I’m sitting at home on a dismal Sunday afternoon listening to the wind howl while staring out the window at convulsing yellow leaves and rain pelting the window. It’s got me thinking about winter… again. I know all of you have that feeling of resignation that the inevitable will soon arrive in the form of snow and that sharp, biting wind that feels like needles poking your eyeballs. It’s also a time when people hunker down indoors and generally lose contact with the outside word, preferring instead to find solace in the heavenly glow of television and binge watch Netflix.
I try to alleviate winter with home comfort: we invested in an infrared sauna a number of years ago and it does wonders for thawing my frozen bones and permanently cold feet. A nice big soaker tub is also a wonderful winter luxury that gives some respite against the endless, numbing chills. For those who may not be able to afford such luxuries, there are many ways you can increase comfort in your home without spending a lot of money. Of course, it’s a choice, either you invest in things or you invest in comfort. I chose the latter and here are a few things to get you started.
The most important thing to do is stop those nasty drafts in your house and nothing works better than a few tubes of silicone caulking. Any crack on an outside wall, no matter how small, creates a draft. The most common places are around windows and doors, but also think about floor boards, light fixtures and unnecessary key-holes. Air has the nasty ability to infiltrate anywhere and sometimes you just cannot find that annoying draft. A quick solution is to seal your doors and windows and walk around with a stick of incense, watching the smoke. If you cannot see the drafts then turn on all your exhaust fans and run your dryer; this will create negative pressure in your house and pull air in through all those nooks and crannies. When you find places with the most air seeping in, seal them with caulking, weather-stripping or, if necessary, plastic sheets. This is the under $100 dollar solution to comfort.
A more expensive step is to insulate your attic. The current high-efficiency standard is about R60 but most older homes in Winnipeg are less than R10. Insulating your attic is a messy and dirty job, so unless you know exactly what you’re doing and have a strong tolerance for dust and bugs, hire someone. You will know if you have inadequate insulation because the snow on your roof will melt and leave stalactites of icicles hanging from your eavestroughs. “Ice damming,” as it’s called, is a sign of poor insulation, but it’s also a sign of poor roofing ventilation. All that heat and moisture from showers and rice cooking will eventually make its way into your attic. If it’s not sucked out, it will make you insulation damp and damp insulation loses its R-value. Again, this is not exactly work for a “do-it-yourselfer,” so I would recommend that you hire an expert.
If you want to keep spending money, as we did about ten years ago, you should consider a high efficiency furnace. These are not cheap, but I have tracked my energy usage for the past decade and the furnace has more than paid for itself. It’s also very comfortable because we have the one with the DC motor that we can just leave on and not worry about exorbitant hydro bills. If you keep your air circulating you will never get those cold spots at the extremities of your house, especially north facing walls. Make sure you change your furnace filters and treat your new furnace like a Ferrari. A happy furnace means a happy home owner!
By the time you seal all the cracks, insulate your attic and buy your fancy high-efficiency furnace you should consider a heat recovery ventilator or HRV. This little machine works alongside your furnace to ventilate your house by passing cold outside air through a heat exchanger that is warmed from inside air. Not only do these regulate the moisture in your house (no more drippy windows) but they also help control your home’s air pressure. Whenever you run a fan, dry clothes or exhaust heat through older furnaces, gas water tanks, or wood fireplaces you are creating negative pressure in your house. Nature hates a vacuum, and you are far better off pulling air through a heat exchanger than through windows and doors.
So there you have it; a few tips to help you get through winter in as much comfort as possible. The next time you consider buying a new smartphone, car or a 4K television, think about what’s really important: a new season of Walking Dead on Ultra HD or a warm cozy home. If you’re still not satisfied, there are plenty of flights out of Winnipeg to warm countries, because sometimes a cozy home cannot make up for those days when Winnipeg is colder than Mars.