With the recent blast of arctic cold pushing the temperatures in Houston all the way down to 32°F on November 18, many Texans are dreading the coming deep, dark months of January and February. This past week’s cold weather will have given you some really good clues about where to start reducing your energy use and improving your home’s efficiency. So, instead of bitterly dreading the coming cold months, let’s look at our six home improvement tips to prepare your Texas home for the rest of winter.
1) Replace worn-out weatherstripping.
One of the easiest ways to find drafts in your home is by lighting a stick of incense and observing the wisps of smoke to see if it is blown or pulled in one direction or not. Drafts enter through doors or windows that are not shutting with a good seal. If your door or windows rattle when they are closed (photo on right), then outside cold air is entering. Both doors and windows should have weather stripping applied on both sides (jambs) and across the top (lintel) so that when the door closes, it has a good seal.
Most newer EnergyStar rated entry doors use weather stripping that magnetically sticks to the metal door (photo on left). Meanwhile, worn-out foam weatherstripping usually crumbles or falls off. If you need to replace weather stripping, use a foam type that will squish (compress AND expand) to give a good seal (center photo). Most are seal adhesive and will work with any kind of door, including wooden ones.
2) Seal the windows
While new energy efficient windows are sealed inside their frames, many older windows are held in place with glazing. Over time, glazing can crack and break. The window panes become loose in the frame, and not only do they let in outside air, they are more likely to break.
Glazing needs to be done right to preserve the window’s look and you want the angles to be neat and clean. The weather is also important to keep in mind, too, because glazing takes a while to dry and cure.
If you’d rather wait until spring, then a safe and reliable temporary fix is to use silicon caulk. Scrape out the old, loose glazing and lay down one or two beads to hold in the glass. Remember to clean out any dust, debris, and old paint lumps from sash window tracks or casement seals because these can keep the windows from closing properly.
Tip: Be sure the glass and the frame are clean and dry before caulking.
3 Subtle clues
Sometimes, you have to rely on an unlikely and unhealthy ally to find drafts. Cold air can cause condensation problems leading to mold growth. If your home has black mold growing in it during the heating season, chances are that cold air is entering your home, causing condensation, and providing a friendly environment for mold and mildew spores to grow.
The photo on the left shows a ceiling with a smudge of black mold growing surrounded by condensation. Even though there was adequate insulation in the attic space above, cold air was somehow penetrating the wall. It wasn’t until some of the exterior trim was removed that it showed an expansion gap in the siding, letting cold air into a half-inch wide slot left above the sheathing. Some expanding foam and caulk sealed the leak. The trim piece was replaced and the problem was solved.
4) Keep it flowing
Cleaning out rain gutters one last time before winter sets in can help avoid many serious problems. Blocked, over-flowing rain gutters can spill water down the exterior of your home, allowing water to penetrate paneling. In older homes, this can trap moisture and begin rotting the wall framing leading to expensive repairs. In homes up in north Texas, blocked rain gutters can freeze and over-flow. The cumulative ice weight can tear rain gutters completely from the side of the house. In some cases, clogged gutters may contribute to ice dam problems that seriously damage roofs.
5) Stay in hot water
Most hot water heaters in use today are just tanks of water that are kept hot all day and night until you are ready to use the water. That “stand-by” heating can use a lot of energy. Adding an additional layer of insulation to your hot water heater can add savings to your energy costs. Both a water heater jacket and pipe insulation can reduce about 4%–9% in water heating costs. Another efficiency tip is to flush your water heater tank twice a year to help clear sediment and scale from the bottom of the tank.
6) Just blowing hot air?
You may have already replaced the dirty air filter in your HVAC system. That’s great. But you should also check your ductwork. HVAC systems move a lot of air and they vibrate. Occasionally, sections of ductwork can vibrate apart —especially when the ductwork may be under tension.
Reassemble any loose or disconnected sections with sheet metal screws and seal those joints with aluminum tape. Check over any metal joints on the air handler for escaping air and coat these with either silicon caulk or ductwork mastic (use a brush or a putty knife). If your system uses insulated flex duct work in the attic, keep an eye out for kinks where it bends sharply or sags in a hanger causing it to restrict air flow to a room.
How much could you save?
All these little fixes won’t cost very much —probably $50 or less when you add in the water heater jacket and pipe insulation as well as expanding foam, caulk, and weather stripping. True, these little jobs may take a weekend or two of your time, but the important things to remember are the potential energy savings. The US Department of Energy estimates that homeowners can save 5% to 30% per year just by reducing drafts. Duct sealing savings alone can run as high as $200-$400 a year in Texas. And best of all, these jobs may help prevent really expensive repairs in the future.
When you couple the savings from these home improvement tips with the increased comfort you feel throughout your Texas home, you might hardly notice the next arctic blast and start liking winter.