Seal Air Leaks to Reduce Home Energy Use and Cost

Snug House - Scarf Wrapped Around Miniature HouseA snug house is a good defense against high heating and cooling bills. Eliminating air leaks into and out of your home is a relatively low-cost way to reduce energy use and cost. According to the U.S. EPA, a 1/8” gap under a 36-inch door lets in as much air as having a 2 ¼” hole in the wall. Feeling a draft is an indication of an air leak and turning up the thermostat only pumps out more heat that is then lost through leaks and cracks.

Handy homeowners can check for air leaks and cracks and then seal most if not all leaks themselves. Home improvement stores provide advice on materials, tools, and installation techniques and may offer workshops for novices. A plethora of information is available online from professionals and do-it-yourself experts via websites, blogs, and videos. Not so handy? Find a friend or family member who is or hire a professional.

Check for Air Leaks and Cracks

The U.S. Department of Energy and ENERGY STAR offer resources for do-it-yourself homeowners. Some areas to check for air leaks and cracks include:

  • Common Home Air Leaks - ENERGY STARWindows, doors (including garage), baseboard moldings.
  • Attic hatch or door, basement rim joists.
  • Chimney openings, furnace and water heater flues.
  • Electrical outlets, switches, and water faucets (especially on exterior walls).
  • Penetrations through insulated walls, floors, ceilings for plumbing, wiring, cable TV and phone lines, light fixtures, fans, mail chutes, doggie doors, and dryer vents.

Seal Air Leaks and Cracks

There are a variety of materials and methods for sealing air leaks and cracks. For instance, a tube of white latex window and door caulking and a caulking gun could cost as little as $10. Some actions are free.
  • Close the fireplace damper when the fireplace is not in use.
  • Close curtains and blinds at night in cold weather.
  • Cracks and gaps less than ¼” wide can usually be sealed with a caulking gun.
  • Expanding or flexible foam or other types of weatherstripping can be used to fill large cracks or holes.
  • Door sweeps help keep air, moisture, and insects out. This goes for garage doors too. Draft “snakes” or even a rolled towel will help minimize door drafts.

Take energy use reduction and cost savings to the next level by performing a home energy auditSome utilities, local governments, or nonprofit organizations will provide low-cost or free home energy audits and may offer financial assistance, rebate, and tax incentive programs.

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Repairing Things is Green — Mr. Fixit

Tool Belt with ToolsRepairing things instead of throwing them away and buying replacements is green. It is good for the environment and in many cases saves money. Those with one or more Mr. or Ms. Fixits in the family are lucky.

During a recent visit with my parents, I had an opportunity to talk with my dad about repairing stuff versus replacing it. Dad is definitely a Mr. Fixit. Over the years he has repaired a wide variety of items including cars, televisions, garbage disposals, leaky faucets, and electrical cords. My dad’s repair efforts saved our family many thousands of dollars and diverted a lot of things from the landfill.

It All Started on a Turkey Ranch

Turkey RanchApparently, it all started when my dad was a kid living on a turkey ranch. Cash was short so when something was in need of repair, my grandfather, dad, and uncle would repair it, often by trial and error. Dad learned to use tools, solve problems, fix things, and build stuff at a young age. When my dad helped my uncle build a roadster and rebuild an engine, little did he know how many car repairs his future held. One never knew what might come in handy to make a repair, so Gramp kept all kinds of scraps, parts, containers, odds and ends. Dad kept the tradition going and to this day still, has quite a collection.

Dad’s Workshop

When I was growing up my dad had a workshop next to the garage. It was filled with equipment I cannot begin to name, tools galore, screws, nails, nuts and bolts of every imaginable size, parts of this and that, and the requisite rolls of duct tape. Containers of various shapes and sizes held a myriad of useful bits and pieces. Dad had extra vacuum tubes and several pieces of test equipment he used for television repair. He also had parts and equipment for maintaining and repairing the family vehicles.

Dad's WorkshopDad had a lot of stuff in the workshop and depending on whether one had Mr. or Ms. Fixit leanings; it looked chaotic and messy or wondrous and full of potential. I admit I did not inherit the Fixit gene and to me, it was messy and full of things I had no idea what they were. However, it was also a wondrous place where dolls went in with broken arms and reappeared whole. It was where Dad devised a fantastic contraption that enabled us to take warm showers (very short warm showers) in the middle of nowhere on camping trips. My car was magically repaired numerous times with strange equipment from the workshop.

I Might Need That Someday

Although I cannot remember a specific instance of Dad taking something out of the trash, it is part of the family folklore. Perhaps we were just careful of what we put in the trash or had Dad check out what we intended to throw out. “I might need that someday” was heard many times in our household.

Parts Storage CabinetIt was not only bits and pieces that were kept out of the trash. It’s amazing how many different kinds of containers can be redeployed. An empty spice bottle becomes a home for tiny nails. Plastic food trays are used to sort small items for storage in larger containers. Shoe boxes are turned into storage boxes. Cupboards, drawers, and shelves are pressed into service. Recently I learned that See’s Candy boxes make great storage containers for a variety of items from extra adapters to photos. They are easily turned wrong side out, reassembled (often without glue), filled, labeled, and stacked. We must have eaten a lot of See’s Candy over the years.

Repairing Things is Green

Making new stuff uses resources and energy during its life cycle including manufacturing, transportation, and distribution. Repairing something eliminates the need for resources and energy that would have been used to make the replacement. It also keeps stuff out of landfills.

I am grateful that my dad is a Mr. Fixit, and although I have limited mechanical ability myself, I do appreciate it in others. Need something repaired? Not a Mr. or Ms. Fixit yourself? You probably know one. Trade repair work for a home cooked meal, volunteer to run an errand, or lend a hand and learn something new.

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