8 Steps to Get Your Home Ready for Chicago Winter

chicago winter homeownersSorry to rain on your parade, but winter is around the corner. (Or shall we say—snow on your parade?) All jokes and puns aside, if you’re a homeowner anywhere in Illinois, you should be in the midst or preparations. By the way, here’s a fun fact: Chicago’s Streets & Sanitation begins discussing snow plowing strategy in July…

Here are a few things to make for an easier transition into the cold.

1.  Do an energy audit.

A home energy audit is often the first step in making your home more efficient. Yes, energy audit sounds serious, tedious, boring and unnecessary. You may even think that only a big company or an office space needs it. But if you’re serious about savings and (and being warm in winter) you should at least consider it. If you’re going to hire a professional auditor, good for you. You’re taking this seriously. A lot of what they’re going to be telling you is applicable to this time of year, to protect you against a cold winter. And what’s nice about doing it now is they use an infrared gun to detect heat leakage, and it’s a lot easier getting a good reading when it’s cooler outside.

If you have a few minutes and your last 12 months of utility bills, you can use the ENERGY STAR Home Energy Yardstick to compare your home’s energy efficiency to similar homes across the country and get recommendations for energy-saving home improvements from ENERGY STAR.

2. Seal air leaks.

Shutting down air leakage is probably going to have the biggest effect, and it’s the kind of thing you can do incrementally. The second would be adding insulation. If you have R18 insulation value, turn it into R36. This is where your energy audit will be helpful.

And the third is making sure your roof is vented properly, if your house is designed to have a vented roof. Make sure your soffit vents aren’t blocked, your gable vents are open.

3. Service the system. 

No matter what type of heating system you’ll be relying on this winter (furnace, wood stove, boiler, heat pump, etc.), it’s important to have your system cleaned and serviced. Get the chimney cleaned if you’ll be burning wood or pellets. Have an HVAC contractor clean and check over your furnace, boiler or heat pump. Dirt is the #1 cause of system failure when it comes to HVAC equipment.

4. Put away outdoor gear.

You’ve been pushing it and lingering outside in your backyard as late as possible into the season. It’s now time to scrub down all your patio furniture and either cover it, or store it away. Similarly, your grill might need a good cleaning. You don’t want to wait until it’s 30 below and your hose is frozen solid.

5. Get your windows ready.

Do what you have to do to get those holes caulked up, and prevent cold air from coming in. Upgrade to heavier curtains in anticipation, or seal up windows with one of the many temporary products designed to increase energy efficiency.

6. Invest in the attic. 

Taking advantage of rebates for weatherization work, we had our attic air-sealed and insulated with 16 in. of blown-in cellulose insulation. Instead of the minimal protection provided by fiberglass batts (about R-19), our attic now has a thicker blanket of protection (about R-60) that really helps our house hold its heat. Convection is a powerful force. It propels hot air balloons up into the atmosphere, and it causes the warmest air in your house to escape into the attic. Sealing leaks in the attic floor and upgrading attic insulation will improve your comfort and your bank account. Incentives for insulation upgrades are still available. To see what programs apply in your area, visit the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (www.dsireusa.org).

7. Improve the basement and/or crawl space. 

Whether your house has a basement, a crawl space, or both, this subterranean space is a major source of air infiltration that compromises comfort and energy efficiency. At a bare minimum, you’ll want to air-seal the rim joist area that rests on the top of the foundation wall. This is a major source of cold air infiltration during winter months. Spray foam does a good job in this area, but it can take a lot of this expensive foam to completely seal the perimeter of your basement or crawl space. Also consider insulating basement walls with rigid foam to further reduce heat loss.

8. Upgrade the main entry. 

Check the weatherstripping on your main entry door. If you can see a sliver of daylight at any point around the door, or if you can feel a draft coming in around the edge, you need new weatherstripping. Bring a piece of the old weatherstripping to your hardware store or home center so you can get identical new material. Consider installing a good-quality storm door for an even better energy upgrade.

Photo credit: Diana Nguyen