8 Inexpensive Home Preparations For Winter

Travis Lofley and Jessica Nelson | November 2, 2015

According to the EPA’s Energy Star program, the average household spends over $2,200 a year on energy and utilities, and almost half of that goes towards heating and cooling. Here’s something else to consider: you may be burning money if your home isn’t energy-efficient. Leaky windows, poor insulation, and clogged air filters are often major contributors to this problem.

I’ll be the first to admit that my home is not the largest in our neighborhood. My husband and I definitely consider it a starter home for our family and as a result, don’t want to put a lot of money into it. But the good thing about conducting an energy audit in your home is that it does not require a large budget and the returns are much greater than the money you lose from your home not being energy efficient. Here are eight things inexpensive thing you can do in your home to cut down on your energy costs this winter.

Seal Air Leaks

Leaks can let out anywhere from 15 to 35 percent of the heat generated in your home. You pay way too much money for your energy to let it literally fly out the window. Keep your hard-earned energy for yourself by checking common trouble spots such as window frames, door frames, outside vents to your dryer, baseboards, and spaces around window A/C units. Hold a candle to these spots. If the candle flickers, you have a leak. A tube of caulk that costs you less than $10 is likely enough to seal up any leaks.

Check Your Home's Insulation

A properly insulated home will keep cold air out and warm air in during the winter. The best place to start is in your attic, because it's the easier place to access and evaluate. Your attic should have 12 to 15 inches of insulation, according the Energy Star Program. A standard ruler placed between the floor joists on an unfinished attic floor is the only tool you'll need to see if your insulation is lacking. If you can see any of the ruler, you need to add more insulation. Pro tip: Wear gloves--some types of insulation, especially in older homes, is made with fiberglass or like material, and it is uncomfortable to get on your skin.

Check Your Air Filters

Are your air filters dirty? If so, your central unit is working harder than it should to heat and cool your home, costing you more money. If you leave dirty air filters in for too long, you may face even bigger and costlier problems down the road. A good rule of thumb is to change them out quarterly during the year. Every three months--or with every season change--swap out your old filters for new ones.

Consider A Programmable Thermostat

A manual thermostat is another thing that could be burning your money. Energy star indicates that a programmable thermostat will save you around $180 a year in heating and cooling costs. Programmable thermostats are pretty inexpensive and can be found at hardware stores, big box retailers, and online.

Add Insulation Around Your Water Heater

The U.S. Department of Energy says that water heating comprises 14 to 25 percent of the total energy used in your home. Making sure your water heater has insulation surrounding it can help lower the cost of your utilities. You should also check the temperature setting of your water heater. A few degrees cooler could save you big bucks in the long run.

Seal Off Air Ducts

Seals around air ducts deteriorate and leak over time. Energy Star says that up to 20 percent of the air circulating in your home is lost from loose or faulty ducts. The duct work in your walls can be hard to get to (usually requiring a technician), but the ducts in your attic or basement are typically visible and easy to get to. Use the candle trick to find any leaks, and seal them off with HVAC foil tape found at your local hardware store.

Seal Off Your Attic

The single sheet of plywood that covers the stairs to your attic is not leak-proof. This is one of the more notorious places to lose heat from your home as it escapes around the cover and into your attic. Rigid foam installation pads secured to the back of the attic door with foam weather stripping tape is a quick and easy way to create an air-tight seal that keeps your heat in your house. You can find both at your hardware store for a total of around $10.

Insulate Your Light Switches And Outlets

We’ve all seen the gaping hole in the wall when taking off a light switch or outlet cover. As you can probably imagine, this cover doesn’t do a whole lot to keep heat from escaping out or cold air coming in. Good news--your hardware store likely sells pre-cut foam covers that fit just behind those plates. All you have to do is unscrew the plate, put the foam cover in place, and screw it back on.

Performing this full audit should take you less than an hour. If you took a Saturday afternoon to fix all of the places you're losing energy, you could be saving money before dinner is ready. How many of these energy savings opportunities did you find in your home?

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