Prepare your home for winter efficiency and comfort

As the weather turns cooler, it’s time to prepare your home for winter. Frigid temperatures, arctic winds, snow, sleet and ice are just around the corner.

Take steps now to winterize your home, and you’ll not only stay cozy all winter long, you’ll also save energy and reduce your heating bill. Here are 10 quick and affordable ways to prep your home for winter.

1 Add Attic Insulation
The most effective use of insulation is in the attic. Unfortunately, most homes have either no insulation or too-little insulation in the attic. According to the EPA, attics should have a minimum of R-38 insulation, which is typically between 10 and 14 inches deep. A properly insulated attic floor will prevent heated air in the rooms below from flowing into the attic. It’s equally important to caulk all ceiling penetrations—holes around pipes, ducts and wires—and to place an insulated cover over the attic hatchway or stairway.

2 Caulk Cracks
One of the simplest—and most effective—ways to stop cold-air infiltration is to plug up holes, cracks and open seams around the exterior of your house. Use a high-quality acrylic-latex caulk or expanding-foam sealant, and fill all air-leaking gaps. Pay particular attention to the areas around the outside of windows, doors, hose faucets and where the siding overlaps the foundation.

3 Install Storm Windows
If your home doesn’t have insulated-glass windows, then you should install storm windows. Old single-pane windows are terribly inefficient and can make rooms feel uncomfortably cold and drafty. Storm windows mount to the exterior of existing windows and provide an extra layer of protection against cold weather, including snow, wind and rain. Come spring, the storm units can be removed and stored away until next winter.

4 Replace Door Weather Stripping
Inspect the weather stripping around all exterior doors to ensure that it’s in good shape and not ripped, crushed or missing. Then, close the door and check for air-leaking gaps around all four edges of the door. Take a peek under the door. If you see sunlight shining through, you’ll need to either raise the threshold or install a door sweep. And to detect drafts, try this simple trick. Take a smoldering stick of incense and slowly pass it around the door. Even the slightest breeze will make the smoke stream dance, indicating where air is leaking in.

5 Change Filters
Change your central unit or furnace’s air filter every month throughout the winter season. A clogged, dirty filter will impede airflow and dramatically reduces the efficiency of the heating unit. And while you’re at it, consider replacing a cheap disposable filter with a reusable electrostatic model. Also be sure to have your heating unit tuned up annually by a licensed HVAC contractor.

6 Install a Programmable Thermostat
If your family keeps a regular schedule, meaning you come and go at somewhat regular times each day, install a programmable thermostat, which can be adjusted to suit your lifestyle. For example, you can preset it to automatically turn on the heat in the morning as everyone is getting up for work and school, and then lower the heat once everyone has left the house. And you can program the heat to come back on just before everyone gets home later in the day, and then turn it back down at bedtime. Most programmable thermostats also have weekend and vacation settings. And if you buy a smart programmable thermostat, you’ll be able to control it remotely with internet access using your phone or tablet.

7 Install Electrical Outlet and Switch Gaskets
It doesn’t seem possible, but a surprising amount of cold air blows in around electrical outlets and light switches. And since even a modest-size home has dozens of outlets and switches, the heat loss can make a difference. An easy, affordable way to seal up drafty outlets and light switches is with foam-rubber outlet gaskets. Simply remove the outlet and switch cover plates, press the gasket over the electrical outlet or switch, then replace the covers. The only tool needed is a screwdriver!

8 Reverse Ceiling Fans
Think ceiling fans are only useful in summer? Think again. Most fans have a switch—either on the motor housing or remote control—that allows you to reverse the fan-blade rotation. In summer, the blades rotate counterclockwise to blow down cooling breezes. But in winter, reverse the blade rotation so they blow up. That way, the fan will force warm air trapped at the ceiling down into the room.

9 Hang Insulated Window Treatments
Even the best, tightest-sealing windows feel a bit cold in winter. To make rooms feel warmer, cover windows with insulated blinds or thick, quilted drapes.

10 Insulate Hot-Water Pipes
Reduce heat loss and save energy—and money—by insulating all of your hot-water pipes. The insulation will help keep the water hot inside the pipe, so your boiler or water heater won’t have to work so hard. Also you won’t have to waste as much time or water waiting for hot water to flow out of the faucet or shower head. Pipe insulation comes in two basic types: foam-rubber sleeves that you slip onto the pipe and insulated wraps that you wind around the pipe.