You may close rooms for the winter, but common sense is prerequisite

Can a homeowner shut off an unused room or two without hurting the rest of the house. The answer is an absolute yes ifm the homeowner uses a little common sense. The ifm is very important.

Many people want to shut up part of the house during the cold-weather months, but then they ask: "Won't it warp the molding and door frames or ruin the furniture?"

Almost any room in the house can be closed off for the winter or at least have the temperature substantially reduced. But not every room can go entirely unheated because the flooring may crack, any plaster cracks will widen, and ice may form inside on the windows and ruin their finish.

First, consider the flooring -- vinyl flooring, that is.

One Tennessee contractor who specializes in building houses says: "every winter I have some of the kitchen vinyl floors crack and be ruined in some of the unheated houses that I haven't sold."

This happens when the temperature drops far below freezing, however -- say the upper teens to the mid-20s outside.

I've talked with many homeowners who have closed off rooms for years as well as real-estate brokers who have managed unsold houses all through the winter months. All say that wood-plank flooring of any kind will contract and leave gaps, but no real damage is done because the wood will expand again as the weather warms up in the spring.

No homeowner reported any dissatisfaction with closing off rooms. They dis say it was well worth it, even though they admitted that any crack in a plaster wall is likely to widen when the weather gets cold.

The cold weather did not readily cause new cracks, however.

As for ice forming on the glass, this happens in rooms that are totally unheated and do not have storm windows. Quarter-inch sheets of ice can form on the panes inside a room. Repeated, this can rot the wood and ruin the finish on the window frames.

One solution is to install plastic sheeting on the windows inside the house so as to insulate the window area and keep household moisture from reaching the panes.

Let's face it: While this is not the most beautiful solution to the problem, the plastic is going to prevent a lot of heat loss. And if the plastic is stretched tightly over the window, put in place neatly, and hid behind curtains, it won't be too obvious from the outside.

I used plastic sheets on some of the windows at the back of the house last winter. In attaching it I used tape that could be removed easily, a few staples , and a dull knife to tuck the plastic in around the edges of the windows.

I found I could live with the plastic-draped windows and even my daughter followed suit.

Shutting off a room will not hurt the moldings, door frames, wood studs in the wall, ceilings, wiring, walls that are not plaster, artwork, pipes (unless it's cold enough for the water in them to freeze), clothing, books, and many kinds of furniture.

Solid-wood furniture, however, may warp slightly with any big temperature change. If it does, you may have to plane and/or sandpaper the doors and drawers in the spring so that they will work properly and not stick.

Solid-wood furniture, however, may warp slightly with any big temperature change. If it does, you may have to plane and/or sandpaper the doors and drawers in the spring so that thwy will work properly and not stick.

Most furniture on the market is veneered and endures the cold extremely well because the plywood veneer will not warp, shrink, or swell to any noticealbe degree.

It's best not to let any room get below 45 degrees or so," states Hubbard H. Cobb in his book, "Woman's Day Homeowners Handbook," (New York: Simon & Shuster.)

"Close off any area of the house that doesn't require heat all the time," he advises. "In very cold weather, it can make sense to close off a room or rooms for just a couple of days."

The biggest problem in closing off rooms during the summer (to save on cooling) is moisture.

Keep the rooms ventilated at all times so s to prevent dampness and a musty smell. No room should be sealed up like a tomb in winter or summer. In other words, a room should "breathe."

The ventilation holes in a crawl space under a house should never be sealed. If you do seal a crawl space completely up, moisture will bead heavily on the floor above it within a few hours. Even if you insulate the crawl space under your house, it still needs ventilation in order for moisture to escape.

Most homeowners can save from 40 to 50 percent of their energy bill by being extremely careful. "Some families have cut their heating costs by as much as 20 percent just by closing off a couple of rooms," asserts Mr. Cobb

Shutting bathroom doors, making sure the door of an attached garage is down, closing up a den in the basement, and huddling the family near the kitchen-living area is one of the easiest ways to save energy. And when you get those winter heating bills, you may even breathe a sigh of relief.

You may decide to lock up the whole house and take everbody off for a vacation in the sun.

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