Anyone living north of the 36th latitude (Virginia) is going to have to deal with cold nights and big heating bills. I have to heat my house in the winter even in Miami, and folks in the desert Southwest have to pour on the heat for those nippy nights.
It would be handy to have a guy around to do all those handyman things, but if you’re going through divorce, and still living in the drafty family home, you’re going to have to do them yourself. And you can really save money this way.
An average American spends $1,300 on heating and cooling bills in a year. Those can be cut by 10 percent, 30 percent, 50 percent by tackling a few basics, like these recommended by the Department of Environmental Protection/Montgomery County, Maryland. Let’s start with drafts.
• We like this part: light some incense. Now walk around your house (ideally on a windy day), and see where the smoke blows away from the windows and doors. Don’t forget to check light switch plates, around the sink, and around light fixtures. Each of those places can have an air leak as well. And fixing these drafts is pretty easy. Grab a caulking gun from Home Depot, and go around the house, inside and out. Fill in all those loose places around windows and doors. And don’t forget to cut off drafts under doors, either with a rubber sweeper along the bottom or with a snakelike draft dodgers.
• Turn down the temperature on your hot water heater to 115 degrees. That should be hot enough for everything, and will be safer for your children. Anything hotter might scald them.
• Wear a sweater indoors, and buy the kids cool nice hoodies. Don’t forget to put on a pair of socks too, or slippers. Now, turn the thermostat down to 68 degrees. Get a programmable thermostat that will drop the temperature to 65 at night. And when you’re away from the house, 55 degrees is fine.
• Replace your furnace filter, and check it at least once a month. Get that incense out again, and trace all your heating vents in the basement to make sure that they’ve been properly sealed. You’re paying for that heat. You don’t want to lose it. Duct tape is going to be your best friend.
• Make sure all of your heating vents aren’t blocked by drapes, furniture, rugs.
• Here’s a project to do with the kids: get that plastic film and tape it around the leakiest windows. You’ll be amazed at how much warmer it will feel when you’re done. And you can have them use a kit to make a winter insulating coat for the hot water heater and the hot water pipes.
• If there’s an attic, make sure there are at least nine inches of insulation up there. Usually you can just lay the batts down between the joists. (Hint, the paper, or moisture barrier, goes toward the heated room downstairs.) You can save a couple hundred dollars a year putting in the maximum insulation upstairs. Think of it as a wool hat for the house.
• Try washing clothes in cold water. A household spends $200 a year on hot water, at least a quarter of that on washing clothes. A bottle of Woolite is cheaper.
• If you are lucky enough to have a fireplace, make sure you know how to operate the damper. When a fire isn’t burning, the damper should be closed tight. When you are using the fireplace, open the dampers, or crack a window, then shut the doors to the rest of the house. Otherwise all your heat it going up the chimney.