Tuesday, February 19, 2008

How to reduce heat loss from the 3 biggest holes in the typical home

Sometimes, it’s hard to see the forest for all the trees. While we examine our homes for cracks and small leaks, many of us overlook some of the biggest holes that are in the house. This is definitely a case where it’s most prudent to first address the largest openings and then get out the caulking gun and weather stripping.

1. Chimney
Warm air rises and the chimney is like a big chute that allows this warm air to escape. To mitigate the heat loss, keep the chimney damper closed and the glass fireplace doors closed when not in use.

Of course, that does not stop the air from leaking around these structures since they are not sealed. Is there a better way? I found an inflatable insulation device that fits up into the chimney and blocks the air passage, but the device is costly and would certainly be filthy after one use. If you wanted to actually use the fireplace, you would need to deflate this contraptionand then store the whole messy thing somewhere….

2. Attic stairs
Many homes have attic staircases that pull-down to allow easy access from inside the home to the attic. Typically, the area above the ceiling is insulated, except at the staircase, where only a sheet of plywood is used. Additionally, there is a seam around the stair case – you may even be able to see light coming from the attic through the gaps around the staircase.

First of all, always keep the staircase closed – it leads to the attic which has several vent openings to the outside. To address the seams and lack of insulation, I found a nice attic box design with easy instructions here.

I have already built an attic stair insulation box and recommend it highly. After installing the box, I have noticed that the area near the pull down stairs has a much more constant air temperature. The box is constructed of inexpensive insulation board and caulking. It fits over the frame of the stair case in the attic, blocking off air leaks between the stair case and the frame around the stair case.

3. Dryer vent
I never gave this much thought, but sure enough, this is another hole in my house that leads directly outside. The dryer vent has flaps on the exterior of the house that close off the vent when not in use. The flaps are typically made of plastic or thin metal and have no insulation properties. I have found broken and missing flaps in the past and replaced the vent structure, but maybe there is something more that can be done.

The more efficient, energy saving vent cap designsthat are available commercially are rather unsightly. Perhaps, I will take a closer look at this vent structure and brainstorm on a better design. If you have any ideas, feel free to share them.

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