Most homes – unless they were built recently with energy efficiency as a top priority – can benefit from energy-saving improvements. In fact, compared to most investments today, efficiency improvements to your home can provide a pretty favorable financial return by reducing your monthly power bills by 5 to 30 percent per year. As a bonus, your home should feel much more comfortable too.
Talk to your local electric cooperative to see if it has a low- or no-cost home energy audit program. If not, you easily can conduct a do-it-yourself home energy assessment to spot air leaks – some obvious and some hidden – during a simple but diligent walk-through. When you find problem areas, seal them with caulk, add weather stripping or make appropriate repairs.
Look for obvious air leaks inside
Check for indoor air leaks, such as gaps along the baseboard or edge of the flooring and at junctures of the walls and ceiling. Then check to see if air can flow through these places:
- Electrical outlets
- Switch plates
- Fireplace dampers
- Attic hatches
- Wall- or window-mounted air conditioners
Also look for gaps around pipes and wires, foundation seals and the mail slot. Check to see if the caulking and weather stripping are applied properly, leaving no gaps or cracks, and are in good condition.
Inspect windows and doors for air leaks. See if you can 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 usually can seal these leaks by caulking or weather stripping them.
Check storm windows to see if they fit and aren’t broken. You also may wish to consider replacing your old windows and doors with newer, highperformance ones. If new factory- made doors or windows are too costly, you can install low-cost plastic sheets over the windows.
Put a little pressure on your home
If you’re having difficulty locating leaks, you may want to conduct a basic building pressurization test.
First, close all exterior doors, windows and fireplace flues. Turn off all combustion appliances such as a gas-burning furnace, stove and water heater.
Then turn on all exhaust fans (generally located in the kitchen and bathrooms), or use a large window fan or two to suck the air out of the rooms.
This test increases air infiltration through cracks and leaks, making them easier to detect. You can use an incense stick or your damp hand to locate these leaks. With an incense stick, moving air will cause the smoke to waver; with your damp hand, a draft will feel cool to your skin.
Then go outside
Walk around the perimeter of your home, inspecting all areas where two different building materials meet, including:
- Exterior corners
- Where siding abuts the chimney
- Where the foundation meets the bottom of exterior brick or siding
- Around doors and windows where trim contacts exterior walls. See whether storm doors and primary doors seal tightly too.
Also inspect penetrations for faucets, pipes, electric outlets and wiring – and look for cracks and holes in the mortar, foundation and siding.
When sealing your home, be aware of the dangers of indoor air pollution and combustion backdrafts
Back drafting can occur when combustion appliances (or the fireplace) and exhaust fans in your home compete for air. An exhaust fan even may allow combustion gases back into a living space, creating a very dangerous and unhealthy situation in the home.
If you use natural gas, fuel oil, propane or wood for heating, be certain the appliance has an adequate air supply. Generally, one square inch of vent opening is required for each 1,000 Btu of appliance input heat. If in doubt, contact a ventilation contractor.