• Links go to full, non-mobile site.
Follow Us on FacebookFollow Us on TwitterFollow Us on YouTubeFollow Us on LinkedIn


    My Old House: 3 Ways to Prepare for Winter

    Owning an older home comes with many joys and challenges. Character and craftsmanship come at a price, and that price is paid in the R-Value of single pane windows and uninsulated walls. You don’t have to watch helplessly as your heating bills skyrocket. With simple maintenance and planning you can save yourself a considerable amount of money and frustration.

    Share it:
    Share Share Share Share

    1. Batten Down the Windows

    There is no getting around it: Original single pane windows suck the heat out of older homes. While you can’t stop this heat loss entirely, you don’t have to choose between cost and comfort. There are many relatively inexpensive ways to reduce heating costs without sacrificing your first born for Low-E replacement windows.
    • Window Insulating KitsHere is an example. These kits are effective at first, but involve a lot of measuring, cutting, and double sided tape. If you have unpainted wooden windows, this tape can peel off the finish/patina that in some cases takes years to develop. Also, if you zone heat or burn a fireplace or stove the changes in heat will eventually release the plastic from the tape, and it is very difficult to replace.

    • Window Insulating FilmHere is an example. Unlike the insulating kits above, this film is direct contact; no tape needed. It filters sun in the summer, and claims to prevent up to 55% of heat loss in the winter. Two areas for concern, though. Older homes tend to have a lot of windows and filtering the sun can reduce the passive heat gain experienced during the day. Also, older homes tend to have “wavy” glass windows, with many imperfections. This can cause contact film to quickly detach.

    • Insulating Drapes and Window CoveringsHere is an example. Sometimes Grandma knows best. Of the three solutions listed here, layered/insulated drapes have proven the most successful in my experience. Not only are they an attractive addition to any home, but a thoughtful layering of window-to-floor sheer polyester, insulating, and decorative drapes have provided the most comfort and cost savings. Open the windows covering during the day to collect passive solar heat, and close them at night to prevent loss.

    2. Seal the Cracks

    The glass in your old windows loses heat, but there are many other small ways that precious warmth can exit your home. If it’s not the glass itself, it could be gaps in the frame, a poorly sealed door, or plumbing and utility runs. These simple tricks can help resolve this invisible heat sink.
    • Spray FoamHere is an example. Spray foam is my favorite home improvement product of all time. Easy to use, effective, versatile, and cheap, spray foam can seal gaps in your plumbing, heating, and electrical runs from room to room and the entry points into the house. The foam expands to fill every crevice, and then hardens to keep the seal. Word of advice: If you want to shape spray foam, wait for it to harden and then cut it with a utility knife. Attempting to manipulate it like caulk creates a messy, unattractive disaster.

    • Clear Silicone Sealant – Old wooden windows and doors can shrink over time, leading to gaps, drafts, and eventually rot. This happens to a more severe extent when windows and doors are moored to brick or stone. Clear silicone sealant is virtually indestructible, lasts longer than caulk, and unlike white or colored latex sealant it won’t deface your exterior paint. Word to the wise: Silicone is requires acetone for clean-up, and not all “clear” sealants are created equal.

    • Weather StrippingHere is an example. Doors are another loss leader in the heat department. It’s the one part of your house that constantly opens and closes during the coldest winter days, and if you’ve ever walked barefoot in your home you’ve felt the draft created by a poorly sealed entryway. Weather stripping is easy to apply, relatively cheap, and can greatly reduce heat loss. It is available in many varieties, from plastic stripping that uses adhesives (easy but temporary), to metal versions applied with finishing nails (more difficult but last for years).

    3. Heat Wisely

    Older homes are notoriously difficult to heat. Old hot water systems are slow to warm and quick to overheat, leaving you in a constant state of frozen sweat. The fact is older homes don’t take well to modern methods of heating, with those new fangled programmable thermostats or some-such. Making a few adjustment can help increase comfort and reduce costs.
    • Space/Zone HeatingHere is an example. Space heaters can heat rooms for $8 a day or less. Instead of heating your entire home to 70° F, set your thermostat to 55° F or 60° F and use high quality space heaters in the room you’re occupying. An hour before bed, turn on a space heater in your bedroom(s). By the time you go up the room with be toasty warm, and you could save hundreds every month. Do you hear that? It’s the silence you enjoy when your whole house heater isn’t burning a hole in your bank account…

    • Heater Maintenance – According to the maintenance history, my boiler is only 9 years old. It was serviced in 1993, and then again when I bought the house in 2006 and every year since. Between those dates it apparently did not exist. Old houses often come with old heaters, and without proper maintenance they can lose efficiency and even fail, or worse the exhaust could fail and endanger your family. Perhaps the best option is to replace Ol’ Betsy with a newer, more efficient luxury model, but I prefer to spend my money on more important things, like my mortgage, day-care, cigars, and bourbon. Most utility companies offer relatively low cost maintenance plans and include parts and service. If you have an old heater, these plans will likely pay for themselves in short order.

    • Thermostat: Set it (Low) and Forget It – Old hot water systems, with those decorative cast iron radiators we love so much, have a high “thermal mass” . This means that they take a lot of time and energy (money) to heat, but also retain their heat very well. Programmable thermostats were designed with forced air systems in mind, not hot water and iron. If you have an old hot water system, this means your programmable thermostat could be costing you money by making your boiler work overtime, and not saving it. Keep your thermostat setting constant, and low, and your boiler will not have to work as hard to maintain the temperature.

    • Bundle Up – The best heater in your home is you, pumping out a toasty 98.6° F 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. So put on a sweater and some long johns and act like it’s winter instead of wearing athletic shorts in the dead of January like a crazy person…Sorry, I think I just channeled my Mom for a second.

    Share your strategy for preparing for winter below!

    I’ve found these tips and tricks helpful when preparing my home for our brutal winters in the Northeast, and I hope you’ll find them helpful as well. That said, I’m sure there are many more ways to smartly seal an older home for the winter. Please share your strategy below! Stay warm, everyone.

    Kurt Miller • Account Executive Manager

    Kurt joined TREND in 2006 as an Account Executive. Kurt is currently the Account Executive Manager. He contributes to the TREND community by writing news stories, as well as providing his expertise through personal office visits and training. Learn more about our Account Executives...

    Share it:
    Share Share Share Share

    1 - 2 of 2 Comments
    Kathleen Byrne
    11/7/2014 12:48 PM

    Great, easy-to-implement fixes. Thanks. I think a post-script should be added, however: those of use who are fortunate to have a warm place to lay our heads, be mindful of our less fortunate neighbors. Donate those old coats, hats, sweaters and gloves. Giving back leaves a pretty warm feeling, too!

    Nicholas Donahee
    11/7/2014 9:47 AM

    Great tips, and great information. Thank you, Kurt!

    1 - 2 of 2 Comments
    How Can We Help?
    Support Center
    Mon. - Fri. 8:00 AM - 8:00 PM
    Sat. - Sun. 9:00 AM - 6:00 PM
    Phone: 1-844-55-BRIGHT
    Fax: 610-783-4699
    Email: Send us an email
    Bright MLS
    P.O. Box 37093
    Baltimore, MD 21297-3093