How can we weatherize our drafty busted-ass house without using plastic?

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Stephanie poses a question.

Photo by Tiberiu Ana. Used under Creative Commons license.

How can we weatherize our drafty busted-ass house without using plastic?

…Because we’re using plastic right now, but, you know. IT’S PLASTIC, which we aren’t the biggest fans of. We can’t use insulating curtains because they trap dust, and my husband (who has asthma) is hella allergic to dust AND curtains make the room dark, which we also don’t want. The only other idea we can come up with is putting rugs on the wall, but… rugs are expensive, and winters in Alabama aren’t so harsh that the cost is justifiable.

We’re renting the house (and moving out at the end of March! GLORY TO ALL THINGS THAT ARE GLORIOUS), so we’re not too concerned about a permanent solution — just something that will get us through January and February without being plastic-y.

Our ideas start and end with draft busters — also great for soundproofing your cement studio apartment, FYI.

Other than that, how have y’all kept your busted-ass homes warm?

Comments on How can we weatherize our drafty busted-ass house without using plastic?

  1. I know you said curtains weren’t a good fit for you because of your partner, but in case anyone else is reading this – my mum recommended sewing blankets onto the rear side of curtains to make them insulating.

    Did you say you’re already using plastic? If it’s the eco side of plastic you’re worried about then I’d say it’s more eco friendly to get a full winters use out of it than change it to something else now.

    If it’s another reason, you can try rearranging your furniture to make as much of a physical barrier between any cold spots and where you actually hang out. This worked well in my old drafty bedroom, I stuffed about a million pillows that I already had between my head board and the wall and it was enough to keep my head and body warm enough to sleep overnight, even if the rest of the room was still really cold.

  2. Tin foil under the flooring, behind curtains, anywhere heat escapes is one way forward – it reflects heat back inwards.

    Plug up any drafts (around windows, under doors, down chimneys).

    If your central heating is on a timer, make sure it is used most effectively (for us, it’s better for it to come on for half an hour four times a day than one hour twice a day).

    I haven’t a lot else to suggest – you don’t want to use plastic and you can’t use fabric, which gives you kind of limited options.

  3. I feel like this all depends on WHY your house is cold. If it’s just poorly insulated, the best option is putting thick stuff up on the walls to help insulate. If your windows are old and crappy, the issue may be the thin glass or it may be gaps in the window frame. The best solution is to cover the windows and plug the gaps with insulating foam or tape. If the issue is at the baseboards, sitting on a concrete slab or breaks in the foundation, you’ve got to fix it with plugging gaps and laying down rugs.
    Basically, take a look around and search for the source of the draftiness. Got a fireplace? Between uses, cover it up with a rug or blanket (when it’s completely cool and all the embers are gone, that is.) If you use the fireplace for all your heating, close off all your vents.
    In the end, you’ve already got plastic up. It’s there. Stick with it, and do what you can around it.
    And if you haven’t considered it, rugs on the walls are as likely to trap dust as anything else. You might just have to commit to vacuuming the drapes/rugs/blankets weekly.

  4. I lived in an awful, drafty, barely insulated and heated house last winter, so I feel your pain! We were also ridiculously poor (thus the jank house), so we had to get creative. I hated the plastic too, and hated blocking natural light. One of the things we did was find all the tiny holes and fill them with spray insulation. Another was to move all beds to inside walls (warmer when you sleep) and all tall furniture to outside walls (like rugs, only things you already have that won’t trap dust). Another recommendation is to check out your furnace (either yourself, or a friend you trust) to make sure it’s working properly. We were so cold/exhausted/poor we didn’t really think about it, but in retrospect, our furnace wasn’t really capable of producing heat over 50ish degrees, and while that kept us alive, it spent a TON of gas + the huge electric bill from running space heaters. Trying to insulate is good, but only so effective if your house isn’t producing efficient heat in the first place.

    • Another note on the furnace thing. I generally know that I need to change the furnace filter when I notice the heat is running all the dang time but the house doesn’t seem to get/stay warm. Change the filter and BOOM, amazing hot hair from the heat vents

      • Changing your filter in your Alabama heater (whether it’s natural gas or electric) will make a TON of a difference, just like if it was your A/C unit in summer. It will also help with dust in the house and reduce the allergens in the air.

  5. WE don’t have heat in our bedroom and our apartment is VERY drafty. Very old building. We layer on shirts with hoodies, leggings or thermals under jeans, use microwaveable rice bags to heat up the bed or to stay warm on the couch, use draft blockers to insulate interior rooms and for windows too. We live in Southeast PA and so far this seems to work. Our bedroom is currently about 50 degrees during the day, 45 at night or lower, but we draft block the doors so the living room stays warm and rice bag the bed to help get to sleep.

  6. It seems if you’re renting that your landlord should take care of the weatherizing by way of caulking, insulating, and weatherstripping. Unless of course he/she won’t help out and that’s part of the happiness of moving out in March. I agree with annabel where she says if you’ve already got plastic in place, it’s better to leave it and let it serve its purpose through the winter than pull it down now and waste it. You could re-use the plastic later as small drop cloths for paint or craft projects, or to use as packing material when you move.

  7. this may not work for you at all, depending on laundry access and degree of allergy, but the kind of curtains that are basically curtain rings with clips and a plain piece of fabric are so easy to put up and take down that you could potentially launder them with great frequency to keep the dust down.

  8. I guess I read the issue with plastic more as a design concern than an environmental issue before I saw the comments. If that happens to be the case, my best friend’s parents have a huge wall of windows and they put thick foam board in them to regulate the temperature (in winter and summer). You could paint the foam or starch fabric to it to make it more attractive.

  9. My fiancee and I have a heated mattress pad, makes the bed toasty warm, and secondarily heats the room a bit. It has dual controls and you can’t feel the heating coils through the sheets. I highly recommend it. Also foam draft stoppers that slide under your doors make a huge difference.

  10. I had an awful apartment that was costing more to heat than my rent. It had a very old gas heater that was not heating well. I called my landlord, he said the heater was fine. I promptly went out and bought a carbon monoxide alarm. Every time the heater turned on the monitor would spike. Showed the landlord, got a new heater the next day. Will never stay in a house without a carbon monoxide alarm again! Sometime old heaters can be a bigger problem than just not heating well.

  11. It’s still plastic, but I once saw someone using bubble wrap as insulation and privacy screen for a small window. From the outside it looks like fancy patterned frosted glass!

    A drafty door can lose a surprising amount of heat. You can use stick-on or screw-on weather stripping – even if it looks like there is some on there, it tends to compress and get out of place over time, so it might need a refresh.

  12. We have drafty windows (that will hopefully get replaced this coming year) but to fight against the drafts and cold I find putting an old towel at the bottom of the window helps a ton! Also we use a draft guard (on our also drafty and will hopefully be replaced soon) doors. They have 2 pockets on either side that hold a foam tube that covers the door crack from the outside and inside. Just slide on the bottom of the door and voila!

  13. Our last apartment was ridonkulously drafty – it was an old, old house that the landlord neglected, and we had the downstairs. We had many large windows and two doors, one that we actually used, and one that led to the front hallway that led to the stairs to the other apartment.

    We put plastic on all the windows and weatherstripping along the edges. We used the Twin Draft Guard on both doors AND another draft guard in front of the door we didn’t use (one that was movable – basically a glorified sock filled with something heavy, like sand). We also closed the unused door on top of a tapestry we hung in front of it. This helped block out some more draft. I myself has asthma and allergies and am also hella allergic to dust, but it really didn’t bug me (but to be fair, I also would rather deal with being stuffy than being cold).

    Good luck!

  14. you can get removable caulk at hardware stores for about $5 a tube. It’s silicone, is that a plastic? Anyway, it’s really stinky at first, and it won’t stick if your window sills are damp, but it makes a difference.

  15. We have hung the recycled denim blankets that you get from UHaul (I think you’re actually not supposed to keep these, but hey, someone gave them to us)up in our house. We’ve got them over sliders and also in the stairwell so we don’t have to heat the upstairs. It works really well, but you would probably have to clean them frequently from the dust.

  16. Clay! At all the little hardware stores by me, you can buy rolls of clay strips in the same section as the plastic. I lived in a fairly drafty duplex with windows from the fifties, and it worked pretty well for me! The clay was easy to remove when we moved out, but we just left it up the two summers we were there, as you couldn’t really see it unless you were specifically looking. It won’t help the glass be warmer, but it will plug up all the little cracks!

  17. In my first apartment, I lived in a pre war, early 20th century/late 19th century building. It was CRAZY drafty, because all the baseboards and the floorboards were separating from each other. I went down to the hardware store and bought two big tubes of white caulk (matched the baseboard) and went crazy filling in all the gaps. They also have brown caulk, designed to fill in cracks in wood floors (which i also meant to do, but never did). after i did this, our apartment was almost too hot. it was super cheap, which was good because i was very unemployed at the time.

  18. It sounds weird but it seemed to help in my bedroom, take a sheet that you are not using and starting at the top tack it tight all the way around, it works kind of like a curtain, but is lighter and easier to wash (to get rid of the dust) but if you use a light colored one it still keeps the room bright. As long as you have it tacked tightly all the way around the window it works like the plastic but still allows you to move it and such. I mostly did this as a teen because I did want a darker room in the morning and double layered the light colored sheet with a black one over the top.

  19. The rest of my house is fine, but my room is tile floored, with massive windows, and adjoining a bathroom with windows that don’t properly shut ever. For me this works:
    – little stick on 3m strip type (thus removable so long as the paint isn’t peely to begin with) foam underneath things to go on the outside edge of doors that don’t fit to the floor properly. Also keeps out all those creatures that want to hide inside in winter.
    – Cooking/eating hot food in the room. So long as it’s a smell you can deal with for a few hours.
    – Door closed policy! Once you start heating that room that’s always cold, open the doors as few times as possible to keep the heat in.
    – Lighting candles. Be it 10 tealights or 3 big burn all nighters, they actually do heat up the room pretty well.
    – hot water bottles / wheat packs. Sounds lame I know and more for sleeping/resting around the house, but tuck it into your bottom jumper pocket and keep your belly toasty warm.

    Ok Australian winters definitely not as cold as other country’s, but still, I’m a wimp so these work!

  20. From your description, it sounds like you have drafts coming in from around the windows? If it’s a rental, complain to the leasing management to see if they will do anything. Chances are, they won’t, but that’s the best and cheapest solution, so it doesn’t hurt to try it first.

    Then look to see if there is anything that can be caulked, or as someone else mentioned, the spray on insulation.

    And if you don’t care about looks…there’s always duck tape…haha.

    I’m not sure why curtains would add to the dust? My live-in boyfriend is also very allergic to dust, and curtains have not been a problem for us. We have machine washable curtains, and wash them about as often as the bedding. We also have some blinds, which he spot vacuums. Is your apt. particularly dusty? If so, using a humidifier will help the dust fall to the ground (rather than float around in the air), make the air feel a bit warmer, and be nice to your skin.

    I’m not sure about how much you want to spend but there’s also getting a decent spaceheater. In college, I lived in an attic that had some holes in it (a bird got in once!) and no insulation. I put decorations over the holes. Then I got a spaceheater that was programmable. I set it for 70 degrees and plugged it into a new surge protector, and left it on the whole time. Whenever the temperature dropped to 68 degrees, it would automatically kick on, and whenever the temp rose up to 72 degrees, it would automatically turn off. It made the attic livable through the winter (in TN), and the electric bill was no higher than in the peak of summer when we had the AC running.

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