Don't blame the Windows, Mac

Energy Q & A with ECA

Q: I am tired of being uncomfortable in my living room. I have these old single-paned windows and I’m thinking I should replace them so I can be warm and cozy while watching the Super Bowl on Sunday. What do you advise?

A: First off, don’t be so sure that replacing your windows will solve all your problems. In fact, window replacement is one of the least cost effective measures you can take, and should be a last step, not the first. The first thing to do is to eliminate all the sources of cold air.  Examine your window and see if there are gaps where the frame meets the wall. Caulk those gaps with acrylic caulk.  Use rope caulk on all the moveable parts of the window, like between the sashes, and where the sash meets the frame.  This should take care of much of the draft you feel. Then, if you still feel cold air, consider an interior storm window.  Interior storms come in all price ranges, from temporary plastic window kits, to more permanent Plexiglas or even glass windows.  If you do decide to replace your single pane windows, make sure to take advantage of the new IRS tax credits on ENERGY Star windows

Before considering the replacement of existing windows, have you insulated the roof, air-sealed the drafts through the whole house (including the basement), reduced the thermostat settings during the day with additional night setbacks, and made sure your heater is operating at its intended efficiency?  Since all these measures will achieve bigger savings per dollar invested than replacing windows, they should be done first.  When determining whether a new window can be fixed, or needs to be replaced, consider the following as indicators for replacing windows;  rotten framework for wooden windows, windows that can not be opened or closed, single pane windows without storm windows, a loose sash or glass, and metal framed windows.

In choosing new windows make sure they are Energy Star rated. In Philadelphia’s climate zone, low-e double pane glass windows with U factors between .35 and .2 will provide the biggest savings.  The installation should include the inside and outside caulking around the frame and the proper sizing and squaring of the window.       

Q: My kitchen floor is always very cold and I think it’s because I have a crawl space that runs underneath it in the basement. How do I insulate that kind of space?

A: Don’t fret, this is a common problem; many homes have crawl spaces open to the basement.  If this space is under the kitchen, there are most likely water lines and even heating ducts or pipes running through it, and its best to keep the air around those pipes warm so they don’t lose a lot of heat.  Cold air usually enters the home from the lowest point that it can- in this case, the crawl space.  Because the basement is part of your home as a whole, the goal is to stop cold air from entering from the outside and making you cold. 

The best solution is to air-seal and insulate (are you starting to detect a pattern here?) the crawl space walls, but only if the crawl space stays dry all year round. Crawl spaces often have dirt floors, in which case you should install a vapor barrier to block cold moist air coming off the dirt.  Cover the dirt floor with at least one layer of 6 mil plastic sheeting.  Lap the plastic sheeting 6 to 12 inches up the walls for the best coverage.  

If there is excess moisture in that space, or standing water, call a professional to handle your moisture problems before proceeding. Insulating a wet space is a recipe for mold... eewww!

To insulate, use foam board and polyurethane spray foam on the joist pockets and use foam board on the walls of the crawl space.

If your kitchen has a door to the outside, check to see if it needs to be weather-stripped, both at the bottom and along the sides. Caulk any air leaks between the door framing and the walls as well. You can get tax credits for doing this air sealing and insulating work, so don’t be shy!

Read other ECA columns for Earth to Philly here.