Insulation, caulk: two cold war weapons


November 12, 1994|By Karol V. Menzie and Randy Johnson

Some people found the mid-term elections scary, but we know something that will strike terror in every heart: Winter is just around the corner.

Remember the ice, snow, slush, sleet and days of temperatures below freezing? Our memories are so vivid that Randy has yet to remove the tire chains from the bed of his truck. It's time to take precautions, to gird yourself for the coming onslaught of nasty weather.

One of the most hair-raising things about last winter may have been the utility bills. Now is the time to shore up your defenses against air infiltration. Cold air blowing through poorly sealed doors, windows and joints between walls can cause all kinds of problems.

Here are some things to do before winter gets you in its grips.

* Renew or replace weatherstripping at all exterior doors. Painting and normal wear and tear can make old weatherstripping ineffective. Shop around to get the best quality. Don't forget to check door sweeps and threshold seals. Sometimes a simple adjustment can make your door bottom air-tight.

* Caulk everywhere around doors and windows. Normally caulking is done as part of a general painting project, but with winter already showing its frosty side, starting to caulk now is a good idea.

* Storm windows work properly only when there is dead air space between the storm window and the regular window. Make sure there are no gaps where warm air can leak out or cold air can leak in. You know there's a gap when you see condensation. If the prime window is leaking, you'll probably get condensation on the storm window. If the storm window is leaking, you could get condensation on the regular window. Once windows are shut for the winter, seal them up with foam or rope caulk.

If you don't have storm windows, think about installing them. If you live in a historic district where exterior storm windows are not allowed, consider interior storm windows that won't alter the appearance of your house.

* If you have window air conditioners that you leave in place over the winter, wrap the outside parts with plastic and duct tape so there's no air infiltration.

* Maybe this is the year to do the little things. Buy those little foam insulators that go behind electric outlets and put them in.

* If you have an attic hatch, weatherstrip it. It's not enough to have insulation over the top of the hatch, you need to weatherstrip the opening, so the hatch closes on insulation.

* If you have an attic fan, make sure it's not pulling warm moist air from heated parts of the house into the attic where the moisture can condense as attic rain. Some attic fans work on fTC thermostats; if the switch is not operating properly the fan could be running at the wrong time.

* If your attic insulation is less than 12 inches thick, you may want to add some more. You can use the new plastic-wrapped fiber glass that eliminates the itch factor. It's a little more expensive, but it could make the task less of a hassle.

* If your floors are cold, think about insulating the basement. If you don't want to insulate every joist bay, pack insulation into the places where the joist bays meet the walls.

* Did you have a frozen pipe last winter? Now's the time to make sure it doesn't happen again. If a pipe runs near an outside wall, try to push insulation between the pipe and the cold surface. If the pipe runs under basement joists or in uninsulated spaces, wrap it with foam insulation or heat tapes.

The almanacs and the woolly worms say this is going to be a hard winter. That prospect can be a lot less scary if you act now to defend yourself. Vote for warmth. That way you'll always be on the winning side.

Mr. Johnson is a Baltimore construction manager. Ms. Menzie is a feature writer for The Sun.

If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, write to us c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N.

Calvert St. Baltimore, 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.

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