6 Ways to Keep Your House Warm This Winter

insulating an old house

It’s the classic catch 22: You want to live in an older, quaint tree-lined neighborhood that’s just a short distance from everything, but you also want an efficient home with all the modern green building bells and whistles. Unfortunately, unless you buy a tear down and build new, these two things are often mutually exclusive. Older houses have a long list of pros going for them, but energy efficiency usually isn’t one of them.

So the question is: What can you do to maximize the energy efficiency of an older home?

Older houses have a long list of pros going for them, but energy efficiency usually isn’t one of them.

It’s no surprise that the greatest overall impact comes from big projects like installing a high-efficiency HVAC system, or gutting the drywall and completely re-insulating the house! Sure, no problem, right?

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What if you’re looking for something a little less extreme? These six home improvements will boost the efficiency of your home by increasing its ability to insulate itself from the outside weather.

1. Seal Around Your Windows

It’s not uncommon at all for the windows of older homes to have some air leaks here and there. You can use a good-quality sealant to tighten up the inside before adding a fresh coat of paint, and the same can be done even more liberally on the outside. A good seal around the perimeter of the window will help reduce those drafts significantly.

Look closely at your windows and you may find a rubber or felt seal where the window panes meet each other. Exactly how this seal works depends on the type of windows you have, but most windows have something. It only takes a minute to inspect that seal to see if it is still in good condition and sealing tightly. If not, you can find replacements at home centers and/or from your window’s original manufacturer.

2. Install Heavy Drapery

It’s not uncommon for homeowners to replace all of their windows to create a more efficient building envelope. And although no small undertaking, window replacement is one of the projects on this list.

Short on time and money? Consider some high-quality heavy draperies, sort of like what you might see in a nice hotel. If you live in a cold climate and your primary challenge is keeping the place warm at night, this can be a great solution. Plus, they’ll improve the overall aesthetic of interior spaces.

3. Check Door Seals and Adjust Door Position

The weatherstrip around the perimeter of the door jamb is usually made of rubber and tends to damage easily. Damage leads to gaps around the door where air (and bugs!) can infiltrate. Replacing weatherstrip is an easy, inexpensive job that requires no special tools. Totally worth doing, this home improvement will also cut down on noise pollution.

Even brand new doors sometimes don’t seem to fit perfectly. New or old, doors can be adjusted. It’s a bit of an art though, so be warned.

The threshold seal, located at the bottom of the door, can be a challenge to get buttoned-up tight. A “saddle” threshold where the door sits over top of the seal is the most challenging. Threshold seals are usually harder to replace because the seals are frequently integrated with the threshold itself so the only real option is to replace the whole threshold.

Finally there’s the question of door adjustment. When doors are installed properly they should seal evenly at all points. That’s easier said than done though; even brand new doors sometimes don’t seem to fit perfectly. New or old, doors can be adjusted. It’s a bit of an art though, so be warned. If you’re lucky, the adjustment process is entirely in the hinges, but often the trim has to be removed and the door jamb itself has to be tweaked one way or another to get things lined up. It pays to hire an experienced door installer to do this. Even a fairly skilled general carpenter can get stumped, not that I personally would know anything about that.

Done right, however, door adjustment can make a very noticeable difference in both efficiency and noise.

4. Check Attic and Crawlspace Seals

Poorly sealed attic access panels are another surprisingly common energy waster. Pull-down attic stairs are the worst offenders, but other types of access also cause problems. These access panels are frequently built on-site and don’t have the same factory installed rubber gaskets as your windows and exterior doors. Usually you can simply add a small strip of adhesive-backed weather stripping to the inside of the trimmed opening, where the panel rests against it. A small effort at very low cost can really improve efficiency.

A crawlspace beneath a raised-floor home usually doesn’t have an access panel in the floor, but it does sometimes have HVAC vents in the floor. These floor vents are more likely than ceiling vents to loosen and gap, letting cold air in. Seal these up with a small self-adhesive foam strip on the backside of the register vent (the metal grill) to prevent air and insects from getting through.

5. Increase Attic Insulation

You can give your home’s efficiency a major boost by adding a thick new layer of insulation above the attic insulation you already have. Cost is cited as a primary reason to not do this, but I beg to differ. I’ve seen whole houses get an additional 10 inches of blown-in fiberglass insulation for a few hundred bucks! It’s worth getting estimates because the cost-savings payback on a project like that can be relatively short.

6. Replace Windows

Thin, single-pane glass doesn’t do much to keep the outside weather out and the inside weather in. Single-layer glass transfers heat and cold directly and quickly. So, no matter how well you seal around the edges, older windows will be one of your house’s major sources of energy loss.

Multi-pane glass, also called insulated glass, significantly lessens energy loss via an additional air barrier set between two or more sheets of glass in the window pane. In warmer climates double-glazed windows are fairly common. In some cold climates and in very high-end homes, you’ll find windows that incorporate three layers or more.

Window replacement is a more costly project but it also has a great payoff in curb appeal, and noise reduction is substantial.

Snug as a Bug in a Rug

I’m not privy to the origins of the famous bug-in-a-rug saying, but it pretty well sums up these six insulation and efficiency projects. The idea is to do whatever you can to be sure the extremes of mid-winter and mid-summer weather stay where they belong, so you can be comfy inside!