Save Money By Reducing
Home Heat Loss
Bruce W. Maki,
Energy Troubles Just Won't Go Away
Six years ago I wrote this article in response to rising energy
prices. The price of crude oil was heading up and utilities were
warning their customers of impending increases in natural gas rates.
The cost of energy keeps going up
Given the level of hostilities in the middle-east, and the strong
demand for energy seen in growing Asian countries, it would be wise
to prepare for possible energy price hikes, and the simplest way is
to reduce energy consumption now.
In the 1970's North America got whacked by rapidly rising energy
costs. People responded by making improvements to their homes
to reduce heat loss. Manufacturers responded by making critical
products, like windows and doors, more energy-efficient. New
insulation materials were introduced. Building codes were
smartened-up to require new home builders to meet certain minimum
But over the past 25 years we have grown complacent about energy
issues. In the early 1980's the price of crude oil fell and stayed
low. There were ample supplies of natural gas which kept
Gas guzzling cars and trucks certainly regained their
pre-oil-crisis popularity. Luckily, the building material
industry did not return to their previous ways, but I suppose there
was less urgency to develop new products, as home buyers were not
overly concerned about heating and cooling costs.
But that has changed in recent years. Anybody who believes we
will ever return to $10 per barrel oil is dreaming. Even the $20-$30
per barrel price range more common through the 1980's and 90's is
unrealistic. A prudent person would take some action to reduce their
home-related energy consumption. An investment in time and
money can pay for itself quickly.
There are many minor improvements a homeowner can make that can
add up to a significant savings.
Where Does The Warmth Go?
It's not a question you'll hear very often, but it is a question
Heat is essentially motion of atoms and molecules. Cold is
the absence of heat. Heat flows from warm things to cooler things.
And the flow of heat is proportional to the difference in
temperature between those two things. Some materials are better
than others at resisting the transfer of heat. If you can
help it, use those materials to surround your home.
There are two primary ways that heat escapes buildings. Heat
transfer directly through building materials is one way. The
other is heat loss from air infiltration. Some people claim
that the typical American home loses half of it's heat from cold air
infiltration. Older houses are clearly worse than newer houses.
Cold air is more dense than warm air. Cold air infiltration is
evident when the wind is blowing hard, but it can also be felt on a
calm night when the air is very cold. Just hold your hand in front
of an electrical outlet. You may feel a small cold blast, depending
on the weather conditions. This cold blast is happening all over the
typical American house. Old, leaky windows are a major culprit.
Reducing Air Infiltration At Windows:
This "Interior Storm Window",
or interior window cover, greatly reduces draftiness and heat
loss from old leaky windows. Read
all about it.
The window cover is barely noticeable when in place.
Another Solution For Drafty Windows:
DAP Seal'N'Peel® caulk is made to be easily removed at the
end of the heating season.
I used it to seal all the way around the sashes of
these drafty old windows. It made a big difference.
Lately, I have been using Seal'N'Peel on windows in addition
to the window cover.
A Couple Of Easy Changes:
With old double-hung windows, there is a gap between the
upper and lower sashes. This gap can let a lot of cold air in.
In a room that is being remodeled, I simply placed some
rags (pieces of old blue jeans) on the gap between the two
sections of the double-hung window. While hardly elegant, it
is quick and cheap and makes a small difference.
Everyone knows this trick: at night, roll up
a rug and place it at the bottom of the back door. It
takes a bit of work, but also makes a small difference.
More Easy Changes:
The easiest and one of the most effective solutions is simply turning
back the thermostat at night and when nobody is home.
Admittedly, this takes discipline, especially when you are in a
hurry to get going in the morning. Installing
a setback thermostat removes the burden of remembering to change
the temperature setting.
- Shut off the heat registers to unused rooms, and close the
doors. But... don't do this to a bathroom, the risk of freezing
pipes is too great to justify the savings.
- Use a kerosene heater to heat main living areas and
drastically turn down the heat to the remainder of house. While
kerosene is more expensive to heat with than oil or gas, the
heaters are nearly 100% efficient, and by spot heating certain
areas you may save money overall, especially if a
fuel oil furnace is your normal heat source. I like having a
kerosene heater as a backup heat source for when the power goes
out, but operating a kerosene heater is a hassle, with the need
to refuel, ignite and extinguish the heater outdoors. Just
follow the safety guidelines, please!
- Use an electric heater to spot-heat some rooms. In the past
the rule-of-thumb was that heating with electricity typically
costs about 3 times as much as heating with natural gas.
Consequently savings will only be realized if the area being
electrically heated is less than one-third of the area that's
heated by gas. I'm not sure if this 3-to-1 ratio still applies
today. The ratio is probably closer to 2-to-1 when propane or
fuel oil is the furnace fuel.
Some of the easy things that reduce heat loss are inconvenient or
just a downright hassle. It's easy to forget to stuff the rug
against the back door before going to bed at night, and this
practice is impossible when you leave the house. The long-term
solution is to make improvements (like replacing that old drafty
door) that don't require extra effort or special attention. Imagine
having three young children in your house and having to constantly
remind them to place the rug against the back door. Reducing heat
loss should be automatic... it should be built into the house
and not built into your behaviors.
Reducing Heat Loss With
Light-Duty Home Improvements:
- Seal up unused entry doors with Seal’N’Peel caulk. The old
house I lived in recently had four entry doors, so we
could safely block two of them. BUT... sealing up an
entry door will make it very difficult to use in an emergency,
so I can't recommend this practice unless there are at least two
remaining doors that function properly.
- Replace or install better weatherstrip material around the
door jamb and sill.
- Install a "door sweep" at the bottom of entry doors
to reduce air infiltration across the threshold..
Moderately Complex Changes:
- Add insulation to the attic.
- Add insulation to sill area (between floor
joists at perimeter of house) in basement or crawl space.
- Remove casing (trim) around drafty
windows/doors and fill gaps with expanding foam insulation.
Caulk gaps too.
- Install a dryer duct diverter to keep dryer exhaust indoors.
This has potential problems, such as excess humidity buildup in
a small room. Air circulation must be maintained. This
can be accomplished with an ordinary fan. With an electric dryer
there is no risk of fumes or carbon monoxide poisoning. But with
a gas dryer, there will be some pollutants in the air. If
the gas dryer is properly tuned (the flame burns at the ideal
air/fuel ratio) then the pollutants are alleged to be trivial.
But I wouldn't do this unless I had a carbon monoxide
detector in the house.
- Replace old drafty windows.
- Replace the siding and add a layer of foam insulation in the
- Install a gas fireplace. By spot heating only certain
living areas for part of the day, the furnace should run less
frequently. Many new gas fireplaces can operate during a power
failure, so having this additional source of heat can be very
- Remodel a room and apply foam insulation to the inside face of
exterior walls before installing drywall.
- Replace an old, inefficient furnace with a new high-efficiency
furnace. I have known people to cut their gas bills nearly in half
by upgrading to a high-efficiency furnace. The house still loses
as much heat, but the furnace captures more of the potential
heating value of the fuel. In fact the exhaust is so cool it
needs a special collector for the condensed water vapor (which
is a by-product of combustion), and the exhaust pipe can be made
from PVC plastic drain pipe.
Lost During Remodeling
& Science: Heat Transfer
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