Right now, there are a few things you can do around your home to air seal it to save money during the winter months and during the summer.
As mentioned in Part 1, your home is a ‘thermal envelope’. That is the sum total of the home’s insulation systems: walls, ceilings, foundation, floors, windows, and doors. These work more effectively with good, tight fits that seal out the weather and air. By having a tight seal on your home’s thermal envelope, the less energy you waste or lose by exchanging it too often with the air outside.
Now, we’re going to look at exterior doors, the laundry center, the water heater tank, HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning), attic insulation, attic ventilation and rain gutters.
Presenting The Doors!
We all want our doors to be attractive, secure, and weather proof. Like windows, when they are properly installed and kept in good condition, they can save you energy and money. If your door is hard to close or open, moves the whole door frame when you open or close the door, rattles when it is closed, or you see daylight and feel a draft coming from around it, then your door needs work.
When a door doesn’t close correctly, it obviously fails to seal. If your exterior door is difficult to open or close, the first thing to look for is if something is caught in the door or if something is sticking out from the door frame, such as a screw head not fully tightened against the hinge. Next, determine with a carpenter’s level whether the door is hanging plumb (straight up and down) and if the door jambs are parallel to each other. Sometimes, a screw head not tightened into the hinge can prevent a door from closing properly and over time deform and loosen the door frame or the door. Also, check to see if any hinges move toward or away from the door jamb or if they wiggle. Hinges should be tightly fastened to the door and the door jamb with no other movement except at the hinge joint.
Once I lived in an old house and the back door was hard to close because the whole frame moved with it. It was one of those things I kept putting off to fix. Then one night, I pulled the door shut so hard that I pulled the entire door and door frame out from the wall of the house. I tacked it back in place for the night but the next morning, I settled down to repair it. The original nails had rusted down to the thickness of thread while the wooden shims that kept the door seated properly had rotted because moisture got inside the door frame.
If your door frame moves when you open or close the door, don’t put it off repairing it like I did. Fix it now. First, remove the casing from both the inside of the door and the exterior. Be careful ‘ often in older homes, door casing and other moldings are unique or are no longer available. Sharp-edged casing pry bars are perfect for this. With a little patience and care, you can remove the casing without damaging it too much. A putty knife and a claw hammer are also useful. Again, be patient and careful ‘ you are disassembling not destroying.
After you remove the casing, look for any damage to the wood making up the door frame; such as if it is rotten or split. Check to see if the shims are in place and intact. If everything looks right, check the frame to see if it is plumb. Add shims as needed and check that the door opens and closes correctly. Usually, it is easier to tack a scrap across the door when it’s closed to seat the door frame properly. When it’s plumb and shimmed, carefully nail the frame into place. Next, vacuum debris from the area and seal up seams and gaps with either caulk or expanding foam. Re-fasten the casing and cover up the old nail holes with color-matched wood putty.
If you can close a kleenex in your door and then pull it out easily or if your door rattles from noise or the wind, it means it’s just not seated snuggly. The easiest starting place to for this fix is to add weather stripping. Usually, doors made over the past 25 years have had weather stripping built onto them. But being a door is rough work. Over time, the weather stripping gets stripped from the door. In some cases, the same weather stripping types are still used by the door manufacturer and can be easily replaced. Usually with much older homes, it’s not the case. You’ll be either replacing worn-out weather stripping someone else applied, or you’ll be putting on brand new.
First, measure the gap between the door surface and the door jamb at several places. Add about 1/16 of an inch to this measurement and this will give you a rough thickness of the self-adhesive foam or felt you will need to apply. Typically, I apply the foam stripping to the door jamb. Since the door jamb doesn’t go anywhere there’s less of a chance for something bumping against it and tearing off the foam. The door, on the other hand, is meant to move and will encounter all sort of things in its travels. As mentioned, you want the door to close firmly. Be sure to buy more foam than you will need so you can add and adjust the foam until you have a good seal.
If your door is in too bad of condition to repair, then it really is no longer a matter of weatherization but security. Seriously consider replacing it. Residential exterior doors come in three standard widths: 30, 32, and 36 inches.
Generally, the most insulating material for an exterior door is wood because it doesn’t conduct heat as easily as metal, vinyl, or fiberglass. That being said, most inexpensive wooden doors don’t fare well over time. They wear quickly in the areas that have the most contact (door handles and foot area), their mounting screws can loosen or tear, and depending on the harshness of the weather they can dry out and split. Steel doors provide better security and stand up to wear but they conduct heat. Wood-core steel doors and foam core doors last longer, are stronger, and better insulated. Fiberglass doors usually are the most strong, durable, and well insulating but tend to be more expensive.
Door Sweeps and Door Jambs with Vinyl Weather-stripping
A door’s most drafty area is along the bottom where it meets the door threshold. Most thresholds are aluminum or wooden ridges that meet the bottom of the door and form a seal. However, since the door is constantly being opened and the threshold is being stepped on, the factory-installed weatherization can wear out quickly. It can be quickly and easily replaced with a self-adhesive vinyl strip that hangs down from the bottom edge of the door. You attach it on the interior side of the door.
There is another kind of door sweep that uses multiple vinyl strips to block drafts. Somewhat more expensive, but it slips on over the bottom edge of the door and is held on with screws.
One product I have used with great success is pvc door jambs with built-in vinyl weather stripping. Mounted on the outside of your door, these door jambs can either replace your existing jambs or slide over them. The vinyl weather-stripping can be pushed up snugly against the door to keep out drafts when the door is closed. Use a circular miter saw to make the proper angled cuts so they can be mounted attractively in place. When they are in position, they can be quickly nailed or screwed into place and then painted. While I like these, there are many other similar kits that might be more suitable for your particular job.
The Laundry Center
The big energy users in the laundry area are the washer and the dryer. The typical washer uses about 0.256 kWh per load. The main cost is obviously the amount of hot water the is used during each load. Top loading washers use up to 40 gallons while front loaders use 10-24 gallons. It is easy to cut costs here by washing in warm or cold water. However, the main energy savings comes from drying your clothes. Even though modern washing machines do an excellent job of extracting the water from clothes by spinning them, they still need to be dried.
Dryers tend not to be very energy efficient because they have one
job: force dry, heated air into a rotating drum to evaporate water. Dryers use ten to fifteen percent of domestic energy in the United States. Dryers also cause lint. Lint comes from fibers in your clothing coming loose as the clothes tumble across each other in a dryer’s hot drum. Lint not only collects in your dryer’s lint trap but also through the dryer’s duct work. If lint begins to obstruct or clog your dryer’s duct work, the evaporated water from your nice, clean clothes will not leave the system. If the water is trapped, it will take longer and longer for the dryer to work. Therefore, once a year, pull your dryer away from the wall, detach the duct from the bottom of your dryer, and pull out as much lint as you can from the dryer and the duct. The first time you do this, you might be surprised how much you pull out. You’ll also notice a big improvement in the time it takes for your dryer to dry your clothes.
During the cooler winter months when you are heating your home, you may notice your home feeling drier. While not always a bad thing, if your skin feels dry and itchy or if you notice your sinuses feeling raw and irritated more often, maybe your home is too dry. One way around this is to disconnect your dryer vent tubing from the duct work leading out of the house. Place a nylon sock over the end of the vent tubing and tie it in place with a long twist tie or rubber band. (Make sure you block up the vent going outside). This way, every time you run your drier, you will heat and humidify your house too.
Hanging your clothes not only save energy but also helps them last longer. Dry your clothes on a drying rack or clothes line. If you can’t hang them outside, you can hang them inside by buying a retractable clothes line (outside models are also available). Set up the line in a hallway of your home and hang your clothes to dry while you are at work. Place a large floor fan in the hallway to help circulate the air. Tumble clothes in the dryer for a few minutes until they are warm. This will relax the fibers and you’ll avoid having wrinkled or stiff clothes from hanging.
Getting into Hot Water
The most expensive part of doing laundry is using hot water. And while you might be able to switch to using warm or cold water for your laundry, having hot water for bathing or cooking or washing dishes is an important convenience. Currently, the most efficient way to heat water for a home is an on-demand water heater. While these are increasing in popularity in the US, most homes still rely on the old tank-style water heater. Basically, its a 40 or so gallon tank of water that is heated either by natural gas or electric heating elements. True, the method works well but most of the energy used by tank water heaters is just for maintaining hot water on stand-by and ready for use. That means, it’s heating water when you are asleep or at work or on vacation. So, a lot of energy is wasted. Water heater tanks are wrapped with insulation but adding more will save energy.
Put a water heater blanket around your water heater. Most water heater blankets at the home center tend to be about an inch thick so that they can be sold in one piece but not be too heavy to be held up with tape. These are made of plastic-covered fiberglass and you wrap them around your water heater. In terms of R factors of insulation (R-value indicates an insulation’s resistance to heat flow), you will adding about 3 R’s worth.
You can make water heater blanket with higher R-values. One method is to use reflective aluminum foil insulation (a.k.a. foil-clad bubble-wrap) and cut enough strips long enough to go around your water heater twice. You could then add the store-bought water heater blanket and have an R-value of more than 7.5. With this amount of insulation, you should be able to turn down your heater’s thermostat and save even more money.
For safety, do not block any of the control panels, block off the bottom, or put any of insulation across the top of your water heater. Never obstruct the pressure release valve.
Keeping your hot water hot doesn’t stop at the water heater. Insulating your hot water pipes will also save energy and cut energy costs. Consider this: each time you turn on the tap for your shower, you let the water run until it gets warm. Let’s say the pipe from you water heater to your shower is 20 feet long. Now, that might only be a quart but that can turn into a couple of hundred gallons for a family of four in the course of a year. Also, consider that after your shower, there is still hot water in the pipe. By adding insulation, that heated water will cool more slowly. If you insulate your pipes efficiently enough, heat from the water heater will be more efficiently contained in your hot water pipes. You won’t need to wait as long for that hot water, you will waste less water, and you will save more money.
There are several ways you can improve the efficiency of your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system (HVAC). If you have an old thermostat that isn’t programmable, turn off your furnace circuit breaker, carefully disconnect the thermostat from your wall, and throw it out.
Programmable thermostats can be found for under , are commonly found in home centers, and are easy to install. They connect to the same four wire leads that hooked up to your old thermostat. By programming temperature settings in your house to be colder during the winter or warmer during the summer when you are asleep or away, you can save energy and money.
Another easy way of increasing efficiency is to monitor your system’s air filters regularly. Depending on your lifestyle, you should change the filters regularly. If where you live tends to be dusty from busy nearby streets or if you have pets, change the filters every month. In some homes, it can be done every three months.
While disposable filters are cheaper, their expense builds quickly over time. Consider purchasing two washable air filters. Washable air filters usually cost less than and can be rinsed out in a bathtub with hot, soapy water (in the summer, I hit mine with a pressure washer). By buying two, you can swap in a clean, dry one right way when its time to change out the other dirty filter.
One way to significantly improve your HVAC is to check your duct work thoroughly to be sure the system is sealed. A home owner can save up to 0 from their annual heating and cooling costs by sealing their duct work. Start at your HVAC system and feel for moving air coming from small holes or gaps in the duct work. When you find one, put a piece of aluminum HVAC tape over the hole. Remember: The volume of air leaked adds up; the more leaks you have the less efficient your system is. Check the entire run of your duct work; feel for air leaking from ductwork seams and loose joints. Check at the corners where the metal is folded for leaks, too. Also, make sure that air intake vents are not blocked by furniture or clogged with pet fur.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy Home Energy Saver website, insulating ducts in the typical American home costs about 0. Duct insulation will pay for itself in energy savings in about two and a half years, and continue to save energy and money in years to come. Depending on your duct work, there are many ways of doing this. Some 6 inch and 8 inch diameter sheet-metal ductwork can be replaced with insulated flexible ducting that costs less than for 25 feet at a home center. If you use this, be sure to attach it so that it is snug with the supply ductwork and use aluminum HVAC tape. Other rectangular metal ductwork can be insulated with reflective aluminum foil insulation (foil-clad bubble-wrap), craft-faced fiberglass insulation, and regular gray duct tape.
Remember: you do not need to insulate the HVAC system intake ductwork, just the output side.
The Thing in the Attic
Unless your attic is finished, your attic space is essentially just outside your house’s enclosed thermal envelope. Heated air
rises and conducts that heat into the structure and air of your attic and from there to space. Only one thing efficiently maintains and spreads the preferred temperature inside your house: insulation.
Heating and air conditioning account for 50 to 70% of the energy used in the average American home. Inadequate insulation and air leakage are leading causes of energy waste in most homes. Air sealing won’t benefit a whole lot if there is insufficient insulation for the whole house. Throughout most of the country, the US DOE recommends at least R30 (about 1 foot of blown cellulose or fiberglass) for attic insulation and a minimum of a R13 (a bit more than 3 inches of blown cellulose or fiberglass) in the walls. (http://www.ornl.gov/sci/roofs+walls/insulation/ins_06.html) Unfortunately, most homes built in the past two decades are built with R13 in the walls and attic; few have R30 in the attic.
Let’s say your home has R13 of blown cellulose insulation in the attic. The attic measures 1750 square feet and we’ll assume that the insulation has settled. To bring it up to at least R30, we need to add a further 17 R-value’s of insulation to the attic. The easiest way to do this is to either apply another 5 inches of blown cellulose or put down un-faced R19 fiberglass batts (about 6 inches thick).
To figure the cost for blown cellulose to cover the attic space, multiply the square footage by the thickness. Therefore: 1750 x 5 inches (or .416 feet)= 728 cu ft. The home center sells bags that are 16 cu. ft. Divide the 728 cu. ft. by 16 cu. ft and you get 46 (16 cu ft) bags. Some home centers may include the free rental of their blowing equipment as an incentive; others may not. To make the insulation work effectively, it must be spread evenly throughout the attic so that no thin spots or hollows are formed. Also, to keep the insulation out of soffiting, dams need to be built and installed at the end of each ceiling joist (or around light fixtures) before turning on the insulation blower.
Fiberglass insulation is typically figured by square foot. Rolls of R19 come in 23 inches wide or 16 inches wide. This is so the insulation fits between the joists. Roll lengths vary, usually between 48 and 77 feet long (though batts are available). What you should watch out for is just how big the roll is. In other words can you get it through the attic’s entrance or trap door?
Once you’ve decided on what size works for you, divide the square footage (our 1750 square feet) by the length and you have the number of rolls you need. Craft-faced insulation has a paper vapor barrier facing. Because insulation is being added on top of other insulation in this case there is no need for the paper vapor barrier facing. While it is more expensive that the blown cellulose, fiberglass batts are convenient sizes that can be positioned and laid in place or trimmed as needed. And it’s always better to have extra.
Now, let’s say you’ve figured out how much you need and that you can’t afford more than at a stretch. Not to worry. The great thing about insulating is that it doesn’t need to be done all at once. You can take your time and build on it. The best way, though, is to figure out what area of your home you want to insulate first. Consider these two things: where is your thermostat located and where do you spend most of your waking hours in the home? Usually, the thermostat is in the living room and that’s were most people spend their time. The solution is simple here: lay in your first bundles of insulation over this room. But if your thermostat is in the living room and you spend your time in another room, such as a home office, you may wish to divide your insulation between the area over the thermostat and the office. In this instance, it’s best to take time to choose what priorities fit your lifestyle and how to proceed from there.
The autumn is the best time to install insulation in your attic. After all, during the summer, it could reach as high as 150°F, especially in a poorly ventilated attic. But, if you want to start saving money now during the peak heating season as well as later on during the air conditioning season, now is the best time to do the job. So, here’s some tips on how to make the job easy:
Know your attic’s layout and plan how to fit the insulation in place in advance. Buy your insulation the day before you plan to install it. Moving around and working in a cramped space takes up an awful lot of time. Start early. It’s a dirty job. Be sure to wear long sleeves and pants, gloves, safety glasses and respiratory protection against dust. Get some help so you can get in and out of the attic faster. The job will go much faster and you both will have someone to complain about the dust to. Take some 2 foot by 3 foot pieces of 3/4 inch thick plywood into the attic with you. Use them to stand or kneel on as you move through the attic. Often you’ll find it’s easier on your shins and knees to rest on the plywood rather than balancing on a joist and risk crashing through the ceiling sheetrock into the bathtub. Start at the far end and work your way back to your attic’s entrance. Insulation works best if it stays ‘fluffed up’ or not compressed. You don’t want spend time putting it down nice and neat and tight only to discover that you must trudge across it to get out of your attic. When you are done, take a warm shower to remove the fibers, dust, and dirt that adhered to your skin. When you’ve finished insulating the attic, you will also want to make sure your attic trap door seals. As mentioned, your attic is just outside your home’s thermal envelope so your attic door is really a door to the outside. Make certain that it closes snugly and seals. Use weather stripping ‘ it will make a difference.
Heat Shield to Maximum!
Your roof is a heat shield for your house. But in order for it to work at peak efficiency, it needs to be adequately ventilated. The National Roofing Contractors Association recommends 1 square foot of ventilation opening should be provided for every 150 square feet of ceiling area. (http://www.nrca.net/consumer/fyi.aspx)
If you’ve ever ventured into an attic on a sunny summer day, you know how hot it can be. Temperatures can easily reach 150°F. Trapped heat increases your air conditioner’s heat load. This raises your energy costs. Trapped heat also can damage the plywood sheathing, under-layment, shingles and personal items located inside the attic.
Roof ventilation works with two kinds of vents, an exhaust and an intake. Heated attic air flows out through a vent in the upper part of the roof. This pulls in cooler air to enter through intake vents located down in the soffiting or fascia board. Most houses built in the 1960s onwards use a combination of soffit vents and either gable vents, roof vents, or ridge venting to allow air to flow through the attic. By allowing the attic to breathe and circulate heated air out, the house is better able to let go of the heat it absorbs during the day.
Retrofitting roof vents is not as hard as it sounds. Nevertheless, it can be daunting to climb onto your roof and cut holes into it. I have found the easiest to install is the ridgevent system. Ridgevents come in metal or plastic kits. It has a hollow inside and either vents along its sides or under a flange. By straddling a slot cut though the sheathing at the roof’s ridge or peak, it allows heated attic air to leave without letting rain inside.
The actual installation technique varies slightly depending on the kit you use but very basically remove the top cap of shingles on the roof, and use a circular saw to cut a one inch wide piece of sheathing from either side of the roof’s ridge. If you’re installing full length venting, you’ll be cutting two slots the entire length of your roof so use a sharp blade and take your time. Afterwards, attach the ridge vent and caulk down the loose ends.
Now that you’ve seen what to look for in your home thermal envelope, you can start planning where to begin, whether it’s walls, ceilings, foundation, floo
rs, windows, doors, or the roof. And while it’s import to consider how your home works as a whole, approach improving it one step at a time. Dividing the project of sealing your home into smaller, manageable jobs around the house makes it easier to tackle. Consider that all these jobs don’t need to be done all together all at once. Tackle ridgevents one weekend, insulation another, or a new thermostat some weeknight after dinner. You should notice more energy efficiency ‘ however slight ‘ after each improvement. They will add up and you will save money and your home will feel more comfortable. But be sure to take your time preparing and researching, read the instructions, and use good tools.
Above all, be careful when considering projects that seem beyond your skill level. If in doubt, hire a professional. After all, sometimes doing-it-yourself can really do-it-to-you.