Now this is the truth. Of many a drafty old farmhouse, it used to be said the best way to tell wind direction on a winter night was to hang an iron plow chain from the bedpost and see which way it leaned. If the chain started swinging in circles, snapping off links, you could count on a storm blowing up before morning.
To some, this was a simple matter calling for more firewood and stronger chains, but about 1820 the journal, New England Farmer, suggested weatherproofing a home instead. Stuff rags into broken windows, the journal advised, and glue newspaper over cracks in the walls.
Then, as today, the tighter a house is sealed and insulated against the weather, the less one pays for heat or air conditioning. A few simple techniques can cut up to 60 percent off heating and cooling bills in older homes, according to federal energy officials.
The first step is to walk around and through your home, seeing where heat may be leaking in or out. Simple cracks and holes in the building envelope cause most older homes to lose their entire volume of indoor air every 30 to 60 minutes.
Start with windows and doors. A 1/16-inch crack around an exterior door frame is equal to a hole the size of your fist, and that costs money. Self-adhesive plastic V-strips available at hardware stores are ideal for sealing the track where a double-hung window travels up and down, as well as on top and bottom. These, or foam gaskets, are ideal for weather-stripping around exterior doors.
Dont forget to inspect windows and vents in an attic, cellar, or crawl space.
Next, look for cracks in the building envelopesuch as joints in window and door casings, where the wood may have separated from itself, or from the wall. These can readily be filled with an acrylic/latex caulk. This can be cleaned up with a wet sponge and wont require repainting the casing or wall. Some water-based caulks include silicone these days, making for greater durability.
Cracks or gaps between the house foundation and sill also can be plugged with caulk. If the gaps are too wide for caulk, try pressing strips of fiberglass insulation into them. Another great solution for even larger gaps and holes is foam insulation that comes in a can and is sold at most hardware stores. This can be messy stuff to clean up, however, so use it only where you wont have to look at it.
In stone foundations, it works wonderfully between rocks where mortar might have fallen out with age.
Storm windows are also a wise investment, both for summer and winter. A single pane of glass has virtually no insulating value, whereas the dead air trapped between two panes cuts heat transfer considerably.
Speaking of insulation, check in the attic or cellar to be sure your insulation there completely fills the space between joists. If not, add some. All the insulation in the world does little good if heat or cold can simply bypass it.
Look on all this work as an investment, not an expense, because it will repay you year after year without you lifting a finger.
And when thats all done, you can take down the plow chains and use them for something else.