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Keep the Heat

Though the first official day of winter is not until December 21, temperature-wise,it already feels like winter has begun. Home thermostats and space heaters are being turned on for the first time, making the home feel less like the inside of an icicle and more like the comfortable home you are used to. Everything seems perfects again except for one thing, there seems to be some kind of cold draft coming in from outside destroying your perfect habitat.

Drafts, caused by air leaking through cracks and crevices, can be found in all types of homes, but especially in older homes.  Cracks and crevices can make in-home heating and cooling systems inefficient and can add 20% to your energy bill. Not only do these drafts lead to energy waste but they can also increase the likelihood of condensation, mold, and rot in your home, making your home unsafe. According to the Consumer Energy Center the most common site for air leakage are floors, walls, and ceilings (31%), followed by ducts (15%), fireplaces (14%), plumbing (13%), doors (11%), windows (10%), fans/vents (4%) and electrical outlets (2%). Fortunately, identifying and fixing these leaks can be extremely easy, and can be done with or without professional help.

 

How to Identify Leaks

There are many tests one can perform to test for air leaks in the home. The Paper Test is an easy way for testing for leaks in your windows and doors. To perform the tests, shut the door/window in question onto a piece of paper. Then try to pull the paper out. If you can pull out the paper without ripping it, then that door/window needs to be addressed. Another, more complicated test, is the Incense Test. For the Incense Test you first need to turn off the furnace/depressurize your house. Then walk around your house with a stick of incense. If you notice the smoke being blown or sucked away then you have a leak.

Another important sign of a possible leak is dampness or rot.  This is especially important with insulation in the attic. If you notice that your insulation is wet or damp you should call in a professional because you either have a roof leak or structural damage.

Another option is to get an energy efficiency evaluation from a local utility company. Many utility companies offer them for free or at a low-cost so don’t be afraid to call and ask.

How to Fix a Leak

The type of action needed to fix a leak depends on the location and size of the leak. Leaks from windows and doors can be easily fixed by installing weather stripping. To fix leaks caused by cracks and gaps around windows, pipes, and vents you can use caulk or spray foam. Though electrical outlets only account for 2% of air leakage, buying weather proofed outlet plates is an easy change to make.  Though many leaks can be fixed by any handyman/handywoman, there are some leaks that may need to be fixed by a professional.

When buying materials to fix your home it is important to look for low pollution materials. Choose water-based caulks and sealants with little or no VOCs. This is important not only for your health but also for your impact on the environment.

Addressing air leaks in your home is important if you want to reduce your environmental impact in the winter(and summer as well). For a more complete guide to the issue and more specific tips I suggest you check out “A Do-It-Yourself Guide to Sealing and Insulating with ENERGY STAR”.

 

Girl and Radiator via Shutterstock

by Maddie Perlman-Gabel

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012 at 14:47
  • Dec 6th, 2012 at 05:51 | #1

    Drafts are certainly a larger issue than most people believe for the reasons mentioned here. Problem is that people don’t necessarily correlate a draft with their energy bills but its small things like this that can really build up.

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