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Make a plan now for cutting energy use this winter

By Lisa Thornton
Correspondent
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/10/17/15/54/9bQRy.Em.138.jpeg|316
    JOHN MUTRUX/The Kansas City Star - The Kansas City Star
    Installing insulation behind a switchplate can cut energy use.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/10/17/15/54/1oUGJT.Em.138.jpeg|316
    - HOME DEPOT
    GE WD Supreme Silicone stretches to seal doors and windows, even during the fluctuating temperatures of summer and winter months.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/10/17/15/54/v9Ol4.Em.138.jpeg|211
    - BONDED LOGIC
    UltraTouch Recycled Cotton Insulation is an organic product made from recycled blue jeans. The insulation is made without formaldehyde or fiberglass. It’s also VOC-free and an EPA-registered fungal inhibitor, which means it resists the growth of mold, fungi and bacteria.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/10/17/15/54/ffsw.Em.138.jpeg|473
    - LOWES
    Style Selections’ Geometric Red/Ivory Thermal Grommet Curtain Panel is room-darkening and noise-reducing. It also is estimated to reduce heat loss by 25 percent.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/10/17/15/54/1lCJZZ.Em.138.jpeg|257
    - OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
    The Chimney Balloon is available in hundreds of sizes to ensure a tight wall-to-wall seal.

More Information

  • Feel a draft?

    These areas and items can be culprits in heat loss:

    • Electrical outlets

    • Switch plates

    • Door and window frames

    • Electrical and gas service entrances

    • Baseboards

    • Worn weather stripping around doors

    • Fireplace dampers

    • Attic hatches

    • Wall- or window-mounted air conditioners

    • Cable TV and phone lines

    • Where dryer vents pass through walls

    • Vents and fans

    U.S. Department of Energy, www.energy.gov



Utility bills can add up to about $2,000 a year on average in U.S. households. But it’s not all money spent wisely. Costly air leaks are common, even in brand-new homes.

In fact, your doors and windows could be giving an easy escape route to as much as a third of your heat. Other trouble spots where air seeps in and out can include poorly insulated attics, chimneys, and even electrical outlets and switch plates.

Fight back before the cold weather arrives. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that many households can save between 5 and 30 percent on heating bills by making a few simple improvements that reduce air leaks.

Detecting the drafts can be a breeze. Here’s a simple test: Close a sheet of paper in a window or door, then pull on the paper. If the paper slides out easily, air will likely pass through, too.

You can also track down drafts using a thermal leak detector. This handheld infrared sensor measures surface temperatures. You’ll find it at most hardware stores.

If you prefer to hire an expert, bring in a technician to measure airflow in your home using a device called a blower door. The technician will attach it to a home’s entrance. Equipped with a fan and a pressure measurement instrument called a manometer, it can determine how much air is leaking and where.

Once you locate the air leaks, consider these clever tricks for stopping them:

Because they lack insulation, windows are prime suspects at abetting heat’s escape. Thermal curtain panels are simple to install and can help prevent up to 25 percent of a home’s heat loss. Keep the curtains open on sunny days to take advantage of natural heat. Close them in the evening and when it’s cloudy. An added bonus: Thermal curtains also blocks outside light and noise, which might help you rest better. Prices start around $25 per panel for designs by Style Selections. www.lowes.com.

A fireplace can give heat a portal to the outside world. A chimney balloon is an inflatable device that creates a wall-to-wall seal inside the lower flue. Using the device might bring savings between $50 and $100 a year. The Chimney Balloon II costs $43 and up at www.chimneyballoon.us and comes in 11 standard and hundreds of custom sizes.

Insulating an attic is one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce energy use, according to the Department of Energy. Bonded Logic’s UltraTouch Recycled Cotton Insulation is a fiberglass- and formaldehyde-free insulation for those who wish to avoid irritants and chemicals. This product is made from recycled blue jeans. It comes in perforated batts that can be torn off, reducing the need for cutting. Prices start at $399 at www.homedepot.com for a case that covers 300 square feet.

An attic stair insulator can help seal the gap between attic entrances and drop-down stair ladders. It’s made of fiberglass insulation and reflective foil and requires no assembly. The Owens Corning Attic Stair Insulator II sells for $53.95 at www.homedepot.com.

Anyone who has weatherized a home knows the importance of good caulk. GE’s WD Supreme Silicone is a permanently waterproof caulk that seals gaps and cracks around doors and windows. It dries in an hour and stretches, allowing it to do its job during summer and winter as temperatures can cause wood to expand and contract. Sells for $8.22 at www.homedepot.com.

Cold air can seep in even through electrical outlets and switch plates. Foam sealers can reduce heat loss. They’re easy to install, often requiring only a screwdriver and an electrical outlet tester. The Frost King Foam Electrical Outlet and Wall Plate Insulating Kit sells for $1.93 at www.homedepot.com and www.lowes.com.

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The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.

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