Winterization Station

In the endless journey to green our homes, wintertime is often one of the most wasteful. We produce hot air through baseboard heat, wood stoves, furnaces, monitors or space heaters, then lose it through poorly insulated walls and roofs, outdated windows, and drafty doors. Toeing the line between frugality and sustainability, we're all faced with countless choices of how to hold desirable temperatures in and keep extreme temperatures out.

Changing windows is expensive and costs $133.88 per ton of carbon saved; changing to a programmable thermostat is cheap and comes in at $ 9.34 per ton of carbon saved. So before the vinyl window salesman tells you to fix your windows, do all of the cheap and effective stuff second—do all the free and effective stuff first.

Free Stuff
  1. Lower water heater temperature to 120°F
  2. Increase AC thermostat by 3°F
  3. Wash clothes in cold water
  4. Air dry clothes during summer
  5. Turn off unneeded lights
Just doing that will save 1600 tons of carbon and $250 per year.
Below is a winter checklist we can all follow to ensure we have a snuggly warm, green winter.

  • Keep them in the locked position (this seals them from the weather and makes them airtight in most cases)
  • Cover your windows with thermal curtains and/or blinds (this can block up to 80 percent of heat loss)
  • Use of window insulation: brand-name items from a store or cellophane or plastic bags
  • Stop the Air Leaks (with a savings of $10.77 per ton CO2 saved): In an old, pre-1945 house, the air leaks can add up to the equivalent of a hole in your wall 21 inches in diameter! Natural Resources Canada (NRC) says that in a house vintage 1946-80 the hole is 16 inches, and in a modern conventional home, 14 inches. When you think about it that way it becomes obvious that there is a lot of heat loss, it is like leaving a window open all winter. 
  • Heat-shrinking film (save 25.02 per ton of CO2 saved). The window salesman may tell you to replace those old wood windows, but they are often part of the character and charm of the house, the replacements are usually vinyl, and it costs a lot of money. Instead, look into a seal-and-peel caulk (wonderful stuff; no matter how bad you are at caulking it just peels off in the spring) and heat-shrinking film. There are also magnetic, interior storm windows but they cost much more money. Click here for application instructions.
Programmable Thermostat
Savings: $9.34 per ton CO2 saved
A setback, or programmable thermostat has the biggest bang for the buck of any single thing you can do; it costs only $9.34 per ton of carbon saved, and is getting better all the time as the price of the electronics drop. A setback thermostat can save up to 15 percent on your heating bill. For houses with radiant floors or old hot water radiator systems, there is a really slow response time because of the thermal inertia in the systems. I used to say that setbacks wouldn't work for these, but new thermostats track the performance of your heating system, figure out when to turn it on, and basically plan ahead. After all, nothing makes you want to jump under the covers than a cool house before you go to bed!

  • Insulate your water heater (save $12.66 per ton CO2 saved): You can buy kits at hardware stores that come with straightforward instructions; but basically you just wrap the insulating sleeve around your water heater.
  • Add attic insulation (save $15.56 per ton CO2 saved): Many houses have attics that are accessible via a hatch in the hall or a cupboard; if you have this, insulating your attic is not that hard, and delivers a good bang for the buck. You want about R-50 up there to prevent heat loss.
  • Install efficient showerheads (save $18.02 per ton of CO2 saved): Okay, this isn't exactly insulation. But it functions just like wrapping your water heater or insulating your hot water pipes in the basement. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notes that showers use about 17 percent of residential water use, totaling 1.2 trillion gallons per year. If you like long, hot showers, this is a great way to use less energy to heat the water, and less water in general. We have the Evolve shower head at Better Farm, which automatically shuts off when it reaches 98 degrees while you're getting ready to hop in the shower. 
  • Fill drafts and holes throughout your house. Look for light shining through the walls inside during the day or light shining outside during the night. On cold winter nights walk around in shorts and a tee shirt (or naked, we won't tell) and you'll certainly find cold drafts. Find these areas and insulate them however you can. Areas under doors can be controlled with a rolled up towel or rug over the opening. If the drafts around doors are especially bad consider purchasing foam insulation made to stop the draft in this area. An easy way to deal with this is to place masking tape over the cracks around the door each night, but this can be a pain.
  • Insulate your body! Wear sweaters, sweat pants, socks and slippers in your home and just let it be cold.

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.