Attic insulation, window seals can save money come winter

By: Brian Louwers, Joshua Gordon | C&G Newspapers | Published November 26, 2013

METRO DETROIT — Winter is fast approaching in Michigan and, before we know it, snow will be covering the ground and temperatures will regularly drop below freezing.

As the temperature begins to fall, however, the monthly energy bill is on the rise as homeowners turn up the heat. While it is unlikely any home improvements can completely replace turning up the heat, there are a few ways to winterize certain areas of the house to optimize energy efficiency.

One of the most important quick fixes to be made before the snow starts falling is to take a trip up to the attic, said Scott Trendle, vice president of 1-800-Hansons in Troy. Most of the heat in a home is lost through the attic, he said, and if it is not properly insulated, it can mean higher-than-normal heating bills.

“Probably the first and most important thing homeowners can do with the harsh winters in Michigan is to get the attic insulation checked,” Trendle said. “That is where the heat rises, and a majority of heat escapes through the ceiling — and, in most cases, through the attic — in Michigan. You lose a lot of energy, and it can drive the (energy) bill way up.”

Brad Upton, co-owner of Dillman & Upton in Rochester, agreed with Trendle that the attic should be of utmost importance. While the homeowner can install the insulation, Upton recommends hiring a professional to do the job.

“A professional will generally bring in a machine and blow in additional insulation and check to make sure everything is properly ventilated,” Upton said. “They check the vents to make sure the air flow is correct so you don’t get condensation building up in your attic.”

Not only can a poorly insulated attic cost homeowners more in energy bills, it can also harm the roof and walls during the winter.

Rising heat that leaves through the attic can melt the snow on the roof and cause it to run off, forming ice around the gutters and the edge of the roof, Trendle said. If not properly taken care of, it can ruin shingles and damage exterior walls.

“When the rising heat hits the cold shingles, it can cause them to warp, and when the roof is covered in snow, if your attic is not properly insulated, it causes the snow to melt and turn into water that runs down and will freeze by the colder overhang,” Trendle said. “When it freezes, it can back up under the shingles and leak into walls and cause all kinds of damage. Most insurance companies don’t cover that anymore, so it can be a costly fix.”

Besides attic insulation, Trendle said it is also important to check the condition of roof shingles before snow falls, as worn shingles can lead to leaks that won’t form until springtime, but “the damage is done in the winter because of the ice.”

When it comes to siding, Trendle said brick and vinyl siding are the best at keeping cold air out and heat in, while aluminum siding serves as a conductor and wood siding can start to rot when it freezes. But siding is not necessarily a quick fix, he said, and might be an easier job in the summer months.

Windows are another common area for heat loss in the colder months, and making sure homes have the right type of glass is crucial, Trendle said. Roughly 80 percent of a window is glass, so upgrading to triple pane windows can save a lot of money in the winter.

“It is a saying in our industry that each inefficient window is equivalent to removing a brick from your home, so if you have 10 bad windows, that is equivalent to putting a hole in your house,” he said. “The next thing to do is check the (window) locks, as there are special locks that block out hot and cold, but a lot of older windows don’t have them, and you can feel the breeze coming in.”

Upton said the best windows have insulated glass with film that reduces excessive sun coming in and improves the efficiency of a window in letting heat out. Similarly, when it comes to doors, a fiberglass door is the most efficient in cold weather, as they are energy-efficient and seal well.

Seals are a quick improvement any homeowner can check, Upton said. Around doors and windows, a weather strip applied or a quick caulking job can keep a lot of heat from escaping the home.

“A regular person can do a reasonable job of applying weather strips or caulk, and both reduce the air coming through the cracks and crevices,” Upton said. “You can get an energy audit from your power company, and they will make some suggestions and prioritize the best ways to reduce heat loss. As long as you don’t feel air coming through, the weather strips and caulking will help save on energy bills.”