Scrimp and Save

Winter is coming.

That is certain, but despite that Game of Thrones-like warning, it’s not too late to take steps to keep your home cozy and bright, to avert frigid hellscapes like frozen pipes bursting, and to save money this winter. All guides to winterizing seem to start with the premise that you’ve done a fantastic job of maintenance: your gutters are free of a buildup of dead leaves and branches; your roof inspection and subsequent repairs indicate that your flashing and shingles are on fleek; your storm windows are clean and installed.

Let’s start with a different, more realistic premise: that you’re like me (poor). Or maybe you want to do a reasonable amount of winterizing but not put forth an effort resembling Martha Stewart in an air-sealed cottage redolent of homemade mulling spices, or a Knight of the Watch atop a mile-high prepper wall. These are the guides for you then!

Do you feel reasonable? Follow the “R” approach to winterizing below. If not, follow the “L&P” guide, which is consistent with the philosophy that something is better than nothing.

R: If getting the tune-up made you feel kingly, call 1-877-856-2454 to schedule an in-home energy assessment with AEP. The one-hour assessment ($25) will qualify you for rebates, and you’ll receive advice about how to reduce your energy consumption. Also, you get free stuff like CFL bulbs and high-efficiency showerheads.

L&P: AEP also offers an online energy assessment that you can do while procrastinating. You can even take it instead of writing this guide! And they will still send you freebies at the end.

R: Check your insulation situation. Having adequate insulation in the attic will help to prevent ice dams from forming. Wrapping your pipes (wherever accessible) with foam will help to avoid freezing and bursting pipes. Tape the joints of your ductwork with metal-backed tape (ironically, not with duct tape) to seal leaks. Blanket your hot water tank with insulation.

L&P: At least reverse the direction on any ceiling fans to counterclockwise, so that hot air is circulated down to your lazy ass instead of up and away.

Fill a plastic bag with your favorite beer and poke as many holes in the bag as you  have outlets on your exterior walls. Ponder how quickly the beer went away. Sad. If only you had insulated your switch plates you could buy another beer with the money you saved.

R: If you have a chimney, you should consider installing glass doors (or even simply a piece of wood cut to fit and backed with insulation) to block drafts and prevent heat from escaping when you’re not having a fire. Another option is the chimney balloon. It sounds insane, but it’s simple to install, costs very little, and is highly effective at preventing the drafts that want to destroy everything we’re trying to accomplish here. (One blog claimed that chimney balloons prevent drafts and tennis balls from entering your home via your chimney. Who knew? I had not thought to prevent tennis balls this winter.)

L&P: Close your flue and/or damper. Leaving these open when no fire is burning is likened to leaving a window wide open—and that’s no way to prevent tennis balls.

R: Get a furnace tune-up. You’ll spend about $100 to lower your heating bills all winter, to keep your home warm, and to likely prevent an emergency call on some godforsaken night of howling, icy winds. No one thinks this is a bad idea. Installing a programmable thermostat can also save you a chunk of change. According to the DOE, turning your heat down by 10-15 degrees for eight hours will save you 5-15 percent on your heating costs annually, and a programmable thermostat removes human error.

L&P: Change the air filter in your furnace. Energy Star suggests changing the filter every month: it extends the life of your furnace, saves money, and improves the air quality. Try to remember to turn down the heat before going to bed and before you leave for work in the morning.

R: To keep out cold air, you’ll want to weather-strip your doors. Everyone knows this already. You might not know that caulking the gap at the top of your baseboards and insulating the outlets and switch plates on exterior walls will help to create an airtight envelope of warmth in your home, where you can cradle the money you saved like the precious baby it is. These seem like small points of entry and maybe not worth your time, but fill a plastic bag with your favorite beer and poke as many holes in the bag as you have outlets on your exterior walls. Ponder how quickly the beer went away. Sad. If only you had insulated your switch plates you could buy another beer with the money you saved.

L&P: Train your cat or dog to lie against the draft under the door. Also, fill up your old stockings with dried rice and use these to block drafts if you have more drafts than pets. Locking your windows in winter will also help, given that often the top pane doesn’t create the tightest possible seal when merely closed. This is especially important for hung-sash windows.

R: If you have single-pane windows or older windows, you may want to hang thermal curtains or to install plastic wrap over windows (and even doors) that you won’t open until spring. Installing rope caulk around old window frames will keep your windows from rattling and will provide good insulation. Rope caulk, unlike regular caulk, is easy to install or remove and requires few tools.

L&P: Use bubble wrap (bigger bubbles are better) to insulate your windows. You can buy rolls of bubble wrap for very little money (like, under $10) and you “install” it by spraying the window with water and sticking the bubble wrap to it. The bubble side goes toward the glass. The bonus is when your friends come over and you don’t want to seem lazy and poor—hey presto!—just peel and hide your bubble wrap.

R: Twenty to 30 minutes of preparation will make the first snowfall slightly less painful. Spray your snow shovel blades with WD-40, move your snow blower to an accessible location, buy a bag of salt, put a scraper for your car by your front door. Also, trim any tree branches that hang over your power lines while the weather is still sweet and gentle. Make sure your downspouts take your gutter water several feet away from your foundation.

L&P: Make sure that you have an expired credit card or CD from a band you hate at hand, so that you can go through your annual ritual of futilely trying to chip through the glacier encasing your car with inferior tools. Do not congratulate yourself for your foresight in keeping these in your car, where you will be unable to get them because your car door is iced shut.

KEY: There’s two ways to prepare for winter, and as it turns out, neither one of them are wrong. Are you Reasonable (R) or Lazy & Poor (L&P)? Follow this specialized key to success!