Its warming up! We shouldn’t have a low below zero for a while and nearly every small talk conversation is starting with word that next week should see temperatures in the forties. Winter may not be over but at least this is a little reprieve. Still, there may be some cold days ahead in the next few months and its not too late to use this cold spell to learn a little more about your house and the way it keeps you warm.
This is Part II of our mini series on Winter Data Collection for your house. To learn about how snow can show you how well insulated your roof is, check out the first post of the series: How Warm is Your Roof?
Windows, Doors, and other Sneaky Leaks
The eyes are the window to the soul and your windows are probably a big source of heat loss in your home. Cold winter days are an excellent see just how much because you have maximum contrast between indoor and outdoor temperatures. [Full disclosure: Its also possible to turn your AC unit to full blast (if you have one) and do the same test in the summer but winter is a less energy intensive time to make this study.]
Feel Up Your Windows
At your most empirical, you can just hold your hands in front of your windows and doors and feel the temperature difference between that area and the middle of the room, or an area along a wall. Use a candle or a stick of incense to check for unexpected air movement around the them. You can also use this method to check your exterior walls, corners etc to compare them with the interior walls. You may also find that your exterior walls are not very warm – in the sketch above, the corners between ceiling, wall and wall, and parts of the exterior wall are reading just as cold as the window. Stay alert for drafts near outlets, etc.
Aim Your (Infra-red) Scanner: “Stick ‘em up, Wall!”
For a big step up in accuracy, invest in a non-contact Infrared (IR) thermometer ($30-$200 at a home improvement store) and walk around your house on a cold day (pick any day this week) pointing it at the walls, windows, doors and corners and looking for major deviations from the general room temperature. Make a note of differences room by room. (Bonus: it may make you feel like you’re fighting aliens with a ray gun.)
Seek a Professional
The most accurate information source will be a home energy audit by a professional who might use a blower door test to check for air leaks and take photos of your home with an infrared camera which can identify at a glance which areas of your home’s exterior are cool (keeping your heat on the inside) and which are warm (leaking heat right out into the yard) by showing a color differential between temperatures. This can tell you a lot about your home’s thermal security at a glance. For maximum results, a specialist will often use this in conjunction with a blower door test in order to keep air moving (through all your potential leaks).
So … what can you do about Leaky Windows?
Well those sneaky leaks around outlets and attic doors can be weather stripped and caulked. Iffy windows can be weatherized with environmentally friendly, low-VOC caulks or press in place weather stripping. Caulking on the exterior should be done in warm weather so that is a project for a non-rainy future day. For a more dramatic improvement on heat-leaky windows, consider replacing them with double or tripled paned models.
Insulating your home well, can not only keep you warmer in the winter but will chill you out all summer – reducing both your heating and cooling bills and your drain on the environment.