Winterize Your Home with Our 4-Point Shopping List

I often write about things you can do to improve your home’s energy efficiency. However, when it comes to actually doing completing these projects, readers can get confused about all the tools needed to get the job done, which means they wind up wasting time wandering around their local home improvement center.

Sure, not every home maintenance project is the same, but I’ve banged-up my knees often enough while climbing in and out of dusty, dirty places to vividly regret all the times I’ve forgotten stuff to have on hand. Nowadays, I take a little extra time to be much better prepared.

Winterize Your Home with Our 4-Point Shopping List
Don’t wait for Santa to bring you what you need from this list. Get shopping now!

Thus, to save you from a similar bout of painful patella-crunching experiences as you prepare your home for cold weather, here’s my recommended 4-point shopping list to help you winterize your home!

1) What You Need to Insulate and Air Seal Your Attic

Winterize Your Home with Our 4-Point Shopping List
Seriously, folks – take care of yourself.
  • Basic protection: Work gloves, safety glasses, N95 disposable respirator masks (yes, you DO WANT to wear one), and knee pads/knee guards. You also want a small but very bright LED flashlight, a whisk broom, and tape measure.
  • Expanding foam & caulk: Use expanding foam to fill up any gaps, like those around pipes and wiring. Caulk around electrical junction boxes or places with smaller gaps.
  • Light fixture insulation boxes for recessed “can” lights: You can custom build an air-tight box from rigid foam insulation and seal the seams with aluminum tape or caulk. This box should clear the fixture by an inch or more on all sides. Once it’s in place, cover it in insulation.
  • Soffit baffles: These will preserve a way for air to enter the attic from the soffit vents and help prevent ice dams and mold problems. You’ll also need to make insulation dams for each rafter space to keep the insulation out of the soffit vents. These barriers can be made with wood, cardboard, or rigid foam. Just cut them out, and staple, nail, or glue them into place.
  • Plan according to the type of insulation you’ll use: For blown cellulose or fiberglass, you’ll need to rent a blower. Youl’ll also need a garden rake to spread it out evenly. If you use fiberglass batts, a box-cutter knife or sharp scissors work fine to cut the batts to the correct sizes.
  • A scrap piece of 2 foot long, 3/4” thick board or plywood: This is just handy to put it across the joists to kneel on instead of scrunching around on the joists.

For lots of great attic tips, check out EnergyStar guide.

2) What You Need to Air Seal Your HVAC

Winterize Your Home with Our 4-Point Shopping List
To air seal your HVAC properly, buy the good stuff. Get aluminum duct tape, not the cheaper vinyl version.
  • Aluminum duct sealing tape: Aluminum duct tape comes with a backing you have to remove as you put the tape in place. It resists heat and does an excellent sealing job over joints. It’s not as good as duct mastic, but it’s less messy and may be easier to apply in areas too difficult to get at with a brush or putty knife.
  • Duct mastic: Paint this on to each and every duct seam to ensure a good, tight seal. Drying times vary, but you’ll want it set for at least 24 hours before running your HVAC system. This is an acrylic latex material that can be applied with a good paint brush or putty knife. Clean up is with soap and water. Also great to use on metal bathroom, dryer, and kitchen ventilation duct work because it keeps any condensation from steam inside the duct.
  • Replacement furnace filters: Buy these in pairs so you’ve got an extra on hand. Remember to use the MERV rating recommended by your HVAC’s manufacturer. You can usually find this info in the user’s manual or online at the manufacturer’s website.
  • Duct insulation: After sealing, you can save more energy by insulating your ductwork. Since the most effective R rating is 6 to 8 R, it’s not very thick stuff. Duct insulation comes in two basic kinds:

1)The wrap-around kind that goes around rectangular or round ductwork and is held in place with aluminum duct tape.

2) The sleeve kit kind for round duct work. You must disconnect the ductwork first, slide on the sleeve, and then reattach the duct. You’ll need to know the diameter of the duct. Common sizes are 6”, 7”, and 8”.

3) What You Need to Insulate Your Water Heater

  • Water heater jacket kit: Look for jackets rated R11 or better. These jackets are usually plastic covered 3/4” thick fiberglass blanket. Some come with their own adhesive tape tabs, but some don’t. Vinyl-back duct tape works for this.
  • Self-adhesive pipe insulation: Most recommend insulating 6 feet up stream and 6 feet down stream from the water heater. If you have pipes runnning through an unheated space, it’s safer to insulate the entire run. Pipe insulation is usually very inexpensive and comes in 5-foot lengths.

4) What You Need to Weatherize Doors and Windows

Winterize Your Home with Our 4-Point Shopping List
Ultimately, you’re going to lose the most heat (and let in the coldest air) through your doors and windows, so be sure they’re properly sealed.
  • Clean dirt from existing gaskets and weatherstripping: Caked dirt and debris are often the main reason doors and windows don’t close completely. Look for signs of mildew or black mold, as these show you the approximate area where cold and moisture are leaking in. Use a whisk broom to empty dirt from jambs and channels. Thoroughly clean areas where you’ll use an adhesive with a detergent or rubbing alcohol.
  • Silicon caulk: Caulk is available in latex and acrylic formulations to seal gaps in jambs and frames. For water-tight seals, use 100% silicon, particularly if you’re making temporary fixes to cracked window glazing.
  • Weather stripping: Choose the right weather stripping for the job.
  • Door sweep kit: Inexpensive ones comes with self-adhesives backing. Other more durable ones are attached with screws to the door.

Ultimately, proper winterization means you’re ensuring that cold air and moisture isn’t leaking into your home and the warm air from your HVAC system isn’t leaking out of your home. We hope you benefit from this shopping list as you winterize your home this year (and for years to come).

Do you have any recommended tips and materials for seasonal home improvement and maintenance? Share with us in the comments!


Vernon Trollinger is a writer with a background in home improvement, electronics, fiction writing, and archaeology. He now writes about green energy technology, home energy efficiency, the natural gas industry, and the electrical grid.

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