One day, the weather outside is frightful; the next, it’s comfortable, sunny, and oh so delightful. Welcome to wintertime in Chicagoland!

This winter has been an unpredictable one here in Chicago, with temperatures fluctuating wildly and winter storms passing through in quick fits and spurts. It can be hard to know exactly how to care for your home in such extremes. In particular, it can often prove tricky to monitor your home’s energy use as we move through the rollercoaster winter season, which has been swinging from blustery snowstorms to pleasantly cool days in the blink of an eye.

Typically, the Chicago area is known for its long, freezing winters, which tend to drive utility bills upward all season long. As a result, many homeowners here in Chicago and the suburbs look for creative ways to improve the energy efficiency of their properties, for the good of the environment — and their pocketbooks. 

Looking for a few ways to increase your Chicago home’s energy efficiency as we move deeper into wintertime? Here are five important places around your home to focus on, all season long:

1.) Windows and Doors

Whether you live in a high-rise condo or a Highland Park home, your home’s windows and doors are its first and last line of defense against the harsh winter weather. 

Throughout the winter season, regularly inspect your exterior doors and windows for leaks, and seal up any gaps or loose fittings as necessary with weatherstripping, caulk, or foam. If your windows are older or seem to be drafty, you can also help cut down on energy loss by investing in energy-efficient window coverings, including insulating drapes and shades. For a “low-fi” fix, you can even insulate drafty windows with clear plastic film, secured tightly to the inside of your window frame. 

At the same time, don’t forget that you can use your home’s windows and doors to your advantage! For example? During the warmest parts of the day, you may want to think about opening the curtains on any south-facing windows to let in as much sunlight — and all-natural thermal heat — as possible. On the flip side, keep your garage doors closed to help trap heat indoors, and consider closing interior doors to rooms you don’t use, to help keep heat concentrated where you need it most. 

2.) Thermostat and HVAC

Making some savvy choices with your home’s heating systems can pay off enormously when it comes time to open up your winter energy bills. 

Before the winter weather settles in, be sure to have your home’s boiler or furnace professionally examined and serviced. The last thing you want is to have to lose access to heat on a freezing cold day! Throughout the season, there are also plenty of simple DIY ways to protect your home’s heating systems. In particular, don’t forget to regularly replace the filter for your furnace or heat pump. This is an important step in helping your system operate more efficiently, while helping your household to feel more comfortable. For forced-air heating systems, be sure to keep your vents dusted and clean, and regularly check to ensure that they are clear of any obstructions that could limit the flow of air throughout your space.

Finally, be strategic with your thermostat! Installing a smart thermostat system can help your family closely monitor your energy use, and seamlessly adjust the temperature as needed throughout the day. Whatever type of thermostat you have in place, try to be mindful about lowering the temperature when you are asleep or out of the house. According to the Department of Energy, turning your thermostat back 10° to 15° for eight hours can help you save around 10% a year on heating and cooling bills.

3.) Fireplace

A roaring fire can be a cheerful and welcome sight on a winter’s day. Unfortunately, while a fire may help warm your home, your fireplace can also be a major source of heat loss throughout the year. 

The Department of Energy offers a few recommendations for minimizing heat loss from your fireplace, including these key tips:

  • Unless you are burning a fire, keep your fireplace damper closed. If you do not use your fireplace, plug and seal the chimney flue. 
  • Reduce heat loss by installing tempered glass doors or a heat-air exchange system, allowing warm air to circulate back into the room rather than escaping
  • Make sure that the areas around your fireplace hearth are sealed, and have your chimney regularly cleaned and serviced by an experienced professional. 
  • When you run a fire, turn down the temperature on your thermostat, and consider opening the nearest window slightly.

4.) Plumbing and Water Heater

While your top priority may be to cut down on your electric and gas bills, don’t forget that other utility that can soar during the winter months — your water bill! The winter months can be a great time to adopt a new approach to water use around your Chicago home. 

To help keep your plumbing operating at peak efficiency, be sure to have a plumber come and service your system at routine intervals throughout the year. In the winter months, you can help conserve hot water by adding thermal wrap to any exposed pipes, as well as your water heater. This simple addition can prevent your water from losing heat as it moves throughout your home, meaning that you won’t have to wait as long for hot water when you turn on a faucet or shower. In that same vein? During the winter months, a little bit of hot water can go a long way. Consider turning the temperature on your water heater down to “warm” (or roughly 120°). 

The winter season can also be a great time to look for and fix leaky faucets and running toilets — two common water wasters in Illinois homes. 

5.) Lighting

Need to turn on a light to see better on a gray winter’s day? Over time, running lights in your home can add up, and leave a mark on your monthly energy bill. Fortunately, there are all sorts of ways to dim this impact without living in the dark. 

For instance? Studies have shown that swapping out swapping out conventional incandescent lightbulbs for energy-efficient LEDs or CFLs in just five places can help save up to $75 per year. At the same time, adding smart plugs and power strips can help you automate your lighting systems to turn on and off at strategic times throughout the day. 

Need a Little Help Making It Through the Winter?

Whether you’re buying a property, selling a property, or just need the best information for how  to maintain your property, Windy City Home Inspection has an inspection for you — during the winter, and all year long. 

Looking to protect your home from the wear and tear of a tough winter season? A home inspector can be an important partner. At Windy City Home Inspection, our inspectors are available for Home Preservation Inspections, which can help you gain a better understanding of your home by addressing structural and mechanical concerns, potential safety hazards, and the age and quality of major components and systems around your property, including the roof, furnace, and water heater. We also offer our clients access to Home Owner’s Resource, a free service that allows you to ask maintenance questions about your property to experienced professionals, 24/7.

With Windy City, you can expect a competent, thorough inspection that covers all the bases and never cuts corners. The inspectors at Windy City Home Inspection, Inc. are licensed by the State of Illinois, certified, and insured. Each home inspection is backed by our signature Warranty and Protection Plan. Furthermore, we pride ourselves on our superior customer service. If you ever have questions, even years after your home inspection, we will be here to answer them — even if it means returning to your home.

At Windy City Home Inspection, Inc., we perform inspections to the highest standards — yours. Backed by a consulting team with more than 60 years of experience, Windy City Home Inspection is truly committed to excellence. Have a question? Let us help.