Button up your home this winter

Before long we'll be complaining about the cooler weather and the high cost of energy bills.

But you can change the script this year by winterizing your home. It need not be a massive undertaking. Small steps can often add up to significant savings and prevent problems in the future, according to the Chicago Tribune.

In Midland, Mich., for example, the Dow Chemical Co. teamed up with local contractors on the Revitalize Home. The 1960s ranch-style house got air-sealing and insulation upgrades last winter, and is expected to show a 30 percent energy savings this winter. And that's without major improvements such as window replacements or HVAC upgrades.

Keep the cold air out, and winter won't seem so bitter.

"The average home has half a mile in gaps and cracks," said Kaethe Schuster, remodeling market manager for Dow Building Solutions. "That's equivalent to a 4-by-4 window left open. So I don't think people are aware of the impact (of drafts). Twenty-five to 40 percent of energy loss is because of those gaps."

There are a variety of effective measures to winterize a home, some extensive and best left to the pros, but many others of the do-it-yourself variety. Run down the list and save yourself money — and keep warm and cozy in the bargain.

Windows. Windows are a major source of energy loss. Among the factors are the window's design, the type of glass, how it was installed and the insulation surrounding it. A homeowner should make sure a window is functioning properly, then do an inspection to look for leaks. One way is to hold a smoke pencil or a stick of incense near the window frame; if there's an air flow, the smoke will wiggle. If you're checking in an unfinished basement, Schuster suggests looking for cobwebs and watching for movement. It takes very little to make them wave.

"Check for signs of water damage, signs of wear, signs of cracking caulk, loose caulk or weather stripping," said Chris Pickering, vice president for marketing for Ply Gem Windows. "Sometimes something as simple as caulking around a window can have some improvement. Something else is the installation of storm windows. Typically, it's a lower investment than a full window replacement."

Seal the gaps. Other common places for air leaks include where the water pipe or HVAC system enters the foundation, around vents, under baseboards and window and door frames. Caulk and spray foam can help seal the leaks.

Ventilation. In an effort to keep winter out, homeowners often seal themselves in. And that is a problem.

"A house not having air flow becomes really unhealthy for the occupants," said Brendan Loughery, a sales manager for the Eco Products Division of Panasonic. "Allergies, pollutants, simple things like (a household) cleaner. Or somebody smoking a cigar, pets with their hair. If that air has nowhere to go, it's going to sit and cause problems."

Another problem with trapped air is moisture, which can lead to mold. Loughery says that people see their bathroom wallpaper peeling and blame humidity from hot showers. He disagreed. "That shouldn't happen. If you see paper peeling from a wall, I'd hate to see what's behind that wall."

Read more about energy-efficient windows and doors.

Topics: Indoor Air Quality, Insulation, Windows

Companies: Panasonic High Performance Ventilation Solutions, Dow Building Solutions

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