Home Insulation

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Home Insulation

I live in a home that was built in 1962 and we have wood floors that are pretty drafty. After hearing that the natural gas prices are going to rise dramatically, I was wondering if you or your readers have any ideas for cheaply insulating my home. Thank you!
Danielle F.

Ask for a Free Audit

Call your utility company and ask for a free audit. They will come out to your home and tell you where the "leaks" are and how to fix them. Also, if you qualify, they will insulate your home for you, for free.

Start Under the Floor

Floors are usually one of the least problematic areas of a house. To insulate them, go under the floor in the basement or crawl space to install bat insulation that is sold in home stores such as Lowes or Home Depot. The bats usually come with suggestions for installation.

Also, look in your attic to see how much insulation is there. Older homes almost always need more than what's there. How much more? Likely six to eight inches more. The objective is to have about 14 inches of insulation to reach an R-38 level. Check the exterior of your house and use caulk to fill small cracks that let in the cold.

An investment in a hot water heater insulating blanket or wrap is one of the best investments you are likely to ever make. For a $20 to $25 one-time purchase, you may get a return of as much as $1 a month! To help achieve this sort of return, spend about $2 on a six-foot length of foam pipe insulation to insulate the hot water line coming out of your hot water heater to the point the hot water pipe makes a 90-degree turn. Do this carefully as the pipe may be hot. Installation is so easy you will wonder why you did not do these two things years ago.

Cover Your Windows

I have always lived in houses that were over 50 years old and the drafts can be horrible! Here are a few things that I do to help out each year:

  1. Invest in the plastic that can be installed inside the house and tightened with a hairdryer. It's made by 3M. You just stick it to the rim of the window with the given adhesive, cut the plastic to fit, and then slowly tighten the plastic with a hairdryer. I decided not to do it one year because I didn't have the initial "investment" and didn't think it made much difference. After paying $350 to fill my tank, I went out and invested $100 in the plastic product, and over the following six months of cold weather, I saved over $100 a month on my fuel bill!
  2. Buy or make draft stoppers for all doors.
  3. I have sliding glass doors, and those are very drafty and cold. Each year, I buy clear plastic shower curtains, hang them up on a pole as insulation, and then hang king-size quilts over each set of doors. I found the quilts at a flea market. You can feel the difference in temperature if you put your hand behind the quilts!
  4. Keep your heat as close to 65 degrees as possible.
  5. Invest in throw rugs for hardwood floors. Places such as Wal-Mart or even Staples have relatively inexpensive ones. Or, hit a tag sale!
  6. Finally, go around your house on a windy day with a lit candle. Go to each window and door and watch for the flame to move with a draft. This will help you determine where you need the draft protection.

Mary in CT

Cover Floors with Carpeting

Drafty wood floors require carpeting during winter. A rug pad and carpet that covers as much of the area as possible will insulate the floors. You can find inexpensive remnants at discount stores, or a great way to find it for free is through Freecycle.org. Go to the website, find your area, and join for free by following the directions.

Switch Plates and Sockets

Don't forget to insulate your switch plates and sockets. Check with your electric company as to where you can get them. They are inexpensive. I got mine at a garage sale for 10 cents per package and they had never been opened. When I went to put them in the wall plate, I was shocked at all the cold air that was coming through the sockets and switch plates.

Warmer House for Less Money

I have learned that you can keep your house warm for a lot less money! For less than $20, you can buy enough plastic sheeting and masking tape to cover your windows from the inside. Just tape the plastic over the mini blinds, and you can run the cord for the blinds through a slit in the plastic. Pull your curtains shut, and drafts are gone. This is a lot cheaper than going out and getting into debt to replace all your windows, and if you have a window that would look really ugly if you covered it, skip that one!

Another great money saver is to buy as many oil-filled radiator space heaters as you can afford. We keep one in the living room, one in the hallway that our bedrooms open to, and one in the master bedroom since it's the biggest. Keep bedroom doors open at night, and hang curtains between different areas of the house to create different zones. Sealing off the living room with curtains lets us keep the heat in the living room when the fireplace is going, and keep the cold out of the rest of the house when it isn't. Opening the front door won't chill the whole house if you have those curtains up.

When we first did this, we actually hung bed sheets since we didn't have money for curtains. When you run across them at a good price, get nice velvet panels and use tension rods to hang them. You mentioned that your house was built in 1962. You probably don't have the dramatic landings, open floor plans, cathedral ceilings, etc. that the newer houses have. This will definitely help you a lot, since you'll be able to keep the heat in and not lose a lot to architectural dead spaces over everyone's heads.

Using those oil heaters overnight helped so much. It never got below 65 degrees overnight, and our power bill was actually lower than when we used the furnace. This type of heater just sits and heats, so there is no motor spinning and eating up power. Our kids are older, and we make sure to keep the heaters away from curtains, etc. Be safe! You could also use electric blankets or hot water bottles at night.

Also, if you haven't already, call and sign up for a flat rate plan on your natural gas! You can lock in rates for a year. If prices go up, it's the gas company's problem, not yours. If they drop next spring, you may pay a little higher until next fall, but how much gas are you going to use during the summer?

Turn Old Jeans into Draft Stoppers

Stop drafts by sewing long narrow tubes out of heavy fabric (recycling old jeans for this project would work great) and then fill with rice to make draft stoppers. Place them on the floor in front of drafty doors or on the sashes of drafty windows.

You can also save quite a bit of money by closing the heating grates, and doors to rooms that are not in use all the time. Only heat general living areas 24/7. Just using these two tips has saved me a lot on the utility bill for my house built in 1903.

Updated September 2013

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