Winterizing cuts costs even for those who lease their living space


December 29, 1990|By Charlyne Varkonyi

Homeowners aren't the only ones who should be trying to do their best to slice their heating bills this winter.

As political problems in the Middle East continue to affect heating oil prices, renters have an increasing stake in winterizing their homes against the season's icy wrath.

Obviously, those renters who care the most about escalating bills are those who see the waste when they pay their own heating costs. But even if the landlord pays your heat now, it's likely you will have to pay later when the lease expires. And, since the Arab oil embargo of 1973, many landlords have included a fuel escalator clause in the lease -- a loophole that allows a surcharge in addition to your monthly rent if heating costs are higher than they were when the lease was signed or last renewed.

Although energy loss can occur in old or new construction, the biggest problems occur in Baltimore's old apartment buildings and houses that have leaky wooden windows and sparse, if any, insulation. In fact, experts estimate that 40 percent of the energy dollar can be wasted on heating outside air that infiltrates into the living space.

Whether you pay for increased heating costs now or later, the goal is the same. Winterizing should be as cheap and as easy to install as possible.

But where do you start? We went to a pair of energy audit experts for help -- Bob Martin, a conservation specialist with Baltimore Gas and Electric, and Mick Vogt, grants administrator for the Baltimore Jobs in Energy Project, a non-profit group that creates jobs, conducts energy audits and offers weatherization for low- and moderate-income homeowners.

Although some energy saving materials suggest that you test for air infiltration by holding a lighted candle near the cracks of doors and windows on a breezy day, the candle test is not recommended because it can turn into a fire hazard around draperies. Instead, just put your hand in front of the cracks around doors and windows and feel whether air is coming in.

Leaky windows

If your windows are leaking cold air into your house or apartment, you need to set up a dead air space between the glass and the room. The more sealing you do, the better.

First, start by putting rope caulk or caulking cord in all the cracks where air can come through. It isn't permanent; rope caulk can easily be pulled off when the season changes.

Use strips of foam, rolled newspaper or towels in the section where the upper and lower part of the window sash meets. If the windows don't lock, they are probably leaking air.

Finish the window with a window sealing kit. Typically, the kits include adhesive-backed plastic strips that attach to the wall or window frame, and transparent plastic sheets that are held in place with the strips. Although this is energy efficient, the look of the plastic would send a decorator into hysteria. You may need to rehang your curtain or drape rods so the plastic can be hidden when the drapes are closed.

"You cannot stop the heat loss, but this will retard heat loss through the glass," says Mr. Martin. "If you do not caulk the window, you will lessen the effect of the plastic. Cold air will still be able to pass through the glass and the plastic. And heat will be carried through the glass."

Poorly hung and leaky doors

Check doors leading to the outside or to unheated areas and look for areas where you can see daylight. If you see the outside, you need weatherstripping.

"I wouldn't rehang a door in an apartment," says Mr. Vogt. "But you can weatherstrip. It will cost you less than $10 per door and you can get your money back the same year. You can save up to $30 a winter."

Some city apartments have old wooden French doors that leak air through every crevice. Treat them like a window/door combination. Use rope caulk in any open spaces and add weatherstripping on the bottom. If you have a bad leakage problem toward the floor, make a panel protector. Cut a piece of plywood, attach Styrofoam to the back and fit the backed board tightly against the door. If you want a decorative look, cover the board with a fabric that coordinates with the room's decor.


A lighted fire can be one of the biggest joys of living in a cold-weather climate, but it is also the best way to encourage energy dollars to go up the flue.

Our experts frown on using the fireplace when the outside temperature is in the 20s or below.

"The obvious thing is not to use it," Mr. Vogt says. "But if you must light a fire, turn the heat down as low as you can stand it so that the loss of heated air is minimal. Makes sure the flue works properly and close it when the fireplace is not in use."

Those with non-working fireplaces can use a Styrofoam backed piece of plywood to fit in the fireplace hole to stop the heat loss. Make the cover fit in with your decorating scheme by painting a design or stenciling the side that faces the room.

The energy auditors also listed these ways to save on energy bills:

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