The time to prepare your home for extreme cold weather is before it arrives. Inadequate insulation and air leaks can cause cold drafts and increase your heating costs significantly. A few inexpensive DIY fixes around doors and windows will save money and heating fuel. And if a severe winter storm should precede extreme cold, your home if not your whole communities can be without power and communication services, sometimes for days at a time. In such cases, keeping the cold out and staying warm becomes a matter of survival, making your time and money spent preparing well worth it.
Wrap It Up
Make sure your outer walls and attic have proper insulation. Loose fill or batt insulation is usually used in attics. Loose fill insulation provides better coverage and is typically less expensive. In exterior walls, blown-in insulation installed with the dense pack technique provides significant air sealing and can be installed in an existing home without a lot of disruption to finished areas. Batt or blanket insulation is a less expensive option you can install yourself, but it won’t provide the air seal of dense-pack blown-in insulation.
Check for Leaks
Gaps around doors and windows can be a major source of heat loss during winter, accounting for up to one-third of your total heating cost. Check for leaks to identify problem areas. On a windy day, turn off all air conditioning or heating and close all windows and doors. Turn on bath fans and stove vents and light an incense stick. Pass the stick along the edges of doors and windows. Notice where the smoke is either sucked toward or blown away from the door or window. This indicates an air leak.
Fill in Gaps
Load a tube of caulk into a caulk gun and, holding the gun at a 45 degree angle, fill in gaps around doors and windows. Weatherstripping also helps stop air leaks and comes in a variety of forms, such as foam tape, V-strips, felt, tubular rubber and door sweeps -- plastic or metal pieces fitted with strips of nylon, vinyl or sponge brush that fill the gap between the floor and the bottom of the door. The type you should use will depend on the window or door type you are treating. Weatherstripping can be self-adhesive or installed with nails or screws.
Additional Cold Barriers
Storm windows provide an additional barrier against cold drafts. If storm windows are cost-prohibitive, you can staple heavy plastic around the outside of the window frame, although this will likely limit your view out the window. Remove exterior garden hoses and install faucet covers on outside faucets. Wrap exposed water pipes and those in crawl spaces with pipe insulation or heating tape. During extreme cold weather, allow faucets to drip lukewarm water to avoid pipe freeze.
Use weather stripping around the cover of fold-down attic stairs to prevent cold drafts from entering through an unfinished attic. A fireplace surround with glass doors can reduce heat loss by as much as 90 percent. Caulk around pipe holes leading in and out of walls, and use foam insulation kits on electrical outlets and light switch plates to reduce drafts from entering living areas. Cover the screens on screened-in porches with heavy plastic. Clean gutters around roof lines to avoid moisture buildup on roofs. Trim any nearby branches that could snap under the weight of snow and ice or high winds and fall on your home.
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