Put on a sweater, find your caulk gun: It's time to winterize
Or was it 65 degrees?
Either way, it was perpetually cold. Hamsters died in about three minutes in our house.
Of course, that prepared me for a life of thermostat frugality and imaginative winterization schemes.
One winter, I nailed thick quilts over my apartment windows. Sure, it cut down on the cold drafts, but it was always kinda dark.
The key to winterization schemes is to balance spending against financial return and comfort.
For example: You probably already own a hat and mittens. Wear those around the house—and to bed—and you'll cut your energy bill significantly.
However, mittens make it difficult to butter your toast.
Cost: Fuzz in your toast.
Benefit: Lower heating bill.
Keeping the cost-benefit ratio in mind, we trolled through a variety of government and energy provider Web sites for the best and most practical tips. We also asked local experts for their advice.
-- Keep the drapes and shades on your south facing window open during the day to let the sun in.
-- Close all drapes and shades at night.
-- Turn your thermostat down from 72 degrees to 65 degrees for eight hours a day. That will save up to 10 percent on your heating bill.
-- Put on a sweater.
-- Put on another sweater.
Very low cost
-- Buy a timer that will turn off your water heater while you sleep and turn it back on about an hour before you get up.
According to the government's "Home Energy Saver" Web site, http://hes.lbl.gov, that works best with electric water heaters.
Won't it use more energy to reheat the water in the morning?
Here's the answer from "Home Energy Saver": "Water heaters use more energy to heat water up and keep it hot than they do to heat it up once … So turning the water heater off for a few hours each day actually saves some energy.
-- Use weather stripping and door thresholds.
"I don't think people realize how much energy they're losing around doors and windows," said Dave Riemer, owner of Janesville's Harris Ace Hardware stores. "If you walk up to doors and windows, sometimes you can feel the air coming in."
Rolls of foam weather stripping cost around $5. It's easy to install—most brands are just peel and stick.
Riemer also recommended checking the door thresholds.
"Every door should have a threshold, but they do break down," Riemer said.
A new threshold is in the $10 range.
-- Caulk the exterior. Scott Reigstad, spokesman for Alliant Energy, said he recently did some basic winterizing around his own home.
"I did some caulking around the windows frames on the outside," Reigstad said. "I used some clear caulk around the windows on the inside."
Caulk is usually about $5 per tube.
You probably have a caulk gun around your home, but when you need it, you won't be able to find it and will have to buy another one.
I have about 12 at home. Sometimes I give them away as party favors.
-- Apply plastic window covering.
3M and a variety of other manufacturers make plastic window covers that can be applied to window frames. Then, using a hair dryer, the plastic is gently heated to take all the wrinkles out, leaving behind a clear piece of plastic.
Prices for window covering kits range from $15 to $30, so you'll want to consider carefully. If your home is less than 20 years old and was built with decent windows, weather stripping should be enough to block the drafts.
I once lived in an old house where the windows frames were so bad that ice formed on the inside of the windows. It cost me about $40 and two hair dryers to get the plastic film up. Unfortunately, during the cats' 2 a.m. circus time—which involves running across all of the furniture at top speeds—the plastic was destroyed.
Lesson: Plastic window coverings don't work in homes with cats and curious children.
More expensive, but worth it
-- Use a programmable thermostat. They range in price from about $40 to more than $100.
My thermostat allowed me to program for Monday through Friday and the weekend.
Now you can buy a thermostat that can be programmed differently for every day.
Here's how it worked at my house during the week: At night it was 58 degrees; for two hours in the morning and four hours in the evening, a luxurious 70 degrees, and during the day, 53 degrees.
The cats always looked a little resentful when I got home, but my energy bills really took a dive. I think I regained my $50 in a month.