Getting Ready for Winter

Nov 4, 2011 by

Home after snow storm

Lessons from last winter. Unpredictable weather and rising energy costs make energy-saving upgrades a very smart investment. Basic improvements like air sealing and additional insulation can cut heating costs by 40%.

by Tim Snyder

It happened: Our first winter storm arrived before I had a chance to replace the shorts in my bedroom bureau with thermal underwear and heavyweight socks. The blanket of wet, heavy, branch-breaking snow proved once again that Mother Nature often has a heavy hand, especially here in New England.

The devastating effects of this storm inevitably brings back memories of the mega-winter we experienced last year. Back-to-back blizzards that dumped nearly four feet of snow in many areas. Bulldozers and front-end loaders taking on snow-removal duties too severe for plow trucks. Ice dams forming crystalline curtains along the eaves of many houses. Fuel oil deliveries going on 24 hours a day to keep up with demand.

We can’t control the weather, but…

Even though we may be hoping for a milder winter this year, the recent storm proves pretty convincingly that it’s smarter to prepare for the worst. We can’t control Mother Nature, and we can’t control the upward pressure on fuel prices from frigid temperatures and all the political instability in oil-producing countries (unfortunately, we still import about 60% of the oil we consume).

So let’s focus on the things we CAN do to control heating costs. Fortunately, there’s good news on this front. Today we know a great deal about how houses use and lose energy. We also have great products and effective techniques for turning a house that’s an energy hog into a model of energy-efficient performance.

Many of the upgrades that improve home energy efficiency focus on what building scientists call the “building envelope,” the assembly of building materials (like framing, sheathing, roofing, siding, insulation, etc.) that separates the inside from the outside. Just by sealing air leaks and upping the insulation value in the attic, it’s possible to cut heating costs by 40%. As fuel oil prices climb toward $4 a gallon, that’s a lot of savings.

Ensure cold-weather comfort and lower utility bills with a master plan for energy savings

At my house, I may have fallen behind in breaking out my winter wardrobe. But I know our house is much better prepared for winter now than it was a year ago. We had our attic air-sealed and insulated with blown cellulose; the R-value over our heads has jumped from 19 to over 50. (The Dept. of Energy recommends at least R-49 of attic insulation in our region.) We also installed two new exterior doors with insulated cores and excellent weatherstripping, replacing older units that let in a lot of cold.

More importantly, we had an energy audit done on our house to identify specific improvements that can help us be more comfortable, spend less on fuel oil and electricity, and contribute to a greener future. Having a comprehensive energy audit performed on your house provides you with a master plan for energy savings. You learn what needs to be done, in what order, and why. For example, we found out that our boiler is only about 75%-80% efficient, and should probably be replaced in another couple of years. But the building envelope improvements we just completed will enable us to buy a smaller, super-efficient boiler when we make this next energy upgrade.

Is your house ready for winter? How well-prepared are you for a big chill and a major spike in energy prices? The best way to find out is to contact Dr. Energy Saver and schedule an energy audit. It feels a lot better to be able to welcome Old Man Winter, instead of dreading his arrival.

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