The leaves haven’t turned yet, but it’s already getting colder here in Connecticut. What we’re all hoping for here is a milder winter than the artic experience that we endured a year ago. Last winter my main aerobic activity was shoveling snow off my roof, driveway and firewood supply. The romance of being snowed in wore off after successive storms dumped 30in., then 20in. –in just a few days. Fortunately, Barbara and I had prepared our house for the onslaught of an uber-winter. These 5 energy-saving improvements helped us to stand up to Old Man Winter at his worst. They can help you too.
1. Service the system. No matter what type of heating system you’ll be relying on this winter (furnace, wood stove, boiler, heat pump, etc.), it’s important to have your system cleaned and serviced. Get the chimney cleaned if you’ll be burning wood or pellets. Have an HVAC contractor clean and check over your furnace, boiler or heat pump. Dirt is the #1 cause of system failure when it comes to HVAC equipment.
2. Deal with your ducts. Do you have a forced-air heating system? If so, you’re depending on ductwork to deliver heated air to your living space. Leaks in your ductwork (primarily along the many joint lines where one fitting or section joins another) can diminish HVAC system efficiency by as much as 40%. An HVAC contractor (see “Service the system,” above) or home energy auditor can tell you whether or not your ducts need to be sealed. Also, any ductwork in unconditioned (cold) space like an attic, basement or crawl space should be insulated so that your heated air has protection from cold temperatures.
3. Invest in the attic. Taking advantage of rebates for weatherization work, we had our attic air-sealed and insulated with 16 in. of blown-in cellulose insulation. Instead of the minimal protection provided by fiberglass batts (about R-19), our attic now has a thicker blanket of protection (about R-60) that really helps our house hold its heat. Convection is a powerful force. It propels hot air balloons up into the atmosphere, and it causes the warmest air in your house to escape into the attic. Sealing leaks in the attic floor and upgrading attic insulation will improve your comfort and your bank account. Incentives for insulation upgrades are still available. To see what programs apply in your area, visit the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (www.dsireusa.org).
4. Improve the basement and/or crawl space. Whether your house has a basement, a crawl space, or both, this subterranean space is a major source of air infiltration that compromises comfort and energy efficiency. At a bare minimum, you’ll want to air-seal the rim joist area that rests on the top of the foundation wall. This is a major source of cold air infiltration during winter months. Spray foam does a good job in this area, but it can take a lot of this expensive foam to completely seal the perimeter of your basement or crawl space. The treatment I prefer here involves cutting 2-in.-thick rigid foam insulation to “friction-fit” between floor joists and against the rim joist, and then simply sealing around each foam insert with spray foam. Though this technique takes a little more time, it saves on spray foam and provides valuable insulation (in addition to air sealing) around the edge of the house. Also consider insulating basement walls with rigid foam to further reduce heat loss.
5.Upgrade the main entry. Check the weatherstripping on your main entry door. If you can see a sliver of daylight at any point around the door, or if you can feel a draft coming in around the edge, you need new weatherstripping. Bring a piece of the old weatherstripping to your hardware store or home center so you can get identical new material. Consider installing a good-quality storm door for an even better energy upgrade.