It’s probably too late, and maybe too expensive, to hire a pro for a big weatherization job or heating system change-out before winter. But with energy prices at record levels, here are 10 do-it-yourself projects many households can do over the next several weeks to save money and help stay warm.
A few are free. Others are inexpensive. And by using products that qualify for a new, limited-time rebate for up to $100 from Efficiency Maine, some projects could end up costing you nothing but time and effort.
There are savings on products such as weatherstripping, caulk, spray foam, window insulation kits and pipe insulation.
Not sure exactly which material is right for the job? Take photos of your situation on your smartphone and get advice at your local hardware or home improvement store. Watching online videos can also offer valuable pointers.
These steps are aimed at common goals: Keep warm air inside. Move heat around most efficiently. Only warm spaces you really want to heat. Only warm those spaces when you really need to.
Consumers can feel overwhelmed by the cost and complexity of home energy-improvement options and end up doing nothing, says Andy Meyer, senior project manager at Efficiency Maine. But he also says nearly any home can benefit from at least one of these measures, which can help you get the biggest returns for the smallest investments.
WINDOW LOCK-DOWN: Walk around the house from basement to attic. If you have storm windows, is each one completely down? Lock every window. Beyond security, locks compress the weatherstripping and help seal air leaks.
A.C. OUT: It was a hot summer, but that window air conditioner is now a hole in your house. Plastic covers and the flimsy accordion side flaps are inadequate. It’s a hassle, but take out the unit and lock the window.
CHIMNEY EFFECT: A fireplace draws warm air out of your house all winter. So make sure the damper is closed tightly when the hearth isn’t being used. Just make sure the embers are out, if you’ve recently started a fire.
LEAKY DOORS: On a cold day, run your hand around the entire door perimeter. If you feel any draft, either add new weatherstripping or replace worn-out material. Same goes for the bottom piece, called a sweep. There are many weatherstripping options. Here’s where photos and a consult at the hardware store can help find the right product for the job.
MIND THE GAP: Small cracks and gaps allow cold air to enter through the basement or crawl space, where it’s drawn up into your house, sending warm air out the attic. Breaking this flow means filling gaps where the sill meets the foundation and at a bulkhead or basement door. Upstairs, any attic door or hatch needs to be insulated and weatherstripped.
SET, DON’T FORGET: If you have a furnace or boiler, set back the thermostat to 55 degrees when space is unoccupied. You’ve heard it takes more energy to reheat the rooms? That’s an urban myth. For greater comfort, install a programmable thermostat that adjusts the temperature you select for time of day, a slightly advanced DIY job. Two caveats: If frozen pipes might be an issue, deal with that first. Don’t make daily adjustments if you have a heat pump, which is meant to operate at a steady temperature.
PIPES AND DUCTS: Any pipes and ductwork running through open space from your boiler or furnace are losing heat along the way. The longer the journey, the more the loss. It’s simple to insulate boiler and hot water pipes with foam tubing. Wrapping ductwork can be a bit harder, but worthwhile.
WINDOWS 2.0: Old windows are big heat losers, but sealing air leaks can make a noticeable difference. Each situation is different. Caulking around the frame or where the trim meets the drywall may help. Adding or replacing weatherstripping, or sash locks, may slow heat loss. Rope caulk can temporarily seal windows that will be opened again in the spring. Shrink-wrap film kits or inserts that cover the entire window for the winter are great options.
SOCKETS AND SWITCHES: Unless you have a new home, the spaces behind all the electrical sockets and switches on exterior walls are likely uninsulated. Cut the draft with foam outlet sealers. Just unscrew the face plate and push the foam gasket in place. Unused plugs can be filled in with the outlet safety plugs meant for babies and toddlers.
BRIGHT IDEA: Although not a winter strategy, LED light bulbs top the list of year-round energy and money saving measures. Replacing any screw-in incandescent or halogen bulb with an LED can pay for itself in a matter of months, with in-store discounted prices sponsored by Efficiency Maine.