How to winterize your home
BY GWENDOLYN PURDOM For Sun-Times Media
Exterior foam insulation can be done on new homes or when re-siding a home. Supplied by Eco Achievers
Wind-burned faces and snow shoveling duties aren’t the only maddening symptoms of brutal Chicagoland winters: drafty, inefficient houses and cranked up energy systems mean trouble for the environment and your wallet too. How can you prep your place for the season with eco-friendliness in mind? We consulted three local experts to find out:
Seal Up Any Leaks
“The biggest mistake homeowners make is to assume they know what thermal comfort problems they have or what energy conservation measures to take,” said Hinsdale resident and Building Science Institute president Bob Chomko. To remedy the problem, Chomko recommends first hiring a professional certified by a body like the Residential Energy Services Network to analyze the house.
“Building science knowledge is important in order to fully understand the interaction of all the building components and how a proposed conservation measure will affect the building,” Chomko said.
Common gap spots include the spaces around windows, doors, attics, recessed lighting fixtures and electrical outlets, but every home is different.
Home energy experts agree that plugging up these problem areas – whether with caulk, window stripping, or a good old-fashioned draft snake and towels under the door-- is the easiest and cheapest step to winterizing your home, and it makes the biggest difference in heat loss and energy cost savings.
Approximately, “40 percent of our heating and cooling is lost through leaks and drafts in the home and there are a lot of things you can do inexpensively to fix those before adding insulation,” Jason La Fleur of Oak Park’s Eco Achievers consulting firm and the U.S. Green Building Council’s Illinois Chapter said.
Though it’s typically more expensive, sprayed foam is Thomas Kenny’s insulation of choice when he’s remodeling homes for Northbrook’s green-conscious Scott Simpson Builders.
“It’s really good at getting into all the premises that leak,” Kenny said.
To insulate, begin where you find the easiest access to the outside, like your attic or basement. Chomko suggests you aim for an R-level of 50 or about 14 inches of fiberglass batt or loose insulation – an R-level measures the insulation’s ability to resist heat traveling through it.
Window replacement should be a last resort as it is the least cost-effective winterization method.
“The payback period for energy savings to equal the cost of windows is typically over 40 years and often over 75 years,” Chomko said.
However, if necessary, Chomko and Kenny stress using low-E storm windows. Usually this route is only recommended if your windows are metal frame or the wood is rotting, Chomko said. Where frames are rotted, only replace those that are affected.
When an appliance such as a water heater breaks, La Fleur said replacing it with the highest efficiency model would pay off when the winter months roll around.
“The technology has improved and the cost isn’t that much more, the payback ends up being recouped pretty quickly,” La Fleur said.
Wireless plug-load sensors, which can be conveniently controlled via internet or smart phone, can be another helpful fix to offset higher than usual energy use and costs. The devices monitor and adjust the energy an electronic device consumes when it’s plugged in but not in use, or the “plug-load,” which accounts for 20 to 25 percent of energy consumption in residential and commercial buildings according to Chomko.
Overall, when it comes to greening your home for winter, every little bit helps, and the benefits stretch year round.
“In Chicago you have just about as many cooling days and you do heating days,” Kenny said. “So you’ve got to build your house so it’s efficient in both directions.”