It takes planning to create a home that will keep you comfortable through Baltimore's winter Nor'easters and high summer humidity. If your home is like most, each part of the building can benefit from some upgrades that will help you maintain indoor temperatures and humidity levels. By investing in a few of these home improvement projects for energy efficiency, you'll stay more comfortable and save money, too.
Because the attic covers the majority of the area above your living space, it has a big influence on the conditions inside your home. Uneven temperatures are a common sign of poor attic weatherization. Where the attic is cold or hot, the room below will be colder or hotter than the rest of the house.
In summer, the attic temperature can rise to 120 degrees or higher. If the attic isn't properly weatherized, that heat radiates through the ceiling and into your rooms. The air conditioner then has to work harder to remove this excess heat, meaning cooling bills will be higher than necessary.
In winter, cold wind blowing into the attic can flow through cracks in the ceiling and create uncomfortable drafts. Warm air rises, so heat from the furnace will flow toward the ceiling and end up lost through the attic. The warm air entering the cold attic can also create condensation that increases the risk of moisture damage and mold growth.
A warm attic can cause uneven snow melt on the roof. Melting snow will run down from the warmer parts of the roof and then freeze again when it hits the cold edges. The ridges this ice forms, known as ice dams, stop further snow melt from draining. The resulting pooled water damages shingles and causes roof leaks.
Air sealing and better insulation are the solutions to these problems. These home improvement projects for energy efficiency will take you just one or two days. First, seal air leaks around the attic using caulk for gaps of up to 1/4 inch and spray foam insulation for gaps of between 1/4 inch to 3 inches. Spots to check for air leaks include:
- Where the walls meet the attic floor
- Dropped soffits, or areas above dropped ceilings
- Recessed lights
- Vent, pipe and other utility line penetrations
- Attic access hatch
Adding attic insulation is the next step. If the attic already has 3 or 4 inches of insulation, install an additional R-38 layer. That means around 12 inches of fiberglass batt insulation and somewhat less cellulose or rockwool loose-fill insulation. Rigid foam boards can also be used.
Because the access hatch is one of the biggest sources of attic heat loss and gain, consider installing a specially designed attic hatch insulation kit available at home improvement stores.
The Basement and Crawl Space
A poorly weatherized basement and crawl space has much the same effect as a poorly weatherized attic. Just like an attic, a basement usually has temperature variations, which can lead to uneven temperatures in the rooms above.
In the winter, you'll get cold drafts around your feet and have floors that never feel warm. Turn up the thermostat to compensate and you'll be paying more for heating.
If you haven't sealed and insulated the attic, the situation will be even worse. Due to the chimney effect created by rising warm air, air leaks in the attic can cause negative air pressure in the basement, exacerbating air leaks there.
Because the basement contacts the ground, mice and other rodents can easily enter through gaps around pipes, and insects can squeeze in through even the smallest cracks around the foundation. Once inside, these pests roam through your house, leaving droppings, hair and other debris that pose a hazard to your health. That means undertaking home improvement projects for energy efficiency in the basement protects your health as well as your comfort.
As with the attic, air sealing and insulating are some of the most effective home improvement projects for energy efficiency in the basement and crawl space. Caulk and expanding foam spray can be used here in the same way. Areas to seal include:
- All vent and utility line penetrations
- The space between the top of the foundation wall and sill plate
- The top and bottom of the rim joists
To insulate the rim joists, cut sections of R-10 extruded polystyrene rigid foam insulation to fit against the rim joists in between the floor joists. Apply caulk or expanding foam insulation to the edges of each section of insulation to form an airtight seal.
The Duct System
The furnace and air conditioner rely on the duct system to efficiently deliver the warm or cool air the systems provide. Sealing and insulating ducts are among the quickest, easiest home improvement projects for energy efficiency you can undertake to boost your heating and cooling system's efficiency and feel more comfortable.
Duct leaks cause different rooms to receive different amounts of air, leading to uneven temperatures and, possibly, higher energy bills. Leaks also draw in contaminated air from the attic, basement, crawl space and wherever else the ducts pass. This air may contain mold spores, insulation fibers and fumes from paint or other chemicals, all of which reduce indoor air quality and threaten your health.
The negative air pressure created by leaks can pull in exhaust fumes from fuel-burning appliances, exposing you to harmful carbon monoxide (CO). Musty odors are another problem cause by duct leakage.
Air leaks in ducts occur primarily where the duct connects to the air handler, at connections to the registers and vents, and where lengths of duct connect to each other. These connections should fit tightly and be sealed using mastic or foil-backed tape. Ducts that run through unconditioned spaces, such as the attic or basement, should be insulated to at least R-6 level. Duct wrap insulation makes this easy, but batt insulation can also be used.
Doors and Windows
Weatherizing exterior doors and windows is another of those home improvement projects for energy efficiency that offer a lot of benefits for a small investment. Both doors and windows are common sources of air leakage. In winter, leaks cause cold drafts. In summer, they let in excess humidity. All year round, they let in air contaminants.
Pest infiltration is another symptom of air leaks. If you seem to have a lot of ants, spiders and other bugs in your rooms, air leaks could be the reason.
To improve your home's doors and windows, you'll need caulk and weatherstripping. Acrylic latex caulk is appropriate for the interior sides of most doors and windows. Apply caulk to non-movable areas such as door and window frames.
For movable sections, such as along the door stops beside the jamb and the inside tracks of sash or slider windows, you'll need weatherstripping. Different locations and surfaces require different types of weatherstripping. For example, V-channel weatherstripping is suitable for sash windows.
Walls and Floors
Although it's one of the more involved home improvement projects for energy efficiency, weatherizing walls and floors can do a lot to help you maintain stable, even indoor temperatures. Leaky, poorly insulated walls make it nearly impossible to keep your home warm or cool enough. As with air leaks elsewhere, wall and floor leaks let in air contaminants and pests.
Blocking smaller air leaks requires only caulk. Pinpoint leaks by waiting for a breezy day and testing suspect areas of your home with a lit incense stick or smoke pen. Holding the stick near a leaky area will cause the smoke to blow sideways. Spots to test include:
- Crown molding and baseboards
- Electrical outlets and light switches
- Penetrations for utility lines
- Where the fireplace meets the wall
After air sealing, consider adding insulation. If you're planning on replacing the siding soon, installing an R-5 layer of insulative sheathing under it's one of the easiest ways to upgrade your walls. Adding loose-fill insulation inside the wall is another option.
Because this insulation is blown into place, rather than laid down like batts, it can be installed without tearing out the walls. To determine whether or not you might benefit from more wall insulation, consult with a heating and cooling professional for a home energy audit. During this assessment, the technician will use infrared imaging to accurately identify points of heat loss or gain.
The floor should have an R-25 to R-30 layer of insulation, which is a minimum of 8 1/2 inches of fiberglass batts. If you have less than this, loose-fill insulation makes it easy to improve the situation. If you're unsure of how much floor insulation you have, a professional energy audit will help you decide whether or not it's worth adding some.
For professional assistance with any of your home improvement projects for energy efficiency, contact us at Griffith Energy Services. We serve homeowners around Baltimore, Frederick, and Manassas, as well as in Easton, Maryland; Dover, Delaware, and Martinsburg, West Virginia.
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