Almanac is predicting a winter much like 2014–15, with above-average precipitation in the Northeast, December snow in the Pacific Northwest, ice in the South, and bitter cold nationwide.

You don’t have to be Ned Stark to feel the premonition in the cool autumn air. Thankfully, with the seasonal onset of foliage, sweaters, and pumpkin spice everything also comes an entire shoulder season – prime time for you to finish your energy efficiency checklist before winter sets in.

A Tale of Many Forecasts

According to the EIA, the average fuel cost for homes with natural gas will experience a 10% drop; those with propane will see a 13% drop; homes with oil heat will average a whopping 25% less than last year’s peak; and homes with electric power will down about 2%.

Consumption is also predicted to be down, but, as Farmer’s Almanac editor Peter Geiger points out, it’s all about location. “It’s like winter déjà vu,” he said. “Last year our bitterly cold, shivery forecasts came true in many states, including the twenty-three eastern states that experienced one of their top-ten coldest Februarys on record. This year many of these same states may want to get a jump-start now and stock up on lots of winter survival gear.”

According to the 224-year-old paper prognosticator, “The winter of 2015–2016 is looking like a repeat of last winter, at least in terms of temperatures with unseasonably cold conditions over the Atlantic Seaboard, eastern portions of the Great Lakes, and the lower peninsula of Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, most of the Tennessee and Mississippi Valley, as well as much of the Gulf Coast. … New Englanders will once again experience a very frigid (shivery) winter (déjà vu). … Precipitation-wise, if you like snow, then you should head out to the northern and central Great Plains (most of the North Central States), the Great Lakes, New England (sorry, Boston!), and parts of the Ohio Valley, where snowier-than-normal conditions are forecast.”

Not all forecasts are calling for such extreme wintry weather, though. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is calling for warmer temperatures around the country: the Northeast could see temperatures up 13%, the Midwest 11%, and the South 8%.

Hoping for the Best, Expecting the Worst

The game of prediction isn’t science, and in the end, as long as you’re prepared, any forecast could come to pass without incident on your home, your family, or your budget. Around the house, we’re always looking for ways to tinker with our energy systems to make them run more efficiently. Try these suggestions to improve how your home is run overall:

  • Reverse your ceiling fans. That cool breeze in the summer can be turned into a warm blanket in the winter by reversing the direction in which your fan spins to clockwise. All that warm air trapped near the ceiling will be swirled downward, using your home’s heating system to its best effect to warm not from the top down but from overall air circulation.
  • Replace the batteries on your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors. If it’s not already on your to-do list, pencil it in now. Fall is the perfect time to make sure you have fresh batteries in every one of these life-saving devices.
  • DIY around the house. Wrap your pipes to ensure better insulation, winterize your A/C unit, flush out your water heater, and replace your furnace filters. Each of these easy tasks will ensure that you are prepared for the cold weather and that your equipment is well taken care of and ready for use.
  • Fill gaps around windows and doors. Drafts can waste up to 30% of your home’s heat. Caulking, padding, and other tools will help seal cracks between the inside and outside. For a fun option for sealing your windows, try taping bubble wrap around the interior frame. The air-filled film will keep the cold outside but still let light through.
  • Replace insulation in the basement and attic. There are many environmentally friendly options out there beyond the Pink Panther fiberglass. Choose something that works for your budget and your lifestyle and replace the insulation on the upper and lower floors so that heat won’t escape through the roof and cold won’t seep up from the ground.
  • Install a programmable thermostat. This will let you tell your systems when to turn on to maximize their efficiency.

Get a Helping Hand

There are many DIY projects to be done around the house, but sometimes it’s best to call in the experts to ensure overall system proficiency and safety. Here are some situations where you should pick up that phone.

  • Have your furnace inspected annually. Now is the time to make sure your heating system is safe and functioning optimally. Call the appropriate professionals to clean and inspect your heating ducts, vacuum out your chimney, and clear your dryer vent. Systems like these are often tricky to handle alone, and so they require professional attention.
  • Get your gutters cleaned and protected. Fixing the damage done by ice dams is one of the most common house calls made by roofers when spring finally comes. Preemptively minimize this damage by calling in a professional to clean out the sneaky debris hiding high up in your gutters and advise you on the installation of preventive devices.
  • Hire a tree trimmer. Have a professional assess your trees to ensure that the weaker branches do not come crashing down on your car, your roof, or your power lines during a storm.

Simple solutions can also have the best results. Here are a few no-brainers that will definitely help you conserve energy this winter:

  • Put on a sweater. Adding an extra layer of insulation to your body can raise your temperature 4°F. That means when your thermostat is set to 66°F, you feel like it’s a perfectly comfortable 70°F.
  • Prepare a power outage kit. When the power goes out, the last things you want to worry about are life’s essentials. Packing a small bag that contains water, canned food, candles, a flashlight, and other gear will help you stay calm in an emergency.
  • Lower your water heater’s temperature. We all love hot showers when we’re freezing, but lowering your water temperature a few degrees can make a huge difference on your bill and not much on the feel of the water on your skin. And, since the hot water dries out your skin, you’ll also be saving money on lotion.

Winter can be a beautiful season if you are prepared and your home is running as efficiently as possible. Taking steps now will ensure that you can enjoy the cold weather knowing that you have a clean, safe, warm, and affordable home to come home to.