In a milestone in energy-savings, one million homes have been weatherized since 2009 as part of the Energy Department's Weatherization Assistance Program. Financed by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the program helps lower-income households, which studies show spend significantly more of their total income on energy bills than other households. But homeowners who don't qualify for the program can use the same techniques to seal the leaks in their own homes and reap the rewards.
The weatherization program is intended for families who make up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level, which is about $44,000 for a family of four in the lower 48 states, $55,140 per year in Alaska, and $50,720 per year in Hawaii. Specific regulations vary by state, which your local agency should be able to explain. (Here's how to apply.)
"The weatherization program is particularly important to our friends, neighbors, and family members—many of them seniors—who are struggling economically." wrote David Danielson, Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, on the DOE blog. "Every home that is weatherized saves that family an average of up to $400 a year on their heating and cooling bills."
But you can do the same. And now, before it gets cold, is a good time to locate the leaks in your home and seal them. Here are the DOE's tips for sealing air leaks:
• Test your home for air tightness. On a windy day, carefully hold a lit incense stick or a smoke pen next to your windows, doors, electrical boxes, plumbing fixtures, electrical outlets, ceiling fixtures, attic hatches, and other places where air may leak. If the smoke stream travels horizontally, you have located an air leak that may need caulking, sealing, or weatherstripping.
• Caulk and weatherstrip doors and windows that leak air.
• Caulk and seal air leaks where plumbing, ducting, or electrical wiring comes through walls, floors, ceilings, and soffits over cabinets.
• Install foam gaskets behind outlet and switch plates on walls.
• Inspect dirty spots in your insulation for air leaks and mold. Seal leaks with low-expansion spray foam made for this purpose and install house flashing if needed.
• Look for dirty spots on your ceiling paint and carpet, which may indicate air leaks at interior wall/ceiling joints and wall/floor joists, and caulk them. Cover single-pane windows with storm windows or replace them with more efficient double-pane low-emissivity windows.
• Use foam sealant on larger gaps around windows, baseboards, and other places where air may leak out.
• Cover your kitchen exhaust fan to stop air leaks when not in use.
• Replace door bottoms and thresholds with ones that have pliable sealing gaskets.
• Keep the fireplace flue damper tightly closed when not in use.
• Seal air leaks around fireplace chimneys, furnaces, and gas-fired water heater vents with fire-resistant materials such as sheet metal or sheet rock and furnace cement caulk.
For energy saving tips from the experts at Consumer Reports, read "Test your energy I.Q."
—Mary H.J. Farrell