weatherize houseSummer may still be with us, but here in Maine, it’s never too early to start thinking about the heating season. Here are some easy tips to cut your heating bills this winter and keep your family warm.

The most basic truth about heating a home is this: the cheapest energy is the energy you don’t use in the first place. The goal is to keep your house well sealed and insulated so you retain heat inside the building for as long as is reasonably possible.

When we talk about this, the first thing that pops into many people’s minds is insulation. But more important–and usually more cost effective–is to reduce the amount of air that is moving through the house. Most older homes, and even newer ones built to an average standard, leak far more air (and thus heat) than they should. It is true that to tighten up a house to the strictest standards can be both difficult and expensive. Luckily, you’ll find that the biggest bang for your sealing buck can be accomplished with the easiest and cheapest steps. Below are just a few possibilities.

The Dryer Vent

The dryer vent is basically a big hole in the side of your house. Many of the older ones have no way of closing properly, being protected from the elements by simply a hood and a grill or screen. Check out your vent. If it doesn’t have a damper of some sort that is closed, except when the dryer is operating, replace it. There are several good models of these self-sealing dryer vents available at most hardware stores and building supply outlets. They are inexpensive and fairly easy to install.

Weather Stripping at Doors

Even if your doors came with good-quality weather stripping, it can wear out over time, particularly at the bottom. Check your doors: The next time it’s a little windy outside, hold a candle up to the line where the door meets the frame and see if the flame bends towards the door or away from it. If it does either, you have a significant leak. Inspect the existing weather stripping to see if it has been damaged. You can replace sections of it or the whole side. Replacements are available at hardware stores and building supply outlets. Alternately, it is often easier to augment the existing with a second line of weather stripping, usually applied to the door frame. Again, these strips are easily obtained from stores. A note of caution: The cheapest types often are cheaper for a reason and do not stand up for more than a season (if that.)

Caulk Around Window Frames

Window frames abut other materials, usually the siding, and over time, these seams often open up. Additionally, parts of the frames themselves often separate from one another. Inspect your window for open seams and caulk them with a good caulk appropriate for the materials. There are differences between types of caulk and also in quality within types. There are good reviews available online to help you select the best one for you. Follow the instructions, and start off in the least conspicuous window, your first caulk lines may be a bit messy. Don’t worry, you’ll catch on quickly.

Other Holes

As an architect I’ve inspected hundreds of buildings and I am constantly surprised by the number of holes I find in them . Some are poorly sealed, some were sealed so long ago that the sealing is failing, and some were never sealed at all. Obviously, these holes need to be sealed. The way you seal them depends on the location of the hole, the material it is in (wood, concrete, vinyl, etc.) and, perhaps most importantly, how large it is. Consult with the sales help at a reputable hardware store or building supply outlet: when you explain the details of your particular situation, they should be able to direct you to the right product to properly seal the opening.

Three points in closing:

  1. Don’t worry that you’ve never done any of this before. There are a lot of good resources out there to help you select the product you need and teach you how to install it. Check out online forums, reviews, and YouTube videos, and talk to store personnel, as mentioned above. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and if you don’t understand the answer, ask again.
  2. Take pictures. When posting in an online forum or talking with a building supply or hardware store salesperson, having a picture of your specific situation will help you get the best answer.
  3. Don’t worry that you will be over-sealing your home and making it too tight, unable to “breathe” enough. This is not going to happen with the above steps. Your house will still leak. The leaks may be small, but there are plenty of them, and they add up. It will simply leak less.

The steps I have outlined above are just the easiest ones. In my next post, I’ll discuss a couple more areas you may want to tackle in order to save money on heat this winter.