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7 Affordable Projects to Keep You Warmer (and Save Money) This Winter

December 1, 2014 | By

Old Man Winter has already made his presence known just one week before Thanksgiving. And judging by how hard hit the country was by the cold — all 50 states reached 32 degrees on a single day, including Hawaii — he ain’t discriminating.

While this may — or may not (we hope) — be a harbinger of a tough winter ahead, homeowners across the country may be preparing themselves for another Polar Vortex.

A good place to start, says Home Depot Associate Robert Richards, is by checking on the small gaps and crevices throughout the house, especially along doors and windowsills.

When added together, these tiny gaps are like “having a basketball-sized hole in the exterior wall,” says Richards, who works in Home Depot’s Merrifield, VA, store. “That’s going to affect your heating bill.”

To track down where those pesky cracks are located, Richards suggests taking a lit incense stick — preferably during a windy day — and placing it next to areas where cold may seep in. These areas include windows, doors, electrical boxes, plumbing fixtures, electrical outlets, ceiling fixtures, and attic hatches. If the smoke from the incense stick travels horizontally, the house most likely has a leak.

Luckily for homeowners, these seven inexpensive winterizing projects could help them lower heating costs this winter by up to 20% — and it can even be completed in a single weekend. Need help? Many home improvement stores offer in-store workshops and have online videos to get you started.

 

1. Plug Small Leaks

weatherstripping

Weather stripping (ACE Hardware)

Caulk can be used to place a flexible seal around cracks or joints (less than 1/4-inch wide). Cracks found by windows and door frames, plumbing fixtures and pipes, and even ceiling fixtures can be patched up with a caulk gun.

Weather stripping or a window film kit can be used around movable joints, especially windows and doors. George Lynn Sharp, a homeowner in southeast Fresno, CA, recently added weather-stripping around his front door (a French door), both underneath and between the doors. “It’s completely eliminated the draft in the entry,” he says.

Estimated time: 15 minutes to two hours depending on home size

Estimated cost: Under $50

 

2. Change Your Furnace Filters Monthly

Replacing furnace filters (Home Depot)

Replacing furnace filters (Home Depot)

During the cold months when the heater is increasingly in use, furnace filters can get dirty faster, restricting airflow and increasing energy demand in the process. Lou Manfredini, a national home improvement expert and Ace Hardware’s “Home Expert,” suggests homeowners use pleated filters as their increased surface area can capture more air particulates.

And there’s a bonus benefit — cleaner, healthier air circulating in your home.

Estimated time: 15 minutes      

Estimated cost: $6 to $16 per filter

 

3. Add Insulation Behind Outside Wall Receptacles and Electrical Devices

Adding insulation behind switch plates (George Sharp)

Adding insulation behind switch plates (George Lynn Sharp)

Kits are available with insulated foam forms that replicate your outlet receptacle shapes. By removing the plate and adding the foam insulation behind each one, you can prevent heat loss through the outlet and switch covers.

There’s no real electrical work here, says Sharp. Just take the screws off the plates to remove, put an insulation strip behind the plates, and screw back into the wall to properly seal them from the cold.

Estimated time: one to two minutes per plate

Estimated cost: $3 to $5 depending on style

 

4. Insulate Your Pipes

Insulating pipes (ACE Hardware)

Insulating pipes (ACE Hardware)

If you have a basement or an older home with water pipes on the exterior walls, insulating those pipes can prevent the water flowing through from freezing and bursting the pipe — which could lead to structural damage and a hefty repair bill.

Foam pipe insulation looks like a giant straw with a slit down the length so you can cut it and wrap around the pipe. “It’s an easy project that requires no expertise,” says Richards.

Sharp added insulation to the pipes under his home and notes an unexpected benefit: “It’s really cut down on the noise of the water running through the pipes too.”

Estimated time: 20 minutes to one hour      

Estimated cost: $3 to $5 per pipe

 

5. Disconnect Hoses and Cover Water Spigots

Covering water spigots (ACE Hardware)

Covering water spigots (ACE Hardware)

If the winter regularly brings freezing cold to where you live, Manfredini suggests using insulated bonnets to cover outdoor water spigots. “This stops the cold wind from blowing directly on the spigot that could lead to that spigot freezing and cracking a pipe,” he says.

Estimated time: one minute to install

Estimated cost: $6 each

 

6. Install Plastic Window Treatments and Consider Storm Doors or Windows

Installing a storm door (Home Depot)

Installing a storm door (Home Depot)

Replacing windows with double pane vinyl windows can cost a lot of money up front — they usually run $500 per window — but they help in reducing energy usage during colder months. A cheaper alternative is to cover single-pane windows with a window kit or use weather stripping to seal them. “This is something most homeowners can do that increases the energy efficiency of that opening by 70 percent,” says Manfredini.

A storm door can increase energy efficiency by sealing drafts and reducing air flow, but this may require hiring a professional to install it. Storm windows can be fabricated to the sizes needed to cover single-pane windows for about $125 per opening.

Estimated time: one to two hours

Estimated cost: $12 to $15 for a two-window kit, $200 to $300 for a storm door and $125 per window ($50 to $100 per hour for professional installation if needed)

 

7. Boost Attic and Basement Insulation

Adding insulation to an attic or basement (Home Depot)

Adding insulation to an attic or basement (Home Depot)

To make sure homeowners have enough insulation for an energy-efficient home, they should grab a ruler and climb up into the attic (or venture downstairs to measure the insulation in the basement ceiling). There should be at least 11 inches of fiberglass or rock wool insulation, or 8 inches of cellulose insulation, says Richards. “That goes for the attic hatch as well as the floor.” If people are coming up short, says Richards, they should add additional insulation to keep warm air from escaping.

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