Get Ready, Winter’s Comin’

October 30, 2008 by  
Filed under Blog, Front Page, Homes, Tips, Weatherizing

Fall is the time to prepare for the coming winter. Photo: Joe Hennager

Fall is the time to prepare for the coming winter. Photo: Joe Hennager

You’d have to be a crotchety grump not to appreciate the amazing display of foliage at this time of year. Still, all this loveliness also brings the promise of bone-chilling cold not too far in the future. So, for your consideration, here are 10 tips for keeping warm while saving energy and lowering your heating bills.

1. Heat the space you’re in. It’s not only environmentally selfish to run the thermostat to extremes, it’s expensive. So, instead of cranking up the heat in the whole house now that fall is here, we’re putting on sweaters and running small, safe space heaters in the rooms we spend time in. When buying a space heater, be very careful. Some of them are downright dangerous. Use a space heater with caution. You don’t want to become a statistic.

2. Get control of your thermostat. Juggling the temperature up and down for comfort may give some instant gratification, but it wastes energy in the long run. If you can afford it, install a digital thermostat, which adjusts the temperature automatically according to your habits and preferences. Set it lower nights and for weekdays, if that’s when you work away from your home. You can set it to come on automatically in the morning when you wake up, turn down when you leave for work, and come on again when you arrive home.

3. Cover your windows. If you have older windows and live in an area where winter winds blow cold, think about covering them with plastic. You can do this inside your house with the shrinkable plastic kits sold by 3M and others. I used that method in a 1970s-era house for years and saved countless dollars in energy costs. Interior products typically require some type of glue to adhere the plastic to your wood trim. When you pull off the plastic in the spring, some glue residue may remain on the interior wood trim.

Or, you can nail up heavy plastic sheeting on the exterior of your windows. We have very tall, 1800s windows, and covering them makes a huge difference in how much the thermostat runs. Exterior products are either stapled with cardboard strips to hold up the plastic, or nailed with wood slats.

Fall leaves have a lovely variety of colors. Photo: Joe Hennager

Fall leaves have a lovely variety of colors. Photo: Joe Hennager. (We've found that stapling the cardboard strips causes less damage. The holes can be easily touched up with a coat of paint in the spring.)

There’s a cost to both of these methods, and an environmental trade off, because you’re using plastic that will end up in the landfill. But, the way I figure it, what we save in energy costs and carbon production far outweighs the landfill contribution. (No, it’s not easy being green, especially with old houses in inclement weather…)

4. Seal around doors and windows. Even if you have a brand-new home, you may well find some savings around your thresholds and doorways. In older homes, check for worn weatherstripping and replace it before the cold winds blow. The same weatherstripping that keeps the cold at bay also keeps insects out come spring and summer.

One other trick is to sew tubes of fabric slightly longer than your doorways or windowsills, then fill them with seed or sand. Be sure the ends are sewn completely shut, so the tubes don’t leak. Then place them along the windowsills or thresholds to help keep the cold air out. For doors that see a lot of traffic, wait to place the tubes there are night, when everyone is going to bed. If you use seeds to fill the tubes, keep them dry to prevent sprouting and mold. At the end of the season, the used seeds can become food for spring birds.

5. Insulate behind switch/plug plates. This is one of the least expensive solutions for stopping cold air leaks. Put your hand over the switch plates and outlet covers on your exterior walls. If you feel a draft, purchase and install thin foam pieces cut to fit and designed to keep out the cold. With a flat-head screwdriver, you’ll be done in a flash. Or, buy an insulated outlet cover for under three dollars — at the time of this writing.


The glories of fall foliage make the coming of winter a little less hard to bear. Photo: Joe Hennager

The glories of fall foliage make the coming of winter a little less hard to bear. Photo: Joe Hennager

6. Let the sunshine in. If you’re gone all day, you may not think about it, but the sun could very well be beating down on your covered windows. That won’t do much good for warming up the house. But, if you open your curtains or blinds in the morning, this easy passive solar solution will help keep your furnace from clicking on. If you are at home, keeping the windows uncovered will help reduce your lighting needs, too.

7. Run ceiling fans. If you have them, run ceiling fans in rooms with high ceilings to help push warm air down. For me, it’s a trade off between the discomfort of a fan blowing on me and the added comfort of the warmer air. Not everyone finds fans uncomfortable. It’s a balancing act in a house where two people have different thermal comfort zones. Heated ceiling fans may be the answer. They warm the air while moving it around. Supposedly, this allows you to lower your thermostat, but ask the experts before you make the purchase.

8. Dress appropriately. No, I’m not talking about fashion. Decide on a thermostat setting that everyone in the household can agree with, then adjust your comfort by adding or subtracting layers of clothing.

9. Humdify! Adding humidity to a room has a double benefit. It makes you feel warmer than you’d feel at the same temperature in a dry room. Equally important, humidity makes breathing winter air much more tolerable. You can buy a humidifier in several sizes. We have a large one for our main living area and small ones in every bedroom and office. Remember, though, that humidifiers and vaporizers can harbor bacteria if you don’t keep them clean. And they don’t work once their filters get crusted over with lime. We use a bacteriostatic liquid with each tank fill, and change filters at least once in the fall and again in mid-winter.

10. Shut the fireplace flue. Rooms with fireplaces are often some of the coldest spots in the house. When there’s no fire, the draft coming down the chimney can be downright chilling. So, close the flue. If you can afford it, cover the front of your fireplace with a glass screen. Or use some other method to keep cold air from shooting down the chimney and into your home. A makeshift cover may not be elegant, but it can help you save energy and increase your comfort at the same time. (This is beyond obvious, but I have to say it: Be sure to remove any flammable cover while there’s a fire — or even hot embers — in your fireplace.)

If you have other winterizing tips to share, please tell us about them. Let’s learn from each other.

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)


4 Responses to “Get Ready, Winter’s Comin’”

  1. S Jordan on November 6th, 2008 9:55 pm

    I really enjoyed your article (since we live in California!).. but I remember the intense, biting cold and believe it or not, a coal burning stove in the living room of our apartment in Chicago in the 1950s. I’m glad I was just a kid then, because while I was reading your article, I realized I didn’t know how the coal got up to the third floor… (lucky me).

    We all have energy issues though. After receiving an eight hundred dollar electric bill for one month this past summer, I went to my utility company’s website to find out what “peak” hours were, then refused to allow anyone to use appliances during that time. And if we just absolutely had to run the air conditioning, nobody could use the washer and dryer at the same time. Tough choice! Our utility bills are still high, but it’s made an appreciable difference.

    I’m really enjoying your website. Keep up the good work!

  2. Julia Wasson on November 6th, 2008 10:05 pm

    Dear S Jordan,
    Thanks for sharing your memory of Chicago and your tip about not using electricity during peak hours. It’s not something I think of here in the Midwest, but I can see how it would be hugely helpful to have that option available.

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