Tips on saving energy at home this winter

It’s that time of year again when homeowners brace themselves for low temperatures … and high heating bills. According to the Alliance to Save Energy, a nonprofit group that promotes energy efficiency, the average U.S. household will spend nearly $1,000 on home heating this winter. If you’re concerned about the impact on your budget – not to mention the environment – then now is the time to take some simple, affordable steps to save energy.

The first step is to identify the drafty places where warm air escapes: windows, doors, attics, etc. There may be more than meets the eye, so check with your energy provider for hints and help. Then it’s a matter of picking up some modern insulating products at your hardware store and (if you can) installing them yourself. More and more of these products today are made using plastics and plastic foams since they usually are lightweight, long lasting and easy to handle.

Priority area number one: if you have a chimney, it’s likely one of the primary areas for heat loss. Large amounts of warm air can escape up a chimney, even with the flue closed – making a room with a fireplace colder than the rest of the house.

An innovative new plastic product known as a “chimney pillow,” “fireplace plug” or “chimney balloon” is a nifty solution. You simply inflate a tough, durable plastic bag that fits snugly inside the chimney, forming a plug that can dramatically reduce airflow while the fireplace isn’t in operation. After installation, the pillow’s inflation tube hangs down into the fireplace to remind you to remove it before lighting a fire.

The next place to check is your attic. If the insulation is compressed or simply lacking, you can cut lightweight sheets of plastic foam insulation to fit the spaces, helping trap warm air inside and keep cold air out. Hardware pros can recommend the right foam sheets for your project. Or consider hiring professionals to install spray polyurethane foam insulation.

If your home’s windows and doors are aging, now is a great time to upgrade to new, snug-fitting replacements made with vinyl plastics. These windows and doors usually are filled with lightweight polyurethane foam insulation, and the plastic frames form a seal and barrier to diminish unwanted airflow, which cuts down on energy use. They are often more affordable than alternatives and are relatively easy to install – either by professionals or on your own if you’re handy and have the right tools. For more information and helpful tips visit

If replacing windows and doors isn’t in your budget, there still are some easy and inexpensive ways to improve insulation. Applying flexible, plastic-based caulks around the inside and outside of frames can significantly reduce the amount of warm air that escapes. You also can purchase a polyurethane foam sealant that expands to fill cracks – it’s usually sold in a can with a flexible tube applicator that makes it easy to use. And one of the simplest and most cost-effective ways to improve insulation? Simply install plastic foam weather stripping around frames of windows and doors.

Warm air often escapes through less obvious places, such as wall switches and outlets. Precut, inexpensive plastic foam insulation sheets fit securely under the plate cover to cut down on airflow. You also can use the canned plastic foam sealant outdoors to create a seal around your clothes dryer vent and water bibs.

A few simple, affordable insulation projects around your home can lead to some significant savings on your energy bill this winter. Or spend a little more now on larger projects for increased, longer-term savings. Either way, start now to identify those drafty spots … and do your budget and the environment a favor.


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