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ASK A SPECIALIST: How can I lower my winter energy costs?

ASK A SPECIALIST: How can I lower my winter energy costs?

Answer by: Lou Mueller, Utah State University Extension family and consumer sciences agent, San Juan County

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that sealing air leaks can save up to 10 percent of your total home heating bill. Since heat flows naturally from warmer to cooler places, use caulking and weather stripping to seal cracks and gaps that allow cold air to enter and valuable heat to escape from your home.
Visit your local hardware store for weatherization ideas and ask sales personnel for the best materials to remedy air leaks in your home. Caulking can be purchased in many widths and varieties, from semi-permanent to removable. Weather stripping also comes in different depths and widths. Weather stripping tape usually needs to be replaced annually. Felt strip and adhesive-backed foam are effective for one to two years. Tubular gaskets or vinyl tubing can last up to five years. Seasonal window and door insulation kits also help prevent heat loss. Consider these simple strategies to help seal air leaks in your home.
• Identify leaks. Check your home’s exterior for cracking and gaps. Inside, pick a windy day with the furnace running and turn on exhaust fans and the dryer. Then light a stick of incense and move it around windows, doors, baseboards, ducts and outlets. When a draft is detected, use a piece of chalk to mark the area. Choose appropriate materials to cover the leaks.
• To be sure you purchase enough weather stripping, measure around leaky doors and windows and adjust for differences by adding 5 to 10 percent. Follow directions before applying weather stripping. Apply to clean, dry surfaces in temperatures generally above 20 F. Required temperatures may vary by product. Measure areas for weather stripping twice before cutting. Apply one continuous strip along each side and be sure there are no gaps at corners. Weather stripping should fit snugly and compress when windows or doors are shut. When using felt weather stripping, be sure to staple parallel to the strip.
• Leaks around doors and windows may also be sealed using caulk, caulking cord or gaskets. Follow instructions when applying caulk. Hold the caulking gun at a 45-degree angle and practice on a less visible area. Keep the bead uniform and overlap both sides of the crack.
For exterior leaks, determine the proper width of caulk needed. If the gap is large, use void filler, a spongy material that comes in a variety of widths, then caulk over it. Void filler usually lasts from one to two years and should not be used in areas that will become hot or cold. Seal leaks around pipes, ducts and wires that penetrate exterior walls. Expanding foam caulk is especially effective. Seal rattling windows using removable caulk. Seal for winter and remove the seal, if desired, to open windows in the summer. Caulk can also be placed between the sash and the frame so the window can still be opened. Replace old caulking since it becomes hard over time and may need to be replaced.
• If you have single-paned windows, consider purchasing window insulation kits with a clear plastic liner and double-sided tape. Insulation kits are simple to install and protect windows from drafts and frost build up.
• Check door sweeps and metal thresholds that may contain a rubber or vinyl gasket. Rubber and vinyl become brittle with age. Check for flexibility and replace when needed.
• Purchase insulation pads for outlets and light switches. Install by removing screws from faceplates, laying pads over the box and replacing the faceplate.
When budgets allow, consider more long-range solutions such as replacing old windows or adding attic insulation. For now, however, these low-cost strategies can help lower your winter energy costs.

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