Winterize Your Home on a Budget

With these maintenance measures, you can winterize a house to maximize energy savings, incurring minimal cost in the process.

How to Winterize a House

Photo: From Bob Vila’s “Basement Finishing and Family Space”

Securing your home against winter is always a prime consideration for homeowners, no matter where you live. Regardless of what direction the cost of heating oil, propane, and other fuels is heading, it makes good sense to ensure that you and your family stay comfortable the entire season while protecting your investment.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be expensive. There are a surprising number of easy things you can do at minimal cost that can maximize energy savings this winter. Below are suggestions for budgets of $100, $250, and $500 (at current prices), as well as some ideas that cost nothing.

$100 or Less

  • Basic caulk gun ($20) and four tubes of caulk ($7.50 each) to fill gaps in siding, windows, and doors. For drafty windows and doors, don’t just fill the gaps on the outside, says home renovation and remodeling consultant Dean Bennett of Dean Bennett Design and Construction in Castle Rock, CO. “Pull the molding off to fill the insulation gaps around the window jamb.” If you prefer, you can use a can of low-expansion window foam ($7 each) instead of caulk. Cost: $50
  • Plastic film window insulating kit, enough for five to six windows. Cost: $20
  • Weatherstripping for windows, four 17-foot rolls. Cost: $20 ($5 each)
  • Replacement filter for central heat and air unit. Mike Kuhn, director of technical services at HouseMaster and author of The Pocket Idiot’s Guide to Home Inspection, says it’s a must to change your furnace and air conditioning filter on a regular basis, at least every three months or more often. “Clogged filters reduce heating and cooling efficiency and can reduce the useful life of the appliance,” says Kuhn. Cost: $10
  • Door threshold/sweep strip (three) to fill air leaks beneath doors. Cost: $75 ($25 each)
  • Door gasket (three) to fill leaks around doors. Mark Furst of Grading Spaces, a home inspection and performance analysis company in Fort Atkinson, WI, recommends that homeowners check all exterior doors for tight-sealing gaskets. “I often see doors that only seal well when the door is slammed and then the deadbolt lock engages,” he says, blaming the condition on worn-out gaskets, though the doors themselves are still in good shape. “Adding a sweep strip to the bottom of the door helps to block drafts,” he adds. Cost: $75 ($25 each)

$250 or Less

  • Home energy audit from your utility company. Most utility companies offer home energy audits to their customers. An inspector will visit your house and check the furnace and central air conditioning unit for efficiency and safety and leaks, gaps in attic and wall insulation, and the condition of your water heater and pipes. Remember, many home improvements are tax-deductible, especially where energy is concerned. Cost: $150 on average
  • Install a programmable thermostat. Although thermostats can be adjusted manually, Bennett says that a programmable thermostat will avoid any discomfort by returning temperatures to normal as you wake or return home. Cost: $35 to $100
  • The chimney can be the number one source of heat loss in a house. Use a chimney balloon to prevent drafts from flowing through your chimney and prevent heat from escaping. Cost: $55 per fireplace
  • Three rolls of fiberglass insulation to pack around basement doors, windows in unused rooms or around exterior windows, doors, and air conditioning units. Cost: $75 ($25/roll)

$500 or Less
For another $250, you can add:

  • An annual checkup, cleaning, and maintenance for your central heating and air unit and all air ducts. Cost: $250
  • A ceiling fan that also heats the room. The Hunter Fan Company introduced a decorative ceiling fan that contains a small unit to provide a supplemental source of heat. The fan blades direct the heat towards the floor and help spread it throughout the room. Cost: $250
  • Mark Furst says that one frequently overlooked spot is the sill box in the basement, which is on top of the foundation and under the floor. “This is one of the least insulated areas in a house,” he says. He likes to fill the gaps and leaks with a two-part spray foam to seal and insulate the whole space. Cost: $250

Winterizing for Practically Nothing
You can get something for nothing. Here are some ways to winterize your house that are virtually free:

  • Roll up a towel or throw rug to close gaps at the bottom of all exterior doors, but leave the gaps on interior doors free to allow heat to circulate between rooms.
  • If you live in a snowy part of the country, bank the snow up against the house to provide a bit of insulation from the cold.
  • Jason Raddenbach of Chimney Balloon suggests clearing the lint from the outside dryer vent. Make sure the flap closes completely when the dryer isn’t running. And while you’re at it, he says, vacuum out the muck from the HVAC return vent covers. If air cannot escape the dryer because of restrictions in the vent pipe, it will have to run longer, using more electricity.
  • Mike Kuhn of HouseMaster recommends that homeowners flush the water heater through the drain valve to remove sediment, which “allows the gas or oil water heater to operate more efficiently and safely,” he says.
  • Make sure that ceiling fans move in a clockwise direction, which will push hot air along the ceiling towards the floor. If they’re moving counterclockwise, their benefits are minimized.
  • Clean out your gutters. In cold weather climates, this will prevent icicles from forming. Get the water to go down the gutters—where it’s supposed to go—versus on the sidewalks, where you end up with dangerous icy patches.
  • The U.S. Department of Energy estimates you can save three percent on your energy bill for every degree you turn the thermostat down in the winter. In other words, for an annual heating and cooling bill of $1,000, if you move the thermostat down three degrees at night, you could save almost $100 each year.

Follow these suggestions or use them as a springboard to improvise your own ideas for winterizing your home on a budget.