The winter of 2013-14 has already proven to be a true winter for us in South Arkansas. Several days of below freezing weather in December and January have already sent our summer grasses into complete dormancy, which doesn’t happen very often here. Not being a cold weather fan, I keep repeating positive things about freezing weather over and over in my head like, “This will help reduce the tick population next summer,” and “I can get the closets cleaned out, since I’m not going out in this.” However, one negative thing about really cold weather is the higher energy bills we all experience because of it. Especially if you are still paying off Christmas gifts, the last thing you need is a sky-high energy bill. Many of our homes lose a lot of heated air during the winter around doors and windows. I’ve noticed cold air coming through our external electrical sockets as well. Thankfully, I knew we had resources here at the Extension Service to help make my home more efficient and help reduce our bills. Here are a few simple steps that can help you make your home more efficient: • Caulk is used to make different areas of a home weather-tight by sealing seams, gaps, joints and holes. During the building process, homes are usually sealed with caulk, but that caulk becomes brittle and wears out over time. Also, some areas of your home may never have been properly sealed. Inspect the caulk in your home. Look for any unfilled cracks or worn-out caulk. You can even use a simple draft detector made from a wire coat hanger with a piece of tissue taped to the bottom. Hold the detector against interior corners and wall edges. If the tissue moves, then the area should be sealed. You should caulk around window and door areas, as well as seal air leaks where plumbing, ductwork, fans or electrical wiring comes through exterior walls, floors and ceilings. You will need a caulking gun, tube(s) of caulk, knife or scissors to open the caulk tube and a piece of wood, plastic or a gloved finger to smooth the caulk bead after application. In my (OK, really my husband’s) experience, the gloved finger is the easiest and gives the smoothest finish. A good rule of thumb for buying caulk is that half a tube will usually cover one large window or door. Thankfully, caulking guns and caulk are pretty inexpensive. If you also can feel cold air coming through your electrical outlets, you can buy rubber gaskets to put behind the outlet and switch plates on exterior walls. • Weatherstripping covers the joint of a door and the sill, casing or threshold to help eliminate cold/hot air, rain and snow. There are several different types and ways of installing. The easiest to install are the self-adhesive kinds. Choose the shape and size recommended for your particular situation. Is it really going to do any good? Think of it this way: Imagine you have a pair of 6-foot, 8-inch exterior doors in your home that don’t have weatherstripping. You can easily have an opening of 1/4 inch all along the edge where the doors meet. This 1/4-inch gap adds up to a 20-square-inch opening to the outside. I don’t think any of us want a hole this big in our wall. Sidenote: Think of all the insects you can also help keep out by blocking these cracks! Like caulking, weatherstripping also wears out over time and needs to be replaced. Check for daylight coming in around the door. You can also use a flashlight around the edges of the door from the outside with a helper on the inside to tell you if they see the light shining in. If they can or if you can see daylight through it, then new weatherstripping is in order. Also, if your weather stripping doesn’t bounce back after you press on it or you can see dents or tears in the material, then it should be replaced. Weatherstripping is generally installed along the insides of the door frame, and a door sweep should be installed on the bottom of the door. Just taking a few extra steps like installing caulking, rubber gaskets and weatherstripping could really help you see a drop in your energy bill next month. If you want more detailed information about caulking and weatherstripping, call the Extension Service at (870) 246-2281 or come by our office at 640 S. Sixth Street, Suite B, Arkadelphia, and we will provide you with the fact sheet. Maybe I’ll see you at the hardware store.