Old Man Winter is right around the corner, and he’s looking for houses in the Midwest to chill. He’s got a lot of tricks up his sleeve, but you can beat him if you take the right course of action. Here’s how to do it.
Tune Up the Furnace
Sooner or later, the HVAC guy is going to come to your home. He’s always happy to, because he gets a lot out of it. Wouldn’t you rather have him over now than when it’s 15 below outside? It’s recommended that an older furnace get checked out every year, so it’s not an unnecessary extravagance to give yours the preemptive attention it needs. Regular maintenance can do a lot of good for your energy bills, and also keep a poisonous carbon monoxide leak from putting your family in harm’s way.
Seal the Windows and Doors
Many people only consider caulk as a sealant against moisture, but it’s also great for keeping out the cold. If you can slide a nickel between your siding and a window or door frame, then it’s a good idea to put that problem to rest fast with a cost-effective tube of caulk. Remember to get the right caulk for the job — you want exterior caulk, not one you’d use for the bath. Silicone caulk is great if you let the project go too long into the winter. It still applies when it’s 20 below out, but in that weather you may want someone else to do it for you. You can also install weatherstripping inside your home, which is a budget-friendly solution as well.
Add Insulation to the Attic
We doubt a house in this area would be habitable if its attic didn’t have insulation to begin with, but that’s not to say it couldn’t do with even more. It’s recommended that North Dakotans install R49 to R60 insulation in the attic. (You can go to a place where you only need R30 when you’re on vacation.) Lay extra rolls of insulation perpendicular to the joists so as to avoid compressing the bottom layer, use insulation without foil so it doesn’t trap moisture, and make sure you don’t lay new insulation over lights, soffit vents, and exhaust fans. Wear a mask while you’re at all of this, too!
Reverse the Ceiling Fans
This one’s a handy trick. In the summer, your ceiling fan blows air down to cool you off. That means if you reverse its direction during the winter, the fan will suck air up to create an updraft that forces warmth back downward. Just taking this step could knock ten percent off of your heating bill, and all it requires is the flick of a reverse switch. That switch may be remote or right on your fan’s body. In the latter case you’ll want a stepladder — or, better yet, a tall friend.
Prevent Ice Dams
Ralphie from A Christmas Story was lucky he could blame a big icicle for breaking his glasses. Big icicles aren’t just bad news for people, though — they may indicate the presence of an ice dam that could harm your roof, cause leaking, or rip a gutter off like it was the peel of an overripe banana. Ice dams result when melt water from the warm roof freezes at the eave. You can keep that from happening by zigzagging a heated cable around the offending section of the roof, applying roof-safe ice melter, or just raking regularly. Any weatherization contractor worth their salt could do a number of things to your attic and roof that would safeguard your home against ice damming, too.
Upgrade the Thermostat
A programmable thermostat sounds like it could be costly, but even an inexpensive one can save you around $180 in fuel costs annually. You can set up a high tech thermostat to automatically heat your home when you’ll be there and let it cool while you’re away, and some are even wifi compatible. That means you can turn the heat up for your cat via cell phone if you think she might be feeling a little chilly. It is best to avoid a crabby cat, because that can also rack up repair bills fast.
Maintain the Roof
Every shingle on the roof of your house is a potential entry point for melt water. Take a good look at your roof before the snow turns it invisible, and see if any of your shingles are starting to appear problematic. Asphalt shingles have a roughly two decade life expectancy, so greater scrutiny is called for as your roof gets up there in age. We recommend hiring a professional for roof work, because we value our readers’ safety very much and our lawyer would throw a fit if we recommended doing anything even remotely dangerous.
By David Scheller