The cool weather has set in, and while a little relief from the summer heat always feels nice, the cold air getting into the house does not. Cold drafts are both offensive to our senses and costly in terms of energy bills. In fact, in 2015, the US Department of Energy estimates that the potential savings from reducing drafts in the home to be from five to 30 percent.
More important than reducing our energy cost, however, is reducing our energy use. The planet is reeling from the amount of pressure modern conveniences have put on it. If we don’t change how we are interacting with the planet, the costs will be much higher than a few dollars.
In other words, dealing with cold drafts seems the right thing to do in a multitude of ways, and the benefits — cost-efficient comfort with less strain to the environment — seem something we all want.
Where to Find Them
The first step to dealing with cold drafts is finding where they come from, and lucky for us, less-than-Sherlock detective types, this search is actually rather elementary. The most likely places to find drafts is where air is designed to come through: Windows and doors. These are the places to inspect and deal with first, particularly with old windows and doors.
Beyond the doors and windows, we have to inspect the flooring, the ceiling, and the myriad of otherwise unnoticed openings in the walls. Especially with houses that are off the ground or have basements, it’s wise to make sure the floor is insulated as the cold air will penetrate from below. The same can be said for ceilings and attics: If they are not insulated properly, the cold can seep in from above. Finally, it’s important to check spots where cables and pipes go through the wall, where receptacles and switches have been installed, as well as where fireplaces create a gaping hole that opens to the outside world.
How to Fix Them
Obviously, there are companies that’ll come and handle drafty stuff for us, but fixing these issues isn’t always that difficult for a little DIY action. Here are the basics for handling each one of the situations listed above:
- Windows and Doors: Though modern versions tend to be better, the basic fix is to use self-sticking weather stripping for moveable parts and caulking on fixed parts, like framing. It’s also a good idea to make sure windows are locked, as this will close them tightly. With doors, weather stripping should be installed around the entire doorjamb, and caulking around the framing. As a final step, putting an extra barrier — plastic sheeting or even cardboard — for windows that aren’t often used, such as in the spare bedroom, will seal even more draftiness.
- The Floor and Ceiling: The name of this game is insulation. Insulation should be installed under flooring, anywhere that cold air might come into contact with it. And, it should be installed in attics as well, including where exhaust fans, attic access, and any other holes in the ceiling might be. Insulation is the upfront cost that makes a home much more energy- and cost-efficient to run. It pays for itself quickly.
- Outlets, Switches, Wires and Pipes: Often builders either don’t deal with cavities around these spots or do a lackluster job of it. Holes in the wall where wire, cables, and pipes go outside can be caulked if they aren’t very large, and the easy fix for bigger situations is to use a spray-foam insulation. For outlets and switches, if there is a draft coming through, there are foam seals that are designed to fit behind faceplates. A keen energy-saver might caulk around the edge of the outlet boxes and spray foam insulation around the outside of the box as well.
- Fireplaces: Chimneys come outfitted with dampers that are meant to keep cold air out, but they aren’t perfectly effective. Fireplaces, particularly open ones, can allow drafts into the house. A good fix is to make an insert out of insulation and/or plywood to cover the fireplace opening when it isn’t in use. When it is in use, be sure to remove the flammable inserts and try out these DIY newspaper logs for the fire. Inserts can be thematically decorated to the season to make them more attractive.
For old houses, these minor improvements can be particularly useful. Old doors and windows are often less sealed. The insulation in older homes didn’t have to meet the same standards it does today. And, our technology for sealing stuff, those holes in the wall, is just much more advanced these days. For newer homes, it’s worth having a look around to be sure. After all, cozy and warm is a great way to be when winter rolls around.
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