Seems 2009 is already full of surprises. In January Mother Nature unexpectedly blanketed us with four inches of snow.

Since the South doesn’t really DO snow, the only action outside was airborne – blowing snowflakes and birds desperate for the feeder.

But that’s only part of the story …

Actually hours before, when the temperature dropped, the pressure was on. Literally. Our warm indoor air accelerated its escape through house cracks and crannies because of an unavoidable thermodynamic fact: heat moves toward cold.

Due to no fault of our own, we were heating the great outdoors. Know it or not my friend, the same thing happens at your house.

Day after day, 24/7, those little cracks are channeling out your valuable heat. It’s no wonder then about half of your home’s energy bill is for heating.

And since power demand spikes when everybody’s trying to stay warm in leaky houses, pretty soon it adds up to expensive heating bills you love to hate.

Who wants that?

Instead, why not do something that’ll pay for itself in energy savings within one year?

But before I tell you, here’s the ‘small print’…

It’s not a green build improvement that’s sexy and flashy like, say, a North Carolina male red cardinal.

No, this strategy is a humble, but solid, energy-efficient move. It’s more like one of our muted female varieties – understated, but tried and true.

What I’m talking about is caulk, sealants and weather stripping.

Muted Cardinal on Snowy Branch

It’s true.

Now before you think “Is that IT?” let me explain …

By weatherizing your home, you reduce the number air leaks. Fewer leaks cut your energy use, which cuts your monthly bills, and boosts your comfort inside. That’s what makes your home greener.

Sounds good, huh?

Caulk is flexible so it keeps its seal as temperatures and seasons change. If you DIY, it’s easy to apply. Short on time? Start with your most uncomfortable room. Obviously the more leaks you seal, the faster you save money.

I recommend an acrylic urethane latex caulk such as OSI Green Series Indoor/Outdoor sealant based upon price, performance and easy water clean-up.

For most uses, this caulk sticks to any surface, doesn’t shrink much, is durable, and can be painted. It’s GreenGuard certified for healthier indoor air quality, too.

I love to use a foam sealant to fill, seal and insulate bigger holes because it expands to the shape of the crack or gap. It also bonds to most materials and trims easily. It is airtight and can be sanded and painted.

Foam is messier than caulk, but worth the effort. A little goes a long way. Chemicals in the sealant can irritate allergies, and continually expose you to potential health risks. To avoid that, use polyurethane foam like OSIs GreenSeries Pro-Foam II Minimally Expanding Sealant. It insulates, is both solvent and urea formaldehyde-free.

Hang on because there’s one more thing:

Weather stripping seals leaks around connections that move. If you can easily pull a piece of paper through the crack when it is closed, your heat is escaping.

To work, it should seal well when the door or window is closed and still allow it to open freely. I recommend choosing one or more types for each specific location, taking durability into account when comparing costs.

Metal (typically aluminum or stainless steel) are pricier but last for years. Vinyl holds up well and is moderately priced. Felt and rubber foams aren’t that efficient at blocking airflow but are both easy to install and inexpensive.

There are a variety of styles that bridge, compress and butt-against your target gap. To get the best results, follow the package directions when installing them.

V-weather stripping, for instance, is a long strip folded back on itself along its length and made of metal or vinyl. It forms a springy strip that bridges the gap between the door and the door jam, or a window sash and frame.

Another easy-to-fix spot is to weather strip and insulate your attic hatch or door to prevent warm air from escaping out the top of your house.

Plan to Feather Your Nest

Step 1 – Find the gaps, cracks and crevices. The colder it is outside, the easier it is to find them inside.

  • Check the perimeter of door and window frames, then examine the window sash seals.
  • Feel for drafts along the base of the walls, then at the ceiling and wall seams.
  • Find cold air gaps where sink and toilet pipes emerge from walls.
  • Check laundry area for drafts around water supply and dryer exhaust vent.
  • Less obvious: Behind each light switch and power outlet cover you’ll find leaking cracks.
  • Less obvious: Behind the heat grills (floor and ceiling) precious heat is escaping to the outside.
  • Less obvious: Check for drafts at cable television, computer, telephone and electric lines coming into the house.

Step 2 – Seal and Save. Install caulk, sealants and weather stripping on clean, dry surfaces above 400 F.

  • Apply acrylic urethane latex caulk to small cracks.
  • Apply polyurethane-based foam sealants to larger gaps and crevices.
  • Install weather stripping in and around doors and windows as needed.

According to a recent U.S. Department of Energy study you can expect to save about $2 on heating bills for every $1 you spend on weatherizing your home. So, it’s no bird-brain idea to get rid of your drafts starting – yesterday!

For more ideas see www.BuildThatGreen.com. Let me know how you make out with this humble crack and gap plan. I can’t wait to hear about your savings!

P.S. As an extra easy step to seal air leaks that come through your light switch and electrical outlet boxes, sandwich pre-cut foam gaskets behind the cover plate and box. These inexpensive seals are commonly found at home improvement stores.

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