Getting Ready for the Cold with the Winter Preparedness Checklist

By Vernon Trollinger, December 10, 2013, Energy Efficiency, News, Save Money

14DegreesFAccording to the thermometer outside, Old Man Winter wants to come inside to set up his winter wonderland in your living room.

No worries. Here’s an easy-to-follow winter preparedness checklist to help you make your home warmer to keep the low temperatures and chilly winds outside where they belong. Plus, it will also make your home more energy efficient so your family can save money on your energy bills for years to come.

Add More Insulation: Insulation works by slowing down the transfer of heat (which is energy) to cold (which is no energy) and is rated in terms of its resistance, or “R”-value. The higher the R-value, the better resistance, and the better the insulation. For example, a one inch thick pine stud rates R-1.25 while one inch thick rigid styrofoam rates R-10.

Check how much insulation you have in your attic. The US Dept. of Energy recommends that all homes should have a minimum of R-30 or higher amount of insulation in their attics. That’s about 1 foot of either blown cellulose or fiber glass insulation (about 6″ for closed cell sprayed foam). Most newer homes in the US built in the 1990s have about 3 inches of insulation in their walls and around 6 inches of insulation in the attic. That breaks down to an R-13 in the walls and R-22 in the attic. While it’s difficult and costly to increase insulation in the walls, it’s very easy to add more insulation to your attic right on top of the old layer.

Worried about cost? Remember that you don’t need to insulate all at once. You can space out insulating over time. Just start by insulating directly above the room you want such as an upstairs room that always seems cold. Keep adding insulation until you’ve gone past that R-30 level.

Insulate between rim joists: A well insulated attic doesn’t prevent the cold from moving into your home through the floor. Until recently, many homes were built with little or no insulation where the foundation meets the bottom wooden framing. However, this space requires a vapor barrier to keep moisture from penetrating and condensing on the surface of the rim joist. Otherwise, it poses a risk for mold growth and eventual wood rot, so you just can’t stuff fiberglass insulation into the joist bays.

First, seal all seams with caulk or expanding foam. Next, cut a piece of 1″ or 2″ thick rigid insulation foam and 1/2″ sheet rock (for fire protection) to fit snugly inside the bay against the banding joist. Use expanding foam to seal the gaps all around the foam and sheet rock and hold it in place. While this isn’t very expensive, it can be time-consuming. But once it’s done right, you’re finished and you’ll feel the effect right away.

Insulate and seal duct work: If your duct work is uninsulated or unsealed, you could be losing 20% of the energy your HVAC system uses to cool and heat your home. Worse still, if you have unsealed return duct work passing through crawlspaces, your furnace may be blowing mold, mildew, and fungus spores throughout your home. Insulating and sealing your duct work improves the air circulation in your home, keeps the air cleaner, and makes the air handling system cool and heat more efficiently.

Simply seal all duct joints with either duct work mastic or aluminum duct tape. DON’T use the cheap vinyl stuff. It just dries out and falls apart after a year or two. Also, locate and seal any holes in metal duct work. Older homes that use space between joists for return ducts should have these removed and replaced with cleaner, more-efficient closed-metal duct runs. If you normally pay $200 a month for winter heat, sealing and insulating your duct work can cut up to $40 off that bill.

Air seal against cold drafts: Even the best insulation job won’t keep your home very warm as long as the house isn’t air sealed. Air sealing means closing ALL the places where outside air can enter your home and allows all that expensive cooled or heated air get out. A good way to start looking for drafts is from the ground up. Use caulk and expandable foam to seal up:

  • gaps in foundation walls or along the joint between the foundation and mudsill (just below the rim joists)
  • cracks between window and door framing and sheathing
  • Any loose panes of glass as they allow moist outside air into your home
  • Any place where plumbing or wiring enter or leave your home
  • Around the base of the soil stack or vent pipe in your attic
  • Around lighting junction boxes in your ceilings (do this from above in your attic)
  • Bathroom and kitchen fan vents; make sure vent tubing inclines down and away from the fan as it leaves the house

Fortunately, you don’t have to do all the tasks on this winter preparedness checklist all at once. But once they’re done (and done right), you’ll start noticing how much more comfortable your home is and and how much money you’re saving. The best way to keep your heating dollars inside your wallet is by keeping Old Man Winter outside of your house!

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