Uninsulated switches and outlets
Laura Moss / This Old House
The problem: A thin metal or plastic plate isn’t enough to prevent air from getting through what’s basically a big hole in the wall.
How to spot it: Remove the plate and cover the opening with a ply of tissue affixed to the wall at the top with painter’s tape, like a curtain. If the tissue billows, you’ve got a leak.
How to stop it: Insulate the opening with a precut foam gasket, about 10 cents each at home centers. Just fit the gasket over the opening and replace the cover. For extra protection for outlets when they aren’t in use, insert plastic child-safety plugs.
The payoff: Two percent off heating and cooling costs.
An attic hatch that’s not airtight
Karim Shamsi-Basha / This Old House
The problem: Little more than a thin sheet of plywood (so that it can easily be pushed up and out of the way), an uninsulated hatch can suck as much treated air out of living quarters as a fireplace chimney.
How to spot it: With all windows and doors closed, turn on the air conditioner or furnace and do the incense-stick test around the hatch; watch for smoke seeping between the access panel and the wood trim frame it rests on.
How to stop it: Secure rigid foam insulation to the back side of the hatch with duct tape, and affix foam tape around the edges of the panel to create a gasketlike seal. For pull-down stairs, add an insulated fabric housing, such as the Attic Tent (starting at $200; attictent.com). Secured to the attic-side framing with staples, the tent has a zippered hatch for easy attic access.
The payoff: An airtight hatch leading to a well-insulated attic can save you 30 percent on your heating bill.
Exterior wall openings
The problem: Holes for sewer and water lines, exhaust vents, and cable and phone lines are typically rough cut and uninsulated, so warmed or cooled air from inside your house escapes and outside air seeps in.
How to spot it: Use a handheld infrared thermal leak detector, such as Black & Decker’s TLD100 ($49.99; blackandecker.com). Pass the device over the solid wall near the hole, then the hole itself. If you see a significant difference in temperature, you’ve got an air leak.
How to stop it: Fill minor gaps of less than ¼ inch with silicone caulk. For larger voids up to 1 inch wide, use expanding polyurethane foam insulation. The long applicator straw on cans of spray-foam sealants, such as Great Stuff, are particularly handy for accessing hard-to-reach areas inside sink vanities and behind heavy washers and dryers. “If you’re dealing with a gap near a combustible device, like a fireplace, make sure you’re using products approved for high temperatures,” says Brown.
The payoff: Prevent 17 percent of treated air from escaping your home by sealing gaps around exterior penetrations.
Laura Moss / This Old House
The problem: Your fridge never gets a day off. Over time, wear and tear on the door’s rubber gasket, as well as built-up dirt and dust on coils, erode its efficiency and make it more expensive to operate.
How to spot it: Close the refrigerator door on a piece of paper. If you don’t feel resistance when you pull it out, the gasket seal is broken and chilled air is escaping. Mold or moisture on the gasket are other telltale signs, says Brown.
How to stop it: Order a new gasket from the fridge manufacturer for $60 to $90, depending on the make and model. Remove the damaged gasket and install the replacement yourself, following the manufacturer’s instructions. While you’re at it, use a long-handled duster to clean the exposed coils located underneath or on the back of the appliance. For a fridge more than 20 years old, no amount of maintenance will bring it up to today’s efficiency standards. It’s better to retire it and invest in a new, Energy Star–qualified model. KitchenAid‘s new Architect Series II French door fridge even goes a step further — it has an efficiency rating that’s 20 percent higher than the U.S. Department of Energy standard.
The payoff: Replacing the gasket and cleaning the coils can improve your
fridge’s cooling abilities by 25 percent. Swapping a 1980s fridge for a new, Energy Star one can shave more than $100 per year off your electric bill and nearly $200 annually if you have a 1970s model.
Damaged fireplace damper
The problem: Ten to 20 percent of warmed air from your home can be drawn into the chimney flue, passing around a rusted, stuck, or loose-fitting damper.
How to spot it: With the damper closed, hold a lit candle inside the firebox and watch the flame. If it gets beaten around or blown out, air is flowing up the chimney.
How to stop it: Hire a chimney sweep. In addition to giving the chimney a good cleaning, lubricating and checking the damper is usually part of the $90 to $200 service call. In the off-season, when the fireplace isn’t in use, you can seal the flue completely with a balloonlike plug, such as the Fireplace Draftstopper ($55;batticdoor.com), that you inflate and insert up the chimney just in front of the damper. When cold weather starts again, simply deflate the plug for easy removal.
The payoff: Reduce your annual heating bill by up to $500.
- How to Insulate an Uninsulated House (jetsongreen.com)
- Weathering the Home During Cooler Months (eon.businesswire.com)
- Winterize Your Home: 10 Tips (women.webmd.com)
- Four Low-Cost Recommendations to Prevent Major Water Damage From the Chimney Safety Institute of America (eon.businesswire.com)
- Properly sealing an attic with foam (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Weatherizing home can take bite out of winter (today.msnbc.msn.com)