If you check and correct early, the savings can
Baby, it’s cold outside; but how can we stay warm inside without breaking the bank? I recently spoke with Harry Hylan, owner of the Brooklyn, N.Y., construction firm Home Work by Harry, and Chris Olert, a spokesman for Con Edison about tips to better winterize your home. Hylan is also a consultant for the Home Savvy Show, the home improvement lifestyle web series I host for MadameNoire.com. Both men know a thing or two about keeping homes toasty. Hylan joked, “These are just the things I do for my mother every year to save her money … and get a home cooked meal!”
Check your furnace.
“It’s all about maintenance: Have your furnace serviced,” said Hylan. “Call your local HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) service provider. They can set you up with an annual checkup, which will save you money on three fronts: Your system will run far more efficiently; you’ll avoid costly repairs and inconvenient downtime, frozen pipes, etc; and you will extend the life of your expensive heating system.” Ideally, plan to have your system checked towards the end of summer or by fall at the latest. “It’s the best time to make an appointment, and it can be cheaper (companies are not as busy). Also, an early appointment may give you some wiggle room if you need major repairs. Once it gets cold, it’s the service providers’ way or the highway.”
Make “safety first” your motto.
“A plumber or HVAC technician will make certain a heating system has proper ventilation to avoid buildup of carbon monoxide,” said Olert. “If you have more than one zone in your home or business, only heat the area that your family or customers are using. Don’t build a fire in an empty room, and never use your gas stove or oven as a source for heat.”
The potential energy savings from reducing drafts in your home can range from 5% to 30% annually. “Remember your parents’ constant cry: ‘We don’t live in a barn, close the door!’ Keep the cool out; let the sun in. Drafts are not cool on your energy bill,” said Olert.
When it comes to those sneaky drafts, Hylan said, “In my experience I see many people losing money in houses and apartments. Cold air can get in under the front door—and occasionally, so can some little unwanted guests! Many folks just install a door sweep and call it a day. However, after installing several door sweeps with several configurations (under door, back of door) I realized these wear out over time and you still get some kind of draft.”
Hylan said he likes to employ what he calls the triple threat, “I maintain the door sweeps on both entry and storm doors; I put weather stripping between the door and jamb and, for good measure, I add a draft protector, which you can buy or make easily with readily available materials.”
Watch the gutters.
Inclement weather, storms, and just normal wear and tear can take a toll on your gutters. “Gutters on a typical home are attached to the fascia,” explained Hylan. “The fascia is usually made of wood and covered with a metal flashing. However, when the gutter is clogged before it moves away from the fascia, water not only spills over the outside edge but also can get between the wood fascia and the flashing and between the flashing and the gutter. The ice pushes everything apart, and the wood can and will rot over time allowing water and drafts to further invade the home.”
If you check and correct early, the savings can
A most recent example was Hurricane Sandy, according to Hylan. “Winds from Sandy loosened the gutters, and many were clogged with debris, leaves, broken shingles, branches etc. If these kinds of problems are not detected and corrected, the consequences can be costly. If you check and correct early, the savings can be significant.”
Dress up the windows.
Good-quality window treatments, especially those made of tightly woven fabrics, create an energy-efficient barrier and can help reduce the use of fuels for heating, saving you money. “Growing up, I noticed my grandmother changing the drapes, curtains, and blinds, according to the season,” said Hylan. “She taught me several things that have stuck with me today. In the winter, change to a heavy lined drape or curtain. If properly sized and installed, you will realize that you will have to turn down the heat, especially in an apartment,” said Hylan.
Box up your A.C.
After years of watching people “using tape, plastic, foam, cardboard, blankets, magazines, newspapers, stuffed animals—and anything else that shouldn’t cover an air conditioner in the winter months,” Hylan said he started building proper A.C. covers. “They rest in your window sill right over the A.C. and keep the cold outside, where it belongs,” he said.
In fact, you can make them yourself, he said. “It’s a $20 solution: Cut to measure four pieces of smooth-finish plywood which are each about 5/8th of an inch; then join them together with small nails or screws. Rest the box in the window just over the A.C. For an extra layer of protection, check for cracks around the A.C. and the window, and fill with latex window caulk, which cleans up easily with water.”
For more tips on how you can save energy and keep your home warm and “winter-proof,” here are more good suggestions from Con Ed.