Last winter was a beast. If I didn’t know better, I’d say Mother Nature had a personal vendetta against my house. From frozen pipes to a leaky roof, it seemed like everything that could go wrong did. But the worst part was the cold. After a major snowstorm trapped my family indoors for a few days, I came to the conclusion that I’d be relocating my wife and kids to the tropics—and fast.
So this year, I made sure I was ready for whatever Mother Nature had in store. Armed with advice from friends and some home improvement videos, I insulated my house like the next Ice Age was around the corner. In the end, it wasn’t as tough as I thought it’d be. Here are some tips I learned along the way:
The first thing to do when planning your insulation project is to check for gaps or cracks in your window and door seals. There are a few ways to do this: One is to light a candle and hold it next to the closed door or window to see if the flame moves or is blown out by airflow. Or, if you want to pinpoint leaks more accurately, you can hire a professional technician. He or she will use an infrared monitor to determine where the largest drafts of cold air are seeping into your home.
Since we bought our house as a foreclosure, I found a variety of large and small holes to fill. I closed the gaps and cracks that could be seen by the naked eye with a generous bead of caulk. However, for drafty windows and doors that lacked a visible air source, it made more sense to use weather stripping. When in doubt, examine your options:
Applying new caulk can be a lengthier project than weather stripping, especially if you have old caulk that needs to be removed with a putty knife or screwdriver. You can make your life easier by applying a caulk softener (which you can find at most home improvement stores) two hours before you start working.
Once the old caulk is gone, clean the surface as best as you can to remove any left over residue. Before applying new caulk, cut open the caulk tube at a 45-degree angle so it fits perfectly in the crease of the window. During application, fill the gap slowly until it’s completely filled—and don’t forget to wear gloves! My wife wasn’t thrilled about the white fingerprints I left on our wood railing after my caulking project. What I learned trying to remove those stubborn prints is a topic for another day.
Decide which material is best for weather stripping your doors and windows, by taking a look at the gaps you plan to fill. You’ll need to use something that allows the windows to stay functional, whether that’s plastic, tape, felt, foam or vinyl. Before applying your weather stripping, measure the size of the door or window, adding a little extra to give you some margin for error. No matter which material you use, it’s important to keep extra elements out of the way. Items like blinds and handles should be removed, along with any dust, so that you can get the best seal possible.
Make sure to read the instructions that came with the material you purchased and follow them carefully while sealing gaps. Weather stripping should be flush against all surfaces and become tightly compressed when the door or window is shut to curb unwanted airflow.
With these simple insulation techniques, you’ll be on your way to a warmer winter and lower gas bill in no time. As for me, I hope my days of wearing ski hats to bed have come to an end. I look forward to spending my Sundays inside and in shorts!