THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED ON HOUSE LOGIC.
Plug energy-robbing gaps, start saving money, and enjoy a more comfortable home.
A typical family spends about a third of its annual heating and cooling budget — roughly $350 — on air that leaks into or out of the house through unintended gaps and cracks. With the money you waste in just one year, you can plug many of those leaks yourself. It’s among the most cost-effective things you can do to conserve energy and increase comfort, according to Energy Star.
Start in the attic, since that’s where you’ll find some of the biggest energy drains. Then tackle the basement to prevent cold air that enters there from being sucked into upstairs rooms. Finally, seal air leaks in the rest of the house. Here are eight places to start.
#1 Insulate Around Recessed Lights
Most recessed lights have vents that open into the attic, a direct route for heated or cooled air to escape. When you consider that many homes have 30 or 40 of these fixtures, it’s easy to see why researchers at the Pennsylvania Housing Research/Resource Center pinpointed them as a leading cause of household air leaks.
Lights labeled ICAT, for “insulation contact and air tight,” are already sealed; look for the label next to the bulb. If you don’t see it, assume yours leaks. An airtight baffle ($8 to $30) is a quick fix. Remove the bulb, push the baffle up into the housing, then replace the bulb.
#2 Plug Open Stud Cavities
Most of your house probably has an inner skin of drywall or plaster between living space and unheated areas. But builders in the past often skipped this cover behind knee walls (partial-height walls where the roof angles down into the top floor), above dropped ceilings or soffits, and above angled ceilings over stairs.
Up in the attic, you may need to push insulation away to see if the stud cavities are open. If they are, seal them with unfaced fiberglass insulation (less than $1 a square foot) stuffed into plastic garbage bags; the bag is key to blocking airflow.
Close large gaps with scraps of drywall or pieces of reflective foil insulation (less than $2 a square foot). Once you’ve covered the openings, smooth the insulation back into place. To see these repairs in action, consult Energy Star’s DIY guide to air sealing.
#3 Close Gaps Around Flues and Chimneys
Building codes require that wood framing be kept at least 1 inch from metal flues and 2 inches from brick chimneys. But that creates gaps where air can flow through.
Cover the gaps with aluminum flashing ($12) cut to fit and sealed into place with high-temperature silicone caulk ($14). To keep insulation away from the hot flue pipe, form a barrier by wrapping a cylinder of flashing around the flue, leaving a 1-inch space in between. To maintain the spacing, cut and bend a series of inch-deep tabs in the cylinder’s top and bottom edges.
Justin Dobson discusses the ‘Comfort Triangle’ and how to maintain its stability for your home’s energy efficiency.
#4 Weatherstrip the Attic Access Door
A 1/4-inch gap around pull-down attic stairs or an attic hatch lets through the same amount of air as a bedroom’s heating duct. Seal it by caulking between the stair frame and the rough opening, or by installing foam weatherstripping around the perimeter of the hatch opening. Or you can buy a pre-insulated hatch cover kit for stairs ($150) or doors ($350 and up).
#5 Squirt Foam in Medium-Size Gaps
Once the biggest attic gaps are plugged, move on to the medium-size ones. Low-expansion polyurethane foam in a can is great for plugging openings 1/4-inch to 3 inches wide, such as those around plumbing pipes and vents.
A standard 12-ounce can ($5) is good for 250 feet of bead about 1/2-inch thick. The plastic straw applicator seals shut within two hours of the first use, so to get the most mileage out of a can, squirt a lubricant such as WD-40 onto a pipe cleaner and stuff that into the applicator tube between uses.
#6 Caulk Skinny Gaps
Caulk makes the best gap-filler for openings less than 1/4-inch wide, such as those cut around electrical boxes. Silicone costs the most ($8 a tube) but works better next to nonporous materials, such as metal flashing, or where there are temperature extremes, as in attics. Acrylic latex caulk ($2 a tube) is less messy to work with and cleans up with water.