Weatherize your home for a warm and cozy winter
Ray Grimm takes saving energy in the winter seriously. He sets his programmable thermostat to lower the temperature in his home until 5 p.m. when it's time for him to think about coming home from work. Wonder if his kids noticed the house was a little cool after school?
Grimm is president of Carol Stream company he calls Air. Water. Energy., which deals in heating, air conditioning, plumbing and electricity.
To get tips for keeping your home comfortable while saving you money during the coming winter, we chatted with Grimm and with Ed Miehlke, owner of HomeTeam Inspection Service based in Lake Zurich.
AccuWeather.com predicts another brutal winter for the Chicago suburbs, but we're betting most winters require some preparations around your house. You bundle up with your coat and gloves, and your house needs to get ready, too.
• An important first chore, said Miehlke, is dividing tasks into two lists: do-it-yourself and hire-it-done. You can probably rake the lawn, but unless your house is very short, hire someone to clean the gutters. You need an expert to check out the furnace and make sure it is in good shape for winter, but once he or she shows you how, you can do the monthly chore of changing the filter yourself.
• Gutters are a problem because you want to clean them before freezing and after the leaves have fallen. A friend recommends foam such as Rapidflow from Owens Corning to keep the gutters clear of leaves and other debris. Clear gutters are important to help you avoid those get infamous ice dams.
• Miehlke added more insulation to his attic recently, but admits he's lived in the house 20 years before getting it done, even though he says it's an easy chore. Seventy-five percent or more of the homes he inspects do not have enough insulation, which is another step toward preventing ice dams. If the attic gets too warm, the snow on the roof melts, then freezes again in the gutter. This backs up the melting snow that follows, and the moisture can get under the shingles, leak into your house and cause damage.
• Be sure to keep insulation away from the vents. Most attics have soffit and ridge or roof vents, and the air has to flow in through the soffits and out through the other vents.
• With a lighted candle or stick of incense, check around windows and electric outlets to see if you have drafts. If so, you need caulk or weatherstripping. Weatherstripping is something Miehlke hires a pro to do. He often sees weatherstripping that looks sloppy around windows when inspecting houses.
"I've tried a lot of different materials," said Miehlke. "They are difficult to install and don't last or fit as well as you would like them to. I think the pros have better materials as well as skill."
• Place caulk, most often a silicon sealant, in small gaps on the outside of window trim or windows that do not open. Weather stripping goes around the edges of doors or windows.
• Miehlke explained why annual furnace maintenance is important. The technician will clean the burners, remove surface rust and check the gas connections and regulators. He or she will check the color of your flame and the condition of the humidity pad. That pad or filter collects minerals and needs to be changed once a year. If the humidifier gets plugged, it can cause water damage in the furnace, he said.
• If you need a new furnace, don't feel too bad. Yes, it will cost you money, but you should save a lot in energy costs because of different features that make new furnaces more efficient. Some furnaces are 98 percent efficient, and by 2013 all new ones will be at least 90 percent efficient, said Grimm.
He likes the variable speed furnace, which runs all the time -- faster when it's bitterly cold outside and slower when it's merely chilly.
"You constantly have air circulating so it's more comfortable," said Grimm. "It cuts 90 percent of the cost of running the motor because it's the more efficient direct current."
• Program the thermostat to a lower temperature for times when the family is asleep or no one is home. That means 50 or 55 degrees. Your home needs some heat even when you're gone. You don't want things to freeze, especially the water pipes.
• If your furnace is running all the time like a variable speed does, your air should be cleaner because it's going through the filter on your furnace more frequently, said Grimm. And yes, that means you have to change those filters more frequently. But even if you have an old furnace, change it every month. A four-inch thick filter needs changing once a year.
• Here's another new goody from Grimm: Wireless programmable thermostats are available for rooms only used at certain times, such as bedrooms. If your home has an unfinished basement, these are not that difficult to retrofit, he said.
• Some homes are so tight these days that fresh air must be pumped into the furnace or the indoor air quality gets very bad. Symptoms include a furnace that quits working and of course a house that fills with smoke from a fireplace that is not drafting. Carbon monoxide and smoke detectors are very important, said Grimm.
• For longer term, Grimm wants you to consider solar or geothermal heat. Newer solar panels absorb ultraviolet light even on the 60 to 70 percent of days when the suburbs have cloud cover, he said. Solar panels are expensive, but tax credits are still available.
Ÿ Trim trees so no branches fall and hurt people or homes.
Ÿ Check your mortar to see if any brick needs tuck-pointing.
Ÿ Caulk spaces around windows and get the storms in place.
Ÿ Drain the lawn mower and check out the snowblower.
Ÿ Make sure gutters are clean and balanced.
Ÿ Turn off outside water and drain any irrigation system.
Ÿ Check your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and put in new batteries.
Ÿ Call a technician to check your furnace and humidifier and show you how to change the filters.
Ÿ Hire a chimney sweep for your fireplace unless you're up for that messy job yourself.
Ÿ Insulate your attic.
Source: HomeTeam Inspection Service and Air. Water. Energy.