Home Heat Efficiency: Six Tips
1. Air Check
Old houses are going to have air leaks: around your light fixtures; around your outlets; around your windows; around your foundation. Your mission: to fill as many of those holes as possible with insulation.
Tom Silva’s recommended weapon of choice: foam in a can. “It’s a magical instrument,” he says. “It sprays and expands, and you don’t have to worry about forming a vapor barrier because it is its own vapor barrier. Air can’t move through it.”
Consider a typical outside light. Installing it probably required cutting into your home’s insulation, creating holes that now admit cold air. Silva recommends taking out the light and injecting foam just behind the junction box to fill any void that may have been created.
Those crackling flames need oxygen, and to feed that appetite, your fireplace pulls air from all parts of your house, including the very air your furnace has worked so hard to keep warm. One solution, Silva says, is to install glass doors in front of the hearth and an outside vent into the firebox. “The fire will take the air from outside the chimney and feed the fire; the fire will heat up the glass; and the radiant heat will heat up the space,” he explains.
3. Heating System
If the only time you think about your furnace is when you adjust your thermostat, you may be paying for it. Silva recommends that you get heating units cleaned professionally once a year and change the furnace filters at least twice a year. “Take the filters out, and if you can’t see through them or they’re starting to get a little gray-looking, change them,” he explains.
Don’t overlook the duct work, either. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, 25 percent of the air traveling through a poorly installed system never arrives at its intended destination. If you find air leaks at the seams, duct putty offers a simple fix, Silva says, as does foil tape, both of which you can use to cover the holes.
4. Pipes & Water Heater
It’s not just your hot-water heater that needs some love (see the main text, above). Your basement water pipes do, too, and insulating them will do the trick. “There are all kinds of insulation options out there, and it’s a great weekend project,” Silva notes. “I recommend insulating as far as you can go, because with every 10 feet of pipe, you lose two to five degrees. That mounts up.”
5. Blow-In Insulation
Not long after Silva purchased his 1865 Victorian, he made the decision, in the middle of one particularly cold winter, to insulate. He opted for the blow-in variety, a cellulose product created from recycled newspaper.
Primarily a two-person job, the work involves punching holes at the bottom and top of each stud bay and filling up the space with densely packed insulation. You can rent a blower, and you can purchase bags of insulation at large hardware stores. The difference insulation can make, Silva says, is astounding.