Getting Your Home Ready for Winter

A few inexpensive and relatively simple steps can save you money this winter

As cold weather approaches, homeowners are readying their homes for the season ahead. Many New Hampshire professionals suggest that looking at your home’s overall efficiency is the best place to start.

Start with a Plan

Although most homeowners know that it’s necessary to get heating and water systems serviced and your chimney inspected, home efficiency professionals recommend starting with an overall look at your home to really tackle efficiency and yield energy savings.

“Most people think, ‘Winter is coming; I have to have my heating system serviced.’ But they usually stop there. Start with an energy audit so you are making cost-effective improvements,” says Bruce Bennett of GDS Associates Inc. in Manchester. “The biggest return on investment will be on insulation, air sealing and utility energy efficiency,” he adds.

Bill Smith of Building Diagnostics of Penacook agrees. “If you’re thinking about doing any energy upgrading, make a plan for the whole house — it saves you the trouble of redoing things. If you are going to air seal your attic, you need to know that the hot moist air in the house will go up into the attic, and you have less hot air to help it dry. So possibilities like mold, damage to the roof sheathing and to the structure can occur.”

“If you haven’t had an energy audit, it is a great way to figure it out what you need to address in your home,” adds Laura Richardson of The Jordan Institute in Concord, a non-profit group focused on energy efficiency. She recommends the website to connect you to a professional.

Attics, Basements, Windows and Doors

Some of the most common suggestions from these energy audits are sealing attics, basements, windows and doors, which can often be easy and inexpensive. “The attic is the first place to start since you can usually access the insulation,” says Bennett. “The next place is taking measures in the basement. From there you get into air sealing around windows and doors. Weather stripping, which is sealing your outside doors with a foam gasket, is a great step.”

“Weather stripping your doors is a good place to start,” says Smith. “Next, ask ‘Are my windows drafty or can I weather strip them?’ And buy storm windows. I favor inside ones and the plastic shrink wrap for windows made by 3M and others are excellent. They are very low cost and I recommend them highly.”

“Weather stripping is not that costly, but it does take time. Finding those cracks and sealing them up is really important,” says Richardson, who also recommends interior storm windows. “The first thing people can do with no cost is check your windows. Double-hung windows are often not closed completely and tend to slide down an inch or two, and that cold air gets sucked in when you burn something for heat and use oxygen. If you are heating with a wood stove or pellet boiler, you want to make sure that targeted fresh air is coming into that system.”

All the experts agree that having your windows replaced may be unnecessary and expensive, and advise getting an independent energy professional’s opinion on whether you need new windows. “The window companies have great marketing, but very often the energy savings of new windows don’t really offset the cost of replacing windows,” says Bennett. Richardson adds, “Numerous industry advocates suggest other steps to take before window replacement. An energy audit should come before that.”

And if you are trying to prevent ice dams? “If you have ice dams, you need to air seal your attic,” says Smith. “The warm air from inside your house is melting the snow on the roof, which runs down to the eaves and freezes and builds an ice dam. “You need to air seal and insulate. Coils are the backward solution since they use a ton of energy.”

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