Home Winterizing Tips

As the temperature drops outside, the cost of staying warm inside is rising... and those drafty window frames don't help. Michele Norris speaks with Tim Carter for some practical tips on keeping heating costs down in the winter. Carter runs the Web site askthebuilder.com.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

While home prices may not be rising so fast, the same cannot be said about the price of heating a home. Homeowners who use natural gas to keep warm can expect as much as a 70 percent increase in their bills this year. Prospects aren't much better for those who use home heating oil or even electric heat. We thought if you haven't done it already, this holiday weekend might provide time to do something to trim your heating costs. So we called Tim Carter of AsktheBuilder.com. He's in the business of offering such advice.

Mr. TIM CARTER (AsktheBuilder.com): The first thing I do is I go over and I look at their thermostat. And I've done audits like this before. And if I see the thermostat set at 72 or 74 and even sometimes 75, I tell the people, `We need to turn this back right now.' If it's not a programmable one, we're going to put one in. You want to keep that thermostat down as low as you can tolerate. Wear extra clothes. Wear a hooded sweatshirt. Wear socks. Wear more sweaters. Wear long underwear while you're inside your home. You would be shocked how warm you can be if the temperature's only 60 degrees.

NORRIS: To make sure your house is warm inside, I guess you need to make sure that the cold air stays outside. Does that mean going through your house and looking for all those places where air might sneak in?

Mr. CARTER: That's correct. Air leaks are probably the biggest thief of energy dollars, and you'd be surprised how just little leaks around windows and doors, they start to add up. In other words, if you have three or four doors in your home and you have 10, 15 windows and you start to add up how much of that cold air is coming in, if you block and stop it, once again you start to save money. And caulk is a pretty inexpensive tool to stop those leaks.

NORRIS: You know, the caulk that you're talking about, is this the kind of thing that the average person can do or is it difficult, so that you don't wind up looking like you have a--sort of a big thread of toothpaste around the edge of your window?

Mr. CARTER: Michele, caulking is really one of the simplest things that people can do and it's--you can get professional results. The key is to watch how big you cut the tip of the end of the caulk tube. Just put a little bit on as you go and wipe the excess off with your finger. And make sure that you buy one that says acrylic or paintable. Those caulks are water-soluble and as soon as you take the excess off with your finger if you follow right behind with a damp sponge you'll wipe up all the excess from that smear and it'll look beautiful. In fact, if you do it right, you won't even know that you caulked it.

NORRIS: Are there less obvious places where air might sneak in--dryer vents, the place where the cable cord enters the house?

Mr. CARTER: Yes, there are all kinds of little, what I call, energy thieves all around a house. In fact, houses that have vinyl siding, wood sidings and things that overlap the foundations, you can have massive air leaks that actually come from underneath the walls and where the actual subfloor sits on top of the foundation. So you might--if you do have a basement or a crawl space, I would recommend on a windy day go down and try to investigate and see if you feel drafts. And if you do, try to go ahead and seal them from the inside if at all possible. Use traditional strips of Fiberglas insulation to try to stuff into any cracks that you might see. If it's cold outside already, you're not going to be able to caulk efficiently because the caulks can actually freeze, and that's not a good thing.

NORRIS: Are there unusual things that you suggest people do, things that might--that people might not think of on their own?

Mr. CARTER: Well, one of the best products that has incredible promise are what I call radiant barriers. And radiant barriers, they're just what they say. They actually reflect heat back to the source. And insulation is different. All that insulation does, it slows the transfer of heat. So a radiant barrier--a great example of this, maybe a lot of people used just recently. If you take a piece of aluminum foil and you cover a hot dish, you'll notice immediately that it reflects the heat right back to the hot food. Well, imagine if you had a really great radiant barrier up in your attic that was actually bouncing the heat that's leaking up through your attic and it took it and put it right back into your house. Those are wonderful type products. I love the radiant barriers.

NORRIS: So is it some sort of sheeting that you lay on top of the insulation in an unfinished attic?

Mr. CARTER: That's exactly right, Michele. It's--they come in rolls and I have seen prices on the Internet that can range anywhere from 40 cents a square foot up to 80 cents and maybe a little higher per square foot.

NORRIS: Tim Carter is a home repair expert who runs the Web site called AsktheBuilder.com. He spoke to us from WMUB in Oxford, Ohio.

Tim, it was great talking to you.

Mr. CARTER: Thanks. Bye-bye.

NORRIS: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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