If you live in a cold climate, it can be expensive to keep your home comfortable during the winter. You may have buttoned up your home by putting weather stripping on your doors and windows, programming your thermostat, switching your ceiling fans to updraft and changing your HVAC filters. However, there’s one last step to take: sealing up any small holes in your walls, ceiling and floors.
According to Energy.gov, air leaks waste a lot of your energy dollars, and sealing them up can save you up to 20 percent in energy costs, which can quickly add up, depending on the size of your house. To reduce your energy bill, start scouring your house for leaks. Wait for a cold, windy day and hold your hand over any holes you find. If you feel air coming through, you’ve got a leak. If you’re having trouble detecting leaks, try one of these strategies from the Department of Energy.
Start With the Right Sealant
Although caulking and weather stripping are excellent steps to take, air takes the path of least resistance, so focus on sealing the biggest holes first. For that, you need a can or two of insulating foam sealant. Spray this into any cracks, holes and gaps wider than ¼ inch to form a permanent, weather-tight seal and cut down on drafts. Foam sealant is also elastic, so it allows for the natural movement and shifting of your home. With a couple of cans of sealant you can create a tight seal on your home that will reduce your energy waste and lower your energy bill.
There are different types of foams for different uses, so check for leaks first, then head to the hardware store for the type of foam you need. The most common options include the following:
- Small-gap foam (seals gaps up to 1 inch)
- Large-gap foam (seals gaps more than 1 inch)
- Window and door foam (extra flexible so that it can move with the window or door)
Finding Leaks Around Your Home
Here are the different areas of your home to target, as well as some tips on how to seal each spot correctly.
Look for gaps in the baseboards, between window and door frames and around the sides of electrical boxes (not inside the boxes, though). Pay close attention to the walls in the kitchen and bathrooms where there may be gaps around plumbing pipes and wires that exit to the exterior of your home.
Attic, Basement, and Crawl Space
HVAC ductwork, cabling and piping are a big culprit for gaps. Ideally, your installer will have taken care of everything for you, but look for any loose or fallen insulation or gaps around pipes and cables. If you do find leaks, seal them up with foam sealant. The attic, basement and crawl space are all prime places for this.
Be sure to seal around exterior pipes and plumbing, which are some of biggest culprits for energy loss.
Walk around the exterior of your home and look for places where plumbing pipes, electrical wires, cable cords, and other utility paraphernalia exit your home. Check these for cracks and gaps, filling them with foam as needed. Also, find the spot where your dryer vents outside and seal the gaps around that. (You can also seal it from the inside if it’s more accessible that way.)
- Keep the area well-ventilated until the foam has “cured” (it is no longer wet or tacky to the touch).
- Wear proper protective equipment, including long sleeves and pants, gloves, and safety glasses. Foams contain chemicals that can be harmful to the skin. Once it has cured, it’s safe to touch. Most sealants cure within 8 to 24 hours. If it’s wet or sticky to the touch, it’s still curing.
- Trim away any excess foam with a utility knife once it’s dry. Most spray foam can also be painted to match your decor.
Air sealing your home is a simple way to save energy, improve the comfort of your home, and keep you and your family cozy all winter long.
Jennifer Tuohy is an award-winning freelance journalist with more than 15 years of experience. She has written extensively about green living, including winterizing, smart home technologies, LED lighting, sustainability and upcycling. She also writes for The Home Depot, which carries a wide selection of foam insulation options to help make your home airtight.