Help keep your home a warm, cozy haven from Chicago's infamous winters with smart weatherproofing.

8 Tips to Winter-Proof Your Vintage Chicago Home

Local legends credit our Windy City moniker to all the hot air coming from politicians, but the Windy City is indeed windy—and cold to boot—which means weatherproofing is key during the upcoming winter months, particularly if you live in an older home.

“Most older homes can be drafty,” says Gillian Wiescher, Director of Communication at the Historic Chicago Bungalow Association. In fact, if you added up all the leaks, holes and gaps in a typical home’s envelope, it would be the equivalent of having a window open every day of the year, according to Energy Star.

But thankfully, with the right tips these homes can be made just as comfortable as new construction, said Wiescher. She gave us the scoop on how to keep your Chicago home warm all windy, winter long.

  1. Lock your windows. It may seem like common sense, but many people actually overlook locking each window in their home, especially in a basement or attic window.  “The locks actually tighten the window’s seal and prevent further leakage,” Wiescher says. Also, be sure to remove your AC window unit if you installed one for the summer. Removing this will prevent unnecessary air from filtering into your home, Wiescher says.
  1. Properly install storm windows. When fall hits, it’s time to swap out your screens for your storm shutters. Swapping in the storm-specific windows will help to keep the cool air out and the warm air in, Wiescher says. You can also let the sunlight work for you—the U.S. Department of Energy suggests taking advantage of sunlight in the winter by opening your curtains during the day to allow the sun to naturally heat your home.
  1. Install and set a programmable thermostat. If your home’s thermostat is as old as your historic home, it may be time to invest in a programmable option. This variety allows you to accurately set the thermostat to your desired temperature, while you’re awake and asleep. And you can save money in the process—if you set the temperature to 72°F while you’re awake and about 10 degrees lower while you’re asleep or away from home, you can save 5 percent to 15 percent a year on your heating bill, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
  1. Make a weatherization kit. The local Chicago Conservation Corp provides weatherization kits—including new seals for doors and windows, plastic film to serve as an indoor storm window and caulk for sealing small gaps. The group lists the kit supplies here: Build your own to keep you home toasty while it’s freezing outside.
  1. Close basement and attic doors. During the winter months, it’s important that you keep you basement and attic doors completely closed to help separate the heated areas from the unheated areas. “This is especially important if the basement and attic are unfinished,” Wiescher says.

  1. Replace your air filter regularly. All forced air furnaces have filters that keep dust and dirt from blowing into your house, according to a fact sheet by Colorado State University. If they are not periodically cleaned or replaced, dirty filters can greatly affect the furnace’s heating ability and waste energy. To keep your heat source happy, change out your filter. It is important to note that filters are not meant to be reused. Purchase a replacement every one to three months during the heating season.
  1. Seek an expert opinion. If your apartment seems drafty, have an expert out to check for weatherization issues. “Thermal boundary—the layer in a home that controls the transfer of heat between the interior and the exterior—is the highest priority for keeping warm air in and cool air out,” Wiescher says. This is what the expert will focus their time on to reduce the draft and increase your home’s cozy factor.
  1. Look into city programs and incentives. Chicago is dedicated to helping its residents stay warm, reducing the carbon footprint and lowering energy costs. Do some research to find out which program is right for you. A few options:

Energy Savers Program helps to retrofit Chicago homes, including adding insulation, air sealing and HVAC system improvements. For the past six years, over 10,000 rental apartment units in the Chicago region have been retrofitted, cutting energy costs by about 30 percent.

Retrofit Chicago, part of the City of Chicago’s Sustainable Chicago plan, offers free assessments and boasts that they’re a one-stop shop to get all of your retrofitting needs taken care of. This program aims to help increase the temperature of your home by 10 degrees and lower you energy costs by a few hundred dollars a year. You can also get an assessment of how much gas you use to heat your home each month of the year. Check out the site’s sample energy report, a breakdown of a home’s energy use, including natural gas and electricity.

According to climate data, Chicago receives the highest snowfall in December, January and February—so you still have some time to cozy up your abode. Follow our simple tips for weatherizing to feel the warmth and see potential monthly savings. Because even when we’re dreaming of a white Christmas, we’re always dreaming of a warm one.

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