The Urban Home & Garden
Winterize Your Home To Save Money And Energy

November 2011

In the winter, a large portion of household energy budgets are consumed by heating costs, and it is therefore important to check your home to make sure your heating dollars are not being wasted. Here in San Francisco, we love our old Victorian homes with all of their charm and character, which often translates to cold and drafty. Many winterizing tasks are do-it-yourself projects that you should have no problem undertaking.

Window Insulation Films
Estimated energy loss for U.S. consumers through residential and commercial windows is over 25 billion dollars a year – a loss comparable to the value of the oil delivered by the Alaskan pipeline or 5 percent of the total U.S. annual energy use! Window insulation kits allow you to install a clear film to seal out air drafts and create a dead air space between the film and the window surface. Just use a hair dryer to heat the film to shrink to fit your window.

Weather Stripping and Caulking
These are probably the least expensive, simplest and most effective ways to cut down on energy waste in the winter. Improperly sealed homes can waste 10 to 15 percent of your heat.

• Check around doors and windows for leaks and drafts. Add weather stripping and caulk any holes you see that allow heat to escape. Make sure that doors seal properly.

• If your windows leak badly, consider replacing them with newer, more efficient ones.

• Every duct, wire or pipe that penetrates a wall, ceiling or floor has the potential to waste energy. Plumbing vents can be especially bad because they begin below the floor and go all the way through the roof. Seal them all with weather stripping or caulking.

• Electric wall plugs and switches can allow cold air in. Install precut foam gaskets that fit behind the switch plates and effectively prevent leaks.

Examine Your Heating Ducts
Check heating ducts for leaks. Think of ductwork as huge hoses, bringing hot air instead of water into a building. Mostly out of sight, ducts can leak for years without anyone knowing. They can become torn or crushed and flattened. Old duct tape will dry up and fall away over time, allowing junctions and splices to open, wasting heated air into an attic or under the house. (Metal-reinforced or foil-backed tape should be used instead of duct tape.) Roughly 10 percent of a heating bill can be saved by preventing leaky ducts.

Close the Damper on Your Fireplace
The fireplace damper needs to be open if a fire is burning, of course, but if it’s open when you’re not using the fireplace, the chimney is functioning as a large open window that draws warm air out of the room and creates a draft.

Inspect Your Heating System
Get a routine maintenance and inspection of your heating system each autumn to make sure it is in good working order. Replace your heater’s air filter monthly.

Programmable Thermostats
With the onset of winter and cold weather, a programmable thermostat, capable of dividing the days into multiple time zones, allows you to adjust the temperature level accordingly. For example, at night you can turn it way down, program it to have the house warmed when you wake up, and the temperature set during the day to an appropriate level depending on the weather and the season. These thermostats are easy to install and save energy and money on your electric bill.

Gutter Maintenance
Plugged gutters and downspouts can be worse than none at all. It’s best to check and clean your gutters and downspouts twice a year: in the spring after the winter rains and in the fall before the next rainy season. Clean gutters more often if big trees are near your home.

Fall Time Change Reminder
Clocks are changed one hour back this year on Sunday, Nov. 6 at 2 a.m. As it begins to get darker much earlier, well-lighted entryways will help prevent accidents as well as discourage would-be burglars.

An energy efficient way to make sure entryways are lit when arriving home during dark hours is to install an automatic light sensor, which will turn on at dusk and off at dawn. Motion-activated lighting, which turns on when movement is sensed, is another alternative to welcome guests, secure your home, and save energy.

Whole House Assessments
Homeowners around San Francisco can take advantage of the Home Improvement & Performance program offered by San Francisco Environment to receive up to $11,000 in rebate incentives. Besides saving energy and money, another benefit of energy-efficiency improvements that people don’t always think about is indoor air quality, which can be a safety issue, especially if you have young children. Leaks in your house can cause air to flow from attics, basements, or other potentially unclean places; you can wind up with dust, toxins, or even mold in your air. By sealing up leaks and getting your house working smoothly as a whole system, you’ll find that indoor air quality can be drastically improved. SF Environment wants to help you live more comfortably, reduce your energy footprint, and upgrade your home for less. To find out more, and to see a list of participating contractors, visit, or call 415-355-3769. Set up a home assessment visit with a participating contractor. They will help you prioritize which measure will save you the most energy and get you the most rebates. And best of all, they do all the paperwork!

Julia Strzesieski is the marketing coordinator at Cole Hardware. E-mail: [email protected]