15 Ways to Winterize Your Home

by Brett & Kate McKay on November 9, 2010 · 32 comments

in DIY Home Maintenance, Manly Skills

This post is brought to you by Goodyear. Click here to learn more about Winter Reactive Technology from Goodyear. What is this?

We had our first freeze here in Oklahoma last week, a sign that winter will soon be upon us. Granted, winters aren’t too bad here in Tulsa, but there are always stretches of frigid cold during the season. So before those cold winds start blowing in, I’ll be taking some steps to winterize our home. Winterizing your home makes your place more energy efficient so you can keep your family warm and toasty without breaking the bank on energy bills. In addition to making your house more energy efficient, winterizing your home also entails doing small chores that will help prevent damage to your home from snow and ice.

It doesn’t take much to get your home ready for Old Man Winter. A single weekend is all you need to properly winterize your home. Below, I’ve listed 15 things you can do to ensure you have a warm, safe house this winter and money left in your pocket for holiday shopping.

1. Call an HVAC professional to inspect your furnace. Before you turn on that furnace for the first time this winter, have an HVAC professional come check it out and give it a tune-up. They’ll make sure your furnace is running efficiently and safely. During a furnace inspection the HVAC will likely do the following:

  • Do a safety check for carbon monoxide
  • Clean and replace air filters
  • Check blower operation
  • Clean motor and fan
  • Inspect gas piping to furnace

A furnace inspection will set you back $100 or more, but the energy savings and your family’s safety is well worth the investment. You might get the bad news that you need to replace the entire furnace. If that’s the case, take advantage of federal tax credits for new furnaces, which cover 30% of the cost, up to $1,500.

2. Have the HVAC guy clean and inspect heating ducts. While the HVAC man is at your house inspecting your furnace, have him do the same to your heating ducts.  Studies have shown that up to 60% of heated air escapes from ducts before making it to the vents. That’s a lot of money leaking out of your pocket. The HVAC guy can check for any leaks in your air duct system and then take steps to seal them.

3. Trim any nearby trees. If you have any tree branches hanging near your roof, windows, or driveways, trim them back. Snow and ice will weigh them down and possibly cause them to break. A few years ago we had a pretty bad ice storm here in Tulsa. I remember driving by one house that had a parked car in the driveway. So much ice had accumulated on a large branch that it had snapped off and smashed the car’s roof. The owner could have easily prevented this misfortune if he had taken the time to trim his trees.

4. Reverse ceiling fans. Most people don’t know that you can use your fans during the winter to keep your house warm. On every ceiling fan there’s a switch that allows you to reverse the direction of the blades. Switch it so your ceiling fan rotates clockwise. That will push warm air down and force it to recirculate throughout the room. Don’t forget to make the switch again when it starts to warm up!

5. Block air leaks. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, drafts can waste 5% to 30% of your energy use. To find those leaks use the Black and Decker Thermal Leak Detector. You’re likely to find drafts underneath doors and near windows. If you find a leak underneath your door put a draft snake across the bottom of it. A simple rolled up bath towel will work. If you have leaks near your windows, get some weather-resistant caulk and caulk them from the outside. You can use weather stripping as well. Other places you might want to check for leaks are where pipes and wires exit your foundation.

6. Winterize the A/C. You’re probably not going to be using your air conditioner during the winter, so taking some steps to protect it during this time can extend the life of your machine. Winterizing your A/C is easy. Drain any pipes or hoses coming from your air conditioner. You don’t want them freezing during the winter months. Also make sure to vacuum out any pools of water you have in the A/C’s drain pan. Another step you can take is to cover your central air unit with a plastic air conditioner cover. The cover will keep water and snow out of the unit and prevent rusting.

7. Replace your furnace filter regularly. Regularly change your furnace’s filters throughout the winter. A dirty filter impedes air flow, reduces efficiency, and could even cause a fire in an extreme case. You might consider replacing your disposable filters with reusable electrostatic or electronic ones. You just have to give them a monthly wash, and they’re good to go another round.

8. Install storm doors and windows. Storm doors and windows can increase energy efficiency in your home by 45%. You install storm doors and windows on the outside of your regular doors and windows. Federal tax credits are available to help offset the cost of purchasing them.

9. Check your insulation. Simply adding more fiberglass insulation in your attic can boost the energy efficiency in your home. You need a minimum of 12 inches of insulation in your attic. If your insulation falls short, just add another layer of the pink or yellow itchy stuff. If you’re adding new insulation to your current insulation, make sure the new insulation doesn’t have a paper-backing. The paper acts as a vapor barrier and can cause problems for you down the road.

10. Wrap your pipes. Insulating your pipes reduces heat loss and can raise hot water temperatures delivered through your pipes, which allows you to reduce the heat on your boiler. That will save you money on your gas bill. And by making your pipes energy efficient, you also don’t have to wait as long for hot water when you turn on the shower, which helps conserve water and time. Wrapping your pipes with insulation will also help prevent your pipes from freezing during those long cold nights. You can get pre-slit pipe foam at the hardware store. Simply cut the foam to the length you need, wrap it around the pipe, and fasten it in place with duct tape.

11. Check smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Winter sees an uptick in the number of home fires and cases of carbon monoxide poisoning because people are running their furnaces and boilers overtime in order to keep warm. To keep your family safe, check the batteries on your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and change them if needed.

12. Prepare a 72 hour kit. During that big ice storm that hit Tulsa a few years ago, our house lost power for almost a week. And the roads, covered with a layer of ice, made it treacherous to drive. Thankfully we had a 72-hour kit stocked with food, water, and other supplies. You can buy pre-made 72-hour kits online or at most camping and outdoor stores. Better yet, save some money by making your own 72-hour kit (Hmmm… that would be a good follow-up post.)

13. Get your chimney inspected. Before you start roasting chestnuts on an open fire, have a certified chimney sweep inspect and clean your chimney. Thousands of fires each winter originate in chimneys. A chimney sweep can check the structure of your flue and remove any combustibles or obstructions in your chimney. For more information on finding a chimney sweep, visit the Chimney Safety Institute of America’s website at csia.org.

14. Wear a damn sweater. One of the easiest ways to lower your energy bill is to harness your inner Jimmy Carter by putting on a sweater while you’re in the house. A heavy sweater adds about 4 degrees of warmth to your body. If you set your thermostat to 68 degrees and wear a sweater, your abode will feel like a balmy 72. Nice!

15. Clean your gutters. Clogged gutters can lead to the formation of ice dams on your roof. Ice dams occur when water backs up and freezes near the edge of the roof. The ice continues to build up and eventually forms “dams” that block the path of melted snow from your roof. Water starts pooling in mini reservoirs and begins to seep into your house, causing water damage. To prevent ice dams, clean out the dead leaves and other gunk in your gutters so water can drain freely.

What other home winterization tips do you have? Share them with us in the comments!

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Heath Holden November 9, 2010 at 9:28 am

Thanks for a great list. Also, I would love to read a follow-up as mentioned in #12. I have some ideas for a 72-hour kit, but I’m sure I’d forget some important things.

2 Peter Saydak November 9, 2010 at 9:55 am

Great advice, especially if you live somewhere where it’s going to get super cold like Canada.

3 Kyle November 9, 2010 at 10:02 am

I guess I’m on it! I live just north of Atlanta, GA and I’ve already got most of this checked off the list. I may only see 2 or 3 weeks of REALLY cold weather.

4 Trevor B November 9, 2010 at 10:02 am

Way to winterize your home in Southern California:
1. Find blanket and place folded at foot of bed. You may need it once or twice.

I envy those of you who live in cold climates because I love the cold weather and I think the snow is beautiful. I don’t envy you when you have to do stuff like this. It seems like a lot of work, but at the same time, I feel a little less manly having no knowledge of how to deal with poor weather.

5 Bernie November 9, 2010 at 10:10 am

Go on a ski trip for a week and turn the thermostat down to 60 degrees while you’re gone.

6 Jeremy November 9, 2010 at 10:39 am

Winterize the A/C: Is this tip referring to the condenser that sits outside your house? I’m fairly certain that the liquid running from your house to the condenser is made of something other than water and will not freeze, so there is no need to drain it.

Also, wrapping the condenser sounds like a good idea but that will allow moisture to build up inside the wrapping and cause the unit to rust. Your best bet is to cut a piece of plywood to fit the top of the unit. This will prevent snow from getting into the top of the unit. Also, give the condenser a good waxing. Take some car wax and buff it in to the unit. that will help with any rust

7 Jon Rosing November 9, 2010 at 3:08 pm

I just got done working on a commercial for the Activent and it seems like it would fit right in with these ideas. It’s a floor vent that fits into your system and automatically opens or closes depending on the temperature and helps save energy by reflowing air through the house.

8 Ryan Tyler November 9, 2010 at 4:25 pm

Good list, and I’ll look into these.

But my favorite line was definitely “harness your inner Jimmy Carter.”
Ryan

9 Joe November 9, 2010 at 6:50 pm

Very useful and timely piece. Thanks a million!

10 ZZ November 9, 2010 at 8:41 pm

I’m an engineer for a major appliance manufacturer, and I have to take issue with item #1. Furnaces should require little or no preventive maintenance at all because they’re a very simple mechanism. If you have CO problems, your CO alarm will go off. You can tell if anything is wrong with your blower when it starts rattling or stops moving air. And there’s nothing about the motor or fan that needs cleaning. The motor should have sealed, life-greased ball bearings anyway, and it would take decades for enough goop to build up on the blades to appreciably hamper operation.

Just wait until it breaks and then replace it. Like a door or a floorboard or something. A preventative inspection isn’t saving you much of anything.

11 DevanD November 10, 2010 at 8:54 am

So need this in Buffalo (Go Bills!…er…) right now. I am getting the Thermal Leak Detector.

12 Jesse November 10, 2010 at 2:27 pm

Perfect timing on this post! We just moved into a new apartment last month, and now that snow has fallen, we seem to have a three foot cold spot around each window!

13 Steve November 10, 2010 at 3:27 pm

I’m from Canada, and I could add a couple.

1. If you have a basement and you have some snow, pile up the snow against the base of your house. Snow is a very good insulator, as the Inuit know, and you’ll minimize heat loss through your basement.

2. Other than having double windows, consider installing plastic wrap on the inside of your windows. It will create an insulative layer of air and will prevent some heat loss through you window.

14 Elder Greg November 10, 2010 at 4:26 pm

One simple way to raise the temp in your home is to open your window blinds during the day. Sunlight will bring in lots of radiant heat.

BTW, we live in Norman and we too survived the 2007 ice storm and the 2009 Christmas blizzard!

15 Native Son November 10, 2010 at 5:10 pm

A couple of notes:
@ZZ, If one has a limited budget (or a stingy landlord), and an older furnace, those bearings might not be sealed…the circa 1970 furnace we finally were able to replace a couple of years ago had oil cups on the fan bearings.
If you’re not in snow country, a combination of a lightweight blanket and a rollup bamboo blind (arrange the blanket so it rolls up inside the blind when you raise the blind) may be all you need to get rid of cold spot at a window. This also lets enough air circulate over the old single pane glass to keep condensation at a minimum.

16 Tryclyde November 10, 2010 at 6:28 pm

Unless your home and appliances are very old, numbers 1, 2, and 6 are not necessary; and even so, not every year.

17 Rick November 11, 2010 at 8:47 pm

Shut off the outside water and leave the exterior taps open. Air blast your irrigation system. Crack the bedroom window and snuggle – it’s a great time of year to procreate!

18 Jonathan Reznik November 12, 2010 at 12:55 am

Temperature at 68 degrees?!?! I only turn my thermostat to 60 at the highest. For the rest of the time I wear thermals and sweaters around the house to offset the difference.

19 Brian November 13, 2010 at 12:30 am

In addition to having your furnace inspected, have the ducts cleaned out every other year. You might be surprised at just how MUCH dust and debris collect in most central heating systems. I’ve gone from 3 or 4 colds per season (one usually a whopper) to just one or none at all. Clean duct work, plus changing the filters regularly, can make a real difference in your Family’s health during the winter months.

20 JohnR November 13, 2010 at 9:51 am

Trevor B:

Snow is awesome for about 24-48 hours, then the frigid air moves in and drys it out and the kids don’t want to play in it because it won’t pack anymore and they are bored with it by then anyway.

And don’t get me started on what it is like when it starts to melt….

21 paul November 14, 2010 at 11:34 am

I agree with those who say forget the furnace inspection. The only useful tip is to clean or change the filters. The rest is just a way for the HVAC guys to make a buck. You might inspect your ducts every five years or so, or more if you have a rat infestation. Anything else is an invitation to a hard sell pitch for a new system.

22 Richard Carpenter November 14, 2010 at 2:45 pm

For power outages:
My kerosene heater has saved our pipes from freezing more than once. Unless you live in the deep south you need heat in the winter. I put it in the basement with the basement door open. It heats up the house enough to live. Do not let it burn while you are asleep! Do have a battery operated carbon monoxide detector. You don’t need a carbon dioxide detector; your body already has one. You will start breathing faster. If that happens let in some outside air. BLUE containers are for kerosene only; Red ones for gasoline only. Never violate this rule! If you have two-stroke engines, use red containers with a big plastic zip-tie on the handle that you will recognize instantly; also use a label with the mix (30:1, 40:1) written on it. Diesel needs another color and label.
Buy LED flashlights with plenty of batteries. LED flashlights last ten times as long as older ones. Buy one with a red LED in addition to the white ones; it is more pleasant at night, like a candle, and takes much less electricity.
If you have multi-day blackouts you should have a gas stove that runs without electricity (at least get one as a backup). A gas hot water heater and clothes dryer are also convenient. Your own propane tank lasts much longer than electricity in an ice storm!
If you have bleach and a charcoal filter you can drink almost any water. Bleach first, then charcoal filter. Get five or ten gallon plastic water containers. The bleach takes out the bacteria and viruses; then the charcoal takes out the bleach.
If you are outside in the cold remember: wet wool warms but wet cotton kills. If wool irritates your sensitive skin, try cashmere. Use layers!

23 Mike November 17, 2010 at 3:20 pm

Not so sure the advice on the ceiling fan is correct. As I understood it, in the winter the fan should be “sucking” air up and creating a warm draft that runs down the walls of the room.

24 Jerod November 17, 2010 at 3:37 pm

We noticed our house didn’t have any insulation at all (it was built in 1924). After an outrageously high heating bill last winter–and subsequently setting the thermostat down to 55 all winter–we installed insulation this past weekend: 3 feet of it. It was only $1300 for 2100 square feet. It has made an absolutely massive difference. The heater used to turn on every 20 minutes. Now the house loses only 1 degree every 4 hours (around 38 degrees outside temp).

25 Micaela November 18, 2010 at 12:51 pm

Jerod, was the insulation in the ceiling only?

26 Tiffy December 5, 2010 at 12:42 am

What about using a white or blue air filter does it make a difference in the winter

27 Marcus @ amext.com September 20, 2012 at 1:30 pm

Great idea about the fan. Most homeowners dont realize that the warm air from the heating unit will heat the top of the home first and by reversing the fan, it will disperse that warm air through out the house.

28 Bob July 2, 2013 at 9:56 am

I installed a Hitzer wood burning insert. This unit is heavy duty and also will burn anthracite coal. Made by the Amish in Indiana. Very toasty and no heating bill, no sweater required-just throw on another log.

29 linda October 16, 2013 at 7:33 pm

We was so poor when we got our first home. We stuffed plastic bags in the cracks around the floor and the doors and windows, then we put duct tape over it and a few time we put clear plastic over the windows inside and out. I wore wore two sweaters and boots in the house, but that’s a good way to save money. My grandma when I was growing up had coal stoves, and it was really nippy in the morning before my grandpa stoked the fire. Brrrr. But we giggled and laughed when our teeth chattered.

30 Sandy W November 25, 2013 at 8:33 pm

I have walked around my home with a candle to find where air is coming into the house from cold winter winds and you’d be shocked. We do have double pane windows and I found wind coming in at the channels of both sides of the window. I roll up old rags and stuff them down into the channels of all windows. I also have chalked around the trim of all windows ( Yes there was a cold chill there too! Last but not least the shock of my life, there was wind coming in around my floor boards too! I used clear chalk around all outside floor walls. My energy bill decreased conciderably!

31 Nick December 26, 2013 at 3:09 pm

#4 is somewhat of a myth. If you don’t reverse you’re fan, yes, cold air will be pulled up but this will create a low pressure area directly below the fan. the warm air towards the ceiling will still be drawn down and into this low pressure area without changing the fan direction. You can keep fans on low and the warm air will be circulated just as well as it would be if you change the fan’s direction. I said that it is somewhat of a myth because the function as explained is correct but it is not necessary to circulate air in a room and keep it warm.

32 lilrooster January 3, 2014 at 4:21 pm

#4 Have your fans blow down to create a cooling breeze when it’s warm. Reverse your fans to blow up to the ceiling which forces the hot air which collects on the ceiling out and down the walls. You’re circulating the warm air which rises.

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