Definitive Guide to Preparing Your House for Winter (Winterizing)

Winter is here and while we are enjoying the festivities and roasted marshmallows there is one fact that every proud home owner knows. It gets cold, and the colder it gets the more expensive the heating bill gets. Since an average family spends over 60% of their energy cost on heating, this isn’t exactly a small amount. So whether you are powered by electricity, hydro or gas, for this year’s resolution let’s spend less on utilities and more on unnecessary, expensive, and totally awesome presents. You can do the vast majority of these 26 steps (+1 bonus step) in a weekend or two and save up to 50% on your energy bill every month.

So what qualifies us to write this definitive checklist guide you ask? Well here at Fair Service Heating we work day and night to keep warm one of the darn coldest cities there is. Let’s look at some fun facts:

  • Winnipeg (names comes from Cree meaning muddy water) is located right in the middle of North America with flat geography leaving it exposed to Arctic winds. 
  • It repeatedly ranks among coldest cities in the world with winter temperatures reaching -40°C (-40°F). 
  • For Christmas last year it was colder than the North Pole. 
  • And if that isn’t enough a few years ago temperatures dropped so low that it was comparable to that of the surface of MARS
So before you complain about your -12 chill…well boo-hoo. Below are the 27 simple steps that can slice your monthly energy bill up to 50%.


ADJUST YOUR HEATING
1. Upgrade your furnace.
If you are still rocking a furnace that was passed down into the family from your grandfather it might be time for an upgrade. A modern high efficiency furnace (rated for annual fuel utilization efficiency of 92% or better) can save you up to 40% of the energy bill for the same amount of heat. These furnaces extract more heat from the same amount of gas by adding a secondary heat exchanger that also extracts energy from water vapor that is a by-product discarded by older machines. In Canada, you can’t even buy anything less efficient since 2009 but many homes still run an old inefficient furnace. Many states and provinces offer tax and credit incentives to help offset the initial cost and make upgrading a highly attractive option.

2. Get the furnace inspected...or at least change the filter.
Ideally, you should get your heating system and furnace checked by a technician at least once year. One of the easiest and most common DIY improvements is changing the filter at least every 3 months. Clean filter lessens the strain on the furnace and results in cleaner air all around. You can also pick up a washable filter from a local hardware store.

3. Lower the hot water tank temperature (by a few degrees)
Lowering your hot water tank temperature to around 50° C will probably result in a more pleasant shower experience. By default many manufacturers actually set the temperature too high for normal use. 5-6 degree adjustment can save up to 12% in monthly heating cost.

4. Install a digital thermostat
Modern thermostats will keep the house temperature just where you want it to be. Many of them now use censors to adjust the temperature when you leave the house and can be accessed online through your cellphone. Not to mention they look like mini futuristic spaceships!

5. And turn that beautiful thing down a few degrees
Turning down the thermostat 2-4°C will save you around 2-4% in monthly heating costs. This might not sound like a lot, but I dare you to try to distinguish 21°C from 23°C. Feels exactly the same.

HOUSE INTERIOR
6. Reverse your ceiling fan
Reverse your ceiling fans so they rotate clockwise instead of the normal counter clockwise (there is usually a switch on the fan itself, no it is not a hidden detonation button). This will cause the fan to push the warm air down and circulate around the house (instead of pulling it up). Fans help the warm air flowing from the heating ducts spread out more consistently and keep it there.

7. Warning: Check the two little devices that are there to save your life
The more insulated your house becomes, the less fresh air you are going to have going in and out. This opens up a few risks that have not-so-nice consequences. Make sure that the smoke alarm and the carbon monoxide detector are working like a clock and have plenty of battery power.

8. Remove any window fans or air conditioners
This is pretty obvious, you want to minimize leakage and windows are one of the biggest sources of heat loss in the whole house.

9. If you can afford it, install storm windows (double or triple pane).
Drafty windows can account for up to 30% of the home’s heat loss! The best solution - which is also the most costly - is replacing old windows with new energy efficient variants. These windows are usually double or triple pane and significantly reduce heat leakage.

10. Caulk and weather strip window cracks
Caulking is an application of white paste that comes in a tube that is used to fill gaps, it expands and hardens. Weather stripping is applying ‘strips’ of varying materials (from plastic to foam) to an area to cover up cracks and other surface damage. Both of these will come up over and over because they are inexpensive, easy way to DIY fix any small deformities that cause heat loss. Both can be found in Home Depot or any other major store.
This point is especially important if you have older windows as over time the plastic (or wood) will deform and create cracks. This is the biggest problem in the area where glass – which is a hard material that does not warp, - meets the softer edges of plastic or wood that do. No matter how many panes of glass you have, warm air will escape through these cracks. Use caulking and weather stripping to fix that.

11. Use plastic wrap to cover your windows to reinforce heat loss resistance
Not everyone can afford storm windows, and for lots of regions with milder weather they may not even be worth investing in. A simpler solution is to use plastic wrap to seal the windows for the winter. You can find the blow dryer approach on Youtube that works reasonably well.

12. Mind the gap below your doors
All doors have a gap between the bottom of the door and the floor that lets warm air escape. Use a draft snake that is a shaped material used to plug to that gap. You can buy cute ones that actually look like a plush snake or just roll up any heavy material and make your own.

13. Storm doors are always an option
While storm windows are better known, you can also install storm doors that will also significantly offset warm air leakage.

14. What lurks six feet under
Contrary to popular belief, earth is not a good insulator. Basement accounts for around 20% of the total heat loss and should also be insulated. Insulation can be applied from both inside and outside with various degrees of complexity and structural changes. For quick inside insulation aim for around 10 inches of insulating material or thicker.

15. The attic should also be insulated
The attic is similar in a sense as it is a large attached space that is generally not heated. It also lacks insulation of the ground (even accepting that it is not a good insulator in the first place). The attic should also be insulated as a unit, gaps and cracks can be filled DYI style with caulking and weather stripping. Aim for around 10 inches of insulating material or thicker.

16. Attic fans should be shut off and insulated with plastic
You should become a ‘fan-attic’ of point #17.

HOUSE EXTERIOR
17. Insulate any pipes exposed to the cold
Pipes which are functional but may be exposed to the cold temperature should be insulated with specialized foam. Properly shaped sets of different diameters can be purchased in hardware stores. This applies to outdoor pipes as well as indoor ones in cooler locations. You should also leave cabinet doors open to further provide some heat to these indoor pipes.

18. If you ain’t using it, shut it off!
Shut off water going to outside faucets, or non-essential pipes in exposed non-heated locations like an attic. Your outside fountain won’t be as pretty but you won’t have to deal with frozen pipes in a few weeks.

19. Insulate any pipe connection points
Like windows, any point of connection between non-pliable metal pipes and pliable house foundation will cause cracks. This is often intensified by the constant presence of water. Caulking is your friend here.

20. Insulate outside electrical plugs
Here you don’t really need to go DIY. There are kits widely available (mandatory fire warning: if you don’t know what you are doing when it comes to electrical – leave it alone).

21. Give your gutters and downspouts a makeover
Clean out the gutters and the downspouts from any debris. If there is any blockage, water flow will be interrupted which can lead to freezing. You can install downspout extensions to make sure water flows well away from the foundation of the house.

22. Check the roof for missing singles or other damage
Inspect the roof for missing shingles and replace them before heavy snow (or Santa’s 600 lb sled) causes damage and opens a leak.

DAILY HABITS AND OTHER TIPS
23. Use an electric blanket or a small heater during the night
Use electric blanket instead of heating the whole room. You can pick them up on Amazon. Also running a portable space heater might make a lot more sense while you are asleep since you can heat only one room.

24. A good scout is always prepared
Make sure you have an energy kit stashed away as well as common sense supply of food, alternative heat sources and food. Like properly working smoke detectors, this isn’t something you care about until something goes wrong.

25. Wear a sweater
This is a two for one because not only can you utilize the 37 °C furnace inside your body that stays on 24/7 but you can also show your Christmas spirit with that ugly red and green sweater a certain relative gave you last year.

26. Heavy curtains drawn over the windows actually help keep the heat in
Heavy curtain closed at night can reduce heat leakage through the windows. Yes really.

BONUS 27. Use fancy modern tools to make the job easier (and more fun)
If you want to feel like Inspector Gadget (or Batman) in the process, invest 30 bucks into a thermal leak detector. You can grab one off Amazon and make the process of trying to isolate those pesky leaks a whole lot more fun and effective.

And here we come to the end of our winter season preparation tips and tricks. What worked for you? What did we miss? Leave a comment below and share this post on your social media for all to see the great wisdom of Ol’ Uncle Winnipeg.

Need some help with your home furnace or HVAC unit? Give us a call and we’ll provide a free quote!


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