What You Need to Know: Weatherizing Your Home
The U.S. Department of Energy says you can reduce your heating and cooling costs by as much as 30 percent by weatherizing your home through proper insulation and air sealing techniques. These techniques also can make your home more comfortable. Reducing your home heating and cooling bills begins with conducting a home energy audit to assess where your home may be losing energy through air leaks or inadequate insulation.
Bruce Hopewell, an inspector for the Town of Addison, says newer homes built from the year 2003 forward are already very tight. But older homes can usually become tighter through such avenues as caulking windows, installing more efficient windows, sealing penetrations in the attic, sealing duct work with mastic in the attic, and installing a sealed compartment made of wood or insulation material over the pull down stair case in the attic.
“Attic insulation is also very important,” he says. “Doors, windows, outlets and switches in outside walls are all big heat losses. Weather-stripping around doors, sealing doors if the wood is split, sealing windows, installing cut out foam at outside wall outlets and switches all help.”
He says leaks at windows can be found by using a blower test or by putting paper in the window, shutting the window and then trying to pull the paper out. “If the paper comes out, you have a problem.”
He also recommends looking for daylight around the window and feeling for either cool or hot air depending on the weather. Caulking works well.
“Fireplaces are usually a waste of heat and space but it is harder to sell a house without a fireplace so we have fireplaces,” he says. “If one does not use the fireplace, the damper needs to be shut. I do not recommend this but some people place insulation in the flue to stop heat loss. I think just making sure the damper is closed works well — a house needs some fresh air and a good place to get it is through the fireplace flue.”
There is often conflicting information about whether it’s more efficient to close off rooms and air vents that are not in regular use. Or is it better to leave the doors and vents open so air circulates? Hopewell says “air needs to circulate throughout the home” so do not close rooms and vents off in their entirety.
Hopewell says many things can be done with windows to weatherize your house, depending on what your budget is.
“Drapes and blinds are good, solar screens and film are good and upgrading windows is good,” he says. “Slowing down the radiant heat through windows can be achieved by installing solar screens. Home Depot and Lowes sell screen kits — and these can be made very cheaply and are easy to make.”
But Hopewell says there also is a fine balance in weatherizing your home: “A house that is to tight will have trouble with air balance and also sometimes can create condensation on windows.”
Here are some other ideas for tightening up our building “envelope” from various sources, including the Cool Cities Home Audit Checklist:
- Remember to set your hot water heater at 120 degrees. Excessive heating of water during cool months can needlessly hike up bills, and your carbon footprint. It’s like the phantom in the attic, or basement, keeping hot water at the ready — even when you don’t need it.
- Close the drapes at night; open them to let the sun in during the day.
- Check your furnace filter monthly, and check the vents to make sure you’ve got good air flow. See the EPA’s Heat and Cool Smartly Guide for more information.
- Remember to close that fireplace damper after the coals after burned out. An open fireplace literally sucks the warmth from your home, and that’s just ghoulish or foolish.
And if you’re making serious improvements, remember it’s not just solar panels that qualify for federal tax breaks. Windows, insulation, new furnaces — all that — can earn you some return at tax time. See the EnergyStar website for details on federal incentives.
Environmental groups are jumping in to show that weatherization is not just for misers, it helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions, too. The Sierra Club has lined up business partners, energy service providers and town officials across the country for events highlighting the importance of making our homes energy efficient.
“Residential buildings are responsible for a staggering 20 percent of global warming pollution. Many families lose money on energy bills each month because their homes aren’t energy efficient,” says Sierra Club Clean Energy Solutions Representative Allison Forbes. “Weatherizing homes is one simple solution that will create thousands of good jobs, put money in the pockets of American families, and help fight global warming.”