Before you know it, winter will be here -- and so will some pretty outrageous heating bills. You may not realize it, but an estimated 40 percent of the average home energy bill is spent on heat -- and about 15 percent of that energy leaks out through cracks and other gaps.
Every winter, the energy equivalent of all the oil that flows through the Alaskan pipeline in a year leaks through American windows.
The gaps around the windows and doors of the average American home are the equivalent of a 3-by-3-foot hole in the wall. Think of the heat that escapes!
About 12 percent of U.S. emissions of the gases that cause acid rain come from the energy we use to heat our homes. So by heating inefficiently, we're actually harming the environment.
Since most of us have a few nice weekends left before winter comes, now is a good time to begin weatherproofing our homes. Here are some ways you can lower your heating bills:
* Caulk and weatherstrip your doors and windows. Cracks without any moving parts -- like the place where a wall meets the outside edge of a window frame -- can be sealed with caulk; use weatherstripping materials around doors and windows.
* Weatherstripping materials come in many styles. Some are self-sticking, so you don't even need a hammer to install them. Others have to be nailed on. Special "shoes" and "sweeps" are available for weatherstripping the space where the door meets the threshold. How can you find the places in your home that need caulking or weatherstripping? One way is to use a candle to look for drafts. On a windy day, hold the flame near the places you think might have cracks; if the flame flickers or dances, you've found a place to seal.
* Don't forget to check around electric switches and outlets. Gaskets are available that fit behind the switch plates and keep out a surprising amount of draftiness.
* Use window putty to seal loose window panes and hold them in place. You can find window putty (it's sometimes called glazing compound) at your hardware store.
* Get a furnace tuneup. Cracks in windows and doors aren't the only way we lose heat. A dirty or poorly adjusted furnace can increase your heating bill by 5 percent. That may not sound like much, but it does add up over time. The easiest way to get a tune up is to call a heating technician. He or she should do the whole job for around $40 to $60. If you own an oil furnace, you should have it tuned every year. If you own a gas furnace, you're in luck -- they only need to be tuned every other year.
If you're worried that winterproofing will keep fresh air out of your home, you needn't be. The average home gets twice as much ventilation as it needs, so you don't have to live in a stuffy house in order to keep your heating bills down. Now that's a breath of fresh air.