Top 10 Tips For Properly Winterizing Your Home

Top 10 Tips For Properly Winterizing Your Home


Jason:    Greg thanks for coming out on this blustery morning.

Greg:    It is … Cold would be a generous word for it. It’s a little chilly outside.

Jason:    Yes. Well, I appreciate you dodging the snowflakes and joining us for another episode.

Greg:    Oh my pleasure, but why don’t we talk about the weather outside. It’s really cold, winter’s coming, we’re expecting several inches. We’ve already had some snow, we’re going to get more snow. As a home builder what are the things you need to think about to make sure you’re building a house as winter proof as possible?

Jason:    Yes. I thought today maybe we’ll tackle the top ten ways to winterize your house or to prepare your home for the colder weather.

Greg:    That sounds great.

Jason:    Yeah. One of the first things that is often overlooked is actually attic insulation. I’ve been in many homes where the builder has either forgotten to insulate the attic or sometimes the insulation has just settled over the years.

Greg:    That doesn’t sound like a great development. Probably not something you want.

Jason:    That’s right. Unfortunately it happens. That’s why you want a quality home builder like Artisan to tackle your home building needs.

Greg:    Of course.

Jason:    You can always check the insulation and actually … Probably 30% of your air infiltration or air loss is actually through the attic. Even if you do have insulation it may not be a bad idea to have an expert come in and check out your insulation and maybe blow a little bit more insulation in there. I have a gentleman who is going to be joining us here in a couple of weeks on a podcast. His name is Eric George and he has a company called Building Performance that actually will come in and test the efficiency of your house. If you don’t want to climb up in the attic, bring Eric or somebody like him in and we can check out the house for you.

Greg:    Is there such a thing as too much insulation? Can you over do it?

Jason:    I don’t think so. Obviously you come to a point of diminishing returns. Finding that right R40 or range in the attic is going to be a good bang for your buck.

Greg:    You talked earlier, you still want the attic to be able to breath. It’s not something where you pile it up and there’s no room up like … I don’t know the right terms, but it’s sort of a balance where you need the insulation…

Jason:    What I like to do is create an air tight lid. Actually, I don’t want any air infiltration into the house. We will do some air infiltration to vent the attic so it doesn’t get moisture in there but the goal is to seal up the envelop of the house as tight as possible.

Greg:    I need to quit asking questions. If I let my curiosity get the best of me, this is going to be a thirty minute podcast.

Jason:    All right. We’ll move on to number two. This one is a pretty basic one but a lot of times people overlook it and I do get calls for busted hoses and water lines. One thing you want to do is shut off all your water spigots and water lines to the outside and properly drain them. Not only do you have to turn off the outside spigot, you need to unhook the hose and then most houses come with actually a water shut off that will be located either in the basement ceiling, maybe in the first floor powder room or a basement powser room. Simply shut that off, make sure the water run has been drained out to get that water out there and just eliminate any possible chance of that water freezing in those pipes.

We’ll move on. All right. No questions. We may actually-

Greg:    I’m trying to control myself. It’s difficult but go ahead.

Jason:    Okay. Number three, we’re going to touch on is, again, it’s pretty basic but I’m amazed at the times I go in to even the new houses I’ve built and … This one is make sure all your windows are properly locked down and doors are properly shut. Sometimes new construction with windows we put everything in pretty tight. You may have to shove those double hung windows down a little bit and snug that latch just to make sure you don’t have any air infiltration coming in underneath the sash. Simply by doing that can really increase the comfort level of your house.

Greg:   Are you finding that some people are just hesitant to push down hard enough on the windows to actually latch it? Is that what you’re saying?

Jason:    Yeah. Sometimes they may just close them and assume they’re shut but to get that seal you really need to lock it in and it throws those double hungs up and down and really creates that tightness against the weather stripping that’s going to create that seal that you’re looking for.

Greg:    All right. Number four.

Jason:    Okay. Programmable thermostats. You don’t even have to have a programmable thermostat but if you’re going to be gone at work all day or going to bed at nights simply turn that thermostat down just a little bit as you leave the house. If you’re going to be gone for eight to ten hours a day and just a couple of degrees will make a difference over the year on your utility bill.

Greg:    I’ve read some of the studies on this. It’s really amazing, like you said. Just three, four degrees while you’re gone during the day not so much that it’s difficult to get back up the temperature but the difference to your bill is incredible and of course it depends how well your house is sealed, but it’s really something that’s pretty easy to do and no real downside.

Jason:    No, no. Not at all. With the increase in modern technology, we’re doing a lot more systems where you can actually control your thermostat from your phones or your computers. If you’re working and like, “Oh, gosh. Looks like I’m gong to be working late tonight, kids aren’t going to be home. Let me just dial that thermostat down just a little bit more.” Then when you head home you can just knock it up a couple of degrees so it’s nice and toasty waiting for you when you get home.

Greg:    Then a little bit off topic, but studies have show that people sleep better if the house is a little cooler so you could dial it down overnight while you’re sleeping and then at whatever time you get up, 6:00, have it come back up to temperature so it’s nice and cozy when you get out of bed. Lots of benefits.

Jason:    No doubt. You can throw an extra blanket or two. I’ve got three boys at home and my middle one likes to have it about sixty degrees when he’s sleeping at night. He definitely is helping the utility bills.

Greg:    Good for him.

Jason:    Yeah.

Greg:    Number five.

Jason:    Okay. This is again basic home maintenance on number five but again one of my biggest call backs I get on my new construction homes is, “My furnace isn’t working.” Well, what it boils down to is you got to change the furnace filter once a month. Some filters, you may get into a media filter that’s five or six inches thick that you don’t have to change but every two or three months but most systems have a nice one inch filter, three quarter inch and it does need to be changed monthly. What happens if you don’t change that filter, it gets clogged with dust, the system does not operate efficiently. Even though you may have a tight house and everything, you’re doing all the right things, you may not be getting the efficiency out of that unit that you should.

Greg:    Okay. I need to make a note here: once a month. Okay. It might be past time for me, I need to cut out of here and go change my filter…

Jason:    The nice thing with technology again and … I set my smart phone and put a reminder in there. Every thirty days it says, “Change furnace filter.” Usually buy a six pack or something up at Lowes, Home Depot or local home improvement store and just set them down there…

Greg:    A six pack of filters. Right?

Jason:    Yes. Yes, Greg. You can get a six pack of others that …

Greg:    I’m not judging.

Jason:    … can help you change the filter if you struggle in that area. Okay. Moving on, on a more serious note. Number six, we’re going to go with changing the direction of your ceiling fans. A lot of people think that ceiling fans are just meant to cool you in the summer time but in actuality most fans come with a mode where you can reverse the direction of the fan and simply in the winter time change that blade … As you think about it, heat rises, so all that heat gets caught up in the upper part of the room. Reverse that fan, push that heat where it comes back down, circulates the air a little bit more. Again one of those little steps that can add to the efficiency of your utility system and how it operates.

Greg:    How do I know which direction it’s supposed to go in? If my fans haven’t been reversed or changed in eons how do I know which direction I’m …

Jason:    The simplest way is to actually turn your fan on, you turn on high and stand underneath of it. If you feel the air coming directly on you, you’ve got it set for your cool setting or for a summer setting. There’s usually a toggle switch on the fan above the blade or either on the remote. Change that, turn the fan off and then turn it back on. Then if you stand under the fan and do not feel that air coming down that means you got it right. It’s shoving that air back up towards the ceiling and it will start dropping around the fan.

Greg:    Okay. If I can’t feel the fan that’s a winter time setting. If it’s blasting on my head that’s a summer time setting.

Jason:    Greg, you’re set to be a home builder.

Greg:    Sweet. I’m just going to be a home liver. You can be the home builder and I’ll just live in the home.

Jason:    Got you. Got you. We’ll move on to number seven. This comes down to fire place. This is a safety feature as well as well as energy efficient feature. A lot of people still prefer a wood burning fire places these days but if you use it a lot you do need to have that flue pipe cleaned by a professional probably once a year just to keep it clean and again operating at maximum efficiency. You don’t want to burn the house down so simply spend a few bucks, clean that chimney sweep out and you’ll be good to go.

Greg:    That’s where the bulk of chimney fires occur. Right? It’s not stuff pouring out of the hearth or onto the floor, it’s people haven’t taken care of their flue and their chimney and something that’s caught in it and caught on fire and then falls into the house or lands on the roof. That’s the issue. Right?

Jason:    That’s right. You could shut your fire off or think you’ve burned it out for the night yet it could still be burning in the flue or some debris could be caught on fire up in the pipe and actually land on the roof. The temperature of those fires is extremely hot so it doesn’t take much once it comes in contact with that combustible material and fire spread pretty quickly.

Greg:    Right so be safe. I have lost track of numbers, where are we?

Jason:    We are on number eight. With the change in energy code a lot of the things we’re going to talk about today is going to be standard operating procedure for new houses but a lot of these things were not standard on houses even built just a few years ago. With number eight is sealing your duct work on your furnace. All those trunk lines and silver pipes that run through your basement, a lot of guys in the past, including myself, I’ve learned over the years, but we used to install that stuff and not seal the joints. You’re thinking the duct works’ inside the house, no big deal, what’s it matter if it’s leaking. Well, if you seal those duct works, and what I’m talking about is all the seams, all the joints, any penetration, nail holes, screws and that metal, if that’s not sealed you’re going to get a ton of leakage through the duct works system which is going to make your furnace work harder and not as efficient.

Greg:    Is it just a little leakage? It’s not something I’d walk by and I feel it blow my hair, it’s just a little bit here, a little bit there and throughout the house it adds up to make your system have to work that much harder.

Jason:    For the most part yes but you would be amazed at … I’ve talked to Eric George, who I mentioned with Building Performance, he’s shown videos and I follow him on Facebook, of guys that have not sealed where the furnace filter is. You can have huge holes in your furnace system and just… you can have a 95% efficient furnace just not operating at, just not near performance just because the duct work hasn’t been properly sealed.

Greg:    You’re talking about sealing with some of the silver tape that I’ve seen around or is it more of the insulating, white, foamy, plastic wrapping on?

Jason:    Yes.  Mastic, there’s a lot of times… with duct butter, is another term that’s used. It’s actually painted on and seals.

Greg:    I just like that term.

Jason:    Yeah, we like the duct butter.

Greg:    Okay.

Jason:    Again you get a professional can come in, he can actually test your duct system after it’s been installed to tell you how efficient it is and how much duct leakage you actually have.

Greg:    Then would they be able to track that down so if they do a test and say your system’s operating at 70% capacity, they help you find where that leakage would be so that you can actually seal it up?

Jason:    Absolutely.

Greg:    Awesome.

Jason:    That was number eight so that’s a great tip for especially, again, somebody who’s built a home in the last few years. Again, we do that standard in all our newer homes but even just a few years ago we did not.

Greg:    When you have this gentleman come in on one of your future podcasts, are you only going to talk about new homes only? Are you going to talk about existing homes or some of both?

Jason:    Well, I’ve got a lot of feedback from our readers and a lot of them are existing home owners that live in older homes so we will talk about the older homes and how to increase the efficiency of that. Then we’ll also talk about what he does in our new homes.

Greg:    I’m looking forward to it.

Jason:    Yeah, we have a couple of steps. He’ll come in before you even drywall the house and test the efficiency of the house before we cover up all those mechanicals and then he comes back once the house is complete and does another analysis on the project.

Greg:    Sounds good.

Jason:    Okay, so number nine. Let’s take advantage of tax credits that Uncle Sam gives us. There’s certain tax credit out there and I’m not a tax expert by any means, but if you’ve done all these things to your systems over the years and it’s just still not where you want it, it may be time to upgrade your system to a more efficient system. One option you could do is go to a geothermal, I know we hit that a couple of episodes ago about the efficiencies of geothermal. There is a tax credit in place that for the new install of the geothermal system you can get a 30% tax credit back, so that’s a pretty impressive credit when it comes back to putting a new system in.

Greg:    Yeah, really is.

Jason:    We’ve talked about, again, Norton Commons, we’ve got a whole village of geothermal homes. We got a Homearama homes that we’re doing, we have two of them this year both are going to have those geothermal systems in. It’ll give the listeners a chance to actually come out and feel in touch what a geothermal system may be. Again, it doesn’t have to be just a geothermal system, you can replace it with a 95, 96% efficient furnace and that’s going to help your efficiency of your system as well and really cut those utility bills down, sometimes as much as half if you have a non-efficient system in place right now. Good stuff there. I think that was number nine.

Greg:    Yeah, let’s wrap this up with a big one. What do you got?

Jason:    All right, drum roll please. Another exciting one is actually to properly insulate your basement concrete walls. A lot of people sometimes overlook the basements and think, “You know what, it’s underground, it can’t be that cold, I’ve got a ten, nine, eight inch thick concrete wall, that’s going to protect my basement.” What people don’t realize is if you have a nine inch thick concrete wall, the R-value on that structure is only going to be about a one.

Greg:    Oh my gosh! That’s really depressing.

Jason:    People don’t realize how much air loss or temperature that slides through those concrete walls and basement is always colder. Well, that’s why.

Greg:    R-1’s basically the temperature outside is the temperature inside. If it’s 55 degrees ground in your basement, your basement is going to be starting off at basically that. Right? Is that what you’re saying?

Jason:    That’s absolutely correct. A lot of guys may insulate the top two or three feet of the basement that sticks out of the ground, some may not. It’s hard to even know once you’re in the basement what part of the wall sticks above the ground and what part sticks below the ground. A lot of basements have two, three, four foot of concrete sticking up above the ground. You can have, again, that R-1, it could be below freezing outside and that basically it’s like having an open window, not exactly, but a similar comparison, having all that cold and hot air come straight through that wall.

What we’d like to do is actually insulate the basement wall and there’s a couple of ways that we can do it. We can put form board on the exterior or the inside of the basement wall. I like to insulate them on the inside of the wall, we get a tighter seal. You can spray foam the entire basement structure, most of the times you can finish the basement, go ahead and have that nice three and a half inch cavity and fill it with insulation.

Greg:    I was going to ask. You talked about finished lower levels before in an earlier episode, so would you attach the frame of the basement, if you’re going to finish it out, to the wall and then come in and then out this foam down or how do you go ahead and finish out to the level you’re talking about? We’re talking about nice finishes here. How do you that level of finish?

Jason:    I would go ahead and finish out your basement, I’d put a full stud wall which is a two by four up against or close to against the concrete wall and that way you can get that full two by four cavity full of insulation from top to bottom. Sometimes you can put a foam board straight up against the wall but it’s not going to give you an R-13, R-15. Might as well maximize the efficiency of that basement while we’re there. Again, it is now code to insulate a good portion of the basement wall. It wasn’t just a few years ago, so it’s one thing to check out. Again, if you have a third party come in and do an energy efficient analysis of your home, that’s one thing they may look out for you.

Greg:    That was awesome, that was a great list and we ran a little long but I appreciate you giving us a Top Ten List. That was awesome!

Jason:    In conclusion this is a great way to retrofit a lot of these things in your house but the simplest way to solve all of these issues is just call me, Jason Black with Artisan Signature Homes, let’s build your new home with all these great energy efficient features and have you comfortable year around.