One of the best words I have learned in the energy field is "weatherize." Maybe what's best about it is that weatherizing a home is important, easy to do and fairly low-cost. The results can be beneficial in terms of energy savings, dollar savings and dramatic increase in home comfort.
Simply, to weatherize a home means to seal the air leaks and make sure the home is protected from the elements by the right amount of insulation.
It's been estimated that if you could put all the air leaks in the typical home together, you would have a hole the size of a basketball. Now if there were a hole in the wall of your home that big, you certainly would have done something about it by now. But chances are good that you haven't fixed all the small holes that contribute to this problem.
Keep in mind that there's a big difference between ventilation and air leakage. Ventilation is a good thing, something you can control. It lets you bring fresh outside air into the house, gets rid of odors and moisture from indoors, and helps you enjoy the outdoor breezes.
Air leakage or infiltration (also known as accidental ventilation) is not such a good thing. It's unwanted air that enters a house uncontrollably, helping make the indoors too hot in summer and too cold in winter. It also brings in bugs, pollutants, dirt and other things you would rather keep outside.
Weatherizing a house reduces air leakage to a minimum. It will help you cut your energy bills, improve indoor comfort and keep indoor air healthy.
The easiest way to begin to solve the problem is to start with the obvious areas. Are the windows closing tightly? Are the doors well-sealed? Are there any clearly visible holes or cracks in the walls or foundation?
These are the easy ones. The key to doing the job right is to find all the problem areas that are hidden from view. Check the areas around recessed light fixtures, at the attic access doors, around the ductwork, behind electrical outlets and other areas where wiring and plumbing come into the house, and carefully examine places where the framing materials are joined. In other words, check out the walls, floors and ceiling of your entire home, looking for breaks in the building materials that might be allowing unwanted air to flow in and out of the house.
Your local building supply or hardware store has quite a selection of caulking and weatherstrip materials that will let you fix the problems you find. Once you identify problem areas, plugging the holes is usually simple.
As for the other big part of weatherization - the insulation - you can check this out yourself as well, or get a contractor to measure what you have in the attic and walls and what your home needs. Insulation is the material that protects your home from the elements, and it is essential that the right amount for your climate is properly installed.
These simple steps can make a huge difference in your energy bills and in your home comfort. Don't neglect this part of home maintenance. It can pay the biggest dividend in return.
- Ken Sheinkopf is associate director for the Florida Solar Energy Center in Cocoa, Fla. For more information on energy efficiency and renewable energy, visit the center's Web site at www.fsec.ucf.edu