How to Cap Your Home’s Energy Losses This Winter

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Window sealed with saran wrap

Winter has a bad habit of sucking the life out of everything, including your home’s energy savings.

The calendar’s coldest month can put a deep freeze on your home’s energy efficiency. And with El Nino cooling off and the National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) expecting temperatures to be much colder this winter – 17 percent chillier in the U.S. Midwest alone (which equates to an average of $49) – it may be extremely hard for American homeowners in the Heartland to mine energy savings this winter. For homes heated by natural gas, residential natural gas prices are forecast to average $10.37 per thousand cubic feet – an 11 percent spike from last year.

The good news: There are easy and affordable ways for homeowners to prevent winter to put a hard chill on their energy bills. Here are some of the best ways homeowners can put a cap on their home energy expenses this winter:

      1. Insulate Around Recessed Lights: The majority of recessed lights have vents that open into the attic, a direct route for heated or cooled air to escape. The Pennsylvania Housing Research/Resource Center labels recess lights as a leading cause of household air leaks.Fear not, homeowners, lights labeled ICAT for “insulation contact and air tight,” are already sealed. If you can’t access ICAT lights, look into an airtight baffle (which retail from $8 to $30). Remove the bulb, push the baffle up into the housing, then replace the bulb, and presto, you’ve capped a leading cause of household air leaks.
      2. Close Gaps Around Flues And Chimneys: A chilling cold may be invading your home from its most trusted sources of warmth. Building codes require wood framings be kept at least once inch from metal flues and two inches from brick chimneys. Make sure your home is up to code. Aluminum flashings ($12 on average) and high-temperature silicone caulk ($14) can eliminate costly caps that allow air to flow through.
      3. Weatherstrip Your Attic Access Door: Just a quarter inch gap around attic pull-down stairs or hatches allow the same amount of air in as a bedroom’s heating duct. Luckily, you can seal these openings by caulking between the stair frame and the rough opening, or, by installing foam weatherstripping around the perimeter of the hatch opening. A pre-insulated hatch cover kit for stairs ($150) or doors ($350) are effective, but costly options.
      4. Plug Basement Gaps: Gaps low on foundation walls can be an open door welcoming in freezing air. Seal them with the same materials you’d use in the attic: caulk for gaps up to ¼ inch wide and spray foam for wider ones. Use high-temperature caulk for openings around vent pipes that get hot, like those for the furnace or water heater. Shoot foam around wider holes for wires, pipes, and ducts that pass through basement walls to the outside.For older homes suffering from air seeping in through where house framing sits on the foundation, spread a beam of caulk between the foundation and sill plate (the wood directly above the foundation) and along the top and bottom edges of the rim joist (the piece sitting atop the sill plate).
      5. Tighten Around Windows And Doors: If only windows could stop the cold with their front row view of winter. Frosty air penetrates through windows and doors more than any other area of aging homes. If you have old windows, caulking and installing new weatherstripping is a highly effective means of tightening up your air gaps. Bronze weatherstripping (which ranges from $15 to $35 for 17 feet) can last decades, while adhesive-backed EPDM rubber (which goes for $8-$10) is an affordable stop gap measure to repel cold air.

For a professional evaluation of your home’s Kryptonite zones for cold air, call in a certified energy auditor. But you can easily put the freeze on costly home energy losses this winter by smartly plugging the gaps in your home’s cold air defense shields.

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