Heating your home in the cold weather is a major expense, and if heat is trickling out of your house without your knowledge, you might end up spending far more on your energy bill than you need to. According to the Department of Energy, you can save up to 30% on your energy bills just by eliminating drafts in your house.
By letting heat escape, drafts force your HVAC system to run harder than ever, desperately trying to maintain the right temperature. A constantly running heating system is problematic, and not just for your wallet — it can also leave your HVAC system more vulnerable to malfunction or damage.
As you gear up for the winter months ahead, it’s crucial to inspect your home for drafts and eliminate them wherever possible to keep the heat where it should be.
How to Find a Draft
During the day, check for drafts around windows, doors, plumbing, electrical outlets, vents, and ducts. If you can see a gap in the seams or feel air passing through, you’ve found a draft. You can also try looking for drafts at night. Ask someone to stand outside and shine a flashlight on the areas where you think there may be gaps. If you can see the light inside, then you’ll need to get sealing.
Not all drafts appear as obvious gaps in your walls — some will be more subtle and harder to detect. If you want to ensure you’re tackling all the problems that might be raising your energy bills, invest in a professional energy audit. Experts can examine your entire home and tell you how best to keep your property warm and secure during the colder months. This is the easiest way to quickly and effectively winter-proof your home.
Where to Search for Drafts
Check the Attic and Ceiling
One of the most important places to search for drafts in your home is the attic. This is particularly true if your home is older. Many older homes have fiberglass insulation, and you may need to upgrade your insulation for better energy efficiency. An energy auditor can examine your attic insulation for you and tell you whether it needs to be replaced. You can seal gaps around the attic or ceiling using spray foam (expanding foam). Remember, you’ll need to wear gloves and a dust mask if you’re sealing gaps yourself to protect you from the insulation.
Handle the Foundation
After the attic, another place that air often escapes out of the house is through the basement or crawlspace, if you have one. When sealing drafts in your basement, use caulk for smaller gaps and expanding foam for the larger gaps, where pipes might be coming through the walls.
Double-Check Your Ducts
The ducts in your HVAC system could suffer from leaks or airflow issues. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, you can lose up to 30% of the air that passes through your ducts due to leaks and holes. You can use metal tape to insulate some of the ductwork in areas that you can access. However, if you’re unable to fully check all your ducting due to the layout of your home, you should call in a professional for a more thorough examination.
Examine Exterior Walls
Most people begin their hunt for drafts indoors, but it’s important to think about the exterior walls, too. As homes begin to settle, installation can quickly become compromised, and it’s important to keep updating and checking your protection to make sure that you’re getting the most out of your heating systems. Usually, a professional heating and cooling specialist will be able to check the exterior aspects of your home for you and look for instances where your installation might be thin or lacking.
Seal Your Windows
If your windows were poorly sealed when your house was built, they may be slowly and consistently allowing outside air into your home. If you can feel drafts around the windows in your home, check both the interior and exterior for cracks around the window space — and fill any cracks with sealant. If your windows are very old, you may consider replacing them entirely. Upgrading to energy-efficient windows can provide significant savings on your heating and cooling bills.
Deal With the Doors
Doors are one of the most common sources of drafts in any home. Apply rubber, metal, foam, or vinyl weather-stripping around all the moving parts of your doors and windows. Self-adhesive rubber can be just as effective, if using nails isn’t an option — which might be the case with metal and vinyl windows. Don’t forget to examine the sweep — the space at the bottom of your door — which should be airtight when the door closes. The best way to deal with a damaged sweep is simply to upgrade to a new one. Sweeps are often affordable and easy to install.
Draft-Proof Electrical Outlets
Electrical outlets can be major offenders in a drafty house. Here’s a simple way to check whether you have a problem with your outlets: light a candle, hold or place it near the outlet, and see whether the flame flickers. If the flame flickers significantly, or is moved in one direction, you know there’s air coming through. Without a candle handy, you can also place your hand carefully over the outlet to see whether you can feel a draft of air. If you do find drafts at your electrical outlets, you’ll need to invest in foam gaskets that can seal up various outlets including plugs, switches, and dimmers. These draft-proofing gaskets are generally available at your local hardware store.
Have Your Home Heating System Inspected
Checking for drafts in your home (especially before the start of the winter and summer seasons) is crucial for energy efficiency. If your heating system has been contending with drafts for a while, it may not be enough to simply seal up drafts here and there — there’s a good chance your HVAC system needs a professional tune up. Ask a professional HVAC contractor to come out and examine your system before winter to ensure that you’re fully prepared.
At the same time, be sure to do regular maintenance tasks before the cold weather arrives, to keep your HVAC system working smoothly. Replace your filters regularly, test your thermostat to ensure the system works as it should, and remove any debris from within your air vents.
Although the idea of scouting your home for gaps and holes might not seem like much fun, it’s an important part of winterizing your home. With a quick home examination and a little professional help, you can keep your property warm — and your energy bills low — when the cold winds of winter roll in.