Drafty attics, fireplaces, leaky windows and open vents provide the perfect opportunity for winter’s chill to sneak into your house and have you shivering from the cold. Not only does this cause you to huddle under extra layers of clothing and heavy blankets, but also probably has you spending more money than you want turning up the thermostat.
Drafts, such as those around doors, windows and pipes, are the largest source of heating and cooling loss in the home. Most homeowners tackle the easy leaks by caulking and weather-stripping to minimize energy loss and drafts.
But what can you do about drafts from the four largest “holes” in your home – the folding attic stair, the whole house fan, the fireplace and the clothes dryer? Here are some tips and techniques that can quickly, easily and inexpensively seal and insulate these often overlooked holes:
Installing attic stairs creates a large hole (approximately 10 square feet) in your ceiling. The ceiling and insulation that were there have to be removed, leaving only a thin, unsealed, sheet of plywood.
Often you can see a gap around the perimeter of the attic door. Check out your home’s attic entrance: At night, turn on the attic light and shut the attic stairway door – do you see any light coming through? If you do, heated and air-conditioned air is leaking through these large gaps in your home 24 hours a day. This is like leaving a window or skylight open year-round.
An easy solution to this problem is to add an insulated attic stair cover. An attic stair coverseals the stairs to stop drafts and energy loss. Add the desired amount of insulation over the cover to restore the insulation removed from the ceiling.
Whole house fans and air conditioning vents
Much like attic stairs above, installing a whole house fan creates a large hole (up to 16 square feet or larger) in your ceiling. The ceiling and insulation that were there have to be removed, leaving only the drafty ceiling shutter between you and the outdoors.
An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add a whole house fan shutter seal. Made from white textured flexible insulation, the shutter seal is installed over the ceiling shutter, secured with Velcro and trimmed to fit. The shutter seal can also be used to seal and insulate air conditioning vents, and is easily removed when you need to run the fan.
More than 100 million homes in North America are constructed with wood- or gas-burning fireplaces. However, fireplaces can be big energy wasters. Fireplaces can act like a giant straw, sucking your expensive heated or air-conditioned air right up the chimney and out of your house. In addition, sometimes odors, toxins, noise and insects come into the house through the chimney.
Fireplaces often have dampers that are meant to be shut when the fireplace is not used. However, even if the damper is shut it is not air-tight. Glass doors don’t stop the drafts either. One study has shown that an open damper on an unused fireplace in a well-insulated house can raise overall heating-energy consumption by 30 percent. Your heating bills may be more than $500 higher per winter due to the drafts and wasted energy caused by fireplaces.
An easy, cost efficient solution to this problem is to add a fireplace plug to your fireplace. The fireplace plug is an inflatable pillow that seals the fireplace damper, eliminating drafts, odors and noise. The pillow is easily removed whenever the fireplace is used, then reinserted after.
Clothes dryer exhaust ducts
In many homes, the room with the clothes dryer is the coldest room in the house. Your clothes dryer is connected to an exhaust duct that is open to the outdoors. In the winter, cold drafts come in through the duct, through your dryer and into your house.
An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add a dryer vent seal. This draft blocker will also keep out pests, bees and rodents. The vent will remain closed unless the dryer is in use. When the dryer is in use, a floating shuttle rises to allow warm air, lint and moisture to escape.