Saving energy and maintaining a more comfortable house is certainly a priority for all of us these days. But it might surprise you to realize that there are a number of small, inexpensive things you can do the help reduce those annoying drafts and equally annoying energy bills, all without breaking the bank in the process.

-Get out the caulking: Caulking around the outside of your house is one of the easiest and most cost-effective things you can do to save energy. All it takes is a caulking gun, a few tubes of caulk, and a day’s worth of effort, and you can really make a big difference. Use a good quality acrylic latex caulk in a compatible color, or just in white or clear if you want to paint it later. For large gaps or areas that are subject to a lot of movement, opt for the more flexible silicone caulk–if you want to paint it later, be sure and get a brand that specifically says it’s paint-able.

Apply caulking in the following areas: around exterior window frames, both where the siding meets the window trim, and where the trim meets the window itself; where exterior door frames meet siding, including your garage doors; along the bottom of the siding, where it overlaps the foundation; along the top of the siding, where it meets the underside of the roof framing; around exterior hose bibs, light fixtures, vent caps; and any other penetration through the siding.

Foam really fills the gaps: If you have any home improvement project that is currently in the framing stage, you’ll see a number of areas where holes exist in the top and bottom plates to allow wiring, plumbing, ducts, and other components to pass through into the attic or crawlspace. These holes can allow a considerable amount of cold air to pass into the wall cavities and then into the living space, so you want to get them sealed up while they’re easily accessible. Break out a can or two of expandable foam, and just squirt a nice seal all around each penetration. This applies to interior walls as well as exterior.

If your home is already finished, you can still seal up those drafty penetrations, but it takes a little more effort. From both the attic and the crawlspace, look for areas where water lines, drain lines, vent pipes, wiring, ducts and vents penetrate through. Move aside any insulation, seal around the penetration with foam, and then be sure and move the insulation back into place.

Some gaskets will help: It may not seem like much, but those inexpensive foam switch and outlet gaskets you can pick up at any home center or hardware store can really make a difference. Simply shut off the power, remove each cover plate, add the appropriate gasket, and replace the plate. To take the draft stopping one step further, use some of those plastic, childproofing inserts for unused electrical outlets as well. Once again, this applies to interior walls as well as exterior.

–Weather-strip those doors and windows: Broken, loose, misadjusted or missing weather-stripping around doors and windows can let in a surprising amount of cold air, with an equally unpleasant surprise on your heating bill. Carefully examine each window and exterior door, including the garage. Adjust door sweeps and sills to make a complete seal–you should never see daylight beneath a door. Replace or adjust door and window weather-stripping to ensure that it is making a firm and complete seal.

Put a damper on things: Dampers are commonly found in exhaust fans, range hoods, downdraft range vents, and dryer vents. They are simply one-way flaps that are designed to open to allow air to pass through them when the fan is in use, then to close again to make a seal against outside air leaking in once the fan is turned off. The problem is that, for a variety of reasons, they often stop making a complete seal, and the resulting air leaks can become a definite problem.

Check any dampers that you can readily access. For exhaust fans and kitchen appliance vents, they are typically located at the fan or appliance itself, although some are remotely located where the vent passes through the wall or foundation. For clothes dryers, the vent and damper are typically located outside at the end of the vent pipe. Shut off the power to the fan or appliance, and examine the damper flap. Check to see that it is not clogged with grease or other debris, that the flapper opens and closes easily, that the springs are tight, and that the foam or felt weather-stripping gasket is in place.

Damper repairs are not always the easiest things to do. Clean and adjust where you can, and in the case of dryer vents, you can just replace the entire outside cap. For problems beyond that, your best bet may be to contact an appliance repair company or a licensed heating contractor.

Remodeling and repair questions? E-mail Paul at paul2887@direcway.com.

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