Chilling Out: Finding the Holes in Your House (infrared pictures, part 2)

There are lots of simple, inexpensive measures you can take with rope caulk and weather stripping and sturdy plastic wrap. Seal up that entire outdoor AC unit!

Our homes are leaky envelopes. We don't notice much–until we get a blast of artic chill as we had in the past few days. I took the infrared camera around the neighborhood to document where the cold air was coming in. 

In the first pair of photos here, we see an uncapped air conditioner. Note that the wall of the home was about 29 degrees Fahrenheit (°F), which was close to the ambient outdoor late afternoon temperature that day.

But the porous, unsealed grill of air conditioner itself was much colder–between 14 and 5°F! Why? Wind-chill!

Air is being literally sucked into the house through this gap–literally like having a 2 x 3 foot sponge there instead of a solid wall.  Time to get a step ladder, big plastic bag, and some duct tape! Seal up that entire outdoor AC unit! 

Inside, starting at the front door, a common cold spot is around the door itself, which can be improved with some simple weatherstripping and door sweeps.

Another common cold spot is where doorframe meets the wall and floor. In this case, the radiator is doing its job, while the cold spot persists where cold in the wall cavity sneaks into the home.

The solution here involves air sealing and insulating the exterior wall cavities of the home with a certified contractor. The state has a good programto help you pay for this kind of home energy upgrade.  But there a more spots you can fix on a DIY basis.

Windows are another place where we can make a big improvement with some simple, inexpensive measures, such as painter's tape and rope caulk. One window shown here has rope caulk and shows low reading where the frame meets the sash of 52°F. The window right next to it has not yet been caulked and shows a low of 35°F in the same location.  

Another common culprit are exhaust fans. For example, the photo here shows a bathroom exhaust fan below an unheating attic. The fan vents through the roof to the outside. But notice the big cold spot between the joists to which the fan was attached. A trip to the attic revealed that insulation had been pushed aside, probably to make installing the fan easier. The solution is easy, push the insulation back in place! 

Another common cool spot is often at electrical outlets on the exterior walls of a home.  Simple "outlet insulation" packets are available that you install by unscrewing the face plate of the outlet and slipping between the outlet switch and the face plate.  But ultimated these small chilly spots usually mean the wall cavity itself needs to be air sealed and insulated.  That is project best done through a certified building performance contractor. As mentioned above, the state Energize program can be a big help is getting a free home assessment and identifying a qualified contractor.

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Leo Wiegman January 08, 2012 at 10:42 PM
Here's the website for the state program, known locally as Energize New York, that has more information about saving on heating your home: http://energizeny.org Residents in the Town of Cortlandt–including the Villages of Buchanan and Croton-on-Hudson–can also take advantage of the Cortlandt Heating Oil Plan. Go to www.townofcortlandt.com and enter "CHOP" in the Search bar.
Paula January 13, 2012 at 10:46 PM
I had a huge disappointment when signing up for an energy assessment so that I could have some home improvement projects done to help us become more energy efficient. At a Home Show, a contractor, PeterK, had an EnergyStar booth and was arranging energy assessments for $400, and that money could be put toward home repairs to improve your energy usage. The subcontracted it out to a different person, a Mr Robert Forman, a man I have complaint against. he came along with a supervisor to help train him, and the two men spent a great deal of time going all over my house and doing a blower test. They came up with some suggestions, but when the report was submitted to PeterK, because the repairs needed were not a big enough job to make it worth his while, PeterK rejected the job, saying that if he took it, he was going to have to add money onto it just to make it worth his while. I could keep the papers for the energy assessment, though. I then called another EnergyStar contractor and hoped he'd look at my assessment and do some of the recommended repairs. They came and said they'd do the work, but wanted to do their own energy assessment, for which I would be charged again. I called another company, and they told me the same thing. They would not accept the assessment done by a different company. I have no beef with the energy assessment team that came, as I could see they knew what they were doing and spent a lot of time and brought a lot of equipment to do their work.
Paula January 13, 2012 at 10:55 PM
Part 2 - I am not that irritated with the two subsequent companies that came, because at least they didn't take any money from me to do their sales pitch. I have abig beef with the PeterK Company because I think they use the State's EnergyStar program as schtick to sucker people into their home improvements, but don;t really care about the intent of the program. It's all money, and it the energy assessment team that they subcontract to come out to you isn't able to justify a big enough profit for PeterK to come and do the work, then he just won't do it and isn't out of any time or money. The State Energy Star program will do nothing to straighten a company like this out and lets them use it to rope in people who will need very expensive work, while causing other people who might just need simply some extra insulation and sealing around where the house rests on the cement foundation to lose money when they won't do the job and you are stuck with having to pay other companies all over again. I paid $400 for a big nothing and resent that this company uses the State's energyStar program to rope in people and not doing the repairs recommended if they are not expensive enough. And the State's Energy Star Team should get companies like this out of the program. I regret having had a home energy audit done.


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