Built to Last…Winter is on the way – play it safe

by David Wulff, AIA

 Do you remember that it gets cold in the winter?  Sometimes it’s even cold inside as well as outside.    I remember years ago when I lived in the cold country of northern Michigan.  I had a wonderful old historic Victorian home in northern Michigan that was built in 1894.  It was great in the summer, but come winter when the temperatures were 10 below (and sometimes colder), it was all one could do to stay comfortable indoors.  Oh yes, I tried several things to keep ole man winter out.  First, I put up the old storm windows that each weighed a ton.  Of course, storm windows built in 1894 were not as good as the ones today.  The draft still seemed to come in.  I had a gas furnace, but the cost of heating was as high as the sky, so I installed a dual wood / gas furnace.  If the wood burned down, the gas furnace would kick in.  It worked great, except it meant that I had to cut firewood in the fall and stockpile it for the winter.  Usually two weekends would do the trick.  Next step, I had the whole house insulated.  I did the attic area myself and hired a firm to drill holes all around the outside and blow in the insulation.  Even with all that, the house still was difficult to keep comfortable.

OK, it’s now 30 years later and I’m in North Carolina.  I know it does not get as cold here, but we still want to be comfortable.  Although its fall and it’s nice to be outside, this is the time to prepare.  So, how do we go about it?  Here are some helpful hints.

  1. Install a programmable thermostat.  Why heat the house when you are not home?   This will save you about $200 + per year.
  2. Draft Proof your doors.  Your doors are potential leak areas.  Add weather-stripping around the sides and top.  Don’t forget the sill.  Many doors don’t have a seal at the sill.
  3. Service your heating system.  If the system is not running at peak efficiency, you’re wasting energy.
  4. Change filters.  If your filters are dirty it blocks the return air and causes your system to run with less efficiency.
  5. Seal drafty windows.   Replacing windows is relatively easy to do yourself.  Lowe’s or Home Depot can have replacement ones made to fit your openings.  If that is out of your budget, get out the sealant and apply around the exterior of your windows.  Remember, use sealant, not caulk.  Sealant is for exterior work and caulk is for inside.
  6. Add insulation.  Go up in the attic and check the amount of insulation you have.  Insulation is relatively cheap and easy to do-it-yourself.  You can have insulation blown in on top of your existing insulation, or lay insulation perpendicular to your existing insulation if you have batt insulation.  Just remember to get UNFACED batt insulation. 
  7. Close your chimney damper.  The chimney works wonderful for keeping smoke out of your house, but it can also suck out the air pretty quick if you don’t close the damper.

Stay warm!

David H. Wulff, Architect Emeritus is a retired architect and resident in Lake Lure.

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