As the cost of living continues to rise, homeowners look for creative ways to trim expenses without lowering their standard of living. Like all of life’s essentials, utility costs keep going up. Fortunately, weatherizing your home can help save money, improve indoor comfort and lower your environmental impact.
The Weatherization Process
The vast majority of homes in the U.S. were built before the implementation of model energy code standards in the 1990s. In fact, the average home has air leakage that is equivalent to a four-foot square hole in an exterior wall.
Nearly 25 percent of the energy used nationally is devoted to residential homes, and almost half of that is consumed by the air conditioner, furnace or heat pump. Even in a perfect scenario, it still takes a large amount of energy to cool a home in Montgomery County, Texas, in the summer or heat a home in St. Paul, Minnesota, in the winter. However, a significant portion of the energy used to condition the indoor air is often wasted as warm air enters or exits through hidden breaches in the building exterior. The interchangeable terms “weatherization” and “weatherizing” are used to describe a process that includes sealing leaks in the building’s perimeter, ductwork and windows. Insulation is often added to the walls and ceiling to improve energy efficiency and enhance the air barrier between the living area and outdoors.
How Air Escapes
By its nature, warm air is always seeking out colder air. The easiest way to track perimeter leakage is to close all the doors and windows in your home and walk around the inside perimeter with an incense stick or bottled smoke. If the smoke stream appears to be pulling toward or away from doors, windows and electrical outlets, it is likely conditioned air is escaping. HVAC professionals can pinpoint perimeter leakage with exacting precision by using a blower door, which places the home under an extreme negative pressure. Air leaks are most common in floors, ductwork, fireplaces, electrical penetrations, windows, fans and vents.
How to Seal Leaks
Weatherizing efforts are designed to stop basic heat flow patterns. In the summer, heat infiltrates the perimeter by turning the house into a heat sink and radiating thermal energy through the walls and penetrations. In the winter, warm air travels through paths of least resistance into the outdoors, unheated crawl spaces or attics.
The goal of weatherizing a home is to isolate the air inside a home by setting up an impenetrable barrier. This is accomplished by using a variety of different materials and sealing techniques.
- Add Insulation: Insulation remains the best energy-efficiency upgrade from a return-on-investment standpoint. Adding fiberglass or cellulose to the ceiling and walls will create a natural barrier against air infiltration. Insulating plumbing pipes and stuffing fiberglass around electrical receptacles, vents and IC-rated lighting fixtures will also stem the flow of air.
- Seal Windows and Doors: Caulk is a inexpensive product that serves as an excellent sealant when applied around the frames of windows and doors. Siliconized products are flexible and will keep the gaps sealed even if they spread slightly. Weather stripping materials come in a variety of sizes and shapes and are ideal for the tops and sides of doors. Use rolled vinyl on the bottom of doors and weather stripping tape to seal irregular cracks.
- Draft Stoppers: Draft stoppers are tubes made of fabric filled with insulating material. They are available in various lengths and designed to seal the gap underneath closed doors and window ledges. As their name implies, draft stoppers help restrict air infiltration in basements, attics, garages and unoccupied rooms.
- Seal the Fireplace: The damper on a fireplace should always be closed when the unit is not active. If you do not plan on using your fireplace at all during the winter, a fireplace plug will completely seal off the flue and maximize energy efficiency.
- Duct Sealing: Most homes built before the early 2000s have unsealed ductwork, which negatively impacts health, energy efficiency and comfort. In fact, leaky ducts can lose up to 50 percent of the conditioned air that travels through them. Professional HVAC contractors offer duct sealing services that can eliminate the leakage and restore the efficiency of your furnace or heat pump.
- Water Heater Blankets: Your water heater can be responsible for up to 25 percent of your annual utility bill, so adding an insulating jacket to keep the heat inside the storage tank makes perfect sense. Insulating the tank can reduce heat loss by up to 45 percent, which can lower your annual utility costs by up nine percent.
- Shrink Wrap for Windows: Window shrink wrap is available in kits that include specially designed shrink wrap film and double sided tape. The shrink wrap is applied to the window using a hair dryer to create a strong seal and reduce wrinkling. This temporary solution is an inexpensive way for renters to reduce drafts without making a major investment.
- Insulate the Attic Access Door: In most instances, contractors use a bare piece of drywall to cover the access hole into the attic. An uninsulated attic access door can waste precious heating and cooling dollars. Use spray glue to attach a piece of fire-resistant foam sheet or fiberglass to the attic side of the access cover.
Benefits of Weatherizing Your Home
Weatherizing your home provides a variety of benefits that combine cash savings with environmental consciousness. Here are some of the most compelling reasons to weatherize your home or office:
- Save Money and Energy: A home that is properly weatherized can reduce energy costs by up to 30 percent on a monthly basis. This can translate into saving of nearly $1000 annually, depending on the extent of the improvements and the homeowner’s lifestyle.
- Extended HVAC Equipment Life: In homes with significant air leaks, the heating and cooling load is much higher, which forces the furnace, heat pump and air conditioner to work harder and longer to meet the thermostat call. Over time without the benefit of regular maintenance, the extra accumulated runtime hours create additional stress and wear on the equipment, which can result in higher repair costs and a shorter system lifecycle.
- Better Comfort: Weatherizing your home will help eliminate the winter drafts and summer hot spots that create uneven temperature zones in different rooms. Rapid thermal gain or loss creates the greatest sense of discomfort, and a home that is properly sealed will maintain a consistent temperature in all weather conditions. A whole-house energy and indoor air quality audit conducted by an HVAC professional can help identify problem areas in order to establish weatherizing priorities.
- Lower Environmental Impact: Lowering home energy consumption reduces the release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses into the environment while decreasing our dependence on fossil fuels.
- Improved Safety: When completed by an HVAC professional like Integrity Comfort Solutions, the weatherizing process corrects potentially harmful issues like excessive moisture, improper combustion and poor ventilation, which will make your home a healthier and safer place to live.
The Weatherization Assistance Program
The Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) was developed to help low-income families lower their utility costs by making their homes more energy efficient. Funds are administered to the states by the Department of Energy (DOE) and are used to enhance the utilization of energy in qualifying dwellings. Contractors who implement the upgrades use the most advanced technologies and testing protocols available in the industry. Over 20 million families are eligible for the program nationwide, and preference is given to those over 60, families with a member who is disabled and families with children. Income level is also an important criterion for qualification.
Weatherizing Saves Money
Weatherizing your home is a fantastic way to save money and improve indoor comfort. While sealing and adding insulation can be a DIY project, a trained HVAC professional always uses the appropriate sealing materials and can identify leaks you might miss. If you are interested in learning more about weatherizing and other energy saving strategies, call the professionals at Integrity Comfort Solutions at 281-346-3095 today.