Weatherproofing advice from an energy efficiency professional

Most homeowners are familiar with easy remedies to keep the howling winds of February and March from leaking through compromised doors and windows. So why are we still bundled up and blasting the heat? Christopher Walls, residential manager of energy efficiency programs at BGE, points out a few lesser-known drafty places in the home that could be the culprits behind mysteriously high energy bills.

What's a less obvious place for heat to escape your home?

Attic hatches. Those are notoriously leaky places. They’re also referred to as scuttle holes or walk-up ladders that allow access to attics. Despite being closed, they can allow conditioned air to escape from the living area into the unconditioned [outdoor] space due to poorly fitting frames, gaps or spaces.

Is there an easy fix?

The homeowner can purchase weather stripping and air ceiling gaskets from any hardware or big-box store. They provide do-it-yourself foam weather stripping, a material with adhesive on one side. These gaskets have memory and are spongy. The customer simply installs [them] around the wooden frame where the moving surface meets the static surface to prevent the air from escaping the living space into the [outdoor] unconditioned space.

How about another spot not usually addressed?

One that might not be obvious to the homeowner is the electrical outlet/switch plate. [Switch plates and outlets] don’t typically have insulation behind them and represent a hole in your conditioned space. Any area where you have wires going from the conditioned space through the wall and outside is a place for [heat] to leak out. Sometimes holes are drilled in the wall from either your telephone or cable without even installing a switch plate.

What can be done about that?

Along the areas where the wall’s integrity has been breached, [homeowners] can [use] spray foam purchased from a hardware or big-box store. This project is not difficult to do but requires planning. The spray foam is also very sticky and should be applied with gloves. Spraying around the holes and wires — from the inside or the outside — keeps the cold air from coming in and the hot air from escaping. 

Can these tips save homeowners money?

Heating and cooling your home can represent more than half of the typical [energy] customer’s bill. So with any problem you address, wouldn’t you go for the biggest bang for your buck?