In my house, September 1 is the first day of winter. Or at least the first day of thinking about it. That's the day I start my cold weather to-do list. There's wood to stack, summer gear to put away, and, most of all, a host of things to check to make sure that once the snow starts to fly we don't freeze solid and go broke doing it.
During my first years in Vermont, I learned the hard way that only those with a death wish think such chores are optional. Those stories you've heard about Vermont winters? They're all true. I've watched the thermometer hit -40. I've seen snow swallow the roof line. I've driven in terrifying white-outs. And I've lived through entire months where the temperature never (no joke) got above zero. Trust me—you don't know cold until you've been iced over by the kind of winter northern New England dishes out.
It only takes one such winter of intemperate discontent to make you get real serious real fast each fall about making sure you're ready.
So I inspect my house thoroughly, and you should, too. Even if your winters are kinder than mine, you'll still conserve energy (natural gas and heating oil account for 6% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions(1) ) and money by following this winterization checklist:
- Check the doors. Is the weatherstripping tight? The sweep underneath still working? I darken the room and look for light where the door meets the frame. Light means air leaks. And if I see some, I've got work to do.
- Same with the windows. Make sure each one seals tightly. Replace any decaying weatherstripping. Check the exterior frame to see if recaulking is necessary. Seal old leaky windows with interior plastic sheeting kits. It'll make a huge difference.
- Put insulating gaskets in all the electrical sockets on exterior-facing walls to help stop drafts.
- Have your furnace cleaned and inspected so it operates at peak efficiency. If you have a forced hot air system, make sure the ductwork is sealed—ducts can leak up to 20% of the air passing through them, which means a 20% higher heating bill.(2) Clean your filters regularly during winter. (That's another 5-15% in heating savings right there!(3) )
- Consider a programmable thermostat. These energy-savers automatically raise and lower temperatures throughout the day to save energy. They're easy to install and operate. Set 'em and forget 'em!
- Close off rarely used rooms. This can save you up to 3% per room on heating costs.(4) We have a spare bedroom we rarely use. So we clear out anything we're likely to need over winter and shut the door until spring. I stick a draft guard at the base, too.
- Change the battery on your CO2 detector. If you don't have a CO2 detector, get one. They're lifesavers.
- Wrap your hot water tank in insulation. (Don't cover the air intake if you heat with gas!) Colder winter water costs more to heat. This is a way to reclaim some of that energy and cut water heating costs by as much as 10%.(5)
- Check your attic insulation. If you get lots of icicles on your roof, you're leaking warm air out your eaves. Extra insulation in the attic will help stop it.
- Finally, remember to take advantage of the sun's free heat. Even in Vermont, passive solar warmth makes a huge difference—I can literally get my living room to 70° in January using only the sun. Keep the curtains on south-facing windows open during the day to let heat in and close them at night to trap it. Depending on your windows and shades, you'll reduce window heat loss by up to a fairly incredible 56%.(6)
Add it all up, and you'll be happier and richer, and that's a good thing in any season no matter where you live.