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Keeping cold out: Simple fixes can save hundreds of dollars

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Unique architecture and a sense of heritage are the benefits of owning a historic home.

But every winter, the owners of the Flying Frog Bed and Breakfast in Franklin face the same struggle. They have to heat the more than 140-year-old home without allowing most of the warmth to escape to the outdoors.

Some serious winterizing is in order. Windows have to be sealed, the exterior walls and attic need to be insulated, and possible leaks have to be plugged.

“It’s a continual thing. These older homes are something you’re not going to do all at once. But the things we’ve done have really helped it,” said Warren Isselhardt, who owns the Flying Frog with his wife, Sharon.

Interior fix

The oncoming winter weather means that it’s time to shore up the inside of the house, double-check the exterior and prepare the lawn and garden for snow and ice.

From historic homes such as the Isselhardt’s to newer buildings that seem well-sealed, even simple fixes can save hundreds of dollars.

“It’s all about using less and conserving natural resources,” said Chase Kelly, spokeswoman for Vectren Energy Delivery. “Besides putting in a new furnace, insulation services are the No. 1 way to use less energy.”

Programs have been put in place that show homeowners the money they can save by winterizing their homes. But it doesn’t stop there. Duke Energy and Vectren both have made efforts to help low-income families weatherize their homes.

Customers get a free, on-site home energy audit to determine areas in need of efficiency upgrades. Those improvements could mean adding insulation in the attic, sealing ductwork and air leaks, and installing a water heater insulation wrap.

All of the work is done at no cost to the customer, Kelly said.

“When you take it to a low-income situation, they don’t have the resources to make upgrades to appliances and things like that. And often they are in the homes that are most inefficient,” she said.

Window strips, which seal the edges of windows from the outside, costs less than $5 at most hardware stores. Window film for extra insulation costs between $10 and $20. A water heater insulator runs about $30.

Changing light bulbs and adjusting hot-water usage usually can save a person 10 to 15 percent on their water bills, said Bob Nuss, managing director of Energizing Indiana. That can increase to 25 percent by improving insulation and 30 percent by cutting down drafts in the home.

“Many times, in older homes, they’re not very well sealed up. You lose a lot of heat in the winter from these leaks and gaps in the system,” Nuss said.

Head outside

While interior problems are the most noticeable issues to fix, paying attention to the outside of the house also can provide savings this winter.

Spigots, cable hook-ups and phone line entries are places where heat and energy can escape. A $7 tube of caulk can take care of all of those issues.

“A lot of people don’t realize what impact they can have. A poorly insulated home or losing excess hot water really do cost that much. We think it’s important to help with that,” Nuss said.

But sometimes more intense projects are needed to winterize a home.

When the Isselhardts bought the Flying Frog in 2011, they quickly realized serious work was needed to keep the elements out and the warmth in.

Two old chimneys, which originally burned coal to warm the home, had flues stuffed with newspaper to seal them up. More than half of the structure’s storm windows were missing, while the remaining ones were in disrepair.

The forced-air heating system had ducts located centrally in the house, with the second-floor return vent in the attic stairway. A 16-inch diameter hole had been cut in the roof as a vent.

“There was no door in the attic, and that was open all the time. There was a big vent pipe open through the roof to open air, so there was a direct route from inside the house to outside the house, so all your hot air could get out,” Isselhardt said.

To fix these problems, the Isselhardts added return air ducts to all rooms to increase air flow. The vent hole in the roof was covered up, and new storm windows were installed on all windows.

The chimneys were taken down below the roof line and tightly sealed.

Isselhardt estimates he’s saved thousands of dollars in heating costs just by making those small changes.

“We are able to heat and cool our 5,600-square-feet home built in 1875 for approximately the same as what it cost to heat and cool our previous 2,500-square-feet home built in 1994,” he said.

Tips for home weatherization

Windows and doors

Weatherstripping: Sealing air leaks around doors or windows using materials like felt, foam, rubber or tape.

Plastic window insulation: clear shrink film attached using adhesive or a hair dryer to keep out drafts.

Draft snake/draft dodger: Blocks air that might leak in under doors.

Install storm doors and windows. The double protection will keep air from escaping the home.


Test your home for air tightness. On a windy day, carefully hold a lit incense stick or a smoke pen next to your windows, doors and other places where air might leak. If the smoke stream travels horizontally, you have located an air leak that might need caulking, sealing or weatherstripping.

Caulk and seal air leaks where plumbing, ducting or electrical wiring comes through walls, floors and ceilings.

Install foam gaskets behind outlet and switch plates on walls.

Inspect dirty spots in your insulation for air leaks and mold. Seal leaks with low-expansion spray foam made for this purpose.

Cover your kitchen exhaust fan to stop air leaks when not in use.

Check your dryer vent to be sure it is not blocked. This will save energy and can prevent a fire.

Replace door bottoms and thresholds with ones that have pliable sealing gaskets.

Keep the fireplace flue damper tightly closed when not in use.


Check the attic hatch to ensure it is as heavily insulated as the attic, is weather-stripped and and closes tightly.

In the attic, determine whether openings for items such as pipes, ductwork and chimneys are sealed. Seal any gaps with an expanding foam caulk or some other permanent sealant.

Select an exterior wall and turn off the circuit breaker or unscrew the fuse for any outlets in the wall. Be sure to test the outlets by plugging in a functioning lamp or portable radio. Remove the cover plate from one of the outlets and gently probe into the wall with a thin, long stick or screwdriver. If you encounter a slight resistance, you have some insulation there. Ideally, the wall cavity should be totally filled with some form of insulation material.

Determine whether there is insulation under the living area flooring.


Check the ductwork and wrap any leaks with duct mastic. Close to 30 percent of warmth is lost while air is transported from your furnace through ductwork to the vents.


Keep your fireplace damper closed unless a fire is burning. Keeping the damper open allows warm air to go right up the chimney.

When you use the fireplace, reduce heat loss by opening dampers in the bottom of the firebox (if provided) or open the nearest window slightly — approximately 1 inch — and close doors leading into the room.

Lower the thermostat setting to between 50 and 55 degrees.

Ceiling fans

Run ceiling fans in reverse, or clockwise. This will push warm air collecting near the ceiling down.

Water heater

Set water heater to 120 degrees or lower. Water heating can account for 14 percent to 25 percent of the energy consumed in your home.


When you are home and awake, set your thermostat as low as is comfortable.

When you are asleep or out of the house, turn your thermostat back 10 to 15 degrees for eight hours.

Vegetable gardens

Remove all vegetative matter that can harbor disease pathogens and insects.

Add compost to improve garden soil for next spring.

Deep-till garden soil in the fall. Soil will warm up faster and excess water will drain-off rapidly, speeding up planting time.

Flower gardens

Plant spring-flowering bulbs in the fall. Plant fall crocus and colchicum in fall.

Fall is a great time to divide or plant new perennials. Apply 2-inches of organic mulch around newly planted perennials to retain soil heat to promote root growth.

After first frost, dig and store tender bulbs and tubers.

Pull up dead or spent annuals and compost. Any diseased plants should be placed in the trash.

Remove all weeds in flower beds, particularly winter annuals such as henbit, chickweed and annual bluegrass.


Rake up leaves, woody twigs and branches. Dispose of grass clippings in the compost bin. Large leaves tend to pile up and eventually smother the lawn grass.

Cut the lawn one final time at about Thanksgiving

Apply a slow release winter-formulized fertilizer.

Trees and shrubs

Fall is an ideal time to plant or transplant shrubs and trees.

Container-grown trees can be planted into early winter provided they receive 2 to 3 inches of an organic mulch

Add 2 to 3 inches of new mulch around trees, shrubs, and trees.


Drain outside spigots. Make sure outside spigots are off, and find the inside shutoff valve.

Shut it off and leave the drain plug open. Then go outside and open the faucets and leave them open. That way, any remaining water drains out and won’t freeze.

Sources: U.S. Department of Energy; Energize Indiana; University of Tennessee Extension Office

Where to get help

Resources exist for residents in need of winterization help this year.

Low-income weatherization program

What: A program helping people whose income is up to 200 percent of federal poverty guideline to insulate and weatherize their home for winter.

What does it include: A free, on-site energy audit to determine areas in need of energy efficiency. Depending on what is needed, free home improvements such as added insulation, sealed leaks and a water heater insulation wrap will be provided.

Who: Energizing Indiana, a joint effort between the Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor, and utility companies including Duke Energy and Vectren Energy Delivery.

Who can apply:

Poverty guidelines:

  • One person in household: $22,980 annual income before taxes
  • Two people in household: $31,020 annual income before taxes
  • Three people in household: $39,060 annual income before taxes
  • Four people in household: $47,100 annual income before taxes
  • Five people in household: $55,140 annual income before taxes
  • Six people in household: $63,180 annual income before taxes
  • Seven people in household: $71,220 annual income before taxes
  • Eight people in household: $79,260 annual income before taxes

How to apply: Call 888-446-7750 or visit energizingindiana.com.

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