Welcome to the Take Charge of Your Home series from Direct Energy! Hiring a professional to perform household maintenance may offer convenience and peace of mind, but you can do many of these jobs yourself with no experience or special tools. And in the process, you’ll save money, learn about how your home works and gain a sense of accomplishment from a DIY task done well!
A drafty home is a big problem. It not only wastes energy and drives up utility bills, it also makes living spaces chilly in the winter and hot in the summer. Homeowners who are surrounded by air leaks end up spending more money on less comfort.
As if that wasn’t enough, air leaks can also be difficult to find. Tiny gaps around window sashes or cracks in corners may be nearly invisible, but they can still add up to create a major weakness in the integrity of your home envelope.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still try your best to find and seal these leaks, especially if your home feels uncomfortable during extreme outdoor temperatures or your energy bills are getting out of control. A lot of this work can be performed by DIY amateurs, and if you find that you need extra help, professionals can step in with sophisticated technology to locate air leaks you might never find on your own.
How to Find Drafts
You can’t fix what you can’t see, so the first step in tightening up your home’s envelope is to find those drafts. It’s best to do this on a windy day with your HVAC system turned off. Work one room at a time, keeping a record of drafts by either making a detailed list, taking photos or marking them with masking tape.
The most low-tech tool for draft detection is your own hand. If it’s warm in your home but cold outside, you should be able to feel larger drafts on your outstretched palm by holding it a few inches away from walls, windows and doors.
A more effective method is to use a flame or smoke to detect streams of moving air. Slowly move a lit candle through a drafty area, and the breeze will cause the flame to flicker. You can also use a stick of incense and watch for its smooth strip of smoke to be disturbed. If you don’t like the fragrance, most hardware stores sell handheld draft detectors that work similarly by emitting an odorless stream of smoke.
These methods can help you locate lots of drafts, but if you want to catch them all, you should consider scheduling a professional energy audit. The most common way for energy auditors to find air leaks is with a process called a “blower door test”.
In this test, auditors fill the front door of a home with a large panel equipped with powerful fans. These fans blow outdoors, which depressurizes the home and increases the airflow through drafty areas. Auditors can then scan the entire home using infrared heat mapping cameras, allowing them to literally see drafts, as well as assess their severity.
If you’re the DIY type, it’s worthwhile to hunt down drafts on your own. But if you still have trouble with cold spots and big bills after plugging those leaks, an energy audit may be worth the expense.
How to Seal Drafty Air Leaks
With your air leaks spotted, it’s time to start sealing them up. Caulk, spray foam and weather stripping will help you fill in the vast majority of leaks.
For the finest cracks, you can’t do much better than a clear acrylic caulk rated for indoor use. You’ll want to prepare each surface by thoroughly cleaning and drying the area of the crack, taking care to remove any old caulk or paint with a putty knife. Apply a bead of caulk to the crack using a caulking gun per the directions printed on the caulk tube. Next, use a wet fingertip to push the caulk deep into the crack, then use a damp rag to wipe away the excess.
Larger gaps, such as those you might see around a plumbing pipe extending through a wall, are better sealed with closed-cell expanding spray foam insulation. Pressurized cans of spray foam can be found at most hardware stores. As with caulk, every area should be cleaned and dried prior to application to ensure long-lasting adhesion.
Hopefully, you already have weather stripping installed on your home’s windows and doors. But weather stripping doesn’t last forever, especially on windows and doors that are opened and closed frequently. If you find stripping that is cracked, dried out or is peeling away from the surface, it should be replaced.
Before installing new weather stripping, you must completely remove the old ones, as well as any adhesive and dirt they leave behind. After each surface is completely clean and dry, cut your new weather stripping to the appropriate length, peel off the adhesive backing and carefully press it into place.
When it comes to the bottom of your exterior doors, a door sweep is a better alternative to ordinary weather stripping. These are typically fastened with screws onto the inside of the door. Be sure to install it with the door closed, taking care to ensure there are no gaps between the door sweep and the threshold.
More Draft Prevention Tips:
Completing this process can make a big difference in both comfort and cost, but it’s only one part of improving the integrity of your home envelope. Here are a few additional tips to consider if you’re looking for more opportunities to seal and save:
- If you have a fireplace, keep the damper closed to minimize air leaks. If the fireplace still feels drafty, your damper may need adjustment or replacement, or you might want to supplement with any of a variety of other fireplace covers or chimney plugs.
- Make sure your attic hatch forms a tight seal with the ceiling. If it’s sagging, you may need to adjust or replace the tension springs to tighten it up.
- There are ways to make drafty rooms feel more comfortable in the short term if you don’t have time for more permanent fixes. Try covering drafty windows with plastic wrap or bubble wrap, or make a DIY draft blocker for drafty doors.
- Sealing drafts can only do so much if your windows and doors are inherently energy inefficient. Replacing them can be a large expense, but it’s one that can pay off in the long run. If you’re considering replacement in your future, do your research and prioritize energy efficiency in your buying decisions.
If you’re ready to track down the drafts in your home, happy hunting! It’s a smart first step toward a more comfortable home and more affordable energy bills.
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