Winter is here and prudent Central Texans everywhere are battening down the hatches and bracing for the massive winter storms heading our way. Okay, okay… maybe not massive, but you can be sure we’ll see some light freezes and possibly temperatures down in the teens. It could even snow, maybe. But whatever might be on the horizon— freezing temperatures or another 100 days of 100-degree heat—you don’t want to spend it in a drafty, uncomfortable home, or spend a fortune trying to keep your home comfort- able. Something to consider:
The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that residential households consume 25 percent of the nation’s energy, and nearly half of that energy is from heating and cooling your home. So, on top of thermal discomfort, a poorly weatherized home will gradually siphon away your hard-earned bucks and negatively impact the environment.
So, weatherize your home in ways that will lower your energy costs and reduce your carbon footprint. There are a number of simple quick fixes that can save you—big time. Are you living in a 1950s home nestled in Hyde Park or are you in a custom- built three-year-old home in West- lake? Typically, newer homes are built to higher efficiency standards, and also, there haven’t been as many opportunities for slabs to shift and sink, creating gaps and holes around previously tight frames and fixtures. For those of you in older homes, check where air is leaking out and correct the situation. Feel for drafty areas or light a candle near windows and doors to see if the smoke is blow- ing into the room or being sucked outwards. If you want to be thorough, have an energy audit performed. Most energy audits will utilize what is called a blower door test that depressurizes the interior of your home and easily allows your auditor to find where air is penetrating. Infrared imaging of your home, another energy auditor tactic, will quickly disclose where heat is escaping and should allow you to focus on problem areas.
To prevent direct air infiltration from the outside, use caulk and weather stripping to patch up the holes and gaps where airflow is occurring. If the area between your door and thresh- old allows in drafts (or insects), attach a door sweep. If you have smaller, trickier gaps that weather stripping won’t handle, spray expanding foam insulation into the void to form an airtight seal.
Next time it’s cold and dreary outside, hold your hand over electri- cal outlets and light switches. You may be surprised at the amount of air pouring into your home. By purchas- ing inexpensive wall switch and outlet insulators and installing them behind the switch and outlet plates, you can do a lot to reduce your energy bill. Also, check into attic door covers. Attic doors are typically the only spot in your attic not covered with insula- tion. You can also place a water heater blanket around your water heater and wrap water pipes with insulation.
Of course, weatherizing your home for the winter months reaps benefits year-round. Because the law of thermodynamics states that cold air moves to warm air, sealing cracks and gaps now will prevent all your sweet, sweet air conditioning from being sucked out into the suffocating July heat next summer.
What happens if you do all of the above and your home is still drafty? You might need to bite the bullet and add insulation in the unconditioned spaces within your home, such as wall cavities, crawl spaces, and your attic. Blown-in insulation by an industry professional is relatively painless and you’ll see the benefits immediately. Also, as part of the City of Austin’s Climate Protection Plan, every home- owner selling their home will have to perform an energy audit that will be disclosed to potential buyers. In other words, increasing your home’s energy performance now not only saves money on energy bills, it can increase your home value later.