House leak? Your answer's on the web

Energy Q&A with ECA

Q: You’ve talked about air leakage as the reason that my heating system must work harder to keep the house warm. But how do I know if I have a leaky house?

A: Unless you have done significant energy efficiency work on your home, you almost certainly have a leaky house. Philadelphia homes are notoriously leaky because of their age and design. In ECA’s 25 years of experience virtually every house we’ve seen has significant leaks. The only exception would be brand new ENERGY STAR Homes. 

One easy way to find the leaks in your own home is to check for cobwebs. Lots of cobwebs in an area indicate air infiltration; how else would the spiders be getting in? They spin their webs at the point of air entry because that is also how their prey, other bugs, enter your home as well. When you see cobwebs, look and feel for drafts and plug any gaps with polyurethane spray foam.

On a related note, air sealing is the best way to prevent pest infiltration. If it doesn’t make you happy to know that spiders are making themselves comfy in your basement, you might be even less pleased (and possibly more squeamish) to know that those same leaks also provide an entrance for mice, rats, cockroaches and other critters. Residents who air-seal well also eliminate pest problems.

Here is a good video that explains what happens in an energy audit, and they mention the cobwebs too!

Q: Help!  My energy bill is painful, but I don’t have enough money to retrofit my house. Can you suggest a different idea for me to save some money?

A: One very easy way to save money on your electric bill is to replace all your incandescent light bulbs with Compact Florescent Lamps (CFLs)—those spiral looking bulbs you see all around these days. The good quality ones have the ENERGY STAR label and use 25% of the energy that your old incandescent used. That will save you a lot of money, especially if you put them in high use outlets first.

We understand that it is difficult to spend money at a time like this when everyone is feeling squeezed, and yet you are right to be looking for cost effective ways to save on your utility bills. One common “energy hog” in a home is the refrigerator. Many people have refrigerators that are 10-15 years old. These old models often use between $160-200 worth of electricity a year. You can save a significant amount of money by investing in an ENERGY STAR refrigerator which typically only uses $80 worth of electricity a year. That’s less than half!

Be careful to get rid of that old refrigerator after you invest in the new one, though. Sticking the old one in the basement as extra storage or a beer fridge will not reduce your electric bill! The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) runs a fridge-recycling program to help you get rid of that old hog. Find out how the program works and who will recycle your fridge safely by checking out the Recycle My Fridge Web site.

Read more Energy Advice columns from ECA here.