The cold is coming, the cold is coming!

November 5, 2010

By Tim Pfarr

Tips to keep your home warm in colder weather

Cold weather shouldn’t scare you if your house is adequately prepared for fall and winter. However, many homes aren’t prepared, and leaks can make the interior lose heat quickly when the mercury drops outside.

Department of Energy A technician checks the readings from a door blower. The house is sealed and the blower sucks out air, revealing any leaks elsewhere in the home.

Northwest Homecrafters Inc. owner Wayne Apostolik said the key to plugging leaks and keeping your house warm is sealing first and insulating second.

Apostolik has worked in construction for 18 years, specializing in home remodeling. His company is based in Seattle, but is a member of the Newcastle Chamber of Commerce and had a booth at the Earth Day celebration in Lake Boren Park in April.

He said it is crucial to seal a home before insulating, and he used an analogy of a sweater and a windbreaker.

Adding insulation is like putting on a sweater, he said; the wind will blow right through it. However, sealing is like putting on a windbreaker. Together, the combination is effective and helps keep a person warm. However, without sealing, the insulation acts as nothing more than a filter.

“Those are the most basic things a homeowner might want to be aware of,” he said.

Of course, before you begin sealing, you need to identify from where the home is leaking. Northwest Homecrafters offers a service that measures air pressure within the home and uses the data to pinpoint leakage. This is part of an energy audit, Apostolik said.

Ronnie Kweller, spokeswoman for the Alliance to Save Energy, said such audits allow homeowners to set the pace for home improvements.

“You get a very good picture of where you stand energy efficiency-wise, and you can decide what steps you might want to take immediately,” she said.

The nonprofit Alliance to Save Energy is a coalition of business, environmental and government leaders based in Washington, D.C.

If you want to do it on your own, Apostolik said there are some things you can do.

“The main thing would be to use caulk and use feel to find leaky areas around windows,” he said.

However, if you’re serious about plugging the holes in your home, it may be worth spending some money to do a study, as you may be missing leaks around the house. He said Northwest Homecrafter’s energy audits can find unexpected leaks and help lead to a 25 percent to 35 percent reduction in energy usage in a given home.

Once you have found the leaks and plugged the holes, the next step is insulating, but this step is tricky.

“Insulation installation is extremely important to be done right, and most people don’t install it correctly,” Apostolik said. “If it’s going to be done, it needs to be done right.”

However, he said one of the most important principals of adding insulation is ensuring that the insulation is in physical contact with the elements it is to be insulating, such as the walls in your home.

To demonstrate this principal, he used an analogy of a down quilt, which represents insulation. If the quilt is touching you, it is effective in trapping your body heat. But if the quilt is lifted four or five inches off your body, it is not as effective, as convective currents can flow through the gap between your body and the blanket.

Furthermore, Apostolik said that one’s best bet is sealing and insulating before undertaking an expensive process, such as replacing windows.

“It’s very expensive, especially if they do a nice job with nice windows,” he said, adding that with proper sealing and insulation, replacing windows may be unnecessary.

Kweller said the prospect of smaller utility bills might also be a draw for homeowners.

“It’s a tough economic time for a lot of people,” she said. “Maybe they realize that saving on energy bills is something that’s within their capability to do, and they want to do it.”

There is one other thing homeowners may want to take into account when the temperature gets extremely cold: freezing pipes.

Apostolik said freezing pipes is not usually a major issue in the Northwest, because the temperature usually doesn’t get low enough. But, when the temperature gets cold enough that the temperature in your crawl space or attic drops below freezing, take notice.

He said the key is making sure water doesn’t sit in these cold areas long enough to freeze, because when water freezes it expands, and that can burst your pipes. Did somebody say bad day?

There are a couple of options when it comes to protecting your pipes when it gets this cold: insulate and or keep the water moving.

Regarding the latter, you don’t need to take preventative steps unless you are away from the house for a day or two and will not be running your water at all. If you are away, simply keep a faucet on just enough that it steadily drips.

Finally your house is warm, but what’s the best way to keep your bill reasonably cheap? Puget Sound Energy offers a couple of simple tips.

First, set your thermostat at the coolest level you can without being uncomfortable. Each degree you lower the thermostat will reduce your bill by about 2 percent. Also, turn down the thermostat at night or while you’re away from home. Setting the thermostat to 58 degrees while you’re asleep can cut a natural gas bill by as much as 7 percent.

Now, you’re ready for the cold.

What to know

  • In addition to a home energy audit, homeowners can take other steps to save money and support renewable energy.
  • Puget Sound Energy has information about rebates for appliances, heating and cooling systems, light bulbs and insulation at www.pse.com/solutions/foryourhome.
  • PSE also offers a Green Power program to support renewable energy generation. Learn more about the program at www.pse.com/energyenvironment/ renewableenergy4.
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