How to Winterize Your Home: Top 10 Home Weatherization Updates to Do Before Winter

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Before frigid winter temperatures arrive in your neighborhood, take the time to prepare your home for the unexpected. Even if you live in a moderate climate zone, where low temperatures are rare, winterizing your home can improve its durability, energy efficiency, and help prevent common and costly winter emergencies such as burst pipes and flooding inside your home or basement.

Home Weatherization in a Nutshell:

Winterizing your house is all about sealing and eliminating unwanted air drafts, ensuring adequate insulation and ventilation to prevent energy losses and ice dams related issues, checking roof and gutters, insulating exposed pipes, sealing air-ducts, checking water heaters and furnaces, and boosting your home’s energy efficiency.

Below are the main items to address to make sure your home is properly protected, cozy, and warm, even when the weather outside is frigid and frightful:

1. Roof Inspection and Maintenance

Common Roof and Home Exterior Inspection Areas. 2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

An inspection of your roof (and gutters) should be an annual job. While this is a doable DIY job, knowing what to look for is vital:

  • Moss and Algae Growth
  • Loose, Missing or Damaged Shingles or Tiles
  • Major Cracks in Roof Shingles or Tiles
  • A Large Portion of Curled-up Shingles
  • Flat Roof Seams Coming Apart or Becoming Unglued
  • Damaged or Improper Chimney Flashing, Skylight, Roof Vent and Pipe Flashing
  • Dips and Swales in Roof Surface
  • Roof Ventilation Issues
  • Evidence of Roof Leaks – Water Stains Around Walls and Ceilings – Wet Insulation in the Attic

Roof Inspection Cost: A professional roofing contractor may charge between $150 to $250 for an inspection, depending on several factors. Most of the time, the cost of a roof inspection can be counted towards the price of a roof repair or getting a new roof.

Note: you should be getting a written report outlining roof performance issues for a stand-alone inspection.

Caveat on Roof Inspections: If you end-up having to ask a professional roofer to climb on your roof after the cold, icy weather has set in, expect the cost of the inspection to go up.

Post-Inspection Maintenance and Repairs:

A roof inspection will determine the need for a roof cleaning, especially if moss build up is normal in your region. If the inspection report shows that some maintenance or repairs are necessary, the costs will vary depending on the extent of repairs:

Minor Repairs: $250 to $450 for minor repairs, which is where a roof cleaning job fits in.

Moderate repairs can cost in the range of $1,000 and typically include fixing or replacing any loose or missing shingles and tiles and sealing and re-flashing chimneys and skylights on the roof.

Major repairs are generally large sections of the roof needing extra attention and may cost as much as $3,000 or higher. Beyond this, and it’s time to consider re-roofing or replacement.

More info on roof repairs:

Complete re-roof or replacement may be required if a large portion of the roof has old or damaged shingles. A new roof provides opportunity to increase the lasting value of your home. A new roof can also be an insurance against unwanted roof leaks, house water damage, and a very costly roof failure, especially in the middle of winter.

Cost Recouped: A typical roof replacement has an average cost-to-value return (cost recouped at the time of sale) of about 70%. A metal roof has an average cost-to-value return of about 85.9% in the mid-range pricing range.

2. Gutters and Downspouts Inspection and Cleaning

During the roof inspection, have your gutters checked to see if they could use a cleaning. — This can be moderately challenging for DIY due to the height factor and difficulty and danger of moving a ladder around.

Cost: For a contractor to do the job, plan on spending $75 to $200, depending on the size of your house and accessibility.

Did you know? Having clogged gutters can lead to water damage from rainwater overflowing the gutters and seeping inside your home through the walls.

Cleaning gunk from overhanging gutters while ensuring downspouts have a good flow is all it takes to ensure proper water drainage from the roof.

If you hate the idea of having to clean your gutters every so often, you can invest in gutter guards such as the ones sold at Lowe’s or Home Depot. Installing gutter guards will help eliminate the need for bi-annual cleanings.

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3. Sealing and Weatherstripping Windows and Doors

via This Old House

Doors and windows are notorious for having cracks and gaps / spaces where unwanted air leaks/drafts can occur during winter months. With proper sealing, you can retain warm air indoors and keep the cold outside.

Did you know? Sealing gaps around doors and windows can help you save 10 to 15 percent on your energy bills.

The obvious first step is to replace all screened windows with storm windows. This can be a great DIY family project that allows opportunity to clean the windows before they are used for the winter months.

Doors are rather simple since gaps around a door tend to be few. Fitting a cushioned strip at bottom of your door is usually enough. This can be a store-bought draft stopper ($10 to $15), though a rolled up towel can work well, too.

For both windows and doors, weather strip tape ($5 to $10 per roll) and caulking are ingredients for winterizing a home. Weather strip around interior frames and caulk around exterior sills or gaps. Caulk materials are generally $30 total for a caulk gun and tube.

Additionally, with windows, you’ll want to put a layer of plastic over the interior pane. The thicker, the better. Lowe’s has a window insulation kit for under $10, which fits up to 5 standard windows. As thicker is better, consider using bubble wrap for even better insulation. Build It Solar website explains how this is done.

Thicker, dark curtains are a final way to increase insulation around windows for winter. For windows facing south, you’ll want to allow as much sunlight as possible through to provide for natural solar warmth.

Energy-Efficient Window Replacement Alternative: If your old windows are a complete mess and you would rather have them replaced, there are many compelling replacement options such Double Low-E and Triple-Pane (more expensive) replacement windows.

Replacement Costs: Most mid-range replacement windows will cost anywhere from $500 to $750 per window to install, depending on the size of the window and the total number of windows being replaced.

High-end brands such as Pella and Andersen windows will cost significantly more, especially for higher tier series. Wooden-frame windows will cost about twice as much as the vinyl-frame windows installed.

Cost Recouped and ROI: Replacement windows offer 75 to 80% cost-to-value return. The ROI can also be significant in terms of energy savings and home comfort.

4. Attic and Walls Insulation

attic space insulation

Adding layers of fiberglass foam to walls and attic spaces is one of best ways to winterize a home. An under insulated home is at a huge disadvantage during cold weather. The goal is to bring the R-value up to a sufficient level for your region’s typical climate. Even if you know the main areas are well insulated, be sure your attic hatch, along with window and door frames are as well.

A contractor is your best bet for this project. For a typical, 2,500 sq. ft. home, attics can be insulated for roughly $1,500 to $2,500, while walls entail a bit more work. Between $2,000 and $3,000 is the average cost for insulating the rest of your home.

Insulation offers the huge benefit of increasing your home’s ability to retain warmth. Yet, there’s another great benefit with the money you’ll recoup. According to Remodeling Magazine, attic insulation tops the list of projects with great ROI, paying you back at a walloping 107%!

5. Get Smart with Your Thermostat

Even if you don’t need to upgrade your furnace, you may want to update to the latest thermostat technology. According to the Department of Energy, each degree you lower your thermostat equates to 1% savings on your heating bill.

There are a few ways tackle this situation. You could lower the thermostat to very cool temperatures and then use portable heating sources in room(s) you are most often in. For a more balanced solution, you’ll want a thermostat to help manage the internal climate throughout your home.

Programmable thermostats are not new, but they are a great tool to effectively manage temps for when you’re most likely to be at home and awake to enjoy warm, comfortable air. Simple programmable models usually cost between $25 and $125 from your local home improvement store.

Wi-fi or smart thermostats are still fairly new. These offer the ability to manage temperatures, wherever you may be with your smartphone or mobile device. Home Depot offers such devices ranging from $80 to $250.

6. Insulating Pipes

If the pipes carrying hot water in your home are warm to the touch, they are candidates for being insulated. While it takes time to cover all such pipes in a home, this is only a moderately challenging DIY project. Basically, you measure the total footage of your pipes, cut pieces of foam material to fit the lengths and then fit and secure (with tape). Home improvement stores like Home Depot have all the materials you need for this project.

Alternatively, you can pay a contractor between $250 and $500 to do the work for you.

Water pipes can freeze, even if insulated, but the risk goes down significantly when the pipes are well-insulated. And energy efficiency goes up. According to the Department of Energy, insulated pipes raise temps up to 4 degrees and can save about 4% on energy bills annually. Once again, the R-value of the insulation material makes for better energy efficiency.

7. Simple Furnace Maintenance

Your furnace, and all that connects to it, is such an important factor for winterizing that it covers the next 4 items on the list. From late fall to early spring, the heat from your furnace will be in heavy demand. Therefore, you’ll need to change the filter more often. Once a month is ideal, and no less than every 90 days is suggested. This is the simplest of DIY tasks and costs $20 to $50 to replace.

Did you know? Alternatively, you can go with a permanent filter. These reusable filters capture particles at a rate of 88% efficiency, compared to the 10% to 40% of the disposable kind. While you don’t need to replace every month, you’ll still need to pull them out and clean them every so often. Permanent filters usually start at $50 and can be more expensive depending on quality of materials.

Besides updating your filter, you’ll want to befriend a HVAC technician. A late fall, annual inspection and tune up of your furnace is recommended. You could do some of this on your own, but HVAC inspections require knowing what to look for and what makes for optimal efficiency. Plan to spend $50 to $150 for the basic tune up. If you are quoted higher, it’s usually due to a suggested repair or work outside the furnace (i.e. with air ducts) needing to be addressed.

8. Seal Air Ducts

This item falls under the Simple Furnace Maintenance (see above) during inspection. A ‘complete furnace tune up’ may include partial to complete sealing service for your home’s air ducts.

According to EnergyStar, many homeowners will typically lose 20% to 30% of heating air due to leaky or poorly connected air ducts. You don’t want nearly a third of your heat energy being wasted. Regardless of how efficient your furnace and how wonderful your thermostat, this is a problem to address for boosting energy efficiency.

Sealing ducts is moderately challenging, while materials are not all that expensive. If you go with a professional contractor, plan to spend $50 an hour for their time to check for holes and bad connections, plus to remedy the problem.

Digging through the inner workings of a home takes patience and perseverance. For quality work, you can plan to spend a good $800 or more to fix and seal air ducts. While that may seem expensive, balance this with the idea that nearly $200 could be spent annually on wasted air.

Note that some services will offer to clean your ducts for rates that are much lower, such as $150 or less. This is arguably not necessary since this is what your air filter is for. Perhaps every 10 years a cleaning makes sense, but it does very little to fix problems in the ducts themselves.

9. Upgrade to a More Efficient Furnace

During a tune-up, a contractor may suggest a new furnace. While this can be expensive, the newer models will certainly make this worthwhile over time. If your current furnace is more than 10 years old, this is highly recommend for winterizing your home effectively.

Lots of factors go into choosing the right furnace for your home, though AFUE rating is the most basic. Since 2013, the standard is 80% or more, with premium models achieving 96% or higher. — This applies to gas furnaces since technically an electric furnace reaches 100% AFUE. However, electric furnaces are best for regions with mild winters, while gas is typical in regions with extreme winter weather or very cold temps.

The national average for a new gas furnace, including installation is between $4,500 and $5,500. Nearly half of that cost is for professional labor, but this is definitely not a DIY type project. Electric furnaces are easier to install and less cumbersome, so they average closer to $3,000 installed.

ROI for a furnace upgrade is moderate, as you can expect 50% return. Yet, a good warranty offsets this. Seek models that have 10 years of service under warranty to get the best return on your investment.

10. Water Heater Inspection and Upgrade

Lowering the temps of your home’s hot water can achieve great savings. Standard for installation of a water heater is setting the system to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. For bathroom use, that is a good 20 degrees warmer than most are comfortable with. Yet, for cleaning dishes, the higher the temperature the better. Hence, the tradeoff.

For winterizing, flush your system’s tank to remove sediments that may collect over time. This costs nothing and is a fairly simple DIY task.

Upgrading your water heater is strongly recommended, since similar to thermostats and furnaces, you’ll be able to take advantage of better technology.

A tankless water heater allows you to have a system that heats water only when its needed, rather than maintaining a tank that will constantly store water for heated delivery.

Energy Star notes that nearly 10% less energy is needed for tankless systems. Most home improvement stores carry the tankless models, such as Lowe’s which has them starting at $160 and up to $800+.

Is your home fully-ready to weather the upcoming winter in style and comfort?

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