Earth Day Ideas: Looking for Air Leaks in all the Right Places

April 21, 2014 | 10:43 am
Jeff Deyette
Director of State Policy and Analysis

Still looking for an impactful Earth Day activity? You could do a lot worse than enlisting the family to spend a few hours finding and sealing up air leaks in and around your home. While often considered a fall-time endeavor, air sealing now can make a discernible difference with the hot summer months right around the corner. It’s one of the quickest, easiest, and most cost-effective ways to lower your carbon emissions and get a little Cooler and Smarter in the process. Here’s the why and how.

This post is part of a series on Earth Day 2014.

Shut That (Virtual) Window!

Hot air coming in to our homes during summer (or leaking out during the polar vortexes of winter) wastes more energy than most people think. Here’s what my colleagues and I say about it in our low-carbon living guide, Cooler Smarter:

“By one estimate, an average un-weatherized house in the United States loses as much air as it would if a good-sized window were left open year round. Another estimate, by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, puts a dollar value on all this lost energy, estimating that each year in the United States about $13 billion worth of energy in the form of heated or cooled air escapes through holes and cracks in residential buildings.”

Even in reasonably tight homes, air leaks may account for 15 to 25 percent of heating and cooling energy losses. For an average home, that’s like throwing as much as $275 out that wide-open window!

Instead of continuing to heat and cool your neighborhood, take some simple steps to identify and then tighten up all the seams, cracks, and openings to the outside. Even investing just an afternoon of your time and $50 worth of caulk, foam sealant, and weather stripping can make a world of difference in reducing your carbon emissions. And it will pay for itself in no time.

Search and Seal and Search and Seal Some More

There are loads of places where air finds a way to escape buildings. The illustration below shows the biggest areas of ‘opportunity’ for most homes. Of course, doors and windows are obvious places to look for leaks. But the attic and walls are responsible for much of home’s energy losses as well, especially if they are under-insulated. Duct-work, plumbing holes, and fireplaces are also smart places to investigate. The Department of Energy’s Energy Star program has additional resources for finding leaks and do-it-yourself fixes.

Where Air Escapes from Your Home

Air can escape from unlikely places in your home.

Energy Audits (a.k.a. the kind of audit you DO want to get)

The best way to identify exactly where your home leaks air is to schedule a professional energy audit. Even if you only have 15 minutes to spare for the environment on Earth Day, I’d recommend picking up the phone and scheduling an energy audit for a later time. Start with your local utility, as they may offer free or discounted audits.

Even before having an energy audit, you can get a head start and take care of many of the obvious leaks and other low hanging fruit. Then when the auditors arrive, you can see how well you did and get guidance on prioritizing the next areas of opportunity. They’ll likely find plenty of additional leaks that would benefit from some professional support.

That was certainly the case in my experience with sealing up and insulating my family’s home. I started out by caulking windows and doors, spray foaming in crawl spaces, installing foam covers on external wall outlets, putting in reflective insulation behind our recessed wall radiators, insulating exposed pipes, and rolling out another layer of insulation in our attic. Then, after an audit found a bunch more places to seal up, we had a contractor blow insulation into the walls.

Payback Time

The combined efforts made a huge difference, including a more comfortable living space, more money in our pockets, and a load of carbon emissions off our backs.

Don’t wait to get started with your home air sealing project today. And happy Earth Day to all!