It was hard to stay warm in the Midwest and East of the United States this week as the polar vortex made a rather unwelcome visit. There were at least nine deaths related to freezing temperatures, and utilities struggled to cope with soaring heating demand. Some utilities have even asked their customers to lower their thermostats.

Cold temperatures are not new to anyone living in these areas. But the severe cold weather this week has revealed that many buildings do not keep cold air, and even ice, out of the way.

This fueled a sub-genre of cold weather photographs that emerged on social media:

It is so cold that the heating of my car has refused to work and the walls inside the building are frosted. In addition, the door is frozen.

– Maxwell Benitz (@mjbenitz) January 31, 2019

The fleeing buildings like these are uncomfortable and commonplace, certainly, but also expensive. About 39% of all energy and 70% of electricity consumed in the United States is for buildings, commercial and residential. This, in turn, contributes 11% of the country's greenhouse gas emissions. And a lot of that energy is wasted.

In commercial buildings, 30% of the energy consumed is wasted. A North American Insulation Manufacturers Association study (indicate what you want to source) indicates that 90% of US homes are under-insulated.

The problem is that we know how to solve this problem. The installation of double-glazed windows, weatherstripping and insulating insulation significantly reduces energy bills and environmental impacts. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, homeowners can save an average of 15 percent of their heating and cooling bills by properly sealing their homes.

The Natural Resources Defense Council reported that improving energy efficiency in homes was the main intervention to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. By 2050, the residential efficiency could offset 550 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year.

At the city level, stricter building codes are an essential step in improving the energy efficiency of buildings. However, this only affects new structures. Much of what you already see outside your window will remain in place for decades. The average building will have a lifespan of over 70 years and renovations will therefore be an essential part of the fight against climate change.

Thus, rather than wishing for a warmer weather outside, it would be up to the homeowners to better seal themselves in the interior.

But where do I start, you ask?

The first step is to determine how leaky your house is and how inefficient it is. This involves an energy audit, whereby a professional examines your home room by room and assesses your use of space. This may involve the use of blowers, thermometers and infrared cameras to detect leaks and other problems.

The auditor can then prescribe the steps to follow, their cost and the savings you will realize over time. An audit can cost up to $ 400, but check with your utility provider. Many utilities and gas companies offer grants and discounts for these assessments and upgrades.

The federal government has also put in place a program to help low-income households, which is similar to that. The Trump administration has twice tried to eliminate the $ 3 billion program that has served more than 6 million homes, but Congress has maintained funding.