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Cold winters are a grind on your HVAC equipment and your finances. There are things you can do to make your home more resilient and energy efficient in very cold weather, and most are easier than you’d think.

To help explain the finer points of preparing your home for winter, we’ve enlisted the help of Wrex Lindsay, owner and CEO of Odin Energy, a Pearl Network Contractor specializing in energy audits and solar and HVAC installations. Lindsay grew up in Utah, which in 1985, recorded two record temperatures — a cold of -69 degrees and a high of 117 degrees. These days, Lindsay calls Arizona home, but when it comes to creating a winter-proof home, he knows what to look for. Here are his tips for ensuring your home weathers the cold no matter what.

Keep the Drapes Open During the Day

When the sun shines into an enclosed space, it creates heat. How much depends on a bunch of factors, but there is a formula if you feel like channeling your inner-Einstein. Creating heat gain in your house in winter places less stress on your furnace or boiler. “If it’s a sunny day in the winter, you want to make sure you’re getting that heat gain by opening the drapes,” says Lindsay. “But at night you want to shut those drapes and keep the heat in.”

In the summer, whether you’re in Arizona or Massachusetts, the same formula works in reverse. “In most markets, the AC unit is the biggest electricity consumer in the home,” says Lindsay. “The more heat we’re bringing into the house, the more we’re going to have to run the AC unit, which is going to cause higher electricity bills and a larger carbon footprint.”

Get a Smart Thermostat and Find the Sweet Spot

Monkeying with the thermostat can be a money-saving tool. To come up with the right number, consider these questions: “What’s your comfort level?” asks Lindsay. “What’s your power bill threshold, and how much flack do you want to take from your spouse?”

In Arizona the utility rates change with the time of day, a system known as time of use, which causes some residents to use supercooling, a DIY solution to reducing energy costs. “I know hundreds of homeowners who do this,” says Lindsay. They’ll cool down a house several degrees cooler than what they like before 3 p.m. and then shut off their AC unit from 3-8 p.m. That’s when things like closing the drapes really comes into effect.” Electricity rates double from 3-8 in some parts of Arizona. California and Massachusetts currently use time of use rates, which can also affect energy costs in the winter if your house uses electric resistance heating.

Programmable thermostats became more popular after the energy crisis of the 1970s to save energy and cut expenses. Today’s smart thermostats have taken things to new levels. “The nice thing about smart thermostats is you set them and forget them,” says Lindsay. “A lot of them can use the recommended settings from the utility company. Some have sensors, so if nobody is home, they can be adjusted up, so you’re not cooling the house when nobody’s in it.” Lindsay estimates the potential energy savings from a smart thermostat to be between 10%-20% of the energy bill.

Find and Fix Your Home’s Leaks

A home’s resiliency is defined by its building envelope, which includes walls, roof, basement, doors, and windows. The envelope can be tested via a blower door test, in which a large fan is placed in a sealed-off front door as the house is depressurized. “It measures cubic feet per minute and air changes per hour,” says Lindsay. “It mimics a 50-mph wind and measures the leakage.” The results from a blower door test will help you figure out the biggest threats to your home’s resilience so you can make the correct adjustments.

The attic is always a likely suspect. “By insulating your attic, you’re preventing heat loss in the winter or you’re preventing heat gain from the attic in the summer,” says Lindsay. His firm also recommends sealing the attic floor around light and plumbing fixtures.

Replace Inefficient Windows and Doors

Maybe. If you’ve ever priced new windows, you already know they’re expensive. The price depends on window type, geography, and framing material. Architectural Digest pegs the average cost at $700 per window. The DOE says, “heat gain and heat loss through windows are responsible for 25%-30% of residential heating and cooling energy use.” A blower door test will reveal how leaky your windows are.

Estimates vary widely about what new windows can save in energy costs. If you go with ENERGY STAR® windows, you can expect about 12% savings on your energy bills. “It may not change your energy bill much,” says Lindsay, “but you will get better comfort, better aesthetics, and better home value, especially if it’s Pearl Certified.”

Lindsay and other experts believe there’s plenty of good reasons for getting new windows. “Will they increase the value of your home? I think they do,” says Lindsay, as does appraiser and high-performing home expert Woody Fincham, who recommends upgrading windows and doors as one of five high-value upgrades you can make to your home to increase appraisal value.

Related Post: Pearl’s Guide to Energy-Efficient Windows

Upgrade Your HVAC Before It’s Too Late

You probably don’t want to think about this until the current system breaks, but you should. “Your HVAC system is creating the vast majority of your energy consumption,” says Lindsay. “If you have a 30-year-old unit and every winter you’re white-knuckling it, or if you’re really struggling with monthly energy bills, it’s time to think about replacement.”

Your Pearl Certified HVAC techs have various consumption monitoring gadgets in their toolbox that will reveal if your equipment is operating correctly. To make your home more energy resilient through all kinds of weather, consider a review of your home’s envelope and equipment by bringing in a Peal Network professional for a checkup. 

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