The Best Ways to Winterize Your Home

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With temperatures dropping, Americans across the country are reaching for the thermostat.  However, Old Man Winter doesn't just knock at the door—he sneaks in through a myriad of other ways.  Taking a few easy steps to winterize your home can keep you warm inside and your heating bills low.

Though gas prices have come down from a late summer high, that doesn't mean heating your home will be cheap this winter.  According to the Energy Information Administration, U.S. households will spend 15.3% more on heating expenses this winter than last winter, up to $1,137 per household.  

There are big steps you can take to cut back on that 15.3% increase, like installing a new energy efficient furnace, but there are also small things you can do that can yield big benefits. Here are some easy and low (or no!) cost ways to winterize your home.

Snuggle Your Hot Water Heater
Everyone knows a blanket wrapped around their body can help stave off a cool night.  But blankets aren't just for humans.  Wrapping a blanket around your hot water heater can reduce heat loss by 25-44%, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, which will save you around 4-9% of your water heating costs.  
To-Do Tip: Be sure to choose an insulating blanket with an insulation rating of at least R-8.  
Cost: $10-20

Plug That Leak
Using weather strips can keep the cold air out and save you money keeping indoor temperatures snuggly.  Don't look at just doors and windows, but also outlets and recessed lighting for leaks.  Use self-adhesive weather stripping ($5.33 for 17 feet at Lowe's) on the interior of windows and doors for an easy installation.
To-Do Tip: To find leaks in your windows, doors and other potential gaps, walk around your home on a breezy day with a lit incense stick.  
Cost: $6 per door and $3 per window

Reverse Ceiling Fans
Most modern fans come with a switch that reverses the rotation of the fan so that instead of cooling you by pushing air down, it creates an updraft.  This displaces the warm air gathered at the top of your living room (Warm air rises! Thanks third grade science!) and pushes it back out into the living space.  This simple click of a switch can cut heating costs by as much as 10%.  
To-Do Tip: After reversing the fan's direction, turn it on at a low speed which moves air slowly, for best warming results.
Cost: Nothing

Gut Your Gutters
Get out the ladder and see what leaves, feathers and other debris have collected in your gutters.  If your gutters are clogged, the water that normally flows out will be forced to find an alternate route to escape, including through cracks and holes in your walls and ceilings.  Clogged gutters can also freeze over and cause ice dams, which can cause water to seep back into the house instead of draining down and away.  
To-Do Tip: Don't forget to check the downspouts with a flashlight.  Use a hose to force down any debris that has collected in the downspout.  
Cost: Nothing

Check the Flue
No, you don't have to hire a chimney sweep to save money here, though the Chimney Safety Institute of America recommends that you have your chimney inspected once a year at minimum.  But there's a simple way to cut down on heating costs: close up your flue when not in use.  By making sure the damper is closed when there's no fire in the hearth, you'll close one of the biggest leaks in your house: the chimney.  
To-Do Tip: Wait a day after a fire has gone out before closing the damper to let the fire fully settle.
Cost: Nothing

Unblock Vents
You wouldn't block your fireplace with a couch, so why is that hamper in front of the heating vent?  Keep the spaces in front of your vents free and open so that the warm air flows and circulates easily through your house.  
To-Do Tip: Sweep, mop or vacuum the areas around the vents weekly to keep the exterior clean and to cut down on dirt finding its way inside the vent.
Cost: Nothing

Face Your Windows

In the long run, energy efficient windows can save you big bucks, but the up front cost runs $600-700 a pop  To get a similar effect, but without dropping that kind of dough, consider low-emissivity (low-e) window film ($35 for 45 sq. feet at Lowe's.)  According to a study done by 3M Window Film Solutions, Low-E window films can retain up to 30% of heat lost through normal windows.   
To-Do Tip: Be extra careful when applying the film to avoid bubbles and wrinkles on your window.  
Cost: $12 per window

Of course, if this all sounds like too much work for you, you can always follow Dad's foolproof advice: Put on a sweater!

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