Last year around this time, I concluded a special series of posts called "Weatherize this" that highlighted mostly inexpensive and mostly DIY weatherization paraphernalia designed to help you save on utility bills during the chilly months. Each week for two months, I featured different tools — everything from draft snakes to caulk — essential for quick and effective money-saving fixes around the house — no significant amounts of cash, government assistance, or an entire weekend of your time required.
Well, guess what? The need to stay warm and save money never goes out of fashion, so I've decided to revisit the series for a quick round-up in case you missed it the first time around. Below, you'll find helpful excerpts from all eight original "Weatherize this" posts as well as links to the original articles. And once you've got your home sealed up nice and good with any or all of the below items, be sure to check out "Hiber-Nation," a new, less home improvement-centric series in which I highlight odds and ends (so far I've tackled coat racks and house slippers) for the home that make long stretches of loafing around the house (because it's too cold to outside) more enjoyable.
• Attic stair covers: Attic stair covers are essentially well-insulated lids or boxes designed to keep cold air in the winter and hot air in the summer relegated to the attic and can be either purchased or constructed yourself, if you’re so inclined.
Prices for store-bought attic stair covers vary. I’ve seen pink fiberglass versions from Owens Corning at Home Depot for $42 and recycled-content, R-50 models from Battic Door on Amazon.com for $100. I’ve also come across others like Attic Tents that retail for upwards of $200. With numerous makes of attic hatch-insulating covers at various price points, you should perform a bit of reconnaissance work before committing to one. If your attic stairs are a noticeable source of energy loss, it may be wise to invest in a more expensive cover with a higher “R” factor.
• Caulk: Caulk, a versatile sealant, is often used in silicone form around bathtubs, pipes, and plumbing fixtures. However, it’s also great for combating drafts around leaky windows and doors and, like like paint, it’s available in safe, nontoxic varieties. The OSI Green Series of sealants and AFM Safecoat Caulking Compound are popular, commercially available eco-friendly alternatives. The Energy Savers site is a great resource when deciding which type of caulk compound to purchase since there are many targeted formulas of varying strengths and price points out there. (Rule of thumb: the cheaper the caulk is, the less long-lasting it is.)
• Draft stoppers: Draft stoppers, also called draft dodgers and door snakes, are tube-shaped objects of various lengths made with fabric (often excess/scrap fabric) and filled with some kind of insulating stuffing. You’ll most often find them placed against the bottom of closed doors or on window ledges to block winter drafts from entering a room. Additionally, they come in handy when sealing off garages, basements, attics and unoccupied rooms.
While considered more a decorative quick fix than a heavy duty winterization tool, draft stoppers are still effective and have an endearing low-tech charm. Plus, unlike caulk compounds and weatherstripping, you can make ‘em yourself on the cheap and give them personalized flair. There are numerous online DIY draft stopper tutorials. Check out eHow, Crafty Crafty, Not Martha, GreenUPGRADER and The Daily Green for instructions and inspiration.
• Foam outlet gaskets: With so much ado about proper home insulation, it's easy to forget that an electrical outlet is basically a giant hole punched in the wall and needs some kind of insulation, particularly on outside walls. Sealers made from fire-retardant foam — you can find ‘em at home improvement stores — fit like a cozy undershirt in between a wall and an outlet or light switch cover and are effective at preventing unwanted drafts.
The installation of a foam outlet gasket is simple and only requires a screw driver: turn the power off, unscrew the outlet cover/switch plate, apply sealer as directed, replace the cover/switch plate, and you’re done. If you’ve installed gaskets around unused outlets and still notice a chill, use plastic child safety plugs to nip the problem in the bud.
• Chimney balloons: The Chimney Balloon, a reusable and durable draft-stopper — a “pillow” of sorts — is meant to be inserted and then fully inflated inside of a chimney. The Chimney Balloon comes in various sizes (be sure to do some measuring before investing) and fits snugly above or beneath the fireplace’s damper or louvre, the metal flapper device that you open and close each time you start and finish a fire. Dampers are designed to prevent heat loss but with age their ability to stop a fireplace’s “open window effect” is weakened. Some fireplaces don’t even have dampers and repairing old/damaged ones can be a pricey endeavor.
Not only is the Chimney Balloon effective in the winter when trying to prevent cold air from blasting down your chimney, it also helps keep cool air from escaping when using air conditioning in the summer. It can also keep pests, odors, toxins, debris, and other unsavories from traveling down your chimney and into your home. Prices for a standard Chimney Balloon range from $43 to $87.
• Window shrink wrap: Window shrink wrap is an easy, affordable way to keep the heat in and the cold out of your home during the winter. And while it’s not always the most aesthetically pleasing way to weatherize, placing plastic shrink wrap around windows is perhaps the most temporary, making it a viable bill-reducing option for renters. (Drafty windows can increase heating bills by up to 30 percent.)
Window shrink wrap kits, often called window insulation kits, are available at home improvement stores and usually come with sheets of plastic film and super-strength doubled-sided tape. 3M is a good brand to look for. You'll need a box cutter and a hair dryer to heat the film and to increase transparency by making any wrinkles disappear.
• Water heater blankets: With water heating claiming as much as 25 percent of home energy bills, every little bit of insulating assistance helps. According to Energy Savers, dressing a poorly insulated water heater in a blanket can reduce standby losses by 25 to 45 percent; this translates to 4 to 9 percent savings on heating bills.
Water heater blankets are generally inexpensive, in the $20 range, but can get more spend-y if they offer more significant insulation. Energy Savers offers a handy dandy installation guide for electric water heaters, but be sure to follow the instructions provided with the one you purchase. And it's worth pointing out that the installation process can vary between gas and electric models … installing a blanket around a gas-fired water heater tank is generally considered more difficult and less DIY-friendly. Most home improvement stores carry a decent selection of water heater blankets as does the excellent webstore, Conservation Mart.
• Sweaters: We often forget that the simplest way to be comfortably frugal during the winter doesn’t require a DIY fix-it job. Just reach into your closet and grab a sweater. Now I’m not saying that you should turn your heat completely off and layer to the extreme this winter, but if you do feel a slight chill on a particularly cold day, just don your favorite sweater, sweatshirt, hoody, cardigan, turtleneck, jumper, pull-over, or what have you instead of running to the thermostat and cranking up the heat full-blast. According to The Daily Green, wearing a lightweight sweater will add 2 degrees of warmth while wearing a heavier one can add up to 4 degrees.
Also on MNN: How one blogger brought her electric bill down to $5
Photo of draft stopper: spin spin/Flickr; MNN homepage photo: kimkole/iStockphoto