Mom would tell me, “keep your grubby paws off the thermostat and put on a sweater!”… I suppose that’s still good advice, but what we perceive as a draught– cold air entering– also means warm air escaping. Remember, interior air warmer than the outside ambient temperature is primarily air you have paid money to heat. Here are nine areas to look at to save money heating your home.
1. Overall Insulation
Most people address this issue when they purchase their homes, but it bears mentioning. If your house was built prior to the 1950s, chances are it was insulated with wood chips (if at all). This primitive insulation was never very effective, and it settles over time. If you haven’t adequately insulated your home, it’s never too late.
A perennial weak spot with insulating older homes is the attic. Have a look at your roof after a light snowfall and compare with your neighbours. You’ll find some roofs hold the snow, and some melt it sooner than others. If your roof is one of the latter, you probably need to improve your attic insulation. When you do this, make sure the attic access door is insulated just as well as the rest of the attic.
Make sure your exterior doors seal up well. Over time, weather stripping gets worn and becomes less supple; eventually it must be replaced, and this is inexpensive and easy to do. While you’re at it, make sure the threshold is properly adjusted so that the door makes full contact without dragging on it; you shouldn’t see daylight under the door. Newer thresholds usually have adjustment screws for this purpose.
If you have a built-in garage, don’t overlook the garage door. Many such garages have interior heat vents, and if you have an older uninsulated sheet-metal door, this will be a major heat loss problem. Consider upgrading that old garage door, and until then, keep the interior heat vent closed.
If your windows are decades old, they’re likely a major heat loss culprit; this technology has greatly improved, and modern replacements will make a big difference to your heating bill.
Short of replacement, check the condition of weather stripping and caulking, and touch-up or replace where necessary. A plastic film insulating kit is another inexpensive solution for a draughty window. If your windows have locks, use them, as this tends to press the window frame more tightly to the weather stripping, thereby minimizing leaks.
Though it may seem a little too simple, it can also make a difference to just open your blinds during the day– especially on the south side– to maximize solar gain. Every little bit helps.
4. Electrical Boxes & Holes in Exterior Walls
Exterior walls are sometimes draughty around electrical boxes for switches and AC outlets. These areas might not be properly insulated, permitting air to flow through and/or around the box. You can ameliorate this problem by inspecting them and filling any gaps you find with acrylic latex caulk. Larger gaps can be closed with expanding foam sealant. Once you’ve minimized the gaps, add a foam gasket under the cover plate of the switch or outlet (these can be found at any home supply store).
Electrical cables, gas lines, furnace intakes, dryer vents, water pipes– they all pass through holes in the foundation that need to be sealed with expanding foam. These sealants can shrink and deteriorate over time, so periodically inspect any holes in your foundation to see if they need a sealant touch-up (keeps the critters out too).
5. Leaky Ductwork & Obstructed Vents
Look over all the accessible ductwork in your basement and attic, and tape any leaks closed. Your furnace efficiency is going to suffer if the heated air doesn’t get where it’s supposed to go. Along the same lines, see that your heating vents are not inadvertently blocked by rugs or furniture. Finally, for efficiency, and for safety’s sake, check to be sure your furnace’s fresh air intake is unobstructed.
A chimney will conduct warm air out of your house just as efficiently as smoke, so be sure to shut the flue when the fireplace is not in use. If you have a completely disused fireplace, seal it up with foam insulation or a chimney balloon to minimize draughts.
Do you have a programmable thermostat yet? Being able to program the heating pattern of your home is a great way to save money. Many of the newer smart thermostats are Internet-capable devices that can be remotely operated with an app on your phone. If you get one of these, however, don’t forget to change the device from its default password to be sure you’re the only one adjusting it!
8. Space Heaters!
When winter is its coldest, try turning down the household thermostat and using a space heater for the room you’re occupying. Of course, there are diminishing returns if you have many occupied rooms, but if it’s just you in a big house, limiting full heating to the space you’re in can make a big difference.
9. Regular Maintenance
Last, and most important, don’t overlook your furnace maintenance! Check the condition of your furnace’s air filter often, and have a qualified professional inspect and tune your furnace annually to ensure it’s clean, safe, and operating at peak efficiency.
If your furnace is decades old, give serious thought to replacement; this is another area where technology has made great strides in efficiency.
Give us a call!
Building envelope testing is a great way to highlight the areas of infiltration of outside air to inside air; if you’re not sure where you’re losing heat and want to get your home tested, we can refer you. We’ve got decades of experience with home heating, and we’d be glad to help you find ways to minimize the cost of keeping warm this winter.