Summer has finally left us. The leaves are turning and falling from the trees and the temperatures continue to plummet. Autumn is barely a pit stop for us on our way to winter, so time is running out to get your home in a winter-ready condition.
For many of us, while the winter months sure are cold, they aren't much of a threat. But for some places in the United States, for example, winters can be deadly. Not only can the cold be enough to kill from exposure, dramatic fluctuations in the temperature, along with other local climate and weather conditions, can cause structural damage to homes.
Fortunately, most homeowners who prepare their properties for the ensuing winter conditions tend to face far fewer problems. Preparing your home for winter is much simpler than you may think, and you'll definitely be glad that you did so in the end.
We've all been there, stuck indoors, shielding ourselves from the icy winds outside, and somewhere there is an air leak. At some point along the perimeter of your home is a gap that is allowing warm air to leak into the cold outdoors. Weather stripping can help and is available in a variety of different forms, each using different materials for slightly different effects. Using foam or felt weatherstripping in your home is a great way of reducing the drafts flowing under internal doors. It makes it easy to insulate individual rooms and can be a cost-effective way of insulating your entire home (mostly) by sealing off an exterior room.
Check Your Attic for Air Leaks
Leaks in the attic are one of the most common causes of drafts and unwanted airflow throughout your home. Even the smallest of gaps in your insulation can completely undermine the entire structure. For some rooms, a leak is no big deal. But in your bedroom or the living room, rooms where you spend a lot of time, an air draft can be very annoying!
Not only are these leaks a constant source of mild discomfort, they actually cost money. Any heat you are losing to the outdoor world is heat that needs to be replaced. The more heat escapes from inside your home, the harder your internal heating system has to work to maintain that desired temperature.
If you want to keep your heating bills as low as possible over winter, you need to insulate your home as effectively as possible. The attic is usually the room with the most potential points through which air can leak. You can use caulk to fill the smaller air gaps and pressurized expanding foam for those larger gaps that aren't so easily filled.
Add Insulation to Your Attic
Insulation can take a variety of different forms. But whatever specific material or technique you are looking at, the purpose of insulation is to trap air inside, minimizing loss. There are two important things to know about insulation. The first is that the purpose of insulation is to trap heat within, not to generate heat itself. For example, your home has radiators and central heating systems to warm it up, but it is the insulation that keeps the heat in.
The other important fact to know about insulation is that there is no such thing as a perfect insulator. If you completely seal up your home, then raise the temperature inside, it doesn’t matter how good your insulation is, the temperature in your home will drop back down. This is because some heat will always be lost.
Let’s consider your attic. When the central heating in your home is active, the heat spreads until the average air temperature throughout your home is at the desired level. Imagine that there is a hole in your attic roof. There is now a large gap through which hot air can escape. Because hot air likes to move to where it’s cold, air “rushes” through this large gap, lowering the temperature inside your home.
In most homes, the attic is the room with the most air gaps and other points of weakness through which air escapes. There are numerous reasons for the attic being particularly prone to gaps and leaks in the insulation, so it is this room more than any other that you need to comb through to discover any issues and furnish with the necessary insulation.
Insulating attics, basements, and crawl spaces is considered moderately difficult, warranting the services of a professional business for many people who lack the experience needed to perform the task well. They can also help you to decide on the most important alterations to make to your attic.
Install a Programmable Thermostat
Programmable thermostats are a really simple but effective way of reducing your annual energy bills. According to EnergyStar, a programmable thermostat could save a household as much as $180 a year in fuel costs. A programmable thermostat can be set to automatically adjust itself to maintain the ideal temperature, as set by the user. It can even do this while you are away on vacation.
You can utilize different thermostats throughout your home to maintain different temperatures in different areas. If you are storing musical instruments, for example, you may want to maintain the area they are stored in at a different temperature.
Seal Furnace Ducts
By some estimates, heating ducts are losing roughly a third, perhaps even more, of the amount of heat they transport. These losses are caused by leaks, with heat moving much less efficiently through the air than through materials which physically touch one another. Inefficiencies in heat ducts can have a significant impact on overall energy costs. The larger the physical size of the home, the more money is being sacrificed to inefficient heating, but that’s not to say this shouldn’t concern owners of smaller homes.
Some appliances, such as water heaters and furnaces, can cause the build-up of some very dangerous gases. Of particular concern is carbon monoxide, which can build up owing to a process called backdraft. Sealing the attic of your property reduces the risk of backdraft occurring, which makes it much less likely that you need to worry about gas leaks and similar issues. If you undertake any sealant work around these fixtures, you will need to have a heating contractor conduct a combustion safety test to ensure that you can work around the gases safely.
It isn’t possible to reach all of the heating ducts in your attic by yourself. Some of them will be hidden away behind walls, floors, and ceilings. However, by ensuring that all the sealing you can access is as tightly sealed as it can be, you can dramatically improve insulation performance.
Ensuring that your gutters are as clean as possible come winter will save you a huge amount of potential trouble later. The winter months will put your gutters through their paces on their own, but coming hot on the heels of autumn, which can also cause problems for gutters, they can end up causing some serious damage. You should, therefore, make gutter cleaning a central part of your winter preparations.
To begin with, trim back any branches on your property so that they aren’t directly overhanging gutters. This will prevent any loose debris from dropping into the gutters and clogging them. Trimming back these overhanging branches will make a tremendous difference to the amount of wear and tear that your guttering suffers from.
Once you have removed the overhanging branches, you can then move on to clearing the gutters themselves. Make sure that you clear out as much of the debris trapped in your gutters as possible. Remember, any debris that you cannot shift will form a barrier that will prevent your gutters from draining in the event of a storm.
If your gutters are in a particularly bad state, or their structural integrity appears to be compromised, you may want to hire the services of a professional who can help advise you on the best way to proceed, and the most affordable way of doing so.
Keep Your Furnace Serviced
Ensure that your furnace is always in working condition and deal with any issues that might arise long before they become a bigger problem. Keeping your service regularly serviced and inspected can quickly become costly. However, the cost is low compared to that of having to deal with a broken furnace.
Newer and more advanced furnaces require a professional inspection every couple of years. However, older units need to be checked more frequently, once a year ideally. You should check your furnace’s manual to find out what the manufacturer recommends with regards to having the furnace serviced. All of the above also applies to home boilers.
Preparing your home for winter is essential unless you want to spend more money on heating than on Christmas. The good news is that once most of these steps are completed, the benefits should last through many winters. You'll be able to maintain a constant cozy temperature through the cold weather and stay happy and comfortable.