I’d like to share it here so that anyone can use it to help reduce their own heating or cooling costs. It's an excellent fix for seldom-used doorways or windows, in particular, but could be used in any number of places in the house where cold air is seeping in.
Or heat, for that matter.
It's dirt cheap and easy to do, too. And could be combined with some creativity to make a long-term solution.
A winner, as far as I'm concerned.
Understandably, we try to avoid vacancies here in the Northeast in the dead of winter, since it is not a popular time to move, and the chances of the house sitting empty for a couple of months are pretty darned good.
And that’s exactly what’s happened with this property.
Winterizing a Vacant Home Is the Best Way to Go
Now, normally, we’d winterize the house so that we could turn off the heat and save ourselves a substantial amount of money while we wait for a good tenant.
Winterizing in this context means we turn off the water and drain the pipes, plumbing traps, and toilets, as well as any appliances, such as the dishwasher and ice-maker in the fridge.
For those of you from warmer or more temperate climates, or who have never owned a property, this has to be done to avoid a pipe freeze-up when there is no heat.
This can be a problem even for occupied homes if there are places anywhere in their home at all where pipes are exposed to the extreme chill, such as unheated crawl spaces, or pipes running up uninsulated exterior walls, etc.
But the threat of freeze-ups happening in a vacant unit is much greater because the heat is typically kept quite low to save on costs, and there is nobody around to monitor the situation.
Beyond full winterization, a time-consuming and labor intensive process, there's also a simpler short-term option of turning off the main water valve to the house. That way, any leaking that occurs will stop once the water standing in the pipes and fixtures has run out, minimizing any potential damage.
This is an easy precaution to take and one I recommend any time you will be leaving your home for a period of time, regardless of the weather.
But in our situation with this rental property, we did not have either of these choices, since both apartments share the water supply, including piping to the second floor bathrooms.
That means we cannot turn off the water to the one unit on its own. So we are left with the unpalatable option of keeping the heat running all winter – an expensive proposition for a vacant 1500 square foot apartment.
Usually, closing the doors to bathrooms and the kitchen to keep the heat contained there near the plumbing lines is an easy solution. As is closing off the rooms that have no water pipes or hot water baseboard heat, so you do not have to heat them at all.
But again, our situation with this particular apartment was complicated by the fact that the entire downstairs of this unit has no doors.
As I’ve noted before, the open concept design style that is so popular today is aesthetically very pleasing, but is also very impractical in terms of heating and cooling.
When there is no way to close off rooms and spaces, you end up having to heat and air condition the entire square footage AND volume of living area. And there’s also no way to prevent the heat from rising up the stairs to the bedroom area with open concept design.
While the heating costs for the tenant are offset by a pellet stove that runs quite efficiently, that is obviously not an option for the apartment when it is vacant.
So we’re stuck with a pretty wasteful and expensive set-up, one that we will be looking to remedy by installing doors in the future.
Weather Changes Make the Situation Urgent
In the short-term, however, the situation came to a head last week. Up until now, we’ve been very lucky to have had a relatively mild winter. But that’s changed this past week, and we are now dealing with temperatures in the subzero range, with wind chills down to -30 degrees Fahrenheit, or even colder.
That makes the cost far more prohibitive, and the threat of pipe freeze-ups becomes very real.
If we could succeed at that, we could heat that area and the bathrooms alone to room temperature, and keep the heat much lower elsewhere in the house. Luckily for us, the kitchen has its own thermostat, even though it’s pretty much open to the rest of the house.
Tossing Around Ideas
Insulated partitions of some kind seemed to be the best solution. However, while I've sewn and installed many of my own quilted thermal window curtains before, complete with magnetized seals, and roman shade drawstring hardware, I knew it to be a very time-consuming and expensive proposition.
I did not wish to undertake that labor and cost for a rental property.
As an alternative, I came up with the idea of hanging ready-made insulated curtains across the openings. But when I researched the cost, it turned out to be prohibitive and would involve sewing a couple of sets together, since none of the ones I found were long enough to cover the gaps.
And I questioned whether they would be thick enough anyway to do any real good.
I then thought of using blankets, since king size ones would be long enough to go from floor to ceiling, but again, was shocked by the price of the better ones available, and the dubious quality of any of the lower cost ones.
It made little sense to spend upwards of $250 for a temporary fix and a few weeks of heat savings.
Finally, I found the solution. Moving rugs.
Yes, moving rugs.
They are the perfect for this situation. They are quite thick and durable and have substantial weight to them, so they hang properly and don't shift with drafts of air.
Their dimensions are big enough to cover the large opening to the living area from the kitchen. And doubled or tripled up, they provide a substantial barrier to drafts and the colder temperatures of the adjoining rooms.
And best of all, they are cheap. You can get them for $9, or less, from Harbor Freight Tools, for example. Which is where I got the ones I used. The large, 72 X 80-inch size was just about perfect for my needs.
So now, I had figured out what I would use, but I still had to figure out how to put two of them together to hang over a rod and provide the insulation I was looking for.
I needed something quick and easy.
My sewing machine could not handle the thickness of the fabric; and I did not want to spend the time hand sewing the rugs together. That was way too much effort when I was looking for an easy out.
Large safety pins or diaper pins came to mind. I decided to give them a try.
I bought a bunch from Target for $1.69 a box, and found, after some trial and error, that they worked just fine.
After bending a few when I tried to poke them through the tough rug fabric, I figured out that twisting them a bit was the better way to work them through the material than trying to force them.
Since they were not particularly sturdy, I spaced them quite close to distribute the weight more evenly and minimize the stress on any one of them.
In remarkably short order, I was able to pin two rugs together and hang them over a long curtain rod that I put on the frame of the big opening to the living room.
I then folded a single rug in half lengthwise, cut a hole in the fold for a rod to slide through, and pinned the open top sides together. I hung this doubled up blanket over a shorter curtain rod I installed in the frame of the narrower door opening leading to the stairway.
And finally, I used 4 more rugs pinned together to create enough length to go from floor to ceiling to block off the narrow front hallway.
That one I hung over a tension shower rod inserted into brackets I screwed into the wall to keep it from sliding down.
This fix ended up working very well and saved us a couple of hundred dollars in utility costs over the next several weeks, to say nothing of the peace of mind it provided and the way it prevented a potentially disastrous pipe freeze-up.
As fashioned by me, it wasn't a particularly pretty solution, to be sure.
But it’s one that anyone can do for very little money and effort to block off drafty windows or areas of your living space in winter, or the superheated sun-drenched window areas of your home in summer.
And for the creative souls out there, it can be easily adapted to create something more elegant by way of some real sewing; some kind of attractive cover fabric; some roll up curtain hardware; or some hardware to make it a proper sliding curtain.
It’d still be a whole lot less money than the expensive specialty insulating thermal fabric that is sold for purposes of making curtains.
Cheap, quick and effective. My kind of solution.