In Texas, anything below 80 degrees is practically long-sleeve weather. So this week’s lows in the 50s have us thinking about winter. (Fall is actually the best time to do home winterizing because temperatures are comfortably and you’re not rushed.)
Winterizing your home doesn’t have to cost a lot. Here are 7 tips that are free or low-cost. They’ll save you a bundle on your home heating bill and get your house ready for the coming months.
1. DRAIN, INSULATE YOUR WATER HEATER
First, give your water heater a flush. Over time, sediment may have collected in the bottom, and this makes it less effective (read: higher winter heating bill). You should follow your manual’s instructions if you have it, or check out the video above or the video here.
Second, get a water heater insulation blanket from your local hardware store or online to keep the heat from escaping during cold months (make sure to get one that is flame retardant). These generally run around $20-$50.
Finally, turn down the temperature from the standard 140°F to 120°F, the “warm” setting. Most people do just fine at that setting and you’ll save money everyday.
2. PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR PIPES
When water freezes, it expands. If it happens to be in your pipes, they can burst and cause flooding and severe water damage. Cleanup and restoration can cost thousands.
Pipe insulation, on the other hand, is cheap and available at most hardware stores. Take a few hours to check out crawlspaces, attics, garages, and basements for any exposed pipes in unheated areas. Use a pair of scissors and cut your pipe insulation to size and wrap around pipes.
Take a moment to also insulate the hot water lines surrounding the water heater.
3. CLEAN YOUR GUTTERS
A crisp autumn afternoon is a good time to get outside and clean your gutters. Why? Free-flowing water will likely prevent ice dams from forming, and those can cause water damage to the roof (and then water damage to your ceilings, walls, and insulation).
4. SWITCH YOUR CEILING FAN’S DIRECTION
Almost all ceiling fans have a switch on the motor that switches the direction from summer’s cooling counterclockwise direction, to winter’s helpful clockwise direction. This change in direction will push warm air near the ceiling down into the room and delay it escaping the house.
5. AIR LEAKS ARE THE ENEMY
For the warmest house and lowest heating bills, your house should be like a tight envelope. Air leaks are the enemy—simple leaks can decrease a home’s energy efficiency by 5 to 30 percent a year, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
First, look at every exterior door in the house and replace worn weather stripping. This is a couple of bucks at the hardware store. Don’t forget the sliding glass door. Check out the seal on the bottom and make sure it isn’t letting in any air.
Second, if you have a fireplace, make sure the damper is closed when it’s not in use.
Next, get out your caulk gun. Check out your windows for leaks and caulk both sides of the trim around them. Then look at your electrical wiring, dryer vent, and pipes. Caulk any areas that are letting in air. Finally, re-caulk around your bathtub, because nothing is worse than getting a draft of cold air when you’re taking a shower. Brrr!
6. CHANGE YOUR FURNACE FILTERS
Mark your calendars to change your air filters once per month during cold months. Why? Dirty filters mean less air passes through, and heating bills are higher. A new filter costs about ten bucks.
If you really want to save money in the long run and have clean air, consider getting a an electrostatic, washable, permanent filter (disposable fiberglass filters only trap around 10-40 percent of dust and debris). These start at around $40 and trap a much higher percentage of mold, dust, debris, bacteria, and viruses. HEPA filters are even better.
Also, check your cold air returns and make sure they aren’t blocked by furniture or boxes. Your furnace needs these to operate at the highest efficiency.
7. GET A PROGRAMMABLE THERMOSTAT
For every degree you lower your thermostat during winter months can save you 1-3 percent of your heating bill. A programmable thermostat makes that easy—it will automatically lower the temperature of your house while you’re away at work and at night. These devices start at around $20, but you’ll probably want a slightly higher quality one, which runs around $50. The good news is, one year of regular use can save the average family $180.