I have lived most of my life in the south, and most of that in Texas. In Texas, "winter" is a relative term. For us, winter is basically those brief few days in between, well, summer and more summer. There have been years I haven't worn my winter coat at all, and years I have had to travel northwards in order to find a winter coat to wear! However, I got quite the wakeup call the year I moved to northern California.

That year, Sacramento (where I lived) experienced 40 consecutive days of freezing rainfall. Lake Tahoe and Reno (where I worked) had the most extreme season of snowfall recorded in a decade! You'd better believe I learned how to winterize that year. If you live in a place that actually gets winter, these tips can help you winterize for less.

Energy savings from winterizing 

Just in case you need extra incentive to do the extra work of winterizing, did you know you can save 5-30% per year on your utility bills by using these tips? (see U.S. Department of Energy for more).

As of 2013, the average single family home spends around $1,500 per year on energy (see LearnVest for more).

  • 5% annual savings: $75, so total annual cost would be $1,425.
  • 30% annual savings: $450, so total annual cost would be $1,050.

These tips will keep your energy costs reasonable—and your winterizing costs equally so.

1. Scout and seal drafts

Drafts are a huge drain on your home's heating system…and your energy budget.

Common places to find drafts:

  • Around windows
  • Around doors
  • In attics and basements
  • Cracks in walls, ceilings, floors
  • Around window units

Depending on the draft, there are a number of ways to seal it up:

  • Windows: Buy a roll of bubble wrap ($10.96 on Amazon). Cut off long narrow segments and tape these over the edges of the windows (for a full seal, you can use sheets to tape over the full window, but if you like being able to see out, opt for just the edges).
  • Doors: Under doors is the most common place drafts sneak in. Use a "draft snake"—this is basically a long narrow piece of fabric filled with something heavy (gravel, kitty litter, stuffing, etc.). You can also use a rolled-up towel.
  • Attics/basements: Attic floors and basement ceilings are big culprits to let icy drafts through. The best solution here is to add insulation. Spray foam insulation offers targeted application and is super cheap ($3.98 for a can on HomeDepot.com).
  • Cracks: Caulking is the best solution for cracks in walls, ceilings and floors. Since caulk can be purchased in many colors, and caulk guns and caulk are cheap (around $5-10 for each on Amazon), this is a cost-effective quick fix.
  • Window units: If you have an A/C-only window unit, just bubble wrap it or cover it with a tarp until temperatures warm. If your window unit includes heat, duct tape to seal up cracks is a wiser choice.

2. Reverse ceiling fans

I had lived with ceiling fans for years before I discovered a little switch that reversed the direction of the fan blades. Since I was living in a particularly old and drafty garage apartment that year, reversing the blades (which pushed the warmer air down) really helped me stay warm!

  • What to do: Just look for a small switch on the main barrel of the fan (where the blades all connect to the base). Switch it in the opposite direction to reverse the blades.

3. Program your thermostat

This is almost a given, but it’s so easy to forget to do it! A simple change of one degree can save you 1% or more on your annual energy costs (see Energy.gov for more).

  • Using the $1,500 annual energy cost, a 1% savings = $15/year.
  • Turning your thermostat down 10% (ideally at night when you are warm and cozy under a down blanket!) can save you 5% = $150/year.
  • Turning your thermostat down 15% at night = $225/year.

Note: For maximum savings, the thermostat should be turned down for eight hours at a time.

4. Lower your water heater temperature

If you haven't looked at or touched your water heater unit since you moved in, there’s a good chance it’s still on its default setting (which for most water heaters is right around 140 degrees).

However, studies show 120 degrees is perfectly adequate for most homes, and turning your water heater down can result in a 6-10% savings on your annual energy bill (see Energy.gov for more).

  • Using the $1,500 annual energy cost, a 6% savings = $90/year.
  • A 10% savings = $150/year.


How to Winterize Your Home on a Dime