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A little draftproofing adds warmth to a home

Posted by Nola Poirier

The snowy holiday season was a welcome novelty at my house. We were (finally) warm inside with a few temporary baseboard heaters, many pots of mulled apple cider, and a steady stream of visitors filling the house. Now the last of the guests has left, and the house is filled instead with that echo-y quiet that follows the rush and buzz, when things slip back into more sedate patterns.

I am typing this in the evening, but it’s so dark it feels late at night. The wind is ripping by outside and I saw whitecaps on the tall ocean chop as I hitchhiked home from town this afternoon. The newscast warned that we might lose power. Right now, with the lights softly lit, my laptop fully charged, and dinner still warm in my belly, a power outage seems a cozy notion.

I have candles ready, headlamps for reading, leftovers saved for a cold breakfast if necessary, and my windup radio is always primed. But there is one thought that is still niggling at me: our makeshift heating system is completely reliant on electricity.

Related story: Are you prepared for an outage?

Niggle as it might, I am more confident of staying warm than I was just a few weeks ago. One of my visiting friends spent her time here knitting me mittens and these amazing calf-length slipper booties. The booties are perfect for keeping warm inside on blustery nights like this. But my ready supply of warm sweaters and slippers is not the only source of my increased confidence. I also spent some time early in the holiday draftproofing around my doors and windows.

Why draftproof?

Draftproofing has been like putting warm booties and a sweater on our house. I haven’t finished yet, and some of our remaining gaps are quite big, so in places it’s still more like a loosely crocheted sweater than the thick felted booties my friend made for me. Nonetheless, keeping those cold drafts out, and stopping warm air from escaping, has made a substantial difference to the comfort of our home. It’s the change that has made the biggest difference for the least expense.

Draftproofing keeps your home warmer in winter by stopping cold air from seeping in, and warm air from rushing out. In addition to losing heat through gaps and cracks, damp air coming in will make your house feel colder than it actually is, and dry air can lead to static buildup on carpets and textiles.

The discomfort of drafts often leads people to turn the heat higher than is necessary, but turning up the heat will actually make the draft worse: the greater the difference between the air temperature inside your home, and that outside, the stronger the force of the draft.

How to find the leaks

The blower test from our home energy audit helped me identify the places where the most air was leaking, so I knew what I needed to address first. It is also possible to find leaks by holding a smoking incense stick near windows, doors, ducts, and outlets and watching to see if the smoke gets blown by seeping air.

The most common places where a house will leak include: around windows, between window glazing and trim, around doors, baseboards, and ducts, and through light switches, fixtures, and electric sockets on both ceilings and walls.

Draftproofing pays off quickly

After our rush of early renovations, and then the expense of holiday activities, our home improvement budget was spent, but the cold weather wasn’t giving us a grace period. Fortunately, draftproofing is inexpensive and starts to pay back almost right away in saved energy, money, and increased comfort. You can draftproof much of an average sized home for under $100, most techniques are easy to do yourself, and the materials are available at most hardware and building supply stores.

Neither of the exterior doors on my house was fitting tightly in its frame anymore, but putting weatherstripping on the outside edge immediately made a big difference in limiting the gusts coming in. I also caulked some of the window frames, and put gaskets in behind our electrical outlets and light switches.

Storm windows or plastic?

Another important way to keep the heat in is to cover leaky windows with storm windows, or with plastic. A special kind of easy to apply plastic for windows is available at many hardware stores. Another option is to custom build simple interior storm windows using wooden frames covered in plastic, that you can fit inside the window frame, and then easily pop out again when they aren’t needed. You can keep these frames and use them year after year. However, if you require air conditioning in the summer, consider getting permanent storm windows installed as you will need them winter and summer for maximum efficiency.

The draftproofing tip in the BC Hydro Home Heating Green Guide offers helpful information and links to further resources. An excellent resource is the downloadable Keeping the Heat In guide published by Natural Resources Canada’s Office of Energy Efficiency, which offers step-by-step advice on identifying and sealing leaks. It’s an invaluable tool, especially if you are doing the work yourself. As well, the LiveSmart BC video on how to seal leaks demonstrates some basic draftproofing techniques.

Remember too that sealing the home must be balanced with proper ventilation. Check out the Ventilation tip and related resources in the Home Heating Green Guide for more information.

Nola Poirier is a freelance writer and a key contributor to bchydro.com's Green Guides.

Previous posts by Nola Poirier, who lives on the Sunshine Coast:

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Source: BC Hydro News