Last August, I moved into a tiny rental house in Austin, Texas. The city was under drought conditions with the temperature breaking 100°F every day. Water restrictions got so tight that restaurants were no longer allowed to serve glasses of water unless customers specifically ordered them. Needless to say, it wasn’t a Summer to be dealing with a poorly insulated house. Yet that’s exactly what I had, a poorly insulated rental house that I wasn’t about to spend any big bucks fixing up.
So my housemates and I had to get creative. Our goal was to figure out how to make our doors and windows more energy efficient on the cheap and with minimal effort (because who wants to spend their Saturdays fixing up a rental house?). Below I’ve given a brief outline of how we managed a few easy repairs. The budget for all of this was around $60. The time we spent: rougly six hours over the period of a couple weeks.
1. Window Caulking
If you’ve ever had to replace a window before, you might know a thing or two about caulking. If not, however, let me introduce you to your new friend the caulk gun. Caulk is a substance that can be used to fill cracks in any part of the house. Any place you think may have an air leak can be sealed with caulk. Caulk comes in a bottle and is applied in liquid form using a caulking gun. In a few hours, however, caulk dries and becomes hard like rock.
In my house we used a caulking gun ($7) and one bottle of caulk ($2) to fill in the cracks around our window panes. All of our windows had been caulked probably 20 years earlier and so a little reapplication was necessary in a number of places where the old caulking had cracked. We used painter’s tape to make sure we didn’t get any caulk on the window and smoothed it out with a putty knife ($3).
2. Wood Putty
In our home we were also dealing with minor cracks in two of the doors. Instead of caulking the doors, however, we decided to go with a more aesthetically appealing route. We bought a jar of wood putty ($10) and used our putty knife to work the putty around the cracks. It wasn’t the best solution and I wouldn’t suggest it for large scale wood repairs, but it was fine for our purposes. Warning: make sure you buy putty that is the same color as your door or whatever wood you’re patching up.
3. Weathering Strips
Perhaps the biggest problem facing our insulation were doors that did not exactly match their frames. Our front door, for instance, had a one and a half inch gap between the door and the frame on the side and a half inch gap on the top. After talking with one of the guys at the local hardware store, we decided to get a few weathering strips (3 rolls, 10ft each, $25 total). Weathering strips are essentially foam strips that you stick onto the door frame. The strips fill the gap between the door and the frame, keeping heat from passing through.
Before running to the hardware store, however, you should take a really close measurement of the gap between the door and the frame. Getting strips that are too wide will keep the door from shutting. Meanwhile, strips that are too narrow won’t help with the insulation problem.
4. Door Sweep
Weathering strips apparently don’t work so well on door bottoms. Instead we used a door sweep ($8) that could be bolted to the bottom of the door. The “sweep” part hung down from the bottom and provided a rubber flap between the room and the outside. Combined with the weather stripping the door sweep sealed up our home pretty thoroughly.
As I said earlier, this list is by no means exhaustive or even nearly complete. It’s just a few ideas on how to weatherproof your doors and windows without spending a fortune or working too hard. After all saving energy and saving the planet shouldn’t entail overly burdensome or costly endeavors. Part of going green means enjoying some of life’s simplicities such as taking a walk, cooking over a fire or reading a book. Making your home energy efficient shouldn’t break your back, your wallet or your patience.
Brian writes for Sweetwater, a master-planned community southwest of Austin. Sweetwater is dedicated to providing eco-friendly homes at an affordable price for the next generations of Texans.