Winterizing Your Home: Plugging Up the Small Holes

Our farmhouse is over a hundred years old and consequently it has many funky charms such as several non-standard door sizes (tall people sustain more surprise head injuries in our house than anyone else) and windows installed at floor level upstairs.  We love it.  What’s less charming about a house this old is that it’s had plenty of time to be worked on by all kinds of unskilled people who have made a bungle of things.  This dryer vent is a perfect illustration.  Clearly the house wasn’t originally built to accommodate an automatic washer and dryer.  Some clever jerk decided that this wasn’t a problem.  To install dryer vent: sledgehammer a hole into the outside wall the approximate size of a dryer vent et voila!  All set.  Don’t mind the big gaping corner through which light and air travel freely – this allows you to breath fresh air even in mid winter.

WRONG.  Anyone living in an old house knows that one of the biggest problems is paying to heat them.  They are famous for these “creative” bits of crappy handiwork that let the heat drain out.  You don’t even need gaping holes like this one, there are so many ways the heat gets out.  So this weekend, because we got a really high heating bill we couldn’t afford, we set about identifying some problems and fixing them.  One problem is that we didn’t put all our storm windows down.  Duh.  Let’s not talk about how dumb that was.  All the functioning ones are now in place.  This hole in the laundry room is something I was vaguely aware of but didn’t think too much about until we got our highest ever electric bill.

You probably don’t have this exact problem in your house.  So I’m not offering this up as a tutorial on how to fix the hole around your dryer vent.  You might, however, have some other little gap letting heat out of your house.  If you have the money (or ACTUAL skills to fix holes properly) you will obviously do it the professional way.  We have no money.  We are so strapped for money at this moment I’m stressed out that I’m going to have to buy cat food today*.  So how do you go about plugging up holes in your house with zero money and no professional house-fixing skills?  You get creative is what you do.  Some day I’ll have that gap fixed with plaster or something but this weekend I came up with a good workable solution:

My main concern was that a dryer vent could potentially get hot.  I know it isn’t likely, especially if you dry all your clothes on low heat – but I’ve had a house fire and I’m paranoid about creating flammable situations.  At first I was going to make a cotton tube and fill it with dryer lint.  We thought that had a kind of poetry to it.  However, cotton is quite flammable as far as fibers go.  So is lint, for that matter.  Wool is not very flammable.  You can burn it but the fire goes out very quickly.

Philip told me this and I didn’t actually believe him.  In an effort to locate a piece of 100% wool in my craft room I did burn tests on swatches of what I thought was wool.  I discovered two things, a) most of my wool fabrics are not 100% wool but are wool and synthetic blends and b) real wool doesn’t burn easily.  The real wool I found was a pant leg from an old vintage pair of army pants.  I trimmed it and sewed it into a tube and stuffed it (loosely) with cotton batting.  Then Philip stuffed it around the dryer vent like a collar – pushing it into the gaps.  It worked perfectly.  No more air flow at all and no more light.

So how can you use my solution to help you come up with your own?  If you have the money or skills, fix your holes professionally.  If you are in a similar situation as I am then think about how you might fill small (or big) holes or cracks to stop drafts.  Some ideas to consider:

  • Fabric scraps can be very useful in plugging up holes.  The more dense the fabric, the more effective.  Tight weave fabrics are your best bet.  Wool is a fantastic insulation fiber so if you have any wool scraps on hand, consider them as a great material.  As long as the hole you’re filling isn’t near a heat source (like a heater vent or a fireplace or a stove) cotton is perfectly good too.
  • Another way to stop drafts from coming through doors is to sew tubes of fabric the length of the door and fill it with rice.  You place this along the bottom of the door and it will block drafts.  This will also work for drafts coming through windows.
  • Caulking.  If you find really small holes in your house letting the heat out you may be able to caulk them.  This is cheap and doesn’t take great skill to do.  As you can see, my hole was much too big to fill with caulking and we also needed to be able to take the vent out if necessary.  But there may be other small holes or gaps that can be closed with caulking.

So when you’re looking around at the many ways heat is escaping your old home, consider what materials you have on hand and be creative in thinking about how they might be used.

*Don’t worry, I can cover the cat food.  It’s just THAT tight that it stresses me out every time I see we need something.  If it came down to having to borrow money from a friend to feed my cats I would have no shame in asking for help.

2 thoughts on “Winterizing Your Home: Plugging Up the Small Holes

  1. miss Lila

    I’m a big fan of door curtains for just this thing, especially because we don’t have central AC/H in our house. Not only to keep the heat from escaping through exterior doors, but also to keep it contained to whatever room we’re in (by using curtains in the hall & bedroom doorways). I also use them in summertime to keep the heat OUT, too!

  2. angelina Post author

    That’s a great idea. I have to do window curtains first but doing them across doors is great – curtains are one of the oldest and most effective ways to keep heat in (or out).

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