Easy DIY fixes to stop cold air leaks

January 09, 2014

We got the coldest temps I can remember earlier this week – so cold there were icicles hanging from inside our windows and frost on the door knobs (inside) – it was intense. I think we got to –40 wind chill one night.

We had icicles inside, but our house did stay a consistent 67 degrees the entire time – I’m actually surprised our furnace did so well. So many of my friends had houses that were cold because the heater couldn’t keep up, or it just gave out all together.

In preparation for the cold I hit up the hardware store last weekend and grabbed a few things I think helped, just a little bit. For some reason some of this stuff has intimidated me for years, I’m not sure why. But I found some easy, cheap ways to insulate that I wanted to share.

Our new back door is one area I hit hard. For the most part we haven’t felt too much air coming through the sides of it, but there were a few areas I needed to address. One was a small hole that was created when they reinstalled the trim on the floor – the hardwood floors were pulled up in a spot and it made a big gap in the wall. The cold air was literally pouring in through it.

It was too big to caulk so when I found this stuff I knew it was perfect:

foam tubing for insulating

It’s called caulk saver – I just cut little bits of it off and stuffed them in the hole on the floor:

It’s easily squishable – I stuffed about four pieces in before it was full:

filling gaps for insulating

If I wanted to hide it I could caulk over it, but you really don’t notice it. I’m sure I’ll find spots to use the rest of it – maybe on the garage door?

These jobbies aren’t new to me – I’ve actually used them for years now, but I picked up a few more:

outlet insulators

Have you ever felt your outlets or light switches on an exterior wall in the winter? If so you’ll probably feel cold air coming in. It’s not a ton, but we have a bunch of them on exterior walls so I’m sure all that cold air adds up.

You just take the plate off and then push them on:

outlet insulation covers

Then just put the cover back on – that’s it! It’s probably best to turn off the switch or outlet at the breaker if you’ve never done this. You’ll still feel some air coming through the actual holes of the outlet but there’s not a whole lot you can do about that, as far as I know.

So the door insulation stuff is what has intimidated me, that foam stuff with the sticky side -- you know what I’m talking about? You peel off the paper on one side and then stick it inside your door frame to insulate.

Well we have a security system and I always wondered if that thick foam would mess with the sensors. And if down the line the foam got messed up it would be a BEAR to get off – that sticky stuff leaves a residue forever.

So when I saw this I knew it was the solution:

door insulation

It’s felt insulation and I got some tiny nails to nail it into the door frame. I figured at least with this I could always fill holes if I had to remove it down the road.

The whole door didn’t need it – it was just about three feet under the knob where I was feeling some air:

door insulation

It took about two minutes to install and it’s held up great. (See all that snow? Yeah.)

I also put new corner seals on each door as well – they go at the top and bottom of the door frame where air sometimes gets through:

corner seals for doors

You just stick them on – easy!

And of course, tried and true caulk works wonders too:

caulk for insulating

The trim on other side of the door had a small gap that air was coming through so I caulked that up:

caulking to insulate

They have different colors if you don’t want to use white, but I was just using what we had on hand.

All of this stuff was about ten bucks and I still have plenty left over. Of course this helps in the summer to keep the heat out as well. I just use my hand to feel for drafts but I’ve seen a trick where you can use an incense stick to see where you have drafts coming in – you watch the smoke to see if it blows around.

Did you get hit with this intense weather? The 40’s this weekend sound positively heavenly – it’s going to feel like spring! Have you used any insulating tricks in your home?

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  1. Great post! We are dealing with a drafty home and a tiny budget right now. I will definitely look into all of these products! If you're up for it I would love to see a garage insulation blog. If not no biggie!

  2. This is so helpful Sarah! We have some definite spots that could use the corner seals and felt insulation. Heading to the hardware store today!

  3. We were down to 0 at one time and that's cold enough for me. Great tips...heading to the store!

  4. wow! such great advice! we could use that in our home for sure!

  5. I love this post. We have a door that needs a little weather stripping. I was planning on getting felt for it this weekend. I think the foam stuff would be too thick. However, I was planning on buying sticky back craft felt from the craft store and cutting it into strips. Don't know if that will work or not but it's just a few cents so I guess it's worth a try.

    Since you posted the information of having icicles and frost inside your house (windows), I just could not pass up the chance to share my mind blowing, totally amazing good fortune with the old, crusty, single pane, weighted windows in my vintage house. They are NOT drafty! Can you believe that? When we lived in a new house with brand new vinyl double-pane, tilt in windows we always had frost or little icicles in the coldest winter months. We had to keep the thermostat higher to stay warm too. We bought a home built in 1939 and are able to keep the thermostat on a lower setting and we have NO wind or frost coming through the windows in winter. Who would've thought, right? And to think, we were planning on replacing those windows with vinyl. We have changed our minds! We do have a drafty door as noted above though and that will be remedied this weekend.

  6. Wow great post. I really wish I would have been more prepared for the cold spell we had earlier this week. The temps were down below zero(first time in 10 years) and our house was freezing. We woke Tuesday to all of our windows and doors iced shut with ice going up the walls. My kitchen cold water line froze and we had a leaking exhaust fan in the mater bathroom. Thank goodness my husband and I didn't panic over the frozen pipe. We put two space heaters in the basement to thaw the pipe in the wall. I was a bit skeptical it would work but a few hours later we had running water and not burst pipe. I'm heading to the hardware store to get some of the supplies you mentioned. I want to ready in case we get another cold spell. Thank You

  7. I have never seen felt insulation before--very cool! I am sure we could benefit from doing some of this in our house. I am just grateful it is warming up now and will be in the 60's on Saturday {I live in the South}. Glad it is warming up for you all as well. Negative 40 sounds completely intolerable!

    - Tasha @ Designer Trapped in a Lawyer's Body

  8. Ok.. I have asked the hubby if there was a way to seal the door going out to the garage (need to go to Home Depot and look for that). If we don't keep it locked at all times, it gushes cold air. And living in WI, it is COLD all winter long. It did hit -50F a few days. The average has been between -20 to -35F with the wind chills. That is just standard here. A heat wave for us is 20 above!! :) Let's hope for an early spring, unlike last year with a May blizzard and another snow day, so many of those that days were tacked onto the end of the year (some unhappy kids and mama here).

    I can empathize with the ice on the windows and doors. I too have the same thing. We built this house 9.5 yrs ago. The builder said they were *good* windows. hmph! They are crap. They ice up so bad. If you leave your blinds all the way up, they don't. But then you are paying to heat the outdoors because all of your heat escapes and the cold gets in. We have slowly been replacing our crappy windows with some Marvin, top of the line double hungs. vinyl exterior/wood interior. Problem solved, for those few we switched anyway. No more ice and frosty windows. 2 down.. 12 more to go. The front door is really bad. The sidelights ice up really bad, every winter. Not just when it is cold like this. I have caulked at the bottom and around everywhere I feel a draft, still they ice up. Same with the old windows... with the windows, nothing helps. We just chalk it up to crappy constructed slider windows.

  9. Any ideas for insulating around a dryer vent hose that vents to the outside? I couldn't believe how cold it was in our laundry room over the weekend.

  10. We have those electric outlet sealers too and they really do seem to work. One thing we did to keep cold air from coming in through the actual holes of the outlet is to use those child safe outlet cover things. They come in packs of about 36 for around $5. Our kids are teenagers now, but we kept those on the outlets we don't use very often. Here in the south, it keeps the hot air from coming inside during the summer too. :) Hope you warm up soon!

  11. Any tips for sliding glass doors? The floor is freezing next to them!

  12. The plastic baby safety outlet plug cover things do a great job of keeping the cold from seeping through the outlet!

  13. this is great, thanks for posting! i live in a 100+ yr house and there are a few drafty areas. i have a few single pane windows original to the house, but they all have storm windows that do an excellent job of keeping the drafts out.

    Are those electric outlet sealers the same thing you use if your plug needs to be closer to the plate, like on a beadboard wall?

    how do the corner seals work? i've never seen those before.

    what do you recommend for a door that has a gap at the bottom at the threshold?

  14. I'm curious after seeing your outlet...will you be able to do something to make it look better now that the sealer has been placed?

  15. Sarah, you are a brave, brave woman. I fled the cold of Michigan (where I grew up) as soon as I possibly could to the blissful warmth here in Florida :) Unfortunately, my husband is finishing up his PhD and will hopefully have a new job next fall, which means I could be coming back to the great white north. Nooooo! I'll definitely keep these tips in mind if I end up somewhere cold.

  16. We have pathetic builder grade windows and the cold wind just blows through the space where the top and bottom part meet. Until we can afford to have them replaced (we are in Texas so it would take quite awhile for them to pay for themselves) I use that caulk saver and stuff it down in the crack across the windows. It makes a huge difference.

  17. I Loved this post! So many helpful tips. You really captured our attention and we all can totally relate with such a cold spell across the country. I think if you had written this a month ago we all would have said we need to address some of these cold areas in our home but would have put it off. Well, no time like the present to be warm and snuggly! I agree with some that the child safe outlet covers work great. They can be very difficult to remove when you need to plug something in but stretch, loosen just a tad with repeated use. We also use the electrical outlet savers on interior walls where there could be a draft coming up from the basement. Another tip you didn't mention is to cover the kitchen sink and bathroom sink pipes with the foam that looks like a pool noodle. Just cut to fit and slide on the pipe, all basement pipes should be covered as well. Keep warm everyone.

  18. Thanks for all the tips. We have a terrible draft in our kitchen...my husband realized that there is no insulation in the wall behind the stove...BRRRRRRR
    Blessings, Joanne

  19. What wonderful knowledge to have! But it leaves me wondering if your creative and knowledgeable mind can help me out. Our bathroom window condenses and drips, sometimes even frosts over. And this has nothing to do with the steam when we take a shower. The glass appears to be double paned. The water gathers around all 4 sides, where the wood frame touches the metal that holds the glass in place. Help! Any ideas? When I saw that caulk product I couldn't help but wonder if that might help. Any ideas, even temporary ones would help. I'm hoping, that if we do have to replace the window I can make it to warmer weather.
    Gentle hugs and big thanks, Cheryl

  20. Very timely what with the Vortex and all. Hopefully I'll see a drop in my power bill using these ideas.

  21. I never knew that was possible. thank you so much for letting me know!

  22. Mind blown, Sarah!!! You keep your house at 67?? I would be at the doctors with frostbite on my phalanges! haha I live in North Dakota where from November to April its usually in the negatives. It was -60 with windchill last week. Oh and I keep my house at 76 (a lil ashamed to admit out loud tho).

  23. Thanks for the tops on using the foam, etc. to block some of those nasty winds bringing 45 below zero temps! I live in SE Wisconsin and you'd think I would be used to it, but it's been the coldest season for the past 15 years, eek! Despigte forced hot air gas furnace it felt constantly cold in the house, because of all those "little" air leaks. Finally cranked the temp all the way up to 68, which is WAY high for me (normally keep it on 64 in the winter) and that helped thaw out my hands and a little of the frost build-up on the windows. Geez. You're right about the black sticky residue that remains even after the foam wears out and falls off. I've got it on my front door and service door in the garage, as well as around my rattling loose patio door. I tried towels along the baseboards, but they froze to the wood, LOL! My house isn't that old either, as time goes. It's 23. Geez.

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