Do you leave a window open during the winter? You may not think so, but if you add up all the gaps and cracks in your home, they can equal a hole the size of an open window! Needless to say, all those air leaks create uncomfortable drafts and make your heating system work harder than it has to. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that U.S. homeowners may be paying up to 10% more on their yearly energy bills due to air leaks and insufficient levels of insulation.
Could this be happening in your home? It is a very common problem that is hard to recognize if you're not aware of symptoms. Cold walls and floors, drafts, and even big icicles hanging off your roof in the winter are signs that your home is not working right. But there is good news: the ENERGY STAR program (sponsored by EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy) has advice for you this winter that can increase comfort and reduce those winter energy bills. By sealing the air leaks and adding insulation to your home, you not only make your home more cozy, but also save money and help our environment.
1) Locate the Leaks Start by locating the holes, gaps and cracks that allow air to sneak in and out of your house. Typically, you can feel the small holes and gaps around windows and doors, but the biggest holes are almost always hidden in the attic and the basement. In the attic, look for dirty insulation patches where dusty air has leaked out around pipes, wires, vents, or open spaces leading down into walls. Inspect around the chimney or furnace flue and around attic hatches or doors.
2) Seal the Gaps Once you find the leaks, use caulk, expanding spray foam, or foam board to cover the common holes. Caulk is best for small gaps around windows and doors, and the other materials allow you to cover or seal larger spaces. Use metal flashing and high-temperature caulk around chimneys and flues that can get hot. Weather strip attic hatches or doors. These affordable and easy-to-apply products are readily available in home improvement stores.
3) Add Insulation After all major leaks are sealed in the attic, you can add insulation. Even if you already have some, it is often cost effective to add more. Sealing air leaks and adding insulation work together to maximize your comfort and energy savings, so you'll want to do both. Sealing holes is like putting a "windbreaker" on your house, and adding insulation is like a "sweater". On a cold and windy day they work together to keep you warm.
4) Look for the ENERGY STAR If new windows are in your future, be sure to choose ENERGY STAR qualified models to save even more energy and money. They will add an extra defense against extreme weather, and can also make your home quieter.
EPA has a "Do-It-Yourself Guide to ENERGY STAR Home Sealing" at www.energystar.gov/homesealing. The guide includes step-by-step instructions for sealing and insulating yourself, with color photos and diagrams to guide you through the process, and tips on how to make your job easier. If you decide to hire a contractor to do this work, be sure to find one who will seal those attic air leaks before installing the insulation. Making these improvements will help you make it through the winter with more money in your wallet while helping the environment.