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Home Weatherization for Beginners

A home weatherizing workshop was conducted in Durham by Traction on January 28, 2006. A homeowner with NO do-it-yourself experience and NO confidence in using tools learned that the following home weatherization measures could be done by ANYONE. If you lack confidence, get together with a neighbor and help each other weatherize. If your neighborhood association would like to sponsor weatherization training, contact Clean Energy Durham. Note that the following text includes links to product information and further details.

Seal duct leaks: Check your heating ducts under the house. Remove cracked duct tape. Replace with foil tape instead OR, even better, if seams are small enough, use a paintbrush to paint seams with mastic. Don't use duct tape because it dries out and will not stand up to heat, unlike these other seam sealers. Check all seams and paint them with mastic to keep leaks from developing. Leaky ducts are one of the biggest wastes of energy.

Add insulation to attic floors: If your attic is warm in the winter, it is because you are wasting a lot of heat through your attic floor. Many attics have some insulation, but it might not be enough. This can be improved by adding insulation on top of what is there. This is not difficult to do, and Lowe's supplies a blower to use for a day if you buy the blown insulation from them. Blown cellulose insulation is made of recycled newspaper and contains boric acid, which will also reduce bugs. Click here for a guide and a calculator, which will tell you how much you need.

Insulate the pull-down attic stairs: Keep in mind that heat always moves toward cold. In the winter, heat tries to get out. In the summer, it tries to get in. The attic access is typically 8 square feet of un-insulated ceiling. The gaps around the door can be equivalent to a one square foot hole. One approach to remedying this is to cut a piece of foam board insulation to the correct size and glue it into the stair backing. Attach foam weather-stripping to the edges. This only takes a few minutes. Another approach is to use a product called the Attic Tent, which acts like a storm door for your attic.

Seal holes in basement walls around pipe entries, windows, and doors: An expanding foam, such as Great Stuff works very well for this. Caution: It expands to about 3 times the size of what you squirt, so squirt very sparingly. If you get too much, you can chip it off the next day when it is dry, but it does NOT easily come off clothing or hands. Also, there is a danger of pushing out a window frame if you squirt too much in the frame, so be very cautious with the amount squirted and use it for large voids only. Also, once you've opened a can of Great Stuff, it will probably clog up and be unusable the next time, so either use it up or share it with a neighbor.

Replace your old thermostat with a programmable thermostat: This sounds difficult, but a novice did it in literally 15 minutes by reading the instructions on the package. This allows you to regularly use less heat or air conditioning during the day when you are not at home and get it back running again before you arrive home at the end of the work day. Here's a quick guide.

Insulate your electrical plates and switches on outside walls: Cold air comes in behind those plates! You can buy very inexpensive little foam insulation pads that fit exactly behind these plates and switches. All it takes is a screwdriver and a few minutes to install these.

Put a blanket on your water heater: A special hot water heater blanket costs about $10 and can be installed in a few minutes. BUT FIRST READ THE DIRECTIONS ON YOUR WATER HEATER, BECAUSE SOME MODELS SHOULD NOT HAVE THESE BLANKETS. Follow the directions on the package and be careful not to cover the dials and other mechanisms, and for gas water heaters, keep insulation at least 2" from the flue collar. To be on the safe side, it is probably best not to install a blanket on a gas hot water heater. For all hot water heaters, be sure to keep your hot water temperature at 120 degrees. This prevents scalds and also saves energy. If your dial doesn't have a temperature, you can run a faucet until it gets hot and test the water temperature with a thermometer.

Put insulation on hot water pipes: Foam pipe insulation is easy to cut and install around hot water pipes located in cold areas under the house. The foam pops over the pipe and then seals itself.

Install weather-stripping on doors: If your door does not have weather-stripping, you can install a thin rubber strip attached to a thin metal strip. It screws into the doorframe where it meets the closed door. There are many different kinds, so be sure to ask someone at your building supply if you have any questions.

Caulk gaps around windows and doors: Use a silicon caulk if it is exposed to heat and cold. Cut the tip of the caulk tube at an angle and draw a steady line. Run your finger (covered by a rag) over the bead to smooth it out. You can plug the tip of the caulk tube and use it again later.