Shovel And Insulate: Winterize Your Home


Winter is officially here. The good news: After your seasonal financial tuneup, there’s skating, snowflakes, and cocoa. The bad news: Homeowners and even renters have to help their homes fight cold and snow.

Here are five tips that will help you stay snug, safe, and cozy:

1. Keep Furnace Vents Clear.

Thanks to Jim Buchta of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune (there’s a picture of a furnace vent with the link) for this tip, which can be a matter not just of keeping warm, but keeping safe. Why? If you have a newer furnace, it may vent outside. And when that furnace vent becomes blocked with snow, and air can’t get in, your furnace might shut off—but if it keeps running, it could cause a dangerous, even deadly, carbon monoxide buildup. Fortunately the solution is easy: After a heavy snowstorm, shovel a couple of feet of space around the vent.

2. Shovel Your Front Walk And Sidewalk.

You may enjoy tromping through inches of snow (I do) but remember that not everyone is young and able—in most communities, it’s the property owner’s responsibility to clear the sidewalk in front of her house. That means if you’re a homeowner, it’s your responsibility. If you’re a renter, the landlord is supposed to do it; but you could offer to do this for your landlord in exchange for a small reduction in rent.

3. Use Salt Sparingly.

Sometimes you need to use salt as a de-icer (maybe to help with slippery front steps) but remember that environment-wise, it’s not the best move. Salt is very tough on dog paws; once the snow melts the salty runoff can get into the drinking water supply,; the use of salt will slowly break down surfaces including bricks and concrete. (After spending $11,000 to replace a driveway, I can vouch for that last one). Snow-blowing or pure shoveling is the best, when you can get away with it.

4. Cover Air Conditioners.

If you live in a place without central air, the tendency is probably to leave window air conditioners in place (especially if you live in an apartment, where you might not have room to store them). That’s fine, but you want to prevent heat from leaking around and through the units. The solution for this is to buy an air-conditioner cover—a sort of “cozy,” or big quilted sack, that you throw over your A/C on the inside. They run from about $10 to about $30, and they’re available at your local hardware store, Home Depot, or Bed, Bath & Beyond.

5. Watch The Convection Effect.

I live in an old building with baseboard heating right under the windows. That, unfortunately, is not the best place to put heat. A physical phenomenon knows as the convection effect occurs, and heat gets sucked straight out the windows. If you’re an owner, you can put in new windows to combat this—window insulation and glazing are much better than they used to be. You also might qualify for a tax credit, which I’ll discuss further in an upcoming column.

If you’re a renter, though, you’re not going to replace all your windows. However, you can do two things that will help. If you use a space heater, put it on the side of the room opposite the windows. You’ll still lose heat out of the windows, but at least the heat will warm the room on its way over. Also, you can make the windows act as little like glass as possible. Big, heavy, floor-to-ceiling drapes are best for this, but they might not have come with the house. Plus, they’re a little old-fashioned for some people. If you don’t want to make your place look like something from Rebecca, even layering short window treatments will help. We have loosely-woven wooden blinds over our windows, and we just put black-out shades underneath them; it’s made a tremendous difference.

  • Ben

    If you are going to shovel, use a silver bear snow scoop. Your back will thank you for it.

    • Anonymous

      thanks Ben, good tip!