We’re in the heart of winter now, and whether you’re using electric heat, gas, or some other form of heat this winter, your energy bills are likely starting to pile up. So today I’m here to share a few ways that you can improve your home this winter that can actually help you lower your energy costs.
1. Find drafts
It’s not hard to feel a draft when you’re sitting in a room. A quick cold blast across your toes or finger tips can send your skin prickling. However, it’s not as easy to identify where a draft is coming from. Old homes are notorious for drafts. I recommend getting yourself an inexpensive infrared thermometer and pointing it around the room for drafty areas. Typical spots include electrical outlets, windows and doors, around pipes and ducts, skylights, recessed lighting, and chimneys.
2. Seal drafty areas and any holes around the home with spray foam insulation
In older homes, the areas around electrical boxes and protrusions into the house from the exterior are often poorly sealed, which can lead to drafts coming in around the outlets or other areas. Use some spray foam to seal around those areas and prevent drafts from coming in.
3. Inspect and weatherstrip exterior doors
Broken, damaged, or poorly installed weatherstripping around doors can be a huge culprit when it comes to drafts flowing through your home. Check your weatherstripping for signs of cracking or dry rot, and replace it if it shows signs of wear.
4. Use door sweeps and draft guards on doors to keep heat in and cold out
Make sure your door sweeps are installed correctly so that you don’t have drafts coming from under the door. In colder climates it’s pretty easy to tell if you have a problem because you may have a small amount of snow built up around the bottom of the door.
5. Insulating the home
Many older homes are severely lacking in insulation, which is defined by its R-value. Heat rises so adding insulation into your attic can significantly impact your heat loss. Typical homes now look to achieve an R-value of around R38 in the attic space so having your insulation replaced or additional insulation on top of your existing may be a worthwhile investment.
Insulating the walls can be much trickier than the attic and can require opening up the walls which may not be feasible in all situations. Instead, you can increase the R-value of your home by adding rigid foam insulation on the outside of your home, which can keep you from having to tear open interior walls and make a mess inside.
6. Close chimney dampers and flues on fireplaces when not in use and consider adding an insulated cover if the fireplace is not being used
An open chimney damper is a direct shot for cold air to enter your home. Since cold air falls, the chimney can act as an unimpeded pipe for cold air to enter your home and for warmer air to literally escape up the chimney. Closing and insulating the fireplace when not in use is a great way to minimize this. Chimney dampers are usually just a hinged piece of metal and almost never close fully so there is always some amount of heat loss. An insulated cover or inflatable chimney balloon can help mitigate this.
If you’re looking to add even more efficiency to your fireplace, consider replacing your old wood burning fireplace with a wood burning stove or adding a new fireplace insert into your existing fireplace opening to offset your heating bill. Traditional fireplaces lose the majority of their heat out the chimney rather than radiating it out through the room. New fireplace inserts and wood stoves provide heat more efficiently and cut down on energy costs.
7. Consider a negative air pressure check on the home
This probably isn’t a DIY task as it involves some specialty equipment, but it can give you a lot of information on prioritizing tasks when it comes to sealing your home’s envelope.
Typically a home services company will use a calibrated blower fan to create a negative pressure inside the home, which shows where your home’s envelope is leaking. They use a variety of tools like infrared cameras, thermometers, a smoke device, and pressure sensors to identify the problem areas and give you guidance on how to address the issues.
8. Don’t overlook crawl spaces
Attics are important when talking about heat loss, but insulating under the house can also greatly improve efficiency. In the summer months, the cold air from your air conditioning system falls to the floor and if not contained, can fall through the cracks and not circulate properly as intended. If you have a house on a raised foundation, cold wind and drafts can also blow under the home and cause cold drafts. Adding insulation between floor joists either in batts or rigid foam insulation can help minimize this.
A common misconception is that a home needs to be 100% airtight. While it certainly helps a home to have a tight envelope for efficiency, having a home without ventilation causes a lot of problems, too. Water damage that can’t dry out because of limited air flow is one example that can lead to potentially hazardous black mold growth. Ice dams are also a common sign of poor ventilation in attics. Simply put, your home needs to breathe. Think about opening the windows in the springtime after a long winter and that feeling of fresh air you get. A properly ventilated space should keep the home from reaching that overly stuffy atmosphere.
A home needs to be able to controllably exchange air between the inside and outside in order to keep the home comfortable, fresh, and efficient. Don’t overlook ventilation when sealing your home and make sure you consider adding a whole home air exchanger in addition to properly sealing off the home.
Thanks for checking out these tips for creating an efficient home. As always, if you’d like to check out any more of my DIY Home Improvement videos or content you can find them all on my website at mrfixitdiy.com
Thank you for following along, stay safe and healthy, and Happy New Year!