Fall is in full swing, temperatures are dropping and it’s time to get your home ready for the coming winter. Mark Clement is a general contractor and DIY star you might recognize from his co-hosting duties on MyFixitUpLife. An expert in the field of home remodeling, he is here to offer some great advice on winterizing a house this winter — and every winter after that.
Do whatever it takes to eliminate drafts
If it is in your budget, replacing old, drafty doors offers instant, before-and-after payback. Every five-minute news snippet on this topic will have someone (like me, I’ve done this on TV) with weather-stripping and caulk telling you to weather-strip and caulk. And all that’s fine. It can’t hurt, but the real fix is the door itself. The payback is instantaneous and forever. This project requires some DIY skill, trending toward the advanced.
Advising people with old windows to get new windows is low-hanging fruit. Nevertheless, it is a good idea if it is in the budget. New, efficient windows with special coatings are a great — but expensive — solution. That investment is, however, instantaneous and lasts a long time. One option is to replace windows in sections, perhaps the first floor one year and the second floor the year after that. I advise shopping local contractors for this work. If you do want to shop a big name window company, compare prices to some smaller operations. You might be surprised.
The easiest — and a truly functional — solution for prepping windows for winter is to simply to walk around the house and lock them all. This seals everything together and is amazingly effective at stopping drafts.
A surprising amount of cold air can seep into a house through electrical devices (plugs, switches) on exterior walls. The reason for this is that electricians often move the existing insulation to install a unit or an insulator does a poor job of sealing up the device. Solution: Use low-expanding spray foam insulation and spray the void around the devices. Simple, easy fix. Very DIY-able.
If you have a fireplace, installing a modern chimney cap can be like plugging up a hole in a leaky boat. Many fireplace dampers are drafty and homes lose enormous amounts of heated air through them. At the very least, make sure the damper is closed.
Insulate, insulate, insulate
Many homes with unfinished basements lack insulation in an area that’s connected to the living area upstairs. This section of the house, called the “band joist,” is the area above the basement wall and underneath the first floor. Uninsulated, this area contributes to cold floors and an increased load on the HVAC system to keep rooms comfortable. Solution: Take a day or weekend to insulate this area around the house. Very DIY-friendly. This video shares tips for insulating open walls in a basement.
I recommend ROCKWOOL insulation. It’s the easiest to work with by far. The video below shows some of my tips for making it even easier.
Rooms over garage
Another notoriously under-insulated space is the floor structure in rooms — usually bathrooms for some reason — that are over garages. Accessing this area will require ladders and removing drywall, but it is DIY-able.
Consider alternative sources of heat
It’s counterintuitive, but a fireplace is a net consumer of heat, not a producer. The reason is that fire needs air for combustion, and it gets that air from the heated room. So, it’s crackling and cozy, but it is eating heat. On the other hand, a wood-burning appliance like a wood stove produces inexpensive, locally sourced heat. Safe, clean and efficient, they’re easy to use and keep clean. And they’re an unbelievable relief to have when the power goes out.
Many rooms are cold — especially in old houses — because they are far away from the HVAC. A fix for this can be localized radiators (often called “panel heaters”) that can be wall-mounted and plugged in like any other electrical appliance. Check the unit and the room size because it may serve to only assist in heating the room or it may be able to heat the room on its own. My buddy Jason Cameron does a great video on installing one here.
Floor warming systems are on the large-project end of prepping a house for winter — compared with caulking some door trim — but are an essential house upgrade. I’m installing a Schluter®-DITRA-HEAT system in a basement reno now, and I can’t wait for winter. The challenge with basements is that the floor is in contact with the earth and the earth is always about 54 degrees. So no matter how much heat you pump into the living space, you’re fighting Mother Nature from the floor up. Solution: DITRA-HEAT. Install the warm floor system under tile, and the system heats the entire floor area. This not only makes the floor warm but also greatly eases the load on the HVAC system because it is not fighting the layer of permanently 54-degree air radiating from the floor. It’s also great in kitchens and baths as it eases the load on the HVAC while making spaces more comfortable.