Whether you take it as good news or bad news…fact is… winter is right around the corner, and you’ve no doubt already turned the furnace on to keep your home a comfortable temperature. Since this is Colorado—you may even need the air conditioner a time or two this month, but overall, this time of year our focus turns to heat. And unfortunately for many of us, we’re spending a lot more on energy costs to heat our homes because we have some serious leaks within our homes. In fact, it’s been estimated that because hot air rises, leaks in attic floors are a main culprit in energy loss, lowering the R-value of attic insulation and draining 30 to 50% of a home’s heating energy.
While a professional home energy audit is the best way to determine where your home is losing energy and where you can save, you can conduct your own simple walk-through and spot many of the problems. By addressing the problems you find, you may not be shoring up all of your losses, but you can make a significant difference in your home heating bill.
So let’s start with the attic, since that seems to be where the most significant heat loss occurs.
If you’re going to replace your insulation, checking for gaps in the attic will be easy. Once the insulation is out, from the attic, check for gaps around anything that comes through the attic floor. Examples include the tops of light fixtures, pipes, wiring, the chimney and heating and cooling ducts.
If your attic is already full of insulation (as most will be) and you have the rolled (batts) of insulation, simply roll them back and check for gaps. If you have the loose-fill insulation, you might want to call a professional weatherization contractor to locate any leaks, then get them sealed.
If you’re interested in knowing more about adding or replacing insulation in your attic, this website from the Energy Star program provides an excellent guideline: https://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=home_sealing.hm_improvement_attic_insulation
The Basement or Crawlspace
Pay attention to air leaks in the basement, as they can cost you thousands of dollars in heating and cooling bills over the years. You’ll be looking for cracks in the basement walls, and gaps around service penetrations (for telephone, electricity, TV, fuel, etc.) And check for air leaks in the floor system, between the first floor and the basement.
The Energy Star organization provides an outstanding resource for sealing and insulating both basements and attics. Visit this website, then select your project: https://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=home_sealing.hm_improvement_seal_insulate
Now let’s turn our attention to an area where the savings may not be as significant as fixing problems in the attic or basement, but can add significantly to the comfort level of your home by reducing drafts.
Windows and Doors
Start with the hand test. On a cold, windy day–do you feel any gusts of air near the windows? Can you rattle them, since movement means possible air leaks. If you can see daylight around a door or window frame, then the door or window leaks. You can usually seal these leaks by caulking or weather-stripping them.
Here’s another test. Shut a door or window on a dollar bill. If you can pull the bill out without it dragging, you’re losing energy.
Two tests to find leaks:
- The Incense Test
- Pick a cool and windy day and turn off the stove and any appliances that create air disturbances.
- Shut all windows, doors and fireplace flues.
- Carefully light a stick of incense and hold it near any potential points of air leakage. If the smoke begins moving unsteadily back and forth, or if it’s sucked out of the room or blown into it, you have a leak.
For help in learning how to properly caulk your windows, here’s an eHow video to watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-8cXoLV_seA
For help in learning how to apply weather-stripping on a door, visit this website for another video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x0BAbIUO7mU
- Purchase an air leak detector
- There are a number of small, hand-held inexpensive air leak detectors, but one comes highly recommended by home repair guru, Bob Vila: the Black & Decker’s Thermal Heat Detector. ($27-41 at various stores). It uses an infrared thermometer that detects wall surface temperature to spot hidden energy leaks, and as you aim the detector at walls around your home, the LED changes color at hot or cold spots.
Recessed lights are notorious for air leakage. This probably isn’t something you’d want to tackle on your own, but to help you decide, you may be interested in this article: http://www.energyauditingblog.com/how-to-air-seal-recessed-lighting/
Electrical outlets and switches
People are surprised that so much air leaks through electrical outlets and switch boxes. (Try the incense stick test to determine if your outlets or switches are leaking air.)
Many energy experts suggest using foam gaskets to help seal the leaks, and to some degree, this will help. However, other experts believe there are better solutions. According to Allison Bailes, author of the Energy Vanguard Blog, the problem stems from holes in the junction box. “In existing homes, you’ll need to seal all those holes in the junction box with fire caulk. If you get those holes sealed up and also seal the gap between the junction box and the drywall, you’ll do a much better job of stopping air leakage at your switches and receptacles than you would by installing gaskets.” Here’s one of his blogs on the subject: http://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/blogs/dept/building-science/air-leakage-electrical-switches-and-outlets
Obtaining a professional home energy audit
For the most comprehensive look at where your home is losing energy, consider a professional home energy audit. Most energy companies offer them with rebates. For example, Excel Energy offers a $200 rebate off their comprehensive audit, bringing the cost down to $185. The audit also includes a written analysis of your home’s energy problem areas, along with estimates to fix any issues. Contact your energy supplier to discover if they offer professional home energy audits. (To speak to an Excel Energy Advisor who can also schedule your audit, call 303-446-7910.)
HOME ENERGY AUDITS
For details on the different kind of home energy audits, as well as more details on doing one yourself, visit this outstanding website:
Hope this helps you stay warm this winter…and keep those energy bills down to a more manageable size! – Dave Ness