A flickering flame says home defenses are being breached

Iwon't say my life is dull. I'll just say that listening to the solid "thump" made by a storm door closing gives me a thrill.

For me, the thump signals that the moat has been filled and the drawbridge has been raised. It means that my castle is ready, or at least part of it is ready, to ward off the invaders. In this case the invading horde is also known as cold, outside air.


The storm door is relatively new, maybe 8 years old. And, when it closes, it emits the sound of a snug fit, a rare occurrence in an old house.

Once I get behind the closed door, other forms of domestic excitement present themselves.


Take, for instance, what happened one chilly Saturday night when the kids were away. My wife was cooking a delicious meal. And, as darkness fell, I opened a bottle of wine, and lighted a couple of candles. Then I picked up one of the lighted candles, carried it over to the storm door and gave the door the flame treatment.

I held the candle close to the door frame and slowly moved the candle around the edges of the closed door. I watched the flame. If the flame remained upright, it told me that no detectable drafts were sneaking around the edges of the door.

But if the flame suddenly burned sideways, as it did when I held the candle near one corner of the door, the horizontal flame told me cold air had found a hole in the backdoor defense system.

As I knelt on the floor watching the telltale flame, I quivered. I had caught the cold air in the act of sneaking into the house. It was similar to the thrill you get when you discover the spot that ants have been using to infiltrate the kitchen, or when you figure out where the birds were getting into the attic. It was the thrill of domestic detection.

This special excitement is not shared by all folks. The other night, for instance, my wife was unmoved by the news of intruders produced by the flickering candle. She seemed more concerned that I would set something on fire.

The next day I began shoring up the storm door defenses. I bought a new door sweep. The sweep is a gizmo made of metal and rubber. The metal part is attached to the door near the bottom. The rubber part "sweeps" along the floor, sealing the door's bottom edge.

The door already had a sweep, but it was old and its rubber was frayed. I removed the old sweep but did not immediately throw it away. Instead I used it as a kind of measuring stick. I set the old sweep on top of the longer new sweep, and sawed off the overlap. This made the new sweep the same length as the old door.

The tricky part of installing the door sweep was making sure the rubber "swept" but did not "grab" the floor. If the rubber grabbed the floor, the door would not shut. The cold air, which once had to be content sneaking around the door frame, would suddenly get the chance to blow right in through the half-open door.


If the rubber grabbed the floor, it meant the metal part had been installed too close to the bottom of the door.

On the other extreme, if you installed the device too far from the bottom of the door, the result would be a gap between the floor and the rubber part of the sweep. Quicker than you could say, "there's ice on my ankles," the cold air would come rushing in that gap.

Also figuring in the door sweep calculations was the presumption that the floor was level. In my experience, that has never been the case.

So I figured that like most things in life, positioning the door sweep meant finding the middle ground. A good tactic seemed to be following the tracks of those who had gone before me. So when I screwed the new sweep onto the door, I used the screw holes from the old sweep as my guideposts.

After a few adjustments -- a little higher there, a little lower there -- the newcomer settled in, and did the job. Once again I gave the door the flame test. This time no air came sneaking in. The candle was flicker-free.

As I finished working on the storm door, I noticed a squirrel, with a nut in its mouth, hopping around in the backyard. This told me I was right on schedule in my battle against cold air. When I see burrowing squirrels, I know it's time to seal up the storm door. When the frost covers the ground, I know it is time to take the air conditioner out of the bedroom window. And when Thanksgiving arrives, or teeth begin to chatter -- whichever comes first -- I know it will be time to turn on the furnace.