Did you know that being more comfortable in your home and saving energy and money are all benefits of just two simple home improvement decisions? It's true, and it's not hard. Caulking and insulating can increase your conservation of energy and make your home feel more comfortable.
The biggest energy user in your home is the HVAC system. Think of your house as a giant box that is full of air. Keeping that air at the right temperature and humidity takes a lot of energy when the weather is really hot or cold. There are some simple things you can do to help the HVAC system condition that air that also conserve energy.
In with the good air
The most effective thing you can do is to keep all that comfortable air inside the house. Air is constantly moving and trying to swap places between the inside and the outside. Once you've got the inside air comfortable, you don't want it sneaking out and letting the outside air get in. So, finding and sealing all the leaks should be your first step. The openings in the big box--the doors and windows--are the first places to look.
The main culprits are window panes that have lost their glazing, window sashes that are loose-fitting and doors that have obvious gaps around them. Turning off all the lights and closing curtains and blinds on a sunny day can help you see the gaps as you look around each door and window. In the winter you can move your hand around their edges and feel for cold drafts coming in.
Don't forget to check your basement if you have one. Often there are gaps that leak air around pipes and wires and even where the wooden structure sits on the foundation walls. If your basement is not conditioned, it exchanges a lot of air with the upper floors that has to be heated or cooled, so making sure it isn't leaking can keep it more comfortable and save energy.
Lastly, look up to the attic. Attic fan openings, light fixtures in the ceilings and scuttle doors that lead to an attic let a lot of air move around. In Atlanta's hot summers, get on a stool and feel for moving air around ceiling fixtures during a sunny afternoon. You'll be amazed--it can feel like someone is in your attic with a hair dryer!
Glazing, caulking and weather-stripping
For all these possible sources of air exchange there are a few simple fixes. For gaps around doors you'll want to repair or replace the weather-stripping. If any window panes have lost their glazing, pick up a tub of glazing putty and follow the instructions. It's mostly a process of rolling some putty between your hands to make a long piece about the thickness of a pencil and pressing it around the edges of the panes.
If the window sashes are loose in the frames, you might need to get a professional to repair them. There are some kits for sealing windows that are like weather-stripping, but they often require the window to stay shut all the time. If you don't care about opening the windows, this can be a cheap and easy solution.
Lastly, there are foam inserts that are pre-cut to fit under the cover plates of electrical outlets and light switches. These are easy for any homeowner to install with just a screwdriver. Just be careful when you take the plates off not to stick your fingers inside the boxes! While you could also use these in the ceiling fixtures, that can be a lot of work. A better solution is found in our next section.
Out with the bad air
The second most effective thing is to keep the inside air insulated from the outside weather. Just like air is always trying to move in and out, heat is also trying to trade places. When it is hot outside, that heat is trying to get in. When it is cold outside, the heat inside is trying to get out. Controlling this movement of air and heat is the key to the conservation of energy in your home.
Let's go back to the attic, where houses in Atlanta get the hottest during the summer. Putting new or extra insulation into the attic will stop air from coming through ceiling fixtures and will keep the heat in the attic away from the ceilings. Making sure you have enough attic insulation is extra important in the South and will make the biggest difference.
Depending on your attic access, you may need either rolled or blown-in insulation. Talk to a reputable insulation contractor to get the job done right.
If you have a big, unconditioned basement, it can be very helpful to put insulation up under the first floor. This also stops air movement and can make wooden floors feel much more comfortable in the winter. Of course, rugs and carpets help as well. And if you're doing any major remodeling or home additions, take the opportunity to consider adding insulation to walls that may be cut open during the work.
By sealing cracks and adding extra insulation, you can dramatically ease the load on your HVAC system, keep more comfortable and save money on your utility bills.