Most houses and apartments are not made to really keep all the cold air out. There are little cracks around the sides of windows and doors, in the fireplace area if one exists, around spots where wires and exhaust pipes go through the side of the house. In most homes, those tiny cracks add up to a hole at least as big as a basketball, and sometimes as big as a full wide-open window!
As a renter, we probably aren’t going to put thousands of dollars into fixing up our insulation and air sealing with professionals. If you want to, great! But for most of us, that’s not a reasonable idea. So what do you do? Pile on the sweaters and wait for summer? No! Here are some easy, cheap (or free!) ways to help you fight those drafts and stay warmer all winter long.
Bonus: Keeping cold air out in the winter will also help to keep the hot air out when summer weather finally returns!
Catch the Cracks
Finding little cracks—the sources of drafts and cold in your home—takes a little detective work. If you hire a pro, they’ll bring in special tools that can force air through the cracks, and then use an infrared camera to pinpoint where cold air is sneaking in. But you can find draft sources without any fancy equipment.
The easiest option is to get a stick of incense—any scent is fine. Light it so that it starts smoking, and then walk around your house slowly, stopping next to possible draft sources. Likely spots include around the frames of windows and doors, power outlets and light switches (especially on exterior walls), around baseboards, and around light fixtures and plumbing cut into ceilings or walls. Watch the wisps of smoke coming off the incense stick. When you are away from drafts, the smoke should drift essentially straight up, but when you get in the line of a drafty spot, the smoke will be blown by the breeze. This is easiest and most effective on a windy day. Be sure to do this when you don’t have the furnace fan or other forced air blowing or those warm-air drafts will throw you off.
After you find the drafty spots, it’s time to seal them up. Again, you can hire a pro, but there are a few easy steps that can make your space much more comfortable for just a few bucks at the hardware store.
This is my favorite draft-busting invention. You can buy plain, functional versions at a hardware store, or cute crafty ones on Etsy. Or you can make one yourself with a little fabric—long tube or knee socks work fine—and some filler like dry rice, corn kernels, beans, or even sand. Make sure your sock or fabric tube is the right length to fit across the bottom of your exterior door or along a windowsill. Fill it and seal it up in a tube shape. Lay it along the base of the door or window. The filler will block cold air from sneaking in, but the “snake” is easy to move when you want to open the door.
Pretty much all hardware stores stock rolls of squishy, foamy, white weather stripping. It’s thin enough to fit along the inside edge of a door or window frame and is self-adhesive like a sticker. Just cut it to the right length, pull off the paper backing, and stick. It will last longer if your door or window frame is nice and clean before you apply it. Weather stripping can last several years and is usually invisible when the door or window is closed, so it doesn’t draw attention or ruin your decor. It also typically costs just a few dollars for a roll long enough to line a couple doors or several windows. Cozy!
A small step up in difficulty and cost, but also in effectiveness, caulking can be a mostly permanent draft-blocker. This is pretty easy, but if you’ve never caulked before, do some practice runs somewhere no one will see your handiwork. I recommend buying clear caulk—it squirts out of the tube white but dries completely clear. You’ll need a tube of caulk and a “caulk gun,” which lets you pull a trigger to apply it. Caulk works well along the edges of window frames, where the frame meets the wall, or along baseboards.
For the cost of one lunch out, and an hour or two of effort, you can make a big difference in how warm your home feels this winter!
Before caulking or doing any other potentially permanent handy work, be sure to review your lease agreement or get permission from your landlord. Usually minor improvements like these are not only allowed, but welcome, but it’s always best to be safe.
If you’ll be in your current space for several years, it may be worth exploring bigger options, like adding professional air sealing and insulation to an attic (if you’re on the top floor), walls, or floor/basement. These types of improvements typically can pay themselves back in just a few years, based on the savings you’ll see on your heating and cooling bills. You’ll need the property owner’s permission, but since it’s a long-term improvement, it will benefit you both! You might even be able to work out a cost-sharing option. And remember, lots of cities and utilities offer rebates for air sealing and insulation work because they reduce wasted energy, so check those out to save even more!