Winterizing Home the Green Way — Blending Old-Fashioned Methods With Modern Tools For Low-Cost Energy Efficiency

Winter’s chill can be harsh — and not just outdoors. Our homes are exposed to this country’s severest weather this time of year and staying warm indoors can be a struggle. Increasing energy efficiency and reducing energy costs probably tops everyone’s list these days. Luckily, they go hand in hand. The good news is that many of the things you’ve been doing for years are good habits to maintain. Better yet, there are now a few greener ways to keep the house cozy, too!

Some of the eco-friendliest ways of winterizing home are old-fashioned do-it-yourself projects. These can be very easy, like draining pipes and cleaning gutters to prevent icicles from forming, and placing straw around the foundation to warm lower floors. Inside, hang thick curtains in front of doors to insulate separate rooms. Make your own fabric draft guards to fill crevices. Verify vents are unblocked by furniture or other objects. Place sheets of aluminum foil between radiators and walls, which will deflect heat back into the room.

Sealing and insulating ducts, caulking and/or weather-stripping windows and doors, and plugging unused electrical outlets with plastic protectors are still excellent traditional techniques for keeping out drafts. For years, people have covered windows with plastic films — it’s also good practice to insulate water heaters. The Earth-friendliness of these types of products varies so check materials and their sources before you buy!

Some measures require a minor investment of time or money, such as fitting a permanent furnace filter for less waste and cleaner air, installing a programmable thermostat, adding more insulation in the attic, or mounting solar lights outside (for cost-effective lighting during the long winter darkness). Other ideas may require more savings or more patience, but are well worth the effort. For instance, planting fir trees to the north and northwest of a house creates protective winter windbreaks, but the trees won’t grow tall enough overnight. On the other hand, replacing out-dated home energy systems with modern energy efficient models can initially be expensive, but the upgrade quickly pays for itself.

For those with fireplaces, closing the flue when no fire is lit stops warmth from escaping. Grates made of C-shaped metal tubes will draw in cool air and circulate hot air. Consider eco-friendlier wood-burning options, such as compressed bricks of sawdust or woodchips that burn longer, or even converting to a pellet stove.

Lifestyle is another factor in your home’s energy usage. Good habits lead to full wallets! Shut the doors to rooms that aren’t in use, turning the heat down as you leave. Open curtains on south and southwest facing windows during the daytime to take advantage of the sun, and close them at night to shield out the cold. Reverse the rotation on ceiling fans to spread warm air throughout the house. Upper levels will be more comfortable than lower ones, so try to spend more time there. Even running the fan in the bathroom while you shower pushes the hot air you paid to generate outside, so it’s best to leave the bathroom door open instead, which will in turn warm the rest of the house. Decreasing the temperature of your water heater and taking shorter showers will also be helpful.

If you’re still cold, some good old-fashioned tricks might just be the remedy you need. Sprinkle cayenne pepper in your socks to warm your feet. Dress in layers and place a hot water bottle between your bed sheets to avoid cranking up the thermostat. A programmable one has the benefit of ending repeat trips to readjust the temperature or refill the woodstove.

During Yuletide, homeowners are faced with the additional concern of extra lighting costs, what with strings of brilliance displayed attractively outside. Controlling decorative lights with timers and unplugging them while they are not in use can save loads on post-holiday energy bills.

In fact, unplugging anything that’s not in use will save cash in the long run since unused electrical appliances continue to consume energy. Likewise, turning lights off in unoccupied rooms, cleaning fridge coils to allow for proper ventilation, and repairing leaky faucets, which can waste heated water, are beneficial year-round.

No doubt everyone wants to save money, but not at the expense of our natural surroundings. Winterizing home is a clear winner! While there are many new products available to assist in the ever daunting task of making environmentally-wise choices for your home, many of the best solutions remain the ones learned from our elders. They sure knew what they were doing.

Winterizing Home the Green Way originally appeared in the December 2012-January 2013 issue of Simplified Living Magazine.