Stories from the NFCCA Newsletter, the “Northwood News”

Northwood News ♦ October 2011

The Energy Guy

Keep the Draft Out: Getting Ready for Cold Weather

By Reuven Walder

You know that fall has arrived when the leaves on the trees begin to show hues of yellow and red.  The summer’s heat is overtaken by dry winds and cool breezes and you begin to spend more time indoors.  This is the perfect time to prepare your house for the cold weather season that is just around the corner.  Renters and homeowners alike can take the opportunity to get ready for the season by implementing simple, do-it-yourself measures or hiring professionals for more complex projects that can dramatically improve energy efficiency and comfort in your home.  Below are professional services and a few DIY options to consider.

Professional Services

Get a Home Energy Audit.  If you want to learn how to improve all aspects of your home’s energy efficiency and comfort, get a Home Energy Audit.  For an unbiased, whole-home approach, find an auditor affiliated with your local “Home Performance with Energy Star®” Program.  Energy audits quantify your home’s air leakage, insulation effectiveness, heating and cooling system performance and safety, appliance and lighting efficiency, and other components.

A handheld infrared camera is used to scan for spots where heat is escaping from the home.

Certified auditors perform several diagnostic tests including a blower door air leakage test, infrared camera scan (shown at right), furnace and water heater safety and efficiency, and duct leakage tests.  You will receive a written report that lists the recommended measures with projected energy savings in prioritized order.

Air Seal the Leaks and Insulate.  In most homes, air sealing and insulating are the two most important measures to implement.  Doing both of these measures can dramatically improve problems, including high energy bills, comfort issues, and ice dams.  This type of work is implemented by professionals who specialize in weatherization techniques that are proven to reduce leakage in home.  Similar to your auditor, use a contractor that participates in your local Home Performance with Energy Star® Program.  Areas where efforts are most effective are your attic, basement, and duct lines, which can have a variety of large holes that allow your home’s conditioned air to escape.

Tune Up Your Furnace.  Furnace inspections by a qualified heating system professional are recommended annually to assure that your system is running at its optimal performance and will also identify any major health and safety issues, such as a cracked heat exchanger or gas leaks.  An energy audit will also help to identify any major safety issues from a gas- or oil-burning furnace.

Take Advantage of Energy Incentive Programs.  Homeowners are eligible for energy-efficiency rebates from the States of Maryland and Virginia, and from utilities in Maryland, including Pepco and Baltimore Gas and Electric.  Even Montgomery County has an energy-efficiency rebate program.  The benefits vary based on where you live.  For example, someone living in Silver Spring can obtain rebates that cover 70% of the costs of energy-efficiency improvements, up to $5,300.  In Virginia, you can save up to 20% up to $595 per household.

These incentives help you to target air leakage, insulation improvements, duct sealing, and heating and cooling upgrades.  In Maryland, you need an Energy Audit from a Home Performance with Energy Star® participating auditor to get started.  Your auditor can explain the rules of the rebate programs that apply to you.

Do-It-Yourself Measures

Check Your Windows and Doors.  During the spring and summer, windows were likely opened at some point during the season.  So go around to each window and make sure that they are properly closed and latched.  If you find broken or nonfunctioning latches or windows that are stuck open, you should fix them yourself or have them repaired.  An open window can dramatically affect comfort and efficiency in a space.  Doors should be weatherized with durable weatherstripping as well.  If you find that the trim around windows and doors is leaky, then these should be sealed with caulk.

Also, sometimes windows feel drafty when they really are not.  Often, what you are feeling is cold temperature penetrating through the window itself.  Try installing thick window coverings as an extra layer of protection from the cold outdoors.  If, after doing all these things, you can’t stop the drafts, it might be a good time to call an Energy Auditor to help.

Control the Airflow.  In some homes, there are valves (also known as dampers) on duct lines in the basement and/or attic by which you can control the flow of air to specific areas of your home.  These help to direct air from your heating and cooling system to desired locations in your home.  As a rule of thumb, adjust dampers in summer to direct more cool air to the upper levels of your home.  In winter, adjust dampers to deliver more hot air to the lower levels.  You can also open and close registers in rooms if you don’t find any dampers, as an alternative.

If you find temperatures still vary widely from floor to floor, consider running your HVAC system’s fan more frequently or all the time.  Turn the fan setting from “auto” to “on” and leave it on for a few days to see if that helps.

Fireplaces and Dryer Vents.  Wood-burning fireplaces have dampers so that, when they are not in use, you can keep the cold air from infiltrating your home.  However, these dampers are often in disrepair or simply ineffective.  An easy solution is to install a Fireplace Draft Stopper.  This device is essentially an inflatable balloon made from a durable material that is inserted into the fireplace to keep the cold air out, and it can be easily removed when you want to burn a fire.  Note:  if you have a gas fireplace, you must keep the damper open (according to building code).  If you don’t use your gas fireplace, consider decommissioning it and sealing the flue with a draft stopper.

Vent covers on the outlet of your clothes dryer can keep cold air — as well as bugs and critters — out of your house.

Another device that can help reduce air leakage is an airtight vent cover for the dryer outlet on the outside of your house (shown at left).  This type of outlet will keep unwanted visitors — such as rodents and insects — out of your home.

With these tips, hopefully you will stay warm and cozy this winter while reducing your utility expenses!

[Walder cofounded ecobeco ( — a Rockville-based small business that specializes in home energy audits, environmental sustainability, and energy-efficiency consulting — which was named 2009 Maryland Home Performance Contractor of the Year.  He lives on Lombardy Drive.  We welcome “The Energy Guy” as a recurring feature.]   ■

   © 2011 NFCCA  [Source:]