Photo: James Bombales
The leaves are falling, the temperature is dropping and the sun sets earlier every day — winter is upon us.
As the weather outside gets colder, so does your home, where it’s tempting to flick on the furnace at the first sign of frost. But before you crank up the heat and battle it out against your family over control of the thermostat, consider the fact that your precious warm air could be escaping someplace else. To improve warmth in your home, it’s important to get rid of cold spots before winter hits.
“Late summer, fall would be best because you don’t want to wait until after the first snowfall to realize that it’s cold inside,” says Shawn Monteith, Canada’s Handyman. “Now, you’ve got to go outside and try to fix what the problem is, if it is outside, and [now] it’s cold.”
You don’t have to be a DIY genius to make simple, heat-saving changes to your home. Here’s a few tips from Monteith on how to prevent the cold from creeping in.
The TP test
Holding up a strip of toilet paper to your window is weird on any given day, but when checking for drafts, it’s perfectly normal.
Crevices and cracks are easy routes for cold air to leak into your home — window panes, door edges, vents and outlets are the primary targets for this. Holding a lit match or light bathroom paper, such as a piece of Kleenex, is a good way to identify where drafts are seeping in.
“If the flame flickers, that means that you’ve got air coming in,” says Monteith. “Another way would be a piece of toilet paper — hold it close to the cracks around windows and doors and the small air [draft] coming in would move the toilet paper or Kleenex.”
If your home has a fireplace, and you’re not planning to use it during the winter, warmth can escape and cold can enter through the chimney. Installing an expandable chimney balloon will block air from coming and going.
To seal up cracks, use caulking, but be careful when you apply it. Monteith explains that some silicone caulking may not stick if it’s too cold.
Stop breathing in dust
If it’s simply too cold outside to avoid the furnace, be sure to conduct maintenance on it before use. Changing your filters every season, whether it be every three or four months, prevents the risk of inhaling bacteria and ensures your warm airflow isn’t obstructed by residue in the filter.
“On a furnace, if I was going to start it for the first time, I would make sure that the filter is clean. You don’t want to have an old filter in there and push old air through your house,” says Monteith.
If you’re looking to splurge, installing a smart thermostat is an efficient way of conserving energy by managing your home’s temperature. Adjusting the humidity or setting the thermostat to turn on only during the coldest hours will make better use of that heat.
Treat yo’ windows
You don’t have to go all out and buy new windows to make them more efficient.
Applying plastic film insulation, Monteith says, creates a shrink-wrap barrier over your windows to prevent heat loss. The window sheets are sold in packs at the hardware store, and installation is pretty simple: After measuring your window, cut the sheet to size and use double-sided tape to hold it in place. Then, using a hair dryer, seal the sheet in place. Be sure to buy sheets that are proportional or bigger than the windows you have.
If you’re not into plastic, hanging thick curtains over the windows and keeping them drawn when there’s no direct daylight will help to keep out the cold.
Add extra fluff
Adding insulation is a tried-and-true way of trapping in heat. Applying more in your attic, around your vents, and pipes provides a pillowy place for warm air to rest, and for cold condensation to stay out.
“The way insulation works is that it has these air cells in them. As each air cell goes from the outside to the inside, the different pockets of air change into the warm and that stops the condensation coming in,” says Monteith.
You don’t want those air pockets to collapse, so Monteith says not to squeeze your insulation too tightly so these pockets disappear.