As leaves flutter to the ground and the temperature begins to plummet, heating bills move in the opposite direction. Heat and oil prices continue to rise, which can cut a large chunk out of a home heating budget this winter.
While the weather is still balmy, take care of places outside your home. Then move inside to ensure there is no air leakage.
Drafty attics, fireplaces, leaky windows and open vents provide the perfect opportunity for winter's chill to sneak into your house. Not only does this cause you to huddle under extra layers of clothing and heavy blankets, but it also probably has you spending more money than you want turning up the thermostat.
Drafts, such as those around doors, windows and pipes, are the largest source of heating and cooling loss in the home. Most homeowners tackle the easy leaks with caulk and weatherstripping to minimize energy loss and drafts.
But what can you do about drafts from the four largest holes in your home: the folding attic stair, whole house fan, fireplace and clothes dryer? Here are some tips and techniques that can quickly, easily and affordably seal and insulate these often overlooked holes:
Installing attic stairs creates a large hole (about 10 square feet) in your ceiling. The ceiling and insulation that were there have to be removed, leaving only a thin, unsealed, sheet of plywood.
Often, you can see a gap around the perimeter of the attic door. Check out your home's attic entrance: At night, turn on the attic light and shut the attic stairway door — do you see any light coming through? If you do, heated and air-conditioned air is leaking through these large gaps in your home 24 hours a day. This is like leaving a window or skylight open year-round.
An easy solution to this problem is to add an insulated attic stair cover. An attic stair cover seals the stairs to stop drafts and energy loss. Add the desired amount of insulation over the cover to restore the insulation removed from the ceiling.
Whole house fans
A whole house fan creates a large hole (up to 16 square feet or larger) in your ceiling. The ceiling and insulation that were there have to be removed, leaving only the drafty ceiling shutter between you and the outdoors.
An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add a whole house fan shutter seal. Made from white, textured, flexible insulation, the shutter seal is installed over the ceiling shutter, secured with Velcro and trimmed to fit. The shutter seal can also be used to seal and insulate air conditioning vents, and is easily removed when you need to run the fan.
More than 100 million homes across the country are constructed with wood- or gas-burning fireplaces. However, fireplaces can be big energy wasters, sucking your heated or air-conditioned air right up the chimney and out of your house. In addition, odors, toxins, noise and insects sometimes come into the house through the chimney.
Fireplaces often have dampers that are meant to be shut when the fireplace is not used. However, even if the damper is shut, it is not airtight. Glass doors don't fully stop the drafts either. One study has shown that an open damper on an unused fireplace in a well-insulated house can raise overall heating-energy consumption by 30 percent. Your heating bills may be more than $500 higher per winter due to the drafts and wasted energy caused by fireplaces.
An easy, cost-efficient solution to this problem is to add a fireplace plug, an inflatable pillow that seals the fireplace damper, eliminating drafts, odors and noise. The plug is easily removed whenever the fireplace is used, then reinserted.
Dryer exhaust ducts
In many homes, the room with the clothes dryer is the coldest room in the house. Your clothes dryer is connected to an exhaust duct that is open to the outdoors. In the winter, cold drafts come in through the duct, through your dryer and into your house.
A dryer vent seal will keep out drafts, pests and rodents. The vent will remain closed unless the dryer is in use. When the dryer is in use, a floating shuttle rises to allow warm air, lint and moisture to escape.
In addition to sealing these energy guzzlers, there are other projects to consider for winterizing your home.
Window insulator kits provide an airtight seal against wintry winds. These kits are practically invisible, come in a variety of sizes, are easy to install, fit snugly to your window frame and can be easily removed come spring. You can also seal cracks around windows and doors using foam tapes, gaskets and caulk.
Thermal drapes, blinds or other window clothing also can block drafts.
Air penetration through indoor and outdoor electrical outlets and switch plates can lead to higher electric bills. Install foam gaskets behind the light switches and electrical outlet covers. Use child safety plugs to keep the cold air from coming in through the sockets.
Add insulation to your home to reduce heat loss and drafts. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that homeowners can typically save up to 20 percent of heating and cooling costs (or up to 10 percent of total energy costs) by air sealing their homes and adding insulation in attics, floors over crawl spaces and accessible basement rim joists.
Wrap your hot water pipes in insulation preformed for that purpose to reduce heat loss and lessen the workload on your water heater.
Clean vents, air ducts and replace filters to promote airflow and ease the strain on your heating and cooling system.
Clean gutters and, if needed, have professional gutter protection installed to reduce the possibilities of ice damming. If melting ice is unable to drain due to debris buildup, it could seep into the walls and ceilings of your home.
Drain a few gallons from your water heater to remove sediment and help it operate more efficiently.
Upgrade to low-maintenance insulated vinyl siding to efficiently minimize air leakage, especially between wall studs.
Make sure your furnace is well maintained, which means cleaning filters monthly to maximize their efficiency (and save money). At a minimum, change the filter every three months. A dirty filter will slow down airflow and make the system work harder to keep you warm or cool, wasting energy.
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