Ever hear that your house has to breathe? Like many commonsensical ideas, it is at least partially true. You do want an air exchange between the outside and inside of your home. But you don't want heated air spilling out or unwelcome drafts blowing in through cracks in the walls, floors, or around the wall plugs, doors and windows.
Builders call the barrier between the inside and outside of a house the exterior or building envelope. Its purpose is to control your home's internal climate. Gaps in it let outdoor air seep in where it shouldn't. During the colder months, which are just around the corner, this makes your home uncomfortable, drafty and raises your heating bill.
In your home, you want to control where any exchange of indoor and outdoor air occurs. That means "breathing" through the vents and fans installed for that purpose. All other "holes" you want plugged up. You can choose to do some of this yourself or you can hire an expert to help and really tighten up your home.
If you're a do-it-yourselfer, you can seal your home easily with materials readily available at most hardware stores. Sealing around the edges of window and door casings on the outside of the house with caulk is pretty easy and not too expensive. You can also caulk or put foam around any places where wires enter. You can add weather stripping and threshold barriers around outside doors to stop drafts, and install foam gaskets under any electrical outlet plates on the outside walls of your house.
"For do-it-yourself homeowners, tightening up the exterior envelope using caulk, weather stripping and foam provides the biggest bang for the buck," said DuWayne Dunham, energy services supervisor for Clark Public Utilities. "These steps pay back almost immediately by lowering heating costs and cutting down on drafts."
Experts can help
You might also need to weather strip attic doors and crawl space access doors.
If you're an especially handy homeowner, you might even want to seal your ducts wherever they connect to one another. However, if ductwork is a major issue, then this might be where you bring in an expert.
"Weatherization contractors have equipment designed to test a homeowner's home envelope scientifically and calculate the leakage in the home envelope or ductwork," said Dunham.
Weatherization experts suck the air out of your home to find all the sources of air leakage, and also make recommendations about how to plug up the holes. Some professionals also use thermal cameras to identify hot and cold spots in your house. Armed with these tools, they can spot trouble areas that are harder for you to locate, including leaks in your ductwork, between the outside walls and your floor, around wall or baseboard heaters and other tricky areas.
If you live in a newer home, it likely "breathes" in a more controlled way. Most homes constructed in the last 20 years have whole home ventilation technology built in to the heating and cooling system. These homes automatically transfer air in and out of the home in ways that ensure the air entering the home is filtered and conditioned.
"Current construction is designed to keep homes comfortable with steady temperatures and less wasted energy," Dunham said. "But for folks with older homes, tightening up the exterior envelope of the home is an investment that can help lower heating bills immediately, increase comfort and improve indoor air quality."
Energy adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.