Some of the most effective ways to improve home comfort and efficiency have nothing to do with your heating and cooling systems themselves. When you seal and insulate your home properly, you’ll have an easier time keeping it at your preferred temperature. That means greater comfort and lower energy bills in Montgomery County’s hot summers and during our cool winters, too.
Why Air Seal Your Home?
When you’re planning to seal and insulate your home, air sealing should be the first job you approach. The average home is riddled with tiny cracks and gaps that let indoor air seep out while allowing outdoor air to enter. Most of these cracks are too small to see, but taken together, they can cause enough air leakage to change your indoor temperatures and air quality.
You may not notice a 1/16-inch crack around an average-sized window, but the effect is like leaving that window open several inches. All in all, most homes have so much air leakage it’s as if they had a hole in the wall the size of a basketball.
Sealing those leaks can improve home comfort and efficiency in several ways.
- Energy and cost savings – In winter, air leaks let out the air the furnace has warmed. Because the warm air keeps escaping, the furnace has to work constantly to produce more. Sealing the leaks keeps the warm air inside, reducing the demand on the furnace so it uses less energy. In summer, the more hot, humid air that leaks in, the harder the air conditioner has to work. Air sealing keeps the heat and humidity out, so you save on cooling costs, too.
- Greater comfort – When it’s cold out, the cracks around your home cause uncomfortable drafts. You may find you can’t put furniture near windows or doors because the space feels too chilly. By sealing air leaks, you’ll stop the drafts and reclaim your living space. Summertime humidity, an annual problem around Conroe, also enters through air leaks and can leave you feeling hot and sticky even with the A/C running. Air sealing solves that problem.
- Better indoor air quality – Along with the outdoor air come air pollutants such as dust, pollen, mold spores, fumes from garden chemicals, and smog. No matter how efficient the HVAC air filter, these air contaminants will build up until you seal the leaks around your home. In addition, the moisture that enters with the outdoor air can cause dampness issues that encourage mold and dust mite growth.
How to Air Seal Efficiently
Before you can seal and insulate properly, you’ll need to find your home’s air leaks. There are two ways to do this, depending on how much you’re looking to improve home comfort and efficiency.
- DIY leak detection – On a breezy day, hold a lit incense stick or a smoke pen (available at home improvement supply stores) near the areas you think might leak air. When you see the smoke stream blow sideways, you’ll know you’ve found an air leak.
- Professional leak detection – Not all energy-wasting leaks can be found with DIY methods. To assess and correct your home’s overall air leakage issues, contact a heating and cooling professional for an energy audit. During an audit, the technician will use specialized tool equipment to measure air leakage. A professional can also tell you if you could benefit from air duct sealing.
If you have a drafty house, for safety reasons, consult a heating and cooling professional before you air seal. In such homes, air sealing can alter the air currents and ventilation levels enough to cause problems with fuel-burning appliances such as your gas furnace and stove.
Places to check for leaks indoors include:
- Windows and doors
- Penetrations for electrical, phone and other wiring
- Penetrations for plumbing pipes and gas lines
- Penetrations for clothes dryer and other appliance vents
- Electrical outlets and light switches
- Baseboards and molding
- Around the fireplace
Attics are especially prone to leakage and there are several areas you’ll need to examine. Look around the entrance hatch, top plate, plumbing vent stacks, dropped soffits, recessed lights and knee walls.
Outside your home, look for leaks around the corners of the building, water faucets, and the joints between the brick or siding and foundation, as well as the siding and the chimney.
Sealing the leaks you find will only improve home comfort and efficiency if you choose the right sealing method for each area. For most areas, you’ll need one of two materials.
- Weatherstripping – Available in foam, vinyl, metal and felt, these long strips are applied to the edges of objects designed to move. For example, you might use adhesive-backed foam on the inside tracks of double-hung windows and silicone weatherstripping along the door stops of your exterior doors.
- Caulk – Caulk is applied to seal gaps between two surfaces that don’t move. For instance, you can use acrylic latex caulk to seal around your door and window frames. For your exterior masonry, however, polyurethane caulk is a better choice.
Before buying weatherstripping or caulk, read the product description to be sure the product you choose is appropriate for the area you want to seal.
Want Even Lower Energy Bills? Check Insulation
The next step in your plans to seal and insulate your home is assessing and optimizing home insulation. Sufficient insulation will improve home comfort and efficiency by slowing down the rate at which warm air radiates out in winter or radiates in in summer.
Simply put, good insulation helps your home act more like a Thermos, keeping warm things warm and cold things cold. That means insulation is important year-round, even in a warm climate like Conroe’s.
The roof of your home is one of the greatest sources of unwanted heat gain and loss. Because of this, it’s the first place you should check for insulation problems. If the attic insulation doesn’t reach above the ceiling joists, it’s almost certainly a good idea to add more.
For attics in the Conroe area that already have 3 or 4 inches of insulation, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recommends adding more to boost the insulation to between R-25 and R-38, which means 8 1/2 to 12 inches of fiberglass batt insulation.
You may also need to insulate the basement or crawl space. Doing so reduces the risk of damaging moisture problems and keeps floors warmer.
Depending on how your home was built, the floors and walls may need additional insulation. A professional energy audit can help you here, too, making it a wise investment if you plan to both seal and insulate. Using infrared imaging, the technician can find areas of your home that cause excessive heat loss or gain. These are the areas that could benefit from more insulation.
Making the Right Insulation Choices
Once you’ve decided where to insulate, you’ll need to choose insulation materials for each area. Many materials are available, but the two most common are:
- Fiberglass – This pink, fluffy material often found in attics and walls is made of finely spun glass fibers. Because these fibers can enter the lungs and eyes, protective gear should be worn while handling this insulation. Most fiberglass insulation contains around 20 to 30 percent recycled material.
- Cellulose – Most cellulose insulation is made with around 80 percent recycled paper from newsprint and other sources. It’s safe to handle and provides a somewhat higher level of heat resistance per inch of thickness (R-value) than fiberglass.
You can also find insulation made from cotton, wool, plastic fiber, mineral wool, and other materials depending on the type of form.
Insulation comes in several forms, each suitable to particular parts of the home.
- Batt insulation – Available in sheets sized to fit between joists and beams, this insulation can be laid into place without any additional equipment. It works well for attics in existing constructions.
- Loose-fill or blow-in – Made of small pieces of fiberglass or cellulose, this insulation is blown into place using a blowing machine. This makes it possible to add insulation to the walls and floors of existing buildings with minimal damage to the interior structure. Because it also fills small crevices more effectively than batt insulation, it’s a good choice for the attic.
- Rigid board insulation – This insulation is made of polyurethane or another foam, or another material such as rock wool. In existing constructions, the stiff panels are well suited to insulating the basement rim joists or the walls of your crawl space. They’re more moisture-resistant than batt insulation and therefore last longer in crawl spaces.
If your home could use some improvements to make it more comfortable and increase its energy efficiency, talk with us at Conroe Air. Wherever you are in Montgomery County, we can help you seal and insulate for the greatest overall benefits.