How to weatherize your house and make it more energy efficient

Hey folks, today I want to talk to you briefly about something I’ve been really passionate about recently, which is weatherization. I do a lot of work for older folks, which means I’m working in a lot of older houses that weren’t insulated super well or weather-proofed when they were built. And in a lot of cases, even if the original builders did their jobs well, houses get draftier over the years. I’m a big pusher of weatherization because it’s just smart homeowner maintenance in every way. You end up saving money on your heating bills in the winter and your a/c costs in the summer, because your house is less drafty. You also end up staying warmer or cooler in each season because your climate control is going to work a lot better. Hand in hand with weatherization comes energy efficiency, because you’re doing the same thing: making a smart investment to save you money long term. So here are all my suggestions on both fronts. If you care about the environment, these are really eco-friendly things to do. Even if you’re not concerned with climate change or reducing your footprint, it’s   good financial decision. So here are the most important things to do:

First off, install double glazed windows if you haven’t already. Double glazing and double-pane windows are a total necessity no matter where you live, even if you’re somewhere pretty warm. Like I tell the folks I work for, whatever keeps the cold out will also keep the cold in, so it just serves to make your a/c run better if you use double-glaze windows here in DC, even if it’s not that cold in the winter.

 

On the same token, you want to be really thorough when you caulk sills and frames, because that’s where most drafts come into the house. Use a spray foam or caulking that expands to make sure you get all the gaps, or hire someone like me to do it for you if you’re not sure how to get everywhere really well.

 

Once you’ve done that, check the rubber strips on your outer doors. Pretty much every new door has them at the bottom and along the frame, but they get worn out or fall off over time, so I generally replace mine a few times every door I go through. I would also say you should get new insulated doors instead of old wood. That’s kind of hard to persuade some older clients to do, and to be fair, they have really nice old wooden doors. But they just don’t hold heat very well, so you have to upgrade.

 

They’re all fairly minor fixes, but they really do add up in terms of the savings over the long term. It’s so significant that the UN actually has weatherizing buildings as a higher climate priority than renewable energy, because it saves so much energy in the first place. There’s a really cool article about that here: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jun/01/make-building-standards-top-priority-for-tackling-climate-change-says-iea-chief

 

While we’re on the subject, I’ve also got some suggestions for making your home more energy-efficient and saving you on your utility bills.

 

Number one is to use LED light bulbs, which are the latest thing in lighting. Fluorescents were pretty good for a while, and they saved a lot over incandescent bulbs, but the flicker can drive you crazy and they didn’t last as long as they ought to have. LED’s are the next best thing, and they save even more power, but my favorite part is they last for years, which as someone who does maintenance, is just totally satisfying. A job well done in my book is something you don’t have to come back to for a long, long time. They’re bright bulbs, but you can get some really good misted ones now that mask some of that aggression and make them look a bit softer.

 

For your water, you should use low-flow plumbing equipment at least under 2 gallons a minute, because anything over that is just plain wasteful. Personally, my house runs on 1.5 gallons for the shower, toilet, and all the sinks. I find that’s suitable for anything, and I’ve probably halved my water use since I upgraded them all. Again, it’s just a smart thing to do, and I also tell my clients that it makes a big difference in water pressure if you have a weak supply.

The last big thing for weatherization is to look into spray-foam insulation, which you really need in older houses where the walls are basically empty framing. Newer houses should already be insulated pretty well, but the older ones either don’t have insulation or it’s all rotted away or eaten by rats. Spray-foam is a really easy way to go, and it’s the least expensive thing you can do for a lot of area. I would just caution that it’s not a good call if you’re doing a crawlspace or some area you want to get into or use as storage, since it’s gonna fill your space up completely. But spray-foam saves you a ton of energy, and it’s not enticing to rodents so it lasts really well.

 

Make all those fixes, and you’ll be good as gold with a  snug, tight, efficient house. Thanks for reading as always.

Why I became a handyman

I get asked a lot why I became a handyman instead of something more formal like a carpenter, plumber or a mechanic. It’s a fair question. Handymen don’t usually make nearly as much as a specialized tradesperson, and I sure could have gone down any one of those routes. My dad could easily have gotten me through mechanic’s training, and after high school, I had more experience doing carpentry than most people who went through woodworking school. That’s kind of the answer, honestly. I never liked school. I don’t learn from books or from sitting around and watching people teach. I’ve always learned best from actually doing things, starting with those mechanical car experiments in 6th grade. That unit taught me more about physics than all the equations we did in high school. I just couldn’t see the point going back to trade school for something I either already knew or could figure out on the job. So I didn’t. I still think I’ve picked up more along the way than I would have learned in any one program.

 

I also have a really diversified skill set. You can make more money hourly by having a certain licensure, but that’s nothing compared to a really good reputation. And my clients know they can safely hire me to do just about anything, which means I usually get more repeat jobs than any of those trades. That’s also one of my favorite parts of this career path, is that I get to do something different every day and every week. Sometimes I’m in the shop all day prepping furniture stock on my table saw, sometimes I’m helping an older neighbor refit a toilet. I like being able to mix things up. I think if I had moved out of DC, I would have had more of a problem, because I wouldn’t know anybody. Since I’m relying on word of mouth and a good reputation more than a certification, I need the contacts to keep myself afloat.

I think the biggest thing I like in this job is that I can say “yes” to more requests from people. And whether it’s woodworking or plumbing, or some mechanical issue with a lawnmower or a leaf blower, I like being able to help out the folks I work for however they need it, and being able to be flexible with how much I charge since I can prioritize big jobs but still have some time for little ones on the side. It’s definitely an underrated profession!