When you're piling on the blankets and fuming at your heating bill this winter, you might think about the ways heat sneaks out of your home. From poorly insulated basements to leaky windows, the heat losses can pile up – taking a serious bite out of your paycheck. Here are seven ways you can stem the flow of BTUs and dollars.
Search and destroy
You can't fix leaks you don't know about. While professionals use high-tech methods like blower testing and infrared thermography to pinpoint heat leaks, a smoldering incense stick can often find major leaks for less. The smoke follows drafts to their source – an improperly sealed window, drafty door or gaping chimney.
A door covers a giant hole in the exterior wall of your house. The problem is, you open it periodically. While it's impractical to stay inside all winter, you can easily and affordably improve the door's seal.
Stop fireplace heat loss
Think about it: A chimney is designed to carry heat upward, out of your house. An unused fireplace with an open damper can increase your heating bill as much as 30%. You can cut this loss by installing an inflatable draft stopper when you're not enjoying a crackling fire.
Upgrade the dryer vent
This miniature chimney conducts heat from your clothes dryer when you're actually drying your clothes. The rest of the time, it's busy draining heat from your house. A standard sheet-metal vent flapper, the pinnacle of 1940s technology, insulates poorly and can fail to close properly if clogged with lint. Better: a modern plastic dryer vent seal that uses a floating shuttle to stop airflow when the dryer is not in use.
Insulate the basement
A poorly insulated basement can account for a third of your home's heat loss. One big clue: The flooring above the basement is chilly. First, check for cracks in brick, concrete or stone basement walls, and make repairs with premixed cement or other filler. For a real improvement, install fiberglass insulation along the exterior walls. Box the insulation in with wooden studs and drywall or paneling. (Remember to wear a dust mask and gloves.)
First, don't give the game away – in winter, a window that's open “just a crack” might as well be flung wide. Next, fix the gaps the builders left. Caulk drafty windows outside and apply plastic on the inside. Replace window screens with glass, which insulates better. Add insulating blinds. If you live in an older house, consider upgrading old single-pane windows to more efficient thermal windows.
Turn the thermostat down
Your house is losing heat while you slumber through the night, when it's usually colder and your furnace is struggling to keep up. And don't forget about the heat you're paying for when you're at work. Solution? Set the temperature a little lower at night and when you're away. Or, better yet, install a programmable thermostat. You can get many models for less than $100. After an hour or two of installation, you'll start saving on your next heating bill.