Seal it up

Looking for leaks and sealing them pays off in energy cost savings
By Brian Sloboda
Seal it up

Staying comfortable in your home often means turning up the heat or the air conditioning, but that is costly and wasteful if your home is not properly sealed from the elements. Because roughly half of the energy a home uses goes to heating and cooling, detecting and sealing leaks can save you money.

Finding and fixing leaks

Cold and hot air seeps into homes through small openings. To find those spots, take an incense stick or a lighted match and move it around edges of windows and doors. Watch for flame or smoke movement. Here are several remedies for leaks.

  • Add weather stripping to the edges of windows and doors. Stripping typically uses sticky tape to adhere to the side of the window and fill the gaps.
  • If your home uses single-pane windows, consider adding storm windows to the exterior as an added barrier between you and the elements.
  • Remove old cracked caulking and replace with new caulking designed for the application. Caulking can be designated for exterior, interior, and bathroom applications, and you don't want to use bathroom caulk on the outside of your home. Also, make sure the caulk can be painted if you want it to blend in with colors used in your home.
  • Use insulated curtains to prevent further loss of heated or cooled air.
  • Remove window air conditioning units when summer is over.

A walk around the outside of your home will reveal other prime candidates for quick and easy repairs. Any time a hole is drilled into a home, it creates an opportunity for energy loss. Start by checking pipe and wire penetrations. They should be sealed on the exterior and interior walls. This not only helps prevent energy loss but it will also help keep critters out.

Check ductwork

The ductwork of a forced air furnace, central air conditioning unit or heat pump can be another source of energy loss. According to Energy Star, sealing and insulating those ducts can improve the efficiency of your system by as much as 20 percent. They recommend first focusing on ducts that run through unconditioned areas such as crawl spaces, garages and attics. You should first seal the ducts using a special duct sealant or metal tape that can be found at most home improvement stores. Regular duct tape on your air ducts just won't work or last like sealant or metal tape.

Once the ducts are sealed, check the connections at bends and the registers, making sure connections are tight. Next, wrap the ducts in insulation. This is often a dirty and time-consuming job. Many homeowners will turn to a HVAC company or professional to perform this work.

About the Author

Brian Sloboda is a program manager specializing in energy efficiency for the Cooperative Research Network, a service of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

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