Save Your Home (and Wallet) from the Winter Chill

Save Your Home (and Wallet) from the Winter Chill

I grew up in Southern California.  This is a place where winter proofing your home is just, well, not.  However, I have now lived in the Midwest for a decade.  There is a chill in the air foreign to my childhood friends, but I’m doing well at keeping warm all year round.  Here are my favorite budget friendly tips for winter proofing your home on a budget.  You can also check out our “Fall Back” Home Maintenance Checklist to get a comprehensive list of things you should be checking out this time of year as well as steps on how to put your garden to sleep for the winter.

Buy Your Home in the Winter

Wait, what?  This might seem like the worst advice ever.  There are many reasons why the housing market is hottest in the Spring and Fall.  Those are the best conditions for the most dreaded task of all: Moving Day.  The reason I give this tip is that we moved into our condo in February almost eight years ago.  The advantage was that in December and January, while we were in the housing market, we were able to get a real sense for how cold the homes were and, in turn, how much work would need to be done in order to warm them up each winter.

A big reason we settled upon our condo is that the heater had not been turned on in the condo in weeks (as it was vacant) yet we were able to walk around comfortably without as much as a sweater.  We live on the top floor, so all of the units below ours essentially pay to heat our home throughout the cold months.  There have been instances where we did not turn the heater on for months into the season.  That does mean a higher bill in the summer for cooling, but we net out a nice savings.  Plus, given the laws of supply and demand, you could strike a good deal in those winter months that experience less real estate market action.

Find and Fix the Drafty Windows & Doors

You could pay for a full energy audit, which isn’t a bad way to spend your money.  However, if you are on a budget, then you can use a neat little trick to find all of the drafty windows and doors in your home.  Got a candle?  Got a blow dryer?  Got an extension cord?  Then you have everything you need.  

One person stands on the inside with the candle.  Another goes outside with the blow dryer (and extension cord).  Turn on the blow dryer and trace along the edges of the outside of the window while you trace that same route with the candle on the inside (keeping the candle an inch or so away from the frame for safety).  If the flame moves or is extinguished, then you found your leak.  Mark those areas and then use weather stripping or caulk to seal them in to close up the leak.  This method becomes more challenging if you have multiple floors or just one person.  In those instances, forgo the blow dryer and just run the candle along the the frame and look for any subtle bending of the flame to locate the leak.

To fix the leak you just need some caulking in the same color as your window trim (or clear) as well as some weather stripping.  Check out this video on how to caulk if you have not done so before.  You can also learn how to apply weather stripping to the windows and doors.

Maintain Your Heating System

We have a memo in our phones that reminds us to program the thermostat when it warms up and when it cools down.  The memo includes what temperatures to program into the thermostat for what times of the day.  We get pretty detailed since I work from home and am much less sensitive to temperature variations than my husband.  So, on work days the thermostat is programmed to change when he leaves for work and again when he comes home.  Sure, we could invest in the Nest and get a learning thermostat, but this works just fine for us for now.

As directed in the “Fall Back” Home Maintenance Checklist, you need to be mindful of your furnace filter and call a technician in to service the heater as well.

Know Your Pipes

One word of caution on the thermostat is that many think that the lower the temperature the better for your bill.  While all of that sounds about right, you have to consider that lower temperatures will not help keep your pipes from freezing since they sit on the inside of the wall where it is much colder.  Themostats should always be set for 65 degrees or higher on account of this.

While you are at it, it’s always a good idea to know where your pipes are located around the house.  Go down into the basement and use a flashlight to see how the pipes are routed and learn how to shut the water off.  If you do not already have one, you may want to consider installing an emergency pressure release value in your plumbing system for just this occasion.  You don’t want to wait to figure this out once the pipes freeze because timing is important to limiting damage.  The quicker you can get the water off and direct your plumber to the source of the problem, the more money you will save in the end.  If you do not, then the pipes could burst, and no good will come of that.

Add Insulation

As mentioned in the Home Maintenance Checklist, well installed home insulation has many benefits.  Insulation keeps your home warm, reduces sound, and even protect your roof.  Some important areas to insulate are the pipes and the attic, but insulating a home’s outside walls well will go a long way to keeping you warm.

One easy way to figure out how well insulated your home is would be to remove some electrical plates from the outside walls of your house.  Take a plastic fork or plastic crochet hook or plastic hanger (read: plastic) and poke around to see what your insulation situation is like.  If your insulation is a bit shabby, then this would be one of those cases where this cheapskate thinks the investment is a good one.  Foam is the holy grail of insulation, but fiberglass and cellulose run a bit cheaper.  This should run you between $2,500 – $5,000 for an average single family home depending upon the insulation type you choose.  Attic insulation runs about $1,000.

The Great Outdoors

I’ve heard some accounts that you need to bring in outdoor plants before the temperature falls below 50 degrees.  According to Michelle Andersen of Flourish Landscape & Interior Design, it is the freezing mark (32 degrees) that you should be watching out for.  Check out all of her “putting your garden to sleep for the winter” tips to get your outdoors ready for the winter chill.    Also, in order to protect your investments, you should cover up or bring in patio furniture and the grill.  Make sure to secure any firewood you keep outdoors, and you will want to cover it up with a tarp so that it doesn’t get wet.  Fire and water have never been friends.

You also need to protect your floors from all of the outside that could get tracked in.  Water and salt can be corrosive to floor finishes.  Not all of us are blessed enough to have a mudroom.  If you are like me, then invest in a nice heavy textured floor mat for both outside the door and another one for inside.  You can also have a designated location where winter boots can be removed.  If you want to get uber fancy, you can build a mudroom into your entrance with these Smiling Mudroom plans from Ana White.

First Class Ticket to Snuggle Town

Oh, sweet glorious layers.  Throw pillows, blankets, and warm fuzzy socks are the best invitation to take a break from this crazy world and snuggle with the ones you love.  Don’t wish your time away by swearing off all things happy until warm weather greets us again.  Instead, go grab your partner, your children, and your animals and cuddle up together to enjoy the season.

Melody grew up in poverty, and she was homeless throughout most of her childhood. Even after the hard work of getting out of poverty was accomplished, she still lived in fear of the next bad thing that could happen. She knew that, without the security of a safety net, one misstep would mean certain disaster. It was not until this safety net was established that she truly felt liberated and free from the anxiety of living in poverty once again. She is now motivated to share this sense of freedom with all women.


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