My neighbors think I’m insane.

Even though I came home the other week to snow, I’m still spending hours sitting on my porch.

I love my rocking chair that much.

I’ve also got a twisted sense of the seasons. Maybe it’s misplaced machismo, maybe it’s my limited way to combat an extraordinarily urban environment, but I always like to spend time outside when the weather changes.

I like to think sitting out in the cold thickens my blood… toughens my soul… and keeps me connected, in some small way, to the world around me.

That’s how I winterize my body.

Winterizing my house, however, is another matter.

While it feels cold out right now, the real deal is still on the way. Heck, the official start of winter doesn’t come for another two weeks.

If you haven’t prepared your house, that’s all right — there’s still time.

But you definitely should use that time to get to work. Because winterizing your house isn’t just about increasing efficiency and ensuring comfort…

It’s also a great way to save money.

Most estimates show winterizing saves you 20–30% on your heating bills alone. That’s well worth an afternoon of your time.

So let’s get started.

Make Your HVAC Tiptop

It’s likely you’ve already had to turn on the heat this season.

If you haven’t, go bump it up to 80 degrees for a bit and make sure everything kicks on without hiccups. The last thing you want is to discover your furnace is acting up when you actually need it.

But even if your heat system is working, unless you’ve done a thorough checkup, odds are good it isn’t running at peak efficiency.

Here’s a checklist to run through:

  • Replace your air filter. An old air filter won’t properly clean the air and requires more energy to push air through. While different systems require changes more or less often, you can be fairly sure you need to replace your filter every year. Surprise — most people don’t
  • Clean your heating vents. Everyone who cleans a house knows vents are full of dust. While you probably get everything that reaches the surface, there’s plenty more inside your duct work. Every year, it’s worth it to take off the vents and run a duster through as much of the duct as you can reach. And every few years, get your ducts professionally cleaned. It may feel like a waste to spend money on something you can’t see… but you’ll see the difference in your heating bills — well worth it
  • Check your exhaust vents. Depending what kind of system you have, your furnace may vent exhaust through a chimney or through a simple system of plastic pipes. Unfortunately, lots of animals like to make a home in those sorts of spaces. Make sure your exhaust vents are clear. A clean exhaust vent will run more efficiently… and in extreme cases, you ensure that no dangerous gases like carbon monoxide are being blocked and making their way back into your house.

Batten the Hatches

When I was young, if I dawdled at an open front door, I’d get reprimanded — “We’re not paying to heat (or cool) the whole neighborhood!”

Guess what? You’re probably doing exactly that. Because most houses are leakier than you’d think — especially older houses that haven’t been winterized recently.

Complete these items to make sure you’re only paying to heat your own home this winter:

  • Insulate your attic. Most houses start skimping when it comes to less-used areas like the attic. Which is why a shocking number of houses don’t have properly insulated attics. Yet since heat rises, the attic is exactly where most of your hot air escapes. This is probably the costliest item on this list… and the only one you can’t fit into an afternoon of work. But you only have to do it once (if it hasn’t been done already) and the energy savings over a few years will more than make up for the cost
  • Put weather strips around your windows and outside doors. Weather strips are very cheap — so easy to install you could get your 4-year-old niece to do a good job — and make a huge difference in how much air you’re leaking to the outside world. This one’s a no-brainer
  • Caulk like crazy. Weather strips do a great job blocking air leaks around openings. But to fill in leaks that develop around purpose-built openings, you need to caulk. That usually means around door and window frames. The good news is caulk is cheap and it’s easy to use once you get the hang of it. You should caulk at least every couple years — though many insist it’s worth it to make it an annual practice.

Protect Your Pipes!

When it gets cold, water freezes — and expands. Science.

But plenty of people forget they’ve got pipes full of water. Especially if they live in warmer climes, where it only dips below freezing a couple times a year.

Which is why every winter you’ll see water gushing down a street on a cold morning. Someone forgot to take care of their pipes… and they’re going to pay a massive price for the oversight.

That’s not going to be you.

  • Empty and turn off outdoor water pipes. Most every house will have some sort of shut-off valve for pipes that travel outside. Whether they are ground level — like to a hose hookup — or below ground, as they would be for a sprinkler system. Turn off that valve and open up the pipes to empty any water that’s in there. Once you’re down to a trickle, any leftover water that freezes won’t be able to do any damage
  • Insulate everything. If you don’t have a shut-off valve for outdoor pipes or hookups — or you need to keep using those systems through the winter — you can still protect your pipes by insulating them. There are purpose-built pipe insulators for a couple bucks at home improvement stores and slightly more expensive covers you can buy for hookups and faucets
  • Check the basement. While you’re at it, you should insulate all your pipes that carry water (and water heaters) — especially in your probably-very-cool basement. While indoor pipes are unlikely to freeze (you do leave the thermostat set to 50 when you’re away from home, right?) insulation still helps with efficiency. And hotter showers during those coldest months.

There are other more specialized things you might need to do — like protecting an outdoor garden — but this list gives you all the major tools you need to get your home ready for winter.

And make it one of the most affordable winters yet.

Unconventionally yours,

Ryan Cole

Ryan Cole
Editor-in-chief, Unconventional Wealth

P.S. Do you have any neat tricks you use to prepare your home for the cold winter months? Have you narrowly averted any disasters through good preparation? Or — worse — suffered a calamity that winterizing might have prevented? Let us know at feedback@unconventionalwealth.com — we’ll share some of the best tips and stories with everyone.

Ryan Cole

Ryan Cole is the editor-in-chief of Unconventional Wealth. He’s been covering the alternative investment space for nearly a decade and writing about finance and investment for almost 20 years.

Ryan has walked the walk for years, living a very unconventional life. He’s led snowmobile tours through the mountains of Colorado, settled in Japan for five...

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