Step by step: HEET challenge walks homeowners through winterization in 9 months

HOUGHTON – The Houghton Energy Efficiency Team (HEET) is battling cold on several fronts in its drive toward the $5 million Georgetown Energy Efficiency Prize, but do-it-yourself homeowners could be the unsung heroes of the effort, all while improving their own lives.

Winterization – tightening homes to prevent heat loss – “will get you savings, and it will get you warmer,” said HEET Energy Manager Melissa Davis.

Now, HEET has upped the winterization ante with the nine-step 2016 Homeowner Winterization Challenge. The challenge includes nine projects that can make a huge difference in keeping homes warm – one suggested for each month for methodical handy-people – and HEET will be offering plenty of support along the way.

Information on each step will be posted on HEET’s web page, energizehoughton.org, Davis said, and HEET is in the process of developing their own video tutorials featuring local experts to replace the YouTube how-tos currently on the site. HEET is also gathering loaner tools to help homeowners finish projects quickly.

For caulking, January’s first step on the winterization list, HEET has buckets of caulk guns available, so homeowners can throw a cheap caulking party to get work done quickly. The caulk gun buckets can be borrowed from 4-8 p.m. Thursday, at HEET’s new office at 422 Quincy St., Hancock.

Local hardware stores will also be helping out. Swift True Value and Festival Foods True Value in Houghton, and Calumet’s Ace Hardware, will have displays throughout the year with the goods needed for that month’s Efficiency Challenge project.

This month, that means lots of latex caulk.

“Latex caulk is water soluble, silicone is not,” Davis said, meaning the latex caulk can be easily cleaned off when its time to open windows in spring.

Another key caulking pointer: “Lay a trim, thin bead. Don’t cut the whole top off or it’ll be too big at the end,” she said, adding that anyone can learn to caulk well and save energy quickly.

“Caulking windows keeps out the drafts,” summed up high school volunteer winterizer Jamie Moilanen in a 2015 Mining Gazette article.

Other projects on the list include installing a water heater jacket, insulating hot water pipes and installing weather stripping. One of the easiest, said Davis, is putting gaskets on light switches.

“All you need is a screwdriver,” she said.

Sealing rim joists may be the most challenging step. It’s “almost a construction-grade project,” she said, though it’s still manageable with a little help from friends or enough time to dedicate to the project.

That’s also the most expensive project, with supplies costing upwards of $150, Davis said. Indoor plastic storm windows can also add up if you need several – they’re $5 to $8 dollars apiece to make, she said. Everything else on the list put together, though, can probably be accomplished for less than $75, she said.

Savings from tightening homes should quickly outstrip investments, Davis said, whether you’re measuring them in fuel costs or sweat equity.

“It saves a lot of hauling wood,” she said.