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Anatomy of a Drafty House

If you're sleeping in ski socks, it may be time for an energy audit. Experts reveal six ways your home may be leaking air (and what to do about it).

Last year, when my husband and I bought our house, a renovated 1932 cottage in Connecticut, our inspector insisted it was in terrific shape. But come winter, we found ourselves sleeping in fleece pullovers and ski socks -- and with utility bills through the new roof. So for $75, we signed up for Home Energy Solution, a Connecticut program for which technicians determine where a home is losing energy and make on-the-spot repairs.

During half a day at our house, workers sealed ducts and weather-stripped doors to prevent warm air from escaping, installed energy-efficient light-bulbs, and caulked like crazy to keep cool air from sneaking in through cracks around the house. They identified tiny openings through a blower-door test, which involves mounting a powerful fan to the front-door frame to suck the warm air out of the house and allow cool air to flow in.

Home Energy Solution's changes should save us an estimated $400 this year on utilities -- not bad for $75. And as we head into another winter, we can already tell that the house is less chilly. Even if there isn't a similar program in your area (check energystar.gov), don't resign yourself to wearing heavy sweaters indoors. Here, our energy experts share some of the common culprits behind a drafty house, which homeowners can identify and tackle on their own.

The Culprit

Gaps between moldings and baseboards.

The Fix

Check for leaks by moving a lit candle around the perimeter of a closed window or door and around baseboards. A flickering flame indicates a trouble spot. Fill in with caulk.

The Culprit

Spaces under outside or basement doors.

The Fix

If a door has an adjustable threshold, it should be snug with the rubber strip when the door is closed. Use a door sweep for gaps of a quarter inch or more.

The Culprit

Ducts in unfinished basements, garages, and crawl spaces.

The Fix

Turn up your fan and hold a lit piece of incense next to the ducts; if smoke begins to blow, air is escaping. Cover duct cracks with Mastic, or hire a contractor.

The Culprit

The attic hatch.

The Fix

To prevent heat from leaking out of an access hatch, use a weather-stripping kit. For pull-down stairs, purchase insulated attic-stair covers.

The Culprit

Recessed lights.

The Fix

These act like little chimneys, pumping air in and out of the space above. To stop this, buy covers that fit around your lights or replace them with LED retrofitted recessed lights.

The Culprit

Openings around pipes and wires in the attic.

The Fix

To find gaps leaking warm air, look for darkened insulation or chilly spots. Fill spaces with minimal-expanding weatherizing foam, and replace the insulation.

Comments (9)

  • RoseM 27 Nov, 2013

    Besides dealing with the draft issues, saving on energy can include implementing solar energy solutions that over the long haul pay for themselves, and even in some cases can reduce reliance on the electricity grid. Not only can solar help with things like heat and light, but people have used innovative ways to cook, distill water, and more. http://www.saveonpower.net/

  • rainandsnow 15 Nov, 2011

    If you live in OR, look at this successful home energy remodel prgm, www.cewo.org. It helps homeowners weatherize, insulate & update furnaces, water heaters and windows with no $ upfront. This prog was created because they recognized that when people remodel, it's usually a kitchen or bath first. Sadly, it's the American way to make only cosmetic improvements to homes instead of the foundational maintenance that homes really need to last - the greenest home is the one already built.

  • sargent690 15 Nov, 2011

    We changed out almost all of our windows to triple paine and also had our door and slidind glass door changed out by the same company. Then we updated our air condioning unit. We have to deal with seaver heat her. It lowerd my bill by 1/3.

  • klianaorr 15 Nov, 2011

    Keeping your old windows is the green thing to do, it's a LOT cheaper than buying new windows, and also preserves the architectural integrity of your home. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has many articles about preserving while weatherizing your windows. Also, your state may offer tax credits to those wanting to restore an older home but replacing the windows may cause you to not qualify. http://www.preservationnation.org/issues/weatherization/windows/windows-faq.html

  • RAPrice 15 Nov, 2011

    Didn't know that about the recessed lights and being able to buy a fitter to reduce drafts. Also, make sure to have insulators for your electrical outlets and switches. Very cheap, very easy to install. And then there is the old standby, the draft snake, for bottoms of windows and doors.

  • spinningwench 15 Nov, 2011

    Last year I replaced the windows, slider, and front door in my house, and my heat bills went down by 33% - a great investment. Another plus, the new windows baffle sound from outside; it is really quieter inside as well.

  • marybeth147 15 Nov, 2011

    A big culprit for heat loss, not mentioned, is the area around the outside of a chimney. Fire codes don't allow wood and other flammable materials, to be brought within about 3 inches of a chimney. This leaves a big gap. However, this gap on the outside perimeter has a draft, sometimes equal to the draft going up the flue.This must be sealed with sheet metal and fire caulking, usually in the attic, less often in the basemnt. Use a professional to ensure that fire codes are not breached.

  • marybeth147 15 Nov, 2011

    svanderfilt, My husband and I own a weatherization business in Maine. Single pane windows are only an R1 and new windows will only bring that to an R2 insulation factor. It is much more cost effective to seal up the air leaks in the house. This doesn't just save on heat, it also makes the heat that is in the house distributed more consistently throughout, which greatly improves draftiness and overall comfort even with the heat set at lower levels.

  • svanderbilt 4 Nov, 2011

    What about changing out your old drafty windows? Replacing them with enegergy efficent double-pane windows can save you up to 40% off your heating costs. A great idea!!