How to Winterize your Home

We asked our members about how to winterize NYC homes, and here are their helpful replies... 


1. Get an energy audit.

"You should call for an Energy Audit.  I’m having ours done next Wednesday, I’m not sure of the cost yet but I believe it is covered by various incentives.  After the audit you can become eligible for incentives offered by National Grid and NY SERDA for up to 20% of the cost of any weatherization measures done.  We had a free audit done by a guy from National Grid who was knowledgeable but he was basically there to get people to take advantage of the weatherization incentives (which need an actual audit to qualify). My feeling is that no matter how much we spend on weatherization, we’ll get it back in lower heating bills."


2. Insulate any drafty places, like attics.

"The most important measure is probably insulating the attic and sealing any airspaces up there (If you insulate without sealing, you are basically creating a giant, expensive air filter).  If your house is a rowhouse, you probably aren’t losing too much energy from the walls."

Parent safety reminder: "Is your house ventilated?  You don’t want to start sealing everything up and not have enough clean ventilation."

"Put weather stripping, tissue paper, or even washcloths in areas where lots of air is coming in.  a flat blade plastic knife can help you get it wedged in."


3. Check and insulate windows.

"Are your windows in good shape?   Is there a lot of air infiltration? If so you could install drapes or storm windows in lieu of replacing them this year."

"For a quick and temporary solution, you can try using 3M weather tape around the windows.  We use it on our windows during the colder months and just carefully peel them off when we don't need them."

"They have window kits to insulate windows—basically sarah wrapping your windows; some folks say it will save you 30% or more on your heating bill). If the wind is really coming in and you can’t properly insulate you can push paper towels, felt or even or toilet paper in areas it’s blowing in. (Be careful about using that foam insulation as it can backfire and make a lot of extra work for you).                Note: if you’re looking for leaks use a piece of tissue in front of areas you think might be leaking."


...and consider replacing your window screens with storm windows.

As another parent writes, "Don't replace your windows with double- or triple-paned models; the ROI never materializes.  Good-old fashioned storm windows, aka clear plastic stretched over a wooden frame that you fit over the outside of your windows and staple in, are a much better solution.  Heavy drapes can cut drafts, too, if you don't have access to your exterior.  Shrink-wrap film tends not to work because a good strong breeze will create enough air pressure to pop the adhesive right off the window frame (and stapling it down won't help).  If you own your house, another option are European-style insulated roller-shutters.  They have varieties that open & close manually, but also automatically according to timer or light-level.  They have the ancillary benefit of making your place harder to break into. Blow-in or spray-in insulation are both fine, but don't go past R-38.  That's the maximum on the ROI curve and about 98% efficiency, and going beyond that will only gain you 2% and cost a whole lot more. Insulation, what they call "sealing the envelope of the house," is the best, most cost-effective way to accomplish your goal."

"[The above poster] is right that unless you have very airtight walls with good insulation, super efficient double- and triple-glazed windows won't help you and will likely be a waste of money. But if your walls are relatively "tight" and you have single glazed windows, even a cheap double-paned window with thermally broken frame would likely be better. Separate note, while expensive, double and triple glazed passive house type windows are REALLY good at blocking out street noise, if that is a concern. Most of them are made in Europe and since the Euro has not been doing well against the dollar, they are often more reasonably priced than they've been in the past because of the exchange rate.


4. Check water pipes/hot water heaters.

"Are your hot water pipes insulated near the boiler and hot water heater? Is your hot water heater insulated (put your hand on the top, if it’s warm, you should put on an insulation jacket (less than $20 from Lowe’s)."

If you have one super-hot room that is boiling and others freezing you can put aluminum foil around the coils in that room and it will help even out the temperature.


5. Weatherstrip exterior doors.


6. Seal cracks.

"My guy did things like seal the baseboard carcks (normal with settling over the years), seal the windows with plastic, cover the a/c (in mwall) units from the outside, etc."

"Tape (3M weather tape  or blue masking tape to keep from peeling the paint) around any doors, windows and even outlets/light sockets (they have special socket sealers) that are drafty. They have these at Leopoldi’s (5th Ave between 7th and 8th Streets)."

"Use “draft blockers” (or a tube sock full of rice) in front of the drafty door or windows."


7. Remove ACs.

"Upstairs in my son's room we had an a/c in the window and removed completely as well as sealing the baseboards and it was simply amazing how much warmer his room was afterwards."

"If you haven’t taken out your air conditioners make sure they are wrapped and not adding extra cold air."


8. Stay hydrated.

"This weather is a bear on your skin and hydration will help you feel warmer."


9. Get your gutters cleaned.

Did you know that clogged drains can cause ice dams and other water damage?


10. Check for leaks.


11. Utilize fans.

Use the reverse switch on your fan to circulate the warm air in the room.  As one parent writes "Reverse ceiling fans so it blows warmer air DOWN."

More on this: "If you have steam radiators (particularly steam) in a room that's too cold, place a fan to blow air onto the radiator at a moderate to low speed. This will cool off the radiator by putting that heat into the air. The cooler radiator condenses more steam giving you more heat.

It would be best to turn on and off the fan with the cycling of the boiler but this is really not necessary. Just keep the fan speed medium to low.

You can also use fans to move air from a hotter room to a colder one. Place the fan on the floor in the doorway or hall between the two rooms with the air blowing towards the hotter room.

Warm air rises and cooler air falls so you want to blow the cooler air from the bottom of the cooler room into the warmer room. Likewise, the warmer air from the top of the warmer room will move into the cooler room. This can create a very effective convection loop."


12. Keep throws and blankets in each room; have cozy sweatshirts and sweaters near by.


13. Using the oven will also warm up your place.


14. Put a big pot of water on to boil.

"More humidity makes it feel warmer and cuts down static electricity."


15. Use thicker curtains and drapes, and keep them closed.

Don't want to replace curtains? Get creative. As one parent writes, "D2 (9th and 5th Ave) has cheap curtain rods if you just want to put up blankets (they don’t have very thick curtains) over the next few days."


16. Move furniture away from windows and place them by interior walls.


17. Check smoke alarm batteries.


18. Check furnaces.

A dirty furnace filter makes it run less efficiently.


20. Shut off spaces that don't need to be heated.

Close a bathroom doors if the room is cold. AND/OR fill up the bathtub with hot water.

Keep closets closed—no need to heat those areas.


21. Exercise.

More circulation will make you feel warmer. Have a dance party with your kids.


22. Supplement your heat.

"Brooke’s Appliances (7th between 11th and 12th) has humidifiers and space heaters if you need. 718.832.0055. Tell them Susan Fox sent you. (They don’t have many—so you should get these sooner than later.) Leopoldi’s and Tarzian should also have these—as well as other appliance stores." Some safety tips with space heaters, etc:

  • Don't use a portable electric heater in rooms with running water (such as a kitchen or bathroom).
  • Keep the heater away from things that can burn, such as furniture, rugs or curtains.
  • Place heater level and on the floor so it won't tip over. Make sure no nearby items can fall onto the heater and ignite.
  • Avoid using ungrounded wiring or extension cords.  Space heaters should be plugged directly into an outlet. Always turned off when leaving a room or going to sleep. Space heaters are temporary heating devices and should only be used for a limited time each day.
  • Use electric blankets only if they have the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) Mark and are less than 10 years old. Electric blankets should not be used when sleeping.The use of kerosene heaters is illegal in New York City.


23. Finally, explore alternative modes of heating.

If you have a greater appetite for comfort and efficiency, it's worth checking into heat pumps for heating and cooling, radiant floor heating for heat distribution, and solar panels to run both (and supply your other power needs).  Brooklyn and the rest of Long Island have good subsoil for heat pumps; radiant heating is the most efficient way to heat a room and the loveliest experience (if you ever saw the scene in the Breaking Bad episode where the wife raves about the radiant floor, that's what it's like); and New York City has both good solar energy potential ("insolation") and pays the one of the highest rates in the nation for grid-supplied power (~$0.35/kwh). The upfront cost to do those things is higher, but if you switch from heating oil to the combo described it's common to see your energy bills drop from $4-5K/yr to a couple hundred bucks, so the break-even time is not long at all.  Some lending institutions offer green home equity loans to help finance such projects.  So after the 4-5 year break-even you can bank the savings for the 25 years in the rated lifespan of those systems and invest it in a college or retirement fund."


Related reading on Park Slope Parents:

Keeping Kids Safe From Radiators

Home Improvement and Handy Person Recs