Winterize Your Home For Better Energy Efficiency and Sustainable Comfort

Malachi Rein

By Malachi Rein, Building Energy Exchange Saint Louis Director

I live in an old South City house.  I’m not exaggerating by saying its first family was living there before many of mine set foot on this continent.  When we bought this house we were recent graduates, fresh in our jobs with student loan debt, and parents of an infant. Resources were tight and we were finding a balance in our life.

An old house delivers a dose of clarity: how and what we build can long outlive us. The people who lived here were different but our hearts are much the same. We want to protect our families, live and play comfortably, and feel safe and healthy. Occupants adapted to change. Some had nine kids, moved the toilet inside, installed electricity, added a central furnace and periodically changed what it burned. They bought, sold, aged, dealt with hardships, and left us with our opportunity. It just needs a little work.

One early frigid morning as I walked past the back door, my body heat was torn from my feet and stolen into the winter air. The door was closed. In a panic over heating bills, I quickly found that heat was escaping around the exterior doors and several windows. Thus began the Winter of Towels. Every ugly, tattered, mismatched towel marched into line and took their places along door jambs and windows.  They stuffed around basement openings, cascaded around pipes, and lived a life so pitiful that even the cat refused to take advantage of a paradise of places to sit.

After insulating with warm clothes, I mashed myself within the icy screen doors and added weatherstripping. I replaced thresholds and installed seals. As the weather warmed I recaulked windows and repaired flashing. These were cheap upgrades and they worked. The second winter was noticeably more comfortable, the bills more consistent. We kept making improvements. The safety of the vintage furnace and water heater kept me awake at night. With utility rebates, financing, and tax credits, we installed efficient equipment controlled with 21st century technology.

This winter, check the settings on your thermostat, change your filter, turn on your humidifier – look and feel around. With a little effort, you can be more comfortable and save money on utility bills. Sustainable living isn’t just about the material world, but about living our best lives and ensuring that when we become stories, those telling them can live theirs too.