Frost warnings mean it's time to tend to drafts
In the mornings, I’m pulling blankets and sheets off the tender plants in the garden, placed there overnight as protection against a freeze. We’ve been lucky so far that there’s been no killing frost.
That doesn’t mean mornings have been warm. I’ve already pulled out my gloves and sweaters — and my reflective vest, since the dog and I are walking in the dark again, stopping by the lake before the sun comes up.
Back home, my son comes downstairs for breakfast with his blanket wrapped around him. “You look very regal,” I tell him. “You should wear that to school.”
“Mommmm . . .” He drags it out. “Why is it so cold?”
Even I have to admit that it’s time to start thinking about warming the house. We haven’t fired up the wood stove yet or turned on the heat, but I did close most of the windows.
It’s those windows that cause the biggest problems in the winter. There’s the broken one at the back of the house, which we meant to fix while it was warm out. We better get at it before winter, because no amount of plastic will keep the wind out.
Several other windows have cracks. It’s an old house. And even the windows with intact glass are drafty. Those without storms I try to cover with the clearest plastic I can find, but I always manage to miss a couple.
We’re piling up wood for the stove, a 1936 Kalamazoo cooking stove, and for a few months that should be all we need. A fire in the morning warms the house — almost enough for the king to remove his blanket at breakfast — and the sun takes care of the afternoon. A fire to cook dinner on takes the chill off the evening.
But soon enough we’ll need more in the way of heat. Even without frost, the cold mornings are a reminder that it’s time to get ready for winter. First on the list: Kill the drafts.
Even if your house isn’t as old and leaky as mine, checking around windows for drafty spots is a good start for keeping your heat inside the house. That will save you money and reduce your emissions, whether you are heating with wood, oil, gas or electricity.
If you’re not sure whether your windows are drafty, use the candle test. Move a lit candle around your window, especially the edges near the wall. Watch for the flame to flicker or blow over. You’ve got a draft.
You can seal the window with caulk, where the glass attaches to the frame and where the frame attaches to the wall. You’ll probably have to remove old caulk first. I know I do — there’s dried caulk so old around the outside of some of my windows I can knock it off with my hand. If yours is not in as bad shape, you can still scrape most of it off with a putty knife. If some remains, soften it with water from a spray bottle and then scrape. If water doesn’t soften it, your caulk is probably acrylic based. In that case, use a rag to rub some isopropyl alcohol on it to soften.
Once the caulk is scraped off, clean the surface. Now you can apply new caulk, which you can find in any hardware store. Recaulking windows is an easy project, and the difference it makes in drafts is remarkable.
If you’ve got storm windows, now is the time to clean them, recaulk them if necessary, and install. If you don’t, it’s plastic time! And if you can’t bear the hokey look of stretched plastic on your window, you can get reflective window film, which clings directly to the window glass.
The film is a longer-term solution to making your existing windows more energy-efficient. It’s kind of pricey, but it’s supposed to last 15 years or so. Be careful about what you choose — there are kinds that are mirrored on the outside, kinds that cut glare or include decorative patterns, and kinds that block out some of the light. You don’t want to kill your plants or cause your family to sink into a winter depression, so make sure you’re getting what you need.
I start my vegetable seedlings in the windows, so I can’t sacrifice light. But I should check out what’s available in clear film, because replacing window plastic every year is not only wasteful, it’s kind of ugly.
In my dreams, I take out that broken window in the back of the house, turn the space into a doorway that leads to a passive solar sun room, which not only warms the house but gives me a place for seedlings and for winter greens.
It’s a good idea, but it’s probably far in the future. But I can dream about it while I’m scraping off old caulk.
Margaret Hartley is the Gazette’s Sunday and features editor. Greenpoint appears in the Gazette’s print edition Sundays on the Environment page.
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